This reminder comes from Doug Wilson.  The bolded text is our emphasis:

Many of you [go to corporate worship] as parents of little ones and, in some cases, many little ones. For you, the worship of the Lord is a far more arduous task that it is for the rest of us. All of us are engaged in the work of worshiping the Lord, but you are carrying young ones in your arms as you perform the same labor that we do.

The work includes great things, like keeping everyone in fellowship throughout the whole service, and trivial things, like finding your place in the psalter. The work is daunting, and it is sometimes easy to forget why you are doing it. There are three things for you to keep in mind as you continue

The first is that while you sometimes need to be reminded why you are doing this, God knows exactly why you are doing it. Do not grow weary in doing good. God sees, and your labor in the Lord will bear good fruit. Your labor is before the Lord—He sees, and He rejoices. When you need to be reminded, there is one who can always remind you. You are here with your little ones because God calls you to worship Him together with all the children He has given you.

This means, secondly, that God receives, as true worship, every distracted shush, every spilled cup of wine, every dropped hymnal, and every time you have to take your child out to have a little word with him. You are not taken away from true worship by these things, but farther into true worship than most of are privileged to go. If Christian discipleship consists of “my life for yours,” what is worshiping with four to seven little ones?

Third, do not think of this time as the time of distraction, but rather as a time of fruitful planting, and trust God to be kind. He will bestow a time of fruitful harvest. The sun is hot and the soil is hard—but it will all come back to you, thirty, sixty and a hundred fold.

Mr. McCraken, over at The Gospel Coalition, helps us understand why church should feel uncomfortable:

I grew up attending Baptist churches in the Midwest—the kind where men’s quartets sing gospel songs as “special music” but no one dares raise their hands during a worship song. For most of my 20s I attended a Presbyterian church where things like Maundy Thursday and Advent candles were a big deal. These days I consider myself Reformed and read books about Thomas Cranmer for fun. My ideal church service would involve the Book of Common Prayer, an organ, the eucharist, and a sermon out of a Pauline epistle that referenced everyone from Augustine and Spurgeon to Marilynne Robinson and N. T. Wright. In my dream church, the “peace” would be exchanged every Sunday, ashes imposed every Ash Wednesday, and G. K. Chesterton discussed in the high school youth group.

The picture I’ve just painted of my “dream church” looks nothing like the church where I’m now a member. The local church where I now serve is non-denominational, meets in a renovated warehouse, and has no liturgical bent. The music is loud and contemporary. It’s Reformed-ish but Holy Spirit-focused, with impromptu “words” from the congregation and quiet prayer in tongues a not-uncommon occasion. To be honest, the worship services often make me a bit uncomfortable.

And I’m perfectly happy with that. I love my church.

Consumer Comforts 

Talking about one’s “dream church” is—increasingly, I’ve come to think—an exercise in not only futility even but flat-out gospel denial. The church doesn’t exist to meet our every need and satisfy our various checklists of tastes and “comfort zone” preferences. If anything, it exists to destabilize such things. The church should draw us out of the dead-eye stupor of a culture of comfort-worship. It should jostle us awake to the reality that comfort is one of the greatest obstacles to growth.

The three years I’ve belonged to my current church have been difficult and full of discomfort, but also probably the most spiritually enriching three years of my life. There’s serious wisdom in the familiar adage to “get out of your comfort zone.” Nothing matures you quite like faithfulness amid discomfort.

For too long the mantra in Christian culture has been seeker-sensitive and “have it your way.” The mentality has been consumer comfort. Find a church that meets your needs! Find a church that feels like home! Find a church where the worship music moves you, the pastor’s preaching compels you, and the homogenous community welcomes you! If it gets difficult or uncomfortable, cut ties immediately; a dozen other options await!

Difficult Duty

But this model doesn’t work. Not only is it coldly transactional (what have you done for me lately?) and devoid of covenant commitment (seeker-sensitive church attendance is basically a Hollywood marriage without a prenup), it’s also anti-gospel. A true gospel community is not about convenience and comfort and chai lattes in the vestibule. It’s about pushing each other forward in holiness and striving together for the kingdom, joining along in the ongoing work of the Spirit in this world. Those interested in mere comfort and happiness need not apply. Being the church is difficult.

In Love in Hard Places, Don Carson suggests that ideally the church isn’t composed of natural “friends” but rather “natural enemies”:

What binds us together is not common education, common race, common income levels, common politics, common nationality, common accents, common jobs, or anything of the sort. Christians come together, not because they form a natural collocation, but because they have been saved by Jesus Christ and owe him a common allegiance. In the light of this common allegiance, in light of the fact that they have all been loved by Jesus himself, they commit themselves to doing what he says—and he commands them to love one another. In this light, they are a band of natural enemies who love one another for Jesus’s sake.

