Sunday, June 17, 2018

Biblical Guidelines for Church Leadership: Consistency

Consistency, sounds pretty boring doesn't it?  And, actually, many times it is.  However, when considering traits that should be present in pastors and spiritual leaders, this is usually one of the most overlooked.

There should be a consistency of character, a consistency of philosophy, a consistency of theology, a consistency of mission, a consistency in his walk, a consistency in his preparation, a consistency in his growth, a consistency in how he makes decisions, a consistency in how he deals with others, a consistency in how he communicates, and a consistency in how he expresses himself.  In other words, there needs to be a thread of consistency that permeates who he is, and therefore what he does.

Why is this important?  Because it gives stability to his church, and his ministry.  It gives security to his people, his staff, and the leadership he works with, as it make him reliable, and even predictable.  I once had an upper level manager tell me that his goal was to be so consistent that his people would know the answer before they asked him.  Not a bad trait, in fact, it is a great trait to have. Unfortunately, there are many whose only consistency is their inconsistency.

Think about the comfort and security it gives to those who you work with, do ministry with, and live with when they know they can depend on what they know about you.  Think about the frustration that is caused by having to deal with those whom you never know how they will react, or those who always seem to be changing their mind, ministry direction, or ministry philosophy. Think about the confusion that comes to the church when the leadership is always being blown in the direction of the latest cultural wind or chasing the next big thing.

Have you ever noticed how consistent the Lord is?  We call it immutability or unchangeableness; but have you ever wondered what it would be like to serve a Lord that you were never sure how He was going to react, how He wanted to be worshiped, what His standards for holiness would be, or what His requirements for salvation would be? Would it be a little unnerving, kind of like an eternal insecurity instead of an eternal security?

I take great comfort that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, yes and forever (Hebrews 13:8); that He, the Lord, does not change His mind, and therefore I am not consumed (Malachi 3:6); that with Him there is no variation or change like the imperceptible shifting of a shadow (James 1:7); that even from eternity He is I am (Isaiah 43:13), that of old He founded the earth, and the heavens are the work of His hands.  Even they will perish, but He will endure; and all of them will wear out like a garment; like clothing He will change them and they will be changed.  But He is the same, and His years will not come to an end (Psalm 102:25-27); that His lovingkindness is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him (Psalm 103:17); that He has one eternal purpose that runs through the ages that is carried out in Christ (Ephesians 3:11), and that He has declared the end from the beginning, saying, "My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure" (Isaiah 46:10).  This consistency in the character of God and the acts of God give me security in my relationship with him, it gives me confidence in my relationship with Him, and it strengthens and solidifies my trust in Him.

You see, I believe that pastors and spiritual leaders must be consistent; and it is being like the Lord that brings about that consistency. If He is consistent, then a worthy trait to be desired would be to be consistent as He is consistent.  The same comfort, confidence, security, solidity, and trust that we draw from our relationship with the Lord because of His consistency is the same comfort, confidence, security, solidity, and trust that the church and its staff should have in their leadership.  Consistency provides the stability that is needed in every leader, and is a key component of pastoral leadership.  As Christ models consistency, so should all those in spiritual leadership.  Indeed, it is a worthy aspiration for us all.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Biblical Guidelines for Church Leadership: The Importance of Faithfulness

The Pastor and Faithfulness

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, 
who has strengthened me, 
because He considered me
faithful, putting me into service.
I Timothy 1:12

Boy, there is so much in this verse, but let's look at one particular aspect of it, and that is Paul's faithfulness.  Reading through Acts and Paul’s letters, the one thing that really stands out about Paul is his faithfulness. If you think about this in relation to what the Lord told Ananias in Acts 9:16 that He would show Paul how much he must suffer for His name's sake, you come away with a deep-breathed wow; because here was a man who was shown up front how much the cost would be, and he counted it (Luke 14:27-35), lived it (II Corinthians 1:2-7; 2:4; 4:7-12; 6:3-10, 7:5-6), and remained faithful to the end (II Timothy 4:5-7).  

