What to Expect on Harvest Day

On October 1, 2017, Poquoson Baptist Church will be celebrating a special day of renewed commitment to Christ and His church.

General Overview

We believe the Bible teaches that a local church is the most important organization in the world. Therefore, due to its sacred nature and the teaching of Scripture, the local church should have high standards for membership. The New Testament pictures the local church as a body filled with activities like burden-bearing, serving, fellowship, accountability, confession, discipleship, mutual submission, and church discipline. But if a church does not know its membership, doing any of this well is impossible. Therefore, every local church should strive to have meaningful membership.

For months we have been discussing the importance of meaningful membership at Poquoson Baptist. We’ve taken some small steps to move in this direction, but the reality is we still have a long way to go. We still have many “members” on our list that have not shown any recent interest in being involved in PBC life.  We believe these inactive “members” should be encouraged to decide whether or not they want to remain a member of this church.

For the health and wellbeing of Poquoson Baptist Church, we’re taking a giant leap towards meaningful membership by asking existing members to “opt-in” to affirm their membership.

What to Expect on Sunday

With God’s help, this Sunday will be a major day in the life of PBC as we celebrate our love and commitment for one another. With that in mind, much of our main worship gathering will be moving us towards this moment in PBC life. Here’s what you can expect:

We’ll begin by worshiping in song like normal.

Next, we’ll welcome our guests, being careful to explain some of the unique aspects of this particular worship gathering.

We’ll continue to sing together before the sermon

I’ll preach a sermon on our fifth identity as a local church–We Are Family. Central to this sermon will be an invitation to publicly reaffirm your commitment to this family (as well as an invitation to new faces to join the family with us!)

At the conclusion of the sermon, we’ll recite our covenant together as a church family

After the sermon we’ll stand and sing together. During this time we’ll ask families to retrieve their children from the nursery so all our childcare workers can join us in the Worship Center.

After a song or two, we’ll invite everyone to the front who desires to (1) reaffirm their PBC membership or (2) pursue membership at PBC. We’ll have a basket near the stage where individuals can place their Reaffirmation Cards. And don’t worry if you forget to bring your card–we’ll have extras in the bulletins and in the pews.

After we’ve reaffirmed our membership together, we’ll sing one more song then pose for a congregational photo before we’re dismissed.

When the worship gathering ends, we’ll continue the celebration in our gymnasium with a family dinner provided by our Hospitality Team.

We’ll wrap up the day’s festivities with a special tableside Lord’s Supper service in the gym.

Brothers and Sisters, I am pumped to celebrate with you this Sunday! See you then!

 

Pastor Hopson

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Ask the Pastor: Did Jesus Go to Hell?

Scripture tells that after Jesus died, He went to hell. What exactly does that mean? 


Did Jesus descend into hell after His death on the cross? Belief in a literal descent into hell are grounded in three primary sources.

 

Ephesians 4:8-10

First, some appeal to Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:8-10:

“When He ascended on high He led a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men.” (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that He had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.)

What does it mean that Jesus “descended into the lower regions, the earth?” I think it means exactly what it says at face value, that Jesus descended into the earth. In other words, Jesus existed in heaven prior to His incarnation as an embryo in the womb of the Virgin Mary (Philippians 2:5-11; John 1:1-18; Luke 1:26-38). So upon a closer examination, Ephesians 4 does not appear to teach that Jesus descended into hell, but onto the earth itself in His incarnation. (Note: Another possible interpretation of Christ’s descent is that Jesus descended into earth by being buried in the heart of the earth, as Jesus predicts in Matthew 12:40).

 

1 Peter 3:18-20

Second, some teach that Jesus went to hell based on Peter’s words in 1 Peter 3:18-20:

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the Spirit, in which He went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.

While Paul’s words in Ephesians 4 seem to be fairly easy to understand, Peter’s words in 1 Peter 3 are incredibly confusing (Isn’t that ironic, given that Peter once complained about Paul’s confusing writings–2 Peter 3:16?). While some interpret these verses as referring to Jesus’ presence in hell, this interpretation has several problems. First, it ignores Jesus’ clear words to a repentant thief in Luke 23:43, “Today you will be with Me in Paradise.” Second, it ignores the connection Peter makes between Jesus and the work of Noah. Peter appears to be saying that the same Spirit that resurrected Jesus also was preaching through Noah to his hearers, who were imprisoned by their sin. Although this interpretation still has its difficulties, I believe it is the best interpretation of a difficult text in light of the biblical storyline.

