Christian Pariahs

HaggardWhat is a Christian pariah?

In my world a Christian pariah is often times a pastor or church leader who has been used by God in powerful ways in the past, who somehow or another dropped their guard, walked into sin, and got caught.

Ted Haggard is a good example. He served as the Senior Pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. While there, God used him to grow the church from 22 people meeting in a basement to over 14,000 people. He served as the President of the National Association of Evangelicals. He was a prolific author, speaker, and was seen as a model for working across denominational lines in movements of prayer. He was also a man struggling with temptation, pride, and some very secret sins.

Haggard was caught in a web of lies. And almost immediately the group of believers that had walked with Haggard throughout his nearly 30 years of ministry abandoned him. He had become a pariah; like many Christian leaders before him. The sting that a congregation feels when their pastor lets them down is very real. It is a normal thing for Christians to have difficulty trusting someone who has lied to them so much in the past. There has to be a time of proving yourself before a congregation or even close friends will trust you again. There will be some who never have you trust again. It’s all a part of the consequences of sin.

To be fair, there were those who loved and ministered to Haggard in the days and years after his public fall. There were some in his close circle who felt that he too quickly moved through the “process of reconciliation.” There were some who thought that Haggard too quickly wanted to be behind the pulpit again. All of these are tough issues to wrestle with. I imagine that each case is going to be different. Many churches teach that a pastor who has fallen the way that Haggard fell should never pastor a church again; that he has disqualified himself from pastoral ministry. John MacArthur wrote a good piece on this here.

That said, I found myself genuinely moved by this article from Michael Cheshire, a pastor from Colorado, and a guest writer for Leadership Journal. Cheshire, like so many of us, wrote Haggard off. His perspective began to change while having lunch with an Atheist friend that he had been trying to reach for Christ. Here is part of the story.

A while back I was having a business lunch at a sports bar in the Denver area with a close atheist friend. He’s a great guy and a very deep thinker. During lunch, he pointed at the large TV screen on the wall. It was set to a channel recapping Ted’s fall. He pointed his finger at the HD and said, “That is the reason I will not become a Christian. Many of the things you say make sense, Mike, but that’s what keeps me away.”

It was well after the story had died down, so I had to study the screen to see what my friend was talking about. I assumed he was referring to Ted’s hypocrisy. “Hey man, not all of us do things like that,” I responded. He laughed and said, “Michael, you just proved my point. See, that guy said sorry a long time ago. Even his wife and kids stayed and forgave him, but all you Christians still seem to hate him. You guys can’t forgive him and let him back into your good graces. Every time you talk to me about God, you explain that he will take me as I am. You say he forgives all my failures and will restore my hope, and as long as I stay outside the church, you say God wants to forgive me. But that guy failed while he was one of you, and most of you are still vicious to him.” Then he uttered words that left me reeling: “You Christians eat your own. Always have. Always will.”

For the rest of Cheshire’s story click here.

And, then I’d love to hear how you think we should respond to so-called “Christian pariahs.”

Good Things Come in Small Packages

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A Radical Idea: Unleashing the People of God for the Purpose of God (10-Pack)
A Radical Idea: Unleashing the People of God for the Purpose of God – Kindle Edition

