Thoughts On Middle School Ministry

I recently had the privilege of being part of a small-scale survey of local church middle school students. Our desire was to gauge the spiritual mindset of these young students in regard to church, God, the Bible and worldview. The survey was anonymous and designed to allow students to express doubt rather than only choose an absolute right or wrong answer. Keep in mind that 95% of these students claim to know Jesus as their personal Savior, so our thinking was that they mostly would know the “right” answers and would be tempted to give the “right” answer rather than the “wrong” one if forced into a corner. We wanted them to feel as free as possible to let us know what they truly thought about these spiritual issues. Though this was a pretty small group of students, I found the responses quite interesting and thought that I might make some conclusions that could potentially prove useful to others.

The first thing we discovered is that these students still enjoy going to church. Though about 20% of them felt like church was mostly for adults, over 90% like going to church, would go even if they didn’t have to and plan to go when they are adults. With so many teens and young adults dropping out of church and developing some pretty serious disillusionment with the established church, I was thankful (if not a little surprised) that these young students still find church attendance an enjoyable part of their lives. This could certainly vary from church to church, but I do think that middle schoolers in general are still open to the idea of church being a normal, enjoyable part of their spiritual lives.

We also discovered that despite their claims of a personal relationship with Jesus and enjoyment of church attendance, they struggled with some fundamental truths about God Himself. Perhaps the most alarming find was that 60% wondered if God was even real. With that doubt in their minds, it isn’t surprising that 65% wonder if God hears and answers prayer and half don’t regularly read their Bibles or see how the Bible is relevant to their daily lives. In fact, the Bible seems to be a significant hang up for many of them. Over 30% doubt the creation account or think some parts of the Bible might be untrue and admit that what their friends think shapes their decisions more than what the Bible says.

While these struggles should be taken seriously, I think that we must resist the temptation to panic. Remember, these questions were asked to determine doubt, not an aggressively oppositional attitude. These students are not hardened against truth or firm in disbelief. They simply have questions; and the good news is that they want the answers. In fact, every single participating student said they would like to know more about how to grow closer to Jesus.

To me, that is the biggest take away from this student survey: my middle school students (and probably yours, too) have big questions, but they are willing to hear the answers. It is up to us as parents, teachers, pastors, and church volunteers to step up and offer the truth. For too long, we have treated our younger students as if they weren’t ready for the truth. Not the real truth, anyway. I’m not saying that we routinely lied to our students, but the church as a whole has traditionally kept pre-high school students on a steady diet of Bible stories, morality tales and soft “do the right thing” principles. When they have big questions and we give them small answers – or worse, deflect and refuse to answer – they begin to decide that church and God and the Bible must not have all the answers. So they go somewhere else. Don’t believe for a second that they quit asking the questions. They just ask them until someone answers and too many times that answer is found in a secular, anti-God school curriculum or a television show or a well meaning friend with the same struggles.

I am becoming increasingly certain that the middle school years are crucial for determining the faith a person will have as an adult. Obviously, faith is always a personal decision, but I believe we need to be aware of how susceptible these middle schoolers are to falsehood. Additionally, we must be intentional about engaging them with real, practical, substantive truth about God and His Word. They need to understand that the church is a place where they can belong. They need community of their own. They need to see adults living out their faith outside of church. They need safe places to ask their questions about God and life. They need teachers and mentors who can explain how the Bible impacts real life. And they need it now! As they grow closer to high school and adulthood, the window of teachability closes. We the church need to embrace this opportunity and begin urgently engaging our young students with God’s love and truth.

You can start today. Get involved with middle school ministry at your church. Talk to a middle schooler (gasp). Ask them questions and listen to their answers. Join a conversation like this one. Share your ideas about how you are reaching students or ask how others are engaging them. Above all, begin praying for middle school students you know and their parents. And as you pray, listen to the Holy Spirit as he tells you how to make a difference. God loves each one of these students and would be happy to use you to draw them to Himself.

