Shameless Self-Promotion

I realized that even before going into ministry that I was no where “cool” enough to be a pastor.  And I honestly don’t think that if I was to try to “get hired” as a pastor in most churches today, I would even get a second look.  I don’t have a seminary degree, I have never written a book, I don’t have the charisma to capture an audience, and I’m not up on all the hipster style or trends of the day.

Sure, I may be generalizing a bit, but as they say, “generalizations are generally true”.

A growing number of “pastors and leaders” tend to fit a common mold.  Instead of looking at the Biblical qualifications of books like Timothy and Titus in the Bible, many are chosen because of other worldly characteristics.  Even the qualifications for ordination in many denominations say they look to the Bible in examining pastors, elders, and deacons, but in reality they rely heavily upon man-made characteristics far more.

Because someone has a master’s degree, or even a doctorate in ministry, doesn’t make one the least bit qualified in themselves for ministry simply because they did the work.  If someone has planted, grown, and established churches, doesn’t mean in themselves they have the Biblical qualifications to lead a church.  And just because someone can gain an audience, write books, speak at conferences, or has the “look” of a pastor, doesn’t mean in themselves they are qualified.

But what we see is that these things often times take precedent.  Whereas, we used to have to read a person’s books or hear them speak over a period of time to find out what they actually believe, now a person’s beliefs and what is important to them can be found out quite easily without having to dive so deep.

Social media, for example, has been a blessing and curse in many ways.  Much more of a curse than a blessing for many, I believe.  Social media has led to the rise of people who would otherwise only be known in their remote parts of the world.  Now, in real-time, they can post, comment, and share their thoughts and beliefs like never before.  They gain followers and audiences, speaking to people who were hardly reachable even a decade or more ago.

With all of this, churches, pastors, leaders, authors, bloggers and the like have gained a platform to “reach the world” and their “communities”.  In order to remain relevant, they must be on the cutting edge of well…everything.

Where it used to be enough for pastors to lead their churches, knowing their people and ministering to them personally, now the pastor is so shielded from people except for on their terms.  The interaction is usually contained to self-preservation against critics or acknowledgement of praise by other leaders or their own followers.

Some of the most self-absorbed people are truly pastors.

Many who are leading churches today look far more like CEO’s than Biblical pastors, elders, and deacons.  They are masters at advertising, marketing, and keeping the “message” fresh and relevant.  Those leading these churches know how to appear authentic and relatable.  And while I honestly think some may start with good intentions for doing what they are doing, the results have proven to be a complete and utter failure.  If their followers were really disciples, wouldn’t their lives actually reflect a growing faith and obedience to the Lord??

Pride is at the root of being self-absorbed.  Give people a bit of success and pride is off to the races.  Give people more success, and it is a run away train.

While businesses have something to actually sell, many pastors have found a way to sell themselves.  There are many names in the Christian world we could name who have made a major profit from selling their materials.  But rather than focusing on the countless names, it more important to recognize that what they actually are selling is themselves.

It is true that these pastors and leaders are often very talented people.  They are usually very charming.  Tie that together with talking about God and Biblical sounding things, they catch undiscerning professing believers off guard.

If they can get a book deal, along with leading a growing church, rub elbows with the whose-who of the conference speaking circuit, they have essentially made it.  But the never-ending cycle of needing to keep up with and make new trends, keeps them pushing the limits.

In order to remain relevant, these pastors and leaders need to continue to reach a bigger audience.  They need to always have a new book deal in the wings.  They need to be working on not only growing their current church, with it’s expanding influence, but also reaching beyond with all sorts of new “ministries”.  Not only that, but these pastors and leaders also need to be speaking at events all over the place regularly.

The constant need to be in the lime light drives them to new heights.  But in the end, these pastors and leaders are merely a shell.  They may look spiritual, even sound Biblical at times, but they end up leaving a massive trail of casualties in their wake.

At this point, you may be asking, “Who are these people and how else can I recognize them??”  Great question.  The reality is that these pastors and leaders are not those way out there, but are in our midst.  They may even be in some of our own churches.  Most will think that “they aren’t in my church”.  And that may be the case.  But chances are that even if they don’t fit the mold described here, they may be promoting and endorsing those that do.

Think about that for a moment.

It is important to know what are churches are promoting in terms of books to read, conferences to go to, and many other things.  It is even more important to know who our pastors and leaders are being influenced by and those they are following.

