Last month, Matt Krause, a state representative from Fort Worth, introduced a bill to ban no-fault divorce in Texas, “a process that now lets a couple end their marriage without assigning blame to either spouse.” Now, in Texas, it takes only one spouse to divorce, based upon “insupportability” of the marriage, with limited cost or exertion. Krause’s is not the first or only such effort by lawmakers across America to close this door.
In a recent Theological Matters column, I bemoaned the fact that it was Ronald Reagan, then-governor of California, who signed the first no-fault divorce law in 1970, setting off a chain reaction that, in less than 15 years, led to a vast new experiment with disposable marriage all across America. Prior to that revolution, marriage carried at least the force of a simple contract. Today, in most states, one party may break a marriage “contract” even in contradiction of the desires of the other party, giving the marriage certificate a uniquely irrelevant texture in the law.
Yet the purpose of this post is not to delineate the history and the nearly criminal costs to our culture and society of no-fault divorce. Rather, in this brief space, the object is to call the reader to engage a biblical view of marriage and to place children in biblical perspective relative to the parental relationship.
In 1994, a woman named Karen stopped by to see Dr. Judith Wallerstein. Wallerstein, as a psychology professor at the University of California, Berkeley from 1966-1991, had produced research that asserted that “divorce is difficult for children, but in time, they’d adjust,” providing support for the divorce revolution by comforting divorcing parents and no-fault divorce legislators. But according to Wallerstein, Karen’s visit “was to entirely revise my understanding of divorce and how it has changed the nature of American society.”
Karen had been part of a study begun by Wallerstein in 1971 that resulted in a best-seller, Surviving the Breakup: How Children and Parents Cope with Divorce. As the book’s title indicates, the book showed that children cope with divorce, and that its major impact is temporary. Karen taught Wallerstein differently. As a result, Wallerstein revisited the children, now adults, in her study and discovered two key myths that had been believed about divorce.
First, Wallerstein discovered that the belief, “if the parents are happier the children will be happier, too,” is not true. A child’s happiness is not dependent upon the happiness of the parents. According to Wallerstein, children generally “don’t care if Mom and Dad sleep in different beds as long as the family is together.”
Second, Wallerstein exploded the myth that “divorce is a temporary crisis that exerts its most harmful effects on parents and children at the time of the breakup.” Rather,
It’s the many years living in a postdivorce or remarried family that count … feeling sad, lonely, and angry during childhood … traveling alone on airplanes when you’re seven … having no choice how you spend your time. … It’s worrying about your mom and dad for years. … And most tellingly, it’s asking if you can protect your own child from having these same experiences growing up.
Given the damage we know divorce does to children into adulthood, marriage, and the parenting of their own children, the church must consider seriously its response to widespread divorce, even within its own congregations. Yet, I do not believe that responding to divorce is the church’s primary and best help for children. The church must understand, teach and obey biblical instructions concerning marriage.
As Christ loves the church and gave Himself for her, seeking her holiness, so must a husband love his own wife and seek her holiness. Can you imagine a husband who loves his wife this way, seeking her holiness above his own comfort and preferences, filing for no-fault divorce? Doing so is an immediate admission of disobedience to our Lord. Could a wife who lives a life in submission to her husband, praying for him and loving him, file for no-fault divorce?
And in no way can no-fault divorce be reconciled with Scriptural teachings on marriage or on divorce except in the most tortuous and strained bending of God’s Word. But more, when a couple stands in front of a congregation, who are witnesses with God, and vow to God and to each other to keep those vows until death, can the congregation, can the pastor, simply wink when those vows are shattered outside any biblical sanction?
America will not change until the church allows Christ to demand through each church that the biblical standard of marriage be upheld, that husbands obey the command to love their wives, that wives obey the command to reverence their husbands, and that they both sacrifice their own desires in love for their children. So long as we do not obey God’s Word ourselves, the world will not respect us or it, and the children always will be the ones who pay.
See, for example, http://www.businessinsider.com/iowa-republicans-divorce-women-2013-3.
http://www.nationalaffairs.com/publications/detail/the-evolution-of-divorce. Interestingly, Illinois (1984) was almost last, followed only by South Dakota (1985) and Utah (1987), in establishing no-fault divorce, the application of which has varied widely state to state. See http://content.csbs.utah.edu/~fan/fcs5400-6400/studentpresentation2009/04DivorceReadingVinsky.pdf.
