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.

The Missing Emphasis in SBC Life: Local Associations

Throughout the vast majority of my pastoral ministry, if I were to think about SBC life, I would first think about the local church and then the national entities. I’d think about the Annual Meeting, the notable pastors, the entity heads, denominational strategies, the Cooperative Program, Lottie, Annie, and all of this work that we do together. I’d consider the state conventions too, especially my own, and then I’d think about my local association, primarily quarterly when we’d have our executive meeting, which was always over lunch. I participated, but I didn’t put a huge amount of effort into it. When I thought about the SBC I thought small (local church) and big (national entity) and not too much in between.

State Conventions have gotten a lot of attention over the past decade since the Great Commission Resurgence called for more Cooperative Program money to go the national entities like the IMB, NAMB, and our seminaries to train future pastors and leaders. So, many state conventions down-sized. That is good and I supported that, but I also support state conventions and think that they often do great work. I think there should be a middle ground there. Through Disaster Relief, church planting, children’s homes, colleges, and all kinds of other ministries, our state conventions play a prominent role in SBC life.

With 5 entity head positions open and SBC President JD Greear rightly calling for a day of prayer and fasting on Monday, October 8th for these search committees, we are also right to be paying attention to what is happening at top level leadership in the SBC. It is really important and I don’t want to take anything away from that.

But, with all that said and with a need before us of church planting, church revitalization, church health, discipleship, evangelism, local missions strategy, cooperation, and so much more that the local church cannot do by itself, have we missed the greatest tool before us that Baptists have devised to accomplish these things? Historically, before we ever had national entities or state conventions, we had local Baptist associations. Beyond the local church itself, the association is the fundamental organizational grouping of cooperative Baptist life. Yet, we often neglect it.

Do you ever hear a young minister aspiring to be a Director of Missions? Perhaps, but often not. If you step back from it, it seems like it would be an incredible job – to direct missional effectiveness for a network of churches across a region. The Montgomery (AL) Baptist Association where I live and serve has an incredible DOM in Neal Hughes. He is a former Montgomery pastor and NAMB VP who came back to Montgomery to lead our association in planting churches, reaching the lost, being healthy, making disciples, and addressing areas of great need and division in our city with a gospel witness. He is doing a great job and lives and works as a local missionary every day. If every association had a Neal Hughes as DOM, the SBC would be in a very different position, I think. (As a disclaimer, I’m on staff with Neal as a Missional Strategist for the MBA, so he’s my boss, but I’d say this even if he wasn’t.)

The truth is, though, I’ve met quite a few DOMs who share Neal’s heart for evangelism, church planting, church health, church revitalization, and global missions. I’ve met DOMs across the South who are really laying their lives down to do great Kingdom work. But, I’ve also met a lot of pastors who tell me that their association is basically not functioning. I’ve met DOMs who are past what we would consider retirement age, and while their hearts are good and their love for the Lord is genuine, their energy is declining. They need help, encouragement, and support. They can’t do all that is required by themselves and they need people to hold up their arms. And, unfortunately, there are other associations where there is division, lack of vision, and no energy at all. It becomes a monthly minister’s lunch with whoever shows up. That is a shame.

What if we refocused our energy, effort, resources, and some of our most gifted leaders on local association leadership? The Bible Belt is rapidly dissipating and the South has become a mission field. Did you know that the South grew by 21 million people between 2000 and 2015? At the same time, between 2000 and 2017, Southern Baptists have lost 1 million people. We are going backwards while our primary region is exploding in growth. The South is by far the largest region of the country and would encompass the 12th largest nation in the world and the world’s 3rd largest economy by itself. And, immigrants from all over the world have flocked to the South over the past two decades.

Almost half of all first generation immigrant growth in the United States the past 2 decades occurred in the US South, where we have the vast majority of SBC churches. While there has been significant reaction against that politically and culturally, have we considered that God might sovereignly be at work here? In Montgomery, for example, the IMB visited us a few years back and told us that we had an Unreached, Unengaged People Group (UUPG) living in Central Alabama – the Mixtec People from Southern Mexico. They came to us by the thousands over the past 20-30 years. The Montgomery Baptist Association adopted that people group missionally (I have been closely involved in this work over the past 4 years) and we have now planted a Mixtec church in our city with a pastor, baptisms, new believers, and disciples being made. The IMB no longer calls the Mixtec “unengaged,” in part, because of the work our local association is doing.

