vision

Vision – Part 1

Over the last several years I’ve given much thought to the subject of vision and have written a few times of it here on Cross Connection. Verses like Proverbs 29:18 regularly come to my mind — “Where there is no vision, the people perish” — and keep me cognizant of the fact that vision is important. It is however strange to me that discussion on the topic of vision seems, for some, to cause a problem. I’m not entirely sure what the problem is, but often when I speak on the subject, people (especially pastors) will, almost aggressively respond with things like, “Well, I’m not a visionary leader,” or “I’ve never seen a vision,” or my all-time favorite, “I haven’t had any visions since I became a Christian and stopped taking psychotropic drugs.” With that in mind let me begin by saying, I too have yet to “see a vision” and have never tried psychotropic drugs. Furthermore, I’m not sure I’d account myself as a “visionary leader.” But I do recognize the importance of vision, especially from Christian leaders and for Christian churches.

I greatly appreciate that the New Living Translation translates “vision” in Proverbs 29:18 as “divine guidance.” This translation sheds light on the fact that Christian leaders need to be led. Most Christian leaders (i.e. pastors) can accord with that. They fully recognize the need to be following the Lord in their leading of others, thus we seek the Lord for His guidance. His vision.

So as I’ve contemplated the question of vision I’ve concluded that there are five important aspects of vision that pastors and leaders should be aware of. Over the next several weeks I’ll be developing them here.

1. Receiving Vision

More than a few pastors have confessed to me “I am not a visionary leader.” I don’t necessarily believe them when they say so, because I am not convinced that they’d be leading if they weren’t. One of the problems is that we tend to look at those doing extraordinarily cutting edge things in ministry as the “visionaries” of the bunch. But I’d suggest that those leading edge pioneers are not the only ones, and that if we allow ourselves to think that only they are, then we will in some way fail to lay hold of the vision for which Christ has laid hold of us for. Well then how do we lay hold of, or receive the vision that God has for us? It’s actually easier than you might think.

In considering my personal ministry experience and the observations I’ve had of other’s, I’m more convinced than ever that divinely guided vision is as easy as a wish. In other words, vision begins as a desire. Thus, if you are to receive divinely guided vision you should delight yourself in the Lord. Yes, I’m referring to Psalm 37:4, in the sense that those who delight in the Lord will find their will (read, desire) subdued to God’s will. For, it is God who works in us to desire (Philippians 2:13).

This, I believe, is one of the “signs of life” for a Christian, new desires. Just as at physical birth a newborn baby experiences new desires it has never experienced before (to breath, to eat, etc.), a newborn babe in Christ does as well. This is almost instantaneous. How many times have we encountered new believers that say things like, “I just don’t want to do the things I use to want to do”? Why is that? Because the Spirit that dwells in us yearns jealously (James 4:5). His Spirit is bearing witness with our spirit that we are in fact newborn children of our Father in heaven. And as we delight ourselves in the Lord He imparts to us new desires (i.e. visions) to do things that we would not have other wise done.

Although it’s something of an aside, I think that it is important to highlight that there are a number of things that can aid in receiving vision. Since vision, in the context in which we’re speaking of it, is divine guidance, I believe that it is important (especially as a leader) to place yourself in the places in which God has told us that He will be. For your consideration I’ll give a few.

a. Jesus told us that He is with us when we are “going” on behalf of his name and kingdom.

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, [even] unto the end of the world. Amen.

– Matthew 28:19-20

b. God has revealed that He is present when His people praise Him.

But thou are holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.

– Psalm 22:3

c. Jesus revealed that He is in the midst of those gather in His name (i.e. fellowship).

For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

– Matthew 18:20

Now, the problem with visionary desires at the conception stage, they’re not always entirely clear. Just as there are times when we have a [carnal] desire to eat but cannot necessarily figure out just what it is that we’d like to eat. The specifics of the desire are indistinct and the details of the vision unclear, which leads us to where we’ll be heading next time with the second aspect of vision.

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What in the Worldview….

This article is an excerpt from my book Ahead of the Curve (published in 2011)

We need to put ourselves in the shoes of the non-believer. We need to think about how they see the world. We need to analyze how they interact with the world. Cross-cultural missionaries have been doing this for thousands of years. It is time, however, for us to apply the same skills here in the West to bridge the great divide within our culture. On any given Sunday, in most communities across America, there are vastly more people not going to church than there are in church. Fifty years ago, there was not as drastic a difference between the worldviews of the churchgoers and those of the non-churchgoers. But now there is a great divide, and in order to be effective, we must take the time to understand how the non-churchgoers think and feel. We have just seen what makes up a worldview. Now we will take some time and look at what has made the twentieth century what it is, the worldviews of modernity and postmodernity. My intention in this book is not to be exhaustive in any sense of the meaning, but will briefly sketch some of the defining contours of both modernity and postmodernity so that we can see what this emerging worldview actually is.

