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Category Archives: Pastoral Resources

12 Principles for Disagreeing with Other Christians

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1. Welcome those who disagree with you (Rom. 14:1–2).

Concerning any area of disagreement on third-level matters [i.e., disputable issues that shouldn’t cause disunity in the church family], a church will have two groups: (1) those who are “weak in faith” (14:1) on that issue and (2) those “who are strong” (15:1). The weak in faith have a weak conscience on that matter, and the strong in faith, a strong conscience.

Don’t forget that “faith” here refers not to saving faith in Christ (14:22a makes that clear) but to the confidence a person has in their heart or conscience to do a particular activity, such as eat meat (14:2). The weak person’s conscience lacks sufficient confidence (i.e., faith) to do a particular act without self-judgment, even if that act is actually not a sin. To him it would be a sin.

What this means is that you are responsible to obey both Paul’s exhortations to the weak and his exhortations to the strong, since (1) there are usually people on either side of you on any given issue and (2) you yourself likely have a stronger conscience on some issues and a weaker conscience on others. This brings us to Paul’s second principle when Christians disagree on scruples.

2. Those who have freedom of conscience must not look down on those who don’t (Rom. 14:3–4).

The strong, who have freedom to do what others cannot do, are tempted to look down on and despise those who are more strict. They may say, “Those people don’t understand the freedom we have in Christ. They’re not mature like us! They’re legalistic. All they think about are rules.” Paul condemns this attitude of superiority.

3. Those whose conscience restricts them must not be judgmental toward those who have freedom (Rom. 14:3–4).

Those who have a weaker conscience on a particular issue are always tempted to pass judgment on those who are freer. They may say, “How can those people be Christians and do that? Don’t they know they’re hurting the testimony of Christ? Don’t they know that they are supposed to give up things like that for the sake of the gospel?”

Paul gives two reasons that it’s such a serious sin to break these two principles, that is, for the strong to look down on those with a weaker conscience and for the weak to judge those with a stronger conscience:

1“God has welcomed him” (14:3c). Do you have the right to reject someone whom God has welcomed? Are you holier than God? If God himself allows his people to hold different opinions on third-level matters, should you force everyone to agree with you?

2“Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another?” (14:4a). You are not the master of other believers. When you look down on someone with a weaker conscience or judge someone with a stronger conscience, you’re acting as though that person is your servant and you are his master. But God is his master. In matters of opinion, you must let God do his work. You just need to welcome your brother or sister. God is a better master than you are.

4. Each believer must be fully convinced of their position in their own conscience (Rom. 14:5).

Should Christians celebrate Jewish holy days? This issue, which Paul is addressing here, illustrates the principle that on disputable matters, you should obey your conscience.

This does not mean that your conscience is always right. It’s wise to calibrate your conscience to better fit God’s wil. But it does mean that you cannot constantly sin against your conscience and be a healthy Christian. You must be fully convinced of your present position on food or drink or special days—or whatever the issue—and then live consistently by that decision until God may lead you by his Word and Spirit to adjust your conscience.

5. Assume that others are partaking or refraining for the glory of God (Rom. 14:6–9).

Notice how generous Paul is to both sides. He assumes that both sides are exercising their freedoms or restrictions for the glory of God. Wouldn’t it be amazing to be in a church where everyone gave each other the benefit of the doubt on these differences, instead of putting the worst possible spin on everything?

Paul says that both the weak and the strong can please the Lord even while holding different views on disputable matters. They have different positions but the same motivation: to honor God.

6. Do not judge each other in these matters because we will all someday stand before the judgment seat of God (Rom. 14:10–12).

If we thought more about our own situation before the judgment throne of God, we would be less likely to pass judgment on fellow Christians. On that day we’ll be busy enough answering for our own life; we don’t need to spend our short life meddling in the lives of others. In these matters where good Christians disagree, we just need to mind our own conscience and let God be the judge of others.

7. Your freedom to eat meat is correct, but don’t let your freedom destroy the faith of a weak brother (Rom. 14:13–15).

Free and strict Christians in a church both have responsibilities toward each other. Strict Christians have a responsibility not to impose their conscience on everyone else in the church. It is a serious sin to try to bind someone else’s conscience with rules that God does not clearly command.

But the second half of Romans 14 places the bulk of responsibility on Christians with a strong conscience. One obvious reason is that they are strong, so God calls on them to bear with the weaknesses of the weak (Rom. 15:1). Not only that, of the two groups, only the strong have a choice in third-level matters like meat, holy days, and wine. They can either partake or abstain, whereas the conscience of the strict allows them only one choice. It is a great privilege for the strong to have double the choices of the weak. They must use this gift wisely by considering how their actions affect the sensitive consciences of their brothers and sisters.

8. Disagreements about eating and drinking are not important in the kingdom of God; building each other up in righteousness, peace, and joy is the important thing (Rom. 14:16–21).

The New Testament clearly and repeatedly lays down the principle that God is completely indifferent to what we ingest. First and most important, the Lord Jesus himself memorably proclaimed all foods to be legitimate for eating in Mark 7:1–23 (esp. vv. 18–19). Since Peter didn’t seem to get the memo, the Lord Jesus had to give him a vision three times to show him that Christians must not make food an issue (Acts 10:9–16). Then in 1 Corinthians 8:8, Paul comes right out and says it: “Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do.” And just in case we still didn’t get it, God gave us Romans 14:17, which shows that the kingdom of God has nothing to do with food and drink. Nothing. God doesn’t care at all about what we ingest.

This might seem mistaken. Doesn’t God care if we take poison? Not if the purpose is to cure. Every day Christians take poison into their bodies to cure themselves of cancer. But if we take in poison to kill ourselves, that’s another matter entirely. In Christianity, why you do things is more important than what you do.

9. If you have freedom, don’t flaunt it; if you are strict, don’t expect others to be strict like you (Rom. 14:22a).

This truth applies equally to the strong and the weak. To those with a strong conscience you have much freedom in Christ. But don’t flaunt it or show it off in a way that may cause others to sin. Be especially careful to nurture the faith of young people and new Christians.

