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Pastoral Ministry Practice #2

In John 17:4 Jesus refers to the work He has already accomplished.

I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do.

Suffering a sacrificial death and rising in power were not the only assignments given to Jesus.   In John 17:6-13 He lists out the work He accomplished before going to the cross.   These verses serve as an outline of the pastoral ministry of Jesus Christ.  These verses set before us the four essential practices of pastoral ministry.  What Jesus exampled in His ministry and reviews in prayer here before His Father are the essence of being a shepherd to the flock of God.

The first essential work of pastoral ministry is given in 17:6 –

I manifested Your name to the men You gave Me out of the world.

The second essential work of pastoral ministry is given in 17:7-8

I gave them Your words…

Please note the order of the prayer of Jesus

Jesus says in v8 that He has given the disciples the Word of God, but He did so only after manifesting the Name of God, which means He demonstrated the character of God.  Word follows Name.  This order is so crucial that if you don’t follow it your ministry will ultimately be of no effect.  Gehazi had the staff of Elisha, but he did not have the heart or the power of Elisha.  The staff of Elisha without the mantle of Elisha was powerless to evoke even a stir from the dead child.  If you preach the Word of God without manifesting the Name of God your preaching will be dead.  We all know that it is easier to speak the Word of God than it is to manifest His Name – this is why there is more preaching of Christ than demonstration of Christ.  It is easier for me to tell you to love your neighbor than for me to love my neighbor.  Many have heard of the gospel from preachers who do not live the gospel.  The Word without the Name has driven many away from Christ.

I once lived down the street from a man with whom I became acquainted.  He learned that I was a pastor and began to tell me about his involvement years before in an evangelical church.  From singing in the choir to sometimes working with the youth, he contributed to the ministry and was blessed in return.  He went on to tell me about being in a casino in Reno and seeing a deacon from his church at the roulette wheel.  He couldn’t believe that a leader from his church would be gambling.  (It was OK for him, but not for the deacon – go figure!)  From that time on he hadn’t stepped into a church because he was so disillusioned and disappointed.  In his mind, the deacon was denying and defiling the Name.  Conservative theology wasn’t enough for him, he wanted to see the Name fleshed out in the leadership.  Along with the Truth preached he wanted to see the Life lived.  So many have been grievously wounded and deeply offended by a church with the Word without the Name.  So many have been turned away by the Truth not adorned with the Life.

Truly, we are often the Church of No-Name.

Imagine that you are approached by a 300 lb. man who tells you that he has been on a diet for ten years.  He goes on to tell you that it is the best diet he has even been on and he just can’t say enough about it.  You ask a few questions and then finally ask how much he weighed before he began.  You figure that ten years ago he must have really been big to still be at 300 pounds today.  He tells you that ten years ago he weighed 310 pounds!  You quickly do the math and realize that he has lost only one pound a year in the last ten years.  You ask him again just to make sure you heard right and he confirms what he just said.  Well, to say the least, you are underwhelmed.  You immediately go from mildly interested to perplexed.  All of his talk, his rosy testimony, his enthusiastic endorsement have been erased by one simple fact – that to which he has been passionately committed to these past ten years has made no difference in his life – except maybe a bizarre emotional attachment to that which has not helped him.  How many in the pastoral ministry are like our 300 pound friend whose words carry no weight?  The glowing testimony doesn’t pass the test.

Incarnation and declaration are means of revelation.  The Name of God shows what God is like and the Word of God informs as to what God has done.  Declaration of the Word without incarnation of the Name insures poverty of ministry.  Do we need less Word of God?  No.  But we do need, and must have more Name of God.

Pastoral authority and personal credibility

You’ve been called into ministry and you have responded by becoming a serious student of Scripture, serving in various capacities in your church, and getting a solid education in the things of the ministry – theology, ministry, history, Biblical languages, administration, counseling, etc.  Your gifting and calling have been recognized and you have been encouraged numerous times by various people.  It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that call + preparation = authority.  This formula is short-sighted.

Your authority is the Word of God you preach, but your credibility is the Name of God you manifest!  We have to make a distinction between authority and credibility – Jesus did.  Consider His advice to the people about the Pharisees –

Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them.  Matthew 23:1-3

The Word of God has inherent authority, but authority was never meant to stand alone.  The authority of the message is to be accompanied by the credibility of the one who speaks it.  When authority is separated from credibility the power to persuade is eroded.  We can see this in the life of Lot.  Lot heard from the angels that God was about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah and that he was take his family and flee those cities.  He went and told his sins-in-law that the city was about to be judged for its wickedness and destroyed by the Lord.  Here’s how Genesis 19:14 reads:

Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who were to marry his daughters, and said, “Up, get out of this place, for the LORD will destroy the city.” But he appeared to his sons-in-law to be jesting.

Lot’s life lacked spiritual credibility so much so that even though his message was true, it lacked spiritual authority and the ability to persuade.  He lived such an unspiritual life that when he does speak of spiritual things, his sons-in-law think that he’s joking around with them – they couldn’t take him seriously.  Is this not the condition of many within the church today?  The word we speak is drowned out by the life we live.  Our lack of credibility undermines the authority of the Word of God.  The world doesn’t see us living the Name and therefore doesn’t respond to us speaking the Word.  We are told that there is a crisis of authority today – in actuality, it is more a crisis of credibility. We are told that if we learn the Word, study the Word, polish the Word, preach the Word that the world will come.  Yes and no.  We haven’t clearly understood the scope of the challenge facing the church in the 21st century.  If those who claim to follow Jesus would truly do so, our message would gain a more respectful hearing.  It’s not so much that they don’t believe the message (and they don’t), but that they don’t believe us, the messengers!

