In last week’s blog, we looked at the things Aussies love about the church and there’s quite a lot. I wished the story ended there, but it’s only half the picture. There are several things that Australians dislike about Christians and the church. I’m grateful for research such as McCrindle’s Faith and Belief in Australia Report because it helps us to be aware of these things and to avoid unnecessarily offending people.

What Do Aussies Dislike about the Church?

The number one turnoff is “hearing from public figures and celebrities who are examples of that faith.” It’s not that people don’t appreciate a person who has faith; it’s that they don’t welcome that faith being thrust upon them without invitation.

We’ve seen both good and bad examples of this in recent times in Australia. We have a Christian Prime Minister. Scott Morrison’s faith is a well-known fact, but, by his admission, he doesn’t mix his religion with politics. He realises, rightly, that he’s employed to be a politician, not a preacher.

A few weeks ago, 60 Minutes featured an interview with Nic Vujicic and it was evident that the interviewer, Peter Overton, has great respect for Nic and his family, as he was deeply moved during the interview. Peter described Nic as a “Christian evangelical pastor who is spreading a message of hope all around the world.” Nic has endeared himself to millions of people being a man whose faith has helped him rise above incredible adversity. He comes across as authentic, fun-loving, and cheeky, and many people adore him, even if they are not followers of Jesus themselves.

The Other Side of the Coin

Contrast Scott Morrison and Nic Vujicic with some of the other “Christian” voices we’ve heard over the past few years. People (and so-called Christian organisations) that come across as moralising, condemning and condescending. They are invariably bearers of bad news rather than the good news of the gospel, and they irritate and repel people from the Christian faith. Their intentions may be good, but the results of their words and actions cause people to roll their eyes and walk away.

Living in the Shadows of Church Abuse

Right now, Australians (as well as people from other nations) are particularly sensitive to Christians being a self-appointed moral voice, because of the negative influence of church abuse. For years we’ve been hearing awful accounts of child abuse at the hands of church leaders. At the same time, the church’s main message during the same-sex marriage debate was a negative one. Try and see this the way the average Aussie would: Church leaders abuse children, church leaders cover it up and church leaders dictate what two adults of the same gender can or can’t do in the privacy of their relationship. The hypocrisy is deafening.

Christianity’s Biggest Blocker

It’s no surprise then that the biggest blocker to Christianity in Australia is the church’s stance and teaching on homosexuality. Second to this is the question of how a loving God could allow people to go to hell, questions about the reliability and validity of the Bible, and the church’s attitude to women in ministry.

Some quarters of the church continue to handle these topics poorly, cherry-picking verses that exclude people from church or ministry while ignoring other texts that address sins that may be a little too close to home. Sins such as gluttony, greed, and gossip spring to mind. It’s no wonder that 44% of Australians say they don’t value anything about the church.

Let’s Face the Facts

I believe the church in Australia would do well to imitate the example of Abraham, who “without weakening in his faith … faced the fact that his body was as good as dead” (Romans 4:19). Let’s own it, let’s face the fact, the church has made some big mistakes in the past, and we’re sorry.

In the future, we want to serve others and not just preach to them. We want to earn the right to be heard again. We desire to create communities of faith that welcome all people who God loves and for whom Jesus died. We will value the gifts of women to teach and preach the gospel, just like so many women in the New Testament did. We will encourage people to ask questions and express doubts. We will admit that many of us are uncomfortable with the thought of a loving God allowing people to be condemned to hell for time without end.

McCrindle’s research shows that some people feel there’s a disparity between the church and the Jesus that the church claims to represent. I agree.

This was brought home to me recently when I officiated at a wedding for a close friend. He’s an agnostic, and most of his family are atheists. I counted it such a privilege to be asked to perform the wedding, and respected the space I was in. During the day, I discovered there were a small number of Christian family members present. They were easy to spot at the reception. They were the ones sitting along the wall with sour looks on their faces while the rest of us danced, chatted, and had fun. Sadly, that’s often the picture Aussies have of the church, sometimes they’re not wrong!













There are several things Australians love about Christianity and the Christian Church.

Before I share those things with you, let me make a couple of things clear.

Making the Gospel Relevant?

Firstly, I’m not talking here about making the gospel relevant.  I’m not keen on that language because the gospel is already relevant.  There will always be a desire amongst people for things like mercy, forgiveness and second chances.

Be Wise In Conversation

Secondly, there will always be those who oppose Christians and the church no matter what we do. So, I’m not suggesting we water down Jesus’ teaching to become palatable to everyone.

With that in mind, I feel that some Christian people go out of their way to be obnoxious and, by their teaching and behaviour, end up repelling people from the gospel.

There’s enough evidence in the life and teaching of Jesus, as well as in the Scriptures, to suggest the church’s job is not to annoy people.

Consider the young Jesus who “grew in wisdom and in stature and in favour with God and all the people” (Luke 2:52 NLT). In other words, Jesus had the approval and admiration of others.  When Jesus started teaching people, they really enjoyed listening to him (Mark 12:37). The only people he annoyed were the religious leaders. My how things have changed!

Those who continued Jesus’ teaching also encouraged this approach. The apostle Peter wrote, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).  Peter suggests that others should be the ones who initiate a faith conversation and, when the conversation is taking place, the Jesus-follower should exemplify a kind and courteous approach.

Many Australians are not opposed to having a discussion or debate on spiritual matters, but there’s no room for the obnoxious Bible-bashing by which some Christians are known.  Research shows that conversations with people (especially friends) are the most significant prompt for Aussies to think about spiritual or religious things.

What’s Valued?

So, what do Aussies love about the church?  McCrindle Research discovered what is most highly valued is the work that churches and Christian organisations do in looking after people who are homeless.  The offering of financial assistance, food aid programs, and disaster relief also feature prominently.

On occasions, I’ve had people suggest that Bayside Church is too focused on social justice. “Why don’t you just preach the gospel,” they ask.  My response is always the same.  I am preaching the gospel; sometimes, I use words!

Care for the underprivileged and alleviating poverty, should be a major part of the church’s ministry today just as it was with the first-century church. It’s a vital part of the gospel that Jesus taught was to be “good news to the poor”. What could better news be for people in poverty than that their poverty was to be alleviated?  I pray that every church in Australia becomes gripped with this passion.  There’s no doubt that the church is on the nose right now (more on that next week).

