Saturday, July 30, 2011

Quotation of the Day

Abram believed the intangible promises of God were more real than the visible reality he lived in, and he acted on what he didn't yet see. That's faith.
- Chip Ingram, Good to Great in God's Eyes

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Hand Illustration

This past Sunday night I taught on the importance of the Word of God. I taught our people what is called The Hand Illustration, originally used by The Navigators ministry.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Quotation of the Day

True liberty had come to mean freedom of faith and conscience, while religion was deemed necessary to suupport liberty, a gift of God. The purpose of liberty was to give glory to God. If God was forsaken, liberty's purpose would be destroyed, and liberty itself would give way to tyranny.

- Newt Gingrich, referring to the American identity in the 1700's, A Nation Like No Other

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Quotation of the Day

"Religion is the only solid base of morals and morals the only possible support for free governments." - Gouverneur Morris, a key contributor to the U. S. constitution

Monday, July 25, 2011

Happy Anniversary

HAPPY THIRTEENTH ANNIVERSARY to my beautiful wife Tracey.

Thirteen years ago today I married the most beautiful woman in the world. I love her much more today than in 1998. She is 1) a hard worker, 2) she consistently walks with the Lord, 3) she makes me laugh a lot, 4) she is very resilient when wronged, 5) she keeps our home and household running well, 6) she is an excellent homeschool mom, 7) she is one of the most flexible people I know, 8) she is a great friend, 9) she is very attractive, 10) she values our family, 11) she models simplicity and contentment, 12) she is a great combination of grace and grit, 13) she loves me!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Quotation of the Day

Contentment is not concerned with matters out of its control. - Boyd Bailey

Deepwater Faith

One of today's popular preachers is Charles Swindoll. I love listening to Swindoll because you can always count on faithful exposition of the Scriptures. He teaches with depth and conviction, and his messages are always flavored with grace, truth, humor, and humility. This morning in my quiet time I read a great article of his entitled Deepwater Faith. Swindoll explains why people are willing to drop everything and follow Jesus.

"When God's hand is on a situation, nets break, eyes bulge, deck planks groan, and boats almost sink. It's His way of putting the potential on display." - Swindoll

Trusting Jesus

I wanted to share with you again the notes from the sermon I heard by Randy Harling, pastor of First Baptist Church of Simpsonville, on July 10.

The text was Matthew 8:18-22 and the main idea was that A disciple trusts Jesus first and tends to details second.
His two points were:

1) Embrace the future regardless of the cost (19-20). He will restructure your whole life. Trust precedes obedience.

2) Dismiss the past regardless of the connections (21-22).

Trust a Person, not a process, and He will take care of the details.

Those are good words.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Preferences, Convictions, and Absolutes

When I have taught on the subject of Preferences, Convictions, and Absolutes, it has consistently been some of my most well received teaching. There is usually a sense of people needing to hear, understand, and assimilate this truth in the Body of Christ.


Preference – a special liking for one thing over another; choice

Preferences and Christian Liberty . . .

Convictions and preferences are different. Convictions are or should be based upon the moral teachings of the Word of God, the Bible. Christians' convictions will be remarkably similar as long as we base them upon Scriptural doctrine.
Preferences will vary dramatically from one person to the next. Preferences are based upon our personal tastes and perspectives rooted in our different life experiences. Christian people with similar preferences often join together to create organizations, even churches that hold to those preferences and pass them on to the next generation.

Now here is the major point of this piece: As long as our preferences do not violate the Scripture, it's O.K. to have preferences. That's what the Bible calls "Christian liberty." God gave us basic moral principles to guide our lives, but He did not choose to speak to everything. He gave us room to think and to decide, to be different. And that is a great beauty of the Christian faith.
Christian liberty is often misunderstood. Some fear the term, for they think it implies that God did not give us moral commands: the "Thou shalts" and "Thou shalt nots." But God did give us His unchanging Word, and Christian liberty cannot function properly without it. Liberty without moral principles is license. While Christian liberty with no freedom, just obedience with no room to choose, is legalism. Neither license nor legalism is God's design.
It's true that God gave us certain principled commands and upon these we build our convictions. But God also gave us Christian liberty and in this we develop our preferences. Yes, indeed, let's preach the very Word of God, but let's also allow Christians to be free where God allows them to be free.

- Dr. Rex M. Rogers, President; Cornerstone University, Grand Rapids, Michigan


Conviction – a belief, view or persuasion based on evidence or principle

Conviction does not come because we are suddenly struck with inspiration, but it is the product of a process that involves a growing relationship with God.

We have preferences. We have very few convictions. We know what is right and what we're taught. We look around at society, and we're sure we can tell the difference between right and wrong. But we develop few real convictions, and consequently our walk does not match our talk. Many of us are people of preference. Not enough of us are men and women of conviction. – Andy Stanley
Difference between a conviction and a preference, according to the U.S. Supreme Court. A preference is a very strong belief, held with great strength. You can give your entire life in a full-time way to the service of the preference, and can also give your entire material wealth in the name of the belief. You can also energetically proselytize others to your preference. You can also want to teach this belief to your children, and the Supreme Court may still rule that it is a preference. A preference is a strong belief, but a belief that you will change under the right circumstances. Circumstances such as: 1) peer pressure; if your beliefs are such that other people stand with you before you will stand, your beliefs are preferences, not convictions, 2) family pressure, 3) lawsuits, 4) jail, 5) threat of death; would you die for your beliefs? A conviction is a belief that you will not change. Why? A man believes that his God requires it of him. Preferences aren’t protected by the constitution. Convictions are. A conviction is not something that you discover, it is something that you purpose in your heart (cf. Daniel 1, 2-3). Convictions on the inside will always show up on the outside, in a person’s lifestyle.

- David C. Gibbs, Jr. Christian Law Association, Cleveland, Ohio

Conviction vs. Preference

Recently in a chapel at Cornerstone College, I reminded our Christian students that there is a profound difference between "convictions" and "preferences." Convictions are the timeless beliefs that I hope we hold based upon biblical principles.
Preferences are different. Preferences are the time bound ideas and attitudes, even beliefs, that each of us develops based upon our own personal tastes and experiences. Preferences may vary from time to time in our own lives and certainly differ from one person to the next. Examples of preferences are limitless: you prefer to wear your baseball cap backwards; I wear mine with the bill forward. You like to sing using a hymnbook; your friend likes to sing choruses displayed on a screen from an overhead projector. You order pizza; your spouse wants a taco.
Why is this distinction so important? Well, for one, because the moment we understand it and begin to apply it we save ourselves and others a lot of grief. All too often Christians develop their convictions, then add to that list all their own preferences. That's O.K., but the next step is the kicker. We start to judge other peoples' spirituality not on the basis of biblical principles and convictions but on the basis of our preferences. In other words, no one's right unless he agrees with us in all our preferential points-of-view. This initiates what the Bible calls discord and division among the brethren.
Are your beliefs biblically-based convictions or just preferences? And just as importantly, are your preferences yours, or do you try to force them upon others?

- Dr. Rex M. Rogers, President, Cornerstone University, Grand Rapids, Michigan


Absolute – fundamental or spiritual reality

Truth – agreement with fact or reality

God’s words are the ultimate standard of truth. The Bible is God’s Word, and God’s Word is the ultimate definition of what is true and what is not true: God’s Word is itself truth. Thus we are to think of the Bible as the ultimate standard of truth, the reference point by which every other claim to truthfulness is to be measured. What then is truth? Trust is what God says, and we have what God says (accurately but not exhaustively) in the Bible.
- Wayne Grudem

Absolute truth is that which is true (or right) for all people, for all times, for all places. - Josh McDowell

Absolute truth is truth that is . . .
1. Objective
2. Universal
3. Constant

Orthodox Christianity is predicated on the position that truth is absolute. Thus, the defense of the possibility of absolute truth is crucial to the defense of the historic Christian faith. According to theories of relative truth, something may be true for one person, but not for all people. Or, it may be true at one time, but not at another. According to the absolutist view, what is true for one person is true for all persons, times, and places.
– Norman Geisler

God’s truthfulness means that he is the true God, and that all his knowledge and words are both true and the final standard of truth. God’s faithfulness means that God will always do what he has said and fulfill what he has promised. He can be relied upon, and he will never prove unfaithful to those who trust what he has said. Indeed, the essence of true faith is taking God at his word and relying on him to do as he has promised.
–Wayne Grudem

Is There Absolute Truth? A recent Barna Research Group survey on what Americans believe confirms what this brief scenario illustrates: we are in danger of becoming a nation of relativists. The Barna survey asked, “Is there absolute truth?” Amazingly, 66 percent of American adults responded that they believe that “there is no such thing as absolute truth; different people can define truth in conflicting ways and still be correct.” The figure rises to 72 percent when it comes to those between the ages of 18 and 25.
- Christianity Today, October 26, 1992, p. 30

Examples of Preferences, Convictions, and Absolute Truths

Personal Preferences

I like hymns / I like choruses – or – I like traditional worship / I like contemporary worship
I like it when the preacher preaches from behind the podium / I like it when he walks around
I like having evening services – it feels so good to be together- or – I like it when we don’t
have evening services, it is so nice to be with my family on Sunday afternoon
I like to use the Roman Road to share my faith / I like to use the FAITH outline
I like Steve’s class because he is so friendly / I like Sue’s class because she is a good teacher
I like church’s with a big middle aisle / I like churches made in the round
I don’t like to clap in church / I love it when we clap for someone in church
I don’t like to do hand motions to songs / I enjoy doing hand motions to songs
I like to dress down to go to church / I like to dress up to go to church

