Stephen Kneale

What Must Be Driven by Why

We must ask what we’re trying to achieve before we can figure out the best way to achieve it. Unless we know why we are doing this thing we can’t possibly figure out how best to do it. 

It seems like an obvious thing to say, but let me say it anyway. What you are aiming to do will necessarily affect how you do it. That is to say, what you do is necessarily driven by what you are aiming to do. What you do should be driven by why you are doing it.
The problem we often have in our churches is that we get this backwards. Often, what we are doing is not driven in any way by why we might be doing it. In fact, why we are doing it is often little more than because it is what we do.
So, it is not uncommon to go into churches and find them doing all sorts of things. Sometimes some pretty peculiar things. When we ask why we are doing them and what are we trying to achieve by them, nobody is entirely sure. We are doing it because it is what has always been done. We may be doing it because someone once thought it was a good idea but the reasoning behind the idea have been lost in the mists of time. We are doing it because there was a good reason at the time we instituted it but that reason no longer exists but we kind of carried on doing it anyway.
Interestingly, some of these same sorts of impulses come up when somebody deigns to stop something that has always been done – or that has at least been done for ages – from being done anymore. It doesn’t matter what the thing is, or whether anybody has any reason for why it is still being done, we have always done this is the view that often prevails. I don’t have to justify the existence of the bizarre or irrelevant thing, you have to justify why you are determined to no longer do it. Apparently, I cannot fathom what its purpose is and you are doing very little to help me out with that does not compute.
Which brings me back to my original point. Why we are doing something ought to drive what we actually do. We ought to have a reason why we are doing everything that we do in church. If we aren’t entirely sure of the reason, it may be a prime candidate for something we are no longer going to do.
In order to have conversations that are helpful about this, we need to return to first principles. The ultimate reason for us to do anything as a church is because Jesus tells us that is what he wants his church to do. So, if Jesus says it, we ought to do (or not do) it. So, we have to think about what Jesus says his church exists to do. Why are we there and what does he want us to be doing? If we can’t answer that question first, we have no business moving onto thinking about how we might go about doing any of the things he wants us to do.
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How do We Encourage and Build Up the Church?

Hearing people singing the songs heartily, praying earnestly, sharing testimony of how the Lord has been at work in them, these will all encourage other believers. Nothing encourages your elders more than seeing you grow in maturity and Christ-likeness. This is the ultimate fruit of engaging with the Word, engaging with the church, engaging with the commands of Christ. 

1 Thessalonians 5:11 exhorts us, as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, to ‘encourage one another and build each other up’. But what are the key ways to encourage and build up other believers in the church? Here, in no particular order, are a few ways.
Show Up
It’s hard to encourage people when you are never with them. In fact, if you are continually away from the meetings of the gathered body, far from encouraging and building up the body, you are actively discouraging it. It is so disappointing when the preacher stands up to share God’s Word and people aren’t there because they couldn’t be bothered to get out of bed or they had better things to do than worship the living God and meet with his people. These things are a major discouragement. One of the key ways you can build up and encourage the church is by showing up to things.
Engage Heartily
Showing up is absolutely vital, but engaging in what is going on when you are there is similarly encouraging. Of course, some of your engagement will depend on your particular church setup and liturgy. But in our church, we have participation from the congregation in the prayers, the songs and our time of testimony.
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Is the Bible One Book or Many?

It is both one book with one author and one story and yet a collection of writings, from multiple authors, from different places, using different genres yet consistently agreeing with one another. It is both one book and many. It both has one author and many. It is both of these things that speak to its consistency and act as strong evidence it is, indeed, divine revelation.

One of the interesting things about the Bible is that it is both a single book and a collection of books. It has both a single author and multiple authors. It is both one story and yet multiple genres, stories and writings.
At any given moment, there is usually a push to treat it more clearly as one or the other. So, lots of people have made effort to ensure that we preach the Bible as one story – which it is – but then can so emphasise the oneness of the story and overarching author that it flattens the differences between the multiple authors. Others, by contrast, so emphasise the different authors and genres that they almost (or, sometimes, totally) ignore the fact that there is one storyline to about which the whole thing points in every part.
There are often different occasions to emphasise one thing or another. So, in preaching, I tend to emphasise the oneness of the story for believers reading the scriptures in light of the Christ to whom they point. Whether reading Old or New Testament narrative, poetry, prophecy or history the emphasis falls hard on the primary author (God) and the key to the storyline (Jesus Christ) and the reason for his coming and the occasion of any promises (the gospel). Whilst we are, of course, looking at the details of this particular book, we are concerned about them so far as the overarching storyline goes too.
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Analysing Everything To Death And Sucking The Joy Out Of Life

Indeed, when it comes to analysing everything to death, Paul is quite clear in that section: ‘eat everything that is sold in the meat market, without raising questions for the sake of conscience, since the earth is the Lord’s, and all that is in it.’ His answer seems to actively shy away from analysing everything to death and instead towards just getting on with your life. Paul is saying it is okay to just enjoy stuff and not suck the joy out of life by analysing everything to death.

