Is “Bigger” An Unbiblical Metric?

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

Many “church growth experts” will tell people how to grow their church. But when we say “grow,” what exactly do we mean? Does that mean more people? Does that mean more engaged church members? Or is it a combination of both? 

But more importantly: What does the Bible say about church growth? Does it give us any indication about whether church growth should be quantity or quality?

I taught on this subject with some summer ministry interns. Take a look…

I unpack this idea in much greater depth in my book Shepherd Leadership: The Metrics That Really Matter. My book is available in print or ebook, and in audiobook through either Audible or Apple.

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When Non-biblical Becomes Unbiblical

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

I have written before about the difference between terms that are biblical, unbiblical, and non-biblical. It is very important for us to keep these terms straight, especially so for those in leadership positions. 

The problem becomes very challenging when non-biblical issues are given biblical status, and as a result, people begin to respond in a decidedly unbiblical way. 

In a recent talk that I gave to some ministry interns, I unpacked this idea in more depth. 

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“Doing” Church

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

I had a great time on the 200churches podcast with Jeff Keady. 

Jeff and I talked about some of the changes pastors and churches were forced to confront during the COVID shutdowns. For me, this was a time for my leadership team to examine why we “do church” the way we do. These shutdowns helped us identify the things that were biblical and non-biblical. 

One of the reasons I gave the subtitle “The Metrics That Really Matter” to my book was because of the frustration I saw in so many pastors who were feeling unsuccessful. I discovered that their frustration was largely due to trying to live up to metrics that simply aren’t found in the pages of Scripture. As I wrote in the preface of my book—

My larger concern is that churches, parachurch organizations, and nonprofit ministries that are largely founded to fulfill a biblical mandate are straying from the simple, freeing truths found in the Bible. Or maybe I should say that they are adding things to their ministries that aren’t in the pages of Scripture. Whichever way you want to say it, the result is the same: We are using the wrong metrics to define “success” for our ministries. I fear that in our focus on unbiblical practices, we are missing the joy of really doing ministry. 

Our ministry should be joyful to us as leaders and joy-giving to those to whom we are ministering. If it’s draining instead of fulfilling, that may be an indication that we are trying to gauge success by monitoring non-biblical metrics. 

If you want to dig into this a bit more, check out two previous posts I wrote: 

I’ll be sharing more clips from this 200churches interview soon, so please stay tuned. Shepherd Leadership: The Metrics That Really Matter is available in print or ebook, and in audiobook through either Audible or Apple. 

►► Would you please prayerfully consider supporting this ministry? My Patreon supporters get behind-the-scenes access to exclusive materials. ◀︎◀︎

Use The Right Term

Words mean something. It’s very important that we use the right word in the right context. This is especially true when we are talking about things that are or aren’t in the Bible. 

Specifically, here are the three terms that I think are vitally important:

  • Biblical. These are things the Bible specifically tells us that we must do. 
  • Unbiblical. These are things the Bible specifically tells us that we must not do. 
  • Non-biblical. These are things the Bible doesn’t specifically address.

For example, I tell a story in my book Shepherd Leadership: The Metrics That Really Matter about a friend of mine who wanted to discuss particular titles for people in the church. I simply explained that the titles of “senior pastor” or “lead pastor” aren’t in the Bible, so I didn’t have a strong opinion on which one should be used. This is a non-biblical issue. 

However, we can create a big problem if we insist on making non-biblical issues seem like they are biblical issues. Jesus confronted the Pharisee and the teachers of the law on this issue. These religious leaders had non-biblical traditions, but they gave them biblical authority (Mark 7:1-13). As a result, they begin to behave in unbiblical ways.

The ceremonial washing of hands is a tradition that is non-biblical. But the way that they looked down on people who didn’t wash their hands this way, is an unbiblical attitude.

One biblical commandment is to honor parents, but Jesus called out the Pharisees for honoring another one of their non-biblical traditions that caused them to turn their backs on their parents. As a result they became guilty of the unbiblical practice of dishonoring their parents. 

Before you begin adopting certain attitudes, practices, or beliefs, it’s a good idea to make sure that you have learned whether they are biblical, unbiblical, or non-biblical.

Name-It-Claim-It?

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible.

This is part 4 in our series “Is that in the Bible?” 

Statement #4—Name it and claim it. Is that in the Bible? No! 

But in fairness, even the proponents of this belief don’t usually say it this way. Instead they quote words from Jesus like: “I will do whatever you ask in My name” (John 14:13) or “Ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you” (John 15:7). 

They really want this to be true, I think, because in their minds happy, prosperous Christians make God look good. On the other hand, struggling Christians make God look bad. There is a whole branch of theology called theodicy which literally means: “a defense of God’s goodness and omnipotence in view of the existence of evil.” 

This is nothing new. Religious people have always tried to have pat answers. In the oldest book of the Bible, Job’s friends were convinced that suffering results from sin and blessing results from righteousness. And yet according to God, Job was a righteous man (Job 1:1, 8, 20-21). 

At the advent of Jesus, the chief priests and scribes want the Messiah to be heroic so they modified a prophecy to make Bethlehem sound more impressive (compare Micah 5:2 with Matthew 2:6). 

So it follows that this name-it-claim-it group wants God to look good because His people look good, dress well, drive nice cars, live in big homes, fly private jets, and never get sick.

But Jesus Himself told His followers to, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor” (Luke 12:33). And He said, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me” (Matthew 5:11). And Jesus also said, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). 

This is not to say that God opposes wealth: He gave wealth to His leaders, Job was doubly-wealthy after his trial, and wealthy people funded the ministry of Jesus and the early church. But this isn’t the same as pursuing—or even demanding—wealth, or of making the erroneous connection that poor people are somehow out of favor with God. 

How do we avoid these errors? Here are three thoughts: 

(1) Study the whole counsel of God’s Word.  

Don’t just read your favorite passages, or the ones that make you feel good, but read all of the Bible. Jesus frequently had to correct the religious leaders’ beliefs by sending them back to the Scripture (Matthew 21:15-16; Mark 12:18-27; Luke 6:3). Jesus called the Holy Spirit the Spirit of truth (John 16:12-15). The Holy Spirit that inspired the Bible is the same Holy Spirit in a Christian that can illuminate the Bible as you read it.  

(2) Remember that context is king.  

The word “eisegesis” means to read something into the Word. But that is like creating your own beliefs and then going to the Bible to find phrases that support what you already believe. On the other hand “exegesis” is to read the Bible and have it speak to us by the Holy Spirit. 

Two of the phrases from Jesus that the name-it-and-claim-it folks use (John 14:13 and John 15:7) turn out to mean something entirely different than, “God will give me all of the things I demand from Him” when they are read within the context of the things Jesus was teaching at that time (see John 14:9-14 and 15:1-8). 

(3) Understand your terms.

If something is biblical, that is something the Bible says yes to. Unbiblical things the Bible says no to. But non-biblical are those the Bible doesn’t explicitly address. We have to be very careful of trying to make non-biblical things sound biblical or it may lead to some unbiblical attitudes and actions. 

This is exactly what the Pharisees did by giving their non-biblical traditions the weight of biblical statements, and then looking down on others in a very unbiblical way. 

God is sovereign. We do not tell Him what to do. We do not demand Him to respond to our needs. We trust Him and and we abide in Him. Then in the abiding, asking and understanding and fruitfulness are as natural as a flower sprouting from a branch that is attached to the vine. We don’t name things and claim things for our personal comfort, but we desire solely for God’s glory to be seen—whether in wealth or poverty, health or sickness, peaceful times or tribulation. 

Evaluating all biblical sounding statements by those three items—studying the whole counsel of God’s Word, understanding the context, and knowing our terms—will guide us from going astray. 

If you’ve missed any of the messages in our series Is That In The Bible?, you can get a list of all of the messages by clicking here.

►► Would you please prayerfully consider supporting this ministry? My Patreon supporters get behind-the-scenes access to exclusive materials. ◀︎◀︎

People Of The Word

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible.

Haggai appears on the historical scene for just five months, but what a bright light he shines! He is the first of three post-exilic prophets to encourage the Israelites who have returned to Jerusalem.

