You Can Always Have What You Want

When we think of the pursuit of glory, power and treasures we think of self-destructive and harmful characters like Walter White and Gordon Gekko. So as Christians we hear and repeat counsel such as: 

Don’t pursue glory.

Don’t focus your efforts on accumulating treasure.  

Such counsel feels wise and biblical. Even commonsensical. The problem is, Jesus is not in agreement. Jesus doesn’t tell us not to pursue glory, power and treasures. Instead, he tells us how to pursue glory, power, and treasures.

@@Jesus doesn't tell us not to pursue glory, power, and treasures. Instead, he tells us how.@@

You Can Always Have Glory

As Christians, our reflexes tell us that we should avoid the pursuit of glory. Yet, at the same time, something deep within us cries out for greatness. The common religious wisdom tells us our desire for greatness comes from our flesh and we must kill it. If you’ve attempted this, you know it is not easy. Yet, Jesus provides us another way. He tells us to to redirect our desire for greatness away from the paths the world offers and toward the path that will truly lead us to our destination. 


As his disciples broke out into an argument over who would be the greatest amongst them. Jesus, notably, did not respond to them by saying, “You should not desire to be great.” He responded to them by saying, 

“…Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:26-27)

In other words, Jesus affirms his disciple’s desire for greatness, but informs them that the only way they will ever be great is by imitating Jesus, the Suffering Servant, who voluntarily lays down his life in service for others. 

In Matthew 23:11-12, Jesus again teaches, “The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” In this passage he both a) endorses the pursuit of greatness and b) points us to the only road that leads there. 

Thus, if we follow Jesus’ example, we should stop telling people to stop worrying about being great and start telling people that the only way to achieve the greatness they desire is to get busy serving others in humility.

You Can Always Have Treasure

In a similar way, we Christians have an instantaneous negative reaction to the pursuit of treasures. Such pursuits sound like greed to our ears, and we know greed is sinful and foolish. Yet Jesus does not seem to share our assessment. In fact, Jesus explicitly encourages us to accumulate as many treasures for ourselves as we can. 

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.¨ (Matthew 6:19-20)

Here, Jesus takes a similar attitude toward the pursuit of treasures as he does toward the pursuit of glory. Instead of telling us not to do it, he tells us how to do it successfully. Just as real glory is only found through serving others, real treasures are only found in eternal things rather than temporal things. And Jesus wants us to accumulate as many such treasures as we can. 

@@Jesus wants us to accumulate as many treasures as we can.@@

In fact, people often point to the famous story of the rich young ruler as evidence that Jesus is opposed to the accumulation of treasures. But this is the exact opposite of what Jesus actually says. When Jesus tells the rich, young ruler to generously give his riches to the poor, he does not tell him to do so in order to renounce the pursuit of treasure. He tells him to do so in order that he might gain more treasure, real treasure, eternal treasure in heaven. 

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:21)

Once again, Jesus both a) endorses the pursuit of treasure and b) points us to the only road that leads there. In doing so, he appeals to a desire that we Christians tend to think of as inherently sinful —the desire to accumulate treasures— as a means of motivating his people to faithful obedience. 

@@Jesus appeals to a desire Christians tend to think of as inherently sinful as a means of motivating us to obedience.@@

Thus, if we follow Jesus’ example, we should stop telling people to stop worrying about accumulating treasures and start telling people that the only way to obtain the treasure they are seeking is to direct their efforts toward the only treasure that lasts. 

Conclusion

We would be wise to re-evaluate how we think and speak about our desires, especially those that sound to us to be inherently sinful. We may find that these “sinful” desires are, in fact, desires Jesus wants us to fulfill and for which he provides fool-proof instructions to do so. We can confidently trust Him as our guide, as he himself found glory through his service (Revelation 5:12) and eternal treasure through his stewardship (2 Corinthians 8:9).

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Cole Brown is a Humble Beast author and speaker. He is the founding pastor of a multi-ethnic church in Portland, and now serves as a missionary helping plant churches in Mexico City, Mexico. His books, Daddy Issues: How the Gospel Heals Wounds Caused By Absent, Abusive & Aloof Fathers and The Gospel Is: Defining the Most Important Message in the World are both available now.  Connect with him on twitter or facebook

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reflections on the Just Gospel Conference

I am not a fan of Christian conferences. 

As a rule, they all tend to be dominated by the same speakers talking about the same things to an audience of more or less the same people. On top of that, they both depend on the Christian celebrity culture to succeed and reinforce that same Christian celebrity culture by their very existence. 

Yet when I heard that The Front Porch were going to put on a conference called Just Gospel I registered immediately. While I wasn't sure exactly what to expect, I knew that it would be utterly unique. 

I was right. Its uniqueness made the trip from Mexico to Atlanta well worth it (should I mention that the hotel where it was located was two blocks from Bobby Brown Parkway, which I like to believe was named after the King of R&B himself?). 

For those who didn't have the opportunity to attend, I'd like to share a few post-conference reflections in hopes that perhaps you might decide to make the trip in 2018. 

1. We Don't Have to Choose Between Justice and the Gospel

There are a variety of "gospel" conferences that treat justice as a distraction to, rather than the fruit of, faithfulness to the gospel. There are also a number of "justice" conferences that treat the gospel as either irrelevant to, or an obstacle to, true justice, instead of both the motivation and the means to it. The Just Gospel Conference avoided both errors by wisely introducing us to dozens of real-life men and women who are unquestionably committed to the gospel and who are moved to actively pursue justice because of, not in spite of, their gospel commitment. 

Hearing from real people who are doing real work (instead of just celebrity spokespersons) allowed us to move beyond the realm of theoretical discussions about the connection between gospel and justice and into the realm of reality where we could see, feel, taste and touch the intimate relationship between the two. Of course I knew that "justice" and "gospel" were not mutually exclusive terms long before attending the conference. But knowing it and seeing it are two different things. 

2. We Don't All Agree on How or Why. 

While it was incredibly encouraging to be with a large community of people who are committed to both the gospel and the justice that should flow from it, it was also clear that even within our community there is disagreement on precisely how the relationship should function in practice. It was helpful to hear from these various perspectives, which was possible because the conference organizers chose not to fill the schedule with keynote speakers and instead chose to follow a "front porch" format (most sessions consisted of conversations between 2-6 people seated on stage). 

The front porch format permitted open dialogue between people with important disagreements. This was wonderful as it allowed the participants to model grace, listening and empathy and it allowed us, the observers, to learn more broadly than we could have had everyone been on precisely the same page. It also revealed that our community needs theologians and practitioners to continue thinking together and working together that we might grow to increased unity and understanding on these issues. 

3. Not one of us can do it all. We need each other. 

Even those of us who are most committed to following out the gospel's many implications for justice cannot but scratch the surface. Because of sin, there is simply too much brokenness and injustice in the world for any one of us to be able to make an impact in more than a very small percentage of the areas that need it. Yet, at the same time, because of the gospel, there is not a single injustice that Christians can ignore. 

How can we live in the tension between the two? 

The Church. 

Much as a baseball team (side note: I have no doubt that baseball is God's favorite sport) consists of a roster of 25 different people working toward a common goal, with each member responsible for his unique role in that mission, so the Church consists of countless brothers and sisters playing their unique role in our shared mission of bringing God's justice to the world. As members of the Church, we can both play our role by passionately fighting against as many specific injustices as our human limitations allow, while also being confident that the other members of our team are playing their role in bringing justice to bear in areas where we cannot. 

This allows us at least four benefits. 

  • It frees us from the guilt and defeatism that one can feel when overwhelmed by the needs of the broken world and our inability to address them all. A pitcher doesn't feel guilty for not being able to contribute with big offensive numbers as long as he is doing his job on the mound and giving his team the best chance to win with what he does offer, knowing that other team members are contributing in the areas he cannot. 

