Churches must appoint qualified people in every area of service. The testimony of church workers, who are representatives of the church, has a dramatic influence on the congregation’s spiritual climate.
Some of the respondents to our questionnaire in 2005 mentioned this:
“Require that church workers be faithful to God and God’s Word. This seems obvious, but is not enforced at many churches today.”
“The church must ensure that those who are greeting, teaching, singing, and preaching are walking in the Spirit and that this is evidenced in their heart for and service for people.”
I recall the pastors and deacons and workers of the church in which I grew up. One of the deacons allowed his teenage children to build a collection of rock & roll records in the 1960s and this is one of the avenues whereby I became addicted to this sensual music and influenced by its licentious philosophy. My parents wouldn’t let me have rock & roll records at home, but that was no problem because I just visited my buddy, the deacon’s son. One of my Sunday School teachers told us off-color jokes. My teachers did not guide the conversation to the things of Christ. They did not challenge us to turn away from our worldliness, and had they attempted to do so, we would not have listened because their lives did not back up such a message.
When appointing leaders and teachers, churches need to care about the people that will be influenced by them. It is one thing to recognize that “no one is perfect,” but it is another thing to ignore godly biblical standards and appoint people to positions who are going to undermine the ministry through their carnal thinking and the spiritually careless way in which they live.
I recall a Sunday School teacher in a fundamental Baptist church that was training pre-teen girls. She wore her hair short like a man’s, wore pants contrary to the church’s position, was stubborn and carnally opinionated, and habitually neglected the mid-week assembly for other activities. What a poor example she was to her class! She was teaching the holy things of the Bible, but her life undermined what she was teaching. Some of the other teachers in this church were just as worldly, and it is no wonder that a large percentage of the young people loved the world more than Christ.
I think of another church in which the wife and children of one of the teachers forsook church services for sporting activities. That man should not have been allowed to teach. It was a bad example for the church and had the potential to ruin young lives who might have been influenced by his family’s compromise and poor example.
There is great pressure on pastors today to lower the standards, and most are bending to the pressure. Some of the arguments against maintaining high standards are as follows:
“We must reach the heart and not focus on externals.” This is true, but proper biblical standards do focus on the spiritual qualifications, as we will see. Further, externals are important, because that is what man sees. The Bible says that the Lord looks on the heart, but the same verse says that man looks on the outward appearance (1 Sam. 16:7). One’s heart condition is reflected in “externals.” When we talk about “standards,” we are not talking about a mere external rule. We are not talking about Phariseeism that produces whited sepulchers. We are talking about a true and close walk with Christ that produces and evidences in obedience (John 8:47; 10:27-28; 14:23; 1 John 2:3-4) and separation from error and evil (Psa. 119:128; Ephesians 5:11; 1 John 2:15-17).
“We cannot force obedience.” This is true, but we can and must reprove, rebuke, and exhort (2 Tim. 4:2), even though this often comes across like “force” to the rebellious. Further, we are to chasten and discipline, both in regard to children and to church members. God chastens every son that He receives (Heb. 12:6-7). It could be said that chastening and discipline is type of “force,” but whatever it is called, it is Scriptural! Further, maintaining standards for workers is not forcing obedience, because no one is forced to serve in the church’s ministries. It is a privilege to serve, not a right or a something one can demand. It’s like a driver’s license. I must meet the qualifications.
“We don’t have enough workers.” One preacher said, ““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?” There are almost never enough workers in a church to do all that should be done, but that is no excuse to lower the standards of God’s Word. Far better to have one qualified musician or SS teacher than a dozen unqualified ones. We can’t have God’s power and blessing if we don’t obey His Word. We must build a solid biblical and spiritual foundation rather than building on sand.
“We want to help people to grow by being in a ministry.” But God’s principle is that they first be proven faithful, then use an office (1 Tim. 3:10).
“I get in the flesh when I try to maintain standards.” The preacher needs to put the standards in writing and teach the people and then simply enforce them. He needs to train up men and women of God who will stand with him in this matter, and he obtains such people by enforcing standards from the beginning of the ministry. Then, whatever workers the church has, are workers who stand with the preachers on these issues. It is not an issue of fighting in the flesh. It is an issue of standing firm for God’s Word because I love God and fear Him more than the people, and I want to build a good spiritual foundation for the house of God, and I love the people enough to enforce the discipline of God’s Word. If a preacher can’t do God’s work without getting in the flesh, he should not be in the ministry. The people need strong leaders who stand firm for God’s Word.
