I enjoyed a great day of fellowship and ministry encouragement yesterday at a conference run by Crossway Anglican Churches. Really stirring and stimulating stuff.
The last talk of the day from Rick Smith was on the topic of ‘Leading for mission’ and I have no doubt it left the many pastors in the room with a bit of renewed fire in the belly, joy in the heart, and conviction to make some changes in their ministry.
One of the really helpful insights delivered by Rick in that talk was the need to ‘guard the gospel’, and to ‘guard the gate’ of the church. There is so much that can clutter up a church program, in the end distracting church members from the mission, and getting in the way of clear communication of the primary focus of the church: to rescue people and make them disciples of the Lord Jesus.
Rick talked about how he made (sometimes unpopular) decisions to not promote conferences or causes, or distribute brochures or catalogues or even mission society mailings, because there are just so many of them, and many are not fully aligned with what he wants his church to stand for. He compared it to the way he controls what comes into his house (especially by way of the TV or the internet) to guard the spiritual development of his children.
One can only wholeheartedly agree with the call for pastors (and parents!) to act as gatekeepers, and I have nothing but admiration for pastors who are willing to cop the accusation of being ‘negative, overly critical, narrow-minded, and arrogant’ in order to protect and strengthen their church.
But two questions from the floor posed some challenges.
The first question was basically this: Our sheep have access to all sorts of stuff that we have no control over, especially via the internet. What do you do about the podcasts and blogs they are consuming that are by people we generally wouldn’t let through our (metaphorical) gates to speak to our people? The second question was along similar lines: How do you teach your sheep to be discerning so that they won’t be drawn to that stuff?
The gist of the answer to these questions was that, as pastor, you try to control what you can control, and you hope that by providing good teaching your people develop the discernment not to be taken in by the stuff you can’t control.
But I can’t help wondering if there’s an extra dimension being missed. That perhaps part of the loss of discernment in our congregations in the last decade or two is connected to the loss of the art of Christian reading—that people are not encouraged to read books and are not given much guidance about what to read (or listen to). OK, I may be biased, but I really believe good Christian reading helps build the spiritual immune system.
That’s why I love this video of Mark Dever talking about how he promotes a culture of reading in his church. I think he’s onto something…
What do you think?