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I wrote the pastor about this, and he responded as follows:
“Thanks for your insights. ... When I remember where [our youth man] has come from and how far he has come, I am encouraged that he is moving in the right direction. Needless to say, he has some semi-neo friends and family who want to see him compromise, so it is a battle. In our area we face overwhelming odds in that we suffer from a scarcity of separatist workers and when we do find one he goes off to Bible college and we never see him again. It is the old dilemma: do we have a youth program led by men who are less than we want them to be in order to reach the children from our large families, or do we shut it down because there are no mature men to lead them? ... I note that he took on board your criticisms and appears to be willing to move in a biblical direction. I will speak to him about the issue of dress at the youth activity. I was shocked to see how his wife dressed. ... there is certainly more work to be done with them. Pray for me to be strong, truthful with them, and loving at the same time. It is so easy for me to crush some of these rosebuds trying to get them to open up to the Lord.”
REPLY FROM BROTHER CLOUD
Thanks for the feedback. I've been thinking a lot about this subject the last few years and learning a lot in a practical way.
I truly understand your dilemma. We never have enough workers and never will. But I believe that we sometimes use this as an excuse for not upholding the clear standards of God's Word. The Lord is the one who requires faithfulness. “Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2). That’s God’s requirement, and who am I to require less? And that word “faithful” is full of biblical meaning.
Holding high standards for workers isn't a matter of crushing rosebuds. We don't want to crush rosebuds; we passionately want to develop them and see them blossom for the Lord, and that is what we are doing. I love the Messianic prophecy, “A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth" (Isaiah 42:3). Christ is so gracious and kind and patient. It is our passion not to quench the smoking flax or crush the little bud. And I believe that if anyone were to talk to our people, they would testify that we love them and care for them and demonstrate it in a thousand ways.
I once heard of a preacher who said that many of his people were on the fence and he aimed his Bible preaching at them and whichever way they fell was their business and he was content either way. I agree that it is each individual’s business which way he or she “falls,” but I care deeply that they “fall” on the Lord’s side! And I care more about it with each passing year.
But loving the smoking flax and the little bud is a different thing from maintaining standards for church workers. I want to wait for the flax to flame up and the bud to flower sufficiently (according to God’s standards, not mine) before it is put into the ministry. SERVING IN MINISTRY IS NOT A RIGHT; IT IS A PRIVILEGE RESERVED FOR THOSE WHO ARE FIT IN THEIR CHRISTIAN LIVES.
I was glad to meet your youth man. He is on the right path and moving in the right direction, and you are having a good ministry into his life. I will repeat, though, that as for me and my house, we would never let him lead our young people at this stage in his life. My compassionate, Christ-like wife would have been even more discouraged than I was if she had seen that youth outreach. A man whose wife doesn’t know how to dress modestly and who would allow her to dress immodestly at a youth activity isn’t ready to work with youth. The fundamental principles of modesty pertain to the heart; modest dress is merely a reflection of a modest heart; and this young couple hasn't settled those heart matters solidly enough so that it affects their external behavior.
It is better to have no workers and teachers than the wrong ones, better to have one qualified helper than 10 unqualified or borderline ones. Youth workers who are still holding on to the world in many ways, who are still biblically weak, who haven’t yet gotten a lot of fundamental issues nailed down, will produce the same poor fruit in the congregation’s children, youth, and families.
By the way, we avoid a lot of problems when we have the standards for various positions written down and teach them frequently to the people. That way we aren’t temped as much to fudge about someone who is moving in the right direction but hasn’t yet arrived at the right place. If the church standards include a certain level of biblical knowledge, a certain level of general faithfulness, a certain level of honoring of, and agreement with, the pastors, a certain level of dress, a certain type of family life, a certain level of right attitude, a certain level of separation from the world, etc., then that is the standard, and those who don’t meet the standard in some area can’t hold the position. It’s that simple, but it’s that simple only as long as we both have a clear standard and also enforce it.
A rule not enforced is no rule. To have rules and not enforce them is lawlessness, which results in spreading anarchy.
A fundamental issue is foundation building. We must build the right foundation, regardless of how long it takes. When we started the church plant in 2003, I thought things would go faster than they have. We had quite a bit of help from the beginning and we had some experience and we had more freedom than ever from the government and society, but it turned out that it has taken 13 years to get the right foundation so we can start more aggressively planting other churches from this base as we have envisioned from the beginning.
You talk about being “in the bush,” but no one is really farther out in the bush than we are. We don’t naturally have any more good workers to choose from than anyone else. We almost never get anyone from other churches, properly trained or otherwise. In the 25 years of our church planting work here, I can count on my fingers the numbers of members we have received from other churches. By God’s grace, we have been able to build our own workers from the material God has given us out of darkest paganism. And holding high standards for workers is one of the methods we use.
