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Are Christians Prone to Over-Compensate for Cultural “Losses”?

Jun 04, 2014 | Thabiti Anyabwile

Is the state of the culture a report card for the church?

I think I first heard Kevin DeYoung and John Piper ask and answer that question. They both concluded “no.” I think I agree with them. There is no direct relationship between the effectiveness of the church and the broader unbelieving culture.

Yet, it seems most Christians tend to assume a relationship. If the church was doing _____ then the culture wouldn’t ______. Because the church is weak in _____ the society is experiencing ______.

Many Christians too readily draw these kinds of conclusions. I think it’s well-intended. What Christian doesn’t want to see the church have a lasting positive impact on their society?

But I’m concerned that this thinking, especially among preachers and pastors, might be contributing to some unhealthiness in the church. I don’t know if I’m right about this, so you all chime in with your perspective. But it seems to me that some well-meaning leaders who use the state of “the culture” as a report card for the church sometimes end up hurting the church.

The church hurt comes from an overcompensation. My wife has chronic shoulder pain. It probably got started when our children were young and needed rear-facing car seats. She would very often stretch and contort her shoulder to reach and adjust a pacifier or pick up some toy that fell in the back seat. Pretty soon she had sharp pains in her shoulder. Being an excellent doctor but not a very good patient, she refused to go to the doctor and instead compensated by using her opposite shoulder and arm. You can guess what happened next. She developed pain in the “good” shoulder, too. She overcompensated and further hurt herself.

I think something like that happens with our response to some broader cultural “failures” or “threats.” It’s like turning the hot water up too high because the shower doesn’t warm quickly enough.

Let me try a couple examples.

Some leaders see gender roles–and the very idea of gender itself–suffering at the hands of a secular culture bent on redefining gender relationships. They seem to think that an egalitarian impulse in society is a very bad development. Thus far, I’d have a great deal in common with them. But some of my brethren become militant complementarians. Gender roles become an almost cardinal doctrine with them–not in theory but in practice. So they preach against egalitarianism relentlessly. They counsel young men and women toward “complementarian” practices that could hardly be justified with scripture. Those who fail to toe the line get their toes stepped on. They end up creating a culture that stifles, controls and alienates. Healthy relationships become more difficult to form. Social awkwardness increases among young adults trying to figure out how to “date” or “court” according to “biblical rules” they’ve never encountered in their two-years-out-of-the-world lives. The zeal of the leadership for a good thing, dialed up in response to the culture’s downgrade, ends up harming a segment of the church.

Or consider the current debates regarding same-sex issues. The church is perceived as “losing” on that issue and a good number of leaders are exercised about it. I’m not making light of their concerns and I share much of it. But when well-meaning leaders fall prey to the subtle temptation to make state legislation granting same-sex marriage rights a report card on the church, strange things can happen. Like the pastor who ceases his ministry of regular exposition to do a series on homosexuality. The series isn’t so much an exposition of key texts or a sensitive approach to discipleship in this area, but a jeremiad against “the culture” and a desperate ringing of the church bell to alert everyone to the impending doom. Public policy figures prominently in the sermons and in after church discussions. The pastor gets exercised. The church gets politicized. People get ostracized–and not just those who may be addressing same-sex desires in the course of their Christian discipleship.

So what am I driving at in all of this? Just a simple question: Are we (Christian leaders) sometimes over-reacting to current cultural issues in ways that actually hurt our churches?

The reality is most pastors have very little influence beyond their local congregations. That’s as it should be in many respects. But this means that the first and perhaps only place that a pastor’s cultural angst gets worked out is in their local congregation. Fear about the culture’s “report card” morphs into “discipleship” pressure inside the body of Christ. Often that pressure is out of keeping with the balance of things in the scripture and more in keeping with the focus of our favorite news outlets.

