What is a “good” pastor?

If you have been part of a local church or among the leadership of a local church, then you have probably thought or said something about the quality of a pastor or pastors.

I love my pastor because he showed great care for me when my daughter was in the hospital last year.”

That pastor is not so great because he doesn’t seem to connect well with guests and first-time visitors each Sunday.”

That pastor is awesome because he doesn’t seem like a typical pastor.”

Whatever you might think about your pastor, or pastors generally, I’d like to invite you to consider the reality that pastors do indeed have a tremendous impact on the local church. In fact, one way to know if a church family is healthy and if they will grow healthier over time is to learn about the pastor or pastors who lead them.

Biblically qualified pastors or elders or “undershepherds” is one mark or feature of a healthy church, and Christians are wise to think more about this subject. Learn more about building healthy churches by visiting 9marks.org.

What are the biblical qualifications of an undershepherd (i.e. pastor or elder)? When you think of a well-qualified pastor, what comes to mind? Do the qualifications you are thinking about have any Scriptural support or are they based on your life experience or your preferences? How would you know if a man was qualified to serve as a pastor? How would you know if a man should be removed pastoring your local church?

Thankfully, the Bible gives a thorough list of pastoral qualifications and the Bible provides examples of good pastors.

  • A pastor or elder should have a clean reputation (1 Tim. 3:2, 7; Titus 1:6-7).
  • If He is married, he should be a faithful husband and his wife should be godly and faithful as well (1 Tim. 3:2, 4; Titus 1:6).
  • He should manage his household well (1 Tim. 3:4-5; Titus 1:6).
  • He should be self-controlled and financially temperate (1 Tim. 3:2-3; Titus 1:7-8).
  • He should be hospitable and mature in his Christian walk (1 Tim. 3:2, 6; Titus 1:8).
  • He should be doctrinally sound and able to teach sound doctrine to others (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:9).

If you see men among your church family who meet these qualifications, then you should praise God for them. For such men are a gift from Christ to His people (Eph. 4:11-12), and they are a blessing to your soul (Heb. 13:17). If, however, you are sitting under the shepherding care of a man who fails to meet one or more of these qualifications, then you should have grave concerns.

We are warned in Scripture about false teachers (2 Pet. 2:1-3; 1 Jn. 4:1) and false gospels (Gal. 1:6-9). Furthermore, God blames congregations for listening to those who lead them astray (Gal. 1:6-9).

It is vitally important that every member of a local church understand these qualifications. If some church members measure the quality of pastoral leadership by some other standard, then an unqualified man may seem more valuable than he truly is, or a highly qualified man may seem less than desirable.

May God raise up more qualified pastors/elders and may He cause many churches to be healthier through the efforts of such men. May God also help church members to value and appreciate good pastors/elders by measuring them by biblical standards.

What is Church Membership?

It is biblical and valuable!

What is church membership?

The topic of church membership has garnered great interest among Evangelical circles in recent years. Surely, all would agree that a discussion of the meaning and value of church membership can be rewarding in the context of any local church. And yet, it does seem that some local churches are hesitant to think critically about their own practice of church membership. This article is, in large part, a plea for local churches to think about the concept of church membership and the right practice of church membership in their specific context.

Biblical investigation, historical study, and personal introspection are all great efforts when addressing church membership and related topics. When church history agrees with Scripture, we may gain insight from the application of biblical truth in a context that is not our own.  When church history diverges from or unnecessarily exceeds the teaching of the Bible, we are better equipped to learn how we may avoid these mistakes ourselves by learning from others. Of course, the question is not ultimately, “How did people do church membership in the past?” The question is, “How should we do church membership right now?”

Church membership has lost its value.

To say that the value of church membership has diminished among the majority of Evangelical churches today is not to say that church membership is not valuable.  My statement is about the perception of many Evangelical church members, not the actual value of church membership.

It seems clear to me that many Evangelical church members (especially in the Southern Baptist Convention) perceive church membership as having little or no value whatever in their daily lives. The statistic of members to regular attendees is sufficient to illustrate the perceived lack of value among Southern Baptists. There are about 15 million members among SBC churches, but only about 33% of these can be found gathering with fellow members on any given Sunday.

If one does not think enough of church membership to worship regularly with fellow members, then one does not value church membership.

The reason I have begun by articulating the problem (namely a devaluation of church membership) is that I believe this current situation is one of our own making (speaking of Southern Baptists and other Evangelicals). I, therefore, believe that the solution is achievable by those same ones who have created the problem. We must resolve to carefully and diligently practice biblical church membership.

We have largely made church membership a consumer-driven category, much like any other social or service-oriented organization. Church leaders look for new and innovative ways to cater to the taste-preferences of their target audience, and then create organizational structures by which they seek to achieve maximum saturation of their niche market.

Many church leaders hope to draw in an ever-larger crowd by targetting and winning an audience, much like corporate marketing specialists.

All of this feeds into the self-centered idea that the customer is king and the whole organization exists at the behest of the customer. At the end of the day, church members think of the church as an institution which exists to serve the felt-needs of its members. Church members think this way because the church leaders taught them to do so by their own words and actions.

The result of this kind of practice is an appalling lack of accountability, authority, and discipling. In fact, such things are considered abhorrent to the marketing and consumer-driven structure. Accountability, authority, and discipline would undermine the foundational values of any customer-centered organizational model.

Church membership is thoroughly biblical and highly valuable.

In contrast to this modern invention of church growth techniques, the Bible actually presents a simple and God-centered structure and purpose for church membership. It seems clear to me that the purpose of church membership is articulated throughout the New Testament in the form of commitments and responsibilities.

Here are some of the commitments I find in the New Testament.

  • The individual Christian must commit to other Christians (Col. 3:12-17).
  • The individual Christian must submit to the oversight of church leadership (Heb. 13:17).
  • Pastors/elders commit themselves to the task of lovingly shepherding (leading, teaching, loving) a particular local assembly of Christians (1 Pet. 5:1-5).
  • Christians must join together for mutual support and accountability (Gal. 6:1-2).
  • Under the care and instruction of godly leaders (i.e. pastors/elders), a congregation must strive to grow in spiritual maturity and in its ability to do the work of the ministry (Eph. 4:11-16).

The biblical understanding of church membership makes clear the distinction between the people of God and the rest of the world. Those who enjoy new life in Christ are trained and corrected so that they may flourish in their new life. Those who resist the disciplines of Christian living are rebuked and held accountable for opposing the very practices that produce greater life in all who follow Christ.

In the practice of biblical church membership, Christians are distinguished from the world, and Christians grow alongside one another in grace and love.

The results of practicing biblical church membership are increasing spiritual health, progress in personal holiness, and growth in effective Christian witness to the world. The gospel of Christ, which asserts that blessed transformation is at the heart of God’s gracious plan for sinners, is made visible among congregations like these.

May God revitalize, reform, and renew Evangelical churches to reflect the purity and love which Christ said would mark His disciples in the world (Jn. 13:35).

Responsible Parenting

Parenting is simultaneously a joyful and overwhelming task. The responsible parent will regularly feel a sense of contentment and the fear of inadequacy. One question at the root of many of our thoughts is, “how do you know if you are parenting well?”

There are many principles and applications to consider as we think through a good answer to this question, but I’d like to keep things simple and basic in this post. One Bible passage that speaks directly to children and parents is Ephesians 6:1–4. Let’s read it here, and then let’s note a couple of things.

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’ (this is the first commandment with a promise), ‘that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.’ Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

This passage emphasizes at least a couple of things.

One “the Lord” is the foundation of parental authority, and this is closely tied to the reality that children are indeed a blessing from God (Ps. 127:3). We all want to praise and thank God for His good gift of children and the opportunity He has given us to parent them. Also, remembering that parental authority comes from God will help us make good use of our fatherly or motherly authority without being too soft or too hard.

The second thing we can notice in the passage is that parental authority comes with a divine command and responsibility. Especially addressing fathers, the Scripture clearly places the responsibility to discipline children (that is to teach and to train them) according to the instruction of the Lord. God gives fathers and mothers the authority to teach and train their children, and He gives them the responsibility to do so as well.

What a sobering and humbling thought!

God has entrusted these little ones to the care of their father and mother. Moms, God has given you an allotted time to cherish and nourish the tiny one you hold (who may or may not be so tiny anymore). Dads, God has given you an allotted time to cultivate and develop the child He has placed in your care.

May God help us all, as God’s stewards, to love and lead our children well.

A Pastoral Word about Mother’s Day

Pastors have a responsibility to speak truthfully and honestly about all things… especially those things about which we are often far-too-sentimental. Therefore, Mother’s Day can prove to be a somewhat difficult occasion for pastors.

On the one hand, I want to celebrate motherhood and encourage the already lofty spirits of those proud mothers in attendance. On the other hand, I want to remember the experience of those women in attendance who may not have such good feelings about Mother’s Day. In fact, I know some women who avoid church services on Mother’s Day precisely because of their ill feelings.

Mother’s Day is certainly a time for us to thank our own mother, congratulate mothers, and admire motherhood generally. There is much to be admired about motherhood, and all of the women who have given themselves to this role are worthy of thanks.

As with all things in creation, God defines motherhood. God created motherhood before the Fall and curse of sin, commanding the man and his wife to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28); therefore, motherhood is rightly understood as part of God’s good creation.

Motherhood can be a joyful experience. Children are a blessing from God (Gen. 29:31, 30:22; Ps. 127:3), and there is great wonder in watching them grow and learn and become adults… right before our eyes.

And yet, because of the Fall, motherhood is full of pain as well (Gen. 3:16). Some mothers may dread the arrival of Mother’s Day because it is another aching reminder of a child lost or a child aborted or a child estranged from the family they once knew. Maybe some mothers have deep regrets regarding their own past failures.

But isn’t this how things always seem to be in our fallen world? Aren’t we always looking at beautiful pictures through the broken glass of damaged frames?

Aren’t we always looking at beautiful pictures through the broken glass of damaged frames?

May God bless those mothers who are overjoyed by the blessing of motherhood.

May God bless those mothers who are overwhelmed by the pain of motherhood.

May God bless those women who aren’t mothers at all. Your femininity is certainly not incomplete without children, and God is the good heavenly Father who knows what is best for you.

 

Is God frowning at you?

Christians have the great promise of joy and hope, and these are based on God’s grace in Christ. What better promises? And what greater foundation to trust them?

And yet, Christians may and do feel joyless and hopeless at times. When the circumstances of life bite and gnaw, when the sinful desires of our own heart roar and prowl, and when the presence of our beloved Savior seems but a distant memory, it is quite normal for Christians to feel a sense of despair. In Psalm 42, the psalmist gives literary expression to the feelings that sometimes plague us.

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” (v5).

I say to God… why have You forgotten me?” (v9).

Adversaries taunt me… all day long… [saying], ‘Where is your God?'” (v11).

If you feel some sense of the frown of God today, then consider the Gospel, and invite trusted Christian friends to help you discern whether or not you are truly trusting and following Christ. If their loving counsel is an encouragement that you are, then please, dear brother or sister, remember these things:

1) Remember that you have felt God’s smile before. These times are real, though they may feel distant. If God has ever smiled over you, given you His blessing and not His curse, then you may be certain that He is always smiling over you (Eph. 2:1-10).

2) Remember that God’s promises are absolutely trustworthy and not at all dependent upon feeling or circumstance. Think of Abraham and God’s delayed promise of an offspring and a nation. God doesn’t always do what we might want, but He is always working for the good ends He has prepared for His people (Rom. 8:28-29).

3) Remember that God is glorified, not in your confident self-reliance, but in your simple trust in His power and grace. Putting one foot in front of the other towards Christ is much more glorious than dashing or leaping in any other direction (Gal. 2:20).

May God grant you joy and hope, and especially if these things seem far away from you today. May you behold the glory of Christ and feel His Spirit refreshingly assure you of your glorious and secure adoption into the family of God (Rom. 8:14-17).

Are You Prepared to Suffer?

When tragedy strikes, we usually experience a range of emotions. We feel sorrow and pain, guilt and regret, and sometimes even vulnerable and bitter. At some point we decide, whether consciously or not, how we will cope with our new reality.

In these moments of turmoil, there is little we can do to regain our solid footing. The winds of circumstance and emotion furiously toss us to and fro. And yet, there is solid ground for those who are prepared for these perilous times.

But, how does one prepare for such times? And, how does one brave such perils?

The Bible proves itself to be divine wisdom in so many ways, but in my experience, its usefulness is most precious in the midst of the stormiest calamities. God knows His creation well, and He is sovereign over everything, so He is not surprised by suffering. In fact, He has ordained it. Furthermore, He has given us counsel and even His own example in an effort to prepare us and shelter us from all kinds of distress.

First, consider the reality and expectation of suffering. Since Genesis 3, this mortal life has been full of suffering. In our modern western culture, we are often insulated from some of the painful realities of life, but our illusions of safety are ripped away when the sting of this world wounds us too (James 5:10-11).

Second, consider the biblical teaching that God ordains suffering. The Bible knows nothing of a god who merely watches human events and activities. The God of the Bible is sovereign over whatever happens, and He is at work through suffering. God not only allows suffering; He brings it to pass according to His will (1 Pet. 4:19; Lamentations 3:37-38) and for His purposes (Eph. 1:11; Rom. 8:28-29).

