Monday, June 12, 2017
Monday, June 13, 2016
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
I need to take a long break from blogging. I have been blogging almost non-stop from early 2010 having put up over 250 postings. From 2002 or so through 2007 I ran a clergy listserv informally known as KNS or the Kittanning News Service that kept Pittsburgh clergy informed about the growing apostasy affecting the Episcopal Church. Toward the end of its time it was designed to aid in the re-alignment of the Diocese of Pittsburgh. I think it was largely successful. So that's about 10 or so years of being a news maven and it's time to take a long break.
by Ed Stetzer
In order for the church to recover its missional passion, we must reclaim our lost sense of the awesome, overarching glory of God's mission. Most Christians do not deny the orthodox doctrines of Scripture. We grasp the fact that God has revealed himself to us as Lord and King. But to borrow the words of author David Wells, the modern church has been "caged" by a diminishing of who God really is.
We have turned to a God we can use rather than a God we must obey; we have turned to a God who will fulfill our need rather than a God before whom we must surrender our rights to ourselves. He is a God for us, for our satisfaction-- not because we have learned to think of him in this way through Christ but because we have learned to think of him this way through the marketplace. Everything is for us, for our pleasure, for our satisfaction, and we have come to assume that it must be so in the church as well.
We have shrunk God down to our size. We have limited the scope of his mission in our minds. We have unwittingly bought into the idea that progress is more important than redemption.
And this is chiefly why our zeal for evangelism and the gospel has been undermined-- not because we don't care, not because we don't know what to do. We have simply replaced God's purpose for the world with our own purpose for the world. Even when we serve and help and give and share, we too often do it from a sense of obligation or a desire to impress. We have become a church steered by many different motivations but all too rarely by a singular desire to glorify God. Wells is right: "We will not be able to recover the vision and understanding of God's grandeur until we recover an understanding of ourselves as creatures who have been made to know such grandeur."
The message that emanates from the life and work of the apostle Paul, who was without argument the most productive missionary in the history of the church, is that we cannot hope to be either faithful or effective in kingdom service while being overly concerned about our own needs.
On two occasions he called himself an "ambassador." That's a pretty important job. Where I grew up in New York, those were the people who didn't have to pay parking tickets. They mattered. And Paul said, "We are ambassadors for Christ" (2 Cor. 5:20). Yet the only other time we read him referring to himself by that title, he said he was an "ambassador in chains" (Eph. 6:20). Yes, he was an ambassador-- just as we are-- yet that ambassadorial role, representing King Jesus, did not mean Paul was without hardship.
No one survives the harsh, abusive treatment he endured without living for something bigger than himself. We might assume, then, Paul was simply that devoted to the people he was called to serve. His compassion for them, his selfless interest in them, his desire that they experience the fruit of the gospel-- all of these must have come together to make him an unstoppable force.
Well, yes, Paul was devoted to the churches and the people who comprised them. He possessed an uncommon zeal to see others convinced of gospel truth and redeemed through God's eternal mercy and grace. But it wasn't concern for his neighbors that ultimately motivated Paul to such extremes of spiritual exertion and sacrifice. It was Jesus' love that "compelled" him (2 Cor. 5:14). "To live is Christ," he said (Phil. 1:21).
And we, too-- if we wish to be faithful to our calling-- must live supremely for the glory of God and what he is doing through his Son in our world.
If we are not on this mission, then we must ask ourselves what we're doing here. Are we just working to make the church a more acceptable place to our friends and neighbors? Are we looking for a nice place to socialize on Wednesday nights? Are we turning spiritual cranks and pulleys because we think the church is
supposed to do those things, because we feel better about ourselves when we do them?
The only thing that really matters is this: our God has a mission. That's why he sent Jesus here on subversive terms. And that's why he established the church-- churches like yours and churches like mine-- to join him on mission to reestablish his glory over all creation.
This is why God has given his church the "keys of the kingdom of heaven," so that "whatever you bind on earth is already bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth is already loosed in heaven" (Matt. 16:19). To people in the world who live chained to the notion that their desired ambitions can be achieved on earth, the church possesses their liberating answer. They are no longer forced to exist in the bondage of living from experience to experience. For some this "bondage" takes the form of workout gyms, corner offices, organic food stores, and all the apparent trappings of success. But for others it means gambling losses, broken relationships, wasted opportunities, prescription drug abuse. For many it's a roller-coaster mix between the two, a frantic navigation of highs and lows. And for all it's a life that leads away from ultimate purpose and permanence.
