Great answer from David Powlison of the Christian Counseling & Education Foundation.
In our Christian version of the American dream, our plan ends up disinfecting Christians from the world more than discipling Christians in the world. Let me explain the difference.
Disinfecting Christians from the world involves isolating followers of Christ in a spiritual safe-deposit box called the church building and teaching them to be good. In this strategy, success in the church is defined by how big a building you have to house all the Christians, and the goal is to gather as many people as possible for a couple hours each week in that place where are isolated and insulated from the realities of the world around us.
When we gather at the building, we learn to be good. Being good is defined by what we avoid in the world. We are holy because of what we don’t participate in (and a this point we may be the only organization in the world defining success by what we don’t do). We live decent lives in decent homes with decent jobs and decent families as decent citizens. We are decent church members with little more impact on the world than we had before we were saved.
Discipling is much different.
Whereas disinfecting Christians involves isolating them and teaching them to be good, discipling Christians involves propelling Christians into the world to risk their lives for the sake of others. Now the world is our focus, and we gauge success in the church not on the hundreds or thousands whom we can get into our buildings but on the hundreds or thousands who are leaving our building to take on the world with the disciples they are making. In this case, we would never think that the disciple-making plan of Jesus could take place in one service a week at one location led by one or two teachers. Disciple making takes place multiple times every week in multiple locations by an army of men and women sharing, showing, and teaching the Word of Christ and together serving a world in need of Christ.
All of a sudden, holiness is defined by what we do. We are now a community of faith taking Jesus at his word and following his plan…a community of Christians each multiplying the gospel by going, baptizing, and teaching in the contexts where they live every day. Is anything else, according to the Bible, even considered a church?
An excerpt from Jonathan Leeman’s new book “Church Membership.”
1) It’s biblical. Jesus established the local church and all the apostles did their ministry through it. The Christian life in the New Testament is church life. Christians today should expect and desire the same.
2) The church is its members. To be “a church” in the New Testament is to be one of its members (read through Acts). And you want to be part of the church because that’s who Jesus came to rescue and reconcile to himself.
3) It’s a pre-requisite for the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper is a meal for the gathered church, that is, for members (see 1 Cor. 11:20, 33). And you want to take the Lord’s Supper. It’s the team “jersey” which makes the church team visible to the nations.
4) It’s how to officially represent Jesus. Membership is the church’s affirmation that you are a citizen of Christ’s kingdom and therefore a card-carrying Jesus Representative before the nations. And you want to be an official Jesus Representative. Closely related to this…
5) It’s how to declare one’s highest allegiance. Your membership on the team, which becomes visible when you wear the “jersey,” is a public testimony that your highest allegiance belongs to Jesus. Trials and persecution may come, but your only words are, “I am with Jesus.”
6) It’s how to embody and experience biblical images. It’s within the accountability structures of the local church that Christians live out or embody what it means to be the “body of Christ,” the “temple of the Spirit,” the “family of God,” and so on for all the biblical metaphors (see 1 Cor. 12). And you want to experience the interconnectivity of his body, the spiritual fullness of his temple, and the safety and intimacy and shared identity of his family.
7) It’s how to serve other Christians. Membership helps you to know which Christians on Planet Earth you are specifically responsible to love, serve, warn, and encourage. It enables you to fulfill your biblical responsibilities to Christ’s body (for example, see Eph. 4:11-16; 25-32).
8) It’s how to follow Christian leaders. Membership helps you to know which Christian leaders on Planet Earth you are called to obey and follow. Again, it allows you to fulfill your biblical responsibility to them (seeHeb. 13:7; 17).
10) It enables church discipline. It gives you the biblically prescribed place to participate in the work of church discipline responsibly, wisely, and lovingly (1 Cor. 5).
11) It gives structure to the Christian life. It places an individual Christian’s claim to “obey” and “follow” Jesus into a real-life setting where authority is actually exercised over us (see John 14:15; 1 John 2:19; 4:20-21).
12) It builds a witness and invites the nations. Membership puts the alternative rule of Christ on display for the watching universe (see Matt. 5:13; John 13:34-35; Eph. 3:10; 1 Peter 2:9-12). The very boundaries which are drawn around the membership of a church yields a society of people which invites the nations to something better.
Like most pastors, I occasionally have conversations with people who are dissatisfied with their church and are considering leaving to find another. This isn’t terribly uncommon, and I imagine that over the course of their lifetime many (most?) Christians will struggle with this.
