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In his book, The Disciple Making Pastor, Bill Hull writes about the need of accountability in the disciple-making process. He says,
To believe you can make disciples or develop true maturity in others without some form of accountability is like believing that you can raise children without discipline, run a company without rules, or lead and army without authority. Accountability is to the Great Commission what tracks are to a train.
To whom should I be accountable?
It was Howard Hendricks, who said, “Every man should have three individuals in his life: a Paul, a Barnabas, and a Timothy.”
A Paul is an older man who is willing to mentor you, to build into your life. Not someone who’s smarter or more gifted than you, but somebody who’s been down the road. Somebody willing to share his strengths and weaknesses—everything he’s learned in the laboratory of life. Somebody whose faith you’ll want to imitate.
A Barnabas is a soul brother, somebody who loves you but is not impressed by you. Somebody to whom you can be accountable. Somebody who’s willing to keep you honest, who’s willing to say, “Hey, man, you’re neglecting your wife, and don’t give me any guff!”
A Timothy is a younger man into whose life you are building. For a model, read 1 and 2 Timothy. Here was Paul, the quintessential mentor, building into the life of his protégé—affirming, encouraging, teaching, correcting, directing, praying.
I have intentionally over the years sought to live by that principle. In churches, I’ve sought the counsel of older men in the church, some closer men among the elders, as well as those who were outside the church.
I consider my wife, my closest friend. She can ask the tough questions about my walk with God, with others, and about my life of holiness before God. In the local church settings, I’ve sought to maintain a spirit of submissiveness one to another among those who lead with me. I’ve granted permission to other elders, and particularly some who may be closer (A “Barnabus”), to hold me accountable in my personal walk with God. Currently, I am also a part of a group of local church evangelical pastors who gather regularly for prayer and mutual support. In the Bible College setting we were structured so as to encourage mutual accountability (peer-to-peer/ faculty-to-student).
I’m fully aware that some men and women in all kinds of leadership get themselves into trouble, whether the issues are moral, financial, or the abuse of power and ego.
From the counsel of the pastor who failed to keep his own advice in Ordering your Private World, Gordon MacDonald wrote: “Pastors must have a close community of friends. It is advice that goes against what I had been taught when I was younger, when pastors were told they should not have close friends, especially in the church. I lived that way for many years, and that was a terrible thing to do. I’ve wondered if having a close-knit group of friends would have kept my life from imploding. My wife and I have deliberately developed friendships that have been important to us.”
And then he prayed the kind of prayer that every one of us involved in leadership should pray:
Heavenly Father, how sad You must be when you see the most powerful and the weakest of Your children fall prey to the energy of sin and evil. There is nothing any one has ever done that we –each of us—is not capable of doing. So when we pray for our brothers, we pray not out of pity or self-righteousness but with a humble spirit because we stand with him on level ground before the cross. Father, send the right people into their lives who can provide the correct mixture of hope and healing love.
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It is popular in our culture to market the church and expect numerical growth as a result of programs and activities. And, it is reasoned, “if we have enough attractive activities, people will knock down the doors to join us…If we just advertise, they’ll come.” In his book entitled Exit Interviews, William D. Hendricks said: “Almost all growth reported by North American churches today is the result of church switching.” He’s referring to “transfer growth” rather than growth by reaching, winning and discipling new converts who will be able to reproduce. In other words, it’s easier to go to a restaurant and order baked fish than to catch and clean our own!
Over the years, I’ve observed that mentality in local churches in which they to grow by transfer rather than conversion/assimilation growth. One of my early ministries, Paintersville Alliance Church, Lewistown, PA grew from 200 to over 1000 a few years following my departure. Thirty years later, I visited that church recently. I was impressed by their 1000 seat auditorium. An interim pastor came to the door of the parsonage where I once lived. When I asked how the ministry was going, he replied, “we’ll, we’re running about 140 in attendance…” I thought, they “grew” from 200 up to 1000… back down to 140…” What happened? During the 70’s the “hot” method was bussing. So the church bought several busses and had a “bussing ministry.” I’m not certain of all the events that have transpired over the past 30 years, nor how many people were added to the kingdom. But one thing is certain: though people may have filled the huge auditorium, and souls may have been saved…. the element that was missing is reproduction! Whatever spiritual children were born in that influx of numbers were not assimilated and did not reproduce. They did well at reaching out but failed to make reproducing disciples! It is one thing to lead a soul to Christ, another to obey the commission of our Lord to make disciples!
Willow Creek Community Church has been one of the most influential churches in America over the last thirty years. Willow, through its association, has promoted a vision of church that is big, programmatic, and comprehensive. Not long ago Willow released its findings from a multiple year qualitative study of its ministry. Basically, they wanted to know what programs and activities of the church were actually helping people mature spiritually and which were not. The results were published in a book, Reveal: Where Are You?, co-authored by Greg Hawkins, executive pastor of Willow Creek. Hybels called the findings “earth shaking,” “ground breaking,” and “mind blowing.” Hawkins says, “Participation is a big deal. We believe the more people participating in these sets of activities, with higher levels of frequency; it will produce disciples of Christ.” This has been Willow’s philosophy of ministry in a nutshell. The church creates programs/activities. People participate in these activities. The outcome is spiritual maturity. In a moment of stinging honesty Hawkins says, “I know it might sound crazy but that’s how we do it in churches. We measure levels of participation.”
