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By Any Means Necessary

I have been thinking much lately about ministerial preference. What I mean by that is simply that every minister (and ministry) has a preference for ministry style. Some enjoy large churches the best. Some small churches. Some think church planting is the way to go. Others think church revitalization is the key. For some, multi-site campuses are the way to go. For some it is native missionaries. For others it is cross-cultural missions. For some, house churches and for others it is institutional churches. And on and on.

What I have come to appreciate is that the work of the kingdom is truly “by whatever means necessary”. What I mean by that is simple, that in the work of the kingdom we need to trust that the Living God will encourage and move in His church by diverse means. In the work of ministry, we should feel comfortable to trust that God can and will use whatever means necessary to get the job done.

I share this because oftentimes we spend so much energy and time fighting for our preference. I know that I have done a lot of that in my life. Please don’t get me wrong, it is very normal to believe strongly and champion your preference. But I think we need to be careful not to value our preference higher than another. The work of the kingdom is to important to invalidate another methodology just because it is not our preference.

Biblically speaking, Paul was called to the Gentiles and Peter to the Jews. Paul moved cross culturally where many disciples stayed locally and served. Paul spoke to multitudes while Aquila and Priscilla seemed to do one on one ministry. What is common is that there was no competition. They worked together although uniquely, yet all for the same cause.

The more time I spend seeking God about the work of ministry in the 21st century, the more I find myself repenting of taking certain means off the table. The cause of God’s glory is too great to ‘thin the herd’ based on preference.

But these are just my humble thoughts. What do you think?

fed

Intentionality in Discipleship & Evangelism

Jesus said that we are to make disciples by going, teaching and baptizing. (Matthew 28:19). In that Great Commission, making disciples is the key. The work of the church is always to be building disciples. Yet, there are times when I wonder if the body of Christ is more concerned with making converts than with making disciples. At the same time, there are many churches that have little to no evangelistic fervor.

I was recently told of a church that was doing a phenomenal job of seeing people introduced to Jesus. The church was evangelistic to the core and God was using them mightily. But then the person said that this church has no vision for discipleship. This person lamented that although people were being saved (which was a great joy), the young believers were stuck in infancy.

On the other side of the coin, there are many churches that have a heart and passion for discipleship. The only issue that because of a lack of passion for souls, they are constantly discipling the same people as no new believers are being added to the fold. Oftentimes, these churches have strange hang-ups about contemporary ways of proclaiming the good news. There are the ‘altar call’ wars and issues. It makes me think of DL Moody who was purported to have said, “I like my way of doing things better than your way of not doing things.”

I then remembered hearing a pastor say, “You shouldn’t share the gospel with someone unless you are committing to discipling them also.” Now, I don’t know if I agree with the sentiment. But the pastor was trying to get across the responsibility we have, as believers, to not only share the good news, but also to take an active concern with someone’s progress in faith.

In many ways, it we are keeping the main thing the main thing within the church, we need to be intentional in building disciples. Realistically, if we are seeking to make converts, we are doing that so that they can become disciples. Their salvation is the starting line for their life of discipleship. So it isn’t an either/or reality. Instead, evangelism and discipleship are like matched gloves, both equally necessary for the work of the Lord.

So here are some quick thoughts about being intentional in discipleship.
1) Understand where your gifting is.
2) If you are strong in evangelism, seek out a compliment in discipleship. And vice versa.
3) Make a commitment to both evangelism and discipleship.
4) Gather a tribe to pour into (like Jesus did with his 12).
5) Always remember, there are more fish in the wild then in the ponds.
6) Think through various benchmarks in spiritual development for believers
7) Don’t neglect the transition points within the ministry (ie. from Junior High to High School to Young Adults to the Body at large)
8) Remember that Paul didn’t just share the gospel but also his very life.
9) Make discipleship as much a part of your ministry as preaching.

business-people-blue-istockphoto-2923823

Get Out of Your Office!

Do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry”, 2 Timothy 4:5.

How are you intentionally building relationships with non-believers?  Can you readily name non-believing friends you are burdened for?  I think one of the greatest dangers for the pastor is losing touch with the world and to isolate themselves in a Christian bubble.  This is easy to do.  I love my study.  I can get lost in here digging, researching, preparing for my next sermon or speaking engagement, planning out the church calendar, and dealing with church people.  It’s easy to end up in a place where you have no meaningful relationships with those who are apart from Christ.

