EDITORIAL NOTE: Repeatedly over the past few months, articles and emails with challenging queries and concerned questions comments have been noted in respect of a decided lack of biblical teaching from the pulpit. As have comments of ‘Where is God? I only see showmanship and pleas for finance’ even from young unsaved church visitors seeking reality with God.
Thank God for good, realistic churches that open the Bible and faithfully feed their flock. However there’s a genuine cry elsewhere from church attenders old and young for sound teaching from scripture instead of ear-tickling hyped-up messages that may make the speaker popular but don’t come across as real and don’t help establish or grow Christians in their faith and in following Christ.
Those who love Jesus and their local church are indeed like sheep longing for fresh water, substantial spiritual food and protection by their pastoral shepherds! Church growth talk – and seminars(!) often overlooks one major factor…such body growth begins with the head! If church leadership doesn’t have a personal, intimate relationship with Jesus, then even the best of church growth plans won’t continue to strengthen and be meaningful.
The following article is worth considering prayerfully by all leaders in respect of the leadership challenge of Religion or Relationship. Now we’re not saying that many leaders aren’t saved but, like concerned others, we have some questions some in respect of motives, relationships, hidden agendas, absent holiness, so-called worship and unbiblical teachings.
MINISTER WITH RELIGIOUS ZEAL SHOCKED
Mark Ellis reminds readers that being religious is not enough…
As a boy ‘John’ thought he was a Christian. He had been taught that he could only be saved by keeping all the commandments of God. He considered himself a Christian because he was not as bad as others, he was religious, and he read his Bible, prayed, and attended church faithfully.
As John grew into young adulthood he still thought of himself as a Christian. ‘I was doing so much and living so good a life,’ he reflected. He set apart an hour or two a day for religious devotions. He took communion every week. ‘I watched against all sin, whether in word or deed. I prayed for inward holiness,’ he recounted.
John began to study for the ministry and became a student of theology at Oxford. While at Oxford he visited prisons, the sick and impoverished, doing as many good works as he could fit into his schedule. ‘I fasted on Wednesdays and Fridays, diligently strove against sin and practised self-denial,’ he noted.
After his years of study at Oxford, John was ordained to the ministry. He decided to become a missionary and left England for America to preach among Native Americans. While crossing the Atlantic, this was his daily routine on board the ship: From…
• 4 to 5 private prayer
• 5 to 7 public Bible reading
• 8 to 9 public prayers
• 9 to 12 Bible study
• 12 to 1 testimony
• 2 to 4 reading aloud or witnessing
• 4 to 5 evening prayers
• 5 to 6 private prayers
• 6 to 7 public reading
• 7 to 8 evening service
• 8 to 9 public teaching.
Despite this impressive regimen, his education at one of the most prestigious universities in the world, and his ordination, John’s religion became a burden. It only made him miserable. He had no joy in his heart, no peace in his soul. He was religious and sincere, but he had no assurance his sins were forgiven.
Sincerely religious but not saved!
Could a man be a minister or a missionary and still not be saved? Could he spend years in the study of theology and yet remain in darkness? Could he earn degrees, put on robes and be ordained, but still not know Christ? Could he endure indescribable hardship, turn from every sin and live a sincere, upright, religious life and not be saved?
Among his fellow passengers on the ship were some Moravians, one of the oldest Protestant denominations in the world. As John observed their behaviour, he was impressed by the way they served other passengers and never seemed to complain.
During one of their worship services, a rogue wave broke over the ship, split the mast in pieces, and poured down between the decks. Screams of terror broke out among the English passengers, but the Moravians calmly continued singing their hymns and praying.
John was astounded by their calm demeanor and approached one of their leaders. ‘Weren’t you afraid?’ he asked.
‘I thank God, no,’ the man replied.
‘But weren’t your women and children afraid to die?’ John asked.
‘No, our women and children are not afraid to die,’ the man said mildly.
Fear and vanity
John recognised he still harboured a fear of death within himself. If he was a true Christian, he reasoned, he would have no fear of death. He continued to ponder this in his heart.
