Women at Each Other’s Throats?

In the church at Philippi there was a division. This was headed up by two women—the worst sort of split any church can have! There’s always the possibility that it can become a real shin-kicker and hair puller!

Their names might easily have been Odious and Soon-touchy, if they were anything like what we find in churches today. Their actual names are found in Philippians 4:2.

Before Paul mentions any names, he makes clear two principles that must be at work when bringing unity to a divided church. In Philippians 2:3, 4, he sets these forth:

  1. Get rid of selfishness or vane thinking about your own worth, while at the same time considering others better than your self.
  2. Instead of being all—fired concerned with your own interests, for once in your life begin to put the interests of other before your own!

You can always find some way in which others are better than you—if you’re willing to prayerfully take an honest look (of course, as his words indicate, Paul would have you to look away from yourself in order to do so).

And, if you are concerned about furthering others’ concerns rather than your own, again, you’ll find ways of doing so.

The two principles are not hard to understand-just hard for quarreling people to follow. Repentance may be in order to be able to do so.

On those two points, he goes further in the verses that follow to show how that’s exactly what Jesus did for us. He selflessly put us first, going so far as to put our interests (salvation) before His manifested glory as the second Person of the Trinity. He was willing to stoop to becoming a man, to becoming a slave, to becoming a criminal who died on the cross—all for our sakes.

Think of His condescension the next time your foot gets stepped on, the next time someone disagrees with you, the next time you’ve been insulted, the next time . . . simply the next time! It isn’t a matter of who is right. The point is—how are you handling the relationship? Follow these two principles, and you will certainly be doing much to bring about unity. In unity, you can work out the differences!

Drive Away?

Then, there’s the elder who, by his words and actions, has driven off the last three pastors.

It seems that he’s as actively at it in his old age as he was when he was young. Age hasn’t mellowed him; it has just provided him time to dream up new and more effective ways of doing what he does best.

Now, you come as pastor to the church. Rapidly, you discover the fact that the last two men remained as ministers of the church for only two years; the one before them leaving after two months. The word is out that elder so-and-so “drove them off.” You have a problem on your hands. Because you won’t encourage gossip, you seek no more information. Rather, you have decided to deal with any problems that may be forth-coming if and when they happen.

It isn’t long before elder S&S provides you with your first opportunity. It really isn’t important to go into the matter in any depth. The details of the issue are not important to the present discussion. What we want to focus on is the dynamics of the interchange that brought them to a head—and what occurred thereafter.

Elder S&S was opposed. The fact, in itself isn’t all that important; he was often opposed to much that the pastor and other elders wanted to do. Sometimes, the group allowed him to stifle ideas and suggestions; less often, they stood up for their views—especially when little was at stake! He’d become angered, but not hot-headed over such matters. But the issue at hand was, on the occasion in view, one in which much was at stake. The future growth of the congregation seemed to inseparably bound up in it. As pastor, you are anxious to see it happen for the welfare of all concerned—including elder S&S. Most of the seven other elders agree with your judgment. But four of them are weak and unwilling to stand for what they believe if it comes to a fight. They just “don’t have the stomach for it,” they say. Yet, they believe the project is necessary for the church’s welfare.

But old S&S doesn’t see it that way.

And, it isn’t long into the meeting before he lets everyone know it. Characteristically, he expresses his will in such a way that there could be no doubt where he stands. That’s OK. But, then, in addition, he begins to berate the pastor—you—who presented the matter to the board. Without elaborating upon the offensive manner in which he does so, what he says is, “This simply won’t happen! I’ll see to that. If a young, newly manufactured seminary product thinks he can come into this church and change things, he’ll find out differently.” All of the other elders freeze and look at you. How will you respond?

You say (calmly, but firmly), “Elder S&S, you are certainly welcome to your opinion—and I’m glad that you express it so strongly—but you are not going to get away with insulting anyone here—including me! I expect you to ask for forgiveness before we go any further. You know, I’m sure, what Paul said to Timothy: “Don’t let anybody despise your youth. . . “ (I Timothy 4:12). I have been ordained by the church of Jesus Christ—just as you have—and we must both respect that authority. I have not mentioned the fact that you are an aged elder, though that too is a fact. Indeed, I should respect your gray head, as the Scriptures indicate, and I intend to do so. Now, I’m ready to forgive you as soon as you ask for it.”

