The Motivation for Mission (2 Corinthians 5)

Often in life when we join a club or organization, we have to consider what are the benefits of the organization versus the responsibilities of membership. For example, in a civic service club you gain community friendships, networks, exposure to what is going on in the town and county, etc. But you also have minimal requirements for attendance, dues, fund-raising obligations, and other duties that require time and attention.   Is it worth it?

But there is nothing so worthwhile as working for Christ and his kingdom. It is living out something that is far, far beyond anything we can imagine in this world. Let your mind go wild: What job would you want to have? Or who would you like to be? A king, a queen, a media personality, professional athlete, pop star, fashion model, successful industrialist or corporate executive?   Whatever you could come up with … How does that compare to you actually being the child of the creator of the universe, serving as his representative in the role of an ambassador to the world?

Here is our fourth and final statement about “Why Mission” this week: Mission is motivated by understanding who we are in Jesus Christ. (2 Cor. 5:16-21)

16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:  19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

So when you understand the gospel and who you are in Christ, seeing also the mission that he has for you as a member of his body of faith on this planet (the church), I have no insecurity whatsoever in calling you to make our ministry together in the church as a defining value in your life.

I don’t need to feel like I’m dumping something on you or selling you on commitment to the organization of which I just happen to lead the local franchise. No. I’m calling you to fulfill the mission you have from God! I’m just helping you fulfill your eternal purpose.

I often hear from folks who are business owners talking about their workers. When away from the store or shop they might leave a list of tasks that have to be done by employees. When the owners return at a later time, they often find themselves wondering what really happened while they were gone, because not much is visible relative to accomplishment in the time where it well could have been. There are a number of parables in the Gospels about this theme … of Christ returning and not having found faithfulness from those entrusted with the stewardship of a mission to accomplish. Hey, you don’t want that to be your experience with God. Rather, you want to hear “Well done, good and faithful servant.” So get busy and be on mission for Christ!

<< Note: This ends our “Why Church?” series. On Sunday we will have a one-time service on a remembrance theme, somewhat connected to Memorial Day, but also with communion. The following week begins our next seven-week series called “Rooted,” which talks about the grounding and nourishment of our faith. Chris and I will have some sort of summer reading/devotionals to accompany that. So we’ll see you again in another week or 10 days. >>

 

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The Culture of Discipleship (Matthew 28:19-20)

I remember an interesting skit on TV from years ago, I think it was probably on Saturday Night Live. OK, believing you can find anything online, I just looked and found it from 1984, featuring Ed Asner. Asner was the retiring manager from a nuclear power plant. His final, parting words of wisdom to the remaining employees were, “Just remember one thing, you can’t put too much water into a nuclear reactor.” After he is gone, the skit shows the remaining staff arguing over his final words. Did he mean that you have to be careful to NOT ever dare put too much water into the reactor, or did he mean that there is no way you could ever put too much water in, so just keep it flowing? The skit ends with people on the other side of the world seeing a bright flash of lightning on the horizon.

Final words from someone: They are important. The final words of instruction from Christ to the disciples about their mission were really not unclear at all. The gospel of Matthew ends with these words from Jesus in chapter 28 …

19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Our third of four statements about our topic of “Why Mission?” is this: Mission means cultivating a culture of discipleship.

We tend to think of the word “discipleship” as merely encompassing the process of teaching and learning the Scriptures in an applicational way. But the word is used here in Matthew 28 more broadly of both evangelism (making new disciples, or new followers) and instructional discipleship (growing disciples).

Everything in this passage is what we call “durative” in language studies, speaking of an ongoing aspect of action, not something that is done, finished, packaged up and put away.

We could read the phrases this way: “As you are going … be making disciples … be baptizing them (identifying them with the faith) … continuously teaching them (never ends) … knowing always that Jesus is with you ALL THE WAY. In other words, Jesus is telling them, “This is your mission; it is a mission possible; nothing is going to blow up and disappear; I will not disavow knowing you but will be with you the whole way.”

