Why This Pastor Goes to Church

While preaching remains the undisputed foundation of congregational worship, the pulpiteer is not the church. In other words, I as the pastor of a local church do not head to church to hear myself preach on Sunday mornings. I study, wrestle with, apply, and come to terms with the text during the week so that I arrive in the pulpit intent upon sharing my Scriptural convictions rather than forming them. I do not come for the academic insights.

I attend church every morning because my local church serves as a rallying point for God people through whom God edifies my soul. I find encouragement in the corporate singing of doctrinal hymns that encourage my soul , the prayers of my fellow believers that infuse my heart with hope, and the discussions that arise from the congregation after a sermon which guide me to great biblical clarity. I pastor as well as I do (whatever level that is) because I do so within the loving bounds of the local church. In other words, I go to church because the people of God convey me afresh to the throne room of Jesus. Or as David says in Psalm 26:8, “O Lord, I love the habitation of your house and the place where you glory dwells.”

With this conviction in mind, I refused to exclusively “live-stream” my church’s Sunday morning service when the COVID-19 pandemic sent us scurrying to our homes. I believed then as I do now that church is more than a pulpiteer and skilled pianist or music team. Church is the old lady who gives the best hugs, the child who wiggles and occasionally cries, the young couple who faithfully serves in the nursery, the sweet greeters who never meet a stranger, the faithful single wrestling through the idea of marriage, and the aged saint who stands ready to stop and pray with you the minute you open up about your latest struggle. While the sermon serves as one of the foundational pillars of the congregation, it is not the totality of worship nor of the congregation. The church is the body of Christ, the hands and feet of Jesus (1 Cor 12:14).

For this reason, I also require all of my counselees to attend a local church for the duration of their counseling. Just as I need the whole church, the wounded and smarting heart also needs the whole church. Yes, the counselee needs the intensity of the biblical counseling office and the reinforcement that comes through practical homework assignments. But she also needs those encouraging hugs, the hope found in a rich hymn, the loving prayers of the couple in the next pew over, and those moments of reassurance that come as she realizes through a lunchtime conversation about the sermon that she is not alone in her battle against temptation. The soul twisting in the wind needs the church just as much as the soul grounded upon the gospel.

The church fathers of old used to speak of the church as being a nurturing mother. Just as a baby dies without milk, so the believer will die if he or she neglects the food of the church. Stated positively, confessional corporate worship will as Hebrews 10:25 says, “stir up one another to love and good works.” The faithful local church feeds the soul.

The couple that can skip church for months to pursue their highschooler’s softball career no more understand the gospel of Jesus than a surgeon who thinks it’s fine to amputate a foot and then leave it on ice for a month or two understands medicine. We would undoubtedly question the skills of the surgeon. Understandably, the authors of the Bible question the spiritual life of those who willfully neglect the gathering of the church, the life-giving food of the Lord.

Christians need the local church, the whole body. Those who delight in God will forever delight in church: the old ladies, the wiggly kids, the awkward teenager, the tired mom, and the host of other personalities who make our local churches the household of God. As David said in Psalm 16:3, “As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight.” This pastor needs the saints. You need the saints.

So why do I go church? I go to church because it consists of the people of God who facilitate the worship of God. If you claim Christ and can make it to church this Sunday, I encourage you to go too. Will you?

Why Confidentiality Hurts Spiritual Growth


The soul enraptured by sin loves secrecy. Instead of exposing its sins for all to see, the slave to sin seeks to hide his or her errors under a rock. If the soul mentions his or her sin, it often invites only one or two others into its dark circle of despair, requiring its inner circle of spouses, counselors, pastors, and close friends to keep its deeds confidential until death do us part. “Don’t tell anyone,”  says the faint heart.

Despite the pleas of their friends, Christians cannot grant others complete confidentiality in perpetuity. To overcome sin, Christians must not depend upon one friend, or pastor, but upon their church family. God charged the entire church to be “devoted to one another (Rom 12:10), “to instruct one another (Rom 15:14),” and to “encourage one another and build each other up (1 Thess. 5:11).” We must not grant secrecy to the discouraged soul. Rather we should rally the forces of the church around them. Paul instructs us “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them (Eph. 5:11).” The good counselor, friend, and pastor will push the hurting sheep out of darkness of confidentiality into the light of Christian fellowship.