Having put so many of their eggs into the program-driven church basket, I can understand their shock when the research revealed that “increasing levels of participation in these sets of activities does NOT predict whether someone’s becoming more of a disciple of Christ. It does NOT predict whether they love God more or they love people more. In other words, spiritual growth doesn’t happen best by becoming dependent on elaborate church programs, but in the context of relationships that foster disciplemaking.
What IS discipleship?
When Jesus left the earth, He gave the disciples a final command “make disciples” (as you are going, teaching, baptizing). It is clear in scripture that there are two ways discipleship is to be understood: “becoming” a disciple and “being” a disciple. Becoming a disciple happens at conversion (it is by grace through faith alone in Christ alone). Some have suggested in evangelistic efforts that we must tell the unbelievers the cost before they trust Christ. After all, doesn’t the Bible say, “unless a man…carries his cross…forsakes parents… he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14)? The problem with this approach is that we then make salvation a matter of faith AND works. It is, however, by grace through faith alone in Christ alone that is the basis for anyone becoming a disciple. But, BEING a disciple is progressional and life-long, and is costly.
There are 3 key texts that indicate what discipleship is and where it should be going…
Matt 28:19-20: The main action word is “make disciples” not “go” “baptize “or “teach”. Going, baptizing, teaching are part of the process, but the main command is to “make disciples”. Thus, winning converts, teaching them, baptizing them are all related to the means, but the goal is to make disciples.
That begs the question, “what kind of disciples?” From Matt. 28, they are to be disciples who are walking in obedience to everything Christ commanded. (From Jesus’ example of how He discipled, it is clear that he taught them in varied settings, formally and informally, as well as, it appears, in a distinct sequence.)
In Paul’s words to Timothy (2 Tim. 2:2) it is clear that it is not enough, however, to be an obedient learner, but a learner who is capable of reproducing, that is, reaching, winning, and doing the same thing in the lives of others (this emphasizes the relational aspect of discipleship, i.e., a “discipler” investing in the life of the disciple). When you come to the words of Paul regarding the structure and gifting of believers in the local church (Eph. 4:11-17) it is clear that the “ministry” to which all believers are called is to build one another up to “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Pastor-teachers are given to the Body as those who equip believers to do so! And the goal of discipleship is nothing short of Christlikeness (Eph. 4:13, 15).
Thus, “discipleship” is the process in which a believer in Christ is becoming more like Christ increasing in the knowledge of Christ and able to minister to others who will be able to do the same thing. The process of discipleship involves,
“A relationship where a spiritually minded person uses the Word of God to teach reprove, correct and train a learner in Christ how to live a God-centered life in faith, wisdom and love” (Colin McDougall).
My role as pastor-teacher is to equip believers to do that! I must do so not only through exhortation but by example.
Some pastor’s see their role primarily as a Bible instructor. I see my role, rather, as an instructor AND a model (1 Pet. 5 “be examples to the flock….”). I believe my responsibility also involves discipling as Jesus, the Master Teacher did. He did this by: selecting, associating with them, teaching them, demonstrating, delegating, supervising, and watching them reproduce.
|This was the case in the bible college setting in which I was privileged to serve. The major thing that impressed me prior to my service at PRBI was their distinctive emphasis on making disciples (as opposed to just graduating Bible college students). They were committed to “training students how to function within the body by teaching them who they are in Christ. The goal was to see each student discipled and trained to disciple others; Every aspect of life at PRBI is based on the disciple-making distinctives of Christ’s ministry.|
I am deeply committed to developing disciplers of God’s grace through discipleship relationships. I distinguish program-oriented development from process-oriented development of disciples. The latter emphasizes developing people; the former emphasizes filling positions and having lots of meetings and committees. A biblical discipleship model focuses on a biblically-based process of spiritual growth, not programs. This process fulfills the purposes that Jesus Christ has revealed in the Great Commandment (Matt. 22:37-39) and Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20). It involves an intentional plan to balance these purposes. Healthy churches are built on a process, not on personalities or programs.
How is this accomplished ?
Many methods come to mind, but, strategy and tools will vary from one church to another, depending on culture, context of community and the local church setting. Discipleship is a process, not a three month course, a sermon series, a bible study, or a seminar. These may be part of the process, but they are not in themselves “discipleship”.
With the principles and goals I’ve stated above in mind, I have sought to disciple believers through public preaching and teaching. Most meaningful change takes place in the context of small group relationships (Bible studies, accountability groups, prayer groups, men only, couples, home groups, office groups, sports groups). As people tell their “stories,” the truth of the gospel gets meaty and fleshy. I’ve encouraged disciples to personally discover and grow in their relationship with God in His Word. I have never known a single man whose life has changed in any significant way apart from the regular study of God’s Word. I encourage private study time to memorize meaningful verses… praying, singing, and meditating on God’s Word. Some of the richest times of my life have been doing “hang time” with buddies and my heroes. Hanging out, going to lunch, discussing the truths of God’s Word with His disciples, God often orchestrates teachable moments to build into each other’s lives. I’ve also led both formal and informal leadership training (spending time with the team of leaders, and grooming younger men for future leadership roles, as current leaders mentor and disciple them.)
