Friday, August 31, 2007

Music Matters: My Two Churches

I mentioned in my last blog that I am the pastor of two (or more) very distinct churches that meet together in the same place. That is not an accusation, it is an observation. In reality, most churches over about 100 people have churches within the church – smaller fellowship groups. It is impossible to have a close bond with everyone in a church of any size. But at Southern Hills, the distinction is more pronounced, more drastic. They work together pretty well, most of the time, sharing a building, a budget, a church staff and a lot of good Christian fellowship. But they are two distinct bodies with distinct viewpoints.

This was brought into focus for me several months ago after an incident in our second service. A young man visited our church for the first time. He sat several pews behind me, wearing a baseball cap. One of our ushers, a strict traditionalist, came over to him and told him that he would have to remove the hat or leave the church. Of course, he left the church.

I saw none of this; it all took place behind me. When I heard about it several days later, I was sick. My sermon that day had emphasized the gospel of Jesus Christ very clearly. Here was a young man who came to church for the first time. We don’t know if he was saved or lost. I just knew he was not coming back to our church again. We lost a chance to minister to him because he was wearing a hat.

Then, I took this to a leadership group in our church to try to figure out what we could do to make sure it never happened again. I was shocked that several of the men in the group sympathized with the usher. The thought of a young man wearing a hat in church was horrifying to them. To them, it was better that he not be allowed to hear the gospel than that he hear the gospel while wearing a hat.

That is when I realized that I had left Kansas and landed in Oz; I now pastored a “church-within-a-church” that had a value system very different from my own.

My Traditional Church

That church is the traditional church at Southern Hills. It is the church that I grew up in, the style I experienced all of my life. It is the Baptist church of the 1950’s and early 60’s, my father’s Baptist church.

There are several distinctives of the traditional church. Their core belief is that the church of the 1950’s and 60’s is the closest representation of the early church that we have known. The standard for what is right and good in a church is how things were done back then. In the 50’s, the people were more righteous, the preaching was more biblical, the music was more worshipful, and the graded Sunday School was life-altering. Everything was better in the past.

Because they believe this, they view all the changes in the contemporary church as negative. In one of the Narnia books, a character says, “I have seen progress in an egg. We call it ‘going bad.’” To the traditionalist, change is always for the worse and anything new has been watered-down, cheapened or ruined.

So, the traditionalist believes that the best way we can honor God is to keep things as they used to be. We must only sing the songs the songs that we have always sung. We must only do the things we have always done. We must preserve the church of our youth, the church of yesterday.

What are those things that distinguish a traditionalist? First and foremost, they prefer the traditional worship style of the 1950’s. That means that the church sings hymns out of the hymnal, accompanied by a piano and organ, with a guy in a suit waving his arms to the beat. I don’t think it is required to sing the “first, second and last” verse of every hymn, but it is a step in the right direction.

The traditionalist believes that formal dress is necessary to show respect in worship. They expect pastors to wear a suit and tie. Others should dress nicely, respectfully when they enter the “house of God.” A young man wearing a hat in church is considered an affront against the holiness of God.

If you sense a note of levity in my tone, it is because I do not understand some of the things the strict traditionalists are passionate about. But I know that they believe that the preservation of the church of the past is necessary for the preservation of the kingdom.

On a higher note, the traditionalists I know love biblical, doctrinal, passionate expository preaching the Word of God. They are not likely to complain about longer sermons as long as they teach the things of the Word of God. They are grounded in the Word and know why they believe what they believe. They want to do things the biblical way, even if sometimes they confuse the biblical way with the way things were done 50 years ago.

Traditionalists are usually loyal and faithful. Look at the hardest working, most faithful, most diligent servants in your church. Chances are good that they are traditionalists.

These folks have not drifted with the tide of moral decay in our land and so they are strong in their moral stands on issues of the day. They do not compromise the truths of God to get along with the ways of the world. They are willing to stand outside the mainstream to stay faithful to what they believe the Word teaches. They can lean toward the rigid and legalistic on issues, but they are always willing to take a stand.

