The Gospel Moves us to the Frontlines of Ministry

The Gospel Moves us to the Frontlines of Ministry

Manners and sanctification

Date

Republished from May of 2016

Categories

Gospel

Church

Hospitality

The gospel helps church leaders with one of their toughest challenges: that of moving people (husbands, wives, singles, youth, and children) from the sidelines to the front lines of ministry. Here’s how.

What is Ministry?

First, what is the “ministry” that we want them to be engaged in? Ministry is much more than merely teaching a Sunday school class, or showing up for a project. Ministry is the application of the gospel to life, in life. This is in fact what we see in Jesus’ example and it is the overwhelming picture of ministry that we glean from most of the New Testament. We may not all be called to teach a class, but we are all called “to speak the truth to one another in love” (Eph. 4:15-17).

Our Ministry Confidence is in the Gospel Itself, Not Our Abilities, Plans or Programs

We begin with Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 1:17+18; 2:4-5.

 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ, be emptied of its power.

 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

 My speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

Paul’s message was the gospel and his confidence was in the gospel message itself, not his skills and abilities, to bring about the desired goal – the transformation of people’s lives to God’s glory. In other words, Paul believed in a fully sufficient gospel.

Christians are on the Ministry Sidelines Because They are not Placing Their Confidence in the Gospel

Because so much ministry is centered on Sunday and people with teaching gifts (Sermons, Sunday School, Programs), rather than every day life, people have completed their self analysis and concluded that they have nothing to offer…and sit in exile on the ministry sidelines as a result.

Such cases reveal a dependence on their own abilities (or lack thereof) for ministry effectiveness. But  God calls us to minister. We are a kingdom of priests (1Pet. 2:9)! We are to speak the truth to one another in love (Eph. 4:16). We are a house of living stones (1 Pet. 2:5)! And Paul reminds us in Romans 1:16 that the gospel is, “the power of God for salvation” (justification, sanctification, and glorification). We are all, A-L-L,  gospel ministers.

A heart that truly believes the all-sufficient, powerful gospel and that seeks to help people apply the riches of our redemption in Christ to life will minister effectively because it is the Holy Spirit who actually takes our applications of the gospel truths and makes them efficacious in the life of the believer.

How to Move People’s Confidence From Self to the Gospel

1. Teach people what ministry really is: It is not merely teaching a class (something which they may never do), etc., but it is proclaiming the gospel to one another in life so that we grow up into Christ as individuals and as a local body. This ministry is everyone’s responsibility.

2.  Equip people to do number one above. Teach them how to apply the gospel to the heart by faith in life.

3. Teach and remind people—often—that it is the gospel that makes them sufficient to minister. The gospel calls them, the gospel equips them, the Holy Spirit uses the gospel to bring transformation in His time.

4. Publically highlight and develop a greater emphasis on the everyday life ministry that is taking place. Most people view “real ministry” as that which is done by professionals, not what THEY do in their relationships. This is a hard change for people to understand and act on. It takes a very intentional effort to make the change.

5. Examine your own example as a leader. Is your example one that clearly demonstrates that you believe that “the little guy” can do real, effective ministry? Are you always in the spotlight? Do people see you minister through your own weaknesses that find strength in the gospel? Or are you always seen as the guy for whom ministry is effortless and the guy who never struggles?

6. Begin to graciously and patiently hold people accountable for doing this ministry.

7. Remind them that the gospel is their strength.

God’s Discipleship Pattern in Scripture

God’s Discipleship Pattern in Scripture

Manners and sanctification

Date

Republished from May of 2016

Categories

Gospel

Church

The latest research reveals that 75% of the children raised in evangelical churches are leaving the faith. It appears that the church is hemorrhaging its children out into the culture. Did Peter know something that we don’t when he preached, “For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off…”(Acts 2:39)?

Having been a children’s ministry leader, and having met many children’s and youth ministry leaders over my 21 years of ministry, I can say that the efforts of the men and women who faithfully and lovingly serve on staff are not in question. In fact, the problems we see cannot be laid at the feet of these programs.

I submit that perhaps there are biblical principles that we’ve lost sight of. A renewed focus on these principles could make the difference in seeing Peter’s promise move from elusive dream to reality.

