Friday, March 28, 2014

Seven Reasons You are a Better Evangelist than Your Pastor

I suppose that most people feel that their pastor is far more equipped to share the gospel with unbelievers than they are. Honestly, I'm not so sure. Since I was asked to speak on this very topic recently, here are at least seven reasons that you are probably a better witness than your friendly neighborhood clergyman.

1. ‘Show Me the Money’: Like it or not, people often see the worst motives in others, even pastors and ministers. Some people think pastors are “hucksters” and “salesman” looking to push their product, raise money, and pass the plate!  Enough examples of public leadership failures exist to confirm those negative suspicions. You however are unpaid and therefore a much more credible witness.

2. The ‘Scary Black Robe’ Factor: Stereotypes often win out. Many unbelievers think of pastors as strange, alien people—something like Jedi Knights from Star Wars. The robe and clerical collar don’t help much. For this reason pastors are often perceived as unapproachable, mysterious, and even intimidating. You however are a "normal" person. (Well, most of you anyway).

3. The ‘Dilbert’ Dynamic: Because pastors spend most of their time crafting sermons in the study, working in the church, planning meetings, fellowshipping among believers, or visiting hospitals, ministers simply do not have as many “contacts” with unbelievers in the workplace. You however live as a missionary in the cubicle and know dozens of unbelievers personally. 

4. Jargon: Your pastor is a trained theologian and probably can’t help but think in theological constructs, even when he tries to resist it. Put him in a room with an unbeliever for more than five minutes, and a lecture on “Views of the Doctrine of Justification at the Time of the Reformation” is likely to break out. You however can speak from the heart because you can communicate very well without the hindrance of technical terminology.

5. Life Change: Before your pastor joined your church, he likely came from one of two places: the seminary (How weird does that sound to the unbeliever! Might as well be Mars!) or else a previous church. You however have people in your life that have seen the change in you since you came to faith in Jesus Christ, and are therefore viewed as an authentic living testimony of grace.

6. The Umbrella Affect: Whenever a pastor starts talking, many people automatically put up a “sermon umbrella” and brace themselves. They think to themselves, “Oh boy, here comes something religious. Maybe I can remain inert long enough for him to think I’m dead, and he’ll just go away.” His words roll off the unbeliever’s protective umbrella and fall harmlessly to the floor. You however have the potential of uttering something truly unexpected and therefore refreshing and invigorating to their dry soul.

7. The Bubble Boy: Your pastor probably feels a lot of pressure to make others think that he and his family are as close to perfect as possible. (I know I put a lot of that pressure on myself). Even though that “angelic aura” is obviously false, sometimes pastors do a pretty good job of convincing others that they are hyper-spiritual people who just came down from Mt. Sinai. You however can live free of pressures of perfection. In so doing, you can show unbelievers that Christians have real problems, real struggles, real difficulties—and real hope in Jesus Christ. 

So, my friends, go share your faith! You are probably far more effective than you think. 

--Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville Florida. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

World Vision's 'Neutral Stance,' Reversal, and the Evangelical Response

While controversial to many, the following is the opinion of JT Holderman and may or may not reflect the opinion of this blog or those who write on its behalf.

The "Neutral" Stance
World Vision shocked the evangelical world earlier this week with their "neutral stance" on the homosexuality debate. An interview with World Vision president Richard Stearns by Christianity Today sums up their initial stance:
"World Vision's American branch will no longer require its more than 1,100 employees to restrict their sexual activity to marriage between one man and one woman...a policy change announced Monday will now permit gay Christians in legal same-sex marriages to be employed...this is not an endorsement of same-sex marriage. We have decided we are not going to get into that debate. Nor is this a rejection of traditional marriage, which we affirm and support."
While World Vision sought to remain neutral by not getting "into that debate," many disagreed vehemently that this policy was a neutral stance. While purported to be neutral, they condoned same-sex marriages, thereby tipping their hat to the hypocrisy of their neutrality aim.

John Piper quickly responded to their statement: "Make no mistake, this so-called 'neutral' position of World Vision is a position to regard practicing homosexuals (under the guise of an imaginary 'marriage') as following an acceptable Christian lifestyle..."

The World Vision Reversal
On March 26th, World Vision reversed its decision to permit the hiring of homosexuals. Stearns stated in response to the reversal:
"Yes we will certainly defer on many issues that are not so central to our understanding of the Christian faith...but on the authority of Scripture in our organization's work...and on marriage as an institution ordained by God between a man and a woman--those are age-old and fundamental Christian beliefs. We cannot defer on things that are that central to the Christian faith." 
World Vision's newly revealed stance upholds the authority of Scripture and the intolerance of an anything goes lifestyle. America's god these days is tolerance; a tolerance that says everyone's point of view as equally valid to our own and that any who disagree are bigots. Depravity continues.