The order of the ministry essentials that Jesus highlights in John 17 is so crucial – Name before Word.  And here’s why –

Like the legs which hang down from the lame, so is a proverb in the mouth of fools. Pr. 26:7 

A lack of credibility results in the loss of authority.

michelangelo

Theology and Anthropology

In the 1993 film Rudy (named after the main character), Rudy has a conversation with a priest named Father Cavanaugh, in which the priest says,

“Son, in thirty-five years of religious study, I’ve come up with only two hard, incontrovertible facts; there is a God, and I’m not Him.” [1]

In this statement, Father Cavanaugh reveals his dependence on theology, “there is a God,” and anthropology, “and I’m not him.”

Is anthropology as important as theology for a cross-cultural missionary? This is a hot question being asked by many. Where theology is the study of God, anthropology is the study of man. There is no doubt that both are important, but are they of equal importance? To answer this question I will look at theology as the goal, and anthropology as a means to that goal.

For brevity’s sake, I will assume that my reader holds the view that God is the source of all life and God is the goal of all life. To quote the first answer of the Westminster Catechism, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”[2] Since this is why we exist, knowing God (theology) is of utmost importance, and to know him is to worship him. Herein lies the missions mandate as John Piper explains,

“Mission exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not mission, because God is ultimate, not man. [Mission] is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever. Worship, therefore is the fuel and goal of missions.”[3]

God is to be known, yet the knowledge of God comes to us through anthropological means. This is exemplified in that God himself has chosen to communicate with people. “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…”(Heb 1:1-2). God chose to speak to people through people. Theos (God) spoke through anthropos (man)! The chasm between God and mankind cannot be bridged by mankind. God had men write Scripture, which has faithfully been communicated again and again to various cultures through various languages. To read the Quran, people must learn Arabic, but to read the Bible, God’s revelation, people can read it communicated within their own language.

Concerning communication, David Hesselgrave, a missiologist, draws on Aristotle’s Rhetoric identifying “three points of reference: the speaker, the speech, and the audience.”[4] He points out that a message must also be encoded and decoded (see below).[5] There can be multiple messages coming across at the same time. What the source says may not actually correspond with what the respondent hears creating misunderstanding. Several years ago, an American pastor came on a short-term ministry trip to London. While speaking with a young woman, he noticed her trousers fit his wife’s taste and commented, “I like your pants.” He communicated a message, but the message decoded by the respondent was quite different. I quickly interjected in the conversation to clarify that pants for Americans means trousers. In this case, the misinterpretation is within a common language. Yet cross-cultural ministry must often times cross significant linguistic and cultural hurdles.

Source > Encode > Message > Decode > Respondent

In Hebrews 1, we are told that God communicated to mankind about himself through mankind. The means God uses to communicate, relates to the people to whom he is communicating. Nowhere is this more apparent than God, the Word, becoming man (Joh 1:1, 14). Jesus said, “I am not of this world” (Joh 8:23). Jesus as the logos, the word/message of God was communicated within a linguistic and cultural framework. As missiologist Sherwood Lingenfelter said, “God’s Son studied the language, the culture, and the lifestyles of his people for thirty years before he began his ministry.”[6] “The Son of God was sitting in the temple, listening and questioning!”[7] Jesus sets for us the model for cross-cultural ministry. He crossed from a heavenly culture to an earthly culture, communicating theologically in cultural forms and language that his hearers understood.

If God, who alone is wise, chose to reveal himself (theology) by relating truth in symbols and forms that people could understand (anthropology), all cross-cultural communicators should seek to follow the pattern God has laid out.

The challenge for the missionary is he must not only learn of God, but must learn of people. One of the greatest barriers to this is the missionary’s own culture and worldview. If he does not study the people to whom he desires to minister, the hearer can easily decode the message the missionary sent incorrectly. Culture shapes the lens through which life is evaluated; therefore, he must learn to separate his worldview (or lens) from the message that he articulates. The missionary’s worldview is something he may be used to looking through, but not something he is used to looking at. This is what Lingenfelter calls “cultural blindness”.[8] One’s own culture can be easily mistaken as a Christ-culture and the missionary may seek to convert his hearers to become like him, rather than like Christ. It is this mistake that has been made repeatedly in cross-cultural missions. Bruce Olson, recounting his work as a missionary in Columbia realized, he had access to many tribes that others could not access because he studied the people and understood how they thought. Olson attributes two causes for his success amongst the Motilone Indians. “The first is simple: The Motilones were not asked to give up their own culture and become white men… The second was the Holy Spirit.”[9]

As the missionary studies his receptor’s culture as well as his own, he can begin to separate what is biblical from what is cultural. He is then enabled to communicate theologically in a way that can be understood anthropologically. Olson learned that speaking of having faith in God meant nothing to the Motilones. However, if he communicated the idea of faith in God as “you have to tie your hammock strings into Him [Jesus] and be suspended in God,”[10] then they understood. Don Richardson went to the Sawi people of New Guinea. In his book Peace Child, he tells of attempting to tell the gospel story to the tribe. He was confounded when the whole tribe exalted Judas as a hero because he was the ultimate traitor, and in their culture befriending someone only to win their trust then stab them in the back was a prized virtue![11] As Richardson learned more about the tribe’s culture he was able to contextualize Jesus’ sacrifice in terms they could relate to. Within their culture, peace was brought between tribes by offering a son (peace child) to a member of another tribe. Richardson was able to show that Jesus was God’s peace child, and in their culture, to betray a peace child was unthinkable. Judas turned from hero to villain and many received the gospel. Richardson concludes, “The look on their faces told me I had not only discovered a parallel between their culture and the gospel, but I had also scraped a raw nerve as well-the obvious inadequacy of the Sawi peace child!”[12]

