7 essential emphases for local Churches

  1. Emphasis on qualified spiritual leadership: 1 Timothy 3; Titus 1; Heb. 13:17.
  2. Emphasis on unity: Ephesians 4:3; Philippians 2:14-15; John 17:21.
  3. Emphasis on humility in service: Luke 17:10; Mark 10:45; Philippians 2:3-5.
  4. Emphasis on every-member-ministry: Ephesians 4:16; Hebrews 3:12-13.
  5. Emphasis on grace in debatable matters: Romans 14:3.
  6. Emphasis on loving God by serving others: Hebrews 6:10;10:23-25.
  7. Emphasis on evangelism, discipleship and salt/light influence: Rom.1:16; Matt. 5:13-16;28:19-20.

A Worshipping and Witnessing Community

The Church is a worshipping and witnessing community (I Peter 2:5, 9) responsible to evangelize, establish and enlist people by bringing them to Christ, helping them grow in Christ, and encouraging them to serve Christ by serving one another and loving their neighbors.

  1. Evangelize – Bring people to Christ to know Him as Savior and follow Him as Lord.  “Follow Me!” (Matthew 4:19, Luke 9:23; 14:33; Colossians 2:6)
  2. Establish – Help people come to maturity in Christ – to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ (II Peter 3:18; Ephesians 1:17; 4:1-16; Colossians 1:28-29; 2:6-7; 4:12)  “Abide in Me!”
  3. Enlist  – To encourage each believer to serve Christ in witness and ministry (Matthew 5:13-16; 28:18-20; Galatians 5:13; I Peter 4:10-11) “Make disciples of all nations!”

Each believer must be: Ministry minded, Ministry equipped, and Ministry enlisted.

Steve Cornell

Listen. Learn. Live.

7 short clips from my daily programs on WJTL 90.3 FM

  1. The Market Driven Church
  2. I will build my Church
  3. You need patience
  4. Ask for whatever you want me to give you
  5. The most important thing your children need
  6. Father’s Day is difficult for some people
  7. Forgiveness not enabling (Resources- 717-872-4260)

Steve Cornell

Listen. Learn. Live.

8 short clips from my daily programs on WJTL 90.3 FM

  1. What do you want your Church to be (Or, what does God say the Church is?)
  2. Antagonistic people (Warning about dangerous people)
  3. Loving another (A word from the wedding season)
  4. Leaving Your Church (Some guidelines to help you)
  5. Worldview: Can you explain a Christian worldview to others? Where would you start?
  6. Young Leaders: I am a little nervous for younger leaders going into full-time ministry.
  7. Attitude Check: Words to repeat before entering your Church.
  8. Elders: Counsel for Church leaders.

Steve Cornell

The glory of ordinary lives

il_340x270.505798718_omb6We need more emphasis on the glory of living ordinary lives for Christ. Perhaps it could become the new radical!

The emphasis we’ve seen on being radical Christians could lead to a feeling that what is ordinary is either boring or some form of compromise. This could then produce a larger chasm between what the Church says and the way most people must live day by day.

It also has the potential of threatening the joy of daily life with the spirit of discontentment that promoted the sin of Eden.

Listen to the way people tell you what they do.

  • “I am just a mom.”
  • “I am just a mechanic.”
  • “I am just a waitress.”
  • “I am just a ….”

On and on it goes. But maybe there is no “just” with God? Or, more likely, God is found in the “just.” Jesus asked, “For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27).

Needed message 

    • “Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before. Then people who are not Christians will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others” (I Thessalonians 4:11-12, NLT).
    • “Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order to provide for urgent needs and not live unproductive lives” (Titus 3:14, NIV).

I fear that we’ve lost touch with the glory and joy of being called to faithfulness and diligence in the ordinary routines and duties of life. What would life look like if we renewed our zeal to “… be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

I think of Jesus’ emphasis on serving God quietly in secret places. “Be careful” He said, “not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them” (Matthew 6:1). “When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen” (Matthew 6:6).

