Friday, August 8, 2014

Three things I didn't learn in Bible College...

I was a young father when I felt God calling me to pastoral ministry.  At the urging of my pastor, I moved to Nashville to learn how to be a "pastor."  While my experience there was invaluable, learning from great men like Bro. Forlines, and Drs. Miley, Pic, Outlaw, Woodard, and Reed, there were some things I was left to get on my own.  What are they?

1.  Stay out of debt - In the interest of self-preservation, colleges don't simply INFORM students about loan options, they actually ENCOURAGE indebtedness.  Recruiting tactics include more than the benefits of a Bible College education, they are now aimed to eliminate financial concerns parents might have as their child forgoes local, more affordable options for the much more expensive private college. College costs across the board have skyrocketed and Bible College is not the "exception."  In an attempt to appeal to more students, Bible Colleges have broadened their offerings and found "painless" ways to pass on the costs to future decades (and yes, I mean 'decades.')

This poses quite the conundrum for ministry students.  Expected by family, pastors, and churches to receive a quality Bible College education in order to "qualify" for God-called ministry, young people rack up 40 or 50 thousand (or more) in student-loan-debt.  Upon graduation, however, they are told by prospective employers (churches) "This is a ministry... and as such, you need to be willing to sacrifice salary for the Lord and His work."  <crickets> Such cases often lead young people to view their Bible College diplomas as 'boat anchors,'  forcing them to forgo ministry positions suited for their skill-set, in pursuit of larger churches they are not capable of leading (at the moment).

Do everything in your power to stay out of debt.  If it means going to school for 8 years instead of 4, do it. If the Bible College experience is worth the sacrifice, then commit to staying debt free.  It is better to sacrifice for an additional 4 years than to sacrifice for the next 20.

2.  Please God, not people.  Don't seek man's applause.  Your significance comes from Him, not them. We have too many man-pleasers in the pulpit today... and sad to say, I was one of them.  When you let your hunger for approval drive your ministry, you will find yourself in the unenviable position of compromise often. If you are pleasing the Lord, you WILL please the right people.

3.  Your family is more important than your work.  Success is an idol... an unrelenting false-god.  When this idol is present in your life, it will force you to choose between IT and your character, your family, and everything else that is important to you.  Many talented men have lost everything chasing after nothing.  That isn't God expecting you to sacrifice your family in order to be successful - that's your idol.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Are we as a denomination in trouble?

"Having given ourselves to God, by faith in Christ, and adopted the Word of God as our rule of faith and practice, we now give ourselves to one another..."  Recognize that statement?  It's the opening line of our covenant - a document expressing the desire of our forbearers to work together for the greater good of the kingdom.  Our covenant calls us to lay aside petty differences voluntarily... for the purpose of fulfilling the Great Commission on earth.  As a fundamental denomination tracing it's roots deep into church history, we have had our fair share of disagreements and divisions that threaten our success.  Still we continue to affiliate, we continue to work cooperatively, convinced there is strength in numbers and that the good accomplished by our collaboration far outweighs the bad we've tolerated.

Is that fellowship on the verge of failing?  Are lines being drawn in the sand, are powerful personalities forcing brothers to 'choose sides' demanding 'uniformity' rather than unity?  From my perspective, we have arrived at a critical crossroads as a denomination.  I do not boast special insight or great wisdom or to have so much respect in our movement that I can effect change.  But I do see trouble on the horizon - and the things that threaten our success and survival have nothing to do with Biblical Doctrine.  Our denomination isn't suffering from worldliness as much as our unwillingness to love one another.

We have two camps who have dug in their proverbial heels in our denomination that threaten our success as a movement.  The first group looks for things to be disagreeable about - things that divide, so that they may further marginalize our denomination through infighting and separation, pulling support, forming their own movement within a movement.  To them, disunity seems a badge of honor.  The smaller the pond, the bigger fish they can be. The other group consists of those with little courage, who think greener pastures await them elsewhere, who have no stomach for the fight or enough love for the denomination to stick around for it.  I read a former FWB pastor's blog about why he left our denomination and how we need to modify our position on alcohol if we want to be successful.  DUDE! FIX YOURSELF!

