When People Go

Let’s face it, it is one of the bummers of being in ministry – or for that matter, of being a part of a church. While death and taxes may be among life’s inevitables,  sadly, if you are part of a church, so is periodically watching people go out the doors.

With the Wal-Martization of the American church the contemporary mindset seems to be: “What’s the big deal?”  Which makes sense. I’d be a bit perturbed if I got attitude from the manager and/or employees of Wal-Mart simply because  they learned I had recently been frequenting Target.  So what if someone decides to “shop” at First Church of What’s Happenin’ Now instead of the congregation in which they had taken vows to “support the work and the worship to the best of their ability”?

I get it. I just don’t agree.  The church is not supposed to be like a Wal-Mart.  It is supposed to be a Covenant Family. But not all church members see it that way; not all churches either, for that matter.  So there is not much those left behind can do about it.  Despite the revolving doors local congregations just need to press on.

But what if an opportunity presented itself to say something to one of God’s wayward wanderers? What would you say? What should you say?

In a recent article for 9 Marks blog by Jonathan Leeman muses:

Let’s face it: there are better and worse reasons to leave a church. Are you moving to another city? That’s a good reason. Are you harboring bitterness toward someone who has offended you? That’s a bad reason. Does the church neglect to preach biblical sermons weekly? A good reason. Do you not like the church’s style? Probably a bad reason.

The question is, how should you respond to a fellow member who is leaving for what sounds like a bad reason?

I really appreciated Leeman’s, thoughtful, Biblcial, practical, suggestions.  To read the rest of Leeman’s post, click: What to Say to Church Members Leave for Bad Reasons.

I Will Rise

I will rise and seek my God,
And bowed down beneath my load,
Lay all my sins before Him;
Then He will wash my soul from sin,
And put a new heart me within,
And teach me to adore Him.

O ye that fain would find the joy –
The only one that wants alloy –
Which never is deceiving;
Come to the Well of Life with me
And drink, as it is proffered, free,
The gospel draught receiving.

I come to Christ because I know
The very worst are called to go;
And when in faith I find Him,
I’ll walk in Him, and lean on Him,
Because I cannot move a limb
Until He say: “Unbind him”.

Robert Murray M’Cheyne

The Old Man and the Flesh

by Robin Boisvert

What actually changes when one becomes a Christian?  Confusion about this is common, especially when we realize that we continue to struggle with sin and temptation even after conversion.  Paul tells us in Galatians that we have a war that goes on within us after conversion: “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. ” (Galatians 5.17)   In this short essay Robin Boisvert helps bring some clarity.  ~ WDG


Some of the terms which the apostle Paul uses in discussing the believer’s relationship to sin can cause confusion. I’m speaking of terms such as “old man,” “new man,” “body of sin,” “flesh,” and others. These can be difficult to understand. Add to this the variations which modern translators have given these words and the subject can appear daunting.

We know a profound change has occurred in the life of the believer through conversion, but just how has the believer changed?

For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin — because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. (Romans 6.6-7, emphasis added)

Let’s begin by trying to define our terms. “Old man” (as it is translated in the King James Version and American Standard Version) is equivalent to “old self”  (NIV, NASV).  This term refers to the unregenerate life we lived before we were converted. As John R.W. Stott has written, the old self “denotes not our old unregenerate nature [flesh], but our old unregenerate life. Not my lower self, but my former self. So what was crucified with Christ was not a part of me called my ‘old nature’, but the whole of me as I was before I was converted.”1  John Murray’s definition concurs:

“‘Old man’ is a designation of the person in his unity as dominated by the flesh and sin.”2

It’s important for us to see that the believer is not at the same time an “old self” and a “new self,” alternately dominated and directed by one or the other. We are indebted again to Murray’s insight:

The old man is the unregenerate man; the new man is the regenerate man created in Christ Jesus unto good works. It is no more feasible to call the believer a new man and an old man, than it is to call him a regenerate man and an unregenerate.  And neither is it warranted to speak of the believer as having in him the old man and the new man. 3

Thus, terms like “old man,” “old self,” “unregenerate life,” and “former self” are synonymous, all referring to the entity that was crucified with Christ.

