How to Leave Your Church without Denying the Faith

Matthew Everhard

“They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.”

 (1 John 2:19, ESV). 

Alright. I admit that the title I gave this post is a bit provocative.

“Denying the Faith?” Isn’t that a bit much?

Yes. It certainly sounds serious, doesn’t it? But so does the quotation from the Apostle John above. After all, the teaching of the Apostle is that leaving the visible Body of Christ can often reveal those who have made false professions of faith. Try as I might, I can’t soften up the Apostolic teaching. So I won’t.

Clearly leaving the Body of Christ–as it is expressed in the local church–is a very serious matter indeed.

And no, I don’t believe that we can lose our salvation. But many make false professions to be sure (Matthew 7:21-22).

Is Leaving Right? 

There may be some times when leaving your home church is absolutely the right thing to do. When a local church or denomination has committed apostasy to the extent that the Gospel is utterly compromised, and the visible institution no longer exhibits the Reformation’s three “marks” of a true church (the preaching of the Word, the right administration of the sacraments, and the exercise of godly discipline) it may very well be time to go.

Sometimes it may be necessary to leave one’s home church due to major theological differences that cannot be reconciled easily (Calvinism vs. Arminianism; cessationism vs. Pentecostalism etc.).

Of course, some people change jobs or relocate from time to time. That’s not in question here.

But before you bolt and head down the street to the next church (or even quit going to church altogether!) ask yourself some serious questions:

1. Am I just being petty? Am I leaving because of preferences or because of foundational issues? Is mere worship style a factor? Am I going somewhere else because of something as superficial as song choices? Is it because I don’t like the pastor’s clothes? Or his wife? Or the color of the pews? If so, repentance is probably the better course.

2. Am I leaving behind damaged relationships that need to be reconciled? Fleeing one’s home church is a dangerous thing. One such danger is that I may be leaving because I am avoiding the hard work of reconciling relationships.

Sure, its easier to say “Goodbye!” than “I’m sorry!” or even “I forgive you!” Does anyone read Matthew 18:15-20 and think it sounds easy to carry out? Living in light of Jesus’ teaching in Scripture is always hard. That’s why He called it “carrying your cross” and following Him (Matthew 16:24). And yet His way is always right.

Before you leave, take the time to restore as many broken personal relationships as possible. Go back one more time and try to repair what has been broken. If you cannot, at least you will have the personal peace of knowing that you tried. In our congregation, we ask new members to sign a form that says that they have tried to do their best to restore broken relationships before joining our church. I wish others would do the same.

Let me be clear: If you are running away from the difficult work of reconciliation, you are running away from your own sanctification.

3. Did I even let my (former) leadership know of my decision? It used to be that the common courtesy was to send a transfer letter of membership to one’s former congregation letting them know that one had moved or changed direction. But today, I can’t even tell you when the last time is that I have received such a letter.

I suppose it is because we have a totally corrupt view of local church membership. The idea of the “covenant community” seems to have been obliterated. Most just bolt without even saying farewell. In my own experience, a few have used their departure as an opportunity to “stick it to the man.”

But let me ask you, when is the last time you’ve seen the old I’ll-show-them-how-much-they-miss-me trick bear any Gospel fruit?

4. Am I a religious consumer? Many people leave churches without so much as a wave or salute because they do not believe in church membership at all (see above). For these folks, the church is nothing more than an ecclesiastical Wal-Mart; a retail supply chain from which to consume religious goods and services. I’ll take some of this praise music here; some of that youth group there. I’ll listen to this preacher’s podcast here, and keep my membership on the rolls there. All of this reflects a sub-Christian understanding of the role of the local church.

5. What am I leaving to? If you are leaving your church to join another congregation, alright then. At least it is better to be in a different local church than no church at all. But have you read it’s doctrinal statement? Do you know where it aligns on matters of first importance (Biblical authority, the Trinity, the atonement)? How about secondary issues (marriage, charismatic gifts, women in ministry, baptism)? Have you thought through this at all, or are you just leaving because the grass looks greener on the other side of the fence?

