Archives For Shepherding

there they are“I’m blessed!” “That was such a blessing!” “Wow, you are blessed!”

Whether some financial profit, a good meal, an ideal day, or finding our lost keys, we’ve all said it. And those things are blessings. But, too often we risk throwing around benedictory phrases with a shallow, man-centered carelessness.

What does it mean to be “blessed”? What does God consider “blessing”? God’s definitions of blessing might not always fit the pop-definitions. One in particular, perhaps, counter-intuitive blessing is described from what is considered the greatest sermon ever preached: the Sermon on the Mount. Christ opened it with the declarative blessing, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:3). What is the essence of this blessing?

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letterIt was pretty early on in my ministry when this guy, John, arrived at our fledgling church. With the addition of one person, our church grew by about 5%. Needless to say, I was excited. But what John did when I first met him fascinated me. We met for coffee the following week. After some small talk and getting to know him a bit, he handed me a manila folder with a letter in it. “This is from my previous pastor,” he said. “He thought that the leadership here would want this.”

That week, I opened up the letter and read it. John’s immediate elder had written to our leadership team, describing him to us. He unpacked things like John’s ministry involvement, training and equipping classes he went through, and his overall character. As a leadership team, we still needed to get to know John, but it made transitioning him into our fellowship much smoother than if he had come without the letter.

I had heard of church transfer and recommendation letters before, but had not seen it in meaningful action. This was different. Though the letter itself does not guarantee all will be fine and dandy with the individual, if done meaningfully, it’s a huge blessing to both the individual and receiving church.

In light of that, here are a few reasons for local church leadership teams to keep the practice of meaningful recommendation letters alive and well:

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true_successWhat does it mean to successful?

That is a vital question for anyone to ask – one that determines a person’s priorities and direction in life.

Whether you are a pastor, an accountant, a school teacher, a stay-at-home mom, an office manager, a construction worker, an engineer, or any other occupation – if you are a believer in Jesus Christ – this question pertains to you. What does it mean to be successful?

What does true success look like, not in terms of getting a new promotion or a raise, but in the highest and loftiest sense of that word?

Consider the “heroes of the faith” listed in Hebrews 11. From a worldly perspective, these individuals would hardly be regarded as successful. Continue Reading…

burried statue of libertyI’m not trying to be relevant. From my disadvantaged vantage point from the nether side of the globe (South Africa), the snookered view I have of the brouhaha over Indiana’s religious liberty legislation seems a bit like a storm in a tea cup.

I thought that freedom was already well established as a cherished virtue in the USA since the days of the Mayflower Pilgrims, Liberty Bell, Statue of Liberty, We the people, send us your huddled masses, and all that.

Nevertheless, it behooves all Christians to be reminded occasionally that religious freedom is, biblically speaking, a privilege to be prayed for, not a right to whine over.

Here are two biblical principles with which I try to brace my prayers for religious liberty…

1. It’s not the government’s job to be godly.

It is not the government’s job to be godly and spread Christianity; that’s our responsibility as God’s salt and light.

It is the government’s job to pack heat and stop bad guys.

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“Not that we lord it over your faith . . .”
– 2 Corinthians 1:24 –

Heavy HandednessSecond Corinthians is a book about ministry. Many commentators call it the fourth pastoral epistle, adding it to First and Second Timothy and Titus, because it focuses so much on the true character of Christian ministry. And it teaches us the lessons that it does by looking at the life of the Apostle Paul, the archetype of the minister of the Gospel.

In 2 Corinthians 1, Paul explains why he had delayed coming to them after promising another visit. The false apostles were using his change of plans as fodder for slandering him (2 Cor 1:15–17). But he affirms to the Corinthians that it was out of consideration for them; he postponed his visit in order to spare them the pain of judgment (2 Cor 1:23). But he knows that his opponents will seize on that confession of love and consideration, and twist it to suit their own ends. “It was to spare you that he didn’t come?” they would ask incredulously. “That’s nothing more than a veiled threat! He might as well say, ‘Don’t make me come and destroy you!’ Don’t you see what a tyrant this Paul is?!”

So to make sure that he’s not misunderstood, he adds this qualification: “Not that we lord it over your faith.”

