He is in almost every church.
In fact, the “he” may be a “she,” but I’ll use the masculine pronoun for simplicity.
He is the church disrupter. Unlike church bullies, the disrupter rarely attacks leaders directly. He is good about stirring up dissension, but he seems to always feel like “God led me to do it.” He can have a gregarious and pleasant personality (unlike the typical church bully), and can thus attract a following for a season.
How to recognize them
The disrupter is just that. He disrupts the unity of the church. He disrupts the outward focus of the church. And he disrupts the plans of church leadership. So what are some key traits to watch in church disrupters?
Here are six:
- He often seeks positions in the church so he can get attention. So be wary if he asks to lead the student group or the praise team or become chairman of the finance committee. He loves to exert his negative influence through key and visible positions.
- He often votes “no” in business meetings. Again, this tactic is yet another attempt to get attention.
- He loves to say, “People are saying…” He wants you to think his issue is more widespread than it really is. Another approach is, “If we had a secret ballot vote, there would be a lot more dissenters.”
- He tries to get followers at the church for his cause of the moment. That is another reason he seeks positions of influence in the church.
- He often assures the pastor and other church leaders how much he loves them and supports them. And then he goes and stabs them in the back.
- He loves to use “facts’ loosely for his case or cause. Accuracy is neither required nor expected.
What should a pastor do?
So how should pastors and other church leaders address the problem of church disrupters? Allow me to suggest a few ideas.
- Determine you will love them as Christ loves you and them. It’s tough, but it can be done in Christ’s strength.
- Pray for them. Seriously.
- Be on the watch for them. They can be manipulative and deceptive; they can cause chaos before you see it coming.
- Get other leaders to help you address the disrupters and their disruption. But, be aware, they will be shocked you perceive them that way.
- As soon as possible, get them out of key leadership positions. They are a problem now, but they can become toxic later.
I have my theories on why church disrupters act the way they do, but that is a topic for another post. In the meantime, be wary of church disrupters. But love them and pray for them anyway.
That is the way Christ would respond.
Editors’ note: This article originally appearedat Churchleaders.com.
“Dad, they acted like they didn’t even see us,” one of my children said. The words still ring in my ears to this day.
She made the remark at large church in the suburbs where I was invited to speak. As we waited several minutes to enter the worship hall, we were surrounded by hundreds of people who were excitedly conversing among themselves. But for some reason, no one spoke to us. Maybe it was because we were visitors, or maybe it was because we’re a large family of seven, or maybe it was because of something else. Maybe it was because we were different. Different because we had a child who obviously had special needs.
Thankfully, experiences like that are far and few in between—at least for me. But as I speak to other families who are living with disabilities, the experience of being overlooked is all too common. In fact, for many, it’s their normal experience, even in their own church. Because I know their pain, I am intentionally more sensitive to those in my church (and those who visit my church) who are affected by disabilities.
As a church leader, revitalizer, or church-planter the desire to be faithful at shepherding Christ’s flock must include that no group ever feels overlooked or rejected because they’re different. Unfortunately, too many pastors have not yet seen the need to be intentional at reaching out to the oft-slighted disabled people among them as part of their church growth strategy.
Most church leaders would never deny that the local church should be a ministry of inclusion for all who profess faith in Christ. I’m sure most pastors would embrace the vision of the church as a gospel banquet, which not only includes the typical, but the atypical as well (Luke 14:12-14). But there seems to be a glaring gap between notional gospel rightness and applicational gospel practice, especially when it comes to the disabled.
Pastors can change the landscape of congregations to better reflect the heart of God toward those suffering from and living with disabilities. As a fellow under-shepherd, I offer five pleas to pastors to help assist in reaching out and connecting with those who often feel the most neglected in the church.
- Seek out those in your congregation who are living with and caring for the disabled.
Many Christians living with a disability stay on the fringes of the church. Like Mephibosheth, who was lame in both feet (2 Samuel 9), they live in exile in the land of Lo-debar (which means ‘no pasture’) because they don’t feel welcomed to the greener pastures of the church and its corporate body life. Pastors must be intentional in going after them like all the other sheep who need to sense the inclusive and enfolding love and care of Christ (Luke 15:4).
- Make them as much a part of the congregation as any other group in your church.
The thought of coming out of the shadows can be intimidating for families with disability. They’ve had to navigate the various roads of discrimination, rejection, avoidance, and patronization almost everywhere they go.
