By / Feb 17

The world changed for me that night in March when NBA players were called off the court and the notifications on my phone started lighting up like a Christmas tree. Global pandemic, social distancing, mask-wearing, zoom-calling, toilet-paper ordering—what is this new reality I am facing, I wondered. As I entered into this Twilight Zone of leadership, managing seismic changes and making hundreds of new decisions, I felt the weight of it all on my shoulders. I’m sure every pastor and leader can relate. 

How do we remain healthy through times of heightened stress? While I certainly have not cracked the code on leading through difficult seasons, here are three things I’m learning.

  1. I need to listen to my body and get more rest.  

Recently, after two full days of meetings, I drove home with my friend, Migraine. He was not pleasant company. When I got home, I went to the bedroom, turned off the lights, and slept till the next morning. In this season of “make decisions, change decisions,” everything feels more pressurized, which adds weight to the soul and mind. I think wisdom calls us to look at our schedules and to realize it’s not sustainable to pack our days so full that we have no time for decompression. “Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life” (Prov. 4:23). Be kind to yourself and go hit a round of golf, or grab a light lunch with a friend. 

In addition to taking more time to recharge your own soul, be sensitive also to the weight your wife is carrying. No pastor carries the water alone, and the burdens are felt in the pastor’s home also. If you can, schedule extra time with your spouse, to meet up for chips and queso, or to take a hike outdoors together. As Lynley and I have made time for more of this, we have felt more refreshed for the work of the ministry and less overwhelmed by the challenges. 

  1. I need to rip up the old scorecard.

Most leaders I know are living in perpetual frustration because their plans have been foiled time and time again since COVID-19 hit. It’s not that our dreams are expired, but the pandemic has caused everything to slow down dramatically. All the goal-setters out there are crabby, because the world changed overnight and the metrics shifted also. Packed out events, sold out conferences, rooms filled with infectious energy—none of these “outward signs” that church stuff is working have any real significance in the moment. 

When I tweeted that “God wants us to be faithful, not successful,” a few people took issue with the statement. I can understand why. “Isn’t faithfulness a success in and of itself?” one person asked. Of course it is. What I meant, however, is that the world’s measure of success is normally associated with bigger, bigger, bigger. In this season, pastors cannot participate in that old system of topping last year’s numbers and pushing line graphs up and to the right. Instead, ministry means organizing service projects, preaching to cameras and cold rooms, and making phone calls to that person who lost their job this week. These less glamorous tasks are the slow and steady work of the ministry and they matter greatly to God. 

  1. I need to pray like it all depends on God. 

Naturally, I work like it all depends on me, and always have. It’s a problem. Self-reliance is the easy part for driven personalities. Learning to wait, sit back, and to trust the Lord, with an ever deepening prayer life—that is the real treasure that arrives in times of uncertainty. 

Recently, I was searching the internet for a free image to use for preaching. As I did, I came across a picture of Jesus reaching down into the water, seeking to lift up a fully submerged Peter. It dawned on me that the Bible isn’t clear just how far Peter sank after he walked on water. Some artists show his ankles under the sea, some his waist, a few his shoulders. This was the first time I had ever considered that Jesus allowed Peter to plunge all the way down. It was a thought-provoking image. 

As the global pandemic rages on, many church leaders are feeling increasingly uncertain about the new normal in front of us. It started ankle deep, then waist, and has continued to rise. Anxiety grows as momentum plateaus. Breathe deep and believe that the doctrine of God’s sovereignty is good for the soul. He still has the whole world in his hands. And when this moment passes, Jesus will reward those who kept their eyes on him–no matter how deep the water. He may let us sink a little, but he will not let us drown.

Put your ministry back in his hands, and pray that the Lord will work his will in our hearts as we wait upon his wrist to break through the water. 

By / Oct 20

I became a member of Christ Church West Chester (CCWC) on March 8 of this year, the last Sunday before the COVID-19 pandemic brought our country to a halt. For churches all over the world, the inability to gather in person was—and for many, still is—an incredibly discouraging feeling. But for our church, a humble congregation just shy of 100 members in a small borough outside Philadelphia, the shutdown seemed to hit especially close to home. 

Part of the reason for this is that for many in the congregation, the church is home. Numerous members live within blocks of one another, others opt to commute to work across state lines or have relocated to the area specifically to reside near the church, and several live within a literal stone’s throw of the church building. For individuals who have set aside so many other parts of their lives in order to fully invest in the life of this family, the sudden denial of the joys of gathering on Sundays provoked a sincerely hollow feeling. 

