Years ago there was an illustration making the rounds that still has a point to make today. A preacher was visiting a new family. In the course of the visit the subject of reading the Bible came up. The mother asked her eight-year old son to go into the living room and bring “the book” they were always reading. The boy returned with the Sears Catalog. We smile at this little illustration but sadly, it contains a major reality relative to the status of Bible reading today.
In a recent article circulated by Christianity Today (6/5/2015) it was stated that in a United Kingdom survey it was revealed that one in three British children don’t know the Nativity story is part of the Bible. However, 27% think Superman is in the Bible. In this same article it was stated that 88% of American homes have a Bible, many have four Bibles. Less than 40% of Americans read the Bible regularly.
Here is a challenge. During the next seven days’ pay careful attention to the news stories you see on TV and hear on the radio. I know it’s hard to stomach. You will hear about every conceivable crime for A to Z: adultery to the zeal of terrorist. Make a note of how many of these behaviors are called sin. Unless you have strayed into a so-called “Christian news” program, I venture to say you will not hear the word sin mentioned; and even the “Christian News” programs will rarely use the word sin. Sin is not a politically correct word.
Years ago when I was doing graduate working in counseling, based on a biblical perspective, one of the textbooks I was required to read was Dr. Karl Menninger book, “Whatever Became of Sin? This book written in the early ‘70s by a psychiatrist is still relevant today: “Whatever Became of Sin?” In my opinion, is more relevant today than when it was written. Why? Because sin has been relegated to the “no longer relevant trash ben” of modernism.
Notice the shamelessness of dress, language, behavior, gestures, and more that is paraded across the television screen and local theater screens. We are living in an age when immunity is being developed against any thought or mention of sin. Popular books on the best seller list are immoral, when compared to Gods standards, yet they are consumed by the millions; even by Christians. Children are lured into satanic and cultic books and movies because they are popular and “everybody” is reading and seeing them.
Some of the most popular televangelist have attracted their mega crowds, both in their assemblies and viewing audiences because they never talk about sin. One popular TV preacher affirmed that the only sin mankind is guilty of is low self-esteem. This has created so-called sermons and teachings, along with books, on self-help being the solution to all our problems. Just “think positively” and realize “you can be anything you desire.” And on yes, God wants you to prosper and be rich. The key being financially supporting the preacher and his ministry.
Dr. Menninger, who wrote from a non-biblical or theological perspective, is more relevant today than he was when he penned it. Sadly, there are a few media preachers, and congregational preachers, who preach a watered down version of the biblical doctrine of sin. The theology behind the doctrine of sin is weak and permissive. Is there any hope that the church will recover the biblical truth about sin? Is there any hope that this generation of preachers will expose sin for what it is?
One of the major influences on reducing sin to a tepid existence or a non-existence, is the relabeling of sin. Drunkenness and alcoholism is now a “disease.” Homosexuality is now only a lifestyle choice. Abortion is simply the termination of an undesired pregnancy. Adultery is a mistake based on irresistible circumstances. Marriage to a same-sex partner in only an expression of love. Divorce is acknowledging that differences exist and cannot be resolved. Gambling is an over-extension of a desire to be wealthy and successful. Viewing pornography is nothing more than an appreciation for art and the human anatomy doing what is natural. Doing drugs for a high is a way of reducing stress. Relabeling is a national pastime.
In the midst of all this relabeling and renaming, we must remember “That a rose by any other name is still a rose.” Changing the name and definition of a sinful behavior doesn’t change the truth—sin is still sin. God has not given His approval for relabeling and renaming sin so that it will eventually be acceptable, forgotten, and cease to exist in human vocabulary and hang-ups.
I find it amazing but at the same time ironic, that the news media will give prime coverage to signs and advances in cancer research; as well as raise billions of dollars for research and treatment, which I am thankful for, but they will not give a sentence to the most deadly foe of mankind and that is sin. Sin not only has temporal consequences in time but also eternal consequences.
Isaiah spoke in a clarion voice about the consequence of sin: “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that He cannot save; nor His ear heavy that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear” (Isaiah 59:1, 2). Imagine being separated from God forever and ever!
Jesus sealed the fate of those who did not believe in Him and died in their sins. They could not go to heaven if they died in their sins (cf. John 8:21-30).
