Right Direction

On Course as an Acts Church

Last week in our elder’s meeting one of our pastors posed the question, “Do you think all the churches in our area are dealing with the same kinds of opposition and crazy issues we are?” He was referencing the intense nature of both the blessings and buffetings our church and pastoral team seem to be receiving these days. We know that the spiritual war is always real, but there truly are seasons in which it feels more tangible and fierce. In some ways we feel like we are in that kind of season right now.

But as we thought about my friend’s question we believe the Holy Spirit reminded us that whether or not our experience as a church parallels the experience of other Christ-professing churches in the area isn’t what’s important to discern. The important thing to discern is whether or not our experience as a church parallels the experiences of the church in the book of Acts. The important thing to discern is whether or not the ministry dynamics displayed in Christ’s life in the gospels continues on in the body life of our local church. Only when those things are true can we be sure that we’re pursuing what God actually has for us as believers.

I believe we can discern a three-fold pattern  that unfolds when Jesus is at work in our midst by looking at the gospels and Acts. You could call these “The Three O’s of the Acts Church” if you’re a cool seeker pastor, but I’m not, so I won’t. :)

But here’s what I want to see in our church because I see it in the life of Christ in the gospels and continuing in the life of the early church in Acts:

1. Outpouring of the Holy Spirit

The first part of the process is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Jesus heals, saves, and transforms somebody physically or spiritually by His grace and power. This often occurs both in the gospels through Christ directly, and in Acts through Christ indirectly through the agents of His people. People get set free from the power or sin, satan, demons, death and hell.

2. Opposition from the Enemy

The second part of the process is reactionary to the first. In it, the spiritual enemies of God and His people bring opposition to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. One example of this is depicted in Acts 3 and 4. In Acts 3 Peter and John experience an outpouring of the Spirit as God heals a lame man through them and gives Peter a subsequent opportunity to preach the gospel in light of the miracle. And while some worshiped God in light of the miracle and the gospel, the sadducees and religious people didn’t. They threw them in jail, persecuted them, and put them on trial (4:1-22).

3. Opportunity for Redemption

And yet, God didn’t let that bring discouragement to His people or thwart the work of the gospel. Instead, He used the opposition they faced due to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and seized it as an opportunity for redemption. He used the testimony of the apostles and God’s work of salvation, preservation, and healing accomplished through and in spite of the opposition to produce worship, unity, compassion, and boldness amongst His people (4:23-37).

So these are the three things we’re looking for at Refuge to make sure the life of Jesus and ministry of the early church is continuing in our midst. Are we experiencing the outpouring of the Holy Spirit? Is that outpouring being met with opposition from the enemy? Is that opposition being hijacked by God and transformed into an opportunity for redemption? If so, we’re content we’re on the right track no matter what’s going on in the midst of other Christ-professing churches around us.

Sound Off

What would you add or take away from the things noted above that demonstrate the work, power, and presence of Jesus in a local church?

 

 

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Contentment

The droplet said: “I am not happy with what I am. I wish I was a puddle.”  So the droplet tried real hard to make himself more than he was, spread himself too thin, and evaporated.

The puddle said: “I am not happy with what I am. I wish I was a pool.”  So the puddle lifted itself from the confines of its boundaries and went here and there and drained away.

The pool said: “I am not happy with what I am. I wish I was a lake.”  So the pool spread itself wide and became so shallow that no one came to swim anymore.

The lake said: “I am not happy with what I am. I wish I was a river.”  So the lake stirred up its waters to go this way and that.  Its motion became commotion and many were afraid to go to the lake anymore.

The river said: “I am not happy with what I am. I wish I was an ocean.”  So the river stopped its mighty flow and the waters of the river widened and destroyed many lives.

Tim said: “I am not happy with who I am.”

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A Wineskin in the Smoke

Though I have become like a wineskin in the smoke, I do not forget your statutes”, Psalm 119:83

I have been preaching through Psalm 119 over recent weeks.  I love the Psalms and the refreshment they bring to my soul.  I don’t think I could preach straight through them as a whole, but I love covering them in random order in between breaks of other books.  A couple of weeks ago the above verse gripped me with its imagery.

