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.

———————————————————————

[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.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

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.

Midway Baptist Church sees the presence of Tennessee Tech, along with the various community colleges and vocational schools, in our community as a blessing and stewardship.  The following article will help us think through how we, as a covenant body of believers, can receive this stewardship-blessing well.

Millennial ministry: It’s time we drop the adjective

And stop trying so hard to attract them.
By Aileen Lawrimore at BaptistNews.com

Collegiate ministry. My Facebook newsfeed is full of articles that have something to say about ministry to or with young adults (often referred to formally as Millennials). And if you read BuzzFeed, the Huffington Post or other current e-zines, you might infer that today’s youth are a new species of humanity and that to minister to or with them, you need specialized training.

Not true. It’s really not that hard. Look. I’ll show you.

First thing, and this is primary: stop trying to attract young people. That’s right. Attracting a certain demographic should never be a primary objective for your church. Really, young people are individuals just like all other humans and they have different preferences. Some like an early worship service, some prefer the later one. Some like worship in a traditional setting, others like a more contemporary atmosphere. You cannot be all these things to today’s college students because you’ll get frustrated and overwhelmed and you won’t look a thing like Jesus. Stop trying to find the latest gimmick to draw young folks to your doors. Instead, try being church to all people, regardless of their ages.

Now, what you do need to do is create an environment in your church that welcomes college students. Start by letting them know you exist. Go to campus events. Eat lunch in the cafeteria. Even have a Bible study there on the campus. Spread the word about times for worship and Sunday morning Bible study. You should do that but not to build up your church’s collegiate ministry. Do it because college students — just like everyone else — need godly community.

Oh, and if you are going to invite them, be sure to prepare for them. Have engaging Bible study and small groups. Consider making these groups intergenerational. Recently a college student told me that at the church she attends, she has made a really close friend who she hangs out with frequently. They laugh together, eat together and have fun together. The friend? She’s well past 80 years old! Offer students quality Bible study and authentic connection, and age won’t be nearly as important as you might think.

Okay, so you are (1) ministering to college students and young adults not to increase your weekly attendance but because we are called to share the love of Jesus. And (2) you are offering classes that are both substantive in content and intentional in relationship building. Now, what else can you do? Here are a few ideas.

1. Get on social media. Facebook appeals to an older crowd these days, but I find most students do have an account. They check it, but not necessarily daily. I interact more with students via Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter. Snapchat is especially easy and — for me — fun to use. Most college students use some type of social media. If you want to connect with them, you should, too.

2. Get their phone numbers and use them. Wait! Don’t actually call them! (That’s so last century). Send a text. Now it depends on your relationship with the student as to what you say. If I am not really close to a student, I might text a quick, “Hope classes are going well,” or “Thinking about you during exams.” For those kids I know really well, I text them things like, “I miss hearing your goofy jokes,” or “It’s the weekend! Make wise choices,” or “You’ll be at church in the morning, right?” Don’t know how to text? Ask a college student (or, hey, a middle schooler) to teach you.

3. Learn their names and remember them. Each young adult who visits your congregation is an individual. You are probably not bombarded with so many college students that you can’t remember all those names. (If you are, then get down on your knees and thank the good Lord for your problem. We should all be so burdened.) So remember each person’s name. I know a student who went (alone) every Sunday she was in town to a very small church near her college. After two years, she quit going. You know why? Because no one in the congregation of less than 75 people knew her name. There’s absolutely no excuse for this. None. It doesn’t matter how old you are, no one wants to be invisible. Remember students’ names. Write them down if necessary. Have them tattooed on your bicep. But remember their names. (Actually don’t do that tattoo thing. That’s kind of creepy.)

4. Talk to them. Many older adults I know feel like they don’t know what to say to people under the age of 40. Here’s what you say to a college student: “Hi. Glad you came today.” Ask them the same questions you’d ask anyone you had just met. Things like, “You from around here?” or “How about this weather?” And if you really want to connect you can say this: “Would you like to join us for lunch today?” But let’s be honest, that’s not only true of people born since 1990. Even Baby Boomers appreciate being included.

5. Minister with them, not just to them. Invite them to sing in your choir, work with your children or help with your landscaping. Include them in local mission projects. Ask them to lead in worship through reading scripture, saying prayers or ushering. Think about it. No one — college-aged or otherwise — wants to be somebody else’s project.

6. Feed them. Take them out to eat or invite them to your home. College students are generally on a tight budget and are weary of cafeteria food. It is the rare college kid who will turn down a good free meal. Unless of course, they suspect a bait and switch scheme. That is, don’t offer food as a sort of bribe or as an exchange for their participation. No. Feed them because, for one thing, you will be meeting a need or at least a real desire; and for another thing, eating together is a great way to build relationships. That’s exactly how Jesus got to know Zacchaeus, and a whole lot of other folks.

