Why we must have denominations (or fellowships or families of churches)

A pastor in New Hersheybar emails me. “Pastor McKeever, I read your articles. We need your help.  We are a struggling community of small churches trying to get established, trying to get financial support, trying to get our ministers educated. Can you come help us or send cash?”

Well, maybe it’s never worded exactly like that, but that’s the gist.

How to know.

Is this guy for real, and is this a genuine opportunity to make a difference for the Kingdom of God?  Or is this fellow preying on the (so-called) rich Americans who are burdened with lots of spare cash and zero discernment?

I tell him to contact our International Mission Board at www.imb.org.  If we do not have missionaries in his country, we surely have a department with responsibility for his part of the world and someone in that office will be delighted to hear from him.  Maybe someone there will know somebody who can assist him.  And once in a while, we have a “representative” or “consultant” (as they are frequently called these days) living right there in his village.

Usually, that’s the last I hear from this fellow. Whether I discouraged him or exposed him is impossible to know.

I’m thankful for this denominational agency for a thousand reasons.

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Ten insights about the fellowship in your church

And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in prayers…. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people (Acts 2:42-47).

When a church of 120 members set out to assimilate 3,000 new additions into the life of the congregation, they ranked “fellowship” toward the top of the list as a critical step in accomplishing the task.

Fellowship is a nebulous term in our churches.  No one seems to know exactly what it is.

Koinonia is the Greek word. It refers to a sharing of life, or a partnership. Of course, that doesn’t tell us what it meant in the follow-up program in the early church. So, in the absence of anything definitive from Scripture on the precise meaning of the term, I submit for your consideration my own definition: Hanging out.

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What if we wrote a letter to the pastor?

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(Officially, October was Pastor Appreciation Month.  But I don’t imagine it’ll hurt if we encourage our ministers at other times.  Reckon?)

Don’t anyone tell the preacher we’re all going to encourage him.

Let him think it was spontaneous on your part.

What I want you to do is something you’ve almost quit doing. No, I’m not talking about praying for him, although there is that.

Write him a letter.

Handwrite it. Make it two pages, no more. Make it positive and uplifting.

And when you do, I can tell you several things about that letter once it arrives at the pastor’s desk….

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Two great illustrations from the Amazon

“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17).

One of the most productive things any minister does is spend time with a good friend bouncing ideas and stories off each other.

Their wives might not appreciate what they are accomplishing–it looks a lot like fun and if she is the left-brained pragmatic one in the family, she can cite a list of a hundred things her preacher-husband could be doing. But let the ministers insist. Resist.  Persist.

A pastor friend and I were in my office one morning, bouncing ideas and stories off each other. My favorite thing to do.

Somehow we began discussing the Amazon River. I have no idea how that happened.

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The biggest failure of most pastors

The four-year-old who says, “I can do it by myself” has a lot in common with the typical pastor.

Pastors are notorious for their lone ranger approach to ministry. It’s what I call the number one failure of 90 percent of pastors. They prefer to go it alone.

Even Jesus needed a buddy. “He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, ‘So, you men could not keep watch with me for one hour?’” (Matthew 26:40)

Sometimes it helps to have someone nearby, praying, loving, caring, even hurting with you.

The word paracletos from John 16:7 is translated “Comforter” and “Helper” in most Bible versions. The literal meaning is “one called alongside,” the usual idea being that the Holy Spirit is our Comforting Companion, a true Friend in need. And each time that word is found in the New Testament–John 14:16,20; 15:26; 16:7; and I John 2:1–it always refers to the Lord.

However, here’s something important.

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The mentality that will kill your church

Jesus said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.  Pray therefore the Lord of the harvest that He would send forth laborers into the harvest.’  And the disciples said, ‘Why? What do we get out of it, Lord?’”   (Most of that is Matthew 9:37-38 but with a small insertion by moi to make the point.)

“Behold,” Jesus said, “I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves…. But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to the courts, and scourge you in their synagogues, and you shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles.”  And the disciples said, “Enough of the negative stuff, Lord! Let’s get to the part where you reward us.”  (Matthew 10:16ff with my insertion.  The promise of rewards comes in the last verse of the chapter.)

Jesus told the disciples of John the Baptist, “Go and report what you hear and see:  the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear.  The dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them.”  And the Lord’s disciples said, “Okay, enough about these losers, already.  Tell us about the blessings you have for us.  Who gets to sit on your right and who on your left?” (Matthew 11:3ff, with my tongue-in-cheek foolishness.)