Those of you with a weak conscience in a particular area also have a responsibility not to “police” others by pressuring them to adopt your strict standards. You should keep these matters between yourself and God.

10. A person who lives according to their conscience is blessed (Rom. 14:22b–23).

God gave us the gift of conscience in order to significantly increase our joy as we obey its warnings. One of the two great principles of conscience is to obey it. Just as God’s gift of touch and pain guards us from what would rob us of physical health, conscience continually guards us from the sin that robs our joy.

11. We must follow the example of Christ, who put others first (Rom. 15:1–6).

This principle doesn’t mean that the strong have to agree with the position of the weak. It doesn’t even mean that the strong can never again exercise their freedoms. On the other hand, neither does it mean that the strong only put up with or endure or tolerate the weak, like a person who tolerates someone who annoys him. For a Christian, to “bear with” the weaknesses of the weak means that you gladly help the weak by refraining from doing anything that would hurt their faith.

Romans 15:3 emphasizes the example of Christ. We cannot even begin to imagine the freedoms and privileges that belonged to the Son of God in heaven. To be God is to be completely free. Yet Christ “did not please himself” but gave up his rights and freedoms to become a servant so that we could be saved from wrath. Compared to what Christ suffered on the cross, to give up a freedom like eating meat is a trifle indeed.

12. We bring glory to God when we welcome one another as Christ has welcomed us (Rom. 15:7).

With this sentence, Paul bookends this long section that began with similar words in 14:1: “Welcome him. . . .” But here in 15:7 Paul adds a comparison—“as Christ has welcomed you”—and a purpose—“for the glory of God.” It matters how you treat those who disagree with you on disputable matters. When you welcome them as Christ has welcomed you, you glorify God.

Andrew David Naselli (PhD, Bob Jones University; PhD, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is assistant professor of New Testament and biblical theology at Bethlehem College & Seminary in Minneapolis, Minnesota

J. D. Crowley (MA, Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary) has been doing missionary and linguistic work among the indigenous minorities of northeast Cambodia since 1994. He is the author of numerous books, including Commentary on Romans for Cambodia and Asia and the Tampuan/Khmer/English Dictionary.

This post is adapted from Conscience: What It Is, How to Train It, and Loving Those Who Differ by Andrew David Naselli and J. D. Crowley.

 

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BOOK REVIEW FOR STICKY CHURCH BY LARRY OSBORNE

“Assimilating and Making Disciples in the Local Church”

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Reviewed By Dr. David P. Craig

Larry Osborne is a pastor’s pastor and a leader’s leader. He has successfully made and multiplied disciples in the same local church for over thirty years. Whenever he writes a book I read it; re-read it; and make sure my staff and leaders read it as well. Larry started with a small struggling church and has successfully developed multiplying disciples of Christ in San Diego and all over the world through their simple church model of assimilation and discipleship through their intentional and strategic implementation of small groups.

In Sticky Church Osborne writes about a simple strategic process for developing a small group ministry that is extremely effective in assimilating attenders and new comers in the church and helping them become connected and committed to making and multiplying fully devoted followers of Christ for the long-haul.

Part 1 is composed of four chapters whereby Osborne makes a compelling case for a simple model and strategy in developing a “sticky church.” A sticky church is a church where people “stick” or stay because they immediately become convinced and unified around the vision; and live out this vision in the context of a small group. In Osborne’s church in Vista, California (a suburb of San Diego) 80% of church attenders (over 7,000 adults) become committed to their small groups – what they call “growth groups.” The whole idea of “stickiness” is keeping people in the church (what he calls “closing the back door”) so that you have a high retention of attenders who stay and grow because they commit to a small group that’s committed to their growth as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Here are some insightful quotes from the first four chapters:

“But we’ve often become so focused on reaching people that we’ve forgotten the importance of keeping people.”

“What does Jesus’ parable about the four soils have to say about the way we do church? To my thinking it says a lot. And one of the most important things it says about churches is that stickiness matters.”

“They [the principles in this book and the sermon-based model used by North Coast Church) worked just as well when we were a small church of less than two hundred adults as they do today in a multisite megachurch with more than seven thousand in weekend attendance.”

“Almost all our growth has come by word of mouth.”

“We’ve simply tried to serve our people so well that they’ll want to bring their friends, without needing to be asked to do so.”

“Everything we do is aimed at helping the Christians we already have grow stronger in Christ. But everything is done in such a way that their non-Christian friends will understand all that we’re saying and doing.”

“Bottom line: We’ve tried to create a perfect storm for come-and-see evangelism while velcroing newcomers for long-term spiritual growth.”

“In fact, the most important number to know about North Coast Church is not the weekend attendance. It’s the percentage of adults who participate in one of our small groups. Since 1985 that number has equaled 80 percent of our average weekend attendance.”

“It’s as though they assumed (people that think that sermon-based small groups only work in a megachurch) that North Coast was always big church—or at least became one overnight…Not so…North Coast grew quite slowly in the early days. It took five years to go from 130-180. It took another five years to reach 750.”

“This is not an anti-marketing or anti-programs book. It’s a pro-stickiness book.”

“What matters is not the size of the church or the slickness of the programming . What matters is that those who come find a ministry and relationships worthy of spontaneous word-of-mouth recommendations. When that happens, a church is primed to hold on to the people it already has and the people they bring with them.”

“A sticky church needs a healthy leadership team composed of people who genuinely like one another, share the same vision, and pull in the same direction (talking about the first big change necessary to developing a sticky church – retaining new comers).”

“The second big change was in the way I taught and led our congregation. Focusing on the front door aimed everything at two kinds of people: the not-yet Christian or the super saint who was ready to help me charge the hill. There wasn’t much room for people who came to Christ but didn’t grow at a fast enough pace or carried lots of old baggage.”

