This past Sunday, we had two guests who drove a good distance to be with us for worship. One drove from the Stone Mountain area while the other drove from Lagrange, Georgia—both are right about one hour from our church campus. As they discussed their situations, each of them are looking for a healthy church where they can grow in God’s Word. As I considered the fact that two different visitors drove an hour to be with us for worship as they’re looking for a church—what exactly should we look for if we find ourselves looking for a new church home?
As we engage in a church search, there are specific things that must be prioritized in the life of the church or it should be crossed off the list quickly. Some lists will look differently depending on specific needs, but there are certain elements that cannot be optional and I’ve listed a few non-negotiable categories below.
Transcending above cultural preferences must come biblical preaching. If we truly want our families to grow in grace, that necessitates a steady diet of biblical preaching. While topical preaching can certainly feed the hearts and minds of people on occasion, the steady practice of the preaching must be centered on consistent sequential verse-by-verse preaching through books of the Bible. Without faithful expository preaching, the church will be left with a superficial understanding of the whole of God’s Word. It was D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones who wrote the following in his classic book, Preaching and Preachers:
The big difference…between a lecture and a sermon is that a sermon does not start with a subject; a sermon should always be expository. In a sermon the theme or the doctrine is something that arises out of the text and its context, it is something which is illustrated by that text and context. 
How well would you understand any book on your bookshelf if a friend came over to your home and read to you out of random pages – explaining one central message about how the book ends, but not allowing you to hear how the plot and themes develop through each chapter? It would leave you a bit frustrated and disconnected from the central message of the book—right? Why is the Bible any different? Why would we be led to believe that a random approach to preaching would cause the church to grow deep and wide spiritually?
God Centered Worship
We have a worship crisis within evangelicalism today. It’s not that we aren’t worshipping, but rather, who and what we’re worshipping. Some churches are worshipping themselves as they gather to have their own cultural desires met in the worship service. Others are worshipping a specific pastor or personality who leads the church. Still others are centering their affections on the church campus or building itself. Far too often people in evangelical circles find themselves much like the Ethiopian Eunuch who was returning to Ethiopia from Jerusalem with a scroll of Isaiah’s prophecy—yet completely disengaged from biblical worship. Far too often evangelicals arrive home from church on Sunday without having worshipped God in the slightest degree.
When looking for a church, we must focus on how the worship service places God at the center. Some churches worship one member of the Trinity rather than our Triune God. Some focus on Jesus while others focus on the Spirit and still others focus on the Father. We have so segmented the Trinity that we fail to worship God as he desires. The calling of God’s people is to worship God—which involves an intentional effort to worship God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
When searching for a church home, pay close attention to how the worship service approaches the public reading of Scripture. How much Scripture is read and is there a balance from Old to New Testament each week? How do the songs point your mind and direct your emotions to engage in worship of our Triune God? This is critically important in order to avoid a severe imbalance and deficient understanding of who God really is and how he desires to be worshipped.
Faithful Administration of the Ordinances
If you visit a church on the Lord’s Day and they’re showing slides of the youth pastor baptizing football players at the local high school in a feeding trough for cows on Friday afternoon—it’s probably a good sign that this is not the church for you. All throughout history, if a church did not have the right administration of the ordinances, they were not considered to be a true church. This is one reason why youth group baptisms in the ocean at summer camp should not be practiced. This is why we shouldn’t encourage members to get rebaptized in the Jordan River when they visit Jerusalem.
It’s critically important for the local church to practice the ordinances within the context of the local church under the oversight of the elders who lead the church. This assures both organization, accountability, and intentionality as to what we are communicating as we engage in worship as a gathered church. This is why observing the Lord’s Supper in your living room on Friday evening with your small group is forbidden. How does such a practice honor God and encourage the local church as a whole? How does a person know if they’re welcomed to the Table? Who fences the Table before engaging in worship if the Lord’s Supper is practiced in a college dormitory at the local college? We must be firmly committed to the right practice of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
Practice of Loving Church Discipline
Would you lead your family to join a church that did not practice loving biblical church discipline? When you talk to people about how they came to the decision about membership in a specific church, you will often hear about how good a specific program is in the church that attracted them or you might hear that their church was closer to their job—or perhaps other pragmatic reasoning. When was the last time you heard someone say they chose a church because they practice biblical church discipline? Jay Adams argues that if a church refuses to practice church discipline, we “should declare them to be ‘no church’ since they will not draw a line between the world and the church by exercising discipline.” 
