Prayer Is Both Horizontal and Vertical

Prayer Is Both Horizontal and Vertical

In recent weeks, I’ve been working with my children on how to be more than one-dimensional in their prayer life.  It’s really easy to fall into ruts when we pray.  At times, we learn specific prayers and we repeat them over and over to the point that they become a mantra rather than an actual prayer.  It’s important to realize that we should focus on people and upon God in our prayer.  We would be wise to make requests and provide praises.

The Horizontal Prayer

As we look into the early church from Acts 2:42-47, we see that immediately they are gathered under the preaching of the Word and prayer.  They prayed together and they prayed for one another.  We can see later as Peter was imprisoned, the church was gathered together praying for Peter (Acts 12:6-19).  It’s healthy for the church to pray for one another’s needs.

In the early church context, it was difficult and dangerous to follow Jesus.  The church understood the importance of praying for the physical and spiritual needs of one another.  The horizontal aspect of prayer has always been important among God’s people, and it’s vitally important today as well.  We must not neglect praying for one another.

Consider the needs of the church:

  1. Are you praying for your pastors and deacons?
  2. Are you praying for the church’s missions ministries?
  3. Are you praying for the church’s discipleship ministries?
  4. Are you praying for the poor in your community?
  5. Are you praying for the sick among your church family?
  6. Are you praying for the salvation of the children of your church?
  7. Are you praying for the growth of the church spiritually and numerically?

The Vertical Prayer

Have you taken a look at the prayer sheet for your church in recent days?  What does it look like?  How much of your church’s prayer sheet is focused upon the attributes of God?  Is there any point on the prayer sheet where the church is directed to praise God?  It’s really easy to turn your church’s prayer meeting into a time where people only ask God to heal physical problems.  There’s more to praying than asking God to heal uncle Joe’s bad back.

I’ve been instructing my children to spend time praying for others, but to finish by choosing one important thing about God and take time to not only recognize it, but to praise Him.  In one prayer, it’s possible to end by spending some time focused on God’s mercy and praising Him for being a God of mercy.  On another occasion, we could end our time of prayer by focusing on God’s justice and praising God for His promise to judge the lawless.

We need set times where we simply focus on God and praise Him for who He is, what He has already done, and what He promises to do in the future.

Consider the benefits of such praying:

  1. It’s edifying to be comforted by God’s attributes.  Especially the attributes that are not communicable.
  2. It’s educational to spend time considering the bigness of God’s power and love.
  3. It’s worshipful to focus on God as He has identified Himself to us in Scripture — the Triune God who saves sinners.
  4. It’s joyful to look into God’s justice and have confidence that He will one day judge with righteous judgment.

Consider the words of J.C. Rye regarding prayer:

Prayer is the mightiest weapon that God has placed in our hands. It is the best weapon to use in every difficulty, and the surest remedy in every trouble. It is the key that unlocks the treasury of promises, and the hand that draws forth grace and help in time of need. It is the silver trumpet that God commands us to sound in all our necessity, and it is the cry He has promised always to listen to, just as a loving mother listens attentively to the voice of her child. [1]

Prayer is one of the easiest areas of the Christian life to neglect, but it’s one of the greatest privileges that we possess as children of God.  We would be wise to develop strong praying families who in turn make up strong praying churches.

  1. J.C. Ryle, The Duties of Parents.
Please Stop Saying — “God Told Me”

Please Stop Saying — “God Told Me”

It happened again recently.  I was listening to a sermon online and the preacher said, “God told me.”  Apparently everyone in the congregation enjoyed it from the response I heard, but I immediately turned it off.  This type of communication is becoming more prevalent in Christian circles.  It’s showing up in conversations because people are hearing it from the pulpit and reading it in books they purchased from the local Christian bookstore.  Perhaps it sounds spiritual or is emotionally stirring to the congregation.

Although the “God told me” method of communicating makes for interesting, suspenseful, and entertaining stories, what people need most is to hear from God.  I would like to make a simple request.  Please stop saying “God told me” unless the phrase is immediately followed up with a text of Scripture.  Have you considered the connection between the “God told me” language and the sufficiency of Scripture?  What connection does the “God told me” phrase have with the third of the Ten Commandments?