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3 Signs of Selfish Service

One of the great privileges and responsibilities of the Christian life is service. Different individuals and churches may call it volunteerism, ministry or some other title, but the idea is the same – we show our love for God and appreciation for his blessing by doing acts of service in his name. Unfortunately, there is always the possibility that what appears to be service for God is actually service for ourselves. This may not always be easy to detect, but there is an interesting verse of scripture that gives us 3 signs our service might be selfish.

The verse is John 3:26 and it describes a relatively minor incident with John the Baptist’s disciples. Speaking of Jesus, they come to John and say, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” This brief statement and John’s response clearly indicate that these men were struggling with some jealousy over Jesus’ ministry and were, at least for the moment, serving for selfish reasons. Before I articulate these signs, I do want to be clear that the presence of these signs in the lives and ministry of these unnamed disciples does not make them bad people. It just makes them human and I would suggest that each of us be aware that we are indeed susceptible to falling into selfish service in our own ministries from time to time. The following signs of selfish service should help us in determining our own motivations for serving.

  1. Ministry is competition. To John’s disciples, ministry was a competition. John was their master and their ministry was the right ministry and they didn’t like Jesus messing with it. Anyone that followed Jesus was someone not following John and was thus a problem. While this seems ridiculous when thinking of Jesus, it is a big problem in today’s church. If you are involved in serving in any capacity, I want to urge you not to let ministry become a competition. That means, don’t view everything different as wrong. Don’t compare results, leaders, accomplishments, etc. – this can lead to jealousy. Don’t view your personal ministry as “the good one.” Your church isn’t the singular light in your community. Your ministry isn’t the only good one within your church, either. This kind of competitive spirit is a sure sign your service is taking a turn toward selfishness.
  2. Ministry is about numbers (26). Remember what John’s disciples said about Jesus: “all are coming to Him.” They exaggerated; John was still baptizing people and over-all Jesus was rejected. However, the point is that they were watching the numbers. They were measuring Jesus’ success by the crowds and this made them feel less successful. The world and fleshly believers equate success with numbers. The size of the crowd doesn’t necessarily indicate the success or validity of a ministry. However, selfishness causes us to measure success with the wrong standard. Any attitude that equates spirituality with numbers is dangerous. A large ministry might offer the temptation to discount the significance of a smaller one. In a small church, we might accuse all big churches of compromise so we can feel better about ourselves. We might feel our ministry is better because more kids show up or begin to feel insecure if our church event is not as well attended as another church’s similar event. This emphasis on numbers is a common indicator of a selfish view of ministry and we must guard against it.
  3. Ministry is self-serving. The very idea of ministry is that we should be serving something other than ourselves, but selfishness can cause us to lose our way. Slowly, our service becomes about self-glory, fame, importance or any other of a number of wrong points of focus in our work. We are left ministering for our own purposes rather than for God’s. As servants and ministers, whether by profession or volunteer, we must resist ever serving out of a desire for what we might gain from our service. Though service for God naturally comes with a variety of immediate and eternal blessings, we should never serve because of what we might get out of it.

Service for God is an incredible privilege and can be a genuine act of worship when done with the proper motives. Unfortunately, it is all too easy to slip into a mindset of service that is partially or totally selfish. I would encourage everyone who serves in any capacity within the church to examine their heart as to what their motives for service actually are. Confess any selfish motives and pursue once again a posture of humble, sacrificial and selfless service.

Exercise for a Healthy Body

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I recently read that almost half of Americans say they want to lose weight, but only about half of those people are actually making any attempt to do anything about it. While the lack of follow through is disturbing, I think this desire for physical health is great because God has given us these bodies and a healthy body is a good thing! However, of far more importance than a healthy physical body is a healthy spiritual body and far more disturbing than a lack of effort at physical health is a lack of effort at spiritual health.