See http://www.albertmohler.com/2006/06/09/no-fault-divorce-the-end-of-marriage-2/ and http://www.nationalaffairs.com/publications/detail/the-evolution-of-divorce for an introduction to that.
Judith S. Wallerstein, Julia M. Lewis, and Sandra Blakeslee, The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: A Twenty-Five Year Landmark Study. (New York: Hyperion, 2000), xiii.
Judith S. Wallerstein and Joan B. Kelly, Surviving the Breakup: How Children and Parents Cope with Divorce. (New York: Basic Books, 2008).
Wallerstein, Unexpected Legacy, xxiii.
Ibid., xxv. These findings have been confirmed and affirmed. “Sociological studies have shown that people who experience parental divorce as children, compared with individuals who grow up in continuously intact families, have lower educational attainment (McLanahan, 1985), earn less income (Hill, Augustyniak, & Ponza, 1987), and are more likely to be dependent on welfare (McLanahan, 1988). They are also more likely to bear a child out of wedlock (McLanahan & Bumpass, 1988), get divorced (Glenn & Kramer, 1987), and be the head of a singleparent family (McLanahan, 1988). These problems for adult children of divorce, in turn, may be associated with decrements in psychological well-being (Amato, 1988; Glenn & Kramer, 1985). A recent review of the literature on adult children of divorce has found broad support for the notion that parental divorce has lasting implications for children’s life chances (Amato & Keith, 1991).” http://slatestarcodex.com/Stuff/divorce_paper.pdf. See also, http://www.focusonthefamily.com/marriage/divorce-and-infidelity/should-i-get-a-divorce/how-could-divorce-affect-my-kids; Linda J. Waite and Maggie Gallagher, The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially (New York: Doubleday, 2000); Elizabeth Marquardt, Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce (New York: Crown Publishers, 2005); Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, The Divorce Culture (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997). For a longer, sociological view, see James Q. Wilson, The Marriage Problem: How Culture Has Weakened Families (New York: Harper Collins, 2002).
Beyond divorce, the church’s lack of visible and unabashed commitment to a biblical practice of marriage certainly has reduced friction against America’s move toward the exaltation of fornication and ultimately homosexual “marriage.”
Ephesians 5:22-33; Colossians 3:18-19; 1 Peter 3:1-7; Titus 2:1-6.
Following a pastor who has run well and gone the distance is only a problem for those who lack the character or the stamina to do the same. Taking the baton of leadership from someone who has served the church for 20 years or more is certainly not without daunting challenges and discouraging obstacles, but the advantages of stability—even when “stability” has morphed into apparent intransigence—are usually preferable to following a rapid succession of pastors who did not stay long enough to lead the people in any meaningful sense of the word.
In 1990 at only 30 years old I was called to be the third pastor of the Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky. My two predecessors had served for 50 and 23 years respectively. One of them, Clarence Walker, was legendary. Both Jerry Falwell and W. A. Criswell told me about his impact on their lives. My immediate predecessor, Ross Range, was the quintessential pastor, a dignified and refined man who mowed his yard wearing a tie.
The church I now serve, Buck Run, has a very different history, one marked by a long succession of very short pastorates with one notable exception: my immediate predecessor, Dr. Bob Jackson. He served the church twice for a total of two decades (his last tenure was 13 years) and under his expert leadership the church exploded with growth and grace, morphing from a sleepy rural church on the banks of the Elkhorn Creek to one of Kentucky’s most vibrant and missional congregations.
He led Buck Run to found the Romanian American Mission, which today has planted over 400 churches and continues to impact Europe. His emphasis on prayer and evangelism led Thom Rainer to include a chapter, “The Miracle Called Buck Run” in his book on church growth, Eating the Elephant. When Dr. Jackson resigned, many members grieved his departure, even years later.
I am acquainted with the ups and downs, the blessings and not-so-blessings (curses is too strong a word!) of following long-tenured legendary pastors. While I have benefitted from the stability and unity that it brings, I have faced the monolithic intransigence it fosters as well. Here’s what I have learned.Two great challenges
1. You aren’t him.
Furthermore, you are never going to be him. You don’t have his abilities, convictions, wisdom, skills—you can simply fill in the blank here. In fact, church members will do this for you. I lost count of how many times someone looked me in the eye with no intent to hurt or discourage but flatly stated something like, “Now I think you’re really good at __________ , but when it comes to _________ , you’re no (Clarence Walker, Ross Range, Bob Jackson).
