Five Critical Issues Facing Today’s Church


I was recently asked what I thought were the critical issues facing the church today. After some thought, I came up with five issues which I think are the greatest problems which need to addressed. Tell me what you think. Did I miss one?

  1. Immorality inside and outside the church – with the recent legalization of gay marriage and the effects of the sexual revolution, the church is faced with new challenges. The church will need to be ready to confront not only those outside the church with biblical truth, but also those inside the church. It is inevitable that the moral decay around us will begin manifesting itself inside our ranks. As a result, the church will need to begin taking church discipline seriously.
  2. Decreasing finances – the church will soon have to learn to do more ministry with less dollars. Giving on the whole is on the decline and studies show that millennials do not tithe as well as their parents and grandparents. As a result, the church needs to be ahead of the curve and needs to cut waste and become a lean organization.
  3. Overcoming cultural hostility – The American church has enjoyed a favored position in the culture for generations. We are seeing that dissolve largely in the past decade. The church is becoming a stranger in a strange land. Those outside of us hear only the negative press and learn to repeat the talking points of the secular left. This results in a negative, sometimes hostile, view of the church. We will have to combat this by building real relationships and restoring our reputation first in our communities. We can never expect the world to love followers of Christ, Jesus promised this would not be the case, however, we can live lives in such a way that we dispel the myths that are commonly believed about Christians and we can have a favorable reputation among our own community.
  4. The need to increase church security – I recently heard Thom Rainer say that church security will be one of the fastest growing Christian industries in the coming years. I have heard multiple reports of attacks and robberies happening on church property in recent years. This may be due in part to the growing hostility in our culture. The church needs to be prepared against burglaries and even the unspeakable notion of terror attacks.
  5. Biblical illiteracy – For the most part, the average parishioner in the pew is largely ignorant of the Bible. Not only has this been my personal experience, but there are multitudinous surveys to corroborate this observation. The church has failed to disciple this generation and we need to ensure that if our people profess to believe the body of truth called Christianity that they are able to actually articulate that which they say they believe.

How The Law Proclaims the Gospel


I often joke that the Pentateuch should be at the back of the Bible so those who wanted to read the Bible through could save the hardest section till the end! The legal passages of the Pentateuch contain the various laws given by God to the Israelites. These can be some of the most difficult passages to interpret.  All of the Law is profitable for us to read and draw applications from (2 Tim. 3:16), but much of the Law contains civil and ceremonial laws that only pertained literally to Israel. These are the laws fulfilled by Jesus (Matt. 5:17). We should interpret the Law in light of NT teaching.

Leviticus 19:18 is easily applicable to the modern Christian life: “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD”.  Jesus repeated this as the second of the two great commandments in Matthew 22:39. Love is the rule of the New Testament Christian and the applications of this verse are endless. Another applicable law is Leviticus 19:31: “’Give no regard to mediums and familiar spirits; do not seek after them, to be defiled by them: I am the LORD your God”. We live in a day when people are fascinated by the occult. People need to understand that these practices are pagan and condemned by a holy God.

Some laws have little practical application today such as Leviticus 19:19:‘You shall keep My statutes. You shall not let your livestock breed with another kind. You shall not sow your field with mixed seed. Nor shall a garment of mixed linen and wool come upon you”. This verse gives three different commandments concerning the breeding of livestock, the sowing of seed, and garments made of blended material. This verse has no immediate application today. Another verse that has little practical application today is Deuteronomy 22:12 “You shall make tassels on the four corners of the clothing with which you cover yourself”. I think we would look rather strange if we observed this commandment in today’s society!

The law is valuable for Christians today for several reasons. It shows us that God is a holy God and that He requires His people to be holy as well. While we may not observe some of the minutia of these laws like Israel did, we are to bear the spirit of holiness in all areas of our lives. It also shows us the terrible burden that the law placed on us as a sinful people. God gave all these commandments but we were not able to keep them. Christ fulfilled the law for us in His sinless life and sacrificial death. Many laws do have New Testament applications and these are good for us to know and observe. The moral laws reveal God’s eternal moral standards that He expects of all people. Most of all, the law has a great deal to teach us about the nature and the heart of God. We see God’s holiness and His persistence in having a relationship with fallen humanity in His meticulous revelation of the law to His people.

Are You Called to the Mission Field?



51plob2bt5alWhile some experience a clearly distinct call of God to the task of missions or ministry, many do not have such an experience. Since we cannot legitimately command every person to be a career missionary, and we cannot wait for a Damascus Road encounter, how do we define a call to missions? Dr. David Sills’ clarifies this calling in his book, The Missionary Call and I agree with his definition. Dr. Sills states that the missionary call is based on five factors: an awareness of the need for mission work, the explicit commands of Christ in Scripture, a passionate, God-given desire for the work, a commitment to do whatever God wills, and agreement and affirmation from one’s church family.