In this phrase is a lesson for all those in ministry: the faithful minister of the Gospel is a servant. There is a wholesale repudiation of a domineering spirit. The truly loving shepherd of Christ’s sheep renounces all forms of despotism, domineering, and dictatorial power. Paul has absolutely no interest in lording his apostolic authority over the Corinthians. He has no desire to micromanage and domineer and control people’s thinking and behavior.

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art and scienceIf you live in a snowy place, you know that snowman-making is both an art and a science. On the art side, things like rocks, charcoal, and sticks creatively transform the burly snow boulders into a grinning, black-teethed happy man with the arms of Jack the Pumpkin king and the body of Santa Claus. But there is also a science to it all.

One of the most critical steps in snowman-making is the big, round base upon which the torso and head of that frosty hominid will rest. We might call that base, the “core” of the snowman-creation process. It starts with one small clump of snow. That snow is then rolled around the yard with the hope that additional snow will adhere and unite with the clump. Sometimes an armful of snow is brought from another portion of the yard and carefully combined to enlarge and strengthen that snowman core.

In the process of strengthening and growing that core-mass, things can get messy. Attempts to adhere other snow to it are not always successful. Not all of the snow sticks. Sometimes things break apart. Sometimes a little added substance like water is needed to create cohesion. Sometimes a firm, but carefully-calculated tamping is necessary at different angles in order to accomplish a measure of adhering and strengthening so that the additional snowman-chunks can be piled on.

strong coreGathering and strengthening a core team for planting and revitalizing churches is not that different. It typically starts small. Especially early on, the core team size and strength may fluctuate. Additional individuals might be added with the hope of genuine and lasting cohesion. It can get messy though. Not all individuals will quickly “stick.” Fractures might develop here and there. It’s all fairly normal. It’s also fairly taxing.

Consequently, building that core team, like the snowman, is going to require a measure of strategy. Bringing about a measure of both cohesion and strength is needed in order to solidify that core team so that it can stand underneath the weight of the church planting and revitalization process. Core teams need a degree of strength themselves so that a healthy church can grow from them.

Often the responsibility to do all of this is laid solely upon the lead planter or revitalizer. He certainly plays a major role. But core team members also have a major responsibility and play a critical part in the process.

Last week, we begin a series looking at the different ways in which core team members in church plants and revitalizations can be as faithful and fruitful as possible in their glorious undertaking. Today, we will conclude the series by looking at six additional ways for church plant and revitalization core teams to be strengthened for their work:

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coreIn just about every physical fitness plan these days there is talk of one’s core. Trainers talk about needing to strengthen your core. They often attribute various physical weaknesses to the core. Pour posture or back issues often are due to an issue with one’s core. Good balance often comes back to core strength.

The same can be said of church planting and revitalization. The faithfulness and fruitfulness therein will often come down to the strength of the core team which sets out to plant or revitalize.

In church planting and revitalization, the core team is the seed which must grow into a healthy sapling, bear fruit, and so set the tone for a disciple-making, one-anothering church for years to come. So, destabilization within the core team will typically prove to be a major hindrance to planting or revitalizing a healthy church.

Gods-graceIf one were to gather 100 church planters in a room and interview them, a similar story would be heard. It would involve a battle; multiple battles, actually. But among the majority, there would be a theme common to all of the battles: a battle involving the core team.

Whether disunity with the lead planter, disunity among one another, an ill-equipped core team, wrong expectations about the church planting process, or simply the hard work involved as the core, battles involving the core teams are one of the more common contributors to destabilization in church planting and revitalization processes.

For those reasons, the core team needs to be sufficiently equipped for the normal battles involved in their glorious and privileged work. They cannot take their task lightly. After all, they are placing themselves in the pioneering work of the most important organization on the planet: the church of our Lord Jesus Christ.

So, what are some things I ought to consider as a member of a core team? How can I faithfully and fruitfully play my part on the core team? This study will attempt to answer those questions by looking at ten ways for church plant and revitalization core teams to be strengthened for their work:

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AnselmAnselm of Canterbury (1033-1109) is most famous for (1) his ontological argument for the existence of God and (2) the satisfaction theory of the atonement.