May I suggest that now would be a good time to lay aside our rights and demands and focus on helping others?

Living an Authentic Faith

I have no doubt that the church would grow in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and people if it did this.

The research on which I’ve based this blog reveals that Aussies want to see Christians live out an authentic faith. People want to know that we are the real deal, not that we are perfect but that we are not hypocrites.

Known For Love

People are also attracted to the Christian faith when they’re going through a personal trauma or significant life change. That’s because Christians are known, by and large, as being caring, loving and kind. Love, hope, and care are the three attributes of Jesus that Aussies connect with the most, and they want to see these qualities in the lives of his followers. When it comes to the Christian church, Australians most value the church’s offer of a supportive community.

More than half of Australians say they are open to change their current religious views, given the right circumstances and evidence. The younger generations are more likely than older people to change their current religious beliefs. So, even though Christianity is in decline in Australia right now, all is not lost. But there are some significant repellents to the church and Christianity right now, and these need to be seriously addressed. More on that, in next week’s blog.


Photo Attribute:  Ed Yourdon from New York City, USA [CC BY-SA 2.0 (]

Maybe you’ve just read the title of this blog and thought, “Surely Jesus doesn’t get exasperated? He’s gentle Jesus meek and mild right?”  Wrong!  In fact, Jesus is never described as “mild” in the Bible while he is defined as “meek.”[i]

The mild Jesus seems to be the invention of hymns, poems, and a rather insipid view of the Christian faith that sees strong emotion as sinful or at least unfitting of God.  And yet, in the Bible God is portrayed as angry against injustice and jealous over his people. God has strong feelings, and so does Jesus (God in human form).

Emotional Jesus

The Gospels frequently describe the emotions of Jesus. At various times He was joyful, exhausted, angry, sorrowful, compassionate, frustrated, empathetic, disgusted and, yes, exasperated.

Mark’s gospel describes a time when “The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, asking for a sign from heaven, to test him. He sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to it.” Then he left them, got back into the boat and crossed to the other side.”(Mark 8:11-13 NIV) Notice that Jesus, “sighed deeply in his spirit”.  He was experiencing strong emotion, intense exasperation, because of the stubbornness of the Pharisees.

A quick look at the previous chapters shows us why Jesus was so annoyed with these guys asking for a sign. Not long before this Jesus fed 5,000+ predominantly Jewish people on the western side of the Sea of Galilee.  A while later he sailed to the eastern side of this Sea and fed 4000+ gentiles.  Add to that some healings and miracles, and walking on water, and it’s easy to understand his exasperation – there was already so much to see, but they wanted more.

Feeding the More Mentality

Sadly, the “mentality of more” didn’t pass away with the Pharisees.  It’s still alive and well even amongst followers of Jesus today who have bought into a consumer mindset of their faith.

While the poor are being fed, orphans adopted, and healings are happening; pastors and leaders faithfully preach and teach the Scriptures week after week, provide opportunities for service, connection, and worship, encourage, pray, counsel, and inspire with vision, some Christians too easily ‘channel their inner Pharisee’ and ask for more – a bit like Oliver Twist.

The twist here is that, unlike Oliver, Christians in the Western world are already exceptionally well fed, but what they have is never enough.

Our needs aren’t being met in this church anymore.

The sermons are not relevant to me.

The worship is better is that church (whatever that means).

The songs are too modern/old, too loud/quiet, fast/slow.

The list is endless, and I’m sure you get the picture.  Amazing things are happening all around these people but they want more and, like the consumers they are, they will go anywhere to get what they want.

The Heart of the Problem

The fundamental problem here is that these consumer Christians, just like the Pharisees that exasperated Jesus, have put themselves in the centre of the universe. In their minds, even if they don’t express it plainly, the whole world revolves around them, their needs and their wants.

And so, life is a constant disappointment because the rest of the world doesn’t recognise the position they perceive for themselves. They are restless souls always looking to get their own way, and for everything to be made-to-order just the way they like it.

No church can be that for every person all the time. Bayside Church doesn’t always tick every box for me, even though I’m its senior leader.  My leadership of Bayside isn’t about getting my way or styling a church that I always enjoy. I’ve made a choice to do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. But instead, in humility I try and value others above myself, not looking to my own interests but to the interests of the others (Phil 2:3-4).

I continuously seek to take myself off the throne of my life and make sure Jesus is firmly in his rightful place. Sometimes I succeed at this. I encourage you to do the same. You’ll be surprised at how much your church (or workplace, or family) improves when you do, and you’ll stop exasperating the people around you (most of the time).


[i] Meekness is having power under control. Jesus was all-powerful but also self-controlled. Meekness should never be confused with weakness.

History reveals that Christianity rarely flourishes when it has the power.  Consider the first few hundred years of the church’s existence.  The Book of Acts tells of a church that exploded in growth especially when persecution scattered the believers.  “The spread of the Christian church in its earliest centuries is one of the most amazing phenomena in all of human history.” [1] The church was on the edges of society and took up Jesus’ mandate to love and serve those who were also marginalised.

Justin Martyr, an early Christian theologian, wrote to Emperor Antoninus Pius describing Christians as follows: “We formerly rejoiced in uncleanness of life, but now love only chastity; before we used the magic arts, but now dedicate ourselves to the true and unbegotten God; before we loved money and possessions more than anything, but now we share what we have and to everyone who is in need; before we hated one another and killed one another and would not eat with those of another race, but now since the manifestation of Christ, we have come to a common life and pray for our enemies and try to win over those who hate us without just cause.”

Christians met together in close-knit communities and lived out their faith in their daily lives.  They were known for their honesty and integrity in business dealings, care & prayer for the sick, and for looking after widows and orphans.  By the year 250 A.D., Christians were feeding more than 1,500 of the hungry and destitute in Rome every day.

Emperor Julian (“the Apostate”), who was no friend of the Christian faith, said that Christianity “has been specially advanced through the loving service rendered to strangers and through their care of the burial of the dead. It is a scandal that there is not a single Jew who is a beggar and that the [Christians] care not only for their own poor but for ours as well; while those who belong to us look in vain for the help we should render them.”