Several years ago a family went through our membership class and became members in our church. However, within a year of their joining, they left our church after hearing a presentation on the errors of Roman Catholicism. I went to the church where they were visiting and met with the pastor in his office. I encouraged he and his staff to point them back to us and not to receive them as members because this was a gospel issue that required corrective discipline. The pastor ignored our request and accepted their family as members. Within a short season, the family completely derailed into horrible sin resulting in the husband’s picture appearing on the front page of the newspaper. To this day, their family has never been disciplined by the church who took them in as members.
Church discipline is not a debatable issue. Jesus has commanded that we practice it and that we do so in the manner and with the motives that he has charged us in Matthew 18:15-20. Consider these helpful words from Alexander Strauch:
Love is not just happy smiles or pleasant words. A critical test of genuine love is whether we are willing to confront and discipline those we care for. Nothing is more difficult than disciplining a brother or sister in Christ who is trapped in sin. It is always agonizing work – messy, complicated, often unsuccessful, emotionally exhausting, and potentially divisive. This is why most church leaders avoid discipline at all costs. But that is not love. It is lack of courage and disobedience to the Lord Jesus Christ, who Himself laid down instructions for the discipline of an unrepentant believer (Matt. 18:17-18). 
When you find yourself searching for a new church home, don’t compromise in the process. You may find a church that meets your needs on many different levels, but yet fails in one of the non-negotiable areas. Always remember a church that hasn’t practiced corrective church discipline in the last 25 years will certainly not begin with you and your family when you wander off the path of righteousness. You need the church, and you need a healthy church for you and your family.
- D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1971), 71.
- Jay Adams, Handbook of Church Discipline, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986), 103.
- Alexander Strauch, Leading With Love, (Colorado Springs: Lewis and Roth, 2006), 152.
Is it absolutely necessary for the freedom and vitality of the United States for a president to lead the people? While there may be many opinions on that very subject, it would not be necessary for our nation to be led by a president. If our nation decided to change the way we structure things and be led by a plurality of presidents, it would not be wrong to move in that direction. Neither one is mandatory. When it comes to professional baseball, must the team be led by a coach who is often referred to as a general manager? The fact is—there is no absolute answer to that question. A new management process could be developed that may do away with the general manager position and the owners of the baseball team would not be in error if they went in that direction. We have freedom in politics and the world of athletics.
When it comes to the local church—we must remember that everything we do should be evaluated through the lens of Scripture. If the Bible provides us with the necessities of both life and the practice of our faith—how the household of God functions really matters. Therefore, if God established a specific system and we choose to operate under a different model simply because of pragmatic rationale or a commitment to some form of modern trends or historic traditions—it must be noted that we don’t have such freedom to make those alterations.
There are great benefits to a church being led by elders (a plurality of pastors). Some of those benefits to the church as a whole would include a shared oversight through multiple men rather than just one man. Such shared authority protects the church from the cult of personality and bad decisions that could harm the church for years to follow. This shared oversight provides support for the lead pastor who serves as one of the pastors in the group. This shared authority includes shared responsibility and accountability. However, the main reason for organizing the leadership of the local church with a plurality of elders is not based on the benefits since this is not a pragmatic decision. The reason a plurality of elders is necessary is because of the fact that it’s clearly modeled in Scripture as the God-ordained pattern of leadership for a local church.
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).”  God has a purpose in all that he does, and we must honor his plan for church government. We see a plurality of elders in individual local churches throughout the New Testament:
- James 5:14
- Acts 11:30
- Acts 14:14; 21-23
- Acts 15
- Acts 20:17-38
- 1 Timothy 5:17-20
- Titus 1:5-11
According to 1 Peter 5:1-4, the pastor’s responsibility is to provide food, protection, discipline, and love. That task is utterly impossible to accomplish alone regardless of the size of the local church. Pastors need assistance from other pastors within the context of the local church family. For a pastor to think that he has all of the gifts necessary to oversee, equip, discipline, and lead the church is beyond arrogance. Needless to say, such a man has an elevated opinion of himself. Far too many local churches are self-governed or led by a group of deacons while the pastor simply preaches on Sunday. That’s not the biblical model.
When a church is led by a plurality of elders it not only provides joy for the pastors—but it should provide joy for the church as a whole as they become encouraged by the intentional oversight and care for the body of Christ. In short, true shepherds of God’s flock understand that the church belongs to God and they are merely appointed leaders to do the work of God. Therefore, the church should be established and organized to follow the biblical pattern.
