Christianity 201

January 2, 2017

“Skip the Truth and Make Us Feel Good”

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:36 pm
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Today’s title is from the NCV rendering of Isaiah 30:10

They tell the seers,
    “Don’t see any more visions!”
They say to the prophets,
    Don’t tell us the truth!
Say things that will make us feel good;
    see only good things for us.

The pastor in the church we visited on New Year’s Day started 2017 with a message on sin. Although he used literally dozens of scripture references — many from Romans — this passage in Isaiah 30 (12-14 in particular) was the only verse for which he prepared a slide for us to read. Many people just want to hear things that will make them feel good. Elsewhere, we read about people having “itching ears.”

Today, we’re going to contrast the contemporary language of The Message with the more formal commentary of Matthew Henry. However, where you see italics, I’ve used more modern expressions. Everything from this point on is Matthew Henry.

So, go now and write all this down.
    Put it in a book
So that the record will be there
    to instruct the coming generations,
Because this is a rebel generation,
    a people who lie,
A people unwilling to listen
    to anything God tells them.
They tell their spiritual leaders,
    “Don’t bother us with irrelevancies.”
They tell their preachers,
    “Don’t waste our time on impracticalities.
Tell us what makes us feel better.
    Don’t bore us with obsolete religion.
That stuff means nothing to us.
    Quit hounding us with The Holy of Israel.”  – Isaiah 30: 8-11 (MSG)

They forbade the prophets to speak to them in God’s name, and to deal faithfully with them.

They set themselves so violently against the prophets to hinder them from preaching, or at least from dealing plainly with them in their preaching, did so banter them and browbeat them, that they did in effect say to the seers, See not. They had the light, but they loved darkness rather. It was their privilege that they had seers among them, but they did what they could to put out their eyes — that they had prophets among them, but they did what they could to stop their mouths; for they tormented them in their wicked ways, Rev. 11:10.

Those that silence good ministers, and discountenance good preaching, are justly counted, and called, rebels against God. See what it was in the prophets’ preaching with which they found themselves aggrieved.

  1.  The prophets told them of their faults, and warned them of their misery and danger by reason of sin, and they couldn’t take it. They must speak to them warm and fuzzy things, must flatter them in their sins, and say that they did well, and there was no harm, no danger, in the course of life they lived in. No matter how true something is, if it be not easy to listen to, they will not hear it. But if it be agrees with the good opinion they have of themselves, and will confirm them in that, even though it be very false and ever so undeserved, they will have it prophesied to them. Those deserve to be deceived that desire to be so.
  2.  The prophets stopped them in their sinful pursuits, and stood in their way like the angel in Balaam’s road, with the sword of God’s wrath drawn in their hand; so that they could not proceed without terror. And this they took as a great insult. When they continued to desire the opposite of what the prophets were saying they in effect said to the prophets, “Get you out of the way, turn aside out of the paths. What do you do in our way? Cannot you leave us alone to do as we please?” Those have their hearts fully set in them to do evil that bid these accountability monitors to get out of their way. Be quiet now before I have you killed! 2 Chron. 25:16.
  3.  The prophets were continually telling them of the Holy One of Israel, what an enemy he is to sin ad how severely he will judge sinners; and this they couldn’t listen to. Both the thing itself and the expression of it were too serious for them; and therefore, if the prophets will speak to them, they will determine that they will not call God the Holy One of Israel; for God’s holiness is that attribute which wicked people most of all dread.

Now what is the doom passed upon them for this?

Therefore, The Holy of Israel says this:
    “Because you scorn this Message,
Preferring to live by injustice
    and shape your lives on lies,
This perverse way of life
    will be like a towering, badly built wall
That slowly, slowly tilts and shifts,
    and then one day, without warning, collapses—
Smashed to bits like a piece of pottery,
    smashed beyond recognition or repair,
Useless, a pile of debris
    to be swept up and thrown in the trash.”

Observe,

  1. Who it is that gives judgment upon them? This is what the Holy One of Israel says. The prophet uses the very title they find so objectionable. Faithful ministers will not be driven from using such expressions as are needed to awaken sinners, though they be displeasing. We must tell men that God is the Holy One of Israel, and so they will find him, whether they will hear or whether they will forbear.
  2.  What is the basis of the judgment? Because they despise this word—whether, in general, every word that the prophets said to them, or this word in particular, which declares God to be the Holy One of Israel: “they despise this, and will neither make it their fear, to respect it, nor make it their hope, to put any confidence in it; but, rather than they will submit to the Holy One of Israel, they will continue in oppression and perverseness, in the wealth they have collected and the interest they have made by fraud and violence, or in the sinful methods they have taken for their own security, in contradiction to God and his will. On these they depend, and therefore it is just that they should fall.”
  3.  What is the judgment is that is passed on them? “This sinfulness will be to you as a wall ready to fall. This confidence of yours will be like a house built upon the sand, which will fall in the storm and bury the builder in the ruins of it. Your contempt of that word of God which you might build upon will make every thing else you trust like a wall that bulges out, which, if any weight be laid upon it, comes down, nay, which often sinks with its own weight.”

The ruin they are bringing upon themselves is,

  1. Surprising: The breaking shall come suddenly, at an instant, when they do not expect it, which will make it the more frightful, and when they are not prepared or provided for it, which will make it the more fatal.
  2. Total and irreversible: “Your and all you hold dear shall be not only weak as the potter’s clay (Isa. 29:16), but broken to pieces as the potter’s vessel. He that has the rod of iron shall break it (Ps. 2:9) and he will not spare, will not have any regard to it, nor be in care to preserve or keep whole any part of it. But, when once it is broken so as to be unfit for use, let it be destroyed, let it be crushed, all to pieces, so that there may not remain one shred big enough to take up a little fire or water”—two things we have daily need of, and which poor people commonly get in a piece of a broken pitcher. They shall not only be as a leaning fence (Ps. 62:3), but as a broken mug or glass, which is good for nothing, nor can ever be made whole again.

June 29, 2015

Redefining What it Means to be ‘Spiritually Deep’

People who read a blog with a title like Christianity 201 crave spiritual depth. A teacher who presents historical background we’ve never heard. A preacher who exhorts his audience to strive for higher levels of commitment. An academic who connects the dots from text “A” to text “B” and both of them to text “C.” An author whose preferred style means that every page is heavy with deep truths. A blogger who mines the classic Christian writers and shines new light on those lost works.

And I am in favor of all five of those.