There are two types of traditionalists in my church. First, there is the strict traditionalist. He believes that any change to the church of yesterday is an abomination to God. We please God by singing the older songs, running our churches the older way, preaching the older style (from the King James Version), dressing in older fashions and refusing to change with the culture. He tends to view all change as compromise with the world. To him, contemporary worship is not worship at all; it is entertainment that dishonors God and disrupts worship. He talks wistfully of the way things used to be and believes that the church can only go forward by going back to the way we did things in the good ol’ days.

The moderate traditionalist prefers older music and more conservative methods, but does not imbue them with moral or spiritual superiority. He likes hymns, but he does not believe that new music is an abomination. He dresses nice for church, but doesn’t care what someone else wears.

At Southern Hills, we have a lot of moderate traditionalists. They prefer the traditional church style and like our second service, but do not condemn those who like a contemporary style. We have a small group of strict traditionalists who are very passionate about resisting change in the church.

My Contemporary Church

At Southern Hills, our contemporary service is almost half-again as big as our traditional service. We are mildly contemporary in comparison to most contemporary services. But we are led by a keyboard player and praise team, accompanied by drums and guitars. We sing new hymns and choruses. The words are up on the screen and no one cracks a hymnal. We are not a “shorts and sandals” type of church, but you are far more likely to see blue jeans and t-shirts than a tie or coat in our contemporary worship. Half the people, it seems, bring a water bottle with them into the sanctuary. I am surprised, from the length of my sermons, that they do not bring popcorn.

As with the traditionalists, there are several distinctives that mark those who prefer contemporary style in worship.

First, they believe that the many of the rules and traditions of the church of the 1950’s were not based on the Bible, but on legalistic, even pharisaical traditions. The Bible doesn’t tell us to wear tie and coat, or that hats are wrong. The Bible doesn’t tell us that all music has to be old music, or that drums and guitars are wrong.

American culture has changed dramatically since the 50’s, and if the church is to continue to be relevant, we must change as well. Newer music speaks to the hearts of modern people better than organ music. Using newer styles and methods will provide a better worship experience for 21st Century Christians and help attract people to the church.

Contemporary worship is often casual as well. A man in my church told me of visiting a church where the preacher wore blue jeans with holes in them, sandals and a t-shirt to preach. If I can come to Jesus, “Just as I am” why can I not come to church as I am? They see the dress code of the traditionalist church as another extra-biblical legalistic rule. God is more concerned with the purity of our hearts than the clothing we wear.

The contemporary church can be dismissive of traditionalists and their traditions, often throwing the good out with the bad. They see the emphasis on externals by the traditionalist as indication of an empty heart, devoid of passion; a pharisaical outlook.

Those who support contemporary worship believe that rigidity of the traditionalists will drive people from the church. If we want to grow, we must focus on what is biblical, not what is traditional, they would say.

As with the traditional church, there is a range of beliefs in this group. Some are passionately committed to newer styles of worship and want nothing to do with the old hymns. For others, it is more of a mild preference.

Three Truths

As I look at these two sub-churches within my congregation, I am convinced of three things. First, both of these groups believe the Bible and want to proclaim the gospel. This is not a matter of one group loving Jesus and the other not. Both of these groups are filled with blood-bought, Bible-loving, gospel-preaching, Jesus-loving folks.

Second, both of these groups believe that their preference of worship style is best for honoring God and promoting the work of the church. It is not that one group wants the church to grow and the other does not. They are both committed to the advancement of the kingdom through the growth of the church.

That leads me to my third point. These two groups are very difficult to bring together. I sat in the living room of a man who has asked to have his name removed from our membership roles. He does not want to be part of a church that will hold a contemporary worship service. It is not enough that we have a traditional service. We must have no other kind.

Many churches have tried a blended service, and that is probably the best compromise most can reach. However, these services tend to leave everyone a little dissatisfied. The strong traditionalist doesn’t want a blended service. He wants hymns and nothing else. Those who want contemporary worship usually find traditional worship to be unfulfilling and inferior.

It is a daunting task to consider bringing these two churches together into one church. The ultimate question is whether it is worth it to even try.

