All posts by philipmt

Phil Thompson is a husband and father who serves as a lay teacher at The Church at Cherrydale in Greenville, SC and works in the travel industry. He holds a MA in Theological Studies from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary and an MDiv from Columbia International University.

Principles to Remember when Discussing the “Gray Areas”

How to view the entire discussion

  1. You hold no responsibility to win converts to your position.
  2.  There is no “safe” position. You’re either at risk of legalism or license.
  3.  Your personal practices can remain as such. That’s between you and God.
  4. On any given subject you may actually be the weaker brother.
  5. Nowhere does the Bible say that the weaker brother is to remain in that state in perpetuity.
  6. It is just as wrong to permit what God prohibits as it is to prohibit what God permits.

How to know when you’re off track

  1. If the debate consumes more of your time than your interaction with God in prayer and the Word, you’re doing something wrong.
  2. If you find yourself getting worked up and angry, you may have taken it too far.
  3. Have you convinced yourself that the Gospel will rise or fall on someone agreeing with you on this topic?
  4. Is this a hill worth taking, or is this something you are willing to die for?
  5. Is a fellow-believer truly going to be in sin if they do not share your position on this issue?


How to consider the other side

  1. Be willing to listen closely to what the other side is saying without thinking about how you will respond.
  2. Be willing to admit that there are good Christians on the other side of the issue.
  3. Always remember that “esteem others better than ourselves” and “living peaceably with all men” is a two-way street.
  4. Don’t expect someone to change their mind in the middle of an online debate.
  5. Look for a possible middle ground.
  6. Understand the position of the other person.
  7. Make sure they agree with the way you’ve stated their position.

How to communicate your position

  1. Before wading into any discussion on gray areas, sit down, read Romans 14, and pray.
  2. You may hold a better application, but, if you force it on others, you’re actually sinning.
  3.  Avoid speaking where the Bible doesn’t or speaking loudly where the Bible is quiet.
  4.  Don’t say too much too forcefully so that you’ll have less to take back if you change your position.
  5. Be careful with terms like “wise” or “conservative” when describing your own position; these may lend more weight to your position than warranted.
  6. Be careful about dealing with these issues in front of non-believers.

Constructing a Philosophy of Teaching for Your Church

Four reasons to do it

1. Because teaching should matter to the church.

This kind of careful attention to the teaching ministry of the church is absolutely warranted given the high value ascribed to teaching in Scripture (Matt. 28.20; Deut. 6.7; Heb. 5.12-14; James 3:1; 2 Tim. 1.13-14).  Teaching in the early church was carried out substantially by elders in each city, and overseers like Timothy and Titus were tasked with ensuring that the teaching in the city adhered to the apostolic teachings which they had received. Teaching can be a conduit for truth or error, heresy or orthodoxy, and for churches to have a nonchalant approach stands in stark contrast to the directives of Scripture and the practice of the early church.

2. Because church shouldn’t be a fly-by-night enterprise.

I think a lot of people fear mission or philosophy or purpose statements because those sorts of things seem to be more appropriate in the business world. But if you think about it, businesses use mission or philosophy or purpose statements because they make sense. They realize the biblical principle of Prov. 29.18, “where there is no vision, people are unrestrained.” Propositional directives are a must in daily life, in business, and in the ministry of the church.

3. Because you don’t need to wait until problems occur in order to standardize expectations.

A teacher who’s been teaching for several years ends up telling a class that he’s not certain about biblical inerrancy. A teacher ends up carrying out a knock-down-drag-out discussion regarding the Christian’s use of alcohol. A woman volunteers to lead a mixed gender Bible study. Your church may have varying levels of concern for each of these cases, but hopefully you recognize the need to have a philosophy that addresses where your church stands on all of these issues before the questions arise. Setting the bar upfront will save you the headache of trying to fix an issue gone awry further down the trail.

4. Because Jesus serves as a model for a teaching philosophy.

Jesus wasn’t just the model teacher, he modeled a practical teaching philosophy for the disciples. He had specific reasons why he used parables on various occasions. He revealed certain teachings in systematic manners to his disciples. He relied on certain specific modes of questioning and logic. All of these facts and more point to the idea that Jesus had a particular philosophy of teaching in mind as he instructed his disciples. If Jesus had a defined approach to teaching, so should we!

Six questions to ask in order to construct it

1. What is the purpose of the teaching ministry?

Your purpose for the teaching ministry should be an outflow of the overall purpose statement for the church. A church purpose statement could read as follows: “____ Church exists to bring God glory by lifting up the Gospel in our teaching, edification, and worship, and by equipping saints to love and evangelize their community.” A followup teaching purpose statement could read as follows: “The purpose of the teaching ministry of ____ Church is to aid Christians in pursing spiritual maturity by teaching them to center their lives on the Gospel.”

