Monday, March 25, 2019

Strong Church: Jerusalem

Strong Church/Weak Church 2

Having introduced this new series with last week’s post I want to jump right into the discussion today. I have chosen Jerusalem as the church we will start with. We will begin by examining its strengths, of which I see five, and move on to looking at its weaknesses, next week.

The first strength I see in Jerusalem is that they were a big church numerically. In Acts 1.15 we find they were composed of a core of 120 committed, sold-out Christians, including the eleven Apostles. In Acts 2.41 they added 3,000 souls. In Acts 4.4 Scripture records they added 5,000 more people. Again, in Acts 5.14 we see multitudes were added. Finally, the Bible says they multiplied (Acts 6.1) and then multiplied greatly (Acts 6.7). Certainly, many of these people were from out of town, but regardless of how you slice it, the Jerusalem church in its early days was a mega-church composed of thousands and thousands of people.

Focusing externally, such a large church projects an outward influence on the surrounding community. It cannot help but be noticed and it has to be reckoned with. This influence can often sway political and societal decisions in the direction of righteousness if the church exerts its influence wisely. Internally, having a large number of people in attendance fosters fellowship for there is always a group within the group that fits your demographic, fits your appetite for ministry, fits your life-stage, etc. Additionally, having a large church allows the organizational fine tuning of encouraging ministries like mothers of newborns, the newly divorced or widowed, those struggling financially, etc. Generally speaking, in a large church no one particular member or group of members has to be overworked. They can choose one ministry, and throw themselves into it without having to be concerned that everything else in the church is going to suffer as a result. Finally, large churches such as these, almost always have exciting church services. The music is spectacular, the entertainment aspect of the preaching is high, and you almost always go away with your spirit lifted after assembling with God’s people.

The second strength I see in Jerusalem is that they were initially united. And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place (Acts 2.1). This spirit of unity brought three specific advantages as recorded in Scripture. It produced or fostered prayer (Acts 1.14), aided in continued numerical growth (Acts 5.12-14), and enabled a synonymous spirit of joy (Acts 2.46).

When a church is a fussing church, or even just a divided church, or a cliquish church it is almost impossible to exercise any kind of genuine corporate prayer. Church-wide prayer meetings are modeled in Scripture, and modeled as an agreement, literally a symphony of prayer. You cannot have harmony and depth in a prayer meeting if the people are not close to one another relationally. Unity allows prayer, and what does prayer bring? The power and blessing of God poured out on the church in answer to His people’s prayers. Great churches are almost always great praying churches, and great corporate prayer does not happen without unity. The blessing of God often comes as numerical growth; this growth and sweet spirit produces a glad, joyful church. A winning team is always a fun team to be on, and a forward looking, sweetly united, growing church is an enjoyable church to be in as well.

The third strength I see in Jerusalem is that they were thoughtful of each other’s needs. And all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need (Acts 2.44-45).

The caveat here is that this was in the initial burst of enthusiasm in the heady days following the Ascension as the church at Jerusalem was rapidly developing momentum. Things were new, exciting, and big. Being all-in was what everybody was doing. This kind of spirit is highly difficult to maintain over the medium term, let alone the long term and anyone trying to replicate it should understand that. I would also add that I do not believe this was communism on its face or the elimination of private property. Such a position violates much Scriptural teaching in Proverbs, and various gospels and epistles. At the same time, I cannot help but admire how they took care of one another.

More than two decades ago, as a young pastor, while out visiting one day, I drove my already totaled car (it had been given to me after someone else had recently been hit) directly into the path of an oncoming Chevy Tahoe. I was spared injury, but the car, well, it was toast. I was making so little money at that church that it was impossible for me to replace it. Yet, as word got around of what had happened, I found within a week three different cars had been offered to me for free, and I was back on the road serving my little church in no time. Why? Because God’s people in this generation are often as thoughtful of each other as they were in the first century of the church’s existence. Others offerings, benevolence offerings, disaster relief, food pantries, clothes closets, car repairs, rent payments, medical care, on and on it goes. It warms the heart, does it not?