Through the gospel those individuals who are "bound" in spiritual darkness can be "loosed" from what has held them captive-- redeemed from their slavery. God's plan for overthrowing the devil's dominion, freeing its hostages, and advancing Christ's kingdom is for the church to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ in both word and deed. That's how he pursues his plan of bringing all creation under his authority and deriving glory for himself in the process.
May this be the purpose behind all our subversion.
When we grasp the enormity of this calling and our role within it, we will begin trusting the Spirit to empower us to engage the lost, serve the hurting, and live "sent lives" as Christian believers united in kingdom purpose. We will live out the difference that Jesus makes in our hearts not because people expect it but because it shows what our God can accomplish. We will talk with others about the power of the gospel not just because they're lost but because our Lord and King is glorified in finding them.
Begin your plan of action there, and get ready to see what happens around you when God starts making progress.
by Thom S. Rainer
The literature on leadership can be discouraging. After reading multiple case studies, theories, and biographies, one can be left with the impression that good leadership is next to impossible. It is limited to those who have the attributes of Superman without the aversion to kryptonite.
I recently compiled a list of good leaders (a few I would characterize as great leaders) who, by most definitions, are common, ordinary people. They were at the middle of their classes in grades. They really did not and do not have charismatic personalities. They had no family or demographic advantages. And none of them, to my knowledge, were outstanding in extracurricular activities.
But now they are doing very well. It’s as if a switch turned on at some point in their lives. They decided that they would no longer be addicted to mediocrity. Instead, they decided they would make a difference. Yet they had few of the innate gifts associated with good or great leaders.
So I wrote down a list of more than twenty characteristics of these men and women. And, somewhat to my surprise, I noted that all of them had ten characteristics in common. Though statisticians would argue that I found correlative factors, I really believe that most, if not all of these characteristics, are causative.
How then do many common people become good or great leaders? Here are the ten characteristics.
1. They determined that their integrity would be uncompromised. They did not cut corners or cheat. Though others around them were smarter, more forceful, and more creative, they never compromised in their work and lives. They saw their integrity and reputation to be priceless gifts that could not be forfeited.
2. They worked hard. Often when others around them played or wasted time, these leaders continued to work. If they had an employer, they felt like they were stealing from the company unless they gave their best efforts. If they were self-employed, they knew that other companies would eat them alive if they did not work hard.
3. They took responsibility for themselves. You will never hear these leaders blaming their employers. You will not hear them complaining because someone else in the organization was recognized or received a promotion. Stated simply, they did not blame others or circumstances. They believed that they lived in a great nation where they had multiple advntages to get ahead.
4. They were decisive. They learned that slow decision-making was poor leadership. They knew that analysis paralysis could kill an effort. Instead of living in fear of making the wrong decisions, they moved forward just as soon as they had sufficient information, not complete information. They saw smart people failing to make prompt decisions because they were enamored with more and more information and data.
5. They read a lot. While many of their peers spent dozens of hours each week watching meaningless television, these good leaders were reading books, articles, and anything they could to make them a better person and a better leader. Like the impoverished Abraham Lincoln reading books by dim candlelight, these ordinary men and women became extraordinary through their constant and continued learning, regardless of the sacrifice.
6. They have genuine humility. These leaders have learned humility the hard way. Growing up, they were well behind their peers academically. Most did not excel at sports or other extracurricular activities. None of them were nominated as “most likely to succeed.” In their early days in the workforce, they found themselves surrounded by more talented and smarter workers. They didn’t have to work at humility; it was thrust upon them.
7. They seek mentors. Their desire to improve, along with their humility, led them to seek mentors. Most of these mentoring relationships were informal, but they still were intentionally sought. These leaders were unashamed to admit they needed help from an outside perspective, or advice from someone who might be smarter.
8. They avoid ruts. These leaders would be the first to volunteer for an assignment in a new area. They intentionally avoided getting too comfortable in one area. As they broadened their horizons, they became more effective leaders.
9. They have a sense of humor. These overachieving leaders always take their work seriously, but they don’t take themselves too seriously. Their humor helps them to avoid stressing out when everything does not go their way. They are thus able to handle difficult situations with calm and poise. Others follow their example, and thus give credence to this happy and placid leadership style.
