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’?
John Newton wrote a short but compelling letter to a fellow minister who was about to write a publication criticising a minister for his unorthodox beliefs. The letter is a masterly treatment on the theme of controversy and in just a few lines brings the gospel to bear on how to argue in so many ways. Reading it got me thinking about what it means to contend for the faith and how to argue well along with the hidden dangers of entering into controversy.
I’m preaching through 1 Timothy on Sunday evenings and am reminded of Paul’s opening appeal to Timothy to fight the good fight but with a real warning not to be like those who have ‘an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels and words that result in envy, strife’
Paul charges Timothy (6:11) ‘But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.’
So how do you contend for the truth of the gospel and fight the good fight with love and gentleness?
How do you argue with gospel motives and gospel motivations?
Here are some gems from John Newton’s letter as to how the gospel informs our interaction with others whether in church, in an e-mail, on a blog, etc..
A. Arguing with a fellow-believer
1. Argue with gentleness out of love
The Lord loves him and bears with him; therefore you must not despise him, or treat him harshly.
2. Argue remembering you WILL be reconciled if not now then in heaven
In a little while you will meet in heaven; he will then be dearer to you than the nearest friend you have upon earth is to you now.
B. Arguing with an unbeliever
1. Argue with great compassion because of your great privilege over him
He is a more proper object of your compassion than of your anger. Alas! “He knows not what he does.”
2. Argue remembering that apart from God’s grace you too would have held his views!
If God, in his sovereign pleasure, had so appointed, you might have been as he is now; and he, instead of you, might have been set for the defense of the gospel. You were both equally blind by nature.
C. Remembering the reading public
When we argue, publically, in a blog or through a publication we have a second, sometimes forgotten, audience. John Newton highlights three readers and offers his advice.
1. The reader who disagrees with you in principle
Newton urges you to remember them in the same way as your recipient above.
2. The reader who is naturally sympathetic to your point of view but who have little knowledge
These are very incompetent judges of doctrine; but they can form a tolerable judgment of a writer’s spirit. They know that meekness, humility, and love are the characteristics of a Christian temper.
From us, who profess these principles, they always expect such dispositions as correspond with the precepts of the gospel. They are quick-sighted to discern when we deviate from such a spirit, and avail themselves of it to justify their contempt of our arguments.
3. The reader who shares your view
You may be instrumental to their edification if the law of kindness as well as of truth regulates your pen, otherwise you may do them harm. There is a principle of self, which disposes us to despise those who differ from us; and we are often under its influence, when we think we are only showing a becoming zeal in the cause of God.
D. Watch out and pray for your own heart
Most striking of all in Newton’s letter is his concern for what controversy can do to us and the natural temptation to a self-righteous heart. It is sobering when Newton writes
We find but very few writers of controversy who have not been manifestly hurt by it….If the service is honorable, it is dangerous.
Pray for your own soul that you will not be corrupted by your own defence of the gospel!
E. Pursue God’s glory and your fellow mans good in how you write
If we act in a wrong spirit, we shall bring little glory to God, do little good to our fellow creatures, and procure neither honour nor comfort to ourselves.
Go forth, therefore, in the name and strength of the Lord of hosts, speaking the truth in love; and may he give you a witness in many hearts that you are taught of God, and favoured with the unction of his Holy Spirit.
The old adage ‘aim at nothing and you’re sure to hit it’ has always been true in my experience and there is good reason to think that churches drift because of a lack of vision.
Rick Warren’s Purpose-Driven Church makes a strong appeal for churches to have and hold on to clear biblical vision. Here are some edited highlights from chapter 4: The Foundation for a Healthy Church.
The need for a clear purpose
Nothing precedes purpose. The starting point for every church should be the question, “Why do we exist?” Until you know what your church exists for, you have no foundation, no motivation, and no direction for ministry. If you are helping a new church get started, your first task is to define your purpose. It’s far easier to set the right foundation at the start of a new church than it is to reset it after a church has existed for years.
However if you serve in an existing church that has plateaued, is declining, or is simply discouraged, your most important task is to redefine your purpose. Forget everything else until you have established it in the minds of your members. Recapture a clear vision of what God wants to do in and through your church family. Absolutely nothing will revitalize a discouraged church faster than rediscovering its purpose.
Unless the driving force behind a church is biblical, the health and growth of the church will never be what God intended. Strong churches are not built on programs, personalities, or gimmicks. They are built on the eternal purposes of God.
The benefits of a clear purpose
Warren suggests at least five.