Reflecting on the process of disciplemaking to which God has called us, much of the emphasis falls upon human responsibility and commitment. But, let me conclude with a reminder that it is our Lord Who is in complete control, not only in the calling of disciples, but in the process of making them. Our Lord assured His disciples, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit, and that Your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask of the Father in My name, He may give to you” ( John 15:16)
I stand in awe of the fact that God has chosen to use me in His service. I find great comfort in the fact that, while the requirements of discipleship are rigorous, the Savior is gentle and gracious, and the process, though life-long, is sure.
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Early in ministry I recall that as a young new pastor, I longed to preach God’s Word, I loved God; I loved His people, and had a passion for reaching people outside the body in the world. My ministry was shaped in Bible College by its motto: “To Know Him and to Make Him Known,” and a little text by F.B. Meyer, the Christ-life for the Self-life. Crucial and foundational as these principles are, (my intimate walk and yielded relationship to the Lord, and my heart for the world), I did not grasp at that time HOW I was to carry out those desires and fulfill my role as a pastor.
As a young pastor, I succumbed to some false standards of measurement —the misguided belief that success in ministry means increased numbers. In today’s world it is easy to be seduced by the secular thinking that places a number on everything. But true success in ministry lies not in numbers but in several key areas: faithfulness, serving, loving, believing, prayer, holiness, and a Christlike attitude.
Further, I had to recognize the church is not a one-man team with the minister and the so-called laymen. Sadly, and to the hurt of the body of Christ, there still exists today a spirit of clericalism—the expectation that the professional clergy does the ministry.
How does a church foster this kind of ministry?
My practice in local church ministry flows out of the following key principles:
The Priesthood of Believers and the Principle of Every Believer Gifted by God for Service
There must be a commitment to teach the priesthood of believers and promote its implications for ministry along with its natural companion, the truth concerning spiritual gifts. Why? So more and more believers function as a body in unity with diversity. This is vital to an effective ministry. “Spectatoritis” is an ailment in the church that must be remedied if the church is to count for God (Rom. 12:3f; 1 Cor. 12:4f; Eph. 4:7f; 1 Pet. 2:5-11; 4:1-12).
The church is not a one-man team with the minister and the so-called laymen. Sadly, and to the hurt of the body of Christ, there still exists today a spirit of clericalism—the expectation that the professional clergy does the ministry. Though the belief that pastor-teachers are to equip the saints for the work of ministry is widespread and well known, it is rarely practiced and sorely hindered by pastoral expectations that simply do not line up with Scripture. Churches give lip service to the truth of Ephesians 4:11-16, but have a hard time managing to apply it.
The Necessity for Clear Vision of the Church and Its Purpose for Being
Vision (seeing as God wants us to see) is crucial for the people of God. It is through vision that we know and stay aware of who we are, why we are here, and where we are going. Without vision, a church will end up in a maintenance program maintaining the status quo. This results in a church going nowhere (Prov. 28:18).
As God’s people, we need vision. We need to see the greatness of God and what is ours in Christ, but not simply for our own strokes or personal blessing. We need to see the world as God sees it and where our responsibilities lie as members of the body of Christ. This means a vision for (1) every member ministry, and (2) what ministry consists of in biblical terms.
Ways I’ve sought to foster healthy communication within the body:
1. Developing/working with a team of Spirit-filled leaders.
A band of spirit filled leaders who lead by example and set the tone of the church by their servanthood, faith and love is absolutely essential. I’ve discovered that unless each leader is walking with God and each other in one-accord, you’re in trouble! Through cultivation of openness and honesty among leaders and members is essential.
2. Praying that the Lord will purify and empower His church.
“Unless the Lord builds the house, it’s builders labor in vain” (Ps. 127:1). Thus, it is not the organizational planning that causes growth. God does that. But in order for that to happen, we must be the kind of clean, pure instruments that He can use.
3. Organizing the church for large group worship and small group nurture
Large group worship is a time of celebration, motivation and affirmation of our shared faith and the greatness and character of our God. Worship is more than singing and preaching. Small group nurture contributes to the building of relationships that encourage one another to grow in Christlikeness and serve the great God whom we worship.
There must be many and varied opportunities for believers to interact with others in the Body of Christ. Without fellowship, mutual accountability, and peer group interaction, people eventually become “disconnected.”
4. Expanding through spiritual reproduction.
Disciples reproduce disciples. Small groups grow and give birth to new groups. Churches parent daughter churches, churches in one nation provide the people and resources to begin churches in other nations. The plan it to reproduce until every people group has a church.
5. Consistently measuring church health
Church health could be called, “the normal functioning of (church) life as God has designed it.” To talk about a healthy congregation is to talk about a congregation from an organic perspective. Only organisms can be said to be healthy or diseased. Only living systems are characterized by wellness or illness, soundness or injury, balance or disorder. . . Thus health is the capacity for life, what an organism must do to persevere (Peter Steinke). The basis for evaluation is the scriptural principles set forth in the church’s stated core values. The significance of core values for church health is that they impact how the church’s mission and ministry is conceived and expressed. But they can also be turned into a yardstick for measuring a church’s health by asking tough questions about how the church is actually carrying out those biblical principles.
What about reaching the community outside the local church?
I am deeply committed to following Jesus’ strategy given in Acts 1:8 which states that we are to reach our “Jerusalem” as well as recognize that we are part of Christ’s global strategy to reach our neighboring cities, counties, cultures, states (“Judea and Samaria”)and eventually, to the world (“ends of the earth”).