It seems the further we disconnect with the nonbelieving world the harder time we have proclaiming the Gospel in a relevant manner.  Let me clarify this point.  I believe the gospel is relevant.  I actually abstain from worldly activities more than the average pastor–I don’t have cable, I don’t drink, I rarely go to the movies, etc, etc.  That being said, I find it critical to be out establishing relationships and engaging people who are not a part of the church.  Failing to do so ultimately diminish your sharpness, passion, and zeal as the Lord uses you to engage a lost world.  Your teaching will become dry.

Since I have been the pastor of Valley Baptist Church, I have been very convicted that it is paramount for me to be involved in the community.  Whether it’s Kiwanis, the local cemetery board, or serving as a law enforcement chaplain I have been compelled to be out amongst the nonbelieving world.  As I have done this, I have established genuine friendships.  I have been questioned about my faith.  I have been called to help in crisis.  I have seen God work through me and it is exciting!  These events shape my preaching and pastoring in a good way.

God has not called us to be taskmasters telling the people what to do, but to lead with our lives and to teach out of the outflow.  As you engage with people who are not Christians, you are reminded

 

 

 

Team-GB1

Kingdom Minded

During the London 2012 Olympics, the road race passed right through our area of greater London. It was exciting to stand at the sidelines and cheer the cyclists on.

I loved the strategy of Team GB, which was made up of five men. Their goal was simple. Each member of the team would take turns pushing through the wind to allow Mark Cavendish the opportunity to sprint the final length to win a gold medal for Great Britain (the United Kingdom). Only Cavendish would have won the medal, but all of Team GB would have rejoiced in their participation in the victory. This post would have been cooler had Team GB won, yet it still got me thinking.

I was reminded of the importance of being Kingdom Minded by their strategy, which was for each person to do his part so that the United Kingdom could get the glory of the gold. It didn’t matter who was thrust centre stage in the triumph. They had a common goal, and were willing to work hard and do their part. Even cyclists such as Brad Wiggins would give his all in the road race, possibly hampering his own chances of a gold in the time trials two days later (btw, Wiggins did get his gold in the time trials).

It is important for us as pastors to be Kingdom Minded. Are we more concerned for the glory of our particular church or the glory of God’s Kingdom? During the race, a few churches (all gospel-preaching, including ours) were reaching out with the gospel. There was an understanding that in the Body of Christ, some of us together on Christ’s mission was better than all of us on our own mission. This ought to emphasise our unity in Jesus and the great truth that gospel unity in the midst of diversity magnifies Jesus the Lord of the Church rather than one expression of it. Surprisingly some Christians compared our giving out the gospel as a competition between the churches. Yet, if someone came to Christ and went to a different church (as long as that church was gospel-centred), We should rejoice. Why? Because God’s Kingdom is furthered!

We must be careful that we don’t become like the mistaken disciples in Mark 9:38-40, who thought that they were the only show in town. If it’s Jesus’ Kingdom that we race for, then as long as he is glorified, we are victorious.

Depressed

Hope for the Guilty

“A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not quench, until He brings forth justice to victory.” Matthew 12:20 ESV

 

Something that I’ve been deeply struck with afresh lately is compassion for the broken. Lately I’ve had the privilege of walking with some people who’ve seen the dark side of sin from the side of the victim. Sexual abuse, rape, verbal abuse, and the like are, unfortunately, far too common occurrences in the lives of people I know and serve.

Interestingly, the state of Utah is always in the top two or three percent in the nation of states with the most amount of cases of clinical depression and suicide. The county in which I live is the county with the highest depression and suicide rates in our state. People around here know they are guilty. And I believe one reason this is true is because we live under the overarching shadow of a religious system that is heavily performance oriented- the LDS church.

Like all religion outside biblical christianity, Mormonism is all about doing all you can, as much as you can, so that perhaps God might save you by his grace at the end of your life, after all that you can contribute to your self-salvation project. And in our culture many people live under this system knowing they just don’t quite measure up to the expectations laid on their shoulders by “the church” the community, or by the status quo. As a result they feel guilty and self-medicate prescription drug abuse, or they end the pain by committing suicide.