So, they need a different experience with their family of faith—an experience in which believing will, in fact, lead to belonging because their shepherds see them with the eyes of compassion (Matthew 9:36). A simple luncheon on a Sunday afternoon can communicate volumes of your commitment to them as their caring shepherd.
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- Cast a vision for your church of the power of weakness for the full display of God’s redemptive glory.
Until a congregation is led to the reality that God’s transforming power is displayed most fully in the weak and broken, few will make the connection between gospel truths and those suffering with disabilities. Our gospel beckons all “who are weary and heavy laden” to come to Christ for rest (Matthew 11:28-30; Luke 14:16-24).
Fostering an effective disability ministry and culture in your church starts from the top and works its it way down into the lifeblood of the church. There’s more to be gained by doing a series on Jesus’ interactions with the disabled in the Gospels than by simply having wider bathroom stalls (although that’s important too).
- Mobilize those who have a heart to serve to meet the particular needs of those living with disability.
Like all ministries in a local church, servant-volunteers are of the utmost importance. Disability ministry in the church is no different. To faithfully shepherd your families and members with disability, you will need to rally your congregation to crush the barriers of ignorance, indifference and fear. Understandably, many people in the church are uniformed about the lives of those with disabilities and are afraid to broach the conversation for fear of saying or doing something wrong. Pastors can provide forums for discussion and training to make the world of disability more understandable and accessible to the whole congregation.
- Model compassion for your congregation by spending time with the disabled of your church.
To walk in the steps of the Chief Shepherd is to spend time with those who are diseased, lame, and blind (Matthew 4:23-24; 15:29-31). Leaders who show this commitment will inspire others to follow their example. Like King David of old, who displayed the covenant love of God by bringing the disabled son of Jonathan into his home to eat at his table regularly (2 Samuel 9:7-13), Christlike pastors will shape and stir the hearts of many by their time commitments and shepherding efforts to the disabled among them.
Pastors’ plates are already full. I know that. I pray no hardworking church leader will feel any unnecessary guilt after reading this article. God’s grace covers not only our sins, but our weaknesses that may give rise to neglecting certain people in our churches. But we cannot fully glorify our great God if we continue to marginalize those who are the weakest and most needy among us.
Jesus calls us to reach out to all who come to Him in faith and hope. May we have the courage to cross whatever barriers that might exist in order to love and care for the disabled minority within the walls of our churches so the one from whom and through whom and to whom are all things will receive greater glory through us.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, drive out demons in your name, and do many miracles in your name? ’ Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you lawbreakers!’”Matthew 7:21-23 (CSB)
Every person in the city of Cincinnati is a Christian.
That’s at least how it felt when I went to the Great American Ballpark to see the Reds play on a hot summer afternoon. The stadium was full of fans who had shown up to watch the Reds take on the Chicago Cubs. There was loud applause after the national anthem was sung, and a fifth-inning home run brought the hometown fans to their feet as the Reds took the lead against their division rivals. But the cheers after that towering home run to center field were nothing compared to the crowd’s reaction in the middle of the seventh inning.
One of my favorite parts of any Major League Baseball game is called the “seventh-inning stretch.” This is where the fans from both teams stand up and stretch their arms and legs while singing the classic song, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” It is a great tradition that brings families and friends together to sing loudly, without a care in the world. For just a moment, all fans are supporting the same thing—the great game of baseball. Legend claims the song first played at a ballpark at a high school in Los Angeles in 1934. The song became synonymous with the seventh inning stretch when broadcaster Harry Caray would lead the fans in singing the song during Chicago White Sox games (and later in his career, with the crosstown rival, Chicago Cubs).
But this particular day at the Reds game, the seventh inning stretch did not deliver quite the nostalgia I was hoping for from my past experiences. This happened to be a Sunday, and ever since the terror attacks on the United States on September 11th, 2001, Major League ballparks have a new seventh inning tradition. On Sundays, singing about peanuts and crackerjacks gets set aside for a more somber display. During the middle of the seventh inning on any Sunday game, every Major League ballpark pauses, brings out the players from each team to stand in a line with their hats removed, and plays the song “God Bless America” for all to sing. (The New York Yankees practice this tradition at each home game, but the other Major League teams observe this as a Sunday tradition.) This Sunday in Cincinnati, 45,000 people stood and sang at the top of their lungs, asking God to bless America.
I’ve been to Christian conferences that filled arenas and nobody sang about God this loudly and cheered so passionately at the conclusion. I stood there and wondered if the ovation after the final note was louder than when the Reds upset the Oakland A’s by sweeping them in the 1990 World Series. As soon as the song was over, we went into “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” and I felt my favorite part of being a fan had the thunder stolen in the name of God blessing our nation.