In the midst of this incredible era of opportunity, how much more could local associations LEAD out in church planting, missional strategy, engaging immigrant and refugee people groups with the gospel, love, and good deeds, and in church revitalization? While I’m happy for the work our national entities and state conventions do, it is sometimes easy to fly at the 30,000 foot level. But, we already have local associations all over the country who are doing great work on the ground and could be doing so much more if they had the resources and focus that some of our other levels of cooperation have had. And, we have many associations that desperately need to be revived and refocused.

Could it be that associational cooperation on the local level is the missing emphasis that could help revitalize older churches, reach the lost (including immigrant groups), develop new leadership, be the ground floor for racial reconciliation, plant new churches, and be a spring board to reach the nations in North America and around the world? There is always competition for dollars and when you have state conventions and national entities constantly needing funds, I know it is hard to stretch offerings. But, what if we saw a strong association as the FIRST thing that our local church focused on instead of what is often an afterthought?

At the MBA we always talk about “doing more with less.” There is no area of SBC life that I’ve seen a dollar go further than in the incredible work of the Montgomery Baptist Association. I know that this is the case elsewhere as well. As both a pastor for many years and now a staff member at our association, I’ve seen it from both sides. And, while I know that associations across the SBC are not all that they should be, what if they were strengthened and became local missions agencies with the purpose of helping the local church reach their region for Christ?

What are some of your ideas? I’d love to see the mission work and church strengthening of the local association grow into one of the strongest aspects of SBC life. How much healthier would we be if this focus was strengthened? How much more leadership could be developed? How could we better reach areas that still have strong churches but are quickly seeing the overall churched population dwindle?

I think there is a lot of good work being done here and a lot of potential for even more. I’ve talked with others about this who agree. I’d love to see a renewal of strong associational life in the SBC that helps bring local churches together to reach their region and grow stronger together. It can be done. What is stopping us?

 

Women Can Speak in Church–1 Corinthians 14:34-36

I wrote an article earlier this week exhorting women to speak up in their churches and local association meetings.  My post generated a fair amount of comments, accusing me of, among other things, being a leftist, feminist infiltrator, and not knowing God’s word.

The scripture used to support a position in opposition to my post was 1 Corinthians 14, Paul’s instructions for orderly worship.  I’d like to explore Paul’s instructions in this post, and specifically, Paul’s instructions for women to be silent in church.

Paul writes, beginning in verse 33 of 1 Corinthians 14, “Since God is not a God of disorder but of peace.  As in all the churches of the saints, the women should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak, but should be submissive, as the law also says.  And if they want to learn something, they should ask their own husbands at home, for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church meeting.  Did the Word of God originate from you, or did it come to you only?”

First, Paul does not expressly prohibit women from speaking in the church.  In 1 Corinthians 11:5, he writes, “But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since that is one and the same as having her head shaved.”  In the Corinthian church, women were permitted to speak in an orderly fashion.  Do Paul’s instructions in chapter 14 contradict his instructions in chapter 11?

If we examine Paul’s instructions in light of what was going on in the Corinthian church, we learn that there were women who were creating disorder in the public meetings.  We learn there were women who were dishonoring their husbands by publicly questioning their doctrine.  Paul’s instructions were meant to bring order back to the meetings in the Corinthian church.  Paul’s instructions were never meant to silence every woman in every church until Christ comes back.  We cannot lift verses 34-36 out of their context and command every woman in our churches to be silent.  If we use a strict literal interpretation of those verses, then we also must strictly interpret verses 26-33 where Paul says that only two or three should speak.  I know of some churches where this would be a good guideline in their business meetings, but most pastors would be looking for a job the next day if they tried to enforce a limit of three speakers during a business meetings.

All of Paul’s instructions in chapter 14 are for keeping good order and discipline in church meetings.  If women are causing a disturbance in the church meetings, then they should be silent.  If men are causing disorder in church meetings, they should be silent.  The key verse in chapter 14 is verse 40, “But everything must be done decently and in order”.  

