Audience Participation Week continues, and today’s three words were submitted by resident Summit Bishopess, First Lady Veronica Greear. To figure out which words below she submitted (and find out what APW is all about), check out the comments on this post.

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Way too many churches get derailed over secondary issues.

I was reminded of this yesterday after a staff discussion on the ethos of our church.  If you haven’t been around the Summit and aren’t used to people who regularly consult word-of-the-day calendars to get super cool words to toss in their vocabulary like you’d toss slivered almonds into a salad, ethos describes the underlying purpose and flavor of your organization.  Or at least I think that’s what it describes.  I accidentally threw away that word of the day page when I ripped it off.

Anyway, your ethos defines you.  It gives you direction.  It helps you know whether a ministry or program or budget item is hitting the mark or missing the point.  And when times get tough, your ethos will keep you focused on your primary issues and keep you out of the mire of the secondary.

For us, our primary issues center around doctrine: Jesus is the Son of God, he died on the cross as a substitute for our sins, the Bible is our ultimate authority, and the Trinity the expression of God in three distinct persons.  (This is not necessarily an exhaustive doctrinal list, but you get the point.)  Our primary issues also center around methodology: excellence in programming, missional in focus, and gospel-centered in life.

Secondary issues are the areas where we have a great amount of room for disagreement, as it should be.  We frequently have Republicans worshipping alongside Democrats, Calvinists serving beside Armenians, and people who lost the first round of the second grade spelling bee sitting in a small group next to people who can spell antidisestablishmentarianism.

When a secondary issue becomes a primary issue, you have a recipe for disaster.  Whether it’s an individual who makes their cause of utmost importance or an entire church that takes its focus off the gospel and places it on something silly, secondary issues should remain secondary, not primary.  That’s why they’re called secondary, yo.

As a church staff, we’ve tried our best to identify those things that are our primary issues, and stick to them.  The result has been a church where the ministry lines are cleaner, the community aspect is deeper, and the worship experience is richer.  As a buddy of mine told me a couple of years ago, “You’ve got the coolest church on the eastern seaboard.”  I think I’d have to agree.

However, that didn’t come by accident.  We’ve had plenty of people who’ve wanted to add their secondary issue to our primary list (No, I won’t identify the people or their issues.  Do you think I was born yesterday?).  Along the way, somebody has had to be the keeper of the primary issues.  For us, that’s our elder team and pastoral staff.  And the primary issues are kept primary by continually going to scripture and letting it be our guide on what must be primary.

You and I might disagree on baby seals or shopping on the Sabbath or the plight of the Jews or gun control or illegal poachers…or even the fact that Jews are buying guns on the Sabbath in order to poach a baby seal…but that doesn’t mean that we can’t worship together.  It doesn’t dilute the message of the gospel.  On the contrary: when we worship together in spite of differences of opinion on secondary issues, it allows a watching world to realize there’s just something different about us.

So how about you?  Are any of your secondaries trying to become primaries?

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