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Monthly Archives: July 2019

By John Wells

Recently I read all of Paul’s letters in one sitting. I highly recommend you do so at least once.

Surprisingly, it took me less than a minute.

The previous night I read about Jesus walking on water, how he stilled the storm with a single word. From these verses I gleaned that God can help me when I’m scared. And the night before I read about Daniel in the lion’s den and discovered God will protect me from every danger.

If you haven’t guessed, I was reading a children’s Bible. If you have young kids, you’re likely familiar with the take-home point found in many children’s Bibles and in much church curriculum—a simple story with a moral lesson.

G.I. Joe Values

In these settings children learn to be honest, to share, even to obey their parents. These are values we desire to see, right? Yet when we read one of these stories in a children’s Bible or when our kids come bounding out of Sunday school with their coloring page smattered with cotton balls and glitter-glue and a moral lesson, I sometimes cringe.

Why? Because I remember learning those same lessons growing up in a secular home. They were taught by those great heroes of the faith: He-Man, G.I. Joe, and the Ninja Turtles. These were children’s stories designed to teach good behavior.

As an adult, I heard the gospel and found my morality damning (Rom. 2:12–15). As a parent, I realized I’d failed to teach my kids the incredible story of redemption by allowing secondary moral lessons to usurp the primary message of Scripture.

Essentially, I was teaching them there is little difference between the power of the gospel and the power of Grayskull. I needed to make changes. My children needed to learn to read and understand the Bible on its own terms.

4 Things to Avoid

Though cheap gospel substitutes take many forms, they often revolve around misinterpreting narratives in four ways:

1. Teaching narratives as moralistic fables.

Old and New Testament narratives are often taught as a spiritual version of Aesop’s Fables. For example, Jonah is treated as a story about how disobeying God will bring disaster. While that point is true, biblical narratives are not solely or even chiefly designed to convey a mere moral lesson.

2. Using excessive extrapolation and subtext.

Children are invited to read between the lines, assign feelings and motives to characters, and identify themselves as the hero of each story. They are asked questions like, “Why do you think the little boy wanted to share his fish and bread?” or “How do you think this act made Jesus feel?”

3. Implying prosperity theology.

Many times the lessons walk—and sometimes cross—a thin line into prosperity theology by promising that God will always protect their bodies, heal their sicknesses, and provide for their material needs. Such theology quickly breaks down with children facing abuse, family hardships, and serious illness. They may even wonder if they caused their own hardship or are somehow at fault.

4. Excluding epistolary, poetic, and prophetic genres.

If covered at all, these genres are often combined into a single story and taught as a narrative. So much rich theology is missed in favor of a moral lesson.

5 Things to Embrace

So what’s the alternative? As Christian parents we’re responsible for raising our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4). It’s our responsibility to teach them how to study his Word. We want them to see the Bible not as a collection of moral fables, but as the epic story of redemption.

Here five brief tips for accomplishing that goal:  

1. Read and talk with your children about the Bible.

Deuteronomy 6:4–9 says to teach our children about the Lord in our homes, when we are traveling, when we lie down at night, and when we get up in the morning. Conversations about God and his Word should be a constant part of our daily interaction with our children.

2. Don’t rely on children’s Bibles alone.

Get your children in the Scriptures as much as possible. Even the best children’s Bibles are an inferior replacement for the real thing, so employ them only in a supplemental manner and choose only those that focus on the gospel. (Excellent options include The Big Picture Story BibleThe Jesus Storybook Bible, and The Biggest Story.)

3. Teach them to think through paragraphs in the Epistles.

Since each paragraph contains a complete thought, read one at a time and help your child think it through. Depending on his or her age, you may need to stop after each sentence to ask questions. Older children may be able to handle two or three paragraphs together. The goal is to learn to comprehend what a biblical author is communicating.

4. When reading narratives, read the whole story and then ask questions.

Ask questions about the characters, plot, and resolution of the story. Stick with the story’s details when questioning, and resist reading between the lines. Finally, ask “why” questions to help them see broader redemptive themes. Resist the urge to concentrate solely on the morality of the character’s actions.

5. Don’t assume you need all the answers.

Not knowing answers to all their questions can actually be constructive. Make it a fun learning opportunity to search together, modeling for them how to find an answer in the process.

