Balance in Ministry Focus?

One of my friends commented on my last post about what’s most important in the church, pointing out that not all areas of importance necessarily require or deserve equal attention.

This is worth thinking about.

My own view is not one of thinking of areas of ministry like a pie chart that might have various percentages of time, energy or possibly money allocated to various areas.  For me, it’s not a matter of things being equally balanced, but understanding how ministry works together.

Ephesians 2 talks about God’s people or household “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.” (2:20)

I find myself in agreement with those who see the Apostolic foundation relating not only to the 12 Apostles, but also to the importance of the apostolic nature of the church today.

Remember, the word apostle refers to one who is sent.  When the church ceases to be apostolic, it stagnates.  It doesn’t go but prefers to stay.  Some churches that are evangelistic but not apostolic grow large but don’t go.  Of course some larger churches both grow substantially AND go (church planting).  Others stay small and go (multiply).  Many stay small and don’t grow or go (lack apostolic and evangelistic ministry)

Prophetic ministry continually calls the body to faithfulness to God and what he’s called us to do and be.

My view is that really healthy movements have an understanding of these ministries.

In Paul’s Ephesians 4 list, after apostles and prophets come evangelists.

My contention here is not that this is any kind of hierarchy of leaders, but that areas of ministry open up other areas of ministry.  

The local church (and our total movements) need to be evangelistic.

If the church is not evangelistic (reaching new people), we can only teach and shepherd the same group of people, which will likely dwindle over time.

It’s not that evangelism or the evangelist is more important then the teacher or shepherd.  Only that evangelism is the ministry that opens and increases the capacity for the teaching and community / relational growth that leads us to be mature disciples of Jesus.

Evangelism without teaching in shepherding leads to converts that don’t grow fully.

We must must must, realize that the area of ministry that God has gifted us for requires us to not only appreciate the other areas of ministry but to see how dependent we are on them.

My view is that once we see this paradigm and how the pieces fit together – flowing out of one another, we will see what’s missing.

We desperately need mutual submission to one another.

And we need to be honest about what’s missing.

It’s different in various environments.

But I do believe my friend is correct to say that what’s often missing in local churches is the deep importance of evangelism.

What is your church and the body you’re connected with strongest in?   Where are you weak and missing an important piece of the biblical paradigm for mature ministry?

 

 

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What’s Wrong with The Church?

You will get different answers from different people on what we need to be more focused on.

Which of the following would you rank #1?

Expanding the reach of the gospel into new places – missionary work and church planting.

Repenting and returning to faithfulness to God.

Reaching more people for Christ.

Helping people understand the Bible better to follow Christ better.

Loving and caring for people and building relationships.

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The truth is that all five of these are vitally important to what Jesus wants to do in and through us.

As to which one you chose, I strongly suspect that it corresponds to your own calling.  When God’s given us a passion, we tend to see that area as being what’s really needed.  And it is, but it’s not the only thing.

I recently saw a post that said something to the effect of, ‘The purpose of my life is to reach people for Christ and help other people reach people for Christ.”

That person is gifted as an evangelist.  I’m pretty sure of it.  That’s how evangelists are wired.

Some people are driven by going where the gospel is not rooted.  “This town or this people group doesn’t have a church.  We have to do something about it.”    This person is likely apostolic.

Others react to the ‘church planting’ push by saying, “Wait, what about all the people in our existing churches?  They need to be nurtured and cared for.”    Yes, they do.  And you are likely a shepherd.

______________________

All of these people can get frustrated that other people can’t see what they see.

There is an expression: When you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

We have a tendency to see our area of calling as THE area that we need to focus on.

One of the things that Ephesians 4 helps us understand is that we need ALL of us to become the mature body that Jesus intends.

We need not compete but must work together if we want this.

Hopefully, this is a lens that you can use to understand why others have different passions and gifting than you do.

Don’t feel bad that you are not more like them.  Appreciate them and learn from them.  Support them and their ministry.  Recognize that you need their focus and passion as much as they need yours.

But grow in who God gifted you to be.

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Ephesians 4:11-13

 

What Is Eternal Life?

Life after death right?

Did you know that Jesus, as reported by John, actually gives a direct and bold definition of what he means by eternal life?

Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.   John 17:3

What is eternal life?   Knowing (the word of deep relationship) God.

This is what disciples of Jesus experience.