In this process there is a danger to be avoided. When anthropology trumps theology, the missionary can begin to make God’s message fit what is culturally acceptable. Even the great missionary Jesus’ message was rejected. It was rejected because people understood what Jesus was saying, not because they did not understand. The gospel is always going to confront the culture of the people to whom the missionary is sent. Jesus warns that since he was rejected, his followers would be also (Joh 15:18). Missiologist Paul Hiebert warns that the Anticolonial Era of missionaries erred in their contextualization. “Contextualization often became an uncritical process in which good in other cultures was affirmed, but the evil in them was left unchallenged…. What is sacrificed is the uniqueness of Christ and his salvation, because this is an offence to non-Christians.”[13] Darrin Patrick in his book Church Planter says contextualizing the gospel should be coupled with contending for the gospel. If theology is loosened to fit the culture, in which the missionary seeks to minister, he loses the very reason for which he is sent into that culture.[14] “Contextualization is speaking to people with their terms, not on their terms.”[15] Patrick quotes Timothy Keller on the issue,

“Contextualization is not ‘giving people what they want’ but rather it is giving God’s answers (which they may not want!) to questions they are asking and in forms that they can comprehend.”[16]

God is the message (theology), but his message is for people (anthropology). The missionary’s pursuit is to communicate theology powerfully and accurately to people. To do this he needs to understand those people. In this way, anthropology is critical, because this is the means whereby the truth of God can be understood as it is presented to every tribe, tongue, people, and ethnic group for the glory of God and their forever enjoyment of him.


[1] Dir. David Anspaugh. Perf. Sean Austin, Jon Favreau and Ned Beatty. Rudy. (Tri Star Pictures. 1993). DVD.
[2] Frame, J. M. The Collected Shorter Theological Writings. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing. 2007). N.P. Logos Electronic Edition
[3] Piper, John, Let the Nations Be Glad. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic. 2003). 17
[4] Hesselgrave, David J. Communicating Christ Cross-Culturally: An Introduction to Missionary Communication. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House. 1991). 40
[5] Hesselgrave, Communicating Christ Cross-Culturally, 41
[6] Lingenfelter, Sherwood and Marvin, Mayers K. Ministering Cross-Culturally: An Incarnational Model for Personal Relationships. (Grand Rapids: Baker Accademic, 2003). 16
[7] Lingenfelter, Ministering Cross-Culturally, 16
[8] Lingenfelter, Sherwood. Transforming Culture: A Challenge for Christian Mission. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books. 1998), 21
[9] Olson, Bruce. Bruchko. (Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House. 1995), 128-9
[10] Olson, Bruchko, 139
[11] Richardson, Don. Peace Child. (Ventura: Regal Books. 2005), 150-2
[12] Richardson, Peace Child, 187
[13] Hiebert, Paul G. Anthropological Reflections on Missiological Issues. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books. 1994), 59
[14] Patrick, Darrin. Church Planter: The Man, The Message, The Mission. (Wheaton: Crossway. 2010) 194
[15] Patrick, Church Planter, 195 emphasis mine
[16] Keller, Timothy, “Contextualization: Wisdom or Compromise?” (Connect Conference, Covenant Seminary, 2004), 2, quoted in Patrick, Church Planter, 195,

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Ponder the Path

“Ponder the path of thy feet,

And let all thy ways be established.

Turn not to the right hand

Nor to the left:

Remove thy foot from evil”

 

Seems a good a time as any, since many are at the Senior Pastor’s Conference in Murrietta to pause and reflect upon the path we are each treading.

Think about the “Path” you are on today. Think about where you started and where you find yourself today. Look back at the amazing faithfulness of the Lord who has called you out of darkness and transferred you into the Light of the Kingdom life of His Son, whom He loves. What power, what love, what trustworthiness, what faithfulness! Words cannot paint a pleasant or fitting enough picture worthy of the One to who it is ascribed. God has taken us from the dungheap of a vain, empty and damned life because of our rebellion against Him, and has redeemed us from the curse of the law having sent His only Beloved Son in whom He is well pleased to bear the curse for us and vicariously nailed it to the cross for all those who would believe on His Name! What mercy, what grace, what peace, what forgiveness!

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.”

Do not turn from the One who called you and set you on the path your on today. Keep your hands in His. Fix your gaze afresh upon the One who loved you and gave Himself for you. Follow His lead, for His rod and His staff are there to protect, guide, and comfort you. His desire is to restore your soul in the path He has prepared beforehand for you to walk along. Do not be afraid of what lies ahead or how you will be provided for.

“Behold the birds of the air. They neither sow, nor reap, nor gather into barns; yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?”

Don’t waver, or turn from the path. Don’t meander into the fields of another. Look to the Good Shepherd, let Him know your requests, and you will find the greates clarity and the greatest satisfaction you have ever known.