After John arrived in America, he had an encounter with another Moravian pastor who asked him some personal questions. ‘Have you the witness within yourself?’ the pastor enquired. ‘Does the Spirit of God bear witness with your spirit that you are a child of God?’
John was stumped and didn’t know how to respond.
‘Do you know Jesus Christ?’ the pastor continued.
‘I know he is the Saviour of the world…’ John answered.
‘True, but do you know he has saved you?’
‘I hope he has died to save me,’ John replied, somewhat weakly.
‘Do you know yourself?’
‘I do,’ John replied, but in his heart, he feared they were vain words.
Religious preacher – but still searching personally for relationship
John served as a missionary for two years in Savannah, Georgia, among Native Americans and other immigrants. Somewhat discouraged by his experience there, he decided to give up and return to England. As he departed, he said, ‘I went to America to convert Indians; but oh, who shall convert me?’
‘Who…will deliver me from this evil heart of unbelief?’ he asked. ‘I have a fair summer religion. I can talk well and believe myself while no danger is near, but let death look me in the face and my spirit is troubled. Nor can I say, “To die is gain.”’
When John returned to England he consulted with Moravian Pastor Peter Bohler. John confessed to Peter he thought he should stop preaching. How could he continue to preach what he himself did not possess?
‘Preach faith till you have it,’ Peter advised him, ‘and then because you have it you will preach it.’
John preached his first message of ‘salvation by faith alone’ to a death-row prisoner. He recognised now that salvation was by faith, not works. But he still couldn’t grasp the idea that salvation could happen in a moment – that it could be instantaneous.
He began to search the scripture. ‘I could not understand how this faith should be given in a moment; how a man could at once be turned from darkness to light, from sin and misery to righteousness and joy in the Holy Ghost.’
John pored over the Book of Acts. ‘To my utter astonishment, I hardly found any instances there other than instantaneous conversions,’ he noted. He found only sudden conversions! None of them were gradual. All were instantaneous.
Because of his background and training he couldn’t accept this conclusion. It may have been this way during the time of the Apostles he reasoned, but not today.
Peter Bohler brought several people to John who gave their witnesses to him of their instantaneous conversions, ‘from darkness into light, out of sin and fear into holiness and happiness.’
John was struck by what he heard. ‘I could now only cry out: “Lord, help my unbelief.”’
He couldn’t deny the testimonies of these witnesses who had sudden conversions. He began to preach this new faith-oriented message in his church, even though he did not yet possess it himself. But he met a hostile reaction within his own church. Before long, he found the doors of the churches where he ministered closed against him.
Personal experience at last
But the hour was at hand for John to pass from death into life. At long last, he was to experience this conversion for himself.
He attended a Moravian service on Aldersgate Street in London, where a minister read from Martin Luther’s preface to the Book of Romans.
John describes this significant moment: ‘About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation: and an assurance was given me, that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.’
John Wesley, the Episcopalian clergyman, had finally found Christ in a personal, saving way. He trusted in Christ, in him and him alone, without works, without any efforts of his own.
Wesley noted the change in his heart immediately after his conversion. ‘I have constant peace – not one unholy thought. And I have freedom from sin – not one unholy desire.’
Such was the experience of the great founder of Methodism, the spiritual father of untold multitudes.
Like the apostle Paul, both men were highly educated. Both were deeply religious. Paul was a member of the Sanhedrin. Wesley was an ordained minister of the Anglican Church. Neither was saved. Both had to be converted.
Statue of John Wesley
If Wesley could do so much in the church, and yet not know Christ personally, what about you?
Religion without Christ is like an empty shell without a kernel. It is dead. Religion is not salvation. It is Christ who saves.
You may be a member of the church and yet not be saved. You may be very sincere and still not know Christ. You may perform many good deeds and never be born again. Let me urge you to make your calling and election sure. Be certain. Nothing else matters. It is Jesus Christ or eternal death.
