Another urgent question for the Church

suggestion box handle with careIn my sermon at our Church today, I will continue our look at what it means to be a caring Church based on I Corinthians 5:1-13.

Here’s a question I will explore:

Q. How can we proclaim and celebrate a gospel of grace and forgiveness while enforcing standards of morality — without becoming a prideful and self-righteous or watchful and legalistic Church?

A few examples of what I will say:

  1. A caring Church must be a place of loving, grace-based accountability.
  2. Accountability – Helping people keep their commitments to God.
  3. Accountability should offer protection based on positive and corrective reinforcements in a context of loving relationships of mutual care and encouragement (see: Hebrews 3:12-13; 13:17).
  • “Fellowship is more than unconditional love that wraps its arms around someone who is hurting.  It is also tough love that holds one fast to the truth and the pursuit of righteousness.
  • For most Christians, the support side of the equation comes more easily than accountability… Maybe it’s because we simply haven’t taught accountability. Or maybe it’s because, in today’s fiercely individualistic culture, people resent being told what to do, and since we don’t want to “scare them off,” we give in to cultural pressures.”
  • “But too often we confuse love with permissiveness.It is not love to fail to dissuade another believer from sin any more than it is love to fail to take a drink away from an alcoholic or matches away from a child. True fellowship out of love for one another demands accountability” (from, Chuck Colson, The Body, p. 130).
  • “If we can restore to full and intimate fellowship with ourselves a sinning and unrepentant brother, we reveal not the depth of our love, but its shallowness, for we are doing what is not for his highest good. Forgiveness which bypasses the need for repentance issues not from love but from sentimentality (Chinese – 多愁善感, Korean – 감상벽) (from, John R. W. Stott, Confess Your Sins).

Three Foundational Truths

  1. The costly nature of saving grace (v. 7- “For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed”)
  2. The transforming power of salvation (I John 3:9 – “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God.” cf. James 2)
  3. The necessity of community for spiritual transformation (Hebrews 3:12-13; 10:24; 13:17)

Steve Cornell

Church life that is hard to find

Listen to this important audio message here.

Word had reached Paul about a serious problem in the Church in Corinth. His response reveals amazing truths about what it really means to be the Church that Christ is building.

I Corinthians 5

‘It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this?” (I Corinthians 5:1-2).

  • Here is a Church guilty of tolerating a kind of sin that even the world rejects.
  • A man is sleeping with his stepmother (his father’s wife). Perhaps the Church said, “What he does behind closed doors is his business, not ours.”
  • But there was more to the problem because the Church was guilty of some kind of corporate pride in relation to this situation.
  • They went beyond tolerance to celebration.

What should we learn from this in relation to God’s will for the Church today?

Listen to this important audio message here.

Steve Cornell

Local Church Membership Covenant

Having received Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord and having been baptized as a follower of Christ, I commit myself to God and to the members of my local Church to do the following:

  1. I will protect the unity of my church … by acting in love toward other members, by refusing to gossip or slander others and by supporting the leadership God places in it.
  • “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:3).
  • “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification” (Romans 14:19).
  • “Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble” (I Peter 3:8).
  • “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10).
  • “I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people” (romans 16:17-18).
  • “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29).
  • “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Hebrews 13:17).
  • “These people are grumblers and faultfinders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage” (Jude 16).
  1. I will share the responsibility of my church …by praying for its members … for its growth; by attending faithfully and by financially supporting it.
  • “To the church…we always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers” (I Thessalonians 1:1-2).
  • “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (Romans 12:12).
  • “See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (Hebrews 3:12-13).
  • “Let us not give up meeting together…let us encourage one another” (Hebrews 10:25).
  • “On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income” (I Corinthians 16:2).
  1. I will serve the ministry of my church …by developing a servant’s heart …by using my gifts and talents and by being equipped to serve by my pastors
  • “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).
  • “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who… [took on] the very nature of a servant” (Philippians 2:4-5,7).
  • “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms” (I Peter 4:10).
  • “It was he [God] who gave…some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up”… “From him (Christ) the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Ephesians 4:11-12, 16).
  1. I will support the testimony of my church …by living a godly life in my actions, attitudes and words, by warmly welcoming visitors and by bearing witness to Christ and making disciples.
  • “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27).
  • “Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation. Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life” (Philippians 2:14-16).
  • “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling” (I Peter 4:9).
  • “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).

Please feel free to use this as a teaching tool in your local Church. Simply note the source as (Wisdomforlife – http://www.thinkpoint.com).

