Monthly Archives: February 2012
By Adam Maarschalk (September 12, 2010) (Used with permission)
By now, all are likely aware of the planned Koran burning by pastor Terry Jones which was supposed to take place yesterday. An international media frenzy took place as the news spread that this pastor in Gainesville, Florida had declared September 11th to be “International Burn a Koran Day.” More than a hundred Korans were to go up in flames at the hands of his roughly 50 church members. In the end, this event did not take place. Refreshingly, before President Obama and other political leaders spoke up in opposition to Jones’ idea, large and influential organizations such as the National Association of Evangelicals had already done so.
In Jones’ own words, he wanted to make a public statement that radical Islam is dangerous and that Sharia Law is not welcome in America. Jones is now known much more for who and what he opposes than the truth he says he wants to promote. Jones decries those Christians who will not take a bold stand “on issues.” He justified the burning of the Koran by appealing to the story recorded in Acts 19:18-19 of new followers of Christ burning occultic books by which they themselves had once been bound. (It should be noted in Jones’ case that his followers would be burning books belonging to a religion they had never had anything to do with.) Another justification involved appealing to some of Jesus’ radical acts and statements concerning the Pharisees and the Jewish leaders. (Again, it should be noted that in Jones’ case he was not so much taking on false teachers who claim to hold to the truth of the Bible, but rather those belonging to another religion altogether.)
In the end, it also appears that one of Jones’ motives for this whole drama was related to another recent hot-button issue: the proposed community center containing a mosque which is to be built about two blocks away from Ground Zero (the site of the World Trade Center collapse in 2001). The news the last 2-3 days has been saturated with stories about Jones’ attempt to engage a Florida-based imam to help in negotiating a deal with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf in New York City to have the project moved to a different location. No such deal appears to be going forward, and even as Jones has at least temporarily abandoned his plan, others, including the infamous Rev. Fred Phelps, have picked it up.
In a way, I’m glad that these two issues (Terry Jones’ aborted plan, as well as the proposed community center in New York) have become so public, and especially that they have been so vigorously discussed in various Christian circles. It’s all been so very revealing. As I’ve paid attention to discussions by professing Christians on Facebook, in the comments sections under various online articles, etc. I’ve seen everything from “we are called to love Muslims just as much as we love everyone else” to “Muslims are the enemy and they need to be sent back to the countries where they came from before this country is destroyed from the inside out.” Amidst the calls to live out the gospel of Jesus Christ among Muslims, which I’m grateful for, there has also been an incredible amount of fear-mongering, anger, and nationalistic pride coming from those who claim to be followers of the Prince of Peace. An example of this can be seen in the 138 comments left so far under J. Lee Grady’s editorial in Charisma Magazine titled “Just Say No to Anti-Muslim Bigotry.”
While I’m glad that these sentiments are being revealed so plainly so that the Church in America might see this darkness (and by that I mean these ungodly attitudes toward Muslims) and hopefully repent, the downside is that all of this is playing out very publicly before the eyes of a watching world. If one peruses the comments left under secular articles online, one will soon find out the reputation that Christians have gained in the eyes of those we ought to be reaching with the message of the gospel. It’s not good, and very little blame should go to Terry Jones. The marriage of the church in America to the US political machine was long established before Terry Jones made headlines in Afghanistan.
A PERSONAL STORY
I’d like to share a recent personal experience in which I came face-to-face with some of the ungodly attitudes I’ve just mentioned. On July 4th of this year I was back in my hometown in Ohio for a one-week visit. That morning I attended a Sunday School class at the Pentecostal church where I grew up and where my parents still attend. My favorite feature of that class is its interactive and participatory style. The topic of the class that day was “Focusing on Christ,” and that indeed happened for a while, but then things took a definitive turn.
One class member (“P”) took a discussion and somehow switched the topic to Muslims and the events of September 11, 2001. In response, the leader of the class obliged him by asking the whole class, “As believers, what should our response be to what happened on 9/11?” I listened in shock as “P” immediately made an appeal to a passage in the book of Joshua where the Israelites were commanded to destroy man, woman, and child, “sparing none” from among the Canaanites. “Yes,” remarked his wife, “just like the book of Psalms talks about dashing the Babylonian children against the rocks.” It became clear that “P” and his wife were indeed using these examples in reference to the ideal response of believers to the worldwide Muslim population.
My sister-in-law, “C,” who was in the class, began to cry as she asked them what she should say to a certain 12-year old boy in the church. This boy was born into a Muslim family. He became a follower of Christ early this year, and within a few months his father also became a believer. His mother remains a Muslim at this time. “C” asked “P” and his wife if she should tell this boy that his mother deserves to die because she happens to be a Muslim. “P” responded by saying (I’m paraphrasing), “All I know is that when we have people saying that they’re going to kill us because we’re Americans or because we’re Christians, we need to get them before they get us. We need to take them out before they can take us out.”
One couple brought up the point that not all Muslims are terrorists, and that many simply wish to live a peaceful life. The response of “P” was this: “I know, but we don’t really have a way of knowing who is a terrorist and who is not. Their religion is not peaceful, and if you read their holy book you’ll know what they’re told to do to Christians like us.”