On one hand, Children’s and Youth ministry leaders increasingly are saying, “We’re doing all we can, but we can’t disciple children in one hour per week. We need parents to step up to the plate.” On the other hand, parents are maxed out, stressed out, and sometimes checked out of the daily process of making kingdom disciples of their covenant children.

The Word of God Provides The Solution In a Simple Pattern

What does God’s word tell us about how He expects us, through the power of His Holy Spirit, to establish covenant faithfulness in the home? I begin with a short story.

I remember one Christmas Eve getting quite frustrated with putting together a toy for my son. I finally, humiliatingly, after two hours of exasperation, found the directions and actually read them to learn that I had missed an important step. I imagine anyone reading this has had the same experience at some time or another. In some cases, the pieces are all there, but they aren’t put together in proper order. Either way, successful completion of the project remains elusive, until we read (or re-read) the directions.

What we need to do is “re-read” the directions for making disciples.
Very simply, it looks like this:

The Simple Pattern for Covenant Faithfulness in the Church and in the Home

1. There is a presupposed pattern in scripture, submitted to, pursued, and applied for God’s glory and our good, which rightly applied is not two but one central motive.

2. The aim of this pattern is heart-level obedience. (True godly desires verses bare-legalistic duty-oriented behavior).

3. Heart-level obedience is lived out through heart-level relationships with God and one another (“You shall love the Lord your God…and your neighbor”) which are the ultimate end to which we are all accountable.

4. This heart-level obedience and these relationships are not indiscriminate but maintained along covenantal lines (e.g. marriage and family).

5. The primary methodology of growth in regards to heart-level obedience and heart-level relationships is speaking the truth (the gospel) in love within these relationships, for which we are all accountable to know others and to be known by them.

6. This growth, otherwise referred to as sanctification or renewal in the likeness of Christ, involves putting off the old man with its lusts and putting on the new man (Christ in you). The love that comes from Christ to God and others, being rooted in the accomplishment of Christ and applied by faith, makes covenant faithfulness not only possible but expected, and not a burden but a joy.

7. God’s design is for each household to have a spiritual leader or ‘head of household’ (husband, father, single mother, or woman unequally yoked to a non-believer) who is tasked with the responsibility of overseeing this heart-level transformation for their households.

8. Overseers (elders) are men assigned to see to it that this transformation is being faithfully maintained in the broader Household of God (the Church). Practically speaking, overseers accomplish their jobs primarily by equipping and graciously holding responsible those (heads of households) whom God holds accountable.

How to Re-emphasize This Pattern

I will begin by stating what this pattern does not require. It does not require a jihad against church programs. Truth is, these programs can actually help facilitate the re-establishment of this pattern. But let’s be clear, absent this simple pattern being vigorously, intentionally, and faithfully maintained, these programs carry a load they were never intended to carry and as we have seen cannot fabricate covenant faithfulness.

What this pattern does require. Required is the vigorous, intentional, and faithful maintenance of this pattern because it represents what God has already clearly revealed in His word to guide us.

The place to start is with the establishment of this basic pattern of covenant faithfulness in the entire body of Christ. The big picture is beautifying the Church: the Bride of Christ. Do we really believe Ephesians 4:15-16? Are we building each other up by speaking the truth to one another in love? Faithful shepherding—and accountability—by the elders of the heads of households to fulfill their role is a clear biblical element that must be re-established if we are to accomplish covenant faithfulness and produce kingdom disciples.

Equipping spiritual heads of households to pursue covenant faithfulness in the home is not a ‘nice-to-have’, but a primary, foundational and absolutely mission- critical element in the church’s ministry.

This represents an exciting opportunity for elders, ministry leaders, head of households.
Scripture has given us a simple pattern that we must live in order to see Peter’s promise realized in our time…and beyond.

Covenantal Nature of Trouble and Suffering

Covenantal Nature of Trouble and Suffering

Manners and sanctification

Date

Republished from May of 2016

Categories

Gospel

Church

In tears, the mother said to me, “I’ve been praying for my daughter for a long time, asking God to change her heart. Why hasn’t God done something?” Immediately, I started thinking about several other families who were asking the same question.