 

  •  It frees us from the pride that leads us to shame our brothers and sisters who don't play as active of a role in the specific areas that most concern us. A third basemen does not shame the designated hitter for not playing defense, he rejoices that his teammate contributes in the way that best suits his talents in order to help the team reach its goals. 

 

  • It frees us from the pride of thinking that the advancement of Jesus' kingdom depends on us. One of the reasons I think baseball is God's favorite sport (blog forthcoming) is because, unlike basketball and football, one superstar player cannot singlehandedly control a game or carry a team. Each player, no matter how talented, only gets to step to the plate around 4 times a game. Which means even the most gifted player has to rely on the other 32 plate appearances made by his teammates. As members of the Church, we are in the same position. We may be putting in work on various justice issues, and seeing fruit, but we will not even see a noteworthy percentage of the justice in the world that Jesus desires if we do not depend on our brothers and sisters to put in work where we are not or cannot. As we do so, we are reminded that Jesus' kingdom does not depend on us and us alone. It depends on his entire team spread out in every country, culture and sub-culture, fighting for justice in every corner of darkness.    

 

  • Perhaps the most exciting benefit of seeing the Church as a whole, and not just ourselves and our friends, as Jesus' instrument of justice is that it also frees us to celebrate victories that we played no role in winning. When the star first basemen gets the game-winning hit in the bottom of the 9th he is not the only one on the field celebrating. Every member of the team rushes to the field to celebrate with him. Why? Because that's how teams work. The whole team shares the benefits and successes of each individual's efforts. So it is with the Church. As our brothers and sisters work for justice in their spheres of influence we celebrate their victories as our own for the simple fact that they advance the cause of Christ. And his cause is our only cause. 

    This is what excited me so much about the Just Gospel conference. I was able to celebrate victories that I played no role in winning as if they were my own. My brothers and sisters are making progress for our team as they fight for justice in issues of gender, race, politics, policing, prison, education, sex trafficking, orphans and more. This was a welcome reminder that I cannot do it all, that I need the Church, and that I have reason to celebrate outside of my own work. It's also a call to actively pray for my team members as they play their role. 

Conclusion

These are just some of the things I've been reflecting on since leaving Atlanta. If any of this has in some way piqued your interest, I'd encourage you to watch this wrap-up video in which the hosts evaluate the conference and their own responses to it. Whether in a conference, a church or our own community, we would all do well to imitate their honesty, humility, and awareness of the "other" in the room as we pursue gospel justice.

Cole Brown is a Humble Beast author and speaker. He has over ten years of trans-cultural church planting experience and currently serves as a missionary helping plant & strengthen churches in Mexico City, Mexico. His book, Daddy Issues: How the Gospel Heals Wounds Caused By Absent, Abusive & Aloof Fathers, is now available. Connect with him on twitter or facebook.   

How Much Should A Gospel-Centered Christian Talk About Race?

How much should a gospel-centered Christian talk about race? 

This has been the subject of much debate in recent months as people on all sides of the issue have weighed in publicly.

I suppose now it's my turn.

Personally, I believe the answer has two key components. First, the more gospel-centered you are, the more (not less) you should talk about race and racial injustice. Second, the more gospel-centered you are, the more (not less) you should talk about race and racial injustice Christianly. In this post I hope to address the first component by providing two reasons for which those who talk the most about the gospel should also be those who talk the most about racial injustice.

@@Those who talk the most about the gospel should also be those who talk the most about racial injustice@@

1. The More You Talk About the Gospel The More You Should Talk About Race Because The Gospel Has Serious Implications for Race

The gospel tells us that Jesus has done everything necessary to reconcile us to God through his perfect life, substitutionary death, and victorious resurrection. In addition, thisgospel proclaims that Jesus has done everything necessary to reconcile us to one another through the same work. The Apostle Paul describes the reconciliation of both relationships in Ephesians 2:14-18 (NIV).

"For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit."

Paul is reminding the Ephesians of the incredible power of the gospel by showing that Jesus alone is sufficient to unite the un-uniteable. He illustrates this by showing that just as Jesus unites the two un-uniteable parties of sinful humans and a holy God he also unites the two un-uniteable parties of Jew and Gentile. In this context, he is not speaking of Jew and Gentile as simply two religious groups. He is also speaking of Jew and Gentile as two ethnic groups -- two racial groups -- that were not only divided from one another but were hostile toward one another. They are now united to one another in one body as one people.

Paul speaks of both divine reconciliation and racial reconciliation in the very same breath. He does this because both are the fruit of the gospel, which is his primary subject. If we twenty-first century Americans claim to preach the same gospel as Paul, we must be careful not to settle only for divine reconciliation -- as glorious as it is -- when God intends for it also to produce racial reconciliation. To stop short of applying the gospel to the race issue is to not be "acting in line with the truth of the gospel," which is precisely what Paul accused Peter of in Galatians 2:14 when he refused to apply the gospel to the race issues of his context.

@@Paul speaks of both divine reconciliation and racial reconciliation in the very same breath@@

Second, the gospel tells us that Jesus is restoring creation to the paradise that was lost through Adam's sin and that he will return to complete that work once and for all. We Christians live faithfully in light of this gospel when we allow Jesus to work through us to bring small tastes of his ultimate restoration into our present day. Justice is one such foretaste the gospel moves us to seek. This is why many gospel-centered Christians work to minimize abortions, for in Jesus' kingdom the powerful sacrifice themselves for the defenseless, and not the other way around.  It is why many gospel-centered Christians seek to end sex trafficking, for there will be no victimization, no evil, and no sexual immorality when Jesus returns. In the same way and for the same reasons, Christians who hold to the gospel must fight against the manifold racial injustices that exist in our country. How can we speak of a gospel that brings freedom, redemption, value, identity, and equity to all, while turning a blind eye as our brothers and sisters are treated as second-class citizens in their own land?

We can't.

2. The More You Talk About The Gospel The More You Should Talk About Race Because Race Has Serious Implications for the Gospel

If you want to talk about the gospel you will have to talk about race because the gospel has serious implications for the racial issues that surround us. You will also have to talk about race because race has serious implications for the gospel.

In John 17 Jesus repeatedly states that the unity of his people will be a convincing apologetic for Jesus and his gospel. Jesus prays that his followers will be brought "to complete unity" and states that when they are "the world will know that you [God the Father] sent me." The unity Jesus is speaking of must be both a visible unity and an abnormal unity. It has be visible enough for non-Christians to see it and abnormal enough for non-Christians to need an explanation for it which only Jesus can satisfy. It can't be unity of a group of people who are already alike in every way. Such unity is normal in our world and would not stand as evidence that Jesus really is who he says he is. It must be unity of people who would never otherwise be together, apart from Jesus Christ. This includes unity across socio-economic, educational, generational, and cultural divides. It also includes unity across racial lines. In fact, in twenty-first century America, unity across racial lines may be the most powerful demonstration of unity that Christians can provide as evidence of Jesus' identity.

We all see race. No matter how much we may claim to be "colorblind," when we walk into a room of people who are of a different ethnicity than us we recognize it immediately. Not only do we all see race, but we are all aware of the racial tension that exists in our country.  In fact, our awareness of the tension is one of the reasons we are tempted to say we are "colorblind" (so as to avoid the tension) or that we're uncomfortable with people talking so much about race (as we fear it will increase the already present tension).

We all see race and we all see the racial tensions in our country. But you know what we don't see? We don't see a lot of communities that display racial unity. Our churches are overwhelmingly mono-ethnic. Our political groups are the same. Our neighborhoods and schools are often divided along racial lines. Our primary friendships and relationships tend to be with those of the same race. In other words, racial unity is both visible to everyone in our culture and abnormal for most in our culture. It is the sort of unity that, if it were to be displayed, would require an explanation. An explanation that only the gospel can provide.  Imagine the gospel conversations and gospel credibility that would be earned if the majority of gospel-preaching churches were communities of multi-ethnic unity! 