A wineskin in smoke would become brittle and unusable for in practical purposes.  This is how the psalmist describes  his condition.  I love being a preaching pastor.  It is what I have been called to do.  I cannot imagine not preaching the Word of God on a week-by-week basis.  With this being said, I have to admit preaching every week and leading a church can be draining as it demands much from the individual.

I’m not in this for the short-term.  As I have studied other pastors that are many years ahead of me, I have discovered that it takes a lot of P.M.S. (I couldn’t resist but to through a Navy term in here…”Preventative Maintenance Service” for you you non-sailors out there) to insure that we do not dry out spiritually and loose our passion for the ministry.

What can we do to keep our freshness and passion for serving in this capacity?

Take time off each day.

I read a book somewhere where the pastor understood each day to have only three parts–morning, afternoon, and evening.  He attempted to only work two of the three parts each day.  I don’t always succeed at this, but the thought has been very helpful to me in governing my days.

Take a Day off.

Once a week…if you can.  Well, you can see that this is a tough one for me.  It is just so hard to disengage.  I know it is good for me, for my family, and for the church.  I shoot for Thursdays, but I don’t always make the mark.  In my short coming in this area, my family and I adopted a new strategy about three years ago.  My grandfather-in-law lives outside of San Luis Obisbo on a 40-acre ranch.  We head up there once a month for a two-day (Sunday evening through Tuesday) getaway.  I love this time and has been very fruitful for my family.

Vacation.

Take an extended period of time of each year.  I am learning to open up this time more and more.  I think taking 3-4 Sundays off is ideal.  This year we had a baby and didn’t go anywhere so I don’t feel like I relaxed as much as I could have, but I did manage to read about 3 books that had nothing to do with the ministry which was very rewarding!  That being said, I am already looking forward to a vacation next year.

Read Biographies and non-studying type books.

I was recently reminded of the importance of reading books outside of our field of study.  We should be reading a ton in preparation for our preaching.  I believe in digging deep.  There is no way to short cut study time for good preaching.  That being said, reading on top of that can be difficult, but it is good for us to read “non-study” books and biographies.  It is okay, and beneficial, to read books for fun.  They will have a greater impact on you that you realize.

Exercise.

Pastors and exercise shouldn’t be an oxymoron.  Getting your blood-flowing won’t kill you, go on…give it a shot!  Some of my best sermon prep happens on runs, in the gym, or during a soccer match!  I refer you to my previous blog Spiritually Fit, Spiritually Flabby if you want to know more of my thoughts on this subject.

Pick up a hobby.

I’m not much of a “hobby guy.”  But in many respects I think my wife and kids are sort of a hobby for me during this time of my life.  I love spending time in the pool, going to the zoo, watching ballet, practicing Spanish, going for walks, or simply hanging out.  Probably the closest thing I have to a hobby is being a chaplain to law enforcement…yes, ministry you’d say, but the reality is that it is fun for me and helps me do things like shoot and blow up stuff which is hobbyish!  This being said, I do think having something fun that is not ministry related is great for your soul over the long-haul.

How do you stay fresh?

 

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Where The Rubber Meets The Road

Some days I just need a reality check! A million things happen in life (and in the work of the Lord) and sometimes I find my heart sitting a bit off kilter. Oftentimes a Sunday afternoon can be that for me. Having just preached two services and prayed/encouraged/spoke to people before, in-between and after the services, eight hours later, sometimes on a Sunday afternoon I can feel like I am dragging my head and heart around. Many folks who devote their Sundays to serving can feel this way. On top of that, there is the inevitable (for some of us) Sunday afternoon feelings of uselessness, fear, apprehension and “what did I just say?” moments.

Last Sunday was one of those days for me. But God…

I received an email from someone in the fellowship. They were in the hospital with their newborn daughter (who was born 5 weeks early by emergency C-section). But they weren’t emailing for themselves. Instead they were emailing for their closest friends, who were actually in the next room. This couple and I had prayed for their friends almost 7 months ago. Right away, this couple’s pregnancy was at risk as the baby had a chromosomal abnormality. The child was not growing at the normal rate and pregnancy went to full term. I was emailed to see if I can come and visit the couple. They were in the hospital and the doctors had given the couple a 99% chance that the baby would be stillborn.

