5 Reasons why the Great Commission is, well, great!

Many people know the passage in Matthew 28:19,20 as the Great Commission. It is Christ’s final words to his own disciples to make disciples of Christ by going, teaching, and baptizing. That was their one job! He had chosen these men, trained them, and now he was sending them out to repeat the process.

But what is meant by “great?” The word great denotes the element of something that is the most important or the most worthy of consideration. By using the word “most” one implies there would be other considerations, but this consideration is great because it is so important, it deserves the highest priority.

Here are 5 reasons I think it is the “Great” Commission.

  1.  Making disciples is Christ’s only method left with us.  It’s pretty simple and he modeled it for everyone to see.  Find people who will believe in Christ (you could even be used by God to lead them to Jesus), walk with them and instruct them in all that Christ has taught you, and then see them identify with the body of believers called the church through baptism. It’s the perfect design!
  2. Making disciples fits best with the two Great Commandments.  Christ gave two great commandments (Matt 22:37-39) “Love God” and “Love People.” This identifies the heart of the true disciple.  He is one who passionately and purposefully loves God and this love for God spills out in a very intentional and relational love for people!  This pattern is reflected all through Scripture and Christ lived it out perfectly here on earth. We go because of our love for God; we teach because of our love for people; we identify with his church because we love God and his people. Our love for God shows up best in our love for people.  Our love for people is the main indicator of our love for God! John 13:35
  3. Making disciples is God’s tool for sanctification. God is good to bring people into our lives for the purpose of change in our lives. Often we think we are “helping” them, but in reality God’s design is to use their stubbornness, or their lack of self control as a mirror into our own lives. So often the issue we see in others is really our own problem which is why we see it. When was the last time you intentionally sat for coffee with someone who just annoys you?
  4. Making disciples is God’s cleansing agent for the church. Matthew 7:4,5 shows us just how important discipleship is. When we seek to help a brother take a tiny speck out of their eye, it is an opportunity to get a log out of our own eye.  Discipleship causes the church to get into the logging business. It’s very painful to remove anything from our eyes so helping someone else get a speck out will cause us to be very cautious, gracious, and full of mercy! This kind of caring church is a contagious church! Repentance takes on a whole new place within the body of believers.
  5. Making disciples is God’s method of growing leadership from within the church. In Acts 13, Paul and Barnabas were among a number of men chosen to help start churches.These two were among a small number of men who were prophets and teachers who were fasting and worshipping together (Vv1-3). They were recognized by the Holy Spirit as men who were gifted and able to do the work of ministry and thus were sent out. The apex of any discipleship ministry is the privilege of singling out men who are gifted and prepared for ministry. This should be celebrated over and over in the life of a healthy church. Remember, you duplicate what you celebrate! A good barometer of the discipleship in your church is a list of people who are singled out and sent out to do ministry.

The Great Commission is just that–great! So, who in your world will be more like Christ and less like themselves because you invested Gospel filled time with them? Making disciples deserves our top priority in all of life.  It’s our one job and there really is nothing like it!

 

 

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Evidences of a Healthy Church

One of the most important jobs of the elder is monitor his spiritual health.  Paul counseled Timothy to “…watch thou in all things…making full proof of your ministry (1Timothy 4:5 KJV).  This same “watchfulness” is in the elders job description for the church.  Paul instructs the elders at Ephesus to “Take heed…to all the flock…” (Acts 20:28).

I love having a group of men that meet once a month to pray for the flock, plan for the flock, and protect the flock of God.  There are some very sneaky ways in which sin, wrong thinking, wrong philosophy, wrong theology, apathy, or indifference can come into an unsuspecting body of believers and wreak havoc over time.  There are some obvious and observable evidences of health that should quickly help us see if we are headed toward good health or is there a need for an adjustment.  Although not an exhaustible list, here is a list I look at to help me adjust.Perfect-church-2

1.  Is Christ seen preeminent in all areas of church life? (Col 1:18) Christ is the Head and in everything He IS preeminent. We don’t make Him this, He IS this. The question then becomes “Are we keeping in line with what is true?” This would include preaching. We can have a very well though out sermon with our Hebrew/Greek well developed and fully defined and have a profound exegetical outline and well articulated illustrations and never get to Jesus. Children’s ministry, teen ministry, college ministry, men and women’s ministries must all get to Christ and His preeminence.