When I look at our denomination, I see a looming crisis.  Veteran leadership retiring, fewer men answering the call, churches closing their doors because they can't pay a preacher a livable salary and too proud to unite with other struggling fellowships.  I see a leadership crisis - young men coming out of college ill-prepared for awaits them but expecting to have good churches given to them on a silver platter just the same.  Men who are too pragmatic in their thinking - grasping at whatever passing fad available to save their dying work.

Can anything be done to stop this pending implosion?  I think its time our pastors quit being so selfish and prideful and started thinking about the bigger picture instead of only focusing on their church, their control, their power.  We need a grassroots, bottom up change in our movement.  We need guys who are successful in ministry mentoring young men.  We need leaders who are more interested in helping, building, and reaching than in receiving big paychecks.  We need power in the pulpit.  We need a zeal for souls.  We need a commitment to work together regardless the trivial things that divide us.  Do we have it in us to do the right thing?  I certainly hope so.

I prefer to be us than any other denomination I know - even WITH our problems.  We are not of those who spend their national conventions arguing whether the Bible is inspired or if we should ordain homosexuals to ministry.  Whew!  I'm glad we are not them.  But that doesn't mean we should tolerate our own failures as a movement.  

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Facing the difficulty of ecumenism as a FWB Pastor

I have a confession to make.  Please don't judge me for this.  I went to an ecuminical service last night. There.. I said it.  I realize in our ranks there are those who would tell me to 'Lighten up!'  "It's no big deal!!" And there are others who would tell me I should turn in my FWB credentials.  One side might need a bit more wisdom in such things.  The other, well, I don't really know what to say to them.

If you are like me, it's hard to find a comfortable balance between being Free Will Baptist and joining in with others who might disagree with our doctrine.  We don't have any trouble buying their commentaries or reading their books - but  is there a difference between going to an event with them and owning their church growth materials?  What if your church is invited to participate in a men's event where there will be ten or twelve denominations present?  Where do we draw the 'theological line' of separation?  Here are a few questions only YOU can answer:

1) What are the Risks?  If you are spiritually mature, the risks are likely minimal.  You are confident in your faith, grounded in the word, settled in your doctrine.  It isn't likely you will find yourself struggling with pentecostalism simply by being exposed to charismatic people.  But what about those who go with you? What about the excitement of fleshly worship and the natural desire your people might have for that kind of thing in YOUR church?  What about the layman who was saved out of the Catholic Church who hears there were Catholics assembled with those who are born-again?  Will this overthrow their faith?

2) What about your Example?  Akin to the above, are there people you might offend through this affiliation? Paul addressed something similar in 1 Corinthians.  The church at Corinth was a fractious church - personalities and personal liberties had them so divided that the reputation of the church was being sullied in the community. When Paul spoke to those "with knowledge," he challenged them to remember to love, to show deference to those who are weaker AND EVEN sacrifice their personal liberties for the good of others. Attending these events may not rise to the level of eating meat offered to idols - but then again, it might.

3) What might be Gained?  Maybe you are trying to build a relationship with a man who is out of church and you go to an event with him to grow your influence with him.  Maybe he has no problem attending a nondenominational concert or men's event on a Friday night, but can't get out of bed in time for Sunday Worship.  Maybe you will be exposed to some things that will actually help hone your own skills and ministry.  You might even learn what NOT to do in your ministry as you expose yourself to the way others are doing it.  There are things to be gained by exposing yourself to others ideals.

Some of us need to learn that chasing after the latest fads, the lights and fog machines, the comedy or the latest techniques to grow are often like chasing a mirage.  They might SEEM like the answer to our dying churches thirst, but in the end, they are only so much sand in the mouth.

Others of us need to learn that holding to tradition to the detriment of truth is what the Pharisees were guilty of.  And I distinctly recall that these were the people Jesus called "blind leaders of the blind."

How about we all exercise spiritual maturity and Christian love and take some of these things on a case-by case basis.  I might not have benefitted personally from the things at the event I attended - but I DID greatly enjoy the fellowship of one of my close friends I seldom get to see.  I did get to tell him, "No matter what, I've got your back."  Could I have done that WITHOUT the event?  SURE!  But I might have forgotten to do it.  Don't throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater as you decide what you should do in good conscience.  Pray for wisdom.  Check your motives.  Follow the Spirit... and you will be fine.