1. A clear purpose builds morale
People working together for a great purpose don’t have time to argue over trivial issues. When you’re helping to row the boat, you don’t have time to rock it.
I believe it is also true that where there is no vision, people leave for another parish! Many churches are barely surviving because they have no vision.
2. A clear purpose reduces frustration
A purpose statement reduces frustration because it allows us to forget about things that don’t really matter.
A clear purpose not only defines what we do, it defines what we do not do.
The secret of effectiveness is to know what really counts, then do what really counts, and not to worry about all the rest.
How do we respond to all of those suggestions that come our way as leaders as to how to improve church?
The filter must always be: Does this activity fulfil one of the purposes for which God established the church?
When a church forgets its purpose, it has a difficult time deciding what’s important. It will vacillate between priorities, purposes and programs.
3. A clear purpose allows concentration
One of the common temptations I see many churches falling for today is the trap of majoring in the minors. They become distracted by good, but less important agendas, crusades, and purposes. The energy of the church is diffused and dissipated; the power is lost.
In my opinion, most churches try to do too much. This is one of the most overlooked barriers to building a healthy church: We wear people out.
The older a church gets, the truer this becomes. Programs and events continue to be added to the agenda without ever cutting anything out. Remember, no program is meant to last forever. A good question to keep in mind when dealing with programs in your church is, “Would we begin this today if we were not already doing it?”
Being efficient is not the same as being effective. Peter Drucker says, ‘Efficiency is doing things right. Effectiveness is doing the right things.’
God wants churches to be effective. Those few churches that are really effective concentrate on their purpose.
4. A clear purpose attracts cooperation
People want to join a church that knows where it’s going. When a church clearly communicates its destination, people are eager to get on board.
Tell people up front where your church is headed, and it will attract cooperation. Spell out your church’s purposes and priorities in a membership class. Clearly explain your strategy and structure. This will keep people from joining the membership with false assumptions.
5. A clear purpose assists evaluation
How does a church evaluate itself? Not by comparing itself to other churches, but by asking, “Are we doing what God intends for us to do?” and “How well are we doing it?”
The important issue is this: Your church will be stronger and healthier by being purpose driven.
How do you get there?
First, you must define your purposes. Next, you must communicate those purposes to everyone in your church – on a regular basis. Third, you must organize your church around your purposes. Finally, you must apply your purposes to every part of your church.
Tomorrow evening I preach 1 Timothy 3 including v.2 ‘the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife.’
As Ryken notes in his commentary this phrase is not limited to a discussion on polygamy and how many wives you can have (!) but that ‘elders must be morally accountable for their sexuality‘
So it was useful to stumble across this from Mark Driscoll in the week leading up to my sermon.
Should women teach in the church?
Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. – 1 Timothy 2:11-12 (ESV)
Let’s just get straight to the point. Some of you are pretty offended by these words. They sound outrageous to modern ears. For many they simply reveal the most shameful gender discrimination from someone who can only be described as a misogynist.
But as with any Bible verse it has a context and it certainly won’t help us if we take this verse out of context of the bigger story of the Bible.
We know that these verses, to be consistent with what we read elsewhere, cannot be declaring women to be second-class citizens or in any way less than men.
We know that God created men and women in his image. In Genesis chapter 1 we read;
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
So whatever Paul is saying in the controversial verses of 1 Timothy, Genesis 1 along with some of Paul’s own words eg 1 Cor. 11:11, Gal.3:28 demonstrate that there is something much more sophisticated than a slur on women or a desire to suppress women and relegate their role and place in the church and society.
Women are to learn
It’s remarkably easy for us to gloss over the fact that Paul says in v.11 that women are to learn at all. In many cultures, then and now, women are given little if any opportunity to learn.
Commentators point out that in orthodox Judaism of Paul’s day there was little or no place for women learning and some strands of Islam, by their refusal to offer education to girls alongside boys, demonstrate a same degradation of women even to this day.
Women are to learn but Paul does want them to lean but in quietness. The context is most likely that of a Christian meeting where the congregation is learning together. The word quietness in this context means ‘listening quietly with deference and attentiveness to the one teaching..ie not speaking out of turn and thereby interrupting the lesson.’ It is the language of respect.
We don’t know exactly what was going on in Ephesus, the church context into which Paul is writing. Was it simply that the women were distracted, or had a divided attention, or maybe they didn’t have a particularly teachable spirit? We don’t know. But it suggests a situation in which the teaching of the word was up against distraction or interruption.
