Must a Church Assemble?

What is a church?

This question is usually reserved for punctilious theologians or analytical pastors. Many Christians simply take it for granted that they know what a church is, often having their own local church in mind, with all its present traditions and cultural peculiarities. But this kind of thinking often creates a definition of the church that is almost entirely bound to a particular society and a limited historical moment.

I am asking a question about the essence – not merely function – of what a church is. I am asking about the essential elements of a local church, that stuff that’s always included in the ingredients, no matter the date or geography.

I believe a church is a local congregation of baptized Christians who are associated with one another by their mutual agreement to enjoy and follow Christ together.

So, yes, a church must assemble.

Some of the content in my statement above is specific to my own ecclesiology (doctrine of the church) and not essential to a universal definition of the church. What I think is essential to a universal definition of the church are the aspects of locality and congregating – a church must assemble. 

In what follows, I want to explain the necessity of physically gathering as a church by describing the meaning of a couple of important words – local congregation.

First, geographically local.

A church is a congregation of local Christians, those geographically nearby one another. Local means narrow, confined, or limited to a particular area. In order for a local church to be distinct from the universal church, it must necessarily be confined to a specific space and time. You cannot have a local church simultaneously placed in Singapore and in Seattle any more than you can have a local church simultaneously meeting on Sunday April 12, 2020 and on Sunday October 22, 1578.

Such an idea would not have been necessary to explain before the modern-day notion of a virtual presence. Some readers will immediately dismiss me as an old fuddy-duddy when I say that virtual reality simply is not reality, but there is a slew of experiences you simply cannot have virtually. You cannot virtually consummate a marriage, sustain a concussion, run a marathon, watch the sunrise, give birth to a baby, and the list goes on. 

One essential part of a local church is its geographical locality – the congregation of Christians must actually be present (really, not virtually) to call it a church in any meaningful sense.

Second, a congregation.

A church is a congregation or assembly of local Christians. It is common to use the term “church” in reference to a building or even to an institution (the Presbyterian Church), but the New Testament never uses the word “church” in such a way. The Bible clearly understands the word “church” to refer most often to a specific gathering or assembly of Christians in a particular locality (the local or visible church; see 1 Corinthians 11:18 or 2 Corinthians 11:8) and occasionally to all Christians everywhere and from all time (the universal or invisible church; see 1 Corinthians 15:9-10). 

Once again, Christians physically gathered together simultaneously in one specific location is part of the essence of what a church is.

The necessity of physically gathering is not only essential to what a church is, it’s also the basis upon which the whole life and function of the local church is built. Furthermore, to disembody the local church is to depart from the historical Christian understanding of unity between the spirit and the body, the ethereal and the physical.

A church is, by definition and by necessity, a local (physically present) congregation (gathering of Christians).

Therefore, a church must assemble. A church that doesn’t assemble is no church at all.

Third, and finally, some begging questions.

Are you saying that a church is only a church when it gathers on a Sunday? 

No, I’m not saying that. A church gathers regularly, and afterward the members disperse. Between their gatherings, members are scattered about as individuals and small groups. But these are members of the church and not the church itself. The church is what we see when the members gather.

Are you saying that a church is only a church if all the members are present?

No, I’m not saying that. It is rare for every member of a church to be present on any given Sunday, even among healthy churches that take membership seriously. Some members are going to be sick, some on vacation, some will be visiting family or friends in another part of the world, and some are homebound until death or Christ’s return. And yet, the church that intends to regularly gather the whole of her members is a church, despite the fact that some of her members are not present. 

Are you saying that church members can’t do meaningful Christian stuff anywhere besides the church house?

No, I’m not saying that. Christians can and should give time and effort to all kinds of meaningful Christian activities everyday of their lives. Christians should devote time to spiritual disciplines (Bible reading, prayer, meditation upon Scripture, confessing sin, etc.). Christians should show hospitality, both to their fellow church members and to non-Christian neighbors. Christians should intentionally disciple other Christians, helping one another follow Jesus together. Christians can and should do all sorts of good Christian activities, but we mustn’t call any of this “church,” because that’s not what this stuff is.

Are you saying that extenuating circumstances (like a worldwide pandemic) should not keep a church from physically meeting together?

No, I’m not saying that. As a matter of fact, as I type these words, I am experiencing the sorrow of having to cancel the last two Sunday morning gatherings of the church I pastor. It has been painful not to meet together, and we are not planning to meet together again on this coming Sunday morning. But we believe not meeting together for a time is one way we can express love and care for one another and for others in our community.

In conclusion…

I am grateful for all the good Christians have done and are doing in the name of Christ in the world. I believe many Christians are providing a compelling witness to the world about what it means to love Christ and to love others. May many more Christians live productive and Christ-glorifying lives.

My aim with this brief article is to touch on one aspect of ecclesiology (the doctrine of the church), which seems to be almost entirely unknown to many in American Evangelicalism. Christians can and should do all manner of good things in the world, in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. But let’s be mindful of what we label “church.”

It may be that the temporary absence of the gathered church will stir our affections for what we are truly missing.

Marc Minter is the senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Diana, TX. He and his wife, Cassie, have two sons, Micah and Malachi.

Connect with Marc on Twitter or Facebook.

FBCD Family Worship Guide 03/29/2020

FBC Diana members,

I want to encourage you to take time for Bible reading and study, prayer, and singing again this Sunday. Family and/or personal time devoted to such things is critical to our growth as Christians. You may use any structure that seems appropriate for you and/or your family, but I recommend following the outline below.

Scripture Reading

Read Psalm 32 aloud.

