Tuesday, February 10, 2015

10 Traits of Christian Consumerism

Why are many churches more like the Love Boat (10 percent serving the 90 percent) rather than being like an aircraft carrier (everyone on board is vital to the mission)? How did we become so contrary to our Lord Jesus' example when He said, “I came not to be served, but to serve and to give my life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28)?

Perhaps, one major cause could be that our churches have conformed to the spirit of our technological age, the age of the customer. Like nearly every segment of our society, have Christians become perennial shoppers?  Has the church and its ministries become commodities that we shop for?  Have we become Christian consumers? Has Christian consumerism saturated our churches like a virus? 

Researcher George Barna remarked, “Most churchgoers have not adopted a biblical worldview, they have simply added a Jesus fish on the bumper of their unregenerate consumer identities.”  Ouch! 

Webster defines consumerism as “the promotion of the consumer’s interests.” 

You might be a Christian consumer if. . .

10. .....you view yourself as a customer who is to be served.
 “May I take your order?” Such is the greeting at our local fast-food drive-through. Why not at our church? I mean most of us check out the amenities list for hotels we are considering before we book, don’t we?  Pool? Breakfast? Exercise room? Wi-Fi?  Bed bugs?  Christian consumers come to church primarily looking to get something as well. That “something” might be inspiration, entertainment, programs for their children, affirming messages, etc.  The consistent benedictory question from Christian consumers following a church gathering is, “What did you get from church today?”  And it’s not just the members. This mindset causes pastors to be tempted to try to offer better services than their competitors. 

9.  .....you regularly compare your church with other churches and ministries.
In his excellent book, The Age of the Customer, Jim Blasingame suggests that a major paradigm shift took place from the age of the seller to the age of the customer. He traces the beginning of this new era to April 30, 1993, when the internet became commercially available to the general public. (Thanks, Al Gore! :-) ) With access to the World Wide Web, the customer overtook a major advantage that the seller had for millennia previously: product information and user-generated content. Have you noticed how much we rely on customer reviews? How many stars (****) did they receive?  It is so fingertip easy to Google any product, person, or business with our tablet or smart phone. Sometimes, a customer can actually know more about the product through user-generated comments than the seller. Christian consumers equally have employed these powerful search engines in comparing and contrasting their church with the one across town, or ones across the country. The Christian consumer has the ability to compare and contrast goods and services offered by other churches without ever even being a guest of those ministries. 

8. .....you allow other activities to compete equally with the Lord’s Day.
Can you remember “blue laws”? That time in our country’s history when the government actually encouraged our culture to, if nothing else, alter their normal daily rat race? Those days are long gone. Our society is no friend of grace. A Christian consumer allows the Lord’s Day when the church-gathered celebrates Jesus’ victorious resurrection to be rivaled with other cultural activities. Cultural consumption that is scheduled on the Lord’s Day like athletic events, optional vocational time (overtime), family events, and other entertainment activities are legitimate competitors to worship for the church consumer. Christian consumers attend church a lot less frequently than they use to. Thomas Rainer comments, “stated simply, the number one reason for the decline in church attendance is that members attend with less frequency than they did just a few years ago.”   If some of us actually rehearsed how many Lord’s Day services we have missed in the last 52 Sundays, we would probably be shocked. While many of us used to average missing 3-4 Sundays for vacation, work-related travel and sickness, we are now averaging more like 10-12 Sundays missed. That increase is mainly due the competitors we have allowed to go up against the best day of the week. Imagine that! We consider ourselves committed members of a local church when we have missed over a quarter of her collective gatherings!  Unashamed consumerism. 

7. ....you habitually critique your church’s ministry and ministers.
I have seriously considered becoming a “mystery shopper” (those privileged “employees” who get free meals, and certain department store items if they will visit certain business establishments and act like a simple customer). Actually, they are evaluating the service, product, and atmosphere. They fill out surveys about their experience after every shopping experience. That is also the time that they turn in their receipts. Church consumers are like “mystery shoppers,” only they are not compensated. Church consumers are in survey mode from the prelude to the postlude and everything in between. Critiquing the music, the message, other attendees, and the leadership’s management style are considered to be their ministry gifts. 

6. .....you never really let your roots go deep in church commitment.
One of the main reasons that small New England towns have resisted large department stores like Walmart from coming to their towns is because these large, corporate, one-stop shops often dismantle those faithful and beloved “Mom and Pop” stores that have become such a vital part of the culture of these quaint New England villages. Customer loyalty is an entire branch of business theory. Keeping your customers when everyone is trying to win their business is a significant skirmish. But, I guess that is the beauty of capitalism. Yet, this type of consumerism shows up in the church by Christians resisting the accountability and commitment of church membership. Christian consumerism reveals itself when a regular attendee or member suddenly, without warning, stops gathering with their local body and suddenly emerges with another.  

