Discipling Men to Lead

  

Literally every ministry in the history of the Church has had struggles raising up good leadership. Jesus Himself founded His church on twelve highly-flawed men (Ephesians 3:20-21). And with all of our weaknesses and shortcomings we have a great commission to carry out (Matthew 28:18-20).

So with the tough question of, “How do we raise up people, specifically men, to accomplish this task?” You might first ask, “Where do we start?” Many of the men in our church are currently going through a course together called Yokefellows. In this course we can begin our attempt to answer the question in essentially three words: finding, training, and sending.

Finding



Change the culture. The first step to raising up men in the church is finding them. In a culture that has commercialized church and stupefied manhood, many men have simply never been told (let alone had it explained) that they were created to lead. Many come to churches as consumers and to their relationships as passive participants.

Raising up men in the church means reclaiming the Bible’s radically barbaric, countercultural view of manhood. We first have to model, teach, preach, and celebrate a picture of the God-man who sacrificially, patiently, passionately led and laid His life down for His bride.

This will involve the intimidating task of gently but strongly stating and explaining the biblical view of manhood that our culture and many of our churches simply don’t want to hear.

Change your expectations. Church leaders too often are guilty of having unrealistic expectations. God uses different means to nurture His Church, and one of the most surprising means is His use of fallen people (after all, Numbers 22:22-41). If you’re raising up leaders it often means the men you’re looking for aren’t yet in leadership.

If the story of David’s anointing teaches us anything it shows us that our external judgments of leadership are often flawed. Look for men who are teachable instead of impressive (Proverbs 12:1), spiritual and unpretentious rather than notable (John 1:47). Don’t ignore people’s gifting, but don’t overlook people because their gifting isn’t readily apparent. We’re all broken vessels that God uses for His great purposes.

Training



Make the time. The bane of any church leader’s existence is the clock. Between our multiplicity of responsibilities it feels impossible to fit in the time to raise up leadership. Here we are tempted to make a fatal error. Training up men isn’t outside of the work of ministry; it is the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:12-16).

Christ, while ministering at times to thousands, gave surprising priority to training twelve men. In the midst of enormous pressure, He still withdrew to explain His ministry to a few. In addition to being crushed by the clock, we are often duped by our own pride.

Let’s face it. We’re given to a perfectionistic savior complex. We feel that if we don’t do it, it won’t get done right. I certainly struggle with that, to the point of absurdity at times. Part of raising up leaders means being willing to let inexperienced, as yet untested, men take certain leadership roles, and doing so means loosening up a bit on the reins. It also means giving them a little leeway to fail at times or not always do certain tasks exactly how you think they should be done.

Seize the time. The training of leaders will take a plethora of innovative and varying forms. To change the culture you’ll need teaching time. Places to start are incorporating biblical thinking on male leadership into your preaching. Start a men’s Bible study. Meet with a few men weekly for coffee. Join a city Rec league and play some ball together. Whatever works.

In order to understand their role they’ll need to see it in Scripture. But scheduled meetings, while essential, are not enough. This is where creativity is critical. Bring men along. Involve potential leaders in visitation, sermon prep, evangelism, and meetings. Ministry doesn’t happen in a vacuum, it can’t… and so ministry training shouldn’t either.

Sending



Give them a high call. As leaders start to distinguish themselves by their spirituality and teachability, it’s time to start giving them real responsibility. On this point we’re often tempted to be timid, but the Bible is not so. The Bible calls real men to real challenges. Give potential leaders tasks that are large, that they can use their skills to rise to.

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” – Antoine de Saint

Give them the grace to make mistakes, but give them goals that will stretch them and cause them to grow. Provide them with gentle, but honest feedback. Don’t sugar coat the task of ministry. We don’t want to create men who put their hand to the plow and then look back (Luke 9:62). The way is hard, but the reward is amazing.

Pray, Pray, Pray. This should occur before and during the process, but we end with it to keep it fresh on our minds. No process or program will bring spiritual change in the hearts of the men in our ministries; only God can do that. Start and finish your task with prayer. Pray that God would bring you men, give you the wisdom to see it, and then give you the grace to raise them up. The Church is His bride; let’s go to Him in prayer, asking for the Spirit to raise its leaders.

