Identifying with Nehemiah

This was what I said at the beginning of the quarterly business meeting of King’s Grant Baptist Church in December 2022.

Before I read a Scripture tonight, I want to share something that came from Lynn Hardaway, our Director of Missions with The Bridge Network. I read it on August 9. This is a part of his email series called push to start.

If you feel like walking away from pastoral ministry, you’re not alone. All across the country, as Barna Research pointed out in March 2022, that 22% of pastors have seriously considered quitting full-time ministry. That is up 13% since January 2021. These are tough times to be a leader in any organization, especially in an organization, like the church, that is completely dependent upon the volunteer attendance of its members.

Barna point out three main drivers causing pastors to resign: immense stress, loneliness and isolation, and then the political divisions in the nation. Anecdotally, I would add the lethargy toward the church in the lives of post pandemic Christians and the feral anger and dissatisfaction many are displaying coming out of a two-year lockdown. He goes on to compare these pastors, who have decided to leave the ministry, to Jonah and his call to a specific work. And now we find ourselves in the hold of a ship setting Sail toward Tarshish.

I just wanted you to know that this is happening all across the country, not just here. Barna does his research. Tonight, I want you to know, after being 15 years, that I love this congregation. When Pastor Skip and Dan Cooper met with me that summer before my arrival on Labor Day weekend in 2007, God was opening a door for me to come and serve here, and you affirmed that calling by approving the recommendation of the personnel committee to bring me on staff. So, tonight, I just want you to know that God has not released me from that call.

I realize that we’ve had several things going on with the previous two pastors. Many times when you get badgered and bullied, there comes a certain point when you just asked the question, “why am I still doing this?” But I realize that God has me here for such a time as this, He has some reason. Likely it is to walk with you through this pastoral transition. I don’t know what it is, but my hope is that we can work through whatever is going on to get back to the task and the mission that God has given to us.

That’s why I’ve included those handouts, they are basically clippings from my reading over the last several months, about churches and mission and change, note especially the one about Canoeing the Mountains.

I want to share with you today a Scripture that comes out of Nehemiah’s story. Nehemiah 6:2-9. Dan preached on Nehemiah a couple of weeks back but but when I went back to read the chapter on my own, I had to ask God, “are you saying something to me personally?”

Nehemiah 6:2
Sanballat and Geshem sent a message to me, saying, “Come, let’s meet together at Chephirim in the plain of Ono.” But they were plotting to harm me.

This was reminiscent of the ambush meeting at the home of one of my members. Amy (our children’s minister) and I attended with about 20 people who have proven to be antagonistic to the state of the church and the change that gradually happened over the world-wide pandemic. We thought it would be a conversation to set straight some one the misinformation that has permeated the members, some were outright lies that persist even when third parties have attempted to set the record straight. When it was all over, I thought this verse was appropriate, “they were plotting to harm me.”

Nehemiah 6:3
So I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work and am unable to come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?”

Nehemiah tells them that he is doing a good work, and cannot stop this good work to come down to your meeting. That spoke to me. God was telling me to keep my eyes on my calling and to maintain the good work that He has started. Let the church grow in spite of the negativity of a few.

Nehemiah 6:4-5
Then they sent messages to me four times worded in this way, and I answered them with the same wording. 5 Then Sanballat sent his servant to me in the same way a fifth time with an open letter in his hand.

Nehemiah had repeated invitations to meetings and then there was an open letter presented to him. All I could think about was certain members having repeated meetings with my pastor to complain about what they didn’t like, and to belittle his leadership and authority. Then came the infamous 10-page letter of complain, criticism, and bullying.

Nehemiah 6:6-7
In it was written: “It is reported among the nations, and Gashmu says, that you and the Jews intend to rebel; for that reason you are rebuilding the wall. And you are to be their king, according to these reports. 7 You have also appointed prophets to proclaim in Jerusalem concerning you, ‘A king is in Judah!’ And now it will be reported to the king according to these reports. So come now, let’s consult together.”

Nehemiah is accused by the opposition of ulterior motives for his building project. We know while you’re building this wall, according to the report, you plan to be their king. And you even appointed prophets to prophesy in Jerusalem saying there’s a new king of Judah. You know this report will get back to the true king so I suggest that you come to our little meeting.

So much misinformation and outright lies. I never told the PSC to not bring in a potential preacher. 1) All I suggested is that the preacher they bring in should be trained in relational conflict and experienced in transitional pastoral change. The PSC chair pulled the trigger on that one. 2) Who would ever believe that I have enough relational clout to tell “one influential member of the PSC” to do or not do anything? Apparently I quashed one candidate and no amount of truth will change some people’s minds.

There was a false story that I was doing all I could to mold this congregation into a purpose driven church. This means, remove the choir, dress casually, marginalize the older members, and making authoritarian decisions without the congregation voting (referring to the needed change to our schedule in 2021 and then an adjustment in 2022). While I read Rick Warren’s book, I never used a 25-year-old text to architect a takeover of the church.

Nehemiah 6:8-9
Then I sent a message to him saying, “Nothing like these things that you are saying has been done, but you are inventing them in your own mind.” 9 For all of them were trying to frighten us, thinking, “They will become discouraged with the work and it will not be done.” But now, God, strengthen my hands.

Nehemiah’s response is, “you know that you’re lying, you were making this up in your own head.” There is no truth in any part of your story. He adds that the opposition was just trying to intimidate them. They wanted to break their resolve and to stop the good work. so he prayed for strength to continue the work.

When I read this, I was reminded of the noble mission that God has given us, to fulfill the great commission and live out the great commandment. We’ve got to do these if nothing else. We have to remember that whatever we do, no matter what our personal preferences, no matter anything, the mission trumps everything.

Something came to my attention the other day, a text from one of our members, about the city of Chesapeake allowing the Satanic Temple to start a Satan Club in one of their public schools. Imagine that, an after school program in our elementary school called the Satan Club. Like our children need a club influenced by a the father of lies teaching them to be free-thinkers and reject the authority of parents over their lives. As a church, our mission is to be out in our community, to be salt and light, fulfilling the mission that God has given us. This satanic activity is happening because we are not on the front lines. This is happening on our watch, and the city has to let them in the schools, because if they allow the good news club, for fairness, they have to let in all clubs. That’s what we’re up against. This generation is not the same as it was decades ago. We’ve got to be on the cutting edge of challenging and confronting this darkness. That is our mission, and all the things that we are arguing about and all this conflict, is it about the mission?

No, it is a distraction from the mission. It’s about power and control. Who has control Jesus’ church? A few vocal members believe the pastor is a hired hand, saying, “we pay your salary and you work for us.”

We have a lot of people in this congregation who want to be all about the mission. They want to be disciples. They want to grow in their faith. They want to share the gospel. They want to bring new people in, reaching those who are far off from God. I have to admit that it is often hard to bring people in thinking, “what are they going to do when they hear complaining and grumbling coming from our people?” Will they want to stay here? It’s hard to get people to want to be here. When guests come here, they need to hear about the love of Jesus Christ demonstrated through how we treat one another.

So, my thought is this, we are doing a good work here. And that’s what we need to be about, the good work that God has us doing, the mission. We don’t have time for these complaining meetings, we don’t have time for things like that. As Nehemiah says here, we are not going to come down to attend your meeting and to listen to your complaining. We have a task, a noble work of building this wall, and you will not distract us from that noble work. It’s too important.

I see many families, most of whom are at the other end of the hallway, and we see in that area growth and joy and life. That’s where we’re going to invest because we want to raise children and teenagers in the knowledge of the Lord. If we do that, they won’t even be tempted to go to the Satan Club on their school campus. That’s the good work we’re doing, sharing the light and life of the gospel.

So, I invite you to join us on the good work that God, getting the gospel outside the walls of this congregation. If we need to complain about things, we need to go off to the side, rather than making it center stage. we need to protect the flock from the poison that we get from certain members of our congregation. We have to encourage people to stand strong in the Lord and to be about the mission.

I had to share that Scripture with you tonight because God said something to me. Hopefully you will resolve to be all about the mission and not your personal preferences.

Another thing Hardaway writes in his email, I encourage you to stop looking at your situation through your eyes and try to see the church through the eyes of your next pastor. Man, when I saw that, I thought, “would any pastor want to come here?” I can confidently say, “not until we get back to the mission.” That’s what we need to be doing.

* This is the same meeting where we opened the sanctuary early, for 30 minutes of personal prayer, to sit in the sanctuary in silence and pour out our heart to the Lord, confessing sin, and putting all this at the feet of the one who can change hearts and lives.

Related Images:

Don’t Hold Back – David Platt

Don’t Hold Back: Leaving Behind the American Gospel to Follow Jesus Fully, by David Platt (this is a must-read book, please support the author by purchasing his book). The following are the highlights from my reading of the book.

THE GOSPEL The gospel is the good news that the one and only true God, the loving Creator, sovereign King, and holy Judge of all, has looked on men and women wonderfully, equally, and uniquely made in his image who have rebelled against him, are separated from him, and deserve death before him, and he has sent his Son, Jesus, God in the flesh, to live a perfect and powerful life, to die a sacrificial and substitutionary death, and to rise from the grave in victory over sin, Satan, and death. The gospel is a gracious invitation from God for sinners from every nation, tribe, people, and language to repent and believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins, turning from all idols to declare allegiance to Jesus alone as King and trust in Jesus alone as Lord. The gospel is a guarantee that Jesus will come again in glory to consummate his kingdom for the redeemed from every nation, tribe, people, and language in a new heaven and a new earth where all things will be made new in the light of his holy presence and where his perfect rule and reign will have no end. According to the gospel, all people who do not trust in Jesus will experience everlasting judgment from God, and all people who trust in Jesus will experience everlasting joy with God.

Denominations being hijacked by one heated faction or another. Longtime church members walking away in disgust. Many Christians distancing themselves from the church, and scores of young adults, college students, and teenagers disengaging from the church altogether. And so much of this, mind you, has so little to do with the message of Jesus or God’s saving grace for our world.

In it all, we’ve seen the viruses of pride, self-promotion, and lust for power infect not just our country but our church.

I’ve come to a clear conclusion: The problem is not just an American dream that has consumed our lives but an American gospel that has hijacked our hearts.

For far too long, we have traded in the biblical gospel that exalts Jesus above everything in this world for an American gospel that prostitutes Jesus for the sake of comfort, power, politics, and prosperity in our country. The evidence is all around us. Instead of being eager to unite around the glory of Jesus, Christians are quick to divide over the idolatry of personal and political convictions.

we’re so caught up in calls to promote the greatness of our nation that we’re essentially disregarding Jesus’s command to take the gospel to all nations.

In other words, so much of what we’re experiencing in the church today—the discouragement, disillusionment, damage, doubt, and division—is a direct outcome of accepting a false gospel in our hearts.

This book is simply about charting a way forward that holds loosely to the ideals of a country that, however blessed, is destined to one day fall, and holds tightly to the gospel of a King who will never ever fail.

This family is called the church, and if you’re a follower of Jesus, you’re part of it. You’re seated around the same table. And you’re not just part of this family in the here and now. You and I will be part of God’s family forever. But today, before we reach eternity, we need to have an important family conversation. It’s going to be difficult, but it needs to happen. Are you ready? Our church family is sick. Particularly the part of the family that makes its home in America. Instead of enjoying one another’s company at the table, encouraging one another, and loving one another in word and deed, we’re caught up in a cultural climate that makes us quick to accuse, belittle, cancel, and distrust one another. Even more than being divided, so many sisters and brothers (i.e., so many of us) are hurting and feeling hurt by one another. So hurt, in fact, that many are leaving the table, while multitudes of outsiders see our table and want to get as far away as possible from it.

In the end, ethnic Jews, wealthy Romans, and impoverished Gentiles from all kinds of pagan backgrounds were joined together in the family of God. Jesus had prayed that they would stick together, and they did. As a result, the message of the gospel spread throughout the world. That’s why you and I are here today.

We divide politically. Research shows that a majority of churchgoers prefer attending church with people who share their political views, and few attend services alongside people with different political opinions.[1] We divide theologically over differing views on spiritual gifts, the end times, modes of baptism, and leadership in the church. We divide stylistically over different perspectives on music, service length, church décor, and a plethora of other preferences.

So is there a way to be in genuine, caring, deep fellowship with people who are very different from us, just like we see in the Bible? I believe there is.

And it starts with understanding who unites us, what’s worth dividing over, and what’s not.

Three Buckets Picture three buckets with me. In the first bucket are clear, biblical beliefs and practices that unite all followers of Jesus.