 

The Apostles’ Creed

Finally, some argue that Jesus descended into hell based on a line from the Apostles’ Creed, which says:

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
      creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
      who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
      and born of the virgin Mary.
      He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
      was crucified, died, and was buried;
      he descended to hell.
      The third day he rose again from the dead.
      He ascended to heaven
      and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
      From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
      the holy catholic* church,
      the communion of saints,
      the forgiveness of sins,
      the resurrection of the body,
      and the life everlasting. Amen.

Thinking through this phrase is more difficult than it might first appear (read a more detailed discussion on this phrase in the Apostles’ Creed here). However, Christians must remember that our ultimate authority is not ancient creeds and councils, but the Word of God. Nevertheless, we should not hastily dismiss our fathers and mothers in the faith. That said, it is helpful to understand that the phrase in the Apostles’ Creed was originally “descended to the dead” in Latin (descendit ad inferos) but was later changed to “descended into hell” (descendit ad inferna). Therefore, we can reasonably conclude that the Apostles’ Creed teaches Jesus’ descent into death, not His descent into hell.

 

Near the end of Jesus’ torment on the cross, the Messiah cried out “It is finished!” In what sense was His work finished? In the sense that everything necessary to atone for the sins of humanity was accomplished. Jesus did not need to go to hell to suffer further. He had already “gone to hell” on the cross.** Christian, Jesus tasted hell on the cross so that you’ll never have to. For those who are in Christ, this earth is the closest to hell you’ll ever experience.

 

* The word “catholic” in the Apostles’ Creed should not be confused with the Roman Catholic denomination. The word “catholic” literally means universal. That is, the true Christian church of all times and all places.

** To be fair, some Christians believe that Jesus descended into hell, not to suffer, but to preach victory over those in hell. Although this interpretation is more tenable than the idea that Christ suffered in hell, it still has several issues.

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Harvest Day 2017

On October 1, 2017, Poquoson Baptist Church will be celebrating a special day of renewed commitment to Christ and His church. The following is excerpted from our congregational strategy to cultivate meaningful membership.

General Overview

We believe the Bible teaches that a local church is the most important organization in the world. Therefore, due to its sacred nature and the teaching of Scripture, the local church should have high standards for membership. The New Testament pictures the local church as a body filled with activities like burden-bearing, serving, fellowship, accountability, confession, discipleship, mutual submission, and church discipline. But if a church does not know its membership, doing any of this well is impossible. Therefore, every local church should strive to have meaningful membership.

For months we have been discussing the importance of meaningful membership at Poquoson Baptist. We’ve taken some small steps to move in this direction, but the reality is we still have a long way to go. We still have many “members” on our list that have not shown any recent interest in being involved in PBC life.  We believe these inactive “members” should be encouraged to decide whether or not they want to remain a member of this church.

For the health and wellbeing of Poquoson Baptist Church, we’re taking a giant leap towards meaningful membership by asking existing members to “opt-in” to affirm their membership.

Before you misunderstand, let us explain what this effort is notFirst, this is not church discipline.  Church discipline is to be exercised in the case of (1) unrepentant immorality (1 Corinthians 5), (2) unrepentant doctrinal heresy (Titus 3:10), and (3) unrepentant disunity in the church (Matthew 18:15-17).  While it’s possible that a severely delinquent member could fit one or more of these categories, that is not our primary concern with Harvest Day.

            Second, this is not a witch hunt.  We are far more interested in gaining people than in losing them, but we feel that the Lord’s church should not have standards of membership less stringent than the nearest country club. Meaningful membership is not about having names on a list, but a body of Christ-followers who have covenanted together and are actively involved in each other’s lives.

Third, this is not kicking people out of heaven. Removing a name from our membership list means nothing of the sort. Only God knows their true spiritual condition.   Many of the names on our list may be faithfully serving Jesus in some other local church. We’ve just lost track of them through the years. Don’t forget that the idea of a membership list is really more tradition than anything.  The body consists not of those who are on a membership card or in our computer, but of those baptized believers who are actively committed to the local church.  We simply want our membership list to be as close to reality as possible.