5. .....you leave your church over preferences. 
Are you a Target or a Walmart person? McDonald’s or Burger King? Coke or Pepsi? Would you ever consider divorcing your spouse over a difference of opinion in one of those preferences?  Hopefully you answered, “Of course not! I am committed to my spouse, and such petty differences could never divide us.” Consumers, however, are driven and divided by preferences. Whatever product and business will cater to their tastes and preferences, will get their business. Christian consumers do the same thing. They will leave their church family where they have attended for a decade or more over a preference—music styles, children’s ministries, dress, preaching methods, preferred translation of the Bible, etc.  Yep, a church consumer, who agrees with 97 percent of their church’s initiatives, mission, and methods, will divorce their church family over the 3 percent of preferences.
4. .....if you tend to be focused on instant gratification.
Consumerism often dodges arenas that require discipline. After all, the thinking goes, “Why would I work and wait for something that I can purchase and have right now?”  We live in the “age of instant.” If we need a book, we can download the ebook immediately. We have K-cups for our coffee and OnStar in our vehicles. And our cable televisions are set up with “on demand.”  We want it, now! When Christian consumers reflect this “on-demand” spirit of the age, they, too, avoid those areas of church life that require discipline and waiting. For instance, Christian consumers would be more inclined to attend a Christian movie or concert than they would to attend a prayer meeting with their church family or sit under a Bible book series that would increase their doctrinal depth.  

3. .....if you are always on the lookout for the cost-to-benefit ratio. 
The saying “bang for your buck” actually referred to actual explosives. It has come to mean getting a fair return, or better, on your investment. Economically, this is wise. Spiritually, such thinking leads to a “keeping-of-score” attitude. It is the tit-for-tat mentality. “You scratch my back and I will scratch yours.” Christian consumers also keep score. They have a balance sheet. Christian consumers know how much they have invested with their money, talents, and time. Like every good investor, they want to see it come back to them, with interest. If they visit a person who is sick, they expect a visit when they are sick. If they give generously, they expect recognition and influence—the cost-to-benefit ratio.

2. .....you regularly turn down opportunities to serve.
How awkward it would be if I were asked to mop the floor of a restaurant I was dining in. Everyone knows that customers get served; they don’t serve. Christian consumers don’t serve much either. They have a lengthy list of reasons why they are not serving or why they are “under-serving.” Excuses like “I’m just too busy,” or “I need time with my family,” or “I am working through some things” are offered. The truth is, the very nature of a consumer is to evaluate every opportunity by asking “How will this benefit me?” 

1. .....you rarely share the Gospel.
Owners take the mission of the company to heart.  Christian owners take the mission of the church seriously as well. Christian consumers, however, don’t gather with their church family in order to be equipped for mission. They gather to consume and leave with certain desired commodities.  A very simple test to evaluate our possible consumer Christian mind-set is to ask ourselves how focused are we really on sharing the Gospel?

“When we approach Christianity as consumers rather than seeing our faith as a comprehensive way of life, an interpretive set of beliefs and values, Christianity becomes just one more brand we consume along with Gap, Apple, and Starbucks to express identity….the demotion of Jesus Christ from Lord to label means to live as a Christian no longer carries an expectation of obedience and good works, but rather a perpetual consumption of Christian merchandise and experiences.” –Skye Jethani 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Essentially Literal: The ESV @ Trinity

       It has been my privilege to preach and teach from the King James Version of the Bible at Trinity Baptist Church for nearly seventeen years as youth pastor and now senior pastor.  In 2002 I was introduced to the “essentially literal” English Standard Version of the Scriptures. It rather swiftly became my preferred translation for private study, family altar, and counseling. However, having “cut my teeth” spiritually on the King James Version, I, like many in our church, have a fondness and appreciation for its beauty and accuracy. Yet, desiring to “read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly,” (Nehemiah 8:8b), I believe that Trinity Baptist Church will be best served by my preaching from the English Standard Version. I believe that we should transition to the English Standard Version of the Bible because of its accuracy, clarity, consistency, and beauty.

Accuracy – An “essentially literal” translation

     Modern translations of the Scriptures, like the ESV, are based upon an eclectic or critical text of manuscripts. The primary benefit to that textual foundation is that these manuscripts are older and closer to the time of the actual writing of the original autographs. I believe that the availability of more manuscripts and the age of manuscripts for modern translations compared to the limited and later manuscripts available for the translation of the King James Version benefits us with a more accurate, attested translation.

     In addition, the English Standard Version translators sought to follow a formal-equivalency (word-for-word) translation philosophy rather than a dynamic-equivalency (thought-for-thought) approach. Truthfully, it is nearly impossible for one language to be translated into another language in a wooden, word-for-word, literal translation. So, we should consider all English translations of the Bible in somewhat of a spectrum between the dynamic, thought-for-thought and the formal, word-for word poles. It is really more a matter of gradation. So, it is actually difficult to see exactly when one translation crosses the line from formal to dynamic equivalency.  There are a host of modern translations, however, that have opted for dynamic equivalency as their translation philosophy. This is not a wholesome translation philosophy in my opinion. We read commentaries for interpretation help, not our Bibles. I appreciate the ESV for allowing the ambiguities, difficulties and ancient idioms to shine through in an essentially literal way so that we can be confident of its accuracy.

“The ESV is an ‘essentially literal’ translation that seeks as far as possible to capture the precise wording of the original text and the personal style of each Bible writer. As such, its emphasis is on ‘word-for-word’ correspondence, at the same time taking into account differences of grammar, syntax, and idiom between current literary English and the original languages. Thus it seeks to be transparent to the original text, letting the reader see as directly as possible the structure and meaning of the original.