As dispirited as the congregation was at the beginning of the shutdown, none was more crushed than our senior pastor, Raymond Johnson. Only a few weeks after celebrating his fifth anniversary leading CCWC, the bustling halls outside his office were suddenly empty, and his family’s dinner table, commonly packed with guests, was suddenly a little less full. For a pastor who wears his heart on his sleeve and whose supreme delight for his congregation is apparent, the temptation to fall into frustration and dejection must have been immense. 

Patience under pressure

The ensuing months would only be more tumultuous. Nationwide disagreements about the pandemic, racial justice, and the presidential election would engulf not only our unbelieving neighbors, but also, sadly, our churches. For pastors, the difficulties that March brought were only the beginning.

But if this season in any way caused Raymond’s joy in pastoring to decrease, he’s never once shown it. If anything, the challenges of this year have done nothing but rekindle his love for the church. As a pastoral intern, I’ve had the pleasure of working with him on a daily basis over the past couple months. Through these interactions, I can confidently attest that the behind-the-scenes Raymond, even amidst 2020’s constant distractions, setbacks, and pressures, is the same person as the Sunday morning Raymond: full of a youthful yet cultivated love for life, the Lord, and his people. 

The eagerness and joy he constantly carries himself with could lead some to wonder whether these past several months have produced any real tests or trials in his ministry at all. But such conclusions would be misinformed. In addition to the heartache caused by suspended or limited gatherings, Raymond and his fellow elders have been saddled with the unenviable pressure of attempting to simultaneously observe community health guidelines, maintain a conscientious adherence to Hebrews 10:25, and respect the multiplicity of preferences and comfort levels of the church’s congregants. 

I encourage you to find the evidences of grace in your pastor’s life during this season, and then let him know that you are thankful for all he does. 

These constraints, coupled also with increasing political tensions, have often led Raymond to the feeling that there is no right move he can make, but a million wrong ones. Such conditions can, if one is not careful, sow seeds of bitterness, anger, and resentment. But he has remained patient and resolute, leaning not on his own understanding, but the Lord’s.

The joy of the Lord

It is precisely this dependence upon the Lord—the confidence to lead courageously and faithfully while at the same time praying, “Thy will be done,” that has allowed Raymond to maintain the same joy pastoring virtually and socially distanced as in normal settings. It is a humble dependence that recognizes his shortcomings. He is constantly asking for ways he can improve his teaching, seeking counsel for the best way to handle sticky situations, quickly repenting for sins committed, and most importantly, going boldly before God in prayer. It is clear that Raymond sees himself as nothing more than a servant of the Almighty, a job title that brings him unrivaled delight.

This joy is an infectious one he is not content keeping to himself. It is not uncommon for him to interrupt work days by rounding up the office for a spontaneous hymn-sing. He is always inviting guests over for dinner or to spend time with his family of seven (each of which shares his fun-loving personality) in the neighborhood park. And each time he ends his conversations with, “I love you, and I’m glad you’re here,” he genuinely means it. 

Raymond’s joy is born out of a love for the Lord and his Word, something that is evident in his eagerness to delve into rich conversations on theology, personal devotion, politics, and similar topics. But at the same time, it is a happiness that refuses to take life too seriously. He recognizes that the Christian life is no monastic or ascetic experience, but one lived in delight in the good gifts God has given us in Christ. Our most memorable moments are indeed the lighthearted ones: putting him in his place on the basketball court, picking him up after a bike crash that left him with a giant hole in the backside of his pants, and pranks around the office. Raymond’s delight in Christ is evident not merely in the way he preaches on Sundays, but in his love of life itself.

The unprecedented events of this year have made things difficult for every member of our church, but our pastor has reminded us through word and deed that the joy of the Lord is our strength. For a time as tumultuous as this one, there are perhaps no perfect answers on how to encourage and exhort a discouraged, anxious, and frustrated congregation, and pastors will likely find themselves failing over and over again. But despite his shortcomings, Raymond’s constant joy has been the firmest reassurance of the Lord’s steadfast love a church could ask for. I encourage you to find the evidences of grace in your pastor’s life during this season, and then let him know that you are thankful for all he does. 

By / Jul 9

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many Christian families to find themselves in an odd place on Sunday mornings: home. With many churches choosing to cancel their gatherings in favor of livestream services or family worship guides, here are a few tips for parents wanting to make the most of their worship at home. 

1. Teach the importance of corporate worship. 

Children need to know that worship on the Lord’s Day is no less sacred in their living room than it is in a church building. Corporate worship is so vital to the life of a Christian that we should utilize whatever technology is available to stay connected to the body of Christ, to be encouraged by our faith family, and to be taught by the Word of God. 

2. Limit distractions. 

The living room presents more distractions than the sanctuary. Put away toys, phones, pets, and anything else that might distract from listening and participating in worship. Instruct children to use the bathroom before you start. In doing this, you can prepare an environment where worship and study can take priority.