6. Am I even a Christian at all?  If you are in the habit of changing churches regularly, or have given up on the Biblical idea of the local church altogether–over which Jesus Christ is Lord and Head–it may be time to seriously reflect on whether you are a Christian at all.

As scary as it sounds, 1 John 2:19 may be referring to you.

Everhard for page

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brookville, Florida. He is a graduate of Malone University (BA, Bible and Theology); Ashland Theological Seminary (MA, Practical Theology), and a doctoral student at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando. His is the author of several books including Hold Fast the Faith: A Devotional Commentary on the Westminster Confession of 1647.

Mardi Gras & The Meaning of Lent

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Tomorrow evening I will gather together with brothers and sisters and mark their foreheads with ashes in the symbol of a cross to the light of flickering candles. As my hand passes across their brow I will whisper the words “from dust you have come and to dust you will return.” It is intentionally somber and the ritual marks the start of a 40 day journey for us in which we will surrender and fast and do without in order to realign our hearts with our first love. We will pray and we will wait with eyes focused on Easter.

Mardi GrasIn stark contrast are the parades of Mardi Gras which serve as a clear illustration of our penchant for celebration as prelude instead of response. In anticipation of a season of surrender and sacrifice Fat Tuesday is the opportunity to fill up on vice before the great fast of Lent leads us to virtue. In Lent we are reminded once again that the story of the Cross is Mardi Gras in reverse. Parades and parties, singing and spirits, beads and beer mark the glorious end, not the beginning of the journey. As we center our gaze in the coming weeks on the the life, death and resurrection of the Suffering Servant our hope is that we will realize once again that the call to discipleship is a call to willingly embrace burdensome paradoxes of death before life, sacrifice before reward, pain before relief and loss before victory. Remember, even the Son of man was lead by the Spirit into wilderness before he was lead down the hillside of Jerusalem to shouts of his triumphal entry.

Most importantly we learn through the pages of Scripture the glorious truth that crucifixion is not an end, but the very road to resurrection. This is truly what we miss when Mardi Gras becomes the preferred celebration compared to Easter. It is the classic illness of the American church that wants good news without suffering; a gospel that promises your “best life now” instead of sacrifice. The journey of Lent holds out the guarantee that our surrender to God is never in vain, that a true and lasting salvation awaits those who are willing to embrace the mystery which tells us that when we lose our lives, we will actually find it, and when we die, will finally live. The dangerous lie of Mardi Gras is that the best is behind us and Lent is nothing more than our penance for Fat Tuesday.

The gospel tells a dramatically opposite tale that the best is yet to come, that fasting comes before feasting, and the celebration being cleaned up tomorrow in the French Quarter is but a very small glimpse of the ceremony which awaits those who endure to the end. Mardi Gras can only offer escape from our hopelessness, while Lent continually points us towards the greatest hope the world has ever known. The true and certain promise of resurrection. This is the story told in the season of Lent.

Steve Woodworth bannerSteve Woodworth is ordained in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and has worked out his calling through church planting, teaching, writing, and global missions. He currently serves as the Associate Coordinator for the International Theological Education Network establishing sites for theological education and leadership development among unreached people groups.

Losing One’s Voice

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*Note: This is a piece I originally wrote last September (2014).

One of the interesting, and somewhat disappointing, developments of this summer has been trouble with my breathing apparatus. My lungs check out very well, indeed, but the upper airways (trachea and bronchi) are stiffening. This causes me to wheeze under certain conditions, and if you really listen, you can hear a slight whistle coming from just below my voice box. My radiology oncologist suggests the possibility that last Fall’s radiation treatments are now causing some scarring in those tubes. The matter is being investigated by my medical team, and I’m hoping there might be some sort of definitive treatment to correct the problem. We’ll see!

