So I got together with a friend for overpriced coffee–fortunately I didn’t have to pay because it was actually a business meeting. We chatted about different things and when our time was done I decided to stay longer and do some writing (I’d scored a big cushy leather chair next to all of the windows.) Despite my best efforts to focus, I couldn’t help but overhear the conversation taking place at the table next to me. Sitting to my left were two guys all city slickered up in their Armani-esque clothing and freshly gelled drenched locks. The conversation went something like this:
Man 1 (Mr. Armani): Yeah, I’m the youngest pastor on staff (said with a not-so-subtle air about him.)
Man 2 (Mr. Soaking It All In): That’s interesting. What’s your role?
Man 1: We feel it’s best I don’t have a title. Basically, I hang with people at apartments and play basketball–I definitely don’t shove Jesus down their throats. And then I lead a group on Sunday. We’re ______ Church, in _______. It’s the really large one–you can’t miss it.
Self: Stop listening to this and quit judging!!! Now, type in the website and see if it’s what you’re thinking. But after that, pack your stuff up and go so you stop being little miss nosey.
I’m going to flat-out admit I feel somewhat bad about immediately jumping to conclusions as to the type of church/denomination this person must be affiliated with. As much as I wanted to tune him out, I was 100% unsuccessful and I need to share my own faults in this scenario so as to let you know I do recognize the plank in my own eye at times. There was/is nothing Christ-like about making assumptions and I half-way debated whether or not to write this post. Then I realized that blogging will always pose interesting questions as to what is appropriate to share and what should remain silent. For instance, there are plenty of things that take place in my personal life I could openly discuss, but for the sake of maintaining some privacy, I try and keep certain boundary lines drawn. I’m more than willing, however, to talk about any number of subjects and for the most part, people I mention in posts are those who willingly put themselves out in front of the world. They’ve made the choice to insert themselves into topics of debate and have opened the can of worms on their own. Likewise, I choose to do that every time I take to post a piece of information on a public forum like this blog.
Now, as for the coffee shop guys and the topic at hand, it’s a bit of a cloudy area because I don’t want to talk about them, but I do want to talk about how their interaction brought about my latest rambling. This has little to do with them specifically and is more about what people should notice when looking into churches/”pastors”. And, since many in the evangelical world spend a great deal of time condemning a certain long-standing denomination which they broke away from at the Reformation (and which I happened to grow up in and hold dear), I get really fed up. This should, and will be another topic for another post, but the bottom line is this: Little to no time is spent addressing some of the biggest places responsible for heresy all over this country–many in my own metromess of a backyard.
I could list off a number of things the men discussed and the website said which were unbiblical, but since this article is already far too long, I’m summing up the coffee shop talk into this one bit of advice for all new believers and non-believers: If a church does not have their doctrinal statement, core values and description of the pastor’s education readily available and easily accessible on their website, then you should find yourself questioning why. If a church or pastor is not willing to list front and center who they are and exactly what they believe about Scripture, then they’ve obviously chosen to hide that for some reason. Transparency is a BIG clue as to where the doctrinal beliefs may fall and is pivotal in making certain your beliefs line up with theirs.
I’ve found in my quest of searching certain types of churches/pastors/denominations a common theme among those who aren’t committed to sound hermeneutics and Biblical exegesis–that common theme is the lack of a doctrinal statement, core values and 9 times out 10, no formal education/training of the pastor at a seminary (many don’t even have an undergraduate degree.) Don’t jump up and bite me if this gets under your skin. I fully understand and adamantly agree that you don’t need to attend seminary to understand your Bible. BUT, my thoughts on pastoring a church are a bit like this: Would you go to a pastry chef for heart surgery? Of course not! So why would you learn under someone who hasn’t taken the time to advance his own understanding of languages and theology in order to assure he is accurately studying, interpreting and applying the Word of God? After all, people typically throw themselves head first into developing their education in the areas they want to be skilled in. We do all we can to learn from respected institutions and sharpen our knowledge in order to avoid pitfalls and be trusted in our chosen field(s). This is my blog and obviously that means it’s simply my personal opinion, but if someone is led and called to be a pastor or in vocational ministry, then they should be willing and eager to study, study, study and learn, learn, learn about the major issues impacting the development of their doctrinal beliefs and history of other teachings. If the teacher hasn’t been taught, then how equipped of a teacher can he be?
The best thing about the Bible is it’s open and available to everyone. God has given us His Word as the final and authoritative voice on all things. For those items you think He hasn’t spoken directly about, He’s given you common sense! If someone has a “further revelation” or is looking to sources outside and in contradiction to what a right rendering of Scripture teaches, then they are not the source you should look to or grow under in your own Biblical hermeneutics and theology. And, just to make certain I’ve covered all the bases: it’s not up to a teacher to make certain the student is learning. Each person (that means you and I) will give an account and must be responsible for his/her own growth/maturity/education. I believe those who claim the name of Christ should be growing in Him and that has to involve pressing into the Bible. The simple fact of the matter is “too many people sit under the Word of God without spending any time in it”.
If you’re a new believer or someone who’s not certain you’ve been studying, interpreting and applying the Bible properly, then my advice is to get a solid and thorough study Bible like the ESV Study Bible and arm yourself with these very useful books: Methodical Bible Study by Robert Traina and Living by the Book by one of my former professors, Howard Hendricks and William Hendricks. I’m recommending these books specifically because they were my very first pieces of required reading in seminary and I truly believe they are crucial aides in shaping and sharpening every student. Don’t get swept up by things that sound good and feel good when that may not be in line with what God says. One ministry puts it this way: There are many ways we can study the Bible effectively…Many Christians feel all they have to do for Bible lessons is sit in a pew, turn on the television or radio, or naturally receive their knowledge for being a Christian; but, this is not how to transform our lives. We must read and get into the Word of God ourselves through prayer, hard work, discipline, concentration, application, and even more prayer!
As always, thank you for taking a moment to read my thoughts. I want to encourage you that you’re not alone in your thoughts and frustrations–we all have them and the only problem is when we keep them to ourselves and allow them to affect our attitudes and maturity. We’re all on a journey discovering new things day by day, so take this moment and this day and live it to the fullest to be who God intended you to be. And above all, put Him first in all things and continue building and growing in that relationship.