When I got to the hospital, I met the brother who emailed me. We spoke for a bit about his wife and new daughter who was in the Neo-natal intensive care. He shared the entire story about his daughter and wife. And about their friends who we were about to see. He was without sleep and had yet to hold his daughter. His wife was recovering from surgery and there were concerns about his own family. Yet his wanted to serve and bless his friends.

I entered the hospital room and began to talk with this couple. They shared about their journey and what was ahead of them. The reality of the possibility of giving birth to a stillborn child. The unknown. The fears. Yet, in all of the discussion, the tears and sadness, there was that precious hope in the God who can do anything. As we spoke about the reality of Jesus, the reality that God knew all of this and was there for them, the strength that is available by the Spirit, I thought to myself, “This is where the rubber meets the road.” This couple was heart-broken and scared yet so rooted in the unwavering love of God. We prayed. We cried. We laughed. We spoke of life, death, heaven, eternity and homesickness. We read Psalms and spoke of Jesus preparing mansions. We spoke of anger, faith and loss. Yet in all of it, there was a simple faith and an awareness of God’s grace at work in all of this.

I think that sometimes, in all of the rumblings and ruminations of a million voices, controversies, ideas and internet arguments, it is so easy to lose focus on the simplicity and awesomeness of the reality of God in Jesus. I was blessed with a return look at why I wanted to follow Jesus in the first place. Simply because He is and He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. Not a reward of getting everything we want, but the reward of Himself in whatever transpires. That is where the rubber meets the road. This is what was sustaining a young couple in the face of the most horrific of circumstances. This is where I want to spend much more time than I do. In that simple place of the reality of God. A place where there is no arguments, no bickering, no frustration, no question marks. It is the place where there is only grace, love and peace. Resting in the arms of God in the midst of a beautiful mess.

To close out the story, little Jonathan was born at 6 am on Monday morning and his parents got to take him home today. A total miracle. Although there are many complications and the prognosis is still dire (the doctors said some children can fight death of a few weeks), this precious family has been able to spend time with their son until he is goes home to be with the Lord. The couple who first contacted me’s daughter (Mackenzie) is completely off of all her tubes and Lord willing will be heading home in the next day or so. The testimony of these two families has touched the hearts of the hospital staff in profound ways. We are hoping and praying (if the Lord wills) to do a joint baby dedication at church on Sunday! Where the rubber meets the road, God is God. He finished the work on Calvary’s cross and will be faithful to complete the work He began in us.

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You See Your Calling, Brethren

Anyone called into ministry has a story to tell of that calling. The Lord makes it personal, and confirms it with His Word. Such was the case with me.

I had a dream five days after I was filled with the Holy Spirit. I was 20 years old at the time. The dream is as vivid to me today as the night it came. In the dream there was a clear call to “go.” In the dream was a clear vision of God’s throne. In the dream was a clear response on my part. I said to the Lord, “Here I am. Send me.”

The amazing thing is that I didn’t know the Bible at all then. I’d not yet read Isaiah 6. Only as I grew in the Word did I discover that the Lord, in His Word, was interpreting the dream for me.

There are five important principles that I have taken from this dream (for the last 39 years). I have gone back to them again and again. They have been a lifeline for me … keeping me in God’s service. All of them are taken from that great chapter in Isaiah, chapter 6 — a chapter familiar to all of us.

1. Isaiah 6:1-4 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. {2} Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. {3} And one cried to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!” {4} And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke.

One, my personal focus must be to see the Lord. Calling comes from vision. It’s not about vision concerning what to do in ministry, but rather vision of the One who calls one into ministry.

I need to see Him, as Isaiah saw Him. I need to spend time with Him, personally and regularly. I want to see God, and know Him. I am allowed into the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, through the new and living way.

It’s no surprise to me that this part of my walk with the Lord is the most attacked and resisted.