In contrast to the ESV, some Bible versions have followed a ‘thought-for-thought’ rather than a ‘word-for-word’ translation philosophy, emphasizing ‘dynamic equivalence’ rather than the ‘essentially literal’ meaning of the original. A ‘thought-for-thought’ translation is of necessity more inclined to reflect the interpretive opinions of the translator and the influences of contemporary culture.” - Preface to the English Standard Version

Clarity – Archaic language has been brought to current usage.

     The King James Version of the Bible was translated in 1611. Since that first printing, there have been several updates and revisions. Most of us own the 1769 edition of the King James Version which updated some of the archaic language of the 1611 edition.  The English Standard Version provides clarity of the English language that is readily understood by English speakers. Because of the clarity of the English Standard Version, the time-consuming explanation of outdated words is immediately removed from the preaching moment. Such clarity also benefits private reading and Bible study because of the plainness of speech.

     Our desire for clarity goes beyond our desire to edify believers through intelligibility (I Corinthians 14). We have a passion for clarity in evangelism and discipleship as well. As new believers are born into the family of God, we desire for the clarity and plainness of the Scriptures to assist them “like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation” (I Peter 2:2). The English Standard Version speaks the Word of God to men as they are.

“The church of Jesus Christ must constantly pursue reformation. Any body of believers that is bound by its heritage, however splendid that heritage may be, has already begun the drift to heterodoxy. The church must be being reformed. And the sole basis for such reformation is the Word of God. In the hope that God will again visit His church with renewal and life nurtured by the Scriptures, I applaud every effort to put those Scriptures, in quality vernacular translations, into the hands of men and women everywhere.”  D.A. Carson

Consistency – As much as possible, uses the same English word for recurring original words.

     Paul told Timothy to “follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me” (II Timothy 1:13). The ESV, like the KJV, has consistently preserved the great doctrinal words of our faith like grace, faith, justification, sanctification, redemption, regeneration, reconciliation, and propitiation.

     Also, the ESV, as much as possible, uses the same English word to translate a recurring Greek or Hebrew word. The King James Version translators, in contrast, use more of a variety of English words for recurring original words. The ESV’s more consistent approach, aids the reader in seeing the words the Holy Spirit chose to repeat and emphasize in a given passage or Book of the Bible.

     Finally, when an Old Testament passage is quoted in the New Testament, the ESV translators seek to repeat that passage in a similar way that it was translated in the Old Testament. This gives the ESV a remarkable translation consistency.

“Therefore, to the extent that plain English permits and the meaning in each case allows, we have sought to use the same English word for important recurring words in the original; and, as far as grammar and syntax allow, we have rendered Old Testament passages cited in the New in ways that show their correspondence. Thus in each of these areas, as well as throughout the Bible as a whole, we have sought to capture the echoes and overtones of meaning that are so abundantly present in the original texts.” - Preface to the English Standard Version

Beauty – Simplicity and dignity of expression.

     The beauty of the KJV language and expression are acknowledged by all who have read, memorized, taught or preached from it. In fact, that beauty of language is one of the most feared “losses” in changing translations. That brings us to another important reason to appreciate the English Standard Version. The ESV translators sought to continue the King James legacy of beauty of literary expression while at the same time reflecting the word-for-word accuracy of a very formal equivalent translation, The New American Standard. I personally believe the ESV achieved those goals. The clearest way to observe the ESV translators’ efforts to maintain that beauty of the King James is to compare “all-time favorite passages” like Psalm 23, John 3:16, or “the Roman’s Road.” These verses have very little literary changes to them so that memorizing them is almost an exact replication of the King James Version’s quotation.

     It is for these reasons that we will transition to preaching and teaching from the English Standard Version of the Bible this coming Lord’s Day, November 2, 2014. While I will be preaching and teaching from the ESV, we encourage you to continue to enjoy the translation that bests assists you in being a “self-feeder.” Just like we have been opposed to King James Version Onlyism, we are also opposed to English Standard Version Onlyism.

     If you were not able to participate in our ten-week study on this topic, and you still have questions about this transition, I hope you will visit the sermon section of our website and listen to each of the messages. You can also contact me with any questions that you have anytime!

Do not give them a loaf of bread, covered with an inedible, impenetrable crust, fossilized by three and a half centuries. Give them the Word of God as fresh and warm and clear as the Holy Spirit gave it to the authors of the Bible. . . . For any preacher or theologian who loves God’s Word to allow that Word to go on being misunderstood because of the veneration of an archaic, not-understood version of four centuries ago is inexcusable, and almost unconscionable.” - Edwin H. Palmer

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Membership Or Ownership?

Church Membership has Rights. Church Ownership has Responsibilities.

Have there been any cases of consumerism that have infected people in your local church? The disease is a silent malignancy in which infected individuals are rarely aware of their sickness.  Consumerism is insisting that everything we are involved in, including our church, be custom-fit to meet our individual needs and tastes. Do you detect the symptoms?  A church music minister encourages the congregation to collectively affirm truth, but he meets resistance by those who only participate in worship that is either traditional or contemporary enough for their “tastes.” Or, spiritual leaders exhort the church to use their spiritual gifts in service and are met with “We just don’t have time.”  A couple desires to be wed in the church, but are unwilling to see the ceremony as a worship service and are completely focused upon the wedding pleasing themselves. But, the unmistakable symptom of consumerism is a failure to make any vital commitment to a local church. Church consumers are in a realm of persistent fluidity and ongoing transition. Like we change our hairdresser, fitness club, pet groomer, or our favorite restaurant, church consumers view their local church as a choice that is always an open-ended question.They are never completely committed. God could "lead them away" at any moment. Church consumers often refer to the church in the second person (“your church,” “your pastors,” “your deacons,” etc.) or, worse, the third person (“that church,” “the church,” “Trinity,” etc.) rather than the first person (“my church,” “my pastors,” “my family,” etc.). Do you suffer from any symptoms of church consumerism? Have you been infecting your spouse and family members? Beware, it’s extremely contagious!