Sometimes the reason for this struggle stems back to the pastor of the church. In the last few months I’ve talked with people who are struggling with aspects of their pastor’s ministry, ranging in seriousness from his friendliness to regularly plagiarizing sermons. They wonder what they should do? I imagine that in most cases, Christians should err on the side of sticking it out, working through misunderstandings, and enduring a leader’s mistakes, foibles, and sometimes even sins.
And yet there are most definitely times that for the sake of their families and the cause of Christ, they should leave the church. The question becomes, how do you know when you should stay or when you should go? How do you know if your pastor is characterized by abusive leadership or if you’re just making a mountain out of a mole hill?
Yesterday I read Jonathan Leeman’s new book on church membership and he tackles this question well. If you find yourself in a situation like this, consider Leeman’s list of characteristics of abusive church leadership. He writes:
“How do you recognize abusive leadership? Paul requires two witnesses for a charge to be leveled against an elder (1 Tim. 5:19), probably because he knows that leaders will be charged with infelicities more than others, often unfairly. That said, abusive churches and Christian leaders characteristically
- Make dogmatic prescriptions in places where Scripture is silent.
- Rely on intelligence, humor, charm, guilt, emotions, or threats rather than on God’s Word and prayer (see Acts 6:4).
- Play favorites.
- Punish those who disagree.
- Employ extreme forms of communication (tempers, silent treatment).
- Recommend courses of action that always, somehow, improve the leader’s own situation, even at the expense of others.
- Speak often and quickly.
- Seldom do good deeds in secret.
- Seldom encourage.
- Seldom give the benefit of the doubt.
- Emphasize outward conformity, rather than repentance of heart.
- Preach, counsel, disciple, and oversee the church with lips that fail to ground everything in what Christ has done in the gospel and to give glory to God.”
Several months ago, Stephanie and I read and immensely benefitted from the book “Give Them Grace” by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson. Since that time we’ve recommend or given away this book to many parents.
In the latest edition of The Journal of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, our friends Andy and Jenni Naselli reviewed “Give them Grace.” The review is really helpful and if you want a guide through the layout, organization, strengths, and weakness of the book, then be sure to check it out.
But the highlight of the review is Jenni’s testimony of God’s grace exposing the idolatry of her heart through parenting. Honestly, this section is a must read for parents! Jenni mentions four themes from the book that have been ministered to her by means of experience:
(1) We cannot ever hope to raise good children (only God can make us truly, inwardly good).
(2) Both little Pharisees and little prodigals needs God’s grace.
(3) Parenting involves specifically applying the gospel to everyday situations.
(4) Parents need God’s grace too.
If you’re a parent, read the whole thing. I guarantee you’ll resonate with Jenni’s testimony of struggle and grace, and that you’ll benefit from what she’s learned.
Note: Jenni’s testimony starts on the third page under “A Mom’s Perspective.”
Jesus expects us to be busy about the work of His kingdom, but often we’re just not sure what that is supposed to mean for us. In his book “Gospel: Recovering the Power That Made Christianity Revolutionary,” J.D. Greear gives a few helpful thoughts for how we can think through what it means for us to work for God:
1. Start with the needs right in front of you.
The book of James says that if someone is standing at your door with a need, then it is God’s intention for you to fill it. The idea that “God doesn’t need us” should never be used as an excuse to not meet the needs that are right in front of us. So, start by helping those in need “right outside of your gates.” If there is a need that you see you can fulfill, do it.
2. Carefully evaluate how your vocational talents can be leveraged for God’s kingdom.
How can your job be leveraged to bless others? One of the most underutilized tools in discerning what God wants you to do is the local church. Just as God used Nathan, who was part of David’s spiritual community, to direct David, so God will use His local church to help direct you.
3. Ask what your local church is doing that you can be involved in.
God has given us our local churches to help direct us in effectively meeting the spiritual and physical needs of our community.
4. Consider whether there is some area of of passion or interest growing in you.
What stirs your heart? Is there a people group, or a country, you think about all the time? Do you have a dream of doing something particularly great for God? Commit that to God, and ask Him to send you. Wait on Him to open the door (Ps. 37:4-5). Don’t be afraid to “expect great things of God, and attempt great things for God.” God can tell you “no” if He needs to, but often the dream itself is from Him. A lot of times the way we discover our spiritual gift is by sensing a deep desire in our hearts to do something for others for Christ’s sake.
5. Listen to what other believers say about your giftedness.
Often, God reveals areas of spiritual-giftedness in us by having someone from the church point it out to us. Other people see an area where we are particularly strong, or where God has used us in their lives.
