INEVITABLE SIDE EFFECTS OF A CHURCH GROWTH MINISTRY MODEL

athletesSome athletes, fascinated with body growth, employ “biological steroid enhancement.” Why? Because they know that it works…at least for a while. They will get bigger, stronger and faster…for a while. But soon they discover injected steroids also bring the side effects inevitably leading to death. Interestingly, the Church is called “the body of Christ” in Scripture. When a church becomes preoccupied with “body growth” it becomes susceptible to a temptation to employ “cultural steroid enhancement.” But the inevitable side effects are soon manifested- worship becomes entertainment, discipleship becomes therapy, evangelism becomes self-esteem and the Gospel becomes a self-help prosperity message. Like biological steroids, cultural steroids work—for a while. The church grows numerically and is applauded culturally while dying spiritually.

Though not growing statistically at the rate that it did in previous years, the numerical size of the professing evangelical church in the USA is significant. However, the waning witness of the contemporary church is painfully obvious. The documented decline of personal evangelism, life-changing discipleship and cultural influence reveals a spiritually impotent and Biblically illiterate church. So why is the church corporately—and professing Christians individually—failing in the God-given mission to be “salt and light”? Let me propose one reason with seven consequences and conclude with a single analysis.

THE REASON

For 40+ years the evangelical church in the USA has fully embraced the presuppositions of the “church growth” philosophy and dutifully implemented and mainstreamed its mandated practices in life and ministry. On the one hand, this has resulted in a glamorized, marketed yet culturally tamed church that is five miles wide and one inch deep. On the other hand, it has resulted in an inevitable reactionary, critical and cynical church that is at best one inch wide while claiming to be five miles deep. In addition to offering a multitude of unfulfilled promises, there are multiple observable consequences of this ministry model. Here are seven inevitable side effects of the “church growth” model that has infected the contemporary evangelical church in America:

THE SEVEN CONSEQUENCES

    young-people-sitting-movie-theater-auditorium-watching-33785779 1.  Program and personality dependency in place of persistent intercessory prayer. Instead of programs designed to facilitate church growth, there is an insatiable search for programs promising to create church growth. The absence of persistent and protracted prayer in dependence upon God is the casualty.

     2.   Celebrity pastors with self-esteem therapy and/or success in life crowd-attracting “talks” in place of celebrated Biblical expository equipping and evangelistic preaching. In his 2011 Themelios article, “A Preacher’s Dialogue,” Sinclair Ferguson makes the following observation:

 “As an observer as well as a practitioner of preaching, I am troubled and perplexed by hearing men with wonderful equipment, humanly speaking (ability to speak, charismatic personality, and so on), who seem to be incapable of simply preaching the Scriptures. Somehow they have not first invaded and gripped them.”

     3.  Missional drift from “Making Disciples.” Personal evangelism is now replaced by event evangelism where there is a lot of event but little evangelism. Small group life on life transformational disciple making is lost to crowd attracting, life success and self-esteem therapy support groups.

4.   The disastrous novelty of our (at best misguided and, at worst, arrogant) efforts to “re-invent or re-engineer” Christ’s “prevailing” Church that transcends all ages and cultures. While it is true that the Church must be contextualized into every situation, location and generation, it does not need to be reinvented. Whether Kansas or Kenya, 800 or 2100 AD, the Church rightly contextualized is singular in its Christ-designed and Biblically revealed mission, message, ministries and means. Christ called us to pray for laborers not architects.

5.   The gravitas and density of the Lord’s Day “gathered” worship of the Triune God of Glory in “spirit and truth” has been exchanged for choreographed superficial entertainment events. Such events are designed to attract and manipulate the emotionally empty men and women of our age while promising to fulfill their self-assessed religious needs and preferences. Seeking to please the attending “worshipper” now supplants the true objective of Biblical worship—the adoration of the Triune God of Glory as Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. One devastating result is the loss of the majesty of God that forfeits the blessing of God-centered “scattered” worship where God’s people present themselves as “living sacrifices” in all of life to the glory of God. What is lost is Trinitarian worship “in spirit and truth” by true worshippers in “gathered” worship which sets the thermostat of lifestyle “scattered” worship by which God is glorified “in whatsoever we do.”

biblical-road-map6.   The church, as an outpost of the Kingdom of God, inexplicably effective because of the presence and power of God has been refabricated into another “business enterprise.” This, in turn, has rendered the church as one more institution shaped by the culture in the name of relevance. Godly pastor-teachers are no longer sought to lead Christ’s church. In their place the church now seeks CEO’s profiled by personality evaluation instruments guaranteed to produce statistical growth, instead of God-gifted pastor-teachers who are marked by Gospel holiness.