 

spiritual

Unspiritual Christianity

Today is one of those articles that I am going to try and say something that I don’t really know how to say. I really have struggled over the years to articulate this reality and find myself struggling today again to find the words to express something of value.

My pondering began with a simple question, “How is it possible for Christianity to be perceived as unspiritual?” The gospel is simply the Lordship of Jesus. When a person believes in Jesus, they are indwelt by the Spirit of God, the third person of the Blessed Trinity.There is no Christianity without the Spirit. Yet, as I look around the body of Christ, there seems to be way more examples of unspiritual Christianity then there are spiritual ones. Now when I speak about the need for Christianity to be spiritual, I mean “of the Spirit” in the simplest of terms. Not even necessarily the expression of spiritual giftings. I am talking about the basics of love, joy, peace, kindness, gentleness, patience, goodness and self control (Galatians 5:23). I am talking about lives that are lived out in the simplest aspects of agape love and service. I am talking about the ‘shalom’ of God being at work and being outworked through the body of Christ. Concepts such as agape, simplicity, service, unity and peace-making are in my mind.

As I survey much of the Christianity around today, I don’t see much of this. So I started to wonder why. Why is so much of Christianity look so little like the life of Jesus? I see much personal politics, attack-dog disagreements, sin cloaked in religion, bickering, jockeying for position, niches and cliches. It is so common for people to rise up in churches if they are charismatic or sychopantic rather than having a Jesus-formed character.

So I am going to list a few reasons why this may be the case. Instead of commenting on each of them, I will simply list them and let you all have fun with them.

1) When information is king
2) When theology is not translated to the street level
3) Classic Self-salvation plans
4) Cultural Idolatry
5) A lack of any focus on spiritual formation (true biblical discipleship)
6) A western individualistic focus rather than community formation
7) Prayerlessness
8) The Curse of Affluence
9) The Influence of Business Practices upon Church Leadership
10) Tax-exempt status
11) Church as entertainment

cc

Comfortable Christianity?

If there’s one thing my own heart has convinced me of, and my interactions with other Christian’s has taught me time and time again, it is that many Christians in the west expect God to provide us with a comfortable Christianity.  We gauge whether or not God is calling us to serve Him by cost, comforts, and conveniences we may have to sacrifice. If we feel called to something that will cost more money than we’d like to spend, think we have, or can provide, we conclude the feeling must not be from God. If we sense the nudge of the Holy Spirit toward a project or person that would cause us discomfort (physically or emotionally), we back out. If serving some way is just inconvenient, either at church or elsewhere, many Christians conclude God must not be leading, or things would just go smoothly.

Comfortable Christianity Slogans

Here are some of my favorite statements I hear, and some I’ve said, which demonstrate our expectation of a comfortable Christianity:

 “If I’m stressed out, it means I’ve taken too much on and need to let something go.” (Comfort)

 “We want to come to church, but we live fifteen minutes across town.” (Convenience)

 “We want to tithe, but money’s a little tight right now.” (Cost)

 “We’d love to go to a small group, but I have to rush home, eat quickly, and get the family packed up in a hurry, and by that time we’re just stressed.  Going to Bible study as a family shouldn’t be stressful.” (Convenience/Comfort)

 “I meant to come to the once per quarter discipleship event at church, but Saturdays are when I sleep in.” (Convenience)

 “I know those people need help, but my kids can’t miss their nap.” (Convenience/Cost/Comfort)

 “We haven’t been at church in three months because it’s SUMMER!” (Convenience/Comfort)

God’s Not a Kill-joy

Now, to be clear, I’m not saying all of the above statements are sinful every time they’re made.  For instance, sometimes a kid just needs a nap. But too often, these kinds of things become excuses for not wanting to suffer in any way, to be part of the body of Christ, or serve people. The truth is, biblical Christianity includes the call to joyfully suffer. If our Christianity is the Christianity of the Christ, it will mean great cost at times, to us and our families. It will mean inconvenience, and it will mean discomfort. It will include things like only camping two weeks in the summer with your family instead of ten, specifically so you can serve your church and community on the other weekends. It may include kids going without naps, stressful drives to the prayer meeting, spending money you don’t have because God promised to provide, and sacrificing days off on the couch, for days off in the trench serving God.

Jesus and the Apostles

Consider a few verses, and ask yourself if they represent legitimate potential experiences in your life, based on how you live out your version of the Christian life:

Matthew 8:19-20: Then a certain scribe came and said to Him, ‘Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.’” That’s right. Jesus was telling this dude that he may have to sleep on the street to follow Jesus faithfully. What if following Jesus meant that for you? Would you write off His call to sacrifice as the voice of the Devil? Some would conclude that  Satan was the one speaking if they were merely being asked to give up a spare room to a guest, let alone their entire house.

Matthew 16:24-25: Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.’” That’s a tough cost to ponder. As John Piper reminded a group of students in regard to this passage, “The cross isn’t some annoying person sitting next to you in history class. The cross is the place where you die with nails driven through your hands and feet, while the crows eat your eyes out.” Jesus’ point is that truly following Him will feel like that spiritually at times for us all. And for some, they will literally be called to die for the faith, as He did.

Acts 5:41- “So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.” This was the response of the apostles when they were persecuted for their faithfulness to Jesus and His gospel. Most of us would think God was punishing us if He allowed us to suffer for Christ.

1 John 3:16- By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” This one is brutally plain, but true, and needs no elaboration.

What about You?