2. What are the objectives of the teaching ministry?

In other words, you should be asking: what concrete steps must be taken in order to fulfill the purpose statement? Deconstruct your purpose statement and tackle it piece by piece. Typical objectives will include teaching content (breakdown of proportion of biblical, systematic, historical content), application (e.g., teaching for change), direction (e.g., Gospel-centered), and engagement (expectations of interaction, etc.). It is essential to build out what the Bible says about teaching and its importance in the church in this section.

3. What curriculum will we use?

This flows from the content section in your objectives. If you primarily let teachers instruct on books of the Bible or various topic, then you can provide direction on how they should be approaching these books. How should they determine what to include and exclude? Are there topics that should be avoided? Is there a preferred teaching method (lecture, Socratic, or hybrid)? Is there a system of books or topics that you see should be taught through? Some churches have a 5-year program that takes the congregation through the entire Bible. Other churches may alternate between biblical/systematic/historical theology during various seasons or years. This is where that program should be articulated. If you primarily provide material for your teachers, this would be an appropriate place to list that material.

4. Who can teach?

Most churches have varying approaches at different levels of the church. What kinds of qualifications or background checks are you looking for in teachers for children’s church or kids Sunday School? What about small group teachers or those teaching at the congregational level? What venues/age groups do you believe are acceptable for women to teach in? How long does someone need to be a member in order to begin teaching? What doctrinal beliefs do teachers need to assent to? Are there special behavioral guidelines that you expect for teachers? Who (specifically, what role) evaluates whether or not individuals are allowed to teach in the church? It may also be helpful to articulate ongoing methods for evaluation of teachers.

5. What is the method behind the madness?

This is different than articulating the objectives. This involves examining the existing or planned teaching events and charting a course that ends up at the family or individual level. This lowest common denominator is where churches should be aiming their teaching to be replicated by parents. Many churches use a funnel method in order to make sense of their teaching. For example, what is preached is applied and expanded on in small groups, and what is handled in small groups should end up applied and taught in the home. If you have an ideal flow such as this, here’s where you can articulate it so that your church can be on the same page with the leadership.

6. What roles do the various teaching venues play?

Think of this in terms of: (a) how they fulfill the purpose, (b) which objectives they meet, (c) implementation of curriculum for each, (d) what role oversees the teaching and teachers, and (e) how they fit into the method/flow of teaching with the church. Each teaching venue should include at least a two sentence summary that explains its role. Avoid being redundant, but rely on concepts and terms that you’ve already defined in the previous sections. As part of this process, you may ascertain that certain teaching venues are lacking or are unnecessary. This is an excellent opportunity to begin making programmatic shifts based on the prior conclusions. Categorize your teaching venues. Possible methods include: on-campus/off-campus, adult/teen/children/pre-K, men’s/women’s, Sunday/weekday, and/or lecture/discussion-based. Ideally these could be laid out on a spreadsheet prior to the final construction of the philosophy statement. The better you are able to categorize your teaching venues, the better you can fit them into the overall teaching program or perhaps see gaps in your existing teaching structure.

On Beards: Remix

Awhile back I complained about my beard deficiency and my resulting theological conundrum. But I’m a firm believer that when God takes one thing away from you, he loves to give you something better. So I’ve found my beardless blessing: the greatest shave known to man.

Although the current fad is to see the shaved face as somewhat emasculated, I’ve discovered that the gentleman’s shave is one of the most awesome experiences ever. So I’m sharing my process here.

Step 1: Heat

You can do this with a hot shower or using a super hot washcloth. Getting your face hot opens the pores and eliminates much of the pain of shaving.

Step 2: Pre-shave

Rubbing a little oil against the grain keeps the hair upright and makes the shave smoother. I’m not talking WD-40 here…I use The Art of Shaving’s pre-shave oil. This only takes a second.

Step 3: Lather

You can use the old soap and mug thing, but I use The Art of Shaving’s cream. It lathers up fast on your face, saving all the mess. If you end up using this particular brand, you should note that it only takes a tiny amount (maybe half the size of an M&M) to get an epic lather.

Don’t forget a good brush.  I prefer a good badger hair brush. It will make the lather nice and thick. This one is pretty popular. With the brush, you’ll need a stand to let it drip and air-dry.

This step made a huge difference for me. Getting rid of the nasty stuff that comes in the can helped my razor burn drop to nearly nil.

Step 4: Shave

I’m rocking the Merkur Long-Handled Safety Razor with the Merkur blades. And check it out, you can pick up 100 blades for the cost of something like 8 of the cartridges for your quadruple-blade-vibrating-aloe-caked-mostly-plastic doohickey.  I’ll admit that it was scary for the first couple times, but after that you’ll feel like John Wayne as you heat up your razor and make a clean shave.