Steve Cornell

What pastoral care looks like

 

Here’s a great illustration for deeper discussion about pastoral ministry:  

“Roberta (not her real name) is a bright woman in her forties with a highly charged emotional attachment to Jesus. Roberta loves to sing in church, and her passion for worship infuses those around her with a desire to know God more deeply. Unfortunately, Roberta’s family background has set her on an apparently irreversible course to relational confusion and heartache. After a failed marriage, Roberta lived with a sister for more than a decade, spending hours each week involved in various charitable causes. The sister’s death brought to the surface a host of family and financial crises.”

“Roberta’s grief process was highly intensified due to years of dysfunctional family relationships. She was dangerously despondent. It was clear to us that Roberta needed outside help in order to gain a proper perspective on herself and the world around her. Roberta’s current money problems were only the latest in a history of such fiscal fiascoes, suddenly intensified by a squabble with her surviving siblings over their sister’s estate.”

“Roberta is loved and highly appreciated by our church family. Our leaders sincerely desired to do something tangible to help Roberta get on her feet again, both emotionally and economically. We offered to meet the most pressing financial needs immediately. But we knew that our assistance would benefit Roberta only if accompanied by several nonnegotiable conditions.”

“We informed Roberta that the money would be hers if she met three conditions. (1) She would see our staff [counselor] (initially at the church’s expense) on a weekly basis in order to find short-term support and guidance in dealing with the loss of her sister. (2) She would meet with a financial adviser who is a member of our congregation (again, pro bono) to come up with a game plan to dig herself out of debt. (3) She would agree to attend church regularly and partner with others in the church family in some area of ministry.”

“What we asked of Roberta was really quite straightforward: relational accountability. We challenged Roberta to quit trying to find her way through life as an isolated individual and, instead, to take advantage of the guidance, community, and accountability offered by her brothers and sisters in the family of God. Only in this way would Roberta begin to grow up to become the healthy person God had designed her to be.”

“Roberta declined our offer and rejected our advice. Like many people in our churches, she chose to chart her own course and to bear her pain alone rather than to integrate herself into the body of Christ through the vehicle of strong relational accountability. We no longer see Roberta at Oceanside Christian Fellowship anymore.”

American Individualism and a Church in Crisis

“A story like Roberta’s impacts more than just the individual involved; it takes its toll on a whole church family. On more than one occasion I spent a great deal of time with Roberta on the phone as the above crisis unfolded. We also dedicated an hour or so of our elder board’s precious meeting time in our efforts to carefully craft the three conditions (see above) for the financial assistance that she requested.”

“We have free assistance available through professional counselors and financial planners who are graciously willing to donate their time. And we have a church body ready to receive and encourage anyone willing to embrace our oversight and our guidelines. But Roberta benefited from none of these resources since she foolishly chose to sort out her problems on her own, apart from input from her brothers and sisters in Christ. And we are all the worse for it” (Joseph Hellerman, “When the Church was a family”).

 

Prayer of confession about care ministry

As I’ve been doing a series of messages about care ministry in the Church, I found this prayer focused on care ministry. Take a few moments to reflect on this deep and searching prayer.

King of heaven, We confess before you the pride, fear, and selfishness that closes our eyes to hurting people around us. Though we share their flesh and blood, we are quick to look away when their suffering and brokenness make us uncomfortable. Instead of looking at them and seeing their great need, we quickly walk away, and turned toward people who make us feel good.

Forgive us for the help that we should have offered this week that we did not. Forgive us for the help that we offered for sinful reasons: to feel proud and superior, to purchase friendship, or to put people in our debt. Forgive us for the times when our hearts have been full of resentment and bitterness toward hurting people for needing us, and toward you for asking us to help them.

Lord, we cannot obey you with pure hearts and minds. Thank you that in your deep love for us you have not despised and abhorred us in our great affliction, but treasured us and sent your Son to rescue us.

Jesus, you see our great need and are not ashamed of us. We are crippled and afflicted by weakness and sin, but you rushed to rescue us. You took on the weakness of our human bodies and entered our sin– infested world in order to live the life we could not live.

Thank you for seeing the needs of those around you, for loving them in their brokenness, and serving them with pure compassion, clean hands, and a pure heart. Thank you for your perfect obedience, which is credited to us, even though we continue to struggle every day with selfish hearts that lack compassion.

Holy spirit, melt our hard hearts, for we cannot soften them. Cause us to see how we have been rescued by our great Savior, and give us the desire and ability to open our eyes, to look around us, to see people as they are, and to love them deeply from a heart of gratitude and concern. Help us to enter the worlds of others, to celebrate with them, to grieve with them, and to walk alongside him with caring hearts and hands that are ready to help.

May we grow into people who love as we have been loved and who serve as we have been served. Amen.’ (from: Prone to Wander) (Thank you Tim Challies for posting this)

One Life Together

We are called to be humble, loving, truth-telling Christians in community – living out mutual affection and honor for one another. Like our Savior, our life together should be “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

“Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other” (Romans 12:10, NLT).

