Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year... Biblical Perspective

Is it appropriate for a Christian to make a “New Year’s Resolution”? Yes, but…

It is good to set goals and develop discipline. However there are certain Biblical principles which should guide our resolution-setting. First, we need to heed Jesus’ words as recorded in Matthew 5:37, “Let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil.” Do not make a goal or a resolution that you are not prepared to keep. Resolutions take effort, planning, discipline, and a daily reliance on the Holy Spirit. Second, we need to realize that a resolution is obviously something important to us so we need to make of importance what is important to the Lord as Ephesians 5:8-10 informs us, “Walk as children of the Light… trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.” So making a resolution to buy a boat is short-sighted (not that buying a boat is sin). Make a resolution to spend more quality time with your family- perhaps a boat purchase contributes to that resolution. Third, keep God’s glory as your aim. It sounds cliché but I am resolved to be a better steward of my body (i.e. diet and exercise). Lord willing a result will be dropping pounds and having more energy during the day. The main goal though is to honor the Lord through this body He’s given me as 1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” These factors should help you make (and keep) realistic and Christ-magnifying resolutions for the New Year. There is nothing magical about a change in the calendar but there is power in trusting God with your whole life and committing to honor Him above all.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Thoughts on the Seasons of Church Life

Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA posted an interesting article on The Resurgence site. I've re-posted it below and am curious about your impressions, thoughts (agree/ disagree?), and for those Memorial members reading, how you feel it relates to our church. Feel free to post comments below, shoot me an email- jeremy [at] mbcpa [dot] org... or let's talk when we get together next Sunday.

Churches go through critical seasons of their life that largely determine both their longevity and health. Seeing, accepting, and navigating these seasons is incredibly important for the ongoing forward progress of the gospel.
  • Gestation: In this phase, God calls a leader (or leaders) to begin a new church and begins to clarify the specifics of their vision. An initial core of people is gathered, a meeting location is secured, some ministries begin to form, and funding is acquired.
  • Birth: In this season, the church goes from being a concept to a reality, opens itself up to invite in the greater community, and focuses its attention on evangelism, growth, and implementation of new systems and leaders.
  • Infancy: In this season, the attendance settles into a somewhat stabilized pattern, longer-range planning begins, new programs are added, and administrative structures grow to prepare for numerical growth and evolving vision.
  • Adolescence: In this season, church attendees begin rising up into positions of greater leadership, church government begins to form, and church attendance and financial giving begin to increase.
  • Maturity: In this season, additional staff is added, the church gains confidence that it now has sufficient stability to exist indefinitely, church government and leadership are solidified, church attendance and giving become strong, and the church is now independent and able to self-govern and self-finance. It is also common for churches in this season to purchase their own facility.
  • Parenting: In this season, which ideally would be during the first year of the plant, the church is ready to reproduce itself by giving leadership and monies for the purpose of starting another gestation phase and repeating the church planting cycle. This results in the birth of a new congregation, likely in connection with other church planting churches networking together for the cause of church planting. The unique element here is that the church(es) sponsoring the new church plant have a vested interest in praying for and holding accountable the new work since they have directly sacrificed for it.
  • Grand-parenting: In this season, a church has planted enough churches that it begins to see third and fourth generation church plants birthed.
  • Death: In this season, a church is unhealthy and does not see conversion growth or attract young leaders. It thus faces a critical decision between two options. One, the church can deny its impending death, which may be many years out, sell off its assets such as land to prolong its death, redefine its mission to defend its death, and simply hold on as it slowly and painfully dies, often rewriting the best years of its history so as to feel significant and successful. Or two, the church can embrace its impending death as an opportunity to resurrect.
  • Resurrection: In this season, a church knows it is dying, or at least that it is not as healthy and fruitful as it should be, and humbly decides to shut down its organization and replant the church. This can be done by hiring a new entrepreneurial pastor to start over with the assets and with the freedom to kill programs, prune problem people, and decide whether to upgrade the facility, which is usually suffering from deferred maintenance, or sell it to use the money for a more strategic facility.
This can also be done by giving the facility and assets to a church planter or a growing church, which requires the dying church to be more concerned about the name of Jesus than its own name, and the Kingdom over its church. Those churches that have this humility and wisdom should be cheered as model churches for the majority of American churches that have plateaued or are declining and need to have a vision for a faithful and fruitful future.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Baby's First Christmas

Several have mentioned to me how special it is to celebrate our new baby's first Christmas. Of course he'll be one month old on Christmas Eve so I'm not sure the significance is quite appreciated from his perspective. The significance is certainly not lost on Blair and me. We are truly thankful this Christmas to have our healthy baby boy, Asher Alexander, with us. There couldn't be a better Christmas gift for us to share! Through Asher, God is giving us an opportunity to extend his love to another- our own child. He has also been giving us an opportunity for sanctification. Over the last four weeks we've been going to school on humility, selflessness, sacrifice, and loving your spouse when your really tired and cranky. School will be in session for many many years and we are thankful the Lord would count us worthy to experience such things. For these gifts and most of all for the gift of salvation our family will have a Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 21, 2009

How to Kill your Church?

