Is The Church Still Relevant Today?

My 12-year-old son was playing games online recently, and his 18-year-old sister remarked, “I’ve never seen that before!”

While avidly on the smartphone herself, within that 6-year gap between them, games and online services have changed significantly. Where online engagements are concerned, nearly a generation has evolved from the time my daughter was introduced to it to when my son similarly was!

The unprecedented rate of change in society is leaving the church behind in its wake.

I believe the social and entertainment platforms go through a generation of evolution almost once every 8-12 years. Revolutions that occur in a country are known within hours, spread through social media. An unpleasant incident on the roads is put on online platforms that very evening, garnering opinions in the hundreds within a few hours. This is a testament to the environment facilitating increased rates of change in all areas of society.

I knew a young pastor in his 20s who lamented that he already found the teens he is currently shepherding to be so different from his own upbringing. His generation was told to just follow and “go with the flow and you will learn along the way”, while the youths now are much more critical, wanting to know the “why and how” before they embarked on anything!

Differences in just 10 years result in a generation of completely different mindsets!

The unprecedented rate of change in society is leaving the church behind in its wake.

The church, invested in helping the needy, encouraging long-term life-change issues, working with busy volunteers, has not been positioned nor resourced well to respond to new people-needs and challenges that come with the rapid change.

Here are some of my reflections regarding social changes and their implications for the church, which still need to be addressed today:

Trends Implications for the church
Shift from,Church-Centric Ministry to Marketplace-Centric Ministry
  • A move to greater witness in the marketplace, “send and go for Christ” rather than “come to church and see Christ”
  • The need to find new marketplace strategies that integrate with church
  • Fewer people are committed to see church ministry as their primary arena of service, while more people see marketplace as their primary ministry
LGBTQ momentum
  • A clash of opinions of how to engage LGBTQ
  • Younger Christians want to see more acceptance, engagement, and even championing those marginalized, while older, more traditional Christians prefer to stand on principles of right and wrong
  • The church “freezing in action” as she works out these differences, leaving younger churches or more radical groups to have to find solutions for themselves
Millennial Generation
  • More “fight for cause” consciousness, leaping out at a young age for dreams and vision, yet less staying power when faced with obstacles
  • Tendency to take “gap-years” and experiment working with various organizations
  • Increase in the need to disciple people for perseverance, patience, wisdom before leaping, finding mentors for them. Yet, discovering the church may not have enough people and systems in place for such ministries
Facility and Church-Hubs (multiple churches in one place)
  • The government is opening places that locate multiple-churches, and setting rules for operating churches in industrial buildings
  • The church needs to take the call to add-value to society in terms of expressing it as a business or venture seriously to qualify for the dual-location use
  • Churches need to find their niche and excel in it so as not to compete with one another. They also need to work harmoniously together to support one another’s success within the same location
Youth / Young Adults attrition in churches
  • While this has occurred in every generation, it arguably seems starker presently due to shared stories between churches, and peer-influence and shared information over online communities
  • Churches need to take mentoring of youths and ministry to young working adults / young families more seriously or else suffer this “bleed”
This is just a partial list of social changes and implications which I wrote 5 years back, which I believe is already dated!

Furthermore, many of the changes are tied to the upbringing, education and opportunities of growing up in this new generation;

A 25-year-old who studies business and starts a café with money sponsored by parents…
An avid internet-gamer who joins an organization designing internet games…
A young person who works in an organization known for LGBTQ equality and rights…


Those above 40 today may not fully understand and identify with these examples of exposure. It simply was not their social nor educational norm. Consequently, most leaders above 40 may find it difficult to build church ministries that embody the above needs at its core.

They lack the upbringing and exposure to envisage cutting-edge ministries that can engage and reach a generation other than their own

This is also a natural thing as I believe God raises people with appropriate experience and wiring for their own generation, as He did for David. David was called to establish Israel as a nation, but not to build a Worship-Centre for God.

For David, after he had served God’s purpose in his own generation, died, was buried with his ancestors… (Acts 13:36, NET)
I believe that the best person to lead a church into relevance for a generation is a leader from that very generation who is committed to make an impact for Christ for his/her generation!

What then can the church do to stay relevant and impactful for every generation?

There are no quick-fixes nor easy answers to this generation-spanning question, but rather it requires investments in certain directions.

1. For everyone: Hold to the belief that there are good things in every generation that must be embraced and embedded in a healthy church.

In meeting a group of young leaders, I heard a common mantra repeated: “the gospel must not change, but its forms must always change to be relevant. There are things that should be retained as a core principle, though expressions and new forms must be developed to be relevant.

As Jesus taught new and radical ideas of the Kingdom of Heaven, he said to his disciples,
“That is why every scribe who has become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a home owner. He brings new and old things out of his treasure chest.” (Matthew 13:52, GWT)

There are good “old things” and good “new things” and we must learn to embrace both whole-heartedly if the Kingdom of Heaven is our goal. If a familiar way of ministry is our sole goal, or the newest move of God is our sole goal, we will never build a house of God.

2. For the older leaders: recruit, invest in and disciple younger leaders who have passion to shape church to engage their generation. (This is more than a cliché…)

The top-most leaders of the church need to look for promising people with passion 15 to 20 years younger, begin to disciple them and invest in them. I know this is so commonly said that it’s almost a cliché, but it’s easier said than done. There are a few challenges that need to be surmounted in order to do this, but if it’s not done, the church may not have a future!

Some initiatives to embark upon, and challenges to navigate:

  • Identifying and mentor passionate AND healthy young leaders with a HOLISTIC view for God’s church

    I’ve seen young, passionate and gifted people invited to leadership who have made astounding differences in their service! However, as they go through challenges they have fallen along the way, get disillusioned and even distanced themselves or leave church.

    On the surface level, what they may have lacked from older leaders are proper guidance, mentoring and protection from hard knocks from older leaders. However, within themselves, they may lack a secure sense of self or a good spiritual parenting in their upbringing. These have left a gap in their hearts which they have not been able to fill, which becomes marked when going through difficult times.

    For raising young leaders for the long-term it is essential to mentor people who have a certain degree of emotional and spiritual health with a holistic view of spiritual community and God’s purposes!
  • Giving younger leaders the opportunities to make mistakes and face possible failure

    Young leaders who are serious about making a difference inevitably reach a point where they have to decide if they are able to transform their church to reach their generation. If they feel that this church “would never change sufficiently”, they would find either learn to live with it and moderate their passion, or they would go all out for their passion and may embark on a search for it elsewhere. It would be sad if young leaders remain in the church only because they moderated their passion rather than developed it fully!