Christians divide from non-Christians over beliefs and practices that fall into this first bucket. For example, if someone says that Jesus isn’t God, that salvation isn’t by grace, or that Jesus didn’t die on a cross and rise from the grave, then we should love and care for that person, but we can’t worship with them, because they simply don’t worship the same God or believe the same gospel.

The second of our three buckets contains beliefs and practices that unite followers of Jesus who join together in a local church. This bucket includes things Christians might disagree about from one local church to another. For example, one church might believe that they should baptize babies, and another church might believe that they should baptize only believers in Christ. One church might believe that women and men should both be biblically affirmed as pastors, while another church might believe that only men should be biblically affirmed as pastors.

The third bucket contains beliefs and practices about which even Christians in the same local church disagree. Members of a local church might agree about baptism, spiritual gifts, and leadership in the church, but they might disagree about how the end times are going to unfold. They might disagree about political choices and a variety of other personal convictions.

Confusing the Buckets Problems for unity in the church begin when we confuse these buckets and forget how to love people whose beliefs in any bucket are different from ours.

This language catapulted a voting choice into the first bucket, inevitably leading Christians to question one another’s faith because of the way they chose to vote.

In other words, we decided to put the issue of how people vote in a presidential election in the third bucket—identifying it as an issue about which Christians in our church might disagree but over which we wouldn’t divide.

It’s time to learn how to hold firm to our personal convictions without compromising the unique and otherworldly unity Jesus has made possible for us in the gospel.

How could they preserve their unity? Paul didn’t tell them to create different churches, one for carnivores and one for vegetarians. That probably would have been easier, just as it might be easier for our church in metro D.C. to separate according to political perspectives or a number of other personal convictions. Instead, Paul called the church to build unity around Jesus.

How do we do that? We focus on Jesus, and we clarify which buckets we’re dealing with.

In other words, in matters where Christians are free to differ, individual believers are free to do whatever we believe best honors Jesus. Look a little closer, though. Do you know what’s really interesting in this passage? Paul wrote that it’s good to have strong convictions about what we believe best honors Jesus, even in situations where we disagree with other Christians. This sounds counterintuitive, right? Since the aim in the church at Rome was unity around Jesus, we might expect Paul to have commanded, “Don’t have strong convictions on issues of disagreement.” Instead, he wrote the exact opposite: “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” Fully convinced—a high standard.

In the words of James 1:19, we should be “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” This command is particularly appropriate for us in a culture that entices us to share our thoughts and opinions through a screen instead of looking into the eyes of our brother or sister and listening in a spirit of love.

Let’s be honest: There’s a lot of attacking and tearing down these days, and it’s coming from all sides. We demonize those who disagree with us, and we make reckless generalizations about and deliver sweeping condemnations of those people who all believe that craziness. Instead of having thoughtful discussions focused on listening first, we lob accusations like grenades. Instead of engaging in meaningful dialogue, we resort to personal ridicule. We have mastered the art of turning healthy disagreement into hateful disgust, and it leaves us damaged and divided. But this isn’t the way of Jesus, and it doesn’t honor our Father.

But those opinions and convictions aren’t what make us a family. Jesus makes us a family, which means that if we’re allowing those opinions and convictions to divide us, then we’re making them more important to us than Jesus himself. Second- and third-bucket issues can’t divide us if Jesus is the one who unites us.

As followers of Jesus, we share a supernatural bloodline that supersedes ethnic backgrounds, socioeconomic situations, political parties and positions, and personal preferences and opinions.

Our family is not fundamentally African American, Asian American, European American, Hispanic American, Native American, or even American. Our family is not fundamentally rich or poor. Our family is not fundamentally Republican, Democrat, or Independent. None of these things are grounds for division among us, because our family is fundamentally Christian. We are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and a people possessed by God himself (1 Peter 2:9). In the biblical gospel, we have been acquitted of sin before God the Judge and adopted as daughters and sons by God the Father. And if we will realize and constantly remember this, we will experience so much needed healing not just in the church but in our lives.

It is well past time to leave behind an American gospel that has cultivated the ownership and torture of slaves by “Christian” masters, the killing of people alongside the burning of “Christian” crosses, the lack of support for civil rights or even acknowledgment of racial disparities among “Christian” leaders, and the ongoing racial division in “Christian” churches.

RACE IN THE BIBLE As a foundational matter, the Bible never defines different races according to skin tone, hair texture, or other physical traits like we do in contemporary culture. Instead, God creates all people wonderfully and equally in his image as one human race.

Certainly some will argue, “But I’m color blind. I choose not to see color in people, and that’s the way we all should see.” After all, Martin Luther King, Jr., envisioned a future where people “will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”[7] Right? We might, then, conclude that it’s a good thing to be color blind. But others hear claims of color blindness and ask, “Why are you choosing to ignore part of who I am, where I’ve come from, and how my family’s ethnicity and history have affected me, particularly in light of the fact that I’ve been affected in significant ways because of these things?” Calls for color blindness can come across as attempts to minimize a significant part of someone’s heritage and makeup.

THE DISPARITY CONTINUES Yet even if our hearts are completely pure—which they won’t be this side of heaven—we live in a country where different people continue to experience different benefits or burdens based on their skin color. Thankfully, by God’s grace and the action of godly men and women, race-based chattel slavery was abolished and civil rights legislation was passed. Nevertheless, undeniable statistics demonstrate that clear racial disparities still exist.

Yet with all the above caveats considered, these statistics lead to a staggeringly straightforward conclusion. Even if none of us wants skin color to matter in the United States, apparently it does. And it doesn’t just matter in our country; it matters in the church.

By God’s good design, the early church was multiethnic. But these Christians were not without controversy in their efforts to forge multiethnic community. When the Gentiles wanted to be baptized, included in the same church, and seated at the same tables, many Jews pushed back. The Jews were, after all, God’s chosen people. Paul addressed this divide clearly in a letter to the Ephesians: Now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility…. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God. (2:13–19)

The biblical picture is clear. The gospel transcends the powers of the world in order to break down dividing walls and bring people from across all kinds of lines—ethnic lines included—together in the church.

This train of thought is one reason that, for decades now, church-growth gurus have promoted what’s called “the homogeneous unit principle.” In essence, the thinking is that if pastors want to reach a lot of people in the church and if people like being around those who are most like them, then pastors should focus on trying to reach one type of person in their church.

Though it’s quite popular and most churches have bought into it, building Christ’s church by prioritizing homogeneity goes against what the Bible teaches.

It is past time to leave behind a picture of the church that accommodates (and reinforces) prejudices, caters to preferences, and clings to power. Let’s humbly and intentionally put aside various comforts and traditions, and let’s step boldly and fully into the beautiful picture God envisions for his church. Only then can we tear down the American gospel, which divides and damages, and lift up the biblical gospel, which brings equality and, ultimately, healing.

When I think about Bashir, Moska, and multitudes of other sisters and brothers in Christ in settings like this, I’m reminded that only the Bible contains the truth that is worth risking life and limb to read, know, and share. It’s the treasure that brings us together in the church. Not the ideals of a country or the positions of a political party. And certainly not the most popular waves of thought in an ever-changing culture. So why are so many Christians and churches uniting around (and dividing over) opinions and preferences that aren’t clearly and directly outlined in the Bible? Could it be that we have so conflated biblical ideals with American ideals that we can no longer tell the difference between the two? Or worse, are we subtly, maybe even unknowingly, twisting biblical passages to prop up what we think over and above what God has said in his Word? And in the midst of it all, are we even paying attention to the fact that emerging generations are completely disregarding his Word as they watch the way we wield it?

Meanwhile, here’s my attempt in a few short paragraphs to summarize the unparalleled wonder of God’s Word. Picture sixty-six books written by more than forty authors in three languages over the course of 1,500 years, all telling one consistent story: the gospel of Jesus Christ. No passage in the entire Bible contradicts this single narrative. Not one. Ask yourself, How is that even possible? If you asked forty people you know to write a book that told one overarching story about who God is, who we are, how this world was made, what’s wrong in the world, and how this world can be made right, there’s no chance those forty would agree. And those are all people living at the same time and likely speaking the same language. But the Bible—including books written by a farmer, shepherd, soldier, lawyer, priest, tax collector, and fisherman (just to name a few of the authors), in different languages over the course of centuries—tells one stunningly consistent story.

THE BEST KIND OF OFFENSE Yet even with the life-changing, history-transforming power of God’s Word, we are still prone to elevate our personal ideas and positions above it, as if our thoughts are better than his truth. We shouldn’t be surprised by our reckless arrogance, though. Haven’t we been like this from the beginning? Remember Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden as a serpent whispered four little words in Eve’s ear: “Did God actually say…?” (Genesis 3:1). For the first time, a cluster of deadly spiritual ideas began to take hold in the world: Our thoughts are more trustworthy than God’s truth. God’s Word is subject to our judgment. We have the right, authority, and wisdom to determine what is good or evil. We are free to disregard God’s Word when we disagree with it, or we can simply twist it to justify our disobedience to it. In the end, Adam and Eve sinned because they believed that they knew better than God. Instead of believing that God’s Word was good for them, they decided that it was offensive to them.

As we saw in the last chapter, the United States was built for centuries by professing Christians who twisted the Bible to say that Black people were of lesser human value—a hateful, unbiblical view that deceived generations of Christians and destroyed multitudes of lives, inflicting pain that still persists today. Such pain exists fundamentally because people ignored what God says about equality or twisted God’s Word to accommodate their long-held prejudices or self-serving business models. Similarly, as we will explore in a subsequent chapter, for centuries we have allowed pride in our nation to supplant what God says concerning all nations. Contemporary calls to make America great have resounded among Christians and illustrate how easily the church is distracted from our mandate to make Jesus great among all the peoples of the earth. As we will see, clear evidence shows that Christians and churches in our country are largely ignoring Jesus’s command to make disciples of all nations, to the eternal detriment of billions of people.

The reality we all need to face is clear: All of us are prone to defy God’s Word even as we convince ourselves that we’re following it.

If we’re going to elevate God’s truth above our thoughts and pass this treasure on to the next generation, then we need to get serious about hiding this truth in our hearts. At some point, we have to stop endlessly scrolling through our phones and watching our screens, filling our minds with messages from this world, and start spending our time saturating our minds with God’s Word.

God, help us to learn and remember what history teaches us: The Bible can be perversely misapplied by even the sincerest of believers. The Word of Life can be used to injure, oppress, and exploit. And that is not who our God is or what he wants for us or others.

One, they possess evident conviction about the value of God’s Word. I speak regularly at conferences for adults or students in my country, and I usually give a thirty- to sixty-minute talk once or twice, surrounded by all sorts of free time and other activities. But when I meet with Christians in persecuted countries, they come together at the risk of their lives to study God’s Word for twelve hours a day. Moreover, I see their passion to pass on their knowledge of God to the next generation. I think of gathering on multiple occasions with students from their churches for secret retreats—also at the risk of their lives—and training these teenagers from early morning to the middle of the night to spread God’s Word not just in their country but in surrounding countries. These sisters and brothers, including teenagers, love God’s Word like nothing else in the world. That leads to the second quality: They possess remarkable compassion for people who need God’s Word. Neither the adults nor the teenagers above are studying the Bible for themselves, only to stay silent about it in the world. To be sure, that would be a lot easier for them. Christians don’t get persecuted in these countries if they keep God’s Word to themselves. They get persecuted when they share God’s Word with others. But these adults and teenagers deeply love others who don’t know Jesus. During my times with them, I have seen them fall on their faces, weep, and pray for people who don’t know the gospel in their villages, in their cities, and in neighboring countries. Keep in mind that in many cases the people for whom these Christians are praying are the same people who are persecuting them. Yet these Christians know that the Bible teaches that these people will go to eternal condemnation if they don’t hear and believe the gospel, and these Christians want to do everything they can to love them and lead them to Jesus. That’s why they rise to their feet and leave these secret gatherings to spread God’s Word with literally death-defying compassion. Two qualities: conviction and compassion.

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (6:8) That’s exactly what Naomi is doing: justice. Specifically, she’s obeying God’s command to “bring justice to the fatherless” (Isaiah 1:17). She’s doing justice in ways that reflect the kindness and humility of Jesus.

Sadly, however, we live in a time when followers of Jesus seem more interested in debating justice than doing it. Even as we are surrounded by countless people who are orphaned, widowed, impoverished, oppressed, enslaved, displaced, and abused, in our country and beyond our country, we expend so much energy on social media criticizing and shouting at one another about justice—feeling somehow that this is doing justice.

