Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. – 1 Timothy 4:16
Three times a year (now for seven years) I spend 24 hours with seven other gospel ministers from around the UK. We meet to pray, chat, laugh, share our fears, concerns and hopes. One of us also volunteers to lead a discussion on a book or topic that we agree at the previous meeting and for which we have read in advance.
A lot has happened in seven years. We have each changed, our families have changed, our ministries have changed. To date I’m the only one of us who has not changed job or moved city at least once. I realise that it is a great blessing in ministry to have such an opportunity to meet with a band of brothers who play a crucial part in watching over my life and doctrine. In ministry terms it is a life-saver.
What does it look like when we meet?
11 am – Coffee
11.30-1.30pm – In turn we each share about life and ministry including our own walk with the Lord, marriages, spiritual development of our children, church ministry and anything else of importance.
1.30-2.30 – Over lunch we talk through issues of theology, seek pastoral advice or wisdom on situations we’re addressing, discuss the wider church scene.
2.30-4.30 – Off on a good walk in which we chat, often in pairs, asking questions and picking up comments shared in our morning session
4.30-5.30 – Tea and conversation
5.30-7.00 – Session 1 on the book or topic.
7.30-10.00 – Meal out. More relaxed time and conversation
8.00-9.00 Breakfast (during which time we often skype the member of our group currently ministering in Australia)
9.30-11.00 – Session 2 on the book or topic
What is the value of meeting with the same small group of friends and fellow ministers on an on-going basis
As Tim Keller in his book, Reason for God, writes ‘It takes a community to know an individual.’
Keller takes up the observation that CS Lewis makes in his book the Four Loves;
‘No one human being can bring out all of another person, but it takes a whole circle of human beings to extract the real you.’
CS Lewis met with the same group of men for many years during his time at Oxford. Writing of the impact of meeting as a group of friends he said;
‘By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets. Now that Charles is dead, I shall never again see Ronald’s [Tolkien’s] reaction to a specifically Charles joke. Far from having more of Ronald, having him “to myself” now that Charles is away, I have less of Ronald…In this, Friendship exhibits a glorious “nearness by resemblance” to heaven itself where the very multitude of the blessed (which no man can number) increases the fruition which each of us has of God. For every soul, seeing Him in her own way, doubtless communicates that unique vision to all the rest. That, says an old author, is why the Seraphim in Isaiah’s vision are crying “Holy, Holy, Holy” to one another (Isaiah 6:3). The more we thus share the Heavenly Bread between us, the more we shall have.”
So in our little fraternal when we meet together we bring out different aspects of our characters, spot different strengths and weaknesses in each other and each in our own way encourage the others.
Thank you my brothers.
When the apostle Peter wrote a letter to Christians who found themsevles increasingly on the margins of society, mocked and even insulted here was his advice;
Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.
In our increasingly secular society how do we respond to the growing numbers of people who are not just sceptical about Christianity but are downright hostile? How do we answer militant atheists who think no good thing comes from believing in God and that the only good religion is a dead one?
Well we should answer their arguments and there are good books worth reading and giving away on why Dawkins and Hitchens et al. are wrong. But maybe we have one knock-down apologetic argument that atheism cannot answer – the power of a transformed life.
The great defender of the Christian faith, Francis Schaeffer, said ‘the greatest apologetic is love’.
The one thing that atheism cannot explain or understand or rubbish is the extraordinary power of a transformed life.
So when the Guardian this week ran a story on the remarkable work of a church who decided to pour out their lives in sacrificial service of drug-addicts and prostitutes it was a great reminder that maybe Peter was right. When the pastor of a bible-teaching, Jesus-preaching church also says ‘”The real issues are how we should express and find love for the outcasts and the downtrodden” the world even as it accuses Christians of doing wrong still sees our good deeds and acknowledges something remarkable is going on.
John Harris author of the Guardian piece writes;
A question soon pops into my head. How does a militant secularist weigh up the choice between a cleaned-up believer and an ungodly crack addict? Back at my hotel I search the atheistic postings on the original Comment is free thread for even the hint of an answer, but I can’t find one anywhere.
The last Roman Emperor who viciously persecuted the church was Julian. He hated Christians with a vengence but even he conceded;
[Christianity] has been specially advanced through the loving service rendered to strangers, and through their care for the burial of the dead. It is a scandal there is not a single Jew who is a beggar, and that the godless Galileans care not only for their own poor but for ours as well; while those who belong to us look in vain for the help that we should render them.