But what is true depth? What does it mean to say he (or she) is a “deep Christian?” Does it mean academic honors, or research ability, or literary giftedness, or a visionary spirit, or having your doctrine correct?

I don’t think so. Otherwise spiritual achievement would be reserved for intellectuals. That’s actually what many Christian websites communicate. People read them and say, “Yes, I could be that spiritual, but only if I were smarter.” In other words, they regard depth as something that’s out of their league.

The name of this blog, Christianity 201, implies that kind of depth. I should be quoting Spurgeon right about now, or making an observation from reading the New Testament today in Greek (which, for the record, I don’t read.)

I think there’s something much more important at stake, but something much more commonplace. I think to be that person, who is regarded as a “deep spiritual thinker” you want to be doing a different set of things:

  1. Try to live your life by the highest ethical standard, in ways both visible and invisible. Start today by going through your e-mail and finding personal letters from people that you never answered. Or phone calls you never returned. Or a bill you’ve never yet paid. I believe strongly that much of our standing before God consists in doing right things. That includes sins of omission. “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (James 4: 17 NASB)
  2. Aim for excellence. I am so very tired of people whose work for the kingdom of God is “just enough to get by.” They spend hours supposedly studying the great works of Christian literature, but then their blog post on them is full of careless spelling errors. They are renowned as a true worshiper of God, but their guitar is never tuned. “‘If a man dedicates his house as something holy to the Lord, the priest will judge its quality as good or bad. Whatever value the priest then sets, so it will remain.” (Leviticus 27: 14 NIV) That’s an interesting chapter to study; also consider, “If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.” (I Cor 3: 12-13 NIV)
  3. Humility. Some of the most spiritual people I know do not believe that they are. Again, the Christian internet tends to have its own “stars” and many of these people really believe the stuff about themselves that’s online. But again, truly ‘deep’ Christians never see themselves as such. They are aware of the shortcomings. Sometimes Paul found it necessary, by way of introduction, to provide his listeners with his spiritual pedigree, or spiritual resumé. But then he goes on; “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” (Phil 3: 8-9 ESV).

So let’s summarize this in a prayer:

Lord show me if I’ve directly or indirectly wronged anyone today. Remind me if I’ve missed the mark of your highest (and deepest) calling through sins I’ve committed and sins of omission. Also, help me to my best Lord, that’s for sure, but help me to aim for the best. Don’t let me offer up anything either to you or for you that has less value than I am capable of giving. Finally, in whatever spiritual community or faith family I find myself, don’t let me start to believe my own press. When others say something good about me, let me know when to give You the credit, and when to correct their impression.

July 15, 2014

You and Your Pastor

Twice before we’ve featured the writing of Scott McCown here, but sadly, it’s been awhile.  I visited his blog, The Morning Drive recently and ended up wishing I could post a whole handful of articles. I ended up going back this one which talks about the relationship you (individually and corporately) have with your minister/pastor/preacher.  Please click through and read this at source; click the title below.

Your Preacher

preacherA while ago, Adam Faughn asked me to write and article about preaching for his blog: Faughn Family of Four. As I was looking through some files I came across the article and updated it for today’s blog post.

About three years ago I posted a question on a Social Networking Q&A site. The question was, “What do you expect from your minister (preacher)? One answer stood out as the answerer simply described the preacher where she worships. I thought I would begin by sharing that answer with you:

First and foremost, he is someone who is dedicated to following Christ. He cares more about people than image, he is a servant rather than a celebrity. He is not power-hungry, but is willing to delegate tasks and trust people, even when they do things differently than he would have them done. He is willing at times to say “no” and make sacrifices so that he is able to meet the emotional needs of his family.

  • He is willing to admit when he’s made a mistake. And he is also quick to forgive those around him. As a member, it is easier for me to grow in Christ because I know that I am deeply, genuinely loved. That I am accepted as is, but encouraged to grow.
  • He has close, open friendships where he is able to be honest about anything in his life. He honors and respects his wife.
  • He is willing to laugh at himself, and by his example I have learned a little about how to laugh at myself too. In his sermons he passes on stories that lift people up–nice things his wife, children, and folks in the congregation have done…
  • He sees people for who they are. He is not a big talker, but he is an encourager and a good listener.
  • He tries to model his ministry after the image of Jesus washing His disciples feet. He makes it his goal to always be the lowest person in the room, to always be serving those around him, just as Christ served us and gave himself for us.
  • He prays. He prays a lot. And he devours the scripture.
  • He isn’t trying to share some sort of theoretical faith he’s learned about in his head. Rather, it’s a faith he is living–”join me in following Christ.”
  • He sees himself as equipping all members for ministry. He is not there to entertain us or to make us happy; he is there to help, teach, and encourage us, so that we can be the best ministers we can be to those around us in whatever role we find ourselves in.

The Apostle Paul was in many ways a “pulpit preacher.” He spent three years located and serving with the Church in Ephesus. He describes his time there to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20. By looking at his words, we can get an idea of what the pulpit is about: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. . . . for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.” (Acts 20:18-21, 27b – ESV).

Paul instructs a younger minister, his son in faith, Timothy, encouraging him in the following ways:

“ . . . For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth – 1 Tim 2:5-7.

. . . But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness – 1 Tim 6:11.

. . . Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth – 2 Tim 2:15.

. . . Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will – 2 Tim 2:23-36.

. . . preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry – 2 Tim 4:2-5.”

Here is what we learn from the Scriptures:

The Pulpit is not:

  • A venue for your soap box or personal point of view.
  • An avenue to vent anger or to speak to one individual’s struggle.
  • A place to push your political standings. There are times to take moral stands, but preach the morality issue and do not make it a political speech. Do not tell people how to vote, tell them what God says and let them decided what to do.
  • A way to make a living. You can make a living while filling a pulpit, but do not enter ministry just to make a living. My Bible College instructors were quick to tell us if we could make a living doing something else, then do it.

What the local congregation can (should) expect:

  1. Sound teaching: Make sure you are expounding the text and not reading into the text what you already believe.
  2. Studied material: A good sermon takes time to study, write, review, edit, and reflect before presentation.
  3. Significance: Sermons should have an impact on people lives. Messages need to have significance to the listener. This requires knowledge of peoples lives by being available to them.
  4. Simplicity: Theological babble sounds good and impresses other preachers at lectureships, but keep weekly sermons simple. The educational level in most congregation varies from children to well educated adults. Try to reach each group where they are.
  5. Servant mentality: A preacher is not the controlling officer of the congregation. He is a servant of the congregation where he worships and works. Look for opportunities and be ready to serve when called upon.

