country-club-jesus

“If your church hasn’t won anyone to Jesus in the last year, it’s not a church, it’s a country club.” A friend recently made that statement. I’d go a step further: if a church isn’t endeavoring to ‘win’ people it isn’t even a good country club. Too many churches have become shrines of personal achievement where the members with the most influence get the biggest perks. When trophies and tributes become the primary décor, the place feels more like the Moose Lodge than the church (no offense Moosers).

This is a difficult conversation for some pastors. They take it personal. They carry the responsibility for church growth as if it’s their burden alone. I’d like to take a moment to exonerate many of my pastor friends from this way of thinking. I know too many faithful pastors who struggle through seasons of drought because they’ve inherited a mess. The ground they’re working with hasn’t been plowed in years. Tilling the soil feels more like digging through concrete.

Pastor, I’m speaking to you directly. If you’ve inherited a country club, it isn’t your fault. Be free of that burden.

Nonetheless, we mustn’t forget, while there are seasons when being faithful is all we can do, there are also times when God calls us to be fruitful. It’s the difference between starting a fire and tending a fire. Keeping the flames from dying out is one thing, but stoking the flames is what causes a fire to burn bright. Evangelistic fires have always been part of the Wesleyan-Holiness movement. John Wesley said, “Set yourself on fire with passion and people will come for miles to watch you burn.”

Whereas most pastors I know are serving faithfully, I have known some to be idle, indifferent, and insincere to say the least. They not only lead a country club, they’ve become the president. Unfaithful pastors play along with church bosses, cater to nitpickers, laugh at crude jokes on the golf course, and pander to the members with the deepest pockets.

Someone recently shared a story of attending what he described as a “fancy church” while visiting Washington, DC. The front row of the sanctuary had chairs that looked like they were reserved for royalty. He explained that they were actually for the top tithers. The strangest part of his experience was the white gloves the ushers wore while seating people. The gloves were supposedly used to make guests feel special. However, he noticed the ushers did a good job keeping the visitors away from the majestic thrones up front.

I literally get sick thinking about this scenario: the privileged getting special honor in the name of Jesus. My initial reaction would be to flip the chairs over, jump up and down on them, douse them in lighter fluid, and invite the neighborhood over for S’mores.

Thom Rainer says, “God did not give us the local church to become country clubs where membership means we have privileges and perks. He placed us in churches to serve, to care for others, to pray for leaders, to learn, to teach, to give and, in some cases, to die for the sake of the gospel. The time to get this right is now.”

Often when we think of “winning people” we equate it to growth. And while I believe strongly in church growth, I also recognize that this happens in various ways. The real goal is changed lives. Evangelistic efforts often lead people to make a commitment to Christ, yet never attend the church that made the investment, and that’s okay. If a church is serving for a payoff, then it’s serving for the wrong reasons anyway.

Sometimes it’s the people in the pews that we need to win to Jesus. Again, pastors usually aren’t the ones to blame for the country club attitude. It’s the hard-hearted folks who’ve been drenched in the modern ethos of consumerism. They rest on their laurels and complain about their bellies not being full. The “feed me” mentality is consumerism at it’s finest.

Too often pastors have to decide when to babysit and when to shove a piece of meat down someone’s throat. Sometimes loving the sheep means wrapping the crook of your staff around their neck and pulling them away from the edge of a cliff. They hate the feeling of being choked, but it’s better than the alternative. It’s the pastor’s job to speak prophetic truth that challenges people to a life of repentance. Regardless of how many “amens” they shout from the back row, repentance is not something people are naturally inclined to.

Pastors, you should not take the opening statement personally unless you’re a card-carrying member of the country club. The statement pertains to churches where visitors actually have to worry about upsetting someone because they accidentally sit in the wrong seat. Whether we want to admit it or not, these things really do happen.

Many of us have pastored country club churches, including me. In fact, the country club mentality has the potential to set in anywhere. When it’s recognized, we must become passionate about leading people out of it. This is never easy; ministering in a self-absorbed society is challenging. However, it doesn’t mean that we have to settle with not doing anything to ‘win people.’

