The Seven Summits

The life of a Christ-follower is a journey. Jesus offers us a full and meaningful life (John 10:10). He is the only source and giver of eternal life and the one and only way to the Heavenly Father, the one true and living God (John 14:6).

The choice to trust Christ, embrace His Gospel, and follow Him as a disciple is a choice to take a narrow trail in life. Most of humanity will take a wide road and enter a broad gate that leads to destruction. But followers of Jesus Christ have decided to walk through a narrow gate and embrace a difficult path and become part of the few who really experience life this side of heaven and for eternity (Matthew 7:13-14)

Though the trail we take is difficult and unpopular, I agree with the words of singer and song writer Steven Curits Chapman who testifies decades ago that “there is no better place on earth than the road that leads to heaven!”

The Seven Summits at Trinity Baptist Church refers to the fact that our spiritual journey is along a narrow and adventurous trail. Each section of this trail, however, leads to a beautiful summit of celebration. Though the way is not easy, it is an empowered way. We are guided by the Word of God and the Spirit of God. We have taken Jesus by the hand and said, “I will walk with you through this life until you say it is time to step into eternity.”

This way is also a fulfilling adventure. Our souls are redeemed by the blood of Christ by grace through faith in His atoning death and victorious resurrection (Ephesians 2:8-9; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4). This places us on a new path of discipleship.

The Seven Summits provide us with competencies to actualize our core values and biblical vision. That vision is summarized in the words “leading our neighbors, the nations, and the next generation to know love and serve Jesus Christ.” These competencies are both sequential and concurrent. First, we look at them sequentially as a paradigm for coming alongside the home to bring up a generation of Christ-followers from birth until they are launched from the home in pursuit of a calling, career, continuing ed, marriage, family, etc. Second, we look at these summits concurrently as a tool for spiritual check-ups in our lives as adults, in our homes, and in evaluating the various ministries and programs of our church and their effectiveness.

So, what are the Seven Summits?

(Click here for the sermon series that introduced the Seven Summits to Trinity.)

(1) Provision Summit: We are committed as a church to provide, and equip families to provide, an environment where the love of God is made manifest and where His Word, the Bible, serves as His perfect authority in our lives. The passage known as the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and quoted by Jesus as the greatest commandment is central to this summit.

The corporate expression and celebration of this summit is seen our parent/child dedications. From the moment of birth and throughout the preschool years children are able to be established in the facts that God loves us and His Word is true, and a love for God and His Word will always remain foundational for the journey on the narrow road for all ages.

(2) Presentation Summit: We are committed to present, and equip families to present, the Gospel of Jesus Christ and call for a faith response to the Gospel. The fact that God loves us is the basis for His sending of His only Son to die for us that we might have everlasting life by believing in Him (John 3:16). During the grade school years children are becoming able to express remorse for sin, the need for a savior, a comprehension of the Gospel, and what it means to express repentance and faith.

The celebration of this summit is water baptism. This is the first step of obedience for the one who, at whatever age, turns from sin and self and places their trust in Jesus Christ and His death and resurrection for forgiveness and new life.

(3) Preparation Summit: We are committed to prepare, and equip families to prepare, the next generation and all of those who have been saved by grace to grow in their relationship with Jesus. Sequentially, as children are “preparing” for adolescence it is important for them to be established in their identity with Christ and His Church. At this point they can learn the various spiritual disciplines like prayer, worship, Bible study, witnessing, and serving in the church. Concurrently, all believers need to be sharpened on this section of the narrow road.

The celebration of this summit is to encourage a retreat with parents and their “tweens” where they set aside time to discuss identity in Christ, spiritual disciplines, and prepare them for adolescence with talks about the changes that they are beginning to experience in their body, mind, and emotions. Yes, this includes having the birds and the bees talk!

(4) Purity Summit: We are committed to promote a lifestyle of purity and consecration unto our Lord. Holiness as a way of life particularly begins to be tested during those latter middle school years. If habits of purity and personal commitments to live a life of virtue aren’t made during these years, the high school and college years can be an almost impossible season to right the ship. In an age of smart phones and laptops, the purity of our students is under attack like never before. The church and the home must step up and teach that God’s will for our lives is our sanctification, specifically that we are guarded against sexual immorality (1 Thessalonians 4:3-5).

The celebration of this summit includes a right of passage ceremony for young men and the presentation of a purity ring (during a special father/daughter date if possible) to young ladies as near their thirteenth birthday as possible. Concurrently, the life of holiness and a commitment to biblical manhood and womanhood shall be constantly admonished in our student and adult ministries.

(5) Purpose Summit: We are committed to equipping our families to understand their biblical purpose and mission in life. As we look at the summits sequentially, we realize that those early high school years demand that Christ-followers know what they believe and have something solid to stand on and stand for. They can only say “no” to sin for so long unless they say “yes” to something of far greater value, that pearl of great price (Matthew 13:45-46). As we embrace the joy of living life on mission for Jesus Christ, we find the motivation to continue in purity and power as an effective witness. Again, concurrently, this is an area (as is each summit) of sharpening for students and adults of all ages.

