June 29, 2010 by C.J. Mahaney
Categories: Local church
Kevin DeYoung is unusually gifted with language. To listen to Kevin is to hear wit and wisdom packaged in a tight economy of words. And because of this he can make a single statement that is heart revealing and perspective altering.
Here is a sampling of statements you will hear throughout his Next conference message “The Church
• The Church is Christ’s bride. And why is it that so many people think it is cool to diss Jesus’ girlfriend?
• In this day with so much postmodern squishitude people are hungry to listen to someone winsomely, humbly, wisely, say—with passion and conviction—‘Thus saith the Lord.’
• What will it profit a man if he tries to transform the culture, but loses his own children?
• As long as God is interested in his glory, he will be interested and committed to the local church. He has a vested interest in your church. Nobody loves your church more than God.
• Those of you who have issues with the church, let me warn you that disillusionment can become an idol. You can easily find your identity in being jaded.
• Our generation in particular is prone to radicalism without follow-through. We want to change the world and we have never changed a diaper.
• Can we be the young generation that loves and respects and looks up to the older generation?
• The Church is, in fact, the hope of the world, not because she gets it all right, but because she is a body with Christ for her head. So do not give up on the church. The New Testament knows nothing of churchless Christianity.
To download and listen to the entire message—“The Church
has written one of my favorite books on the local church (Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion
) and recently he delivered what is now one of my favorite sermons on loving the local church (“The Church
The content of the sermon was excellent. And not only could I not take notes fast enough, I wanted all those in Sovereign Grace who were not in attendance at the Next conference
to benefit from it. Therefore we decided to take some excerpts from the message in hope that they will create an appetite to listen to the message.
Who should listen to the message?
- Church members
- Those who love their church
- Those whose love for the church has been diminishing
- Those who think of involvement with the local church as optional
- Those who have left the local church
There is stuff in this message for us all.
In this first excerpt Kevin addressed the inevitable reality of disappointment in the local church. At some point we will all be disappointed with the church. Rather than being surprised by this we should be prepared and we should be ready to respond in a God-glorifying way.
At one point in his message Kevin introduced the various problems we read about in the church in Corinth:
Here you have a church with evidences of grace, but you have the church with all manner of problems. They have divisions and controversies and sexual immorality and power struggles and money issues and authority issues and marriage issues and anything else you can think of. That is the church.
So we ought to be realistic and I know many of you have disappointments that run very deep—deeper than I have experienced—and many of them are legitimate and people have hurt you, maybe pastors have hurt you. I am sorry. …
This is no way to excuse our own sinfulness, but it is to give us a realistic appraisal that saints and sinners we will always be. We will be disappointed at times.
He goes on to explain the reason behind these disappointments:
I think one of the most important doctrines that is missing in younger generations today—and it is the reason that people can get so tired of the church so quickly—is the doctrine of original sin. The doctrine of original sin teaches that every single human being whoever was, is, or shall be—save for Jesus—inherited from Adam a sinful nature that makes us predisposed to wickedness and rebellion.
“No one is righteous” (Romans 3:10).
“All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
“The human heart is deceitful above all else and desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9).
The natural man is “dead in the trespasses and sin” (Ephesians 2:1).
By nature we pass our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another (Titus 3:3).
“All we like sheep have gone astray” (Isaiah 53:6).
It is there over and over again in the pages of Scripture. And it is this doctrine with the related teachings of indwelling sin and the divided self that need to be recovered if we are to have a biblical, realistic appraisal of the local church.
So is your attitude and perspective of the local church informed by the doctrine of original sin? Is your appraisal of the local church realistic or idealistic? Please don’t misunderstand. There can be a time and place to transition from a particular local church. But prior to that decision we need to be informed by the content of Kevin’s message.
To download and listen to “The Church
”—or any of the conference messages—visit thisisnext.org
One of the great features of the Next conference
each year is the stories about how the gospel and local churches are affecting individual lives. Four such testimonies were featured at the 2010 conference and each testimony was distinct and deeply moving. If you invest 24 minutes of your day watching them you will be personally edified and freshly reminded of God’s grace at work in your own life.