God desires to reach all cultures. Therefore, I am committed to reaching and teaching all nations for Christ in whatever context the Lord places us. I believe the Lord wants the church to be salt and light in our non-Christian culture (Matt. 5:13-16). I believe the main emphasis should be a “friendship” style of evangelism where people are encouraged to build relationships with neighbors, coworkers, etc. with the hope of plainly communicating the gospel with them as God opens up doors of opportunity. I believe it is the church’s job to equip its people on how to share their faith in a clear manner. It is also good for a church to have times and special events that are of a programmatic approach. The people should be encouraged to invite unbelievers to services, especially those services that have an intentional evangelistic thrust (for example: carwash, hayride, canoe trip, picnic, barbeque, camp out, etc.) to build relationships with unchurched families and then we follow those events with opportunities corporately and individually to win people to Christ.
Churches must rightly discern the Scriptures, their local church setting, and the needs and characteristics of the contemporary culture and community in which they exist. We must constantly evaluate our forms and structures to see if they are appropriately applying Biblical principles and reaching New Testament goals and objectives. As Pastor, I should seek to be a leader in helping the church, together, fulfill its mission.
Our strategy should be to move the local body of believers to reach to deeper levels of commitment to Christ and His purposes, so that unbelievers are being won to Christ, built up, and sent out to minister to the body of Christ and the community God has led us to reach.
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This topic is related to the discussion above on “discipleship”. In the context of disciplemaking, it becomes necessary to deal with the crises of life. Pastors find themselves called into a number of crises: problems with kids, loss of a job, arrest, rape — you name it. People get in binds, and pastors get involved. So many, in fact, are the kinds of crisis-care situations, a single volume could never contain them. I heard another pastor say, “Ministry is messy.” I agree.
As a pastor, I’ve had extensive counseling experience both in the pastorate and with parents and children in the Christian School and the Bible College setting. Though I do not hold a degree in counseling, I have had a great deal of formal training in counseling theory, and dealing with issues requiring counseling from a Biblical perspective. But, since the pastoral role is that of an equipper, my primary ministry is helping people develop their spiritual gifts so they can engage in ministry themselves (I Cor. 12, Eph. 4:11-16). Though the pastor is to care for every church member, the way he cares for every member will vary depending upon the size of the congregation. It becomes physically impossible for a pastor to personally care for every member the more the church grows. He is responsible along with other elders, however, regardless of the size of the church to care for the flock of God: by praying, feeding, encouraging, and equipping believers for ministry. It involves limited personal pastoral visitation, and training/development of other leaders who care for the flock.
Is the person who is trained in Scripture, yielded to the Holy Spirit, and called by God to minister to the lost and hurting adequately equipped to counsel? For centuries of church history, the answer was an unequivocal “Yes”!
Many, however, assert that any pastor untrained in modern psychology is not equipped to counsel anyone, no matter how knowledgeable he may be in Scripture or how many years of experience he has. Counseling individuals about marriage, family, emotional distress, personal relationships, raising children, work, etc. no longer fits the category “every good work,” for which Scripture itself claims to equip one.
Biblical counsel is necessary because God has spoken the truth to and about man in His Word. This truth is both practical and applicable. A frustrating lie that seems commonly believed is that theology is not pertinent to real human problems. It is to say that the truth God has revealed about Himself and His relationship to us is nice in its proper place but has no significance or application to the problems that really matter to people. It may be true that not all persons trained in theology are equally skilled in communicating and applying revealed truth to those to whom they minister. It is not true, however, that there is no workable application. If there is not, then 2Timothy 3:16, 17 is a blatant lie!
Much secular counsel, which starts out by using deterministic, psychological theories to shift the blame for our own behavior, defines us as only victims and not sinners. One does not repent of having been determined by outside forces. One need not obey God if propped up by enough excuses for not doing so. The problem is our inability to change reality. We can tell ourselves anything we want to believe; but we cannot change the consequences. We live in the world God created, not the world of our own imaginations. Because of this, obeying God always gets the best results– long term.
God knows us and knows what is best for us. God has revealed these things in His Word. Biblical counsel is a matter of finding pertinent Scriptural principles and applying them to the real situations of life (not simply finding proof texts and giving them to the counselee). By God’s grace and the enabling power of the Holy Spirit, the Christian who obeys the wisdom of God revealed in Scripture is following the best counsel anyone will every receive !
I see counseling as: coming alongside a person in need, with God’s Word as the foundation, By instructing, exhorting, encouraging, reproving, rebuking, and correcting (2 Tim. 3:16, 17), To bring that person into conformity with God’s truth (Eph. 4:11-17)with a goal to help the individual become like Christ.
The experiences God has graciously given me in these opportunities to offer Biblical counsel. Some situations in which I have been called upon to counsel: Pre-marital, marital conflict and divorce, sexual misconduct, domestic violence and abuse, homosexuality, major Illnesses and injuries, death of a child, death of a spouse, suicide (those who are suicidal as well as the families of those who have lost loved ones to suicide), alcohol and drug problems, anger, resentment, and bitterness.