Essentially in evaluating a talk we’re looking at three things;
1. Matter: What was said?
2. Method: How was the content communicated?
3. Manner: Was it said well?
Matter: What was said? Issues of exegesis and hermeneutics
– What was the main thing or big idea that the speaker was trying to get across? (then ask the speaker what was the main thing they were trying to get across) Did they match?
– Was the main point of the talk the main point of the passage?
– Was the main point of the talk what they said it would be? (i.e. did it match their theme/aim sentence)
– Was the sermon in some sense about God? Is God the hero of the text expounded? Would the passage lead the hearer to think great thoughts about God?
– Did they so obviously skip anything that you think they were ducking the issue?
– Did anything need to be put in biblical context? How well did they do it?
– If it was an Old Testament passage did we get to Jesus as its fulfilment? Did we get to see how the OT pointed us to him in a faithful way?
– Were there additional theological points made in the talk that were NOT from the passage, or a necessary consequence of the passage? Were they justified?
– If cross-references were used were they necessary, were they helpful?
– Was there anything in the talk about the passage that you couldn’t understand?
– Did the speaker, in your judgement, misunderstand anything in the passage?
– Did they anticipate possible objections or difficulties with what the passage taught? Did they deal with those objections fairly, sympathetically and clearly?
– Did the applications follow from the main point and the text?
– Was there enough application?
– Was it too vague? Too narrow?
– Was it applied to ourselves? (and not simply to people out-there!)
– Did the talk misapply the passage?
– Was application (principle) accompanied by ‘Action’ (practical examples)?
– Did the talk address our own reluctance to apply the Bible to ourselves, how did it urge us to apply?
– Were the motivations for application the motivations of the passage?
Method: How was the content communicated
– Was it clear from the talk what the points/headings were?
– Were the main points straightforward and reasonably memorable or verbose and instantly forgettable?
– Did they show where in the text the points came from?
– Was there an obvious flow through the talk so that it was clear how the points related?
– Was there a good balance of explanation-illustration-application or did it feel too ‘light’ or ‘heavy’
– Did the illustrations actually illustrate the points being made? Extra marks for capturing the texture as well?
– Did the illustrations ‘drown out’ the talk?’ i.e. were they ‘too good’ and therefore distracting?
– Did the introduction serve the purpose of the talk?
– Was it too long, too short?
Did the introduction make you want to listen to the rest of the talk?
– Was there a conclusion? Did you know when the talk was ending?
– Did the conclusion function as a conclusion i.e. recapping or was new material introduced in the conclusion? (should not do this!)
– Was there any unnecessary jargon or unexplained terms?
– Did the talk work well for its particular audience? (e.g. Christian/non-Christian or youth group, kids talk, etc.)
– Was there any particularly helpful use of rhetorical devices:
- Posing questions to the listeners
- Testimony from own life or example of others
- Coming full-circle (finishing a talk where it started)
- Repetition of words, main points, etc.
Perhaps James McDonald’s blog was not getting enough hits when he suggested that congregationalism (although not congregationalists!) was a tool in the hand of Satan.
Jonathan Leeman of 9marks ministry has responded in a helpful post.
‘Listen to your heart’ sang Roxette but according to Isaac Watts that’s not altogether the best advice – even if your heart is on fire for God!
I’m just finished reading Isaac Watt’s Discourses of the love of God and it’s influence on all the passions.
The big idea is this; Christians cannot afford to neglect God-given ‘passions’ or ‘affections’ when it comes to our worship of him. In fact God has made us in such a way that the Christian life is only really possible when we seek to love him with both heart and heart.
Watts notes that love is the most powerful passion or affection that we possess as human beings and a love for God ‘will influence all the other affections of the heart.’ A true and right worship of God must not only have at its centre a profound conviction of the truthfulness of the gospel but a deep love for God.
It is a knowledge and belief of the truth of the gospel, joined with love to Christ my redeemer, that makes me zealous to fulfil every duty.
But midway through the work Watts turns to address the abuse of the passions. And it is here that I stumbled across a new thought to me. Our affections, even our godly affections, can lead us away from truth about God. Watt’s comments;
Even the best affections, and those that seem to have a strong tendency towards piety, are not always safe guides in this respect; yet they are too often indulged to sway the mind in its search after truth or duty
And the first example he gives of this could have been written yesterday
Suppose a person should be exceedingly affected with the unlimited goodness and abounding grace of God; if, by this pious affection towards God and his goodness, he is persuaded to think that God has no such severe vengeance for sinful and rebel-creatures, and that he will not destroy multitudes of mankind in hell as the scripture asserts, or that their punishment shall not be so long and so terrible as God has expressly declared; here the passion of love and esteem for the divine goodness acts in an irregular manner, for it takes off the eyes of the soul from his awful holiness and his strict justice, and the unknown evil that is in sin. It prevents the mind from giving due attention to God’s express word, and to those perfections of the divine nature, and his wise and righteous government, which may demand such dreadful and eternal punishment, for the rebellion of a creature against the infinite dignity of it’s creator and governor.
