Proximity, Sprawl, and Being Joyfully Inconvenienced by Your Church

In my posts on proximity and sprawl (here and here), I argued that living close to your church is important. In fact, I believe that, ordinarily, one of the most impactful ways to love your fellow church members, to “consider others higher than yourselves,” and to “look to the interests of others,” is by seeking to live geographically close to your church.

Of course, one of the dangers of being so close to your church is that convenience could breed complacency. For those who live close to their church and misuse that proximity, and for those who currently live a distance from the church, here’s an encouraging blog on why being inconvenienced for your church is actually an opportunity for your faithfulness and joy to shine.

…Those who are hungry for Christ consider it their joy to be inconvenienced for the sake of His church.

Unfortunately, this is in stark contrast to the way many people treat the church today. Countless multitudes attend church regularly, but view it as a commodity—a conveniently located provider of spiritual goods and services for which they make no real sacrifice…

Read the rest of the article here.

On Ball Becoming Baal

In two previous posts, we discussed how parents are often teaching our children to have the wrong priorities. In fact, this is sometimes because many adult believers have confused priorities as well. One of the common culprits is the role of sports in the life of the family. I recently read this article from For the Church, and thought it was worth sharing as a follow-up to that discussion.

Like “athlete’s foot” on the hygienically-challenged teenager, sports has taken over more and more of the life of believers. Almost overnight we have awakened to the sad fact that, in many communities, sports has even usurped the hours believers meet on the Lord’s Day. All too often members are saying to church leaders, “We’ll be gone next Sunday because of the soccer tournament.” In turn, leaders are supposed to acquiesce humbly. After all, we can’t afford to appear “legalistic;” everyone knows that the greatest crime a church can commit is to demand something of someone.

The author concludes with three principles that are well-worth implementing in your own family life. Read the rest of the article here.

Facility Use Policies for Your Church

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’d like to share a couple of statements and policies we use at my church, with the hope that they may be of some interest or help to you as well. Below, you’ll see my church’s facility use policy. If you have any questions about why we included certain elements, or excluded others, feel free to inquire. The importance of such a policy, I believe, is made plain in the policy itself. So then, the policy:

By God’s providence, and through the generosity of the membership, the Lord has blessed FBC with a building and property useful for the work of ministry, the fellowship of the saints, and the glory of God. With that provision comes the need to establish certain guidelines for the use of the facilities in order to preserve and further the mission of the church—to know Christ and to make Him known. This policy contains basic guidelines for the use of our facilities, and is subject to careful emendation at the discretion of the elders.

Use of FBC facilities will not be permitted to persons or groups advancing, advocating, or explicitly holding beliefs, or advancing, advocating, or engaging in practices that conflict with the church’s faith or moral teachings, which are primarily summarized in the church’s constitution. Nor may facilities be used for activities that contradict, or are deemed by the elders as inconsistent with, or contrary to the church’s faith or moral teachings.

This restricted facility use policy is necessary for two important reasons. First, the church may not in good conscience materially cooperate in activities or beliefs that are contrary to its faith. Allowing its facilities to be used for purposes that contradict the church’s beliefs would be material cooperation with that activity, and would be a grave violation of the church’s faith and religious practice.[1]

Second, to allow our facilities to be used by groups or persons who express beliefs or engage in practices contrary to the church’s faith would have a negative impact on the message that the church strives to promote. It could also be a source of confusion and scandal to church members and the community because they may reasonably perceive that by allowing use of our facilities, the church is in agreement with the beliefs or practices of the persons or groups using the church facilities. It is very important to the church that we present a consistent and pure message to the community.

Approval for Use

  • Use of FBC facilities will be approved by the senior pastor as the schedule allows and in accordance with this policy. In the case of potentially difficult decisions, the elders are jointly responsible as the final decision-makers on whether a person or group will be allowed to use the church facilities. Priority will be given to members and official ministries and sponsored activities of FBC.

Cleaning and Damages

  • Anyone who uses the facilities is responsible to see that the area used has been cleaned, any moved furniture or equipment returned to its original placement, and the facility left in no worse a condition than they found it—or to make arrangements for this to be done.
  • The person or group using FBC facilities will assume legal, material and financial responsibility for any damages incurred during use.
  • All lights must be turned off and doors locked upon departure.

Fees

  • The church generally does not charge a fee for the use of our facilities.
  • However, a fee may be requested on an ad hoc basis at the discretion of the elders.

Bible Studies and Other Ministry Activities

  • Bible Studies and other ministry activities conducted at the church will be limited to those official activities of FBC facilitated by a member and under the oversight of the elders.
  • We encourage members to study Scripture together as often as possible, and to seek the counsel and advice of the elders when considering a topic or direction of study. However, studies and small groups are not to be conducted in the church building unless specifically approved by the elders and conducted under the oversight of the elders.

