Peruse Bible teachings and church happenings
One thing that Christians sometimes neglect to include in their efforts toward spiritual growth is the reading of faithful books. Obviously, the works of uninspired men are not of the same caliber as the inspired word of God when it comes to guiding our spiritual growth. But, just as we listen weekly to godly teachers & preachers who offer their insights into the word of God, there have been many authors down through the centuries who have faithfully expounded the Scriptures’ meaning in some really helpful ways. So, on Sundays in January, these articles will recommend spiritual books that can help us more clearly see God’s plan and our place within it.
The Conviction to Lead, by Albert Mohler, gives 25 principles for leading a group of people with Biblical principles, starting with a simple and powerful truth: those who lead must have some strong convictions about Christ, the Bible, and God’s purposes in the world. As the author says, much leadership talk is about plans, but convicted leadership is about a purpose—a belief in an ideal—that is the guiding light for one’s life and influence on others. As the author says, “The leader is rightly concerned with everything from strategy and vision to team-building, motivation, and delegation, but at the center of the true leader’s heart and mind you will find convictions that drive and determine everything else.” The apostle Paul encouraged the Christians in Thessalonica to know the Gospel in the same way that he himself did: “not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1 Ths. 1:5).
From that starting point, the author expounds many key principles of leadership, both practical and conceptual. Leadership is all about character; a principle seen in the two main passages about elders’ qualifications. Leaders are managers; a principle seen in the Bible’s repeated admonitions to care for one’s flocks and household. Leadership is stewardship; a principle seen in Jesus’ passing of his kingdom into the hands of men until his return. All of these ideas, plus many very practical pieces of advice throughout the book, have greatly helped me as a leader in both religious and secular work settings.
Spiritual principles and scripture quotes are found throughout the book, guiding readers to think about leadership like the Lord himself would. So , whether you’re a leader in your workplace, here at church, in our community, or in the military; some of these principles (and maybe all of them, to some degree) will be helpful guidance for you. The presence of godly leaders in the world is a blessing from God, and so if more of God’s people can become the leaders that we should be, we can more fully become a channel of his blessings to the world.
-Dan Lankford, minister
This past Sunday afternoon, the Skyview Church of Christ in White House, TN held their final service. The group reached a point where membership status and the cost of the facility were incommensurate, so it was time to disband at that location. And while I know that a congregation permanently closing their doors isn’t a super unusual event, it means a lot to me because that was the first church where I served as the preacher. So their closing up has had an impact on me. I’ve been thinking about it a lot. With that being the case, here’s my tribute—simple as it is—to Skyview.
60 Christians. Then 90. Then 60 again. 2 elders. 4 or 5 deacons, depending on the year. 3 and a half years. 3 VBS’s. 7 gospel meetings. Approximately 160 sermons. An unknown number of Bible classes. And one tremendous experience for me and my wife.
The Skyview church was planted in May of 2001 by Wilson Adams and a handful of other Christians. Wilson preached there for approximately five years, then Shawn Bain preached there for approximately five years, and then I came. I started working there 10 days after Kaitlin and I got married, and we were there for three and a half years, long enough to bring our first son into the world. The church members supported us so well through those early days of marriage while we adjusted to life and work together. They put up with some hilariously bad preaching mistakes. They humored many of my ideas that had no business seeing the light of day. They rebuked and corrected in a near-perfect spirit of gentleness. And they encouraged the good that they saw in me and my wife, making us far better when we left there than we had been when we arrived. I’m grateful to all of them, and tempted to mention all of their names here so that they receive some the thanks they deserve. I'm thankful, also, for Bobby Blackburn, who preached at a nearby church and took me under his wing and helped me minister to my wife and to the church in more ways than he'll ever fully realize. I’m especially grateful to John Case, Tom Reed, and Paul Porter—the elders whom I was blessed to know and work with there. They took a significant downgrade in preacher skill level when they hired me to follow Wilson and Shawn… and by doing so, they did me so much good. I can only hope that I did their spirits some good in return.