3. Manage expectations. 

While we want to limit distractions, they are bound to happen, and we cannot be angry or discouraged when they do. Be flexible. Embrace the awkwardness. Keep the mood light. Don’t let one child with a bad attitude ruin the moment for everyone else. 

4. Open your Bible. 

It’s tempting to sit back on the couch and passively listen to the livestream like it’s a movie. Instead, stay engaged with the sermon by opening your Bible and following along, just as you would if you were sitting in an auditorium. Make sure each family member has their own copy of God’s Word in front of them. 

5. Take notes. 

Watching a livestream service in your living room provides an opportunity to show your children how to take notes during a sermon. It is much more difficult to teach young children to take notes in a full sanctuary without distracting those around you. At home, however, you can instruct them to answer questions such as, “Who is speaking?”, “What are you learning about God?”, “What was your favorite song, and why?”, or even, “What was confusing?” These notes could lead to a good family discussion after the service ends. 

6. Dad, take the lead. 

As the spiritual head of the household, this is a great opportunity for you to lead your family. Be the one who gathers everyone together. Show a genuine excitement about worshipping in a new way. Sing loudly. Ask good questions. Encourage everyone to participate.

7. Read along. 

Pray along. Sing along. Just as the Sunday gathering of the church is an interactive time, not a performance, so is participating in a livestream service. Make a joyful noise, even if it’s off-key. Bow your head and close your eyes when someone is praying. Read along in your Bible during the sermon. 

8. Long for the return of God’s people gathered together. 

Allowing your children to hear how much you miss the Sunday gathering of the church will help them see the importance of corporate worship in the life of a believer. In a small way, it will mirror the longing that all Christians have for the day when we will gather together with the Lord Jesus to be with him forever. 

With a little planning and intentionality, this temporary season of isolation could be used to grow your family closer to one another, closer to your local church body, and closer to God.

By / Jan 29

NASHVILLE, Tenn., Jan. 29, 2020—The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention announced members of its 2020 Leadership Council today.

This year’s Leadership Council is comprised of 84 Southern Baptist pastors, ministry leaders and church members across the country. The mission of the Leadership Council is to receive targeted investment from the ERLC to equip members to help their churches and ministries apply the gospel to everyday life.  

The ERLC Leadership Council launched in 2014 and has included a wide-ranging group of leaders from diverse backgrounds and ministry settings. 

ERLC President Russell Moore, commented on the announcement of the 2020 Leadership Council.

“One of the most important things we do here at the ERLC is working with this group of leaders throughout the year. The wisdom and passion they bring to service in our churches is always such an encouragement. This year’s new members are no different, and I look forward to working with them to equip the church with the truths of the gospel for the cultural issues of our day.”

Members of the 2020 Leadership Council include: 

  • Marshal Ausberry, Senior Pastor, Antioch Baptist Church, Fairfax Station, Va.
  • Matt Boswell, Pastor and Hymnwriter, The Trails Church, Prosper, Texas 
  • Noe Garcia, Pastor, North Phoenix Baptist Church, Phoenix, Ariz.
  • Christine Hoover, Author, Speaker, Founder of Grace Covers Me Blog, Charlottesville, Va.
  • Vance Pitman, Senior Pastor, Hope Church, Las Vegas, Nev. 
  • Jimmy Scroggins, Lead Pastor, Family Church, West Palm Beach, Fla.
  • Afshin Ziafat, Lead Pastor, Providence Church, Frisco, Texas 
  • Lauren Ashford, Author, Christian Counselor, Raleigh, N.C.  
  • Jared Wellman, Lead Pastor, Tate Springs Baptist Church, Arlington, Texas 

In response to being selected for the 2020 ERLC Leadership Council, Noe Garcia said, “This council has developed my leadership in regards to cultural issues in ways I never imagined. Being able to learn from and ask questions of Dr. Moore about how to biblically navigate our current cultural matters has been priceless. I am so thankful for his leadership and willingness to invest!”

Members of the Council will serve an annual term and will be equipped by the ERLC throughout the year through conference calls and events, while providing input to the ERLC and occasional content for erlc.com

To learn more about the ERLC Leadership Council visit erlc.com/about/leadership-council.

By / Feb 11

Leadership is risky—the world, the flesh, and the devil all conspire against us. So we start listing the dangers, and then we compile lists of antidotes and advice. These words of wisdom aren’t bad; they are usually very helpful (and I plan to offer a few here, myself). But the gospel offers us more. The gospel offers a life of faithful, joyful service springing not from lists of what we should and should not do, but out of love more abundant than we can imagine (John 15:12-17).

The reality is that regardless of age, experience, maturity, spirituality, theological aptitude, or insightful exposition, faithfulness in ministry is rooted in love for God, which necessarily and inevitably overflows in love for others.

