Christianity 201

July 31, 2019

The Opposite of Humility

If you have read this website for any length of time, you know that I often return to the “hymn” in Philippians 2. The one that begins, “Let this mindset [attitude] be in you that was also found in Christ;” and then goes a few sentences before defining that mindset, “He humbled himself.”

The cross is the place where we changed.
Above all fruit of that change is the fruit of love.
The attitude we then adopt is humility.

So what is the opposite of humility? What is the thing we have to “put off” before we can “put on” a humble, gentle spirit?

If you asked me that question 24 hours ago, I would have said pride. Pride and humility are opposites, right?

But this morning, after starting in Philippians 2, I kept reading to the end, and then decided I should backtrack to chapter 1 so could say I had read the whole book this morning. (Maybe that was pride!!)

Anyway, midway through that chapter I think Paul gives us a clue as to what feeds humility’s counter-attitude. It just so happened I was reading in The Message translation.

15-17 It’s true that some here preach Christ because with me out of the way, they think they’ll step right into the spotlight. But the others do it with the best heart in the world. One group is motivated by pure love, knowing that I am here defending the Message, wanting to help. The others, now that I’m out of the picture, are merely greedy, hoping to get something out of it for themselves. Their motives are bad. They see me as their competition, and so the worse it goes for me, the better—they think—for them.

18-21 So how am I to respond? I’ve decided that I really don’t care about their motives, whether mixed, bad, or indifferent. Every time one of them opens his mouth, Christ is proclaimed, so I just cheer them on!

Paul is in prison at this point, hence the reference to “out of the way.” He has apparently gained some popularity at this point and obviously that is enviable to the point where others would like to step into the limelight. In the above translation they are called “greedy” as having “bad motives.” In the NIV it reads,

17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains.

adding the extra dimension that perhaps they simply want to cause trouble for Paul while he is not at liberty to respond. Imagine though, someone preaching the gospel, the good news about Jesus to make someone else look bad.

Some of this is human nature. Paul was not part of the original group of apostles that Jesus taught or among the early disciples who were present on the day of Pentecost. As Saul, he greatly opposed the movement Jesus had begun. Then, in a very short period, he becomes Paul the Apostle. Can you see the problem some might have with this?

Sometimes someone new will come into one of our churches and be given a ministry position and the church’s “old guard,” the “elder brothers” can get very irate. I know. I was the new person in a rural church. A woman got up at the annual meeting and asked, “So what’s the deal here? Can anybody just walk in off the street and get a job?” If I had doctrinal quirks or theological errors it might have been a valid question. But clearly, her question wasn’t rooted in that concern, it was rooted in envy. Just a few short months later she left the church.

But I think The Message translation gets more clearly at the humility’s opposite in chapter one, with chapter two in view.

The opposite of humility is ambition.

Being driven, taking proactive steps, or being a type-A personality is not a bad thing. But to be consumed with ambition strikes at the very heart of the humble attitudes we are supposed to reflect. The Voice translation reflects this in Psalm 75:

6 There is no one on earth who can raise up another to grant honor,
not from the east or the west, not from the desert.
There is no one. God is the only One.
7 God is the only Judge.
He is the only One who can ruin or redeem a man.

It is God who grants promotions and give raises. We shouldn’t seek these things; we shouldn’t strive to get somewhere that isn’t in God’s plans or not currently in God’s timing.

We can’t even claim that healthy ambition in doing things for God, because there is a flaw if we think we do things for God. (This becomes especially vital in a church culture where pastors are preoccupied with metrics and church growth.)

Above, verses 18-21 reveal that Paul doesn’t allow himself to get perturbed at whatever motivates such people. As long as the gospel is presented clearly, he actually rejoices. The messenger may be flawed, but the message is what matters. As I replied to a comment last week, even a stopped clock is right twice a day, so while we should consider the source, we shouldn’t discount everything the source writes or says.

Right now, even as you read this, there are people using the ministry to build their own empires. Yes, that concerns me, but it doesn’t concern Paul if the message is being clearly transmitted. Of course, in a social media and internet world, everybody knows everybody else’s backstory. That is unfortunate, but it doesn’t minimize the power of the message itself.

Response: God, I know I need to guard my heart. Help me to see things I’m doing for wrong reasons; wrong motives. Help me not to be consumed with ambition.


Previously on C201:

December 15, 2014

Church Planting: Finding the Person of Peace

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“Whenever you enter someone’s home, first say, ‘May God’s peace be on this house.’ If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you.” (Luke 10: 5 NLT and 6 NASB)

This book excerpt by David and Paul Watson from a chapter of Contagious Disciple Making showed up in an email last week.  I thought I would share it with all of you.