Prayer

Thanks/Praise. What do you see in Psalm 32 as reasons to praise God? What specifically about God’s character or nature is praiseworthy? How might you praise God for what He has recently done in your life or for how He has shown you grace and care.

Confession. Think of ways you and others might have sinned this previous week. Don’t accuse others in your prayer, but do try to confess specific ways sin has recently been expressed (in your home and family life, on the job, in your neighborhood, and in your community).  

Supplication. Ask for God’s help in various ways. Here are some topics you might consider praying about:

  1. Pray for wisdom and courage for your pastor and others who are trying to lead and shepherd their church members well without gathering on these Sundays.
  2. Pray for persecuted Christians around the world who constantly face various challenges to their weekly gathering (i.e. not just during a pandemic).
  3. Pray that God would draw many sinners to Himself while people in our culture are generally more mindful of their mortality.
  4. Pray for our governmental leaders to wisely preserve and protect life.
  5. Pray that God would give efficiency and endurance to healthcare workers.
  6. Pray that God would help husbands and fathers to have a fresh resolve to regularly lead their wives and children in daily Bible reading and prayer.

Discussion Questions

You might spend some time simply talking through Psalm 32. And you might also use the following questions to help guide your discussion.

  1. What is the major theme or concept of this Psalm?
  2. How might you describe the words “transgression” and “iniquity”?
  3. What does it mean to have transgression forgiven or to have iniquity not counted against someone?
  4. In verses 3-4, to what “silence” referring? And why did “silence” make the psalmist feel so miserable?
  5. According to verse 5, when did relief from misery come to the psalmist? And what brought about that relief?
  6. Does confessing your sin to God and others bring relief? Explain
  7. If confessing our sin does bring relief, then why do you think we often avoid or resist confessing our sin?
  8. What do you think the psalmist is talking about in verse 6, when he says, “at a time when you may be found”?
  9. Verses 8-9 seem to be words spoken from God to the psalmist, rather than from the psalmist to God, like the rest of psalm 32. If so, what do you think God is instructing in verse 9 by saying, “Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle…”?
  10. What are some ways you can learn well from God’s instruction and cultivate self-control in your own life?
  11. Verses 10-11 seem to lump together “the one who trusts in the LORD” and the “righteous” and those “upright in heart.” Why do you think these are contrasted with “the wicked” of verse 10?
  12. How does the gospel of Jesus Christ help us to enjoy the “steadfast love” of God and “be glad in the LORD” even though we are wicked sinners?
  13. How does the ongoing presence of God in the lives of believers (i.e. Christians) help them to live righteously and with upright hearts?

Songs to Sing

You might sing some familiar songs you like, and/or you might also sing the songs presented on the following pages.

Behold Our God

Come, Behold the Wondrous Mystery

He Will Hold Me Fast

Scripture Reading

Read Psalm 33 aloud.

Prayer

Thanks/Praise. Offer thanks and praise to God for specific things that come to your mind today… maybe from recent personal experience or maybe from something in the Scripture or the songs or your discussion with others today.

Marc Minter is the senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Diana, TX. He and his wife, Cassie, have two sons, Micah and Malachi.

Connect with Marc on Twitter or Facebook.

FBCD Family Worship Guide 03/22/2020

FBC Diana members,

I want to encourage you to take time for Bible reading and study, prayer, and singing again this Sunday. Family and/or personal time devoted to such things is critical to our growth as Christians. You may use any structure that seems appropriate for you and/or your family, but I recommend following the outline below.

Scripture Reading

Read Psalm 90 aloud.

Prayer

Confession. Think of ways you and others might have sinned this previous week. Don’t accuse others in your prayer but do try to confess specific ways sin has been expressed in your home and family life.  

Supplication. Ask for God’s help in various ways. Here are some topics you might consider praying about:

  1. Pray for those most at risk and likely most fearful during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  2. Pray for those in our community who are feeling lonely or depressed.
  3. Pray for church members who may be facing hard financial stress.
  4. Pray that church members will set good priorities and use their time well.
  5. Pray for lost/unsaved friends and family members.
  6. Pray for church members to be gracious with others as we all express various convictions about what to do with our time and how to respond amid the pandemic.
  7. Pray that God will graciously provide for our financial obligations and that we will be able to maintain our church budget during this time.

Discussion Questions

You might spend some time simply talking through Psalm 90. And you might also use the following questions to help guide your discussion.

  1. What is the major theme or concept of this Psalm?
  2. What do we learn about God from the opening verses?
  3. How might we benefit from meditating on the reality that the LORD is God from “everlasting to everlasting”?
  4. How do verses 3-6 teach us to think about the span of our earthly lives?
  5. Does your normal perspective of life differ from these verses? Explain.
  6. How do verses 7-11 call our attention toward that great day when all people will stand before the LORD?
  7. What do you think it means that “our iniquities” and “secret sins” are set “in the light” of God’s presence?
  8. Why do you think the psalmist asks the question he does in verse 11? What do you think he is getting at?
  9. What are the two prayer requests in verses 12 and 13?
  10. What does it mean to “number our days”? And how would doing that give us “a heart of wisdom”?
  11. What is the psalmist asking in verse 13: “Return, O LORD! How long?”?
  12. What requests do you see in verses 14-17?
  13. What is the ultimate biblical expression of God’s favor?
  14. What is the Christian hope expressed in verse 17?

Songs to Sing

You might sing some familiar songs you like, and/or you might also sing the songs below. The lyrics and audio are linked for your convenience.

Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing

O God, Our Help in Ages Past

How Firm a Foundation

The Sands of Time Are Sinking

Scripture Reading

Read Psalm 91 aloud.

Prayer

Thanks and praise. Offer thanks and praise to God for specific things that come to your mind today… maybe from recent personal experience or maybe from something in the Scripture or songs or discussion today.

Marc Minter is the senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Diana, TX. He and his wife, Cassie, have two sons, Micah and Malachi.

Connect with Marc on Twitter or Facebook.

FBCD Family Worship Guide 03/15/2020

What is family worship?

Family Worship is a name often given to the concept of doing intentional Christian discipleship in the home. The activity may include the same kinds of things we do each Sunday morning as a gathered church – such as Bible reading, Bible study, prayer, singing worshipful songs, and reciting and/or discussing catechism questions. Family Worship used to be very common among Christian families, and it was once understood as the foundation upon which all Christian discipleship is built.

You may use any structure that seems appropriate for you and your family, but I recommend following the outline below for this Sunday.

A Special Word to FBC Diana

FBC Diana members,

I want to encourage you to take time for Bible reading and study, prayer, and singing again this Sunday. Family and/or personal time devoted to such things is critical to our growth as Christians. You may use any structure that seems appropriate for you and/or your family, but I recommend following the outline below.

Scripture Reading

Read Psalm 135 aloud.

Prayer

Confession. Think of ways you and others might have sinned this previous week. Don’t accuse others in your prayer but do try to confess specific ways sin has been expressed in your home and family life.  

Supplication. Ask for God’s help in various ways. Here are some topics you might consider praying about:

  1. Pray for those most at risk and likely most fearful during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  2. Pray for widows, widowers, and those isolated in our community.
  3. Pray for younger and healthier church members to show love and care for elderly and/or sick church members.
  4. Pray for God to help us all to grow in our trust in Him.
  5. Pray for God to use this time of fear and uncertainty to draw sinners to Himself.
  6. Pray for church members and other Christians in our community to be prepared to have gospel conversations with those who are more interested in spiritual conversations during this time.
  7. Pray that our church members will continue to be thoughtful and intentional with their financial giving… and that we will all be good stewards.

Discussion Questions

You might spend some time simply talking through Psalm 135. And you might also use the following questions to help guide your discussion.

  1. What are some of the reasons in this passage that we should praise God?
  2. How does Galatians 3:27-29 help Christians to understand and enjoy the declaration in verse 4?
  3. How do verses 5 through 7 help us (1) to trust God, (2) to rest in God’s sovereignty, and (3) to know that God is in charge of everything?
  4. How do verses 8 through 14 speak of both God’s distribution of judgment and His provision of blessing?
  5. How might Christians be warned and comforted by verses 8 through 14?
  6. How might non-Christians be warned by verses 8 through 14, and how might they be offered hope in the gospel of Jesus Christ?
  7. How do verses 15 through 18 contrast the power and uniqueness of God with the impotence of false gods?
  8. What are some ways that we might “trust in” finances, experiences, personal health, or political agendas (Think of the kind of trust we ought to have in God alone)?
  9. Looking especially at verses 19 through 21, how should we respond to the truths we learn about God from this passage?
  10. What does it mean to “bless the LORD”? How might we specifically do that right now?

Songs to Sing

You might sing some familiar songs you like, and/or you might also sing the songs below. The lyrics and audio are linked for your convenience.

It is Well With My Soul

Dear Refuge of My Weary Soul

What’er My God Ordains is Right

Scripture Reading

Read Psalm 136 aloud.

Prayer

Thanks and praise. Offer thanks and praise to God for specific things that come to your mind today… maybe from recent personal experience or maybe from something in the Scripture or songs or discussion today.

Marc Minter is the senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Diana, TX. He and his wife, Cassie, have two sons, Micah and Malachi.

Connect with Marc on Twitter or Facebook.

What is a Membership Covenant?

A membership covenant is simply a summary of the agreement between church members. Historically, membership covenants were quite common among Protestant churches, including Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Anglicans. And many churches still use them today.

As a matter of fact, all local churches have some kind of membership covenant… even those churches who don’t have a formal status of “church member.” Written or unwritten, formal or informal, there is always some sort of basic agreement made between those gathered in the name of Christ for the purpose of public worship and edification.

Gathering in agreement and in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ is fundamental to the definition of what it means to be a Christian church.

That said, many churches publish a formal membership covenant. The purposes behind such a thing are manifold, but a simple and straightforward reason to have a formal membership covenant is so that members will know what is expected of them and what they should expect of one another.

One can read the whole New Testament, searching for every “one another” command, and thus summarize the biblical obligations and privileges of church membership, but it sure is easier and clearer if we can all agree on a basic set of promises that aim at representing the essence of such things.

Membership covenants of various lengths and content have been published over the years, but I am particularly fond of one authored by J. Newton Brown. Brown’s covenant was published by the Baptist Sunday School Board (now LifeWay) in 1853, and it was printed within the 1956 Baptist Hymnal because of how widely it was being used among Baptist Churches in America.

As with all membership covenants, one has to decide what to include and what to exclude. Truth be told, I think Brown’s covenant seeks to bind the conscience in ways that the Scripture does not, so I do not endorse it entirely. But there are many features that commend it.

As early as November of 1940 (though probably earlier), when First Baptist Church of Diana, TX (the church I pastor), was still called James Baptist Church, Brown’s membership covenant was formally embraced as the standing summary of members’ obligations and privileges.

The words below are a duplicate of that early Southern Baptist covenant (odd spelling included), which was adopted by those early members of FBC Diana.