    A young leader who grew up in the church and became a pastor there, once remarked that she would give her leadership in the church a few more years to discern if she can fulfil the vision of her ministry there before considering seeking a pastorate elsewhere.

    Older leaders need to give younger leaders opportunities to carve out a vision of the church for the next generation. While allowing space for them to carve out new forms of ministry, make mistakes and even fail, it is possible these new and experimental “arenas of ministry” may serve as parts of the present church to reach next generation people and could even grow to become the de-facto ministries in the future!

    Which leads me to the next thought of what older leaders can do…
  • Influencing the older members to support the younger leaders

    When new, never-seen-before ministries arise from the younger generation, changes in tradition and styles may cause consternation amongst older members. Leaders need to persuade older members to invest in the success of these new-leader-led ministries. They need to win the older members to giving new initiatives a chance, and to invest in these their “spiritual children”.

    I believe that the best person to lead a church into relevance for a generation is a leader from that very generation who is committed to make an impact for Christ for his/her generation!

    It is important for the church to reach a point where the older members genuinely love, support and want to see their younger leaders mature, succeed, and try new things for their younger generation. A mere “let’s see what they can do, we will tolerate it for a while” mindset will not give the younger generation a “home where old and new treasures are found” (Matthew 13:52). Inevitably young leaders may feel a sense of fatherlessness in their own church and seek to find a father and a home elsewhere.

    Older leaders need to disciple older members to have a genuine heart for the younger. Some may even have difficulty accepting generational changes from their own biological children, and in this regard, this could be a discipleship-growth for these older members. This may be a discipleship that have to reach into homes and families.

3. For the younger leaders: rise to fulfil God’s purpose and honour the spiritual fathers and mothers in the house

My word to younger and upcoming leaders is two-fold:

  • Courageously accept leadership within the church and make a difference.

    If God opens the door, rise and lead the church to reach your generation as best as you can! Though sometimes you may doubt if this church will evolve sufficiently to engage the current landscape, that’s when courage and faith is needed! The church needs to keep changing to engage the changing current generation, and you play a part in helping segments of the church grow in this. As they do, I believe they will have generous and open hearts for the next generation—that’s discipleship! All of us need to grow in discipleship, even our “uncles and aunties”. Appeal to them to grow with you and your generation!
  • Develop platforms that allow for the older leaders to guide you when you take-point.

    If God puts you into key leadership roles, eg. become the new Senior Pastor or key Board Leader, find ways to allow godly, older people to continually speak into your leadership even as you helm it. DON’T relegate older people to a peripheral or mere-advisory role. Allow their concerns and wisdom to guide policies in your leadership.

    The world needs a church that is this-generation-need-focused, yet time-tested-principle-founded. There will come a time when change happens so fast that core-principles will be the much-needed cry upon people’s hearts!

    A church I know has established councils of older people, selected for their godliness, their heart for younger leaders, yet of sound principles. While usually advisory, when the vote in that council is called upon and unanimous, it becomes binding on certain issues. These are carefully thought-out and creative ways to engage older, wiser and godly leaders to continue to speak into the new generation of leadership!

    There is no need to be locked in to old forms. We can evolve new structures and patterns for embodying core principles and new engagement that are important to us.

So, how can a church be relevant to our world today? The answer is already in our hands!

We need to steward the passion of the young, guiding with the wisdom of the old. More than just a cliché, we need to make investments of heart in these directions: drawing out those who are passionate and healthy, structure new governance, persuading the older generation—leaning consistently in these directions over time to raise an integrated and passionate new generation of leaders.

Spanning the generations, we can build a church focused on today, yet founded on the time-tested, a church that is relevant to the landscape, built by Jesus Christ that the gates of hell will not prevail against!
 

Rev. Dr. Philip Huan, Principal Consultant Churchlife Resources

ChurchLife Resources offers:

  • Training CG Core Teams in “Outreach & Hospitality”
  • Training All Members in “I am a Witness”
  • Equipping CG leaders to Recruit and Raise Core Teams

Contact admin@churchlife-resources to find out more.

Photo by Louis Moncouyoux on Unsplash

How Strong is the ‘Evangelism Muscle’ of your Church?

“Can it lift more than 80kg in a single feat?
Or is it well-toned and healthy enough to sustain daily lifting and carrying?”

With impending Celebration of Hope (COH) coming in May 2019, there comes a huge event that promises to transform spiritual atmosphere over our nation and win many to Christ! That excitingly huge, one – time event is one we should all leverage for reaching our unsaved loved ones! However, I submit to you that it would even be better to leverage COH to build up the “muscle of evangelistic strength” of your church/ ministry for the mid – long term so that your muscles are strong, well – toned and healthy to sustain witnessing and evangelism in daily life long even after COH.

How can you do this?

The key is consistently training for the event while progressively building up key-blocks of evangelism health.

Training for the Evangelism Event includes:

  • sending everyone for training
  • challenging everyone to look outward
  • encouraging everyone to prayer.

These are vitally important strategies to build up muscle for the event. I believe COH will provide a number of these much-needed opportunities for these in due course!

Complementing training for the event, building up key-blocks for Evangelism Health include:

  • training & identifying the gaps of evangelism life-style of your members
  • training Cell-Groups (CGs) to mobilize for outreach
  • building up the resilience for sustained outreach lifestyle
  • turning church-programs more newcomer-orientated.

Training for the event, as well as building up these health blocks will lend to a higher quotient of evangelism lifestyle for the long-term.

To benefit maximally, you should consider bringing these 2 approaches together in some way in the coming season as we prepare for COH in the coming year.

Helping with the “Gaps”

“If it is guaranteed that the first 3 persons you talk to will come to Christ, will you look for your loved ones to talk to immediately? I am sure the answer is a resounding YES!”

I submit to you that a low outreach-quotient today is not due to a lack of desire to share the gospel and win people, but rather due to a fear of rejection, a fear of not meeting the deep needs or speaking to the hearts of people they share with. If we want to help our people to sustain a natural, witnessing lifestyle, we need to identify their “gaps” and help fill it.

Some common gaps in our outreach lifestyles are:

1. HEART – our fear of rejection.

This needs to be addressed by understanding that the Holy Spirit is the initiator and our role is one of followership to God’s prompting. Our deep, heart-felt belief in this enables us to put our trust in following God’s leading.