2.  Is the Word central and authoritative? Pragmatism is slick. It dulls the senses and silently allows things that Scripture would never condone. The words “central” and “authoritative” are key. Central means it is in the middle of our thinking in all areas. Authoritative means we wrestle with our wills and emotions and seek to make sure our motives are submitted to God’s clear directives.

3.  Are there lives changing?  One of the joys of Scripture is to see just how God works His glory out in lives and the profound impact that has on a life.  People who are constantly pursuing God will always be changing from glory to glory (2Corinthians 3:18). Paul wanted His churches to continue to grow in their understanding of Christ and the aroma of Christ to permeate all of life (2Corinthians 2:14).  Growth in Christ is always seen by others and ultimate demonstrates itself in people becoming less like themselves and more like Christ.

4.  Is there ownership of sin? John is very clear, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves” (1John 1:8). The sad thing about aging in our organized churches is falling for this trap. Like the church in Sardis, there is a “reputation of being alive” but are really dead (Revelation 3:1). Much deadness can be traced to how the Laodiceans thought of themselves in full denial of what was true (Revelation 3:17). They didn’t own their sin. Let’s say it another way, “They didn’t treasure Christ and His magnificent grace.” Confession and repentance must be an intentional part of individuals and practiced corporately as well.

5.  Is there a growing care for “one-another?”  This spills over into so many areas of the church. People sacrificing themselves to give to each other was a key characteristic of the early church that made an indelible mark in the culture (Acts 2:42-46). We feel sometimes that we have to program our way into the surrounding culture when we should begin with genuine care, “one-another” each other in a way that is in direct contrast to the self-serving life-style of people without Christ.

How Does One Leave His Church?

I told a group of people recently that someone needs to write a book on “How To Leave Their Church.” I think for the most part leaving a church should almost never happen. I have watched people come and go in churches now for most of my life. Sometimes, for very good reasons, people leave one church and go to another. I had to do this just once in my life as a church member (not for ministry reasons) and it was torture. As a shepherd, I have watched over and over people leave one church and go to another or just drop out of church altogether and in my experience many of the reasons people have left are certainly avoidable while very, very few are unavoidable and understandable according to the Word.
The question I pose without going into the question of whether one should leave or not is, “Just how should one leave the church?” Let me offer a few suggestions coming from one who shepherds the heart of people and will stand some day and given an account. church1

1. Be honest with yourself about why you are leaving. Luke 8:15 speaks of the good soil that truly receives the seed is a heart that is honest and good. True believers are constantly being warned about “deceiving ourselves” in Scripture (Jam 1:22). Because sin is so deceptive, we have to be honest with ourselves and leave open the reality that we may not be seeing things correctly.  God gives us many good ways to do this without violating other truths in Scripture. Gather people around you who will fearlessly speak truth into your life.  Read the Word and again I say “Read the Word.” Usually if we are not seeing things correctly in one area, you can pretty well take it to the bank that you are not seeing things truthfully in other areas.  Sin is very blinding.  Check your ambitions, your motives, your reasonings but most of all your adherence to the Word itself. Is your reason a genuine biblical reason or is there something going on in the church that is simply a preference issue? Do you have Scripture to back up your reason or are you just uncomfortable? Ask yourself, “How is God using this in my life to change me?” Be brutally honest!

2.  Humbly speak to the leadership. Understand what is being said here. God puts leadership in place for many reasons–but all of them have something to do with His great glory. It really isn’t that leadership can do no wrong (although, honestly, leadership can give that impression all too often). However imperfect they are, God has allowed them their existence in that position. If leadership is unqualified biblically and you can biblically prove it (two witnesses 1Tim 5:19) and if your objection is truly church-wide, then you have a bigger problem than this one article can handle.  The fact that God allows leadership to exist speaks to God’s design that is intentional and with purpose.  So, as you approach leadership, do so asking questions with a heart that earnestly and humbly wants to know God’s will and not to seek proof of your suspicions.  Questions always help the leadership speak to your concern which in turn, makes the path to resolution accessible.