Having been led, as we believe, by the Spirit of God to receive the Lord Jesus Christ as our Saviour, and on profession of our faith, having been baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, we do now in the presence of God, angels, and this assembly, most solemnly and joyfully enter into covenant with one another as one body in Christ.

We engage therefore, by the aid of the Holy Spirit, to walk together in Christian love; to strive for the advancement of this Church in knowledge, holiness, and comfort; to promote its prosperity and spirituality; to sustain its worship, ordinances, discipline and doctrines; to contribute cheerfully and regularly to the support of the ministry, the expenses of the Church, and the relief of the poor, and the spread of the Gospel through all nations. 

We also engage to maintain family and secret devotions; to religiously educate our children; to seek the salvation of our kindred and acquaintances; to walk circumspectly in the world; to be just in our dealings, faithful in our engagements, and exemplary in our deportment; to avoid all tattling, back-biting, and excessive anger; to abstain from the sale and use of intoxicating drinks as a beverage, and to be zealous in our efforts to advance the kingdom of our Saviour.

We further engage to watch over one another in brotherly love; to remember each other in prayer; to aid each other in sickness and distress; to cultivate Christian sympathy in feeling and courtesy of speech; to be slow to take offense, but always ready for reconciliation, and mindful of the rules of our Saviour to secure it without delay.

We moreover engage that when we remove from this place we will, as soon as possible, unite with some other church, where we can carry out the spirit of this covenant and the principles of God’s Word.

Whether your church has a formal membership covenant or not, it is the privilege and obligation of every Christian to seek out intentional, meaningful, and regulated relationships with other Christians. May God bless your efforts to love Christ and to love His people by giving yourself to such relationships within a local church nearby.

Marc Minter is the senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Diana, TX. He and his wife, Cassie, have two sons, Micah and Malachi.

Connect with Marc on Twitter or Facebook.

5 Ways You Might be Showing that You’re Not Really a Christian

What are some signs that I’m not really a Christian?

Living in East Texas has both advantages and disadvantages. I enjoy the scenery of tall evergreens and starry night skies. I like driving through small and old town-squares; many out here are still quaint and active. I also enjoy the somewhat familiar culture of family values and traditional societal structures.

However, the vague sense of conservative values often passes as Christianity, and this is a tremendous disadvantage. Many people assume they are Christians because they “believe in Jesus” or “love God” or “put God first” in their lives. It seems most folks where I live don’t know that a person can “know” God and yet remain under God’s judgment and condemnation.

Romans 1:21 says that everyone, at least in some sense, “knows” God. The context of this verse indicates that the knowledge we all have of God is basic, but not salvific. In other words, it’s enough to know we should honor God and serve Him, but it’s not enough to know God as heavenly Father and gracious Savior.

According to Scripture, East Texans are not unique in their general knowledge of God. As a matter of fact, everyone knows something about God… that God is (or He exists), that He’s powerful, and that He’s just or moral or righteous. Knowing these things does not make someone a Christian… This knowledge is natural for all people everywhere.

What makes a person a Christian is their trust or belief in God as both King and Savior, particularly their love for and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.

But, as Romans 1:21 says, non-Christians with a knowledge of God show that they are not actually Christians by not “honoring” or “glorifying” God… and by not expressing “thankfulness” or “gratitude” toward God. 

This dishonor and ingratitude can show up in our lives in all sorts of ways, but here are 5 ways I think these are regularly displayed in my neck of the woods.

1. Non-Christians don’t want God to demand anything from them.

I see this all the time in people who claim to love God but have a tough time remembering the last time they gave up some genuine desire out of obedience to God’s command. It seems that many who claim to be Christians don’t realize that being a Christian means trading an old life for a new one… dying to self and living for Christ (Rom. 6:1-14).

Friend, if you resist the idea that God is in charge of your life and has the right to tell you what to do, then it is likely that you’re not a Christian.

2. Non-Christians don’t want to devote regular time to God.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked to someone who claimed to “believe in God” and “love Jesus” and yet he or she gave no devoted time to God during the previous month (or year!). 

Did you read God’s word, the Bible? No… Did you go to church recently? No… Did you read a book about the Bible, Christianity, God, or Jesus recently? No… Do you live in any way differently than your non-Christian friends? Not really…

Friend, if you don’t devote regular time to God, then it is likely that you’re not a Christian.

3. Non-Christians don’t want to know anything more about God.

Most people who don’t read the Bible omit this practice because they don’t want to read it. They are not fascinated by the God they see inside that book. Most people who don’t go to church regularly are absent because they’d rather be somewhere else; they’d rather be doing something else.

Friend, if you don’t have any interest in being at church or reading the Bible, then it’s likely that you’re not a Christian.

4. Non-Christians don’t want to think much about their sin.

People who don’t think like Christians imagine that talking about their sin will only lead to greater feelings of shame and guilt. The assumption is: “The more we talk about how bad I am, the worse I’ll feel.”

But that’s not how Christians think at all! Christians know that Jesus saves sinners, and that sinners can find freedom from shame and even freedom from the power of sin when they confess sin and speak honestly about their ongoing failures.

Friend, if you don’t want to think about your sin and you avoid talking about your sin, then you might not actually be a Christian.

5. Non-Christians don’t cling to Jesus Christ like He’s really their only hope.

All but two of the people I’ve met in East Texas over the last 5 years have claimed to be Christians. And most of those with whom I’ve had some kind of gospel conversation have expressed hope in their good deeds or in God’s nebulous forgiveness. They imagine that they’ve lived well enough or that God must forgive them… because “God forgives!”