To celebrate and reinforce this summit we encourage students, accompanied by parents if possible, to participate in a mission trip. We offer opportunities in our community, throughout North America, and even internationally. Our church is committed financially to backing such endeavors. We pray that it will be the beginning of a life lived on mission for Christ.

(6) Passion Summit: We are committed, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to igniting a passion in our students and adults for a life of service to Christ through and alongside His Church. During the latter high school years students are full of passion that can be righteously channeled for the glory of God. This should be a season of discovering one’s spiritual gifts, developing talents for Christ, committing to biblical stewardship, committing to God’s standards for marriage and family, and growing deeper in the spiritual disciplines and Christian apologetics. This is most certainly a section of the trail that adult believers should revisit again and again.

The celebration for this summit is a junior/senior retreat where our 16 to 18 year-olds are challenged with the aforementioned commitments. While our parents and small group leaders will be presented with resources to assist their leadership in these areas, our church staff and leaders desire to be equipped to answer life’s most difficult questions encountered when hiking this section.

(7) Pursuit Summit: We are committed to continue alongside our young people as they launch out from the home to pursue God’s plan for their lives. As they pursue a career, a season of continuing education, a spouse, military service, or anything else, we want to empower and commission them to do so for the glory of God with great enthusiasm (Colossians 3:23-24). Concurrently, the principles of this summit will be reviewed often in the pulpit and in various small group ministries within the church.

The celebration for this summit is two-fold. Corporately we will have a Graduate Recognition service each May where we recognize and publicly charge our high school graduates to pursue God’s call on their lives. We also encourage families to host their own celebration at a venue and in a context where parents can speak words of public affirmation into the life of their child.

These are the seven summits. While the philosophy behind the summits seems very “next generational,” you need to know that it is never too late to enter through the narrow gate and join the exciting journey down the narrow path that leads to life!

We will continue to develop and sharpen each of these summits. This process will include an evaluation of curriculum and programming for our preschool department, children’s ministry, and student ministry. We will also continue to recommend and provide resources to parents and all adults to facilitate this discipleship strategy in the home. Finally, if you pay close attention you will notice the themes of these summits continually resurfacing in the pulpit ministry at Trinity.

So, grab your hiking gear and join us for the journey of a lifetime that continues until Christ calls us home!

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For God So Loved

I am sure that children all over the nation have enjoyed wearing the new off the gifts they opened on Christmas Day. I remember the excitement of those most anticipated presents – bicycles, electric racetracks, or a set of walkie talkies. I couldn’t wait to open the gifts and play with them from sunrise to sunset until school started back.

The fact that the joy brought by those gifts seems short-lived serves as a reminder that there is only one truly great gift given at Christmas that lasts forever in the lives of those who will receive it. I should say “receive Him.” The gift of Jesus was the greatest gift of love ever given!

During the 2017 Advent Season the Trinity family focused on the hope, peace, and joy that is only found in Christ. Then we closed out the season by taking a closer look, perhaps a refreshing new look, at John 3:16.

“For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

This one verse teaches us so much that our world needs to know about real love. Take a closer look with me! Be reminded of the simple and profound truths.

  1. The Source of Love is God Himself! For God so loved. Agape (selfless, self-sacrificing, unconditional love) flows from the very character and nature of God. He is Love. “For love is of God, and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God… for God is love!” (1 John 4:7-8)

So many of God’s communicable attributes (relational in nature) flow from this perfect quality of love. Out of His love we experience His grace, mercy, faithfulness, and even His righteous jealousy. This kind of love can’t be generated by mere mortals! We can only be a channel of His love as we open our lives to it and allow it to flow through us into this world.

It is impossible to give and receive love, this kind of love, apart from a relationship with the personification of love, Jesus Christ himself.

  1. The Scope of Love is the Whole World. For God so loved THE WORLD. We have to be careful of a couple areas of interpretation and application at this point.

First, “the world” does not refer to the worldly system or the material aspects of the world. This same Gospel writer would late warn in his first epistle that we not to love the world or the things in the world characterized by the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.

Second, the fact that God loves all the people in the world does not mean that everyone will receive and respond to His love with faith and repentance. Universal love does not equal universal-ism and salvation for all. Though the scope of his love is broad, John 1:12 reminds us that only those who receive him are given the right to be called the children of God.

  1. The Sacrifice of Love is the Gift of God’s Son. For God so loved that HE GAVE! Yes, God gave His only Son is a reference to that first Advent. And the first Advent of Christ included much more than the incarnation.