THE CHURCH; THE BODY OF CHRIST

Interestingly enough, God frequently uses the physical human body as a metaphor for His body – the church. While this term can be accurately used to refer to both the universal church (the entirety of believers in all times and in all places) and the local church, the majority of the New Testament emphasis on the church is referring to individual local churches. That’s because the local church is of great importance to God. It is through the local church that He plans to spread His gospel. It is through the local church that He intends to cultivate mature believers. It is through the local church that He intends to provide accountability, support and opportunities for ministry. It is, in fact, the local church that He has chosen to represent Him in a world that has rejected Him. With this tremendous responsibility in mind, the health of the local church should be of great importance to each of us who claim to be followers of Christ. Since the church is made up of people, a healthy local church is really just believers living the way God expects – and a big part of that is how we get along with each other. Just as weight loss cannot take place without working at it, a healthy church won’t just happen without some intentional effort. So, here are three spiritual exercises that will lead to a healthy church body.

PURSUE UNITY

First is unity. In order to have healthy relationships with your church family, you must make unity a priority. I don’t mean unity as in everybody being the same and I certainly don’t promote a lack of diversity. Too many churches think that the fact that they look the same, like the same things and agree on everything is unity. That’s not unity – that’s laziness. Unity is being different and even having disagreements and still being able to have mutual love and respect because of Jesus. Unity is working through differences for the greater purpose of God’s Kingdom. Unity is the deep and genuine joining together of the hearts of believers to each other through a mutual pursuit of Christ. True unity is only achieved through pursuit of Christ above all. You must stop pursuing your ideas, your desires, your comfort, your convenience and start pursuing unity through Christ!

RESOLVE TO PRACTICE HUMILITY

That type of unity requires humility, a quality that is foreign to our natural selves and is only through achievable through God’s grace. As Paul points out in Philippians 2, practical humility is basically a selfless concern for others. We reject selfishness and pride. We do not strive for our own glory or positions of power. We do not try to manipulate to get our way because we truly believe that other people are more important than us. A healthy church consists of believers that live out the creed: “others matter to me more than I matter to me.” Too many churches are filled with believers who just care about themselves. We must renounce this kind of selfishness and embrace a Christ-like humility.

RESOLVE TO PARTICIPATE IN SERVICE

The final characteristic of healthy church relationships that I would like to mention is sacrificial service. Service costs something. It costs something in terms of effort, money or time. It might also cost in reputation. It certainly costs in pride. The cost might be different for each of us, but serving others will cost something – though in the long term those costs are meaningless. After all, what is money and time and energy other than currency to be spent for the kingdom?! When that is our mindset we realize that though there is a temporal cost to serving others, there is also an eternal reward. God honors His humble servants. Additionally, there is also a very real benefit here and now. When we commit to serving and caring for others we find ourselves cared for beyond our wildest imagination.

God’s plan for His church is designed to be best for all of us. His plan is that individual believers will function as a single local community that loves and cares for each other. This won’t happen if each of us is only concerned with what we can get out of church or how our interests can be served. It is time that we stop doing lip service to the idea of a healthy church and begin exercising the principles that will actually make it true.

 

Photo Credit Dwight Burdette. Original here.

Thoughts For My Fellow Christians on Election Day

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Today is an exciting and potentially historic day for our great nation. It is a day in which we once again have the privilege of exercising our right to vote and it is a day that many on both sides of the political aisle feel will have monumental impact on the direction of our nation. It is also a day that many believers have been anticipating with great fear and anxiety. While I have absolutely no idea what the outcome of this election will be today, I do know that God cares far more about how His people treat each other and represent Him than He does about a particular political party winning or losing. With that in mind, I have a few brief thoughts for my fellow believers that I hope will be considered on this election day.

You Are a Christian First

If you a follower of Christ, that identity supersedes all others. Before you are an American; before you are a democrat or republican, conservative or liberal; you are a Christian. You are a child of God and as such you are His representative. You a citizen of His kingdom with temporary citizenship here in this world. Your obligations are to him before they are to any political party or social cause. Many Christians are approaching this election with the claim that they are voting based on their faith and their beliefs, all the while acting in a manner that is absolutely contrary to Christian behavior. I urge you to consider not only the rightness of your stance (because you just might be right), but also the manner in which you are taking it. Christians cannot be mean-spirited, nasty, dishonest, fear mongers. It is sad to see so much hatred, ignorance and divisiveness among the body of Christ. Remember, today and every day, that if you bear the name of Christ than you must live in a way that honors him.