3. Be honest with leadership. Many will go to leadership with their concerns but it often is covered with words like, “I have had some people come to me with these concerns.” It very well may be that one or two people have talked to you, but be careful that it isn’t also true that you went to them seeking to find out if they would agree with you on your “concern.” It may also be true that others do have those concerns, but that is not why you are meeting with leadership.  You are meeting with leadership because you have the concerns.  The fact that others have similar concerns does not necessarily validate your concern and really shouldn’t play into it.  It may well they are blind or prejudiced in the same areas you are and thus are not really helping you see things honestly. An honest heart is not concerned about “who” is right; it is much more concerned about “what” is right.

4.  Give time to your decision. Make sure you are not merely reacting. Give yourself room to be wrong. Time has a good way of revealing things.  Give leadership time for God to use your humble word to work in their lives. Give time on your knees. Give time to the Word. Give time for God to work His grace in your life. Remember, God is eternal which helps Him to be long-suffering, and forbear, and deal gently.  Time has away of tearing the curtain back so truth is exposed. God calls each of us to forbear with one another (Eph 4:2).

5.  Don’t burn bridges. If you must leave, be very careful to not let issues drive you away from caring and loving people.  Relationships are very important. Your walking away from a church will have impact on people, finances, and most importantly the gifts that God has given you to properly serve the church. These relationships are important ultimately for what God may be doing in their lives.  Burning bridges in relationships often can come back on bite you as you have no entrance back into the very lives God may want you to minister to later.

6.  Give proper notice graciously. Don’t just walk out. If you have obligations, finish them. Serve God’s Kingdom by serving the people you have obligated yourself to. Give leadership a chance to adjust to your absence ahead of time.  Be courageously gracious. Remember, people are not the enemy – we struggle not with flesh and blood (Eph 6:12).

7.  Immediately align yourself with another body of believers.  So many walk away from the church simply because they had a bad experience. It is in these transitional times when Satan can get his foot into a heart to stir up strife, pride, self-righteous thoughts, and a root of bitterness begins to grow. This is dangerous as the accountability of the body and the soul-searching ministry of the Spirit and Word will wane because of the absence from the body. This then becomes a situation that is worse than the original problem itself. Run to the Gospel! Run to Christ and the church He gave His life for. Be warned, though!  The next church will be imperfect to. The greener grass on the other side…needs mowing too.

A Pastor’s Check Up

I recently had my car in for an oil change and general check up. As a vehicle gets older more and more mechanical things can begin to go wrong with it. It can get quite expensive–especially if you ignore fixing them and have to do several repairs at a time. Most places that change your oil will claim at least a 24 point check list they go through just for your convenience, of course.  They always seem to find things that need fixing, don’t they–for their convenience??  The check up though is good and necessary.

The same can be said of a pastor. A good overall check up is necessary for the effective loving shepherd if he is going to continue ministering with grace and truth.  Ministry can be rough and cause damage to the key areas of life.  If it is ignored, it can get quite expensive to the whole church.  I’m not sure we should make a 24 check point list, but there are a number of key things each pastor should be sure to check. What are some of these key areas to watch for? If you are a pastor, maybe you need to begin a list.  If you are not a pastor, maybe you can be a help to your pastor by sitting down with him and encourage him by talking about some of these check points.

1.  A personal growth in love for Christ. There are many things that pull and tug at the heart of a shepherd.  Every honest pastor at some point feels that God has chosen the wrong man for the job. He knows all too well many of his own personal weaknesses and often feels like Moses who told God “I am not eloquent and slow of speech and tongue…” Ex 4:10.  It is vital then that a shepherd set aside his feelings and reorient himself around the love of God as seen through Christ. There is nothing sweeter to the soul and nothing more nourishing. A pastor must find in Christ his greatest treasure and grow in his personal love and amazement for Christ.

2.  A personal discipline to think what is true. Sin is deceitful and thrives on that which is false.  Sin delights in partial truths–even though that is clearly an oxymoron. A shepherd has to be discerning–constantly. Approving things that are excellent (Phil 1:10) is a constant rearranging priorities and seeing through the facades of life that can come as a fog into the atmosphere of ministry.  Seeing through the deceptions and getting to the root of the issue takes careful personal discipline to think what is true in every area of life and ministry. Paul understood this and told the Philippian Christians to think whatever is true (Phil 4:10). Personal discipline is a must here.  Check yourself.