Shout Your Abortion?

  
  

The mantras claiming “my body, my choice” and “my life is more valuable than potential life” are currently being shouted with vigor across social media, and it seems anyone who replies with any disagreement will be trolled, mocked, and shamed in response for their views. (Ironic, considering what the “movement” claims to be about.) In our prevailing American culture where individual freedoms are held sacred above all else, death has become celebrated.

While reading through social media posts and articles online trying to get a better understanding of what is being shouted, it is clear that there is a massive misunderstanding of the pro-life view for starters. The consistent misrepresentation and strawmanning of the “pro-life” view to absurd degrees as to imply the view is nothing more than a horrible war on women meant to oppress them by robbing them of all their freedom or that such proponents of any opposing views do not care about people once they’re born is ridiculous, distracting nonsense. By trying to rebrand anyone’s view that doesn’t celebrate the “choice” of abortion as hateful “anti-choice” is not adding anything helpful to the conversation. I also keep seeing people ask how it could possibly be better for the child to grow up in poverty than just killed in the womb… I don’t know about any of you reading this, but I haven’t come across very many people who would honestly rather have been killed before having a chance in life than to grow up poor.

Sadly, we all too often lose sight of the real issue at hand with the abortion issue though, and begin to view other people as enemies. The true adversary that needs to be addressed here is this prevailing idea of individualism that is rampant in our culture.

“For the power of Man to make himself what he pleases means, as we have seen, the power of some men to make other men what they please. . . At the moment, then, of Man’s victory over Nature, we find the whole human race subjected to some individual men, and those individuals subjected to that in themselves which is purely ‘natural’ – to their irrational impulses.” — C.S. Lewis, Abolition of Man

Before rolling your eyes and closing the browser, please let me try to explain. This society-eroding idea of individualism snuck its was into American thought early on and has only snowballed. It came to us via liberalism. Liberalism (think liberation, liberty, freedom) was born out of an 18th-century revolutionary movement in France and America that stressed individual liberty and rights. It brought together deist and utilitarian philosophies, and while ushering in great, countless positive advancements for civilization, it also led the way for a potentially monstrous society of individualism. If God simply set the world in motion (deism) and left sinful man to follow what gives him pleasure (utilitarianism), then society naturally gets built on individual rights… rights that are to be secured at all cost.

Our need for worth is so powerful that whatever we base our identity and value on we essentially ‘deify.’ We will look to it with all the passion and intensity of worship and devotion, even if we think ourselves as highly irreligious. Because of this inordinate amount of value our culture places on individual freedoms, we distort our lives, and in turn further warp our society.

“True freedom is not being unshackled to create your own truth, but is liberating submission to the Truth. Freedom is not the complete absence of any restrictions, but rather the presence of the right restrictions put in place. For example: a fish out of water. The fish is not more free when released outside of the confines of the water, but instead his ability to enjoy life is drastically hindered and he is sure to die.”

In this broken arrangement, everyone inevitably becomes an intruder. When an individual’s “rights” are ultimate, injustices abound, and citizens make demands of the State. In the case of abortion, both sides claim an enormous injustice.

On one hand, a woman, aware that parenting is life altering, may fear that her ambitions will be aversely affected, that her ability to pursue life, liberty, and happiness might be severely hindered. To someone making the difficult choice of abortion, the innocent child is seen not just as an unwanted presence but as an intruder. The mother feels she has the right to defend her personal interests… after all, she’s an individual with rights first, a mother second.

The fetus, on the other hand, in no way responsible for his or her own “intrusion” and unable to defend against any attack, also claims injustice. The same inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness belongs to the unborn, but they’re unable to speak up. Termination would thus be the ultimate intrusion.

Such a divisive conflict like this will always result in a frustrating stalemate as long as liberalism (from all sides) gives birth to individualism. Individualism is the real enemy.