The fourth strength I see in Jerusalem is that they respected their spiritual leadership. And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people; (and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s porch. And of the rest durst no man join himself to them: but the people magnified them (Acts 5.12-13). The ground is level at the foot of the cross. A church’s leadership is not above anyone but I do believe the Bible both teaches and models a church that pays appropriate honor here. As in so many other things pertaining to the Christian life, a just balance is God’s delight. There are churches that overly admire and praise leadership, and other churches that rarely, if ever acknowledge God’s gift of a pastor among them. The former breed pride in the minister but the latter multiply despair in his heart. Just this week, I have spoken with four different pastors who have recently experienced severe depression, who have either wanted to quit their church, their family, the ministry as a whole, or even this life altogether. In every case, the lack of their church’s appreciation, respect, and fellowship entered into it. The church at Jerusalem was good to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake (I Thessalonians 5.13).

The fifth and final strength I see in Jerusalem is that they simply did not quit.

As previously mentioned, this church was enormous – until persecution came. And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles (Acts 8.1). This persecution included not only a tremendous decrease in the size of their church but eventually even the murder of their beloved pastor, James. Yet, in spite of this horrendous cost, they persevered. And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church… (Acts 15.4) It just continued on.

A church is a living organism. It grows and shrinks. It gets sick and recovers. Just like your own spiritual life, the corporate expression of Christianity fluctuates. It is never exactly the same as it was a year ago, a decade ago, or a century ago. When a church is experiencing one of its inevitable, periodic downswings, it is rather tempting to throw in the towel. The feeling is that it will never get better, only worse. In a tailspin, people tend to constantly compare how bad things are at the moment, with how good they used to be. But many of the priests and Levites and chief of the fathers, who were ancient men, that had seen the first house, when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, wept with a loud voice; and many shouted aloud for joy (Ezra 3.12). This is an old and storied problem.

Perhaps your church is not there at the moment. Perhaps it is thriving, exemplifying many of the strengths I have spoken of in this piece. There is numerical growth, a sweet spirit of unity, a willingness to give and serve one another, and an appropriate veneration of pastoral leadership. If so, thank the Lord for it, and move forward. But know this – it is not going to stay that way, not perpetually. Trouble will come, the waves will grow rough, and the old ship of Zion will have to fight her way through the winds and waves, yet again. When that happens, or if that is where your church is now, stay. Just stay, beloved. Stick it out. It is the only way to build a great church.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Strong Church/Weak Church

Strong Church/Weak Church 1

         Jesus changed the world. He did so in a number of ways. One of the rather overlooked ways He did so was by founding the wonderful institution called the church. Twenty centuries later I cannot think of anything dearer to me outside of my own family than the church. For five decades, it has taught me, trained me, and ministered to me. It has become my second home. The people it holds within its embrace have become my dearest friends. What it is and what it stands for and what it does and how it is doing are of vital interest to me. And I suspect, how I feel about church holds as true for you as it does for me.

          I have been a member of five churches in my life. I spent my formative years from birth until age seventeen in the church my dad pastored, the First Baptist Church of McDonald, Ohio. During my senior year of high school my father accepted the pastorate of the Sparlingville Baptist Church in Port Huron, Michigan. I moved my membership there for about six months until I went to Bible college. At eighteen, upon enrolling in Hyles-Anderson College, I joined the First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana. I attended there for the following six years. Then at age twenty-four, I entered the ministry by way of the Bible Way Baptist Church in New Castle, Pennsylvania. This church later changed its named to Lighthouse Baptist Church and moved to Bessemer, Pennsylvania where it still holds forth the Word of life. After seven years pastoring there, I came to Maplewood Bible Baptist Church in Chicago, where I have served now for these fifteen years. All of these churches are precious to me. I long to see them do well, and I thrill at good reports, especially the one I grew up in and the two I have pastored.

          Each of these churches had strengths and each of them had weaknesses; including the one I pastor now. As a pastor, I pay very close attention to those strengths and weaknesses. I seek to protect and expand the strengths while simultaneously treating the weaknesses. I share this wonderful opportunity and holy responsibility with tens of thousands of other pastors, who are not the only ones concerned about the condition of their church. Many a sincere, committed, caring church member longs to see their church grow stronger. Their greatest fear is its decline and their greatest joy is found in its advance. It is a rare privilege to pastor many such sweet people here at Maplewood.

          All of this begs the question, what makes a church strong and what makes it weak? What are the signs of a healthy church? Conversely, what are the signs of a sick church? These are critical questions for they strike at the heart of what so many of God’s people care so deeply about, and they speak directly to the availability of good churches for the next generation. Answering these questions accurately lends insight into what good pastors and good members should aim for, should work at, should pray about, should prioritize for, and should seek to accomplish.

