What’s Important at Church!

The great error of our day is the choosing church based on preference. People move from church to church based on programs, music style, building size, social opportunities, friends who are there and many other superficial reasons.  Here is a refreshing quote from an upcoming book titled, “Reverberation” by Jonathan Leeman:

“Here’s what I want to plead with my fellow Christians: as you or I sit there wondering whether or not we’ll come back to a church, the most important thing to consider is how seriously the church treats God’s Word. Are the sermons meaty? Is the music theologically beefy? Do they read the Bible out loud? Do the public prayers reflect the priorities of the Bible?…If the Father’s Word of the Son working through power of the Spirit is the only thing that gives life to the dead and freedom to the slave, then you and I should primarily be looking for one thing when we gather with a church: God’s Word

 

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By lakeviewbc Posted in Church

Responding to the Great Distraction

Here are the concluding thoughts from the previous post by Thom Rainer:


For years I assumed that criticisms of pastors and other church staff was just part of leadership. Indeed, no leader to my knowledge has ever been spared the verbal or written jabs of the critic.

So my advice has been for the leader simply to move on; to focus more on the vast majority who are supportive of him than the relatively few not-so-well-intentioned dragons. Now I’m not so sure my former advice is sound. The level and frequency of criticisms toward pastors and other leaders has increased significantly in the past several years.

The Reasons Behind the Great Distraction

I call this resurgence in criticisms “the Great Distraction” because it often causes leaders to lose focus on leading their churches in the Great Commission. And though any rationale used to explain the increased negativity is subjective, my observations of working with churches for over 25 years lead me to a couple of conclusions.

First, the standards of church membership have been low in many churches for many years. As a consequence our churches have more and more unregenerate members. Frankly, I would be not be surprised if some of the most vitriolic criticisms come from those who are not Christians.

Second, church members have been unwilling to take a stand when they see and hear unwarranted criticism toward the pastor and other leaders. This silence is shameful and sinful. Belligerent critics remain critics often because other church members are fearful of rebuking them. In some ways, the silent majority is just as wrong as the constant critics.

Some Lessons from Acts 6

The first seven verses of Acts 6 tell the story of complaining by a group in the early church. In this case, the concern was warranted because a group of widows was being neglected. The Twelve appointed seven men to take care of the widows and thus, stopped the criticisms.

Though it may not be the central thrust of the text, we see clearly that a divided and critical congregation was a serious concern for early church leaders. The ministry had to continue, and the divisiveness had to stop. We also see that the entire congregation had a stake in this issue (verse 5, “The proposal pleased the whole company”). There was no sinful and silent majority unwilling to tackle this issue.

A Call to Action

At least in principle, the solutions are simple. The standards of church membership must be held high, and the benefits are numerous beyond just dealing with critics. We can’t expect unregenerate church members to act like Christians. Undoubtedly, many of the worst critics are not true followers of Christ.

Second, church members must be willing to confront the sinful behavior of the perpetual and ill-intentioned critics. While no church leader should be above legitimate criticisms, the tide has turned too far in the other direction. Criticisms are paralyzing too many good leaders.

I am aware of some churches that actually have a formal system in place to deal with illegitimate critics. Some of these churches utilize an existing organization with the church, such as the diaconate, to deal with these critics. Other churches have an informal system because they have members with theological and moral backbones who are willing to confront the nagging naysayers.

The Great Distraction is a real and serious problem in our churches. It can no longer be denied or ignored. Satan undoubtedly loves the division and loss of focus it causes. The time has come for church members to speak up. Too much is at stake. It is truly a sin to remain silent when it is our God-given responsibility to confront those who ultimately would hinder the spread of the gospel with the poison of their words.

 

The Great Distraction to the Great Commission

Thom Rainer has posted a few thoughts on church, pastors and criticism that I thought were very accurate.  Here is the first one:

I sat in his office after hearing him preach a magnificent message in two services. He was leading the church to greater depths of discipleship, and many in the community were becoming believers in Christ. The worship services were incredible; everything from the prayers to the preaching to the music was God-centered and God-glorifying.

With a sad smile on his face, he looked at me and simply said, “Watch this.” He powered his computer and opened his email. Someone had already sent him a critical email about the music in the service. “She sent it within five minutes after the service,” he said softly.

“We just have to press on and love the critics,” he spoke with resignation. “But it sure does get old.”