7. For students who are away at college, you should definitely connect with them digitally, but also send them real mail. You can mail the church bulletin, a clipping from the local paper about Friday’s football game or just a handwritten note. I’m continually amazed at how much college students appreciate real, paper-in-an-envelope, postmarked correspondence. They love it. Now if you want to, add little gifts from time to time. I buy Starbucks cards — only $5 or so each — and enclose them with a note that says, “Have a cup of coffee on me!” I’ve sent lots of chocolate bars, chewing gum and even silly little toys. One college student I know is still raving about the toy rubber band launcher I sent him. (Don’t know how much his roommates liked it, though.) Of course homemade goodies are always a welcome treat, and if that’s your thing, go for it! But really, you can just send a note. They’ll love it.

Easy, right? It all comes down to three things:

1. Focus on building the Kingdom, not your membership list.

2. Be prepared for people of all ages by offering quality Bible study.

3. Share God’s love intentionally through authentic relationships formed over time.

Plus the food thing. Do that too.

Here are the practical steps Bro. Jeff mentioned Sunday during his sermon on Christian Friendship.  They are excerpted and lightly modified from Joel Beeke and Michael Haykin’s pamphlet  How Should We Develop Biblical Friendship?  Please don’t miss how the helps on Biblical friendship inform the relationships we form in the covenant community of church membership.

Cultivating Christian Friendship

  1. Talk together. Most friendships begin when one person starts talking to another person whom he does not know. Jerry and Mary White write, “New friendships demand a first move from someone. They don’t erupt spontaneously, nor do they grow without words and communication. New friendships depend upon one person’s willingness to step out and approach another.”33 Don’t wait for someone else to talk to you. Go up to someone, ask a few questions, seek a common interest, get to know the person, and share a little about yourself.

If you feel shy around other people and find it hard to start conversations, remember what the Bible says is true about you. As the Whites have said, the Bible teaches that “God has lovingly created every person with valuable qualities—that includes you!” (Gen. 1:27), and, “We have a responsibility before God to extend our lives to others” (Eph. 2:10).34 You have something to give to others and a stewardship from God to share it.

Build relationships through godly conversation. Don’t talk about your life as if you were a practical atheist, but as you talk about life, constantly acknowledge the Lord of life. Sprinkle your conversations with the salty truth of Christ. And share with your closest friends your spiritual experiences, exercises, sorrows, and joys. Richard Baxter wrote, “The most necessary direction for a fruitful tongue is to get a well-furnished mind, and a holy heart, and to walk with God in holiness yourselves: for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth will speak.”

  1. Listen together – We must pay attention to the person speaking with our eyes, ears, and mind… Listen for more than information. Listen to know a person. Try to understand his or her point of view. Open your heart and let your emotions answer your friend’s. “Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep” (Rom. 12:15). In so doing, you will become like Jesus Christ, the sympathetic High Priest who is “touched with the feeling of our infirmities,” for He too is human and has suffered (Heb. 4:15)

Remember A good friend listens, with care, much more than they talk.  This is true at all levels of friendship and is true also within the church.

  1. Serve Together – Christian friendship carries an elevated nobility when it rises above merely personal aims and seeks the good of humanity and the glory of Christ. Holmes writes, “Biblical friendship exists when two or more people, bound together by a common faith in Jesus Christ, pursue him and his kingdom with intentionality and vulnerability.”38 Serving lifts our eyes from our natural selfishness, and in a common cause we come to know each other more deeply in both our strengths and weaknesses and to love each other with greater loyalty.
  1. Enjoy Life Together – Friends multiply their joys by sharing them. One of the most basic ways is by eating together. Don’t overspiritualize Christian friendship; two of its most important tools are a fork and a spoon (or chopsticks for some friends). As Christ’s ministry shows, eating together communicates powerful messages of love and social acceptance. When we invite others into our homes for a meal, the acceptance, vulnerability, and self-disclosure of hospitality deepens the joy even further. Friends become as family.
  1. Think Together – Discussing the truths of God is an important way that friends sharpen each other… Help each other to love the Lord with all your minds.

Also, don’t be afraid to debate ideas with brotherly and sisterly love. Have the humility to admit that you are often wrong and need to learn more, and have the courage to speak up for what you believe. Cultivate the kinds of friendships that allow you to disagree, learn from each other in the process, and end the conversation with mutual respect and affection.

  1. Be together. Never underestimate the power of personal presence. When it comes to friendship, there is no substitute for time together. It certainly involves communication, but it aims for communion —sharing life together. Friendship has been defined as “the personal bond of a shared life.”

True friendships take time: it takes time to build into each other ’s lives. The transparency and trust essential to true friendship cannot be established overnight. Other things, lesser goods, need to be sacrificed to develop and maintain genuine friendships.

In life’s crises, the best gift of friendship is just being there. Hobbies, sports, and entertainment mean little at the graveside. When someone suffers profound loss, we sometimes are tempted to stay away because we don’t know what to say. We forget that in the moment of greatest suffering people do not need words as much as companionship. One man recounts,

“I was sitting, torn by grief. Someone came and talked to me of God’s dealings, of why it happened, of hope beyond the grave. He talked constantly, he said things I knew were true. I was unmoved, except to wish he’d go away. He finally did.