An old man sat on the edge of the road approaching the village. When he saw me (David), he started. He slowly stood up and came to meet me.

“Finally!” he exclaimed, “You are finally here.” Before I could say anything he took my arm and pulled me into the village.

“Here is the man I told you about,” he told people as he pulled me along. “Here is the man I dreamed about every night for the last twenty years. My dreams told me that we must listen to everything this man tells us.”

I shared the Gospel, and a church now meets in the village. God is at work in people’s hearts even before we walk into their lives. According to this man, God has told him twenty years earlier that I was coming to his village. Funny thing is, twenty years before that moment, I was studying to be an engineer. I had no desire and no call at that time to be a minister or a church planter.

Contagious Disciple MakingMaking disciples and planting churches is easier if you’re working with God and the people He has prepared rather than trying to force the Gospel on people who aren’t ready.

Engage a community and then find the Person of Peace. Actually, if we do things right, the Person of Peace finds us. Learning how to be found is the key.

The Person of Peace is not simply a good person or hospitable person or friendly person. There are many people in every culture who are good, hospitable, or friendly, but are not the Persons of Peace.

The Person of Peace is the one God has prepared to receive the Gospel into a community for the first time.

There are two major categories of Persons of Peace – some are Persons of Peace by nature, and some become Persons of Peace as a result of God’s direct intervention in their families or communities. There are numerous examples of both in the Bible. Cornelius and Lydia are representatives of the “Person of Peace by nature” category. The Philippian jailer and the Samaritan woman at the well are examples of those who became Persons of Peace through God’s direct intervention.

In all these examples, however, the disciple-makers were conspicuously spiritual people who lived out their faith without apology. This is the secret to finding the Person of Peace. We must live out our faith as conspicuously as possible. This is not about being religious. It’s about being spiritual.

God condemns being religious. Look at how Jesus related and spoke to the religious leaders of His day and how God spoke through His prophets in the Old Testament. Religion was not well thought of or supported by Scripture.

God has a tremendous amount to say to us about being spiritual – rightly relating to God and His creation through a personal relationship with Him. This is about faith and living it out in all circumstances regardless of consequences. It is about loving God and loving people. It is about obedient thinking and living. This kind of life draws in people who are interested in spiritual matters and opens the door to communities for establishing obedient bodies of believers whose Head is the Lord Jesus Christ.

We have to unconditionally live out a spiritual life to make evangelism and disciple-making happen.

So, in reality, finding the Person of Peace is more about us and the way we live than it is about finding the Person of Peace.

If we are the people we should be, those who want to discover Christ come to us. This is more than just living a good life. It’s living an obedient life that demonstrates the love of God and shares God’s Word in such a way that the lost become saved, the saved become obedient, and the obedient make more disciples for the Lord Jesus Christ, resulting in self-replicating disciples and churches of Jesus Christ.

Finding the Person of Peace radically increased the number of churches we planted. We saw disciple-making teams go from planting a few churches per year to planting dozens of churches every year, and in some cases, even hundreds of new churches every year.

The Person of Peace strategy was developed from a composite view of Jesus’ teaching when He sent out His disciples in Matthew 10, Luke 9, and Luke 10. Following are the commands Jesus gave to His disciples as He sent them out.

Matthew 10

  • As you go, preach this message: “The kingdom of heaven is near.” – Matthew 10:7
  • Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. – Matthew 10:8
  • Freely you have received, freely give. – Matthew 10:8
  • Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep. – Matthew 10:9-10
  • Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at his house until you leave. – Matthew 10:11
  • If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. – Matthew 10:14
  • I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. – Matthew 10:16

Luke 9 (Additional commands not contained in Matthew 10)

  • Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town. – Luke 9:4
  • This is different from staying only in the house of a worthy person.

Luke 10 (Additional commands not contained in Matthew 10 or Luke 9)

  • Go out by two ahead of Me to every town and place I am about to go. – adapted from Luke 10:1
  • Ask the Lord of the harvest… to send out workers into this harvest field. – Luke 10:2
  • Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. – Luke 10:3
  • Do not greet anyone on the road. – Luke 10:3
  • When you enter a house, first say, “Peace to this house.” If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you. Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move from house to house. – Luke 10:5-7
  • Heal the sick who are there and tell the, “The kingdom of God is near you.” – Luke 10:9

The Person of Peace teaching is an entry strategy to new communities. In the Great Commission Jesus commanded us to “go.” What do we do when we get to where we are going? We find the Person of Peace.