“The third change involved launching a small group ministry focus primarily on building significant relationships rather than growing the church.”

“Instead of celebrating how many people came, the most important measurement would be how many came back.”

“Churches that close the back door effectively do so by serving their congregations so well that the people don’t want to leave. And happy sheep are incurable word-of-mouth marketers.”

“Whatever you do to reach people you have to continue to do to keep them (this is why they keep their ministries simple, consistent, and excellent – North Coast doesn’t do a lot of special events or programming).”

“High-powered front-door programs can have the unintended consequences of sending a message that some weekends and programs are for brining guests—and the rest aren’t.”

“There’s a second unintended obstacle that highly programmed front-door churches can put in the way of natural evangelism. If most of the people who come to Christ come as a result of a complex and high-powered event, it sends a subtle message that it takes lots of time, planning, and money to lead someone to Christ.”

“Instead of complex assimilation programs, a sticky church simply needs to provide plenty of ministry on-ramps to which members can easily connect the friends they’ve invited.”

In Part 2 Osborne writes five chapters on “How Small Groups Change Everything.” Here are some important points from this section:

“Most spiritual growth doesn’t come as a result of a training program or set curriculum. It comes as a result of life putting us in what I like to call a need-to-know or need-to-grow situation.”

“The focus of a sermon based small group is not so much on the curriculum as it is on the process.”

“The ultimate goal of a sermon-based small group is simply to velcro people to the two things they will need most when faced with a need-to-know or need-to-grow situation: the Bible and other Christians.”

“When the New Testament was written, the typical church was so small that it was, in essence, a small group.”

“The best tool I’ve ever seen for connecting people to one another and engaging them with the Bible for the long haul is a sermon-based small group. It offers a format that fits the way we spiritually grow, while providing a framework for a healthy and sticky church. Nothing compares.

“While many church leaders claim that small groups are an integral part of their ministry, I’ve learned that two simple measurements will always tell me their real place in a ministry’s pecking order: (1) the percentage of adults who attend a small group, and  (2) the participation level of senior staff and key lay leaders.”

“Getting there (the key to reaching critical mass – that all-important stage at which the full power and benefits of a small group ministry begin to impact the ethos, DNA, and spiritual health of nearly everyone and everything in the church) usually requires that somewhere between 40 to 60 percent of the average weekend adult attendance be involved in a small group. If fewer people participate, small groups will still have a profound effect, but it will be primarily on the individuals in them, not on the entire church.”

“Small groups undercut this Holy Man myth (The Holy Man myth is the idea that pastors/clergy somehow have more of a direct hot line to God) because they typically meet in widely dispersed settings. This makes it impossible for the pastor (or any other staff member) to carry out all the pastoral roles and functions. They simply can’t be everywhere at once…As a result, small group leaders inevitably step up and assume roles of spiritual leadership that they would have otherwise deferred to the pastoral staff.”

“That not only changes the way small group leaders view themselves; it changes the congregation’s outlook as well. Once people begin to realize that God’s anointing and spiritual power aren’t restricted to the guy who speaks on Sunday, they whine a lot less when he’s not available.”

“Another spiritually crippling falsehood that began to lose its grip on our congregation was what I call the Holy Place myth. It’s the idea that God’s presence is somehow greater in some places than in others.”

“With the demise of both the Holy Man and the Holy Place myths, our ministry was, for the first time, genuinely unleashed. People started bringing God to the workplace and into their neighborhoods rather than trying to bring everyone to the church building.”

“Let’s face it: In most churches there aren’t many opportunities for high-impact, life on life ministry. There are usually few up-front teaching roles, a handful of worship leader positions, and some youth and Sunday school spots to be filled. After that, most roles are pretty much part of the supporting cast, designed more to keep the machine running than to touch lives.”

“Small groups open up lots of new opportunities for frontline ministry. At North Coast every group has a leader and a host, most often made up of two couples. That means in every group, we have four people who teach, counsel, disciple, pray, visit hospitals, lead in worship, provide communion, and even baptize members of their little flock—none of which they would do without the platform for ministry we call growth groups.”

“As a former youth pastor, I learned long ago that no one steps up until there’s a vacuum that needs to be filled. Every year when my seniors were about to graduate, I would wonder if we’d survive without their leadership. But as soon as they were gone, the juniors and sophomores stepped up—often doing a better job than their departing upperclassmen.”

“Still another powerful advantage that small groups can bring is a marked increase in the practice of spiritual disciplines. That’s because a small group takes our good intentions and puts them on the our calendar.”

“Here’s the irony: if we canceled our small groups and filled our facility once a week for a prayer meeting with standing-room-only crowds, we’d probably get some great write-ups in the Christian press. But in reality we’d have almost 70% fewer people praying than we already have in our small groups.”

“Our young adult dropout rate is a fraction of what I’ve seen in the past. And I’m convinced it’s because we’ve focused on giving our children and youth the powerful gift of a growing mom and dad.”

“Sermon-based small groups also made it much easier for our teaching team to keep the entire church focused and headed in the same direction. Whether we’re casting vision, clarifying direction, or simply dealing with an important issue, it’s much easier to get people on the same page and keep them there.”

“One reason I want my messages to be more memorable (on why sermon based small groups make the preacher a better preacher and make the sermon go further in people’s lives) is that I want people to apply the important truths and doctrines of the faith. I know that if I can change the way people think, it will change the way they live.”

“It’s a relatively short step (for a marginal attender) from listening to a sermon to joining a small group that discusses the sermon he’s already heard. But it’s a much bigger step into a traditional small group Bible study.”

“There’s still another advantage that comes with a sermon based small group model. It’s that most people (including the marginally interested and new Christians) come to the meeting far more prepared than they would if they were using a typical workbook or study guide.”