Next time, we will look at Ephesians 5:19 and begin a study of what the Bible says about music.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Music Matters: An Important Question

A Question My Church Must Answer

Let me tell you a little bit about my church, Southern Hills Baptist Church in Sioux City, Iowa; then maybe you will understand the issues I have been dealing with that are at the root of this blog and those that will follow for the next couple of weeks. I am going to be dealing with one of the most divisive issues in the church in the last 20 years, one that still rages in many Christian circles. I am dealing with it every week at Southern Hills.

Southern Hills is a church that has nearly 300 in attendance on a normal weekend. That’s pretty small in most parts of the country, but among Iowa Southern Baptists, it makes us a mega-church. At our 8:30 AM service, we have a band and Praise team that leads us in contemporary worship. It is not “rock and roll” church by a long shot, but we sing newer songs in a more modern style. That service usually has around 150 to 175 people. Our 11:00 AM service is very traditional. We have a pianist and a organist and a man in a suit waving his arms – a traditional Southern Baptist worship style. This service usually has between 100 and 125 in attendance.

This two-services/two-styles program has been going on for a long time. When they started two services, they both had a blended style. Then, gradually, the early service went contemporary and the later service became more traditional.

The present reality is that I am not the pastor of a church, but of two churches (perhaps 3 or 4) that meet in the same place. When you have two services with two styles, you tend to develop into two churches. These two churches get along pretty well most of the time, but it is clear that they have different outlooks and viewpoints on many issues.

Now, we are considering the future of the church and our building needs. On our current acreage, using SBC “rules-of-thumb” (which are usually pretty accurate) we figure that the maximum church we can have on this site is about 750 to 800 in average attendance. So, we have been designing a site plan that has a sanctuary that can fit 800 people and provide education space for about 600. Then, we worked backwards to develop a plan to get us from where we are to where we need to be.

A Little Imagination

So, go on a journey with me – a journey of imagination. It is ten years (or twelve or fifteen) down the road and Southern Hills is about to move into its final building. We have a beautiful new sanctuary that seats (sleeps?) 800. It is our first service and everyone is excited as we enter the modern, spacious, technologically advanced and breathtakingly beautiful building (since this is my imagination, we are debt-free as well!). Overwhelmed by awe at what God has done in providing for us, we find our places for worship. And then the music starts and my daydream becomes a nightmare.

We are all together in one service – what kind of music will we sing? Will we please the traditionalists among us and sing only the old standard hymns from crisp new hymnals, accompanied by the piano and organ. Or will there be a praise band with drums and guitars with a praise team harmonizing modern music with an electronic keyboard? Or perhaps we will, by then, have followed many in the “rock-n-roll church” movement and an old codger like me will need earplugs. Maybe we will try to please everyone with a blended service that gives everyone a little of what they like and a lot of what they don’t.

Facts are facts. Right now, we have two services with two styles that attempt to serve everyone’s tastes. If we are all going to worship in one building at one time, we have to share one style. We cannot avoid this.

I believe there is an important question that my church must face as we plan and look toward the future. It is not an easy question, but it must be decided.

The Question

In the future, should Southern Hills Baptist Church try to be one church worshipping together, or should be a smorgasbord of churches that meet together in one place?

A smorgasbord is an older name for a buffet. I remember the first time I ate at a smorgasbord. I was a high school student on a youth group trip and we stopped for a meal at one. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. There was something for everyone. There were salads and vegetables, which I walked past to get to the meats and sweets and breads and delicacies galore. I ate till I was sick. The great thing about a smorgasbord is that each person can get whatever they want. I don’t have to like what you like. In the Miller home, you get your choice of eating what momma fixed or fasting. At a smorgasbord, you have lots of options.

So, should our church be like a family dinner where we serve one dish to everyone or like a smorgasbord where everyone can get what they want? It is not an easy question.