Formal counseling or discipleship exists because Christians lose their connection to faithful sermon. As E.M. Bounds notes, “Preaching is God’s great institution for the planting and maturing of spiritual life.” When sin takes root in a believer’s heart, he or she either intentionally or unintentionally cuts himself or herself off from the pulpit, “the of a church’s discipling ministry.” The wounded, isolated soul enters and leaves the Sunday service unchanged by truth and in danger of destruction. As Bonhoeffer notes, “You cannot hear Christ because you are willfully disobedient.”

As Deepak Reju has noted, Christians cut off from the power of the sermon should be rushed from the battle line of Christian service to the counselor’s hospital tent. Away from the pressing attacks of this world, the counselor and/or pastor can revive the downcast soul, applying the anointments of God’s grace to their wounds. Through the private administration of the Word and prayer, the pastor confronts the counselee’s sin. As the spirit grips his or her heart, the sinner will confess sin and experience the freedom of Christ afresh. The repentant soul can once again draw life changing power from the sermon. It can return to the frontlines of the spiritual battle. Bonhoeffer sums up counseling or discipling as being that which, “springs from the sermon and leads one back to the sermon.”

In short, counseling exists not to hide the counselee from the body of Christ but to return the counselee to the body of Christ. As the counselee reengages the community he or she should wisely share his or her struggles with other parts of the body foster support, encouragement, and rebuke.

Even if the counselee is resistant to gospel change and finds gospel change hurtful, he or she still needs the help of the local church.

Matthew 18 declares that those who refuse to respond to the Scripture’s admonishment to put off sin should be confronted by two friends. If that fails, the counselor must involve the whole body. Jesus declares,

If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector (Matt. 18:17).

When the counselee repents of his or her public sins, the whole church should extend forgiveness, seeking to encourage him or her (2 Cor 2:5-11). The counselor can facilitate the counselee’s relationship with the church. But the counselor cannot be the church.

Some may fear, the revealing of their struggles to trustworthy Christians will lead to their embarrassment and shame. But the Scriptures paint a different picture. God declares, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it (1 Cor. 10:13).”

No situation will shock the godly. They know the darkness of their own hearts and the power of Christ to liberate them from their sins. They do not shame you but encourage you to righteousness. Bonhoeffer notes,

Anybody who has once been horrified by the dreadfulness of his own sin that nailed Jesus to the Cross will no longer be horrified by even the rankest sin of a brother…In the presence of a psychiatrist I can only be a sick man; in the presence of a Christian brother I can dare to be a sinner.

Christians should not hide their sins, struggles, and fears. They should wisely confess them to those who will lead them back into the fellowship of the church through the forgiving power of the cross. Allow the spiritual believers to restore you.

Admittedly, not every Christian possess a character worthy of trust. Christians should not pour out their soul to the foolish or to the spiritually immature. If someone might tweet, text, or upload a TikTok video about your problem, do not confide in them. Rather confided in those who preach and live the word .

Sadly, not every pulpit contains life sustaining truth. At times, men and women look for discipleship outside the door of their local church because their pastor preaches dead sermons. And as E.M. Bounds notes, “dead sermons kill.” In such situations, the congregation must act, removing those elders who fail to obey the Word of God. If the Christians cannot remove their elders who distort the pulpit, they should seek churches that foster cultures of discipleship through the right teaching of the Word. Discipleship should always occur within the context of the local church. Christians should not rest until discipling truth fills their worship center.

To experience spiritual growth and transformation, men and women must leave the shadowy intimacy of the counselor’s office and embrace the happy light of the body of Christ.

Are you ready to surrender your confidentiality?

The Difference Between Spiritual Diagnosis & Spiritual Change

diagnosisFred collapses on the side-walk outside with his hand over his heart. His labored breathe becomes shorter and shorter. His fingers tingle.

As Fred’s neighbors rush to aid the large 55-year-old man, they correctly diagnosis Fred’s condition as a heart attack and promptly call 911. But none of Fred’s neighbors hop into the ambulance with him, scrub up, and proceed to do the open heart surgery needed to save his life. While plumbers, retired office managers, and CPAs maybe spot a heart attack, they lack the medical skill needed to help Fred overcome his crisis. The ability to diagnosis a sickness does not equal the expertise needed to heal that sickness.