So, does your version of Christianity demand comfort, or is it real and biblical Christianity? Christians worship the crucified Christ, a suffering Savior. If you follow Him, you should expect to meet His experiences. And yet, the mystery of Christ is that He can grant a greater joy in giving, and suffering, than we experience when we avoid such things at all costs. The paradoxical thing is that when we avoid cost, inconvenience, and discomfort, we actually avoid joy, blessing, spiritual maturation, usefulness, and sanctification, which, at some levels, the Holy Spirit only uses the tool of suffering to provide.

I leave you with two quotes to pray over today:

We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed– always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”[1] The Apostle Paul

 “We can only achieve perfect liberty and enjoy fellowship with Jesus when His command, His call to absolute discipleship, is appreciated in its entirety. Only the man who follows the command of Jesus single-mindedly, and unresistingly lets His yoke rest upon him, finds His burden easy, and under its gentle pressure receives the power to persevere in the right way. The command of Jesus is hard, unutterably hard, for those who try to resist it. But for those who willingly submit, the yoke is easy, and the burden is light. ‘His commandments are not grievous’ (1 John 5:3). His commandments are not some sort of spiritual shock treatment. Jesus asks nothing of us without giving us the strength to perform it. His commandment never seeks to destroy life, but to foster it, strengthen and heal it.”[2]Dietrich Bonhoeffer


[1] 2 Corinthians 4:8-11 NKJV

[2] Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship. Page 38.

Mission_Impossible_01_highres

Your mission, should you choose to accept it…

Last night, my wife, Dianna, and I saw the latest Mission Impossible film. The Mission Impossible franchise is based on an orginazation called IMF (Impossible Missions Force) that embarks on the kind of missions that nobody else can do. Ethan Hunt and the other agents are presented with missions using the phrase “Your mission, should you choose to accept it…” If they accept that mission, then they set out to do the impossible. They set out to do what no other group can do. They are missional. They are on mission.

If you want to sound hip and cool, just tell people that your church is missional. Actually, I like the term missional. In fact, I really like it. It’s fresh sounding and provocative. It also implies that the church has a mission. But unfortunately it seems that there are numerous definitions to this term. In telling our church that we are called to be “on mission”, I must underline what we mean by mission, lest I fail to clearly communicate our mission.

For many when they hear missional, they think social, you know soup kitchens, taking care of widows, stopping sex trafficking, helping people become better stewards of their finances… This is not what I mean by mission. This isn’t to say that these things are unimportant. I would say that these are important, even commanded in Scripture. But when we make these things the mission of the church, we then define the mission ourselves.

To help us gain an understanding of biblical mission, we need to understand the word mission. “Mission” is from the Latin word missio which means “sending”. It is a sending. In other words, if we are on mission, then we are sent, and the question is who sent us? Jesus’ words in John 20:21 are a clue; we are sent by Jesus, as Jesus was sent by the Father. In other words, Jesus defines our mission. After Jesus commissions his followers, he begins to reveal to them what the mission is. The mission is the forgiveness of sins (John 20:23). We know Jesus is the one who saves. Jesus isn’t implying that we go on our own rescue mission. We join him in his rescue mission. The mission of God is to bring people into a right relationship with God. Our mission then is to serve his mission.

When we make the mission social, we strip away the distinctiveness of God’s saving work. The mission God gives the church is unique. It is our Mission Impossible. The mission has to do with declaring God’s saving work to a lost world. If the mission were social, there is nothing unique about God’s mission. The church’s mission becomes just like anyone else’s. Here’s a question. If it can be done without Christ, can it be God’s mission for the Church?

The fruit of a people in alignment with God’s heart, being changed by his grace will be love for neighbour and pursuit of moral purity. These things are not the mission, but they spring forth from missionaries (people on mission).

We are not on Christ’s mission, if our mission is soup kitchens. But, it must be said that if we are on Christ’s mission, we will care about hungry people. Why? Is God’s great plan to feed people food? No, Jesus rebuked the crowd that followed him for physical food (John 6:26). But because God’s mission of salvation is fuelled by his love for those he created in his image, so too, we should actively love people. So our social action is not the mission, but accompanies it.

For some, this may seem like semantic chicken and egg stuff, but we need to get this right. The particular mission of Jesus for the church is to preach the forgiveness of sins (Acts 13:38). No charity, no club, no philanthropist can carry forth this mission. However, if we are on Christ’s mission, we are going to love people in their deep needs (social) as well as their deepest need (spiritual). But if we lose the cutting edge of Christ’s mission, we are no different from any other charity or club. Our mission is impossible for man, but possible from God.

motivation

MOTIVATION AND MISSION

Recently I’ve been reconvicted all over again on the issue of motive in mission.  I’m not generally one of those guys who struggles to have joy in ministry.  My problem is that I don’t always do ministry from a place of having joy in enough of the right things.  I love studying the Word, preaching the Word, training up leaders, designing discipleship processes, and so on.  My joy can terminate on those things in and of themselves.  It isn’t inherently wrong to enjoy those kinds of things.  But I need to do what I do in response to more than the joy I experience over performing those functions alone.  What is the great motive from which all my activities should flow?  How about love for God and love for people!  Take it from the Bible:

 “And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This [is] the first commandment. And the second, like [it, is] this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31)

 “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have [the gift of] prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed [the poor], and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

 There it is!  Love for God and people must be the motive for everything I do.  If my motive for doing what I do isn’t love for God and people (even if my activities are amoral) they are of no credit to me in the perspective of God.  My problem is that I can enjoy building systems, preaching sermons, counseling people, and raising up leaders, while thinking and feeling next to nothing for God or people.  I simply enjoy the processes inherently.