But if more of us made a calculated decision to follow in Naomi and Dr. Zee’s footsteps and engage in holistic, biblical, gospel-proclaiming, Jesus-exalting justice—if we started holding more orphans in our arms, helping more widows in our communities, providing for more of the poor in our cities, serving more refugees in our country, hosting more immigrants in our homes, rescuing more slaves from traffickers, visiting more people in prison, caring for more victims of abuse, or coming alongside more moms and dads facing unwanted pregnancies—we would discover that doing biblical justice goes far beyond posting on social media, making an argument in the political arena, or even voting in an election. We would understand at long last that loving kindness is a fundamental part of what it means to follow Jesus in our everyday lives. And in the end, we would realize that doing justice and loving kindness is how we actually experience the good life in Jesus.

But just because some have diluted or disregarded the gospel of Jesus in calls for justice doesn’t mean we should remain passive in a world full of poverty, oppression, abortion, orphans, widows, slaves, refugees, and racism. Jesus didn’t. He did justice and loved kindness, and if we call ourselves his followers, we must do the same. God requires this of us.

God hates it when his people say prayers, bring offerings, and attend worship services while ignoring injustice and oppression around them.

The Bible is clear. God isn’t honored by our voices when they are quick to sing songs of praise but slow to speak out against injustice. He isn’t honored by our hands when they are quick to rise during worship but slow to work against wrongdoing and inequity in our communities. People who truly worship the God above them will love doing good for people in need around them.

We wanted to know how God defined justice, and we observed that biblical justice is that which is right for people as exemplified in the character of God and expressed in the Word of God.

It’s significant to emphasize how justice is doing not only that which reflects God’s character but also that which is right according to God’s Word. We’ve all noticed how the word right gets applied in ways that are, well, not right. Courts in the United States say it’s right for you to marry someone of the same gender, but God’s Word says otherwise. Some states in our country say it’s right to take the life of an unborn child in the womb, but God’s Word does not. Many of us—even in the American church—act like it’s right to be wealthy, comfortable, and secure while we functionally ignore or even push down the poor and broken. But as we’ve seen in Isaiah and Amos, this isn’t right before God. In fact, the Bible calls it sin—rebellion against what God says is right.

INJUSTICE AND THE GOSPEL SOLUTION Injustice, then, is that which is not right for people as exemplified in God’s character and expressed in God’s Word. Examples of injustice abound among men and women made in God’s image. We lie, murder, oppress, abuse, cheat, bribe, steal, slander, and enslave. We take advantage of others to benefit ourselves. We hoard our resources. We assert ourselves as superior to others. We plunder and ignore the poor, the weak, the widow, the orphan, and the sojourner. This is the story of men and women in the Bible. And it’s our story too. We’re all prone to do injustice.

Americans have advantages that Somalis don’t have, and some Americans have advantages that other Americans don’t have, so justice and mercy ask, “What advantages do I have that I can use to help the disadvantaged?”

We follow Jesus by doing justice for and showing kindness to individuals and families with special needs.

We follow Jesus by doing justice for and showing kindness to sojourners.

We follow Jesus by doing justice for and showing kindness to widows.

When I share about helping people like Patricia and her children, some people shout their support, while others claim I’m promoting some version of Christian socialism. But don’t justice and kindness involve protecting and promoting rights and opportunities for all children and families, particularly those who have significant disadvantages?

Some may object to this line of reasoning, but again, consider the way that many Christians think about abortion. We know some unborn children are at a greater risk than others. Therefore, we work to ensure that all unborn children have an equal opportunity to live, without exception. But why would we work for children to be born, only to ignore them once their moms give birth? Certainly that’s unjust (and absurd). Indeed, we care about children’s lives not just in the womb but out of the womb. We care about their good in all of life, not just their first nine months. And we care about their parents, too, before and after they are pregnant.

We follow Jesus by doing justice for and showing kindness to single parents and children and families with significant disadvantages.

Do you remember the story I shared at the beginning of this chapter about standing with Naomi in a sea of street children? Naomi distinctly remembers seeing a young boy eating out of a trash can that day. That sight led her back to her hotel room that night, where she fell on her face and asked God what she could do to help that child and others like him. That prayer led her to start an after-school program that provides food for children in the name of Jesus, and it makes me wonder, What if we all responded to injustice in the world like this? What if instead of seeing injustice and moving on with our lives as we know them, we made it a practice to fall on our faces and ask God, “What are you calling us to do about this?” Surely we would discover that, whether in our own country or other countries, so many open doors are in front of us to do justice both individually and collectively.

Without question, Christians have often ignored these open doors and settled for (or even contributed to) injustice. This is part of why so many of us find ourselves in a state of disillusionment and doubt concerning the church. We have witnessed the destruction wrought by justice-ignoring, power-abusing, self-protecting, evil-tolerating churches, church leaders, and Christians in our country. An entire generation is turning to the world in search of justice and kindness because they don’t see these things in the church.

Again, various stories throughout history show the church doing harm in the name of Jesus, whether through colonialistic mission strategies or ignorant and insensitive mission efforts, and we mustn’t repeat the errors of the past. But we also mustn’t underestimate the impact of proclaiming the gospel and doing justice here and around the world.

Robert Woodberry, a sociologist who did a decade’s worth of research on the effect Christian missionaries had on the health of other nations, came to a stunning conclusion that he said landed on him like an atomic bomb. Specifically, he found that “the work of missionaries…turns out to be the single largest factor in ensuring the health of nations.” What a statement.

So let’s experience the good life. Let’s do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God. Let’s hold orphans in our arms, help widows in our communities, provide for the poor in our cities, serve refugees in our country, host immigrants in our homes, rescue slaves from traffickers, visit people in prison, care for victims of abuse, come alongside moms and dads with unwanted pregnancies, and do multitudes of other things that are right for people as exemplified in God’s character and expressed in God’s Word. And let’s do it all as we proclaim the name of Jesus in a world where billions of people still haven’t even heard the good news about him.

That’s when Luan said words that I will never forget. “These stories about Jesus are so good,” he said with wonderment. “And they seem so important. I just don’t understand why we and our tribes and all our ancestors before us have never heard them until now.” I’d like to ask you to consider Luan’s question: Why do you think approximately 3.2 billion men, women, and children like these men and their families have never heard the good news of Jesus?

My contention in this chapter is simple. While many factors contribute to “gospel poverty” in jungles, villages, and megacities around the world, one of the primary reasons—if not the primary reason—that billions of people remain unreached by the gospel is that the global purpose of God has always faced resistance from the nationalistic people of God. From the nation of Israel in the Old Testament, to the early church in the New Testament, to the current church in the United States, people of God have continually desired the preservation of their nation more than the proclamation of the gospel in all nations. And just as generations of God’s people before us needed to do, God is calling us to place less priority on our beloved home country—a country that will one day fall—and more priority on a global kingdom that will last forever.

Let me explain. When I was in college, I began to see that the pages of the Bible point to a clear conclusion: The gospel is not just for me and people like me, but it is for all people in all nations. Just look at how the Bible ends—with a scene in the book of Revelation where people from every nation, tribe, and language gather around God’s throne and enjoy his presence for eternity (7:9–17). I recognized that this outcome is God’s ultimate purpose, and I realized that if I’m a part of the people of God, then this should be my ultimate purpose too. If the train of history is headed toward this destination and if I wanted to live for what matters most, then I needed to jump aboard this train. I needed to do whatever I could so that people from every nation would enjoy God’s salvation.

In time, and the more I processed that conversation, the more thankful I became. A new way of thinking was emerging, one that hadn’t existed in my mind until that breakfast. For on that morning, I learned that there is a type of person who is extremely passionate about the spread of the gospel to all nations but who doesn’t become a missionary. Do you know what I discovered that type of person is called? A Christian. After all, the Spirit of God is passionate about all nations knowing the love of God. This means that if God’s Spirit dwells in you, then you will be passionate about all nations knowing the love of God. To be a follower of Jesus is to live with zeal for all the nations to know Jesus. The spread of the gospel among all the nations is not a program for a chosen few. It’s actually the purpose for which we all have breath and the end toward which all of history is headed (see Revelation 7:9–10).

First, when the Bible talks about nations, it’s referring to specific ethnic groups or people groups, thousands of which exist in the world today. It isn’t referring to the geopolitical entities we call nations today (after all, most nations today, including the United States, didn’t exist when the Bible was written).

I love being in a church where many veterans and military members attend and serve as leaders alongside others who help make our nation’s government function. I have the highest respect for one of our pastors who served for decades as a Navy SEAL, participated in countless missions around the world, and saw far too many of his comrades not come home. As I was writing this chapter, Pastor Todd (as he’s known by so many in the church) spoke at a lunch to honor former and current military members in our church and community. He and others like him are heroes in our house. Obedience to Jesus’s command to make disciples of all nations doesn’t mean we don’t love our own nation. But we need to ask ourselves: Is it possible that pride in our own nation can keep us from living for God’s purpose in all nations? Absolutely, it is. And it’s been that way from ancient times.

THE GREAT IMBALANCE Surely I’m not like Jonah, we say to ourselves. But let’s not draw this conclusion too quickly. Let’s at least examine our hearts with a few simple questions. Pause and answer these honestly: Have you ever wanted your way more than you have wanted God’s will? Are you inclined to settle for the comforts of people and places that are familiar to you instead of paying a cost to go to people and places that are foreign to you? Especially if those people are also threatening to you or perceived as your enemies? How often do you pray for and desire the good of other countries that might be considered enemies of the United States? Is it possible for you to know about the character of God yet not show the compassion of God to others? Are you prone to disconnect the mercy of God in your life from the mission of God in the world? Do you sometimes care more about your earthly desires than others’ eternal destinies? What do you truly want more: a comfortable life in your nation or the spread of the gospel in all nations? If we’re going to accurately answer these questions, we need to look at the evidence in our lives, as well as our churches.

Yet, of our giving toward “missions work,” most Christians have no idea what percentage actually goes to spreading the gospel among the billions of people in other nations who have never heard it. The answer? Approximately 1 percent. (It’s true—we’ve done the research.[2]) In addition to the hundreds of billions of dollars we in the church spend on ourselves, approximately 99 percent of our giving to “missions work” goes to places like Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa where the gospel has already gone. In other words, even when we think we’re giving to missions, we’re actually ignoring the billions of people who most need the gospel.

What’s worse, the number of people who haven’t heard the gospel is increasing every day through population growth. This means that unless we rectify this great imbalance in what we’re giving to and living for, more people than ever will continue to die and go to hell without hearing about the saving love of Jesus. We’re talking about billions of people going to hell for all of eternity while we spend our resources on our American churches and our American way of life.[3] Surely true followers of Jesus are not content with this.

CHANGING OUR DAILY LIVES Look closely at what Jesus told his followers, and think about the implications for your life if you claim to be a Christian. Jesus’s first command to his disciples was “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). He said repeatedly, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). His final command was specific and clear: “Go…and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). Not “Come, be baptized, and ride things out in one location.” Not “Say a prayer, go to church, read your Bible when you have time, be the best person you can be, and throw your leftover change to the nations in need of the gospel.” Not “Syncretize your American lifestyle with what it means to be a #blessed Christian.” No, it’s clear from the Bible: Being a disciple of Jesus means letting his global purpose drive everything you think, desire, and do in your family, work, and church, for the rest of your life. Which means however and wherever Jesus wants to lead your life.

Are you willing to pack your bags and move to the Middle East to make disciples there? If not, according to Luke 9:23, you’re either not a Christian or you don’t understand Christianity. Because Christians have surrendered the right to determine the direction of their lives.

We are wasting the privilege of prayer if we’re not using it for God’s purpose: the spread of his glory among all the nations.

Wealth for the Gospel Recognizing God’s ultimate purpose also changes the way we—as the people in whom the Spirit of Jesus dwells—use our money. After all, God has put us in one of the wealthiest countries in the history of the world. Has God really done this just so that we can acquire more and newer and better possessions that won’t last? Or has God given us relative wealth for the spread of his worldwide worship?

I love this! It doesn’t matter whether you’re a student living off ramen in a college dorm room or you’re an executive raking in the dough—by God’s grace, we all have a unique and meaningful part to play in God’s purpose among the nations! And being a Christian means stewarding our possessions for this purpose.

When God Brings the Nations to Us It’s not just about praying and giving, of course. Christians personally go and make disciples among all nations. And you and I can start right outside our front doors. Millions of people have immigrated from other nations to the United States, some permanently and others temporarily, including a million international students on college campuses.