Conversely, unfaithfulness springs from love for ourselves, which both expresses and fuels that most foundational of sins: pride. It might sound simplistic, but it’s true: Whether a young pastor fruitfully thrives or withers on the vine is determined by one thing: Who does he love?

Lovers of self or lovers of others?

I sometimes observe the meal-time behavior of potential leaders. I’m not talking about the social niceties or etiquette, or even whether he leads a solid and sound “grace” at the beginning. But does he wait to serve others before helping himself? Does he get up to help clear away the dishes? Does he express gratitude? Does he take a spot at the sink to help with cleaning up?

And when we have church functions, who is helping with the unseen, often unpleasant jobs? Who is sweeping the muck under the toddler table, emptying the garbage, folding chairs, scraping plates? This observation extends to our gathered worship as well: Who is making an effort to speak to newcomers? Who is quick to arrange chairs to make room for a wheelchair? Who is standing up and moving over so someone else can sit?

Much of this is simply common courtesy, but it reveals something vital about the heart—is this person acting out of love for others, or love of self? Is his concern for those around him, or to preserve his own physical or social comfort? I don’t consider a young man to have potential as a leader in God’s church until I see that he is acting out of love for his Savior in loving service for God’s people. Of course, the ability to teach the Word of God is essential. But as God tells us through Paul, the most gifted and eloquent Bible teachers are nothing but resounding gongs or clanging cymbals without love.

So with that foundation laid, how do we keep alert to some common pitfalls which young leaders face as they seek to serve God’s church? Where are we tempted to live by pride (which is love of self) rather than love for God? I think the dangers fall into three main categories:

1. Identity

It is all-too-easy to slip into the belief that who we are is defined by what we do, how we appear, or what people think of us. Perhaps the demands of ministry accentuate this risk because there will always be a heightened level of judgement from others—sermons are critiqued, interpersonal skills are analyzed, and family choices scrutinized.

Some trademarks of mistaken identity include feeling more important than we are and wanting proper acknowledgement of all we do. For example, continual overwork reveals that we have forgotten that we are mere creatures. Fear of what people think of us reveals that we have forgotten that it is what God thinks that counts. Being overbearing reveals that we have forgotten that we ourselves are sheep before we are shepherds, while timidity reveals that we fear people more than God. All of these reveal basic forgetfulness about our identity in Christ and a deep seated, self-loving belief that we have what it takes.

But the truth is that our value and glory is eternally secure because of the union with Christ that has been won for us and gifted to us. This identity is absolutely unshakeable and impregnable. When we wallow in identity amnesia, we turn again to slavery. Remembering who we are in Christ, however, gives beautiful gospel color, texture, and flavor to our lives and work.

2. Ecclesiology

It is possible to view the church in a mercenary way. Rather than brothers and sisters for whom Christ died and for whom we are willing to lay down our lives, they can become those who consume a Sunday sermon, fund our salaries, and cause us pain and hassle. “Ministry would be great if there were no people” is a well-known tongue-in-cheek complaint. We might chuckle, but deep down we sometimes believe it. This is nothing more than pride, and needs swift repentance.

Young leaders, don’t go along with that seed of complaint about God’s people. The gospel compels a real affection and love for the church; this is Christ’s body, a temple built upon the solid foundation. This is the Bride being prepared for her husband, and you are part of and belong to her. There is no place for looking down upon the church. Love, serve, rebuke, and correct her when needed—but always cherish her.

One symptom of wrong ecclesiology is keeping ourselves aloof. We try to protect ourselves from our church when we don’t trust our church family. Choose to trust them! Don’t prioritize friendships with those who merely like you and who are similar to you, as comfortable as that is. Our pride is what whispers, “But these people really understand me,” or, “I deserve some down time.” Leaders set the culture, so set a culture of gospel intentionality in your own friendships.

Also, despite all western convictions to the contrary, “family time” is not sacred. The corrective is a proper understanding of family in the Bible. Our brothers and sisters in Christ are our family, so work to nurture those relationships. Open your home. Don’t allow your pride to hinder hospitality. Visit those who are suffering, even for 10 minutes to pray with them. Ask for help, counsel, and prayer from your home group. Seek accountability—not just with the like-minded pastor from across town, but with the awkward college student in your church family as well.

As you foster warm affection for your brothers and sisters, with all of their human idiosyncrasies and awkwardness, you are employing one of the means of grace to build a safeguard against many pitfalls of self love.

3. Success

Young leaders can easily be distracted and wooed by the world’s definition of success—numbers, power, influence. It’s hard not to feel successful when we are commended, when our church is growing, when we’re busy doing important things, and especially if we receive some renown. The misuse of power and authority can flow from this, because if “success” is really all about me, then ministry becomes all about me, too.