We need renewed zeal for the quiet glory of being faithful fathers, mothers, children, brothers, sisters, neighbors, employers, employees, — just common followers of Jesus Christ living ordinary lives for an extraordinary glory.

tumblr_mrwo0aVE5W1qcdaeho1_500“So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Have we lost touch with the joy of ordinary, non-glamorous devotion to God and others because we’ve lived with an “If only….” spirit of restlessness? Have we overly radicalized wholehearted love for God and our neighbor by separating it from daily faithfulness in mundane but necessary duties?

Jesus said, “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty’” (Luke 17:10).

Jesus required unconcern for status as a kingdom virtue. “At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” (Matthew 18:1-5).

“Stop being un-amazed by the strange glory of ordinary things” (Clyde Kilby).

Steve Cornell

Questions for Church leaders

-

Are current and future Church leaders aware that professional opinion on the sources behind human behaviors and emotions has undergone a significant and relatively recent change? The authoritative voice on these matters has shifted from nurture (social context) as the primary source to nature (genes and brain chemistry).

The therapist or counselor now takes a back seat to the medical doctor. Therapeutic psychology has been unseated by bio-psychiatry and pharmacology as the reigning narrative for resolving emotional and behavioral challenges. Ministry training centers must equip students to understand and respond to this change.

How should pastoral counseling respond? How does the average person in the church understand life-change and spiritual transformation in relation to bio-psychiatry, pharmacology and medicine? 

To learn more about these changes, see my postPsychology, big business and theology.

Steve Cornell

Journey to and Beyond

The Church that LBC’s Freshmen will inherit

(My article in Echo Magazine for Lancaster Bible College, winter 2013)

In many ways, life is a journey—predictable and unexpected at the same time. Some of the changes along the way are more significant than others, and going to college is one of these significant changes. The incoming class of college freshmen faces exciting opportunities and substantial challenges. When they graduate in 2017, they will be faced with a Church that looks quite different from the Church that this generation has known.

As a fellow pilgrim, allow me to share what I have learned from my journey. I began ministry as a college student and youth pastor in the greater Philadelphia area. A couple of years later, my wife and I moved to the university town of Millersville, Pennsylvania, to start a church. I was only 25 years old, and we had 7 people in our initial group. This fall we will begin our 29 year at the church. God has faithfully worked through each step of the way.

Our world is much different from when I entered ministry 30 years ago. Although it’s not easy to predict how things might change in four years, here is what I’ve seen approaching. Advancements in science, technology, and medicine have been amazing over the past few decades. Through internet and cell phone technology, the world has become a smaller, more connected place. The amount of information available to us is overwhelming. These changes continue to offer both opportunities and potential dangers.

With the explosion of available information, longstanding questions of Christian apologetics, such as “How do we know what is true?” and “Hasn’t science liberated us from the need to believe in God?” will continue to deserve careful attention. The church cannot assume that people will easily accept the Bible as God’s Word and as the sole authority for faith and practice. They must learn how to make a case for the truth of the Bible and for the exclusive truth claims regarding Jesus as the only way to God.

Along with this challenge, the future church must confront an age-old tendency toward legalism. Few things have been more disruptive to the unity of churches and their witness for Christ than legalism. Future leaders must understand and counter this internal threat. When Scripture is misrepresented as requiring more than it does, it gives people more excuses for discounting the Bible.

We must learn how to distinguish the things clearly commanded and forbidden in Scripture from those things that are permitted and left to our conscience. The future Church will be challenged with the task to maturely follow leadership yet carefully distinguish between these institution-imposed standards and the explicit commands of God.

Increased concerns about the dangers of radical Islam could bring a backlash for Christians. As more people view radical Islam as a primary source of violence, they will likely become more skeptical of and perhaps even hostile toward religious organizations or beliefs that are viewed as radical, hurtful, or exclusive.