We Are All Americans

Somehow this particular election seems to have gotten even more divisive than usual. Those of us who are Christians must remember that while it has been a great privilege to live in a country that has largely supported our Christian values and lifestyle God has nowhere promised that it should be so. Being American is not about faith or specific political positions. In fact, the beauty of America is that we are a diverse people unified under the belief that we are all free to believe, like and live however we want. Those who stand across the political divide from you are just as American as you and likely love their nation just as much. Wherever we end up after this election, I can promise you that our nation will be much better off if we get over the “us and them” mentality that has dominated this election cycle and get back to being a unified nation of diverse beliefs and preferences.

God Is Still In Control

Regardless of who is our president or what political party is in power, God is still sovereign over this nation and His world. I want to urge my fellow believers to stop acting in fear as if God cannot handle it if certain people or parties are in power. God is in control, and the simple truth is that He might not want what you expect Him to want. There is no guarantee that he wants you to have religious liberty. There is no guarantee that He wants you to live in a nation that makes it easy to worship Him. There is no guarantee that he wants you safe or wealthy. We just don’t know. What we know is that He is in control and we must accept that His ways are not our ways. Trust Him. Rest in Him.

Prayer Is Our Weapon of Choice

With many Christians taking to social media to fight it out over their political views, I think we need to be reminded that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places(Ephesians 6:12).” The way we fight that battle is not through clever arguments or nasty rants on the internet, but by “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication (Ephesians 6:18).” I urge you today to be in constant, persistent, selfless prayer. Pray for your brothers and sisters who are voting and pray for your brothers and sisters around the world who never get to vote and are living in persecution for their faith. Pray for your current president as well as for the next one. Pray for your nation, communities and neighborhoods. Pray for your church family. Perhaps most importantly, pray also that God will give you a spirit that is in line with His; pray for a heart that sees this world and the people in it the way He does. Pray! Pray! Pray!

You Have Been Given Peace

Too many Christians are walking around these days worried and in a panic. They are troubled over the state of our nation and all worked up over who will be the next president. I can tell you this: if you as a believer do not have peace now, you will not have it when you get your preferred president either. That is because genuine peace cannot be dependent upon circumstances. Peace is an untroubled heart because of faith in Christ regardless of circumstances. Jesus said to His disciples, “I am leaving you with a gift–peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid (John 14:27).” Peace is a gift from God, but we have to choose to experience it by trusting Him, refusing to dwell on the circumstances, and by being grateful for the blessings He has given us.

God is a Big God Who Deserves to Be Honored

My biggest concern is not for the outcome of this election, but for God to be glorified by His church regardless of what happens in the election. My heart’s greatest desire in all of this is that the church would stand up for what is right, while also acting right; that we would represent our Lord in a way that will make Him happy and not ashamed. While many people will be discussing the election and its potential outcomes and problems and so on throughout the day today, it is my desire to simply remind you that you serve a big God who is in total control. Don’t worry; don’t be afraid. In the words of Paul, “May the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way 2 Thessalonians 3:16).”

 

Photo By Harley Pebley (Flickr: Prayer for USA) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Colin Kaepernick, Peaceful Protest, and Racial Injustice

Colin_Kaepernick_in_2013Throughout the history of professional sports in America athletes have used their fame and celebrity status as a platform to take a stand for various social and political views. Most recently, NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick of the 49ers stirred up controversy by refusing to stand for the national anthem. His explanation after the fact was that he refuses “to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” Many people have praised him for his boldness while many others have attacked him for disrespecting his own country (or the flag, the anthem, the military, etc.) If nothing else, his actions have added fuel to what seems to be an ongoing public conversation about race and social justice in our nation – and that is certainly a good thing. In the spirit of adding to this conversation, which I believe is critical, I would like to share some thoughts about Kaepernick’s protest.