Modernity is often called the Post Medieval period. It runs roughly from 1400 until about the 1930s. Historians tend to break modernity into an early and a later period. The early modern period continues until about 1800. The modern era begins in the nineteenth century with the advent of industrialization. It is this latter period of modernity that has the most weight for us. It is what is commonly called the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment paradigm is also known as the “representation paradigm” in academic circles. Its goal is to see the world empirically. Reason has the upper hand. Proponents of modernity see the world as a mapping of what can be empirically understood.

Although the church seems currently obsessed with understanding postmodernism, I find it interesting to note that postmodernism began as an intellectual and cultural phenomenon in the 1920’s. That was almost a century ago! Postmodernity’s focus on social and political out workings has been the norm since the 1960’s. The church is behind the time. We are trying to understand something that is nearly a century old, yet we still don’t quite have a handle on it. Even the name by which we call the worldview, postmodernity, shows that we do not quite understand it. Think about the name of the first automobiles. They were called a horseless carriage. They didn’t know what it was, but they knew it wasn’t what they were used to. They had been used to horse drawn carriages and these new things did the same thing but without the horse. We call it postmodernism because we know that it is beyond modernism, but we do not quite know what it is still. This is more than a little disconcerting.

Tim Keller, the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, gave a basic outline of Western intellectual history in this way: Pre-modern (or Medieval) thought posits that we can know things truly through both reason and revelation. Modern thought believed that we can only know things truly through reason but not through revelation. But postmodern thought believes that we cannot know things truly either through reason or revelation. This is what Gerry Grant Madison meant when he said Post Modernism leads to aporia or intellectual exhaustion. This is why postmodernity is typified by relativism (there is not truth as it is all relative) and pluralism (one understanding is no better than another).

Postmodernity’s great critique of modernism is that it left out the individual in understanding the world. The individual himself brings something to an understanding of the world. In many ways, this is why postmodern thought tends to be overly self-focused. Joe Queenan’s book, Balsamic Dreams: A Short but Self Important History of the Baby Boomer Generation, is masterful at showing how self-improvement and self-centeredness is the predominant ideology of the boomers. Postmodernity brought the self to the forefront of the discussion and obviously, the self enjoys the adulation. It has been commonly said that the postmodern worldview has three problems that must be overcome in order to do effective Christian evangelism.

You will notice that all three problems exist on individual and personal grounds. The problems are: the guilt problem, the truth problem and the meaning problem. There is a guilt problem because most postmodern people do not have guilt over their mistakes because of their truth problem. They essentially do not believe in truth. Like Pilate, they ask the question, “What is truth?” It is a rhetorical question that assumes there is no such thing as truth. The guilt problem stems from the truth problem, which stems from their meaning problem. Because truth is relative and unknowable, how can anyone know what something really means? You can see how pure postmodernism leads to intellectual exhaustion!

Two of the main consequences of postmodern thought are the fragmentation of authority and the commoditization of knowledge. Postmoderns see things in terms of power plays. All authority is seen as an oppressive hierarchy. Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud’s theories on this subject set the stage for what have now become readily accepted cultural beliefs. The whole situation is exacerbated by modern technology, which brings the world closer and makes it seem smaller. The Internet brings knowledge to us at a rapid pace. The postmodern person is used to having information from all over the world instantaneously accessible. This is a lethal combination. When distain for authority (and their truth claims) meet copious amounts of knowledge mixed with self-centeredness, the result is an inability to correctly assess meaning, truth or guilt.

Postmodernity, by and large, rejected on a grand scale, the empirical and rational claims of modernity. Postmodernists rejected truth and accumulated information. Postmoderns typify what the Bible speaks of when it says, “always learning but never coming to the knowledge of the truth.” But as I look at the prevailing worldview of both the Northeast and the West Coast, I see something different than postmodernity. There is not the rejection of truth claims at all. But what is unique is that rather than rejecting what has come before, there is a prevailing sense that other viewpoints should be integrated into the worldview. Not just in an acknowledgment of viewpoints, but in the actual amalgamation of truths.