I see the biblical counselor is a part of God’s plan for progressive sanctification of the counselee in such things as coming alongside to help, giving hope and/or leading the counselee to conviction, determining the biblical principles that apply to the counselee’s problems, teaching the biblical principles, assigning projects that incorporate the biblical principles so that the counselee will be changed in mind and/or behavior through the power of the Holy Spirit, giving encouragement, keeping the counselee accountable, and providing prayer support. The biblical counselor’s role is that of pastor, ministering the Word of God on a personal-need basis to an individual who has a problem and/or to two or more who have a problem between/among them, as contrasted to preaching to an entire congregation. Because selecting and teaching the biblical principles that the Holy Spirit wants to use in each counselee’s life is crucial to the counseling process, biblical counselors should have a theological education, should have specialized education and training in counseling, and should be perceptive to psychological error.
Having stated my philosophy of counseling, I want to affirm that, though I am no master counselor, I have; however, I’ve sought to know and communicate Biblical principles relating them to the varied needs of people. I’ve also taken great pains to find those who, by Biblical training and experience, are excellent crisis counselors. I know the basics of counseling. I care deeply about people. They aren’t my customers; they’re God’s children entrusted to my care. I love them. I feel for them. I want, by God’s grace, to help them.
Finally, I see myself as an instrument of the Living God enabled with the power of the Holy Spirit. Mine is not merely a secular role; I represent God and His people. The solutions I seek for my counselees are more than a lack of crisis; I want them to know God’s power to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, Jesus Christ. I’ve watched God do that through me. I’ve also watched those who refused counsel, or failed to walk in light of the Word’s clear admonitions.
Regardless of the type of counseling opportunities and needs, I desire to say with Paul,
“I was gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. 8 We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us. 9 Surely you remember, brothers, our toil and hardship…10 You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. 11 For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, 12 encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory”
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Over the years, God has given opportunity to serve varied age groups and people groups: My wife and I travelled extensively within Eastern and Mid-Atlantic Districts ministering to children at camps, and local church children’s meetings through puppets, “chalk talks”, object lessons, and ventriloquism. I’ve had opportunities to speak at community events outside the local church such as scouts, men’s and women’s clubs, youth camps and family camps (ages included elemementary, Jr. and Sr. High, College and Families). While at Peace River Bible Institute, I served in an academic and discipleship environment, ministering effectively to college students. Upon return to the States, I pastored a church that was 98% Seniors (65+). I served in this setting dealing with many of the Lord’s people who transitioned from active retirement to assisted living homes (and I conducted 40 funerals within a 2 year period!).
I have served in urban (Austin and Dallas Texas), suburban (Severn) small town (Paintersville, PA, Burlington, IA), rural (Yarmouth, IA, and many rural small churches in Alberta, CA).
While a faculty member at the Bible College, I was a member of Grace Bible Fellowship Church. It was a church attended by both college and community students. Though not officially connected to the Bible College, it was begun as a ministry of the College 30 years ago, and provided ministry opportunities for both college and community believers. I served in leadership training, preached periodically, and served on their church task force for setting forth core values, mission statement, and objectives and goals for effectively serving the Lord in that community.
I believe effective ministry to people takes into consideration:
1) Demographics: age, gender, ethnicity, cultural background, language usage, educational background, occupation, political affiliations, religious background, and special interests like hobbies.
2) Spirituality. Is this person likely to be a Christian or a non-Christian? If a Christian, do they belong to a certain denomination? Is this person likely a member of your church? What are their likely positions on significant doctrinal issues? If the person is a non-Christian, are they someone interested in Christianity, but are not sure of the validity of the Bible? Are they ‘spiritual’ in the sense of New Age spirituality? Are they antagonistic to Christianity? Are they sympathetic to Christian teachings, but have they been disaffected by the church? Are they atheists, agnostics, deists, wiccans, cultists, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, etc?
3) Life Challenges. What problems does this person face in a day? Do they have hassles on the job, family problems, financial difficulties, medical problems, emotional issues or spiritual problems? What are the big questions they are asking right now? For what problems are they seeking solutions?
Yet, while God graciously has given a good measure of effective ministry to these varied populations, I also recognize the reality of my God-given limits (I would feel inadequate, for example, if I were thrust into a sub-culture such as hip-hop, Goth, grunge, punk, or even trekkies!)
I don’t pretend to be able to relate to anyone and everyone! Romans 12:3 teaches humility: “Do not think of yourself more highly than you should.” Jesus relates that humility to power when he says, “Whoever makes himself great will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be made great” (Matt. 23:12). So, I recognize my limits and that any effectiveness in any opportunity for ministry to varied populations is because of His grace, not my expertise.
I have sought to work hard at seeking to identify with and effectively minister to the culture in which I am called to serve. Paul said,
Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings ( 1 Cor. 9:19-23).
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Almost 4000 American churches close their doors annually. The reasons for these closures run the gamut: real or perceived pastoral incompetency, strife, infidelity of leadership, lack of financial integrity, doctrinal discrepancies, power struggles, congregational distrust or dissatisfaction, choosing sides on any issue, and more. It’s no secret that church splits and closures inflict damage upon the army of God. All of these situations leave the average Christian scratching his or her head, bewildered as their brothers and sisters in Christ leave the fellowship and go separate ways.
I too have seen the good, bad, and ugly of church life and ministry. Some of the predictable times of conflict have occurred during stewardship campaigns/budget time, the addition of new staff, change in leadership style, power struggles, cultural and social differences, theological/doctrinal issues, introduction of baby boomers, busters, Gen X, or GenY into the church, style of worship music, the construction or completion of a new building, loss of church membership, increase in church membership, financial shortage. Beyond these corporate conflicts are the interpersonal conflicts that occur between members of the body.
