Two Priority Reasons for Timely Transferring of Church Membership

Crane hook

Last Sunday Jan and I joined our new church home in Idaho.

After years of partnership and ownership of the mission, community, and family at Orlando Grace, we now have covenanted for the same with Trinity Reformed Baptist.

And it mattered greatly to us for the transfer from one treasured fellowship to another to be intentional, official, and public.

I say that for numerous reasons, but will cite only a single biblical one—perhaps the most important—for the purposes of this post. Consider Hebrews 13:17.

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

The first reason Jan and I made a priority of a timely—not too fast but not too slow—transition in church membership was for our own souls’ sake.

The writer of Hebrews commands a recognition of and submission to the servant authority entrusted to a local church’s leadership so that earthly shepherds know just whom they are responsible for in keeping watch over their spiritual condition. More on that in a moment.

As for me and my house, I know my heart. As the hymn writer put it, I am “prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.”

I require spiritual care. I need loving accountability. I want someone fighting for my soul by praying, teaching, exhorting, and confronting me when necessary to guard against the ever-present threat of spiritual drift (Heb. 2:1).

Failure to so identify and grant informed consent to a specific and particular body of shepherds in a local church of some kind puts you and me as sheep at risk. Have none of it!

The second reason Jan and I made a priority of a timely transition was for our churches’ sake—both of them.

This is true for their congregations and leaders alike, but this post concerns the leaderships’ demands first and foremost. Back to Hebrews 13:17.

Elders of a local church “keep watch over souls.” As such, they will give an account to the Chief Shepherd (1 Pet. 5:4) one day for how well they executed their charge.

Our transfer of membership now takes the elders of OGC off the hook for the Heffelfinger household’s spiritual care AND puts the elders of TRBC on the hook for that care.

Love demands that we serve both churches this way. Alfred Poirer notes:

The New Testament writers assume that Christians can identify their leaders to whom they have voluntarily submitted themselves. . . . And conversely, they expect the leaders of a church to be able to identify those members for whom they must give an account. . . . Yet God will not hold a pastor liable for failing to discharge his duties as shepherd over sheep that he cannot determine are his own.

Membership matters for both the sheep and the shepherd. Who’s on the hook for your soul?

Question: What other reasons can you cite for the importance of a timely transfer of church membership?

Sweet Fruit of Gospel Accountability

For several years now I have enjoyed a relationship with another pastor outside our city. We meet not as often as I would like. But my life has been much enriched by his fellowship and partnership in the gospel.

In our last encounter he shared quite vulnerably with me about an area of his life and ministry for which he felt great concern. I sensed the weight of his burden. The Lord nudged me to propose a mutual forty-day exhort-one-another-daily accountability campaign of sin-killing in the spirit of Heb. 3:13. So for several weeks now we have engaged in daily contact whether by text, email, or phone – all bathed in prayer designed to pull down strongholds.

Today I received from my brother the text of a hymn over which he had wept and prayed earlier this morning.  The hymn is by John Newton (written in a particularly difficult season in his life) entitled I Asked the Lord.

I asked the Lord that I might grow,
In faith and love and every grace,
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek more earnestly His face.

It was He who taught me thus to pray,
And He I trust has answered prayer.
But it has been in such a way,
As almost drove me to despair.

I hoped that in some favored hour,
At once He’d answer my request.
And by His love’s constraining power,
Subdue my sins and give me rest.

Instead of this, He made me feel,
The hidden evils of my heart.
And let the angry powers of hell,
Assault my soul in every part.

Yes, more with His own hand, He seemed,
Intent to aggravate my woe.
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.

“Lord, why is this?” I trembling cried.
Will You pursue Your worm to death?”
“This is the way” the Lord replied,
“I answer prayer for grace and strength.”

“These inward trials I employ,
From self, and pride, to set you free;
And break your schemes of earthly joy,
That you may find thy all in Me.”

This is an example what I call sweet fruit of gospel accountability. Do you have someone in your life waging war with you against sin in gospel grace? Pray that God gives you such a brother or sister and enjoy the spoils that will come your way. Challenge someone to do this with you soon, particularly if you are locked in a battle you are struggling to win.

For a soulful treatment of this hymn by Indelible Grace click here.

Reasons to Attend Our Annual Meeting

Gotta love church marquees (and yes, I spelled it wrong in the e-news today!)  Truth be told, attending a church business meeting might seem to many an unpleasant duty at best, a beastly punishment at worst.

May I suggest some things to give you hope that such won’t be the case this Sunday evening at 6 PM when we have our annual congregational meeting?  Let’s begin by dropping the word “business.” I prefer the word “member.” Romans 12:5 says that in the body of Christ we are “individually members one of another.” While we permit visitors to observe our normal member meetings, especially those exploring the possibility of joining with us, these occasions, especially the first one of the year, give those of us in covenant community at OGC the opportunity once again to get on the same page about the priorities of our mission as a body of believers.

