Five church members who are practicing atheists

We have said on this website that the problem with “preacher-eaters and trouble-makers” in the church is that they do not believe in God. I stand by that statement, although it requires a little clarification.

Theoretically, they do.

Those members who are determined to have their way regardless of the cost to the fellowship of the church, the unity of the congregation, the continuance of the pastor’s ministry, or the sacrifice of programs of the church are not without religious convictions.

They have even had religious experiences.

The problem is they are now living godless existences. Their work in the church is being conducted in the flesh and for their own purposes.

The shame of it is they are almost always unaware of these conditions. They have fallen into a shameless pattern of seeing nothing but what is in their own field of vision, of wanting only what they see as important, and advocating nothing but their own program. They are not knowingly mean-spirited people. They are self-deluded.

They are atheists in the strictest sense.

Whatever belief in God they possess is theoretical. God was in Christ, yes. He was in the past. And He will be in the future, they believe, when He takes them and others like them to Heaven.

As for the present, alas, they are on their own.

What, you ask, would lead me to say such outrageous things about some people who are members of good Christian churches and who frequently get elected to high positions of leadership in those churches?

Continue reading

I grieve for the Lord’s church. Here’s why…

“Is Ephraim my dear son?  Indeed, as often as I have spoken against him, I certainly still remember him.  Therefore my heart yearns for him; I will certainly have mercy on him, declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 31:20).

“How often I would have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, and you would not.  Behold, your house is left unto you desolate” (Matthew 23:37-38).

Almost daily, I hear of churches firing their preachers, engaged in lawsuits, and struggling with inner conflict.  I know churches that were strong a generation ago but are fighting to survive now.

These are difficult days for churches, which makes these challenging days for church leaders.

Believers who are not grieving for the Lord’s church these days must not be paying attention.

Let us care for what is happening, and pray for the Lord’s people….

–I grieve for the trendy church which is drawing people in from the smaller surrounding congregations and bursting at the seams, but leaving the smaller ones to shrivel and die.  The huge church may convince its members that they are doing big things for the kingdom since they deal with such large numbers. Churches can be so self-centered. Pray your church will be loving toward other congregations. 

–I grieve for the church which is having mind-staggering growth but becomes secretive about what it does with the millions of dollars it takes in, protective about the pay it gives its leaders, and dismissive about the questionable personal lives of its leadership.  Churches can be carnal. Pray your church will be led by men and women of integrity. 

–I grieve for the smaller church which turns an envious eye toward the growing congregations in its community and, desiring to be like the others, dismisses its faithful pastor and worship leaders because “we have to stay current with modern trends.”  Churches can be wrong-headed. Pray your church will look to Jesus for affirmation and not at their neighbors. 

–I grieve for the church which keeps pastors no more than three or four years, then manufactures crises to justify sending them packing so they can bring in another who is destined to become a victim himself in due time.  Churches can be cruel. Pray your church will be Christlike. 

Continue reading

10 biblical truths God’s people probably do not believe

From the beginning, the Lord’s people talk a better game than we live.

So many biblical truths look good on paper and sound great when we’re spouting them.  And yet, judging by the way we live, the Lord’s people probably do not believe the following…

One.  God sends the pastor to the church. 

Churches survey their congregation to find the kind of pastor everyone wants in the next guy.  People lobby for a candidate they like and rally against one they don’t.  And they vote on the recommendation of their committee.  And after he arrives, when some turn against him, they send him on his way.

Do we really believe God sends pastors to churches?  They are God’s undershepherds (see I Peter 5:1-4) and appointed by the Holy Spirit as overseers of the church (Acts 20:28).

Two.  God hears our prayers, cares for our needs, and answers our prayers.

In the typical congregation, what percentage of the people are serious about their prayer life?

If we believed that God hears, cares, and answers, we would be praying over every detail of our lives.  “Pray without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5:17) would define our very existence.

Three. It is more blessed to give than to receive.

God wants His people to be givers, generous in every area of life.  As a member of the church, He wants us to be sacrificial givers.  (See I Corinthians 8:1ff).

Think how hard it is to get God’s people to turn loose of the almighty dollar.  I know pastors who no longer preach on giving because they cannot take the criticism.  (Acts 20:35, Luke 6:38, and Matthew 6:19-20)

Four.  We will stand before the Lord and give account of all we have done.

If we believed that, imagine how differently we would live.  A lot of church leaders would deal with their pastors a lot more carefully than they do now.  The tyrants who rule their churches clearly do not know, believe, or care that they will be brought into judgement for their actions.  (See Matthew 12:36, Romans 14:12 and I Peter 4:5.)

Five.  God’s people are to obey their leaders.

The very idea, I can hear some saying.  Even if they know Hebrews 13:17, they conveniently ignore it.  They do so to their own detriment.