I shall not continue the scenario, although that would be of interest. The question is, will you, when faced with such an insult and challenge to your authority—as the three previous pastors did—allow the church to be run by one man who, by insults and threats, has dominated the scene so forcefully that not only pastors, but over the years, elders and members as well, have found more congenial quarters elsewhere. If you were to submit to the domination of elder S&S, you too would be out of there before you know it. It is time for someone to stand toe-to-toe and eye to eye with such a person. And that somebody is YOU.

 

The Preacher’s Library

You used to be able to tell a lot about a preacher—and about his preaching—simply by walking into his library. If it was filled with catchy titles, how-to manuals, frothy experience-oriented fluff, as well as second-rate commentaries, you could know that isn’t the place to hang your hat as a church member. But things have changed. Now, a man can have an entire library on a computer’s disc that includes volumes that were once inaccessible, and with translations galore at his fingertips. It has become very hard to judge a man by his books (unless he‘s an old foggy like some of us), because all of the good stuff can be hidden away on a hard drive.

But, were you to be able to become aware of what he has on shelves and on disks—and how frequently the good stuff is used—you’d know what you used to know from visiting his library.

Preacher, we can’t tell anymore. That may be a blessing to all. But one thing is true: you know what your library (of both books and computer programs) is like, and of greater importance, you know how often you use the resources at your disposal. We don’t know, until we hear you preach. Then, over a period of time, we can surmise what kind of sources you are using and how hard you are working at exegesis.

What a preacher focuses on will determine what kind of ministry he has. Is it an exegetically-based ministry, or is a ministry of the popularization of modern themes? Do you really feed hungry sheep the bread of life, or do you hand over hand-me-downs from other preachers? Do you focus on sensational topics? Are you a prophecy hound? Do you always avoid the tough passages? Are your people being entertained—or are they learning? Do your people go away challenged, convicted, caring? Does your preaching edify? These should be matters of deep concern.

It has been historically true, and doubtless is and will continue to be true, that a man who is well read, who has good sources and uses them well, is more likely to have a fruitful and longer ministry than the one who doesn’t. He will tend to become a better exegete, he will be well-read in biblical and church history, he will be able to draw upon a wealth of systematic and practical theology, and his congregation will become the better for it. How does your library look, pastor?

Speaking of exegesis, how do you do it? Do you cobble together bits and pieces from various commentaries into some explanation of the preaching portion? Or do you do the hard work of figuring out for yourself what the passage says, using various commentaries to help you? Between these two approaches to the text, there is a large difference. That for which you have worked will come through in your preaching as authentic. That which has been cribbed from some commentator who did the work, will come through as inauthentic (unless, of course, you are an astute actor). Hard work requires using a goodly number of sources to help you come to valid decisions about a passage. But it doesn’t mean abusing them by mere copying. Are you guilty of this sin, preacher? If so, repent, and begin to do the right thing that you know, down deep, you ought to be doing. Rightly handling the Word of God is not only work, but a great responsibility.

Pastors and Problem People

No pastor likes to have problem people in the church. They can irritate, often become time-consuming, block progress and, among other things, stir up trouble with others. How should he relate to them? That’s always the question that a shepherd faces while tending his recalcitrant sheep. Sheep wander and get lost; they may be stubborn and obstinate. They do foolish things, and are vulnerable to animals of prey. Good shepherds feed their sheep, leading them to lush pastures. They use their staffs to pull them away from dangerous precipices, and their rods to beat off the wolf that would snatch them from the fold. Clearly, when you think of how Moses and Aaron complained again and again about the people of Israel as “obstinate” and “stiff-necked” it is easy to understand that the difficulty you experience is in no way new or unique. So, that’s the first thing: you must reckon on having problem people in your church just as a shepherd reckons with his flock. That is the nature of the ministry. It goes with the turf.