So, how to avoid this problem? Here are five suggestions:

1. Before you teach that topical series on that pressing social issue, pray and talk about it with the rest of your leadership team. Are they as worked up about it as you? Do they share your concern for the issue’s impact on your particular congregation? Is the issue an issue in your church? Are you agreed on how the issue should be addressed?

2. Wait a while. If it really is a cultural issue that the church is “losing,” that means your actions this week or next week won’t be of much consequence. So take your time. Watch the developments. Don’t just watch the news; watch your congregation, too. Listen to what your members talk about when they idly talk, or what they’re asking questions about when they come to you.

3. Read and talk with other pastors. Spend some time doing some homework. Let us not be uninformed but really thoughtful.

4. With your elders, think through your church’s message. What does the Bible say? Don’t stop with this or that pet passage; seek the whole counsel of God. What do you want the people to learn from the scripture? How should that truth be applied to their lives in their particular setting? If there’s an action to take, what should it be? And is there a way to identify people who may be easily offended so that you can talk through these things with them in more intimate settings? Can you seek them out to help you with your perspective and balance?

5. Do a whole lot of praying. From beginning to end, pray. You’re about to bring a contentious “outside” issue “inside” the church. To some extent, you’re about to let the world set the agenda for your church. Before you do that, pray real hard.

So what do you think? Are we sometimes in danger of over-compensating for cultural “defeats” and hurting the sheep?

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Spoken Word Monday: “I Got Water in My Gospel” by Alan Adorno

Jun 02, 2014 | Thabiti Anyabwile

This one was made for our day and age!

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Spoken Word Monday: “What Will You Say?” by Clayton Jennings

May 20, 2014 | Thabiti Anyabwile

This is my introduction to Clayton Jennings. A great meditation on coming of age, lessons from moms, not wasting life and real significance. Check this one out:

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Are We Christians Good Neighbors?

May 15, 2014 | Thabiti Anyabwile

Mrs. Bea was my mother’s best friend. The two of them used to laugh together as if they were the only two in the universe. They spent a lot of their free time together, which was easy since they lived half a block apart.

Mr. Fred was Mrs. Bea’s husband. Everybody in the neighborhood called him “neighbor” because he greeted everyone with the same question: “How’s my neighbor?” He was the kind of man who would interrogate strangers who happened on your property and didn’t look as if they belonged. He would repair a door or mow a yard without being asked. He was a neighbor.

I played with Bea and Fred’s five children. We did everything from ride our bikes together to play basketball or stickball in the neighborhood park to chase one another in frenetic games of tag or hide-n-seek. We children were neighbors, too.

I thought about Bea and Fred last week as I prepared to preach Luke 10:25-37, the parable of the so-called “good Samaritan.” I prefer to call it the parable of the godly neighbor since Jesus tells the story to a religious man who asked in a self-justifying moment, “who is my neighbor?” Here’s the parable:

25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, ”You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

I read this and six things stood out to me:

1. To be a neighbor requires risk (v. 30). The Jericho road was 17 miles long, descended over 3,000 feet, featured many twists and turns with caves along the way. It was perfect for robbers and it was a dangerous pass. Any good neighbor will have to take some risks, like stopping on a dangerous road to help the hurting.

2. Simply being religious and theologically orthodox will not make you a neighbor (vv. 31-32). The priest and the Levite are religious leaders in Israel. They’re holy men. They believe all the right things and worship in all the right ways ceremonially. But they are not neighbors to this hurting man. It’s possible to be deeply religious in one sense and treacherously unloving.

3. A neighbor isn’t necessarily someone like you (v. 32). Common ethnicity is no predictor of neighborliness. If the robbed man were an Israelite, then being fellow Jews did not make the priest and the Levite his neighbor. They passed by. It is the despised, outcast Samaritan (John 4:9) that proves to be the true neighbor. It’s someone thought to be “unclean” and “cut off” that emerges as the truly loving. I recently heard Ed Copeland say, “Not all your skin folk are your kin folk, and not all your kin folk are your skin folk.” I think the parable demonstrates that–neighbors are not determined by ethnicity. In fact, these two men were strangers to one another. Yet that Samaritan crosses the xenophobic gulf to care for the stranger in his midst. Jesus expands the definition of neighbor well beyond family, friends, co-workers, ethnicity and those who live in physical proximity to us.