We should talk about race and racial unity because it has serious implications for the gospel: it reveals the gospel's power and validity to people who doubt both.

Conclusion

How much should a gospel-centered Christian talk about racial injustice? Certainly more than those who are not gospel-centered talk about it. As seen above, the gospel we love has serious implications for racial justice, and racial unity has serious implications for the spread of the gospel. In conclusion, as gospel-centered Christians we must recognize that talking about the gospel does not replace talking about race and racial justice, it requires it. In fact, if the gospel we're preaching doesn't produce conversations about racial injustice we should revist the gospel we're preaching. 

@@Talking about the gospel does not replace talking about racial justice, it requires it@@

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Cole Brown is a Humble Beast author and speaker. He is the founding pastor of Emmaus Church, a multi-ethnic church in Portland, and now serves as a missionary helping plant churches in Mexico City, Mexico. His book, Daddy Issues: How the Gospel Heals Wounds Caused By Absent, Abusive & Aloof Fathers, is now available. Connect with him on twitter or facebook

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2 Ways to Solve Your Ministry's Discipleship Problem

It is exceedingly common to hear pastors and church leaders say something like the following,

"I want to make disciples but I can't find people who are motivated to learn and lead." 

It is equally common to hear church members say something that resembles, 

"I want to be discipled but I can't find anyone willing to invest in my spiritual growth." 

In other words, the average pastor is working hard to make disciples but isn't seeing results while many of his church members want to grow spiritually but don't see the opportunity. Though both perceptions appear contradictory, they can exist simultaneously because there is often a Sarlacc pit-sized gap between a church's desire to make disciples and a church's skill in making disciples. In my experience, there are two keys to bridging that gap that, if utilized, allow both church leaders and church members to experience the discipleship growth they desire. 

@@There is often a Sarlacc pit-sized gap between a church's desire to make disciples & their skill in making disciples@@

Key #1 You Have to Know What You Want to Make
Imagine walking into a kitchen pre-stocked with every delicious ingredient imaginable. You love to cook and are excited to use all of the resources at your disposal to make a magnificent meal. However, you're not sure what that meal is called or what the final product will look like. Since you don't have a specific end product in mind, you do what Buddy the Elf did and simply take a bunch of delicious ingredients and mix them together: spaghetti noodles, chocolate sauce, caramel sauce, maple syrup, sprinkles, mini-marshmallows, M&M's and Pop Tarts. Though each of these ingredients is good on its own none of them makes a meal in and of themselves, nor does mixing them all together as if a bunch of good ingredients automatically produces a good dish. As much as you love to cook, and in spite of having the freedom to use any ingredient in existence, if you don't know exactly what you're hoping to produce, in the end you will not produce anything worthy of eating.

Many church's approach discipleship in this same way. They know they want to make disciples just as the person in the illustration wants to make a meal. But they could not tell you what the final product is supposed to look like. Instead, they become the pastoral equivalent of Buddy the Elf. They take a bunch of good things (like sermons, books, conversations over coffee, Bible studies, accountability groups) and mix them all together hoping that, in the end, a fully-formed disciple will come out. But, as with food, if you cannot describe the essential characteristics of what you are aiming to make, you will end up making something that is not worthy of the ingredients and efforts you poured into it. This is how church's can pour so much money and time into discipleship and yet not see any notable results from their efforts. 

Jesus and Paul are the most successful disciple-makers of all time. It should not surprise us, then, that neither of them made this error. Instead, Jesus and Paul both knew and made known what they were aiming to produce. Jesus told Peter and Andrew from the jump, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men" (Matthew 4:19, ESV). Similarly, Paul made it clear to the Corinthians that the disciple was someone who lived as he lived, and his ministry was directed toward that end. "I urge you to imitate me," he told them, and "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ" (1 Corinthians 4:16, 11:1, NIV). Because they knew exactly what they were trying to make -- and they explicitly communicated this to those they served -- they were able to combine the right ingredients in the right way to achieve the desired result. 
  
Key #2 You Have to Know How You're Going to Make It
I can walk into the kitchen 100% committed to making a plate of Jamaican jerk chicken for my wife. I may have all the necessary ingredients, tools, and desire to do so. But if I don't have a recipe that tells me step-by-step how to make jerk chicken I will end up making something that does not look nor taste like what I spent the whole night trying to make. I speak from real-life experience, and my wife can testify that the jerk chicken dinner I tried to serve her when we first married accomplished nothing more than make me look like the only jerk at the table. 

Sadly, many church's make this same mistake. Every church says, "we want to make disciples." And they mean it. So much so that if a Christian church has a mission statement you can be certain that some form of "making disciples" is present in it. What's more, most of them pour a mountain of human and financial resources into reaching this goal. Yet in spite of the time, money, and people spent, if a church doesn't have a recipe for how they're going to make the disciple they are aiming to make, they will produce the spiritual equivalent of my jerk chicken. 

Jesus and Paul did not make this mistake. Instead, they were just as clear on how they were going to make disciples as they were on what type of disciples they were trying to make. Both employed the following four-prong strategy with those they were developing:  

  1. I do and you watch
  2. We do together
  3. You do and I watch
  4. I give you feedback 

Jesus allowed his disciples to watch him heal the sick, cast out demons, and preach the kingdom of God (Mark 1). He then invited them to join him as they did such things together (Mark 3:13-19, Mark 5:35-43). Eventually, Jesus sent them out to do these things on their own (Mark 6:7-13). When they returned from their work, Jesus used their failures and successes to teach them even more (Mark 9:28-29, Luke 10:17-20). The Apostle Paul's relationship with Timothy followed the same pattern. Paul invited Timothy to watch his manner of life and ministry (Acts 16, 2 Timothy 3:10-11), next he allowed Timothy to work alongside of him (Romans 16:21), before finally releasing Timothy to do the work on his own and receive feedback from Paul on his successes and failures (1 & 2 Timothy). 

Most church discipleship strategies exclusively follow a small portion of phase 1 (I teach) or phase 3 (you fulfill a ministry need) while ignoring the other steps that are necessary for truly passing on beliefs, behaviors, and skills. Moreover, they tend to ignore the context in which Jesus and Paul used the four-prong strategy: a combination of both intimate relationship (what some call "life on life") and public ministry (what some call "programs"). Both are necessary and neither is sufficient.

@@In discipleship, both programs and intimate relationship are necessary, and neither is sufficient@@

What Now? 
If you are a ministry leader and desire to make disciples you should first be able to describe in detail the defining characteristics of the disciples you hope to produce. What will they believe? How will they behave? What things will they be able to do? Once you know the specifics of the end product, it will be much easier to know how to best use the resources you have to arrive there.

You must also have the recipe that will help you get the desired result. How will you walk people through Jesus and Paul's four-prong strategy in a way that will teach and reinforce the beliefs, behaviors and skills you are aiming for? What role will personal relationship play and how will space be made for relational intimacy? What role will programs play and which programs will be used?

I am aware that the above questions seem obvious, and that most of us assume we already have the two keys to discipleship locked down. But I can tell you, both from personal experience and from empirical data, that most of us have not answered the questions as specifically and carefully as we need to. 

@@If we desire to make disciples, we must not only know what we are aiming to produce but how we plan to get there@@

If we desire to make disciples, we must not only know what we are aiming to produce but how we plan to get there. And we must know both in great specificity. I pray the Holy Spirit will guide you and your team as you think through these questions. Sometimes it can be helpful to have an outsider come in and guide your team through these questions. If that's something that would be helpful for your ministry team, I'm only a click away.