Fourth, this is not laziness on our part. Our existing constitution permits us to remove names from membership after two years of inactivity. Many of the names on our membership list haven’t been active in far, far longer. But rather than simply removing these inactive names from membership, we want to restore a culture of meaningful membership. And we believe this is the best way forward.

Fifth, this is not cutting people off. Many of our active members have children and/or grandchildren that are inactive members. Removing those names from our membership list does not imply that we no longer care about these individuals, or that they are no longer welcome at Poquoson Baptist Church. To the contrary, we hope that by finally being honest about what membership means, those who aren’t with us will be drawn to return.

What we have agreed upon is a comprehensive effort to update our membership list to discover who really is a part of this church family.  We believe if we follow this plan, we will grow to reach even more people.  In addition, we may gain some of those we have not seen in a long time.  Finally, we will implement certain checks to make certain this will never happen again.  God being our Helper, we are committed to keeping track of all of our members so that we never let ourselves get in this position again.  Soli Deo Gloria!

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The Gospel and Racism

Racism is alive and well in America. It takes a special kind of blindness to doubt or deny that statement, especially after the recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia. How should Christians think through the events that unfolded last weekend? I’d like to share a few thoughts from a sermon I preached in January at Poquoson Baptist Church.

During that sermon I argued that racism isn’t just politically incorrect or morally suspect. It’s blasphemous. It preaches a Satanic anti-gospel that undermines the central truths that Christians have upheld for 2000 years. This is true for no less than three reasons:

Racism Preaches a Blasphemous View of Creation

The Bible clearly teaches that God made man in His own image (Genesis 1:27). Regardless of our skin color, all of us come from the same dust. All of us. Paul tells us in Acts 17:26 that God “made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth.” The blasphemous anti-gospel of racism preaches a lie about the brotherhood of man. It implies that some races or ethnicities have lesser dignity, value, or worth than others. The Gospel says that all men are created with equal value, regardless of what they look like on the outside.

Racism Preaches a Blasphemous View of the Curse

When Adam fell, all humanity was subjected to the curse of sin. All of us. Every single one. Racism implies that some individuals are more fallen than others. We do this in more ways that we realize. Ask yourself, who is more likely to become a Christian? A good ole’ white “hayseeder” farmer from Poquoson, or an olive-skinned Middle Eastern Jihadist, or an African-American pimp from Detroit? The Gospel tells us that if any of these repent and believe it’s a miracle wrought by the Holy Spirit. The Gospel says that all of us are equally fallen.

Racism Preaches a Blasphemous View of the Cross

The heart of the Gospel is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-5). We are redeemed, not by the color of our skin (or even the content of our character), but by the cross of an olive-skinned Middle Easterner with calloused hands and stripes on His back. When we treat some people as lesser than us due to the color of their skin, we’re implying that the cross was enough to redeem us, but what they need is a little bit more. The Gospel says the ground at the foot of the cross is level.

Racism Preaches a Blasphemous View of the Church

Maybe you’re reading this and you say, “Of course God created every race and ethnicity in His image. Of course we’re all equally fallen. Of course the ground at the cross is level.” But you might affirm all those things and still suggest that even though we all get to heaven the same way, we should worship separately until we get there. Maybe your solution in Paul’s day would be a church for Jews and another one for Gentiles. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said “it is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.” Are you comfortable with this? What would you do if your ethnicity became a minority in your church? Would you stay? If you’d be tempted to leave, perhaps it’s because you’re brought into the subtle lies of a demonic heresy otherwise known as racism. The Gospel says that the church should reflect the Kingdom of heaven, a Kingdom with a kaleidoscope of colors (Revelation 7:9-10).

So let me be as clear as I can possibly be. The white supremacist racism demonstrated in Charlottesville last weekend is demonic. The leadership and people of Poquoson Baptist Church condemn it as godless heresy. This is not who we are. And may God forgive us for anything we’ve said (or left unsaid) in the past or present that would hint at any equivocation on our part. Soli Deo Gloria!

 

© M. Hopson Boutot, 2017

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Ask The Pastor: What Do You Believe About Excommunication?

Do you believe in excommunicating people? For example, if a gay or transgender person attends our church, but refuses to change his ways. He participates in all activities, but believes he doing nothing wrong even after the loving and gentle rebuking of leaders and friends, and continues his lifestyle. Is that when excommunication comes in? — Susan F.

