Why tradition is good:
- It honors God for what He has done. Tradition, by definition, is tied to the past. Ideally, though, it focuses on God and what He has done, not on what we used to do in the church. Healthy tradition is concerned about glorifying God only.
- It celebrates the past while pressing toward the future. There’s nothing wrong with celebrating yesterday as long as that rejoicing encourages us to move into the future. My first church had an annual homecoming service that retold God’s work to encourage us to capture God’s vision for tomorrow—and that’s a good kind of tradition.
- It grounds next generations in the work of God. Tradition is good when it helps next generations appreciate what God has done through His people in the past. For example, the Hebrews marked places where God worked so their children and grandchildren could know His care and guidance (e.g., Joshua 4).
- It offers wisdom when making change. Sometimes, the traditions of a church cause leaders to carefully and prayerfully consider options before making a change. That’s not a bad thing.
- It evokes gratitude and unity. Because it celebrates God’s work in the past as a means of faith for the future, our response ought to be thanksgiving as the family of God.
Why traditionalism is not good:
- It emphasizes what we (or others) have done more than what God has done. Traditionalism fights to save traditions, but the traditions are what we’ve done . . . what our forefathers did . . . what our denomination has “always” done. It assumes that our preferences are God’s commands.
- It elevates the past over the future. Traditionalism is protective and reactive. It guards yesterday’s turf at the expense of making a difference today and tomorrow. It fears the future more than it influences it.
- It hinders reaching the next generations. Traditionalism assumes that almost anything new is a threat to the gospel, even if the gospel itself is never compromised. It requires young generations to become us if they want to follow God.
- It blocks making necessary change. Traditionalism fights change, often without honest consideration of the options. It doesn’t inform change like tradition does; it obstructs it.
- It leads to division. Traditionalism is elevating tradition to the level of commandment as if it equals the gospel. The emotion behind such a position usually creates conflict and disunity.
Stephen Witmer writes about pastoring in smaller towns.
The upper limit of your joy in ministry will never be the size of the place in which you minister, but the size of your heart for God. God spreads a banquet of delight before you in your small place, always more than enough, and he invites you to feast. The sweet triumphs of ministry — a gospel conversation, a new step of obedience to Jesus, an experience of Christian community — are precious wherever they occur. The angels in heaven celebrate equally over the conversion of city and country souls.
Your town may be small, but there will always be some who have not yet heard or embraced the gospel, and God himself has sent you to speak to them. Your congregation may be tiny, but you will never exhaust the possibilities of knowing them deeply and loving them well. God will provide special joys in your small place. There will be the uniquely soul-enlarging beauties of the countryside and the pleasures of life in a community where you are known. He will also strengthen you in the challenges that are unique to working in small places. Remember, you’re not there by accident. He has placed you there for his glory and your joy.
Read the whole post at Desiring God.
As a local church leadership in a country town we’re exploring again how we express the need to support the growth of healthy churches in other places.
I believe doing so is an integral marker of a healthy church.
From Thabiti Anyabwile.
Every Neighborhood, Every Neighbor
I believe it’s important that every local church, in some way, focuses on church planting. As local churches, we don’t want to be concerned with the gospel only in our context. We actually want to see the gospel advance.
A New Testament pattern for the advance of the gospel is the planting of churches. We want to see every neighborhood and every neighbor brought into contact with the living Word of God. For that to happen, we have to have outposts in every neighborhood, in reachable contact of every neighbor. The New Testament word for those outposts is the local church.
An application-intensive approach to seeking out and developing qualified church leaders. Thoughtful analysis of key passages in Acts and 1 Timothy are balanced with practical action points in a contemporary context.
Every church, if it exists in the same spirit and shares the same DNA as the early church, should have a burning concern to see itself multiply, extend, and spread to the ends of the earth until everybody hears and the Lord comes.
Thom Rainer lists six reasons why dying churches continue on a terminal trajectory.
- They refuse to admit they are sick, very sick. I have worked with churches whose attendance has declined by over 80 percent. They have no gospel witness in the community. They have not seen a person come to Christ in two decades. But they say they are fine. They say nothing is wrong.
- They are still waiting on the “magic bullet” pastor. They reason, if only we could find the right pastor, we would be fine. But they bring in pastor after pastor. Each leaves after a short-term stint, frustrated that the congregation was so entrenched in its ways. So the church starts the search again for the magic bullet pastor.
