Friday, March 02, 2007

An example worthy of following

Ben Cole, Pastor of Parkview Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, recently sent a letter to the inactive members on their church's roll. It is a model of pastoral faithfulness, admonishing members who may have grown spiritually apathetic to rekindle their devotion to Christ and His church.

I am glad that more and more people are beginning to speak out on church discipline and our need to recover our commitment to a regenerate church membership. My fear is that, for some, this may remain only a theoretical interest. Ben demonstrates the kind of steps that must be taken in order for these biblical teachings to be reinstituted in a local church.

My fellow pastors, we must be willing to lead our churches in these paths if we are going to be faithful to our Lord. Failure to do so is a failure of duty. It does not matter how loudly one proclaims his commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord or the Bible as His inerrant Word. If there is a blatant, ongoing neglect of the simple, plain teachings of our Lord regarding church membership (Matthew 18:15-18, for example), then Christ is being dishonored and His glory trampled.

Thanks, Ben. May your example encourage many other pastors and churches to take the necessary and difficult steps of seeking to recover wayward members and honoring Christ in His church.

17 comments:

DoGLover said...

Now, THAT'S love! Real, godly, compassionate, gentle, firm love. Such a letter is a bold step to take when dealing with people who are unaccustomed to discipline; but its' absolutely necessary if we're ever going to lift our churches out of the apathetic fog that has rendered this generation impotent.

Chris Bonts said...

Tom,
Should we be sending bulk mail out to our inactive members or visiting them personally to address these issues? Since I planted the church I pastor, I do not have to deal with inflated roles because we have taken steps on the front end of membership to prevent that problem. I am still mentoring several men that will be leaving here to go to more traditional churches.

Again, is this the best or even a biblical way to handle this issue? I do think Matthew 18 applies to gross inactivity in a church because members are hurting the rest of the fellowship in their refusal to participate. I am very interested in your comments.

What think ye?

Benjamin said...

Chris:

I can answer how we've done it at our church.

This letter was sent to seven people. Each of those persons has been contacted at least 4 times by me, and we've sent visitation teams to each of them in the past year. All of them have been gone fore more than 18 months total, and we have continued to call them and encourage them along the way.

Personal cards have been written by church members. And I've tried to contact them via telephone one final time before sending this letter.

The letter is a final notice to them of our concerns, and it is presented in a way that they will either read the whole thing and meditate on it, or they will discard it immediately.

Neglecting the Body is as sinful as sexual immorality. In fact, it is as destructive to the local church ministry and witness.

A gospel that cannot bring the Lord's people together to worship him on the day of his resurrection is as impotent as a gospel that cannot keep a man from lowering his zipper every time he's on a business trip away from home.

Interestingly enough, our church has walked through terrifying cases of discipline over matters of marital fidelity, and we've seen restoration before our very eyes. We've found, however, that apathetic Christians are more rebellious than those sinners who get caught in a trespass.

At least that's been our experience at Parkview.

BSC

Chris Bonts said...

BSC,
Thanks for the reply. I wasn't questioning your motives. I just wanted to get Tom's thoughts. It appears that your thoughts and mine are similar on this issue.

Chris

J.D. Rector said...

Tom: Thanks for the link to this example done in an appropriate, Christ-honoring manner!

I can see this is probably a small fellowship numerically. Consequently, not small spiritually. Ben and his leaders are to be commended for such spiritual maturity!

Ben: I serve at a large church, numerically. What advice would you give to those of us who are leaders in this circumstance other than what we can learn from your letter?

Securely in Christ,
J.D. Rector

Brian said...

I was incredibly blessed and inspired, as an aspiring pastor, by this letter.

Amen!

irreverend fox said...

Tom,

if we all sent out letters like that wouldn't that hurt evangelism?

lol

Cap Pooser said...

The Bible is our only rule for faith and practice. Our confession of faith is a Biblical statement of what we believe. Our church covenant is our Biblical statement of our practice. In our covenant we covenant to support THIS church in its worship disciplines doctrines and ordinances. What our absentee members are doing is violating their solemn oath before God. If we follow our covenant to abide by the rules of our Savior to seek reconciliation without delay, we would go to them individually and asked what we may have done to so offend them that they absent themselves from the meetings of the church. That may bring reconciliation. If not , take one or two others and find out what the problem is. If that does not bring reconciliation, bring the matter before the church for their consideration and action. I personally prefer the personal approach over the letter writing, though I don’t fall out with those who prefer that approach.

Tom said...

