Guest Columns

10 small group lessons from old-fashioned Sunday school

July 22 2016 by Chuck Lawless

When I started ministry many years ago, on-campus Sunday school was the predominant form of small groups. That trend has changed now, but the structure of old-fashioned Sunday school still provides needed lessons for small groups, regardless of their meeting place or time:

Chuck Lawless

 

  1. The small group’s purpose must be clear. Frankly, even Sunday school has often lost its original historical purpose – evangelistic outreach – but a small group program works best when its purpose is most obvious and best known.  
  2. Intentional organization matters. In a good Sunday school program, class workers include at least a teacher, an assistant teacher, a secretary, an outreach leader, a prayer leader, a fellowship leader, and care group leaders (who do pastoral care of class members). The higher percentage of class members who have a role, the better in any kind of small group.
  3. Workers must be trained. In a good Sunday school program, class teachers and other leaders are required to complete training in order to serve. That training is, in fact, ongoing as long as the leader serves. That’s a wise approach for all small groups.
  4. Concern must be focused on the lost. Originally, Sunday school was the evangelistic arm of a church, and one goal was to be the place where non-believers first connected with the congregation. The people who weren’t there were as important, if not more important, than the regular attenders.
  5. Pastoral care via the small group must be organized. That’s where “care group leaders” come into play. Their role is to continually care for assigned class members to make sure everyone is shepherded at a personal level. Nobody is left without a care group leader.
  6. The goal of the Sunday school class is to multiply, to “plant” another class from the current class. Generally, classes seek to multiply by beginning new groups when the current group averages 12-15 regular attenders. Sunday school classes are not intended to become large “mini-churches.” Nor are other types of small groups.
  7. Space matters. Sunday school leaders and teachers recognize the 80% rule: when a classroom is 80% full, it’s unlikely that the class will continue to grow. The group must either increase its space capacity or send out some members to start a new class. That rule applies to other small groups, too.
  8. The class must “go after” the lost. In an old-fashioned Sunday school, the class didn’t wait for guests to show up. Instead, they intentionally sought the unchurched and invited them to attend. That process still works.
  9. The Bible must be the textbook. Other books may be good to study, but the Bible is the only God-breathed book that’s profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness. Sunday schools have been built around the Bible, and so must other groups.
  10. Children matter. That’s one reason why I still like on-campus small groups: they often offer classes for little ones even while their parents and grandparents are learning the Bible.

If you understand old-fashioned Sunday school, what would you add to this list?
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Chuck Lawless is dean and vice-president of graduate studies and ministry centers at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he also serves as professor of evangelism and missions. This blog originally appeared at ChuckLawless.com and is used with permission.)
 

7/22/2016 11:51:55 AM by Chuck Lawless | with 0 comments



Political seasons & pastoral leadership

July 21 2016 by David H. McKinley

“Pastor, where do you stand on ...? Pastor, what should we as a church think or do about ...? Pastor what do you think about this candidate’s comments ...?”

David H. McKinley


These are common questions every pastoral leader faces, but these questions take on fresh fervor and renewed vitality during an election season.
Standing, speaking, leading, nurturing and guiding the “flock of God among you” (1 Peter 5:2) while addressing the confused and conflicted culture around you (Romans 12:2) requires great discernment, fervent prayer and deep conviction.
 
I’m now entering the fourth decade of my ministry and can honestly say I’ve never seen or experienced days of greater social upheaval or more ardent political debate. Our nation is divided. Our systems of law and order are unraveling. Our understanding of truth has faded. Our leaders are in turmoil and our people are fueled by attitudes of anxiety, anger and anarchy.
 
While we are neither helpless nor hopeless, no pastor can be silent and ignore the volatile trends or threatening winds of change and unrest in our culture today.
 
I believe the Bible teaches the stewardship of citizenship (Romans 13). While applications change in every system of government, ours is one of responsible awareness and participation. We cannot ignore or disengage, but the question remains, “What are a pastor and, ultimately, a people to do?”
 
Knowing that the congregations we address are a “mixed bag” of peoples from varied backgrounds, opinions, perspectives, political parties and personal experiences, we have to speak to the issues with conviction and compassion. And we have to address the unpalatable pottage of political parties and their conflicting platforms.
 
Our role and responsibility in all of this is clear: “Preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.... As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, and fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:2, 5).
 
Application: Fulfilling our calling requires us to address the mess.
 
No matter how hard we try to craft our responses, we cannot avoid offense or make everybody happy. However, if you are like me, I have learned I can make everybody mad!
 