And we have some exciting things to report! Deacon Paul Hunt will review the state of our church finances. It will blow you away how good God has been to us!  Elder Chuck Mitchell will cast a vision for the retirement of our mortgage debt so we can do even more ministry in the future. By the way, another benefit of member meetings is keeping leaders accountable. What we do in stewarding the resources God has entrusted to us has a direct impact on the welfare of each of our households. Please shoulder your share of this responsibility by participating if at all possible.

Finally we will hear from various ministry leaders about what God did in 2012 and their vision for 2013. God did some great things for which we want to give thanks. We also want to believe Him for more this year. If you aren’t yet plugged into a ministry at OGC, this will be a terrific way to explore options for the use of your gifts for the sake of the body. I too will share a brief “state of the church” assessment that I hope will encourage you, especially as we wait on God for the changes in our staff situation and our ongoing rebuilding of the walls. Please be in prayer for this Sunday evening. And remember, an hour long prayer time will take place at 4:45 PM in the conference room in preparation for our time together.

Why Now Was the Time to Build

As we anxiously await the granting of a CO from the city so that we may occupy our new building (sorry, no green light as of this writing), it occurred to me this morning why, at least in part, in our twenty year history as a church, now was the time to get this project accomplished.

The insight came in the course of my through-the-Bible-in-a-year reading this morning from 1 Kings 5:1-6. Solomon has assumed the throne in the place of his father, David. He desired to build a temple for worship, a dream his father never got to realize. So in this chapter he writes Hiram, king of Tyre, with whom David enjoyed a close relationship, to request materials for the project. Here’s how he explained the circumstances that gave him the go ahead where his father experienced only disappointment:

Now Hiram king of Tyre sent his servants to Solomon when he heard that they had anointed him king in place of his father, for Hiram always loved David. And Solomon sent word to Hiram, “You know that David my father could not build a house for the name of the LORD his God because of the warfare with which his enemies surrounded him, until the LORD put them under the soles of his feet. But now the LORD my God has given me rest on every side. There is neither adversary nor misfortune. And so I intend to build a house for the name of the LORD my God, as the LORD said to David my father, ‘Your son, whom I will set on your throne in your place, shall build the house for my name.’ Now therefore command that cedars of Lebanon be cut for me. And my servants will join your servants, and I will pay you for your servants such wages as you set, for you know that there is no one among us who knows how to cut timber like the Sidonians (emphasis added).”
I found myself very grateful for a similar sentiment with respect to the last few years at OGC. God has given us rest. We have enjoyed peace. There has been neither adversary or misfortune, at least in terms of ministry-arresting plans for the advancement of the gospel through our work. Lord knows, we have had our share of that in the past. That kind of thing frustrated our building plans before. But God has blessed us as of late and for some time now so that we could actually get to the point of planning, building, and now soon occupying our own facility for executing the mission God has given us.
We have seized the opportunity afforded by fair winds and sought to make the most of it. Matthew Henry, the Puritan commentator would congratulate us to this end:
Satan does all he can to hinder temple work (1 Th. 2:18; Zec. 3:1), but when he is bound (Rev. 20:2) we should be busy. When there is no evil occurrent, then let us be vigorous and zealous in that which is good and get it forward. When the churches have rest let them be edified, Acts 9:31. Days of peace and prosperity present us with a fair gale, which we must account for if we improve not.
Let us not forget to give God much thanks for such days as these while we revel in the excitement and satisfaction of finally taking possession of our own church home.
As long as He gives us peace, let us give ourselves to improvement that results in great reward at the Last Day. God help us to sail on with the help of every fair gale.

Recharge Messages Now Available!

Good news!

All three messages by Jonathan Dodson on discipleship and the panel discussion to conclude our men’s retreat are now available on the audio portion of our website.

To listen to session one – Making Disciples – click here.

To listen to session two – Multiplying Disciples – click here.

To listen to session three – Maturing Disciples – click here.

To listen to session four – Panel Discussion – click here.

Of course the take away question of this post in light of Recharge 2011 is . . .


Followed closely by . . .


Seven Reasons to Get Recharged

This year’s men’s retreat at OGC is just around the corner. Here are seven reasons I think our men will want to attend:

  1. It’s good and pleasant for brothers to dwell together in unity and we will do that together in spades for a weekend (Psalm 133).
  2. Our mission is the Great Commission to make disciples and this event will help equip us to do that (Matt. 28:18-20).
  3. We are to fight the good fight and our speaker wrote a book (Fight Clubs) on how to do that (2 Tim. 4:7).
  4. Sin hunts us to deceive and harden our hearts and a concentrated time of fellowship and mutual exhortation like this weekend can help guard us from the enemy (Heb. 3:12-13).
  5. Our iron as men is to be sharp and getting together like this for iron-on-iron interaction will contribute to our razor-edge biblical masculinity (Prov. 27:17).
  6. Everybody needs an armor bearer to fight his Philistine-like battles and you may find one or more at this retreat who will say to you, Do all that is in your heart. Do as you wish. Behold I am with you heart and soul (1 Sam. 14:7).
  7. And best of all perhaps is that the gospel is that in which we stand and by which we are being saved and the thread of teaching we will hear from Jonathon Dodson will strengthen our grasp of and delight in that gospel (1 Cor. 15:1-2).