Our church can decide to be one church with one style and unite everyone together into one service. But, if we do that, we will have to pick a style and people will have to come together to compromise and sacrifice for unity. Or we can be a smorgasbord. One church in town has four Sunday morning services. The 8:00 AM service is traditional, then each of the following three services gets a little more contemporary. Traditional to blended to contemporary to rock-n-roll. Something for everyone.

The Blogs Ahead

I am going to blog about this subject for the foreseeable future. I preached on this for 5 or 6 weeks at Southern Hills and it is going to take me a while to put it on paper. Frankly, I have no idea if anyone is reading this blog anyway. But I want to try to answer the question of whether certain musical styles are more pleasing to God and whether we should try to give everyone what they want.

There will be four distinct sections to this blog series. After finishing the introduction in my next blog, I am going to begin exploring what the Bible says about music from Genesis to Revelation (in overview, of course). I believe there are two key themes that run throughout music in the Bible.

Then, we will examine “Music Matters” – biblical principles of music drawn from our study.

We will then deal with “Music Myths” – the issues I have been confronted with in my ministry that are based on false premises and lack biblical support.

Finally, when all that is done, I will deal with the original question – should a church like mine try to be one church with one style, or should we be a smorgasbord of churches that meet in the same place?

In the meantime, I hope any unfortunate readers will consider the issue for themselves and deal seriously with the scriptures.

According to studies, music is the driving force in churches today. People do not choose churches for preaching or doctrine or denomination, but for music. “I want contemporary worship.” “I want to sing hymns.” Music is what drives the church today (like it or not – and I don’t). It is also what drives the church to division. Many churches have experienced unrest, even splits, as they have changed their musical styles.

Our key verse is Ephesians 5:19, which describes someone who is filled with the Holy Spirit. Those experiencing the fullness of the Spirit will be “addressing one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with all your heart to the Lord.”

Music is a gift of God given to humanity to aid us in giving Him the glory he deserves. It is a shame that in many churches, the blessing has become a curse. Rather than uniting the people of God in His presence, music has divided us into schisms. It should not be.

As I told my people when I preached this, my goal is to offend everyone a little. I will not take sides with the traditionalists or against them. My purpose is to try to give a biblical perspective on music and ask you to bring every thought captive to Christ. We need to think biblically on this subject, not according to our desires or preferences.

Of course, the comment section is open for interaction.

Friday, August 17, 2007

"I Waited Patiently"

Have you ever felt like you were in a slimy pit and you just couldn’t get out? So many people today are discouraged, depressed, stressed and dejected. I have known that feeling several times in my life. Sometimes life just piles up on you. Sometimes someone you love or counted on lets you down. Sometimes you get that phone call that explodes your world into a million pieces. It may be your marriage, or your finances, or an illness, or a death in the family. But there you are, again, staring up from the bottom of a deep, black pit of slime. What do you do?

David wrote a psalm for people looking up from that pit. In Psalm 40, David tells us that he had fallen into a slimy pit. Perhaps it was when Saul was chasing him or when Absalom turned on him. Maybe it was when he was feeling the pain and guilt of his own failure with Bathsheba. The psalm does not identify the pit. David just tells us that he was up to his neck in it, in what he called the “pit of destruction.”

What I find interesting is what he did to get out of the bog. “I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry.” He waited. HE WAITED! Didn’t he know he was supposed to put feet to his prayers? Didn’t he know that God helps those who help themselves? He waited. He just waited.

Here’s the amazing part. He waited and God acted. God lifted him up, set his feet on a solid rock and put a new song in his heart. In a time of depression and discouragement, he waited on God and God did not let him down.

I am so impatient. The microwave is too slow heating my food. Stop lights seem to last minutes. I hate to stand in line.

And David tells me to “wait patiently” for God to act when I am in a pit of destruction? Absurd. When we hit the slimy pit, we want to change something. A new job. A new church. A new spouse. We want to escape from life, to get out of the pit. The temptation is to take action based on our emotions, our wisdom, our reason. We strike back at those who hurt us. We run away from our circumstances. We become angry and bitter.