Miraculously, I am able to sing, and in fact have joined a choir. A week ago Saturday we experienced our first all-day “retreat” with this group, which entailed a lot of vocalizing (most of the day). By the end, I was afraid my voice was going to go completely. As a voice major, I know the best remedy for laryngitis is vocal rest and hydration, so I did the drill and averted disaster. The experience, however, gave me a handle on what has been going on with me in the writing department.

In late Spring, as I was coming out of the cancer tunnel and as the PC(USA) General Assembly was looming, I began to lose my writing (blogging) voice. It takes awhile to find one’s voice, that unique point of view, writing style, even that soul of a writer expressed in words. It was a new experience for me, having nothing to say! [Take her to the hospital! Mary has run out of things to comment upon!]

thought police

So, a little history: In the last year, I have picked up some new readers drawn to my experience of lung cancer. Many of you may not know that I had a “previous life” as a Presbyterian activist. As a minister member of San Francisco Presbytery and a national leader among evangelical/orthodox Presbyterians, I reflected on the politics, theology, discipline, and governance of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). My perspective was, and remains, theologically conservative, biblically anchored, and challenging to the emerging trends in my particular tribe of mainline Protestantism.

The year my tribe was ramping into the season known as “General Assembly,” held in Detroit in June 2014, I was out for the count. Undergoing rigorous treatment for lung cancer, having surgery to remove a lobe of my lung, and recovering in my recliner, my interest in denominational issues slackened under the constant effort just to stay awake. It’s amazing how an experience like this puts life in slow motion, reorganizes priorities, and takes the urgency out of some events.

During this time, however, I found my voice in reference to lung cancer and the spiritual life, and Bringing the Word to Life meant bringing the Scriptures to bear on prolonged illness, the possibility of dying, and the miracle of cure. The medications I took had one quirky side effect I wish I could have back: I was wide awake from 3 to 8 a.m. every morning, providing the perfect quiet and reflective mood for writing. But now that these drugs are completely out of my system, I am slogging away like everybody else, trying to find the time and the quiet to gather my thoughts. I can assure you, the joy of living is a daily gift now, and small pleasures are intensified. My batteries—physical and spiritual—are almost fully recharged at this point, and I’m ready to roll in the writing department.

So now the question is, should I go back to writing about denominational issues? All summer, I have felt the Lord urging me to silence on the PC(USA) topic, literally restrained from writing about the GA decisions of greatest concern to me. I watched the plenary sessions of GA on live streaming, took copious notes, stayed in touch with my colleagues on site. But when the decisions came down, it was as though I had lost my voice. I felt like I had given reasonable warning for years, as a prophet in the wilderness trying to wake people up to the disaster ahead. My warnings went unheeded; my logic was unconvincing; something “newer” and “better” was adopted. My point of view is now considered irrelevant, if not dangerous, to the thought police who are redefining “tolerance” even as they are redefining “marriage.”

My silence has not been due to fear. I am not afraid of what people think of me or my ideas. I don’t have anything to lose professionally. If there’s one thing I have learned in the last year, there is nothing to be afraid of when one is carried by the Savior.

My silence is not an indication I have given up. I do not plan to roll over and play dead while the assault upon a biblically faithful and historically orthodox theology continues.

My silence itself is not acknowledgment that I have lost a contest. I believe a contest has been decided, with erroneous teaching and an abandonment of the rules, but “losing” is not what has rendered me silent.

It is “the fear of the Lord” and his holiness and righteousness that has me standing in awe-full silence, for now. I don’t expect it to be permanent, but I do expect with vocal rest and hydration (drinking the Living Water), it won’t be long before the Lord will give me permission to bring his Word to life, be it in the PC(USA) or in other aspects of life yet to unfold.