In the report from the After Post Modern Conference it says this:
General statements of “truth” and objectivity’ are permanently ambiguous––but this does not mean that truth and objectivity are lost. Rather they require more––they need a further contextual completion from what we are just then living, before we can choose among variants for an activity at hand. Instead of mere pluralism, we can create “complexes of multiple truths” involving a demanding and sophisticated steering of scientific research with multiple applications and resonance to local contexts.

It is these complexes of multiple truths that I see clearly on the coasts of our country. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. At this point, I am happy to introduce you to post-postmodernity. Let us give it a proper name. I would like you to meet the “Integral Worldview.”

Prism

Perspective

Like-mindedness is a great thing. I love working together with those who are reading from the same page as me. Having theological, philosophical, and relational unity in ministry is no small thing. For the ministry in our church, these seem to be concentric circles. The depth of ministry I have with others seems to filter through these circles.

However, there is a danger here that we must be aware of.  Our ministry can be limited by the least common denominator, which reduces the breadth and scope of our ministry. In other words, I only minister with or learn from those like me. If we are to stay Kingdom-minded, we must never allow our little kingdoms to rise against the Kingdom. We need to be careful of this locally in our town in relation to other gospel believing brothers and churches, but also as a movement of churches.

Almost sub-consciously a church or movement can become insular in relation to outside churches. It is always easier to work with and have connections to those who are like us. In the long run, this can have harmful consequences. Over time secondary issues (doctrines) morph into primary issues (doctrines). It seems safe to say that no church or movement is truly self-aware. Just as individuals require relationships with those unlike them to help them see their blind spots, a church or movement comprised of individuals would also need such illuminating relationships.

If we enshrine our views on secondary issues, then those who do not hold those views become classed as unfaithful to Scripture and are villainised. We begin to fear their views rather than be challenged by them. We begin to canonise our theology as ‘the’ true theology.

Others are then compared by our standards and what began as desire for accuracy in biblical interpretation turns to elitism. Paul speaking of those who make themselves the true measure of orthodoxy speaks insightfully in 2 Corinthians 10:12, “Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.”

It is healthy for us as church leaders to bear in mind that we all have blind spots, and someone who holds another perspective shines light on an issue in a way that I may have been previously blind to. If I am not teachable in this respect, what does that say about me? By teachability, I am not implying a lack of conviction on things, but humility in the reality that I see through a glass dimly (1 Corinthians 13:12). The nature of the diversity of the body of Christ (and I include here diversity in theology within orthodoxy) means we can see more clearly corporately than we can individually.

As a closing illustration, look at this picture. Many of you will have seen it before. What do you see? Multiple perspectives shine light on the nature of the image. Is this an old lady, or is this a young woman? Is it one to the exclusion of the other? Is your appreciation of the image enriched by a different perspective? Our appreciation of God and his Word should be enriched by orthodox perspectives that may be different from our own.

 

 

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By Any Means Necessary

I have been thinking much lately about ministerial preference. What I mean by that is simply that every minister (and ministry) has a preference for ministry style. Some enjoy large churches the best. Some small churches. Some think church planting is the way to go. Others think church revitalization is the key. For some, multi-site campuses are the way to go. For some it is native missionaries. For others it is cross-cultural missions. For some, house churches and for others it is institutional churches. And on and on.

What I have come to appreciate is that the work of the kingdom is truly “by whatever means necessary”. What I mean by that is simple, that in the work of the kingdom we need to trust that the Living God will encourage and move in His church by diverse means. In the work of ministry, we should feel comfortable to trust that God can and will use whatever means necessary to get the job done.

I share this because oftentimes we spend so much energy and time fighting for our preference. I know that I have done a lot of that in my life. Please don’t get me wrong, it is very normal to believe strongly and champion your preference. But I think we need to be careful not to value our preference higher than another. The work of the kingdom is to important to invalidate another methodology just because it is not our preference.

Biblically speaking, Paul was called to the Gentiles and Peter to the Jews. Paul moved cross culturally where many disciples stayed locally and served. Paul spoke to multitudes while Aquila and Priscilla seemed to do one on one ministry. What is common is that there was no competition. They worked together although uniquely, yet all for the same cause.

The more time I spend seeking God about the work of ministry in the 21st century, the more I find myself repenting of taking certain means off the table. The cause of God’s glory is too great to ‘thin the herd’ based on preference.

But these are just my humble thoughts. What do you think?