But for the Christian, success is defined by one thing: faithfulness in and out of season. And faithfulness happens insofar as we are devoted to our Savior. Furthermore, our faithfulness depends upon Jesus. This is a blow to pride. If the church is growing, it’s God’s work. If my preaching is effective, it’s God’s blessing. If the church is financially stable, it’s thanks to the Spirit-inspired generosity of others. If my heart is soft to the Lord, it’s his kindness. Anything good that we are or do—anything—is a cause for gratitude to God alone. Young and old must continuously bow before the Lord, the giver of all good gifts, in repentance for the ways in which we try to grab glory that belongs to him alone.

Lovers of God and others

Paul reminds young Timothy, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tim. 1:5). This is love which flows from the love of the Father and which we offer back to him in gratitude. The gospel is the glorious reality of something completely other, something fully outside of us—God, who is love. It’s the love of the Father, through Christ and applied by the Spirit that sets us free from slavery to sin and the punishment our sin deserves. This gospel is all we can offer, and this gospel is all we need. Considering God’s love levels our pride into the dust. We must cling to it!

Young leaders, to live faithfully out of God’s love you must dwell on it long and often. Use the means of grace: God’s Word, prayer, and God’s people. Consider Jesus. Meditate on God’s character. Be silenced in worshipful awe by the Trinity. Be stunned by the Incarnation. Worship the great God we cannot even begin to fathom, who makes himself accessible to us through his Son, tenderly enlivening our hearts by his Spirit. Fix your thoughts on the Resurrection and the New Creation to come.

The gospel is the good news of all that God has done for us and all he has for us in Christ. Our brief lives are to be expended proclaiming it and enjoying it with God’s people until we are called home to eternal glory. What could be better? This is a love story to capture our hearts; the greatest love story of all. Why would we make it about ourselves?

The article originally appeared in our print publication, Light Magazine. View the latest issue here.

By / May 16

I serve as a leader in three primary arenas: husband, father, and pastor. Like every leader, I have to admit that I’m wrong sometimes. And when we’re wrong, our response is crucial for building trust in our families, on our teams, and throughout our organizations.

Leaders can be wrong for a variety of reasons. Sometimes we believe, develop, and/or share wrong information. We may bend the truth to support our agenda. We may have genuinely misinterpreted data, trends, interactions, or experiences that lead to being wrong about the facts. Other times, leaders make wrong decisions. Every leader has this experience, and when we do, we shouldn’t deny the obvious. Everyone with a brain can see when our decision doesn’t produce the intended results.

Furthermore, sometimes leaders hurt people because we are human. We can hurt others by misusing our position, being too harsh with our words, being dishonest, cutting corners, or being self-serving. People that serve with us see this, they talk about it, and they don’t forget it. When you hurt somebody, you better do something about it.

Repentance is a must

Leaders should be first to admit it when we realize we’re wrong. We hate the embarrassment of being wrong, so there’s a strong urge to cover it up. Or worse yet, we have an impulse to double down on the wrong decision or information. But we need to resist the urge. Instead, we need to get out in front of it to own the situation completely and quickly.

When we’re wrong, we need to correct the error as soon as possible instead of making excuses. If we have actually wronged someone, we should make it as right as we can, as quickly as we can. When people see us own a bad decision, bad information, or even a character failure, it shows them that we are human and humble. Plus, it gives them a good example to follow when they mess up.

We, as leaders, can’t lead anything effectively without being a “repenter.” Repentance is a Bible word that means to change our thinking. When we mess up, we need to change our thinking about what we did that messed it all up. Everybody agrees that leaders need to be willing to change in order to be successful, but we are often reluctant to admit or announce publicly that we are making a change. This shouldn’t be the case. So, how should leaders repent of wrongdoing?

Here are a few suggestions:

  1. We take ownership for our failures, mistakes, sins, or errors. We don’t make excuses. We don’t point fingers. We own it in front of whoever needs to know that we own it.
  2. We don’t negotiate or grow bitter about the consequences. We own it and let the chips fall, while hoping for grace and mercy from those affected.
  3. We don’t critique the people who have to handle the fallout from our errors. Sure, they could have handled it better. But if it wasn’t for us, they wouldn’t have had to handle it at all!
  4. We say, “I’m sorry. I was wrong. Will you please forgive me?”

A leader who won’t repent is seen as arrogant, inflexible, and egotistical—and this character will be reproduced throughout the organization. An organization full of non-repenters is headed for trouble. Plus, it’s no fun to be there. When we repent as a spouse, parent, friend, coworker, or even a pastor, it affirms what people already know—we aren’t perfect. Repentance acknowledges our need for grace from God and other people.

