Hospitality is Not Optional: Five Ways to Pursue Other People

welcome

Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
— Romans 15:7 —

A few months ago I wrote about the importance of hospitality and five ways to show hospitality in the church. Today, I want to offer five more.

While much hospitality focuses on individuals or families opening their homes to others, a vital practice which enables “house churches” to meet (e.g., Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:19), I am focusing attention on churches gathering outside of the home. Thus, spring-boarding from 1 Corinthians 16, a passage overflowing with gospel labor, here are five more ways we can pursue hospitality in the church.

Five Ways to Pursue Hospitality

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Playing Your Part in the Gospel (pt. 1): Planning, Giving, Going, Hosting, Helping (1 Corinthians 16:1–11)

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Playing Your Part in the Gospel (pt. 1): Planning, Giving, Going, Hosting, and Helping (1 Corinthians 16:1–11)

When Paul finishes his doctrinal defense of the resurrection, he says, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (15:58). Clearly, in his mind the resurrection is not an esoteric point of doctrine; rather, it fuels ministry and missions. Indeed, in 1 Corinthians 16 we find a flurry of gospel activity that prompts us to consider how we are living in light of the resurrection.

In this Sunday’s message, I suggested that we play our part in (proclaiming) the gospel through planning, going, giving, hosting, and helping. You can listen to this call to action or read the sermon notes. Discussion questions are below, as are a cadre of resources on these actions of ministry. Continue reading

Six Lessons on Shepherding: A Pastoral Meditation on 1 Thessalonians 2

shepherdIn the Bible, leadership is likened to shepherding. In the Old Testament, God shepherded his people; he called shepherds like Moses and David to lead his people; and kings were often likened to shepherds. In the New Testament, the image continues. Elders are commanded to shepherd the people whom God gives them to oversee (1 Peter 5:1–4). And local churches are to recognize a plurality of Spirit-formed shepherds who will lead them and feed them with God’s word.

Additionally, the New Testament gives many examples of shepherding, and one of the best is Paul’s statement on his ministry in 1 Thessalonians 2. What follows are six lessons to be learned from his ministry and the way elders can shepherd well the people of God today. Take time to read Paul’s words in verses 1–16 and consider how Paul’s personal ministry demonstrates absolute commitment to preaching the undiluted word and constant attention to the people to whom he preaches.

May we who shepherd learn to do the same. Continue reading

Learning to See the Beauty of a Gospel-Centered Church

churchThis Sunday we start up a new cycle of membership classes at our church, what we call Discover OBC. And in our first part we look at the Gospel and the Church. I love teaching about these two subjects, because they are at the core of Christianity. The gospel is the message which brings hope to a sinful world; the church is the community created by that gospel and commissioned to protect and proclaim that gospel so that the whole world might hear of King Jesus.

I love the gospel and the church, and I can’t wait to teach about them Sunday. But it wasn’t always that way.

How Do You See the Church?

Admittedly, for me, I was slow to understand and appreciate the importance and beauty of the local church. In high school and college, I came to faith, began sharing the gospel, and learning how the Word of God impacted all of life. In this time, church was important, but only as an extension of my individual Christianity.

For me church was an a la carte affair. I was committed to worshiping on Sunday, but not to any particular church. As long as I heard the Bible somewhere, that was enough. I was committed to evangelism and discipleship, but I did not see them as necessarily connected to the local church. As long as the gospel was going forward, surely that was enough. Right? What did the local church matter?

Well, near the end of college I “sensed the need” to join a church. I didn’t have any biblical reasons for the desire; it was just something I felt. (N.B. I am glad for this decision, but I don’t think it is the way the Bible teaches us to make decisions). After five years of walking with Jesus, I moved across the country to join a Bible-teaching, elder-led local church. And “attach” is probably the right term, because I still conceived of the church as the place individuals attach themselves to one another, more than a covenant community created by Jesus and bound by his Spirit.

As I look back, I realize how much I conceived of the church and Christianity in radically individualistic ways. I had come to believe the gospel, but the operating system of my life was still the expressive individualism I inherited from my culture. Not surprisingly, this is how I approached church. Even after joining the church, I still approached church this way. It wasn’t until I began to study the Scriptures on the matter, that I began to see that the Bible was and is at odds with the individualistic Christianity that I first adopted.

