Christ's report card for churches
by John Crotts, Faith Baptist Church
Failing to measure up to the latest book on How to Lead the Super-Dooper Church by the hippest, crazy-relevant pastor-celeb can be really discouraging for regular pastors.
But when your target is in the wrong place, even if you hit the bull’s eye, you miss the mark. While popular books on church leadership have helpful practical suggestions for organizing the ministries of a church, they often major on biblical minors and completely miss the majors, giving the impression that becoming an expert on techniques is what a successful pastor is all about.
Because these books sell so many copies, the authors represent enormous churches, and speak at massive conferences, even pastors who know better begin to doubt the Bible and value man-made methodologies.
The Bible is our tuning fork. We tap the Word of God to hear the standard note and judge everything else beside it. If a book, technique, or pastor-celeb rings harmoniously with the Bible, it is good.
If it doesn’t, it must go away.
God tells church leaders how he wants his churches to operate in the Bible. While a clear vision of a five-year plan, a fantastic church website supported by the latest social media and a remarkable parking lot may be helpful to a church’s health, how much time does the Bible spend on any of those matters? When it is all said and done, what will you and your church actually be evaluated on?
The Pastoral Epistles and the letters of Jesus to the seven churches of modern Turkey in Revelation 2 and 3 provide the best answers to the questions of what Jesus thinks about churches. Based on these inspired texts, we can put together Jesus’ report card for your church. Whether or not you make the grade at the next relevant mega-church conference-palooza really doesn’t matter.
Your marks on Jesus’ report card, however, will count for eternity.
While every command in the Bible is given for every church family to obey and will be on that final report card, the commands which are most often repeated in the letters to Timothy, Titus and the churches of Revelation reveal the issues closest to the heart of the Lord Jesus for his churches. You should carefully apply each of these letters for yourself and your church, but let me give you a few examples of the characteristics that a church will be graded on, based on how often they appear in these sections of the Bible.
By far, the most frequent alarm the New Testament sounds is against false teachers.
The writings especially aimed at church leaders are saturated with warnings. Paul begins his first letter to Timothy with a clear charge. “As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith” (1 Timothy 1:3, 4). He continues to exhort and equip Timothy to deal with these and other false teachers in 1 Timothy 1, 4, and 6, and adds to it in 2 Timothy 2:22-26, and 3:1-9.
To the island of Crete, Paul sent Titus to bring order to the new churches that had been planted.
The alarms against false teachers sounded again in chapter one. “For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach” (Titus 1:10, 11). He told Titus to silence lies with the truth. Later Paul charged the younger church leader to declare the truth, exhort, and rebuke with all authority, without letting anyone disregard him (2:15).
The letters directly from Jesus to the seven churches of ancient Asia Minor are also loud and clear on the seriousness of false teachers. Jesus roots out false teachers in the churches of Ephesus, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, and Laodicea — which actually had spiritually dead teachers. Jesus even commends one church for hating certain false teaching, which he then added that he also hated (Revelation 2:6).
It is implied and explicitly declared that faithful churches will also be evaluated on their knowledge of the truth and clear proclamation of it. You have to know the real thing before you can evaluate and remove those who hold to something else. Paul charges Timothy and Titus repeatedly to learn the truth, protect the truth, live the truth, and to proclaim the truth (e.g. 1 Timothy 4:11-16; 2 Timothy 2:2; 3:10-17; 4:2; Titus 2:15). One of the essential qualifications of a church leader is that “he must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9).
God’s number one concern for churches is the purity of their teaching. Is the church holding fast to the truth, and are they effectively dealing with anyone who contradicts that truth? How many church leadership books ask hard doctrinal questions of their readers? How many mega-conferences give the impression that the Lord’s primary concern for leaders is that they know the Bible well, proclaim it clearly and accurately and that they have no tolerance for those who teach something different than the Word of God? What grade would you and your church get on Jesus’ very first criteria?
The letters to the churches in Revelation and the Pastoral Letters are also weighed down with concern for godly living among churches and their leaders. Paul told Timothy the aim of all of their teaching is love (1 Timothy 1:5). Jesus told the church at Ephesus that it would be better for them not to exist than to exist without love (Revelation 2:5). The full lists of requirements for church leaders spelled out in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 are overloaded with godly character, with just a line or two about requirements of household management and one’s ability to handle God’s truth.
Faithful churches repent of their sins and pursue love and good works (1 Timothy 4:6-10; Titus 3:1-8; Revelation 2:19; 3:2-3, 8, 15).
Although a church full of joyful Christians just trying to love the Lord and each other, and live godly lives may not score very well on the cutting edge best seller list, it is a precious point of evaluation to the Lord Jesus. What grade will your church receive in this category? Is yours a church really trying to please the Lord in their lifestyles? Do you take sin seriously and seek to discipline yourselves for godliness?
Many churches and church leaders could find great encouragement simply by realigning their report cards with the tuning fork of the Bible. While there are practical bits of wisdom to be gathered from efficient church leadership books and conferences, the Lord Jesus’ biblical report card must become our ambition.
Don’t be distracted by the perceptions of earthly church success. Keep your gaze on heaven and what heaven has revealed for true church success in the Bible.