Taking up the challenge of committing to a church is incredibly difficult but decidedly biblical. You don’t have to read much of the New Testament to see how messy things get when natural enemies commit to being unified family (Gal. 3:28). It’s inevitably uncomfortable but undeniably important.

Young People Want Depth 

Young people today resonate with this perspective. They’re sick of being sold spiritual comfort food. They want to be part of something that’s not afraid of a challenge, something that has forward momentum and doesn’t slow down so that the fickle, oh-so-important Millennials can decide whether or not they want to get on board. They want a community so compelled by the gospel and so confident in Christ that they pay little heed to target demographics and CNN articles about what 20-somethings today are saying about their “dream church.”

The college students I know aren’t interested in a church with a nice shiny college ministry. They want a church that’s alive, bearing fruit and making disciples. The young professionals in our life group don’t meet week after week because hanging out with a diverse array of awkward personalities after a long day’s work makes life easier. No. They come because there’s power in living beyond the comfort of one’s own life. There’s growth when believers help each other look outside themselves to Jesus.

What Being the Church Means 

Looking outside of yourself. Serving someone beyond yourself. Putting aside personal comfort and coming often to the cross. This is what being the church means.

It means worshiping all together without segregating by age or interest (e.g. “contemporary” or “traditional”). It means preaching the whole counsel of God, even the unpopular bits. It means fighting homogeneity and cultivating diversity as much as possible, even if it makes people uncomfortable. It means prioritizing the values of church membership and giving, even if it turns people off. It means being fine with the music even if it’s not your favorite style. It means sticking around even when the church goes through hard times. It means building a tight-knit community but not an insular one, engaging neighbors and launching members when mission calls them away. It means bearing with one another in love on matters of debate yet not shying away from church discipline. It means preaching truth and love in tension, even when the culture calls it bigotry. It means focusing on long-term healing rather than symptom-fixing medication.

None of this is easy or comfortable. But by the grace of God and his Spirit’s help, uncomfortable church can become something we treasure.

Good stuff here from our friends in the Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod):

By The Rev. J. Patrick Niles is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, Hilbert, Wisc.

This post has been a long time in the making. For the past decade, every time I read a post by some avant-garde religious/church-planting/emergent/post-modern blogger, I think, “Hmmmmm. I should respond to that.” Then kids need diaper changes, sermons need to be written and shut-ins need to be visited. Right now, however, I have some time to write a response.

Time and time again, I have read blog posts about how the church is doing church wrong. The church is a victim of its ambivalence toward its own perpetual exclusivity of the present generation who has needs that are not being met. And each time I read the same list of an interchangeable 5-7 attributes (unloving, culturally irrelevant, superficial worship and unintelligible jargon are ones that top the list most often), I realize that the ire and frustration comes from a misunderstanding of what church is. So let’s break the silence on behalf of the church . . . the Church . . . the historical Christian Church. I am tired of being misrepresented. I am tired of being judged (sound familiar?). I am tired of disenfranchised people making more people disenfranchised with an improper understanding of church. And so, without further ado . . .

1. We want you here. Really. We do. However, the reason might surprise you. It is not to boost the average age of the worshiping community to give us more “street cred.” It is not so that we can have your money. It is not so that we can legitimize our existence. As a matter of fact, the reason that we want you here has nothing to do with us. It has everything to do with you. We firmly believe that God distributes His good gifts of grace and forgiveness in the worship service. We learn together. We grow together. Christ is present for us, and we want you to have those good gifts of God. We want to pray with you. We want to praise God with you. We want to be at the font and the altar with you. We want to hear from the pulpit with you. And we want all of this for your good. We’re already getting the goods. We want you to have them also.

2. We are not better than you. However, we do have the same struggles as you do. Namely, we struggle with sin. We have the same inclinations toward pride, jealousy, selfish ambition and self-aggrandizement that you do. We like things a certain way. We like our carpets certain colors. We like people to dress certain ways because those ways make us feel comfortable. We can be hypocritical, judgmental and prejudiced without cause. We are all of these things because we are sinners. No, dear culture, we are not better than you. But that is why we are here every Sunday. We do not seek to be confirmed in those things that divide us. We seek to be forgiven for the times when we do not act like Christ. And we are. We are forgiven and renewed by Christ, and that makes all the difference. You do not want us to judge you by your checkered-past of sins? Why would you judge us by ours?

3. The church is for sinners of whom we are the worst. The church is the place where God has ordained the forgiveness of sins to take place. The church exists to proclaim the Gospel. It exists to proclaim that you are a sinner, but you are a forgiven sinner when repentant. Why would you exclude yourself from that because you are surrounded by other sinners? Are you differentiating sins and making one sin worse than another? Judging, by chance? Hmmm. Interesting. Please forgive the snark, but this is the point that is made time and time again by the historical Christian Church. We are sinners and we are saints! We are forgiven only by the blood of Christ. The blood of Christ is for us. The blood of Christ is for you. We beg you, come–for your sake, not ours.