 There is an old axiom that states, Good things come in small packages. I haven’t always believed it. I certainly haven’t believed it when it comes to booklets. When I received a package that contained ten review copies of David Platt’s booklet A Radical Idea I was initially disappointed. I’m not sure that I have ever read a tiny booklet and been overly impressed. So, to say that I was surprised to find myself delighted, challenged and convicted in just 52 short pages is a bit of an understatement.
As he has done in his books Radical and Radical Together, Platt challenges readers to move beyond the complacency and consumerism of the American church and into true discipleship. In his opening pages Platt writes, “God-exalting men and women do not have the time to waste their lives pursuing a Christian spin on the American dream.” He then begins to unpack his vision of what the church could look like if together we pursued radical obedience to Christ’s mission to make disciples; which he repeatedly calls “impacting the world with the Spirit of God for the glory of God.”Platt, who pastors a mega-church in a multi-million dollar facility, challenges American Christians to rethink church. Increasingly uncomfortable with the massive amounts of dollars that western churches throw into buildings and ministry, Platt challenges us to think about how we are unleashing people for ministry that happens apart from the building. Platt has asked his church leaders to ask themselves how they would do church if they didn’t have the luxury of a building. It is clear that much of Platt’s thinking on church has been developed by his trips to parts of the world where being a follower of Jesus is illegal.He writes on page eleven that, “the goal of the church is never for one person to be equipped and empowered to lead as many people as possible to Christ. The goal is always for all God’s people to be equipped and empowered to lead as many people as possible to Christ.” He then discusses how Jesus used eleven men, who would have been considered the “wrong people” by many in the modern church, to transform the world for Christ.I like to keep a journal when I read books. One of the phrases that I wrote down while reading this book is, “Building the right church, then, is dependent on using all the wrong people” (page 12).Modern churches in other parts of the world and certainly the early church have not been built around great communicators, fantastic programs, state of the art facilities and worship. These churches have grown because of a desire for the people of God to gather together no matter the cost, for the glory of God. Platt asks his readers to consider, “What if the church itself – the people of God gathered in one place – is intended to be the attraction, regardless of who is teaching or singing that day? This is enough for our brothers and sisters around the world. But is it enough for us?” (page 18).Platt spends the remainder of the book detailing the need for churches to “make disciples who will make disciples who will make disciples, and together multiply the Gospel to all peoples” (see page 47).In the church that I pastor we’ve encouraged each of our members to follow the example of Jesus when it comes to discipleship. Jesus had a core group of three men that He discipled in a greater way than anyone else. He spend three years building into the twelve disciples. He had a group of 70 that he poured into at a lesser level. And, He had the multitudes who he poured into at an even lesser level. Platt’s book challenges us to do a similar thing. He encourages each member of the church to be involved in a discipleship journey with those whom God has brought into their life.

I will be giving A Radical Idea to all of the small group leaders, church staff and elders at our church. It’s nice to have a booklet that can easily be read in 30 minutes or less to give to the core leaders of our congregation. A Radical Idea is a great companion to a discipleship program that seeks to “unleash the people of God for the purpose of God.” (Platt’s terminology, not mine — but I sure like it!) I highly recommend this resource.

To read an excerpt of A Radical Idea, follow this link and click the excerpt tab.

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

Easter is Coming

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Easter Sunday has always been a special day for me. It was on Easter Sunday in 1974 that I asked Jesus to be my Savior and Lord. I had no idea just how significant that decision would be as a four-year-old boy, but that day
would forever change my life. It was on Easter Sunday that God’s grace reached out to me and saved me from what could have been. It was on Easter Sunday that God’s grace reached out and saved me from what I am.I had no idea as a four-year-old that God would eventually call me into ministry. There are days when I wonder if God knew what He was doing calling me. But that’s the thing about God. He works in surprising ways to ultimately accomplish His glory.Easter Sunday, 1974 is the most significant day of my life. But, it’s not the most important Easter. That happened on the first Easter Sunday. It was on that day that Christ changed the course of human history. It was on Easter
Sunday that He paved the way for mankind to be reconciled to God. It was on that day that ultimate victory was won. We’re about 2,000 years removed from the first Easter. It seems like the further we get away from the date, the less impact it has on us. Today in America, the vast majority of people are more excited about the release of the newest iPad, the Hunger Games movie premier, the signing of Peyton Manning, a presidential election year, and a host of other things than we are about the life-changing truth that Jesus is alive.I was traveling across the country last week, visiting colleges with my son, Chris and then on a speaking trip to New York with my sister. So, I’m catching up this week. I’ve been catching up on 400+ e-mails. I’ve been catching up on some Bible reading that I got behind on. I’ve been catching up on tax work. And, I’ve been catching up on my preaching schedule. Easter is 2 1/2 weeks away. As I prepared today, I watched a number of videos from the Skit Guys’ website (If you have never been to their website, check it out at here.) So many of their videos spoke to me today, but two of them, in particular, hit me to the core. If you have some time between now and Easter, watch these videos and celebrate the fact that Jesus is alive and He is pursuing you! That’s worth getting excited about!