The Same Sad Story

I have been pastoring, consulting, and working with churches for over a quarter of a century. Criticisms have always been a part of a pastor’s life, but it seems that the rate and the intensity of the criticisms have both increased.

When I first served as a pastor in 1984, I began to understand some of the stories I had heard about the difficulties of local church ministry. Because the church I served was small, the number of critics was relatively small. Their barbs still hurt though, and their criticisms were a distraction to my ministry.

A year later in 1985, Marshall Shelley wrote a classic book on church critics, Well-Intentioned Dragons. Reflecting back over the past 25 years, I think local churches have more dragons now that aren’t so well-intentioned.

The Big Distraction

I have advised pastors over the years to focus on the good in the church, to realize that the supporters typically outnumber the critics by a wide margin. But the reality is that we humans have difficulty ignoring critics whom we see every week, critics whose faces are ever before us. Ignoring critics is a good idea in theory, but only a few pastors are really able to accomplish such a feat.

Criticism is a huge distraction. Though I’m reticent to speak for Satan, I have to believe that one of his primary weapons against the church is distracting leaders from the Great Commission. Who has time to make disciples when we have to listen to Betty or Bob complain and criticize for 45 minutes? Pastors lose valuable time and, inevitably, have little energy to do anything else after bearing the barbs of the latest critic.

I know that pastors are not above criticism. And sometimes the critic can be well-intentioned. But things are way out of balance now. Pastors are getting beat up daily for some of the most insignificant matters. Many are unable to lead because they fear the latest round of attacks. And it seems like the advent of Internet, text messaging, and the social media has accelerated the attacks.

It’s Time to Respond

At times, I feel like the matter of criticizing pastors and other church staff has been minimized. We may not fully grasp how demoralizing and debilitating the criticisms are to the pastor. The problem is serious. Indeed, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that it is a crisis. It’s time to respond.

A first step is getting serious about church membership, or whatever term you use to describe how someone affiliates with your church. I can’t judge the heart, but I do find it hard to believe that some of the most vitriolic criticisms come from the heart of Christians. I am convinced more than ever that we have let millions of unregenerate members into our churches. We are now suffering the consequences of such low standards of church membership.

I also have an idea about what to do about the critics who are already in the church. While church discipline sometime will be in order, I doubt the leaders of our churches will be able to or should be able to bring discipline to every complainer. That is neither wise nor practical.

But something must be done. I am convinced that we have a major crisis in our churches.

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By lakeviewbc Posted in Church

Cracks in the Crystal Cathedral


Here is a great article on the recent crumbling of the Crystal Cathedral from Christianity Today.  The bold emphasizes is mine.
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This past October, the megachurch prototype of the late 20th century filed for bankruptcy. A 24 percent drop in donations and a $50-$100 million debt owed to more than 550 creditors forced the Crystal Cathedral to file. It was a poignant moment in the history of modern evangelicalism.

Robert H. Schuller’s famous Crystal Cathedral was built on a foundation of self-esteem. In a 1984 interview with Christianity Today, Schuller said that when he came to Garden Grove, California, in 1955, he asked himself, “What human condition exists here that I can have a mission to?” His answer was “emotional hunger.” “Because of that,” he said, “we have developed our present ministry.”

That ministry increasingly was defined as the gospel of self-esteem, which for Schuller meant “the divine dignity that God intended to be our emotional birthright as children created in his image.” It was lost in the Garden of Eden, he explained, but “we hunger for it until we regain it through faith in Christ.”

Over the years, many people have caricatured Schuller’s theology. Indeed, there has been much to criticize. To be fair, it was more nuanced than many critics imagine. Schuller’s root concern from day one was emotional hunger, and the answer was helping people gain a positive self-image, albeit in Christ.

Schuller was tapping into themes of the human potential movement, the rage in the 1960s and ’70s, when Abraham Maslow’s theories deemed self-actualization the highest expression of human life. Schuller put a biblical and theological spin on it all and, as a result, attracted many to faith in Christ.

The mystery of why and how people come to faith is just that—a mystery.

But already in Schuller’s day, there were concerns. The most scathing critique of this general cultural mood was from Christopher Lasch, who noted, particularly in The Culture of Narcissism, that the new therapeutic culture was leaving people trapped and isolated in the self.

It’s like building a state-of-the-art structure. Technology moves at such a rapid pace that as soon as you move into the new building, you immediately find yourself stuck with an architecture that is already technologically dated, if only in small degrees at first. It isn’t long before another developer announces plans for something even more state-of-the-art.