They Are Worth It

We began this practice with our children, and even my 5-year-old can now follow along. The task is certainly more challenging than reading a page from your children’s Bible, but our kids are worth it.

May we take the time to invest in their grasp of Scripture and the good news it proclaims.

John Wells holds a Master of Divinity from Temple Baptist Seminary and has worked as a church planter, teaching pastor, and care director. John is married with two children. You can follow him on Twitter.

Posted in Spiritual Growth|

As the Protestant church celebrates the 500 year anniversary of the Reformation, we can’t help but analyze the consequences of this historic act. Martin Luther had no way of knowing the ripple effect his act of defiance toward the Catholic Church would have—not only in the Christian world but also in broader western culture.

For better or worse, Luther set into motion a move of individualism that would grow to shape the nature of western Christian thought and worship. When Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door at Wittenberg, the western church (and consequently the worldwide church) would never be the same.

And it’s not just the church that has felt the impact of those hammer raps. One could easily argue that Luther’s act paved the way for successive revolutions large and small alike. Things from America’s break from the English monarchy to the church’s modern practice of reading Scripture outside the context of a faith community can potentially be traced back to Luther. In fact, a recent CNN article makes a case for ideas such as democracy and capitalism stemming from Luther’s boldness.

Effects of the Protestant Reformation

While we have Luther to thank for key tenets of our faith like Sola Scriptura and justification by faith alone, I can’t help but think about what we left behind. In our haste to pull away from corruption and misguided theology, did we leave behind some good things? I’d like to propose a bit of a reformation of the Reformation (or rather, what has grown out of the Reformation). As we remember the incredible gift given to us by Luther, can we also consider the need to continue to reform as we prepare to be Jesus’s pure and spotless bride?

An Emphasis on Literalism over Symbolism

Before Luther, Scripture had not been translated into the common language yet. To an uneducated population—very few of which could even read their mother tongue—Latin was quite the stretch. Which is why educated priests were commissioned to teach people the Scripture. This is also why (to this day) when you go to a Catholic service, you will see the stations of the cross, meant to teach people about the story of Jesus and the incredible sacrifice he made for us. You may also see stained glass windows with depictions of stories in Scripture. You will also likely sing hymns that are oriented around Scriptural truths or stories from the Bible. These traditions are all rooted in the task of teaching illiterate people the principles of Scripture.

Then there is the ceremony of mass, which is highly symbolic in and of itself. As Father Augustine Tran explains on the Catholic Exchange, even the appearance of the altar is steeped in meaning:

We begin with the altar, which represents the body of Christ. The white cloth that covers the altar is Christ’s burial garment. When the priest kisses the altar, he is kissing Christ faithfully in contradiction to the kiss of Judas. The altar is a very strong symbol of the meal aspect of the Mass, because the Mass is a sacrificial meal as the Last Supper was. But the altar also looks like a tomb because it holds the relic of a saint. The ancient Christians celebrated Mass over the tombs of the Saints and martyrs to unite themselves with them, to ask for their intercessions, that they too would be just as faithful as the Saints and martyrs had been. That tradition continues today by putting small relics of Saints into our altars.

From the order of the service to the repeated rituals utilized, every service is designed to remind the participant of the sacrifice Jesus made for him or her. The atmosphere created in this kind of service is highly contemplative.

However, in the Protestant tradition, there is not as much emphasis on symbolism. Instead, the highlight of the Protestant service is the sermon, a literal experience of Scripture compared to a symbolic one that seems to envelop the whole service and allows for reflection. Intentional or not, a traditional Protestant service is concerned more with the cognitive and literal understanding of the gospel and Scripture.

Perhaps this more literal service was a byproduct of the fact that the Protestant tradition grew up with increasing access to personal copies of the Bible in the common language. Whereas the Catholic church did not develop with this luxury, the Protestant church did.

The Emphasis on the Individual Versus the Community

Another unintended consequence of the Reformation is the emphasis on the individual and what he or she decides to be true. Of course, we can appreciate Luther “going rogue” to address the abuses of the Catholic church and its leaders. His was essentially a one-man revolution against the establishment, and we can appreciate why he did it—especially after trying to articulate his concerns in a more collaborative way.