  • Peaceful protest is a valued historic right that we should respect and defend. Regardless of what any one of us thinks about his motivation or form of protest, it is his right. He did nothing illegal, or even immoral for that matter, and we must allow room for people to make their own decisions as to how to exercise their rights.
  • The method of protest can overshadow the message. I think that Kaepernick’s method of protest is unfortunate. I’ve already stated that I believe it to be his right, but to meet it seems unwise. I don’t think that sitting down during the national anthem is the best way to get his message out there. Making such a controversial decision has opened the door for a great deal of criticism in regard to his motives. There are some who see this as little more than a spoiled rich kid performing a publicity stunt before he gets cut from his team. Even if we give him the benefit of the doubt (which I do) that he is actually concerned with making a difference, it begs the question: “Does this actually make a difference?” Unfortunately, people aren’t talking about the racial and social issues. They’re talking about him and his “disrespect of the flag.” If anything, he seems to have distracted attention from the cause he claims to want to support.
  • Disrespect rarely has positive results. This even applies to perceived disrespect. I don’t believe that Kaepernick meant to be disrespectful, but he certainly offended a great many people. Generally, when people feel they have been disrespected they quit listening. They don’t care if you have a good reason. They shut down and go on the defensive – or worse, they attack. When peaceful protest is necessary, we should try our best to do so with respect for others. I think this is particularly true in this case when many of those he offended have literally and physically fought for his right to protest.
  • Racism is bigger than disagreeing with someone who happens to be a different color than you. One of the most frustrating things about this incident and others like it is that any and all disagreement gets shot down as racist. You don’t have to agree with Kaepernick and that doesn’t make either of you wrong or racist. In our country, we seem to have reduced racism to agreement or disagreement over issues and this trivializes the real problem of racism.
  • We must acknowledge the racial and social problems we are facing. Whatever we think of Kaepernick’s methods, his message is a necessary one. I think we are well past the point where white conservatives can deny that there is a race and social justice problem in this country. That doesn’t mean every white person is to blame or that every person of color is oppressed, but there is definitely a problem and we need to be a part of the conversation and the solution.

Regardless of what you might think of Kaepernick and his protest, you should consider the issues that have led him to it. Particularly those within the church must rise up and consider the problems of racism and social injustice. The gospel is a message of freedom and equality. We are all equally sinful and we are all equally free to accept Christ. In Him, there are no divisions along racial and social grounds. We should be leading the charge for justice, not blindly turning from the problem and denying it exists. We must enter kindly with open-mind into the discussion. We must listen to those who have been oppressed. We must release our pride and humble ourselves to consider how we contribute to the problem. The solution will not be quick or easy and the journey may look different for each of us, but ultimately we must each heed God’s words from Micah 6:8, “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Get Up, Get Up!

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Earlier this week, the Olympics in Rio provided us with a tremendous example of sportsmanship and all that is good in the world. Runners Nikki Hamblin (NZ) and Abbey D’Agostino (USA) tripped and fell to the ground during their race. While Hamblin lay there, D’Agostino grabs her shoulder and urges her, “Get up, Get up! We have to finish. This is the Olympic Games. We have to finish this.” She did get up and eventually both runners finished the race in what many are calling the “ultimate display of the Olympic spirit.” (You can read the full story here.)

Moments like this really are what the Olympics are all about and this certainly is a touching example of true sportsmanship. However, I also see this as a wonderful illustration of what the church should be. When I first saw this story, I immediately thought of Hebrews 10:24 which says, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” That is exactly what the American Olympian did for her fellow competitor. She spurred her on! She urged her toward a better finish. She compelled her to achieve what was good and pushed her to overcome her desire to give up. This is admirable in an athlete and even more so in a genuine Christ-follower.

Churches are filled with broken and hurting people who have fallen and are considering giving up in life. They are contemplating giving up on a relationship or giving up their faith or giving up their fight against an addiction or some other sin. Whatever it is specifically, they feel like they are down for the count. They have fallen for the last time. And far too often there is a multitude of people waiting to swarm and confirm their feelings of failure. We affirm their choice to give up with comments like, “You don’t have enough faith” or “They just aren’t serious enough about their faith.” We call them hypocrites, we call them unholy, we mock their failure and we avoid them so that their sinfulness doesn’t rub off on us. And this is precisely the worst, most unchristian response imaginable.