Haven’t we all asked this question? There are more than likely several distinct answers. We know that God is sovereign. His ways are higher than our ways (Isa. 55:8-9). “Shall the thing created ask, ‘why have you made me thus?’ (Rom. 9:20)” Our job as created, dependent beings is to rest in God and to wait expectantly for Him to work. This we know although we don’t like it very much.

There is, however, another answer that struck me with new profundity and provided a sense of comfort. It is simply this: God often uses our own individual sufferings to also work in the lives of others.We tend to forget this.

Redemption is on one hand a very individual experience. We are justified as individuals and brought into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. But we are saved into a spiritual family where our relationships are vital to our growth in that relationship.

The good and bad of our lives form threads that God weaves in and around others. Indeed, it is the interwoven nature of our experiences that creates the strength to endure on the one hand, but also the beauty of victory on the other. What seems like only one person’s struggle, is actually a struggle that God is using in the lives of others either to help them deal with sin, mature, or prepare for greater service.

If I come home from work in a bad mood, it usually ends up eventually affecting everyone in my house. Dealing with my bad mood is a covenantal experience. My bad mood is sin and I must confess that to God and others who I sin against because of it. But it is the role of others, my wife and my children to speak the truth in love to me (Eph. 4:16) to help correct it so that I am restored to God and my family. But in that process, they may need to deal with their own hearts so they can help me deal with my own.

My daughters’ struggle with seizures is a physical as well as spiritual struggle for her. But it is just as much of a struggle for my wife and our 17 year old daughter who both battle anxiety about when and where she has seizures. It affects me because I need to provide support to my wife and my two daughters. It affects our church body because there are many who pray regularly for her medications to work and for her ultimate healing. But none of these individual’s involvement is isolated from their own hearts. We all have to wrestle with our own hearts as we help each other through suffering which places my daughter’s personal struggle right in the crosshairs of each our own sanctification. God wastes nothing.

So, when it comes to answering “Why God?” it may very well be that God is also using that person’s struggle to work in at least one other person’s life.

Ok. So God probably has this bigger purpose in view. So what? First, it gives purpose. “Why?” is a question of purpose. When suffering lingers, wanting to know why naturally takes on greater importance. God is sovereign. Every situation is prescribed by Him for his redemptive purposes not just in our own lives but in the lives of others. This sense of purpose although perhaps not fully understood, enables us to persevere and to keep seeking God through it.

Second, it gives us hope. Because God has a purpose: our conformity to the image of his Son, we also have hope that God will bring it to completion (Phil. 1:6).

Third, it should motivate us to ask God to show us how he might want to use another person’s suffering…to work in us!

Forth, if we find that God is working in us through those sufferings, it is a great blessing to tell the person who is suffering how their trial is helping you. It bolsters their sense of purpose, their faith and thus their endurance.

One day my daughter told me that she would rather have seizures and the close relationship she has with the Lord than to not have the seizures but not walk as closely to Christ. This testimony has strengthened my own faith in my own trials. But I’ve also shared this testimony with others who I’ve come across. I usually tell her when I have these conversations. And when I have told her, her face lights up like a Christmas tree and I see a clear sense of relief and encouragement in her that is deeply heartening.

This doesn’t provide a perfect answer as to why God is allowing suffering to continue in a particular situation. But Lord willing, it does provide a broader picture of what He might be up to that gives us hope.

One day we will all know why we’ve gone through seasons of suffering. I believe we will all be amazed at how extensively God has orchestrated suffering to accomplish his redeeming work in us and to the lives of others.

Elders Pray This for Your Sheep!

Elders Pray This for Your Sheep!

Manners and sanctification

Date

Republished from May of 2016

Categories

Gospel

Church

What do we pray about that really helps those we are praying for? Certainly, we pray that God will bring restoration to a hurting relationship, physical healing, or provide the much-needed job. If you are not already, consider adding to the list praying for them to “remember” what they already know.

The Apostles Reminded People of What They Already Knew

“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved…” – 1 Cor. 15:1

“Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have.” -2 Pet. 1:12

Apostles Paul and Peter were concerned that the people they were writing to would forget the riches they already had in Christ Jesus. These riches include the simple gospel truths that describe our new identity in Christ. Does it seem odd that the apostles were so concerned about people forgetting what they already knew?

