Thursday, October 1, 2015

Greatest Obstacle

I was in a meeting the other day, and the question was asked of someone, "what do you see as the greatest obstacle to reaching the area?" The answer did not surprise me, but I think the mindset behind it is common, but misses the point. Christians confuse winning individuals with winning a nation (in the geo-political sense of the word). They are convinced that the great american cultural tide flowing against Christianity is what is to be overcome if we are to reach people. Therefore we hear proposed solutions to obstacles to reaching people:

"God needs to be back in schools!"
"The Ten Commandments still need to be taught and posted!"
"Marriage needs to be back to a man and woman!"
"Nativity scenes should be put on the courthouse lawns!"
"We need a Christian back in the White House or on Capital Hill!
"We need prayer in a our school functions!"

And of course with the most recent incident of the KY court clerk and her marriage license civil disobedience, lighter fluid has been poured on the Christian fire of former days of a national moral conscience. But I really think all of these things are not the road back to making more followers of Jesus.

The advance of the church and expansion of the Kingdom of God is not tied to whether or not there are nativity scenes in courthouse lawns. In fact, historically, baptist have argued for a separation between church and state, not in the sense of removal of all religious symbols, but in the sense of we do not want the state inserting itself into the practice of one's faith, or endorsing one particular faith over the other. Especially the Anabaptist strain of our faith history was vigilant in its commitment to this principle, almost to a fault. The actual phrase "a wall of separation of church between and state" came from a baptist to then presidential candidate Thomas Jefferson, making sure that he had no plans to set up a state church or national religion. The first amendment provides freedom of religion and laws prohibiting the free exercise thereof; basically, it is protecting the church from the government.

So, there's my soapbox for those that want a return to national morality, and Christianity specifically, to achieve revival in America. Nominal Christianity is fading, which by the way is one of the main contributing factors to increase in immorality, and this is a good thing. Statistically younger generations are more willing to listen about faith and truth, but less willing to go to a church. Therefore, the greatest obstacle to reaching our area is getting our people to love their neighbors, build relationships with them, evangelize and disciple them in their homes, then integrate them into churches, Hence, the number one obstacle is us, and our unwillingness to reach unbelievers personally, where we live.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Mechanics of Pregnancy Centers

As most of you know, I work for a Pregnancy Care Center in addition to my work as a director of missions for the Mell Baptist Association. At the PCC, we are preparing for one of our annual fundraisers; a 5K color run. I write on the sanctity of life a couple of times a year, but usually directly about abortion and the Christian call to protect life. This time I wanted to give you some insight into how we operate.

This year we have implemented an additional strategy for advertising, and I feel like I am always pushing and pushing this event on social media. Event creation, then sharing, tweeting, retweeting, promoting, boosting, inviting, and telling others to invite, share, tweet, etc, are constantly coming from me (this doesn't count the direct fundraising I do to underwrite the cost of the event). So why do I (the PCC) and other non-profits spend so much time fundraising? Well, simple right, they can't make or sell anything to make a profit, and very few are self-supporting.

So we have about three fundraisers a year: a banquet, a baby bottle campaign, and for the last two years we have had a 5K/1M color run. These fundraisers make up a little less than half of the financial needs that we have to support an executive director and four part-time staff, including a nurse manager, patient manager, advancement manager (me), and an office manager. We definitely don't do it for the money, it's a service to the kingdom, women, and children. Then there are the volunteers who don't get any remuneration, and do everything from being patient advocates, nursing, newsletters, preparing food, counting coins, serving on the board of directors, and aiding with events. This ministry could not continue without them.

The other funding for our center comes from regular individual givers, churches and a few businesses. These are crucial to the continuation of our ministry as well. All these help us minister to women with unplanned pregnancies in at least eight counties. They help us share the gospel to over 100 women, and preserve the lives of 50-60 babies each year in the most recent years.

All that to conclude that these fundraisers (and their seemingly endless promotion) allow children to take their first breaths, and mothers to be rescued from the lingering scars of abortion. Thank you for all that you do, especially those who labor in prayer for us. If you are a runner, or know of someone who is, tell them to join us for our Color Me Baby color run on Oct 24th. You can get all the info on the site. If you want to donate, you can do that as well through the site or through our Facebook page. Pray that it goes well, and that the Lord with use it to provide for us! Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Those That Stop Clinging

It is a burden to me, and to many pastors, to think about those who have an initial outward conversion experience, and then don't follow through. The Freewill Baptists, Pentecostals, Methodists, Church of Christ, and most other protestant groups might have the easiest explanation: they were truly born again, but now they are not. Baptist have a conundrum in the fact that most of them believe in eternal security in its absolute sense, but need to explain those that "receive the word with joy" but then produce no lasting fruit and endurance. (Matthew 13:20-21)

