Imagine (horrible as it sounds) a fire breaking out in a church kids club that your children are in. You rush into the building. Who are you desperate to get out of the building? Who is it that you’re looking for? Your kids, right?
Through this illustration Kevin DeYoung raises the issue of moral proximity when it comes to our obligations as Christians to helping others.
In conversation with Matt Chandler, Trevin Wax and Jonathan Leeman during TFTG’11 DeYoung uses it to inform a discuss the issues that surround social justice and church mission.
What was most helpful for me was DeYoung’s recognition that whilst the whole world might be my neighbour I am not under exactly the same obligation to the 6 billion and more people on the planet.
In fact unless and until we recognise that Scripture does differentiate on the matter we will find ourselves under an ‘impossible burden that will beat us up’ and a sense of obligation that no-one lives up to.
According to DeYoung Moral proximity describes ‘the different moral obligation we have on us in different situations’.
Why does this matter? Well quite simply if Jesus tells us that the whole world is my neighbour and I am under an obligation to love my neighbour, indiscriminately, then what does it mean to fulfil this command? How is it possible, to love every man, woman and child equally?
What would it mean for my personal priorities and our corporate church programmes?
DeYoung argues that the notion of moral proximity is not an excuse to avoid responsibility but is clearly demonstrated in the New Testament and life of the early church. Whilst the whole world may be my neighbour I have particular responsibilities to some by virtue of their relationship to me ie their proximity to me and me to them.
Where in the Bible do we find moral proximity?
He touches on a number of examples in the Scripture (and I’ve added a few others!)
We have a particular obligation to our biological family – so much so that to fail to provide for family is to behave worse than an unbeliever and also to place an inappropriate burden on the church. c.f 1 Timothy 5:3-4, 16.
We have an obligation to our local church family – so 1 John 3:11 the call to love one another is best understood in the context of the local church.
We have an obligation to our wider church family – so Jesus in Matthew 25: 34-40. Paul, in Galatians 6v.10 differentiates a particular obligation to the people of God when he says ‘Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.’
The collection of money for the church in Jerusalem, 2 Cor. 8&9 would be a further example.
Does that mean that these statements negate the teachings of Jesus that the whole world is my neighbour and that I therefore cannot put limits on my love? Not at all.
But even Jesus’ parable suggests something more. Snodgrass in Stories with Intent writes
One cannot define one’s neighbour; one can only be a neighbour. We cannot say in advance who the neighbor is; rather nearness and need define ‘neighbor’.
I guess what that means is that as individuals and churches we are willing to respond to all in need but geographical nearness and urgency of need suggest a greater obligation.
Geographical nearness may mean choosing some social justice project in our community to join with or establish.
Urgency of need may mean collecting money to meet for example a famine in east Africa.
Snodgrass also cites Kierkegaard
‘To love one’s neighbour means, while remaining within the earthly distinctions allotted to one, essentially to will to exist equally for every human being without exception.’
To my mind every human being without exception but not every human being without distinction serves as a helpful summary.
A few take home points for me;
1. No-one lives as if they owe the same obligation to every member of the human race. DeYoung’s argument helps liberate us from a sense of guilt or hypocrisy.
2. The Bible gives us a framework for assessing who we owe what to. It would seem to me that we are to be proactive in seeking to provide for our biological family and the local church and that we are to reactively respond to need as we discover it in the wider world on the basis of nearness and need paying particular attention to the needs of believers.
3. We need to identify some social justice projects that we think it wisest to support. Not because we dismiss all others but because of our limitations and that moral proximity will help us decide.
4. We need to watch our hearts that are quick to avoid the awesome obligations that Jesus puts us under. Am I really ready to be a neighbour to even my enemy?
Why not follow the whole conversation or listen in to Kevin’s answer at the 40 minute mark.
DeYoung’s book What Is the Mission of the Church?: Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission addressing these issues will be available (in the US) from September.
Mike McKinley, author of Am I really a Christian? gives 4 great reasons why we would want to meet with God’s people week by week and all in just over 2 minutes.
Did you spot them all?
1) As Christians we have a new status. We have a new Heavenly Father and so we are also members of a new family. Our new status implies new relationships with other Christians. 1 John 3:16-18
2) It’s a natural impulse for Spirit-filled Christains to want to meet with God’s people. To learn from God, to praise God, to pray with others and to express love for one another as an expression of our love for God. See Acts 2: 44-47, Heb.10:23-25
3) God has designed the Christian life to be lived in community. He has given me gifts for the benefit of others. They are given that I might love and serve other Christians. 1 Cor.12:7ff.
4) Church is the place where I can experience the gifts given to other people for me. 1 Cor. 12:7ff
Do you talk too much? Do you not say enough?
When I meet pastorally with people I sometimes wonder whether they have come seeking advice or merely someone to talk at. I also wonder whether at times I’ve said too much and not asked enough.