How do we feel when we see or hear someone making light of cancer? How about when we hear negative remarks about cancer? I would be upset and wonder what was wrong with someone who would belittle cancer. Here is how Solomon describes a person who takes sin lightly: “Fools mock at sin, but among the upright there is favor” (Proverbs 14:9). The Hebrew word Solomon used for fool is luts and refers to a mocking or making fun of something or someone; to scorn.
Whatever happened to sin? Solomon tells us what has happened to sin in the lives of some people: “He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy” (Proverbs 28:13). The Hebrew word for cover is kacah and means “to cover, to conceal, to hide”. This is what Achan tried to do when he hide forbidden spoils of war, which caused him to lose his life (cf. Joshua 7:16-26).
I know a lady who tried to cover up a skin cancer on her face with makeup. It didn’t work. In time it turned into a very deadly form of cancer that finally took her life. Trying to ignore, minimize, deny, belittle, justify, forget and relabel sin will not take it away. If we do not deal honestly and biblically with sin problems they will not go away. They will only fester, and will always come back sooner or later to expose and harm us: “… be sure your sins will find you out” (Numbers 32:23); in the judgment ( ).
If we are not honest about the reality of sin in the world, in our lives, and in the church, forgiveness will not occur. A line in a popular hymn asks “What can wash away my sins?” The answer is quickly given “Nothing but the blood of Jesus.” This is why Jesus commanded “that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47).
The apostle John reminds us about the continual challenge of sin in our lives: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8, 9). The blood of Christ, not self-help or pop psychology, can take away our sins (cf. Matthew 26:28). Cancer denied will not go away, and neither will relabeled sin.
Whatever happened to sin? Prayerfully for each Christian and the church “it is not crouching at our door”
There is a cartoon which pictures two older men leaving a church service. One says to the other, “Things sure have changed in the church.” His friend replied, “What do you mean?” “Well, remember when we used to come to church and bring our Bibles? Now we have to bring our dictionary.”
In over 50 years of preaching and teaching homiletics and advanced preaching for 35 years, as well as having written several books on preaching, I conclude that today’s preaching has fallen on hard times. Sadly is has changed with the times; not just in the methodology of delivery but in content. Paul’s admonition to the Timothy to “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2), is a neglected admonition in our day.
In the verse following the admonition to “preach the word”, Paul makes a prediction: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap to themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables” (2 Timothy 4:3, 4). Paul’s prediction is still being fulfilled in our day.
I had an elder called me when I was training preachers. His congregation was looking for a new preacher. I will never forget his remarks. He said, “We are not looking for a Bible thumper but someone who can entertain and make the message relevant so people will listen.” I tried to encourage him to change his mind and seek a preacher who loved the church and preached the word in love. He wasn’t interested. I was thankful I didn’t have a preacher I could recommend who met his qualifications.
In Paul’s day preaching was viewed as foolishness: “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For the Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greek’s foolishness” (1 Corinthians 1:21-23). If preaching is foolishness, then those of us who preach are “fools” or foolish.
There is a fictional story about a visitor coming from Mars to attend and evaluate his experience in a Sunday morning church service. The visitor concluded that the one hour service was dominated by the sermon—30 minutes. The Lord’s Supper—15 minutes. The singing and praying—7 to 10 minutes. The rest of the hour was given to announcements and remarks at the conclusion of the assembly. He also observed that since the preaching was the dominate use of time, why was it done so poorly.
The level of preaching in a congregation is where it is because of the preacher. It will never rise any higher until the preacher raises it. He is responsible for the content, clarity, enthusiasm, timing, and suggestions for application. The pew reflects the man in the pulpit. I once heard, “There are cold members in the pew because there is an ice cube in the pulpit”.
Whatever happened to biblical preaching? The decline and devaluation of preaching has been around since the early preachers, such as Noah, were ignored and rejected. In more modern times, back in 1970 when I taught my first undergraduate course in Homiletics, one of the text books I used contained these six charges against preaching:
“Charge # 1—Preachers tend to use complex, archaic language which the average person does not understand.
“Charge # 2—Most sermons today are boring, dull, and uninteresting.
“Charge # 3—Most preaching today is irrelevant.
“Charge # 4—Preaching today is not courageous preaching.