There are some ministers of the Word who lose patience with such people—they want to “get them out of the way.” The back door in their churches is always unlocked—sometimes standing wide open! They are always ready to show problem people where it is. Other pastors become discouraged; they wonder if there is something wrong with their ministry, and whether they ought rather to be selling insurance. Still others give up on their churches, anxious to move on to some place where they will find the people more “spiritual”—or, at the least, more convivial. Only to discover, of course, that such churches rarely exist. I suppose there are a dozen or more other reactions that might be mentioned, but surely these are sufficient to set the scene for what I am about to say.

And that is—difficulties with problem people is what ministry is all about! You aren’t really ministering unless you are helping such people to change. “HA!” you say. “I’d like you to see my bunch. Maybe you’d change your mind about that if you did. Change them? That’s nearly impossible.”

Well, perhaps it is. But probably it isn’t. Naturally, there are times to give up on a particular group of people. God finally did when He sent His people off into exile. But, of course, even then He worked with them for 70 years and at length brought them back to Palestine. Finally, there came a time when the cup of His patience was filled to overflowing, and there was a final end (Matthew 23:32; Luke 21:22). But that was only after God showed amazing patience and longsuffering. Very few pastors ever need come to that place with their congregations—and even if they might, how would they know when such a time has arrived. It is the place of a faithful steward of the grace of God to continue patiently working with problem people. Let the One Who holds the churches in His hand determine when to remove a lampstand. God has shown us great patience in His dealings with His people (indeed, and in his dealing with each of us as well!).

Paul has a clear word on the subject in I Thessalonians 5:11, 14:

Therefore encourage one another and continue to build each other up, as indeed you have been doing . . . We urge you, brothers, counsel the idle, encourage the timid, support the weak, be patient with everyone.

That, of course, isn’t the only passage that might be quoted. When you think of the amazing patience that Paul exhibited with the Corinthian church, you can see what patient forbearing means. But, for now, simply think about this passage alone. You will note, when Paul wrote these words to the church at Thessalonica, he wasn’t even writing to pastors in particular, but to all the members of the congregation (his words make that clear: “one another . . . brothers”). What were they (and certainly their pastors as well) to do about problem people? The answer? “Build them up.” “Counsel them.” “Encourage them.” “Support them” and “be patient with everyone.”

Now, of course, we are not speaking of schismatic persons—those who would split your church. Paul wants you to discipline them immediately before it’s too late (see Titus 3:10). After confronting them once or twice, if there is no change in their attitude and behavior, they must be subject to church discipline.

But we are talking about the run-of-the-mill problem person. The reason why God put you there is to minister to such people. There would be no work for an undertaker if no one ever died. Similarly, there would be no place for your ministry if there were no problem people for you to help. Indeed, helping such persons solve problems and grow in their faith is a major part of your work. “If you can’t stand the heat,” they say, “then get out of the kitchen.” You may have to. But better still, why not learn how to take it. Someone must do the cooking. And when you resolve to do so—to minister as fully as possible to problem people-you will soon discover that the changes that do take place are worth the effort. Soon you’ll learn to stand the heat like every good cook!

God’s servants have never had a good time of it (Read again Hebrews 11). But they served—in all sorts of situations, most of which were probably far worse than yours. And God blessed them. Sometimes it was only a few, but never as Elijah thought, none, who had not bowed the knee to Baal. Often, a minister of the word was himself ejected from his place of ministry (John to Patmos, Paul to Jail). But even there God used them to continue to minister in different ways. Come on now, discouraged, disheartened pastor: the church is a hospital for the spiritually sick, and you are a physician of the soul. What good would a physician be in a hospital of well people? It is the sick and needy that Jesus helped. It is the sinner and the troublemaker that you are called to minister to. Remember what the word “minister” means—“servant.” You are called to serve God by serving His people. Ask God to forgive you for your discouragement, pick up your Bible once again, and go to work with patience and zeal!

Rent – a – Pastor?