The “God Told Me” Language Violates the Sufficiency of Scripture

If God spoke to Moses from a burning bush (Ex. 3:4-6), to Samuel in the dark of night (1 Sam. 3:1-9), to Elijah in a cave (1 Kings 19:9), to John the Baptist and others at Jesus’ baptism (Mark 1:9-11), and to Saul (subsequently Paul) and his traveling companions on the road leading to Damascus (Acts 9:4-7)—why would God not speak to us today?  That’s a fair question, but it might surprise you to know that God does still speak to us today.  He does so through His sufficient and authoritative Word.

In chapter 1 and paragraph 6 of the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith (1689), we find these words:

The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelation of the Spirit, or traditions of men.

During the days of the Old Testament, God was communicating to prophets in order to write Holy Scripture and to prepare the way for Jesus’ birth.  All of the audible communication of God has direct connection to the redemptive plan of God to save sinners.  God’s direct communication with His people was not centered on what to eat for breakfast, the need to give money to a random person at a bus stop, or to go join a group of college students at a morning workout.

During the days of the New Testament, and the early church period, God’s audible voice, although rare, was connected to the redemptive plan of God in Jesus Christ.  Once the Bible was completed, there was no longer any need for God to speak to people audibly or to provide direct (divine) communication.  God has communicated everything necessary for faith and life, worship and service, in His sufficient Word.  To use the “God told me” language violates the sufficiency of Scripture.  Simply put, it needs to stop.

It’s strange that many churches that once stood courageously for the inerrancy of Scripture in the past frequently employ the “God told me” language in their pulpit today.  We don’t allow Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses to play the “God told me” divine revelation card, and we shouldn’t allow Baptists or Presbyterians or Methodists or mainstream evangelicals to have a free pass on this crucial issue.

The “God told me” language majors on our stories rather than God’s story.  We need more of God and less of us in our singing and preaching today.  If people are genuinely hungry to hear from God, we must direct them to God’s Word.  To raise children on “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so” and to emphasize the authority of God’s Word is a good thing.  But, when those same children arrive in the worship service on the Lord’s Day and hear a preacher waxing eloquent about how God talked directly to him in the early hours of the morning — that’s severely inconsistent.  John MacArthur writes:

Preoccupied with mystical encounters and emotional ecstasies, [many] seek ongoing revelation from heaven – meaning that, for them, the Bible alone is simply not enough. [With them], biblical revelation must be supplemented with personal “words from God,” supposed impressions from the Holy Spirit, and other subjective religious experiences. That kind of thinking is an outright rejection of the authority and sufficiency of Scripture (2 Tim. 3:16–17). It is a recipe for far-reaching theological disaster. [1]

The “God Told Me” Language Uses God’s Name in Vain

Although some people unintentionally use the “God told me” vocabulary without understanding the implications, in other cases, certain people and preachers use the phrase as a means of claiming that they actually heard directly from God.  This intentional use of God’s name is a clear violation of the third commandment (Deut. 5:11).

For whatever the reason, some people feel compelled to us God’s name as a stamp of approval on their stories, their decision to move churches, their decision to go into the ministry, or their decision to take a job transfer.  Either way, it’s not true.  It’s intellectually dishonest.  We as evangelicals must not allow people to continually get away with using this language.  We certainly shouldn’t celebrate it.  Hear the word of Charles Spurgeon from a sermon he preached titled, “The Paraclete,” October 6, 1872:

Take care never to impute the vain imaginings of your fancy to Him [the Holy Spirit]. I have seen the Spirit of God shamefully dishonored by persons – I hope they were insane – who have said that they have had this and that revealed to them. There has not for some years passed over my head a single week in which I have not been pestered with the revelations of hypocrites or maniacs. Semi-lunatics are very fond of coming with messages from the Lord to me, and it may spare them some trouble if I tell them once for all that I will have none of their stupid messages… Never dream that events are revealed to you by heaven, or you may come to be like those idiots who dare impute their blatant follies to the Holy Ghost. If you feel your tongue itch to talk nonsense, trace it to the devil, not to the Spirit of God. Whatever is to be revealed by the Spirit to any of us is in the Word of God already – He adds nothing to the Bible, and never will. Let persons who have revelations of this, that, and the other, go to bed and wake up in their senses. I only wish they would follow the advice and no longer insult the Holy Ghost by laying their nonsense at His door. [2]

