Culture of Multiplication – Part One

Not long ago I wrote an article about the danger of the super-pastor, and how pastors often (subconsciously) perpetuate the problem. In the article I briefly touched on leadership & discipleship multiplication as a key to effectively eradicating the super-pastor syndrome. I didn’t have time in that piece to go into more detail about creating a culture of multiplication, but I thought it was worth a conversation so over the course of three articles I want to lay out for you the biblical case for multiplication, the barriers to multiplication and four models of multiplication. This is the first of the three articles.

The biblical plan is a culture of multiplication. There really doesn’t seem to be any question on this point. God never intended Lone Ranger pastors to tackle ministry on their own. Unfortunately we have developed a pattern, particularly in the US church, that perpetuates this myth. We’ve even nuanced our verbiage to reflect it. When a pastor does ministry we describe their behavior as “pastoral.” We say things like, “So and so is particularly pastoral.” What we mean by that is that they are good at serving the ministry needs of others. This is tragic, in my opinion, because scripture seems to indicate that church leaders are not called to do ministry as much as they are called to prepare and deploy the church to do ministry. Consider Ephesians 4:11-16.

And He personally gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness. Then we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit. But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into Him who is the head—Christ. From Him the whole body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth of the body for building up itself in love by the proper working of each individual part.

This text pretty simply lays out four simple truths about church leaders and their responsibility to the church.

God gives the church leaders.

Leaders are not in their role simply because of giftedness, or desire, though both of those things are important. Leaders exist in their roles, first and foremost, because God has ordained that they be there. A church leader’s role is a commission; an assignment from the God of the universe. It cannot and should not be approached with lazy, half-hearted effort. The text says more than that leaders are simply given to the church though, it specifically says that leaders are given, as a personal gift from God. The idea here is that church leaders are intended by God to be a good, and gracious gift to the church. I wouldn’t recommend that you go to your church on Sunday and point out to them that, as a leader, you are God’s gift to them (that probably wouldn’t go well), but you ought to be encouraged by this fact. In God’s good providence, he intended for you to be his good gift to the church, and he intended the church to be a good gift to you.

Leaders equip the body.

God gives leaders to the church, yes, but notice that God doesn’t give us church leaders so that they can do ministry. He gives us leaders to equip the body to do ministry. This is a radically important distinction. As I previously said, we have even modified our vocabulary to indicate that when we assume certain aspects of pastoral leadership that are focused on serving the needs of others we are now known as “being pastoral.” This gives away a belief that what it means to be pastoral is to minister to the needs of others. While this is noble, and while the pastor should certainly be a servant, we do a disservice to the people we serve, the church as a whole, and the kingdom of God, if we personally do the ministry that God has called the whole church to do. Not only that, though, the bible is clear that the ministry won’t be done well, when we assume that posture, and the church will not grow, when we assume that posture.

Does this mean that church leaders shouldn’t be engaging the church in ministry? Absolutely not! It means, however, that they serve the church through ministry because their responsibility as a member of the body is to minister – just like every other member of the body – but their vocational responsibility is to equip the church for service.

The body is built up.

The ability of the church to be built into the image of Jesus is dependent upon the leadership training and handing off ministry. Notice the ways that the church grows when the leadership equips the body to do ministry, rather than simply doing the ministry for the body. They grow in unity, knowledge, doctrinal stability, gracious speech and the character of Jesus.

This pattern is a reversal of our typical behavior in the church. We have developed a pattern of expecting maturity before we give people ministry responsibilities. Paul, in Ephesians 4, turns this on its head. He wants us to understand that unless we turn people loose with ministry responsibility, they will never grow into maturity.

Jesus is glorified.

Finally, all this is done as Jesus enables it to be so, and it is done to bring him great glory. Notice the patter in the text.

  • Jesus brings the church together (unity in diversity)
  • Jesus makes the church grow
  • Jesus increases the church’s capacity to love
  • Jesus helps every believer to reach their potential

This is the dream for every church leader I know. They want the church to grow into, and be, every one of these things. Could it be that God gave us a plan to make it happen, and we’ve simply missed it all along?

This post was originally published at the LifeWay Leaders Blog

Micah is a husband to Tracy & a daddy to Grace, Kessed & (soon to be) Haddon. He’s Senior Pastor at Brainer Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN. Most of all, he’s a debtor to grace.