Christians are pretty expert at sucking the joy out of everything. You name it, we can find problems with it. Even if we can’t nail a specific issue to make you feel guilty for enjoying something, you can bet we’ll insist on a full introspective analysis of motives before you can even consider enjoying the thing. Then, if you do determine to enjoy it and go on to do so, you better make sure you don’t enjoy it too much!
We seem to often have a problem with joy. Even Lloyd-Jones’ book – Joy Unspeakable – features a picture of him looking miserable as sin on the back of it. In every way, that book title is a misnomer. How can you write a book about something which is apparently unspeakable? How can you then speak about that unspeakable joy next to a picture of you with a face like a wet weekend? That isn’t to knock the book at all; just to illustrate the fact we can have something of a problem with joy. If it is unspeakable, we are often certain it’s unshowable and, let’s be honest, potentially unreal.
A lot of this instinct comes out at Christmas. The festive period is fine, so long as we don’t enjoy it too much. Or, enjoying it is fine, but we have to analyse it to death before we can confidently just enjoy it. Anything we may think, say or do have to be pored over before we can legitimately enjoy anything. That isn’t to say we should never be introspective, aware of potential sin, and keen to honour the Lord in what we say, think or do, it’s just I don’t think analysing everything to death in the pursuit of that leads to the evident joy Jesus came to bring. Indeed, it is something of a joy-killer.
Someone will inevitably say, ‘whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.’ That surely warrants some introspection and consideration about ‘whatever you do’. Doesn’t that warrant asking whether this actually brings glory to God? Whilst I think that question is valid, it seems to miss the wider context into which Paul made that comment. Paul’s concern seems to be about not giving or taking offence. You have no need to judge another before the Lord and try your best not to do what is going to cause offence. The solution he comes to is to neither rule out or in the eating of meat offered to idols (the question under consideration). He essentially says, ‘whatever you do’ i.e. eat or don’t eat, do it with a clean conscience and try not to give or take offence over it.
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The Temptation for a Quiet Life

As tempting as it is to just say “do whatever you want”, we are not serving another person’s good by doing that. If someone is deviating from God’s Word, if someone is moving away from the commands of Christ – whatever they may be – we serve their interests best by calling them back to faithfulness. As tempting as saying nothing may be, that is really just selfishness and cowardice on our part seeking a quiet life. If we really care about the good of others, we will want to call them back to faithfulness in Jesus even in the face of the relational strain that may cause us.

Every now and then, every pastor will feel the temptation to just let people do whatever they want. To teach what they know people want to hear. To setup the church in a way that people can, effectively, do and be affirmed in whatever they want.
These temptations usually roll round in the face of people not getting their way or not hearing something they wanted to hear (or hearing something they didn’t want to hear) and the church soon gets an earful. Perhaps someone said no to something they really wanted to do. Perhaps someone suggested they shouldn’t do something they currently are doing. Maybe it was something in a sermon. Perhaps it was something else altogether that you might not even know about. But what you know is they’re not happy.
The pull of a quiet life is strong under such circumstances. Nobody likes people being upset with them. Nobody likes people’s anger being directed at them. Nobody enjoys people flouncing out the door and insisting they are the problem. Wouldn’t life just be easier if we let people do whatever they want, think whatever they want, function however they want and just leave it with the Lord? As tempting as that is, the truth is it is not the right thing to do for number of reasons.
It is disobedient to Jesus.
The bottom line is, we shouldn’t take this approach because it is not what Jesus demands of his church. When people are in sin, scripture calls us to address it with them. When people want to do things (or won’t do things) that go against the testimony of scripture, we need to address it. Jesus commands us to enact church discipline for the sake of his glory and honour. He is not honoured when we do not approach the church in the way he would have us function as a church. He is not honoured when we allow those who profess to love Jesus to live and act in ways that do not bring honour and glory to him.
It doesn’t serve the individual.
In the end, as tempting as it is to just say ‘do whatever you want’, we are not serving another person’s good by doing that.
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Monuments To Wrongness

If only we could move away from this graceless fear of reprisal, we might have more monuments to our wrongness. If we have more of those monuments, we might have more room for growth. Just as I don’t think it is helpful to whitewash our past by destroying our actual monuments, but feel it better to take them down by consent recognizing our problematic past and continuing to grow and learn from it by keeping it on display (potentially in a museum), we grow best when monuments to our own wrongness remain on display so we can learn from them and, where necessary, grow.