It is instructive for us to also note that these words are given to individuals … yes, to those who would form the new institution of the church. Yet again, this is not a passage that is instructional specifically for how to run a church organization, but rather, how the people who are the church are to conduct their lives. As we’ve said in this series in our intro paragraphs that “Church” isn’t a program you attend; it’s a community you embody. Following Jesus means being a part of a larger network of believers who gather to celebrate this new society through the worship of God. What if we thought of Church like that? What if we were just crazy enough to do Church the way the Bible says?

When we are living this way and doing this individually, in a group with mutual support, we can see the cumulative effects over time. All of this takes time – to share the gospel and bring people along; but we can enjoy seeing the fruits of being on mission as we live out a culture of discipleship.

Budgeting Your Way Through Life (Colossians 4)

If you think about it, we spend all of our lives working with budgeting. Certainly we do it with financial resources. Few are there among us who don’t have to consider this practical matter of being wise both for today and for the future.

Beyond material resources, we need to also be considerate of budgeting our time and energies. Coming out of high school, we think through what we are going to do with those transitional years of life. Are we going to invest in education, in military service, or jump immediately to a career?

In any event, we are thinking about our skills, our time, our passions and our resources, evaluating how to put it all together for the best.

In terms of fulfilling our mission in life as believers, we also should think of this in the vein of budgeting … considering how to use our talents, spiritual gifting, energies and time, all for God’s glory and the expansion of the Kingdom.

Our second statement this week about being on mission for God is this: Mission demands walking wisely in a world that is out of step with God’s truth. Paul says the following in Colossians 4:2-6 …

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

We think of Paul as a great communicator, and it is interesting to see that he requests prayer that he will have the opportunity and capacity to present the gospel clearly.

Beyond that, he encourages his readers to consider how they handle themselves and speak before a watching world. Our political discourse in the current day has taken on a terribly crass tone. For many of us, though we may agree with the ideas and concepts, we may disagree with the way it is said and presented. It is not an attractive vehicle for the message, and the message is either not heard or not understood with clarity.

And so it is with our faith. We represent Christ and his kingdom. And we need to understand that it is natural for people to judge or evaluate any program, cause, or organization by the people who belong to it. And our presentation of the gospel message is not ultimately about winning an argument and proving ourselves to be correct. Yes, we need to contend for the truth and be able to communicate it with clarity, but the attitude that comes along with it carries a huge portion of the message as well.

But the phrase in which I’m most interested in this passage is this: “Make the most of every opportunity.” This literally translated means to “buy up the time.”

If you knew a particular commodity was going to massively increase in price tomorrow – something like gasoline, bread, water, or whatever essential to life – you would buy as much of it as you could today. Time is a commodity that is passing away (and will someday be suddenly gone) and needs to be bought up as well.

Multiple times in Scripture it speaks of counting time. For example in Psalm 90, where it talks about the span of life being 70 or 80 years as the average, that passage finishes with the exhortation to Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” This is teaching about living wisely, meaning to develop skill in living.

So our mission in life is about understanding the time we have been given, the message we have to give, and the way we live our lives to communicate that message with both clarity of words and with an attractive skill in living our daily lives. It is essentially all about budgeting our way through life.

 

How Much Do You Know About God?

Something that has always made me cringe is when someone is giving a personal testimony and says something like, “I’ve always known God for as long as I can remember.” And I think to myself, “No you haven’t.”

I do understand that a person stating this is communicating essentially that, as far back as they have conscious memory, they have always known about God, Jesus, the Bible, etc., and they have accepted these things. I could say the same, though I would clearly identify a moment in time where I understood the debt of sin and necessity for trust in the specific payment of Christ on the cross.

I understand also that the concept of God does not need a great deal of definition for children. My boys never looked at me in lost confusion when hearing about God, even as toddlers. There is an innate sense of the divine that is there in every life, though some suppress it at great length.

