The Songwriter as Theologian

The Songwriter as Theologian

My children are in a Classical Conversations homeschool co-op.  When we first started CC, I remember the little jingles that my children were using to memorize facts about the Boston Tea Party and the Constitution of the United States.  Some of the jingles were quite humorous, but the fact remains – music is powerful and songs deliver messages.  It doesn’t matter if you’re learning American history or singing hymns in the church, songs have a way of delivering their message in a memorable way.

The theologians who are having the greatest impact upon the church in our present day don’t stand in pulpits to deliver their message.  In fact, they don’t write books to articulate their ideas.  Today’s church culture is being shaped by a group of theologians with guitars in their hands.  They deliver their message through the speakers of our cars and electronic devices.  We could call them the “Podcast Preachers” – but the fact remains – contemporary Christian musicians, singers, and singer-songwriters are shaping the church.

Contemporary Christian music has swept through the church from the 1960s to our present era.  The numbers are staggering.  The sales for the CCM industry total more than a half a billion dollars annually.  With more than 1,400 radio stations and 80 million listeners, they are highly successful marketers and their message is being heard loud and clear.

What percentage of the average evangelical church will read one substantial theological book in this calendar year?  Although I don’t have hard numbers before me, I would imagine the percentage is fairly low.  Consider the percentage of the average evangelical church that’s wired into the latest contemporary Christian radio station.  What about the average Christian’s podcast – what would you find if you examined their playlist?  Would it be audio books or sermons?  Most likely it would be contemporary Christian music, Christian hip hop, and perhaps other music genres that are outside of the mainstream Christian community.

As you evaluate these questions regarding the average church, consider the younger generation.  They are much more likely to be listening to Chris Tomlin, Hillsong, or TobyMac than Calvin, Luther, or C.S. Lewis.  Listeners to CCM age 12 and up spend an average of 9 hours per week connected to some form of CCM network or program.

As we had our minivan strapped down with kayaks and the sound of children laughing (and fighting) as we were driving to our Gammy’s home for Memorial Day festivities, a song about the Holy Spirit came on the radio.  I was listening to the lyrics and talking to my wife about the importance of this evaluation.  With just a tweak of such lyrics, you could be hearing modalism coming through the speakers rather than an Orthodox understanding of the Trinity.  This matters greatly because our children are learning theology as they ride down the highway in the minivan.

Consider the words of Dr. Albert Mohler regarding Hillsong.  He said:

“It’s a prosperity movement for the millennials, in which the polyester and middle-class associations of Oral Roberts have given way to ripped jeans and sophisticated rock music…What has made Hillsong distinctive is a minimization of the actual content of the Gospel, and a far more diffuse presentation of spirituality.”

We must not ignore the power and influence of music upon the church – especially the younger generation.  Today’s church is getting their theology from the songs they hear on the radio in a much more heavy dose than the sermons they hear once or twice per week from the pulpit.  Throughout church history, theologians and preachers once spent time writing hymns that would teach theology and be used to sing praise to the Lord.  Today, there seems to be an invisible boundary.  Preachers preach, theologians write, and professional musicians take care of the songs.

In Exodus 35-36, Moses identified two men (Bezalel and Oholiab) before the nation of Israel as being filled with skill and intelligence regarding craftsmanship.  They were given the lead role in constructing the tabernacle and the furniture used for worshipping God.  Sometimes the church refuses to see a need for the arts in the life of the church, and those with such giftedness become neglected.  Recognizing gifts and allowing them to be developed for God’s glory is a healthy thing.  It would be wise for song writing to remain under the leadership and guidance of elders in the church.  Musicians need to be immersed in the discipleship of the local church.  It’s the job of the church, not the professional music industry, to produce songs of praise to God.  If we expect songs to display the glory of Christ through sound biblical theology, they must not be disconnected from the local church.

Lost Church Members

Lost Church Members

Have you ever been lost?  Do you remember what it was like as a child to look up and discover your parents were suddenly not next to you in the local store?  Do you recall being in a strange city or an unfamiliar neighborhood and you couldn’t find your way home?  In our day of constant high speed Internet on cell phones with built-in GPS capability, it’s almost impossible to get lost.  In fact, many teenagers and young adults have no idea what it’s like to be lost because of their map application on their smart phone.  They have never felt that sinking and lonely feeling of being lost in a strange place.

I’m fearful that many church members grow up with that same type of problem.  They hear sermons that talk about God in a generic manner.  They hear nothing of His true character from the Scriptures.  Many people go through church and never hear about sin, the wrath of God, the depravity of man, and our hopeless condition without Christ.  They hear about how good God is and about how He loves everyone.  How many people have merely repeated a prayer at the end of a worship service and been baptized without any genuine knowledge of sin and salvation in Christ Jesus?  How many people believe they are on their way to heaven but have never known they were lost?