This app. might at least help assess just who’s doing all the talking! Quite simply it shows, how much everybody is talking, You can set it for 1, 2 or 5 minutes and track the conversation. Sadly it’s no good for elders meetings, just yet, as it only works for two people.
He who answers before listening— that is his folly and his shame – Proverbs 18:13
Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise – Proverbs 19:20
Captain, commander, caregiver or recluse – what kind of leader are you and what is it doing to your church?
More from Thom Rainer and his book High Expectations.
Leaders come in all shapes and sizes but Rainer argues that four leadership styles can be identified that impact a church in different ways. I’ve turned his comments into the following diagram;
Rainer argues that in growing churches the dominant leadership style is high task/ high relationship. In other words what churches need are leaders who are ‘very goal-orientated‘ and also ‘good people-person(s)‘.
Without a goal it is easy for the church to drift but ‘high relationship‘ is crucial in terms of bringing the congregation with you. In his research into growing churches it was these leaders who
cared deeply about people as they attempted to lead the church to change. Though the pastors had an ambitious desire to reach a goal or accomplish a task, they were unwilling to disregard the concerns of others in the process.
A few personal reflections;
1. Look for captains to lead your church. Commanders are likely, in attempting to force change, to cause damage and caregivers will never bring about the change a church needs.
2. Recognize yourself in the table and where possible compensate for your weaknesses.
3. Keep recluses out of leadership! The last thing a church needs is someone who has no vision and no interest in people.
4. Recluses tend to end up working for the denomination! They are maintenance people.
5. Team leadership helps compensate for the fact that it is hard to find high task/ high relationship people. Captains, commanders and caregivers each have something distinctive to bring to the leadership of a church. Caregivers stop commanders racing ahead, commanders ensure that necessary change happens.
6. Build in structures in your churches that facilitate both vision and good communication of that vision. Create a culture in which both change and consultation are expected and embraced.
7. Consult early and expect things to take longer to action.
One minister commented;
I am tempted just to move ahead without a broad consensus, but I realize that would be a big mistake. So I consult with church leaders and take the time to seek input from the members. The process takes a lot longer, but the end result is healthier.
Have I got what it takes to pastor a growing church?
Thom Rainer after 10 years of working alongside churches in the States and studying their trends has this to say about the Pastor.
Acknowledging that if God is sovereign he can and will use whoever he wants, Rainer maintains that
In his sovereignty, God chooses certain means, methods, and persons to accomplish his purpose. I am convinced that one of His primary means of accomplishing His will is through the words, deeds and leadership of pastors. So much does rise and fall on pastoral leaders.
And when it comes to growing churches here are the 8 qualities he identifies in Pastors.
1. They are theologically conservative.
2. They have longer-than-average tenure in the church they presently serve
3. They are more likely to have attended seminary than not
4. They are usually full-time at their churches
5. They love to preach
6. Their preferred preaching style is expository
7. They detest committee meetings
8. They are more visionary than reactionary
Whilst there are no real surprises in this list, I was struck by 5, 6 and 7 in particular. Godly men, who guard the gospel, love the word and love the people to whom they preach it are the hope for the church.
Having just finished preaching through 1 Timothy we find that it is the qualities that Paul sees in Timothy that continue to grow churches today.
The danger of attending conferences (I’ve just come back from the Evangelical Ministry Assembly in London) is that you return home in awe of certain leaders. You wish you had the ability, the insight, the godliness and the gifting of those who were invited to speak and the conclusion you are tempted to reach is that there really are a very few people capable of achieving great things for God.
Thom Rainer studied the growth of nearly 300 churches and set out his conclusions in High Expectations: The remarkable secret for keeping people in your church. His conclusions challenge the assumption that only exceptionally gifted leaders grow exceptional churches.
Rainer argues that it is true that we should recognise that there really are some exception leaders out there. But we also need to celebrate the fact that God grows his church through the faithful leadership of ordinary pastors willing to persevere in their situations and grow their churches one small step at a time.
Here is the big take home for me:
Most successful leaders have learned to eat elephants.
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. You are willing to make incremental gains which result in long-term blessings.
From the inside the growth and progress can look painfully slow. But for ministers who are faithful and are willing to persevere their ministries can be very fruitful.
The secret then is not to try and be something you’re not or to spend your time wishing you were other than the leader God has gifted you to be but to be faithful and persevere because it is God who gives the growth!
In the study of growing churches Rainer comments of their leaders;
They had a long-term perspective of their ministries where they presently served. Though they were always open to the will of God, they did not try to leave every time a problem developed. They did not suffer from the “greener-grass syndrome.”
These leaders were persistent. They did not give up easily. They were willing to take two steps backward to go three steps forward.
We may not be able to expound the Scriptures like Vaughan Roberts or have the insights of Tim Keller but as the apostle Paul writes
Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential.
Why so? Because that is the way God delights to work, therefore;
“Let him who boasts boast in the Lord”
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.
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.
Thanks to Eddie Arthur for the link
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