—————————————————————————————————–

Great question, Susan! Yes, we do believe that sometimes excommunication is necessary as a last resort (for examples, see Matthew 18:15-17 and 1 Corinthians 5:1-4). However, there’s a few things to remember.

First, excommunication is for members not attenders. No one (regardless of lifestyle choices) should be told they cannot attend a local church service (The only exception would be if someone were purposely disrupting the worship gathering). Whether it’s a cross-dressing man, a lesbian couple or a turban-wearing Muslim, we would welcome them to attend. After all, what every sinner needs is to hear and believe the gospel. What better place for them to be confronted with the gospel than the local church? That said, a member (someone who had made a profession of faith, followed Jesus in baptism and joined the church) living in a lifestyle of unrepentant sin would be treated differently.
Second, excommunication is meant to be a last resort. In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus presents a model for confronting sin in the church. We confront them personally, then in a group with witnesses, then the entire church gets involved. Excommunication should only occur after the sinner repeatedly refuses these attempts to be restored. When the church excommunicates someone they’re publicly saying “based on this individual’s refusal to repent when confronted, we no longer have confidence that he/she is a genuine follower of Jesus.”
Third, excommunication is never final. Jesus says to treat the excommunicated person like an unbeliever (Matthew 18:17). How do we treat unbelievers? We love them. We serve them. We share the gospel with them. But we don’t assume they’re Christians. Paul says that the act of excommunication may be used by God to deliver them from sin (1 Corinthians 5:5). Maybe he/she will finally be opened to the seriousness of sin when they’re confronted with a church that loves them enough to call them to repentance. All this simply means that an excommunicated sinner who repents can and should be welcomed back into the church. In fact, I believe that 2 Corinthians 2:5-11 is written about the same man who was excommunicated in 1 Corinthians 5. Only this time the sinner has repented and Paul tells the Corinthians Christians to welcome him back into the fellowship.
Finally, excommunication is an obedience issue. If it’s difficult to accept these things, that’s probably not a bad thing. It should be hard for us to swallow. We shouldn’t relish this sort of thing in any way. Our love for each other should cause us to dread this sort of thing. But our love for Jesus should be greater. And if Jesus tells us this is how the loving church should function, we must fight to trust Him. And we must obey, even when it hurts.

Have a question for Pastor Hopson? Email him at pastorhopson@poquosonbaptist.org.

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Ask the Pastor: What’s a Members’ Meeting?

 

What’s a Members’ Meeting like at Poquoson Baptist Church? 


Great question! One of my favorite times as a pastor is gathering with our church membership for a monthly Members’ Meeting. We used to call these meetings “Business Meetings,” but we changed the name last year to emphasize (1) the family feel we hope the meetings have (instead of a stodgy business-y feel) and (2) to encourage this to be an intentional gathering of the PBC membership. So what do we do at these meetings?

First, we generally eat a meal together. It’s a great, informal time of food and fellowship.

Second, we sing together. Everything we do in our Members’ Meetings is meant to be an expression of our worship to King Jesus, so it’s fitting that we begin the more formal time of our gathering by expressing our love to Jesus through song.

Third, we walk through the church calendar. Since many events in a church’s life don’t affect a lot of regular attenders, we strive to keep Sunday morning announcements as brief as possible. That said, there’s always something going on in church life that we want people to be informed about, so we devote about 5-10 minutes to walk through everything on the church calendar for the next few months.

Next, we occasionally hear special reports from various teams and ministries in PBC life. For example, at our last Members’ Meeting our VBS Directors showed a slideshow and gave us a report about VBS. This coming Members’ Meeting our Student Director and some students will share about their recent experience at camp.

Next, I spend about 20 minutes teaching on big-picture vision issues for the church. These are usually nitty-gritty local church issues that wouldn’t be helpful or appropriate to address when we have a lot of guests present. For example, I’ve spent the past 8 months using this time to teach about the importance of Meaningful Membership.

Then we transition to the “business meeting” portion of the night where we discuss the church budget, formally welcome people into membership, vote on major issues as a church, etc.

Finally, we conclude in prayer.

If you’re a member at PBC, we strongly encourage you to make Members’ Meeting attendance a top priority. These meetings are fun and highly profitable for the life and health of the local church. But don’t take my word for it! See for yourself what some of our members have to say about these meetings…

 

Have a question for Pastor Hopson? Email him at pastorhopson@poquosonbaptist.org.