3. A personal accountability and transparency. Younger pastors get this. Many older generation pastors don’t. This is unfortunate and probably is a small commentary of culture and climate of both generations. Culture aside, it is Scriptural. 1Thessalonians 1:5 Paul points specifically to this kind of transparency when he says, “…You know what kind of men we proved to be among you..” Powerful.  The truth is, people do know what kind of man their pastor is.  The question then is, “Will the pastor be open and honest with his weaknesses, fears, frailties, and doubts and set up friendships of accountability that will encourage, rebuke, grow him in grace and in knowledge of Christ? Humility and satisfaction in the perfections of Christ give us our freedom to be transparent and accountable.

4.  A personal  passion to love.  The two great commands stem from the Ten Commandments–love God and love others. Together they highlight a truth: Because God is love we too should love. We often emphasize who we are to love and fail to notice that because God is love it should be our character to love as well.  When constantly working with people in their most difficult times–when in sin, real life hurts, disagreements, or in tragedies a pastor can soon become protective of his own soul by seeking to distance himself from people. Cynicism, self protection or blindness to people and their needs often plague the heart and like a corrosive numbness, over time, genuine love grows cold in the shepherd’s heart.  This is a danger for a shepherd that will soon diminish his love for people and ultimately his love for and dependence upon God Himself.  Check yourself.  Guard your heart.

5.  A personal priority of family. No other job position has as a requirement for the position healthy family relationships. No other relationships are as difficult, tedious, overpowering, and vulnerable as family relationships. A shepherd must keep as a priority his family.  Our theology is best displayed in our families. A shepherd must not merely go home from work, but he must go home to work. He cannot actually be strong in the pulpit when his family has no regard or respect for him at home. A shepherd cannot be blind here. Time is the great tattle-tale. Time has a way of uncovering what really is lived at home.  Most young pastors don’t think enough of the Gospel to put it to work in the early years of parenting. It smacks them in the gut years later.

6.  A personal display of confessing and forsaking. At any given time, who is the biggest sinner in the room? The Gospel frees us to think as Paul when he says in 1Timothy 1:15, “…Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” His open confession of this is reassuring, isn’t it? If who Christ is and what Christ has done is really true, then why can’t the shepherd be the model of confessing sin and forsaking sin? The kindness of the grace of Christ allows us this privilege. The sheep don’t need to see someone who looks and acts like a super-christian hero–they need a glimpse of Christ who knows what to do with sin.

Time for a check up? If you are a pastor, go through the drill, but don’t wallow in your feelings.  Instead find great hope in the blessed mercy and grace in Christ alone.  If you are not a pastor, but have one, pray for him.  Encourage him and his family.  Then look to your own life and seek God’s power and presence to be the kind of sheep a shepherd finds great joy in shepherding.  They watch for your souls, you know.

Pastors’ Huddle at Heritage Bible Church

This month will end in a very exciting way for me and perhaps many fellow pastors. I will be participating in what we have so far named a “Pastors’ Huddle” at Heritage Bible Church in Greer, SC. We aren’t sure what to call it since there are no shortages of pastoral conferences to attend, but we feel like this is more than just a conference. We aren’t seeking a following or to become anything “national.” It’s just us and we have wonderful relationships with each other. We also have similar goals and passions for Christ and His Church.  That really is about it–nothing fancy, just love for God and love for people.

This is the second year of such a meeting and it is shaping up to be an encouraging time of prayer, worship, fellowship and re-tooling for the pastors attending. It will begin on Sunday morning at HBC with Pastor Danny Brooks preaching. In the evening and each evening following we will hear Chris Anderson from Tri-County Bible Church in Madison, Ohio. He is a church planter, hymn writer, and a shepherd. Monday through Wednesday there will be times of prayer, worship, discussion, and building of relationships with men who are on the front lines of ministry including many of the HBC church planters. There will also be times for the wives of the attending pastors to meet for prayer and discussion. Here is some basic information.

February 26-29, 2012

Theme:  Cultivating a Healthy Church, Home, & Heart

Purpose: To provide a time of spiritual and physical refreshment through helpful discussion and strategic planning for our future ministry together in establishing and strengthening local churches in all the world.