Discipleship is real relationship now for the benefit of now.

In discipleship – real relationship we learn to abide in Jesus (John 15).

So what does this have to do with life after death?   The well known and beloved John 3:16 does tell us that one of the major implications of this eternal life (knowing God) would be that we would not perish.

This, of course, is not merely an add on.  It’s the reality that when we come to know God now, the death of our bodies cannot interrupt that relationship.   It continues when our bodies lay in the ground and yet we are ‘with the Lord.’  It certainly continues when he returns and we’re raised to new life.

But it starts now.

What Jesus came to do is about now – which extends into forever.

Eternal life is going on now.  The question is whether we’re a part of it.

 

 

What Does Born Again Mean?

The phrase ‘born again’ has come to identify a whole group of Christians.

But what did Jesus really have in mind when he used the phrase?

Can you finish the sentence?

“I tell you the truth, no one can ………………. unless they are born again.”

Have their sins forgiven?

Go to heaven when they die?

In my experience, these are the primary points most folks bring out in their reading or understanding.  And while they will both tie in along the way, neither are what Jesus says or primarily means.

‘Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.’  John 3:3

Our problem with understanding this centers around our lack of understanding the kingdom of God.

Seeing the kingdom of God is not a reference to our hope for where we immediately go when we die. Jesus isn’t referring to what we commonly call heaven (what Jesus called paradise).

The kingdom of God is where God’s will is done and is populated by people who are learning God’s will and living into it.

It was his original intent for earth.

It is his eventual promise for a newly restored earth.

And it’s his desire for us to see and live in light of right now.

But in order for us to see, understand and live into it, we need a whole new start.

Jesus came to teach people – make disciples – who would learn to live in that kingdom now, and thus prepare ourselves for when Jesus will one day return and bring his kingdom rule in its fullness.

The other question I wondered when reading this conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus is, why only in this one place?

If being born again is the most important lens that we have for viewing the Christian faith, why isn’t Jesus walking around through all for gospels and telling everyone that they need to be born again?

I believe that he is telling everyone that they need to be born again.  He’s just not using that term.

We’ve all grown up with with particular beliefs and values.  Our parents, our teachers and our church have all taught us about how to navigate life and what’s important.

Nicodemus would have believed that he was automatically a part of God’s people and that everything that God was up to when their promised coming king arrived would be evident to him.

He was born into it.

Jesus said, no, you have to be born again.

To be born again is to learn to see the world and your place in it in a whole new way.

When Jesus invited his disciples to “Follow me,” he was inviting them to be born again.

No one can see the kingdom of God unless they start all over.

And Jesus’ disciples experienced that as he re-taught them how to think about themselves, God, and everything in the world around them.

Yes, there were still some vitally important aspects that hadn’t happened yet.  The cross was still ahead and the unfathomable riches of what it means that Jesus died for us.

The resurrection solidified the reality that death was defeated.

The full indwelling empowerment of the Holy Spirit was yet to come.

But the invitation was there at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.

Come and follow me.

Learn to see and live in the kingdom.

Be born again.

Unless you are born again, you won’t see the kingdom of God.

 

 

Admirer or Apprentice?

In various areas of life, there are many admirers but few apprentices.

As someone who makes things out of wood, I’ve come to notice admirers more.  They see a wooden bowl or a piece of furniture and marvel at it.   Some are even interested in hearing about how it’s made.

But very few are interested enough to try making a bowl or a table.

There’s a big difference between being an admirer and an apprentice.  

There aren’t actually a lot of prerequisites for becoming an apprentice in a craft.

Desire is one thing and some level of commitment to practice is another.

We often see a similar situation with Jesus.

Many of us admire him greatly.  Who he was (and is) and what he did.

We look on – or read about him – and say ‘wow, that’s amazing.’  But I could never live like that.’

The most admirers can expect is to receive something from the craftsperson.

You can purchase or receive a gift from a woodworker, but you can’t make anything as an admirer.

On the other hand, an apprentice can learn to create.  Even if the things they create aren’t quite what the master creates, they are real nonetheless.

When it comes of handmade items, sometimes people think to themselves, “I could never make that.”

Most often they are mistaken.   Yet their belief becomes true for them.

When it comes to Jesus, we usually don’t think we can live the kind of life that he lived – loving our enemies, living without worry and in peace…

We are wrong.  But, our limiting beliefs hold us back from that God wants for us.  

