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
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.
I’m a husband, a father, a church-minister. But i’m also still a son. My parents are both in their seventies and are enjoying an active retirement. But in preaching 1 Timothy 5 on Sunday evening I was reminded again that a time is approaching when I may be called upon to do far more than I do now to care for parents in old age.
What I think I had underestimated was this challenge from the apostle Paul that whether or not you are willing to look after your parents in their old age is a test of your sincerity of your faith.
I can’t remember anyone impressing this on me in a sermon before. I can’t think of the last time I ever taught on the subject. I wonder for how many Christians it is a completely new idea that how you treat your parents, long after you have left home, is a sign of the reality of your faith.
For Paul caring for parents and grandparents is practical theology. Our Christian faith begins at home.
And had I forgotten that Jesus himself left us that example to follow? Even as he was suffering in agony on the cross, for your sin and mine, John tells us of how Jesus was thinking of the needs of his own mother and that he spoke to ensure that his mother, a widow, would be provided for in her old age. John writes;
Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on this disciple took her into his home.
In 1 Timothy 5:3-16 Paul gives four reasons why children need to provide for their parents.
If your mother is in need then v.4 ‘put your religion into practise’ by providing for her.
1) Looking after parents is a form of repayment.
Caring for your parents is repaying them what you owe according to Paul in v.4. The word for repaying means ‘to render what is due’. We all owe our parents an enormous amount for everything they did and continue to do for us. A report in the guardian suggested that the cost of raising a child through to 21 years of age has now risen to £210,000!
But we all know it’s not just the money it’s the time, energy, emotional commitment, constant vigilance, sleepless nights, wisdom and advice, discipline, etc.
And what’s more the word for repaying is a word written in the infinitive form which really means ‘to keep on giving back’.
So Christians should not have to need our parents to say to us ‘after all we’ve done for you’ for we know and are thankful to God for all they have done.
It is the responsibility of children to make sure that their parents receive the best possible care in old age.
That’s going to look different for each family. Some parents are going to be fit and healthy, independent maybe for all but a few months. Some will need a great deal more care, you might have to give up a job to care for them, you might have to build an extension or move house.
But it matters and not just because you owe them but because honouring your parents in this way is also pleasing to God, v.4
2) Looking after parents is part of true worship of God.
You glorify God by loving your family.
And we shouldn’t be surprised because the commandment of God says ‘honour your father and mother’ and Paul here reminds us that the command doesn’t stop when you leave the family home and it doesn’t stop even when you marry. The commandment is for life.
The 1960’s gave birth to a cultural revolution. It really marked the birth of the teenager and rebellion. Annie Gottlieb wrote of that time
We truly believed that the family had to be torn apart to free love and the first step was to tear ourselves free from our parents.
For the Christian we need to understand how easy it is to find ourselves conforming to that cultural expectation that we are independent spirits free from commitment and free from obligation to family.
The words of Augustine are sobering when he says;
If anyone fails to honour his parents, is there anyone he will spare?
When we care for our parents into their old age we show that we recognise them for who they are – gifts of God.
Have you made that link in your mind?
God says honour them. I’ve given them to you. And if you think they could have a done a better job then think what your life would have been like without any parents and see how tragic a circumstance that is.
The Christian is to honour Mum and Dad. So respect them, esteem them, value them, prize them, maybe you could actually speak to them once in a while, thank them, pray for them, tell them that you love them and then show that you mean it, care for them, give up your time for them, spend your money on them and if they don’t know Christ speak to them about Jesus and if they do know Christ speak to them about Jesus.
We need therefore to celebrate the lives of those who have given hours, days, weeks, years of their lives to caring for elderly relatives. We need to pray for them and thank God for their godly example. It is not a wasted life to give a life in love and devotion to the care of another.
Now for some the call to care for family brings particular challenges. Maybe you feel let down by your parents. Maybe you’re really angry with them. Maybe you’ve never known your Dad or he walked out on your mom. Maybe it would be the hardest thing God could call on you to do to care for a parent in old age.
For some of us that might be hard but we remember too how Jesus knew what it was to be rejected by his own family – Mark 3:31-35.
If we are reluctant to give of ourselves to our parents because we either feel guilt at the way we’ve treated parents or anger at the way they have treated us we need to allow the gospel to bring healing and reconciliation.
If we are to prepare ourselves to serve our parents in their old age it might mean we need to put it right NOW. Some of us can’t afford to leave it until the day when we need to care for them.
We need a generous heart towards them emotionally and spiritually now if we are to find a generous heart for the future.
Here’s the advice of one on this theme;
1) Develop a system for prayer for your family
2) Begin your prayers for your family with thanksgiving. Think of every reason you have to thank God for them.
3) You may need to include prayers of confession for wrong attitudes eg cold-hearted, indifferent, proud, arrogant, self-righteous, ungrateful, disrespectful, disobedient
We need to ask God to change our attitude to our parents that we might honour him in our care of them.
Why are Christians under a particular obligation to care for parents? Because the opposite of honour is dishonour.
3) Looking after parents is a gospel issue. To fail to do so is sin against God and to bring the gospel into disrepute v.8
Maybe as a Christian you’re tempted to think well I’m busy serving God. I haven’t got time to care for them.