One of the greatest challenges of the ministry is that of time management. There are always more things to do each day than there is time to accomplish them. Few pastors have escaped the thought at the end of a busy day that he could have been a better steward of the hours God had entrusted to him that day. In this posting I would like to humbly put forward a proposal that could revolutionize a pastor’s ability to free up time and, if implemented fully, would make the struggle for more time a thing of the past. I know I have set the bar pretty high with such a claim but please, read what I have to propose carefully and don’t turn me off until you have heard me out (and please, read this through to the end to get the full impact of my suggestion).

Let’s begin with one of the most time consuming activities on the pastor’s plate—hospital calling. It often comes as an interruption of the normal schedule. People do not experience serious medical problems on a schedule. Yet, when they experience them, you want to be there to minister the comfort and encouragement that only the Scriptures have to offer. It is important work. Unfortunately, making one’s way to most large hospitals through busy traffic, finding a parking place, navigating the maze of hallways and staircases to find the right room only to find your patient has been taken away for tests can be frustrating. In such cases, it is usually a better investment of time to simply wait until your patient’s tests are completed rather than fight the traffic to return later. After you are finally able to spend ten minutes with your church member you leave to make your way to the room of your only other hospitalized church member, who is in the hospital on the other side of town.

Not only are the logistics a problem, often your people will be experiencing life threatening illnesses. Comforting the family and ministering to the patient can be an emotionally draining experience for the pastor. It is difficult to shut those emotions off after such a visit in order to focus on the other responsibilities of the day. Entire days of the pastoral schedule are easily lost to this one activity.

Here is my proposal. Instead of the pastor making special trips to the hospital to minister to one or two people, the churches in each city should get together and employ one man to do all the hospital calling for each church at once! No wait, hear me out. This one man would only have to make the one trip and could visit 20 patients rather than 20 pastors making 20 trips to visit one patient each.

There are a number of benefits to this arrangement. First, your church member would receive wonderful, expert care. Think about it. You only visit two or three patients each week but this “hospital services provider” would be visiting scores. Such a man would soon gain a significant amount of experience and expertise and would become quite proficient at knowing just what words to use, what Scriptures to turn to, and what kind of demeanor to employ in the various circumstances he encounters. You want your people to receive the very best care possible don’t you? How much better to have them ministered to by an experienced veteran of hospital calling than by someone like yourself who would only be doing it several times a week?

Second, this would not only relieve you of a great deal of lost time, but also of a large measure of pastoral angst. Why should twenty pastors in one city go away from hospitals with heavy hearts over the sorrow and grief his people are experiencing when all that can be placed on the shoulders of one man who has experience coping with that kind of heartache? Pastors could go about their other activities without having to carry with them the burdens of their church members.

I know, I know, you are thinking, “Our church struggles to meet the budget each month now, how can we afford to take on the additional expense of a part time ‘hospital services provider?'” Ah, this is the genius of my plan. It would not have to cost the church anything for this service! Since it is the individual church member, and not the congregation as a whole, who is consuming this service you simply charge each patient for the hospital call along with his other hospital expenses. This does two things, it puts the hired minister on piece work, thus motivating him to make as many hospital calls as possible each day, and it enables the church to accomplish this ministry without any added expense to the overall church budget.

“But doesn’t that just add an additional financial burden to those your sick church member is already shouldering?” Not necessarily. In many cases, if you can list a medical code on the patient’s chart that describes what was accomplished during the visit, you can trick . . . er, I mean persuade the insurance company to pick up the tab. It is a win/win arrangement for all involved.

This arrangement does not have to be limited to hospital calling. How about funerals? Death often intrudes upon a pastor’s time without warning. Good and profitable activity often has to be set aside to deal with an unexpected death. Again, why not partner with an outside “funeral ministry provider” who can stand ready to deal with deaths in all the churches in town? Again, this man, because of his experience, would be much better at providing comfort to a family than you—and you would not have to interrupt your carefully arranged schedule to deal with it. You would know your people were receiving the very best care and you would be free to keep to your prearranged schedule. Furthermore, since this is a service that is provided to just one family and not the church as a whole, the family consuming the services would be asked to pick up the tab for these services. It could simply be added to the bill the funeral home presents to the family.

How about weddings? Dogpatch had a colorful character by the name of Marryin’ Sam. Why shouldn’t every city have a “wedding services provider?”