Here are the videos:
Update: Ian was drafted in the 40th round of the Major League Baseball draft by the Atlanta Braves.
Later in his NEXT conference message—”The Doctrine of Christ's Work Accomplished and Applied”—Mark helped make the connection between Christ as our Savior and Christ as our Example from his text in 1 Peter 2:21–25.
After stressing the atoning work of Christ (as we saw in the previous post), Mark focused on 1 Peter 2:21, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” He said:
Now some of you are going to be surprised to hear talk about Jesus as our example when I am speaking so clearly from Scripture about substitutionary atonement. But he is also our example. That is what Peter says here very clearly.
There is a theory of the atonement that theologians call the “moral example theory” and it emphasizes the example that Jesus is to us. But, friends, this doesn’t make any sense at all without the substitution of Jesus being understood.
Fundamentally, you understand the substitution of Jesus. On top of that understanding of what Jesus did and how he did it—then you understand how his life can be an example for us as we are called to imitate him in giving our lives in loving service for others, in being willing to suffer and even to die for doing good.
In other words, until we fully appreciate the work of the Savior we cannot follow the example of the Savior.
To download and listen to this message—or any of the conference messages—visit thisisnext.org.
The main emphasis of Mark’s message—”The Doctrine of Christ's Work Accomplished and Applied
”—centered on Christ’s atoning sacrifice for sin. In his message Mark made a critical distinction in how the word ‘atonement’ is sometimes spoken about as compared to a biblical definition. Mark used an illustration from the world of politics to make his point.
From time to time we hear prominent public officials resign from office because of some scandal. And then they always have the tearful news conference the next day. And they say something like, “In the past few days I have begun to atone for my private failings.”
And we all know what they mean, some guy is trying to make it up to his wife, trying to regain her trust, her love, though he had grievously and publicly abused that trust and love.
But what I want to make sure we understand is that, strictly speaking, a person can never atone for his sins. You and I can never atone for our sins.
Do we have sins? Yes, we all have sins.
Can any one of us, the best among us, atone for our sins? No. …
We have sinned against a holy God. We can’t go back. We can’t undo our sins. Even if we could, we can’t go back and undo the decisions that led to the actions, let alone the desires that led to the decisions that led to the actions. We have done them already. No amount of good we may do now can undo those things. We have already done them. Even if we think these other things morally outweigh our transgressions from our mind. They might make us forget them. But they have been done.
So what can be done?
Friends, this is the great good news of what only Jesus could do. And this unique work had a unique result—it worked. The death of the sinless Son of God actually atoned for our sins. That death brought us healing. And there are hundreds, and maybe thousands, of people around you in this room who can give personal testimony to that.
What a glorious truth in light of our inability to atone for our sinful desires, our sinful decisions, and our sinful actions.
To download and listen to this message—or any of the conference messages—visit thisisnext.org
June 15, 2010 by C.J. Mahaney
The recent NEXT conference in Baltimore was outstanding. I had the privilege to sit in the front row for the whole thing and I benefitted big time from the worship and the excellent teaching.
For the next couple of weeks I want to return to my notes from those teaching sessions to stress a few points that I think are especially important. Of course I cannot cover every important detail from each session—you had to be there! But I do want to highlight three of the messages.
The first is Mark Dever’s message titled “The Doctrine of Christ's Work Accomplished and Applied
.” In it, Mark opened by asking “What’s new about the new atheism?” He began his message with a quote from atheist Christopher Hitchens:
“Violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism and tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children: organized religion ought to have a great deal on its conscience.”
That is Christopher Hitchens from a book he wrote recently called God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (McClelland & Stewart, 2007; page 56)….From Richard Dawkin’s book The God Delusion to Sam Harris’s book The Letters to a Christian Nation, the bookstores these days are just full of irreligion. I saw one even faintly religious irreligious book, The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality.
Are books like these selling? Well, several days this week, I typed “God” at Amazon.com. What is the first thing that pops up? Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion. That is like typing “Maryland” into Google and getting “Duke.”
