Tag Archives: ministry

Ordinary People

Sunday, May 17

7:48 AM While reading through Mark’s Gospel this morning I was again impressed with the way Jesus chose ordinary people to follow him. He sees Simon and his brother Andrew, commercial fishermen, and says, “Come, follow me! I will make you fish for the souls of people!” A little farther up the beach he sees Zebedee’s sons, James and John, in a boat mending their nets. He calls them, too. It’s easy to forget that two of these plain fishermen later wrote two of our Gospels. With God there are no ordinary people. Think about that when you meet (vicariously) with your church family today. Most of us are ordinary folk. But God specializes in taking “nobodies” and making them “somebodies.” The only question is: Are we willing to be used by him?  I am, though I am keenly aware of how short I fall of loving and serving him as I ought. I come to him daily asking for a renewed heart and a renewed desire to follow him as his disciple.

This is a challenge each of us must face daily.

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission.)

Ministry of All Believers

6:40 PM Today I was on a website in which the “office” of pastor was being extolled. The author insisted that the pastoral office is a special calling and separate from secular employment. He also asked “Who has the last word?” His answer: The pastor, along with other ordained men. (The congregation has no real say.)

What do you think?

At one time I might have agreed (to a degree). But today I see no rigid distinction between clergy and laity. In fact, I would aver that the New Testament teaches no such thing. According to the New Testament, the “ministry” belongs to all God’s people. In a sense, this is a point Henry Neufeld is making in his latest blog post. I won’t speak for Henry, but it appears that his definition of ministry is based more on the pillar of the priesthood of all believers than on any rigid office divinely ordained by “inviolable decree” (Calvin). This is why the church is the agent of God’s kingdom work. But it is more than that. It is the community of God’s people regardless of their denominational affiliations. As Henry notes, he and I can partner together even though one of us is a born-again Methodist and the other is a born-again Baptist. He is a Charismatic Christian, and I am not. But we both belong to the same messianic fellowship that functions as a charismatic body. John Howard Yoder (a fellow Basel grad) insists that in the New Testament there is not a hint of a hierarchal ladder whereby one Christian might progress upward from one office to the next.

If we come to the New Testament [he writes] with this “professional religionist” view of ministry, asking “What is said on this subject?” then we can add together some things which Paul said about himself as apostle, some things he wrote to Timothy and Titus about themselves, some other things he wrote to them about bishops and deacons, some things Acts reports about the leaders in Jerusalem and Antioch, salt the mixture with some reminiscences from the Old Testament, and come up with a quite impressive package as the “Biblical View of Ministry” (“The Fullness of Christ,” Concern, Feb. 1969).

But then he adds:

Let us take quite seriously the warning of 1 Cor. 12 against trying to establish a hierarchy of values among the varied gifts. This warning is the point of the passage: that there are many gifts is not the chapter’s message, for that is self evident, at least in Corinth. Paul’s concern is that it be recognized that all these many gifts have the same source, and that all are (each in its place) of the same value.

Obviously, then, in order to be a part of the community of Christ one does not have to see eye to eye on everything that has to do with local church polity. Henry’s Methodist congregation has a senior pastor and over him a bishop; my local Baptist congregation has a plurality of elders and deacons. But what matters most to both Henry and me (again, I hope I am not misrepresenting Henry) is that the primary concerns of any local church ought to be proclaiming the Gospel (both by life and by lip) and edifying the Christian community. The calling of the church, then, is to genuinely be the redeemed community of God in this world and then do the works of God by carrying on the works of Jesus Christ. As such, Henry and I are members of the same “church,” if you will, in that the priority of the community is important for each of us. Obviously, this does not mean I should try to persuade him to become a Baptist or to espouse my views on church polity. It does mean, however, that “I can edify myself only as I edify the community” (Barth). In fact, I would go a step further and suggest that the very heterogeneity on display when Henry and I cooperate in the work of the Gospel is a demonstration of the power of the very Gospel we are both seeking to proclaim and live. This unity-in-diversity is a hallmark of the community of the King and one I cherish deeply. So, I think, does Henry.

