Ray Ortlund: To call anything an “institution” today can be its death sentence, including a church. Should we be ashamed of the institutional aspects of our churches? What is an institution? An institution is a social mechanism for making a desirable experience easily repeatable. An institution is where life-giving human activities can be nurtured and protected and sustained. Some aspects of life should be unscheduled, spontaneous, random. But not all of life should be. Some things are too wonderful to be left to chance. Football season is an institution, Thanksgiving Day is an institution, and so forth. Institutions are not a problem. But institutionalization is. An institution can enrich life, but institutionalization takes that good thing and turns it into death. How? The structure, the mechanism, the means, becomes the end. The institution itself takes on its own inherent purpose. The delivery system overshadows the experience it is meant to deliver. When, in the corporate psychology of a group of
Joshua Hedger: In Philippians 1:22-26, we have the Apostle Paul’s dialogue, if you will, with himself. In this back and forth of thought, he wrestles with a major life decision. His decision is this, “If I had the choice to live or to die, which would I choose?” Now perhaps that questions strikes concern into you for Paul’s mental stability, but it gives us an incredible glance at the treasure of his heart because Paul will continue on to say, “I would choose death because it’s much better for me. When I die, I get Jesus!” Paul so treasured Jesus that he’d rather die, lose all that this world has for him, and therefore gain Jesus! He truly thinks that death would be a better choice for him. But what follows this is what I want to focus on for the next few paragraphs. Paul follows up his realization of what would be best for him by saying what would
Jared Wilson: May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus. — Romans 15:5 The gospel cannot puff us up. It cannot make us prideful. It cannot make us selfish. It cannot make us arrogant. It cannot make us rude. It cannot make us gossipy. It cannot make us accusers. So the more we press into the gospel, the more the gospel takes over our hearts and the spaces we bring our hearts to, and it stands to reason, the less we would see those things antithetical to it. You cannot grow in holiness and holier-than-thou-ness at the same time. So a church that makes its main thing the gospel, and when faced with sin in its ranks doesn’t simply crack the whip of the law but says “remember the gospel,” should gradually be seeing grace coming to bear. It works out this way individually. The most
David Mathis: It is one of the filthiest lies Satan whispers in the ear of our comfortable and entitled generation. From before we can even remember, we have been indoctrinated, at nearly every turn, with the idea that being “a leader” means getting the gold star. Leadership is a form of recognition, a kind of accomplishment, the path to privilege. Being declared a leader is like winning an award or being identified among the gifted. Leadership is a form of success. And since you can do whatever you dream, and can achieve whatever you set your mind to, you too can be a leader — at home, at work, in the community, in the church. Why would you settle for anything less? Leadership means privilege, and no generation has considered itself more entitled to privilege than ours. The Lie About Leadership The world’s spin on leadership is in the air of our society, felt in the subtext of our adolescence,
Dave Harvey: When two pastors meet for the first time, the same question always comes up: How big is your church? And I get it. How else is a pastor supposed to determine if he’s a success or failure? Pastoral ministry isn’t like sports, in which even the most obscure statistics (average yards per carry on third downs after 3:00 PM) are quantified and assigned value. Ministry isn’t like business either, with a bottom line that is either distinctly red or distinctly black. Ministry isn’t like manufacturing, which is often boiled down to the how many you sold and how much you made on each sale. No, ministry is much more nebulous. Earthly equations for determining a pastor’s success or failure are much more difficult to come by. Because of it’s nebulous nature, some pastors desperately try to find some measurement or number that will help them determine if they are successful. They want to be assured they are doing
Jared Wilson: Went on a bit of a Twitter run yesterday with some thoughts on the essential defining characteristics of the church model I call attractional, followed by some constructive alternative hallmarks of gospel-centered churches. Hopefully they will bring more clarity to thinking through the relevant issues in evangelical ecclesiology. These are important times to get this sorted. Unfortunate hallmarks of the attractional church: 1) Sermons driven by what Christian Smith calls “moralistic therapeutic deism” 2) Functional ideology of pragmatism. (Not “what’s biblical?” but “what works?”) 3) Truncating of the gospel or relegation of the gospel to background/afterthought 4) Equation of bigness with success, contrary to numerous biblical examples otherwise 5) Treating membership solely or mainly as a means of assimilating volunteers 6) Wide open back door for those needing to be discipled beyond conversion 7) Reduction of the Bible to a source for good quotes 8) Claiming relevance/innovation while insulating from critical challenges to assumptions. Hallmarks of gospel-centered churches:
. Steve Timmis: Joining a church is a big deal. By joining, I don’t mean just going to a regular meeting once or twice a week. I don’t even mean simply getting your name on the membership roll. I mean committing yourself to a covenantal relationship with a group of Christians who are your family and with whom you share life-in-Christ together. That’s how big a deal it is. So if you’ve relocated and need to find a church, then make sure you ask the right questions before joining. Though these questions aren’t the only ones to ask, they are important. None of them stands alone, but together they create a crucial decision-making framework. . 1. What do they believe? The idea of becoming part of a church that doesn’t love, preach, and teach the gospel is absurd. Far too much is at stake. But in order to make that judgment, we need to have some idea of what the
Eric Geiger: We need confrontation. In Christian community, we live and labor alongside broken and struggling brothers and sisters. We ourselves, no matter how long we have walked with the Lord, are broken and struggling with our own issues. All of us are prone to wander and fall, so we need people around us who “if they see something, say something,” who care when something in our lives is left “unattended.” We need people around us who are loving enough to confront us when our hearts are unattended by His truth, when our marriages are unattended by our affections, when our relationships are unattended by forgiveness, and when our decisions are unattended by His agenda. We need to confront. If sin goes un-confronted, the community can self-destruct because the community loses the commitment to the values and beliefs that make her distinct. If you are in Christian community and you see something in a brother or sister’s life, if you
Greg Gilbert: Here’s a question for you: Do you need to attend church to be a Christian? What about being a member of a church? Is that necessary for a believer to grow and mature as God intends? To hear many Christians talk—and this would probably be the opinion of many more if you could read their thoughts—the idea of being a vital, connected member of a church seems strange, unnecessary, maybe even a little antiquated. After all, if the goal is to grow as a Christian—to learn more about God, to understand and act out our faith more consistently—why should we think the church is so important? The best Bible teachers on the planet podcast their preaching; there are energetic parachurch organizations where a Christian can serve well; and a small group meeting in a home provides excellent opportunity for fellowship. Really, when you get right down to it, what good is a hidebound, outdated thing like the church?
Christopher Ash: How to listen to a sermon? you may think. What a silly subject. After all, it would be pointless to write on “how to watch TV.” And listening to a sermon is even easier than watching TV, since I don’t have to deal with the remote control. It’s a passive activity, something preached to me, not something I actively do. Ah, but it’s not. After the parable of the sower, Jesus says: “Consider carefully how you listen” (Luke 8:18). He says if we listen in one way, we will be given more, but if we listen in another way, even what we think we have will be taken from us. It’s a life-and-death business, listening to sermons. So let us consider carefully how to listen. Here are seven pointers. 1. Expect God to speak. Although we are listening to sound waves produced by human vocal chords, if the preacher is opening up the Bible then we are actually listening to the authoritative voice of God.
By Christopher Morgan and Greg Cochran: The gospel has been, is, and will always be powerful in every culture—including our secular age. Through the gospel, God still turns antagonists into his children. And through the gospel, he still forms communities who display and communicate the realities of his grace. Indeed, this gospel-powered transformation will lead in time to a life of attractive holiness and compelling love. Gospel Power The gospel was at work in Paul’s diverse first-century context, and the gospel is at work in our multiple 21st-century contexts. But Paul makes clear that the gospel is more than historical data about Jesus. Even if all accept every fact—that Jesus lived, died, was raised, and appeared to a wide range of valid eyewitnesses—that alone would not mean all believe the gospel in the full scriptural sense of that term. Thus, Paul’s listing of the historical facts of Christ’s death in 1 Corinthians 15:3–5 includes the small but significant phrase, “for our sins.” The inclusion of “for our sins”
Erik Raymond: Imagine the scene with me. It’s the first century in the city of Philippi. The church is abuzz because the expected correspondence from the Apostle Paul is said to have arrived. Everyone presses into the room that they meet in for prayer, preaching and the Lord’s Table. One of the elders begins reading it and they are all encouraged that the opening words indicate the fondness of the apostle not just for the elders and deacons but also all of the church. He continues to read of Paul’s joy and longing for them. He talks about the centrality of the gospel and the necessity of humility. Everyone is encouraged and strengthened. Then the record skips. As the letter is nearly its close we read this: “I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord.” (Philippians 4:2) Paul just called out two women by name and told them to agree in the Lord (literally be of
Marshall Segal: What does Sunday morning sound like at your church? More specifically, what do you hear when your church worships God in song? What is the defining sound? For some, it will be the old, massive, beautiful organ — a full, enduring, and familiar tone. Others would say it’s the energy of an electric guitar and the deep pounding of a bass drum. Maybe you have one or two vocalists you love. They could sing the encyclopedia on Sunday morning and bring you to God. I enjoy and appreciate all of the above — I really do — but I believe the defining sound on Sunday morning should be the singing voices of God’s people. It’s been taught and lived out at our church, and I love it. And I don’t think that my love is a matter of personal preference. I wouldn’t have chosen this style of worship for myself six years ago, and the music I listen