An exciting change for the Fries family

Earlier tonight the Pastor Search Team from Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN shared with their church that they have invited me to preach in view of a call as their next Senior Pastor [presentation website]. If you are surprised by this transition in our life, you wouldn’t be alone. We have been surprised and amazed at how God has worked in our lives through this process of turning our hearts to Brainerd and Chattanooga. I’d love to share a little bit of that story with you.

Why leave LifeWay?
Why would I choose to leave LifeWay? The very simple answer, and I’ll explain more in detail below, is that we believe God has called us to Chattanooga and directed our hearts to Brainerd Baptist Church. We had no desire to leave LifeWay. Working for Ed Stetzer over the past 3. 5 years has has helped shape me in so many ways. Our time at LifeWay and in Nashville has been so good for our family and our ministry. We love LifeWay and, more than ever, we are excited about the future of LifeWay. We believe she is well led, and has a nearly unparalleled selection of giftedness across the men and women who make up the LifeWay family. I can’t say more strongly how much we love and respect LifeWay, her leadership and the resources she provides, and how bright we believe her future is. Leaving LifeWay will be tough.

However, over the past 3.5 years that I’ve served at LifeWay, we have realized that God has uniquely designed me to serve the local church in the role of pastor. Serving on staff at our home church, Fairview Church, and providing interim leadership over much of the last year at First Baptist Church of Jackson, MS (two churches I deeply love) showed me clearly that pastoring in the local church was exactly where I was designed by God to be.

With that said, we had no plans to leave LifeWay. At the beginning of our ministry Tracy and I made a decision to never send out resumes unless we were first approached by a church/ministry. We trusted the Lord and told him that we would be faithful where he placed us, and we would trust him to move us when he was ready. We weren’t planning to leave. In fact, on 4 occasions over the past year we were approached by wonderful churches and asked to consider possibly serving as their Senior Pastor. While we were honored by each of these requests – and believed each church gave evidence of great potential – we clearly discerned that God did not want us there. We now know it is because he was keeping us for Brainerd.

Finally, we struggled with the idea of leaving because we love our church and we love the city we live in. We have developed deep relationships here. Our girls have strong friendships here. It’s hard to say good bye to those. For all those reasons, and more, we didn’t plan to leave but God seemed to make this decision very simple for us.

Why go to Brainerd?
As I said above, the decision ultimately came down to our ability to discern God’s will, and we believe God has called us to go. One story can serve as a startling example. A few months ago Tracy and I had been talking about the future. We were grappling with what would be next for our family. We didn’t know, at the time, that Ed Stetzer would soon be announcing his transition to Wheaton College, but we sensed that some change was coming our way. As we talked together about what that could look like, our conversation revolved almost exclusively around opportunities within LifeWay. However, one morning as I was getting ready to leave for work, Tracy shared with me a sense of confidence that God was preparing her to be a pastor’s wife again. This was no small moment. Tracy loved my job at LifeWay and the routine that our family enjoyed. As I said, the past 3.5 years has been so very good for our family. As she shared this with me she cautioned me that she didn’t want me to look for a position but, should a position fall in our laps, she was confident we needed to consider it and pray through it. I got in the car and drove to work. I sat down at my desk at work, started looking through emails and about 90 minutes after that earlier conversation, my phone rang. It was Richard Bethea, the Search Team Chairman, asking me to consider praying about Brainerd’s open Senior Pastor position. Although I wasn’t aware, they had known of me for 6 or more weeks, and had been studying my life, our family and our ministry in detail and felt like God had confirmed in their hearts that we need to talk. Needless to say, I was floored. The timing seemed unmistakable. Tracy and I spoke quickly after that phone call, and it didn’t take long after that, through meeting with the committee, for God to confirm in our heart that this was his desire for our family in a number of different ways.

So what’s next?
We are going to work hard for LifeWay for the next 6 weeks or so. About 4 weeks from now we are going to spend the weekend at Brainerd, in view of a call. Assuming that the church affirms me as their next Senior Pastor, we’ll look forward to beginning our ministry the first week of July. This means, of course, packing, selling our house and saying goodbye to folks who have become very good friends – some even like family – buying a new house and beginning to settle in Chattanooga. But we are excited, very excited, frankly. We believe the future is astonishingly bright at Brainerd Baptist Church. We have a lot of hopes and dreams for the future of the church and the future of Chattanooga. We believe God is putting us together with Brainerd, and we cannot wait to see how this all comes together.

Micah is a husband to Tracy & a daddy to Grace, Kessed & (soon to be) Haddon. He’s Senior Pastor at Brainer Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN. Most of all, he’s a debtor to grace.