It is true that there are pastors and leaders who may have begun with good intentions, but a growing number have lost sight of how self-absorbed they have truly become.  They have lost sight of the simple and practical concept of teaching people about the Way of the Lord and meeting with believers to actually be the Church.  They may say that ministry is not about them, but one can’t miss how everything they do is really about themselves.  These pastors and leaders love to talk a big game about “Jesus”, but when you take a step back, you can see their true agendas.

Many of these pastors and leaders also tend to think they are the experts on basically everything.  They even like to be known as a “pastor to pastors”.  And so they find ways to be the “go to” guy that shepherds people as well as other pastors and leaders.  To be known is to have influence.

One trend that has been going on this past while is posting pictures on social media of pastors and leaders own books.  They love to share photos of people reading their books in various locations.  They like passing on the new discounts of where to buy their books.  They love to take pictures praying over their books (Making it seem like their books are more important than the Bible).  And worse yet, taking pictures of themselves going into bookstores to show off and sign copies of their own books.  If this doesn’t scream of shameless self-promotion, I don’t know what is.

Another troubling trend is the constant praise from one pastor or leader to another.  You see it constantly about liking, commenting, and applauding one another for how “awesome” one another is and the things they say.  One such example is how they love to post “flame emojis” on each other’s posts saying that what they say is on fire.  Again, if this isn’t going around in sheer arrogance, I don’t know what is.

I say all this because it is important to recognize the things going on today.  The average professing Christian has been taught to follow man rather than God.  So when they see these pastors and leaders with a big audience and a voice to reach people, most latch on to them and others like them, hanging on their every word.

As I said, and it’s worth repeating.  These pastors, leaders, authors, bloggers and the like are not in some far off place or simply on the margins.  They are truly in our midst and in a growing number of churches.  I see these things going on all around and we must do the work to look into what we are really being taught and what is being passed on as Truth.  It is not enough to bury our heads in the sand and deny that these things are actually taking place.  And it is also not enough to think that just because I may not have seen this going on personally, that these things aren’t true.

It is critical for us to examine these things and make sure we don’t find ourselves enamored with what man has to say rather than what God says in the Bible.  Who cares what conference people are speaking at, being excited for so and so’s new book, what “cute” catch phrase is quoted on social media, or whatever some trendy thing people are talking about.  Let’s boldly dismiss those who are shameless self-promoters and surround ourselves with true believers that are only concerned about growing in faith and obedience to the Lord and simply being the Church.

Continual Dependence Upon God

“As they had their pasture, they became satisfied.  And being satisfied, their heart became proud; therefore, they forgot Me.”—–Hosea 13:6

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Believers often talk about their need for God.  This need for God is the basis for anyone to come to faith.  And without understanding the depth of our sin, even our very existence, no one can begin to understand true faith in Jesus.  People may say they have a need for God, but how many really comprehend their need for continual dependence upon God in our day to day lives??

Many will give lip service when it comes to saying they have a continual dependence upon the Lord.  They may even sing songs and hymns like, “I Need Thee Every Hour”, as an anthem of relying on God.  However, many believers tend to live their lives and only turn to God only in desperate times.

Tragedy, pain, and loss are just a few of the types of experiences when even secular people may reach out to God.  It is in these times when people exhaust every human option that leaves nothing but to hope in God; a God that they rarely, if ever, even think about any other time.  There is something about feeling without hope that can provide an opportunity to go to the One True Source of all lasting hope.

Most of the time, though, as soon as these difficult circumstances pass, people go back to business as usual.  The sad reality is that it is usually no different among many professing believers today.  It’s almost as if God is merely a safety net when people are desperate, but then they return to living and controlling their own lives once again.  There are so many examples in Scripture where people look like they turn to God, only then are quick to ditch their so-called faith as soon as things get back to normal.

Each of us are at least guilty of living selfishly to some extent.  Hopefully we find ourselves growing in living out our faith in all areas of our lives, but the truth is, there are times that we don’t.  It is a humbling realization that we need to be reminded of continually.

If we are to live according to true faith, we must find ourselves with a continual dependence upon God throughout each day of our lives.

