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Repost: Gospel Ministry is not you speaking truthfully about God

It is that… but “to another human”. Think about that for a moment; it’s an important aspect not to miss. You don’t just “do” ministry, you do ministry “to people”.

God made, became and uses humans. Ignoring the human aspect of ministry is a denial of God’s creation. You’re speaking to God-designed humans; humans who have been made to think, react, feel, engage, etc. Disregard for their humanness when speaking God’s words is a disregard for God’s design.

So how are you thinking about the humans you’re doing ministry to?

#Nexus2015 – Cross Shaped Ministry – What was missing…

(The recent Nexus2015 Conference “A cross shaped ministry” thought through the implications the cross has on how we think about gospel work in our churches. These are some of my personal reflections – see the previous 4 reflections here.)

I do feel there was an significant theme missing from the conference, and while I understand it’s a day conference and you can’t touch on everything, I think this is important. In fact, when I asked our staff team what ministry implications they think spring from the cross, they answered this one first… evangelism.

5. The cross defines the importance of gospel ministry

If God didn’t spare his only Son… if, when His eternal Son begged him for another way, He answered, “No – There is no other way”… then woe be to those who now suggest there is anything greater than declaring the work of His Son. As there is no other name compares to Jesus’ name to be saved, so there is no other work that compares to Jesus’ work of bringing all things together under himself. And we get to be part of that work!

Or put another way; The cross of Christ is the very heart of God’s message to the world! It’s not a message to the disciples, or to the Jews… its God’s message to the world. God does not put an enormous flaming message in the sky saying “I’m sorry” (as in Douglas Adam’s galaxy). Rather he puts His Son on a cross and says, “It’s done”.

6. The cross defines the extent of gospel ministry

At the cross, Jesus purchased men for God (Rev 5:9), he was the Sovereign Lord who bought people (2Pet 2:1), he reconciled all things in heaven and earth visible and invisible to God (Col 1:20), he was a ransom (Mark 10:45).

Everyone in the world, because of the cross, belongs to Jesus. He bought them. They are his. This means that evangelism is not simply inviting people to consider Jesus (though we rightly want people to do this), rather our driving motivation is the knowledge and conviction that Jesus is already their Lord. We are pleading for people to “Kiss his son, or he will be angry and your way will lead to your destruction, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.” (Psalm 2).

They are His. We are right to covet what rightly belongs to our Lord. The extent of the cross should make us want more and more and more and more people to bow the knee. The cross should cause in us a holy-discontent with the size of our churches.

7. The cross AND RESURRECTION provides the hope of gospel ministry

I know this might be a fudge, as the focus was really only meant to be on the cross, but when it comes to gospel ministry, the resurrection and the cross need to be held together don’t they?

The resurrected Christ now pours out his Spirit – and that spirit is the ONLY hope we have in gospel ministry. Without the resurrected Christ’s Spirit at work in us and those we serve there is no gospel ministry to speak of.

What’s more, Jesus promises to save people! The resurrected and ascended Christ should give us great hope and enduring confidence to keep praying for more, keep speaking to more, keep running events and courses and calling people to invite their friends… We should be courageous, risky, bold… not in our own strength, but because we believe that Jesus died to save and rose to reign.

The resurrected Christ should keep us from being disheartened, and keep us zealous in prayer and evangelism.

#Nexus2015 – Cross Shaped Ministry – Reflections Part 2

(The recent Nexus2015 Conference “A cross shaped ministry” thought through the implications the cross has on how we think about gospel work in our churches. These are some of my personal reflections.)

3. The cross sets the terms of gospel ministry

The cross was divine judgement for sin, and Jesus’ resurrection brings the Spiritual renewal and transformation from sin. This lead to one of the most practical comments on the day… we must beware a common shift in our churches where “sin” only refers to “personal brokenness”, where “growth” only refers to “self-improvement” and where “sacrifice” only refers to “the personal circumstances I’m in at the moment”.

No. Sin is the rebellion against God, the defiant disobedience of His commands in heart and actions. Growth is the miraculous spiritual transforming power that allows Christians to say no to sin and obey God in the midst of pain. Sacrifice is giving up things for a better heavenly reality – it hurts and we need to stop fooling ourselves that we’re doing it.

4. The cross shows us the the pattern of gospel ministry

Since we follow a master who was beaten, ridiculed, persecuted… we should expect the same things, and we should call others to follow.

This is similar to the 1st point about our personal motivations, but it must go further. When we call on others to follow and serve in our churches, we must be wary we are not suggesting they do it for their own glory, or in their own strength, or for us – the under-shepherd! Rather the “recruiting conversation” should be a call to serve their master and his plans.

Next post… “Nexus2015 – What was missing…”

#Nexus2015 – Cross Shaped Ministry – Reflections Part 1

(The recent Nexus2015 Conference “A cross shaped ministry” thought through the implications the cross has on how we think about gospel work in our churches. These are some of my personal reflections.)

1. The cross kills our wrong ministry motivations

We don’t do ministry to try to “pay back God”. We don’t do ministry to “stay in God’s good books”. We don’t do ministry because we’re afraid God will be angry with us if we don’t.

The cross of Christ, in our place, purchasing forgiveness and freedom from judgement saves us from all these errors. We are wise to go back to the cross and there remember it is all done, our heavily Father is pleased with us in Christ.

2. The cross kills our wrong worldly motivations

May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Gal 6:14

Our union with Jesus, is a union with him in his death and resurrection. So much so that Paul says his relationship with the world is viewed through the lens of being crucified. I think that means the world sees him as good as dead, and he sees the world as good as dead.

In other words, the cross reminds us that this world is moving towards destruction to make way for a new creation to fit Jesus’ resurrected body and Jesus’ resurrected people.

This should affect our concerns, our desires, our goals for life. It should make us pause when thinking about our hopes and dreams – for they should not be filled with this world’s offerings, but with the next world’s promises. The cross means greed and coveting is even more inappropriate – if that were possible.

More to come…

Why most people get the ‘T’ in MTS wrong…

The Ministry Training Strategy (www.mts.com.au) is an awesome and much needed part of the Australian Christian landscape. But… most people think the ‘T’ in MTS is about being a Trainee… they think it’s the Ministry Trainee Strategy… and they’re wrong.

MTS is very keen on young men and women doing a two-year full-time hands-on word-ministry placement before further theological training and/or Pastoral Leadership roles. The MTS Movement wants to see thousands of people do these Traineeships. But MTS is not primarily about Trainees… the ‘T’ is MTS is really the Ministry Trainer Strategy.

MTS is about young men and women becoming Ministry Trainers – for the rest of their life.

Let me put this another way… if you were an MTSer and you’re not currently training (or recruiting) someone into full-time gospel-leadership… you’ve stopped being part of the Strategy, you’ve missed the point of MTS… that you’re never meant to leave, you’re never meant to stop calling others into full-time gospel-leadership. Your MTS involvement was never meant to end.

Are you a trainee who dropped out, or are you a trainer who’s still part of the strategy?

 

p.s. If you do want to get back on the Trainer “horse”, grab some keen Christians from your ministry and come along to the MTS Mission Minded Conference in Sept 11-13 2015.

When choosing your battles becomes laziness

The conventional wisdom is to “choose your battles” and it makes lots of sense. It’s a good application of 1Peter 4:8 “love covers a multitude of sins”. 

But choosing your battles can easily become and excuse for never entering into battles. 

The Lord’s servant should not quarrel, but should correct, rebuke and encourage. These all involve battles of some sort. 

So, as we choose our battles, we should also be aware of our own temptation to avoid entering battles at all. We are, after all, soliders dressed in the Lord’s armour. 

If their “attitude” is poor, should you tell them to just stop serving?

Well yes, it really depends on what you mean by having a “poor attitude”.

But extremes aside, if someone’s attitude is just “off” or “a bit grumpy” about being part of a ministry… what should you do? Tell them to stop serving until their attitude is right? Or, tell them to just righten-up their attitude?

I think there’s two lenses to consider this question… is there a human aspect? Is there a gospel aspect?

It could just be that life is all too much at the moment, and they’re stuffed. They might just be tired. That is, they might have a good gospel attitude (if you asked them) but they’re just not aware of how they are responding or how they’re appearing and speaking to other people. That means you’re in a position to offer wise counsel about how to plan to serve (avoid late night tv the night before, etc.) and how to smile and talk to people while they’re serving. You’re helping them do what they already think is a good thing to do… just better… without the apparent chip on their shoulder.

But, it could be that they don’t want to serve Jesus and his people, or they feel like that role is beneath them. They might think they shouldn’t really have to serve and that Christian service should be like the self-serve check-outs at the shops… sure you have to try a bit hard, but there’s certain perks to it?!? They might not think their life is Jesus’ possession.

Even in many of these circumstances, I’d want to suggest they keep serving while you work through it with them.

Because serving isn’t something Christians choose to do… it’s part of our DNA… we follow a servant king. Telling someone to stop serving is like telling a fish to stop swimming because they find the water too warm.

If possible have them keep on swimming, keep on serving and all the while, keep helping them feel the privilege of serving their saviour.

If you recruit on the basis of need you will usually get “average”

It is common for Christians to make a call for people to get involved or sign up to serve or even to give because there is a great need.
And there is a great need!
However, if the need is the only basis you ever use for that call you will usually get only average responses. When things are simply “needs” they only need simplistic solutions. Stop gaps. Temporary fixes.
However, when you call people to be involved in something massive, something’s that will matter and make a difference, you might get fewer people, but you will get more invested people.
It’s the difference between, “hey, we really really need Sunday school teachers or else the class can’t run” and “hey, there are 10 kids you are like sponges every Sunday, and you could be one of the people they thank God for putting in their life when they are 60 years old.”

You’ll never nail it, you just operate between tolerances

A thermostat never keeps the temperature exactly right, it just has a “too hot” and “too cold” number, and tries to keep the temperature between those. And that’s like much of how we do ministry.

Preaching that tends to focus on Godly obedience and rejoicing in grace… you’ll never nail it. Even if you think you have, some people will hear one more than the other. But you need to make sure you’re operating between tolerances.

Preaching that teaches the deep truths of the faith and preaching that has detailed “how-to” application… you’ll never nail it. But you need to be aware of the tolerances you should work between.

Church meetings that are great for newbies and church meetings that help established Christians in their walk… Growth Groups that facilitate deep relationships and Growth Groups that facilitate maturity and biblical understanding and faith and obedience in God… Welcoming that helps the majority and welcoming that helps the minority…

We shouldn’t come down on either side of any of these. But rather realise that we can never nail it, we just operate between tolerances.

 

Avoid the trap… Secular work “just as valuable” as gospel work?

The complaint usually goes like this; “When you keep challenging us to give up our careers and secular work, you’re subtly implying that our work is not as valuable as gospel work and that makes us feel like second class citizens in the church. You should see that all good work is part of God’s good intention for the world. It helps people have food, housing, health, education. These are just as valuable as gospel work.”

When faced with this, you could defend the claim that gospel work is more valuable than secular work (which it is) – but I think this is falling into a trap.

The whole question/challenge carries with it an “identity misunderstanding”. Your identity is not defined by your career. It never was and never will be. Your identity is defined by God’s declaration about you at the cross. If you feel like a second class citizen when I attack your career as less valuable than gospel work… why?? Is your identity caught up in your career or life-decisions? Don’t let it be!

There are two things to discuss, 1) Your identity in Christ that is perfect and unalterable, 2) Your work that can be more or less valuable in light of God’s plans and purposes for the universe.

So… the mother who wakes at 3am again to look after her kids because God values families does good. The terminally-ill patient who lies in a hospital bed and prays for the people she knows and the staff who serve her, she does an enormous good. Both activities are much more valuable than testing the accounting software for a finance company who underwrites the insurance policies of other companies who do some aspect of manufacturing (like what I used to do).

So, you ARE valuable in Christ, and therefore, give up your ambitions and DO the most valuable thing with your life you reasonably can… which is as much gospel work as you can.

 

Long & wordy offers unwittingly communicate immense workload

If you’re going to ask someone to take on a responsibility, make it short. Not the responsibility… but the “ask”.
If you make the “ask” long and wordy, it will communicate that this task you’re offering them is so huge, so massive, so immense, that you have to take a long time to ask them. Instead, make it short.
“Hey Bill, could you lead a growth group night in a few weeks?”
Don’t say anything else. Just stop there. Let them answer. If they say no, that’s fine, all the words in the world probably wouldn’t have changed their mind anyway.
If they say, “Maybe” you can ask them what their concerns are, and you can address those concerns.
If they say yes, you can then go through the details they need to know.

If you make the ask BIG, then you’ll only freak them out by the apparent BIGNESS of the task.

Phone calls, SMSs, email, Social media and Pastoral Ministry

Since we pastor people, and people are not in a vacuum but are part of a culture, the cultural norms and tools affect what pastoral ministry look like from generation to generation. Our culture uses SMSs, phone-calls, emails and social media in particular ways, and if we are pastoring cultural-normalised sheep, we need to properly leverage these tools. So here’s my current perception/opinions/ideas… that will probably be proved wrong in many cases… But just observing the 18-25 year olds…

  • Phone calls are for serious business. They are the 90’s equivalent of a formal letterhead. Calling to just say “hi” is a confusion of categories. Phone conversations needs to be planned-in; you need to SMS in advance, “Hey, can I phone you about this? How about now?”. This generation is telling us that the prospect of getting a “welcome phone call” is somewhere between weird and scary… and yet… if it’s done well, it still works!! Maybe because no-one else does it and they realise there’s actually a real person at the other end of the communication (sometimes lost in SMSs).
  • SMSs are the new phone-calls. They work for our current Individualistic culture, because they are easily ignored. You don’t have to reply straight away. The message has arrived, but you are culturally allowed to deal with it in your own time (10mins, 10hrs, even 10days!!!). This means, while SMSs do steal people’s attention, they are good ways of one-way communication. And they do open the door to two-way communication.
    We’ve recently tried sending mass SMSs to our whole church to pray for an evangelistic even WHILE it happens. Anecdotally, this has been received well.
  • Email is more and more becoming a one-way communication tool. Most people are swamped by emails… but what that usually means is that they only respond to a very few of the emails they think they should respond to. Let me say that again… people still read almost all their email (headers/subjects at least). And for many of these emails, they feel an internal conviction that they SHOULD reply or take some action, but they don’t. Therefore email has become a huge source of individual guilt for people. They are not swamped by email, but rather swamped by the guilt produced when they look at email. Take home message, if you want a response, email is very unlikely to garner much.
  • Social media is still a new beast. Someone somewhere made the valid point that in 20years time we’ll look back and think, what on earth were we doing then!?! It has certain characteristics of SMS and email; there’s so much of it (like email), but people don’t feel the guilt they do with email. It’s also personal like SMS. We’ve found that people are more willing to give their Facebook details and be Private Messaged on FB than they are being SMSed… maybe a trend to continue?

One of the take home messages is, if you’re involved in pastoring people aged 15-25… you should consider SMSing them a lot! I mean a lot… from a pastoral point of view, you get easy access to people’s personal thoughts almost 24/7. And then when you do meet with them, they feel much more connected to you – even if you don’t feel much more connected to them.

When they say, “Church needs some people to NOT do full-time ministry”…

It seems like a sound argument… If 100% of Christians tried to do paid-ministry, there’d be no-one to pay them. Therefore the church needs people who will faithfully decide to not do paid-ministry. Right?

Even though the statement is “true” it fails on three counts.

  1. It’s putting the cart before the horse. You don’t make a decision about entering paid-ministry on the basis of whether other people are doing it. You offer your life to God, you work it out with him – regardless of what other people are doing. What if God actually wants lots of people going into paid ministry!?!?
  2. No-where near 100% of people are going into full-time ministry. In fact, only about 50% of people who start on the road to paid-ministry end up in paid-ministry. Our church has a congregation of uni-students & grads, and only about %4 of them start on the road to full-time paid ministry!
    But think about all the other churches around Australia where students and grads are NOT being challenged to consider paid-ministry!!! That 4% ends up closer to 1%.
    Your church may not need more paid-ministers, but Jesus’ church does. So train at your church and take it to other churches.
  3. The argument implies that people who choose to “stay in the workforce” will be just as helpful to the gospel by being able to pay for others DOING paid-ministry (as compared to going into paid-ministry themselves).
    Anecdotally, this is false. If it were true, wouldn’t these people be making the same financial sacrifices those entering FT ministry make? The average MTS Scholarship is about $25-$30k. If you really believe the argument above, doesn’t that mean you should invest every cent you earn above $25k into gospel workers – people who are doing MTS?

The similarity between Ministry and Magic…

…it’s only cool until you know how its done.

Every kid who’s seen a magic trick starts imagining themselves as a magician. That’s why toy stores sell those starter-magic kits. But if they sold so many, wouldn’t there me so many more magicians?

The reality is, as soon as a kid realises that the magic trick is more trick than magic, they quickly lose interest. Doing magic is only cool when it’s amazing. When you’re just hiding a card in the other hand, it’s boring.

Inviting young men and women to consider a lifetime of gospel ministry is a bit like that. They see you doing “impressive” and “amazing” Christian ministry…. they hear the bible knowledge and wisdom… wow! But when they start doing it, they soon realise that ministry is hard work, taking hours of preparation time, years of just reading the bible one your own and with others. Regurgitating the same wisdom you’ve been given over the years. It loses it’s shine.

Which is sad, because ministry really is the closest thing to real magic in the end. By the grace of God, we see people move from death to life. God uses us to raise the dead, proclaim forgiveness of sins, melt hearts of stone, rejoice for eternity. Amazing.

Reblog: Who do they love?

Ministry is a hard game. We’re building relationships with people, as we help them build a relationship with Jesus. Its a big volunteer game too; we invite them to devote themselves to projects and events…
But there’s a wonderful question I was taught during my apprenticeship; Always ask yourself the question; Who do they love? You or Jesus?
As we do ministry, we become close to people, we become friends and team mates. And so when we ask them to help us, they can find it very easy to say “yes” to us – because of the relationship we have with them. And yet, they may have no desire to do those same things for Jesus. They just do it because we’ve asked them to.
Are your keen people doing what they’re doing because they love Jesus, or because they love you?

A map to help people find their way into serving…

One of my responsibilities is to help pastor everyone at our church to have servant hearts and find their way into serving in formal ways at HBC. We recently sat down and realised that the types of roles we would like (and need) people to jump into aren’t always that obvious.
Either they don’t know it’s an option, or they don’t realise we need people to step up.
We also realised that people probably didn’t have an idea that there were levels of responsibilities, and we needed people to keep stepping up into greater levels of leadership.
So we put out a one-pager that we can put in front of people and say, “hey, can I talk to you about where you might fit now, and where you might fit in the next few years…”
See it here. What do you think?

Reblog: Empty bucket theology

Some people have complete ideas in their heads, some people have fuzzy ideas in their heads, and some people have “empty buckets” when it comes to certain ideas.
All of these people have things they need to change… “Complete theological concepts” will always have things that need to be uncovered, undermined and re-understood. “Fuzzy theological concepts” need to be sharpened, and strengthened, and built.
But what do you do with “empty bucket theological concepts”?
The first thing is to pick it when you see it. The type of conversation you have with an empty-bucket is very different to a fuzzy or complete.
But when you do see it, it’s gives you an opportunity for great joy in simply filling a bucket with God’s thoughts. There’s nothing to take out, change, alter; just fill.
The best possible outcome is watching them fill their own empty bucket as they read God’s word. So help them do that.

Should you serve if you don’t have the skills?

Some Christians will “humbly” say they can’t do this or they can’t take on that because they feel they don’t have the required skills. This presents an opportunity to pastor them:

  • Jesus designed them with gifts to serve the body – maybe they do have those gifts – they just don’t know it yet?
  • Jesus uses people to get his work done. It’s not your work, it’s Jesus’ work.
  • People are too important to not let some things happen. Love for people drives us to do things we don’t feel equipped to do.
  • Do parents feel equipped to be parents? No!
  • This is an opportunity to trust God more than your trust your skills.
  • Does this display a human-centric view of service and Christianity? Does God need you to be good-enough to serve him? No!
  • Are you potentially afraid of what might happen? If it goes badly? If it goes well?

How should you instill in people a godly ambition to take on more responsibility?

It’s helpful when people “step-up” and take on more responsibility. It allows leaders to delegate more and start new things and keep things going. But how should we motivate people to step-up? Rewards? Notoriety? Offer to meet up with them 1:1? Offer them more time with “the staff”? (that might back-fire)

I reckon its the idea of stewardship. Paul says “You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” He says this in the context of avoiding sexual immorality, but the principle he goes back to is much bigger than that. It’s the idea that Jesus owns you; your body, your energy, your time. You don’t have to choose what to do with your day. You have to choose what to do with Jesus’ day. Jesus entrusts 24hrs of time to you every day… 168hrs every week. 

What are you going to do with Jesus’ time? What are you going to do with the body Jesus has loaned to you?

Lets do something great!

Limiting your ministry to “with my spouse” only

On one hand, married couples have a great ability to focus and influence and care and endorse. I love married couples who do team ministry. It’s great. There are certain seasons of life where this can happen more and others where it happens less.

But, it’s not always “best”. And it shouldn’t be a limiting factor in working out what you and your spouse are going to formally do with church. Why? It turns something that’s meant to be other-person-centred into something that is only thought about “on my terms”. Be very wary if you hear yourself say something like, “that’s not something we could consider because we can’t do it together.” That’s bad. In fact, I don’t even think it should be in the top 5 questions you ask to consider a particular ministry responsibility.

The married couples I’ve seen do ministry for the long term are those that encourage each other in their individual giftedness, rather than limit their serving to their overlapping giftedness. So, think about how you can encourage your spouse to serve Jesus in ways that you never could. Jesus made them for that… and Jesus gave your spouse a great helper to help them… you.