2. SKILL – our lack of knowledge in leveraging our own God-given style.

Poor outreach quotient is sometimes exacerbated by being forced into styles of outreach which are unnatural to us.

I know someone who was petrified when asked to share the gospel on the street. He often panicked and felt so bad after such a session. Over time, he discovered what came more naturally to him: discussing questions about Christianity. He rejoiced in seeing salvations through his discussion-talks!

I believe God has given all of us an Outreach Style comprising of our: personal testimonies, the way we emphasize aspects of the gospel, the roles we prefer to play in an outreach event, the way we bring value-based conversations into our friendships.

When we discover and enhance them, we become a unique and Spirit-anointed witness, the way God meant for us to be!

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes to you. Then you will be my witnesses to testify about me in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8, GWT

I like the God’s Word Translation that emphasizes how we are witnesses to testify about Jesus. Our testimony about how Jesus ministers to our life-situations is personal and unique to us!

3. DISCERNMENT – our compassion for the needs in the lives of our pre-believing loved ones.

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matthew 9:36-38, NIV)

Compassion for needs was a powerful driving and sustaining force for evangelism in Jesus, and it is, too, for us. We need to teach our ministry members to discern how far / close to Christ their loved ones are on their journey, how to bring them along that journey, and what are the deep needs / blocks in their lives that our members can address. People don’t usually “jump” to Christ if they are a far-distance from salvation due to blocks in their hearts. We need to encourage our members to persevere in helping their loved ones move on the journey toward Christ and have compassion for their blocks / needs in their hearts. 

Helping with Community

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:23-25, NIV)

Encouragement makes a significant difference in helping our ministry members sustain an outreach lifestyle. It can be discouraging when our loved ones don’t respond to or reject us when we reach out with the gospel.

We need the “spurring by others” not to give up, to keep hoping and praying for that breakthrough in our pre-believing loved ones!

For most churches and ministries, such a community is often found in the Cell-Group / Life-Group or equivalent. This is a precious community that is involved in each other’s lives. Such a community, when well mobilized, provides an accountability and encouragement for your ministry member to persevere in outreach.

Several things need to be in place to build the CG to be such a community:

  1. Reminding the group to pray with and for one another’s pre-believing loved ones.
  2. Equipping them to reach out to their CG networks by hosting CG-based events that engage the needs of the pre-believing loved ones.
  3. Positioning them to host and welcome member’s pre-believing loved ones when they visit the CG, the Weekend Service or special event.

Someone once said, “Revival is spelt W-O-R-K… work to reach out to win and disciple people!”

Sustaining the above can be a lot of work! This requires thought on how to mobilize a Core rather than just assume the CG leader can take all responsibility for it.

However, when the core and CG is mobilized, a significant core of the church is engaged in sustaining an outreaching lifestyle through encouragement and loving accountability!

It is frustrating to have shared the gospel or reached out to a friend, yet that pre-believing friend turns you down again and again. Ministering to that loved-one’s heart requires prayer as well as specialized giftedness that could speak into that need.

The pre-believing loved one may have blocks such as past bad experiences with religious people, family-marriage-parenting struggles, cognitive questions about God and suffering—a whole plethora of possible issues. The church needs to bring in specialized gifts to support the outreach efforts of our members.

About gifts nearer to home:

  • Ministering songs and testimonies in Weekend services could engage some needs
  • Relevant sermon topics or seeker sermons could engage some needs
  • Talks on parenting-marriage could engage some needs

However, this requires the church and ministry programs to be generally oriented to inviting newcomers and hosting seekers. This requires an outward-orientation of the present existing platforms of the church.

About gifts farther from home, specialized resources could include:

  • Inviting an apologetics expert to speak
  • Bringing a person with great life-change and testimony
  • Having great evangelists at the coming Celebration of Hope (May 2019)!

This requires planning for such events and helping members leverage them for reaching their pre-believing loved ones.

No matter how persevering our members are, the lack of experiencing a break-through in reaching their loved-one’s year on year will discourage them all the more as time goes by.

The church can help by bringing these specialized gifts in the hope of “changing the game” and giving a breakthrough in the outreach life of our members!

It gets discouraging and lonely when we face our pre-believing loved ones year after year with little result.

Yet, it is that same journey of believing, hoping and winning that truly captures God’s heart!

Your loved one may not be saved through today’s or this year’s outreach, but maybe next year… maybe the next outreach… maybe that next seasons is the one God would deem it the right time and prepare their hearts to receive Him.

We must not give up!
We need that support, to close the gap;
we need that community;
we need that specialized gift—that is the toned and trained muscle that sustains outreach through the ups and downs of a lifestyle of evangelism and witness.

So, how strong is your outreach-muscle?

 

Rev. Dr. Philip Huan, Principal Consultant Churchlife Resources

ChurchLife Resources offers:

  • Training CG Core Teams in “Outreach & Hospitality”
  • Training All Members in “I am a Witness”
  • Equipping CG leaders to Recruit and Raise Core Teams

Together in tandem, they will go a long way in building up the long-term muscle of the church!

Contact admin@churchlife-resources to find out more.

Photo by Victor Freitas on Unsplash

Making Decisions as a Leader

Decision making is far more than listing down the Pros and Cons. It involves more than thinking through the options and seeking godly counsel. It is more far reaching than being able to meet a dateline and therefore moving on to the next thing.

As a leader, decision making is a discipline, a process, and an exercise in personal growth, leadership responsibility and corporate accountability.

The leader’s decisions, after all, impacts many other lives.

Yes, it is a fearful prospect and many of us are paralysed into quasi-decision making; where we tilt towards a certain direction and then let the circumstances play themselves out.

But in fact Scripture gives us many models of decision making and the impact of the leader’s decisions.

(I) decision pertaining to personal calling

Abraham had to make decisions in response to God’s clear leading and his decisions affected his family directly. Sarah was put into a position of great risk because Abraham wanted to save his own skin. This choice reflected a lack of thorough commitment to the covenant God made that the promised heir will come through Sarah.

(I I) decisions pertaining to the formation of a nation

Joshua had to make many hard decisions in order to secure the perimeter of the Promised Land. Each battle required him to be sure it was sanctioned by God and that the people would be assured of victory.