But today, I’d like to share my favorite quote from Anselm. It is found in his “Exhortation to a Dying Man,” in which he consoles those who are about to face death by asking them a series of questions.

The first set of questions is aimed at fellow clergy and the second is for laypeople.

* * * * *

Question. Do you rejoice, brother, that you are dying in the Christian Faith?
Answer. I do rejoice. . . .

Qu. Do you confess that you have lived so wickedly, that eternal punishment is due to your own merits?
An. I confess it.

Qu. Do you repent of this?
An. I do repent.

Qu. Do you have the willingness to amend your life, if you had time?
An. I have.

Qu. Do you believe that the Lord Jesus Christ died for you?
An. I believe it.

Qu. Do you thank Him [for His passion and death]?
An. I do thank Him.

Qu. Do you believe that you cannot be saved except by His Death?
An. I believe it.

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Let me start by saying that it’s not wrong for a new believer to be immature any more than it’s wrong for a child to be childish.

Puerility is only annoying in an adult. When a four year old dons a cape and wears his underwear over his pants, claiming x-ray vision it’s cute. When his dad does that it’s concerning (or certifiable).

When you’ve been a believer for many years though, lack of these indicators should be concerning.

Mature believers possess these 5 indicators…

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salvationBecoming a Christian is a colossal demonstration of power in so many ways. When an individual trusts in Christ for reconciliation to God, big things happen. Christ’s lordship is joyfully embraced. The soul’s knee is eagerly bowed. The guilt is instantly lifted. The Bible is hungrily inhaled.

And in the most glorious display of spiritual coup d’état, God the Holy Spirit takes up residence in the soul. He is a great gift, essential to our well-being. And as he settles in, he begins to storm the citadel of our sin. It’s a fight, but there is victory. The Spirit comes to slay the fortress of the flesh.

“For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please” (Gal 5:17).

The true power of the Spirit is demonstrated by an identifying of the flesh, attacking the flesh, and subduing the flesh. It’s what the Spirit does. There are battles, and, sadly the flesh sometimes seems to prevail, but over the longhaul, the Spirit drains the lifeblood of the flesh.

One of the great demonstrations of the Spirit’s power is how we respond when our sin is addressed by others. It’s often painful, but through the necessary inquiry of others, the Spirit works to identify and crucify remaining sin.

“The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise. Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence” (Prov 15:31-32).

Less and less are the days of our flesh protecting, promoting, and parading itself. The Holy Spirit is too good to allow it. And too powerful. The Holy Spirit is alive. He never takes a soul-sabbatical. Again, there are battles. It’s rarely clean. But the Spirit is never waving the white flag to our flesh.

So, if we are someone who cannot have our sin confronted and cannot respond in genuine humility to confrontation, it’s a potential sign that we do not have the Holy Spirit.

“He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck, will suddenly be broken beyond healing” (Prov 29:1).

“A scoffer does not love one who reproves him, he will not go to the wise” (Prov 15:12).

Not the Holy SpiritI am not saying that one is not a Christian if they struggle to respond humbly to confronted sin at times. However, if we habitually respond in a fleshly way to confronted sin, we would be hard-pressed to conclude that we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not like a rock-star hockey goalie, looking to slap away inquiries into the soul’s sin. Quite the contrary.

“For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Rom 8:6-7).

“For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Rom 8:13).

cheetah_kill_2_MasaiMara_2013 The Holy Spirit is no more friendly to the flesh than hungry cheetah’s are to gazelles. Like the gazelle, the flesh does just fine in a big yard by itself, grazing, prancing, and enjoying itself. But drop that famished feline in there and things happen. The cheetah will have to run, chase, and exert, but it’s going to subdue. That’s what hungry cheetahs do. Now, if that gazelle is never being subdued, but prances around unthreatened and unsubdued, we could not conclude that there is a cheetah in the yard with it. So it is with our sin and the Spirit.

The subduing of the flesh is a feat accomplished solely by the heroics of the Holy Spirit. To appreciate the Spirit’s power, consider a few contrasts between a Spirit-filled response to reproof vs. that of the flesh.

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