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Life Ministry

From Shepherding to Spreading

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For Carly and me, our call to ministry came long ago. Before marrying, we both sensed that the best hours of our days and weeks would be devoted to introducing people to Jesus and equipping them in their faith. We’ve been doing that in various ways for all of our seven years of marriage.

For the most part, ours has been a shepherding kind of ministry. We’ve led small groups, taught classes, led in youth ministry, and for the past three and a half years, I’ve been a pastor.

Yet we sensed Jesus moving us to shift focus. Last spring, when Carly and I contemplated a change from my current role as a pastor, our greatest desire was to be more engaged with people who were either unreached or unengaged with the gospel. That was perhaps the single greatest reason we became missionaries with Cru. I’ve tried to communicate it this way: we are moving from shepherding work to spreading work.

Now, what does one do when they sense a call from the Lord to a new role in ministry? Google it, of course. I followed suit and searched for “transition from pastor to missionary.” Do you know what I found?

Not a whole lot.

I’m not sure what I was looking for. Perhaps a little encouragement or guidance as to how to navigate these transition waters. But evidently, this is uncommon in our context. Growing up in North America and even while a pastor in a North American context, I was convinced that pastoring was the most distinguished, important part of Christian work. A quick scan of the current Evangelical landscape proves this. How many celebrity pastors can you name? How about celebrity missionaries? Even more, how often are pastors expected to do the work of shepherd and teacher and missionary (and eventually burn out)? Far too often, unfortunately.

Yet when I look at the Scriptures, what I see is that there are leaders in the church who shepherd the flock and there are others who spread the gospel among those outside the flock, in hope that they become a part of the flock. It takes a diversity of gifts and calling, multiple kinds of leaders.

Ephesians 4:11-12 is one passage that speaks to this: “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds, and the teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” Not only shepherds and teachers (i.e. pastors), but apostles, prophets, and evangelists. In order for the gospel to go out people need to go out from local congregations to broadly spread the seed of the gospel and bring in a harvest of people whom God is drawing to himself. Then, churches get planted, more shepherds are raised up, and more missionaries are sent out. This is how God has designed his church to function. This is how it must function if we want to reach every tribe, nation, people, and language.

As Carly and I leaned into this clear biblical truth, God calling us to spreading-type work became clear. What a joy it was and has been for us to discover! Personally, it’s been so freeing discover I don’t need to be suck in a “pastor or bust” mentality when it comes to full-time Christian service. Spreading is not better or worse than shepherding. Both are essential. Spreading is simply what we are called to do. I think I speak for both Carly and me when I say that I can’t think of doing anything else with our life together.

 

Categories
Ministry Theology

Some Characteristics of Paul’s Missionary Methods

The apostle Paul is the greatest missionary Christianity has ever known, behind only the Lord Jesus himself. Paul used many missionary methods in his journeys. Of course, all of his methods and strategies were subject to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. This may actually be considered the supreme characteristic of Paul’s methods. Aside from this however, Paul’s methods contained a number of others which still inform our missionary efforts today. Here are five, and each of them build upon the previous one.

  1. Paul committed to preaching Christ where he has not already been named. In Romans 15:20, Paul makes clear that this is his intention and goal in his ministry. Paul saw himself as a minister of the gospel who would reach new people and not build on someone else’s foundation (Rom. 15:20; 2 Cor. 10:16). He was not a “pastor” in our modern sense. He was a multi-church planter who constantly moved from one location to another. This does not mean that in our day we should not plant churches in already reached areas; Paul’s time and ministry was unique as the church was in its formative stages. However, the principle still remains: there is great importance for the church to recognize and send those whom God has called to a Pauline-type ministry to spread the gospel among the unreached. This leads to a second characteristic of church planting.
  2. Paul’s missionary ministry focused on church planting. Paul’s goal was not to simply evangelize people in order to gain a host of individual converts. His goal was to evangelize and gather God’s people into local congregations. As mentioned above, Paul was not a planter-pastor who planted a church and stayed there for a long period of time. Once a church was established and functioning, Paul and his team moved on. This informs our missionary efforts today, reminding us that establishing local bodies of worshipers, not simply getting individuals saved, is our main task. This leads to a third characteristic of how converts and congregations were established.
  3. Paul’s preaching centered on the story of Jesus. Paul was less interested in evidential apologetics and philosophical debates and more interested in simply sharing the story of God’s work in the world. His goal was to “preach Christ” (1 Cor. 1:24; cf. Col. 1:28) as the center and climax of God’s unfolding story of redemption. In our day, preaching denominational distinctives or simply external morality should not be the content of missionary preaching. As Paul did, so too we preach Christ and the fact that he is the fulfillment of God’s redemptive drama. This characteristic leads to the next, which answers the question, “What happens after people believe in Jesus?”
  4. Paul desired to develop believers so that they might experience their inheritance in Christ and be ready for his second coming. Paul did not want shallow Christians. His goal was not to gain converts but to make disciples. He wanted mature believers who knew of the incredibly spiritual riches they had in Christ. The letter to the Ephesians, particularly 1:3-14, shows Paul’s heart to develop Christians to, in a sense, become what they already are in Christ. Paul wanted believers to be ready for Christ’s return (1 Thess. 3:13), and he was confident that God would provide everything necessary to make this happen (Phil 1:6; Phil. 2:13). The churches needed godly leadership to accomplish this, which is the last characteristic.
  5. Paul worked to develop local leaders over local congregations. Paul appointed and empowered elders in Ephesus to watch over and care for the flock (Acts 20:28). The pastorals explicitly show Paul’s effort to establish local leadership in churches. This is particularly important for our contemporary situation. Churches may mature and be effective with foreign leadership. However, for local churches to truly thrive and operate optimally there must be godly, indigenous leadership. Only then will the local believers “own” the life and ministry of the church.