(III) decisions pertaining to specific instructions

Jonah was told to go to the Ninevites. It wasn’t something within his comfort zone at all and he made the decision to avoid obeying the instruction. His decision led to an innocent group suffering a stormy gale and losing precious cargo.

 

While these stories highlight for us the humanity we all share; it is important that as leaders we do not gloss over the repercussions of decisions poorly made.

Of course, precisely because our decisions impact others; we want to be careful. But how can we proceed without letting caution overtake faith?

St Ignatius of Loyola probably developed the most demanding grid and process for decision-making. The word used is ‘discernment’. In fact, this is a far better word for spiritual leaders.

Decision-making posits agency upon us; discernment changes the tone: we are seeking to see God’s hand and sense God’s work – and flow with it.

Ignatius’s elaborate and methodical ways of developing discernment especially for one’s sense of vocation is something we need to recover today.

But for now, I want us to consider 3 aspects that we need to include as we discern and decide.

Being aware of these aspects will help us to recognise that our perception, judgement and therefore decisions are often coloured and therefore the need to exercise due care so that we can arrive at better (not perfect) decisions as leaders.

A) Being aware of how we learn and process (epistemology)
Here I am not speaking of whether we are visual learners or audio ones. That is a helpful thing to know too; but I am rather thinking of knowing our own bent. Some of us take a long time to include new and contrary information, yet many times; these kinds of information is needful for a good, sound discernment. After all, the Lord puts diversity in the body to give it strength. Others of us have not developed the habit and discipline of thinking issues through to their theological and teleological conclusions. This accounts for why we follow fads and lose steam with sticking with our once zealous convictions.
Making sound, solid, thorough decisions after sensing what the issues, implications and motivations are take time. This leads us to the next aspect.

Good discernment and decision-making takes into account how the leader learns; and he/she should be learning more about him/herself, theology, the world, and ministry with each decision.

B) Being aware of our own spiritual hang ups and strengths (spirituality)
It is well known that our strengths are often our weaknesses too. Good, responsible leaders keep this in view and find a way to have themselves checked so that they are not leaning too much into something that boosts their ego, promotes their safety or reinforces their position. Very few of us are so surrendered and set free as to harbour no selfish ambition.

The famous Johari’s window reminds us that we all have blind spots – areas that others can see but we are not fully aware of. Good leaders seek out the insights and care of others to minimise this, because they know their decisions impact other lives – sometimes very severely.

Leaders need to be aware of what they tend to lean into and sometimes intentionally go against the natural bent so that the decisions are made more from faith than fear.

C) Being appreciative of the community (ecclesiology)
It is a sorry development that we have chosen to place the full burden of decision-making on the leader. This reminds us of the story of the early Israelites in Exodus, who chose to stay at a distance and let Moses deal with God on their behalf. With the giving of the Holy Spirit to each believer and follower; the community now plays an important part in our lives and choices. There is wisdom, support, caution, intelligence, and resources that God would provide. This is such a strong theological sticking point for John Calvin that he moved the church away from an ecclesiastical structure of the episcopacy to the presbytery. (We can debate this another time). But suffice to say, the New Testament insistently situated the individual in community; and the leader is no exception.

Leaders must learn how to leverage upon community maturity, dynamics and season for decision making. A great decision becomes a poor one when the community isn’t ready for it – the most common lesson we learn in change management.

In the end, our decisions are like points on a Long trajectory. We need to hold to the tension of their importance and take a longer view of how they will play out with time.

When we aren’t feeling proud about church because…

What do you reply when someone asks, “How is church?”.

I recently asked this of two persons from the same church. “It’s…okay..”, came the response. It isn’t an easy question to answer is it? We don’t want to sound cliché; and in truth, most of us have some concerns or issues with our local churches.

 

“No church is perfect” – we get it, sort of. But in truth, our hearts are not at peace about it.

Rightly, we don’t usually go around digging for dirt (although some seem to have been gifted for doing just so). It is more an unspoken understanding we have that our brothers and sisters have quirks and we learn to let live.

When elder Jim walks up to the stand and we all know we will be singing some of his favourite Hillsong-chart choruses; we clap along and belt it out. We get used to someone’s sense of humour, ministry zeal and even pet theology.

 

But sometimes these imperfections become more serious. Somewhere along the line, a difference of opinion, work-style, personality and even theological emphasis can become a serious fault line; and people make the difficult, often heart-aching decision to depart from the community.

Pastors may be asked to leave – at which point, the church that was family can feel like an employer who wants a better candidate. (The specific pains of pastors in another article).

 

I have seen enough of it:

The couple who leaves because those around them suggest that they may not be compatible.

The once zealous lay leader who suddenly quits his role and packs his family off.

The local church hauled to state courts by members or the state.

The departure of senior leaders, a change of Board and elders seemingly overnight.

 

The thing is – these are eruptions. The magma is already burning under the surface.

And it is hard, when these eruptions occur – for people get hurt and friendships get tested and sometimes even severed. Great teams can become broken, working systems screech to a halt, roles are replaced, discontinued or juggled among those who remain. There is pain, frustration, disappointment and a sense of lostness. It feels like a train that was chugging along merrily had suddenly hit a split track it did not see coming.

 

The big question we want to know is: how can God be okay with all of these?

Twenty years ago while I was in theological college preparing to become a missionary, two things happened and this question hit me with a force.  I had been raised on a somewhat simplistic notion that the Protestant reformation improved things and set the record straight regarding salvation through faith. (It’s always got to know one is on the right side of things); but studying Church History brought me face to face with the abject darkness, corruption and deception that lurked within the highest ranks of the church. I understood leaders can have lay feet; but to have the world plunged into darkness for hundreds of years seem unreasonable and felt horrible. A loving God? That same period, Schindler’s List the movie about this selfish man who transcended himself through saving hundreds of Jews during the evil madness of Hitler’s Third Reich hit the big screen.

For a whole week after that, I lost my appetite, and could not take my mind off the question: how can God be okay with all this? Why does He allow His church to sink so low? How can he let his people get so trampled upon? Where is truth, righteousness and justice?

I banged on the doors of heaven demanding an answer.  “God, I am about to give my life to whatever it is You are all about; and this just doesn’t make sense. This scares me! Can I trust you?”

 

Other faiths answer this question:

it’s what they deserve [karma] It’s what is ordained [sovereignty]

 

But my God refuses to give me a straight forward answer.

And I am still finding out today that this is because what we see and experience is like refracted bits of a shattered mirror. The image is distorted, the light bounces off at strange angles and funny tangents emerge.