Easier said than done.  Even though we would like to claim that we always live our lives for the Lord, we all struggle with keeping our focus on Him.  But there are no excuses.  We must wake up each day with the purpose of walking with the Lord to make sure we don’t find ourselves drifting away.  We do this by spending time in prayer, reading and studying the Bible, meeting with other believers, and submitting ourselves in obedience to the Lord.  This continual dependence keeps us connected and pursuing the Lord no matter what we may encounter each day.

There are so many things that distract us from our faith in the Lord.  Some not bad in themselves, but can pull us away nonetheless.  Often times our feeling of stability, or having things under control, give us a false sense that we are doing okay.  But just as times of seeming chaos can drive some to God for a time, the feeling of assurance and that all is going well can also drive people away from God in selfish-pride and arrogance.

In Hosea 13, we see that the conditions of being well provided for led to the people becoming “satisfied”.  This satisfaction was a comfortability and a seeming stability.  The perceived security resulted in pride and forgetting about God.

This is quite common for people across all ends of the economic spectrum.  Sure, the scale might shift in the actual amounts of wealth and the things people possess, but the same attitudes still reside.  Hence the feeling of being “satisfied”, at whatever level, has the temptation for any of us to fall away from the Lord.

It’s almost as if there is a great warning, not about whether we may or may not have wealth or possessions, but in our pursuit.  The warning is for us to be on guard against pride; so that we don’t believe that it is by our knowledge and by our strength we have all that we have.  It is a continual acknowledgement that by God’s grace, His mercy and wisdom, that we even wake up each day.  It is by God’s blessing that He guides, directs, and provides.  And it is by God’s sovereignty that we humbly bow ourselves in recognition that He is God and we are not.

A continual dependence upon God is rooted in our daily relationship with Him.

When we profess to live for the Lord and sing songs and hymns like, “I Need Thee Every Hour”, it isn’t just a trite cliche, but a humble acknowledgement of our submission to God.  By turning to God throughout our days, in all things, we lay down our lives and seek to glorify God who is our All in All.  It is through this that we express of our need for forgiveness of sin, our need for wisdom and guidance, and our ultimate need for God Himself.

Trusting in God isn’t easy.  It is natural for us to want to go our own way, do the things we want, and get puffed up with pride when we get comfortable.  But as believers in Jesus, we need to be known as people who continually seek God and pursue Him and His Way throughout our lives.  Not only does this confirm our own faith, but also serves as a testament to others of our faith in Jesus.

What Is Church??

When thinking about church, I often reflect on my time in Bible college and coming to a fork in the road; either I was going to follow God’s Word or follow what many people were calling “church”.  What was being promoted as “church” by seemingly most, was something different from what I was learning in the Bible.

In my final two papers for college, I wrote on the topics, “The Nature And Role Of A Pastor” and “The Nature And Role Of The Church”.  I ended up getting a lot of criticism because people thought there were far better and more pressing things to write about.  I realized, however, that if we don’t get faith and the Church right, what are we truly left with??  Thus, I began a deeper search in the Bible for answering these two major subjects.

What I learned in writing those papers is still critical.  And even more, I return constantly to these same subjects when I see what faith and churches have fundamentally transformed in to being today.  That being said, there is no way in a simple blog post that anyone can even begin to tackle such a huge subject.  But to try to sum it up, the Church is simply the worldwide set of individual believers.  Churches, then, are the local gathering of these individual believers.

Now there are many questions we can ask as to the characteristics of the Church, but two critical questions to start with are:

1. What is the purpose of Church??

2. What does the Church do when gathered together??

Often what we see is that most people simply accept what is being promoted as “church” and then look for one that has a pastor with the most charisma, the best music, provides an “spiritual” experience, has many diverse “ministries”, and fulfills their so-called “needs”.  It ends up being a game of who can attract the most people by sharing “Jesus” in the most “relevant” way.  But if we were to each begin by asking what the purpose of the Church is from Scripture instead of what “I” can get out of church, we would be a step closer to living out the Truth.

A book in the Bible that helps us understand the characteristics of the Church is the book of Acts.  Acts describes the beginnings of the early New Testament Church and what was important to them right after Jesus’ accession.  Acts isn’t the only book in Scripture to understand the purpose of the Church and what believers did as they gathered, but you really can’t understand the Church without it.

In Acts 2:42, it describes that the Church was committed to four critical things; the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer.  By all accounts, the Church was simplistic and relational to the core.  Believers were focused on the teaching of the Bible, encouraging and challenging one another in fellowship, taking communion and sharing meals together, and spending time in prayer with one another.  If those things were important to the Church then, can we conclude that these must be important for us today??

