Friday, May 25, 2018

5 Keys To Having Meaningful, Life-Giving Conversations With Non-Christians

Helpful post on meaningful conversations with anyone from Carey Nieuwhof . . .  
by Rose Meeder  
At some point, if you are sincere about your Christian faith, you are going to have a conversation with someone about it.  Or are you?
Let me back up a minute, if “being a Christian” is something you take seriously, you are probably going to THINK about having a conversation with someone about it.  AND – you may wonder HOW to have that conversation.
Listen, I have been a Christian my whole life and have also been a thoughtful student of the human art of conversation for years and I find this thing – “sharing my faith” – incredibly hard to do. 
But I WANT to – I really want to.  I actually believe that meeting Jesus on this side of heaven will make life richer and more joyful and more peaceful than anything else available to us.  There is a tenacity and fierceness to God’s love through Jesus that holds people firmer in the face of life’s struggles than anyone can imagine. 
I want everyone to know this. 
Well, the key is figuring out how to start, how to continue the conversation and eventually, how to let it go.
Join me here:
Relationships are complicated.  Communication between two individuals is often fraught with misunderstanding.  The timing isn’t always right and sometimes you are just not in the mood.
But despite all that, I want to let you in on a few key principles that you absolutely need to know before you take this type of conversation on. 
Here they are:

1. Move Past Your Own Assumptions. 

Often, we have already pre-decided what someone thinks about God. 
You may know that a person doesn’t attend church regularly so you assume that they think spiritual things are irrelevant.  Really?  Why continue to assume that, if there is no evidence to support it?  You haven’t asked the person yet. Yes, there is a risk in asking, but make sure your preconceived hunch is not cheating you out of a conversation you are both interested in having. 
Statistically, we know that more people are interested in faith conversations than not.  If you play the odds, the person you are sitting across from is more-likely wishing you would bring it up.

2. Express A Genuine Interest. 

Don’t begin with your baptism story. 
First, ask him how he is doing, ask how she is really doing.  And then, listen.  Your first several conversations may never include a single idea of your own.  Ask about life and ideas and plans and achievements and concerns and anxieties.  Be intentionally respectful.
You should hear yourself saying “What do you think about that?”  “How did you come to feel this way?”  “What’s it like for you when that happens?”  Validate.  Empathize.  Be motivated by a genuine desire to engage.  When their story breaks your heart, because real life has a way of doing that, tell them you don’t know what to say but politely offer, that when you have been similarly at the very end of yourself, you have prayed about it.  Because that is being honest – the last time you had no idea how to fix your broken heart, you prayed – and by offering to do for someone else what you would do for yourself, you are caring for them.
If you don’t care about this person, you don’t get to nudge the conversation into the faith-arena.  You don’t get to invite them to church.  You don’t get to share your spiritual opinions. 
So if you find yourself engaged in a conversation with someone, and get distracted or caught up with some selfish thoughts, stop thinking you will share your faith with them.  You shouldn’t.  First comes the caring and then comes the sharing.  Your first conversation earns you the right to the next conversation.  Keep this top of mind.

3. Know Your Truth. 

I think about Billy Graham.  He stands out in the crowd of humanity as one of the most influential leaders of all time.  He knew his truth.  His passion for teaching millions came from a deeply personal conviction centred around the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the spiritual reconciliation this offered to the world. 
Billy Graham had studied the scriptures to the point that he could not keep this life-saving message of unconditional and super-natural love and acceptance to himself.  Out of this conviction, Billy Graham shared his faith. 
Reach daily into scripture and apply the words of Jesus and words of the Apostle Paul to your life.  You will nurture and ground your soul.  God will use you.

