His speaking calls the church into existence

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In 2 Timothy 3:14-15 we see that God’s Word is sufficient to save. Paul writes “But continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able (sufficient) to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”

Timothy is described as having “learned” the word, “firmly believed” the word, because he was taught the word at a young age he is described as being “acquainted with” the word. What is the result? What is the word able to do? The word is able to “make you wise for salvation.” The word works.

A protestant Bible believing preacher was having a conversation with a Roman Catholic scholar. They were talking about how the Bible came together. The Roman Catholic scholar said, “We all know that the church created the Bible”- he said this to emphasize that the Bible was a human, not divine, book. The protestant pastor replied, “That’s ridiculous. The church never created the Bible. The Bible created the church.”

It did. It does. God’s Word is sufficient and able to build the church. If Jesus said “I am going to build my church,” how do you think he’s going to do it? He’s going to do it the way he’s always done it: by speaking. He spoke creation into existence, he speaks to bring dead souls to live, and his speaking calls the church into existence. The Scriptures are totally sufficient, and so we preach them.

A definition of church membership

I like Jonathan Leeman’s definition of church membership. It’s a bit clunky, but if we can unpack it I think it’s pretty helpful.

Church membership is a formal relationship between a church and a Christian characterized by the church’s affirmation and oversight of a Christian’s discipleship and the Christian’s submission to living out his or her discipleship in the care of the church.

A few things stand out to me.

First, it’s formal. Formalizing membership is simply saying out loud “I’m with you, and you’re with me.” We need not fear it as a slope that leads us into institutionalism. A formal recognition of a spiritual reality is helpful communication.

Second, it’s relational. Formal doesn’t negate relational. Church membership ought to be carried out in the context of loving relationship. It’s not about signing papers and taking classes. It’s about getting to know and care for one another.

Third, it clarifies.  Membership declares the responsibility of the leadership to oversee and provide direction to the member. The leaders give oversight while the members proactively submit themselves to the church in their discipleship. For both, responsibilities are clarified.

And for these reasons (and many more unpacked in Jonathan’s book) I’d recommend that every Christian become a church member. It serves the leadership. It clarifies your role. It strengthens the relationship. It’s an altogether healthy move.

And if you’re looking for an introduction into the subject, read his book Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesusit’s only 132 pages.

Why the American church needs Acts

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I’m beginning to teach the the book of Acts, and the more I study the more I’m convinced of its relevance for today’s church. Of course, all Scripture is relevant. Always. But in light of certain American evangelical tendencies, the message of Acts is urgent. Here are four reasons why the American church needs Acts:

So we can get back to the basics. The church today often attempts to grow by human innovation, worldly wisdom, trends and fads. Acts shows us how the first church grew. God acted through godly men who preached God’s Word by God’s Spirit. To be faithful, we need to get back to the principles that drove the apostles. It is a beautiful simplicity.

So we will stand up for the truth. In an age where no one wants to offend anyone, and everyone is hung up by this idea of “tolerance,” Acts is a fresh supply of reality. We need to be reminded of the boldness of Peter and the rational, engaging argumentation of Paul. Let’s remember that there is such a thing as truth, that we are not the dummies for preaching it, and that there’s a mass of humanity that needs to hear it.

Also, under this heading, we need to be reminded that the truth offends. It does. But it also saves. Peter’s message about the risen Christ was met with repentance and three thousand hearers that day were “cut to the heart” (2:37) and added to the church. Stephen’s message about the risen Christ was met with a murderous rage. Peter and Stephen preached the same Christ.There’s a lesson to be learned here: truth will unite God’s people to the church and at the same time will instigate opposition to it. It is outside our capacity to determine how people respond to truth. It is our duty to preach it.

To help us grow thicker skin. The American church is flabby and in great need of some spiritual muscle. The church needs to recapture the vision of holy grit, tough compassion, relentless love in the face of opposition. We give up too easily, back down too frequently, are offended too often, and discouraged too much. Too much fluff. The church in Acts shows us what thick skin looks like, what it means to have a spine, what manly mature Christianity looks like. Not many of us are willing to say to the governing authorities “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (4:19-20) or how many of us have witnessed fellow believers “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (5:41)? Too few, I think. May the Holy Spirit make us tough!

Opposition was real in Acts, and as we faithfully and boldly proclaim the gospel, we will face it. The tenacity of the apostles in Acts inspires us to face a grim and hostile reality.