Everything in a man wants to defend himself at this point, to point out one’s own strengths and value added, but the best move is simply and humbly to plead guilty. “I aspire to be as great a pastor as my predecessor. He certainly sets the bar very high. Would you commit to pray for me that the Lord might, for His glory, make me the best shepherd that I can be to His flock? I desperately want to be.”
If the goal were to be more loved or revered than the previous pastor, one might have a tough and trying tenure, but the objective is faithfulness, and that lies completely in one’s own control. I do not have to be revered, applauded, or appreciated to be faithful. I simply have to submit to God’s will. The example of my predecessor, even the humiliation of constant reminders that I am not him, motivate me to cast myself on Christ and beg the Holy Spirit to help me be faithful.
2. Preferences become convictions.
The longer a pastor stays and does things a particular way, the less congregations distinguish between biblical mandates and pastoral quirks. Consequently, some members will be prepared to defend the practice to the death when a new pastor suggests an alternative. Children’s ministries, worship styles, Sunday School practices, altar calls, and even the way the offering is received might become sources of tension and division he will encounter.
Since longevity and faithfulness were the source of the last pastor’s credibility, any new pastor would be naïve to think he can make significant changes without enough time to establish them. Some problems—even some people—must be outlived or outlasted. No pastor gets a shortcut to character or credibility because they are forged in the furnace of life and experience.Two great benefits
1. Stability means predictability.
Long-tenured pastorates usually indicate a stable church family. A pastor typically does not have new crises that threaten his position arise after about 10 years. Through the years of his ministry those who opposed him left or changed, and every new member came in at least partly because they resonated with him. The effect is that over the course of years, the congregation coalesces behind the pastor’s leadership and enjoys great unity.
While a new pastor certainly will feel the pressure of change and even of possibly disappointing all those people, he also has a church with established patterns and habits that make them predictable. Whatever challenges follow a long and successful tenure, they aren’t as bad as those presented by the church that cycled through 10 pastors in 20 years. Those churches grow accustomed to instability. They typically place far more trust in key lay leaders than in any pastor because so many pastors come and go while a key leader or two seem constant and dependable. That kind of congregation may even see those lay leaders as their protectors from pastoral overreach and vicissitudes.
While one can always find exceptions, the general result is that the steadiness of a church accustomed to a long pastorate is easier to lead than the instability of one that has cycled through multiple short tenures. In the strength and consistency of the former, a pastor will at least get the opportunity to build bonds and relationships in a congregation that knows what long-term commitment looks like.
2. They know how to overlook faults.
Like any lasting committed relationship, the bonds between a pastor and a congregation work best when they love one another across their differences and disappointments. Frankly, the necessary skill is even more stark than that. People in happy relationships that endure acquire the ability not even to notice one another’s faults. Pastors will find that true in church life as in marriage, otherwise, no pastor could last long because all men have great flaws.
Following a pastor who stayed at a church a long time means, at the very least, that this church learned how to follow a man in spite of himself and his weaknesses. Greater still, they may have learned to love him so much that they didn’t notice or dwell on his flaws. If they have done that for one man of God, perhaps they can learn to do it for another.Two great moves
1. Never criticize your predecessor.
If he went insane one night and slaughtered a local herd of goats with a machete, you brag on his ability to sharpen a blade. That may be an overstatement, but the point of the hyperbole is to drive home a hard and fast rule: just don’t criticize him at all. Find the good things that you can say about him and say those things even if they are small. Do not be fooled by the church members who feel comfortable criticizing him to you. They will still think you petty and insecure if you join in. Just don’t do it. Ever. You gain nothing and lose a great deal.
Even if a predecessor did much worthy of criticism, anyone who follows him should leave that to the Lord and others to judge. No successive pastor ever had to suffer criticism because he was not critical enough. A man with a lengthy tenure did enough right things that he survived all the business meetings, crises, funerals, deacon elections, and church splits for a long time. Do not discount that. Even if his tenure ended in shame and sin, speak only of your commitment to purity and transparency, but never in contrast to him. Everyone either already knows the truth about him, thus you need not say it, or they believe him to be better than he is, and you only anger and frustrate them when you say it.