The question might be asked, "Faithful to who, faithful to what?"  Obviously, Paul was faithful to his calling, faithful to his ministry, faithful to his friends, faithful to keep his vows, faithful with the treasure with which he had been entrusted, and faithful to the churches.  But his being faithful in all of these areas was the outflow of his faithfulness to the Lord, his Lord; and he never wavered in his faithfulness to the One who had called him to suffer for His name.  Even with his great learning, the great revelations he had been given, and his great gifting- his greatest attribute was his faithfulness. Without his faithfulness, his calling and all the learning, revelations, and gifting would have been for naught.  Paul understood this and you can see this in I Corinthians 4:2.  

Faithfulness is manifested in many ways in our lives, and manifested it will be.  In thinking about what are the really necessary qualities in a pastor this has to be at the top.  It is nice if he is a good communicator, a gifted expositor, good with people, dynamic, personable, a good leader, educated, caring, and charismatic.  But, again, without faithfulness all these qualities and gifts will be of no use.  Faithfulness grounds the pastor, keeps him steady when tempted, keeps him loyal to his calling, strengthens him when tried, keeps him going when discouraged, keeps him looking to the Lord and not his circumstances, guards him from compromise, gives him a higher perspective on his life and ministry, pushes and pulls and prods him on when weary, keeps his focus on the Lord and not himself, sees him through the storms of life and ministry, empowers him to endure, and keeps him from looking for greener pastoral pastures.  Faithfulness keeps him locked in on following the Lord and His will for his life.  In thinking about it...wouldn't you want to see this in your pastor if you were a church member, wouldn't you want to see this in your servant if you were the Lord?

The Lord regarded Paul as faithful, and therefore placed him into service; not any service, mind you, but maybe the most important role of any of the apostles, certainly the most demanding role, and obviously a strategic role. And in that strange and mysterious dynamic of God working in and through men, the Lord strengthened Paul to remain faithful as Paul was being faithful.  

If we are honest, we would all admit that the struggle we have with faithfulness is whether we are going to be faithful to the Lord and His will, or be faithful to ourselves and our own selfish and egotistical pursuits.  Which one will we be faithful to?  

Pastors and partakers of the pastoral calling, I want to encourage you to be faithful.  Be faithful to the Lord in the living out of your calling, and call on him to keep you faithful; and in your faithfulness you will find Him faithful to you.

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Biblical Guidelines for Church Leadership: The Weight of Small Sins

The Weight of Small Sins

Spiritual leadership without character is only religious activity,
possibly religious business or, even worse, hypocrisy......
The qualified leader is a man of the Book, using it not just
to prepare sermons and preaching notes, but, first and foremost,
to prepare himself.

James M. George
The Call to Pastoral Ministry
Pastoral Ministry
(How to Shepherd Biblically)
Page 91

Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you;
and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.
Hebrews 13:7

How important it is for those of us who occupy a place of spiritual leadership to be men of character, character forged by the Holy Spirit and formed by the Word of God.  Providing spiritual leadership is a daunting responsibility,  a responsibility that underscores the Lord's admonition in James 3:1 "Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment." This is why the Lord stresses Godly character in His requirements for those who occupy the post of pastor; and why Paul buffeted his flesh, so that after he had preached to others he would not be disqualified.

The landscape of the church is littered with the moral failures of those who failed to watch themselves.  In fact, it has become much too common, and it is just not in the area of personal sexual immorality, as noted by the current furor over a seminary president.  Over the last several years we have seen pastors removed due to lying, inflating numbers, financial impropriety, bullying, alcoholism, and undue self-promotion.. One of the issues the SBC has been taken to task by those within its own ranks is for inflated membership numbers and an evangelastical (intentional spelling) way of counting baptisms.