“What is liberty without wisdom and without virtue? It is the greatest of all possible evils; for it is folly, vice, and madness, without restraint. Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites; in proportion as they are disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good in preference to the flattery of knaves. . . . Society cannot exist, unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.” – Edmund Burke, 1791 ‘A Letter to a Member of the National Assembly’

It’s been over 40 years since Roe vs. Wade, and we’re still talking about the sanctity of life because the mere mention of it generates a moral friction on our human souls – souls fashioned after the Creator God who makes human beings distinctive among His created order.

It is this imago Dei (image of God) imbued to human beings (Genesis 1:26-27) that makes us human in the first place. This is the genesis of the biblical worldview: that God created and imprinted His image upon each person, giving dignity and value to every single human life despite its stage of development.

James tells us we kill because we “desire and do not have” (James 4:1-4). These impulses are birthed and fueled by our Genesis 3 desire to put ourselves in the place of God where no such warrant exists. We do great evil when we use or destroy lives to suit our whims and warped worldviews. When our society values happiness and feelings over truth, nobody really wins.

“We are free to choose, but we are always a slave to our greatest desire.” – Jonathan Edwards

So when someone stands to pray, defend, and cry out for the unborn and oppressed in the face of this celebration of individual freedom, they are calling for us all to refuse the lie of individualism. Autonomy, being a law unto oneself, is no basis for life together. Community is the only way forward to better change. Society must protect both women and the unborn in a way that doesn’t pit them against each other. The debate cannot center only on individual rights but, instead, must address the duties and responsibilities of, not just the biological parents, but the families, friends, neighbors, churches, and social services that can nurture and support them. The burden of pregnancy, especially pregnancy out of wedlock or for women in crisis, should never disproportionally fall solely on the pregnant mother. She still has a claim on the community, no matter the circumstance of the pregnancy. The community still has (in these cases, often extraordinary) obligations, no matter the circumstance of the pregnancy.

A community that models mutuality and solidarity affirms life in a way that dispels notions of children being intruders to personal pursuits. Life together where families and marriages are valued and where freedom is about stewardship rather than unlimited potential turns fear of intrusion into hospitality. Rather than see a baby as a burden, we see it as a life to be welcomed into community, a responsibility to be shared, a joy to be experienced. Any agenda to end abortion must include a vision for mobilizing community to function as it should.

There’s an old saying that “it takes a village to raise a child.” There is a lot of truth to that, and we should stop expecting women to go through it alone. Every abortion done under the banner of freedom and convenience is a failure of humanity: failing a human being in crisis and a human being in utero. Creating and protecting life is fundamental to human flourishing, but community is equally important. Both of these are indispensable, and individualism is an enemy to both.

How to Help Improve Your Marriage in Just a Few Minutes Each Day

  

As husbands and fathers living in 2015, our lives are busy and sometimes even downright hectic. We have careers, family commitments, community and church activities, and a host of other things pulling from our time every day. Finding time can be difficult, perhaps even feeling impossible far too often.

In every day, there are 1,440 minutes. If you you sleep 6-8 hours each day (I wish, right?), that means you are awake roughly 1,000 minutes each day. How many of those minutes are you spending with your wife? How many of those minutes spent are used purposefully to engage, pursue, and woo her? What if I told you that you can drastically improve your marriage in just 15 minutes each day. Yes, spending a mere 1.5% of your waking hours each day can help you have a better marriage. Here’s a few things to consider:

1. Make time for it.

As mentioned, we all have about 1,000 minutes per day while we are awake. The first thing you should do is put 15 minutes into your schedule as designated, purposeful time. Discuss this with your wife, pull out your calendars, and block some time off for the two of you.

2. Guard your time like your life depends on it.

We’ve all seen enough spy movies to know that nothing is safe. But there’s always somebody else trying to make something impenetrable. Treat this 15 minutes the same. Guard it from any and everything that can stop it or steal it. (But know that emergencies happen, and adjustments will need to be made at time… just strive to make this the exception, not the rule.)

