Suppose you were chatting over coffee with another friend at a local coffee shop and you’re asked a simple question: “How are you monitoring what your children are watching online?” How would you answer that question? Could you answer that question? With the complexities of our digital world, you may have just handed your child a smartphone (that you pay the bill for) and simply given up on any ability whatsoever to monitor, control, and protect your children from the online world. Not only is that irresponsible, it’s extremely detrimental to the wellbeing of your children. So, the good news is that it’s becoming easier to oversee your home digitally.
Christians are called to the work of disciple-making in the work of parenting (Deut. 6). Therefore, to turn children over to smartphones without proper oversight is to be lazy-minded in the approach and can lead to massive disasters along the way. Take charge as a parent, learn how to navigate this complex digital world, learn how to use new tools, and most of all, disciple your children in the gospel (Eph. 6:4). That being said, I think it’s unwise to demonize the use of technology—including smartphones and video games. To suggest that people are less holy because they like to use a specific technology is not a wise approach or honest evaluation. However, it’s how one uses such technology that matters. It can be used for the glory of God and enjoyment in this life, or it can become a vicious god. It’s essential to control your technology or your technology will control you.
Like it or not, your children spend a lot of time online. According to one study, teens are spending nine hours online per day. They do so for school homework, for gaming with their friends, for relaxation, for music, for TV and movies, and to chat with their friends. So, it’s not going away anytime soon unless you’re planning to move to a remote village in a third world country, but surprise—the Internet is often there too. So, let’s face the facts—children and adults spend a lot of time online these days.
All of the statistics point to the massive rise in the amount of time spent online through a smartphone device. According to one study, the time spent online across platforms varies, depending on the specific apps that are being used.
YouTube = 40 minutes per day.
Twitter = 1 minute per day.
Instagram = 15 minutes per day.
Facebook = 35 minutes per day.
Snapchat = 25 minutes per day.
That’s a lot of time spent on phones, but tragically, it’s the lack of accountability and monitoring regarding how teens are using phones that we should be concerned about. According to the math, if a child receives a smartphone at 13 years of age, if these numbers hold true, they will watch 1,216 hours of YouTube clips and shows by the time they graduate high school. That’s way more time with complete strangers than with one-to-one time with their parents. So, who is discipling and training the children these days? That doesn’t take into consideration the whopping amount of hours chatting on social media with friends and watching movies on Netflix.
The dangers are real. Predators lurk online and seek to gain the influence of your children. But, let’s imagine a world without predators (one that doesn’t exist this side of heaven), but let’s not forget the billions of dollars of marketing money spent to directly influence and attract your children to make decisions about life and how they will spend their time and money which drastically shapes their worldview.
Recently, Snapchat, a rising star in the social media world among teens, has now released a porn channel that will allow people to view online porn through the Snapchat app. Cosmo After Dark is a new channel on Snapchat’s “discover” section that goes live every Friday at 6 p.m. According to Snapchat, this new feature is “an X-rated weekly edition that goes live every Friday at 6 p.m. and is exclusively dedicated to all things hot and horny.” Here’s the danger, it’s in the hands of your children and it contains, at this point, no parental controls. Jenny Rapson over at For Every Mom, writes, “remember there are not and never have been parental controls on Snapchat. There is no way for you to keep this from your kids.”
First of all, tools are not full-proof systems that will prevent any and all dangers from your children. If you put a murderer in prison, if he desires to murder, he will find a way to do it without knives and guns. If you put a smartphone in the hands of a depraved teenager, if he or she is looking for a crack in the system, no tool will prevent them from seeing pornography or from engaging in other sinful behaviors. Each parent has to monitor their own children and in some cases, the parents may need to be willing to take away all online privileges from their children when they cannot be trusted to use them for good.
If you are interested in using good tools to monitor, I recommend the Disney Circle system which can be purchased online or in some big box stores like BestBuy. It’s super easy to setup and it’s also super easy to monitor your children’s time online. The system allows you set on and off times for your children’s devices for Internet usage, pause the Internet, and control the online usage of your entire family on a device-by-device basis or the entire house as a whole. It also allows you to restrict specific apps and websites. Straight out of the box, the Disney Circle system has built-in filters that can be used for your children that prevent many of the mistake views of pornography that often entrap children once they see it for the first time. Once you start using it, you will find ways to customize your family’s use of the Internet while tracking where they spend the majority of their time.