Let us not neglect the context of John 3:16. Jesus was having a conversation with Nicodemus about being “born again” and seeing the kingdom of God. In this context Jesus explained that “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up.” (John 3:14)

The lifting up that Jesus was speaking of was a clear reference to his death on a cross. Just as the Israelites had to look at the bronze serpent in faith for their healing in Numbers 21, we must look to the Cross of Christ in faith for our salvation.

Jesus was born for a cross! And His cross would be the greatest demonstration of love the world has ever seen. While many have died saving others (John 15:13), no one else has ever become sin for us and died in our place while we were still sinners! Nor could anyone else! (Romans 5:8, 1 John 4:10, 2 Corinthians 5:21)

  1. The Saving Power of Love is Experienced through Faith!

“Whosoever believes” implies that, though not automatic, forgiveness is available for all! But it must be received by faith. Biblical faith is a repentant faith, turning from sin and self to place our complete trust in the atoning death of Christ who rose, ascended, and sent His Spirit to take up residence in the life of believers. (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 8:9)

The saving power of this love rescues us from death, for we “shall not perish!” This is speaking of the second death, an eternal spiritual death and separation from the loving presence of God. (Revelation 21:8) Jesus was explaining to Nicodemus that if you are born once, you will die twice. But if you are born twice, physically as well as born of the Spirit, you will only die once. The believer will never experience the second death!

Love is pictured in sacrifice, but perpetuated through a relationship. And God sent His Son so that you might have life in His Name and enjoy living in fellowship with Him forever!

As the late hymn writer, James McConnell put it…

Oh, what wonderful love, oh, what grace divine,
That Jesus should die for me;
I was lost in sin, for the world I pined,
But now I am set free.
Whosoever surely meaneth me,
Surely meaneth me, oh, surely meaneth me;
Whosoever surely meaneth me,
Whosoever meaneth me.

Seasoned Words

There has been a lot of talk about free speech over the weekend. Whether referencing the protests of a large number of NFL players or the comments of the president of the United States, our nation has once again proven to be very polarized. And while arguments abound, Christians will seek to find a biblical balance in areas of patriotism, respect for all, empathy, compassion, understanding, and common sense.

I thank God for the freedoms we enjoy, especially the freedom of speech and expression. I disagree with the logic of appearing to protest what is good and wholesome when one has issues with other areas of concern.  I question the wisdom and strategy of offending those who have fought and lost comrades so that we can enjoy the freedom of speech. Surely there is an approach that unites us rather than further dividing us.

But that is not the point of this post. There is another issue for Christians, regardless of the side we take on issues.

The TONE of our speech and the language we use are just as important as the issues we address.

Consider these commands from Scripture:

Your speech should always be with grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person.” (Colossians 4:6 HCSB)

Grace is unmerited favor. Salt speaks of palatable influence. We should address those with whom we disagree with a gracious tone, better than we think they deserve. And then we should add some salt (palatable influence) to our words with the desire to be winsome even when speaking a word of confrontation and conviction.

Grace. Better than they deserve. ALWAYS. Wow! Whether you are speaking about the president or speaking as the president, that is God’s standard. This means genuine Christ-followers will often have to take a higher road than either side in many arguments… by seeking to change the tone of the conversation.

I feel certain that all kinds of foul language and malicious tones will be used to describe the president of the United States. And, without a doubt, President Trump will continue to use language and tones that I would have spanked my kids for using. The world we live in is quite, well, worldly.

But dear friends and fellow believers, as we seek to find the biblical balance on so many hot topics at hand let us no forget the warning from our Lord:

I tell you that on the day of judgment people will have to account for every careless word they speak.” (Matthew 12:36 HCSB)

 

Supreme Court Vetting and Biblical Hermeneutics

We need a generation of preachers who will study, interpret, proclaim, and apply the Holy Scriptures without trying to change their meaning in order to make them more acceptable.

President Donald Trump has made his first nomination to SCOTUS. You can be sure that Judge Neil Gorsuch has already endured a certain amount of vetting by the president’s staff. But this is likely nothing compared to the questioning he will endure from the members of congress.

Why the process? Why such interrogation? Obviously this is an important step in confirming someone to become a LIFETIME member of the highest court in the land, which could result in this individual being involved in more significant decisions than any 2-term president.

The purpose of the process can be two-fold. The early vetting should reveal certain philosophical foundations regarding the Constitution of the United States. Is this individual a strict constructionist or does he lean toward judicial activism? Of course a loose constructionist would never embrace the title of “judicial activist.”

A strict constructionist will embrace the responsibility to interpret and apply the law according to the language and intended meaning of the authors. If the Constitution needs to be changed, it’s not up to the judge to reinterpret it to make it more palatable or relevant. That is the job of Congress. Congress makes and amends the law, even the Constitution when necessary. Judicial activists, though using refreshing terms and phrases like “progressive” and “the Constitution is a living document”, ultimately usurp the role of lawmakers and defy the wisdom in our system of checks and balances. A loose constructionist approach turns the Supreme Court into an oligarchy. In this case there is no need for Congress to make, amend, or repeal laws. The interpretation of such laws would become so unpredictable and inconsistent that language would be meaningless and the nation would be left to the whims of this nine member ruling body.

