Complimentary Sanctification

Today I would like to make the case that sanctification, the process of growing and maturing into Christ-likeness, is most fruitful when the efforts of the public and the personal are complimentary. The need for 2 different approaches in these settings is due to pacing, and I’ll flesh that out below. In Scripture, we find the public services of the church described in the pastoral epistles where we are told how to conduct ourselves in the house of God, while the personal is emphasized in the “one anothers” of NT Church life.

First, we need to establish progressive sanctification as the norm for the Christian experience. This in itself is somewhat counter-cultural even within the broader evangelical culture. We preach the gospel to a world impacted by consumerism, emotivism, and the gospel of the therapeutic. Into that culture we preach a gospel whose fruit is the mortification of sin, the crucifixion of the self, and the humbling of the individual for the sake of the glory of God and love of others. In other words, everything about the gospel is counter-intuitive to a race of people who love themselves more than anything and to a generation that has created a world in which that self-love is lauded instead of critiqued. Nevertheless, this is the task of the Church: to make disciples.

Secondly, we need to understand that growing in Christ-likeness really is a process which, while involving various crisis moments, requires time. After investing an afternoon and some money into reseeding my lawn, I have daily scoured the ground for signs of new growth. My initial impatience at the speed of growth is slowly giving way to the satisfaction of seeing the blades emerging. It just took more time than I wanted. Growing up into the fullness of the stature of Christ takes more time than we would like, both in ourselves and in others. It often involves more effort than we would have anticipated and costs more than we budgeted for.

Let’s not pretend that our culture is more wicked and vile than, say, the first century Roman culture from which many Gentile believers were saved. However, the present culture has shaped people in such a way that discipleship seems to take a little longer than the culture of 50 years ago. Here are a couple of examples.

It’s a common joke among my tribe that “back in the day”, when you got saved that on your way out of the baptistry you were handed a Sunday School book and told to be at church the next week at 9:30 because you would be teaching the 3rd grade class. I have met multiple folks (in their later years) who told this story. It’s hard to imagine that happening today. Faithful church attendance continues to decline, and what would have been considered poor attendance fifty years ago is now considered faithful. This makes discipleship challenging.

Another example would be the attitude of the culture towards truth versus feelings. The battle over free speech vs hate speech is really a clash between a world-view that values truth and a world-view that values feelings. Feeling oriented people (which we all are to some extent, but is certainly more pronounced today than in the past) struggle with being told to do something that is unpleasant or to give up something that is loved. Preaching against sin is now considered hate speech by many.

We are called to make disciples of those who are influenced by a culture that appears to be further removed from virtue and truth than the culture of fifty years ago. But we are not to despair: the Cretans were liars, evil, lazy, and gluttons, and out of that group the gospel was going to yield such fruit that they would have their own elders in the church. I want to make the case that we are aided in our efforts by having both a public effort and a personal effort.

The Public Effort

The public effort is the weekly gathering of God’s people. It would be a terrible mistake to accommodate the structure and tone of this meeting to the culture. This refusal is in itself jarring because the demand of the culture is that everything accommodate itself to the happiness of the individual. The weekly gathering of the Church should be the most counter-cultural experience of the week, challenging the individual at a variety of levels.

Consider how little time is allotted in most worship services for prayer or for Scripture reading. Is this not a capitulation to the demand to be entertained and excited? Consider how carefully texts are trimmed and rephrased and even ignored so as not to offend the tender sensibilities of the listeners. Is this not an obeisance to the feelings of those listening? The public service should shape the people in order to please God, rather than letting the people shape the public service to please themselves.

I am not saying that church services should be intentionally boring, but they should definitely leave unsatisfied the fleshly desire to be coddled. The Word must come from God and go forth to form the people. If ever the demands of the people form the word, it will cease to be a Word from God. The passion that fills the church must be a Spirit driven passion to know God through His Word and rejoice in the Son, who brings us to God. And since these are Spirit given desires, they will not be present in the unconverted.

Those who have been conformed to the spirit of the age should find the public service of the church challenging. It should challenge our desire to be the center of attention. It should challenge our idolatry of self, pleasure, and all of our many fe-e-e-elings. It should challenge our conceit that our opinion matters. The public service of the church is a foretaste of maturity. It is a display of the Godward life. It is a manifestation of the community of Christ that has taken up its cross to follow Jesus. It is a weekly foretaste of the finish line. And as such, it will be too much for many to handle.

The Personal Effort

Which is why personal effort is so important. By personal I mean the one to one (or small group) discipling, parenting, mentoring, and various other one-another acts of the community of Christ that happen between the public services. It is essential that the public service of the church relentlessly set the bar high and proclaim without apology the offensive gospel of Jesus. But in between those public services, it is of immense service to engage individuals on a personal level.

One way that personal effort is useful is that it can rejoice in the incremental. When I preach from the pulpit, it is my job to preach the ideal, who is Christ. In doing so, I endeavor to preach above my own sanctification. But when I engage with folks on a personal level, it is easier to drill down into the specifics of life and find the next step rather than focus on the finish line.

Another way that personal ministry is necessary is that it can engage in dialogue and debate. Sermons have a heraldic quality that is diminished by interruption and dialogue (although an appropriate place may be found for these at other times). The text is read and expounded and then the hearers are exhorted. The personal allows for questions, clarifications, explorations of applications, challenges, and other types of dialogue which is useful to learning. A sermon moves on whether the listener understands, but at a personal level the pace of instruction can be modified.

Another way that personal ministry is useful is by communicating that truth is being spoken in love. By investing time and energy into individuals, we are automatically communicating something of our love for them. The conversations we have in personal settings tend to make our care and concern for others more obvious than a public sermon can. It also forms a natural kind of accountability.


The disclaimer to all of this is that taken woodenly, we could clearly find exceptions in these points. Sometimes public sermons do communicate love and encourage incremental change. Sometimes personal conversations come across as unloving and harsh. But I think there is enough general distinction to be helpful.