The early Christians were often scorned and ridiculed.  They had no government approval, political power or official support but they lived out the Gospel, the Good News about Jesus Christ and, by the end of the First Century, there were an estimated one million believers in the Roman Empire.  Christianity continued to grow throughout the next two centuries as it started to get more organised; something that became necessary once Christians realised the Second Coming of Christ was not as imminent as the apostles believed it would be.

But everything started to change for the church in 312 A.D. when Constantine and his troops marched towards Rome to do battle with Maxentius.  Constantine’s army was smaller than that of his opponent, and so he sought divine help.  The historian Eusebius wrote, “So, he sought his father’s God in prayer, pleading for him to tell him who he was and to stretch forth his hand to help him. As he prayed (it was a little after noon), Constantine had an absorbing vision. He saw the sign of the cross emblazoned across the sky and the words “In hoc signo vinces,” “In this sign, you will win.”  Constantine was struck with amazement, along with his whole army (which also witnessed the miracle). That night in his sleep it was confirmed: this was the Christ of God he was dealing with.  Constantine accepted the vision. He adopted the sign. He had the cross inscribed on his soldiers’ armour. He went into battle. Even though his forces were outnumbered, he won.” [2]

The irony of this was that a pacifist Christian Church would receive its right to exist through a political and military conquest; and it would never be the same again.  Constantine eventually made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. Unbelievers flooded into the church, but many did not convert, choosing instead to bring their pagan practices into the Church. Being a Christian was now the fashionable thing to do.  The church became diluted in spiritual power as its prestige increased and, with political power, the church became the oppressor as much as it had been the oppressed.  For the next one thousand years, the world entered the Dark Ages which included the Crusades and the Inquisitions (the latter not entirely ending until the 20th century).

In the 1930s Germany was a “Christian” country, and what a disaster that turned out to be. Two-thirds were protestant and one-third Catholic, and the church, by and large, supported Hitler.  We often wonder how a Holocaust can happen; one way is when the church finds itself in bed with politics and demonising groups of people.  Jesus told His first followers that all power was given to Him, and He was empowering them to “go and make disciples of all the nations.” [3] He didn’t tell them to Christianise countries, nor to lobby governments to enforce morality. Jesus’ way is subtler; the inward transformation of individuals who desire to work together in a community and manifest heaven on earth in their everyday lives.

The one thing we learn from history is that we rarely learn from history.  Some churches, church leaders, and Christians are still hell-bent on political power mongering and the Gospel is always the loser.  Consider the recent survey in the USA showing 14% of Christians have left their churches since the last election because of their clergy being too political, especially by endorsing Donald Trump. [4] In the United States, almost a billion dollars is spent every year by so-called Christian organisations on lobbying politicians.  The same takes places in Australia albeit on a much smaller budget.  One can only wonder at the impact that money would have if it were used to help the poor, to spread the true gospel of Jesus, and to speak out for those who have no voice as the Bible asks us to: “Speak out on behalf of the voiceless, and for the rights of all who are vulnerable.  Speak out in order to judge with righteousness and to defend the needy and the poor.” [5]

Whenever the church tries to get its way through political power, the Gospel message always gets drowned out.  In fact, the only countries where Christianity is still growing is where the church and Christians work humbly, and sometimes secretly, on the margins of society; like Nepal, China, and the UAE. [6] Most of these countries are in Asia and Africa and many in Muslim majority nations.  In 2015, mission organisation Operation World named Iran as having the fastest growing evangelical population in the world, with an estimated annual growth of 19.6 percent. [7] In North America, Europe, and Australia the church is shrinking.  In these countries, the church’s position on ethical and moral issues is well known, but people don’t understand the gospel message because it’s been drowned out by all the other things they hear from us.  This needs to change!  People need to discover the gospel, the good news about Jesus Christ.

Richard Rohr sums all this up so well, “Christians are usually sincere and well-intentioned people until you get to any real issues of ego, control, power, money, pleasure, and security. Then they tend to be pretty much like everybody else. We’re often given a bogus version of the Gospel, some fast-food religion, without any deep transformation of the self; and the result has been the spiritual disaster of “Christian” countries that tend to be as consumer-oriented, proud, warlike, racist, class-conscious, and addictive as everybody else-and often more so, I’m afraid.” [8] Confronting words and sadly true.




[3] Matthew 28:19


[5] Proverbs 31:8-9



[8] Richard Rohr, Breathing Underwater


Last week I watched a segment on ABC’s 7.30 Report about domestic abuse in the church. [1]

While the reporting of some statistics by the ABC was not entirely accurate,[2] it seems there is still a level of domestic abuse in churches – including traditional, evangelical and Pentecostal ones  – and any abuse is inexcusable.

It was a sobering report and one that left me feeling sad and frustrated that abuse continues in some churches (and at the hands of some “Christians”) – often supported by an understanding of Scripture that contradicts the whole tenor of the Bible.  After all, “If you really keep the royal law stated in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself,’ you are doing well.” [3]  Real love doesn’t abuse others, including one’s wife (or husband or partner or anyone else for that matter) in any way.

Using isolated Bible verses to justify verbal, physical, emotional or any other kind of abuse is unchristian.

One of the Bible verses used to rationalise domestic abuse is Ephesians 5:22-24, “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.”  If you read these verses on their own, it seems pretty clear that wives are to submit to their husbands IN EVERYTHING.  It’s also clear how an abusive man could use this part of the Bible to justify his ill treatment.  However, if you read the verse before (Ephesians 5:21) it instructs husbands and wives to, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”  In other words, mutual submission is appropriate in Christian relationships.  The Apostle makes this general statement about submission and then proceeds to show how wives and husbands are to work this out by submitting to one another in their marriage.  Husbands are to love their wives deeply, give their lives for them and care for them.  Ephesians 5 does not authorise violence of any kind.

The other chapter of the Bible that is used as an excuse for abuse is 1 Corinthians 11.  The Apostle Paul begins this chapter by once again speaking about headship, but a few verses in he makes a statement that would have been considered very controversial in the patriarchal society of the first century: “woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.” [4]  Some people accuse Paul of being patriarchal and considering women as inferior to men, but nothing could be further from the truth.  Thomas Cahill writes, “Equality … is Paul’s subject: what he is doing here is taking the Genesis account of the Creation, which was the aboriginal Jewish locus classicus on the inequality of women, and turning it on its head by subtly reminding his readers that even the Messiah needed a mother.” [5]  1 Corinthians 11:11-12 is one of the first Biblical references affirming sexual equality, as well as one of the first in any literature up to Jesus’ time.

