Wednesday, May 21, 2008

My Ministry Core Values

As I have been in the transition period from seminary life to full-time ministry, I have recently been asked to share my philosophy of ministry. I have thought through some of my core values and offer them for your consideration. Feel free to offer your comments or critique.


Among my ministry core values are the following:

Kingdom Focused Ministry – My focus must go beyond my own personal success or the success of my church, but the advance of God’s kingdom. If not, I run the danger of being self-centered, self-seeking, and self-glorifying. God wants churches to grow, but as part of the bigger grander vision of expanding his great kingdom. For this reason I will lead a church in being “kingdom-focused” and in having an “Acts 1:8” mentality—reaching the local community and partnering with others to take the gospel around the world. I will lead in partnering with Southern Baptists and other Great Commission Christians in reaching my community and the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ. I will actively support and promote the Cooperative Program and Southern Baptist partnership on the association, state, and national level. I will also lead in appropriate partnerships with both Baptist and non-Baptist evangelicals.

Relational Ministry – I place a high priority on relationships over programs and events. Evangelism, discipleship, ministry, and other aspects of church life all happen best in the context of relationships. Busyness in church life can often be detrimental to the health of a church. Being precedes doing. I will lead in developing certain programs and events and an aggressive pursuit of the Great commission, but will focus on those that build relationships in evangelizing non-believers and foster the “one another” aspect of being the body of Christ. Moreover, I will seek to equip believers in being a lighthouse to their family and neighborhood and to use their gifts and resources in service for his kingdom.

Biblically Based Ministry – The Bible is our authority as Christians. It contains “everything we need for life and godliness.” If the Bible is indeed our textbook, we must make every effort to conform our thoughts and practice to Scripture. All that I teach and preach will have its basis in Scripture. Most of my preaching is expository although I will preach topical sermons when appropriate. Ministries, strategy planning, counseling, and all other aspects of ministry will be biblically grounded and biblically measured. I affirm the doctrine of inerrancy as expressed in the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message and the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.

Great Commission Ministry – The mission of the church is the Great commission. To fulfill that commission means that we focus on making disciples. This begins with evangelism, and moves to discipling and equipping believers for service. Evangelism must be an urgent priority. We must implement innovative and “contextual” strategies to reach people where they are. Our job is not done, however, until we develop fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ, growing in his likeness, using their gifts in the body of Christ, and reaching others with the gospel. I will lead a church to be fervent in evangelism, but also in discipling and equipping ministries.

God-empowered Ministry – The Bible teaches that it is the Holy Spirit which empowers our mission. Ultimately, it is God and not human effort which determines the success of mission – our attitude and action must reflect that. This emphasizes the need for absolute dependence on God, a vibrant faith, and a devotion to prayer. I am an avid supporter of church growth principles and effective strategizing. However, if we depend only on our knowledge and effort and not on the power of God, we will have not only an unfruitful ministry, but an ungodly one. Apart from Christ we can do nothing (John 15:5).

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Revisiting the IMB Baptism Guideline

In this post, I will offer two reasons I believe the eternal security clause of the IMB personnel guidelines is in error and should be changed.

First, I believe that the policy is based on a mistaken view of Arminianism.

Before I was a Baptist, I held erroneous views of what Baptists believed. My Arminian pastors wrongly charged that eternal security or “once saved, always saved” was a false doctrine that taught that you merely had to pray a prayer or respond to an altar call then continue sinning all you want because now that you were saved you were saved forever. While, I suppose, there may be some Baptists who hold this view (I haven’t met any) that certainly is not what Baptists teach or believe. To the extent that Baptists do believe this, my Arminian pastors were right to criticize their doctrine.

Having become a Baptist, now 18 years later, I continue to find that many Baptists hold what I contend are erroneous views of what Arminians believe. To deny eternal security, I am told, is to lack assurance of salvation. Many Baptists think that Arminians believe that you may somehow “lose” your salvation because of sin; that Arminians teach that although you are initially saved by faith, your are kept by works. Arminians live in fear that they may “lose” their salvation if they sin or fail in good works. Like my former belief about Baptists, there are indeed some Arminians who hold this view, but this is not a teaching of classic Arminianism, nor the doctirinal position of the major evangelical Arminian denominations such as the Assemblies of God.

However, such a doctrine is not the belief of all or even the majority of Arminian believers. For example, the Assemblies of God, in an official statement on eternal security, states

“As the believer's salvation is received, not by an act of righteousness but by an act of faith, so the believer's salvation is maintained, not by acts of righteousness but by a life of faith!

Being a Christian then is not a matter of works; it is a matter of faith. This must be emphasized. In no case is the sinner accepted by God on the basis of any good that he has done. He is saved totally and solely by grace through faith . . . . Through the process of "becoming conformed" he is secure; his salvation is sure. "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1).