Another came and sat beside me. He didn’t talk. He didn’t ask leading questions. He just sat beside me for an hour or more, listened when I said something, ans answered briefly, prayed simply, left. I was moved. I was comforted. I hated to see him go.”

  1. Trust Together – Build trust gradually by proving yourself faithful and giving opportunities to your friend to prove himself faithful to you. That requires you to make yourself vulnerable by revealing your weaknesses, needs, and flaws. Don’t dump your life story on a new friend all at once, but take small steps over time. By developing a history of mutual faithfulness, you develop a foundation of trust on which to build for the future.
  1. Pray Together – Christians often say to each other, “I’ll pray for you.” Why not say, “Let’s pray together right now”? Few things comfort the heart as powerfully as listening to your friend cry out to your God to obtain grace for you in your time of need. Don’t be intimidated about praying out loud. It does not need to be a long, theologically eloquent prayer, just a sincere prayer offered with love for a friend and with faith in Jesus Christ. Sometimes a simple, “Gracious heavenly Father, please be near to my friend and help her because she’s really hurting,” is all that it is needed.
  1. Repent Together – We need to speak both law and gospel to each other. Robert Kelleman says that true spiritual friends “are like the Puritans who practiced the art of loading the conscience with guilt. Like them, we know that to break the habitual web of sin’s deceit, people need to experience the horrors of their sin against God and others.” At the same time, such friends must be skilled in “the art of lightening the conscience with grace,” for, “forgiveness by grace is the dynamic God uses not only to cleanse our lives, but also to change our love. Christ woos us back to God by grace.
  1. Hope Together – One of the blessings of Christian friendship is to encourage each other to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and the coming of His kingdom. After Paul described what Christ’s coming will mean for believers, he wrote, “Comfort one another with these words” (1 Thess. 4:18). Whether we are old or young, healthy or diagnosed with a terminal illness, we all need to be reminded that this world is not our home, but we have a place in the Father ’s house. We are to be “exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Heb. 10:25). Hope gives us patience, perseverance, and joy.

Here’s a great piece from Michael J. Kruger, President and Samuel C. Patterson Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte, NC.  The focus is on identifying the polity of early churches.  Dr. Kruger’s scholarship is excellent but he has perhaps overlooked the repeated emphasis on the congregation showing their approval of elder candidates through voting (as seen in Baptist churches).

Were Early Churches Ruled by Elders or a Single Bishop?

There is a (seemingly) never-ending debate amongst theologians and pastors about the proper form of government for the church.  For generations, Christians have disagreed about what leadership structure the church ought to use.  From the bishop-led Anglicans to the informal Brethren churches, there is great diversity.

And one of the fundamental flash points in this debate is the practice of the early church.  What form of government did the earliest Christians have?  Of course, early Christian polity is a vast and complex subject with many different issues in play.  But, I want to focus in upon a narrow one: Were the earliest churches ruled by a plurality of elders or a single bishop?

Now it needs to be noted from the outset that by the end of the second century, most churches were ruled by a single bishop. For whatever set of reasons, monepiscopacy had won the day. Many scholars attribute this development to Ignatius.

But, what about earlier? Was there a single-bishop structure in the first and early second century?

The New Testament evidence itself seems to favor a plurality of elders as the standard model. The book of Acts tells us that as the apostles planted churches, they appointed “elders” (from the Greek term πρεσβυτέρος) to oversee them (Acts 11:30; 14:23; 15:2; 20:17). Likewise, Titus is told to “appoint elders in every town” (Titus 1:5).

A very similar word, ἐπι,σκoπος (“bishop” or “overseer”), is used in other contexts to describe what appears to be the same ruling office (Phil 1:1; 1 Tim 3:1-7). The overlap between these two terms is evident in Acts 20:28 when Paul, while addressing the Ephesian “elders” (πρεσβυτέρους), declares that “The Holy Spirit has made you overseers (ἐπισκόπους).” Thus, the New Testament writings indicate that the office of elder/bishop is functionally one and the same.

But, what about the church after the New Testament?  Did they maintain the model of multiple elders?  Three quick examples suggest they maintained this structure at least for a little while:

1. At one point, the Didache addresses the issue of church government directly, “And so, elect for yourselves bishops (ἐπισκόπους) and deacons who are worthy of the Lord, gentle men who are not fond of money, who are true and approved” (15.1). It is noteworthy that the author mentions plural bishops—not a single ruling bishop—and that he places these bishops alongside the office of deacon, as Paul himself does (e.g., Phil 1:1; 1 Tim 3:1-13). Thus, as noted above, it appears that the bishops described here are essentially equivalent to the office of “elder.”

2. A letter known as 1 Clement (c.96) also has much to say about early church governance. This letter is attributed to a “Clement”—whose identity remains uncertain—who represents the church in Rome and writes to the church at Corinth to deal with the fallout of a recent turnover in leadership. The author is writing to convince (not command) the Corinthians to reinstate its bishops (elders) who were wrongly deposed. The letter affirms the testimony of the book of Acts when it tells us that the apostles initially appointed “bishops (ἐπισκόπους) and deacons” in the various churches they visited (42.4). After the time of the apostles, bishops were appointed “by other reputable men with the entire church giving its approval” (44.3). This is an echo of the Didache which indicated that bishops were elected by the church.