7.   The essential commitment to Holy Spirit-empowered and Biblically defined contextualization is now perverted. Rightly understood, contextualization is the necessary effort to speak to the culture in terms that the culture can understand and to the issues it needs to hear. True contextualization has been exchanged for cultural accommodation where the church speaks only on the terms the culture affirms and the issues it allows. This is profoundly obvious as today’s church—in the name of “social justice”—rightly addresses issues that the culture applauds (e.g. sex trafficking, misogyny, racism). Yet the same church is conspicuously silent on the blasphemous issues the culture promotes, namely, sexual perversion and promiscuity, gender autonomy, marital and familial anarchy and the industries of death through abortion, infanticide and assisted suicide.

AN ANALYSIS

Let’s be clear. The Bible in general and the book of Acts in particular records and affirms the expected and desired dynamic of statistical growth in and through Gospel healthy churches… and so do we. But whenever statistical growth becomes the focused objective of a church’s ministry (instead of a valued consequence of its ministry), it is simply a matter of time until church leaders exchange Biblically defined principled faithfulness for worldly defined pragmatic success. The former brings the applause of heaven. The latter is always numerically measured and prized thinking it will bring the applause and approval of the culture.

In other words, if the world’s metrics become the ministry objective then the Biblical message we proclaim, the Biblical means we are to employ and the Biblical mission we are to engage will inevitably be compromised to gain what the culture accepts, applauds and attends. Church growth is a wonderful blessing from God but it cannot become our god. Rather, God-exalting faithfulness is the Biblical metric of divinely defined success.

church-revitalizationThat metric is not the applause of the world leading to a Biblically illiterate and spiritually impotent Body of Christ but the applause of heaven. An applause that joyfully echoes into eternity whenever the lost are found, sinners saved and discipled throughout the world by a Gospel-healthy Body of Christ built up, equipped and growing by staying on mission, on message and in ministry.

                                                                          

 

 

THE ADVENT SEASON IS NOT JUST CHRISTMAS

THE ADVENT SEASON IS NOT JUST CHRISTMAS

The Advent is a work of God’s grace whereby God Himself has come to us, to be among us and become one of us in order to save us from our sins and will come again for us to be with us forever.

Early in my pastoral ministry a thoughtful young man came with an interesting question while our congregation was in the midst of celebrating the Advent season. The question arose from a hymn sung during a Lord’s Day worship service. The hymn was the Isaac Watts classic “Joy to the World.” The question was, “Pastor, why are we singing a hymn during Christmas containing lyrics that refer to the 2nd coming of Christ?” My pastoral response was twofold.

First, together we examined the hymn. It soon became obvious the hymn actually contained lyrics that referred to both the 1st Advent (i.e. His Incarnation and Birth) and lyrics to the 2nd Advent (His Second Coming). Furthermore, the hymn, verse by verse, traces the triumph of Christ as the Redeemer of His people from His 1st Advent to His 2nd Advent.

Secondly, we noted there are multiple hymns sung during the Advent season which exalt the Lord for His redeeming work in both the 1st and 2nd Advents. Then, it was my turn to ask a question. “Why do you think so many Advent hymns sung at “Christmas” extol both Advents of Christ?” The answer though simple has been lost to many. But, if recaptured can lead us to a profound blessing.

The reason so many hymns and confessions associated with the Christmas celebrations reference both the 1st and 2nd Advents is because the early church intentionally designed the Advent Season to celebrate both the 1st and 2nd Advents of Christ. Why?

The Old Testament, through types, symbols, prophecies and Christophanies (pre-incarnate appearances of Christ) anticipated the coming of the Messiah – the Promised One – in whom “all of the Promises of God are yes and amen.” Those Messianic prophetic Promises can be summed up with two specific Promises.

  • The first Promise was that the Messiah would “save His people from all of their sins” and deliver them from all of His and their enemies.
  • The second Promise was that the Messiah would not only defeat these enemies but would ultimately destroy them and deliver His people into a glorious forever Kingdom.

But when the Messiah came into the world to fulfill God’s promises He revealed a surprising yet Biblically consistent truth. The Epiphany of the Messiah was not one Advent to accomplish two Divine Promises but two Advents, each one designed to accomplish one of the two Promises.