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Local church lessons from a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier. Part 1 of 2

If a gold-mine that has produced a number of nuggets already might actually contain a few more, only a fool wouldn’t take the time to make another excursion into the shaft and dig around for more.

In my relentless pursuit of analogies and/or illustrations that might be useful for making the truths of God more understandable, I recently ventured back down into the gold-mine of the U.S. Military.  On this latest trip in, I was looking for a nugget that might help the leadership of a local church to reconsider the priority that they have assigned to what has historically been referred to as “missions”.

And believe it or not, I found another nugget!  Actually, it’s quite a bit larger than a nugget.  It was actually….an aircraft carrier… the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan to be exact!  This Nimitz class nuclear powered warship has the capacity to fully transport 90 fixed wing aircraft and helicopters and has a crew of more than 5,600 people, (3,200 of which are for the ship itself and 2,480 that concentrate on the aircraft).

By asking the following easily answered questions about the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan, and then asking similar questions about the local church–questions that I believe are also easily answered based on the bible, I’m convinced that a few challenging and God-glorifying truths might be made a little clearer.

1.  What is the functional reason for the existence of an aircraft carrier, specifically, the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan ?

–Can the answer be any simpler?  An aircraft carrier exists to…..CARRY AIRCRAFT!

A carrier is brought into existence for a purpose…to carry aircraft, and then given a mission.  That mission is to launch the aircraft it carries when commanded to do so by the captain of the ship in response to the orders the captain receives from the commander-in-chief.

2.  If the U.S.S. Reagan has a capacity for transporting and launching 90 aircraft, (most with not more than two people in the cockpit of those aircraft when they fly), then what is the purpose of the other approximately 5,500 people that are on board the ship?

–Everyone else on board makes up the team that is essential for the ship to do what it was created and designed to do…launch the aircraft and carry out its mission.  Every crew member has a specific job to do, but their job is always accomplished in unison with with all the other crew members and the jobs each of them do.  Every member of the crew must understand that they are an essential part of the whole team of people that work together so that the mission of the ship can be accomplished.  Any team member that doesn’t take their job seriously or do it to the best of their ability is putting the accomplishment of the mission at risk and could actually cost the lives of others and even their own.

Less than 5 percent of the crew are actually in the aircraft that the ship launches.  When those aircraft are launched, they will be the only ones to actually engage the distant enemy that represents a government in conflict with that the government the carrier represents.  That engagement will take place as many miles away from the ship as possible.

3.  The aircraft are launched to accomplish a mission at a great distance from the ship itself, but is the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan also capable of accomplishing a mission in the vicinity immediately surrounding it’s own location?

–Yes, of course.  It carries other sea-capable craft and weapons systems that other crew members are trained to use and that can be deployed within the nearby vicinity of the ship.

4.  Does the captain of the ship ever fly off of the ship on a combat mission?

–No.  His primary role is to ensure the ship is in working order and is capable of being at the location it is required to be in, with all systems, including the aircraft, ready to do what they were designed to do.

As I was mentally chewing on these things and tinkering around with how these things might illustrate some truths that local churches would do well to consider, I had an incredibly thought-provoking conversation with a recently retired U.S. Navy doctor.

Any time I have the opportunity to speak with someone who has also served in the military, I seize the opportunity and pepper them with dozens of questions.  I genuinely love to hear about their motivation for joining, their specific occupation while they were in, and if they’re open to talking about, some of the lessons about life they may have learned during their time of service.

This doctor told me that the “mission” of a Navy physician changes when that doctor moves from duty on shore at a hospital or clinic, to medical duty on a ship.  Although every individual sailor, airmen, or Marine’s health care is important, when on a ship, that person’s healthcare has to be filtered through the “mission” of the ship and that person’s role in accomplishing that “mission”.  If I understood correctly, this doctor was telling me that even the health care needs of the crew of the ship must serve the “mission” of the ship which is the highest priority.

I honestly didn’t know that, but as I thought about it, it does make sense.  The health care needs of the crew are NOT the highest priority, the “mission” of the ship is.  In fact, every member of the crew knows that the ship does not exist to keep them healthy and that the actual accomplishment of the “mission” that they are committed to could very well be detrimental to their health, and may even cost them their lives.

Although I’m sure some of those you already see where I’m going with this, I will end this post with this thought:

Knowing why every local church exists and the mission it has been given by God is crucial and understanding that mission and making it the filter through which everything else it does is viewed should determine the way things are prioritized.