I know that there are always transitions in life. Solomon said that there is “a time for every matter under heaven” (Eccl. 3:1), and he went on to describe how the path of life often takes us through times of great effort, then times of the opposite effort. Derek Kidner noted how these verses teach us that, “We have to dance to a tune not of our own choosing.” Such is the case with Skyview closing up. It is “a time to pluck up what was planted… a time to break down… a time to cast away stones… and a time to lose.” And yet, as Wilson said in the final sermon preached there this past Sunday afternoon: “A church isn’t brick and mortar. It’s not a building. It’s not an address. That’s not what it’s about. What it’s about is SOULS.” And so I am assured that the saints—the SOULS—who faithfully served God together at Skyview will continue to serve him wherever they worship now. The thing that stays constant while many other things change is the command to, “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Eccl. 12:13), and I feel certain they will continue to live up to that divine mandate.
I think the history of a church is important. Our individuals stories, family stories, and church stories matter. A lot. I’m grateful to God that I was able to be part of the Skyview church story for those years. To all of you whom we worshiped with and who loved us then and continue to now: Thank you. And God bless you. I love you.
- Dan Lankford, minister
“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…” (Eph. 4:11-13)
In the church, who is supposed to do the work of teaching children, caring for older saints, counseling young married couples, praying with sick people, evangelizing our community, showing hospitality, giving to the poor, helping new saints arrive & get settled and feel welcome among us, taking food to those who are grieving, and many other related activities? Is it the preacher? The preacher’s wife? The elders? Their wives? Aren’t they the ones who are supposed to be doing the work of ministry?
The passage quoted above makes it clear that all Christians are meant to do these works of ministering to others. Obviously, that includes preachers and their wives, elders and their wives… but it includes them simply because they are Christians and ministry is all Christians’ work.
A capable and passionate group of church leaders can accomplish a lot. But a passionate church can accomplish so much more together, and that’s what the Spirit would have us to be. We should all be doing the work of ministry—caring for each other, guiding others to closer fellowship with Christ, and reaching out. Ministry isn’t just what happens in the church building or in our assemblies, so look for opportunities where you can serve as a Christian this week.
- Dan Lankford, minister
Sunday morning’s sermon was likely a paradigm shift for many of us in how we think about evangelism (in fact, I later retitled the message Paradigm Shift: Evangelism). Since evangelism is already on our minds, here’s a little bit of advice about how to be persuasive in gospel teaching, based on how Paul shared the truth in the city of Athens (Ac. 17:16-33). Like we talked about Sunday, it won’t work every time, but it’s worth thinking about what we learn from Paul’s great example.
- Start where people are. Find some common ground from which you and the other party can start the things that matter most. Paul’s first address to the Athenian crowd was, “I perceive that you are very religious” (Ac. 17:22). We would do well to try to find an understandable, shareable piece of ground on which to begin talks.
- Address what is known and unknown. What does a person know or not know about God, about the Bible, about Christ, and about salvation? Paul noted all the altars and the altar “to the unknown God” in Athens, which told him a lot about how they understood things already. It’s wise for us to ask questions to someone rather than assuming too much about their beliefs.
- Bring attention to what doesn’t work to fulfill and save people. Ask, “Do you think that any government… or educational system… or science… or philosophy… or feel-good event… will truly heal humanity and make us what we should be?” And then draw their attention to what does work, saying something like, “But GOD can do that if we seek him.” That’s essentially the message the Paul gives, starting when he says, “What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.” (Ac. 17:23)
- Tell them about the solution that will work. Paul said that God “will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Ac. 17:31). The solution is Jesus—the one who was raised from the dead, who is the assurance that God’s judgment will be righteous when the end comes. He is the only solution, and the one toward whom we want to direct others’ hearts and their lives.
- Finally, push them to a decision point. It’s ultimately up to each one and the response that he or she makes to God, but there’s nothing wrong with asking someone in a Bible study, “What do you think you need to do about that?” It’s the same impetus that Paul put behind his words when he said, “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent” (Ac. 17:30).
There are plenty of examples that we can look to for advice in outreach (see also Jesus’ interaction with the woman at the well, John 4). And so I hope that these thoughts add something to your toolbox and help us make more connections as we teach others to follow Jesus and to understand the word more accurately.
- Dan Lankford, minister
PS — Special thanks to church member, Sean Cartaya, for creating the outline of this article and sharing it with me so that I could share it here.