At some point I jumped in and emphasized that Muslims are no more and no less lost and in need of salvation through Jesus than are Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, and anyone else who is outside of Christ. I added that if some Muslims have declared themselves to be our enemies, then we have the clear words of Jesus as for how we are to relate to them: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven’” (Matthew 5:43-45).
Another man, “S,” spoke up and said that Muslims have declared themselves to be enemies to Israel, and that we need to take out Israel’s enemies before they can take her out, because that’s what the Bible tells us to do. Exasperated at this point, I turned to “S” and said, “No, it doesn’t! Please tell us right now where the Bible says any such thing.” Instead of acknowledging my question, though, he told me that the Muslims in Malaysia were trying to kill my brother at that very time. Well, “S” had things quite a bit mixed up. “First,” I clarified, “none of my brothers have ever been to Malaysia. Second, I’m Adam, and I did live in Malaysia for nearly six years, but I’ve been back in the US for the last three years. Third, as far as I know, no one ever tried to kill me while I lived there. Fourth, even if they had, it only serves to illustrate that they need Jesus.”
As the discussion continued on with no one recanting their views, I finally decided to bring up something I had been holding in for some time. I related an encounter that I had with a church staff member about five years ago. At the time the pastor and an associate pastor were up in arms with a gas station owner across the street who was violating an obscure Ohio law about not selling alcohol within 500 feet of a church. This man was denounced from the pulpit numerous times, with remarks even made that “as a Muslim he ought to know better than to sell alcohol.” One day that summer (this was during a month-long visit I had made to Ohio from Malaysia) I was at the church on a weekday and one of the staff members brought up this situation in a conversation with me. She was quite belligerent about this man and his “awful misdeeds,” saying he needed to be brought down in court, taught a lesson he would never forget, uprooted from the neighborhood, etc. After listening in disbelief for a little while, I calmly asked this staff person if anyone from the church had taken the time to walk across the street, build a relationship with this man, and share the love of Jesus with him. “But he… but he…” was the only response I got, so I asked the question again, only to get nowhere. Quite clearly, there was something much deeper with some of the leaders at this church than the simple fact that alcohol was being sold by this man. The more I listened, it had everything to do with him being a Muslim.
Much of the church in America has become so infatuated with political involvement that we’ve taken on a lot of the stances, fears, sentiments, and viewpoints of those who have only the things of this world to live for. This is perhaps nowhere more evident than when it comes to Muslims who live in this nation. We often regard them with fear or keep them an arms-length away (in reality, much further away than that). We would like to see them leave this country so that we can preserve our precious “way of life,” but we fail to see that God has brought them here so that they might have a much greater chance of hearing the saving message of the gospel than they would if they were back in their native lands. May God forgive us for squandering such an open door!
Thank God, though, for the good works that are being done by believers regarding the Muslims whom God has placed around us. I know of some great ministries right here in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis and Saint Paul), where we have some 100,000 Somalian refugees, to identify just one cluster of Muslims. Likewise, I’m encouraged by what I see in this brief video recently featured on NBC Nightly News:
Please take just over two minutes to watch the video in the link above. I know that some may recoil because Muslim prayers are being conducted in a church building, but the Church is not about buildings anyway. Those who follow Christ are the temple of the Lord, according to the New Testament. I hope that more efforts like this, and even those which may perhaps be more clearly gospel-centered than this one, will spring up around this country, replacing the all-too-common fear and bigotry that has become such a plague among us. May the Lord be honored by many Muslims, and non-Muslims as well, coming to know Him in ever-increasing numbers, all for His glory.
Adam Maarschalk currently lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota. From 2001-2007 he lived in Malaysia, where he taught English, learned the Malay language, helped facilitate village homestays for foreigners, and experienced some incredible hospitality. He enjoys writing, and is keenly interested in eschatology and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, especially where it is impacted by what is known as Christian Zionism.
By Dan Sidey
When my family moved to Klamath Falls, Oregon and I became a stay-at-home dad,I had little idea what it meant to be confined. I went from the spacious world of having a respected job as a counselor to counselors in Riverside, California to the stark contrast of simply caring for my one-year-old in small town America. On top of this, we moved into a shady neighborhood known for its drug problems and safety issues. Little did I know how dark darkness could feel when we came to this little corner of the world.
Soon it began to dawn on me that my life was no longer my own. I had no intimate local friends, my wife was training as a doctor and had very little time to share in child-rearing , and in small towns like this stay-at-home dads are often an affront to nature! My only friends were my son, the lady who ran the church nursery, and an agnostic Palestinian who owned the coffee shop in our “ghetto.” Despite their love for me, I began to understand what it meant to hate a place. In my solitary world, I believed God had left me for better pastures.
About two years into the experience I had a stunning vision from God. I saw myself as a worm busily eating a leaf, minding my own business. While eating, a butterfly alighted on my leaf and its beauty left me utterly broken. With tears in my eyes I began to hope in a different way of living. I knew I may never become a butterfly, but I decided it didn’t matter. I had to live like one.