Over on the Challies blog I came across a lenghty quote from a great book. I read D.A. Carson's The Cross and Christian Ministry a couple years ago and this excerpt was a great reminder of the wisdom Carson provides but also the warning he gives to churches who foster unhealthy and ultimately destructive attitudes. Here's the excerpt:

The ways of destroying the church are many and colorful. Raw factionalism
will do it. Rank heresy will do it. Taking your eyes off the cross and letting
other, more peripheral matters dominate the agenda will do it-admittedly more
slowly than frank heresy, but just as effectively over the long haul. Building
the church with superficial ‘conversions’ and wonderful programs that rarely
bring people into a deepening knowledge of the living God will do it.
Entertaining people to death but never fostering the beauty of holiness or the
centrality of self-crucifying love will build an assembling of religious people,
but it will destroy the church of the living God. Gossip, prayerlessness,
bitterness, sustained biblical illiteracy, self-promotion, materialism-all of
these things, and many more, can destroy a church. And to do so is dangerous:
‘If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is
sacred, and you are that temple (1 Cor 3:17).” It is a fearful thing to fall
into the hands of the living God.

HT: Tim Challies

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

First Day, First Fruits

Over at the Nine Marks blog Thabiti Anyabwile has some insightful thoughts about our perspective toward Sunday. He poses the question whether we view Sunday as the first or last day of the week. Pragmatically speaking it is part of the weekend (in our culture) and is often treated as the last day though God did establish it as the first day. For Christians this affects how we treat worship on that day. It isn't to be treated strictly as the Jews treat their Sabbath Day. While rest often part of what Christians should do on Sunday worship is the main objective for the day. Do we approach Sunday as a day to just unwind or as a day of "first fruits" for the Lord? It is a day for preparation. As we draw near to the Lord on Sunday we are prepared or equipped for what He will call us to throughout the week. Too often Christians get lazy about worship (non-attendance) or lazy in worship (non-participation). As a pastor I spend all week preparing for my sermon on Sunday. So it is easy for me to preach and feel completed when the application of the sermon has just begun. Let me encourage you not to view Sunday selfishly ("this is my day to rest and relax"). You will find rest and you will be refreshed when your focus for Sunday is on a day for the Lord's glory.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Theological Toolbar

Michael Patton and the crew over at Reclaiming the Mind Ministries have put out an excellent resource for your computer. I am hooked. The "Theological Toolbar" provides quick access to a variety of Bible study, blog, podcast audio, articles, and other resources.

You can follow THIS LINK to download the toolbar to your own computer. Be careful though, all the handy links and tools can be addicting!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Encouragement and Conviction from a Pastor's Pastor

Training Begins!

Now that our son Asher is in the world Blair and I begin the multi-faceted, multi-year training process. Part of that training is to teach him how to submit to our authority and ultimately to God’s authority. Blair and I already have husband/ wife discipleship time when we read Scripture together, we discuss the Scripture and I explain it for application, and then we pray together. Gradually Asher will be included in this time as he grows. I understand this to be my responsibility as the head of my home. It is also my responsibility to bring my son into the weekly congregational worship of our church. This comes to a tension I’ve already had to deal with. I appreciate our diligent and caring nursery workers but we intend to train Asher to worship from the pew. We know will be a challenge but we’re thinking about the big picture so that the challenging years will have a purpose (and an end in sight). I’ve also gone on record with several about not having a children’s church for the post-nursery years (4 years and up). This is not popular and in fairness it is a new way of looking at things for some. I came across a response from Dr. Voddie Baucham to a question about bringing children in worship as opposed to sequestering them in the nursery or a children’s church type program.

QUESTION: Most churches send the children to the nursery to create a “more worshipful environment”. How do you conduct worship with disruptive children?

RESPONSE: “We encourage all families to bring their children into the sanctuary. Cooing babies don’t bother us one bit. We recognize that some infants will need to be taken out for feedings, etc., and we have no problem with that. However, we do not provide a nursery. The Bible frequently mentions children in the context of the corporate gathering of God’s people (Deut. 31:12-13; Ezra 10:1; Matt. 18:1-5; 19:13-15; Eph. 6:1-4; Col. 3:20). Moreover, we believe it is important for children to worship with their parents, and to be taught how to sit through the service. Nurseries tend to hide problems that need to be corrected. Children who cannot sit through a service need training and discipline, not isolation. Moreover, if these children cannot sit through the service, they are probably giving their parents fits at home (thus their desire to dump them off at the nursery on Sunday morning). We patiently teach inexperienced families how to walk with their children through this process and it blesses their home, their marriage, their relationship with their children and the testimony of the church.”