We can develop creative ways to reach beyond the four walls of the local assembly. Example: I’ve helped organize drama ministries at several churches over the years. At our annual events we often witnessed several hundred people profess faith in Christ. One year in Raleigh we brought in a life size replica of the Tabernacle for a two-week period. During that time more than 300 people committed their lives to Jesus.

I’ve prayed with more people than I can count at Easter Extravaganzas, fall festivals, homeless shelters, youth events, VBSs, and community centers. I still have connections with many of these people. Someone approached me in Wal-Mart when I was visiting my hometown a few years ago and said, “I’ll never forget that time… It changed my life.”

When you start leading your church to reach outside the walls, something amazing happens. Hearts begin to soften. People start seeing beyond themselves. They shed the member’s only jacket. Before you know it someone’s at the altar repenting. And that, my friends, is what you call a win for Jesus.


(Sources: Doug Wyatt, John Wesley, Thom Rainer, Rich Shockey, Scott Olson, Eric Frey)

holier-than-thou

“Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees…” (Mark 8:15). Jesus is harsh in confronting the Pharisees of his day pointing out that they polluted the Body. It is interesting to consider the role of fermentation in the making of bread. It starts small, but it contaminates the entire loaf. In fact, one of the definitions of the word ‘ferment’ is to incite or stir up trouble and disorder. Synonyms of the word include, uproar, confusion, and turmoil. That’s what leaven does: contaminates the whole.

A friend of mine recently tweeted, “You know what’s just as bad as holier-than-thou academic types? Holier-than-thou anti-intellectuals. The holier-than-thou part is the issue” (Brannon Hancock). I agree. His statement got me to thinking about the behavior of the holier-than-thou pharisaical types that distract, pollute, and weaken the mission of the church.

Interestingly, the Pharisees of Jesus’ day were highly educated, yet the Pharisees of the last century have been largely uneducated. Both groups are notoriously recognized as spiritual elitists. They epitomize a sanctimonious attitude. They want their opinions to be accepted by the masses and they work hard to discredit opposing voices. Undeniably, the holier-than-thou mindset raises its head among the educated and the non-educated alike.

Look close and you’ll notice that there is a new breed of Pharisees ‘leavening’ the church today. It’s not the theologically uneducated form of legalism that’s dominated church boardrooms for the past 50 years. In fact, this new breed seems to be a resurrection of the Pharisees of old: the educated elitists.

Before I go any further let me clarify a few things…

Categories related to how people understand and practice faith are not always neatly packaged. What I’m addressing here are voices existing on the far ends of the theological spectrum: rigid legalists and religious liberals. Both are detractors. It doesn’t take long to identify these extreme personalities in church committee meetings, Sunday School classrooms, social media groups, and hallway conversations.

Let me also say, academic training is essential for those preparing for ministry. There should be rigorous academic requirements for anyone preparing for ordination. I was enrolled in school for 15 consecutive years, earning four degrees along the way. In fact, since completing my doctoral studies I’ve felt a bit lost. ‘Studying to show oneself approved’ is a biblical mandate that I take seriously. Many Christian universities are going to great lengths to ensure balanced biblical teaching.

With those disclaimers, let’s move ahead.

A professor at a prominent seminary (non-Nazarene) recently said, “You can’t be an intellectual and be a conservative.” This person indicated that in the world of academia it’s becoming increasingly difficult to be theologically conservative and/or moderate. In other words, there is tremendous pressure to ‘lean left,’ otherwise one isn’t seen as thinking deeply and critically about important issues.

Often when we think of Pharisees and fundamentalists we think of legalistic uneducated troublemakers who reject anyone that doesn’t measure up to their spiritual standards, not intellectuals (remember my friend’s tweet). But what if the ‘spirit of pharisee’ was alive and well in the realm of academia? Does it surprise you to learn that rejection of those who don’t ‘lean left’ is commonplace in academic circles?

