Resolving conflicts among Christians

We must be realistic about our expectations of life in a fallen world. While conducting our relationships with humble integrity, we must not be unrealistic about differences and difficulties that threaten peace between people — even among those who care deeply about each other. This is a truth that must be taught more clearly in the Church.

Jesus clearly anticipated fractures in Christian fellowship and taught us how to resolve them (Matthew 5:23-24;Matthew 18:15ff). We should not be surprised by them but ready to seek reconciliation.

These fractures are very different from the many minor grievances that should be immediately covered in love (I Peter 4:8) or from non-essential matters that should never be permitted to cause conflict in the Church (Romans 14:1-3). Believers must be mature on such matters.

But when sin divides Christian fellowship, a Church must understand the difference between personal forgiveness and reconciling a broken relationship. It’s possible to forgive someone without offering immediate reconciliation. It’s possible for forgiveness to occur in the context of one’s relationship with God apart from contact with an offender (Joseph being a great example). Reconciliation is about restoring broken relationships.

Forgiveness itself is not whitewashing or pretending a wrong never happened when the offense has driven a wedge between people. Forgiveness doesn’t require us to neutralize our sense of justice. The very act itself takes seriously the offense. But forgiveness does involve a surrender of desires for revenge. As such, it is an act of worship in the presence of the God who forgives our sins because it acknowledges God’s sole right to punish the offender (see: Genesis 5:15-20Romans 12:17-21). Forgiveness thus frees us from grudge-bearing vindictiveness and conversely empowers us to love our enemies as God loved us (Romans 5:8).

Priority Scripture places on pursuing peace

  • “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).
  • “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace …” (Romans 14:19).
  • “Make every effort to keep the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).
  • “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy …” (Hebrews 12:14).

What to do when peace does not seem possible

This depends on the nature of the situation. If the person is part of a fellowship of believers, we must follow Biblical mandates for protecting the unity of believers. The steps Jesus taught begin with private confrontation (after the personal preparation of removing logs from our own eyes, Matthew 7:3-5). If private confrontation does not remove the wedge, we move to private conference involving the offender brother and two or three others (enlisting those who are spiritually prepared (Matthew 7:3-5), spiritually mature (Galatians 6:1), and entrusted with spiritual oversight (I Peter 5:1-4Acts 20:28).

This only becomes necessary, if the one confronted has as obstinate attitude (Matthew 18:16). When a sinning member of the church refuses to heed the confrontation of a fellow believer, thus refusing to be restored to proper fellowship, the circle of confrontation must broaden to include one or two others.

Those called to be part of the confrontation do not need to be eyewitnesses of the sin (If they had been, they should have gone to confront the member themselves). Ideally, it would be good to include people who are known and respected by the erring member but this is not always possible.

The one or two witnesses are involved “so that every fact may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses” (v.16). Their purpose is not to threaten or intimidate, but to help the erring brother to understand the seriousness of the matter. Their main purpose is not really to evaluate the truthfulness of the charge, but to strengthen the rebuke and the call to restoration. After private conference, if the erring member remains obstinate and unwilling to acknowledge and repent of the sin, Jesus teaches a fourth step.

Each of the four steps has as its primary aim the restoration of the brother to proper fellowship. The fourth step is public announcement (Matthew 18:17a). Jesus said, “Tell it to the church (the assembly).”

This step is a sobering reminder that sin is not merely a private and personal matter for Christians. Sin that separates and alienates believers, must be dealt with and resolved. But how do we take this step of public announcement? In our church (due to size), we’ve sometimes handled this in the adult fellowship group the member participates in. Other times, we’ve communicated to all the covenant members through a special meeting of the membership. Some churches make these announcements during communion. Others will use a letter to the membership.

All churches should clearly spell out the process in their documents and seek agreement from the membership to follow it. This step also involves the fellowship in some kind of public confrontation. In Matthew 18:17b, Jesus implies that the church (as an assembly) has made an appeal to the erring member.

When the church is informed, (which reasonably implies that the pastors will be involved) warnings should be made about the need for the whole assembly to avoid gossip, slander and a proud or critical spirit (Matthew 7:3-5Galatians 6:1). Members should not play spiritual detective or allow either a lenient or a punitive attitude. They should be encouraged to pray for repentance and restoration, and to appeal to their fellow member to submit to the leadership of the Church. In such an appeal, one might humbly say, “I don’t know all the details, nor is it my place to know them, but I do want to encourage you to make things right with the church.”