One of the reasons I like the Disney Circle system is that it’s designed for the non-tech user who doesn’t understand how to use some of the more advanced filters on the market. Some of the features it offers are nice, including the off feature, pause feature, and the reward feature (where you reward your child with more time if you desire)—and all of this monitoring is done straight from the Disney Circle app that you have on your phone. What about that friend who visits your child in your home and brings their device with them? Through the control panel app on your phone, you can recognize their device, and add it to your filtering system too.
For a monthly fee, you can have your Disney Circle cloud follow your child outside of your home to school and other friend’s homes where the same restrictions, filters, and Internet on-off schedules will apply. So, take back control of your home and use good tools that enable you to better monitor and protect your children online.
Don’t be a naive parent. Know what your children are watching and how they’re interacting online. After all, it’s your responsibility.
This Sunday evening, the pastors of Pray’s Mill Baptist Church where I serve as pastor, will begin a series through the parables. In preparation for that series, I’ve been reading and thinking about the purpose of parables in the preaching and teaching ministry of Jesus. What is the point of parable as a genre? Why did Jesus employ parables? What can we learn today from Jesus’ parables as we consider the art of sermon crafting and sermon delivery? The answer to such questions are both expected and shocking at the same time.
What is a parable? A parable is a specific type of genre. In the Bible we see differing types of genre such as law, wisdom, history, narrative, poetry, didactic, gospel, and the always exciting apocalyptic literature. The parable is a short fictional story used for the purpose of revealing and concealing truth—sometimes simultaneously. John MacArthur, in his excellent book titled, Parables, writes:
A parable is not merely a simple analogy. It’s an elongated simile or metaphor with a distinctly spiritual lesson contained in the analogy. Short figures of speech like “as strong as a horse” or “as quick as a rabbit” are plain similes—simples and straightforward enough not to require an explanation. A parable extends the comparison into a longer story or more complex metaphor, and the meaning (always a point of spiritual truth) is not necessarily obvious. Most of Jesus’ parables demanded some kind of explanation. 
John MacArthur goes on to writes, “A parable is an ingeniously simple word picture illuminating a profound spiritual lesson.”  While some people define a parable as “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning,” it would do us well to go far beyond that simplistic definition of a parable. MacArthur’s definition is helpful on several levels as it points to the illuminating work and the profound spiritual lesson.
Powerful Stories to Illustrate Truth
There is no mistaking the power of a good story. Jesus, as the master-teacher in the history of the world, certainly understood this truth. In a masterful way, Jesus would take a story and use it to illustrate a truth in a powerful manner. Although our Lord did not always speak in parables (most of the Sermon on the Mount is not parable), he used them frequently as devices to illustrate the truths of God to his disciples. What does it mean to illustrate truth?
First, we must understand that Jesus used fictional tales that he made up for the purpose of illustrating truth. These stories were not true, although they certainly followed the storyline of normal everyday life in such a way that connected with normal everyday people. However, we must not forget that Jesus was certainly teaching absolute truth. Parables are not open riddles left to the reader’s flowery imagination to interpret how he or she so desires. The story may be flowery, but only in so far as to illustrate the concrete truth to his followers. Parables added color and life to the concrete truth in such a way that his followers could understand and remember.
We must reject the notion that “a sermon is not a doctrinal lecture. It is an event-in-time, a narrative art form more akin to a play or a novel in shape than to a book. Hence we are not engineering scientists; we are narrative artists by professional function.”  Such ideas may sound attractive to the post-truth culture, but for those entrusted with God’s Word, we must rightly handle the Word of truth. The use of stories may help illustrate a truth, but the idea that doctrine and story cannot live under the same roof is a misrepresentation of parabolic literature.
Practical Stories to Reveal Truth
Parables were often practical stories about normal characters in life such as “two sons” or the “sheep and goats.” How more practical could you get than a story about marriage or fishing? Such stories connected with people, but they were not just designed to evoke a feeling in the listeners as much as they were vehicles to deliver truth. As we discussed the ability of Jesus to illustrate truth with such stories, parables were also used to unveil truth that was never before known to his followers.