Very shortly after this, God began to speak to me through the birds. I watched transfixed as they flew over my head in a communal dance. With prophetic force they said, “Dan, Fly! Just as we are flying you can too! Will you trust?” Then God started romancing me through sunsets. They were each so beautiful. I was often forced to pull off on the side of the road for fear of getting in an accident. They were all I could see. “Dan, this is a gift just for you. You’ll never see it again. Do you understand I love you?” God spoke like this for months on end! It came to an abrupt end with the birth of my second son. Clearly I heard God say “Mills…this neighborhood I’ve put you in…is holy ground. Will you trust without seeing?”
Klamath Falls often considers Mills little more than a liability. Mills is marked by its innumerable stories of abandonment, highly overworked and underpaid people, and often simmering racial tension. With them I feel the temptation to ask “What is this neighborhood offering me?” The day I began to truly open my heart to the children and families here, I was (and still am) deeply wrought by their pain and brokenness. I feel crushed under the weight of the poverty I see in their homes and hearts. The darkness seems much deeper than I imagined. My wife and I can’t help but ask what value stability could ever have here.
Yet, when the school day ends and children from the neighborhood come into our house, my family finds itself in the company of people we love and spend our days thinking of, conspiring in behalf of and praying for. In the evening, I walk these little ones home and I’m invited into their homes so warmly. There may be suffering, but there is great love also in these homes. Sometimes I’m enjoying life with my friends so much the only thing calling me home is my children’s bedtime. I’m pleased with the portion I’m receiving in this little corner of the world.
God’s confines became my saving grace. My family is beginning to see the borders around us as a chance to know the details of a world often feared. We also experience the world of being valued and loved. As I walk my children home to prepare for bed, I mull over John Perkin’s words, “When I look around my community…I see God’s creation.”
By Aaron D. Taylor
The term evangelical Christian and I share a love/hate relationship.
On the one hand, I believe in the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection and desire to share the implications of this news with others. The problem is that for most people in America, the term evangelical Christian is loaded with political undertones, so unless I’m in a situation where calling myself an evangelical Christian gives me greater influence to work towards peace and justice in the political sphere, I usually drop the evangelical part, except when I’m in Muslim countries where the word Christian means “people that drink, party, and fornicate.”
I’ve also tried calling myself a “follower of Jesus”, but most of the time I’m not very good at following Jesus, so now I’m thinking I should just say, “My name is Aaron Taylor….And I’m a guy trying to follow Jesus.”
How’s that for a business card?
As a guy trying to follow Jesus, the four gospels are like earth, wind, fire, and water. My spiritual life would be non-existent without them.
I’d have a hard time choosing a favorite between Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, but if I absolutely had to choose; I’d choose Luke. Had it not been for Luke, terms like the “good Samaritan” and the “prodigal son” would have never made it into popular culture.
In Luke are also found the two- to- three verse stories that often get over looked. Stories such as this one:
“Now John answered and said, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow with us.” But Jesus said to him, “Do not forbid him, for he who is not against us is on our side.” (Luke 9:49-50)
It would be easy to look at this story and condemn John for his narrow-mindedness, but let’s look at things from John’s perspective. Jesus had already handpicked his 12 disciples at this point, and this guy wasn’t one of them.
Who does this guy think he is, casting out demons in Jesus name without bothering to get his permission first? I mean, didn’t Jesus make it clear that his organization had a chain of command that people had to go through to get to him?
In John’s mind, the power structure that Jesus had ordained looked something like this:
The 12 Apostles
Excuse me Mr. Demon-caster-outer, but if you want to be in Jesus’ in crowd, you have to go through us. We’re the true followers of Jesus. So either move aside, or join our group. Those are your two options. You’re either with us or against us….Because Jesus is one of us.
Except that Jesus isn’t.
Fast-forward a couple thousand years and my how things have not changed! We still have thousands of groups claiming that they’re the true followers of Jesus.
Growing up charismatic, I knew that the Baptists weren’t as spiritual as we were because they didn’t speak in tongues, just like the Baptists knew that most Catholics probably aren’t saved because they’ve never prayed the “sinner’s prayer.”
Some groups believe that a Christian can serve in the military; others believe that Jesus categorically rejects violence in every circumstance. Some Christians are gay-affirming; others are … well, obviously not.
With all the different groups out there claiming to follow Jesus, how do we know which ones Jesus would claim as his own?
Is it possible that Jesus would claim both liturgical Christians and free-wheeling holy roller Christians?
I’m 33 years old, and I’ve been following Jesus — or should I say trying to follow Jesus — for as long as I can remember. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned after all these years, it’s that as soon as I think that my friends and I have a corner on Jesus, Jesus reminds me that He’s bigger than any organization, doctrine, or philosophical system that I can wrap my brain around.
The more that I follow Jesus, the bigger my world should get.
I think that’s what Jesus was trying to tell John. Jesus is fine with his followers gathering together into groups of like-minded believers helping each other along in their spiritual journeys. That’s necessary and good. The problem is when groups of people claim Jesus as their exclusive possession, as if any one group has a monopoly on Jesus. That’s called sectarianism, and Jesus explicitly forbids it.