The fact is our members obey their leaders so long as they agree with them.  But let the leader ask of them something they don’t want to do, and they bail out.

Continue reading

Watch out for the bad guys. And also for the good ones.

“And one will say to him, ‘What are these wounds in thine hands?’ Then he will say, ‘Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends’” (Zechariah 13:6).

I was guest speaker at a men’s meeting held 70 miles away from the host church at a retreat center owned and run by the Baptists of that part of the state.  My drive there required 115 miles–up the interstate, onto the U.S. highway, followed by a state road, county road, and finally something resembling a squirrel trail.

That night, as we left the large room where we had held our evening session, I asked a leader, “Will someone lock up?”  Our materials still lay on the tables.

He said, “This place is so remote that thieves would never find it if they were trying.”  We laughed.

He was right, except for one thing.

Sometimes, the thieves are among us.  We bring them in with us.

Administrators of religious retreats say their biggest threat is not from thieves or burglars who come onto their property and break in.  Their guests give them all the trouble they can handle.

Even church people can be thieves.

Judas was a disciple and a thief.

A young mother told me she had started teaching her four-year-old son to protect himself from molesters.  She talked to him about inappropriate touching and prepped him on how to report such behavior to mommy and daddy.

The child said, “Mom, if a bad guy tries to do something bad to me, I will tell him about Jesus.”

I said to her, “It is true he has to watch out for bad guys. But in my experience, the biggest threat to your son will come from people he knows and trusts. Uncles, cousins, best friends, ministers, teachers. Even dads and grandpas.”

I know fathers who are in prison at this moment for molesting their own children.

Continue reading

My candidate for hypocrite of the year

“Evil people and imposters will become worse (in the last days), deceiving and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:13).

Can we talk about imposters?

Specifically church-dropouts who say they love the Lord.

Nothing of what follows is intended to be mean-spirited. I will labor to make certain it doesn’t come across that way.

I’m not angry, just perturbed. I don’t want to banish anyone from heaven, from church, from “the island,” or even from this room.

I just want to say to certain ones, “C’mon, people. Get real.  You don’t mean that, so why do you keep saying it?”

I was in a group which was having a lively discussion about church leadership and whether divorced people–specifically someone with a whole cluster of divorces!–should be considered as deacon.

Most in the room were sweet-spirited, godly, well-informed scripturally and solid doctrinally.  But some were angry for reasons I doubt if even they know.  They want to banish all divorced people from anything.  But they are not the hypocrites I had in mind. It’s another group.

People like you are the reason I no longer go to church.

That’s what they say.

And they are my candidate for “hypocrites of the year.”

Continue reading

What’s a pastor to do when church isn’t fun any more

My journal records one of those pressurized times in my last pastorate, some years ago.

Consider that the church was still in recovery from a split five years earlier, leaving us with a diminished congregation handling an all-consuming debt.  Consider that some of our people still carried guilt over their actions during that fight, while others nursed hurts and anger from the same tragic event.  I’d not been around during that catastrophe, I’m happy to report, but the Father had sent me in to help the congregation pick up the pieces and return the congregation to health and usefulness.

It was hard.

I was weak personally, having just emerged from a brutal three-plus years trying to shepherd a divided congregation with toxic lay leadership.  So, I came in gun-shy, hoping to avoid conflict and for everyone, myself included, to have time to heal.

Naïve, huh?  Probably so.

Daily I was being undermined by the angry, criticized by the hurting, ostracized by the pious, and scrutinized to the nth degree by leaders, self-appointed and otherwise.  When I tried to lead the church to take steps I considered normal and healthy, these also were thrown back in my face.

The journal records my efforts to bring in community leaders for a Sunday night forum during which the guest would speak and take questions.  Our people could not understand why in the world I would want to bring a congressman, for example, to our church.

I was stunned.  They don’t see the need? Aren’t they citizens who vote and who are affected by the actions of political leaders? Do they not care?  Where have these people been?

If it didn’t involve evangelism or preparation for the rapture, the leadership wanted no part of it.  Not that they were doing all that much about either.  These were merely points to check off in rating anyone invited to speak in their church.

Walt Handelsman was the Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist for the New Orleans Times-Picayune.  I admired him greatly and was delighted when he gave me an autographed collection of his editorial cartoons.  When I asked if he would be available to visit our church some Sunday evening in the hour preceding worship, he quickly agreed.

Continue reading

Someone is rocking the boat? Good.

The deacon made no attempt to hide his disgust with his preacher.  As far as he was concerned, preachers were the hired servants of the church. And, as a head deacon, that put him in charge.

“Preacher, I have some new rules for you.”

“You have rules for me?”

“From now on,” said the old man, “you will keep a written account of every copy you make on the copier.  And you will keep a notation on every phone call you make.”