4. Share Your Stuff. 

Everybody has stuff.  Your life is not all together.  Life is sometimes hard for everybody.  Be appropriately but profoundly honest. 
Talk about how your job leaves you dissatisfied, how you struggle to get a good night’s sleep, how you are seeing a marriage counselor, how you worry about your kids and your weight and your money. 
If you share your thoughts on God in the absolutely false context that your life is perfect, your shared words will fly-fly-away on the next winsome breeze of nothingness because what you have to say about God doesn’t really matter anyway.  You obviously don’t need Him.  You have got life figured out on your own.  That will be a shame, when all the while you want to communicate that God’s redeeming love bolsters you and grounds you. 
The truth is that you believe that Jesus died for all the bad, unexplainable anguish and garbage going on in the world and going on in your life.  Tell your friend that.  They will listen. 

5. Let Go. 

You are going to invest in people by sharing your spiritual world-view and undeniably, the truth of what you share has the power to transform. 
When people lean into God-conversations, the possibilities for life-change is incredible.  You will be offering a peek inside of a heart and mind sold out for God and that is wonderful.  This extension of yourself will be a gift that could truly transform your friend’s experience of living.  Or maybe it won’t.  Maybe someone will grow to like you but at the same time, will turn you down every time you invite them to church.  Maybe it will feel odd when you offer to pray for someone’s loss and you will only receive a grateful smile but a guarded expression.  This person who now trusts you and cares about you too, will possibly always let you talk about your Christianity but never be influenced to take on those views for themselves.  And you know what?  That’s ok.  The potential conviction of knowing their need for a Saviour might happen in their heart but it just as likely, might not.  That’s not your responsibility.  That’s not your job.  It is a noble and even righteous goal to bring people to Christ but don’t make a single person your conversion-project. 
Let. that. go.  And while you do, continue to vulnerably invest and also deepen your own faith.  Never stop being “for” your friend and focus on moving past the judgments and assumptions that will threaten your friendship.  God has got this. 
Relax and enjoy knowing that. Proclaim well.
Today’s post is a guest post by Rose Meeder. Not only is Rose a close friend, Rose is a physician, a wife and mother to four, and the host of Intersection, a podcast where she has important, meaningful conversations with people about where real life and faith intersect.
Last year, I interviewed Rose in depth
Rose is one of the best I know at having genuine, meaningful conversation in an age when the art of conversation is dying.  

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Sanctification: An Often Painfully Slow Process

The process of change for the Christ is sometimes rapid but more often slow and painful . . . 

The Time In Between

There’s this terrible thing that happens in Genesis 3. It’s a very familiar story to us, but I think that sometimes we can get so sunk down into what happens in the fall, that we lose sight of the beautiful vision that is created in Genesis 1 and 2 of what humanity was intended for. We were intended to bear the image of God and to do so perfectly in limited human form. That’s what we’re headed toward at a later date. In Revelation, we see that idea restored.
The question is what are we supposed to do with what we see between Genesis 1 and 2 and what we see at the end of Revelation? That answer is given to us repeatedly in the Scriptures. Be holy, for I am holy.
We were intended to bear the image of God and to do so perfectly in limited human form.

Incremental Change

The believer in a post-fall world is still living with the presence of sin and temptation around, but because they’ve been granted a new heart through Christ’s sacrifice, they’re actually capable of choosing things that please the Lord.

We do that over the course of a lifetime. We don’t do it perfectly, but we do it incrementally better as time goes by, sometimes—I think everybody would testify—it feels like imperceptibly incrementally in some areas of our lives.
We do have sin patterns that we battle for years, and we can have the sense that I’m not getting any better at this reimaging thing that is supposed to be happening in me where I begin to look as I was intended to look—to look like Christ who perfectly imaged the Father.