Not King David. He tried something unique; counterintuitive to human nature. He called out to God and waited patiently for God to act. How long did he wait? Who knows? Noah waited 100 years after God promised a flood for the rains to start. Abraham waited 25 years for the promised child. Abraham waited until he was 80 to begin the work he was destined for. Faith is waiting patiently for God to do what he said he would do.

It is not inactive or lazy to wait on God. Waiting on God means we continue in obedience and service to him regardless of what life throws at us. Waiting just means that I do not try to fix everything, or balance the books, or make everything come out okay. I do what God wants and wait for him to make everything right.

Look at what God does when we call out to him for help. He lifts us up, sets our feet on solid rock, and gives us a song of joy in our hearts. That’s his job. Your job is to call out to him in your distress, and to wait patiently for his answer.

There is no question as to whether God will do his work. He will respond to the needs of his children, set us on a solid foundation and put his joy in our hearts. He will be faithful. The only question is whether you and I will call out to him, and wait patiently for his work.

Wait patiently, don’t get angry. Wait patiently, don’t lash out. Wait patiently, don’t despair. Wait patiently, don’t devise a fleshly scheme. Wait patiently on the Lord. He’s listening!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Fixing the Car

All week long, my car ran great. Here and there, across town and back, up hills and down; no problems. I turned the key, the engine fired and I was on my way. Then, suddenly, on Friday, a terrible thing happened. I was cruising along when it coughed a couple of times, sputtered, harrumphed, and then quit. Nothing. It would turn over, but not fire. I was stranded. Being the master mechanic that I am, I walked around the car and gave all four tires a firm kick. I opened the hood, jiggled a few wires, pulled and twisted stuff and burned my hand on something hot. But no matter what I did, the engine would not start.

I was at the point of despair when I noticed a large sign about a hundred yards ahead. It said “BMW” – Baptist Motor Works. Perfect, I thought. If anyone can help me, surely my Baptist Buddies can. I pushed the car over, and as I rolled it into the parking lot, a man in a loud sports coat, white shirt, and ugly tie came out, grabbed my hand, slapped my back, and welcomed me to his shop. He had me fill out a visitor’s card, popped the hood and took a look inside.

“Brother Miller,” he said. “Your car seems to be functioning below statistical standards.”

“Yes, sir,” I nodded. “I can’t argue with that.”

“I think I can help you. First, we will need to form a committee to study the statistics on this car. They will get the input of experts and others who own functioning cars of this model. We will get together, write a report, then formulate a program that will get your car’s statistics up. I will give you an 800 number for the experts in Nashville and Atlanta who can help you to figure out why your numbers have slipped.”

“Thank you, sir, but…”

“Please, call me Brother Billy Bob.”

“Well, Brother Billy Bob, I appreciate all that. But can you fix my car – this car?”

“You are in luck. I have a new curriculum that just came in last week – look, here’s the box right here. A shop down in Florida has had great success in getting their cars running using this program. If it worked for them, I am sure it will work for you.

“What is it?”

“I don’t have all the details, but it has a catchy slogan and some great graphics. There’s even a website with 10 pages of FAQ’s. Just what you need.”

I thanked him and scanned the street. I am no mechanic, but I knew that my car needed something a little more than a catchy slogan and new program. I didn’t need an expert in Florida to tell me how well his car runs, I needed someone in Sioux City to get my car running.
I pushed my car back out into the street and saw another shop, just a couple of doors down. It was called the “Church Growth Strategy Mechanics Shop.” Mechanics. That’s what I needed. Maybe they could fix my car. So, I pushed it over to their shop and was invited to wait in their lush, air-conditioned lobby. As I waited, I perused some of the books and magazines. I glanced through “Experiencing Cars,” flipped through “The Purpose-Driven Car” and scanned a pamphlet called, “How to Make Your Car More Driver-Friendly.”

Before I got a chance to digest any of the advice a mechanic came out, dressed in Khakis and a golf shirt, with a neatly trimmed goatee. After I explained my problem, he smiled and said, “I think I can help you, Mr. Miller. What you need to do is take a survey of your community and find out what people feel their automotive needs are. Find out what the most popular color of paint is, and what interior style and color people like the most. Once you know what the people around you like in a car, we can totally redesign your car to fit those tastes. Then we can begin a new advertising and marketing strategy that will make your car the envy of the whole community.”