 2. Isaiah 6:5-7 So I said: “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.” {6} Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. {7} And he touched my mouth with it, and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your iniquity is taken away, and your sin purged.” 

Two, the heart of ministry flows out of the cross. From the cross I find forgiveness of my sins. So I say, “Woe is me, I am undone.” This means confession … ongoing confession, daily confession, consistent confession. Rather than being a morose spiritual discipline filled with dread and drudgery, confession is one of the most liberating experiences available for the Christian. Confession of sin is walking in the light — it’s the experience of grace conquering my inner darkness. It’s the blood of Jesus applied. It’s the creation of a humble and willing heart.

Romans 3:21-31 have been huge for me. These verses helped me have a much better understanding of the meaning of Christ’s death for me.

3. Isaiah 6:8 Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.”

Three, I must remember that He has called me. He is the one that said, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” I didn’t call myself; my calling was an invitation from the Lord.

Like Paul, I say “I thank Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry.” Had He not deemed or considered me faithful, I’d not be in the ministry. It’s all of grace.

Yet I must solidly accept this call, and act on the basis of it. Each situation into which He places me is an opportunity to behave like a called man. By faith I walk and obey. I do not see any reason for His calling, in and of myself.

1 Corinthians 1:1a  Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God…

1 Corinthians 1:26-29 For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. {27} But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; {28} and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, {29} that no flesh should glory in His presence.

4. Isaiah 6:9-10 And He said, “Go, and tell this people: ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ {10} Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and return and be healed.”

Four, the message I preach and teach is to be preached and taught in spite of the response to it. Isaiah preached to closed hearts, to people with blind eyes. My task is to be faithful to the text of scripture, to proclaim it accurately and well. If there is a great response, wonderful. If there is no or little response, I am to preach and teach it anyway. I have a stewardship (1 Corinthians 9:17), and a steward must first of all be faithful (1 Corinthians 4:2).

In my 35 years of pastoral ministry, I have been called in a number of difficult places with sometimes obstinate people. Yet the Lord has not called me to produce results, but only to tell them what He’s told me.

Matthew 10:27 “Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops.”

1 Corinthians 11:23a For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you…

 5. Isaiah 6:11-12 Then I said, “Lord, how long?” And He answered: “Until the cities are laid waste and without inhabitant, the houses are without a man, the land is utterly desolate, {12} The LORD has removed men far away, and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land.”

Five, when I am asked by the Lord to do this ministry in situations where there are no discernable results, perhaps no significant positive responses … I am to do it for as long as He wants me to. For Isaiah, his prophetic ministry would continue until all was lost. He’d asked the Lord how long he’d be doing that type of ministry to those kinds of people. The Lord’s response did not deter him. He continued on, faithfully. Most certainly, we are glad for that now. Had he not continued, we would not have the 66 chapters of his great prophecy.

Early in the ministry in Monterey, I was really struggling with the relative snail’s pace type of growth we were seeing. I was bummed that it wasn’t like Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, or Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa. It wasn’t Southern California, period.

But then it dawned on me from 1 Corinthians 12 that the Lord decides who gets which gifts, He decides the ministries in which those gifts are to operate, and He decides the impact (literally, energizings) they are to have. He is sovereign in all of it. In other words, I was called to be obedient and faithful. If God didn’t make me a Greg Laurie or Chuck Smith, what was that to me? I was to follow Him (John 21:22). I can’t tell you how liberating that was for me to hear from the Spirit!

So there are the principles I’ve been operating by. Hope they help.

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Ministry in the Minus Column

I was curious about the origin of the word minister and so I went online to dictionary.com and found the following etymology.

Origin: 1250-1300; (noun) derived from the Latin minister, servant, equivalent to minis – (variant of minus, a lesser amount…)

Did you catch that?  MINUS – a lesser amount.  I guess minister could be spelled minuster in order to retain its unique flavor.  A minister is someone who is less than another – like a servant!  He is someone who lives and labors not for himself but for those above him, those to whom he is responsible.