 

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Pattern of Prayer

Often when we study the Scriptures, we look at verses, pericopes, and chapters. Recently, in considering prayer, I was curious how often prayer occurred in the book of Acts as a whole. I often hear people say things like “we need to get back to the book of Acts”. Dealing with this phrase is worthy of a post of its own, it is often based on some wrong assumptions, but I suggest we do look at Acts again and consider the emphasis that Luke, under Spirit-inspiration, puts on prayer in the early church.

Acts 1, gathered together in prayer in the upper room.
Acts 2, church birthed at a prayer meeting; Continued in prayer together daily.
Acts 3, Peter and John heal the lame man as they were going to pray.
Acts 4, brethren in trouble so church prays.
Acts 6, devoted themselves to prayer.
Acts 7, Stephen prays for his persecutors.
Acts 8, Apostles pray for new believers to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
Acts 9, Ananias comforted because Saul is praying.
Acts 10, Peter prays and is called to Cornelius.1
Acts 12, Church gathered praying for Peter.
Acts 13, The Church is praying and sending out missionaries.
Acts 14, Paul and Barnabas prayed for the new church plants.
Acts 16, Paul and Silas pray from prison.
Acts 17, Paul’s spirit is stirred for Athens resulting in prayer.2
Acts 18, Paul prays in Corinth.3
Acts 19, Disciples in Ephesus are prayed for.
Acts 20, Paul prays with the Ephesian elders.
Acts 21, the Church in Tyre, Syria prays.
Acts 22, Paul speaks about his praying in the Temple.
Acts 23, Paul was in prayer in the night.3
Acts 27, Paul prays for all those on the storm tossed ship.4
Acts 28, Paul prays for Publius to be healed on Malta.

In looking at the book of Acts through this lens, I have been stirred to prayer. In our independent society, we can easily lose sight of our absolute dependence on God, and our church’s dependence on God. I believe it was Tozer who said that if the Holy Spirit ceased working in the early church, 90% of the work would cease, but if the Holy Spirit ceased working in the church today, 90% would continue. Spurgeon was right when he said “Prayer is the lung of the church”. My God replace our asthmatic prayer life with deep breaths of dependence on God, and may we, as pastors, model a lifestyle of strong healthy prayer as if we are one breath away from death.

 

1 10:9-­‐16, Prayer is seen in Peter’s dialogue with Jesus.
2 17:16, I take it that Paul’s spirit being stirred suggests that Paul began to pray.
3 18:9-­‐10; 23:11, The Lord speaking to Paul implies prayer.
4 27:23-­‐25, An angel being dispatched to strengthen Paul strongly suggests Paul was in prayer.

risk

Taking Steps of Faith

“For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith. — But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. — (For we walk by faith, not by sight:)— But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. — For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? — O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? — ..for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.”

Romans 1:17 • Hebrews 11:6 • 2 Corinthians 5:7 • Matthew 6:33 • Matthew 16:25-26 • Matthew 14:31 • Romans 14:23

Comfort is the enemy of growth. Yet we live in a society that works overtime at eliminate any and all discomforts. Certainly, I know no one that enjoys being uncomfortable, least of all myself. I’ll readily admit my own aversion to discomfort, but at the same time I recognize the absolute and total necessity of living and walking by faith, which is tremendously uncomfortable.

It was nearly 10 years ago that the Lord impressed upon me a very simple, but an important truth of pastoral leadership. As I prepared to step away from a ministry I loved and knew well to serve in a country I’d never visited, with people I’d never met, in a church I knew little about, I realized that I can never expect those I lead to take discomfiting steps of faith if I am unwilling to be a pattern of doing so myself. As I’m sure many of our readers are acutely aware of — or can imagine — it is extremely easy to become excessively comfortable in church ministry. Especially in an established church. To step away from that is, well, uncomfortable.

I am truly grateful for the wonderful examples of faith that are all around us. I’m thankful that the Hall of Faith doesn’t end at Hebrews 11:40. I thank God for individuals, whom I am blessed to call my friends, of whom the world is still not worthy of. Ones who leave the comforts of home or the shelter of “established ministry” to heed the call “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Those that leave family and friends to plant churches in the Philippines, to bring the Word to Mozambique or healing hands to Israel. Those that live by faith, trusting God for provision and in so doing observe firsthand that God is indeed worthy of our complete confidence and devotion.

With each passing year my conviction fortifies. The church must observe in her leaders a willingness to take a risk. Calculated as they may be, risks (i.e. steps of faith) always involve some level of hesitation or fear, and present the possibility of failure. Be that as it may, God is still able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to His power that is at work in us.