 

As I ask the question, I find myself journeying deeper into the events and — finding myself right there. I am that bishop who may sell the indulgence to help poor uneducated and desperate souls find the assurance of salvation. I am the warrior who may have left home and hearth to charge into battle to claim a land I believe belongs rightly to my God and my people. I am too that frightened Jewish girl who wonders why my world has suddenly lost all sunshine and everywhere I turn, there is nothing but terror; and my heart and body begins to lose the will to live. I am that soldier who numbly shoves a fellow human being with my rifle butt so that they fill out a gas chamber faster.

 

Underneath all of these specific behaviours is fear, pride, sin. And I am not above any of it.

I felt such a pang of conviction as the Cross of Christ shows me that it is precisely that the church is so imperfect that Grace is real, hope is powerful, and love is eternal.

I felt such a desperate need for God because I realised that without His salvation, the restraint of angels and the Holy Spirit, chaos will truly reign on earth.

I felt that God is far wider, deeper and more mysterious than ever before and I am hushed and wary of saying things that show nothing but my prideful presumption.

 

When things go awry in church, we want to jump quickly to a place of assurance. We may push ourselves harder, play a little blame game or two. We may turn to prophets and spiritual luminaries to ‘fix things’. All the while, in our hearts, we refuse to see everything for what it truly is: fallible beings making a mess.

We proclaim loudly that “God is in control”, keep our chins up and go on business as usual. We even try to justify it as inevitable: personality differences, stylistic differences, new seasons…

 

But the heart of any matter is always a matter of the heart.

 

What I have also seen is God’s patient Grace that lets his children mess up, skin their knees, hurt each other – and learn, forgive, reconcile.

 

In every imperfect situation, there is much to unlearn and learn.

Chances are, there is also much to repent of, because we hate to lose and lose out and are wont to resort to thoughts and deeds to defend and entrench our positions.

 

It is time to slow down, ask ourselves some hard questions, seek help. If we truly wait and are open to growth, God may show us new ways to pray, think, and so do things differently. Hopefully, it will be a maturing towards a form of godliness with power (2 Timothy  3v5).

 

 

 

 

 

Where do pastors go to retire, if they should/could?

I am reaching my personal jubilee and have started thinking about things which I never did; such as retirement.

In the current ever-new world with a possible economic shift, where do pastors go to retire?

Actually, I don’t believe in retirement. The reason is simple: work is a gift and a mandate given by God. It is part of our imago Dei, it gives dignity to our humanity. But of course, as we grow older; we just may not be able to do the same work we have been doing – because of energy levels, failing health, changing circumstances {such as people preferring ‘online’ church?*}

What skills do pastors have to re-invent themselves in order to still be ’employable’? Professionals who have funds can set up private practices and become consultants and coaches. Those who are entrepreneurial may find it all about a fresh learning curve to move onto a new industry. Others may be able to move onto teaching in colleges or a more niche role in a parachurch organization or NGO.

The thing is, most pastors are generalists; and often many do not have extensive training or a wide berth of qualifications and training.

Rare is the instance where a pastor grows old with his congregation and have the immense privilege of passing the baton on to a younger minister or a son with a smooth and successful transition.

Let’s face it. The organizational, human resource perspective holds sway in many churches; and pastors are mostly ’employees’, hopefully, loved and respected ones.

Some church systems have retirement schemes, and they are busy redefining it to catch up with longer life spans and the lack of pastors. Many others have no such protocol in place. Yet some systems have a voting scheme where pastors have to step down if they are not re-elected.

Clearly pastors are not immune to employment threats.

But that’s not commonly thought about. In fact, the reverse is true. During the Asian financial crisis, my skeptical brother had said to me, “You are lucky as a pastor! People will always need spiritual services!” After the initial offense, I thought about what he said.

Are pastors always needed?

Will they always be paid for their ‘services’?

Not only does it betray how we are viewed; it is also important for us to be aware of what Pastor John Piper wrote about, “Brothers, we are not professionals” – the very real danger described by Paul as peddling the gospel {1 Cor 9v18-23} — where we change gears when it no longer pays us the due we feel we deserve.

Pastor, you have to work out your conviction about your work. If you subscribe to the commonplace view that work is drudgery and retirement is the end of the long trudge through the sludge of necessary toil; then retirement becomes a real allurement. Pastoral work, arguably one of the toughest jobs on earth, can be a real slog and it’s understandable that we sigh TGIM when Mondays roll around.

pastors-office-corridor-projecting-sign-se-6542

About eight years ago I stepped away from a pastoral position I enjoyed immensely due to a set of circumstances I could not manage. The loss was very palpable. I remember sitting at my desk at home, staring at my computer screen, and asking God, ‘what now?”. I no longer had my salary. No one would call me ‘pastor’ I thought. I missed my church community and interceded with anguish at the valleys they would have to endure. I wondered about my calling and my identity.

In those days of prayer and thought, I received an insight I did not get from my training or my busy work-life. I received a fresh affirmation from God. He had called me to himself and to the work of a pastor. He alone affirms and qualifies me. Not only that, our vocation – our response to His Voce (Latin for voice) – is the obedience that opens the way for Him to work mysteriously in us to mould us into the being we truly are. In that sense, a pastor is not what I do, but who I am.

I recognized then that I would always be a pastor whether I had a title, office or a pay packet. I would be a pastor wherever I go. I checked my new insight with respected theologians and church leaders. They resonated with it. This gave me immense freedom to explore where God may be opening doors and the ways He joins the dots of my life for me.

So pastor friend, if God has called you to Himself and his work of feeding the flock; don’t stop doing it – even if you find yourself ‘unemployed’, ‘retired’, ‘not re-elected’. Be faithful. Be yourself, work hard and raise your family.

This reminds me of a friend who stepped down as a pastor several years back to do what he loves with more freedom. It turns out what he loves to do is encourage people; and he does it so well! He pastors total strangers, leaders and those in need with his amazing gift of encouragement; strengthening hearts and faith. He did not necessarily need to do it with the pulpit and all the attendant aspects of a pastor’s work.

As we grow in ministry experience; it is important to become comfortable with what we are good at and enjoy. What gives us life will spill life onto others. You may need to ‘re-invent’ or ‘retire’ – and that may be the best thing to happen to you.

*this is a whole different topic for another time: the online church.