Sadly, as I mentioned earlier, research shows that evangelical Christians are some of the Americans who are most upset about these newcomers. I’m not at all presuming there aren’t significant concerns with our country’s immigration legislation (or the lack thereof). But out of all people in our country, shouldn’t followers of Jesus be first to rejoice that, in a very real sense, God is bringing multitudes who have been far from him near to us in order that we might share the good news about Jesus with them?

Indeed, Acts 17:26–27 is true: God is sovereignly orchestrating the movement of people from different nations—immigrants and refugees alike—so that they might find Jesus.

But take my word, if you share this truth from God’s Word, no matter how many times you explain that you’re not advocating for particular political positions on immigration or refugees, you will be labeled a leftist whose ideology is harmful to the future of our country. It’s astonishing how zeal for our nation—and even specific political policies in it—overpowers passion to share the gospel with people God is bringing to us from other nations.

Leverage Your Life: Throughout my years as a pastor, I have seen so many good people resist any call to spread the gospel in other countries. We have enough needs and problems here, some say, so we should just focus on our country. And to be clear, the Bible never teaches that all Christians should pack their bags and move to another country. But in a world where billions don’t even have access to the gospel, surely God is calling a lot more of us to go to them. And even if we don’t go, biblically he’s calling all of us to be a part of helping spread the gospel to them.

There is an adversary in this world who doesn’t want the gospel to go to all the nations. He wants as many souls as possible in hell, and he is diabolically committed to keeping the nations from hearing about the kingdom of heaven. I use this language with great intentionality and solemnity. Again, we’re talking about more than 3,200,000,000 people (and increasing every day) who are separated from God by their sin, who are on a road that leads to an eternal hell, and who can’t be saved from this fate unless they hear and believe the gospel. God, help us feel the weight of this reality. Why are we not talking about unreached people all the time in our lives, families, and churches today?

Why are we not praying, giving, going, sending, and sacrificing in every way we can to spread the gospel among all the nations? We certainly wouldn’t say this out loud, but could it be that we’ve grown accustomed to a church culture in our country that seems pretty content with turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to billions of people on their way to hell who have never even heard the truth about how to go to heaven? In other words, Could it be that we have actually become comfortable with missing the heart of Christ?

And of course we’re divided. Wouldn’t our discussions—and our perspectives on disagreements—change in the church if we collectively took the time to look into the faces of suffering refugees in Syria and starving families in Sudan who are on a road that leads to eternal suffering and have never heard how Jesus wants them to have eternal life? Wouldn’t we be less inclined to fight one another and more inclined to fight for them?

Why is a teenage member of a cult—a cult with a counterfeit and condemning gospel—more excited about and committed to going to the nations than Christians are, even though we have the true gospel of Jesus Christ? And why are we as the church—the true bride of Christ—not raising up the next generation with the expectation that they will take the gospel to the nations as we passionately cheer them on?

I think about all the students I spend time with in our church and on college campuses. Many tell me that the greatest hindrance to taking the gospel to the nations is actually their Christian parents. Parents are telling children to study, practice sports, and learn instruments, and we’re overseeing hours upon hours of their days in front of screens. We prioritize taking them all over the place for all kinds of activities, telling them they need a good education so they can get a good degree, find a good job, make good money, and have a good family with a good retirement. These aren’t unworthy concerns. But in the middle of it all, we need to ask a more significant question: How are we training the next generation to accomplish the Great Commission?

Or consider potentially more significant questions than that: Are parents and other adults, young and old alike, showing the next generation what commitment to the Great Commission looks like in action? Do today’s students see in their dads and moms, and men and women around them in church, a zeal for God’s glory and love for all people, including those who might be perceived as enemies? Do they see modeled before them an all-consuming passion and vision for the proclamation of the gospel in all nations? Because this is the vision of Christianity we see in the Bible, and it’s totally different from the vision being cast in our country.

This scene of desperation didn’t stop. They kept praying and praying and praying. My friend explained some of what he was hearing: “Some are praising God. Some are thanking God for his grace in their lives and families and the church. Others are confessing sin. Others are interceding for people in need.” “How long will this last?” I asked. “Until they’re finished,” he answered. “On Friday nights and into Saturday mornings, they pray all night long instead of sleeping. Others gather at four every morning to pray for an hour or two or three.” I looked around the room and realized that the crowd hadn’t assembled that night because they were excited about hearing the latest, greatest Korean Christian band. They weren’t gathering because they were eager to hear me preach either. A crowd of people had crammed into that building because they were zealous to meet with God.

Listening to that roar of prayers—these urgent, passionate voices lifted to God—I had a realization. I am a part of and a leader in an American church culture that loves doing so many things: engaging in programs and activities, meeting to discuss ideas and plans, and creating events and entertainment, concerts and conferences, or entire churches that revolve around charismatic speakers and musicians. But we rarely come together with zeal just to meet with God.

As I near the conclusion of this book, I believe this is one of the primary reasons—if not the primary reason—the American church is in its current state. For far too long, an American gospel has fueled desires for all sorts of things other than the one thing—or, more appropriately put, the One—we most need. And I believe this means our greatest need moving forward—over and above everything else—is simply to cry out in individual and collective desperation for God and God alone as the prize of our lives.

Apparently, what makes heaven so great isn’t the gold streets or beautiful mansions we have so often imagined in our American gospel, as if God is trying to compete with (or outdo) our economic prosperity. What makes heaven so great is the reality that followers of Jesus are finally and perfectly with God, the One who is better than all the best things of this world put together.

The psalmist expressed it well: One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple. (27:4) “One thing,” he said. More than anything else, he wanted to be with God. He just wanted to look at him. He just wanted to speak to him. All of God is all he wanted. Let’s pause to ask, Is that all we want?

SEEKING, THIRSTING, FAINTING I see this picture of God as the prize of our lives so clearly in Psalm 63. Listen to David’s language there: O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. (verse 1) Doesn’t that sound like God was the one thing David wanted and earnestly sought?

This brings us to the heart of what it means to be a Christian. Christianity is extreme obsession with God made possible by the gospel of Jesus Christ.

We love family, friends, health, work, money, success, sex, sports, exercise, food, and a host of other things in this world. Of course, we believe in God, and we say we worship him. But do we want God more than we want family or friends? Do we want God more than we want comfort or success? Do we want God more than we want money or possessions or any number of pleasures in this world? Do we want God more than we want to be liked? Do we want time with God more than we want sleep or exercise or a host of other things that fill our busy schedules? Do we want the Word of God more than we want food every day?

But here we arrive at a potential problem. If we’re not careful, we can receive and enjoy these good gifts in such a way that we begin to love them more than we love the God who gives them to us. In fact, I would take this one step further. It’s dangerously possible for every one of us to love family, health, hobbies, possessions, or pleasures in this world—and to even sincerely thank God for these things—but not to actually love God.

What do I mean? Picture yourself alone at sea in a storm. Your tiny boat is rapidly taking on water, and you know you’re about to drown. Then over the waves you see a large ship steaming toward you. It settles next to your tiny boat, and the crew hoists you out of the water. Wouldn’t you be relieved? Yet stop and ask, Does feeling grateful for your rescue by ship mean you now love the captain of that ship? Maybe. But maybe not. You see, it’s possible to love rescue without actually loving the rescuer. I believe this scenario describes what so many people in my country call Christianity today. A host of people don’t want to go to hell and will gladly take a supposed lifeboat to heaven. But when you look at our lives, it’s questionable whether we actually want the One who saves us. We don’t spend a lot of time with him. We don’t meditate on his Word. We rarely talk about him with others. Apparently, it’s possible for us to gratefully enjoy all kinds of good things and even thank God for them, but when it comes down to it, our hearts aren’t really for the Giver. Our hearts are for the gifts. And loving and desiring gifts more than the Giver isn’t Christianity. It’s idolatry.

Let’s go back to our questions, then. First, why do our hearts long for gifts over and above the Giver? Could it be that we aren’t seeing how truly satisfying God is? This seems to be at the root of the first sin in the world. Adam and Eve chose a gift—a piece of fruit and all the good things they thought it would bring—over God.

In the end, the reason we want gifts more than the Giver is that we have too high a view of gifts and too low a view of God.

So if we’re going to experience love for God that is greater than any other love, we don’t need to try harder; we need new hearts. We need a fundamental transformation at the core of who we are. We need God in his grace to open our eyes in a fresh way (or maybe for the first time) to see how indescribably wonderful and absolutely desirable he is.

In other words, we need to repent. And when I say “repent,” I don’t just mean saying “I’m sorry.” I mean we need the kind of repentance that only God’s Spirit can produce deep within our hearts. We need to fall on our knees—individually and together in our churches—and cry out to God, honestly confessing everything we value, desire, or love more than him, including family, friends, comfort, sex, success, money, possessions, pleasures, power, reputation, sleep, exercise, food, or, in the end, life itself.

But during this long season, my time alone with God was basically nonexistent. Sure, I would pray in a worship service I was leading, but I would hardly ever meet with God alone. I studied the Bible in order to preach it but almost never just to know God. That scares me. I could be successful in the eyes of the church and the Christian culture around me without any real desire for Christ.

In this way, the gospel of Jesus is fundamentally different from an American gospel that says, “Come to God, and get [fill in the blank].” We fill in the blank with social position, political power, national pride, or personal comfort. Or maybe we fill in the blank with forgiveness, a free pass out of hell, and guaranteed entrance into heaven. But those who hear the biblical gospel hear a different invitation: “Come to God, and get God.” And this true gospel invitation to seek God as our sole purpose and greatest prize is the antidote we most need for the ideology that’s poisoned the church in recent days. Amid all the rifts in the church, we desperately need to seek the One who alone can reconcile us.

Thomas À Kempis, medieval author of The Imitation of Christ, wrote, Do not those who always seek consolation [i.e., good gifts from God] deserve to be called mercenaries? Do not those who always think of their own profit and gain prove that they love themselves rather than Christ? Where can a man be found who desires to serve God for nothing? [1]

If we want this in our life—if we want Jesus as our life—we must leave behind mercenary religion. Let’s trade in all its false promises of ultimate satisfaction in gifts, and let’s step into the wealth, power, and freedom that are found in repenting of all lesser loves and running to the God whose love is better than life.

He then quoted another person’s account: Man after man would rise, confess his sins, break down and weep, and then throw himself to the floor and beat the floor with his fists in perfect agony of conviction. [One man] tried to make a confession, broke down in the midst of it, and cried to me across the room: “Pastor, tell me, is there any hope for me, can I be forgiven?” and then he threw himself to the floor and wept and wept, and almost screamed in agony. Sometimes after a confession, the whole audience would break out in audible prayer, and the effect of that audience of hundreds of men praying together in audible prayer was something indescribable. Again, after another confession, they would break out in uncontrollable weeping, and we would all weep, we could not help it. And so the meeting went on until two o’clock a.m., with confession and weeping and praying.[4] What had begun as a simple gathering turned into a full-on revival. It continued the next day and the next and the next.

Today South Korea sends more missionaries around the world than any other country besides the United States, which is pretty remarkable when you realize South Korea is roughly the size of Indiana. Stop and feel the weight of that.

In the Bible, however, we find that the path to true power and prosperity is actually paved with self-hatred. Jesus made that clear in John 12:25: “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” These words obviously don’t mean that Jesus is calling us to minimize the beauty of what it means to be made in the image of God, but in light of how that image has been marred in each of us, Jesus’s initial call is an invitation to deny ourselves and take up not a dream but a cross. The biblical gospel is a clear call for all of us to crucify ourselves.

I hope that it’s abundantly clear that the American gospel and the gospel of Jesus are two fundamentally different invitations. We can’t choose both, and the church today is filled with the wreckage from those who’ve tried. And that brings us to the options before us: Either we unite as the bride of Christ around the gospel of Christ and the authority of his Word, or we unite as a social club around our country’s ideals and our personal positions. Either we bridge the ethnic divide that Christ has abolished, or we deepen this divide that our country has perpetuated. Either we elevate God’s truth or our thoughts as supreme, and either we share God’s truth with compassion, or we repel the next generation. Either we spend our lives doing justice and loving mercy, or we spend endless hours debating justice and ignoring mercy. Either we reach the unreached with passion to make disciples of all nations, or we ignore the unreached with passion to make our lives in our nation great. Either we pursue God as the prize of our lives now and forever, or we prostitute God for prizes that will all fade. An American gospel accompanied by a casual, comfortable Christian spin on the American dream leads to Christ-defaming division in the church and damnation for the nations, as well as the next generation.