When Jesus wanted to reveal truth to his followers, he would at times provide such revelation through the use of a parable. One example is the parable of the sower as recorded in Matthew 13. After Jesus told the story of the sower, he was asked, “Why do you speak in parables?” Jesus responded by saying, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given” (Matt. 13:11). In another place, Jesus prayed to the Father and said, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight” (Matt. 11:25-26).
Polemical Stories to Conceal Truth
Often people view Jesus’ parables as little pithy stories designed to teach and explain spiritual truths. In fact, many believe that Jesus, as the master-teacher, is seeking to put the cookies on the bottom shelf for everyone to understand. However, it may come as a shock to you that Jesus often used parables to conceal truth from people. Rather than seeking to unveil the truth to all, Jesus often spoke with parables in order to conceal truths that were never designed for some people to understand. Why would Jesus want to hide truth from people?
In one sense, Jesus’ parabolic teaching was a judgment upon the wicked. They were not given eyes to see and ears to hear of these grand truths—and so as Jesus preached to his disciples—the God hating, Jesus despising, and highly religious Jews of the day were being judged. Such judgment was evident as Jesus said:
This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:
“‘“You will indeed hear but never understand,
and you will indeed see but never perceive.”
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would heal them.’ 
The polemical idea of parabolic teaching is that Jesus is calling out the unbelievers and their hard hearts by pronouncing a judgment upon them. Parables may be a blessing to those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, but they are clearly judgment upon those who are seeing but cannot see and having ears are unable to hear and understand the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Last of all, this veiled judgment is a mercy upon the wicked at the same time. For, just as Jesus warned the unrepentant cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum—those who have heard more gospel and seen more of God’s light of truth will be held accountable for it on the day of judgment. In other words, had those people understood the parables of Jesus—they would have been held to a much more strict judgment and the truth would have been a more severe weight of judgment on them in eternity. Therefore, God in his judgment is merciful at the same time. We should praise God for his judgments and his mercy—for in both we see the goodness of God.
Matthew 13:11 — And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.
John MacArthur, Parables, (Nashville: Nelson Books, 2015), xxiv.
Eugene L. Lowry, The Homiletical Plot: The Sermon as Narrative (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2001), xx-xxi.
As I’ve noted through this series, the church is God’s will for us in the journey of faith. We were never designed to be people who journey alone. However, as we consider the context of the local church, each with its own personality and membership diversity—there is never a perfect church this side of heaven. Anytime we assemble with people we assemble with sinners and there will be both blessings and challenges as it pertains to how the church functions as a body of believers.
Not only do we have members who help and hinder the local church, we too have leaders who help and hurt. Today, we focus on the positive—specifically those types of pastors who labor to build up the body of Christ for the glory of God.
Preaching is not something that comes after the singing. Preaching is not something that comes after worship. Preaching is worship. If worship doesn’t happen during preaching – biblical preaching is not taking place. Historically, a church that was doing many things right, but overlooking the proper means of preaching the Word was not considered to be a true church at all. In fact, biblical preaching is the first mark of an authentic church. For many years, what constituted a true church was the right preaching of the Word, the proper administration of the ordinances, and biblical church discipline.
What does biblical preaching involve? To be clear, biblical preaching is expository preaching. The most accurate way to preach the Word of God is through a verse-by-verse approach to the text. The expositor, exposits the text. The expositor digs into the text within the proper framework and without violating the historical, grammatical, theological, and contextual aspects of the passage. The expository preacher labors in the Word in order to define, explain, apply, and illustrate the Scriptures to the congregation. The Scottish preacher James Stewart said the purpose of genuine preaching is “to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, to devote the will to the purpose of God.” 