Even so, what does anyone know about God apart from being told specific information? It is in Romans chapter 1 where there is some measure of discussion about this, and in theology we refer to this knowledge of God as general revelation or natural revelation. It involves a sense mankind has of being a creature of a divine being, a sense of something more vast and powerful, something to hold in awe (if not also to fear), something to venerate and appease …

18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

So there was enough knowledge of God from the created world to condemn a person, but not enough to save him or her. Apart from specific knowledge, mankind over the years has come up with all sorts of objects of worship, mostly from the created world and cast into the form of idols …

21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

So, logically, there needs to be a messenger of the truth that brings the truth to those who do not know it or trust in it. And so it is later in Romans 10, as Paul speaks of the need for the Jewish people to hear the truth of the gospel of Jesus as the Christ, that he says …

14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” [from Isaiah 52:7]

The feet speak of the messenger who brings the good news, and the good news of salvation is the best news of all. That is a blessed and privileged person to be a bearer of this news – the words that are so completely necessary for life eternal and a relationship with God. This lost world needs speakers of the gospel and senders of the speakers.

The step-by-step logic of this passage therefore speaks to the topic for this week: our mission as members of the body of Christ, the church. A first of four statements we’ll make about mission is this: Mission is necessary because no one is born believing the right things about God.

It is the only way, the only hope, for those who do not yet know the truth of the most important message ever. Delivering such truth is an important mission to be on! It should define who we are and how we view our lives in this world.

Your Mission That Chose You

Many of you will remember the television program of the past that began with words from a hidden tape recorder (along with an envelope of photos and instructions) that spoke like this: “Good morning Mr. Phelps. Your mission Jim, should you decide to accept it is… (with a brief description of the challenge … then going on to say…), “As always, should you or any of your I.M. Force be caught or killed, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions.” And then there would be smoke from the machine, and the tape would blow up … kinda like my computer did last week.

The program, and multiple movies that followed later, went by the title of “Mission Impossible.”

We often speak about our role in life, particularly as God’s servants and emissaries, as being our “mission.”   We talk about going on a “missions trip” and we support “missionaries”. And this week as we conclude our seven weeks of discussion called “Why Church,” we talk about what is our ongoing mission and responsibility, both individually and collectively, as members of the Church, the body of Christ.

But for many people, being on “mission” for God is about as confusing to understand and impossible to accomplish as maybe it would seem to be for Jim Phelps in the famous TV show.

However, our mission as God’s people is not impossible, it is very possible. It is necessary, it is divinely empowered, and it is the greatest thing to be a part of that the world has ever known.

This gets to the core of what is our purpose. The purpose of God’s people is the worship of God. In the present age, this is accomplished through the Church. The mission of the Church, therefore, is to bring outsiders into the family of God so that they, too, might worship the one true God.

We were called to this by our salvation, as Peter said, But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” So in a big way, the mission chose us before we chose to accept the mission.

So stick with us this week as we share with you four components of being on mission for God … after all, you were chosen to do this – the greatest thing ever!

Moving from Spectators to Participants (1 Corinthians 12)

Having grown up in the age of the internet, it always amazes me how technology designed for communication so quickly becomes a vehicle for self-expression.  Social media, for example, was originally designed to connect college students to one another.  Now it’s become something of a deafening, online buffet of inane rants and pictures of cats.  One of the things I’ve seen pop up more and more are the little quizzes like, “Which Lord of the Rings character are you?” or those obnoxious “Free online IQ test” types of things.  Why do we bother wasting our time with stuff like this?  It’s simple, really: we like things that make us feel special.  The only thing more valuable than self-expression is self-discovery that leads to self-satisfaction.

Too often church becomes a little bit like this—maybe even a lot like this.  Since the days of the big tent revival meetings, we’ve come to think of church as a bit of a spectator sport.  We line the pews because we believe the church’s messages and programs will offer us a sense of affirmation and a chance at discovering our identity.  When our church fails to meet these expectations, we wring our hands a bit, mention something or other about “not being fed” and head for the church just down the street.  The end result is that people change churches just as casually as others change dry cleaners.

