The Pastor I Want to Be

This morning I came across Philippians 2:19-30, and came to see it as an example of the type of pastor I wish I was and should strive to be.

In these verses, Paul speaks of Timothy and Epaphroditus and the encouragement they have been to him. Before looking at what he said about these two men let’s remember the situation Paul was in as he wrote these things.

They encouraged him in ministry. Only those who are well outside the loop believe ministry is an easy course. These men encouraged him in his imprisonment. Paul had been imprisoned for the gospel, in a world where prisons were especially brutal. They encouraged him as he faced the likelihood of execution. Paul speaks of his survival as a fifty-fifty shot.

This is the most amazing thing about this passage. Paul wanted the Philippians to experience the encouragement of these men so much that he was willing to send them, rather than to keep them close, serving himself.

So what does Paul say about these men?

First thing I notice is that Timothy is described of having the interest of others, from the perspective of Jesus Christ.

The opposite of this is to seek your own interests.  This is a constant challenge for a pastor or minister of any type. Just yesterday I sat with a missionary who spoke of the difficulty of speaking on God’s behalf without allowing the message to decompose into personal tirades at the people we love, because of our private, and often frustrating, knowledge of their sins.

Another challenge of seeking the interests of your congregation is that they don’t really know what is in their own best interest.  They too have a way of making their self-interests selfish instead of Christ-centered. So, in order to avoid telling people what they want to hear, you have to temper your message constantly with a deep connection to Christ.  This is the only way that you will know His best interests for your hearers.

The last thing I want to mention about this maintaining the interests of those you serve, is that it helps to have a support system outside of the circle of your own congregation.  Often others can see things in us we have carefully hidden from ourselves.  An honest friend will tell you what you need to hear to allow you the opportunity to improve. Every Paul needs a Timothy and every Timothy needs a Paul.

Second, Paul speaks of Timothy as a person of proven character.

Proving anything takes time. Proving character takes a lifetime. Timothy was not spoken of as someone whom Paul just met and had a good feeling about, but instead as someone that had served alongside Paul for an extended time.

Proving leadership has a trait in it that many people miss.  One of the ways that you become a good leader is by being a good follower. Paul’s leadership over Timothy helped bring out Timothy’s abilities in that area. Leaders who cannot follow, at least in my opinion, also cannot lead. Remember job one for any leader is to follow Christ.

Character is not weighed on scales, so that as long as more half their characteristics are good, they are a good men. Character is not a litmus test, meaning that when a strong majority of their characteristics are pure they are a good person.  Character is on the gold standard.  If it is not 100% pure then it is still in need of refinement. All of us are still in the process, but don’t use that as an excuse to change out to any other standard than Christ.

Finally, Paul speaks of Epaphroditus as a man who was willing to sacrifice all.

The first sacrifice was being willing to live broken-hearted for the people he served.  The passage describes it as longing for the Philippians, and indeed, leaving behind those you love is one sacrifice most face in ministry.  But the sacrifice of a broken heart comes in many other ways too. Everything from watching people drown in their sin to burying your beloved members break your heart.

He also was willing to walk the line of public scrutiny and shame.  I say this because prisons in that time and place were difficult to survive. Paul most likely would not have made it through if Epaphroditus was not bringing him food, water, medicines and encouragement.  But bringing these things to Paul meant he was willingly associating himself with the crimes the Roman overlords assumed Paul was guilty of.

Finally, Epaphroditus almost died from illness while performing these ministries. This was the context in which Paul said we should hold men like Epaphroditus in high esteem. Are we as willing to risk everything for the gospel?  We live in such comfort today that it is hard to tell. But if you are not willing to make the many smaller sacrifices included in ministry, you are not training yourself to be ready to make the ultimate sacrifice if, or maybe when, the time comes.

 

 

 

Church Politics

For Politics Monday today I will talk about the politics within the church.  This is a topic I am intending to touch on more often.

Some people undoubtedly will be offended just by the phrasing.  Please bear with me, my definition of politics is the normal flow of relationships whenever people interact with each other, whether these relationships are local, global or somewhere in between.

By this definition, the only church that does not have politics is the church where the people fail to interact with each other at all. This would mean they fail to form friendships, fail to produce teamwork and never experience fellowship.  All of these things are produced by the synergistic power of relationships.

Most often, whether a church is a good church or a bad church, whether it is a church that does lots of good in the community or a church that barely manages to pull off worship, is ultimately determined by the strength of the relationships within the church.  A church that ‘works’ is a church that has good, strong relationships. When something breaks the fellowship of a church, the church will lose its strength.

