Monday, May 05, 2008

Rainer on pastoral malpractice and its remedy

Thom Rainer is the CEO of LifeWay. This article addresses an important issue--the most important issue--facing churches and pastors today, namely, the futility and eternal damage that accompanies the neglect of the Gospel. Wise and good words that are badly needed in our day.

The Gospel remedies pastoral malpractice
By Thom S. Rainer

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- I would consider pastoral malpractice among the greatest treasons a minister can commit against the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, it is practiced weekly without inhibition.

What do I mean by pastoral malpractice? I mean ministers who stand and preach a gospel other than God's rightful need for punitive justice against our sin and His wrath being appeased by pouring out upon Christ judgment intended for us. He in turn sets us in right legal standing before Himself, through faith in what Jesus has done, while simultaneously giving to us His holy righteousness.

Regrettably, too many evangelical churches have become centers for motivational speaking where congregants learn that "God helps those who help themselves;" that sin is something that keeps us from reaching our full potential, not an infinite offense against the Creator who demands from His creation unblemished righteousness.

The apostle Paul tells us that humans inherently know we are separated from God by our sin and we try to suppress that truth through drugs, sex, greed, power, alcohol, etc. Sadly, too often when desperate individuals arrive in our churches looking for a solution they get messages about how to improve their lives or their relationships, but the Gospel is absent in the remedy. J.I. Packer, in his quintessential work, Knowing God, correctly writes:

"We have all heard the Gospel presented as God's triumphant answer to human problems -- problems of our relation with ourselves and our fellow humans and our environment. Well, there is no doubt that the Gospel does bring us solutions to these problems, but it does so by first solving a deeper problem -- the deepest of all human problems, the problem of man's relation with His Maker. And unless we make it plain that the solution to the former problems depends on the settling of this latter, we are misrepresenting the message and becoming false witnesses of God."

The reality is that fewer people are showing up in our churches to get even a watered down Gospel because the age of attractional evangelism is rapidly dying, as recent research shows. It is not enough to throw the doors open and shout at the culture, "Come in." Gospel malpractice goes beyond the pulpit and is a trait of a complacent church that limits the mandate of the Great Commission to an invitation to come when we are clearly told to "Go!"

How contemporary is Paul's letter to Timothy?

"But know this: difficult times will come in the last days. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, without love for what is good, traitors, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to the form of religion but denying its power" (2 Timothy 3:1-5; HCSB).

I believe with every fiber of my being that the transformation of the church lies within the pages of the Bible. If individuals and churches are going to become effective incarnational witnesses in culture we must dig in. Paul, again to Timothy, says: "…you have known the sacred Scriptures, which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:15-17).

How my heart pleads with God to transform our churches to being training and equipping centers that send people out into culture to be Jesus’ ambassadors. I’m not talking pious moralists who point people to their sins, but servants who through humility and loving relationships point people to an all-sufficient Savior.

We must meet people in their context, but we must share the Gospel. Morality does not reconcile people to God; it comes through the Gospel of Christ.


Stan McCullars said...

Instead of Purpose and Community, how about "40 Days to Remedy Pastoral Malpractice"?

Probably not. It doesn't have that warm fuzzy ring to it.

David B. Hewitt said...

An excellent and powerful article by Dr. Rainer. May God use it to convict us and bring us to repentance, renewal, and reformation as a convention and as individuals.


PastorBrian said...

We must pray that God's Word would ring out clearly and boldly from the pulpits in America. Unfortunately, most pastors are after large churches. Calling sin "sin" will not result in large churches but it will result in true churches. Great article by Dr. Rainer

Timmy Brister said...

How my heart pleads with God to transform our churches to being training and equipping centers that send people out into culture to be Jesus’ ambassadors. I’m not talking pious moralists who point people to their sins, but servants who through humility and loving relationships point people to an all-sufficient Savior.

Amen, Dr. Rainer. Thank you for your leadership and willingness to speak to our fundamental need to be gospel-centered, mission-driven churches. May the excellencies and surpassing riches of Jesus Christ be the sum and substance of all that we preach!

C. M. Sheffield said...

Amen to Dr. Rainer's words. Proclaiming Scripture's inerrancy while practically denying its sufficiency has become the hallmark of contemporary evangelicalism. This may sound harsh but much of the SBC and its pastors are (at least in practice) ashamed of the Gospel. May the Lord grant us the grace to repent of this awful sin, so that we, Southern Baptists, might once again boldly proclaim His glorious Gospel of Grace!

Todd Pruitt said...

What an encouragement! I am so thankful that a leader in our denomination has actually written about the gospel in specific terms. Many of us are used to hearing about pastoral ministry in strictly pragmatic ways. Dr. Rainer's article is a refreshing change.