Part 3 recounts ten chapters on the Why’s and How’s of Sermon-Based Small Groups and why this model works better than some of the more popular models out there for small groups. Here are some practical realities of sermon based small groups:

“A group needs to be small enough that everyone has a chance to contribute, but large enough that no one feels forced to speak up or share more than they want to. That means the ideal size for a group of introverts will tend to be larger than the ideal size for a group of thin-it-and-immediately-say-it extroverts. One needs more people to break the silence. The other needs less people so that there will be some silence.”

“The ideal size for a group of married couples is usually twelve to fourteen people. For singles, eight to twelve can be ideal.”

“We’ve found that whenever a couples group reaches sixteen people (or a singles group reaches fourteen), attendance becomes predictably inconsistent. It’s strange, but we can have three groups of twelve people, and all thirty-six will be present at almost every meeting. But two groups of sixteen people will hardly ever have all thirty-two show up. Perhaps it has to do with those in the smaller group feeling more needed and feeling a greater sense of responsibility.”

“We’ve found that the sermon-based small groups that have the greater life-on-life impact and stay together the longest are always those in which the friendships are deepest. That’s why we tell people to choose a group primarily according to who else is in it rather than where or when it meets.”

“Although we allow people to pick any group they want as long as there’s room in the group, we’ve found that those who make their choice based on a convenient location or time have a much lower stick rate than those who look for a group with which they already share an interest or station in life.”

“In almost every case, the first thing you’d notice at one of our small group meetings is that it starts with some light refreshments as people arrive—especially something to drink.”

“Once the meeting starts, most groups spend fifteen to thirty minutes sharing prayer requests and updating one another on what has been going on in their lives…As a group jells, this part of the meeting tends to expand and move to a much deeper level. In new groups, it can be perfunctory and shallow at first. But that’s fine by us. We don’t try to force depth. We simply provide an opportunity for great depth and vulnerability t show up when both the group and the Holy Spirit are ready.”

“The next part of the meeting is dedicated to the study and discussion of the previous weekend’s sermon…To improve the quality of the discussion, we work hard to make sure that everyone comes with the answers to the study questions already filled out. One of the most effective ways we do this is by having our leaders periodically ask people to read what they’ve written down, especially if it appears that someone is deviating from their original answer.”

“The homework (discussion/study guide) always consists of three types of questions: Getting to Know Me (These questions offer a nonthreatening look into our past or current life situations. They’re designed to help us get to know each other at a safe but accelerated pace), Into the Bible (These questions take the group to biblical passages that are either complementary or parallel to the main text of the sermon but were not covered in the message), and Application (These are designed to take home the main point or points of the sermon and drive them home. They typically deal with attitudes or life-change issues).”

“We ask every group to take at least one service project a year (the ideal is two) and to have at least one social gathering per quarter).”

“As a rule of thumb, most people will participate in only two time slots per week. No matter what the third meeting is for or when it takes place, it’s hard to get anyone to show up.”

Osborne goes on to discuss how to overcome the time crunch of developing and sustaining leaders; determining your primary purpose; how groups can grow deeper; why dividing groups isn’t the best strategy; how to find and develop leaders; how to train leaders; and these five key questions to ask before starting small groups:

  1. “Who are you trying to reach?” By that I mean, “Specifically who do you imagine being in your small groups? Who is likely to opt out? Who are you willing to leave out?”
  2. “What you plan to do in your meetings?” The options are endless. But once I know what happens in a small group, I can predict with uncanny accuracy who will come and who won’t.
  3. “How well does who you want to reach match up with what you plan to do?”
  4. “How do you think people are best trained to live out the Christian life and best prepared for leadership?”
  5. The final question to ask before launching a new or revamped small group ministry is, “Who already does what we want to do well—and does it in a church we would go to if we lived in the area?”

There is a large appendix section in the back of the book containing helps for the following topics: (1) Writing Great Questions; (2) Sample Sermon Note Sheet and Study Questions; (3) Sample Growth Group Covenant; (4) End-of-the-quarter Evaluation Form; (5) Leader Training Topics; (6) Leader Responsibilities; (7) Host Responsibilities; (8) A List of NT “One Anothers.” The Last section contains a Study Guide of Follow Up Questions for each chapter in the book.

Osborne’s model is simple; practical, proven, and effective. I don’t know of a better model for helping a local church reach out; equip; serve; raise up leaders; and unleash people for multiplying disciples of Jesus Christ. I have used this model in three churches; and now about to embark on launching this model in another church. I am grateful for it’s simplicity and yet the profound impact it has made practically in so many lives that I have been in community with. It has made a profound impact on my own belief that discipleship is done best in community and is a process not an event.

 

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10 Benefits of Giving Thanks by Charles F. Stanley

“Give Thanks in Everything”

Why this tough but life-giving command can change your entire outlook.

Reading the Bible isn’t always easy.

If you’ve ever thought those words but were embarrassed to speak them, you’re not alone. Sure, there’s plenty within Scripture that we comprehend without much difficulty. But at times we come across a passage that baffles us—or worse, makes us feel angry or annoyed. Sometimes it’s because we simply don’t understand what the Lord is saying through the text. But often the reason for our discomfort is that we don’t like what we’re reading. It’s easier to ignore those verses and move on to more appealing topics than to hash it out with God and do what He says. Reading the Bible is hard because, in the end, it challenges us to change.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 is one of those verses that can really get under your skin: “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” But what about those difficult and painful situations? Being grateful for suffering seems to make no sense.

If I were writing Scripture, I would say, “In most things give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” It’s easy to be grateful for the good things in life—a newborn baby, a raise, a new house, or encouraging news from the doctor. But what if you lose your job, discover your child is on drugs, or are told by the doctor that you have only have six months to live? How can God expect you to be grateful then?

I faced this dilemma some time ago when I hurt my shoulder and experienced excruciating pain. I read this verse and told the Lord, “I know You said this, but it’s not reasonable when I’m hurting so badly. I just don’t feel thankful.” But then I noticed that it didn’t say, In everything give thanks when you feel like it. This command has nothing to do with feelings. It’s a choice to do what God says. Whenever He gives us a command in the Bible, it’s for our benefit.