It is through the Word of God that we hear God proclaim to us the reality of sin (Rom. 3).  From the Scriptures, we hear God declare good news that makes us wise unto salvation (2 Tim. 3:14-15).   God speaks from His Word to correct us and warn us of error (2 Tim. 3:16-17).  As we continue to hear God speak through His Word, we grow into spiritual maturity and experience the ongoing renewal of our minds (Rom. 12:1-2).  God speaks today, but we must not cling to extrabiblical revelations.  Such words are empty and impotent sayings that are more closely associated with mysticism than Christianity.

Important questions to ask when someone uses the “God told me” language:

  1. If the “God told me” language is used in the context of a sermon preached by one of your pastors (or a guest preacher), rather than attacking him online, setup a private meeting to discuss the matter in person.  Show respect and ask for specifics to be sure you are not misunderstanding.
  2. Is this direct communication from God necessary if we already have the completed canon of Scripture (all 66 books)?
  3. Is the person using the “God told me” language in order to manipulate you in some way?
  4. Is the person seeking to validate their poor life decision by attaching God’s name to it?
  5. Is the “God told me” language being employed in the context of asking for money?
  6. Is the person using the name of God to aspire to an office in the local church?
  7. Is the “God told me” language in direct contradiction to any doctrine or truth revealed in Scripture?

An appeal to those who preach and teach the Bible:

  1. Remember Paul’s words to Timothy—Preach the Word (2 Tim. 4:1-5).  We should preach the Word and not our stories.
  2. According to Ecclesiastes 12:14, one day we will give an account of every secret thing and every careless word that proceeds from our mouths (Matt. 12:36).
  3. It is our duty to maximize God and minimize ourselves in the pulpit.  If people leave church services remembering your riveting story about God talking to you instead of remembering God’s Word, you’ve done the people a great disservice.
  4. Your “God told me” language makes others who obviously don’t hear Him speak in an audible voice (everyone in the congregation) feel sub-par in their Christian life.  It also serves as a means of puffing up your spiritual level to an elite status above the normal Christian.  This shouldn’t be the goal in preaching.
  5. If God didn’t actually speak to you in audible voice, please stop using the phrase, “God told me” when you’re telling stories in your sermons.
  6. Brother pastor, if you have someone speak in your pulpit who uses that type of language, it’s your responsibility to correct it with your people.  Their spiritual maturity and development depends upon you being faithful in this area.

Don’t immediately classify a friend as a lunatic or a heretic if they use the “God told me” language in their communication.  However, when you hear people talking in this manner, it should serve as a big red flag.  Exercise wisdom and gentleness when confronting this error among friends or church members, but in the case of calling out false teachers, mark them so that others will not be led astray.

  1. John MacArthur, Strange Fire, (Nashville, Nelson Books, 2013), 218.
  2. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “The Paraclete,” October 6, 1872 [Sermon].
Do You Pray for Your Pastors?

Do You Pray for Your Pastors?

If we’re all honest, prayer is often a very difficult practice to maintain and an easy area to neglect.  If the surveys [PewResearch, Barna] are remotely accurate, prayer is an area of deficiency in the evangelical church today.  If parents aren’t praying for their children’s salvation and the spiritual maturity of their household, we can rest assured that pastors are being greatly neglected in prayer as well.

You can’t pray for everyone.  In fact, not everyone and every situation is worthy of your time investment for prayer.  All of us must use our time wisely and superficial requests that popup on social media or come our way in casual conversations must be evaluated carefully before we commit to prayer.  However, we don’t have to think twice about praying for our pastors.  To neglect praying for our pastors is to walk in disobedience to the Lord.

