In Case You Missed It

Each Friday at Between the Times we point you to some of this week’s blogposts we think worth your time. Some are written by Southeastern faculty, alumni, or students. Some are from others outside Southeastern who have something to say. Either way, we want to keep you updated in case you missed it.

1) Ed Stetzer discusses (and links to) the panel discussion on salvation and mission at SBC 2014. Well worth your time (also features David Platt, Trevin Wax, and Frank Page). 

2) First Things contributor and Princeton law professor, Robert P. George, has created an online plea for the victims in Iraq. Sign the plea here.

3) Does God view the Spirit wrought good works of Christians as “filthy rags”? Michael J. Kruger says No at TGC.

4) Russell Moore, President of the ERLC, addresses the violence in Ferguson, Missouri and the quest for racial justice.

5) SEBTS PhD student and managing editor of Lifeway’s Gospel Project, Trevin Wax, also discusses Ferguson, ripping the bandages off our racial wounds.

6) Chuck Lawless, Dean of Graduate Studies at SEBTS, gives 10 reasons why bi-vocational ministry matters at thomrainer.com.ctj rjgbhfqnth

The Spurgeon Center: Critical Abilities, Part 2 (John Ewart)

Editor’s Note: Every Thursday morning at Between the Times we highlight the work of Southeastern’s Spurgeon Center for Pastoral Leadership and Preaching. Directed by John H. Ewart, who also serves as Associate Vice President for Global Theological Initiatives at Southeastern, the Spurgeon Center existsto equip and encourage pastors to lead healthy, disciple-making churches for the glory of God around the world. In the effort to accomplish this mission, through the board of advisors and others the center will be offering assistance, resources and training to our students, as well as to pastors and churches, to further equip them to serve well in the crucible of real life ministry. This week Dr. Ewart continues his series on Critical Abilities in pastoral leadership.

God has set before us a predetermined plan with principles by which we are to live in order to join Him in His desire to redeem the nations. These principles require leaders in the church to possess key abilities to follow His plan and to practically lead others on the journey.

The first of these critical abilities is to understand the true mission: the overarching purpose for which we exist, God’s Mission. We have read and been told that the mission of God is to bring glory to Himself and therefore our ultimate mission is to bring glory to God. These truths must not simply be some theoretical, theological discussion. They have massive, practical ramifications. Understanding these ramifications is absolutely vital for developing and/or evaluating an effective framework of ministry.

Our ultimate mission is not to plant, revitalize or grow a church or even to see the lost saved. We very much want to see those things occur, but ultimately they must only occur by means that bring glory to God. This reality strikes at the very heart of programming and ministry methodology. The ends do not justify the means if the means do not bring Him glory because that is the ultimate end.

I often refer to train tracks and bumper cars in my consulting, classes and conferences. Think about train tracks. The engineer on a train does not determine the path of the tracks. Those riding the train as passengers do not determine where the train will go either. The owner of the railroad company, the authority, determines where the tracks are laid and where they go.

Trains do not ride well when they are off the tracks. It is catastrophic. They need to ride the rails. Tracks provide them a predetermined path of direction that does not change. They will remain true and reach their appointed destination if they just stay on track.

Beautiful-Traintracks-Landscape-Wallpaper

As simple as this image is I find that as I speak with pastors across the nation, around the world, in doctoral seminars, on our campus and at conferences, they have often taken their eyes off the tracks. They have forgotten why they are doing what they are doing and replaced it with a lot of “what’s the latest cool and how to . . . .” They have found themselves off track and their ministries seem more like bumper car rides than powerful trains. What do I mean?

Think about bumper cars. They are cool, fun, noisy, and flashy, the music is blaring, the sparks are flying and you get to run into people! I like bumper cars. But the problem is clear. When it is all said and done and the music stops, and the flash expires, where do you end up? Same place you started! You just go around and around in a circle bumping into each other!

