A Community of Diversity

Series | Church

It has been a while since my last blog on the distinctive traits of New Testament churches, and to get us back into that discussion I’d like to point out something that up till now has only been hinted at in previous entries. What I want us to dwell on today is that NT churches presumed and promoted reciprocal diversity.

Now don’t get intimidated by the words here. The idea of “reciprocal diversity” is simply a way to say that churches consisted of all kinds of different people, from different races, different backgrounds, different ages, different genders, etc., who served one another for the benefit of everyone. “Reciprocal” describes things “that complement one another;” or things “given or done in return” for something else. And “diversity” is just another word for “a variety.” So again, the church is made up of different people with a variety of gifts and abilities who all give themselves for the good of the whole group.

This is exactly the picture we see when Paul mentions the “body of Christ” in Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12:1-30. Paul presumes (that is, takes for granted) that there are “many” people (however, ‘many’ that might be) who are different in spiritual giftedness.

Consider Paul’s instruction to the Romans: “For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Romans 12:4-5).

And to the Corinthians he says: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. And there are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 4:6-7).

Not only do we need diversity so that the body can be complete, the context of diversity is also the perfect platform for displaying the “one anothers” in the NT, in particular, love for one another (Romans 12:9-16; 13:8-10). Church (membership) is a recognizable commitment to love one another regardless of our differences rather than avoid one another.

That means churches were not (properly) formed in order to escape those who are different or who disagree. And though smaller group meetings of similar people can be beneficial, they are not meant to replace entirely gathering with the entire church.

Those who isolate themselves (cf. Proverbs 18:1), or their particular sub-group are not to be commended but corrected. They are potentially guilty of pride, bitterness, jealousy, self-centeredness, etc., and should be exhorted to avoid “forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25).

Always the Bridesmaid, Never the Bride

My props go again to Mijah (Micah James) for today’s blog.

Wednesday night he shared with me the new solo project by Derek Webb, “She Must and Shall Go Free,” an entire cd dedicated to the Bride of Christ, the Church/church. On this album Webb does some hard-hitting, right-between-the-eyes talking to the church. Some of the songs made me downright uncomfortable, and I think that’s the point. You can check out the whole thing for yourself.

But I thought I’d share the lyrics from the final track on the album today. (Who would have ever guessed that with less than 20 total weblogs to date, I’d have TWO whole entries devoted to music?! Maybe I’m not a music hater after all!)

This is a song that opposes Christian individualism (if that is really even possible). It confronts the immaturity of some who ignorantly presume their own importance and who inconsiderately pursue their own interests rather than humbly identifying with the whole Body and sacrificially loving the Bride, the church, just like Christ Himself.

May God give us grace to never live like individualists (Romans 14:7), to never be unfaithful to our Fiance (Revelation 19:7), and to never love a bridesmaid more than the Bride.

The Church

i have come with one purpose
to capture for myself a bride
by my life she is lovely
by my death she’s justified

i have always been her husband
though many lovers she has known
so with water i will wash her
and by my word alone

so when you hear the sound of the water
you will know you’re not alone

(chorus)
‘cause i haven’t come for only you
but for my people to pursue
you cannot care for me with no regard for her
if you love me you will love the church

i have long pursued her
as a harlot and a whore
but she will feast upon me
she will drink and thirst no more

so when you taste my flesh and my blood
you will know you’re not alone

(chorus)
there is none that can replace her
though there are many who will try
and though some may be her bridesmaids
they can never be my bride

Church – The Teen Edition?

Series | Church

Thanks to Micah Lugg for today’s weblog title. As we were on our way to Starbucks this morning he was describing some of his reaction to my earlier blogs on segregation, specifically the self-defeating segregation of students, and he commented in jest that “it’s like, church: the teen edition.”

By the way, for all three of you blog readers out there, you might also want to check out M.Lugg’s blog, J.Martin’s new blog, and D.Zimmer’s new blog. Blogging seems to be the recipe for good times. And oh yea, you can also still read mine…if you want to.

So it seems like I’ve really been on a tirade of late against the separation of church and students (however that happens, whether to another part of the church or to some place beside the church). And before I lose any further integrity or credibility, let me explain at least one of the reasons why I can still be a youth pastor and not be searing my conscience with a hot branding iron every stinking day.

This is the thing, I am not saying that there should never, under any circumstance, be a ministry purposefully aimed at students. I do think it is possible to have a biblically based, God honoring, whole Body integrated student ministry.

I believe the most significant argument for this kind of concentrated effort is that it is an appropriate and efficient way to “focus on the few to reach the many.” Our model Paul was “warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom” in order to “present everyone mature in Christ” (Colossians 1:28). This vision of impacting “everyone” is huge. It is consuming. It requires individual attention and personal contact with each and every member.