The Imperative to Pray for Your Pastors

In Hebrews 13:17-18, we see some very important words as it pertains to pastoral ministry.  In reading this text recently, it was verse 18 that really impacted me.  The writer to the Hebrews says, “Pray for us.”  Not only should the church submit and obey the pastors placed over them, but the church is likewise called to pray for them.  This comes in form of an imperative.  In other words, it’s a command and one that we must not neglect.

Hebrews 13:17-18 – Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.  [18] Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things.

It should be further noted that when the writer emphasizes praying for the pastors, he does so in the plural just as he begins in the previous verse with a command to obey leaders.  Both are mentioned in the plural.  It’s very probable that the writer of this epistle was a pastor in the local church or churches to which he was addressing this letter.  Notice that he doesn’t call upon the church to pray for their “favorite” or “preferred” pastor.  The church is called to pray for all of the pastors who were watching over them and caring for their souls.  You can’t expect the shepherds of God’s flock to watch over you and your family in the night hours, lead you to spiritual nourishment, protect you from the wolves, and lavish you with affection if you’re dry in your devotion to prayer and refusing to engage in intercessory prayer for them.

The Fruit of Praying for Your Pastors

If you look at the context of Hebrews 13:18, you will see that in the previous verse, the writer to the Hebrews is laying out a case for pastoral authority and the need to submit to such God ordained authority.  However, he doesn’t end his thought after the phrase, “Obey your leaders and submit to them.”  He goes on to convey a very helpful thought.

He writes, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Heb. 13:17).  Notice the goal is for pastors to do their work of shepherding with joy rather than groaning.

Consider the practical and spiritual benefits of praying for your pastors:

  1. Your pastors will care for your soul with joy.
  2. Your pastors will stand before the throne of God one day and give an account of their ministry to you with joy.
  3. Praying for your pastors will make submitting to their authority easier as you consider their responsibility.
  4. Caring for your pastors is ultimately caring for yourself—practically speaking.
  5. Pastors are made out of the same flesh that the sheep are made of.  They’re capable of sin, compromise, and falling into the traps of the evil one.  It’s important to pray for their spiritual wellbeing.
  6. Pastors often have families too, and it would be wise to pray for the health of their family life, the pastors’ marriages, and the relationship with their children.  The church will suffer if the pastors’ families are suffering with sin problems or spiritual deficiencies.
  7. Pastors need to be free to study and pray in order to properly feed the church from the Word of God.  Pray for the pastors’ prayer life and devotion to God’s Word.

At the end of the day, when it comes time to stand before the Lord, we don’t want to be found negligent in our prayers for those who were entrusted to care for our souls.  It was John Bunyan who once said, “Prayer will make a man cease from sin, or sin will entice a man to cease from prayer.” [1]

  1. I.D.E. Thomas, A Puritan Golden Treasury, (Carlisle, PA.,Banner of Truth, 2000), 211.


Don’t Neglect the Church Covenant

Don’t Neglect the Church Covenant

We are reworking our specific membership covenant that’s been largely non-existent in the life of our church for many years.  It is our desire as elders to raise it back up to a state of prominence, visibility, and functionality in the life of our church.  As I’ve recently been reading and considering the wording of our covenant, I’ve also been thinking about both the implicit and explicit membership covenant of the local church and its value for the church.  We would be wise to take it seriously.

The Implicit Church Covenant

As individuals follow Christ by faith and identify with Him through baptism, they are brought into the life of a Christian community called a church.  As individuals are added to the church, there are implicit expectations for both the church collectively and the new member specifically of the local assembly.  It comes with the territory—when you have people there are needs and expectations.

Some of the implicit membership requirements in a local church include:

  • Participation in corporate worship through the ordinary means of grace (preaching of the Word, observance of the ordinances, and prayer)—Acts 2:42-47.
  • Spiritual accountability (Matt. 18:15-20).
  • Submission to the spiritual leadership of the church (Heb. 13:17).
  • Pursuing holiness (John 14:15; 1 John 2:3).
  • Maintaining unity within the local church (Eph. 4:3; Rom. 12:18).
  • Not forsaking the assembling of the church (Heb. 10:23-25).
  • Visible and functioning member who exercising spiritual gifts in the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12-31; James 1:22).
  • Maintaining Christian love and honor for one another (Rom. 12:10; John 15:17; John 13:34; Eph. 4:2).
  • Engaging in the church’s ministry of discipleship and evangelism (Matt. 28:18-20).