Let me be clear: the academy itself is not the problem. It’s the spirit of elitism infiltrating segments of the academy that’s the problem. It has a leavening effect. When being theologically liberal is equated with academic success a certain way of thinking begins to ferment the whole.

The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were not the uneducated fundamentalists we think of today. Just the opposite, they were highly educated. In fact, they were so knowledgeable that they took it upon themselves to reinterpret large portions of scripture. When you arrive at a place where you feel the need to deconstruct sound biblical doctrine in light of cultural shifts or personal interests that might be a sign that you’re on the road toward spiritual elitism.

Elitism has always been a sign of pharisaical behavior. It’s always been indicative of those who create controversy among the faithful with an attitude of superiority. Of course, we realize that Jesus caused unrest. However, he certainly didn’t challenge the authority of scripture, particularly in a way that would alter the call to a holy life. The unrest Jesus created wasn’t among the faithful; it was among those who were corrupting the body.

A tree is always known by its fruit. We can discern whether unrest is harmful by analyzing the fruit. Fundamentalism, regardless of what side of the spectrum it’s found, is driven by a belief that one is right. This is a good place to insert the Apostle Paul, “Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ” (Col. 2:8, NLT). Without a doubt, the unholy leavening of those who are faithful to the cause of Christ is the fruit spiritual elitism.

It’s in this new context that the ‘spirit of pharisee’ is being resurrected. Like Pharisees of old, this new breed of Pharisee is easily offended and quick to dismiss those without certain letters behind their name. They love to correct people they deem as not measuring up to their level of intellectual superiority. They deconstruct biblical orthodoxy, influence with alluring ideas, and intimidate with overpowering rhetoric.

Traditional fundamentalists have filled church pews for years. They’ve been described as legalistic, harsh, and judgmental, and rightfully so. However, don’t be fooled by the trendy new left push. Today’s fundamentalism is regularly found among those who seem to be the most educated and progressive. They enjoy force-feeding perspectives and diverting conversations away from those that hold a more centered biblical worldview.

Again, fundamentalism has always been found on the far ends of the theological continuum. It’s marked by rigidity and arrogance. When the pendulum swings, it never stops in the middle. Overcorrection leads to faulty perspectives. The centrist way is the way of Jesus: humble enough to learn yet brave enough to stand.

Historically, the Wesleyan-Holiness movement has been balanced in its approach to faith and practice. It’s a road less traveled: a lifestyle marked with love and compassion for people, yet also courage and resolution to speak truth. It’s a call to build bridges, not walls. The road we’re called to travel is an ancient path evident by holiness of heart and life. So, don’t get lured to the sidelines by the loud voices demanding your attention. Instead, be faithful to walk the via media.

It doesn’t matter what end of the theological spectrum we examine, we will always find holier-than-thou-pharisaical-fundamentalist types. Some will likely be offended to have the term ‘fundamentalist’ attached to their name. However, if their attitude reflects that of their legalistic predecessors, then it deserves the same description. This new breed of Pharisee is hardened toward others because they are confident that the bread of life needs a new additive: their leaven. Sorry to wound their highbrow ego, but God’s already provided all the ingredients we need.


(Sources: Janet Dean Blevins, Doug Hopkins, Jared Henry, Brannon Hancock)

water-level

The water level is rising. If you can’t swim you’d better grab a lifejacket. When the presence of the Holy Spirit starts overflowing even those not paying attention get wet. My hope is for the overflow to turn into a spiritual flood. We’re talking about the Spirit of the Living God. We should expect more that a glass of water spilling in the floor or a leaky pipe under the sink dripping just enough to fill a bucket. The presence of Jesus should do more than get our feet wet.

“I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams” (Joel 2:28). Peter preached this at Pentecost. He started with, “People of Judea give ear to my word…” He ended with “Be saved from this crooked generation.” Following his sermon 3,000 were baptized and added to the faith that very day! Friends, that’s called an outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

It happened then, and it can happen now. I’m praying every single day for the church to get drenched with the overflowing presence of the Spirit of Christ. My hope is that the living water of the Living Savior will flow out of us and fill the streets of our communities with the power and presence of Jesus.

