W. Robert Godfrey: Many American churches are in a mess. Theologically they are indifferent, confused, or dangerously wrong. Liturgically they are the captives of superficial fads. Morally they live lives indistinguishable from the world. They often have a lot of people, money, and activities. But are they really churches, or have they degenerated into peculiar clubs? What has gone wrong? At the heart of the mess is a simple phenomenon: the churches seem to have lost a love for and confidence in the Word of God. They still carry Bibles and declare the authority of the Scriptures. They still have sermons based on Bible verses and still have Bible study classes. But not much of the Bible is actually read in their services. Their sermons and studies usually do not examine the Bible to see what it thinks is important for the people of God. Increasingly they treat the Bible as tidbits of poetic inspiration, of pop psychology, and of self-help
J. Garrett Kell: When my church gathers, it appears we have little in common. Our skin colors vary. Our political tastes differ. Cultural backgrounds have ingrained us with diverse identities. We have distinct preferences and convictions. Yet, we have two realities that bind us together. The first is our love for the Lord Jesus. Though each salvation story is unique, we bear the marks of his divine love. He died for us, rose for us, called us, converted us, and continues to hold us fast by his grace. We love him for this, and so we gather to worship him. Secondly, we all suffer. I have my own scars, as do the rest of these heavenly pilgrims. While I preach, I see their faces tell a story. Or when they sing, sometimes I hear and sense the hurts and pain of God’s people. Why Gather? As a pastor, I have the privilege of walking with many through their pain. Miscarriages.
Jaime Owens: Pastoring an existing church is stepping into a family. As you dig into the archives and sift through old photographs and letters, you take in the highs and lows through the years and are presented with the opportunity to reflect on the life and character of those who pastored before you. All this feels a bit like becoming acquainted with distant relatives. In the church I pastor, Tremont Temple in Boston, Massachusetts, there’s a long list of pastors spanning back to 1839, and it wasn’t long after I swung open the massive, iron, bank-style vault door, that I took a special interest in Frank Ellis. He was the pastor of our church way back when it was called Union Temple Baptist Church, from 1880–1884. Guy Mitchell, Tremont’s very own historian, produced an impressive unpublished manuscript in the mid-20th century titled History of Tremont Temple. In it he reflects on Ellis’s short tenure as pastor: Although most of the clouds which
Greg Gilbert: As the pastor of a local church, I have to make decisions every day about where to invest my time and what to prioritize in the life of the church I lead. There are so many worthwhile activities vying for attention. If I didn’t have clear direction from God’s Word about what is most critical for building a healthy church, I might be swept away by the dozens of new church programs that arrive in my mailbox every month. Fortunately, God has promised to use one thing to give life and grow his people. And that one thing is the proclamation of his Word. The Word of Life Throughout the Bible from start to finish, it’s clear that God’s Word is the life-giving Word. When God brought the universe into existence out of nothing, he did so simply by speaking. When he gave life to Adam, he breathed into his body the breath of life. When the dry bones
Tom Olson: Have you ever wondered why God desires for his people to sing? What role should singing play in the life of a Christian? What is it about worshiping through song that is so important to God? You may not know it, but God has already answered these questions in the Bible. Seven Biblical Reasons Why Singing Matters The seven reasons below answer these questions and unpack more important truth about singing in the life of an individual Christian and the church. 1. When you sing, you obey. Singing isn’t an option in Scripture. It’s a command: Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16) And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and
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 gracious
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
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.
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
Jared Wilson: From Jonathan Leeman’s excellent little book, Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus: Every church member will stand before God’s throne and give an account for how he or she worked to protect the gospel in the lives of his or her fellow members (see Galatians 1). That said, the Holy Spirit has made pastors and elders the overseers of the church (Acts 20:28;Titus 1:7; 1 Pet. 5:2). That means pastors or elders represent the church’s work of oversight in the day-to-day life of the congregation. Submitting to the church often means submitting to them. Broadly speaking, how should members relate to pastors? 1. Members should formally affirm their pastors. Different traditions disagree on this, but I believe that since Christians are ultimately responsible before God for what they are taught (see Galatians 1), church members are responsible for choosing their leaders. Congregations should let elders lead in this process, but the final affirmations is
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
It is to feed sheep on the truth that men are called to churches and congregations, whatever they may think they are called to do. If you think that you are called to keep a largely worldly organisation, miscalled a church, going, with infinitesimal doses of innocuous sub-Christian drugs or stimulants, then the only help I can give you is to advise you to give up the hope of the ministry and go and be a street scavenger; a far healthier and more godly job, keeping the streets tidy, than cluttering the church with a lot of worldly claptrap in the delusion that you are doing a job for God. The pastor is called to feed the sheep, even if the sheep do not want to be fed. He is certainly not to become an entertainer of goats. Let goats entertain goats, and let them do it out in goatland. William Still, The Work of the Pastor (rev. ed.;
Lesslie Newbigin: The Church is an entity which has outlasted many states, nations, and empires, and it will outlast those that exist today. The Church is nothing other than that movement launched into the public life of the world by its sovereign Lord to continue that which he came to do until it is finished in his return in glory. It has his promise that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. In spite of the crimes, blunders, compromises, and errors by which its story has been stained and is stained to this day, the Church is the great reality in comparison with which nations and empires and civilizations are passing phenomena. The Church can never settle down to being a voluntary society concerned merely with private and domestic affairs. It is bound to challenge in the name of the one Lord all the powers, ideologies, myths, assumptions, and worldviews which do not acknowledge him as Lord. If