          The next question that comes is where do we go for the answers? Can I tell you what the answer to that question all too often involves? Signing up for a conference somewhere at a “model” church. Such churches, usually large, set themselves up as pattern churches for the rest of us. We duly show up, are impressed, and run home to copy in our church what seems to be working in that church. I do not mean this as harshly as it probably comes across, but the longer I serve the Lord the less impressed I am with the so-called great churches of our generation. I am glad for them. I am grateful for their ministries. I am happy to see them thrive, at least as far as I can tell, but I no longer look to them. I have gradually come to the conclusion that if I want to find the pattern for what my church ought to aim for, I need to look one place primarily – the pages of God’s Word.

          So it is that this blog series was birthed. In an effort to answer these questions biblically, I have studied at some depth the local churches found in the Scripture. There are a surprising number of them, and the written record contains more information about them than one might think. As God does with men, He does not hesitate to record both the good and the bad of these churches. In so doing, He reveals for us some things that ought to be avoided and some things that ought to be pursued. For the next few months, we are going to examine these churches with the purpose of applying what we learn to churches in our own day.

          Specifically, what churches am I talking about? We will begin with the first and largest and most influential of them all, the church at Jerusalem. We will move on to look at the church at Antioch, where the disciples were first called Christians. Following that, we will discuss what is perhaps the weakest church in the Bible, the Corinthian church. In due course, we will next inspect the churches at Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. During this process we will spend the bulk of our time in Acts, Corinthians, and Revelation.

          As much as I know how, I will seek in some sense to lay aside my experience and perspective as a pastor. I do not want to spend the next few months giving you my considered opinion, for the most part. I will try to bring us to an understanding based on the simple truths of Scripture. In the process, I hope you will be enlightened, and more importantly, I pray that your church will be strengthened.

          We begin with the church at Jerusalem next week. Stay tuned!   

Monday, March 11, 2019

For a Season

Poetry 6

Over thirty years ago I began to write poetry. From time to time, usually between blog series, I will share one or two with you. Such is the case today. Nearly a decade ago, while preaching an expositional sermon series through I Peter, I was struck by the phrase for a season. After developing a sermon on that theme, I wrote this poem to end the message. Next week, a new blog series launches, but for today I offer you the following thoughts:

For a Season

I wept as I walked down the road
A paperboy trudging through rain
My heart was hurt 'neath the load
But I didn't see then the pain
          ...was only 'for a season.'

I wept as I walked down the road
A steelworker stumbling through snow
The bleak ice of winter's abode
A mirror of my cry of woe
          ...but 'twas only 'for a season.'

I wept as I stood by the crib
In that lonely hospital room
Her heart fluttered 'neath the rib
And close by death whispered doom
          ...but 'tis only 'for a season.'

I wept sitting there in my car
When I came to your house to pray
I know a bit 'bout the scar
On your heart, so I gently say
 is only 'for a season.'

O my people, I lovingly plead
For your patience and faith in the Lord
You suffer heartaches indeed
Take the comfort this thought does afford
          ...'twill be only 'for a season.'

I promise your sorrow will end
A smile will return to your face
The tear in your heart He will mend
The wound with joy He'll replace
          ...because this is only 'for a season.'

And someday we'll all gather 'round
The Throne in eternity's day
This suffering life we'll lay down
The tears all wiped away
          ...and it won't just be 'for a season.'

Monday, March 4, 2019

Josh Teis Responds; Tom Brennan Answers

Neo-independent Baptist 9

Note: Before I began this series I called Josh Teis. We spent about an hour on the phone discussing many of the issues we have discussed in this series. During that conversation, after I informed him that we were writing it, I offered to let him write a response when we were done. I told him I would post it and publicize it the same as all the rest. He chose to accept. Below are his words, unedited, followed by my closing thoughts. As always, your feedback is welcome.

Hey Tom & Tom’s Audience,

This is very strange, don’t you think?

First, it’s still a bit odd to me that accomplished men of God whom I’ve yet the privilege to meet, both know of our ministry and are concerned enough for our practices that they’d sacrifice their time in order to help us understand the way of God more perfectly.[1]

Second, it’s highly unusual that a widely-read and respected author willingly turns his platform over to someone with whom he believes he differs on several important issues. Tom deserves recognition for this gracious gesture.

Third, most shocking of all, and still incredibly difficult to understand is that the Holy Eternal God of Heaven would send His only Son to redeem our deplorable souls, and furthermore call us into His service as ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. With all of our weaknesses and inadequacies, we have been called to serve the King of Kings! I’m daily in awe of this gift.[2]

What doesn’t surprise me is that many have questions and legitimate concerns regarding Southern Hills Baptist Church, Idea Day Network, and my own personal life.[3] We’ve done a few things considered unconventional by some and unbiblical by others. So, I can understand the interest. There have been 8 articles written in this series that address concerns about me and the ministries I lead. In the next few paragraphs I will attempt to address these concerns.