This means that Christians will have to learn to communicate the exclusive truth claims of Jesus in ways that do not unnecessarily provoke misunderstanding. Teaching Jesus’ call to love your enemies, the future church will learn to model this love to radical religions.

In a world that increasingly portrays Christians as intolerant, the future church will face the daunting task of remaining firm in truth without creating a rift between people of other beliefs. Tolerance has been the most emphasized social standard for the last several decades. I expect this issue to only increase because tolerance has been used more as an agenda of power to coerce society to accept certain ways of thinking on issues like gay marriage.

This will mean that people who hold the historic view of marriage and the view Jesus taught of marriage as a gift from God for male and female (Matthew 19:4-6) will be forced into public silence or threatened with charges of discrimination.

This could end up being a defining issue for the Church. Christian beliefs about marriage are rooted in our commitment to the way God created us and to marriage as God’s ordained gift for our good. If activists have their way, however, they will target churches that refuse to perform gay weddings and those that do not accept gay members. These churches will be falsely equated to those that practice racial discrimination.

America has become far more ethnically, religiously, ideologically diverse and the true virtue of tolerance is necessary to the civility of a diverse society. Diverse societies suffer when people do not respect each other, but we must help people understand that tolerance as a valued ethic does not mean putting up with differences or forcing everyone to agree but to truly respect others despite differences.

Somewhere along the way true tolerance was replaced with a counterfeit operating under the same name. The new version demands agreement, not respect, and the results are eroding our freedoms. Tolerance, as a virtue, actually shines most when people deeply disagree but still manage to treat each other with respect. We have an opportunity not only to teach the truth about tolerance but also to show people that the gospel is for people from every tribe, tongue, and nation. The Church should reflect this diversity as a body of people united in a common Savior.

Additionally, few things have changed the nature of ministry more in the past two decades than the demise of marriages and families. After more than 10 million divorces in the last 15 years and about a million new children of divorce every year, church leaders are inundated with requests for family related counseling and ministry. Gratefully, people often to turn to God for help in their desperation, but churches are typically unprepared to offer aid. Anyone preparing for ministry must be aware of and prepared for this reality.

Churches are also increasingly functioning as surrogate families to children and youth from broken homes. I expect a growing need for well-trained church-based counselors— especially female counselors.

Those who desire to be involved in church ministry should look for training in marriage and family related issues. They should gain a strong understanding of God’s will regarding marriage, divorce, and remarriage. They should also prepare for preventive ministries that help people know how to make the marriage decision and offer premarital preparation.

Finally, anyone who wishes to serve in the future church needs to be fully transformed by God. God is far more interested in changing us as people than about where we serve. 

  • Remind yourself daily of God’s undeserved gift in the gospel of grace (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7).
  • Remind yourself daily of God’s undeserved gift in the gospel of grace (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7).
  • Encounter God daily based on Hebrews 4:12 and Hebrews 4:16.
  • Learn to distrust yourself enough to trust in the Lord with all your heart (Proverbs 3:5-7).
  • Keep short accounts with God about sin (I John 1:9-2:2).
  • Walk closely with those who walk with God (Psalm 1:1-3).
  • Pursue wisdom by learning Scripture because “the Lord grants wisdom! From his mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Proverbs 2:6).
  • Humble yourself before God and then humble yourself again (Matthew 18:1-5; 1 Peter 5:5-6).
  • Be connected with a local Church and serve God’s people (Ephesians 4:11-16; Hebrews 3:12-13; 13:7,17).
  • Don’t live in a Christian bubble but live as salt to the earth and light to the world (Matthew 5:13-16).
  • Love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:36-40).

Anyone pursuing these priorities will be well prepared for years of service to the Church of Jesus Christ.

By Steve Cornell

Senior Pastor, Millersville Bible Church, Millersville, PA

Member, President’s Pastors Advisory Council

The enterprise of governing

“There is no way of purging from human beings an understanding of right and wrong, of purging from common life a discourse about right and wrong.”