Indeed, the response of the church should be love and encouragement. We should be each other’s greatest cheerleaders. We should urge one another to get up! Genuine Christ-followers must spur one another on: “Don’t stay down! We can finish together. You can overcome!” This should be the anthem of the church. We must encourage one another to fight the good fight and to finish the race. Urge one another toward a better finish. We must compel our brothers and sisters to achieve what is good and holy and right. We must push them to overcome dangerous and sinful desires to give up. We must also run with them, showing them they are not alone.

I urge you to think right now about the broken people you know. How can you encourage them? You can pray for them, but better yet – pray with them. Call them up or seek them out and ask to pray with them. Send a card. Offer to help. Smile. Include them. Praise them for something that they’re getting right. Send them scripture in a text or an email. There are endless numbers of ways that we can encourage each other and I challenge you to pick even one and put it into practice in your church and community. Feel free to comment with your stories of encouraging or being encouraged. I’d love to hear how God is directing His followers to say “Get up, let’s finish strong together!”

13 Reasons Why I Love Camp!

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I recently spent a long, hot, sweaty, dirty, exhausting week in the middle of nowhere in northwest PA – and I absolutely loved it! I was speaking at Camp Judson, a Christian Camp located on Lake Erie. While this was my first time speaking at this particular camp, I have been involved in camp ministry for most of my life in one form or another. This week gave me the opportunity to reflect on just why I love camp ministry so much. Here are 13 reasons why I love camp ministry and why you should, too.

  1. It’s fun! With non-stop activity from sunup to way past sundown, camp is an awesome place to go have some good, clean fun.
  2. It’s a place to meet new people. Most camps bring together people from a variety of churches and communities and you get to meet people you never would otherwise.
  3. It’s a haven. Life can be tough on today’s kids and camp can be a great place to get away from the struggles of everyday life.
  4. It’s easier to connect with God in nature. I suppose some would disagree with me, but this is my list. I find that being out in God’s creation enhances my worship and awareness of Him.judson fire
  5. It’s an intentional teaching environment. Camp ministry is about creating an atmosphere that enhances the spiritual journey of every student.
  6. It’s a level playing field. For many students, camp is a place to break free of stereotypes and backgrounds and just be a camper like everyone else.
  7. It’s character building. Students have to come together, get along, overcome difficulties and participate in team activities. This increases character development.
  8. It’s socially enriching. Camp is a tremendous opportunity to teach students major social and developmental skill in a short time.
  9. It’s electronics free! At least mostly. We still have some of the necessary technology, but the amount of electronics is drastically reduced. Students have no phones, video games, computers, etc. and it makes for a tremendous learning and growth environment.
  10. It’s an investment in our future. Students are the future of our society, businesses and churches and camp gives me an opportunity to shape that future.
  11. It’s an opportunity for growth. Despite the fact that I go to camp to minister to students, I always learn and grow in my own spiritual journey.
  12. It’s a way to serve God. Jesus said that whatever you do to the lest of these we are doing to and for him. As we volunteer some of our time and resources to serve kids, we are also serving Jesus in a special way.
  13. It’s rewarding. I don’t want to be selfish, but I do love camp because of how rewarding and fulfilling it is. You leave feeling like you made a difference.

When Christians Attack

As a child I spent a lot time at church. In fact, we even lived in or at the church facility on at least two separate occasions. Needless to say, a lot of my early memories involve church. One such memory has had a lasting impression on me. As a child of seven or eight, I was in an evening church service and a gentleman from the congregation was asked to pray. There was nothing noteworthy about that and I have no idea to this day who he was, but I remember that his prayer turned into a rant against Billy Graham. When he was done, there was some lively discussion amongst the adults that quickly bored me and I still have no idea what happened after that. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is that, for one reason or another, amidst all the other church moments of my childhood, that one stayed with me.

Though I didn’t realize it then, that was my first experience with a particular kind of religious infighting that plagues Christianity – attack of the public Christian figure. This is a common problem in churches, religious news outlets and especially social media where bits and pieces of information are twisted and shared in a fashion that is at best gossip and at worst outright slander. The information is often shared as a “warning”, but is generally nothing more than a disagreement over personal preference, methodology or ministry philosophy.