If you are blessed to follow a man who was faithful and honorable and whose service ended well, then thank God for him, honor him, bless him, and speak well of him openly and often. I have been blessed to follow men of character and distinction in my pastorates, and I have taken every opportunity to praise them sincerely, thank God for them, and invite them back for special occasions. Even after the death of Dr. Jackson, when we dedicated our new campus 13 years after he left, I publicly thanked God for him and made sure that his widow and family were present to receive our gratitude and honor and to witness the continuing fruit of his ministry. Honoring my predecessors has never taken anything from my leadership. To the contrary, it has added value and leadership currency.
The people who were loyal to my predecessors did not see me as an interloper trying to deprive their beloved pastor of his legacy, but as a fellow admirer and a grateful servant happy to build on the great foundation that they laid. They easily and quickly gave me that same loyalty and respect because I gave them permission to keep loving the man who had shepherded their hearts faithfully. I learned long ago that people have a great capacity to love and I don’t even have to be their favorite pastor so long as I am a faithful pastor.
2. Stay a long time and be faithful.
Every time I had someone give me the “you’re no Bob Jackson” speech, I knew that if I would just be faithful to love the people, preach the Word, and point people to Christ, the day would come in which someone looks at my successor and says, “You know, you’re a good guy, and we like you, but you’re no Hershael York.”
In all candor, I take no solace that anyone might ever be compared unfavorably to me, but I understand human nature well enough to know that will happen if I am a faithful shepherd who walks through life with the precious people God has entrusted to my care. After a few years of preaching the Word, loving the people, and shepherding hearts, I have earned trust and leadership collateral, and, I pray, so will my successor. So I end where I began: following a pastor who has run well and gone the distance is only a problem for those who lack the character or the stamina to do the same.
What is the purpose of life? How does work fit into the purpose? As a college student I spent many hours contemplating these important questions and many others, such as:
- Do we have free will or are we predestined?
- What is the best form of worship- hymns or praise songs?
- How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?
Maybe you have asked some of these same burning questions? ...
Good Morning Dr Craig,
Thank you so much for having answered my last e-mail in your reasonable faith podcast of 11-08-2015. I listened it in the bus to work, and was really surprised and glad to tears. Thank you.
I've read with a great interest your Q&A #52, about personal productivity, and it has raised more questions to me (as I begin to write myself and find a way to worship by writing):
Do you pray during your work, Augustine style? How do you pray for your writings in general?
How do you do your devotions? ...
You know the story. A man has been a believer in Christ for decades. To all outward appearances he’s a man of Christian faithfulness and integrity. He has maintained a reputation as a fine example of public and private faithfulness to the things of God for decades. Then, without warning, it all collapses into a sinkhole of sin. Everyone wonders how it could have happened so quickly. In most cases, it soon becomes known that—like most sinkholes—the problem didn’t develop overnight.
Several years ago, this man likely had a relatively consistent devotional life through which the Lord often refreshed, strengthened, and matured him. But with each passing year, his busy life became ever busier. Increasingly he saw his devotional life more as a burden—a mere obligation sometimes—than a blessing.
Because of the massive doses of Bible teaching he’d heard—in addition to the knowledge gained teaching church Bible classes himself—he began to imagine that he needed less private prayer and Bible intake than when he was younger and not as spiritually mature. Besides, he had so many other God-given responsibilities that surely God would understand that he was too busy to meet with the Lord every day.
One small concession led to another; one plausible rationalization led to the next, until the devastating day when a tipping point was reached and the spiritual weakness developed by too many private compromises could no longer sustain even the appearance of Christian integrity. And into the sinkhole fell his reputation, witness, ministry, and perhaps much more.
It could be you
If you’re a strong, young Christian, passionate about the things of God, and you find it impossible to imagine yourself coming to such a condition: beware. This situation could easily be yours in a few years. The words of 1 Corinthians 10:12 are an apt admonition here: “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.”
I’ve been in pastoral ministry for twenty-four years. For more than 20 years I’ve been a professor of biblical spirituality. I’ve written several books and many articles related to spirituality. I speak on the subject to future ministers and missionaries on a daily basis in the seminary classroom, and in churches and conferences around the country almost every weekend. And yet I will freely admit that it’s harder for me to maintain my devotional life now than ever in my life. That’s because I’m busier now than ever. I have many more responsibilities than I had as a young man. And they all take time, time that must come from somewhere.
As the pressures of life increase and more deadlines loom, it becomes harder to maintain time for the devotional life. And herein is where the erosion begins.
