By Andrew Davis, Senior Pastor
Most of us realize that, as Christians, we are supposed to “make disciples of all nations,” (Matt 28:18–20) and that the beginning of this process is evangelism directed toward the lost. We may gladly speak of missions and the task of supporting missionaries in the field as they “make disciples of all nations.” It gets a little scary, however, when the mission field becomes our neighborhood, workplace, or family gatherings.
Fear creeps in and our best intentions may become stifled: “I don’t know what to say!” or “I’m afraid they’ll get mad at me and reject me!” or “What if they ask me a question I can’t answer?” Once fear has done its work, we become effectively silenced, and we become useless to Christ.
But we can’t become useless to Christ in evangelism, for Jesus made it a clear issue: “He who is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (Matt 12:30). Jesus is saying, in effect, “Being ‘with me’ means joining with me as I gather.” If you are not daily joining Christ in His great work of gathering, you are actually against Him and are part of the problem. For Jesus said, “Whoever does not gather with me scatters.” It is simply not an option for a Christian not to be energetically active in evangelism.
So what’s the solution? We feel inadequate for the task, and fear has got us by the throat. Could it be that our biggest problem is we’ve forgotten that our evangelism is actually a big part of our own discipleship process? Jesus made that very plain to his disciples as he walked beside the Sea of Galilee where they were preparing their nets for their next fishing excursion. He saw Peter, John, James, and Andrew, and commanded them to follow him: “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men” (Mark 1:17). “Follow me!!” was a clear command. The four fishermen did just that; they left their boats and nets and followed Christ.
“Follow me” means “be my disciple,” “learn my ways,” “let me teach you day by day.” They would walk with Jesus, observe him dealing with lost people, and listen to his remarkable teachings day after day. They would learn from him in real life settings, and begin to imitate his way of thinking and way of living. This was discipleship. This is what we need now as well.
And what was the outcome of the discipleship? “I will make you to become fishers of men.” In the Greek, Mark 1:17 clearly implies a process—the professional fishermen were completely unable to be spiritual fishermen until Jesus accomplished their training. And Jesus was the only one who could make the transformation in them: “I will make you to become fishers of men.” When they were fully trained, they would “gather” with Jesus for the rest of their lives.
We too need this kind of discipleship. Evangelism is not something we go out from the presence of Christ to accomplish for him, as though it were like some rite of passage whereby Native American boys go out from their elders to prove their manhood by single-handedly killing a buffalo or scaling a cliff to bring back a rare eagle feather. Rather, we are to come to Christ with our weakness and inability and tell him what he already knows: “God, I am not an evangelist and cannot be one unless you make it happen in me.”
Christ can make you, dear reader, what he has commanded you to be: a “gatherer” for his Kingdom. You cannot say “No!” and avoid scattering the very ones he’s trying to gather. Christ must work it in you.
Finally, note Jesus’ methodology. Evangelism training was not done in abstract, in a sterile classroom, divorced from real life. Yes, there was a great deal of “classroom instruction,” but always in context of active, ongoing ministry. We need evangelism training in which the trainees go out and observe more experienced evangelists witness, quietly taking in real life experience. Little by little, they will be ready to train others.
By Andrew Davis, Senior Pastor
Note: This is part-three of a series on balancing the priorities of the church and ministry to the poor. We’ll end this series with part-four early next week.
The New Testament establishes the priority of caring for the Christian poor above the non-Christian poor. The key verse is Galatians 6:10: “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” The first half of the verse exhorts us to a general ministry to the poor and needy who are not of the household of faith. It focuses on providential opportunities God raises up, such as in the Good Samaritan found by the side of the road to Jericho. But the priority structure is clearly toward Christians, as shown by the word “especially.”
And the weight of the New Testament falls in this direction. It is not primarily ministry to the poor of the world that proves whether or not we have been born again, but ministry to Christian brothers and sisters. 1 John 3:17 tells us, “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” The consistent use of “brother” in 1 John is of a fellow Christian, and failure to love a child of God proves you are not born of God yourself.
Many other such passages exist as well. In the “Sheep and the Goats” passage, Jesus identifies completely with the Sheep and calls them “the least of these my brothers.” Those are the hungry, naked, sick and in prison people to whom we should be ministering. The collection taken up in Macedonia, which Paul used as such a stirring example in 2 Corinthians 8–9 was for the “saints.” Paul specifically calls it that three times: 8:4, 9:1, and 9:12. He refers to this same collection in Romans 15:26: “Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem.” Earlier in Romans 12:13, he urges the Roman Christians to “contribute to the needs of the saints.” The church in Acts 2 and 4 shared their resources so there were no needy persons “among them.” These examples and verses could be multiplied.
Thus, our top priority should be to ensure that there are no needy persons in our own local congregations. Beyond this is our obligation to care for Christians in other parts of the world, as the Macedonian Christians did for their Jewish brothers and sisters in Jerusalem. In this day and age of air travel, internet access, CNN, and Skype, we are able to know immediately of Christians in need as soon as an earthquake happens in China, a cyclone in Myanmar, or a Christian village attacked by Muslims in the Sudan. The needs simply of Christians around the world could quickly swamp any local church. This is a challenging concept as we consider what priority should be given to meeting needs of lost people right in our community versus Christians on the other side of the globe.
Another consideration is the care with which the Apostle Paul describes a list of widows who can be supported from the means of the church in 1 Timothy 5. If the local church were required to meet all the physical needs of the poor of the world, it would quickly be overwhelmed. Even a simplified list of needs like the one given by the Apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 6:8—“But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content”—would be beyond the scope of any local church.
I think Tim Keller speaks very helpfully of three levels of ministry to the poor, and of the church recognizing its limits. The three levels he has mentioned are 1) relief; 2) development, and 3) reform. He defines relief as “direct aid to meet physical/material/social needs, and gave examples of homeless shelters, food and clothing services, medical services, crisis counseling, etc.”
However, the provision of the ongoing food, clothing and shelter needs of unbelievers is beyond the scope of the church’s ministry. Paul speaks in 1 Timothy 5 of a list of widows who, it seems, are to be cared for by the church. He speaks a very strong word to families in their responsibility to care for the needs of their members so that the church will not be burdened: “if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever…. If any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her care for them. Let the church not be burdened, so that it may care for those who are really widows” (1 Tim 5:8, 16).
Paul is also very precise about who can and can’t be enrolled in the church’s widow list: “Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband, and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work” (1 Tim 5:9–10).
The careful way in which Paul sets the boundaries of the church’s ongoing responsibility for provision is highlighted by the fact that he is speaking of Christian widows who are church members! If Paul is so careful about that, how much less would he require the church to provide for the ongoing food, clothing and shelter of non-Christian people? Rather, if the church is led by God to this kind of relief work, it will be of an incomplete and symbolic nature, though real as far as it goes. The church needs to set up wise policies limiting how much aid it can give to one individual or a family, lest they inherit a role God did not intend it to have.
By Kevin Schaub, Lead Editor
I know this is a bit of a filler post, but it’s got links to good stuff. Over the summer at FBC Durham, the elders and pastoral staff have rotated to teach through key sections of 1 Corinthians while our senior pastor, Andy Davis, has been away on sabbatical. While no doubt we have missed having our senior pastor with us this summer, one of the neat returns on his sabbatical has been the blessing of hearing good, capable preaching from already six different FBC men in Andy’s stead—with five more to go.
Not only has it been encouraging to experience the preaching of so many different FBC men (with similar hearts, but definitely different preaching styles) this summer, but the wide-ranging content from 1 Corinthians has also made for a very interesting and well-balanced time of teaching over the summer, and it has challenged our hearts to consider just how we as a church body should respond to God’s Word in our current historical and geographical context.
Already in the text, we have dealt with topics like the church by Andy Winn (link), the cross by Tim Pyrant (link), unity and divisions by Kevin Schaub (link), Scripture by Andy Winn (link), suffering by Kyle Mercer (link), church discipline and purity by Rick Lesh (link), missions by Ron Halbrooks (link), marriage and sexual purity by Ashok Nachnani (link), and self-denying holiness by Daniel Renstrom (link). And, we have the Lord’s Supper, spiritual gifts, and the gospel to go!
So, I thought I would link up those sermons in this post (click on the links). No matter where you are in the world, or what church you’re a member of, I think these are well-worth listening to.
Update (8/7): It’s been two Sundays since this post originally went up, so I have added the two most recent sermons into the content above.
By Andrew Davis, Senior Pastor
One of the primary goals of evangelism with adults is to get them to a humble, simple, childlike state in which they are able simply to trust a strong Savior who alone can meet all their needs. This is so because Jesus challenged his own disciples in this way: “I tell you the truth, unless you are converted and become like little children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matt 18:3). But little children are already there! Therefore, the beauty and strategic value of the Christian home is clear, since Christian parents have years of daily opportunity to lead their children to a saving faith in Jesus Christ.
Both mother and father have a vital role to play in this, but it is beneficial for us to look at the evangelistic life of a mother based on 2 Timothy 1:5 and 3:14–15. For a mother can and ought to have a profound influence on the eternal state of her little ones, first leading them to Christ then discipling them day after day by the Word.
Timothy’s mother was Eunice, and his grandmother was Lois. Both had a “sincere” faith before Timothy possessed it: “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Tim 1:5). The word is literally “un-hypocritical,” meaning that their faith was genuine, not merely a show of piety to impress others. Obviously it didn’t mean that they were sinless; it just that they were true believers in God.
These women were Jewish ladies living in the Dispersion in Lystra, far from their place of ancestry. They were surrounded by paganism (see Paul’s experience in Lystra when the people tried to offer them sacrifices, thinking they were Greek gods!), and Eunice had married a Greek unbeliever. But they loved God with a genuine love, and they came to faith in the Messiah, Jesus Christ, when they heard the message. And years before Paul came to complete their Old Covenant faith with news about Christ, they had been training young Timothy “from infancy” through the perfect Word of God: “But now continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 3:14–15).
The Scriptures are fully able to evangelize a young boy, but they must be explained and applied skillfully by a believing teacher. Such was the evangelistic life of Eunice. She lived out her “un-hypocritical” faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in front of her boy, Timothy. She did this apparently without any help from Timothy’s Greek father (Acts 16:1). She began from Timothy’s infancy to lead, guide and nurture him in the Scripture, saturating his mind with the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms. When the message of Christ—the fulfillment—came, Timothy was ready.
Eunice stands as a godly example of the evangelistic life of a mother. If you are a mother of growing children, are you praying and teaching and living faith into your children? Are you actively seeking to bring them to salvation in Christ? Is your faith “un-hypocritical”? (Again, not that you are perfect, but that your faith guides every area of your life at all times—even when you sin, by trusting in Christ’s blood for cleansing.) Is the Bible constantly open in your lap, flowing from your tongue, richly dwelling in your heart? Is your goal to stand someday before the throne of Christ with all your children around you, eternally praising the same Savior? May God make it so in the lives of all mothers! For then will her children “rise up and call her blessed” (Prov 31:28) for the most blessed of reasons!
By Kevin Schaub, Director of Family & Youth Ministry
As a follow-up to Ashok’s recent post on leadership development in the local church, I would like to write a simple word of encouragement and advice to young, developing future leaders. Perhaps you are an under-30-something seminary student, and you’re excited and can’t wait to be a pastor. What practical advice might help you? The following are six things that have come to my mind over the years as I have aspired to be a pastor—nothing really groundbreaking, just helpful reminders.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to be a pastor while not yet being one. In 1 Timothy 3:1, Paul writes, “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.” However, Paul also mentions things like: “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil” (3:6). Even for the role of deacon service, Paul writes that one must be “tested” first (3:10), and there is no reason to think that similar testing should not happen for an aspiring pastor as well.
Also, keep in mind that aspiring for the role of pastor does not guarantee that you’ll get to serve in that role, and for most of us, there is a need for a season of preparation prior to serving in that role. That season of preparation is what should mold together the inward call of the individual to pastoral ministry and the local church’s eventual confirmation of that call upon the evidence of that individual’s qualifications and spiritual maturity.
Be sure to take church membership seriously. If you’re not already involved in a local church, you need to get involved. Don’t expect to be ready to be a pastor anytime soon if you’re not already an active member of a local church. The healthier a church is (i.e., the more it cares about doctrine, church membership, missions, discipleship, and etc.), the more helpful and fruitful your time of preparation under its care will be.
For seminary students moving from their home church to another church near the seminary, there is sometimes the tendency for some to show up at a local church with an expectation to be teaching a Sunday School class or leading a small group within no time. Usually, however, healthy churches just won’t plug new guys in right away. The leadership at good churches will want to get to know you first, to see your spiritual maturity and ability to handle God’s Word in everyday conversation. Don’t worry; it’s not a knock on your character or abilities. Rather, it is a demonstration of their serious commitment to shepherding their flock well.
In other words, while you’re in seminary, if you are at a local church for a year before you are asked to lead a Bible study, then that might be a good thing. It might show that your local church takes ministry and shepherding seriously, which might mean that it’s a good place for you to learn the ropes, while being discipled and developed by a group of godly men.
In addition to the above, be careful not to neglect your studies as you prepare for pastoral ministry, especially your study of God’s Word. Many young men who feel called to ministry are prone to get so excited about reading the latest hot book off the shelves that they risk neglecting their time spent learning from God’s Word itself.
Of course, I think all of us need both, but we need the Bible more than any other book. If you’re a seminary student, keep in mind that one day you will be done as a student at school, but you will never be done as a student of God’s Word, whether you are called to pastoral ministry or not. While you are at seminary or Bible college, make the most of your studies by learning as much as you can; create good habits of study that will last you the rest of your life. However, be sure to read the Word, study it, pray for the Lord to make it increasingly clear to you, that you might see it implanted deeply in your heart.
Don’t neglect to take care of your soul and your family in your days of preparation. One of the great benefits of spending time in the study of God’s Word is that it should have a positive influence on your spiritual growth and your role as leader of your family. And these aren’t things that you can simply switch on once you’re in pastoral ministry.
Many of the qualifications for elder listed in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 have to do with character; for example, he must be above reproach, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, not a drunk. By the Lord’s help, you need to care for your soul now, and make it a habit for the rest of your life. And, of course, the care for your soul happens best within covenant membership in a healthy local church.
Don’t forget to trust in the sovereignty of God along the way, and don’t try to manipulate things while you wait. It seems so obvious, but it needs to be said. There are many ways in which you can “work” your way into becoming a pastor, but most aren’t helpful. I’m sure there are many churches out there that would love to have a young man fill their pulpit and shepherd their souls, and that may be exactly what the Lord wills for you. But, should that opportunity come your way, I would encourage you to talk with your elders and other godly men and women in your church, and ask them whether they think you are ready. And ask them to be as honest as they possibly can.
If you are truly called and truly ready, then a healthy church will confirm that calling, and the Lord will place you in that role of ministry, all when the time is right.
Also check out Jeff Robinson’s blog post, “Ministry Means War: 10 Lessons Seminary Never Taught Me,” at The Gospel Coalition’s website.
By Matthew Hodges, Director of City Outreach
and Kevin Schaub, Director of Family & Youth Ministry
It would be amazing to stand in front of the famous “Castle Geyser” or “Old Faithful” at Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. To stand there because you know full-well that an eruption of water and steam is imminent. To know that once the water has seeped its way down through the geyser’s plumbing and reaches the magma below, that it will be super-heated and then dramatically forced back to the surface in a hydrothermal explosion.
Racial tension in the U.S. in the humdrum of life might not seem to be that big of a deal. But every once in a while, that tension can reach a boiling point, and sometimes, it explodes.
On Saturday night, we were all reminded of the racial tension that still exists in our nation. It’s not necessarily something all of us thinks about every day, but it’s still there under the surface, and at times we’re forced to deal with it. That night, we watched at our homes as the news unfolded that George Zimmerman had been acquitted in his trial for the murder of seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin. Neither of us was surprised. As best as we could tell from the news reports of the trial, the prosecution was unable to prove its case.
Yet, at the same time, neither of our hearts was satisfied either.
From Matthew (co-writer of this post): Last year, I served as a juror in a Wake County murder trial. The facts presented to the court in that case led the jury to find the defendant guilty. But, it was an emotionally draining experience. In that case, the selected jurors had to make their decision based on the admissible evidence and facts alone. The jurors couldn’t draw on their own experiences; they couldn’t act upon what wasn’t known. Whatever justice, therefore, that was served in that trial, was limited, in part, because of those factors. For me, it was one of those reminders that God alone is the one who knows all the facts of all time. God alone is the true server of justice.
As difficult of an experience as that was, the Zimmerman trial and verdict has been different. The whole nation has seemed involved. There were even some small protests in Durham and Raleigh on Sunday after news of the verdict went out. Matthew and I have since wondered what the church should say in response to various reactions we’ve seen and read about due to this blockbuster of a verdict, and, as a church situated in downtown Durham, we have wondered how our membership should speak to the urban community around us in a way that points to the cross of Christ.
Here is some of what we would like to say.
It is a fact that we don’t live in a post-racial culture. We’re sure that you already knew that. It’s just that occasions like the Trayvon Martin saga have been an explosive reminder of something we might be prone to forget: that racial tension still exists, often beneath the surface of our culture. We certainly don’t live in a post-racial world … BUT, we do live in a post-resurrection world, and what happened that Resurrection Day has rendered a death blow to all racism and racial tension, and one day it will all be gone. That is our hope.
We need to be reminded of gospel truths in times like these. To be reminded that in Christ “there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Col 3:11).
When racial tension spikes around us, it’s also helpful for us to be reminded that God is indeed sovereign and he alone knows all the facts. That in itself should remind us to be careful not to pass undue judgment. Unlike our true Judge and King, we don’t know everything. We should therefore be careful, and slow to speak and quick to listen (James 1:19). Often when racial tension explodes to the surface, it’s because we’ve used our tongues to curse rather than to be a blessing (James 3:1–12).
Because of Matthew’s own experiences, and because of the love of Christ that compels him to stand for the truth of Christ’s gospel, we thought it would be good for him to share the following separately, as exhortations to both white and African American brothers and sisters in Christ:
To my white brothers and sisters in Christ, please seek with God’s help to understand the impact of the court’s verdict in the Zimmerman trial from an African-American’s point of view. We understand that the jurors didn’t necessarily consider Zimmerman’s actions to be racist or racially profiling. But here’s the hard truth: racial profiling has been happening in our country, and it will continue to happen. It’s happened to many, many African-Americans, especially young African-American men.
Whenever racial profiling occurs, it’s a wicked thing. I have personally experienced this evil act twice, as far as I know. Once, when I was younger, my brother and I were driving home from the barber shop in our parents’ new car. On the way home, we were followed by a police car. The officer never turned on his lights, but he asked to see our IDs because we “looked suspicious.” The other time, my brother and I were accused of stealing a tape at a local record store because the bulge from my brother’s wallet “looked” like a tape in his pants pocket.
We grew up with that, as have many others. So for many African-Americans, the verdict of the Zimmerman trial once again felt like a reopening that old wound of racism that still hasn’t healed. In Christian compassion and sympathy, I would simply encourage you to consider how the verdict from this trial has felt to so many in the African-American community like yet another demonstration of injustice.
To my African-American brothers and sisters in Christ, please seek to listen to—and understand the news of the Zimmerman verdict from—a white person’s point of view. It can be difficult for many of our white brothers and sisters in Christ to understand what it is like to grow up in a sub-dominant culture. Of course, many will see that all of this is yet another chapter in America’s sad racial history, but be patient with my brothers and sisters. Please seek to give our white fellow-Christians the benefit of the doubt—as you would hope they would do for you—even while you may graciously respond to their opinions, and they to yours.
Finally, it’s our conviction that the church cannot afford to be silent about race relations. We need to be active in taking an ax to the root of racism, stereotyping, and ethnocentric pride. The Zimmerman trial made it known yet again that our nation is still deeply racially divided. It’s just that sometimes we’re not all that aware of it, because it is often hiding beneath the surface. But we know that it’s there, and we know that the gospel can kill the evils of racism to its very roots. As David Prince has recently tweeted, “Racism can only exist to the degree that the gospel is not treasured. The Kingdom of Christ has declared war on ethnic hostility (Eph 2:14–16).” The gospel is the war ax against racism, and the church needs to wield it for the glory of God.
It is also our hope as we think through all of this that you will pray for the Martin and Zimmerman families. Pray that they might all trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. We will all one day stand before the One Righteous Judge, and our only hope on that day will be if Jesus Christ is our advocate. Such tragic circumstances as these should also remind us of how we should deal with one another in lesser offenses. Always be ready to apply the gospel and be gracious and merciful to one another (Col 3:8–17). We all make mistakes with our words and in our deeds at times. And lastly, we hope you will say with us: Come Lord Jesus and establish your Kingdom, a kingdom where your will is done on earth as it is in heaven, where racism is no more.
By Ashok Nachnani, Elder
When is the right time to think about leadership development in your church? I would imagine all of us would agree in principle that it’s never too early. But time and resource constraints often mean that we don’t give it serious consideration until we’re faced with an imminent need. Perhaps an unexpected elder or deacon vacancy comes up with no clear Plan B, or a burst of ministry challenges with few “go-to” members to step in and fill the need.
Because of realities like this, it’s important for church leaders to set their eyes towards replacing themselves and training up the next generation of leaders. But how? We can take our cues from the best developers of church leaders there has ever been: Jesus and Paul.
Our Savior spent much of his earthly ministry intentionally pouring into twelve men in a variety of ways, for example:
Teaching (e.g., Matt 5–7);
Patiently answering questions (e.g., Luke 5:33–39);
Modeling prayer (e.g. Matt 6:9–13) and service (e.g. Mark 6:30–44);
Handing out training assignments (Mark 6:7–13);
Admonishing (e.g., Luke 9:46–48)
Jesus clearly had in mind the day that he knew was coming—the day he would lay down his life as a ransom for many—when he wouldn’t physically be with the Twelve anymore, and when they would be called to lead the church themselves by the power of the Spirit.
The Apostle Paul provides a similar example for us. In imitating Christ, his ministry pattern was to plant churches and leave behind leaders who would cultivate them and see them grow, all while imploring those same leaders to find and raise up still other leaders that will bear the qualifications for leadership as seen in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1:5–16. And, it should be recognized that Paul’s instruction extended beyond the office of overseer to all the men and women in the church (see Titus 2:1–10; Col 3:16; 1 Thess 5:11), suggesting that all of us have a role in leading and caring for others, not just the elders.
The following are some practical steps that can be taken for developing leaders in your local church. Some of the steps focus more directly on the office of elder, while others address leadership more generally.
a. Agree on the critical traits of an elder: Ephesians 4:11–13 tells us that elders are a gift from the Lord for the good of the church. It should be your church’s prayer that the Lord would raise up as many men as possible who will satisfy the qualifications for the office of elder set forth in 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:6–9. In this process at FBC Durham, the elders have discussed in great depth what it would look like for a man to demonstrate these traits, and then we boiled that discussion down to a single-page document: “Critical Traits of an Elder.”
This exercise was tremendously clarifying for all of us, and the one-page output has served as a useful tool in one-on-one discipleship, serving as a guide for how—by God’s grace—we hope to see men in the church grow. My regular challenge to the men I meet with echoes the one I heard when I was a new Christian: “Aspire to be worthy of being called as an elder, regardless of whether it ever happens.” Think about it: what’s the downside of growing in these areas?
b. Have focused discussion and prayer during elders’ meetings about leadership development: Having our “Critical Traits” document has enabled us to take the next step in having very helpful, focused discussion about a number of men in our church, and it has led to some of our sweetest and richest prayer times as a group. It’s been incredibly encouraging to share stories of different ways that God is using men in our church to bless others in the body and beyond. It has also helped us be more purposeful with the time we spend with certain guys who demonstrate both a desire to grow and the potential to assume greater responsibilities in the church.
c. Make more effective use of ministry opportunities: By starting our leadership development discussion among the elders, it has helped us begin to think about the overall pipeline of potential leaders in the church, and it has given us some context for a broader discussion. Who is showing general leadership skills? Who are our current and potential teachers? How can we create more teaching and leadership opportunities through our small group ministry? Who are our best role models for hospitality, evangelism, prayer, and etc.?
d. Develop a formal leadership training program. There are many ways this can be done. The elders of FBC Durham reached out to a few like-minded churches to find out how they are formally developing leaders in their church body. The approach we are taking has been to leverage some 9Marks materials, have monthly group meetings with a handful of men who have expressed a desire to grow spiritually as leaders, and have periodic one-on-one meetings between each of these men and one of our elders. The goal is to help each of these men grow in godliness—thus building our pipeline of leaders.
I love how Thabiti Anyabwile introduces his book, Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons: “A church without godly leaders is an endangered church. And a church that does not train leaders is an unfaithful church. God gives leaders to his churches for the maturity, unity, and soundness of each local congregation. Without godly, faithful, replicating leadership, churches suffer deeply.” Amen.
That’s why it’s important for the local church to consider how they might, by God’s grace, raise and train up future leaders, and why it’s never too early to get started.
By Kyle Mercer, Director of College Ministry
Editor’s Note: Kyle Mercer serves as Director of College Ministry at FBC Durham. Earlier this year, he led his college Bible for Life class through a study of Revelation.
I don’t have any hard data, but I would suspect that the Book of Revelation is probably the book of the Bible people are most curious about. Yes, David Plotz at Slate thinks that Ruth or maybe Job is the most popular book of the Bible, but I’m not really buying that. At the same time, I also know that many pastors don’t want to teach Revelation, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
So why do many pastors and teachers want to stay away from this apocalyptic book? Most likely because when we think of Revelation, we tend to think of seven-headed dragons, creatures with tons of eyes, and let’s be honest … weird people who study it. In my experience—and I know I’m generalizing—the type of people who have been most interested in Revelation seem really strange to me. They seem way too excited about millennial charts, about Israel becoming a nation in 1948, and about current world leaders. Of course, not helping their reputation in my mind are the widely publicized false teachings of Harold Camping and others, who have wrongly predicted exact dates for the world’s end and the return of Christ.
Now, I’m not saying that none of those things are important or relevant. I’m just saying that they weren’t my focus when I recently taught Revelation to college students and young adults at my local church. Instead, as I taught through the text, there were certain themes and ideas that I hoped to communicate and help people see as I taught through what Michael Wilcock has called, “God’s picture book.”
And, as I did this, there were four major ideas that I returned to again and again, and I found each one very helpful in my Bible study setting. So, I simply wanted to share these with you, and I hope that highlighting these very basic themes and ideas might be helpful for your own study.
The first thing I wanted to emphasize to our college students as we were studying this difficult book is the clarity of Scripture. As evangelicals, we believe not only that the Bible is God’s authoritative and inerrant Word, but that God in his kindness has also given us a clear Word. It may take some hard work—and a commentary or two—but we can come to understand Revelation to the extent to which God has intended for us.
God gave us his Word to be useful for those who have received it, and he desires for it to be understood. What that meant for our college Bible study is that I wanted to show that Revelation is not—at least in my opinion—meant to be read under a microscope so much as it’s meant to be seen through a telescopic lens. What I mean by that is that Revelation was given to us in order to give us insight into the big picture ideas of God’s glory, Christ’s exaltation, the salvation of sinners, and the destruction of Satan, sin and death forever. And so, if any study of the Book of Revelation focuses so much on something other than these key themes, then I have to question whether it’s a legitimate study of the book as God intended it.
Another idea that I have found important to emphasize from studying Revelation with college students is the constant reminder that the devil is a real and active person. When Jesus addresses the seven churches in Revelation 1–3, Satan is mentioned in four of the letters! This has got to be an important reminder for us today, because so often people like to think of the world as a closed system, believing that all their problems, struggles and sins can simply be explained in human or natural terms.
Even in evangelical circles, it seems to me that we often speak more about struggles that we have with the flesh and the world, but more rarely do I hear people discussing the fact that Satan has a real and active role in opposing God and his church. In just a quick tour of the letters in Revelation, we see that the Apostle John sees the church’s enemies as a “synagogue of Satan” (2:9, 3:9), and that they are ministering as where Satan’s throne dwells (2:13). One of my desires, then, in teaching Revelation is that we would be challenged to be more aware of Satan and his tactics, which I think will help us better be prepared to stand against his schemes (Eph 6:11).
The third truth I tried to communicate to college students in our study is that we must live with an eternal perspective. Jesus speaks to us in Revelation as the one from eternity past who will live forever (1:18). When Jesus speaks to the seven churches, he ends each one with a promise of eternal life for those who are faithful, giving us images of eating forever from the tree of life, receiving a crown, and judging the world together with Christ.
As the book goes on, we are given glimpses into the throne room of God (chapter 4), the final marriage supper (chapter 19), the final judgment (chapter 20), and the New Heavens and New Earth (chapter 21). All of these pictures that God has given us in this book are meant to cause us to long for Christ and his Kingdom, and to hate all remaining ungodliness and wickedness that we see in ourselves.
The awful and breathtaking pictures of the Great White Throne and the Lake of Fire should make us all the more thankful for Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf, and they should also humble us and make us joyful that we’ve been forgiven and spared from all that we deserved. Apart from Christ, we too would be asking for rocks to crush our heads (6:16), and we too would die the dreadful second death (21:8).
The last major idea of Revelation that I’ll mention is the most important one: that we should see in this book how great and glorious Jesus Christ is. The Book of Revelation has as high a view of Christology as any other book in the Bible. Revelation is the only book in the Bible (apart from the account of the transfiguration) where we get a physical description of Jesus Christ in the fullness of his glory. It’s an amazing description, from his hair to his eyes, feet and clothing—each description filled with rich imagery that’s grounded in the Old Testament that should make us all, like John, want to fall down as though dead before Jesus.
As Jesus speaks to the churches, he comforts them by reminding them of who he is and what he has done. Again and again, the text focuses on his victory over death and the promise that he lives forever. And, Revelation ends with yet another glorious picture, this time of Christ returning to earth to judge the living and the dead, and to establish his kingdom forever.
I have found over the years that when students have a big view of Christ, everything else in their lives are better ordered as they should. It is when their view of Christ diminishes and is small that sin begins to look appetizing, witnessing seems impossible, and suffering seems overwhelming.
So those are a few of my thoughts about studying Revelation with college students. I have found that by focusing on these themes that it helped center us. The book is, after all, a revelation of Jesus Christ, meaning that it is both from him, for him, and about him. And, when Jesus ceases to be front and center in our thoughts and interpretation of this final book, I think that’s when all we are left with are weird images, charts, and timetables.
By Nathan Finn, Elder
Alister McGrath is perhaps the most well-known evangelical theologian in the world today. He is the author of dozens of books that range from constructive monographs to seminary textbooks to semi-scholarly biographies. Many folks don’t know that McGrath is also a scholar of Christian spirituality. His book Christian Spirituality: An Introduction (Blackwell, 1999) is one of the standard evangelical handbooks on spirituality.
I was recently reading an article by McGrath titled “Encountering Biblical Spirituality,” which is available through the Metamorpha Ministries website. After discussing the famous Westminster Shorter Catechism assertion that humanity’s “chief end” is to “glorify God and enjoy him for ever,” McGrath offers the following principles for going deeper in our faith through our personal devotional reading of the Bible:
1. When dealing with a biblical image, it is essential to pause and allow the passage to generate a mental picture. We have to enter into the world of that image. We need to project ourselves into the image, and become part of it, experiencing its richness and implications. Our faith stimulates our imaginations as well as our minds! One of the reasons why writers such as CS Lewis and George MacDonald enjoy such popularity is that they nourish both reason and imagination.
2. When dealing with a gospel story, we must enter into it, standing alongside those who witnessed the saviour of the world. We need to meditate on these gospel narratives as though they were happening in the present moment.
3. When dealing with a biblical idea or theme, it is not enough to understand it. It needs to be applied to our lives, so that it becomes a lived reality, rather than an abstract and lifeless notion. Christianity is not simply about ideas; it is about the transformation of spiritual reality. It needs to become real to us, instead of just rattling round inside our minds.
I think McGrath is very helpful on this point. You can read the whole article at the Metamporpha website.
My own practice is to (normally) work my way through the Scriptures every year according to some reading plan. There is a temptation, at least for me, to read for content and completion more than personal application and spiritual formation. McGrath’s principles seem like a helpful way to guard against these temptations. Another great suggestion comes from Don Whitney, who argues in many places for the practice of praying through the Scriptures we have just read in our devotions.
By Andrew Davis, Senior Pastor
All of Jesus’ physical ministry to the suffering around him was described as “signs.” This significant word gives a sense of the limitation of Jesus’ miracles to produce lasting physical effects. The miracles were foretastes of an eschatological reality that the consummation of the Kingdom would usher in: a world where “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev 21:4).
Until the “final enemy” of death is destroyed, all physical ministry is temporary, a sign of greater things yet to come. For the eyes of the man born blind that Jesus opened in John 9 were closed again through death; the lame beggar that Peter and John healed near the temple gate called Beautiful is paralyzed again by death; the five thousand stomachs Jesus fed on that hill in Galilee are all dissolved in corruption. Lazarus died and was buried a second time. All of Jesus’ miracles were temporary signs of a future reality. Jesus acknowledged the temporary nature of his miracles when he spoke of His ministry of exorcism in Judea and Galilee in Matthew 12:43–45.
Knowing that the Jews were rejecting him despite his signs and wonders, Jesus in effect, said the demons will be back even worse than before He came: “the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation” (Matt 12:45). But the miracles of Jesus are signs pointing ahead to the New Heaven and New Earth, where bodies will be raised perfect and incorruptible.
For me this speaks to the issue of “doing good to the city.” This famous phrase, so significant for urban ministry, was written by Jeremiah in his letter to the Judean exiles: “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jer 29:7). Yet amazingly, in the same book of Jeremiah, we find this clear prophesy: “Babylon will be a heap of ruins, a haunt of jackals, an object of horror and scorn, a place where no one lives” (Jer 51:37).
In a similar manner, the “good’ we do to the cities of this world must be seen as merely signs, portending a future consummation when the creation will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. The stuff we have to work with is part of a cursed physical order that will be consumed in the end, for “the elements will melt with fire!” (2 Pet 3:12).
Thus physical ministry to the poor and marginalized must take on the nature of a sign—not meaning something miraculous, but something pointing ahead to a new reality. A Christian homeless shelter in the center of the city should be clean, beautiful, orderly, well-organized and filled with eschatological hope and the gospel message of the cross of Christ. If vandals should break in and steal valuables and spray obscene graffiti on the walls, the hope-filled ministry should restore it again as an island of eschatological hope in a sea of desperation. But they should do this knowing full well that those walls will all be destroyed in the end.
One final verse stands over me and challenges me both as a man and a pastor. It is a phrase in Isaiah 58:10: “… if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.” What hinders me in ministry to the poor and needy is the tendency I have to spare myself, protect myself, save myself.
This verse commands me to spend myself in behalf of the poor and needy. Not just give some of my money … spend MYSELF. Learning to do this is the essence of the Christian journey we call sanctification; to deny myself, take up my cross and follow Jesus. This is how we become conformed to Jesus, the poor man, the man who poured himself out completely in ministry and on the cross.
This is also how we become conformed to the heavenly Father, who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all. Once I learn to die, utterly die to myself, my possessions, my time, my pleasures, the questions become simpler: how much should go to alleviating suffering among Christians worldwide, how much to ministering to poor non-Christians in my own city, how many of the forms of physical suffering in this life we will seek to address, how long-term we should help a single individual or family, etc.
The same God who gives faith to face these issues will give wisdom to overcome them. And by faith, I will no longer be looking for an air-conditioned bubble or a neat exegetical formula to escape suffering, as I mentioned in part 1 of this series.
To spend myself for the poor and needy, and to lead my congregation to do the same, is at the core of the sanctification journey. Learning to love another person completely—their soul above all, but their body as well—is to be conformed to Christ. And then no one could accuse us of hypocrisy if, while meeting temporal needs, we risk sharing the gospel as well.