“Charge # 5—Preaching does not communicate.
“Charge # 6—Preaching doesn’t lead to change in persons” (The Empty Pulpit, Clyde Reid, pp.25-31, 1968, Harper & Row, Publishers, N.Y.).
If these six charges by Reid were true back in the late 1960s, how much more are they true today as the media, modernism and liberal influences have changed the direction of the Sunday morning sermon, as well as others?
Moving to the 1980s, Michael Green wrote this in the Editor’s Preface of John Stott’s book, Between Two Worlds: The Art of Preaching in the Twentieth Century: “The standard of preaching in the modern world is deplorable. There are few great preachers. Many clergy do not seem to believe in it any more as a powerful way in which to proclaim the gospel and change the life. This is the age of the sermonette: and sermonettes make Christianettes” (p. 7, 1982, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Mich.).
More recently in January 31, 2013, writing in The Aquila Report, Marty Schoenleber, Jr., addressed our subject in an interesting article titled, “21st Century Preaching: Cowards Need Not Apply: “I have met too many of what I call ‘survivors’—pastors who survive in small and large places by only telling pleasantries, jokes, and sentimental soppy stories (the preaching equivalent of kitty cat pictures and movie shorts on wimp.com). These men seem to have read or imbibed from the culture around the philosophy of dale Carnegie and his “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” They have reduced the whole of their job to trying to “Dale Carnegie the ministry.” They keep their mouths shut about the controversies around them; they never speak or preach about the difficult things in culture; they have made being pleasant and “harmless” at art form. They are coward.” (http://theaquilareport.com/ 21st-century-preaching-cowards-need-not-apply/).
Yes, there are preachers today who still preach the word and have fire in their bones like Jeremiah (cf. Jeremiah 20:8). Sadly, their numbers are shrinking. We need a return to the Pentecost model of preaching in the Book of Acts, chapter two. We note several things relative to Peter’s sermon. First, he had spent three-plus years training for this sermon. Second, he recognized the approval and need of the Holy Spirit. Third, he had a curious and ready audience. They were curious about the behavior of the 120, etc. Fourth, then Peter stood up so the hearers could see him. Fifth, he was supported by the eleven; it was a team effort. Sixth, he raised his voice to be heard by the crowd. Seventh, he specifically addressed the crowd: the Jews. Eight, he preached Christ as the fulfillment of prophecy. Ninth, he convicted the audience of sin. Tenth, his sermon pricked their hearts, causing some to ask the question, “Men and brethren what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). Eleventh, Peter gave them the gospel answer (Acts 2:38). Twelfth, as a results of Peter’s sermon three-thousand were baptized (Acts 2:39-47).
Each one of these 12 points need to be develop as we plea for a return to biblical preaching. This quest should be on the top of every preacher’s list and on the list of every congregational leader. The world needs to see Jesus lifted up (cf. John 12:32) in biblical preaching done by preachers who have “fire in their bones.” The church needs to see preachers who will choose the lion’s den or jail cell rather than compromise their commission as “fools for God.” Take the clock off the wall and replace it with a banner reminding the preacher about his mission: PREACH THE WORD.
A Bible class teacher asked her second grade class, “How many of you say your prayers every night?” Every student in the class raised their hands except one. The teacher asked the boy who didn’t raise his hand, “Tommy, why don’t you say your prayers every night?” He replied, “Some nights I don’t need anything.”
My research and personal observation is that Tommy is not alone in his understanding and practice of prayer. Many adults share his attitude. Prayer is an emergency hotline to heaven when a need arises. When researching for my book, Don’t Stop Praying; The Answer Is Coming, I discovered the average congregation prays approximately 15 minutes each week. This included the prayers in the assemblies, Bible classes and other times. This raises the question, whatever happened to prayer?
As we champion a plea to restore New Testament Christianity, based on the Scriptures, an interesting emphasis is missing. An emphasis that is referred to over 600 times in the Bible—Prayer! Bound to a one-hour block of time on Sunday morning we give preaching and the Lord’s Supper the majority of the hour. Announcements, singing and giving are given the next allotment of the hour with prayer receiving the least amount of time. Why?