But at the heart of World Vision's reversal is an important emphasis on their decision to align with the clear teaching of the Scriptures regarding how one was created to live. Kevin DeYoung, I believe, highlights the importance of this foundational belief in a productive way:
"The evidence is so overwhelming that Luke Timothy Johnson, New Testament scholar and advocate of legitimizing homosexual behavior, argues rather candidly: 'I think it important to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scritpture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good. And what exactly is that authority? We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience and the experience of thousands of others have witnessed to, which tells us that to claim our own sexual orientation is in fact to accept the way in which God has created us.' At its root, support for homosexual behavior is not simply a different interpretation of Scripture; it is a rejection of Scripture itself.' (Italics mine)
The decision of World Vision, of which I am glad they reversed, upholds not a cultural tolerance of an anything goes country, but upholds the authoritative word of God itself. As a Christian where else does authority lie but in God's word? Props to World Vision for clarifying their position and recognizing the authority of God's word.

Nearly five hundred years ago Martin Luther noted the same thing in the face of Rome's tyranny and I commend it to you this day as you think on the very real issue of the subordination of scripture's authority under our own authority to pick and choose what we think is right for us:
"Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason--I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other--my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor save. God help me. Amen." 
*     *     *

JT Holderman is Assistant Pastor of Bellevue Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Gap, PA.

Friday, March 21, 2014

On Reading 'Church Growth' Books

For my doctoral studies, one of our required courses is entitled Church Growth. Exciting right?

Like the rest of our core classes, we must read two thousand pages of literature before entering the classroom later this summer. After buying a dozen or so of these "church growth" books (at least they were cheap; there are so many of them!), I gulped reluctantly and bit in. 

I must confess that this is some of the most arduous reading I have ever done, not because it is too hard conceptually (the writing is actually quite fluffy and banal), but because of the severe beating my pride has taken. Where are the Puritans when I need them?

If most of these modern, cutting-edge experts are correct, I am doing practically everything wrong. In fact, I am hardly a "pastor" at all, by today's modern standards. Today's church leaders must be visionaries!

If my church is to grow--so say the gurus--I must do all of the following well:
  1. Enact a God-inspired "vision" for our church (read: be able to see the future and make it come to pass by an act of sheer willpower).
  2. Exude a dynamic, relevant presence in the pulpit that simultaneously inspires, convicts, inspires, leads, inspires, motivates, inspires, and rebukes--all winsomely!
  3. Launch self-replicating core groups led by omni-competent laypersons which will galvanize entire neighborhoods and suburbs with contagious Christianity. 
  4. Transform the old, "institutional" congregation by instead inspiring a "Jesus movement" that defies all the normal laws of ecclesiastical physics (like budgets and parking). 
All of this is possible, the authors assure me, because they have done it themselves. Flip the book to the inside of the dust jacket, and their credentials remind me of what I have been fearing all along: I must be a complete slacker. 

You haven't started a movement yet? Are you even TRYING?

One bio boasts that this mega-pastor's mega-church's mega-ministry has already planted 100 other churches! In chapter five, he tells readers that his goal is to plant 1,000 churches in one year, maybe even 10,000! (No, I'm not kidding).

If he is to be believed, my home church's single, solitary church plant looks pretty pathetic by comparison.

At this point, someone will accuse me of being anti-evangelistic. I assure you that I am not. If there is something that my church can do to grow faster, reach more people, or win our neighborhood with the Gospel in a more biblical way, I am all ears. I do want to learn from these experts, even if that learning forces me to see my own weaknesses (which are many) or my church's own weaknesses (to which I am often blind).

But must every pastor be a "visionary"? Must every local church transform itself into a "movement"? Is that even possible? Where does the sovereignty of God fit in?

At some point, I must be content with what God has given me: real responsibility for a real family of about 400 souls in small-town Brooksville, Florida (population: 7,719). Even if every person in my entire city attended my church--which I doubt would even be healthy--I still wouldn't have a "movement" the size of most of the authors I am reading.

But is there really anything wrong with that? I don't think so.

Perhaps there is some "church growth" that cannot be measured with metrics. Perhaps some progress in the Kingdom is invisible to human eyes. Perhaps some of the most visionary leaders are those who don't write guru-books. They just preach the Bible week after week. Show up at hospitals. Baptize babies. Perform funerals. Love people. Treat their wife and children with compassion.