Evidence of Sanctification

We can feel like that can’t possibly really be happening because I still do this or I still do that.But, I think that’s probably because of a simultaneous thing that happens the longer you’re a Christ follower. You grow in your awareness of just how terrible sin is, and so any sin that continues in your life, you are perceiving with more and more accuracy than you did ten or fifteen years ago.
In His Image

In His Image

Jen Wilkin

This book by the best-selling author of Women of the Word explores ten attributes of God that Christians are called to reflect, helping readers discover freedom and purpose in becoming all that God made them to be.
This is probably why Paul calls himself (annoyingly) “the chief of all sinners,” and we all want to say yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s not you. But, that’s the way that we all feel, even those of us who have been in the faith for a long time.
Even that awareness is a demonstration that sanctification is occurring. That’s part of what it means to be reimaged. It’s a growing awareness of the depth and extent of our sin, and at the same time, a growing desire to choose what pleases the Lord in everything we do.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Why Discipleship is Best Done In Groups (Not One-on-One)

I have been having this discussion with some of our leadership.  From Gravity Leadership blog . . . 
When it comes to discipleship, one of the assumptions many people make is that we’re talking about one-on-one meetings over coffee, but I think discipleship is better done in groups, where several people gather to meet with a leader to walk through the discipleship process.
This is how our coaching is organized, and how we train leaders to make disciples in their local context, and there’s a reason for it!
In fact, there are (at least) 4 reasons for it. Here they are: 4 reasons group discipleship is better than one-on-one discipleship:

1. Jesus did discipleship in groups

The first reason discipleship is best done in groups is pretty simple, and fairly obvious when you think about it: Jesus did almost all of his discipleship in groups! The pattern the Gospels show us is that, in general, Jesus discipled in groups and evangelized one-on-one.
There are reasons for this (see below), but it’s worth remembering that sometimes it’s worth trying something just because it’s the way that Jesus did it. How did Jesus make disciples? He called a group of twelve to be with him and learn from him how to be like him.
And they were together a lot. Much of the discipleship Jesus engaged in happened “along the way” as they traveled from place to place for Jesus’ “job” as an itinerant prophet, and almost all of it happened when they were all together as a group.

2. Learning is multiplied in discipleship groups

The second reason discipleship is best done in groups is that when everyone is together, the learning is multiplied. What one person is learning and growing into can be multiplied into other people’s lives just because they happen to be present!
There are a lot of examples of this happening in the Gospels, but Mark 10:35-45 gives us a typical scene: James and John come to Jesus and ask him if they can have the two most prominent positions in Jesus’ new government. Jesus tells them they don’t know what they’re talking about, and he won’t grant their request.
Then the other disciples hear about it and “they became indignant with James and John” (most likely because they wished they would have thought of doing that!).
How does Jesus respond? He “called them together,” and gives them some exhortation on what it looks like to be a leader in his kingdom (“Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant”).
Now all the disciples gets the benefit of learning about this new way of leadership. If Jesus had practiced one-on-one discipleship, none of this would have happened, because the disciples would never have heard the request of James and John (because they wouldn’t be together).
I’ve seen this happen time and time again in my own discipleship groups. We are processing a Kairos with one person, and it triggers all kinds of growth and learning for everyone else in the group as we walk through it.

3. Time is maximized in discipleship groups

A third reason discipleship is best done in groups is a practical one: the leader’s time is maximized when discipleship is primarily done in a group setting.
In the example above, can you imagine how much time it would have taken Jesus to schedule one-on-one meetings over coffee with each of the twelve disciples to discuss the leadership lesson he wanted them all to hear in that moment? If his disciples were as busy as most church members, it could have taken months!
Instead, because they’re all together, Jesus is able to deliver an important exhortation to all of them at the same time, and they all get the benefit of understanding why this leadership lesson was being given (because they were still all angry at James and John for trying to grab power!).

4. Community is fostered in discipleship groups

A fourth reason that discipleship is best done in groups is that community is fostered in discipleship groups.
Discipleship is not an individual sport. It’s not me as a private individual learning more facts about God and striving to be a better Christian.
Discipleship is about growing in union with God, and we can’t grow in our union with God if we’re not also growing in community with the Body of Christ, learning to follow Jesus together. Your discipleship will be stunted if you try and do it by yourself.
We need to walk together as disciples, because the challenges of learning to be a community will bring up the discipleship issues we’ll need to focus on (just like the request of James and John brought up the “content” for Jesus’ discipleship in Mark 10:35-45).
Plus, most of the commands of the New Testament are impossible to obey by yourself. It’s pretty hard to “love one another” if you’re the only person in the room.