The 1st Advent or the Incarnation when the Son of God humbled Himself by taking upon Himself true humanity through the prophesied Virgin conception/birth was designed to fulfill the first Promise that God would “save His people from their sins” and defeat all of His and their enemies. The second Promise that He would receive His people to Himself and destroy  His  defeated enemies in His 1st Advent would be fulfilled by a 2nd Advent when He would “come again” in that same incarnate body now resurrected and transformed for all eternity – Two Epiphanies – Two Advents.

For the grace of God has “appeared” (epiphanos – 1st Advent) bringing salvation to all men; disciplining us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in this present age; looking for the blessed hope and “appearance” (epiphanos – 2nd Advent) of our great God and Savior Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession zealous for good deeds. Titus 2:11-14

Gradually for multiple reasons the Advent season initiated by the celebration of His 1st Advent – Christmas – when He was born “to save His people from their sins” and to defeat His and our enemies at the Cross, became the singular focus of the Advent season. One reason is that the 1st Advent is the occasion of His humiliation which was accomplished, not by the subtraction of His deity but, by the addition of His humanity. Another reason is that the 1st Advent celebrates His Incarnation, a necessary act of God to save sinners – “by a man came death, by a man comes the resurrection of the dead.” Yet another reason is that the triumph of the 1st Advent assures the 2nd Advent and the 2nd Advent consummates the victory of the 1st Advent. A final reason is the 1st Advent is a fact of history while the 2nd Advent is a prophetic promise which makes it  pre-written history.

But pastorally, while not being enslaved or conscience-bound to observe a church calendar, I would suggest that if we intentionally returned to the historic emphasis of the Advent season which intentionally celebrates the 1st Advent while also anticipating the 2nd Advent we could add a theological focus which would enhance our pastoral ministries of both celebration/worship and discipleship/equipping. So, here is a pastoral recommendation.

START RECLAIMING THE VIBRANCY OF THE ADVENT SEASON FROM SECULARIZATION BY ENHANCING OUR COMMITMENT TO THE GREAT COMMISSION OF MAKING DISCIPLES THROUGH EMPHASIZING THE INSEPARABLE DYNAMIC RELATIONSHIP OF BOTH ADVENTS OF CHRIST.

In a word, let’s return to the historic objective of using the Advent season to affirm both the victory of Christ in His 1st Advent and our longing for the consummation of His victory in the 2nd Advent. In so doing we would not only minister to a heart-felt need in the lives of God’s people we would also more effectively disciple God’s people and more effectively proclaim the Gospel of Hope to the world.

The Advent season, historically, was designed to minister to the grace-implanted and grace-nurtured heart of every Christian. A heart which both “rests” in the joy of our Savior’s victorious 1st Advent and yet a heart which is also “restless” in the anticipation of our Savior’s 2nd Advent to receive us to Himself that we might be with Him in a New Heavens and a New Earth forever.

I go away to prepare a place for you and if I go away to prepare a place of you I will come again so that where I am there you may be also… Even so come quickly Lord Jesus.”

CHURCH REVITALIZATION-Pt.2

The Christ-designed Biblical Roadmap to Church Revitalization!Paul2

The last post was an attempt to document three Biblical axioms concerning the ministry of church revitalization. Briefly let’s review them.

  1. Church revitalization was an Apostolic ministry strategy initiated by the Apostle Paul on his second missionary journey (Acts 15:36-16:35). Then it was not only affirmed but also defined by the Ascended Christ as He addressed the Seven Churches in Revelation chapter two.
  2. The objective in church planting and church revitalization is not church growth, which inevitably leads to mission and message drift, but church health and vitality.
  3. Every local church, presbytery, and denomination ought to implement the Apostolic strategy which “turned the world upside down” as they sought to fulfill the Great Commission. This strategy was repeated in city after city as they extended the Kingdom of Christ through four Gospel ministry initiatives…

    #1. Evangelism and Discipleship

     #2. Church Planting and Church Revitalization

      #3. Deeds of love and mercy

      #4. Leadership multiplication and mobilization

    Since church revitalization and church planting are Apostolic strategies designed to fulfill the Great Commission after the Ascension of Christ and the blessing of Pentecost are revealed in God’s Word, the information as to how they are to be implemented will be found in the same place. Not only is a Gospel-driven, Spirit-empowered and Christ-exalting ministry of church revitalization found in the Word of God, even more impressive if possible, is the fact that Christ Himself reveals the three step church revitalization roadmap. Where? Revelation 2:1-7