“Will that make my car run better?”

He shook his head sadly. “Mr. Miller, you will never get the right answers as long as you are asking the wrong questions.”

I could tell I was getting nowhere with him. My car did not need a survey or a new marketing strategy. It needed to be fixed. I looked up and down the street one more time. I saw another place a block away. The sign said, “CP&W Repair Shop – We can make your old car new.” Perfect! I huffed and puffed and pushed my car up the small hill to the CP&W shop. Out came a man with long, curly hair, in blue jeans and sandals with a Switchfoot t-shirt.

“Can you help me?” I asked. “My car won’t run.”

He looked inside and nodded, then turned to face me. “Mr. Miller, I have spotted your problem. Look at your sound system. You have an old AM Radio with a cassette player. That thing will only play old-fashioned, out-of-date music. We, here at Contemporary Praise and Worship Repair Shop can fix you right up. We will replace your old clunker with the newest CD/DVD surround sound studio quality satellite music system. You will be able to get all the best stations with all the newest music.”

“Will it make my car run?”

“Run?” he responded. “Why would you want to run when you could sit in your car and enjoy the experience of your wonderful modern sound system. That’s all this car needs – contemporary music.”

I thanked him and headed back out. I may be a mechanical moron, but I know that whatever was wrong with my car cannot be fixed by a new program, new marketing strategies, an exterior paint job or a new sound system. None of that would bring my dead car to life.
I spied one more little shop, tucked back in an old brick building. The sign read “Superior Automotive Knowledge Repair Shop.” Maybe these folks knew what to do with my car. My back was aching from pushing it around town and I needed help. But, when I rolled the car into their parking lot, no one came out to help.

I poked my head in the door. Hearing some soft organ music in the background, I walked down a hallway and opened another door. There, huddled in a small circle, was a group of men in a very intense discussion.

“Excuse me,” I interrupted. “Is this a repair shop?”

With a look of faint annoyance, one man said, “Yes, it is.”

“Well, I have a car that won’t run, and I was wondering if you could take a look at it.”

He pursed his lips. “If you are interested and able, you may join our group as we study the true Doctrines of Cars. We are just now exploring the various aspects of Predesticarnation – you know, understanding free wheel and carlection. We are not like some of those silly groups out there that focus on methods and manuals and such things. We have found a superior knowledge of the inner workings of cars and it provides us with a sense of awe and humility, knowing that we know more about how cars work than anyone else.”

I was a little confused. “Do you actually fix cars?”

He seemed a little irritated. “That is not our job. If the manufacturer wants the cars fixed, he will fix them himself.”

I wandered back out and leaned against my car in superior frustration. I was out of options. I could not see any more shops, and I was dead tired from all the pushing. At that moment, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned around and saw an average looking man in jeans and a t-shirt.
He said, “Sir, I have watched you push your car up and down the street. I think I can help you.”

I was a little cynical now. “What are you going to do for me? Form a strategy team, call in an expert, form an elite study group, repaint my car and fix my stereo?”

“No, sir. I own that little gas station over there, the B&P Filling Station. I thought you might try something simple. Maybe your car is just out of gas. Want to give that a try?” At this point, I was willing to try anything. So we pushed the car over to the B&P Gas Station. I pumped gas into my car until the tank was full. I sat down in the front seat of my car, put in the key, turned it, it chugachugged for a second, then roared to life. Nothing was really wrong with the car; it was just out of gas!

I went inside and thanked the mechanic. Never had I been so happy to pay for a tank of gasoline.

“Don’t worry about it, Mr. Miller. It happens all the time. People drive their cars and never stop to fill them up. Then, when they go dry, everyone has a suggestion, but so often they forget to do the one thing every car needs – fill the tank.”

He handed me a receipt, I shook his hand and I went on my way. As I sat down in the driver’s seat, I started to put the receipt into my notebook. That’s when I saw the name at the top. “Bible & Prayer Filling Station.” I was sure glad I stopped there that day.