The reasons for maintaining standards are as follows:
a. God requires it. The Word of God says that “it is REQUIRED in a steward that a man be found faithful” (1 Cor. 4:2). That is God’s requirement, not man’s, and the church leader who does not require that which God requires is a rebel. To be found faithful would encompass faithfulness to church services and functions and fellowship (Acts 2:42; Heb. 10:25; 1 Tim. 3:15), faithfulness in doctrinal purity (Acts 2:42; 1 Tim. 1:3; Jude 3), faithfulness in modesty (1 Tim. 2:9), faithfulness in right relationship to the leaders (1 The. 5:12-13; Heb. 13:17), faithfulness in separation from the world (Eph. 5:11), etc.
b. The workers represent the church and affect its testimony. The community knows who the church workers are, and if they don’t live as they should, they will bring reproach upon Christ. Visitors judge the entire church on the basis of its workers and ministers. This is the theme of Titus 2. Here God instructs every age group in the church: old men, old women, young women, young men. And the focus is on how that their lives affect the testimony of the Lord (Titus 2:5, 8, 10).
c. Having standards for church workers is an important part of raising the level of standards for the entire church. It is not possible for a church to have worker-type standards for every member, but it is possible to require specific standards for those who serve in a ministry. A person doesn’t have to teach Sunday School or participate in the music ministry, etc., but if he does, it is not unreasonable for the church to require him to meet specific standards. One of the way that new members learn how to live for Christ is by observing the church leaders and workers, and if they do not live right the entire church is affected. If the Sunday School teachers, for example, are not required to maintain high standards, the students will learn from their poor example, but if Sunday School teachers are required to maintain standards the students will follow their example and will grow in Christ.
d. Having standards for church workers is a challenge to the believers. They understand that if they want to serve the Lord in any capacity beyond merely attending, they must live a godly, faithful Christian life. I recall how I was challenged when I was a new believer. I wanted God to use my life, and I wanted to prepare for His service. The Bible school I wanted to attend had high standards, and this was one of the many motivations for me to cut my hair, quit smoking, give up rock, and do other things in preparation for the Lord’s service. The standards challenged me. They were biblical standards of Christian living, and I am thankful that they were maintained.
Following are the fundamental qualifications that our church requires of every teacher and worker (those who do any type of ministry in the church, including usher, taking the offering, musician, singer, giving announcements, public Bible reading, operating the bookstore, working with the sound system):
a. The individual must have a good Christian testimony (Phil. 2:15-16). This testimony will be evident in the home, on the job, at school, etc. This includes an honest reputation (e.g., paying debts, not stealing, not lying). This includes separation from the world (including worldly music, whether secular or Christian, worldly television and movies, worldly things on the Internet, worldly video games, worldly literature, etc.) (Eph. 5:11; Jam. 4:4; 1 Jn. 2:15-17).
b. The individual must agree with the church’s doctrinal position (1 Cor. 1:10; Acts 2:42; 1 Tim. 1:3).
c. The individual must be in submission to and have a good attitude toward God-ordained authority: church leaders (1 Th. 5:12-13; Heb. 13:17), husbands (Eph. 5:22), parents (Eph. 6:1-3), and government (Rom. 13:1). God has established authority. “The powers that be are ordained of God” and those who resist God-ordained authorities are fighting God and will be judged by God (Rom. 13:1-2). Disobedience to and disrespect toward God-ordained authority is lawlessness and anarchy, and it has no place in the house of God and the kingdom of Christ (Col. 1:13; 1 Tim. 3:15). A stubborn spirit toward authority is a lawless spirit. God’s Word says, “stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry” (1 Samuel 15:23). Before a woman can serve in a ministry, we want to see that she is in submission with a godly attitude toward her husband. Likewise, a teen toward his or her parents.
d. The individual must be faithful (Prov. 29:15; 1 Cor. 4:2; Heb. 10:25). We look for a good level of faithfulness and dependability in those who serve in ministry. God requires it, and practicality requires it. “Confidence in an unfaithful man in time of trouble is like a broken tooth, and a foot out of joint” (Prov. 25:19).
e. The individual must dress modestly according to the church’s standards (1 Tim. 2:9).
f. The individual must have the ability and gifting to do the assigned task (Rom. 12:3). Having a love for the Lord and a good testimony is not enough for specific positions of service. One must have the ability and gifting for that task. Not everyone is gifted in music, teaching, working with children, finances, etc. When it comes to church business, I have often wondered why it is so common for the wrong person to be put into a certain position. God’s people should strive for excellence.