Unfortunately, everywhere there are relationships, there are also relationships that go wrong. In the church, relationships gone wrong have different degrees of disruption to the overall congregation. For example, a couple living together will have a minimal impact in the strength of the group when they are non-serving attenders. On the other end of the scale a pastor who lies, cheats and steals will totally dismantle his church’s effectiveness.

The takeaway for this discussion is every church member, especially serving church members, should take care to protect the fellowship of the church. The primary tool for accomplishing this is to live right, because living wrong on any level disrupts that fellowship.  A secondary method is to extend grace to your fellow church members when they fall short, so that problems are not escalated after they develop.

Philosophy of the Backbone

I have heard for years that in order to grow our churches we should soften our stand on the issues that society finds divisive. Emphasize unity over truth. Strive to be less offensive on non-essentials in order to earn a right to be heard on spiritual issues. We are paying the price for intentionally softening our resolve.

I have tried to study the issues regarding homosexuality and court cases involving churches. Every church I know has a strong desire to protect themselves from being pulled into court over this issue. There are numerous sources who will issue advice on how to design their documents, policies and procedures to make this less likely. I suspect that it is not possible to avoid the issues completely.

The Bible defines homosexual behavior as wrong. This fact will not go away. Attempts to redefine the Bible only work if you have not given it a serious read. So those of us who read and respect the teachings of Scripture will continue to see homosexuality as a sin.

The courts have been busy deciding that disagreeing with homosexuality is prejudice. This conclusion is based on the idea that homosexuality is less a choice than a result of how a person was born. The phrase is often used that ‘God made them that way.’

So believing this perspective regarding the practice of homosexuality allows the courts to rule that traditional Christianity is discrimination. Since it has become trendy to include sexual orientation in discrimination laws, the idea has legal teeth. There has been an attempt in many places to make laws which clarify that religious freedom is a higher priority than these discrimination cases but the courts have repeatedly stuck these down and probably will continue to do so.

While I will take actions hoping to protect my church from these lawsuits, I don’t believe any defense will ultimately shield us. The battle is going to find us. Perhaps the end result will be that Bible believing churches will no longer be allowed to legally operate or to own property. The result may be that we manage to put the first amendment back into the first position again. I don’t really know what will happen, but I know it will come with conflict.

The reality is that churches in America have gotten soft. Because of generations of living under the protection of the first amendment we have not had to defend Biblical truth. Since we have not had to defend our beliefs, American Christians are not practiced in standing up for what we belief, nor are we accustomed to paying a cost for our choice to love and serve God.

Scripture makes it clear that our association with Christ will bring conflict with the world. We must not allow this to be a surprise; nor should it be a point of dismay. It is a point of opportunity to demonstrate the backbone of Christianity. The church itself will be stronger, more Biblical, and make a more significant impact on the world around us, when our resolve becomes visible.

Doctrine of Commitment

Commitment is a sleeper. It’s a central part of our lives, and should also be a central part of our theology. Yet I call it a sleeper because it is seldom considered with the full depth it deserves.

Commitment is the central component of love. Many people will argue in favor of the emotional components of love, but emotions waver and it’s our commitment that carries us through those times.

Commitment is the heart of our salvation, first and foremost, God’s commitment to us. Chesed, is a Hebrew word expressing God’s love for us based on His commitment. Xaris, is a Greek word for grace expressing God’s commitment to us despite the fact we could never earn it or deserve it. (Studying individual words for commitment could go much, much further.)

We make a commitment back to God in the moment of salvation. We make a commitment to God to turn our lives around both in terms of repenting, turning away from sin, and discipleship, following the ways of Christ.

Living the Christian life also includes making commitments.

Christians commit themselves to a church family, in order to find a place to grow and opportunities to serve. This commitment to the local church is the subject of a great deal of spiritual warfare. People are easily driven away because they fail to see the church experience as an expression of their commitment to God, and instead get distracted by their relationships with one another. These believers always become spiritually stunted and useless to God’s kingdom work.

The fact that Satan chooses to focus his attack on our commitment to the local church is evidence of how important this commitment is.

So commitment is a sleeper. It is both the heart of our relationship with God, the focus point of satanic attack in our walk with God, and the point where the most failures occur in Christian growth.

Missions

“Then He (Jesus) said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.’”

Matthew 9:37-38 (HCSB)

Millet

As a pastor I keep my eyes open for mission opportunities. I do this because I believe being involved in missions will encourage the members of our church, bless them in their service and allow them the privilege of participating in God’s work in new ways. Even though I recognize mission trips will always invoke a large amount of spiritual warfare, and it will always present more challenge than we expected or are ready for, I want us to continue to be involved in missions.