3. The Shepherd of Hermas (c.150) provides another confirmation of this governance structure in the second century. After Hermas writes down the angelic vision in a book, he is told, “you will read yours in this city, with the presbyters who lead the church” (Vis. 8.3).Here we are told that the church leadership structure is a plurality of “presbyters” (πρεσβυτέρων) or elders. The author also uses the term “bishop,” but always in the plural and often alongside the office of deacon (Vis. 13.1; Sim. 104.2).

In sum, the NT texts and texts from the early second century indicate that a plurality of elders was the standard structure in the earliest stages. But, as noted above, the idea of a singular bishop began to dominate by the end of the second century.

What led to this transition? Most scholars argue that it was the heretical battles fought by the church in the second century that led them to turn to key leaders to defend and represent the church.

This transition is described remarkably well by Jerome himself:

The presbyter is the same as the bishop, and before parties had been raised up in religion by the provocations of Satan, the churches were governed by the Senate of the presbyters. But as each one sought to appropriate to himself those whom he had baptized, instead of leading them to Christ, it was appointed that one of the presbyters, elected by his colleagues, should be set over all the others, and have chief supervision over the general well-being of the community. . . Without doubt it is the duty of the presbyters to bear in mind that by the discipline of the Church they are subordinated to him who has been given them as their head, but it is fitting that the bishops, on their side, do not forget that if they are set over the presbyters, it is the result of tradition, and not by the fact of a particular institution by the Lord (Comm. Tit. 1.7).

Jerome’s comments provide a great summary of this debate.  While the single-bishop model might have developed for practical reasons, the plurality of elders model seems to go back to the very beginning.

If you follow Bro. Jonathan on Twitter you know that we’ll soon be adding a song to our congregational repertoire.  You can find the audio in Jonathan’s tweet below.  Further down you will find the lyrics and a YouTube video for the song.

Chorus
We will feast in the house of Zion
We will sing with our hearts restored
He has done great things, we will say together
We will feast and weep no more

We will not be burned by the fire
He is the LORD our God
We are not consumed, by the flood
Upheld, protected, gathered up (Chorus)

In the dark of night, before the dawn
My soul, be not afraid
For the promised morning, oh how long?
Oh God of Jacob, be my strength (Chorus)

Every vow we’ve broken and betrayed
You are the Faithful one
And from the garden to the grave
Bind us together, bring shalom. (Chorus)

 

Today’s decision by the Supreme Court of the United States to impose a radical redefinition of marriage on all states of the Union has profound implications for the church.  We certainly face new difficulties but difficulty is the environment in which the Gospel does its most wonderful work.  We are not fearful but we must be prepared to face these new challenges faithfully.  Today is a good day to re-read our post on Mark Dever’s counsel for Surviving a Cultural Crisis.  The article below from The Gospel Coalition and the The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention brings further aid.  For even more resources visit the website EQUIP, a joint effort from TGC and ERLC.

Same-Sex Marriage and the Future
Russell Moore, President of The Ethics and Religious Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention

The Bible tells us that the king of Israel once wanted to hear from the prophets, as to whether he would be victorious over his enemies. All the court prophets told him exactly what he wanted to hear. Yet the king of Judah, wisely, asked whether there might be another voice to hear from, and Israel’s king said that, yes, there was, but that he hated this prophet “because he never prophesies good concerning me” (1 Kings 22:8).

Once found, this prophet refused to speak the consensus word the king wanted to hear. “As the LORD lives, what the LORD says to me, that I will speak” (1 Kings 22:14). And, as it turned out, it was a hard word.

When it comes to what people want to hear, the church faces a similar situation as we look to the future of marriage in this country. Many want the sort of prophetic witness that will spin the situation to look favorable, regardless of whether that favor is from the Lord or in touch with reality.

Some people want a court of prophets who will take a surgeon’s scalpel to the Word of God. They want those who will say, in light of what the Bible clearly calls immorality, “Has God really said?” Following the trajectory of every old liberalism of the past, they want to do with a Christian sexual ethic what the old liberals did with the virgin birth—claim that contemporary people just won’t have this, and if we want to rescue Christianity, this will have to go overboard. All the while they’ll tell us they’re doing it for the children (or for the Millennials).

Preaching a Gospel That Doesn’t Save

This is infidelity to the gospel we’ve received. First, no one refusing to repent of sin—be it homosexuality or fornication or anything else—will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9–10). This strategy leaves people in condemnation before the judgment seat of Christ, without reconciliation and without hope.

Second, it doesn’t even work. Look at the empty cathedrals of the Episcopal Church, the vacated pews of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and right down the line. Let me be clear. Even if embracing same-sex marriage—or any other endorsement of what the Bible calls sexual immorality—“worked” in church building, we still wouldn’t do it. If we have to choose between Jesus and Millennials, we choose Jesus. But history shows us that those who want a different Jesus—the one who says, “Do whatever you want with your body, it’s okay by me”—don’t want Christianity at all.