When I was a boy, Wednesday night meetings were designated as mid-week prayer services. Now this practice is only a footnote in church history. I can remember with fondness when I was an undergraduate Bible student during lectureships on world missions and evangelism, assembling for all night prayer services. We prayed for the “Iron Curtain” to fall and for other obstacles to be removed that were hindering the spread of the Gospel. God answered those prayers.
In light of the fact that we have never had more books written on prayer, lectures, seminars, essays, magazine articles, and sermons on prayer, but, seriously, whatever happened to prayer? One is made to wonder with all these resources and so much teaching in the Bible on prayer, that it would be a MAJOR emphasis in the personal life of every Christian as well as the ministry of the local church. Sadly, all this hasn’t restored the dynamic prayer practices we see in the first century church.
Some form of prayer, prayed or pray is used approximately 165 time in the English version of the New Testament. Prayer is mentioned 16 times in the Book of Acts. It is mentioned 41 times in the Gospels. The prayer life and teachings of Jesus exemplify the importance He placed on prayer. He taught eight specific lessons on prayer and prayed thirteen specific times. In John 17 we have the record of one of Jesus’ long prayers, 26 verses.
Relative to the time allocated to prayer in today’s congregations, based on the references to the other practices we allocate time, here is a brief comparison. First, there is no reference to “making announcements.” Singing is mentioned 119 times in enter Bible, singer is mentioned 2 times in the Bible and singers is mentioned 38 times. In the Gospels there are two accounts (Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26); there is one reference in Acts (Acts 16:25); one reference in Romans (Romans 15:9, two references in 1 Corinthians (1 Corinthians 14:15, 26) ; one reference in Colossians (Colossians 3:16) ; one reference in Ephesians (Ephesians 5:19); one reference in Hebrews (Hebrews 2:12), and three references in Revelation (Revelation 5:9, 14:3, 15:3). The Lord’s Supper is referenced three times in Acts, one of which is questioned (2:46), the other two are clear in Acts 20:7, 11. Preaching in one form or another (i.e. preach, preached) is used approximately 47 times in the New Testament, with 7 being used in the Book of Acts.
It should be easy to see that if we allocate our distribution of time based on the examples, or lack of examples, and frequencies of references to the practices in an assembly, prayer is lacking an equal share of time. Enough about prayer in the assemblies. Let’s move on to perhaps the most important area where prayer is lacking as a practice.
Each Christians is given 168 hours each week to manage anyway he or she chooses. If a Christian attends all the assemblies of a congregation where approximately 15-minutes is given each week to prayer, how about the other 167 ¾ hours during the rest of the week? Years ago I came across this wise observation by Andrew A. Bonar: “Oh brother, pray; in spite of Satan, pray; spend hours in prayer; rather neglect friend than not pray; rather fast, and lose breakfast, dinner, tea, and supper and sleep too, than not to pray. And we must not talk about prayer, we must pray in right earnest. The Lord is near” (Not sure of written source).
Again, whatever happened to prayer? Why do some many Christians neglect, as Paul commanded, to “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17)? Why don’t many who are sick “call for the elders to pray” (cf. James 5:13-18), instead of expecting them to show up? Why are meals eaten without prayers of thanksgiving (1 Timothy 4:4)? Why are trips and business ventures pursued without praying for God’s will to be done (James 4:13-17)? Why is when faced trials, setbacks, and with decisions, there aren’t prayers for wisdom (James 1:2-11)? Why in the midst of a missionary shortage, lack of preachers and leaders, don’t we pray about these needs (cf. Matthew 9:37, 38).
Whatever happened to prayer? I can only speak with authority relative to my own prayer life. I choose not to be accusatory relative to the prayer life of others. I do know however, that it is easy to document the frequency of prayer in a congregation. I also know from the statements and confessions of others, some reasons given for not being a perpetual prayer warrior. Some of these are: 1. I’m just too busy to pray. 2. I have good intentions but forget to pray as often as I should. 3. I’m not sure God hears me or answers my prayers? 4. I don’t know how to properly pray. 5. I’m not sure what to pray about. 6. I had rather ask others to pray for me. 7. I’m afraid of making a mistake. 8. I’m just too lazy; I know it’s wrong. 9. I’m not sure I believe God answers prayer. 10. I only pray when it is absolutely necessary. I don’t want to bug God.