Having staff positions who serve beneath the pastor and work alongside him is not the same as having a plurality of pastors who are equal in position. The pastors and the church both should be under authority. Mark Dever provides a helpful explanation as he writes:
So the Bible clearly teaches that New Testament churches are to be led by elders. At the end of the day, this question is just another way of asking whether or not we are going to allow the Scriptures to be the sole authority in the life of the church. For though there are lots of pragmatic reasons to have elders, from the perspective of a pastor, there are more pragmatic reasons not to have them. Elders can slow a senior pastor down, they can disagree with him, they can even tell him on occasion that he’s wrong. Pragmatically speaking, who would want that? 
When we ask if a plurality of elders is necessary it’s like asking if the Bible is sufficient? Interestingly enough we don’t argue with the organization of a plurality of deacons in a single local church, but we often have people who intentionally avoid having a plurality of elders in a local church. While there is biblical evidence to support a plurality of elders and a plurality of deacons in a local church—there are far more passages that discuss a plurality of elders than discuss a plurality of deacons.
If you are moving to a new town or looking for a church home—consider looking for a local church that has intentionally organized their church government to include a plurality of elders (pastors) who lead, oversee, care for, and equip their local church and a plurality of deacons who serve the church.
- Alistair Begg, On Being a Pastor, (Chicago: Moody Press, 2004), 218.
- Mark Dever, “Should a Church Have Elders?“
As a pastor, I truly love the local church. In my own context, I love my church that I’m a member of and that I have the privilege to leading. However, as I often explain to my children when we read the Bible together in the evening—I don’t love the church simply because I’m a pastor. Even if I worked at a local business in town and was a member of the church who didn’t hold a given office—I would still love the church and would encourage my children to do the same.
As I prepare to speak in a conference in a little more than a week from now, I’m reflecting upon the given assignment of preaching on the topic: “Loving the Church Like Your Life Depends On It.” As I consider this assignment, I believe we should actually love the church with such passion which will often shape our commitment, service, worship, and various other involvement. So, how do we love the church and become a profitable and encouraging church member?
Pray for Your Church
When was the last time you prayed for your deacons? Did you know that deacons are often praying for you and your family? Not only that, they are are looking for ways to serve the church (including your family) in areas of physical, practical, and spiritual needs. Without good deacons, the church will not be able to function properly—therefore, it’s vitally important for you to pray for the deacons within your local church.
When was the last time you prayed for your pastor(s)? To hold the office of pastor is very demanding. It requires spending time in prayer for families within the church and committing oneself to much time in God’s Word in preparation for preaching and teaching. One of the greatest ways to discourage a pastor is to spend more time complaining about him than you do praying for him. The pastor can’t just leave his work at the office. After praying and studying the Word, the pastor also leaves the office (or home depending on the time) in times of emergency to be with families during times of sickness and death.
In the early days of the Church, we find the people of God praying together and for one another. Consider all of the “love one another” passages in the Bible and how they center upon the intentional care that the church is to have for one another. At the center of this intentional and sacrificial love is prayer. It’s far more difficult to be divided when you spend time praying for one another.
James 5:16 – Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.
Become Sacrificial Rather than Selfish
As we live life, sometimes our responsibilities of family time, ball practices, education, vacations, marriage enrichment, and work responsibilities will fill up multiple calendars—but as we live life, we must keep the church at the center of the equation. The secular world has zero commitment to the church—and it seems that many things compete to push the church down the priority list. Remember, Satan is crafty in how he works and children are watching how we make decisions. How we use our time, our talents, and our treasure speaks volumes about the priority of the church and the mission of Christ.
When was the last time you considered who actually arrived early to turn on the lights or stayed late to lock up the building? That’s just a couple of examples of many things that are necessary on a weekly basis to benefit the gathering of the local church. It’s more than just showing up. If everyone just showed up at 11:00am on Sunday morning the church would be shallow and disorganized. Have you considered the volunteers who work with children or teachers who labor in the Word? What about the finances? How does the church pay the bills, meet budget, pay salaries, do ministry, engage in missions, and reach a fallen world with the gospel? Have you considered the financial needs of your local church? Where does that need land on your priority list?
Forgive One Another and Love One Another
Through the years as a pastor, I’ve witnessed numerous families struggle with bitterness and division within the church. They have harbored thoughts, feelings, and ideas in their heart against another individual or family within the church. Not only does this harm that particular family (or individuals involved), but it will harm the entire church as a whole. Mark Dever said, “If you are not expressing proper Christian love to every member of your church, you are in disobedience to God and you are hindering the evangelistic work of your church.” 
