14 I am writing these things to you now, even though I hope to be with you soon, 15 so that if I am delayed, you will know how people must conduct themselves in the household of God. This is the church of the living God, which is the pillar and foundation of the truth. (1 Tim. 3.14-15, NLT)
Paul told Timothy that he wrote First Timothy so that Timothy, as a pastor, would know how people must conduct themselves in the house of the Lord. To me that is a staggering statement – there is a whole book of the Bible written to Christians to show us how to behave in church, and some Christians are still discussing whether they should even be in a church, let alone behave in one.
Also, I have seen so much bad behaviour in churches by people who clearly have no idea how to behave in church, I wonder if they have ever read their Bible. They have watched Christian TV all day, they have listened to all the popular ministers, they have even been to Bible College – but still they do not know how to behave in church. It’s stunning to me, but sadly it is true.
So, I am going to pull a few truths out of Timothy and help you learn how to behave properly in the most important environment in the universe, the church of the living God and the local expression of church that God has called you to!
Let’s start right at the beginning of the letter as Paul jumps straight in and tells pastor Tim what he need to do in the local church:
3 When I left for Macedonia, I urged you to stay there in Ephesus and stop those whose teaching is contrary to the truth. 4 Don’t let them waste their time in endless discussion of myths and spiritual pedigrees. These things only lead to meaningless speculations,which don’t help people live a life of faith in God. (1 Tim. 1.3-4, NLT)
Timothy was the pastor of the church at Ephesus, and it was a big church. Some estimates tell us it might have been 100,000 people! Clearly Timothy was not doing all the teaching himself, and there were clearly elders and other leaders involved in teaching some classes, small groups, maybe mid-week meetings. But Timothy as the pastor was told imperatively: stop those who do not teach truth.
It is the sole responsibility of the pastor of a local church to decide what is taught and what is not. It is that simple. Now any experienced guest speaker knows that, they will ask me if there is a teaching that is controversial or that I do not want taught in the church. But sadly, wolves do not often come in the form of travelling ministries, they don’t wear evangelist’s clothing, they come in sheep’s clothing. They join the church then start spreading their particular hobby horse. Even sadder, a lot of churches in the UK are designed and set up as a legal entity that the pastor has no recourse to stop this kind of teaching. That is not Biblical – the pastor of the local church has the authority to stop others teaching.
Now in our “everyone gets a participation prize” generation, many people struggle with that. I have heard many people call me “pulpit possessive” and “pulpit proud”, I have been accused of having a closed church, an unspiritual church, and a lot worse because I obey the Scripture and I am very careful about who I let teach in the church, and when I let people teach, I am prescriptive of what they teach. I do this because it is Biblical. There is a way to run church, a way to behave in church and the way is this:
- Pastors have the authority to stop anyone from teaching anything contrary to the truth
I always tell people if you want to flow in the gifts or teach in the Tree of Life Family you cannot be a thin-skinned, over-emotional, immature Christian. Because there will be times I stop you teaching, stop you sharing, stop you participating in a meeting because I am the pastor and I have a gifting and ministry and responsibility to ensure the whole church is fed with green grass and led to still waters. That’s part of my job as a pastor, and if I do not do it, I am not doing my job properly.
That should make you feel safe. That should make you feel confident in the Tree of Life. If it makes you frustrated, you have to ask yourself why. If you think the church is too closed for you, don’t worry, there are plenty of churches around that ignore this Biblical principle and will let you say pretty much whatever you want. But you will have to be prepared to never grow as a Christian in that environment and you will have to be prepared to move churches as those kind of churches do not last long. Also, someone there will have a bigger mouth than you, and because of your unchecked pride you will get annoyed at them pretty much every week. On the other hand, you could let us disciple you, train you, equip you and give you the character and wisdom to handle your giftings and help you launch out into a stable, Biblical, strong ministry. It’s your choice, but I recommend you choose life!
What happens if you let anyone just get up and teach in a church and do not bring it into check as a pastor? Two main things will end up dominating the teaching. I know this from experience as well as the Word:
- Discussion of Myths
- Spiritual Pedigrees
The first thing that happens is a discussion of myths. In an eagerness to not feed the sheep, but to be remembered by the sheep, to be spectacular, to be esteemed by the sheep, people will pick the hardest to grasp stories in the Scripture, and develop outlandish theories about them. I know one church where the pastor ignored my advice on this, and eventually changed when one morning the “preacher” preached on the aliens in the Bible. Not foreigners – actual aliens from other planets who helped the children of Israel. That is a myth. It never happened! The Jewish people have a lot of myths and urban legends and so do the church, and I guarantee you let teaching go unchecked they will all surface and become the domination discussion point in your church. Meanwhile, no-one will be talking about living by faith, walking in love, forgiving, our righteousness in Christ. That is on the pastor if they allow it, and it is on the small-minded people who want a platform and want to just be sensational. You find that the conspiracy theories of the day will find their way into the pulpit as these teachers attempt to out-myth each other. It is tedious, unedifying and not the way the church of Jesus Christ should be run,
Secondly, there will be a discussion of pedigree. Lacking true Biblical authority, and not being in the fivefold ministry and not being called by Jesus Christ as a pastor (I don’t count going to Bible College as making you a pastor, and I don’t count pastoring for a couple of years a church that had to close down being called of God), people will then reinvent their qualifications as to why they are the most spiritual person in the church. In my life I have heard things like:
- I don’t have to listen to you because I am 71 and you are only 40-something.
- I have been to X Bible College and you haven’t, I should be in charge here
- We have had a person stop the entire service, everyone worshipping and loving God, and stop it all by yelling to let everyone know he invited a new person to church!
- I am more loving than you, I should be the pastor
- I have seen a miracle, I should be allowed to speak now
None of those things have any true spiritual pedigree. Only fruit! By their fruit you know people (Matthew 7.15). The problem is that fruit takes time to grow. But these people come to church, and week 2 want the pulpit. They have no idea how to behave in the house of the Lord. They have no idea about feeding the sheep, loving the sheep, laying down their lives for the sheep. They want things to be stirred up, not still waters. They’d rather a drama on a Sunday than a smooth, still service. They have no idea how much the sheep need it to be still to be able to drink. They stir things up because it suits them and not because it suits the church. They have no idea how to behave in the church.
If they are asked to preach, rather than feed the sheep the green grass of a powerful, Biblical message on grace, faith, our identity, they would rather feed them something spicy and novel and exciting – their pet doctrines, their view of a particular conspiracy theory, their idea of some obscure teaching on an obscure passage. They are more concerned about being venerated than feeding people. They want to be on X-Factor, not MasterChef. They have no idea how to behave in the house of the Lord.
If you are causing a scene because “my pastor won’t let me teach my thing”, it’s time for you to sit down and listen to what is being taught and rejoice you have such a good pastor. Rejoice you are in a “closed” church, because that is a safe church. Yes, all things should be done – but decently and in order. You jumping up and yelling in the middle of the service is out of order, and a church that allows that is out of order.
Pastors, only teach things that build a foundation of faith in people. And only let people teach who do the same. And people – go for the people who preach faith not those who cause speculation and confusion. Let’s learn how to behave in church. Let’s not do foolish things to impress the sheep, to be down with the kids, to attract a goat or two, let us teach what feeds the sheep and let’s feed them! And let all of us celebrate those who do that!