Paul says that we should all minuster to one another.  He exhorts the Philippians –

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus…  Philippians 2:3-5

The passage then goes on to describe how Jesus put Himself in the minus column for you and me by humbling Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant made in the likeness of men.  He considered our needs above His own and put Himself below us in order to raise us.

Being in the minus column also implies being in the red – operating from lack.  This is an essential aspect of being a minuster.  Paul captures this in the following passage –

We are not adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.  2 Cor. 3:5-5

Ministry in the minus column has some wonderful benefits.  If I’m in the minus column, I’m in the red – I operate out of lack.  What comes forth from me, in reality comes forth through me as I am His vessel, His servant.  I am not a cistern, I am a fountain fed by springs of living water.  I have this treasure in an earthen vessel and the surpassing greatness of the power is from God and not from me.  When I put myself in the minus column, them I am in the plus column.

John the Baptist

Why Preach? (Part 2)

In my last post, we began looking at preaching. We considered the 1. Purpose of Preaching and the 2. Command to Preach. In this post I want to add three more aspects of preaching: 3. Preaching under Fire, 4. God’s Word has Power and Authority, and 5. Stewardship of Preaching.

3. Preaching Under Fire

In part 1 we looked at the fact that preaching is a command in Scripture. This doesn’t mean that preaching is always received. Preaching has always been under fire. Some of Paul’s final words to Timothy were “preach the word when it’s popular and unpopular”( 2 Timothy 4:1-2, My translation). The apostles experienced this attack when they were commanded not to preach in Jesus’ name. To which Peter and John said they cannot stop preaching (Acts 4:18-20). This then drove the disciples to prayer for boldness to preach and not succumb to outside pressure to desist (Acts 4:29). The pressure to stop preaching continued, but they were resolute in their obedience to God’s command. The religious leaders arrested and beat the Apostles being strictly commanded not to preach in Jesus’ authority, to which they said they must obey God’s command to preach his word and not man’s command to cease from preaching (Acts 5:27-29).

I would argue that the devil wants the word of God to cease being preached; therefore, he will use any means to hinder its going forth. At the outset of Acts 6 as the church began to grow, so did the needs of the young flourishing church. These needs were legitimate financial needs of poor widows in the church. But according to Acts 6:2, the Apostles recognized that “it is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.” They did not let this great need eclipse their call to preach God’s word. Rather than their preaching of the word being diminished, they quickly mobilized the church to establish ‘deacons’. Acts 6:7 records the result, “the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly.” You can see why the devil would want to stop the preaching of the word. God’s word preached transforms lives.

4. God’s Word Has Power and Authority

Why is preaching God’s word ordained by God? Why is preaching God’s word commanded? Why is preaching God’s word attacked? God’s word is the source of our power and our authority.

4.1. Power

Before the church preached it’s first sermon, Jesus commanded the church to wait for power to be witnesses (Acts 1:8). This is power to show and proclaim God’s truth. There was power in the word preached that Pentecost Sunday as 3,000 fell under conviction of sin being pierced to the heart. The word preached is the power of God. This is why Paul is so eager to preach to the Romans (Romans 1:15-16). Paul also points to this preached word powerfully changing the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 1:18). Our longing to see lives changed and transformed is good, but to divorce this longing from the power that accomplishes it is folly. Regardless of our desire to see lives changed, the power is in God’s word not our own.

4.2. Authority

Our preaching must be filled with God’s word because it is authoritative. In Acts 5, the Jewish council attempted to exercise authority over the Apostles when they commanded them not to preach. Yet the Apostles recognized a higher authority and were unmoved by the Jewish council (Acts 5:28-29). God was their authority. Religiously, Jerusalem was under the authority of the council opposing them, but they freely preached in good conscience against this pseudo-authority because they were preaching God’s unchained word (2 Timothy 2:9). Jesus holds all authority in heaven and earth, and he commands his church to preach in that authority everywhere (Matthew 28:18-20). Even Jesus in his earthly ministry when preaching God’s word claimed its authority saying in John 8:28, “I do nothing of my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.” We do not get to plot our own course exercising our own authority. All of our authority is derived from God’s commission to steward his word. Preaching this word, we preach with God’s authority.

