Category Archives: Church

5 reasons the church must teach the Bible

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching …” (Acts 2:42). This tells me two things about the early church: (1) members were hungry for teaching; and (2) leaders taught.

We have a pretty good idea about what they taught. Based on the content of Peter’s Pentecost sermon as well as other passages in Acts, they exposited Scripture. (See Acts 2:16-21,25-28; 3:22; 7:2-50; 8:30f; 13:16-41; 15:15-18; 28:23,26-27.) They taught as Jesus taught them. He had “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:32,44–45).

Bible teaching was in the beginning—as it always must be—at the center of church life.

Let’s be clear about what we mean by “Bible teaching.” Teaching the Bible goes beyond using a biblical passage as a peg on which to hang good ideas. Bible teaching approaches the Bible in such a way that allows the biblical text to set the agenda and to speak for itself. What God has said in His Word is what we must teach.

Walter Kaiser, in Toward an Exegetical Theology, comments: “In the midst of all the feverish activity to restore the Church once again to her former position of influence and respect, all sorts of programs and slogans have appeared. But regardless of what new directives and emphases are periodically offered, that which is needed above everything else to make the Church more viable, authentic, and effective, is a new declaration of the Scripture with a new purpose, passion, and power. This we believe is most important if the work of God is to be accomplished in the program of the local church.” (emphasis added)

Consider these 5 reasons (not meant to be exhaustive) why the church must prioritize strong Bible teaching.

1. The church must teach the Bible because it is God’s Word.

Rather than using a lot of theological-sounding words to make the point, let’s put it in a way my grandchildren can understand: What the Bible says, God says. All of Scripture (yes, even Leviticus)  was “breathed out by God,” meaning the writers wrote exactly what God wanted them to write. Because it is God-breathed, “it is profitable for teaching,” and the result of teaching the Scriptures is that believers are “complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

2. The church must teach the Bible because it is God’s authoritative Word.

When we say what the Bible says, we speak with authority—God’s authority. When we go beyond what the Bible says—even though it may be good advice, we speak in our own authority.

3. The church must teach the Bible because it is sufficient.

Because the Bible comes from God and carries His authority, it is uniquely sufficient to accomplish His purposes. Anything of eternal significance that results from our teaching or preaching happens because of the power of God’s Word—not because of our comments about God’s Word.

Some churches today undermine and deny Scripture’s sufficiency by relegating the Bible to the periphery of the church’s worship. Shame on us! Because worship is an intelligent and loving response to God’s revelation of Himself, the Word needs to be central in worship—not an appendix to worship. A congregation that doesn’t know the Word of God is incapable of worshiping God “in Spirit and truth” (John 4:24).

4. The church must teach the Bible because it is required.

Jesus commanded us to make disciples, not just converts, and disciples are made by teaching the Word. This is a requirement for fulfilling the Great Commission (Matt. 28:20).

5. The church must teach the Bible because it is needed.

Churches are filled with biblical illiterates. Research reveals this as a fact. We should expect biblical illiteracy in secular society, but not in the church. On the other hand, we shouldn’t be surprised by Christians’ lack of biblical knowledge when churches marginalize biblical teaching.

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching …”

Bible teaching was at the center—not the periphery—of early church life. May it be so today!






Whatever happened to prayer meetings?

The condition of a church can be accurately determined by its prayer meetings. Charles Spurgeon called the prayer meeting a “grace-ometer” from which “we may judge of the amount of divine working among a people.” More recently, Vance Havner said that “the thermometer of a church is its prayer meeting.”

If this is true, and I believe it is, then what does that say about a church when the prayer meeting is the least attended meetings of the week? Or what does it say about a church that no longer has prayer meetings?

I don’t have the definitive answer as to why prayer meetings have become nearly extinct. I suspect some combination of the following factors are involved:

  • Prayer doesn’t draw a crowd; there has to be some kind of entertainment factor to get people interested.
  • We have put our trust in human methodologies and strategies.
  • Prayer is hard work and it’s easier to try to fix things ourselves.
  • We’re satisfied with the status quo.
  • There is no sense of desperation for God in the church.

Perhaps Spurgeon was right when he said that slothfulness in prayer is one of the first signs of God’s absence from a church.

“My House Shall Be Called a House of Prayer”

God’s intention always has been for His house to be a place where people come to pray. God said it in Isaiah 56:7. Jesus repeated it. Nowhere does the Bible say: “My house shall be called a house of music.” Nowhere does the Bible say: “My house shall be called a house of preaching.” I’m not minimizing the importance of those things; we need to sing and to teach and preach. But collectively seeking God in prayer ought always to be a defining characteristic of our meetings and elevated to a place of preeminence in our corporate gatherings.

We can’t help but see in the Book of Acts that corporate prayer was given the highest priority by church leaders and members. When the church came together, they prayer together:

“These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers” (Acts 1:14, NASB). The early believers had no strategy other than to come together, pray, and wait on God. That’s it; that was their strategy—united and continual prayer. It worked.

“They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). This first description of the early church after Pentecost gives us a glimpse into the corporate life of the first church. Praying together was one of the essentials that defined church life.

When a complaint arose by the Hellenistic Jews against the Hebrew Jews that their widows were being overlooked, seven godly men were appointed to serve the widows. The apostles said: But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). I have always understood this to mean the apostles would devote themselves to personal prayer and to the public ministry of preaching and teaching the Word. But when you look at the original language, it seems to be saying something else. Literally it reads “to the prayer and the ministry of the word.” The article the before both “prayer” and “ministry of the word” suggests that the apostles were talking not about their personal prayer lives but rather about two essential ministries to the church: (1) leading the church to pray and (2) preaching the Word. Guiding the church to pray together is no less essential than preaching.

Desperation for God = Powerful Prayer Meetings

A.T. Pierson said: “There has never been a spiritual awakening in any country or locality that did not begin in united prayer.” It’s well documented that all true revivals in history began in the prayer meeting. Based on the teaching of Scripture, the example of the early church, and church history, it seems to me that the need of the hour is to worry less about doing whatever it takes to draw a crowd and to give greater attention to collectively seeking God in prayer.

What would happen if we came to the place where we are desperate for God and we chased after Him together in prayer with humility and sincerity? What if our praying together as a church became more than just a hospital report? What if the days of rote, comfortable, and convenient prayers were over? What if our praying together was instead characterized by a united, agonizing crying out for God to move among us and to fall upon us in power?

Spurgeon said: “We shall never see much change for the better in our churches in general till the prayer meeting occupies a higher place in the esteem of Christians.” He also said: “If we would have Him, we must meet in greater numbers; we must pray with greater fervency, we must watch with greater earnestness, and believe with firmer steadfastness. The prayer meeting … is the appointed place for the reception of power.”

What if we could change the conversation from whatever happened to prayer meeting to what happened at prayer meeting?

Beyond the coffee and doughnuts

What sometimes passes for Christian fellowship is about as nourishing as the doughnut you ate in Sunday School last week. Though enjoyable, it brings little spiritual benefit.

To fellowship is to share. That’s the basic meaning of koinonia—sharing. But it’s a sharing that goes beyond the coffee and doughnuts. We may think that just because we’ve shared food and time with one another that we have fellowshipped. But maybe we haven’t—not in the true biblical sense.

True fellowship is not primarily a social activity but rather a relationship. So instead of thinking of fellowship simply as the act of meeting together, let’s think of fellowship in terms of sharing our lives together in a such a way that facilitates our growth in Christ.

There’s more than one way to share biblical fellowship, but here are 3 essentials:

Speaking God’s Word to one another

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers.” (Acts 2:42, HCSB)

In True Community, Jerry Bridges explains the practice in the early church: “Those first Christians from the Day of Pentecost were all Jews. They were steeped in the Old Testament Scriptures, but as they listened to the apostles’ teaching and were enlightened by the Holy Spirit, they began to see those Scriptures in a new way. They were daily gaining a new understanding of them. And as they individually learned from the apostles’ teaching, they shared with one another what they were learning. This is fellowship: sharing with one another what God is teaching through the Scriptures, and this is an important part of true community.”

In our present-day practice of fellowship we effortlessly discuss everything else except what God is teaching us from His Word and what He’s doing in our lives. Why do you suppose that is? Why do we find easier and more natural to talk about our favorite football team or latest movie release than about what God is teaching us in His Word?

Encouraging one another

“And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25, HCSB)

Christian fellowship involves encouraging one another. But how? The writer of Hebrews is not telling us that we encourage each other simply by attending the church meetings. Mere attendance doesn’t “promote love and good works.” The key word is “promote.” That’s a strong Greek word that means “to provoke, incite, or stir something up.” The word can have a negative meaning, as in Acts 15:39 where it speaks of stirring up disagreements. In Hebrews 10:24 it’s used positively to call us to consider how we can nudge each other forward in service and obedience.

Holding one another accountable

“Let the righteous one strike me — it is an act of faithful love; let him rebuke me — it is oil for my head; let me not refuse it.” (Psalms 141:5, HCSB)

David prayed for godly people to hold him accountable. In fact, he considered a righteous person holding him accountable as an act of love. Do you have someone who holds you accountable spiritually? This should be happening every week in our small groups and Sunday School classes. If we don’t have that kind of accountability to others we’re missing a much-needed aspect of Christian fellowship.

Coffee and doughnuts are fine. I’ll have my coffee black and my doughnut chocolate, thank you. But let’s not miss the deeper meaning of fellowship—sharing our common life in Christ. Fellowship includes sharing what God is teaching us through His Word, nudging one another forward in our walk with Christ, and holding one another accountable spiritually.

5 ways to destroy church unity

“I have never yet known the Spirit of God to work where the Lord’s people were divided.” Like D.L. Moody, neither have I. Instead, most of us probably have seen too often how disunity hinders the Spirit’s work in the church and damages the church’s witness to the world.

Unity in the body of Christ isn’t something to be taken for granted nor taken lightly. It’s a gift from God made possible by the cross of Jesus and made effective by the working of the Holy Spirit. Unity isn’t something we’re able to create, but is our responsibility to guard. Here’s a few attitudes and actions to guard against:

1. Making everything about you

Reality check: The church doesn’t exist to make you (or me) happy; it exists to glorify God.

The way to maintain unity is to think of others as more important than yourself and to make the mission of seeing lives changed by the gospel as more important than personal preferences or comfort. It’s not about you, or about me.

2. Fighting over secondary things

We argue and fight in the church over some really dumb things. We argue about things that, from a heavenly perspective, don’t really matter all that much.

Like #1 above, arguing over secondary things is an indication of self-centeredness. What’s required for maintaining unity is less “self” and more “centeredness” on what really matters. Or like Richard Baxter said: “In necessary things, unity; in doubtful things, liberty; in all things, charity.”

3. Gossiping

There’s a reason James said the tongue is a fire (James 3:6). Consider the damage it can do to a church. Gossip and other sins of the tongue have absolutely no place in the body of Christ. None. Gossip is a cancer in the body of Christ that, if not removed, will destroy the fellowship.

The problem of gossip is a problem of the heart, and so the correction needs to happen in the deepest recesses of the heart. A heart problem isn’t corrected by a resolve to hold your tongue. It takes nothing less than the Holy Spirit changing attitudes, leading to genuine repentance, which then opens the way for unity to be restored.

4. Refusing to forgive

Bitterness and resentment are poisons. Unforgiveness poisons the soul and it poisons the body of Christ.

The church is, by nature, a fellowship rooted in forgiveness. What does that mean, practically speaking? 17th-century Puritan Thomas Watson said forgiveness looks like this: you don’t seek revenge when someone offends you, you wish him well, you grieve at his calamities, you pray for him, you seek reconciliation, and show yourself willing to come to his aid. That’s what forgiveness looks like, and that’s what it takes to maintain unity.

5. Taking our eyes off Jesus

This last one is the most insidious of all the threats to church harmony.

In The Pursuit of God, A.W. Tozer wrote: “Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshipers met together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be, were they to become ‘unity’ conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship.”

It’s time for a tuning, don’t you think?

“Live in harmony with one another.” (‭Romans‬ ‭12‬:‭16‬, ESV)

the [un]welcoming church

If the kinds of people with whom Jesus associated came to your church, would they be welcomed?

Consider carefully before you answer (1) the kinds of people with whom Jesus associated and (2) the meaning of welcomed.

The People Who Need Welcoming

“This man welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:2).

Jesus welcomed the very people the religious crowd tried hard to avoid. He welcomed the marginalized and the ostracized. He welcomes the untouchables. He welcomed notorious sinners. He welcomed the sexually immoral—the adulterers and prostitutes. He welcomed people of different races and ethnicities.

Are we as welcoming? Do we welcome the family with a different skin color that speaks with an accent? What about the girl who is pregnant and unmarried? Is she welcomed? Or the person struggling with addiction? The family with the disruptive special needs child—do they feel welcomed?

In theory, everyone is welcome in our churches. In practice, that is not always true.

The Meaning of “Welcome”

“Whoever welcomes this little child in My name welcomes Me” (Luke 9:48).

“Welcome” is a biblical word rich with a rich meaning. It is more than a smile and a handshake. It is more than what happens during the “welcome and announcements.” If we reduce a welcome to a greeting, we clearly have misunderstood the meaning of welcome.

When Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes this little child,” He didn’t mean “whoever greets … whoever shakes his hand … whoever puts on a friendly face ….”

The biblical word for welcome (dekomai) means to be concerned about, to care for, to show kindness to, to receive, or to give access to oneself.

Jesus used the same word for welcome when He explained His parable of the soils. The good soil represents those who hear the word and “welcome” it (Mark 4:20, HCSB). This soil “welcomes” the scattered seed. Such welcoming goes deeper than mere superficialities. The welcoming soil takes in the seed, nourishes it, and provides an environment in which the seed is transformed, grows, and bears fruit.

A welcoming church is the fertile soil in which all people can experience change and growth through the power of gospel of grace.

Will We Welcome?

“If you show favoritism, you commit sin” (James 2:9).

Interestingly enough, the second chapter of James speaks directly to the way we welcome people into the church. James warns that if the way we welcome people into our church is conditioned by their appearance or their perceived status or wealth, then we commit sin (v. 9). Such discrimination calls into question our own faith: “My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others?” (v. 1‬, NLT).

We need to be honest about this. Do we welcome the person whom we believe can make a contribution and fill a need in the church differently than the way we welcome the person who appears poor and needy with nothing to offer?

Think back to what Jesus said about welcoming a child. In the ancient world, a small child had no status and no influence. The “little child” who stood by Jesus’ side represents any person who comes with absolutely nothing to give, but only with needs to be met. Whoever welcomes that person, said Jesus, “welcomes Me.” The way we welcome the lowliest person into our church is an indication of the way we have welcomed Jesus.

How welcoming is your church?

5 keys to handling negative criticism

“You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” — Winston Churchill

It’s an unpleasant but inevitable fact of life that if you attempt to do anything of significance, you will be criticized. J. Oswald Sanders wrote, “No leader lives a day without criticism, and humility will never be more on trial than when criticism comes.” (Spiritual Leadership)

When criticism comes, how do you handle it? While negative criticism often times may say more about the critic and his need to be critical than about the one being criticized, the way we respond to our critics always speaks volumes about us. 

Here are 5 guidelines I follow when criticism is directed at me.

1. Refuse to let criticism consume you. You can’t let the fear of criticism immobilize you and you can’t let it crush you when it comes. If the criticism is true, learn from it and move on. If it is untrue, ignore it and press on. 

2. Respond to criticism with humility and grace. Our natural tendency when criticism comes is to go into a defensive posture. Instead of rushing to defend yourself, however, be humble and gracious. The right response to the critic may be a simple, “Thank you, I needed to hear that. Will you please remember to pray for me?” A gracious response has the potential to turn a curse into a blessing.

3. Not all criticism warrants a response. If someone criticizes me with a hateful, arrogant, or mean tone, I simply ignore it. Again, criticism may say more about the critic and his need to be critical than about the one being criticized. In some cases, no response is warranted. 

4. Don’t bear criticism alone. Seek the counsel of trusted people whose opinions you can depend on. Don’t let the nay-sayers and critics define your reality. Listen to the right people—people who have earned a right to speak into your life.  

5. Seek the approval of God, not man. The apostle Paul wrote: “It is of little importance to me that I should be evaluated by you or by any human court. In fact, I don’t even evaluate myself. For I am not conscious of anything against myself, but I am not justified by this. The One who evaluates me is the Lord” (1 Cor. 4:3-4, HCSB). Paul knew that God’s opinion is the only one that counts. He wrote to the Galatians: “For am I now trying to win the favor of people, or God?  Or am I striving to please people?” (Gal. 1:10, HCSB).

Maybe you’ve heard the saying, “The only opinion that truly counts is the one YOU form about YOU.” I think not. The only opinion that counts in the end is God’s. Seek His approval, not man’s. When we tune our ears to listen to God’s voice, the critics’ voices will become faint by comparison. 

Small groups do big things

“Thought should be given to a more extensive use of the Word of God among us.”

With that declaration, Philip Jacob Spener launched into a list of proposals he believed would reform the church. The book, Pia Desideria (“Pious Desires”), was published in 1675 and inaugurated a movement in Germany called Pietism. A “more extensive use of the Word of God” was the first of six proposals from Spener for revitalizing the church, and the one he considered the chief means for church renewal.

For Spener, a more extensive use of the Word of God meant three things …

  • families reading the Bible everyday in the home;
  • pastors reading and preaching through entire books of the Bible one after another; and
  • groups within the church meeting informally for the purpose of studying and discussing God’s Word.

Consider that last one—groups meeting for the purpose of doing Bible study. That was an unusual and revolutionary idea in the 1600s. To us, small group Bible study sounds anything but revolutionary. After all, is there anything more old school than … Sunday School?

We like new. What church leader hasn’t heard of a new strategy that worked somewhere else and wanted to imitate it? New isn’t necessarily a bad thing; new can be good; new may sometimes serve to move the church forward. What we most need, however, for moving the church forward is to stop and look backward.

This is what God said through Jeremiah: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.” (Jeremiah 6:16, ESV)

The ancient path is “where the good way is.” The ancient path represents God’s way. God’s way is always the right way; God’s way always works; and God has always worked through His Word. A more extensive use of the Word of God has always been God’s means of reforming His people.

When small groups, regardless of what you call them in your church—Sunday School, LIFE groups, whatever—gather to study the Word of God, big things happen …

Small groups make disciples

Jesus prayed on behalf of His disciples in John 17:17, “Sanctify them by the truth; Your word is truth” (HCSB). The sanctification of believers, for which Jesus prayed, takes place by the Word of God.

I’m not suggesting that Bible study brings instant results—the process of sanctification takes time—but God uses Bible teaching to accomplish His purpose in us. Without significant and consistent participation in the study of God’s Word, growth in discipleship will not happen (1 Pet. 2:2).

Small groups build community.

Julie Gorman reminds us why we need Christian community: “Intentionally putting yourself in a place where you are together with other believers in a committed relationship is a discipline that allows you to live out the reality of [God’s] ways and remain open to the transforming work of the Spirit. Being with others will bring out areas needing transformation in us and give us opportunity to live the truth that God reveals to us.” (Community That Is Christian)

Community happens in circles, not in rows. Life changing community happens when we circle around the Word of God.

Small groups impact culture.

When small groups are viewed not just as another program of the church but with a missionary mentality, big things can happen. Groups circled around the Word of God live out that truth and reach out to people far from God.

Small group Bible study transforms individuals who, in community, impact their world.

Spener got this right—an extensive use of the Word of God is what the church needs. We don’t have to keep coming up with something new, we need to make use of what God has promised to bless—His Word. Let’s circle around God’s Word and let it do its work.