 REMEMBER – REPENT – RECOVER

 The book of Revelation is addressed in the immediate to seven churches. The first church mentioned is the Church of Ephesus that was likely the mother church of the other six, all of which would be located on a major trade route into Asia Minor. Unsurprisingly the same heart of the Great Shepherd who would leave the 99 to pursue one sheep who wandered from the flock is displayed as he pursues four wandering flocks of the seven churches who were in need of revitalization. He does not “write them off”, nor ignore them, nor does He simply focus on planting another church. What He does do is call them back to Gospel health and vitality and even identifies what the leadership of the church must do to implement a ministry of revitalization. He begins with the church at Ephesus. It is there that He reveals a three-step roadmap to implement the ministry of Gospel revitalization. So where does He reveal it?

After identifying the commendable traits still resident in the life and ministry of the Church at Ephesus in Revelation 2:1-3, Christ incisively addresses the reason of their spiritual impotence in verse 4 – “you have left your first love.” After His diagnosis in verses 5-7, He gives the solution and then the stark prognosis if the solution is neglected – “I will come and remove the lampstand from you.” So what is the solution for the revitalization of the church at Ephesus so that they are once again a “first love” church? Christ’s answer is – “Remember, Repent and Recover the deeds you did at first.” Simply but profoundly the Savior “who purchased the church with His own blood” outlines the road map to spiritual health and Gospel vitality to produce a church that once again would be able to say “the love of Christ compels us.” So just how do you implement the revitalization roadmap “Remember, Repent and Recover”? The implementation answer is found not in Revelation 2 but in the Epistles of Paul in general and I Timothy and Titus in particular.

The fact is this was not the first time that the church at Ephesus was in need of a ministry of revitalization. At the conclusion of Paul’s 3 year ministry he warned the elders of Ephesus in his farewell sermon (Acts 20) that Satan would attack the church by infiltrating the leadership with false leaders and false teachers. The leadership did not heed the warnings of Paul. The result was that when Paul who had spent years incarcerated first in Jerusalem, then Caeserea Maritima and ultimately in Rome, was released, he was informed of their decline. Paul like Christ does not “write them off”, nor does he simply ignore their plight and plant another church. What he does do is send them his best disciple – Timothy – with a handbook on Church revitalization – I Timothy. By the way he also gives another handbook on revitalization to Titus – note the overlap of content within I Timothy and Titus – who was also sent on a mission of church revitalization to Crete with instructions “to set in order what remains.”

Obviously the Lord blessed Timothy’s ministry since the church was still viable five decades later as they receive another epistle – Revelation. But now they are in need of another ministry of revitalization – this time under the leadership of the Apostle John. So how does a church follow the three-step roadmap of “Remember, Repent and Recover the first things”? The answer is found in the Epistles of Paul, who had revitalized churches and who mentored both revitalization pastors Timothy and Titus. It is there that the ten strategies to implement the three-step roadmap of Remember, Repent and Recover are found.

 THE TEN STRATEGIES                                     briarwood facade_web

 REMEMBER

Strategy #1 – Connect to the past.

Learn from the Past – to live in the Present – to change the Future

REPENT

Strategy #2 – Godly Repentance

If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. I John 1:9

 RECOVER THE FIRST THINGS

Strategy #3 – Recover: Gospel-Driven and Christ-centered Ministry

The Gospel is the foundation, the formation and the motivation of a “first-love” Church where the Christ is the sum, the circumference, the substance and the center of all things.

 Strategy #4 – Recover: Personal Spiritual Formation

Gospel healthy leaders influence others to effectively achieve a defined mission together.

 Strategies #5&6 – Recover: The Ministry of Prayer and the Word

The Ministry of Prayer and the Word are the essential lifelines of Gospel health and vitality.

 Strategy #7 – Recover: Mission and Vision

Mission is what God’s people are called to do while Vision is what they are to be as they fulfill the mission by the grace of God to the Glory of God.

Strategy #8 – Recover: Leadership Multiplication and Mobilization

A Gospel healthy church defines leaders, develops leaders and deploys leaders for the church and from the church into the world.

 Strategy #9 – Recover: Small Group Discipleship.

A knowing and growing fellowship intentionally implements relational and informational small group disciple-making.

 Strategy #10 – Recover: The Great Commitment

To live you have to give, therefore, the giving church is the living church.

 ON MESSAGE – ON MISSION – IN MINISTRY

CHURCH REVITALIZATION

Effective Strategy? Biblical Mandate? Both!