Four Metaphors for the Church

Most helpful to me in understanding what the Bible says about church were the many metaphors Scripture gives to us about the church. For instance, 1 Timothy 3:15 says we are God’s household; 1 Corinthians 12 calls us the body of Christ; Ephesians 5 likens us to Christ’s bride; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19 describes us as God’s temple; Ephesians 2:19–22 says the same thing; and 1 Peter 2:5, 9 adds that each of us are living stones in that temple. I have written about these things before and will cover them in our new members class, but today I want to suggest four others word-pictures that might help you and I think about what church is and isn’t.

  • First, the church is a family home not a spiritual hotel. That is, the church is not an amenity-filled temporary residence; it is meant to be a long-term, family-filled gathering place where we do life together. While our culture teaches us to be consumers, a church based on God’s Word teaches us to be brothers and sisters.
  • Second, the church is a military outpost, not an earthly resort. While there is a place for retreat and rest, the church is a royal embassy engaged in spiritual warfare. Therefore, we come to church not just to escape, but to be equipped and to work together to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom to a hostile world.
  • Third, the church is a heavenly practice, not an earthly pit-stop. On a long journey, rest is needed. But if we treat church as merely the rest on our journey, we miss that church is actually the goal, not the pit stop we take on the way to something else. More accurately, gathering to worship and fellowship is the way we practice our everlasting life. It is not given to merely assist us in earthly labors; it is meant to subvert earthly labors as it teaches us to store up treasures in heaven. In this vein, God may be calling you to use your gifts to build up the body of Christ, imperfect as it is, rather than using your GPS to find the service that best meets all our needs. But to embrace that we must remember the church is not yet perfect.
  • Fourth, the local church is a temporary shadow, not the full and final substance. How often do we complain (if only in our hearts) that church is not like we want it? In truth, this is how it will always be. Until all of God’s people, from all ages and all places, are gathered around the throne room, we will experience the thorns and thistles of this age—even in the church. Therefore, it may help to remember that our local assemblies are but grace-filled shadows of God’s ultimate goal—a new creation filled with resurrected saints.

Indeed, these kinds of word-pictures have helped me think more clearly about the biblical picture of the church. Based on the metaphors of Scripture, they have enlarged my heart for the church—in all of its grace and grit. A gospel-centered church is truly a beautiful creation. I pray these images will help you see its beauty and mission as well.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

‘Seedtimes of Tears’: The Goodness and Necessity of Tears in Ministry

paul

When Paul called the Ephesian elders to himself in Miletus (Acts 20), he recounted his three years of service before them. His words focused on preparing the elders whom he loved and labored with for the challenges they would soon face. Just as Paul fought the beasts of Ephesus (see 1 Corinthians 15:32), so too they would have to protect God’s sheep from the goats and boars who would come to ravage the Lord’s vineyard in Ephesus.

Reading Acts 20 recently, Paul’s words in verses 18–-20 struck a nerve. He writes,

And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house

Humility. Tears. Trials.

As Paul faithfully preached the gospel, he encountered humbling trials, tear-filled circumstances, and strong opposition for simply doing what God has said to do. For Paul, this was business as usual (see 1 Corinthians 4:12–13), but Paul shares these difficulties to remind the elders that it was their calling too. For anyone called to speak God’s Word—one might think of Paul, or Jesus, or the prophets of old—is likewise called to a ministry of suffering and sorrow. Sorrow was and is a natural and necessary emotion for God’s servant of the Word.

Strikingly, in Acts 20, tears are mentioned three times: (1) as Paul recalled his fruitful ministry of the Word in Ephesus (v. 19); (2) as he called the elders to be alert of false teachers (v. 31); and (3) when the elders and Paul part, realizing they will never see one another again, they wept (vv. 37–-38). In all of these places, tears are the natural and necessary part of genuine ministry. Indeed, it is worth considering these tears, as they prepare us for service and alert us to the high cost of laboring in the Lord’s vineyard. Continue reading

Resting in a Received Ministry

batonYears before receiving a call to serve as pastor, I received one of the most helpful lessons on ministry from Eddie Rasnake and the pastoral staff of Woodland Park Baptist Church.

In 2002 I moved to Chattanooga, Tennessee to go through the SALT Institute. SALT stands for Servant Approach Leadership Training. And this two-year cohort program—which continues to serve the people of WPBC—equipped (aspiring) church leaders with sound principles for Bible study, disciple-making, and ministry. Nearly fifteen years later, the things I learned in SALT continue to shape my approach to ministry. That said, one of them, stands above the rest—ministry is received, not achieved.