 

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Character Matters for Church Musicians

Worship Wars was Pastor Hopson’s recent teaching series on Wednesday nights at Poquoson Baptist Church. Click here to listen to the recordings.

The following is part 25 in a series of articles based on the Worship Wars series.

Character Matters for Church Musicians

We recently discussed some basic truths about leadership in the local church and made specific application for those who would lead in music ministry. But what about everybody else involved in music ministry? To some extent, every local church has a large team of musicians involved in leadership as we sing–whether you’re a drummer, a pianist, or a choir member. What should be true of each of you? I want to suggest four areas where you should concentrate.

Your Heart

First, every individual on the music team should consider his or her heart. What do you love? What does it matter if you get that complex rhythm down pat but the whole time your heart is filled with pride, envy, worry, or bitterness? If you’re on the worship team or in the choir, I want you to think about how much time you spend practicing every week. Maybe it’s an hour, maybe two. Sometimes even more. Now ask yourself, how much time you spend preparing your own heart to worship King Jesus. When we spend hours and hours practicing and preparing—not a bad thing!—but we don’t prepare our own hearts, we’re acting as if the art of worship matters more than the heart of worship. Nothing could be further from the truth! Isaac Watts put it this way:

“The Great God values not the service of men, if the heart be not in it: The Lord sees and judges the heart; he has no regard to outward forms of worship, if there be no inward adoration, if no devout affection be employed therein. It is therefore a matter of infinite importance, to have the whole heart engaged steadfastly for God.”[i]

The old hymnwriter wrote “tune my heart to sing Thy grace.” But how can we do this practically? Here’s a few suggestions. First, pray. Before and after you practice. Before and during each worship gathering. Second, prioritize. If you really believe your heart in worship matters more than the art of worship, you should prioritize many things before music practice. Maybe for you it’s Sunday School and you need to prioritize a small group gathering with other believers. Maybe for you it’s personal Bible study. You rarely miss a practice but you regularly miss time in God’s Word. Maybe it’s your church attendance. You’re faithful whenever you’re scheduled to sing, but your attendance is spotty everywhere else. If any of those things are true for you, I want to encourage you to check your priorities. Third, confess. In Matthew 5:24 Jesus talks about being reconciled with your brother before you sacrifice your gift at the altar. How much sweeter would our worship be if we confessed to one another before we sang? Fourth, arrive early. Few things disrupt my own spirit of worship more than arriving right on time or late.  Fifth, read. Read the lyrics to the songs for Sunday. Read the text for Sunday’s sermon. Sixth, preach.  Preach the Gospel to yourself. Are you tempted towards pride? Remind yourself that you apart from Christ you are dead. Remind yourself that any good in you is what He has worked in you. Are you tempted towards envy? Remind yourself that in Christ the ground at the foot of the cross is level. Think about the words as you sing them or play your instrument. Meditate on the Gospel!

Now before we move on, let me just say as an aside that I believe those who serve on a worship team should be believers in Jesus Christ. After all, you’re leading us in worship, not performing a piece of music.

Your Head

Second, every individual on the music team should consider his or her head. What do you know? Do you know the truth about God? Can you clearly articulate the gospel? Do you understand what that lyric means in Sunday’s song? Have you even read or thought about those lyrics? Do you have discernment to catch that phrase that’s unhelpful, untrue or unbiblical? Whether you like it or not, because of your role you are a part of the public face of Poquoson Baptist Church. If a guest came up to you after service on Sunday and asked you how they could have a relationship with Jesus, what would you say? Could you lead them to Jesus or would you need to find somebody else for help? The sad truth is that many Christian musicians have spent far more time sharpening their skill than they have spent sharpening their minds.

So I want to encourage you as a music team to strive to grow in your knowledge of the truth. One of the best ways we can do this is reading good Christian books together. Maybe you’ll read a book on worship together as a team. Maybe you’ll read a book on the holiness of God or healthy churches or the Gospel. Maybe you’re not much of a book person. In 2 Timothy 4:13 the great Apostle Paul asked Timothy to bring him books in prison. Charles Spurgeon said this about that passage:

“He is inspired, and yet he wants books! He has seen the Lord, and yet he wants books! He has wider experience than most men, and yet he wants books! He had been caught up in the third heaven, and had heard things unlawful for a man to utter, yet he wants books! He has written a major part of the New Testament, and yet he wants books! . . . He who will not use the thoughts of other men’s brains proves he has no brains of his own.”[ii]

If you’re on the music team, I would strongly encourage you to develop a love for good Christian books.