4. A neighbor is someone who sees your need and responds with compassion (vv. 33-34). That’s the difference between the Samaritan and the priest and Levite. They all see the man on the road naked and half-dead. But the Samaritan has compassion. He allows himself to feel for the man and acts out of that concern. A neighbor doesn’t turn his eyes away or cross the road when he sees someone in need. Neighbors render practical and sacrificial assistance in time of need.

5. The most natural and effective mercy ministry in a community is a good neighbor (v. 36). I’m all for organized mercy ministries. In fact, some problems in a community are so widespread or intense that they require an organized response. But the deeper, longer-lasting, truly transforming “mercy ministry” comes in the form of good neighbors. Saturate a block, a community, a city with neighbors like the Samaritan and you’ll transform that community slowly, deeply, and effectively.

6. Love and Law demand every Christian be a merciful neighbor to anyone in need in our presence (v. 37). Jesus’ discussion with this expert in the Mosaic Law summarizes all the Law and prophets with two commands: Love God and love neighbor. Love God with all yourself and love neighbor like yourself. The final command from Jesus, “go and do likewise” (v. 37), binds us to this duty of being Samaritan-like neighbors. It also binds our conscience with guilt so that we any attempt to justify ourselves apart from Christ miserably fails, like the lawyer’s. We’re thrown onto the  back of Christ for justification with God. But then having been freed from the Law for justification, we find ourselves drawn to the Law in sanctification and Christian witness. Having been loved, we now turn to love (1 John 3:16-18; 4:20).

What does all of this mean?

Very simply: Christians ought to be good neighbors with an expansive definition of neighbor.

The reason there are fewer and fewer true neighborhoods is because there are fewer and fewer true neighbors. Even though more and more people live atop one another and we aggregate the need in cities, we don’t often love like this Samaritan. In fact, the Samaritan is so striking to us because we so seldom see such sacrifice for others or make such sacrifice for others. But we Christians ought to be the best neighbors of all.

My last memory of Bea and Fred came when I was about seven years old. I was standing in the back door of my childhood home, looking lazily through the glass onto our block. I saw Freddy and his siblings running down the street from their apartment half a block away. They were loud, shouting something back and forth to one another. It looked like a frenetic game of tag. Then I saw Bea run from the house. She rounded the corner and looked to be headed to our house. Last of all I saw “neighbor,” Mr. Fred, round the corner. In moments that slowed to a dream I saw Mr. Fred aim his shotgun at Mrs. Bea and shoot her in the back. She stumbled to a house just before ours, the home of a third friend, and died on those steps.

I was seven when I witnessed a neighbor kill his neighbor wife and our neighborhood with her.

I don’t know why these things have come to mind so powerfully of late. Perhaps its the anticipation of moving next door to a lot of children and families who have seen the same thing–sometimes repeatedly–in their “neighborhood.” I think it’s a freshly awakened desire to be a merciful neighbor in a context where mercy is sometimes in such short supply. What would our cities and communities be if we could saturate every block with Christians who showed the sacrificial compassion of this Samaritan, who showed to others the same love they have received in Christ? I dream of Mrs. Bea and then I dream of southeast DC. I dream of neighbors and neighborhoods transformed by Christ.

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5 Strategies for Ministry in a Cretan Context, 5: Do Good Works

May 14, 2014 | Thabiti Anyabwile

In today’s Christianity, commanding people to “do good works” sounds rather weird to most and even dangerous to others. We’re allergic to anything with the word “works” in it. We’re living in an increasingly antinomian age, or at least an increasingly anti-imperative age. We don’t like being told what to do and we’re pretty sure anyone who tries must be “a legalist.”