I was reading a church’s minutes from a century earlier. In a business meeting, the clerk read  a request for ten dollars from a church start-up in Texas. This was back when ten dollars was two hundred. After voting to send the money, the secretary noted in the minutes, “This spirit of generosity was put to the test when someone pointed out the church fellowship hall needed renovating.”  As I recall, they ended up spending $2,000 on that project.

“What’s in it for us? ” is the prevailing principle of decision-making for too many churches.  Denominational leaders and professional fund-raisers admit  that to be successful in their promotions, they have to convince churches that this project will reap great rewards for them personally.  It’s not enough to do something for the kingdom.

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Seven things I learned in choir rehearsal

“Sing unto the Lord a new song.”  (Psalm 96:1) 

“Come before Him with joyful singing” (Psalm 100:2).

Rehearsals are work.

During the time I sang with the choir at our church, I loved singing for the worship service, but had to make myself go to rehearsal.

I sang in the choir during my college years, and eventually noticed some patterns forming. In time, those impressions coalesced into life-lessons that have remained with me through the years.

1) I do not like new songs.

The minister of music would say, “Joyce, pass out the new music,” and I would cringe. I did not read music and did not do well trying to negotiate my way around these clothes-lines of blackbirds.  The piano is picking out the melody of the song and I’m working to get it.  This is no fun.  It’s work.

But a funny thing happened.

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What the lonely pastor should do

“My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death.  Stay here and watch with me” (Matthew 26:38). 

When you are hurting, you need a friend.

Even our Lord did.

At a denominational meeting, a man approached and introduced himself. It turns out he reads this blog and is acquainted with my cartoons. And he said something that lingers with me to this day.

“Sometimes I think about calling you.  It gets so lonely where I’m working and I just need someone to talk to.”

As I recall, he is not a pastor of a congregation but works with pastors and other ministers.  Therefore, he has no regular constituency.  And often, that means no one is looking after him.  He is bearing this burden alone.

I tore off a piece of paper and wrote my phone number.  “Call me,” I told him.  “Please!”

That is one courageous man.

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You came to mind again today; I prayed for you.

“I thank my God upon every remembrance of you” –Philippians 1:3

I remember you…from time to time.

Some people I think of often and reflect frequently on what they mean to me. Other people, I have a completely bizarre remembrance.

I’ll be somewhere and see an old friend of forty or fifty years ago and think, “I always loved him (or her) so much. Why have I not thought of them in all these years?”

I’ve been in a cemetery for a funeral and spotted the gravestone of a friend of bygone times and had the same thought.  “They were so precious. I would love to see them! Why have I lost them in memory?”

Recently, I read a novel about a character with perfect memory.  When something happened that required him to revisit a past experience, he had no trouble.  He would activate his memory and return to that moment in time, recallingl every detail, every word spoken, every nuance.  He could read the license plate of a car, could tell you the temperature, and give you as accurate a rendering of that moment as though he were standing there at that moment.  In the book, this was a special gift.

But it’s not.

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Taking a stand against wickedness: What to do?

Unrighteousness is being aggressive.  Evil is on the march.  The world, the flesh, and the devil are having a field day. What should God’s people do?

A lot of people who call themselves Christians disagree with Scripture’s answer to that question.

In most cases, this aggression takes very specific forms.  A new city ordinance discriminates against churches and makes it impossible to do ministry.  A perversion of sexuality has become acceptable and local authorities insist that it be taught as the norm in schools.  A decent public figure with traditional values is being targeted by wicked people and slandered.  The list is unending.

Many calling themselves followers of Jesus Christ would say, “Organize! Confront! No more Mister Nice Guy! Take the fight to the enemy!”  “Show them you can be as mean as they can!”  “We have the power of God on our side!”

“After all,” they will say, “Jesus took a rope and cleansed the temple!”  “Elijah confronted the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel.”

When God’s people begin name-calling, verbally attacking, and using the world’s methods, eventually someone will get a gun and go calling.  In recent years, we’ve had extremists in the pro-life movement shooting up abortion clinics and murdering doctors.

Never mind replying that “You and I are not Jesus” and “Neither are we Old Testament prophets.”  He has not sent us to do such things.

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