These are the obvious, the news grabbing and headline making, but what about the ones that don't make the news, the ones that cause damage just as great?  I was reading an internet article about how Peacemaker ministries worked to reconcile a church's pastor and elders after temper, egos, and innuendos had split them and the church.  What about the detrimental effects of pride, stubbornness, selfishness, ambition, jealousy, unforgiveness, lying, greed, and gossip?  What about those that fear man more than they fear God, those that are men-pleasers vs God-pleasers, and those who would compromise rather than confront? What about the small things that are done daily that add up over time?  Most often it is the weight of the small sins which make a ministry ineffective and erodes the trust and confidence necessary to be followed.

I remember once hearing Bill Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, preach, and in his sermon he was stressing the need for moral integrity.  He said that he had asked God to take him home before He let Bill commit adultery.  Admirable, yes, but for most of us, we are on guard against the big A when it is the perniciousness of the so called small sins that we ought to be on guard against as well.  Is our prayer, "Lord, lead me away from temptation in the areas where I am weak and most easily tempted, and let not evil have any way with me. Please keep me from causing any of the brethren to stumble.  Help me to adorn the doctrine I preach with the life that I live.  Empower me to do what is right, to love what is good, and to walk humbly with You. Enable me to treat others the way I would want to be treated in every circumstance. Let not anyone, saved or unsaved, look at me and cry hypocrite.  Let me be at home and behind the scenes what I am publicly."

Who is adequate for this?  None of us outside of the power that God supplies. There is a greater burden, a greater responsibility, for those whom God has called into ministry; but there is a greater grace available as well. Let us be on our guard, empowered by the grace of God, so that sin will not have its way with us, not derail us nor render us impotent in our efforts to advance the kingdom of God in our own lives, so that we will be effective in advancing His kingdom in the lives of those whom He appointed to our shepherding.  Let not the sin in our own lives be an impediment, an excuse, for those whom we lead in dealing with the sin in their own lives.

Father, guard our hearts and our minds.  Work within us only that which is pleasing in Your sight.  We are frail and weak in our own strength, so help us by the strength which You supply to live a life worthy of the gospel of Your Son, and a life worthy of the calling with which we have been called.  Help us to be an example to the flock, living a life worthy of admiration and imitation.  Guard us from our own selves, and give us a sensitivity to the sin which so easily entangles us.  Help us to fight the good fight of faith and finish our course without disqualification.  AMEN.

Friday, June 01, 2018

Biblical Guidelines for Church Leadership: The Mandate for Integrity

Leadership and Authority

Leadership in the church is not based upon power, but upon authority.  Therefore being a pastor/elder is not a position of power, but a position of authority.  However, it is not an authority inherent in the person, it is a delegated authority because of the position held.  It is delegated from God to the elder(s), and also delegated from the congregation to the elder(s).

It is God who has created the position of pastor/overseer/elder and laid out the qualifications for the office, and it is the recognition by the congregation of those who meet God's qualifications (I Timothy 3, Titus 1) that bring the man of God to that position. So God calls the pastor/elder to that office from the congregation with their approval.

The pastor/elder is to lead, not lord it over the people (Hebrews 13:7, I Peter 5:2-3); and the people are to voluntarily submit to his leadership and follow his example (Hebrews 13:7, 17; I Corinthians 16:16), just as a wife is to voluntarily submit to her husband.

As such, the man of God is accountable to both God and man, as both were instrumental in placing him in that office; and both delegated to him the authority which the office holds.

The Three Cords of Church Leadership

In Ecclesiastes 4:12 we learn that a cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart or easily broken.  It is interesting to note how many times we see this principle applied in the Scriptures. One of the applications of this principle is in the requirements for the elders given in Titus 1:5-9.

In verses 6-7 we see he is to be a man of moral integrity.  These verses are governed by the term above reproach, which means not that he is sinless, but that he is held blameless from the charge of moral impurity.  What is stressed in these verses is what the man of God is not.