Your Hands

Third, every individual on the music team should consider his or her hands. How is your skill? Skill matters. It’s not everything, but it does matter. Moses didn’t pass around a sign-up sheet when he was looking for people to construct the tabernacle. He chose craftsmen blessed with “skill and intelligence” (Exodus 36:1). When David was looking for a song leader he chose Kenaniah “because he was skillful at it” (1 Chronicles 15:22). The Holy Spirit led David to encourage us to “play skillfully on the strings” in Psalm 33:3. Skill matters to God, and it should matter to us too.

Bob Kauflin suggest five things to remember about skill in his book Worship Matters.[iii] First, skill is a gift from God, for His glory. If you have musical skill, it’s because God gave it to you. Use your skill as a reason to praise God, not as a reason to praise yourself. If you don’t have musical skill, it’s not because God loved you any less. He’s just gifted you in different ways.

Second, skill must be developed. In 1 Chronicles 25:7 we read that the tabernacle singers “were trained in singing to the Lord, all who were skillful.” In other words, these individuals had skill, but they also developed their skill. They cultivated it. And you should do the same with whatever skill you’ve been given.

Third, skill doesn’t make worship more acceptable to God. As Kauflin writes, “God values our skill, but He doesn’t accept our worship on the basis of it.”[iv] God accepts our feeble offerings because of the perfect offering of Christ. Nothing more, nothing less.

Fourth, skill should be evaluated by others. You may feel that you have a great deal of skill. But if your skill hasn’t been objectively evaluated by others, you may be sadly mistaken. So don’t be afraid to receive feedback from others on your team. Listen to them. Welcome their critique. Use it to grow.

Fifth, skill is not an end in itself. If we value skill too highly, we will become in danger of worshiping worship. As one pastor put it, “God is not interested in something brilliant; He’s looking for something broken.” One thing this means practically is we should not evaluate someone for music ministry on skill alone. It’s part of the picture, but not the whole picture.

Your Honor

Finally, every individual on the music team should consider his or her honor. How is your life? Are you marked by Christian character? Bob Kauflin writes this in hiw book: “It’s wise to have standards for our musicians that spell out responsibilities and expectations. Worship isn’t a gig. It’s the overflow of a life devoted to the glory of Jesus Christ. If standards aren’t written down, they should be clearly communicated before someone joins the team.”[v]

What standards should be put forth? Kauflin encourages the worship team members to attest that:

  1. I am a member of our church and actively involved in a small group.
  2. I am in agreement with the doctrines and practices of our church.
  3. I will grow in my knowledge of and love for God through prayer and Bible study.
  4. I will pursue humility and servanthood.
  5. I will be faithful and punctual in attending required meetings and rehearsals.
  6. I will strive to grow in my musical skill.
  7. I will communicate to the appropriate pastor any circumstances that might affect the integrity of my participation on the team.[vi]

Whether our standards are implicit or explicit, specific or general, we should have standards. The hymnwriter was right: we really are prone to wander. And one of the ways we fight that temptation to leave the God we love is to cling to Christ together.

 

© M. Hopson Boutot, 2017

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Image Credit: http://lutheranconfessions.blogspot.com/2016/05/5-signs-worship-wars-are-over.html

 

[i] As quoted in Kaufflin, 26.

[ii] As quoted in Kaufflin, 29.

[iii] Kauflin, 34-37.

[iv] Kauflin, 35.

[v] Kauflin, 230.

[vi] Adapted from Kauflin, 231.

 

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Music and Local Church Leadership

Worship Wars was Pastor Hopson’s recent teaching series on Wednesday nights at Poquoson Baptist Church. Click here to listen to the recordings.

The following is part 24 in a series of articles based on the Worship Wars series.

Music and Local Church Leadership

In the last article in this series we discussed some general truths about leadership in the local church. But what does any of this have to do with music? Let’s go back to the roles within the church. What role should the music leader play? Think about what a music leader does. He oversees the congregational singing of the church by selecting songs, planning services, etc. He shepherds the entire congregation by helping them to sing the right songs in the right way. He also shepherds those on his team by helping them to use their gifts and talents faithfully. He should be spiritually mature, someone with the character of an elder. For these reasons I think that it is best for the music leader in a local church to be seen as a pastoral position.

