In this post we will be extending the final installment of Jonathan Leeman’s breakout session at the Virginia Baptist Convention entitled “So is the ‘Baptist’ Brand Really Worth It?”
We at B21 hope this series of posts has been helpful to spark thoughts and conversations about the importance of Baptist distinctions in the contemporary church culture.
How can we both emphasize Baptist distinctions of regenerate church membership and congregationalism while appropriately supporting the gospel work of non-Baptists?
I’m not sure who first said it, but I like the proposal that we who belong to different denominations should keep the fences between us clear, low, and shake hands over them often.
Yes, at first glance, the world will see division simply based on the church signs of “First Baptist Church” and “First Presbyterian Church.” But if they bother to look any closer, they should also see plenty of hand-shaking, love, and partnership in the gospel.
So how do we work against an unhealthy tribalism?
1. Recognize that different kinds of cooperation allow for different levels of agreement. I won’t plant a church with a Presbyterian, but I’m happy to evangelize with him.
2. Pray for other churches (of multiple denominations) from your pulpit. Whoever is leading the pastoral prayer on Sunday morning in our church always prays for other gospel-preaching churches, including other churches in our city, including churches of other denominations, including bigger churches! This helps to kill the ungodly competition and turfiness that is so common among pastors and churches. Their success in the gospel is our success in the gospel. We’re all playing for the same team.
3. Read non-Baptist authors, and recommend and sell good books of non-Baptist authors.
4. Attend non-denominational conferences like Together for the Gospel.
5. Discerningly support non-denominational evangelistic work.
6. Occasionally invite non-Baptists as guest preachers.
A final thought: the less we emphasize and even idolize certain cultural distinctives of the Baptist brand and identity and the more we emphasize the Baptist doctrinal distinctives of believer’s baptism, regenerate church membership, and congregationalism, the more impact we can have across the various evangelical tribes. My church does not belong to Acts29 or the Willow Creek Association; it doesn’t use the language of “purpose-driven” or “missional”; but I do think churches who identify with all those tribes will be more obedient to the Bible, more internally healthy, and better witnesses to the non-Christians around them by practicing believer’s baptism, regenerate church membership, and congregationalism.
Bottom line: the contemporary world of marketing is all about getting your brand right, and everyone wants to brand themselves. Therefore I do think it’s good to refer to ourselves as “Baptists” even on our church signs, if only of the sake of truth in advertising. That said, let’s make sure it’s the smallest word on our sign, and let’s instead do the subversive thing by pointing people to what the Bible says about these few, simple doctrinal distinctives.
In light of the recent launch of Ministry Grid, B21 will be running a set of three posts from different voices in the SBC on the importance of raising up leaders in the local church.
Make a Disciple, Make a Leader
“Every problem we have is a leadership problem.”
While certainly reductionistic, this phrase has been a mobilizing anthem and defining conviction for engaging the mission of God at The Austin Stone. Over the last ten years, we have encountered countless barriers to advancing the gospel, many seeming insurmountable. While we trust Jesus to accomplish His work, we have found that God’s answer is usually found in new leaders being raised up. While many churches will spend hours and hours designing and developing new strategies and tactics for solving the problems of ministry, we have found a very simple solution to most problems.
We develop leaders and leaders solve problems.
No matter how big the problem, no matter how monumental the task, God has consistently shaped history using human leaders. Broken…of course. Flawed…absolutely. Weak…you bet. Still, these people, despite all their shortcomings, are called leaders. So how do we make a leader for God’s mission?
If you want to solve a problem, make a leader. If you want to make a leader, make a disciple.
As the missional landscape grows in complexity, the fundamental method to engage mission and make leaders does not. Discipleship is God’s plan, plain and simple. For all the conferences, books, and blogs about developing leaders, the fundamental way that God makes leaders for His mission is through discipleship.
Making disciples and leaders for the mission of God always begins, continues and ends with the gospel of Jesus. The primary content of discipleship is the Scriptures which unpack the gospel. The context of discipleship is relationship. That’s right, the good old-fashion, life-on-life, person-to-person, dirty, messy, teaching-people-to-obey-all-that-Jesus-has-commanded kind of discipleship. It’s not edgy, but it is true
We make leaders by making disciples.
The more I study God’s Word, the more I am astounded at what Christ did through the leaders He trained. What God did through twelve men in just one generation is profound. You take out Judas and it’s only eleven! Not many leaders can boast the ministry success of the twelve. Yet, when I look closely at Jesus’ method for training twelve of the most successful church leaders in history, I am perplexed at the simplicity of His methodology.
Jesus invested in a few to reach the many.
Are you investing in the few to reach the many, or are you investing in the many to reach a few? Do you focus your attention and resource on discipling others to become leaders or do you continue to pour time and energy into the crowds alone?