The way the expositor helps the church is by instilling sound theology and setting up the church for true spiritual growth. The expositor, whether in the pulpit on Sunday morning or with young people in the discipleship ministries of the church—he labors to preach and teach the Scriptures rather than majoring on gimmicks or games. Rather than picking through the Bible and hopping from passage to passage randomly each week, the expositor allows the people to gain a solid understanding of the books of the Bible, the authors of the books, the original purpose of the writing, and how to apply that to our present situations today. Rather than teaching moralisms from the Old Testament and allegorizing the passages—the expositor rightly handles the Word and points to Jesus Christ without changing the single meaning of each text of Scripture. This not only teaches the Word properly, but it teaches people how to rightly study the Bible in their own homes too.
The shepherd is the role of a pastor, but unfortunately many pastors are designated “talking heads” in the pulpit with little emphasis upon shepherding souls through the week. The shepherd is the pastor who looks after God’s flock with a serious minded approach to spiritual health and a pursuit of holiness. When we read the New Testament, we don’t find entertainers and CEO executives who are interested in growing a campus. We see pastors who understood what it meant to shepherd the flock of God among them.
In certain countries where they use the meat and wool of sheep, they create a plan to lead the sheep to slaughter. They train one sheep to walk into a specific door which is the pathway straight to the slaughter. Just before the end, another doorway opens up and the lead sheep is led into a safe zone. After the sheep is trained sufficiently, it will lead the other sheep down this pathway. At the end—the lead sheep will be led into the safe zone, but as soon as it passes, the door shuts and the rest of the sheep walk straight into the slaughter room. In many cases, this sheep is known as the Judas sheep.
Sheep are not known for their intelligence. Therefore, the work of pastoring involves shepherding hearts—leading them in the proper manner so that they will not injure themselves spiritually. Many sheep are known for walking off cliffs or into the mouths of predators, so when God calls pastors to be shepherds he is referencing the intentional and difficult work of leading obstinate and rebellious people. Walk with me back in time to the days of Jesus when the shepherds would lead their flocks. Let’s examine some basic characteristics of a shepherd to his sheep:
Food – Leads his sheep from pasture to pasture to sound biblical theology.
Protection – Labors to protect his sheep from the wolves or other predators.
Discipline – Committed to correcting sheep that continue to wander astray.
Love – The shepherd enjoys spending time with his sheep.
This is difficult work, but the church blessed with pastors who understand their role as shepherds will greatly benefit from a serious minded approach to shepherding. More than numerical growth will be emphasized, and genuine fruit of spiritual growth will take place in the life of the congregation.
While many people are accustomed to the title of pastor, in many evangelical circles the title of elder is a foreign concept. What many people fail to realize is that the office of pastor is referred to as elder far more times in the Bible than pastor. There are several key terms used to describe the office of pastor, including elder and overseer (or Bishop). Each of these titles can be found In 1 Peter 5:1-5 where we see a grand picture of the responsibility of the elders within the life of the church.
So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
The elder understands his office is that of spiritual leadership. He takes it seriously, and labors in the Scriptures to lead and care for God’s people. The elder may not be on staff as a paid pastor, but he holds the office of pastor just as any other pastor in the life of the local church. It takes a multiple group of pastors to faithfully shepherd God’s flock. Faithful elders who are unpaid often work behind the scenes in order to pray for, lead, and disciple the church family. The church with a plurality of elders will be a church that is properly cared for so long as these elders are serving in the capacity that God has designed from the beginning. In his book on leadership, john MacArthur properly observes:
Ministry as depicted in the New Testament was never a one-man show. That does not preclude the role of a dominant leader on each team. Within the framework of plurality, there will invariably be those who have more influence. The diversity of our gifts (1 Corinthians 12:4) means all people are differently equipped. Therefore a plurality of leaders does not necessitate an absolute equality in every function. In even the most godly group of leaders, some will naturally be more influential than others. Some will have teaching gifts that outshine the rest. Others will be more gifted as administrators. Each can fulfill a different role, and there is no need to try to enforce absolute equality of function. 
The church with a plurality of elders not only oversees the church with a proper aim toward spiritual growth, buy they also look after one another as pastors—preventing the leaders from wandering off into sin and abandoning the flock. A true body of elders will result in a growing and happy church for God’s glory.
James Stewart, Hearlds of God (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1972), 73. Quote found in The Supremacy of Preaching by John Piper.
John MacArthur, The Book on Leadership (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 168.