Community: what comes to mind?

by Jenni

You may be an introvert, and extrovert or a bit of both.

You may have grown up in a large rowdy family or a small quiet one.

You may have walked into church one day all by yourself or was ushered in by a friend or more.

 

I remember the ah-ha moment of relish. It was as if the scales from my eyes fell — and I saw it. It was beautiful, beckoning, bountiful. Community.

One day, just like that, a gladness welled up within me. I had a family beyond the one I was physically born into. There was another place, other people, who welcomed me. More than that, they seemed to need me. They asked me to help lead songs, to tell stories, to join this committee and the next. It was great. My gifts started to emerge. I had followers. As a young adult, the scope of this community widened further as I moved further up the church-leadership rung and my influence (or at least presence) widened. I traveled on short-term mission trips, I saw how total strangers welcome and hosted each other because of Jesus. It was very wonderful.

Truly the church is an amazing thing, only possible because of God.

I have had friends from other religious commitments who are utterly lonely as they go through religious motions. I have been in interest groups, study groups, cause-related groups…and they all fizzle out. But church — hey, we stick around!

But as iron sharpens iron, sparks begin to fly.

chinese boats

 

It is part of growing up to be an individual. You need space as you develop convictions. You need space as you figure out priorities. You need space to explore your spiritual inclinations.

And this is where church often starts to crumble formany of us.

The people we grew up with playing games, laughing ourselves silly, eating way too much together — start to move apart – sometimes with great pain. We disagree, we hurt each other, we hinder one another at times.

All community, all relationships must negotiate itself through the seasons.

There’s this popular four stage description: form, storm, norm, perform (Tuckman). But few of us persist beyond the storm. It’s not for want for trying. All good men and women I know regret the losses and try very hard. Perhaps, it’s because w
e don’t know what we are trying to get at, what to work towards… In fact, most of the times, we are trying to bring back the ‘good ol’ days’ which in some cases, was mostly nom-ing {eating}! That won’t do.

What is the Bible’s picture of community? Pastor Bill Hybels used to call it a biblically functioning group/community.

trail starts here

I share here some less common notions of what Scripture calls us to build:

1. where there is no lack

You probably never ever heard a single sermon on this. After forty years, I have not either! But Acts and 2 Cor 8 tells us that the church community must be the go-to place for help. Brothers and sisters should not feel deprivation, hunger, cold…

What we see though is as people prosper, others often get left behind. Yes, we give to different causes. But, what about the actual person seated not far from you? It pains me to hear of members who are struggling while others discuss the latest model of car they are contemplating on buying. admittedly, i do not rush out to welcome everyone under my roof and pay for others’ bills. One has to circumspect – but i sense the Father’s pain that we do not watch out for each other more.

2. where there is love

I have lost count of the number of churches that felt like a refrigerator; people walk by one another as if they don’t see each other. No one knows more names than the same few after years.

My own quest began when a leader asked us, “who will you call at 3am if you had a need?”. I looked around and saw anxious faces everywhere. No one answered.

Seriously, will you tell anyone if you have doubts about your sexuality? if you are struggling with porn, if what you really want to sing is heavy metal?

‘Look how they love one another’ was what the first century church was described as. In a Roman world full of loose sex, there was something that was making people sit up and notice.

This what we are after. The norm. The time comes when you do not stay in a community for what you get; but for what you are meant to help build.

Have your harboured hurt and loss or handed it to God and chosen the way of forgiveness?

Can you distinguish between theological irreducible from ideological preferences?

Are you challenging yourself to grow in love and in meeting the needs of others?

chinese bridge

Yet as the New Testament honestly records, the early church was not perfect. In fact, the letters tell us clearly the things we will grapple with:

Romans – secular cultural pressures, godlessness

Corinthians – spiritual excesses

Galatians & Colossians – our tendency to return to works-righteousness and therefore become a pressure-cooker rather than a peace-carrier

Thessalonians – flawed logic arising from our sinful tendency to sloth and a life of ease

Timothy & Titus – intense leadership pressure

Ephesians – losing sight of the larger Community/Church and the spiritual power we have

 

Do we see something here?

The church is salt and light. We are a prophetic community – that says, look, imperfect as we are; within us are seeds of an incredible future!

So don’t walk away too soon.

related:

how easy to get sleepy in church

what are we thinking/feeling?!

the part-time pastor?

 

 

These 4Cs foundational to 5fold and all maturing, stable, impacting churches based on Ephesians 4

“Live a life worthy of the calling…”. Paul begins at chapter 4 of Ephesians.

Why start off with this imperative? Because actions grow out of beliefs.

Do we believe that our lives have the call of God upon them? It may be easy to say this when you are young and fiery. But after some storms and heartaches; it can be a struggle to say ‘yes I do’.  But it’s because we think of our calling mainly as Activity and Mission. Perhaps Paul had more in mind.

This idea of a life that has a calling also tells us two things: one, life for the Christian is distinct in some visible, manifest way. It also means that it is possible to live a life that is not worthy of this calling (a prospect we should perhaps spend some time on!).

What is this calling?

In fact, Paul has been disclosing this right from chapter 1. Paul peels it back layer by layer for us.  He began by the way he addressed us; most of us are uncomfortable and leave the way Paul addresses his readers as some extra-literature tit-bit because he calls us ‘saints’, and ‘the faithful’!  Wel, we certainly know better than to consider ourselves saints or faithful; the way we stumble along so often!

But it is a calling not based on who we are, but whose we are.

Paul unpacks it as he goes. It is a calling to a life that is blessed beyond what the temporal and material world can offer. It is a calling to bring praise to God’s glory. Chapter two details how it is a calling to mystery; where mortal man can now come to receive insight and understanding to God, to believe and trust in Him. It is a calling to a new way of being where reconciliation and brotherhood are normative; a calling even angels grapple to make sense of as God’s wisdom will be displayed through those who are called! It crescendos with this: we are called to experience a love that cannot be measured or fathom.

Then Paul emotes with a concern so deep, he urges his readers, us, to remember these varied and amazing dimensions of who we are — and to live in a way that is worthy of it.

For too long, chapter 4 of Ephesians has been reduced to a functional look at the 5-fold ministries (what the 5fold is really about. click to read) 

How many sermons have I heard where chapter 4 appears to begin at verse 7! No, there is much more to it. Indeed. this point in the teaching is part of something larger – it belongs with  “live a life worthy of your calling…”

As Paul adjures us to consider our lifestyle; he doesn’t leave us without a frame of reference. No, in fact he spells it out for us: there are 4 Cs to living a life that is worthy as individual Christians which result then corporately in a body that is healthy, stable and impacting.

