Is the Modern Church Still Divided By Personality?

550w_soaps_silhouetteAll the air went of the room as my fellow seminarian raised his hand and explained his request.  He had interrupted our professor to ask if he would let the class out early so we could all get good seats in the upcoming seminary chapel service.  There was a well-known evangelical pastor scheduled to preach in chapel that day and seats usually filled up quickly.

But our professor was no slouch. He was a tenured professor at a world-class seminary and the editor of that school’s theological journal.  He was also an accomplished author with several books and many journal articles to his credit.  He had served as a pastor and interim pastor at number of churches in two different states.

On that particular day our professor was teaching on some facet of systematic theology.  I don’t remember the particulars, but I do remember that he was teaching with clarity and conviction. In fact, I was so deeply engaged that I was taken aback by my classmate’s request – and so was our professor.  I could see the disappointment and surprise on his face as he quickly processed the inquiry.  He had been interrupted mid-sentence with the suggestion that he finish up quickly so that we could all get on with something or someone “better.”  After a long tense pause, our professor dismissed the class without any defensiveness.

Our culture is obsession with celebrities and that obsession has crept into the church.   If the seminary trained pastors and leaders of our churches are affected, and even divided by personality, than so is the modern church.

This sounds a lot like the error the Apostle Paul addressed in 1 Corinthians 1:12 where people in the church were saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ.”  They weren’t divided by substantive or theological issues, they were divided by the personality, style, and perceived importance of four different church leaders.  Not only did they had align themselves with their favor leader, but they stood against their brothers and sisters  who did not agree with them.

We all have a tendency to gravitate towards people we love and respect. The problem starts when we put people on a pedestal and even try to copy their ministries.  The problem gets worse when we play favorites and form secret alliances. If people in the modern church are divided by personality, we shouldn’t be surprised.  Pastors and church leaders are divided by personality too.

 

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10 Things I’m Thankful For Today

i-am-thankful

Yesterday we talked about the danger of spiritual pride from 1 Corinthians 1:1-9.  In my message I said that gratitude is the only way to defeat spiritual pride in your life.  Then, I challenged everyone to find time to count their spiritual blessings.  Since I issued the challenge, I thought I would share my list with everyone today.

  1. I am thankful that my sins are not counted against me.  I’m forgiven.
  2. I am thankful God chose to love me before I love Him.  He took the initiative.
  3. I am thankful God has called me to be one of His “saints,” and to be a pastor.
  4. I am thankful to be counted with and connected to Jesus Christ. He’s not just an abstract concept or a historical, He’s my friend.
  5. I am thankful the members of my  family are also growing in their relationship s with Jesus Christ.
  6. I am thankful that God has declared me holy and is helping me become holier day by day (some days more than others).
  7. I am thankful I can talk with God anytime through prayer.  Even though I don’t take advantage of this access like I should, I am grateful for it.
  8. I am thankful that I know where I am going when I die.  I will be in heaven with Jesus Christ for eternity.
  9. I am thankful God is building His church right here in Ashland and that I get a front row seat to what He is doing.
  10. I am thankful God is faithful and He will complete the work that He has started in my life (Philippians 1:6).

What spiritual blessings are you thankful for today?  You can add your list as a comment at the end of this post.  You can also read an introduction to my sermon series on 1 Corinthians here.  Hope to see you again next Sunday!

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What You Need to Know Before Sunday

Sermon Graphic - 1 Corinthians 2016This coming Sunday morning I will start a new preaching series in 1 Corinthians titled, “Becoming Who You Are.” The Apostle Paul planted the church in Corinth at the end of his second missionary journey. Even though they had genuinely responded to the gospel, the Corinthian Christians had a hard time living out the gospel in their everyday lives. They were shaped more by their cosmopolitan culture than their connection to Christ. Like the believers in Corinth, you and I need to become who we in Christ.

Paul’s salutation (1:1-9) is surprisingly optimistic when compared to the rest of the letter. In verse 2, Paul describes the Corinthian believers as “those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus,” and “saints by calling.” The term “saint” is derived from the Greek verb hagiazō, which means “to set apart,” “sanctify,” or “make holy.” In order to understand this first passage and its connection to the rest of the letter, you need to know what the Bible teaches about the doctrine of sanctification.

Sanctification explains how a holy God can come to have a relationship with sinful people. Sanctification includes two distinct aspects: positional and progressive sanctification. Positional sanctification means that believers are set aside as God’s possession and declared holy by faith in Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross.  This is the kind of sanctification that Paul is referring to in 6:9-10.

Progressive sanctification denotes the believer’s advance towards spiritual maturity and practical holiness.  Sinless perfection is not possible this side of eternity (1:8), but it is the goal Paul has in mind for his readers as he encourages us all to become who we are in Christ.

Please join me at Unity Baptist Church this Sunday if you are in the Ashland area as we kick off this series together.

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Why Plant New Churches? An Open Letter to Unity Baptist Church

plant in handsUnity has a strong history of church planting. Many of the Baptist churches in the Ashland area were started by Unity or by one of her daughter churches. In 1892, Unity planted Pollard Baptist under the leadership of pastor S. Hensley. In time, Pollard planted at least 7 mission churches, including Rose Hill Baptist, and Wildwood Baptist, who would plant their own daughter churches as well. In the early 1900’s, Unity was instrumental in starting 3 mission churches. In 1954, one of those missions became Belmont Street Baptist in under the eventual leadership of pastor Wesley Harris.   In 1974, Unity helped the 45th Street Mission organize into Blackburn Avenue Baptist under the leadership of pastor Thurman Jackson.[1] Some of Unity’s spiritual progeny have grown through the years, and some have disappeared, but her church-planting legacy lives on today.