We wouldn’t know how to handle a letter from the Apostle Paul. We also wouldn’t know how to lead the church in a Cretan context.

For Paul writes:

Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.  The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.  …And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful. (Titus 3:1-8, 14)

As the quote above illustrates, Paul was no legalist. Verses 4-7 are about as beautiful a statement of the grace and mercy of God in salvation as you will find. It’s Trinitarian, regenerating, works-free, justification by grace through faith gospel. Today’s church loves this message–and rightly so! Anything else is another gospel that needs to be rejected along with its teachers.

But we’re rather blind to what sandwiches these gospel indicates. Paul begins and ends this section with strong exhortations to Titus to command and teach the Cretan believers to do good works (vv. 1, 14). In verse 8, the apostle makes it clear that Titus must “insist” on the gospel’s truths “so that” believers would “devote themselves to good works.”  Any accurate understanding of the Good News should lead to devotion to good works. That’s why Titus gives reminders to be “submissive,” “obedient,” and “ready for every good work.”

Here’s a question we must ask ourselves: Are we able to say to Christians with urgency and soberness, without flinching and a thousand qualification, “Do good works”? Can we in our ministries “remind,” “insist,” teach and command good works from the saints?

If not, we will find it difficult to minister in a Cretan context. Why?

First, because good words are necessary for “helping cases of urgent need” and making the church fruitful (v. 14). Every “Crete” is full of urgent needs. The fruitfulness of the church in such situations is bound up with works that address such needs. Remember the story of “the good Samaritan” (Luke 10:25-37). Religious Levites and priests crossed to the opposite side of the street rather than help a man robbed and left “half-dead.” The Samaritan saw the man and had compassion on him. The neighbor in the parable was the one who served the urgent need of an anonymous stranger. A saved man must be a merciful man, one who does good works. If you minister in Crete, needs will abound. The Bible calls us to a sacrificial love and attitude that seeks to do good works in the face of at least some of them.

Second, if we don’t commit ourselves to good works in a Cretan context we simply diminish the witness of the church. The priest and the Levite in the parable of the good Samaritan were known religious folks. They would have been noticeable to all by their dress, conversation and the like as “religious people.” Yet they were not compassionate, merciful or loving. They sailed through the carnage of their day dedicated to religious duties and unconcerned about the obvious brokenness around them. When Jesus asked the question, “Which of these three was a neighbor?” no one is thinking the religious people. The parable is a sharp condemnation of that false religion which forgets the widows, the orphans, and the like. It’s a story that reveals the weak witness of religiously proud people. We don’t want to be the priest or the Levite. We want to be the outcast, despised Samaritan who actually does good work that brings praise to God. We want to let our good works shine so men may praise our Father in heaven.

Cretan contexts need the church to dedicate itself to good works. They need it urgently. They feel the urgency. It’s to the church’s shame if we don’t.

Previous Posts in the Series:

1: Appoint Godly Leaders
2: Rebuke the People to Make Them Sound in Faith
3: Teach the People How to Live
4. Live between Grace and Glory

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Spoken Word Monday: “Life in Color” by Danielle Bennett

May 12, 2014 | Thabiti Anyabwile

So, my man, Propaganda, turned me on to the poetry of Ms. Danielle Bennett (@missdbennett). I figured he was in part trying to rep the west coast a little bit, but I also figured he wouldn’t suggest anyone that was pretending. I finally got around to hearing Ms. Bennett and immediately appreciated her gift with words. There are spoken word artists who are more forceful or more intense. But this piece left me thinking there’s no artist more “colorful.” This is a perfect poem for a “blue Monday.” I hope it adds the color of happiness to your life!

Life In Color – Spoken Word by Danielle Bennett from Mosaic LA on Vimeo.