In 1980 a young Pastor fresh from seminary arrived at his first pastorate encountering startling realities. Although thinking he was fully aware of the issues at hand, he soon learned how wrongly informed he was. When you get “onsite” you soon gain “insight.” Church attendance had diminished from over 1000 to an average of 55. There were no children’s Sunday School classes because there were no children. The average age in the congregation exceeded 70 and its past had become glorified nostalgia. On his first Sunday, the service ended at the expected 12:00 hour. As he and his wife made their way to the lobby, amazingly, in spite of the infirmities of age, the congregation had exited. They were rapidly emptying the parking lot. The box of church attendance for that week had been checked and they were ready to move on. There were no sounds of fellowship from lingering crowds only an empty sanctuary and parking lot within five minutes of the benediction. The pastor had gone outside to try and speak to the departing congregation before they left and found himself embarrassingly locked out of the church building by the equally rapid exit of the part-time church janitor. After breaking into his own church to obtain his Bible and car keys, along with his wife’s belongings, the pastor and his wife looked at each other with the a sudden realization of just how enormous this pastoral challenge would be. But, there was more to come.briarwood facade_web

While all other churches in the area had monthly accounts at the local office supply store he soon learned his church was excluded and designated as “cash only” due to past payment delays. The first Session meeting revealed that not all of the elders had a personal saving relationship with Christ. They seemed to be well-meaning but did not “know the Lord.” Of the two who exhibited the most spiritual maturity, one was transferred within three months and the other died of leukemia. The church had not met its budget in years. Perhaps the most startling event was a phone call from one of the previous nine pastors revealing a tumultuous past. This pastor, while graciously welcoming the new pastor to his charge asked a strange and probing question. “Did you pray before you accepted this call?” After answering “yes” the obvious question was, “Why did you ask?” The answer was stunning. He informed the new pastor that he believed the church “had the mark of Satan upon it.”

He then begin to share the “horror stories” of what had happened to the previous pastors. All of which was not encouraging for a new pastor in his first pastorate. So what do you do?

While grateful for his seminary education he realized he was unprepared for this moment. But thankfully his seminary preparation had been framed by a pervasive commitment to the inerrancy and the sufficiency of God’s Word. So to his study and to the Scripture he went. I can verify all of the above since I was this young Pastor. So how would God’s sufficient Word which cannot be broken instruct me to respond?

Here was a church in decline and its demise imminent. It could be said one flu season would put the church out of business. Even the Presbytery counseled us to sell the property and use the proceeds to plant another church. Yet the neighborhood was full of unreached people. The daily vandalization of the church revealed two factors. One, the neighborhood viewed the church as a derelict unused building. Two, the neighborhood knew of its presence. Could this church be revitalized?  I knew that revival is God’s work and I could preach and pray for revival but only the Lord could bring one. I also found a Biblical pathway to lead a church back to spiritual vitality? Let me explain.

As mentioned, this took place in 1980, a year which also witnessed the rise and proliferation of “church growth” publications. Clearly, these resources were of interest. I devoured them. In doing so a few things became obvious. First, the writers of these publications were intelligently insightful and well-meaning. Second, most of the proposed remedies were “best practices” drawn from psychological, sociological and demographic ministry analysis. Of course, all of the recommended practices were “checked out” against the Scripture to make sure that no Biblical truths were being violated. Yet, very few were actually derived from the Scripture. They were commended on the assurance that they would produce “statistical church growth.” That surfaced another concern. While the Bible, in the book of Acts, records “statistical growth” in the church there is no indication that the leadership focused their ministry philosophy upon statistical church growth. The clear evidence is that 1st century church leaders focused on the spiritual vitality and health of the church with statistical growth recorded as a consequence of the apostolic ministry, not the objective of their ministry.

Furthermore, in my study, I was intrigued by the recorded expansion of the Kingdom of God through the church and the strategy employed by the Divinely-called and equipped leaders.Apostle Paul

First, the Gospel of the Kingdom proclaimed in Jerusalem by the Apostles established the church of Jerusalem (Acts 1-8). Then the Kingdom powerfully expanded as promised by the Lord to Judea and Samaria resulting in the church at Antioch (Acts 9-12). This eventually expanded the Kingdom to the world through another epicenter at Ephesus in Asia Minor (Acts 13-28). At each step of the ever-expanding Kingdom through vibrant and healthy churches, statistical growth was the result of Gospel vitality furthered through the effective ministry of Gospel-healthy leaders.