Personal Convictions

I will not go to an R-rated movie based my convictions of holiness and purity (which are
based on principles and absolute truths in the Scriptures)
I will not wear clothes (woman speaking) that show my belly or lower back because of my
convictions based on biblical principles of modesty
Christians should not dance because it leads to thoughts and desires of sexual nature
My child cannot accept a scholarship funded from the lottery
Total abstinence from alcohol
The use (or non-use) or tobacco
Theological convictions such as Calvinism, cessationism, or premillenialsim
I believe birth control is wrong based on my convictions that children are a blessing from the Lord and should not be avoided
My family will not recognize Santa Clause because of our convictions of the secularization of the holidays and the need to remember Jesus
My family will not recognize Halloween because of our convictions of Halloween being rooted in idolatry and witchcraft
My family will recognize Halloween based on our conviction that we are free to enjoy the event and redeem the culture
We should dress down at church for the purpose of bringing more people to Christ
We should dress up at church in order to give our best to God and honor him
A couple should not kiss until they are married based on my views of holiness
Christians should not drink Coca-Cola because their body is a temple of God
We home school our children based on our convictions that the family should educate children with a Christian worldview in opposition to the spirit of our age
We send our children to public school based on the conviction that they must learn to be salt and light and do evangelism in the midst of a depraved culture

Contrasting preferences and convictions

I like to dress down in church ; it is so nice to be casual / We should dress down in order to make more lost people comfortable in coming to church
I like to sing hymns – they make me think of Mom and Dad and Grandma / We should sing hymns because the Bible tells us to sing hymns and they carry theology better than most choruses
I like Sue’s class because she is a good teacher / Sunday School teachers should primarily teach the Word of God so as to disciple their students
I like big families / I believe the Bible shows us that it is normative to have lots of children
I like it when our pastor gets on his knees / We should get on our knees in church because the Bible tells us to kneel and it is one way to publicly model prayer and humility to our children
Absolute Truths
Jesus Christ is God.
Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation.
Jesus Christ was perfect in every way, without sin, and made atonement for the world’s sins.
Jesus literally was born of a virgin, lived a human life, ministered, was crucified, buried, and
resurrected on the third day, ascended into heaven and will one day return for the Church, according to the Scriptures.
The Bible is God-breathed and the authoritative, written record of God’s revelation to man.
The Church, made of born again men and women by the Spirit of God, is God’s
representative on this earth.
God calls the church to the tasks of evangelism, disciple-making, and compassion.
It is wrong for a man or woman to commit adultery.
It is wrong for a man or woman to murder.
Marriage is a relationship reserved for one man and one woman.

In Closing

We may not force our personal preferences on another member of the Body.
We may not force our personal convictions on another member of the Body (well, maybe our children for a limited number of years!)
We have every right to expect other members of the Body of Christ to agree upon the
absolute, non-negotiable, truths of Scripture.

Be unmoving in absolute truth. Be convinced of your personal convictions but accepting and gracious to others when theirs disagree. Hold your preferences loosely (and mainly to yourself!). Above all things, put on love.

Sources Used: Right from Wrong by Josh McDowell; Webster’s New Dictionary; Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics by Norman Geisler; Evangelical Dictionary of Theology ed. Walter Elwell; Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem

Friday, July 22, 2011


Great video called Stethoscope with a surprise ending.

Summer Vacation Favorites

For years the Wilson family has often enjoyed a beach vacation at Daytona Beach Shores/Port Orange, Florida. We are just coming off of that trip.

Here are my favorite experiences of our time together in FL:

1. Spending hours on the beach and at the pool!
2. Watching two Anne of Green Gables movies together at night. Now we want to read the books together!
3. Going to see the Cars 2 movie in the theater and eating buttered popcorn. Great, fun movie and a definite repeat.
4. Eating at our favorite beach restaurant, Aunt Catfish's on the River.
5. Eating at Boondock's Restaurant, watching the children throw their leftover fish into the ocean to feed the catfish, and looking at the many boats in the marina.
6. Playing the Cars Monopoly game with our family.
7. Reading Leepike Ridge and Sarah, Plain and Tall together.
8. Sleeping as late as we could!
9. Standing on the balcony and watching the Atlantic Ocean and the Halifax River at all hours of the day.
10. Hanging out at the Salty Dog surf shop. I bought Anna-Frances and Dawson t-shirts and Hendrix a cool surfer's necklace. Hendrix bought a skim-board with his own money.
11. Watching Hendrix play with his skim-board at the ocean.
12. Watching Anna-Frances and Dawson play in the sand.
13. Sitting on the beach reading Newt Gingrich's A Nation Like No Other, Priscilla Shirer's One in a Million, and John Grisham's The Broker.
14. Being with cousins and my mom and aunt.
15. Watching my good-looking wife in her bathing suits!

I think that the Lord may have created vacations on the eigth day and said, "Behold, it is good!"

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Hope and Healing from Isaiah, part two

Isaiah 40-55

Isaiah offers many words of comfort to the exiled people in chapters forty through fifty-five. Three characters dominate this section. Babylon serves as the oppressor agent who deported Judah. The people of Judah, the community of exiles, are the helpless victims. Yahweh, the God of Israel, comes as the emancipator who will act powerfully on behalf of the exiles.

Chapters 40-48 speak of God’s deliverance. They will be delivered from Babylon’s power. Chapter 40 begins this section offering encouragement to the exiles. To a people wondering if they have been abandoned by God, the Book of Consolation begins by saying,

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to
Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been
completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received
from the LORD's hand double for all her sins.

God’s people, though they have sinned and have been victims to an oppressor, will receive comfort and release. The author uses compassionate, tender language, reminding them of the Lord’s glory which will be revealed (3-5), assuring them of the surety of the Lord’s word to them (6-9), exhorting them to remember the recompense that accompanies the coming Lord (9-10), and depicting God’s relationship with his people as a shepherd and his sheep,

He tends his flock like a shepherd; he gathers the lambs in
his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads
those that have young.

Abused people need to hear that God will be gentle with them and will stay close to them. God promises to come and deal tenderly with his broken, oppressed people in exile. Brueggemann writes that the comfort given in this chapter is a “transformative solidarity; that is, not simply an offer of solace, but a powerful intervention that creates new possibilities.” The rest of the chapter (12-31) describes the essence and character of this Shepherd, who redirects their disenchanted eyes to himself, the One who will usher forth those new possibilities of hope and healing.

Isaiah reminds us that God is majestic (12-26). These qualities, his knowledge, his uniqueness, and his sovereign control over the world, are themes repeated throughout the next eight chapters. Hurting people are called to lift their eyes afresh to this incredible God. The exiles are called to put their faith this sovereign Lord, who has not forgotten them and has infinite knowledge about their situation and absolute power to deliver them in his time. Isaiah also comforts the exiles with the reality that god does watch over his people (27-31). In spite of Assyria and Babylon, Isaiah “encouraged the people to remember that God never relaxes; He is always watching His people.”

Chapters 41-48 declare the end of their misery. God will regather his people and make Babylon fall. Isaiah exhorts the Jews to live righteously, rejecting the trappings of Babylonian idolatry. One day God will open the way for them to leave Babylon. Until then, they need to trust in their God who is greater than any pagan nation.

God reminds his people that all nations are subject to God’s power (41:1-7, 21-29). Here the deliverance of God’s people by the hands of Cyrus is prophecied. The Lord promises to protect his chosen people; as the Redeemer he will be loyal to his servant (8-20). Isaiah provides three pictures of consolation in the victorious servant (8-13), the transformed worm (14-16), and the needy sustained (17-20). These pictures assure the exiles of divine intervention in the face of human hostility (the servant whose enemies are vanquished), personal weakness (the worm which becomes a threshing-sledge), and adverse circumstances (the desert traveler miraculously provided for). Here God reconfirms that Israel is Yahweh’s chosen people, despite the “deep disruption” of exile. Abused people need to know that in spite of perhaps years of oppression, they still belong to the Lord.

In chapter 42 and 43, Isaiah contrasts the faithfulness of the servant of the Lord with the unfaithfulness of the Jews. God’s servant will come and rescue Israel from bondage. God calls his people in this section to wait for the promise of the Lord to be fulfilled. The Jews are able to wait under oppressive circumstances not because of their faithfulness but because of the sterling faithfulness of the Lord and the surety of His promises. God will not accomplish his work with more oppression. Oswalt writes,

God’s answer to the oppressors of the world is not more
Oppression, nor is his answer to arrogance more arrogance; rather,
In quietness, humility, and simplicity, he will take all of the evil
Into himself and return only grace. That is power. Furthermore,
He will accomplish this task in truth. . . . [T]his work will be
accomplished; depend on it.

This call to depend on the faithfulness of Yahweh, to rely on his character, to trust in his Word, beckons the victims again to turn their eyes from their unfaithfulness and from their oppressors instead to the Lord.

Isaiah presents the uniqueness of God in chapters 44 – 45, reminding the people of how great are his promises. God is their Redeemer, contrasted with the worthless idols and their makers (44:6-23). Then God predicts more about the work of Cyrus (44:24-45:8). Isaiah describes God as sovereign over his creation (45:9-13) and calls the Gentile world to submit to God (45:14-25). The themes of God as Redeemer and as Sovereign surface. Both themes are essential to apply to his oppressed people. Willem VanGemeren writes,

Within Yahweh are two creative forces: the force to create
(recreate) and the force to redeem. Yahweh is the Creator
of the heavens and the earth. . . . While in exile, Israel
needed the reassurance that Jerusalem would be repopulated
and rebuilt and that the temple would be restored. The power
of Yahweh in creation, renewal, and redemption stands in
stark contrast to the impotence of the practitioners of magic
and divination.