How standards are implemented and enforced
Education is the fundamental tool for setting up and maintaining biblical standards in a congregation.
Education through the church covenant. When we started a church in 2003, the first thing I did was write out the standards for workers, the reasons for the standards, etc., to use as a teaching tool. As the Lord has given us converts, they are required to read the church covenant and agree with it before we receive them as members. As a consequence, every member understands from the very beginning that we have these standards and is instructed as to their biblical foundation and purpose.
Education through the preaching/teaching ministry. We frequently emphasize the biblical principles of God’s requirements for those who exercise public ministry. This theme is woven throughout the church’s teaching ministry. I emphasize this in our men’s weekly discipleship meeting. My wife emphasizes it in her Titus 2 ministry to the women (Tit. 2:3-5).
Starting where you are
If you have only one person qualified to lead singing, play a musical instrument, teach Sunday School, work as a deacon, etc., then that is where you start.
I am convinced, and I have experienced in our ministry, that if we hold the Lord’s 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. Every time I have gotten in a hurry and have ignored the principle of 1 Timothy 3:10 (“let these first be proven”), I have regretted it.
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.
A law that is not enforced is no law. Having rules without enforcement is anarchy.
We cannot enforce God’s laws in the world today, but we can enforce them in His house and spiritual kingdom (1 Tim. 3:15; Col. 1:15).
We urge preachers not to back down! Don’t let the people rule the leaders. Don’t let the sheep rule the shepherd.
Are standards for workers contrary to compassion?
I wrote to a pastor friend recently about this issue, 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.”
I replied as follows:
Thanks for the feedback. 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? To be “found faithful” is a general principle, and the term is full of biblical meaning.
To be found faithful would encompass faithfulness to church services and functions and fellowship (Acts 2:42; Heb. 10:25; 1 Tim. 3:15), faithfulness in doctrinal purity (Acts 2:42; 1 Tim. 1:3; Jude 3), faithfulness in modesty (1 Tim. 2:9), faithfulness in right relationship to the leaders (1 Thess. 5:12-13; Heb. 13:17), faithfulness in separation from the world (Eph. 5:11), etc.
Holding high biblical 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.
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, Christlike 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. As we know, the fundamental principle of modesty pertains 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 ten unqualified or questionable, 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.
Christlikeness is compassion and gentleness and patience, but it is also firmness, even toughness, in regard to God’s holy laws. The Lord said, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent” (Revelation 3:19).
Consider how forceful Christ can be in reproof to His own people (not to speak of His millennial rod of iron and the issue of eternal judgment for the unbeliever):
“But when he had turned about and looked on his disciples, he rebuked Peter, saying, GET THEE BEHIND ME, SATAN: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men” (Mark 8:33).
“Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and UPBRAIDED THEM with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him” (Mark 16:14).
“But he turned, and REBUKED THEM, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of” (Luke 9:55).
“Then he said unto them, O FOOLS and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken” (Luke 24:25).
“Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I WILL COME UNTO THEE QUICKLY, AND WILL REMOVE THY CANDLESTICK out of his place, except thou repent” (Revelation 2:5).
“But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, WHICH I ALSO HATE” (Revelation 2:6).
“So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and WILL FIGHT AGAINST THEM WITH THE SWORD OF MY MOUTH” (Revelation 2:15-16).
“Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds. And I WILL KILL HER CHILDREN WITH DEATH; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works” (Revelation 2:22-23).
“Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I WILL COME ON THEE AS A THIEF, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee” (Revelation 3:3).
“I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I WILL SPUE THEE OUT OF MY MOUTH” (Revelation 3:15-16).