Have you ever said something and then changed your mind? Of course you have. We all have. It is part and parcel of saying almost anything. We say things and then, faced with them weeks, months or years later, we may have come to change our mind. We may even say we were wrong.
Someone reminded me of something I said in a podcast from a few months ago. They didn’t so much remind me as quoted me. Fortunately, I was able to stand by what I said then. I still think what I said and stand by it. Phew!
But I got to thinking, what if I hadn’t? Minimally, if someone brings it up, I would say that I didn’t agree with it anymore. That much seems obvious. But would I leave the podcast there, continuing to remain as a reminder of a time I said something that I no longer think? Or, in case someone used it to quote me, would I take it down? After all, it is embarrassing to be quoted on something you don’t think anymore. Worse, you might convince someone else of the thing that you don’t think anymore and wish you hadn’t!
Naturally, it depends what the thing is. I don’t think I’ve said anything racist on this blog before, but if I had done (and rightly apologised for it), I would probably take that down because why continue to upset people with something you don’t even think or mean? That seems a natural case for taking the thing down. If you recognise it was an upsetting thing to say, and you wish you hadn’t said it, and you know it will still upset people if found and read, it is just a clear case for employing the edit button.
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Want to Help the Youth? Equip the Parents

Those who see their young people becoming believers and staying in the church are those who are clear on the need for young people to convert and who equip parents to take their responsibilities for teaching the gospel to their children seriously. The answer is not raising up godly young people through better youth work, but raising up godly parents who will teach and train their own children.

I am amazed by the number of people who seem to think that youth work and children’s programmes are the key to raising up a new, godly generation of believers. Now, don’t get me wrong, these things can be a wonderful benefit to the church. But I am utterly convinced that if we want a generation of new believers being raised up, we will best achieve it by building up godly parents.
There is often a reflex that assumes teenagers drift away from church because there wasn’t anything on for them. This line of thinking typically ignores the fact that if teenagers are only coming to church because there is a youth work, we haven’t actually won them to Christ. If we haven’t actually won them to Christ, all the time and effort poured into keeping them with youth work seems entirely pointless. Indeed, if they haven’t been won to Christ, we can’t be that surprised that they do not want to stay in the church.
As I noted here, the number one reason youth drift away from the church is because they never actually became believers. The responsibility for teaching and raising our children in the fear and admonition of the Lord lies with families. Youth do not drift off from church because there weren’t enough programmes on for them, they drift off because they never came to trust in Jesus. The responsibility for teaching and training our children lies with the family unit, particularly with fathers.
What this means is that, if we want to see a godly generation of new believers raised up in the church, the answer may not lie in putting on more activities for the youth. The answer lies in building up the parents so that they can better teach their children at home and equip them as those God holds responsible for the spiritual state of the family. As I noted here, ‘It is not good enough to outsource all of our children’s spiritual teaching and then wonder why they never came to faith given we sent them out of the service for half an hour every week. This is neither talking of the scriptures in your house nor the incorporation of them into your everyday life that Deuteronomy expects. It is likewise not fulfilling the imperative of Ephesians 6:4 that fathers are responsible for the spiritual teaching and training of their children.’
Indeed, as I argued here (and I would encourage you to read the full post), the fruit of such thinking was noted back in the 80s by Roy Joslin in Urban Harvest, but his comments continue to go unheeded. He wrote:
For all the dedication of godly Sunday School teachers over many years, it appears that much of that effort was like pouring water into a badly holed bucket or, to be more biblical, like trying to catch fish with some badly torn gospel nets. Why was it that so many children who swam into the gospel nets in their earlier years had on the whole swum out again before adult years had been reached?
Elaborate doctrinal teaching may be inculcated in childhood, but its influence is not likely to last unless maintained by the atmosphere of the home or unless supported by social usage.
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The Search for Authenticity

I am minded to believe that if we really want authenticity, it means certain churches will be authentically extremely messy. They will be very honest, but there will be serious mess. I am equally minded to believe that other churches will appear relatively together because they are. The sins they struggle with will seem like small beer to some or be centred more in their thought life. We also have to accept that authenticity will also be authentically in line with the culture from which we emanate. 