How to get started

Part of our coaching is training leaders to invite people into and lead discipleship groups, and it typically takes 10 months or more to begin to learn the nuances and rhythms of it (!), but here are a few pointers to help you move the discipleship ball down the court:
  • If you don’t have any discipling relationships right now, write down a list of people that you think might be open to investment. Pray through your list and ask God to reveal who might be a good fit. Then think through how you’d invite them into a discipleship group.
  • If you have one-on-one discipling relationships right now, consider casting vision for gathering everyone into one discipleship group and see how they respond. What does their response indicate to you?
  • If you are currently leading a discipleship group, think about one takeaway from this article can you bring into your group. For example, many discipleship groups feel more like “classes” than communities… so if the community aspect of a discipleship group is often lacking in your group, think about ways to foster a sense of togetherness and mutual support in your group.

Questions for discussion

  • Does this challenge any assumptions or convictions you have about discipleship? How so?
  • Are there other benefits to group discipleship that you’ve experienced?
  • What have been your experiences in discipleship (one-on-one or in groups)?

Friday, May 18, 2018


From Lifeway Facts & Trends . . .

Too many songs. Not enough singers. That’s the problem facing many congregations these days, says Tony Payne, veteran worship leader and associate professor of music at Wheaton College.

Whether a church plays hymns or the latest worship songs, fewer people want to sing along, he says. “There are a lot of people standing there mute during worship.”

Congregational singing has long been a staple of Protestant churches, ever since the Reformation, when “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” was the latest hit worship song. And today churches have more songs to choose from than ever before.

LifeWay Worship, for example, has a catalog of 4,000 worship songs, while Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI) has 300,000—all available at the click of a button.

Yet Payne and other veteran worship leaders worry congregational singing is on the decline.

That’s bad news, says Rick Eubanks, pastor of worship and students at Oak Grove Baptist Church in Burleson, Texas. Congregational singing is an essential part of Christian worship, he says. When churches don’t sing together, something vital is missing.

“Gathering for worship is not about watching other people perform,” he says. “And it’s not about the music; it’s about allowing people to connect with God.”

How did we get here?

Mike Harland, director of LifeWay Worship, says a number of factors have contributed to the decline in congregational singing. Among them: the fact that there are fewer places for congregation members to sing in church, in large part due to the decline of choirs.

In 1998, 54 percent of American churches had a choir, according to the National Congregations Study. By 2012, fewer than half had a choir (45 percent).

Larger evangelical churches, in particular, have steered away from choirs—in part due to finances and in part because they’ve embraced contemporary styles of music. More than two-thirds (69 percent) had choirs in 1998. By 2012, just over a third (36 percent) had choirs.

That’s troubling, say the authors of the National Congregations Study, as it means fewer lay people have a role to play in worship.

“The decline of choirs is worth examining in its own right because singing in the choir is one of the most common ways, along with Bible studies, for people to become more deeply involved in a congregation, and it is the single most common way for lay people to participate actively in gathered worship,” according to the study’s author.

Losing a choir can hurt congregational singing, says Eubanks.

“A choir can be a permission-giving organization,” he says. “They give people permission to sing along.”

Another factor could be the consumerist mindset prevalent in many churches today.

“We’ve been taught in our churches and in the Christian marketing subculture around us to treat music as another product to consume—just as we have the rest of our faith,” writes worship pastor Mike Cosper in his book Rhythms of Grace.

“If something doesn’t meet our preferences, we’ve learned to discard it, join another church, and buy a different CD. We’ve learned to be spectators on Sundays—listening, enjoying, and critiquing—but the Bible unapologetically calls us to be participants.”

