What is a Member Initiative Driven Church?

August 31, 2016

Desiring God Community Church is a member-initiative driven church, rather than a program-driven church.

What does that mean?

Let’s get to that question first by asking: Did the first-century church have programs? That is, did the leadership set up ministries in the church, decide what positions were necessary to operate those ministries, and then fill those positions from within the church?

The answer? Maybe.

Consider the church’s support of widows, first mentioned in Jerusalem in Acts 6 and discussed more fully by the Apostle Paul about 25 years later in 1 Timothy 5:3-16. Paul, writing to Timothy in Ephesus, describes conditions under which certain widows should be “enrolled” (ESV) or “placed on the official support list” (HCSB). So there must have been at least a somewhat formal organization, defining who was to be served, who was doing the serving, and what services would be offered. We don’t know how the ministry to widows began – whether by church leadership, or by an individual beginning to minister, and then as the ministry expanded gradually bringing in others to help. In any event, this is an example of a ministry that at least takes on some characteristics of a program. We want to be careful, therefore, not to think of programs per se in a negative light.

Today, many churches not only have programs, but are program driven: That is, their programs define the church. Ask why you should attend such a church, and the answer often will be a list of the various programs that are set up to serve members, or to reach the community.

What are some advantages of a program-driven church?

  • First, the leadership may have a good feel for the needs of the congregation and the opportunities in the community, and can set up ministries that will effectively meet those needs
  • Second, when people come to the church, the leaders can guide them quickly and easily into a slot in a program, and thus assimilate them into the life of the church.
  • Third, the leaders can define a plan for the future, and see that plan implemented over several years.

What are some disadvantages of a program-driven church?

  • The first is the flip side of one of the advantages: The leadership may not have a good feel for the needs of all parts of the congregation, or for the opportunities in many segments of the community. Church members may have a much better sense of these needs and opportunities – particularly in the relationship circles in which they regularly function.
  • Second, when ministry is understood to consist of participating in the church’s programs, members often will close their eyes to needs and opportunities outside those programs.
  • The third disadvantage is related to the second: In a program-driven church, it is easy to fill up all your spare time with the church’s programs. Then, even if you notice needs and opportunities elsewhere, you don’t have the time and energy to serve.

So, as stated above, we aim to be a member-initiative driven church. What does that mean?

Fundamentally, it means that all of us are taking initiative to grow as disciples and to step out in ministry in our circles of relationships, in the Charlotte area, and with unreached peoples around the world. Our leaders speak the Word to us, provide us resources, set an example, help us partner together with others, pray for us and with us, speak with us about the needs and opportunities that they discern, and help us imagine what God might do in us and through us – but we all are responsible to grow in Christlikeness and to serve faithfully and lovingly, reaching out with the Gospel and with Christ’s love.

When that happens, it is impossible to plan for what God might do. For in a member initiative-driven church, a key way the church fulfills its ministry is by everyone in the body stepping out and ministering. A member may see a need, and begin to serve. Opportunities to serve may expand. In consultation with leaders, that member may invite others to participate and serve. As the ministry grows, it may take on some characteristics of a program. But it all began with one person stepping out faithfully. And this is replicated time and again, the church’s array of ministries can become what the leaders never imagined.

We want our people to be like the Good Samaritan – on his way, presumably traveling for business, he encounters a needy man, and is a neighbor to that man (Luke 10:25-37). Or like Philip – in response to mysterious leading by the Spirit, he heads away from town on a road, and encounters an Ethiopian reading Isaiah. He takes the initiative to begin from that passage to speak the Gospel (Acts 8:26-39). Philip wasn’t participating in the Jerusalem church’s evangelism program – he was simply sensitive to the way the Spirit was leading him in his day to day life. Or – especially – like Jesus. Whether He unexpectedly encountered Jairus, or the woman with the flow of blood (Mark 5:22-43), or the rich young ruler (Mark 10:17-22), or the widow from Nain (Luke 7:11-17), or a woman wiping His feet with her hair (Luke 7:36-50), or a blind man (Mark 10:46-52), or a man with a demon (Mark 5:1-20), He loved them, He served them; He glorified the Father.