Even without a written document titled, “church covenant” it’s abundantly clear from the pages of the New Testament that membership matters and certain responsibilities are inherently received as one enters the church as a follower of Jesus.

The Explicit Church Covenant

We engage in covenants at many different points in the course of our lives.  For instance, marriage is a covenant between two individuals and to God (in the presence of witnesses).  We enter into financial covenants when we purchase a home and sign off on a loan.  We are making a pledge to pay back the loan on certain terms.  This is a contractual and financial covenant—a promise made between two parties with binding agreements.

My father served for 36 years as a fireman in our community.  I can recall him explaining to me as a boy the importance of his uniform he wore to work every third day.  On his days off, he didn’t wear his uniform.  But, on every third day, he would appear in the living room early in the morning dressed in his uniform.  He explained to me that when he was dressed in the uniform, he was a direct representative of the local community.  Therefore, the chief had expectations for all employees and boundaries they must submit to while in uniform.  If they were caught in violation of those boundaries, it could result in a formal and professional reprimand.

As members of God’s universal Church, we represent Jesus no matter where we live and travel.  However, on a local level, we represent Christ and the local body that we’re members of in our community.  Many churches have a specified church covenant that outlines the big membership expectations for the entire church body.  These agreements serve as pledges or promises that we’re engaging in together with the entire church to engage in ministry and life that honors Christ.  A church covenant serves as promises to be kept, shared responsibility with other members, boundaries for ministry and life, and a healthy reminder of what’s expected of fellow Christians according to the Scripture.

Does your church have an explicit church covenant on display or contained in the governing documents of the church?  Does your church ever read it aloud in order to remind the entire church of the promises?  Do you take the church covenant seriously?  Could it be that the lack of functional and binding church covenants in the local churches of our day serves as proof of the downgrade of biblical church membership?

Often people make statements such as, “Do we really want to make it more difficult to enter the local church than it is to enter heaven?”  In one sense, yes we should.  For instance, the condemned man on the cross next to Christ went to heaven without entering through church membership.  So it is possible to go to heaven without church membership, but just not very likely.  Even if your church doesn’t operate with an official explicit church covenant, it would be wise to humbly submit to the implicit church covenant expectations found in Scripture.  Don’t play fast and loose with God’s church.  Make it your goal to become a visible, humble, functional, submissive church member for the glory of God.

Becoming an Extraordinary Church by Being Ordinary

Becoming an Extraordinary Church by Being Ordinary

If you read and study about the health of the church for any length of time, you will run across the phrase, “ordinary means of grace.”  The theologians of church history and many of our contemporary scholars, theologians, and pastors are all pressing the importance of clinging to the ordinary means of grace.  What exactly does this phrase mean?  In an age of cultural relativism, how can a church become extraordinary by being ordinary?

The Meaning of the Phrase

The phrase, “ordinary means of grace” is communicating something specific, and we must avoid two big misconceptions from the beginning.  First of all, the phrase is not intending to mean that grace is earned in any way by participating in certain acts of worship.  Secondly, grace is not ordinary in the slightest degree.  Grace is God’s gift to fallen, guilty, and wretched sinners who do not deserve anything other than God’s wrath.  So, with that being said, what exactly does the phrase mean?

In the Scriptures we are given an opportunity to look behind the curtain into the life of the early Christian church community.  In Acts, immediately following Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, the church grew from 120 in the Upper Room to over 3,000.  In Acts 2:42-47, we see the church meeting together for worship and fellowship.  In those meetings, we see three primary things happening (other than the fellowship) in their worship.  We see the ministry of the Word, the practice of the ordinances, and prayer.

Throughout history, preachers, scholars, theologians, and groups of Christians have sought to highlight the profound simplicity of the early church’s worship.  In doing so, we see statements like the following one contained in the Westminster Shorter Catechism (Q: 88):

Q. What are the outward means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption?
A. The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption, are his ordinances, especially the word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.