Weddings

  • We believe that the only biblical marriage is the formal union of a man and a woman in a lifelong, exclusive covenant.[2] Any other sexual activity, identity, or expression outside of this definition of a biblical marriage, including those that are becoming more accepted in the culture and the courts, are contrary to God’s natural design and purpose.[3] FBC facilities may only be used for weddings that are in accordance with this biblical standard.
  • Weddings conducted at FBC will be restricted to those in which at least one member of the couple getting married is a member in good standing of FBC.
  • Additionally, in accordance with the teachings of Scripture, FBC facilities may only be used for weddings by couples in which both the man and woman are believers.[4]
  • Only officiants approved by the FBC elders may officiate weddings at FBC.

Showers, Birthday/Graduation Parties, and Other Non-Ministry Events

  • Non-ministry use of FBC facilities will not be prioritized over ministry use, but will be approved on a case-by-case basis at the discretion of the senior pastor and elders, as the schedule allows.
  • Events run by or for members of the church will be prioritized, followed by regular attenders, and finally non-attenders.
  • The restrictions enumerated in the opening paragraphs of this policy apply to all activities conducted at the church facilities.

Miscellaneous Guidelines

  • Smoking in any indoor church facility is prohibited.
  • No alcohol may be served at any function on FBC premises.
  • Groups are restricted to only those areas of the facility that the group has reserved.
  • Abusive or foul language, violent behavior, and drug or alcohol abuse are strictly prohibited while using church facilities. Any person exhibiting such behavior will be required to leave the premises.
  • Food is prohibited in classrooms and worship space except for special events pre-approved by the governing board. Snacks for classes served by teachers are an approved exception.
  • Beverages with tight-fitting lids are permissible in classrooms and worship space.
  • A facility usage request form may be required.

__________________________________________________________

  1. 2 Cor. 6:14; 1 Thess. 5:22
  2. Gen. 2:18–25; Mal. 2:14–16; Matt. 19:4–6; Mark 10:6–9; Rom. 7:2–3; 1 Cor. 7:10–11, 39; Eph. 5:22-33
  3. Ex. 20:14; Lev. 18:1–30; Mark 10:6–9; Rom. 1:26–29; 1 Cor. 5:1; 6:9–10; 1 Thess. 4:3–8; Heb. 13:4; Jude 7
  4. 1 Cor. 7:39; 2 Cor. 6:14

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Gluten-free Communion?

Ironically, the Lord’s Table can often be an area in which there is much discord and discontentment, as I’ve written about before. At my own church, we’ve recently switched to having gluten-free bread/wafers for everyone, all the time. Unfortunately (unfortunate for a number of reasons), in our day, this is something we have to think about and be aware of. And, while I would prefer it wasn’t made a big deal of, it is something churches should acknowledge as they make that kind of change in a more intentional manner.

Here’s my basic argument: it doesn’t hinder anyone for the church to use gluten-free communion bread; to use bread with gluten will hinder a segment of the congregation—whether rightly or wrongly—from partaking in the Lord’s Supper with the rest of the congregation; it’s incredibly simple now to change to gluten-free bread; why would we not jump at the opportunity to remove an unnecessary obstacle to unhindered participation?

There are two possible answers: 1) people are selfish; and 2) the bread Jesus used wasn’t gluten-free. Well, to make argument #2, you better be ready to switch back from grape juice to wine—which I’m happy to do, as I think we ought to stay as close to the original elements as possible—just be consistent.

Below are some of the thoughts I shared with our congregation when we made the change.

What we want to avoid is giving any believer any reason to refrain from participating in the Lord’s Supper (beyond the restrictions of Scripture: unrepentant sin). This is a meal celebrating the fellowship we have with Christ, and thus with one another; and it’s meant to be taken together, because we are united in Christ. Because of this, we want to make sure there’s no reason for someone who refrains from eating gluten (for any reason)—whether of our own congregation or those visiting—to refrain from partaking of the elements.

Many churches have attempted to address the issue by having a gluten-free option, so that most people will take regular communion bread, and over there is the gluten-free option. But what that does is effectively divide the body into gluten-eating, and gluten-free people—turning a comparatively inconsequential matter into a matter of table-fellowship. This tends to lead toward either self-pity or pride on the part of the gluten-free folks, and either disdain or bitterness on the part of those eating the regular bread. It also defeats the very symbolism of the Lord’s Supper when we make this dietary issue a matter of identity, instead of celebrating our fellowship and communion with one another because of our identity in Christ.

Division in the body is precisely the opposite of what the Lord’s Supper is all about. So we make this adjustment as a wonderful opportunity to show our love for our brothers and sisters, and to seek to maintain that visible unity in partaking of the Lord’s Supper together as one body. This can easily become an area of contention, but we must seek to outdo one another in showing honor and deference to the needs and preferences of others. If the Scriptures’ instruction on grace has taken root at all, we will be eager to remove any obstacle possible in the communion meal so as to show our love for and unity with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Communion is a time of celebration, remembrance, and thanksgiving for the salvation God provided for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s a meal of fellowship for Christians to enjoy together. As such, this is only for those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. It also means that if we are out of fellowship, with another believer, or just in our relationship to God, we need to make that right before we partake of communion as well. 1 John 1:9 says, “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” So we examine ourselves, as to whether we have any unconfessed sin in our life that is hindering our relationship with God, or with our fellow believers, and we confess that to the Lord, so that we are prepared to partake of the bread and the cup together—as one body in Christ.