Reseacher George Barna has observed:

“We are a designer society. We want everything customized to fit our personal needs—our clothing, our food, our education. Now it’s our religion.” 

Thankfully, a vaccination is available that has proven completely successful: a Biblical Ecclesiology (doctrine of the church).  One of the ways the Holy Spirit administers this ecclesiastical medicine is through metaphors of the church. The Church is called a body, a building, and a bride, all of which point to the importance and interconnection of each part. A head calls for a body. A foundation calls for a building. A Bridegroom calls for a bride. The bride metaphor speaks of a covenant and of commitment. Perhaps we would do well if we stopped calling “joining” a church as “membership.” Membership, in our time, indicates rights and privileges.  To be a member of something often prompts us to ask, “What do I get?” Like a country club, we begin to look for the perks that membership affords. We become quick to fill out comment cards, and to either cheer or jeer the events and happenings of our club. Perhaps, ownership is a better, more scripturally-informed, title for joining a church rather than membership. As an owner of something, we are committed to the well-being, success, and health of whatever we own. We are vested. It is ours! Membership, then, has rights. Ownership has responsibilities. Here are some of those responsibilities of church 

Rescued People Rescue Others.

The Lord has entrusted every believer with the same Gospel that they are commanded to invest and spread to others (Luke 19:11-27). Owners of the local church are those who share the Gospel. Owners are expected to be “on mission” by seeking to make disciples of all nations. Every owner of Trinity Baptist Church covenants to “seek the salvation of our relatives, acquaintances and all others” (Ephesians 5:8-11; Matthew 28:19-20; Romans 9:3).

Saved People Serve.

Believers are given different spiritual gifts both quantitatively and qualitatively. Yet, every believer is given at least one spiritual gift. Those gifts are meant to be employed, not for one’s own benefit, but for the praise of God and the benefit of others. Owners see themselves as stewards with the resources that God has given to them. A consumer will often only employ their gifts as manipulation if it benefits them. If recognition and appreciation are offered, if the ministry is being managed to their approval, or they are being used in the way they want to be used, they are willing to “serve.” But with those conditions unmet, they bury their talent.

Christians Grow and Change in Community.

Christians are not what they should be. They are not what they want to be. But praise God, they are not what they used to be!  Christians grow. That growth, called sanctification, is a team sport. Sanctification commands in the New Testament are often in the plural, indicating that Christianity is not a solo sport. Consumers often chafe under spiritual leadership, accountability and spiritual pressure.  Distant, non-intrusive Christianity is comfortable for them. Positions on various issues gives them spiritual security; whereas, transparent Christian living makes them uneasy.  Owners recognize that “We are better together!”

Grace Motivates Us To Give.

The grace of God motivates us to give cheerfully, regularly, and sacrificially (II Corinthians 8-9). Owners understand their commitment to give. We covenant together “to contribute cheerfully and regularly to the support of the ministry, the expenses of the church, the relief of the poor, and the spread of the Gospel through all nations (II Corinthians 8:14; 9:7; I Thessalonians 5:14; Malachi 3:10; Hebrews 13:7; Galatians 6:6, 10; Luke 10:7).  God has planned to fully resource His church through the grace-motivated giving of His people through their local church. Consumers practice conditional and political giving. Consumers often view their giving not as a commitment but rather a vote of confidence or agreement with the present place of that local church. Owners, 10% of your gross income is a great place to start in grace-giving. From there, let the Lord grow your generosity through His grace.

Will you become an owner of your local church? We call you to a commitment that covenants “to give the church sacred preeminence over all institutions of human origin.”  Will you, like a marriage, fall in love with your church, in spite of her cosmetic defects? Owners share the Gospel with others. Owners use their gifts in service. Owners participate in loving community. Owners generously support their church. Be healed you consumer!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Beyond Dodgeball

Pastor Fuller with Pastors Lamphere & Beaman

“If you look around in your church today, two-thirds of the young people who are sitting among us have already left in their hearts; soon they will be gone for good.”-Already Gone, Ham & Beemer

Alarming stats. The reactions to such a pitiful “success” rate have been varied. Many blame youth ministries because of their almost exclusive emphasis upon entertaining young people. In many cases, such charges are valid.

The only youth ministry that parents can have confidence in is youth ministry that is firmly rooted in the Scriptures. Trinity Baptist student ministries are seeking to be built upon the following Scriptural principles:

We Value Young People Because God Values Them.

Every child is a gift from God; a reward (Psalm 127:3). When the disciples tried to exclude children from coming to Jesus, we are told that Jesus “was indignant” and said, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:13-14).

“It is better to build boys and girls than to mend men and women.”

To imitate the value God places upon children, we believe all the children of our church should be individually and intensely focused upon for their spiritual, social, mental, and physical development (Luke 2:52). That spiritual priority is reflected by the budget, calendar, and staff resources that we direct towards our youth ministries at Trinity Baptist Church.