 

Character

Paul begins by talking about our attitudes and choices which calcify over time to form our character. He describes the following character traits: completely humble and gentle, and patiently bearing with one another.

These traits do not sprout overnight; but are tilled over many years by remembering our calling. Humility is birthed from worship and gratitude. The person who recognizes that his life is a gift and his faith is a mystery will turn his heart in this direction; and in the process will deal gently with others. Humility is also borne as we recognize our darkness and sin and admit to our many limitations and our reluctance to obey easily. To recognize our common humanity is these areas will allow us to bear patiently with one another; knowing we are all work in progress.

 

Community

There is one body and one Spirit, and we are to make very effort to uphold this. Sadly, the history of the church bespeaks more division than unity. From families to boards to cities, Paul is calling us to recgonise the amazing Grace of God in each others’ lives and know that we have been called forth to belong to God together; where our identity as God’s children is the other side of the same coin that we are brothers and sisters.

 

Capacity

There is next a Grace given to each of us that helps us find our place in the body. With humility and a heart bent on seeking oneness, we can move into the spaces and specifications of role in order that the Body grows up. A common sense questions to ask then for churches which are unsure of its growth may be this: are people’s capacities recognized and encouraged?

 

Conviction

Whereas Paul began with Character, many of us begin here. We major on being ‘right’ and ‘speaking the truth in love’ to those who we deem are getting it wrong. If we look carefully at Paul’s words, the point is to become stable with a strong core of understanding that allows new ideas to be sieved and interpreted rightly. As we all have a tendency to be taken up with new ideas and trends; we must then lovingly point this out to one another; reminding each other of the core truths which we may be distracted and deviating from. Our convictions are to help us ‘grow up into him who is the Head’ which means simply that they are to shape us into Christlikeness; not give us ammunition to cut someone down to size when we believe they are wrong.

The 4Cs are personal. They are also marks therefore of a maturing, stable, impacting church because they grow out of a people who take their calling seriously.

Which of these 4Cs could the Spirit be trying to grow in the soil of your life?

If you were to describe your church against these 4Cs, where would she stand?

 

the C that enables the other Cs

the C that enables the other Cs

Jesus’ parting words and Hebrews 12: how to soldier on leader.

Leaders know about resistance, criticism, even rejection.

In a way, a leader is like a lightning rod – he/she sticks out and attracts both the praise and the electrical charges that come in a storm. There is plenty of good wisdom out there about this reality.

But what struck me as I listened to Scripture today in John 15 is how Jesus prepared his disciples for what was coming when he would no longer be physically with them.

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.”

As with most of what Jesus said, this probably sounded enigmatic to them. The crowds were just hailing him as he entered Jerusalem. Sure, there were the nasty religious leaders; but they are too uptight and laden with layers of professionalism and public persona to unwind enough to ‘hate’ – such an intense emotion that inevitably spills over into irrational behavior!

Then Jesus explains that he is telling them this so that “they will not go astray” (16v1). He spells out for them to expect that the usual places of safety (synagogues) may turn into places of danger… and the world can get so crazy that –

“..anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God.” (v3).

Yes, think ISIS. But I am afraid to say, we may need to think about the murderous activity happening within our own ranks; when we put down, defame or malign another.

 

I looked back at my journey as a follower and a leader. When have I demonstrated courage? When have I shrunk back, or worse; compromised? This reflection – necessary – is not to bring shame but to shed light.

But then I thought too: when I have spoken up or stood up, was I compelled by my love for God and my brethren or was it more about me really: my sense of justice, my need to establish my understanding of what is right, my ‘right’ to speak and fight for others?

And I am gently reminded,

“Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” ~ Hebrews 12v3

I love, follow and serve a Master who knows opposition and endured it – for me. Dwelling on this infuses me with a supernatural strength that renews my courage and helps me persist. Reflecting on Jesus’ responses refines and hones my responses and tampers my heart with wisdom. I am to expect a struggle with sin – the sin within, the sin about me. The former I can repent and be cleansed; the latter I must stand and resist.

Then the writer of Hebrews continues:

“and you have forgotten..”

Forgetfulness costs us.

“you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons..”

This we seldom hear preached as divine encouragement: discipline.

We are still somewhat buzzing from the Mother’s day weekend. One of the best gifts for a mom or dad — when a child writes, “mom/dad, thanks for making me say sorry (do what’s tough, stay on the task, choose the right way).” When our children recognize what the discipline was and that at the heart of it is a love that wants the best.

Discipline in the form of deprivation, denial, (God says ‘no’), delay, even time-outs!

God did not come to your rescue soon enough?

God did not appear to defend you?

God seemed quite silent when you desperately need a word?

 

Today’s word lifts us up to the heavenly plane and calls us to see with our spiritual eyes: God has something better in store. Be encouraged, there is something more in you that will emerge and shine. Don’t lose heart. And if you are a lightning rod right now; bear the heat like a good soldier. Ask for true courage that will love God and His people.

And remember, you are a servant because you are a child of the Most High. Go to God with all your tears and rest, rest, rest.

For your ministry is but the overflow of who you are, really.

 

we need to get in the trenches!

Do we have any idea how easy it is to lose our way – in the thick of serving God no less.

This post is being prompted by a few things:

1. my son is fascinated with all things army-like: the brotherhood, the tough stuff, the strain and the glory. It’s a guy’s dirty, glorious dream: to be a hero, to make a difference, to have a buddy, to save a life. (it used to be the girl’s version was to be a mother-hero, built a great home, gal-friends and raise a life…but the script has changed alot. We save that for another time).

2. the daily reality of meeting people who are just – plain – struggling: not sure how to navigate work, feeling unsure about kids, sad and unhappy in marriages, not at peace in ministry, ‘why our kids are leaving the church’…..  the list is long and I have not included climate issues, Boko Haram, ISIS and Wall Street.

3. the quiet question in many hearts about why the church has pastors who do business, who are always drinking and eating (their facebook posts), who seem …unreal, unlike the rest of humanity; sweating it out in the trenches.

4. my, our ongoing search to live well and leave a legacy.

Many years ago as a young pastor, a church member asked me a brilliant question. She was tentative but she really wanted to know; so she took the risk and asked, “what do pastors do all week?”.