So for what it is worth, here are some guiding principles that I try to put into practice:

1. Be biblical, not just controversial. Opinions abound in the blogosphere, “talking heads” fill the airwaves, and everyone has the ability to post their views in 140 characters or less. Don’t let yourself be defined by adding to the controversy. Help people to think and live biblically.

For me, this means not just standing on the Bible as if it were my “platform.” Yes, I know the lyrics to the “B-I-B-L-E,” but I want to teach people to come under the Bible. The critical issue for every authentic Christ-follower is coming under biblical authority while the issue for every unbeliever is to see their need for a Savior and call upon the name of the Lord.

Every true believer – Republican, Democrat, Independent, Libertarian – must come under the authority of Scripture. If we preach and teach the absolute authority of God and His Word, rest assured we’ll be “equal opportunity offenders.” I want the sharp edge of my conversation not to be political rhetoric or opinion, but biblical truth.

2. Be instructional, not just emotional. Preaching is not venting. As a pastor, you don’t want to simply use your platform to vent your views and frustrations upon people just because you are mad at the culture.

Preaching is declaring the truth of God by providing instruction (teaching) from the Word of God. I believe the development of a credible and convictional teaching ministry is vital. Let me underscore again: The goal of every Gospel-centered community is to teach and equip people to think and live biblically.

We are to teach the doctrine of Scripture and deal with current and continuing issues such as the sanctity of life, creative design/intent for human sexuality, and the establishment of governmental authority in addition to a multitude of other issues including human depravity and divine sovereignty.

3. Be pastoral, not simply political. Remember, you are speaking to people. You are not just speaking to issues. You are “their pastor” and you want them to know and be assured of your care for them. They may be caught in the middle if they have family members on both sides of the issues. Love them. Help them. Equip them.

4. Be convictional, not just informational. People don’t really need you to rehash the social issues, statistics and political news. They need the Good News. You have the power of the Gospel and the promised work of the Holy Spirit to convict of sin, righteousness and judgment (John 16:8). Exchange political correctness in any form with the spiritual transformation found through an encounter with the living Christ.

5. Finally, be hopeful, not cynical. It’s so easy in this world to become a cynic, to become a critic. People do not need a stronger argument; they need a better hope.

As I see it, my job, and yours, is to preach the Gospel in every season and to call people to the one true and living hope found in knowing, trusting and following Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:3-9).
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David H. McKinley is pastor-teacher of Warren Baptist Church in Augusta, Ga., and was one of the “Pastors and the Church in American Politics Today” panel members during this year’s Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in St. Louis. McKinley is the author of two books, The Life You Were Born to Give and The Search for Satisfaction.)
 

7/21/2016 10:53:44 AM by David H. McKinley | with 0 comments



Do people’s lives really matter?

July 20 2016 by Terry Turner

Enough is enough. Christian brothers and sisters, it’s time to put away the biased thinking that keeps us divided and embrace all people in godly love. Our lost world will never change unless the people of God acknowledge the pain of all people groups.


Our hearts are broken over the killing of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, La., but we should also have broken hearts over every black life taken by police over seemingly minor offenses – whether the deceased was guilty or innocent. To see men and women die for what at times appear to be trivial reasons provokes despair in the black community. It is our hope that all Americans will love and respect the law enforcement officers who protect us, but the trauma experienced by black Americans over police shootings makes that more challenging for some at times.
 
Amazingly, in America, we have lived so long with racial bias that often we don’t recognize why people of other races are hurting. The people of God must open our eyes, ears and hearts to the lives and struggles of others. Will God hold Christians accountable only for loving brothers and sisters who look like themselves or for loving all the human family? The apostle John answers in 1 John 4:20-21 by stating, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
 
When the love of God is missing, the world becomes a wicked place and we find ourselves asking tough questions. What is happening in America when Micah Johnson, a 25-year-old black man, takes a gun into Dallas and kills five white police officers in the name of racial hatred? How powerful is racial hatred when a white man, Dylann Roof, walks into a black church prayer meeting in South Carolina and kills nine church members after joining them in prayer? What causes a police officer to kill a man over such trivialities as selling cigarettes, selling CDs on the streets or having a broken taillight? What fear is in the hearts of police officers that causes them to kill a 12-year-old boy playing in the park with a toy gun?
 
An even more important question should be asked by the body of Christ: When will Christians love all people enough to stop the madness in our land? Professing followers of Jesus who persist in racially divisive rhetoric must be reminded of Peter’s words in Acts 10:34-35, “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”
 
“Lives Matter” should be the church’s rallying cry. It is a call to help heal the hurts endured by people from all races. The power of love born in the hearts of the people of God is the only answer for the racial issues that exist in America. When the church is committed to live as Jesus commanded, she can teach the world that the love of God is able to deliver from racial hatred. Yes, all lives matter to born-again Christians who are committed to live by the Word of God.
 