There are also many questions that must be answered if we take a strict literal interpretation of 1 Corinthians 14.  First, what about women teachers?  Should they not teach?  If women are to be silent in church, then they should not teach, and teaching should only be done by men.  What about public prayer requests?  Should women lean over to their husbands and whisper their prayer requests so the husband can repeat them in public?  What about singing solos?  What about giving their testimonies?  Should the husband give his wife’s testimony for her?  What about matters that concern ministry to women?  Should only the men debate womens ministry matters?  I’ve served three churches where the treasurer was a woman.  Is she not allowed to give the treasurer’s report?  Does another man have to do that?  What about single and widowed women?  In the early church, they were to be cared for by a deacon, but what if a single or widowed woman has an ungodly deacon?  Is she just out of luck?  What about the wife who comes to church without her husband?  Is she out of luck too?  What about association meetings?  What about state conventions?  What about the national convention?  Should Dorothy Patterson not have given a nomination speech in 2016 at Phoenix? (I think she did this at Phoenix but it may have been in St. Louis a year earlier)

All the questions above can be answered with 1 Corinthians 14:40 as the guiding principle.  Everything must be done decently and in order.  This position does not make anyone a leftist, feminist, infiltrator who does not know God’s word.

My wife and I have struggled and argued about this passage for most of this year.  When I have opened my heat to God’s word and His Spirit, I have found that my opposition to women speaking in church was not based on anything Biblical, but was based on my selfish desire to make name for myself and to be in control.  Male dominance is not what Paul had in mind when he wrote this chapter, and it is not part of the decent order which God would have all local churches practice.