Maybe faithfulness is really greater than "success" after all. I hope so.

Because if success and faithfulness are the same thing, I'm not sure it's possible for me to be either.

--Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. He is the author of Hold Fast the Faith: A Devotional Commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

A Dying Man to Dying Men: Listening to the Final Words of an Eternity-Bound Believer

 -I preach as a dying man to dying men. (Puritan, Richard Baxter)
Today a few men from my church and I had the most extraordinary experience.

We listened in as one of our own dear saints gave his final testimony to a small group of his close friends.

For years, the Men of Faith group has been closer than brothers, and most of us realized that this would be the final time we would see John during this mortal pilgrimage.We sat in the Sunday School classroom as he spoke to us with the conviction of a saved man, the glorious tastes of the Wedding Feast of the Lamb already upon his lips.

If the doctors are right, he has but a couple weeks to live. Almost certainly, this was his last visit to Faith Church. I found the words of this once seemingly invincible welder (John is 6' 8'' in height, but now mostly confined to his wheelchair) to be gripping and inspiring. We all sat with baited breath as he spoke to us with the assurance of a prophet and the erudition of an apostle.

"I have absolutely no fear of dying," he said. "None."

The words of Richard Baxter quoted above were fixed in my heart as he exhorted us. He was truly speaking "as a dying man to dying men." Notable among his words--brief and poignant as they were--are a few monumentally significant thoughts I would like to relate to everyone. 

1. Eternity is closer than it appears. John isn't the only man who will be entering eternity soon. We all will. For all we know, any one of us might go before him! For all of us, this mortal life passes quicker than we realize. James says it is like a mist or vapor (4:14). It is incredible how the priorities of this life sort themselves out so quickly when Heaven is in close view. The brevity of life is fleeting. Will we be as ready as John to enter the presence of our Creator and Judge? John's readiness for the eternal gates comes not from self-assurance, but from self-abandoning faith in Jesus Christ.

2. Men, lead your family in the faith. John spoke with power and honesty when it came to leading one's household as a man of God. Regrets? Of course. We all will wish that we were better husbands and father's when we reach the threshold of the eternal city. How we loved our wives and lead our children during this life will be so much more valuable than possessions!

Remarkably, John never once spoke of the importance of "things," and the silence on this matter was deafening from a man whose house once burned to the ground along with every earthly possession! His leadership of his family in the Lord, however, seemed to weigh heavy on his lips.  

Oh how all of us will wish we had been more consistent in prayer, devoted in Scripture, and relentless in catechizing our children in the truths of the Christian faith!

3. Share the gospel without fear. What struck me most was John's encouragement to banish fear from our lives, especially as it comes to sharing the saving truth of the Gospel. John boasted that he "feared no creature on planet earth with a heartbeat," and yet acknowledged that sharing Christ with others was sometimes intimidating.

Although John often witnessed by word and deed to the other welders at work, he admitted that it was not without some trepidation! All of the men in the room (including this pastor) agreed. And yet he bade us not to fear sharing the Gospel of Christ, as this present life will soon give way to eternity. "Where will fear be then?" he asked.

After about twenty minutes of sharing, John retired to the sanctuary of the church to film his own funeral message. He hoped to impact the lives of as many as possible. John prayed that many would receive his words--arrows shot straight from his heart to ours--as pleas to trust and believe the Gospel as well as to lead like men of courage.

Rarely have I seen a man speak so clearly and absolutely under the influence of the Holy Spirit! After we filmed his testimony, we wheeled him to the car. I hugged him goodbye and we parted, likely for the last time on this earth. 

Dear readers: Time flees. Eternity beckons. Life is short. Kids grow up fast. The sand in the hourglass drops relentlessly. That is, of course, until we enter the world in which time is of no consequence.

Thank you, John, for being a faithful witness.

--Pastor Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida.

Friday, March 7, 2014

A Lenten Prayer (For Those Who Pray)

Dear Lord and Heavenly Father, 

Blessed Lord Jesus, Divine Holy Spirit, Wonderful Name that is above every Name; I praise and worship you today. I come binding myself to you afresh, acknowledging that I have no other Master. You are my King!