Moral Universalism

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Sunday lunch continues to be an extraordinary opportunity for the intersection of unrushed conversation and table fellowship where Christ is made known in the breaking of bread. This past Sunday was no exception. Having launched into and been thoroughly engaged by a new class on the cultivation of a Christian worldview, we invited our teacher to lunch. The table conversation was the kind I imagine people had centuries ago when time was plentiful, relationships matters and distractions were few.

We talked about many things but one of the subjects was the prevalence of moral universalism in American leadership. Moral universalism is the idea that there are certain moral categories which exist throughout the world and which provide an adequate moral code but which have no basis in a personal God. A person with a moral universalistic worldview might say, “Well everyone knows that’s wrong.” The fact that they are unable to articulate any basis for right and wrong is irrelevant to them. Their epistemology does not require that “knowing” be based in anything, or anyone, beyond their own awareness.

Moral universalism is writ large in such documents as the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It also happens to be the compass of our current President.

In his Summit on Countering Violent Extremism, he said:

“And when all of us, together, are doing our part to reject the narratives of violent extremists, when all of us are doing our part to be very clear about the fact that there are certain President Obamauniversal precepts and values that need to be respected in this interconnected world, that’s the beginnings of a partnership.”

What are the narratives that need to be rejected? Might any and all narratives that are “exclusive” or exclusionary be considered extremist? What if a narrative includes the convictional belief that if you do not believe and follow the particular individual at the center of the story then you will be cut off from real life now and eternal life forevermore? Must that narrative be rejected? You see where I fear this is headed.

A system of thought, a plan for global peace, a moral code constructed on the kinds of “universal precepts” espoused by the President is on shaky ground. The only firm foundation for an integrated worldview that leads to governance based on the rule of law (and not a tyrannical ruler or elitist class) is the Logos, the Word: eternal, unchanging, all sufficient, living, active, knowable, personal, objective, True.

The attempt to derive law without a Lawgiver is futile because in the end, each human act is personal. In a world run amok where God is rejected and the accumulation of matter is all that matters, then Darwin’s observations hold: the strongest, meanest, most selfish individuals and systems prevail.

Of equal hubris is the attempt to reconcile warring sinful people without a change of heart and mind that leads to a consistent pattern of peace governed not by external law or force but by the inward presence of the peace that passes all understanding which flows from the One whom alone is the Prince of Peace.

LaBergeCarmen Fowler LaBerge is president and executive editor of the Presbyterian Lay Committee and a member of the board of directors of the National Association of Evangelicals. Also visit Carmen at her website, CarmenFowlerLaBerge.com.

Miracle on Clifton Road: God is in Charge

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I’m sharing this story of God’s love and power to remind my Anglican brothers and sisters that God is in charge. He’s not only in charge of our individual lives, but in charge of his church as well, including the Anglican Communion.  – Robert Lundy, Director of Communications

It was Wednesday October 15, 2014. Sammy Miller was conducting an after school rehearsal at Woodland High School South of Atlanta, Ga, when he started feeling strange. He thought he had overdone it at the staff vs. students volleyball game that took place earlier.

Around 4 pm, Mr. Miller, at age 33, suffered a massive heart attack. There, on the chorus room floor, Sammy, a husband, father, teacher and Christian, should have died. The abrupt blockage of a main artery, known as a widow maker, brought on the cardiac arrest and, in many people, leads to sudden death. In fact, Sammy’s heart stopped beating. He wasn’t breathing. Using a portable defibrillator, faculty at Woodland got his heart beating again and performed CPR until paramedics arrived.

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Doctors at the local hospital removed the blockage but the damage had been done. The capable physicians were doing everything they could but the situation was seemingly hopeless. “A complete disaster” – that’s how dispatchers for the life-flight helicopter ride to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta described Sammy.

Once at Emory’s Mid-town campus, doctors placed him on a bypass machine that would essentially do the work for his heart, and a ventilator that would work for his lungs. They also determined that Sammy would be best treated at Emory’s main campus off Clifton Road.