At the outset it’s likely that very few will know when the hidden part of your spiritual life begins crumbling. Just as imperceptible movements of water underground can carry away the earth beneath long before anyone on the surface perceives it, so the pressures of life can secretly displace the soil of our private spiritual disciplines long before the impact of their absence is visible to others. The more public parts of a Christian’s life, such as church involvement and various forms of ministry, can often continue with little observable change right up until the awful moment of collapse and the hypocrisy is revealed.
Time thieves will steal more
I’m sure you’re already familiar with many factors that undermine intimacy with Christ. Realize that it’s almost certain that the “time-thieves” trying to steal from your time with God will only increase as the years pass. My hope is that this article will alert you to this subtle, creeping tendency so that it won’t overtake you.
Never be deceived by the temptation to think that with the increasing spiritual maturity you expect to come with age, the less you will need to feast your soul on Christ through the Bible and prayer. What Jesus prayed in John 17:17 for all His followers—“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth”—applies to us all throughout our lives.
Jesus practiced what he prayed for us. While Jesus is infinitely more than our example, nevertheless, he is also our example of sanctified living, of life coram Deo. The Bible tells us that Jesus regularly attended when God’s people assembled to hear the Scriptures (Luke 4:16) and also that he would get alone to meet with his Father (Matt. 14:23). Jesus’ followers need both the sustaining grace that comes through the public worship of God as well as that which comes to us when we meet with him individually.
No substitute for personal communion
I don’t want to minimize the role of the church in preventing spiritual shipwreck in the life of the believer. In this piece, however, I am writing to warn those who will increasingly be tempted to think that frequently meeting God with others can compensate for seldom meeting with him alone.
There are seasons of life when our devotional habits may be providentially altered. But the general rule is that those reconciled to God through the cross of his Son need conscious, personal communion with him every day until the day they see him face to face. And the ordinary means by which he gives it is through the personal spiritual disciplines found in Scripture, chief of which are the intake of the Word of God and prayer.
Pursue the Lord with a relentless, lifelong, obstacle-defying passion. Resolve never to let your daily life keep you from Jesus daily.
Darian Locket (Associate Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies at Talbot School of Theology) recently wrote and published Letters from the Pillar Apostles: The Formation of the Catholic Epistles as a Canonical Collection. We wanted to learn more about this book, so we had Darian respond to some questions ...
Last week I had an experience I will remember for a long time. Since it was raining outside, we took my three kids and some of their cousins to Big Air Trampoline Park to get some of their energy out.
The place was packed full of young kids and their parents. While my kids were enjoying the trampolines, dodge ball, and the climbing wall, I found an open seat in the small café to edit some of the chapters for an update I am working on with my father for his classic book, Evidence that Demands a Verdict ...
The Acton Institute is a think tank located in Grand Rapids, Michigan to produce many initiatives connected with freedom of religion, economics, and politics. These three areas of thought and practice are usually segregated, but Acton brings them together. The largest initiative is the annual Acton University, a four-day conference in Grand Rapids to draw the strands together with diverse conversation partners ...
Going to the mission field as a newly appointed missionary, finally arriving in a new country as a “real live missionary,” is the thrill of a lifetime. At least it is until the confusing onslaught of cultural changes crashes in. New sights, smells, sounds, and customs hold it off for bit.
Very soon though, the newness wears off, the emotional highs flatten out, and the realization of the new normal starts to take a toll. Your old normal and routines are back “home,” and everything around you now is abnormal and stressful.
One of the most difficult adjustments is not being able to communicate. Smiling, nodding, pointing, and pantomiming get old quickly. And when culture shock sets in, it’s often accompanied by frustration, fear, and feelings of vulnerability. The inability to communicate with a doctor when your child is sick, or with a policeman when you’re the victim of a crime, or even to pray in church saps the most buoyant personality.
Then there’s the constant awareness that you can’t even share the gospel as missionaries should. The new sights often become eyesores, smells become stenches, quaint customs become weird, sounds become rackets, and you begin to see the litter and graffiti that you never even noticed before.
Until the abnormal becomes normal, and you figure out how to keep your cultural shock absorbers in good condition, you may start mentally packing your bags when the going gets tough. You need to remember why you came and decide once and for all whether you want to be there. When you settle that, write it down somewhere so you can remember when hard times hit again. Culture shock never goes completely away, it goes underground and springs up whenever life is hard or doesn’t make sense.
Some missionaries settle in more quickly than others. They seem to have developed their inner Jason Bourne and can seamlessly step from one culture to another with little difficulty. Others struggle a bit more, but eventually adjust to the culture and become effective missionaries for the long haul.