I hold a high view of missions.

Recent circumstances allowed us to go on two mission events this year. The tricky part is the second even occurred only a short time, about three weeks, after the first. In both events a little over a dozen of our people were able to go and help other churches in Arizona. The first was in doing a block party for a new church start and the second was to assist an existing church in doing framing in a new building project.

These events were challenging for us since we are in an economically depressed area. These trips were hampered by the fact that a lot of our people are seniors. But despite these hindrances we went to do what we could to help.

Now that the second trip is done, I am finding myself evaluating the two trips. As it happens the first trip was to help a new church start in an affluent community. The fact we were going to an area with a much higher cost of living, and generally more affluent families didn’t seem to hinder us in any way during the trip. As it happens the second trip was to a church which is at probably more than twice the size of our church.

Both of these mission trips were therefore a bit beyond what people expect in missions. We can fall into a mindset that missions are all about reaching out to the poor, struggling churches or reaching out to unreached peoples. But missions also includes anything that allows us to expand the kingdom. The questions of income, age, church size and so on, are merely false values compared winning souls for Christ.

I am excited to see what God leads us to do next.

God’s Will

If you are a faithful follower of Jesus Christ then one of your goals should be to find and to do God’s will in your life. So an important question is, how do you find God’s will? This question probably seems pretty obvious, and it is on certain levels.

For example, if you are deciding what to do about a struggling business, your list of possibilities might include murdering your competitors, or stealing their merchandise. By being familiar with the Ten Commandments you can eliminate these two options and therefore you have come closer to finding God’s will by eliminating some possibilities. Other possibilities on the list might be eliminated because they don’t pass the test of basic morality.

In other words the simplest way to seek God’s will is to eliminate those things that are immoral or opposed to Scripture. But then how do you go further; how do you discern the issues about your personal life that are not scripturally grounded or morally based? For example, who to marry, where to live, what job to take in the church and in life—these decisions also need to be under God’s direction.

So in the details of life, how do you find God’s will? I am going to suggest three ways people approach these decisions. These are ranked from the worst to the best, in my opinion. If you disagree, I would love to hear from you in the comments below.

  1. Don’t bother seeking God’s will on the ordinary matters of daily life. Instead assume God does not care about these things, and therefore those are the decisions that are up to you.
  2. Put the matter before the Lord in a prayer by giving Him a choice of a sign to speak through. A Biblical example of this is Gideon putting down the fleece. For you it might be anything from what the weather will be like on a certain day to whether a light stays green as you approach it.
  3. Allow God to speak to you in relationship. This means being active in prayer but instead of seeking God’s answer in an external sign, listen for an internal, still, small voice.

I believe the Christian life is a relationship and it’s in that relationship you will find God’s will. The first possibility above is not accurate because it assumes a disinterest on God’s part, or partial lordship. The second can have some application, but is so easily abused I would prefer people shy away from it. It quickly becomes the equivalent of putting God in a box, making Him do what we want instead of vice versa.

The Centrality of Missions

One of the Biblical passages which is commonly talked about in missionary minded churches is Matthew 28:18-20, commonly referred to as The Great Commission.

Then Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

In this passage Jesus is instructing the disciples, immediately prior to the ascension, to make a concerted effort to reach all nations with the gospel message. Notice also that the instruction is specifically extended to the end of the age, verifying we are to keep at it until He returns. This process of trying to spread the message, church and life practices of Christianity to all the world is commonly called missions.

I have a very high view of missions.

I believe that a church which ceases to work toward missionary actions and purposes has ceased to be a church. Yes, I know that is a very strong statement. Just as we would say a person who does not believe the Bible and will not submit themselves to Jesus is not a Christian, a congregation that is not interested in reaching their neighborhood nor their world, is not a church. Of course there are other things a church needs too, but for this discussion on missions I will confine my evaluation of the church to this one qualification.

In the same, ‘by their fruit you shall know them’ way that we evaluate believers, we can evaluate groups of believers. A group which is not interested in missions is fundamentally defining itself as having different purposes, or at least different priorities, than those assigned the church by its founder.

For my readers, here is what I want you to take away. When your church is meeting, teaching, planning, budgeting, worshipping, and whatever else they happen to do, be a strong advocate for missions. You will do a great deal to protect your congregation by keeping it busy on the task assigned to it by our Savior. As a rule of thumb, it is when a congregation loses this missionary focus that they begin to fail.