Mark Ellis is a seasoned ASSIST senior correspondent (www.assistnews.net) and founder of the acclaimed www.Godreports.com. See also this month’s Focus
ELEVEN COMPONENTS OF EFFECTIVELY LEADING VOLUNTEERS
Dick Hardy, pastoral leadership asks a relevant question:
Have you ever wondered what it takes to effectively lead a group of volunteers at church?
Volunteers play such a huge role and knowing how to effectively lead them will make the world of difference in your ministry.
I’ve often considered the whole business of leading volunteer teams, boards or committees (whether of one person or of 30 people or more).
Any pastor’s fulfilling task
There are 11 components of leading any group of church leaders. Leading a group of volunteers can be one of the most fulfilling tasks a pastor or church leader has the privilege of doing. At the same time, it is not without its challenges.
Leadership at this level carries with it great opportunity. With its mission in the balance, it is important that you provide the best leadership possible to all those involved.
From day one of your leadership with a church board, committee or any group of volunteers, you are building a track record. Sports teams and fans always look at the record of the new coach they hire. You will read of a career record of 279-82. You do not read of career records of 82-279. Even the smallest of your decisions is credited or discredited to your leadership.
What does leadership to these groups look like and how can it be done effectively?
There are a variety of components of leadership at this level. None of these should be overlooked in your effort to move the group forward in accomplishing the mission of the church. Leadership must be …
Skip this one at your own peril. As good as you are, you are not that good. With God, you are really good. When leading a group of men and women around a table, always be aware that the true leader is the one who put you there.
This is more than opening meetings with prayer. This means you need to fervently seek God as you chart his course for the church. Believe me, in the weeks, months and years that follow your consistent trail of prayer (when you hit major issues or challenges), you will be glad you prayed.
The monster mistake any pastor or church leader can make is to assume that because of their position they can command leadership respect. Sometimes true but frequently not. Leadership must be earned.
New pastors and church leaders in particular should spend time with the group as a whole and with board, committee or volunteer members individually. You do so not to coddle them but to truly get to know them and demonstrate who you are as a leader.
Investing in these individuals in the present will pay huge dividends when tough issues confront the group in the future. Your ability to earn and garner leadership capital with this group is critical to the advancement of the mission of the church.
When leading a people you must always be certain in that which you are leading. As a caveat let me note that there are times when we do not feel certain. In fact sometimes we feel quite uncertain and we need the group we lead to help us process. That is a good and necessary role for the group to play.
However, at the end of that processing, once a decision is made, it is your role to be clear in your leadership. Muddy leadership sets you up for more misery than you have time for.
This is where the purist-at-heart sometimes struggles. They view it as manipulative. It can be but need not be. Leadership is about taking a group of people from where they are to a place where they want to be. To do that you must be smart.
For example, if you have an influencer on issue ABC at the table and you know they can sway opinions around the table, let them in on the ABC issue to be discussed ahead of any group meeting. Explain why the decision you want is critical to the advancement of the ministry (assuming it is) and why you want them to help you carry the water. You must always be selective when taking this step.
5. Unafraid of conflict
Please note that your longevity at the church will contribute to a greater sustainability of your leadership but it does not guarantee you will be conflict free. You must be certain that in all you do there will be detractors, even after you have been at the church a long time.
When they present themselves you cannot run. You must be ready to address differing opinions of the people in your area(s) of ministry and be ready to move forward. If you constantly acquiesce to those with whom you are in conflict you really will not be the leader.
Leaders don’t pick fights but they are always aware of the potential for conflict and the need to address it.
One of the worse things a pastor or church leader can do is to take Ephesians 4:11 to the furthest extreme and hand everything off to a church board, committee or any group of church leaders, expecting that they will come with a God-directed decision in the absence of senior spiritual leadership. It’s not going to happen!
While you should continually equip volunteer leaders to lead in their own right, you must also remain engaged in all that happens.
(On this note, if you are leading a governing group, never allow for a church board to meet in your absence, even if it is to decide the color of napkins for the Christmas Banquet. I’m always amazed how simple short meetings become a forum for a disgruntled board member to bring up a pet issue in the absence of the lead pastor). Stay active – always!
7. Spiritually attuned
Throughout one’s leadership, a pastor or church leader must never lose sight of their ordained assignment as a spiritual leader in the ministry.
At all times you must lead with sensitivity to the Lord’s guidance. Listen for that which is said and that which is unsaid. Do not pass over issues with spiritual overtones even if you feel a team member is making something spiritual out of that which is not. You never know how the Lord will speak to you, and sometimes it comes in ways we might not expect. So maintaining sensitivity is critical.
It is important that the Bible be your guide in all you do in leading people. While there is a variety of interpretations of what scripture commands and/or permits, it is always true that you must demonstrate an understanding of biblical roles and responsibilities.
Conduct yourself in leadership with an understanding of their unique roles in the body. Further, be sure that on the interpersonal level your demonstration of leadership is never in conflict scripture. In other words, don’t fly off the handle when things don’t go your way!
Like anything else, styles change. That includes styles of leadership. This can be particularly challenging to older pastors or church leaders. The way they led in the 90s or 00s may not work today. You may have dealt with volunteers that were generally older than you back then.
Now they may be generally younger than you. Clearly those generational differences and how they manifest themselves will dictate how you adjust your leadership with this key group.
You are not just one of the guys/gals. While you want to identify with those you lead, you must also remember that you lead In other words, your role as leader sets you a part from them in some ways.
You can be friends no doubt, but know that you’re also their leader, and with that come times when you have to steer people along – even your friends.
At the end of the day the issue will be whether you have lead the ministry and volunteers to the highest level of accomplishing mission. Whether you did this with flare or with bumps along the way will be less important. How you lead and whether you lead with humility will mean everything. It is clearly possible for church leaders to lead with strength, confidence and humility. Pray to that end.
If you follow this advice you will find a rich experience in leading the volunteers in your ministry. Begin with prayer and travel with humility. At the end of the journey God will say, ‘Well-done!’
Recommended – link: firstname.lastname@example.org.
BACK TO CHRISTIAN BASICS
Bill Muehlenberg (Bill Muehlenberg’s Commentaries on Issues of the Day) challenges…
One of the most tragic realities of contemporary Western Christianity is the fact that so many Christians simply do not read their Bibles. Certainly many – if not most – do not read the Bible regularly, daily, and determinedly. This has to be one of the great scandals of today’s church.
How can we claim to be lovers of God and disciples of Christ if we neglect perhaps his greatest gift to us: his written Word? Scripture is not just our guidebook, our rock, and our sustenance, but it contains God’s love letters to his own people.
Claiming to love God, yet ignoring his word
How can we claim to love God yet ignore and treat with disdain his love letters to us? Just remember when you were first in love, and perhaps separated from your beloved. You looked forward every day to a letter in the mailbox, or today, an email in your inbox. You could not wait to hear from the one you loved.
Should this not be our attitude to the one who loves us so deeply, and who we claim to love? This hit home to me again today in my daily reading of the word. I am now in Joshua again, and a few verses in chapter one jumped out at me. In Joshua 1:7-8 we read these words:
‘Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.’
Yahweh’s words to Joshua are not just fully relevant for him, but fully relevant for us as well. And at the risk of being presumptuous here, one might have reversed the order here. One cannot obey God’s word until one first reads and studies God’s word. But we get the message here.
Joshua was obedient
And as James Montgomery Boice has said in his expository sermons on the book of Joshua, ‘In some ways these verses are the most important in the entire book, and it is because Joshua obeyed them that he is a great biblical figure.’
Boice says the commission to Joshua from Yahweh entails four aspects: Joshua was to…
1. Know God’s word.
2. Talk about God’s word.
3. Meditate on God’s word.
4. Obey God’s word.
Let me share part of what he says about point three: ‘Meditation is a step beyond mere knowledge of the scripture or mere talking about it. Meditation implies reasoning about the word and deducing things from it. Meditation has application as a goal. Unfortunately, this is a discipline far too few Christians today know anything about.