In my mind, this is a matter of pace. Disciples need both a finish line to which they can aspire as well as “in the moment” instruction. Public services set the pace of the entire community, but at various times and in various ways individuals will need help keeping that pace. Without that personal help, they will being to feel out of sync with the rest of the body and a sense of distance will set in. This may be chalked up to personal failure leading to guilt, or it may result in a judgmental spirit and anger towards the rest of the body. In either case the result is that the platoon loses a soldier. Without the public services, the body lacks direction. Without personal attention, the individuals lack the care they need to remain healthy in the body. This is the complimentary nature of the public and the personal aspects of discipleship.


It is everything that Youtube Premium is not. Namely, it is not digital. Everything about my favorite Christmas present is finite. There is romance in the 22 minutes per side restriction of a 33 that cannot compare to the endless supply of music stored up in well cooled server stations, waiting to be called upon to deliver an un-curtailed buffet of entertainment. Music that lives in “the cloud” is as close as your phone, yet aloof as the moon. It is everywhere, but it is also nowhere.

Photo by Anton H on

Vinyl is tactile. It is geographic. It is bound to a place where a disc of plastic meets an unwieldy turntable. It is everything that the younger siblings of the I-phone cannot understand and yet, as a human, instinctively long for. It is the joy of a child who finds greater delight in the meshed gears of a pocket watch than in the magic of numeric pixels on a screen.

An undeniable shiver of delight accompanies the drop of the needle into the grooves of the record. Yes, even a feeling of conquest if the finger of man has moved the needle to drop precisely at a sharper chasm marking the beginning of a different track. Or perhaps the needle will descend down the outer rim, spitting and crackling like a man tumbling down an embankment into some new terrain.

Digital music comes to us sterilized, as if it has been prepped for surgery. Like a thief who is careful to leave no evidence of his presence behind. Vinyl comes to us touched, bent, handled, loved, discarded, and discovered, much like people. The warp of the material knocks the orbit slightly off balance, resulting in a subtle vertical rise and drop like a wave. Does the Creator feel this satisfaction when He gazes at the eccentricity of the earth’s orbit as it changes every one hundred thousand years? Occam’s Razor is for problems, not for pleasure.

It is the limitation of the tactile that enthralls. Our digital age demands the abolition of all boundaries, which means that our digital age demands the abolition of Man. As our digital footprints extend perpetually, we leave no paths for others to follow. As we reach to touch foreign frontiers, we lose our grasp on our families, our friends, and our neighbors. No painting may truly be admired if the canvas is infinite. No song appreciated if it goes on forever. Endless choice has only led to endless anxiety. And boredom. Only boring people are bored.

The re-discovery of vinyl is the epiphany that we are embodied. An epiphany that has been subsumed by suffering, disease, war, mortality, and frustration. To live free of our embodiment is the longed for Utopia of a race held captive to death and deprivation. Like all man-made Utopia’s, the price is often humanity itself. We may live forever in splendor if we are willing to surrender that which makes us human.

This dilemma can only be resolved by the infinite becoming finite. Love, joy, peace, and glory must be Incarnate before they can be appreciated. The vastness of God would drive us mad while His absence would render us meaningless. The hands that scoop out the oceans and fling the stars into dancing galaxies must be riven with nails before we can appreciate them. The Mind behind the cosmos must speak in parables, aphorisms, hyperbole, and sermonic melody before we can hear Him. Love must bleed before we can comprehend it. Touch it. Embrace it.

I could go on, but my time is up.

2 Hats the Pastor Must Not Wear

Over the last couple of years as ministry has changed for many churches, I find myself occasionally talking to a friend or colleague who left pastoral ministry and has found himself looking for employment in the secular world. Job interviews inevitably get around to asking about employment history, experience, and skill sets. How does a man who has pastored for twenty years explain his experience and skill set? In secular terms, he has played the role of CEO, CFO, HR, Facility Supervisor, Complaint Department, Office Manager, and “Environmental Service Technician”. In other words, the pastor wears a lot of hats.

Apart from larger churches where roles are carefully defined, most pastors are comfortable being flexible in their responsibilities and responding to needs as they arise. Despite this necessity, wise pastors define themselves by their spiritual role in the church. They see themselves as shepherds of the flock, as heralds of the gospel, as teachers of the eternal truth of God, and as evangelists. While the pastor may every once in a while have to don his accountant visor, or his “van is broke down again” overalls, or his “time to get the plunger out” gloves, he knows these are secondary responsibilities.

The pastor’s perception of his role in the church is foundational to the execution of his responsibilities before the Lord. Some pastors get their priorities mixed up. Some pastors lose sight of their calling. But in twenty years of pastoral ministry, I have learned there are 2 hats that I must never don. There are two ways that I am tempted to view myself that are simply devastating to my effectiveness as a minister of God.

The Martyr’s Halo

The martyr’s halo is what I like to wear when I feel like no one loves God quite as much as I do, or no one sacrifices quite as much as I sacrifice, or no one appreciates sufficiently the level of service that they receive from my hand. Just writing those words is shameful because they are all thoughts that I have entertained over the years. Is there anything more self righteous than putting on the face of one who is bravely enduring the stripes of ministry simply for the sake of drawing more attention to one’s own deeds? Flow those phylacteries. Trumpet those tears. Drop the silver coins of your service from far above the offering plate so they might ring louder when they land.

There are certainly martyrs in Christianity, but legitimate martyrs are joyful. They gladly watch their property plundered and they sing praises in the prison cell and they count it a blessing to be able to suffer as their Lord suffered. But you, dear pastor, who labored hard over your message only to receive not one compliment, are not a martyr. Refuse to be one. Especially when the the devil whispers those delicious morsels in your ear, “If they only knew how much you did for the Lord…”

The Hero’s Hood

Conversely, the pastor must also never think that he is the hero of the story. Perhaps yours is not the ministry of martyrdom, but the ministry of a grateful and growing people who receive the Word with gladness and constantly express appreciation for the blessing you are. How tempting it is to see yourself as the hero of the story! The pastor is uniquely positioned to be present when God works wonders and is often the very instrument for good in God’s hand. Being an instrument is not to be confused with being the One who wields it.