In Acts 13 Saul (soon the Apostle Paul) along with Barnabas are sent by the Church at Antioch on the first missionary journey. They employed a four-fold Gospel ministry strategy expanding the Kingdom to city after city. This recorded strategy was:

    1. Gospel evangelism and discipleship
    2. Gospel Church planting
    3. Gospel deeds of love, mercy and justice
    4. Gospel leaders multiplied and mobilized (if prohibited they would leave behind leaders from their team knowing the importance of leadership for the church.)

Later in Acts 15:36-16:5, after the conclusion of the first General Assembly of the New Testament Church in Jerusalem, Paul suggests to Barnabas that they take a second missionary journey. The narrative then records their “sharp disagreement” as to whether John Mark should go with them. The result was two mission teams instead of one. John Mark and Barnabas depart on their ministry while Paul takes Silas and later recruits Timothy departing upon his second missionary journey.

Interestingly, Paul, on this extraordinary initiative, not only repeated the four-fold strategy of expanding the Gospel of the Kingdom but he intentionally added another – Gospel church revitalization to fulfill his repeatedly stated objective “let’s return and strengthen the churches” – the same churches they had planted on their first missionary journey.

Interestingly while Paul’s strategy of church planting has been received and embraced with passion and energy his stated emphasis on a strategy of intentional church revitalization is not embraced by today’s denominations. For the most part struggling churches are left to fend for themselves and in some cases as I encountered they are encouraged to close the church while the denomination energetically pursues planting of churches. But Paul, in contrast, intentionally and strategically sought to “strengthen the churches” who were stalled, plateaued or declining by leading them to spiritual health and vitality.Paul2

A CLOSING CHALLENGE

In the book of Acts there are thirteen words uttered in frustrated anger from an enemy of the Gospel in Europe less than 25 years after the Ascension of Christ which I would love to hear once again – “these people who have turned the world upside down have come here also.” We know who turned the “world upside down” – the people of God empowered by the Spirit of God. We know what turned the “world upside down” – the power of the Gospel. We even know how they turned the “world upside down” – Gospel evangelism and discipleship; Gospel church planting AND revitalization; Gospel deeds of love and mercy; Gospel leaders multiplied and mobilized. We are not in need of new strategies we simply need to implement the Apostolic strategy to ‘turn the world upside down.” So let’s be specific. To reverse the two decade decline of the number of churches each year the evangelical church needs to do two things

  1. Focus upon the means of grace to produce Christ- exalting, Spirit-filled, prayer-saturated Bible-shaped, Gospel-healthy churches which are on mission, message and ministry.
  2. Every church, presbytery, association and denomination ought to be fully committed to a two-fold Gospel ministry of church planting AND revitalization. Not to do so is to embrace continued failure and more importantly not to do so is to at best ignore Christ and His Word and at worst to disobey Christ and His Word as well as the tried and true Apostolic strategy to fulfill the Great Commission.

So Biblically what is church revitalization and how is it done? Glad you asked. In the next blog Jesus, who purchased the church with His own blood and is unalterably committed to church revitalization will reveal His church revitalization paradigm to us from God’s sufficient Word.EMBERS BIRMINGHAM 2015 (2)_Page_1

Five-fold Paradigm to Voting with Christian Wisdom

voteI was going to wait and write this blog in the fall in preparation for the general election. But, in light of the multitude of questions concerning how to vote in our regional elections as well as the Presidential primaries, I’ve decided to post a distillation of my answer to these inquiries. When it comes to politics, the most frequently asked question is “who are you going to vote for?” As a pastor I seldom answer that question. I prefer answering another question which equips people to not simply know how to vote in one election but how to evaluate voting in any election. Therefore, the more crucial question is “how should I, as a Christian, prepare to vote with prayerful deliberation and wisdom?”

Given the position I have taken (for multiple reasons) to not publicly endorse candidates, I feel it is important to pastorally share a Biblical process by which candidates for public office should be evaluated. So, in light of the multiple texts in God’s Word designed to guide us in evaluating leaders in general and civil magistrates (public officials) in particular, I thought it best to give a brief distillation consisting of a five-fold paradigm to prayerfully make a decision in exercising the providential blessing, duty and privilege to vote for elected officials.th