Friend, God doesn’t just forgive sinners. The Bible says God “will by no means clear the guilty” (Ex. 34:7; Nah. 1:3). God’s “righteous judgment will be revealed” against all sinners (Rom. 2:5). God “will render each one according to his works… [and] for those who do not obey the truth… there will be wrath and fury” (Rom. 2:6-8).

Friend, Jesus Christ is our only hope of escaping the judgment we deserve! If you aren’t actually clinging to Christ like He’s your only hope in life and death, then you’re not a Christian.

Now, if you think you might not be a Christian, then please don’t hear me saying that you should try harder. I don’t intend to say that at all! What I am saying is that Christians live like Christians, and our lives should reflect what we truly believe (James 2:14-26; 1 Jn. 3:1-10).

If you think you might not be a Christian, then your best course of action is to seek to understand the gospel of Jesus Christ. You can read more about the gospel HERE.

I also urge you to talk to a Christian about what it means to believe and follow Jesus. If you don’t know any true Christians, then call a pastor near you by looking up churches and contacting their offices. You can probably also contact a pastor via email or through a church’s website. I know my contact info is available at www.fbcdiana.org.

May God help non-Christians to become Christians. May God help Christians to live consistently with their profession of faith. And may God grant grace to any reader of this article.

Marc Minter is the senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Diana, TX. He and his wife, Cassie, have two sons, Micah and Malachi.

Connect with Marc on Twitter or Facebook.

Please, Join My Church!

“My church is the best!” “Please, join my church…”

Church members and leaders can sometimes speak and act in ways that sound desperate or even arrogant. We can sometimes give the impression that our church is better than all others, and we can sometimes make it sound like we can’t survive without adding a few more members next week. Neither of these is true, and we ought to resist the temptation to think or to speak or to act either arrogantly or desperately.

Many Evangelical churches in my area of East Texas are comprised of good people, church members who want to see people trust and love Jesus and who want to see their churches grow numerically. But, often, these same church members give little thought to the ways in which their practice of church membership actually works against the spread of the gospel and the spiritual growth of disciples.

When Christians are distinct from non-Christians, then people understand what it means to convert to Christianity. When Christians know the gospel well and articulate it clearly, then the gospel is more accessible and understandable. And when Christians live holy and humbly in meaningful relationship with one another, then Christians spiritually grow.

In an effort to take membership more seriously, and at the risk of saying really basic things about the responsibilities of church membership, let me offer four suggestions to those church members who want to do their part.

First, prioritize church meetings (maybe your church calls these business meetings or members’ meetings).

In a congregational church (which describes most of the churches near me), lots of decisions are made in those meetings, and lots of information is publicized. You’ll be a better informed and more knowledgeable member if you attend these meetings regularly.

The most important decisions made by a church are about membership (who’s in and who’s out) and members’ meetings are usually the time and place to make those decisions. This is one of the basic functions of church membership in a congregational church, and these decisions exercise Christian muscles we need to strengthen in order to grow as Christians.

Make it a priority to be present at church meetings, and pay special attention to the discussion and votes concerning membership.

Second, listen to peoples’ conversion stories.

There aren’t many things I enjoy quite as much as I enjoy hearing someone tell me how they began following Jesus. I love every aspect of a good conversion story. I love to hear the humility of a broken and contrite heart. I love to hear gratitude for others who took the time to plant and water gospel-seed. I love to hear the joy of freedom in Christ, and I love to hear about God’s ongoing transformative work.

Do you want to know how I’m able to hear so many conversion stories? I ask! I say something like, “So, tell me how you first came to believe the gospel and follow Jesus…”

Don’t just ask if someone is a Christian… Ask them to tell you about how they were converted. And then listen! Listen for sorrow and grief over sin. Listen for gratitude and gospel investments. Listen for joy in Christ above all else, and listen for continued life-transformation as they’ve followed Christ ongoingly.

Let’s never get tired of hearing conversion stories, and let’s never grow weary of telling our own.

Third, expect slow growth.

Taking church membership seriously means (among other things) taking members in slowly. There’s no rush, and we’re more interested in getting to know and love a new person than we are in just making them a statistic.

If you are a church member, you should expect your elders or pastors to take time in getting to know those who want to join your church, and you should expect to make an effort yourself. This kind of intentional effort inevitably leads to slower growth of membership numbers, but churches who take membership seriously will often grow more steadily.

Take time to genuinely get to know and love others, and wait to see how God might slowly and steadily grow your church.

Fourth, love the church family God gives you.

At the end of the day, we all have to decide to be part of a church family, but God is the one who ultimately brings us together. God has put us right where He wants us, and He has done so for our good and for His glory.

We should treasure the fact that there are other Christians in the world who have decided to take responsibility for the care of our souls. Your fellow church members, and those church members God will add in the future, are God’s gifts to you. And God intends you to be a loving gift to them as well.

Look for ways you can show love for your fellow church members by serving them and helping them follow Jesus.

These four suggestions aren’t going to make your church grow fast, and they aren’t going to win any awards for creativity or innovation. But applying these four suggestions will indeed make you a better church member, they will help your church to be healthier, and they will probably make you more content with God’s provision… rather than stressed about how in the world you can get more people to “please, join my church!”

Marc Minter is the senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Diana, TX. He and his wife, Cassie, have two sons, Micah and Malachi.

Connect with Marc on Twitter or Facebook.

What’s the difference between “Pastors” and “Elders”?