Perhaps the tempting thought for this tendency sounds something like, “You could be the one to turn this around!” or “Think about the opportunities you’ll have when everyone sees what you did with this ministry!” Rushing back into my mind are all those introductions for speakers at Bible College that went like, “When Pastor Awesome first came to Lowly Baptist Church, they were meeting in a cardboard box on the fire escape of a condemned building, but after fifteen years they are now running six hundred, have a 12-acre facility built on top of a gold mine, and have changed the name to Synergy!” I joke, of course. But from Bible Colleges to book publishing to tweet counting to conference speakers, it’s easy for our hearts to get caught up in becoming a hero instead of pointing to the Hero.

Hang Up Your Hat

The solution for both false identities is to make sure that our service for the Lord never exceeds our gratitude to the Lord. The sobriquet of hero or martyr quickly fades when we live in awe of the grace that we have received. When your evaluation of what you do for the Lord exceeds your understanding of what God has done for you in Christ, you are nearing the tempter’s snare. So the next time you find yourself marching with plunger in hand to the rescue of the plumbing pipes, sigh not for the tragedy of your life. The next time a thankful believer testifies of how your sermon changed her life, puff not up with pride but instead, remind yourself that God once used an ass to speak, a rock to water a nation, birds to feed a prophet, and blood to wash away the sins of even the proudest sinner.

In Which Baloo Explains the Importance of Ontology

It was probably 1991 and one of my refuges during a year back in my birth country was American cartoons; cartoons like Talespin. In a way I envy my children who at ages 8 and below are able to navigate multiple streaming services to find the show they want. At age 11, I felt like the manager of television programming was a capricious god who delighted in thwarting my viewing desires, so it was a heady feeling of Herculean conquest when I managed to locate a show I wanted to watch.

It was Baloo who taught me the priority of Ontology over Epistemology, but I wouldn’t have known those terms at the time. The plot of the episode (Sheepskin Run, episode 51) was that Baloo needed to go back and get his grade school diploma so that he could attend his class reunion and see his buddies. After failing the final exam by one question, he realizes that he has been marked wrong regarding whether or not certain flora grew in the mountains. Baloo realizes that he has physically seen this species growing in the mountains and so he takes his professor on a death defying airplane ride to show him an actual plant growing where the professor though it could not, and in light of this reality the professor corrects the test and Baloo earns his degree.

This is the old way of thinking. This is science as I understand. This is biblical. The world and everything in it have a nature and our job is to discover and nurture that nature so that it might be fruitful. The sacred writings call this “dominion”. There is a reality which was spoken into existence by God; it is the endeavor of man to search out that reality and better understand it, though his understanding will be limited and, thanks to sin, twisted.

It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter.

Proverbs 25:2

What modern man seems to want is the opposite. Man wants to invent in his mind and then force the world to conform. In the Renaissance this was called magic, and in the 21st century it is called science. My suspicion is that this is what is behind the drive towards a “virtual existence”, where there are no limits at all. Modern man cannot give an answer in words to the most basic questions that our ancestors knew in their souls because modern man refuses to acknowledge that we were created with a nature that, while flexible, is nevertheless fixed. If this episode of Tailspin were to be written today, I wonder if the professor would rather deny reality rather than change his mind.

For the wise men of old, the cardinal problem of human life was how to conform the soul to objective reality, and the solution was wisdom, self-discipline, and virtue. For the modern, the cardinal problem is how to conform reality to the wishes of man, and the solution is a technique.

CS Lewis, the Abolition of Man

Perhaps our refusal to accept that created things have a nature also lies at the heart of our failure to exercise dominion: we break the world around us, and ourselves, because we attempt to impose upon it that which its shoulders are unable to bear. If man exists to serve God and care for His creation, then it follows that abandoning this grand purpose will result in frustration, anger, bitterness, and anxiety. The childlike joy of discovery is largely missing today, even from the world of science, where discovery and laughter have been divorced.

The veneer of intellectual plausibility for all of this is provided by evolution, in which anything can turn into anything given enough time. If what we see now used to be something else, then modern man can feel confident that given enough time and effort, he can turn it into something else completely in the future. In the hands of modern man, dominion looks cruel and without compassion: the created world is his slave to be disposed of at his will. Our physical bodies are sacrificed upon the altar of our will.

The world we live in is organic but also established. Mankind will always be mankind, even if he enters the Metaverse. Men will always be men and women will always be women, regardless of surgeries and hormone blockers. Individuals and even entire generations may get drunk on the wine of some new philosophy and seek out marriages of 3 or 4, but like a rubber band that can only stretch so far, society will return back to the beautiful number of 2. Let all who rage at the heavens despair in this, and let all who bow to heaven’s will rejoice.

A Year Later

It was a year ago that we went in for our first specialist visit to discover the extent of our unborn daughter’s heart condition. Katie was somewhere around 21 weeks and we had just celebrated Christmas. We laid our little girl to rest on March 19, and two weeks ago we were finally able to get her monument set. Here are a few haphazard but sincere thoughts regarding the last year.

We still love the little girl God gave us. We have no memories with her to treasure, no pictures outside of ultrasounds and echocardiograms save the ones taken at the hospital after she was delivered. So it is just raw love anchored in a future hope. We talk about her in heaven and the kids bring her up all the time. It’s amazing to me how real she is to them, even though they never got to meet her. But if Penny were our only child, I would still consider myself a father for the love I have for her.

The Lord alone is a refuge for the day of calamity. Truth led us and Compassion kept us. We were never outside the love and power of our God for a second, so even in that terrible tomb of a hospital room we were safe. Money could not have sustained us. Friends could not have kept us. Only a God who Himself had conquered the sting of death was enough.

Suffering is everywhere. We know so many who this year have lost children through miscarriages. We know so many who have suffered in other ways that are foreign to us. None of us can plant our flag on the island of suffering and claim it for our own. We all live in this sin cursed world and the lie of unique suffering makes fools of those who believe it.