Sessions:

Cultivating a Healthy Church – The Centrality of the Gospel – Danny Brooks

Cultivating a Healthy Mind – Christ Gives us Truth – Matthew Hoskinson

Cultivating a Healthy Discipleship – Knowing and Showing Christ – Eric Sipe

Discussion to include:

What Keeps Us From Resting – Life in the Ministry

What Keeps Our Homes Healthy – Life in the Pastors Family Life

What Defines our Mission – Our Theology

If you or your pastor is at all interested in coming, please feel free to comment here, email me, or contact HBC. The cost is minimal but the investment is for life.  See you there!

Bearing One Another’s Burdens

“Surely, God doesn’t expect us to bear others’ burdens…does He? I mean, aren’t my own burdens enough?”
Maybe this crossed you mind–or at least it trickled across the bottom of the screen of your mind like the sports ticker on your TV. Being a member of God’s family, the church, is not for spectators. Nowhere in Scripture do you find genuine believers on the sidelines as it were. There’s too much at stake. The name and glory of our risen Christ is constantly being displayed accurately when we actually be a church rather than do church.
Paul’s words in Galatians 6:1-5 are gripping. Paul gives two scenarios where people are burdened and then he challenges each of us with how we look our own burdens.
1. Bear the burdens of the broken. People are broken and it’s always because of sin and yes, they are caught–trapped! Every time people squirm under the bondage of sin they do further damage to their lives and those around them. Spiritual people rescue. Spiritual people bring relief. Relief comes through loving and grace-filled confrontation coupled with perceptive strategy to live out their freedom in Christ.

2. Bear the burdens of the burdened. Sin weighs on every life it touches. The writer of Hebrews talks about “sin and weight” (Heb 12:1). People carry needless weights. Look around you. Do you see any one who is not carrying one of these two burdens?

Paul’s exhortation to all of us today is examine yourself in two critical areas:

Think correctly of yourself. Wow, that’s bold, Paul. “Do you imply we often don’t think correctly of ourselves?” I think he does think that. I think he thought that about himself. He claimed to be chiefest of sinners, after all! Most of the time we live unaware of others’ sin and weights it is because we think more highly of ourselves than we ought. We are too involved in our world. We are busy hiding, ducking, repairing the walls we have erected, or we are recoiling from our own hurts. This is paralyzing and blinds us severely to the needs of others.

Read your environment. The “load” in V5 speaks of a small backpack type of load. Here, Paul is urging discernment in just how we handle peoples’ burdens. A soldier needs his backpack and it is given by his commander. We don’t want to remove that. God is at work in peoples’ lives and if we are marked with the “Messiah Complex” where we are the solution to everyone’s burden, then we are not really doing God’s work.

Bear one anothers’ burdens this week. Give yourself away. Christ did!

Hidden Sin

One of the first results of sin in the lives of Adam and Eve was their attempt to hide…behind fig leaves of all things. That had to be uncomfortable, but let’s not go there.
Hiding has been with us ever since. Yes, we are all still participating and pretending to hide. Many are uncomfortable, in fact, very uncomfortable, but still insist upon pretending to hide. One of the peculiarities about sin is that sin piles on top of other sins and makes it hard to sort out. So, over time, some sin remains hidden.
This frequently happens in discipleship of someone. They begin to live a life of repentance and before long they find another sin the Holy Spirit shows them they had not noticed. O, it was there, but they were too busy indulging in other areas.
A friend of mine owns a junk yard. He is one of my favorite people. He told me one of his yearly tasks is cleaning up his yard. He tells his men to go and remove everything they can see into a pile. When they finish, he sends them out the next day to pick up everything they can see and put it into the pile. He said every year they are amazed that they find so much this time because they “picked everything up yesterday.” He does this for several days until the yard is clean. His point is clear. When the big things are picked up, the next day the small things are then big and easy to see. This process continues until the yard is cleaned.
Sin is the same way. So many people will not go out the next day because they think they have already taken care of the “big ones.” Repentance must be a daily examination. Very often people will get distracted by others’ sin or some theological glitch and will suddenly use this as a way of not having to go into repent mode and will then use these as justification for their own sin. They will leave churches, friends, gospel fellowship simply because of “hidden sins” are not dealt with. The hope is their sin will stay hidden. This is self-deception.
Remember my friend and his junk yard.