These five characteristics are not exhaustive, of course. But they do provide a good “big picture” structure of Paul’s ministry. If you are a missionary, does your work reflect this model? What are some other characteristics of Paul that are essential to biblical missions? Let’s pray that all of our modern missionary efforts to unreached and under-reached people’s reflect God’s work through the apostle Paul!

Categories
Life Theology

The Result of a Debased Mind: Practicing and Approving of Evil Deeds

Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1:32)

These unbelieving sinners that Paul has just spoken of in verses 28-31 know that what they are doing is wrong. Paul never speaks of the law in these verses, which is significant.  This communicates to us that all humans are under the same judgment, even if we haven’t received the Ten Commandments or a list of do’s and don’ts from God.  We all suppress God’s truth.  We all exchange his glory and truth for idolatry and lies.

God has built it into the hearts of human beings to obey a moral code.  That is why in nearly all cultures over all time murder and rape are wrong.  What other explanation can there be?  People “know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die” (cf. Rom. 3:23).   This verse tells us that all people have some knowledge of God, as verses 19-21 tell us.  It shows that even if people do not have a Bible or a missionary, they are still held accountable to God.  Of course, Paul himself is talking about people without a Bible, since nearly all of the known Gentile world in his day did not have written Scripture and did not read the Old Testament.

Not only do people do such things as those listed in verses 28-31, but they also give approval to those who practice them.  This means that they congratulate evil and hate what is good — a gross inversion of God’s intention (see Rom. 12:9).  Our modern minds probably immediately go to a man bowing down to a golden idol and congratulating others who worship with him.  But consider the businessman on Wall Street who has committed fraud and is laundering money.  He defies the decree of God.  And his business partner has joined him, risking his job, credibility, integrity, family, and friends.  Instead of coming to his senses, this man congratulates his partner and tells him, “This is the only way you’ll get ahead, make money, and make something of yourself in this company.”  He not only does evil, but he is approves others doing it as well.  He is doubly guilty.

This can also happen with much “smaller” things.  And it can be passive, not active.  Take pornography, for example.  Instead of hating the sin and actively fighting against it, a man may rebuke his friend because he himself is fighting the same sin of pornography.  Instead of lovingly rebuking his friend who sinned while on the Internet yesterday, he says, “It’s okay.  I’m right there with you.  God forgives.”  Though that is true, it is not actively engaged in the battle against sin.  It’s passive and communicates a lackadaisical attitude toward the self-destructing ability of sin.  “Approving” sin may come in many shapes and colors.  And we must be careful to watch out for it at all times.

 

Categories
Life

Don’t Hide Behind Your Giving

In my last post, I talked about taking Jesus literally when he tells us to sell everything and give to the poor.  One frustration that I have with the Christian American Dream is that sometimes we are urged, albeit unknowingly, to “hide behind your giving.”

Let me explain: Some people think that giving lots of money excuses them from actively engaging in God’s mission.  I know that my heart can be susceptible to this. Americanized Christianity tells us that if we write a check every other week, then we are the senders, we are the givers, we are the ones who don’t have to get our hands dirty because we pay others to do it for us.

But what I see in Biblical Christianity is quite different. People who give are still called to get their hands dirty. People who give should still engage in God’s mission with their neighbors, their family and friends, their coworkers, and the pagan culture around them. If we trust in Jesus as Lord, then we are supposed to be on his mission, not ours. This doesn’t always mean going overseas of course. It means doing it in your city, your church, your workplace, your neighborhood, and your home.

In order to do this, we cannot accumulate money and possessions and call it “blessing.”  When we make money, we give it away. When we get stuff, we share with others and sometimes even give those things away. But we never seek to accumulate. And we never give so we can say, “I give; they are sent.”  Jesus said, “Go and make disciples” (Matt. 28:19), and Paul reminded us of Jesus’ words, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). This means everyone.

Let’s not hide behind our giving. We are all sent. And Christianity will never be biblical until we embrace that.

Categories
Ministry

Joburg Summer Project

Part 8 in a 10 part series. View series intro and index.

There are too many pictures from this 5-week period to share them all.  These don’t do justice to the wonderful, Christ-filled experience of this mission’s trip!