In fact, this paradigm can be applied to the chief pastoral time consumer of all—sermon preparation. Why should every pastor in town spend countless hours pouring over books week after week preparing sermons that will only be preached once? As a conscientious pastor you want your people to be as well fed from the Word of God as is humanly possible. Are you really the best person to be preaching to your people? Most churches now have video projectors installed in the auditorium. Why not obtain video taped sermons preached by the very best preachers in the land, a “preaching services provider,” and present them to your people? John MacArthur is a better preacher than you are. Why not have him preach to your people each week? This will insure that your people are receiving the very best instruction from the Word and will free up countless hours for the pastor during the week.

OK, by this point you are either too angry with me to proceed or (more likely) you have figured out that all this has been tongue-in-cheek . . . sort of. But let me pull my tongue from my cheek and propose one more pastoral responsibility for this paradigm—counseling. I propose that all the churches in town band together to support a “counseling services provider” where all their people could be sent who are in need of counseling. It would save each individual pastor countless hours and the counselee would be better served by going to someone who is an expert. This “adjunct” minister would then charge the counselee for his services and the pastor (and church budget) would be free from such a burden.

But wait, you probably recognize that this is not a new idea at all. It is, instead, a common practice. Does it really differ from my other proposed applications of the paradigm?

One question that arises pertains to the name and identity of these “counseling services providers.” One such “counseling services provider,” makes this suggestion:

“Rent-a-pastor” (is) a possibility but it certainly lacks gravitas. Pastoral “partner” is ambiguous. Academia has a position called “adjunct,” which might capture the relationship . . . (These) independent counselors could function as adjunct ministers . . . They may not be full-time members of a counselee’s local church, but in essence, they are temporarily secunded to the church staff. Whatever the designation, independent counselors could be seen to function as part-time ministers hired by your church.

For this free lance counselor, the term “rent-a-pastor” well describes such an individual and is rejected only because it is not sufficiently weighty. The problem with recognizing a “counseling services provider” as an “adjunct” minister is that he is no such thing! It is correct to note it is an academic model, but it certainly is not a biblical one. The biblical model is one of a shepherd who cares for the sheep that have been entrusted to his care, sheep for whom the shepherd must give account (Hebrews 13:17; 1 Peter 5:2). Tragedy often ensues when others, who do not own the sheep, are hired to care for them (John 10:12-13).

“But there are some very real problems that hiring a ‘counseling services provider’ does solve,” you say.

Well, let’s look at some of those problems. First is the problem of time. Counseling does take time, lots of it. But it is the ministry of the Word of God, the very thing the pastor has been called to do. Why would he choose to farm it out and not hospital calling, preaching, or funerals? Is the ministry of the Word of God to individuals across a desk a lesser important task than these others? We all have the time to do what is important to us. If the ministry of the Word of God to the flock God has entrusted to you does not rise to the top of the pile what does? What exactly are your priorities, Pastor?

“But I am not sufficiently trained for counseling. A ‘counseling services provider’ is better trained and has more experience.”

I have two responses when I hear such talk. My first is, “Well, why aren’t you sufficiently trained? You invested years in seminary education as well as thousands of dollars to learn to preach and pastor a church. Why did you not prepare yourself to counsel as well? What exactly did you think you would be doing as a pastor?”

My second response, when I hear pastors protest that they are not sufficiently trained, is “Oh yes you are!” Any pastor with solid biblical/theological/exegetical training is 97% of the way there. He is already miles ahead of anyone whose qualifications consist of a psychological degree or a license from the state to do counseling or social work. In addition to a theological education, well prepared pastors also took courses in homiletics in order to better prepare themselves to minister the Word from behind a pulpit. In the same way, a bit of additional training in how to minister the Word from behind the counselor’s desk is also in order. If this training was not obtained in seminary it can easily be secured from other sources these days.

Counseling is the ministry of the Word of God. It is pastoral ministry. Would you consider contracting others to do your praying for you, your Bible study, your preaching, your comforting, or your oversight of the flock? Then why would you be willing to forsake your God given responsibility to minister the Word of God in the counseling room and farm it out to others?