No one should give the erring member the feeling that he is in good fellowship with the Church (cf. II Thessalonians 3:12-14). Never act in cross-purpose with the church. We should not do anything that would cause disrespect for the leadership. Remember the goal: “Win your brother.” It is redemptive!

The final step Jesus taught is public exclusion: removal from membership. The primary aim of this step is to protect the purity of the assembly (see: I Corinthians 5:1-11). Failure to practice these steps invites God’s discipline on the entire assembly (see:I Corinthians 11:30-32Revelation 2:5,1620-233:3-19).”

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

3 motivations for protecting unity

1. The prayer of Jesus

John 17:23 -Jesus prayed, “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

2. The passion of God

Proverbs 6:16,19 - “There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: …. a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.”

3. The duty of the Church

Romans 16:17-18 - “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.”

Philippians 2:14-16a - “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life…”

Jude 4, 16-  “Watch out for those who have secretly slipped in among you. These people are grumblers and faultfinders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage.”

Steve Cornell

Don’t be alarmed by conflict

Mature perspective on conflict

The key to unity in a marriage, family or Church is not the removal of all conflict (that happens in heaven).

So instead of being unrealistically alarmed by differences and disagreements or dancing around them, we should view them as opportunities to mature in deeper and stronger love for one another (I Peter 4:8). When we avoid conflict or just enable others, we often postpone trouble for the future. God provides many opportunities (through conflicts) for us to practice the kind of love He demonstrated to us (Romans 5:6-8).

The key to unity is a deeply shared commitment to work through differences and pursue reconciliation based on God’s love for us in Christ (see: Ephesians 4:32-5:1; Titus 3:3-7)

Make every effort….. (memorize these verses)

  • “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace” (Romans 14:19).
  • Make every effort to keep the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).
  • Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy” (Hebrews 12:14).
  • Do everything without complaining or arguing” (Philippians 2:14).
  • “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins” (offenses)” (I Peter 4:8).
  • “It is to a man’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel” (Proverbs 20:3).

 Love is anti-rivalry and peace-building 

  • “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (I Corinthians 13:4-7).

Balancing truths

Short audio clips

Steve Cornell

Questions for Church leaders

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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

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.
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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.
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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

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

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Two essential movements in a Church

Centripetall-vs-CentrifugalTwo motions or forces of movement serve as helpful illustrations of the function of a healthy core group in any organization.

  • Centripetal movement/force draws something or someone toward a central point.
  • Centrifugal movement/force pushes something or someone away from the center.

These movements are helpful ways to understand and build the interior life of a local Church (or other organizations).

  • Centripetal force is an assimilating dynamic. It refers to the centering effects of the core commitments of a core group.
  • Centripetal force is a dis-similating dynamic. It refers to the purging effects of the core commitments of a core group.

Like the water draining from a tub, centripetal magnetic effect draws toward a central place by collective motion. In a Church, the core group provides this motion as it holds core beliefs and values and functions to draw others toward them.

For example, if a core commitment is to remain positive and solution focused, the core group will function to draw others toward this way of seeing things. But if a person determines to remain negative, the core group also creates a centrifugal force by purging out attitudes and perspectives that contradict the core commitments. 

If a core commitment is to avoid gossip, the centrifugal force of a core group will be felt by the person who gossips among them. The hope, of course, is that group dynamic can draw others toward godly attitudes, speech and actions. But protecting the health of a group will likely require both assimilating and dis-similating dynamics.

This same dynamic occurs in athletics. During a game a teammate who “gets his or her head out of the game” is typically surrounded by teammates who draw them back into focus. Those who are “head cases” will either not make the team or be purged from it. 

In a local Church, I put this under the plan outlined in Ephesians 4:11-16 where the leaders equip the people and the people become established in the truth in a way that produces collective stability and maturity. When opposing forces try to sway those who have been equipped, the core group protects the internal life of the Church in ways illustrated by centripetal and centrifugal movement.

The function of centripetal force is illustrated in Hebrews 3:12-13; 10:24-25.  The function of centrifugal force is illustrated in Romans 16:17-18.

Have you seen these two motions/dynamics in your Church, team, group or organization? 

Steve Cornell

God’s primary work on earth

When God has a job to be done, He works through people. God has chosen to work out His plan through active secondary participants. 

But what is God’s primary work on earth today? And how does He use people to accomplish it?

The answer is found in the promise of Jesus Christ – “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18).  

When the Lord Jesus went into heaven, He sent the promised Holy Spirit and through the Spirit He united believers into a body referred to as the body of Christ (Acts 1:4-5,8; John 14:15-17; I Corinthians 12:13).