Some emphases and tactics of the Black Lives Matter movement may be objectionable to some believers, black and white, who love Jesus and genuinely long for racial reconciliation. Yet the fundamental emphasis of the movement should resonate with all Christians. It is a call to see the pain of black Americans who are losing their lives for senseless reasons. This emphasis does not reduce the importance of white lives, brown lives, red lives or yellow lives. Black lives are a part of “all lives.” Therefore, black lives matter.
 
The power of love within Christianity has been a source of healing for many in the black community. When America deemed blacks chattel slaves and subhuman from 1619-1865, then considered them second-class citizens through the Jim Crow era, black lives did not matter to too many. During those periods, African Americans found comfort in Jesus’ promise “to proclaim good news to the poor ... freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free” (Luke 4:18).
 
This Scripture remains key to healing our country today. Fifty-one years after the abolition of the Jim Crow laws, residual racism remains in many hearts. For some, a feeling of superiority over blacks is manifested through fear of blacks or the belief they are at fault in instances of police brutality because they “provoked” abuse.
 
In light of this bleak past, the final question Christians must consider is how history will record our handling racial tension in present-day America. Will we walk in the power of love or yield to the wiles of Satan through hatred, racism and divisiveness? We all need each other’s understanding to overcome these perilous times. Let’s be intentional and love everybody.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Terry Turner is pastor of Dallas-area Mesquite, Texas, Friendship Baptist Church and a former president of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. This column first appeared in the Southern Baptist TEXAN newsjournal.)

Related articles:
http://www.brnow.org/News/July-2016/Dallas-shootings-yield-beginning-of-revival
http://www.brnow.org/News/July-2016/Violence-brings-cry-for-true-way-of-our-Lord
http://www.brnow.org/News/July-2016/Baton-Rouge-shooting-stirs-nearby-churches

7/20/2016 11:32:33 AM by Terry Turner | with 0 comments



‘Ever since I can remember....’

July 18 2016 by Kennedy Keltner

Motivation is a quality that many people lack. They think, “Why do more work than I have to?” In the job I hope to do in the future, this thinking is unacceptable.


Most of the time, important jobs are very hard, yet they’re worth doing. I’m planning on being a missionary, a difficult but worthy job.
 
Ever since I can remember, I have been longing to explore the world and have been compassionate for others. When I was 5 years old I felt drawn to China, so all I asked for at Christmas that year was money for China.
 
At summer camp, missionaries came and spoke. It was then that I heard a small voice telling me, “This is you, this is who you’re going to be.” Ever since then, my heart has been set on becoming a missionary. Last Christmas, I felt drawn to Africa, so all I asked for were Bibles to be sent there.
 
So, why is it worth all of this sacrifice? Missions work is worth doing because it can make a gigantic change in peoples’ lives. Simply getting saved has the power to flip someone’s life completely and absolutely around. Sometimes, this causes a domino or spark effect: One person gets saved and then in a blink of the eye the whole community or village is saved. Christians are strengthened because of this. We never can get enough good influences in this world and this job multiplies good influences.
 
As Theodore Roosevelt said, “Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” The missionary field is very difficult. Upon entering this field you bring onto yourself several challenges and dangers including prison, martyrdom, violence, prejudice and many more.
 
However, you do not need to get discouraged. Being a missionary can also bring on many joys, such as sharing about God, beautiful scenery, traveling, meeting different people from different cultures, and much more. Life is full of ups and downs and missions work is no different.
 
I have been called to a life of hard work, but it is worth the struggle. My calling will provide the motivation I need on a daily basis. Just like the world needs doctors who cure diseases, it also needs missionaries who share the cure for the spiritual disease of sin. I am excited about this career that God has called me to and believe that the hard work is worth the prize of pleasing Him.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Kennedy Keltner, 12, is a member of Central Baptist Church in Brighton, Tenn., where her father Rusty is pastor. Kennedy wrote this essay for a writing competition, and it was subsequently published in the Baptist and Reflector, newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention.)

7/18/2016 11:13:25 PM by Kennedy Keltner | with 0 comments



Feeble prayers in our chaotic world

July 18 2016 by Greg Mathias

Living in a new normal doesn’t feel so normal. The word tragedy is too much a part of my vocabulary these days. I have searched for other words, but tragedy describes best the world events constantly swirling around us. Istanbul, Brussels, Paris, Boston…the list could go on. We live in a chaotic and fallen world. In a world where the new normal is one tragedy followed by another tragedy followed by yet another. It can be overwhelming. Strike that, it IS overwhelming.
 