And that was not all.

“Furthermore, you are not to make any personal calls from the church office.  If you have a personal call to make, you will go to your house and make it.”

Pastor: “What if I need to call my wife when she is at home?”

“Then, you will get in your car and go there and talk to her. But you will not call her from the church phone.”

This conversation actually happened, just this way.

The pastor said, “I’m sorry, sir. This is not going to happen.  I will use this church phone in any Christ-honoring way I see fit. And I will not be keeping a record of every call or every copy made on the copy machine.”

“Now,” said the pastor, “is there anything else you wanted to talk about?”

There wasn’t.

The old fellow left, one unhappy camper.

The pastor survived and serves that church to this day (i.e., to the day I wrote this).  That deacon, however, after fuming for a year or more, was suddenly summoned home to meet the Lord of the Church (see Matthew 16:18) and give account of his stewardship.

There’s no record of how that visit went.

Continue reading

Five facts about pastors many church members are unclear on

“Shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28).

In my experience, most pastors hesitate to teach the biblical understanding of the role of pastors because doing so might sound self-serving, as though they were trying to carve out a bigger role for themselves.  This is a serious error for which we are now paying as many congregations are turning the minister into a hired hand, employing him as an errand boy, or treating him as an executive brought in to lead their “country club.”

Pastor, preach the whole Word of God.  Be bold in declaring its truth.  Then, having done this, go forth and set new standards for humbly serving the congregation.  Let them see you leading by serving and no one will ever mind calling you their pastor and following you.  However, lord it over them and dominate the decisions and no one who knows his Bible will want to follow you.

What follows is the truth on the role of pastors as taught in Scripture. It’s not everything the Bible says, for this is but one simple article.  However, it cuts to the heart of the issues….

1) Pastors are called by God; they do not volunteer.

…He will send forth laborers into His harvest (Matthew 9:38).

Rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things you have seen and the things which I will yet reveal to you (Acts 26:16).

The Holy Spirit said, ‘Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them’ (Acts 13:2).

Volunteers in the pastoral ministry do not usually last.  Those choosing this as a “nice career” or respectable vocation will either bail out for something more reasonable, more profitable, or more doable, or they will twist the pastoral ministry into something more suited to their taste.

The work is impossible.  The demands are incessant.  The expectations are unending.

Continue reading

Your sermon offended? Good. It was supposed to.

“Lord, do you know the Pharisees were offended by your sermon?” –Matthew 15:12

Let me say up front that no church can long endure a steady diet of negative preaching.  No Christian, no matter how faithful, can withstand an unending barrage of sermons directed toward straightening them out. On a regular basis, we need messages reminding us we are loved, God is faithful, Heaven awaits, and there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.

But sometimes the minister enters the pulpit with a burdensome task: to attempt a diagnosis, surgery, and amputation all in a 25 minute message.  At those times, the sermon must cut deeply.

Sometimes, the message hurts. It necessarily hurts.

How the Lord’s people ever came to expect their pastors to declare the riches of His Word without offending wrong-doers is beyond me.

It cannot be done.

“Offenders will take offense.” Remember that. As columnist Dear Abby once said, “You throw a rock in among a bunch of dogs. The one that hollers got hit.”

Delivering the commands of Scripture on how to live and think, how to re-prioritize our lives and change our behavior, and bring every detail of our existence under the Lordship of Jesus Christ without treading on anyone’s toes is expecting a little much of the preacher.

George Whitefield, the great British preacher of the 18th century, gave us an unforgettable line on this….

Continue reading

How to keep your church youthful and growing

“They will be full of sap and very green” (Psalm 92:14).

An article in “The Progressive Farmer” asked whether to “Keep or Cull?”  Subtitle of the article: “High prices have changed the rules about when to cut one loose from the herd.”  

Here’s a quote–

Farmers who want to keep their herds young and viable know the importance of culling certain animals that get too old, consume too much resources, are no longer producing, or are a detriment in other ways.

Pastors cannot cull.

More’s the pity, we say with a wink.

There is a reason certain businesses are dying before our eyes.  K-Mart and Shoney’s come to mind.  The discount store and the restaurant were once all the rage.  We think of names like Montgomery-Ward, Spiegel, Western Auto, and Rexall– in most cases only dim memories now.  National Shirt Shop. Woolworth. Maison Blanche.

To stay healthy and maintain its mission, any entity must be constantly reinventing itself, tweaking its systems, sloughing off the old and dead, birthing the new.

In most cases, the dying businesses did not get the memo.  Some stores and hotels look like they’ve not had a paint job in years. The hand-dryer in the bathroom does not work, and the personnel all wish they were working somewhere else.

As a customer, you take your business elsewhere.

This train got the disappearing railroad blues.  (A line from “City of New Orleans”)

Continue reading