4. The church is bigger than you. This is the part that you might not like to hear, but it is the truth. The church is not about you, your preferences or your tastes. The church is about Jesus. It is about the Son of God who came down to earth in humility as part of His creation. It is about this same God-man who dies willingly on the cross bearing the sins of the whole world–bearing your sins. It is about Jesus who left your sins in the tomb and rose victorious to reign for you. It is about the victorious Christ who will come again, who will create a new heaven and a new earth, who will restore these lowly bodies to be like His glorious body by the power that allows Him to subdue all things to Himself. This is the church in which uncounted saints have had their uncounted sins forgiven. Uncounted souls have been saved through the waters of Holy Baptism, taught through countless hours of instruction, bowed at numerous altars and received the infinite body and blood of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and strength for their lives in Him. This church is the voice of ages of martyrs who have not recanted the faith that we make to appear so malleable. This church has a language, an order, a life that is bigger than you. It is a life that includes 90-year-old Uncle Bud and 9-day-old Stryker. It is a life that is big enough to include you also. So if you want to be part of this church, show some initiative. Learn the language. Learn the story of the church that spans all time and space in the promises and words of Jesus. This. brings us to point number 5.

5. We will always be here . . . and so will Christ. For you. Thank you for your concern about our demise. However, throughout the entirety of the Scriptures, the Lord has promised that the pure preaching and teaching of His Word will not vanish from the earth. There will always be a remnant who live in and proclaim the forgiveness of Christ. It might not always look the same or be the same size. But it will always exist. So when you realize that the forgiveness of Christ is more than the trifles of interpersonal relationships, we will be here . . . and so will Christ. When you want to stop poking holes in the very institution that was created to give you comfort of sins forgiven and the certainty of salvation, we will be here . . . and so will Christ. He will always be here for you with all you need and more.

Please understand that we do want you, because Christ wants you. My snarkiness and righteous indignation is not really aimed at those who are legitimately searching. They are aimed at those who wish to co-opt the church for their own agendas. Their agendas and straw-man portrayals of the church are not what the church is. If you are legitimately searching, I pray you find a biblical, confessional, Lutheran congregation in which to abide. For in that place you will find the true and pure preaching and teaching of the Word of God. You also find Christ who gives Himself for you every time you come. Please, come, not for our sake, but for yours.

The Lutheran Witness — Providing Missouri Synod laypeople with stories and information that complement congregational life, foster personal growth in faith, and help interpret the contemporary world from a Lutheran Christian perspective.

Karen Swallows Prior gives a concise introduction to an important idea to consider:

The Benedict Option—a proposal for how Christians might live in a post-Christian culture—has proven to be a Rorschach test: everyone seems to see something different in it. Perhaps these variations owe, in part, to the development of the idea over several years under public scrutiny, accompanied by spirited discussion. The idea is finally put forward in full with the March 14 publication of the book by Rod Dreher, writer and columnist for The American Conservative. Because of the ample criticism and commentary that have been offered along the book’s way, it might be most helpful simply to look closely at what The Benedict Option is—and isn’t—proposing.

Understanding the title goes a long way toward understanding the concept. “Benedict” refers, of course, to the sixth century founder of a monastic order established during the swirling cultural chaos of the falling Roman Empire. Dreher turns to Benedict to pick up on a suggestion made by moral philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre in his 1981 book, After Virtue. MacIntyre points to Benedict as a model from the past for our current culture, which no longer sees virtue as essential to a flourishing civilization. “Option” is a twist on Rule, the name of the guidelines Benedict developed for godly and communal living in the monastery. Dreher’s use of “option” is an implicit acknowledgment that everything in modernity is a matter of choice, right down to the very attempt to resist modernity.

The Benedict Option’s vision is not to make nuns and monks of modern Christians. Nor does it propose a bunker (whether literal or figurative) from which to establish merely an updated version of the fundamentalist separatism of yore. Nor is the turn to Benedict a quixotic attempt to recapture a romanticized past.

To the contrary, The Benedict Option calls Christians wherever they live and work to “form a vibrant counterculture” by cultivating practices and communities that reflect the understanding that Christians, who are not citizens of this world, need not “prop up the current order” (18). While the monastery that birthed the Benedict Rule was literal, the monastery invoked in The Benedict Option is metaphorical. It is not a place, but a way.
Read More →

You know how it is when some great king enters a large city and dwells in one of its houses; because of his dwelling in that single house, the whole city is honored, and enemies and robbers cease to molest it. Even so is it with the King of all; in one body amidst the many, and in consequence the designs of the enemy against mankind have been foiled and the corruption of death, which formerly held them in its power, has simply ceased to be. For the human race would have perished utterly had not the Lord and Savior of all the Son of God, come among us to put an end to death.
― Athanasius of Alexandria, On The Incarnation

 

From Russell MooreHow Do You Explain the Trinity to Children?