1. Why It Matters – Pete Folger
Peter’s father has always been one of my favorite preachers. What Dr. Folger was able to accomplish in Cleveland over these many decades through the power of Christ ought be celebrated. It’s exciting to see this amazing church pass into the capable hands of Peter. I share with Peter a deep love and reverence for our Independent Baptist heritage. We both seek guidance and correction from our father/mentors who have been great leaders in the Independent Baptist movement. Do we differ in minor points of methodology? Yes, I suppose we do. However, I do not see these issues as matters of ecclesiastical separation. Nor do I seek to make more traditional men leave behind methods to which they feel called. I simply desire a broader inclusion of Independent Baptist men who hold varying positions on less than fundamental matters. I long for unity in our ranks.[4]

2. What They Are Not: The Enemy – Tom Brennan
Tom is a different type of critic. He bases his critique upon the issues at hand and attempts to avoid personal attacks. In this post Tom eloquently reminds his readers, “Josh Teis…is not my enemy.”

3. What It Is Not: New – Robert Rutta
Beyond a few brief conversations with Pete and Tom, I’ve never had the honor of meeting the other 5 authors in this series. I think this is an important note, for the other articles seem to have a very difficult time understanding our ministries, motivations, and methods. Much of the misunderstanding comes from an article I wrote several years ago entitled The New Independent Baptists. This blog was born out of an incredible excitement that had come over me at a recent Idea Day. Men were testifying of souls being saved, baptized, and discipled. So many young men reported spiritual and numerical growth in their local congregations. It was so inspiring – on the way home I wrote about how thrilling it was to see a new generation of Independent Baptists thriving. What many saw as a celebration of God’s continued blessing in our churches, some saw as an attack on the previous generation. This broke my heart for this was not my intent.[5] Therefore I asked my father, a faithful minister of 40 years, to write a follow up post entitled The Old Independent Baptists.[6] Perhaps Robert were unaware of this follow-up article that posted the following week. In addition, I do find it humorous that I, and a few friends, have been called New Independent Baptists. This is not a term I’ve ever called myself, nor one that I claim.

4. What It Offers: Relevance – Chris Birkholz
I loved this article! I wish I had written it. I completely agree that an over-emphasis on Cultural Relevance is fool’s errand. Great blog Chris.

5. What It Lacks: The Power of God – Emanuel Rodriguez
This, perhaps was the most disturbing to me personally. However, it was also the article that I believe has the least observable information on our church, ministries, and Idea Day. Emanuel says clearly, “I believe that their emphasis is in the wrong places.” Bluntly stated, Emanuel’s belief is incorrect. His assumption from afar is that those who attend Idea Day are spending their time and money attempting to replace the power of God with
the ideas of men. I can assure you (and others who’ve never attended an Idea Day) that we agree that the power of God can never be attained or retained through simple methodology. The entire theme of The Summit was “not by might, nor by power, but by

my spirit, saith the Lord.”[7] I include these photographs from our recent Idea day as documentation of our faithfulness to that which matters most. If further documentation of
our fidelity is required I can be reached at

6. Where It is Mistaken: Fitting In – Wesley Palla
Wesley goes out of his way in the article itself and the subsequent comments to make it clear that his article has nothing to do with me or Idea Day. Therefore, I’m disinclined to address this particular article other than to say, I agree that Christians are not called to “fit in” to society. We will often find ourselves standing boldly in the face of persecution as did the Bible heroes mentioned in this post.

7. Its Errant Defense: Chapter and Verse – Tom Brennan
Tom is a great writer. There is no doubt. I hope that his audience grows, as long as he stops writing about me (smile). Here is where we find substantive difference. One of the very first principles we are taught as Baptists is Biblical Authority. Traditions are good but not God. Preferences are fine but not final. What matters most is the question uttered by every Baptist who has ever been properly trained, “What does the Bible say about that?” However, Biblical Authority is not where we differ in belief. Both Tom and I would say that we “stand alone on the Word of God – the B-I-B-L-E.” We would also agree on the definitions and explanations of the words convictions and principles. Every Christian ought to live by both. I suppose where we disagree is that I simply don’t see as scripturally supported several of the principles Tom would have me live by. I cannot, and will not, subject our ministry to the interpretation of biblical principles by another field servant no matter how sincere his subjective objections. We each serve the Master, but to Him alone we will answer.[8]