Before we talk about Haggai’s ministry, we need a brief grammar lesson. Specifically, let’s look at two prefixes: un- and non-. Both of them ultimately mean “not,” but there is a distinction that we need to consider when it comes to the Bible: 

    • unbiblical would mean something contrary to the teaching of the Bible 
    • non-biblical is something that may or may not be correct, but it’s not specifically mentioned in the Bible 

Let me give you an example from my book Shepherd Leadership: The Metrics That Really Matter. Chris asked me whether I preferred the title senior pastor or lead pastor. This is a non-biblical issue; that is, it doesn’t really matter to me because neither of those titles are found in the Bible. Technically, the word pastor isn’t in the Bible either. The word that is usually translated “pastor” is really a herdsman or a shepherd. 

The problem is that if we put too much focus on non-biblical things, those things can end up becoming unbiblical pursuits. Like when Jesus took the Pharisees to task for their focus on traditions over Scripture (see Matthew 15:1-6). I wrote Shepherd Leadership mainly to get pastors and church leaders to spot non-biblical metrics which may have sneakily turned into unbiblical pursuits, so that they could return to pure biblical principles. In the Preface of my book, I wrote—

“My larger concern is that churches, parachurch organizations, and nonprofit ministries that are largely founded to fulfill a biblical mandate are straying from the simple, freeing truths found in the Bible. Or maybe I should say that they are adding things to their ministries that aren’t in the pages of Scripture. Whichever way you want to say it, the result is the same: We are using the wrong metrics to define ‘success’ for our ministries. I fear that in our focus on unbiblical practices, we are missing the joy of really doing ministry.”

Haggai calls God’s people to return to God’s Word. This is the second-shortest book in the Old Testament (at just 38 verses long), yet Haggai says something like “this is what God says” 28 times in these 38 verses! 

Haggai also records five times that God says, “Give careful thought to your ways.” This phrase literally means to take a strong hold on each thought and examine it intensely. This idea is always connected to a phrase like, “This is what the Lord Almighty says” (1:5, 7; 2:14-15, 17-18). In other words, we are to thoughtfully examine our lifestyle with God’s Word being THE standard of measurement. 

Paul made a similar connection in the New Testament: We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). 

Jesus did this too. When speaking to the religious leaders, He said, “You are wrong because you know neither the Scriptures nor God’s power” (Matthew 22:29). And even with His own disciples, He had to open their minds to see how the Scriptures pointed to Him and were fulfilled in Him (Luke 24:25-27, 44-45). 

Indeed, the phrase “it is written” is used 75 times in the New Testament! 

That’s why Haggai’s words still ring true to us today: “Give careful thought” to how you live in light of how God says you should be living. Christians need to…

  1. Hear the Word of God every day 
  2. Consider their lives in light of the Word of God
  3. Obey what the Word of God is saying to us 

(check out Acts 17:11; Psalm 139:23-24; 1 Samuel 15:22) 

We must become people of the Word of God or else we run the very real risk of letting our non-biblical decisions spiral downward into a sinful, unbiblical lifestyle that grieves the heart of God. 

If you’ve missed any of the messages in our series Major Lessons From Minor Prophets, you can access the full list by clicking here. 

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Links & Quotes

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Some good reading & watching from today…

Surveys show that Christians who support same-sex “marriage” are also much more open to other unbiblical lifestyles. Read John Stonestreet’s post Package Deal.

“Seeing that a Pilot steers the ship in which we sail, Who will never allow us to perish even in the midst of shipwrecks, there is no reason why our minds should be overwhelmed with fear and overcome with weariness.” —John Calvin

“God has provided His salvation that we might be, individually and personally, vibrant children of God, loving God with all our hearts and worshiping Him in the beauty of holiness.” —A.W. Tozer

Timely reading: Suicide Prevention Tips From A Survivor.

[VIDEO] Inspiring speech from a Little League coach after his team was eliminated from the Little League World Series.

I never thought I’d read the New York Times ask this question: Who Will Stand Up For The Christians?

Want A Happy Marriage? Here are three important things.

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