Notice two significant grammatical features of the passage from Romans 6 cited above. First, the verb is used in the past tense: “our old self  crucified…” The crucifixion of the old self is a finished fact. Second, the verb is also passive in voice, meaning that the subject (our old self) is being acted upon. In other words, the crucifixion of the old self is not something we must do, but something that is done to us.

Another important concept in the biblical doctrine of sanctification has traditionally been designated by the word “flesh” (King James Version). The New International Version uses “sinful nature.” According to Stott, “flesh” refers to a “lower” nature, that part of our being inclined toward rebellion against God. This is that part of you that wants to pass on a juicy bit of gossip; that urges you to take a second look at the  immodest images on the television screen. “Whatever we may call this tendency [“indwelling sin,” 4 “remnants of corruption,”5 “vestiges of sin,”6 or “my sinful nature”7]  we must remember that even after we have been regenerated we still have such sinful impulses, and must still fight against them as long as we live.” 8

In Romans 6.6 Paul calls our sinful nature (i.e. flesh) the “body of sin.” He says our old self was crucified with Christ so that this “body of sin might be done away with…” To be “done away with” here means to be put out of action, rendered powerless. It does not mean to be annihilated, gone without a trace. But our sinful nature’s mastery over us has been broken.

Some, not understanding the distinction between the “old self” and the “sinful nature” have gotten Romans 6.6 confused with Galatians 5.24, which also speaks of crucifixion and the believer. Consider two translations of this verse:

  •  Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5.24 NIV)
  •  And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. (Galatians 5.24 KJV)

Though helpless to take anything but a passive stance in regard to the old self (Romans 6.6), we do have an active part to play, as the Galatians learned, in the subjugation of the flesh. Stott sums this up with characteristic clarity:

 First, we have been crucified with Christ; but then we not only have decisively crucified (i.e. repudiated) the flesh with its passions and desires, but we take up our cross daily  and follow Christ to crucifixion (Luke 9.23). The first is a legal death, a death to the penalty of sin; the second is a moral death, a death to the power of sin. The first belongs to the past, and is unique and unrepeatable: I died (in Christ) to sin once. The second belongs to the present, and is continuous and repeatable: I die (like Christ) to self daily. It is with the first of these two that Romans 6 is concerned. 9

And Galatians 5 is concerned with the second.

So the old self has been dealt with. In its place we have been given a new self: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5.17). And while our sinful nature (the flesh, indwelling sin, etc.) is still very much with us, its dominion over us has ended.

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The Un-Churched Next Door

It has been an encouraging trend.  After several months during which we observed a score of painful defections from our church, the past few months have seen a rebound.  We have been blessed to see a number of new folks join our fellowship. Among them are a handful of mature transplants, Christians new to our area, who bring with them a measure of much appreciated stability. But maybe even more exciting is the number of those who had been previously un-churched.  These folks add something refreshing.  They are a reminder of an important aspect of what we are about – or at least what we should be about as the church of Jesus Christ in our community.  I want us to be a church that sees growth primarily through conversion, and by assimilating the formerly un-churched and de-churched,  not growth by enticing the transient hoppers to come from whatever pews they are presently adorning.

I use the term “un-churched” intentionally.  I know it has been common in the past to refer to reaching the “lost” – something I agree is important.  I also realize that this shift to reach the “un-churched” has caused a bit of concern to some who fear that this is somehow a compromise of our evangelistic mandate. But this is no compromise.

Our forefathers in the Faith long asserted that “ordinarily there is no salvation apart from the church”.  The word “ordinarily” is important, because it admits that there are circumstances where men and women are legitimately regenerated and converted and yet, for whatever the reasons, are not a part of any visible expression of the Body of Christ.  But the word ordinarily also conveys that this situation ought to be highly unusual.  Implied in this expression is that whenever someone is not a part of a visible church, genuine Believer or not, there is reason to assume that they are not Christians. This is not judgment. It is simply a rational assumption based on evidence and what scripture declares to be the expected norm.

What I appreciate about this position is the simplicity.  Rather than attempting to discern which of the un-churched are Christians and which are among the “lost” – a task that is essentially near impossible, since I cannot see into each heart as God does –  instead assume all are in need of grace.  My role, and our role as the church, is simply to express the gospel to them through both Word & Deed, and encourage them to unite with some faithful congregation – hopefully many of them to ours.  In the region where we live (Appalachia), where most people make some profession of being a Christian, even if many have no idea of what that actually means, it certainly clarifies our mandate for outreach and evangelism.

But with the number of un-churched friends we are now making, I am reminded of an important detail: Not all the un-churched are the same, and thus they should not all be treated exactly the same.  In other words there are distinctions between the un-churched, categories or levels of their un-churchedness.

Thom Rainer, in his book The Unchurched Next Door, reveals the findings of research by the Rainer Group that is both important and helpful.  Rainer observes that there are five categories, or five degrees, of un-churched:

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10 Signs of Approaching Meltdown

Perry Noble reveals and responds to a stunning statistic:

My counselor shared a statistic with me two years ago that floored me – 90% of the people entering ministry do not retire from ministry. They either quit or have some sort of moral/ethical failure that disqualifies them.

Jesus did not call us to this or wants this for our lives. Yet so many of us church leaders struggle in this area (usually inwardly because if we said out loud that we are dying inside, people might perceive us as weak).

While I am stunned by these stats, I am not surprised.  I’ve seen too many friends flee the frenzy of ministry.  And I myself have peeked over the edge on a few occasions, only to be pulled back onto solid ground  by good friends and gracious church members.  But I concur with Noble: This is not what Jesus wants for those in ministry – whether pastors or church leaders, or volunteers in other areas of the Church.

One reason we know this is not what Jesus wants is because Peter tells us as much:

Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them — not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be…  ~ 1 Peter 5.2

But the interesting thing about this verse is that Peter tells us both that God wants leading the church to be enjoyable and that it is going to be emotionally taxing.   On the one hand, lead and shepherd because the joy set before us makes you want to do it.  On the other hand, by acknowledging that ministry will sometimes seem like a chore, a duty,  a mere responsibility, Peter implies that there will likely be times when something will rob the leader of the delight.

In his post Noble lists 10 Signs you are on the verge of a meltdown or burnout:

  1. You are beginning to despise people and your compassion for them is continually decreasing rather than increasing.
  2. You often think about doing something other than ministry and your biggest desire isn’t to honor God and reach people, but to simply find relief from the pressure that seems to be building daily inside you.
  3. You cannot remember the last time you simply had fun with family and friends, and joy is something you talk about but are not experiencing for yourself.
  4. You are disconnected at home and when you get there, you do not want to engage with your spouse or your children; you cannot enjoy being around them. You spend more time online than you do with your family and you find yourself wanting to sleep all of the time.
  5. You continually tell yourself and those you love that “this is just a really busy season and that you will slow down soon.” However, the truth is that you have been most likely “singing that same song” for years!
  6. You are continually becoming obsessed with what others say about you and one negative comment from someone who does not like you can put you in an incredibly deep valley and cause you to feel hopeless.
  7. You begin to make easy decisions rather than the right ones, because the right ones take too much work.
  8. There is no hope in you and you actually despair of life. You have thought of death and have even entertained suicidal thoughts.
  9. You are experiencing unexplained depression and/or anxiety. You are having panic attacks and can’t explain it.
  10. You are increasingly becoming withdrawn from family and friends.

While I cannot say that I have experienced all of the above symptoms, I am familiar with most. Apparently so is Noble.  He says he drafted this list from his own life. (See: Meltdown)

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