“Because there is one bread, we who are many are on body, for we all partake of the one bread.” — 1 Corinthians 10:17

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In Praise of Manly Pastors

I recently had a post about some men—mainly pastors—I would recommend other men follow. That prompted the question: Why is masculinity important in a pastor?

Well, there’s a larger theological discussion to be had here. Masculinity is important because excellence is important, and virtue (moral excellence) in a man—of which elders are to be exemplary—is necessarily masculine. Masculinity is important in a pastor because pastoral ministry is, by nature, agonistic, combative, confrontational. It takes courage, grit, fortitude, perseverance.

(Note the header image e.g.—John Calvin barring the Libertines from the Lord’s Table.)

But the simple reason I wanted to point out a few men to be aware of is because, on the practical level, men want to find pastors whom they can follow into battle. It’s that simple. If you’re a wife reading this, you need to understand that while the children’s ministry may be the most important aspect to you for finding a good church, for your husband it will be having a pastor they would follow into battle. They may not consciously word it that way. Perhaps it’s not even the best way to word it. But wives, you should want to go to a church where your husband respects the pastor. The programs, fellowship, coffee, and “atmosphere” may be terrific; but if your husband does not respect your pastor as a man, he won’t last long.

I hope to explain that a little further soon.

The video below is a good example of the need for manly men in the pulpits of America. I don’t link to this video because I endorse Maxwell. I don’t. I disagree with much of his approach and his theological views (including, ironically, his take on masculinity). But he’s hitting a niche precisely because he is accurately pointing out the failing of modern evangelicalism when it comes to masculinity, engaging the world manfully, and, thus, retaining real men in the churches.

This is why we need men like Wilson, Baucham, Cunningham, Conn, Wiley, and others.

In this video, Voddie Baucham explains that one of the primary reasons men aren’t interested in church is because the pastor is not a man they respect and feel they can follow as their leader.

In this article, C.R. Wiley discusses how to get and keep masculine men in the church.

And when we talk about masculine pastors (or men in general), we don’t—or shouldn’t—mean the machismo and posturing that so often is presented as manhood. Alastair Roberts has some helpful thoughts on that in two articles here and here. I’ll leave you with a quote from Wilson’s Future Men. This is essential in our endeavor to not continue losing future men from the church.

Boys should be able to see masculine leadership throughout the life of the church. From the pulpit, to the session of elders, to the choir, boys should be able to see men they respect. They should not see what is too often the case—missing men or silent men just along for the ride. When men go to church simply to sit in the back, they are teaching their boys to do exactly the same thing, if that.

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Is Your Faith a Political Threat?

So it turns out that Christian convictions actually do matter in and affect the public square. The world rightly sees the church as dangerous. The Christian faith is a political threat. Not quite in the sense that an invading army is a threat to another country… but in the sense of a herald announcing the arrival of the king coming in judgment… in the sense of a community of citizens sojourning in a foreign land who are fiercely loyal to their king… in the sense of an embassy representing and proclaiming the rights of its coming king over all nations.

There are two groups of people who truly understand that threat of Christianity: those who are persecuted because of their Christian convictions, and those who do the persecuting.

Here is yet one more example of the world’s recognition of the truly dangerous nature of Christianity. Dutch authorities are investigating a number of pastors who signed the Nashville Statement on sexuality. They are threatening criminal charges against these pastors for signing an “anti-gay” Christian confession. (See the article here.)

Unfortunately, Denny Burk’s response and commentary on the subject appears a little soft. He seems to imply that the Dutch authorities shouldn’t feel so threatened by the Nashville Statement. He seems surprised that Dutch authorities care so much about “what is essentially a confessional statement.”

The problem, of course, is in the failure to recognize the public and political significance of Christian confessions. When those Dutch pastors signed their names to the Nashville Statement, they were declaring that their highest allegiance is to Christ, not to the Netherlands. Of course, the fact that they are baptized Christians ought to be enough to make that clear, but that’s not often the case anymore. The signing of a public statement articulating biblical morality (particularly one that has entered into the political eye to the degree that sexuality has) is simply another clear message to the nations that we serve a higher sovereign—we serve a king who demands the allegiance of all nations.

And as our allegiance to Christ increasingly comes into conflict with our ability to obey our earthly rulers, we need to be prepared to say with the apostles, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

To read more about the prophetic and political function of the church, I would recommend the book that shaped much of my thinking in this area: Political Church: The Local Assembly as Embassy of Christ’s Rule. In that work, Leeman writes this:

Churches do not need to take up arms against the state in order to pose a threat to the state; they only need to oppose the gods upon which a nation’s political and economic institutions depend.

And, while the Nashville Statement is commendable, I would rather recommend the Fortified Nashville Statement as an even more faithful and sound articulation of the biblical teaching on marriage and sexuality.

“Therefore, let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” — 1 Peter 4:19