My Take on the SBC Today

Worship during the 2021 Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville, TN.

My Background

I grew up attending a small, rural Southern Baptist Church in northeast GA in the 1970’s. The pastor faithfully presented the Gospel week after week, calling for a response. It was at a Baptist summer camp that the local Baptist association sponsored that I first placed my trust in Jesus Christ. I later joined a Baptist church plant in the same county, and my passion for discipleship and spiritual growth was wonderfully fueled during my teen years.

I attended a Bailey Smith (a Southern Baptist evangelist and former SBC president) Real Evangelism Conference at age 19. There, after hearing from pastors like Adrian Rogers and Junior Hill, I sensed the Lord confirming my calling to the Gospel Ministry. After graduating from Emmanuel College, a Pentecostal Holiness school, I attended Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC. in pursuit of my M. Div. as the school was finally feeling the impact of the conservative resurgence in the SBC.

I have served in student/associate ministry in three SBC churches. For the past twenty-one years I have served as lead pastor of the aforementioned church that fueled my passion for discipleship. So, I have been immersed, but not untested, in Southern Baptist life for half a century.

What is the SBC and How Does It Work?

If you are not familiar with Southern Baptist life, you might not be aware of a few things. For instance, Southern Baptists are a group of autonomous churches that share certain core beliefs and cooperate in missions, evangelism, church planting, and Christian education for ministry leadership and a growing number of other fields. This autonomy means that resolutions from the annual meeting of messengers are nonbinding. It also means there is no organizational hierarchy that can tell a local church what they can or cannot do.

You might wonder why you hear about churches being disfellowshipped or “kicked out” of the denomination if the denomination has no authority. This happens when a cooperating church does something pretty egregious, by majority consensus, like approving the ordination of homosexuals, approving gay marriage, tolerating blatant racism, or allowing a sexual predator to serve in ministry leadership. While the denomination has no legal authority in the life of the local church, the messengers at the annual convention can call them to repentance and ultimately cut ties. Basically, they send back the check that makes them a cooperating church thus removing the rights and privileges that come with such cooperation along with the ability to send messengers to the convention.

Since cooperating Southern Baptists put a significant amount of their dollars in the same pot, known as the Cooperative Program, to fund national and state entities like our Baptist colleges and seminaries, the International Mission Board, the Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission, the North American Mission Board, our publishing interests like Lifeway, and the administrative machinery to keep it all connected, we have an annual meeting to report and affirm decisions on how it will all operate. Leaders are elected, agencies report, budgets are approved, strategies are affirmed, and trustees are put in place.

The Conservative Resurgence

By the 1960’s the influence of the Enlightenment Period was greatly impacting Christian institutions of higher learning. Schools all across America that had been established to train pastors and missionaries and propagate the Gospel of Jesus Christ were suddenly destroying the very Word of God they were established to defend. Every mainline denomination was on a slippery slope of theological liberalism, promoting religious existentialism, and denying verbal-plenary inspiration of the Bible – that it is God’s Word from cover to cover. This drift would begin to impact the local church as pastors trained in these institutions began to fill pulpits across America.

Southern Baptists were not exempt, but their autonomy led to a couple different reactions in the 1970’s. One group, having nothing to lose, simply pulled out and became known as Independent Baptists. While they feared that the cooperative program ties made a church less autonomous, independent Baptist mission agencies sprang up everywhere. Many independent and Southern Baptists still “cooperate” to keep these agencies running. Our church supports both SBC causes, independent missionaries, and parachurch missions like Cru.

Another group decided to stay in and fight for the denomination and its institutions and entities. This became know as “The Battle for the Bible”, “The Conservative Resurgence”, or “The Fundamentalist Takeover” (as described by the more moderate and liberal crowd). The nature and authority of Scripture was the central issue of this struggle.

How did the world’s largest non-Catholic denomination turn the ship around? It was through the annual meeting. Well, through many annual meetings. I won’t go into all the juicy details, arguments, and highlights, but there was a process that allowed for a grass roots movement to change everything.

Here is the short version: Conservative pastors and leaders rallied to communicate the theological drift and its dangers and encourage churches to send messengers to the annual meeting. This was quite a challenge before the invention of the internet. Thanks to a grassroots movement, in 1979 a strong conservative, Adrian Rogers, was elected president of the convention. Per SBC bylaws the president appoints the committee on committees. This committee appoints various committee members including the committee on nominations. The committee on nominations recommends the next slate of trustees for mission boards and seminaries. Trustees hire presidents. Presidents hire faculty and staff. Faculty teaches the next slate of pastors and missionaries who influence the church and mission field. After about 12 years of conservative presidents and the rotating in and out of trustees, the denomination was overwhelmingly conservative, the only mainline denomination to reverse course from the slippery slope of liberalism.