If church members don’t come to church with an attitude of worship, they aren’t likely to engage.

A 2008 LifeWay Research study found many churchgoers feel disconnected during worship. Almost half (47 percent) of the 2,5000 Protestant churchgoers in the survey said they were often “going through the motions” during the singing and prayer portions of worship services.

Harland wonders whether churches unintentionally discourage singing during services.

About half of white evangelicals attend a church that uses multimedia screens during services, according to the Public Religion Research Institute. Turning down the lights makes the screens easier to read. But Harland says it can send an unintended message.

“When you turn the lights off and you have theatrical lighting on stage, you’re suggesting to the congregation they are here to watch something rather than participate,” he says.

Another factor: singing isn’t always seen as a discipleship strategy.

Harland says pastors and music ministers aren’t always on the same page. The music ministry does its own thing at times, rather than being integrated into the mission of the church. And pastors in turn don’t always value the contributions of music ministries. Instead, music is sometimes seen as a warm-up to the sermon.

“I think some pastors stopped seeing music ministry as a disciple-making enterprise,” Harland says.

Too many songs, too fast

Then there’s the overwhelming number of worship songs available to churches.

In the past, churches had a limited number of songs they could sing. A hymnal might have about 700 songs, and maybe half of those would be used on a regular basis, says Harland. Now worship leaders can choose from an almost unlimited number of songs, and the most popular worship songs don’t last long.

“Musicians like that because they tend to get bored playing the same songs,” says Harland. “They like to play new music, and congregations get lost in the wake of a constant song shuffle.”

From 1995-1999, the most popular CCLI songs remained fairly stable. In that period, three of the top five songs stayed in the top five, as did seven of the top 10, and 20 of the top 25.

By contrast, from 2011 to 2014 (the last year data is available), none of the top five songs remained the same, and only three of the top 10 songs and 13 of the top 25 remained.

Payne worries about the pace of modern worship music. Learning new songs takes time and repetition, he says. He wonders if worship leaders try to rush the process and end up giving up too soon.

“We’re constantly learning songs that have a limited shelf life,” says Payne. “In a few months they’ll be gone forever and we’re on to something else.”

No one wants to sound bad

There’s also the reality that most people don’t often sing in public. Church attendance has become less frequent, so people have fewer chances to sing in a group during a month. And corporate singing of any kind has steadily declined in American culture the last half century.

It’s not surprising people don’t sing when they’re in church, says Keith Pipes, a veteran worship pastor in Nashville. Singing in a group can feel awkward these days, he says.

“There are people who have never sung in an organized group before,” he says. “Then they show up to church and they are asked to sing with a couple hundred people. They may feel that is really odd.”

If people don’t feel comfortable with a hymn or worship song, they’re unlikely to sing, says Rita Ruby, a voice teacher and worship leader from Chicago.

Singing in public is hard enough, she says. Singing a song you don’t know well in public is worse.

“No one wants to sound horrible—especially with someone sitting right in front of you,” she says.

Moving an unengaged audience to full engagement is not an easy task. It may take some time, patience, and intentional training. There’s no magic formula or even one style of worship that will convince people to sing.

Fortunately, say Harland and other worship pastors, there are some steps church leaders can take to help congregations enjoy singing and participate.

Don’t sing a worship song like it’s on the CD

Finding the right key is essential, says Eubanks. Most worship leaders, he says, sing in a key that fits them, so they can lead out as strongly as possible. Unfortunately, people can’t always follow them in that key. Instead, he says, pick a key that has the widest appeal.

“A song will be in the key of B flat on the CD, but most people can’t sing that high,” he says. “If we can bring it down to the key of G, that will be OK for most vocal ranges.”

Take more time to teach a new song

Few people can hear a song or hymn once and be ready to sing along. So break down a song into smaller pieces, says Pipes. Take a few minutes to sing the chorus a couple of times until people become familiar with it. Then add the verses.