10 Ways to improvise, adapt, overcome
Don’t try to go native or deny the background experiences God gave you that make you you. Rather, make it your habit to do as the Army teaches Green Beret special forces to do: improvise, adapt, and overcome. Here are ten ways to help you do that. Make a checklist and do them one at a time until you’ve checked them all off. You’ll be amazed how much you learn to love your new home as you do.
- Learn the language. The best way to learn the culture is to learn the language, and the best way to learn the language is to learn the culture. Learning the language should not be viewed as a necessary evil but rather the secret to fruitful ministry and to seeing into the heads and hearts of the people.
- Make friends. Build relationships by spending time with people. Most of the cultures in the world are group oriented and relational – they love spending time with people. Individualistic Westerners are slow to invite people into homes and lives, but cultures in the traditional mission fields are just the opposite. Take advantage of that. Buy what you need to settle in by asking for shopping help from a new friend. Allowing them to introduce you to their homeland and to help you settle in will bless you both.
- Try new foods. At first the food may seem strange to you, and you may miss your mom’s cooking. You may want to decline meal invitations, preferring to go home and eat a Snickers bar in secret. It may just be the times of day that they eat, or the number of their daily meals, or the kinds of food they eat for breakfast and dinner. Try new foods, learn how to prepare them, and appreciate what is offered to build your list of local favorites.
- Listen to the music. Make their music yours. Listen to the lyrics to help you learn the language. Find out what kinds of music is preferred by various age groups, how it has changed through the years, and learn to identify popular musicians. Sample it all to find out what you like, who are the best local performers, and the instruments that are different from those you know.
- Talk to a policeman. This one is more enjoyable if you’re the one choosing to do so! Engaging a police officer in conversation can be fascinating. They will know things about the city that you need to know, and that others may not know or be willing to tell you.
- Go to a wedding. Weddings are celebrations in every culture. They allow you a glimpse into family histories, customs, and traditions. May people marry anyone they please or are marriages arranged? What do the various aspects of the ceremony represent? How are weddings and marriage traditions changing in the culture?
- Attend a funeral. Funerals bring outsiders into intimate circles of friends and family and serve as a window, allowing you to see into their true beliefs. Evangelicals sometimes incorporate animistic customs into family members’ funerals, revealing vestiges of old worldviews and religious beliefs that would not be seen at any other time. A part of worldview is how it answers where we came from and where we go when we die. A funeral allows you to see what they really believe about life and death.
- Attend community festivals. Every culture celebrates life. We live together in communities and celebrate what is important to us – independence, ethnic identity, and religious holidays. How do they celebrate? What is the role of music? Are there customs that reveal their values, fears, or aspirations?
- Age is just a number. You’re as old as you feel. If you’re 25 years old when you arrive on the mission field, you will never know what it is like to grow up there. What was it like to be a kid, go to school, or play sports? It is easiest to learn what our own age group peers think and feel because we have so much in common. Be diligent to make friends with people of all ages and backgrounds in your new culture. This will give you a better understanding of the people, families, and communities. Who are the decision makers, gate-keepers, peace-makers, and story-tellers? You need to be able to relate to people of all ages to truly understand, love, and be loved by your new home culture.
- Participant observation. Some missionaries have 20 years of experience, and others have one year of experience 20 times. As Dr. Watson learned from Sherlock, the difference is observing and not just seeing. Ask questions as you participate in life with your new culture. Why do you do this? Why this way? What does it mean when a man does that? Participant observation is the oldest tool in the anthropologist’s toolbox, and as Eugene Nida said, “Good missionaries have always been good anthropologists.”
David Sills is the founder and president of Reaching & Teaching International Ministries, a missions professor at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, speaker, and author. His latest book is Hearts, Heads, and Hands: A Manual for Teaching Others to Teach Others (B&H, 2016). This article was originally published on RTIM’s blog.
“I want you for U.S. Army.” “We do more before 9AM than most people do all day.” “Be all that you can be.” Most of us will recognize these statements as maxims used in the past by the U.S. Army. One of the Army’s more recent slogans was, “An army of one.”
The Apostle Paul urged a favorite church of his to advance the Gospel as an “army of one.” He wrote the letter to the Philippians, most probably from Rome in A.D. 62, while under house-arrest among Caesar’s praetorian guards. He anticipated a trial soon. He sent the letter to the church folk at Philippi to inform them of his circumstances, but primarily to urge them to advance the Gospel together with him.