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Cole Brown is a Humble Beast author and speaker. He is the founding pastor of Emmaus Church, a multi-ethnic church in Portland, and now serves as a missionary helping plant churches in Mexico City, Mexico. His book, Daddy Issues: How the Gospel Heals Wounds Caused By Absent, Abusive & Aloof Fathers, is now available. Connect with him on twitter or facebook

What Do I Do If I'm The Cause of Someone's Daddy Issues?

Introduction
When I released my latest book, Daddy Issues: How the Gospel Heals Wounds Caused by Absent, Abusive and Aloof Fathers I anticipated it would connect deeply with many adults who still live with the wounds caused by their imperfect fathers. What I did not anticipate was that many adult fathers would read the book and ask, 

"What if I am the one who has caused daddy issues in others?" 

While the frequency of the question has surprised me, it has also greatly encouraged me. It is wonderful that imperfect fathers (like me) want to know how to best respond to the errors of their past. Since I failed to answer that question in the book, I hope to provide some simple but useful counsel in this brief post. If you are a father who has contributed to daddy issues in your children, here are four ways you can respond.  

Confess your sin
Every father is an imperfect father. As such, we have all failed, to some degree, to reflect the image of our Good and Perfect Father, God. This means that many of our errors are not merely "errors," but sins. As with any other sin, the road to healing begins with confession. As you reflect on your sins and how they have affected your children, acknowledge these sins and their consequences before God. You need not fear such painful honesty, as the God who is faithful and just promises to forgive you and cleanse you of your unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). After confessing to God and receiving the forgiveness that is yours through faith in Jesus Christ, you should do everything in your power to confess your sins and their consequences to your children and seek their forgiveness. Whether they are willing to forgive you or not, the Bible promises that confessing our sins to one another is a means of healing (James 5:16). God may choose to use your confession to heal you, your children, and/or your relationship. 


@@Every father is an imperfect father@@

Trust God to father your child
Perhaps you have read Daddy Issues and can now see the specific behavioral, emotional and relational wounds your children carry as a result of your parenting (or lack thereof). As you reflect on the pain or destructive patterns you have contributed to, you may be tempted to despair because the wounds you caused seem to be beyond healing.

They are not.

It may be true that you failed your children. It is also true that God will never fail them. He promises to be "a father to the fatherless" (Psalm 68:5, ESV). For this reason, the Psalmist writes, "Though my mother and father forsake me, the LORD will receive me" (Psalm 27:10, ESV).  As a result, instead of living in the regret of your failures as a father, you are free to live in the gratitude of knowing God fathers your children perfectly in your place. 
 

@@It may be true that you failed your children. It is also true that God will never fail them.@@


Remember that suffering is redeemable
Daddy issues cause, and are caused, by suffering. Because of your imperfections, your children have been suffering since childhood and, as a result, you likely suffer from the guilt, shame and regret of having failed them. This suffering is not comfortable for them nor for you. Yet this does not mean that said suffering cannot be useful in the hands of a your loving and all-powerful God. In fact, the Scriptures testify that God uses such suffering to accomplish wonderful things in us and for us. 

God uses suffering to refine our faith (1 Peter 1:6-7), to prepare us for eternity (2 Corinthians 4:17), to produce in us endurance, character and hope (Romans 5:3-5), and to allow us to experience God's comfort in our pain (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). 
 
In short, the sufferings related to daddy issues are terrible. But such sufferings do not have to destroy God's people. In fact, God promises he will destroy such sufferings on behalf of God's people when Christ returns. On that day, "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes...neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away" (Revelation 21:4, ESV).

Share your story  
It is too late for you to undo your errors of the past. And, depending on your situation, it may be too late to truly reconcile with your children. Yet it is not too late to protect others from causing or experiencing the same damage. You have the opportunity to share your story with other fathers and potential fathers, that you might help them avoid the mistakes you made. You likewise can share your story with fathers in your same situation, that you might help them walk through the four steps covered in this blog post. 

In 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, the Apostle Paul writes, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God" (ESV).  

Don't waste your suffering. 

Don't waste your mistakes. 

Redeem them by sharing your story with those who need to hear it. 

@@Don't waste your suffering. Don't waste your mistakes. Redeem them by sharing your story with those who need to hear it.@@

Conclusion
If you are one who has caused daddy issues in others, neither wallowing in your guilt nor passing the blame to someone else will help you in any way. But confessing your sin, trusting God to father your child, remembering that suffering is redeemable, and sharing your story most certainly will. 

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Cole Brown is a Humble Beast author and speaker. He is the founding pastor of Emmaus Church, a multi-ethnic church in Portland, and now serves as a missionary helping plant churches in Mexico City, Mexico. His book, Daddy Issues: How the Gospel Heals Wounds Caused By Absent, Abusive & Aloof Fathers, is now available. Connect with him on twitter or facebook

5 Reasons to Consider Planting a House Church

INTRODUCTION

There are various church planting models. The Bible doesn't prescribe to us any one of them in particular. For this reason, we have the freedom to plant our church according to the model that best corresponds to our objectives and culture, as long as it meets the biblical requirements of a healthy church. Among these models is one that, in my opinion, should receive more attention and consideration. In this article I will use the acronym "LASER" to demonstrate five reasons for which it is wise to take the house church model into account when we consider planting a church, as it helps us laser-focus our energies on our most important objectives. 

LOVE
Before dying, Jesus gave his church a new command: that they love one another as he has loved them (John 13:34, 15:12). With this mandate, Jesus intends that the identity of his Church would be recognized by their love for one another. 


The environment of house churches is perfect for expressing and experiencing love. The size of the church ensures that each member knows the needs of the others. Also, since there is no formal institution, the only way in which the needs can be satisfied is through the individual members of the community. Each time that they gather is an opportunity to rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep, speak the truth in love to one another, carry one another's burdens and love one another in similar ways. 


What's more, house churches require an intimacy between their members that guarantees that each member will eventually be hurt by another member of the church. Through this challenge comes the opportunity to love in the most powerful way possible --through forgiveness-- and do it publicly. 


ATTRACT
Various statistics show that the churches that tend to reach those who do not already attend a church are new churches and small churches. Since house churches are small and can multiply rapidly into new churches, they already possess -- by their very nature -- the characteristics of those churches that tend to have the most evangelistic success.  


Moreover, Jesus teaches us that it is by our love for one another that the world will realize who Jesus is (John 13:34-35, 17:23). This makes love the most effective evangelistic strategy there is. Since we have already seen that house churches provide a suitable context for love, we can also conclude that they give us a powerful evangelistic tool. 


SERVE

When we speak of discipleship, we are speaking of the process of implementing Jesus' teachings and growing more and more into his image. According to Ephesians 4:12-13, Christians arrive at this level of spiritual maturity through their works of service in the context of the local church. 


House churches are designed to involve every member. The size of the group and the format of the meeting provide both the opportunity and the necessity to do so. For example, instead of listening to the prayers of one person, each person prays in the gathering. Equally, there is space for everyone to study and discuss the Word, use their spiritual gifts, and dedicate themselves to mutual discipleship and evangelism. 


EQUIP
Every pastor and church leader shares the same responsibility: equip the people of God for works of service, in order to build the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12). In fact, this is the reason Jesus gives leaders as gifts to his Church (Ephesians 4:11). 


Human beings learn and change better when they can both listen and practice. In house churches, the size of the group and format of the meeting assure that members learn as much through formal teaching as through personal practice. For example, in such churches one does not learn to pray simply by listening to the example of a specific leader, but by means of each member's example and the experience of praying out loud with them. Similarly, one learns to read and interpret the BIble by actually doing it along with the group, under biblically-qualified leadership, instead of simply listening to a professional preacher. 