So, get out of the boat… what’s the worst that could happen?

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Intentionality in Discipleship & Evangelism

Jesus said that we are to make disciples by going, teaching and baptizing. (Matthew 28:19). In that Great Commission, making disciples is the key. The work of the church is always to be building disciples. Yet, there are times when I wonder if the body of Christ is more concerned with making converts than with making disciples. At the same time, there are many churches that have little to no evangelistic fervor.

I was recently told of a church that was doing a phenomenal job of seeing people introduced to Jesus. The church was evangelistic to the core and God was using them mightily. But then the person said that this church has no vision for discipleship. This person lamented that although people were being saved (which was a great joy), the young believers were stuck in infancy.

On the other side of the coin, there are many churches that have a heart and passion for discipleship. The only issue that because of a lack of passion for souls, they are constantly discipling the same people as no new believers are being added to the fold. Oftentimes, these churches have strange hang-ups about contemporary ways of proclaiming the good news. There are the ‘altar call’ wars and issues. It makes me think of DL Moody who was purported to have said, “I like my way of doing things better than your way of not doing things.”

I then remembered hearing a pastor say, “You shouldn’t share the gospel with someone unless you are committing to discipling them also.” Now, I don’t know if I agree with the sentiment. But the pastor was trying to get across the responsibility we have, as believers, to not only share the good news, but also to take an active concern with someone’s progress in faith.

In many ways, it we are keeping the main thing the main thing within the church, we need to be intentional in building disciples. Realistically, if we are seeking to make converts, we are doing that so that they can become disciples. Their salvation is the starting line for their life of discipleship. So it isn’t an either/or reality. Instead, evangelism and discipleship are like matched gloves, both equally necessary for the work of the Lord.

So here are some quick thoughts about being intentional in discipleship.
1) Understand where your gifting is.
2) If you are strong in evangelism, seek out a compliment in discipleship. And vice versa.
3) Make a commitment to both evangelism and discipleship.
4) Gather a tribe to pour into (like Jesus did with his 12).
5) Always remember, there are more fish in the wild then in the ponds.
6) Think through various benchmarks in spiritual development for believers
7) Don’t neglect the transition points within the ministry (ie. from Junior High to High School to Young Adults to the Body at large)
8) Remember that Paul didn’t just share the gospel but also his very life.
9) Make discipleship as much a part of your ministry as preaching.

no revival

Pastoral Ministry in a Non-Revival Age

America has experienced significant revivals in her short history. Most notable among them are the 1st and 2nd Great Awakenings (18th and 19th centuries)—revival scholars such as J. Edwin Orr name several others as well, including the Pentecostal and other significant moves of God in the early 20th century.

These revivals were characterized by large numbers of people repenting of their sins and confessing faith in Christ. Whole regions were radically affected by this turning to God. Taverns closed, divorce rates declined dramatically, violence and murder waned, drunkenness decreased. Churches filled up, with a notable hunger for prayer, Biblical preaching, and Christ centered evangelism. (For a brief history of revivals in America, read http://www.peacekey.com/1-1-a/OSAS/Revival_Prayer_1.HTM).

While not an American revival, the Welsh revival is famous for its sudden and dramatic impact. Evan Roberts was one of its main leaders. His message to believers or professing believers hit home with great power. Summing up his message in four parts, Roberts emphasized the following points:

1. Confess all known sin.

2. Deal with and get rid of anything ‘doubtful’ in your life.

3. Be ready to obey the Holy Spirit instantly.

4. Confess Christ publicly.

Let’s fast forward to our present day. In some parts of the world, revival-like conditions exist. Perhaps even in the U.S. there are pockets of revival in a few places. But overall, we who minister in the U.S. are ministering in non-revival conditions. Evan Roberts’ four points do not generally describe the way things are in our churches. When these things are seen today (in individuals or in small groups of individuals), they are viewed as exceptional … definitely not the norm for 21st century American Christianity. Confession of sin?  Sins are renamed and are viewed as mistakes. Getting rid of things that are doubtful?  Today’s believer wants his/her liberty, and wants it now. Instant obedience to the Holy Spirit?  Hardly. Confess Christ publicly?  Most believers never share their testimony or the gospel. With anyone.