In Acts 2 we read about the inauguration of the Church. It started with revival. For many years I’ve been praying for authentic revival to pour into our churches and flow into the streets of our cities. Historically speaking, revival has a lingering effect. It gives people a renewed sense of purpose; it changes the landscape of entire communities. The Holy Spirit is likened to water in several places in scripture. Water wakes people up. That’s exactly what revival does: wakes people up.

My tribe, the Church of the Nazarene, was born out of a spirit of revival. In fact, it was a holiness revival. There was a strong emphasis on the doctrine of entire sanctification, or being filled with the Holy Spirit. A person who is filled with the Holy Spirit is so occupied with the love of God that it seeps into every aspect of their life. Their thoughts, motives, behaviors, and interactions become rooted in a radical, newfound, abundant sense of love.

Love is the chief expression of God and it becomes the central focus of anyone who is filled with the Holy Spirit. In keeping with the water metaphor we could say that sanctification is God’s love flowing like a river through the cisterns of our lives. Sanctification is not, nor has it ever been, a doctrine of sinless perfection. It’s the doctrine of love made perfect. When you’re justified you realize God has done something for you (i.e. saved you). When your sanctified you realize God is doing something in you (i.e. filling you). As God fills you it changes everything about who you are.

It seems the doctrine of sanctification has grown stagnant. It’s as if some leaders have put it in a jar and placed it on a shelf. We’ve constructed a dam that has congested the flow of this classic tenet of the faith. I don’t believe we’ve intentionally shut off the valve. I think it’s been a natural response to the poor theology that became associated with this doctrine during the 20th Century rise of fundamentalism.

Fundamentalism is a rigid form of spirituality that focuses largely on rules and regulations. It contaminated the water. Instead of filtering it we’ve simply stopped serving it. Fundamentalism emphasizes the “thou shalt nots” instead of the “thou shalts.” God empowers us to do. The emphasis on what not to do is a result of fundamentalism. It has done great harm to the holiness movement.

It’s time to reclaim entire sanctification: to set it back at the center of the table. Generic spirituality won’t bring revival. It’s time to tap into the fountain of living water. Entire sanctification is the doctrine that helps us focus on what we should be doing, not what we shouldn’t be doing… and what we should be doing is leading people toward the life-transforming power that only comes through the infilling of the Holy Spirit.

Sanctification doesn’t just influence the individual; it also bears witness to society. It is a social doctrine. It impacts one’s life in such a way that she or he can’t help but take the power and presence of Jesus to everyone they meet. It’s not about shoving religion down peoples’ throats, but loving people to such a degree that they can’t ignore the goodness of God being made known through the presence of a real person. That’s what the spring of living water looks like.

The levee is bursting; people are getting wet. People are learning to swim in a river that’s flowing like it hasn’t in a very long time. They’re being awakened to the mission of Jesus. Those who’ve become immersed in this new stream can’t get enough; those who haven’t are getting wet anyway. I’m absolutely amazed, renewed, and invigorated. Everyday feels like my mom pouring water on my head to get me out of bed when I was a teenager (yes, she really did that).

Everywhere I go I talk to pastors who are swimming in new streams. I literally get reports every week of people being saved, sanctified, healed, delivered, called to ministry, called to start a church, and the list goes on. What I’m talking about isn’t a 1960s rule-based, emotion-driven, religious form of fundamentalism. No… it’s just people waking up.

I want to remind you that you’re a vessel. If you’re a follower of Jesus, contained within you is the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit fills you up he begins to spill over into the lives of your family, friends, church, and community. That’s what floodwater does: it gets everything wet. It messes up the landscape. It shifts the soil. It washes away the debris. It wrecks everything. It forces us to start fresh.

Jesus says, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me… streams of living water will flow from within him” (John 7:37-38). The water level is rising. You’re like a reservoir. I’m praying that the floodwaters seep through the crevices of your life and overflow the entire landscape. It’s happened many times before. It can happen again. Come, Lord Jesus!