AUSTIN—“Many pastors have believed the lie that it is the programs, the technology, or innovations that will make our churches healthy,” said Ben Wright, associate pastor of High Pointe Baptist Church in Austin. “The foundational things are what we’re being told to forget.”
Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington, D.C. and founder of 9Marks, a ministry designed to equip churches to fulfill their mission by glorifying God, said many churches are in bad shape and need a return to the scriptural tenets that define a church, its leaders and members.
Pastors and lay leaders representing several denominations and from as far away as Mexico attended a two-day 9Marks conference, Nov. 2-3 at High Pointe Baptist Church. There were no PowerPoint presentations, no videos or praise band. With a backdrop of only three small banners bearing the 9Marks logo and mission statement, the three speakers—Dever and pastors Josh Smith of Irving and Garrett Kell of Alexandria, Va.—spoke to over 100 pastors in the English-language session as Ryan Townsend, Edgar Aponte, and High Pointe Pastor Juan Sanchez addressed two dozen Spanish-speaking pastors.
“It’s important for us pastors to come to these things,” said Tyler Looper, pastor of First Baptist Church Crowell in North Texas. “It reaffirms what we know the Bible says.”
But too many congregations are ignoring what the Bible says about church, Dever told the pastors. The pervasive nominalism of the American church spurred Dever to create 9Marks, he said.
Championing nine marks of a biblical New Testament church such as expositional preaching, doctrinal soundness and a disciplined church as defined by the New Testament, 9Marks has gained a following. Though the marks are common-sense constructs, they are often dismissed in favor of the newest method of “contextualization” as churches seek relevance and new members, Dever said.
Jamie Owen, a Capitol Hill Baptist Church pastoral assistant, told the audience, “God displays his character to the world through the church. When we realize this we realize what a weighty calling it is to lead a church.”
In fact, said Josh Smith, pastor of MacArthur Boulevard Baptist Church in Irving, pastors should see their current tenure in terms of years and not as a step on the career ladder. He said most pastors, especially those new to the ministry, want healthy, God-honoring churches but are overwhelmed by pressures to conform. As a representative of the 9Marks ministry, Smith said pastors he interacts with tell him they are encouraged by the teaching and the discourse they get with other pastors and lay leaders.
Smith urged the younger pastors among them not to rush implementation of the 9Marks tenets. There is a natural progression to each of them; one begets the other, he said.
For example, Smith said the act of church discipline would naturally follow the establishment of a meaningful membership process. Being a member of a church should be so important no one would want to violate the covenant of membership, he said. But if that happens, the biblical response of turning an individual out of membership is done with the hope of eventual restoration.
He said pastors should spend two or three years “getting membership right.” Don’t try to rush it or enact discipline practices before then.
Dever, whose church is elder led, said he believes elder-led congregations set the biblical standard. Those elders can be paid pastors or they can be lay leaders but they are not to be confused with deacons who serve a different role in the church, he stressed.
Dever said pastors are too easily drawn to practices that are either exciting in their newness or revered for their antiquity. But best practices align with Scripture, producing healthy churches that reach their communities with the gospel, he emphasized.