What the local congregation should return (pulpit can expect)

  1. Time to study: Those that fill the pulpit full-time receive support so that they can spend extra time in study. A number of years ago I stopped referring to the room I use at the building or the area of my home as my office, but as my study. When someone asks me if I have “office hours” I reply, “I am usually in my study at the building” during certain hours. Using the word study lets them know what I am doing while there, and keeps me from becoming a manager of church affairs.
  2. Taking lessons to heart and action: I love the story about a preacher who presented a lesson on Going the Second Mile in Love. One lady who always complained about others not treating her well, shook his hand saying, “that was a great lesson.” “Thank you,” he replied, “How are you going to put love in action this week?”
  3. Toleration: One person cannot be in more than one place at a time. “I called the building, but no one answered” and “That preacher never visits” are expectations that should not co-exist, but do.
  4. Togetherness in service: Every member is a servant “As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another . . .” 1 Pet 4:10.

January 2, 2013

Preaching on Sin

We’ve frequently borrowed from the blog Daily Encouragement, but today’s post from Stephen Weber is a classic article he wrote for a blog experiment, Clear Minded.  You can find it and one other article here.

“Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine”(2 Timothy 4:2). 

“For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).

Stephen C. Weber Preaching on sin; how the pendulum has swung even in my lifetime on this issue. Many my age and older will recall when sin was regularly addressed from the pulpit boldly and forthrightly. However now there’s (in my observation) far less preaching on sin and a great reluctance among many preachers to address sin specifically.  I have given some thought as to why this is so:

1. Preaching on sin is seen as “legalistic.” Let me address several understandings of legalism as I have heard the word used:

  • Legalism is a system where it is preached or assumed that following a certain set of rules is the source of salvation. That is; what we do or don’t do in following these rules determines our eternal destiny. The faithful preacher must forcefully renounce this form of legalism.  The Biblical teaching is that we are saved by grace through our faith in Christ and His finished work.
  • Legalism to many means a varying list of man-made rules regarding all manner of issues such as dress, entertainment, technology, etc. These issues vary by geography, denominational background and age.  Brooksyne speaks of growing up with “clothesline” preaching where the preacher specifically addressed specific dress standards (usually focusing on the women).  She really didn’t understand grace till Bible College. The faithful Biblical pastor will see that any addressing of and denunciation of sin has a solid Biblical foundation and is not merely a cultural or personal preference.

However the man of God must be committed to preaching the whole counsel of God including addressing sin and its terrible consequences. Proclaiming the moral standards of Scripture is not legalism!

2. Preaching on sin may turn off newcomers or “seekers.” That’s true, particularly in this age of relativism in which we live. However the proclamation of God’s truth should not be motivated by this as long as the message also contains the gospel of redemption.

3. We need to focus on the positive and God’s love and grace. Absolutely, but again proclaiming the whole counsel of God will certainly include addressing sin.

4. This behavior is so popular and it’s now legal or “constitutional”. This is a major detriment to sound Biblical preaching. Many behaviors that were once recognized as sinful have become popular and  legalized according to the laws of man.  The law of God is far greater and our mission is to proclaim His law as truth rather than man’s.

5. We are not to judge others and we are to be tolerant of all. These are two of the dominant attitudes of our day. The apostle Paul, in practicing church discipline, passed judgment on the immoral brother and certainly did not tolerate his behavior in 1 Corinthians 5.

6. Addressing these behaviors is hateful and mean-spirited. This is silencing many preachers of righteousness. We are flooded with new meanings for hateful and mean-spirited, particularly if its addressing sins that are politically correct and have growing acceptance in society at large.

7. It will make those who may be involved in the sinful behavior feel bad about themselves. Better to feel bad and hear and hopefully heed a warning than live in ignorance.

8. Pastors may feel they shouldn’t address a subject matter unless they have it 100% conquered. Certainly we should expect our pastors to live a righteous life and not be a hypocrite. As the Spirit deals with them they should repent of their sin, seek to please God, and be an example to their spiritual flock.  However they should proclaim God’s Word even though they may not have fully attained.

A corollary attitude from the pew may be a feeling that the pastor shouldn’t preach on any subject matter unless he himself has no problems with it or any other issue.  You would have to wait for a perfect pastor (none exist) or more likely one who is proud and self-deceived!

9. People just don’t want to hear this kind of preaching anymore. Indeed some don’t. But our call to preach the Word and proclaim the full counsel of God is not based on popularity polls.  But let me speak here as one earnest Christian in the pew (as I normally am now since I am not in pastoral ministry at this time and thus regularly preaching from the pulpit. I feel I speak for many but of course not all.)

  • A strong denunciation of sin may not be the most “enjoyable” message but I am challenged and edified when I hear God’s truth proclaimed and sin denounced.
  • The issue addressed may apply directly to me.  Ouch! That can bring conviction, a healthy work of the Holy Spirit.   May the Holy Spirit keep my heart soft so that I may feel His conviction and deal with the troubling matter in my life rather than blame the pastor for preaching the Word. My discerning response should not be “this sure annoys me” but rather “is this true according to the Scriptures and what action should I take.”  If it is I need to deal with it and thank God for a preacher who cares enough and is bold enough to bring it to my attention.

10. The pastor may not have it completely right when seeking to apply a Biblical principle to a modern issue. That may be so but if you value your pastor you should also value his counsel, input, and thoughtful study on current matters. Listen as a Berean checking the Scriptures yourself.

11. Even issues very specifically addressed in the Bible may tend to be skirted around or in some cases reinterpreted from what has been their normal understanding. I am also wary of what some new translations and paraphrases are doing with words and traditional understanding of sinful actions.

May God help me and my many pastor friends to truly preach the whole counsel of God!

 

Please note: Certainly I am aware that many pastors continue to boldly address sin and my pastor has tackled many of these topics.

~Stephen C. Weber

You’re invited to visit Stephen’s regular blog, Daily Encouragement.  Click the image below:

Daily Encouragement dot Net banner

 

 

April 20, 2012

Diggiing Deep Into God’s Word

Apologies to those of you who came yesterday and couldn’t find the devotional. I only found out 24 hours later that it got posted to the wrong blog — I manage eight different ones — and it’s now available.   

Today’s post is a little longer than what’s normally here, but it’s a subject that we all need to be reminded of.  When the early church was birthed in Acts 2, the thing that everyone noticed wasn’t the education or skill in oratory of the disciples, it was that they had spent time with Jesus.