We also believe that we are responsible to protect our young people physically. The physical safety of our young people is an assignment we take very seriously. All of our children’s workers are members of Trinity Baptist Church and must submit to a background check. In addition, we have designated responsible protocols for all of our youth ministries, 0-18.

We Want to Partner with Parents in Their Efforts to Disciple Their Children.

The Scriptures do not mandate the method for academically rearing our children. Daniel attended Babylon Public High School, Samuel attended Temple Christian Academy, and it’s reasonable to assume that Cain and Abel were both home schooled! However, parents are mandated to religiously educate their children (Ephesians 6:4; Deuteronomy 4:9; 6:7-12). In fact, as members of Trinity Baptist Church, we covenant together to do this by promising, “To maintain family and private devotions” and “To religiously educate our children.” The primary responsibility of making children “disciples” is given to their parents. We acknowledge that principle, and desire to partner with our parents in their God-given task.

We Believe That Age-Divided Ministry is a Biblical Principle and a Vital Tool in Discipling Young People.

Ministry Attitude

The daunting statistics of young people who have grown up in youth ministries, gone to camp every summer, and even served on various mission trips, but have left the church, can be discouraging. The reaction of many has been to pendulum toward a more integrated, patriarchal model. Indeed, many youth ministries have wandered from equipping and discipling young people to simply entertaining them, thereby dumbing-down the Gospel. This has resulted in spiritually anemic young people and some remaining spiritually dead.  However, we see principally in the Scriptures that Scripture was taught on a graduated level that fit “understanding” (Nehemiah 8:3, 8, 12, 13; Hebrews 6:1). Understanding and intelligibility are vital elements to spiritual growth (I Corinthians 14:19). Everyone acknowledges the necessity of a step-by-step, graduated approach to academic training.  We acknowledge the importance of ministry on our children’s spiritual “level” as well. This is the reason for our providing Junior Church, Sunday School, Truth Trackers, G-4 and The CREW.

Ministry Practice

It is not enough to simply say we have a priority to minister on the appropriate level. We must be actively evaluating and implementing an effective program that accomplishes those goals. Every aspect of our various programs has a purposeful discipleship goal. From breaking into smaller groups to discuss the Word, to playing a game to strengthen relationships and generate opportunity to speak truth into their lives, Trinity Baptist Church seeks to use every aspect of each program to make and develop followers of Christ.

We Are Focused Upon Young People Loving God, His Word, and His Gospel.

The greatest command ever given is to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:37). We begin to love God as He reveals Himself through His Word and when our hearts are opened to and treasure the Gospel (Ephesians 3:16-19). We believe that as the Gospel of Jesus Christ is preached, believed, meditated upon, and treasured by our young people, their hearts will explode with love for Christ which will motivate them to love and serve God with all their being (II Corinthians 5:14). We are ready to preach the Gospel to your children(Romans 1:15-16). We pray and long with you for their conversion. The Gospel alone can capture the hearts of our young people. The Gospel alone will hold our young people to still be serving Christ in 20 years. The Gospel alone will keep them from departing from the faith. Our youth ministry then will be vertically focused as we worship God, love His Word, and relish in His Gospel. 

We Want Young People to Love Other Christians by Practicing the “One Another’s.”

The second commandment, or the “next-to-the greatest” commandment given in Matthew 22:39, is to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Love for others is a primary goal for all of our youth ministries. Children and young people playing together in the nursery, playing a soccer game, or serving together on a mission trip, are all arenas for building Christian character. They are moments for our young people to grow in relationships with other Christians and those still in need of the Gospel. We believe that as our young people spend time together socially, they learn self-denial, deference, and Christ-like humility. Every activity, event, and regular meeting of our youth ministry has a goal of students growing in love for one another.

We Want Young People to Care About the Lost and to Make Disciples.

The mission of the church and every believer is to “make disciples” (Matthew 28:19-20). We believe equipping your children to be Gospel evangelists is a God-given assignment to pastors (Ephesians 4:12). It is because of this that we will encourage your child or teenager to take full advantage of all their God-given resources and opportunities to share the Gospel through evangelistic relationships.  We are going to equip them to disciple others as well as to be a disciple. “Disciples-making-disciples.”

Friday, July 25, 2014

Grateful for Chad Phelps

Throughout the week leading up to Saturday, July 27, 2013, we were following Chad’s Tweets and Facebook updates about his first camp trip at Camp Co Be Ac as Youth Pastor at Colonial Hills Baptist Church in Indianapolis, Indiana. Late Saturday afternoon, while washing my car, I received a text message at 5:08pm with news that there had been a very bad bus accident. 

Having been a youth pastor for nine years, and knowing that a vehicle accident on a youth activity was nearly our worst fear, I could only imagine what Chad was going through. So we immediately prayed for Chad and the youth group and I sent him this text:

“Oh, Chad! We are in constant prayer for you right now.”  My smart phone signaled that the message had been “delivered.” Having also heard from a later text that there were fatalities, my initial thinking was that Chad was in the midst of the most trying moment of his life as he sought to minister to the teens and parents in such a crisis.  About fifteen minutes later I received word that Chad, Courtney, their unborn daughter, and an adult sponsor, were killed in the bus crash.

I am grateful to the Lord for having known Chad and I’m very thankful that I had the privilege of being his youth pastor for six years. I was very blessed to be his friend. I miss Chad very much.