However, one has to wonder how we would be worshipping today had the Catholic church chosen to address Luther’s concerns. Within the context of community, the Reformation potentially could have produced a healthier, more unified church with the richness of symbolic tradition and empowerment by the Scripture and the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

It could have been a beautiful mix of appropriate individualism to challenge preconceived notions—and thus discover deeper truth—and a community knitted together by good, symbolic tradition and healthy accountability.

One has to wonder if all our church splits and divisions can be linked back to a conviction we feel to leave if and when change isn’t happening the way we feel it should. But we must consider: Do we leave too soon?

There is also the temptation we constantly fight against to take Scripture out of its context and apply it as it wasn’t intended to be applied. Whereas a person from a Catholic tradition might be more inclined to bring questions about Scripture to a priest who has studied the context of the Scripture and theology, there is the prevalent belief among Protestants that one can understand the complexities of Scripture on one’s own. As Glenn Paauw and Paul Caminiti explain on the ChurchLeaders Podcast, the very structure of our modern print Bibles changes the way we understand Scripture. Indeed, even the practice of reading Scripture by one’s self, without the feedback of a group or community, can be problematic.

As we reflect on the inheritance we have, given by Luther, I hope we can use his example to inspire action. May we constantly ask ourselves: What needs reforming—both in my own life and in my faith tradition?

Posted in Christian History|

Article originally by Aubrey Coleman, The Gospel Coalition

Last summer at a book club I held in my home, women in my church from different stages of life met to read and discuss a Christian book together. This group typically stayed late to continue talking and asking questions. We rejoiced at the stories of God’s faithfulness in one another’s lives. We encouraged and spurred one another on through difficulties. We sought mutual counsel and wisdom and pointed each other to Scripture.

Moments like these remind me of the treasure trove found in discipling relationships. The Christian life comes with questions. Those questions change through different seasons of our lives, and we need help from those who have walked before us. God didn’t intend for us to walk alone.

Though most of us would acknowledge the importance of discipleship, we often struggle to find and pursue those relationships in our own lives. As we think about someone in our church who might help us walk faithfully, obediently, and humbly with God, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Who Is Faithful?

When considering meeting up with someone, simply ask yourself, Is she faithful? Referencing Titus 2:1–7 is a great foundation for understanding what faithfulness looks like. Is she a member of my church? Does she serve faithfully in her season of life? Does she show up when she says she will? Does she encourage others? Does she love God’s Word?

Though most of us would acknowledge the importance of discipleship, we often struggle to find and pursue those relationships in our own lives.

You should be able to quickly identify faithful men and women in your church. If you’re having trouble discerning, ask your elders and pastors to recommend faithful saints you can reach out to.

Whom Do I Connect Easily With?

Among the many faithful, whom do you connect with? You may have a great connection with someone instantly. In some situations, you will naturally serve alongside other men and women who are already making a spiritual investment in you. Discipleship can certainly happen organically, but we can’t always expect it to happen that way. It may take more time and effort. It might even look a bit like taking someone on a date! Don’t be hesitant. Invite someone out to coffee and get to know her.

Were you encouraged by your conversation? Do you desire to learn from her? Is it easy to share your life with her? Is it easy to have spiritual conversations?

Just Ask

We may try to overcomplicate it, overthink it, or wait around to be sought out, but there’s no need to formulate a paragraph text or come up with an elaborate discipleship proposal. Just ask! If anyone comes to me discouraged about a lack of discipling relationships, I first ask: “Have you initiated with anyone?” More likely than not, when we reach out to others, they are encouraged by our pursuit. It is deeply rewarding and humbling to be asked to disciple someone.

Discipleship shouldn’t be an exclusive relationship among a few people but a normal pursuit among all members.

This doesn’t mean everyone will be able to say yes, but that is the beauty of pursuing more than one discipling relationship. Our dependency for accountability shouldn’t rest on one person, but many members. If you’re a member of a church, you have committed yourselves to build up one another in the faith. Therefore, discipleship shouldn’t be an exclusive relationship among a few people but a normal pursuit among all members of the church.

Right Expectations

Discipleship doesn’t always look the same. It may mean meeting weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, or whenever both of your schedules allow. It may look like reading through a book of the Bible, doing a study together, reading a book together, praying together, or just meeting to share your life and encourage one another. Life-on-life discipleship is literally stepping into the life of another—the sweet parts, the hard parts, and everything in between.