Ray Ortlund: Gospel doctrine creates a gospel culture. The doctrine of grace creates a culture of grace, as Jesus himself touches us through his truths. Without the doctrines, the culture alone is fragile. Without the culture, the doctrines alone appear pointless. But the New Testament binds doctrine and culture together. For example: The doctrine of regeneration creates a culture of humility (Ephesians 2:1-9). The doctrine of justification creates a culture of inclusion (Galatians 2:11-16). The doctrine of reconciliation creates a culture of peace (Ephesians 2:14-16). The doctrine of sanctification creates a culture of life (Romans 6:20-23). The doctrine of glorification creates a culture of hope (Romans 5:2). The doctrine of God creates a culture of honesty (1 John 1:5-10). And what could be more basic than that? If we want this culture to thrive, we can’t take doctrinal short cuts. If we want this doctrine to be credible, we can’t disregard the culture. But churches where the doctrine and culture
By Nathan Rose: I read recently that my denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, has a total of 16 million members, but on a typical Sunday only 6 million of those members attend their local church’s corporate worship gathering. Considering the importance and necessity of corporate worship for the Christian, this is a very discouraging statistic. Not only is it disheartening, it is also spiritually dangerous for those who profess Christ, but regularly miss worship with their church family. Below, I want to list some reasons and explain why skipping church is a really bad idea.  1. You will miss out on God’s primary design for your spiritual growth and well-being. The central aspect of corporate worship is the preaching of God’s Word. The proclamation of Scriptures is God’s primary means for a disciple of Jesus to grow in spiritual maturity. When a professing Christian misses church they are missing God’s prescribed process for spiritual growth. 2. You disobey God.
‘. . . and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.’ —Ephesians 2:16 Goodwin, preaching on this text: We are to look upon Jesus Christ hanging upon the cross as an equal arbiter between both parties, that takes upon himself whatever either party has against the other. Lo, here I hang, says Christ dying, and let the reproaches wherewith you reproach each other fall on me, the sting of them all fix in my flesh, and in my death die all together with me; lo, I die to pacify you both. Have then any of you something against each other? Quit it, and take me as a sacrifice in blood between you: only do not kill me and each other too, for the same offense; for you, and your enmities, have brought me to this altar of the cross, and I offer myself as your peace, and as your priest. Will
Ray Ortlund on Galatians 2:11-21
Mark Dever: BEFORE YOU DECIDE TO LEAVE 1. Pray. 2. Let your current pastor know about your thinking before you move to another church or make your decision to relocate to another city. Ask for his counsel. 3. Weigh your motives. Is your desire to leave because of sinful, personal conflict or disappointment? If it’s because of doctrinal reasons, are these doctrinal issues significant? 4. Do everything within your power to reconcile any broken relationships. 5. Be sure to consider all the “evidences of grace” you’ve seen in the church’s life—places where God’s work is evident. If you cannot see any evidences of God’s grace, you might want to examine your own heart once more (Matthew 7:3-5). 6. Be humble. Recognize you don’t have all the facts and assess people and circumstances charitably (give them the benefit of the doubt). IF YOU GO . . . 1. Don’t divide the body. 2. Take the utmost care not to sow discontent
Ray Ortlund: Gospel + safety + time. It’s what everyone needs. A lot of gospel + a lot of safety + a lot of time. Gospel: good news for bad people through the finished work of Christ on the cross and the endless power of the Holy Spirit. Multiple exposures. Constant immersion. Wave upon wave of grace and truth, according to the Bible. Safety: a non-accusing environment. No finger-pointing. No embarrassing anyone. No manipulation. No oppression. No condescension. But respect and sympathy and understanding, where sinners can confess and unburden their souls. Time: no pressure. Not even self-imposed pressure. No deadlines on growth. Urgency, but not hurry, because no one changes quickly. A lot of space for complicated people to rethink their lives at a deep level. God is patient. This is what our churches must be: gentle environments of gospel + safety + time. It’s where we’re finally free to grow.
Ray Ortlund: “It is one thing to hear God’s Word. It is another to fear it, heeding all God’s warnings, trusting all God’s promises, and obeying all God’s commands.” Philip Graham Ryken, Jeremiah and Lamentations (Wheaton, 2001), page 551. The liberal churches I’ve known are not openly hostile to the Bible. They like the Bible. They want their preacher to use the Bible. They have home Bible studies. What makes them “liberal” is that the Bible alone is not what rules them. They allow into their doctrine, their ethos, their decisions, other complicating factors. The Bible is revered, in a way. But it is not the decisive factor. It is only one voice among others. This lack of clarity allows unbiblical ideas and behavior to get traction. In a liberal church no one stands up, with an open Bible in his hand, and says, “Hey guys, we just don’t say/do things like that around here. It isn’t biblical.” That