We are Sojourners, Not Squatters

Hebrews 11:13 reminds us that just like our spiritual ancestors we are sojourners; strangers; aliens who are passing through this world. The implications of this truth are astonishing and pervasive when you  stop and think about it. It affects our values. Our purpose. Even our outlook on life itself. The life of a sojourner is not by nature, “easy”.

For several decades, life in America has for the most part been prosperous, free, and comfortable. I am grateful for these blessings from God. However, in the midst of all this prosperity and peace, have we forgotten that America is not our home? When God brings hardships into our lives our response can be much more “squatter-like” (one who feels entitled) than “sojourner-like” (one who accepts and endures).

We Need Hope More Than we Need Ease

The work that God is doing in our lives is one of conforming us to the image of his Son, Jesus Christ—a process to be completed when we have finally reached Heaven. In the meantime, I personally don’t like to admit that this process occurs best when I am struggling than when things are going swimmingly. Struggle forces me to actively seek and depend on God.

Difficulty and suffering are often the lot of sojourners who are by nature just passing through. Therefore, sojourners need hope more than anything. Enduring hope that pulls us through trials comes from only one place: the gospel. Though we are suffering physically or emotionally through personal conflict, sickness, deprivation, or persecution, we endure because we realize that what we ultimately need is what we already have in Christ and that one day, the suffering will end forever.

But the message of the gospel is easily forgotten because we are quick to seek what we want and need outside of Christ in the comforts we have come to expect. Again, seeking these comforts is not wrong, but when we forget that we must first find our satisfaction in Christ, it is easy to make everything else that we desire, idols. It is the nature of the flesh; indwelling sin with which we battle each day to look everywhere but Christ for supply.

Isn’t it striking that the writer of Hebrews—in writing to people who were suffering persecution: having their property confiscated, and being thrown in prison—chooses to write about… Jesus exalted, and all that he did for them as their once for all sacrifice and perfect high priest? Apparently, the writer knew that reminding them of THIS would make the critical difference in their remaining faithful to Jesus.

Trials will either drive us to Christ or away from Christ. The reminder of these truths was what the writer of Hebrews implored the Christians to do with one another so that they would not be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness (3:13).

C.S. Lewis reminds us: “People need to be reminded more than they need to be instructed.”

As elders, we would do well to include in our prayers for our sojourning sheep that they remember Christ and how what he has done for them gives them hope so that they can navigate the trials in a way that draws them closer to the Lord.

Shepherding Requires Intentionality

Shepherding Requires Intentionality

Manners and sanctification

Date

Republished from May of 2016

Categories

Gospel

Church

It has been my experience as well as my observation that the most difficult counseling cases typically are the result of people who have not been lovingly, graciously, patiently —and intentionally—pursued for the purpose of discipleship and equipping. For exampIe, I know a pastor who is counseling a couple from another church who have been married for 35 years. They have been members “in good standing” in “solid” churches for as many years. Yet, no one knew that the husband was failing in the leadership of his home for all of those 35 years. He was never intentionally pursued. Consider that if we’re not intentionally, lovingly, graciously, patiently pursuing people, then not much else we do to “equip” will matter. I’d like to offer 4 practical encouragements to help elders and heads of household be more intentional in their shepherding or, actually, in any of your relationships. The mutually constructive Covenantal relationships that we each are involved in require intentionality in order to be effective.

1.    Intentionality gives you the opportunity to see real fruit in people’s lives What elder doesn’t want to see others grow in Christ? But that growth does not usually happen without the investment of time in people, earning their trust, getting to know their hearts, and being open with them in return.  Intentional pursuit puts us in position to see the real issues in another person’s life and provides the opportunity to address those issues with the gospel so that they can grow.

