Monday, October 15, 2007

Shepherding a Church's Culture

Church matters is discussing an interesting topic today. Jonathan Leeman writes:

I have a question I'd like to pose based not on an email, but on a phone call received from a pastor several days ago. I'm going to generalize his situation because I think the principles apply in a number of similar situations:

In conservative, theologically minded churches like ours, members or newcomers will sometimes take strong stands on issues that are not directly touched on by the statement of faith. Several examples that I have heard about lately include homeschooling, keeping your children in the service (anti-children's church), biblical counseling vs. psychology, the perennial issue of alcohol, and I'm sure we could all add more to the list. This pastor who called in was troubled by a family who was considering joining his church, but who took a strong, even militant, stand on one such issue; and he was concerned, based on past experience, that they would seek to promote their values in a way that could create a "serious Christian" and "less serious Christian" dichotomy in the church's culture. In spite of Paul's instruction in Colossians 2, it seems we Christians are always trying to create categories for "better" and "worse" Christians based on the basic principles of this world. (I, of course, never do this, and I despise everyone who does!)

Actually, just the opposite is the case. Recently my wife and I heard about a couple who planned to keep their young children with them during the times of corporate gatherings, and we had to talk about the sinful temptation in our hearts to want to do the same in order to prove that "we take family worship seriously too! We're hard core too!" Now, let me say, this couple was NOT trying to prove or promote anything. The problem in this situation was with our own lack of faith in the justifying work of the gospel.

But the question this pastor wanted answered is, how do you respond practically to these various cultural movements that take hold among conservative evangelicals? How do you prevent factions (I know of people leaving and churches dividing over such issues)? How can we shepherd people individually, and how can we shepherd them from the pulpit?

As I was thinking about this issue today, I decided to ask my husband to respond to the questions above. He has a great deal of wisdom and insight in 'church matters'. (Ba-da-ching). Seriously, read his thoughts and feel free to share your own on this subject.

Brian says:
I think individually we can shepherd folks by modeling for them what it means to hold to a set of biblically informed convictions. Can't we have convictions in certain areas of our lives that are played out differently within the body of Christ and still have true fellowship and unity? We can if we handle those convictions with humility and love. Based on my study of 1 Corinthians 8-14, love has to rule any biblically informed conviction we have and how we express it in the life of the congregation. Maybe chapter 13 of 1 Cor. could've been written to also say, "If I homeschool my children and have not love...If my children behave well in the worship service at the age of 2 but I have not love...If I can defend all 5 points of Calvinism but I have not love..."

Also, it may, at some points, be necessary to provide correction for folks when we have tangible evidence that their convictions are expressed in unloving ways, causing hurt feelings and tension within the body. Some examples of tangible evidence might be their visible treatment of another person or words they have spoken in our presence regarding the matter or our observations about how they have handled certain situations.

Every situation is different and so it is harder to shepherd from the pulpit so as to provide leadership in every situation. I believe that we can model this in the pulpit: what matters are of primary importance and what matters are of secondary importance. Where do I concentrate my teaching on a text - on the vital doctrines of the faith found in the text or on other tangent issues that the text may lead to. I think it is acceptable and sometimes necessary to go to the tangent issues, but am I taking a tangent issue and making it into an area for possible application or a matter of gospel truth authoritative to every individual universally? Am I pushing my own leanings and my personal convictions on to the congregation or am I presenting the truth of the text of scripture without apology? I also think that from the pulpit people should be given a perspective or impression of a true spiritual reality that is God-centered and not man-centered. When this happens, these secondary issues are given their proper perspective and importance in the life of the congregation. When the congregation is given a perspective and impression of reality that is God-centered then I believe healthy conversations and discussions over issues of secondary importance will occur and the diversity of viewpoints and applications of biblical principals within the congregation will edify the body and not lead to tension.

I think another key to shepherding both individually and from the pulpit is to model this in your own life. Are you militant about secondary issues? Do you force your own views and the application of biblical truth regarding certain matters upon the people in your congregation? Do your biblical convictions come across in such a way that brings about clarity and conviction in others or does it just bring about tension with those who disagree? If my life is modeling the rule of love in regard to these secondary matters then that is a form of shepherding on an individual basis and from the pulpit.


Kim said...

Pardon me while I doctor up my shins.

Man that was really good...and I mean really good for me to read. It is so easy to allow personal convictions to puff me up when in truth I am and will always be but a hollow vessel that He graciously chooses to work through.

Since I am teaching SS and not privy to his teaching right now, I would prefer at least one thought-provoking post from your guest blogger per week.

Thank you very much.

Christina said...

Great insights. Thanks for asking your husband and sharing his thoughts too.

I was actually just thinking about these things today on the way home from Bible Study. One of the moms there was asking for prayer for her daughter in public school and lamenting the fact that they can't get her into the private Christian school. My first thought was "homeschool". But our pastor's wife was much more gracious with her! I always learn how to be more loving from her example. I think Brian is right on his perspective with this.

5honeybunns said...

Powerful stuff here! I am learning that every word that comes out of Brian's mouth is powerful. I agree that your convictions should be modeled by your daily life and as long as you are seeking God before you go to your congregation, He will direct you.
Some of the doctrinal issues have certainly raised a question or two in my mind. I can see the point of view of the church and I am desperately trying to seek God in the matter. Sometimes, when God is helping us understand a truth, it may come as a contrary belief to what we are used to thinking. I just pray that my mind will always stay open to hearing and receiving His wisdom and truth.
I know when I first heard the message of the election I was shocked and in denial, but God has also been gracious enough to reveal that truth to me.
You are doing a great job, Brian. 1 Corinthians 16:13
Thank you, Lord for your grace!

April said...

Great Post! Seems as though your hubby has some great insight. Just yesterday, my hubby and I were talking about apologetics and family worship. I will have to share this post with him. Thanks so much and have a great week.

Dani said...

This was so encouraging and convicting! Thank you! This is an issue that I come up against all the time. Claire and I talk about this, and have never come to such clarity as Brian has I don't think. I would like to send others to read this post.

Anonymous said...

Wow, Jenn, this was so good! I think we could have used a little more of Brian's discernment during those late night coffee klatches with the Selah girls. I sure do miss the conversation! Love ya, L

Patriot said...

Just came across your blog - you are definitely a busy mama!

I just wanted to let you know about my site - I host a free giveaway every week. Come check it out! Thanks!