More Than Anything Your Church Needs This

The blips about the problems in the American church appear on my newsfeed nearly continuously. Makes sense, I am a pastor after all.

Today, I learned…

  • 3,700 churches permanently close their doors annually. Coincidently, somewhere near 3,700 who sensed the call to ministry are questioning their call to the ministry of the Word.
  • A megachurch that was the model for church growth in the 90s and 00s is spiraling out of control in the wake of a #metoo scandal involving internationally known church leadership
  • Churches are to blame, according to a Clemson University study, because families with developmental disabilities across the spectrum do not feel welcome in a local church. And in a hopeless comment about what can be done in the church, the author opines, “There is no one way of preparing for children with chronic health conditions such as autism or learning disabilities that affect social interaction.”
  • Baptisms resulting from conversions are embarrassingly low for an institution whose Founder commissioned it to make that activity its singular focus.
  • Children raised in the church are abandoning the tradition of their parents at alarming rates, a decline that is not new and shows no signs of slowing down.
  • A significant number of church members feel disconnected from the whole of the church.

We cannot program our way out of any the problems listed above, any of the unnamed problems in any of our churches, or any of the problems in our families or personal lives. We cannot organize, staff, and vision plan solutions effecting eternal change. We cannot strategize to address every unique felt need of each individual who passes through our doors.

Left to ourselves we - the church - are powerless, ineffective, foolish, and self-destructive.

I see one solution and one solution only, the effectual, fervent prayer of God’s people for the church.

This is the strong injunction of the New Testament and the example of all in the early church. Read the Gospels and you will see Jesus praying for the disciples and the coming church. Read the book of Acts and you will witness the church praying for the apostles and for each other. Read the Epistles of the New Testament where the apostles record their prayers on behalf of the churches, its leaders, and all its members.

Nothing in the New Testament occurs outside of the prayer of God’s people. Draw a line backward from the salvation of men and women, the restoration of broken families, the healing of damaged lives, the revitalization of weakened churches, and so much more, and the line begins with prayer.

If you long for solutions to problems you cannot solve, pray. When you want to run away and hide, when you wish this all would just go away, when you grow disillusioned with your church, when you contemplate thoughts and express words that shock you, pray. When your church doesn’t seem interested in the Great Commission, pray. When your efforts to change people and culture in your church fail, pray.

When you hear the elders / pastors in your church call the church together for prayer, change your plans and pray. Close the book, put down your phone, turn off the screen in front of you, bow your face before God and pray. Pull out your church directory and pray. Bring to mind the people in your small group and pray. Drive near the home of other church members and plead with God for the people in that house. Walk within one block of your residence and ask God to grant escape from hell for the people who live near to you.

Friends, there is no change apart from the working of God – no change in your own life, your family, or the church. If we do not pray, nothing changes.

Pray for the church.

Pray for your church.

As always I welcome your feedback and any suggestions you might have for an upcoming Lunchtime Musing.

Two Words You Must Say A Lot!

 

Timing is everything they say, and with some words the wrong time can ruin the best of words. Deliver those three little words, “I love you,” when she was just about to DTR (Define The Relationship), ushering you to the Friend Zone, may leave you and her shell shocked, causing you to pause even when writing in a card to mom on Mother’s Day, fearful mom may be thinking of having a DTR conversation with you.

“I’m sorry,” while great words needing utterance with regularity, can also be out of place. The same goes for “please” and a few others. But there are two words that always fit the occasion and never leave the hearer wounded.

The old evangelist said, When gratitude dies on the altar of a man’s heart, that man is well-nigh hopeless.

Say thank you more than you think you do, to more people than you think deserve it, in more situations than seem necessary, in more mediums than you normally use, and to God in everything.

  • Say thank you to the custodian mopping the restroom at the place where you work.
  • Say thank you to the cashier who swipes your credit card or gives you change.
  • Say thank you to your mom or whoever the person is in your home who does the laundry.
  • Say thank you to your dad for loving your mom.
  • Say thank you to the musicians who aid our worship.
  • Say thank you to your Bible teachers and pastors for delivering the Word of God to you week after week.
  • Say thank you to your children’s Sunday School teachers or those who care for your little ones in the church nursery.
  • Say thank you to the tech guys who make it possible to hear and see when the church gathers.
  • Say thank you to your children for bringing youth, happiness, young love, and life into your home.
  • Say thank you to your siblings for answering the phone, playing video games, talking late into the night, and giving been there – don’t that advice.
  • Say thank you to parents for your education, the furniture you plop down in or on in their home, their cars you drive, and their food you eat.
  • Say thank you to your spouse for faithfulness to you today, yesterday, last week, last month, last year, and since your wedding day.
  • And on and on the list goes.

In the next hour can you say thank you to someone for something you observe? Before the end of the day can you write a thank you note, address the envelope, put a stamp on it, and drop it in the mail? When you say goodnight to your spouse, can you say thank you for something in your relationship your spouse contributes that makes your life better, easier, happier?

Lest we overlook the obvious as Christians, can you tell your Lord thank you again and again for his boundless mercy, his abundant grace, his unconditional love, and his certain promises? Would you thank our Lord right now? Would you thank him again one hour from now? Would you thank him on the drive home? Would you thank him around the dinner table? Would you thank him as you tuck the kiddos into bed? Would you thank him with the last thoughts before sleep overtakes you?

Say thank you and do not let a day go by without doing so. This is an expression of your Christian character.

In everything, give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.

As always I welcome your feedback and any suggestions you might have for an upcoming Lunchtime Musing.

Serving Those Who Serve

 

Chris Pitts is a Second Lieutenant in the United States Air Force Reserve serving as a chaplain. His family and our church say goodbye to him each summer for many weeks and eagerly await his return. He writes about what it means to be a military chaplain and the impact of the local church. Part two follows.

Last week we considered three questions What is a military chaplain? Should we be involved in military chaplaincy? and Who can be a military chaplainToday, we think about one final and important question -

What is the role of the local churchin military chaplaincy?

One role the church serves with a missionary and military chaplain is to send the individual and his family (Acts 13:1-3). Military chaplains should not pursue this ministry in a vacuum. The support of the local church in sending is not a “nice to have” but an absolute requirement. It is the local church that observes and recognizes the giftedness, preparedness and qualifications of a minister. Once the church has fulfilled this role, they then identify with the work the chaplain has been called to by commissioning or sending. The local church is not simply sending and saying, “We are happy for them!” Rather, the church is also getting behind the work and saying, ‘We are happy to participate in the work!”

A second role of the local church in military chaplaincy is to be the main source of accountability and support for the chaplain. He and his family will participate locally with a body of believers, but membership will continue to reside with the sending church. The pastor, members and chaplain family should engage with each other as possible to encourage accountability and support. This also serves to encourage the local body in their participation in the work, the Great Commission (Acts 14:24-28).

Hopefully this piece has succeeded in helping your understanding of military chaplaincy and encouraged your support of missions. We have an incredible privilege in being an integral part of the mission through our missionaries. It may have provided you the information needed to defend the chaplaincy should someone dispute it. I hope it will create advocates for the chaplaincy.

If, Lord willing, I am reappointed as a chaplain, we may have the opportunity in the near future to send me and my family into the mission field. We are incredibly grateful for the support we have already received in this pursuit. We love our church family and would not be able to do what we do without your prayers and support. Thank you for participating in this work with us.

As always I welcome your feedback and any suggestions you might have for an upcoming Lunchtime Musing.

Off We Go Into the Wild Blue Yonder

 

Chris Pitts is a Second Lieutenant in the United States Air Force Reserve serving as a chaplain. His family and our church say goodbye to him each summer for many weeks and eagerly await his return. He writes about what it means to be a military chaplain and the impact of the local church. Part one follows.

Over the last few months it dawned on me that we have an anomaly in our congregation. As with anything odd, peculiar or strange, we might not know what to make of it or how to interact with it. No, I am not suggesting we have a resident alien in our midst (subtle cultural reference to Men in Black). I am referring to my pursuit of military chaplaincy, currently as a chaplain candidate. What is military chaplaincy?

What is a military chaplain? As independent Baptists, we recognize only two offices: pastor and deacon (Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3). If we take seriously the belief that pastors minister to a local church, which is the spiritual body of Christ, then chaplains are not strictly in the office of pastor. Chaplains provide spiritual care to both believers and unbelievers within an institution (including hospitals, prisons and elsewhere). I would admit I am still developing my position and I don’t want to press it too strongly; but currently I would prefer not to refer to chaplains as serving in the office of pastor.

Then what is a military chaplain? Well, what is a missionary? A missionary is someone sent out by the local church to fulfill the Great Commission in foreign contexts (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 13:1-3). I use the word foreign to simply suggest other than what is near or familiar. Missionaries are required to learn different cultures, customs and sometimes languages. If you have ever served in the military then you know that it has a foreign culture, customs and language! Simply, military chaplains are missionaries to military members in a specific branch.

Should we be involved in military chaplaincy? “What about separation of church and state?” This is a legitimate concern especially since separation of church and state is a Baptist distinctive. Actually, the legal basis is found in the same amendment which is often presented as the reason why chaplains should not be permitted. That is, the First Amendment provides the basis for the existence of the military chaplaincy. Specifically, it is the following: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

There are two clauses in this section: the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause. Military chaplaincy strikes an amazing balance between the two. It has been argued that forming an Army and sending the members away from their faith group prevents the free exercise of religion; therefore, the military is required to facilitate this exercise through chaplains. It is then required to provide chaplains of various faith groups both to effectively minister to the diverse members and to avoid creating a state-sponsored religion. There is solid constitutional and historical support for military chaplaincy.

Who can be a military chaplain? Qualifications for military chaplains can be separated into two categories: spiritual and professional. The spiritual qualifications for a pastor (elder or overseer) are likewise appropriate for a military chaplain. As a missionary, he is functioning as a pastor to a group temporarily within his care. Therefore, we turn to 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 to identify these qualifications. It is the local church that observes these qualities in the individual and affirms his qualifications.

As for professional, there are educational requirements that are set by the Department of Defense (DoD). The military chaplain must have a baccalaureate degree and a graduate degree in theological or religious studies, with at least 72 semester hours (almost always a Master of Divinity).

Finally, military chaplains need certain professional credentials to formally recognize the spiritual qualifications described above. Technically, this is known as an ecclesiastical endorsement that is provided by one’s faith group. As an independent Baptist, we partner with a group outside our church to provide this endorsement. It is essentially the way the government stays of out the business of assessing spiritual fitness without ignoring the need for fitness. The endorser provides the chaplain support throughout his ministry.

As always I welcome your feedback and any suggestions you might have for an upcoming Lunchtime Musing.

For the Love of the Game

 

Most estimates put the number at 30 million team participants in the United States. Any way you look at it that’s a lot of people. The sport? Softball.

Of those 30 million thousands compete with their church name emblazed across their chests. Church softball is as American as softball, hotdogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet.

Our church has a men’s team. Maybe yours does too. We used to have a women’s team back in the day, but after one season, the college players in the other dugout took the game a little more seriously than our ladies did. For the protection of families, we determined the safety of the playing moms in our dugout was a better decision for us.

Some of my pastor friends conclude church softball is way more trouble than it’s worth. There may be some truth in that. But when I look out on the diamond, I’m happy at what I see.

Among the former athletes and guys who never wore a high school uniform and near the men looking for something to do are fathers playing ball again with their sons, Christians from at least three generations, new believers, older believers, and a guy or two who has yet to profess faith. In the stands are wives and children, parents, girlfriends, and buddies. Most watch the game with some measure of interest. Nearly all are connecting with other people in our church. It’s a place to learn each other’s names, stories, hopes, dreams, gifts, temptations, failures, passions, and questions - conversations that rarely happen in the formal gathering of the church on Sundays but so necessary to growth as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

I’ve never like the sound bite, It's not whether you win or lose. It's how you play the game. The joke, of course, is the source for the quote is someone who lost the game. As long as I can remember, my thought has been If you’re going to play, you might as well win.

Still, if ever there was a venue for emphasizing the importance of how we play the game, church softball is near the top of the list.

Of course, I hope the guys win. We record outs and keep score for a reason. I love to hear their cheers after a clutch hit, a key defensive play, or a good base-running decision. I am happy for them when they experience the thrill of victory.

How we play is more important than the outcome because our mission as a church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Church softball can help us do that.

There is as much to be learned from winning as there is from losing. Winning and losing reveal character alike. Questionable calls by umpires, missed plays by teammates, and conflict among players provide opportunities for Christlike responses or in moments of weakness sinful reactions.

On the wall of my Christian high school gym were the words, “Whether therefore ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” That’s God’s will for us when behind the wheel, at the kitchen sink, at a workstation, in front of a game system, standing in the pulpit, or getting a good tan on a softball field.

As always I welcome your feedback and any suggestions you might have for an upcoming Lunchtime Musing.