To remind us of divine power. Because we have become so accustomed to manipulative ministry—trying to manipulate people into following Christ with human means—we need to remember that there is such a thing as divine power. Acts shows us that Jesus is alive, that he rules as king on high, that he is commanding his forces and moving. If Luke is the story of Jesus’ earthly ministry, Acts is the story of his heavenly ministry as Head of the church. He still sits at the right hand of God, he still holds all authority in heaven and earth, and he is still building his church. The more we depend on his divine power, the better off we’ll be.

The clearest measure of a Christian’s maturity

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A Christian is someone who has a growing love for the Word of God.

A Christian is someone who is growing in the discipline of prayer.

A Christian is someone who has a growing love for his brothers and sisters in Christ.

A Christian is someone with a growing concern for personal holiness.

A Christian is someone who desires to see the lost converted and discipled.

Where is the Word of God most clearly taught, most rigorously obeyed, most highly valued? Which place, of all the places a Christian could be, is meant to be a “house of prayer”? Which gathering can the believer most readily show his love for the brethren? Where else can a believer be exhorted to holiness and be held accountable? Which institution makes the Great Commission its purpose and goal?

The church. The church is the crossroads where all the Christian’s highest affections meet. And that’s why I think the clearest measure of a Christian’s maturity is how he feels about the local church.

Staff Thought of the Week: Connecting with Visitors

stotw_edited-1New visitors need to be greeted, welcomed, and connected. We are responsible for reaching out to them and connecting them with the group. Let’s make sure that when a new-ish student walks in the door, he/she is pursued and welcomed. Let’s make sure we:

WELCOME THEM to the youth group. If you’re having a conversation with someone who’s well established in the youth group, politely break off the conversation so you can go talk to the new person. Or better yet, bring along the person you were talking with.

INTRODUCE THEM to some students. Especially those of the same age and gender. We want them not only to connect with the staff but with their peers. Might be good at some point to talk with your M3 about how to greet and welcome new students.

CONNECT THEM to an M3. If the person doesn’t have an M3, seek to connect them to one. If they have friends in the youth group, put them with their friends. If they don’t know anyone, then you’re their closest friend and you should take them with you.

INVITE THEM to whatever’s next. Tell them you want them to come next week! Or tell them about the upcoming thing you’re doing with your M3. Or tell them about Summer Camp, or broomball, or whatever’s next on the calendar.

THANK THEM for coming. This is not only polite, but it shows genuine care. It shows that you noticed their appearance. It shows that they didn’t just blend into the crowd.

Staff Thought of the Week: Give Them Specific Tasks

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(Matthew 10:5-15 ESV)

[5] These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, [6] but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. [7] And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ [8] Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay. [9] Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, [10] no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food. [11] And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. [12] As you enter the house, greet it. [13] And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. [14] And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. [15] Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.

Jesus included his disciples in his ministry not long after he called them. Part of their training involved doing very specific tasks Jesus gave them. At this point, he didn’t give them a choice about what kind of ministry they wanted to do– they weren’t ready. He gave them very clear and delineated instructions and sent them out.

We do believe that being the right person comes before doing the right things. But Jesus knew that specific direction accompanied with input and correction brilliantly wedded the thinking and doing parts of being a Christ-follower. This is an important way to shepherd and disciple. This is how an M3 mobilizes.

Give your group a specific task. Here are some ideas:

  • Go visit some elderly shut-ins and give them each specific Scriptures to read. Assign certain students to pray.
  • Go over to Regal and strike up some conversations about the gospel. Tell your students to be bold, kind, respectful. Make sure they’re praying. And then grab lunch afterwards.
  • Choose one Sunday morning to serve as a team of greeters. Gather at the church early, pray together for the sermon, the congregation, and visitors, and as people start coming head out to the lobby and shake hands.
  • Bring a few students to your shepherding group and ask them to simply observe. Spend a few minutes afterward and get their thoughts.

Got any ideas of your own?

Staff Thought of the Week: “Relentlessly Loyal”

stotw_edited-1In Matthew 15 the Pharisees accuse the disciples of breaking the “tradition of the elders.” This was a big deal in the culture at that time, and the disciples probably felt a considerable amount of pressure to fit in with the cultural norms. It would have been easy for our Lord to agree with the Pharisees and go along with how difficult and unruly the disciples were, but he wouldn’t.

Instead he opposed the Pharisees and was relentlessly loyal to his disciples. They weren’t perfect, there’s no question about that, but Jesus stood against their attack and protected them. They were his sheep, and he loved them in spite of their flaws. He was zealous to guard them from their accusations, which could have very easily discouraged and confused them. Jesus could have pointed out how the disciples were hard-hearted (which they often were), or impetuous (they were), or self-centered (they very much were) or thick-skulled (which, again, they were), agreeing with the Pharisees and easing the tension. But he didn’t. He stuck to his less-than-perfect guys.