If I can’t see Jesus at work in the lives of people that don’t look, talk, or think the way that I do, then I’m the one with the problem, not Jesus. I don’t own Jesus.
The question is: Does Jesus own me?
By David LeMonnier
In 2001 I attended a church which lost its pastor. The pastor had an affair and, according to the less than credible grape vine, he had even brought a gun into the church office at one point. It was a surreal turn of events in the church. He was an excellent speaker, a hard worker & an encouraging man. I looked up to him as a spiritual parent. Our church which was 1,200 people and growing, which had just bought some land to build a new facility, soon dwindled down to nothing. I went to college & now I don’t know anyone from that time who still attends. I can’t say we saw it coming, but lately I wonder if all the warning signs were in front of us. After all, my story is the typical story for so many churches. The pastor is a success and then he falls, and with him soon follows the church.
Now, we all know the typical answers to this typical story. The pastor needs to guard himself. He needs to take the necessary precautions. Churches should be more careful of who they hire. Churches shouldn’t be built around a man, but Jesus. But now I am a pastor. I have been a pastor of a church that fell apart and a church now that is growing. And despite all the things my pastor did wrong, I cannot help but feel sympathy for him and wonder whether everything was his fault?
In our American society we value rugged individualism, which in my life has meant we criticize everyone who is successful and let everyone who fails burn. The only unity we experience is when we have a common enemy, not when we’re for a common cause. We experience this “unity” in politics. So long as a man is against our enemy, he is useful to our party. The moment he strays from the path we expect from him, he is out like yesterday’s news.
In the church pastors experience this same “unity.” A pastor is only good to us so long as he does not fail, does not compromise and does not disagree with the majority of his congregation. The moment he does any and all of these things (and all pastors can and will) he and his family are without financial support and a church. Never mind the fact the pastor has to accept this behavior from the congregation. The congregation gets a different standard. The pastor has to “suck it up and deal with it” while the church member can live without such accountability. The member can quit “paying the preacher” or even go to another church where the pastor (at that time) “agrees more with them.” The pastor is a commodity one picks out of luxury, not a brother.
The pastor cannot share his weaknesses with the church, at least not any major ones. The church allows for simple sins in a pastor like “working too much” or gossiping. But if a pastor struggles with pornography or anger or divorce he is without a job. I am sure many church members are glad their companies don’t treat them as they treat their ministers.
Church members expect their ministers to listen to “their” concerns. By “their” concerns I mean the sins of the people they don’t like. “The pastor needs to know Mike sinned.” “The pastor needs to know about Betty’s bad attitude.” But the pastor is not allowed to voice his concerns for the spiritual well-being of those who complain to him. He is to be seen, but not heard.
All of what I mentioned is a part of the job for pastors. No one should go into the ministry without expecting to encounter these problems. If you aren’t willing to minister in spite of these things then you aren’t ready to serve. The enemy is as much in the body of Christ as outside of it. Pastors also must take the necessary precautions to avoid temptation and strive to develop their personal character. We are not masters of our trade but students of THE Master. At the same time, though, is it any wonder less people are going into the ministry and staying in the ministry? After all, with work like this who would want to? The church under pays, under values and under “loves” those who serve it.
And with this considered, I wonder whether pastors who fail are really to blame? Granted everyone is responsible for their sins. The devil can’t make us do anything; he can only use the footholds we provide him. We will all be judged for what we’ve done and each be punished for what we’re responsible for. But have we considered who we’re responsible for? Obviously the pastor is responsible for the flock, but who is responsible for the pastor? Might it be a reason so many in church leadership fail is because the church forgets its responsibility to him, not the other way around?
Perhaps the pastor does not share his sin because there is no one safe to confide in and in turn his sin consumes him to the point he can no longer lead. Maybe he is afraid to speak the truth because his family is held financially hostage by the church and those threatening to leave. Maybe he is depressed having put so much thought and prayer into his words and having them fall on deaf ears. Maybe he is depressed because he puts so much work into people only to be forgotten on the anniversary of his arrival, birthday or Pastor Appreciation Month. Or maybe he is tired and stressed from trying to satisfy his family and church expectations feeling obligated to God to take care of them both. Maybe he is afraid to ask for help because he has been taught through experience there is no help for him?
Are pastors struggling because they’re alone, never considering anyone a friend out of fear of rejection? Are pastors having affairs because they have no companionship or because they want to have control over something in their life? Are they quitting the ministry because of the guilt they feel for neglecting their family or because of the guilt they feel for falling short of what is expected of them in churches?
Perhaps the most important question we should consider is what are we going to do about it? Will we make the church safe for pastors? Will we be aware of their spiritual health and heal their wounds? Will we be united to our pastors as a family of Christ? Or will we remain disposable?
P.S. I read this article to my wife and she is concerned about who will read this. But should an article like this cause her anxiety or hope? It is up to the church to decide.
Bonsoir mes amis!