10. They are goal setters. At some point, I would love to see a major leadership study done on goal setting. It seems to be directly correlated to strong leadership. These “common” men and women were no different. To the person, you could ask them what their goals have been in life, and what they are now, and receive a quick and cogent answer. They would readily admit they didn’t always achieve their goals. But that was not deemed as failure. The common leaders simply reset their lives with a new set of goals.
Keep in mind that I am looking at common men and women who became good, and even great, leaders. I am not talking about the smartest, the best educated, or the most articulate. These are common men and women who are now extraordinary leaders.
There are countless men and women who are wonderful leaders. Among them are a large number who are not the smartest, not the most educated, not the most articulate, and not the most charismatic. That reality should give many of us great hope. We can be good leaders anyway.
Thursday, March 14, 2013
Retired Anglican Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Southern Cone, the Most. Rev. Gregory Venables, a friend of the new Pope, has this to say on Facebook:
Many are asking me what Jorge Bergoglio is really like. He is much more of a Christian, Christ centered and Spirit filled, than a mere churchman. He believes the Bible as it is written. I have been with him on many occasions and he always makes me sit next to him and invariably makes me take part and often do what he as Cardinal should have done. He is consistently humble and wise, outstandingly gifted yet a common man. He is no fool and speaks out very quietly yet clearly when necessary. He called me to have breakfast with him one morning and told me very clearly that the Ordinariate was quite unnecessary and that the church needs us as Anglicans. I consider this to be an inspired appointment not because he is a close and personal friend but because of who he is In Christ. Pray for him.
Monday, March 11, 2013
By Godwin Sathianathan
I owe a significant debt to four men and three churches who, over the years, became my spiritual fathers and families. These wonderful people walked alongside me through troubling and joyful times. They prayed with me, mentored me, and laughed with me. They celebrated my victories and wept with me when my dad unexpectedly died. They counseled me when I began to explore pastoral ministry and spoke the Word to me when I became discouraged. They reminded me not to take myself too seriously, and they lovingly pointed out sin in my life. God only knows where I'd be and who I'd be without his grace working through them.
Today I am a pastor and long for my church to grow in this kind of intentional disciple-making. Discipleship at its core is the process of growing as a disciple of Jesus Christ. That sounds simple. But what does it actually look like? And how do pastors lead their churches in discipleship? A good place to begin is Jesus' last words to his disciples: "go . . . make disciples . . . baptizing them . . . and teaching them" (Matt 28:19-20). Three contours of discipleship culture emerge from this passage.
Clarifying the Contours of Discipleship
1. Disciple-making is an intentional process of evangelizing non-believers, establishing believers in the faith, and equipping leaders.
"Make disciples" implies intentionality and process. Disciple-making doesn't just happen because a church exists and people show up. It is a deliberate process. Considering the modifying participles of "going . . . baptizing . . . teaching" help us recognize this process. It must include evangelizing (going to new people and new places), establishing (baptizing new believers and teaching obedience), and equipping (teaching believers to also make disciples). How does your church evangelize, establish, and equip?
2. Disciple-making happens in the context of a local church.
It's a community project, not just a personal pursuit. And that community must be the local church, because Jesus has given her unique authority to preach the gospel, baptize believers into faith and church membership, and teach obedience to Jesus. Disciple-making doesn't just happen in coffee shops and living rooms. It also happens in the sanctuary where the Word is sung, prayed, read, preached, and displayed through communion and baptism. Jesus didn't have in mind maverick disciple-makers; he had in mind a community of believers who, together and under the authority of the local church, seek to transfer the faith to the next generation. Does your church view disciple-making within the context of the church, or only as a solo endeavor?
3. Disciple-making is Word-centered, people-to-people ministry.
When Jesus said "make disciples" we cannot help but remember how he made disciples: three years of teaching twelve men on the dusty road. Disciple-making, then, is the Word of God shaping men and women within life-on-life relationships. It's demonstrated in Paul's relationship with the Thessalonian church: "being so affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us" (1 Thess 2:8). This is gospel-driven, Word-saturated, intentional one-anothering. It is men and women regularly teaching one another to obey what Jesus commanded. And it goes well beyond watching football and having inside jokes with Christian friends. How would you evaluate your church's Word-centered people-to-people ministry?