In his book by the same title, Patrick Lencioni highlights The Three Signs of a Miserable Job: anonymity, irrelevance, and immeasurement. While they have a tremendous impact in a work environment, these challenges can do just as much damage among a group of saints. Last week’s article discussed irrelevance; its symptoms and solutions. This week, let’s look at the third of these three signs.
Immeasurement describes the way that many organizations have little or no measurable ways for employees to know if they are succeeding at their tasks or advancing within the team structure. It’s admittedly a little more nuanced than that, depending on the industry and individual organization, but that’s the basic concept.
In a congregation, immeasurement is essentially manifested where there is little or no help for growth. When church leaders and members think that the status quo must be accepted, when they look at talent or spiritual potential as static rather than dynamic, when they settle with the saved and stop seeking out the lost; then church members will feel a sense of immeasurement. That is, they will begin to subtly believe that there is no way to grow, no benefit to growth, and therefore no reason to grow. This line of thought can be so discouraging.
But the New Testament sets a precedent of personal growth that knows no limits. Paul said, “one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way…” (Phil. 3:13-14) As long as we fall short of Christ’s own perfection, we have room for spiritual growth. This is true of God’s people as individuals and as congregations.
So, consider a few things that can help us overcome this challenge together.
First, believe that you can grow in the Lord. Believing that there’s no hope of anything better is a self-fulfilling prophecy. But if each of us believe that we are capable of more, then we will have the motivation to pursue more.
Second, look for mentors who can guide and teach you, and ask them for their help. Mentoring doesn’t have to be a systematized thing through a church program or effort. Usually, the greatest spiritual growth comes when one person encourages another (remember that Barnabas went and sought out Saul of Tarsus to begin his work as The Apostle Paul [Acts 11:25-26]). Seek out someone who can be your Barnabas and ask them to help you grow.
Third, be ready to step out of your comfort zone. Growth always comes with some discomfort, so expect that to be the case with spiritual growth too.
Fourth, remember that measurable spiritual growth isn’t necessarily accompanied by praise and accolades. But that shouldn’t be the reason that we want to grow spiritually anyway. Jesus instructed us to simply be satisfied with serving God well, even if we aren’t praised for it (cf. Lk. 17:7-10).
Fifth, set the right goals for spiritual growth. Maybe you should set a goal to be qualified as an elder, or to be a blessing like Tabitha was for the early saints, or to improve in your ability to lead in worship, or to be a better teacher to kids, or to be better at reaching out to the lost, or to show hospitality in a better way… In any case, make a plan to grow in some way that will give glory to God. And trust me, your efforts will be noticed, either by God or by man. It will not all be in vain.
If we can all work on these things and encourage each other in them, we’ll find that those discouraging feelings of immeasurement start melting away to make room for ever more joy and fulfillment in Christ and in his church.
- Dan Lankford, minister
In his book by the same title, Patrick Lencioni highlights The Three Signs of a Miserable Job: anonymity, irrelevance, and immeasurement. And while they work well as indicators of job fulfillment, the principles also serve as healthy admonitions about the quality of church relationships.
- Anonymity: A person feels that he or she is not known or cared about. Others don’t know them well, don’t ask about them often, and seldom make an effort to understand their life struggles or victories. Others often let social awkwardness or intimidation or other forms of prejudice create distance and prevent close friendships from forming. As a result, they feel like an anonymous presence—not well-known or well-cared-for by their fellow Christians.
- Irrelevance: A person feels that they have little or nothing to contribute. Within the church, they compare themselves to others whose talents are easily observed in assemblies and classes and determine that if their own talents are lesser, then they don’t matter. Because of the way that they hear others talk or see them behave, they come to to feel that the church as a whole would not even notice if they were no longer part of things.
- Immeasurement: Basically, this comes down to a lack of growth or even the opportunity for growth. It happens at work when there are no measurable skills or trackable achievements to indicate success. It happens at church when there is a prevailing belief is people just are who they are and little (or nothing at all) is done to help them grow. People feel immeasurement at church when they aren’t experiencing encouraging fellowship or spiritual leadership that pushes them toward faithful Christian living.
Surely, all of us can understand why problems like these are detrimental to a church family. So what can be done about it? I’d like to take this and the next two midweek articles to offer some solutions.