Some time ago a journalist friend emailed to ask a question I think many Christian parents have asked. How does one explain the concept of the Holy Trinity to children?

I think the reason this question resonates with so many parents is precisely because we adults can’t adequately explain the doctrine ourselves. We can teach children the inerrancy of Scripture by simply saying, “The Bible Is True.” We can explain something of the atonement by saying, “Jesus paid for our sins and is alive forever.” The Trinity, though, is another matter.

I think much of our fear and stumbling here comes with a misunderstanding of what the Christian gospel is all about. Yes, Christianity is reasonable and intelligible (Carl Henry stands affirmed). But Christianity is not merely about reason and intelligence. The gospel points to a different kind of wisdom, one that silences human mouths (Isa. 55:8; Jer. 8:9; 1 Cor. 1:19-20).

God is one God, and God is three persons in an everlasting relationship with one another, a relationship into which we are invited. That’s not contradictory. God is not one in the same way he is three, or vice-versa. But who can reduce this to some sort of formula or easy analogy?

Sometimes we seek a quick analogy for children because we want to put our kids out of their mystery. If the Trinity is an easy explanation (it’s like a shamrock; it’s like water, ice, and steam), we can “move on.” We’re afraid if we say that the Trinity is in some ways beyond comprehension that our kids won’t trust us to tell them with confidence about the truth of the gospel.

But Jesus tells us there’s something about a child’s way of believing that ought to be true of all of us. We must, he tells us, become like them if we’re going to enter the kingdom of God at all. In one sense, it’s true, children are often hyper-literal. I remember thinking as a child that a “soul” was a little version of myself located in one of the chambers of my heart (and wearing a soldier’s uniform, for some reason).

But, in the more important ways, children are open to mystery and paradox in ways adults often aren’t. Children explore the world around them with a wide-eyed sense of wonder. They don’t comprehend it all, and they know they don’t comprehend it all.That’s the kind of blessed ignorance I believe Jesus commends. In order to believe, you must trust everything God has said to you, but you must also see him, not your own comprehension, as Lord. To see at all we must know that we “see through a glass darkly” (1 Cor. 13:12).

With that the case, we ought to boldly say to our children, “God is One and God is three. I can’t fully explain all of that because that’s how big and mysterious God and his ways are. Isn’t that wonderful?” When your child says, “That boggles my mind,” don’t respond with a worried handwringing but with a twinkle in your eye. “I know!” you say. “Me too! Isn’t that wild, and great!” That doesn’t end the conversation, of course. It only begins it. But we’ve got several trillion years and beyond to explore the depths of the Trinitarian reality. A start is what we need.

And learning of God’s oneness and threeness in terms of wonder and awe is a good place, I think, to start vaccinating our children from the kind of sterile rationalism, Christian or atheist, that can lead to a boring, despairing, tragically normal sort of life.

cmm

Your 7 Job Responsibilities as a Church Member

When you hear the words “church government,” what do you think? Members’ meetings? Elder board rooms? Fights over the budget or the color of the carpet? Too often it can seem that way.

Yet church government should involve so much more. In fact, it should tie into the everyday life of the church. And everyone has a role to play.

Did you know, ordinary church member, that Jesus has given you a job? Your elders have a special office, to be sure, but so do you. And Jesus has given you elders in order to train you to do your job.

So if Jesus’s discipleship program gives every single member a job, what responsibilities come with this job? There are at least seven.

1. Attend Church Regularly

You, as a baptized Christian and ordinary member of a church, are responsible to attend church regularly. Scripture could not be clearer about this fundamental responsibility so that you can give yourself to love and good works and encouragement.

And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near. (Heb. 10:24–25)

The author threatens final judgment if you do not attend (vv. 26–27). The stakes are high indeed. After all, if you do not attend, you cannot fulfill the next six responsibilities. Attendance makes everything else possible.

2. Help Preserve the Gospel

You, as a baptized Christian and ordinary member of a church, are responsible for protecting and preserving the gospel and the gospel’s ministry in your church.

Think about Paul’s “amazement” in Galatians 1: “I am amazed that you are so quickly . . . turning to a different gospel” (v. 6). He upbraids not the pastors, but the members, and tells them to reject even apostles or angels who teach a false gospel.

What this means, Christian, is that you are responsible to study the gospel and know it. Can you summarize the gospel in 60 seconds or less? Can you explain the relationship between faith and works? Can a Christian live in unrepentant sin? Why or why not? Why is it important for a Christian to affirm the doctrine of the Trinity? What role do good deeds, fellowship, and hospitality play in promoting a church’s gospel ministry? Why should a church never let its identity and ministry be subverted by a political party?