Creating a Culture of Discipleship
If these three contours are essential ingredients for a discipleship culture, how do pastors lead their churches in growing that culture? Here are seven ways:
1. Preach disciple-making sermons.
Pastors are not called to preach convert-making sermons or scholar-making sermons. They are called to preach disciple-making sermons. This means that they must craft sermons that will evangelize, establish, and equip. This means that they are teachers, pleaders, and coaches from behind the pulpit. Sermons also disciple through modeling careful exegesis, keen application, and prayerful responses to the passage. After we preach, congregants should understand and feel the text at such a level that they long to be more obedient disciples.
2. Shape disciple-making worship services.
Every church has a liturgy, whether you call it that or not, and every liturgy leads the people somewhere or disciples the people toward something. The question is where. The non-sermon elements of a worship service—songs, prayers, scripture reading, testimonies, and tone—contribute to the formative discipling of your congregation. Does your worship service lead people in thanksgiving for God's gifts and goodness? Does it disciple people in confession and repentance? Is there an element in your worship service that offers assurance of salvation? Does your service lead people in celebrating our future hope? Thinking through these components with your worship director will strengthen your disciple-making services.
3. Invest in a few disciple-makers.
We've heard it before, but let me say it again: Jesus and Paul ask their disciples to invest in a few who will in turn invest in others (Matt. 28:18-19; 2 Tim 2:2). Pastors, choose a few men you can pour your life into and intentionally disciple for a period of time. Create a simple but effective format to accomplish this task. For example, meet with a few men twice a month to discuss sections of Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology, confess sin, and pray for one another. Keep it relational. At the end of your time together, ask each man to choose a few men with whom he can do the same. The benefits are manifold. You are obeying Jesus' disciple-making command, you are cultivating a disciple-making culture through strategic multiplication, and you are investing in those who may become your future elders.
4. Make small group Bible studies central to your disciple-making strategy.
Many churches offer small groups like a side item at the buffet, but few offer it as a main course. While Sunday school and other teaching venues certainly disciple people, small group Bible studies are unique in that they achieve multiple discipleship goals. After your corporate worship gathering, consider making small groups ministry your next priority. This means identifying and training mature leaders to shepherd and disciple their members. It also means providing a clear vision for your small groups ministry. For example, our church asks our groups to commit to three disciple-making values: Bible, community, and mission.
5. Raise the bar of church membership.
Unfortunately many Christians don't realize that joining a church is a vital step of discipleship. When you join a church, you are not joining a social club; you are publicly declaring your faith in Jesus and joining yourself to a group of Christians in life and mission. In view of this, pastors should view membership as discipleship and accordingly bolster their membership process and expectations. Instead of making it easy to join your church, make the process more involved. Get your elders teaching multiple sessions on the gospel, central doctrines, the importance of church membership, and your church's operating convictions (baptism, for example). Broach tough subjects such as divorce and past church history during membership interviews. Finally, ensure membership actually means something for members. What unique privileges, roles, and responsibilities do members have in your church? Are your members actually joined together in Word-centered people-to-people ministry, as they promised when they became members?
6. Confront sin and practice church discipline.
Like church membership, discipline is neglected by some churches. Much like encouragement and
affirmation are key components of disciple-making, so too are exhortation, confrontation, and if necessary more elevated measures of corrective discipline. God uses all of the above to make disciples and protect disciples within local churches.
7. Read disciple-making books with your leadership.
Let me recommend four books for your disciple-making arsenal. The Trellis and the Vine by Tony Payne and Colin Marshall outlines a practical vision for disciple-making. One-to-One Bible Reading by David Helm will equip you with the motivation and tools to read the Bible regularly with others. Church Membership by Jonathan Leeman is the best lay-level book on the subject I've read and will help you understand how membership rightly practiced is discipleship. And The Shepherd Leader by Timothy Witmer calls elders to lead the way in disciple-making.
Growing a disciple-making culture at your church might sound daunting. It's hard enough to make disciples within a small group Bible study, but a church with all its complexities, systems, and baggage? Yikes. Here's a piece of advice: start small, keep it simple, and focus on areas where a little investment will go a long way. For example, you may want to invest in a few who will do the same with others. Start with your elders. Or perhaps you want to focus on ramping up your small groups ministry. Start by training your current and new leaders around key biblical values that encapsulate discipleship.
Whatever you decide to do, may you find tremendous energy and courage to make disciples from the bookends of the Great Commission: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me . . . and behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."
Godwin Sathianathan is an associate pastor at South Shore Baptist Church in Hingham, Massachusetts.
From the Gospel Coalition Blog