But there will be those who want prophets who will say that the gospel doesn’t call for repentance, or at least not repentance from this sin. These prophets will apply a selective universalism that denies that judgment is coming, or that the blood of Christ is needed. But these prophets don’t speak for God. And we have no one to blame but ourselves since, for too long, too many of us have tolerated among us those who have substituted a cheap and easy false gospel for the gospel of Jesus Christ. Too many have been called gospel preachers who preach decision without faith, regeneration without repentance, justification without lordship, deliverance by walking an aisle but without carrying a cross. That gospel is different from the one Jesus and his apostles delivered to us. That gospel doesn’t save.

So when these prophets emerge to tell people they can stay in their sins and still be saved, we must thunder back with the old gospel that calls all of us to repentance and to cross-bearing, the gospel that calls sin what it is in order to call grace what it is. J. Gresham Machen warned us that our Lord Jesus himself never attempted to preach the gospel to the righteous but only to sinners. Those who follow him must start by acknowledging themselves to be in need of mercy, to be in need of grace that can pardon and cleanse within.

Marriage Revolution Is Real

There’s another form of court prophet of these times, too. This one has no problem identifying homosexuality as sin. He may do so with all sorts of bluster and outrage, but he still does what court prophets always do—he speaks a word that people want to hear. Some people want to hear that sexual immorality is moral after all, and other people want to hear that same-sex marriage is simply a matter of some elites on the coasts of the country. This prophet implies that if we just sign checks to the right radio talk-show hosts, and have a good election cycle or two, we’ll be right back where we were, back when carpets were shag and marriages were strong. I don’t know anyone in any advocacy organization in Washington, D.C.—and there are many fighting the good fight on this one—who is saying that. As a matter of fact, the organizations closest to the ground know just how dark the hour is.

In some form or another, your church will have to address the marriage revolution. This includes thinking through steps that churches should take to protect themselves and their confessions of faith from legal action. But it also includes being honest about our congregations. It’s simply not the case that homosexuality, same-sex attraction, transgenderism, and so on are issues in “big” churches or “city” churches. In backwood rural churches of Appalachia or the mythological Bible Belt of the American South, congregations have to know how to faithfully and compassionately minister to the sexual revolution’s refugees. Churches that aren’t addressing these issues in their Sunday gatherings are ignoring the Great Commission.

That’s why this isn’t merely an issue of an election cycle or two. There is an urgent need for conscience protections for those who dissent from the High Church of the Sexual Revolution. Look at the way the CEO of Mozilla was hounded out of office simply for supporting a ballot measure defining marriage as between one man and one woman. Look at the way Baronnelle Stutzman was accosted by her own government, not for refusing services to gay customers (she served many gay clients for years) but for refusing to agree with two customers, and the state, about a same-sex wedding.

If the church doesn’t read the signs of the times, we will be right where we evangelicals were after Roe v. Wade—caught flat-footed and unprepared. Thankfully, many Christian leaders, and many outside the evangelical tradition, became bold leaders in the cause of protecting unborn life. We owe much today to their courage.

Lessons from the Pro-Life Movement

So what should we do? Precisely what we should have done before and after Roe. We should recognize where the courts and the culture are, and we should work for justice. That means not simply assuming most people agree with us on marriage. We must articulate, both in and out of the church, why marriage matters, and why its definition isn’t infinitely elastic.

We must—like the pro-life movement has done—seek not only to engage our base, those who already agree with us, but to persuade those who don’t. That doesn’t mean less talk about marriage and sexuality but more—and not just in soundbytes and slogans but in a robust theology of why sexual complementarity and the one-flesh union are rooted in the mystery of the gospel (Eph. 5:22–33). We must—also like the pro-life movement—understand the danger of a Supreme Court that won’t will into existence constitutional planks.

Above all, we must prepare people for what the future holds, when Christian beliefs about marriage and sexuality aren’t part of the cultural consensus but are seen to be strange and freakish and even subversive. If our people assume that everything goes back to normal with the right President and a quick constitutional amendment, they are not being equipped for a world that views evangelical Protestants and traditional Roman Catholics and Orthodox Jews and others as bigots and freaks.

Jesus told us we would have hard times. He never promised us a prosperity gospel. He said we would face opposition, but he said he would be with us. If we are going to be faithful to his gospel, we must preach repentance—even when that repentance is culturally unwelcome. And we must preach that any sinner can be forgiven through the blood of Jesus Christ. That means courage, and that means kindness. Sexual revolutionaries will hate the repentance. Buffoonish heretics, who want only to vent paranoia and rally their troops, will hate the kindness. So be it.

Be Ready

Our churches must be ready to call out the revisionists who wish to do away with a Christian sexual ethic. And we must be ready to call out those who tell us acknowledging the signs of the times is forbidden, and we should just keep doing what we’ve been doing. An issue this culturally powerful cannot be addressed by a halfway-gospel or by talk-radio sloganeering.