Today both the Crystal Cathedral and the theology that undergird it seem woefully inadequate buildings in which to house the gospel. In an age deeply sensitive to energy conservation, a glass house of worship is a sinful extravagance. In a culture increasingly addicted to the self, the gospel of self-esteem is clearly part of the problem. In short, the Schuller enterprise is filing for bankruptcy on more than one front.

Some are tempted to hit the man while he is down, but this is unwise. Robert Schuller is not the problem—contemporary evangelicalism is. Schuller was only leading the parade of those who believe they are responsible for making the gospel relevant. The lesson is not that Schuller got it wrong or that his theology is out-of-date; it is not that we just need to find a better, more current point of cultural contact. The lesson is that our attempts to find and exploit a point of cultural contact inevitably end in bankruptcy.

This does not deny the need to talk about the gospel in language and thought forms that a culture understands. In fact, we cannot avoid doing this—we are culturally and linguistically bound, ultimately unable to get out of our own skin and see the world in any other way. But we must repress every fearful thought that suggests that making the gospel relevant and meaningful rests on our shoulders. The mystery of why and how people come to faith is just that—ultimately a mystery. Spiritual directors long ago discovered what theologian Karl Barth noted: “As God awakens man to faith by his Holy Spirit, he himself posits the necessary point of contact.” Or, as Peter put it, in describing the conversion of the Gentiles: “God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit …” (Acts 15:8, ESV).

In fact, it is not only the listener who is deaf and blind to the gospel. The church is equally handicapped, especially regarding what will “work” to achieve genuine conversion. But—God be praised—we have a God who makes the deaf to hear and the blind to see! In every age and every culture, we are wise to trust the God who is rich in mercy and is able to accomplish through his Word that which he intends.

A Christianity Today editorial | posted 1/10/2011 09:27AM

By lakeviewbc Posted in Church

The 3 Most Important Things In the Universe!

If I were to ask you the three most important things in the universe, how would you answer?  Would your answer involve you, include you or implicate you? Would it be some political agenda, a humanitarian effort, or peace in hostile environments? Pause for a moment and think what response you would offer to that question.

The answer is found in the model prayer of Jesus which is part of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:9-13:

9 After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. 10 Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. 13 rAnd lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

There are six requests in this prayer and the six are divided up into two sets of three.  And in the first set of three, we discover the three most important things in the universe.  They are HIS NAME, HIS KINGDOM, and HIS WILL!  What is really important is the Glorification of His Name, the Growth of His Kingdom, and Governing of His Will.  Not that it simply be true in all the universe but firstly and primarily that it would be true in my heart.  Are these things the three most important things in my life?  Are these things what I desire and what I pursue on a daily basis?  Or am I spending my energy and time on things of much lessor importance?

So the first three petitions are the reasons for the second three.  We are to pray for daily bread, forgiveness, and help in our fight against sin.  We ask for health, for hope and for holiness so that we might pursue the hallowing of His Name, the Coming of his Kingdom, and the exercising of His Will. It seems my life is to be consumed with Him.  My existence is for His glory.  My happiness is tied to His Holiness.  He is important and I am not!

Lord, grant it to be so in my life in 2011!

 

The Most Important Knowledge!

Jonathan Edwards said, “Of all kinds of knowledge that we can ever obtain, the knowledge of God, and the knowledge of ourselves are the most important.”

I can trace all my success and my failures to this one truth.  My faith is stronger, my desires are more correct, and my obedience is easier when my knowledge of God and/or the knowledge of myself is increased. And on the other hand, I am more prone to sin, worry, and fall into unbelief when I neglect the knowledge of Him and/or myself.

What I need most is the true knowledge of who He is and who I am.  Not a delusional self-esteem stroking knowledge of how wonderful I am but truly how bad and depraved I really am.  And how far God is really and eternally above and beyond us.

The more I can know about those two things the better off I am.  So yes, it important what the church teaches, particularly about God and about me.

Bible Reading Plan

Most Bible reading plans take you through the entirety of the Bible in a year. Those plans are good  and I highly recommend any plan that would get us in God’s Word on a daily basis.  Here is a plan I  ran across that puts more of an emphasis on meditation than sheer volume. I think it is imperative  that the Word not be just read but changes our thinking and behavior.  Check it out and use it daily.