I’ve discovered too that church people will say and do things they wouldn’t think of doing anywhere else. Sometimes they will do things to chop you down. They will say things you can’t imagine. They will accuse you of things you can’t imagine doing. They will even make up things. Or if they can’t find anything, they will skew your statements to make you look bad. I have seen them say and do things that they regretted later. I have also watched their hearts harden. I have watched them try and manipulate people to their point of view by exaggerating and telling half truths.
I’ve had to develop a thick skin over the years in ministry. I’ve had criticisms, complaints, and snide remarks leveled against me. I am not surprised by criticism. You can guarantee that no matter what decision you make, no matter what actions you take, you will be criticized. It’s just a fact. There’s not a person in the Bible who did anything for God and was not criticized. There are countless examples in the Old and New Testament and seen in peoples’ response to the Lord Jesus Himself. So, I expect it. If Jesus Himself was criticized, I will be criticized too.
How, then, do you deal with conflict and controversy?
Conflict, as such is not the problem. Rather, how it is approached and experienced can make or break a congregation or a pastor. There have been times when I’ve recognized the wisdom I’ve gained through conflict, the purifying process it brings a congregation through, better defined vision and better communication with the congregation. There have been other times when I’ve seen the reverse.
Some years ago at a congregational meeting the executive committee submitted a recommendation to call an associate pastor. The congregation responded with a positive majority vote. Following that meeting, a petition signed by 17 people was sent to every church member. After discovering the originators of the letter, the elders requested a private meeting with this couple. When they arrived for the meeting, all the signer of the petition arrived with them.
Thus, rather than a private confrontation, it became a public forum. The moderator, rather than call this public meeting off (cf. Matt. 18—go to the person first privately), asked the signers of the petition to “rethink their position in light of scripture which is our final authority”. The immediate response was not compliance, but antagonism. The meeting became a shouting match and ended in total discord. Rather than, again, dealing with this issue according to the principles in Matt. 18 and Gal. 6, the issue simply festered and did not go away. This couple became a snare and source of discontent in the months to follow.
My concern, at that time was to deal with the issue in accordance with biblical principles of conflict resolution.
But, some in leadership, because of some family ties, failed to do so. I learned that, God knows that you cannot force other people to act in a certain way. Therefore he will not hold you responsible for their actions or for the ultimate outcome of a conflict. All God expects of us is to obey his revealed will as faithfully as possible (see Rom. 12:18). If we do that, no matter how the conflict turns out, you can walk away with a clear conscience before God, knowing that His appraisal is, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
In dealing with conflict, I’ve sought to follow the following steps (summarized from Sharpening the Focus of the Church (Gene Getz) :
(1) Face the Reality of the Problems: Problems do not go away, they only get worse. They must be faced and dealt with according to the principles of Scripture.
(2) Develop a Clear Understanding of the Problem Before Seeking Concrete Solutions: This means getting all the facts available and then prayerfully seeking biblical solutions.
(3) Delegate Responsibility to Qualified People: This principle follows naturally the “establishment of priorities” as seen in Exodus 18 and Acts 6. Note: Scripture stresses that this must be done with people who are qualified spiritually and by their ability (gifts and training as is needed).
(4) Establish Priorities According to Biblical Agendas: In solving problems and meeting the needs of people, we must, as emphasized above, act in accord with God’s priorities or we create overload and burnout (cf. Ex. 18:18).
(5) Solve Problems Creatively Under the Leading of the Holy Spirit: It is easy to get locked into administrative routines that kill the freedom of the Spirit of God to lead us in different ways and use our God-given creativity.
Yet, unfortunately, not all conflicts or difficult situations have been resolved the way that I would have preferred. I can think, on some occasions when years later, I’ve had people call me explaining that the Spirit of God has brought them under deep conviction, and asked for my forgiveness. There have been other times, when I experienced that same conviction. I’ve had to remember the admonition of Heb 12:14, 15: Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.
How do you deal with offenses?
I believe there is balance between tolerance and failing to deal with sin (forgive or confront ?).
Whenever possible, especially if the offense is petty or unintentional, I believe it is best to forgive unilaterally. This is the very essence of a gracious spirit. It is the Christlike attitude called for in Ephesians 4:1-3. We are called to maintain a gracious tolerance (“forbearance”) of others’ faults. Believers should have a sort of mutual immunity to petty offenses. Love “is not easily angered” (1 Cor. 13:5). If every fault required formal confrontation, the whole of our church life would be spent confronting and resolving conflicts over petty annoyances. So for the sake of peace, to preserve the unity of the Spirit, we are to show tolerance whenever possible (see 1 Pet. 2:21-25; Mat. 5:39-40).
If I am the only injured party, even if the offense was public and flagrant, I may choose to forgive unilaterally. Examples of this abound in Scripture. Joseph (Genesis 37-50), David (2 Sam. 16:5-8), and Stephen (Acts 7:60) each demonstrated the unilateral forgiveness of Christ (Luke 23:34).
If a serious offense that is a sin against someone other than me, the offender should be confronted. Justice never permits a Christian to cover a sin against someone else. While we are entitled, and even encouraged, to overlook wrongs committed against us, Scripture everywhere forbids us to overlook wrongs committed against another (see Ex. 23:6; Deut. 16:20; Isa. 1:17; Isa. 59:15-16; Jer. 22:3; Lam. 3:35-36). When ignoring an offense might hurt the offender, confront the guilty party. Sometimes choosing to overlook an offense might actually injure the offender. In such cases it is our duty to confront in love (Gal. 6:1-2).