Elders are qualified, recognized, and committed men who do the work of shepherding among a particular local church (Ephesians 4:11-16; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:6-9).

The Short Answer

There’s no biblical difference between pastors and elders. The two terms refer to one and the same New Testament church office.

Anyone who aims to parse out some distinction between pastors and elders is creating a modern invention and placing it on top of the biblical text. There may certainly be good reasons why a local church would use different titles for various church leaders, but the only case for doing so is a pragmatic or prudent one… not a biblical one.

Now, I hope you’ll read the remainder of this article in order to weigh the merit of my rationale for making such a claim.

Defining Our Terms

In the New Testament, the most common title or label for the leading, teaching, and shepherding office of the church is “elder” (πρεσβυτερος), appearing directly at least thirteen times in the New Testament. The word “overseer” (επισκοπος) is the second most common title for the office, and it shows up at least six times.

The label “shepherd” or “pastor” (ποιμην) is used only once as a label for the New Testament teaching and leading office of the local church. Most often (fifteen times), this word appears in the Gospels, and it refers to actual shepherds (tenders of sheep) or to Jesus as the metaphorical shepherd of His people.

Almost every time the label “shepherd” or “pastor” is used in the other New Testament books (besides the Gospels), it shows up in its verbal form (ποιμαινω). In other words, in the Bible, “shepherd” or “pastor” is usually what church leaders do… it’s not what church leaders are.

However, many Evangelicals today are familiar with the term “pastor” as a label for church leaders, because this word has been used by Protestants for hundreds of years. Baptists have been especially fond of the word “pastor” because it distinguishes Baptist church leaders from those of Presbyterian or Anglican churches.

Baptist churches have also often emphasized their understanding of the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer. Because all Christians are in some sense “priests” (1 Peter 2:9), Baptists refuse to acknowledge a special clergy or ministerial class of Christians.

And yet, despite the Baptist allergy to a professionalized pastoral ministry, it is quite common for Evangelicals (including Baptists) to act as though pastors are indeed separated Christian professionals. For example, most Evangelical churches in America have no unpaid pastors. Such a reality betrays the assumption that pastors are professional (or at the very least vocational) Christian teachers and leaders.

Since the Bible most often uses the term “elder” and since many wrongly assume pastors must be paid professionals, I believe it is probably helpful for Evangelicals (especially Baptists) to recover the use of the term “elder” for the pastoral office.

Describing the Officers

The two offices of the New Testament are elders and deacons. The former is an office of servant-leadership and loving instruction, and the latter is an office of selfless service. In the Bible, church leaders are always elders, and deacons always serve both the elders and the church body.

In short, elders are qualified, recognized, and committed men who do the work of shepherding among a particular local church (Ephesians 4:11-16; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:6-9).

Here are the various ways in which the Bible describes and/or prescribes the function and responsibilities of those who serve in the office of elder.

Elders (πρεσβυτερος) 
  • Acts 11:30 – Elders (πρεσβυτερους) received material gifts from other churches in order to distribute them to the needy among their own congregation.
  • Acts 14:23 – Multiple elders (πρεσβυτερους) were “appointed” by Paul and Barnabas in “every church” in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch.
  • Acts 15:1-29 – Elders (πρεσβυτερους) are listed beside the Apostles as leaders of the church in Jerusalem.
  • Acts 16:4 – Elders (πρεσβυτερων) are listed beside the Apostles as having made an authoritative decision regarding the clarity and extent of the gospel.
  • Acts 20:17-38 – Paul addressed the elders (πρεσβυτερους) in Ephesus, calling them to be “overseers” (’επισκοπους) of God’s “church” (’εκκλησιαν).
  • Acts 21:17-26 – “All the elders” (πρεσβυτεροι) were gathered in Jerusalem to listen to Paul’s account of God’s work through his ministry, and Paul submitted to their counsel regarding his actions in their Jewish community.
  • 1 Timothy 4:14 – A “council of elders” (πρεσβυτεριου) commissioned Timothy for the task of ministry.
  • 1 Timothy 5:17 – Elders (πρεσβυτεροι) are those who “rule” or “manage” (προεστωτες [literally ‘stand over’]), and some elders make their living by “preaching and teaching” (λογω [literally ‘word’] and διδασκαλια).
  • 1 Timothy 5:19 – Christians are to be alert to the possibility of slanderous accusations against an elder (πρεσβυτερου).
  • Titus 1:5-6 – Elders (πρεσβυτερους) were appointed to churches in every town, and such appointments were necessary to put things in their appropriate order. Note in this passage that more than one elder was to be appointed in each singular town (i.e., church). This – a plurality of elders in each church – is the universal reality in the New Testament.
  • James 5:14 – The elders (πρεσβυτερους) of the church (’εκκλησιας) are to pray for ill church members.
  • 1 Peter 5:1-3 – The Apostle Peter wrote to the elders (πρεσβυτερους) among the dispersed Christians as a “fellow elder” (συμπρεσβυτερος), calling them to “exercise oversight” or “oversee” (’επισκοπουντες) the affairs of their respective congregations.
Overseer (’επισκοπος) 
  • Acts 20:17-38 – Paul says that the elders in Ephesus have been made “overseers” (’επισκοπους) in the “church” (’εκκλησιαν) by God Himself.
  • Philippians 1:1 – Paul addressed his letter to the “saints” (‘αγιοις) and the “overseers” (’επισκοποις) and the “deacons” (διακονοις) in Philippi.
  • 1 Timothy 3:1 – Paul labels the teaching and managing office in the church that of an “overseer” (’επισκοπης).
  • 1 Timothy 3:2-7 – Paul describes the qualifications for anyone who aspires to the office of “overseer” (’επισκοπον).
  • Titus 1:17 – Paul again describes the teaching and stewarding office in the church as that of an “overseer” (’επισκοπον).
Pastor (ποιμην) 
  • Ephesians 4:10-14 – Paul says that “shepherds” (ποιμενας) are gifts from Christ to the local church.
  • 1 Peter 5:1-3 – Peter exhorted “elders” (πρεσβυτερους) to “shepherd” (ποιμενατε) the “flock of God among them.”