I am excited to think that once again you have given me a period of reflection in which to explore my relationship with you, to hear you calling me back to first premises, to the foundations of my faith, to deeper affection, to piety, and to devotion to you. You have graciously reminded me of my union with Christ that is the very essence of my life – not just in receiving something from Him, nor giving something to Him, but being something in Him. You have made me alive in Him. I have discovered what it means to be a spiritual person and so I come to celebrate, while looking forward to being reminded of the Cross, the Suffering, the Death and the glorious Resurrection of the Lord Jesus, that in all of these I am bound to you. They are my means and my end. I bind myself to this truth.

The enormity of my sin appears mountainous before me. What hope would I have if I dwelt upon it? How overwhelming would it be to my spirit if I faced its awesome consequences day by day? Yet as I acknowledge my proneness to sin, the sin that so easily besets me, I rejoice that by your grace you remind me that; “as far as the East is from the West, so have you removed my transgressions from me.” Your forgiveness for all my sins is as a fire that burns up my dross and renders me clean, that I may obey your Word to be “holy as I am holy.” I bind myself to this truth.

Now Father, I ask you for help. I remember so well the importance of my having been baptized – having been symbolically washed (shriven) having been set aside to be your child, and to live for you as one who is dead to self and alive unto God. A glorious exchange has taken place. I am not my own, “I am bought with a price” prepared from before the foundation of the world. This knowledge is wonderful to me. But I need your help in holding me to this truth. I confess that I am so easily drawn aside to the cares of this world, to the frets and worries that seem to come on a daily basis, when I say “if it isn’t one thing it’s another.” You are Sovereign Lord and I need to dwell in this glad assurance. I bind myself to this truth.

So may all my conscious thoughts, my flights of fancy, and hopes and aspirations, come in renewed commitment before you today. May my wants be your wants, inspired and disposed to draw me onwards, deeper, more profoundly dedicated to you my Lord and my God, in all things, and for ever.
I bind myself to this truth!

-Dr. Wilfred Bellamy, Ph.D. is a longtime pastor and missionary, ordained in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.

"A Chinese Fable"

As told to this writer by Gladys Aylward, (Ai-Wei-Deh), the renowned English missionary to China, who died in Taiwan in 1970. Once a domestic servant she saved her meager income to pay for her journey to China, so convinced was she that the call and claim of God was upon her. Her biography is told best in the book “The Small Woman” by Anthony Burgess.

The fable begins in a small village. The water supply is in need of repair involving the replacement of some of the pipes that convey water from a stream on the mountain to the village. The woodcutter is sent to the fringe of the village where there was a stand of bamboo. The larger bamboo plants were ideal for making water pipes, and he was charged with the responsibility for cutting them for this purpose.

He began by making his choice, selecting a tall and sturdy bamboo. Then he took his cutting tool and laid it to the base of the plant to bring it down. Next, he removed the haughty tasseled head of the plant that had reached high over the rest. This could not be used. Then he tackled the many sharp spines that grew along the length of the plant and made it difficult to handle. But it was still not ready to be used as a conduit for inside the bamboo there are several hindrances, partitions that separate the various sections, and they must be removed. And so the wood-cutter heated an instrument that burned its way through the partitions until the way through was completely clear. What was left was neither a plant nor a tree, but a clear channel through which the water could flow unimpeded.

Then Miss Aylward gave the explanation. When God chooses an instrument for His special service, He begins by removing all haughtiness and superiority from the individual. Then He tackles the prickly nature and sometimes hurtful behaviors of the individual and renders him or her more amenable to the service of others. But there remain internal hindrances, obstacles to effectiveness, and they must be removed. The process may be painful and is often resisted, but if usefulness is the goal they have to go.

As God manifests His grace in our hearts, leading us forward in our sanctification, it should not surprise us if we find Him preparing and training us for life and godliness. Sometimes this may be through hardship or even suffering. No one can say it will not hurt. We may see this as a negative that we would gladly get over in a hurry. But if pain comes from the good hand of God it is ultimately for our enrichment and therefore for our betterment. Stripping away our prickly ways and resolving our hindrances, asking us to  “lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily besets us,” is never pleasant. Nor is it something that we look forward to. But we must be aware that if God is to use us in His service, all of His measures are demonstrations of His gentle love for us.

And so it, as with the bamboo, if the “water of life”, the Gospel of Christ, is to flow freely through us to others, we must regard the disciple and training of the Father as an expression of His loving care and concern for us. As we yield ourselves to Him we become available for His service. As prepared instruments we will know what Scripture means when it says: “… that out of your innermost parts will flow rivers of living water”

-Dr. Wilfred Bellamy, Ph.D. is a longtime pastor and missionary, ordained in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.