Theologically and practically there are a couple of things to consider. First, we must know that there will be people who "believe" but don't really believe, in the sense that all Israel is not Israel (Rom 9:6). Secondly we can't fully know, and it's not our job to make the judgment, whether or not someone has been truly born again. If they have truly believed, they will return ultimately. Even though the NT speaks of carnal Christianity (1 Cor 3:1-4), I think that Jesus would delineate a line in there somewhere about the pattern of one's life related to fruit (Matthew 7:17-18). Many passages can be cited as well to demonstrate with good consistency that if one is genuinely saved they cannot lose their salvation. So we attempt to be discerning in our discipleship of people, but only God knows, and only time will tell.

So my main frustrations are these: 1) Believers, including pastors, that think and act as if people who have made some sort of profession, and show no fruit or forsake the faith, are truly born again. At funerals they preach people right into the pearly gates even though their lives have not even demonstrated old things passing away and all things becoming new (2 Cor 5:17). 2) The impact that these so-called believers have upon the church and Christ's reputation. 3) For me, maybe the most painful, the falling away of people that I love dearly in Christ, people that I have such high hopes for, people that initially showed such change and passion. It truly does, and rightfully so, break my heart that people I thought were believers, might not be...I love them.

Not to make a serious subject light, but to use an illustration from Star Wars Episode VI, some of them, even though they have turned away from the light to the dark side, I hope, still have some good in them, and they will someday repent. That is what I long for...

Friday, August 21, 2015

The Calling of God

Does the bible speak of specific callings to forms of service (the call to preach, the call to pastor, the call to be an evangelist), or does it speak to specific gifts that might be used by the Holy Spirit to fulfill specific ministries? In the New Testament, we see language of the church "setting aside"  (ordaining) pastors and deacons (1 Timothy 3:1-14, Acts 6:1-4), and missionaries (Acts 13:1-5), and Paul speaks of his "calling" to be an apostle, but beyond that? We see Paul appointing people to complete work begun by appointing elders in Titus 1:5. We see God giving gifts to the church of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers (Ephesians 4:11-12), but that doesn't necessarily constitute a "calling" on their part, or maybe it does? Sometimes we speak of calling when we talk about one's vocation. Is that a calling from God, or do we just mean that every person in every position is a minister/has a ministry in their vocation?

In the NT we see that people can "desire" to become a bishop, and that is a good thing. I watched the other night as a missionary talked about the first time she wanted to be a missionary. It was a desire, and I am sure she feels a sense of calling, but does the NT speak of it? She spoke so passionately that she wanted it so bad at eight years old, and kept trying to go over and over, until finally at 28 years old, she was appointed. We now see people announcing their "calling" into the youth ministry, or being called to be a worship leader, pretty soon we will see people being "called" to be Awana workers. There are hundreds of non-profit ministries that some feel a calling to be a part of. Is our terminology, practice, and theology consistent with scripture? This is a question that we should always be asking. The reason it's important is the mindset it creates in our churches. Some might argue that this is only a terminology issue--semantics, but I think it is much more. 

We live in a changing church culture, where we are discerning and sometimes separating denominational and church tradition from biblical paradigms. Sometimes this is done better than others; again, I think it is important, especially as it relates to a missional context--church planting and international work. 

These are my just musings, and they need much more reflection by me and others. I look back on my own life and think about my calling. There are some questions related to it for me, but there are fewer questions in my mind about the good work, and the gifts to do that good work, which God has put in me.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Non-Profit Funding

Working for two non-profits, the Mell Baptist Association and the Pregnancy Care Center of Tiftarea, I understand the importance of relying on funds of donors. They are both ministries, so we walk by faith, not by sight. However in the world we live in, it is hard for boards or teams to look at a previous year's income and not become overly cautious (this is coming from the one that is happy to spend and spend, just ask those I work with).

This diagram fits the situation of the PCC more so than the Mell. It shows all the places that we anticipate that funding might come from each year. It's a diagram I copied off the web, so it is not completely the way we operate, but close. One of the components is "special events." Many non-profits have them, and we are no different. We are doing the preparations right now for our third of three that we usually do each year. We raise a good deal of our budget through special events. We are grateful to every giver who comes and gives. However, if we rely on events to carry us through the year, it is hard to plan long-term. Good ministries should plan long-term. It is so we will not have to live simply year to year.