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5 Strategies for Ministry in a Cretan Context, 4: Live between Grace and Glory

May 08, 2014 | Thabiti Anyabwile

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.(Titus 2:11-14)

That’s an amazing sentence! It frames our Christian lives between two appearances: the appearance of God’s grace that brings salvation and the appearance of God’s glory in Jesus Christ, our blessed hope.

We Christians live between those two poles. Ours is a life of continuing appearances–grace and glory.

One place short on grace and glory is the Cretan neighborhood. Very little of life gets interpreted in light of God’s saving grace in Jesus Christ. And most often glory gets associated with the grit and grime of this fallen world–materialism, hedonism, violence and the like. The people we hope to reach in tough neighborhoods, hard places, Cretan contexts need very much to come into this great in-between of true grace and true glory. In fact, all humanity needs to taste and possess grace and glory.

Here’s how we know we live there.

What Happens When Grace Appears

Grace does two things when it appears. First, grace brings salvation for all people. Without the grace of God there would be no salvation for any neighborhood. We are rescued from the coming wrath of God only because God in Christ is kind to people who do not deserve it. The Lord Jesus Christ manifests the kindness of God, and in Him “all people” may find an unearned salvation. Rescue from God’s judgment and for God’s love is not earned, purchased or bartered. It is given freely by a God who cannot be compelled from without to show favor to sinners full of demerit within. When the grace of God appeared in the first coming of Jesus Christ, it appeared to save.

But grace does a second thing. Grace trains or teaches. It not only saves us, it also instructs us. Genuine grace has pedagogical power. That’s how you distinguish it from its cheap counterfeits. Cheap grace does nothing to reform the lives of its professors. But saving grace trains us to “renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright,and godly lives in the present age….”

When most people think of tough neighborhoods they think of people who embrace ungodliness and worldly passions, and live wanton lives, on the DL, ungodly. And many people who think this way about people in tough neighborhoods go on to assume that what’s needed is law, enforcement, moral rehabilitation, education and re-education. They invest lots of energy and lots of money in law and its entailments… with few results. That’s because God designs His grace to accomplish what the law never could. The kindness of the Lord leads to godly sorrow repentance, not the sternness of preachers, law enforcement officers, school officials, and get-tough-on-crime elected representatives. The law is futile in restraining the flesh. Nothing restrains wanton living like the grace of God which teaches self-control, uprightness, and godliness. The ministry that will reach the Cretan context will be a ministry built on grace.

What Happens When People Live in Light of Christ’s Appearing

Here’s another truth about difficult contexts: The rougher the context the more relentlessly it assaults hope. Poverty, unemployment, violence, isolation and abandonment, abuse, drugs and alcohol–all these and more conspire to rob people of hope, the life-giving anticipation of a better day and a better life. We’re seeing in some neighborhoods an unprecedented sense of nihilistic despair.

But when people look to Christ’s return, they look to their “blessed hope.” They know that His coming changes everything. That’s partly why they’re able to live godly lives in the present age of brokenness, sin, evil and death. Jesus is coming! When He appears everything will be renewed! Everything will be changed–in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye! The grime of life will give away to the glory of the Lord!

The One “who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works” will return to claim the His redeemed and purified. A deep, abiding, unshakable anticipation of our Savior’s glorious appearing is our blessed hope. It’s how we’re able to do good works when surrounded by evil. It’s how we’re able to see above the fray with heads raised high when others bow crushed beneath the rubble of this fallen world. In fact, it’s how we dig people from beneath the rubble–with a divine hope in Jesus Christ. The gospel rightly preached gives that hope.

So What?

It seems Paul’s ministry prescription for Titus in Crete has nothing to do with pragmatic self-help programs. It has little to do with social programs or social justice. Those are good things. Very good things. They’re necessary displays of compassion.

But at the bottom is the preaching of grace and glory. The church is the only institution where that message can be heard. Government doesn’t inspire hope. Schools aren’t hubs of grace. Even families may fail to nurture faith. The gospel-preaching, grace-taught, glory-awaiting church of Jesus Christ is the only organization that can position the downcast and hopeless between grace and glory.

