You have that gift so that you can benefit others. Paul revealed his desires to the Romans I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong (Rom. 1:11). Paul would want to use his spiritual gift to make the Romans strong in God. He was interested in them growing for the Lord.
This is so very important for us to learn. In all of our dealings with others we should be sold out for making sure that they are benefited. I should be using all my gifts and energies so that they grow as an individual in God and for Christ.
We do not operate to make people our friends, to make them our supporters, to recruit them to a cause or to persuade them of a view point. Rather we labour in all things for their growth in God and for Christ.
The general principle of conduct displayed by our Lord in His ministry on earth was that of walking with people. His general modus operandi was to move into lives not to confront, but to walk alongside of. This meant spending time with people, talking to them and listening to them. His dealings with the twelve disciples was a realm in which this was specifically displayed. Confrontation was the exception in His dealing with people.
There were times of confrontation particularly when He came face to face with false teaching, hypocritical living or satanic action. We can remember how, when Peter sought to dissuade Him from the cross, He said Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.’ (Matt. 16:23).
This makes us to think about the conduct of our lives. Whether it be as parents, employers or church elders, if we are always confronting, then there does seem to be something wrong with our approach to ministering into the lives of others. The general tenor of all our parenting, managing and pastoring should be to walk alongside people, taking an interest in them, seeking to help them with their problems.
Who do we depend on for the source of our spiritual life? The Lord says this to the crowd and His disciples ‘But you are not to be called “Rabbi”, for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth “father”, for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. (Matt. 23:8-11). The issue here I suggest is not the use of titles for people. It is rather what is implied and understood by the use of those titles.
The Lord establishes the fundamentals of spiritual relationship when He says that we have “one teacher and you are all brothers.” The source of our spiritual life is the one teacher and we all share in the same spiritual life in the family of God as brothers. Using the terms “Rabbi”, “father” and “instructors” indicates the operation of a religious system where certain people have supplanted the “one teacher”. The Rabbis etc. have become the source of spiritual life. So we look to what they say, to their insights and we conceive what they say as the final statement on any matter.
This system is mutually indulged in by the teacher and the taught. The teacher loves the adulation and the fact that others are dependent upon him. The taught love the fact that they have someone tangible who gives them their spiritual strength and support. A destructive symbiotic relationship has henceforth developed. Everybody is happy, but everybody is being spiritually destroyed as a result.
What has gone wrong is that men have taken the place of God. This can happen very subtly. We can start to have our favorite preachers online and we can start to be dependent on them. We can always go to a certain teacher when we have a query and we always take their view as the final Word. Further, someone who has blessed us richly can become the key provider of spiritual nutrition as we feel that we owe them so much.
In saying all this we should not go to the opposite extreme and reject those who God has provided to help us in our spiritual development. Teachers and preachers, spiritual mentors and fellow members of the church can all be helpers in bringing us to know the Master, grow in Him and be spiritually sustained in Him. These intermediaries are only that, though, they are not the ultimate source of blessing.
And those who are in a situation of bringing nurture to others must always watch against this tendency for others to become dependent upon them. I have written about “named ministries” here and do feel that they can contribute to the problem. As an elder in a church I need always to be remembering that I am pointing people to Christ and leading them to depend upon Him.
Churches need to have the faithful bringing of the Word as part of their dna. Whether it be through preaching times, bible studies, one-to-one-studies or whatever, the Word needs to be relentlessly brought into the church.
I fear though that no matter how faithfully and powerfully the Word is brought, much of the benefit is being dissipated by what people are watching, listening to and reading outside of church. The problem has always been there, but it has been exacerbated by the internet. There is now such easy access to everything and anything that people easily fall into the trap of feeding their souls on what is junk at best and poison at worse. The likes of Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer are so pervasive online that the undiscerning so easily fall under their sway.
So what needs to be done?:
- There is the challenge of teaching about discernment.