5. Stewardship of Preaching

When we preach God’s word, we are recognizing its power and authority. Isaiah 66:2 reminds us that we should tremble before such a powerful and authoritative word with humility. We should count it as no small thing, but as an immeasurable privilege. Jesus who was the word of God incarnate (John 1:14), commissions us with stewardship of this great word of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18). We preach the word with power and authority, giving understanding of God’s good gospel unto salvation and sanctification. We honor God living in obedience to the high imperative to preach the word. We preach it in times when it is attacked, when popular and unpopular. We preach the word of God because it is God’s power and authority. Listen to Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 2:4, “Just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.”

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Dealing with Discouragement

Everyone understands discouragement. Discouragement is simply a feeling of having lost confidence or hope. Sure the Bible says that all things are working together for good (Romans 8:28) and that nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:35). Yet, it is so common to feel otherwise. Discouragement is very real in the pastoral ministry. Sometimes I feel like I have a PHD in discouragement. I have, at times, been profoundly discouraged as well as, at other times, have had over-riding generalized discouragement. I write this article, not because I have conquered discouragement. But since this is a ‘ministry blog’ I figured that it will most likely scratch many of you where you itch. Maybe not itching there today (hopefully), but maybe will be a blessing at some point. Discouragement is very real and can bite us all from time to time. Plus I got it packaged in 5 A’s 😉

As a communicator, I realize that putting it in a specific experience will help explain the concepts. So I will use a very specific discouraging season in my life to show the process. For me, this was the first 18 months of planting Calvary North Bay in Mill Valley, CA. It was a challenging season as I was trying to get a church off the ground in the Bay Area, work a job, as well as a few other situations that caused much discouragement.

Acknowledgement

For all us, sometimes it is simply hard to acknowledge the reality of our own hearts. I have found that my discouragement tends to linger when I am unwilling to call it what it is. So much in life hinges on acknowledgement. So we can only begin to deal with discouragement by acknowledging that it is there and that God wants to tend to it.

In that season of my life, it took me awhile to acknowledge that I was simply discouraged. My wife knew it. But I was too proud and unwilling to admit that I was discouraged. When I finally was able to say, “Man! I am discouraged!” God was given room to move in my heart.

Assessment

Once we can acknowledge that we are discouraged then we have to assess its causes. What is the root cause of my discouragement? Is it a holy or an unholy discouragement? An unholy discouragement is one that is rooted in my own heart issues. I am discouraged because God wants to change my heart. A holy discouragement is one that God wants us to change our circumstances.

In that season, there was a mix of unholy and holy discouragement. On the holy side of things, there were specific heart issues that were being revealed. I was struggling to persevere in ministry and in simply trusting God with the church. I was also being unteachable and prideful. On the unholy side, I realized that I had decided to put myself in some very stress-filled situations. It didn’t have to be but I chose to be there. One side of this was the blog sites that I was on. There was a lot of fighting, bickering and everything was generally negative. Another side was that I was trying to change some things that were completely out of my control.

Action

Once we have assessed the root causes of our discouragement, then we need to make an action plan. What is God asking of us? Are there decisions that we have to make? If my discouragement is an unholy one, I often have to spend time in prayer and repentance. When it is a holy discouragement, I have to make tangible decisions to change my circumstances.

For me, I spent much time talking to my wife about what I seeing and feeling. She was incredibly encouraging and convicting in her assessments. I apologized for much and sought the Lord with much passion. I also had to discipline myself to stay away from discouraging situations online. I pulled myself off of blogs that were driven by arguments or by people always thinking the worst of each other. I also decided to stop trying to change things that are not my responsibility or calling. I needed to focus on what God had put in front of me.

Analysis

This is all about making sure that I don’t have to re-learn a lesson by not following through on the things that I have learned. This is the thoroughness of keep checking back and ensuring that I wasn’t allowing myself to slip back into the same types of discouragements. In many ways, this is about valuing God’s lessons enough to really want to see them implemented.