Loss is debilitating. After Penny passed, writing was hard. It had been my- our- way of processing our emotions and sharing our burden with our friends and family. But then it just became hard to write. Or preach. Or go to work. Nothing seemed worth writing about after Penny.

Parents never give up hope. Whether addictions or relationships or health, a parent is usually the last one to give up. We talked to so many doctors and cardiologists and specialists and almost all of them (there was one exception I can think of) tried to convince us that Penny would pass away. And we tried to convince them that she wouldn’t. Does it matter that they were right? Not a bit. I appreciate that they wanted us to be emotionally prepared for her passing, but we wanted them to be medically prepared for her survival. It’s a parent’s job to believe all things, because that’s what love does.

Continuing to live life is not a betrayal of the dead. Laughing at a joke is not a sin. Enjoying a good meal is not a transgression. Playing with my other children is not evil. The people around us do not have to apologize for celebrating births and birthdays. We cannot hold the world hostage to our grief.

The wise build their house to withstand storms. I’ve been very thankful over the last year for our marriage, which has been a source of comfort instead of anxiety. It would have been difficult to repair a relationship while walking through this valley. Deal with problems early and don’t let anything come between you. If you wait to repair your ship until the storm is lashing the harbor it is going to be much harder. Not impossible, but harder.

Everything I learned in Sunday School is true. Well, maybe not quite everything, but the parts that came from the Bible were all true. God is faithful. Trust in the Lord with all your might. Jesus saves. I know it’s a season of society where many are abandoning the faith, but I cannot fathom what they are abandoning it for. “The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.” (Ps 12:6). God has been faithful and true to His Word.

So here we are, a year later, perched on the edge of the calendar year. The same and yet different. Grieving and yet joyful. Tired but ready for the next thing. And thankful for all your prayers, all your comfort, and all of your love.

Bring Back the Weddings / Bring Back the Funerals

According to The Knot’s 2019 survey of the wedding industry, only 22% of couples held their wedding at a church (religious institution). This is the same percentage as 2016, suggesting that only about 1 out of every 5 weddings are held at a church. Perhaps we should not be surprised as many in the “marrying age” (the average age of a person getting married in 2019 was 32) are no longer as invested in religion in general. Nevertheless, my anecdotal evidence is that faithful believers are more often opting to take their vows at venues or destinations. While I have not found (nor – to be honest -dug real deep) into the percentage of funerals that are held at churches, I assume it is potentially even lower than weddings.

blue and white wooden church during daytime

So my plea is for Christians to bring weddings and funerals back to the church. For those who know me, this may seem hypocritical since I had a destination wedding. Fair enough. Nevertheless, I’m still going to make the case. I am aware that a church is a people, and not a building. I am also aware that there is no biblical mandate for what I am proposing, so it falls into the category of wisdom and sentiment, both of which should be biblically informed.

Fighting Cultural Marginalization

We are living in an age when Christianity has been privatized. This is to say that it is only deemed acceptable in uber-private aspects of life. Liberal/progressive types have managed to convince a large portion of the population that separation of church and state – a phrase that does not actually appear in our constitution – is designed to keep God out of every aspect of public life, when in reality the Establishment Clause was probably designed to keep the government from interfering with the church. Add to this the hyper-atomization of society to the level of the individual and you all of a sudden have a culture that intentionally sidelines the role of the Church in society.

Nevertheless, marriage and death are trans-cultural realities of life that even the government has a hard time denying. They are also subjects over which the Church is uniquely authoritative. Marriage is depicted in the first two chapters of Genesis while death makes its appearance in chapter three. Marriage was instituted by God and thus, God is the unique authority over it. Death is God’s curse upon man for sin, and the final act of a soul before he must face God in judgement. Nevertheless, death has been defeated by Christ and therefore is not meaningless nor hopeless.

As we observe these definitive moments among ourselves, it makes sense to center them around that which is authoritative over them. It reminds us that modern, secular man cannot escape our Creator. It serves to remind those who may deny the Creator that they are made in His image. While it would take a series of outlandish exegetical maneuvers to declare it a sin to get married by a justice of the peace at a local courthouse (and no doubt many believers have done so for good reasons), it certainly paints a different picture than a wedding at one’s local church.

Contextualizing our Celebrations

This one became more noticeable to me at a recent funeral, but I think it applies to weddings as well. The only thing that takes place at funeral homes is funerals. Nobody rents the place out to have a baby shower. The whole place is set up for this one specific purpose, from the casket sales gallery to the family grieving room. But when you have a funeral at your local church building, you’ll be back in a few days for something that isn’t a funeral. You’ll be having a Bible study in the same room where you sat with your grieving family. You’ll be singing praises to your Savior in the same sanctuary where you committed the body of a loved one to the Lord. And I think there is something very healthy in this. It is good to remember that in the same place where tears are shed, marriages will be sealed with a kiss. Where man and woman are declared to be husband and wife, precious saints will be sent into the realm where marriage blossoms into something even greater.

Death and marriage both have a strong center of gravity. It is easy to get lost in their orbit. There is nothing wrong with new love and there is nothing wrong with grief, but both can become idols to which we bow. They need to be set in the context of a greater body of truth. Grief can be tempered with joy and marital tunnel vision can be enlarged and enriched.


Another reason I would encourage the return to church for weddings and funerals is to provide an easy way for fellow believers to follow the biblical admonition to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. This attitude of sharing in the joys and pains of one another does not have to be limited to a specific day, but can happen across seasons of life within the context of a local church. Again, it is perfectly possible for this to happen regardless of where the specific events take place, but there is something bonding about these events taking place within a shared space. It allows others a natural entry point into our joys and struggles. To be standing in the place where we stood when it happened makes mutuality natural.

Personal Preferences and Practical Considerations

Of course, there are practical considerations regarding family locations, number of attendees, appropriateness of church property (ie are you meeting in a local mechanic shop? Actually, that could be kinda cool…) that will always come into play. Additionally, there may be financial considerations that may affect the decision making. So file all of this under wisdom and sentiment.

A few years ago I had to bury a young man. He was pretty important to me as I had picked him up for Sunday School when he was a boy, led him to the Lord, and counseled him through various phases of life. Coming from an un-churched background and having gone through various struggles in life, his funeral – held at our church – was well attended by people that you would not normally see at church. As I conducted that service, I couldn’t help but think how different it was to invite these grieving friends and family here, to this place, where their loved one had heard the gospel and found grace and acceptance, than it would have been to go to a funeral home. Regardless of whether or not any of those folks come back (and some have!), it encourages my heart to know that when they drive by, they will remember that those who meet in that building every week loved their loved one.

I will simply conclude that my years of pastoral ministry lead me to say that when I die, I would like my funeral to happen in a church, where the gospel of Jesus Christ will be preached the following Sunday. When my children marry, I would like – circumstances permitting – to see it witnessed by the congregation among whom they were raised. Let’s bring back the weddings. Let’s bring back the funerals.

Why Are Elders Held to A Higher Standard?

There are two issues that make this a pertinent question to ask: 1) the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer, and 2) the egalitarianism of our culture. The priesthood of the believer states that all believers share a priestly status so that no mediator outside of Christ is necessary. The protestant Reformation broke from the medieval church with its practice of class distinctions to eradicate the chasm between laity and clergy. The result was an emphasis on ministering among the people as opposed to above the people. I hold to this doctrine as true and biblical.

black and brown sheep close-up photography

The issue of egalitarianism is more cultural, more complicated, and much more dangerous. Egalitarianism is based on the concept of equality and has manifested in various ways throughout church history. Modern egalitarians, for example, do away with any requirements for church leaders to be men, promoting the view that men and women are equal. At times, egalitarianism also reigned in some sects of Christianity where there was no “leader”, but all were considered equal. This was the theology of the Quakers. Egalitarianism is complicated (but really not that complicated) because it is true that in Christ, there is no male or female, Jew or Gentile, bond or free. But this describes our fundamental relationship to God, not our function within the world God made nor within the Church God is building. There is little doubt in my mind that the modern church’s confusion over this issue is largely a result of cultural pressure, not a result of biblical clarity.

Scripture teaches that, although all believers have direct access to God and all believers share in the inheritance of Christ, the Church is a place of structure and hierarchy. “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves” (Hebrews 13:17) is an explicit declaration of this, but the concept is found throughout the New Testament. The roles/positions that God has established within the church are Pastor/Elder/Bishop (all the same thing) and Deacon. In light of the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer, why are elders held to a higher standard? Below are several reasons why, in light of the responsibility borne by elders, they must be held to a higher standard.

Those Who Represent must Reflect

Within the church all are to be growing in Christ-likeness, but not all have the same starting point, the same circumstances, or the same attributes. Saul of Tarsus came to faith with a great amount of education, zeal, and sincerity. His conversion led to a quick promotion within the church. But some come to Christ through other paths that do not lend themselves as quickly to attaining a position of leadership. Everyone is to grow, but everyone has a different starting point and pace. I think even those outside the church understand this and can appreciate the efforts a church makes to welcome those being redeemed from the effects of life altering sins – whether their own or the sins of others. But that same grace that an outsider might show to an individual within the church will not be shown to the pastor of the church. The pastor ought to know better.

1Ti 3:7  "Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. "   

To those who are outside the church, the pastor is the one who should most embody the character of Christ. In other words, the pastor is the one held responsible for reflecting Christ to the community, therefore the pastor/elder must be held to a higher standard.

Those Who Protect must be Strong

One of the functions of the elders is to

Act 20:28  Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. 
Act 20:29  For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. 
Act 20:30  Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. 
Act 20:31  Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears. 

The responsibility to guard the flock against false teachers is a serious business that requires strength. The elder has to know the Word well enough to spot false teaching, and judging by the content of many Christian best-sellers this is a rare quality. The elder must also not be afraid to confront, ask difficult questions, and make difficult decisions. The distinction between a worthy pastor and an unworthy pastor is described in Scripture as the difference between a shepherd and a hireling. The shepherd risks all for the sake of the sheep, while the hireling runs when there is trouble.

Those Who Restore Must be Spiritual

In the course of ministry, the elder will have to restore a fellow believer who has been overwhelmed by sin. Scripture specifically calls those who are “spiritual” to this task, in contrast to the one who is carnal. The reason for this necessity is that when pulling someone out of a ditch, it is not helpful to get pulled into the ditch. But gravity tends to work that way.

Gal 6:1  Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. 

It takes a grounded individual to enter into the sinful circumstances of another and not be drawn himself into sin. It takes wisdom to address the various aspects of life that have been affected by personal sin. It takes persistent love to lead someone away from their sin and into the light. It takes patience to teach a saint that is overwhelmed how to bear their own burden.

Those Who Lead Must Be Ahead

In the New Testament, Paul the apostle presents an audacious challenge for the saints
“to be followers of me” (1 Corinthians 4:16, Philippians 3:17). As one who began pastoring at a young age, I have had the uncomfortable experience of knowing that certain of my flock (not all, mind you) were farther ahead in their sanctification than I. Of course, being farther ahead than I, they were often the most patient and kind.

It’s not a necessity that the pastor be the most spiritual person in the church, but it’s definitely a problem if he is not numbered among those who are. How can one teach what one does not know? How can one model behavior to which one has not attained? There is no such thing as leading from behind. The very qualifications of the elder require that he exhibit spiritual maturity.

The One Who Labors Must Give an Account

A surprising feature of God’s dealing with men is how frequently God leaves it up to them to take what He has bestowed and do something with it. He appears in brief and startling ways throughout redemptive history, and then seems to retreat to allow His followers to carry on the work. If a pastor does not teach well (apt to teach), then his congregation will not learn. Perhaps that’s a little too simplistic and stark, but it has all the advantage of being generally true. God expects His servants to do their jobs well so that the work of the Lord can be established. One day God will demand an account of your ministry, and those who built with wood, hay, and stubble will see their reward vanish while those who build with gold, silver, and precious jewels will see their work shine.


There persists the problem of a “super Christian” vs “normal Christian” dichotomy in the Church today, which is wrong and needs corrected. The normal Christian life is a life of growth into Christ-likeness, and those with the mentality of “sure, but he’s the pastor” are ignorant of their calling in Christ. We are all meant to grow up in Him. Nevertheless, the requirements for those called to exercise spiritual authority in the church limit such positions to the ones who exhibit spiritual maturity and the character necessary to perform the functions of eldership.

Resources for Laymen

A friend recently asked me to post some resources I would recommend for laymen in leadership position in the church. Essentially, those who are doing or assisting in the shepherding of the body but who also work full time and may not get the opportunity to “deep dive”, take seminary courses, etc… I thought it was not only a great question, but an excuse to write. Any excuse will suffice. The headings below represent a subject that is pertinent to those in these kinds of situations, and then underneath that is a suggestion or two of a book/resource that addresses that subject. Feel free to leave any of your own recommendations in the comments.

books on bookshelf


You may think this should go without saying, but the Bible should be your primary source for all that you do. I cannot tell you the number of conversations I have overheard where all sorts of authors were quoted, except the guys who wrote the Bible. When my dad was young, he worked for this pastor who read one entire gospel and the rest of the New Testament daily. Nothing beats knowing the Word. Nothing.


Your ministry will not rise above your worship of God. Furthermore, a right knowledge of God will cover a multitude of ministry errors. If you get God “right”, it’s a lot harder to mess everything else up. Conversely, a failure to properly understand the God you serve will result in a lot of pain and loss. So above all else, think rightly about God.

My first recommendation for this s Knowing God, by JI Packer. For a thorough and yet readable text on the nature and character of God, I don’t think anything else is its equal. Published in 1973, I doubt anyone would have predicted that a straightforward teaching of theology would become a best-seller. But it did, because nothing is more interesting than God. Along with the book, invest in the study guide and get a small group together to work through it.

My second recommendation is Michael Reeves’ Delighting in the Trinity. The tri-une nature of our God is what so often distinguishes Him from other fancies of mankind, and yet it is an often neglected doctrine. This short book is well worth spending some time reading.


If you are a leader in your church, you really need some kind of understanding of progressive sanctification, which may also fall under the name of discipleship, growth in Christ-likeness, etc… Whatever term you use, your job is to help people walk through life in such a way that they reflect Christ and become more like Him. Soon after my own conversion, I was given Watchman Nee’s The Life that Wins. While I have come to disagree with him in some key areas, I will always be grateful that this little book challenged me to seriously deal with sin in my life in such a way that Christ would be glorified.

One type of resource you might use is a book like How Does Sanctification Work, by David Powlison. David was a leader in the biblical counseling movement and had spent a lifetime listening and helping people. This books really shows the diverse ways that God uses to bring His children into conformity to the image of Christ.

But another type of book you might choose is a book that challenges you to be holy, and I can think of no better one than Jerry Bridge’s The Pursuit of Holiness. It’s been a while since I read this book, but just thinking about it makes me want to re-read it.

Ecclesiology / Practical Church Ministry

As someone who is leading in the church, it would behoove you to know more about the church. If you go to a Christian bookstore, you will find a huge section of books telling you how to “do church”. There are conferences dedicated to this type of thing. I think most of them are about as useless as a one legged man in a butt kicking contest.

One great resource for this type of thing is 9Marks. This organization exists to equip church leaders with a biblical vision for building the church. They have a quarterly journal with great articles, they have books, study guides, podcasts, and all that good jazz. No bad jazz there. Just the good stuff.

One other book I might mention is The Trellis and the Vine, from Matthias Media. I think Matthias puts out good stuff in general, but this may be (to date) their most impactful book from the standpoint of helping churches develop a biblical ministry mindset.


One of your responsibilities as a leader in the church will be to interact with visitors and unbelievers. You should be able to articulate the gospel and answer some basic objections that people might have. There are entire ministries dedicated to apologetics, but it isn’t necessary to become an expert on creationism or post-modernism or anything else. I would find a book that shows you how to present the gospel well. My advice for that is CS Lewis’s Mere Christianity. My favorite is Orthodoxy, by GK Chesterton, but Lewis is more accessible and the issues he addresses still pertinent today.

Church History

If I could teach a course at Bible College, I might request to teach this one. Since graduating from college, I have spent a lot of time education myself on the great characters of church history. As you study church history, you are studying theology, evangelism, God’s providence over time, etc… A good start is Bruce Shelley’s Church History in Plain Language.


Sometimes you just need fuel. I confess that I sometimes read just for enjoyment and never feel guilty about it. The believer is to fight with joy. I am fueled by various authors and genres, from theology by puritans (although this is rare) to satires by Doug WIlson to absolutely anything GK Chesterton ever wrote about anything. Sometimes biographies are what I crave. Other times I go back and read Tolkien for the 100th time. Find what fuels your heart and makes you love God more. If you pick something by Joel Olsteen…just get out of the ministry.


Here’s my advice: if you have a limited amount of time, don’t use it learning Greek (or Hebrew) unless you have some very significant interest. The odds are you will not learn it well enough to do any good with it. But that’s just my opinion.


There you have it, my friend. The only additional comment I would make is that I purchase the vast majority of my books on my Kindle, which saves a ton of money and space. The best place to find Kindle deals on Christian books is here, where a guy named Tim Challies collects deals every deal. For example, at the top of his list today is Knowing God. Sounds like Providence, to me.

I Love Your Body

On a warm Spring day, you laid a blanket on the grass and met me with a picnic basket on my lunch break. There, in front of our first house, you told me that we were expecting our first child. When summer had faded into Fall and and Fall had frozen over into winter, I joined the fraternity of fathers. We took our firstborn home in January. I had driven through blizzards in perfect equanimity, but now the bundled up product of our love in the backseat had transformed every potential patch of ice to a mortal peril in my mind and the twenty minutes home were the capstone on a mentally exhausting weekend. Our world of two had expanded, and I was learning to catch up.

Her birth happened so fast the doctor barely had time to get into the delivery room. I remember the intensity of the moment: thinking that I was going to have to deliver my baby if the doctor didn’t hurry up, looking down when it was over to see you looking up at me and saying, “I could do that again”. In short, you owned that delivery. I say all of that to make the point that as traumatic as that was on your body, it happened too quickly to notice. Fast forward a few months to Friday evening, May 9th. Some strange and intensifying pains had plagued you for a couple days. It was after 11PM, and I just knew your appendix was going to explode. We left our sleeping child in a crib and passed the emergency babysitting crew (aka Nana and Papa) at the end of the block. The ER was packed. Of course it was packed. They shoved us in a room somewhere in the back for seven hours.

A nurse thought a kidney stone. Apparently I don’t know where the appendix is located in the human body, so that was out. The ER doctor came in to tell us, “This is over my head.” What?!? “Then why are you an ER doctor?” I screamed in my mind. Medication wasn’t diminishing the pain, and after pushing a human being out of your body just months before sans drugs I knew you could handle pain. Meanwhile, an emergency trip to check on the daughter was required, and by the time I got back to the hospital words like “mass” had been thrown around, and we aren’t Catholic.

I remember them wheeling you back into surgery. It was a Saturday, so there was no one in the surgery waiting room. Just me and reruns on the TV. A friend stopped by to sit with me for a while and pray with me. Some time later, you were out of surgery. Out of danger. I still remember the name of the surgeon: John Williams. I forget the name of my own kids, but his name I remember. That was your first surgery. Your first scar. You spent your first Mother’s Day as a mom at the hospital, and your daughter and I came to visit. Seven years later, we’ve been back to that same hospital for two more surgeries and three more children. They should name a wing after you. Wait, forget that. Let’s see if they have a “free fifth kid” policy of some sort.

I think that most relationships in the modern West start with physical attraction. Or I should say that physical attraction is a significant part of it. It might be possible to push through a time of being physically un-attracted to someone and see if it developed, but most people would probably give up and move on to someone else. I think it would be fair to say that, towards the beginning of a relationship, most men love women for their bodies.

If this condition were to persist, the relationship is bound to fail because our bodies are destined to change. “Rejoice in the wife of your youth!” is the biblical admonition. But the wife of your youth becomes the wife of your middle age and then the wife of your old age. And if you love your wife for her body, then your love is bound to wane.

But something has happened over these eleven years of marriage. I do not love you for your body. I love your body for you.

I’m losing count of how many times I have held your hand as you laid in a hospital bed. You have laid down your body four times so that we could bring new life into this world. Your body has been the vehicle by which a thousand daily ministrations have taken place. How could I not love your body? It houses and expresses you, my beloved and my darling.

There is something juvenile about a married man who expends his mental energy lusting for youth, even if it is his wife’s youth. I do not say it is not understandable, but it is juvenile all the same. Such a man may ogle girls who could be his daughter’s age and probably has yoked himself to the bondage of pornography, where his appetites have gotten stuck like a needle on a tachometer than refuses to rise to its rightful level. I’m not sure which is the greater sin: the adultery that he commits in his heart, or the ingratitude that he shows to the woman in his bedroom who bears his name. If he could ever learn to love her, then her body would be lovely to him. But alas, he is too much a fool to realize that any sense of injustice at being limited to enjoying only one woman’s body should be vastly outweighed by the cosmic miracle that he does in fact, get to enjoy one woman’s body. His love for his wife’s body has never turned into a genuine love for her, and now he is impotent to love her body.

I write all of this in the great Christian tradition of incarnate love. Eros is our servant, not our master. If it is true that the highest call of marriage is to picture Christ and the Church, then I maintain that this principle is Christian down to its core. For does not our Lord love the Church that lays down its life for Him? Does he not treasure even more deeply those who suffer for His Name’s sake? Is not the body made more beautiful to Him in service? He treasures every scar, as does any husband who loves his wife. This theme, then, is not unique to the shrine of our love. This is the current in which all lovers swim. This is how Christian men feel about their wives through child bearing, age, chemo, mastectomies, surgeries, and untold other seasons of change.

So, wife of my youth, I do not fear your body changing. I do not worry that you will one day get grey hair. I am supremely unconcerned about wrinkles. Whatever signs of age come, you will have earned along this journey we have undertaken together. You are the most beautiful woman I know because you belong to me. This possessiveness is neither narrow nor wicked. “I am my Beloved’s, and my Beloved is mine.” (Song of Solomon 6:3) This is love. And all the sons of God said “Amen”.

The Omitted Ordinance

At the front of the sanctuary is a table made of wood and stained to a beautiful golden oak. On it are inscribed the words “This do in remembrance of me.” A pagan visiting the church might be forgiven for wondering what is to be done in remembrance of whom. Perhaps our pagan is a curious sort and decides to come back again the next week. And then the next. And yet again. How many times would he have to return before finding out what exactly this table is for?

Communion Table This Do In Remembrance of Me | Clergy Apparel - Church Robes

Baptists (like myself) are not sacramentalists. That is, we do not believe that some sort of saving grace is conferred upon the person who receives or performs a religious act, such as baptist or Communion. Nevertheless, we practice both of these rituals under the label of “ordinance”. While baptisms are celebrated, it has been my experience that communion is not. I’d like to suggest a couple of reasons why this is the omitted ordinance and then make a modest proposal.

We Don’t Value the Lord’s Table

There are many baptists who, judging by their actions, don’t seem to have much use for the Lord’s Table. In some churches it is only given as a sort of threat and everyone spends some time sweating over their sin before partaking. Often it is regulated to a quarterly or bi-annual occasion to which only members are summoned. Perhaps there is some residual fear left over from our Baptist forefathers that we will come across as Catholics if we observe it too frequently. But this fear is really misplaced because the table of the Lord is the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is His broken body and His blood shed for the remission of our sins. It points us away from ourselves and to the Lamb of God. It humbles our acts of self-righteousness before a supreme act of sincere righteousness.