24 hours after the heart attack, Sammy was on life support. When I went to see him that morning in the ICU he was a disfigured shell of the man I knew. He was unconscious, unable to communicate, and almost unrecognizable. I’ve seen dead people that looked more alive than my friend did. The chances of surviving a widow maker heart attack are between 7 and 10%. The Ebola patients that were also at Emory when Sammy was there had a better chance of survival than he did. One nurse told me that Sammy wasn’t coming out alive without a miracle.

Over the next week, doctors would play a sort of high-stakes chess game with Sammy’s body. It would move first, then they would counter. Rarely, however, was there confidence that he would survive, much less that he would make a complete recovery.

On October 20, a CT scan revealed that Sammy’s brain was severely damaged and that the blood thinners he was on were causing bleeding on the brain as well. This ruled Sammy out for having a potentially life-saving “mechanical heart” put in place and also meant that he must immediately come off the bypass machine. The heart that was dead was going to have to work on its own.

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The next 24 hours, Monday, October 20 to Tuesday the 21st were an extension of an already tumultuous emotional roller-coaster. Bad news would follow worse news. One doctor said that every organ in Sammy’s body was failing. But then, a glimmer of hope would come. Signs of life would appear in a seemingly dying and dead body.

The hours turned to days and Sammy’s “dead” heart kept beating. The Bible describes God as “the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.” (Rm. 4:17) And that is what he was doing with Sammy Miller in front of our eyes. Some of the nurses at Emory recognized this as well and started calling Sammy “Miracle Man.”

I remember one morning, I stopped by the hospital. Sammy had been in a drug-induced coma and was just being weaned off the sedatives. Everyone (doctors, nurses, family and friends) wanted to see if he was mentally alert. Small signs like opening eyes and looking around, blinking, squeezing your hand, evidence of muscle control, these were the baby-step indicators we were looking for. I could immediately tell when the team of five doctors and nurses came in for their morning briefing that they weren’t expecting much. There was a tension in their bodies and serious expressions on their faces. As they were telling me about how long this could take and their uncertainty about his future mental ability, Sammy opened his eyes.

Before I tell you what happened next, let me tell you this. At the time, Sammy was on a ventilator so he couldn’t talk. He was on a feeding tube and hadn’t eaten in weeks. His body was scrawny from weight-loss and he was extremely weak. I could tell that just keeping his eyes open was a chore. He had been on so many drugs for so long that they installed a direct (PICC) line to his heart in order to administer them. Oh, and remember he had just been pulled out of a 2-day coma. Despite this, Sammy lifted his head in order to get the doctor’s attention.

“Do you want to say something Mr. Miller?” the doc asked. Sammy nodded his head!

“Mr. Miller, can you squeeze my hand?” Sammy squeezed his hand.

“Mr. Miller, squeeze my hand if you are uncomfortable.” Sammy squeezed his hand again.

“Mr. Miller, you just made my day!” Immediately, the tension left their bodies and smiles appeared on the physicians faces. The doctors knew that patients who can obey commands in the hospital have a better quality of life outside of the hospital compared to those patients who can’t respond. The fact that Sammy wasn’t a mental vegetable and could respond gave them hope that he would have a brighter future. I don’t think they, or I, knew at the time how bright that future would be.

Lundy blog 3On Friday, December 5, 51 days after suffering a widow maker heart attack, Sammy Miller walked into his own home with his wife and young son. The doctors say he is brain damaged but you wouldn’t know it. He plays the piano, sings, smiles, makes jokes, praises the Lord – last Wednesday he was back in the church orchestra playing his French horn. He does have “scars.” Mainly, pain from where the bypass machine was attached keeps him from walking as much as he would like. This and other small problems might get better.

One of Sammy’s chief physicians at Emory spoke at a benefit concert we held. Dr. B., who claims to be no theologian, agrees that something outside of his control saved Sammy. The doc publicly said that he’s never had a patient as sick as Sammy recover so quickly and so well.