In verse 8 we see he is to be a man of spiritual integrity.  What is stressed here is what the man of God is, with the word devout governing the verse.  Devout means to be pious, clean, and pure.  It also denotes devotion and loyalty to the Lord, and emphasizes that he lives his life in conformity with the word of God.

In verse 9 we see that he is a man of biblical and doctrinal integrity.  What is stressed here is his biblical and doctrinal fidelity, which is demonstrated by what he holds to.  His teaching and preaching are always in conformity with the body of doctrine given in the Scriptures. He does not deviate from the faith once for all delivered to the saints; and just as he is a one woman man, he is also a one word, one doctrine, one faith, and one Lord man.  He is a man of unwavering devotion to the faith that is contained and presented in the Scriptures and he will not teach anything that contradicts it.

Also of note in these verses are the three words describing the role of a church leader:

First is elder, which denotes dignity, maturity, and leadership.  This word gives us a picture of his role and the gravitas of the office.  It says this person is to be looked to for leadership, and his persona should be able to bear the weight of the mantle of leadership.  Implicit in this word is the earned respect and trust of the people he leads.

Secondly, we see the term overseer.  The word means superintendent, magistrate, or watchman; and gives us a picture of the authority and function of the office.  This person is to be able to watch over, guide, and direct the church.  This word shows us that the church leader is responsible for the protection and direction of the church.

Thirdly, we see the term God's steward.  The word steward means house manager, one who manages the affairs of another, one who is in charge of another's property, including slaves; and he is usually a slave himself.  This term gives us the understanding of the responsibility and accountability of the office.  This man is responsible to God for the household of God, as the church is not his property but God's.  It is the Lord's church, the people of God whom God has called out to be His possession. This means that the church leader is accountable to God for the wellbeing and the spiritual prosperity of God's property.

As leadership goes, so goes the church, which is why the Lord gives Titus these guidelines for the men who would be the leaders in the church. The church is only as strong as its leadership, and when leadership fails, or leads poorly then the church is weakened and the flock is left unguarded or misguided. It then becomes vulnerable and is at risk of being defenseless and directionless.  

In the three elements of integrity we see a strength and quality of character combined with commitment to the Lord and commitment to His word as given in the Scriptures. The combination of these qualities of integrity affirm and strengthen each other and make the church leader strong in resisting the attack of the enemy, who seeks to devour him. When possessing these strands of integrity the church leader will lead ethically, will lead spiritually, and will lead biblically.  This is the type of man people will want to follow, who will be trusted to follow, and will be safe to follow.

In the three terms for church leader given here we see the strength of balance.  These descriptive terms define role, function, authority, and accountability, with each of them governing the other two. They not only define the role of church leader, but in defining the role give it its parameters and boundaries.  An understanding of his role, function, authority, and accountability keeps the church leader from misusing or abusing his office; and it also gives the church a benchmark from which to evaluate and measure his ministry; and will give them the knowledge to keep themselves from being taken advantage of or abused.

Yes, a cord of three strands is not easily broken!  How wise is our God in His design for the leadership of the church.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Repentance by all Racists, the Foundation of Racial Reconciliation

Then Moses said, "I pray You, show me Your glory!"
And He said, "I Myself will make all My goodness
pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the
Lord before you; and I will be gracious to whom I
will be gracious, and will show compassion on 
whom I show compassion."....
The Lord descended in the cloud and stood there
with him as he called upon the name of the Lord.
Then the Lord passed by in front of him and 
proclaimed, "The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate
and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in 
lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness
for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression,
and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty
unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the
children and on the grandchildren to the third and
fourth generations." Moses made haste to bow low
toward the earth and worship.
Exodus 33:18-19; 34:5-8
Italics mine

It is with trepidation that I write this post, knowing that some people will misread it, or read into it what they want.  What I would ask all to do is to read through it a couple of times before you come to any conclusion as to where I am coming from and what I am actually saying.

