Posts Tagged ‘gospel ministry’

Elders, please read this

I began reading The Trellis and the Vine by Marshall & Payne some time ago.  It then got “lost” in jury duty and packing.  I blogged on the mind-shifts they were calling the church to embrace in keeping with their metaphor of the trellis and the vine.  Their premise is that churches tend to focus on the trellis- the structure and administrative aspects of a congregation- instead of the vine- the congregation which needs to be nurtured and shepherded.  It is not an all-or-nothing dilemma.  Every vine needs a trellis, something to provide structure.  But the trellis does not demand the attention that the vine does.

This book is not just about a cool metaphor (though some books are).  It wants to take us into Scripture to see how they arrived at this conclusion and what it means for us.  They naturally focus on the Acts of the Apostles (aka the Acts of the Exalted Jesus thru the Apostles thru the power of the Spirit), and many of Paul’s letters.  They see no fundamental difference between what God was doing then and what He’s doing now.

This is what God is now doing in the world: Spirit-backed gospel preaching leading to the salvation of souls.  It’s his program, his agenda, his priority, his focus, his project, or whatever business-related metaphor you’d like to use.  And by it, his is gathering a new Christ-centered people as his very own; a quiet, steadily growing profusion of leaves on the great vine of his kingdom.

The focus is on the growth of a people, people shaped by the gospel they believe.  The trellis only grows because the vine has outgrown it.  We are not to focus on building a fantastic, huge trellis.  Our energy and efforts are to be in growing the vine first and foremost.

“… this people-growth happens only through the power of the God’s Spirit as he applies his word to people’s hearts.  That’s the way people are converted, and that’s the way people grow in maturity in Christ.  We plant and water, but God gives the growth.”

They want to return to a biblical vision of ministry as done by the congregation, not just the paid professional.  As we consider the Great Commission, we see that it is for all disciples, not just the elite.  If they Apostles were to teach disciples to obey everything He has commanded them they are to teach them to obey the Great Commission.  Right?  So EVERY believer in Christ is to be engaged in vine work!  As they put it, “To be a disciple is to be a disciple-maker.”


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Oh, the joys of preaching after a lousy night’s sleep.  Yeah, I had a headache and was anxious.  I finally broke down and took some ibuprofen around 4:30.  I reluctantly got out of bed around 7:20.  While CavWife and the kids went to get some breakfast, I reviewed my sermon notes, worked on the prayer list and did some praying before hitting the shower.  Oh, and ironing my clothes.

We arrived just after 9 am and sat in on Sunday School.  The men’s class was studying The Westminster Confession on Justification (they were utilizing G.I. Williamson’s book).  They had a good turn out.  I’m glad to see that they have a number of younger men interested in learning more about their faith.  Many of them did not grow up in the Reformed heritage, so they are growing into it.

After praying with the elders, we were ready to start the worship service.  They utilize a traditional liturgy with blended music.  We sang some traditional hymns, an RUF song (Come and Mourn with Me Awhile) and In Christ Alone.   The various instruments used were organ, electric piano, violin, guitar, and bass.  They loved to worship, singing loud and coming in on time.  They seemed interested in the responsive readings as well, rather than barely droning thru them.

My sermon was on Colossians 1:28-29 covering the message, means, goal and power of gospel ministry.  It laid out my aspirations over the course of about 30 minutes.  I was concerned I would go longer since I had not preached in nearly a month.  They received it well, and showed good interest while I was preaching.

After the service, we had a Family Feast from noon until about 1.  Then we had an hour and a half of Q & A.  We talked about worship, ministry to children, outreach, prayer and other topics you’d expect.  CavWife, who had taken the kids back to the hotel to nap, wondered if I would ever get back since I strolled in about 3:30-4, dead tired.  It has been a good, and long week.  But I’m glad we were able to get plenty of interaction with members of the congregation so they can get a good feel for us and be better prepared to vote next Sunday about whether or not to extend a call.  We also saw a group of warm people with servants’ hearts who accepted people who didn’t have it all together, and who were quite different.  They have a great mix of backgrounds and personalities that is far more reflective of the Body of Christ than many churches.

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While reading some this afternoon, I got to thinking about how pastors look at new calls.  I agree there should be alignment- basic agreement on how to do ministry.  But there are temptations that pastors experience when considering a new call.  Basically, they are tempted to think mostly of themselves.

What does this look like?  If a pastor is looking at a church as a “step up”, part of an advancement for their career, he’s thinking about himself.  We are normal sinners like the rest of you.  We can fall into the trap of thinking about career advancement- making more money, having more prestige when pastors meet, impressing those people we knew long ago.  I hate the inevitable questions when I’m at a gathering of the extended church.  It is about numbers, not maturity.  As the former pastor of a small church … I’m tempted to think I’m a loser.  We look to career advancement, rather than our identity in Christ as the solution to our ‘problem’.

If I look at it as a “great opportunity” I can be falling into the trap of thinking about me.  I’m looking for an easy gig when I focus on the opportunity.  We are looking for a place “ready to grow” or without obvious problems.  I’m thinking like a kingdom of me-builder, not necessarily one whose life is immersed in the beatitudes (poverty of spirit, meek, hungering for righteousness…).

If I avoid a “tough call” I’m probably thinking of me.  I might be thinking of the cost to my family.  But I know how messed up we are.  We usually want to avoid difficulty, and that means we only take a difficult call unless we are desperate.

A pastor looks and sees people needing a shepherd.  They see churches like most of those receiving letters in the New Testament- they have problems that require a better understanding and application of the gospel.  It is about gospel ministry, not building empires. 

The first people that need the gospel (after your family) is the congregation.  They struggle with pride, bitterness, grudges, favoritism, lust, greed, busyness etc. and need to be comforted and challenged by the gospel.  The pastor sees them as people more messed up than they realize, needing the balm of the gospel, and people that will drive you crazy.  Real ministry is messy, filled with headaches and usually grossly underpaid.  We do this for the love of Christ, not personal glory.

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I listened to a great Q&A from the Resurgence Conference: Text and Context with John Piper and Matt Chandler.  It was an interesting dynamic.  Mark Driscoll was the one asking the questions, with some commentary.  John Piper is in his 60’s and Matt Chandler is in his 30’s.  They are in very different places in pastoring “successful” faithful churches.

They talked about the dangers pastors face, false gospels, TV (Piper hasn’t owned one since he was 18), accountability and relevance.  Some fun comments, and some great wisdom. 

Some quick quotes:

“Relevance is ultimate reality lived out with passion in front of people in authentic ways.”  John Piper

“Doug Wilson is one of the most careful and bright Reformed and postmillenial, objectivist theologians around and he’s got people around him that are dumb.  … Wrong on numerous cases, but wrong in a way you’d expect a Presbyterian to be wrong.  … I don’t know if his trajectory will be as faithful as is the present case.”  John Piper

“We want other ethnic groups to join us as long as they like to worship to Coldplay.  … I want to preach the death of an ethno-centric idea.  I don’t know how we get past this thing (wanting ethnic diversity on OUR terms).”  Matt Chandler

“Without a diverse leadership it is unlikely you will have a diverse membership.  … I grew up in South Carolina and was racist to my toe nails for the first 20 years of my life.”  John Piper

Mark: You insulted my band.  John: You care about insulting people?  Mark: There is a comeback, but this is where I practice on-going sanctification.

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Here are 2 of my favorite, non-colorful (or Driscollesque), Luther quotes.  I used them in my sermon yesterday on the Lost Sons.

 “Something inside of us strongly compels us to keep trying to earn God’s approval.  We look for good works, in which we can place our trust and which will bring us praise.  We want to show God what we have done…  None of us should be overconfident when it comes to forgetting our own good works.  Each one of us carries in our heart a horrible, religious fanatic. … We should realize that we all carry in our heart a horrible, religious fanatic, who will destroy faith with foolish delusions of good works.  … God’s approval doesn’t come to us by what we do.  Rather it comes through the holiness of Christ, who suffered for us and rose again from the dead.”  Martin Luther

”Therefore we make this definition of a Christian: a Christian is not he who has no sin, but he to whom God does not impute his sin, through faith in Christ.  That is why we so often repeat and beat it into your minds, the forgiveness of sins and imputation of righteousness for Christ’s sake.”  Martin Luther

The first quote is found in a devotional called By Faith Alone.  The second is from his Commentary on Galatians.  When I was a kid there was a local hardware  chain called Grossman’s.  The ads declared “There’s a little Grossman’s in everyone, there’s a little Grossman’s in you.”  Luther would concur, if it is acknowledged that the little Grossman in you is a religious fanatic.  The default of our heart is to seek to establish our own righteousness.  Every other major religion has this as it basic idea.  This is the primary way people run from God- religion, or legalism (being a good person).  We make an idol of our own goodness/sincerity, and subtly despise the perfect righteousness of Christ.

This is why Luther talks about ministry as “beating” the doctrine of justification into people’s heads.  We must do this because people are prone to lapse back into a legalistic mindset and earn their blessings for God.  Hard message to sell, since it undermines the idols of men’s hearts.  But this is primarily what gospel ministry is.

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