In Mark 11:15-19, we have the account of Jesus driving out the money changers who were taking advantage of the poor. “Then He taught, saying to them, ‘Is it not written, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations”? But you have made it a den of thieves.’” I know the house of prayer is a reference to the Temple in Jerusalem. Since the church is referred to as house of the living God in 1 Timothy 3:15, we can draw a principle relative to the “called out” (ekklesia--church) people of God composing a “house of prayer.” There are numerous references to the identity of the church in the Bible, but how many times have you heard it referred to as “the house of prayer”? Isn’t it ironic that out of all the things members are involved in during the assemblies, prayer is the most neglected?
Whatever happened to prayer in your personal life? Whatever happened to prayer in your congregation? How can we restore the church to being a “house of prayer”?
A farmer from Georgia was part of a tour group visiting the elaborate Westminster Cathedral in London. He listened patiently and with interest as the guide gave the history of the 54,000 square foot building. The guide talked about the altars, chapels, mosaics, music, famous visitors, and the Archbishops who were buried there, etc. When the guide asked for questions, the farmer asked, “When was the last time someone was saved in here?” The farmer hit the nail on the head. His question should be asked in every church: “When was the last time someone was saved here?”
I am not sure what Solomon was addressing when he penned these words, “Do not say, ‘Why are the former days better than these?’ For you do not inquire wisely concerning these things” (Ecclesiastes 7:10). (It follows a verse on anger). I am taking the liberty to take a principle from verse ten and “violate” it by looking back at a practice which once flourished in most congregations—EVANGELISM. How many of us remember those “good old days”?
Not too many years ago most congregations were growing as a result of evangelism. There were campaigns in big auditoriums, numerous gospel meetings, door-to-door evangelism, film strips being shown, home Bible studies, workshops, bus ministries, television and radio programs, tract distribution etc. The evangelism fires where glowing across the nation and around the world. Congregations were hiring men to give full time ministry to training the local church for evangelism, as well as doing it themselves.
In the ‘70s I worked with a congregation that baptized 265 in one years and for a number of years we baptized over one hundred each year. In the ‘80s I worked with a congregation that baptized 102 into Christ; half of which came through the ministry of the youth.
Whatever happened to evangelism?
I remember fondly preaching one and two week meetings in which souls were saved in double digits, and during those meeting scores rededicated their lives to Christ and asked for prayer. The power of the gospel was awesome (cf. Romans 1:14-16). Buildings were filled as outsiders and sister congregations attended the meetings. Yes, those where the “good old days” which I am saying were better, in most congregations, than the evangelism of today.
The research of today related to growth through evangelism is discouraging. My late great and wonderful friend, Clayton Peppers, editor of Personal Evangelism, said, “Evangelism is the last thing most congregations do and is the first thing they give up.” I am privileged to travel across our nation visiting congregations; in most places the situation is the same, churches are not growing numerically. In fact, many are declining and dying a slow death.
The congregation where my mother once worshipped, with 300 members, no longer exists. The property is now a business complex. The congregation where I was baptized, which was close to 400 at the time, now has an attendance of 20 to 30. I know of a once large and thriving congregation that now meets in a classroom and the upstairs is the preacher’s residence. I visited one congregation that had turned the baptistery into a storage area. Numerous leaders have shared that they rarely have one baptism a year; especially from outsiders.
I could go on and on with these examples but it is discouraging and should serve as a wakeup call, as we ask, “Whatever happened to evangelism.” Do you know?
One answer might be that we have traded it for games, gimmicks, media hype, and talk show hosts in the pulpit. However, a second thing is obvious and that when compared to the evangelistic efforts of the first century Christians, “we are not going and everywhere preaching the word” (Acts ). Third, we have inverted the Great Commission, which says, “Go”, to a “Come” command. Yes, there was once a time by putting up a sign in front of the building and taking an ad in the newspaper announcing a gospel meeting that would bring people in, but no more. Our meetings, which were once a week long, are exhausting at four days of preaching. Less than half to three-fourth of the members won’t be back after Sunday morning.
Whatever happened to evangelism? This is a personal question every Christian must ask and answer. It is one leaders in local churches must ask and answer. It will not be sufficiently and biblically answered by pointing a finger at someone else and asking why he or she isn’t evangelistic. Both parties are guilty of neglecting evangelism. In my opinion that’s what has happened to evangelism. But that answer is too simplistic.