This is radically different from traditional disciple-making methods. In the Person of Peace strategy, the disciple-maker has one job – find the Person of Peace. This person may be from any walk of life, but he or she will welcome you, listen to your message, help you with your livelihood, and allow you to stay in his or her home and influence his or her family and the community for the sake of the Gospel.

The disciple-maker does not do any of the traditional things required by traditional disciple-making. He does not preach or teach. He does not hand out tracts or sell books or give away Bibles. He does not do mass rallies or healing services. Finding the Person of Peace starts with obedience to Christ and looks for where Christ is about to visit. This is evidenced by the presence of the Person of Peace. If there is no Person of Peace, then you move on.

The Person of Peace is found through prayer and service. In our experience, this service is sometimes miraculous, as Luke 10 describes. Often, though, service is as simple as feeding the hungry or helping someone fix a flat tire. In both cases, the disciple-maker freely gives him or herself. We are told to pray for harvesters. The Person of Peace will be this harvester. We equip this person to be the disciple-maker for his or her community. We are to be as wise as serpents. This means we are to anticipate Satan’s attacks and avoid them. We are to be as innocent as doves, gentle, and a threat to no one. We are to work or do business for our food, for a worker is worthy of earned wages. This avoids awkward questions regarding how we support ourselves. It also puts us at work when the rest of the community is at work, allowing us to meet people and have a reason to be in the community. All the ministries that Jesus commands us to do are about meeting the real and felt needs of the community. As we do this we are building relationships that allow us to talk about the Kingdom of God/heaven. The person who is responsive to this message becomes the focus of our attention. This focus is on the household, and we do not move around once the Person of Peace is found. We then make disciples of this family, who then takes on the responsibility of reaching their community for Christ.

We train disciple-makers to enter new communities after extensive prayer. When disciple-makers enter the community, they look for ways to meet the felt needs of the community through service, education, or business. As they meet these needs, they are meeting people and sharing openly about the Kingdom of God. When the Person of Peace reveals him or herself, the disciple-maker shifts the focus to the Family of Peace. The disciple-maker starts a Discovery Group to help the family discover on their own who God is and how they must relate to Him. The disciple-maker teaches them how to study the Word of God, but does not lead the Bible studies or do any of the preaching and teaching. The focus is on the family learning directly from God through His Word. The disciple-maker guides the direction of the study, but does not conduct the study, except to model the process a few times in the beginning.

When the family comes to Christ, the disciple-maker helps them to move from being a Bible study group to fulfilling all the requirements of church. A leader is identified and trained to lead the group and to establish more groups through the family’s network of friends and family.

Disciples make more disciples. Leaders equip more leaders. Groups establish more groups. Churches plant more churches.


 

Excerpted with permission from Contagious Disciple Making by David Watson and Paul Watson, copyright Thomas Nelson 2014.

July 27, 2014

What’s the Opposite of Humility?

If you have read this website for any length of time, you know that I often return to the “hymn” in Philippians 2. The one that begins, “Let this mindset [attitude] be in you that was also found in Christ;” and then goes a few sentences before defining that mindset, “He humbled himself.”

The cross is the place where we changed.
Above all fruit of that change is the fruit of love.
The attitude we then adopt is humility.

So what is the opposite of humility? What is the thing we have to “put off” before we can “put on” a humble, gentle spirit?

If you asked me that question 24 hours ago, I would have said pride. Pride and humility are opposites, right?

But this morning, after starting in Philippians 2, I kept reading to the end, and then decided I should backtrack to chapter 1 so could say I had read the whole book this morning. (Maybe that was pride!!)

Anyway, midway through that chapter I think Paul gives us a clue as to what feeds humility’s counter-attitude. It just so happened I was reading in The Message translation.

15-17 It’s true that some here preach Christ because with me out of the way, they think they’ll step right into the spotlight. But the others do it with the best heart in the world. One group is motivated by pure love, knowing that I am here defending the Message, wanting to help. The others, now that I’m out of the picture, are merely greedy, hoping to get something out of it for themselves. Their motives are bad. They see me as their competition, and so the worse it goes for me, the better—they think—for them.

18-21 So how am I to respond? I’ve decided that I really don’t care about their motives, whether mixed, bad, or indifferent. Every time one of them opens his mouth, Christ is proclaimed, so I just cheer them on!

Paul is in prison at this point, hence the reference to “out of the way.” He has apparently gained some popularity at this point and obviously that is enviable to the point where others would like to step into the limelight.  In the above translation they are called “greedy” as having “bad motives.” In the NIV it reads,

17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains.

adding the extra dimension that perhaps they simply want to cause trouble for Paul while he is not at liberty to respond. Imagine though, someone preaching the gospel, the good news about Jesus to make someone else look bad.