What are we doing pastors? 

It’s a question I continue to ask myself and sometimes trouble other pastors about. But first –

if you tend towards guilt, this question is not to induce guilt.

if you tend towards sloth, this question is not to induce work

if you tend towards not upsetting the status quo, this question is not to induce fear

This question is to incite you to hit refresh on that ‘purpose’ button of your life! 

Why O why do you do what you do? Why do you spend time the way you do? Why have you responded/reacted? Why have you held back?

Above everything else, pastors must be a small step behind the Great Shepherd and a small step ahead of the flock.

What do i do all week? In order or priority:

1 / Talk to the Great shepherd; mostly letting him set the agenda. Turns out he mostly wants to talk about me. He said my work is the overflow of my life. So the spotlight’s often on the stuff I dont enjoy paying attention to: my shadows; yet it is liberating and freeing to know He sees it all and still loves me. In other words, I tank up!

2/ Listen to people. This is like my strength (no!)….but it needs to be done. I jump to conclusions (you too?). I’m too smart many times. I finish people’s sentences and map out their spiritual paths in my image. Hasn’t worked well; so I am learning to listen. To real people. To thought leaders. To the leaders God has asked me to work with.

3/ I work at whatever plans I have laid out. None of them perfect; but giving up too quick means I never learn what truly works. So give stuff time to work. This is hard I know. The results are not often quick enough, there will be disagreement. I get impatient. But, I fight the distractions to compare and compete and just hunker down to do my work.

4/ I throw out my plans when  something very obviously better comes along. It doesn’t happen very much; but it does. The Spirit sometimes prompts you to pay attention to someone or something; and from experience — JUST DO IT! You will be so glad you did; because it’s not just for the person; it’s to revive you as God’s ministry co-labourer; restoring your joy that you are working with God. It’s sweet!

5/ I don’t calendar full days all week. You heard that. You will soon red-line (which is the beginning not of wisdom but burn-out). I plan ‘space’ times: time i give myself permission to read, to do something that refreshes my soul. There is designated family times, there are seasons to cut back because the children need me more. I take my Sabbath. YES! As a pastor-writer-mother, a full 24hr Sabbath rarely happens; but 4-5 hours can be planned for. To make up for it, I have extended Quiet Times in the week, an annual personal retreat, and date nights with the spouse. Actually, I have a time slot each week to review my week and adjust my calendar!

6/ I pray regularly that God will lead me to the needs and help me to make a difference. As a pastor, our call according to Ephesians 4 is to equip God’s people. We may not join the Justice League, draft bills against trafficking, speak at Ted… but we may! Let God carve the path for you as you daily dig in and enter the trenches to comfort the afflicted, soothe their wounds with Truth and Love, set their sights beyond their limited horizon, lift them up and strengthen their feeble joints. Pastors get to champion the people’s dreams, cheer them on to success, sit with them in sorrow, bury their sins and resurrect their hopes. Along the way, many pastors have refined their calling and sharpened their sword.

 

So, get in the trenches. Like that old story of the man who picked up that one star fish? It made a difference to that star fish; and who knows, that star fish may tell others later as it bobs in the sea, ‘don’t get marooned on the shore’.

 

The ‘5-fold gifts’ and maturity… something to ponder for growing in 2015

The 5-fold office, as they are described by some in Ephesians 4 offers us an important insight into Christian maturity. That is after all, the context in which they are mentioned:

To prepare God’s people for works of service

So that

The boy of Christ may be built up

Until we reach unity in the faith

And in the knowledge of the Son of God

And become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

 

Paul is giving us a definition of maturity, the marks of it and the means towards it.

 

The definition of maturity is the whole measure of Christ. Paul is saying that God desires us to become Christlike in full measure as a church. We will grow towards Christ’s heartbeat, mission and way of life. We will see life through Jesus’ eyes and respond and live by His values and character.

 

The marks of this maturity, since there is only one Christ; involves our reaching a point of unity {one} where we know Christ and live out a faith that is centred on Him. Indeed, we see this happening. The Spirit of God has been moving the church in the last few decades in this direction. From Christ-centred preaching to Christ-centred worship… the Spirit of God is directing us.

 

The means towards this maturity is in the exercise of the gifts of God, in particular, the 5-fold gifts of teacher, pastor, prophet, apostle and evangelist.

 

And here is something important to know.

 

These gifts do not merely complement or contribute towards some church health; they are essential for maturity. In other words, Jesus as in individual and Christ as the church embodies these aspects:

 

God’s wisdom (teacher)

God’s Grace (pastor)

God’s ways (prophet)

God’s agenda (apostle)

God’s mercy (evangelist)

 

These aspects are seen in Christ’s earthly life.

 

Again we see the Spirit of God calling forth and establishing these gifts in the church in the recent decades as He matures His church, his bride.

 

I grew up in a Presbyterian church spiritually; but in my youth was greatly impacted by an Assemblies of God preacher, Abel Thomas. Later, I would come into contact with Pentecostal Anglicans and began to grow in my understanding of the gifts. Most of my growing years, the foundational seed planted in me that God desires us to reach the world steered me in many of my choices and even my vocational training. I have been stretched to consider how in my life I am growing in Christ’s heartbeat, mission and character.

 

What does this mean for us as pastors and leaders?

 

In view of the fact that Ephesians was written to expound on the grand purposes of God in the church, we should encourage each follower of Christ to be open to these gifts that will help us in our journey towards maturity and fullness. This needs to happen for the individual Christian as it does for the local assembly.

 

However, we are not to get anxious, worried or feel we are in lack if our churches do not seem to have these gifts. Certainly no one pastor or leader can ever embody all these gifts. God has provided for them in the larger Body of Christ. Great books and sermons have been written by pastors such as Henri Nouwen and prophets such as AW Tozer. The local church is strengthened by the ministry of many organizations. Missions organizations bring an apostolic edge while others have a wonderful teaching ministry for specific aspects of life.

 

In the end, it is our hunger and desire to grow into Christ-likeness that propels us to seek, feed and be willing to change in order to grow.

 

 

But the local church pastor has a special role in this. Called to be the shepherd, he is to find the appropriate pasture for his flock to feed on, to call them to rest, to hold them back by his staff of protection or his rod of discipline when the sheep is acting out of fear and in danger.

So, as Eugene Petersen the pastor puts it in The Message, it is all for this:

to train Christ’s followers in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.

 

What a wonderful picture!