- We have to be more open about who the false teachers are out there.
- We need to confront false teaching.
- We need to encourage the people to come and ask the shepherds what they should be listening to and watching.
- We need to confiscate everyone’s phones and computers until they have learnt that to make sure they will only listen to healthy teaching. Well perhaps that’s going to far, but I feel like doing it sometimes.
- I need to keep loving the sheep. I despair at times, but I need to keep leading them into green pastures.
……..and then someone will sort out the roof” is, I believe, a phrase emanating from Dick Lucas. I heard it some years ago and it has often reverberated around my little brain. Here are some of the issues that it raises.
- Particularly when you are in a small church situation, there is a tendency to do jobs in the church because you feel there is no-one else to do them. But if you are called to pastoral ministry then there is a danger that you are taken away from the work you are called to do.
- When the Word of God is being taught effectively then the church starts to mature. And in that maturing people start to discover their gifts. Some will have the relevant practical gifts which lead to them being able to solve the practical problems. So the roof problem will be sorted out.
- If you are called to preach the Word, but also focus on the practical work you are likely to burn yourself out.
- If you are called to preach the Word, but fail to do so because so many other things are taking your time, then the church will not mature and gifts will not be emerging in the fellowship.
So fellow elders let us be thoughtful about what we prioritise in our ministry.
(Originally published at Venabling on 03/07/2015)
I seem to have had several experiences over the last few years concerning certain men who have been hijacked concerning the faith. Here are the characteristics:
- They are male
- They are in their 20’s / 30’s
- They make profession of some conversion experience.
- They have a degree of zeal regarding serving God.
- They profess that they want to learn.
- None of them were with us at the beginning of their confession of Christ.
And what has happened? They have been hijacked concerning the faith. All of them to varying degrees are presently less than useful for the cause of Christ. In many ways it perplexes me. Why has this happened? I am left wondering whether we have failed them. We have labored to provide foundational teaching and to disciple them, but it has come to nothing. I find all the situations so grieving. Perhaps it was that they had all been set on the wrong course before they arrived. This mixed in with the ready accessibility of spiritual gunge online has conspired to their messy condition.
Possibly two scriptures are pertinent here:
- For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task? Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, as those sent from God (2 Cor. 2:15-17). This indicates how the church when operating effectively is a dividing place
- They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us. (1 John 2:19). This indicates that sometimes the leaving of the church is proof that these people were not of the church.
What ever it is, the Lord knows all. But I am much grieved.
A shepherd cares for sheep. A shepherd therefore must know His sheep. A shepherd must be with his sheep. Empathy is vital if a church leader is to fulfill the shepherd role. Empathy means drawing alongside people so as to demonstrate that you not only know about their experiences, but that you actually have a desire to enter into their experience. Empathy is good Samaritan ministry. It is like, to quote from that parable, a Samaritan, as he travelled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him (Luke 10-33-34). The Good Samaritan came where the man was, he did not stay at a distance like the priest and Levite. To be a leader of god’s people necessitates being aware of people’s situations and empathizing with them. It means feeling with them.
Now we do have to be careful here, in making sure that people know that we are genuine. People will soon know if we are faking our empathy. It is only prayer that will take us into effectively ministering into people’s lives in this way. As we pray about people and tehir situations we will start to feel for people as the Holy Spirit minsters into us and through us. This all reminds me that we should be relentlessly praying for the sheep and all of their situations. An elder who does not pray for the sheep in his care, denies his office.
Finally, we need to avoid crass phrases throw-away statements as we draw along-side people. Phrases like “I know exactly how you feel” should be avoided. To such a statement “No you don’t” is very likely the unspoken answer of the person. We do not need to rush to say things. Being with people in their distress is very often the best things we can do. Don’t forget that Job’s friends were of most use to him when they sat silently with him for seven days (see Job 2:13)!
(This post follows-on from my post of June 20th about Mrs May and Leadership – see here)