Mailbag #30: Non-Members Serving in Church; A Prospective Elder Who Doesn’t Regularly Attend; The Problem with Contemporary Christian Music; How Younger Members Can Serve Older Ones
Two questions on non-members serving in the church:
Question # 1: Assuming that you reserve areas of service and ministry for baptized church members, how do you encourage or allow youth to serve in the church who profess faith but for whatever reason are not yet baptized members? (I appreciate many of your church’s [CHBC] reasons for delaying the baptism of children of believers.) I don’t want to give false assurance, but I also want to cultivate their desire to serve the Lord sacrificially. If they claim to believe in Christ, then they ought to live out that faith by selflessly serving others. I also worry about cultivating a “consumer” mentality of coming to get and not give. What do you think?
Question # 2: Is it wise to let non-members serve in behind-the-scenes ministries? Generally, we restrict ministry to members of our church. But I’m considering letting a few neighborhood teens serve on the sound team as a way to deepen our relationship with them. Like you, I don’t go for the whole “belonging before believing” philosophy. But in our inner city context of urban poverty, particularly with the youth, I wonder if there is a discipleship opportunity, both for the sake of the faith as well for teaching a skill. Any advice?
Dear Serving Kids and Joel:
I have grouped your two questions together, because the same principles are at play, and my answer is basically the same. Let me point to three basic principles, followed by three practical take-aways.
Principle 1: We should make it hard for Christians to be their own shepherds and live dis-membered lives independently of the local church.
For that reason, my church does in fact reserve all areas of service and ministry for baptized members. Aside from discouraging independency and encouraging membership, this helps to protect our members and our church’s witness through the accountability structures of membership.
Principle 2: You don’t want to tempt a non-Christian who is “on the way” with thinking they “have arrived.”
The first step of the Christian life, Jesus and the apostles would say, is getting baptized and joining a church (e.g. Acts 2:38, 41). So whether we’re talking about a 10, 15, or 50 year old, I want them to simultaneously feel the church’s love, warmth, and affection together with the status of being an outsider. I dare say, the church’s posture should be similar to the woman who plays hard-to-get: one hand invites the suitor in, while the other hand says, “Stop! Not until you commit!” To extend the analogy one step farther, she does herself and her suitor no good in the long run by granting him the benefits of the relationship apart from a commitment. By this token, you don’t want to ever confuse a non-member (whether a child or an adult) about their status as an outsider.
Principle 3: The church is a family, and its life together should be organic, not programmatic.
Which means, surely there is a place to invite children and friends to join members in doing life together, including in ways that serve the church.
Okay, putting these three principles together, I would offer these three practical take-aways:
Practical take-away 1: We shouldn’t let non-members participate in public ministries.
Godlier and better pastors than I disagree with me on this. But the people “up front” represent the church and (therefore) Jesus in a particularly prominent way. And the significance of that, I think, outweighs any short-term evangelistic or discipleship argument. Better for the church in the long-run evangelistically to maintain its set-apart witness. And I’d apply this take-away to adults, youth in the neighborhood, and the children of members.
Take-away 2: I wouldn’t assign any non-member (whether adult, neighborhood youth, or child of member) with a behind-the-scenes ministry task independently of a member, such that someone might be confused about whether that non-member is a member.
So, no, I would not put the neighborhood youth on the sound ministry rotation, and I would not ask children to do ministry independently of their parents.
Take-away 3: I think we can selectively involve non-members in working through and with members, such as children working through and with their parents.
For example, I work in the children’s ministry once a month, and the nature of what I’m doing allows me to bring my 6, 8, or 10-year-old girl along with me. I can imagine doing the same if I ran the sound booth, or managed the bookstall, or organized hospitality in all of its forms.
My 10 year old also attends a Chronicles of Narnia book discussion group on Sunday afternoon led by two teenage sisters who are the daughters of a member. Their mother, the member, just sits in the room. I don’t know I would call this book group a ministry of the church, per se, but these teenage girls are playing a role in the discipleship of my oldest daughter.
Or I think of my friends with the five kids. Once a week the whole family travels down to the crisis pregnancy center which my church has been involved with for years. Mom and dad teach the parenting classes for the women and men, while all five kids . . . well, I’m not sure what the kids do, other than whatever tasks mom and dad assign and more generally run around and spread the love. It’s one of their favorite outings of the week, and the center loves to see the whole family in action!
But here’s what’s critical: the member who is inviting the child or the neighborhood youth along needs to have the right vision for what they are doing. The member needs to be clear about maintaining that line between the inside and the outside of the church, even while he or she involves and encourages the youth or child. That member, more than anyone else, plays the role of the hard-to-get woman on behalf of the church: “No, you may not eat from that loaf or drink from that cup. But let me tell you how good it tastes!”
I hope this answers your questions, friends.
Our church will soon enter an elder selection process, which includes a congregational vote. How should I think about voting for a candidate who meets all the requirements laid out in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, but misses church fairly often (at least once a month, probably more). He does this for personal choice reasons that have nothing to do with health, work, travel, etc. One the one hand, I don’t want to add elder requirements that aren’t explicit in Scripture. One the other hand, shouldn’t we expect a higher level of commitment from an elder than the average member?
Dear Elder Attendance,
I don’t assume that Paul’s lists of elder qualifications in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 include everything we might require of an elder candidate. Paul says nothing about an elder’s prayer life, but I assume he should have one.
Also, I don’t know if I would say we should expect a “higher” level of commitment from an elder. I would say we should expect an “exemplary” level of commitment. He should be an example to the flock.
For that reason alone, I would personally be reluctant to nominate a man who misses once or twice a month “just because.” His example is at least suspect. No, Hebrews 10:24-25’s injunction not to forsake assembling together does not prescribe an exact number, but it does lay a burden on every Christian to gather regularly and consistently, which in the New Testament means weekly.
Finally, there is the simple math: every percentile drop in attendance equals a percentile drop in the care and oversight a man can give.
But here is what’s unclear to me from your question: are you a pastor, and you are thinking about whether or not to nominate this man? From the information I have, I would not nominate him.
Or, are you a member, and your pastor(s) has or is about to nominate this man? If so, maybe he knows something you don’t. Ask him. Maybe ask the nominee, too. Explain your misgivings to each. And be open to their answers. Who knows, maybe one of them will feel challenged and convicted by your question.
Bottom line: what you describe is clear enough for me to say that I would not personally recommend this man in the first place, but it’s not so clear to me that I would necessarily refuse the decision if my elders recommended him to my church.
Hopefully some of this dithering is helpful.
Although I prefer a robust hymnody with theologically strong, God-centered lyrics, much of the rest of my church seems to prefer today’s standard, popular, and contemporary music. I understand worship isn’t about me, but I also know the theology and message behind some of these songs is suspect—or, in some cases, devolves into mindless repetition of the same verse a dozen times in a row. Are there particular pitfalls to watch out for among the most popular groups/songs, or any movements in contemporary “K-LOVE” worship? I just want to make sure my church thinks about what they’re singing, and that those songs inform and focus on true worship of our Holy God.
I love a robust, God-centered hymnody, too. (Shameless plug: buy my parent’s hymnal for families and students Hosanna, Loud Hosannas or here.) That is what I would choose if I were choosing our church’s music.
But, Zach, if like me you are not responsible for choosing your church’s music, you have two choices: either sing with all your might and a happy heart or find another church. I don’t think there’s a middle way. You don’t have the option to stay and be disgruntled.
I am reluctant to tell you to offer suggestions to whoever makes music decisions. Maybe. But said individual probably gets plenty of those suggestions.
I understand the person who includes the substance and quality of music on his or her list of essentials for choosing a church. There is a place for that. I esteem the person who can learn from his lessers or can sing joyfully what seems shallow. That’s where I need to grow, at least.
What are some ways that a younger church member can positively influence older members with regards to sound doctrine?
My wife and I are new to our church and both in our mid-twenties. Accordingly, in group discussions, bible study, or private conversations in which poor doctrine is expressed I am often worried about coming across dogmatic or disrespectful towards older members. However, I feel compelled to defend the basic tenants of the reformed and Baptist traditions. By “doctrine” I mean basic issues. Being that many members hail from a Catholic background, the issues of contention often relate to perseverance, justification, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and etc. Sometimes the issues are even more basic, like when folk wisdom (e.g. God helps those who help themselves, etc.) is espoused as “biblical truth.”
There is not a culture of correction in this area. Unity to the detriment of right doctrine seems to be the consensus. That is how a discussion over the doctrine of salvation met its swift demise in one bible study. How should I proceed with wisdom and respect, while appropriately correcting some of the issues I encounter?
—Timon, New Jersey
I like Paul’s words to Timothy: “Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father . . . older women as mothers” (1 Tim. 5:1).
How would you correct your grandparents or parents in places you perceive them to be in error? Often you probably wouldn’t. You would smile, love them, and try to set a good example. And I suspect that’s the vast majority of what you’re able to do, Timon.
Also, work to encourage the good you see. Teaching those who are older or “above” us, unless you are a pastor, often works through building on the good rather than correcting that bad. And even a pastor needs to lean in this direction more than he does with someone younger. I think that’s what Paul is saying.
Along these lines, praise God for whatever evidences of grace you see, and verbally encourage the older folk. Ask them questions. Learn from their experience.
Yes, you should state true doctrine whenever a given topic arises: “Well, I believe the Bible clearly teaches Jesus died as a substitute. He was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, Isaiah 53 says.” But then I wouldn’t argue. I’d keep my words few. Clear, but few.
And keep your emotions calm. Don’t give the impression of an argument. Instead, stay there, unperturbed, assuring them with your demeanor and body language that you are happy to sit there as their friend and keep loving them. And mean that! You must love them, Timon. And you must pray for them.
I assume this poor teaching does not characterize the pastors. If it does, you might think about finding another church. But assuming it doesn’t, I suspect you can happily stay and support the pastor’s teaching ministry for years. Plus, any influence you will have will only come over the long term as you prove faithful in loving, attending consistently, living in a manner that’s above reproach, and doing the best with any teaching opportunities you are given.
Your goal is not to convince everyone of good doctrine in today’s (!!!) Sunday School class. The goal is to help everyone around you with ears to hear grow slowly over the next five to ten years as they consider your life and your doctrine. Play the long game, Timon.
I pray this is useful.