Sunday, August 26, 2012

Brother pastors, we must speak truth in love!

In Ephesians 4:1-12 we learn from Paul that Pastor-Teachers (i.e. elders) have been given to the church "to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, for building up the body of Christ" and in verse 15 Paul says this happens by "speaking the truth in love".

In my experience (from my own heart and from what I've heard from other preachers at various times) this instruction is either misunderstood and thus misapplied or it is ignored. Some misunderstand "truth in love" to mean sugar-coating the truth or dodging the truth so as not to offend. Of course being unoffensive is never given as a Biblical definition for love. There is no greater definition of love than that given in John 15:13 which says, "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends." Jesus supremely demonstrated Biblical love in laying down his life even for his enemies (Romans 5:8). If you truly want to speak love to another, you speak the gospel of Jesus Christ. To speak the truth in love is to speak truth because of your love. Because I love you, I'm telling you the truth. Now if you love someone you are obviously not going to speak to them caustically, dismissively, or spitefully. Pastors have a responsibility to speak truth to their flock and this should not be hindered by societal expectations of nicety and tolerance.

On the flip-side, "speaking the truth in love" must include the "love" part and this sadly, is often ignored. Over the past five years I've repeatedly been provoked by Peter's words in 1 Peter 5:1-3, "So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock." I've heard sermons and heard pastors speak of their sermons and to my shame, given sermons that seem to serve the pastor's ego more than the building up of the body of Christ.

There is a kind of preaching that is not given from a love for people to worship God in spirit and in truth but to exhibit the preacher's intellectual prowess, expositional skill, and self-assumed piety. It is possible to preach a sermon that is a careful exegesis and exposition of the Biblical text but not be done in love. Preachers out there, if you've ever preached and boasted later "I really let them have it" or "I hammered them" or spoke of your flock as though they are too stupid to comprehend the deep Biblical truths you grasp and just articulated then you need to repent. I'll be the first to confess I've had to do my fair share of repenting on this. Preaching is not an exercise in demonstrating how theological astute you are and how dependent your flock needs to be on your knowledge.

It is incumbent upon us pastors to recognize the great privilege and responsibility we have to lovingly shepherd those for whom Christ died and to carry out that task with faith and humility. Otherwise we will become what Paul warns of in 1 Corinthians 13:1, "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal."

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

What are Cross Point's Community Groups about?

We'll be rolling out our Community Groups in a few weeks so I thought it would be helpful to reiterate and clarify our vision and approach. Hope this is helpful...

Many churches have started a small group ministry as another program to deepen fellowship among members and connect non-members into the fellowship. This kind of program is often a replacement or a complement to a Sunday School program. If this works for your church to achieve a Biblical purpose then go for it but it is not the same thing as what Cross Point is aiming to do.

Our church does not have a small group ministry. Our church aims to be a network of groups. To put it another way, small groups are not one program or ministry of our church. Small groups are how we do ministry as a church.

Our gathering on Sunday is the when and where our church of small groups worships and fellowships together. So we meet on Sunday to exalt Christ and be equipped in the Word so that our groups will be encouraged to live on mission together Monday through Saturday. These groups are designed to be missional because the church is missional by God’s design.

So we’re clear, I am not suggesting that by doing something different or defining something different we think we’re better. We’re just different. If anything, our approach is just a more simple and streamlined approach to church life and ministry.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

From Houston Heights to Old Town Beaumont

I went rummaging through boxes in the garage last night (still not fully unpacked) to find a lost wireless router. Still lost. To my surprise I discovered a box of folders and papers that somehow escaped the purge when we moved. In the box was a treasure. Let me back up.

Spring 2011 and I am writing and re-writing notes that would essentially become the blueprint (outside the Bible itself) for the church plant I'm now eyeball deep in. When Blair and I began praying over this dream/ burden/ calling/ leap of faith we weren't sure where we should plant. I was certain the kind of church the Lord had equipped me and called me to plant but I didn't know where yet. Our first inclination was Houston since that is my hometown. I love the city and have a heart for it so it seemed to make sense. Particularly we were drawn to the communities inside the 610 Loop. Those neighborhoods have history, charm, diversity, and story (not unlike Old Town Beaumont where the Lord ultimately directed our hearts).

There in that beat-up cardboard box (beat up because I was so tired of moving I wasn't very gentle with those boxes!) was the compilation of my original notes, typed up in the first draft of my church planting prospectus, with a mini-map of those urban-chic neighborhoods and a red circle looping the Heights and Timbergrove communities. That was where our prayers first circled.

Funny how God direct us and often moves the focus of our prayers. Those original notes and that original target area reflect to me the first step of faith and an attempt to be obedient. Along the way God directed my feet, my thoughts, my heart, my vision, and finally my family to the specifics of this calling. It is easy to get "paralysis by analysis" and never do anything because you are waiting for some sign in the sky.

Be faithful with what you know and what you have. As you seek the Lord in prayer and through His Word the Spirit will direct you (affirmed by godly counsel around you) to the specifics but be take that first step of faith and obedience. You may start off 90 miles away in Houston and end up right down the road on Calder Avenue.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Rest.

Psalm 127:2 says, "It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for He gives to His beloved sleep."

I can't remember the last day that my mind wasn't working through plans concerning our church plant. I'll often ask my wife, when we're lying in bed, what she's thinking about. Her typical response perplexes me- "nothing". It perplexes me because I really struggle with resting my thoughts. I'm often analyzing, problem-solving, and yes, worrying. I tell her I'd love to just power down but I've found that I don't for two reasons: pride and a misplaced sense of identity.

My pride pushes me to always solve and fix things in the flesh rather than trusting the Lord and resting. My identity is often in my busyness and my desire to over-achieve rather than as one helpless and hopeless apart from my loving Savior. As a pastor there is a temptation to seek affirmation in being busy and having a manic schedule. That's weird I know but we usually don't have tangible results to show for our labor and instead of trusting that to the Lord we think being busy is a substitute.

Here's what the Lord has confronted me with (through the counsel of loving brothers): I am being prideful by not resting. There is no honor in exhausting myself, my wife, and my church (by giving them a poor example of the Biblical balance of work and rest and giving them a worn-out leader). So I'm praying for the Lord to help me put in more margins of rest in my days and weeks. I'm also planning to better lead my wife by leading us to downshift periodically. Rest and no work is laziness. Work and no rest is foolish. Both are forms of vanity. Work and then rest is Biblical and that- by faith- should be our aim.

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