Some of this is human nature. Paul was not part of the original group of apostles that Jesus taught or among the early disciples who were present on the day of Pentecost. As Saul, he greatly opposed the movement Jesus had begun. Then, in a very short period, he becomes Paul the Apostle. Can you see the problem some might have with this?

Sometimes someone new will come into one of our churches and be given a ministry position and the church’s “old guard,” the “elder brothers” can get very irate. I know. I was the new person in a rural church. A woman got up at the annual meeting and asked, “So what’s the deal here? Can anybody just walk in off the street and get a job?” If I had doctrinal quirks or theological errors it might have been a valid question. But clearly, her question wasn’t rooted in that concern, it was rooted in envy. Just a few short months later she left the church.

But I think The Message translation gets more clearly at the humility’s opposite in chapter one, with chapter two in view.

The opposite of humility is ambition.

Being driven, taking proactive steps, or being a type-A personality is not a bad thing. But to be consumed with ambition strikes at the very heart of the humble attitudes we are supposed to reflect.  The Voice translation reflects this in Psalm 75:

There is no one on earth who can raise up another to grant honor,
    not from the east or the west, not from the desert.
There is no one. God is the only One.
God is the only Judge.
    He is the only One who can ruin or redeem a man.

It is God who grants promotions and give raises. We shouldn’t seek these things; we shouldn’t strive to get somewhere that isn’t in God’s plans or not currently in God’s timing.

We can’t even claim that healthy ambition in doing things for God, because there is a flaw if we think we do things for God.  (This becomes especially vital in a church culture where pastors are preoccupied with metrics and church growth.)

Above, verses 18-21 reveal that Paul doesn’t allow himself to get perturbed at whatever motivates such people. As long as the gospel is presented clearly, he actually rejoices. The messenger may be flawed, but the message is what matters. As I replied to a comment last week, even a stopped clock is right twice a day, so while we should consider the source, we shouldn’t discount everything the source writes or says.

Right now, even as you read this, there are people using the ministry to build their own empires. Yes, that concerns me, but it doesn’t concern Paul if the message is being clearly transmitted. Of course, in a social media and internet world, everybody knows everybody else’s backstory. That is unfortunate, but it doesn’t minimize the power of the message itself.

Response: God, I know I need to guard my heart. Help me to see things I’m doing for wrong reasons; wrong motives. Help me not to be consumed with ambition.


Previously on C201:

 

 

July 10, 2014

Church Life: The Spectacular and the Ordinary

Modern Church Interior

With a name like Christianity 201, we know some people reading this are in church leadership, and we try, once each month, to include an article which looks at the workings of church life. For this one, we’re introducing you to the writing of Maryland Church of Christ pastor K. Rex Butts who blogs at Kingdom Seeking (KingdomSeeking.com) where is blogroll includes many of our personal favorites! To read this article at source (with pictures!) click the original title below.

Discernment and Mission: Seeing Beyond Our Own Church

Many commentators treat this statement simply as a summary of what’s going on among this early movement of Jesus followers. While it’s entirely appropriate to this passage as a summation, we miss a lot if we limit this text to mere rhetorical strategy. Regarding v. 24, Luke Timothy Johnson says, “it is also a triumphant assertion of the movement’s growth despite the attempts of a tyrant to suppress it through the harassment of its leaders” (The Acts of the Apostles, p. 216). Therein is a clue regarding what ought to challenge every church’s understanding of what participation in the mission of God may involve.

Baptisms and Bible-Studies

Let’s first take a few steps back and think about church and mission. I think it’s fair to say that when it comes to the church and the mission of God, there’s a lot of for the spectacular occasions. For example, in the book of Acts, churches love to talk about chapter two where the Spirit is poured out and 3,000 plus people are baptized upon hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ preached. The same is true for chapter eight where an Ethiopian eunuch is baptized after basically asking Philip to study the Bible with him.

Churches love stories like these and would love for them to be the stories of their churches. That’s why churches talk about their yearly number of baptism or about the evangelistic Bible studies taking place, as if the number of baptisms and evangelistic Bible studies are the sure marks of a good church (don’t get me wrong here, I’m all for baptisms and evangelistic Bible studies). However, turn to Acts chapter twelve and we won’t find any spectacular stories of baptisms and evangelistic Bible studies. What we find is a church struggling in turmoil and this is where churches today must pay attention because, as I’m suggesting, they can learn a lot about what participation in the mission of God may involve.