This is from a blog that was new to me, Answers from the Book, and appeared earlier this month under the title Be A Berean. As always, you’re encouraged to click that link and read at source. If for some reason you stay here, please note there’s a page break in this one; be sure to click through to read the whole article. 

“And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” (Acts 17:10-11)

A couple of weeks ago, I received a comment on a post that disagreed with my interpretation of a particular Bible passage. This was not the first time someone has shared a dissenting point of view and, I am quite certain, will not be the last. To be completely honest, I welcome thoughtful, sincere comments whether they agree with what I have written or not. Opposing viewpoints can have a way of sending us back to the Word of God to re-evaluate our position and to make sure that Scripture really supports it. Anything that leads us to spend more time in the Bible isn’t a bad thing, is it?

What concerned me about this specific comment wasn’t the fact that it criticized my conclusions, it was the reason the person gave for disagreeing. Apparently, this individual had heard a Bible teacher speak about this particular passage of Scripture on Television. The conclusions reached, according to the writer of the comment, were significantly different from what I was sharing in the article. Rather than offering Biblical support for these conclusions or citing corroborating passages, the only basis for accepting the interpretation seemed to lie in the identity and credentials of the man on the T.V. Program.

A Matter Of Authority

There is a great deal of overemphasis placed in the credentials and identity of individuals when it comes to Bible teaching and preaching. I remember browsing through a website a few years ago that advertised openings for pastoral positions in various churches across the country. It amazed me how many listings put the educational requirements first and foremost in their posting. “Must have a Doctorate in Theology or Pastoral Studies” was at the very top of a great many of the advertisements. Now, it is understandable that a church would not want to install a novice, ignorant of the Word of God, into their leadership, but it struck me as ironic that qualifications such as “must be of sound moral character”, or “must exhibit Christian virtues in their daily life” were listed at the bottom of the posting more often than not. It was almost as if these attributes were an afterhought! The most relevant credentials, in the minds of many of these church boards, had more to do with where a pastoral candidate attended school than the spiritual guidance he would bring to their congregation.

It seems that many people would rather put their trust entirely in the educational and experiential background of another person than evaluate their message against the Word of God. If a Bible teacher is famous enough, or has the right academic degree, then they are ready to unquestioningly accept any and all teachings that the person gives. But such a practice is never taught nor commended in the Bible itself. If anyone in Scripture had the authority to rest on His credentials, it would have been the Lord Jesus. Yet even He never urged anyone to accept His teachings uncritically, but frequently backed up His Message with references to the Old Testament (e.g., Mark 12:10, 12:24, Luke 24:27, 24:44, John 5:39). Luke describes the people of Berea in the Book of Acts as “noble” because they not only accepted the teachings of the Apostle Paul with an open mind, but because they “searched the Scriptures daily” in order to verify whether or not what he was teaching was Biblically sound (Acts 17:11). (more…)

March 17, 2012

God’s Measure of Success

Today’s post by Blake Coffee is from a website I strongly recommend those of you in church leadership bookmark and visit often, The Church Whisperer.  Today’s thoughts appeared on that site under the title The One Test Your Church Really Must Pass.  Again, you’re encouraged to the articles here at their source, but since stats show some of you don’t or won’t, it’s also below.

 This is what he showed me: The Lord was standing by a wall that had been built true to plumb, with a plumb line in his hand.  And the LORD asked me, “What do you see, Amos?”

   “A plumb line,” I replied.

   Then the Lord said, “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer.  Amos 7:7-8

There are a lot of ways to measure the “success” of the church today, a lot of standards from which we can draw.  I suppose which standard we use will depend on who we are trying to please at the time.  Whether they will admit it or not, our people most often use their own comfort level as the standard for judging whether or not we are “getting it right”.  Our denominational entities likely would care about our level of “support” for their programs and, more importantly, their budget.  Our communities would measure our effectiveness by how much assistance we offer them.  And you and I?  Oh we probably count noses in gathered worship or baptisms last year or variance from budget or some other such objective, measurable standards.

Please hear me when I say that, as far as I am concerned, all of those standards are fine measurements of some aspect of our effectiveness as a church.  I really have no qualms with any of them.  Each of them, it seems to me, has a right place in our strategic planning and in our “doing church”.  

Similarly, I suspect that, during Amos’ time, the people of Israel had some objective, measurable standards for their own version of church and worship and honoring God.  I also suspect that, like the church today, they were knocking it out of the park by some of those standards.

But from God’s perspective, they were failing miserably.  When God placed His plumb line up against what they had built, well, there was a problem.  You see what happens when we lose sight of the perspective that matters most?  There are a lot of ways to measure or evaluate a wall.  You can test its thickness to make sure it meets those specifications.  You can measure its height or its width and find both to be admirable.  You can test the weather-proofing of the exterior material or the finish of the interior and determine that either or both are just fine.  But when you hold a plumb line up to it and find that it is leaning horribly in one direction or the other, none of those other measurements mean much.

Your church may be like that.  It may be pleasing to your members, or to your denomination, or to your community, or even to you…but if it does not measure up to the plumb line of God’s Word (which, for the New Testament church, is Jesus), then it is failing.  And while we are working to please all those other people and measure up to all those other standards, it is easy to lose sight of the one that matters most: what does Jesus think of our church?

~Blake Coffee

What standards do you think God is looking to see attained where you worship?

February 3, 2012

Challenging the Notion of Paid Church Staff

It’s one thing to entertain different abstract interpretations on how doctrine and ecclesiology meet; it’s another thing entirely when those various interpretations are playing out in the community where you live.  The house-church or ‘simple church’ movement raises issues of accountability, doctrinal oversight, the instruction of children, and also the issue today, which involves the paying of staff.  In this article from Reformed Arminian, the term ‘elder’ is being used to apply to anyone holding an ‘office’ within a church structure.  (You’ll find other articles pertaining to house churches on the same blog.)

Websites like Church Job Finder publicize hundreds of full-time paid positions

Does the New Testament promote the idea of full-time elders (or pastors)?  I know of many of my friends on this blog and outside who not only hold that it does but also they are full-time pastors.  In almost all cases they applied for their pastorate like any other job complete with paperwork and interviews.  In fact, the modern pastorate often resembles a CEO of a company more than taking over a church of God.  In many cases the interviews are full of questions mainly about budgets, organization abilities, and of course, numbers.  Attendance is a big issue for institutional churches since they operate on budgets that must be met.  I know of one large church in my area that sent out their yearly budget that totaled over $7 million dollars.  Less than 3% of that was going to missions.  Most of that $7 million was salaries and their buildings.  Since numbers drive the institutional church, the potential pastor must show that they can produce large results through various ides and organization.  The masses have to be kept happy.