When a sin is scandalous or otherwise potentially damaging to the body of Christ, the guilty party should be confronted. Some sins have the potential to defile many people, and Scripture gives ample warning of such dangers (see Heb. 12:15; 3:13; 1 Cor. 5:1-5). In fact, Scripture calls for the church to discipline individuals who refuse to repent of open sin in the body, so that the purity of the body might be preserved (Matt. 18:15-20; 1 Cor. 5).
Lastly, any time an offense results in a broken relationship, confrontation of the sinner should occur. Any offense that causes a breach in relationships simply cannot be overlooked. Both the offense and the breach must be confronted, and reconciliation must be sought. And both the offended party and the offender have a responsibility to seek reconciliation (Luke 17:3; Matt. 5:23-24). There is never any excuse for a Christian on either side of a broken relationship to refuse to pursue reconciliation.
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I believe the biblical norm for church leadership is a plurality of God-ordained elders, including pastoral staff, who are assisted by deacons. I believe that multiple-elder leadership is the only pattern for church leadership given in the New Testament. I believe that multiple-elder leadership best reflects the Headship of Jesus Christ over His Church. Rather than exalt any one man, multiple-elder leadership gives pre-eminence to Jesus Christ as the elders function under His Headship to shepherd the flock of God.
A few principles guide my leadership style—
1. The Necessity of Establishing Priorities (Acts 6:2)
When the apostles were confronted with how to meet the needs of the people, they first approached the problem by establishing priorities. They said, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables.” Biblical priorities must determine responsibilities.
2. The Principle of Plurality and Equality
In keeping with maintaining the priorities, the limited capacity of one man, and the giftedness of the body of Christ under His headship, authority, and preeminence, New Testament leadership appears to have been plural and equal with no system of hierarchy. Certain men will naturally function as leaders among the leaders because of their training, giftedness, wisdom, knowledge, and experience, but all are equal and accountable to each other. (Compare Acts 15 and the leadership demonstrated by James among the leaders of the church at Jerusalem. Also compare Acts 14:23; 20:17; Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 5:17.)
3. The Principle of Selectivity and Quality
The most important element in selecting leaders is their spiritual qualification. Selection is the process of applying biblical standards to the selection of leaders, but these are to be leaders chosen by the Holy Spirit. It means the greatest need is not leaders, but spiritual men. It also necessitates the intentional training and preparation of men to take a leadership role (Acts 6:3; 1 Tim. 3:1f; 2 Tim. 2:2; Tit. 1:6f).
Choosing men according to biblical standards means we must seek to select only those who have modeled commitment and obedience as an emergent leadership. This creates standards and establishes training examples who model the message (1 Tim. 4:12; 1 Pet. 5:3).
4. The Necessity of Training and Delegation (Acts 6:3-4; Ex. 18:1f; 1 Tim. 4:6, 11-16; 2 Tim. 2:2, 15)
Facing the limitations of one man, the necessity of priorities, and the giftedness of the body of Christ naturally leads to the importance of training and delegation. Neither Moses, following Jethro’s advice, nor the apostles ignored the legitimate needs of the people, but neither did they allow themselves to be distracted from the primary needs of the people and the priorities of the Word. It becomes important, therefore, for pastors to train the body of saints in the basics of the Word and delegate various aspects of ministry to other members of the body according to their gifts and the Lord’s leading in each believer’s life.
From a biblical standpoint, teamwork means sharing in the biblical responsibilities based on biblical goals, values, priorities, giftedness, training, and God’s leading.
The Sr. Pastor along with the leadership team of elders is responsible for the direction, thrust, and ministry of the total church, including its priorities and spiritual vitality. Together with the leadership team, they should develop policy and direction of ministry that is “owned” by the body of believers. The pastor, as leader among leaders should build spiritual maturity in the leadership. He should also be a “team player” with other staff members who have unique gifts and serve in specific roles, each complementing the other for total effective ministry.
I also believe that various styles of leadership should be tailored to the ministry situation (I have served in each of these styles):
1. Directing-the combination of high direct/low supportive behavior-closely supervising team-members
2. Coaching-- a combination of low directive/ high supportive(- leader explains his direction, gets suggestions, directing tasks
3. Supporting – a combination of low directive/ high support(- leader/team make decisions together; role: facilitate/listen/encourage/support
4. Delegation – a combination of low directive/low supportive(- leader turns over responsibility for task to team members)
In all of these…. we need:
1. Sensitivity to the Holy Spirit and the culture/context of the ministry situation
1. Flexibility (different strokes for different folks)
2. Diagnosis (determining what style is best for situation)
3. Contracting (going over style/goals/objectives, etc. with others in the ministry team and deciding together on which style leadership best fits the situation)
In a true team environment, there will be freedom to develop one’s gifts and abilities, to be innovative, to share ideas, but also to make mistakes and learn from one another. In addition, there will an environment where each team member feels loved, supported, and affirmed. Rather than suspicion and put-downs, there will be a trust that builds a team spirit or comradeship. Not only will stress be held to a minimum, but there will be an excitement or enthusiasm about what God is doing in and through the team.