Brothers, this retreat has the potential to generate more ripple effects long-term in our community at OGC than perhaps any I can remember in recent time.

Early registration closed on Friday, but there is still plenty of time to claim you spot. You have until November 11 to register for the normal rate of $75. After that late registration will run you $85, so act now.

If you need some help with a scholarship for registration, contact us at the office and we will see what we can do!

To register now, click here.

Texts That Terrify

Some passages of Scripture terrify (or at least they should) believers across the board.

For example, Matthew 12:36 warns, On the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak. If that doesn’t flat out scare you given the difficulties attached to taming the tongue (see James 3), I don’t know what will.

Other verses raise the hair on special interest heads only, like Hebrews 13:17.

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

The church elder/pastor whose knees don’t knock at the prospect of giving an account to the Chief Shepherd (1 Pet. 4:1-4) at the last judgment for the quality of his watch care over the souls allotted to his charge best resign his office to trifle with lesser responsibilities.

Reading Timothy Witmer’s excellent book The Shepherd Leader: Achieving Effective Shepherding in Your Church recently reminded me of this sanctified terror shared by me and my fellow elders at Orlando Grace.

For this reason and others our elders and deacons opted to tackle this theologically sound and ecclesiologically practical resource in preparation for our annual leadership team retreat next weekend. Lord willing we will gather for a Friday night and Saturday morning to discuss Witmer’s book and evaluate our ministry of shepherding at OGC in light of it.

Witmer reveals his thesis early on in the introduction:

The simple thesis of this book is, “The fundamental responsibility of church leaders is to shepherd God’s flock.” After all, the word “pastor” comes from the Latin word meaning “shepherd.” However . . . shepherding is not merely the responsibility of those who are called to be pastors but also of those who are called to be elders or its equivalent in our churches. In fact . . . “shepherding” is at the very heart of the biblical picture of leadership. Unfortunately, this emphasis is missing in many churches (p. 2).

Thankfully, it’s not missing in our church. But could we do it better? Absolutely. Hence our desire to invest significant hours together next weekend to evaluate ourselves in light of biblical standards.

Will you pray for us that we hear God’s voice as to the action steps He desires for us to take to shepherd better the flock for which Jesus died at Orlando Grace?

After all, getting better at shepherding not only will make things go better for us at the judgment, if I read the rest of Hebrews 13:17 correctly.

It will result in great advantage to you, the sheep, as well.

Why I Took Notes at Ligonier

I took my laptop with me to the Ligonier National Conference this weekend. That additional folder in my system now has eleven new files, each one named for the various talks on tough questions Christians face.

Lately I’ve grown a little lax about note taking for sermons. I’ve gotten lazy, to be perfectly honest.

But then on the airplane coming back from Idaho recently I read Ken Ramey’s no nonsense little book called Expository Listening. The author pastors a Bible Church in Texas. He observed some time ago the plethora of resources written about expository preaching as compared to the paucity of books for the help of those on the receiving end. He decided to do something about it. The result is a book worth every serious Christian’s reading.

Two quotes in the book smacked me right between my eyes. The first comes from the Puritan Thomas Watson about the accountability that accrues to our account whenever we hear a sermon:

You must give an account for every sermon you hear. . . . The judge to whom we must give an account is God. . . how should we observe every word preached, remembering the account! Let all this make us shake off distraction and drowsiness in hearing, and have our ears chained to the word (p. 102).

I shudder to think how many sermons I’ve heard over the course of my Christian life, let alone the ones I’ve preached! This weekend I just heard another eleven! Every time we sit under the preaching of the word the light of God’s truth gets brighter in our lives. Those charged with being doers of the word and not hearers only (James 1:22) can ill afford to get distracted and drowsy in the matter of attending to the preaching of God’s word.

How grateful I was for this practical and timely reminder from Ramey about note taking under the heading of worshiping with your whole heart on the Lord’s Day:

Take notes: This is one of the simplest ways to increase the impact of a sermon on your life. It helps you stay focused, and it is more likely that you will remember the key points. Don’t try to transcribe the entire sermon. Just write down the main points and the principles you most want to remember. This will serve as something tangible to take home and reflect on and discuss with others the truths taught in the sermon and how you plan to put them into practice in your life (p. 46).

I can’t tell you how much more I think I got out of this year’s Ligonier Conference as a result of that counsel. It helped keep my ears chained to the word. I trust my eternal judgment will go substantially better as a result.

Anybody for taking notes on Prov. 23:12-28 tomorrow?