The calling of a Christian is the pursuit of unity. Consider the words of Paul in Colossians 3:14, “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” The words of Paul in Ephesians 4 become more intense on this subject of unity and forgiveness. In Ephesians 4:3, Paul says, Christians are to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” The word “maintain” is taken from the Greek term “τηρέω” meaning, “To retain in custody, keep watch over, guard. It can be defined as, causing a state, condition, or activity to continue.” In other words, it’s not optional. The Christian must be striving with great intentionality and purpose to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. We spend time maintaining our automobiles, maintaining our HVAC units on our homes, but often not enough time maintaining unity within our church.
We turn to John’s words in 1 John 4:7-8, and the proof that we love God is that we love one another. Paul would not allow for disunity and splintering of fellowship within the local church. Notice his words in Ephesians 4:29-32
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. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Take Worship Seriously
One of the best ways to become a productive and encouraging church member is to have a high view of worship. Rather than centering your worship on your music preferences or shallow preaching filled with recycled jokes—come anxious to hear from God’s Word and longing to sing praises to God.
Preaching must take the central place in worship. It’s through the preaching of God’s Word that sinners are awakened to saving faith and consistently sanctified in the truth of the Scriptures. When preachers turn to gimmicks such as dressing up in costumes, flying drones in the worship center, and all types of hype-building to grow their church—they turn into religious pep-rally leaders rather than expositors of God’s Word. We need congregations who would find that humiliating and distasteful rather than appealing and acceptable.
If you come to gather with the church to be satisfied with the sound of the music and the production (or presentation) of the songs—you will likely leave disappointed. If you come to offer up praises to the God who has saved you, it’s quite probable that you will leave fulfilled. For far too long within specific pockets of evangelicalism, we have fed the culture of entertainment so that we now have churches who pay professionals to do the worship for the church. It’s not uncommon to hear a band or a big voice on Sunday rather than the congregation.
Rather than getting in the car and driving to church on Sunday thinking about what the local church can do to satisfy you, why not consider what you can do for your local church and how you can become a profitable and encouraging church member? If every member in your local church was just like you, would you consider that a healthy church or an unhealthy church?
- Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, 3rd Edition, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013), 139.
Never assume assumptions are safe. If you spend most of your time building your positions and beliefs based on assumptions, you will be a very shallow and misguided person. If you’re a preacher, well, you will be a very shallow and misguided preacher. Consider how easily it is for the devil to get into the details of assumptions. Below are a few dangerous assumptions that seem to be popular in our day.
- Assuming everyone’s life is wonderful and that your friends are living the “dream life” simply by following their Instagram posts.
- Assuming you know people because you follow them on social media.
- Assuming you are real friends with people who you follow on social media.
- Assuming a person doesn’t like you because they never interact with you on social media.
Remember that nice picture of your friend’s family enjoying a great vacation doesn’t contain the noise and drama of the children fighting and the lengthy list of other real life challenges that we all face. Stop allowing the sin of the human heart to lead you to jealousy and anger based on a simple social media post. The above list are just a few assumptions that are popular in our digital world, but what about “real life” that involves real conversations, actions, and church relationships?
Stop Assuming the Worst About People
How many people do you know who consistently embrace the worst about others merely based on assumptions gathered by body language or gossip gathered about the person without ever asking one question to the person in question? It’s really easy to build positions about people and to formulate what you believe about a person based on assumptions rather than reality. This is not only dangerously toxic, it’s a sinful misrepresentation of the person in your family, local church, neighbor, or co-worker.
Within the local church, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met with individuals who have built an entire library of opinions about another individual within their local church based completely on assumptions. When I push back and ask if they’ve gone to the person to verify the reality of the opinions, nearly every single time the person denies having every asked a single question to the person for verification. They would rather believe assumptions instead of reality. The devil laughs at such patterns because he can easily divide people who aren’t committed to truth.
When you hear something about another person, instead of believing the worst, why not strive to believe the positive? Is darkness really more attractive than light? Consider what damage can arise from basing your opinion of another person on negative assumptions instead of verified reality. Likewise, consider what the Bible teaches about striving to maintain the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace. In his letter to the church at Ephesus (and surrounding cities), Paul penned pointed out the need for Christians to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). The word translated maintain is “τηρέω” which means to retain in custody, keep watch over, guard. It can carry the idea of causing a state, condition, or activity to continue.