Remember: shave *with* the grain and take time to make several passes. In the end, you’ll end up with a *very* close shave. Some guys can do an against the grain shave, but start it on a trial basis and see how it works for you. If you’re using the safety razor, let the weight of the tool do the work and take your time.

Getting rid of the old Gillette with the aloe pads that fill up with crud keeps my pores clean and keeps the razor burn at a minimum. It’s well worth the extra few seconds it takes with the single blade. A single blade also makes those precision cuts for beards or sideburns a cinch.

If you’re rushing and nick yourself, don’t fear. A little styptic pencil will congeal the blood and get you going in no time.

Step 5: Wrapping up

Rinse your face in clean cold water. This will cleanse and close the pores, keeping your face fresh and healthy. Then a good aftershave will help keep your skin in great condition.

Hope this helps you guys. Go man-up and enjoy a clean shave! It’ll change your life (maybe).

Shout out to my wife, Laurel, for the razor and shaving kit. You’re awesome!

The Robin Williams Effect: Or, Why We Don’t See Problems Until It’s Too Late

As my news feed blew up on Monday night, I too was shocked and saddened by the story. But I couldn’t help but think of an interesting consideration based on one recurring comment. Here it is: “he was the last person I’d think would commit suicide!” For some reason we couldn’t help see the charming funnyman that many of us grew up watching as above the challenge of depression. We’d assumed that a wealthy A-list celebrity wouldn’t be hit by the emptiness that should be reserved for those who struggle to make ends meet or who’ve failed at life. But we were wrong.

Are there others?

And this hasn’t been the only time. We’ve also seen people with thousands of Facebook friends struggling with massive insecurities leading to suicide, the committed father who is struggling with sexual activity which threatens his marriage, the beautiful young woman who struggles with body image issues, the respected businessman who is embezzling from his company, or the pastor who is addicted to porn. These are some huge problems that we’ve often overlooked. Have you ever wondered what a difference it would make if we started plugging in and creating an environment where we could catch these kinds of problems before lives are ruined?

Why do we miss it?

I tend to think that we overlook huge problems and needs in others’ lives because we’re obsessed with impersonal and surface-level observations about people. We draw conclusions about others based on their persona in the media or on social media. We say “hi” to our coworker on the way into work or exchange pleasantries with a fellow church member, and assume that everything is okay.
“Comedy is acting out optimism.” – Robin Williams
Another issue is that when people finally open up to us about their problems, we tend to react poorly. Sometimes we treat people like they’re weak and can’t handle what they should be able to (i.e., what we can). Other times we treat people like they’re deserving of what they’re going through because of some fault of their own (i.e., that we haven’t done). Both of these responses lack grace. For by grace we can handle what we do and by grace we don’t get what we deserve. By approaching peoples’ problems this way, we take the grace of God for granted, all the while expecting others to try harder to earn it.

Can we reverse this trend?

We obviously can’t go deeper into the lives of celebrities (unless TMZ counts), but maybe we can do a better job reaching into the lives of those around us.
  1. One thing we can do is to change up the circumstances in which we interact with others. If you’re ready to get involved in the life of a coworker, invite them to an event outside of the workplace. Catch up with a fellow church member outside of church. Get your wife out of the house — date night! Take your son on an outdoor adventure. This all seems obvious, but how often do we really do this?
  2. As you engage with others, do it with grace. Always look for evidences of grace in their lives. We can always sit there an poke holes in people; if you haven’t noticed, there are a lot of failures in these things called “humans.” So we have to make a concerted effort to find peoples’ gifts and encourage those. Only when we approach people from a spirit of love, which believes and hopes for the best in all things, will we be ready to truly help the hurting.
  3. Another thing you can do is learn how to ask real questions. Now that you’re outside of a context where surface level interactions occur, start asking non-surface level questions. What has God been teaching you lately? Is there something I can be praying for you about? Where do you see yourself/your family in the next 5 years? What have you been reading recently?
  4. When people start talking, avoid the tendency to just check-out or think about what you’re going to say next. Follow the ebb and flow of the conversation, but be making mental notes about the areas where you can show the love of Christ to them. Don’t be afraid of the messiness and challenge of getting involved. Don’t fear the long road to recovery. Be a patient servant to those in need. Don’t just tell people that you’ll pray about this or that need; do something to meet that need if it lies within your ability.
  5. Lastly, close the loop. Continue to interact with your new-found friend online and in other out of the ordinary ways. Continue to share ways that God is growing you. Continue to pray for them and ask for updates on their requests. Continue to share your hopes and dreams. Share what you’re reading and how it’s impacting your thinking. Do something special for them and/or their family.