The guilt-conscious culture I live in has really caused me to think hard about how we communicate the gospel in such a context. What I’ve come to believe at this point is that I don’t have to spend much time convincing people they’re sinners who don’t measure up because they know. Instead, while I use the law enough in preaching and talking with people to make sure they’re aware of their guilt, I usually spend most of my time in sermons and conversations emphasizing the hope of Christ for broken, hurting, guilty people. And that message of hope tends to be the drink of water to the soul that depressed, guilty, and broken people need to hear. In a way I think people in my context need more of the Jesus of the gospels who heals, teaches, and touches rather than the Jesus of Revelation who opens a can on His enemies, though both are appropriate and glorious images of Christ.

If you live in a culture that has no conscience such as a liberal culture, you may need to bring the law a bunch so as to help people see their sin. But if you live in a culture crippled by guilt and already aware of their sin, I’d encourage you to emphasize the hope of Jesus in light of the guilt they already feel. But what do you think?

 

israel

Barriers to a Jewish Witness Part II

Note:  Please refer to Part I

We see in the New Testament that the apostles used many of the Old Testament prophecies to prove that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah.  In the book of Acts, from beginning to end, we witness the apostles again and again quoting the Old Testament scriptures to a Jewish audience to affirm Jesus was the Messiah.  (Reference Acts 2:25-34, 3:21-23, 4:25-26, 8:32-35, 13:27, 17:1-3, 18:28, 24:14, 26:6-22 and 28:23).  So here is something essential; we need to believe in the POWER of the WORD and remember how JESUS witnessed to the Jewish people.  He showed them in the WORD where the law and the prophets of the Old Testament foretold His coming and His purpose here.  Three powerful examples are in Luke 4:16-21, Luke 24:27, and Luke 24:44-45.  We should consider using the same method.  Every Jew will have an interest in the Old Testament (even secular Jews) because they regard this scripture as theirs; it shows that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah.

A common response from young Jewish people is “show me in the Old Testament where the Son of God is mentioned and I will believe it”.  I have in the past shown just one verse to the amazement of a young Jewish person.  Look at all these verses for more power in sharing:

  • Proverbs 30:4
  • Isaiah 7:14
  • Isaiah 9:6-7
  • Psalm 2:7
  • Zachariah 12:9-10

In additional let me speak about some verses which provide a clear view in the Old Testament of Jesus as the Messiah:

In Psalm 2:7, it clearly says that all the nations of the world will be subject to this Son.  This was never true of David’s son Solomon, so it cannot be referring to him.  In addition the classical interpretation of this verse is of the Messiah also.

In Daniel 9:25-26, we read the TIME OF THE MESSIAH’S COMING; verse 26 reads that the Messiah had to come before the second temple was destroyed.  Note that Titus and the Roman soldiers destroyed it in 70 A.D.   I have heard or read of several prominent Jewish men who have accepted Jesus as Messiah just through this prophecy.  Some Hebrew scholars have suggested that King Agrippa was the one referred to by the Hebrew word “Mashiach” (Messiah).  Note that King Agrippa died before 70 A.D.  Although Hebrew scholars were correct about requiring this to be fulfilled before the second temple’s destruction in 70 A.D., the Messiah spoken about could not be King Agrippa since Agrippa was not even from David’s seed nor was he a benevolent ruler.  It could never be considered that Agrippa would be the Messiah.

Micah 5:2 speaks about the birthplace of the Messiah.  This is weighty evidence to present to a Jewish person.  Most Jewish people, as I said in Part I, have no idea that this verse and other prophecies like it exist.

Isaiah 35:1,5-6 speaks about the messiah healing the sick. Jesus truly fulfilled this.  See Luke 4:16-21.

Isaiah 42:6 and Isaiah 49:6 speak about the Messiah as “a light to the gentiles”.  This is such an important fact to present to Jewish people.  What was it that made millions of gentiles come to worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?  This was predicted of the Messiah, that He would be “a light to the Gentiles”.

Zachariah 9:9 speaks about the Messiah coming as a lowly king, yet bringing salvation.  The ancient rabbis say, “if the people are worthy when Messiah comes, he will come riding a white horse.  If they are not worthy, he will come riding on a donkey”.