Repetition is also crucial. Don’t be afraid to sing a new song two or three weeks in a row until people learn it, Pipes says.

Tell church members what they will be singing ahead of time

Let church members know in advance what songs will be sung on Sunday and provide links to the music in a church newsletter, email, or post on the church’s website. Churchgoers can listen ahead of time and be ready to sing.

Let the congregation win

Harland tries to include a favorite hymn or worship song in every service. It’s usually a song the congregation knows well, one that is set in a comfortable key, and one the congregation loves to sing.

With enough wins, the congregation’s confidence will grow. Plus, people will learn to trust the worship leaders—and will be willing to follow them.

And don’t forget the power of a familiar hymn—one that’s lodged in the collective memory of a church. Those songs can help a congregation sing without having to worry about remembering the words or how the tune goes.

Engage the congregation

Want people to sing? Turn on the lights. Having the room even somewhat illuminated can help the congregation engage in worship.

Frank Byers, media director at the Bridge Church in Spring Hill, Tennessee, says church leaders can learn from secular musicians who intentionally take steps to connect with their audience.

One of those ways is to make eye contact with audience members. By contrast, he says, many worship leaders close their eyes during the service. That can shut them off from the congregation.

“If I don’t look at them, how can I welcome the congregation into worship?” he says.

He sees the role of worship leader as a facilitator—helping the congregation as a whole connect with God through singing and worship.

“As facilitator, my job is to keep the conversation going,” he says. “My job is to facilitate this conversation between God and His people.”

Body language also matters when leading music, says Payne. Worship leaders should guide the congregation through a song—giving them cues and encouraging them to sing.

“Something as simple as a smile on your face can give the congregation permission to sing,” he says.

“Good pastoral leadership will include wise decisions about songs and dynamics, ensuring that services create space for the congregation to hear themselves, to hear one another, and to join their voices in song,” writes Cosper.

Remember why you sing in the first place

Pastors, worship leaders, and congregations have to believe singing matters, or they won’t ever want to sing, says Harland. Churches sing, he says, because Scripture expects them to.

They also sing because it’s a powerful form of discipleship that marries truth and melody and imbeds that truth in people’s souls.

“Melody helps people to remember,” Harland says. “Singing is a powerful tool for developing followers of Christ.”

Pipes says singing also strengthens the community of believers.

“In Ephesians 5, Paul writes that we should speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs,” says Pipes.

“When we gather in corporate worship, we’re not only singing to God—we’re singing about God to one another. Through song, we can encourage and instruct our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Our worship through song also serves as a witness to non-Christians sitting in our pews.”

There’s a joy that comes from singing in church, says Payne. “It builds community and helps churches learn spiritual truths and live them out.”

Harland agrees: “The gathering of the body of Christ is a body that ought to be singing.”

BOB SMIETANA ( is senior writer for Facts & Trends.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Benefits and Negatives of a Long-Term Pastorate

I identify with much of both the benefits and negatives of a long term pastorate, having been at my current church fourteen years!  found this on the 9 Marks blog.
Editor’s note: From 1973 until 1978, Ron Pracht served Olivet Baptist Church of Wichita, Kansas in various roles: as the minister of music, as the minister of students, and sometimes as the minister of both music and students. In 1978, the church recognized him as an associate pastor. And then, from 1989 until 2015, he served as Olivet’s senior pastor.
Finally, in 2015, he helped the church find his replacement, at which point he transitioned yet again into an associate, yet part-time role.