Gratitude impacts every area of our lives.

By giving us the command to always give thanks, God is not rubbing salt in a wound or calling us to set aside reason. He knows that being thankful in all circumstances has a powerful impact on every area of our Christian life. Here are ten lessons I’ve learned:

1. Gratitude keeps us continually aware that the Lord is close by.Even though gratefulness doesn’t come naturally in difficult circumstances, a decision to thank God for walking with us through life makes us more sensitive to His comforting presence.

2. It motivates us to look for His purpose in our circumstance. Knowing that the Lord allows hurt and trouble for His good purposes takes the edge off the pain. Even if we don’t understand why we’re going through suffering, we can thank God because we know that in His time, He’ll work it all for good. In the meantime, we can rest in the knowledge that He’s using every hardship to transform us into the image of His Son (Rom. 8:28-29).

3. Thanksgiving helps bring our will into submission to God.When the situation we’re experiencing is the last thing we’d ever want, thanking the Lord is a giant step toward being able to follow Christ’s example and say, “Not my will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42). Gratitude helps us acknowledge that God’s will is best, even if it’s hard; in that way, we are able to release our hold on what we want. Although the circumstances may remain the same, submission changes our heart.

4. It reminds us of our continual dependence upon the Lord. Pride, adequacy, and independence evaporate whenever we’re trapped in a situation that leaves us helpless and hopeless. If there’s no way out, thanking God for His control over all things reminds us that He alone is our strength.

5. Thankfulness is an essential ingredient for joy.There’s no way to “rejoice always” (1 Thess. 5:16) without giving thanks in everything (v. 18). That’s why ungrateful people are so grumpy. Joy is an inner sense of contentment, which flows from a deep assurance that all God’s purposes are good and He’s in complete control of every situation. With that kind of supernatural joy, it’s easy to be thankful.

6. A grateful attitude strengthens our witness to unbelievers.The world is filled with people who are angry, frustrated, and overwhelmed with the difficulties of life. But a believer with a grateful attitude is like a light shining in a dark place. The people around you will want to know why you don’t grumble and complain the way everyone else does. Then you can tell them about your amazing Savior.

7. Thanking God focuses our attention on Him rather than our circumstances. The key to a grateful heart begins with understanding the Lord’s character because knowing His awesome attributes motivates trust and gratitude. He knows exactly what you’re going through, loves you unconditionally, and understands you perfectly. When you thank Him in tough times, He gets bigger, and the circumstances become smaller.

8. Gratitude gives us eternal perspective. The apostle Paul is an amazing example of a man who suffered extreme hardship yet remained thankful. That’s because he was able to see life from God’s perspective. In 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, he says our present suffering is “momentary light affliction.” If you’re going through a really hard time, those words may sound ridiculous. Maybe you’ve been dealing with pain your entire life, or a difficult trial has dragged on for decades. It hardly seems momentary or light.

But Paul is comparing our situations here on earth with what’s awaiting us in eternity. For him, a 40-year stretch of pain and hardship was no match for the “eternal weight of glory” awaiting him (2 Cor. 4:17). What an amazing thought—your present pain has the potential to produce incomparable glory for you in heaven. Now that’s a big reason to thank God!

9. When we’re wearied by our circumstances, thanksgiving energizes us. Most of us can handle short trials, but if they continue for a long period of time, the emotional and physical strain is exhausting. Should ongoing illness, unresolved relational problems, or continued financial pressures become more than we can bear, it’s time to start thanking God because He has promised to give strength to the weary (Isaiah 40:29). He’ll release His supernatural energy within us so we can patiently endure the trial and come out victorious on the other side.

10. Gratitude transforms anxiety into peace, which passes all understanding (Phil. 4:6-7). I learned this principle through a very difficult experience. When I was feeling anxious about the situation, I discovered that complaining, getting angry, and arguing with God didn’t change my circumstances. Finally, in desperation, I began thanking Him. Only then did I receive His incomprehensible peace. My situation didn’t change for quite a while, but God’s peace guarded my heart all the way through that trying time.

What will you choose?

The choice isn’t always easy. Most of the time, we’d rather get out of difficulties than thank God through them. But have you ever considered that He may actually want you to stay in a painful situation for a time? I know this may not sound like something a loving God would ever do, but remember, His goal is to do what is best for you, not what’s comfortable, convenient, and enjoyable.

The Lord’s purposes for your life extend beyond your days on earth. He’s working for your eternal good. Begin thanking God today, in whatever circumstance you find yourself. After all, what’s the alternative—bitterness, resentment, and grumbling? God made you for something far better: eternal, sustaining joy. The transformation starts with two simple, small words offered from the heart: thank You.

Say them over and over. And then say them again. Your joy will be radiant—a light shining in a dark and desperate world.

 

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8 Advantages of Expository Preaching

Excerpt from Gary Millar and Phil Campbell’s Book [contributed by Andy Naselli]: Saving Eutychus: How To Preach God’s Word and Keep People Awake: Kingsford NSW, Australia: Matthias Media, 2013, pp. 40-41 (http://andynaselli.com/8-advantages-of-heart-changing-expository-preaching/May 16, 2013)

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8 Advantages of Heart-Changing Expository Preaching

Expository Preaching

(1) Does justice to the biblical material which makes it clear that God works through His Word to change people’s lives–as it ‘uncaged the lion’ and allows God’s Word to speak.

(2) Acknowledges that it is God alone, through the Spirit, who works in people’s lives, and that it is not our job to change people through clever or inspiring communication.

(3) Minimizes the danger of manipulating people, because the text itself controls what we say and how we say it. The Bible leaves little room for us to return repeatedly to our current bugbears and hobbyhorses.

(4) Minimizes the danger of abusing power, because a sermon driven by the text creates an instant safeguard against using the Bible to bludgeon (or caress) people into doing or thinking what we want them to do or think.