Church planting has been overlooked for several years, but recently it has made a comeback. Some forward-thinking church leaders, like Ed Stetzer, Executive Director for Lifeway Research, believe church planting is essential for the future of the church in North America, but others have doubts.[2] Those who resist the idea of planting new churches think that there are already enough churches. Here are 3 objections to church planting that Stetzer addresses in his book Planting Missional Churches.

Isn’t one big church better than several smaller ones? It’s true that larger churches have more to offer than medium or smaller churches, but that doesn’t mean they are better at reaching people. Consider the findings from a recent study:

  • Churches under three years of age win an average of 10 people to Christ per year for every hundred church members.
  • Churches three to fifteen years of age win an average of 5 people to Christ per year for every hundred church members.
  • Churches over fifteen years of age win an average of 3 people to Christ per year for every hundred church members.[3]

Shouldn’t we help our struggling churches instead? It’s estimated that as many 90 percent of churches in North America are in plateau or decline. Some feel that the resources used to start new churches should be used to revitalize churches that are struggling. This is possible in some cases, but it’s not very common. Existing churches that are struggling are struggling for a reason, and they are often resistant to the kind of change that is necessary to revitalize them. The best strategy is to both plant new churches and revitalize existing churches that are open to change.

Haven’t we already reached everyone? Even after generations of evangelism and discipleship, the U.S. is the largest mission field in the Western hemisphere.[4] Our country’s largest cities are filled with millions of lost people, and there are thousands of lost people in our Tri-state area, too.   According to recent estimates, 40 percent of people in the Ashland area have no religious affiliation whatsoever, and only 15.7 percent of the people in the Ashland attend church on a given Sunday. That means that of the approximately 9,000 people who live within a 1-mile radius of our church property, 3,600 have no specific religious connection, and 7,600 do not attend church on a regular basis. It’s estimated that there are as many as 30,000 lost people in Boyd County alone.

The North American Mission Board is encouraging Southern Baptists to pursue church planting as the best way to reach the lost through the Annie Armstrong Missions Emphasis and the SEND City Church Planting Strategy. This year, we will all be encouraged to participate in missions in North America by praying, giving, and even going. But this is nothing new for Unity. We have been participating in missions and planting churches for years.

[1] Special thanks to Judi Little and her careful research on the history of Unity Baptist.

[2] Ed Stezer, Planting Missional Churches (Nashville: B & H Academic, 2006), 5.

[3] Bruce Nichols, “Churches Die With Dignity,” Christianity Today (January 14, 1991), 69.

[4] Stetzer, 13.

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Reasons Why I Love Ashland, Kentucky: Reason #4

600_358185062Yesterday, I picked up with a series of blog posts on the reasons why I love Ashland, Kentucky. Here is one more reason:

4. Natural beauty is all around

I’ve noticed something surprising when I’m away from home now: I miss the hills. I thought the hills would be an inconvenience and they are when it snows. But the hills, as well as the rocks, trees, and valleys give northeast Kentucky a magnetic quality.

My family and I have found natural beauty exploring our backyard and our neighborhood. We’ve found majestic trees, breathtaking boulders, and inviting streams, even some historic .

IM000138.JPGThere are 3 great state parks within an hour’s drive of Ashland and we’ve enjoyed each one of them. We’ve fished, floated, acoal mines
nd jumped in the water at Grayson Lake. We’ve hiked and we’ve sightseen at Greenbo Lake. And we’ve camped and caved at Carter Caves. And that’s just scratching the surface of the wonderful creation in the Ashland area.

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Why I love Ashland, Kentucky: Reason #3

UBC in the snowA few weeks ago I shared a couple of blog posts on the reasons why I love Ashland, Kentucky. Here is the third reason:

3. Everything is close and convenient

Close and convenient are relative terms. What might feel close and convenient for one person might not be for another. Compared to the other places I’ve lived, Ashland is the perfect size.

I love that we can drop all four of our kids at three different schools in under 15 minutes. For me, it’s possible to run home for lunch because it only takes 5 minutes. Even if the traffic is “bad,” it doesn’t take very long get where I’m going.

Ashland might not have everything a larger city has to offer, but it has everything my family needs.  And we can get back home with enough time to enjoy it.

Check back tomorrow another reason why I love Ashland, Kentucky.

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Why I Love Ashland, Kentucky: Reason #2

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Yesterday, I started to share a series of blog posts on the reasons why I love Ashland, Kentucky. Here is the second reason:

2. Family ties are strong here.

I believe God gives us family as a tangible express of His love and affection for us. He gives us a mother and a father when we need nurture and protection. He gives us siblings and cousins to challenge and encourage us. Extended family multiplies our network of care and helps round out our character. That doesn’t mean that every family lives up to these ideals. Some families, as you know fall far short. But in general, families are a gift from God.

I’ve noticed that many families in the Ashland area lean on each other throughout the year. They don’t just get together around the holidays. They work together to take care of kids and grandkids. They depend on each other to help with health issues and maintenance issues. They care for their parents and grandparents with a fierce loyalty.

Families today face a growing number of challenges. But I’m proud to report that family ties are strong here in northeast Kentucky!

Check back tomorrow another reason why I love Ashland, Kentucky.

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