Given such a lengthy tenure in one church—all told, over 45 years—we asked him to reflect on the pros and cons of a long-term pastorate.
* * * * *
Benefits of a Long-Term Pastorate
  1. You get to know your people more intimately because you walk with them over a long period of time.
  2. There is stability in the church family. Even support staff tends to stay longer than in the average church.
  3. Your family has a sense of being rooted and not displaced every 3-4 years. My daughters had the same friends from kindergarten through high school graduation.
  4. Trust grows stronger every year you stay.
  5. Developing reproducing disciples becomes easier. You tend to make wiser choices about the men with whom you invest your life because you have watched them over a longer period of time.
  6. You get to watch generations be born, grow, marry, and invest in the kingdom. I am now seeing the grandchildren of members who grew up in my student ministry.
  7. You learn to stand and fight rather than give up and run when opposition comes against you. Some battles are worth having.
  8. You learn to be open and confessional, personally and in your preaching, because you have failed, sought forgiveness, and displayed to the people you pastor what it means to intentionally follow Jesus.
  9. You learn the importance of relationships and keeping them right before God. You have fought through difficulties and walked with people in success and failure—both yours and theirs.
  10. You earn the right to lead significant change because of the relational investments you have made.
  11. There is a depth of relationship with people with whom you have shared joys and sorrows, disappointments and successes.
  12. You truly learn to love people as you walk with them in good and bad times. You know what is “out of character” for them when they react poorly in times of stress.
  13. You stand in a long tradition of men who have invested their lives in one place rather than those who have chosen the “free agent” path. I love athletes who stayed in one place for their career (when it was their choice), and didn’t jump around just to find a few more dollars.
  14. You can make a difference on the local and state levels of your denomination because you have invested in one place and are known by other pastors as a faithful man.
  15. You are forced to grow in preaching and leadership instead of repeating old sermons and processes in a new setting.
  16. You get to see the fruit of your ministry as church members begin their service to the body of Christ, locally and internationally. Men in whom I have invested my life are now serving overseas and pastoring local churches throughout the US.
Disadvantages of a Long-Term Pastorate
  1. A pastor can become comfortable in his role, and passion can diminish because he knows how to do things.
  2. The pastor’s family does not learn to be stretched by moving to a new city, congregation, or school.
  3. When you are not looking, a sense of personal ownership of the church can creep in, and where you serve can become “my church” rather than the church God has blessed me to pastor.
  4. The pastor is not stretched by having to learn to deal with new situations and problems.
  5. People who fail do not get a “do-over” like those whose pastor changes every 3-4 years.
  6. You don’t get a “do-over” because you chose to stay instead of run from a problem.
  7. Your resume is much shorter! (Wait, that can be an advantage as well!)
  8. When a long-time friend or supporter decides to leave the church, the pain is deeper for a long-tenured pastor than it is for the man who moves frequently.

Monday, May 14, 2018

The Holy Spirit, Prayer, and Preaching

Simple truths that are easily overlooked in the busyness of ministry by David Helm at 9 Marks blog. 
I have a growing conviction, and it is this: The great need of the church today is for a fresh and long-lasting work of the Holy Spirit. This conviction, for me at least, is not simply about the church’s need for the Holy Spirit to come down and revive or empower us. Rather, this conviction is related to our need for him to reveal the reign of Jesus Christ both to others and for us.
If, like me, this conviction is surfacing in your heart and mind with renewed energy and force, it might be good to ask: “How will we know when the conviction has truly taken up residence within us?” That is, “What proves that we genuinely embrace it?”