One of the BIG components missing from the diagram is our monthly supporters. Churches and individuals who are monthly or quarterly sponsors for us keep us going in between events. Long-term planning needs long-term funding. The best way to have long-term funding is to find people with a passion for your organization or you cause, and give them an outlet for their passion. Sometimes it will be financial, but sometimes it will take on other forms. The former model is event based, but sooner or later people get tired of it, or just come back each year without bringing new people. So at the PCC, we are trying to move toward our operating budget being generated by monthly giving, and our larger needs being done with event money. That's the goal, but after several years, we are not doing so well with our paradigm shift.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The End of Denominational Loyalty

I was recently involved with a group of pastors talking about the lack of denominational faithfulness. It was noted that congregants move from church to church (not surprising within denominational churches), but disturbingly they move between denominations. These individuals really don't know why it matters, and don't really care about the differences other than the worship style.  It didn't used to be that way. So why is it that way now?

Denominations exist primarily because of theology and methodology. We didn't talk much about the latter, but the former is a major issue (much methodology is determined by theology). We have generations of people who do not know doctrine. They are ignorant of the things that distinguish them from other denominations, some of which are very significant. The church's failure coupled with the societal ecumenical mindset leads to little doctrinal commitment, therefore believers that are carried about with every wind of doctrine.

We discussed some groups that are doing a good job with doctrine. On our very short list were two cults. Of course, cursing the darkness only has limited value. So in the interest of fixing the problem, I asked them if they had ever taught a series of just doctrine. Other than in seminary, had they ever taught or had taught to them the doctrine of God and all its intricacies, or the doctrine of salvation and the various progression of it, or the doctrine of the church, which is probably the most important as it relates to denominational faithfulness? These long time pastors said "no." I know that we all touch on doctrine and preach doctrine in our sermons and teachings, but snippets don't cover all the bases. Snippets don't give depth, or breadth, or the glorious nature of excellencies of our God, nor our faith.

I challenged them and you to teach, preach, study doctrine systematically. Go deeper, take others deeper. Make them firmer. "But they will be bored," is a common objection. It is a sin in my humble, but accurate opinion, to make glorious things boring things. So find a way to do it without bordem! Its your job to make disciples, to communicate truth, to keep their attention. If you are baptist, teach them why they are baptist, and why that is important. If you of another denomination, become baptist, and teach them the right way, just kidding. Know the history of your denomination, know the distinctives. Teach them, so that Christ will be glorified in the knowledge of Himself in His children; and so that the fullness of Christ through the church would be spread and known.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Are We Preaching A Sufficient Gospel?

I fully realize that there are many ways to try to quantify and assess church growth and health. However, in many circles it is done through numbers--baptisms, attendance, Sunday School, giving, etc. Some of them raise questions, some of the questions are never asked.

A story of the growth of a rural church was carried in a recent denominational publication. I am going to try to change the numbers some so as not to identify the publication, the article or the church, but not so much that they will fail to capture my point. It raises, or better, fails to raise a very significant question.

A season of growth began in this church 16 years ago. Their attendance was under 50. In the last three years, they have baptized 324 people. The current attendance is 425. Anyone see a problem here?

This is not the graph from the church in this blog
Here is a deadly serious question the church should be asking (if I was pastor, I would be asking it of my preaching): if the gospel we preach and invite people to respond to is not producing lasting results of discipleship, were the hundreds of professions over 16 years of people that cannot be found legitimate? Are we lulling people into a false security? Have we lowered the bar too low? The gospel that Jesus preached didn't have many false professions; it had people who followed hard or turned away because the path was too hard. The only thing that could be construed as a similar experience to the teaching or experience of Jesus is the parable of sower. How you interpret the middle two soils is for another blog post on another day.

The gospel is not complicated, nor are we called to make it that way. However, the road that leads to salvation is straight, narrow, and difficult, and we are called to issue a clear message of followership that includes genuine repentance, self-denial, cross-bearing, obedience, and radical savoring, treasuring, and loving Jesus Christ. Is your church seeing baptisms, is a question that should be asked. Are those baptized taking up their cross, this question is only rarely asked, and even more seldom addressed if the answer is no.

We must begin asking that question, lest we go down with churches that Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Nazi-imprisoned pastor, said were feasting on the carcasses of cheap grace.

" We Lutherans have gathered like the eagles around the carcass of cheap grace, and there we have drunk of the poison which has killed the life of following Christ…What had happened to all those warnings of Luther's against preaching the gospel in such a manner as to make men rest secure in their ungodly living?  Cheap grace has turned out to be utterly merciless to our Evangelical Church." (p. 54}

"This cheap grace has been no less disastrous to our own spiritual lives. . .  Instead of calling us to follow Christ, it has hardened us in our disobedience. . .  Having laid hold on cheap grace, they were barred for ever from the knowledge of costly grace.  Deceived and weakened, men felt that they were strong now that they were in possession of this cheap grace – whereas they had in fact lost the power to live the life of discipleship and obedience.  The word of cheap grace has been the ruin of more Christians than any commandment of works."

Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man’ will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.