If a nominee gives all evidence that he or she is a strict constructionist conservatives could assume that there needs to be no vetting process, right? I mean it doesn’t matter what they believe, or feel, or think about any given issue. After all, they only have to concern themselves with the language and intent of the lawmakers and the Constitution. But it isn’t quite that easy, is it?

Nominees are, and should be, further vetted and interrogated because we don’t really trust people to be objective. And we dig for all the evidence we can find to prove that someone we disagree with can’t be trusted to be objective. Did you notice the NCAA Football National Championship game between Alabama and Clemson had a Big 12 Conference officiating crew, not a crew from the ACC or SEC. Why was that? The officials do not play the game do they? They just enforce the rules. Can they not be objective regardless of conference? Who knows? How can we be sure?

Bottom line: As difficult as it may seem, I believe we need justices who do not overstep their responsibility by becoming an activist to promote a personal or partisan agenda. While he or she may be aware of his or her own biases, they should lay those aside, interpret the law, and rule as objectively as they can on the decision before them. Leave the writing and passing of law, including amendments to the US Constitution, to congress.

What does this have to do with biblical hermeneutics? Everything! Theological progressives, much like political progressives, treat the Bible the same way an activist judge handles the Constitution. They often ignore the language and intended meaning of the authors, as well as the Divine Author, in order to make it more palatable or relevant.

We have often programmed people to think this way, even in Bible-believing evangelical churches. We open our Bibles to a text and go from person to person asking, “What does this mean to you?” While there are many applications of a given text, such a question can imply that the Bible is open to any interpretation you like.

Peter reminds us, however, that “no prophecy of the scripture is of one’s own interpretation.” (2 Peter 1:20) If we can’t assume that the Bible is God’s communication and revelation of Himself to us, then it is pretty much a meaningless collection of man’s ideas. The doctrine of inspiration reminds us that the Bible was given to us by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit as its human authors were literally “carried along” by the Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16 & 2 Peter 1:21). This is a supernatural work!

So while the Bible contains the words of men who were writing from personal experiences, various backgrounds, and with differing objectives, Scripture still ultimately “has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter (BF&M 2000).” 

Good hermeneutics concerns itself with exposition which is informed by the careful exegesis of a text which asks, “What is the author’s intended meaning?” Or as my former preaching professor, Dr. Wayne McDill, often repeated, “A text can’t mean what it never meant!” Like a justice of the Supreme Court with the Constitution, preachers of the Gospel are to concern themselves with the simple explanation and proclamation of what the Bible says.  In other words, we should be strict constructionists when it comes to the Bible.

In addition, Bible teachers and preachers should put themselves through a bit of a vetting process even if they are strict constructionists, uh… I mean biblical inerrantists. We all have agendas, passions, preconceived notions, frustrations, hurts, and experiences that can cause us to read something into a text that simply isn’t there. We can twist and manipulate a text while forcing it to suit OUR purposes. That’s why Paul encouraged Timothy to give diligence as an approved workman who correctly handles the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15).

Bottom line (of greater importance than the aforementioned “bottom line”): We need a generation of preachers who will study, interpret, proclaim, and apply the Holy Scriptures without trying to change the original meaning in order to make it more acceptable. We must resist the temptation to make the Bible more acceptable to culture, and return to lovingly engaging and confronting culture with the unchanging truths of Scripture.

When we compromise the Word of God, we compromise the very power that brings the redemptive change that our world and every human soul so desperately need. May Romans 1:16 and Hebrews 4:12 take hold of the heart of every Christian preacher, teacher, and witness. Let us not be ashamed of the Gospel for it truly is the power of God unto salvation, as we demonstrate that the Word of God is alive and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword!

Faith and Travel Ball: 10 Survival Tips for Families and Churches

“Appearing insecure and angry because of a drop in attendance will only cause us to sound manipulative rather than extending the voice of a loving shepherd to the flock.”

It is that time of year again, already! I know. The Falcons are gearing up for the Super Bowl, and you aren’t quite ready to talk baseball yet. But I love baseball. It is the sport I grew up playing. I love the smell of an old ball glove, hearing the leather pop and the bat crack, and watching games at every level. I enjoyed coaching youth baseball and teaching kids the fundamentals of the game.

One of my all time favorite movie lines comes from a scene in The Rookie. Dennis Quaid, playing the role of Jimmy Morris, approaches a fellow (much younger) minor league teammate and says, “You know what we get to do today, Brooks? We get to play baseball!

Passion for baseball is still strong here in Georgia. While fewer young people may play the game, those who do play take it more seriously than ever. At least compared to my little league days when our teams wore jeans, a t-shirt with a number, sponsor, and Little League patch, and shared four batting helmets and five bats among all 12 boys.