In short, the command is to strive for unity and it’s not an option for the Christian. The Christian is not called to create unity, but we are called to cultivate unity. The Christian is not called to manufacture unity, but we are called to maintain it. Martyn Lloyd-Jones – “Not to be in fellowship with those who are born again is to be guilty of schism, which is sinful.”  Rather than assuming the worst, why not fight for the unity of the Spirit within your local church?
Don’t Assume People Know the Gospel
Another danger among the Christian community is to assume that everyone understands and knows the gospel simply because they claim to be a follower of Jesus. This happens in the work of preaching (the heralding of the gospel) and it happens in general conversations in the community on a regular basis.
Consider how many times in preaching (you or your pastor) the gospel has been assumed. It’s often assumed that since people are in an evangelical church assembly on the Lord’s Day—they must understand what the gospel is and believe it. It would be wonderful to hear the gospel explained more clearly from the pulpit in the regular preaching of God’s Word. Preachers should state the gospel, and then explain it clearly. After explaining it, they should repeat what they explained and have already stated in order to be sure that people understand what they stated from the beginning. Assumptions are deadly when it comes to the gospel.
When having conversations at school or during break sessions at work—just because a friend claims to be a Christian don’t assume he or she is a Christian. It would be good to ask your friend to explain the gospel. What does a person mean when they claim to believe the gospel? Just yesterday, when I finished the Discovery class (membership class at our church) I informed each family that when we do their interview prior to membership, I will ask them to explain the gospel in 2-minutes and then explain how they have embraced (believed) the gospel personally. It would be a tragic mistake to assume that families who desire membership in our church know the gospel and believe it.
Assumptions lead to darkness and the devil always thrives in darkness rather than the light. It would be really good to stop assuming and start asking people to verify that what you assume to be true is actually…true.
- D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, What is an Evangelical? (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1992), 90.
Satan delights in denigrating what God created as good. It has always been God’s plan for his Church to possess a certain masculinity in leadership and that masculinity flows into the general membership as well. One of the depressing realities of our modern culture is the assault upon masculinity as if it’s somehow a bad thing. While we can all certainly agree that male dominance is not God’s plan for his Church—the plan to extract male leadership and characteristics from God’s Church is certainly not healthy—in fact it’s downright sinful.
When Paul was closing out his letter to the church in the city of Corinth, he wrote these words in 1 Corinthians 16:13-14, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” We must recall that Paul was writing to a church that was in desperate need of theological and practical correction. The apostle took a firm stance against their sin, and then pointed them to the proper means of living out the gospel of Christ. Apparently one of their struggles was centered on love and their lack of manliness. William Robertson Nicoll observes that these exhortations are “directed respectively against the heedlessness, fickleness, childishness, and moral enervation of the” church at Corinth. 
Today, we continue to see the Church of Jesus Christ suffering from a lack of manliness. This has been the result of the radical feminist attack as well as the problem of perpetual adolescence that continues to prevent men from rising up and taking lead roles within the local church. These problems together create added friction over offices, giftedness, and the need for strong leadership. We would do well to remember Paul’s words to the church in Corinth—”act like men.”
The Feminization of the Church
The liberal agenda has masculinity in its sights and has for many years dating back to the radical women’s liberation movement. From this rank liberal ideology, they teach that God is not a male, Paul was a sexist, and Jesus was a feminist. This agenda took aim at Bible translations in an attempt to produce gender neutral texts while removing references to God’s masculine characteristics. However, the progressives of our day within evangelical circles have adopted that type of language and it has continued to soften the church. Today’s social justice agenda is moving rapidly through evangelicalism beneath the banner of liberation. They claim to work for the liberation of oppressed segments within our evangelical circles—and women are at the center of this debate.
Apparently, we have done a poor job of allowing women to flourish and use their gifts for God’s glory so we must tear down our hierarchies and develop new leadership structures to allow women to bloom. With varying degrees of opinions on this subject—including an eclectic array of interpretations on biblical texts such as 1 Timothy 2:11-15; 3:1-15; Titus 2, do we stand in need of clarification on complementarianism? Is The Danvers Statement (1987) unclear? More importantly, is the Bible silent or insufficient to answer these questions?
In her article “God’s Feminist Ideals” published in Christianity Today, Wendy Alsup writes:
Gloria Steinem famously said a feminist is “anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men.” Is God then a feminist by her definition? If feminism in its purest sense is the quest for justice and equal rights for women, then, yes, God was the first feminist. God created woman in his image and bestowed on her equal dignity with man. By a woman’s mere existence, God has bestowed on her dignity and privileges that transcend race, economic status, and physical ability.