So… the church that serves the Cretan context, as pedestrian as it sounds, needs to stake all its hope for reaching people on the grace and glory of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Preach the good news and watch grace appear in the lives of the broken and glory fill their hearts with hope. That’s what Crete needs. That’s what every neighborhood needs.

Other Posts in the Series
1: Appoint Godly Leaders
2: Rebuke the People to Make Them Sound in Faith
3: Teach the People How to Live

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A Proverb on Women and Their Families

May 06, 2014 | Thabiti Anyabwile

 

There is a vanity which I have seen among women,
a tragedy fueled by pride’s fire.
Its flames devour entire households;
it leaves homes in shambles:

A woman’s child can do no wrong,
and her husband can do no right.
She sets her hope of happiness on the ones who leave,
While flesh of her flesh, bone of her bones she grieves.

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Don’t Call Her “First Lady”

Apr 29, 2014 | Thabiti Anyabwile

Note: This post first appeared at The Front Porch. The Front Porch is a website dedicated to “conversations about biblical faithfulness in the African-American Church and beyond.”

“Big Tim” does it every time he sees her. It doesn’t matter if it’s at church, in the grocery store or at the little league game. Every time he sees my wife he smiles real big, bows his head ever so slightly and says, “Hey, First Lady! How you doing First Lady?”

I chuckle on the inside because I know Kristie is gritting her teeth. She doesn’t like the label—not one bit. I’m getting a good laugh out of the entire episode. Meanwhile Kristie gets this nails-on-the-chalkboard cringe in her soul. But she’s smooth as water. You’d never know she dislikes the label because she smiles that big country grin back and says, “I’m fine. How are you ‘Big Tim’?”

The “First Lady” no longer lives at the White House. Michelle Obama isn’t the only leading lady in town. Chances are you have a “First Lady” right at your church. The “First Lady” had come into her own, with top 20 awards and even clothing lines designed especially for her.

My wife’s reaction illustrates a healthy skepticism towards this phenomena.

On the one hand, my wife senses everything that’s unhealthy about the label. “First Lady” is not a biblical office. Neither is “pastor’s wife.” My wife eschews any sense that she has a unique role and calling in the church apart from being a growing Christian, a faithful member and servant. She doesn’t feel entitled to any special treatment because she’s my wife—whether positive or negative treatment. She doesn’t seek any privileges as the woman married to the pastor. She knows such practices can be abused.

Indeed, we see the abuses. We see or hear stories of wives of pastors usurping their husband’s role and office. They move from pastor’s wife to first lady to “co-pastor.” Or, we see the love of the sheep turned into opportunity for gain. Congregants take great pride in their first lady’s appearance and status, financing shopping trips and lavish lifestyles. I guess it’s the feminine equivalent to all those Cadillacs churches have purchased for their male pastors. It’s not difficult to spot the problems.

But while some abuses exist, it’s also true that honor for pastors and their wives can be almost non-existent. The wives of pastors sometimes live in fish bowls, always watched and judged. They can live beneath inordinate expectations and nearly suffocate from stifling criticism. Such women often mourn the absence of friendship in their churches and their husbands wonder if leaving the pastorate might not be a better decision for the sake of their families.

So there’s another perspective on this “first lady” phenomenon. I think my wife grins and bears “Big Tim’s” greeting because she knows Tim is attempting to honor her. She discourages anyone else from calling her that, and even tries unsuccessfully to dissuade Tim (who usually gets a pass because he’s lovable in that big teddy bear way). Her discouragements aside, Kristie knows a healthy respect brims beneath Tim’s use of the phrase. She accepts the respect that’s intended-and she should. Many wives of pastors serve faithfully in their churches, give as much or more as their husbands, disciple younger women and carry themselves in a manner worthy of respect. It’s natural and right that those who feel encouraged and helped by their lives and labors should love and hold them in high regard (Phil. 2:29).