These are the kinds of questions, Christian, that you are responsible to answer in order to help guard the gospel. I am not telling you to find answers independently of your elders. They should equip you to answer such questions. If they aren’t, you might not be in the best church.

Know the gospel, and what the gospel requires in the church’s and a Christian’s life.

3. Help Affirm Gospel Citizens

You, as a baptized Christian and ordinary member of a church, are responsible for protecting the gospel and the gospel’s ministry in your church by affirming and disaffirming gospel citizens.

In a matter of discipline Paul doesn’t address the Corinthian elders, but the Corinthian church itself (1 Cor. 5:1–13; 2 Cor. 2:6–8). Likewise, it is your responsibility, Christian, to receive and dismiss members. Jesus has given it to you. For you to neglect this work only cultivates complacency, nominalism, and eventually theological liberalism.

Of course, the job here is bigger than showing up at members’ meetings and voting on new members. It involves working to know and be known by your fellow members seven days a week. You cannot affirm and give oversight to a people you don’t know, not with integrity anyhow. That doesn’t mean you’re responsible to know personally every member of your church. We do this work collectively. But look for ways to start including more of your fellow members into the regular rhythm of your life. Paul offers a useful checklist for doing this:

Show family affection to one another with brotherly love. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lack diligence; be fervent in spirit; serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer. Share with the saints in their needs; pursue hospitality. (Rom. 12:10–13)

How are you doing on this list?

4. Attend Members’ Meetings

So how do you preserve the gospel and affirm gospel citizens? By showing up consistently for members’ meetings.

Different churches make decisions in different ways, which is fine. But whatever venue your church uses for making the decisions concerning the gospel “what” (the doctrine of the gospel) and the gospel “who” (the people of the gospel), you should be there.

You cannot do your job if you don’t show up to the office.

Admittedly, members’ meetings have a bad rap. I understand. So many are unhealthy cauldrons of dispute and insurgency. But don’t let bad marriages cause you to give up on marriage. By God’s grace, I’ve been a part of several churches now where the members’ meetings feel like warm, encouraging, and engaging family gatherings. Part of that depends on the leadership of the pastors in those meetings and how they plan it. Part of that depends on you.

5. Disciple Other Church Members

You, as a baptized Christian and ordinary member of a church, are responsible for protecting the gospel and the gospel’s ministry in your church by discipling other church members.

Remember Ephesians 4:15–16. The church builds itself up in love as each part does its work. You have work to do to build up the church. And part of that includes the ministry of words. A few verses later, Paul says, “Speak the truth, each one to his neighbor, because we are members of one another” (v. 25). Speak truth to them, and help them to grow. Our words should be “good for building up someone in need, so that it gives grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29). Also, make yourself available to be spoken to. Are you willing to listen?

Basic Christianity involves building up other believers. It is a part of fulfilling the Great Commission and making disciples. Speaking of . . .

6. Share the Gospel with Outsiders

If through union with the second Adam God has reinstated you as a priest-king, your whole life should reflect the gospel in word and deed. You are an ambassador. Paul’s charge and example is worth repeating here:

He has committed the message of reconciliation to us. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, certain that God is appealing through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf, “Be reconciled to God.” (2 Cor. 5:19b–20)

Every Christian has been reconciled, and thus every Christian has received this message of reconciliation. Therefore, we plead and we pray for sinners to be reconciled to God.

This, too, is a part of your job. The command to “Go and make disciples” belongs to you (Matt. 28:19).

7. Follow Your Leaders

It’s the job of the pastors or elders to equip the saints for the work of ministry: for these previous six responsibilities (Eph. 4:12). If elders aren’t teaching the gospel, catechizing the church in the gospel, teaching them their responsibility for one another, then they’re ill-equipping the church for the job Jesus has given them.

Christian, this means that you’re responsible to avail yourself of the elders’ instruction and counsel. Hold on to the pattern of sound teaching you’ve learned from them (2 Tim. 1:13). Follow their teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, love, and endurance, along with their persecutions and sufferings (2 Tim. 3:10–11).

Be the wise son or daughter in Proverbs who takes the path of wisdom, prosperity, and life by fearing the Lord and heeding instruction. It is better than jewels and gold.

Authority Brings Responsibility

The Bible gives final authority and therefore responsibility to the gathered congregation. With authority comes responsibility. By joining a church, you become responsible for what your church teaches and for every single member’s discipleship.

You are responsible to act if Pastor Ed begins to teach a false gospel.
You are responsible to help ensure Member Candidate Chris adequately understands the gospel.
You are responsible for Sister Sue’s discipleship to Christ, and that she’s being cared for and nurtured toward Christlikeness.
You are responsible to ensure Member Max is excluded from the fellowship of the church if his life and profession no longer agree.
Who trains you for all this work? Your elders. Add your responsibilities together with theirs and you have Jesus’s discipleship program.