(5) Removes the need to rely on our personality. While we all feel the weight, at times of having little ‘inspiration’, energy or creativity, if our focus is on allowing the immense richness of Scripture to speak in all its color and variety, the pressure is well and truly off.

(6) Encourages humility to those teaching. While it can be a temptation to think that we are somehow special because we are standing at the front doing most of the talking (and, on a good day, receiving the encouragement), getting it straight that the key to preaching to the heart is simply uncovering the power and freshness of God’s words helps to keep us in our place.

(7) Helps us to avoid simple pragmatism. If our focus is on working consistently to enable people to encounter God who speaks through the text, we will not feel under pressure to address every single issue and topic as it comes up in the life of the church. Conversely, working through the Bible week by week will force us to cover subjects that we wouldn’t choose to address in a million years. In other words, expository preaching is the simplest, longest-lasting antidote we have to pragmatism.

(8) Drives us to preaching the gospel. Expository preaching persistently drives us to the Lord Jesus Christ (wherever we are in the Bible) and so ‘forces’ us to preach the gospel–that is, to spell out what God has already done for us in the death and resurrection of His Son, and then to move from that grace to what God asks and enables us to do. When we preach the gospel we are not simply telling people how to be good or leaving them to wallow in the overwhelming sense that they are irredeemably bad.

 
 

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God’s Part In Ministry by Dennis McCallum and Gary DeLashmutt

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Christian workers must clearly understand the role God plays in evangelism, discipleship and other aspects of ministry. Unless we consciously operate out of a God-centered model of ministry, we will automatically default to a human-centered model, and all the defeat that comes with it.

A moment’s reflection tells us that what we propose to accomplish in Christian ministry is supernatural. To reach people’s hearts with conviction of their need for Christ, to train them up in the faith, to impart the deep things of God in a life-changing way, to oppose and defeat powerful evil spirits—these are acts that no human can hope to accomplish, no matter how intelligent and competent that person may be. The key to ministry success is always the same: That God moves through us “leading us in his triumph.” (2 Cor. 2:14) Spiritual failure in ministry is predictable when leaders try to supplant the power of God with human charisma, ingenuity, marketing skill, force of will, or social manipulation, even when these are supplied from the best of motives.

Although no real ministry will go forward without the power of God, we should not deny the human part in this process, which would be “super-spirituality.” Paul declares that he and the other apostles are “God’s fellow workers.” (1 Cor. 3:9) Yes, “neither he who plants nor he who reaps are anything but God who causes the growth.” (vs. 7) But this is a figure of speech meaning that compared to God, the planter and reaper are nothing. We should not understand this hyperbole literalistically. Do we really think that everything would have come out the same even if Paul had never gone to Corinth to plant? We hold that his planting did make a difference, and Paul argues this as well, as the whole point of 1Corinthians 3 is that every Christian leader should “take care how he builds.” (vs.10) An honest reading of the Bible reveals a strong doctrine of human agency in ministry. God has elected to work though human beings, and therefore our actions are important.

What, then, should we anticipate God will do from his side in our ministry?

In the first place, God directs our ministries. Leaders are to come to the scriptures, and to the Lord in prayer, seeking to know his will for our ministry. Ministry that departs from the direction God wants may bear some kind of fruit, but becomes “wood hay and stubble” the further we depart from the leading of the Holy Spirit. Interestingly, God seems willing to continue using ministries that are off-target, apparently because he places a higher value on reaching the lost than on complete fidelity to his leading. Paul observed this phenomenon in Rome. (Phil. 1:15-18) This is probably the meaning of Mark 9:38-40 as well. Even in 1 Corinthians 3, the “wood hay and stubble” may be used by God, but it will not be rewarded. In fact, the Bible abounds with examples where God continued to use leaders who went astray, sometimes very badly. What are we to conclude?

On one hand, since it is God’s will to direct our ministries, we should seek that leading often and earnestly. Even though God may continue to use off-target ministries, we assume that we will bear more spiritual fruit the closer we are to God’s ideal. This is increasingly obvious as time goes on. In the short term, human-based ministry may look good, but it tends to deteriorate over time or bring disgrace upon the Lord’s name. On the other hand, we should never become paralyzed by the notion that “Unless I know exactly what God wants in each situation, I can’t move forward.” We can move forward based on the general knowledge of what God wants, and in areas we are unsure, we can remain open to any correction in our course that God may want to show us, knowing that he will not let us come to irreversible harm (Phil. 3:15).

The direction of God extends not only to major issues like whether to preach the word or to practice church discipline, but to more subjective areas like when someone is ready for leadership, or with whom to invest our discipling time and effort. Teachers have to consult God on what slant to take when teaching a particular text. Evangelists must ask when to make a more direct call on the lost. Leaders must plead for insight as to how much to expect from a particular disciple. All believers need discernment as to Satan’s next move. In all, there are thousands of decisions in ministry requiring divine guidance.

Secondly, God empowers our ministries. Jesus’ declaration that “apart from me you can do nothing,” is again a figure of speech. He doesn’t mean we can do nothing at all, but that we can do nothing of spiritual value apart from him. As Christian leaders, we realize that we depend absolutely on God for things like:

Evangelism. While a warm demeanor, patience, good arguments, and heartfelt pleas matter in evangelism, only the Holy Spirit can finally convict a person of their need for Christ and bring them to repentance. (John 6:65)

Conviction. We can preach truth, but we depend on God to convict people’s hearts to follow the truth. Apart from spiritual conviction, people will listen to the truth with passive curiosity. This is likely the power Paul referred to in 1 Cor. 4:19,20.

Development of Christian character. No amount of blustering and Bible thumping will transform human lives, “for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13)

Overthrowing demons. How could any human hope to impact a spiritual being like Satan apart from the power of God? (Rom. 16:20)

Filling Christian meetings with spiritual power. Paul asks his friends to pray that he be “given utterance” when preaching. (Eph. 6:19) He knew that preaching must be anointed by the Holy Spirit in order to be effective.