I have to keep going back and making sure that I am still living out what I have learned. I have to remind myself that I get to chose what I involve myself in online. I have made a commitment to myself not to engage in endless debates on the internet (especially with people that I do not know). It is one thing to work out issues with friends or people who God has called me to walk through life with in the local body, it is another thing to have endless run arounds with people who you have never met and most likely never will. God has called me to love all people but that doesn’t mean that I need to be involved in every debate with every person sitting in front of a computer. There is to much important ministry to do to get sidetracked. I also need to make sure that I am always doing exactly what God has called me to. In ministry, there are infinite needs and infinite good things to do. But what has God called me to? And simply keeping to that.

Appreciation

Finally, as in all of life, it is all about seeing God’s grace at work. In my discouragement, God’s grace is at work. When the issue is in my heart, God wants to apply his grace afresh to my failings. When my chosen circumstances cause me to be discouraged, God’s grace is at work there as well (even if I am realizing that I am not supposed to be there). So in all of these situations, there is no judgment, there is only grace. And God’s grace is to be appreciated!

Large Service

Jesus, Big Church, & Small Church

The Training of the Twelve as Local Church Model?

This morning I listened to an interesting discussion between some pastors and missiologists on whether or not we should emphasize large gatherings or smaller gatherings in seeking to do the best job at discipleship. The conversation intrigued me because I’ve been thinking a lot about how to do a good job with discipleship in the context of the church I lead.

One of the center-pieces of the conversation was the idea that Jesus’ relationship to the twelve disciples as portrayed in the gospels should serve as our template for how we function as the local church. I’ve heard this kind of thinking from people who contend that the local church should operate according to a house church model. The house church model often includes:

  • Little to no emphasis on large gatherings (15 or more)
  • Dialogue learning (discussion) versus monologue (preaching)
  • Informality versus formality
  • Group prayer/spiritual gift manifestation versus worship led by an individual

Support for modeling the local church in such a way is often claimed by pointing to how Jesus related to the twelve. People will note that “Jesus spent most of His time with twelve people.” This is true. He spent lots of time eating with, instructing, and training twelve disciples. And thus, as they say, we shouldn’t have local churches made up of hundreds or thousands, but of tens.

 

 The Real Focus of Jesus’ Small Group: Leadership Training

But can we really look to Jesus’ relationship to the twelve as depicted in the gospels as a template for the local church? Did Jesus really intend for us to do so? I would contend that this is not the case. First of all, the truth is that while the gospels spend much time describing Jesus’ interactions with the twelve, they do not exclusively do so. They also portray Jesus teaching and sending the seventy as well as often speaking to what the Bible calls the multitudes. Jesus is seen in some cases preaching to thousands of people at one time.

 As opposed to serving as a template for how the local church should be organized, I would contend that Jesus’ relationship to the twelve is more of a template for how we should do leadership training for the local church. The men Jesus spent so much time with ultimately became the first pastors and church-planters for the local church. He spent time instructing them formally and allowing them to participate in the ministry He was doing. He would send them out to do ministry and bring them back to the huddle and explain where they needed to grow. And at the end of His physical stay on earth He sent them out in the power of the Spirit to establish and lead local churches.

And yet, the local churches these men led were in many cases anything but small groups or what many have in mind today when they talk about house churches. The church in Jerusalem was thousands strong, and they had no problem with that. The church in Antioch was also a huge church and they saw no problem with that. The early church met both “publically and house to house.” (Acts 2:46; Acts 20:20) It wasn’t just house to house, but publically that they met. They met in the large gathering areas of the temple. (Acts 2:46) What’s more is that archaeological excavation projects have revealed that many of the so-called house churches described in Acts met in huge courtyard and banquet halls of wealthy homes that could seat hundreds of people.

Besides the large numbers of Christians coming together in large gatherings, Acts also shows us the continuation of Jesus’ practice of training leaders of God’s people in smaller apprentice-styled ministry groups. Acts 20 reveals Paul traveling with a group of ministry trainees (verses 2-4) and also gives us a glimpse into how he related to a group of pastors he’d trained according to the pattern of Jesus’ training of the twelve as seen in the gospels (verses 17-38).