For Christians, this normal is not surprising, but that does not minimize the fact that we are constantly faced with new tragedies. Each and every tragedy evokes a response. No matter the tragedy, the most immediate response ought to be prayer. Often, though, prayer feels small compared to the massive tragedy in front of us. Even so, we should pray. We need to pray.
 
The question is, how are we supposed to pray in the midst of chaos when our prayers seem so feeble? Here are my thoughts on how to pray in the midst of our new and tragic normal:
 
Be Honest.
Fear, anger, grief, frustration, shock, and a sense of helplessness. These are only some of the emotions that you may experience when you hear the latest news story or are confronted with the next tragedy. Our emotional responses are real. When you pray, express those emotions and even your questions to God. God is big enough and caring enough to handle our emotions, our questions, and our heartfelt cries.
 
Words are not always required.
Often, when faced with tragedy, it is difficult to know exactly what or how to pray. Getting words to come out in any sort of coherent way is a monumental task. That’s okay. Remember, we have the Holy Spirit who intercedes and groans on our behalf. This Spurgeon quote has been especially helpful for me: “A single groan before God may have more fullness of prayer in it than a fine oration of great length.” The underlying point is to pray even when the right words are in short supply. God hears us!
 
Pray often.
Pray short prayers, long prayers, ugly prayers, polished prayers. If you need help, pray the Psalms. Pray in the morning, at night, over lunch, or walking between meetings. It can feel meaningless, but we need to persevere in prayer. It doesn’t matter where you pray or how long you pray, but pray. Our prayers in the hand of God are truly powerful.
 
Use the buddy system.
Praying with a friend or two is always a good idea, particularly in times of tragedy. It allows us to be a little more honest, to process with others, and can help us make sense of our thoughts and feelings. Praying in community also helps our prayers to stay God-centered instead of self-centered. Multiply your prayers by praying with others.
 
I don’t like living in this new normal. The word tragedy is now used in my daily conversations. It ought not be this way. Until that day, let’s keep lifting up feeble prayers in our chaotic world.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Greg Mathias serves as the Associate Director of the Center for Great Commission Studies. This column was originally published on thecgcs.org. Used with permission.)

7/18/2016 10:53:24 AM by Greg Mathias | with 0 comments



Pure dating

July 15 2016 by Chuck Lawless

I work with young adults, many who are singles, who are dating or considering dating. When they ask my advice about dating and purity, here are some of the guidelines I recommend:

  1. Don’t date a non-believer. You should date only someone you might marry, and the Bible speaks against being unequally yoked with non-believers (2 Corinthians 6:14) – so don’t take a step in the wrong direction by dating someone who doesn’t follow Jesus.
  2. If you’re committed to being a strong believer, date only another strong believer. I have seldom seen a strong believer positively influence a weak believer in a dating relationship without much confrontation and difficulty. I have, though, seen multiple times when the stronger believer becomes weaker in that kind of relationship.
  3. Honor your parents by making right choices. I assume they’ve set some standards for you, especially if they’re Christians; show them how much you respect them by living up to what they expect.
  4. View your date first as a brother or sister in Christ created in God’s image. When you see the other person as a creation of God first, a fellow believer second and a date third, you’ll treat that person in a godly way.
  5. Especially early on in the relationship, do group dates only. I know this guideline might seem strange, but alone time can quickly become dangerous time. Guarding your purity matters if you’re a follower of Jesus.
  6. Pray at the beginning and end of every date. Start and end the date with God. When you do that, it’s tougher to do sinful things in between the prayers.
  7. Set clear physical guidelines up front. I’ve known couples who determined not to do anything more than hold hands until they married. That seemed odd at the time, but there’s wisdom in such a commitment. Whatever your commitment is, allow no room for physical touching you would not do if Jesus were in the room – because He is.
  8. Plan some dates wrapped around the gospel and church. You’ll learn how committed your date is to the gospel if you spend time together doing God’s work.
  9. Know that God won’t bless an ungodly relationship. Why should He? He blesses those who walk with Him, not those who rebel against Him. If you want a God-blessed marriage, have a God-honoring courtship.
  10. Think long-term rather than short-term. If you sin physically, know that you’ll carry the memory of that sin the rest of your life. Realize that it’ll be more difficult to challenge your own kids to be pure. The consequences of your actions will be costly.
  11. Be accountable to someone for your godliness. That godliness includes your physical relationship, but it’s much more than that. It’s making wise choices in what you do and where you go. It’s speaking only godly words and taking only godly actions on a date. It’s modeling Jesus in front of your date.
  12. If you mess up physically, immediately repent, ask God’s forgiveness and put up stronger walls. If you don’t stop after the first time, the pattern can quickly become controlling.