Just to be clear, this does not mean that the music leader needs to be able to preach. One of the qualifications for pastors in the New Testament is that he be “able to teach” (2 Timothy 2:24). I think this means that he is able to explain sound doctrine clearly, not necessarily that he is able to stand up and preach a sermon.

This also does not mean that a music leader needs to be full-time. While we would certainly love to be able to afford a full-time music leader, the reality is we’re not there right now as a church. But once again, the New Testament anticipates that not every pastoral-type position is the same. Some pastors may be volunteers. Others may be paid part-time. Others may be supported full-time because they devote so much of their time to preaching and teaching. 1 Timothy 5:17 puts it this way: “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.”

What I am saying is that I believe in our search for a permanent music leader, we must consider more than musical skill. We should look for someone with the confidence of an overseer, the heart of a shepherd, and the character of an elder. In other words, we should be looking for a Worship Pastor, not just a Music Leader. What this means practically for our search team is that as we screen an individual we will examine four areas of his life:

Callingis he really called to serve in this capacity?

Character—does his personal and family life comply with the qualifications for ministry leadership in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9

Competence—does he have the gifts, talents and capabilities required for this position?

Chemistry—does he have the relational chemistry to work in partnership with the Lead Pastor, the staff, and the church as a whole?

In summary, since the music leader in most local churches functions as an overseer and a shepherd (and since he should demonstrate the character of an elder), we believe there is great wisdom in viewing the music leader as a pastor position.

But what about everyone else involved in music leadership in the local church? From choir singers to drummers and guitarists, most churches have a whole team of individuals devoted to some form of music leadership. How should we think about people serving in these roles? Stay tuned.

 

© M. Hopson Boutot, 2017

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Image Credit: http://lutheranconfessions.blogspot.com/2016/05/5-signs-worship-wars-are-over.html

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Leadership in the Local Church

Worship Wars was Pastor Hopson’s recent teaching series on Wednesday nights at Poquoson Baptist Church. Click here to listen to the recordings.

The following is part 23 in a series of articles based on the Worship Wars series.

Leadership in the Local Church

The world is replete with different models of leadership. Monarchy, where complete authority rests in the oldest member of a particular family. There’s autocracy, where an individual like a dictator has absolute unquestioned authority. There’s anarchy, which really isn’t leadership at all. Nobody has authority or control and everybody does whatever they want. There’s aristocracy, where those with privilege rule over those less privileged. There’s oligarchy, where a few rule over the many. And there’s democracy, where the people govern themselves either directly or indirectly through representatives. This study is not about what is best for nations, but what is best for the local church. So which of these methods of leadership best fits the local church?

I’ve seen churches with something like a monarchy—one influential family rules over the entire congregation with one individual leading the pack. I’ve seen churches with an autocracy, where one individual (often a pastor) making all the decisions without any accountability, feedback or limits on his authority. I’ve seen churches with anarchy, where nobody has any authority or control and everybody does whatever they want. I’ve seen churches with something like an aristocracy, where those with privilege (often it’s the privilege of having been in the church longer) rule over those without privilege. I’ve seen churches with something like an oligarchy, where a smaller group of individuals like a board or a committee rules over the congregation. And I’ve seen churches with something like a democracy, where everyone has an equal say and an equal voice and the majority vote dictates the direction of the church.

I want to suggest to you that none of these approaches are a biblical approach to church leadership, even though we’ve probably seen real-life examples of most of these. The biblical approach to church leadership is laid out for us in Colossians 1:15-18:

15 [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him. 17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. 18 And He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent.

The biblical model for church leadership could be called a Christocracy, meaning that the local church is ruled by Christ. Or, to put it another way, Jesus is the Lead Pastor of every local church.

How can that work practically? Jesus isn’t physically present to tell us what to do. He doesn’t hire and fire for us. He doesn’t tell us how to vote in members’ meetings. He didn’t write our constitution. He doesn’t pick out songs for Sunday. He doesn’t preach the sermon or pick out VBS curriculum. So how does a Christocracy work? It works when we understand and obey what Jesus’ teaches us in His Word. When it comes to leadership in the local church, nothing is more pertinent than understanding specifically what Scripture teaches us about our unique roles in the local church.