Whatever happened to evangelism? First, we have confused believing and talking about evangelism with the physical act of evangelism. These two qualities are essential but they are not sharing the gospel with a lost person. Second, evangelism in some congregations has been replaced, no doubt with good intentions, with media driven presentations, community involvement that never challenges sinner, adopting marketing ploys used by business and mega churches, and the examples go on. There is only one drawing power for evangelism and that is Christ. Jesus said, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself. This He said, signifying by what death He would die” (John 12:32). Christ is the only drawing power in evangelism.
In the first century church evangelism was never taught in a class, tied to a method, or relegated to the hands of an expert. There is no example of brethren being rebukes for not “winning souls.” In the midst of ridicule, rejection, persecution, and ultimately losing their lives, “Those who were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word” (Acts 8:4).
Whatever happened to evangelism? It has been lost in the numerous approaches that teach only qualified professionals who know theology and the Bible can evangelize. It has been lost in the salesman approach of mastering tricky and set up questions to make the sale. It has been lost in a lack of emphasis on the command of the Great Commission to make disciples, which involves relationships with people in a Christian’s personal day-to-day world. And perhaps the most tragic reason for the loss of evangelism is that we no longer believe the lost are really lost.
A restoration of evangelism will occur if we will go back to God’s church growth and evangelism book—the Book of Acts. To study and apply principles such as knowing and sharing the gospel (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:1-6), using our homes as outreach posts, making sure we share the gospel with our families (cf. Cornelius, Philippian jailer, etc.), and initiating a gospel conversion with persons we meet (cf. Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch). Surely we can remember what we did in order to be saved; now we simply need to tell it to others “as we are going in our world” (Matthew 28:18-20).
Whatever happened to evangelism? This question must become more personal: Whatever happened to evangelism in MY life? Whatever happened to evangelism in our congregation? Let’s start sharing the gospel in our world. You already know enough; and you already have a list of contacts. Remembering the gospel is the “good news” about the death, burial and resurrection of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-6), which is the only power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:14-16).
Leadership, like most subjects, has gone through a lot scrutiny, study, adjustment and change in the last three decades. These studies have included the traits, styles, character, integrity and theories of leadership. Models of both effective and negative leadership have been featured in articles, books, and seminars. Most local congregations have also, at one time or another, during recent years given attention to leadership.
Over the past 30 years several new leadership models have been presented in the business sector of America. Some have found acceptance and application in congregations. These include transformational, transactional, charismatic, situational, managerial, and servant leadership. Examples from Hitler to Churchill have been used as models of leadership. Even the leadership traits of Jesus, Moses, Paul, and Nehemiah have been presented as models.
Back in 2007, Lee Iacocca asked in the title of his bestselling book, “Where Have All The Leaders Gone?” (Simon & Shuster, N.Y., N.Y.). On page five he asked: “Where are the voices of leaders who can inspire us to action and make us stand taller? What happened to the strong and resolute party of Lincoln? What happened to the courageous, populist party of FDR and Truman? There was a time in this country when the voices of great leaders lifted us up and made us want to do better. Where have all these leaders gone?” While the author is referencing his remarks to business and political leaders, there is a principle application for church leaders.
Whatever happened to leadership in the church? Yes, I know we have restored the titles of elder, deacon, preacher, teacher, and minister. But have we restored the leadership practices we observe in first century church leaders? After writing 20 books, numerous articles and teaching leadership on the undergraduate and graduate levels, I know I have now taken a step onto sensitive, controversial, and avoidable ground. Speaking for myself, most of us who lead in the church don’t want the spotlight directed on us and our performance. Why? Two reasons. We know we aren’t perfect but keep our hands to the plough anyway. Second, so many requirements and expectations based on business and sports models have been added to the servant model God requires. We have created a model for failure, discord, and abuse of the biblical model of being a servant leader.
I know that leadership in congregations’ today face cultural, economic, moral, educational, media, and spiritual challenges no other generation of leaders has faced. There is the necessity for using commonsense, expediencies, and allowing changes in traditions in order for the Body of Christ to carry out her mission in the world. However, all processes addressing these challenges must be based on the solid leadership principles in God’s word.