When we as Christians talk about slavery, we need to be sure to understand that the slavery mentioned in the Scriptures, slavery that was the norm in the middle eastern culture during the Old and New Testament times, was not the same as the race based slavery that was perpetrated in England and America during the Colonial and post Colonial times.  It is not the point of this post to explain that, but to simply say that it was not race based slavery.

With that out of the way, let me refer to the Exodus passages above. The race based slavery that was practiced by both England and the U S in the Colonial and post Colonial times was a sin, a national sin.  A sin that was protected, explained away, ignored, and tolerated for decades even by those who were Christians. Is the Lord holding the current generation responsible for that sin? NO! Ezekiel 18:20 tells us this, "The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father's iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son's iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself." But, as a nation, we are still suffering the consequences for that sin in the third generation since it ended, which is exactly what the italicized portion in the Exodus passage above tells us.

This brings us to the current situation going on in evangelical circles regarding the Siamese twin issues of racial reconciliation and social justice. It would be preposterous for anyone to claim that racism, in any of its manifestations, does not exist, inside or outside of the church. However, it is just as preposterous to claim that all white people are guilty of racism just because they are white. That is making an assumption about a person(s) just because of their skin color, which is just another facet of racism.  Also, if the passage in Ezekiel is true, and it is; and clear, which it is; then any claim of guilt by proxy, any attempt by any color of Christian to hold the current generation of white people guilty for the sin of race based slavery that has not existed since April 9, 1865 is unbiblical and unjustified and is a sin.  If all this is the case, then there cannot be white guilt as the term is currently used.

It is incendiary, counter productive, and biblically unwarranted for people such as David Platt and Matt Chandler to use the guilt whip to lay the guilt trip on those who are white. Should anyone regardless of skin color repent of racism if they are guilty of that sin?  Yes, absolutely! But to say that all white Christians are guilty of racism and need to repent, especially with an air of spiritual superiority, is intellectually naive or dishonest, and I don't think either of them is naive and know for certain they are not omniscient. Therefore, when they chastise white Christians for their racism, it has the appearance of moral posing and playing to the PC and SJW crowds; and this serves to invalidate and undermine the very social justice cause they claim to support. 

Again, are there white Christians who are guilty of racism?  Yes, regrettably so.  But here is part of the rub, the gorilla in the room of racial reconciliation discussions is the racism of black Christians.  Racism is a knife that cuts in every direction, and each color of skin has those within it that are racists. If true reconciliation is to occur, then those Christians of each skin color, who are actually guilty of racism need to confess that sin, first to God, then to their fellow Christians, and then repent and ask for forgiveness. Those who hold to the guilt by proxy fallacy need to repent. Those who are using the issues of racial reconciliation and social justice to promote themselves, to feather their own nest, to promote their own agenda, or to make themselves feel better about themselves need to confess and repent.  Those who falsely accuse other Christians of racism need to confess and repent. Those who have been wronged by the sin of racism need to forgive, and pray for those who have sinned against them. Is righteous anger against the sin of racism justifiable? Yes. But we are told to be angry, but do not sin, and let not the sun set on our anger.

Almost all of the tweets, accompanying comments, and blog posts I have seen since David Platt's message have been negative toward what Platt said and his manner in saying it.  Is this because they are racist?  No, it is because people do not like to be falsely and unjustly accused. We live in a country where people are presumed innocent until proven guilty, unless it is in the court of PC opinion.

My friend, who attended T4G with me, and I were having lunch the day after Platt's speech and were joined by three black brothers from Ohio. They were two deacons and the pastor from a black church. We had a good time of fellowship and talked much about their church, and they did not apologize for their church being so black, nor should they. 