At the year anniversary of Chad’s death, I want to share some of why I miss Chad so much. I also want to preserve for those who didn’t know him in the capacity I was able to, some of these treasured memories.

Chad’s family has served all of us who loved Chad so much by their Fanning the Flames posts. But I wanted to add three thoughts about Chad that I miss painfully. He was funny; he had a great sense of humor. He was a loyal friend. I miss that very much. And, he was a preacher that I really enjoyed listening to.

            Chad, was a lot of fun to be with. Chad began joking with me when I was a pastoral intern in 1997. That summer he was a short, third-grade prankster. He found out that I was paranoid about house sitting for his parents. On more than one occasion, he hid himself in the garage or closets and jumped out suddenly with a shrill junior-age scream. He would scare the heebie-jeebies out of me and almost cry with laughter as he observed my fright. Chad was witty, and could use sarcasm in an entertaining way. As his youth pastor, if I mispronounced a word, he was always the first to “catch” it.  On one mission trip, I couldn’t find my pajama shorts (my “boxers”). After looking everywhere for them, I returned to the room where all of us guys were sleeping, and Chad had his body illuminated by a flashlight that he was holding over his head. The spotlight revealed that he was wearing my shorts! He said, “Are you looking for these?!” I loved getting together with Chad because I always knew we would laugh, a lot.  Chad didn’t take life or himself so seriously that he couldn’t enjoy living and see the humor in almost every situation. I was recently reviewing my last few months of text messaging with Chad and I found this one that he sent me while I was on a mission trip to Haiti: “Hey, you butt-dialed me from Haiti. Left me a nice long voicemail of some good French preaching.”  I miss all the fun that I enjoyed with Chad.

            Chad Phelps was a loyal friend. Chad was a great kid in youth group. Given that he was the pastor’s son, he was refreshingly “normal.” He struggled with the same stuff that the other teens struggled with. He ended up “in trouble” every now and then like any typical teen working out his salvation. I hope my boys are like Chad as they both go through their youth-group years—normal, growing Christians.  Most youth pastors would agree that you don't develop lifelong friendships with every teenage guy that comes through your youth group. Chad was different though. Even in the last three years of high school, Chad became a young man who interacted with me as a godly friend, not just a teen in the youth group. We enjoyed talking about sports (a lot!), preaching, politics, ministry, colleges, and even his dating interests. Chad was a loyal friend. “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17). When his family moved to Watertown, Wisconsin, and then later on to Indianapolis, Chad always kept in touch. He would always break up any season of silence between the two of us with a short text, Facebook message, email, or a call. (He would often leave me “professional” voicemail messages! I miss those.) When Chad was being considered to serve with his dad as the next Youth Pastor at Colonial Hills Baptist Church, Chad privileged me with multiple phone calls as well as a lunch together to discuss the possibility. I told him that the best nine years of my life were the ones that I was able to serve with his dad as youth pastor at Trinity. And I reminded him that as friends, we had discussed and partnered in youth ministry together for years already! Here are a few text messages Chad sent me as he was transitioning during his first year as Youth Pastor.

“Deacons voted 24-2 in favor of recommending us to the church, PTL” (July 22, 2012).

“Accepted the vote tonight! Very thankful to the Lord!” (August 12, 2012)

“First Sunday is September 16. Very excited” (August 12, 2012).

“First day as YP today. Foremost in my mind was the incredible impact you had in my life as my YP. Very grateful for your impact, and the opportunity to ‘mimic’ you” (September 16, 2012).

“Prayed for you this morning. Your impact on my life is evident every day that I minister here. Love you and thankful for you” (January 25, 2013).

“7th grader preaching in Bible today. . . . Remind you of anyone? Like a Twilight Zone experience J(April 19, 2013).

“Heading out on Saturday for my first teen mission trip. Printed off trip notebooks last week. Could probably get arrested for plagiarizing your trip books. ‘This isn’t Burger King. . . .’ J(June 13, 2013).

            Chad was a preacher that I loved listening to. I remember the first sermon I ever heard Chad preach in the seventh grade. You could barely see his little head over the pulpit. His voice hadn’t “changed” yet, so he was pretty squeaky. But what a sermon came from that little, junior-high stature! That summer I took him to Toronto, Canada, on a mission trip. He was the preacher on a couple of occasions. The first was at a large nursing home. There were at least 50 senior adults at the service. The team ministered with a few songs prior to Chad preaching. The chaplain was a retired Lutheran pastor. The pulpit was over on the far left-hand side of the chapel. Chad, even as a seventh-grader, was definitely the son of a Baptist pastor and he couldn’t handle that! He said, “Pastor Brian, can you move that pulpit to the center of the room before I preach? I can’t preach from a pulpit that isn’t in the center.” We moved it! Following Chad’s sermon, the Lutheran pastor, after hearing a more undiluted Gospel sermon than he had probably ever heard, said to Chad in a smug tone, “Very good homily, young fellow. But, you have a lot to learn.” Actually, Chad had just delivered the best sermon that I had ever heard a seventh grader preach. “Who had a lot to learn?” I always loved hearing Chad preach. He possessed his dad’s passion, but he was his own preacher. He was always so careful with the text, passionate in his proclamation, and empathetic in application. I would listen to his sermons that he would post on his youth-group page. Grateful.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Worship and Music Philosophy of Trinity Baptist Church

Pastor Brian Fuller and Pastor Kyle Harding

We long to see Thy churches full,
That all the chosen race
May with one voice, and heart and soul,
Sing Thy redeeming grace.
̶ Isaac Watts

True worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him (John 4:23). This is an amazing singular text in which we are told of something specific that the Father is seeking. God the Father is seeking worshipers who offer truthful and spiritual worship. Below is our imperfect attempt to submit to the Scriptures and the Spirit in offering collective worship at Trinity Baptist Church like our Heavenly Father is seeking.