It’s vital for Christian leaders to respond quickly, humbly, and correctly when we are wrong, not only for our leadership, but for our souls. Repentance is at the heart of Christian discipleship, and efforts at reconciliation and restitution reflect true gospel understanding. The paradox of repentance (especially acts of public contrition) is that an apparent act of leadership weakness actually builds leadership strength. And that is why every great leader—especially a great Christian leader—needs to learn to be a great repenter.

By / Apr 1

This week, the Mississippi legislature opened the door for Governor Phil Bryant to assume a leading role in the effort to preserve rights of conscience and religious liberty in his state. HB 1523, which the Mississippi House passed earlier today, is a carefully crafted piece of legislation that will protect religious freedom and provide reasonable accommodations for persons holding traditional views on marriage and sexuality.[1] The “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act” is an exemplary model for public policy and we strongly encourage Governor Bryant to lead on this issue by signing HB 1523 into law.

While state governments in New Mexico, Oregon, and Colorado have recently weakened religious liberty in these states, the Mississippi legislature has courageously acted to preserve rights of conscience for all Mississippians.[2] This bill strikes an important balance that recognizes the new realities created by the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision—legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide—while offering reasonable accommodations for citizens whose sincerely held moral and religious beliefs remain opposed to such practices. As Ryan Anderson points out, HB 1523 was written to protect the civil liberties of people who believe:

“1) that marriage is the union of husband and wife, 2) that sexual relations are reserved for marriage, and 3) that our gender identity is based on our biology.”[3]

And what do such protections include? Consider the following examples.

It protects the rights of religious organizations by allowing each entity to determine its own criteria for solemnizing or participating in same-sex weddings. It also allows religious organizations to include shared belief among its criteria for considering potential candidates for hire.

It prevents the government from discriminating against healthcare professionals who hold beliefs that would prevent them from conducting sex-reassignment surgery or offering marriage counseling for same-sex marriages.

It preserves the right of government employees to retain their personal beliefs about marriage and sexuality by prohibiting the government from discriminating against them when “the employee's speech or expressive conduct occurs outside the workplace.”[4]

And inside the workplace? Again, Ryan Anderson notes, “Inside of work, it says the government can’t signal out these viewpoints for particular sanction—that employees must abide by common “time, place, and manner” regulations, but [places] no content restrictions on speech at work. It also says that a government employee may seek a recusal from issuing marriage licenses, provided they do it ahead of time and in writing, and provided they “take all necessary steps to ensure that the authorization and licensing of any legally valid marriage is not impeded or delayed.” A commonsense win-win outcome.”[5]

And as it relates to restrooms and changing facilities, the bill allows for businesses and organizations to determine such accommodations. It further guarantees that the state will not take any action to penalize those entities who grant access to these facilities based on biological sex. 

This is exactly the sort of legislation that has been desperately needed. The Mississippi legislature has taken great care to ensure that the civil liberties of all Mississippians will be protected by this bill. Though some will undoubtedly decry or castigate HB 1523 as discriminatory, it is actually the case that opposition to this bill is its own form of discrimination. The opposition to this bill is a clear demonstration that some LGBT activists and corporate interests are not interested in advancing the causes of liberty, tolerance, or plurality, but are instead committed to silencing the voice of religious citizens.

Mississippi has put forth perhaps the best post-Obergefell legislation to date. We commend the legislature for its work and voice our strong support for Governor Bryant to advance the cause of liberty by signing this bill into law.

 

[1] http://billstatus.ls.state.ms.us/documents/2016/pdf/HB/1500-1599/HB1523PS.pdf

[2] http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2014/04/protecting-religious-liberty-in-the-state-marriage-debate

[3] http://dailysignal.com/2016/04/01/mississippi-moves-to-protect-religious-freedom-on-marriage/

[4] http://billstatus.ls.state.ms.us/documents/2016/pdf/HB/1500-1599/HB1523PS.pdf

[5] http://dailysignal.com/2016/04/01/mississippi-moves-to-protect-religious-freedom-on-marriage/

By / Aug 18

Over a month ago, the Supreme Court issued its long-awaited decision on same-sex marriage. Now that five justices have redefined marriage for the nation, many Christians are wondering, so what now? Where do we go from here?

Pastors, you have an unprecedented opportunity to lead the way forward on marriage.

The way forward is staying engaged in marriage. Understandably, many pastors fear that they will be forced to perform same-sex weddings. Some have even stopped signing state marriage licenses altogether.

But pastors still have complete freedom to choose who they will marry — believer or unbeliever, heterosexual or homosexual, church member or otherwise — and to refuse to perform ceremonies that violate their faith. To learn more about the legal issues related to civil marriage (including whether or not pastors legally become state agents by signing marriage licenses), download Alliance Defending Freedom’s memorandum here.