For more, you may wish to read these essays of mine:

Paul and Christian Unity: A Formal Analysis of Philippians 2:1-4

On the Style and Significance of John 17

The Pauline Love Command: Structure, Style, and Ethics in Romans 12:9-21


Co-Opting God for Our Political Agendas

6:04 AM Much is being written in the blogosphere these days about American exceptionalism, voting, military service, the pledge of allegiance, etc. The discussion reminds me of another conversation that took place between the 16th century Anabaptists and their Reformed forebears. (History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.) Perhaps I should tell you where I stand.

Claiming God’s special blessing for our nation (or race, or class, or group) is nothing but hubris. We co-opt God for our political agenda whenever it suits us. As Lincoln put it in his Second Inaugural:

Neither party [North or South] expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained…. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other….

Radical Christianity pursues a different path. Rather than trying to get God to be on our side, it tries to be on God’s side. This means, among other things, putting God’s purposes ahead of our own group or nation’s self-interest. This is the original NT message called the Gospel. It is a practical vision that creates a people who transfer their human identities from national loyalties to a new identity as the global people of God. Their mission is both to proclaim and live the kingdom of God, in contrast to the selfish kingdoms of this world. This “new nation” of Christ-followers does more than preach the Gospel. It lives it. Wherever you see Christians welcoming Muslims into their community and befriending them for the sake of the Gospel, wherever you see pro-life churches going beyond mere words of protest and actively supporting pregnant women financially so that they can carry their children to birth, wherever you see believers offering hope where nobody else does – there you will see kingdom of God in practice.

In his book, Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction, David Kuo, former deputy director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, reveals how the Republicans in the Bush administration sought the votes of evangelicals but had no real interest in leading a new Great Awakening. “This [is the] message that has been sent out to Christians for a long time now: that Jesus came primarily for a political agenda, and recently primarily a right-wing political agenda – as if this culture war is a war for God. And it’s not a war for God, it’s a war for politics. And that’s a huge difference,” said Kuo in an interview on 60 Minutes. His point? Mixing evangelical faith and Washington politics-as-usual is antithetical to the Gospel.

Herein lies one of the greatest challenges of modern American evangelicalism. Today God and conservatism have practically merged into one. The “wonder-working power” of politics now drives a large segment of the Christian right. But sin is our trouble, not liberalism in government. To treat cancer by temporary measures is to endanger the victim still worse. David Kuo will probably be considered a neurotic pessimist by his cheery fellow-preachers, but he is right and they are wrong, even if he learned his lesson the hard way. Modern political machinations – whether by the right wing or the left wing of evangelicalism – are nothing more than fads that work up mere optimism and positive thinking. Whenever government tries to make men good without being righteous – something the devil would love more than anything in this fallen world – the professing church becomes cluttered with hosts of superficial saints who never sell out to Christ.

Anyone who reads the New Testament will see that Jesus refused to identify Himself with any of the politico-religious parties of His day, whether they were called Pharisees, Herodians, Sadducees, or Zealots. Likewise, Christians today must maintain an ultimate commitment to Christ and eschew loyalty to a political party – any political party. It is indeed a decadent citizenry that rejects sound doctrine and heaps to itself politicians to tickle its itching ears. Yet who will deny that this is happening? Mr. Kuo is undoubtedly aware of the risks he is taking in airing his criticisms. When Alexander Solzhenitsyn delivered the 1978 commencement speech at Harvard, one newspaper said, “Prophets are not popular. They are uncomfortable people; they make poor house guests. Not only are they not honored in their own countries but sometimes not even in their own times. The greatest of them have been labeled as arrogant, self-righteous, presumptuous, unpatriotic.” Mr. Kuo’s experience is a reminder of how easy it is for well-meaning Christians to substitute political activism for genuine compassion. As long as good people try to remedy conditions with temporary palliatives there will be a need for prophets like David Kuo. That’s because lostness – not liberalism, not libertarianism, not “compassionate conservatism” – is our problem. We are sinners, blind, even lepers, and to try to make people religious without making them righteous only makes them harder to reach with what they need most.

If there is to be today a new politics of faith based on the cross of Christ, it will have to meet critically these issues. This means for me personally that it is not enough to question the just war tradition or to condemn the Constantinian compromise in the abstract. Nor is it enough to rail against the Christ-washed militarism being offered in His name by our politicians. Nor can I merely exegete Jesus’ mandate in the Sermon on the Mount disinterestedly. The only responsible Christian ethic is for me to become an active participant in service and sacrifice for the sake of the Prince of Peace. I must discover what it means to rid myself completely of the baggage of self-will and to plunge into the tranquil sea of God’s will where alone I will find joy. There are countless situations in my life in which I must decide to put the interests of others above my own life-interests. The power of nonviolence is an important step on the downward path of Jesus, but only if I deliberately chose such a path can “peace on earth” begin to be realized. At the very least, this means for me:

  • rejecting the mindset of Western imperialism
  • refusing to support the notion that Christian missions benefits from the spread of empire
  • preaching the cross instead of the protection of the sword
  • placing love of enemy at the heart of the Gospel rather than at its periphery
  • affirming an allegiance to Christ that transcends national boundaries or roles
  • bearing witness of sacrificial service in the name of Christ
  • helping to move peace toward the center of the church’s witness in the world
  • teaching about the alternative model provided by the historic peace churches
  • living a life of radical discipleship
  • being willing to suffer in the spirit of the cross and to undergo a literal baptism unto death if need be
  • focusing on the cross as the center of my faith and life
  • manifesting the firstfruits of the kingdom of peace in mutual aid and love with the community of faith
  • repudiating any coercion or manipulation of faith by the state
  • praying constantly that God would move to ameliorate the hatred and pride that provide the occasion for war
  • struggling to perfect my life by the Holy Spirit in the confidence that the Lord is at work
  • being nonconformist yet involved in attempts at reconciliation worldwide
  • preaching the Gospel persuasively and powerfully in deed as well as in word
  • maintaining warm Christian fellowship with all who sincerely follow the guidance of conscience with regard to military service, including those who feel obliged to render such service

In the end, while I cannot say that I am currently a peace church pacifist, this is irrelevant since pacifism, unlike the just war tradition, is not as much a dogma to be believed as a lifestyle to be practiced. The work of a genuine peacemaker must be to call civil governments to account and to help limit the violence when conflict is actually in progress. At the very least there is never any reason to glorify revolution or war or to utter blatantly warmongering statements such as were made by candidate John McCain in the run-up to the 2008 presidential election. The downward path of Jesus to which the Gospel calls us requires both peacefulness and peacemaking, and the history of the church shows our urgent need to be reminded of these twin emphases again and again in view of the church’s compliance with violence.

(From Dave Black Online. David Alan Black is the author of Energion titles Christian Archy, The Jesus ParadigmWhy Four Gospels? and  Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions?. Used by permission.)

Equipping is not Delegating

7:55 AM Equipping is not delegating. Think about it. Pastors who think they are equipping may only be delegating.

  • They enlist the help of other members but only to assist them do their own ministry.
  • They focus their training not on lay ministers but on pastors-in-the-making. (Think pastoral internships.)
  • They regularly express from the pulpit their hope that some members will hear the “call of God” to go to seminary and enter “fulltime Christian ministry.”

Continue reading Equipping is not Delegating

On Church Offices

8:03 PM Evening, blog peeps! Here are a few takeaways I had today from our discussion of Phil. 1:1-2:

1) The opening salutation is a window into Paul’s view of leadership in the church. Leadership is always shared. Paul’s ministry was a “co-worker” ministry! Note: “Paul and Timothy”; “overseers and deacons.” Clearly, Paul taught and practiced a “fellowship of leadership” (Michael Green). Continue reading On Church Offices

On Social Action and the Gospel

12:16 PM Alan Knox, in an outstanding blog post called There was not a needy person among them, reminds us how important mutual care was in the early church. He writes:

When a new brother or sister was in need, someone took care of that need from their own property. When someone was hungry, that person was fed. When someone needed clothing or housing, that need was met. They considered their relationships with one another as more important than their own physical well-being or their material possessions.

Today, caring for those in need is left to government agencies or parachurch organizations. Christians tend to give a little money and consider the problem shifted to others. The American Dream has replaced the concern for other Christians who are in need.

If I understand Alan correctly, he is arguing that social activity (such as feeding the poor, housing the homeless, etc.) is a fruit of the Spirit. In other words, when a person is regenerated by way of the Great Commission (Matt 28:19-20), then he or she will naturally want to implement the horizontal dimensions of the Great Commandment (Matt 22:37-39).

Surely this is a vital dimension of biblical Christianity. And the order, I believe, is significant. In some circles, “missions” is almost completely disassociated from evangelism. According to Weber and Welliver (Missions Handbook, 2007, p. 13), in the U.S. the increase in income from 2001 to 2005 for relief and development was 73.4 percent while for evangelism and discipleship it was only 2.7 percent. I have personally known some “mission” organizations in Ethiopia that engage in service to the community (building hospitals and schools, digging wells, etc.) without any mention of the Gospel. In my opinion, they have failed to keep the main thing the main thing. The supreme need of the nations is the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

But I need to add a careful rider here. Evangelism and social action are not opposed to each other. They are, as John Stott puts it, “two blades of a pair of scissors.” Because Becky and I believe this to be true, we have become involved in several efforts in Ethiopia to address the economic and health concerns of the people there. Perhaps the most visible expression of this concern is the Health Clinic we opened in Burji several years ago. (It has since been upgraded to a Health Center.) I need to emphasize, however, that the primary purpose of the Health Center is evangelism because we firmly believe that individual regeneration by the grace of God is, in the final analysis, the best solution to humanity’s individual and social problems. As Alan noted in his post, Christian social responsibility presupposes socially responsible Christians, and it is only through evangelism and discipleship that people can become committed to holistic missional work.

I remain deeply concerned about what I perceive to be a growing shift in emphasis today from proclaiming the kingdom of God to a purely economic and social gospel. This is like putting the cart before the horse. The Anabaptist Balthazar Hubmaier answered the charge that he required communal ownership of property by stating:

Concerning community of goods, I have always said that everyone should be concerned about the needs of others, so that the hungry might be fed, the thirsty given to drink, and the naked clothed. For we are not lords of our possessions, but stewards and distributors. There is certainly no one who says that another’s goods may be seized and made in common; rather, he would gladly give the coat in addition to the shirt.

The Anabaptists held that the church is a voluntary society comprised of Christians who are bound to each by the reality of the new birth. These “believers” live apart from the world but do not shun it. They do not accumulate wealth but are content with their basic necessities. They help each other faithfully, having everything in common out of sheer love for their neighbor. They live a lifestyle that matches their responsibility to a lost and dying world.

This too was apparently the blessed experience of the early church in Acts. Through their relationship to Jesus Christ, these believers became detached from their worship of earthly things. They experienced freedom from covetousness and greed and seemed to be able to escape the “spend-and-consume” merry-go-round that Satan is now using to hold our American families in bondage. But, thank God, escape is still possible today! When we learn to embrace the Jesus way of life, when we can plan habitually to go without things for Christ’s sake, then we have begun to live the life of “reasonable service” (Rom. 12:1-2) that is acceptable to God. Wherever you are, there are needy neighbors. And there is a cross for you to bear. God has a path of self-sacrifice for every one of us if we will but ask Him for the privilege of self-denial.

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission. David Alan Black is author of Energion titles The Jesus Paradigm, Christian Archy, and Why Four Gospels?.)

Vocation to Ministry?

From Dave Black Online:

10:36 AM I have a question today, a question to which I do not know the answer. When will appeals for vocations to the ministry end? And when, in their place, will the church encourage all of its members to seek God’s will for the area of ministry in which they can most effectively be used by Him? I propose that we never again use the expression “call to the ministry” unless we are careful to apply it to each and every Christian. All this will neither be easy nor popular. Yet at some point it must be done. One of the main reasons for burn-out in the pastorate is that it is often carried out alone. The New Testament never envisaged such a predicament. Ministry needs to be shared. Jesus realized this: He sent out the apostles two by two. Paul realized this when he appointed elders (note the plural) in every church. And it needs to be modeled by today’s Christian leaders. It is not until church members are enthusiastic about their own God-given gifts that we will succeed in being the Body of Christ.

(From Dave Black Online. Used by permission. David Alan Black is author of Energion titles The Jesus Paradigm, Christian Archy, and Why Four Gospels?.)

Teaching Students to Think Biblically

This semester I’ll be doing more than teaching Greek. My goal is to train my students to think biblically — and to think on their own. All too often we take an a priori approach to the New Testament in our study of soteriology, ecclesiology, etc. The result is that the biblical text is sometimes overlooked and its concepts blurred. In the spirit of Paul (“you’re doing well but you can always do better”) I hope to explore with my students the underlying presuppositions that are of paramount importance in biblical exegesis. For example, a cardinal question concerns ordination. In the New Testament, the church was a brotherhood of believers. But by the third century all this had changed. The charismatic ministry began to give way to a hierarchical and institutional church. In the New Testament, no ministerial “office” (the word is never used for positions of leadership) implies status or position in the secular sense; the influence of leaders is always measured by their Christ-likeness and the degree to which the Holy Spirit is active in their lives. The Spirit gave them the gifts and abilities needed to serve the Body at large and to represent their collective concerns. But a two-tiered clergy-laity division never existed. Leaders were extensions of the Body, not a special class set over it. But the bottom line is this (and this is a point that is often overlooked): The essence of any church ministry is that of service in the spirit and pattern of the Lord Jesus. If a church — any church — loses that sense of Christ-ministry is ceases to be the church and becomes secular, basing its methods on the kingdom of this world.

Another glorious yet often overlooked truth is that the church is, essentially, a mission body. It is a mission body before it is anything else. Therefore, in order to fulfill its world-wide mission as commanded by Jesus, its structure must be a mission structure. There is no possible logical reason for a church to have within it a separate “missions committee,” just as a seminary that calls itself a “Great Commission” seminary would do well to rethink its philosophy of having a separate missions and evangelism department. When it is understood that every believer is a fulltime missionary and that every believer is necessary within the church’s life and witness, churches will be revolutionized to become what they are in essence: a witnessing community. They will no longer seek after the “world-wise” wisdom of this age that focuses on “relevance” to the exclusion of the Good News of the kingdom. The Head of the church wills the growth of His church, but when the whole church ceases to perform its function and assigns the roles of “missionary” or “evangelist” to certain specially “called” individuals, something fundamental is lost.

Thus, in teaching Greek, I am concerned basically for the renewal and growth of not only my church but all evangelical churches in these exciting days. My goal is to see every one of my students realizing their full, God-intended potential in the kingdom, even if they never enter so-called “fulltime Christian ministry.” The God who speaks to us in the pages of the New Testament must be given full reign. Revelation must no longer be understood as dogma so much as divine action. We must move from an emphasis on the concept of Christologos to that of Christophoros — from being Christ-talkers to Christ-bearers. I greatly appreciate the effort my students put into learning the Greek language, but all will be for nothing unless they take this next step.

(From Dave Black Online, used by permission.  Dr. David Alan Black is author of The Jesus Paradigm.)