Back To School: 5 Things To Pray For Your Teenager

Today marks the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year in our County’s Public School System. Here are a few things that Christian parents of Christian teens can pray for as their students return to school:

1. Pray that you and your student will realize that true identity is in Christ
Middle and High School years are rough. Young people are discovering who they are for themselves. The world, classmates, and parents often send mixed messages about who they should be. If students aren’t guided, they can look to popularity, grades, and outward appearance for their identity. Parents, it’s your God-given responsibility to constantly and gracefully show your teen that true identity is found in Christ alone, not in their performance, their looks, or the acceptance of their peers.
(Proverbs 22:6, 2 Corinthians 5:17, 1 Peter 2:9, Galatians 2:20)

2. Pray that your student will see his/her studies as an opportunity for worship
While a Christian student doesn’t find his/her identity in academics, academics still matter! For the Christian, all of life is an opportunity to make much of Jesus. If your student professes faith in Jesus Christ, show them how their love for Jesus translates into a pursuit of excellence in their academics. (Colossians 3:17)

3. Pray for (and cultivate) and atmosphere of honest conversation in your home
As your student is “in the world” he/she will encounter things that challenge a Christian worldview. Don’t panic. Have open and honest conversations about the truth of the Gospel vs. the lies of this world. Graciously and winsomely refute false worldviews. Teach your student to think for himself/herself and study the scriptures. Encourage spiritual disciplines that flow out of a robust faith in Christ. Be in the Word on a regular basis as a family. Take note: In order to guide your children in these things you must be grounded in a biblical worldview. You must have a robust and demonstrative faith in Jesus. Do you? (Consider walking through Paul’s sermon at Mars Hill in Acts 17 to see how Paul refutes a pagan worldview. Or consider THIS great resource.)

4. Pray for Christian community
Ask God to give your student close friends who love Jesus, share struggles, and encourage one another. Take them to Student Ministry gatherings; good ones where they hear the Bible and learn to properly apply it to their lives. Encourage times of fellowship with other Christians their age. (Proverbs 18:24, 27:17, Hebrews 10:25)

5. Pray for missional opportunities
If you are actively discipling your student, you should be showing them that their time around people who don’t know Christ has a purpose. Have you taught your student how to share the gospel? Have you encouraged your student to invite their non-Christian friends to church? Are you modeling this in your own life? (1 Peter 2:9)
I’m praying these things for the students and parents of NewBranch Community Church. Will you join me? Also, this is a very short list. What else would you add?

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Reasons to Leave a Church, part 1

The previous post was re-posting of some advice from Kevin DeYoung concerning how to leave the church, and how to engage in a new church.  A very important issue that post doesn’t address is “what constitutes a legitimate reason to leave a church”.  I’d like to address that question in a 3-part series of posts in this blog.    Two caveats before we begin. First, my list of good and bad reasons for leaving a church is not meant to be exhaustive, but representative.  Second, I am not posting this in response to anything going on at our church.  These reasons are not meant to describe anyone who has either joined our church or left our church, but are reasons I’ve heard and seen in over 10 years of pastoral ministry.

So, “what constitutes a good reason to leave a church?”  As a pastor, I’m tempted to answer that question with… “nothing”!  Shepherds don’t like to see sheep leave the flock; however, there are times when it is best or even necessary for someone to leave their local church and find a new church home.  Sometimes this decision is made for us.  Involuntary reasons include things like moving out of town.  It’s always best to connect with a faith family that is relatively close to your home.  Driving an hour and a half may very well preclude you from having genuine community with others in your church, which I would suggest is a mandatory element of church membership (wherever you are).  This may have application to some mega-church congregations where people are drawn from great distances from the church.  Another involuntary reason is church discipline, but that’s a post for another time.

 

What we most often encounter are the voluntary reasons for leaving a church.  Admittedly there are good reasons for leaving a church, and there are bad reasons for leaving a church.  The “how” of leaving a church is handled well in the previous post mentioned above, but let me take a quick stab at noting some of these reasons.  Today’s post will cover reasons dealing with the leadership.  Tomorrow’s post will address disagreement with the church’s theology and methodology, and the third post will deal with conflict in the church.  Oddly enough, the good reasons for leaving can easily be warped into bad reasons, as you’ll see in this list:

 

Good Reason #1 – abusive leadership – When a pastor or elder steps over the line and abuses his position

of leadership in order to exert power, influence, or control, then it is time to leave.  Sometimes when our own emotions are at play, it is difficult to determine if a leader is abusing his authority.  Trevin Wax provides some helpful guidelines to follow in a recent blog post.  Many people have been deeply hurt be leaders who are characterized by abusing their authority.  This is unacceptable from a church leader, and if it is left unaddressed, then it is time to leave.

 

 

Bad Reason #1when leaders exert authority – Although the pastors/elders of a church should never abuse authority, they are required to “use” authority.   The writer of Hebrews makes it clear that church leaders must one day be held accountable for how they exercise their authority:

 

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.  Hebrews 13:17, ESV

 

When writing to Timothy about the leadership of the local church, Paul makes an assumption that the elders must “rule”,

 

Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.  1 Timothy 5:17

 

We shouldn’t get all bent out of shape when leaders lead.  The congregation holds the elder board accountable to never become abusive (above), or sinful (next), but leaders must lead.  Especially as men, sometimes our sinful pride gets in the way of humble submission to authority.  When we fail to submit to authority (and remain in that place), only one of two options remain.  Either the leadership must alter its convictions in order to acquiesce to the dissenting voice (which is an unacceptable outcome), or the dissenter will become bitter and resentful, and end up leaving the church.  Leaders should never become abusive, but they must be allowed to lead.

 

Good Reason #2 – when a leader falls into or remains in sin – I want to be very careful how this is worded.   We should not hold leaders to a higher standard than Scripture, and we should extend grace to leaders and not oust them whenever they sin (see bad reason #2 next); however, there is a difference between a leader who loses his temper, recognizes his sin, confesses it, and seeks to fight his sin with the help of the church community, and a leader who falls into sin, fails to respond to church discipline about the sin, and remains in a position of authority in direct defiance of church discipline.  In some cases, a pastor remains in authority because those in the church who are charged with exercising authority over the pastor do not perform their responsibility.  In these cases where a leader is allowed to remain in a position of authority despite his ongoing sinful rebellion, after all efforts of addressing the issue have been exhausted, it may be necessary for people to leave that church.

 

Bad Reason #2 – when a leader sins – Our church knows full well that if everyone were to leave when a leader sinned, then we would have had a worship attendance of “zero” by the 2nd week of our existence as a church.  No leader is perfect, and pastors like myself provide ample evidence of that fact.  The example of pastors and elders who run to the Cross and cling to the grace of Jesus Christ in their moments of struggle with sin, can bring a greater depth of understanding of Gospel-centered living to the remainder of the congregation.  Are there times when a leader’s sin is such that they should be excused from leadership?  Absolutely, and those are serious times to be handled with much prayer and wisdom; however, I would argue that these are not the times to leave a church, but times to dig in with fellow brothers and sisters in Christ and help the church heal through that process.  If a leader is not excused from their position of authority when they should be (because of sin), then I would argue that you’re within the bounds of “Good Reason #1” above (abusive leadership)

Tomorrow’s post will address issues relating to disagreements with the church’s theology and/or methodology.

Leaving the Old, and Engaging the New

How to leave your old church well, and how to engage in your new church faithfully.

This past month marks 12 years of pastoral ministry for me.  In that time, I’ve seen a number of new people come into the church where I was serving, as well as some long-time members leave.  Some of these experiences have been healthy, and some have not.  Most of the unhealthy ones are because of how I and the other pastors/leaders handled the situation; however, there are some important things to keep in mind when engaging in a new church or in leaving your existing church.  Kevin DeYoung over at The Gospel Coalition Blog has written a couple of posts this week addressing this, and I thought they were worth sharing:

First, “How To Start At Your New Church”.

Second, “How To Leave Your Old Church”.

These posts cover the “how” in leaving a church, while usually the most pressing decision is not “how”, but “if”.  Whether or not to leave a local church is a huge decision with huge ramification both for the individual and the church.  We should approach that decision carefully, prayerfully, Biblically, and solemly.  To help with this, I’m working on a future post that discusses what are good reasons and bad reasons for leaving a church, but that’s for another day.

 

Day 7; Mark 7-11

One of the things that becomes readily apparent when reading the gospels is that Jesus’ teaching was often very counter-cultural.  He invaded culturally accepted norms with surprising gospel truths.  He said things like “blessed are the poor in spirit”, and “turn the other cheek”.

Although we don’t find that many instances of Jesus teaching in the gospel of Mark, we see one example in today’s reading that demonstrates His counter-cultural teachings.

In Mark 10, James and John ask Jesus to give them the seats of honor in heaven; one on his right and the other on His left.  Now, to the typical American business man, this doesn’t seem like that big of a deal.  What’s wrong with this request?  Aren’t they simply just taking responsibility for their own success?  What’s so wrong with that?  Sure, the other disciples “become indignant” because of the request by James and John, but isn’t that part of the deal?  Haven’t we heard it before?  “If you’re going to accomplish great things, you need to be prepared that some won’t be as excited about your success as you are.”  We’re told that this is simply “part of the cost of great leadership”.  What our culture describes as “most important” is accomplishment, success, making yourself more valuable to the organization…distinguishing yourself from your peers, etc., etc.

But what does Jesus say?  What is His response to what happened?

 42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 

Apparently first centuryPalestinehad their share of business leadership books and gurus as well, and the accepted mark of great leaders was no different from that of our culture today.

But Jesus countered that mentality….

43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

There’s your counter-cultural teaching of the day from Jesus.  What was wrong with James and John’s all-out push for the seats of honor in glory?  They were looking out for themselves; they were consumed with a passion to succeed, but the measure of their success was warped.  What matters in the economy of the Kingdom is not serving self, but serving others.  Instead of being known as the guy in the lead, strive to be known as the guy who is the “slave of all”.  And who does Jesus give as the supreme example of self-sacrificial servant leadership?  Himself.  For He “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

This is more than just a leadership tip.  This is a window into Gospel living.  This is the kind of counter-cultural living that results when our self-focused, self-absorbed lives are interrupted by the grace of God.  May we likewise seek to give our lives away, for

On Becoming a One Woman Man

In the sermon last week I referenced a list of questions from Pastor Thabiti Anyabwile (pastor of FBC Grand Cayman Islands), that will help us evaluate the degree to which we are being transformed into a “one woman man” as outlined in Titus 1:6.   I said that I would list those on the blog, so here they are.

Ladies, remember, you can substitute the word “woman” for “man here (not for the purposes of determining whether or not you should serve as an elder – we covered that last week), but for the purpose of evaluating yourself…are you a “one man kind of woman”?

Here’s Thabiti’s questions, as listed on his blog (Pure Church):

Questions and Observations for Single Men

1. What are the man’s habits regarding dating and fellowship with Christian women? A man given to serial dating may be undiscerning and careless with the hearts of Christian sisters. If he is “playful” in matters of the heart, he may need discipleship in this area and will not be an appropriate example to the flock. Does he treat sisters in the faith “with absolute purity” (1 Tim. 5:2). Is that evident in the single man’s social conduct with other women?

2. What are a man’s entertainment choices? Does he view sexually explicit material or pornography? If he is embattled with this issue, it’s best not to make such a man an elder. He will be responsible for being an example, teaching younger men to be self-controlled (Titus 2:6), and a life of sexual impurity is incongruent with the office.

3. Related to the above, how does the man battle lust? Does he gouge out his eye and cut off his hands (Matt. 5:27-30)? The warfare against sexual immorality must be waged at the level of desire. Men in the eldership should fight their sins like Christians, which means they must radically deny opportunity for the flesh, the world, and the devil to excite lusts leading to sin. And they must cultivate a deeper desire for Christ and the things of Christ. A single man who maintains camouflage in this area, or who flirts with or coddles his lust, is a danger to himself and others. An elder must accept and desire accountability in this area.

Of course, these are questions that apply to married men as well. But with a single man, determining if he is a “one woman man” requires thinking about the trajectory of his affections rather than examining his marital behavior. Do his behaviors “tend toward” purity or do they suggest immaturities to be avoided?

Questions and Observations for Married Men

1. Does the man evidence fidelity to his wife? Is he faithful emotionally and physically? A potential elder should be asked directly if he is in or has had an adulterous relationship with another woman, if he has broken the marital covenant. And if not the physical act, has he become emotionally involved with someone in a way that disqualifies him from the office? It would be wise to have this conversation with his wife as well. She may provide insight into the husband’s attitude and behavior that may be blind spots for him. And it’s wise to know whether the wife supports her husband as qualified for eldership. It’s better to know these things previous to making a man an elder. The position and requirements of eldership will only add stress to any fractures that may already be present.

2. Does he organize his interactions with female coworkers and ladies in the church in a way that provides full accountability and transparency? For example, is he careful to avoid potentially compromising and tempting situations with women (traveling or meeting alone, etc.)? Elders who work in co-ed environments ought to be the kind of men that are trusted by female co-workers–not because they’ve proven themselves good counselors in intimate matters but because they’ve appropriately avoided such intimate encounters altogether and established safe distance from temptation.

3. Is the potential elder faithful in making his home marriage centered? By God’s design, at the center of the family is sthe marriage of one man and one woman (Gen. 2:24). Men and women leave and cleave from their parents and become one flesh. Being a one-woman man means, in part, maintaining a family atmosphere that disallows other people or things (children and work, for example) from displacing the marriage as the center of the family. This is part of what it means to have a well-ordered home. A potential elder prizes his wife even above the other precious people in the home and in earthly relationships directs his affections to that one woman first and foremost.