Paying the Pastor

Your Pastor is NOT going to get into this with you. He does not want to sound self-serving and he is going to trust God to provide for his needs. I believe it is a mistake many pastors make. We are commanded to teach “the whole counsel of God.” Every subject the Bible addresses should be taught by the pastor, including this one. If he does not, who will? Not many pastors have a guy like me blogging about such things. Hear what Paul says in 1 Cor. 9:7-14

Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat the fruit of it? Or who tends a flock and does not use the milk of the flock? I am not speaking these things according to human judgment, am I? Or does not the Law also say these things? For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing.” God is not concerned about oxen, is He? Or is He speaking altogether for our sake? Yes, for our sake it was written, because the plowman ought to plow in hope, and the thresher to thresh in hope of sharing the crops. If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? If others share the right over you, do we not more? Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things so that we will cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ. Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the food of the temple, and those who attend regularly to the altar have their share from the altar? So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel.

Paul’s logic is clear. Even though he had made a personal decision not to accept support from the churches in which he ministered, they still had a responsibility to support those who were to have a continuing ministry to them as their pastors.

“But Donn,” you complain, “No one thinks a pastor should not be paid. What’s your point?”

Stay with me here. I wanted to begin by establishing the basic fact that God requires us to pay our pastor. How much we should pay him is the more controversial question. Did you know the Bible answers that for us as well? No, it does not give us a dollar amount but listen to this:

The elders (pastors) who manage well should be considered worthy of double pay, especially those who are laboring at preaching and teaching.  (1 Timothy 5:17)

Paul is prescribing an attitude, not a figure. A mind-set, not a number. When it comes time to vote on a budget, and when the various committees meet to decide upon a salary package, how should they approach their decisions? Will it be “How much does our pastor need to get by?” or will it be “How generous can we afford to be?”

Paul urges you to consider your pastor to be worthy of twice the pay. No, you will probably not be able to afford to pay him double, but you should aspire to do so. Remember, your pastor will probably be one of the best educated people in your church. How many people in your church have a Master’s degree in whatever it is they do? He will have paid for his education himself. If the pastor receives a higher income than you do would you be jealous or would you be thankful?

Your pastor has many burdens, paying his bills should not be one of them. He should be paid well enough that he can purchase a home in the same kind of neighborhood you live in. He should be able to purchase a vehicle that is dependable and comfortable. He should be provided life insurance, health insurance, and a generous pension. His wife should be free to work outside the home if she desires, but she should not HAVE to work for the family to survive.

“But Donn,” you say, “we can’t pay him more than we have. All these things will bust our church budget.”

Well, I will admit I am not familiar with your church’s finances. All I am doing is pleading for a biblical mind set as you make decisions. There are many good and worthy ways a church can spend money. Of course you have to pay the utility bills, purchase insurance, and do maintenance on your buildings. But of all the other things in your budget, only one is commanded in the Scriptures—paying the pastor.

The cooperative fund, missions, convention agencies, camps, schools, and benevolence are all good and worthy things. But if a church cannot obey Christ in paying their pastor because they are supporting these other things, then ultimately, it is the pastor, not the church that is supporting them. Only one budget item is prescribed in the Word. All others come in second to that priority.

Why Do You Want to Counsel?

Is it because you see the need in the church today? Is it because of some situation that you were involved in where you saw that counseling was not provided when it ought to have been? Is it because you have always had a desire to minister to others? Is it because you like to be authoritative and tell others what to do? Even from these few suggestions, obviously, you can see that there are many reasons why someone might want to counsel; some laudable, some not. What are yours?

Perhaps you don’t even know why you are becoming interested—couldn’t spell out the reasons out if you were forced to do so at gun point. There simply may be something about counseling that entices you that you are unable to articulate. Perhaps you believe that you have gifts that seem to point you toward counseling. Whatever the reason—or reasons—you ought to sort them out. Why? Because the time will come when you will have to ask yourself whether or not your reasons are sufficient to sustain your interest in counseling. Counseling can get wearisome at times. It can become demanding, discouraging and time-consuming. It is in times like those that a proper, biblical motivation will enable you to endure.