So let’s be honest with ourselves today.  God knows the truth already, so hiding is of no value.  Why are excited to preach that message this week?  Why are you looking forward to that meeting with those leaders?  Why are you looking forward to that upcoming ministry opportunity?  Why are you buzzing with zeal on the inside over expanding the scope of your mission?  Is the foundational motive of your mission love for God and people, and the knowledge that these other things merely facilitate the expression and expansion of that love?  Or is the foundational motive of your mission and activities simply an enjoyment of the processes, roles, and opportunities themselves?

Let’s take a love test.  If the verses were expressing your motive for mission, how would Mark 12:30-31 read?  Would it be, “My motivation for the mission comes from loving the ministry my God (processes, sermon, study, counseling, opportunities, prestige) with all my heart, mind, strength, and soul.  And I don’t think much of my neighbor, but I love myself.”?  Or would it read, “My motivation for the mission comes from actually loving THE LORD MY GOD and MY NEIGHBOR as myself.”?  Think about it.  Pray about it.  Respond appropriately.

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Connecting thru Culture

“And as you go, preach, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.””

 

Last night, I took my three oldest boys to the California Center for the Arts for a performance of the 1st Marine Division Band. We arrived a little early, and at 6pm there was a performance by a local Jr. High Drum Corps…and then a High School Drum Corps. Big difference in tightness, dress and performance…

There was a half an hour break before the main performance. Jonathan (6) was nodding off, the air seemed to be turned to a comfortable 80 degrees…

Then the Marines took the stage.

What a great time and an amazing performance of a wide range of Musical arrangements. Very adept, very emotional, very powerful. And I may be partial for a couple of reasons.

1) I was, and will always be, a Marine, serving in Alpha Co.,  1st Battalion, 7th Marines of the 1st Marine Division. (Okay…I’m WAY partial)!

2) I THOROUGHLY enjoy live music, especially classical, period music, orchestras, etc.

All that being said, The boys had a great time, and the performance (particularly the Drum Corps section that was highlighted during the performance of “Shiloh March” was especially incredible) was great. But I had some passing thoughts as I sat there in the midst of the audience that I thought I would share.

Let me begin by saying this; when the Lord gives you a vision of His desire for you and how you could represent Him as His ambassador here on the earth, in the community you have been planted in, all the things you are doing will come to be filtered through that vision, for that season, because you desire to be well-pleasing to Him who gave us that vision. And as we desire to walk in those things that He has prepared beforehand, we are directed by Him (Psalm 37:23, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and He delights in his way”). The result? He will place us in the paths of those He desires to touch, to speak to, to share a seat with, to speak a kind word to, and as we do this, He is glorified. And one of the real kickers is that it’s all while I am THOROUGHLY taking pleasure in something that would seem to some as “Non-Spiritual”. And yet when Jesus sent out the disciples, He instructed them to be of this mindset; “Wherever you go, what ever you do, know, beyond the shadow of any doubt, that My kingdom is effectual and within the grasp of all those that you will come into contact with as My Ambassador.

Case in Point: After the performance, I was standing near one of the exits on the Mezzanine Level with Jonathan, while waiting for my other two boys to return from the bathroom. And who comes walking right by us? The Commanding General of the 1st Marine Division in a plain suit, no uniform. I approached him, stuck out my hand, confirmed whether he was the C.G. or not, told him that I served in 1/7 …upon which hearing, he looked me in the eyes, thanked me for my service, which thanks I returned saying “No…thank YOU sir, for your service.” and we parted.

 

This morning, I couldn’t help but lift up the man, his heart, his life, his great responsibilities as a husband, as a son, as a Commanding General…and prayed that the kingdom of God was exposed to this man last night, once again, whether he is a believer (as there are many High-ranking believers in the USMC), or whether He has heard the gospel many times and not responded…God knows. And I know that the kingdom of God was at hand last night when I shook his hand, as I chatted with the elderly woman who sat next to me and my boys, as we shook hands with a Sergeant thanking him for his service to our country, and thanked a Staff Sergeant.

I also had the passing thought as I looked across the demographics of the almost packed house that most in attendance were Baby Boomers and Builders. Nary a Millennial in sight. And I wondered…will there be a resurgence of live music performances in the future, of this particular type (not just Rock, Trip-Hop and Hardcore shows…ok, jazz sessions, too, Daniel F. :) because of the over-saturation of technology communication and entertainment today? I love the instant gratification of digital downloads or Spotify-ing any kind of artist or music at any time…but there is a whole separate world of sound and community and experience when the Marine Band comes to town, or a world renowned cellist shows up to perform select Bach cello suites…and the Kingdom of God is at hand.

How are you connecting with your community, with leaders, with citizens, with gas station attendants, or library clerks? How do you “preach” saying, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand?”

 

Senior Pastors AND Missionaries: Unique stresses Unique needs

In a few weeks I’ll be transitioning my church in Phoenix over to a younger man that in many ways is a better fit for the neighborhood where our church building sits.  My wife and I will then relocate to the San Diego area which will make it possible for me to be nearby my mom and dad as my dad’s health is failing fast.  We will also be living near our two daughters and 3 of our grandchildren, which is really the icing on the cake of Grace that God is serving us once yet again.