Forgive the oversimplification of that process. It also happened simultaneously, or a few years behind, on a state convention level for many Baptist State Conventions. The battle was ugly at times, but members felt that the Bible was a hill on which to die. And the wise realize eternal vigilance is not only the price of victory, it is the price of defending sound doctrine.

The Past 30 Years

I attended my first Southern Baptist Convention thirty years ago in Atlanta. There was finally a feeling at that time that those who would support a more liberal theological agenda were giving up and stepping aside. I would continue to attend the annual meeting through seminary, where I would have the opportunity to serve as a page and monitor a microphone. I’ve been in a hotel room prayer meeting with a nominee who became president, and I’ve been in a preconvention meeting with a nominee who surprisingly did not win. I was there for the adoption of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. I was there when the architects of the conservative resurgence saw their nominees defeated by other conservatives who did not emerge from the chief influencers of the resurgence. I was there with my family when Fred Luter became the first African-American president of the convention by acclamation.

You see, the annual meeting is quite a remarkable feat. It is the largest open business meeting in the world allowing every messenger access to be heard from the floor, an exciting test of parliamentary procedure. Any messenger from a cooperating church can bring a motion, offer a resolution, move to amend the annual budget, recommend a substitution for a trusteeship, or ask that the thermostat be lowered for the AC in the convention hall. Seriously, that last one happened this year. The fact that so much gets accomplished is nothing short of a miracle! Every denominational family has their crazy uncles, but we just have an easier way for them to be heard. That’s why you can’t pay much attention to media reports on the annual meeting. Anyone can bring up anything. Statesmanship and a gracious tone by the one presiding plus a host of the world’s best parliamentarians are absolutely essential to keep things moving orderly.

On the downside, some people (both locally and nationally) are always looking for controversy or a fight. So, when the more moderate and liberal Baptists quit attending the convention, especially after the passing of the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message, we found other things to argue about and disagree over.

Over the past couple of decades we have seen rifts over contemporary versus traditional worship styles, reformed versus nonreformed soteriology, politics (most recently the Trump supporters versus the Never-Trumpers), boundaries for cultural engagement, and changing the name of the denomination to Great Commission Baptists. But you can’t simply classify Baptists in one of two camps. It is much more complicated than that. For example, a south Georgia Calvinist who supported Trump might align politically with the southwest nonreformed crowd that he was previously arguing with over soteriology before the most recent election issues came to the forefront, because the east coast reformed crowd seem to be opposed to Trump, at least the first time he ran. Its all fluid. And reformed churches might argue among themselves over traditional versus contemporary worship styles while the nonreformed churches have the same arguments. With 50,000 churches there aren’t two sides to issues, there are dozens of sometimes overlapping subcultures. See the miracle of our cooperation?

Then why do I remain in the SBC and lead my church to stay connected if our polity lends itself to controversy? First, I do agree with our theological statement known as the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. While we are not necessarily known as a “creedal people”, I believe it is the best and most biblical summary of the primary beliefs that we should rally around to fulfill the Great Commission as a team.

Second, I believe the cooperative program, our system for giving and supporting these causes, is a God thing. Other denominations try to emulate it because of its success. The Cooperative Program allows us to offer first class training at some of the world’s largest seminaries, train and send one of the largest missionary forces and keep them on the field, and support strategic church plants in cities across North America.

Third, I believe our missions agencies and mission strategy are second to none. Not perfect. Always in need of accountability and local support. But the potential is unparalleled, and I want to be a part of influencing that potential for the glory of God.

Finally, and more subjectively, I feel indebted. I am a product of many of the things we do right and well. So, I want to see those things grow and continue. I want to see the world’s largest non-Catholic denomination survive and thrive and continue to grow into a people doing greater things than ever for the glory of God. And I believe that a certain amount of the friction, though not all, is iron sharpening iron.

