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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Biblical Ministry

He called late at night, and said he "needed to talk." I concluded that it was my job to listen. So I crawled out of bed and moved to the sofa in the living room where we wouldn't disturb my sleeping bride. Then I said, "Okay, I'm awake now. Talk." What would trouble my friend so? He is a ministry leader in a large church. It's a seeker-sensitive, purpose-driven, culturally relevant church with contemporary worship, rocking youth and awesome kids. What could go wrong in such a place.

He spoke of the senior pastor, the utmost spiritual leader in the place. He talked about the wounds. Mind you, they didn't appear to be intentional wounds. They just tend to occur when one has knocked himself out for ministry, and ends up being unappreciated or walked on. Such wounds can happen when phone calls or e-mails are not returned --- ignored even. They can happen when someone says something thoughtless.

I listened to him for a while, and then I asked him to focus on what is really true in the circumstances. "I know it feels like your pastor doesn't love you. But is that really true?" So we began to process the circumstances, feelings and thinking against Biblical truth. As it turned out, it wasn't really about my friend. He was just in the wrong place at the right time to get wounded. It isn't as if someone in the church woke up one day and said, "Mmmm. I think I'll ignore so-and-so today."

Sadly, what appeared to be true is something I suspect is true in many other churches I've seen. What appeared to be true is that the senior pastor of my friend's church, the temple leader, had growing his church as his main focus. As a result, most all of his decisions were made with the criteria one would use to grow a church. On the surface, that seems like a good and noble cause. Who wouldn't want to build a church?

Ironically, God doesn't call temple leaders to build churches. In fact, Jesus HE would build His church. There is no record of Jesus ever asking anyone to help Him build His church. No, what Jesus asked is that we love God, love others, spread the good news, make disciples, pray for one another, etc. Church growth just isn't any part of a divine calling from God. Yet church growth appears to be the main focus of many pastors.

This isn't a blog about sin in the church. For sure, there is plenty of sin in the church. I believe that's another blog entirely! But the Apostle Paul explained in Galatians 3:19-25 that God's (Old Testament) law as added to identify sin. It was the job of the temple leaders to identify sin and call the people to repentance. Did Jesus remove those purposes and obligations? Doesn't the New Testament change all those old purposes?

Paul also told us that "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness ..." (2 Timothy 3:16) So the purposes identified in the Old Testament are just as valid today as they ever were. The role of the temple leader is to identify sin and call the people to repentance. Look at those words in 2 Timothy 3:16. Teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. Are those things happening in our churches today?

When was the last time your pastor rebuked or corrected? Have you yourself ever been rebuked or corrected in your church, by the temple leaders or lay leaders? My guess is not. Most of us have been wounded in our churches. That is another matter entirely (when we discuss sin in the church). No, rebuke and correction are helpful, edifying and build us up. They don't tear us down, at least not if they're done right --- which is the temple leaders job --- to see that they are.

Author Robertson McQuilkin, a former missionary and university president, wrote a book called The Five Smooth Stones: Essential Principles for Biblical Ministry ( It is a wonderful account of what Scripture tells us about how to run a church, a ministry, para-church or anything even resembling ministry. In this book, he gives us five key principles.
  1. Make the Bible your functional authority. In other words, don't preach or teach what you think. Preach or teach what is. Too many pastors today are reluctant to offend their congregations. But let's face it, Scripture is offensive. If everyone always comes out of church thinking, "Boy that was a great sermon. I really enjoyed it." then the preacher probably didn't do his job. Biblical preaching and teaching should disturb and offend.
  2. Align your congregation with Biblical purposes. Don't lose sight of why you're there. Worship is to recognize God's greatness and give him glory. If your people are chronically late for worship or give performers standing ovations --- they may be missing the point of worship. God is very purposeful. We must be purposeful --- by seeing to it that our church's activities, each and every one of them, live out the purposes of God. (If they don't, we should be doing them!)
  3. Release the Holy Spirit's power. The spirit lives in each of us Christians. The question is whether or not we cooperate with that Spirit that lives in us. Do we really help church members discover, fully develop and deploy their gifts and talents as God calls them to? Or do we just try to slot them into the available volunteer openings? Releasing the Spirit's power is going to stretch a church. It will mean you have people who make you uncomfortable --- and you'll embrace those people. Pastor, how comfortable are you with the people you've been embracing lately?
  4. Equip every disciple. Go and make disciples. Ask for the nations. Do we? Many churches look like they have a cafeteria plan going on, where people can pick and choose whatever seems fun and interesting. This is not what equipping means. Leaders must be intentional about casting vision for individual followers. "Now that you're a Christian, here's what's next." Every person in the congregation should know what the path to spiritual maturity looks like in intricate detail. Moreover, everyone should know where that are in that path to maturity, and what they need to do to move to the "next level."
  5. Follow Jesus' example of servant leadership. Would Jesus ever not return phone calls or e-mails? If Jesus found out that he had inadvertently wounded someone, would he become frustrated and indignant over the fact that "so-and-so shouldn't be so sensitive or should have more realistic expectations?" Or would he go to the wounded lamb, take them in his arms, and say, "You know I love you. I'm sorry you were wounded. Come and heal with me." It's what servant leadership does, folks. Too many pastors get this wrong. They become ego-maniacs, or they become doormats. Neither is God's purpose for them.
My friend will recover. He will continue to serve God. He will continue to submit to his church and God's appointed leaders in it. But the wounds go unexplained. It's a bit like the lamb complaining that the shepherd just beat him for no good reason. Hard to understand. What's the truth? Sin gets in the way for all of us. Pastor, are you aware of your sin?

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