So, we thank and recognize the many of you who are taking initiative, stepping out, and serving faithfully, whether that is with international students, with neighbors, with refugee women, or with poor children. We encourage all of us: Do this more and more. Open your eyes. Grow in Christ. See the fields ripe for harvest. Pray. Go. Speak the Gospel. Live out the Gospel.

And may God be pleased to build up from our initiatives hundreds of people coming to faith, hundreds of lives changed, hundreds of people loved and served , all to the glory of God.

See That You Do Not Refuse Him Who Speaks

August 25, 2016

“A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’  But they all alike began to make excuses.” (Luke 14:16b-18a)

God the Father invites us to a celebration – a party, if you will. He invites us to the greatest celebration of all time: The company will be the best; the nourishment will be the most satisfying; the conversation will be the most interesting; the love will be the deepest possible.

We don’t deserve to be invited – for we have denigrated the One who invites us. We’ve spurned His invitation before. We’ve chosen to spend our time and energy seeking after thrills and accomplishments and honors, or safety and protection and health – yet the thrills get old, the honors and accomplishments fade to insignificance, what we thought was safe and guarded is lost, and health deteriorates.

Yet He invites us. He calls to us. He sent His Son to this world so that He might display His love, mercy, grace, and justice to these invitees. He has paid that high price – and now all is ready. The banquet is prepared.

But so many refuse Him Who speaks! So many make excuses! In Jesus’ story, the excuses are a newly-purchased field, a new yoke of oxen, and a new wife. What are our similar excuses today? Why do we today refuse the invitation? Here are some possibilities:

  • “It’s all I can do to put food on the table, take care of my kids, and get too little sleep! I don’t have time for that.”
  • “My life is great – why should I attend that banquet?”
  • “I doubt what you say about that great celebration. It can’t possibly be as great as the parties I attend! Here – let me get you an invitation for one of them.”
  • “God the Father wouldn’t want me at His party. Yes, I see the invitation – but there must be some mistake. He didn’t really invite me.
  • “I don’t like the others invited to the party. I can’t associate with such people.”

My friends: Don’t make excuses. The invitation is genuine. God invites you: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). The celebration is joyful beyond imagining. Whatever you must give up to attend, whatever others may think, this is the one party you must not miss.

For to turn down the invitation is to malign the God of the universe. To make excuses, to explain why other activities are more important than the celebration, is to claim that God is not glorious, that pleasures are not at His right hand, that wisdom and love do not dwell with Him.

And the Inviter says, “I tell you, none of those men who were invited [and made excuses for not coming] shall taste my banquet” (Luke 14:24). He will fill His banquet hall, and one day it will be the only joyous celebration, indeed, the only place of joy – but if you make excuses, if you refuse, you will be left out.

God speaks. The Gospel goes forth.  He invites. Don’t refuse Him Who speaks.

Search the Scriptures

August 19, 2016

Most churches have one statement of faith. We have two – a statement of faith that all members must agree to that basically outlines the Gospel, and a statement of faith governing teaching that goes in to more detail. All of the elders must agree with this more detailed statement of faith.

Why did we go a different direction? What value do we derive as a church from having that second statement of faith?

As those of you who are members heard in the What is DGCC class, the second statement serves in part as “truth in labeling.” The statement of faith governing teaching speaks to many issues unaddressed by the statement of faith for members. When you read the more detailed statement, you learn what you will hear preached on a number of important issues. You don’t have to agree with the statement to become a member, but you do have to be willing to sit under preaching that brings out these points.

When churches don’t have such a statement, there are still theological guidelines that control what is preached – they’re just unstated. Frequently they consist of whatever the primary preaching pastor believes. And it may take a while for visitors to figure out what those guidelines are. Furthermore, the guidelines are subject to change with a pastoral change.

We don’t think that’s helpful for visitors or healthy for the congregation. We want to be upfront about what we believe – thus this second, more detailed statement of faith.