Third, consider Christ’s example of suffering. Not only may we take heart in the fact that God is sovereign over our suffering, but we may also be encouraged to see God Himself endure suffering through Christ. As followers of Jesus, we are not surprised to experience suffering because our Master and Lord experienced it long ago (Heb. 2:10; Phil. 3:8-10; 1 Pet. 2:19-21).

Last, consider the hope of what is to come for those who trust Christ through their suffering. One can hardly say it better than the Bible already has:

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Pet. 5:6–11).

May God spare us all from too many harsh and painful experiences. More importantly, however, may He help us to be sober-minded about what to expect in this fallen world, and may He grant us grace to trust Him in the midst of our stormy days.

For we know that He who reigns supreme will gloriously strengthen all who lean upon Him, and we know that God Himself will exalt those who cast their anxieties on Him.

7 Reasons Not to “Move Your Letter”

I’d like to move my letter.”

This phrase and others like it are probably unfamiliar to you unless you are a Baptist who has spent some significant time on the membership roster of a church in the American south. This phrase is referencing the transfer of one’s church membership from one local church to another. However, it seems to me that such a phrase exposes a common but unbiblical understanding of church membership.

Let me outline 7 reasons I think you should stop trying to “move your letter” or anyone else’s.

  1. It’s not your letter. Your membership in a local church family was never privately owned. It has always been an agreement between you and the local church you call family (or at least used to call family). When you choose to join a local church, you are making a public agreement with a number of other Christians, and this excludes the possibility of you ever being able to make any decision about your membership without their participation (Jn. 13:34-35; Rom. 12:10; 1 Cor. 12:25).
  2. You can’t move your letter; it doesn’t exist. The letter we are referring to here is a letter of commendation. It is not a mere certificate of membership. It is not an administrative document of your past attendance, however frequent or sporadic it may have been. It is not a simple statement that you were on the membership roster of a local church. Therefore, you can’t move your letter; for it does not exist yet. The letter you are requesting is something that the congregation you are leaving must create in response (1 Cor. 12:25; Col. 3:9, 16).
  3. You can’t move your letter; it may not ever exist. The common assumption is that the mere request of a “letter transfer” will necessarily be followed by the action of “moving the letter of membership.” But, this may not be so. As mentioned above, the letter you are requesting does not exist yet. Your request must be heard and answered by the congregation with whom you are currently enjoined. They are responsible to examine your life and beliefs in order to decide whether or not they are willing to commend you to the membership of another congregation. Simply put, your current church family is responsible to inform any other of who you truly are based on their experience with you (James 5:16; Col. 3:16).
  4. Your desire to move from membership in one local church to another should be expressed by a humble and personal request. The “movement of your letter” requires your current church family to communally endorse you as a Christian of good quality to another church family. This is no small matter, and your request is very personal to those of whom you are making such a thing. If your request is requiring such a personal investment from a whole congregation of fellow Christians, shouldn’t your appeal require more than an impersonal and distant statement from you (Phil. 2:3; Eph. 5:21)?
  5. Your movement from one church to another is too important to be done quietly. Do you remember the feeling of joy you had when your current church family accepted you into their membership? Wasn’t it a wonderful occasion to celebrate God’s work in your life and His work in the life of that local church? Why would you think that your entrance into another local church family would be less significant? Your current church family cares deeply about your spiritual growth and health, even if you don’t think they have expressed that care very well up to this point. You respected and cared about what your current church family thought when they took you in; you can respect and care what they think (at least a little) as you make your way out (1 Cor. 12:25; 1 Jn. 4:7-21).
  6. Your church family and pastors will give an account to Christ for every member they take in and every member they commend. Taking members in and putting members out is one of the major functions of every local church. This is, in fact, the primary way that a church family exercises loving discipline in the life of the congregation. Christ, who is ruler and king over all, is the head of every local church. Everything that any local church does in the name of Christ will be to His glory or to their own shame (Matt. 18:15-20; Heb. 13:17).
  7. Your church family is responsible to help you know where you truly stand before God. Only those people who are giving themselves over to belief in and submission to Christ are welcome in a particular church family, joining with that particular group of Christians to communally follow Christ. And, if a person has been in close relationship with a church family for any length of time, that church family is in a great position to either affirm or critique that person’s profession of faith. While everyone loves affirmation, a loving critique is better than flattery any day (Gal. 6:1; Col. 3:16; Heb. 10:24; James 5:16).

The local church is so much more important than we often think, and the individual Christian benefits most when he or she greatly appreciates the value of their local church.

For more information about church membership, joining a local church, and leaving a local church, see the following:

Article: “Pastors, Don’t let you people resign into thin air

Podcast: “On how to receive and dismiss members

Podcast: “How to leave your church well