Paul considered the Philippians “partners” (κοινωνία, “partnership,” 1:5) with him in achieving that aim (1:3–6), even in the face of opposition (3:2), but a problem was present in the church. The Philippians could not participate in advancing the Gospel as an “army of one” the way that they should because disunity existed amongst them (1:27; 2:1–4; 4:2). A civil war of sorts was apparently taking place in their midst, and a church in disunity cannot advance the Gospel as effectively—if at all—as one that is unified.
Paul wanted the Philippian church to have a “united front” as they advanced the Gospel. To do so, the church members needed to focus on having a selfless mindset (found only in Christ) that produced unity.
The Lord desires unity amongst His people. He does not want believers to be in one accord “at all costs” in which they compromise or sacrifice the faith or their convictions, but He does want them to have a unified front as they partner together in spreading the good news of Jesus Christ in this unbelieving, and sometimes hostile, world.
Paul prayed for the Philippians in 1:3–11 toward this end, and we can learn much from his prayer about advancing the Gospel together. The apostle’s prayers for the churches that he wrote were often in keeping with his reason for writing, and that practice is no different here.
First, Paul thanked God for the Philippians (1:3–8). Central to his prayer for them is the reason for his thankfulness: because of their “partnership in the gospel” (ἐπὶ τῇ κοινωνίᾳ ὑμῶν εἰς τὸ εὐαγγέλιον, 1:5). Paul was grateful that he was not alone in advancing the Gospel. No wonder that his prayers for the Philippians were always offered to God with joy (1:3-4), and that he “longed” for them “with the affection of Christ Jesus” (1:8). Further, Paul was confident that God would complete the work of their partnership and participation in the Gospel that He had begun in them.
Just as Paul realized that he was not alone in the Gospel enterprise, so also we are not alone in the Gospel initiative. No one can do it alone, and we ought to thank God for our partners in this endeavor. Southern Baptist churches give through the Cooperative Program to support their state conventions and the SBC’s missions and ministries. All of these constituents work together toward a common goal that no one person or church can accomplish on their own: sharing the Gospel with every person on the planet.
Second, Paul prayed a petition prayer for the Philippians that they might have an increased love that results in a pure and blameless status at Christ’s return (1:9–11). Interestingly, the word “love” (ἀγάπη) in the text does not have an object. One might wonder, therefore, whether Paul referred to loving God, loving others, or both. Though the church cannot love others as they should without first loving God, the letter strongly indicates that the apostle had in mind the Philippians’ love for one another (1:16; 2:1–2). Love for one another is needed if the church is to achieve the united front that is needed to advance the Gospel. Paul especially prayed that his readers’ love would abound/increase in “knowledge/moral insight” (ἐπίγνωσις) and thorough “discernment” (αἴσθησις) (1:9). Their love needed to be accompanied by this overflow of insight so that they might approve after testing, i.e., discern (εἰς τὸ δοκιμάζειν, indicating purpose, or possibly result) the things that really matter when it comes to the advance of the Gospel. Paul prayed that this practice might result in them standing blameless (concerning their motives and the Gospel’s advance) on the day of Christ (1:10). Fruitful activity and living of this sort is all done “to the glory and praise of God” (1:11).
Churches can get easily distracted from their primary mission of advancing the Gospel and making disciples. They do so often by arguing over things that do not really matter when it comes to the Gospel’s propagation, like what the color of the carpet should be, having pews versus chairs, singing only hymns or no hymns, using PowerPoint in sermons or not, etc. If we are not careful, matters like these can detract from or prevent effective Gospel ministry. So, it is extremely important for us to discern the things that are most excellent when it comes to Gospel ministry. We need to make the best possible decisions and focus on the things that really do matter as we all seek to spread the Gospel in our communities and across the globe.
How else could the Philippians achieve the united front necessary to advance the Gospel effectively? They would achieve that essential selfless mindset by embracing the mind of Christ, who epitomizes unselfish thinking. Paul commanded the church,
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:5–8, NASB).
Though He is God, Jesus did not take full advantage of His deity while on the earth. Rather, He selflessly “emptied” Himself. How? The biblical text tells us the means by which He did so: He “emptied” Himself by taking on the form of a servant. He left the glories of heaven and became human, and he became humbly and wholly obedient to the point of death on a cross.
