Month: November 2018

The Significance of Singleness

I had the honor of sitting down with Dr. Christina Hitchcock who is a theology professor at the University of Sioux Falls. We spent the bulk of our conversation discussing her recent book – The Significance of Singleness.

Among many other things, we talk about the American church’s idolatry of sex/marriage, the need for valuing singleness as a a gift from God, and how our distorted view of singleness affects the way we view homosexuality, friendship, missions/evangelism, and church leadership.

Enjoy the show!

(If you are reading this in your e-mail you will need to go to the actual page to see the video.) 

The Danger of “Casting Vision”

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At a large church conference I attended a few years ago, one of the megachurch pastors explained to the audience the importance of vision. As a means of discerning who should be on staff, he explained that he will invite his staff members over to his home for leadership training and will purposely keep them up late into the night so that they aren’t as guarded in what they say. According to this leader, as soon as he sees one sign of disloyalty to his “vision” for the church, the staff member will be fired immediately.

I don’t know about you but that sounds like a cult, not a church.

This pastor (as well as virtually every other vision-casting book I have read) justifies this approach by claiming Proverbs 29:18 says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” They then conclude that the “vision” being spoken of is a well-thought out plan that steers the direction of an organization.

Yeah, that’s a great point except that’s not what Proverbs 29:18 says in it’s context.

It’s frustrating to me when pastors of all people exploit the Scriptures to back up their ideas. Proverbs 29:18 says (In the KJV since that is how all these books quote it) – “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” Anyone who understands the English language is able to discern that the “vision” is referring to the clear revelation God has given His people through His word (i.e. the law). Not the vision of a charismatic human leader trying to create momentum for his church.

As a church planter, many of the leadership books I read urge me to cast vision for my church. Generally, this consists of listening to God in a subjective way to receive a specific vision for the church, create a plan to implement this vision, and then motivate the people of the church to support the vision. These books usually explain that if someone does not support the “vision” God has given me as the Lead Pastor, that person needs to leave and find a different church.

All of these teachings seem to be rooted in Scripture. The authors usually cite the famous leaders of our faith: Moses, David, Nehemiah, the Prophets – among others. One of the things I have noticed is that these books rarely spend any time focusing on New Testament leaders because the process of one man receiving a vision from God for a large group of people is seemingly absent from the pages of the New Testament.

Why the difference?

Answer: The Holy Spirit.

Sound doctrine matters and here’s why – Moses, David, Nehemiah, and the Prophets are not first and foremost examples for modern pastors to follow. Instead, they are shadows that point us to the Great Shepherd of the Church – the Lord Jesus Christ. The only one with authority to cast an unbending vision for the life of your church is Jesus Himself and He has done this in the Great Commission (see Matthew 28). When we foolishly lift pastors up and put them on a pedestal as the one who receives vision from God in a Moses-like way, we commit a grave sin against the priesthood of all believers.

For those of us in the Church, there is only one priest that stands between God and man – the Lord Jesus Christ. As a pastor, I do not have an elevated standing before God to receive a special vision for my church nor do I have inherent authority to motivate (or manipulate) the congregation to get on board with MY vision. I often tell Renovation Church that the only authority I have as a pastor is derived from when I accurately and faithfully expound the Scriptures.

But here’s the thing – I actually DO think it is important for a church to have a strong vision. Our vision must be rooted in the Great Commission and explain how we are going to fulfill this commission in our local community. The more Biblical way of accomplishing this is not putting the burden of “vision casting” on a charismatic leader. Instead, the members of the Church who are filled with the Holy Spirit should each play a role in discerning the vision God is giving the church while making sure it is rooted in the Scriptures and the historic Christian faith.

Karl Vater, in his excellent blog for small church leaders, explains a much more attractive alternative, “Shouldn’t part of that preparation include inspiring them (congregation) to hear from God for a vision for their own life and ministry? But how can they dream their own dreams if they’re constantly pushed to give time and money to support the pastor’s vision instead?”


What say you? Do you disagree with me and think the New Testament describes the practice of one person receiving a special vision for the entire community of faith? Or do you see other ways we can more faithfully practice the art of vision-casting that empowers the entire church? Please leave a comment as I’d love to hear from you!

 

 

Q: Doesn’t every passage in the Bible have multiple different interpretations?

Happy Monday everyone! I just finished recording a short video seeking to answer the question – “Doesn’t every passage in the Bible have multiple different interpretations?” This is a super common question that I get asked regularly as a pastor.

I pray the video below helps you understand the Bible a little better and ultimately points you to the beauty & glory of Jesus Christ.

(If you are reading this in your e-mail, you need to go to the actual page to see the video.) 

Why I Do Not Preach “Attractional” Sermon Series

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(Some of you (especially pastors) are already mad at me because of the title. That’s okay. Read the post and then leave a comment telling me why I am wrong so we can enter into a conversation on this!)