Over the last two weeks, I have been writing a short series on different types of people who help and hinder the local church. Today, I want to focus on the leaders. While the local church is absolutely necessary for the journey of faith, it’s not exactly designed to be a religious social club. In fact, we see Paul writing to Timothy (1 Tim. 3:15) and discussing the way the household of God was to behave. If the Scriptures contain all that’s necessary for faith and life, we must govern the church and worship according to God’s Word—rather than man’s opinion.
Just as there are people who help and hinder the local church, the same principle is true with pastors. Today, we will focus first on the negative and then move next Tuesday to the positive. Although this is by no means intended to be an exhaustive list, today we look at three types of pastors who are a hindrance to the local church’s sanctification and growth in grace?
The entertainer is really a pragmatist at heart. Whatever the people want, they will get it under the leadership of an entertainer. This type of leader will often poll the community before planting a church to see what type of music the community enjoys as he works with his team to design the right kind of service to reach his culture. Far too many men who stand in the pulpit on Sunday are classified as entertainers. They strive to use the right phrases that please the ears of people—often spending more time on the crafting of jokes as opposed to digging into the theology of the text in preparation to preach. The entertainer labors diligently to make people feel positive, and such men avoid church discipline and the call for holiness for fear that it will not grow their church.
Today it’s not at all uncommon to have pastors dressing up in costumes to “perform” their sermon rather than preaching the text. This approach to ministry will often be very successful, but it’s not spiritually profitable. People often leave excited about the sermon, but do they really know God in a better way? The congregation often erupts in laughter, but when was the last time they wept? The church often applauds the preacher, but when was the last time they exulted in God causing their hearts to swell with joy based on their knowledge of the atonement of Jesus Christ that was presented in a sermon?
Entertainers are man pleasers—serving them exactly what they desire. The entertainer is pragmatically driven and has an insatiable desire for church growth at any cost. The entertainer could come in the form of a senior pastor who jokes around in the pulpit or the youth pastor who disciples children in games rather than God’s Word. In most cases, the entertainer is paralyzed by the need to be liked by his congregation, and sadly he places more emphasis on pleasing people rather than pleasing God. Paul warned Timothy that his people would soon leave him for such preachers who would tickle the ears of the immature causing them to wander off into myths (2 Tim. 4:3-4).
The Unbalanced Teacher
The unbalanced teacher is one who typically camps out in one theme and cannot seem to allow his ministry to be text driven. Such a teacher is often consumed with a specific topic such as eschatology. In such cases, the unbalanced teacher finds a way to get to eschatology from the strangest texts in the Bible—or he never leaves Daniel or Revelation in fear that he will focus on something other than end times prophecy.
However, it’s not just eschatology junkies that the church often suffers from, it could be a pastor who spends all of his time evangelizing the saints on Sunday rather than feeding the sheep. Sure, the gospel should be preached every week and made clear—for the children, the unbelieving guests, and the church as a whole as a means of building up the flock—but the church needs more than a call to repent and believe the gospel. The church needs the whole counsel of God’s Word—both the easy and more difficult passages. Remember what Paul said to his fellow elders from Ephesus as he said, “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). Following that exhortation, he warned them of the wolves who would enter the church following his departure.
The unbalanced teacher often camps on eschatology, the doctrines of grace, evangelism, or whatever he is passionate or knowledgeable about while there is much remaining in God’s Word that needs to be expounded. If you move to a new city, you will want to be sure that you are not joining a church where the pastor will be unbalanced in his handling of God’s Word. The pastor is called to teach and preach the Scriptures—rightly dividing the Word—in order that the church will be well fed and cared for spiritually (2 Tim. 2:15).
The Lover of this World
The pastor who loves this present world is not qualified to lead a local church—or God’s Word for that matter. Pastors should love people in the world and point them to their hope and joy in Christ, but the preacher who loves the world demonstrates that his heart is mastered by money and materialism rather than by Christ. Far too many leaders fit this category. They preach a message of health, wealth, and prosperity—demanding that people have enough faith in God and he will provide them with riches and material possessions. The lover of this world is self condemned and self deceived. The god of this world has blinded their minds so that they cannot see the light of the glorious gospel of Christ (2 Cor. 4:4). The lover of this world spends most of their time emphasizing how it’s possible to have your best life now—rather than focusing on the eternal reward (Heb. 11:10).
