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.

What I’ve Learned in 15 Years of Pastoring, pt. 2 (on prayer)

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

Part 1: Not everybody will like you, and that’s okay.

In this post, we’ll consider Lesson #2: One of the most important things you can do for your congregation is to pray for them regularly and let them know that you’re praying for them.

Prayer and engagement with scripture are the two foundational spiritual disciplines, and they’re the foundation of pastoral ministry as well. In Acts 6, the Twelve responded to a congregational problem by delegating a specific responsibility to seven men chosen by the church, so that they, as the pastoral leaders, could devote adequate time to the word and prayer. One of my favorite verses on this subject is 1 Samuel 12:23 where Samuel tells the people: “Far be it from be that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way” (ESV).

Prayer… it’s that important.

A few years ago I wrote about the method that I have chosen in order to pray for those in my church, and I’ll detail it again in brief here. Not including Sundays, I typically have four days each week with time in the office. In my office prayer journal, I keep a monthly calendar that divides the households of the church into 16 days (4 days times 4 weeks). So, each day in the office, I typically pray by name for 4 to 5 households.

Then, I have my list divided into thirds. Every three months I send a hand-written card to each household letting them know that I prayed for them, encouraging them with a verse from scripture, and providing a prayer request slip they can return to me. Each family/household receives four of these cards during the year.

On the front of my prayer journal is written the line, “Pray specific prayers.” This is where those return slips are important. I already know certain prayer needs from knowing and visiting those involved with the church; but the slips give people opportunity to share specific needs that may not be publicly known. (There’s also an area on each slip that can be checked indicating whether or not the person would like their request to remain private with me, or shared on the church’s prayer list.)

But, we know human nature—not everyone is going to provide specific prayer requests. You can even ask them face-to-face and receive back only general answers. This is why I wrote that line on the front of my journal. Too often I found myself going the lazy route in response to the lack of requests: “Lord, I don’t know what they specifically need prayed for, but you know their hearts.”

That notion was challenged by a Sunday night study we did once by D. A. Carson called Praying with Paul. Carson scours through the congregational prayers in Paul’s letters. These are prayers typically about spiritual growth, knowing God more deeply, fighting for purity, remaining steadfast, having a faith that encourages others, etc.

Now, each month I choose a section of scripture and list three or four items to pray for those involved in the church. This means that even if a person is unwilling to share requests, I still have specific things to regularly pray about their faith and spiritual growth.

Obviously, I don’t have empirical evidence to support this, only what I’ve experienced, but I believe that letting the church know that I pray for them regularly has helped enhance my relationship with the congregation and the unity they experience with each other. Honestly, I still don’t think that I pray as much as I should. I have been trying to devote more time to prayer throughout my week. However, prayer is a powerful part of the life of the church and the spiritual warfare in which we’re involved. I have little doubt that spiritually healthy churches have pastors who make prayer a priority.

Pray for your church regularly, pastors. Pray specific prayers, pray the scriptures, and let your church families know that you are praying for them.

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.

John Allen Chau–An Introspective Look

John Allen Chau was martyred while trying to bring the gospel to the Sentinelese people sometime between November 16 and November 19.  There have been numerous stories written about Chau’s martyrdom. Baptist Press wrote this story if you’re not familiar with Chau’s death.

I’d like to take an introspective look at Chau’s martyrdom.  Instead of asking questions about his methodology, we should examine our hearts.  Here are five questions:

 

  • Are we willing to be martyred for Christ?  That’s the obvious question, but it’s a tough question.  Every believer should answer in the affirmative. It’s easy to answer “yes” when sitting in a climate controlled sanctuary, a seminary classroom, or a weekend retreat surrounded by ebullient millennials.  What if Chau had asked us to accompany him? What would we have done? Would we have lectured him on wisdom and prudence, or would we have gotten in the boat with him?
  • What is our responsibility to others?  While I write this post, two sets of eyes are staring at me.  I’m responsible for them, my wife and three other kids. At what point should I be responsible, knowing that my martyrdom would leave a widow and five fatherless children? In 2010, I was preparing to go on a mission trip to Guatemala.  My wife was pregnant with our third child and several well meaning Christians counseled me not to participate because if something happened, my children would be fatherless. I was even told, “There will be time for missions later.” I was horrified and sad.  Jesus had an answer for this question. He was very blunt. He told His followers to hate their families. He used the word hate. We don’t use the word hate around our house, but Jesus unambiguously called us to surrender anything and everything that is valuable to us.  This includes our families. My answer to this question: I’d rather my kids grow up knowing their daddy was a martyr than never knowing the true cost of following Christ. I hope I never have to make that choice.
  • How are we doing in our missions efforts?  There are far too many unreached and uncontacted people groups.  Why aren’t we reaching them? Are we even trying to reach them? After Chau’s death, the Twitterverse was ablaze with disparaging comments, some from pastors and church leaders.  The question is not, should John Chau have gone to that remote island? The question should be, why, in an era of unparalleled technology, was he the first missionary to share the gospel with these people?  Also, why are there still some 3000 plus unreached people groups? We have the most powerful weapon of hope in history. David Platt said at the 2015 Southern Baptist Convention’s Pastors conference, “When will we stop telling the world to go to hell?”  

 

  • When does the gospel override planning and structure?  Do we need structure?  Yes we do. Do we need careful and diligent planning?  Yes we do. But more than planning, structure, and sound methodologies, we need passionate gospel proclaimers.  We need to be passionate gospel proclaimers. The gospel is not beholden to any structure, denomination, or organization.  The gospel and the gospel alone has the power to save. Paul wrote in Romans, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news.”  John Chau’s feet are beautiful. How do our feet look?

 

  • Will we see a fresh commitment to reach the lost?  There are unreached people groups in the farthest corners of the world, but there are also unreached people in groups in our own towns.  Will we see a fresh commitment from Christians to reach everyone with the gospel of Christ? Or will John Allen Chau’s martyrdom be a cautionary tale in how not to engage a hostile people group?  If John Allen Chau can kayak two miles in the hopes of sharing the gospel with an unknown people, then we should be able to cross the street and engage our neighbors.

 

These are the questions we should be asking ourselves.  It’s easy to play armchair quarterback to what seems, on the surface, to be a fool’s errand, but I like John Allen Chau’s method of evangelizing over and above my method of not evangelizing.  The unequivocal truth is this: A twenty six year old man dared to bring the gospel to a people he was almost certain would kill him if given the chance. He died sharing his faith. Do we even live sharing ours?