So in our church, the board of elders has assigned me a particular part of the flock on which to concentrate. As Pastor Z and I have often discussed, I am to be a specialist (working with students) with a generalist mentality (fitting in to the entire local body). As the overall goal of the elders is to shepherd “everyone” in the church, my assigned emphasis is to teach and warn and seek to present “every man” in student ministries complete in Christ.

But again, even though it is reasonable and necessary to pursue particular persons for discipleship we must remember that the context of that discipleship must be in the corporate congregation. We must make sure to teach students (or whatever sub-group) about their role in the bigger picture. That is why I teach that the first mark of a healthy student ministry is that it recognizes itself as a part of the local body.

This is why I do what I do. I am a co-laborer among the whole body with the primary responsibility of laboring among students. May God give us more grace to use our giftedness as member of one another (Romans 12:5-6).

An Example of Self-Defeating Segregation

Series | Church

If you haven’t read the weblog from 05/07 you should do that before reading today’s entry. The bottom line of that entry was to question the prevailing pattern of dividing up (or away) certain groups in (or from) the church. Let me consider just one example that is close to my heart–student ministries.

There are a few (I believe illegitimate) reasons some people–both the students and the older generation–in the church have argued for separating the youth into their own group.

First, young people are so different, they really need their own thing. Young people really are much more cool and sic than the old people. Their taste in music and clothes generally could not be more opposite, their speech and communication are to say the least different, and sometimes it seems the only thing the two groups have in common is disagreement. Segregating the two seems to make great sense, then, so that each can have what they want.

Second, young people are often so immature, they need somewhere (else) to grow up. Kids will be kids, right? But who wants to be around them? So put them in a room, send them down to the basement, and don’t let them come out until they’ve grown up! What adult really wants the crazy kids around, being loud, running around, and generally causing trouble. Until they reach a certain age–where they become human–it is best to keep them separated. Besides, they are not ready for ‘adult’ topics and they’ll just be bored if forced to sit through sermons for old people

But there are a few biblical problems with age segregation.

How, for example, would we expect Titus 2 to take place if the young people are separated away from the older people? How are the older women to teach the younger women and the older men to teach the younger men if they are never around each other?

And second, how will the various parts of the Body work together if they aren’t actually ever together? Numerous NT passages talk about the Body of Christ. The most significant for our discussion is 1 Corinthians 12:12-27. There Paul speaks about the fact that though we are individual members, we make up part of the whole body. If you are a Christian, no matter what age, you are a member in His body. And though it seems sort of silly to say it, no individual member can survive on its own apart from the rest. To amputate the young people away from the rest of the body is spiritual suicide.

Third, doesn’t this segregation leave us with the equivalent of the “blind leading the blind.” It is like driving behind a person whose bumper sticker says, “Follow me, I’m lost.” Gathering a bunch of immature people in a room and letting them counsel one another on how to be mature is not a clever idea. It is the epitome of pooling ignorance.

So ironically, by segregating the youth for the purpose of facilitating their maturity, we can actually hinder the maturing process. In reality we will kill student ministries if we are only concerned about student ministries.

Of course, the problem still remains that I am a YOUTH pastor and I still haven’t given any validation for my job! Perhaps I’m even going the opposite way. So are there any legitimate reasons for student ministries? And is it possible to do student ministries (or any other ministry for that matter) in a way that promotes the entire body? We’ll have to see tomorrow.

If some of this sounds familiar, good! That means you have been paying attention, because today’s weblog was adapted from my sermon “How to Kill Student Ministries” preached in June, 2003.

Leaders of the Flock – What (else)?

Series | Church

It is always beneficial for us when our vision is in line with God’s vision. By using the word vision I am not referring to some supernatural dream from God, but rather to the target and scope of our work. And God’s revealed target for His shepherds is an open letter challenge to any and every specialized ministry.

The vision of a New Testament leader should include the entirety of, and diversity in, the Body. Various gifted men have been given to lead and teach and “equip the saints for the work of ministry until we ALL attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God” (Ephesians 4:12). Note that leaders/shepherds are to be concerned for “the WHOLE body” and “EACH part” (v.16). They are to “be on guard for…ALL the flock” (Acts 20:28).

These descriptions are devalued if only applying to a family or ‘specialized’ ministry. In fact, focused leadership energies toward particular cultural sub-groups, age groups, or gender groups is short-sighted at best and self-defeating at worst. This is ESPECIALLY so when these organizations or ministries operate outside the watchful oversight of the elders in a local church.