After the game, I had plans to meet up with some local church planters from my denomination, as is customary for me when I travel. I find that connecting with other church planters is always inspiring, and it is probably nice for them to have someone treat them to a meal or dessert, as church planting can be very difficult. These particular church planters came to Cincinnati because the North American Mission Board (NAMB) had identified it as a “Send City.”
NAMB’s church planting strategy emphasizes highly populated areas with a low number of evangelical churches per capita. Knowing this, I had been so caught off guard by the crowd’s enthusiasm during the seventh inning festivities. I actually paused during the game to “research” NAMB’s evaluation of Cincinnati. Apparently, I thought, there wasn’t a need for church planting in this city because nothing got the crowd more excited than singing about God and asking Him to bless America.
To my surprise, the “Send Cincinnati” information revealed that just 13.7 percent of metro Cincinnati residents were affiliated with an evangelical church. 13.7 percent. That rate is bad even when we’re talking tips at a cheap diner. But as a percentage of people affiliated with a local evangelical church? No wonder NAMB had identified this as a mission field.
So, then, who were all of these people singing so loudly?
That day in Ohio, I was reminded that Cultural Christianity isn’t just an epidemic of the American South. I had just witnessed thousands of people worshiping enthusiastically in the church of civic religion.
The reality of civic religion
Civic religion is practiced from the high school football locker room, where teams incorporate a prayer before the game, to the grand stages of Hollywood, where you can find a celebrity thanking God during an acceptance speech. It is rampant in American politics and is expected from national leaders, though the reasoning for that falls somewhere between tradition and sentimentality. Of course, there are those who go bananas over “God language” in the name of separation of church and state, but that hasn’t yet been able to kill the American practice of sprinkling in sentimental religious language when needed. Has a modern-day sitting president of the United States ever failed to say “God Bless America” as the closing in a major address to the nation? While it is certainly a nice gesture (and I’m sure some have had sincere Christian faith), these small nods to God keep civic religion and Cultural Christianity alive.
Civic religion promotes a god without any definition and a generic faith that means, demands, and asks nothing of its followers. Participants stretch across the cultural spectrum in terms of geography and socioeconomic status. In some areas, civic religion is even proudly theistic and likes the idea of Jesus. Selective words spoken by Jesus in the New Testament will be used and cited when the political cause of the day needs a rally cry. Whether it is government-run healthcare, the death penalty, same-sex marriage, or immigration, Jesus is positioned as having an opinion that can suit one’s side, regardless of one’s adherence to the authority of Scripture as a whole.
A religion of “good people”
When asked to indicate their religion on an application or form, many Americans, without hesitation, would check “Christian.” By this, they mean to say that they are “good people” who believe in God but aren’t Jewish or Muslim. Many people who are comfortable with the idea of God and familiar with some image of Jesus have no concept of what the gospel of Christ actually is.
There is a perception among Cultural Christians that the gospel is for more extreme, perhaps “born again” people. Mainstream cultural Christians aren’t wrapped up in promoting some kind of gospel message. They are simply trying to be nice to others, pursue their idea of personal happiness, pray when something bad happens, and rest in the belief that they are going to heaven after they die. What is missing from their perceived Christianity is the actual gospel of Jesus Christ.
Let’s unmask the generic Jesus
The question that must be answered is how do we reach people who identify as Christians, and simply are not? Perhaps this is the largest mission field in America, but we don’t even realize it because we don’t have a category for a generic theist with a sentimental faith that has nothing to do with the person and work of Jesus Christ.
I have written The Unsaved Christian to help the church understand that this is not a discipleship issue. It is not that people need to get more serious about their faith. I argue, rather, that this is an evangelism issue, and cultural Christians need to be reached with the good news of the gospel. My prayer is we will awaken ourselves to the need, realize this is the state of people in our own families, neighborhoods, and even churches, and get to work pointing people away from a Christianity by culture and toward a Christianity of conviction.
Editors’ note: This article is an adapted excerpt from Dean Inserra’s book, The Unsaved Christian: Reaching Cultural Christianity with the Gospel (Moody).
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I had a conversation with a close friend a few years ago, and he asked me a question that I chewed on for days afterward: Do those of us who adhere to the doctrines of grace tend to downplay the resurrection of Christ? Do we, in our drive to make everything gospel-centered and cross-saturated unintentionally underemphasize the final miracle in the doctrines of grace, the vindication of the Son by the Father in the empty tomb?