As your pastor, I am willingly tasked to feed you, to be an example for you, and to oversee your spiritual welfare. That spiritual oversight includes seeking to protect you from carnal debate and unnecessary division over personal applications, extra-biblical teaching and personal tastes (I Timothy 1:3-7).  Currently in our ministry, there continues to be regular discussion and questions about the topic of worship and music.

          In an effort to emerge from the smog of the Worship Wars, we offer you our Worship For’s. We believe it will be more beneficial for our church family to have clarity as to what we are for rather than simply what we are against.  

Pastor Kyle and I have co-authored this article.  To assist you in knowing who is writing, I have placed a BF in front of my comments and KH next to Pastor Kyle’s comments. Consider the following:

We Are for Scripturally-Regulated, Gospel-Centered Worship

KH - The consummation of the Gospel (the sinless life, vicarious death, and triumphant resurrection of Jesus Christ) abolished for all time the sacrificial system and rites of the Old Testament and ushered in a new era of worship (Hebrews 10:9; John 4:21-24).  The Word of God has laid out general truths about corporate worship that His church is to follow in this age of grace.  Our desire at Trinity is to include in our Lord’s Day worship those things that God instructs His church to practice in their gatherings – this principle is called the Regulative Principle of Worship.  Simply put, our order of worship will include the reading, praying, singing, and preaching of God’s Word (Acts 2:42; I Timothy 1:8, 4:11-16; II Timothy 4:1-2; Ephesians 5:18-19; Colossians 3:16).  We will also observe the ordinances of Communion/Lord’s Table and Believer’s Baptism on a regular basis (I Corinthians 11:17-26; Acts 41; Roman 6:3-4).  Because the truths of the Gospel have transformed our view of worship (Romans 12:1-2; Hebrews 12:22-24, 13:15-16), we seek to lay out an order of service that allows us to be reminded of these truths every Lord’s Day morning.  The basic content of our worship gatherings will include songs, prayer, and Scripture readings that allow us to be reminded of who God is (adoration), who we are (confession), what we have in Christ (assurance of and thanksgiving for pardon), and what we need to do (dedication).  There is also a time of instruction from God’s Word.

BF - These elements of Scripturally-focused and Gospel-centered worship are now reflected in our church bulletin’s order of service for us to follow each Lord’s Day. This serves us wonderfully as God’s people seeking to offer worship to our Father that is truthful and spiritual. On a personal note, I would like to just add that I have never, in my personal Christian experience, looked forward to worshiping together with God’s people like I do each Lord’s Day at Trinity. I am observing weekly that this kind of Scripturally-regulated and Gospel-centered worship provides spiritual equilibrium to God’s people (Psalm 73:17) and creates awe and conviction in the hearts of unbelievers (I Corinthians 14:24-25).

We Are for (very!) Congregational Singing.

KH - The only time music is mentioned in a gathering of believers in the New Testament church is in the context of congregational members singing to one another (Ephesians 5:18-19; Colossians 3:16).  In following with the Regulative Principle of Worship, the majority of the musical portion of our worship services will include the whole congregation singing together. 

Because of our desire to include as much congregational participation as possible in our musical worship, we will seek to use the musicians (voices, piano, orchestra, and other instrumentalists) that the Lord has given us to support the voice of the congregation.  Our rehearsed musical groups will dedicate time in their rehearsals to prepare songs that they can sing and play with you, not just for you.  This builds within our congregation the expectation that all the music within our worship services is selected with a specific purpose in mind and that they will be the main participants in the musical portion of our collective worship.  Whenever songs are selected that do not include congregational participation, they will be used to fill a specific role in the service, even to help teach a new song to our congregation.   

BF - You can expect, then, that our instrumentalists and vocalists will be endeavoring to employ their gifts not to entertain us by their excellently trained voices or instrumental skills, but rather to stimulate us to sing vibrantly as a congregation.  We will choose both old and new songs, hymns and spiritual songs that our congregation can sing truthfully and vibrantly. In a nutshell, we are committed to the primacy of congregational singing in our musical worship.

We Are for Affirming Truth.

KH - The Scriptures are clear that God is Truth and everything that He has revealed about Himself is true (John 14:6, 17:17; Hebrews 1:1-2).  Any truth that is spoken or written belongs to God; in fact, His Word even contains quotes from secular sources (Titus 1:12-13; Acts 17:18).  Concerning the songs that we sing in our services, we desire to take the biblical and historical approach that what is sung is more important than who wrote it or performed it.  For historical perspective, consider the following quote from the preface of the hymnal that C.H. Spurgeon compiled for his congregation:

The area of our researches has been has wide as the bounds of existing religious literature, American and British, Protestant and Romish ancient and modern. Whatever may be thought of our taste we have used it without prejudice; and a good hymn has not been rejected because of the character of its author, or the heresies of the church in whose hymnal it first occurred; so long as the language and the spirit commended the hymn to our heart we included it, and believe that we have enriched our collection thereby. The range of subjects is very extensive, comprising not only direct praise, but doctrine, experience, and exhortation; thus enabling the saints according to apostolical command to edify one another in their spiritual songs.