When our Churches are filled with people who treat each other with this kind of honor and with humble foot-washing love, we’ll offer a positive subversion to narratives of life without God.

When we live the gospel by practicing the mind of Christ in community (see: Philippians 2:3-8), we authenticate the message in a way that postmodern culture cannot deconstruct.

What does this community look like?

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity” (Colossians 3:12-14).

4 Questions for conversation

  1. How does the description of “God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved” lead to the clothing of “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience”?
  2. Are there deeper identity issue for those inappropriately dressed? (chosen, holy and dearly loved)
  3. What piece of clothing is missing from your wardrobe? (Compassion? Kindness? Humility? Gentleness? or Patience?)
  4. Does Colossians 3:12-14 describe the clothing of the poor in spirit who inherit the Kingdom of Heaven? (Matthew 5:3)

3 Action points

  1. Share this with your leadership team and your entire Church.
  2. Emphasize this attire as necessary to gospel-centered community.
  3. Study Philippians 2:1-11 in light of this truth (practicing the mind of Christ in community).

For discussion

“The witness of a single life lived under Christ’s rule is powerful. But the skeptic will discount it. He or she will explain it away as being a mutation: ‘She was born a caring person. That can happen.’ But as kingdom citizens live their lives together, actually loving one another, it becomes a different matter. Such a community – whether it is a family, a few believers in a neighborhood, a network of business people, or a church congregation – makes a persuasive statement to an on-looking world that the kingdom, indeed, is among them. The message of the kingdom is amplified as its citizens live out their unique calling in community. As they do, the kingdom grows.” (The Insider, pp. 33-34)

Steve Cornell

Confession of a senior pastor

In a recent Facebook post, I wrote:confession

“As senior pastor of a large Church, I often wish I could be more directly involved with many needs in the body, but I am grateful that God has raised up so many people who minister compassionately and effectively at our Church. This is the way God planned for His Church to grow. As I’ve answered my calling over the years to “equip his people to do the work of the ministry, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Ephesians 4:12), I find great joy in continually hearing about how many among us do those works of ministry.”

“I am also grateful for the pastoral staff and elders God raised up. As my focus has shifted to ministering to and through these leaders, I have watched God multiply His work in many places. Although I cannot be directly involved in all the areas of need and with each person, I am grateful to minister through others as they reach out. My fellow leaders do a great job keeping me informed about important needs and other areas of ministry as we pray together for the Church. Whatever our role in God’s work, it is to be done “so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ” (I Peter 4:11).

Response from a member

It is a good thing that you have been able to delegate this responsibility otherwise I cannot see how you would last more than a few months without complete burnout let alone all the years that you have been faithfully serving Millersville Bible Church.

My response

So true, but sadly this perspective is not always widely understood. Although I have the privilege of ministering to everyone each week through pulpit teaching, I cannot be personally involved with each area of ministry in the church. Some place misguided expectations on senior pastors to be there for all situations and they wrongly criticize them as uncaring when they cannot personally be involved. Thankfully, I don’t get much of this criticism because we’ve worked hard to teach people God’s plan for the Church based on Ephesians 4:11-16. When it does come my way, God has kindly granted me grace not to take it personally but to use it as an opportunity to teach. If I allowed myself to be controlled by the misguided expectations and demands of people, I would burn out in a short time and the Church would suffer as a consequence.

Additional thoughts — two dangers

As I am soon at the 30 year mark at our Church, I’ve observed two dangers with longevity of ministry. First, you can expect to be taken for granted. The old saying is true, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” But it’s not always contempt. Sometimes it’s more an issue of complacency and assumption. When this happens, it can hurt or even offend, but I must guard my heart lest I think more highly of myself than I ought (Romans 12:3). I must hear Jesus words, “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).

Secondly, there is a danger in me taking for granted the many blessings that come with longevity. I too could become complacent and allow assumption to breed ingratitude. I must remind myself of God’s call to be extravagantly grateful — “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. ” (I Thessalonians 5:18).

Someone warned that it’s a sign of mediocrity when you express gratitude with moderation. A moderately grateful person is not one who does the will of God. G. K. Chesterton said it well, “Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”

When we take things for granted we lose the wonder of it all. I must heed the wise warning from Clyde Kilby, “Stop being unamazed by the strange glory of ordinary things.” “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

At the same time, people must be taught to, “honor those who are your leaders in the Lord’s work. They work hard among you and give you spiritual guidance. Show them great respect and wholehearted love because of their work. And live peacefully with each other” (I Thessalonians 5:12-13).

Steve Cornell