6. Be open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Just as God, got a message to Nathan, he can get one to you. It might be the counsel of a wise friend, a closed door, or anything else God chooses to use. He can get His message to you. You can trust Him.
Worldliness is something that is frequently misunderstood in evangelical churches. While some churches act as if there is no such thing, others view it as residing only in external forms of clothing, music, etc. It’s clear that Scripture condemns worldliness, but it’s not at all quite clear what exactly is “worldly.”
Drew Conley is the pastor of Hampton Park Baptist Church in Greenville, SC (he’s also my parent’s pastor). A few years ago he preached a series of messages seeking to Scripturally define worldliness that is easily the most helpful resource on worldliness I’ve seen. You can listen to the sermons here. If you don’t have time to listen to four sermons, they are outlined and summarized in a PDF which you can find here. This is an immensely helpful resource.
Here’s Conley’s introduction to the series:
Need for this study
- Some professing believers live as if worldliness were no problem.
- Some professing believers define worldliness however they like, binding consciences and slandering other believers who don’t conform to their manmade definitions.
- The Scriptures give full treatment of this theme, tying it to the gospel itself.
If we’re committed to genuine Christianity, then the Bible gets to define the terms, explain the ramifications, and give the cure. Refusal to submit to the Scriptures on this matter—either by disregard or displacement—is fundamentally worldly.
T4G Made Me Look Like a Girlyman. Carl Trueman’s thought on T4G. Favorite line, “Some are born hypocrites; I have found hypocrisy thrust upon me.”
Is Facebook Making Us Lonely? Owen Strachan highlights a fascinating article from the Atlantic. Both the article and Owen’s thoughts are worth reading.
Length of Days In The Creation Week. My former Old Testament professor, Bob McCabe, has a helpful post on why he believes the days of the creation week are literal, 24-hour days.
The Hole in Our Holiness: Filling the Gap between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of Godliness. Last week I highlighted Kevin DeYoung’s sermon on holiness as one that was particularly helpful. A number of people have told me they listened to it and I simply wanted to note that he has a book coming out this summer on the topic. You can pre-order the book at the link above.
The Bible tells us that when we are born again, we have a change of status. We move from being “in Adam,” that is in sin and in the kingdom of darkness; to now being “in Christ,” that is forgiven and in His kingdom. This truth that we are “in Christ” is not just an abstract theological concept, but one that is vital to our daily growth in grace. Here’s three examples of what it means for us (today!) to be in Christ:
1. Jesus is our Savior (Col. 2:13-15)
Think about what this means for our battle against sin.
- It means that we are no longer enslaved to sin.
- It means that we are a new person with new desires and the power to follow those new desires.
- It means that ultimately we will turn from that sin and turn towards Christ.
2. Jesus is our Advocate (1 John 2:1)
Think about what this means for us when we have already sinned.
- It means that Jesus is not against us.
- It means that Jesus is pleading our case before the Father.
- It means that we don’t have to let our failure paralyze us.
3. Jesus is our High Priest (Heb. 4:14-16)
Think about what this means when it comes to our ongoing fight against sin.
- We have a High Priest who can sympathize with our weaknesses.
- We can have confidence to come directly to God with our burdens and struggles and fears.
- We will find mercy and grace to help us.
In Him we live, and move, and have our being. All we have is Christ. Jesus is our life!
‘By solemn or stated meditation, I intend the thoughts of some subject spiritual and divine, with the fixing, forcing, and ordering of our thoughts about it, with a design to affect our own hearts and souls with the matter of, of the things contained in it. By this design it is distinguished from the study of the Word, wherein our principle aim is to learn the truth, or to declare it unto others; and so also from prayer, whereof God himself is the immediate object. But in meditation it is the affecting of our own hearts and minds with love, delight, and humiliation. Richard Baxter
“In meditation, the whole man is engaged in deep and prayerful thought on the true meaning and bearing of a particular Biblical passage.” J.I. Packer
“Meditation is the bellows of the affections.” Thomas Watson
“If I have observed anything by experience it is this: a man may take the measure of his growth and decay in grace according to his thoughts and meditations upon the person of Christ, and the glory of Christ’s kingdom, and of [Christ’s] love. John Owen
Meditation is to bring the truth of God into contact with the center of one’s being until the Triune God and all his Word become real to you so that you seek him. It is thinking a truth in and thinking a truth out until the ideas become ‘big’ and ‘sweet’, moving and affecting, and until the reality of God is sensed upon the heart. Meditation is strictly speaking neither the Bible nor prayer but rather is the Bible turning to prayer.” Tim Keller