Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross
- It forces us to focus. So often, churches just “do stuff.” We don’t ask who, what, where, when, or how. We don’t ask if the thing is effective, evangelistic, edifying, or empowering. Is it outmoded? Is it merely self-serving? Can it be improved? Planning clarifies.
- It makes us intentional. Whether we are looking at what is currently done or what should be done, planning makes us deliberate. Especially is this true when we consider whether or not the activity, program, or work is merely internally-focused (for us) or externally-focused (for lost souls). Do we plan to grow? Reach a tangible number of people each year? Increase the depth of our footprint in the community? If so, how? Specifically how?
- It says that leadership is thoughtful. Planning takes precious man hours from the leadership, but how it pays off! Personal analysis, congregational analysis, and biblical analysis require thought. Done well, it will build conviction that doctrine is never to be tampered with, but that methods and means in harmony with Scripture require judgment, discrimination, and scrutiny. Putting thought into the church’s works and needs is Acts 20:28 in motion.
- It combats chaos. So often, a church’s works lack cohesion and coordination. There are no filters in place to ask if an individual work fits with the church’s vision and mission. Works may be good, but who knows what goes on with them or if they are working. Who is accountable? To whom are they accountable?
- It expresses discontent with the status quo. It is easy to continue with works, programs, and activities that are already in place and have people managing and executing them. But, most of our methods and means of doing church work need to be evaluated regularly to ask if changes are needed. Change brings discomfort and takes work, but as our resources change–time, talent, treasure–we may find that we are more or less able to engage in the various works of the church. We should always be looking for more and better ways to serve and glorify God.
- It is biblical. Jesus had a tangible plan for world evangelism (Acts 1:8). Paul had a tangible plan for growing the church through the missionary journeys (Acts 15:36ff). Look at how 1 Timothy reflects and requires planning to help the Ephesus church (1 Tim. 3:15). Paul had a tangible plan for establishing elders in congregations throughout the island of Crete (Ti. 1:5ff). Something that was in God’s mind in the eternity before time (Eph. 3:9-11) deserves our best effort, using our brightest minds to find biblical ways that are most effective to grow and strengthen it!
Goals, dreams, intentions, and ideas will not, by themselves, accomplish anything. We must work to make those things a reality. But, a crucial first step is to articulate where we want to go. That makes planning so powerful!
Soon, we’ll have lived in our current home for two years. We are enjoying the house, the location, the neighborhood, and most of the neighbors. However, one that lives pretty nearby has proven less than pleasant. His wife is an officer in our neighborhood HOA, and each month’s newsletter is a new posting of the hierarchy’s “95 theses.” Hardly anyone can keep from committing at least one infraction—certainly not us. They’ve had very little communication with us except when the husband complained that our compost pile was too close to the fence (on the other side of which were his garbage cans). Recently, while seeking our permission to re-paint their house, he took the opportunity to inspect the state of cleanliness of our garage. I share his desire that we keep our homes and yards in good shape, as property values are riding on our collective interest in such. The problem for them is that they have spurned our efforts at a relationship and they have done nothing to create one themselves. Thus, we tolerate and peacefully co-exist. But, there is no relationship.
Have you thought about how vital relationships are to our lives? Think about how ineffective we are with people without them. At best, we are mere associates. At worst, we become antagonists. Think of how vital the entity of relationship is to:
- Marriage (1 Pet. 3:7).
- Parenting (Deu. 6:1ff).
- A congregation (1 Th. 5:11).
- Shepherding (John 10:4-5).
- Church discipline (2 Cor. 2:6-8).
- Restoring the erring (Gal. 6:1-2).
- Preaching (2 Tim. 2:24-26; 4:2).
- Church works (Eph. 4:16).
- Deacons’ work (Acts 6:7).
- Soul-winning (Col. 4:2-6).
- Friendship (Prov. 18:24b).
Taking the time to build rapport may be mentally and emotionally exhausting at times. The best of relationships will have their downs as well as their ups. But God created us social beings not meant for isolation (Gen. 2:18). Joel O’Steen is shallow and superficial in his “preaching,” but tens of thousands of people are drawn to him because they find him relatable. His message is deadly, but his method is engaging. Some who consider themselves the staunchest “defenders of the faith” are virtual porcupines with their quills primed to stick those in their proximity. Surely those of us striving to follow New Testament Christianity can strive to build relationships while we steadfastly teach and follow the truth. How much more effective will we be as we conquer this principle every day?
This now famous motto came into the public consciousness as part of a contest run by the Los Angeles Police Department’s internal magazine, BEAT, in 1955. Officer Joseph Dorobek submitted the winning entry with “to protect and to serve.” Nearly 60 years later, it continues to be seen on the side of the department’s patrol cars and serves to “embody the spirit, dedication, and professionalism” of the LAPD’s officers (via joinlapd.com).
With so much animus and distrust of law enforcement in some circles right now, it can be easy to forget their vital role of keeping peace and enforcing the law. Without them, anarchy and violence would reign, with no one to restrain the lawless from violating and harming those incapable of defending themselves. While there are unethical, lawless individuals in every profession, many who hear reports against law enforcement never stop to ask whether there is ever bias on the part of the reporters. Perhaps it is a bias against law, authority, or the perceived power delegated to those wielding a badge. It is good to remember that God has appointed the governing authorities of each locale (cf. Rom. 13:1ff).
God does not have an official position in His Kingdom for watchdogs or police officers to police the actions of others. He made us creatures of choice and He allows us to choose good or evil. While occasionally there are preachers and other members who are self-appointed to such a position, the concept is foreign to Scripture. However, He did organize the church with elders who protect (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:2) and deacons who serve (1 Tim. 3:10,13). In fact, all members are to be servants of Christ (Gal. 5:13). Preachers are to preach the word, and when they declare the whole counsel in love (Acts 20:27; Eph. 4:15), they will sometimes convict the hearts of the hearers. Particularly elders, who are commissioned to protect and serve the flock, deserve our respect and esteem (1 Th. 5:12-13). Especially is that vital in an age that disdains authority.
It was an honor for me to serve as a reserve police officer in Livingston, Alabama, for a couple of years in the early 1990s. I was able to see the dedication and sense of honor held by these extraordinary men and women. Let us honor those public servants of God (Rom. 13:6) and those spiritual servants of God (1 Th. 5:13)!