If we were to scour the authors and composers of our own hymnal(s), we would find that many songs that we sing were written or composed by people that we would not agree with on issues of doctrine, church polity, and lifestyle, among other issues.  The historical practice of hymnal compilation, and subsequently the singing of the church, is to select songs from various sources that allow participants to fulfill the biblical obligations of church music: to teach and encourage one another with the truths of Scripture (Ephesians 5:19). 
This filter of selecting music for our worship services places a priority on lyrical content.  This not only fills our corporate gatherings with rich Gospel truths, but it also equips the saints with truths to arm themselves with during the week.  The songs that we sing should be able to bring comfort for trials, provide armor for temptation, and cause remembrance of our position in Christ.  Songs built on trite repetitions and cursory views of God and the Gospel do not provide these. 

BF - For the sake of clarity, the source or association of a particular song will not be a factor in our decision for offering a musical selection to our people. Who penned the lyrics, whether it be Saint Francis of Assisi or Chris Tomlin, Fanny Crosby or Laura Story, matters little, while what they have penned (the text) is very important.

In conclusion, I want to appeal to all of our folks with a few pastoral comments:

·      This is the worship and music philosophy position of your pastors. A position represents a set of principles or a biblical sieve that we are able to run all of our worship selections and practices through. A position is different than a direction. A direction represents an intentional (and often secretive) movement towards a destination through incremental steps. You can visit sermons and blog posts by me and Pastor Kyle, here, here, here, and here to see that this has been, and continues to be, our position. While it would be na├»ve to think we will all agree, we hope that you will be able to see that our positions stand under the scrutiny and tests of the Scriptures.

·      This is the worship and music philosophy for our worship gatherings. The principles in this article assist us in selecting and ordering our collective worship services at Trinity Baptist Church. As your pastors, we are also concerned about all the media you allow into your and your family’s ear and eye gates (II Peter 2:7-8). We will continue to warn you and your children that the Evil One desires, through our desires, to conform us to the thinking of this present age (Romans 12:2; I Pet. 5:8). Such conformity is spiritual adultery and destructive (James 4).  However, we affirm that specific musical stylistic elements have neither been condemned nor commended in the Scriptures.  So individual decisions regarding musical style are in the category of things doubtful or indifferent (I Corinthians 8-10; Romans 14) and should be engaged in with Christian love and deference.

·      This is the worship and music philosophy built upon our understanding of the Scriptures. Here we stand.  No doubt, some confusion has been created by many of us pastors having had little to say about the topic of New Testament corporate worship while saying much about stylistic and associative aspects of musical selections. Such a myopic approach has created confusion. One thing, it creates the impression that acceptable worship and acceptable style are synonymous. And that leads one to further think that worship is really just about music and singing. While music and singing are important aspects of collective worship, there is much more to spiritual and truthful worship. Also, to monopolize our teaching regarding worship on the topics of style and association (which the Scriptures have next-to-nothing to say) is to skew the proportionality the Scriptures give to other aspects of truthful and spiritual worship. It has been helpfully stated:

“The degree to which you emphasize what the Scriptures do not emphasize, is the degree to which you will neglect what they do.” [i]

·      True biblical unity is founded upon Truth and the speaking of that Truth to one another.  Ephesians 4 teaches us that the unity that we have as the Body of Christ is built upon seven doctrinal acclamations (Ephesians 4:4-6). It is a Spirit-created unity through the Gospel that we are tasked with endeavoring to maintain (Ephesians 4:3). It is important to remember as believers that there is a difference between our comfort zone and our consciences. Our conscience can be re-informed biblically. Our comfort zone has to do with background, personal tastes, and a host of other fluid variables. I appeal to all of our church family to heartily participate in truthful and spiritual worship for the glory of our heavenly Father. Please communicate with me (bfuller@tbcnh.org) and Pastor Kyle (kharding@tbcnh.org) with your questions. I exhort you to resist the sinful temptation of selfishly boycotting songs during our collective worship service, or dividing and debating by sinful communication but rather to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).

How Sweet and Awesome is This Place

How sweet and awesome is this place
With Christ within the doors,
While everlasting love displays
The choicest of her stores!

Here every bowel of our God
With soft compassion rolls;
Here peace and pardon bought with blood
Is food for dying souls.

While all our hearts and all our songs
Join to admire the feast,
Each of us cry, with thankful tongues,
“Lord, why was I a guest?

“Why was I made to hear Thy voice,
And enter while there’s room,
When thousands make a wretched choice,
And rather starve than come?”

҆Twas the same love that spread the feast
That sweetly drew us in;
Else we had still refused to taste,
And perished in our sin.

Pity the nations, O our God!
Constrain the earth to come;
Send Thy victorious Word abroad,
And bring the strangers home.

We long to see Thy churches full,
That all the chosen race
May with one voice, and heart and soul,
Sing Thy redeeming grace.

Isaac Watts, Hymns and Sacred Songs, 1707.

[i] Conley, Drew. www.hamptonpark.org. Music Philosophy and Practice