The way forward is rebuilding a strong marriage culture. In a culture that embraces not only same-sex marriage, but also rampant no-fault divorce and cohabitation, pastors have the opportunity to rekindle a vibrant marriage culture in a society that no longer understands what marriage is, much less what it is for.

This means celebrating, teaching, and promoting God’s design for marriage. It means coming alongside those experiencing marital struggles, encouraging them to stay the course. And it means winsomely proclaiming marriage’s purpose of connecting children to both their mother and father.

Redefining marriage redefines parenthood. Marriage offers children their best chance of being raised in a stable, loving home by both their mother and father. Same-sex marriage creates a family structure that always deprives children of one, or both, of their biological parents. But children need the unique and irreplaceable gifts that both mom and dad bring to their family.

Just ask Katy Faust. Katy was raised in a low-conflict, affectionate household by two women. But Katy had an insatiable longing for the involvement, attention and love of her father. Two women — no matter how loving — could not fill that void. Katy is one of several courageous men and women who were raised by a parent in a same-sex relationship and who are now speaking out for man-woman marriage. By sharing their stories, these adults hope that future children will have the opportunity to know and be raised by both their mom and their dad. Visit www.MarriageIsOurFuture.org to learn more.

The way forward is also taking steps to protect your ministry from potential legal threats. Alliance Defending Freedom developed a free legal guide to help churches, Christian schools and other ministries proactively prepare for legal challenges involving same-sex marriage, sexual orientation or gender identity. This resource offers simple, effective ways for ministries to protect their freedom to remain a compassionate but faithful gospel witness in today’s culture. Download your free copy of Protecting Your Ministry at www.ADFlegal.org/church.

Pastors, even in the wake of a disheartening Supreme Court decision and massive cultural change, let’s press forward to seek the good of our nation. Marriage is our future.

By / Jun 30

This has gotten complicated, and the Supreme Court ruling just made things worse.

Being a pastor in 2015, a world in which whatever you feel, you are, makes communicating a biblical sexual ethic difficult.

To be honest, it is hard for me. I have strong convictions that the Bible is the Word of God, so I believe the teachings on homosexuality are plain, coherent, straightforward, and line up perfectly with God’s clear design that sexual relationships are for a man and woman who are exclusively husband and wife. Believing God’s Word is not the difficult part. I won’t budge on the inspired truths of the Bible.

The hard part is that I don’t preach to the choir weekly like many of my fellow conservative, evangelical friends. I don’t think I deserve a pat on the back, but I do want to emphasize that it often does not require extreme courage to preach traditional marriage and make calls for the sexually immoral to believe the gospel and repent to a congregation who already agrees—though there are many who “agree” and live an immoral lifestyle behind closed doors.

I have the privilege of pastoring in a liberal college and government town filled with millennials where the perceived reality is plain and simple: unless you fully accept the LGBT lifestyle, you do not accept LGBT people. It is ridiculous and untrue, but that is what the large majority of people think. Devote even five minutes of your sermon to same-sex marriage or the sinfulness of homosexuality, and you will be the guy who doesn’t welcome gay people to church. People will leave your church, and you’ll be labeled as the homophobic, anti-gay person who doesn’t understand the lives of those with same sex attraction.

It is the new litmus test for the local church. To speak against homosexual activity is to hate someone’s friend, family member or the individual who identifies as gay. That is not where our culture is headed; it is where our culture currently sits. Out of the fear of the Lord and love for my neighbor, I believe I must preach on sexual ethics, and I will continue to do so in a manner that I hope is convictional and kind. Sometimes I wish I could duck the issue, and as a result be much more liked by people, but that is a temptation I continue to overcome by God’s grace.

So what would be the alternative to “going there” on speaking about homosexuality? Is it mainline Protestant liberalism, which simply thinks the Bible is an outdated book written by men? Hardly. That exists, of course, but those churches are in hospice or have already had the funeral.

The actual alternative is rarely discussed and is already happening. It is alive and well in my city and many others. Churches will pop up in your city that are young, hip, social justice-conscious, preach engaging messages, and have quality music. They aren’t liberal by the classic standards. If asked, the staff or leadership of these churches would most likely acknowledge a biblical understanding of marriage and sexual ethics, but these churches are gaining new members by transfer growth from other churches—people who left their previous church because they have gay friends who “wouldn’t feel welcomed.”

The little secret is that these folks aren’t bringing their gay friends to these churches, either; they just believe that God doesn’t have a problem with the lifestyle of people who are so nice and sincere. If He does, it isn’t really a big deal because there are starving children in Africa, and that is more important.

The pragmatic practices of these churches have to stop at silence on homosexuality because it will offend. Instead, they will sound really spiritual and passionate about the lost by claiming they just want to “talk about Jesus.” I wonder if they care that Jesus defined marriage as between a man and a woman by quoting from Genesis (a book he believed was true), or that Paul wrote “sexually immoral people, idolaters, adulterers, or anyone practicing homosexuality” will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9). This Jesus they want to focus on doesn’t care about the sinful practices of people that will keep them from eternal life unless they repent.