REPRODUCE 
We know that the simpler an organism is, the more quickly it can reproduce. House churches are not an exception to this rule. In order to be successful, a house church only requires two things. First, a man of character with sufficient knowledge to correct false teaching. Second, someone -- whether a Christian or not -- who is willing to open her house or business to the group. This means that nearly every house church already possesses within itself the resources it needs to multiply, since they don't need money, buildings or expert ministers. As a result, they can multiply themselves both quickly and easily.  


CONCLUSION
The house church model is not the healthy model. But it is a healthy model. Therefore, it should be considered as a viable way to plant churches. It shouldn't be seen as nothing more than a "small version" of the traditional church model, but as a completely different means of reaching the same objectives. If you want to plant a church that is marked by Love, is able to Attract non-Christians, provides an excellent context for Service, Equips its members and can Reproduce itself into other healthy churches, perhaps the house church model is the model for you.  

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Cole Brown is a Humble Beast author and speaker. He is the founding pastor of Emmaus Church, a multi-ethnic church in Portland, and now serves as a missionary helping plant churches in Mexico City, Mexico. Connect with him on twitter or facebook

4 Tips for Improving Your Bible Study

As Christians, small group Bible studies are one of the most powerful tools we have as we strive to obey Jesus’ command to make disciples of all nations. As a pastor, two of my favorite things about small group Bible studies are that 1) they can be lead by anyone and 2) they can happen anywhere. You do not need to have a seminary education or professional ministry experience to gather with some friends, open the Bible, and listen to what God says; nor do you need access to a church building as you can start one wherever you are: your home, your job, your school, your neighborhood - wherever. Because small group Bible studies are so powerful and flexible, it is important that we take advantage of these benefits for the glory of God and the good of the Church. Below are 4 tips that I hope will help you make the most of the Bible study you are currently leading, or inspire you to start one amongst your sphere of influence. 

1. Let the Bible talk more than you.

Though we may call it a “Bible study,” in many cases our small group Bible study would more accurately be called “teacher study.” As Bible study leaders we often feel the weight of the responsibility of making sure the members of our group leave with a rich understanding of God’s Word. Unfortunately, we often allow this healthy desire to lead us to an unhealthy teaching style. We may do this by giving the answers ourselves instead of allowing the members to discover the answers in the Bible, which teaches members to rely on us to discover truth instead of relying on God’s Word. Or we may do this by providing our answers to the questions raised after the group members have already given theirs, which teaches group members that the answers they find in the Bible are insufficient without our additional insight. 

The best Bible teachers are not those who can share the most information or provide the best answers, but those who can ask the best questions in order that group members find the answers in the Bible instead of in their leader.   

2. Let the Spirit guide instead of you.

As leaders who have adequately prepared before the study, we often come to the group having already arrived at our own conclusions related the passage. This is wonderful for us as individuals but can be dangerous for the other members of our group when we attempt to guide them towards the same insights. When we do this we interfere with the Holy Spirit, who may choose to use the same text to lead other members toward different thoughts, applications and convictions. We also unintentionally communicate to the group that they have not arrived at the right answer until they arrive at our answer. Whether you intend to or not, when you are trying to guide the group toward your answer you make members nervous to share their insights, as they know it may not match up with the “right” answer you are looking for. 

It is of utmost importance that you resist the urge to lead group members toward your answers, and instead trust the Holy Spirit to lead them into truth, even if it’s not the thought you would have chosen to emphasize.  

3. Give feedback without embarrassing.

In the course of a Bible study group members say all sorts of things. Some of these things will be supremely insightful, some will be blatantly obvious, and others will be simply wrong. With the insightful and the obvious, leaders tend to make the error of not saying anything. With the wrong, leaders tend to make the error of correcting the group member in a humiliating way. Both strategies are insufficient. 

No matter what is said, group leaders must provide feedback. A facilitator should never sit silently after someone shares their perspective, no matter what it might be. You also cannot simply say “okay” or “does anyone else have any thoughts?” When you do any of these things you are failing to facilitate, and you leave everyone else wondering if something wrong or useless was said. Instead, you should respond to every thought in one of three ways. First, you can summarize what was said in your own words. This is often very useful because group members may spend several confusing paragraphs explaining something that you can easily summarize in one sentence and thereby clarify for everyone present. Second, you can offer encouragement with a simple phrase such as, “thank you for sharing that,” “good thoughts,” or “that’s a great observation.” Third, if a group member says something that is entirely off base, you can respond with guiding questions rather than humiliating correction. “That’s interesting, can you share with us how you came to that conclusion?.” “I can see why you might say that, but do verses 5-6 seem to be saying something different?” or “I haven’t thought of it that way before, can you think of other bible passages that might support that or contradict that?”     

4. Request participation, don’t demand it.

While ideally you want every member of your group to actively participate, their verbal participation is not the most important thing. The most important thing is that they interact with God’s Word. Some will be comfortable doing this out loud, but others will be less so — either due to their personality, their lack of Bible knowledge, their fear of being corrected or their unfamiliarity with the group members. When you force someone like this to share when they are not ready, or read aloud when they are not comfortable, you run the risk of making the experience of studying the Bible an unpleasant one for them. This, of course, is the exact opposite of your goal. Rather than calling on them in public, it is wise to approach those who do not verbally participate one-on-one. In that context you can ask them whether or not they’d be comfortable with you calling on them to read or answer questions in future studies. If not, you can ask them why, which may lead to a discipleship opportunity. It will also empower you to lead them much more lovingly and skillfully.

Conclusion

God’s Spirit uses the combination of God’s Word and God’s People to both teach us and transform us in profound ways. Perhaps the above 4 tips will be helpful as you play your role in that process. 

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Cole Brown is a Humble Beast author and speaker. He is the founding pastor of Emmaus Church, a multi-ethnic church in Portland, and now serves as a missionary helping plant churches in Mexico City, Mexico. Connect with him on twitter or facebook

 

Our Misunderstanding of Legalism

In my 16 years of following Jesus, I have never once heard someone self-identify as a legalist. Not once. Yet I have countless times heard someone identify another Christian as a legalist. The fact that the word "legalist" is used exclusively to label someone else, and never used to label oneself, tells me two things. First, it tells me it is possible to be a legalist without knowing you are one. Second, it tells me it is possible to think someone else is a legalist when, in fact, they are not. Both possibilities reveal one central problem: as much as we love to use the word "legalist" we don't really know what it means, nor to whom it applies. 

@@It is possible to be a legalist without knowing you are one & possible to label someone a legalist who is not@@

So what does it mean?

And to whom does it apply?

While the word does not appear in the Bible, it is a word Christians have adopted in order to describe something that indeed does appear in the Bible. Namely, it is used to describe the theology and attitude of the Pharisees with whom Jesus interacted and the Judaizers whose teaching Paul regularly confronted. Thus, the best way for us to have a right understanding of what legalism means and to whom it applies is to examine the theologies and attitudes of the Pharisees and the Judaizers. 

One of the most useful passages in understanding legalism is Matthew 23, in which Jesus openly rebukes the Pharisees for tying up "heavy, cumbersome loads and put[ting] them on other people's shoulders..." (read: legalism). A common theme that runs through this extended criticism of the Pharisees is that they have added their own laws alongside of God's Law and -- to make matters worse -- they treat those laws as supreme. In other words, legalists major on the minor issues and minor on the major issues.

An equally helpful section of Scripture is the book of Galatians. In his letter to the Christians in Galatia, Paul confronts the legalism of the Judaizers in very strong language. The specific lie the Galatian Christians were being fed is that their position with God depended on their obedience to God's Law. This was in contrast to the message they believed when they first became Christians: that their position with God was dependent on their faith in Jesus' obedience to God's Law. The idea that we are accepted by God based on our own obedience to the Law is legalism, and if we believe it, "Christ will be of no value to you at all" (Galatians 5:2). 