Please understand me. I am NOT saying that every small group or Bible study should be as diverse as humanly possible, or that there can be no ‘little-er’ groups at all. I am not against some reasonable grouping of similar people for the purpose of concentrated shepherding and discipleship. Since discipleship cannot take place except on the level of the individual and since much discipleship occurs in the context of regular relationships, it is natural that some separation will occur anyway.

But I am most intensely against leaders intentionally isolating themselves and their sub-group of choice away from the church or even from the rest of the body within a church. It doesn’t matter what you call it. Call in a fellowship; call it a crusade; call it an agency; call it a parachurch group; call it your family; you can even call it a ministry. Call it whatever you want. The reality is there are many members in one body–and amputating some parts away from the others for extended periods of time will result in losing the limbs entirely. We will not survive divided.

Of course, your obvious question at this point should be, “If that is what you believe, how can you be a YOUTH pastor? Isn’t that completely inconsistent with what you just said?” There is an answer. I’ll see if I can find it by tomorrow so I can keep my job – or at least so I can do it with a clear conscience!

Leaders of the Flock – What?

Series | Church

Yesterday we took a brief look at some of the implications of who New Testament shepherds are and where they do their work. Today I’d like to quickly consider one distinctive of what biblical leaders do.

Shepherds in the church have a distinct kind of work–it is spiritual, eternal work. Leading the church is not the same as managing a business, coaching a team, building a network of friendships, or securing good public relations with the community. But today’s Christian leaders seem more familiar with these temporal objectives.

I keep re-reading Brothers, We Are Not Professionals by John Piper. Some of his beginning thoughts summarize this idea about the spiritual nature of shepherding. Think about these few quotes:

The political and religious atmosphere of the world pushes us–if we have ears to hear–relentlessly toward the unprofessional center of faith and ministry: the brutal, bloody, hideous, heaving, crucified God-Man Jesus Christ. We are driven more and more in these years to say with the apostle Paul, ‘I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified….Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world’ (1 Cor. 2:2; Gal. 6:14). (p. ix)

Insulated Western Christianity is waking from the dreamworld that being a Christian is normal or safe. More and more, true Christianity is becoming what it was at the beginning: foolish and dangerous. ‘We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles’ (1 Cor. 1:23). (p. ix)

the center of Christianity and the center of pastoral ministry is the dishonorable, foolish, gruesome, and utterly glorious reality of the tortured God-Man, Jesus Christ More and more, He must become the issue. Not a vague, comfortable, pleasant Jesus that everybody likes but the one who is a ‘stumbling block’ to Jews and ‘foolishness’ to Gentiles. The closer you get to what makes Christianity ghastly, the closer you get to what makes it glorious. (p. xi)

The aims of our ministry are eternal and spiritual. They are not shared by any of the professions….We are most emphatically not a part of a social team sharing goals other professionals. Our goals are an offense; they are foolishness (1 Cor. 1:23).” The love of popularity and acceptance “kills a man’s belief that he is sent by God to save people from hell and to make them Christ-exalting, spiritual aliens in the world (p. 3).

This is what I don’t get about typical youth ministries, many churches, and certainly most parachurch groups. I don’t get how games and fun and entertainment and comfort and self-esteem and popularity and status are consistent with the biblical picture of Christianity which includes dying to self, living as exiles on the earth, abstaining from passions of the flesh, killing love for things of the world, and thinking it gain to die.

And I believe it is a slippery slope when we begin borrowing organizational structures from the world for our Christian organizations. Positions such as (parachurch) “ministry presidents,” “C.E.O.s,” or men with other similar titles are not equal to the leaders of the body of Christ. The church is not a corporation with a board of trustees and committees and executives that carry out memorandums. These other terms apply more to corporations and businesses rather than the organism of the Body. Leaders of the flock are not equivalent to professionals.

And not only must we be careful with our titles, we must be careful about our goals. Our goals are not marketing goals. Our aim is not to sell a product, increase our market-base, promote our company, etc. Our mission is not to make buddies and make everybody happy and win the game. We do not judge our success by numbers and respect and position.

Instead, our purpose is to “present every man mature in Christ” (Colossians 1:28). Our emphasis is on commitment, not success. Our expectation is to receive no greater treatment than they gave our Master (Matthew 10:24-26). Our priority is on the unseen, eternal things and not the visible, transient things (2 Corinthians 4:18).

We will not win the world by becoming like the world. We should stop thinking that is what will happen. And we should stop thinking that is what God’s leaders do.

Leaders of the Flock – Who? and Where?

Series | Church

We are back again to consider the distinctive traits of New Testament churches, and today I’d like to consider the fact that local churches always had leaders who were spiritually gifted and qualified, who were identified with individual local churches, and whose charge included the entire flock.