The marriage revolution around us means we must do a better job articulating a theology of marriage to our people, as well as a theology of suffering and marginalization. It means we must do a better job articulating to those on the outside why children need both a Mom and a Dad, not just “parents,” and why marriage isn’t simply a matter of court decree. It means we must start teaching our children about marriage “from the beginning” as male and female when they’re in Sunday school. It means we may have to decide if and when the day will come in which we will refuse to sign the state’s marriage licenses.

The long-term prospects for marriage are good. Marriage is resilient, and the sexual revolution always disappoints. It’s true these are dark days for the culture of marriage. But dark days are exactly what our gospel is for. No day was darker than the day the Son of God died in Palestine on a criminal’s cross. We are here because that dark day was not the end of the story. And because it wasn’t the end then, it will never be the end now.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Addendum: The changing legal realities of our world necessitate that churches provide themselves what legal protections are available.  For an idea of what these protections look like see How To Protect Your Church Against Sexual Orientation And Gender Identity Lawsuits.  If you want to see a physical copy of the booklet mentioned in that article named Protecting Your Ministry from Sexual Orientation Gender Identity Lawsuits let the church office know.

We also recommend you read Russell Moore’s op-ed in The Washington Post titled Why the Church Should Never Cave Nor Panic About the Decision on Gay MarriageAn excerpt:

Let’s also recognize that if we’re right about marriage, and I believe we are, many people will be disappointed in getting what they want. Many of our neighbors believe that a redefined concept of marriage will simply expand the institution (and, let’s be honest, many will want it to keep on expanding). This will not do so, because sexual complementarity is not ancillary to marriage. The church must prepare for the refugees from the sexual revolution.

We must prepare for those, like the sexually wayward Woman at the Well of Samaria, who will be thirsting for water of which they don’t even know.

There are two sorts of churches that will not be able to reach the sexual revolution’s refugees. A church that has given up on the truth of the Scriptures, including on marriage and sexuality, and has nothing to say to a fallen world. And a church that screams with outrage at those who disagree will have nothing to say to those who are looking for a new birth.

We must stand with conviction and with kindness, with truth and with grace. We must hold to our views and love those who hate us for them. We must not only speak Christian truths; we must speak with a Christian accent. We must say what Jesus has revealed, and we must say those things the way Jesus does — with mercy and with an invitation to new life.

Sing

Every Sunday at Midway begins pretty much the same: Bro. Jeff or, occasionally, someone else begins the service with points of emphasis for the coming time of Corporate Worship.  One of those points is the need to sing well, to sing out, and to sing together in light of what Scripure says about Christian singing.

In the same vein – and much more powerfully – Keith Getty, noted hymn writer (“In Christ Alone” and “Christ is Risen, He is Risen Indeed” are two of his well known hymns) and worship leader, communicates further the need for believers gathered in Corporate Worship to pay attention to what and how they sing in the following blog post from FaithStreet.

Why You Need to Sing Loudly in Church
Five reasons you have no choice but to sing in church on Sunday.

Each week, upwards of 100 million people in America attend church, listen responsively to the sermons, and pray sincerely. But when it comes time to sing the hymns, the level of engagement drops dramatically.

There are many proposed reasons for this fall off, all of which hold validity. It could be the wider culture’s waning interest in community singing, the diminishing levels of music education in the West, the role of choirs in schools, the unstable and increasingly narcissistic elements in church music, or even the spiritual state of our nation as a whole.

For millennia, music has been an integral part of corporate worship. The first hymns are as old as the early books of the Bible. The disciples and early church leaders sang those songs and added some of their own.

Notable thinkers throughout history (and into the current era) — everyone from Luther to Bach to John Newton — have so believed in the importance of corporate worship that they, too, contributed to the grand canon of hymns we know today.

As a contemporary hymn writer who travels to cities worldwide, I love to meet pastors and worship leaders and encourage them to lead their congregations in deeper, more passionate singing. Here are just five of the many reasons we should all sing passionately in church this Sunday:

1. We are commanded to sing.

We are called to sing — indeed, the Scriptures command us more than 250 times to sing. It’s hardly one of those “controversial” issues that is hard to ascertain precisely what scripture is saying. It’s not a choice. It’s not dependent on “feeling like it.” It’s not our prerogative.

Throughout biblical history, in every place and circumstance — in victory and defeat, in celebrations and festivals, in death and mourning — singing was second nature for people of faith. Indeed, the largest book of the Bible — Psalms — is itself a songbook that explores the range of human experience and interaction with God through singing.

In the New Testament, Paul tells the early churches to get together and sing. In Ephesians 5, he reiterates the call of old to engage with each other in the singing of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, making music from the heart.

2. Singing together completes our joy.

Celebrating with each other is as natural as breathing. At our kid’s soccer game or when we watch football or March Madness, it’s not enough for our team to win. We want to revel in the moment and share it with others. Marking a birthday, winning a prize, or getting a raise are all incomplete until we get to share them with those we love.

Similarly, for the faithful, the joy of living, of praying, of studying Scripture cannot be complete until shared. Singing together reminds us — not just intellectually, but experientially — that we are not slaves to the rugged individualism promoted by society. We’re actually responsible to one another.

