Love God Supremely; Love Others Deeply (What I’ve Learned in 15 Years of Pastoring, pt. 5)

In this series, I’m considering some things that I’ve learned while pastoring over the last 15 years. You can check out the previous posts and a series introduction here:

Part 1: Not everybody will like you, and that’s okay.
Part 2: Pray for people and let them know that you’re praying for them.
Part 3: Discipleship is easy, yet hard.
Part 4: Encourage your wife to serve where she feels led

In this post, we’ll consider Lesson #5: Make your vision, purpose, and mission to lead people to love God and love others.

Your church needs a vision statement, mission statement, and purpose statement. These three things relate to each other but are different. They will help keep your church on course. At least, that’s what one church growth expert said. Wait… Scratch the vision and mission statements, your church only needs a purpose statement. At least, that’s what another expert said. No, wait… Don’t worry about statements at all, they’re superfluous. Yep, another expert.

Maybe the last guy is actually right. It’s amazing what the early church accomplished without statements, buildings, or a church van.

Actually, I’m not completely against church purpose statements. My church has one. When I first arrived, it was a relic of the 90s, alliterated well: We exist to exalt the Sovereign, to edify the saint, and to evangelize the sinner. We actually changed that in my first year on the field. We now exist to live the truth, build community, and pursue missions; or TCM: Truth, Community, Missions.

But as time has progressed, I don’t even talk about TCM as much as I used to. Somewhere along the way I wrote down on a tiny scrap of paper: Love God supremely; love others deeply. That has become my vocabulary.

Really, whether we have purpose or vision statements or not, that should be our aim. Those two phrases are really what the Christian life is all about. Jesus was asked in Matthew 22 about the greatest command in the Law. Would he choose one of the Ten? Would he choose one of the hundreds of applications and situational clarifications of the Ten? Would he say something different?

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus called these the first and second greatest commandments and said everything else is just an application of them. Love God supremely; love others deeply.

In the purpose driven model made famous also in the 90s, we’re given the idea that the Great Commandment and Great Commission are two separate things but go together to define the five purposes of the church. But really, the Great Commission is just the Great Commandment lived out: Love God supremely then love others deeply by helping them to love God supremely and love others deeply. Even when you think forward to the far future, pondering our eternal purpose, it will be the same—we’ll love God supremely and we’ll love others deeply, but we won’t have to encourage others to do the same because we’ll all do so perfectly forever.

It’s so simple and straightforward.

And in the end, it’s really all that matters. The Bible even tells us that we brought nothing into the world and we’ll take nothing out. Naked we came; naked we go. When we’re passing from this life, relationship will be all that matters—did we love God and did we love others?

A lot of clutter gets in the way of this. What I’ve learned over the past 15 years and am still learning is how to fight through this clutter. It starts with keeping it forefront on and everyone’s mind. This is why we preach and teach and disciple—to love God supremely and love others deeply.

Fort Worth Star Telegram Report on Sexual Abuse

The Forth Worth Star Telegram has published a four part series detailing a culture of sexual abuse within the Independent Fundamental Baptist Network.  The series was written by Sara Smith.  She reported on the Paige Patterson situation earlier this year, and, from my research, has been a leading journalist in exposing abuse in religious institutions and denominations.

If you have time, go read the series.  It is scary.  The Star Telegram interviewed over 200 people who were subjected to all kinds of abuse including rape, intimidation, and underage sex.  The perpetrators, in most cases, were never prosecuted, but were quickly shuffled to another church within the network.  This is not the Catholic church, these are our distant cousins and the accusations are coming closer and closer to home.  What should we do?  I have five suggestions:

  1. Pay attention:  The #metoo movement has impacted various personalities within our denomination, not our denomination as a whole.  that doesn’t mean our denomination has no secrets, or that a culture similar to the Fundamentalist Baptist Network cannot develop within our churches, conventions, and associations.  When I was a teenager, our church hired a pastor who had cheated on his wife at three different churches.  When he was discovered having an affair, he would shuffle off to the next church, rinse, and repeat.  We have to pay attention to this issue.  Satan would like nothing more than to catch us off guard.
  2. Be on Guard:  I was reading the report and was amazed at how many of the perpetrators and their enablers were allowed private audiences with underage female church members.  We cannot take that risk.  I know pastors who continue to meet alone with females.  That is never wise, and in today’s culture it’s foolish.  How many stories like this do we need to read before we stop putting ourselves in compromising positions.  We make Satan’s work easy when we take foolish risks.  If you’ve been meeting alone with a female who is not your wife or a family member, cut it out.
  3. Update our policies:  I have a friend who led his church in updating all of their policies concerning sexual abuse allegations.  He also updated various counseling policies for his own protection.  He has set the example for me, and in 2019, I’m going to lead our church to update our policies.  Updating our policies facilitates discussion amongst the rank and file in our pews.  They also protect the accuser, giving them a safe process and outlet to share their accusations, and they protect the accused against false accusations.  We need to update our policies because discussion brings accountability, gets things out in the open, and puts this issue on the radar.  The overwhelming issue with The Fundamentalist Baptist Network, according to the Star-Telegram, is a lack of accountability and a culture of intimidation and silence.
  4. Listen:  When we hear an accusation, we need to listen and take the accuser seriously.  That doesn’t mean we jump to convicting the accused, but The Star Telegram gives details of a shaming culture.  the accusers were shamed into silence, and in several cases, the Bible was used to shame these accusers.
  5. Stay away from the Pedestal: The Fundamentalist Baptists have a pedestal for their pastors.  Their pastors, according to the Star-Telegram report, are seen as next to God.  The wield unquestionable authority. We cannot put our leaders on a pedestal.  I appreciate Dave Miller’s series on criticism.  Earlier this year, our denomination experienced what happens when one of our leaders falls off his pedestal.  We should always feel free to Biblically criticize our leaders.
  6. Communicate:  The Star-Telegram reports a culture of sweeping accusations under the rug, and transferring accused ministers out of state to other churches, often in the same ministry positions, given alleged perpetrators access to underage girls and children.  This can happen in our denomination as well.  It probably has happened.  For example:  a youth minister is accused of improper conduct with one of the youth.  The pastor is informed.  The pastor speaks with the youth minister and determines the accusations are false, but he advises the youth minister to resign.  The pastor, not wanting to ruin the ministry of a dynamic youth minister, recommends him to another church as their youth minister.  Or worse yet, the pastor calls the authorities, and they find the accusations credible, but the youth and her parents do not press charges and the pastor, not wanting to ruin the ministry of a dynamic youth minister, recommends him to another church as their youth minister, and the cycle begins again.  How can we stop this?  There should be a denomination wide group, organization, database where churches report and receive reports about verified incidents of sexual misconduct.  Yes, I said verified, not alleged or rumors.  there has to be something we can do to better communicate with each other.

This report scared me because it had the word Baptist in it.  If you think this kind of culture does not exist in our own denomination, you have your head in the sand.  It exists in our denomination.  It may not be as wide spread as in the Fundamentalist Baptist Network, but it is there.  Sara Smith, and other journalists like her are doing an outstanding investigative job.  They are uncovering a culture of sin, and holding our leaders accountable.  This report and others like it should serve as a warning to us.

10 Christian Phrases That Need to Go Away

The Christian vernacular has always consisted of unique words and phrases.  We are supposed to be separate from the world and our shared theology has produced some barely understood phrases outside of our Christian circles.  Some of these expressions are necessary. How else can you describe what Christ has done for us?  There is no better tag than #salvation.  Some of the verbiage, however, needs to go the way of the dinosaur.  Here are my 10 Christian phrases I wish I never had to hear again.

  1. Connect:  This one is popular among us millennials.  I’ve never understood why this word is popular.  Where I’m from in Texas, we used to say, “let’s get together”, or “let’s have lunch”.  I guess my generation just has to be different.
  2. Bi-vocational Pastor:  This phrase needs to go extinct.  I know many “bi-vocational pastors”,  They’re not bi-vocational.  They’re pastors who have another job.  They are heroes to me because they work another job and do just as much ministry as a full time pastor.  I know many readers of this blog hold these men in high regard.  We should just call them pastors.
  3. Our church is seeking a full time or bi-vocational pastor:  I cringe every time I see this in a classified ad.  Baptist paper editors should refuse to print ads with this phrase.
  4. Youth and Music Minister:  Another job description from a bygone era.  I once turned down a combination youth and music ministry position.  I’m not a fan of combo ministry positions.  The minister places emphasis on one of the ministry positions to the exclusion of the other.  The youth and music minister combination is especially difficult.  Do you really want a youth minister who has been at camp all week leading your worship on Sunday morning?
  5. Broken:  I’ve heard this one abused.  Few of us know what’s it’s like to be broken.  We know struggle, but broken, and its cousin brokenness?  I’ve seen it most abused when a speaker uses broken to refer to a spiritual experience.  Perhaps surrender is a better word.
  6. Revival:  This one is as abused as broken.  Attend a Christian conference and you’re likely to hear a passionate appeal for a Holy Spirit revival.  I’ve even written a post here titled “We Need Less Revival”.  When revival and broken are used to promote experiences rather than consistent Christian living, they are being misused.
  7. Social gospel:  This one has been discussed ad nauseum on this blog and other SBC sites.  It refers to the liberal movement that seeks to enact social change while jettisoning the gospel.  Those in the SBC who support social justice are not advocating the social gospel.  This term needs to be relegated to those who support the social gospel.
  8. Next Gen Pastor:  Seriously?  When I was growing up, we called this guy the youth pastor.  Nice try, but we all know it’s a shiny title for an old job description.
  9. Lost:  These last two are going to generate some comments.  We need to quit using this word to describe non-Christians.  Why?  Because non-Christians have no idea what we’re talking about and I’m finding it increasingly difficult to have a group conversation that does not include at least one non-Christian.  I’ve had to stop using this word because it makes explaining salvation twice as difficult.  No, I don’t have a replacement word, but I’ve been using the word non-Christian.  Non-Christian defines itself.
  10. Invite Jesus into your heart:  I know, I know, most of us grew up with this phrase as central to our soteriology.  We were all encouraged to invite Jesus into our hearts.  There’s something unsettling about this phrase for me.  Two of my daughters have accepted Christ and during those times, we tried to avoid this terminology.  Again, I don’t have a ready replacement, but I think we should at least be cautious with this phraseology.