Paul offered some ways to put the mindset of Christ into practice. For example, just prior to the kenōsis passage, he encouraged the church to live together in harmony in 2:1–4. He directed the Philippian believers to have “the same mind,” to maintain “the same love,” to be “united in spirit,” focusing on one purpose (2:2). He instructed them to “do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit,” but in humility to regard others as more important than themselves (2:3, NASB).
Consequently, we should make it a point to shelve any disputes that threaten unity in our churches (4:1–2). We should never allow a spirit of divisiveness or bitterness to permeate our lives or our congregations. Our time on earth is far too short to be spent upon having bad attitudes or arguing over petty matters. Believers in the Lord Jesus should love one another and live in harmony. When they do so, a powerful message is sent out to the world (John 13:35)—“Jesus Christ has saved us from our sins; He makes a difference in people’s lives, and you need Him!”
So, ponder those qualities that are necessary as we work together to share the Gospel. Focus on Jesus Christ and His attributes (4:8–9): things that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, excellent, and worthy of praise. Both Paul and Jesus exhibited these attributes, and so should we. When we practice these things, the Lord will bless our evangelistic efforts in the Gospel’s advance. Preach the Word! Reach the world!
The overarching theme of Philippians is “partnership for the advancement of the gospel,” not “joy” or “contentment,” as many teach. The latter two are sub-themes but not the main themes.
Interestingly, Paul used language in this letter found in accounts describing the Battle of Philippi, a civil war fought in 42 B.C. that took place among the Romans to avenge the assassination of Julius Caesar. Marc Antony and Octavian led forces on the one side, while Brutus and Cassius did so on the other.
Unless otherwise noted, the Bible translations are mine.
The “work” in 1:6 to which Paul refers is found in 1:5—the Philippians’ “partnership in the gospel.”
Greek: “the things that differ.”
Last year, when I was speaking at a church in South Dakota for a Heroic Truth Event, I met Brian Johnson. He invited me on his Podcast, and we had a great conversation about “hot” cultural issues today.
Dear Dr. Craig,
I have a question regarding the chronology of the atonement.
I know that, in one sense, the atonement encompasses all of Jesus' life in that it involves the imputation of his righteousness to us and not only our sin to him, and therefore we can say that everything from his birth, the silent years of his life, his baptism, temptation, etc. are all a part of the atonement.
On the other hand, the bible seems to focus specifically on the death of Jesus on the cross ...
The scenario is both common and painful.
You are being considered by a church to become the pastor or to fill a staff position. The church’s bylaws require a congregational vote to affirm you. According to those bylaws, the vote to affirm you must be at least 70 percent of those present and voting.
You receive a vote of 72 percent.
Should you go to that church?
It depends (I know; that sentence does not help at all).
Your first impulse might be to decline the offer quickly. And you may be right. But there are seven questions you might ask before you make a hasty decision.
1. Was the vote secret ballot or open vote? Secret ballot votes tend to be lower than show of hands or verbal affirmations.
2. What is the history of the church in voting to call pastors and staff? If the church’s recent history was three votes of 95 percent or more, your lower vote does not portend well for your future. But some churches just have more ornery members than others. They vote negatively because they can.
3. Are you replacing a well-loved pastor or staff member? It’s hard to follow a legend. And some church members can’t conceive of anyone being there but the person who left. They take out their angst on you through a negative vote.
4. Is the position new to many people? I am aware of a situation where a campus pastor was barely voted affirmatively by the church. His vote was just one percentage point above the minimum required. As people began to discuss the vote, one common theme emerged: “What does a campus pastor do?” The problem was not the person as much as it was lack of clarity about a new position.
5. How long has the position been vacant? The shorter the vacancy, the more likely the candidate will get negative votes. Church members have not separated themselves emotionally from the former pastor or staff person. That does not mean a church should drag a process out. It does mean they don’t need to jump at the first available candidate.
6. Are there factions and conflict in the church? Sometimes the negative vote has nothing to do with the candidate. It could be one group in the church trying to get back at another group in the church. Such situations are sadly common.
7. Were there internal candidates who did not get the position? This scenario is too common. Instead of getting an outside person to fill the pulpit, the church let the executive pastor and the student pastor alternate. Both of them eventually decided they wanted to be considered as pastor. The search committee affirmed neither of them. So when an outside candidate was presented to the church, factions for each of the two internal candidates voted negatively. It had little to do with the candidate himself.
It is not always clear cut that a low affirmative vote is a rejection of the candidate. And though that could very well be the case, it helps to ask these seven questions before declining.
You just might be glad you said “yes.”