As you may have noticed, I’m changing the format for Deep Thoughts. After careful consideration, I’ve decided to make Deep Thoughts a one-stop blog for anyone trying to follow Jesus, but feel like they kind of suck at it (ME!!!!!!) I’ll be covering a host of topics from miracles to Biblical counseling to inter-faith dialogue to Biblical peace-making to….whatever I want.
I’ll still write my faith and culture commentaries, but I’ll also be asking some really cool people to write stuff too. So, one day you might read about a blind guy getting healed in Indonesia, the next day you might read about me trying to stop a war with Iran. That’s the kind of range we’re talking about here. Eccentric…I know, but after spending my entire life trying to fit in to a certain mold, I’ve finally come to peace with the fact that I’m an oddball. So why not carve a space for my oddity into the blogosphere?
By PJ Meduri
The country of Rwanda is a small nation located in East Africa. A beautiful nation, known as “The land of a thousand hills” experienced a very dark moment in 1994. In April of that year, a very tragic genocide began which lasted roughly 4 months and resulted in more than 1 million deaths.
Now in 2012 as I prepare for my sixth trip to Rwanda, I’ve seen and heard firsthand how people have found healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
On my first visit to Rwanda I visited a prison and was amazed at what I saw as I was escorted inside. At the front of the prison courtyard was platform were two bands were leading their fellow inmates in singing songs to Jesus Christ. It was inspiring to see the incredible joy on the faces of these men as a result of following Jesus. I couldn’t help but wonder about their role in the genocide, but that only served to increase my amazement at the depth, power, love and mercy of Jesus Christ, who offers all people everywhere the opportunity to find peace with God. It reminded me of my favorite words from Jesus, “All those who come to me, I will never drive away.” And, through Jesus, people in Rwanda are not only experiencing reconciliation with God, but in many cases reconciliation with one another.
The prison visit was amazing, but there is one person I met my first time in Rwanda, whom I will never forget. He survived the genocide as a small boy and in an e-mail he sent to me over two years ago, summed up some of his feelings. “…JESUS is my only real shelter and refuge and my relief in this lonely life.” He then shared something else he’s learned over the many years of healing since 1994. “When you dwell on the past you can lose the future, but when you remember the past just as something that happened and left you with a lesson, you can inevitably save the future.”
Jesus said He is “the resurrection and the life”, something that is very evident in the rebuilding of Rwanda. This “new life” was summarized quite eloquently by a Rwandan Pastor who shared the following with me, as I prepared to leave for home at the conclusion of my visit to this country in 2010.
As he stood up, he looked at me and said, “Tell people in America it’s safe to come to Rwanda” Then as he reached his right hand toward the ground he slowly began raising his hand upward, and finished his statement…. “God has reached into the pit, and lifted Rwanda up, and made her a nation of peace.”
This same God who’s at work in Rwanda is the same One who can reach into any nation and any life. with his amazing love and grace.
Taking The Field Ministries
By Bob Kellemen
During the early days of television two shows dominated the airwaves. One aired on Tuesday nights and the other on Sunday evenings. Initially the more popular show was The Texaco Star Theatre hosted by Milton Berle. It was designed originally along the lines of the old-fashion vaudeville variety hour with a host highlighting half-a-dozen guests each week.
However, little by little, Milton Berle became the star. As the format changed, the accent gradually focused increasingly on Berle. There were fewer guest acts as Berle began to dominate each show. In just eight years, the show ran out of steam. No one person is talented enough to carry any show, or any ministry, for more than a short time.
The other show, The Ed Sullivan Show, experienced a very different fate. If any show in the history of television could be called an institution, it would be The Ed Sullivan Show. Every Sunday night for more than two decades this show brought an incredible variety of entertainers into homes. Sullivan’s show continued as a major hit for fifteen years longer than Berle’s show.
Unlike Berle, Sullivan never wavered from his original format. He was the host who called other people to center stage. Numerous performers made their television debut on his show: Walt Disney, the Beatles, Elvis Presley, Bob Hope, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, and hundreds more. Though Ed Sullivan died soon after the last run of his show, his legacy outlives him.
Are You Like Milton Berle or Ed Sullivan?
God calls Christian leaders to be like Ed Sullivan, not like Milton Berle. If we’re like Berle, and the spotlight increasingly focuses on us and our individual ministry, then biblically we’re missing God’s mark as equippers. If we fail to focus on equipping, then we selfishly treat God’s people like children who have never grown up spiritually.
God wants us to be like Ed Sullivan—a host who calls others to center stage by equipping them to fulfill their calling. When we focus on equipping, we leave an other-centered legacy of loving leaders.
God’s Grand Vision for His Church: Ephesians 4:11-16
In Ephesians 4:11-16, the Apostle Paul highlights the Bible’s most powerful, focused vision statement for the Church. This passage offers God’s ministry description for church leaders.
Most pastoral search committees would be thrilled to read a candidate’s résumé that demonstrated the ability to preach, counsel, and administrate. Most seminaries would be delighted if graduate exit interviews indicated that pastoral ministry students perceived that their seminary training equipped them for preaching, counseling, and administrating. Being equipped to do the work of the ministry seems to be everyone’s ideal goal for church leaders.
Everyone but Christ.