The 2021 Meeting in Nashville and the SBC Today

Here is what most of you clicked to see. Let me share my reactions and concerns based on my experience at the annual meeting this year:

  1. I am hopeful because of the number of church plants taking place, 8000 new church starts in North America in the past decade! More than ever new church starts are surviving their first decade and becoming vibrant and self-supporting. By 2030 one-third of SBC churches will have started after 2010. Obviously this speaks of the need for revitalization work in established churches, but I pray that the new churches in new places will be fruitful.
  2. I am hopeful because of the number of young people I saw at the convention. This did not look like an irrelevant crowd. I may not agree with them all. I may get tickled at the Spurgeon beards, llama haircuts, and skinny jeans, but I was glad to see the convention hall full of people younger than me with a passion for the Great Commission. And while I am not one to pursue political correctness, my missional heart was grateful to see the ethnic diversity among the young!
  3. I am grateful for the spirit and tone of the majority of 17,000 messengers. We all got on our knees and prayed together. We laughed together. We cried together. I realize that the pursuit of unity should never replace the commitment to doctrinal integrity. But dry orthodoxy without a genuine love and contagious fellowship isn’t winning anyone either.
  4. I have a love and appreciation for those who fall into various subgroups with differing priorities and agendas. I am not hesitant to share my opinion, but I refuse to be divided by strategy and policy opinions. I also refuse to fall into what Dr. Johnny Hunt once referenced as the fear of “guilt by association” trap. I can partner with the various subgroups with whom I disagree on some issues to pursue those things that are primary. In fact, I even believe in doing this across denominational lines when opportunities arise to biblically stand together on common passions and missions. Just think how many you join forces with when you stand for the sanctity of human life. The body of Christ is much bigger than the SBC, and certainly much bigger than any subgroup of the SBC.
  5. I am discouraged by how some of these subgroups caricature one another. Hyperbole is not helpful in serious and warranted debate. For instance, in the current debate on Critical Race Theory, there are significant differences in passionately held convictions. Those who want to call CRT what it is, name it specifically in a resolution, go on record and argue for the sufficiency of the Gospel in fighting racism ARE NOT LEGALISTS! They see a threat to the Gospel and want to go on record for calling it what it is. And contrary to the statements of some, many of those who discuss their concerns over the rising influence of CRT DO get much more fired up about sharing the Gospel that they are defending. This is not legalism. It’s not adding to or distorting the Gospel. On the other hand, those who verbally denounced CRT but refused to put the words “Critical Race Theory” in a resolution that denounced all such theories in general terms ARE NOT NECESSARILY LIBERAL. The theological liberalism we battled 40 years ago denied the authority of Scripture placing question marks on things like the creation account, the miracles of the Bible, the virgin birth, the bodily resurrection, and the exclusivity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s not happening among leaders in the SBC today. Personally, I believe the unwillingness to use specific language is a sincere attempt to hopefully win and influence more minorities. I also believe this is a mistake that can lead member churches to assume it’s okay to place a cultural lens over the Word of God, thus skewing the meaning. So, while I don’t think some of these leaders who refused to be so specific are liberal, I do feel that they fail to realize that this could lead to a pragmatic liberalism in some SBC churches that consider themselves conservative. I pray that we find an Acts 17 Paul at Mars Hill type balance of carefully navigated, but uncompromisingly clear, communication of the Gospel and confrontation of dangers of bluntly named false ideologies. Note: Leaders on both sides of this repeatedly, verbally acknowledged their rejection of CRT, even JD Greear and Danny Akin. But the resolutions committee, led by a persuasive and very respected Georgia Baptist pastor, convinced the majority that the general language of the resolution condemning all such theories was better than specifically naming CRT. I disagree. But my disagreement with someone for what I believe is a weak or even spiritually compromising strategy does not make them a theological liberal.
  6. I am brokenhearted over issues and accusations of sex abuse in SBC life, but greatly encouraged by our response to it… calling it what it is and making it clear that there is no place for sex offenders in ministry leadership. While there were certain situations still being looked into, everyone seemed to try and outdo each other on the importance of fighting sex abuse. Much of this discussion was launched by an investigative article by the Houston Chronicle a couple of years ago that pointed out Baptists had been relatively unheard from concerning some 700 plus allegations of sex abuse by some 380 perpetrators over the previous 20 years. These perpetrators were pastors, deacons, church staff, church volunteers, SBC entity employees, and others. While just one case merits a response and clear statement from the convention, you might be interested to know that that is 380 of a potential 3.8 million (or 1 in 10,000) that fill those various roles in our SBC churches and entities when volunteers are included (and they were). That is still way too many, but by comparison the scandal that rocked the Catholic church was reported to find that 5,000 of 500,000 (or 1 in 100) priests were guilty of sexual misconduct. Again, there must be zero tolerance here. Measures must be put in place to stop such abuse and hold abusers accountable. But, considering the fact that 1 in 4 females and 1 in 6 males in America have been abused, the 380 alleged perpetrators out of the millions who serve in our local churches means some of our churches have failed. But it also means that many are doing a great job of putting safe ministry measures in place. May we increase in vigilance here.
  7. You had to be there! Praying, worshipping, and even listening together, face to face, brings a different tone than armchair quarterbacking through social media and backroom political strategizing. Even if you disagree with someone passionately, getting together with them is more fruitful than tweeting about them. While some messengers spend the majority of their time hanging with old friends in the exhibit hall or local restaurants (a little of that is healthy), and some are so engrossed in committee meetings or gatherings of the various subgroups (9 Marks, Conservative Baptist Network, etc.) that they miss much of the positive reporting, this year the convention hall stayed relatively full of people disagreeing on some strategy, some language, and some personnel, but united in spirit around a common mission. Everyone there believed the world needs Jesus and that we must step up our efforts to reach them.