While in exile the Jews had to believe in God’s sovereignty in order to wait for his redemption. He was not limited by their limitations of time, resources, or circumstances. Limitations would not stop God from redeeming his chosen people.

Isaiah declares that God is superior over the Babylonians in chapter 46 and predicts Babylon’s fall in chapter 47. Again the prophet portrays the character of God who can be trusted. Note the reminders from the Lord in these verses: I have upheld you since you were conceived (46:3); I have made you and will carry you (46:4); I am God and there is no other (46:9); and My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please (46:10). Babylon is warned, “Disaster will come upon you, and you will not know how to conjure it away.”

The Lord then exhorts Israel in chapter 48, continuing the themes of the exaltation of Yahweh, the dismissal of Babylon, and the emancipation of Israel. Stubborn Israel has neglected her covenant relationship. Nevertheless, God will free and redeem them:

“This is what the LORD says – your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: ‘I am the LORD your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go.” The Lord will do this for his name’s sake, a phrase God repeatedly proclaims with emotion and passion. God calls them to remember the prophecies that their ancestors ignored about the coming captivity (1-11). Now God desires people who will return to their homeland with belief, not unbelief. Isaiah exhorts the people again to remember God’s sovereignty (12-19). Finally, he tells the people to prepare to leave Babylon (20-22). They must trust that just as God provided for the Jews when they escaped Egypt, he would provide for them as well in their second Exodus.

Chapters 49-55 speak of restoration. God will restore them to Jerusalem. David Payne writes of the difference between the sections of chapters 40-48 and 49-55, both addressed to the same people, the Jewish exiles in Babylon:
The exiles’ attention is drawn away from their unhappy situation
in Babylon, and directed towards the homeland, and in particular
to the mother-city. In prosaic fact, Jerusalem lay in ruins during
the exilic period; but the prophet is confidently looking forward
to its restoration and its future glories. This message was one of
permanent validity – setting hope and confident expectation in
front of God’s people in times when their vision tends to be limited.

This section of The Book of Consolation hinges on the concept of the servant of the Lord. The theme of the servant includes parallel applications of the text. First God is speaking to exiled Jews who long to return home. But the Spirit also uses these Scriptures to speak of another application. In contrast to the servant mentioned in chapters 40-48, this servant “will be God’s agent to bring his covenant to the people and his justice to the nations. In subtle but nevertheless clear ways the focus has shifted from the physical captivity of the Judeans to the moral and spiritual captivity of Israel and the whole world.” God uses Isaiah’s text to speak to the current situation of the recipients of the book as well as to future events.

Chapters 49-50 describe the servant, who will be rejected by his people and will take salvation to the Gentiles. The servant’s mission is described in 49:1-13. The imagery used here again is replete with words of consolation: “They will neither hunger nor thirst, nor will the desert heat or the sun beat upon them. He who has compassion on them will guide them and lead them beside springs of water.” God will be a shepherd to his needy people. Oswalt writes,

It is because of the character of the compassionate God who will not
lead them astray that the flock may expect to be cared for and protected.
It is significant that the attribute of God to which the OT returns again
and again is his compassion: his tenderness and his ability to be touched
by the pain and grief of his people. His transcendence and almighty
power are never forgotten, but it is his compassion to which they
return with wonder again and again.

Israel is assured of their coming restoration in 49:13-26. God answers the doubts of his people as to whether or not they have been abandoned, assuring them that he could no more forget them than could a mother the child at her breast. David Payne writes, “The present oracle responds to such despairing plaints with a message of miraculous hope.” Isaiah predicts the time when the Mighty One of Jacob will be their warrior and thus prove himself to be their Deliverer and Redeemer. Isaiah contrasts the sin of the Jews with the obedience of the servant in chapter 50. He opens the chapter reiterating God’s loyalty to his people by implying that he has not divorced them. It was because of their sins that the Jews experienced slavery, not because God had abandoned them. Obedience, suffering, and quiet confidence mark God’s servant.

The believing remnant will be exalted according to chapters 51-52:12. The text develops the theme of everlasting salvation of the people of God in nine strophes (51:1-3,4-6,7-8,9-11,12-16,17-23; 52:1-2,3-6,7-12) connected by the repetition of imperatives (listen, 51:1,4,7,21; 52:8; look, 51:1-2; awake, 51:9,17; 52:1; and depart, 52:11). The Lord wants the full attention of his people. He will be faithful in the present and future just as he was faithful in the past. His salvation will last forever. The idea of God’s righteousness is developed in this chapter. God will comfort his people, set the cowering prisoners free, and cover them with the shadow of his hand. He has taken away the shame of their sin and will take vengeance on their tormentors. The Lord has “sovereignly and graciously exchanged the shame of their exile and alienation for the glory of his presence.” The prophet exulted in the good news he brought to the people. When God brings redemption, his people will burst into joyful songs because of his comfort and redemption. As the Jews leave Babylon and in God’s people’s eschatological release and return, they are to confidently leave, knowing that God goes ahead of and behind them. Hughes writes,

Which city will be our home, our identity – Babylon or Zion?
The people of God cannot remain as they are. Israel had to
leave Egypt. The exiles had to flee Babylon. We too, must
decide and get moving. . . . Isaiah gives us two reasons
to remake our lives into a holy pilgrimage, spreading the
good news as far as we can (52:12). First, our motivation
is not panic but confidence, not loss but gain. Secondly, we
have God himself as our strong escort all the way. He is
on the move. He goes before his people in victory and
follows after to guard the stragglers. His loving presence
surrounds us. We have no reason to stay put, and we have
two good reasons to press on.

Isaiah reveals the servant as a suffering one who will be exalted in chapters 52:13-53. The centerpiece of this entire six-chapter section (49-55) is chapter fifty-three, picturing God’s people as suffering servants and prophetically pointing to the slain Lamb of God. In these sixteen chapters, Isaiah “envisions the renewal of a remnant united behind the servant.” The Lord Jesus Christ is prophecied with detail in this the last of the four Messiah/Servant Songs: “This section contains unarguable, incontrovertible proof that God is the author of Scripture and Jesus the fulfillment of messianic prophecy.” The Servant Song offers hope to hurting people, testifying,

“Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows. . . .But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. ” The healing God provides through the atonement is understood in a wholistic sense here: the healing of the person, restoring wholeness and completeness.

Salvation is prophesied as coming to the Jews and Gentiles in chapters 54-55. Israel can rejoice in the results of the suffering Servant’s redemption. The glory of the Lord will be revealed, barrenness will transform into fruitfulness, and fear and shame will be replaced by peace and rejoicing. Israel will be regathered and saved. Chapter 54 speaks of Israel’s numerical growth (1-3), her regathering (4-8), her security (9-10), and her peaceful future (11-17). People who have endured oppression will revel in the unfailing love of the Lord and not be shaken. Isaiah invites the entire world in chapter 55 to come to the Lord for salvation. An everlasting covenant is described. The effects of sin will be reversed and God will redeem his people.

Characteristics of Abusive Churches, part three

Division and paranoia

Not only are abusive churches marked by misuse of power and distortion of truth, but the literature on spiritual abuse reveals that toxic churches experience incredible division and paranoia. A church that for years has known love, peace, and purpose can be torn apart if one abusive leader takes command and receives significant support. Friends who have sat beside each other for years in the pew may begin avoiding each other in the halls. Families can be split. The unnecessary tearing that takes place in a toxic church creates long-lasting turmoil and heartache.

Division and paranoia begin with church members and leaders ignoring the warning signs. One warning sign often arises when a staff member confronts the senior leader regarding the abusive system. Often the confrontation is ignored or rejected by both the senior leader and the people he has placed around him. The cycle continues and the “abusive syndromes get much worse before anyone seriously wants to deal with the issues.” Much like the story of the emperor who had no clothes, followers choose to ignore the obvious because they have been taught to believe the image rather than the facts. Because people do not want to create more stress, most church members will continue ignoring warning signs until the results are disastrous and irreparable. Marc Dupont provides the classic warning signs that are often ignored:

1. Prevailing attitude of elitism and/or isolation
2. Leaders practicing “cursing” or judging
3. Denial of free will and invasion of privacy
4. Leadership without accountability
5. Hazy boundaries between serving God and serving leaders
6. Legalism and condemnation
7. Scapegoating and denial syndromes
8. A continuous turnover of leaders and staff.

The closed communication and no-talk rule practiced in abusive churches aids the tendency of ignoring the warning signs of trouble. A church marked by a growing number of these warning signs will begin to fray and divide.

Abusive churches experience increased polarization and mobilization. The system will divide between people who support the abusive leader and people who do not support the leader. This polarization may manifest itself visibly, as in two groups sitting on opposite sides of a sanctuary; or it may be not so overtly obvious. Either way, all the way down the organizational chart the church begins to divide. People who have been friends for decades may stop talking to each other. In order to protect himself, the pastor will mobilize his supporters, usually secretly. Political tactics will be used to make sure certain supporters get elected or appointed to key decision-making positions. The pastor will work sometimes feverishly behind the scenes to make sure he can control all key committees, meetings, and votes. It is not uncommon in an abusive church for the pastor and key supporters to plant people who have been drilled about what to say in church meetings. McIntosh and Rima share that “paranoid leaders will often create rigid structures and systems of control within their organization that enable them to keep their finger in every piece of the organizational pie and limit the autonomy of underlings and associates.”