We get another clue as to where the apostles stood on having large gatherings by taking a look at the New Testament epistles. It is worth noting that in most cases the epistles are addressed to entire churches, and were intended to be read and taught in the presence of all believers living in the city to which the letter came. In Ephesians 6:1-3 the exhortations addressed directly to children show that even the kids were assumed to be present for the reading and teaching of the New Testament letters when they were originally written and delivered. Also, nowhere do the Pastoral Epistles (1 & 2 Timothy and Titus) exhort pastors to keep the numbers of local churches down to small group sizes for the purpose of discipleship, but rather imply the multiplication of leadership, numbers of believers, and the open preaching of the Word to all under their charge. What’s more, the exhortations to the seven churches of Revelation (Rev. 2-3) are addressed to entire churches.

Conclusion

So what’s the point? Am I against house churches, small groups, community groups, and so on? Absolutely not! They are invaluable. There is a type of discipleship and community that can only be nurtured in a smaller context that happens in smaller groups. The pastors of the church I lead are right now praying with our church about starting ten more house church style fellowships in addition to those we already have going before the end of 2012.

But small gatherings are only one aspect of how we should seek to facilitate discipleship. They are not the template for us to follow in establishing principles for local church size, dynamics, and overall structure. I don’t believe that Jesus’ training of the twelve serves as a template for how we should do church, but how we should train leaders for the broader church. Look to Acts and the epistles for a template for doing church. Look to the gospels as a template for leadership training

 

dictator

Leadership by Dictat

Please allow me to introduce what I want to say about a certain leadership style by way of analogy.  I tell pre-marital couples, during the lesson on sexual intimacy, that basically anything goes in their sexual relationship except that which violates the other’s conscience or sense of propriety.  If he wants her to do something that she doesn’t want to do (or vice-versa), she will begin to avoid the marriage bed.  She will go to bed before him, after him, have a perpetual headache – or whatever.  She will avoid intimate moments because he is violating her sense of what is right and appropriate.  Because he insists on his way he damages and wounds the spirit of his wife and weakens the marriage bond.

Transfer this same mentality to leader who, by his actions, damages the sensibilities of his staff.  When this happens with regularity, the glue that holds an assistant pastor to the senior pastor is weakened.  Even as a husband should make decisions in light of his wife, a pastor should make decisions taking into consideration their impact upon those in ministry with him.  Will this decision affect their conscience or sense of ministry propriety?  I have heard so many stories of arbitrary pastoral leadership and I know that this is more than just an occasional gripe from a disaffected staff member.

As pastors, we so often shoot ourselves in the foot.

  • When loyalty is demanded and consideration is not given, a falling out is inevitable somewhere along the line.
  • When unquestioning obedience is expected and unprincipled leadership is offered, division is sure to come.
  • When those affected by the decisions of leadership cannot appeal to that leadership for clarity and understanding, a kingdom model of leadership is not being followed.  (This is what caused the Revolutionary War!)

This has really made me revisit my leadership style and how I think through the impact that my decisions and direction has on others.  It’s been a profitable meditation.  In James 3, the wisdom from above is easily entreated.  Have you ever known staff members/staff pastors who are afraid to question a decision the senior pastor has made?   The Jesus style of leadership is not time efficient.  But since much of the church operates according to the corporate model or the military model, pastoral leaders are often full bore ahead with the expectation that the staff will adoringly and obediently follow.  Sometimes, as leaders, we need to be forceful.  I don’t mind pushing someone, but I’m not into pulling them apart.

All too often Calvary Chapel pastors look at staff as functionaries and not as partners.  I want my staff and elders to have the sense that they are working with me and not for me.  I think I have largely achieved that without sacrificing any pastoral authority.  In fact, I believe this model enhances pastoral authority.  My staff and elders are following and walking with me at the same time.  For me, church leadership is like a marriage.  I am the head of my home – and my wife follows me and walks with me (and occasionally reins me in).

PS – I will be out of the office when this publishes and don’t know if Wi-Fi is available where I’ll be going.  I may not be able to interact with any comments that are made until I return.