Recently, I’ve been mulling over these kinds of questions, and think at least two signs would be observable.
First, this conviction is embraced when a commitment to prayer is present; the praying person “gets it.” In fact, I’m tempted to say that only those who regularly go before God in prayer are those who really embrace the conviction. For by their prayers, they demonstrate a belief that God alone, in and through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, is able to accomplish the work of regeneration. If we’re a non-praying people, it indicates we still think we can get the job done.
Now, if I’m right, that is, if prayer is a manifest evidence of our conviction, then those who desire God to do a fresh gospel work in our day will be people who pray.
Interestingly, at decisive points in Luke’s Gospel, this dynamic connection is made. At least four times people recognize Jesus for who he is in close proximity to someone praying:
  • Right before Peter acknowledges that Jesus is the Christ, Jesus prays alone. (9:18–20)
  • Peter, John, and James go up on a mountain to pray, and then the voice of God comes down from heaven to reveal not only who Jesus is, but what his followers are to do in light of this knowledge. (9:28–36)
  • At his baptism, Jesus is praying when the heavens open, the Holy Spirit descends, and a voice from heaven affirms Jesus as his Son. (3:21–22)
  • Aged saints, Simeon and Anna, recognize Jesus for who he is through the ministry of the Holy Spirit and in the ordinary context of offering regular prayers.
These four vignettes are important. And they are given to us, I believe, by design. They teach us that when people come to Christ and begin to follow him, they do so through the fresh and ongoing work of the Holy Spirit—and that, through prayer.
When we genuinely embrace the conviction of our need for the Spirit, we give ourselves to the work of prayer.
Second, when the conviction for a fresh and long-lasting ministry of the Holy Spirit is embraced, prayer isn’t the only thing present. A commitment to biblical exposition emerges, too.
As the church recovers a sense of our great need, people and preachers alike will hunger for a simple and raw exposure to the proclamation of God’s Word. Put another way, the one in prayer is the same one who will give himself to the biblical text, and this by necessity.
Now I’m aware, for many readers anyway, that the relationship between our conviction on the Holy Spirit and preaching is not readily understood. After all, many of us have been led—mistakenly so—to believe we must choose between a commitment to the Holy Spirit or a commitment to the Word of God. One can seek “street cred” or “spiritual maturity,” but not both.
These same folks would have us believe that one attends a “Spirit-led church” or a “Word-centered church,” but one cannot attend both. This conventional wisdom has been ingrained in us. But it is a false notion to think one has to select between relevance in our neighborhoods, or relevance to those who already believe.
To be blunt, I am weary of it all. I am tired of those who frame the discussion along these lines, as though the Spirit and the Word were at odds with one another. The dichotomy is a false one—and it’s about time we learn how to put it to rest.
What I would argue instead is that the person who recognizes the church’s need for a fresh and long-lasting ministry of the Spirit will be the same one who devotes himself not only to prayer, but to biblical exposition. This is because the ministry of the Holy Spirit has always been dynamically related to the ministry of the Word.
One text, though many could have been selected, is sufficient to illustrate the point. Look at Hebrews 3, particularly verse 7, which begins this way: “Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says . . .”
Two wonderful surprises exist in these five words. First, notice, the writer refers to the authorship of the Holy Spirit when he quotes Psalm 95. This is striking, and we are meant to take notice. He didn’t say, “As the Bible says,” or, “As the Psalmist says,” or even, “As the Scriptures say.” Rather, he writes, “As the Holy Spirit says.”
The significance of this is important: If you want to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit, you’ll find it dynamically related to biblical texts. That is, the Holy Spirit is already present as the author, in words long ago set down in Scripture. I think it was John Piper who tweeted something like, “If you want to hear God speak to you today, go in your room, shut the door, and read the Bible out loud.” I concur. The Word of God is the voice of the Spirit. Therefore, our conviction that the great need of the church is for a fresh and long-lasting work of the Holy Spirit means, out of necessity, that an equal commitment is made to biblical exposition.
The second surprise in Hebrews 3:7 is one of grammar: the verb is in the present tense! It reads, “As the Holy Spirit says. . .” The significance of this shouldn’t be missed. Psalm 95, originally given to an ancient people who lived in a very different time, is said to be God’s present and living Word for those of a much later generation—and the same is true for us today. Hebrews 3:7 establishes an ongoing and dynamic relationship between the present-day ministry of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God expounded.
And there you have it. A conviction for a renewed work of the Holy Spirit is needed, and we’ll know that conviction is settling into our bones and marrow when the attending commitments of prayer and preaching are also present.
In recent days, this conviction has been seeping into my own soul with fresh force and vitality. I know this to be authentic because prayer and preaching are increasingly having practical effects in my life. And I want the same to be true for you.