Like Jesus, we must be committed to disciple a small, identifiable, accountable, and devoted group of potential leaders. Large events, books and even sermons are certainly useful, but if we are to make leaders for God’s church, we must train others like He did. There is simply no short cut. The content without the context is weakened and dangerous. In fact, leadership education outside the context of discipleship often produces pride, arrogance and independence. When leaders are discipled, however, they learn first to obey Jesus. When this context is combined with the content of Scripture and the wisdom of other leaders given as common grace, it produces the kind of leader who biblically, skillfully, and gracefully solves even the biggest problems faced in ministry.
For many of us, the problems we encounter in our ministries seem impossible. The challenges appear insurmountable. The burdens are hardly bearable and have no end in sight. How can all of this be solved? Has God given us insight into the solution? The answer is plain in the life of Jesus.
Develop leaders by making disciples.
There is no better strategy for leading the church to health than to make disciple-leaders to join you in leading. Many leaders in the church have never intentionally engaged a distinct group of potential leaders in discipleship. For others, it has been far too long. Let me encourage you; there is no better time to start or start again than now. Your ministry depends on it.
While content is not enough, it is necessary.
In fact, one of the most important tasks in making a leader is filtering content to those you are developing. Recently, I have connected with those building Ministry Grid. Ministry Grid is an online tool that offers a helpful way to bring good content to bear on your discipleship group. Ministry Grid was built with disciplining leaders in mind. It is designed to help leaders make leaders by leveraging great content for transformational relationships.
KEVIN PECK has been the Lead Pastor of Austin Stone Community Church (Austin, TX) since 2004. His primary role is to lead and develop elders, deacons, and other leaders. He serves on the Advisory Council for Ministry Grid.
In this post we will be extending the third installment of Jonathan Leeman’s breakout session at the Virginia Baptist Convention entitled “So is the ‘Baptist’ Brand Really Worth It?”
Question 2: Why should we emphasize congregationalism? Again, we should for three reasons. It’s biblical. It helps Christians to partake of their gospel work. It strengthens the church’s witness.
Congregationalism is biblical.
First, congregationalism is biblical. Who does Jesus task with excommunicating the unrepentant man in Matthew 18? Not the pastors. Not the deacons. He tasks the church.
Same thing in 1 Corinthians 5. Paul doesn’t tell the leaders to hand the man over to Satan. He tells the church.
And in Galatians 1: who does Paul say should stop allowing the false teachers to teach a gospel other than the one he preached to the church? Is Paul writing to the pastors, telling them to get the false teachers out of there? No, He’s telling the churches.
That brings us to the second reason we need to emphasize congregationalism…
Congregationalism helps Christians partake of their gospel work.
It’s the job of the whole congregation to guard the what and the who of the gospel. Church membership is an office. It’s a job. And every one joining your church should know that they now have a job to do: to guard the what and the who of the gospel. What is a right profession of the gospel? And who is a credible gospel professor.
That means, church leaders, you need to equip them to do their jobs. You need to make sure they know the gospel well.
It’s strange to me how even Baptists are sort of reluctant about congregationalism. I get this because there are so many bad examples of it. But again, that’s like saying there’s bad examples of marriages. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. And that’s where I’d point Baptists even to the PCA, who has congregations vote on their pastors, or even the OPC who has congregations vote on excommunication!
When you take the vote or governing authority out of the hands of Christian, you weaken the Christian and you breed Christian nominalism. I don’t have historical studies to prove this. But I think a casual look at church history would suggest that the further you remove authority from the hands of ordinary Christians—whether from a world-wide episcopacy based in Rome or Constantinople or from the state churches of Europe—the more you tempt people to nominalism (yes, I know there are other problems with Catholicism concerning the definition of faith).
Non-congregational polities—elder or pastor rule—effectively fire Christians from the job responsibilities assigned to them in the gospel. Do you want to cultivate a culture of discipleship in your church? Do you want to fight against Christian nominalism and Christian complacency? Then don’t fire Christians from the jobs, but keep people in their jobs by training them in how to do their well.
You strengthen a soldier not be letting him stay back in the supply tent, but by pushing him out onto the bridge and telling him to guard the bridge. So you who are pastors should be saying to your members, you’re responsible to guard the what and the who of the gospel. If I as you pastor compromise the gospel, fire me. If member 362 starts living in unrepentant sin, and brings shame on the name of Christ, that’s your responsibility. So get to know your fellow members now.
Congregationalism is not about arguing over the color of the carpets, or requiring the pastor to get congregational approval if he wants to buy a new photocopier, or putting microphones in the aisle during members meetings so that you an publicly oppose the pastors. It’s about the congregations having final say in matters of membership and discipline (Matthew 18) as well as in doctrine and who the pastors are (Galatians 1). Otherwise, members should learn to submit to their leaders (Hebrews 13, 1 Peter 5, Acts 20).