Five times in the Gospels, Christ expressed disappointment and reproof by saying that the disciples were of little faith (Mat. 6:30; 8:26; 14:31; 16:8; Lk. 12:28).
Christ also “looked round about on them with anger” (Mark 3:5); called Israel a “generation of vipers” (Ma. 12:34) and a “faithless and perverse generation (Mat. 17:17); called the Jewish leaders “hypocrites ... blind guides ... fools and blind ... serpents” (Mat. 23:13-33); sharply, fearfully upbraided the cities in which He did mighty works (Mat. 11:20-24). He called Herod a fox (Lk. 13:32). He twice made a whip and drove the moneychangers and sellers out of the temple (Jn. 2:15-17; Mk. 11:15-17). He commanded that holy things not be given to dogs and pigs (Mat. 7:6). He will smite the nations (Rev. 19:15).
Paul exemplifies the right “balance” in ministry. He said, “Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample” (Phil. 3:17). See also 1 Corinthians 4:16; 11:1. On the one hand he was as gentle as a nurse with the believers (1 Thess. 2:7). On the other hand, he was firm and unyielding about discipline (1 Cor. 5; 2 The. 3:6-14). He was a strong reprover (e.g., 1 Cor. 6:5; 15:33-36; Gal. 3:1), and he taught the preachers under his watchcare to be the same (2 Tim. 4:2; Titus 1:13; 2:15).
Paul’s ministry of reproof to the carnal church at Corinth worked repentance and change (2 Cor. 7:8-11). A sound ministry of reproof and discipline has the same power today.
Godly reproof and exhortation and the attempt to enforce the Lord’s laws in His church brings great blessing. I think of one of our church members who moved from the other side of the city in order to be closer to the church. After the move, his small restaurant business, which he also relocated, took a nosedive in income. He struggled for awhile, then starting skipping Wednesday prayer services to keep his restaurant open. After a couple of weeks, we met with him privately and talked with him and exhorted him to put the Lord first and continue to trust Him to supply, according to His promises (e.g., Mat. 6:33). The next Wednesday, he was back in church with his family. We also offered to help him in concrete ways with his business, because we are not going to sit back and say “be ye warmed and filled” while doing nothing concrete to help a brother in need. There is absolutely nothing harmful or uncompassionate about this practice. It has the potential to save this man from backsliding with all of its terrible repercussions.
A fundamental issue is foundation building. We must build the right foundation, regardless of how long it takes. When we started a new 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. How long does this take? It takes as long as it takes. The work is the Lord’s, and we can’t go faster than He goes.
Some preachers talk about being out “in the bush” or “in the boonies,” but no one is really farther out in the boonies 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.
An issue of faith
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, His church, 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.
The above is from the August 2016 edition of THE MOBILE PHONE AND THE CHRISTIAN HOME AND CHURCH. ISBN 978-1-58318-198-0. Many Christian homes and churches are losing a frightful percentage of their young people to the world. This practical and far-reaching youth discipleship course deals with the parent’s part, the church’s part, and the youth’s part in winning and discipling young people. It covers salvation, child discipline, the Christian home environment that produces disciples, reaching the child’s heart, Bible study techniques, how to protect young people from dangers associated with the Internet and smartphones, how to use apologetics, and many other things. The section on building a wall of protection deals with such things as having a basic home phone that teens can use under parental oversight, using filters and accountability software, controlling passwords and apps, the power of pornography, the dangers of Facebook and video games, avoiding conversation with members of the opposite sex, and monitoring the young person’s attitude. The course explains how the church and the home can work together in youth discipleship. It describes the characteristic of a church that produces youth disciples, such as having qualified leaders, officers, and teachers, maintaining biblical standards for workers, being careful about salvation, being uncompromising about separation from the world, building godly homes, discipline, prayer, and vision. It deals with how to train young people to be effective Bible students and how to involve them in the church’s ministry. Finally, the course deals with eleven biblical principles of spiritual protection that young people must build into their own lives. These are living to please the Lord, living by the law of the Spirit, practicing humility, pursuing Christian growth, pursuing edification and ministry, pursuing honesty, practicing vigilance and separation, pursuing pure speech, redeeming the time, pursuing temperance, and obeying and honoring one’s parents.
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