Maybe it’s not about the calling

I’m sitting here in my study contemplating life in the ministry. First of all, I should qualify that statement: by “in the ministry,” I mean the vocational work of being employed by a church for what we call “ministry.” I know that we are all supposed to be ministers, or servants, of one another and of Christ our Lord. That’s a thought I’ll come back to later, perhaps, but let’s accept our normal vocabulary here in Baptist life. It may not be ideal, but it’s what we’ve got.
Next year will mark my twenty-fifth year in ministry service to Southern Baptist churches. In those years, I’ve mainly served churches under 200, and in fact, under 100 in attendance. I’ve been to a state Baptist college, a non-denominational seminary, and two very-Baptist, but not officially Southern Baptist, seminaries. (And at that, two that are very, very different. Probably a subject for another post.) I have done youth work, pastoral work, associate pastor work, and even a stint serving as de jure associational missionary.
Alongside that, though, I’ve also worked in a funeral home, as a pizza delivery guy, as a fast-food restaurant manager, and in logistics management. I’ve waffled back and forth between working within the church and finding my employment outside and serving in the church as a volunteer. I still struggle with that impulse, and who knows where I will land? As it sits, I’ve got a Master’s degree that qualifies me to…be a pastor. And a BA in Biblical studies and speech. Kind of typecast myself through education, though maybe the history Ph.D. will broaden my horizons.
When I struggle with whether or not I should stay a Baptist pastor, I typically reach out to some of my wiser friends for guidance and counsel. (Barring that, I ask my blogging buddies.) One of the common refrains that I’ve heard in both personal counsel and from seminary leaders is that pastors who struggle with their work should “go back to your calling and rest in that.” I’ve tried that. In the darkness of the night, in the face of angry opposition to simple, Biblical principles, in response to hatred poured out on my children for being “different,” in the face of a deep depression that covered two years and one serious lean toward suicide, let me say this plainly:
My call wasn’t enough. In fact, it was a shove closer to the precipice of despair and giving up. Which is not the same as surrender to grace of God.
So, despite my respect for those forebears and wisdom-bearers who encourage ministers to “go back to their call” when times get tough, I want to argue with that idea. Going back to my call simply put me more aware of my failure and inadequacy. After all, “God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called” (Another cliche that should probably disappear rapidly. Do you want your cardiologist to claim that she’s called and God will qualify her? Um, no. She needs to get qualified before she cuts.), right? So, my failure means that not only am I not keeping my hand to the plow and not looking back, I am rejecting how God has qualified me. It’s not simply that I am inadequate to the task, but all the things I need have been given to me and I still failed.
And yes, many of us think we have failed despite the tweets and books from pastors of large-numbered churches and seminary professors assuring us that small numbers don’t mean failure. Sell me that when you resign your 6-digits and assistants and tenure and sabbaticals and have to preach your heart out, then listen to complaints about your kids, then counsel someone trying to escape an abusive marriage, then have to answer to your personnel committee about why you didn’t make sure the youth minister filed his time sheet…and why attendance was down on a holiday weekend. All in the same 10-hour span you’re preaching sermons that you wrote yourself without any research helpers or student interns to look stuff up for you. We feel like failures despite your bestsellers and conferences that we can’t afford assuring us we’re not.
If “my calling” is not going to sustain me in ministry, then what will? That’s a question I have been wrestling strongly with for the last year. And here is my answer:
Maybe it’s not about my call. Or, for you, fellow pastor/minister/elder/whatever-the-cool-churches-are-calling-it-now, maybe your calling was never meant to sustain you in ministry, much less drive you in ministry. Why?
Here’s what I think: I’ve read the New Testament several times, in several translations, as well as in Greek. And while I see the narrative presence of people called to serve Christ directly, every one of them also ends up being someone we call an “apostle.” Every one. There are a dozen guys in the Gospels, then there’s one fellow in Acts. Anyone else we see in particular service, we do not see how they began to work. Unless you count Timothy, who Paul seems to have brought with him in Acts 16, but there is no “bright light” moment for him. Instead, we have in 1 Timothy the idea that one should “desire” the responsibility of being an elder and in James 3 the warning that not many should be teachers because of judgment. Reads like there is some measure of personal choice here, not just a “calling” that we have to do…or else. Now, of course, the Old Testament prophets had such a calling, but New Testament pastors and Old Testament prophets are not the same thing. For that matter, New Testament apostles and New Testament pastors are not the same thing. (Check Ephesians 4:11-13 and see if that’s what it says.)
When you think about it, some of our problems in the modern church actually stem from believing we are called just like prophets and apostles. Prophets and apostles were the bearers of God’s inerrant words (look at who wrote much of both Testaments) and spoke with an authority that pastors and teachers do not share. We help people understand God’s Word, serving the church by doing so rather than commanding the church as Peter, Paul, or James did. (Or commanding the nation, like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Elijah….) As we have allowed men and women to stand up and claim an inherent right to preach because of their “call,” we have not rightly handled examining their character or seeking the rest of Ephesians 4:11-13 and seeing if they build up the church or tear it down. We just back off and allow their “call” to override.
And when a pastor stumbles, the stress is about his “calling” and whether he is wasting it through his personal troubles or is being taken away from it by sinful people. We seem more concerned with protecting the calling than actually caring about the people involved in a situation.
I would suggest to you that the core of someone’s ministry is not based in their calling. The foundation of serving Christ’s church is salvation by grace.
Why?
First of all, salvation is the common ground for all of us. It’s a common need for all humanity, and it’s a common experience for all who are in the Church. All who are in the Church are saved by the grace of God because of the blood of Jesus. We start our ministry at this point: that we who are ministers were just as much in need of God’s grace as those we minister among. And when we are in need ourselves, we go back to this point: we contributed the need to our salvation, not the solution. God did not save me, or you, or any great preacher in history, because God needed a preacher. He saved us because He is a grace-giving, loving, merciful Father.
Second, salvation is the basis of my relationship with Jesus. That relationship is not based on what I can do for Him, but on His grace and the response of  my worship and obedience to what He commands. Which means that if “ministry” this year is full-time preaching and next year full-time burger-flipping, it is all appropriate if it is done in obedience to walking with Jesus. If God in His wisdom sees fit for life to put me in an office or a warehouse, have I failed at my calling? Perhaps, but I have not failed at my relationship with Him. So is that “calling” such a big deal?
Third, salvation reminds me that God saved the person that I am, the personality that I have. While the fruit of the Spirit should be evidenced in my growth, I have certain quirks, strengths, and weaknesses that were not removed when I became a “new creation in Christ.” That means they can be used by God in some way as I serve Him. Rather than being called to become someone or something else, I am saved to serve Him as He has made me.
This may not be persuasive, but I think we’re starting at the wrong point when we emphasize the call to ministry as if it makes us something more or other than followers of Christ. I think we need to remember, and encourage others to remember, to go back not to a moment or a process of following in a vocation but instead to that moment where we recognized that we were sinners in need of the Saviour, that the grace of God intervened in our hell-bound life and bought us with His blood.
Because that’s an undeniable reality, one that we cannot invalidate, one that we cannot have a bad day that removes us from.