If one simply reads the New Testament, without a previous commitment to the use of various terms among modern Evangelicals, he or she must necessarily conclude that the leading and teaching and shepherding office of a New Testament local church is that of elder. Furthermore, he or she would also conclude that the office must be occupied by faithful and exemplary men, who voluntarily take on the weighty task of caring for souls among a particular local church.

Marc Minter is the senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Diana, TX. He and his wife, Cassie, have two sons, Micah and Malachi.

Connect with Marc on Twitter or Facebook.

The Psalms of the Day

Have you ever read the Psalms of the day?

The Bible helps us to express our emotions and focus our prayer, and this is especially true of the Psalms. What does godly sorrow sound like? How should we pray for those who are overtly attacking us? Where can we find genuine words of contrition and repentance? All of this, and much more, is in the Psalms.

I highly recommend reading the Psalms of the day. This method of daily Bible reading can be especially helpful if you are going through a tough time, if you are struggling to pray meaningfully, or if you want to grow in your love for God and your awareness of His presence and provision.

You might be thinking, “Alright, I’d like to do this, but what in the world are the Psalms of the day?” Let me offer a brief explanation.

There are 150 Psalms. Divide that by 5, and you get 30.

There are usually 30-31 days each month (Feb is the exception). So, you start by reading the Psalm number that corresponds to today’s date. The date of this post is 10/01/2019, so you would begin with Psalm 1.

Then you add 30 to the day’s date and read that Psalm. Then you add another 30, and so on until you run out of Psalms.

On the first day of the month, the readings are Psalms 1, 31, 61, 91, and 121.

On the second day, the readings are Psalms 2, 32, 62, 92, and 122.

You get the idea.

This method of reading the Psalms would have you through the whole book of Psalms in a single month. I’ve found this method a great way to lead family Bible readings, and the Psalms are a marvelous place to turn for personal devotions as well.

May God bless your reading of His word, and may your hope in Him grow deeper and stronger with every reading.

A note about Psalm 119:

Since Psalm 119 is quite lengthy (you can read it in about 10-20 minutes), you could read Psalm 119 alone on the 31st of those months with 31 days.

Or you might notice that Psalm 119 is broken down into 22 sections (one section for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet), and you could devise some other method for reading through Psalm 119 along with your other daily readings. For example, you might read one section on each weekday of the month along with the other Psalms of the day.

Marc Minter is the senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Diana, TX. He and his wife, Cassie, have two sons, Micah and Malachi.

Connect with Marc on Twitter or Facebook.

“Word-Centered Church” by Jonathan Leeman

The following is a sort of mixture, both a book review and a personal commentary on some particular applications of the book’s substance.             

In his book, Word-Centered Church, Jonathan Leeman argues for a church theology and practice inundated by Scripture… in other words, a Word-centeredor Scripture-centeredchurch. Leeman writes, “[A Word-centered church] is a church where the words and teachings of Scripture reverberate back and forth, from mouth to mouth and heart to heart” (93).

So, he is not merely calling pastors to preach the Bible, he is calling all the members of a local church to participate holistically in the reverberating word-centeredness of their particular body. In this book, Leeman contends for what he calls a “faith proposition.” He says, “trusting God’s Word to build our churches is an act of faith” (29).

And yet, as any contender should, Leeman notes that many church leaders and members today are not seeking to build Word-centered churches. Numerous evangelical leaders and parishioners (Maybe the vast majority?) are seeking to build their churches by catering to a particular demographic.

In my own Baptist association in East Texas there are several “cowboy churches” and even a “biker church”! I have often wondered why some pastors haven’t stopped hiding the fact that they are seeking to build “affluent churches” or “white-urban-professional churches” or “hipster churches.” If we are targeting these demographics, why pretend we are doing something innovative or clever?

I have personally (to my shame) been a part of a collaborative effort in local church ministry to target a certain demographic on many occasions. As a matter of fact, the evangelistic parachurch ministry I once helped lead was largely built on the supposition that non-Christians needed to be drawn to church services by something other than the Scriptures and the gospel.

In addition to this parachurch experience, I was also one of four pastors on staff at a Southern Baptist church in North Texas who openly employed the Rick Warren model of targeting Saddleback Sam. This is a way of building local church practices, buildings, ambiance, and programs that would suit the tastes of a majority demographic geographically near the local church building. Leeman admits, “in the short term, this will build churches. Demographic and cultural loyalty is genuinely, empirically, demonstrably powerful” (73). I’ve heard this phrased many times as the argument by church leaders advocating for such practices.

 But Leeman is interested in more than just pragmatic strategies, and he effectively brings the reader into the place where the important question can be asked. Leeman sets the scene, inviting the reader to envision himself/herself visiting a church for the first time. He helps picture the imaginary venture, bringing the reader right to a seat in the auditorium, immediately before the start of the service.

Then Leeman asks, “What’s most important to you as you consider whether you will come back to this church?” (84). Every Christian – especially church leaders – must ask this question.

What is the most important thing about a local church?