Thanks for posting this Tom.

Strong Tower said...

Acts 3; Acts 7; Acts 10: 34-43.

The same Gospel preached to Gentiles and Jews alike, the same Gospel that is not preached today out of fear of reproach.

The gospel of get-along requires that we do not breach the peace. The offense of the Cross is offensive and ruled faux pas in polite society.

An SBC pastor of mine was visibly shaken when I suggested that we print in the local paper the Gospel of repentance as recorded in Acts; Jesus crucified by the Jews in accordance with Scripture for the remission of sin; dead, buried and resurrected for our justification, now ever living to make intercession for those who believe.

Why was he shaken? Because he believed that the gospel was about bringing peace and unity rather than a sword and division. This SBC pastor had learned, I suppose, what a good pastor should; that to win souls we need to emphasize the aspect of love. Sadly, he did not know that the compromise of the message of the Cross by denuding it of the prophetic, historic content was not love at all. A theorectical Christ dying theoretically with no point of contact in the reality of human history saves only theoretical people. What need does the world have of a theoretical hope of eternal life or the men who preach it?

Who is it today who will proclaim the reality of human depravity and the need for a real savior; one who was really crucified by his own? May God raise them up. The Father seeks those who will worship him in Spirit and in Truth. May this be the beginning of a return to the proclamation of truth to which we call the world and away from the presentation of it as romantic fiction.

kingofbleh said...

PastorBrian said -

We must pray that God's Word would ring out clearly and boldly from the pulpits in America. Unfortunately, most pastors are after large churches. Calling sin "sin" will not result in large churches...

How true! Many of the pastors out there who are under 40 and have a captivating homoletical style only dream of moving up to larger churches each time they accept a pastorate. So the overarching goal of each of the pastorate is to do whatever it takes to increase enrollment.

I attend a SBC church which for many years has had the reputation of being a stepping stone on the career path for aspiring megachurch pastors. I liken it to being the "Triple A" for the megachurch league. We have had one pastor after another come through here, pastor for 6 or 7 years, boost enrollment, and then when they move up to the "big time" they leave behind a mountain of debt, and enrollment/attendence falls back off to levels prior to their arrival or worse. Frankly many of my fellow members here simply feel like they are nothing but a doormat for the careers of these men.

We've had 5 pastors in the last 28 years not counting interims (which I understand it par for the SBC). We are starting to understand what our Methodist brethren down the street go through when they rotate pastors every few years!

Sparrowhawk said...

We live in a day when an SBC seminary professor sees no need to mention the word "repentance" to clarify a much-needed resolution on membership. Thus many pastors fall right in line.

Therefore, when we point, as Dr. Rainer suggests we do, to whom are we pointing: To a Savior who loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life? Or, to someone if you'll just accept him into your heart, a phrase no where to be found in Scripture? Or finally, to a Savior "that's done all He can do - Now it's up to you?"

The above is the supposed gospel too many SBC pastors are propagating.

Tom Bryant said...

"Preach the Bible"... Wow what a novel idea! :-)

Serious good article, Tom, thanks for sharing.

Chris Jordan said...

Well it appears that Johnny Hunt is running for SBC president again this year.

Last time he ran there was a big uprising because of Hunt's vocal opposition to the reformed segment of the SBC. Will this effect him again?

Baptist Press Article

Just a thought, will issue this be the "Most popular posts" again this year?

SJ Camp said...
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SJ Camp said...

Great article from a man in Rainer's position.

So here is the question: is this just good rhetoric or a real clarion call to action? IOW, has the memo been sent down from Rainer to all the LifeWay store managers demanding them to empty their store shelves of all material that is not biblically sound and doctrinally orthodox? I was just in a LifeWay store yesterday... I don't think they have received that memo yet or have read his article.

So while I give a hearty amen to his excellent words, if our brother does not act it will be just more words... and "only words" once again. I am weary of good words that lack the courage of real visible action... aren't you?

May we pray for Dr. Rainer and ask the Lord to grant him the biblical courage of his well said convictions to act within the LifeWay store system and model those same convictions. Otherwise the malpractice will continue and "the young, reckless, and pseudo-reformed" will continue to have their way.


Grace to you brother,
2 Cor. 4:5-7

John said...

This is sadly so true. Not just the motivational messages, but the endless programs. There is hardly time for the gospel - everything is rushed through. I know that there are those Founders and Reformed Baptist churches out there, and though I'm not close to any of them, I feel better just knowing that somewhere within a Southern Baptist Church the gospel is being preached.

Anonymous said...