“Once we think we are in the presence of real wrongs, we think (for example) that it’s wrong for people to torture their infants, our next response is not, ‘Ah, therefore, let’s give them tax incentives to induce them to stop.’ No, we respond with a law that forbids them.”

“Once you understand that this is the nature of the enterprise of ruling and governing, it becomes a matter of whether you will address the questions of right and wrong or whether you simply try to divert the questions and talk about something else” (Hadley Arkes).

Yet whenever people talk about morality and government, you hear someone asking, “What about the separation of Church and State?” “After all, that’s what the First Amendment is all about, isn’t it?” 

“The First Amendment says: ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances,’ Notice that the words ‘separation,’ ‘church,’ and ‘state’ do not appear in it (Geisler and Turek, Legislating Morality).

This myth that the First Amendment separates church and state has grown to such ridiculous proportions that it must be debunked.

The obvious question:

“If the first amendment doesn’t mean the separation of church and state, then what does it mean?” “Clearly, the amendment prohibits congress from establishing a national morality. The real question is, does the amendment require absolute separation between government and religion to the point that everything is public must be sanitized of any reference to God? That’s what the courts have led most people to believe over the past fifty years, but history doesn’t support this now popular view. The founders wanted to guarantee freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. If the first amendment guaranteed freedom from religion, it would also require freedom from speech, from assembly, and from the press.” (Geisler and Turek)

Our first President said,

“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports… Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principles.” 

Steve Cornell

When Pastors Study Scripture

When I visit other Churches or listen to sermons, I can tell if a speaker has done the hard work of biblical exegesis.
-
This is especially true if he’s doing a topical message because topical studies require exegesis of multiple texts. They also require careful theological consideration in connecting Biblical truth in the narrative of redemptive history.
-

I find it invigorating when I hear a sermon based on a combination of thorough biblical exegesis, theological maturity and perceptive contemporary application. But I am sadly reticent to believe that messages of this kind are easily found in our Churches.

One reason for this is a failure among pastors to faithfully do the hard work of studying Scripture. The large majority of pastors lose their ability to work in original languages by their fourth or fifth year of ministry (if not, earlier).

I understand how the demands of ministry can be overwhelming. I also know the pressures faced when trying to fill the training gaps for unexpected issues in pastoral work. But we must resist the temptation to do ministry at the expense of a disciplined habit of careful biblical exegesis.

Easier said than done? Yes! That’s why I want to share a helpful solution.

But allow me first to share a little of my journeyIn 30 years of pastoral work, I’ve been a youth pastor, Church planter, pastor of a Church from 10 people to 600 (with multiple staff). During most of that time, I’ve written monthly columns for several newspapers, produced daily radio programs; invested many hours in pastoral counseling, gave oversight to many building projects and raised four children to adulthood (with the indispensable co-laboring of a faithful wife). I fully understand the demands of ministry that pull us in many directions and make it hard to maintain focused study time. 

Questions: How can a pastor maintain a high level of skill in biblical exegesis under such demands? How can a pastor stay up on biblical languages?

The answer for me has been in the tools that I’ve used. I was reminded of this last week when I used a book by a commentator that has been one of the faithful helpers to me for many years. The commentator is Gordon Fee. The book is God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul. Dr. Fee stands in a tradition of teachers and authors who do the hard work behind the scenes that I (as a pastor) do not have time to do. I’ve worn out his commentaries on I Corinthians and Philippians. Currently I am reading his work titled, Pauline Christology.

Another helpful factor for me was the books I had to read in training for ministry.

Many years ago, I discovered D. A. Carson’s New Testament Commentary Survey. This was extremely valuable for commentary selection.

Another author who profoundly shaped my application of Scripture was John R. W. Stott. (See: Here). On an academic and cultural level, the work of Ken Myers in Mars Hill Audio has been a primary resource for my book selections.