Ministry-wise, I’ll be rejoining Shepherd’s Staff Mission Facilitators full-time and serving as the Director of Church Relations and Missionary Care.  Although I’ve been consistently involved in pastoral-type care of missionaries and encouraging and training church leaders to care for their missionaries since my return from the mission field in 1993, having the opportunity to concentrate on doing so in a full time capacity is extremely exciting.  And needless to say, the machinery of my mind has been humming at warp speed as I think and pray about the needs and the possibilities that are ahead.

With that as a backdrop and at the risk of being misunderstood, I’d like to use the following questions and a few observations to provoke everyone, but ESPECIALLY Senior Pastors regarding ministry to missionaries:

Why do “Senior Pastors” conferences exist?

Why does the “Senior Pastor List Server” exist?

Why do a large percentage of Senior Pastors have as board members of their local church, Senior Pastors that are pastoring in other cities or even in other states?

Why, when a Senior Pastor needs wisdom and seeks out counsel regarding an aspect of leadership or a major challenge within their church, does he usually make a call to someone else who is now or has been a Senior Pastor at some time in the past?

Why does a Senior Pastor usually let loose with a little chuckle and a grin when one of his Assistant Pastors has filled in for him during the week and on a Sunday morning, and then says that he “knows what it’s like to be a Senior Pastor now”?

Obviously, the underlying answer to all of the above questions is that being a Senior Pastor is a unique calling that brings with it unique challenges and stresses that it’s hard for someone who hasn’t been a Senior Pastor to understand or relate to.  No Senior Pastor that I’m aware of is ashamed of being convinced of that in any way, nor should they be.

And even though we’re open to God using other brothers and sisters to speak into many areas of our lives, when it comes to ministry issues or family issues that are tightly connected to ministry, we know that usually only someone else who is or has been a Senior Pastor will really be able to grasp what we are dealing with and perhaps give us some good Godly counsel.

If the questions and observations that I’ve written above have any credence, (and I believe they do), then I believe what I’m about to write is worthy of at least some consideration.  Here then, are a few more questions:

Is there anything uniquely challenging or stressful about a person receiving and sharing the vision God has given them to represent Him in a different country to people of a different language and with radically different culture?

Is there anything uniquely challenging or stressful about having to trust that God will provide the money to do that through churches or brothers and sisters in Jesus that you may or may not have relationship with?

Is there anything uniquely challenging or stressful about liquidating pretty much every one of your belongings in order to fulfill the vision that God has given you?

Is there anything uniquely challenging or stressful about disconnecting yourself, your wife, and your children from anything or anyone that is familiar and then resettling them in a foreign country?

Is there anything uniquely challenging or stressful about the reality that once you begin living in this other country that if you or your family members need things like medical care or dental care, it is difficult to obtain and is probably of a different quality than what you’ve had access to in the U.S.?

And finally….

Is there anything uniquely challenging or stressful about learning to live in a completely new culture and environment and learning a new language at the same time your trying to help your family adjust AND engaging in the “ministry” that you’re convinced God called you to?

Here’s where I’m going with this:

If we can justify specialized ministry for ourselves as Senior Pastors and encourage and even make it possible for other Senior Pastors to do the same, then might it not also be possible that missionaries also deserve some type of specialized ministry and that we should encourage and make it possible for them to obtain it, especially if they are members of our church that we have commissioned and sent to the mission field?

Having been both a missionary AND a Senior Pastor at the same time overseas, and a Senior Pastor of two different churches in the U.S., I can tell you by experience that the unique challenges and stresses of being a Senior Pastor in the U.S., as real as they are, do not compare with the unique challenges and stresses of living and ministering in a cross-cultural environment outside of the U.S!

If you’re tracking with what I’m saying, (and even if you’re not), and especially if you’re a Senior Pastor, here are a few things you might consider doing:

1.  Begin viewing the missionaries you know with the same level of regard for their unique situation as you do your own unique situation as a Senior Pastor.

2.  Increase your personal inventory of understanding of what missionaries experience by doing some specific reading about the subject and pray about having your church leadership do the same.

3.  Whenever possible, set up a meeting with someone who has lived on the foreign mission field and ask them to share with you the unique challenges and stresses they faced or are facing.

4.  Encourage, and possibly even pay for your missionaries or other missionaries you know to attend missions conferences.

5.  Even more importantly, encourage or pay for a missionary to attend one of the many specialized missionary retreats that take place in various parts of our country and around the world.

I could go on and on with things to consider but I’ll leave it alone for now.

The bottom-line is that if we unashamedly recognize the unique challenges and stresses involved with being a Senior Pastor and we seize what’s available to assist and encourage ourselves, shouldn’t we seriously consider encouraging and maybe even empowering missionaries to do the same?

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PREACHING FOR DECISIONS

To Preach or Be Personable

As I survey the landscape of much of Christian ministry, it seems clear that the preferred evangelistic method of the day is to be relational, and missional.  For many, the days of preaching the gospel openly to a crowd (at church or anywhere) and calling for people to believe then and there isn’t effective or necessary.  Instead, people say what we need is to focus singularly on making long-term friendships with people who don’t know Jesus, and evangelize them through acts of service and conversation in the context of our friendship.

Let me be clear up front about the fact that I’m all for missional living!  I’m all for relational evangelism.  I’m all for organic witnessing.  But I think that our current obsession with the missional/relational approach to evangelism is only half of the portrait of biblical evangelism.  I believe that as we engage in the one-to-one relational evangelistic mission, we must not ignore or despise the place of preaching to crowds, and calling for decisions.  We need a both/and approach.