But the preface to the Statement of Faith Governing Teaching helps bring out a second reason we think it is valuable:

The aim of this statement is to encourage a hearty adherence to the Bible, the fullness of its truth, and the glory of its Author. A passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples is best sustained in an atmosphere of deep and joyful knowledge of the character of God. We thus aim to teach the whole counsel of God rather than aiming to discover and teach some minimum required for salvation. In affirming what we believe on these matters, we separate ourselves doctrinally from some brothers and sisters within the universal church.  The cause of unity in the church, however, is best served not by finding the lowest common denominator of doctrine, but by elevating the value of truth through stating clear doctrinal parameters, and then demonstrating to the world how Christians can love each other across doctrinal boundaries, rather than by removing those boundaries. We commit ourselves to both elevating truth and loving our brothers.

So we’re saying this more detailed statement helps us “elevate the value of truth.” How does it do that?

After Paul tells Timothy that all Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, reproof, correction , and training in righteousness so that each man of God can be thoroughly equipped for every good work, he gives the younger man a solemn charge: “Preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season; using the Scriptures, reprove and rebuke, exhort, encourage, and comfort, with great patience teaching all doctrine” (2 Timothy 4:2, my paraphrase).

So that’s what we try to do: As we say in the preface just quoted, we aim to “encourage a hearty adherence to the Bible” through teaching “the whole counsel of God.” We don’t avoid controversial passages or issues; we primarily preach straight through books of the Bible – Old Testament and New, prophecy and narrative, wisdom and epistle, Law and Gospel – and thus have to address the whole range of issues that Scripture brings up. We believe, as the Apostle states, that this is for your good.

So through the two doctrinal statements, we’re saying, “Here in this shorter statement is what we all must believe to be united in the body of Christ; and here in this longer statement is what the elders of this church think Scripture says on a much wider range of vital, life-giving biblical doctrines. This second document is the Cliffs notes version of what you will hear from us. All these scriptural truths are profitable; and we’re going to do our best to patiently teach all of them to you over decades. Through such teaching you can be fully equipped for every good work.”

So the statement of faith governing teaching serves both as truth in labeling, and as a way to elevate the value of biblical truth.

We want to emphasize those last two words: BIBLICAL TRUTH. This more detailed statement of faith is not above Scripture; it is rather an attempt to summarize what Scripture says on a number of issues. If the statement of faith were to supplant Scripture as our authority, we would be in the wrong.

Consider Acts 17:10-11. Paul has been persecuted in the city of Thessalonica.

 The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.

The Jews of Berea question what Paul is saying. They are intrigued. They are eager. But they are not convinced that what Paul says is true. So they go back to the Scriptures. They search them. They examine them. They test Paul by the Scriptures.

The author, Luke, does not fault the Bereans for searching the Scriptures to see if what Paul said was true. He doesn’t say, “Those foolish Bereans – they didn’t believe the Apostle Paul based on his own authority!” Rather Luke commends them – they were more noble than the Thessalonians.

We want all of you in Desiring God Church to be like those Bereans. Scripture is our authority. Not the elders. So when we say something that puzzles you, something different from your previous understanding of Scripture – go to the Word! Search the Scriptures! Ponder them! It’s ok to disagree with something said in a sermon, and it’s ok to disagree with something in the statement of faith governing teaching. We want to drive you to Scripture – if we do that, we’ve succeeded in our teaching, whether or not you in the end agree with us on the interpretation.

So rather than stifling debate, the longer statement of faith brings these truths to the forefront where they can be discussed. We’re by no means saying through this statement, “Never talk about alternative understandings of Scripture.” Comparing Scripture to Scripture, we’re trying to build up from Scripture what it says about God, about man, about the plan of redemption. Some of our conclusions are widely debated in the evangelical church – and we welcome such debates among us , when together we search the Scriptures to see what is true.

How then do we see this longer statement of faith functioning in the life of the church?