3. Start talking.

Initially, don’t have a set agenda. Just talk and listen. Set the phones to silent and put them down. Be sure to give your wife as much, if not more, time to share and talk as she needs. Be attentive to everything she says. Ask more questions than making statements early on. Use this opportunity to truly learn more about your spouse.

4. Fight, if necessary.

It can be easy to avoid or cancel your 15 minutes if there is some conflict brewing. But if you have to fight (disagree), then disagree. Conflict isn’t always bad. In fact, it can be a healthy building block for your marriage. So use that 15 minutes to “fight” if needed.

5. Play and have fun.

Your 15+ minutes each day doesn’t have to just be talking or fighting. Play some games and enjoy one another. When is the last time you’ve played cards, a board game, or even video game with your wife? Use your allotted time to do that sometimes.

Simply pending at least 15 minutes per day focused on one another can change your marriage forever. Make the time, spend the time, enjoy the time, and watch your marriage get better. So when will your 15 minutes per day take place? Get to thinking about it and make it happen. Stop with the excuses, and just do it.*

*I’d also recommend going beyond this, and establishing a regular weekly/bi-weekly date night.

She is Home

  
Over 4 years ago, just a couple weeks before I would propose to my wife, I lost one of the dearest people in my life. I had never known life without my Grammy, and for the first week or so after she passed away, it all just felt surreal, like it couldn’t actually be true. She is gone from my life now, but never forgotten. Recent events brought back some vivid memories of my time with her during her last few months with us. I dug out the copy of what I had written for her memorial service, and after re-reading it, I felt that it should be shared with others. I know I’m definitely not the only one who has experienced this feeling of loss and felt the conflict of pain and hope. Maybe these words can help be a reminder to others of what beauty awaits us in the sorrow of death.

Words from Grammy’s Memorial Service

Earlier this year Grammy and I discussed the very concept and message of what I’d like to share with you today and, given these present circumstances, I find it appropriate. I ask you all to think with me about a familiar story, found in the fifteenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke. This parable’s plot and dramatic personae are very simple. There was a father who had two sons. The younger asked for his share of the inheritance, received it, and promptly left for a far country, where he squandered it all on sensual and frivolous pleasure. He returned home penitently and, to his surprise, was received with open arms by his father. This reception alienated and angered the elder brother greatly. The story closes with the father appealing to his eldest son to join in the welcome and forgiveness of his younger brother.

I’m sure many of you have heard this story referred to as the Prodigal Son. However, even Jesus doesn’t call it the Parable of the Prodigal Son, but begins the story saying, “a man had two sons.” The narrative is as much about the elder brother as the younger, and as much about the father as the sons, if not more so. This parable might be better called the Two Lost Sons, or The Prodigal Father. The word “prodigal” does not mean “wayward” but, according to Webster’s Dictionary, “recklessly spendthrift.” It means to spend until you have nothing left. This term actually better describes the behavior of the father. The father’s welcome to the repentant son was literally reckless, because he refused to “reckon” or count his sin against him or demand repayment. In this story the father represents the Heavenly Father Jesus knew so well.

Jesus is showing us the God of Great Expenditure, who is nothing if not prodigal toward us, His children. God’s reckless grace is our greatest hope, a life-changing experience, and the framework for the metanarrative in which every Christian finds themselves.

It is important to read Jesus’ parable of the lost son in the context of the whole of Luke, chapter 15, but the story has an even larger context. If we read the narrative in light of the Bible’s sweeping theme of exile and homecoming we will understand that Jesus has given us more than a moving account of individual redemption. He has retold the story of the whole human race, and promised nothing less than hope for the world.

In Jesus’ parable the younger brother goes off into a distant country expecting a better life but is disappointed. He begins to long for home, remembering the food in his father’s house. So do we all. “Home” exercises a powerful influence over human life. Foreign-born Americans spend billions annually to visit the communities in which they were born. Children who never find a place where they feel they belong carry an incapacity for attachment into their adult lives. Many of us have fond memories of times, people, and places where we felt we were truly home. However, if we ever have the opportunity to get back to the places we remember so fondly, we are often times disappointed.

Home, then, is a powerful but elusive concept. The strong feelings that surround it reveal some deep longing within us for a place that absolutely fits and suits us, where we can be, or perhaps find, our true selves. Yet it seems that no real place, or actual friends and family ever truly satisfies these yearnings, though many situations arouse them. The memory of home seems to be powerfully evoked by certain sights, sounds, and even smells. But they can only arouse a desire they can’t fulfill. There is a German word that gets at this concept – the word Sehnsucht. Dictionaries will tell you that there is no simple English synonym. It denotes profound homesickness or longing, but with transcendent overtones. The writer who spoke most about this “spiritual homesickness” was C.S. Lewis. He described Sehnsucht as the “inconsolable longing” in the human heart for “we know not what.”

If you accept this, there seems to be a sense, then, in which we are all like the younger brother. We are all exiles, always longing for home. We are always traveling, never arriving. The houses and families we actually inhabit are only inns along the way, but they aren’t home. Home continues to evade us. Why would “home” be so powerful and yet so elusive for us? The answer can be found as we examine one of the most persistent themes of the Bible. The experience we have been describing is the trace in our souls of this larger story.

In the beginning of the book of Genesis we learn the reason why all people feel like exiles, like we aren’t really home. We are told there that we were created to live in the garden of God. That was the world we were built for, a place in which there was no parting from love, no decay, no disease, no death. It was all these things because it was life before the face of God, in His presence. There we were to adore and serve His infinite majesty, and to know, enjoy, and reflect His infinite beauty. That was our original home, the true country we were made for. However, Scripture teaches that, as in Jesus’ parable, God was the “father” of that home and we chafed under His authority. We wanted to live without God’s interference, and so we turned away, and became alienated from Him, and lost our home for the same reason the younger brother lost his. The result was exile.

The Bible says that we have been wandering as spiritual exiles ever since. That is, we have been living in a world that no longer fits our deepest longings and desires. Though we long for bodies that run and do not grow weary, we have become subject to disease, aging, and death. Though we need love that lasts, all our relationships are subject to the inevitable entropy of time, and they crumble in our hands. Even people who stay true to us die and leave us, or we die and leave them. Though we long to make a difference in the world through our work, we experience endless frustration. We never fully realize our hopes and dreams. We may work hard to re-create the home that we have lost, but, says the Bible, it only exists in the presence of the Heavenly Father from which we have fled. This then is played out again and again in the Scriptures.

It is no coincidence that story after story we hear contains the pattern of exile. The message of the Bible is that the human race is a band of exiles trying to come home. The parable of the prodigal sons is about every one of us. According to the Bible, we live in a natural world that is now fallen. We were not made for a world of disease and natural disaster, a world in which everything decays and dies, including ourselves. This world, as it now exists, is not the home we long for. A real, final homecoming would mean a radical change not only in human nature but the very fabric of the material world. We see this radical change ignite when Jesus appears in history and declares that He is bringing in “the kingdom of God.” Finally, at the end of His life, He was crucified outside the gate of the city, a powerful symbol of rejection by the community, of exile. And as He died he said, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” a tremendous cry of spiritual abandonment and homelessness. But what exactly does this mean?

Jesus had not come to simply deliver one nation from political oppression, but to save all of us from sin, evil, and death itself. Jesus hates suffering, injustice, evil, and death so much, He came and experienced it to defeat it and, someday, to wipe the world completely clean of it. He came to bring the human race Home. He came and experienced the exile that we deserved. He was expelled from the presence of the Father, He was thrust into the darkness, the uttermost despair of spiritual alienation – in our place. He took upon Himself the full curse of human rebellion, cosmic homelessness, so that we could be welcomed into our true home. Because Jesus paid the penalty for our sin with His death, He has achieved victory over the forces of disorder, decay, and death that keep this world from being our true home.

Jesus, unlike the founder of any other major faith, holds out hope for ordinary human life. Our future is not an ethereal, impersonal form of consciousness. We will not float through the air playing harps, but rather we will eat, drink, embrace, sing, laugh, and dance in the kingdom of God, in degrees of power, glory, and joy that we can’t at present imagine. Jesus will make the world in which we reside our perfect home again. We will come, and the Father will meet us like the younger son and embrace us, and we will be brought into the feast. Grammy is at our Father’s table now eating, drinking, laughing. She is sitting amongst brothers and sisters there, with her Savior, with her Lord. She is Home.

Suicide & Social-media

The potential harm of the viral sharing of “Genie, you’re free.”

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On the evening of Monday, August 11, 2014, as fans around the world began to grieve Robin Williams’ tragic and unexpected death, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (better known, as the people behind the Oscars) sent out what may be the iconic social media image of Williams’ death.

More than 322,000 people (and counting) have shared the tweet, which means that, per some analytics sites, as many as 71 million people have probably seen it.

So what’s the big deal? Isn’t it just a sweet, heart-felt sentiment offered in a time of tragedy? Well, no… It actually violates very well-established public health standards for how we should talk about suicide.

Most people who saw and shared the tweet may not have thought for a second that it crossed any kind of line, but even if it doesn’t it comes very close to it. Suicide should never be presented as an option. Because in doing so, no matter how innocently, it is an avenue for potential contagion.

Please, don’t be too quick to roll your eyes, exit this page, and write me off as some kind of paranoid over-reactor. There exists an extremely sad and well-documented phenomenon, known as “copycat suicide,” in which media coverage or publicity around one death encourages other vulnerable people to commit suicide in the same way. Somewhat similar to how we see copycat crimes and mass-murders. Adolescents are most at risk of some form of suicide contagion; in recent years, groups like American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) have also become particularly attentive to the role the Internet plays in romanticizing notorious or high-profile deaths, something it has long asked both the news and entertainment industries to avoid.

Even Robin Williams told The Guardian during an interview back in 2010 that, “Well, you just try and keep it in perspective; you have to remember the best and the worst. In America, they really do mythologize people when they die.”

The high potential for television/online reports, tweets, photos, videos, blogs, articles, and stories to go viral makes it all the more vital that the coverage of a suicide follow the prevention industry safety recommendations (or at the very least a link and contact info for seeking help).

In the hours since @TheAcademy tweet went viral, some people have become aware that it does not, in fact, follow the established safety recommendations. The image shows the starry sky from Disney’s Aladdin, and the written implication that suicide is somehow a liberating option… this presents suicide in much too celebratory a light.

However, now that just about all media is so social, and anyone can go viral, it’s more difficult to educate influencers on those issues. The ASFP has issued a response to the unsafe reporting of this tragic news. (It is unclear who at the Academy actually sent the tweet, and the Academy has yet to respond to any requests for further comment as far as I know.) In whatever the case though, some advice for organizations and individuals talking about Williams’ death online that would be wise to consider: Be sure to acknowledge that suicide has underlying issues – such as depression… and those issues can be addressed.

The focus of any current media attention should of course be on Robin Williams’ incredible life, and all the good he contributed to this world while he was here. We should enjoy the nostalgic remembrance of all the laughter he gave us over the years through his movies and shows. We should become more aware about the crippling pain that is depression and how to help. If you don’t know what is depression like, well you’re not missing out on anything, because it’s kind of like drowning. Except you can see everyone else around you breathing. We should be careful though, not to celebrate or glorify how he died in any way.

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^ Whether you think I’m way off base with all of this or not, maybe this scene would have been a more responsible tribute to the great man, father, and friend we’ve lost.

Or perhaps instead of Aladdin’s words, we can better remember Robin Williams’ last lines (after the credits) as the Genie from the Aladdin movie: “You have been a fabulous audience! Tell you what, you’re the best audience in the whole world. Take care of yourselves! Good night, Alice! Good night, Agrabah! Adios, amigos!”

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If you are in crisis, call: 1-800-273- 8255 (TALK)

We honestly care about you, take a moment and call: 888-667-5947

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Websites:

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

Biblical Counseling Suicide Prevention

Christian Suicide Prevention
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Recommended article: Suicide & Mental Health

Diverse Unity

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If you’ve ever experienced the frustration of disunity in a church, you know how upsetting it can be. Most of us do not enjoy conflict in general, so the thought of conflict within the body of believers can feel even more uncomfortable. However, conflict always inevitably happens, just as it does in any committed relationship. Christians are exhorted to be known by their unity even in the midst of great diversity, but does that mean we never raise any concerns? How can we know if an issue we have deep conviction over is worth fighting for? Is there ever a time to break unity with our church family for the sake of integrity?

Every member of the body of believers possesses a set of beliefs that can be divided into three categories: essentials, convictions, and preferences. Understanding how these all relate to unity can help us know whether to speak up or to remain silent, whether to break fellowship or to simply agree to disagree and stay put.

Essentials, Convictions, and Preferences

An essential is any truth which, if denied or misrepresented, nullifies the gospel. Examples of essentials would be belief in the deity of Christ, the Trinity, the virgin birth, or the inspiration and authority of the Bible. Essentials do not require a seminary degree to understand. They are plainly revealed in Scripture and accessible to believers of all maturity levels. Essentials are what you find in the historic creeds of the church. They define orthodox belief.

A conviction is any deeply held belief which, if believed in error will not nullify the gospel, but can harm spiritual growth. Examples of convictions would be views on baptism, the role of women in the church, eschatology, or the functioning of the charismatic gifts. Some convictions are more deeply held than others, depending on the church, and unlike essentials, not all convictions must carry the same weight. Some convictions, if held in error, have greater potential to harm than others. Disagreements surrounding convictions usually have to do with how we interpret Scripture.

A preference is something I care about, but that is a matter of personal choice. I can readily acknowledge that there is more than one possible right answer while still feeling strongly that my answer is the best one. Examples of preferences would be whether I prefer contemporary worship or traditional worship, casual dress or dressy clothes, smoke machines or stained glass. Disagreements surrounding preferences usually have to do with how we apply Scripture.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

So, how can we judge whether an issue merits division? Think in these terms:

Essentials are worth dying for.
Convictions are worth debating.
Preferences are worth discussing.

Unity must be broken if an essential is compromised or denied. If your church suddenly decides that Jesus is merely a man and not also God, you need to pack your bags.

Unity may be broken if a conviction is violated but must not necessarily be. It could be possible, for example, to remain a faithful member of a congregation that affirms believer’s baptism while still holding to belief in infant baptism.

Unity should not be broken if a preference is not shared. To leave your church because you dislike the worship style (assuming the worship style is not anything sacrilegious) or disagree with its ministry model is to hold in light esteem the beauty of having shared essentials and convictions. This doesn’t mean that preferences are unimportant. They are. And we should be able to dialogue about them with charity. They just aren’t deal-breakers.

Stay If at All Possible

Unfortunately, we often sacrifice unity on the carelessly fickle altar of our preferences. Far too many churches have split over trivial things like whether God loves the organ more than the electric guitar, over what the pastor wears during the service, and even over the color of new carpet. That kind of immaturity is always incredibly sad.

The book of Acts celebrates unity, and it stands as an exhortation to the Church throughout the ages to work hard to prize it. Never has such a diverse assembly of believers been reconciled to one another as in the days of the early church. Acts records the uniting of Jew and Gentile under one God, and the debates and discussions necessary to join these two groups as members of one body. It details the differences in ministry philosophy between Peter and Paul, two men united in the goal of spreading the gospel but divided as to how it should be done. Acts shows us that the tension of the interplay of essentials, convictions, and preferences is a natural part of church life, and that unity is worth fighting for. But unity does not mean unanimity.

To be a member of a body of believers who all affirm every essential and many of your convictions will be a truly rare gift. We need not require that every conviction be held in unity, and we should not require that any preference be held in unity. Just as a marriage is more likely to be easy and enjoyable when a couple shares the same convictions and preferences, so is church membership. It isn’t wrong to long for that kind of harmony, but it is wrong to break or withhold relationship over the lack of it. As with all relationships, our list of preferences should receive due consideration before we commit but far less consideration after.

The way we express our concerns matters, too. Just as no spouse benefits from being nagged or attacked about a conviction or preference by the other spouse, no church benefits from a constant nagging or attacking member. Far better for the member to hold a respectful ‘debate’ or dialogue with someone in leadership than to complain publicly or privately to other members of the body. One approach demonstrates a love of unity. The other does not.

As we each soberly evaluate our essentials, convictions, and preferences, we are well served to remember the watchword of the Lutheran theologian, Meledenius: “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” May we meditate then on Jesus; and the beauty of a church seeking unity in diversity, whose crowning virtue is love.

Recommended article: Walk in Unity

The Galloway Wedding

Recently I had the great privilege of serving as the “best man” in Greg (Aaron) & Autumn Galloway’s wedding. After receiving some requests for a copy of the speech I gave during their reception, I decided to share it publicly and make it available for anyone interested. What follows are the feeble words I offered to the newly wedded couple; they still drastically fall short of conveying my love for them, and infinitely more so the worth of our God.

The script:

Good afternoon, I’d like to thank all of you for being a part of this celebration with us. I have the great honor, the immense privilege of serving as Greg’s best man today. So at this time, I’d like to share some things with everyone. I’ve known Greg (not Aaron, it’ll never be Aaron) since middle school. He actually attempted to trick me into believing he was a set of twins, and since I met Greg first, he will forever be Greg to me. And this twinless guy is truly like a brother to me.

My wife Kat and I still remember the evening Greg first told us about Autumn… [ad lib.] And we’ve gotten to watch their relationship grow into something deep. I remember vividly some long conversations with Greg as he wondered if he would ever see this day, and now it is here. He has found what is good, he has found a wife.

And while this is a very beautiful day in the life of Greg and Autumn, there is a deeper grander to behold. We believe that this day, this ceremony and reception, is not ultimately about celebrating the marriage of Greg and Autumn, but rather us celebrating the love that Christ has displayed for His bride. In Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus, he writes in chapter five about the truth that marriage is not ultimately about sex or social stability or personal fulfillment; rather marriage was created to be a human reflection of the ultimate love relationship with the Lord. It points to the true marriage that our souls need and the true family our hearts want. For me personally, I never even really caught a good glimpse of the fuller meaning of this truth (of what it means for us, the church, being referred to as the bride of Christ) before mine and Kat’s wedding day. When those doors opened, and she walked into the wedding chapel room, looking beyond incredibly amazing, yeah, I’m not ashamed to admit it… I teared up as it all began to hit me.

We, the church, are not called Christ’s wife, but His bride… Think about that for a moment… The groom does not look upon his bride on their wedding day and think about her imperfections, but is rather intensely focused on her precious qualities and beautiful attributes. On the wedding day, the groom is overwhelmed with a deep sense of gratitude, and devotion. Because this bride, standing adorned before her groom: she is his. He sees only her, and no one can deter his gaze. She alone catches his eye and she alone can hold his attention.

So, in this wedding, in this marriage between Greg and Autumn, we catch a beautiful reflective glimpse of Christ. When marriage seems unfair, we are to be reminded that Jesus never sought out equality, fairness, and happiness. Instead, He humbled Himself, taking the form of a servant, and endured grossly unfair treatment for the joy set before Him, in redeeming the church as His bride. That is our model and our means for authentic marriage.

So Greg, don’t ever forget how beautiful Autumn looks today, and how she is completely dressed up in splendor, having been presented to you as a beautiful, radiant, spotless bride. That is how Christ sees us, His chosen loved ones whom He died for, and He calls us His bride. His pursuit of us is fierce and unwavering, His affection for us is strong and deep, His love for us is abiding and unending. Our hope is that this glorious Gospel is preached through Greg and Autumn’s marriage, as God has chosen the story of their lives to be a shadow of His much greater narrative.

Because when we arrive at eternity’s shore, where death is just a memory and tears are no more, we’ll enter in as the wedding bells ring, Christ’s bride will come together and we’ll sing, You’re beautiful!!! Thank you all for being a part of this wedding, to celebrate not just Greg and Autumn’s marital union, but our great God and King: Jesus.