‘We live in an age of superficiality and spoon-feeding. Consequently, many of today’s Christians think that all a person has to do to be successful in the Christian life is go to church, pay passing attention to the sermon, have a few Christian friends, and go on about their business as one would without these other elements.
‘That is why Christians make so little difference in our society. They think like the world, and as a result, they act like the world. Their conduct and the conduct of pagans, apart from the grosser sins, is indistinguishable. What is missing? The missing element is deep, genuine, and persistent meditation on the Word of God. It is only as the Word of God gets into our minds and begins to become part of our normal, day-to-day reasoning and thinking that we begin to act differently and thereby make a difference.’
Secret of success
He concludes his commentary on this section of Joshua with these words: ‘According to the Bible, the secret of success is to know God’s word, speak about it, meditate on it, and then, above all, do it. In God’s world there is no substitute for full obedience.
‘That was why Joshua was so successful. Joshua was a good soldier, but he was no more brilliant as a commander than countless others who have swept across the battle plains of world history. Joshua was a leader of men, but he was no more gifted at that than many others. Joshua’s great secret was that he made it his job to know the law of God and do it.
‘In Deuteronomy 27 there are instructions for how the law was to be read from Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim after the people had entered and begun to possess the land. When Joshua got to that point in the unfolding of God’s plan, he did exactly that – to the tiniest detail. Joshua did not try to second-guess or improve on God’s instructions.
‘Moreover, when he reached the end of his life, this was still his overriding concern, for he instructed the people with very nearly the identical words God had originally given him: “Be very strong; be careful to obey all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, without turning aside to the right or to the left” (Josh. 23:6). That is what we need today: not increasingly clever methods, still less increasingly clever people, but obedience informed and motivated by the living and abiding Word of God.”’
Wisdom from Schaeffer – 40 years ago!
Let me add a few more wise words on this passage from another favourite author of mine. Back in 1975 Francis Schaeffer published a collection of sermons on this book entitled Joshua and the Flow of Biblical History. He reminds us of the supreme importance of the word of God in our life.
In a day when all kinds of spurious and counterfeit sources of authority are being appealed to and heeded by gullible and undiscerning Christians, he reminds us that the word and the word alone must be our foundation here. On this passage he says in part:
‘As the Israelites stood ready to enter the land, God’s main emphasis was on the book.’ He reminds us that Joshua would receive some special revelation through the priest, the Urim, and so on, but ‘this was not to detract from the central reference point and chief control: the written book. The Word of God written in the book set the limitations. Thus, Joshua was already functioning in the way Bible-believing Christians function.
‘Sometimes God does lead in other ways, but such leading must always be within the circle of his external, propositional commands in scripture. Even if a person had a Urim and a Thummim as well as a priest to guide him, this would not change his basic authority. The primary leading would come from the written, propositional revelation of God, from the Bible.
‘So we see that the written book was the first of the three changeless factors that stood with Joshua as he assumed leadership. . . . Throughout his life, Joshua was obedient. Of all the factors that gave him such success, the most important was that he heeded God’s admonition about the book.’
Non-negotiable basics for every Christian!
Reading the word, studying the word, applying the word and obeying the word: These are utterly non-negotiable basics of the Christian life. If you find yourself floundering, spinning your wheels, and getting nowhere fast in your Christian journey, then ask yourself this: ‘Am I reading the word daily, applying it, and obeying it fully?’
If not, then of course your Christian life will be a disaster. If you won’t do these most basic of Christian requirements to be a disciple of Christ, then don’t expect God to just zap you with spirituality and godliness. It just isn’t gonna happen. God does not work that way.
He has already shown us what we must do if we want to prosper and know success as his people. So are we doing it or not?
Bill Muehlenberg is Secretary of the Family Council of Victoria and lectures in ethics and philosophy at various Melbourne theological colleges. Recommended link: Culture Watch – http://billmuehlenberg.com also Bill’s books Dangerous Relations: The Threat of Homosexuality and Strained Relations: The Challenge of Homosexuality. Available from Koorong and Amazon.