Discipleship is a commitment to meet people where they are with gospel-saturated truth, grace, and friendship. It may look like sitting in a coffee shop, going for a walk, or joining them for dinner. But sometimes, “meeting them where they are” means squeezing it into life’s less peaceful moments. You may talk at a child’s soccer game, over the phone after you’ve had to cancel your time together, while carpooling, or as you’re doing a home-improvement project together.

We need realistic expectations in our discipleship relationships. The actual shape of the relationship doesn’t matter so much as a committed desire to encourage one another in the faith.

Discipleship Is A Joy And Privilege

The women who invested their time in my early years as a new believer helped me to mature in the faith and taught me to practice important spiritual disciplines. Their lives looked a lot like the older woman in the Titus 2 passage: reverent in behavior, not gossipers, not drinking excessively, teaching what is good, encouraging the young women to love their husbands and their children. Even today, I continue to seek out relationships with older women because I need their wisdom in my life.

I will never outgrow the need for discipleship, nor will I outgrow the command to disciple.

Additionally, I have found it to be a great and humbling gift to encourage and equip newer and younger believers in their faith. Discipling others demands I live as a Titus 2 woman. In doing so, I have been used by God to strengthen others in their faith, and I have been deeply encouraged and challenged in my own! I will never outgrow the need for discipleship, nor will I outgrow the command to disciple.

It’s both a privilege and a joy to know that God is making us like his Son. And it is his tender and loving gesture to give us help along the way.

Article originally by D.A. Horton of 9Marks Ministry

How do you assess a prosperity gospel church?

The first nine years of my walk with Christ were spent in such an environment, followed by two years in theological rehab, which prepared me for the next six years of pastoring in the urban context. What’s become clear to me is that the nine marks of a healthy church provide a useful grid for assessing any church, including those that teach the prosperity gospel.

And what we find is that a prosperity gospel church is a purely anti-nine marks church.

Some of the examples in what follows are specific and may not identify with you the reader. Many however are universal and are propagated by preachers on the internet, radio, and television. Since the prosperity gospel movement is inter-denominational, the teachings expressed in this article are not to be associated with any one denomination within evangelical Christianity.

1. EXPOSITIONAL PREACHING

Preaching in prosperity gospel churches is far from expositional. Instead, the purpose of preaching is to motivate hearers to give financially, and you give to get. Preachers exploit the passages that deal with the sacrificial giving of tithes and offerings week in and week out. They instruct hearers to activate their faith by sowing a “faith seed,” thereby tapping into God’s law of reciprocity and leading to their own financial breakthrough.

Isolated Old Testament passages are often used as examples of God’s abundant reward for faith giving. One passage often used to manipulate hearers into giving more is Malachi 3:10. Prosperity preachers highlight two points from this passage. First, they tell hearers they are robbing God by not tithing. Second, they assure hearers that God wants them to test him by giving more, so that he can give them more.

But consider Malachi 3:10 in its proper context. The Israelites were robbing God by not giving enough food to the national storehouse that was used to feed the priests of Israel. So the priests were having to leave their priestly duties and take up farming to survive (see Neh. 13:10-13). God therefore exhorts Israel to test him by giving obediently. If they did, he would reward them as he did in the past (2 Chr. 31:7-10). The point of this entire passage concerns a historically specific episode in the life of Israel. Preaching it as a Christian sermon, however, requires more than transferring its commands and promises to Christians on a one-to-one basis. Yes, there are larger applications for the Christian concerning giving, but first one needs to account for the differences between old covenant and new, especially the nature of God’s promises to Israel and the manner in which they are fulfilled for the Christian in Christ.

A healthy church uses preaching to communicate God’s words to his people. It confronts the hearer with God’s truth and leads to conviction, encouragement, clarity, and a call to action. It also centers every text around the gospel in order to show the hearer how central and necessary Jesus Christ is to the believer living in obedience to God’s word. A healthy church will inform believers that the results of holy living will not necessarily be financial gain but rather godliness that honors our Lord.