If you are a minister of the Gospel, you have a flock and, of course, your motivation ought to be to fulfill your responsibilities to the flock—many of which will involve both informal and formal counseling as a part of the office to which you were ordained. If you are called by the church of Christ to minister; you are called to counsel. It goes with the territory.

What of you—a layman who has no flock, who is not ordained to a shepherding ministry? You too are required to counsel—informally. Galatians 6 puts you in the business of doing such counseling. If after reading the first verses of that chapter you don’t understand your place in counseling, you might want to read my explanation of it in the book, Ready to Restore.

All I’m saying is if you are going to counsel it ought to be

  1. because God requires it of you
  2. because you care about your hurting brothers and sisters.

Any lesser motives ought to be expunged from your thinking and, instead, the proper ones must take their place. Otherwise, your counsel is likely to falter, fail, or be seriously flawed. Why not take time to think these things through, pray about them, read again Acts 20, Galatians 6?

Is it time for you to check out your motives? Then, to do so, without distraction. In the long run, you will be glad that you did—and so will your counselees.

Trouble—of Whose Making?

You may be disappointed with your pastor. There are any number of possible reasons for this. Some of them may lie at your doorstep; others at his. Some, at both. Here is one that you may not have considered. And it’s one that involves both you and the pastor as well. Let me read II Timothy 4:3—

A time is coming when they won’t put up with healthy teaching, but rather because they want their ears scratched, they will heap up teachers who are in keeping with their own desires.

Ha! That’s it! God punishes his people sometimes by giving them what they want.

If you want a preacher who whispers sweet nothings when he counsels you instead of zeroing in on your sin, you’ll probably call one like that. But when you get him, you’ll begin to complain about how he seems to be a glad-hander, and that families in the church are coming apart.

If you call a preacher because you liked his humorous illustrations and interesting stories, you probably will get one like that. But, again, it probably won’t be long before you get tired of that sort of thing rather than being fed healthy chunks of food from the Word. Thin, watered-down soup satisfies only so long. People don’t mature.

Of course, what’s even worse is if when you do call a superficial, back-slapping preacher rather than a faithful expositor of the Scriptures, you like these traits and are satisfied with what he gives you week by week.

Either way, Paul is warning about churches that, because they want the wrong thing in a preacher, are likely to get one who gives it to them.

What sort of preaching and counseling and ministry in general do you appreciate? Unless it is satisfying solid, healthy food from the Word—you and your church are in trouble. Preacher, are you willing to be that kind of teacher since so many are happy to call one who rarely challenges them with the truth? Shame on you. Double shame!

Double shame on the church as a whole for allowing such “preaching” to exist. Double shame on those who encourage it because, like some docile poodle, they like to have their ears scratched. If persecution comes to the American church—a likelihood in the not too distant future—it will be obvious which churches and pastors will stand up for the faith—and which will not. You cannot afford to settle for superficiality at either level.

Fighting Error in the Church

Sometimes it may seem that we spend too much time refuting falsehood.  All of us are chagrined at the preponderance of error both within and without the Church.  We may write off those who attempt to combat it and set forth the truth in clarity over against it as “heresy hunters.”  The term is used pejoratively; but should it be?  Take a quick look at the Books of the New Testament, merely scratching the surface, and see what you think.