A godly marriage is part of God’s design in creation. Especially today, we need believers who stand up for God’s standards in marriage. Those standards, though, aren’t limited to after we have a ring on our finger. If you date, do it well. Honor Him – you won’t regret it.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Chuck Lawless, online at chucklawless.com, is a vice president and missions and evangelism professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. Used with permission.)

7/15/2016 10:58:06 AM by Chuck Lawless | with 0 comments



When Mommy loves Jesus more

July 14 2016 by Emily Jensen

As I tuck my oldest son into bed, we talk quietly, exploring different worlds through imaginative stories. I tell him about rescue workers, brave puppy dogs and even royal princes who travel long distances to defeat evil. Sometimes, our stories veer off the genre of fairy tale into the territory of truth regarding heaven and the new earth. This, I tell my son, is the ultimate rescue story.


My son leans over and asks, “Will you and Daddy be there in heaven?” expressing his desire to be with us forever. I calm his heart, letting him know that yes, we will be there. But I don’t move on before telling him there is someone more important for him to be with, and that person is Jesus.
 
I explain as plainly as I can to a preschooler that the best thing about heaven won’t be the lack of tears, the healed boo-boos, the fellowship with family or the joyful songs. The most wonderful thing about heaven will be seeing, knowing and treasuring Jesus face to face, worshipping Him and glorifying God forever.
 
Jesus is the ultimate treasure. He is also the ultimate rescuer and the person who Mommy loves more than anything else.
 
What I speak to my son in the dimly lit bedtime hour is the truth. With the Spirit in me, I can say with all joy and seriousness that Jesus is my greatest love. But my present life in the flesh means I don’t always act that way. Even in my best attempts, I fail greatly and find myself worshipping other loves. I enjoy the approval of my children and my friends; I lay down too much for the sake of worldly achievements; I pursue satisfaction in entertainment and social media; and I desire for all those under my reign to make me look good. To my child, it might even seem offensive to hear I love someone else more, but ultimately, it’s the greatest gift I can give because my love for Jesus impacts my heart and actions.
 

What happens when Mommy loves Jesus more

When Mommy loves Jesus more than her own peace and quiet, she can graciously endure the loud whines of tired children, putting their need for firm, compassionate training above her desires for them to leave her alone. She can seek long-term good for the sake of their souls instead of gaining the short-term relief that comes from satisfying their cravings. She can discipline with calm justice, knowing that her and her children’s offenses are equally egregious and equally atoned for.
 
When Mommy loves Jesus more than her dreams and achievements, she can sacrifice opportunities as God leads for the sake of faithful child-rearing and discipleship. She can get out of bed repeatedly, sacrificing years of sleep to nurture, support, pray for and minister to her children. She can sweep crumbs off the floor for the 1000th time without grumbling or complaining because she remembers her Savior who humbled Himself to the lowest position.
 
When Mommy loves Jesus more than the title of “mom,” she can entrust the souls of her children to their faithful Creator while continuing to serve mightily for their good. She can patiently exposit the loveliness of the gospel to them over many months and years, instead of finding temporal satisfaction in immediate behavioral changes. She can use her precious personal moments to invest in the eternal knowledge of God’s Word instead of automatically binge-watching her favorite show or checking social media.
 

The gift of gospel hope

While the reality of these things might be exceedingly difficult to obtain, and the applications will look different for every mom, the importance of making Jesus our greatest love cannot be overstated. When we fail to do this, and instead make good things too important, our children are shortchanged. They might get the gift of good nutrition, wise direction, athletic training, popularity or material wealth from us, but they don’t get the eternal gift of the gospel.
 
And for every mom out there who read those truths and grieved the state of her own heart, there is still an opportunity to glorify God. You can still show Jesus’ greatness as you repent and remind your children that you are not their ultimate hope. “Mommy” will fail, so they must rest their hearts on someone eternally satisfying.
 