Greater passion among fewer players has also brought about the nation-wide phenomenon known as travel ball. I realize that travel ball is a term that applies to other sports today. But baseball, along with girls softball, seems to be experiencing the greatest participation among the kids and parents that I know personally. However, you can apply these tips to any sport or activity.

As a pastor, I expect to stimulate a little thought among two camps with different feelings. I have friends, especially ministry colleagues, that will not appreciate me writing about the possibility of surviving travel ball. To be fair, they have seen many of their members create habits during the travel ball seasons that have been detrimental to the respective families in their walks with God. They have seen spiritual momentum squelched in their churches as families disappear for months, sometimes never to return. Gone are the days of perfect attendance pins and guarding the sacredness of Lord’s Day worship. There is some merit to these feelings.

These pastors, church leaders, and friends will likely find very little redeeming value in what I am about to share as tips for survival. They will see it as unrealistic or caving. They have a perspective that should be heard, for they can point out concerns and blind spots that must be addressed.

The other camp of believers will be those who are already applying some of these tips. They are so tired of what they perceive to be legalistic criticism of what has become a wholesome family activity as far as they are concerned. They’re not at church on those low attendance Sundays and are unlikely to feel or understand the frustration the first group experiences. And, they might reason, why should travel ball get picked on when others are going camping, leaving early for lunch at grandma’s, going to work, or sometimes not attending worship because they were simply too lazy to get out of bed.

The following tips are not meant to endorse one group or the other. But I do believe they provide biblical wisdom that could bring about balanced and informed decision making. I hope they will be a help to both churches and parents. Ultimately all involved in this growing passion are either believers who need the tips to be better equipped or are lost people who need our church members to reach them.

With that said, let me know which ones you find to be most helpful.