The more I have thought about it, the more I wonder if perhaps there is not some subtle truth in this notion, though there is no way to empirically substantiate it. As adherents to historic evangelical orthodoxy, we love to proclaim Good Friday and its staggering implications for fallen humanity. Rightly, we cherish the great truth of Christ’s substitutionary, effectual death on behalf of His people. We exalt His propitiating the wrath of the Father—the wrath that we deserved to bear, Christ bore. How could we not exult in so glorious a truth?Centrality of preaching the cross
We speak often of Christ’s active and passive obedience and the application of both for the imputation of His righteousness to sinners: “God made him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf so that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” That may be the Olympus of theological truths.
As I thought of these things and my friend’s question, I realized that in my own speaking of the gospel, I always frame as the “person and work of Christ” or His substitutionary atonement, but invariably, I (unintentionally, of course, I’m not suggesting any of us does this on purpose), leave off the resurrection. In the past few days, I have found myself saying “Christ’s death…and resurrection in our place.” After all, his resurrection secured our resurrection and Paul tells us that we are raised in him.
The resurrection has been the focal point of attack from atheists and liberals throughout the history of the church. Jesus contended with the Sadducees whose central theological thrust was a denial of the resurrection. In the Enlightenment, British empiricist David Hume virtually made a career out of attacking the validity of Christ’s resurrection in his assault on the Christian faith. Hume, the Sadducees and all skeptics know that if one proves the resurrection of Christ false, then the Christian faith and its supernatural power collapses like a house of cards.8 devastating results if we lose the empty tomb
Of course, we who cherish sound evangelical doctrine certainly also cherish the resurrection of Christ, for without it, the cross is void of significance. With Good Friday looming in a matter of days, Paul’s exposition of the centrality of the resurrection of Christ in 1 Corinthians 15:12-22 serves as a good reminder for us all of the catastrophic consequences for our fallen world if Christ “be not raised.” If the resurrection is not true, then Paul says eight awful truths emerge that renders false the Christian faith. If Christ is not raised, then:1. Not even Christ is raised.
This is the first and most obvious consequence. This is nuclear fallout. If there is no resurrection from the dead, as Hume and the Sadducees claim, then Christ’s body was eaten by dogs or taken by thieves or secretly removed by Jesus’s disciples or there exists another naturalistic explanation for the claim by hundreds of witnesses to have seen the risen Lord.2. The preaching of the gospel is useless.
The good news is then no news. Actually, it is bad news. For, apart from the resurrection, Jesus has not conquered suffering, sin or death and these three evils will forever be our conquerors. As Barney Fife always loved to tell people while dispersing a crowd in Mayberry, there is nothing to see here.3. Faith in Christ is worthless.
Faith in a lifeless corpse buried somewhere in the Middle East will save no one. If Christ did not rise from the dead, then Hebrews 11 would better be dubbed the “hall of fools” instead of the hall of faith.4. Every witness to the resurrection and all preachers of the resurrection are liars.
To deny the resurrection is to call the apostles and every other New Testament leader liars. They are not simply mistaken, but are peddling a whopper of a myth. Jesus, too, is a liar, for it was He who said, “I am the resurrection and the life.”5. Christianity is a fairy tale
Scripture is nothing but a book of history comingled with superstition and myths. Missions and evangelism are a colossal waste of time, energy and money. We do not waste effort and resources peddling Mother Goose and we should not waste our time on this ancient myth.6. All of humanity is still in its sins.
What Paul says remains true, “The wages of sin is death.” Our world is still fallen, still captive to sin, still enslaved to death.7. Everyone who died is in hell.
There remains no sacrifice for sins, if Christ be not raised. This consequence follows from the sixth one and means that every human being will face the full, unmediated wrath of God for all eternity.8. Christians are the most pathetic people on earth.
Paul puts it this way, “If Christ be not raised, then we are of most men to be pitied.” Indeed. And this is why the world, as Paul says so well in 1 Corinthians 1, sees the cross of Christ as foolishness. If every part of the Gospel is not true, then we will have spent our days pursuing a God who will not be able to benefit us beyond the grave. Not only are we objects of pity, the skeptics around us are correct. Blaise Pascal’s famous “wager” will do little to make us feel better in eternity.
Soon, the Christian world will celebrate both Good Friday and Easter Sunday. In all the teaching, talking and theologizing we who march behind the banner emblazoned with the five solas tend to do, let us remember that we cannot have the one without the other.
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