Many preachers from history have shared startling statistical statements that should leave us trembling.  Billy Graham, on national television, once stated that he believed 85% of church attendees were on their way to hell.  Before Billy Graham, Jesus made a statement that is quite shocking.  Matthew records Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:21-23:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. [22] On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ [23] And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”

That was my story – almost.  I was a lost church member.  I grew up in church.  As a boy, my parents were experiencing marital problems, and my grandfather took me to church each week.  One day, at 6 years of age, I repeated a prayer after a preacher and I was told that I was a Christian.  I only did what I had witnessed other boys and girls doing, and it was not a genuine act of faith.  I had no idea of sin and salvation in Christ.  From that point forward, I entered the church, was baptized, and lived as a lost church member.  I was often miserable.  I was in a perpetual fight with my flesh about what I truly wanted and what I knew I had to do in order to please my father.  It was not until I was 25 years old that the Lord saved me.  At the time the Lord saved me, I was teaching a Sunday school class in our church and totally fooled into believing that I was right with God because of what I did when I was a young boy.  My faith was more connected with the fact that I prayed a prayer rather than Jesus suffering in my place.

How many people in American evangelicalism are lost in their sin, but they have never been told the truth?  How many teenagers are lost, but their parents and their youth group leaders have never taught them the true gospel?  How many senior adults believe they are on their way to heaven, but in reality, they are on their way to hell?  Many people in the average church are on their way to hell.  That’s more than my opinion, that’s what Jesus said.  He said many would argue about their works before His judgment throne.  However, He will cast them from His presence.  They knew Him, but He never knew them.  This is a warning regarding lost church members.

Could this be you?

When was the last time you examined yourself to see if you are in the faith?

J.C. Ryle, in his commentary on Matthew 7:21-23 writes, “The day of judgment will reveal strange things.  The hopes of many who were thought great Christians while they lived will be utterly confounded.  The rottenness of their religion will be exposed and put to shame before the whole world.”   As you look into the pages of the Scripture what do you see?  As you read 1 John, does your face appear in the negative statements and warnings?  As you hear Jesus’ warning about false converts, do you tremble inwardly knowing that this is you?  If so, I plead with you to repent and turn to Jesus Christ.  Call out to God for mercy and have faith that Jesus died in your place on the cross. Have faith that He suffered under the wrath of God for you.  If you desire to be saved, you can come to God and He will take away your sin.  Will you repent?  Don’t postpone or hesitate.  If you’re lost – now is the appropriate time to turn to God.

Some Advantages Regarding a Plurality of Elders

Some Advantages Regarding a Plurality of Elders

Why should a church consider having more than one pastor?  Would more than one pastor cause leadership struggles among the group?  Although the Bible presents a clear case for a plurality of elders (multiple pastors serving one church), that doesn’t mean that it will automatically solve all problems within the life of the church.  Certainly a plural group of pastors could cause friction and struggles for power.  Anytime you place a group of sinners together, there is always the possibility for problems.  However, the advantages of having a plural group of pastors serving in the same church greatly outweigh the disadvantages.  Below you will see some key benefits to having multiple pastors serving the same congregation.

Plurality of Elders:  Biblical Foundation

All throughout the New Testament, the case for biblical eldership is presented as the natural leadership structure of the early church.  It may seem strange that no biblical author uses the “thou shalt” language regarding multiple pastors in the church, but the case is presented in a natural progression throughout the New Testament.  It becomes clear that the normal model of biblical leadership consisted of multiple pastors serving a single church.

Consider Paul’s address to the elders of the church at Ephesus.  In Acts 20:17-38, we see the full length address as provided to us by Luke.  The key point is found at the beginning of the address as Luke records, “Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him” (Acts 20:17).  Notice how Paul called the elders (plural) of the church (singular) together.  The Greek term used by Luke is πρεσβύτερος.  The context proves that the focus is not upon the older members of the congregation, but rather the leaders of the church.  Although the emphasis in this text is upon the warning Paul issued to these men regarding the wolves who would desire to enter the church, we must not overlook the reality of a plurality of elders overseeing the church at Ephesus.  Mark Dever writes,

“The Bible clearly models a plurality of elders in each local church. Though it never suggests a specific number of elders for a particular congregation, the New Testament refers to ‘elders’ in the plural in local churches (e.g., Acts 14:23; 16:4; 20:17; 21:18; Titus 1:5; James 5:14). When you read through Acts and the Epistles, there is always more than one elder being talked about.”1

Additional biblical examples include: James 5:14; Acts 11:30; Acts 14:21-23; 1 Timothy 5:17-20; Titus 1:5-11

Plurality of Elders:  Shared Accountability

A quick survey of failure among pastors will demonstrate the need for true accountability in ministry.  Just because a pastor is called by God to lead the church doesn’t mean that he’s bullet proof and immune to failure.  Many men who start the ministry don’t finish well.  Some fail due to moral problems.  Others fail because of a consistent track record of failure in leadership vision.  To put it quite simply, some men don’t have the ability to look forward and chart out a path for the church to move ahead and accomplish a vision.  After a series of failed attempts, many pastors are either forced out of their church or they simply walk away from ministry altogether.