The house church is nothing near that.  First of all, we have no budget.  Each person can give their money to whatever they want.  We don’t want it.  We don’t need it. Occasionally we might have a family who needs money or a church planter who needs funds but we don’t regularly need your money.  Second, we have no buildings to pay for.  We have no mortgage.  We have no bills.  We offer no work insurance.  We pay no taxes since we own nothing and receive nothing.  Third, we have no staff.  We don’t pay a pastor.  We don’t pay a youth pastor.  We don’t pay a music leader.  We have elders who led us but they are not paid.

So what do we want you to do with the money that God gives you?  We want you to do what He tells you to do with in the New Testament.  First, Jesus said to give to the poor (Matthew 6:2-4; Galatians 2:10).  Secondly, give to hurting Christians (Acts 4:34-35; 11:27-30; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2).  Third, give to supporting apostles or church planters or missionaries (1 Corinthians 9:8-14; Philippians 4:10-20).  There is no biblical mandate in the New Testament to tithe to a local church to support their paying bills, salaries, etc.  Tithing is biblical but under the theocracy known as Israel.  We are not a theocracy. Not once in the Epistles do the writers exhort God’s people to tithe.  If failing to tithe brings one under a curse (as some teach from Malachi 3:8-10) then surely the New Testament writers would want to keep us from that curse.  Sadly, those who teach this “cursed” view of Malachi 3:8-10 fail to show it this applies to Galatians 3:13.

Yet does the New Testament teach that there should be full-time elders?  In Acts 20 we have Paul holding a pastors conference (v. 17).  Paul the Apostle teaches these elders various things but one interesting thing that he says is in verse 35.  The words here are ascribed to Jesus although the Gospels do not contain them.  Using the words of Jesus, Paul tells the elders that it is more blessed to give than to receive.  Can you imagine hearing a prosperity preacher saying that to his TV audience today?  In fact, the thrust of Acts 20:33-35 is that Paul wants these elders to work and not seek money.  He point to his own example (Acts 18:1-4) as proof that he worked hard so that he could give his money to the weak (ESV).  In essence, Paul wanted these elders not to be full-time but to work so that they could give away their money.  What a radical concept for our time!

The other places we find the issue of money and elders is 1 Corinthians 9.  1 Corinthians 9 is not really about elders however.  In fact, elders are not found at all in 1 or 2 Corinthians.  Given how important the modern pastorate is in most churches, you would think that Paul the Apostle would address the elders to correct the troubles at Corinth.  He never does.  He expects the Spirit of God to lead His Church and for the people of God to obey the Spirit who leads them.  Not once in Corinthians does Paul address any leaders.  In 1 Corinthians 9 Paul deals with missionaries receiving money for preaching the gospel.  In verses 8-14 he makes the clear point that those who preach the gospel should live off the gospel. Yet then Paul turns around and says that he has not done this despite his right to do so.  He tells the Corinthians that he didn’t want to be a stumbling block to them (vv. 15-18).  Paul could have asked for money but he gave up his right so that he could preach the gospel without hinderance.  In Acts 18:1-4 we find that Paul worked as a tent maker while preaching the gospel in Corinth.  He willfully gave up his rights to being paid so that he could work hard, give away his money, and preach the gospel.  How many modern pastors are doing that?

The final place we find elders and money is in 1 Timothy 5:17-18.  A couple of points are in order.  First, verse 17 does not use the word “money.”  I believe many read into verse 17 way too much about “double honor” as to teach that elders should be paid double what they would earn outside of the church.  The word “honor” here does not denote money.  The word is never used in the New Testament as a substitute for the word money.  Yet I have no trouble with honoring an elder who leads with much grace and ability in teaching the Word of God.  This honor can come in various ways including giving them money.  I don’t think we should isolate this verse and make it teach only money but we can give money to elders who fit this picture of verse 17.  Yet I don’t see in this verse that it teaches that elders should receive a regular salary.  Gifts?  Yes.  Salary?  No.  There is a big difference.

Frankly, I am weary of paying an elder very often since this could lead to one elder being exalted above others and can lead to this elder becoming a typical CEO type pastor only in a house church setting.  The plurality of leaders in the house church (Titus 1:5) helps to offset one elder dominating the others.  It also helps because elders are gifted in various ways other than teaching.  A full-time elder also would have a hard time fulfilling Acts 20:35 if in fact their income comes from the house church.

Lastly, if a house church is large enough to support a full-time elder, they are probably too large.  It’s time to split that house church.  House churches are strong because of personal relationships with one another.  This can’t happen if the house church is too large.  I recommend that house churches be no larger than a living room.  If everyone can comfortably be in a living room to worship God, pray, sing, eat, etc. then that is perfect.  Keep in mind that elders are to be among the people of God and not over them (1 Peter 5:1-4).

Hard work is something that we are scarred of in the West.  We need not be. How wonderful it is to work hard and then to take our money and give it away to the kingdom of God through the poor, hurting disciples, or missionaries.  We are not to hoard up our funds but to give them away (Matthew 6:19-21).  Our treasure is not this world or money but the Lord Himself.  He is our delight and our reward.

 

November 13, 2011

A Modern 95 Theses

As of last week, this has been available online for a year.  Just as Martin Luther posted his ‘memo’ with 95 ‘bullet points’ to the door of the Castle Church at Wittenberg, so also did Greg Gordon offer this to the church today.  Internet etiquette requires you to click the title link below to read it on the original site, but since some won’t, it’s also appears here in full.