In the meantime, many Bible-preaching churches that preach on sexual sin get defensive about the reality that people will leave a church over the issue of homosexuality, but people are and will continue to walk out the doors. They aren’t leaving by flocking to mainline Protestant churches; they are showing up at “evangelical” churches that won’t touch the gay issue unless they are apologizing for Christians who have treated gay people poorly.

These churches have cowards in leadership, but their light-hearted “authenticity” and “being real” makes them loved. They say nothing viewed as controversial by our culture and critique the “institutional” Church to the pleasing of millennials in their seats. Not offending LGBT people has almost become an obsession by these pastors and church members.

We are ministering in a new day, and it is going to take courage to stand up to the cultural issue of our time. While liberal churches mock or revise the Bible on the issue of homosexuality, many evangelical churches who won’t touch it simply ignore the Scriptures and believe they are being compassionate to the LGBT community by their choice to not preach what God has made clear.

In this new day, the Church actively desiring to be biblically faithful in the love of God and neighbor must learn to do so in a way that doesn’t make the LGBT individual feel like a freak, less of a person, or unloved. This is not an easy endeavor because simply holding to biblical beliefs makes a church fail the culture’s test of what is qualified as loving.

So how do we even begin?

1. It isn’t the gay person that is against your church for preaching on homosexuality.

Of course a LGBT individual doesn’t like it, but they aren’t shocked. Often they know what the Bible says about their lifestyle. The people who are furious at the Church are usually disgruntled millennials who believe they are experts on the Church, read the latest bloggers, and go to churches that talk about the need for the “Church to be the Church” (which usually means do more social justice), as if that hasn’t been happening for 2,000 years.

In other words, consider the source. These people will have left five other churches before yours, and they are only 23 years old! They also have very few gay friends, while acting like they have 75 and are somehow specialists on all LGBT feelings.

2. Build relationships with gay people.

I get really frustrated when people suggest I am anti-gay because of my belief in marriage. I work hard at my relationships with LGBT friends and could name you seven right this second who I spend time with regularly. My gay friends get upset with me from time to time if I happen to be preaching on sexual immorality or marriage, stop attending our church for a few months here and there, but would never deny that I care about them as friends.

3. If you’re going to preach on sexual immorality, quit proving people right by singling out LGBT folks and ignoring the rest.

Do you have the guts to preach on divorce? Will you say “no” to officiating a wedding where you believe the bride was previously divorced for unbiblical reasons? Will you confront the moral tragedy of pornography from the pulpit? Well, you better cool down on homosexuality because you might actually be against gay people.

4. Realize that the arguments are all emotional, and that is a no-win situation.

The reason why many millennial Christians are silent or on the fence about homosexuality being sinful is usually one simple, yet complicated reason: they know a gay person.

You could give every verse, Greek translation, and Matt Chandler sermon on the topic, and it wouldn’t matter. This is the cultural reality we live in, and we have to realize that they really are asking, “Why would God make someone gay and say it is wrong?” Of course, an easy explanation of the effects of Genesis 3 explains that quickly, but they don’t care. People who preach to the choir don’t understand this, but it is the most complicated part of the discussion. I don’t have a solution here, you just need to know this is the real world, non-evangelical subculture life.

5. You must help people see that the second greatest commandment never trumps the first.

“And one of them, an expert in the law, asked a question to test Him: “Teacher, which command in the law is the greatest? ” He said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands” (Matt. 22:35-40).

Jesus said to love God. That was the first and greatest commandment. When one justifies homosexuality or is simply silent on the matter and claims it is out of love of neighbor, he or she violates the first commandment by not loving God. Refusing to take God at His word is not loving God. Love of God should fuel love of our neighbor, and if we love God, we will obey His commandments, not ignore or revise them.

6. Remember that holiness is the goal, not heterosexuality.

Our goal is not to make someone straight. We don’t have that power. Our goal is the gospel. We want our neighbors to believe the good news of Jesus Christ, repent of their sins, and grow in holiness by living lives that honor God. We are about seeing lives changed by God, not winning arguments or getting people to be on a “side.” I believe Paul wasn’t joking when he said the sexually immoral will not inherit the kingdom of God. My prayer is that the reality for all LGBT persons will be what Paul said after those uncompromising and direct words:

“And some of you used to be like this. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11).

Cultural engagement on this issue is not easy. However, the words of the Lord are clear: we must love God and love our neighbor. Loving neighbors begins by wanting them to be washed in the name of Jesus Christ, and that is the message of love we must convey.