Be loyal to your students. They will be wrong– a lot. They will do foolish things. They will not progress exactly how you think they should. But they already have an accuser– his name is Satan– and you need to be their advocate, and consistently bring them to the Advocate. Show them loyalty, show them love, show them grace, show them gospel.

It’s been said so much it’s somewhat cliche, but there’s a reason people keep saying it: “They won’t care what you know until they know that you care.” Let them know you’re with them for the long haul, through thick and thin, rain or shine, ups and downs. Be relentlessly loyal.

There is a time and place for tough love. You will have to do that too. But by and large, Jesus’s commitment to his disciples was one of grace and patience and teaching– working with them through their sins and struggles and failures.

Be relentlessly loyal to our drifting, wandering, learning, struggling, young friends.

 

Staff Thought of the Week: “A Powerful Question You Should Ask”

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Here’s a powerful question you should be asking your M3 (small group) regularly:

What can we do to…” and you fill in the blank. It’s especially effective to do this in response to the sermon that was just preached. For example, if the sermon was about the power of Scripture, it would be good to ask something like:

What can we do to make sure we’re all reading the Word? What can we do to become more consistent in our devotions?

But there are a multitude of good questions to be asking. Like

  • What can we do to make the new people around here feel welcome?
  • What can we do to help out that single mom?
  • What can we do to become better at sharing our faith?
  • What can we do to get to know each other better?
  • What can we do to help each other stay pure?
  • What can we do to meet this need in the church?

As the students begin to answer these questions, opportunities to teach and shepherd will abound. Talk about what our ultimate goals are, what the mission of the church is, what means God has given us to accomplish those things. With your guidance and oversight, run with their ideas.

This is powerful for several reasons.

First, it teaches them to think about ministry. Most students are not doing this yet. With your guidance, they will start imagining how they can use their gifting to serve others. All believers are to be engaged in the work of ministry (Eph. 4:12). This is how we help them think in those terms.

Second, it opens up new venues of creativity and gifting. The students who are saved have the Spirit’s indwelling and gifting, with different talents and abilities. They may think of doing things we could never have imagined.

Third, it gives them ownership. When they come up with the ideas they tend to be more passionate about them, and this enables grassroots ministry to flourish.

 

What is a Healthy Church Member?

Thabiti Anyabwile’s little book What Is a Healthy Church Member? is helpful. It does no more than the title suggests, which keeps it short. Lands exactly at 120 (small) pages. When I first got it I was looking through the table of contents and doing an x-ray and before I knew it I was 57 pages in. Simple, practical, and readable.

The best books always include practical suggestions, and there are some good ones here, which is great for new-ish believers asking the “how-to” questions. Here are some of those sections:

How can church members cultivate the habit of expositional listening?

  1. Meditate on the sermon passage during your quiet time
  2. Invest in a good set of commentaries
  3. Talk and pray with friends about the sermon after church
  4. Listen to and act on the sermon throughout the week
  5. Develop the habit of addressing any questions about the text itself
  6. Cultivate humility

What does a committed church member look like?

  1. Attends regularly
  2. Seeks peace
  3. Edifies others
  4. Warns and admonishes others
  5. Pursues reconciliation
  6. Bears with others
  7. Prepares for the ordinances
  8. Supports the work of the ministry

I’m going to keep a few of these on hand to give away.

Staff Thought of the Week: Helping Them Own It

stotw_edited-1Much of the success of our M3 depends on the students– especially the upper classmen, owning their responsibility to create a culture of openness and acceptance. New students and younger students will be intimidated, maybe even scared, at the thought of meeting with a close-knit group of older, more secure, more comfortable, more “belonging” students. So we must teach our upper class students hospitality (welcoming people who feel uncomfortable). We must help them own their M3. Here are a few tips:

Model it. Engage the new student. Ask him questions, get to know him. Make him the center of attention for a little bit. Give him attention so he knows he’s cared for.

Create links. Look for things he may have in common with other members of the group. Try to facilitate relationships and make connections.

Talk about it. Never stop accentuating the need for Jesus-like kindness– the type that reaches out to the fringe, the neglected, the hurting. Talk about how it is not Christ-like to only associate with the popular. Get together with just your upper-classmen and talk this through.

Pray. True and genuine love is a blessing from God. No system can create it; if our students would show this love toward new students, God must do it. So pray.