People call this the New Atheism. But they only call it the New Atheism because they want to sell books, newspapers, and magazines. There is nothing new about this.
Two hundred years ago Thomas Paine was making these same assaults on Christianity: “Whence arose all the horrid assassinations of whole nations of men, women, and infants, with which the Bible is filled; and the bloody persecutions, and tortures unto death and religious wars, that since that time have laid Europe in blood and ashes; whence arose they, but from this impious thing called revealed religion, and this monstrous belief that God has spoken to man?” (The Age of Reason).
So, Christian, you and I know that the message we see in the Bible is universally true, but we also know that it is not universally accepted. And it never has been. Don’t be surprised by this new wave of criticisms. I want you to understand. There is nothing new in these new criticisms. These new criticisms are as old as Christianity itself.
This hostility towards Christianity is true today, and increasingly so in locations not previously as hostile to the gospel, as evidenced by Mark’s recent experience.
I was stopped this past February in Heathrow airport when I was trying to go over to London to speak. I had been invited to preach there by Church of England Church, an established church in the UK in the middle of London. When I got to Heathrow, new laws had been passed. They wouldn’t let me in. I waited 20 minutes, 30 minutes, 40 minutes, while they asked me more and more questions. What exactly would I be saying? Finally they let me in, but with cautions…
Friends, I wasn’t talking about anything politically charged in one sense. I had no plans to make any remarks on sexuality or homosexuality. I was just preaching expositionally. But I was a Christian preacher.
This is in the United Kingdom, a place that is not known for religious oppression.
Friends, we live in a world and in a part of that world that is increasingly hostile to Christianity. We need to understand that as we make this decision to follow Jesus.
In light of this introduction, Mark taught us about the Savior and about the Christian life from 1 Peter 2:21–25.
To download and listen to this message—or any of the conference messages—visit thisisnext.org
June 11, 2010 by C.J. Mahaney
Categories: Conferences | Music
This month our friends at Ligonier Ministries are drawing attention to my favorite worship leader—Bob Kauflin. The July edition of Tabletalk is titled "Worship Matters" and on the first page of the introduction editor Burk Parsons features Bob and T4G. Parsons writes:
As I write this article I'm in Louisville, Kentucky, attending a conference called ‘Together for the Gospel.’ Pastors, elders, and seminarians have gathered together for fellowship and worship around the theme: The Unadjusted Gospel. More than seven thousand men from various evangelical (gospel-preaching) churches with various liturgical traditions are standing together as we sing some of the greatest hymns (from both the seventeenth and twenty-first centuries).
At the piano helping to lead us in worship is Bob Kauflin, a man who has spent his life considering what it means to worship our holy and just, gracious and glorious God. His blog and subsequent book Worship Matters: Leading Others to Encounter the Greatness of God, are devoted to help the church to worship God in the way He deserves, demands, and delights.
For the remainder of the article see the July issue.
In related news, Bob is writing a new book. Whereas he wrote his first book for worship leaders, he is writing the second one for all worshipers. In his own words, his aim is to help Christians “think more biblically about their responsibility as a worshiper of God, regardless of how they were being led.”
Be looking for Bob's new book—yet to be titled—sometime in 2011.
Photo source: Southern Seminary Communications
June 9, 2010 by C.J. Mahaney
I have friends who can accurately reference specific footnotes from books they read 20 or more years ago! Those friends not only read a lot, they remember just about everything.
I find this very discouraging.
I recently finished A. Lincoln, a 676-page biography by Ronald C. White, Jr. And yet when I closed the book and communicated to others how much I enjoyed the book, there was really only one sentence I clearly remembered—which is one reason why I dog-ear and mark paragraphs and sentences in my books.
I try to read a lot but unfortunately I forget a lot, too. (Did I mention how discouraging this is?) But over the years I have read many unforgettable sentences and paragraphs that have made a lasting impact on my thinking and on my ministry.
Is reading worth the time investment when so much is forgotten? John Piper says yes.