More than 75 Minutes

When people come to join my church, they are asked to do an interview with an elder, where they are asked to share their testimony and to explain the gospel. At the conclusion of any interviews I personally conduct, assuming I’m going to recommend the person for membership to the whole congregation, I will say something like the following:

Friend, by joining this church, you will become jointly responsible for whether or not this congregation continues to faithfully proclaim the gospel. That means you will become jointly responsible both for what this church teaches, as well as whether or not its members’ lives remain faithful. And one day you will stand before God and give an account for how you used this authority. Will you sit back and stay anonymous, doing little more than passively showing up for 75 minutes on Sundays? Or will you jump in with the hard and rewarding work of studying the gospel, building relationships, and making disciples? We need more hands for the harvest, so we hope you’ll join us in that work.

How about you? Have you undertaken this work?

Editors’ note: This excerpt is adapted from Jonathan Leeman’s new book, Understanding the Congregation’s Authority. Copyright 2016 by B&H Publishing Group.

Jonathan Leeman is a member of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., editorial director of 9Marks, and author of The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love, Reverberation, Church Membership, and Church Discipline. His PhD work is in the area of political theology. You can follow him on Twitter.

WM

By Jason Hsieh at the Grace and Truth Blog

As biblical counselors, we’re always looking to suggest practical ways of living out what we believe. How often do we hear from friends and counselees (herein just “friends”) that they know what the Bible says, but are unsure what to do or how to connect doctrine with their struggles? In response, we typically remind them to remember God’s purposes for trials, to trust, to pray, and to fill themselves with God’s Word. All of which should be done. But most of us forget about Peter’s prescription of hospitality to a suffering people (1 Peter 4:9) as a way to demonstrate faith even in the midst of persecution and hardship.

Hospitality offers a vital prescription for growth, because it touches so many aspects of how we live our lives. According to the New Testament we need to consider the needs of others, to share the gospel, to love, and to be intentional with our resources; hospitality provides a tangible way to practice all of that. This post aims to encourage counselors to understand hospitality biblically and to prescribe it as one way to help friends grow in Christ-likeness and connect belief with action.[1]

What Biblical Hospitality Entails

When prescribing hospitality to friends, a natural question will arise: what is biblical hospitality? Scripture shows that biblical hospitality consists of:

  • Love for strangers and not just friends[2]
  • An offer of care for those who cannot repay you in any fashion[3]
  • Assistance to those who are truly gospel workers[4] while closing doors to false teachers[5]

In others words, hospitality need not be elaborate, nor even financially costly. It doesn’t even have to revolve around a meal. But it does require discernment and a willingness to forego your comfort, your convenience, and possibly even your safety and reputation.[6] For example: Jesus tells the Pharisees to host the socially outcast, not the popular people;[7] Onesiphorus traveled far to tend to an imprisoned Paul;[8] and David cared for a crippled man related to Saul, the very man who tried to kill him.[9]

Prescribing Hospitality

Who needs to practice hospitality? Everyone does, but consider the impact practicing hospitality would have on these individuals:

  • Drug addicts seeking a euphoric experience – serving others enables them to become more Christ-like – the very type of “transcendent” experience they are seeking
  • Control freaks – anything can and does happen in hospitality, and control freaks can learn how to be okay when things do not go perfectly since the focus is not on them, but in serving others
  • Slothful people – hospitality trains and requires them to be intentional with their thought, time, and resources
  • People who want to matter – they are reminded that nothing could be more significant than telling someone the gospel or helping those who do share the gospel

However, just like with evangelism, many excuses exist for not being hospitable, including a perceived lack of gifting or thinking others will do it. At its core though, a lack of hospitality may demonstrate a lack of understanding about the gospel of grace and a lack of love for others, so you would serve others well to help them break through such excuses. As always, bring them back to the core elements of the gospel and its implications.

Next, you might need to help your friend think through how to go about this. Review what biblical hospitality entails and then walk through a specific hospitality opportunity. Remember, hospitality does not need to be and should not be limited to just a meal; consider some other ways that you can help someone spiritually, practically, and physically. Below are a few questions you could use to spark your thoughts.

1. Who is in need in my relationships?

  • Who is new to church?
  • Which of my friends or family members have not heard the gospel?
  • Who has been in the church for some time, but has had friends move on?
  • Who is on the fringes of the church?

2. How can I love those in need?

  • What kind of questions and conversations will be most edifying?
  • What specifically are people in need of and when are they in need of it?
  • What would help my guest(s) feel welcome and well served?
  • What would be appropriate and fruitful for engaging non-Christian friends and family?