God didn’t call you to be a Super-Pastor

This article originally appeared at Lifeway.com/ChurchLeaders

The “Super-Pastor” expectations that so often seem to go hand-in-hand with modern church leadership are a black mark on the church. The “Super-Pastor” is the pastor who is always on call, ready to serve; nights, weekends and vacations are no barrier, they never miss a hospital visit, they always preach with passion and with conviction, and so on. It’s exhausting, isn’t it? And like every other pastor, I’ve bad mouthed the whole concept, and bemoaned its existence, until I realized that its presence was, in large part, the fuel that kept my ministry (and even worse – my soul) going. Let me show you what I have learned.

I believe that we live in a culture that rests on the twin pillars of independence and consumerism; both of which strike at the heart of Christianity. Our cultural commitment to this end leads to a number of ramifications. For instance, we expect professionalism by those who serve us. I don’t mean that we expect professional behavior as much as I think we expect a certified professional to be the one doing the serving, or work. We don’t generally see shade-tree mechanics anymore, we would never visit an unlicensed doctor, and you can’t show up in court with a lawyer who doesn’t have a law degree. In fact, when I recently had a tree cut down in my yard, I made sure that the person doing the job was insured and bonded so that I wouldn’t be liable for any shoddy work. This desire for professionalism, when coupled with a consumer-driven view of the church makes for a bad combination.

I think most of us shop for churches the way I like to shop for blue jeans. When I look for blue jeans I look for the best store, offering the most comfortable product and asking the smallest price from me (mostly because I’m cheap). We do the same thing in the church. When we are looking for a church we even refer to it as, “church shopping.” Our means of determining a good church generally center on finding a great church “product” that fits us most comfortably, and asks the least of us. Once there, we expect a professional pastor to deliver to us goods and services, of the spiritual kind. We view church as a place, not as a people, and we go there on occasion to get our spiritual “fill-up” where the professional dispenses the goods and services while we sit in the chairs, watching (read: being entertained) and we put some money in the plate on occasion so that we’ve rightly paid for the goods and services we are receiving from the pastoral professional. We then go home, “filled up” and ready to make it though another week, as if church is a place where go to get our “spiritual pit-stop”. In this environment pastors, we aren’t creating disciples – we are crafting consumers, and we are very good at it.

In this context, we have developed a pattern for the pastor where they serve our spiritual needs in any and all ways we deem appropriate, and in doing so we have created the “Super-Pastor” complex. But, while many pastors decry this publicly, I’m convinced most of us never really want it to go away. See, it occurred to me, in my own life, that the churches I have served are full of people with emotional baggage. In fact, every person on the planet carries their own baggage. In the midst of this baggage, each of us tries to find ways to self-medicate, to help us handle the baggage. Some use food, some use alcohol, some use sex, but all of us use something. For the pastor, though, the emotional need is generally no different. We have our own various kinds of emotional baggage, and while we may occasionally self-medicate using the same means as everyone else, the truth is a fair number of us use ministry as a means of self-medicating. We suffer from identity issues, or morale issues, or affirmation issues, or even purpose, and each of these emotional needs are served every time a consumer-driven people calls on us to serve, and we do, and then they affirm us as the great pastor who does what no one else can do. Let’s be honest, when the sweet older lady grabs us by the arm and says to us at the end of the service, “Pastor, no one preaches to me like you do” it’s like nectar to our souls. It is sweet, indeed.

So what do we do about it? While there’s not enough room here to be comprehensive, I do think one of the solutions is found in Ephesians 4. Paul tells the church at Ephesus,

And He personally gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness. – Ephesians 4:11-13 (HCSB)

God’s vocational design for church leaders is to equip the saints for works of ministry, not to do ministry for the saints. In other words, we enlist, equip and deploy the people in our churches so that, together, we serve the ministry needs of our church family. We kill the “Super-Pastor” when we hand off ministry, prepare others to do what we have historically done, and keep ourselves from always being front and center. In this paradigm pastors don’t stop doing ministry, no they do ministry but they do so along with the rest of the body, and not because they are the pastor, but because they are a member of the body, and every member of the body is equipped to serve together.

The great thing is that, when we embrace this model of leadership, Jesus is much more likely to get the credit. When we do everything, serving as the “Super-Pastor,” we too easily get the credit as the one spinning all the plates. In the midst of it we can even get more credit by appearing humble and overworked (all the while, actually loving the attention and affirmation it affords to us). Instead, what might the church look like if we pushed back, in a truly counter-cultural way, against the rampant independence and consumerism and killed the “Super-Pastor” by equipping the saints, doing ministry together, and the pastor fading into the background? I’m convinced that Jesus would be honored and pastor, you might just keep your ministry from killing you while you try to use it to feed your soul.