A Theological Conundrum and Persecution

At this point in the book of Acts, its somewhere between 41-44 CE during the reign of Herod Agrippa and the church is facing a lot of challenges. First, Peter has already baptized Conelius and his household (ch. 10). The baptism of Gentiles has now thrusted a theological conundrum upon the church that results initially in a counsel (ch. 11) but one in which the church, through the ministry of Paul, will wrestle with for the next several decades. Second, Herod has begun persecuting the church, having James executed and Peter arrested (presumably to suffer the same fate as James).

While Peter is rescued from his imprisonment by an angel of the Lord, the church doesn’t know this. So when Peter returns to his church gathered at the house of Mary where, according to v. 12, “many people had gathered and we praying” (churches brag about baptisms but how often do they brag about gathering for prayer?). Peter, who already realized it was the Lord that rescued him from prison, tells the church that it was the work of God. Then we are told about Herod’s death (which also is the work of God), which says something about the continued unstable political climate the church lived within. But… With all these challenges facing the church, “the word of God kept on increasing and multiplying” (NET).

Seeing Beyond Our Church

Why did the word of God, the gospel of Jesus Christ, keep increasing and multiplying? This is, after all, what matters. The answer is none other than God. God was at work and this early Jesus movement believed so, which is why they continued faithfully following Jesus even when the difficulty of their circumstances escalated. If more churches would understand that the multiplication of the gospel is the work of God then they might also understand the futility and unnecessary need for the utilitarian thinking that undergirds many books on ministry. The increase of God’s word is the work of God that happens through the faithfulness of the church and not through turning this multiplication into an end that justifies whatever means gets the job done. This is not to say that churches should cease casting vision and planning for ministry. Rather, vision and planning for ministry must begin with the question of discerning: how must the church live faithfully as participants in the mission of God within the current circumstances?

As I suggested earlier, Churches love to talk about the mission of God when it involves preaching, a lot of evangelistic Bible studies, and especially a lot of baptisms. More importantly, Churches love the mission of God when it means church growth with lots of people joining their church. But… That is not how God always works. Sometimes God is taking that large church gathering in Jerusalem and scattering it though out the region (cf. Acts 8:1-3) so that the word of God may keep on “increasing and multiplying.” Sometimes God simply needs the church to gather for prayer and fasting so that Barnabas and Saul can be sent off as missionaries to serve somewhere else (cf. Acts 13:1-3) so that the word of God may keep on “increasing and multiplying.” Sometimes a church’s best vision and planning for future ministry is not how God is working. Sometimes the vision for growth and new ministry Churches have for their church is not how God is working. And let’s be clear… The mission of God is about the increase and of God’s word, not the increase of their church or our church per se.

The question is then, are churches willing to participate in the mission of God even if it means faithfully walking down a path different than it envisioned? The answer to this question takes discernment but the story here in Acts is inviting and challenging churches today to see beyond the realm of their own church so that they may fully live as participants in the mission of God.

July 6, 2014

How To Correctly Model The Acts 2 Church

Today’s article is posted jointly at C201 and Thinking Out Loud.


 

“The outpouring of the Spirit produced not just momentary enthusiasm but four continuing commitments: to learn, to care, to fellowship and to worship.” (IVP Commentary Series)

 

I’m currently reading an advance copy of Overrated by Eugene Cho, releasing September 1st from David C. Cook.  I am indebted to Eugene for these thoughts.

So how would you like to have the perfect church, at least according to the model given to us in Acts 2?  You know the passage,

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.  (NIV)

So what is the model here?

  • teaching
  • fellowship
  • breaking of bread *
  • prayer

*Tangentially: Is this a reference to communion?  Studying the very few translation variants

  • to the breaking of bread [including the Lord’s Supper] (AMP, also NLT)
  • at the Communion services (the Old Living Bible)
  • the common meal (the Message)

however commentaries seem to feel the phrase “breaking of bread” is self-evident in its reference to the meal instituted by Christ in the upper room with his disciples.

Back to Acts 42, if we include some of the verses that follow we would also include:

  • the favor of the general population (v. 43)
  • shared possessions (v. 44)
  • selling possessions to support the poor (v. 45)
  • daily meetings; house groups specifically mentioned(v.46)
  • praise (v. 47)
  • numeric growth (v. 47)

Many people place the emphasis on verse 42. Here it is again with emphasis added:

42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (ESV)

Anyway…according to Eugene Cho, that would be to totally miss part of what the verse says.  Here, with emphasis added is how he would read the verse:

42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (ESV)

A few days ago we spent two days looking at devotion to God. There are eleven times this is used in the NIV, but there are thirty-four uses of devoted.  (Here’s a link to do the study on your own.)