8. Subject to Change: A Plea to Young Men – Dan Armacost
The fear and trepidation is most palpable in the final article of the series. This is an earnest plea to young ministers by a faithful man of God to be wise in their choices, and choose as conservative a path as possible. I see change, not Josh Teis or Idea Day, as the real adversary in this post. However, the author may not know that we share one major concern. Young men ought seek council from older men. I wrote of the Rehoboam dynamic 5 years ago here.[9] Again, I think if Dan and I had the opportunity of sitting down and discussing his concerns face-to-face he would find that we agree on far more than we disagree; and we would celebrate all that God is doing both at Southern Hills and Fairhaven.

Why Respond? I’ve wrestled with this question myself. Is it about defending my reputation? Ha! No, I’ve little left to defend. Is it about defending my positions? No, I have my own blog to do that. Then why?

Relationships are incredibly important to me. I would love to grow in my relationship with godly men like Peter and Tom. I would be honored to meet and know men like Chris who has dedicated his life to orphans of Honduras, Robert who plants churches in New Zealand, Emanuel who serves as missionary in Paraguay, Wesley a hero in Sau Paulo, and Dan the faithful Dean of Students at Fairhaven Baptist College. Some may read this doubting my sincerity. But those who know me… know this to be absolutely genuine and authentic.

The Christian world needs to unify and strengthen as we enter these perilous times.[10] We must not continue to splinter and divide into increasingly diminished spheres of influence. We have a world to reach, and we can do more together than we can on our own. Therefore, we must remain true to the fundamentals of the faith while allowing for differences on lesser issues. We must have the difficult conversations and learn to understand why a brother may differ from us on a particular idea. I am thankful to Tom for giving me the opportunity to answer many of the questions that some may have about our lives and ministries. I truly hope that going forward – we can be friends.[11] I’m also thankful that he has allowed me to surpass the previously suggested 1,000 words to 1,604. I just cannot seem to be edit my ramblings. HA! As pastors, I assume we all have this in common.

[1] Acts 18:28
[2] I Timothy 1:12
[3] Trust Me! I have my own concerns.
[4] Psalm 133:1, John 17:20-23
[5] Romans 13:7
[7] Zechariah 4:6
[8] Romans 14
[11] John 13:35


A decade ago I undertook an in-depth study of the life of Christ. I felt my knowledge of
the events of His life was extensive, but my grasp of the connective tissue between those events was spotty at best. In the intervening years I have read tens of thousands of pages and listened to hundreds of hours of podcasts on Rome, Judaism, rabbinical hermeneutics, and a dozen other things. I have sought to immerse myself in the life and times of Jesus. In the process, a number of the events and interactions in His life have shifted color, so to speak. I view them differently than I did before, deeper and wider and more vivid.

One of those events takes place on the day prior to His death. Jesus spends the bulk of that morning in the Temple engaging in spirited discussion with His enemies, taking on one and all as they come. The Sanhedrin had cobbled together an emergency coalition of usually disparate elements – the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians – and had been taking a run at Him with differing elements of these groups all morning. The intent was to embarrass Him religiously or politically, and chip away at His popular support thus allowing the Sanhedrin’s assassination conspiracy to accomplish its goals without blowback from the common people.

Into the spiritual maelstrom of that morning a Pharisee, taking advantage of a lull in the discussion, launches a divisive question. Master, which is the greatest commandment in the law? (Matthew 22.36) The Pharisees were nothing if not diligent students of the Torah, the Mosaic Law. They had parsed it to a fare thee well, and according to their reckoning numbered in its pages 248 specific commandments and 365 prohibitions. Taken together, these 613 precepts formed the foundation of the massive superstructure of Talmudic instruction that so burdened the people. However, it was not enough just to know these 613 precepts and their corresponding interpretations and applications. After all, occasionally it would seem as if one of those precepts was in conflict with a different one. It was also necessary to determine the order of priority each of these precepts had in God’s economy. This would ensure that the more important instruction took precedence over the lesser instruction.

As you can imagine, the debates that arose within Rabbinism about these various rankings make the debates we enter into about the top ten quarterbacks of the modern era pale by comparison. In fact, splits developed along various fault lines in this debate. The lawyer asking Jesus this question in Matthew 22.36 understands all of this, as Jesus does Himself. The lawyer’s intent is to force Jesus to take a position that will be bound to be unpopular with somebody or other, ergo lowering Him in the eyes of some of the people.