The vast majority of churches similar to Renovation Church (i.e. contemporary & outward focused) fill their preaching calendar with short sermon series around “felt-needs.” Generally, each year the church preaches about the same exact topics just in slightly different ways (Marriage, Parenting, Finances, etc.). This is usually done by beginning with a topic or main point, finding a verse that backs up the main point, and then continuing the process for the entire sermon series.

At Renovation Church this morning, I just finished preaching Week 48 in our “Gospel of John” sermon series… and we are only in chapter 16!

People occasionally ask me why I am so passionate about preaching verse-by-verse through books of the Bible rather than doing trendy sermon series. The truth is, as long as I am the pastor at Renovation Church, we will (probably) never do a trendy 3-week sermon series. Instead, my goal is to preach through the entire New Testament and much of the Old Testament during my pastorate at Renovation Church.

So why? Well, let me give you three reasons – Biblical, Historical, and Cultural:

Biblical Reason
1. Preaching verse-by-verse is the pattern we see in Scripture.
Other pastors are quick to point out to me that we do not see an example of expository (verse-by-verse) preaching in the Bible. They will often challenge me to look at how Jesus taught and to use his method of teaching as an example. There’s a major problem with this – Jesus is God and I am not. Jesus, because He is God-in-the-flesh, is able to teach on His OWN authority. Pastors have no inherent authority in their teaching – if you cannot see clearly from the text the point that your pastor is making, ignore him.

(I would even argue that Jesus DID teach in an expository style. We only have summaries of His sermons in our Bibles, not the entire messages. The reason I say this is after His Resurrection he explained to two of his disciples the Scriptures in this way, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” – Luke 24:27)

So, where do we see expository preaching in Scripture? I’m glad you asked! There are many places in Scripture that I could point to but one of the first instances of this happening is Nehemiah 8:1-12. Nehemiah constructs a platform and from it reads the “Book of the Law” (the first 5 books of the Bible). It is clear that he is reading through it verse-by-verse and at the same time the priests are instructing the people on the meaning and application of the Scriptures:

Nehemiah 8:8
“They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.”

The priests did not begin with the “felt needs” of the congregation but instead began with their real need (hearing & responding to the clear preaching of the Scriptures). One of my former professors at Sioux Falls Seminary, Dr. Philip Thompson, explained it this way, “I do not go to church to have my needs met, I go to church to figure out what my needs are.”

Historical Reason
2. The testimony of church history points to the continued relevance of verse-by-verse preaching.
From Augustine to John Calvin, all of the significant pastors/leaders throughout church history focused on carefully dividing the “word of truth.” During the period of the Reformation, the Church experienced a revival because the leaders of the Reformation were committed to preaching verse-by-verse through books of the Bible.

John Calvin, one of the foremost leaders of the Reformation in Geneva, exemplified this in an extraordinary way. Calvin was exiled from his community for a period of three years. When he returned to the pulpit, he literally picked up his “series” from the verse he ended at 3 years prior. Ligonier Ministries aptly notes the significance of this by saying, “This continuation was intended as a bold statement that verse-by-verse preaching of the Word would hold the primary place in his ministry.”

Of more recent history – All of the “Great Awakenings” in the history of the United States, especially the First Great Awakening under the leadership of Jonathan Edwards, make it clear that all true revival is centered on the expository preaching of the Scriptures. It is through the words of God (Bible) that we encounter the Word of God (Jesus) and experience the work of God (salvation & sanctification).

Cultural Reason
3. Verse-by-verse preaching is the best way to help Christians understand the Bible.
In my preaching ministry at Renovation Church, I am careful to draw each one of my points from a clear reading of the text. I continually ask – “Do you see what I am saying directly from the text?” As I explain the historical situation and context of the passage of Scripture, it helps the people in my congregation begin to understand how to properly read & interpret the Bible in their own lives.

We live in a self-obsessed and self-consumed culture. Topical preaching (i.e. selecting topics then using “proof texts” from all over the Bible to make a point) has the danger of leading God’s people into idolatry. Here’s what I mean – in a sermon series on marriage, Jesus simply becomes a means to a better marriage. In a sermon series on finances, Jesus becomes a means to improve one’s financial position. In a sermon series on friendship, Jesus becomes a means to deeper community. I believe if a pastor faithfully teaches through the Bible verse-by-verse, he will touch on these topics but in a much more Gospel-centered and Christ-exalting way.

If we come to Jesus for anything or anyone other than Jesus, it is idolatry. Jesus is NOT a means to an end. He is the means and He is the end. The goal of the Christian life is MORE Jesus… not more of the American Dream disguised in a few proof texts from the Bible and a clever illustration.


I have a WAY more reasons I’d love to write about but according to experts most people will only read a blog post if it is less than 300 words and we are currently over 1,000 so if you made it to the end of this post – congratulations, you actually have a real attention span!

Do you agree with me? Disagree with me? I’d love to hear why. Leave a comment so I can hear your thoughts!