The believer's security, then, is solely through faith, both in the receiving of salvation and in the keeping of salvation. This security is made possible through the mercy of God in imputing the righteousness of His own Son to the fallible and faulty believer as long as he maintains a living faith in Christ. "For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him" (2 Corinthians 5:21).

I agree that Arminians are in error in their denial of the doctrine of eternal security. This error, however, does not mean that Arminians teach a works salvation, lack biblical assurance, or are not a New Testament Church.

Second, I believe the policy is based on a faulty view of Assurance.

In the argument about eternal security and its relation to Baptism, some Baptists incorrectly equate assurance of salvation with the doctrine of eternal security. The two concepts are related, but not the same.

I do not find that the Scriptures join the two. Wherever the Bible speaks of assurance, it speaks of one’s present experience with Christ. That is, a person has assurance because of the evidence of Christ working in him. Further, the Bible encourages believers to test themselves to see if they are in the faith, and to make their calling and election sure.

In 1 John, assurance comes with our present walk with Christ as we obey his commands (1 John 2:3), love the brethren (3:14), believe in his name (3:23) and the experience the presence of His Spirit (3:24). No where in this letter, written “so that you may know that you have eternal life,” (5:13) does John link assurance with our initial conversion experience.

When a Baptist is not walking with Christ, he may indeed be saved, but he will not have assurance that he is. A person can thus believe in eternal security, but lack assurance. Anecdotally speaking, I am sure of my salvation, not because of my conversion experience 31 years ago coupled with my belief in eternal security. I am sure of my salvation because of the evidence of the Spirit as he works in and through me and because of my faith in the cross of Christ.

Further, true Arminianism does not foster doubt of one’s salvation. As noted above, Arminians believe that salvation is both “received and kept by faith.” If one believes, his eternal destiny is sure. It is only if one abandons the faith “by rejecting Christ” that one “loses” salvation. In reality, assurance is faith, so it is not improper for an Arminian to say that assurance is based on faith. Further, in our experience as believers, both Arminian and Baptistic views of the security of the believer are tied to faith. The difference is that when an Arminian abandons the faith they say that such a person is no longer saved and when a Baptist abandons the faith we say they were never saved in the first place. Either way they’re lost.

The possible danger of Arminianism, when not properly understood, is that one would have false doubt. The possible danger of our Baptist view of eternal security, when not properly understood, is that one would have false faith (I prayed a prayer, so I’m saved forever). All this is to say that assurance and security are related but not inseparable. A Baptist can believe in eternal security and still not be sure of his salvation. Likewise, an Arminian can be assured of his eternal salvation without believing in eternal security.

I agree that Arminian doctrine is in error. I do not believe, however, that Arminian belief is a false faith or deficient gospel nor that an Arminian cannot have assurance of eternal salvation.


I submit that a baptism should not be disqualified because of a lack of belief in the doctrine of eternal security alone. Thomas White, in a White Paper for the Center for Theological Research at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary made the following summary statement on the validity of baptism: “The determining factor is the ordinance itself. Was the ordinance performed with the proper subject, in the proper mode, and with the proper meaning by a true church? If so, then it is valid” (White 2006, 10). In most cases, for a person baptized by immersion in an Arminian church, the answer to all four questions is “YES.”

In the final analysis, I believe the eternal security clause of the IMB personnel guideline should be reversed. I hope that it will be. In the mean time, I urge those who disagree with the guideline to continue their support of the IMB and the Cooperative Program. Further, I hope that Baptist on both sides of the issue will see the importance of preserving our Baptist Identity. In all things, let us continue to work together for the cause of Christ and for His glory!




Note: Nathan Finn has also blogged on the IMB guidelines today.

Calvinists and Evangelism -- What Some Arminians are Saying

Here is an interesting quote about Calvinists and evangelism I came across in an article from the Assemblies of God home page.

"Certainly there are true Christians who believe and teach Calvinism; there are also true Christians who believe and teach that men and women have free will. Unfortunately, both sides have spent more time arguing doctrinal terminology and interpretations of theology than reaching out to a lost world. The irony of the disagreement is that Calvinists, who believe in predestination, are sometimes more active in witnessing and evangelism than Arminians who believe that man has a free will and should be encouraged to accept Christ as Savior."

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Reflecting the Love of Christ

Well, I'd like to introduce my first ever guest blogger: my wife, Heidi. Last night, Heidi was asked to speak at our church's mother/daughter banquet. With her permission, I am reproducing her speech here. I hope you will see Heidi's heart for the mission of God and her desire to serve Him in her everyday life. Here is her speech:

Tonight I would like to share a little of my passion for reflecting the love of Christ to others. I believe God has given me a desire deep inside to share his love with both my brothers and sisters in Christ and those who don’t know Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

When Sheila asked me to speak I immediately thought , no I can’t do that, I don’t’ speak in front of people. I’m the person who hated speech class in high school and come college looked for a major that didn’t, once again require a speech class. But upon going home and telling my husband Sheila asked me to speak at the Mother/Daughter banquet, he lovingly said, you have to! So tonight I stand here before you a little out of my comfort zone but I pray that some little thing I may share will minister to your heart.

After committing to speak tonight I then began worrying first and then praying, I told God, I need a verse and faithful as He is He gave me one about a week later. I Peter 4:11 says “If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves he should do it with the strength God provides so that in ALL things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory and the power forever and ever Amen. “ I found this verse in my journal, I had written it there months before and God brought me right back to. This verse is meant for all of us here tonight. If anyone speaks! I know that I can speak, not always comfortably in front of a large group of woman but I definitely do my share of speaking and I’m sure y’all do as well. When we speak it’s as one speaking the very words of God, wow!!! I find that both a huge responsibility and challenge on our part, we are reflecting something when we speak, is it the love of God? The second part of the verse says , if anyone serves! Do it with the strength God provides - I have to say I like that part, the part that says I don’t do it alone - God provides the strength for us to do the things He calls us to do. In I Thess 5:24 God reminds us that He who calls us is faithful and will also do it. And why do we speak the words of God and serve others? So that in ALL things God may be praised through Jesus Christ and get the glory! So tonight I stand here before you to encourage you to look at your own life and see How you are reflecting Christ’s love to others?

I’d like to briefly share from my own personal experience that no matter how young or how old you are tonight God can and will use all of us if we allow Him to. I will share some examples from my own life. One thing that I have always loved to do when I have time is bake a large batch of Sugar cookies. One day I decided we would put them on plates and deliver them to the neighbors, all the way down the block. This was something my children loved to do, the knocking on the doors part especially, and delivering cookies,. This small task was something that allowed us to get to know our neighbors and begin relationships with them. This past year I mindlessly sent one of my children outside to give some cookies I had just freshly baked to a maintenance man who I saw outside. Months later I ran into this man and God opened a door to talk about spiritual things such as church and a relationship with God, and this man mentioned those cookies! I had completely forgotten about the day I shared those cookies, but he hadn’t. He mentioned that people just don’t do that anymore. God’s love was reflected.

A cookout is also something we have tried to do each year as a family. We invite neighbors again and try to build relationships with them. A baby girl can share the love of Christ when a Senior adult in the store stops to admire and we choose to slow down our pace and just be friendly and visit a moment. My daughter, Ashley, can reflect Christ’s love at school when she chooses a good attitude and chooses to make godly choices even when her friends and teachers don’t understand and give her a hard time. I can reflect Christ’s love by helping out a mom who needs a break, or a family who is struggling. I can reflect God’s love by stopping long enough to really listen to a person who just needs a friend and a listening ear. I can reflect God’s love by praying with that person. On a daily basis God gives us opportunities to share Christ’s love. I came across these words while I was reading a few weeks ago and they spoke to me and I want to also share them and I hope they will challenge you as much as they did me -

“He [Jesus] was fully present with people, whether they were religious leaders or lepers. He responded gently to the inevitable interruptions in life. Do you see interruptions as an opportunity for ministry? Are you mindful and unhurried enough to discern what people really need and whether you can give it to them? Are you humble enough to listen to what is really going on before you tell them how to fix themselves? I sometimes have to admit that my frustration with interruptions is mostly about my desire to be in control. . . .

I’ve found it easier to see interruptions as opportunities to love other people if I can keep my own agenda very short. Not that I ignore my own needs, not at all. But I seriously evaluate everything on the list and make sure it really needs to be done.” *

As I read these paragraphs shared in this book, I thought wow, am I that person, Am I mindful of others, am I unhurried? Not very often, if I’m honest. Am I humble, do I listen? Interruptions in our days are often opportunities to minister God’s love to others. So I challenge you, Choose to make interruptions great opportunities to share Christ! Choose to actively take part in others lives. As much as I’d like to stand before you and say that I always have time for others and I’m always ready and mindful of sharing Christ in every situation it’s not true. I believe we must choose to actively make these choices and remember I Peter 4:11 God provides the strength so that in all things He may be praised. I have had three opportunities in the last year to share Christ with others and I had to pray for courage and choose to do it. So I challenge you to think of maybe just one person, a sister in Christ or someone who comes to your heart that needs the Lord and start praying for them. God will open doors and I stand here before you tonight as an example of Yes, with God’s strength and through Him we can step out of our comfort zones, we can speak and we can serve and God will get all the glory. If you are here tonight and don’t have a personal relationship with Christ, it is easy and I just know that someone near you would be thrilled to share Jesus with you so I pray that you will not leave here tonight without finding Christ’s love, because He truly loves us and gave His life for us. Thank you!

* Keri Wyatt Kent, quoted by Tina Cole and Nocona Koenig, “Never Enough Time” in My Husband Wants to be a Church Planter . . . , (Alpharetta, GA: North American Mission Board, 2007), 69.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Thoughts on the analysis of Paige Patterson on the ACP

Paige Patterson has offered what I believe is an insightful analysis on the ACP report and the wealth of punditry that has followed. Patterson concludes by suggesting four real reasons for the numeric decline. I believe Patterson is spot-on (Patterson’s words appear in italics with my comments following).

1. The first failure is the busyness of the age, which has robbed churches of serious prayer . . . Prayerlessness is foe number one.

Two comments: First, one unintentional aspect of the church growth movement has been a dependence on methods rather than on the power of God. This, of course, was never the attention of McGavran or of the second generation of CGM leaders. Nevertheless, more than fifty years later, McGavran has been largely forgotten and his God-dependent principles with him. I am personally an advocate of Church Growth and its emphasis on removing manmade barriers to the gospel and church growth. However, as McGavran would agree and Patterson alludes in his column, no method can advance the kingdom apart from absolute dependence on God. To the extent that prayerlessness is a characteristic of our churches, we should not be surprised at a decline in our numbers. Patterson rightly calls Southern Baptists to a return to prayer and complete dependence on God for success in ministry.

Second, prayer is not the only casualty of the busyness of the age. Christians have, by and large, abandoned the mission of God for other pursuits. It is time that Christians reject the busyness of the age that centers on the mundane and get consumed by passion for God’s mission. We must reorient our lives around the Great Commission rather than our own self-interests. This leads to Patterson’s second point.

2. The second culprit is our failure to witness. We are so adept at "marketing" and "programming" that we have failed to share Christ individually on a consistent basis. In fact, because meaningful church membership has been traded for numerical addition, most of our people hardly witness at all.

Again, another unintentional and non-McGavranite consequence of some modern mutations of the church growth movement. Numerical addition was never intended to replace meaningful church membership. In fact, McGavran argued for numbers that were meaningful. McGavran states,

It is not adding mere names to the roll or baptizing those who have no intention of following Christ. Roll-padding, aside from being dishonest, is useless. The numerical increase worth counting is that which endures from decade to decade. Roll-padding and dishonest baptizing will never produce lasting growth.”[1]

To the extent that numerical addition has replaced meaningful church membership, churches ought to repent and return to the growth principles centered on abundant, unhindered, contextual evangelism.

Second, as Patterson has so rightly reminded us, we must return to the actual practice of witnessing. As many have noted, the conservative resurgence has not yet resulted in a Great Commission resurgence. In my opinion, part of the problem among conservative evangelicals, is that we have pursued Christ-likeness in terms of character but not in terms of mission. Certainly, we must pursue the one without abandoning the other. We have forgotten, however, that to become truly like Him, we must allow God to work not only in us, but also through us. How can we know Christ and truly be like him without pouring out our life for his mission to reach the lost? Baptists must renew our commitment to evangelism, not only in theory, but in practice.

3. Third, the shallow state of preaching has exacerbated the lethargy of the church and left the lost with no real Word from God. The pastor ought to be the major source of theological understanding and the most able teacher of the Bible. Anemic pulpits create anemic churches and denominations.

I’ll let Patterson’s words stand on their own here. I will only add to my last point that we must return to preaching the full counsel of God so that our preaching is God-centered, cross-centered, and mission-centered rather than merely self-help, self-actualizing, felt needs preaching. Certainly, we need to preach those texts that help believers become better Christians, but even then the preaching must be centered in Christ and his cross.

4. Finally, our churches, in their hot pursuit of cultural adaptability look more and more like the culture and the world. Even at its best, the church is not good at being the world. In looking like a faint imitation of the world, the holiness of God and a thirst to be like Him have apparently been lost. And with the loss of holiness has come the corresponding loss of power and appeal!

Hear Patterson correctly here. I do not believe he is saying that we must abandon contextualization. He is, however, saying that not all contextual methods and models are God-honoring and faithful to him. We must approach contextualization critically and approach evangelism in away that both communicates to the culture and at the same time remains faithful to the biblical gospel. To the extent that churches have capitulated to the culture and abandoned the offense of the cross, we must return to the true gospel and to biblical models and methods.

In the final analysis, Patterson has offered wise words that should be considered by all Southern Baptists. We must recommit ourselves to the prayerful, powerful, critically-contextual, abundant proclamation of the gospel. Until we do, we should not be surprised when our statistics are not what we wish them to be.

Lord, send a revival and let it begin in me.

[1] Donald A. McGavran, How Churches Grow: The New Frontiers of Mission (London: World Dominion Press, 1959), 16.