Not that American church culture doesn’t share some of the blame. In an age where people measure church success by personal affirmation, churches must compete for members with all the fervor of a fast food corporation.  Over time, this leads not to a culture of discipleship, but a culture of consumer wants and fancies.  All of which is predicated on the misunderstanding that church leadership is about “professionals” who do the work of the ministry so that church-goers can reap the benefits during a Sunday morning service.

BEYOND MERE CONSUMERS

In Paul’s day, the church in Corinth struggled with confusion over the role of the Holy Spirit and empowerment for ministry.  Even today, it’s tempting to think of spiritual “gifts” as the things that make us unique or special.  But that’s missing the essential purpose of the diverse gifts God’s people have.  Spiritual gifts aren’t a mark of personal identity—at least not primarily.  They are a way of understanding the question: How can I contribute? 

Paul tells his readers that though the church body is very diverse, there is equally an essential unity among its members:

12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. (1 Corinthians 12:12-19)

The gospel removes any assumptions we might have of spiritual superiority or inferiority.  No gift—no person—is insignificant.  We may all contribute.

A CALL FOR PARTICIPANTS

Let’s get real for a second.  Some of you have been coming to church most of your life but you come as a spectator, not a participant.  You might place some of your money in the offering plate, but your time and energies are spent elsewhere.

Granted, everyone has busy seasons of life that prevent their involvement in service roles.  And we get that.  But there are times and seasons in which you have the opportunity to throw in with us as an active participant in the body of Christ.

We need each other—perhaps now more than ever.  In an age of Netflix binges and touch screens, human interaction is at a premium.  We need the members of the body working together, serving together, loving together.

We invite you to consider how you might be a greater part of our body here at Tri-State Fellowship.  There are volunteers needed in such places as the children’s ministry and the High School youth group.

Could you prayerfully consider how you might become a part of church leadership by serving the body?  You may contact one of our staff, or contact the church at info@tristatefellowship.org.

 

Why character surpasses professionalism (1 Timothy 3)

(Note – This is a post that was supposed to have been put up on 5/18, but did not get sent. We are putting it out there to have in our collection of devotionals and themes in our library of such.)

What makes a great leader?  It’s probably tempting to think of a leader in terms of their accomplishments or their skill set.  It’s about metrics; it’s about performance.  But it’s not the case for everyone.

Some years ago Jim Collins published a famous book on leadership called Good to Great.  He found that the CEO’s and great leaders of the business world were rarely great visionary leaders. Usually they were quiet, humble men who found something they were good at—and kept on doing it.

In a way, it’s not terribly different for Christian leadership.  Paul, writing to the young pastor Timothy, clarifies that leadership isn’t driven by performance, but by character.  He does this by listing the qualifications for elders as well as deacons.

THE QUALIFICATIONS FOR ELDERS

First, Paul addresses the “office of overseer,” which we might broadly see as referring to the shepherds of the Church—the “elder-level” positions we looked at earlier including elders, pastors, and bishops.

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. (1 Timothy 3:1-7)

When we look through this list, we don’t find a lengthy set of job skills.  What we find is an ethical portrait of a leader.  God’s leaders are not meant to be “professional;” they are meant to be Godly.  So this list has more to do with a leader’s heart than what a leader achieves.  The only actual skill listed, in fact, is the ability to teach (v. 2), but even that might look different in, say, children’s ministry versus high school youth group versus a Sunday sermon.

THE QUALIFICATIONS FOR DEACONS

Paul lists a similar set of moral characteristics for those serving in the church more broadly—that is, the deacons:

8 Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. 9 They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. 11 Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. 12 Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. 13 For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus. (1 Timothy 3:8-13)

Now, at Tri-State Fellowship we don’t have men and women who bear the title of “deacon.”  But we have many people who serve in lay leadership as high school youth leaders, children’s ministry volunteers, serving in our hospitality team, musicians for our Sunday service, not to mention the wide variety of volunteers for outreach projects, etc.  We might see different levels of expectations for such diverse positions, but it’s our greater hope that we see all leaders of the church reflect the character of the Son.