Jesus’ answer is thus momentarily brilliant, perfect to the situation. He sidesteps these petty debates entirely, and in the process reveals their spiritual bankruptcy. What is that answer? You know it already, do you not? Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Matthew 22.37-40)

This response is staggering in its clarity and depth. It was not only momentarily brilliant, for it has well echoed through the centuries of Christian history. It calls us to prioritize two things or at least found all of our actions and non-actions on two things – love for God and love for people.

I do not know Josh Teis well, but what I know of him tells me he would agree with everything I have written so far. I do know well a number of leaders who are on his side of this discussion we are having and I would likewise say they would agree with everything I have written so far. Why then am I bringing it up if we all agree? What possible bearing can it have on this discussion?

Simply put, while the neo-independent Baptists agree on the foundational importance these two commandments have in our religious expression they sadly invert the order of precedence which Christ gave them. Loving God is the first and great commandment. Our Saviour is quite clear, nothing else ranks above it, not even the second one, the call to love our neighbor. Unlike some of the men on my side of this discussion, I do not doubt the neo-independent Baptists love for the Lord or for people. I believe there beats within them a heart that genuinely loves our Lord and genuinely loves God’s people and the lost world both. But they have made the grievous mistake, in my judgment, of elevating the second of those loves in precedence over the first. Absent a resolution such a mistaken priority will bring spiritual death in its train.

What are the grounds I have for such an assertion? The dozens of blog posts I have read, the hours of video of I have watched, and the days of online conversations I have engaged in with various neo-independent Baptists. Their ministry philosophy can be boiled down to one essential word – pragmatism. The love they have for their neighbor has driven them passionately in pursuit of their neighbor’s souls. They have thrown tradition and history to the winds, sometimes heedlessly yet often knowingly, in an effort to reach this generation before it is too late. They have grown weary of an independent Baptist movement that they see as increasingly stagnant, isolated, and ineffective. They have raised the question of how do we fix this, examined it from every possible angle, and then launched themselves and their ministries on an entirely different trajectory. They are driven, and sincerely so.

…but they are driven out of order. The question that pastors must ask themselves constantly is not how they and their churches can be more effective; it is how they and their churches can be more holy, more like the Lord who bought them. What drives us dare not be how we can reach more people, instead it must ever be how we can better please Him. The first and greatest and most constant foundational philosophical consideration of our ministries cannot be them; it must be Him.

I can hear some of you muttering under your breath, “Seriously? This Hyles-Anderson graduate is going to lecture us about pragmatism?” Believe me, I know. Painfully. The sincerely motivated results oriented dynamic endemic in the neo-independent Baptist movement has a long and storied history in our movement. Our forefathers sowed the wind in this respect, and our generation is reaping the whirlwind. All of which begs the question, when you sow the whirlwind what do you think you are going to reap? The neo-independent Baptist movement desperately needs to take the long view, to look down the road, past this week and this year and how the crowds are responding at the moment. What will their pursuit of the world in an effort to reach the world produce in their pulpits, in their churches, and in their children twenty, thirty, forty years from now?

As God is my witness I feel no joy in penning these words. I do not imagine these past couple of months have been any more fun for Josh Teis than they have been for me, in this respect. But while I wish him no ill will, and indeed view him as a brother for whom I want the best of God’s favor, I cannot take back what I have written. Nor do I doubt the wisdom and veracity of the blog series itself. In this the other authors share my sentiment. Beloved, if we as a movement are in need of a reorientation it surely must not be in the direction of people, as much as we love them; it must be in the direction of Christ.

Several times in the course of writing this series I have been asked if I think it has been
effective. Of course, I have had some goals, some things I have wanted to accomplish with this conversation. But my answer to those questions has consistently been the same: I have tried to please Him and that is enough for me. In so saying I am not claiming the mantle of superiority. I am not better than any man reading these words and substantially worse than many. I am, at heart, a sinner seeking to yield to the Spirit as He transforms my life into the image of Christ. But I would ask you nevertheless to consider the validity of my point. Yes, we are to love this sin-sick world and to give everything we have to reach them for Christ. But even more important than that, and governing all else, we must love Him first, put Him first, think of Him first, and please Him most.

Who is pleased with the ministry you are building? Who is pleased with the direction you are going? Whose delighted response are you aiming for?

The crowd?

Or the Lord?