I experienced a distinct, personal call to ministry at the age of fifteen. I knew in a moment that God was calling me into the ministry and a had a burning desire to preach and teach the Word of God. I have never questioned this calling as God has given me a deep sense of certainty concerning the call to ministry. I have been blessed to serve as pastor of two different churches, and I currently serve as a denominational worker. My desire to preach the Word has only been refined and increased as the years have passed. I do not know where I will ultimately fulfill my calling, and I really don’t care. I simply want to make disciples by preaching and teaching the Word, where ever God might place me.

In counseling those who are considering whether God is calling them to ministry or missions, I would suggest the following.

First, don’t be impatient. It is normal to get very anxious and antsy when wrestling with a call to serve in ministry. There is an unsettled sense of urgency to get where you need to be. Allow the Holy Spirit to quiet this anxiety and trust God’s timing and direction.

Second, serve where you are now. If one cannot or will not serve in their present context, why would they serve anywhere else? Serving in one’s church and being willing to assist in various types of ministries allows a person to test their giftings and see which areas of ministry they enjoy and for which they are gifted. Often, this type of service may lead to a greater area of missions and ministry.

Third, find a mentor to help give you direction. I had a few different men who poured into me and helped direct me to areas of service where they felt I would be effective. A relationship like this will help define one’s calling.

Finally, read the Bible and read biographies of those who served in the capacity you feel called towards. The Bible will constantly correct your misunderstandings and assumptions and help shape your calling. Biographies and stories of those who have served as missionaries or in other capacities will help demystify those roles and show you the reality of those ministries, both the highs and lows.

Looking at the Bible on Two Levels


When studying a biblical passage or preparing  sermon, I look at the passage I am studying on two different levels. The textual level which deals with the immediate text, and the covenantal level which deals with the big story of the Bible. This can also be called the canonical level, the theological level, or the redemptive-historical level. Whatever you call it, it involves placing the text in the great context of all of Scripture.

The textual level places the reader squarely in the text at hand and deals with the characters, dialogue, places, concepts, grammar, logic, etc of the immediate text. At this level, the interpreter looks at the immediate context and traces the narrative or the author’s flow of thought.

The covenantal level lifts the reader up to a higher altitude to see the larger picture of Scripture and how the current text fits into the grand narrative of the Bible’s story. This level deals less with grammar and syntax, and more with theology and context. This level will connect the interpreter with the cross in some way and perhaps more broadly, to creation and consummation.

For me, it is helpful to briefly consider the covenantal level first. This sets the Scripture in its larger context and allows me to see where we’ve been and where we are heading and how this passage relates to the big motifs of Scripture. Second, I look in detail at the textual level, considering only what is at hand. This allows me to see how the various elements of the passage work together to tell a story that stands on its own. Third, I zoom back out after gleaning all the immediate passage has to offer and see how these newly discovered insights further relate to the rest of Scripture.

Must-Read: Let the Nations Be Glad


John Piper’s bolet-nations-be-gladok Let the Nations Be Glad was a personally challenging and devotionally rich reading experience. It caused me to think about missions in a way I had not done previously. While I was familiar with Piper’s main argument, it was an enriching experience to read the book for myself and to see the biblical and theological basis for the supremacy of God in mission. There was much I agreed with, much that challenged me, and some will require further reflection.

Piper’s main argument is that God must be supreme as the focus and motivation for Christian missions. Piper states that missions is not the ultimate concern for the church but rather worship is the ultimate concern. “Missions exist because worship doesn’t” appears several times throughout Piper’s book. This is a new way of thinking about missions and is a theologically faithful way to think about the Great Commission with which we are entrusted.

It is common to think of lost people or unreached people as the motivation and focus of missions. While it is certainly not wrong to be concerned for lost people (Piper makes this clear in chapter six), it is incorrect to make this the first concern. The glory of God among the nations is the ultimate goal. Yes, we certainly rejoice when a person is saved from the wrath of God in hell, but we are to look beyond that to the glory which results when peoples of the earth worship God.

This emphasis also has practical benefit. We have been prone to concern ourselves with conversions and professions of faith without going the distance with discipleship of those coming to Christ. If we see the worship of God being offered by those who do not yet know Him as the ultimate goal, this will drive our missions beyond acquiring professions of faith. We will continue discipling until the fruit of worship blossoms in those to whom we have preached. We will fulfill the Great Commission not it part, but in full.