C. S. Lewis wrote: “In Science we have been reading only the notes to a poem; in Christianity we find the poem itself.” Science did great things for Sammy and we are thankful for the competent and kind doctors and nurses who worked to save him. But science did not save Sammy Miller. This story is not one of great luck meeting state-of-the-art medicine. This story, or poem, is one of God who physically and spiritually gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.

There are many other aspects of this true-life event that speak to the love and power of God. For now, however, I want to focus on this. I asked Sammy the other day what he had learned through this and the first thing he said was “that God is in charge.”

It was interesting that he said that because I learned the same thing as well. Here is what I posted on Sammy’s Facebook page one day.

One thing I realized a few days ago was that the doctors were trying but the situation was out of their hands. DR, B admitted it. It dawned on me that here I am letting my emotions rise and fall on what people who are not in control are saying! Don’t get me wrong, thank God for Emory and the docs and nurses. However, I think it’s hypocritical to know that the doctors are limited in what they know and can do, claim that I believe God is in control, and then base my hope/outlook/sight on whatever the docs tell me. The ability of medicine is great but make no mistake, Sammy is not coming out of that hospital alive without Jesus Christ healing him.

Now that’s where I’m looking to. Yes, we listen to what the docs are saying and try to understand but it must be viewed in the light of Gods sovereignty. I know Sammy would agree.

I wrote that on October 22 and in the face of extreme doubt about my friend’s life.

God IS in charge. He is sovereign. No matter what trial you are in or face, know that God is in charge and trust him. Have a merry and joyful Christmas!

 

Robert LundyRobert Lundy is the Communications Director for the American Anglican Council, a non-profit that promotes Biblically faithful Anglicanism worldwide. Robert and his wife, Allison, have two daughters and live in suburban Atlanta.

The Year of the Sheep?

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Is it the year of the sheep or the goat? That is the question.

Well, it’s not really a question that those celebrating Chinese New Year are asking but it seems to be a question that many Westerners are stymied by.

““I’ve never thought about that question before,” Chen Xufeng, an office clerk in Beijing, told Xinhua. “Do we have to tell them apart? I’ve seen more goats in zodiac images, but I prefer to buy a sheep mascot, as sheep are more fluffy and lovely.”

So, yesterday marked the end of the year of the horse in the traditional Chinese zodiac that dates back some 3000 years. But whether or not “this” year is the year of the goat or the year of the sheep remains a matter of interpretation.

The similarity and distinction of sheep and goats may be of more interest to Westerners than to those in China because of the lingering shadows the Christian Scriptures caste generations after the faith is actually practiced.

Shepherd and Sheep

Even if your neighbor is not a practicing Christian, they may well know that when it comes to the final judgment, when Christ returns, the sheep and the goats will be separated. The sheep to eternal life and the goats, well, its not a happy ending for the goats.

So, to Mr Xufeng’s question, “Do we have to tell them apart?” maybe not, but there is One who stands outside of manmade calendars who makes a distinction.

What is clear from the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 25:31-46 is that the sorting is not up to us. God will sort out the sheep from the goats in the End. What matters is not that we know the sheep from the goats but that we know, and live in relationship to, the Shepherd.

Whether you are a sheep or a goat, this is the year of the Shepherd. He is the reference point for all of human history. Even the Chinese zodiac keys it count to the birth of Christ. It may be the year of the sheep or the goat but it remains 2015 Anno Domini – the year of the Lord.

LaBergeCarmen Fowler LaBerge is president and executive editor of the Presbyterian Lay Committee and a member of the board of directors of the National Association of Evangelicals. Also visit Carmen at her website, CarmenFowlerLaBerge.com.

“Oh that there might be an ISIS Saul, standing with cloaks at his feet. May God seize him to transform the Arab world.”
@DCadeCampbell
6:47 PM - 15 Feb 2015

The Cool Pastor: An Oxymoron or Just a Regular Moron?