There is maybe something to be learned from the story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42) in which Martha is distracted from listening to Jesus whilst Mary demonstrates the very thing that is pleasing to him, adopting the position of a disciple by humbly listening to his word.
But what about the ‘s’ word!
Whatever else Paul may be saying some of us we can’t get beyond the ‘s’ word submission.
Women according to v.12 are not to teach or have authority over men.
To call upon women to submit seems exploitative and dangerous and contrary to good sense. Does it not rob women of their dignity and value?
Well, firstly, this is not a call for all women to submit to all men. This is rather a call for the women of this church to join the majority of the men in submitting to the leadership of the church.
But even then should women submit to anybody?
The Bible’s answer is that submission is a good thing for at least two reasons.
1) All Christians submit. And every Christian by virtue of their submission to God submits to others as an expression of their commitment to God. A Christian is by definition then someone who submits. We all submit to God, we submit to the ruling authorities, whilst we are children we submit to our parents, we are to submit to our boss at work, and so on.
For different people in different stages of life and in different situations we submit in different ways.
God’s ordering in the church and the family includes the principle of submission. The relationship between a husband and a wife in Ephesians 5 and the relationship between the women of the church and male leadership (see also 1 Cor. 14:33-34) is one in which God calls for an ordering of relationships.
2) Jesus submitted. Submission is a good thing only if you think you might want to be like Jesus. For as one commentator as put it ‘he knew the beauty of submission’.
God the Father and God the Son fully God are both fully God. They are fully equal in status and yet throughout the Bible we find the Son submitting to the Father and never the Father to the Son. So even in the God-head we find the principle of order amongst equals.
We shouldn’t therefore regard it as an insult to submit to our equal if we find Jesus willing to do the very same.
Prince William and Prince Harry
In 1 Timothy 3 Paul says that male leadership is rooted in creation ‘for Adam was formed first, then Eve.’ It is not that Adam is better than Eve but perhaps jsut as the Son comes from teh Father so the woman came from teh man and they are to live out at church and in the family that ordering of relationship.
We know that Prince William will one day be King and not Prince Harry. Is it because William is better? More intelligent? More deserving? No. Just that he came first. And so it is within the church.
So should women ever teach?
Again the broader context of the Bible clearly suggests that women can and will teach as they play a full role in church life.
In Titus 2:3-5 we find that they are to teach younger women and children.
We know from Acts 2:17-18 ‘your sons and daughters will prophesy’ and 1 Cor. 11:4-5 that women prayed in the gathered church and prophesied.
We know that women were deacons in the local church from Romans 16v1.
We also find in the book of Acts that Priscilla (a woman) and Aquilla (her husband) taught Apollos together, Acts 18:26.
There were many prominent women in Jesus’ own ministry. They were his disciples and we’re told that ‘these women were helping to support them out of their own means.’
In God’s plan the first to witness the resurrection and to meet the risen Lord Jesus were women.
Peter and the other apostles took their wives with them in ministry, 1 Cor. 9:5.
But there is no evidence at all for women in either the Old Testament or the New Testament holding a teaching office.
Jesus chose to appoint men and only men to the role of Apostles and nowhere do we find Paul or the other apostles appointing women to overall leadership in the local church.
Women are not to lead the church through the preaching of God’s word and nor are most of the men.
Paul isn’t saying that all men are to teach all women, nor that all women are to submit to all men.
No all women and the vast majority of men are to submit to the (male) eldership of the church.
The kind of teaching that Paul limits to a few men here is a teaching with authority
Philip Graham Ryken writes ‘Women and men may teach on a wide variety of biblical historical, and practical subjects.’
Women can write great blogs and books. They can write Bible commentaries and teach at Bible Colleges.
But where teaching is an expression of leadership ie where it is an indicator of authority it is there that God’s order within the church is to be recognised.
How does that work out at my own church
Women exercise a teaching role that stops short of a preaching with authority role.
So women regularly teach on a variety of issues eg parenting, marriage enrichment and so on.
They teach practical seminars, lead services, administer the Lord’s supper.
The Bible does not sit comfortably in any community in the world. At some point sooner or later the bible will critique the culture in which we live. In our western world the role of women is one of those clash of culture points. It is at times like this that we need to continue to humbly listen to scripture and be ready to face the challenge of the world as we witness to the God of the Bible.
May the very situations in which we submit for the sake of God to his word and his will point us all to the Christ who chose to submit even to death and death on a cross.
I had the privilege of preaching from 1 Timothy 2 on Sunday evening. It was a humbling experience because it reminded me of how little time I, and the church I serve, give to prayer and in particular prayer for the world.