In order to restore biblical leadership we must begin with the realization that all leadership begins with self-leadership. It is in leading self that we learn what leadership is and how it works. If I can’t lead myself how can I lead others? Whether as an elder, deacon, preacher, teacher, or minister, your work is based on your ability to lead yourself. The apostle Paul addressed this principle in his Romans letter: “You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? You who say, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?” (Romans 2:21, 22).
In order to restore biblical leadership we must understand and practice servant leadership. This is in contrast to the dictator, boss, or owner mentality of leadership. Jesus set the example (cf. Mark 10:45; Philippines 2:4-9). When the disciples of Christ were seeking prominent positions of leadership, Jesus rebuked them and gave them this reminder: “… You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all” (Mark 10:35-45).
In order to restore biblical leadership we must remember that a leader’s influence is the major catalysis for effectively leading followers. It’s the old adage “What you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you are saying.” In giving the Philippian brethren a thinking agenda, Paul reminded them it wasn’t just words but it was his example: “The things which you have learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9). Every Christian is influencing someone else; this is especially true of leaders.
In order to restore biblical leadership it is essential that leaders be bold, not cowards. Boldness was one of the obvious traits others saw in the early church leaders. “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). Boldness is not rudeness, pushiness, or aggressiveness. It is having the faith and convictions to do the right things regardless of the opposition. It is saying “we ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). It is knowing that fearfulness is not from God (cf. 2 Timothy 1:7).
In order to restore biblical leadership it requires knowing and practicing every attitude and action with a view of glorifying God, not self or anything or anyone else. “[T]o Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:21). “For to Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:36).
In the world of what we call executive leadership there is a continual quest trying to find a test or evaluation that will quickly identify and determine an executive’s leadership ability. This quest has produced a plethora of diagnostic profiles, tests, forms, assessments, and evaluations that offer insight into leadership ability, or a lack thereof. In some congregations these diagnostic tools are being used with Bible passages tacked on. This may help us answer the question: Whatever happened to leadership? Biblical leadership has been absorbed, diluted, and replaced by a worldly approach. We must prayerfully and biblically ask and answer, What is the biblical test for real leadership that glorifies God?
This brief article has been written with the intention and need to draw our attention to the question, Whatever happened to leadership? How visible and successful is it in our congregations? Every institution from the home to the White House; from the local church to a military unit, is where it is because of leadership yesterday and tomorrow will be where leadership is today. We close with these clarion words by Jesus relative to following the leaders in His day: “Let them alone. They are leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch” (Matthew 15:14). Remember the leadership approved by Jesus involves serving, caring, sharing, loving, selflessness, and courage, all based on the word of God. All Christian leadership has a spiritual dimension, which affirms that every kind of church leadership centers in the spiritual.
Whatever happened to leadership?
J.J. Turner presently serves as an elder and preacher for the Lord’s church in McDonough, GA.
It is 6:00 AM, the bugle blasts reveille over the PA system. It is wake up and get up time for the soldiers attached to the Army base. When breakfast is served in the mess hall at 7:00 AM no one is present but the cooks. When the inspection assembly is called at 8:00 AM no one but the drill sergeant is present. Where are the soldiers who volunteered to serve their country? Some are still in their bunks; a few are checking their cell phones; others are in the shower, etc. Would you say this is a very well trained and disciplined company of soldiers? How do you think they will perform if called on to see combat duty?
Former Sergeant Major of the Army, William G. Bainbridge said: “The core of a soldier is moral discipline. It is intertwined with the discipline of physical and mental achievement. Total discipline overcomes adversity, and physical stamina draws on an inner strength that says ‘drive on.’” General George Patton said, “Discipline can only be obtained when all the officers are imbued with the sense of their awful obligation to their men and to their country that they cannot tolerate negligence.”
What is discipline? As a noun, Webster gives an extensive definition: “discipline: training that develops self-control, character or orderliness and efficiency; strict control to enforce obedience; the results of such training or control; acceptance of or submission to authority; a system of rules, as for a church; treatment that corrects or punishes.” For this study we will look briefly at three applications of discipline. First, self-discipline; second, discipline of others, and third, church discipline.