Most of us understand that we have different roles in the home. Moms are different than dads who are (or should be) different from kids. Neither is better than the other, but they have different God-ordained roles to fulfill in the house. The local church is similar. Philippians 1:1-2 briefly mentions these different roles in the local church:

“Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

What roles do we see in this text? First, Jesus is Lord. Only Jesus is sovereign over the local church. Second, Paul is an Apostle. Now, the text doesn’t explicitly say that Paul is an Apostle, but a cursory reading through Paul’s other letters makes this abundantly clear. Paul has authority to speak to the church as an Apostle commissioned by Jesus Christ. We believe that the formal office of Apostle no longer exists in the local church. So there’s nobody like the Apostle Paul who can speak authoritatively to local churches today. But we can still submit to apostolic authority by submitting to the teaching of the New Testament. I believe this is what Ephesians 2:20 means when it says the church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone.”

Third, all Christians are saints. All of us are on equal footing in Christ. We’re all equally made in the image of God, equally fallen in sin, and equally redeemed by the Gospel. With three exceptions, all of Paul’s letters are written to local churches—to all of the saints. If you’re a member of this church, you’re responsible to help advance the gospel, guard our doctrine, promote unity, discipline members, and even make decisions as a congregation. All of us are saints.

But you’ll also notice two subgroups within the local church: some are pastors and some are deacons. Let’s start with overseers, what we usually call pastors. There are three words in the original language used to describe the pastor in a local church. Sometimes they’re called overseers, emphasizing the call to exercise oversight in the local church. For example, 1 Timothy 3:1 says “If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.” Sometimes they’re called shepherds, emphasizing the call to care and feed the church as God’s flock. For instance, 1 Peter 5:2 says “Shepherd the flock of God that is among you.” Sometimes they’re called elders, emphasizing the spiritual maturity required to lead a local church. For example, James 5:14 says “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church.” Or Titus 1:5 says, “This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you.”

Some of our friends in different denominations will say that those three words “overseer,” “shepherd,” and “elder” actually refer to three different positions. I think that’s a wrong understanding of the New Testament. Consider how 1 Peter 5:1-3 combines all three terms into one office:

“So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.”

Notice that this isn’t meant to be a dictatorship. Pastors shouldn’t drag their people, but lead them humbly and lovingly. Notice also that Peter exhorts the elders among you. The overwhelming biblical evidence seems to indicate that one of the ways churches avoid autocratic pastors is by appointing a team of pastors to shepherd the flock together. So pastors are the spiritually mature men who lead and feed the local church. What then is a deacon? The word simply means “servant.” And the biblical evidence suggests that the role of a deacon is simply to come alongside the pastor or pastors to enable them to concentrate on their primary ministry, which is feeding, leading, guiding, and guarding.

 

© M. Hopson Boutot, 2017

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Image Credit: http://lutheranconfessions.blogspot.com/2016/05/5-signs-worship-wars-are-over.html

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Martin Luther on the Simplicity of Sin

Martin Luther was right: “nothing is easier than sinning.” Sin is simple. So simple, in fact, that sin corrupts nearly everything we do.

We sin by doing things we shouldn’t do. We lie, steal, murder, and commit adultery.

We sin by feeling things we shouldn’t feel. Cherishing our idols more than Christ, feeling bitterness or greed, rejoicing in evil and feeling bored by truth.

We sin by thinking thoughts we shouldn’t think. We’re proud, lustful, selfish, and covetous.

We sin by not doing the things we should do. We don’t pray like we should, we don’t share the gospel faithfully, we don’t lead our families well, we don’t read our Bibles like we ought, and we don’t love our neighbor as ourselves.

We sin by doing the right things for the wrong reasons. Like the Pharisees who gave to showcase their generosity. Jesus said they had their reward.

We sin by doing the right things without faith. After all, Hebrews 11:6 is clear: “Without faith it is impossible to please God.”

There is nothing in your life more simple than sin.

Which is why the gospel is such good news.

You see, God is holy. He cannot look upon our evil. And He will not simply forgive us, any more than a judge will “forgive” the convicted murderer just because he said he’s sorry. A penalty must be paid.

But the Scriptures teach us that Christ has paid the penalty for our sin. This is what His life was all about. Jesus lived in order that He might die. Not as a hapless victim, but as a willing sacrifice to pay for the overwhelming sins of His people.

2 Corinthians 5:21 puts it this way: “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.”

Now that’s good news.

 

 

 

 

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