Anonymity can be fixed by all of us making an effort to get to know others. Getting to know others comes with inherent risks, but those risks are worth taking. We’ve all had awkward interactions with fellow Christians when we don’t know each other, but let’s not let those experiences stop us from trying as we should. Right now, our congregation is growing, but we’re still small enough that we could all know each other well (a blessing that many other congregations don’t have), and so we should work diligently toward that. Don’t settle for just knowing a few people; be a blessing to everyone around you. Risk the potential awkwardness and make sure that no one around you is left feeling unknown or forgotten. And if you’re a person who feels this anonymity… I encourage you to believe that those feelings will fade the more that you help others overcome the same feelings. The better you know them, the better known you will be.
These things can’t be fixed by one person or by a select few. It’s up to all of us as a church. So, ask authentically how others are doing and support them through the life things that they’re experiencing. Show hospitality to other Christians. Learn people’s kids’ names. Learn what talents others have and how they are a blessing in the world. Remember that “church” means people, and remember that being involved in church means being involved with your fellow Christians. And all of us can do that.
Overcoming the signs of a miserable job depends largely on the management team at that job. But overcoming the ‘signs of a miserable church life’ depends on the whole church. The problem of anonymity can creep into our relationships if we aren’t carefully guarding against it. So let’s work together at pouring ourselves out for the good of others, and we’ll see the power of God at work within us to do more than we ask or even imagine.
“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace…” (1 Pet. 4:8-10)
- Dan Lankford, minister
I sincerely hope that you enjoyed our time this past weekend with Dennis & Benita Allan. I enjoyed it, and I was greatly encourage by them. Here are just a few of my reflections on the event:
- First, I was encouraged by your interest in the presentation about Brazil on Saturday. It did my heart good to know that so many among us are concerned with the state of the church in other parts of the world. That’s a characteristic of Christians that we share with our earliest brothers and sisters in the faith — the saints from Jerusalem, Corinth, Galatia, and Antioch who sent care and aid to their brothers and sisters at various times all throughout the New Testament. Let’s keep praying for the Allans and for our Brazilian brothers and sisters.
- Second, I was actually encouraged by thinking about how long it can take for God’s kingdom to grow. Hearing our brother describe the wonderful numbers of people who’ve become Bible-believing Christians, and then in the next breath hearing him say that those represent such a tiny fraction of all the contacts that they make, and then hearing the general sense throughout his talk that there is every intention of persevering in the work of discipling the Brazilian people… It all reminded me that we have every reason to be evangelistic—to keep teaching others, even if it seems like we are getting few conversions or little interest. Because the word of God does work to change people’s hearts, and so we—Christ’s faithful ones—will continue to serve him faithfully by sharing the good news over and over and over again. Because it can take a long time for God’s kingdom to grow in this world, but it will grow.
- “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Mt. 5:14-16)
- Third, I was tremendously encouraged by the sermons that our brother presented. He pointed us to the word and then humbly stepped aside so that we could see its truth clearly. And more than that, he subtly reminded us of the importance of the whole of God’s word by bringing us lessons from Old Testament passages which we otherwise might rarely contemplate. There are rich lessons to be learned from the moments when someone tears the clothes in the Bible, from the ending(s) of Judges, and from something as simple as the number of ox carts that God assigned to a group. And I’m glad that we had someone to shine the light on those for us.
Now that we’ve all got a little bit more personal connection with the Allans, I hope that you will feel an increased interest in the work that they do and that you will include them regularly in your prayers. If you’d like to share his lessons with others, you can find them on our website. Thanks to our elders for putting together this opportunity for all of us to hear and grow.
- Dan Lankford, minister
In the decades just before and after the turn of the twentieth century, Western believers of all types felt a strong urge to teach the gospel all over the world. Mission organizations sprang up, congregations commissioned members to go overseas and plant churches, and religious colleges poured vast amounts of energy and funding into training missionaries.
And throughout that era, many hymns were written give voice to Christians’ passion for turning the world upside down (cf. Acts 17:6). Many of these hymns are still sung among Churches of Christ. A few examples: The Gospel Is For All (1921), Bringing In The Sheaves (1874), If Jesus Goes With Me (1908), and Send the Light (1890). The last one in that list has a meaningful connection to the apostle Paul’s calling to bring the gospel to Macedonia (cf. Acts 16:6-10). Coupling the account from Acts with the lyrics of the hymn reminds us that the world needs help. ALL people—both near and far—need the gospel because we need God to save us from our sins.