I hope I’m not jaded, but that’s how it seems to be, at least to me. According to one author’s intriguing book Not a Fan (Kyle Idleman), Jesus has lots of fans, but not too many followers. He writes about a guy who had been attending the church where he pastors. This fellow sent in an email asking to be removed from the church membership. His stated reason? “I don’t like Kyle’s sermons.” Curious, the pastor found this man’s phone number and called him. “Hey, this is Kyle Idleman. I understand you’re leaving the church because you don’t like my sermons.” After a brief silence and some rambling, bumbling words, the man complained like this: “Well … whenever I listen to one of the messages I feel like you are trying to interfere with my life.”  Bingo! As Idleman says (representing what we pastors are supposed to do),  “Yeah, umm, that’s kind of like my job description.”  This ex-church member was a fan of Jesus, but not a follower. Of course Jesus interferes with our lives! That’s the core and essence of discipleship.

My question has been (and still is) … how do we do pastoral ministry in a non-revival age?  I’ve some suggestions, maybe we can banter this around a bit.

  • We need to start praying for revival, begin a prayer movement.

Revival accounts that I have read all say the same thing: no revival ever occurred without what J. Edwin Orr calls extraordinary prayer. “What do we mean by extraordinary prayer? We share ordinary prayer in regular worship services, before meals, and the like. But when people are found getting up at six in the morning to pray, or having a half night of prayer until midnight, or giving up their lunch time to pray at noonday prayer meetings, that is extraordinary prayer. It must be united and concerted.”  (http://www.pastornet.net.au/renewal/journal1/orr.html)

  • Live for Christ myself.

Recently, I listened to the audio reading of David Platt’s radical book, Radical. It moved me. I need to be that guy. Not David Platt, but the radical disciple. I need to be an authentic Christian. I need to live in the new covenant. I need to confess sins, a lot. By living this way I’ll be more understanding, gracious, truthful, and intentional in my ministry to Christ’s people.

  • Preach and teach the whole Bible.

Only a whole Bible can produce a whole Christian. Teach and preach the Bible book by book, chapters and verses. Tough to dodge vital issues like sin, repentance, and confession when going through the entire Word.

  • Continue to emphasize the need for a focused, personal devotional life.

Those who are seeking to follow Christ need to learn to become self-feeders.

  • Go on short term missions trips to places where revival is happening.

There are such places in the 10/40 window, sub-Sahara Africa, and Central and South America. I frequently recall something G. Campbell Morgan one wrote, “The value of distance is perspective.” These trips help me to think on the way things ought to be, rather than on the way things are.

  • Make disciples.

Work with pockets of teachable, malleable people. Do 2 Timothy 2:1-2. Not everyone in our churches is cold toward Christ. Those that are hungry and truly thirsty—we should work with them. To do so, we have to drop our expectations of how they’ll fit into our church programs. Instead, we must point them towards reciprocally abiding relationship with Christ … the believer in Christ, Christ in the believer.

  • Aim high.

 We must raise the bar, not lower it. No sermonettes for christianettes. If I’m raising the bar in my own life, I’ll know the difference between the heights of that bar. For example, I recently stopped listening to Sports Talk Radio while driving around. It’s not a law for me, just something I felt I needed to do. It was an unnecessary weight (Hebrews 12:1-2). I’m amazed at how much richer my walk is, now that I’m free to converse with and worship the Lord, and listen to His voice. So also, we need to challenge our people. Interfere with their lives a bit.

  • Get around peers in ministry that are en el fuego (Spanish for “on fire” … learned that on Sports Talk Radio).

 Seriously, iron sharpens iron, we greatly encourage each other as we talk outreach, church matters, ministry challenges, and the rest.

  • Find ways to be healthy … spiritually, emotionally, and physically.

It’s easy to dive into depression, I know because I’ve been there. But if I go there, I’m of no use to anyone. I’ve got to be strong in the grace of God which is in Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 2:1).

  • Remember that faithfulness is what Jesus requires of me, not results.

If I’m results oriented, I’ll get easily discouraged. If I focus on daily obedience in faith, I’ll be living as Jesus lived, in wholesale dependence upon His Father. Jesus was the faithful Son over His own house, listening daily for the Father’s instructions (Hebrews 3:1-6; Isaiah 50:4-5). Just before Calvary, Jesus told His Father that He’d glorified Him on the earth and finished the work He’d given Him to do (John 17:4). Jesus didn’t do everything that was within the realm of the possible—that which could have been done, but He did do everything the Father directed Him to do. Faithfulness is the key.

Concluding thoughts…

Recently, we had a word of prophecy from a young woman … it was in an afterglow service during our recent Northern and Central California pastors and leaders conference at Mt. Hermon. The word had to do with revival … that it was coming. I sure hope so. If you have read and agree with Joel Rosenberg’s recent book Implosion you believe that revival is the only hope for the United States. But imagine ministry in a revival atmosphere! It would be a completely different animal, on so many levels. I’m sure you can imagine…

Following that prophecy was a word of wisdom. The word went like this. I’m paraphrasing, and may not be exactly right: “Pray for revival. Prepare for revival. And when (if) revival comes, give God the glory for everything that happens in the revival.”

Amen.

military2

When the “perks” become ultimate, the ultimate becomes a “perk”

A few months ago, (May 4, 2012) I wrote a post about my conviction that the U.S. Military, as it exists today, provides an amazingly accurate analogy for what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

In this post, I’d like to take hold of the U.S. Military analogy one more time, but now I’d like to broaden the scope of the analogy from the individual believer’s walk with the Lord to the ultimate purpose Jesus has for His church that He builds, (hint:  He was, is, and always will be The Missionary God).

I’d like to begin by asking a multiple choice question regarding any and all branches of the U.S. Military:

Which one of the following is the ultimate reason the U.S. Military exists?  (Only one answer is correct!)

A.  To provide each member with specific vocational training and vocational work that will make their post military career much more likely to be successful?

B.  To provide the opportunity for career advancement, travel, and financial resources for further education upon completion of their term of service?

C.  To provide the opportunity for travel, first class recreation, decent housing, and all medical and dental needs for its members and their immediate family?

D.  To willingly obey the Commander-in-Chief of the United States when he deems it necessary for the good of the U.S. that the military actively engage an enemy of this country at any location necessary, even if by doing so, that member of the military might be required to give up his/her own life.

Clearly, although the U.S. Military provides everything listed in A,B, and C, above, those things are not the reasons why the U.S. Military exists.  Those are all good things, and the U.S. Military spends literally billions of dollars to ensure that those things are provided for its members.  But really, those things are more like the “perks” that are provided to those who willingly choose to submit themselves to the ultimate purpose of the U.S. Military, which is letter “D”.

I vividly remember the day that I “swore in” to the U.S. Army, at the age of 17, on May 29, 1976, (a month after I graduated high school).  All of the cool advertising and various marketing tools used by the recruiter focused on A, B, and C.  And it sure sounded like those were great reasons to join.  But at the AFEES station in Los Angeles on that day, the reality of what I was really signing up for hit me like a ton of bricks as I raised my right hand and repeated the oath of obedience,  voluntarily giving over to the Commander-In-Chief at that time, (Gerald Ford…soon to be Jimmy Carter), the authority to send me anywhere he deemed necessary even if it meant my life could realistically be brought to an end in the process.

Because of what I understood that I was doing on that day, even at that young age, I’ve always been bothered by those who have joined the U.S. Military as part of the reserves or the various National Guard units.  Unless I’m mistaken, they all “swore in” too, taking the same kind of oath that I did.   And because that is true, it irritates me to no end that when the wars of the last 12 years took place and they were called upon to transition to active duty and be deployed, a large number of them complained, saying something to the effect of “this isn’t what I signed up for!”  Wrong…its exactly what they signed up for!

Where did these complaining pseudo-soldiers/sailors/airmen go wrong?  They joined for the “perks” and were convinced that the “perks” were the reason the military existed, even though they actually did “swear in” and take the oath.  For some reason, they never actually understood or believed that the purpose of the U.S. Military wasn’t ultimately or primarily for their own benefit.

Might there be an application here to the local church and it’s members?  I’m convinced there is.

Have local churches, by over-emphasizing  the various ministries they offer for the good and the growth of their own members, actually contributed to a foundational misunderstanding by their own members of the ultimate reason for the church’s existence?  I think so.

Have the leaders of local churches inadvertently communicated to their members that the “perks” of being a member of God’s Kingdom and a part of their local church are what is ultimately important and thereby relegated the actual ultimate reason to a “perk” that the members of the church have the option to participate in or not?  Again, I think so.

And if the above two observations have any validity, might it not also be valid that the pastors and church leaders have contributed and communicated these things because they themselves believe the “perks” are what’s ultimate?

I’ve probably stirred enough irritation with this post so I’ll shut it down for now.  But I will expand on these things in my next post by spending a bit of time pondering U.S. Navy aircraft carriers and some principles they operate by that perhaps pastors and church leaders can learn from.