Authoritative teaching at DGCC – that is, speaking without discussion – is to be done in accord with the statement. That includes preaching, and other occasions in which Scriptures are opened up without discussion. But in small groups and in Sunday School classes where there is considerable discussion, we welcome alternate understanding of passages when these discussions are aimed at honestly trying to discern what Scripture says. Indeed, as young men neither Pastor Fred nor I agreed with a number of the doctrinal positions of our longer statement of faith; we came to believe these doctrines through searching the Scriptures ourselves, and through teachers who helped us search the Scriptures. We believe that all the doctrines in our longer statement of faith stand up to scrutiny – but we want you to search the Scriptures, and not necessarily take these positions because we do.  And so we welcome, and never want to stifle, discussion.

Furthermore, I know that some positions I hold are wrong. I don’t know which ones (or I would change them!). The Lord will show me at an appropriate time – perhaps on the Last Day, or perhaps by one of you convincing me from Scripture that I am wrong. So – once again – we welcome discussion.

So, people of Desiring God Church: Be faithful Bereans. Search the Scriptures. Know the Scriptures. And spur one another on to know them better.

(An earlier form of this article served as the devotion at the August 14 members meeting.)

Manasseh, Trump, and Clinton

August 4, 2016

Which king of Israel or Judah had the longest reign?

Not David. Not Solomon. Neither Jehoshaphat nor Hezekiah.

The longest reigning king was Manasseh. He reigned for 55 years – the equivalent of 1961 until today. And yet he was a wicked, evil king:

Because Manasseh king of Judah has committed these abominations and has done things more evil than all that the Amorites did, who were before him, and has made Judah also to sin with his idols, therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: . . .  I will wipe Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down. And I will forsake the remnant of my heritage and give them into the hand of their enemies (from 2 Kings 21:11-14).

Why did God leave His people for such a long time under the authority of a bad man – such a bad man that, according to Jewish tradition, he had the prophet Isaiah sawn in two? Why did the people have to suffer? Why did God subject His people to injustice, to being led even further astray from Him?

The passage tells us. It is not only Manasseh who is evil. The people also are guilty. The king influences them, but they are responsible for “sin with his idols.” And so they must bear with an evil king for all these decades.

And make no mistake: God is the one who allows Manasseh to remain in power. For “the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will” (Daniel 4:17, 25, 32).

God’s final judgment is yet to come, but is fully determined: He will send His people into exile. He will use the Babylonians to destroy the very temple dedicated to His Name. As 2 Kings 21 makes clear, Manasseh’s sins, and the sins of the people under him, lead to this horrible judgment of God (see especially Lamentations 2 for a description of some of the horrors).

But the judgment of God does not fall during Manasseh’s reign, nor during the reign of evil Amon, his son, nor during the reign of good Josiah, Manasseh’s grandson. Why the delay?

Perhaps in part because in his old age, near the end of his reign, Manasseh repents:

[The Assyrians] captured Manasseh with hooks and bound him with chains of bronze and brought him to Babylon.   And when he was in distress, he entreated the favor of the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers.  He prayed to him, and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD was God.   (2 Chronicles 33:11-13)

As the Apostle Paul states in another context: “Note then the kindness and the severity of God” (Romans 11:22). Kindness and mercy toward one of the most evil of all the Judean kings; severity toward the rebellious people; kindness and mercy to their descendants, in bringing them back from exile.

We can continue the thought: Kindness and mercy to all those today from every tribe and tongue and nation who repent, who turn, who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and are saved; severity to those from every tribe and tongue and nation who continue in rebellion, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18), who reject their rightful King and only possible Savior.

Like the people of Judah, we the people of the United States do not deserve even a modicum of God’s mercy, and so we do not deserve an honest, good, principled leader of our government. At this point, it certainly does not look like we will get one this year. But if God could bring Manasseh to repentance, He can bring to repentance any American president; if God could destroy His own temple and bring down the kingdom called by His Name, He can bring down in judgment the United States of America; and if God could restore His people, showing mercy that they did not deserve, and raise up from a descendant of this very Manasseh the Savior of the world, then God can bring a sinful and rebellious nation today to repentance, and use it for His good and wise purposes to bring about the final culmination of His great  plan.

Father, in Your mercy, would you would grant such repentance?