Let the Nations Be Glad by John Piper was a challenging read that pricked my heart concerning more than a few areas. I have read no other book in which the author places his finger on the nerve of missions urgency and presses until the reader is made uncomfortable. This will be a recommended resource for years to come.

High Points of the 2016 Southern Baptist Convention


Katrina and I had a great time at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis this year. This year’s meeting was exceptional in many ways. Here are some highlights from our experience.



The 2016 Pastor’s Conference began Sunday night and continued all-day Monday. We were privileged to hear some challenging sermons by some great speakers. The Pastor’s Conference theme this year was “Live This.” Dave Miller, pastor of Southern Hills Baptist Church in Sioux City, Iowa was elected as 2017 Pastor’s Conference president and he is seeking to utilize pastors from smaller SBC churches who focus on expository preaching for next year’s conference speakers. I am looking forward to next year’s pastor’s conference and hearing biblical exposition from some faithful pastors.


Dr. Ronnie Floyd delivered a challenging message as president of the Southern Baptist Convention and challenged Southern Baptists particularly on the issue of racial reconciliation. This was followed by a panel on racial reconciliation by a number of Baptist leaders. One step forward in this area came in the passing of Resolution 7 which dealt with Southern Baptist’s use and display of the Confederate flag. This is a bold step forward for racial reconciliation for Southern Baptists. I encourage you to listen to Dr. James Merritt’s defense of Resolution 7:


Another important moment was Russell Moore’s defense of religious liberty for all Americans. Following his report as President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Dr. Moore was challenged by a pastor and messenger from Arkansas to explain why Southern Baptist support religious liberty for Muslims. His answer was perfect: 


Golden Gate Theological Baptist Seminary has officially changed its name to the Gateway Seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention. This name change coincides with their recent relocation to Ontario, California. I am encouraged by all of our seminaries as they are conservative and healthy. We should never take this for granted, for it was not long ago that some of our seminaries were teaching liberal theology and denying the gospel message. I am thankful for this generation of biblically faithful scholarship in the training institutions of our Southern Baptist churches.


In what was perhaps the strangest SBC presidential election ever, Dr. Steve Gaines, successor to Adrian Rogers at Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, TN, was elected SBC president. There were three initial candidates: Steve Gaines, J.D. Greear from North Carolina, and David Crosby from New Orleans. The first round of voting involved three candidates with no candidate receiving a majority. The second vote was a runoff between Steve Gaines and J.D. Greear. The vote was so close and there were enough illegal ballots that neither got a majority during the second vote. Before the third vote, however, J.D. Greear graciously withdrew his candidacy and Gaines was elected by acclamation. You can see the historic moment here: 


This was an historic annual meeting for Southern Baptists in a number of ways and I’m sure we have yet to see the significance of all that was accomplished this year. I am glad to serve a denomination that despite all its divisions and imperfections manages to move forward in a way that is faithful to God and in step with the times.


Church Revitalization Assessment


Does your church need revitalization? Many established churches find themselves in need of some sort of revitalization upon objective evaluation. Sadly, most church members and leaders are often blind to unhealthy practices and attitudes because they have been used to them for so long. It is like getting used to an odor in your home (or church!) that has been there for years, but when a newcomer arrives, it is the first thing they notice. Here are some areas to assess when determining where church revitalization is needed in your church:


  • Strategic location – is the church situated for maximum evangelistic reach? Is there significant lostness in the community?
  • Adequate facilities – are the facilities suitable for the church to achieve its purpose? Are they well-maintained?
  • Financial stability – Does the church budget reflect the mission of the church, or is the budget disproportionate to the stated mission of the church? Are the finances being managed properly?


  • Objective and fair-minded – Are the members receptive to the Word like the Bereans of Acts 17:11? Or are they bound to sentimentalism and traditionalism?
  • Culturally sensitive – Does the church have a realistic conception of the unchurched world, especially their own community? Or are they so internally-focused that they have ignored their missional context?
  • Admit need of revitalization – Does the church recognize where they need help, or are they deluded into thinking they are healthier than they are in reality (Rev. 3:15-18)?
  • Missions-minded – Is the church in mission-mode or maintenance-mode? Surviving or thriving?
  • Optimistic and realistic – Is the church more positive or negative in their outlook? If positive, is their optimism based in reality or delusion?
  • Few traditionalist anchors – What are the sacred cows? How many of them? How non-negotiable are they?
  • Congregational Unity – Is everyone pulling in the same direction? Or are there opposing factions within the church?