The Pharisees at the time of Jesus were notorious for putting to one side care for their relatives in order to ‘serve God.’ In Matthew 15:4-9 rebukes them for breaking the commands of God in their refusal to care for family. He calls them hypocrites whose behaviour demonstrates how FAR they are from God.
Paul says when we do that we have v.8 ‘denied the faith’ and we are ‘worse than an unbeliever’ .
Here is the principle..We all owe our parents full respect and we are commanded by God to show it.
All too often, modern society wants us to shove the elderly out of sight. So if we live in a different town we think we can forget about them. But this gives the church a wonderful opportunity to say we are different. The very way in which we care for parents and grandparents ought to proclaim the love of God.
Here’s how one journalist reflected on the issues just a couple of days ago;
Pretending and prevaricating is no longer an option. To cling blindly to the notion that benign local authorities will gently take our parents off our hands and rehouse them in cheerful surrounds with lots of stimulating activities and without the smell of boiled cabbage is unrealistic, verging perilously close to irresponsible.
By clinging to this fantasy, we do everyone a grave disservice; especially ourselves,
There in a nutshell is the problem. So what is the solution? I don’t know; but I am certain we need to come up with one. And fast.
She has no solution to the need. Not least because caring for family is simply inconvenient and fights with our ambitions and desires. The Christian refuses to live this way.
4) If we fail to look after our parents we will bring a burden on the church v.16
When Christians fail to care for their parents, if those parents are themselves Christians, in abdicating our responsibility we place the burden of responsibility onto the church of which they are members.
It may be that living in a different town or city that the church is willing and able to provide support of one kind or another to our relatives. That is something we should give thanks to God for but something that we should recognise and not take for granted.
Do we know what a local church does for them? Are we in contact? Do we find ways to at the very least support them, to ensure that what we expect them to do is not unreasonable? Do we demonstrate our gratitude? Are there other more needy individuals who cannot receive the support they need because we are not playing our part?
Let us remember that the Bible takes responsibility for care of parents in their old age very seriously. Paul’s words here in 1 Timothy 5 along with Jesus’ words in Matthew 15 are deeply disturbing.
- So are we anticipating what we might need to do in the future to care for family?
- Are we talking it over with our spouse and children?
- Are we talking with our parents about their needs?
- Are we praying that we would honour God in how we relate to our relatives and parents?
- Do we see it as an integral part of our faith, worship and witness that we get this right?
I’m reading a great book called Bringing the gospel home by Randy Newman (just one chapter to go and I’ll be blogging on it later this week).
At one point in the book Newman tells the story of how Joshua Bell, the virtuoso violinist, was persuaded by the Washington Post to busk in a metro station in Washington DC.
More than a thousand people walked by without glancing in his direction. A few paused for a moment, and several people tossed loose change into his open violin case. ( He collected a total of $32.17. Yes, some people gave him pennies!) Only one person recognized the star who, just a few nights later, would accept the Avery Fisher Prize for being the best classical musician in America.
Joshua Bell’s reflected in the Washington Post feature
“I’m surprised at the number of people who don’t pay attention at all, as if I’m invisible. Because, you know what? I’m makin’ a lot of noise!”
Four possible lessons for the church
1. Feeling invisible?
We’re not exactly world-renowned violinists but I dare say we feel like Bell when we know that what is being offered is a glorious and beautiful gospel. Surely people will stop and listen. Surely people will recognise that this message is something to stop and consider.
The Washington Post adds:
Bell wonders whether their inattention may be deliberate: If you don’t take visible note of the musician, you don’t have to feel guilty about not forking over money.
Theologically speaking we shouldn’t be surprised that many people cross the road to avoid Christians! It’s noteable that the Washington Post called the feature ‘Pearls before breakfast’ invoking those words of Jesus ‘do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces’ (Matthew 7:6).
3. Context is as important as content
There are reasons why classical musicians don’t perform concerts in subway stations. The context is all wrong. It’s not a place conducive to stopping and listening it’s a place for passing through as you get to A to B.
So how about our meetings? How do we create space where people can be encouraged to stop and listen? And does that space invite contemplation and consideration of the beauty of the gospel?
Might that suggest we need to create new settings in which to ‘play our music’?
4. A context that doesn’t contradict our message
Imagine a situation in which Joshua Bell is playing but the music is drowned out by ‘musac’ playing over the Tannoy speakers, competing and drowning out his playing. You can’t even stop and listen to him play even if you wanted to.
Do we as churches compete with and contradict the music of the gospel creating a confusing cacophony of noise that no-one in their right mind would want to stop for? Newman suggests that’s what we might be doing.
We speak of measureless love, unmerited grace, and infinite goodness but our tone of voice, demeanor, and lifestyles convey the exact opposite. We want people to quiet their hearts so they can hear the music of the gospel, but we’re performing in a context of judgementalism. We want them to feel loved by God, but they fell unloved by us. We want then to be amazed by grace but they can’t get past the smell of condemnation.
Do our gatherings seem to say more ‘hey, come and listen to this – it’s incredible’ or do they say ‘why haven’t you given anything to this’?
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