Chris:

Yes, we should be personally involved in trying to recover inactive members. Ben's comment demonstrate his proactive efforts along those lines. Since you have been there from the beginning of your church, and have led the church to maintain biblical standards of membership and discipline, you have avoided a huge backlog of inactive members. In most typical SBC churches that is not the case. Due to pastoral neglect, sometimes for generations, most churches have bloated church rolls. When someone hasn't been in church in 10 years and has not been addressed on the basis of his covenant obligations as a church member, it is difficult to reinstitute "cleanly." This is especially true when people have been allowed into the church as members without any clear teaching about what their membership responsibilities are. In such cases, a letter may be a good tool to use early in the process or reinstitution. It should never act as a substitute for personal, direct efforts, but a letter can be useful to initiate contact and help reestablish communication. In such cases, the letter should acknowledge the failure of the church and express the desire to reestablish personal contact.

Reinstituting responsible membership and church discipline is never easy, but is always necessary where they have been neglected. I praise God for every pastor and church that makes a sincere effort to do so.

Chris Bonts said...

Tom,
Good word.

Thanks for your service brother. Thanks also for pointing us to yet another example of a church trying to exercise genuine pastoral care of its members.

Chris

kingofbleh said...

Wow, what courage! What a great example of pastoral love.

Sadly, if this had happenend at any of the churches I have been associated with, it would have added one more person to the unemployment lines.

"Aunt Sally got a strange letter from the pastor last week."

"Oh?"

"Yeah it told her that in 6 months she would no longer be a member if she did not come back to Sunday School."

"Really!"

"Aunt Sally has been a member here since 1952. Taught Sunday School for 25 years. Uncle Henry served as chairman of deacons twice before he died 5 years ago. Everyone knows that Aunt Sally stopped coming when that preacher took down the pipe organ and refused to do any more invitations or revivals!"

"Yeah I remember that!"

"Aunt Sally still loves the people here, just not the pastor. This is the last straw!! I am going to ask Jim to bring this up at the next deacons meeting!! They'll show that pastor a thing or two!! Who does he think he is?"

Betsy said...

Pastor Benjamin, if you would be willing to share I'd be very curious what kind of reason's a person gives for not going to church for a year and a half but still holding on to their church membership. When you spoke with these folks they obviously didn't say "Oh take my name off the roles I don't care about that stuff anymore." Did you hear excuses like "I just can't get up on Sundays," when you spoke with these people? Obviously if these people were going through some life crisis I'm sure you'd be counseling them though this as their Pastor. I'm just curious as to what these people actually told you when you spoke to them. Thanks!

GUNNY said...

Tom wrote: "Reinstituting responsible membership and church discipline is never easy, but is always necessary where they have been neglected."

Though it's hard to institute responsible membership and church discipline, I've fuond it MUCH less hard compared to re-instituting those things, assuming they were ever there in the beginning.

To those of you who may church plant some day, try to start off with the standard high. It may seem counterproductive to getting bottoms in the benches, but it pays off in the long run.

Thanks for sharing the letter, Tom. I've heard of this step, but never seen an example.

fishformen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
fishformen said...

Tom or Ben,
On a similar but different note, What do you do with sending letters of standing to other churches and also receiving members from other churches by letter. For the record my practice was with a member under discipline to advise the other pastors in my area and to help them to help the collective body assist in the restorative process. What I found however, was pastors openly accepting in fulll standing members who had been admonished without repentance. The result was 2 years later they had the same rebellious members in their church that had been admonished from ours.--Thoughs?

deacon said...

I would like to know Tom's and Benjamin's response to fishformen's question as well, because our church's elders are wondering if the letter of membership has lost its purpose and effectiveness. I am sure it had a great church disciplining purpose at one time, but when it is now regarded as just a formality, what good is it? How can we improve this, or is it redeemable?

Tom said...

Fish and Deacon:

We interview everyone who applies for membership...regardless of their church affiliation. When someone is interviewed who is a member of a Baptist church elsewhere, we will write, requesting a letter of recommendation and will receive them on the recommendation of our elders, pending that letter.

When another church requests a letter of recommendation from us, we send an actual letter (not the little formality cards), trying to give an honest assessment and commendation. When that has happened with someone who we could not commend, we state that in the letter and offer to speak more thoroughly with the officers of the requesting church. I have never had any officer take me up on that offer. One pastor called me very upset that we would even write such a letter of warning.

We cannot control the actions of another church, but we try to be as honest and helpful as we can be in speaking directly about these matters when those who are members or who have been members seek membership elsewhere.