I am convinced, and I have experienced in our ministry, that if we hold high standards and use only those people who are qualified for a particular position (and the qualifications are not the same for all positions of service), that this produces more qualified workers. It is the slow path, and that can be frustrating, but it is the solid path. It is a matter of making the foundation strong before a superstructure is built. Christ has plainly instructed us about what happens to a house constructed on sand, and we are seeing the fruit of that everywhere among Independent Baptist churches today. They are collapsing because of a weak foundation.
I see this as an issue of faith like everything else. We teach people to put God first and be faithful to services, and God will take care of them. But they have to take the step of faith. We teach couples to put God first and live on one salary so that the wife and mother can be a keeper at home as God’s Word instructs, and He will take care of them. That is a principle that runs throughout the Christian life, and it is based on Matthew 6:33.
Likewise, I believe that as a preacher I must honor the Lord’s standards for baptism, church membership, and workers and wait on Him to provide what is needed. I constantly cast this business onto the Lord on the basis of one of my favorite prayer promises (1 Pet. 5:7). It is His harvest, His Word, and His standards. I have often prayed, “Lord, you must raise up workers. You see what we are working with. You see our lack. We want to move ahead and get more done in your great harvest fields according to your command, but you must give us qualified workers if you want that to happen. We can’t create that type of heart. Only you can. We are waiting on you, Lord. You told us to do this work, but we can’t move if you don’t move.” When we started church planting again in 2003, that is what I told the Lord. “I am ready to do it, Lord, but we must have help. I am just one weak man. We can’t do this alone.” I know you can’t boss the Lord, but Abraham, Moses, and other men of God have taught us that you can get a lot from the Lord if you are pressing and persistent in things clearly pertaining to His will. I learn from Scripture that this is the prayer of faith and that God is pleased with it. In my ministry He has always answered this cry, beginning when we started the first church in the early 1980s.
You have been in this battle longer than I, and you have a lot of God-given wisdom, and you have seen a lot of sweet fruit, and I would that I had a tenth part of your Christlike love and patience, but I do believe that you have developed some weak habits along the way and the battle has beaten you down a bit and set you back on your heels a bit, as it tends to do. You are working with some very stubborn people. There is a fierce stubbornness in your nation to submission to authority. This is true of all of Adam’s sons, but there are national characteristics, such as those that Paul described in regard to the Cretians (Titus 1:12-13). When I heard one of your preacher friends say that no one in a nine-year-old church would help him set up the chairs, etc. for the services except one man, even though he has pleaded with and even sharply reproved the people about this, I was amazed. When I heard him say that he tried to have a prayer service in which the first half hour was devoted to praying for missionaries, followed by a brief message from the Word, then a second half hour or so devoted to praying for other things, and that no one would stay for the second half of the prayer time, I was dumbfounded. No doubt you are working with some seriously stubborn people!
At the same time, the people we work with are about as stubborn and lacking in good character (in their own nature) as anyone on this fallen earth. Their national character is the product of thousands of years of unrelenting spiritual darkness, with gospel light only having come in the last 50 years. God’s Word and Spirit are able to transform such people, but it is a slow, hard process, and we have found that holding the line of God’s standards is a major part of it.
I also believe that you might have some lingering weak philosophy and thinking and arguments from your old Bible training and former associations. As you know and have often agreed with me, a general softness and biblical shallowness runs through many Independent Baptist “circles,” and we can be affected by it even when we disagree with it, as you so clearly do.
I find this very hard to say to a man I so love and admire, but this is a battle I believe I must fight with all my preacher friends. I am striving for the future of currently sound churches. As I said to a mature preacher last week, “The last time I saw you was seven years ago and so much has changed. Where will our churches be in seven years? in 14 years?”
We need to take everything to a higher level of spiritual and doctrinal standard in this day and age.
Without the Lord and His calling, I am a zero with the rim rubbed out. I often wonder why God called me, why He wants to use such a weak man, such a nobody, to proclaim this message; but I am convinced that He has given me the “strict” message about holding a biblical line, and I have seen it pay great dividends everywhere I have had the opportunity to minister, and never more than today.
Several of the young preachers in Australia recently expressed thanks to me for this type of conversation into their lives. Even the oldest pastor in attendance at the conference told me that I had sharpened him in many ways. Thank the Lord for men of “retirement age” who are still in the battle and still learning.
When I preached the youth discipleship conferences in South Africa last year and in the Philippines earlier this year, the same thing happened. Several preachers told me personally that they realized that they had been building a soft foundation by not being careful enough about salvation before baptism and by receiving church members too quickly and by not maintaining good standards for the workers, and they told me that I had sharpened them in these matters.
That is one of my major objectives.
“For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life” (Proverbs 6:23).
A friend in Christ and His truth,
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