Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Too Many Gimmicks

I recently passed a local church and my eye caught the message on their sign.  It read: ‘Come in for Pokemon; Stay for Worship’.

I do not know what thought processes went into the posting of that message.  Was the leadership involved or was it put up without their knowledge?  I will not cast aspersions on their love for the Lord nor say these aren’t honest believers. 

But it raises an important question we should all be ready to ponder: how low are local churches willing to sink to put people in the pews? 

This is not a commentary on ‘Pokemon Go’- my opinion on that fad is irrelevant to this discussion.  My argument is that many (most?) local churches have no idea of why they exist or what they are supposed to be doing.  They are convinced that their success depends entirely on how many people attend, or are on the membership rolls.  Therefore they feel they must do whatever they can; buy into any and every hype or fad; try every gimmick to get people interested, not in Christ or the Gospel, but in their particular organization.

Enough is enough. 

I know the counter-arguments people will use, wanting to sound supportive and magnanimous.  Some will inevitably say the church is ‘trying to be relevant’.

The relevance of the Church is not in the adoption of cultural fads.  What if someone does ‘come in for Pokemon’?  When they get bored, what will keep them there?  Another gimmick?  Another fad?  Do we honestly think that someone who comes into a local church playing ‘Pokemon Go’ is truly going to care about staying for worship?  The relevance of the Church is in her message of hope and the Word of salvation.  The relevance of the Church is in the clear assessment of the human condition and the power of Jesus to change lives.  The relevance of the Church is in offering true community in a fragmented society.  

Others will say. The church is just trying to ‘meet people where they are at’. 

Does this mean a church should host a strip club to attract lechers?  ‘Come in for porno- stay for worship’.  Or should we open bars to attract the drunks?  ‘Come in for a snort- stay for worship’.  Meeting people where they are at means we engage the lost in the context of the community outside the church doors.  And don’t ask if that means Christians should evangelize in bars and strip clubs- you know that is a ridiculous assertion.  It means getting to know people through normal, everyday community connections; finding out who they are, what they struggle with and then build a relationship to the point where we can share the hope of Jesus with them.    

Still others will contend that what matters is not how they come in, but that they come in, and then have an opportunity to hear the Gospel.

I would challenge you to read the Gospels and Acts with that idea in mind.  When did Jesus or the Apostles use gimmicks to get people’s attention?  What happened to people who showed up with the wrong ideas or motives?  Those who responded to the Gospel were those driven to Christ by their need, not those who drifted by from curiosity.  Can the Lord touch someone who comes into a local church with the wrong motives?  Absolutely!  But it isn’t something we should necessarily bet on.  Furthermore, is a local church which relies on gimmicks to get people in, all that committed to the Gospel?  Let’s be honest, the Gospel exposes people’s sin and need, and if a person came in looking for fun and games, chances are high they will hit the road as soon as the message gets tough.  Go read John 6 to see this reality. 

Gimmicks do not work.  They do not swell the attendance in a local church and they absolutely do not build the Body of Christ.  In the end pursuing gimmicks leaves us disappointed.  So we seek new fads, new gimmicks- and the cycle continues. 

The Church was never intended to be reduced to inviting people into buildings.  Rather it was intended to invite people to know Jesus by going out into the world.  I suggest we try the Lord’s way: trusting the Holy Spirit and seeking to build relationships which will then draw people to want to know the Good News of Jesus.  Then, when people come in to our worship centers, we will know that they come in with the right heart and for the right reasons.  They will come in- and stay -for Jesus. 

Monday, August 22, 2016

Called, Competent and Committed (part 4)

This will be the final post in this series on ordination.

Ordination is not something to be treated lightly, nor is it an appointment someone should think can be casually obtained.  While ordination, as I have stated in an earlier post, does not necessarily require seminary or Bible college credentials (though such training does have benefits), neither should one simply think they can send away for a certificate in the mail, divorced from any type of testing whatsoever. 

The guidelines for testing or evaluation are given in the Pastoral Epistles (1-2 Timothy & Titus) and this testing/training should be worked out in the context of the local church (see the second post in this series).

Where does responsibility lie for determining whether someone is qualified for ordination?  Who is responsible for the actual act of ordination? 

I find Acts 6:1-7 instructive in dealing with the appointment of people to ministry- ordination.  When a logistical problem arose in the local church, the Apostles, recognizing their need to deal with the larger issues in the church, assigned the congregation to make some evaluations as to who should be called to serve.  It is important to see that the Apostles set the parameters (‘seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom’) and reserved the right of final approval and responsibility to ‘ordain’ (‘whom we will appoint to this duty’).  The body took this task seriously and presented the candidates to the Apostles who validated their fitness for ministry and conferred authority to minister (‘these they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.’)

Ultimately, the responsibility and final decision falls to those who are already recognized as having spiritual authority (pastors, elders, etc), but the local church has a role as well.  The local congregation should be encouraged to invest its time and energy into this process of discovering and developing those who might be qualified to serve.

Once a person is affirmed as qualified to receive ordination, how is one commissioned?

The basic pattern in the New Testament appears to be selection of leaders through prayer and fasting and some period of testing, followed by the laying on of hands (see Acts 6:6 and 14:23 for examples).  In two places Paul reminds Timothy of how he had hands laid on him at the outset of his ministry (1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6).  What is the significance of the laying on of hands?  This is a physical act, public and communal, symbolizing a conferring of authority and an affirmation of spiritual giftedness.   

Because of this transfer of spiritual authority, we must take great care.  Timothy was warned “do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure” (1 Timothy 5:22).  One of the clear conditions for leader is that they “not be a recent convert, or [they] may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil” (1 Timothy 3:6).  When ordination is given without thought to testing of character and training in ministry skills/gifts a situation is created in which sin can enter to the great hurt of individuals and local churches.

How does this affect recognizing ordained leaders from other groups or across denominational lines?

I have been on both ends of ‘transferring ordination’ from one denomination to another.  I feel the process becomes overly weighted down by secondary issues such as education and denominational issues.  We are told in the Word that we will recognize legitimate spiritual authority “by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16, 20).  What are these ‘fruits’?  Do they give evidence of calling, competency, commitment and character?  Do they exhibit love, compassion and concern for the Church?  Have they proven to be faithful workmen and stewards of the Word & the Gospel?  If these are answered in the affirmative no barriers should be put in place.

I am sure other questions may arise in the reader’s mind regarding these matters and I would be glad to pose answers to these as they might arise.  I hope these posts have been instructive and might be a resource for strengthening our local churches.

Be blessed.

*Scripture taken from the English Standard Bible.  Copyright © 2000, 2001 by Crossway Bibles, A Division of Good News Publishers, 1300 Crescent Street, Wheaton, Illinois 60187, USA.