The Five-fold Paradigm

  1. Character: Who are they? In considering a candidate the prevailing issue is character. In God’s word when electing Elders multiple texts give us the qualifications that are essential. In I Timothy 3 there are 17 such qualifications. Of the 17, 15 of them deal with character and conduct. Who are they? In particular who are they when no one is looking or when adversity strikes? When under trial do they intentionally focus upon developing character that reveals to be a trustworthy leader? What is their track and what do they do in private to pursue character formation? “Circumstances do not determine your character; they reveal it and become the opportunity to refine it.” It is crucial that we never fall prey to the old canard that “perception is reality.” Perception is not reality. Perception is a part of reality but it is not reality.  A crucial reminder – When electing public officials, we are not electing a Pastor. We are electing a President or state/local office bearer. Furthermore, it must be remembered that at times, God’s common grace produces leaders that though unsaved have a dependable and reliable character.
  2. Content: Do they know their stuff? While I fully understand the current climate manifested by a desire to elect an “outsider,” (which has proven effective at times in the past) the undeniable fact is that governing in the public square whether an “insider” or an “outsider” requires a clear and knowledgeable grasp of the issues and challenges attendant to the office being sought. I lament the loss of the “public servant” in our government but I also understand that men and women who serve as civil magistrates must know what needs to be done and how to get it done. It is imperative that they “know their stuff.” Have they demonstrated the ability to work with others while holding to principled positions?
  3. Competency: Are they effective leaders? Have they developed and displayed the skills to effectively lead others to achieve a noble mission together? In other words, can the proposed candidate produce unity when confronted by situations where a multiplicity of perspectives, a diversity of desires and a disparity of objectives are competing for supremacy?
  4. Convictions: What are their heart-felt beliefs?  Attempting to ascertain a leader’s true convictions is a crucial component of deciding before the Lord if a candidate is worthy of our vote. Confessional convictions will ultimately be authenticated or exposed as superficial as a leader’s operational convictions are observed. For example, if you desire to know what a candidate truly believes, take note of where they invest their time, abilities and resources. Another instrument to determine a candidate’s true convictions is to note how he responds to adversity in life. Adversity is a test and a test reveals three things – what you know; what you don’t know; what you need to know. So when adversity comes, what does the candidate do – learn, or die in a pile of self-pity? When adversity tests a leader, their response will tell you what their deepest convictions are and give you an indicator of how they will respond to the “pressure cooker” of public service and the temptations of power.
  5. Core: The foundation and capstone of candidate assessment. So how do we assess the core of a candidate’s life and abilities and avoid being judgmental? The answer is simple, yet profound. A prayerful assessment of a candidate’s past provides clarity for interpreting a candidate’s promises in the present as well as anticipating how and what they will propose in the future. It is a truism because it is true. The best interpreter of the present and the best prognosticator of the future is a man’s past. Furthermore, by examining the history of a candidate to know their core you also obtain an effective instrument to assess the four preceding components of the paradigm. One’s history ultimately reveals the core of a candidate and in so doing brings light to determine the authenticity of their character, content, conviction, and competences. So, when assessing a candidate take the time to learn their past, to interpret their present and anticipate their future. But, it is also important to leave room for growth if the candidate’s history has revealed a patterned commitment to being a humble and intentional learner.

A Final Exhortation – Prayer

The simple fact is that the responsibility of selecting leaders for the public square is of votingsuch importance that they must never be made without focused seasons of intercessory prayer seeking guidance from God’s word and “wisdom from above.” In God’s Providence, many have died for us to have this privilege of voting. Use it wisely, and then, cast your vote under the eye of God.

 

The Pope and the Donald: Bridges? Walls? Gates?

I confess to being interested in the controversy between the Donald and the Pope as the Republican Presidential candidate personally responded to the Pope’s answer to a journalist’s question during his tour of Mexico. When asked if American Roman Catholics could vote for Donald Trump given his policy to build a wall and deport 12 million illegal immigrants, the Pope opined that if a person “only’ built walls” he was not Christian since Christians should build bridges “also.” The “Donald” interestingly, and to some degree understandably, took the comment personally and seriously as revealed by his prepared and read statement, even though the Pope did not mention him by name – the fact of the matter is that every Republican candidate supports building a wall.

THE DONALD

 So what did Pope Francis actually say? In summary, he said that it was not “Christian” to “only” build walls and not build bridges also. It must be noted that the Pope in content and context did not “pontificate” as to whether any individual was or was not a Christian but whether the policy itself was “Christian”. Furthermore, he did not say that the building of a wall was not “Christian” but that it would not be “Christian” to “only” build walls without bridges also. I would suggest that the Pope is both right and almost right.

SO HOW WAS THE POPE RIGHT?