Congregationalism strengthens the church’s witness.
Finally, congregationalism strengthens the church’s witness. When you have a church filled with people who know how to clearly articulate the gospel, and who know it’s their responsibility to guard and protect one another in the gospel, what do you have? A strong and healthy church, whose members are better equipped to share the gospel with their non-Christian friends and neighbors.
Christians don’t think, “Hey, my pastor’s job is to share the gospel, so if I can bring my non-Christian colleagues to the church service, he’ll here the gospel!” No, they know that it’s they’re job to know and to live and to share the gospel.
All in all, I believe a congregational church that equips the saints for the work of the ministry, and for guarding the what and the who of the gospel is a church with a brighter and healthier witness.
Brothers, the Baptist distinctives of believer’s baptism, regenerate church membership, and congregationalism are not essential to salvation, but they are importing for guarding what is essential. The Baptist distinctives are not the glistening diamond of the gospel, but they are the platinum prongs which hold that diamond in place.
Jesus took them seriously. We should take them seriously.
In light of the recent launch of Ministry Grid, B21 will be running a set of three posts from different voices in the SBC on the importance of raising up leaders in the local church.
Our first post will be by Dr. Thom S. Rainer, President & CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, author of I Am a Church Member
Keys to Increasing Unity, Health, and Effectiveness in the Church
In a recent non-scientific Twitter survey, I asked pastors and church staff to respond with the biggest challenge they face in ministry. One of the issues noted was leadership development. This quote, expanded from its abbreviated Twitter form, is representative of the feedback I received: “We miss too many opportunities in ministry because we don’t have enough leaders ready.”
Regardless of the terminology you use, whether it’s “training” or “leadership development,” there’s a great deal of ambiguity with all of the thoughts and opinions floating around in the church today. Leadership development is critical for the health, unity, and effectiveness of the church, but it has become unclear as to what the best option is and what people mean when they use those terms.
Too many have gotten away from what Scripture shows us on the topic:
“And He personally gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness” (Ephesians 4:11-13, HCSB).
From this passage, we can learn three important lessons about training in ministry.
Scripture is clear: as pastors and church leaders are more involved in training others to do ministry, there will be greater unity, health, and effectiveness in the church.
Anyone who has served any length of time in ministry knows this. But as we researched this issue in local congregations, we uncovered a sobering reality:
While pastors affirmed their critical role in training others to do ministry, almost three fourths of these pastors had no plans to do so.
For most pastors, the reasons for this gap were simple: they either didn’t know how to take the next steps, or they didn’t feel like they had the time to do so.
At LifeWay, we are making this issue a major priority. We see a great opportunity to provide almost unlimited training in this digital age that could not be done in years past. So LifeWay is launching an affordable and convenient tool for both church leaders and those being equipped.
We call this training tool Ministry Grid (http://www.ministrygrid.com/). Its web-based platform allows you to assign video training and track the progress of users in your church or ministry. You may choose from over 1,500 videos or utilize Ministry Grid’s customizable features by uploading your own videos and turning off any unwanted content to suit your team or church. With both web and mobile apps, Ministry Grid gives your leaders access to training and allows them to be equipped to do ministry at anytime and anywhere that is convenient to them.
Ministry Grid was also developed in conjunction with the leaders who will be using it. We conducted panels and research to provide clarity to leadership training, and assembled an effective training model we believe is applicable to any church. It covers three main components: skillful training, facilitated by godly leaders, when people realize they need it.
First, skillful training impacts the head, heart, and hands (Acts 2:37). Skillful training evokes the passions and desires God has placed in the hearts of individuals as well as gives them practical methods to accomplish the tasks set before them. This may be training on deep spiritual issues or on more practical things like how to train parking lot attendants.
We reproduce who we are. Therefore, training must be facilitated by godly leaders. It’s not about programs and platforms or an information dump. Leadership development cannot be digitized. Training is most effectively accomplished through relationships.
Finally, people are most impacted by training when they realize they need it and when the training is applied specifically to their unique context. With Ministry Grid, when new leaders start asking questions, a coach can immediately assign the proper training in response and debrief with the leader at a later time.
With Ministry Grid, you will bring clarity to a very confusing conversation and precipitate growth at every level of leadership within the local churh
In this post we will be extending the second installment of Jonathan Leeman’s breakout session at the Virginia Baptist Convention entitled “So is the ‘Baptist’ Brand Really Worth It?”
Why Should We Emphasize Believer’s Baptism and Regenerate Church Membership?
Question 1: Why should we emphasize believer’s baptism and regenerate church membership? We should for three reasons. It’s biblical. It helps Christians to grow in holiness. It helps the church’s witness.
Regenerate Church membership is biblical.