I do believe that a single leader needs to emerge from among equals. The Latins called this Primus inter Pares–first among equals. Someone takes the lead and is the spokesman for the group. This is only natural. But he is not given extra powers, does not have authority to act unilaterally, and certainly must work in unison with the rest of the elders. I’m simply saying that someone usually acts as spokesman for a group and gets the ball rolling. In that respect, he is primus inter pares. But he’s no monarch.
Even a casual study of the manner in which Jesus prepared the 12 apostles shows us how effectively he adapted his leadership activity to the realities of the situation. He instructed them when they were uninformed, directed them when they were confused, prodded them when they were reluctant, encouraged them when they were downhearted. When they were ready, he allotted those limited tasks and responsibilities and then participated with them, guiding them through their assignments. Finally, he empowered and commissioned them as his apostles.
Describe your preaching style. What creative methods do you use?”
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I have been greatly influenced by the concepts in Biblical Preaching, by Haddon Robinson. I have practiced these principles and have further used this book as the basic text in teaching Homiletics and Expository Preaching at Peace River Bible College. (cf. also Expository Preaching, John MacArthur, Christ-Centered Preaching, Bryan Chapell, Expository Worship, and John Piper).
First, I see expository preaching as more a philosophy than a method (for example, some see expository preaching as simply preaching the Bible “verse by verse”, or preaching “from the Bible”, i.e., literally, departing from a text!)
Expository preaching is the communication of a biblical concept, derived from and transmitted through a historical, grammatical, and literary study of a passage in its context, which the Holy Spirit first applies to the personality and experiences of the preacher, then through him to his hearers. (Biblical Preaching, Haddon Robinson)
I concur also with MacArthur who said:
To be a legitimate expositor, you have to explain the text. That does not mean taking a text of Scripture, finding an outline, and bouncing your way through a homiletical format. Explaining the text means giving to the people precisely the message that God intended when He revealed that Scripture. That’s going to take you beyond superficiality, because frankly there isn’t anything superficial about the mind of God. Everything about the mind of God is clear. Everything about the mind of God is cohesive. Everything about the mind of God is orderly. And that is how the text should be explained.
In summary, I believe the following minimal elements identify expository preaching:
1. The message finds its sole source in Scripture.
2. The message is extracted from Scripture through careful exegesis.
3. The message preparation correctly interprets Scripture in its normal sense and its context.
4. The message clearly explains the original God-intended meaning of Scripture.
5. The message applies the Scriptural meaning for today.
The spirit of expository preaching is exemplified in two biblical texts:
And they read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading. (Neh. 8:8)
Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God. (Acts 20:26–27)
In general I follow the following procedure in preparation for preaching:
1. Selection of Text -Generally I am teaching a book of the Bible so selection of a text to preach is not a problem.
(I have on occasion preached topical series such as the nature and purpose of the church, or character studies such as the life of David)
2. Preparation of a weekly Study Guide- Sometimes this study guide is distributed to the congregation (and to interactive teachers) a week in advance, so that they can prepare for the coming message and interactive discussion sessions that follow the sermon.
3. Exploring the text. This is the “input” side of preaching, gathering as much information as possible.
4. Repeated readings of the text (I often look at the original text, and read several translations). With certain difficult or technical texts I try to be able to paraphrase the passage in my own words.
5. Visualizing the text. I try to put myself into the event, reading the text as though I were there.
Sometimes I put myself in the shoes of various members of the audience, to think about how I would feel, what I might say, or ask.
6. Reading some selected commentaries.
7. Reading parallel or related passages of Scripture.
8. Making observations in the text.
9. Noting questions and problems.
10. Agonizing over the text.
11. Meditation and prayer.
12 Letting the text carry me to its interpretation and application.
15. First of all I need to feel the heat of the text as it relates to my life. Then I need to seek to apply it to our world, our culture, our church, etc
In Expository Worship, John Piper incisively said:
“A common strategy of preachers today for awakening people’s emotions and engaging their hearts is to find the areas of human life where the emotions are already running high and where the hearts are already engaged; and then we root the sermon there…We preachers know that if we plant our sermons here—if we tend this garden with modest skill in anecdote and illustration and personal vulnerability—we will move the hearts of our hearers…
Now at this point I could put either a positive or a negative spin on this development in preaching. Positively, I could say: a lot of preaching is in touch with where people are and where they feel pain, and that is certainly not a bad thing. Preaching that is ignorant of people and unempathetic with their pain will not bear biblical fruit.
But there is also a negative spin that we can put on this development. It is this: the reason we preachers do not believe that the greatness of God, the spirit of transcendence, the glory and majesty of Christ, the deep things of the Spirit, will move the hearts of our people and awaken profound affections is that these things do not move us; they don ’t awaken our affections…”
Thus, I strive to keep the message in context and let the Bible speak for itself. I explain what it means and help people apply it to their everyday lives. If I perceive that unbelievers are present, I always share the clear and simple gospel of grace with them and invite them to trust Christ alone for the gift of salvation. God promises that His Word will not return void! I like to use object lessons, testimonies, dramas, video clips, and have used PowerPoint effectively in the local church and college settings. The visual tools are a means to an end, not simply a gimmick to keep people interested. First, and foremost, my submission to the God of the Word, is crucial as I seek to relay with faithfulness His Truth to others!
If I cannot help you draw nearer the Lord Jesus Christ, my preaching is in vain.