Attacking dissenters

This paranoid network of spies and supporters adds to the division and paranoia of an abusive system by attacking dissenters. Anyone who continues to disagree with the abusive leader, particularly after initial pressure, becomes the enemy. The pastor and his key supporters will secretly but effectively spread the word that he or she is a trouble maker. Members who speak out with genuine concerns about the leadership are considered rebellious and will be scapegoated. References to the dissenter may be that she is sinful, selfish, and unstable and that she is going to hinder the work of God in that place. The opposite of Christian fellowship occurs; the leadership will consistently discredit and discount the persons they view as the enemy. If necessary in an abusive system the leadership will destroy the reputation of the persons with whom they disagree. Arterburn and Felton call this process labeling: “Once the label is in place, it becomes more difficult to see that person as a human with real needs and the potential for good judgment. . . . Disqualification by labeling hurts the victims and allows persecutors to continue in their toxic faith. It is sheer poison.” Unhealthy leaders will even aim their venom at their sub-leaders and get rid of them quickly if they pose a threat in his mind to his personal success. This divisive practice illustrates the destructive nature of an abusive system. Political processes replace biblical community, leaving excessive carnage.

Bloomer writes, “I have known people and situations where the abused parties were afraid to confront the abuser about his actions because ‘questioning the man of God’ released a torrent of correction designed to pound them back into line. People have been suspended from worship teams, banned from prayer meetings, and set down for hours-long talks with leaders who spend the whole time discussing the supposed attitude of the person who dares question his leaders.” Bloomer, 69.

Adolf Hitler used the same tactic in an attempt to discredit and destroy the Catholic Church. In a 1933 interview, he said, “We will brand them as simple criminals. I will rip the mask of respectability from their faces. And if that is not enough, I will make them laughable and contemptuous. I will have movies written. We will show the history of the priests in the film. The people can be amazed at the whole mess of nonsense, selfishness, stupidity, and fraud. How they stole money from the peasantry. How they tried to outdo the Jews. How they committed incest. We will make it so exciting that everyone will want to see it. The people will stand in lines outside the theaters. And if the hair of the pious citizens should stand on their necks, so much the better. The youth will understand it. . . . I guarantee . .. if I want I could destroy the Church in a few years.” Commenting on the interview, David Burchett writes, “You will notice that he never challenged Christ. His focus was the church. And his strategy was to make them laughable. A joke. Fools.” Dave Burchett, When Bad Christians Happen to Good People (Colorado Springs: Waterbrook, 2002), 122-123.

The Bible itself is very clear on the existence of what the Spiritual Abuse literature has defined as the hallmarks of spiritual abuse: legalism, authoritarianism, spiritual intimidation, manipulation, excessive discipline, to name a few -- in short: the abuse of power in the context of Christian fellowship. The Bible does not mince words when it informs us that these signs are clear and identifiable. In addition: both church history and the history of Israel testify abundantly that all of these issues have been perennial problems ever since God began calling people to walk with Him.” Ron Henzel, “The Bible and Spiritual Abuse,” Rest Ministries, Copyright 1997, (accessed 20 April 2007).

Characteristics of Abusive Churches, part two

Distortion of Truth

Not only do abusive churches experience a misuse of power, but they are usually marked by a distortion of truth. The first and most important distortion of truth that occurs is providing the church with a faulty view of God. The view of a pastor is distorted in an abusive church. Instead of being able to trust pastoral leaders for guidance, healing, and nurture, toxic leaders manipulate, deceive, control, and dominate. Victims of spiritual abuse also receive a distorted image of the church. Arterburn and Felton describe one rule of a toxic-faith system as having at all costs to keep up the image of the organization – even if you have to sacrifice the truth. The church’s flaws “must be covered at all costs. . . . If a financial crisis arises, the co-conspirators must work closely and quickly to figure out a way to communicate the problem without destroying the image of the organization or leader. Deception and lies may be the only way to uphold the image.” Image is equal to success. And success is more important than truth and integrity. The abusive church lives in a world of denial.

The closed communication inherent in the system breeds deception and gossip. Often authoritarian church leaders will deceive followers by withholding information and misinforming followers. This could consist of reporting wrong facts about money or attendance, harsh treatment of persons who questioned leaders, and the perpetuation of various lies about members. The abusive pastor can amazingly control a flow of gossip aimed at punishing certain members: “they can keep people confused or intimidated and thus under control.”

Dupont describes the results of his being abused by a church: “Trauma, fear, and isolation replaced trust, respect, and relationships. The trauma I have experienced due to the abuse of spiritual power and control have been catastrophic. The pain and shame I have suffered has been massive and immobilizing, the losses almost unbearable. It has taken over five years to diagnose and label what happened to me emotionally, physically and spiritually. I watched my life and the lives of many other good Christian people fall apart and break into a million pieces. We are still trying today to understand and pick up the pieces” (33-34).

Another distortion of truth in an abusive system includes a persistent call to unity. However, the unity called for is not balanced. Imbalances come from overemphasizing one truth. An unhealthy call to unity calls people to never disagree with the leaders. Followers are expected to always agree, almost always vote affirmatively, always give unquestioned obedience. Chrnalogar writes that unity in a toxic system is a powerfully exploited concept. The misuse is subtle but powerful. Most abusive leaders use the word unity incorrectly; what they actually want is unanimity. Blue explains,

Christian authoritarianism confuses spiritual unity with unanimity. Unity
is achieved as free people freely submit to one another. How it happens is
a mystery; the process is often very messy and requires mutual risk-taking.
Unanimity or uniformity, on the other hand, can be achieved with
autocratic controls. It can be prescribed, measured and monitored. It
is essentially external, whereas true unity is first internal. Uniformity
looks for correct behavior, whereas unity wants a right spirit. Unanimity
demands that we all experience God in the same ways and express that
experience with the same vocabulary. Unity delights in differences.
Spiritual abusers are able to impose unanimity and uniformity because of the
authoritarian hierarchies they construct.

A call to unity can actually be an attempt to cover-up any critical examination of the pastor, the inner circle of supporters, or of existing ministries and the use of resources. Followers are expected to in no way question or oppose their leadership. Obedience and submission to the pastor may become key ideas. Any criticism of the pastor is considered an attack and a threat.

Arterburn and Felton write, “Often a strong leader mistakes a position of leadership for a position free from accountability. The leader will set up a toxic-faith system that allows for free rein and no accountability. There may be a board of directors, elders, or deacons, but when the authoritarian ruler picks them, he or she picks people who are easily manipulated and easily fooled. What appears to be a board of accountability is in fact a rubber-stamp group that merely gives credibility to the leader’s moves. These board members become the co-conspirators of the persecutor and permit the toxic leader to persecute without interruption. Then when a practice is called into questions, such as an extremely high salary, the persecuting dictator justifies it by saying the board made the decision or approved it. The illusion of accountability becomes more dangerous than those organizations that blatantly disregard accountability,” 141-142.

In many abusive churches the leadership emphasizes Hebrews 13:17, “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority,” in a way implying absolute obedience, or obedience unless asked to specifically violate a clear biblical teaching. Mary Alice Chrnalogar points out the error in this approach. First, the Greek word translated obey, peithomai, refers to voluntary trust in response to proven character and the power of persuasion, not absolute obedience. The Bible uses another Greek word, peitharcheo to refer to implicit obedience (Acts 5:29). Second, the word translated “submit” means to yield or get out of the way rather than following an order. It implies not hindering the leader’s work. Third, the word authority, though inserted in the New International Version and the J. B. Phillips, is not found in the Greek text. So, the verse means to listen to your leaders , and if they win you over by persuasion, yield to their advice. Mary Alice Chrnalogar, Twisted Scriptures: Breaking Free from Churches that Abuse (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997), 43-44, 90-91.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Hope and Healing from Isaiah, part one

Context of the Book of Isaiah

The book of Isaiah offers hope and healing in the midst of oppressive circumstances. The prophet Isaiah served as a political and religious counselor in Jerusalem from about 750 to 700 B.C. under the reign of four kings: Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. Tradition says that he survived Hezekiah and was martyred under King Manasseh.

Isaiah was born under the stable and prosperous reign of King Uzziah of Judah, which developed into a strong commercial and military state. Under Uzziah, Judah experienced a “false sense of complacency” marked by decline in Judah’s spiritual purity. During Jotham’s rule, Assyria began to rise in power and became a growing menace to the smaller kingdoms such as Israel, Judah, and Damascus. The temptation arose to form unhealthy political alliances for protection against the Assyrian threat. Oswalt writes,

These events provided the catalyst for the first great public phase of Isaiah’s
ministry. From his point of view Judah should be neither anti-Assyrian nor
pro-Assyrian but pro-God! He saw Judah turning away from trusting God
and becoming caught up in the trappings of human pomp, politics, and power
(Isa. 1:21-23; 2:12-17). All of that could only lead to the same apostasy
which was now enmeshing Israel.

In spite of Isaiah’s strong warnings against such a move, Ahaz’ reign brought a pro-Assyrian foreign policy initiated when the king appealed to King Tiglath-pileser for help against a Syro-Israelite threat. This Assyrian alliance reduced Judah to the status of unwilling vassal and initiated the beginning of the demise of Israel. The Assyrian king later summoned Ahaz to the ruined city of Damascus, requiring him to enter a more binding treaty that included the introduction of a pagan altar, which he set up in Solomon’s temple. Hezekiah’s reign brought reformation and resistance to the Assyrian kingdom. Judah was finally devastated by Senaccherib in 701 B. C., resulting in many of her people being deported.