2. BIBLICAL THEOLOGY

Prosperity gospel theology rests upon the foundational error that man shares a form of deity with God, such that our words carry the same creative power as God’s words. Psalm 82:6, Proverbs 18:20-21, and Romans 4:17 are popular proof texts used to support this falsehood. It is often said that man is a “lower-case god” and possesses the power to demonstrate deity by speaking things into existence, creating and controlling our destiny with words, and even mandating a frustrated and limited God to act on our behalf for our benefit.

But none of these proof texts support these prosperity teachings. In Psalm 82:6, the Psalmist is crying out to God regarding the immoral judges who were governing the nation of Israel. God speaks directly to the erring judges by addressing them as “gods” to highlight the fact they were judging the nation in his place. They were to use his word as their standard of judgment. In the very next verse God reminds them they are not eternal beings. Instead they are mere men who have failed to live and judge righteously. This passage is not elevating man to a demigod status. Neither is it providing man with the ability to act with sovereign authority. Instead, the only true and living God is judging the immoral actions of these judges.

Proverbs 18:20-21 is a principle, not a promise, and it outlines two truths. The first is that our words do not dictate our destiny; rather, they display the conditions of our heart. Secondly, there are times when our words will cause us to endure consequences. This passage does not promise us the power to declare the length of our life. Neither does it pronounce God powerlessness to save us if we curse ourselves to death, as some prosperity teachers have taught.

In Romans 4:17 Paul teaches that God justified Abraham and declared him the father of nations while Abraham was still childless. This passage has nothing to do with saints speaking into existence more money, job promotions, or even the salvation of lost loved ones. This passage is in fact championing the truth that God is the only one who can call things into existence.

A healthy church teaches its members sound doctrine that is rooted in Scriptures that are kept in context. Sound doctrine is healthy teaching that provides the hearer with the biblical nutrients needed to grow to maturity in Christ (2 Tim. 3:16-17). In order for a church to be healthy, they must teach the whole Bible, in the context of the whole Bible, and root all of their doctrinal convictions in the whole Bible, instead of pulling passages out of context (1 Tim. 1:5; Titus 2:1-10; 2 John 1-6).

3. THE GOSPEL

In many prosperity gospel churches the message of the gospel is identified with the material blessings of the Abrahamic covenant. Although Christ’s perfect life, death, burial, and resurrection are proclaimed, and salvation through Christ alone is championed, many prosperity gospel preachers say the evidence of a person’s belief in the gospel is whether they receive the blessings promised to Abraham by God (Gen. 12-15).

I’ve found this teaching leading people to one of two conclusions. If someone has prosperity and health, they conclude that they are saved because they’re enjoying the promises of Abraham. But if these blessings are not seen in the life of the believer, they don’t have enough faith. They’re in sin. They need to give more tithes. Or perhaps they have not fully trusted in Jesus Christ and need to become born again in order to receive the blessings of Abraham.

In contrast, healthy churches unashamedly proclaim the whole counsel of the biblical gospel. This includes the truth that we were created in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-27), we once had open fellowship with God (Gen. 2:7-25), and yet because our first father Adam sinned all of humanity was separated both physically (Gen. 3:1-19) and spiritually (Rom. 5:12) from the holy and righteous God who created us. Since humanity has been separated from God because of sin, the penalty to atone for sin is the shedding of blood and death (Lev. 1:3-17). The beauty of the gospel is fact that Jesus Christ, who has eternally existed as God (John 1:1), became a man (John 1:14), lived a perfect life according to God’s law (Heb. 7:26), and shed his blood while dying in the place of sinners (Mark 10:45 and 2 Peter 2:24). Jesus was buried in a tomb for three days (Matt. 27:57-66) and on the third day rose from the grave (Matt. 28:1-8). Now he calls all people to repent of their sins and trust in him in order to be reconciled to God and receive eternal life (Jn. 3:16).

The biblical gospel does not promise that Christians will be wealthy and prosperous in this life in fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham. Instead, Christians are “blessed” in Abraham in that we receive the Spirit (Gal. 3:14), and we will receive not just land, but the entire new creation, in the age to come (Rom. 4:13, Rev. 21-22).