2.    Intentionality communicates that relationships are vital The gospel message comes with a delivery mechanism that the Holy Spirit uses to apply it in people’s lives: relationships. Shepherds in the church and in the home (elders and heads of household) are two vital relational equipping mechanisms (Acts 20:13-28; 1 Pet. 5:1-5; Eph. 4:11; 5:22-6:4). As shepherds, our example of following God’s Word in its applications especially in relationships communicates something to others, particularly heads of household. It communicates either positively or negatively just how important relationships really are to the ministry within the whole body. Consider how different ministry would be if the body were made up of relationships where people were intentionally pursing one another and faithfully applying the gospel (Eph. 4:15-16) to the heart in their relationships. We could reasonably conclude that there would be greater spiritual growth. Further, the crisis counseling cases that keep pastors and elders up till all hours of the night would be fewer because the issues would be addressed at the garden variety level. This is not a Utopian view of ministry at all. It is what Paul writes as an expectation in Ephesians.

3.  Intentionality clarifies priorities and identifies where you might be doing too much “WHAT?! Me shepherd? I don’t have time!” We are all busy but this is what God has called elders to do. It is very easy to doubt God’s methodology when it breaks down in human application. But the problem is our application or faithfulness to God’s plan, not the plan itself. If we don’t have time, then we have the opportunity to evaluate our priorities. Through evaluation, we may just find places where we can take some small steps of greater faithfulness.

4.  Intentionality forces us to rely more on the strength of Christ Being intentional is hard work that requires reliance on Christ. Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians how affliction, weakness, and trial are the way God works in us, driving us to Christ for strength so that He may be seen in us by those who we shepherd. It is hard to go through that refining fire, but, it is the way growth occurs. God uses our struggles with intentionality to show us our own need for him to do this all-important work in and through us. Shepherding is actual and practical or it is nothing. It is a joy to see people grasp the gospel, apply it, and grow! It is even more exciting to see them apply it in their own relationships, to see them grow in their love for others and to see them reach out to their unbelieving neighbors and friends. We should expect to see this multi-dimensional fruit result from honoring the means in God’s Word. But, intentionality is required.

The Key to Genuine Reform in the Local Church

The Key to Genuine Reform in the Local Church

Manners and sanctification

Date

Republished from May of 2016

Categories

Gospel

Church

Reform in the home will not come merely by focusing on equipping the men to lead or by giving children a Christian education.

Reform in the local church will not come by merely changing, adding or deleting church programs or rebuilding the church around the nuclear family.

Genuine reform comes first from identifying the real problem according to Scripture which is man’s idolatrous, self-glorifying heart (see Gen. 6:5; Isa. 29:13; Matt. 5:21-22, 27-28; 15:18-20). Genuine reform also comes from identifying the real solution to that problem according to Scripture which is the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Rom. 1:15-16, Rom. 6-8; 1 Cor. 1:30-31; 2 Cor. 3:18, Gal. 3:1-3; Col. 2:6-7, 20-23).

Before you yawn in agreement, consider what Scripture means when it says that the Gospel is the solution to our heart problem.

In Romans 1:16, Paul says that, “The Gospel is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe”. When Paul uses the word, “salvation” he is talking about the whole and complete redemption process. In other words, the Gospel is not just the power for our justification (what gives us to saving faith), but also the power for our sanctification (our growth in that faith which is to become more conformed to the glory-image of God in Jesus Christ) and our glorification (our final perfection in God’s glory image achieved when we get to heaven).

Very tragically, the Gospel has been reduced to a little piece of paper that we give unbelieving strangers, while we are oblivious to the fact (if we were ever taught the fact to begin with) that the Gospel is also the way we grow as Christians.

Yes, the good news is that we are justified by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, but the even better news is that we are also sanctified by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, too.

Seeking to grow without the Gospel is as certifiably crazy as me getting into my car and expecting to drive somewhere without any gas in the gas tank. It makes no difference if my car is a Porshe or a Yugo. If I have no gas, I go nowhere.

In the same way, no amount of changing, adding, or deleting church programs or changing what we do in the home—biblically-based though it may be—can serve as a substitute for the regular, daily application of the Gospel message to our hearts.

So, while changes may look good (at least for a while) apart from the gospel  they are a mirage. They are an appearance of holiness that is void of the transformational power they claim to provide.

This is why Jesus and Paul soundly condemned the religious leaders for their prideful, relentless pursuit of holiness by outward, self- transformation, rather than by God’s ordained means, heart-level, or inside-out transformation—in the Christian—which is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.