For those already protesting my comments, let me assure you that I am not talking about kind, scholarly and well informed works that fairly evaluate an issue or the actions of a public figure. I am not saying that there is never a time and a place to call out a false teacher or a sinning brother. I am also not saying that we should never warn fellow believers as to the particular dangers of certain teachings or teachers.

However, if we take these responsibilities upon ourselves it should be done within certain parameters. Here are some thoughts I have in regard to the public sharing of information about public figures (particularly as it relates to social media).

  • We should always speak out of love. Every word that comes out of a Christian’s mouth (or keyboard) should reflect the love of Christ. We must ensure that we are demonstrating Christ-like love toward our audience, as well as toward the one who is the topic of our comments.
  • We should always speak the truth. It is amazing how many times I have seen professing Christians sharing, posting or spreading information that is outright erroneous. At best, that is lazy and foolish because it is relatively easy to check the validity of stories that you hear. Be certain that you are communicating truthfully at all times. If you cannot be sure, than don’t share.
  • We should be sure that our comments are profitable. Am I just venting, or do I have something constructive to add? Will my comments lead to the correction of a problem? Many times the sins of public figures are unnecessarily shared publicly because they are interesting even though there is no real value in others knowing about the sin. Sometimes it is necessary to share publically in regard to a popular teacher’s error for the sake of preventing believers from being led astray, but even this should be done in a way that is instructive to the hearer without being malicious toward the public figure himself.
  • We should speak with humility. It would do us good to consider how difficult it must be to have every aspect of your spiritual life under a microscope for the world to see. Most of us would not last long under that scrutiny.

When a brother sins or fails, we should humbly acknowledge that we are just as capable of sinning and failing and never rejoice in their failings. If there is factual negative information that must be shared publically, we should do it with sadness that a fellow believer has failed.

We should also humbly admit the limitations of our own knowledge and understanding. Many times we mistakenly assume that we know how God views a certain person or activity, but the Bible often reminds us of how skewed our perspective can be. King David of the Old Testament committed adultery, orchestrated a murder and even blatantly disobeyed a direct order from God yet was by God’s own admission a man after His own heart. God certainly didn’t condone David’s sin, but He certainly viewed David from a different perspective.

  • We should prioritize the Gospel. In Philippians 1:18, Paul rejoiced that the Gospel was preached even though those preaching were also trying to do him harm. Though we may not always agree with or condone the minor beliefs or actions of a public religious figure, we should be cautious about doing harm to those who are sharing the Gospel and serving the Lord in a public capacity. The thing that matters most is the advancing of the kingdom, and our slanderous behavior often does more harm to the cause of the Gospel than the issue we’re upset about.

I believe that if we considered these principles before speaking, writing or sharing about a public figure we would eliminate a great deal of the “believer bashing” that takes place among Christians. We would be well advised to spend more time praying for our fellow believers who are in the spotlight than bashing them for every perceived flaw or mistake they have. As you evaluate your own behavior toward other Christians – especially those who are public figures – consider this tragic observation one man made of the Christian church: “the Christian army is the only army that shoots its own wounded.” I pray that we can change this perception and end this trend of tearing down our brothers rather than building them up.

Characteristics of a Healthy Church

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Frequently at my house I am accosted by a sobbing child demanding a band-aid. To my children, a band-aid is pretty much a cure-all for any physical pain they experience. They usually end up with their band-aid, but during that process it is my job to assess the reality of their overall health. Is it a minor cut that a hug, kiss and band-aid will take care of? Or, are we headed to the emergency room (again)? Usually, I can make that assessment very quickly because I know what a healthy child looks like. The more I understand health, the more quickly and accurately I can evaluate the health of my children.

The same principle is true of the church. While most of us are faithful and careful in evaluating our own health and the health of our children, I’m afraid that we’ve adopted a “just wing it” mentality when it comes to the health of our churches. I recently posted some Thoughts on the Healthy Church because I believe the biggest reason for this is that we do not understand what a healthy church looks like in a very practical way. To help remedy that, I’ve compiled some characteristics of a healthy church.