Combining what we learn from the Pharisees and the Judaizers we can conclude that legalists are those who place their own laws alongside or above God's Law and/or trust in their obedience to said laws to make them right with God

Thus, there are many who are obviously legalists because they openly major on the minors and minor on the majors, like the Pharisees. We all know someone who is vehemently opposed to people watching the portrayal of sexual immorality in movies but who is much less concerned about the very real sexual immorality in their own lives, or someone who declares all drinking is sin while having no issue with their own gluttony as it relates to food and entertainment. 

There are also many who do not think they are legalists who, in fact, are. They don't think they are legalists because they know they're not obligated to obey silly rules about how long their skirt has to be or what radio station they can listen to. Yet if they believe that their position with God is in any way dependent on their obedience to even one of God's laws, they are legalists. 

At the same time there are those who are labeled by others as legalists who, in fact, are not. Someone who rebukes another Christian for watching pirated television shows and movies is not a legalist, they are simply faithfully trying to honor God's command to not steal. One who refuses to say a curse word is often not a legalist, but simply someone trying to submit to God's command to "not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouth, but only what is helpful for building up others" (Ephesians 4:29).  Such people are only legalists if they think their obedience to these commands in some way achieves or maintains their salvation. If they are trusting in Christ's obedience to save them, their emphasis on obeying God's laws is not legalism. It is love (John 14:15).   

@@If they are trusting in Christ's obedience, their emphasis on obeying God's laws is not legalism. It is love@@

We would be wise to heed the warning of the Prophet Isaiah, who wrote, "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil" (Isaiah 5:20). When we fail to properly define legalism, we are guilty of doing just that. We may do it as the Pharisees did, by applauding ourselves for our strict obedience to things that are not of utmost importance to God. Or we may do it as "anti-legalists" who fail to see the legalism that might live in us, calling our Christian faith "good" even as we unconsciously trust in some measure of our own obedience to keep us right with God. We also may do it by labeling the faithful obedience of another Christian as legalism, when it is actually us who are in sin for failing to pursue God's will with comparable zeal.  

In short, instead of using "legalism" as a slur we use to immediately dismiss the opinion or convictions of another, perhaps we should focus on its true meaning and use it to evaluate ourselves before we evaluate others: 

Am I adding to God's Law with my own laws -- even if those laws are good and wise?  

Am I in any way majoring on issues that God considers minor and minoring on issues that God considers major? 

Am I relying on my own obedience to God's Law (including my obedience to the command "do not be a legalist") to get me right or keep me right with God?

Am I judging another Christian as a "legalist" without evaluating if perhaps I should be equally passionate about the command they are striving to obey? 

If we do this, I imagine we will find the word applies to us more often than we ever thought and applies to others far less than we expected.

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Cole Brown is a Humble Beast author and speaker. He is the founding pastor of Emmaus Church, a multi-ethnic church in Portland, and now serves as a missionary helping plant churches in Mexico City, Mexico. Connect with him on twitter or facebook

Choosing the Right Worship Songs

Why do we sing in church?

Is it because it’s fun? Because it’s tradition? Because it feels good? 

It may be all of these things for some of us, but this is not why we do it. We sing in church because the New Testament commands us to.

Twice.

“Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 

- Ephesians 5:18-21

“Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts” 

- Colossians 3:16

From these two brief passages we learn at least five key truths about God’s intentions for our musical worship:

  1. Every member is commanded to sing out loud, not just a select few. 
  2. We are to be taught and admonished through our congregational singing.
  3. We are to sing various types of songs.
  4. Our singing is to be motivated by gratitude to God for who he is and what he’s done.
  5. Our singing in this way is an expression of being filled with the Holy Spirit. 

With these five truths in mind, the worship leader can choose songs with intentionality, aiming to help the congregation obey Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3. Below are 5 guidelines that will help in that process. 

Singability Over Personal Taste

According to the two passages above, our musical worship is to be congregational. In other words, we could have the best worship team providing the best music on the planet, but if the members of the church are not singing to one another, we fail to offer the musical worship God desires.  

This means that one of the primary questions we should ask when selecting songs is: is it easy to sing? If it is not, it may be a great song for personal worship. But it is not the best choice for congregational worship. This can be difficult for those of us who love good songwriting, as we will have to say “no” to some of our favorite songs and “yes” to songs that may not be as artistically interesting. Yet these are worthy sacrifices, because they empower the entire congregation to obey God’s commands to sing to one another.

Both Revelation & Response

Colossians 3:16 also show us that we should teach one another through our singing. This means we should very carefully consider the lyrics of the songs we sing, as the truths we rehearse through actively singing a song are far easier to remember than those truths we receive through passively hearing a sermon. Our time of musical worship can instruct the congregation through 1) songs of revelation and 2) songs of response. Songs of revelation are those songs that teach biblical truths about who God is and what God has done, songs of response are those that teach us how to respond biblically to who God is and what God has done. In general, the broader evangelical community tends to primarily choose songs of response and the reformed community tends to choose songs of revelation. Yet the Psalms are rich with both, and our church services should be as well.  

Both Familiar & Fresh

In order to faithfully obey Colossians 3 and Ephesians 5 your church needs both songs that familiar and songs that are fresh. Familiar songs are necessary to ensure the congregation (and not just the worship team) can sing the song aloud as God commands. The more often a song is repeated the more easily the congregation can sing it loudly and joyfully.  Fresh songs are also necessary in order to ensure the congregation wants to sing the song aloud as God commands. As we all know, there eventually comes a point when familiar songs become tired songs and the congregation no longer finds joy in singing them (speaking for myself, I may no longer want God to “open the eyes of my heart” if it means I have to sing Paul Baloche’s song again). To minimize this, it is important to regularly introduce new songs into the repertoire (the same Baloche recommends adding 2 new songs per month). Of course, once a fresh song is introduced the goal is to turn it into a familiar song (Baloche again recommends singing a new song 3 times within the first four-week period it is introduced to help move it from fresh to familiar). 

Both Traditional Hymns & Modern Choruses

Both passages not only command us to sing as a congregation, but also to sing different types of songs as a congregation. In our culture the two general categories of congregational worship songs are 1) traditional hymns and 2) modern choruses. Both have advantages and disadvantages. For example, hymns have the advantage of covering a greater diversity of themes and connecting the congregation to the Universal Church in other places and times, while having the disadvantage of being verbose and using dated language that is difficult for some to understand. Worship choruses have the advantage of connecting with the musical and cultural expressions of many in the church, while having the disadvantage of being at times lyrically simplistic or overly “poppy” for some in the congregation. This is why we should include both in our worship sets, though how many we choose to use of each will depend heavily on the makeup of our congregation.

In keeping with the theme of singing diverse types of songs, we should also aim to include both mid- to up-tempo and mid- to down-tempo songs in our sets, as well as songs sung in the first-person singular (“I”) and songs sung in the first-person plural (“we”). The Book of Psalms models both by including both songs of celebration and of lament, and songs written both from the perspective of an individual and the perspective of the community. 

Storytelling Over Personal Taste    

If we are responsible for creating a worship set of six songs, the easiest thing to do is simply to pick the six songs we most enjoy singing. But doing so does not help us obey Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3. Instead, we should choose our songs with a focus on teaching one another about our God and how we ought to respond to him (Colossians 3:16). There are multiple strategies we can employ as we pursue this goal.