Failure to understand or believe in God’s role in ministry will always have negative results. These results include arrogance during “in season” times, as well as panic, pushiness and discouragement during “out of season” times. On the other hand, reliance on God’s role in ministry will promote thankful humility during “in season” times, and stable perseverance during “out of season” times. Those who depend on God’s part have confidence in God’s adequacy through us.

The effect of a God-Centered Perspective on our Attitude

Consider the likely effect that a proper outlook in the area of God’s role will have in each of the following areas. On a three column grid, describe the outlook and actions of the human effort minister on the left, the God-centered minister in the middle, and the reason for the difference on the right.

A. Witnessing 

1. Less fear of rejection because we know they are not rejecting us, but God. Unlike the man-centered witnesser, we realize God must quicken people’s hearts, and if they don’t respond, there is nothing we can do about it.

2. Less tendency to push because human or social pressure would not result in conversion anyway. The God-centered minister learns to wait on the power of God.

3. More likely to use the Word. God-centered ministers know that God works through his word. While using the Bible with one who doesn’t believe the Bible may seem absurd to the natural mind, God says his word “will not return void.”

B. Discipline

1. No fear of sin. Instead of reacting out of fear that sin will ruin our church, the God-centered minister has a settled confidence that Christ will build his church. We become free to discipline sin for the good of the sinner.

2. No doubting of God’s ability to change lives. Man-centered ministers are tempted to become fatalistic about those in chronic sin, thinking “they’ll never change.” The God-centered minister knows God’s power is great.

3. Less apt to try to force people. Again, human pressure is not an adequate motivation for permanent and real spiritual change. While the Bible does prescribe pressure in certain extreme situations, God-centered leaders are less prone to jumping to this conclusion.

4. More patience. Human-based ministers lose patience because they are waiting on fallen humans to change, rather than waiting on God to bring change.

C. Teaching and preaching

1. More boldness and confidence. God-centered teachers and preachers know that God infuses our utterances with power, and that it is his will to bless the church. Instead of relying on self-confidence, which often withers, these rely on God-confidence which is reliable.

2. More tendency to pray against the Devil. The God-centered speaker knows that each talk is a spiritual battle that must be fought with the weapons of righteousness.

D. Discipleship

1. The God-centered discipler tries to get in line with what God wants to do with particular lives. They realize that God’s gifting of individuals is an indication of his will for their lives.

2. More emphasis on discernment, and less on program. The key becomes recognizing what God is doing, rather than having the ultimate method that can’t fail.

3. More relaxation, leading to more trust from disciples. Since the God-centered minister sees himself as a facilitator of God’s development of another’s life, people sense that they aren’t being made to follow the discipler’s will, but that both are trying to follow God’s will.

4. More willingness to teach in-depth Bible study. Those who conceive of discipleship in sociological terms see little reason to waste large amounts of time learning God’s word. They prefer to teach techniques and formulas and consider deep critical issues in Scripture a waste of time. The God-centered leader knows that people are sanctified through the word of God.

5. Less likelihood of bossing. God-centered disciplers know that convictions to follow the Lord must come from within disciples as they respond to the Holy Spirit. Change that results from external pressure would be pseudo-change.

E. Leadership

1. Easier to admit problems in the church. Unlike the human-based leader, who is ego involved with the well-being of the church, the God-centered ministry has no reason to avoid looking at bad news.

2. Easier to avoid pessimism. At the same time, God-centered leaders don’t become negative, because they know God has the power to handle even severe problems.

3. More inclination to raise up others– less need to “hog the ball.” Human-centered leaders secretly think their own competence is the key to the success of the church. Since they interpret the growth of the church in terms of cause and effect on the natural level, it makes no sense to have a less-experienced, less competent new leader speak and lead. The result is a man-centered ministry, where the significant public roles are always filled by the great man.

4. More time and effort devoted to prayer. The God-centered minister knows that only God can build the church, and that every advance requires his power.

Many more examples could be cited. This perspective affects every area of ministry. As in personal sanctification, learning to rely on God’s power instead of our own power is a process which takes time. No leader can claim to have this area down completely.

One of the main ways we learn to depend on God is by experiencing failure (see II Cor. 11:30-33; 12:9,10). As we respond properly to these failures, we gradually learn to minister in dependence upon God’s power.

– See more at: http://www.xenos.org/classes/leadership/godmin.html#sthash.fJLueUZO.dpuf

 

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Tim Keller on Christ Centered Exposition of the Scriptures

Moralism vs. Christ-Centered Exposition 

Tim Keller seated image

We have said that you must preach the gospel every week–to edify and grow Christians and to convert non-Christians. But if that is the case, you cannot simply ‘instruct in Biblical principles.’ You have to ‘get to Jesus’ every week.

For example, look at the story of David and Goliath. What is the meaning of that narrative for us? Without reference to Christ, the story may be (usually is!) preached as: “The bigger they come, the harder they’ll fall, if you just go into your battles with faith in the Lord. You may not be real big and powerful in yourself, but with God on your side, you can overcome giants.” But as soon as we ask: “how is David foreshadowing the work of his greater Son”? We begin to see the same features of the story in a different light. The story is telling us that the Israelites can not go up against Goliath. They can’t do it. They need a substitute. When David goes in on their behalf, he is not a full-grown man, but a vulnerable and weak figure, a mere boy. He goes virtually as a sacrificial lamb. But God uses his apparent weakness as the means to destroy the giant, and David becomes Israel’s champion-redeemer, so that his victory will be imputed to them. They get all the fruit of having fought the battle themselves.