Isaiah prophecies in the midst of this politically charged context. Regular fears and threats of the enemy made for an atmosphere of oppression. The kings of Judah feared the wrath of mighty Assyria and on a smaller scale the backlash of not aligning with the smaller states. The people lived under the hardship of Assyrian domination. This oppressive context provides the setting for the book of Isaiah chapters one to thirty-nine. Isaiah stands as a voice for the Lord calling the people to put their trust in God during difficult times.

Years after Isaiah’s time period, a coalition of Babylonian and Medo-Persian forces toppled the Assyrian Empire, and Babylon rose for a season as the dominant world power (650 – 539 B.C.). Jerusalem was ramsacked and destroyed with severity by the Babylonians in 586 B.C., beginning the Babylonian captivity for the people from Judah. God’s chosen people, for the first time in the monarchy, experienced slavery and the complete loss of their homeland. Isaiah and other prophets had warned of such a judgment coming if God’s people did not put their trust in him and turn from their substitutes.

In the midst of such devastation, the Jews experienced oppressive circumstances unknown to them for generations. God’s people found themselves the victims of a horrible form of abuse. As a result of their abuse, many of them faced disillusionment. Oswalt writes,

“[M]any came to the conclusion that their faith had been a farce, while
others, still convinced that God was real enough, concluded that he
had abandoned them. Thus they were in danger of succumbing to the
attractive Babylonian religions and losing their existence as a people,
no longer to be the vehicle through which God’s self-revelation could
come to the world.

Scholars who agree with the continuity of the book of Isaiah, attributing the work to one author, believe that the Spirit used Isaiah the prophet to pen words that would provide comfort for God’s people in exile years later.

The book of Isaiah can be divided into two main sections, with a historical interlude in-between. Isaiah followed the theology of Deuteronomy that taught punishment would come for failure and blessing would follow obedience. Chapters one through thirty-five deal with God’s judgment on his people. Then Isaiah provides a brief history regarding Hezekiah and Sennacherib. The third section of the book, chapters forty through sixty-six, also known as the Book of Consolation, reveal the comfort and salvation that will come after suffering. Another way of approaching this book is seen through which generation to which the prophecies are directed.

The first thirty-nine chapters are directed to Judah facing Assyrian dominance. Chapters forty through fifty-five are spoken for the Exile in Babylon. Chapters fifty-six through sixty-six are words for the postexilic era. Walter Brueggemann writes, “The move from establishment to exilic displacement is the story line that concerns the book of Isaiah.”

This second major section of Isaiah, chapters forty through sixty-six, offers many words of hope and healing. Chapters forty through fifty-five offer hope to a people in exile; chapters fifty-six through sixty-six “speak to a returned people who face both old and new problems.” God’s words of comfort to these generations have three applications. First, they have meaning to the people of those particular time periods. Then they have fulfillment in the ministry of the Lord Jesus. Finally, they have application to the abused today and the issues they face.

Picture used courtesy of Pexels

Characteristics of Abusive Churches, part one

Years ago my parents went through a deeply painful time in the church they had attended for 25 years. Eventually, they left the church deeply hurt, dismayed, and betrayed, later describing the time as the greatest disappointment of their lives. As the church continued to divide and splinter, about 400 other people left. The pastor of the next church where my parents joined told them, I don’t know what happened there, but I know that everyone who comes here from that church is hurting deeply.

Through that experience I witnessed the destructive force of spiritual abuse. I saw how devastating pastoral abuse is to a Christian’s psyche, their sense of worth, their relation to the local church, and at times their personal relationship with God. I saw how the kingdom of God can be hindered when God’s people are abused. During that time I came across Ron Enroth’s book Churches that Abuse and was introduced for the first time to the term spiritual abuse or pastoral abuse. I then began reading and researching the subject and making some of my findings available to others whom I knew had experienced similar abuse. Over time I developed a burden to see victims of spiritual abuse helped, healed, and restored. I desire to see those persons who have been abused by the church to not become casualties in the kingdom of God but instead to become resilient, bouncing back closer to the Lord and more fruitful for His kingdom.

Two years ago I completed my doctoral thesis via Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina. The thesis is entitled Moving Forward: A Descriptive Study of the Factors that Make People Resilient from Spiritual Abuse in Southern Baptist Churches. People who have endured spiritual abuse, also called pastoral abuse, are wounded in ways that can have devastating results in their lives. Some victims of spiritual abuse move away from the Lord and the church; other persons, however, become resilient. My thesis project studies the factors involved in the healing process.

The next couple of months I will be posting some of my findings from this subject.

Though different authors from distinct backgrounds, faith-groups, and experiences provide varying lists, several similar themes emerge through the spiritual abuse literature. Spiritually abusive churches display these three symptoms: a misuse of power, a distortion of truth, divisiveness characterized by paranoia, and a habit of attacking dissenters.

Misuse of power

A dysfunctional system is one that does not function the way it was intended. God intends the church to function as a place characterized by order, health, and edification. Leaders receive entrusted authority to guide people in God’s will and to benefit followers. When that power is consistently misused, abuse occurs. Bloomer writes, “Spiritual abuse, much like sexual abuse, is the perversion of something beautiful; this altering disrupts God’s designed order in the life of a person, family, church, or other system.” The misuse of power includes several qualities: authoritarian, punitive, demanding, closed communication, and no accountability.

Abusive churches have authoritarian leadership that expects unquestioned obedience to her pastors or other structural leaders. Arterburn and Felton say that the first rule of a toxic-faith system is that the leader must be in control at all times. This attempt at controlling the church fosters “an unhealthy form of dependency, spiritually and interpersonally, by focusing on themes of submission, loyalty, and obedience to those in authority.”

Some authoritarian pastors may have been misled by a historical mentor. Watchman Nee, noted Chinese pastor and author, wrote a book entitled Spiritual Authority. Nee argued that God delegates his authority to human leaders who represent God to their followers. The response of the people should be unquestioned obedience; authority replaces reason, right, and wrong. Even if the authority is wrong, Nee argues, one should obey them unto the Lord. Though Nee provided many helpful resources to the Body of Christ, this one teaching has probably added to much confusion and misuse among spiritual leaders. Both Henry Blackaby and Ken Blue challenge Nee’s teaching. His error may have added to the tendencies and structures of some abusive leaders and structures.

Blackaby writes, “It is easy to see how dictatorial leaders could abuse this teaching in order to justify their tyrannical leadership style. Cult groups demand absolute obedience to their leaders. They denounce independent thought by their followers. Nothing could be more unbiblical! . . . God does appoint leaders into secular as well as religious leadership positions. . . . Nevertheless, while God may choose to work through leaders to accomplish his purposes, obeying a leader is not necessarily equal to obeying God. God will tolerate no substitutes for a personal relationship with Him. He exercises his lordship directly over his followers. People who obey leaders as though they were responding to God are in danger of committing idolatry. ” Henry Blackaby and Richard Blackaby, Spiritual Leadership: Moving People on to God’s Agenda (Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman, 2001), 90-91.

The leadership and structure of an abusive church is punitive in nature. Countless Christians experience tremendous hurt in the midst of a toxic church environment. Book after book on the subject of spiritual abuse emphasizes this horrific fact. The primary reason for the field of study is to help people avoid being hurt in the future and to assist those who have been hurt in the past. The betrayal that occurs in spiritual abuse can be “ruinous to the overall mental and spiritual health of victims.” Authoritarian churches often impose discipline to members who do not practice unquestioned submission. Biblical church discipline is always redemptive in nature. Though sin has to be addressed and exposed, the goal is always restoration. In abusive churches, the discipline often involves ridicule and humiliation. Not only are Christians hurt, but spiritual abuse impedes the work of God in a place. Bloomer writes, “Countless numbers of people have been hurt by the institution originally established to bring them healing. Thus, there are many who truly and wholeheartedly love God but have no regard for the organized church.” The strong hand of authoritarian leadership results in the wounding of followers. Leaders of punitive churches seem to be motivated by the wrath of God more than the compassion of the Lord.

Abusive religious groups are often demanding in nature. Several authors share stories of exacting cult groups. Chrnalogar and Enroth’s books draw from numerous stories of cultic involvement. Hutchinson’s work focuses on helping ex-cultists return to the church with encouragement. Cults and other authoritarian groups often place high demands on members, expecting them to follow many rules and meet many demands.

Another misuse of power in a toxic church is that the leaders-pastors have no accountability. In an abusive system the person at the top of the flow-chart has no one to practically and tangibly ask him hard questions and hold him accountable. Enroth shares, “Members of all abusive churches soon learn that the pastor or leader is beyond confrontation.” If an abusive church appears to have a system of accountability, the pastor has usually hand-selected a few persons who act as puppets around him, attempting to provide a veneer of substantive accountability when in reality the pastor is controlling those persons.