I invite you to embrace the biblical gospel in your life and in your church. But where should we begin? Consider six steps that I believe can be a starting point for shaking free from the vestiges of an American gospel and stepping into the fullness of the biblical gospel. I don’t presume that these six steps are exhaustive, but I believe that they are

1. CULTIVATE COMMUNITY ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN When we get to heaven by God’s grace, we’re going to be with a lot of people of different ethnicities who had different convictions while they were on earth and who were from different generations. So why are we waiting until heaven to experience divinely designed community, especially when Jesus made it possible for us (and called us to enjoy it) here on earth?

There are fifty-eight other “one another” commands for Christian community in Scripture, so go out of your way to obey them all, including commands to listen to one another, encourage one another, believe the best about one another, please one another, lay aside preferences for one another, and forgive one another.

2. SEEK GOD EARLY, LATE, AND LONG If the one thing we most need moving forward is to cry out in desperation for God alone as the prize of our lives and of our churches, then we need to seek him early, late, and long. If you don’t already have daily time set aside just to be with God alone in prayer and his Word, start there. If possible, make this a concentrated, extended amount of time to commune with him—sing to him, pray to him, listen to him, and sometimes just sit in silence before him. Rise early, set aside time during the day, and/or stay up late. Regardless of when, this one practice of unhurried, uninterrupted time with God will not just revolutionize your spiritual life; it will revolutionize your entire life.

Years ago, I heard someone say, “God does not reveal the intimate things of his heart to those who casually come and go.” These words have stuck with me ever since, and I’ve found them to be true, especially since I’ve been a part of longer prayer times alone and with others.

3. MEMORIZE A CHAPTER OR BOOK FROM GOD’S WORD Seeking God involves saturating your mind with God’s Word and nurturing compassionate conviction in your heart around it—much like we saw in Bashir, Moska, and other persecuted sisters and brothers. Like them, we need to trust and treasure God’s Word over and above everything, including our thoughts, our country’s ideals, our political positions, and popular trends. And I know of no better way to let God’s Word transform the way we think than to hide large portions of it in our minds and hearts through memorization.

In light of my hypothetical thousand-dollar challenge, consider Psalm 119:72: “The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.” The real question isn’t whether you can memorize. The real question is whether money or God’s Word itself is more valuable to you. Or maybe another way to put that question is this: Are you willing to seek God’s Word only if it’s a means to some end, like money? Or is God’s Word worthy enough in your estimation to be the end? The Bible is a treasure that is worthy of our lives, so let’s dedicate our lives to knowing it.

4. SHOW COUNTERCULTURAL COMPASSION IN THE WORLD At the end of chapter 3, I asked a series of questions about our posture toward those who may not be Christians or may hold opinions very different from ours. Many of the people I listed are likely to have had negative interactions with Christians, or at least to have a negative impression of the church. They might include more liberal members of school boards, abortion rights activists, Muslims or others from different religions, members of the LGBTQ community, or members of the opposing political party who differ from you on just about every possible position. And I could list many others.

It’s time we show countercultural compassion to those who don’t agree with us. It’s time we show them that the Word of God is not a weapon we wield against them but rather words that move us to show love and kindness to them. Toward this end, I want to encourage you to do three specific things in relationship with at least one person who might expect Christians to be hostile toward them: Share life. Get to know them on a personal level, genuinely becoming a good friend to them. Listen to their struggles. Learn about their perspective. Seek to understand their story. Assume the best about them. Along the way, to the extent to which they are open, share your life with them in similar ways. Show compassion. Go out of your way to care well for them. Not with any other motive than to be a reflection of God’s love in their life. Just as Jesus taught us, love them as yourself. Speak the gospel to them out of genuine love for them.

5. DO JUSTICE In chapter 4, I listed different ways of doing justice (though that list isn’t comprehensive) and challenged all of us to hold orphans in our arms, help widows in our communities, provide for the poor in our cities, serve refugees in our country, host immigrants in our homes, rescue slaves from traffickers, visit people in prison, care for victims of abuse, come alongside moms and dads with unwanted pregnancies, and do multitudes of other things that are right for people as exemplified in God’s character and expressed in God’s Word. With this as a starting place, spend time praising God for how he is currently enabling you to do justice in the world around you by the power of his Spirit. Then pray and consider one, two, or three specific additional ways that God might be leading you to do justice as an individual, as a family, or as a church.

6. REACH THE UNREACHED God has given you a unique and significant part to play in the spread of the gospel among all the nations, so this final step involves making a plan to ensure you don’t miss out on his purpose for your life. I encourage you to intentionally live out biblical passion for unreached nations by answering three questions (and the last one has two parts, so I guess it’s technically four):

How will you pray for unreached nations? Come up with a plan for making time to pray for people who have never heard the gospel. Consider how to make time to pray as a family and with others in your church.

How will you give to unreached nations? In chapter 5, we explored the need to rectify the great imbalance by giving to the spread of the gospel among the least reached people in the world.

How will you go to unreached nations? This question has two parts because I want to encourage you to think about where you live as well as wherever God leads.

First answer, How will you go to unreached nations where you live? As we saw in chapter 5, God has brought people from unreached nations to our communities and cities.

Then answer, How will you go to unreached nations wherever God leads? More than 3.2 billion people won’t be reached with the gospel if we all stay where we live. At some point, somebody needs to go to them, and that somebody could be you. Or me.

So here we sit, and the choice is before us. The American gospel or the biblical gospel. Worldly division or otherworldly unity. Homogeneous community or multiethnic beauty. Twisting God’s Word or trusting it. Repelling coming generations or reaching them. Talking about justice and missing the good life or doing justice and experiencing the good life. Zeal for our nation alone or zeal for all nations on earth, particularly those who still haven’t even heard the gospel. God as a means or God as the end. Worldly power and fading prosperity as we promote ourselves or heavenly power and everlasting prosperity as we crucify ourselves. Let’s embrace the biblical gospel.

Related Images:

What if Jesus was Serious About the Church

What If Jesus Was Serious about the Church?: A Visual Guide to Becoming the Community Jesus Intended, Skye Jethani (this is a must-read book, please support the author by purchasing his book) Below you will read some of the highlights from my reading through the book.

Few doubt the dominance and effectiveness of corporations. For that reason, over the last fifty years, churches—both large and small—have increasingly copied the values and strategies of corporations as well.

Most pastors now stay inside church facilities all week managing programs, and ministry happens when people come to them.

Success is measured by the growth of the institution itself, not how it benefits a community or even its industry. Starbucks doesn’t just want you to drink coffee;

This emphasis on institutional church growth has even changed our language. Earlier generations spoke about Christians and non-Christians, or believers and nonbelievers. But in the era of the church-as-corporation, we now talk about the churched and the unchurched. These invented words reveal a shift in our missional goal. It’s no longer to connect a person with Christ; we want them connected to our ministry.

“In the beginning the church was a fellowship of men and women centered on the living Christ. Then the church moved to Greece, where it became a philosophy. Then it moved to Rome, where it became an institution. Next, it moved to Europe, where it became a culture. And, finally, it moved to America, where it became an enterprise.”

What we’re seeing in the church today—pastoral burnout and immorality, abuse and cover-ups, financial impropriety, toxic leadership cultures, and the elevation of effectiveness over faithfulness—matches what we’ve come to expect from giant businesses. It also explains why the age of the corporate church has not only added churched and unchurched to our Christian vocabulary, it has also given us a new word— dechurched. Some church members now feel more like replaceable cogs in a ministry machine rather than essential members of the body of Christ.

Most, however, express a frustration with the corporate machinery of the church—the institutional upkeep, systems, programs, and a general fatigue over the dehumanizing cultures they foster. As one exhausted middle-aged woman said to me, “Is this really what Jesus intended the church to be?”

They’re not leaving the church to renounce their faith, but to preserve it. They worry that prolonged exposure to the toxicity within their church structure will sour their view of Christianity itself.

“I became a pastor,” one told me, “because I honestly believed the local church is the hope of the world. But now I’m not so sure.” Explaining his exhaustion and fatigue, he continued, “It breaks my heart to admit this, but when I meet non-Christians in my community, I honestly think their lives will be worse, not better, if they come to my church.”

They want to know if the church must be an exhausting corporation, or if it can be a “fellowship of men and women centered on the living Christ” as it was in the beginning.

Therefore, while it’s wrong to read the modern idea of the church as a corporation back into Scripture, we can apply to our modern setting the ancient biblical idea of the church as a family.

Recent surveys have found that young people are experiencing an epidemic of loneliness. Despite the endless entertainment and engagement accessible to them via screens and social media, they desperately long for real, incarnate community.

A church that embraces the value of being a spiritual family, more than anything else, is equipped to meet this generation’s relational and spiritual thirst.

Which is the right definition? That’s not really the best question. Depending on the context, any one of these four definitions may be appropriate. The better question to ask is: How did the writers of the New Testament define the church?

And while the early Christians did meet weekly for prayer, teaching, and encouragement, these events were not called “church” but rather were understood to be gatherings of the church.

It is very possible to dedicate your time, treasure, and talents to an institution called a “church” but never know the mutual love, joy, hope, and support that comes when united with God’s people.

In our highly systems-oriented, institutional age we need the discernment to recognize the difference between serving the church, serving the church through an institution, and merely serving an institution.

Businesses recruit, hire, promote, fire, and replace in order to assemble the best team. And while many churches also apply these marketplace strategies in an effort to get the right people on the bus, they often forget one critical fact—it’s not their bus. The bus belongs to Jesus, and He decides who is on it even if we think they’re not the “right people.”

To make matters worse, they didn’t even share the same values, background, or politics with one another. They had no earthly reason to be together.

No one thought a tax collector and a Zealot belonged on the same bus.

Unity is not something we find through a common interest, a mutual ethnic identity, a shared political ideology, or even a joint mission. It only comes from abiding in the same Lord. Left to ourselves, we would never associate with people we do not like.

If your church is a homogeneous group who all share the same vision of society, politics, and culture, and if you chafe at the thought that you may be worshiping alongside someone who voted for a candidate you despise, or if anger arises when you discover a leader in your church prioritizes issues differently than you do—it’s a pretty good indication that you haven’t gotten onto Jesus’ bus. Instead, you may have invited Him onto yours.

Our culture champions the independent spirit of the explorer, the cowboy, the pioneer, and the entrepreneur. So, it makes sense that in the religious realm, American culture would also emphasize the individual’s connection to God.

But a closer inspection of Scripture may reveal that the “me and God” framework is one we’ve imposed on the text rather than one we’ve learned from the text.

It’s because Daniel recognized a facet of relating to God that we often overlook. While we have a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” we also have a collective relationship with Him. It’s not just “me and God,” it’s also “us and God.”

THE CHURCH IS CALLED to courageously and prophetically overcome the divisions of the world, but all too often it merely reflects and reinforces them.

In a world where our culture is increasingly diverse, and many pastors are talking about diversity, it appears most people are happy where they are—and with whom they are.”

But even in more diverse communities, most congregations remain homogeneous, and this is not fueled by overt or even subconscious racism. Instead, it’s driven by pragmatism. It’s far easier to lead, manage, and operate a single-culture church where there is broad agreement about music styles, program structures, leadership, and values, and historically churches have grown faster and larger when they are homogeneous. Birds of a feather, the data says, like to fellowship together.

Just as the pandemic taught us of the difference between school (an institution) and education (the institution’s purpose), we need to have a similar awakening about the church.

The church has a vital and undeniable role to play in our spiritual formation—one that too many Christians ignore. At the same time, the institutional church cannot be the only source for our development as Christians and it cannot encompass the entirety of our life with God.

Likewise, the institutional church is an incredible gift, but we must remember that it is a means to an end. The institution does not exist for itself.

Therefore, when we encounter the word “you” in these writings it is most often plural, but the English reader has no way of knowing that apart from the wider context and an awareness of the apostle’s original audience. Simply put, in most cases, the apostles are not speaking to me, but to us

Our minds are simply not trained to think collectively, so we tend to confine and individualize the text.

What if I am a fool following the imaginary calling of a nonexistent God? What frightens me most isn’t facing hardship or pain, but the possibility that my pain has no purpose. What if everything really is meaningless?

Some think that to believe in God means no longer struggling with these deep questions of meaning, that somehow the true Christian never knows doubt. That is untrue. Being a Christian simply means we’ve shifted the focus of our struggle. As Eugene Peterson said, “Believers argue with God; skeptics argue with each other.”

Jacob’s story epitomizes the life of faith. God’s people trust Him, but it’s often a struggle because we are flawed, fearful creatures. A church—being an assembly of believers—is simply a community that wrestles with God together. It’s where we struggle openly rather than privately, and where questions are asked and sometimes answered. But when no answer is found, the church is also where we find comfort, support, and encouragement.

There is no question we are a deeply divided society, and the divisions are more than political. With the proliferation of social media and algorithms that severely narrow our vision of the world, we seem to occupy completely different realities.

With the aid of technology, divisions today don’t merely separate us, they dehumanize us.

Rather than reflecting the divisions of society, the church is called to reflect the unity of God’s kingdom.

We cannot implore our Lord to both bless and curse our opponent. In prayer, goodwill grows to eclipse malice in the heart of the Christian toward her enemy.

Justin Martyr understood that praying for our enemies is the first step in changing how we see them. And once we see them differently, they might just come to see us differently as well.

That means the church’s greatest weapon against evil isn’t how we vote but how we pray.

Anger is so visceral, and far more accessible for most of us than empathy or reason, that it’s the emotion we usually experience first when challenged. When we feel out of control, fearful, or even mildly uncomfortable, anger appears almost instantaneously. And this anger isn’t generalized—it’s focused on whatever or whomever we perceive to be the cause of our struggle.

For this reason, anger has been elevated to a virtue in much of our culture. With it, we are able to define ourselves by who we stand against, rather than the ideals we stand for. In a twisted way, we have become dependent on our enemies.

Imagine the shock, therefore, when a new community emerged where Jews and Gentiles worshiped together, shared a table, and called one another “brothers and sisters.” It was scandalous and even shameful.

The early church was not driven by anger, nor were Jesus’ followers defined by their enemies. Instead, they were compelled by God’s love and defined by the cross where Jesus willingly gave up His life to save His enemies.

And yet, across every generation, every ethnicity, every economic and denominational barrier, the simple elements of the bread and the cup have endured as marks of Christ’s people.

Sharing a table is how we form bonds and establish a common identity. It’s why every culture uses a meal to celebrate marriages. Two families share a meal to acknowledge their new bond as kin.

But for Christians who recognize the formative power of the table, it can be used by God to shape their lives and community in unimaginably beautiful ways.

Being a symbol always makes something more important and never less. The same is true for Christ’s table.

In each case, the covenant symbol was directly related to the nature of the covenant itself, and each symbol pointed to something powerful about God’s relationship with His people.

A shared meal is a powerful reminder that what Jesus accomplished on the cross wasn’t a sacrifice merely to redeem me, but the way God has reconciled a people to Himself.

Theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg says it this way: “We have in these meals the central symbolic action of Jesus in which his message of the nearness of God’s reign and its salvation is focused and vividly depicted… . Everything that separates from God is removed in the table fellowship that Jesus practiced.”9 In other words, the essence of Jesus’ message was manifested in His meals.

But for Jesus, this was more than a message, and the table was more than a sermon illustration. It was the pattern and practice of His life.

Customer focus groups showed its symbolism was a barrier to newcomers, and the logistics of serving ten thousand or more attendees each weekend proved too cumbersome. Ironically, for attendees of some churches, the central component of Jesus’ ministry is now seen as an impediment to theirs.

When Christians no longer form these bonds around the bread and cup, which represent Jesus’ sacrifice, we shouldn’t be surprised when something else takes its place. According to Paul Louis Metzger, a professor of theology and culture, the coffee bar has replaced the Communion table in many churches, with unintended consequences.

As Metzger recognizes, “Both the coffee bar and Lord’s Table affirm community, but the kind of community they affirm differs significantly”

At the Lord’s Table, we are guests; we are each invited and welcomed by Christ. We do not choose who we share the meal with. We do not place an order. We do not customize our beverage. Instead, we all receive the same bread and drink from the same cup. At the Lord’s Table, we are all humble recipients of the same unmerited grace.

At the coffee bar, by contrast, we are in control. We review our options. We order what we want, when we want, and how we want. We decide whom to share a table with, and whom to avoid. The coffee bar is not designed to form us into Christians, but into consumers

The researchers called it the “Homogeneous Unit Principle.” What they intended as an observation, however, was made into a prescription for church growth by ambitious pastors. Ministry professionals took the data and said if you want your church to grow, avoid diversity. Of course, it was rarely presented that negatively.

There is no doubt the Homogeneous Unit Principle works, but a more important question rarely gets asked—is it right? Does it fit with the church we find in the New Testament?

But that’s not the church Jesus wanted. Instead, He called Jews and Gentiles to share one faith, one church, and one table. As a committed Jew, the apostle Peter struggled repeatedly with seeing Gentiles as his equals.

Like us, Peter wanted a comfortable church filled with the people he preferred. He wanted the Communion table to be occupied by people who shared his identity and his views.

Parker Palmer wrote: In true community we will not choose our companions, for our choices are so often limited by self-serving motives. Instead, our companions will be given to us by grace. Often they will be persons who will upset our settled view of self and world. In fact, we might define true community as that place where the person you least want to live with lives

In the ancient world, remembrance was not merely the mental recollection of past events. Rather, it meant recalling a past event so that the power of that event may enter the present. For Jesus and His disciples, the redemptive work of God was not something to reminisce about. It was not just a story to be mentally recalled. The redemption of God, and His power to deliver His people, was continuing right into the present.

The meal was not just about remembering what God had done in the past—Jesus was inviting that saving power into the present.

The table was to be more than an edible history lesson.

The table is a time machine through which God’s saving power from the past is transported into the present.

What if it’s about experiencing His redemption today? What if, in remembering, we bring the salvation from the past into the present?

These words reveal that Jesus was not just focused on God’s past faithfulness or even His present work of redemption through the cross. He was also looking to the future—the fulfillment of the kingdom of God.

When we come to the table as Jesus did, we will discover it is where the past, present, and future converge into a single point of grace.

Rather than the open-armed Jesus of the Gospels who welcomed sinners to His dinner table, too many of us imagine Jesus to be an intimidating maître d’ ensuring only the right people get a seat and the unworthy are judged for even trying.

Paul’s primary concern with the Lord’s Table was unity, not purity. Rather than gathering at the table as a sign of their oneness in Christ, the Corinthians were using the table to reinforce social divisions—particularly the divide in their culture between rich and poor.

This is why Paul was so upset. Through their disunity, they were betraying the meaning of the meal. They were mocking the sacrifice of Christ, which had made them one family.

Are we coming as one people united in Christ or as those still divided by the categories of our society? And while self-examination is always beneficial, here Paul is asking us to examine whether we are estranged from a sister or brother, and to heal that division before coming to the table.

To use his words, communities that make the table about me rather than about us are guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.

To share the same table, partake of the same bread, and drink from the same cup is a bold declaration of our equality before God. The Lord’s Table, when faithfully and biblically practiced, shatters the heresy of white supremacy.

And churches that are determined to maintain or ignore the unjust systems of the world must still contend with the revolutionary implications of the Lord’s Table.

As a result, sharing the bread and cup became a way for Christians to express gratitude for their redemption from darkness, as well as a way to celebrate their Lord’s triumph over the world. That’s why early Christians didn’t merely “take Communion.” Instead, they “celebrated the Eucharist.”

The Pharisees saw a rabbi defiling Himself among sinners who were the enemies of God, but with His response, Jesus was trying to open their eyes to see something more. Not a rabbi among sinners, but a doctor healing the sick. Somehow, by simply sharing a table with Matthew and his ungodly friends, Jesus was bringing healing.

Our acceptability is always conditional, and every human soul carries the wounds of rejection from not meeting someone’s standard.

Rejection always leaves a wound—not a visible one, but a cut in our souls whose scar we may carry for the remainder of our lives. It’s at Christ’s table, as we gather to remember His wounds, that we discover ours are welcomed as well.

Sometimes the bread and cup may become so important to a community that they may become idols. The table itself can become an object of worship replacing the One who calls us to it.

As a result, some modern descendants of these traditions have defined the table as an important ordinance of the church, but not a sacrament of God’s grace and presence. Others, however, have gone much further and marginalized the table or abandoned it altogether.

We crave a visible, sensory encounter with God and if the table no longer fulfills this function in the church, we will find something else.

The awe and reverence some churches exhibit toward the bread and cup are instead projected upon the pastor to the point that in some congregations the line between worshiping Christ and worshiping the pastor becomes blurred.

When people view their pastor sacramentally—as their link to Christ and His grace—very often their faith in God Himself is shattered when the pastor is revealed to be a fraud or even just a fallible human being.

WHAT DO YOU EXPECT from a church service? What have you been taught to expect? I often hear church leaders make bold promises about what will happen during their gatherings on Sunday morning.

But there is a significant difference between acknowledging these things could happen and promising they will happen. The former is a humble recognition of God’s power and mystery. The latter is a prideful and downright pagan attempt to control God for our purposes.

I wonder if the promises of some church leaders and our inflated expectations are partly responsible for the disappointment so many have with the church today.

Both church leaders and laity have come to believe these external experiences are the primary vehicle for encountering God and growing in faith.

Rather than emphasize external elements, like mountains, Jesus said true worship is an inner posture of Spirit and truth.

The transformation Moses experienced, while real, was only temporary.

It is an ever-increasing change, and this power is not conducted through a sermon, or song, or service. It comes from the Spirit. In other words, for those who belong to the new covenant in Christ, God and His transforming glory are no longer found through external events, but through internal communion.

This truth should profoundly change our expectations for our church gatherings. It means we don’t find communion with God by attending a worship event. Instead, we express our communion with God by attending a worship event.

We live in an age of Christian pragmatism. The influence of business and industry has seeped into the church and convinced many that the church ought to adopt the methods and metrics of the marketplace. Likewise, in many places, the Sunday worship gathering is designed with customer feedback in mind. How many came? Did they like the music? Was the sermon helpful enough? How much did they give? Of course, it’s not just church leaders who are constrained by pragmatism. Many church members approach worship with a similar calculation. Did I receive enough from the church to justify giving up my Sunday morning?

Alec Guinness had it right—if we’ve encountered the holy, mysterious, and infinitely loving God then there will be things about our communion with Him that defy usefulness and that are utterly nonsensical. This is true of love even on a human level.

And if our primary goal for Sunday worship is self-improvement or institutional growth, then we should admit we aren’t really there to worship God at all, but to use Him. And if our worship is always driven by pragmatism, let’s confess that it isn’t really worship. It is witchcraft.

Increasingly, I’m hearing Christians question the value of their church’s Sunday gathering, and the move to online streaming services during the pandemic only accelerated the discontent. I wonder if earlier generations were equally frustrated with church gatherings but carried a greater sense of duty to persevere.

Regardless of the cause, if we are serious about our faith but struggling with attending church, then at some point we must wrestle with what Scripture says about it.

number of reasons for gathering—to offer our worship to God, to learn sound doctrine from our teachers, to be equipped for our mission as Christ’s disciples. But he lists none of these. Instead, the author of Hebrews offers a more basic, human, and pastoral reason. We are to meet regularly to encourage “one another.”

The kind of faith-building encouragement commanded in Hebrews, however, is personal, relational, and reciprocal. It’s not accomplished by passively sitting in a theater seat watching a performance.

He promises to be with us, just as we are with each other. This means we may encounter Him just as easily, and maybe more so, in a small gathering than in a large one.

It’s important to see that Jesus did not condemn John for doubting.

Rather than condemning John’s doubts, Jesus responded by encouraging his faith. He said to John’s friends, “Go and tell John what you have seen” (see Luke 7:18–23). Jesus knew that in Herod’s dungeon John’s vision was severely limited. He saw only darkness, evil, and injustice.

Sometimes our circumstances make us blind to God and we become vulnerable to doubts and fears. In such times we need our friends, we need our community, we need the church.

That is what it means for the church to gather and encourage one another.

On any given Sunday, those of us with vision are to become the eyes of those who are blind, knowing the next week we may be in the dungeon needing to borrow the eyes of our brother on the mountaintop.

MANY HAVE COME TO SEE the church primarily as an event rather than as a community. It is something they attend rather than something they are

What all of these experiences share in common is the general passivity of the audience. They gather to be entertained, informed, or amused by the performers on the stage or the field.

Sally Morganthaler writes: We are not producing worshipers in this country. Rather, we are producing a generation of spectators, religious onlookers lacking, in many cases, any memory of a true encounter with God, deprived of both the tangible sense of God’s presence and the supernatural relationship their inmost spirits crave

Remember, Jesus did not say where two or three are gathered I will stand before them. He said, “I will be in the midst of them.” The presence of God is revealed in the relationships between His people, not on a stage in front of them.

What we find in the New Testament, however, is that anyone can preach. For example, Jesus sent His disciples out into the villages of Judea to “preach” the kingdom of God when they were still confused about the most basic facts.

In most of our churches, these men wouldn’t be allowed near a Sunday school class let alone a pulpit. So why did Jesus command them to “preach the kingdom”

The problem is that we confuse teaching with preaching. Teaching requires proficiency with a set of knowledge; it requires comprehension. Jesus doesn’t tell His disciples to “teach” until after His resurrection when they finally understood his identity and mission. Preaching, on the other hand, simply means “to proclaim” or “to announce.” Preaching requires one to have experienced what is being proclaimed, but it doesn’t mean you completely understand it.

Far too many of God’s people neglect this calling because we have incorrectly made it the domain of trained experts, and this has profoundly warped our church gatherings into a time when nearly everyone is silent and only one person—the one possessing the most knowledge—is permitted to speak.

But when only one person is expected to arrive to the gathering with something to share, what are we communicating about the value of everyone else?

Jesus was raised to life on a Sunday because His resurrection was the beginning of the new creation. Easter was the start of God “making all things new” in Christ.

We worship on Sunday not merely to acknowledge the reality of Jesus’ resurrection. We worship on Sunday not simply to celebrate our own redemption and access to eternal life through the cross and empty tomb. We worship on Sunday because through Christ we have become a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), and we have become a people of the new creation.

Like the creation account in Genesis, which began but did not end on the first Sunday, God’s re-creation began on Easter Sunday and continues to unfold even now.

Sunday is about creation and new creation, and it captures the essence of God’s mission, and ours, to make all things new.

At its core, Sabbath is about freedom from bondage, not merely rest from activity. Once we see the link between Sabbath and slavery, Jesus’ controversial actions on the Sabbath also begin to make sense.

The religious elites were narrowly focused on the command to not work, but Jesus was focused on the reason for not working.

He understood that the Sabbath itself was a sign of freedom from bondage, and there was no real Sabbath rest for those still enslaved by disease. By healing, Jesus was fulfilling the meaning of the Sabbath, not violating it.

Therefore, Christians have commemorated the world’s freedom and our deliverance on Sunday—the day our slavery was ended. And the way we now practice Sabbath isn’t merely resting from work one day a week.

For the Christian, the Sabbath isn’t just a day of rest or worship; it’s a day for mission and justice.

Some churches, however, operate more like ground control by utilizing Sunday to recruit more people to do more work. The work is too important, church leaders say, and time is too limited. There’s no time for rest. There’s no time in our church service for silence. We can’t slow down to reflect or meditate—we have things to accomplish in these seventy-five minutes together. Goodness, in many of our churches there isn’t even time for prayer or Communion anymore. Rather than lifting our eyes to the horizon, some church gatherings are designed to keep our noses to the grindstone.

But we are not machines, and God has not redeemed us merely to put us to work.

In other words, Israel’s God did not need us. He does not need your service, offerings, praise, prayers, or your Sunday morning.

Because of our consumer mindset, we assume that worship must have a concrete outcome; some practical purpose that measurably benefits either us or God. In this formulation—which is the hallmark of paganism—worship is a means to an end; it is a transaction in which we offer to the deity what he needs (praise, prayers, sacrifices) and in response, we expect to receive what we need (blessing, protection, wealth, etc.).

That being said, his tweet perfectly captures a transactional understanding of worship. He offered God his praise 24/7, and in exchange he expected divine help catching footballs. Steve Johnson had kept his end of the deal but felt God had failed to uphold his. This is not Christianity. It is paganism. And it is not biblical worship. It’s an attempt to control God with offerings, sacrifices, and incantations.

Properly understood, true Christian worship is never transactional. God delights in our praises, but He does not need them.

What His disciples saw as wasteful, Jesus saw as beautiful. What they interpreted as selfish, Jesus received as worship. The woman had poured out her most precious possession at Jesus’ feet to honor Him. He understood her intent and therefore did not interpret her actions through a lens of practicality.

Real love sees the intrinsic value of that which it adores rather than its transactional value.

She saw Jesus’ intrinsic value, and He affirmed her for it. This is what we, like the first disciples, often miss about worship.

Unlike religions fueled by superstition or fear, true Christian faith does not worship God with a practical goal in mind. It is not transactional. It is not useful. Worship is an impractical and beautiful act of adoration that flows from a heart transfixed by the beauty of God.

Our consumer society has formed us to associate value with usefulness, and when something is no longer useful we do not hesitate to throw it away and acquire something else.

That’s why the church’s worship gatherings should be full of beauty, art, and all sorts of impractical things. They serve to counteract the utilitarian impulse of our culture and remind us that the most important things in the world—God and people—do not exist to be used but to be adored.

If the church’s worship communicates, directly or indirectly, that the Creator exists to be used, we shouldn’t be surprised to find an indifference among Christians toward people we have determined aren’t useful either.

We do that by learning to value what is not useful. We do that by cultivating beauty in our worship. Beauty is the prelude for justice, and justice is true worship.

Pragmatism had infected their worship just as injustice had infected the land. The two always go together. That is why God tells His people to honor the poor, set free the oppressed, and show dignity to those the world calls useless, and “then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am’” (Isa. 58:9).

The church’s impractical worship not only reveals God’s character to us and teaches us to value Him and others apart from their usefulness, but our worship also confronts the sinfulness of our world.

Worship, however, is the opposite of war. It is an act of creation rather than destruction, of order rather than chaos, and beauty rather than ugliness.

We are creating an oasis of beauty amid the dehumanizing ugliness of our world.

If we recall the strict structures of worship commanded in the Old Testament, David’s words appear shocking and even blasphemous—especially coming from Israel’s king.

All of these very precise, liturgical, and formal structures of worship were set up by the Lord Himself through Moses and outlined in the Torah, Israel’s Law. But in Psalm 51, David, Israel’s king, dismisses this entire, God-ordained system of sacrifices and rituals—not because the system itself was wrong, but because David understood it was always intended to express a deeper reality. He says God does not delight in these external performances and symbols, because what He really desires is our hearts.

David recognized that if we do not genuinely want God, no amount of singing or sacrifices will make our worship acceptable.

In modern societies, we tend to see God as a machine, and therefore we engage worship as a program or formula. As long as we provide the right inputs (sacrifices, prayers, rituals), then we believe we will get the right outputs (forgiveness, blessings, and euphoria).

What He desires is us. True worship is the expression of a relationship, not merely the performance of a ritual.

WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING in a church? What binds a Christian community together? What is the irreducible, irreplaceable foundation upon which everything else depends?

In both letters, Paul is unambiguous—Jesus Christ Himself is the irreducible, irreplaceable foundation of the church. At first, this may not strike you as surprising, but upon closer inspection, it profoundly challenges many of our modern assumptions. Here’s why—many churches today have been deeply influenced by corporate business values.

If corporations have proven strategies for selling coffee and chicken sandwiches, why shouldn’t the church use them to sell Jesus Christ? One corporate value the church has been eager to adopt is the centrality of “the mission.”

Everyone wants to be “missional,” “mission-centric,” or “mission-driven” these days.

What is not ambiguous, however, is that what binds the true church together is not a task but a person

When the church copies their values, we can’t help but make our mission foundational as well, and in a subtle twist of idolatry, the work of Jesus comes to replace the person of Jesus in our lives and in our churches. In the process, we cease to be a true temple of God and instead become just another organization with a product to sell.

With this dire warning, Paul is speaking directly to those who are provoking divisions and factions among the Corinthian believers. Through their actions, they are scheming to dismantle the temple of God; to divide and destroy it. And those who destroy God’s temple, God will destroy. It’s the strongest warning Paul unleashes on the Corinthians anywhere in his letter.

Unity is essential to the mission of God in the world. When the world sees formerly divided people who used to be filled with hatred, envy, anger, and rage, transformed and united into a people of love, goodness, and kindness—they will believe. When the world sees people once divided by race, color, class, and tradition, now embracing one another as brothers and sisters—they will believe. But if church unity is lost, if the temple of God is divided, His mission will not be accomplished.

Therefore, those within the church who are causing divisions are actually working to undermine the very mission and purpose of God.

Simply put, the church is supposed to preview the new world God is creating, not preserve the one that is passing away.

Sadly, the church has often abandoned its calling to reflect God’s kingdom in order to reflect the kingdoms of this world. In doing so, it worsens and solidifies the divisions of society rather than heals them.

There may be churches today that are deliberately rejecting the call to reflect God’s kingdom and consciously bowing to the values of consumerism, nationalism, or some other idolatrous kingdom of this world. But I suspect the more common error today is the same one made by the Corinthians. We simply don’t slow down to examine our cultural values and habits and ask whether they are reinforcing the divisions of our society or healing them.

The problem is not that we hear God’s call for the church and disobey it, but rather that we are so immersed in the ways of our culture that we do not hear His call at all.

Society where the categories of rich/poor, male/female, slave/free, Jew/Gentile, black/white, young/old, native/immigrant, liberal/conservative, and every other social division or hostility are mended. And any church designed—intentionally or not—to reinforce the divisions of society rather than heal them has betrayed the call of Christ.

IN OUR INCREASINGLY DIVIDED CULTURE, there is one thing that Americans still share in common—we all like to be comfortable. Our uncontested desire for comfort, however, has a dark side. Too much comfort is not only harmful, it can be downright dangerous.

For decades, we have tried to make church gatherings a comfortable setting for both Christians and non-Christians to gather and hear Jesus’ message. From the cushioned theater seats with built-in cup holders to the spoon-fed, three-point sermon with fill-in-the-blank pre-written notes—the only challenge most of us face on Sunday morning is actually getting our families to church. Once through the door, however, we can relax and switch on the autopilot.

Require discomfort—the very thing many churches work hard to remove from their gatherings.

System two must be turned on, and the autopilot of system one turned off, in order to learn. The brain shifts gears from system one to system two when it is forced to work—when we are challenged, stretched, and made uncomfortable.

I’m certainly not opposed to clear sermons or a safe Sunday morning environment, but our current cultural obsession with comfort in the church may have unintended side effects that disrupt our mission rather than advance it. If our goal is simply assembling a crowd or increasing the membership of our institution, then comfort should be our highest value. But if our mission is to make disciples of Jesus who obey all that He commanded, then we need to rethink our dedication to comfort.

I’ve spoken with countless pastors who believe in the mission of “disciples who make disciples, who make disciples.” But it always provokes in me the same question: What is a disciple?

The goal of most MLMs isn’t merely to sell the products but to recruit more people under you to sell the products and receive a percentage of their revenues.

Some have identified this verse as Jesus’ marching orders for His church, and it’s often cited by church leaders as the biblical and theological justification for their goal of “making disciples, who make disciples, who make disciples.” The problem occurs when a church or ministry can’t actually define what a disciple is. At best they may define a disciple as someone who is plugged into the machinery of the ministry itself and therefore participating in its mission of making more disciples. But this is hardly a satisfying answer.

Are there broken things in this world over which the Creator does not grieve? When we say certain things “break God’s heart” we’re implying there is also a category of things beyond His concern.

And yet, that is how many churches function. We assume that God cares about redeeming souls but not bodies.

When the church narrowly defines “what breaks God’s heart,” it ends up producing narrow disciples who do not recognize the reign of Christ over every part of their lives and every atom of creation.

THE APOSTLE PAUL SAYS Jesus “emptied himself” when He took on flesh to dwell among us (Phil. 2:7). This means He willingly surrendered some of His divine powers and qualities, like omnipresence, in order to possess a physical body.

Technology, however, gives us the illusion of disembodiment and omnipresence. It allows us to escape the physical limitations of our bodies to transport ourselves elsewhere.

Thanks to the seemingly omnipotent corporations in Silicon Valley, I am no longer limited by time and space. I can transcend my body, my thoughts, and the irritating people in my physical presence. Our phones have become genies that grant us godlike powers, but what are we losing in the process?

The analog church of the past was slow. The gathering of actual bodies was messy and inefficient. The word was transmitted person to person, face to face. And care for souls required shepherds to be physically present with their sheep to listen, comfort, and pray. How old-fashioned.

The church can mass-produce disciples via YouTube, and tweets, and livestream its sermons to anonymous sheep anywhere in the world at any time. Dis-incarnate church is so much cleaner, more cost-effective, and massively more marketable.

Standing with that broken couple, I realized evil makes no distinction between us and our bodies, and neither can the church’s mission to overcome it. Jesus became fully human to redeem every part of us—mind, soul, and body. Any church that claims His name must do the same. Participating in the work of Jesus means accepting, and even embracing, our embodied limitations. It means assembling as physical creatures to care for one another as whole people, and not just as immaterial souls or online avatars.

effectiveness at the cost of our embodiedness. Christ’s mission for the church does not require us to be everywhere, do everything, and engage everyone. Instead, the mission happens when we are fully present with the broken people right where we are.

IN ORDER TO MEANINGFULLY PARTICIPATE in the church’s mission, many Christians assume they are required to dramatically change their circumstances. For example, for those who say the church’s mission is to “make disciples, who make disciples, who make disciples,” the best, most devoted disciples of Jesus must be those who give their full energy to this work.

If His goal encompasses all things, then fully participating in Christ’s mission does not require us to change our circumstances.

Paul’s reluctance to remove believers from their existing relationships, vocations, and circumstances reveals how skewed our modern vision of the church, ministry, and mission has become. We assume fulfilling Christ’s call means telling people to abandon their ordinary lives and activities to do more in the church, and we often define disciples as those who forsake earthly things to focus on heavenly things. But that’s exactly backward. For Christ to rule over all things means welcoming the presence of heaven into the earthly things we are already doing.

Following Jesus doesn’t mean becoming a Jewish rabbi. It doesn’t mean becoming an itinerant preacher. It doesn’t mean becoming a first-century carpenter. And it certainly doesn’t mean doing more church work. Being a disciple who participates in God’s mission means living your life, doing your work, engaging your relationships, and inhabiting your community with Christ and in a manner that manifests His rule right where you are.

By leaving his fishing business and following Jesus, Peter was declaring, “From now on I am linking my identity with rabbi Jesus. From now on, what the world thinks of Him is what they’ll think of me.”

If my Master takes the lowest, most shameful position in society, Peter must have thought, what does that say about me? At that moment Jesus wasn’t just humiliating Himself, He was humiliating Peter. He was deconstructing Peter’s pride, destroying his honor, and exposing Peterʼs unholy ambition.

Applying John 13 isn’t about church leaders accepting menial tasks, but about church leaders accepting ridicule and embarrassment, about not being respected in society, and not needing the affirmation of their peers. It’s having their ambitions exposed and extinguished.

By washing His disciples’ feet, Jesus was not showing us a more effective way to lead others. He was showing us what it really means to die to ourselves.

Jesus affirmed godly authority, even as He denounced corrupt religious leaders. Likewise, throughout his letters to the churches, the apostle Paul repeatedly calls on believers to honor their leaders.

The ancient Near East was an honor-based society where respect and deference to elders and leaders was largely unquestioned. In his command to honor leaders, Paul was simply asking Christians to do what their culture already affirmed.

We’ve seen so many hurt by their leadership and burdened by the dehumanizing systems they’ve overseen, often for personal gain. As a result, rather than affirming or honoring those who seek authority in the church, my instinct is to question their motives for wanting it in the first place.

It makes perfect sense, therefore, for Paul to draw from his Jewish heritage and reapply the fifth commandment, “Honor your father and mother” (Ex. 20:12), to the new family of God redeemed by Christ. Within the household of faith, we are to honor our leaders as our spiritual mothers and fathers.

Both our physical and spiritual lives are dependent on others.

The fifth commandment to honor our parents, and the instruction to honor church leaders, reminds us of our frailty and contingency—that we cannot obtain the most valuable things in the world without the help of others. These commands confront and unmake our illusion of autonomy and independence.

I desperately need others to lead me closer to Christ. The call to honor church leaders, therefore, isn’t about inflating their pride, but diminishing my own.

I’ve visited some churches where I’ve wondered who is really the object of devotion—Jesus Christ or the pastor?

Ever since Mount Sinai, it has been the tendency of God’s people to replace our invisible Lord with a visible idol. Today, we are not tempted to worship a golden calf, but a pastor with a golden tongue. Some Christians simply cannot imagine their faith without their favorite leaders standing in the gap between themselves and Christ.

With sad predictability, we hear reports of pastors tumbling from their pedestals. These stories are often accompanied by quotes from stunned church members naively unaware of how the pedestals they constructed contributed to their pastor’s inevitable fall.

To be fair, not every pastor who falls slipped off their pedestals; some are pushed. If we have foolishly relied on them as our primary connection with God, then when our leaders disappoint us, and they all will, we are more likely to turn on them just as the crowd in Lystra turned on Paul and Barnabas.

Too many of us grant a leader authority in our lives and over our faith based on popularity alone, rather than through the personal knowledge gained by living in proximity with a leader where true character can be observed.

It’s personal knowledge of the other’s character that establishes the trust necessary for a healthy relationship. This is what Jesus meant when He told His disciples that false teachers would be known by their fruit (Matt. 7:15–

When authority cannot be granted on the basis of proximity, however, our celebrity-obsessed culture will grant it on the basis of popularity alone. In these cases, we do not allow a leader authority based on a track record of faithfulness—because we don’t actually know the person—but, instead, authority is granted based on the magnitude of the person’s platform.

Our obsession with dynamic, effective celebrity pastors leads to a shallow authority based on the size of their platform rather than the gravity of their soul.

The belief that a church must have a compelling vision is now so accepted and ubiquitous in American Christianity that it’s questioned less than most matters of doctrine or theology.

Contemporary church leaders have interpreted this verse to mean that a community must have a shared sense of purpose, a common goal to draw people and align them.

Our culture uses the word vision to mean an inspiring idea employed by a leader to motivate others to action. However, you won’t find that definition of vision in the Bible. Better translations of Proverbs 29:18, for example, use the word revelation or the phrase prophetic vision

Instead, when the writers of the Bible spoke about visions, they meant a supernatural form of communication received by a prophet or apostle in a dream.

With this understanding, we can see that Proverbs 29:18 isn’t saying anything about effective leadership or goals at all. Instead, the verse is reminding us that without God’s words and self-revelation His people would perish.

Simply put, vision is about God revealing Himself to His people, it’s not about a leader motivating people to accomplish a goal.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor and theologian who opposed the Nazis, recognized the danger of adopting the world’s understanding of vision. He wrote: God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly. … He acts as if he is the creator of Christian community, as if his dream binds men together

Rather than a leader and his vision, the church is to be bound together by Christ. He alone is what unites the church, and any leader seeking to replace Christ with themselves or their vision is not serving the church. They are hijacking it.

Simply put, the whole point of Jesus’ mission—His birth, life, death, and resurrection—was so He could rule over everything. Grasping the cosmic scale of Jesus’ mission is critical if we are to understand what Paul says about the gifts He has given to the church.

We define ministry as church work, and therefore we assume that Jesus has given leaders to the church in order to equip others to serve within the church as well. But that is not what Paul meant.

Paul’s concern is much, much wider. He’s asking, How does Jesus expand His rule over everything? His answer: By giving the church leaders, filled with His power, to equip His people to love and serve Him everywhere. Not just inside a church building.

Ultimately it’s not about how many people attend to hear a sermon on Sunday, or even how many volunteers are engaged in the church’s programs. Instead, it’s about whether people are deepening their life with God and manifesting Christ’s kingdom everywhere they go Monday through Saturday.

Rather than empowering people to manifest God’s reign in the world, too many churches seek to use people to advance the goals of the institutional church.

Success is assumed when a person is plugged into the apparatus of the church institution rather than released to serve God’s people and their neighbors out in the world.

Packard interviewed hundreds of Christians who’ve given up on institutional churches. Remarkably, he discovered those most likely to leave the church were also the most spiritually mature and often had years of deep church involvement.

If those at the center are consistently burned out, exhausted, anxious, bitter, and unable to keep their core relationships healthy—be careful. Remember, the reason vampires want to suck the life out of you is because it’s already been sucked out of them.

I suspect that in many places we have created very fragile churches, and we know—although rarely admit—that even a small challenge could destroy them.

The inherent fragility of our churches, ministries, and schools helps explain, at least in part, why so many Christians carry so much anxiety today, and why we’re conditioned to see a threat behind every cultural or political change.

And when the church faced genuine persecution, as it did in Jerusalem following the martyrdoms of Stephen and James, rather than extinguishing its mission, the church only grew stronger and its mission only advanced faster. And even today, we see that where the church is growing most in the world is often where it is most challenged. The church of Jesus is without question the most anti-fragile system in world history.

Why do we build ministries that rely upon a single fallible leader, one dynamic speaker, or that require massive and unsustainable amounts of money? Our devotion to fragile systems means that as the pace of cultural, political, and technological change increases, so will the spirit of fear among Christians.

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Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin

This picture is on display in Room 5 at our church. It comes from the Book of Daniel. As the drunken king Belshazzar was at a feast, God sent him a sign: a human hand appeared, floating near the lampstand and writing four words in the plaster of the wall: “Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin.” Then, the hand disappeared (Daniel 5:5, 25).

The king paled and was extremely frightened; he called his wise men and astrologers and enchanters to tell him what the writing meant, but none of the wise men of Babylon could interpret the words.

Daniel was eventually brought before the king and Daniel rebuked Belshazzar’s pride: although the king knew the story of how God humbled his grandfather, he did not humble himself. Instead, he dishonored God by drinking from the sacred items of the temple (Daniel 5:22–23).

Then, Daniel interpreted the words on the wall. Mene means “God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end.” Tekel means “you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting.” Parsin means “your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians” (Daniel 5:24-28).

Will you pray this prayer over King’s Grant? Lord Jesus, may this not be prophetic and applied to King’s Grant. Pray that our days are not numbered. Pray that God is not finished with us yet. Pray that we can do honest self-reflection to see where we are found wanting and deficient. Pray that God’s kingdom here will not be divided. Father, convict us toward repentance and help us to walk in obedience; exhibiting behavior, attitudes, and speech that are worthy of the God we serve.

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Leading and Following in the Church

The position of pastor and elder are often used interchangeably. The church recognizes spiritual authority and sets apart some leaders for specialized ministry.

Is Authority Good or Bad? We certainly have been on the receiving end of an authoritarian leader, but what about in the church?

  1. God rules over all: (Daniel 4:34-35) and has absolute authority (Genesis 1:26-28, and we are made in his image).
  2. God ordained authorities: Governments and Parents (Romans 13:1-7, Ephesians 6:1-4). Authority is good when God ordains it, for our own good.

Elders are Called to Shepherd: We are like sheep in need of a shepherd (Psalm 23:1-6, Ezekiel 34, John 10:14-18, Jeremiah 3:15, Ephesians 4:11, Acts 20:17-38).

The Pattern of Plural Pastoral Leadership: the author leads toward elder rule in a congregation. He is an advocate of shared pastoral oversight. It guards against authority abuse and helps leaders to discuss the direction of the church.

Shepherds After God’s Own Heart: As shepherd, these leaders have a great responsibility.

  1. They faithfully feed the sheep (Jeremiah 3:15, 1 Timothy 3:2)
  2. They resist and rebuke false teachers (Titus 1:9-10).
  3. They care for straying and ornery sheep (Acts 20:28).
  4. They watch over the souls of church members (Hebrews 13:17).
  5. They set an example for others to follow (1 Peter 5:1-4).

Elder Qualifications: it’s not for everyone.

  1. Character (1 Timothy 3:1-7, see also Matthew 5:27-30, 1 Peter 1:13, Titus 2:1-12, Romans 12:13, Ephesians 6:4, 1 Thessalonians 4:12).
  2. Competence (Titus 1:9-10, 1 Timothy 3:2, 4-5).

Deacons: Servants of the Church (Mark 10:43-45).

  1. Servants (Acts 6:1-7, 1 Timothy 3:8-13)
  2. Qualifications (Philippians 1:1, Romans 16:1, 1 Timothy 3:8-13)
    1. Elders are required to teach, however, deacons are not.
    2. Elders have oversight and shepherding role over the congregation, deacon have to manage their household well (1 Timothy 3:5).
    3. Elders are primarily the spiritual leaders of the church, deacon are the servants.
  3. Defining the deacon’s role: they serve the body and their needs, and preserve the unity of the church.

How Well Do You Follow? (Proverbs 14:28)

  1. Leaders are nothing without followers. Like a teacher without a class. Like a king without subjects. Like a coach without a team.
  2. We are all called to serve one another in the church (Mark 10:43-44) and make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20).
  3. Deacons support (Galatians 6:6, 1 Timothy 5:17-18).
  4. Deacons submit (Hebrew 13:17).
  5. Deacons respect and esteem (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13).

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