Isaiah 53 contains the wonderful prophecy of Jesus.  More Jewish people have come to faith reading this prophecy than any other in the Old Testament.  It could be called the “John 3:16 of Messianic prophesy”.  Often I ask Jewish people to read it carefully, and then I ask them who is it speaking about.  The reply most of the time is “Jesus”.  I have heard from scholars who say it was the sufferings of Israel spoken of and not the Messiah.  This is a modern day rabbinical answer.  The idea or application that this refers to the suffering of Israel is unfounded.  Israel, it is true, is called the “servant of the Lord” in places like Isaiah 49:3, but NEVER the “righteous servant” as spoken about in Isaiah 53:11.   Contrary, Isaiah speaks of the people of Israel as a people of “unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5) and that their sins have “made a separation between you and God.”  (Isaiah 59:2).

Another very strong point worth mentioning comes from Isaiah 52:4 and Isaiah 53:8. In Isaiah 52:4, “my people” is without a doubt referring to Israel in the phrase “my people went down at first into Egypt to reside there.”  In Isaiah 53:8, the “my people” term appears again with reference to Israel, alongside of the promised “He”.  Jewish scholars attempt to define the term “He” as Israel.  If this is the case, the question can be asked (as it has been asked of me on numerous occasions):  “If the “MY people” in verse 8 is Israel, who is the “He” in the same verse?”  Both cannot refer to Israel. It would be impossible to say  “for the sins of my people (Israel), was He (Israel) stricken” This would make “my people” (Israel) stricken for “my people” (He).  The term “He” must refer to the Messiah.

It is interesting to also note that the three main Hebrew words for sin are used in this famous chapter.  “Iniquity” (Hebrew = “Avone”) “transgression” (Hebrew – “Pesha”), and sin (Hebrew – “Het”, which means missing the mark’).  In each instance, this righteous servant takes our sins.  “He was pierced through (wounded) for our transgressions”.  (Verse 5).  “The Lord has caused the inequity of us all to fall upon Him”.  (Verse 6),  “He bore the sin on many” (Verse 12).  If we try to put the word “Israel” instead of the pronoun “He” and “Him” in each instance, we will see that it just doesn’t work.

Also notable is the fact that all ancient rabbinic authorities apply Isaiah 53 to Messiah.  You can see many of these comments in a booklet entitled “Challenge of the Ages” which is available at the AEBM office.

Psalm 22:1, 6-18 gives us a description of the Messiah’s death in our behalf.  I have heard of many secular and even atheistic Jewish people becoming believers after reading this prophecy.

Psalm 16:10: This verse clearly defines the Messiah’s Resurrection.

Zechariah 12:9-10:  Here, Messiah’s first and second comings are alluded to in one verse.  (This passage is very valuable because it does just that!)  Verse 9 sets the time for verse 10, that is, when Jerusalem is surrounded by armies and God will “seek to destroy all the nations that come up against Jerusalem”.  This is a future day.  When this occurs then “they will look upon Me whom they have pierced.”

Finally,  Hosea 3:5  shows that Israel would remain many days without a ruler, then be restored in the last days.  (“David their King” in verse 5 refers to Messiah, the seed of David.)

In closing, let me share a few words about the current Jewish mentality, which can range anywhere from the practicing Orthodox Jewish person wearing his skull cap (yarmulke) to the person who says he is an atheist.   Do not be surprised if most Jewish people you talk with do not believe the Bible.  He or she has never been taught to consider it as the inspired Word of God.  In question are all Messianic passages from the Old Testament; we must always let them know that it is in THEIR Old Testament that we find these passages.  Most Jewish people do not know that Isaiah, Micah and Zechariah are in the Old Testament or even that they are Biblical books.  When asking a Jewish person to read an Old Testament prophecy, for instance Isaiah 53, I will emphasize three things in introducing it; this is from Isaiah in the Hebrew Old Testament scriptures written 750 B.C. Hence, they will know for sure that it is from their scriptures and certainly written before Jesus was born.  Our Old Testament differs from theirs only in that some of the prophets are in a little different order, a minor variation to be sure.  If you give them a tract and a book with the abbreviations for different books such as Isa. Or Jer. etc. make sure you explain what they stand for; I can assure you most would never have a clue.

It is essential that we show any Jewish person the fulfilled prophecy in Jesus the Messiah.  This of course is our goal, to show that Jesus is their Messiah and Savior.  He is the same Messiah that thousands of Jewish people embraced in the early church and through the last twenty centuries.  This goal is reached primarily through developing relationships. I have so many friends who have wonderful relationships with Jewish people but don’t have a clue how to go to the next step.   This two-part article hopefully offers a beginning, just a beginning, in taking these relationships further.   I can assure you that the most skeptical Jew has been won to the Savior through considering Jesus in Old Testament prophecy.  And I think it is so important to point out the impeccable life of Jesus and how he lived as convincing evidence for his being the Messiah and the Son of God.  We will find no other man who has lived a life comparable  to that of Jesus in recorded history.

Next month I will talk about the different Jewish translations, Jewish cults and Jewish sects.  Please feel free to call me anytime for more information and materials.

 

Jim Stretchberry has been the executive director of the American European Bethel Mission (AEBM) for the last 9 years.  Prior to his tenure with AEBM Jim served as a Pastor with Pastor Rickey Ryan at Calvary Chapel Santa Barbara.  Jim’s passion for the lost is evident in his commitment to missions for much of his Christian walk.  He regularly travels throughout Europe and the Middle East ministering both humanitarian aid and the glorious gospel of Christ.  His Jewish heritage has given him a passion to see his Jewish brothers come to recognize their long-awaited Messiah in Jesus of Nazareth.

transfer growth

When Transfer Growth is Healthy

Sometimes we are overly-simplistic in our criticisms and cautions. That’s just part of being human. Still, accuracy and balance (if biblical and true) is something to pursue. And one area in which I think pastors particularly get a little overly-simplistic is that of transfer growth. Transfer growth occurs when someone who is already a follower of Jesus (or at least professes to be so) switches from attending one local church to another.

There is a status quo regarding transfer growth that is understandable, often legitimate, but sometimes overboard. It is frankly taboo to appear to be at peace with Christians coming to your church or church-plant from another local church. As such, pastors who don’t want to be filleted don’t talk openly about it, no matter what the reason someone may have transferred to their church may be. My belief is that, while much of the time (perhaps most) transfer growth is due to unhealthy thinking or behavior, sometime’s it is not. And what I hope to do is shed some light on reasons why sometimes transfer growth can even be a godly, wise, and needed reality.

Let me be clear upfront that I don’t think intentionally pillaging the members of a gospel-centered, God-ordained church is ok. The leaders of the church I serve have, and will continue to tell people at times that they need to return to the church they came from when they desire to come to our fellowship in an unhealthy way, with selfish and sinful motivations. But I’ve also seen people come through our doors from other places who I will never tell to go back to where they came from. Here are some reasons why:

 1. The Gospel must be preached

Not all churches that have the gospel correct on their doctrinal statement actually preach the gospel. Some churches are so focused on speaking to people’s felt needs and emotional struggles that they forget to be clear on the problem of sin and how Jesus solved it for us in His death, burial, and resurrection. And in case we forgot, the gospel is the power of God for salvation (Rom. 1:16-17), nothing else. Sometimes people come to my church from another, maybe visiting with a friend or something, and they hear the gospel clearly proclaimed, and God convicts them of sin, brings them to faith in the gospel and regenerates them. And as we counsel with them we discover that though they’ve been at a church that has the right gospel on paper, they’ve never heard it preached before. But now they understand it, are broken over it, and put their trust in Jesus in light of it.

The deal is, if you don’t understand and believe the true and simple gospel, you are not born-again. You are not saved from hell. So, for me, when I meet this kind of person at Refuge that last thing I’m going to do is tell them, “Well I’m sorry, but you need to go back where you came from.” I’m going to love them and make sure they have the opportunity to get the discipleship they’ve never had.

 2. Heresy is real

This ties in with the last point, but not every church that names Christ actually preaches Christ. Churches get into weird crap. That’s the bottom line. I remember learning that a local Episcopal church in a town where I used to pastor had started encouraging their Moms of Preschoolers (MOPS) group to start using the Quran and Book of Mormon for their studies in addition to the Bible. Because of that kind of thing, I was more than happy to welcome a few transfers to our church who knew there was something wrong with that. They voiced their concerns, called for a change and repentance, and were unheard. So, I was happy to welcome them to a place they could not only be discipled, but invite moms to, knowing that they’d be getting the living water of God’s word instead of the poisonous waters of pluralism.

 3. Seasons in Life Change

We also need to allow for people to grow or transition into different seasons of life. If I were simply looking for a church to plug my family into in a non-vocational ministry sense today, I wouldn’t go to the churches I attended in the past. This isn’t because they are evil or wrong. They’re just not a good fit for where our family is at right now in our relationship with Jesus theologically and philosophically.

4. Sometimes Churches Really do Hurt People

One of the most tragic reasons I’ve seen transfer growth is when people are truly hurt by leaders and churches. A couple years ago a pastor in my area was found to have been having affairs with underage girls in the youth groups he was leading. Part of the fallout from that was that people transferred from that church to other churches, including ours. We welcomed these people to our church as a hospital where they could be cared for and encouraged.

 5. Sharing the lowest theological common denominator isn’t always enough

Generally speaking, if we have the gospel in common with another church I love to promote unity between us. But there are some churches that are involved in things that are just weird enough for me to understand why people would leave them. For instance I know of a church not far from us that began promoting the idea that certain crystals used in worship services can encapsulate the praises of God’s people and project them into the cosmos. This church was encouraging people to give their money and tithes to the people taking these crystals around and doing presentations with them. Then there is the whole prosperity preaching issue that was prevalent. Still other churches who have that “come to us if you don’t want to be held accountable for your sin, in the name of grace” reputation are a problem in our area too. Some of these churches claim (or really do) believe in the same Jesus and gospel we do. But that lowest common denominator isn’t always enough. I would never tell someone they need to go back to that kind of environment because of the way people over-generalize the problem with transfer growth.

I hate unnecessary, flippant, consumeranity, transfer growth. I want people to get saved through Refuge Church. But I also don’t want to be so naïve as to act as if there are no legitimate reasons people may transfer into, or out of the church I lead. So am I saying that all transfer growth is good? No! I’m just saying we need to not be overly-simplistic in the way we talk about the issue.

A Final Exhortation

Having a good relationship with the other pastors in your community is vitally important for handling transfer growth in a way that keeps the gospel witness in tact in your area. If the pastors in your area lob grenades at each other behind one another’s back without having face-to-face interaction, we turn into a bunch of squabbling church people. And most lost people don’t want any part of that. Communicate with the pastors in your community about transfer growth. Ask their advice on how to handle it, and follow-up with each other. The witness of the gospel depends upon it.

planting

No Correct Church Planting Model

There seems to be a lot of rhetoric out there on the correct way to plant a church. You have the Missional group which tells you that you have to reach those who don’t go to church and if you have transfer growth you are essentially failing. We are to be missionaries in our community. On the other side you have the Atttactional group which comes in with the slick method to appeal to church shopper in hopes of reaching them with a highly polished system. Of course these two groups go by all kinds of names like Organic, Purpose Driven, Seeker, Relevant, etc. When you start to read all of the resources out there it is easy to get confused and try to adapt one of these methods.

In reality most church plants fall squarely in the middle. Most church plants reach those who are unchurched and those who are transferring from other churches. Don’t feel guilty for having a mixed group. Don’t let someone try to tell you who to reach. If God has called you to a specific city then don’t feel guilty having a mixed group. Stick to your guns and minister to your people.

The fact is that you have little control over who walks through the door of your church. If you are a good Bible teacher you are going to have people come to your church because they are looking for deeper teaching. You also may be great at outreach and are able to bring in tons of people who society and the church has rejected. In all honestly most churches are doing very little outreach into their community.

I get a little miffed by the Missional group. Why should I feel guilty that my church sent me out with a sizeable group of people who all stepped up and helped fund the plant before we even started? Am I supposed to turn people away who are desperate to come and learn the Bible if they come from another church? Call me a trust fund church, call me a transfer church, I don’t care. The fact is that we are reaching people, seeing them transformed by the same Gospel that Missional churches teach, and we are sending people and funds all over the world to plant more churches. I am comfortable in that.

There is no right way to plant a church. You go to the city God calls you to. You work your butt off and whatever God blesses you with He blesses. That’s it. There are church planters out there who are timid and insecure because they feel they are not measuring up to a false reality. That is why I am on the board of Calvary Church Planting Network. Our aim is to identify, train, and support church planters within Calvary Chapels. This is the emphasis behind our ReEngage Conference happening in October. To train and inspire church planters to go with God’s word and do the hard work. We aren’t going to burden you with a model or mold you have to fit into. We are going to build you up so that you can go out boldly proclaiming the Gospel.

justice

Does it matter?

In the last 5 years or so I’ve been intrigued by the research done by groups such as Barna, Pew, Gallup and others. While statistical analysis is not 100% accurate it is interesting to consider what the numbers say about the views and values of our nation. Such data is especially interesting when studies are repeated year over year for a decade ore more. Earlier this month Pew Research released the findings of their “Trends in American Values” study; a survey which they’ve conducted and expanded for the last 25 years. Although I’ve only skimmed the overview and have not read the full 164 page report, the trends are interesting, to say the least; and particularly so for the Church. For instance, on page 5 of the overview we read.

Republicans and Democrats are furthest apart in their opinions about the social safety net. There are partisan differences of 35 points or more in opinions about the government’s responsibility to care for the poor, whether the government should help more needy people if it means adding to the debt and whether the government should guarantee all citizens enough to eat and a place to sleep.

[…]

Just 40% of Republicans agree that “It is the responsibility of the government to take care of people who can’t take care of themselves,” down 18 points since 2007. In three surveys during the George W. Bush administration, no fewer than half of Republicans said the government had a responsibility to care for those unable to care for themselves. In 1987, during the Ronald Reagan’s second term, 62% expressed this view.

Later the report reveals Republican and Democrat value shifts graphically.

[divider_line]

 

Is this an issue?  Does it matter? I think is and does.

In chapter 2 of his book “Preaching & Preachers” Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones writes briefly of early 20th century British church history.  He cites the rise of a “social gospel” in Western countries prior to the First World War and explains that the same was happening in America at the time of His lecture series, which ultimately became the book “Preaching & Preachers.” Lloyd-Jones’ purpose in doing so was to highlight the importance of keeping the preaching of the gospel central to the work of the church.  He argues that this “social gospel” was “largely responsible for emptying the churches in Great Britain.” I do not question Lloyd-Jones’ assertion, nor do I disagree that preaching should remain primary within the Church.  The social concerns that Lloyd-Jones addresses are ones of ethics and morality, which he rightly argues are nothing without godliness; his points are actually well made .  My concern however, which I believe is represented in the above data from Pew Research, is that American Evangelical Christianity in the last half century, or more, has neglected its social responsibility.  This shift is certainly not because of Lloyd-Jones, but rather a position that seems to say “the purpose of the church is preaching, and we should vacate the social sphere.”

Yes, the proclamation of the gospel is the central work of the Church.  It is essential that we “Go into all the world and preach the gospel” (Mark 16:15).  But are there not aspects of the gospel that require the activity of the Church in the sphere of social issues?  Throughout it’s history, the Church has been the body which addressed humanity’s social ills.  Health and welfare are the responsibility of the body of Christ.  Be that as it may, somewhere in the middle of the last century, the American Evangelical Church withdrew from that sphere, leaving a vacuum.  Since nature abhors a vacuum, someone or something had to fill it.  Enter the Government.  What once was the ground held by the church is now occupied by federal, state and local government agencies.  What once was provided for by the loving charity of God’s People is now—out of necessity—funded by ever increasing taxation.  So, it is no surprise that Republicans, who are far more “religious” than Democrats, and who count themselves “socially conservative” would agree that It is not the responsibility of the government to take care of people who can’t take care of themselves, or meet the needs of the poor.  My question is, are we, the Church, ready to move back into the sphere that is rightfully ours and gladly meet the needs of others via our loving, compassionate charity?  What good is social conservatism’s push for prayer in schools and the Ten Commandments back in the public arena, if we’re unwilling to practically display the love of Christ through gospel demonstration?

To political pundits like Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage,  “Social Justice” is a catchphrase for Communism.  But it is elementary in Christianity that “I am my brother’s keeper.”