  • Efficient and effective organization – What is the church’s internal processes and are they efficient?
  • Competent and capable leadership – What type of leadership? Deacons or elders? Whoever they are, are they fit to lead? Can they be led?
  • Corporate vision – Does the church have a biblical, working vision? Is it part of the DNA of the church? Could a lay-person communicate the church’s vision?
  • Millennial presence – What percentage of millennials comprise the membership? The leadership? `


  • Blended worship – Are the songs theologically substantive? Performed with excellence? Diverse in style?
  • International and domestic missions – How is the church currently fulfilling the Great Commission?
  • Effective evangelism – Does the church have an evangelism strategy? Are they utilizing it? Is it effective?
  • Healthy Sunday school – Does the church have a thriving discipleship ministry? What is Sunday school attendance compared to worship?
  • Good reputation in community – Does the community have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of the church? Why?
  • Diverse demographics – Is the church reaching all the various sorts of people in the community? Does the church look like the community?

Nine Truths About Biblical Eschatology

Eschatology is the study of “last things.” From “eschaton” meaning “last.” Eschatology is the belief system about how God will bring the present age to an end and what will occur in the next age or ages and the nature of the final and eternal order of the cosmos. The Bible has much to say about eschatology or “last things” in both Old and New Testaments and in nearly every book of the Bible. Our eschatalogical view should be informed by and deal comprehensively with the entire biblical revelation concerning last things.
Our view of Scripture will naturally affect how we develop and understand eschatology. Any interpretation of last things that is borne from a low or liberal view of Scripture that does not affirm the full inerrancy of Scripture must be denied. Even within evangelicalism, however, there are multiple perspectives that can be broadly classified in four major views: amillenialism, historic premillenialism, dispensational premillenialism, and postmillenialism. These views can be broken down into even more nuanced positions, but these four categories pretty well cover the gamut.
Here are certain affirmations about eschatology that are foundational to our study whatever our position:
1. Eschatology is the study of “last things” including the consumation of this present evil age, the inauguration of the next age/ages, the nature of the next age/ages, and the nature of the final, eternal state of the cosmos, and the end of both the righteous and the wicked.
2. Our eschatology should be developed from a high view of Scripture and the full inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture.
3. We must affirm the truthfulness and the inevitable fulfillment of every prophetic passage, however we interpret them.
4. Our eschatology should not have any “parts left over.” Every prophetic passage must be dealt with.
5. Our eschatological view must be informed by all passages pertaining to last things. We should not omit difficult or challenging passages from our study of this matter.
6. It is profitable and beneficial to set aside preconceived concepts and beliefs about eschatology and simply allow the Word of God to speak to us afresh.
7. Place yourself under the text, not over it. That is, allow the Word to rule and teach us, rather than sitting in judgment of the Word and making it agree with us.
8. Be faithful to wrestle with and embrace whatever conclusions that are drawn from the Scripture, no matter how difficult or challenging.
9. Subjects entailed in biblical eschatology: Israel, Antichrist, Millenium, Tribulation, Rapture, Resurrection, Judgment, Heaven, Hell, New Heavens and Earth, Glorification, Wrath of God, and of course, the Second Coming of Christ.

Four Ways Pastors Can Make VBS a Success


I love Vacation Bible School. I served as VBS Director at my home church before I became a pastor. It was hard work, but I loved it. As a pastor I loved VBS because I saw the church doing ministry and evangelism and I saw the gospel being shared with children in our community. Several of whom I was privileged to baptize! Here are some ways pastors can enhance their church’s VBS.


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The pastor sets the excitement level for the church. If you’re excited, let it show! If you’re not excited, get excited. In the weeks approaching, integrate VBS into your sermon application. Preaching on evangelism? Highlight VBS as a time to share the gospel. Prayer? Call people to pray for VBS. Consider having a VBS promotion Sunday where you pray over the workers and use some of the music. Maybe even preach the VBS theme verse.


Host an evangelism training event before VBS. Whatever evangelism method your church decides to use, make sure your workers are trained properly to share. Failing to plan for evangelism is planning to fail.

You could also consider teaching the VBS lessons in a five-week series on Wednesdays prior to VBS. Your teaching the subject matter to your VBS teachers could help them teach the material more faithfully themselves.


Set up an information booth for your church which contains membership information, upcoming events, new sermon series, a FAQ about the church and its ministries.

Have a specified child pick-up station for parents. Station your friendliest faces here to connect with families through VBS.

And don’t forget to have fun with the kids!


This is where most churches drop the ball. After all the preparation and execution of VBS, most people are ready to go on vacation and forget about it till next year! Host a worker appreciation party or banquet banquet on a Sunday night a week after VBS. Make if fun, let people unwind, share success stories about this year’s event, and THEN… talk about follow-up.

Use VBS as a funnel into Sunday School. Maintain an enrollment list and have Sunday School teachers follow up prospects in their age group. Make baptism, membership, and Sunday school enrollment a priority for those who have made professions of faith.