Discipling is an ongoing task. That is both for myself and for others. So for myself I need to be relentlessly pushing forward to know my Master better and follow Him more closely. In dealing with others it means that I can never feel that I have so ministered into their lives so as to have them as the finished article in terms of following our Lord Jesus.
Discipling of course, has everything to do with following a Master. It means learning from that person and imbibing their teachings and lifestyle. In Christian discipling it is critically important that we are not making disciples for ourselves. Our business is to labour into our own lives and into the lives of others so that each are formed in the image of Christ. Paul is speaking about discipling work when he says in Colossians 1:28 that He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.
If we ever think we have made it in discipling, that is in either becoming one ourselves or striving to make disciples of others then we are very wrong. None of us will be the finished article until glory dawns. Whenever I hear someone speaking of not needing further teaching on an issue then I am a little suspicious. We always need further teaching, we all need further rebuking, further exhorting. And we all need a continually good example around us. So becoming a disciple is never done in this life.
One of the most potent sources of stress I have found in pastoral ministry involves interacting with people. One particular facet of this appertains to how other people respond to situations in which I am involved. So much mental energy has been used up in pondering upon how other people will act, interact, engage respond etc. in a situation. Here are a few of the scenarios that can run through my mind:
- Will they get back to me in time are they upset about something?
- Why are they not interacting?
- Why do they not respond to expressions of interest/concern?
- Will they be awkward with me about this?
- Will they be angry with me the next time we meet?
It is a pressing need for me to grow in wisdom and spirituality so as to not be badly affected by all these machinations. So some things I need to drive into my mind and heart are:
- Have I been godly in my conduct? I cannot dictate the actions (or non-actions) and shenanigans of others. I am not answerable for others before God. But God calls me to be full of integrity and the fear of the Lord. The favour of the Lord is more important than whether or not I am being messed around by someone.
- If I have done something wrong I need to repent and ask forgiveness of that person.
- If someone has sinned against me that needs to be dealt with in a biblical way (see Matt. 18:15-18). It is no good lashing out in frustration.
- Talking can be so important. It can be my perception that I am being messed around by someone, but when I speak through the situation with the person I realize it was nothing of the sort.
- Love demonstrates that I want to help others grow in grace. If someone is failing in their conduct then I need to speak to them. However, I need to learn to always choose the cool of the moment and not the heat of the moment.
- There are times when matters have to be left and I simply have to move on. I cannot get aggravated and seek resolution to every perceived or real indiscretion of others. As Peter says in 1 Peter 4:8: love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.
- Remember that God is in control. If my plans and arrangements do not work out I can be sure that my Father has a better plan.
- I need to be continually praying to the Lord. I need to be casting all my care upon him. He really does care for me. Praise Him!
There is much written about what the phrase “faithful to his wife” (Titus 1:6b, 1 Tim. 3:2b) means in reference to the qualifications for an elder. It seems to me that a lot of the observations about the statement get bogged down in technicalities and intricacies and miss the sense of the text.
A key fact in understanding the text is to realise that what is being referred to is someone who qualified to be an elder of a church. It is someone who has a steady and reliable character.
Following on from our awareness of context is the awareness of how the text can legitimately be rendered. “One woman man” is very much within the bounds of legitimacy and fits the context very well.
The characteristic we are looking then is part of the photo-fit which defines someone suitable for eldership. That man is to be devoted to one woman. He only has eyes for his wife (although if could reasonably referred to fiance or girlfriend). A flirtatious man reveals a man to be unsteady and unreliable and that would be unbecoming of an elder. Such a man is not fit for eldership.
So we need men who are utterly devoted to their wives. They find all their delight for fellowship, companionship, support and sexual fulfillment in this one woman. This woman has no doubt that all his affection is upon her. How men need to cultivate this so that their eyes (and hearts) do not wander. And of course we need to pray.
It is a beautiful thing to see a man devoted to his wife after 40/50/60 years of marriage. That has to be cultivated; it does not just happen.
If you have been preaching in a certain church (or other situation) for a lengthy period of time then you are very likely to have built up significant capital with the people. That capital does not accrue automatically of course. It accrues through accurately, faithfully and appropriately bringing the Word to the people. It also builds up through continual prayerful care for the people. It is good that people have learned to trust you over that period and you have built up a significant capital of trust.
However, the accrual of capital does have its dangers. These largely stem from being complacent. When you start off in a ministry there are very few liberties you can take. This is because if you do err in any way, you are likely to make people wary of you. But after a period, when trust has been built, there can be a tendency to complacency.