Recommendation:

My simple recommendation is for pastors to discipline themselves to read good exegetical commentaries. It is the best way I know to stay current in original languages and careful biblical exegesis. Only read devotional works or sermon collections after reading the in-depth exegetical commentaries.

When I do a sermon series through a book of the Bible, I choose about five or six of the best commentaries on the book and patiently read each one (including all footnotes). This has kept me in the biblical languages and has shaped the way I read and study Scripture.

As an example, earlier in my ministry, I spent three years teaching the Sermon on the Mount. My resources at the time included that following:

  1. D. A. CarsonMatthew (Expositors Bible Commentary) and  Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount
  2. John R. W. StottThe Message of the Sermon on the Mount
  3. Robert Guelich: The Sermon on the Mount
  4. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: Studies in the Sermon on the Mount
  5. Five Views on Law and Gospel, ed. Stanley N. Gundry

Any current study of the book of Matthew, should include commentaries by Craig S. Keener,  R. T. France (NICNT)Donald Hagner (WBC), and John Nolland (NIGTC).

I realize that (for some pastors) reading thorough exegetical commentaries might prove to be challenging but the rewards are worth the effort. The effort necessary for me was nothing short of hard work and discipline. But I discovered that the more you disciplined yourself to read at this level, the easier it became. More importantly, this practice will positively affect the way you read and teach the Bible. It will strengthen your theology and give you wisdom for life and ministry.

I close with a reminder to all who teach the Scriptures:

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (II Timothy 2:15).

Start with Gordon Fee’s commentary on Philippians (read the footnotes!) Or, pick up D. A. Carson’s Showing the Spirit on I Corinthians 12-14 or his commentary on The Gospel According to John or his study of the prayers of the apostle Paul: A Call to Spiritual Reformation.

Steve Cornell

Expository Preaching

This post is a response to a question someone asked me this week about expository preaching. He also noted that I had nothing specific about it on my blog.

I do expository preaching every time I teach from Scripture because exposition is what is happening. One of the long honored masters of expository preaching defined it well.

Dr. Stephen Olford explained that, “expository preaching is the Spirit-empowered explanation and proclamation of the text of God’s Word, with due regard to the historical, contextual, grammatical and doctrinal significance of the given passage, with the specific object of invoking a Christ-transforming response.”

Where this is happening (and there are fewer places than most realize), God’s people are blessed. A true test of whether this is actually happening is to look at how well the Church follows the Scripture in its leadership structure and fellowship. There’s no sense going through the motions of preaching if the Church doesn’t actually follow the Scripture on important matters like leadership and government. 

Some feel that the only way one is expositional as a preacher is if he teaches through books of the Bible verse by verse. But there is nothing mandating only one approach to preaching. I’ve given a number of book studies and will likely do more in the near future. I’ve also presented many theological studies. All the well-known expositors have done a mixture of biblical and theological studies as well as individual book studies.

Many times the person who says he prefers expository preaching simply means a book study vs. a theological study. This way of thinking however does not understand the meaning of exposition. And expository topical studies are actually harder when done well. They require much broader exegetical knowledge than individual book studies.

The important thing for all who teach Scripture is a commitment to do the hard exegetical work no matter what you’re teaching. And we should always be cautious about Churches or leaders who posture as superior for their approach to preaching. I’ve heard book studies and topical sermons that lacked careful exegetical work. To use Olford’s definition, they lacked “due regard to the historical, contextual, grammatical and doctrinal significance of the given passage/s.”

Steve Cornell

See also: 10 Attributes of good preaching

A needed word on Christian counseling

In a conversation with a medical doctor about anxiety and depression, he expressed frustration to me over the number of times he will diagnose significant levels of anxiety or depression only to be told that a patient’s pastor or friend warned against medicine and suggested a spiritual solution.

“This kind of five Bible verses and you’ll be better approach,” he said, “is far more common than many realize.”

Sadly, the doctor is right. Yet he acknowledged the common and misguided tendency among doctors to reduce these challenges to medicinal solutions. Over-prescription is a serious problem, but Christians should not react by choosing another extreme. Those who take the “five Bible verses and you’ll be better” approach risk discrediting the very Scriptures they offer. They also fail to leverage a great advantage available to Christian counselors.

We need more teaching on this subject because far too many Christians are quick to sound like an authority on a subject simply because they know a Bible verse or two about it. This approach is causing Christians to lose credibility in an area where they actually have far more to offer.



I told the doctor that when I counsel people I start with an assumption that they have a full line of moral credit. I treat them as individuals who can accept and pay for their debts. Out of respect for their dignity as beings made in the image of God, I view them as capable, responsible and accountable.



Yet I remain aware that life is not always easily reduced to raw choosing. We need to guard against a tendency within the Church to make all of life a matter of choice — of obedience or disobedience. We should counsel others with compassionate consideration toward the complexities that so often shape life.

This means (among other things) that we must take seriously the multidimensional nature of life in a fallen world. Christians must resist the tendency to approach people one-dimensionally — as if they were only spiritual beings in need of spiritual solutions. God created us as more than spiritual beings. Scripture itself reveals four dimensions of human life. We are…

  1. Physical beings with bodily needs.
  2. Social beings with relationship needs.
  3. Psychological beings with cognitive and emotional needs.
  4. Spiritual beings with a need for God.

Christian counselors have a unique advantage of being able to approach people holistically based on these dimensions. I say advantage because many other disciplines will not consider the spiritual dimension of life.

If I consider it inadequate when counselors or doctors leave out the spiritual dimension, why would I do the same with other dimensions? It is disrespectful to the truths revealed in Scripture to approach people one-dimensionally.

Scripture also reveals (what is empirically verifiable) that humans are fallen or sinful beings and that each dimension has been corrupted by our fallenness. This is why Christian counselors cannot accept idealized views of human potential apart from God’s grace and power. But it is also why the human body fails.

We should be grateful for the medical discoveries that help us with our physical needs. The most complicated human organ is the brain and it too can benefit from medicines that have been discovered.

A thorough Biblical understanding of humanity ought to protect us from simplistic reductions of life’s challenges. God has made us physical, social, psychological and spiritual beings and each dimension should be considered when counseling others.

We also must understand the dimensions of growth in spiritual maturity. While approaching people holistically, our ultimate aim should be to assist them in a life-process of bringing their lives into conformity to the will of their Creator. This involves our intellect (as we use our minds to explore God’s truth), our will (as we increasingly yield to God’s authority), and our emotions (as we cultivate godly affections).

Christian counselors do not treat people as products of impersonal chance. Since we know that there is a personal Creator, we call people to more than horizontal perspectives about life in a temporal world. Scripture reveals this amazing truth about Jesus Christ that, “all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16-17). Our counseling must always point people to the Lord and sustainer of life.

The Church of Jesus Christ is called to show neighbor-love and true care for one another (Romans 12:10; 13:9-10; Galatians 6:1). Yet we must resist an all too common tendency to be overly zealous in offering quick and easy answers for the issues that trouble others. I realize that we’ve been told that the Bible speaks to every issue of life. And Scripture is a treasure of truth to guide us in a broken world.

Is it adequate, therefore, to share a verse or two of Scripture with a person who tells you about his struggle? This might be just what a person needs to hear — in some cases. Yet it is rarely all that is needed.

The approach that troubled the doctor is often guilty of careless listening that is more focused on answers than understanding a person’s problem. We need to practice patience and grow in mercy.

The virtues of gentleness and wisdom should be on full display among us when counseling others. Let us treat people respectfully and compassionately based on the four dimensions of life. This is a great advantage of Christian counseling.

Steve Cornell

* Please consider sharing this post with others.