POPEThe Pope was right when he asserted that it is “Christian” to “build bridges and not walls only.” Out of our love to Christ and our obedience to Christ, Christians are called to build relational and functional bridges out of love to those who are lost and in need of the life-changing power of the Gospel delivering us from sin’s guilt and power through a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. Therefore, as believers we desire to “tear down” sinful “walls of partitions” and “build Gospel bridges” so that we can walk across those bridges into the lives of men and women with the Gospel and lead them across those bridges by the power of the Holy Spirit to know Christ as Lord and Savior. But in reality we don’t actually build that bridge. That Bridge has already been built once and for all. It is the Cross of Christ built by Christ to us and for us. But we can prayerfully and thoughtfully lay out that Bridge of Life into the lives of others

SO HOW WAS THE POPE ALMOST RIGHT?

As Christians in a fallen world we are called to “build bridges” for the salvation of sinners. But as Christians in a fallen world we are also at times called to “build walls” for protection. For example as a Christian husband and father I “build walls” to protect and nurture my marriage and family. I have a wall on my computer. I have a wall of brothers who pray for me and hold me accountable. I have a house with walls and I check the doors at night. Cindy and I constructed walls of acceptable behavior for our family which were communicated and affirmed with loving discipline when necessary for our children.

Even more pointedly it is “Christian” for civil magistrates to “build walls’’ to protect their citizens since that is a primary responsibility of the government in a fallen world – to protect its citizens. But there is no requirement for civil magistrates whether they are Christians or not to “build bridges” to other nations. The walls to be built may be walls of concrete or walls of a competent police force and military service, or walls of technology for observation and detection, etc. It is “Christian” for magistrates to erect such walls with prudence. We live in a fallen world therefore it is their duty to protect the nation’s citizens, punish law-breakers and affirm those who obey the law (Rom.13). So if Christians are serving as magistrates they ought to “build bridges” to others personally or through their family and certainly through their church, but they are not under obligation to “build bridges” as a magistrate since that is not the role of the government in a fallen world. But here is where God’s Word sends us in a direction which perhaps accomplishes the actual desire of Pope Francis. Christian magistrates must “build walls” to protect citizens but it also is appropriate for them to “hang gates” for their citizens to exit and for non-citizens to enter by a compassionate yet wise foreign policy.

WALLS AND GATES

It is not “unchristian” for the Vatican where the Pope resides to be surrounded by a wall.Nor was it “unchristian” for Nehemiah to be passionately moved and Divinely-affirmed in the project of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. The law-breakers were running rampant over the citizens of Jerusalem, ransacking the inhabitants and demoralizing a poverty-stricken city. Nehemiah was right and “Christian” to rebuild the wall for the well-being of the residents. Furthermore he was wise to involve the citizens in the project in proportion to their ability which resulted in self-respect, ownership and dignity. Much could be said about the Nehemiah project but it is crucial to remember what Nehemiah did to conclude his wall-building project.     THE VATICAN WALL

After building the wall Nehemiah “hung the gates.” Civil magistrates not only “build walls” for protection they also “hang gates” to enter and exit. The Vatican has walls and it has gates. My house has walls and it has doors. A nation should have walls to protect its citizens but it also should have gates for entering and exiting. A nation can and should with wisdom send its citizens out and welcome others in. So it is “Christian” to promise “walls only” as a magistrate but it is also “Christian” to provide “gates.” In other words, a nation should have walls to protect its citizens and an immigration policy that welcomes both the desirable and the needy, the oppressed and the persecuted. Build the walls and then hang the gates. This nation and its citizens ought to be protected – it is Christian – and it also ought to have gates – it is Christian.

gates in Jerusalem

It is a historical fact there is no other nation that has been more welcoming to immigrants than the United States, and rightly so. This is a nation of immigrants and therefore should be a welcoming nation. This is also a nation which has been profoundly influenced by an imperfect Christian church proclaiming a glorious Gospel. Furthermore I hope and pray that it will continue to be impacted by a maturing Church which not only announces the Gospel in word and deed but also engages the public square with a public theology producing public policies creating both a culture of safety and hope for its citizens and a culture of hospitality which will bring through its gates the wanted and the hopeful. As for the 12 million, I am convinced that if walls are built for protection and gates are hung to be opened and closed with an immigration policy of wisdom and compassion, then a policy marked by a thoughtful mercy and the rule of law will be implemented to deal with those now residing within the nation’s borders. So build the wall – it’s Christian; hang the gates – it’s Christian; while Christ’s church and His people build the Bridge of Life to everyone – near and far away.