3. What kind of hospitality can I do as often as possible?

  • What in my schedule could shift or change to allow for more hospitality, and what cannot?
  • Who can I partner with?
  • For what reason has God given me time and possessions?
  • How can my family participate in practicing hospitality?
  • What will be realistic given my budget?

Your friend may also need you to pray, offer further encouragement, and address some fears or doubts. Just because something is biblical or commanded does not make it easy to do!

Lastly, follow-up with your friends. Talk about how the hospitality opportunity went and what impact it had on them as they served others with their time and resources. Continue to encourage hospitality and troubleshoot any challenges they may have. You can do so by reminding your friends why hospitality is so important, helping them find others to partner with, discussing the results of selflessness versus selfishness, and encouraging them to pray as they prepare and practice the glorious task of loving strangers for Christ’s sake.

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[1]. By using the word “prescribe,” I do not mean to dull the command of hospitality to something that is optional, but rather aim to encourage counselors to suggest in gracious and gentle ways to their friends to practice hospitality. Any “softness” in using the term “prescribe” and its variances should therefore be inferred to using it in counseling someone rather than how it is portrayed in Scripture.

[2]. Romans 12:13, Hebrews 13:2, and 1 Timothy 3:2

[3]. Luke 14:1-14, Exodus 22:21; Deuteronomy 14:28-29; 2 Samuel 9: 7-13

[4]. Romans 16:1-2 and 3 John: 7-8

[5]. 2 John 10-11

[6] Acts 17:5-9

[7] Luke 14:1-14

[8] 2 Timothy 1:16-18

[9] 2 Samuel 9:7-13

Permissions: You are welcome to freely share this material, provided that you include the following statement: “This article (Prescribing Hospitality for Growth in the Christian Life by Jason Hsieh) originally appeared on the Biblical Counseling Coalition website and is used with permission.”

FamilyWorship

Perhaps the biggest barrier to regular family worship is getting started.  Many families, convinced that worshiping together in their home would strengthen the spiritual maturity of their family, don’t know how to take the initial plunge.

Hopefully this post will help!  Before we begin let me mention that, as is probably obvious, I am assuming that those reading are already convinced of the importance of doing family worship in their homes.  However, if that isn’t the case let me suggest taking a moment to read the following articles at Desiring God and Radical Experiment (PDF).  When you’re done come on back here and carry on with this post.

A few points before we get started: Please keep these in mind (repeat them to yourself quietly if necessary):

A. Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly.  We should assume that new ventures don’t always go as planned or desired initially.  That is okay.  Getting through your first time of family worship makes each subsequent gathering easier so this first run, even if bumpy, is well worth doing.  And even if you stumble a bit the first time (or the first several times) keep in mind, like batting practice, you are getting your reps in and will get steadily more comfortable having your family together for worship at home.

B. Keep it simple. We’ll talk in just a moment about the elements to include in family worship.  However, you don’t have to go whole-hog the first time.  Pick the most essential and easily available elements and add in others as you go along.  Really.  That’s fine.

C. Family Worship Supplements Corporate Worship.  As I’ve alluded to above, there are a number of benefits to practicing family worship in your home.  However, as beneficial as family worship is, it is no substitute for regularly gathering with your local church for corporate worship on the Lord’s Day.  Build your family’s worship around what you do when gathered with the body – sing the songs you sing with your church, read and discuss passages from the book your pastor is preaching from, etc.

D. Ideally, Dads will Lead.  If They Can’t, See Point A Above. Dads have the primary privilege and responsibility to lead their family in worship of the Lord.  However, for various reasons, dad-led family worship can’t always happen.  In those cases please remember that it is beneficial for mom, grandpa, grandma, uncles, foster parents, etc. to lead those in their care – even if visiting for the weekend – in worship.  Don’t delay beginning family worship just because you think there is someone more qualified to initiate.  Invite them in but don’t let their lack of initiative or involvement stop you.

Furthermore, don’t consider family worship limited to nuclear or extended families with children.  Christian roomates?  Empty nest married couples?  These things apply to you as well.

E. The Younger the Children the Lower the Expectation. People who know me will realize how odd it is for me to write that.  I’m certainly not for dumbing down our worship.  What I mean is this: younger kids, particularly those not used to gathering for family worship, will have shorter attention spans.  Plan for this – and plan too for helping them grow in their ability to participate for longer stretches.  Also, younger kids are more fidgety.  Don’t worry if it is hard to keep their attention and certainly don’t worry if they want to move around.  This freedom of movement is one of the unique opportunities of family worship and shouldn’t be seen as a negative.  Knowing this up front and taking a gradual approach to helping them grow in their ability to simply stay and listen pushes back against discouragement about how your worship times go.

What Should You Do?