Another quality of abusive religious groups includes their closed communication. Information flows from the top-down and is very guarded and secretive. Constructive criticism is never wanted or encouraged; in fact it is often punished. Unwritten rules create an atmosphere of the authoritarian leader controlling the flow, or lack, of communication. Blue calls this phenomenon the no-talk rule. Certain problems must not be talked about openly, particularly as they relate to the leader’s dysfunctions, mistakes, or sins. Certain issues such as hiring and firing, the use of money, the selection of leaders, church discipline, former church members, and pastoral accountability may not be allowed to be discussed. This practice of closed communication completely denies the essence of Christian fellowship.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Get Back to the Basics

Along with a deep burden for equipping families, the past several years my heart has longed for a return to the basics in relation to doing church. Not only do we need to simplify our structure, but we need to ask even more basic questions like, What are the foundational pillars we cannot do without? What is the main thing? What is church really to be about? It became obvious to me that the modern church can easily become enthralled with the wrong thing. Personalities and pressure tactics often replace the Holy Spirit. Entertainment, focused on the individual, replaces worship, focused on God. Therapy replaces the ministry of teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training. Making people happy and reducing conflict replace spiritual formation. The centrality of the Word of God is minimized by sermons characterized by popular psychology, light and fluffy talks, and an obsession with creativity. The latest fad and/or a dependence upon video, lighting, props, and handouts can be given more attention than calling on the name of the Lord for the anointing of the Holy Spirit and His deep work of revelation, conviction, and illumination. In this shift, “cool” can replace “conviction.” Walter Kaiser writes, "It is no secret that Christ's Church is not at all in good health in many places. She has been languishing because she has been fed "junk food"; all kinds of artificial preservatives and unnatural substitutes have been served to her. As a result, theological and Biblical malnutrition has afflicted the very generation that has taken such giants steps to make sure its physical hearth is not damaged." One book I have been reading the past six months is Charles Swindoll’s The Church Awakening: An Urgent Call for Renewal. He challenges Christians to carefully examine their practices in light of the fact that many churches have drifted far from biblical truth and biblical preaching-teaching and instead are driven by entertainment, personalities, and therapy. Swindoll calls churches to radically return to the four pillars from Acts 2:42 that should mark any church: Bible preaching-teaching, worship, prayer, and fellowship. He writes, In this one verse we have the lowest common denominator of a church. This is ground zero. It would help greatly if God’s people would remind themselves of this single verse every day. This verse is not only descriptive of what the early church did; it is prescriptive of what all churches must do. Teaching is not the same as mere talking, or reading poetry, or motivational speaking. A church must continually be devoted to the teaching of the sacred Scriptures. Teaching God’s truth gives a church deep roots that provide nourishment and stability. Fellowship referred to close, mutual relationships where people share things in common and remain involved with one another. Koinonia represents close relationships that involve sharing life with one another – the bad times as well as the good. The breaking of bread refers to the Lord’s Table. An acceptable, all-inclusive term would be worship. For a church to be the kind of church Jesus promised to build, there must be worship. Finally, they devoted themselves to prayer. They spent time as a body adoring their Lord, confessing their sins, interceding for others, petitioning God to provide, and thanking Him for His blessings – just as Jesus had taught them to pray. You can’t have a church if you take away any of the four essentials. You can have more than these four, but you cannot have less and still be a church. And if you have more – and most churches do – those things added must never contradict or obscure the importance of the essentials. When they do, count on it, erosion occurs. There is a void of biblical, text-driven preaching in many pulpits today. As a result, there is a void of biblical disciples. It has been said well that a fog in the pulpit will result in a mist in the pew. Adrian Rogers, who some call the greatest American preacher of his generation, explained one time that there are three types of sermons: topical (when a certain topic drives the message), textual (when one verse of Scripture is preached), and expository (or text-driven, when a text is taught verse by verse, idea by idea, chapter by chapter). Rogers said that there is a place for all three preaching-types, but that 90% of a preacher’s messages should be expository. Or, text-driven preaching should be the pastor’s bread and butter. The way the Word of God is handled in the pulpit is the way the Word of God will be handled in the lives of the hearers. People need to know that when they come to church, they will hear from a man who has a fresh word from God – not just from the books he has been reading or sermons from the internet. But from a man who has been alone with the Lord, who has prepared that sermon on his knees with an open Bible, who has been anointed by the Spirit of the Lord, and in whose heart the Word of the Lord burns like a fire wanting to get out. There is still a famine for hearing the very words of God. John MacArthur writes to pastors, "The failure to preach expositionally and doctrinally is inexcusable. It can only be attributed to ignorgance of, or indifference to, the implications of an inerrant, God-breathed Scripture. God gave His Word to His people, and He expects His undershepherds to feed it to them. Only when truly biblical preaching resumes its rightful place in the church will the church regain its spiritual strength and power. It is the preacher's privilege and awesome responsibility to be a part of that process." Jesus said that we should live not by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. And the apostle Paul charged pastor Timothy, “Preach the Word.”

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Turning the Tide

Charles Stanley, pastor of First Baptist Church of Atlanta, recently released his newest book called Turning the Tide.

Are you responsible for the well being of a nation? In Turning the Tide, Dr. Stanley issues a clarion call for you to speak up, stand up, and pray as never before in order to reverse the ungodly trends in our nation. Find out how in this inspiring book!

You can hear an interview with Stanley here about the book - and about the current state of our country.

Connecting Church and Home

A conference entitled Connecting Church and Home caught my attention in August of 2010 at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. My wife and I registered, intrigued by the conference subject that was so similar to many of our recent stirrings. The weekend of the conference was one of those times when you feel like you have stepped into the river of God, realizing that what He has been doing in your heart is not an isolated work – He has been doing the same thing in the hearts and minds of many other people at the same time. We discovered in Louisville that there is a growing movement out there of church leaders wrestling with the same concerns and questions and trying to do something decisive about it. Leaders frustrated with feeling like slaves to the church system. Weary of spinning so many plates with so few spiritual results. Tired of seeing families fall apart and young adults leave the church. And realizing that our church as we know it does not necessarily equip parents to disciple their families. The Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) is considered by the Jews to be the foundational instruction in the Torah – the first five books of the Old Testament. Jesus later used the Shema to illustrate life’s most important commandment – loving the Lord (Mark 12:28-29). The context of the Shema – the laboratory for producing persons who love the Lord with all of their heart, soul, and might - is not the church but the home. Parents are instructed in this chapter what to do in order to produce such type of children. The imperative there is that parents must walk closely with the Lord with His Word on their hearts, and they will in turn impress those teachings and words onto the hearts and minds of their children. The family is the bedrock of society. The family was made before any other institution. The family was created before the community of faith – actually the family is the primary faith community! Society will be strong when families are strong. Churches will be strong when families are strong. And churches need to organize in order to strengthen families. Something happened in church culture in America in the first half of the twentieth century. As professionalism increased in the country, people began going to the professionals to meet more and more specific needs. People began looking to professionals in order to educate their children, meet their psychological needs, take care of their bodies, repair their equipment, etc. Likewise in the church a professional mindset took over in many places. Dads and moms began looking to the professionals at church to train their children spiritually. Churches began hiring professionalized ministers for children, youth, and adults. Age-segregated ministries became normative. Generations mingled less and less at church. Ministries became much more focused on meeting the needs of specific age groups. And individuals begin to look at the church through the eyes of selfish, you get it your way, consumerism. Instead of thinking of themselves as a part of a larger whole asking, How can my life and family fit into the fellowship here? They instead ask, What is in it for me? Sadly, one of the worst consequences of this shift was that many parents no longer saw themselves as the primary catalysts for spiritual growth in the lives of their children. Instead of church simply reinforcing what the children already received at home, there was a flip-flop of responsibilities, and families (some) tried to simply reinforce what children received at church. However, the imperative located with the Shema is that the primary place for spiritual growth is the home. All of these realities beg for deep questions . . . How can the church best equip dads and moms to raise their families spiritually? How does the church need to structure in order to best accomplish this goal? At the Connecting Church and Home conference, Tracey and I were overwhelmingly met with many people asking these and similar questions. We heard excellent teaching from spiritual leaders wrestling with how to flesh this out in American culture. How do the church and family work together? How do we carry out the work of the church without neglecting families? How do we strengthen families without ignoring those who are single, without children, etc? I resonated deeply with one seminar led by Brian Haynes, then the associate pastor of Kingsland Baptist Church in Katy, Texas, and author of the book Shift: what it finally takes to reach families today. Several years ago, Kingsland began wrestling with similar issues. A diagnostic survey by Family Life Today revealed that in spite of a busy mega church, only 17% of their active families had a family devotion led by the parent once a week. This wake-up call began a major evaluation of their entire structure. Haynes began asking questions like, What if the discipleship processes at church and parents’ efforts to lead their children spiritually became one simple, common path? What if the church embraced a strategy to equip parents to be the primary faith influencers, giving them motivation, resources, training opportunities, and most importantly a clear path to walk on? What if the church offered Bible study and events that reinforced the parents’ role? These simple thoughts became the beginning of a strategy designed to help his church and its families “equip the generations one home at a time.” I told Tracey after attending his seminar, I finally have seen a church model-strategy that I believe in.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A Clean House One Day

I penned the following the morning of Independence Day 2006 as I ate breakfast alone while my family was at the beach. Yesterday I was brought back to the same poem on a similar Independence Day five years later as I was home and my family was again at the beach.

There is coming a day when our house will be straight,
No legos on the den floor, no beach towels on the gate.

I won't trip over Star Wars men in the middle of the night.
And he won't ask me when I come home if we can wrestle and fight

The train table and its many parts will have long been stored away.
And we will have a clean floor and tidy house instead on that day.

The yard will no longer overflow with balls, bikes, and swings.
And I won't find in every nook, cranny, and room baby dolls, stickers, and rings.

Crayons will not be found, spills less frequent, and diapers no more,
Except for a few crayon marks penned long ago on a wall, table, or floor.

Yes, Mom and Dad, there is coming a day when your house will not be cluttered.
For the day will arrive when your child moves away, and then your heart will flutter.

And you will recall olden days of toys, games, and snacks.
The dress-up clothes will be gone, no cowboy hats on the racks.

Dad, forget the golf course! Your hobbies can wait for these oh so precious years.
Stay at home, be silly and play, and give a listening ear.

Mom, make your family number one after faith in God.
Care for them and share your love, like a shepherd's firm but gentle rod.

So please be patient in these years to remember what really matters.
Enjoy your children, embrace them now, and thank God for spilled-milk splatters!

