I had one of the most discouraging conversations since becoming a pastor yesterday. It was, honestly, at the same time, one of the most encouraging conversations as well. Here’s why it was discouraging: I found out there are a few members who are (still) unhappy about the direction of our church. I am not sure how many, how unhappy, and what they perceive to be the direction of our church. And they are unwilling to talk with me face to face. All of that is discouraging.
Here is why it is encouraging: whatever they perceive, it is mainly because of the pulpit. I have one conscious direction: the glory of God through the proclamation of the gospel. What that looks like in day to day life and week to week sermons gets clearer and clearer over time. That probably ends up looking more “conservative” and “fundamental” than most people in Hawaii are used to. I, myself, cannot put into words– other than what I said three sentences earlier– what the direction of the church is. But it seems to be that the unhappy members and the happy members all get it. Through the preaching of the Word there is something happening at Kailua Baptist Church that is different from the norm. I have thought so many times that studying for the sermon as much as I do is not worth it. But clearly, God moves and speaks to His people through the preaching of the Word.
I am not the only preacher in Hawaii or in Kailua that is going in this “direction.” The other churches that God is moving in this way are represented by the Gospel Coalition Hawaii. But by God’s grace, the most influential thing in our church really is the pulpit. God’s Word really does not return void. Paul’s charge to “preach the Word” is there for a reason. My encouragement to pastors is to remain steadfast in study. If you do not think the pulpit is the most important part of your ministry, please repent in thought and/or action.
My encouragement to our happy members, is to pursue unhappy members with love and good works. Pray and act toward unity on the gospel. And thank you for being happy!
Kailua Baptist Church has recently discovered that we are operating on at least three definitions of church membership. My view, along with probably just a few others (though by God’s grace I can tell this group is growing), is that whatever the Bible means by “members” of the body of Christ is what we should mean by “church membership.” Another group (probably the majority) of the church thinks that church membership is an extremely faithful way to practice accountability and care among Christians, but not at all necessary for church faithfulness. Another group believes church membership is completely the invention of man and could rather do without. That is a simplification of the spectrum at our church, and that does not include all the non-members, who are regular attenders, who may fall anywhere along that spectrum (obviously that group is in the group 2 and 3 spectrum).
This has presented a bit of a challenge for our church to work through, but it is a rewarding challenge, as it forces us to think even more deeply about why we believe and do what we believe and do. I am spending all of September preaching through texts that have helped me to get where I am at.
A text that I am not preaching this month, but one that has helped me also, is Revelation 21.15- “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” If I am going to be consistent in the way I interpret Revelation, then I would have to say that this verse does not have to refer to a literal, physical book or literal, physical fire. But we can say for sure that the lake of fire is literally really terrible, if anything, worse than fire.
We can also say that God literally has a list in His mind of who is “written in heaven” (Luke 10.20). Whether it is a physical book and a physical fire is beside the point! There is a reality that there is a group of human beings who will never experience the wrath of God. Thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ!
One of the main goals in church membership is to reflect the Book of Life. I think any church that does not have this in their sights should just throw out their roster. Stop playing “church”! But how can any local church not have this in their sights?
And of course the objection is, “only God knows who is in the book of life.” My response: does that mean our membership roll is supposed to be way different from the book of life? Why did God reveal to us that there is such a book? Did God not give His Church the means of grace to begin growing towards being the people that He planned for us to be? God has a clear-cut list of names in His mind. Perhaps, in all humility, we should take His revelation as an exhortation to work toward that as well.