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?


Church Discipline Supports Parents

blog-spaceChurch discipline and children’s discipleship appear reside at the opposite ends of the local church universe. Talking to an adult about the embezzlement seems to have little relation to the preschooler pushing cars. But despite appearances, the two planets traverse orbits that often overlap. And if we neglect church discipline, we will do great harm to our children and by extension our youth.

Parents rejoice when they see their child come forward to make a profession of faith. The parents also tremble. Having grown up in the easy-believism culture that defined faith as walking an aisle and making a prayer, parents know that such faith can easily be faked. They have watched in despair as their friends strayed from the church into a life of sin and debauchery.

And yet, these unregenerate church members still possess the title of Christian. They can still walk back into their home church take the Lord ’s Table and use the church name without ever having repented of their sin. In the eyes of the church and in the eyes of the community, the wayward Christian who has fathered 25 children by 25 different women is just as much the church member as the senior lady who has collected 25 Sunday school attendance pins.

Such sentiment is often expressed in our local church vocabulary. When we learn that a lady hasn’t attended church over the last five years, we label her “misguided” or “nice” but stop short of calling her a sinner and calling her to repent. When our friend divorces his wife to chase after his younger secretary, we turn away in disgust and tell him to, “Straighten out his life,” but happily welcome him and the secretary into the church when they are ready without addressing their sin.

Once baptized, men and women are church members in perpetuity.

Functioning within this local church paradigm, parents are slow to affirm their child’s desire to follow Christ. Before baptism, the parent can enforce threats by refusing to allow their child to be baptized. But after baptism all recourse is lost. Once a member, always a member.

Christ clearly affirmed the perseverance of the saints. Once a man or women repents and believes, nothing can separate him or her from the love of God. But God does not teach the perseverance of church members.

Though the local church should strive to baptize only believers, she will make mistakes at times and baptize unregenerate men and women. Moreover, those who truly love the Lord are still being sanctified and will sin and need to be called to repent. Think of David, Bathsheba, and Nathan. God commands his church to practice church discipline in Matthew 18 and in 1 Corinthians 5. Baptism is not a blank check of admittance into the church. Those who join the church are called to be like Christ. And when they are not like Christ, the church must spring into action.

But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. – 1 Cor. 5:11. 

The most important part of church discipline is the first stage of discipline. Personal confrontation. When we see a fellow church member in sin, we are to confront that brother for the purpose of seeing him restored. But how many of us have been lovingly confronted over our sin by our fellow church members? How many of us have heard Matthew 18 taught from the pulpit? How many of us have lovingly confronted another? If parents have seldom been confronted in love, they will probably struggle to lovingly confront their children about their sin.

And if the first level of church discipline does not succeed, we are to take one or two more Christians with us for the purpose of confronting the brother again. Again, how many parents have been a part of this process? How many parents have been confronted or have loving confronted another?

And if that fails, the church member should take the matter to the church. The unrepentant believer should be brought before the church. And if he still refuses to repent, he should be removed, excommunicated from the church. The church should declare that the unrepentant sinner is no longer a member of the church. Again how many parents and children have witnessed this process? How many parents and children have seen someone loving removed from the rolls because he or she refused to return to church or because he or she refused to abandon their sexual sin?

15 If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 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. – Mt. 18:15-17

If parents and children regularly lived and experienced all three levels of church discipline, they would have little to fear when their kids profess faith. Parents could regularly remind their children that faith is obedience and call their children to obedience. Children would see that church is not a light-hearted social club but a faith changing factory filled with the worship of God. Children would see that sin is serious and that the Christian life is a life of faith and repentance where people die to self and live for Christ. Church discipline helps families lovingly live out the gospel.

The local church must practice church discipline if she desires to empower parents to disciple their children.

Our Churches Need Troubled Kids

troubled kids blogWe’ve all been there. We hear the toilet flush. And then, the bathroom door swing opens, and we are face to face with an extended and unwashed hand. Quite naturally, most people like me find the whole situation unnerving because we do not want to touch someone who is unclean. Ugh…that’s gross. And so we find some polite around the situation such as a fist or elbow bump. Anything but a full hand embrace!

Sadly, we tend to treat people who spiritual unclean the same way. When we come across someone who has unwashed hands, we tend to walk away. We prefer the clean people. We prefer the people who dress like us, who talk like us, and who respect us. Let someone else work with the kids and adults who smell bad, steal, and take advantage of good Christians. Of course we don’t say it this way. We hide our disdain in much more religious terms. We say things like, “We want to get deep and serious about the gospel, and those unclean, sickly kids will distract from our program. We don’t want unclean people messing up our building and drinking our coffee. After all, God called us to be good stewards.”

The problem with all of this thinking is that it never justified by the scriptures.  Jesus loved unclean sinners. Jesus reached out to the spiritually sick. In Matthew 2:13-17, we read that Jesus called Levi, a tax collector. Jesus saved a man who made his living cheating his neighbors. Jesus saved the unclean man who was excluded from good church society. And not only did Jesus save Levi, he fellowshipped with him and a bunch of other bad dudes and gals. Jesus ate with them. He cared about them. He went beyond gospel proclamation. He directly invested in them.

If we are going to be like Jesus, if we are going to have ministries the reflect Jesus, if we are going to have churches that embrace Jesus, we have to witness and fellowship with the unclean. We have to care about the spiritually sick, the divorced single moms, the drug addicts, and the kids who get expelled. We have to care about them enough to share the gospel. We have to care about them enough to welcome them into our homes and churches. We have to be willing to make meals and spend late nights talking about the truths of the gospel. Sure we might lose a phone or two, wonder why there is a hole in the wall, and deal with the fact the middle schoolers are drinking coffee. But such is the Christian life. There is no other way. Why?

Jesus came to heal the sick. He came to heal those who need a physician. Friends if any of us are saved and if any of us are respectable, it is purely by the grace of God. We are nothing special. We all were just as sick and unclean as those who ruffle our good church sensibilities. If we are truly those who follow Jesus, then we have love the spiritual sick. We have to be willing to hang out with the unclean. We have to be stop seeing church only as a nice place for concerts. We have to start acting like it’s a hospital for the wounded and weary.

At the end of the day there are two groups of people. Both are sick. But only the first knows it. The second ignores their symptoms and pretends they are better than everyone else. Jesus went to those who knew they were unclean. He went to those who needed the great physician. Which group do we belong to?