Christ’s pastoral ministry description demands the ability to equip others to do the work of the ministry. If seminaries followed Christ’s vision for pastoral ministry, they would focus on training trainers. If pastoral search committees desired in a pastor what Christ desires, they would throw out every résumé that failed to emphasize experience in and passion for equipping the saints.
The Pastoral Ministry Mindset Shift That Changes Everything: Every Pastor an Equipper of Equippers
You would think that we would listen to the Head of the Church. Instead, we listen to modern church culture that screams, “The pastor is the preacher, care-giver, and CEO!”
It’s time to listen again to the Head of the Church.
“It was he who gave some to be … pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service…” (Ephesians 4:11-12a).
Christ’s grand plan for His Church is for pastors/teachers to focus on equipping every member to do the work of the ministry.
Paul launches verse 12 with a tiny Greek word (pros) translated by an even smaller English word (“to”) with giant meaning: with the conscious purpose of, in order for, for the sake of, with a view to. The word indicates the future aim and ultimate goal of a current action. That is, by definition, a vision statement—Christ’s grand vision statement for every pastor/teacher.
The Résumé of Pastors
What is the future view, the future vision to which Christ sovereignly gave His Church pastors and teachers? Paul says it succinctly: “To prepare God’s people for works of service.” These eight words must be every church leader’s reason for existence.
One central word—“prepare”—must capture every leader’s passion for ministry. “Prepare” comes from the word for artist, craftsman.
Local church leader—your special craft, your opus is people, equipped people, disciple-makers. Your spiritual craft or gift is to help others to scout out their spiritual gift, identify that area of ministry, and empower them to use that gift.
In Paul’s day, people commonly used “prepare” in the context of conditioning an athlete. Local church leader—you are a spiritual conditioning coach. Your job is not to play all the positions on the team, but to coach every player on the team, to strengthen their spiritual condition so they are able to do works of service.
This fits perfectly with how Paul uses the word prepare—to train someone so they are fully fit and mature enough to complete their calling. The leader’s calling is to help God’s people to fulfill their calling.
Passing the Baton of Ministry
These weren’t just words for Paul.
• He made making disciple-makers his personal ministry description—Colossians 1:28-29.
• He made equipping equippers his personal ministry practice—Acts 20:13-38.
• Christ’s grand vision so captured Paul’s ministry mindset that at the end of his life he passed onto Timothy the vision of equipping equippers of equippers—2 Timothy 2:2. The baton of equipping passed from Christ’s hands, to Paul’s hands, to Timothy’s hands, to the hands of reliable disciple-makers who passed it on yet again.
Let’s not drop the baton. Let’s keep Christ’s grand vision alive and moving into the future by being Ed Sullivan-like pastors.
Join the Conversation
What can you do to be more and more the “Ed Sullivan” Christian leader?
Note: This post was developed from material in Dr. Kellemen’s book, Equipping Counselors for Your Church http://bit.ly/EC4YC4E.
Bob Kellemen, Th.M., Ph.D., is the Executive Director of the Biblical Counseling Coalition, the Executive Director of the Center for Church Equipping, the Founder and CEO of RPM Ministries, and the Chairman of the MA in Christian Counseling and Discipleship department at Capital Bible Seminary. Bob has pastored three churches and is the author of six books, including Equipping Counselors for Your Church.
Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.” Genesis 28:16
My wife, Rachel, and I were half way around the world in the city of Surabaya, Indonesia when a routine miracle became the catalyst that would forever change my life. This was my fourth trip to Indonesia and had previously made two trips to India. Throughout each trip, I saw first hand the power of God released resulting in thousands of people becoming born again, the demon possessed delivered, many healings including blindness, deafness, and muteness. Even on the trip to Surabaya in 2008, I prayed for a pregnant woman whose baby had been declared dead in the womb. After praying, the baby began to move around. Yet with what happened on this particular day, life as I had known it, would never be the same. As Rachel and I were praying for those who were sick, an elderly man came forward for prayer. When he approached us, it was obvious that this man was blind in one of his eyes and there was a milky looking substance that covered it. We were no strangers to praying for these types of sickness. So we prayed the first time and nothing happened. We decided to pray again and his condition was no better. I, however, felt an urgency to pray one last time and, when I moved my hand, his eye that was milky was now perfectly clear. I told the interpreter to have him cover the eye that was good and follow me. Without any hesitation he started following me with no problem whatsoever. He went on his way home and I knew his life was never going to be the same again.
We finally arrived home early on a Friday morning and my Dad had come to the airport to pick us up. I remember as we were getting close to our home, the Holy Spirit began speaking to me about the man who had been healed. He told me that his life became a living testimony of the power of God. In other words, his life became evidence that pointed to a greater reality. For the next few days, I constantly thought over that event. I didn’t realize it at the time but that one healing became an invitation to enter into a place I knew very little about: that place is the Kingdom of God.