In a similar vein, we find the following statement in the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith (chapter 14, paragraph 1):

The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts, and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word; by which also, and by the administration of baptism and the Lord’s supper, prayer, and other means appointed of God, it is increased and strengthened. ( 2 Corinthians 4:13; Ephesians 2:8; Romans 10:14, 17; Luke 17:5; 1 Peter 2:2; Acts 20:32)

Once again, it should be noted that it’s not through the media gratiae (means of grace) that a person earns salvation in any way.  It’s through the ministry of the Word that grace comes (Rom. 10:17).  It must likewise be noted that once a person is converted, grace is needed on a daily basis.  The grace of God is not a one time event, but a daily need from the point of conversion until we all stand in the presence of Christ.  Therefore, it’s through the ministry of the Word, the ordinances, and prayer that the Christian continues to be strengthened in the grace of God.

The Purity and Health of the Local Church

Today’s local church culture has, in many ways, lost what it means to be an ordinary means of grace church.  In an attempt to grow, expand, and do radical things for God, in many cases the local church employs methods and strategies that minimize the ministry of the Word, the ordinances (baptism and the Lord’s Supper), and prayer.  You can see my recent article titled, “The Church Is Not Six Flags over Jesus” for more on that subject.

The evangelical landscape is littered with many different methods for reaching the modern culture.  We see everything from the “seeker sensitive” model to the “purpose driven life (and church)” model.  The evangelical church has toyed with ideas such as the emergent church methods and other relevant strategies geared to reaching a post-modern (or post-post-modern) culture.  Many Christians who focus on the cultural landscape are saying that we are living in a post-Christian era and that in order to reach people today the church has to do more than preach the Word, observe the ordinances, and pray.

Before we buy into that type of thinking, it would be wise to consider the landscape of Jerusalem at the time of Peter’s confrontational sermon at Pentecost.  It would also be extremely informing to explore the city of Ephesus with all of the idolatry and self exaltation and then consider the words of Paul to Timothy—”Preach the Word” (2 Tim. 4:2).  If an ordinary means of grace method of ministry could reach Jerusalem in a post-resurrection era and if that same type of church could reach a sin saturated “Vanity Fair” city named Ephesus, why must we change directions and commitments in our present day?

If we’re honest, the early church was powerful and earth shaking in their mission as they were led by the Holy Spirit.  However, in all honesty, they were rather ordinary, simple, and straightforward in their approach to ministry.  If the early church was extraordinary by remaining ordinary in their obedience to the Lord, why would we seek to become extraordinary by abandoning the ordinary means of grace?

The extraordinary church focuses on the ministry of the Word, the ordinances, and prayer.  The ordinary church is really extraordinary.  When people ask you to describe your church, you may consider a long list of glowing adjectives as a description, but don’t underestimate ordinary.

The Church Is Not Six Flags over Jesus

The Church Is Not Six Flags over Jesus

My very best memories as a boy growing up are often linked to my time around the church campus and with the church family.  I will never know what it’s like to grow up disconnected from the life of the church.  My days as a boy were spent building friendships with people in the church.  I married a girl from our local church (we don’t remember the first time we met).  Basically, I grew up in the church.  I’m eternally grateful for my time spent on the church’s campus playing games with friends, playing basketball in the gymnasium, and going on church related trips.  However, I’m most grateful for the time spent on the church campus gathered in one room worshipping God with the church.

Today, there are various and sundry opinions on how to make the church successful and relevant to a modern culture.  Sadly, many pastors and church leaders are turning their local church campus into an amusement park for Christians rather than a campus designed for discipleship and worship.  Everything from a fire truck baptistry to indoor fireworks and weekly rock concerts are being used to attract people to church.  As we consider the importance of God’s church — the very bride of Christ — we should likewise evaluate the methods, strategies, and techniques that are being employed in our day beneath the umbrella of gospel ministry.