At least that’s the language being used by leaders in evangelical circles today. In a recent article on SBC Voices, the question of a woman leading the SBC has once again emerged for discussion and debate. William Thornton critiques our current culture within evangelicalism by stating, “Seems we can’t celebrate women doing much of anything without inserting ‘in biblically appropriate ways.'” Apparently it’s taboo to appeal to the Scriptures and to uphold God’s original design for men and women within the local church and society as a whole.
Make no mistake, complementarity is under assault today and it’s a divisive agenda fueled by ancient errors that not only degrade masculinity—but they call into question God’s sovereign design. Does God need to revise his design for women and men and their roles to align with our modern culture? That type of thinking depicts our God as an aged grandfather in the sky who is not up with the times and apparently hasn’t been reading the latest blogs on his iPhone. In short, it’s a blasphemous assault on God and his sovereignty.
The fruit of this assault will be the feminization of the church. Patricia Aburdene and John Naisbitt, in their book Megatrends for Women wrote the following back in 1992:
Women of the late twentieth century are revolutionizing the most sexist institution in history—organized religion. Overturning millennia of tradition, they are challenging authorities, reinterpreting the Bible, creating their own services, crowding into seminaries, winning the right to ordination, purging sexist language in liturgy, reintegrating female values and assuming positions of leadership. 
The leading chatter within evangelical circles suggests we suddenly have a need to liberate women in 2018 and swing all doors open for our sisters to flourish in God’s grace. Was Paul sexist in his appeal to the church in Corinth to act like men? Certainly not since we understand that Paul is driving at spiritual maturity. Therefore, spiritually mature men and women will desire to serve God within their roles as God designed from the beginning.
Today, men are behaving as if they must apologize for being created as a man and desiring to lead in the home and in the church. Is it sexist or is it Scriptural for men to desire to act like men and desire offices of leadership in the church while humbly leading in the home as well? Another question should be asked at this juncture—is it oppressive to women for men to act like men? Today’s church doesn’t need softer hands—it needs humble men who act like men and lead with biblical conviction.
The Childishness of the Church
Notice Paul didn’t say, “Act like boys.” There is a pervasive trend among many men today who desire an extended childhood. They avoid responsibility, delay marriage, downgrade family, and elevate play-time far above the need to work. That mindset has crept into the church long ago, and in many ways that’s why we have worship services that look like extended children’s church for adults. Furthermore, that’s why we have such a disconnect among leadership roles in the church in many cases where women are taking the lead because the men want to focus on delaying adulthood and the necessary responsibilities that come along with being a man.
Paul thunders over and over through the New Testament about the need for maturity. In his letter to the church at Ephesus, he placed it as a central goal of pastoral ministry that labors to bring the church to spiritual maturity—to mature manhood (Eph. 4:13). Here in his closing words to the church at Corinth, Paul simply writes—”act like men.” We read Paul’s words today, and seek to make application to our context while the radio and television is providing another message that says growing up and becoming an adult is a really bad idea.
In many church cultures, men find no problem getting together to watch MMA fights or to have video game parties, but they find it extremely awkward to get together and talk about the doctrine of God, the meaning of the atonement, or the meaning and purpose of marriage. We have adopted delayed adulthood and created the “forty-something teenager” mentality—a perpetual adolescent who finds no value in adulthood and maturity. What an appropriate time to read and mediate on Paul’s words to the church at Corinth as he says, “act like men.” Paul had already written to them earlier in his letter providing them a warning:
Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature (1 Cor. 14:20).
We would do well in our day to heed this warning and to obey Paul’s words to “act like men.” One of the most loving things that a church can do is to pursue maturity and celebrate masculinity which produces true love. This is where both men and women can flourish within God’s original design. Biblical manhood is not defined by how much a man can bench press, the thickness of his beard, or how many tattoos he has about Jesus on his arm. It’s not even connected to his love and affection for cigars. Biblical manhood is rooted in the gospel and has a profound submission to Christ and a love for the roles of men and women as God has designed.
- W. Robertson Nicoll, The Expositor’s Greek Testament: Commentary, vol. 2 (New York: George H. Doran Company, n.d.), 949.
- Patricia Aburdene and John Naisbitt, Megatrends for Women (New York: Villard Books, 1992), 119.
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.