Archives For Shepherding

“For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears;
not so that you would be made sorrowful,
but that you might know the love which I have especially for you.”
– 2 Corinthians 2:4 –

SharpeningWhen Paul wrote this verse, false teachers claiming to be apostles had infiltrated the church of Corinth and aimed to discredit Paul’s legitimacy as an apostle. The controversy led Paul to change his travel plans and visit the Corinthians ahead of schedule, as he hoped he could put the matter to rest by being there personally. But when Paul arrived in Corinth, one of the men in the church openly flouted Paul’s authority and insulted him before the whole church. To make matters worse, rather than coming to Paul’s defense and defending the Gospel that he preached, the Corinthians were taken in by this false teaching, and allowed this man’s sin to go unchecked.

After this “sorrowful visit,” Paul returned immediately to Ephesus and wrote them a severe letter, sternly rebuking them for failing to deal with sin in the church properly, and for straying from his apostolic teaching and message. In the verse quoted above, Paul explains the circumstances in which and the motivation for why he wrote the Corinthians his severe letter. And there is a pastoral lesson for all of us in the church who give and receive correction to our brothers and sisters.

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yoke1Hardship comes to us via every avenue of life, from beginning to end. Affliction is no more avoidable than air. And thankfully, Scripture has much to say about it. But one passage that has often redemptively grabbed me is from Lamentations 3.

“It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. Let him sit alone in silence when it is laid on him; let him put his mouth in the dust—there may yet be hope.” (Lam 3:27-29). Now, the degree of hardship faced during the time of this verse exceeds what many of us will face. Even so, the verse illustrates a timeless principle on the topic of affliction: it is good for us young men (“young” could refer to under 40ish +/-) to experience a measure of hardship’s yoke.

But why? What is it about us young men such that affliction is particularly profitable? For the most part, it’s simply because we are young. We lack the full seasoning of sanctification. Our spiritual development is many stages from completion. The flesh has undergone less mortification. So, in God’s good sovereignty, affliction’s yoke in youth is a necessity which can move us along in the school of Christ. There’s nothing easy about it. But when our loving God grooms us with hardship, we young men can profit greatly. As a friend and mentor, Ray Mehringer, once said to me, “It’s the ‘ABC’s’ of Christianity: Adversity Builds Character.” And character building is the need of the hour for many of us young men.

Oak-sapling-Quercus-robur-001By God’s grace, some are well-trained in hardship’s academy. For others of us, we may need to simply enter the school or re-take a few classes. For those like me who have often flunked in the school of struggle, here are a few reminders on the necessity of hardship, especially for us younger guys:

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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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