Philip Graham Ryken’s Reformed Expository Commentary on 1Timothy had some challenging things to say on Paul’s charge to pray for the nations and their leaders. Here is Ryken on prayer;
Pastoral prayers ought to be large, expansive, and wide-ranging. They should include the great issues of the day and the vast nations of the world. Intercession should be made for renewal, revival, and reformation in the church. Prayer should be offered for missionaries, evangelists, and church planters. The sufferings of the persecuted church and the desperation of unsaved humanity should be brought weekly before the throne of grace.
The God who rules the world wants his peopel to pray for the world. Therefore, every church should locate itself at the center of something God is doing in the whole world.
What is of special importance in Paul’s instruction to Timothy is that the church should pray for world leaders who are NOT Christians.
The early church took this responsibility seriously. Consider how Clement of Rome prayed for the rulers and governors of the earth in the early second century: “Grant to them, Lord, health, peace, harmony and stability, that they may blamelessly adminster the government which you have given them….Lord, direct their plans according to what is good and plasing in your sight, so that by dievoutly administering in peace and gentleness the authority which you have given them they may experience your mercy.’
These world leaders, at the time of Paul’s writing to Timothy were without exception non-Christians and often hostile to Christianity. Calvin notes of the leaders at the time of Paul’s writing that they were all ‘enemies of the Gospel, persecutors of the poor Christians, murderers and wicked men.’
So by praying for the nations and the leaders of the nations we fulfil Christ’s command of Matthew 5:44
‘I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.’
And when we do pray in this way? We remember that ‘this is good and pleases God our Saviour. Who wants all men to be saved.’ v.3-4.
So why not recommit to prayer for the nations. Prayer in church services, in your small groups, with your family and in your own personal prayer life. Operation World is an obvious resource and now a new resouce called ‘The World Prayer Map’ provides an interactive map of the world with detailed prayer points.
That God should be pleased when we pray is reason enough to pray. That the nations need our prayers is further reason still.
The God who rules the world wants you to pray for the nations of the world.
When churches think of evangelism they usually mean running outreach events in the church, guest-services, mission weeks and explorer courses. These approaches are effective in reaching out to some people.
But are we really reaching outside the church if we think our job is done when our evangelism strategy means we put on an event in our building?
In the ambitiously titled Breaking the missional code Ed Stetzer and David Putman argue that we need new approaches to reach increasing numbers of people for whom traditional church is simply a non-starter. Our authors in this book are urging churches to act ‘among their local communities as missionaries would in a foreign land.’
How do we develop a program for evangelism that reaches our entire communities
Quite simply it begins by recognising that there are different types of non-Christians we are seeking to reach. In the book they identify four types as set out in the diagram below.
Those who are churched are either those who are currently attending our meetings (the churched/reached) or those who perhaps have a church going backgroun (the churched/unreached) and therefore could be more easily persuaded than others to come along to an event.
For the churched our structures and traditional methods probably still work. For them running church events are probably an effective strategy.
What about the other fifty percent?
The unchurched could be defined as those for whom our present structures and present approaches are never likely to work.
For them attending a church can be as intimidating, sobering, and irrelevant as it would be for many of us evangelicals to walk into a bar or club on Saturday morning at 1.00am.
We need new ideas and approaches that reach outside the church to reach the unchurched.
Why is it so hard to make the unchurched a prioirty
1. Challenge. Quite simply it takes more work in every way to reach out to people who are very different from ourselves. Like cross-cultural mission it takes more thought, more time, more prayer, more money and so on. When a busy pastor leading a busy church full of busy church activities is asked to consider more innovative and radical forms of outreach that is asking a church to step up another gear.
2. Comfort. It’s less messy, less risky, requires less skill to run something for people like us. We don’t find it easy to go outside the church with the gospel.
3. Sacrifice. For many churches reaching out in this way would have to be at the expense of other church activities because there is not the time or people-power to do both.
4. Examples. There simply aren’t many churches doing it well. At least not yet. It’s hard to be amongst the first who have to be most innovative and creative.
Stetzer and Putman are honest enough to admit that churhces that make this work a priority ‘are paying a high price. They are discovering that churches that focus on the unchurched/unreached often create a degree of discomfort among some churched/reached.’
It takes a change of mindset to get churches to consistently and with urgency ask ‘what about the other fifty percent?’ how can we reach them. That change comes through the gospel. It comes when we, like the apostle Paul, begin to say ‘I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do this for the sake of the gospel‘
In a future post I want to take a look at what it might mean for a church to reach outside the church.
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