I come from a theological and philosophical background which promoted skepticism about calling people to respond to the gospel on the spot in a public way.  This is partly due to the abuses sometimes seen in the ministries of so-called evangelists.  But nut-jobs aside, I can remember hearing godly men give legitimate invitations to believe the gospel, and criticizing them.  I thought that it seemed like emotionalism, and lacking in emphasis on discipleship.

 Encountering Invitations in Acts

Today I give public invitations for people to believe the gospel and be saved every week at the church I serve.  I’m in a very different spot than I used to be on the issue of invitations.  What ultimately brought me to where I am today on this was surveying the points of appeal that are recorded in the Book of Acts.  As I set out to try and get a biblical perspective on invitations I had two questions: 1. Are on-the-spot invitations to believe biblical at all? 2. What is the primary thing offered to unbelievers for believing in Jesus in the appeals recorded in the Bible?

What I discovered in my survey of Acts were numerous points of appeal where the apostles called their hearers to respond to the gospel in faith right then and there.  Secondly, I discovered that the main benefit of believing in Jesus that the apostles offered to people publically was the forgiveness of sins.  It wasn’t a better life now or even a personal relationship with God (though of course the latter of these is not wrong).  The primary thing they promised people for believing in the gospel was forgiveness.  This makes sense considering Jesus’ declaration that the Holy Spirit is right now on a mission convicting the entire world of sin, and failure to believe in Christ. (See John 16:7-11)

A good example of this is seen in Acts 2:38 and 40: “Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins; and you shall receive the promise of the Holy Spirit…And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying ‘Be saved from this perverse generation.’”

Peter believed in calling people to make an immediate, public profession of faith in Jesus.  He believed in having them demonstrate that profession of faith with action (baptism).  He offered forgiveness to all who heeded him.  He didn’t do so casually or briefly, but with many words exhorted them to be saved!  This same kind of process permeates the testimony of the book of Acts.  On your own time consider the following passages: Acts 2:38-40; 3:19 and 26; 10:42-43; 11:14 and 21; 13:38-39;14:21; 16:3-34; 17:30-34; 18:4-8; 19:4-5; 26:17-18 and 28-29; 28:23-24.

 Objections to Decisions

For various reasons people object to any kind of public appeal to immediately believe in the gospel.  For some their reason is theological.  I’ve heard some from strict Calvinistic backgrounds object to such an appeal on the basis that it is God who makes the decision.  If you believe a person has to be born-again before they believe, there’s no cause for passionate appeals to respond to Jesus right now!  God will take care of their response in His time, so just relax.  They believe it to be miss-leading to tell people to believe.  In response I’d point out that Peter disagrees, if you consider his appeal in Acts 2 alone.  Whatever theology drove him there, he was perfectly content to make passionate, persuasive pleas for people to believe in Jesus right now for salvation, and get baptized.

Others object to appeals for decisions on the basis of emotionalism.  To be sure, some evangelists are simply able to stir emotions and get professions whether they preach the gospel or not.  But this doesn’t mean its wrong to be emotional when you preach the real gospel.  I would contend that if you believe people will spend eternity in hell without trusting in Christ, you’d better be a little passionate and emotional when you call them to faith!  If you’re not, I wonder where your hearts at, and how much you believe the gospel you preach.  I heard Pastor Pedro Garcia tell a story about a question he was asked at the end of an evangelistic service he preached.   At the closing of the service a man inquired, “Are you always this passionate when you call people to receive Christ?”  What was Pedro’s emblazoned response?  “How can we not be!”  Some of us need to ask that question.

 Objections to Common Methods

Still others are bothered by methods utilized to give people a chance to express faith in Christ publically.  We’ve all heard the “Now with every head bowed and every eye closed, if you want to receive Christ just raise your hand up, and I’ll pray for you” approach.  I used to criticize it heavily, and others like it.  Now I even use it sometimes.  Why?  The truth is that the most biblical way to call people to faith in the gospel is to call them to believe, and then call them to demonstrate that belief by getting baptized right away.

As a church meeting in a school, our baptismal is an inflatable portable hot tub originally designed for camping!  So I can’t call people to believe and get baptized at every service.  When we do baptisms we do them open invitation style, and its always beautiful to see how God uniquely blesses the call to believe and be baptized with conversions.  On the other weeks, I figure that giving people some practical way to respond is better than giving them none.  So sometimes I ask them to raise their hands as a symbol of appeal for God to save them in light of the gospel.  Sometimes we just invite them to come pray with us after the service if God’s spoken to their heart.  I find God blesses the offering of a variety of opportunities for people to publically express the faith of their hearts.  What I know is we see people come to Christ in our services when we give them practical ways to express faith way more often than we did when we weren’t offering methods like this.  It also helps us see who God’s been working in so we can follow-up with them.

The funny thing I’ve found is that most who criticize people who use methods other than baptism to immediately demonstrate new faith in Christ don’t call for immediate decisions followed by baptism either.  They don’t really call for belief at all.  When you consider the biblical record, to me, the burden of proof is on them.

How About You?

Do you ever make an appeal for an immediate response of faith to the gospel?  Why or why not?  What practical methods do you use to encourage people to demonstrate their heart’s response of faith to the gospel?  Do you think your theology or practice in this area promotes or hinders you and your church from experiencing the blessing of seeing people come to faith in Jesus the moment they hear the gospel?  Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!