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.
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.