WHY CHARACTER STILL COUNTS

Here’s where the rubber meets the road.  Every year we ask the members of Tri-State Fellowship to “affirm” our elders.  This is not a performance review.  What we do is we hand out a ballot with a list of our elders on it.  Members may either vote “yes” or “no” as to whether they affirm our elder board.  Why might you vote “no?”  Well, again, it’s tempting to evaluate Christian leaders based on their accomplishments.  But as we’ve just seen, God is more interested in Godliness than professionalism. If you knew that one of our elders was involved in something shady—an affair, an addiction, any sort of unrepentant sin—then this would be a reason to vote “no.”  In other cases, we might vote “no” if we see elders whose households and families are in disarray—and we recognize their greater responsibility toward their own household.

One of the hardest things about this is understanding how we can evaluate people as being “blameless” as Paul says in verse 10.  Who among us is blameless?  The answer, of course, is no one.  The gospel isn’t about being perfect, but it’s about allowing ourselves to be shaped as we continue our journey of faith.  Being “blameless” isn’t about perfection—though it is about maturity.

This is a helpful remedy for those who have been the recipients (or even victims) of unhealthy, ungodly leadership.  Moral character is necessary not because we’re raising an organization of professionals, but because the church, the body of Christ, is a living breathing organism.  The health of the body depends on the health of all its members.  Where sin exists, dis-order flourishes.

All of this means that one of the greatest ways to honor and serve church leaders—not just pastors, but everyone who serves the church—is through prayer.  And I don’t mean praying for shorter sermons, but praying that our leaders would lean into the grace of God rather than their own understanding, that they measure themselves not by the opinion of those they serve (which can be damaging), but according to the grace of God alone.

 

Leaders equip, not perform (Ephesians 4:11-14)

What’s a pastor do all day?  I mean, c’mon, the guy works an hour a week, right? Some years ago, Thom Rainer—current head of Lifeway, the company behind the local Christian bookstore—asked 12 of his church deacons to list the responsibilities they expect a pastor to accomplish in a typical work week.  Here’s what the landed on:

  • Prayer at the church: 14 hours
  • Sermon preparation: 18 hours
  • Outreach and evangelism: 10 hours
  • Counseling: 10 hours
  • Hospital and home visits: 15 hours
  • Administrative functions: 18 hours
  • Community involvement: 5 hours
  • Denominational involvement: 5 hours
  • Church meetings: 5 hours
  • Worship services/preaching: 4 hours
  • Other: 10 hours

Add the total up, and it comes out to 114 hours per week.  Assuming your pastor takes a day off, that means his typical day starts at 19 hours long.  I guess it’s too bad that sleeping didn’t make the list.

We laugh, but the truth is there’s a lot expected of pastors and leaders.  If we survey the list, we don’t find that any of these activities are unreasonable expectations.  And in some ways the allotted time might not be terribly unreasonable.  But no one man can accomplish all of this.  If he did, then he’d soon find himself spiritually, emotionally, and physically exhausted.  Thankfully, the body of Christ is served best by a plurality of leaders.

A PLURALITY OF LEADERS

In his letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul writes that Jesus descended to earth to offer salvation, but then in the body of Christ we find many leaders with many gifts.  He starts by saying:

11And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, (Ephesians 4:11)

So Paul names 4-5 separate job titles here.  Let’s unpack them a bit.

  • Apostles are said to the foundation of the church (see Ephesians 2:20, 3:5). The authority of an apostle could come in three ways: (a) having been with Christ, which included the 12 (including Matthias, who replaced Judas – see Acts 1:21-22), (b) having been appointed by Christ, which was the case for Paul (1 Corinthians 15:8-9, Galatians 1:1, 2:6-9) and (c) having been recognized as apostles by the early church.  This category includes such prominent Biblical figures as James (1 Corinthians 15:7, Galatians 1:19), Barnabas (Acts 14:4, 1 Corinthians 9:6) as well as others.  This third category was typically recognized as having the gift of apostleship, though it is worth mention that they were not regarded on the same as the twelve and Paul, who had experienced Christ directly either through His earthly ministry or, in Paul’s case, through a vision (Acts 9).  Nonetheless, by this time the term “apostle” had come to mean anyone who carried the gospel message with God’s authority.  Apostle most likely meant, “One sent as an authoritative delegate.”
  • Prophets in the New Testament were a bit different than those in the Old Testament. Their role, according to 1 Corinthians 14:3, was to provide edification, exhortation and comfort, and may have revealed God’s will prior to the completion of the Biblical canon.  Prophets are not often spoken of following the first century, primarily because those believers viewed the apostles as foundational to the church.
  • “Evangelist” refers to anyone who spread the gospel, and in many ways the term is analogous to the modern day term “missionary.”
  • & (5) Pastors and teachers are traditionally viewed together. In fact, in the Greek, Paul lists each position with the article “the” in front of it (“the apostles, the prophets…”) but uses the article “the” before the phrase “pastors and teachers,” grouping them together.  These terms most likely refer to those who ministered to congregations, as opposed to apostles and evangelists who lived itinerant lifestyles in the spread of the gospel.  In all likelihood, the terms “pastor” and “teacher”, though not synonymous, refers to the dual role of the same person (i.e., a minister must both shepherd his flock as well as instruct them).

But we should probably not see this as an exhaustive list.  I think what we might see are three broad levels of leadership within the church:

  • Elder-level leaders

These would include everyone bearing the title of “elder,” but also would include “pastors” and “bishops.”  In his famous work on eldership, Alexander Strauch summarizes this role:

“Elders lead the church [1 Tim 5:17; Titus 1:7; 1 Peter 5:1–2], teach and preach the Word [1 Timothy 3:2; 2 Timothy 4:2; Titus 1:9], protect the church from false teachers [Acts 20:17, 28–31], exhort and admonish the saints in sound doctrine [1 Timothy 4:13; 2 Timothy 3:13–17; Titus 1:9], visit the sick and pray [James 5:14; Acts 6:4], and judge doctrinal issues [Acts 15:6]. In biblical terminology, elders shepherd, oversee, lead, and care for the local church.”[1]

Biblically, I don’t know that you can make a strong case for a distinction between “elder” and “pastor.”  But what we might see is that pastors fulfill their role in a very specific way within the church.  Likewise, we might find “bishops” who oversee the pastors and provide accountability and guidance.  Now, we might not use the word “bishop” in our denomination, but much of this function is fulfilled by our denomination as a whole and our superintendents in particular.  It’s always tragic when we see a church built around a leader where there is no denomination and no accountability.  We should be thankful for denominations and for oversight.

  • Deacon-level leaders

If you recall from Acts 6, the role of “deacon” was introduced as a way to ensure that the immediate needs of the community were met and that pastors were not pre-occupied with waiting on tables and that sort of thing.

I’m using the term a bit more broadly to refer to those leadership positions that are not at the level of elder.  We might see this as volunteers within the church, whether this includes our youth leaders, our children’s ministry workers or our greeters.  They are all important, and contribute to the body.

  • Missionaries

Finally, we have our missionaries.  It might be tempting to forget that they play such a vital role in the church, especially since so many of them serve in overseas.  But these important men and women serve the body by fulfilling the Church’s mission outside the walls.  We are therefore thankful for our missionaries—both locally as well as globally—and what they do for the body.

EQUIPPERS, NOT PERFORMERS

Finally, we must read Paul carefully now to see what he says about the role of church leaders

11And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. (Ephesians 4:11-14)

It’s tempting to think of leaders as hired hands who do what they are paid to do.  If the church is only an organization, then this model would make sense.  But the church is an organization but also an organism—the body of Christ.  Therefore the church is not a program you attend but a community to embody.  No one “goes” to church; if you follow Jesus, you are the church.  Leaders therefore aren’t performing the work of the ministry.  They are equipping others so that we can share in the work of the ministry.

 

[1] Alexander Strauch, Biblical Eldership, p. 16.

In the mood to be led? (1 Corinthians 1:10-17)

Leadership can be a tricky thing—especially for those who are asked to follow.  In NBC’s hit sitcom The Office, the characters had differing reactions to the search for a new office manager.  Ryan Howard, the former temp, had high expectations for the new boss:

“I got away with everything under the last boss and it wasn’t good for me. So I want guidance. I want leadership. Lead me… when I’m in the mood to be led.”

Ryan’s sentiments resound with the kind of ambivalence we have toward those in leadership.  We know it’s good for us, but we also want to make sure our leaders do what we think is best.

Paul was dealing with something like that in the church at Corinth.

10 I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. 12 What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (1 Corinthians 1:10-17)

Basically the church was being split by their competing loyalties.  It was becoming fashionable to identify not with Christianity in general, but with favorite teachers in particular.  Even those who “follow Christ” show a disdain for the God-given authority bestowed on the early apostles.

LEADERSHIP IN THE OLD TESTAMENT

To fully understand this, we have to understand the ways that leadership was changing in the early church.

In the Old Testament, we might look to Moses as sort of the model of Godly leadership.  He served in many capacities—sometimes even unofficially.  He served as prophet by brining God’s word to Israel and Pharaoh (Exodus 3—11).   He served as judge by hearing Israel’s complaints (Numbers 27:1-4).  He led the nation from Egypt (Exodus 12:31—15:21).  He ran military campaigns (Exodus 17:8-16).  He officiated at the first Passover (Exodus 12).

After the law was established, many of these roles became even more organized in a series of prophets and priests and judges and later, kings. True, priests had existed before this time, but it was now that the priests were performing their duties in a localized spot—most notably Israel’s temple.

Jesus changed all that.  Remember when he cleared the money-changers from the temple?  Jesus told them, “do not make my Father’s house a house of trade… Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2:16, 19).  And John helpfully adds, “he was speaking about the temple of his body” (John 2:21).  Then, in the upper room, before his death, Jesus tells his disciples that “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” (John 14:2).  Now, it’s natural to connect this verse to the promise of heaven, but in John’s gospel “my Father’s house” had previously referred to the “temple of his body.”  So Jesus is also saying that his death secures our place in the body of Christ.

Therefore the temple system—with all its priests, etc.—has been replaced by the body of Christ.  This is a source of great joy, because it gives us free and direct access to God.  But apparently it also gives rise to some confusion regarding leadership—both then and now.

THE RETURN OF CHARISMATIC AUTHORITY

Actually, we might point out that even in non-Jewish religions there was a movement away from temples and toward individuals.  Peter Brown writes:

“Previously the classical world had tended to think of its religion in terms of things.  Ancient religion had revolved around great temples…the gods had spoken impersonally at their oracle-sites; their ceremonies assumed a life in which the community, the city, dwarfed the individual, as a ‘man of power,’ came to dwarf the traditional communities….In the popular imagination, the emergence of the holy man at the expense of the temple marks the end of the classical world.”[1]

What Brown is talking about is a shift in authority.  Max Weber, the 20th century sociologist of religion, spoke of authority in three capacities.  Traditional authority comes from a ruler, a king, or even a holy book, like the Bible.  Rational-legal authority derives from human reason or the government of the state. But charismatic authority comes from the power of the individual.  In the ancient days, as we’ve said, there was a tendency to gather around a favorite leader.  But now, I wager, we’re seeing a return of charismatic authority—especially when it comes to spirituality.  Whose voice do we listen to on matters of faith?  Chances are, we’re less interested in their specific credentials; we’re now pleased by how many Twitter followers they have.  In Ross Douthat’s recent book Bad Religion, he quotes a recent analyst who says:

“A half-century ago, an American Christian seeking assistance could have turned to the popularizing works of serious religious thinkers…Those writers were steeped in philosophy and the theological traditions of their faiths, which they brought to bear on the vital spiritual concerns of ordinary believers…But intellectual figures like these have disappeared from the American landscape and have been replaced by half-educated evangelical gurus who either publish vacant, cheery self-help books or are politically motivated.” [2]

WHY LEADERSHIP?

Paul lived in an age where people chose their leaders based on preference–when they were “in the mood to be led.”  And so do we.  But Paul understood that the solution was not social, but theological.  We need leadership within our church (including shared leadership, which we’ll get to later) because the sheer diversity of people and ideas demands structure and guidance.

Let’s admit that this doesn’t always go well—sometimes even tragically.  Leaders fail.  Some even become abusive to members of their congregation, including the most vulnerable.  That should rightly sicken us.  But this is no reason to jettison our commitments to Christian community including its leaders.  In the days ahead we’ll look at some of the layers of leadership within the church, and what that means for each of us.

 

[1] Peter Brown, The World of Late Antiquity: A.D. 150-750, p. 102-3

[2] Mark Lilla, cited by Ross Douthat, Bad Religion, p. 177

The Pleasure of Giving Money Away (1 Corinthians 16)

As all of you know who have known me for a while, one of the great experiences of my life that I enjoyed so very much was coaching distance runners at Williamsport High School for 13 years. I invested a lot in it and in the lives of the kids, almost all of whom are now adults. When I read about or see their successes as they move on in life, I feel like I had a small part in shaping some of that. It gives me great joy and personal satisfaction, beyond the state championships and 50+ titles.

A fifth principle about giving that we are identifying in 1 Corinthians 16 is the “personal” element of being a part of what God is doing. Paul wrote to the Corinthians about how some of them might go along in delivering the gift. Imagine the stories that they would bring back with them of that trip and that experience. They would be sharing with the larger church about the people they met and how the offering was meeting needs and advancing the kingdom.

The text says in verses three and four … Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable for me to go also, they will accompany me.

So I am speaking of the personal pleasure and sense of satisfaction that comes from giving to a cause and seeing and hearing about the results of how God is blessing it. Really, how many things are there in the world that you can be a part of that has eternal reward and benefit attached to what you do or give?

This giving topic coincided with the “Project Zero” program we have going on right now, which is our effort to pay down the remaining roughly $100,000 in debt that we have on our church building, 29 acres and house. This is out of about $2 million in total costs over the past 20 years.

It may not seem like giving toward mortgage payments on a steel building is very Kingdom-oriented, but let’s just mention a few things that we have seen done at TSF because of the building that we have as a place for God’s people to meet.

Think about how on Sunday mornings we see regularly some of our teens as a part of the worship team, thinking about how many others before them have gone on to serve in this way with us and in dozens of other assemblies where God has taken them. Think of our youth who have come to know Christ in this place and have been discipled and are serving the Lord, even around the globe. Think of all the biblical instruction that has gone on in all of the classrooms in the building … for all ages. Recall all of the local ministries that have used our facility for their banquets and programs, including the FCA camp that happens every year with annual dozens of commitments for Christ. Every Thursday we have hundreds of women and children growing in Christ through the Community Bible Study program. Even the local Mennonites use our building for programs and graduations, etc.  This is all but a tip of the iceberg.

So, relative to our Project Zero campaign, and reviewing the five principles of this week, we hope that you find giving toward this facility debt elimination to be PURPOSEFUL. We hope you will be PERIODIC and PERSISTENT about it over the next year. We would like, as did Paul, to see it be PARTICIPATORY BY ALL. We understand that it needs to be PROPORTIONATE BY PROSPERITY as God blesses you and makes you his steward of resources. And we trust you will find in doing it that there is the pleasure of a PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE.

A point that I grieve I did not make strongly enough in preaching on this last Sunday is the following. Though I reflected a good bit in my remarks on events of 19 to 20+ years ago, I did not say enough about how overwhelming it looked at the time to the people committing to be a part of this original structure and the expansion of it and the properties associated with it. If you have not noticed this truth in looking around at TSF, we’re not a very wealthy bunch. The debt and the expense we were entering into was HUGE! It was audacious faith. Scary even. But, like the old question goes … “How do you eat a whole elephant?”  The answer is “one bite at a time.”

God has been very good to us. We’ve been blessed, even in ups and downs and times when people have come and gone. God is very, very good.