- Rhett H. Wilson

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Church Structure: Organize Around Your Mission

This is a paper I put together over several different years and have referred back to several times as we have begun a new fellowship this year . . . Introduction I appreciate what Danny Akin, President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, said, “Any system will work if the people are godly and mature. However, it seems fairly clear that congregationalism most nearly follows the pattern of the New Testament period. It affirms best other essential components such as: 1. The Priesthood of the Believers 2. A called servant model of leadership 3. Congregational involvement in ministry and discipline 4. Individual responsibility of the believer to God and one another 5. The Lordship of Christ.” When deciding upon a structure of offices and government for a church, we must lay aside tradition and pre-conceived ideas and instead return to the Scriptures with open eyes. The English word church comes from the Greek word kyriakon, meaning “belonging to the Lord.” Because we belong to the Lord, we understand that we must order or ways after His ways in His Word. Perhaps the most challenging mountains in churches are those of tradition and control. We humans love to cling to the familiar and have a sense of control. Fred Powell, former Senior Associate Pastor of First Baptist Church, Atlanta, Georgia, writes, Extra-biblical tradition is almost always contrary to truth. This tradition is the product of man’s mind and methods, whereas truth emanates from God. One of the most difficult challenges of pastors is to take churched people and try to get them to look at church through the lens of Scripture rather than the lens of their experience or tradition. Any serious disciple must be willing to look at the hard questions and ask, Lord, how do we apply what Your Word says and flesh it out today? To begin we must acknowledge that we do not live in the first century. We are not citizens of Jerusalem. We do not ride the immediate wave of the apostles. We are twenty centuries removed! As we seek to apply what the Bible says to our church structure, we have much room for grace, creativity, and addition. We also must differentiate between that which is descriptive in the New Testament from that which is prescriptive. Everything that the Bible describes that the early church did is not an automatic prescription of how it must be done today. Aubrey Malphurs explains, The issue concerns whether today’s evangelical churches should follow the forms as well as the functions of the New Testament church. There are those who teach that the local church is bound to follow not only the biblical functions or principles of the early church but its forms (methods) as well. An example would be when the church meets. They would argue that the local church should meet on Sunday because of the significance of the first day of the week and because it was the practice of some apostolic churches. There are others who believe that the church is bound to follow only the scriptural mandates of the early church but not its practices or patterns, for the latter are cultural and relative. The latter view is the best solution to this issue. The twenty-first century church is bound to follow the prescriptive passages of the Bible (commands, prohibitions, and so forth), not the descriptive passages (such as those found in Acts 20:7 or 1 Cor. 16:2). This affects the local church in terms of its liberty and relevance. Because the Bible is our plumb line, the Lord Jesus is our foundation, and the Holy Spirit is our guide, we keep our feet firmly rooted in the first century, yet we spread our wings and grow into the twenty-first century. In doing so we want to make sure that we adhere to basic principles, precepts, and patterns. And then we want to build our structure and organization around our mission of how to specifically carry out the Great Commission in our particular context. What is the purpose of any church? To bring glory to the Lord Jesus through the process of disciple-making. This purpose is accomplished through the following ways: Exalting the Lord Jesus in worship Energizing the world through prayer Evangelizing the lost Establishing believers in God’ Word Equipping the saints for the work of ministry Edifying the body through fellowship Extending into the community Engaging the culture Everything a church does must work to accomplish our primary purpose via these eight ways. The wise church orders her structure so as to best accomplish the task. The throne of God is our destiny, worshiping the Lamb of God with the countless redeemed from every tribe and people. The way we do church must be driven by this future reality. One other prerequisite to building a church structure is answering the question, “Who are the ministers?” The book of Ephesians answers this simply. Paul tells us that when the Lord Jesus conquered death and experienced victory, He distributed gifts. Drawing from Psalm 68, a picture of an ancient wartime victory celebration, he shows that Jesus, instead of keeping the spoils of war for Himself, distributed gifts to the church. What were these gifts? He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, to the building up of the body of Christ. The New Living translation says it this way, He is the one who gave these gifts to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do His work and build up the church, the body of Christ. J. B. Phillips wrote, “His gifts were made that Christians might be properly equipped for service.” The lesson here is two-fold. The church is made of equippers and ministers. The called-out vocations, like pastors (many theologians believe that the Ephesians 4:11-12 passage is best translated “pastor-teachers” signifying that they are one), are the equippers. Their primary function is to train the laity, who are the ministers, to do ministry, or to use their spiritual gifts to serve the Lord and others. The New Testament understanding of the church was that every member was a minister. Charles Stanley writes, I’m afraid the modern church has lost sight of this principles. Instead of organizing to meet the needs of the body, we hire pastors and expect them to do it. . . . God did not give pastors to the church to meet the needs of the body. Pastors were given to train the other body members to meet one another’s needs. A local church that does not understand this does not deserve to have a pastor. Why? Because until the people do, they will expect to serve as if he has all the gifts. It’s a no- win situation. The gifts listed in Ephesians 4 are what I call the equipping gifts. Their purpose in the body is to equip the other members to carry on the ministry – not to do the ministry themselves. Sadly, most churches view the vocational staff as those who are paid to do the ministry. And as a result churches do not fulfill their part of the Great Commission. Powell writes, “Across America we see in most churches and denominations men who are the vocational ministers doing a myriad of things that are not God’s planned assignment. We are told [in the Bible] that the pastor-teacher is a gift to the church and is to equip the saints for the work of ministry. It is clear that the primary task of the pastor-teacher and other vocational ministers is to equip church members as disciples who in turn evangelize, disciple, minister and carry out sundry tasks as a part of the work of ministry.” When this does not happen, “the saints are not equipped for ministry and souls are bound for hell.” Scripture is clear. The church members are the ministers. They are called to do ministry. So, as the church organizes a structure, she must build a blueprint that empowers the most people to do the most ministry. George Barna wisely writes, “The ministry is not called to fit the church’s structure; the structure exists to further effective ministry.” Church structure is good only as long as that organization, biblically grounded, empowers people to do ministry. Summarizing our introduction, 1. The Bible is our plumb line, the Lord Jesus our foundation, and the Holy Spirit our guide. 2. We must be forward in our thinking. 3. We must structure around our mission. 4. The congregation are the ministers. 5. Officers, structure, and government exist to empower people for the work of ministry. Church Governments With that foundation, the three primary types of church government are called episcopalian, presbyterian, and congregationalism. In his book, What Baptists Believe, Herschel Hobbs wrote, “Episcopal refers to the rule of bishops. Presbyterian means the rule of elders. Congregational refers to the rule of the congregation as among Baptists.” The episcopalian form, common to Anglicans, Methodists, and Roman Catholics, derives its name from the Greek word episkopos, meaning overseer and translated bishop. The basic concept is that “authority is given to leaders called bishops. Bishops preside over several churches and exercise their authority.” The bottom-line in this system is that the authority to make decisions lies with the bishops. The presbyterian form of church government is based on the rule of elders. The name derives from the Greek word presbuteros, translated elder. The elders serve as representatives of the church. In this system, there are two types of elders: teaching and ruling. Akin writes, “Teaching elders are ordained by other ministers, while ruling elders are ordained by the local congregation.” Advocates for this structure often refer to the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15-16. Elders hold the power to make decisions. A third type of church organization is called congregationalism. This structure is rooted in the concept that the power to make decisions lies in the individual churches: her members and her leaders. Baptist churches often operate as congregational churches. There is no bishop nor board of elders who rule the church. Instead, the power to make decisions is vested in the individual members under the weekly leadership of her pastor(s) and the spiritual oversight of her staff and deacons. Generally a single pastor is selected, though some churches will expand church staffs to include several pastors. In such cases there is usually a senior pastor who assumes leadership. Ernest Mosley writes, “In congregational church government the church covenant, the constitution and bylaws, the business and financial plan . . . are to be approved by the congregation.” This plan requires the participation of church members. Decision-Making and the Holy Spirit The New Testament witnesses to the moving of the Spirit of God through the bodies of believers. These bodies were known as churches. Some have said that the book of Acts should be known as The Acts of the Holy Spirit instead of The Acts of the Apostles. The book of Acts testifies that the Helper, the Counselor, is the One who came alongside the disciples and was the real Guide for the early church. Jesus promised that this Spirit would enable the church to do greater works than He (Jn. 14:12), help them (16), teach them all things and bring to remembrance what Jesus had said (26), guide them into al truth, speak whatever He hears from the God-head, disclose to them what is to come (Jn. 16:13), and glorify Jesus (14). The disciples waited for the Holy Spirit to come (Acts 1). In chapter two, they are filled with the Spirit. This baptism and filling changed the way the church made decisions. In chapter one they are still casting lots (26) to discern God’s will. But after Pentecost this method is never used again. Why? Because all believers are now indwelt by the Spirit. The immediate result was evangelism and this distinctive: “everyone kept feeling a sense of awe (Acts 2:41-43). Chapters three to four show us numerous evidences of the Holy Spirit in the midst of the church. Acts 5 brings the accusation that two believers had not lied just to the church but to the Holy Spirit. In Acts 6, the congregation, under the leadership of the Spirit, selects seven men to serve tables, men characterized as “full of the Spirit” (3). Doctor Luke describes Stephen minutes before his death as “being full of the Holy Spirit” (55). In chapter eight, Philip exemplifies a man empowered and directed by the Spirit. Philip’s evangelistic success came from obeying the specific promptings and instructions of the Holy Spirit. Later, in chapter thirteen, the Bible says that while the church was “ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for Me Barnabus and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ “ The church commissioned them, sent them out, and the Scripture says, “So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down” (13:2-4). Again