In Acts 2, the crowds asked Peter, “What must we do to be saved?” He said, “Repent and be baptized.” And so throughout Acts we see people repenting, believing, and then getting baptized. Even the passage of the baptism of the jailer and his whole family in Acts 16 refers to the fact that they all heard the word first (verse 32) and that the whole family had come to believe (verse 34) prior to their baptism.
Of course, the record of believer’s baptism and regenerate church membership in the New Testament rests comfortably within the Bible’s larger movement from the old covenant to the New Covenant. Think of how God found fault with the people under the Mosaic regime. And so he offers a new covenant, one in which, as he promises through Jeremiah, “I will put my law within them. I will forgive their iniquity.” And “they will all know me, from the least to the greatest.
Moving from the Mosaic to the New Covenant, in other words, is not about moving from corporate to individual, or from obedience-required to no-obedience-required. It is about moving from a covenant in which Israel’s obedience and life together depend upon their own strength to a covenant in which their obedience and life together would depend upon God’s Spirit: from “Circumcise your heart” so that you obey (Deut. 10:16) to “God will circumcise your heart” so that you obey (Deut. 30:6).
And this has huge implications for how we “do” church. It means we should take care who receive as members. In many circumstances, we should require people to go through membership classes. In a world with many different versions of Jesus—a Mormon Jesus, a Jehovah’s Witness Jesus, a Muslim Jesus—I want to make sure you and I are talking about the same Jesus. So I’m going to offer a membership class where we talk about our church’s statement of faith, for instance, just to make sure we’re talking about the same Jesus.
I’m also going to make sure we’re not just inviting people down the aisle and letting them join on the spot. I’m going to do a membership interview first, where I ask questions like “How did you become a Christian? Have you ever been disciplined from a church? And most crucially, what is the gospel?”
If we’re going to affirm the doctrine of believer’s baptism and regenerate church membership as biblical, then we need to take care to ensure that we’re only receiving believer’s into baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
It also means our churches need to recover the practice of church discipline. For too long, we have idly stood by and let hypocrites and heretics discolor the reputation of Christ in the community, because we didn’t love them or the broader community enough to excommunicate them so that (as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 5) they might turn and be saved.
This brings us to a second reason why we should emphasize believer’s baptism and regenerate church membership.
Believer’s baptism and regenerate church membership grow the church in holiness.
If you don’t know 1 Corinthians 5, take a look at it this afternoon. Paul tells the Corinthian congregation to excommunicate a man who was involved in flagrant sin, and he tells them to do it, first, so that the man by be saved. Then in verse 6 he says, “Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? 7 Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.” The man is living like a non-Christian. He’s unrepentant about it. Stop affirming him as a Christian by leaving him on your roles. Not only are you lying about Christ, you are letting the bad yeast work through the life of the congregation. You’re letting weaker sheep be led astray.
You see Paul say something similar in 2 Corinthians 6 and 7 where he tells the people not to be yoked together with unbelievers, but to come out and be separate, an argument he concludes in 7:1 by saying, “let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.”
When we blur the line between the church in the world, when we call non-Christian children a part of the church, when we declare people members of the church simply because they are a citizen of the state, when we follow the pragmatic ministry philosophy of telling people they “belong” before they believe, we actually harm the church. Not everything done in the name of inclusiveness is loving.
A Christian should understand that to belong to a church means something. It means he has been converted and regenerated by the Holy Spirit of God. It means he’s called to a life of continual repentance. It means that God is actually in the process of changing him. It means his life is now to be spent putting off the old and putting on the new man. When we bring non-Christians into the membership of the church and participation in the Lord’s Table, we undermine all this, and turn Christ’s grace into something cheap and powerless.
Believer’s baptism and church membership strengthen the church’s witness.
Not only that, we undermine the church’s witness, which is the third reason we should emphasize believer’s baptism and church membership.
You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
Believer’s baptism and regenerate church membership help the church to remain salty, that is, distinct. It helps the church to remain a light on the hill. Do we do this perfectly? By no means. That’s why we gather around the preaching of the word. That’s why we practice church discipline informally and privately, as well as publically and formally.
Blurring the line between the church and the world is not only unloving toward the Christians in the church and harms their growth, it’s unloving toward the world and it hides the light. The world should be able to look to the church to see the promise of something different, the hope of a better individual and corporate life, where enemies love one another and turn the other cheek, a place where you ask someone to go one mile with you and they go two, where you ask to borrow their tunic and they give you their cloak as well.
Regenerate church membership helps the church’s witness not just because all these people are living cleaned up individual lives by not sleeping with their girl friends. They’re living a different kind of corporate life together. They have lunch on Sunday after church. They actually talk about the sermon. They show one another hospitality through the week. There’s a culture of discipleship.
Listen to Jesus in John 13: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Stay tuned for the next segment where Jonathan talks about the importance of congregationalism.
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