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brookville, Florida. He is a graduate of Malone University (BA, Bible and Theology); Ashland Theological Seminary (MA, Practical Theology), and a doctoral student at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando. His is the author of several books including Hold Fast the Faith: A Devotional Commentary on the Westminster Confession of 1647.

Matthew Everhard

I had to do a double-take when I saw the tour bus.

There it was, idling softly in the parking lot, with the pastor’s name and newest book title emblazoned large–in bright yellow letters–across either side. Being advertised on that conspicuous rolling billboard was a “special evening,” (no doubt repeated dozens of times in select cities across the nation) with the newest “it” pastor.

His similitude to a rock star was highly intentional. Autograph sessions would soon follow as well, of course.

You may not recognize him as a pastor at all at first. It will take a moment for the fog machine to clear up, as he takes center stage. But soon enough you will be able to identify him clearly: he’s the guy wearing the sneakers and the torn jeans, possibly even a hoodie and a snap-back too. He doesn’t carry a Bible under his arm—that would send the wrong signal—he carries his tablet computer.

He is the “cool pastor,” the next big thing.

He didn’t come to your city for a show? No problem. He’s building a satellite campus in your suburb next. In fact, there are already dozens of wannabes cropping up in churches near you. They are the next generation. The hipster pastors.

But this whole celebrity minister phenomenon has me wondering: isn’t “cool pastor” an oxymoron?

Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with being current. There is nothing wrong with using modern communication tools. There is nothing wrong with speaking in a relevant way to current trends, both societal and cultural.

cool pastorBut the closest thing to the pastoral job description in the Bible is found in 2 Timothy 4:1-5,

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

No mention of having panache or chic jeans there. If anything, it sounds decidedly arduous. Difficult. Even subversive.

If I can be completely honest, there was a time in my life when I craved to be considered a “cool pastor.” In the early years, as the morning dawned on my pastoral vocation, I honestly believed it was possible to walk in both worlds, that is to say, the world of cultural approval and the world of Biblical fidelity.

More and more, however, I am not sure this is even desirable.

I am not suggesting that pastors return to monkish albs or don black robes exclusively. (Full disclosure: I do own a robe, but I haven’t worn it in over five years). I am however convinced that my desire to win cultural approval as a minister must die and die soon!

Our current fascination with our pastors’ book sales, name recognition value, and proliferating multi-site video venues ought to be considered a dangerous trend. Never before in the history of Christendom has a pastor’s reputation been graded by any other factors than his doctrine and his personal ethic. Today, we would add his fans.

No, my highest goal as a pastor is not to secure the greatest number of Twitter followers, but rather to model one man: our Lord Jesus Christ. His message must be my own. His methods must be sufficient for me. His majesty must be my highest end.

Though Jesus attracted a large following at times (Matthew 19:2; Mark 4:1; John 6:2) there were other moments when His doctrine and His fiery preaching sent men running in the opposite direction (John 6:66). If we should ask whether our Lord was more often cultural or countercultural, the preponderance of the Gospel materials emphatically suggest the latter.

I am sure there will be some who will appeal to texts such as 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 to justify the coolness factor as the necessary “cross we must bear” to make the Gospel intelligible in a modern context. They will argue that this is how we “become all things to all people, that by all means we might save some.”

But isn’t it ironic how those who use that Pauline text to defend a dogged pursuit of “relevance” end up making the Gospel less relevant to their hearer’s salvation and sanctification? At the very least, interpreting 1 Corinthians 9 as a methodological “free pass” makes light of the historical context surrounding the tensions between the Jewish and Hellenistic Christians to whom Paul ministered.

To assume the role of the pastor is to assume the role of the prophet. I do not need to dress like John the Baptist, but I had better be ready to preach like him as well as to be treated like him. The pastor must more frequently confront a god-forsaken culture than conform to it.