Since the Church was individual believers gathering together to be taught Scripture, have intentional fellowship, take communion and share meals, and be devoted in prayer, it provides the essential foundation from which we, as believers, should view church now.  This isn’t to say there isn’t more, but it seems people have gotten so far away from the simplicity of Church laid out in Scripture that most of what we see going on today has very little of these things as their true foundation.  People may say their church is “Bible-based” (whatever that means), has small groups or “life groups” (whatever those really are), partakes in communion and/or has events with meals for the church, and has prayers that are offered during services.  But if we are to be really honest, don’t you think that many have complicated things so much to the point that many are much more concerned about defending their “churches” when challenged, rather than striving for the Truth??

The issue at hand is that churches have confused “going and making disciples” with a myriad of “spiritual” sounding endeavors disguised as “church”.  Bible preaching and teaching has been replaced by someone “formulating” sermons that spend more time discussing illustrations, promoting new books, quoting people with some “deep and nuanced“ insight, and telling stories, than systematically going through the Bible itself.  Most are being told that their contemplative spiritual formation and “missional” activities are real faith, rather than the Gospel itself.  The average person really doesn’t know the difference and never questions if it is Biblical, because everyone seems to be doing it.  Just gotta find a “church” doing it the best and start attending.

To say that people’s understanding of faith and church is a mess would be a massive understatement.  With so many different “expressions” of churches, are we to simply accept the validity, beliefs, and practices of all??  The clear answer is, no.

Just because someone or some church invokes the name of “Jesus”, doesn’t mean we are on the same team.  On the outside, it can sometimes be difficult to tell the difference between one church and another.  One may put more emphasis on one element or another, or one may have a different style than another, but without diving deeper into what they really believe, it is sometimes tough to see what they are really about.  That’s why it’s critical that our starting place is being always grounded in all of the Bible and keeping our discernment honed if we are to walk in the Truth.

One sure-fire way to know what people believe and what they understand about church, is to look at what is important to them.  Are they more concerned about “social issues” or the Gospel??  Do their pastors, leaders, and people spend more time talking about the “events” of the church or promoting some popular “christian” book, rather than spending real time diving into the Word??  Do they elevate the beliefs and opinions of man over true obedience to the Lord??  Does their church spend more time marketing, branding, and talking about the latest trends of the day, or the simplicity of “going and making disciples”??  And maybe, just maybe, it’s not question about “their” church, but rather one we must each really ask about “my” church.

Even these things can be difficult to discern at times.  But if we want to make sure we are following the Truth and surrounding ourselves with others seeking the same, we will be willing to adjust our lives accordingly.

This may mean that we need to find another church or even possibly change the way we do church.

When the Church isn’t about the pastor, the buildings we are told are necessary, and all the other trendy things we see in churches today, we begin to see the Church looks a lot closer to some of the small groups that get together to truly study the Bible and minister to one another.  So we have to ask, why the huge emphasis on these large gatherings and calling this “church”??

We have been led to believe that “church” is what happens on those larger Saturday night and Sunday morning services.  Small groups are just small groups.  But when we know that the Church actually looks more like these “small groups”, why do people tend to revert back to calling these other times church??  Maybe it’s just a matter of what we’ve embraced as “church”.

Let me suggest that I think that it is important to address the issue of the size of church.  It may be possible that larger groups gathered to be the Church may be able to function like what we see in the Bible.  But I think it is, at best, much more difficult.  It is easier for most to simply “attend” church rather than each person being spiritually invested in and practically ministering to one another.  If the church is more about what each of us has to “give” to the spiritual growth of one another rather than seeking about what I can “get”, then church has to be done in a way that we are able to get to know people personally.  Why not, then, be more focused on multiplication of smaller churches at a quicker rate than simply growing larger and larger organizations??  The size of church is really important, but it must be left for another time.

There are many areas in which churches today have no resemblance to what we see in Scripture.  It is all a matter of if we are willing to submit ourselves to following what the Bible says or to simply go along with what we have learned and have been told is church.  What this requires is gathering together with other believers that are seeking the Truth; even if it means that it may look different from most of the churches we see today.

There is so much more to say about faith and the Church, but I hope this may be the starting place for each of us to return to the Bible to understand these things, rather than modeling our beliefs and practices by much of what we see in our world today.