Cho writes:

Overrated - Eugene ChoThere are lots of books out there about self-help, self-growth, self-whatever. Here we see there was no secret recipe, no shortcut, just evidence of long-term commitment. They devoted themselves to study, fellowship, breaking bread and prayer. Do you know what I think the most important element was? I think the most element was not what they did, rather, devotion itself.

Read verse 42 again.

They devoted themselves.

A lot of people ask how they should change their church to make it grow. They ask “What new strategies should we employ?”

Pretty simple actually.

They were steadfast. They cared. They devoted themselves to each other, to Christ, and to the building of God’s kingdom.

Are we devoted?

(pp. 116-7 in the advance copy)

 


Related: We’ve covered Acts 2:42ff twice before here:

September 28, 2012

First Century Church Growth

We tend to think that church growth has just been a concern in the last dozen or so years because there was an explosion of published books the subject, as ecclesiology became of interest to lay people as well as vocational ministers. So I was intrigued this week to discover a 1973 book — that’s about 40 years ago — titled How To Grow A Church: Conversations About Church Growth by Donald McGavran and Win Arn (Gospel Light). The book follows an interview format and the words which follow belong to McGavran.

The New Testament speaks of and demonstrates tremendous church growth. In fact, the church was born in an explosive series of conversations. Before the Day of Pentecost, only 120 were meeting in an upper room; then… 3000 people turned to the Lord. I marvel when I think of the courage of that little band of inexperienced apostles baptizing 3000 people in one day.

Those first ten wonderful chapters in the book of Acts tell of notable church growth, for example, in Acts 2:41, “And the same day there were added to them about three thousand souls.”  In 2:47 we read, “And the Lord added to the church daily such as were being saved.” In 4:4 we read, “and the number of them which believed was about five thousand men.” If you add 5000 women and 5000 women, there were 15,000 believers in Jerusalem in a relatively short period of time.

Later in that fourth chapter we read, “The multitude of them that believed were of one heart and one soul.” They counted them not by congregations, but by multitudes

…In Acts 5:41 we read, “And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women.” … We’ve been talking about added to the Lord, but…Chapter 6 records, “And the Word of God increased; and the number of disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly.” (v.7) From addition to multiplication. Another important event was that “a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.”  Up to that time the Christians had been the common people, the rank and file, the poorer element. Then after a period of time — we don’t know exactly how long — a multitude of the priests became obedient to the faith…

In chapter after chapter we read of growth taking place… Acts 9:35, we read about two whole villages Lydda and Sharon…

Reasons for Growth

There were many reasons. A principle one was God’s purpose — His ongoing, unshakable, unchanging purpose — for the salvation of men. The growth and expansion of the church throughout the world does not take place in and of itself. It is God’s will…

…[T]his one unifying purpose motivated the apostles and the new Christians…

Another important reason for the New Testament church growth was the expectation of the Jews. They were looking for the Messiah, the Saviour of Israel. Peter and the other apostles proclaimed that He whom you have been expect has, in fact, come.

Then there was the Resurrection. Think what an impact the Resurrection made in Jerusalem! The man whom everybody knew had been crucified was alive and was seen…

…[A]nother reason: That the message was proclaimed by common people. The Pharisees…said of Peter and John and the other apostles that they were ignorant and unlearned me, just ordinary people; laymen. They didn’t have theological degrees. This factor no doubt gave their message added power. …3000 people were baptized and received the Holy Spirit, there were not just 12 apostles preaching but 3000 Christians preaching…

Foundations for Growth

First, we must realize that the growth of the church took place in the midst of the Jewish people… there had been prior preparation.

They were looking for the Messiah. They were accustomed to a God who speaks and acts righteously. The Jews were intended by God to be the seedbed of the church. The Holy Spirit encouraged the church to grow strong among the Jews so that it could break out to other people.

…[M]any who became Christians on the Day of Pentecost must in the preceding years have seen some of the miracles recorded in the gospels. In fact, some of them must have been directly involved. I wonder if Lazarus wasn’t there on the Day of Pentecost…

selections from page 17-24

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April 10, 2012

What America Can Learn from the Church in Europe

Mike Breen’s blog is hosting a six part series by Paul Maconochie.  This is part one

As a British Pastor I love coming to America. I love the pioneering ‘can do’ attitude of the American people. I love how so many of the churches are full and the way that faith is often spoken about as part of daily life.

In England things are quite different.