Reconciliation is a spiritual issue, and for true reconciliation to take place and true social justice to reign in our country, they must have their foundation in the church of the true and living God, who for His own glory created the different races, and for His own glory is saving those of each and every race. If the unbelieving culture that surrounds us does not see love exhibited in us, then our witness has no validity, and our attempts to spread the gospel will suffer. Making false accusations in an attempt to drum up false guilt will never accomplish cultural change. It is only when all Christians of all colors stand united together in the love of Christ, speak the truth in love, and in love give themselves up for each other, that the impetus for true racial reconciliation will begin. 

Friday, March 23, 2018

When Revenge is On Your Mind

Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles; or the Lord will see it and be displeased, and turn His anger away from him.
Proverbs 24:17-18

You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons
Of your Father who is in heaven for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and unrighteousness. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do even tax gatherers do the same?
Matthew 5:43-46
Also see Romans 12:17-21, Psalm 35:12-16, Ezekiel 18:11

How we treat and respond to those who treat us ill is a true mark of the reality of our faith.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Feeling After God

In The Glory of Christ by John Owen he makes a statement about "feeling after God," and thinking about it crystallized for me some things I have been observing in the church. As we in the West have moved from the modern era to the post-modern era we have moved from a time of rationalism to a time of experientialism and emotionalism. This has been reflected in the church as we have seen an emphasis on experience as the primary means of "connecting" with God.

The prevailing thought seems to be that the way to find God is by experience, that the only way to truly know God is experientially and to know God more deeply requires more frequent or more intense experiences This is manifested in the "worship experience" in many churches. Pastors dress up as different bible characters or secular characters so the audience will feel more connected to the sermon or can more readily identify with the character. We see more stage production in the music portion of the service with brighter lights, louder music, more graphics, cutting edge technology, drama and dance, all designed to create and enhance the "worship experience." So for many churches the experience of the worship service has become primary and the message of the worship service has become secondary, or less. Even in the way the message is presented experience or feeling is emphasized over content.

Church members and attenders have become addicted to the experience much like the cocaine addict who keeps seeking the next high. Even those who sense or know something is wrong, or are abhorred by the theatrics and disgusted by the lack of content in the sermon can't leave, but keep coming back for the high of the experience, just like the cocaine addict who knows it isn't good for him but keeps chasing the next high.

This is also reflected in religious literature. In the book The Barbarian Way Erwin McManus touts experience and mysticism as the keys to a deeper spiritual life as if you can't have a deeper walk or deeper communion with God without them. It is one of the themes that flow through the books Wild at Heart and Blue Like Jazz.  It is also seen in Dallas Willard's writings.

This emphasis on experience is becoming even more egregious in the Word of Faith arm of the Charismatic movement. Joyce Meyer has made the statement that we are not to teach or speak to the mind, but to the heart.  Graham Cooke takes it even further in this video:

Feeling and experience are touted as the way to know God instead of their rightful place as the result of knowing God. The deeper spiritual life, the deeper communion and fellowship with Christ is not  the result of checking our mind at the door of experience, but the result of our seeking after Him, of knowing Him more fully.  The Christian life is not one that is dry and devoid of feeling or experience, but the experience is the result of knowing Him not vice versa. Paul talks about this in Philippians 3:8-12 and it is spoken to in Hosea 6:3,6. In fact, we should not try and manufacture the experience because that becomes a work of the flesh and is profitable only for the flesh.

So, my friends, are you truly seeking God or are you seeking an experience, or are you seeking God through an experience? Take a step back and look at yourself and your family. Are you addicted to the experience so much that you can't let go even though you know that what you are getting is not good for your soul and the souls of your family? The true experience comes from God by and through His Spirit and His Word, at His discretion; and is profitable for our spirit, and is rich, satisfying, and lasting. Those who truly encounter God must come to Him in Spirit and truth, and for such He is always seeking. 

Proverbs 16:25 tells us that there is a way which seems right to man, but it only leads to death. There is only one narrow well worn way to God and to intimacy with God, His word, which is truth; and it gives us the knowledge of the Son of God, who is truth, and knowing Him is truly the greatest experience any of us can have.