From Small Groups to Missional Communities

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Woodbury Community Church has set an aggressive goal this year to see 75% of the people who attend our weekend services involved in small groups by the end of this year. Our eventual goal is that 125% of our congregation’s weekend attendance average would be involved in small groups. Why? Because we believe that nothing changes a person more than being a disciple of Jesus Christ, and that disciples are best nurtured in the context of a small group. Small groups allow us to strip away false pretense. Healthy small groups mean that we are known by others. It means that we have a place to be real about our failures and people with whom to celebrate our victories. Life is hard. It was never meant to be lived alone.

My Dad sent me an e-mail last night. The e-mail is an interview with Rick Warren, the pastor of Saddleback Church in California. In the interview Rick says, “Life is a series of problems: Either you are in one now, you’re just coming out of one, or you’re getting ready to go into another one. The reason for this is that God is more interested in your character than your comfortGod is more interested in making your life holy than He is in making your life happy. We can be reasonably happy here on earth, but that’s not the goal of life. The goal is to grow in character, in Christ likeness.”

This year, our church has been studying The Sermon on the Mount. In His revolutionary sermon, Jesus gave his listeners the secret to a life that was blessed by God. Blessing doesn’t always mean happiness this side of heaven. Sometimes blessing means that we get on God’s anvil, and He chisels away the things in our life that need to be formed into something new. The process may hurt, but the end result brings blessing.

Small groups help us through the process. They also help move us to action; away from complacent Christianity and into the spiritual battle. This 4 1/2 minute video by Matt Carter, the pastor of The Austin Stone Community Church in Austin, Texas talks about being a people who live in missional community. It’s a video that has encouraged me today, and I hope it will encourage you.

Make Much of Jesus

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Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream
When I accepted the call to serve at my first church, my Grandfather, who had been a pastor for many years looked at me and said, “Brian, make much of Jesus. In your ministry of the Word, in your life, in your home, in your church . . . make much of Jesus!”I loved my Grandpa, and to this day, his advice was the best that I have ever been given as it relates to the life of a Christian. David Platt, in his book Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream writes, “While the goal of the American dream is to make much of us, the goal of the gospel is to make much of God.”Beginning this Sunday, Woodbury Community Church will take a journey to the heart of what it means to live as citizens in the Kingdom of God. The Sermon on the Mount, found in Matthew 5-7 is the most famous sermon that Jesus ever preached. Thousands of people gathered to hear the Rabbi teach about a new way of living. Jesus taught like no one else ever had. His sermon would shake the contemporary understanding of what it meant to live as a child of God. If you pay serious attention to Jesus’ message, it will shake us to the core as well. I wrestled with how I would begin the 2011 sermon year. There were about ten themes that I kept studying, but I couldn’t escape Jesus’ sermon. The words of Jesus are as revolutionary today as they were when he preached them two thousand years ago. We are going in depth, spending 33 weeks to unpack Jesus’ words in Matthew 5-7. Take some time between now and Sunday to read through Jesus’ sermon, and come ready to learn how we can best live as citizens in the Kingdom of God. If you would like some additional resources to study while we go through Jesus’ sermon, check out these three books, which will be my primary study tools outside of the Bible.


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The Sermon on the Mount: The Message of the Kingdom (Preaching the Word)

1)    Kent Hughes book, The Sermon on the Mount: The Message of the Kingdom, is part of the Preaching the Word Commentary set published by Crossway Books. The Preaching the Word Commentaries are among my favorite, because they are simply the sermons that the authors’ preached in the churches that they serve. This book is from a series of sermons that Hughes taught at The College Church in Wheaton, Illinois. I used this book as a template for the way that I would divide up the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount. 

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The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Bible Speaks Today)

2)    John Stott’s book, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, is a classic exposition of Jesus’ teaching. Stott is a brilliant Bible teacher and gives so many unique insights into Jesus’ words. 

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Studies in the Sermon on the Mount

3)    D. Martyn Lloyd Jones’ book, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, was mentioned in almost every commentary on The Sermon on the Mount that I read. It is a spiritual classic, written by the longtime minister of Westminster Chapel in London. All three of these books make much of Jesus, and I hope that our series will as well! Looking forward to God doing some great things in the weeks ahead!