What is an Achieved Ministry?

Have you ever met someone whose singular aim is to convince you they are called to ministry? Maybe they give away scores of Vista Print business cards inviting you to invite them to your church; maybe they email you regularly to convince you why they should speak or sing or play at your next youth event; or maybe they give as much attention to networking as to prayer and the study of God’s Word. All of these are symptoms of an achieved ministry.

To be sure, Christians ought to be zealous in using their gifts (Romans 12:8, 11). We ought, as William Carey once said, “Expect great things from God,” and “attempt great things for God.” But while God honors such passion, we must admit there are plenty of zealous people not named Carey. In other words, not every zealous minister is equally pleasing to God. Too many are driven by impure motives. And here, I’m not just talking about others. I know my own heart and the conniving ways I seek to assert myself.

So what is the solution? My answer, the answer I received from the SALT Institute, is to crucify self-achieved ministries and pursue, with a patient heart, a received ministry. Continue reading

Household ‘Stewards’: A Rich Metaphor for Pastors and Churches

shepherdThis is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ
and stewards of the mysteries of God.
Moreover, it is required of stewards
that they be found faithful.
– 1 Corinthians 4:1–2 –

In creation, there is nothing more valuable than human life. And this is doubly true for those who have been purchased with the infinite blood of Christ (Acts 20:28; 1 Corinthians 6:19; 1 Peter 1:18–19). God sent his Son to Calvary to redeem a people for his own possession, and so great is his love for his people that the Good Shepherd has raised up shepherds who would tend his flock. Sometimes these spiritual leaders are called pastors, or overseers, or elders—synonymous terms for the same office. At the same time, while each of these labels stress different aspects of local church ministry, there is another title that needs consideration—steward.

In Paul’s letters especially, “steward” (oikonomos) describes the kind of ministry pastors are to have. As Christ gives pastors to his people (Ephesians 4:11), he gives them to particular, groups of people—i.e., local churches. In Acts 2, when the church was “birthed,” new converts were “added to the number” of the church (v. 47; cf. 4:5, 32; etc.). Later Paul could speak of a “majority” in the church (2 Cor 2:6) or the “whole church” gathering, indicating an awareness of the number of the people. The importance of this observation is that God has not simply given pastors to be spiritual mentors or life coaches to Christians in general. He has called them to manage local gatherings of God’s household.

For good reason, most pastoral literature focuses attention on the multivalent duties of the pastor/overseer/elder. However, focus on these three labels without consideration of the fourth gives us an incomplete picture. There needs to be equal emphasis given to the idea of the pastor as God’s steward. In fact, such a notion focuses the high calling of a pastor within the parameters of a local church and clarifies the importance for Christians to be members of a local church. Without disregarding the vital importance of the universal church, the pastor as steward corrects amorphous understandings of spiritual leadership and church life.

What is a Steward?

In the New Testament, oikonomos and oikonomia are two words related to the oversight of a house. Continue reading

A Brief Meditation on the Minister’s Rest

farmerWhen I lived in Indiana I was surrounded by fields and farmers. From spring planting to fall harvesting, these men and women worked hard to bring fruit from the soil. As Paul indicates in 2 Timothy 2:6, “It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops.” In Paul’s day, like ours, farmers are known for their hard work. The same is true for those who sow and water with the word of God. Like the farmer, early mornings, long nights, and constant concern for the Lord’s harvest are a heavy burden.

Fortunately, God gives seasons to farmers. In the winter months, hard-working farmers receive a time of rest and recovery. But at the same time, these hard-working farmers take time to plan for the next year, for the increase of the harvest. I remember talking to them in the winter months as they would be making their seed orders, learning more about new techniques, and equipping themselves with the latest machinery. Sure, there were trips to the beach, holiday celebrations, and the ability to take an afternoon nap. But far more, these men and women spent their time preparing for the upcoming harvest.