  1. Keep the Glory of God your primary purpose in all of life’s pursuits. For some, sports will be an outlet for bringing God glory. For others, sports robs them of and replaces their passion for Christ. So ask, “Are my kids learning from me and for themselves that our primary goal in life is to make sure we exalt Jesus Christ?” (Mt. 6:33)
  2. Don’t overlook the significance of Lord’s Day Worship. A sports mom recently argued in Christianity Today that corporate worship is the greatest need young Christian athletes have. The biblical principle of corporate worship (originally a Sabbath practice in the OT) becomes a prescriptive pattern in the New Testament as the church gathers on the first day of the week for prayers, preaching, teaching, fellowship, and celebration. This can’t be accomplished with a 10 minute devotion, and we are warned not to forsake this time together as the body of Christ. (Heb. 10:25) Jake Westbrook, former major league pitcher with the Cardinals and Indians and active member of our church, recently shared with me the importance of chapels and hotel room Bible studies with other believers. There are evangelistic chapel services in the ultimate of travel leagues. No reason it can’t be happening at every level, which leads to the third tip…
  3. Be Missional. If we combine the first two tips, the next step for some could be to offer an evangelistic chapel service when you are away for travel ball. After all, we do not give the itinerant evangelist or short term mission trip folks a hard time when they aren’t with us on Sunday. Why not? Because they are on mission and experiencing corporate worship elsewhere. We are called to make disciples while we are going. (Mt. 28:19-20) This also communicates the importance of corporate Lord’s Day worship. From my observation, the ones who are most genuine in applying this tip also go out of their way to not miss Sundays at their home church except for a brief season of travel. And they are usually bringing more kids with them to worship! Being “missional” isn’t merely an excuse to be away when and if they demonstrate a heart for souls throughout the year. Obviously this doesn’t apply to the majority. But some have embraced this tip.
  4. Be Careful of Burnout. The world is throwing more opportunities at us than ever before. The spiritual discipline called simplicity is almost completely neglected. There is another Sabbath principle not completely fulfilled in Lord’s Day worship. That is the principle of rest. Many parents are running themselves ragged and wearing their kids out through over involvement. Both of my children have lettered in two sports in high school, something I didn’t accomplish. So I am all for sports for fun, exercise, and teaching leadership and team skills. For some of us who sit behind the desk, a steering wheel, or in a cubicle, the ball field is a refreshing haven of rest and recovery. But for others it becomes an altar of idolatry where they sacrifice their kids. Many have written on reasons they had to pull away from travel ball because of the stress it placed on their family.
  5. Conquer a little territory. Many will play on Sundays because this has become a major money-making opportunity for hosts all over the country. Seems like every state in the south has a number of champions crowned for several weekends in a row. You could become the host with Christ-centered motives. Christians have begun to host Friday-Saturday only leagues while communicating the importance of protecting Lord’s Day worship and rest. In his book The Matheney Manifesto (Crown Publishing, 2015), Cardinals coach Mike Matheney discusses how he made faith and family a priority when he reluctantly coached travel ball by keeping tournaments close to home without having to sacrifice the level of competition. By the way, this book is a great read for all parents and youth league coaches.
  6. Cover your bases! We are all called to be an active member of a local church, not just a pew warmer. We are called as members to use our spiritual gifts to help the church fulfill its mission. (Romans 12:4-7) Just as the second baseman and short stop must communicate and make sure they know who will cover the bag, church members should make sure that someone is covering the base when they are out… for any reason. Whether you are a teacher, a greeter, an instrumentalist, or a nursery worker, make sure you know who is covering your base when you are not there. Be sure and pass that name along to a ministry team leader. Obviously this principle has much broader application than the current subject. Of course it may be difficult to get someone to tithe for you, but there are creative ways of handling that now too.
  7. Take advantage of Mid-week ministries. In rural and some suburban areas you can still find vibrant mid-week services. Our mid-week opportunities at Trinity are extremely vital to our mission. Children and students are in the Word of God, enjoying fellowship, and learning how to serve, worship, and grow as believers. Men and women are getting the same opportunities in a small group setting. If your church offers these services or something similar, take full advantage! While mid-week services are intended to supplement Lord’s Day worship rather than replace it, I know of many who work on Sundays that are extremely grateful for this mid-week ministry.
  8. Consider the costs. For some families, money is no object. They are able to meet their obligations, invest in the Kingdom of God, and pay extravagant amounts for recreation. Others will neglect their personal obligations and biblical stewardship to pay tournament fees and hotel bills. Obviously travel ball is only one of many passions where people can live beyond their means. But many parents have invested three and four times the amount of the average college tuition rate in order to hopefully help their child earn an athletic scholarship. While I know several youngsters that will play at the next level, the majority will either not make the cut or lose interest along the way. While I enjoy collegiate and professional sports, many parents have lost the ability to allow their kids to play for the exercise and for the love of the game. They become obsessed with living out their dreams through their kids.
  9. Teach Humility. With so many leagues referred to with words like “elite” and “premier” one wonders if the words will lose their meaning. I know I am biased, but we have some remarkably talented kids in our church. A handful of our kids will actually play on the next level. The majority will not. Local Little League organizations are struggling with numbers while travel teams surge. In other words, “elite” and “premier” are no longer words used to describe the top three to five percent. As with all sports, kids should learn skill and confidence. But they should learn to play and interact with kids at school and church who may not share their talent and resources. Confidence and security is expressed in humility and the extension of grace, a hard lesson for even grown-ups to learn. Several college athletes attend our services regularly, but because of their humility few in the seats around them know that they are competing in collegiate sports.
  10. Be careful of building an unhealthy tolerance of mediocre commitment to Christ. This builds on the first three tips, but is probably of greatest concern to me. Here is a principle I discovered as a student minister years ago: What parents and leaders tolerate in moderation, children will usually grow to tolerate in excess. Social drinking by parents justifies allowing the beer to flow freely in the mind of a teen. An ever so slightly revealing outfit by mom provides a daughter with a rationalization for complete immodesty. In the same way, missing 30% of Lord’s Day worship opportunities (especially if tips 1-3 aren’t embraced) usually signals to the next generation that active membership and service in the local church is not really all that important. And while I know there are some solid adults in my church who are capable of heeding all of the previous tips, they must keep a spiritual eye on their child while asking, “Does he or she also get it?” The dad may sincerely tell me, “I really miss it when I’m not here, but I cover my bases, reach out missionally, and later listen to your sermon online.” But does dad notice when that child they’re called to bring up to love Jesus, his church, and his mission isn’t missing corporate worship so much anymore? If they’re losing their passion for Christ and His church it is probably time to pull back and refocus on the most important things in life for believers.

There you have it. If these tips better equip and encourage you to make wise decisions in the days ahead, wonderful! If you are one of the two groups I mentioned to begin with and you feel a little irritated, keep a couple things in mind.

For those who say there is zero redeeming value in families being involved in Sunday sports, remember that we too are on mission. This means we have to meet people where they are. And this is where many are. Appearing insecure and angry because of a drop in attendance will only cause us to sound manipulative rather than extending the voice of a loving shepherd of the flock.

For those who are all in to the travel ball movement, remember each of these tips also serve as reminders of the difficulty of finding balance. In Paul’s admonitions concerning “meats sacrificed to idols” some could eat and be okay with God and the church, while others clearly could not. The determining factor boiled down to asking, “Will this activity cause someone to stumble spiritually?” I can’t answer that for your family. But its a serious question when you consider that Jesus gave us the strongest warning about causing a child to stumble spiritually by not giving them easy access to Him! (Mt. 18:6 & 19:14)

GROWING PAINS

Growing pains accompany growth, naturally. Can you remember experiencing pain in your arms or legs during one of those seasons of life when you had hit a major growth spurt, especially during adolescence? While you did not appreciate the pain, it certainly became more tolerable when a parent explained that you were experiencing growing pains. In fact, it was quite worth the pain. You may have even welcomed the pain just to know that you were growing up.