So, as awkward and abrasive as it might sound to my son’s little ears, I will continue to tell him (and all of my children, for that matter) that I love Jesus more. I pray that someday my son will be able to tell his children the same truth amidst fairy tales, rescue stories and dimly lit bedtime snuggles.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Emily Jensen, online at emilyjensenwrites.com and Twitter @emjensenwrites, and her husband Brad are parents to four boys under age 4. The Jensens teach Pre-K nursery at Grand Avenue Baptist Church in Ames, Iowa. This column first appeared at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s For the Church website, ftc.co.)
 

7/14/2016 8:08:41 AM by Emily Jensen | with 0 comments



A solid investment

July 13 2016 by David Jeremiah

Millions of us have experienced the uncertainty of creating a solid investment portfolio as the stock market rises and falls like a rollercoaster. Individual investors, senior citizens with mutual funds, charitable institutions with endowments, and most people who have a pension plan – have all suffered from the fragile and fluctuating world economy.

David Jeremiah


Not even the experts know what to do. “One of the funny things about the stock market,” said the American publisher William Feather, “is that every time one person buys, another person sells, and both think they are astute.”
 
It is God who gives us the ability to earn a living and gain wealth (Deuteronomy 8:17-18). The Bible tells us to handle our money as wisely as we can. In Matthew 25:14-30, Jesus commended the wise stewards who made good investments of what had been entrusted to them. Proverbs 13:11b (NIV) says, “He who gathers money little by little makes it grow.” That’s why John Wesley famously said, “Make all you can, save all you can, give all you can.”
 
But the Bible’s fundamental investment strategy has little to do with accumulating money. Jesus Christ wasn’t a stockbroker, but He gave the best investment tip in history when He said: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).
 
No investment advisor has a better plan. We have entire cable channels like Fox Business Network and Bloomberg Television with talking heads who hawk investment advice day and night. The Wall Street Journal has the largest circulation of any newspaper in the United States, and dozens of magazines are devoted to investment strategy and money management.
 
But Jesus perfectly understood the law of returns when He said in John 6:27a, “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life.” Colossians 3:2 says, “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” The apostle Paul warned us not to put our hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to be rich in good works, thus laying up a treasure for ourselves as a firm foundation for the coming age (1 Timothy 6:19). We need to take stock of our lives and make sure we’re investing ourselves in eternity.
 
With the world facing one crisis after another, it’s hard to imagine a safe place to deposit our money. But when we faithfully tithe or devote our resources to the Kingdom, it propels the gospel to the world. Souls are saved and heaven is populated. When you support your local church, your funds are transmuted into literature, lives, ministries and missions. You may never see the returns till you get to heaven, but what a joy it will be to run into folks on the golden streets and learn that it was your gift that helped bring them to faith in Christ.
 
But our investments for Christ go beyond money. We also invest our energy and passion into the work, and this investment comes back to bless us even now. It’s perilously easy to become so busy doing what comes next and tackling only those things that seem urgent. But the Bible tells us to give thought to our steps (Proverbs 14:8, NIV). We should begin every day by thinking through our agenda and making time for what is truly important, things that will matter in eternity.
 
The Bible says, “Do not love the world or the things in the world ... the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:15-17). The investments of this world may crumble, but the time, energy and resources we invest in God’s work are solid investments that will pay dividends throughout eternity.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Jeremiah is pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, Calif., and founder and host of “Turning Point for God.” For more information on Turning Point, visit DavidJeremiah.org. This column has been approved by Turning Point for redistribution in Baptist state newspapers.)

7/13/2016 10:14:18 AM by David Jeremiah | with 0 comments



When Your Pastor Falls

July 12 2016 by Dr. Joel Rainey

Yesterday, the elders of NewSpring Church, the 30,000 attendee, multi-site congregation in my home state, announced the release of Senior Pastor Perry Noble due to behaviors that disqualify him for pastoral ministry.  This announcement was understandably shocking, both to the evangelical world, and more so to the NewSpring church family.
 
Some predictable responses to this sad news have already transpired – from secular media outlets pointing out NewSpring’s status as the “richest church,” to angry fundamentalists shouting “See! I told you so!”  For my part, my heart goes out to Perry, and to the church he founded.
 
When the first church I ever planted was just an infant, NewSpring was itself just learning how to walk.  Those were trying times in my own life and ministry, and I remember several conversations with Perry that helped me greatly.  Perry cares about the church – all churches.  Perry cares about pastors.  But mostly, Perry cares deeply about lost people finding Jesus.  Perry did  many things differently than I would do them, and a few things I would never do.  But you don’t have to be twins to be brothers, and as a whole, I have been very thankful for this brother and the difference he has made.
 
