Friday, June 10, 2016

4 Pastoral Emphases

In the course of my pastoral ministry, I have found that there have been basically 4 particular things that I feel need to be especially emphasized in the Bible Belt today. There are certainly more than 4 things that need emphasizing and the particular nuances within each of these categories could go in a variety of directions! A pastor is not 'wrong' for placing his focus on other areas as he knows his congregation better than I do.

But for me, these 4 things have continually resurfaced in my sermons, discussions with Christians, bible studies, Sunday School, facebook interactions, blog posts, meetings with other pastors, prayers, etc. I'm sure in 10 years some of these things may narrow a bit, others may broaden a bit (and no, I don't mean 'doctrinally' but the focus!).  I think that while Pastors are to give the people of God the whole counsel of the Word of God, there are always a few things that we may have more of an emphasis on than others based on the situations we encounter and the time in which we live. For me, right now, it is these 4 things. Much more could be said about each emphasis! And at the end of each emphasis, I have posted links to recent blogs on the subject... Here we go:

1. God

Well, ok, you're thinking 'obviously!' But what I mean here is constantly pointing people to the greatness and glories of God in Scripture. That God is not the 'grandfather in the sky'. He's not the 'man upstairs'. He is the transcendently holy triune God of the universe! He is Sovereign, gracious, merciful, mighty, just, and the attributes go on and on. We don't ever get to a point where we say "Oh, I know enough about God, let's move on to more important things." In fact, I would say the root of the problems faced in many churches in the Bible Belt is that they do not have a healthy enough view of the God of the Bible. We need to understand the Trinity rightly. We need to understand how God desires to be worshiped rightly. We need to increase in our knowledge of God that we may increase in knowing God!

And something I need to add. Just because people use the same words of the Bible, doesn't necessarily mean they are worshipping the same God of the Bible. This is why we need to constantly point our people to God's revelation of Himself in His Word! This leads me to my next point:

(Recent posts on God: Here, here, here, here, and here)

2. Scripture -

Again, you think 'duh!' But I have often said that in conservative churches today we are battling for the sufficiency of the Bible. Intellectually we affirm that the Bible is the inerrant, infallible word of the living God. But practically, we do not let it drive all of our ministry methods. Many do not read it as they ought.  We have an 'assumed' canon of Scripture. A set of dogmas that have been passed down from generation to generation with actually backing that up with the Word of God. "We've always done it this way!" is a sad mantra in many churches.

I want people to see the necessity, authority, reliability, inerrancy, infallibility, and sufficiency of Scripture. I want them to read it more. I want them to love it more. I want them to know it better. I want them to share it with others.

(Recent posts on Scripture: Here, here, here, and here)

3. The Gospel -

May we never grow weary of laboring to make sure our people understand the gospel! May we never think that we ourselves grow past the need for reminding ourselves of the glorious gospel of grace and pressing ourselves deeper into it.

It is finished! Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God, the Son of God, the 2nd person of the Trinity, God with us, entered into humanity and perfectly kept the Law of God.  He is the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises for a Messiah. He was obedient to the point of death, even death on the Cross, where God made Him to be sin who knew no sin so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. The wrath of God was poured out on Jesus so that by faith we can be clothed in the righteousness of Jesus. He rose again the 3rd day, He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty. From there He will come to judge the living and the dead.

God's acceptance of us is not based on our good looks, good works, or good intentions. It is based on the person and work of Christ. It is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, that we are reconciled to God. The call to all mankind is to turn from their sins and to turn to Christ. We must herald this message to our neighborhood and the Nations!

Furthermore, those who by grace have been given a heart of flesh and have closed with Jesus in faith live for His glory.  Christians are a people zealous for good works. We are not perfect, but we desire to live for His glory and walk in the way He has shown us in His Word.

(Recent posts on the gospel and its implications: Here, here, here, and here.A guest post on another danger of the prosperity gospel here)

4. The Local Church -

Almost weekly I encounter people who try and deemphasize the local church. "Christianity isn't about the local church! It's about a personal relationship with Jesus!" I sort of understand what they are saying but to put it bluntly, they are wrong.

The New Testament doesn't know of any semblance of Christianity that is separated from the local church. Believers are the church, and they go to gather with the church on a regular basis. A local church isn't any gathering of Christians, but it is a gathering of Christians ordered under biblically qualified leadership, observing the ordinances of baptism and the Lord's Supper, hearing the preached word, and practicing biblical membership and discipline.  This idea permeates the New Testament, particularly the epistles. We can't even really make sense of the epistles without this idea of the local church.

Christianity is not a solo religion. Yes, we must come to personal faith in Christ, but that personal faith is lived out in community with other Believers in the local church. You cannot love Jesus and not love His church.

Another aspect of the local church that must be emphasized today is discipleship. That's probably a whole new blog post in and of itself! But, suffice it to say that it is the mission of the church to make disciples, not merely 'converts'.

(Recent posts on the local church here, here, here, here, and here - Also, information on our upcoming conference on Why the Local Church Still Matters can be found here)

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