This weekend, we’re going to hear our brother Dennis tell how our Christian family members in Brazil are living out their mission to share the truth of the Word in their country. As we listen to presentations like these, we would do well to think about more than just the cultural differences that we will inevitably notice between our lives and theirs. We sometimes tend toward thinking that our fellow saints live lesser lives if they live in poverty or if their cultural norms are different than ours. But we need to remember that the richness of faith in Christ is not determined by any level of wealth, education, comfort, or modernization. The Gospel didn’t come first among American culture, and there are plenty of people who are living it out richly (in many cases, more richly than we are) in their own varied cultures around the world today. We need to remember that the higher realities of salvation, fellowship, and holiness are true beyond the scope of time and place and culture. On Saturday, we’ll be hearing about people who are our brothers & sisters—people who share our faith. And we will do well to be grateful for [and often to learn from] their example of love for our Lord and faithfulness to him.
Let’s pray for our brothers and sisters in other countries that they will continue to grow and thrive in their faith. Let’s pray the same things for us. And let’s be sure to think with the higher ideals of Christians as we do that. We’re looking forward to hearing about the Christian mission to share the Gospel of Christ in Brazil, and it’s my prayer that we are aware of how powerfully God works when his people send the light.
- Dan Lankford, minister
“How do you come up with fresh sermons week after week?” “How do you decide what to speak on?” “Is there some sort of template or guideline for what subjects or passages to preach about?”
It’s kind of surprising how often churchgoers ask questions like those to their preachers. I think part of the reason is that they’re just curious about the nature of the job. But for those who really think about it, there’s an opportunity for deep spiritual thinking in that question.
The content of gospel preaching matters a great deal, because our job is to accurately represent God’s will for humanity. Sometimes, that requires sermons that are more evangelistic—helping people get saved. At other times, churchgoers need to hear messages that help them live faithfully and make good moral choices as Christians. Other times, it’s got to be about eternal truths that transcend daily life and transcend time itself—things like the nature of God and the supreme importance of truth in reality. So how do you do it all?
The complexity of it means that there ought to be vision and forethought and prayer as these things are being planned. But the simplicity of it lies in 1) always drawing from the infinite well of wisdom in God’s word, and 2) trusting God to use our efforts to bring him glory.
Paul was diligent to present “the whole counsel of God” during his ministry at Ephesus, and we ought to do the same whenever possible. God’s plan is both deep and wide, and as his people, we ought to be continually drawing nearer to a comprehensive understanding of the whole Gospel.
- Dan Lankford, minister
*This essay was published in our Sunday Family Report as accompaniment to the sermon: "How To Get Saved." That message talks about the Biblical idea of "faith" in similar terms [i.e. "comprehensive"] to how this article talks about preaching.
All of the company’s senior executives were at the board room table, and they were discussing how they could outpace the growth of a competitor. The competitor had surged into their industry and was expanding rapidly, opening multiple new locations every month and on trend to vastly out-sell them. And so the board members were intent on growing bigger before their competitor could. Until the CEO spoke up. Having sat quietly at the far end of the room for awhile, he started banging his fist on the table until he had everyone’s attention, and then he said simply, “I don’t want to hear about how to make this company bigger. I want us to talk about how to make it better. If we get better, customers will demand we get bigger.”
The wisdom in that simple statement is profound, and it applies in some way to every human enterprise, whether we have customers or not. And it’s true of a church too. If we continually try to make it better, it will bet bigger. If our Bible classes offer rich insights into the Word and relevant guidance for life, people will see the value in that and come to hear it. If our group worship leads them to open their hearts individually to powerfully perceive God’s glory, they will see the value in that and come to experience it. If our preaching enlivens people’s minds and invigorates their hearts to want to serve God better, they will understand the value of that and come to hear it. If our fellowship demonstrates the power and joy of relationships, outreach, generosity, and brotherly love; they will perceive the value of that and engage with it too.
That’s why church growth is always primarily about spiritual growth. It’s about us continually getting better at what we do to serve God, and a group that does that will inevitably grow. It worked that way in the first century, and I believe that it still will today.
“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt. 6:33)
- Dan Lankford, minister