Where do we go from here?

The cool thing about autonomy and cooperation, trademarks of the SBC, is that you can be a part of something bigger while making your world smaller and simpler. Trinity will give our record amount to the Cooperative Program this year. Additionally, we will likely give more designated to the International Mission Board and North American Mission Board through the Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong offerings than any year since I’ve been at Trinity. And we are praying and believing that with God’s help and your faithfulness that we will reach and baptize a record number of new believers. Trinity is unique, and we don’t have to worry about being forced into a box by any of the subgroups of the SBC. I have no aspirations that would lead me to play denominational politics, and that is liberating.

So we will continue to be who God has called us to be. We will continue to stand on the authority of His Word with total dependence on His Holy Spirit to do the work he’s called us to do. We will also continue to keep an eye on our investments. Now that the “cards are on the table” we will keep an eye on entities and agencies that we support and join forces to fight theological heresy, sexual misconduct, institutional adaptations of ideologies that contradict or pervert the Gospel, and evangelistic lethargy.

There are no guarantees that the SBC will last forever. I will avoid hyperbole like referencing the “implosion of the denomination.” Numbers are down for a number of reasons. The world is getting more difficult to reach as people grow up without religious background. Many have lost evangelistic fervor in many places. Its not just megachurches baptizing 300 each year instead of 500, its thousands of small churches baptizing 0 instead of 2 or 3 or 5. Denominational loyalty, across all denominations, is simply not a value to most millennials creating a new type of independent church. So, all Baptist fruit isn’t Baptist. And technology has allowed many churches to get honest about their numbers, cleansing the rolls a bit. Other SBC churches are failing to do their annual church profiles, reporting absolutely nothing to the denomination. If various conservative subgroups branch out and start new denominations, our sovereign God can use that for His glory.

Meanwhile, I commit myself to be an expository preacher of the Word of God, to lead as one led by the Spirit and the Word, to cooperate wherever possible with whomever possible (inside and outside the SBC) without compromising the Scriptures to reach as many as possible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

An Open Letter from a College Dad during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Dear Kent and Karis,

I remember being on vacation at Oak Island, NC with you both, a toddler and a 4 year old, on September 11 of 2001. That’s the day that our nation was rocked like never before in my lifetime. We watched in awe as the Towers fell, the Pentagon was hit, and terrorism left its ugly mark on our land and on our souls. Oh, but you were so young, and we shielded you as much as possible. But you would grow up in world that was different from the world in which I had spent my first thirty-one years. At least in the USA. We had been victims of terrorism, but never-before like this. The world was different.

Though thousands lost their lives that day, and thousands more since then by fighting the war on terrorism, this nation bounced back. And from the day President Bush stood on a pile of debris at ground zero and promised that the world would hear from us, I had no doubt that America would rise quickly. And we did!

In fact, the past two decades have been filled with life, love, joy, challenges, and opportunities. You have grown up watching the political pendulum swing back and forth in prototypical American fashion. You have seen a resurgence in appreciation of the military. You have been a part of a family that values and passionately celebrates faith in God. You have said good-bye to dear friends and family members who are with Jesus now, some leaving us too soon. And you have LIVED!! You have embraced life’s hurts and blessings knowing ultimately that there is a Sovereign God who is the giver of life, and that He has blessed, and often judged, his people and the land in which you have lived.