The bottom line is this: if you ever encounter someone who uses the Bible to justify abuse of any sort against another human being, rest assured that person is not understanding or using the Bible correctly.

It sickens me the number of times over the years I have heard of pastors, priests, or counsellors recommending that women in particular are to stay with husbands or partners who physically, verbally or emotionally abuse them.  As we’ve already seen, the Bible teaches that submission is to be mutual.  Love and respect don’t beat each other up! There is no room for abuse in any relationship, in any church or justified by any Scripture.

If you find yourself in an abusive relationship separation is advisable (at least a temporary one).  Reconciliation may be possible (with much support, prayer & counselling) but divorce may be unavoidable. [6] Whatever you do, don’t stay in a relationship where you are being abused in any way, and don’t allow others to suggest that you do!




[3] James 2:8; Cf. Romans 13:10

[4] 1 Corinthians 11:11-12

[5] Thomas Cahill, Desire of the Everlasting Hills, Anchor Books, New York, 1999, p. 141


A 1999 romantic comedy, The Runaway Bride brought back together the couple we fell in love with in Pretty Woman (1990) – Richard Gere and Julia Roberts.  In The Runaway Bride Julia Roberts plays Maggie Carpenter an attractive young woman who is nervous of being married and, as a result, has left three men waiting for her at the altar on their wedding day (all of which are caught on tape), receiving tabloid fame and the dubious nickname “The Runaway Bride.”[1]  Maggie is scared of commitment and conflict and consequently has become a consumer of relationships.

One of the metaphors for the church in the Bible is that of a “bride” with all of the beauty and depth of meaning that is reflected in such a relationship.  But over the past few years I’ve noticed an increasing amount of the same “qualities” in some parts of Christ’s bride as we see in the runaway bride – and it’s not a pretty sight.

Maggie Carpenter wants to be in a satisfying, happy marriage but she fears commitment and thus runs away at the last moment.  I’ve noticed this increasingly amongst some Christians, although I must say that right now at Bayside Church we’re reversing this trend.  I totally understand that some people have been overly committed to serving in their church and have become exhausted as a result.  Sometimes they’re fearful of committing again.  If that’s the case they need to be able to sit and soak in God’s presence for a season to be healed and restored.

There are others though who are just afraid to commit.  They’re happy to receive but not to give and they miss out on all the benefits that commitment brings.  The Dead Sea is dead because it only takes in water (from the Jordan River) but has no outflow.  The salt content is very high and so no plants or animals can live in the sea.  Apart from bacteria and a few microorganisms the Dead Sea is well … dead!  A person who fears commitment experiences the same deadness because they are good receivers but they have no flow out.  They don’t commit, they don’t connect and they eventually runaway often to repeat the same process in another part of Jesus’ Bride.

The second fear of the runaway bride is conflict.  There is no such thing as a committed relationship without conflict – just ask any couple who have been together for any length of time.  The way to a deeper and more fulfilling relationship is learning to work through conflict in a mature, rational and caring way.  Over the years at Bayside Church I’ve seen many people do this and the results have been wonderful.  Sadly I’ve watched others become part of the runaway bride.  Conflict happens and they run – either to another part of the bride (often to repeat the process) or they walk away from the bride completely.  Such people are on an endless search for the perfect church and they are constantly disappointed.

All of this leads to consumerism.  Julia Robert’s character became a consumer of relationships who ran from commitment and conflict and left a trail of broken hearts behind her.  Consumerism is a stain on the modern-day Bride of Christ – and it’s getting worse.  I am so grateful to the committed people at Bayside Church, many of whom have stood strong with us for one or two decades – some for 25 years.  But during this time I’ve also watched an increasing number of Christians driven by consumerism.  I know that the Holy Spirit strategically moves people to various parts of Christ’s Bride.  People move house, change jobs, shift to a different part of a city, a country or even overseas and they will find a new local church as a result.  But others are motivated by consumerism to make sure all “their” needs are met.  They often leave behind them bewildered friends.

Maggie finally meets Ike (Richard Gere) who she also initially runs away from.  “Maggie then explains that she had been running because every other guy she was engaged to was only engaged to the idea she had created for them rather than the real her, but with Ike she ran because, even though he truly understood her, she didn’t understand herself. She “turns in” her running shoes just before proposing to Ike.” [2]  Christians who are constantly “running away” need to face up to the reasons why they’re running.  Like Maggie they need to do some healthy introspection and learn to understand themselves.  Whether it’s consumerism or a fear of commitment and conflict, it’s time to stop being part of The Runaway Bride.  Put down roots, commit to serving and not just receiving, and make a decision to work through conflict.  You’ll be so glad you did – and so will everyone else!


[2] Ibid.

One of the things I love about the Bible is its honesty.  It doesn’t shy away from people’s faults and failures – or successes.  It reports the good, the bad and the ugly.  I can imagine many of the Bible’s characters, if they were alive today, cringing at what God allowed to be written about them.  I mean we only want people to know the good stuff right?  There’s Noah saying, “Really God, did we have to mention the drunk and naked in the tent incident?”  Abraham would be concerned about reports of him lying – twice!  David would be mortified over the adultery with Bathsheba.  And I could go on about Moses the murderer, Paul the persecutor and Thomas the cynic but I’m sure you get the picture.

In its honesty, the Bible never shies away from the conflicts that happen between people – even good people, Christian people.  In fact, most of the New Testament letters were written to help people work through conflict situations in local churches.   One of the most helpful stories is the reported conflict between Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:36-41) because it helps us address the question: “Who’s right, who’s wrong?”  Whenever there’s a conflict the temptation is for people to take sides (and sometimes one person is totally in the right and the other completely wrong).  But more often than not we need to sift through details, personalities, points of view, previous experiences and a host of other variables in order to get clarity on the truth.

These two great men – Paul and Barnabas – had been on a missionary trip together, teaching the Gospel and starting local churches.  They’d taken Barnabas’ cousin Mark with them but things had got too tough for the young man and “he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work” (Acts 15:38).

Sometime later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing” (Acts 15:36).  Barnabas wanted to take Mark with them, but Paul didn’t think it wise to take him, because of his fickleness on the previous trip.  The result?  “They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches” (Acts 15:39-41).

On the surface, it looks like the Bible sides with Paul, and Barnabas seems to fade from the picture.  But is that the case?  Who’s right, who’s wrong?  Paul was right in that Mark was young and inexperienced and had left them in the lurch on the first trip.  I understand his reticence to take him again so soon.  But Paul was also wrong because – as we will see – he failed to recognise the potential in this young man.  Barnabas was right because he did see the potential in Mark, but he was also wrong in that he most likely allowed the family relationship to cloud his judgment.  Remember that “Barnabas” is just a nickname.  His real name was Joseph but the apostles called him Barnabas, which means “Son of Encouragement.”  That’s the sort of guy he was.  You’d love to be around him because he always looked for the good in others – their potential rather than their problems.

The Bible eventually shows that both men were wrong and both were right.  God blessed Paul and Silas’ work of strengthening and planting local churches, while He also blessed the work of Barnabas who is recognised in Scripture as an apostle, a good man, a prophet and teacher and one through whom God worked miracles.  He faced persecution and risked his life for Jesus.  He was the one who saw Paul’s potential and sought him out to help at the Antioch Church.  And his ability to spot potential paid off when it came to Mark.

Later in the New Testament, we find out that Mark eventually became part of Paul’s apostolic team whom he sent to help the Colossian church writing to them to “welcome him.”  Sometime later Mark helped the apostle Peter who refers to Mark as “my son.”  It’s likely that Mark was with Peter working as a scribe for the Gospel that bears his name.  Mark’s Gospel is widely believed to be Peter’s recollection of the events of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.

At the end of Paul’s life, he wrote to Timothy, “Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.”  Why was he helpful? Because Barnabas saw and developed Mark’s potential.  So who’s right, who’s wrong?  The answer is simple – both of them were.  The wise person will learn this lesson.

This week on my Facebook page I asked parents to give me feedback on this question: “If your children don’t want to come to church should you still bring them along?”  I went on to say, “I realise that there are many views on this and each parent(s) make their own decisions. How have you handled this one with your children? What has been the outcome?”  What followed was a very honest and respectful discussion that will form the basis of what I hope will be an informative and helpful blog.

As I expected, the comments were many and varied and reflected some strong opinions along with some gentler approaches.  Some parents answered the question with a definite “YES” – “My house. My rules. Kids don’t want to eat vegetables. Do you make them? They want to stay home from school and watch YouTube. Should you let them? No. When they turn 18 … different story.”  I tried the “under my roof” approach with Gigi (our eldest daughter) a few years ago.  Her response was to suggest that she’d get a caravan and park it in the driveway so that she wouldn’t technically be “under our roof”.  She’s an awful lot like me J.

Another parent commented, “I think the most influencing factor on my opinion is that the Holy Spirit doesn’t have a forceful nature; he doesn’t “make” us do things. Being a Christian and attending church is a heart level decision and if parents are forcing their kids to come purely based on the “my house, my rules” way, then I can see it having a negative impact in the long run. ”

Some parents reported that this has never been a necessary question, “I’m so glad I’ve never had to face this because [my son] loves coming to church”, while others described stories of rebellion and resentment: “My brother and I were made to go to church twice on a Sunday, Tuesday prayer meeting and Friday Bible study – every week while we were under their roof. Going to church was the most important thing – came before family. I wasn’t allowed to join the guides as it was on Friday. My brother has moved away from Christianity and his main reason is the way we were raised.”

Parenting children is a minefield of challenges at the best of times so hopefully what follows will be some helpful things to consider when it comes to raising your children to develop a genuine faith in Jesus:

  1. Exercise a lifestyle of worship at home

A children’s pastor at a large Melbourne church wrote, “I believe the church experience, when presented in all its various expressions within the home, will make ‘big’ church more attractive for the entire family. From my years in children’s ministry, the children who engage in the Sunday program the quickest are the ones who have already started to exercise a lifestyle of worship at home.”  This man, who I highly respect, raises what I consider to be the most important issue connected with this question, that is the responsibility that Christian parents have to “instruct [their children] and teach them the ways of the Lord as you raise them” (Ephesians 6:4).

A pastor friend of mine who has been in Christian ministry for over two decades observes, “for the most part parents delegate out the responsibility for their child’s spiritual growth to the church.”  The church should be partnering with parents to assist them with their responsibility.  This means that Christian parents must model what it means to be Christian in every part of life by having a genuine relationship with Jesus.

  1. Make it a conversation rather than a command

We’ve had a number of discussions over the years with our kids about church and we’ve always tried to make it a conversation rather than a command.  We explain to them why we want them to be part of church with us – it’s what we do as a family.

We have healthy, age-appropriate discussions on questions of faith, morality and ethics.  We’ve listened when they’ve had problems such as finding church (youth / kids’ min etc.) boring or irrelevant.  We’ve helped them make friends by befriending the parents of the kids they like.  One of the best things we’ve ever done is a Bayside family missions trip to Thailand four years ago.  Our kids made great friends with the other young people on the trip and those friendships have endured.  And we spend time in prayer for our children asking God to help them and us.

A young man at Bayside Church wrote, “I was given the option from the age of 14 and I still go to church, and very strong in my faith. If my parents would have forced me I would have felt like it wasn’t my decision to believe.” 

A mum wrote, “Usually a one on one chat sorts it and he’s happy to attend.”

  1. Choose a good, local church

I emphasise “local” here.  I appreciate that some parents love travelling a long way to go to an exciting mega-church but this can tend to be an event rather than a community.  The likelihood is that other people are travelling an hour to get there (from the opposite direction) and your kids will make friends with theirs – and you’ll live two hours away from each other.  There’s nothing like being part of a church in your local community and getting to know people who live nearby.

Once you’ve found a good church stick with it.  Resist the temptation to church hop and becoming a Christian consumer.  Get involved as a family and make it the best church it can be because you’re there.

  1. Make church a non-negotiable for the whole family

Joshua uttered the immortal words, “But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”  We have a habit of gathering with our church community as a family on Saturday evenings.  Because Christie and I are the senior leaders at Bayside Church we are usually at two or three meetings each weekend.  We don’t expect our kids to be at every service – one is enough. We do our best to work around social events by dropping them off at a party after church on Saturday evenings.  Sometimes they’ll miss church if the party starts earlier.  It all works on a case-by-case basis and also depends on their attitude and helpfulness around the home during the week.  But most weekends church is a non-negotiable for our family.  I wish it were for all Christians.

We need to see many families make a complete shift in the current individualistic mindset towards church.  Most Western Christians see church as something to attend – or not.  People “go to church” – or not – rather than seeing church as a community of believers you “belong” to and are an active part of.

A mate of mine who’s an agnostic wrote, “I think kids can learn some good life lessons in going to their families’ chosen church, and I’ve witnessed the amazing community feeling that Bayside offers.”

Another said, “Going to church is a family event, just as much as having dinner together. Both are important to ‘us’ as a family and not negotiable.” 

A single mum in our church community said, “My kids as toddlers didn’t want to go to church and especially hated kids groups. I kept bringing them despite it being extremely difficult. I stood by the word, especially Proverbs 22:6. It took a while but now I can’t get them out of church. Lol.  As teenagers and preteens, they feel that Bayside is home and know it’s a huge part of our lives. I’m so happy God gave me the strength and support to push through and keep attending during the tough times. Now we are reaping the blessings.”

  1. Don’t beat yourself up if your kids have walked away

Even a casual reading of the Bible shows that many of God’s kids rebelled against Him too – and He’s the perfect parent!  If your children have rebelled – or just walked away from their faith and the church, rest in the fact that you did your best and you did what you believed to be right at the time.  Entrust your kids into the hands of a loving heavenly parent who still has their best interest at heart.

So much more could be said, feel free to comment, share and interact on this topic and let’s help each other be even better parents.

I had an interesting conversation with some friends last week during which one of them shared about a Christian gathering they’d attended. I was aware of the meeting, but was unable to go so I asked how it went. My friends told about the guest speaker, a conservative evangelical American guy, whom I’d heard at a conference the week before. (When I refer to him as a conservative evangelical I’m referring to his faith not his fee. Apparently he speaks for $US23,000); to quote Kylie Minogue, “I should be so lucky.”

My friends mentioned that during his speech the presenter stated he believed “the Church has lost its voice”. I thought it was an interesting statement – as well as a huge judgement call – so I asked what he meant. Apparently it boiled down to two ethical issues on which, in the speaker’s opinion, the Church has not been vocal enough – abortion and same-sex marriage.

It’s important to understand the speaker’s cultural and religious background at this point. To a conservative, evangelical from the United States these are the two most important ethical issues. This guy had made similar comments at the conference I attended the previous week. He called them the biggest “hot button” issues of our time. It struck me how little research he had done into the culture of Australia in general and specifically into the Australian church. He brought his own cultural baggage with him and then proceeded to lecture us on our failings.

Let’s pause a moment and consider what it means to “lose your voice”. We’re coming into the colder months here in Melbourne, a time when people tend to succumb to all sorts of ills and chills that can include laryngitis – inflammation of the larynx, typically resulting in huskiness or loss of the voice. I’ve had it a few times and, for a preacher and a radio announcer, it’s never good! When you lose your voice you can’t speak, or you speak in a whisper that’s hard to hear. That’s the inference in the statement, “the Church has lost its voice”. We’ve either failed to speak or not spoken loudly enough. People haven’t heard the church speak enough on these issues (abortion and same-sex marriage) and we have thus failed in our mission.

The speaker’s premise is flawed for a few reasons. Firstly, I think the church in Australia has, by and large, made its point very clear on these two issues. I’ve read plenty of blogs, heard sermons and watched media reports on the church’s stance on these things. If you were to ask the average Aussie what the church believed on these two ethical issues I don’t doubt that they would have a very clear answer – we’re against both!

Secondly, I call into question the choice of just two ethical issues as the “hot-button” issues of our time. I don’t doubt the relevance and importance of the matters the speaker mentioned. I just question his narrow perspective. Considering the emphasis in the Bible, I believe the most important issue for Christians is addressing the causes and relief of poverty. This is mentioned over 2000 times in Scripture. In Jesus’ teachings he emphasised the “Law of Love” – love of God, love of self, love of neighbour and love of enemies. He particularly applied this to helping the disadvantaged – those in need of the basic necessities of life (food, drink, shelter, clothing and company – especially for those who are sick and in prison). The church has not lost its voice on these issues and neither should it. We need to keep speaking out for (and working towards) justice on behalf of the poor, the widows and orphans, the asylum seekers, the homeless, the abused, as well as those living with disability or mental illness. Let’s not lose our voice on these things.

Thirdly, it’s vital that in speaking out on ethical issues the Church doesn’t lose its voice on its core message. After all, God so loved the world that He didn’t send a committee – or a political lobby group – He sent His Son so that “whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” The core message of the church is a message of grace, forgiveness and reconciliation with a God who loves people.

One of the most impacting books I’ve read this year is Philip Yancey’s Vanishing Grace in which he offers some sage advice for Christians and churches that desire to speak into culture. Yancey warns that the church risks “losing its central message” if it tries to Christianise any nation. He says, “When the church accepts as its main goal the reform of the broader culture, we risk obscuring the gospel of grace and becoming one more power-broker. That is how many in the secular world view us now, as a right-wing conspiracy intent on passing laws against them. In the process, they miss the good news of the gospel, that Christ died to save sinners, to free us from guilt and shame so that we can thrive in the way God intended.”

In his second letter to the Corinthians the apostle Paul made it clear that the church’s core message and ministry has to do with reconciliation: “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.” The church loses its voice when it spends an inordinate amount of time moralising – literally counting people’s sins against them – when God did not send His Son for such a purpose. Our core message has to be Jesus’ message – the Son of God who had a particularly soft spot for sinners. Remember, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” So Church, Christians, let’s not lose our voice!

Being the pastor of a large church I often hear the term “mega church” being used. Sometimes it’s used just to describe large churches, but more often than not it’s used as a derogatory term insinuating that if your church is large it must be because you’re compromising in some way – teaching sermons that satisfy what people want to hear, being seeker-sensitive, entertaining people rather than making disciples, teaching the health and wealth message – the list goes on. I should state right at the start that I love being the pastor of a large church. I love our community and the amazing things that can be achieved when lots of people are focused in the same direction. A large church can exert large influence.

The definition of a mega church is one that has 2,000 people or more in regular attendance (that’s the American definition at least). With a population of 320 million people (72% of whom identify as Christian) it should be easier to grow a mega church in the US than in Australia where our population is 13 times smaller. If we were to use the definition of a mega church proportionately, an Australian mega church should be one that is 150 people or larger! Not only is our population smaller, but so is the percentage of people that identify with the Christian faith (61%).

And that’s the point. To grow a large church in Australia is tougher and yet the church world in this nation so often compares itself to other countries and then feels inadequate as a result. It’s my opinion that we need a more Biblical approach to defining what a mega church is. “Mega” is from the Greek word “megas” which is translated a number of ways in the Bible. Depending on the context it can mean abundant, arrogant, fierce, large, loud, terrible, older, strong or severe (I’ve been to churches that fit all of these words). But most of the time megas is translated “great” – and that’s what we should all be looking for in a church community – a great church!

So what makes for a mega church? Let me suggest some things:

Firstly, Jesus referred to the great commandment, which is all about love – loving God and loving others. A mega church will focus on these things. The people will have an undeniable love for God that has been developed out of gratitude for His amazing grace. Being filled with God’s love the mega church will be good at loving others. Remember that Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan to demonstrate what loving ones neighbour was all about. He couldn’t have used a more shocking definition if He’d tried. Jews and Samaritans hated one another. In fact Samaritans were considered half-cast Jews and were accepted by neither Jew nor Gentile. They were stuck in no-man’s land. Think of people like that today. What parable do you think Jesus would use in the 21st century to demonstrate what it means to “love your neighbour as yourself?” And so the Jewish man who was beaten, robbed and left for dead was helped by a generous Samaritan. A great (mega) church will do that.

Secondly, a mega church will demonstrate genuine community. In Acts 2 we see the first church devoting themselves “to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” The supernatural power of God was at work, people helped those who were in need, they met together regularly, they ate together and they grew as a result. They focused on the great commission as well as the great commandment. They made “disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I (Jesus) have commanded you.” People’s lives were changed and transformed by the Gospel. Great churches still do that today.

Mega churches will encourage their people to develop genuine friendships with people outside the church community (and not just to try and convert them either). A mega church is where people are journeying together, with different age groups mixing together – the older teaching the younger and the younger respectfully encouraging the older. There will be affection for one another that is physically and practically demonstrated. People will share the experiences and milestones of life with each other – celebrating the highs and being sensitive in the lows – rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep. A mega church is one that will willingly and easily turn to prayer and fasting, have a high regard for God’s Word, not give clichéd answers, will tackle the hard issues of life and one that doesn’t always have to be right because we have a God who is. A mega church will also admit when it falls short of all of these things, apologise and try and do better in the future.

I used to go to church conferences where the number one question asked was “how many people do you have?” (Or, how many people are you running these days?) I used to dread the question because it assumed that just because you attracted a crowd it was in some way a sign of God’s blessing on your life – you were successful and you must be doing something right (and that may be the case). But growth and size should never be the measurement of a church’s health. A mega church is not about the number of people “attending” but rather what’s happening amongst and through those people whether they are few or many.

In Jesus’ prayer recorded in John 17 He said, “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:20-23).

His prayer was simple but profound – that His people would be brought to complete unity. For this purpose Jesus has given every Christian believer the same glory that the Father had given Him. The word “glory” refers to “dignity and honour resulting from a good opinion”. Jesus has a good opinion of His people – all of them regardless of denomination, culture or race – and treats them with dignity and honour. Herein lies the basis for our unity as believers. Do we dare to have a different opinion of a fellow Christian to the opinion that Jesus has of them? If Jesus views us with dignity and honour what right do we have to view each other any less?

When we look around the Church today, however, we get the idea that Jesus doesn’t always get His prayers answered! Christians in local congregations often have trouble getting along together, to say nothing of reaching across denominational boundaries. And how tragic it is when we consider the results of unity and love amongst believers:

“… that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
“… to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them …”
“… All men will know that you are my disciples that you are my disciples if you love one another.”

Christian unity is the single most powerful key to reaching a world that God loves – no wonder it’s always under attack; no wonder it’s so hard! The world around us is supposed to get an understanding of how much God loves them by looking at the way God’s people love one another. The tragedy though is that the non-church world often looks at us and says, “I have enough problems of my own; why would I want to join you?”

So what causes us to so easily divide? In my opinion there are two main reasons for the lack of unity in the church today, namely, differences in doctrine and style.

One of the greatest passages on unity in the Bible is Ephesians chapter four where Paul exhorts Christians to “live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” This is a life that is characterised by humility, gentleness and patiently bearing with one another because we love each other. Paul encourages us to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” This unity already exists but our job is to maintain it. However, later in the chapter Paul speaks about a unity that we have to reach for – “Unity in the faith,” (v.13). “The faith,” refers to the body of Christian truth which pertains to salvation; truth which Christians agree on; truth which I’ll refer to as “non-negotiable.”

If something is negotiable it means that there is room for discussion in order to reach an agreement. If a cheque is marked “not negotiable” it means there is no room for discussion about who the payee is – it has to be the person the cheque is made out to and no other. I have found the distinction between negotiable and non-negotiable truth to be very helpful in establishing unity between Christians. The fact is that Christians in general agree on the non-negotiable truths of our faith – those truths that are outlined in the great creeds of the church. There’s no room to talk this over to reach an agreement because belief in these things is essential to Christian faith and salvation: Belief in the existence of God; belief in the deity and humanity of Christ; belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus; belief in Jesus’ current ministry where He continues to save people completely by making intercession for them; and belief in Jesus’ return when “He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him” (Hebrews 9:28). These are all essential Christian truths that all Christians believe, and it’s on the basis of this body of truth that we can enjoy unity.

It is a sad reality that instead of focusing on the non-negotiable truth we hold in common, Christians invariably focus on the negotiable truth in which we differ. Negotiable truth includes all the aspects of our faith that are not essential to salvation. They are negotiable, not because they are unimportant, but rather because there is room to discuss them, and differ in our opinions, without affecting our unity, love and respect for one another.

Next to doctrinal differences Christians seem to divide most over church style and expression. This is nothing new and was in fact one of the many problems the apostle Paul had to correct in the Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 1:10-13). The Corinthian Christians divided over the style of ministry they preferred and that unfortunately, has tended to be the case right down through church history. For example, there was a huge controversy surrounding the first performance of Handel’s Messiah in London. The Bishop of London announced that it was blasphemous to utter such sacred words in a theatre. The Irish did not have any problem with it, but the English certainly found it very hard to take and the argument raged on for nearly a decade! There was a similar disagreement over the introduction of Sunday Schools in the 1780s. In more recent times, during the charismatic renewal of the seventies, there were disputes over styles of praise such as dancing, lifting hands and clapping. Christians divided from one another because of these things – how sad! Do we honestly think that on judgment day God is going to say, “I loved the way you lifted your hands to me” or “Why didn’t you dance in church?” I have a feeling that He will be more concerned with things like, “I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me” (Matthew 25:35-36).

So, is it wrong to prefer a certain style of ministry? Is it wrong to have a favourite preacher or teacher? No, it’s not. But it is wrong to be sectarian and unappreciative of all Christ’s gifts to His church. It’s vital that we learn to “appreciate” all styles of church ministry and worship, even if we don’t personally “enjoy” it.

Unity does not equal uniformity. We may never see all churches join together and denominations cease to exist this side of heaven. That is not the issue. The important thing is for all of us to learn to appreciate the diversity that exists across the Church. There is one body with many members and we all need each other (1 Corinthians 12:12-31). We can disagree without being disagreeable. We can love and respect each other despite our differences. We can enjoy unity in the midst of great diversity and variety. The gospel message never changes but the methods of communicating and expressing it are as diverse as the people God has made. There is only one way to God, and that’s through Jesus Christ, but there are many ways to express our love and worship to Him. Let us give one another the freedom to do so.

Many churches display signs outside their buildings – or on their websites – that express something like, “everyone is welcome.”  But what exactly does that mean and do those churches really mean it?  From my 30 years of experience as a pastor, and nearly 40 years as a Christian, I would say that invariably the “everyone is welcome” sign is just an ill-thought-through platitude rather than a reality.

Consider Eric (not his real name) who sat very tentatively in my office a few months ago telling me his life story. Now in his 50s Eric is single, celibate and same-sex attracted. He’s been a Christian all his life, loves God with a passion, is intelligent and servant-hearted but has found anything but a welcome in churches that display “everyone is welcome” signs. He was told flat out that he wasn’t welcome in one church. Another church told him he could attend but not do anything. Finally he’s found Bayside Church and is starting to settle in and be a productive member of our community.

I think what churches actually mean when they say, “everyone is welcome” is, “everyone is welcome as long as you fit into our idea of what a Christian is. You’re welcome as long as you’re like us, middle to upper class, not too demanding, have problems that are fixed easily and believe and behave like we expect you too.”  Everyone like that is welcome.

At Bayside Church we don’t have a sign that says, “Everyone is welcome” because not everyone is.  Let me give you three kinds of people that we don’t welcome into our church community.

1. Predators

By this I’m not just referring to pedophiles although I certainly wouldn’t welcome those who prey on children into our church community where children are present.  They would need to attend an adult small group where there are no children – ever.  I love kids too much to expose them to that level of risk.  But we’ve experienced some more subtle kinds of predators over the years.  One Saturday evening after our church meeting I chatted with a new guy who told me that he’d been asked to leave a church nearby because he was always hitting on the women in the congregation. He told me he’d be coming to Bayside Church from now on. I promptly told him that he wouldn’t be. I value the women in our church community and, as their pastor, I will seek to protect them from the likes of him. I’ve had that conversation several times over the years and I’ll have it again!  Sexual predators are just not welcome.

The apostle Paul encouraged the excommunication of such a man from the Corinthian church who was having an ongoing affair with his Stepmother (1 Corinthians 5). However, once this man had repented and changed his ways he was welcomed back into the church community (2 Corinthians 2).

We do not welcome spiritual predators either. These are the people Jesus warned us about,“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.”  Spiritual predators are actually quite easy to pick – they will always try and draw you to themselves rather than to Jesus.  Watch out for them.

2. Antagonists

In his book, Antagonists in the Church: How to Identify and Deal with Destructive Conflict, Kenneth C. Haugk, a Lutheran pastor and psychologist defines antagonists as, “individuals who, on the basis of non-substantive evidence, go out of their way to make insatiable demands, usually attacking the person or performance of others. These attacks are selfish in nature, tearing down rather than building up, and are frequently directed against those in a leadership capacity.”

There are several warnings in the New Testament for Christians and churches to be on the lookout for antagonistic troublemakers. Paul told the Roman Church, “I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people” (Romans 16:17-18). He told Titus who was overseeing all the churches in Crete, “Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them.”  In other words, antagonistic, divisive, gossips that create unrest, division and disunity in a church are simply not welcome!  Our church has been hurt and hindered more by these types of people over the years than anyone else.  I used to try and reason with them but I love Paul’s advice – three strikes and you’re out!

3. Quarrelers

The word “quarrel” is a medieval English word for the crossbow dart that was used to kill or wound the enemy.  In combat, these darts were fired back and forth across the battleground.  The enemy soldiers were said to be “quarreling.”  The meaning is the same today although, instead of using darts, people use words to destroy their opponent.  This is different to a robust but respectful discussion. The aim of the quarreler is the conversion of another person to their point of view or they will attempt to ruin them.  The internet is full of blogs from quarreling Christians seeking to destroy the reputations of others. Have nothing to do with them!

The apostle James warned his readers about these sorts of people, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.” (James 4:1-2)

Paul warns Timothy, “Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen … avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. Their teaching will spread like gangrene … don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.” (2 Timothy 2)

In a church community everyone needs to hold fast to the non-negotiable truth of the Gospel – who Jesus is, what Jesus did, what Jesus is doing and what Jesus will do. It’s all about Jesus. On any truth that does not affect people’s salvation there can be respectful discussion and we can agree to disagree.  However, there are those in a church whose goal is to argue, quarrel and be constantly disagreeable. Once again, the New Testament warns us not to have anything to do with such people. They are not welcome. It’s the peacemakers who are blessed – not the quarrelers.