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By Joe McKeever

When The Church Bully Happens To Be The Pastor

Shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion but voluntarily, according to the will of God; not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock” (I Peter 5:2-3).

We have written extensively on this website about church members who take the reins of the church and call the shots, who bully parishioners and pastors alike. But a friend wrote, “What are we to do when the bully is the pastor?”

“What does your pastor do?” I asked him.

His bullying pastor demands his way in everything, tolerates no dissent and ousts anyone not obeying him. He intimidates church members and dominates the other ministers. His opinion is the only one that counts.

We could wish it were a rare phenomenon. It isn’t.

The definitive bully found in Scripture is Diotrephes. In III John, we read, “I wrote something to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves the preeminence (“loves to be first among them” (NASB), does not accept what we say….unjustly accusing us with wicked words; and not satisfied with this, neither does he himself receive the brethren, and he forbids those who desire to do so, and puts them out of the church.”

That’s the bully: loving preeminence, rejecting outside interference, bringing accusation against the opposition, and putting people out of the church when they oppose him.

 We’re thankful the New Testament churches had these problems

There’s a certain degree of comfort from knowing that the problems churches experience today are not new, not signs the church is going to the devil or evidence we’re being swamped by the world. The problems of division and strife (see I Corinthians), heresies (see Galatians) and petty egotism (III John) have been with us from the beginning.

This forever prevents us from piously withdrawing from today’s churches experiencing the same internal strife while claiming that they no longer do God’s will. There are more churches at this moment in time doing great work for the Savior than at any time in history. And likewise, more experiencing the cancers of worldliness, division, jealousies and egotis

There is nothing new about this.

It’s not even new or unheard of that pastors would be the bullies. After all, there must have been a reason why Peter wrote what he did in I Peter 5. For him to have cautioned pastors not to lead in such a way indicates he had seen it happen.

In a similar fashion, we have seen husbands lord it over their wives. “God made me the head of the home,” the bully says, “so that means you are to take orders from me.” It means no such thing, of course. In fact, Scripture says the husband is to love the wife as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her (Ephesians 5). So, there’s a dichotomy here: The husband is the head, but he is to sacrifice himself for his wife and family. A faithful husband does just that.

Wrong ways to lead the Lord’s church

The great apostle spoke to “the elders among you as your fellow elder” (I Peter 5:1). These are pastors. Peter considers himself a pastor/shepherd also.

As “a witness of the sufferings of Christ and a partaker of the glory that is to be revealed,” Peter’s credentials are impeccable. He was with the Lord when He walked on earth and is in line to share His heavenly glories in the future.

Elders/pastors are to exercise oversight of the Lord’s church (5:2). The word episcopos (root of episcopountes, the word used here) refers to the overseeing assignment of the pastors (see Acts 20:28). A shepherd watches over the sheep, leads them to green pastures, is ever alert for dangers and threats, and has the welfare of the flock uppermost in mind at all times.

Do not lead the flock in the wrong way or for impure motives, Peter advises…

Not under compulsion but voluntarily. The KJV says “by constraint,” meaning the pastor is doing this “because he must.” There’s no joy but total drudgery, no inspiration but a harshness. Instead, the faithful overseer is glad to be preaching the word and tending the flock. He loves the people, loves the Lord and loves his calling.

Not for sordid gain, but with eagerness. He doesn’t do this for the pay. This is not just a job, not a vocation, and not a work he entered because it paid well. He is serving the Lord Jesus Christ and is thrilled at the privilege. Asked what he missed most about the pastoral ministry, a man said, “I miss the trumpets in the morning.” Ask any God-called and Heaven-anointed pastor. He knows what that means.

Not lording it over the flock, but being an example. And here we have the key passage for our subject today. The pastor is not to “lord it over” the flock. Jesus is the Lord and he isn’t.

Pastors are not allowed to lord it over the Lord’s church. 

Jesus said, “I will build MY church” (Matthew 16:18). It’s His church, His body, His bride. No pastor in his right mind (with his heart right!) would dare to insert himself between the Lord and His bride!

It is true that Hebrews 13:17 calls on God’s people to “obey your leaders and submit to them.” But that same passage says pastors “keep watch over” (overseeing!) “your souls” and will “give account.” Pastors will stand before the Lord and account for their stewardship and care for each sheep. A scary thought if there ever was one.

A pastor lords it over the church when he…

–makes decisions unilaterally for the church. He considers no one else’s counsel, believes God speaks only through him, and rules like a potentate.

–micromanages his co-workers and colleagues. He alone knows what is best and allows them no room for individual expression.

–feels threatened when someone disagrees with him. Usually reacts angrily and with harshness.

–forces those taking contrary positions out of office. “My way or the highway” is his mantra.

You get the picture.

Final question: What if you are a member of the bully’s staff (as a worship leader, student minister, etc.)? What are you to do?

I’m tempted to ask how this happened, how you ended up on a church staff with someone so difficult to work with. But I’m aware the answer is often: “I was here first.” The bully pastor came later, and might even be new. The church leadership—knowingly or cluelessly—brought in a pastor who would rule over the church with a heavy hand. And you are left to deal with it.

So, what should you do?

–Pray, pray, pray. Ask the Father all the questions bugging you. How to respond to the pastor today, what to do when the pastor asks you to do something you cannot or would rather not do, how to make your thoughts known to the preacher, and so forth.

–Get two or three or four friends in other areas to pray for you constantly. These could be members of previous churches or classmates from school. They should be able to keep a confidence.

–Don’t get territorial—as in “I was here first, and God called me to be minister of music and this is my job.” That attitude will get you a quick exit and a bad recommendation for the next church. Keep your eyes on the Lord and look to Him.

–Ask the Father about making this situation known to a key church leader, someone of great integrity and trust. If you do this in the flesh or if it’s handled wrongly, it could be interpreted by the pastor as you making an end-run around him and be considered disloyalty. A pastor who is a bully would see this as grounds for dismissal.

–If things are really bad—to the point that you are considering leaving, but would rather not—then try something bold. Go in to the pastor’s office and tell him kindly, gently, forcibly, assertively what he is doing and how it feels to you, and why it is wrong. You do this only when you have come to the point that “if worse comes to worse, all he can do is fire me.” I’d rehearse again and again, with my wife but mostly with the Lord, what I wanted to say to him. Then, go for it.

–If nothing changes and the bully continues to tyrannize the staff, get your resume up to date and share with your most trusted friends. Ask the Father who called you into this work in the first place to open up the next assignment for you.

For the rest of the post…

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“It is not simply to be taken for granted that the Christian has the privilege of living among other Christians. Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end all his disciples deserted him. On the Cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers. For this cause he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God. So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together17.

Houston, along with its connected neighborhoods, communities, and suburbs, is being pummeled by historic rain and unprecedented flooding. It’s a disaster here.

My neighbors—all 6.5 million—are feeling the effects of Hurricane Harvey’s 500-year flooding event.

So far 370 billion gallons of rain have hit our greater Houston area—and it has just started. The pictures are nothing short of stunning. Nearly every bayou and creek in the Bayou City has gone over its banks. Meteorologists expect the storm to linger, dragging its rain across our city throughout the coming week. First-responders are working nonstop, risking their lives to rescue others. More than 2,000 rescues have been performed, and with days of rain to come, countless more are in store.

While the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) anticipates years of relief work, the church of the risen Lord Jesus is ready for her work, too.

Christlike in Crisis

As Hurricane Harvey continues to dump rain in the billions of gallons, I see Christlike instincts cresting and rising in our city.

Civilians are assembling their kayaks and big ol’ Texas-style trucks to save their neighbors. Sacrifice in a time of severe weather.

Church buildings—like that of Houston Northwest Church led by my friend, pastor Steve Bezner—are becoming staging-areas for relief. The body of Christ is opening her arms to help her neighbors.

Southern Baptists are uniting together, along with other organizations, to wash the feet of those hit by Harvey:

SBTC Disaster Relief has joined Texas emergency response teams including the Texas Baptist Men, the North American Mission Board (NAMB)’s Disaster Relief teams, the American Red Cross, state police and fire departments, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) teams and more. Southern Baptists in Oklahoma, Arkansas and Mississippi are readying volunteers and equipment as well.

We’ve assembled a Redeemer Church response team, brothers and sisters eager to help. They have their boats, trucks, chainsaws, trailers, cookies, muscles, time, and prayers ready for those hit hard by Harvey.

Like many churches across the city, our members are checking in with each other, opening their homes, offering to help however they can. They are serving each other, sacrificing for each other; they are ready to love their neighbors. These are the kinds of instincts you hope to see. Apathy and disinterest are demonic in a time of disaster.

My friends and family—my Aunt Pilar and Uncle Jeff in West Houston—have water sliding up their driveways, heading toward their doors. I’m constantly—and nervously—texting church members for updates. Many are trapped in their neighborhoods and won’t be able to leave for days. One family at our church had to evacuate early because the wife may go into labor any minute.

Christians, we should be at our best when affliction does its worst.

Disaster has the potential to knit our hearts together in love. When the apostle Paul tells us to weep with those weeping, and to rejoice with those rejoicing, he doesn’t mean these are the only two emotions we should share. We should grieve with the grieving, and ache with the affected.

When I hear more rain on my back patio, my heart aches. Our city is sinking. I shake my head in disbelief as rain and sirens blare around us. As I tell my kids to wear their helmets during a tornado warning, I must look to heaven, past Harvey, for help.

Join the Relief

So what can you do? God has a ministry for you: “He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Cor. 1:4).

How can you comfort those in this affliction? Here are three ways.

1. Pray

I can’t tell you how many tweets and texts I’ve received from brothers and sisters around the world today. Missionaries from Thailand told us they are praying for our church and our city.

In times like this, “I’m praying!” can feel like a Christianized “I’m thinking of you.” But the best way to avoid that hypocrisy is to actually pray. Take a few moments and specifically pray for our area, espeically any people or churches you know here.

Let the pictures you see online serve as kindling for your prayers. The Father is listening. The Son is mediating. The Spirit is helping. When you see a picture, stop and cry out to heaven. Father, help them. You said faith can move mountains, so, Father, move this storm.

Pray for the mayor of Houston, Sylvester Turner. Pray for the governor of Texas, Greg Abbott. Pray for first-responders and all involved in rescue efforts. Pray for the afflicted. Pray for the churches and our efforts to be Good Samaritans and good witnesses.

We desperately need the prayers of the saints (2 Cor. 1:11).

2. Give

A few churches in the area have set up flood relief funds. I trust these churches to do what’s right and godly with the funds.

You can also give to the North American Mission Board’s relief fund here.

Finally, Apple and the Red Cross have made it possible for you to give to a relief fund through iTunes.

3. Serve

As I said earlier, FEMA anticipates years of relief work.

For the rest of the post…

Our Brothers and Sisters Need Our Help

When Jesus said, “In this world you’ll have tribulation,” He might have had Africa in mind.

Imagine, if you can, that you hear rumors of Muslim terrorists coming to take over your hometown. You can’t sleep. You can’t eat. You don’t even know whether to stay or flee. Finally, someone you trust tells you they have started burning down churches. Frantically, you gather up your family and a few meager possessions and run as fast as you can in the other direction—praying they won’t catch you.

After days of exhausting, harrowing effort, you and your children finally arrive at a relief camp for the displaced and you get in a food line. But when you come to the front, the man in charge says coldly, “This relief is not for Christians.” To the Muslims running this camp, you’re a mere pagan. To add insult to injury, you find out that Christians here are not even allowed to gather for worship.

Christians in Nigeria’s Borno state have been living this scenario since 2009, when Boko Haram began wreaking havoc.

Africa’s tribulation seems never-ending. From the Ethiopian famine decades ago to the more recent chaos in Sudan, the headlines we receive here in the West are nearly always grim. In fact, Africa is facing yet another seemingly unprecedented crisis—a famine stretching from Somalia, to South Sudan, to Nigeria, in which 20 million people are at risk of starvation. That’s right, 20 million.

According to our friends over at Open Doors USA, an average of 184 children die each day in Nigeria from malnutrition. The saddest fact of all is that this famine is caused by people, not the weather. It’s caused by instability, war, economic collapse, and discrimination.

Here’s another fact—Africa is heavily Christian. Its share of Christians has exploded from about 9 percent in 1900 to almost 50 percent today, including two-thirds of sub-Saharan Africa. These are our brothers and sisters facing this tribulation, and we owe them more than a quick shake of the head before moving on to the next news story. Whatever our differences, those who follow Jesus Christ are members of the same body. When one hurts, we all hurt—and compassion fatigue is no excuse for looking away. As Jesus said, when we serve the “least of these,” we serve Him.

For the rest of the post…

Through my work with the Christian Standard Bible, I came across some stats about Bible reading: 88 percent of American households own a Bible, but only 37 percent of people read it once a week or more. People said they don’t read their Bibles because they don’t have enough time, and they struggle to understand the words.

These two frustrations are understandable, and we’ve all struggled with them. But are they the real reasons people aren’t reading their Bibles?

Root Issue

When you think about it, we should get really excited about Bible reading. The God of the universe has given us his Word. He could’ve tapped out when we disobeyed him in the garden, but he didn’t. He went looking for us and talked to us (Gen. 3). Knowing our gracious God gave us his Word should make us want to read it, but often that’s not enough.

We don’t read the Bible regularly because we don’t understand how it works. We often think it’s all about us, and that opening Scripture is only useful when we think we need it. We don’t understand how amazing the Bible really is.

Word that Lives

We shouldn’t read the Bible like we do any other book, or treat it like a source of entertainment. Instead, we should consider what makes Scripture special. Paul tells Timothy:

All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:16–17)

Notice the verbs: Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable. It’s not that Scripture was inspired but now isn’t as relevant. It was and is and will be inspired and profitable.

For the rest of the post..

“Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than they love the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest, and sacrificial.”

~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer

7 Types of Christians God Can’t Use

God can't use armchair Christians.
God can’t use armchair Christians. (iStock photo )

About 17 years ago I prayed a very dangerous prayer while lying on the floor of my church near Orlando. I repeated these words from Isaiah 6:8 (MEV): “Here am I. Send me.” Then I cringed. I knew God would mess me up good in order to use me to touch others for Christ.

I wanted God to use me, but I was painfully aware that we don’t just go out and start a ministry on our own terms. God bends and breaks those who speak for Him. He requires full surrender. I had to let go of fears, adjust attitudes and change priorities.

It has become popular today to suggest that God can use anybody. It’s true that He does not show favoritism based on race, age, gender, marital history, past failures or income status. Yet His standards have never been lowered; He only uses humble, obedient, consecrated followers.

Many Christians will never be useful in the kingdom because of mindsets or behaviors that limit the flow of the Holy Spirit or, as the apostle Paul said in Galatians 2:21 (KJV), “frustrate the grace of God.” I don’t ever want to frustrate His grace! If you want God to use you, make sure you don’t fall into any of these categories:

1. Driver’s seat Christians. Jesus is not just our Savior; He is our Lord, and He wants to guide our decisions, direct our steps and overrule our selfish choices. There are many believers who enjoy the benefits of salvation yet they never yield control to God. If you want Him to use you, then you must slide over into the passenger seat and let Jesus drive. If you have a problem with willfulness, learn to pray: “Not my will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42, MEV).

2. Armchair critics. There are some people who roll up their sleeves and serve the Lord; there are others who make it their business to analyze and pick apart everyone who is doing God’s work. The devil is the Accuser, so if you are accusing others you are operating in the spirit of Lucifer. The Holy Spirit does not work through people who are bitter, angry or judgmental.

3. Glass-half-empty pessimists. Many Christians today are worried about what sinners are doing, and some spend hours trying to predict when the Antichrist will arise or when the world will end. Meanwhile there are other Christians who focus on winning lost people to Jesus and showing His compassion to a broken world. Who do you think will bear more spiritual fruit—the doomsday pessimist or the hopeful evangelist?

4. Carnally-minded Christians. It has become fashionable today for believers to lower the standard of moral behavior to the point that anything goes. Unmarried Christians are living together, some pastors are experimenting with adultery and some denominations have voted to sanction homosexual relationships. Don’t be fooled. Just because more and more people are jumping on this trendy bandwagon does not mean God has rewritten His eternal Word.

People who live in blatant sin cannot be instruments of the Holy Spirit. 2 Timothy 2:21 says clearly: “One who cleanses himself from these things will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, fit for the Master’s use, and prepared for every good work.” Our usefulness to God is based on whether we have submitted to the process of sanctification. Holiness is not an option.

5. Church dropouts. I won’t win a popularity contest by saying this, but it’s true: God does not use people who have turned away from the church. Today it is fashionable to bash the church; some people have even established “ministries” to lure Christians away from church and into an isolated spiritual wilderness. Most of these church-bashers are bitter because they had a bad experience with a pastor.

I have only compassion for any victim of spiritual abuse. But no one has the right to tear down the work of God just because a spiritual leader hurt him. The church is God’s Plan A, and He does not have an alternative. If we are going to be used by God, we must get connected to the church and learn to flow with its God-ordained leadership.

6. Timid cowards. When Paul sent Timothy to Ephesus to pioneer the church there, he exhorted him to break free from fear. He wrote: “Do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord” (2 Tim. 1:8). Fear has the power to paralyze. All those who surrender to the call of God must bravely open their mouths, defend the faith, risk their reputation and suffer rejection—and possible persecution. If you are afraid to share the gospel, repent of your fear and ask God for holy boldness.

7. Lazy spectators. Many Christians today think following God means clocking in for a 90-minute service before driving to the lake. We read quick devotions on our smart phones and breathe short prayers during our morning commutes. But somewhere in all this 21st century stress we lost the meaning of discipleship.

For the rest of the post…

“The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists of listening to them. Just as love of God begins with listening to his word, so the beginning of love for our brothers and sisters is learning to listen to them.”

 


Homophobia Has No Place in the Church

“Young man, I appreciate your message, but you need to realize that most gay people are dangerous predators.”

I had just finished sharing about my experience with same-sex attraction (SSA) at a church in the heart of Wisconsin, and an elderly man tracked me down after the service. These were the first words out of his mouth.

I was taken aback and asked him to clarify. It turns out that a gay man made a pass at him many years ago when he was in the military — and it had caused him to view all gay people as sexually aggressive and dangerous. His view of the homosexual community was defined almost exclusively by a single experience — and fear.

I have a fear as well, but my fear is that homophobia is all too common, not just in society, but even within the church. Some may object to my use of the word homophobia. It can sometimes be used as a politically loaded term wielded to silence any and all opposition to same-sex sexual activity. However, this is not the root definition of the term.

Simply put, homophobia means a fear of homosexuality and, more specifically, homosexual people. And while it is not the same as loving, biblical opposition to certain behaviors or beliefs, this fear-based attitude often leads to unhelpful stereotypes, prejudice, and even cruel mistreatment.

So let’s call a spade a spade. Homophobia exists, and it has no place in the church.

Search Your Heart

No doubt some who feel convicted will push back. “Well, I don’t think that all gay people are dangerous predators, so I’m not homophobic.” However, homophobia can often take subtler, equally sinister forms. For example, homophobia can subtly infiltrate not only our beliefs, but also our reasons for these beliefs. These principles might themselves be correct and godly, but they can be believed for all the wrong reasons.

Honestly consider your own heart in the following examples:

  • Is your belief that same-sex sexual activity is sin based finally on solid biblical exegesis? Or is it really based on the fact that you don’t understand how someone could be attracted to the same sex, and this unknown seems to you just plain creepy?
  • Is your opposition to same-sex marriage based on a principled biblical definition of marriage? Or is it more influenced by a fear that same-sex couples might signal the unraveling of comfortable cultural norms and usher in the end of a once-pristine “Judeo-Christian society”? Or maybe your fear is more that one such couple might move in next door, and you might actually be pressured to befriend them?
  • Does your opposition to homosexual practice include the ability to lovingly welcome LGBT people into a Sunday service or other gathering with other Christians? Or does opposition for you mean that you wish they would just stay away so you aren’t made uncomfortable by their very presence?
  • In standing for Christian sexual ethics, do you encourage and support those SSA believers within the church who are striving to remain faithful to biblical teaching by welcoming them into full participation in church life? Or does standing for biblical sexuality mean that they can come to church, but they can’t grow in influence or serve the body through teaching, and they should probably stay away from the youth group?

Biblical exegesis is a wonderful underpinning for belief, and love is a worthy motive for action. Fear is a horrible reason for both.

It would do us well to humbly examine our hearts to reveal the motives and fears behind our attitudes toward people who identify as “gay.” Happily upholding Christian sexual ethics is not the same as harboring animosity toward an entire group of people simply because you find them yucky.

Love, Not Fear

Instead, Christians — of all people on the planet — must operate not out of fear, but love. We recognize that all people are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) and are therefore sacred and worthy of love.

For the rest of the post…

Ray Ortlund

Is your church racist?

December 2, 2015<!––>

jesus_saves_kkk

You are all one in Christ Jesus.  Galatians 3:28

He himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.  Ephesians 2:14

Christ is all, and in all.  Colossians 3:11

I write to my white brothers.  And I want to ask you to consider this searching question that I also ask myself.  Is your church racist?

At one level, the obvious answer is No.  People who resonate with TGC tend to align their convictions with the Bible.  So the verses quoted above most of us will affirm strongly.  The photograph above most of us will find disturbing.  It is so blatant.  But our strong agreement in these obvious ways only makes the question more worthy of conscientious reflection: Is your church racist?  Is mine?

Here are some diagnostic questions I ask myself, to press into deeper insight.  Is your church a white church where black people are welcome, or is your church a Christian church where all who love Jesus are equally accepted and equally influential?  Are the black people in your church receiving and adapting to your church’s culture, or are they, with you, shaping and reshaping your church’s culture?  Are there two circles of belonging in your church?  Is there an inner circle of “us” and an outer circle of “them” — the latter belonging too, but not in the same way, not with the same embrace, the same identity, the same “us”?  Does the “us-ness” in your church need to be broken and re-created, according to the parameters of the one gospel for all sinners who are standing equally on the same footing before the one Savior of all?  Or are the unspoken ground rules for the outer circle more demanding than the ground rules for the inner circle?  Do the outer-circle members have something to prove that the inner-circle members don’t have to prove?  Is there any emotional aloofness dividing your church, or are you loving every member with the same emotional intensity?  Finally, are the black members of your church on the same paths of growth and discipleship such that they too are on their way toward becoming leaders, deacons, elders and pastors?  Or is it inconceivable that you could receive, rejoice over and submit to a black lead pastor in your church?

For the rest of the post…

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