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The Local Church – Movement, Monument, Or Mausoleum? (via Ray Ortlund)

Ray Ortlund passes on an observation about three stages in a local church’s growth and decline. It’s vital to humbly self-examine because what can be observed as strength can be the rigidity that is precursor to decline.

Movement
A healthy church is born as a burst of positive gospel energy. It’s a Pentecost-like explosion of joy, a vital gospel movement. Such a church has a sense of mission, even a sense of destiny. It’s exciting to be in this church. Think of a steep upward trajectory.

Monument
Given human weakness, after a time, this movement becomes a monument. The spirit of the church changes from hunger to self-satisfaction, from eagerness to routine, from daring new steps of faith to maintaining the status quo, from outward to ingrown. It’s easy not to notice this shift. The self-image of the church might still be that of a vital movement. But deep within, everything has changed. Think of leveling off.

Mausoleum
If the trend toward mediocrity is not arrested, the church will decline and become a mausoleum, a place of death. The church as an institution may have enough social momentum and financial resources to keep churning on. But as a force for newness of life, it no longer counts. Think of steep decline – indeed, a death spiral.

The responsibility of a church’s leaders is to discern when their movement is starting to level off as a monument. It is at this crucial point that they must face themselves honestly and discover why they have lost their edge, go into repentance and return to the costly commitments that made them great to begin with. They may need to deconstruct much of what they have become, which is painful and embarrassing. But if the leaders will have the humility, clarity and courage to do this, their church will go into renewal and re-launch as a movement once more. Jesus will become real again, people will be helped again, and those bold, humble leaders will never regret the price they paid.

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Praying For A Discontented Church (via Trevin Wax)

Trevin Wax writes about the deadly temptation of desiring a church where everyone is happy with things exactly as they are.

…we are right to pursue unity and peace in the church. But we are wrong to assume that the absence of conflict or complaint indicates that things are going in the right direction. The satisfaction of church members may be a sign not of faithfulness, but of widespread complacency.
Imagine this scenario. You’re a pastor in a congregation where there has been division and disunity over the years. Right now, things are better. Attendance is up. The number of complaints has fallen. People regularly encourage the staff and speak highly of the church. Every now and then, someone says: “Don’t change a thing. We love everything!”
Now, the temptation is to say, “Wonderful! Finally, everyone is happy” as if making everyone happy is the goal of your church. But that temptation is deadly. The mission of the church is not to satisfy the preferences of church members, but to spread the gospel of Jesus so that sinners are saved and find their satisfaction in him.
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We don’t want churches full of people dissatisfied due to their personal preferences going unfulfilled. Neither do we want churches full of people who are satisfied because everything is running smoothly. No, we want people who are satisfied with God but dissatisfied with the state of the world because they live and breathe the mission. They’re driven by the gospel and the mission on behalf of King Jesus and his kingdom.
As one of the pastors at my church, I am praying for more holy discontent. Our goal is not to make things satisfactory for our members, but to encourage and empower more members to be on mission together.

Read the whole article here.


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Westminster Confession Of Faith – Lord’s Day 44

Westminster Confession Of Faith – Lord’s Day 44

Chapter 27 – Of the Sacraments
I. Sacraments are holy signs and seals of the covenant of grace, immediately instituted by God, to represent Christ and his benefits, and to confirm our interest in him: as also to put a visible difference between those that belong unto the Church, and the rest of the world; and solemnly to engage them to the service of God in Christ, according to his Word.
II. There is in every sacrament a spiritual relation, or sacramental union, between the sign and the thing signified; whence it comes to pass that the names and effects of the one are attributed to the other.
III. The grace which is exhibited in or by the sacraments, rightly used, is not conferred by any power in them; neither does the efficacy of a sacrament depend upon the piety or intention of him that does administer it, but upon the work of the Spirit, and the word of institution, which contains, together with a precept authorising the use thereof, a promise of benefit to worthy receivers.
IV. There be only two sacraments ordained by Christ our Lord in the gospels, that is to say, Baptism and the Supper of the Lord: neither or which may be dispensed by any but a minister of the Word, lawfully ordained.
V. The sacraments of the Old Testament, in regard of the spiritual things thereby signified and exhibited, were, for substance, the same with those of the New.



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Why Tradition Is Good And Why Traditionalism Is Not Good (via Chuck Swindoll)

Chuck Lawless quotes Chuck Swindoll:

Why tradition is good:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
  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.
  5. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

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Immeasurable Joy Resides In Small Places (via Stephen Witmer)

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.


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Why Your Church Is Not Exempt from the Work of Church Planting (via Thabiti Anyabwile)

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.

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Six Reasons Why Dying Churches Die (via Thom Rainer)

Thom Rainer lists six reasons why dying churches continue on a terminal trajectory.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.