Posts Tagged ‘discernment’


Can We Build the Church By Being Against the Church?

It’s hard to read a Christian book or blog post or to hear a sermon without hearing some overt or implied criticism of some part of the evangelical Church as a whole. That’s not even counting the Twitter feeds of Christians.

I’m reading a terrific book right on the centrality of the gospel by one of my favorite author/preacher/bloggers. It’s a book that is both challenging me and inspiring me. But even this favorite author can’t resist the easy stereotype of “most churches” or “most Christians” or “The Church is . . . .” It seems nearly impossible for us to build up our ministries without having to use another expression of Christian ministry as a foil.

I know this because I do this myself. In my forthcoming book, I spend a considerable time pushing back against the pressure to be perfect among 2nd Generation kids. I felt (and still feel) it was a legitimate criticism. And yet I wonder at our motives. Are we genuinely concerned about the perceived blind spot in this generation’s evangelical movement or are we simply trying to provoke so as to build our own tribes? Are we being truly prophetic or are we trying to position ourselves as more pure than our ministry brothers?

These are questions worth asking ourselves, I think. Now please understand that this is not a plea for squishy, doctrine-free tolerance. I loathe the progressive movements that advocate tolerance for everyone except those whose beliefs they despise. Doctrine is important. Warning our flock about the dangers of aberrant theology is vital for their spiritual lives.

But we could all do better at examining our motives and check our facts. Scoring cheap points in a message or blog post or book based on broad stereotypes of the Body of Christ is both intellectually lazy and an insult to the Bride Christ loves.

I want to be faithful in shepherding my flock, which includes speaking the truth about what’s false. But I don’t want to build my ministry on the foundation of someone else’s failures (perceived or real). Let’s build our ministries on the unchanging Word of God as our source, on the radical nature of the gospel message. And let’s remember that we ourselves are fallible, flawed messengers easily prone to our own errors of judgment.


A Better Way to Discern

I come from a very conservative theological background and I maintain many of those same convictions. But one thing that has changed in my heart over the years is my attitude toward people from different ministry contexts and denominations. I used to think that if their bullet points didn’t line up with mine, then I was right and they were wrong.

I no longer think this way. That’s not to be confused with doctrinal slippage. I feel very strongly that doctrine is vital for the life of the  church and that the attempts to weaken orthodoxy by some will hurt the cause of Christ going forward. But, quite often conservatives have a “guilty until proven innocent” outlook about Christian leaders. Some self-appointed watch-bloggers view any big, successful church movement with sarcastic skepticism, as if every mega-church pastor is out to fill seats, fill coffers, and build buildings. Sure there are charlatans on the evangelical scene. There are prosperity pastors who have watered down faith in order to find Christian fame. But unless we are God (which we are most definitely not) we are not in the position to judge their hearts. We can discern the output (teaching, books, etc). But it should be done with a humble heart, not the sort of sarcastic one-upsmanship that characterizes so many self-appointed watchdogs of truth.

The truth is that there are many evangelical “celebrities” who are famous because God has blessed their teaching ministries. They are solid preachers and teachers, selfless servants. We shouldn’t begrudge them their blessing. We shouldn’t mask our jealousy and contempt behind a facade of fake discernment. Let’s not assume the worst about our brothers and sisters in the Lord.

On the flip side, some measure orthodoxy only by numbers. I’ve heard a few mega-church pastors who, when garnering criticism for a particular approach, have no other defense except to say something like, “it worked, people came.” And they push away anyone with a helpful critique as a small-minded, unevangelistic doubter. This too is wrong and prideful. Numbers cannot be the only measure of spiritual purity, otherwise we’d be able to say that a fast-growing religion like Mormonism or Islam is God’s chosen instrument of grace in this age. And I don’t think orthodox Christians are prepared to do that.

Lastly, I think we have to look at successful mega-pastors as humans. This goes two ways. First, they are humans in that they will make mistakes of methodology and associations and wording and when they do, publicly, let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and forgive them and move on. Let’s assume their hearts are right, critique their methods, but not castigate them as the the next great heretic. Secondly, let’s affirm their humanity by acknowledging that some of what a pastor offers is good and wholesome and some may not be. What I mean by this is that simply because we disagree with a pastor or speaker or leader in one area doesn’t mean we should throw out all of his teaching on every area. He’s human. I’m human. Some of what I write will be spiritually beneficial. Some may not. Eat the meat, throw away the bones.

Lastly, our discernment could be more balanced and less triumphant and snarky. I personally appreciate the work of guys like Trevin Wax and Kevin DeYoung. They are men who critique with humility, love and a biblical focus. They also rarely take on a subject that they don’t know. I never detect mean-spiritedness or a sense of gotcha in their work.I may not always agree with Trevin or Kevin (sounds like a new oldies radio show), but I wish more bloggers would adopt their pastoral tone.

One more thing: We would all do well to speak with grace and clarity online. We will give account one day for every word spoken or written. Even those anonymous snarky comments left on articles with which we disagree.


Why Christians Should Care about the Facts (But Often Don’t)

Our church has been going through a study of the book of James. Last week we came upon a verse that is mightily convicting in this digital age:

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; James 1:19 (ESV)

You don’t have to parse the original Greek text or consult a Bible scholar to divine the meaning of the Scriptures here. It’s pretty clear that James is saying that a mature believer is one who is slow to make hasty judgements, quick to listen and gather all the facts about a situation, and slow to express anger. Does this characterize our online activity?