Just as all leadership begins with self-leadership, the exercise of discipline begins with self-discipline. From the cradle to the grave each person is challenged by the discipline of self. The training started with our parents, teachers, and coaches. It is under our control. As Christians we have volunteered to discipline ourselves as followers of Christ.
It may come as a surprise to some that Christians are in the Lord’s army; each Christian is a soldier of Christ. Just as soldiers are required to be disciplined in a literal army, soldiers in God’s spiritual army must be spiritually disciplined too, so wrote the apostle Paul: “You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier” (2 Timothy 2:3, 4). Self-control is a “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:23).
Self-discipline begins by volunteering to deny self and follow Christ (cf. Matthew 16:24). It is a commitment to a covenant relationship that requires faithfulness to death (Revelation 2:10). In referring to the discipline required to win the spiritual race and fight, Paul gave these words as the keys to his success: “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).
There are numerous spiritual practices that are dependent on self-discipline. Some of these are: faithful church attendance, stewardship, Bible study, prayer, involvement, caring, teaching, morals, ethics, etc. Spiritual self-discipline requires perpetual exercise: “But reject profane and old wives fables, and exercise yourself toward godliness. For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come” (1 Timothy 4:7, 8).
Relative to disciplining others, I will briefly discuss it with application to children. There is an amazing controversy today over the discipline of Children. The evidence of a lack of parental discipline is seen in the home, class room, on the streets, in the media, and even in churches. In addressing this issue, Laura Clark, an educational correspondent for the Dailymail.co.uk.(2-27-2012), wrote: “Parents who fail to discipline their offspring properly are creating a generation of angry children who lash out in the classroom, a study has found.”
School-age children expert, Katherine Lee wrote: “Contrary to what some parents may mistakenly believe children who are not regularly disciplined are not happy. In fact, failure to discipline children often results in kids who are unhappy, angry, and even resentful. To those around him, a child who is not disciplined will be unpleasant company, and a child without discipline may find it difficult to make friends” (http://childparenting.about.com).
God has given us sage advice on disciplining children. In Proverbs 19:18 we read: “Chasten your son while there is hope, and do not set your heart on his destruction.” And in Proverbs 13:24 we read: “He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly.” In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul wrote advice to both children and parents. He made it clear that fathers are responsible for the discipline of their children: “And you fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). Whatever happened to the discipline of children?
The final observation I will make in this article is related church discipline. Whatever happened to church discipline? When was the last time you heard a sermon or series of lessons on church discipline? When was the last time you witnessed the church practicing discipline? I know this is wading into scalding water because of the controversy and lack of practicing discipline in congregations today. It was more than 50 years ago when I witnessed an elder stand before the congregation and read a letter stating the church was withdrawing from his son who was committing adultery. In my early years of ministry the biblical discipline of members was a common, undisputed practice. But since the law suit by a member of a congregation in Collinsville, Oklahoma in the ‘70s, a quick retreat has occurred for fear of being sued. Oh we have talked and preached about church discipline, conducted many lectures, but the actual practice has been lost and the commands to practice discipline have become lost and admired antiques of a past era in the church.
The guilty verdict in the Collinsville case was overturned by the Oklahoma Supreme Court. However, that hasn’t stopped the fear of being sued as a reason for not practicing church discipline. There are many additional reasons why it isn’t being practiced today. First, it isn’t being taught from a Bible perspective (i.e. studying each verse in its context). Second, there has been an abuse of how it has been conducted. Third, there is a lack of conviction relative to the seriousness of discipline. Fourth, is doesn’t work as God intended because a disciplined member will go to another congregation and be accepted. Fifth, a lax attitude toward the seriousness of sin in a Christian’s life.
When one member of the congregation observes a problem, misconduct or sin in a brother or sister, Jesus, in Matthew 18:15-17, gave the initial procedure for correcting it; thus preventing church discipline. There are three steps: First, go to the person with a one-on-one confrontation in love, encouraging repentance and renewal of the relationship. Second, go to the person with two or three others, saying the same thing as in step one. Third, if there is no repentance and renewal, saying the same thing as in the previous two meetings, take it to the congregation. This is God’s way to practice the commands related to church discipline.
While the remarks on these three areas of discipline have been brief, prayerfully they have opened the door to deeper study, as we answer: Whatever happened to discipline?