This type of failure rate can be addressed through a plurality of elders working together to accomplish a ministry plan within the life of  the church.  From moral accountability regarding the use of money to accountability regarding relationships – a group of pastors can ask each other the hard questions and provide helpful critique that can eliminate harmful mistakes.

In addition to moral accountability, a group of pastors serving together can assist one another in pointing out the blindspots in leadership.  This could involve something as simple as planning the flow of the church service to something as complex as charting out a 10 year ministry plan for the entire church.  How many failed ministry plans are sitting in church closets collecting dust?  How much money and time has been wasted in planning such ministry visions?

Plurality of Elders:  Shared Responsibility

Ministry is not a one man show.  I recently returned from Ecuador where I spent 8 days in the Andes mountains with a small team from our church.  Our focus was to work with the church we planted 4 years ago.  I taught the pastor and church leaders expository preaching and church polity in the mornings and we went out and did evangelistic work in the afternoon.  At one point when I was focusing on the need for shared leadership, I told the pastor that he needs help.  He needs faithful deacons to help serve and other pastors to help lead.  I looked at him and said, “Lucas, you can’t do this all on your own.  It’s impossible.”

One of the great joys of my life has been watching our church move to an elder led church polity.  After a 4 year learning process, our church (which is 174 years old) officially became an elder led congregation last year.  Not only was it a smooth transition, but it has proven to be a delight for me in many ways.  Rather than occupying a CEO status in the church where I merely direct staff members beneath me, I am able to share responsibilities with other pastors in the church.

As we look at different areas of the church’s life, we are able to spread out the responsibility of oversight.  We share teaching and preaching responsibilities and we work together to plan, organize, and lead the church to accomplish a vision for God’s glory.  Alistair Begg writes, “Leadership in the church should always be shared – that is one reason that the apostolic pattern was to appoint a plurality of elders rather than a solitary elder in all the churches (Acts 14:23).2

As you examine the New Testament pattern of church leadership, it would be wise to follow the biblical approach rather than a modern leadership structure from recent history.  If you come to the conclusion that you need to move an existing church in that direction, I would encourage you to read as much as you can on this subject, pray, and slowly lead your church forward.  If you choose to move too quickly, it can disrupt the church and cause division.  Stability is your goal, and that’s what biblical eldership provides.  Begin a study with your deacons.  Wait six months and then preach a series on biblical church government within the church.  Perhaps you will want to consider taking the small groups of the church through a study on deacons and elders so that everyone knows their roles and responsibilities.  As you take small steps forward, do so with prayer, gentleness, patience, and teaching.

1. Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, Crossway, 2000, p. 215-216.

2. On Being a Pastor, Moody Press, 2004, p. 218.

See also:

Resources on Biblical Eldership from Desiring God

Biblical Eldership by: Alexander Strauch

Servanthood as Worship

Servanthood as Worship

SERVANTHOODI recently picked up a book by Nate Palmer titled, Servanthood as Worship – The Privilege of Life in a Local Church at a conference I attended.  I had not read anything by Nate Palmer before this book, but quickly I was sucked into the main premise of the book and before long, I had finished the first half without hardly blinking an eye.

The need for humility and servanthood in the church today abounds.  We Americans live and die by the sword of pride.  We often become so self consumed that we fail to look at the needs of others around us.  This cripples the church and suffocates genuine humble minded service.

I particularly enjoyed Palmer’s focus on the motivation behind our service.  Are we serving to be seen by others?  Are we serving to climb the ladder of positions within the church?  Are we serving to impress God?  These are all heart related factors that must be considered when it comes to our service within the local church.

As you will notice, Palmer pulls from baseball and other areas of life as a means of illustrating his point regarding service.  At one point, he talks about Brooks Robinson and how he played the game of baseball.  He points out that although he was a gifted athlete with exceptional skills, he would not have been capable of playing the game and throwing out baserunners if there was not a team surrounding him on the field.  All players need the context of a field and other players if they are to play the game.  In the case of the church, everyone matters.  All parts of the church context have their own level of importance and without the different parts being in place and functioning, the church would fall apart.

Although we all serve God from the particular giftedness that He has granted to us, we must always be reminded that our service is not intended to satisfy God’s holy justice.  Palmer writes, “We do not serve for salvation, but from salvation.  Serving is intended to magnify the gospel, not replace it.”

If we are all honest, we need this healthy reminder that Palmer provides for us in this short, yet impactful book.  We need to remember that serving God is not for the ultra spiritual in the church or for the professional ministers alone.  We are all gifted by God and the church functions to accomplish its mission through humble servants who long for God to gain much glory.  It would do us all well to pause our busy routines and look around us to see if we can serve someone else other than ourself and our own family for a change.  In so doing, we are not merely serving them, but serving God.

Nate Palmer and his wife, Steph, have three young kids and serve at GraceChurch Frisco in Dallas.  Nate has been a management consultant and now works for the software firm, SAP.  He holds an M.A .from Reformed Theological Seminary and his articles have appeared in Modern Reformation and Reformed Perspectives Magazine.

You can buy Servanthood as Worship – The Privileges of Life in a Local Church from: Cruciform Press