This imagery is helpful when we think about a sabbatical. In the Old Testament, Israel was commanded to take a sabbatical from the land every seven years (Exodus 23:10–11). Following in the footsteps of their heavenly father (Genesis 2:1–3), they were called to rest. Rest in the Bible is never a time of inactivity or lethargy. Rather it is a time when God and his people enjoy one another. Such is the background for ministers of the gospel who occasionally take a season of rest and refreshment. The goal is not to pull away from the church, the Lord, or his work. But rather, it is a time of reflection, rest, and refreshment for future ministry.

Indeed, Charles Spurgeon spoke of the necessity for “holy inaction and consecrated leisure.” In his Lectures to My Students, the London pastor said,

It is wisdom to take occasional furlough. In the long run, we shall do more by sometimes doing less. On, on, on for ever, without recreation may suit spirits emancipated from this ‘heavy clay’, but while we are in this tabernacle, we must every now and then cry halt, and serve the Lord by holy inaction and consecrated leisure. Let no tender conscience doubt the lawfulness of going out of harness for a while.” (161)

This principle of rest is true for all Christians, and especially those who labor to feed and tend the flock.

Personally, rest is a difficult practice for me. That being said I am growing to see my need to schedule “holy inaction” and “consecrated leisure.” Though my go-go-go mentality fights against it, taking time to periodically unstring the bow and sharpen the axe does not steal away from productivity. It actually does the opposite—it ensures that I trust in God to give the growth (1 Corinthians 3:7), even as I labor in the strength he provides (Colossians 1:28–29). Yes, he gives spiritual strength, but such grace is not divorced from our responsibility to care for our physical body’s.

While the work of the ministry is a spiritual endeavor, it is not immaterial. Lest we deny our own created-ness or become neo-Platonists who pit the spirit against the flesh, we must learn how to pace ourselves as we run God’s race. This includes scheduling physical rest, sometimes even a prolonged sabbatical like we recently gave to one of the pastors at our church. Because we are vessels of clay, we must establish a rhythm of work and rest, lest we invite physical exhaustion and spiritual/emotional collapse.

Therefore, as we strive to abide in his rest (Hebrews 4:11), may God grant us strength through the appointed means of holy inaction and the spiritual discipline of consecrated rest. May we find Sabbath rest in Christ (Hebrews 3–4) and take time to let our physical bodies recover for more fruitful service.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

For Your Edification: Baptism, Membership, and Life Together in the Church

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about the church, membership, baptism, and life together in the church. As I preach through 1 Corinthians and our church works to update its prospective member class, I’ve found great profit from reading the works of Jonathan Leeman (Church Membership and Church Discipline) and Bobby Jamieson (Going Public: Why Baptism is Required for Membership) on these subjects, but I’ve also found help in some shorter pieces.

Whether you are a pastor, a member, or a free-range evangelical, these resources will encourage, challenge, and bring light on the subject of membership in the local church. Perhaps in the weeks ahead I can add a few posts myself.

Is Church Membership Biblical? by Matt Chandler

If you view church as some sort of ecclesiological buffet, then you severely limit the likelihood of your growing into maturity. Growth into godliness can hurt. For instance, as I interact with others in my own local body, my own slothfulness in zeal is exposed, as is my lack of patience, my prayerlessness, and my hesitancy to associate with the lowly (Rom. 12:11-16). Yet this interaction also gives me the opportunity to be lovingly confronted by brothers and sisters who are in the trenches with me, as well as a safe place to confess and repent. But when church is just a place you attend without ever joining, like an ecclesiological buffet, you just might consider whether you’re always leaving whenever your heart begins to be exposed by the Spirit, and the real work is beginning to happen.

You can also find John Piper’s strong affirmation of “How Important is Church Membership?Continue reading

Shepherds After God’s Own Heart

sheep‘And I will give you shepherds after my own heart,
who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.
– Jeremiah 3:15 –

In a chapter lamenting the spiritual adultery of Israel, Yahweh promises to give his people shepherds who will feed them with knowledge and understanding. He calls these “pastors” “shepherds after his own heart.” In the context of the prophets (and in Jeremiah especially), the arrival of these God-centered pastors marks the coming of the new covenant. While there were  faithful shepherds in the Old Testament, there were few. It would take the arrival of the Spirit to fulfill this verse and to supply God’s people with shepherds after God’s own heart.

Today, firmly situated in the era of the new covenant, this verse prompts pastors and churches alike to consider the gift, calling, and responsibility pastors have to shepherd the flock of God among them. And from this verse we can see at least four truths worthy of remembrance and application. Continue reading