I was reading the book of Genesis Chapter 28 about Jacob becoming sleepy and laying his head upon a rock and falling asleep. As Jacob slept he had a dream of a ladder going into the heavens and the angels of God begin to ascend and descend upon it. Jacob is awakened from his dream and says, “Surely the Lord is in this place and I didn’t know it”. Immediately when I read those words the Holy Spirit spoke to me and said “Paul you are disconnected from My Kingdom.” I had no clue what that meant, but I was determined to find out. Since that time, which began in April of 2009, I have been on an amazing journey of discovering the Kingdom of God.
The Kingdom of God in its simplest term means the King’s domain. It is the rule and reign of God. When Jesus was asked by His disciples how to pray He taught them to pray “Our Father who is in Heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matt. 6:9-10)
There are two things I want to point out. The first is our Father. The Kingdom of God is all about relationship and, more importantly, relating to God not as the distant other or the unseen presence but as He truly is: our Father. Secondly, He said on earth as in Heaven. The desire of God is that Heaven would invade earth.
When Jacob awoke from his dream, He said, “this in none other than the house of God and this is the gate of Heaven and he named the place Bethel.” Bethel means “house of God”.
Today you and I are the house of God according to 1 Corinthians 3:16. Notice though that not only was Bethel the house of God it, is also the gate of Heaven. So as believers we are not only the temple of the Holy Spirit, our life is also the gateway that releases Heaven upon the earth, which is exactly what Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “On earth as in Heaven.” You carry the kingdom wherever you go and because you carry the kingdom wherever you go, people can have a life- changing encounter with the power of God. Since the time this all started, we have seen several people healed of broken bones and other sickness in places such as Walmart, Outback Steak House, Best Buy and many other locations. About a month into discovering the Kingdom, the Holy Spirit spoke something to me that I want to leave with you. He said to me “You are not waiting on the kingdom; the kingdom is waiting on you.”
Grace and Mercy Ministries
In light of several high profile cases of gay related bullying, this essay may disgruntle almost everyone who reads it.
First, it may anger bullies who want sympathizers or “boys will be boys / girls will be girls” dismissers of bullying among religious believers who see homosexuality as against God’s intent, having harmful physical / mental health risks, and symptomizing “societal decay.”
Second, it may irk anti-homosexuality religious believers, a number of who may inwardly — even to their own horror — sympathize with bullies, even if they would never engage in bullying themselves, or who view bullying as collateral damage in a societal struggle of sexual virtue vs. vice.
Third, it may upset pro-homosexuality religious and/or gay activists who, like some of their conservative counterparts, see concessions or cooperation across these particular lines as unacceptable appeasement, betrayal, or compromise in a zero sum game where anything less than worldwide celebration (or condemnation), and not mere tolerance or acceptance of homosexuality, is complicity with evil or holding hands with haters.
To my gay activist and pro-homosexuality religious friends: don’t too quickly dismiss potential allies from the other side. When mostly Christian and Muslim affiliated Uganda began considering harsh sanctions against various homosexual acts, some of the most vocal American opponents were public figures and organizations associated with “anti-gay” politics: Charles Colson, Rick Warren, and Exodus International, to name just a few.
Rick and Kay Warren are also active in the worldwide battle against AIDS, a disease often associated with homosexuality and causing massive suffering to its homosexual and heterosexual victims. In his 1988 20 Hot Potatoes Christians are Afraid to Touch, progressive Evangelical Tony Campolo shared that Evangelicals as early as the 1980s organized benefit concerts with thousands in attendance donating proceeds to fight AIDS. Likewise, one of my (once self-described) fundamentalist friends raises awareness of gay human rights issues in Iran. He says, “I don’t think homosexuality is good, but I don’t believe in beheading or imprisoning gays for homosexual acts. We should protect people persecuted for any reason, including their sexuality.” Finally, a college administrator friend who is also a Southern Baptist received a report about a faculty member who told a student that s/he “hate(s) homosexuals.” My friend responded swiftly and professionally. I cannot give details, but the situation resolved in a conciliatory manner that would please readers of multiple political persuasions.
I can already imagine the comments section bristling with objections that anti-homosexuality religious believers, simply by holding or expressing beliefs that homosexuality is harmful or wrong, disregard or contribute to a milieu that allows for, even encourages bullying of gays. Point taken. I can see this as sometimes but not always true, in that opposing homosexuality can translate into irritation, which can conceive hatred, which may give birth to violence or discrimination against homosexuals. To be fair, there is sometimes violence and discrimination against people who oppose homosexuality or admit to anything less than an enthusiastic endorsement of it. But pretending that political and religious agreement are essential to civility or to standing against bullying denies human capacity for nuance.
St. Augustine may have originated the phrase, “love the sinner, hate the sin,” as the most notorious variation of this mindset, advising, “love for persons and a hatred for their vices.” This is echoed, Yale University’s Miroslav Volf believes, by the Qur’an Surah Al Imran 3:30 which talks about a person’s soul as distinct or wishing to be made distant from some of its actions. The United Methodist Church refuses to approve homosexual practice, but at the same time, it holds up gays as people of “sacred worth” beloved by God, and opposes many forms of discrimination based on sexual orientation. Whether one sees homosexuality as a vice, virtue, or as value-neutral, these examples allow for at least the possibility of nuance from an anti-homosexuality perspective.