John the apostle warned about those who loved the world. He said, “Do not love theworld or the things in theworld. Ifanyonelovestheworld, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). In like manner, Paul provided the qualifications for the office of elder (pastor or overseer) as he wrote to Timothy. According to 1 Timothy 3:3, the overseer is not to be gripped by the love of money. Once again, money itself is not evil, but as Paul would later write, it’s the root of all evil (1 Tim. 6:10). Therefore, for a pastor to have an insatiable desire for the things of this world proves that his heart is fixed on temporal things rather than eternal. As Jesus once warned, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matt. 6:24). J.C. Ryle warned about the love of money as he wrote:
Let us all be on our guard against the love of money. The world is full of it in our days. The plague is abroad. Thousands who would abhor the idea of worshiping Juggernaut, are not ashamed to make an idol of gold. We are all liable to the infection, from the least to the greatest. We may love money without having it, just as we may have money without loving it. It is an evil that works very deceitfully. It carries us captives before we are aware of our chains. Once let it get the mastery, and it will harden, paralyze, scorch, freeze, blight, and wither our souls. It overthrew an apostle of Christ. Let us take heed that it does not overthrow us. One leak may sink a ship. One unmortified sin may ruin a soul. 
There is not a perfect church in all of the world. We can’t expect to find one this side of heaven. However, we must be consistently reminded of our need for the local church. Just as nobody ever makes it to the summit of Mt. Everest alone, God has not willed for us to journey to heaven alone. God has placed us within the fellowship of a community of believers that we know as a local church as referenced in the pages of Scripture.
In a recent article, I warned about three types of people who often hinder the local church. Today, I want to point to three very different types of people in the local church who are a great help to the building up of the body in love. If every church had these types of people, they would benefit greatly from their engagement in the body life. Are you a person who helps or hurts your local church?
Deacon Without an Office
Far too often, people strive for attention in the local church. We are an attention-loving people in our culture, and that often spills over into the church. The “dirty work” of service ministry is often neglected by those who crave recognition, but offices are a different story. Many people like occupying an office because it looks important, but sadly, many who occupy the office of deacon don’t engage in serving the church. The person who loves to serve the church, but doesn’t hold the official office of deacon (servant) in the local church is a true blessing to the membership and leadership. Who wants to arrive early to turn on the lights on Sunday morning? Who really desires to make sure the floors are swept up after a church fellowship? Who enjoys setting up chairs for a new church plant? What person desires to walk the hallways of the church campus to ensure all doors are locked after a long day of gathering with the rest of the members for worship? It’s often the deacon without an office who carries out such labor for God’s glory.
It’s typically the deacons (office holder) who are asked to engage in the service areas of the church—including hospital visits and other behind the scene efforts. Consider what a church looks like that has deacon-like servants who enjoy rolling up their sleeves and engaging in trench work—without holding an office. Consider the pressure a person can relieve for the busy deacons and elders in the local church. The church that has this type of person often overlooks them because they desire to be overlooked. They are not looking for applause or recognition. In many cases, both men and women are deacons without an office who work tirelessly around the church—looking for opportunities to serve for God’s glory rather than man’s applause.
Another type of person who helps the church is one who helps with words of encouragement. This person is often behind the scenes encouraging people in private conversations, private text messages, and private social media notes intended to lift up the fallen and bring people out of discouragement. The quiet encourager labors with words—often employing weighty words of encouragement—yet with a sincere heart rather than flattery. In fact, the true encourager despises flattery which is fake encouragement—delightful words that a person would say to someone’s face but not behind their back.
In the Scriptures, we see Paul’s words to the church in the city of Thessalonica as he directs them to “encourage one another and build one another up” (1 Thess. 5:11). One of the very reasons the writer to the Hebrews commands the Christians not to neglect the assembly of the church is so that they may encourage one another (Heb. 10:25). In Ephesians 4:29, Paul writes to the church at Ephesus and says, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” While the church as a whole is commanded to encourage one another, the quiet encourager often labors in the shadows and behind the scene in order to help edify the body of Christ.