First, we can spend the week reading and reflecting on the biblical text our pastor will be preaching from. In prayer, we can then ask the Holy Spirit to help us select songs that will emphasize the themes of the passage and our proper response to them. For instance, if the theme of the sermon is suffering, it would be wise to choose songs that give us perspective on how to respond to Christian suffering (a famous example would be “Blessed Be Your Name”, though one of my personal favorites is “When the Tears Fall”). 

Second, we can arrange the songs of revelation/response and songs of down-tempo/up-tempo in a way that reinforces the story God is telling through the preached Word. For example, I have found it helpful to open the service (before the sermon) with songs of revelation that affirm things about God’s character that will be covered in the sermon and close the service (after the sermon) with songs of response that model how we should respond to what God said through the preaching. Similarly, I have generally used down-tempo songs to lead into the sermon (as they calm our hearts and help us focus on what God is about to say) and out of the sermon (as they provide us space to meditate on what God just said), while using up-tempo songs at the conclusion of the service that we might leave the gathering celebrating the grace and forgiveness we received from God that day. 

Of course it is not necessary that you follow my application of Colossians 5 and Ephesians 3, but it is essential that you reflect on these passages and determine how God would have you apply them and obey them in the context of your corporate musical worship. 

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Cole Brown is a Humble Beast author and speaker. He is the founding pastor of Emmaus Church, a multi-ethnic church in Portland, and now serves as a missionary helping plant churches in Mexico City, Mexico. Connect with him on twitter or facebook

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Grow a Church

Some Christians prefer a large church, some prefer a small church, but all Christians prefer a growing church. The question is: how do we grow a church? Specifically, how can you help grow your church?

Our timelines are filled with conferences, books and coaches that will answer the question for four easy payments of $19.99. Some will tell you the key is to design your church for young families, others will tell you the answer is crafting everything you do with hip singles in mind. Some groups claim the key to church growth is in preaching for the Christians in the audience and others say the proper aim is the non-Christian.  On the same day you can be told that only faithfully preaching the gospel will grow your church (without respect to felt needs) and that preaching to the felt needs of your community (above any particular theological emphasis) is the essential ingredient. 

In other words, the experts don't agree on how you can grow your church. 

But it doesn't matter. 

Because the fact is, God has already answered the question for us in Ephesians 4:11-13. 

"And he [God] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ..."

According to this passage, the key to church growth is that both church leaders and church members play the position God put them in. If we do this, we are assured spiritual growth, which is the cause of healthy and lasting numerical growth. 

Church leaders: you are called to play the position God placed you in by equipping the members of the church to do the works of ministry both inside and outside the church. Let's be honest and acknowledge this is very different from what American church culture teaches us to expect from our leaders. We want our leaders to play the role of friend, psychologist, dynamic preacher, business manager, advice-dispenser, and marketing director while being always available and, in the midst of fulfilling all these responsibilities, somehow endlessly taking the initiative to pursue us. 

American church culture has trained us to expect everything from our leaders except the one thing that God expects from our leaders: that they train us to do the ministry. Unfortunately, the more time leaders spend on trying to meet member expectations, the less time leaders have to fulfill God's expectations. Likewise, members must know that if a pastor chooses to play the position God has drafted him to play, he will no longer be able to play the position the average member demands. Much like a Major League pitcher suffers at the plate precisely because he invests his every waking moment at excelling as a pitcher, a pastor can either excel at the role God calls him to or at that which the members expect of him. It is impossible to do both. Just as a baseball team can only grow to its potential when its pitchers are willing to sacrifice their hitting ability to focus on what the team most needs from them, the church grows to its full potential when its leaders choose to sacrifice their ability to meet the demands of American church culture, in order to do what will best serve the church: play the role God gave them to play.

Likewise, the members of the church have been appointed by God to play their position as well. Members: you are called by God to do the works of ministry (Ephesians 4:12). This is very different from how we think about ministry. We call the pastors our "ministers."  And when we have issues requiring attention, counsel, prayer, mediation, bible knowledge, etc., we call on the pastor to take care of them. But God says that's not the pastor's position to play. The pastor is to equip for ministry, the church members are to do the ministry. In this regard, the pastor is similar to a personal trainer. He does not do the work for you, he gives you the tools and encouragement to do the work yourself. Just as you won't grow stronger if your personal trainer lifts the weights for you, the church won't grow stronger as long as the leaders lift the weight of ministry for the members. Yet you ought not hear this as a burden, but as a blessing. God put you in this position precisely because you can play it (by his grace and power) and produce the growth you desire to see. 

You have never seen a 300 pound center trying to run a wide receiver's routes, nor a 180 pound quarterback trying to block a 300 pound tackle. This is because the players on a football team (in my humble opinion, God's least favorite sport) know the position they have been put in the game to play. They also know their team can only win when each player plays the position they were drafted to play. Unfortunately, in the church, we are in the habit of doing exactly what football players refuse to do. We reverse positions and have pastors doing the work of ministry and members equipping them by providing money, requests and unsolicited advice. 

If we want our churches to grow, this has to stop. Both leaders and members alike must reject the traditional roles our American church culture has assigned and embrace the positions God has called them to play. Though this is difficult, the good news is that we are promised that "when each part is working properly" Jesus -- not us -- will "make the body grow." But don't take my word for it:

"[Jesus] from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love" (Ephesians 4:16, ESV).

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Cole Brown is a Humble Beast author and speaker. He is the founding pastor of Emmaus Church, a multi-ethnic church in Portland, and now serves as a missionary helping plant churches in Mexico City, Mexico. Connect with him on twitter or facebook

 

 

 

3 Reasons You Should Never Forgive Yourself

“You have to learn to forgive yourself!” 

This is the advice most often given to those who are troubled by guilt, shame or self-hate. Those who give this advice mean well; they want their loved one to be free from these feelings and to live a more free and joyful life. However, as well meaning as it is, it is terrible and potentially deadly advice. 

I hope you’ll allow me to explain. 

The following are three reasons why you should never forgive yourself or counsel someone else to do the same. 

1. It makes you the victim

In any event requiring forgiveness there are two parties: the offended and the offender. The only one of those two parties who has the right to either give or deny forgiveness is the victim. When we tell someone “forgive yourself” we make the offended person a victim all over again by robbing them of their rights and giving those rights to the very person who hurt them. We would not (I hope) encourage a rapist to go about his life free from guilt and shame because he has decided to forgive himself. Instead, we would require him to face his victim and seek the forgiveness he desires from the one who has the power to actually give it. The same should be true of every offense, from the most despicable to the most understandable.  

Such counsel doesn’t only harm the offended, it also harms the offender. It keeps them from pursuing and perhaps receiving forgiveness from the person they hurt and, consequently, keeps them from experiencing the humility of pursuing it and the life-transforming joy of receiving forgiveness. 

For the good of both the offended and the offender we should not tell people, “Forgive yourself.” We should tell them the truth. The truth is that you are forgiven when the person you sinned against grants you that forgiveness, not when you grant it to yourself.

2. It makes you the judge

Another problem with telling people they just need to forgive themselves is that by doing so we exalt them to the position of judge. A position they do not, in reality, hold. The Bible tells us, “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the who is able to save and destroy” (James 4:12, ESV). God and God alone stands above both the victimizer and the victim; he holds the final word on what is and is not ultimately forgiven because he is the ultimate victim of each and every sin (Psalm 51:4). As the one Lawgiver and Judge, when God says a sin is forgiven, it is forgiven, whether you forgive yourself or not; when he says a sin remains unforgiven it remains unforgiven, whether you forgive yourself or nor not. Asking a human being to forgive themselves is like asking a dog to dress themselves: it does not possess the capacity to do what you are asking. 

Thus, telling someone to “forgive themselves” is not helpful, but harmful. It encourages them to commit idolatry by putting themselves in the place of God, which only adds to the guilt they carry. It also denies them the opportunity of actually receiving the assurance of the forgiveness they so desperately need by pointing them away from the only one who can actually give it. 