Micah is a husband to Tracy & a daddy to Grace, Kessed & (soon to be) Haddon. He’s Senior Pastor at Brainer Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN. Most of all, he’s a debtor to grace.

Guest Post: Do we really care about discipleship?

Matt Rogers is the pastor of The Church at Cherrydale in Greenville, SC. He is also the author of Aspire, a book that seeks to help the church develop and deploy disciples. Aspire is available today. Click here to purchase a copy.

I’ve never met a pastor that said “Discipleship…Yeh, we don’t really do that. We’ve got more important things to do around this church than making disciples.”

Now some pastors, in their more honest moments, may acknowledge that their churches are not very good at making disciples, but almost everyone affirms that they should be doing it.

We know that Jesus commanded his church to make disciples and promised that he would accompany them in this great work until the very end of the age. According to Jesus this process of disciple-making requires Christians to go, baptize, and teach people to obey all that Jesus commanded (Matt. 28:18-20).

Most pastors and church members will declare the value of disciple-making, yet we must ask deeper questions to assess whether this is simply a stated goal or a defining mark of the church.

Are disciples being made? How do we know? And if they are not, what can we do to change this reality?

Keys to a Culture of Relational Discipleship

Gospel Clarity. A disciple-making ethos emerges from a church that consistently stands in awe of the grace of God demonstrated in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Stunned worship propels disciple-making intentionality because people long for others to become captivated by the splendor of the gospel. A culture of relational discipleship does not emerge from religious professionals but from obedient worshipers (Eph 2:1-10).

Intentional Focus. Churches that make disciples have a clearly articulated bulls-eye. They know that they exist to declare and demonstrate the gospel so that men, women and children are brought from death to life and increasingly made to reflect the glorious image of Christ Jesus. Churches that make disciples are not aiming at 100 things, but at one, universally acknowledged goal (Gal 4:19-20).

Mobilized Membership. Members of disciple-making churches take personal responsibility for this task rather than an over-dependence on the pastors or programs of the church. Tim Keller, in his book Center Church, estimates that it takes 20 percent of the church pursuing the same goal in order to change a church culture. This provides a healthy baseline for the fervency of relational discipleship in the church. However, churches with a pervasive disciple-making culture will see a majority of their church entering long-term, discipleship relationships with those far from God (1 Pet 2:1-10).

One-on-One Relationships. Disciples are made in the context of personalized, one-on-one relationships over an extended period of time (at least one year). These discipleship-pairs are the basis of a disciple-making culture in the church. At first this may require challenging mature Christians to pursue younger church members or attendees. Churches can also ensure that anyone who professes faith and is baptized in the church is immediately paired with a mature Christian for an intentional, discipleship relationship. This is not the sole goal, however. Instead, the church should look outside of its gathering—to neighbors, co-workers, friends and family—who are disconnected from God and the church and do the hard work of forming disciple-making relationships there (2 Tim 2:2).

Streamlined programs. Church programs can serve as a great obstacle to relational disciple-making. Those who embrace a disciple-making culture will ruthlessly eliminate programs that do not produce disciples and streamline even the ones that do. Every hour spent in a church program that does not lead to disciple-making is an hour taken away from the time people have to give to one-on-one disciple-making. The pace of modern culture necessitates that churches carefully evaluate everything they do using the metric of disciple production (Eph 5:16).

Strategic Leadership. Pastoral leaders see to it that they equip the church for the task of disciple-making. The mission of the pastor must extend beyond preaching biblically-sound sermons, running ministry programs and motivating their people to bring more people to the weekly gathering of the church. They must work tirelessly to extend their influence by equipping their people to understand and apply the gospel to their lives and the lives of others in these one-on-one relationships. Not only that, they must model relational discipleship by investing personal time in one-on-one relationships themselves. If pastors do not buy in to the process then the congregation will not either (Eph 4:11-16).

Replicatable pathways. If this is going to happen, pastors must create replicatable pathways for disciple-making in the church. Certainly no person’s path of discipleship will be identical, but pastors must work to provide a discernable path for others to follow. We cannot continue to call people to the task of disciple-making without showing them how. Tools such as my recent book Aspire: Developing and Deploying Disciples in the Church is meant to provide a customizable way to develop this path in your church.

