Categories
He Will Build His Church

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

Categories
He Will Build His Church

Church – The Teen Edition?

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).

Categories
He Will Build His Church

An Example of Self-Defeating Segregation

If you haven’t read the weblog from 05/06 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.

Categories
He Will Build His Church

Leaders of the Flock – What?

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.

Categories
He Will Build His Church

Leaders of the Flock – Who? and Where?

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.

Categories
Every Thumb's Width

Scoffer Sensitive Services

Off and on for the last twelve years or so I have been reading the “proverb of the day.” When I was in high school my youth pastor pointed out to me that there are 31 chapters in the book of Proverbs which easily associate with the 31 days in most months (on the other months that are shorter than 31 days you just have to read a bunch of chapters on the last day!). Anyway, that seemed like a reasonable amount of reading to me–a chapter a day, and it also seemed like reasonable content to read since the proverbs are intended to give the “youth knowledge and discretion” (Pro. 1:4).

I am sure that in the future many days of weblog will be dominated by some verse in the “proverb of the day.” How about we make today the first?!

Drive out a scoffer, and strife will go out,
and quarreling and abuse will cease.
(Proverbs 22:10)

Perhaps at the first reading this seems like many proverbs – a short statement of observation on the way things typically go. I think all of us have experienced this. We’ve been part of some class or team or group or club or neighborhood or ministry that had a scoffer (or more than one) in it. Never content to scoff alone, the scoffer freely shares his disdain for the leader or the program or the material or whatever with any who would hear his preaching. And there is always widespread relief when providence relocates the scoffer to another location, the further away the greater the relief!

But the verb “drive out” is a piel imperative, (the Hebrew piel tense is an intensifying form; the imperative obviously demands our response). Therefore, this proverb is more than simply a statement about the peace that comes when scoffers quietly disappear on their own. Instead, wisdom calls us to take an active position against scoffers. We are to chase out, banish, deport, reject, show the way out, turn away, discharge, disregard, expel, leave out, remove, etc., those who mock and deride and belittle and ridicule. For us to have peace among our families and our churches and our social circles, the scoffers must be scooted out!

Now, the immediate objection that some sensitive person will naturally raise is, “That is not a loving response. That is not gracious. That is not kind or patient or long-suffering.” And this is a reasonable, if not entirely biblical concern. We should examine all that we do in relation to scoffers. There is a priority on love (Matthew 5:43-47; 22; 39; John 13:34; Romans 12:9-16; 13:8-10; 1 Corinthians 13:4-7; Ephesians 4:2; 5:2; Colossians 3:14; etc.). There is great need for us to avoid anger and bitterness and all of the other sins that so easily respond to those that attack us or others around us.

But if this proverb is right (and since it is inspired it must be), and if this proverb reveals the wise way (and since it comes from Wisdom is must be), then we must at least admit that there are times when we must actively, proactively seek to see the scoffers leave. We are not to have “scoffer sensitive” worship music and small groups and messages. Those who complain and cause division and stir up strife are to be warned, and warned again, but if their antagonism continues we are to “have nothing more to do” with them (Titus 3:10). We are to drive them out.

At stake is the unity of the body, the purity of the body, and the honor of our group as it reflects the honor of God. As the mocker is forced out so the fighting and bickering and feuding and quarreling will go out. When ridiculers are rejected the stains of strife are cleansed away.