In the New Testament leaders are identified as elders (also addressed as pastors, overseers, and shepherds) as well as deacons in local churches. Both of these offices and their qualifications are described in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. And as I mentioned in the chosen channel, Paul charged Titus to “set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city” (Titus 1:5).

As with the truth that NT churches are identified by geographical location, the fact that NT churches had recognizable leadership also has some important implications.

First, notice who the leaders are. Actually, I really want you to notice those who the leaders were not. Fathers were not the ones addressed by default as the leaders of the churches. Though undoubtedly fathers have spiritual shepherding responsibilities for their families, “fathering” in the home is not equivalent to shepherding over the church. Fathers shepherd thief families–elders shepherd the flock (Acts 20:28; Hebrews 13:17; 1 Peter 5:1-4). Though elders are oftentimes fathers, not all fathers are elders. (I suppose this may seem painfully obvious, but we should not take it for granted.) This means that church leadership is not equal to fatherhood (contrary to typical “house church” teaching).

This also serves to make the distinction between families and churches that we took into account on Monday.

A second major implication relates to where leaders lead. That shepherds in the NT are associated with definite flocks is quite clear. Elders (and deacons, though deacons are not by definition equivalent to shepherds) are identified with particular assemblies. They expend their energies in the endeavor to feed and protect the sheep in their own field.

This means that they are not gatherers of misfit or misplaced sheep from multiple other flocks. hey are not charged with creating or overseeing para-flock groups to reach all the brown-spotted firstlings or all the black-speckled females, etc.

Instead, they are called to “be on guard…for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). This directive from Paul to the Ephesian elders is both narrow and broad. It is broad in that they were to oversee “all the flock.” We’ll consider tomorrow how this broad element has implications for what leaders are to be doing.

But take in the significance of how narrow their calling was. They were called to concentrate on the flock “among” them. And who determined where they were and what sheep were present? The Holy Spirit! The Holy Spirit not only gifts certain men to be leaders, but He also providentially puts those leaders in particular places for the particular purpose of shepherding particular people. This is just a different way to say the same thing, namely, that leaders of the flock work with just one flock at a time.

More to come.

The Chosen Chanel

Series | Church

If you’ve been in “Big Church” on Sunday mornings during the last couple of months you know that Pastor Z is in a series about the church. Hopefully God’s Spirit is illuminating the truth of the Word to your mind and helping the fact sink into your heart that the church is God’s chosen channel in this period of redemptive history.

Since the church takes precedence in God’s plan, and since “repetition is the mother of learning,” I thought I would take a series of weblogs and recap some of the distinguishing traits of New Testament churches.

For today let’s focus on the fact that New Testament churches were always identified by their geographical locations. The letters to the Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians are all addressed to believers gathered in specific communities. This classification is further verified by the fact that Paul directed Timothy to appoint elders in “every town” (Titus 1:5), thus delineating groups of gathered believers by location. Of course, this is not the same thing as saying that the church is a building, but it is the people (Christians) in a particular place.

You may be saying to yourself right now, “OK. So what? Why is that so important?” I believe there are at least two major implications that come directly from this truth.

The first implication of this fact is that no church was ever identified by a particular family or house. Even though they may have sometimes met in individual homes rather than public meeting places, a church is bigger and broader than a family unit. It is true that churches are made up of multiple families, but they are never biblically defined by as a congregation of a family or families. The church is the “household of God” (1 Timothy 3:15) in specific locations, but not “households” by definition.

A while ago there were some questions about “house churches” on the discussion forum. The little bit of research that I did on home churches yielded more than a few concerns on my part, but one of the clearest problems is that the house church movement fails to take into account the Scriptural representations of local churches. Additional evidence comes from observing that Paul ministered BOTH in public and from house to house (Acts 20:20), further confirming a distinction between the two. There is a place for smaller group Bible studies, prayer meetings, and fellowship in home settings, but a small group is not equal to a church.

A second implication of the fact that churches are identified by their place of gathering is that churches were not identified by their ministry dream/scope. That means that a church is not a group that focuses on ministering only to youth, or just to the elderly, or just the Jerusalem Track & Field Association, or just the women, just businessmen, etc. In a few days we will talk about the fact that there is considerable diversity in New Testament churches, again emphasizing that a church is not simply a narrow-banded bunch. The common bond in a local church is belief in Christ, beyond that there ought to be a great variety and assortment of people.

These implications challenge the many assorted (and anemic) definitions of what an actual church–as identified in Scripture–really is. We’ll take a look at the second distinguishing trait of New Testament churches in the next weblog.