I have been recently reading about the dustup about Campus Crusade for Christ, who changed their name to CRU. Quite a few folks have expressed their disapproval of this change. And while you may not like their new choice, what is distressing to me is the hasty judgements people have made without gathering all of the facts. For instance, it’s not at all about “taking Christ out of their name” to be more relevant. This is a decision they have been weighing for years, initiated by their founder, Bill Bright. It’s simply because they do much more than “Campus” ministry and because the word, “Crusade” hurts their evangelistic work in other countries. You might check out John Piper’s insightful defense of CRU here.

But alas, many have not dug down that deep into the story. Instead, they’ve scored easy, rhetorical cheap shots against the organization. This would be understandable among unregenerate sinners. But for Christians to act this way betrays their adherence to the Scriptures. In fact, James finishes out his first chapter by making that exact point. Rather than jumping to conclusions, we should let the Word guide us. If we don’t, we develop an unrestrained tongue and our faith is useless. Amazingly, Christians (beginning with me) seem to declare Facebook, Twitter, email, etc a “Bible-free zone” where we can say and do anything. James would say that what we are doing is looking into the Word and not obeying it.

This is not simply about Campus Crusade. This kind of cheap-shot rhetoric happens all the time. There are whole blogs devoted to scoring easy, out of context, funny points against brothers and sisters in Christ. I’m not talking about genuine debate and biblical discernment done in a loving way. I’m not talking about witty humor that gets the church to laugh.

But some of what passes for “discernment” is merely sensational gossip and snark. And some of what passes for Christian humor is over-the-top and disrespectful. Christians, who pride themselves on standing for the truth of the Word of God should have a similar fidelity to truth in their online activity.

This means we don’t forward that nasty email about the President unless we really know it’s true. It means we should restrain from repeating rumors about politicians or church leaders that we got second-hand. I means we should act mature. This may not “sell well” on cable TV, talk radio, or Twitter, but it’s how we should live and act and think as gospel-soaked followers of Jesus.


Friday Five – Tim Challies

Tim Challies

Today, I’m honored to chat with Tim Challies, who really needs no introduction. Tim maintains the blog,, one of the most widely read evangelical blogs. Tim is a voracious reader, whose book reviews have helped shape evangelical thought. He’s the author of The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment and Sexual Detox along with the forthcoming The Next Story (April 2011). He blogs every day at Tim also worships and serve at Grace Fellowship Church and edit Discerning Reader. He is also the cofounder of a new publishing venture, Cruciform Press. Tim is also a web designer and conference speaker.

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Moving: The Way to Your Gifts

I’ve been thinking and speaking a lot of about God’s will, gifts, purpose, God’s calling, etc. And sometimes I think we just make too darn hard what God has made rather simple. Lot of Christians wrestle with questions like, What is it that God wants me to do with my life? How do I know God’s will? How do I identify my gifts?

Some churches have their members undergo a spiritual gifts survey. I think this is good, though we don’t do that at Gages Lake, though that doesn’t mean we never would, because we might find that a useful tool in the future.

But I have largely come to believe and understand and experience that God reveals Himself as we begin to move and work. In other words, we do something. We don’t wait for a blinding flash of light or a burning bush. We act, based on what we’re comfortable doing, where the needs in the church and community are, and what we enjoy doing.

And . . . we try stuff. In fact, I dare say that I have discovered my calling in life more often from finding out what God didn’t want me to do, than what He did. For instance, growing up, I always knew I would write, but I was never quite sure the vocational field that I would employ that in. I had two tracts that I loved. I loved ministry and I loved politics.

For a long time, I aspired to be a White House speech writer, which is a pretty heady and impossible goal for an unknown Christian kid. A childhood trip to Washington D.C. spurred a love in me for America and its government workings. Plus I love people and in politics you largely engage with people.

So, a few years ago, I got my chance. I was very involved in a congressional campaign that was a national campaign. I had the opportunity to meet governors, the vice-president, the First Lady, and a whole host of political heroes. And I was making headway, I was carving out the beginnings of a career. But, the strangest thing happened. The longer the campaign went on, the less I enjoyed it. My stomach turned at the sort of machinations and trickery that must be employed to be successful. By the end, I longed for ministry, I longed for the corner church, where the eternal, timeless truths of the gospel would have a more trans formative effect on the culture. God clearly does call Daniels and Josephs into government and I applaud the good men and women who answer that call, but it wasn’t for me.

And so I found, or rather, solidified my calling in the church, as a pastor and a writer. And that came as a result of a closed door.

I think this applies in all areas of life. Sometimes its a misguided fear of doing the wrong thing that keep us from doing anything. We sort of sit and wait for God to show up and drag us into our calling. But we have to be willing to go, to try stuff, to fail, and then to realize where we are needed in God’s advancing Kingdom. I think of Paul’s admonition to “do,” in Philippians 4:9. I think of Jonathan’s bold actions to take out a Philistine garrison. Amazingly, Jonathan admitted that “maybe” God was in it (1 Samuel 13).

This is both an encouragement and and admonition. First an encouragement that if you are in an area where you may have failed or just doesn’t seem to be working, look at this as a sign from God at what he doesn’t want you to do. Praise Him for his wonderful clarity. Secondly, this is an admonition to stop the navel-gazing and haziness. And get up and lend your life to the cause of the Gospel.