95 THESES TO THE MODERN EVANGELICAL CHURCH by Greg Gordon

I believe many need to hear these truths and they are shared in the humility of my weakness and lack in my own Christian Life. May all of these lead people to experience the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ and to proclaim His Gospel clearly and accurately. May God in His mercy come and revive, reform and renew North American Christianity for His glory alone. “May the Lamb of God receive the reward of His sufferings in our lives today!”  – Greg Gordon (founder of SermonIndex.net / Twitter @sermonindex)

1. The “church” at large has forgotten that the chief end of man is to glorify God. (Rom 16:27; 1Cor 6:20; Mt 6:9; 1Cor 10:31)

2. Christians ignore most of the methods, practices and principles found in the book of Acts. (Acts 2:42,44; Acts 2:46; Acts 2:38)

3. Many treat “church” like any other social club or sports event that they might attend. (Acts 2:46; Heb 10:25; Acts 1:14)

4. We’ve made Christianity about the individual rather than the community of believers. (Rom 12:5; 1Cor 12:12; 2Tim 4:16)

5. In most “churches” the priesthood of all believers isn’t acknowledged and the role of pastor is abused. (1Pt 2:9; 1Cor 12:12; Eph 4:11-13)

6. The “church” as a whole has lost the concept of their being grafted into the promises given to Israel. (Rom 11:15, 17-18, 20, 25)

7. There needs to be a recovery of teaching the whole counsel of God, especially in expository form. (Acts 20:27; 1Tim 4:6, 2Tim 2:15)

8. We take it too lightly that we have the blessing and honor of having God’s Scriptures in our possession. (Ps 119:16; Acts 13:44; Neh 8:9)

9. There has never been more access to the Word of God, yet so little reading of it. (1Tim 4:13; Neh 8:1-3; Ps 119:59)

10. Some read the Scriptures to attain knowledge, but do not practice what they read. (Jam 1:22; Mt 7:21; 3Jn 4)

11. Worship has become an idol in many “churches.” The music often resembles that of the world. (Amos 5:23; Phil 4:8; 1Jn 5:21)

12. The world is shaping the views of the “church” more than the “church” shaping the world. (Rom 12:2; Mt 5:13; 1Cor 1:22-23)

13. The “church” spends more money on dog food than on missions. (2Cor 9:6; Lk 21:2; Acts 4:34-35)

14. We take lightly the cost of discipleship laid out by Jesus Christ and do not deny our lives. (Lk 14:33; Lk 14:26-27; Mt 8:19-20)

15. There is a lack of true discipleship and making others to be obedient disciples. (Mt 28:20; 2Tim 2:2; 2Tim 2:14)

16. Many subscribe to the error that parts of life are to be spiritual while others are to be secular. (1Pt 4:2; Col 3:3; 1Jn 2:6)

17. Modern Christians often find Jesus’ command to sacrifice and serve abhorrent. (Phil 2:21; Jam 3:16; Rom 12:1-2)

18. Self disciplines in the Christian life such as fasting and praying are considered legalistic. (2Tim 2:21; 2Tim 1:8; Mt 6:17)

19. Little thought and contemplation is put towards the lostness of men, the seriousness of the Gospel. (Phil 3:8; Gal 2:20; Heb 10:34)

20. We are living with an epidemic of cheap grace with flippant confession and shallow consecration. (Lk 14:28-30; Lk 14:26; Jam 4:8) (more…)

November 11, 2011

Having the Call of God

Pastor Kevin Rogers blogs at The Orphan Age, where this piece appeared recently under the title,  Tedious Boredom and Sheer Terror.

I spoke with a man whose job was to drive locomotive through Northern Ontario. When asked what his job was like he said, “It is days of tedious boredom combined with moments of sheer terror.”  

So why had he devoted his adult life to the rails?

Why do truckers endure the long haul and why do daycare workers put up with demanding parents and low pay?

Some work because it is a means to an end. They endure their job in order to pay the bills and put their kids through college. Still, others are engaged in their work (paid and unpaid) because they are compelled to. They have an inner sense of being in the right place. They see higher value than the task at hand.

Pastors, chaplains and community builders often have that inner sense. We name it ‘the call of God’. It may involve a ‘job’ that we do to pay the bills, but something deeper calls us to live each moment purposefully.

The call of God is a bit like the call of the sea. It may not be very specific. It may not be a call to this ocean or that ocean, or to this particular port or that one; it is more like a restless, yearning, which can only be satisfied by going to sea. *

A look at the men and women God called in Scripture reveals seasons of restless yearning and times of faith to take great risk. You find yourself somewhere in that continuum. Can you look at your current community and say that you are there by God’s choosing? It might be good to know that.

The qualifier that separates picking a career from responding to God’s Call is the sense that you must do this. It is your love response to the God who beckoned you to Himself.

‘It is God Who saved us and called us with a holy calling. Not according to our works, but to further His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before the world began’ (2 Timothy 1:9).

When we struggle with contentment, challenge and uncertainty in our place of service we need to recall the First Call. The calling to be a disciple of Jesus is the highest calling that sustains you when your position becomes redundant, someone else is elected or you are unemployed.

God chooses to further His own purpose and grace through your life, in season and out.

Kevin Rogers

* A sermon preached by John Hull on February 4th 2007 in the Chapel of the Queen’s Foundation for Ecumenical Theological Education, Birmingham, to mark the end of a residential course on the Mission of the Church in Britain. www.johnmhull.biz/SermonTheCallOfGod.doc

September 21, 2011

Pastoral Relations

One of the ways we can demonstrate spiritual maturity is in the way we respond to the host of conflicts which come up in the life of a typical church.  It’s been awhile since we linked to Keith Brenton at Blog in My Own Eye, but I appreciated the practicality of this piece which he called, Pastoral Care.

HOWEVER, for those of you who want to dig a little deeper — maybe something a little more Christianity 301 —  you might enjoy his balanced approach to the Calvinist versus Arminian positions on the depravity of man, which he deals with in two parts, here and here

I begin with my standard disclaimer: I am not a minister or pastor, nor do I play one on TV.

I work in a church office, but I am not employed specifically to share the gospel of Jesus Christ or tend the flock of the Great Shepherd. But I work with a good number of priceless ministers who are, and priceless colleagues who support them, and I just want to offer a few words of advice on the care and feeding of church leaders, whatever their titles: ministers, preachers, pastors, elders, shepherds, deacons, interns, and staffers.