In the absence  of Jesus physical presence, this assembly of believers in Christ is the visible testimony of Jesus Christ on earth today.

Although this body incorporates every believer from the day of Pentecost to the rapture of the Church, all the instructions for body life in the New Testament are intended for each local body of believers in every age.

Remember that, “God has placed the members each one of them in the body just as He desired” (I Corinthians 12:18) and “God has composed the body that there should be no division but that the members should have the same care for one another” (I Corinthians 12:24-25). Thus the apostle Paul says to the local church in the city of Corinth, “You are Christ’s body and individually members of it” (I Corinthians 12:27).

God’s purpose on earth today is to build a visible, united body of believers called the body of Christ, or the Church. The way we align ourselves with it is on the local level. Thus it is God’s design that every follower of Jesus Christ be a functioning part of a local body of believers. This is God’s will for you if you are a believer in Christ. 

God has called each believer into fellowship with His Son (I Corinthians 1:9). This is the joy of Christian living – that we have a personal and individual relationship with Jesus Christ who was dead but is alive forevermore, seated at the right hand of the Father, ever making intercession for us according to the will of God. This is a deeply personal joy of Christianity.

But, according to God’s design, what we enjoy on the individual level must become part of the public, corporate life of the church.

“No one Christian believer can fully enjoy the benefits of the grace of God in Christ, or fully express the new activities it makes possible, in isolation.” (A.M. Stibbs. T.N.T.C., I Peter, p. 156)

One of the most important and neglected truths of Scripture is the doctrine of the local church. The late Carl F. Henry warned the 1990 convention of the National Association of Evangelicals that: “Evangelicals continue to neglect the doctrine of the church and at high cost.”

Robert Patterson wrote an excellent article about this titled “In Search of the Visible Church.” 

Patterson observed how, “…commitment to the church appears to be at an all-time low among evangelicals…growing numbers of evangelicals are unwilling to commit themselves to any particular congregation. Operating as sovereign ecclesiastical consumers, they hop from church to church looking for the best spiritual “deal” in town.” I personally believe that there exists a desperate need today for a revival in the biblical understanding of the importance of the local church.”

“If the church is a nurturing mother for the souls of believers, as John Calvin proclaimed, those disconnected from her are nothing more than spiritual orphans. They are cut off from a vital source of spiritual nourishment and growth. They may think that spiritual fitness is an individual matter, but their failure to participate in the corporate life of God’s people can only stunt the kind of growth in grace that the apostle Paul envisioned in Ephesians 4” (R. Patterson, Christianity Today, Mar.11, 1991).

We must expose the tenuous division between commitment to the Lord and commitment to a local body of believers. I do not think that the Lord makes that distinction too sharply.

I will build my Church

  1. In Matthew 16:18 Jesus said: “I will build my church”.
  2. In Luke 10:2, Jesus is called: “The Lord of the harvest who sends forth workers in His harvest.”
  3. The church is “the body of Christ.”
  4. Ephesians 5:25 says, “Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.”
  5. Ephesians 5:29 says, “Christ nourishes and cherishes the church.”
  6. In Acts 9:4, Saul was persecuting believers and Jesus stopped him and asked, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
  7. In Matthew 25 – during judgment the followers of Christ are shocked because Jesus identified a whole list of things that they did to him personally. Jesus cleared their lack of understanding by saying in verse 40, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.”
  8. The author of Hebrews reminds the readers that, “God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints” (Hebrews 6:10). You show love to His name by serving His children.
  9. In I Corinthians 3:6, the apostle refers to human activity in building local churches, “I planted, Apollos watered but God was causing the growth.”
  10. In Acts 2:47 we learn that, “The Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.”

Ultimately anyone serving in any capacity in the church should view himself or herself as a direct servant of Jesus Christ (see: Colossians 3:23-24).

Patterson listed five action items to help the church regain this lost focus. Each of them is worthy of discussion but I’ll only give the first one:

“Evangelicals need to affirm aggressively the necessary connection between faith in Christ and commitment to his church. So-called solitary or independent Christians need to be incorporated into the life and discipline of some congregation. Those who are already church members need to remain committed to their church, taking seriously their accountability to the congregation and resisting the temptation to ‘jump ship’ when problems develop. At the same time, church leaders need to take more seriously their responsibility to discipline and nurture parishioners under their care.” (C.T. 3-11-1991, p.38)

If you want to stand in the gap in these days we live in and you want to align yourself with God’s plan, you need to be involved in a local body of believers. D.A. Carson recognized one of the reasons for a lack of emphasis being , “…a  theological suspicion that those who devote too much attention to the church are in danger of diverting attention from Christ himself” (Evangelical Affirmations).

Hopefully you understand from the above examples that the Lord Jesus does not recognize this distinction as sharply as some think. 

Robert Patterson’s concluded, “If evangelicals still value their heritage, they can lament the obscurity into which the church visible has sunk, a tragedy to which they have contributed in both word and deed. Furthermore, they can commit themselves toward a rediscovery of the church in our time, not just out of faithfulness to a tradition, but in devotion to their Lord who promised, ‘I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’”

Steve Cornell

Intentional Church growth


“Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity” (Psalm 133:1).

Many would tell you that, based on their experiences, the Psalm would say,

“Behold how ‘difficult‘ and ‘challenging‘ it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.”

Perhaps unity is such a “good and pleasant” experience because it’s so rare and exceptional.

We at least know that unity is neither easily attained or easily maintained. This is why the early Church was told to “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).

Unity requires hard work (make every effort), vigilance (to keep or protect), and walking by the Spirit (the unity of the Spirit). It must be an intentional commitment and value of a local Church. Leaders have a special calling to watch over and protect the unity of the local Church.

Our story

I know a little about this after 30 years of pastoral ministry. While serving as a youth pastor in the greater Philadelphia area, 29 years ago this fall, we received a call that led to our ministry in Millersville, Pennsylvania. Looking back, I can tell you that planting and growing a healthy Church requires intentional commitment to core values and practices.

For those unaware of our journey, we’ve been privileged to oversee Church growth from 10 original people to more than 550 people. During those years, we’ve also invested in about a thousand University students who called our Church home during their time in school. We’ve grown from one staff person to six full-time and many part-time staff. We’ve gone from one little old building to nine buildings on two sites with over 16 acres (while remaining debt-free).

More importantly, many lives have been transformed during these years. And God has spread the ministry of our Church far beyond the home borders through missionaries sent from our number, extensive conference ministry, daily radio, columns in newspapers, this blog, etc… We are now connecting with pastors who are looking for help and encouragement on a weekly basis.

An intentional focus

Many years ago, we focused intentionally on Church growth based on a deep commitment to the following statement:

“It is God’s will for each believer to be a faithful, serving, and accountable part of a visible body of believers under the pastoral oversight of elders – sharing and experiencing meaningful relationship with one another.”

We summarized this understanding in the fourth point of our Church mission statement:

4. Fellowship of believers in an age of individualism

“It is God’s design for every Christian to be an active and accountable part of a local assembly of believers, willingly serving others. This results in the mutual encouragement and support of all the believers in their walk with Jesus Christ. In contrast, our society promotes individualism; the attitude which seeks to please self, elevates personal fulfillment, and avoids costly involvement with others. At MBC, we challenge believers to fulfill God’s design by meaningfully and sacrificially relating to others in the church.”

Some of the primary Scriptures for this statement include:

The picture of life together for those who follow Christ is not one of superficial or casual engagement. A close look at the “one anthers” of the NT depicts life-together in mutual love, honor, unity, care, service and accountability.

  • Accept one another (Rom 15:7)
  • Carry each other’s burdens (Gal. 6:2)
  • Have equal concern for each other (1 Cor. 12:25)
  • Watch out for one another (Heb. 3:12-13)
  • Encourage one another (Heb. 3:13; 10:25)
  • Live in harmony with one another (1 Pet. 3:8)
  • Confess your sins to each other (Jas. 5:16)
  • Be devoted to one another (Rom. 12:10)
  • Edify one another (Rom. 14:19; 1 Thess. 5:11)
  • Consider others better than yourselves (Phil. 2:3)
  • Bear with one another (Eph. 4:2; Col. 3:13)
  • Forgive each other (Eph. 4:32)
  • Live in harmony with one another (Rom. 12:16; 15:5)
  • Love one another (John 13:34-35; 17; Rom. 13:8)
  • Be members of one body (Rom. 12:5; Eph. 4:25)
  • Be at peace with each other (Eph. 4:3)
  • Pray for each other (Jas. 5:16)
  • Serve one another (Gal. 5:13; 1 Pet. 4:10)
  • Honor one another (Rom. 12:10)
  • Offer hospitality to one another (1 Pet. 4:9)

One sentence summary of our mission:

We seek to honor God by Winning, Building, Equipping, and Mobilizing people to advance Christ’s kingdom and exalt His name.

Steve Cornell