Exemplary Models. Pastors must take personal responsibility for making disciples themselves. Sadly, many pastors may have served under great men or received top-level theological education, but may have never had the joy of personal discipleship under a godly mentor. This leads them to an over-reliance on programs, sermons and classes to do all the work. Pastors cannot call others to do something that they are not doing themselves. Pastors should strive to commit to meeting with at least two individuals each week (ideally someone far from God and not simply one of their staff members) for the purpose of disciple-making. If they do, the culture of relational discipleship becomes both taught and caught.

Long-term commitment. Finally, churches should make a long-term commitment to disciple-making. The fruit of such a church philosophy may not be readily apparent. Making disciples takes time and perseverance. There are no short-cuts. It is surely easier to measure how many people show up at the next church program or indicate a decision to trust Jesus during the next church invitation. These measures, while easier, may cause us to neglect the vast potency of strategic disciple-making.

Let’s build churches that do not simply say they value disciple-making but that also do the hard work to create a culture that proves it.

 

Matt’s latest book, Aspire: Developing and Deploying Disciples in the Church and for the Church, is meant to provide a tool for people to take spiritual responsibility for others in the church. It provides a one-year plan that is ideal for one-on-one disciple-making. You can order your copy of Aspire today here.

 

 

 

 

Micah is a husband to Tracy & a daddy to Grace, Kessed & (soon to be) Haddon. He’s Senior Pastor at Brainer Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN. Most of all, he’s a debtor to grace.

The difficulty of selecting staff

In my experience as a pastor, one of the single most difficult responsibilities I faced was the selection of staff members. Knowing what to look for, where to go for candidates, and how to focus in on the right candidate when you are faced with a stack of resumes has always been daunting for me. Growing up the son of a pastor, and then serving as a pastor for most of the last 15 years has also shown me that most churches who use a search committee process seem to struggle with this as well. With that in mind, I’ve tried to develop some filters, or processes, by which I view potential pastor/staff candidates to help me determine whether or not they are the right fit for the position. I thought they might be helpful to you as well.

1. Character

It’s unfortunate, but this can often be the most difficult to determine. Whether it be our own failure to do our due diligence, calling references and doing character checks, or the inadequate accountability provided by those who vouch for a candidate, this one can occasionally be tough to manage, and yet I think it’s the most significant of each of these filters. What’s more, scripture details for us a number of expectations for church leaders, and almost every single one is a reference to character and not job function. Too often church leaders are guilty of pastoral malpractice which can regularly be traced back to a lack of character. This filter stands above the rest as the most important.

2. Competency

This is an interesting filter, mainly because so many churches and leaders are accustomed to not worrying about it. It seems as if we almost think it’s an affront to Christian ministry to ask whether someone is capable and effective in their job. Too often we allow leaders to continue in their positions when they are not doing their job out of a sense of grace or affection, when in reality, giving permission for their continued lack of success is among the least loving things we can do. Ministry is a tricky responsibility because it’s generally people focused, rather than task focused, but this does not mean that we can be ok with pastors and staff who are unable to do their job. Let’s not disparage the name and character of Christ and his church by perpetuating a poor work ethic and low expectations among our leaders. The New Testament expectations for church leaders seems to consistently raise the bar in respect to character and competency, not lower it.

3. Clarity

A filter that is extremely important, and yet was often undervalued in my personal process for many years, is the importance of making sure that you and the potential staff member or pastor share a common purpose, vision and beliefs. It’s amazing to me how often this can be overlooked. It is vital that you are not working against each other within the same ministry. Often we imagine this happens because one of us is right, and the other is not, when much of that time that’s simply not an accurate explanation of what’s happening. There are certainly many examples within Christian ministry where multiple options are available, none of which are bad, and a decision must be made. It’s important that staff be pointed in the same direction, or chaos and ineffectiveness can reign. When staff members pull in different direction, the church is hurt, the gospel is slowed and pastors and church members can end up at war with one another.

4. Chemistry

Do you and the potential team member like each other? Can you enjoy long periods of time working closely together in close proximity to one another? This can often be tough to figure out in a typical interview process, so I generally created an opportunity to do something casual together, during an interview, which would create a situation where guards were let down and the potential staff member was able to freely represent themselves. Golf, shared meals, a baseball game or some other experience can help determine this. I can’t say enough how important this is. You can be incredibly gifted, pointed in the same direction and simply find yourself clashing over personality types, thus rendering the organization/ministry/church ineffective and the staff frustrated. This is obviously unhelpful and should be avoided.