Similarly, a person’s ability to diagnosis spiritual problems does not mean he or she has the power to save those whom he or she has diagnosed. In 1 Samuel 8:5, the elders of Israel rightfully diagnosis their nation’s problem. The elders notice that Samuel’s sons have ceased to walk in Samuel’s ways. But while the elders had the skills necessary for diagnosis, they lacked the skills needed to find a good solution to their problem. They turned to the culture for answers and wound up with a solution [a king like the nations] that caused great harm to themselves and future generations.

The errors of 1 Samuel 8 are repeatedly over and over again in Christendom. We believe secular physiologist, counselors, and therapists can help us overcome our spiritual battles because they can and do often accurately describe our actions and emotions. The secular counselor can tell the alcoholic about his alcoholism, the angry teenager about her anger, and the immoral wife about her sexual urges.

Dr. Heath Lambert, the former president of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, explains,

Biblical counselors have consistently stated that the observations of secular psychology can often fill in the gaps for – and provoke biblical counselors to more careful biblical reflection about – all manner of issues.

But the secular therapist cannot treat these causes effectively regardless of how many degrees that he or she has on her wall. The apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 4:17-18,

They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to their hardness of heart.

Those living in darkness and ignorance cannot help those overcome by darkness and ignorance find the light, hope, and power of God. The secular counselors simply turn the darkened eyes to the darkened culture and come up with ideas that are dark and quite naturally unhelpful.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer rightfully concluded,

The pastor can learn very little from the psychologist, basically only to observe, to evaluate, and to analyze.

In the last few years alone, physiologists have backed away from the ideas of the five stages of grief, the high-self-esteem, and of catharsis. Even the popular program Alcoholics Anonymous has only a 5% success rate.  The secular world can diagnosis spiritual problems but has no ability to save those suffering from their spiritual problems. The Christian who asks a secular therapist to help him or her overcome a spiritual problem is little different than Fred asking his neighborhood plumber to do open heart surgery. It will not go well.

The Way Forward:

Where does the power to change come from? The power to change comes Word of God through the Holy Spirit. 2 Peter 1:3 tells us,

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.

If we want to improve our marriages, fight greed, find liberation from worry, we need to turn to the Scriptures. We need to hear the preaching of the Word both publicly and privately.

A new discipleship movement is sweeping through the American evangelical church calling for the creation of small groups. Such groups are not inherently bad, but they are often predicated on the idea that the preaching of the Word is in sufficient to bring real change. There is only one problem with this idea. It is not biblical.

Sermons are not an afterthought. They are main element of discipleship and spiritual growth. Notice what Paul tells Timothy, “Keep as close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” Paul tells Titus to, “Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority (Ti 2:15).” The teaching of the Word brings life change. Mark Dever hit the nail on the head when he commented that the pastor’s, “teaching of the Word is the core of the church’s discipleship ministry.” The famed pastor Martin Lloyd-Jones remarked that he eliminated the need for many counseling sessions by faithful teaching the whole counsel of God as revealed in the text of the Scriptures. Friends if our church lacks spiritual depth, discipleship, and sanctifying change, we do not need a new small group program; we need a new pastor.

But preaching from the pulpit is not enough. As the famed reformer John Calvin noted,

It is not enough for a pastor in God’s church to preach and to cast his words into the air, he must practice private admonitions.

The faithful pastor is the pastor who shares the Word of God with his people in public and in private. He helps people wrestle with the Scriptures, showing them the need for change and the means for change. Pastors who boast about how they pass of their sheep to secular counselors are poor pastors who love the title shepherd but hate the work. If we want to see people helped, we must have pastors who are willing to apply the Word to people’s lives. The pastor who is inadequate to the task of private preaching is equally inadequate to the task of public preaching.

When can adopt all kinds of teaching structures ranging from academic style lectures to prayer groups with no agenda. But the power source for change does not lie in our church structure nor in the power of diagnosis.  The power that brings about lasting change is the Holy Spirit who communicates with us through his Word.

Are you ready for real lasting change? Are you ready to turn to the Word when you need help? What are our pastor’s doing?