Christian apologist CS Lewis believed that singing completes our faith. In his Reflections on the Psalms, he writes, “I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is appointed consumption.”

3. Singing is an expression of brotherhood and unites generations.

Singing together is a picture here on earth of the hope of heaven where every tribe, tongue, and nation will sing to God. Throughout history, God’s people have both discovered and affirmed their solidarity in times of celebration and in times of tragedy through singing.

Consider again those first churches Paul was leading. They often had little in common — they were culturally different, citizens of national enemies, sometimes with different religious traditions or no tradition at all, and sometimes even lacking common language or dialect. His admonition in Ephesians is not a simplistic instruction; it was a hard thing. But, all the more is the importance of their (and our) singing together as it was an undeniable expression of their brotherhood and unity.

It is a curious thing that stats may show the subject of congregational singing (or sadly, perhaps, the larger topic of church music) may have caused more splits within Christian communities than any movement since the Reformation.

The depth of brotherhood that could have been achieved by something as simple as singing together shines a harsh light on the insensitivity of church members and leadership who have broken congregations over so-called “worship wars.”

4. We are what we sing.

Singing affects how we pray, think, and feel. It influences our memory banks and even the deepest parts of our subconscious.

My wife, Kristyn, and I have noticed when we sing children’s hymns in the car with our girls they actually behave better than if, say, they were watching television.

At the other end of the scale, my grandfather arrived at church early on Sundays — very early. He sat in the pew, opened a hymnal, and rehearsed the songs to himself over and over. And though I was glad when we visited him, quiet reflection early on a Sunday morning was not my forte.

But, many years later, when he was in his nineties and unable to remember my name or how to accomplish even the most basic tasks of daily life, he still could recite or respond to the words of those hymns. They were songs he carried for life, and they brought him considerable peace, even at one of the most difficult stages of life, because they were so deeply engrained to his being.

In Deuteronomy 31, we read the instruction of the Lord to Moses to write down the words of the song he was given and to teach it to his children so that when many evils and trouble befell them, the song would be a reminder to them lest they turn away.

If the songs we sing to ourselves and to each other are just of the moment, detached from Scripture and lacking in history or perspective, we’ve little to keep us moored to Truth. But when we are intentional about singing and the songs we sing, we build up a testimony that will travel with us through life.

5. Singing bears testimony to our faith.

How we sing, if we sing, how passionately we sing — our singing itself — is a witness to those looking on. There is no choice in the matter. In the level of our engagement with the songs and participation in the singing, we testify to the joy of an excited believer or betray the chill of a disinterested spectator.

In the New Testament, we read of Christians gathered together who so passionately expressed their faith together in song that the people looking on thought them to be drunk because that was the only explanation for their uniformed experience.

Ultimately, those who may feel they are on the outside looking in will, from the deepest part of themselves, respond to authentic and passionate singing to discover the truth held in the God songs we sing.

*   *   *

As we head to church on Sunday — as overworked dads, stressed out mums, grandparents struggling with health, and young people looking for wealth — we can, with integrity and relief, go with repentance and thanksgiving to the One who has created us, forgiven us and who lives within us. How can we not sing?

It was King David who, in the aftermath of the debacle of his adultery with Bathsheba, turned to God and said, “ . . . my tongue will sing of your righteousness. Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise” (Psalm 51).

If you would like to hear more from Keith on the importance of Christian singing and how to do it well check out this resources:

[Audio]: Keith Getty on Hymns, Christian Worship, and Christian Life

There is no doubt we live in a  rapidly changing culture.  What may be in doubt is whether or not the church and Christians will survive these changes. This post from Mark Dever gives us a way forward in the midst of all our cultural chaos.

How to Survive a Cultural Crisis

Public opinion appears to be changing about same-sex marriage, as are the nation’s laws. Of course this change is just one in a larger constellation. America’s views on family, love, sexuality generally, tolerance, God, and so much more seems to be pushing in directions that put Bible-believing Christians on the defensive.

It’s easy to feel like we’ve become the new “moral outlaws,” to use Al Mohler’s phrase. Standing up for historic Christian principles will increasingly get you in trouble socially and maybe economically, perhaps one day also criminally. It’s ironic that Christians are told not to impose their views on others, even as the threat of job loss or other penalties loom over Christians for not toeing the new party line.

In all this, Christians are tempted to become panicked or to speak as alarmists. But to the extent we do, to that same extent we show we’ve embraced an unbiblical and nominal Christianity.

Here, then, are seven principles for surviving the very real cultural shifts we’re presently enduring.

1. Remember that churches exist to work for supernatural change.

The whole Christian faith is based on the idea that God takes people who are spiritually dead and gives them new life. Whenever we evangelize, we are evangelizing the cemetery.

There’s never been a time or a culture when it was natural to repent of your sins. That culture doesn’t exist, it hasn’t existed, it never will exist. Christians, churches, and pastors especially must know deep in their bones that we’ve always been about a work that’s supernatural.

From that standpoint, recent cultural changes have made our job zero percent harder.