So here we are at the beginning of a new decade. And suddenly, like in 2001, the world is not the same anymore. This time the attack didn’t happen in a manner of minutes. The COVID-19 Pandemic didn’t happen suddenly by surprise. It hasn’t been like a fatal car accident or a fatal heart attack. It has been more like the cancers that have taken from us so many we love. We saw it coming a couple months out, prayed for the impact not to be so severe, and realized how fragile life is this side of heaven.

Well, what does a father say to his college age children at a time like this?

First, don’t quit believing in a Sovereign God. We are talking a lot about the mortality rate these days. I promise you this: Jesus Christ is alive forevermore! And those who know Him have nothing to fear. For we will live forever with him. For the believer, to live is Christ and to die is gain (Phil. 1:21). While a healthy respect for this virus is warranted, I am saddened to see so many believers trembling in fear for their lives.

Unfortunately, though, the mortality rate for the human race is 100%. “It is appointed unto man once to die, and then the judgement (Heb. 9:27).” I know we aren’t hoping to go to heaven on the next load, but life is a vapor compared to eternity. So always live as a pilgrim here, always on mission, holding on loosely to things of this world, and always ready to report to your eternal home when God calls. No need to fear when your faith is real!

The second thing I want to tell you is: don’t quit believing in the resiliency of the values that have brought this nation back again and again. In fact, our very Declaration of Independence from our beginning would cost this nation nearly 7000 lives in a war. Some 25,000 when you count deaths due to disease, imprisonment, and civilian casualties of the war. Yet this nation would prevail because of convictions like those of Patrick Henry who would rather risk death for liberty than pursue a safety that compromises freedom.

A Civil War and the depravity of humanity would cost this nation over another 600,000 lives, not to mention the collateral damage. Many around the world thought that would be the end of America. But, once again, we would prove stronger once the war was behind us. What about the First and Second World Wars, including the attack on Pearl Harbor? Over another half million lives, but we emerged as one nation under God, still in the pursuit of liberty and justice for all.

Well all of that was before my lifetime. And while we have not always lived out our principles as fairly and passionately as the great generations who fought for them, we’ve come a long way. I’ve seen soldiers return from a war for which they got little respect fighting. But that is beginning to change. Better late than never I suppose. I’ve seen this nation place men on the moon and land spacecraft like airplanes. I’ve seen hostages return from Iran, and watched a president bankrupt our enemies during a cold war. I’ve lived long enough now to have watched the market rise and crash enough to know that I should not put my faith in it, nor should I panic when collapse seems imminent.

What I am trying to say is, we have a history of rising from the ashes when we value liberty over safety, when our government realizes its limits and depends on the people, and when circumstances bring us to our knees again. And I didn’t even mention the famines, depressions, diseases before the age of modern medicine, assassinations or civil rights movements.

I am not saying that you should throw caution to the wind during this pandemic. I have advised otherwise. This is a serious virus that could take someone we know and love. I am saying that you should keep a discerning eye on the national leadership and on your friends and classmates. Don’t let folks slip into having an unhealthy dependency on government mandates. Make it clear that the answer to this and most crises is personal responsibility, not excessive government intrusion.

Third and finally, don’t quit enjoying life. Some who avoid this current virus will shorten their lives in a practical sense. Stress, worry, and fear will cause them to cease to truly live and will lessen their quality of life and possibly the length of their life.

At some point, hopefully sooner than later, it is going to be advisable to get back out among people. And the virus will still be out there. When the risk versus reward factors loosen the social restrictions currently in place, the chance of you catching and dying from this disease could probably still be somewhere between dying in an automobile related death (40,000 Americans per year) and dying from heart disease (650,000 Americans each year). I don’t think we will hit those numbers this year. And who knows, if we flatten the curve, find better treatments, and the disease weakens over time (all things that have happened before with other diseases) we may not come close to the heart disease numbers, ever.

My point is, if we were daily following the numbers of all other diseases and activities that cause you to live at risk, you would never leave the house. Let’s cooperate with our communities as an act of love while we strive to keep our hospitals from being overwhelmed, show love to our vulnerable citizens, and give health professionals and national leaders time to get their minds around this. Let’s pray for healing in our land, grow in ability to communicate creatively at a distance, and serve those who are hurting physically, emotionally, and economically. But don’t be frozen by fear. And don’t feel guilty for loving life, despite its risks, and quickly and courageously getting back to normal social interactions sooner than others. God didn’t call us to risk-free living, but to a life of faith and courage.