The reason that we are not disciples of Jesus is because we’ve not decided to be.  

That’s all.

If you are willing to put aside your fears, doubts, excuses and other priorities, he will teach you his ways.  His other apprentices will help.

Jesus isn’t offering courses on tool sharpening, wood movement or joinery, but he is offering a lifelong course in kingdom living.

You can experience life in the Kingdom of God.

But you can’t do it as an admirer.

Only as an apprentice.

Yes, You Can Be Perfect

“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  Matthew 5:48

Have you ever considered this statement of Jesus?

If so, you’ve probably done one of two things with it.

  1. Move on quickly and try not to think about it.
  2. Think that it’s some kind of impossible standard that will make us realize how much we need forgiveness.

While it’s true that none of us have lived up to God’s expectations of us fully (or maybe hardly at all), that’s not what this teaching is all about.

Because he is totally good and loving, Jesus doesn’t ask anything of us that’s not possible, by his grace.  That would be cruel, and Jesus is not cruel.

The problem isn’t Jesus’ teaching, it’s our understanding of it.

The problem is our understanding of what the word perfect means.

When we think of perfect we think of….flawless.  Entirely without flaws or shortcomings.

But the greek word telios that’s used here can and often does mean something different.

And this understanding makes so much more sense of Jesus’ teaching.

It means to accomplish one’s intended purpose

To be mature.  Do be who you are supposed to be.

In our case, to be in right relationship (attitude and actions) with God and each other.

In this sense, perfect doesn’t mean that we never, ever make mistakes.  It doesn’t mean that we never sin.  The Bible makes in clear that we will (1 John 1:8).

We can be perfect – accomplish our God intended purpose as people (telios) and still sin at times.

But we can’t be perfect (as Jesus says) and walk(live) in sin.  We can’t be perfect (telios) and hate others people.  We can’t be perfect and be willing idolaters.

Jesus said to the ‘rich young ruler’:

 “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”  Matthew 19:21

Jesus did not offer him something impossible.

He invited him to the purpose for which God created him.  Telios.  Perfect.  Mature.

Paul, not surprisingly, had the same goal as Jesus for those he ministered to:

“He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.” Colossians 1:28

Guess which word he uses there for ‘fully mature.’

Yup – telios.

Jesus came to show us the way.  He died for us to make that way possible.

And now he invites us to come.  To fulfill the purpose he created us and every other human for.

To misunderstand this is to misunderstand the core purpose that God has for us.

And that’s a misunderstanding that we cannot afford to make.

 

 

 

 

God’s Ways are Higher Than Our Ways?

There’s a passage that many of us have heard before:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Isaiah 55:8-9

If you’ve heard this Scripture shared before, what was the takeaway?

It was probably something relating to the idea that we can’t understand God’s purposes.  We don’t know why God does what God does because we can’t understand, in our finitude.

While it’s certainly true that we have no idea what’s it’s like to create and watch over the universe (see Job on this one), I don’t believe that’s what this passage from Isaiah is about at all.

Look at the context (remember that Bible study lesson) of the verses that comes just before.

“Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways
and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.”  55:6-7

There it clearly says that the wicked are to forsake their ways (for God’s ways)

The unrighteous are to forsake their thoughts (and think God’s thoughts instead).

This well known passage of scripture is not a statement of universal, ongoing fact.

It’s a condemnation of his people’s current practice.

The fact that God’s ways are not our ways is a bad thing.

Yes, God wants us to think about people the way he does and he wants us to to follow his ways.  

Be holy because I am holy.  1 Peter 1:16

 

Be Merciful as your heavenly Father is  Luke 6:36

These are God’s ways that he wants us to adopt.

The prophets gave us a glimpse of God’s heart, but Jesus shows it to us clearly.

Now we are invited to both know and follow God’s ways, as we see them shown forth in Jesus.

And we do so by sharing the mindset (thinking) of Jesus.

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 2:5

“But we have the mind of Christ.”   1 Corinthians 2:16

If you are a Christian and God’s ways are not your ways, you have a problem.

It’s time to begin (or take much more seriously) the life learning journey that Jesus invites us to.

I can tell you – I think I can even promise you – that if you seek after the mindset and ways of Jesus more fully, you’ll know an intimacy with him that’s more amazing than you can imagine.