In a message long ago (July 12, 1981) he said this:
What I have learned from about twenty-years of serious reading is this: It is sentences that change my life, not books. What changes my life is some new glimpse of truth, some powerful challenge, some resolution to a long-standing dilemma, and these usually come concentrated in a sentence or two. I do not remember 99% of what I read, but if the 1% of each book or article I do remember is a life-changing insight, then I don’t begrudge the 99%.
Read, but not to remember everything. Read because that 1% that you remember has to potential to change your life.
Although I remember only one sentence from A. Lincoln, that sentence has informed my leadership in a number of ways.
So keep reading.
June 8, 2010 by Dave Harvey
Categories: Church planting
We’ve been talking governors. A governor is something that controls the speed of an engine. Install a governor and it slows you down; pop it off and you go much faster. When it comes to church planting, Sovereign Grace has intentionally installed certain governors—values that help us control the speed and quality of our growth.
In the previous posts we looked at the first two governors:
Governor 1: A commitment to finding the right guy.
Governor 2: A commitment to providing the right guy with the right resources.
Having the right church planter and the right resources (team and finances) promotes the viability of a church plant.
In this post we want to think not just about viability (the likelihood of a successful church plant) but sustainability. Sustainability is about more than individual plants; it is about the ability of a church-planting movement to maintain a coherent and consistent approach to church planting. Viability requires a focused commitment to the success of a church plant. Sustainability requires an effective infrastructure within a movement to make sure that we stay on track with who we are and what God has called us to do. These final three governors are aimed at sustainability.
Let me introduce you to the three final governors in church planting:
Governor 3: A commitment to actively care for a church planter before he goes and after he arrives.
If you’ve been in the church-planting world long enough, you’ve probably heard stories of church planters who find themselves isolated and “dying on the vine.” Sometimes this occurs because a guy feels called to start a work and launches independent of care, connection, or coaching. Other times the promises of support go unrealized. No matter what the cause, church-planter burnout is one of the major factors in failed church plants.
Sovereign Grace Ministries is a “family” of churches. That means we are committed not just to ministry partnership, but to ministry fellowship. Partnership often means mechanics and funding. Fellowship means ongoing relationship, encouragement, training, correction, and accountability.
Back in the day, we were a small enough group that an SGM guy could know almost every other pastor in the movement, and enjoy deep friendships with more than a few. These relationships provided ready means of counsel, encouragement, and resource sharing, and a healthy dose of learning from each other’s mistakes. As we’ve grown, this happens more on a regional level. And as Sovereign Grace churches continue to multiply, we need to consciously set up structures of care for existing churches and new church plants.
The SGM Leadership Team and Church Planting Group spend a lot of our time these days think-tanking for the future, in order to preserve the relational nature of Sovereign Grace care for leaders. Whatever the ultimate structure looks like, it will be based on our core commitment to care for each church planter and each established church through leader-to-leader relationship. Here’s our ongoing commitment: We will govern our growth to make sure every church planter, at every step of church planting, experiences care through relationships with other leaders.
Governor 4: A commitment to ensure that Sovereign Grace values run deep in church plants.
One of the remarkable things we’ve seen over the years is how many gifted and highly trained men have come to Sovereign Grace Ministries expressing a desire to plant churches. Frankly, we feel a little bit like we’re being asked to play in a pro-am with Phil Mickelson, and we’re the “am” of the pairing. But we’ve also learned that there are things at the heart of who we are as a family of churches that can’t be downloaded from a website, read in a book, or imbibed from a conference. One of the things we must ensure is that our church planting doesn’t become the wheel out of alignment—you know, pulling us off track a little bit at a time. This can happen when the values of a movement diminish bit by bit through expansion and innovation.
One of the things that every church planter knows is that he is not planting his own work. The fruit of his labor has come through a vital partnership with a sending ministry. The church planter has received a stewardship of values that he in turn must embody and transfer to others. Because internalizing core values is essential, this will always govern our growth.
Governor 5: A commitment to endurance, not just impact.