One of the moves in the modern evangelical church is towards an increasing sense of authenticity. It is hard to argue with the desire for authenticity. After all, if one isn’t authentic, then one is fake. And who wants to go to church with a bunch of fakers? Isn’t that the very hypocrisy and Pharisaism the church has historically been accused of and from which it desperately wants to unhitch?
The issue is that the authenticity-hunters are often not enamoured with authenticity when it is actually on display. Churches in hard places may seem full of people being authentic, but people often recoil from the authenticity on display because it is, well, too authentic. The sins on display, that with the church’s help may be repented of, are too much for some to wear. How can professing believers do that? There’s not denying we shouldn’t sin, but let’s not pretend that we don’t, and some of us spectacularly so. We only have to look at some of the things professing believers got up to in scripture to see it is so. But for many, that is a level of authenticity too far.
Some, who find these things too much, prefer churches with more middle-class sensibilities. But the problem rears its head in such churches too. Whilst I have no doubt there are inauthentic fakers in middle-class churches, I am prepared to believe that most of them are not that. They are just what they appear. Broadly together people who happen to have relatively comfortable lives whose problems are broadly managed thanks to their financial setup and social status.
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Win Them with the Word

If we front and centre anything other than Jesus and the Word of God, we will be winning them to something much less, something deficient. What we communicate about Jesus and his Word matters because, if we front and centre anything else or try to win people by other means, that is what we have to keep them with. Not only that, but that is what they are really coming for. 

The old, oft trotted adage is certainly true: what you win them with you win them to. We have to be clear what we are winning people with because that is ultimately what we have to keep them with. That is to say, we have to be clear what we actually want to win people to and then make sure that is what we front and centre.
In the church, the ever-present temptation is to win people with whatever will win them. It is to take something of a pragmatic approach to church growth. If people are more likely to come in because we do something or other, then let’s do that something or other in order to win them. Aside from being a principle that literally opens the door to any nonsense and ungodly activity so long as it brings them in, it actually doesn’t even work. It may get people in the door, but if they’re only coming for the thing, they ain’t coming because of Jesus.
I am reminded of some of the issues that cropped up in the earlier years of my ministry. The frequent refrain was that we effectively needed less Bible, less of the Word, and more of a bunch of other things that are more likely to bring people in and keep them. Perhaps, I was once told, if the Spirit so moved us we should ditch the sermon altogether and just spend the entire service singing. Maybe, I was told another time, we could limit the sermon to a 5-minute sermonette because 40 minutes of preaching probably isn’t that appealing. You probably should, someone once insisted, stop preaching about sin, Hell and judgement and all that because people don’t like that sort of thing and they may not want to come back.
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A Dangerous Prayer to Pray

We often think of growth as the magic bullet. More people must equal more money, more ministry power, more outreach, bigger, better, greater. And it may well mean those things on some level, though not always. But equally, more people means more problems, more conflict, more issues to address. Praying for growth is great, but it is most definitely a dangerous thing to pray.

Everybody likes growth, don’t they? Most of us seem to want our churches to grow. And by growth, I think we often mean qualitatively in maturity in Christ but typically mean quantitively in number of people. Growth is often what we’re after.
As such, it is not uncommon to hear people praying for growth. Asking the Lord to grow our people. Asking him to grow our church. Asking him to cause our people to know and love him more. Asking him to bring new people in who will come to know him and serve alongside us in the ministry. I doubt there are many churches who are not praying prayers like these, in some way, shape or form.
But few of us realise what dangerous prayers these are to pray. Don’t get me wrong, they’re not sinful prayers. There’s nothing wrong with praying these things at all. Assuming we are praying them because we are concerned about the glory of God being seen in his church, of course we want our people to grow in their knowledge and love of the Lord Jesus, to grow up to spiritual maturity in him and for unbelievers to come, hear the gospel and put their trust in Jesus. These are good things to pray. But they are dangerous things to pray.
What do you think happens when people in your church start to become more godly and Christlike? I mean, practically speaking. What will happen? We often imagine that will make our life easier. They will become more active members of the church. They will engage with the Word on levels we had not seen before from them. All entirely possible.
But just think about what that means for you for a moment. More Christlike, godly people tends to means our deficiencies will be noticed where they previously weren’t. Not in a nasty or malevolent way, but in a way that people who want to glorify God notice when things are not as God-glorifying as they might be. People hungrier to engage the Word in ways they didn’t before means more awkward questions, thorny issues being wrestled with, demands of sermons scratching where they now itch.
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