4. CONVERSION

Conversion in a prosperity gospel church involves an uneasy mix of opposites: easy-believism and salvation by works. Prosperity preachers are known to teach a sinner is “saved” when they finish reciting the “sinners prayer.” After this simple salvation takes place, the new believer is to submit him or herself to the leadership and teachings of the church, tithe regularly, give offerings often, and strive to serve on a continual basis in ministry at the church. As long as a person does these things, he or she maintains salvation. But if one stops them for an elongated period of time, one can lose it. In order to advance this teaching, pastors have been known to use psychological and scriptural manipulation to get the members of the church to do various acts of service in the name of ministry to the Lord. Their service, he promises, will prevent them from “falling from grace” and losing their salvation.

Some prosperity gospel adherents burn out and become angry with their leaders. They begin to question the ministry’s methods and refuse to comply with its demands. I’ve watched pastors who sensed they were losing control of this type of person respond by claiming that the member is in rebellion, causing division, and on a trajectory to lose their salvation unless they repent and begin serving again. In these cases 1 Samuel 15:23 was used as the proof text to point out the consequences of the person’s actions and to dissuade others from following. But this verse speaks of King Saul’s direct disobedience to a command of God, not a genuine believer who questions unbiblical teaching or church practices.

A healthy church lovingly teaches the biblical view of conversion. In the Bible we read that conversion takes place when the biblical gospel is preached (Rom. 1:16-17, 10:9-17) and the sinner repents of their sins and puts their trust in Jesus Christ (Acts 3:19; Rom. 3:21-26). Conversion happens when God the Holy Spirit causes the sinner who is dead in sin to become alive in Christ (John 3:3-8; Eph. 2:1-10). Biblical conversion puts the focus on repentance and belief in the work of Christ, not simply saying a prayer and serving to the point of exhaustion for fear of losing one’s salvation.

5. EVANGELISM

Prosperity gospel churches often teach evangelism must be coupled with a demonstration of signs and wonders. When these two elements are combined it is said that sinners will repent and believe in Jesus. I’ve heard people say in pre-evangelistic times of prayer that sinners will not repent unless they see physical evidence of the supernatural work of God the Holy Spirit as listed in Mark 16:15-16.

Since the inclusion of this passage in the original and oldest most trusted manuscripts is disputed, it is unwise to build one’s doctrinal stance on this passage alone. Further, mandating that people demonstrate the signs in this passage in order to be effective in evangelism is dangerous and manipulative.

Biblical evangelism is proclaiming the gospel and calling sinners to repentance. The gospel needs no upgrades, bells, or whistles in order to be effective (1 Cor. 15:1-4). The Bible is clear that the preached gospel is powerful to save sinners (Rom. 1:16, 10:17).

6. CHURCH MEMBERSHIP

Prosperity gospel churches often equate church membership with regular attendance, tithing, and service—with or without a formal commitment. People are often “grandfathered” into church membership if they do these things long enough. In one case I recall a person who attended the church for over two decades, received the benefits of membership, yet never formally joined the church. They felt no need to since they gave financially and served weekly. I’ve watched people in such circumstances live in open sin and avoid church discipline.

A healthy church presents church membership as a blessing and mandate for the believer. The blessing is that the church affirms the believer’s faith and builds the believer up in love (Eph. 4:11-16). The mandate is that Jesus requires Christians to submit to his authority by submitting to the church’s authority. You’re not truly a member of the body if you can simply detach at will.

7. CHURCH DISCIPLINE

I’ve witnessed church discipline in prosperity gospel churches land on one of two extremes. The first was an informal excommunication where the biblical protocol for church discipline was not followed (i.e., Matt. 18:15-17; 1 Cor. 5:1-13; 2 Cor. 2:6; 2 Thess. 3:6-15). The individuals said to be living in sin were “disfellowshipped” from the church in private only to be spoken of in public as those we were not have contact with because of their rebellion.

The second extreme was for leadership to completely ignore the sin of either another leader, popular member, or both. When this approach was used, the leaders who knew the person’s unrepentant habitual sin willfully refused to acknowledge and deal with it. Sadly, I witnessed leaders members who brought up the sin of other members with statements like, “God forgives and his love covers the multitudes of your sins,” and “only God can judge them.” In the case of sinning leaders remaining in ministry, it was said “the gifts of God come without repentance” a distortion of Romans 11:29. Prosperity preachers often use 1 Chronicles 16:22 (“Touch not my anointed ones, do my prophets no harm!”) as a repellant for questions from members of their congregation. Sometimes prosperity gospel churches have been known to cover the sin of a leader by sending them on a sabbatical in place of practicing 1 Timothy 5:17-20.