And since yesterday, I’ve been thinking a lot about NewSpring Church, and many other churches like her who have had to bid farewell to a pastor who disqualified himself for ministry.  Noble and NewSpring may currently be alone in the spotlight, but they are far from the only pastor and church that have encountered a situation like this.  When this kind of thing happens, it doesn’t matter how big or how “rich” you are.  It’s excruciatingly painful for all involved.  I’ve consulted with multiple churches in the wake of their leader’s moral failure–be it sexual, financial, substance abuse, or other lack of personal discipline.  Moments like that in the life of a church are humiliating for the pastor, impossibly difficult for those who hold him accountable, and painful for a church family that, whether or not they realize it, are dealing with a level of grief commensurate with losing a family member to death.
 
Often, churches don’t know what to do in a situation like this.  Based on my own experience in helping churches through crises like this, let me make the following suggestions.  How should you view the pastor who has disappointed you and let you down?  And, what does the pastor who now no longer leads your church need from you?
 

He needs your discipline

This is a difficult thing for many to hear, especially those in the body of Christ who are gifted with mercy and helps.  They rightly expect restoration and often cry out “why can’t we just forgive him and move on?”  Within that cry is an honorable desire to redeem the situation and the person.  But often, this cry is accompanied by ignorance of the fact that “forgiveness” and “restoration” are two completely different things.  1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 are clear about the character qualities of those who dare to be pastors.  In the case of Perry Noble, those principles were violated by an over-dependency on alcohol.  But I’ve seen similar circumstances arise from sexual sin, lack of discipline, or the inability to control one’s temper.  When disqualifying sin has taken place and all other avenues have been exhausted, removal is best for the church, for the community, and even for the pastor.  The fact that it is also painful doesn’t mean it’s wrong.
 
So if you are faced with the removal of your pastor over disqualifying sin, trust your leaders who have rightly held him accountable, and follow them as they seek to lead the church forward while simultaneously getting the pastor the resources he and his family need to heal.
 

He needs your mouth......to stay shut!

News of what happened at NewSpring yesterday had spread to every major news outlet in North America by last night.  Imagine how you would feel if your worst moments not only cost you your job, but were also on display on TV screens, computer screens and smartphones all over America.
 
Now, you may be thinking to yourself “but Perry was a mega-church pastor.  Our church is much smaller – much less well-known.”  But while it is true that your pastor’s sins may never end up on CNN, in a situation like this they will certainly end up on the “Community Bulletin Board” where all the “real news” in your small town gets read anyway.  My point?  Your pastor and his family will be humiliated by a situation like this regardless, and the absolute last thing he needs are those he has served as shepherd adding gossip and rumor to the situation.
 
Yesterday, the leaders of NewSpring balanced transparency with discretion.  And because they didn’t “tell it all” there will be plenty of gaps in the story, and people naturally want to fill in the gaps.  If you are part of a church where this is happening, your time is much better spent praying for your church family and your former pastor.  Don’t feed the rumor mill.  Doing so only brings greater humiliation.
 

He needs your unity

Your church needs it too.  This is not the time to “jump ship” and head to the church across town.  This is not the time to hit the exit ramp because church doesn’t feel like Disney World any more.  And it’s certainly not the time to give the impression that the former pastor is the whole reason you joined the church anyway (Truthfully, if the pastor is the only reason you are there, you are there for the wrong reason!).  Now is the time to lock arms with your hurting church family.
 
One of the things I’m thankful for in the NewSpring situation is that Perry is humbly receiving the rebuke and discipline from church leaders.  Without that posture, this could have been much worse.  In the worst cases I’ve seen, the pastor resists loving discipline and “splants” a church by dividing the house and taking those loyal to him down the street to start another one.  Being part of something like that isn’t honoring to your former pastor.  It enables him in further misconduct, and does traumatic damage to your church family, the community, and the witness of the gospel.  Don’t play the “God is leading me.....” card on this one.  That’s just ridiculous.  Now more than ever, stay with your church family!  Years from now, your former pastor will be encouraged to know that his behavior didn’t do lasting damage to the body of Christ.
 

He needs your appreciation

While many gifted with mercy and helps want to quickly “forgive” and “restore,” may gifted with prophecy and discernment–the “justice” gifts–will want to find a tall tree and a short piece of rope from which to hang their former pastor.  This too, is unhealthy.
 
When a pastor falls, many are devastated because they say to themselves “I never thought he would be capable of something like this!”  Trust has been broken.  Spiritual trauma has been inflicted on the body.  In moments like that, it is easy to forget that you can’t measure a man’s life in one bad moment.
 