This is a fundamentally different meaning than the one that arises from the non-Christocentric reading. There is, in the end, only two ways to read the Bible: is it basically about me or basically about Jesus? In other words, is it basically about what I must do, or basically about what he has done? If I read David and Goliath as basically giving me an example, then the story is really about me. I must summons up the faith and courage to fight the giants in my life. But if I read David and Goliath as basically showing me salvation through Jesus, then the story is really about him. Until I see that Jesus fought the real giants (sin, law, death) for me, I will never have the courage to be able to fight ordinary giants in life (suffering, disappointment, failure, criticism, hardship). For example how can I ever fight the “giant” of failure, unless I have a deep security that God will not abandon me? If I see David as my example, the story will never help me fight the failure/giant. But if I see David/Jesus as my substitute, whose victory is imputed to me, then I can stand before the failure/giant. As another example, how can I ever fight the “giant” of persecution or criticism? Unless I can see him forgiving me on the cross, I won’t be able to forgive others. Unless I see him as forgiving me for falling asleep on him (Matt.27:45) I won’t be able to stay awake for him.

In the Old Testament we are continually told that our good works are not enough, that God has made a provision. This provision is pointed to at every place in the Old Testament. We see it in the clothes God makes Adam and Eve in Genesis, to the promises made to Abraham and the patriarchs, to the Tabernacle and the whole sacrificial system, to the innumerable references to a Messiah, a suffering servant, and so on. Therefore, to say that the Bible is about Christ is to say that the main theme of the Bible is the gospel–Salvation is of the Lord (Jonah 2:9).

So reading the Old Testament Christocentrically is not just a “additional” dimension. It is not something you can just tack on – to the end of a study and sermon. (“Oh, and by the way, this also points us to Christ”.) Rather, the Christocentric reading provides a fundamentally different application and meaning to the text. Without relating it to Christ, the story of Abraham and Isaac means: “You must be willing to even kill your own son for him.” Without relating it to Christ, the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel means: “You have to wrestle with God, even when he is inexplicable-even when he is crippling you. You must never give up.” These ‘morals-of-the-story’ are crushing because they essentially are read as being about us and what we must do.

A BASIC OUTLINE FOR CHRIST-CENTERED, GOSPEL-MOTIVATED SERMONS
The following may actually be four points in a presentation, or they may be treated very quickly as the last point of a sermon. But more generally, this is a foundational outline for the basic moral reasoning and argument that lies at the heart of the application.

The Plot winds up: WHAT YOU MUST DO.
“This is what you have to do! Here is what the text/narrative tells us that we must do or what we must be.”

The Plot thickens: WHY YOU CAN’T DO IT.
“But you can’t do it! Here are all the reasons that you will never become like this just by trying very hard.”

The Plot resolves: HOW HE DID IT.
“But there’s One who did. Perfectly. Wholly. Jesus the—. He has done this for us, in our place.”

The Plot winds down: HOW, THROUGH HIM, YOU CAN DO IT.
“Our failure to do it is due to our functional rejection of what he did. Remembering him frees our heart so we can change like this…”

a) In every text of the Scripture there is somehow a moral principle. It may grow out of because of what it shows us about the character of God or Christ, or out of either the good or bad example of characters in the text, or because of explicit commands, promises, and warnings. This moral principle must be distilled clearly.

b) But then a crisis is created in the hearers as the preacher shows that his moral principle creates insurmountable problems. The sermon shows how this practical and moral obligation is impossible to meet. The hearers are led to a seemingly dead end.

c) Then a hidden door opens and light comes in. The sermon moves both into worship and into Christ-application when it shows how only Jesus Christ has fulfilled this. If the text is a narrative, you can show how Christ is the ultimate example of a particular character. If the text is didactic, you can show how Christ is the ultimate embodiment of the principle.

d) Finally, we show how our inability to live as we ought stems from our rejection of Christ as the Way, Truth, and Life (or whatever the theme is). The sermon points out how to repent and rejoice in Christ in such a way that we can live as we ought.

 

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Book Review on Phil A. Newton’s “Elders in the Life of the Church”

Transitioning to A Biblical Model of Leadership

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Book Review By Dr. David P. Craig

It’s been my experience that most churches are way off base in their leadership structures. In light of what the New Testament says about leadership in the churches this is difficult to comprehend. Nevertheless Phil Newton has done a great service to the 21st Century church by providing an introductory guide to developing a biblical infrastructure for churches that take being biblically based and effective seriously.

Newton divides his helpful book into three sections:

Part One is composed of answering the question: Why Churches Should have Elders. In Part Two Newton exposits  three key texts on how Elders functioned in the New Testament: Acts 20:17-31; Hebrews 13:17-19; and 1 Peter 5:1-15. In giving a thorough exposition of each passage he demonstrates how Elders are models for their congregations; how Elders and the congregation work together in harmony; and how their primary calling is to be spiritual leaders for the good of the congregation and God’s greater glory.

In my opinion the most helpful section of the book is in part three. In this section Newton shows how a leadership team can transition into a fully functioning Elder Leadership in the Church with Deacons as well. All four examples are of large Baptist churches going from a Diaconate Board to two separate functioning boards of Elders and another of Deacons.

Giving a step-by-step process Newton shares from personal experience [South Woods Baptist Church] and from the experience of other well-known ministries (Mark Dever’s [Capital Hill Baptist Church in Washington D.C.], Jeff Noblit [First Baptist Church of Muscle Shoals, Alabama], and John Piper’s [Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, MN.] transitions from Deacon Board structures to adding Elders into the mix). The process is slow, methodical, and takes into consideration traditions, a thorough study of biblical passages on leadership, and how the principles are studied and bandied about in teams. The process for the four cases studied is very helpful to keep in mind no matter what background your church has, and where it’s at in the transitional process.

I think this is an excellent book for leadership teams to study and for pastors, staffs, deacons, and elders to use in seeking to become as biblically effective as possible in seeking to develop a healthy infrastructure for the good of the Church and the glory of God. What I especially like about Newton’s book in particular is that he doesn’t impose any particular church government upon a church, but allows the Bible to speak for itself. He encourages a thorough study of the biblical evidence in arriving at one’s model of church government. I highly recommend this book as an extremely helpful guide in leading one toward a more biblical model of church government.

 

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