One way I have been thinking of how this can be manifest is with regards to becoming casual in preaching. If you have preached faithfully over many years the people are likely to trust what you say. This can mean that you can start to cut corners in your preparation and in particular in your exegesis of the text. “No-one will notice” is your conclusion and no harm will be done.
However, to allow such an attitude to encroach upon your soul is most dangerous. It means that you lose that care in dealing with God’s Word. And if that continues a rot can set in which can lead to all kinds of havoc. Accordingly, we must make sure we can take our stand with Paul who, on the verge of glory said I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. ( 2 Tim. 4:7). We should always be hearing Paul’s injunction to Timothy to Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15).
If you have responsibility at a church service make sure you are there fifteen minutes before the service starts. This is a good practice to get used to. It means that:
- there is time for anything that needs to be attended to to be sorted out.
- there is no last minute rush to deal with any issues.
- people are not left with uncertainties about whether or not you are going to be there to fulfill your responsibility.
- there is space, as necessary, to pray with others before the service.
- you have some built-in leeway, in the event that you are delayed in your travelling. Planning to arrive at the last minute is likely to lead to you being late if there is any unexpected eventuality.
So adopt the fifteen minute rule as a good practice. To do so shows godliness in that you:
- are reliable. Having made a a commitment, you act in such a way as to make sure you fulfill it.
- are loving. You want to act so as to cause as little trouble as possible to others.
When you are called to be an elder you are called to a certain church to exercise that responsibility. An “elder” who is not an elder of a church is not an elder. I make this assertion because eldership only functions in the context of an individual church. But when an elder is considered as an elder in a church how much of that church are they responsible for? Part of Paul’s exhortation to the Ephesians elders was for them to Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers (Acts 20:28a). They were all overseers to all the flock.
This reminds me of the importance of realising that when I was recognised as an elder of Feltham Evangelical Church I took on overseership of all the flock. I have a responsibility for all the flock. By implication it means as well that, under God I have responsibility for all of the church. When I become an elder of a church I cannot say that I only have responsibility for this part or that part. I have to answer to God for the whole church.
There are two important caveats here:-
- For practical management of a church situation it is reasonable to allocate responsibility of shepherding different ones among the leaders. Different elders have responsibility to particularly shepherd certain sheep. However, this does not take away from the ultimate responsibility of all the elders all the sheep. Day to day engagement is with one or some of the elders. Overall responsibility is with all of the elders.
- In a similar way responsibility for the activities and ministries in the church may be delegated to different elders of the church. But overall there is collective engagement with every ministry.
This all means that we stand together as elders. Ultimately nothing is carried individually by one of the elders; all is shared and carried by everyone.
Someone turned up at church recently. In fact, not just anyone, he was a dear brother in Christ with a great fervour for God. I have to confess though that I had an initial bad reaction in my being. It went something like this; this man is going to need a lot of care and my tank of care is nearly empty. It was not a nice experience.
I greeted him convivially whilst talking to someone else. Happily he was gushingly welcomed by someone else and made to feel at home. As it transpired there was no need for a great amount of care, and my reaction was baseless.
However, my initial reaction was somewhat alarming. It made me think about how we need to watch ourselves. It is easy to just go through life seeking to minister into lives without being aware that your love tank is running low. You are giving out to others without replenishing the stocks of love in your heart.
This leads me to ponder upon how we need to watch ourselves and make sure that we are continually in being strengthened in the Lord. So let us ponder upon this scripture from Isaiah 40:29-31
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.
That all sounds very pertinent to me. The key thing of course is to be hoping in the Lord. Naturally, we all are the youths and young men who have their strength and vigour fade away. That is a basic natural principle. But in God we can know renewing. So what is it to hope in the Lord? We have to know because it is the key to facilitating this renewing process so that my tanks will be refilled.
William Wilson in his Old Testament Word Studies refers to it being: to hope strongly, to trust, implying firmness and constancy of mind, to wait for, to expect anything; to hope that a thing will be effected, and to wait steadily and patiently till it is effected. All this is in the LORD. So I must take time to get my strength renewed in the Lord. The “hope” word implies not rushing, but being in His presence. So I read His Word and I meditate. I draw into Him. I cry to Him. I ask for the refuelling of my love tank.
If we don’t do this we are like the youths and young men and we will fade away. That is no good.