In the early days, the idea of church planting as a primary missions strategy was strange to a lot of folks. But church planting now has some serious street cred. It’s become normal, if not normative, in many denominations and families of churches. I think that’s great because it provides us the opportunity to learn more. We’d be foolish to sit back in our little SGM world and pretend that we’ve got it together. That’s why I love connecting with other church-planting guys—getting up close to what they are doing, and getting their eyes and insights on us. As C.J. has always said, nothing we’ve ever done is original. We’ve just become good at adapting what others have done; if we ever stop learning from others we might as well cash it in.
As we’ve matured (relatively speaking) we are also seeing that success can’t be defined in present impact. To be biblical and worthy of the costs it demands, success has to be long term. We’re talking enduring, multi-generational sustainability. We can’t think of five year plans—we have to think in 50 years. We have to think about how to build now so that we have something meaningful to hand over to the next generation.
Here’s a principle that now runs deep in Sovereign Grace Ministries: gospel-centered means gospel-transferring (2 Timothy 2:2). Gospel-transferring means that we’re building church models that proclaim the gospel, apply the gospel, and seek to impress the gospel upon the next generation. We’re not looking to cultivate a passion for the way Sovereign Grace does ministry. We want the passion to be confined to the Savior himself.
Honestly, discerning those things is an ever-present challenge for all ministries. It’s sometimes hard to see where our present practice will help transfer the gospel and what is, well, just our way of doing things. Understanding the difference and building in light of it is the only way this thing will last.
It’s funny, originally I wanted to call this cluster of blog posts, “Why So Slow???” But as I thought about it, the goal is not slow growth, it’s wise growth. And that takes patience and pace in church planting.
leads international expansion and church planting for Sovereign Grace
Ministries and is based in Glen Mills, Pennsylvania. For more
information about the Sovereign Grace church-planting process, click here.
Men who pastor small churches have my deepest respect. These guys are my heroes for the way they quietly and faithfully serve and persevere in difficult and challenging contexts, and do so with joy. That is why, during a panel discussion at Together for the Gospel, I was coming out of my chair as John MacArthur made the following remarks in response to a good question by Thabiti:
Thabiti Anyabwile: I am thinking about folks who are traveling with me. I am deeply encouraged with their being here. And I see other pastors traveling with some of the elders and members in the church. I assume they are likewise encouraged. Any words that you would offer to folks here who maybe aren’t in pastoral ministry? Maybe they are here to support their pastor in the kind of faithfulness you are talking about. Any exhortations to them, practical ways that they can hold the pastor’s arms up in this kind of faithfulness and trusting in God?
John MacArthur: What I cherish the most is a true and loving loyalty. This disloyalty, betrayal, undermining, just cuts the heart out of your pastor. When I talk about loving loyalty, I mean when there is an issue that needs to be addressed you go eyeball-to-eyeball, man-to-man, and you confront it. And I love that. I love when guys come to me and say, “John, I think this is a problem. I think you are overlooking this. I think this is a misstep on your part.” Those are the men I cherish. Those are the men I pull to my heart.
But what is just terribly debilitating is to feign that kind of affection to the man and then undermine that among the people. That is the most difficult thing. It is the betrayal that that brings. I could endure any problem in a church. I am challenged to solve any problem. But it is so hard when the men that you trust betray you behind your back. Because he is God’s man in your midst, you give him your love and you give him your loyalty. Be honest with him, face to face, man to man, open hearted. But understand the burden that he bears, and you need to be his true friend. You really do.
It is especially important for pastors who serve alone. At a different point in the discussion, MacArthur addressed the struggles single-staff pastors face:
I find my joy in the church in the men I work with, in their growth and their partnership and their love and their loyalty and their support of me.
For me, I think that would be the hardest thing about being a pastor at a small church, being there alone and trying to carry that burden by yourself. That is why some of you are here, because you need this. You don’t even so much need what we say—you need each other. You need to feel like you are a part of something way beyond your own thing, and we embrace you fully.
I have often said the Lord must prefer small churches because he made so many of them. And you guys that are alone in those churches, you are the real soldiers, you are the real warriors. We thank God for you.