Borrowing language from the Reformers and the Puritans, the two marks of a true churchare (1) the right preaching of God’s word and (2) the right administration of the sacraments or ordinances. Therefore, the most important thing about a local church – if it seeks to be a true church– is that it faithfully preaches God’s word. God’s word must be preached, taught, explained, believed, and treasured. This is not merely referring to the Sunday sermon, but to the whole life and ministry of the entire congregation. Still, the centrality of Scripture among a congregation certainly starts with the preaching.

In what follows, I will focus on the role of expositional preaching in the local church. I will first observe the divine authority of expositional preaching, then the expected response to expositional preaching. In each of these areas, I will point out the distinctiveness of expositional preaching from other forms of preaching I have experienced and the effects I have seen of expositional preaching under my own pastoral efforts.

Divine Authority

Expositional preaching happens when the main point of the Scriptural text is the main point of the sermon. An expositional sermon helps the hearer understand the Bible better and apply biblical truth to his/her life. In this way, expositional preaching is driven by God’s word, causing some to understand that the preacher is (in effect) speaking on God’s behalf, even as he speaks with his own words on a Sunday.

Leeman asks an important question when he writes, “How can ‘our words’ be ‘His Word’?” Indeed! How can a preacher – especially a cessationist preacher who believes in the sufficiency of Scripture – think that he is preaching “a word from God” as he preaches with his own words from his own mouth? 

I think the answer Leeman gives is helpful. He says, “God speaks through us whenever we plainly and modestly relate whatever He has already said in the Bible” (100). Thus, the preacher engages in something Leeman calls “re-revelation” (Leeman attributed this jargon to D.A. Carson) when he reads and explains God’s singular special revelation (i.e. Scripture). And this is the only grounds for any preacher to claim divine authority when he speaks.

I have noted a bizarre dichotomy of feelings in my own heart as I stand to preach behind a pulpit each Sunday. On the one hand, I am terrified. I am fearful of God’s judgment against my own sin and shortcomings. Who am I to stand before God this day and speak on His behalf?! I am fearful of the people’s judgment against my lack of knowledge and skill. Who am I to speak commandingly to so many people, some far more knowledgeable and skilled than I am?!

On the other hand, I am overwhelmingly confident. I am confident in God’s trustworthiness, His wisdom, His justice, and His grace. I am confident of the people’s need for God’s truth, their need to understand it, to believe it, to submit it, and to be nourished by it. The reason for this dichotomy is that I feel the weight of my own ineptitude and the weight of God’s own majesty. As a preacher, I can speak with divine authority when (and only when) I faithfully read, explain, and apply God’s holy word.

Therefore, expositional preaching plays the role of giving divinely authoritative direction to a particular local church. Who are we? What shall we do? How shall we live? All of these questions are answered on the pages of Scripture, and it is the job of the preacher to expound the Scripture in the context of a particular church family so that they may be hearers and doers of God’s word.

A Right Response

Because expositional preaching is the kind of preaching that best displays divinely authoritative preaching, it is also the best kind of preaching for leading the hearer toward a biblical response. Preaching is not essentially guidelines for living, steps for improving, or suggestions for success. Preaching (when it is faithfully expositional) is a divine word from God that must be believed and heeded. Leeman notes that “the Bible does two things: It announces what God has done, and it confronts its hearers with this news and its implications” (110).

Expositional preaching, then, announces the indicatives and imperatives of God’s word and confronts the hearer in his/her error. The assumption here is that the hearer is in error, and Leeman addresses that in the book as well. But, for the sake of space, I want to focus on the response that expositional preaching expects from the hearer. It expects divine transformation.

Among my congregation in rural East Texas there may be a number of Christians who are struggling to hear expositional preaching. Their palates have been trained to lap up nutrient-sparse messages of moralism and self-improvement. Many churches within a 20-mile radius of our church building continue striving to package a better therapeutic or culturally-traditional model of doing church.

Because this is true, expositional preaching has been somewhat off-putting to some church members and many visitors. They do not like the emphasis upon propositional statements over motivational ones. They sometimes wonder why there isn’t the same stress upon southern and rural American values, and they chafe at some words of admonition against cultural conformity.

Some, however, have begun to see that it is life-transformation we are after. Some exhibit the fruit of the Spirit’s work in their lives through the reverberation of the Scriptures. Some have joyfully embraced the higher goal of transformation, leaving behind the worldly goal of self-affirming spiritual guidance.

I think of Steve, who read between the lines of my gentle admonition, now looking for ways to read Scripture together with his adult daughters who are grown and gone, all three seeming to be nominal Christians. I think of Kathy, who started reading Scripture together with her mother and three sisters one night each week. Kathy heard her mother pray for the first time about a year ago, and we baptized Wanda (Kathy’s 80-yr-old mom) into membership in 2018.

I think of David, who became a deacon about 2 years ago and joined a weekly study of systematic theology in order to understand the Bible better. I think of Donald, who seems like a 70-yr-old “cage-stage” Reformed guy because he has just begun to grasp what it means that God is truly sovereign and that sound doctrine is life-giving.

Conclusion

God’s word alone has the power to transform lives. In the local church, the role of expositional preaching is to unleash the beast of God’s word without any of the trappings we might try to place upon it in our effort to dress it up a bit or make it more desirable for our modern culture. Christ is King! His word of grace saves! And His Spirit works through His word to transform all those who love and trust Him.

May God raise up many more preachers who humbly believe the “faith proposition” Leeman calls for in this book, and may God glorify Himself through the ministry of many Word-centeredchurches.