Accepting appropriate shows of honor while discouraging inappropriate displays can be a difficult balancing act. So what to do?

A few thoughts:

First, let’s positively encourage appropriate displays of respect for faithful pastors (1 Tim. 5:17-18) and for women worthy of respect (1 Tim. 3:11; 5:2-3). I don’t think most of the church world suffers from showing too much respect—perhaps too much criticism. And though many selfish, greedy and worldly leaders have bred contempt among some Christians, nothing is as liberating and life-giving as a congregation of saints who affirm, encourage, uphold and honor one another. Such honor should be shown to the wives of pastors who support their husbands in the work of the ministry and sacrifice much for the blessing of the saints. We don’t want to abandon appropriate respect because of inappropriate abuse by some.

Second, let us use words more often. It’s not uncommon for appreciation to be shown in large gifts. Pastor appreciation banquets (itself a sometimes problematic phenomenon) often feature the unveiling of some expensive material gift from the congregation-cars, cash gifts, extravagant vacations. This is how many churches say, “We love you.” But I wonder if it’s not better to simply say the words. Often. Sincerely. Thoughtfully. Churches can run the risk of treating their pastors the way some parents treat their children at Christmas or birthdays. Having neglected to show their affection all year long, some parents try to “buy” their children’s affection or assuage their guilty consciences with expensive toys. Perhaps some of the church’s celebrations are really corporate exercises in assuaging guilt for neglecting the pastor and his family for most of the year. And let’s be honest: the members of the family most likely to be neglected are the pastor’s wife and children. So, we might have a healthier culture of affirmation and respect if we simply expressed ourselves with words throughout the year and filled our sisters with a sense of our affection and appreciation.

Third, let’s endeavor to use biblical labels for biblical offices and shy away from creating new ones. It’s not a sin to create a role or title. But sometimes doing so confuses things. Like “First Lady.” In the secular culture of politics that title suggests an honorific role and a level of representation that nowhere exists for the wives of pastors in the New Testament Scripture. As stewards called to be faithful to our God’s word (1 Cor. 4:1-2), we need to be wary of adding to His word or innovating. When we do, we tend to open Pandora’s Box and some departures from God’s word can’t be easily fixed. We are safer and stronger if we treat God’s word as sufficient and stick to the biblical offices and titles He gives us.

Fourth, let’s do more than use biblical labels. Let’s also return to biblical qualifications for the offices of the church. The church is God’s household. As such, the Father sets the rules for the house and all us children should happily comply. Sometimes Kristie and I leave the children at home for a couple hours when we’re away. Usually we leave the oldest in charge of the others. She’s not their mother, so she can’t do whatever she’d like. But she is trustworthy, mature and capable in a pinch. While my 14 year old daughter could do a good job as well, not all the children meet those criteria yet—especially my 7 year old son who asks to be in charge nearly every time we run an errand. He desires a good thing, but he doesn’t meet our qualifications. So it is with women who desire to lead as pastors in the local church. The Father has left His family to live according to His rule—one of which is only qualified, mature men should care for the Father’s family in His absence (1 Tim. 2:11-3:7). One of the most difficult but necessary things ahead for the church is the restoring of proper biblical leadership.

I’m really thankful my wife takes no delight in being called “first lady.” She’s quite happy to be my wife and helper in life. And I’m glad we’re part of a church family that frequently honors her with kind words and small gestures. Kristie knows their love. Consequently, adopting man-made titles and extravagant displays are unnecessary. Life is biblical and simple, so we all win.

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Spoken Word Monday: “Consecrated to Jesus” by Braille

Apr 28, 2014 | Thabiti Anyabwile

If you know Humble Beast Records, then you’ve been encouraged by the work of Braille. They produce some of the most creative and solid Christian hip hop and spoken word I’ve heard. Here’s Braille meditating on a theme that’s shrouded in a lot of conclusion these days: obedience. Check it out and let us renew our consecration to the Lord today!

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