Take Heart My Brothers: Six Pastoral Priorities in the Face of Church Conflict

ethan-weil-262745In fair weather, the Pastoral Epistles are a storehouse of spiritual wisdom and instruction for the life of the Church and her ministers. But as we know too well, such cloudless skies are infrequent. Thankfully, when affliction grips the body of Christ, Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus are the most capable of helping pastors and churches navigate dark skies and turbulent winds. And thus in times of relational conflict and spiritual warfare, we (pastors) need to study them with an eye to what they say to about leading the church through conflict.

Indeed, in these letters (and others), Paul often speaks about the work of Satan, and significantly he places our enemy not outside, but inside, Christ’s fold. For instance, among born-again believers, Paul speaks of the way Satan finds a foothold (Ephesians 4:27), ensnares young believers ambitious to lead (1 Timothy 3:6–7), and turns brothers into opponents (2 Timothy 2:22–26). Because of his spiritual invasion, the church must always be on guard (1 Peter 5:8), praying against the schemes of the devil (Ephesians 6:10–19), and aware that ungodly people sneak into the church (Jude). Even more, wise elders must give themselves to steering the church straight in the face of opposition that comes from within the church and without.

To do this elders must keep a few things before their eyes. That is, we must prepare ourselves for the turmoil that sin and Satan bring to the church. And thus, in the face of constant threats, churches and church leaders do well to have a clear understanding of what to do when trouble comes. And there is no better place to find this counsel than the Pastoral Epistles.

So, if you are a pastor going through rough waters in your church, or if you are church member wondering what a faithful model of leadership should look like in the face of conflict, here are six priorities from the Book of Titus to guide your steps. Surely, these priorities will need to be administered with care in various contemporary settings, but they nonetheless provide biblical direction for churches to keep in mind when the wind and waves of church conflict seek to run the church aground. Continue reading

Five Questions on Discipleship: (5) Why Should You Make Disciples?

Thus far we have asked four questions about discipleship: (1) What Did Jesus Do?  (2)  What is a disciple? (3) Who makes disciples?  And (4) How do you make disciples?

Today we finish by simply asking the question, Why?  Why should you make disciples?  Let me give five answers that will serve as great motivation for stepping out in faith to make disciples.

First, It is disobedient to ignore this command (Matt 28:19).  The Great Commission is for every born-again believer in Jesus Christ. To ignore this command is to ignore the heart of Jesus. Making disciples is not an optional aspect of the Christian life for a select group of Christians.  It is part and parcel of every Christian’s calling.  Some may be more gifted at it than others, but all are called to be participants.

Second, the presence of God is found in it (Matthew 28:20).  The promise of God’s nearness is not found in your daily devotion or in a cabin retreat. It is found in the ministry of making disciples.  While such personal times of reflection are sweet, God’s word promises more emphatically his presence when we are laboring with him in finding, winning, and growing the sheep that Christ has purchased with his own blood.

Third, the promise of success is given in this task. (Matthew 16:18).  Disciple-making is guaranteed to work.  Sure, there will be many who you meet and minister to whom may fall away.  However, there will be others who will have their place marked out in heaven because of your willingness to serve.  You cannot save anyone, but God has chosen to use means (you and me) to build up his church.  And like the Father’s promise to the Son that his death would effect the salvation of his children, so we are given the promise that our labors will not be in vain (1 Cor 15:58).  The word of God never returns void, God has guaranteed that his church will be built, and he has shown us that this building comes through disciple-making.

Fourth, your greatest Christian joy will be had in disciple-making (1 Thess 2:19-20).  Just ask Paul.  His glory and joy were found in the men and women that he won to Christ and established in the faith.  His greatest anxiety was seeing disciples he had invested in turn from Christ.  Truly, if you are a Christian, this will be the source of your greatest joy, too.  The treasure you are to lay up in heaven is people–those whom you lead to the Lord and help along the way will be your greatest joy.

Fifth, churches grow as we make disciples.  The truth is, only disciple-making guarantees church growth.  The one “product” that the church should be producing is disciples.  Just read John 15:1-8.  When the church abides in the Word of God (i. e. the gospel) and the gospel permeates that church, disciples will be born unto the glory of God.

All other activities must be subservient to this main purpose. Therefore, block parties, special events, Power Team performances, and movies may draw a crowd, but they do not make disciples.  Children’s programming, bus ministries, friend days will get people in our building, but they will not make disciples. A cool website, newspaper ads, and yard signs will announce a church’s presence,  but none of these things guarantee disciple-making.  All of these events must be linked up with slower, more intentional process of life-on-life discipleship.

What This Means

If you commit to making disciples, you are committing to doing church in a more simple fashion.  While many programs and activities may be going on at your church, only one thing is necessary–Jesus Christ and the preaching of his gospel in the context of loving relationships that are growing disciples.

Similarly, if you commit to making disciples, you are committing yourself to slow growth.  If you want an instant helper in the home, buy a robot.  Don’t have a baby.  Children take time to rear, but in the end there is great reward in seeing a baby become a boy become a man, one who receives and lives out all the priorities you instill in him.  So it is with making disciple-making.  While it takes time and comes with seasons of pain, slow growth in pouring your life (with the gospel) into the life of another will be impact disciples in ways programs cannot.

Finally, if you commit to making disciples, people may wonder what you are doing to grow the church.  After all, the point of church growth is larger numbers, right?  It is true that numbers do provide a means of measuring the ministry, but perhaps we should find a quotient that divides the number of believers by the time that they stay and grow.  Of course, this sort of metric is impossible, but in our discussions about numbers, we should add to the conversation not only how many converts are won to Christ, but how many of those converts are grown up to be soul-winners themselves.  Or to use more biblical terminology, how many of the disciples made in your ministry are reproducing themselves?

May we continue to let the Great Commission ring in our ears and reverberated in our hearts, so that disciple-making becomes a central feature of our personal lives and church ministries.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Where Do Leaders Come From?

Russell Moore, dean of Southern Seminary, provides an encouraging and evangelistic reminder that the most energetic saints may not even be saved today.  He writes,

The next Jonathan Edwards might be the man driving in front of you with the Darwin Fish bumper decal. The next Charles Wesley might be a misogynist, profanity-spewing hip-hop artist right now. The next Billy Graham might be passed out drunk in a fraternity house right now. The next Charles Spurgeon might be making posters for a Gay Pride March right now. The next Mother Teresa might be managing an abortion clinic right now.

Moore’s essay points to the larger state of things in Christianity, and the way we can easily get discouraged when we evaluate “how things are going.”  His response is salutary.  When we feel discouraged our nation, our city, or our college, we should remember what Carl F. H. Henry said to him when he asked the late evangelical leader if he had hope for the future. Henry replied, ““Why, you speak as though Christianity were genetic,” he said. “Of course, there is hope for the next generation of evangelicals. But the leaders of the next generation might not be coming from the current evangelical establishment. They are probably still pagans.”

The same is true for local churches and their pastors. While we may often think that we need to find the next nursery director, Sunday School superintendent, or missions director from within the pews, it is just as likely that this Sunday they will be shuffling home after waking up in a Hooter’s parking lot.

This is a great reminder to begin the year.  God is at work all around us, and that we ought to trust less in the men we know, and more in the God who knows all. God makes leaders, and we ought to pray to the Lord of the Harvest to send many into his harvest field.

Read the rest of “The Next Billy Graham Might Be Drunk Right Now.”

Sola Dei Gloria, dss