The Humble Giver
One of the great helpers to the church is the one who gives away what God has given them in order that the church can operate a budget and employ ministries designed to make, mark, and multiply disciples both locally and among the nations. I can recall a few years ago when we had a surprise need that arose in the church where we had $85,000 in HVAC upgrades and repairs. After we made the need known to the church, a man walked into my office and handed me a check for $100,000. He wanted to use his resources to help the church meet a need.
While we are all called to contribute to the financial needs of the church body, certain people are gifted with resources that God has given to them for their use within their local church. The one who is a humble giver is often working behind the scenes to meet financial needs, contribute to big building projects, pave parking lots, and engage in mission opportunities and church planting projects without anyone in the church knowing about the gifts. The humble giver is free from the love of money (Heb. 13:5; Ecc. 5:10; 1Tim. 6:10) and looks for opportunities to give away their wealth—investing it in eternally significant causes. The humble giver refuses to be mastered by money, but instead has committed to use his money as his heart is mastered by God. The humble giver contributes without the need to have his or her name on the side of a building or to have a chair at the local seminary named after them. They give it for God’s name sake—not their own.
There are many helpers in the life of the local church, but these three deserve to be recognized although they often run from such recognition. Although you may never be able to get them to receive recognition—one day our God will recognize them and their reward will be eternal. What type of person are you? Are you a help or a hindrance to your local church? Consider how Paul urged the church at Ephesus to strive for maturity so that when each part is working properly it makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love (Eph. 4:16).
Last night, we gathered for our evening service and we did something that we don’t typically do for worship or a regular prayer service. We gathered for prayer and we read through the entire letter of Philippians with specific congregational prayers at the conclusion of each chapter. Not only was it a blessing to read through the entire letter of Philippians—it was an added joy to pray together as a church in a holistic manner.
We began with the reading of Philippians 1 by David Crowe, one of our elders, who then followed up with a prayer for church unity as he prayed through the emphasis of the first chapter. As David read and prayed through Philippians 1—he emphasized the point Paul was making in Philippians 1:27–28, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.”
I read through Philippians 2, and then led the church in a prayer for the elders and their families. One of the joys of my life is serving with faithful elders who love the Lord and have a passion to serve our local church. It is likewise a joy to see how each one of my fellow elders have a driving focus on personal sanctification and a desire to see their families grow in holiness. I see this in their families, their wives, and their children. As I prayed, I quoted Paul’s words to the church at Philippi as he commended Timothy to them by saying:
I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel. I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me, and I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also (Phil. 2:19-24).
It was my desire to commend my fellow elders to the church publicly and to remind the church that we have a group of men who love them and desire to faithfully serve them in the gospel of Christ providing them with spiritual leadership and careful oversight. This too is my desire—to care for God’s sheep rather than just being a talking head in the pulpit.
Another elder, Buck Braswell, led the church in reading through Philippians 3 and a public prayer for the deacons of our church. He began by thanking God for the faithful men who serve our church in the office of deacon and how they meet the qualifications on 1 Timothy 3. Furthermore, he emphasized the fact that they have a desire to be faithful examples within the church. Just as Paul was urging the church at Philippi to walk in a manner that honors God in Philippians 3:17-20. This is not only essential for the elders, but also for those who serve the church in the office of deacon.
Finally, as a means of conclusion, I was able to lead the church in a reading of Philippians 4 followed by a prayer for our church’s unity as we were engaging in a time of business following our time in prayer. We were going to hear from the church in an official congregational vote to affirm the recommendation of our elders regarding a new pastoral candidate who will be coming on to serve alongside us. I led the church in praying for this candidate, his family, and our church as a whole as we engaged in this important decision. We asked for God’s will to be done and for the Lord to be honored.
It was a joy to pray and to read publicly the entire letter of Philippians together as a church. As elders, we have been exploring ways to pray together more as a church family with intentionality focused on praising God, instructing children in how to pray, and to lift up petitions to God on behalf of our entire church family. Last night was a blessing, and something that I would encourage you and your church to consider as well.