Ever been in a church like that? Seemingly one good ministry is doing its good thing and another good ministry is doing its good thing. They might even be cool, fun and flashy but in the end the church is just going around and around in an inward facing circle, bumping into each other, competing for time, people, energy and resources. I have seen many a ministry with a lot of flash, volume and spark, but long term not producing anything of value to the mission.

Focusing upon the mission of God, our train tracks, will help us produce spiritual synergy. When everyone and everything is linked together, heading in the same direction, flying down the tracks; that’s when something very special can happen. I am going to talk about how that can come together in the next few posts.

Think about your own life and ministry. Are you on His tracks? Are the ministries and people of your church moving as one with, as Spurgeon said, a “single eye to His glory?” Or, are they running around in circles bumping into each other? Do they even know they are supposed to be on track? Begin telling them now. It is a critical ability of a missional leader.

 

Image credit: http://hdwallcomp.comonline game

The Freedom of the Gospel Community: Local Church Autonomy

[Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on September 20, 2008.]

This is the seventh article in a series that explores the relationship between the gospel and Baptist identity. Baptists have historically argued for what is commonly called the autonomy of the local church. Stan Norman sums up the Baptist argument nicely:

The New Testament presents churches that are independent and self-governing. The decisions of each local church are final because no authority higher than a local church exists. Local churches can join together for certain ministry, education, or benevolent endeavors, but these shared ventures occur because of the bond of a common faith and ministry. No church assumes any authority over another church in these joint, cooperative efforts.[1]

Baptists believe that the local church is the highest ecclesiastical authority on earth. We argue that no individual denomination, association, synod, presbytery, or diocese can impose its will upon a local church. Furthermore, we believe that each church is an autonomous congregation of believers and that every church is free to pursue its own spiritual agenda. Responsible local church autonomy reflects the freedom of gospel people in a specific gospel community to pursue whatever gospel ends they deem appropriate, under the lordship of Christ as revealed in Scripture.

Some Baptists come close to arguing that local church autonomy means that a congregation can do whatever it wants to without consequence, but this is a misunderstanding of the doctrine. Gospel freedom must always be accompanied by gospel responsibility. While churches are free to pursue their own spiritual agenda, that agenda must be consistent with the teaching of Scripture. We would do well to ask “what has the Lord said about these matters” before we shout “you can’t tell my church what to do!”

Most Baptists agree that autonomy should not lead to isolationism; churches can and should cooperate together to accomplish gospel ends that could not be accomplished as effectively by individual churches. The historic Baptist practice of interchurch association is one way that groups of autonomous congregations have worked together for common gospel ends and helped safeguard a responsible, gospel-centered autonomy.

According to J. C. Bradley, “A Baptist association is a self-governing fellowship of autonomous churches sharing a common faith and active on mission in their setting.”[2] Chad Brand notes that the work of associations can be grouped into two primary purposes: provide fellowship among like-minded churches and facilitate evangelism of a larger geographic area than can be covered by a single church.[3] This so-called “associational principle” is also the rationale behind state and national Baptist bodies like the Southern Baptist Convention.

While churches are not to be controlled by a spiritual hierarchy, they can and should open themselves up to receive advice from other churches and groups of churches like associations and conventions. Aberrant churches can and should be disfellowshipped by sister churches because of differences of opinion concerning faith and practice. To exclude a church from cooperation does not infringe upon that church’s autonomy; an association or convention cannot force a church to do anything it does not want to do. Rather, exclusion is simply what results when a church is judged by other congregations as failing to balance freedom and responsibility. Autonomous churches should be held accountable by other autonomous churches so that all churches might better ensure that their agenda is a gospel agenda.

[1] R. Stanton Norman, The Baptist Way: Distinctives of a Baptist Church (Nashville: B&H, 2005), 105.

[2] J. C. Bradley, A Baptist Association: Churches on Mission Together (Nashville: Convention Press, 1984), 15.

[3] Chad Owen Brand, “Toward a Theology of Cooperation,” in The Mission of Today’s Church: Baptist Leaders Look at Modern Faith Issues, ed. R. Stanton Norman (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2007), 163.