3. It’s a misdiagnosis 

The third and final reason you should never forgive yourself or counsel someone else to do the same is because it’s a treatment based on a misdiagnosis. If someone is plagued by guilt, shame or self-hatred their problem is not that they have refused to forgive themselves. Their problem is that they have refused to receive the free forgiveness God offers them. In Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ alone “we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses” (Ephesians 1:7, ESV). It does not say we “can have” or that we will “one day have” but, rather, that we presently have the forgiveness we need. 

When we counsel someone to forgive themselves we are asking them to cure themselves with a placebo, which is the equivalent of condemning them to perpetual sickness. The true cure to our shame, guilt and self-hatred is not found in forgiving ourselves but in trusting in God’s declaration that we have already been forgiven in Jesus Christ and that he remembers our sin no more (Jeremiah 31:4). 

When we say, “learn to forgive yourself” we not only hurt the victim and the victimizer, we also deny God the glory he earned by doing everything necessary to bring forgiveness to unforgivable people guilty of unforgivable offenses. We lead people to believe that their healing is found in their own willingness to forgive instead of in the willingness of God to forgive them at the immeasurable cost of his own Son. 

***

I don’t want you to live in shame, guilt or self-hate. That’s why I beg you to stop trying to forgive yourself. Instead, look to the True Judge and True Victim, and receive the forgiveness he has already purchased for you. Life and freedom are found in choosing to believe him who speaks the truth, instead of believing your inner-voice of condemnation and its lies.

————

Cole Brown is a Humble Beast author and speaker. He is the founding pastor of Emmaus Church, a multi-ethnic church in Portland, and now serves as a missionary helping plant churches in Mexico City, Mexico. Connect with him on twitter or facebook

 

 

A Letter to White Evangelicals

A Letter to White Evangelicals

The post below was written in November 2014, immediately following the announcement that no police officers would be charged with Michael Brown's murder. With the recent killings of Anton Sterling and Philando Castile I thought it might be appropriate to repost it here with a couple slight changes. 

Thankfully, the overall response within the white evangelical community (of which I am a member) has been different from that of 2014. There have been many more voices of empathy speaking loudly and publicly. However, within the white evangelical community we still hear many of the same things we heard in 2014:

We have to wait for all the facts.
He should not have been resisting.
People who obey the law don't have to fear the police.
It had nothing to do with race.
You need to respect law enforcement.
Why aren't we talking about black-on-black crime?
You're dividing our country by making this about race.

Because things like this are still being said, both publicly and privately, I wanted to remind us of the conversation we had two years ago. 

What Disneyland Taught Me About Suffering

What Disneyland Taught Me About Suffering

For the last four months, one of my children has been crying themselves to sleep every night for hours at a time. Almost a year ago, our family left everything we know and love to move to Mexico City in order to learn and do ministry. Despite the joy and blessings we are experiencing here, my suffering child desperately misses their home city of Portland, Oregon and, every night, asks "When can we go home?" As we share prayer requests each night, the request they share time and again is that God will send us back to Portland. My child is suffering and simply wants to know "When will it end?" As a father, I long to be able to give them a date when everything will get better. I ache to be able to provide them with the specific time when they will no longer suffer nightly in their tears as they drift to sleep. 

But of course I can't.

Growing Your Faith

Growing Your Faith

As a pastor, one of the questions I have been asked more than any other is, "How do I grow my faith?" This makes sense, since we know it is impossible to please God without faith (Hebrews 11:6). The level of our faith often makes the difference between obedience and disobedience, contentment and discontentment, confidence and fear. Thus, it is wise and normal that we would want to find out how to grow our faith. The challenge, of course, is that the Bible describes faith as a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8, 2 Peter 1:1, Philippians 1:29). So how can we make ourselves grow in something we have no control over?

A Common Obstacle to Discipleship

A Common Obstacle to Discipleship

The Christian life is a life of discipleship. 

That life of discipleship has its share of obstacles.

In my years of ministry I have had the privilege of discipling a very diverse group of people — men and women of various races and ethnicities, ages and generations, financial, political, social, and religious backgrounds. Yet, for all the diversity of the people I have had the privilege to disciple, there has been one massive challenge to discipleship that has affected each group, without prejudice: daddy issues

Do the Right Thing: Biblical Help for Decision-Making, Part Two

Do the Right Thing: Biblical Help for Decision-Making, Part Two

As followers of Christ, we want to live in a way that pleases our King. We want to do the right thing. The problem is, the "right thing" isn't always so easy to discern. In fact, in all my years of Christian ministry, this has been the practical question I have seen people wrestle with more than any other: How do I know what the right thing is? While I acknowledge this can be a difficult question to answer, I have also found two pieces of guidance in Scripture that have freed me from the stress and fear of choosing the wrong thing. In fact, they have made decision-making in the moment easier than I could have ever imagined. In part one of this series, I explained that, when faced with a decision, our first response should be “How can I best reflect the image of God in this situation?” In many cases, asking this simple question will be enough to know what to do. In other cases, though, the “right thing” is less explicit and appears much more relative. What do we do in those moments? That’s where the second piece of guidance comes in...

Do the Right Thing: Biblical Help for Decision-Making, Part One

Do the Right Thing: Biblical Help for Decision-Making, Part One

As followers of Christ, we want to live in a way that pleases our King. We want to do the right thing. The problem is, the "right thing" isn't always so easy to discern. In fact, in all my years of Christian ministry, this has been the practical question I have seen people wrestle with more than any other: How do I know what the right thing is? While I acknowledge this can be a difficult question to answer, I have also found two pieces of guidance in Scripture that have freed me from the stress and fear of choosing the wrong thing. In fact, they have made decision-making in the moment easier than I could have ever imagined. The first piece of guidance is based on our role as image-bearers...

Common Misconceptions About Calvinism, Part Four

Common Misconceptions About Calvinism, Part Four

In my experience, many believers who consciously know they are Arminians have chosen this theological system because they are uncomfortable with some of the positions of Calvinism. For instance, they do not desire to believe in a God who creates people knowing they are destined for hell, nor a God whom chooses to save some and not others. They look at certain Bible verses such as 1 Timothy 2:14 (God “desires all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth”, NIV) and conclude that Arminianism deals with biblical data like this better than Calvinism. 

The problem is, it really doesn’t. The uncomfortable beliefs one might be trying to avoid by escaping Calvinism remain after embracing Arminianism. While Arminianism is a different theological system, it does not provide a neat-and-tidy solution to the most common objections I hear to Calvinism. Here’s why…. 

Common Misconceptions About Calvinism, Part Three

Common Misconceptions About Calvinism, Part Three
Calvinism is a threat to missions and evangelism. If God has pre-destined certain people to salvation, and is going to assure that they are saved no matter what, what’s the use of preaching the gospel to non-Christians? The elect will be saved no matter what, right? It seems that your Calvinism completely robs you of any reason or motivation to evangelize. 


These comments arise from a sincere desire to see the lost found. Those outside of Calvinism genuinely cannot reconcile the powerful words of the Great Commission with their understanding of how Calvinists think about salvation. Yet, this inability to reconcile the two is due far less to any contradiction between the two than it is to a misunderstanding of how those inside of Calvinism think about evangelism. There are at least four reasons that Calvinism does not have this supposed negative affect on evangelism.

Common Misconceptions About Calvinism, Part Two

Common Misconceptions About Calvinism, Part Two

In part one of this series, I explained that I do not like the label Calvinist because both insiders and outsiders have misconceptions about what Calvinists actually believe. In this series, I hope to clarify some of those misconceptions. My goal is not to convince people to be Calvinists, but to make sure all of us know what we are choosing to accept or reject before we choose to accept or reject it.