That should also be our response when we experience growing pains as a church. As with anatomical growing pains, the pains related to church growth (both spiritual and numerical) can come early or late in the seasons of growth spurts. The problem is when we begin to think the pain is unnatural or not worth the growth that comes with it. If we are called to be missional and to grow in discipleship and evangelism, we must beware of the growing pains and refuse to be discouraged by them.

In a future post I will deal with the pains associated with your personal spiritual growth. I am currently experiencing some of the those myself. But for now I would like to share with you some of the growing pains that I believe a church family will experience if they desire to grow. Perhaps these observations will enable you to rejoice over symptoms about which you have occasionally been tempted to be overly concerned.

Growing Pain 1: Personality clashes may become more prevalent. A greater missional spirit and the addition of people means a wider variety of personalities. This calls for greater patience and a willingness to learn to appreciate people that are not like you, people who do not think like you do about everything. Keep in mind, 1 Peter 2:9 says that we are all a “peculiar people.” You will also find that in the context of spiritual growth and the promotion of church unity that Paul told the church at Philippi to “do all things without grumbling or complaining (Phil. 2:14).” Don’t be threatened by people who have different personalities. To embrace them is to be kingdom minded.

Growing Pain 2: Ministry responsibilities must be networked. By the way, this is biblical. Smaller churches, however, often become accustomed to the pastor or pastoral staff doing most of the work of the ministry. Paul explained to the church at Ephesus that the primary responsibility of the pastoral leadership is to “equip the saints for the work of the ministry (Eph. 4:11-12).” If the pastor doesn’t embrace the growing pain of equipping and letting some things go, he will likely master the church version of the art of bonsai. In Acts 6 the apostles provide us with a model for raising up leaders and networking ministry so that leaders can focus on their primary areas of calling. I am fortunate to be a part of a church that gets this. But we may be tempted to forget this from time to time, either by not embracing our roll in the networking process or by expecting the pastoral staff to be involved in everything.

Growing Pain 3: Assimilation strategies must change. There, I said it. The “C” word. The message of the Gospel never changes. Nor does our call to assimilate believers for discipleship. The larger a church becomes, the more necessary it is for people to be a part of a small group. Small groups can no longer be viewed as extra-curricular Bible study groups. They must provide opportunity for intimate fellowship. Whether you call them Life Groups, Sunday School, Men’s or Women’s Bible Studies, or Cell Groups… there must be a place to connect, open up, get real, and become a more functional faith family. Small group leaders must become as concerned about the facilitation of building community as they are about teaching the Bible. So it is A-OK to not finish the lesson because real community is taking place.

Growing Pain 4: Leadership and decision making strategies change. Tim Keller has pointed out that in smaller churches (the average church size is less than 100 active attendees) most decisions are made by the congregation as a whole. As a church grows, however, and expands its ministries and ministry staff, many decisions concerning direction, strategy, organization, finances, calendaring events, and ministry and mission opportunities have to be made quickly. Decision making will become a daily activity of a growing church staff.

Therefore, the ministry staff must be thoroughly vetted when called. They must be accountable to one another and keenly aware of their future accountability to God. They must model a walk with Christ. And they must demonstrate that they LIVE and LEAD by the Word of God. They must do all of these things so that they can earn the trust of the people. And when they have earned such trust, the people should allow them, even make life easy on them, when it comes to making leadership decisions under the direction of the Word of God, the mission of the church, and the guidance of the Spirit of God (Hebrews 13:7&17). The wise leader will cast vision and listen to the hearts of the spiritually mature in the body as often as possible. Learning to trust and follow God-called leadership can be a growing pain for some believers, especially if they come from a smaller church that never kept a pastor long enough for him to earn the trust of the people.

That is not to say that there are not certain systems of accountability, certain protocols of protection, or certain shared responsibilities. But our systems and structures must never become the proverbial “tail that wags the dog.” And when a leader is clearly unethical, unbiblical, or deliberately carnal, believers should apply the biblical steps of church discipline to lovingly confront the situation. (Matt. 18:15-20; 1 Timothy 5:19)

Growing Pain 5: Communication streams must become more effective. There is balance to this particular area of growth. Unfortunately, the pain comes in finding that balance. First of all, everyone simply cannot always be “in the know” about everything in a growing church. As illustrated by points 3 and 4 above, many activities and ministries will take place on the small group or ministry team level. And many decisions will be made by pastoral staff on a daily basis. It would take 3 or 4 hours each evening if I explained to even my wife everything that took place during the day in the life of our church. Yes, the staff is busy all week, not just Sundays and Wednesday nights. We also trust that the church is busy “being the church” throughout the week. We actually love to hear stories of what you are doing for the sake of the kingdom, but we obviously don’t have time to hear and know everything there is to know. Why? Because so many wonderful things are happening! Praise the Lord!