and again, we see the testimony that the Holy Spirit fulfilled Jesus’ words in John 14-16 guiding, helping, teaching, disclosing, and empowering the church to do greater things and thus, glorify Jesus. How does an individual glorify Jesus? She walks by the Spirit. How does a church glorify Jesus? We walk by the Spirit of God. Henry Blackaby writes, "The church is a body with Christ as the Head. The Spirit of God guides every believer. His indwelling presence can teach us and help us." Blackaby goes on to discuss the early church’s process of decision-making: With the coming of the Holy Spirit on the church at Pentecost, God came to dwell in every beliver. He created the body – a local church – so that every member needed every other member. In the body of Christ every believer has direct access to God. God can speak to any and every member of the body. He can work through the whole body in revealing His will. In the NT, the Holy Spirit also led the apostles as they guidedthechurch. God led the members and leaders in a mutual interdependence of serving and decision-making. New Testament examples illustrate joint decision-making under Christ’s lordship: • The Choosing of Judas’ Replacement (Acts 1:12-26) • The Choosing of the Seven (Acts 6:1-7) • Peter’s Witness to the Gentile Conversions (Acts 11:1-18) • Barnabus and Saul Sent Out (Acts 13:1-3) • The Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:1-35) Blackaby describes this pattern of joint-decision-making under Christ’s lordship (key principles of Congregationalism), in his workbook Experiencing God: Knowing and Doing the Will of God. In the unit entitled “God’s Will and the Church,” he writes . . . When God speaks to a person about the church, the person should share with the body what he or she senses God is saying. As each member shares what he senses God is saying, the whole body goes to God in prayer to discern His will for the body. In this time God confirms to the body what He is saying. Individual opinions are not that important. The will of God is very important. . . . Pastors, church leaders, and members are to have such a relationship with God and the church body that spiritual guidance is the outcome. When Christ is able to guide each spiritual leader and member of the body to function properly, the whole body will know and be enabled to do God’s will. A church comes to know God’s will when the whole body comes to understand what Christ wants them to do. For a church, knowing God’s will may involve many members, not just one. Yes, God often will speak to the leader about what He wants to do. That leader then bears witness to the body. The leader does not have to try to convince the church that this is God’s will. The leader encourages the body to go to Christ and get confirmation from the Head. This is why a church must learn to function as a body with Christ as the Head of the church. The church needs to function like a body with every member free to share what he or she knows or senses as God’s will. When God gave directions to our church in Saskatoon, He often gave them through persons other than me. Many of them came from the members of the body who sensed a clear direction of God and shared it with the body. We created the opportunity for people to share what they sensed God was leading us to be or do. Our desire was not to find out who was for it and who was against it. In our business meetings we never took a vote asking, “How many of you are for this and how many of you are against it?” That is the wrong question. Every time you ask that question you have a potential church split. The right question is, “With all of the information and all of the praying that we have been doing, how many of you sense that God clearly is directing us to proceed in this direction?” This is a very different question. It does not ask members for their opinions. It asks them to vote based on what they sense God is saying to the church. In Saskatoon, as God moved and expressed His will to church members, I guided them as their pastor to share with the other members of His body. All were given an opportunity and encouraged to share. Each was encouraged to respond as God guided him or her. This happened not only in worship (usually at the close of a service), but also in prayer meetings, committee meetings, business meetings, Sunday School classes, home Bible studies, and in personal conversations. Many called the church office and shared what God had been saying to them in their quiet times. The entire church became experientially and practically aware of Christ’s presence in our midst. The result of this decision-making process is very similar to that of Acts 2:43 when “everyone kept feeling a sense of awe.” Christ is manifest among His people. Baptists and Congregationalism Baptists historically have been noted for their desire to base their practices on the bible instead of man-made traditions. Christian History magazine’s edition that was entitled The Baptists: A people who gathered to walk in all of His ways describes this part of church history as “a people who dared to take the Bible seriously and specifically.” It continues . . . From small and rude beginnings, the people called Baptist have grown through persecution, struggle, and misunderstanding. Their flowering is perhaps due to, as much as anything else, their sense of freedom and their specific attention to the Bible as their sole authority in matters of faith and practice. Church Officers: Pastors and Deacons There are two types of church officers in these churches: pastors and deacons. Baptists have often believed that the biblical titles elder, overseer, bishop, and pastor all refer to the same officers. Hobbs wrote, “There is the office of bishop, elder, or pastor. In the New Testament these titles refer to the same office. The title bishop refers to the function, elder the dignity. Pastor is translated from the Greek word shepherd. The three words – overseer, elder, and pastor – therefore refer to the same office.” Mosley explains further, “In the past 50 years many churches have added staff ministry leaders according to their needs for ministry in leadership, proclamation, pastoral care. These pastoral staff persons serve in positions such as associate pastors of music, education, counseling, etc. This is not unlike the churches in the New Testament that had several leaders (Acts 11:30; 15:4; 20:17). The need for the plurality of pastors is obvious: organize to grow, not just maintain. The second office is that of deacon, taken from the Greek word diakonos. The same word is used in the following ways: domestic servants (John 2:5,9), Christ (Rom. 15:8), followers of Christ (John 12:26; Eph. 6:21), servants of Christ (1 Cor. 3:5; 2 Cor. 6:4), and those who serve in churches (Rom. 16:1). Jim Henry, former Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church, Orlando, Florida, teaches that deacons primarily do three things: keep down murmuring and grumbling, look after the widows (oversee ministry), and relieve the pastors. They serve three tables: The Lord’s Table, the needy, and the pastors. When pastors and deacons fail to work together as spiritual leaders of the church, several things result: • The pastors burn out • The pastors neglect the Word of God and prayer • The pulpit and teaching ministry weaken • Leadership are less sensitive to the Holy Spirit • Evangelism and discipleship suffer • The congregation lose opportunities to be equipped, grow, and serve Practices differ as to whether or not deacons should be administrators or be doers of ministry. Larry Garner addresses that issue: “The big question remains, Are deacons administrators or ministers? The Seven [in Acts 6] were to be responsible over the ministry needed. The New Testament patterns is that they are to be administrators of ministry. The Scripture states that the seven were put over the ministry to the widows. They were responsible for seeing that the ministry was done.” Don Wilton, senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Spartanburg, South Carolina, has said for years, “A church should be pastor-led, deacon-served, and congregation-run.” Empower People to Make Decisions As a church grows, more people must be added to the leadership base. Sonny Holmes, current President of the South Caroling Baptist Convention, once told me that from his view, among the Baptist churches that are growing, the following transition has occurred: a de-centralizing of decision-making power to ministry teams. Deacons and pastors work together to empower other people to do ministry instead of trying to control or dictate what they do. Holmes also shared that the hardest transition he sees is going from a rural mindset of church, where a few people make all the decisions, to a suburban mindset, where people in the congregation are empowered to make decisions and carry-out ministry. The lesson: empower your staff and ministry teams to make decisions and do ministry! Bill Hull, president of T-Net International and author of several widely-read books on how churches can best make disciples, believes the average church is entrenched in administration and tradition. Thus, the churches become monuments of maintenance: “The church needs to be liberated from this slavery to administrative forms and released to its biblical, ministerial functions.” He fears that churches are not “organized for growth and fulfilling their mission.” Instead, they are “organized for security, predictability and safety.” Hull writes in We Must Sacrifice the Forms for the Function, he says, “The mentality of the present system is management, not leadership. Its focus is maintenance, not mission. And its result is restriction, not release. The solution is to think function, not form. If the church desires to move people toward mission instead of toward institutional maintenance, a new administrative model is needed.” Hull advocates a “ministerial congregationalism supported by a streamlined administrative congregationalism.” In other words, empower the congregation to do ministry while empowering appropriate individuals to make decisions in their various areas. The balance of the system is accountability: “The three loci of power in the church – the congregation, leaders, and staff – must provide checks and balances, which facilitate mission. I suggest this simple interface: Final authority rests in the congregation; delegated authority in the leaders; and daily authority in the staff.” Empower people on ministry teams and committees to make decisions regarding their respective areas: “Delegating decisions nurtures a feeling of ownership and openness. It makes the church more grass-roots in practice, with those close to the action making the decisions. Those working within their sphere of ministry are endowed with the responsibility and the authority.” When appropriate, they too come to the congregation for input and approval. Every decision does not have to be discussed with the entire congregation. Instead, use congregational discussion times for sharing what they sense to be leadership from the Lord and sharing about things that affect the entire body. Pastors act as overseers and equippers, helping to empower people to do ministry and thus fulfill the church’s mission. Deacons are able to help oversee ministry areas, protect the church, and lead in ministry. Together they become a vital team, seeking the Lord together for guidance and empowerment and mobilizing the congregation towards the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. Again, Hull shares, “The goal is to get as few as possible meeting as little time as possible for administration, so as many as possible can have as much time as possible for people ministry.” FINAL THOUGHTS Wayne Grudem gives a helpful, balancing perspective . . . It must be clear, in concluding this discussion of church government, that the form of government adopted by a church is not a major point of doctrine. . . . Where there are weaknesses that appear to be inherent in the governing structure, individuals within the system generally recognize those weaknesses and attempt to compensate for them in whatever ways the system will allow. Nevertheless, a church can be more pure or less pure on this point, as in others. As we are persuaded by Scripture concnering the various aspects of church government, then we should continue to pray and work for the greater purity of the visible church in this area as well. Returning to Akin’s thought, “Any system will work if the people are godly and mature.” Godliness among the Lord’s people is paramount. The power of the early church was greatly due to the reality that they were godly, Spirit-filled people who sought the face of God.