As you process your grief and disappointment, also keep in mind that it was the guy who couldn’t control his drinking who also baptized your children.  It was the guy who cheated on his wife who was also there for you when your mother died suddenly.  In those moments, he never left your side.  Now, he needs you by his side.  That doesn’t mean you can’t feel disappointment or even anger.  It does mean you shouldn’t forget how often he blessed you and your family.  Recall those moments, and communicate them to him to encourage him.
 

He needs your prayers

How often do you think he prayed for you?  He and his family now stand in great need of your prayers.  Ask God to give him greater wisdom for the future.  Ask God to heal him.  Ask God to heal his family.  Ask God to one day restore him to ministry.
 
One of the signatures on my ministry license is that of a man who would be later removed from a church because of substance abuse.  Yes, he sinned and disqualified himself..  And yes, the church did the right thing by removing him.  But whatever good anyone sees in my ministry now is largely due to his investment in me as a young man.  We shouldn’t forget things like that, nor should we let those who have fallen forget them.
 
By God’s grace, both Perry Noble and NewSpring Church have a future.  If your church has been through similar circumstances, you have a future too, and so does the man you once called “Pastor.”  Give him what he needs, and trust God to give your church what it needs.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – This article was published with permission.  Originally published at joelrainey.blogspot.com.)
 

7/12/2016 10:22:37 AM by Dr. Joel Rainey | with 0 comments



Weeping with those who weep

July 11 2016 by J. Josh Smith

Although I live only 10 miles from downtown Dallas, I’m rarely there. But last night, of all nights, I was. I was just a couple of miles south of Dallas when the shootings took place and had to make my way back through the city to return home as the situation continued to unfold.


The city looked unlike I had ever seen it. The streets were shut down, blue and red lights reflected off the buildings, and the sky was filled with helicopters. I listened to the reporters on the AM radio trying to make sense of the events that had just occurred. It wasn’t until I returned home and turned on the TV that I began to fully understand the reality of what had taken place in this city that I love.
 
It’s truly overwhelming. I feel a sense of the gut-wrenching compassion that Jesus felt as He looked out over the multitudes and saw them as sheep without a shepherd. I feel it for the families of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. I feel it for the black community as they try to make sense of the last few days. I feel it for the 12 officers shot last night and their families. I feel it for the families of the five officers killed. I feel it for our Dallas police officers who will continue to protect our city and its citizens. I feel it for our nation that seems to have somehow reverted back to the racial tension of a previous generation.
 
As a pastor in this community, I’m thinking about how to respond. I must respond. Not just because I live in this community, but because this is what pastors do.
 
Pastors shepherd the people of God. They help God’s people navigate moments like this. Pastors lead their people in prayer. Pastors encourage their people in hope. Pastors put these situations into a gospel perspective. Pastors lead their people in how to lovingly respond. The church must respond and the pastors must lead them. Even if, at the moment, it is a call to prayer, we must respond.
 
Today, as we wake up to the reality of these horrific realities of senseless killings and deeply rooted racial tension, our first response might not be to act – but rather to feel. Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep.” The reason God gives us that command is because He knows we do not naturally do this. God knows that every response to someone’s suffering is easier than this one; it’s easier to act than to feel. It takes less time. It takes less energy. It takes less listening.
 
It’s not that we do not feel badly for people. We are sad for their circumstances and wish they were different. But we do not often set our own circumstances aside and ask God to allow us to enter into someone else’s suffering and pain. After all, we all have enough of our own. But this is the gospel in action.
 
Today, among the many good and gospel-centered responses that the church will have to this situation, let’s not miss the most basic one – to feel. The glory of the incarnation was not that Christ simply felt our pain, but that He took our pain and suffered and died for it. But one without the other does not give us much hope. We run to Jesus not only because He can help, but because He understands.
 
Our response cannot end with grief – but it seems that it must start there. We cannot bypass Romans 12:15 in order to jump to our sermons and action plans for racial reconciliation. We must pray that God, in His grace, will allow us to weep with those who weep. That somehow, in the midst of our own griefs and sorrows, God might allow us to understand and feel the grief and sorrow of those around us. That somehow, their grief might even overshadow ours. We must pray that we, as the church, might not only reflect those actions of Christ, but the heart of Christ. That the world around us would see the Jesus of the Bible, the one who bore our griefs and carried our sorrows (Isaiah 53:4). That Jesus is hard to ignore.
 
(EDITOR’S NOTE – This column by J. Josh Smith, pastor of MacArthur Avenue Baptist Church in Irving, Texas, first appeared at erlc.com.)
 

7/11/2016 8:48:45 AM by J. Josh Smith | with 0 comments



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