5. Calling

Finally, the most difficult of all to determine is this issue of calling. As followers of Christ we believe that God is involved in our daily lives; that he has a desire for us and that he points us in specific directions to help accomplish his will and further his kingdom. This means that filling a pastoral role is more than just a job hire, it’s the selection of someone who has a God-given sense of calling. However, ascertaining God’s intent can prove to be difficult. In my experience, the way most people attempt to determine God’s will is a bit odd. The way they explain God’s will can occasionally leave me wondering if God was actually speaking or if they just had roast beef a little too late the night before? Feelings in the gut, emotional sway, etc. are not generally the picture of we find in scripture of hearing from God. Scripture points us to a number of means for determining God’s will (scripture, the counsel of others, the desire of our hearts, etc.), but regardless how you attempt to determine it, I think clarifying calling can often be the intangible, missing piece of the puzzle that has to be measured as we select staff members and pastors.

Micah is a husband to Tracy & a daddy to Grace, Kessed & (soon to be) Haddon. He’s Senior Pastor at Brainer Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN. Most of all, he’s a debtor to grace.

What is the 3rd commandment anyway?

My oldest daughter was at church one Wednesday night at a carnival which she was very excited about. During the festivities we had a specific toy that was given out to all the children. After standing in line to receive hers, she decided she wanted another. Standing in line for some time, again, she was disappointed when the volunteer handing out the toys informed her that each child only received one toy. Her response, in her disappointment, however, was telling. Rather than humbly walk away, she quickly informed the volunteer that she was the pastor’s daughter, implying that special favors were due her because of her familial standing. Thankfully the good natured volunteer simply smiled, and assured her that this news would not change anything. Sad and humbled, my daughter left with just the one toy in her hand. So, what does this have to do with the third commandment?

Do not misuse the name of the Lord your God, because the Lord will not leave anyone unpunished who misuses His name.

So goes the third commandment. Many Christians seem to believe this commandment was specifically designed to push back against tv shows and movies that regularly use God’s name as a byword, or worse, as some form of cursing. It seems to have almost no application for the Christian and the church. While it is true that using God’s name in this fashion is evidence of a broken commandment, there lies in this commandment a greater concern; namely, the emptying of God’s name. Using God’s name as a byword is an example of breaking the third commandment, but the commandment itself is larger than that. The greatest challenge to the third commandment is our all-to-persistent eagerness to empty his name of its meaning by representing his name in a manner that is inconsistent with who he is.

The simplest definition of the third commandment is a command against emptying God’s name of its meaning. The word “misuse” communicates the importance of using the Lord’s name in a manner that is consistent with its meaning and character. In other words, when we claim the name of the Lord, but represent that name in a manner inconsistent with the character of the Lord, we are guilty of misusing his name; guilty of emptying his name of its meaning. More specifically, by emptying his name of its meaning, we are saying something about God that is not true; we are, in a sense, preaching a false gospel. Like my daughter, who tried to use my name for improper special benefits, we improperly represent the Lord, and in doing so we teach something about his character and gospel that is not true.

So, how do we misrepresent his name? Simply put, as ambassadors of his name and kingdom, our lives can occasionally reflect a different kingdom than the one he came to inaugurate. G. Campbell Morgan, in his book “The Ten Commandments” addressed the church’s failure:

The last and most subtle form of breaking the third commandment is committed by the man who says, “Lord, Lord,” and does not the things that the Lord says. Prayer without practice is blasphemy; praise without adoration violates the third commandment; giving without disinterestedness robs the benevolence of God of its lustre and beauty. Let these thoughts be stated in other words. The profanity of the church is infinitely worse than the profanity of the street; the blasphemy of the sanctuary is a far more insidious form of evil than the blasphemy of the slum. Is there a blasphemy of the church and the sanctuary?

It is far too easy to view the third commandment, and to believe that it applies only to the one who is far from God and who consistently uses God’s name as a byword. Yes, that matters, but it may not be the most grievous example. It can be our preferred example because it can seem to exempt the Christian who is trying to walk with Christ. We point fingers at those who employ it, and walk in a form of pious self-righteousness without realizing that the greater travesty are those who claim Christ; who enjoy his grace and his benevolence, and yet who do violence to his name and his character with lives that denies his character.

This post originally appeared on The Gospel Project blog. To see the entire series click here.

You can preview a full month of The Gospel Project here. Or click here if you would like to purchase God’s Way for adults or students.

 

Micah is a husband to Tracy & a daddy to Grace, Kessed & (soon to be) Haddon. He’s Senior Pastor at Brainer Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN. Most of all, he’s a debtor to grace.