  • Authority of God’s Word – a healthy church holds to God’s Word as its ultimate authority. The issue here is really two-fold. First, God’s Word absolutely must be the final authority for faith and practice. Secondly is that this fact of Biblical authority must be clearly communicated and demonstrated in the church. Saying that the Bible is authoritative is not enough – it must be demonstrated in the actions of the church.
  • Love – as the Bible says in 1 Peter 4:8, “Love covers a multitude of sins.” No church will do anything perfectly, but I think it is critical that a church demonstrates Christ’s love. This includes showing love to those outside the church and not just to those inside the church. We certainly don’t want to be a part of a church that is fighting among itself, but we also don’t want to associate ourselves with a local church that is known as hateful and antagonistic toward outsiders (whether that be unbelievers or Christians who are different than us). Healthy churches live the love of Jesus.
  • Great commission driven – A healthy church takes seriously the call to reach the nations. Some obvious indicators in this regard would be the missions budget, personal involvement of congregation in missions through trips or various means and evangelistic emphasis. However, some other key factors would be attitudes toward change, innovation in worship, awareness and accommodation of target audience, involvement in the community and interaction with culture.  Healthy churches are not driven by their preferences, desires or traditions, but by a desire to reach the community and the world with the message of the gospel.
  • Biblical decision making – This can be easy to miss, but it is critical. Here’s why – one cannot know every detail about a church before joining. It also isn’t possible to know everything they might do in the future. However, you can discover the process for making decisions and that will reveal a great deal. Churches should use the Bible for practical guidance in making decisions and beyond that should have a clearly spelled out vision or purpose to which they hold themselves accountable.

Remember that no church is perfect, but a healthy church will exhibit these characteristic as a normative part of their identity. As believers we must first recognize these characteristic principles and then we must prioritize and practice them. Let’s look past the band-aids and make an honest assessment of first our own hearts and then our churches.

Thoughts on the Healthy Church

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I often get asked about how to recognize a healthy church. Generally, it is in the context of looking for a church or trying to determine if it is appropriate to leave a church. There are lots of great resources in regard to this topic that have been produced by men far wiser and more capable than me, but this is a very important question that I have thought about a great deal.

My thoughts and research on this topic have led me to some considerations that are foundational to our understanding, even before we examine actual characteristics of a healthy church. Allow me to share with you some of my thoughts that should shape your understanding of a healthy church.

  • Health is not the same as perfection. There is no perfect church. There is also certainly not going to be a church that does everything exactly the way you like it. However, health is a matter of a general pattern of maintaining biblical standards.
  • Health always implies growth of some kind. This is not restricted to numerical growth (though numerical growth seems like a logical by-product of health) and encompasses other areas like change, ministry expansion, community impact, conversions, baptisms, volunteerism and increased participation of nominal attendees. Healthy churches are growing churches.
  • Health is not the same as doctrinal orthodoxy. It is good to begin by looking at doctrinal compatibility, but an evaluation of health cannot end there. Doctrine is important, but doctrinal orthodoxy does not guarantee that a church is healthy. Many churches hold to biblically sound doctrine, but in their practice and application of doctrine are extremely unhealthy.
  • Health is generally dictated by leadership. When evaluating a church’s health, it is vital to consider the leadership because those in power generally set the tone of a church. This leadership takes two forms and both must be considered. First is the formal (elected or appointed) leadership of the church such as pastoral staff, elders and deacons. The second form of leadership to be considered is unofficial leadership. There are always people who influence the direction of the church even when they are not in an official capacity, though these people will generally look for opportunities to have an official position.

In a later post I will offer some actual characteristics of a healthy church, but it is important that we first clarify these foundational considerations. I urge you to take this issue of church health seriously because God has designed you to need the church in order to achieve your full spiritual potential as a believer. If you are already a part of a local church, I challenge you to take steps to ensure you are contributing to its health.

 

Photo By Floyd Wilde from Cambridge, New Zealand (00027) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons