Location, Location, Location: 3 Words Churches Should Avoid

location“Location, Location, Location!” The phrase has morphed from a real-estate maxim to a local church maxim. Increasingly churches believe that the pastoral candidate’s location and social-economical upbringing determine his ability to lead their church. Those potential pastors that share the southern congregation’s affinity for Alabama football are placed in the keep pile. Those who grew up eating clam chowder on the New England coast are stuck in the do not call pile. And if the outsider pastor some how sneaks into the church office and manages to place his name on the desk,  church members reserve the right to disagree with and to discount the Pastor’s leadership because he is not “really one of us.”

On the flip side of things, Pastors are quick to pursue churches that are located close to their old stomping grounds. I recently heard one pastor jokingly note that most men will boldly follow the Lord’s call, provided God keeps them within a 200 mile radius of their mother-in-law. Sadly, the joke is not too far from the truth.

3 Considerations:

First, I definitely applaud men for wanting to maintain extended-family relationships. The man who ministers close to home is inherently just as godly as the man cutting his way through the amazon jungles. There is no coloration between risk, hard conditions, distance and godliness.

Second, I affirm that Scripture’s emphasis on raising up local leaders. Paul tells Titus to appoint elders in the churches in Crete. Paul too regularly raised up men to led local churches (Ti 1:5; Acts 14:23). I applauded my former church, The Bible Church of Little Rock for modeling these Scriptures. The Senior Pastor BCLR , Tim Senn served as my youth pastor a few decades ago. And the current Youth Pastor of BCLR is one of my fellow youth group alums. Churches should be in the leadership development business.

Third, I understand that moving a family of 8 from California to Maine or from Colorado to Mississippi can be cost prohibitive for many small churches. Some churches will have to limit their search range geographically because God has providentially limited their resources.

Back to the Question:

But the overarching question still remains: Is location and the pastor’s  familiarity with a churches culture a right and meaningful measure of one’s pastoral ability? Does a pastor have to live, breathe, and know his people’s cultural idiosyncrasies to be an effective minister of the Word?

The answer is a resounding, “No!” To be an effective pastor, a man must be a godly expositor, a man devoted to both obeying and teaching the Word. A quick examination of the Titus 1:5-9 and 1 Timothy 3:1-7 reveals that the effective pastor is the one who is above reproach, sober-minded, self-controlled, hospitable, gentle, upright, holy, disciplined, the husband of one wife, able to teach, and manage his family well. He is not a drunkard, quarrelsome, a lover of money, violent, arrogant, quick-tempered, or a recent convert to Christianity. Notice Paul mentions nothing about the man’s origin or cultural identity.

Paul cares little about where the elder comes from because effective ministry does not depend on cultural awareness but upon gospel awareness. Paul tells Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:16

Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.

To know people and to know how to minister to people, Pastors need to be overly familiar not with the culture but with the Word. The Scriptures contains all that the pastor needs to reach, encourage, and admonish others. The Bible address every heart attitude in every location. D.Martyn Lloyd-Jones smashes the assumption that time and place matter when he writes:

But man himself has not changed…look at the major social problems confronting us today, and you will find all of them in the Bible; theft, robbery, violence, jealousy, envy, infidelity, divorce, separation, perversions, all these things, are in the Bible.

The problems facing small town America in 2018 are the same problems that New York City faces in 2018, and that Abraham faced thousands of years ago. To understand people and how to minister to them and to know how to bring truth to bear on their lives effectively comes, one needs to learn the Scriptures. The most qualified pastor is not the one who grew up within earshot of the church, but the one who loves God, obeys God, and teaches others about God.

Because God is sufficient for all our problems, men raised in Boston can faithfully lead churches in Alabama. Georgians can lead churches in California. Nevadans can pastor churches in France. And Koreans can effectively pastor churches in Mexico. Because the Gospel is the power of salvation, men no longer have to fear and should never limit their ministry to cultural boundaries. Location means little. God means everything.

Location, Location, Location should never be the cry of the gospel-centered church. Her cry should be HOLY, HOLY, HOLY! Do you agree?


3 Tips For For Finding The Next Great Christian Resource!

booksHave there ever been so many Christian Books in print as now? I think not. Seemingly every day a new book, Bible study, and or instructional video is released with the seemingly magical ability to make Christendom great again. Read this, and you will be the best parent ever. Try this plan, and your besetting sin will disappear. Watch this…and well…your life will be better than ever before. And all these pleas connect with our hearts because we all want to grow closer to Christ. We all have spiritual battles. But at the end of the day, not all resources are created equal. And given the fact that few of us can devote large portions of our days to reading and studying, we do not want to squander our precious time on bad books. To determine which resources in your Christian bookstore are spiritual fool’s gold and which contain lasting truth, I encourage ask the follow three questions:

Who Published It?

Who published the book can tell you a lot about the book’s author. Obviously, all513cwpcnmjl-_sx340_bo1204203200_publishers want to sell you their books, curriculums, etc. (Hence all the marketing that often makes picking the right resources very difficult.) If an author’s books fly off the shelves, everyone wants to publish their materials. But with that being said, publishers often still have some convictions and guiding principles that narrow down their list of potential authors.

Publishers will only publish authors who reflect their view(s) of the world. For example, B&H Publishing (the publishing wing of LifeWay) and Crossway Publishing (They produce the ESV Bibles) and P&R Publishers (They publish many fantastic  theology books) make it a point to publish resources that are based on a literal and inerrant reading of the Scriptures. Publishers such as Zondervan and Tommy Nelson are a little freer with who they publish. For example, Tommy Nelson publishes books by Donald Miller (Blue Like Jazz) and commentaries by Dr. Thomas Schreiner (which are sound theologically and academically). And other publishers like, Faith Words –  who puts out all the Joel Osteen materials –  should simply be avoided. #FoolsGold anyone?

At the end of the day, seeing who publishes a book will not tell you everything you need to know. But it is a great starting point. Check on the publisher.

Who Endorsed It?

vertical-churchNow as a noted above, some publishers publish both good and bad authors. Just discovering who the publisher is not a fool proof. You need to explore a little more. You need to check the endorsements. If another author that you know and trust endorses the book, then you can be pretty sure the book is good. (At the very least your confidence in the book should be as great as your confidence in the one endorsing it.) If you are like me, you probably will not recognize all the names on the back of the book. I recently read Vertical Church by James McDonald (I highly recommend it). Thirty-seven people endorsed the book! The publishers want to get a wide variety of endorsements on their publication so that they can market it to the largest Christian demographic possible. That being said, do not worry about why some Anglican pastor you never heard of endorsed the book in your hand. If Dr. Albert Mohler, John MacArthur, and Paul David Tripp also endorsed that same book, it is probably one really good resources. If you don’t know any of the endorsers, that’s probably not a good sign.

Endorsements are never forced or fabricated. For example, the evangelist Greg Laurie once stretched the truth by saying John MacArthur endorsed his ministry. MacArthur quickly forced Laurie to retract the claim and to change his materials. Endorsements matter and are guarded closely by those who give them. Before you start flipping through the table of contents, check the endorsements. If people you trust stand by a publication or program, you can trust those resources. Check the endorsements.

Does Your Pastor Like It?

41gy-dowwdl-_sx313_bo1204203200_If you want to skip steps one and two, go straight to your pastor(s) and/or elder(s). Ask them, “who are your favorite authors?” Ask them to recommend books and resources that will help you.

Do not worry about bothering them. This is part of their job. They are called to lead and shepherd you, in-part by getting good resources into your hands and by protecting you from wolves in sheep’s clothing. Ask them for help! Most will love to direct you to great resources.

As a young college student, I knew I could trust C.S. Lewis, Francis Shaffer, and John Macarthur. But I did not have a clue about the other 99% of Christian literature filling the shelves of our local books stores. Thankfully, the pastors at the Bible Church of Little Rock did a great job of exposing me and that church to a host of godly authors. While at the Bible Church, I was introduced to J. I. Packer, C.J. Mahaney, John Piper, Ed Welch, Bruce Ware, Joel Beeke, and Don Whitney to name a few. I was given a solid foundation from which I could build my personal library. I hope and pray your pastors can and will do the same for you.

But if your pastor shirks this duty, I encourage you to fall back on points 1 and 2.

Alright, are you ready to pick out your next book?