Perhaps all the experts’ advice, the marketing strategies, the new paradigms, the head knowledge, the modernization and new programs are not what we Christians and our churches need most. Maybe what we really need to get into God’s Word and seek Him until our hearts are full of our Savior’s presence. Perhaps our churches just need to focus on seeking God and listening to His Word.

Maybe a new program can help. There is a lot of great new music being written for the purpose of praising God. It is possible that your church could find a new strategy that will help you be more effective in reaching your community. And undoubtedly Christians need to know more about the basic doctrines of our faith. But none of these things will fix the real problem most Christians, and their churches, have. Nothing will fill an empty tank but the Presence of God. Nothing cultivates the presence of God like the Word of God and prayer.

Could it be that simple?

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Mutiny in the Pulpit

On April 28, 1789, the Royal Navy ship Bounty was sailing in the Friendly Islands about a thousand miles west of Tahiti. Lieutenant William Bligh, the Captain of the Bounty slept in his cabin while Fletcher Christian and 18 other men conspired against him. They stormed his cabin and after a heated exchange Bligh and 18 of his men were set adrift in the Bounty’s launch. It was a mutiny. A junior officer rebels against the authority of the captain and tries to put himself in charge. In the Royal Navy it was a serious offense, punishable by death.
In the kingdom of God, it is an even more serious offense. The scripture makes it clear that the church has a head, a Lord – our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He died and rose again for the right of being Lord of all (Romans 14:9) and is the only rightful head of the church. When any other person tries to usurp the authority of the Captain, it is mutiny against Christ.
Satan was a mutineer. Before the creation of this world, he tried the unthinkable. He rose up against the Father and said, “I will be Captain.” His mutiny failed and he was cast from glory to roam the earth and enlist others in his rebellion. In the garden, Adam and Eve chose to side with mutiny of evil rather than being loyal to their Maker.
There is another form of mutiny, one I have witnessed often and even sometimes been guilty of, that in the church today. It is mutiny in the pulpit. It is a subtle problem, but that does not make it any less dangerous. Any man who steps into the pulpit, who serves as the pastor of God’s people, must realize that he is there to serve God, to shepherd’s God’s sheep and not to pursue his own ambitions or agenda. To use my place as pastor to advance my own kingdom rather than to serve the interests of the Kingdom of God, is mutiny; a rebellion against the rightful place of the rightful King of kings.
1 Peter 5:2 states it very clearly. “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care.” Note two very important truths from this verse. First, the sheep belong to God. These are not my sheep. They may be in my care, but they are not mine. They are not supposed to follow me or serve me. They are God’s sheep; designed to glorify Him, follow Him, and serve Him. I often talk about “my church” or “my people.” But that only means “the sheep under my care” not “the sheep I own.” They were purchased by the blood of Christ, not by my preaching or leadership skills. So, the sheep are His and His alone.
The second truth defines the pastor’s job. We are shepherds. A shepherd does not dominate his sheep, but gently guides them where they need to go. I am not to beat the sheep into submission by swinging the bat of pastoral authority. I do not use them to further my own ego-born ambitions. I devote myself to the welfare and spiritual health of those God has entrusted to my care. By faithful love, by humble service and by careful attention to the Word, the will and the ways of God, I can lead them to grow in Christ and to be like Christ.
I read long ago about the type of shepherding that was done in New Testament days. A shepherd lived with his sheep and cared for them. They grew attached to him and followed him wherever he went. He did not drive them, he led them. They followed him willingly, because they trusted him. That is the kind of shepherding we must do.
There is no greater privilege than serving God by leading others toward Him. When I do the job well, I become part of God’s plan to conform people to the image of Christ. But it is also a great temptation. We who are shepherds can often forget who the sheep belong to and try to take authority that only God deserves.
When I begin to regard the sheep as mine or to care more what they think of me than what they think of the Father, I am in danger of committing mutiny. I am taking what does not belong to me and stealing the glory and authority of God.
What a privilege to be a shepherd of God’s people. But what a danger as well!