I don’t know Tony Campolo’s most recent position on homosexuality, but when I attended a Baptist Student Union (BSU) conference at the University of Georgia a number of years ago, Campolo responded to those who called him “soft” on homosexuality, “I am not soft on homosexuality, but I am very soft on homosexuals!” The response from the audience of several thousand mostly baptist college students? Thunderous applause.
To objectors who say that one cannot love or stand common cause with another person without endorsing all or a perceived core of that person’s feelings, beliefs, opinions, actions, sexual preference / orientation, or self-identity, I reply that most people, including readers of this essay, do so on a regular basis at least sometimes at work, in family, and in friendships. Can any reader not think of instances where they disagreed (even strongly) with another person’s acts, mindset, even core self-identity, yet still interacted civilly, loved dearly, or demonstrated active care for that colleague, brother, sister, mother, father, friend?
To my anti-homosexuality, as well as my pro-homosexuality, friends: In my recent essay, Tea with Hezbollah, I mentioned Jesus’ “Parable of the Good Samaritan” as a partial paradigm for relations between Christians and Muslims. Might it also apply to religious believers relating with gays, particularly gays who are the victims of bullying?
Samaritans for Jesus’ Jewish audience were not just ethnically distinct, they represented corrupt religion and bad theology (cf. Luke 9 and 17; John 4 and 8). The Zondervan NIV Study Bible notes, “the person Jesus commended was neither the religious leader nor the lay associate, but a hated foreigner. Jews viewed Samaritans as half-breeds, both physically and spiritually. Samaritans and Jews practiced open hostility, but Jesus asserted that love knows no … boundaries.” That the “heretical” Samaritan gets doctrine wrong but ethics right makes his role as hero all the more shocking to Jesus’ hearers.
To anti-homosexuality religious believers: Let’s grant for the sake of argument that you discern the “right doctrine” about homosexuality. I wonder whether pro-homosexuality religious and gay activists are not sometimes better at fulfilling Jesus’ ethic in standing up for homosexuals? Given the choice, do you think “right doctrine” or “right action” is more pleasing to Jesus? Do you “love the sinner” as much or more than you “hate the sin?”
When I share the Good Samaritan with students, I ask who Jesus would designate the wounded victim, Priest, Levite, and Samaritan if he were speaking to early 21st-century audiences. Might Jesus say, “An Evangelical pastor and a Biblical (or Qur’anic) inerrancy professor passed by the bullied homosexual, but a lesbian activist took pity.” Or alternately, would Jesus say, “a lesbian activist and a gay senator passed by, but a Wahhabi Muslim or fundamentalist Christian took pity on the victim?”
Whether we are gay, straight, conservative, liberal, nonreligious or religious, we are human beings who can learn from the best of our exemplars in opposing bullying in any form, including bullying against gays. If we cannot agree on other things, even on the neutrality, goodness, or dysfunctional nature of homosexuality; I say with John Wesley (who himself quoted Jehu in 2 Kings 2:15), let’s stand together against bullying, “If your heart is as my heart, then take my hand.” Will you also take each others’ hands?
Benjamin B. DeVan has taught religion, philosophy, and African American literature at North Carolina Central University, Peace College, and a January term mini-course at MIT titled, “Religion: Bringing the World Together, or Tearing the World Apart?” He completed his MA in Counseling at Asbury Theological Seminary, his MDiv at Duke University, a ThM at Harvard in World Religions with a thesis on evangelical Christians and Islam, and is now a doctoral candidate at a historic British university writing a dissertation on the New Atheism.
I thought I’d share something from my good friend Rick Love at Peace Catalyst.
My friend Pastor Jay Pathak was talking to the mayor of Arvada and wanted to know his vision for the city. After sharing a number of things, the mayor confessed, “I guess I want people to be good neighbors.” Jay assured the mayor that he could help with that one! Since then, Jay has mobilized and worked with more than fifty other churches in Colorado to encourage people to “rediscover the art of neighboring.” They are now taking the love commandment seriously by pursuing relationships with their neighbors.
Jay’s church, the Mile High Vineyard, is one of many churches following Jesus into the marketplace and into the neighborhoods of their city. They illustrate one of the most profound and important things God is doing in the world today: calling his church to be incarnational (also described as “missional”). So what is an incarnational church?
The easiest way to understand what I mean by “incarnational church” is to compare two approaches: the incarnational approach and the attractional approach. In the attractional method, the goal is to attract attendees. Churches want to get people to attend service on Sunday. By contrast, the incarnational church focuses on incarnating the gospel at work and with neighbors from Monday through Saturday. The attractional church’s primary emphasis is “come,” whereas the incarnational church’s primary emphasis is “go!” The attractional church focuses on buildings and professional clergy, while the incarnational church focuses on laity serving in the marketplace.
A wise reader will discern two things about what I just wrote. First, in order to make my point, I exaggerated. I made my comparison of the two approaches too black and white. Second, both approaches are good, and we need both. The reality is that every church is both attractional and incarnational at some level. But I see an imbalance in the church. We are really good at the attractional approach, but not so good at the incarnational. In this blog I want to address the importance of being incarnational.
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