I like what I read but it is to bad that the merchandise and books that are promoted and sold at LifeWay do not line up with the words of Dr. Rainer.

Go to your nearest LifeWay and check out the selves especially the main books promoted and see if word and action connect. Pulpits are consumed with the products that we promote.

I have a hard time with someone who is in the realm of great influence saying what he says but I would much rather see it as a stand of what we put out for the world to see and use within the church.
Action is always louder than word.

Sorry if I am to harsh but I just left LifeWay and find I would rather go to Books a Million for all of the garbage that we in the SBC are willing to sell to make money. Money seems to be more and more the bottom line.

Dustin said...

I respect Dr. Rainer and appreciate this article, but I have also wondered about some of the material sold in Lifeway stores. To play on Pastor Brian's words, cleaning the trash out of the Lifeway stores will not result in a large store by could result in a great store.

Nevertheless, may God move through the SBC with a mighty hand.

Sola scriptura.

SJ Camp said...

"but it is to bad that the merchandise and books that are promoted and sold at LifeWay do not line up with the words of Dr. Rainer."

BINGO! I fully agree.

Dr. Rainer's words will only have merit if he acts upon the conviction of his words. He has been the CEO for almost two and a half years now. How long does it take to issue the call for repentance in LIfeWay? I hope he will not play politics with this situation, but I fear that is what is happening.

Rainer said, "How my heart pleads with God to transform our churches to being training and equipping centers that send people out into culture to be Jesus’ ambassadors. "

And what about the bookstores Dr. Rainer?

To give pastors a word of exhortation to be faithful to the gospel in the local church, but still be the vehicle whereby those same pastors and church members provide materials for purchase not consistent with the gospel is duplicitous at best. It's like trying to mop up the floor with the faucet still running.

May we continue to pray for Thom Rainer that he would have the courage to promote real change at LifeWay by taking a stand in the removal of titles they are currently promoting; OR to resign.

Someone emailed me and asked "there are so many bad books that LifeWay sells, where does Mr. Rainer begin to invoke real change?"

Here is a possible place to start:

Clear the shelves of anything (book, CD's, tapes, study Bibles, etc.) by authors such as: Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyers, Joel Osteen, TD Jakes, Mark Driscoll, Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, Father John Neuhaus, Paula White, John Eldredge, The Message, Doug Pagitt, etc. (There are many more I have not mentioned...)

That would at least show a step in the right direction towards orthodoxy. If he doesn't, then we will know that money (sales) is the measuring rod that he and LifeWay are really concerned about - not truth.

And then there is CCM as well...

Still Pounding on Wittenberg's Door,
2 Cor. 4:1-7

Bill Formella said...

Oh, I see another resolution coming. The "Integrity In Store Iventory" resolution. Over 16,000 titles but only 60 with any value to the regenerate. Let's get this started Tom. We have a long battle ahead of us.

Chris Jordan said...

Don't know if you have heard, but the FBC of Snellville, GA (James Merritt's former church) wants to improve their 9,000 member/2,500 attender situation.

Their solution? Give people gas. Sounds embarrassing to me.
They are also giving a "lucky" teenager a 2000 Ford Explorer.

More gimicks, trick and prizes to "entice newcomers and backsliders."

click here to read about it

Tom, I would love to read your thoughts on this.

Tom said...


I read about this--and saw a news report--last Saturday. You don't want to know my initial thoughts on this...they were sinfully cynical. Fortunately, they gave way to more appropriate ones--primarily sorrow and grief. I have resisted blogging about it. Everything I would say I have already said many, many times.


Stan McCullars said...

FBC of Snellville,GA would draw a bigger crowd if they...

On second thought, I better not say that.

Sparrowhawk said...

This morning on my commute into Dallas, KRLD-AM ran an ad for "". Spend some time there looking at all its pages.

Yes, this is supposedly one of the flagship churches in Texas, isn't it.

That FBC Dallas' pastor seems to have no problem making sinners feel comfortable in the church when they visit simply amplifies the severity of the very problem that Dr. Rainer has rightfully addressed.

Call to Action: Would any of the John 3:16 conf. pastors please call the pastor to rebuke him for his lack of a strong (if any) mention of Christ, sin, and holiness on the site? No? Will they be calling Prestonwood Baptist's (the other flagship SBC church in this area) pastor about yesterday's pulpit display of defiance, instead of humility and repentance, on what happened last week with one of his staff ministers?

Stan McCullars said...

To what, specifically, are you referring?

I visited from which I linked to the church's official website which has a link to their Articles of Faith.

I'm not sure what happened at Prestonwood Baptist on Sunday. I did read a release on their website that spoke to the issue. It certainly did not sound like a display of defiance.

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