Are there any other phrases, words, or Christian idioms that we should throw out?  Which of mine do you disagree with?  Which of mine do you have replacements for?  If you’re in the Kansas City area, give me a call and we can connect with a bi-vocation or full time pastor and his youth or music minister who was broken and pleading for revival last Sunday because his church was promoting the social gospel, but he enlisted the help of his next gen pastor to lead the lost to invite Jesus into their heart.

Can We Avoid Hiring Based on Race?

I’m asking this question because I used to be one of the “just hire the right man for the job” crowd.  Then, I had lunch with a millennial.  I asked him how I could reach millennials with the gospel.  His answer was blunt, to the point, and surprising.  He said, “Get a millennial to reach them.”  I expected him to tell me to be more active on social media, or tell me where millennials hang out these days.  The quickest way to reach millennials is to get a millennial to reach them.

How does this relate to the current SBC conversation on minorities in leadership?  The quickest way to reach minorities is get a minority to reach them.  I was fully  supportive of the SBC’s need to be more diverse, and to reach out to minorities.  I was, however, not supportive of the intentional hiring of minorities for leadership positions.  I changed my mind because of purpose.  Does the SBC want to reach out to minorities?  Yes.  Will the intentional hiring of minority candidates to leadership positions show that we are serious about this purpose?  Yes it will.

Some of you are going to crow at me with this phrase:  But our purpose should be to proclaim the gospel.  You are 100% correct.  If you haven’t noticed, our culture is becoming more diverse by the day.  This discussion has never been about theology, it’s always been about methodology.  The “just preach the gospel” crowd would rather bypass common sense methodological approaches for the sake of remaining comfortable.  Yes, intentionally hiring minority candidates would male us uncomfortable.  They might just suggest that we nominate a woman for SBC President.

Shouldn’t we just hire the best man for the job?  We’re lucky enough to have many minority candidates who are more than qualified to fill the five entity vacancies.  I’ve been on a search committee for the past six months, and I’ve learned there’s very little separation between the top three or four candidates.  If the candidate comes in and bombs the interview, then he should not be hired, regardless of skin color, but if the candidate hits a home run during the interview, then the committee should feel free to hire the minority candidate and make that the reason for the hire.

Won’t that decision cost a good man a good opportunity and a good job?  Yes it will, but us white guys aren’t going to have any trouble finding SBC jobs anytime soon.  There’s still plenty of white privilege to go around.  Dr. Patterson seems to have landed on his feet, and I’m reasonably certain anyone who gets passed over for these five vacancies will find a good landing spot.

Isn’t this reverse racism?  Would it have been discrimination based on age if I had taken my friend’s advice and intentionally hire a millennial to reach millennials?  Here’s another illustration:  the demographics of my hometown have changed dramatically in the last 10 years.  There is a large Hispanic population.  When my home church was looking for a pastor, I told my father, “The first thing your new pastor should do is to hire a Hispanic pastor”. He asked, “why?”  I said, “Because you need a Hispanic to reach the growing Hispanic population”.  Would it be racist if my home church hired a Hispanic to evangelize the Hispanic population?

I wouldn’t be writing this post if we only had one entity opening, but reality us we have five openings, and I’m convinced the resignations and retirements aren’t over.  Dave Miller is right.  We need to reach out to minorities, and this may be our best chance.  This may be our last chance, at least for another couple of generations.  Do we want to reach out to minorities or not?  What’s the best way to reach out to minorities?  Hire a minority to do the work.