2. Understand that persecution is normal.  

In the last few months I’ve been preaching through John’s Gospel, and a number of people have thanked me for bringing out the theme of persecution. But I’m not convinced my preaching has changed; I think people’s ears have changed. Recent events in the public square have caused people to become concerned about what’s ahead for Christians. But if you were to go back and listen to my old sermons—say, a series preached in the 1990s on 1 Peter— you’d discover that ordinary biblical exposition means raising the topic of persecution again and again.

Persecution is what Christians face in this fallen world. It’s what Jesus promised us (e.g., John 16).

Now, it may be that in God’s providence some Christians find themselves in settings where, even if they devote their lives to obeying Jesus, they won’t encounter insult and persecution. But don’t be fooled by the nice buildings in which so many churches meet. This Jesus we follow was executed as a state criminal.

One of my fellow pastors recently observed that, in the history of Christian persecution, it’s often secondary issues—not the gospel—that elicit persecution. Persecutors don’t say, “You believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ; I’m going to persecute you now.” Rather, some belief or practice we maintain as Christians contradicts what people want or threatens their way of seeing the world. And so they oppose us.

Again, to the extent we respond to changes in our culture either with panic or alarmism, to that same extent we contradict the Bible’s teaching about ordinary Christian discipleship. It shows we’ve traded on the normalcy of nominalism.

Pastors especially should set the example in teaching their congregations not to play the victim. We should salt into our regular preaching and praying the normalcy of persecution. It’s the leader’s work to prepare churches for how we can follow Jesus, even if it means social criticism, or loss of privilege, or financial penalties, or criminal prosecution.

3. Eschew utopianism.

Christians should be a people of love and justice, and that means we should always strive to make our little corner of the globe a bit nicer than how we found it, whether that’s a kindergarten classroom or a kingdom. But even as we work for the sake of love and justice, we must remember we’re not going to transform this world into the kingdom of our Christ.

God hasn’t commissioned us to make this world perfect; he’s commissioned us chiefly to point to the One who will one day make it perfect, even as we spend our lives loving and doing good. If you’re tempted to utopianism, please observe that Scripture doesn’t allow it, and that the history of utopianism has a track record of distracting and deceiving even some of Christ’s most zealous followers.

It’s good to feel sadness over the growing approval given to sin in our day. But one of the reasons many Christians in America feel disillusionment over current cultural changes is that we’ve been somewhat utopian in our hopes. Again, to the extent you think and speak as an alarmist, to that same extent you demonstrate that utopian assumptions may have been motivating you all along.

4. Make use of our democratic stewardship.

I would be sad if anyone concluded from my comments that it doesn’t matter what Christians do publicly or with the state. Paul tells us to submit to the state. But in our democratic context, part of submitting to the state means sharing in its authority. And if we have a share in its authority, we just might have, to some extent, a share in its tyranny. To neglect the democratic process, so long as it’s in our hands, is to neglect a stewardship.

We cannot create Utopia, but that doesn’t mean we cannot be good stewards of what we have, or that we cannot use the democratic processes to bless others. For the sake of love and justice, we should make use of our democratic stewardship.

5. Trust the Lord, not human circumstances.

There’s never been a set of circumstances Christians cannot trust God through. Jesus beautifully trusted the Father through the cross “for the joy set before him” (Heb. 12:2). Nothing you and I will face will amount to what our King had to suffer.

We can trust him. He will prove trustworthy through everything we might have to endure. And as we trust him, we will bear a beautiful testimony of God’s goodness and power, and we will bring him glory.

6. Remember that everything we have is God’s grace.

We must remember anything we receive less than hell is dancing time for Christians. Right? Everything a Christian has is all of grace. We need to keep that perspective so that we aren’t tempted to become too sour toward our employers, our friends, our family members, and our government when they oppose us.

How was Paul able to sing in prison? He knew that of which he’d been forgiven. He knew the glory that awaited him. He perceived and prized these greater realities.

7. Rest in the certainty of Christ’s victory.

The gates of hell will not prevail against the church of Jesus Christ. We need not fear and tremble as if Satan has finally, after all these millennia, gained the upper hand in his opposition to God through the same-sex marriage lobby.

“Oh, we might finally lose it here!” No, not a chance.

People around the world now and throughout history have suffered far more than Christians in America presently do. And we don’t assume Satan had the upper hand there, do we?

Each nation and age has a unique way to express its depravity, to attack God. But none will succeed any more than the crucifixion succeeded in defeating Jesus. Yes, he died. But three days later he got up from the dead.

Christ’s kingdom is in no danger of failing. Again, Christians, churches, and especially pastors must know this deeply in our bones. D-Day has happened. Now it’s cleanup time. Not one person God has elected to save will fail to be saved because the secular agenda is “winning” in our time and place. There shouldn’t be anxiety or desperation in us.

We may not be able to out-argue others. They may not be persuaded by our books and articles. But we can love them with the supernatural love God has shown to us in Christ. And we can make his Word known today—with humility, with confidence, and with joy.

​Mark Dever is the senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., and the author of numerous books, including Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. You can learn more about him at 9Marks or follow him on Twitter.