A sense of the profound love of God can, Watt’s argues, cloud our judgement and skew our view of God. It prevents the mind from giving due attention to God’s express word he writes.
When our judgements are built on our passions we are in danger of getting God wrong.
The passions were made to be servants to reason, to be governed by the judgment, and to be influenced by truth; but they were never given us to decide controversies, and to determine what is truth, and what is error.
Thanks to Eddie Arthur for the link
This e-book is well worth a look when it comes to matters of vision, values & strategy in a church. Not just in shaping your vision as a church but in ensuring ownership of that vision.
Will Mancini comments
There are 4 kinds of people in your church when it comes to vision.
Passengers to nurture and challenge
Crew members to equip and empower
Stowaways to find and convert
Pirates to confront and eliminate
Here they all are:
1) ‘evangelist’ is a multi-faceted office that should be identified and encouraged
2) God calls non-evangelists to reactive witnessing not driven by guilt but love
3) Social engagement should be a given for any church community
4) Multi-generational and multi-ethnic churches best reflect the gospel
5) ‘Attractional’ church should be a by-product not a strategy
6) Planting new churches rather than enlarging existing buildings is most blessed
The audio of the sessions should be available in the next few days at the MGP site.
Should we all be evangelists?
I want to pick up here Andy’s second point and expand on his conviction a little further.
I’m an evangelist. I’m not a great evangelist but I do look forward to opportunities to share my faith. Andy’s insight is that as church leaders we don’t help our congregations when we fail ‘to distinguish between the gifting of evangelists and the responsibility of believers who have not been gifted in this way.’
So the problem we create as ministers and evangelists is that ‘we seem to think others should be wired as we are’.
What is the result of pushing the evangelism agenda?
Because what we are asking people to be is unnatural to them it results in ‘guilt, inactivity and passing the buck’.
The biblical pattern is that all Christians are called to be witnesses but not all are gifted to be evangelists. So on Colossians 4:6, Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone, Dick Lucas writes in the Bible Speaks Today commentary on Colossians;
Paul’s advice to the Christians is not along the lines of possessing oneself of better techniques with which to approach people. Rather he turns the problem right around so that the Christians can see their responsibilities in a much more promising light. Their privilege, simply put, is to answer everyone. That is to say they are to respond to the questions of others rather than initiate conversations on leading topics; they are to accept openings rather than make them.
This is emphatically, not to sound the retreat. Paul evidently believes that opportunities for response and explanation are to be found everywhere, for everyone is looking to discover answers about life and its meaning. And Paul evidently things that believing Christians should be found everywhere too, ready to take up these frequent opportunities.
What is the result of encouraging witness rather than pushing evangelism?
Patterson suggests at least 8;
- It recognises God’s sovereignty
- It leads to prayer as we seek God given opportunities
- It encourages holy living as we look to live lives that adorn the gospel
- It removes strain and false guilt
- It encourages excellence in our tasks
- It develops genuine friendships
- It allows effective, relaxed and open conversations
- It embraces all personality types
Dick Lucas again;
It is obvious what strain this removes from conscientious Christians. The pressure to raise certain topics and reach certain people can make it difficult to live or talk normally. In any case, we go to the office to work, not evangelize. But by being ready and willing to respond the way is opened in a more serene, and successful, approach to each day’s opportunities. It opens the way, too, for a greater dependence on God’s leading as well as for a more relevant and sensitive witness, suited to each individual.
Check out this fantastic insight from Glen Knecht a pastor who visited the Ukraine after the collapse of communism;
How mistaken the Communists were when they allowed the older women to continue worshipping together! IT was they who were considered no threat to the new order, but it was they whose prayers and faithfulness over all those barren years held the church together and raised up a generation of men and young people to serve the Lord. Yes, the church we attended was crowded with these older women at the very front, for they had been the stalwart defenders and maintainers of Christ’s Gospel, but behind them and alongside them and in the balcony and outside the windows were the fruit of their faithfulness, men, women, young people, and children. We must never underestimate the place and power of our godly women.
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