Churches are often half empty and the attitude of many of the British people towards evangelical Christianity is pretty negative (to say the least!). A large church in England might have 300 people. Obviously, this is a really foreign reality for people who have grown up in a culturally Christian United States. However, there are some things that we as British Christians are learning that may be useful on both sides of the Atlantic. Britain has become a mission field again in the true sense of the word and the remnant believers have had to change and adapt in order to remain effective as God’s people.

I live in Sheffield, a northern, post-industrial English city where about 2.5% of the population attend church on a Sunday. This means that the vast majority of people in our city never go to church. Ever. Even at Christmas only about 5% turn up in a church building. For us, ‘Build it and they will come’ does not really figure any more. Instead, we have had to learn afresh what Jesus meant when he said ‘go and make disciples.’ One of the most important lessons we have learned is this:

Incarnation is better than intervention.

Intervention says “I really want God to touch my life and make it better. But God is a little scary; I think I need a Pastor to stand between him and me.” Of course we never actually come out and say this; we just act as if it is true. Instead of going to Jesus directly we expect our Pastor to go to Him, praying, fasting and reading the Bible and then to instruct us in what he has learned at the worship service. In return, we pay out tithes and turn up on a Sunday morning before going back to our lives, and to be honest, not changing too terribly much.

Intervention also operates the same way with other people. We want to help others who are poor or struggling or who do not know Jesus, but we want to do it from a distance. So we give money to overseas missionaries (not a bad thing in itself!) and maybe occasionally even take blankets or soup to folks living on the streets before going back to our nice warm comfortable homes.

These things are all good and I am sure that God likes it when we intervene to help people, but I believe that God actually has a preference for incarnation. He does not want to help us from a distance, through our Pastor. He wants to be in every part of our lives. I love Eugene Peterson’s translation of John 1:14; he writes:

The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood.

God wants us to access His presence and His Word for ourselves. He wants to deal with us directly, and He wants us to do the same with the Last, the Least and the Lost.

In recent years in our church we have seen an incredible thing – every day members of the church who consider themselves to be missionaries even while they still live in their home city, and who actually live that way. They believe that if you’re a Christian, it means you’re a missionary. There isn’t really a choice in the matter. They have found that life-on-life engagement with others allows our contagious faith to spread. They share their time, energy and resources with each other and move into the lives of those they are trying to reach. In a city where no-one goes to church, we have begun to see people come to the Lord in the hundreds, most without ever darkening the door of the church.

For those of us with an interventional approach to faith, I believe Jesus brings the challenge of incarnation. Are you living your Christian life from a distance, or up close and personal? If you’re a Pastor, are you fully engaged with the mission of God in an up close and personal way, or do you simply hope by running the machine of the church, others will do it and you’ve fulfilled your part in it?

Paul Maconochie

January 19, 2012

Eugene Peterson on American Christianity

It’s not like this blog to get stuck on a particular writer, but I am so impressed with The Jesus Way by Eugene Peterson; and can’t believe this writer has been so obvious, so in plain sight, yet I’d never read anything beyond his Bible translation, The Message.   In a couple of places he contrasts “the way” Jesus pioneered with the very different state of things in the modern church.  I have a section I want to include here, but will need to type it out manually; so in today’s busy-ness, I’m giving you a similar passage from the publisher’s blog. (Eerdmans)

Here is a text, words spoken by Jesus, that keeps this in clear focus: “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). The Jesus way wedded to the Jesus truth brings about the Jesus life. We can’t proclaim the Jesus truth but then do it any old way we like. Nor can we follow the Jesus way without speaking the Jesus truth.

But Jesus as the truth gets far more attention than Jesus as the way. Jesus as the way is the most frequently evaded metaphor among the Christians with whom I have worked for fifty years as a North American pastor. In the text that Jesus sets before us so clearly and definitively, way comes first. We cannot skip the way of Jesus in our hurry to get to the truth of Jesus as he is worshiped and proclaimed. The way of Jesus is the way that we practice and come to understand the truth of Jesus, living Jesus in our homes and workplaces, with our friends and family.

A Christian congregation, the church in your neighborhood, has always been the primary location for getting this way and truth and life of Jesus believed and embodied in the places and among the people with whom we most have to do day in and day out. There is more to the church than this local congregation. There is the church continuous through the centuries, our fathers and mothers who continue to influence and teach us. There is the church spread throughout the world, communities that we are in touch with through prayer and suffering and mission. There is the church invisible, dimensions and instances of the Spirit’s work that we know nothing about. There is the church triumphant, that “great cloud of witnesses” who continue to surround us (Heb. 12:1). But the local congregation is the place where we get all of this integrated and practiced in the immediate circumstances and among the men, women, and children we live with. This is where it becomes local and personal.