I suggest Acts 2:42-47 as a guide to what Christian worship looks like.  Yes, it more directly speaks to corporate worship in the local church.  Nonetheless, it addresses elements of Christian worship and is thus useful for our purposes here.  If you want to discuss that point we can do so but for now let’s look at what the text identifies as consistent with Christian worship and then what can be done in our homes.

The Apostles’ Teaching

Fellowship

The Breaking of Bread

Prayer

There is some debate about what fellowship entailed but, considering it is distinct from the breaking of bread, it appears we’re supposed to understand fellowship as some Christian communion and breaking of bread as taking the Lord’s Supper.

As a Baptist, I understand the Lord’s Supper to be a local church ordinance, meaning that it should be taken within the context of a gathered local body.  As a result I cannot recommend taking the Lord’s Supper at home.  With that one off the table (no pun intended) lets take a look at the other elements.

I. The Apostles’ Teaching

The early church had the unique and very desirable opportunity to hear the Apostles preach and teach.  As much as we would like to have that experience ourselves we must remember that we are at no disadvantage compared to the early church because we have the complete text of Scripture.  This is the teaching of the Apostles as much as their verbal declaration and, more importantly, is the perfect Word of God.  Thus availing ourselves of hearing and taking the Word into our minds and hearts should be a primary goal of our spiritual lives and family worship.

This can be done during family worship in a number of ways.

Read the Bible Aloud – This simple act brings us under the authority of the Word and creates space useful to the Spirit’s work.  One note for those with younger kids – sticking to stories is a good idea and can be your main reading diet while the children are particularly young.

Give the Meaning of the Text – If there is someone available who can do so, have that person give some insight into the text.  Here too, with younger kids, keep it simple and short.  If no one there feels confident about explaining the text this time then make your Bible reading something connected to your pastor’s last sermon and use his points.  Even if you’ve heard it before it is always a good idea to be reminded and refreshed.

Memorize Scripture – As your family’s abilities grow, add in Bible memorization to your time of hearing Scripture.  Don’t, however, turn this into a laborious chore.  Aim to help everyone enjoy taking God’s Word into their minds rather than checking off verses on a list.

Practice Catechesis – Memorizing what Scripture teaches is an important supplement to memorizing what Scripture says and catechesis is a proven method of discipling believers.  This too can be added in as you grow in your practice of family worhsip.  For adults I recommend Hercules Collins’ Orthodox Catechism, a Baptist version of the beloved Heidleberg Catechism and for children I recommend A Catechism for Boys and Girls by Tom Nettles.

Work on one question and answer at a time.  When that section is memorized move on to the next and keep the memorized sections fresh with review.

Also, feel free to start very young; my 2 year old has done well with questions 1 and 2; he’ll pick up more as he goes along and, more helpfully, as he hears his older siblings answering later questions.

II. Fellowship

It is here that I recommend some singing.  I’m not, in doing so, arguing that what the early believers did that Acts describes as fellowship is reduced to singing but I do believe it was an important aspect of their gatherings and one that can – nay, should – be replicated in our homes.

Consider how important good singing is to Christians.  It has been said that we sing the truth of God’s Word into our hearts through singing together.  Consider two texts:

Ephesians 5:18-21 – And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Colossians 3:16 – Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

We serve one another when we sing together.  Serve each other well!  I suggest picking simple and well-known songs to sing together – songs like Holy, Holy, Holy and Amazing Grace because their familiarity and simplicity help overcome fear of singing together in a new setting and, as a bonus, young children can memorize them comparatively quickly.

If there is no musician in the family be thankful you live in the era of Youtube, where versions of most every spiritual song your family knows can be found with both music and lyrics (see the links above).  Use the computer you are reading this on and let those versions lead you.  Of course, the versions I linked to might not suit you – or be easy to sing with – so make do if this is your first time and spend some time later finding preferable versions.

One note for those with small children – one song, sung [relatively] together is a good goal.  As mentioned previously, plan to grow in that ability but one time through Holy, Holy, Holy together is spiritually profitable.  Don’t be dissatisfied if that is what your group can do.

III. Prayer

Prayer, too, is an important act of Christian worship.  The person leading family worship can pray on behalf of the group or, if each participant is able, you can take turns.  One warning for those with young children – this is a tempting moment for children to become particularly silly.  Give some forethought to how you will have them participate – ask them for requests, help them think of who and what to pray for, or simply ask them to slow and quiet themselves while the leader prays.

Now Get Started!

There you have it – a simple three-part guide to family worship.  Pretty painless, no?  I’ve even provided links to your first song.

So what are you waiting for?  Pick a time, gather everyone, and give it a shot.  I’m confident you will be glad you did.

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Additional Resources

I appreciate the work of Seeds Family Worship in their efforts to provide churches and families with resources to encourage and grow in the practice of family worship.  I also receive via email D6 Family’s Splink which provides very practical and specific guides to leading your family in worship.