- They fail to accept responsibility. I recently met with the remaining members of a dying church. Their plight was the community’s fault. Those people should be coming to their church. It was the previous five pastors’ fault. Or it was the fault of culture. If everything returned to the Bible belt mentality of decades earlier, we would be fine.
- They are not willing to change . . . at all. A friend asked me to meet with the remaining members of a dying church. These members were giddy with excitement. They viewed me as the great salvific hope for their congregation. But my blunt assessment was not pleasing to them, especially when I talked about change. Finally, one member asked if they would have to look at the words of a hymn on a screen instead of a hymnal if they made changes. I stood in stunned silence, and soon walked away from the church that would close its doors six months later.
- Their “solutions” are all inwardly focused. They don’t want to talk about reaching the ethnically changing community. They want to know how they can make church more comfortable and palatable for the remnant of members.
- They desire to return to 1985. Or 1972. Or 1965. Or 1959. Those were the good old days. If we could just do church like we did then, everything would be fine.
Read the whole post here.
Westminster Confession Of Faith – Lord’s Day 25
Chapter 16 – Of Good Works (Paragraphs 1-4)
I. Good works are only such as God has commanded in his holy Word, and not such as, without the warrant thereof, are devised by men out of blind zeal, or upon any pretense of good intention.
II. These good works, done in obedience to God’s commandments, are the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith: and by them believers manifest their thankfulness, strengthen their assurance, edify their brethren, adorn the profession of the gospel, stop the mouths of the adversaries, and glorify God, whose workmanship they are, created in Christ Jesus thereunto, that, having their fruit unto holiness, they may have the end, eternal life.
III. Their ability to do good works is not at all of themselves, but wholly from the Spirit of Christ. And that they may be enabled thereunto, besides the graces they have already received, there is required an actual influence of the same Holy Spirit to work in them to will and to do of his good pleasure; yet are they not hereupon to grow negligent, as if they were not bound to perform any duty unless upon a special motion of the Spirit; but they ought to be diligent in stirring up the grace of God that is in them.
IV. They, who in their obedience, attain to the greatest height which is possible in this life, are so far from being able to supererogate and to do more than God requires, that they fall short of much which in duty they are bound to do.
Why as a church would we be expressing an aim for two worship services on a Sunday morning instead of one?
It’s a question we’re working through at MGPC.
Steve McAlpine writes about the struggle of the church (his and others) to break through a growth barrier that does more than simply keep pace with population growth.
But there’s a less noticed, but more foundational growth barrier that needs to be broken first, and then the other growth barrier may give way:
…the real growth barrier that I want to see broken is actually being broken, as we showcase Christ from the front, and encourage our people to find their joy in him. We’re finding that this is breaking growth barrier of personal maturity among our people.
That’s the growth barrier that really matters – the growth and maturity of our people individually and as a body of believers. We’re trusting them to feed on the Word together and grow up as a Christians. We’re trusting that our ministry to them is helping them take responsibility both to serve and to learn and to share the gospel in word and deed for themselves. We’re trusting our sermons and teaching not to be about “do more”, “get involved in…”, “turn up at..”, “do more evangelism”, but to be about the wonder of Jesus and how he fulfils all of God’s promises that humans yearn for, even if they don’t realise it.
Read his whole post here.
Jon Bloom writes about the nature of the church at Desiring God.
Church is never an extension of our agenda.
It’s the place where our agendas yield to the purpose of growing like Jesus.
Jesus did not design the church to be a place where our dreams come true. Actually, it’s where many of our dreams are disappointed and die. And this is more of a grace to us than we likely realize, because our dreams are often much more selfish than we discern.
Our personal expectations easily become tyrants to everyone else, because everyone else fails to meet them. When we are more focused on how others’ failings and foibles obstruct the ideal community we want to pursue than we are on serving those others and pursuing their good and joy, our expectations can kill love, which impedes the real mission.
Jesus designed the church to be a place where love comes true, where we lay our preferences aside out of deference to others. It is meant to be a living laboratory of love, a place where there are so many opportunities, big and small, to lay down our lives for each other that the love of Christ becomes a public spectacle.
That’s why when it comes to church in this age, the picture of community we should have in our minds is not some utopian harmony, but Golgotha. In living life together, we die every day (1 Corinthians 15:31). We lay down our lives for each other (1 John 3:16).
Read the whole post at Desiring God.