Pastors Are Not Performers

As a pastor, I’ve attended many different conferences designed for pastors and church leaders.  I’ve likewise attended many denominational meetings designed for the local church and pastoral ministry.  What I’ve seen in those conferences have troubled me through the years.  It seems that new categories for ministry have emerged onto the scene including gospel ventriloquists, gospel puppeteer, gospel comedian, gospel magician, gospel power team, gospel actors, and more.  It’s almost as if today’s church has lost confidence in the simple and straightforward proclamation of the gospel.

Many of today’s pastors are quite comfortable organizing special events and engaging in various types of entertainment to grow their church.  It’s not uncommon today to see pastors dressing up in costumes and acting out their sermon as opposed to preaching it.  Are pastors performers?  Did Paul write to the church at Corinth in order to remind them that it pleases God to save sinners by foolish entertainment?  Did Paul instruct Timothy to dress up and entertain the people of Ephesus or did he charge him to preach the Word?  The pastor is not called to entertain goats.  His duty is to shepherd souls by faithfully feeding the flock of God.

Worship Is Not a Roller Coaster

When I go to Six Flags with my children, they often want to get me on as many roller coasters as possible.  My children are thrill seekers.  If you look at the design of the roller coaster, it’s built in such a way as to get immediate results.  From the first drop to the final sudden stop, the track is designed with the goal of entertainment.  Nobody wants to ride a boring roller coaster—right?

When it comes to the worship service, many church leaders and pastors are now designing their worship services in similar ways.  The goal of entertainment from the opening of the service until the benediction is evident from the time you walk into the church’s worship center.  The choice of lights, their music, the lack of dead space, the lack of silence, the length of their prayers, the method of preaching, and the use of technology all point to a foundational goal of making people satisfied with the ride.  However, today’s evangelical church needs to recognize that worship is not a roller coaster.  Our goal is not always to have an immediate result of happiness and success.  Sometimes worship isn’t fun.  Sometimes worship isn’t a thrill.  Sometimes genuine worship leaves us with conviction and tears rather than the giddy laughter of a thrill ride.

The Need for Healthy Church Membership

We do live in a day where puppets are often preferred over preachers and where the worship service is expected to be designed like an exciting roller coaster ride.  There is much need for spiritual growth and maturity within the evangelical church today.

Although I critique the evangelical church in these areas, I am one who believes in God’s Church.  I think it would be foolish to repackage the local church or to abandon it altogether.  God has ordained the church as His plan for His people, but there is a need for greater health among the children of God in the area of ecclesiology.  As we consider the next 500 years of church history in light of the approaching anniversary of the Reformation this October, the area that needs the most attention in our day is biblical ecclesiology.  The church is not a waste of time nor is it a broken road.  The church is God’s special and unique plan for all Christians.  We must not give up on the church.

As we consider the need for health in the local church today, here are some areas that need attention:

  • Biblical preaching (verse-by-verse preaching).
  • The need for a high view of church membership.  What does it mean to be in a covenant with one another?.
  • The need to guard the front door and the back door.  Is it too easy to join and leave your church?
  • Functional church discipline in accordance with Matthew 18.
  • Healthy and biblical leadership (church government that finds its roots in the Bible rather than corporate America).
  • Congregational involvement in singing.
  • Congregational engagement in the preaching (expositional listening).
  • Spiritual maturity that’s achieved by biblical discipleship (a church of Bereans).
  • A firm reliance upon the power of the Holy Spirit for ministry.
  • Evangelistic zeal undergirded by theological conviction.
  • A biblical understanding of conversion (centered on God’s sovereignty resulting in man’s response).
  • Central and worshipful observance of the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

Any method of growing the church that deviates from God’s design is foolish.  When people become willing to employ gimmicks to “grow” their church — they’ve officially traded the Holy Spirit for schemes of man.  No matter what plan someone thinks up in the future, the very best church growth strategy is simply this — “We preach Christ crucified and resurrected from the dead.”  Can we have fun with the church?  Can the church provide a wonderful atmosphere where we build lifelong memories?  It absolutely can.  However, we must not forget that the church is the bride of Christ—not Six Flags over Jesus.  We as pastors and church members must be careful in how we treat the bride of Jesus.