But to bring balance to this, we must strive more and more to communicate the vision and mission of the church. We must especially keep folks posted on how they, how you, can be a part of it. Opportunities for service, prayer needs, and praise reports of how God is working must saturate our church family. This means that as we grow, there will be growing pains in the process of learning to better communicate. There is greater likelihood that someone will be left out by accident. With more people calling our church family home, the chances are greater that someone will have missed the Sunday that a particular announcement was made, or even consecutive Sundays an announcement was made. Not only does this provide a growing pain for the leadership to learn to use more communication channels than ever before (for example, you are probably reading this because of email or social media), there is also a growing pain for members to learn to access all of the various communication streams. Uh, growing pains! Praise the Lord!

What is the alternative to all of these growing pains? The pains of lethargy and stagnation are much worse, only to be followed by spiritual rigor mortis! So I prefer to embrace the growing pains. How about you?

“Are you Staying for Preach’n?”

 

“Are you staying for preach’n?” This may sound like a crazy question to be asked at a place of worship on a Sunday morning, especially to millennials. Most of my colleagues are praying about ways to get more of the congregation involved in small groups where they can build community. Then its helping them discover their gifts, passions, and calling so that they begin to serve Christ as a Spirit-filled disciple.

Isn’t that the greater challenge? Moving people from the corporate worship into small groups, places of kingdom service, and helping them to truly be the church? Yes, that is certainly a task that the church I serve is regularly tackling.

I am also aware of another danger, however, that reminds me of a question that I was often asked in a Sunday School class as a child in the 1970’s. “Are you staying for preach’n?” You see, along with the Sunday School offering, the attendance report, the number of folks who had read their Bible daily and studied their lesson, there was a place to report the number of class members who planned to also be in worship. And it was not uncommon for the worship attendance and Sunday School attendance to be about the same. At the country church I attended, approximately 10% of those in Sunday School did not stay for worship. But another 10% not in Sunday School would show up for worship.

Today corporate worship participants tend to significantly outnumber those who attend a small group, to the degree that I am afraid we may be overlooking an important and influential minority. I’m speaking of the ones who are involved in small groups, usually serving in some capacity, as well as serving in a variety of other areas in the church. The ones I see around all the time… except when scanning the congregation from the pulpit! 

What’s the big deal, right? They’ve already advanced to that next level of service and involvement. You don’t have to worry about them. Uh, not so fast. In fact, I may be more concerned about this group. Let me give you some reasons.

1. I know the importance of my calling, and I take it very seriously. Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 14:3 that my proclamation of biblical truth under the anointing of the Holy Spirit in a corporate setting is absolutely essential for body life. Specifically, if I am doing what God has called and gifted me to do, those present will be edified, encouraged, and comforted. In other words, it is a necessary time of refueling that fights discouragement, breakdown, and frustration in various areas of kingdom service and living. Those who regularly miss corporate worship will almost always experience the latter.

2. I know the impact corporate worship has on my life. When we sing great confessions of faith as a body in agreement, the pipeline from my soul to the heart of God is strengthened and restored. I realize that I am part of the Bride of Christ. I become more aware of His presence by the mere synergy of worshipers exalting Jesus together. Emotions are horrible masters, but wonderful servants. And those who miss this synergy while always serving in other areas find themselves emotionally drained.

3. I know our natural tendency to avoid confrontational truth. Our corporate gathering also serves the purpose of our “spurring one another toward love and good works (Hebrews 10:24-25).” Back to that country church I grew up in. I will never forget homecoming services. I distinctly remember arriving very early with my grandfather one year. A group of men had been awake throughout the night preparing the stew. They would work together through the corporate worship hour to have the delicious BBQ ready. But my thoughts concerning half of the men present at that moment were, “Who are these men? Why are they never in worship? Are all of them really needed here? Why are their wives often in worship alone except for Christmas, Easter, and Mother’s Day?” Even as a child I could discern that these men had no intention of allowing the Word of God proclaimed by the man of God to confront their souls which were far from God. 

The slipping away from consistent corporate worship that refuels, encourages, unites, edifies, and restores souls in the context of a covenant community is so subtle. One week you had to keep nursery. The next week a member of your family was sick. The following week that relative who doesn’t attend church prepared a lunch celebration at noon for the whole family, so you jetted after small group. Then? Guess what? It was your turn in the nursery again, followed by a travel ball tournament, followed by that Sunday you were helping in the kitchen for the church social. Oh, but you stayed active! You were active serving in mid-week ministry to children and attending small group occasionally. But before you knew it, it had happened to you. The passion and power experienced by so many, igniting a fire in your brothers and sisters, has eluded you! You are present for “Martha moments” to serve and feel better about your devotion, while having too few “Mary moments” until you are no longer present at all. Your service has become lifeless and drudgery.

And you may not even know why! It is because you are missing the biblically mandated prescription of the corporate worship encounter way too often. And it is taking a toll on your spiritual fervor.