Whether or not I am even aware of it, the subconscious and non-verbal communication that I put out is as instrumental in articulating the Gospel as the words I preach. Unfortunately, the more conspicuous the “show” surrounding my sermon, the less magnanimous the Gospel appears in juxtaposition. It is obscured by bright lights and video clips, high-wires and hair gel.

I will never forget the moment I met John Piper, although I doubt he could possibly remember it. His brown belt didn’t match his black shoes, and his well-worn slacks and tweed jacket wordlessly whispered, “This world has nothing for me!” He wasn’t the least bit slovenly or unkempt, but his entire demeanor adorned the very message He preached: Jesus Christ is supreme above all things.

Here is the bottom line. The unbelieving world will always do “cool” better than the Church. When the Church adopts coolness and relevance as its corporate values, it slavishly agrees to follow, lagging always one step behind the world. (This is why Christian music always ends up ripping off the sounds and styles of their secular counterparts, while Christian film often has a cheesy “cringe factor”).

The church is not called to be the caricature of modern culture; it is called to be the critique (even the foil) of that same culture. When we explicitly model ourselves on the unbelieving world—whether its art, architecture, or ethos—we are implicitly and foolishly endorsing it.

As a pastor, I cannot afford to act so foolishly.

Everhard for pageMatthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. He is the author of Hold Fast the Faith: A Devotional Commentary on the Westminster Confession of1647 (Reformation Press, 2012). He blogs regularly at Whitefieldsprayer.blogspot.com.

““When Jesus heard of the beheading of John, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself.” Matthew 14:13”
@JohnPiper
February 17, 2015

Evangelistic Letter to Benjamin Franklin from George Whitefield

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On August 17, 1752, the famed Great Awakening preacher George Whitefield penned a letter from London to his Colonial American friend, Benjamin Franklin. Franklin and Whitefield had become close friends during a previous preaching tour of Whitefield in the colonies. They had collaborated on publishing projects and Franklin was fascinated by Whitefield’s preaching, though he remained

George Whitfieldunconverted. As the following letter reveals, Whitefield had an obvious concern for his friend’s soul. I believe this letter is a model of ways to engage unconverted friends and family. I love the line: “As you have made a pretty considerable progress in the mysteries of electricity, I would now humbly recommend to your diligent unprejudiced pursuit and study the mystery of the new-birth.” Understated on so many levels!

Below see a transcription of the letter and below that an image of the letter as it appears in the 3 volume A Select Collection of Letters of the Late Reverend George Whitefield (London: Edward and Charles Dilly, 1772), 2:440. This letter is accessible on Google Books here.

Dear Mr. F——,                      London, Aug. 17, 1752

Inclosed you have a letter for Mr. R—–. I hope that promotion will do him no hurt. May God help him to make a stand against vice and prophaneness, and to exert his Benjamin Franklinutmost efforts in promoting true religion and virtue! This is the whole of man. I find that you grow more and more famous in the learned world. As you have made a pretty considerable progress in the mysteries of electricity, I would now humbly recommend to your diligent unprejudiced pursuit and study the mystery of the new-birth. It is a most important, interesting study, and when mastered, will richly answer and repay you for all your pains. One at whose bar we are shortly to appear, hath solemnly declared, that without it, “we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.” You will excuse this freedom. I must have aliquid Christi in all my letters. I am yet a willing pilgrim for his great name sake, and I trust a blessing attends my poor feeble labours. To the giver of every good gift be all the glory. My respects await your whole self, and all enquiring friends, and hoping to see you yet once more in this land of the dying, I subscribe myself, dear Sir,

Your very affectionate friend, and obliged servant,
G. W.

Letter to Franklin from Whitefield

 

 

Steve WeaverSteve Weaver serves as senior pastor of Farmdale Baptist Church in Frankfort, KY. Steve and his wife Gretta have six children between the ages of 4 and 15. You can read more from Steve at Thoughts of a Pastor-Historian. Follow Steve on Twitter or on Facebook.