  1. If your pastor says something you disagree with, keep it to yourself. Seriously. If it’s a difference of opinion over something which scripture doesn’t dare to touch (and scripture dares to touch a lot), then the guidance I’d suggest is ” … So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God.” (Romans 14:22a) And consider the possibility that you heard something you needed to hear; needed to be convicted by … in order for you to turn around and draw closer to God again.
  2. If your pastor says or does something that conflicts with scripture, go to your pastor. Not to someone over them or under them or beside(s) them. Go to them. Follow the steps: “… just the two of you … if they will not listen, take one or two others along … if they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church.” (Matthew 18:15-17) No shortcuts. No keeping it to yourself. No withholding of love or fellowship or willingness to discuss, listen, correct, reprove. You can do this kindly, lovingly, privately — in a way that does not affect your pastor’s influence — just the way Aquila and Priscilla did for Apollos, in their own home (Acts 18:26).
  3. If your pastor has something against you, go to your pastor. Now. Today. Don’t wait until Sunday when you bring a gift to God. Don’t expect Him to accept it when He knows you have something unresolved with your minister. “First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:24b)
  4. If you have something encouraging to say to your pastor, say it. “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5) Do it often. Daily if you think they need it. And, again, don’t put it off until tomorrow. “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” (Hebrews 3)Your church leaders and staffers find out thing about people … things they don’t want to know about. They don’t want to know because they love the flock and want to think the best of them. Sometimes they don’t feel comfortable even sharing this information with a spouse who also loves and cares for the flock. The wise ones share it with God and turn it over to Him and do what they can to comfort, admonish, and encourage the strays and the injured and the sick and the dying among the flock. They are not the hired hands Jesus talks about in John 10:12. They don’t run away; they stay with the flock at risk to their own safety and security.Their hearts break on an irregular but frequent basis — sometimes several times a week. Don’t overlook the ones who oversee you. Don’t fail to serve the ones who serve you. Don’t miss administering care to the ones who minister to others.
  5. If you have a pastor who imitates the Great Shepherd (who laid down His life for the sheep), thank God for your pastor. You have a treasure in your church family worth more than all you could ever afford to pay. So give what is due. “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.” (1 Timothy 5:17)

This is by no means an exhaustive list of admonitions from scripture — but it’s a great start. They’ll nourish any believer who does them or receives through them, church leader or not.

What we headstrong and occasionally brainless sheep fail to see, too often, is how famished and weary our pastors can become doing what they love for those they love to the glory of the One they love.

Feed the ones who feed the flock.

They’re trying to help Him look after your soul.

~Keith Brenton

July 15, 2011

Guard Your Doctrine

When you say your prayers at night you probably ask God to keep those close to you from falling into danger.  It’s normal for us to ask our Heavenly Father to keep us safe, strong and healthy.  And it’s equally normal for us to ask God to protect our spouse, our children, or perhaps our pastor or pastoral staff from wrongdoing.  Because we’ve all heard stories of people who fell into sin or into a pattern of sin.

But the Bible teaches us that in addition to guarding our actions, we need to guard our beliefs.  Never has this been more important than it is at a time when certain doctrines are under the microscope of challenge. 

1 Timothy 4:16
Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.

If someone were falling into negative behaviors, or addictive behaviors, or criminal activities, or feelings of despair or hopelessness, or dangerous thoughts; we wouldn’t hesitate to guide them safely back.  But what about when someone falls into a doctrinal belief that does not represent what the “church fathers” would have considered orthodoxy?

In another letter to Timothy, Paul writes:

2 Timothy 4:3
For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.

It’s not surprising therefore that it is also to Timothy that Paul writes the oft-memorized verse:

II Tim 2:15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. (NASB)

Here’s verses 14 and 15 in The Message:

Repeat these basic essentials over and over to God’s people. Warn them before God against pious nitpicking, which chips away at the faith. It just wears everyone out. Concentrate on doing your best for God, work you won’t be ashamed of, laying out the truth plain and simple. Stay clear of pious talk that is only talk. Words are not mere words, you know. If they’re not backed by a godly life, they accumulate as poison in the soul.

 

To Titus, Paul writes:

Titus 1

 6 An elder must be blameless…. 7 Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless… 9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.

We tend to think that someone in Christian leadership has failed when they have done something wrong, but clearly failure also happens when we believe something wrong.  Someone has said,

Collapse in the Christian life is rarely the result of a blowout, it is more often the result of a slow leak.

In a world of spiritual compromise we have to guard that our doctrine doesn’t ‘leak.’  Here’s our theme verse again, I Tim. 4:16 in The Message version:

Keep a firm grasp on both your character and your teaching. Don’t be diverted. Just keep at it. Both you and those who hear you will experience salvation.

June 2, 2011

Going Deep, Staying Real

Today, a reprint from June of last year…

The present Christian online culture craves spiritual depth. A teacher who presents historical background we’ve never heard. A preacher who exhorts his audience to strive for higher levels of commitment. An academic who connects the dots from text “A” to text “B” and both of them to text “C.” An author whose preferred style means that every page is heavy with deep truths. A blogger who mines the classic Christian writers and shines new light on those lost works.

And I am in favor of all five of those.

But what is true depth? What does it mean to say he (or she) is a “deep Christian?” Does it mean academic honors, or research ability, or literary giftedness, or a visionary spirit, or having your doctrine correct?

I don’t think so. Otherwise spiritual achievement would be reserved for intellectuals. That’s actually what many Christian websites communicate. People read them and say, “Yes, I could be that spiritual, but only if I were smarter.” In other words, they regard depth as something that’s out of their league.

The name of this blog, Christianity 201, implies that kind of depth. I should be quoting Spurgeon right about now, or making an observation from reading the New Testament today in Greek (which, for the record, I don’t read.)

I think there’s something much more important at stake, but something much more commonplace. I think to be that person, who is regarded as a “deep spiritual thinker” you want to be doing a different set of things:

  1. Try to live your life by the highest ethical standard, in ways both visible and invisible. Start today by going through your e-mail and finding personal letters from people that you never answered. Or phone calls you never returned. Or a bill you’ve never yet paid. I believe strongly that much of our standing before God consists in doing right things. That includes sins of omission. “Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (James 4: 17 NASB)
  2. Aim for excellence. I am so very tired of people whose work for the kingdom of God is “just enough to get by.” They spend hours supposedly studying the great works of Christian literature, but then their blog post on them is full of careless spelling errors. They are renowned as a true worshiper of God, but their guitar is never tuned. “‘If a man dedicates his house as something holy to the Lord, the priest will judge its quality as good or bad. Whatever value the priest then sets, so it will remain.” (Leviticus 27: 14 NIV) That’s an interesting chapter to study; also consider, “If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.” (I Cor 3: 12-13 NIV)
  3. Humility. Some of the most spiritual people I know do not believe that they are. Again, the Christian internet tends to have its own “stars” and many of these people really believe the stuff about themselves that’s online. But again, truly ‘deep’ Christians never see themselves as such. They are aware of the shortcomings. Sometimes Paul found it necessary, by way of introduction, to provide his listeners with his spiritual pedigree, or spiritual resumé. But then he goes on; “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” (Phil 3: 8-9 ESV).