  • In the Gospels Jesus warns against false teachers, speaks of wolves in sheep’s clothing and the “leaven of the Pharisees.” The record of His ministry is one of conflict with those who refused to accept the teaching He set forth.
  • Acts contains the record of the church’s first major controversy over whether or not a person must become a Jew before he could qualify as a Christian. A church council was called to settle the matter. Paul goes to lengths to warn the Ephesian elders about wolves who would devour the flock and schismatically draw away disciples to themselves.
  • Romans is an entire doctrinal treatise about justification by faith alone in contrast to salvation by works, and how sanctification follows thereafter. In it, Paul also takes up the rejection of the Jewish church.
  • I Corinthians is loaded with problems; schism, misuse of gifts, church discipline, marriage and divorce, and on, and on, on.
  • II Corinthians takes on false apostles who had invaded the church and charged him with pretending to be an apostle. The place of apostolic authority is set forth, along with the qualifications of an apostle.
  • Galatians is a sterling defense of Justification by faith alone over against those who taught otherwise, and were upsetting the church by Judaistic legalism.
  • Ephesians is less controversial, being a universal epistle rather than directed to the adverse circumstances of an individual or a congregation
  • Philippians deals with a split in an otherwise good church. But it has to do with self-centeredness and sets forth a key Christological passage.
  • Colossians is consumed with fighting Judaistic Gnosticism.
  • I & II Thessalonians take up false teaching about the Lord’s coming and eschatology.
  • I & II Timothy & Titus teach “healthy” doctrine over against many false ideas. And, in them, Paul doesn’t hesitate to name specific heretical individuals.
  • Philemon is a welcome exception
  • Hebrews, in its entirety, combats all influences that would cause Jewish Christians to revert to Judaism.
  • James utterly destroys the idea that one can have genuine faith that does not result in good works.
  • I Peter explains how the New Testament church is no longer a physical political entity, but that the church is now the spiritual people of God, the new Israel.
  • II Peter warns against scoffers and libertines unsettling the church and reveals the true picture of final things.
  • I John argues quite effectively throughout the book against Gnosticism of a Cerenthian sort.
  • II John warns against hospitality for heretics
  • III John deals with church discipline gone so far astray as to virtually destroy a church.
  • Jude throughout its entirety is and exhortation to contend against the libertines who invaded the church that failed to listen to the warnings in II Peter.
  • Revelation speaks of the warfare of God against apostate Judaism, the first persecutor of the church, and Rome, the second persecutor, and predicts the fall. It also mentions cults like the Nicolatians.

Now, in light of the above, if you can, tell me why we should not be prepared to detect and refute falsehood in the Church?

Compromise

Compromise is one of the largest problems of the modern “evangelical” church.

It isn’t entertainment carried on to attract numbers. It isn’t marketing tactics taking over instead of evangelism. As serious as these and other problems are—and they are—the spirit of compromise is an even more basic one. Indeed, why does one depend upon entertainment instead of truth to attract the lost? A willingness to compromise truth for numbers. Why do people rely on marketing principles rather than Scripture to draw men to Christ? You’ve got it—they are willing to compromise truth for success. Compromise is a significant issue, indeed, we might say, the basic issue today.

But compromise also may be found in the ministry of counseling. People who are willing to become certified by the state simply in order to receive third-party insurance funds compromise themselves for money. People, who are unwilling to stand for the sufficiency of the Scriptures in order to receive the approval of others who scoff at those who do, compromise. These and endless other compromises of the truth of God are made by those who seek to find ways of amalgamating Scripture with the unbelieving systems of counseling set forth by people who know nothing of the saving power of Jesus Christ. Some even compromise the integrity of the Scriptures when they knowingly misuse passages in order to support teachings and methods of counseling that are unbiblical. At its heart, counseling eclecticism is compromise. Some preachers even avoid counseling altogether, justifying their failure to properly shepherd the flock by echoing the statements of those who erroneously speak of “The Primacy of Preaching.”

Compromise is rife in the pulpit itself. Men who preach nice, soft-as-cream-puff essays, or who present truth in cardboard-like form with little or no application—not to speak of specific application—often do so out of a spirit of compromise. “It’s truth,” they (inwardly) reason, so God may use it without the necessity of driving it home to people who might become offended if I do. And, to think of presenting God’s Word in red-hot second-person form . . . “unthinkable! That’s utterly taboo! You just can’t get that personal with people! You might drive some away.” Avoiding passages of Scripture and difficult doctrines, with which it is known that members of the congregation disagree, is another form of pulpit compromise.

Thank God compromise isn’t universal in Bible-believing circles! Here and there, standing out from the crowd, are those stalwart leaders who will not compromise truth for reasons of popularity, success or anything else. It is they who hold God’s truth and God’s Name to be of greater importance than anything else. They seek not popular acclaim—and often get the opposite from the majority—but the future “well done” from God.