The Apostle Peter spoke of the ability to “love life and see good days (1 Peter 3:10).” This doesn’t mean trials will not come. The church Peter was addressing was under great persecution with a very high mortality rate. But believers in Jesus knew the deep secret of abundant life. You know it, too! And one day the Coronavirus Pandemic of 2020 will be added to the events listed above as another trial that this nation overcame. And you will remember that when your kids are in college!

Love Always,

Dad

PS. And if one of the crazy conspiracy theories turn out to true, God is sovereign over that as well!

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!

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.

 

 

7 Steps to Writing a Personal Mission Statement

A personal mission statement can sharpen your focus and help you to have greater impact in our world for the glory of God. It can help you know which opportunities you should embrace. Perhaps more importantly, in this super-paced world we now live in, it can help you know when to say “NO!” to opportunities. A mission statement will not only clarify your direction in life, it will also fuel your passion to move in that direction.

I formulated the following steps under the influence of a couple of decades of teaching God’s Word and incorporating tools from godly leaders. Robert Lewis’ Men’s Fraternity studies, Henry Blackaby’s Experiencing God, Ike Reighard’s North Star Journal, and numerous notes from John Maxwell on leadership have influenced the somewhat simplified approach below. I came up with this “abridged” approach to accommodate men that I meet with regularly that may not have availed themselves to all of the resources above. I highly recommend further research using such resources. I also suggest journaling one’s way through the following considerations over a period of several weeks.

  1. Begin with Prayer. “God delights in the prayers of the upright!” (Proverbs 15:8) Born again followers of Christ are in a spiritual pursuit of the will of God. We need to be guided by His Spirit in this pursuit. (See Jeremiah 29:13 & 33:3, Ephesians 1:17-18, and Colossians 1:9-12.)
  1. Study God’s revealed purposes for all of humanity. Use key texts that summarize those purposes for us. Reading Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life or Chuck Swindoll’s Rise and Shine will greatly enhance this step. Here are a few key texts that summarize God’s revealed purposes:
  • 1 Peter 4:11 (Man’s “chief purpose”)
  • Matthew 22:37-40 (The Greatest Commandments)
  • Matthew 28:19-20 and Acts 1:8 (The Great Commission)
  • Matthew 5:13-16 (New Covenant Cultural Mandate)
  • Genesis 1:28 & 9:1 (Dominion Mandate through lens of the above texts!)
  1. Consider your Character and the Legacy you want to leave. Start with Scripture that you rely on for character. Perhaps Galatians 5:22-23, Joshua 1:9, Philippians 4:6, Proverbs, Psalm 1 are examples of verses that people embrace as legacy verses or “life verses.”
  • List the names and traits of people that you greatly admire.
  • Write down the qualities that you feel energized by when others recognize them?
  1. God’s Specific Calling on your life. What is it that you believe God has called you to do for him as it relates to specific ways to accomplish his revealed purposes for all? This can relate to vocation and/or areas of service in God’s kingdom. More specific Scriptures may come to mind here when you apply the first principle. Also consider passions, promptings, open doors, and confirmations from the Body of Christ. (See Henry Blackaby, Experiencing God.)
  1. Describe the venues of life where your mission will be fulfilled. Include both actual and aspirational, where you flesh out your mission now and where you hope to do so in the future. (e.g. home, work environment, mission field, target ministry areas, etc.)
  1. What resources will you draw from to help you accomplish this mission?

Consider:

Aptitude (i.e. Servants by Design Profile that can be taken http://www.youruniquedesign.com) What do others say that you are good at? When are you in your “sweet spot”? The Servants by Design Profile, and other personality and aptitude profiles like it, will help you to understand your personality “viewpoint” and “currency.” This is invaluable information for writing a personal mission statement.

Spiritual Gifts (Especially motivational gifts) It is quick and painless to do a spiritual gifts test online thanks to numerous websites like http://www.spiritualgiftstest.com.

Passions What really drives you to do what you do? What makes you come alive?

  1. Pull it all together! Use key words and reemerging themes to write your life mission statement. Take your time. Allow for fluidity with enough guiding principle that never changes. Below is a template that may help you pull together notes from your reflections on the first six steps.

By God’s grace, I want to be (or become) (see #3)…

Primarily for/with/at (see #5)…

Who is all about (see #2)…

I will fulfill God’s call more specifically by (see #4)…

I will rely on God’s strength and wisdom as well as how he has designed, equipped, and gifted me to (see # 6)…

*Take all the space you need to begin creating this statement. You should familiarize yourself with this statement, then shorten it as much as possible without losing important elements. Then evaluate goals, objectives, plans, and decisions in light of this mission.