So let’s summarize this in a prayer:

“Lord show me if I’ve directly or indirectly wronged anyone today. Remind me if I’ve missed the mark of your highest (and deepest) calling through sins I’ve committed and sins of omission. Also, help me to my best Lord, that’s for sure, but help me to aim for the best. Don’t let me offer up anything either to you or for you that has less value than I am capable of giving. Finally, in whatever spiritual community or faith family I find myself, don’t let me start to believe my own press. When others say something good about me, let me know when to give You the credit, and when to correct their impression.”

April 16, 2011

Reproducible Ministry

Today’s post is from The Leadership Institute’s Alan Fadling.  It appeared on his blog Notes from My Unhurried Journey under the title, Discipleship – Reproducing Life and Ministry.

I recently heard again the saying:

“Give someone a fish and they eat for a day,
Teach them to fish and they eat for a lifetime.

What kind of a ministry do I provide. Am I making people dependent on me for their daily bread, or am I teaching men and women to listen to God for themselves in ways they will be able to continue over their lifetimes? This is the difference between producing and reproducing ministry.

One way I’m learning to reproduce ministry in others is to invite them into the processes I use to planning an event or gathering. I need to have thought deeply about the rationale and reason for what I do.

One key to reproducible ministry is profound simplicity in what I teach, counsel, and plan. I’m not talking about being simplistic. I’m talking about what Thomas Kelly called “the simplicity that lies beyond complexity.” He says that “the last fruit of holy obedience is the simplicity of the trusting child, the simplicity of the children of God. It is the simplicity that lies beyond complexity. It is the naïveté that is the yonder side of sophistication. It is the beginning of spiritual maturity, which comes after the awkward age of religious busyness for the Kingdom of God–yet how many are caught, and arrested in development, within this adolescent development of the soul’s growth! The mark of this simplified life is radiant joy.”[1]

When we are simplistic and reductionist, we don’t inspire many to reproduce what we are doing. Being profoundly simple inspires people to try their own hand at ministry. Profound simplicity inspires people to believe, “Hey, I could do that!”

Ministry is reproducible when it flows with integrity out of my own life. Instead of thinking of ministry merely something I prepare to do, I am learning that ministry is rooted in who I am becoming and how I am relating with others. I reproduce ministry when instead of only sharing the finished product of my preparation process, I share the process. I can prepare a Bible study and then creatively walk students through the basic process that I went through (on a smaller time scale), rather than just giving them the fruit of my study. Reproducible Bible study would be discovery-oriented, not just delivery-oriented.

Reproducible events or gatherings would involve not just planning them behind closed doors and then delivering the finished product. It would involve doing some groundwork, then walking through the process together with a few who are willing, even hungry to learn.

Reproducible ministry will appeal to external motivation, but seeks to influence through modeling, inspiring and other increasingly internal motivations.

Reproducible ministry is more cooking school then chef, more cultivating learners than just teaching, more developing leaders than just personally leading. This is a paradigm shift. It always feels faster to do it myself than to teach another to do it, whatever it is.

Reproducible ministry requires a healthy sense of self-esteem and confidence in God. If my leadership is the means by which I try to establish my value and importance, I won’t be willing to share that role with others. I won’t want to share my “trade secrets.” I may resist reproducing ministry out of fear that someone else might do it better than me!

Father, help me learn to be one who reproduces ministry in the lives of those around me, even as I learn to receive from You a reproduction of Your own ministry in my life. Reproducible ministry is “Christ in me.”

~Alan Fadling


[1]Thomas Kelly. A Testament of Devotion. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1941, p. 36-37.

March 27, 2011

A Letter to Pastors from The Congregation

I’ve often believed that the most interesting part of any church sermon is not found in the text the pastor takes with him to the pulpit, but rather, the parts that end up, to use a film analogy, on the cutting room floor.  Author and speaker Rachel Held Evans posted this in February, and it seems an appropriate Sunday post here.  It appeared on her blog under the title, Dear Pastors — Tell us the Truth.

Dear Pastors,

Tell us the truth.

Tell us the truth when you don’t know the answers to our questions, and your humility will set the example as we seek them out together.

Tell us the truth about your doubts, and we will feel safe sharing our own.

Tell us the truth when you get tired, when the yoke grows too heavy and the hill too steep to climb, and we will learn to carry one another’s burdens because we started with yours.

Tell us the truth when you are sad, and we too will stop pretending.

Tell us the truth when your studies lead you to new ideas that might stretch our faith and make us uncomfortable, and those of us who stick around will never forget that you trusted us with a challenge.

Tell us the truth when your position is controversial, and we will grow braver along with you.

Tell us the truth when you need to spend time on your marriage, and we will remember to prioritize ours.

Tell us the truth when you fail, and we will stop expecting perfection.

Tell us the truth when you think that our old ways of doing things need to change, and though we may push back, the conversation will force us to examine why we do what we do and perhaps inspire something even greater.

Tell us the truth when you fall short, and we will drop our measuring sticks.

Tell us the truth when all that’s left is hope, and we start digging for it.

Tell us the truth when the world requires radical grace, and we will generate it.

Tell us the truth even if it’s surprising, disappointing, painful, joyous, unexpected, unplanned, and unresolved, and we will learn that this is what it means to be people of faith.

Tell us the truth and you won’t be the only one set free.

Love,


The Congregation

 

 

HT: Chris Hyde, who also has a response to the letter from author Adam McHugh.

February 24, 2011

Doing Ministry in the Flesh

Francis Chan:

Sometimes I leave Christian events wondering if we resemble the prophets of Baal in I Kings 18 more than Elijah, the prophet of God… The prophets of Baal had a loud, passionate gathering that lasted form morning till evening. When they were done, they had a great time of fellowship (I think you can call it that). But “no one answered; no one paid attention” (18:29). After all of that, Elijah prayed. God heard his prayer, and fire came down from heaven.

My favorite part of that story comes when it is all over and the prophets of Baal are saying, “The Lord — he is God! The Lord — he is God! (18:39). They didn’t say, “Elijah is a great speaker” or “Elijah sure knows how to connect with God!” They were stunned by God. They were in awe of his power. They knew that what they had experienced could not have been manipulated by Elijah. They experienced the power of God.

Is that what happens at the christian gatherings hyou attend? Or does it feel more like what the prophets of Baal experienced before Elijah prayed? We can have a great time singing and dancing ourselves into a frenzy. But at the end of it, fire doesn’t come down from heaven. People leave talking about the people who led rather than the power of God.

Forgotten God pp 143-144

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