Healthy churches embrace God’s desire for a pure, holy church. As they help their people grow in Christlikeness, they will shine like stars in the world (Eph. 4:11-32; Phil. 2:1-18). Healthy churches understand that leaders are not exempt from temptation, lapses of judgment, and sin. Healthy churches then teach and follow the biblical prescription for church discipline, including discipline of leaders (1 Tim. 5:17-20).

8. DISCIPLESHIP

Discipleship in prosperity gospel churches often tends toward co-dependency with the pastor or another prominent church leader. The entry level of discipleship is known as the “armor-bearer” stage. An armor-bearer in Scripture was a person who carried the weapons of their leader and protected them (1 Sam. 14:6-7 and 2 Sam. 18:15). But in prosperity gospel churches, armor-bearer has become an unofficial office. New converts who want to grow in their walk with God are placed in a cohort. This cohort is trained to serve the emotional, physical, and spiritual needs of the pastor or church leader. The pastor will often commission armor-bearers to engage in activities ranging from carrying his Bible to paying his bills, all in the name of “ministry.” In some extreme cases I’ve counseled ex-armor-bearers who were instructed to give the pastor massages after he preached, and even sexual favors.

If an armor-bearer sticks around long enough, they can earn a promotion that comes with a title, licensure to preach, and even ordination. Most often, the pastor does this to pad the stats of his ministry as many of these ordained men (and sometimes women) sit on the sidelines cheering the pastor on while he preaches. I’ve known some pastors to boast in having dozens of ordained men sit under them for decades. Rarely are these ordained ministers sent out to plant churches, revitalize dying churches, or engage in vocational ministry overseas. Sadly, in one instance I counseled someone who sat under a pastor for over fifteen years as an ordained minister and was never once instructed about the biblical qualifications of an elder.

A healthy church disciples its people to depend more on Jesus, not a pastor or church leader. Believers grow by deepening their knowledge of Jesus (2 Pet. 3:18), and, by the power of the Spirit, imitating Jesus (1 Cor. 4:16, 11:1; Eph. 5:1). Biblical disciples produce more biblical disciples, not dependents (2 Tim. 2:2; Titus 2:1-8).

9. CHURCH LEADERSHIP

Prosperity gospel preachers often receive undying support from their members because the people live vicariously through their pastor. If the pastor’s platform and bank account grow, the members of the flock celebrate as if the prosperity were their own. Some congregations want their pastor to have the newest top-of-the-line car, wear expensive name-brand clothing, and live in a large home in order that God’s blessings would trickle down to them. I was once told, “If my pastor is living large, he’s paving the way for me and my family to live large.”

In many cases, the pastor is said to be God’s voice to the congregation, and therefore has unquestioned authority. The leadership structure varies between a C.E.O. model and a monarchy. I’ve often seen others appointed as pastors or elders not based on biblical qualifications but because of their occupation and closeness to the pastor.

A healthy churches champions biblically qualified leaders. 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 are passages that clearly lay out qualifications for the men who would lead God’s church. The qualifications emphasize the man’s character, not his occupation or friendship with the pastor. Elders are to shepherd the flock, feed them with healthy doctrine, lead in humility, and defend them from false teachers.

SHEEP WITHOUT A SHEPHERD

There is unceasing grief in my heart for people who are under all or some of the teachings highlighted here. They are like the weary, scattered sheep without a shepherd on whom Jesus had compassion (Matt. 9:36). These precious souls of Jesus’ day were being abused, distressed, and harassed by their leaders. They knew no other way of life since it was their own religious leaders who treated them this way. Jesus responded by telling his disciples to pray for the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.

The grief I share for the weary and scattered sheep of today drives me to do two things: pray for the Lord to send out laborers who will seek and serve these scattered sheep, and labor to lead a healthy church in order to reach the sheep in my city. I pray this article has helped kindle a fire in your heart for seeing healthy churches serving cities across the globe.

By:

D. A. Horton

D.A. Horton currently serves as Pastor of Reach Fellowship in Long Beach, CA & the Chief Evangelist at U.Y.W.I. He and his wife Elicia have been married for 13 years and have three precious children.