Just because Communion is not salvific, it doesn’t follow that it is ineffective. We pray in church, knowing that our prayers cannot save us. We attend church, knowing that church attendance will not cleanse us from our sin. We worship in church knowing that even our anthems of praise must be washed in the blood of the Lamb before they can be presented to our Holy Father. Why shouldn’t the act of communion have a spiritual effect upon us? Can we not walk away from the Lord’s table strengthened, humbled, provoked to love the body, and satisfied with our Savior? I can tell you of times when I was revived at the table of the Lord and strengthened by the Bread of Life and do I feel guilty about that? Do I feel as though I have moved toward Catholicism or Lutheranism? I do not. I rejoice in my Savior.

Christ left us this act for our good. Let us use it for our good and for His glory.

We Don’t Have a Good Ecclesiology

My Ecclesiology class in Bible college was a bit of a mishmash of the Purpose Driven Church and some guided conversation. But that’s par for the course in an evangelical culture that is saturated in consumerism and a sense of individual autonomy, not to mention the constant propaganda that success can be measured in numbers, platforms, book deals, and re-tweets. In such an environment, we have forgotten that the local church is not a club to which you pay dues until you no longer feel like doing so. You don’t pay dues because Christ has paid for you. You are bought with a price and now you belong to Jesus. And the world knows who belongs to Jesus because those who belong gather under spiritual leadership to be instructed in the Word, minister to one another, and properly use the gifts of baptism and communion in their local assemblies.

The Lord’s table is at the center of where we gather. Not the beautifully adorned piece of furniture: the Lord’s table is the broken body we eat and the blood of the New Covenant we drink. And as you eat and drink in the presence of those with whom you are living as the community of Christ, you look around and see others who also have been purchased by Christ. It is there that we welcome the sheep for whom the Lamb died and we shepherd them at the table. Guarding the table is a genuine function (as demonstrated in 1 Corinthians 5) of the eldership of the church, but we are not guarding the table from the imperfect, or the struggling, or the faint of heart. These are the ones who most need to find themselves back at the foot of the cross where love and mercy meet, and where righteousness and justice kiss. It is only the intentionally rebellious who trample underfoot the blood of the new covenant that are to be censored.

As I interpret the Scriptures, I find that the most consistent way to observe communion is by limiting it to the membership of my own congregation. Else, how do we fence the table? As it relates to the local church, those who have gathered on the Lord’s Day consist of your own membership, those visiting who belong to another congregation, those who do not belong to any congregation, and those who are unbelievers. As you invite your congregation to the table of the Lord, some may feel excluded. And I would say that this is not a bad thing. Those who are visiting from another congregation should be provoked to remember their own assembly and desire to return to the care of their spiritual shepherds and the various members of their body with whom they have covenanted together. Those without a church home should be reminded that the normal position of a believe is in the body and they should actively seeking such a body. If they are unbelievers, they should see the beauty of the gospel displayed and be convicted to come and belong.

My Story

When I became the pastor, our church did not have a preferred method of observing Communion. It’s been a few years, but I remember trying to observe Communion before business meetings, at Christmas, Easter, and New Years, and maybe some other times. It was pretty haphazard. I’m sure there were times when went months without observing Communion. It was rare enough that I’m sure we had members who had not been to the Lord’s Table in over a year. So while we had a true membership in the sense that all members attended at least on Sunday morning regularly and all had testimonies of salvation and all were receiving pastoral care, we were not regularly gathering around the Lord’s Table.

One summer month, I announced that we would observe Communion every Sunday night in our service and I would preach about belonging to the body of Christ. Still, not every member attended – some for legitimate reasons and others because they just didn’t make the effort. So I decided that if Sunday morning was when all of our membership was most likely to be present, then we would start observing Communion on Sunday morning.

We started with open communion. We announced that all genuine believers in Christ were welcome. “After all,” I reasoned, “who am I to keep a child of God away from the table?” Not only that, but I had been blessed to observe Communion with believers in Scotland, Japan, and Mexico, so it seemed hypocritical to limit its observance. But I quickly noticed that these instructions were so broad that they caused confusion. Many Americans think they are genuine believers just because they are Americans. So were left with this quandary of risking offending people by limiting the observance of Communion to members during a public worship service. After contemplation, we decided that was the right risk to take.

So here’s how we do it. We observe Communion on the first Sunday morning of every month. Early in the service we make an announcement that goes something like this, “Thank you for worshiping the Lord with us this morning. It is our practice for the membership of our church to observe Communion on the first Sunday morning of every month. If you do not have a church home, we would love to talk with you about becoming a member here. If you are not a believer or are not sure what it means to be a believer, we hope you will come talk to us after the service about any questions you have.” At that point, I give a short Communion meditation and then we distribute the elements to our membership. This is followed by a hymn that points us to the gospel (we probably sing the Getty’s Commuion Hymn quartlery).

I understand that this can be a bit of an emotionally jarring experience in a world that prides itself on inclusivity. It is not our goal to make people who may already feel uncomfortable in church feel even more uncomfortable. We try to mitigate some of those feelings by observing Communion early in the service, allowing people to “settle down” emotionally. And it is true that we have gotten feedback that not being allowed at the table of the Lord bothered them. Some of those people left and never came back. Some joined the church. And some received Christ and followed Him in baptism.

A Modest Proposal

I’m not suggesting you do everything like we decided to do it. I’m not even suggesting you hold to the same Ecclesiology that I do. I have told our congregation that we may not always follow the same pattern we are currently using. I am suggesting you should think about the importance of the Lord’s Supper in the life of your congregation. Christ left us this ordinance for our good, and if your church is like mine, you need all the help of Christ that you can get. If you were to survey your membership and ask how they are helped by your corporate gatherings, would any of them even consider Communion as a possible answer? Do you have a piece of furniture at the front of your church that says “This DO in remembrance of Me”, but you never DO?

For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.

1 Corinthians 11:26