The local congregation is the place and community for listening to and obeying Christ’s commands, for inviting people to consider and respond to Jesus’ invitation, “Follow me,” a place and community for worshipping God. It is the place and community where we are baptized into a Trinitarian identity and go on to mature “to the measure of the full stature of Christ” (Eph. 4:13), where we can be taught the Scriptures and learn to discern the ways that we follow Jesus, the Way.

The local congregation is the primary place for dealing with the particulars and people we live with. As created and sustained by the Holy Spirit, it is insistently local and personal. Unfortunately, the more popular American church strategies in respect to congregation are not friendly to the local and the personal. The American way with its penchant for catchy slogans and stirring visions denigrates the local, and its programmatic ways of dealing with people erode the personal, replacing intimacies with functions. The North American church at present is conspicuous for replacing the Jesus way with the American Way. For Christians who are serious about following Jesus by understanding and pursuing the ways that Jesus is the Way, this deconstruction of the Christian congregation is particularly distressing and a looming distraction from the Way of Jesus.

A Christian congregation is a company of praying men and women who gather, usually on Sundays, for worship, who then go into the world as salt and light. God’s Holy Spirit calls and forms this people. God means to do something with us, and he means to do it in community. We are in on what God is doing, and we are in on it together.

And here is how we are in on it: we become present to what God intends to do with and for us through worship, become present to the God who is present to us. The operating biblical metaphor regarding worship is sacrifice — we bring ourselves to the altar and let God do with us what he will. We bring ourselves to the eucharistic table and enter into that grand fourfold shape of the liturgy that shapes us: taking, blessing, breaking, giving — the life of Jesus taken and blessed, broken and distributed. That eucharistic life now shapes our lives as we give ourselves, Christ in us, to be taken, blessed, broken, and distributed in lives of witness and service, justice and healing.

But that is not the American way. The great American innovation in congregation is to turn it into a consumer enterprise. We Americans have developed a culture of acquisition, an economy that is dependent on wanting more, requiring more. We have a huge advertising industry designed to stir up appetites we didn’t even know we had. We are insatiable.

It didn’t take long for some of our Christian brothers and sisters to develop consumer congregations. If we have a nation of consumers, obviously the quickest and most effective way to get them into our congregations is to identify what they want and offer it to them, satisfy their fantasies, promise them the moon, recast the gospel in consumer terms: entertainment, satisfaction, excitement, adventure, problem-solving, whatever. This is the language we Americans grew up on, the language we understand. We are the world’s champion consumers, so why shouldn’t we have state-of-the-art consumer churches?

Given the conditions prevailing in our culture, this is the best and most effective way that has ever been devised for gathering large and prosperous congregations. Americans lead the world in showing how to do it. There is only one thing wrong: this is not the way in which God brings us into conformity with the life of Jesus and sets us on the way of Jesus’ salvation. This is not the way in which we become less and Jesus becomes more. This is not the way in which our sacrificed lives become available to others in justice and service. The cultivation of consumer spirituality is the antithesis of a sacrificial, “deny yourself” congregation. A consumer church is an antichrist church.

We can’t gather a God-fearing, God-worshipping congregation by cultivating a consumer-pleasing, commodity-oriented congregation. When we do, the wheels start falling off the wagon. And they are falling off the wagon. We can’t suppress the Jesus way into order to sell the Jesus truth. The Jesus way and the Jesus truth must be congruent. Only when the Jesus way is organically joined with the Jesus truth do we get the Jesus life.

~Eugene Peterson

September 29, 2010

The Trouble with “Visionary”

I’m currently reading an interesting little book (pun intended) titled  The Strategically Small Church by Brandon O’Brien, released in August by Bethany House.   I’ll do a full review on the book on Friday at Thinking Out Loud, but I thought I’d share with you this interesting take on trying to force a vision to materialize…

When we forget the principle of the mustard seed, we risk forcing our own vision of the church, or the prescribed vision of experts, onto our congregation.   In our efforts to live the narrative of success, we view the small church not as God’s mustard seed, but as an obstacle to be overcome.   We then rely on our vision to bring about the success we desire.   We do this at our own peril.

Disturbed over the gap between the church in Acts and the German church in the late 1930s, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote Life Together to explain genuine Christian community.   In the first section of the book, the person who comes under the fiercest attack is the pastor Bonhoeffer calls the visionary, the person who has “a very definite idea of what Christian life together should look be and [tries] to realize it.”  Bonhoeffer has strong words for the visionary, for the person we might call the “expert” in Christian community:

The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others and by himself.   He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly.   He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together.  When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure…. So he becomes first an accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself.