THE ALMOST INEVITABLE RUIN OF EVERY MINISTER . . . AND HOW TO AVOID IT by Don Whitney

Almost everyone knows someone who used to be in the ministry. Almost everyone knows someone who shouldn’t be in the ministry. And every minister knows another minister—if not several—he does not want to be like.

But the sad news for ministers is, regardless of your age or education or experience, it is almost inevitable that you will become the kind of minister you do not want to be. So I think it’s important to address the subject of: the almost inevitable ruin of every minister . . . and how to avoid it.

Once when a Southern Baptist denominational executive was on the Midwestern Seminary campus in the late 1990s, he asserted that statistics show that for every twenty men who enter the ministry, by the time those men reach age sixty-five, only one will still be in the ministry.

Despite all the commitment with which they began the race, despite all the investment of time and money to prepare, despite the years of spent in service, despite the cost of retooling and redirecting their lives, nearly all will leave the ministry. Some will opt out for health reasons. Some will wash out in their private lives. Some will bow out, realizing they had misread the call of God. Some will bail out because the stress is so great. Some will be forced out by their churches. Some will walk out from sheer frustration and a sense of failure. And if you haven’t given serious thought to leaving the ministry, you haven’t been in it very long.

Despite the fact that no one goes into the ministry to be a casualty, the ruin of almost every minister, it seems, is inevitable. For in addition to the high percentage of those who leave the ministry, sometimes it appears that of those who do stay in the ministry, many of them have been ruined in other ways. They may get ruined by money, either by the desire for it or the lack of it. They make far too many choices based upon getting more money, or else they smolder in their attitude toward the church because they don’t get paid enough.

They may get ruined by sex. I have a Southern Baptist publication in my files which says that “25 to 35 percent of ministers [are] involved in inappropriate sexual behavior”1 at some level. Even when it seems to be unknown to others, their preoccupation with sex or pornography so absorbs their attention that the true spiritual impact of their ministries is ruined.

They may get ruined by power. They become authoritarian. They may not have even started out that way; perhaps they got that way because they were so faithful in one place of ministry for so long and the sin came upon them gradually. Or maybe they discovered that they enjoyed denominational work, but after awhile they began serving their own political appetites more than Christ. To pull strings was more satisfying than to preach sermons. To get in the inner circle of the right people, to be able to place others in and keep others out of influential positions, to be among the first to get the inside information, became “the ministry” to them.

They may get ruined by pride. The greater the influence God gives them, the greater they become in their own sight, and the more they believe they deserve the influence. But pride may be the sin that both God and men hate most. Regardless of their knowledge or abilities, they aren’t loved or admired. They may get the admiration of the ignorant, or the undiscerning, or those who want to piggy-back on the power of such men, but they will not get it from the Godly.

They may get ruined by cynicism. When they spend a great deal of time around ministers like these—ministers who have been ruined to some degree by money, sex, power, or pride—no wonder many get cynical. In addition, when you deal week in and week out with people who claim to be Christians but often don’t act like it, when those who are supposed to be God’s people talk about you and treat you worse than those in the world do, when you’ve ministered for years and you see little apparent fruit in the lives of those you’ve given your life for, it’s easy to become cynical. No one’s testimony thrills you anymore. No book motivates you. No sermon moves you.

They may get ruined by success. They become CEOs, not shepherds. They become managers, not ministers. Their model is business, with its emphasis on numbers, units, products, marketing, and customers, rather than a family with its emphasis on love, relationships, new births, and maturity, or a farm with its emphasis on sheep, fruit, and growing things.

In some cases, ruin results in men leaving the ministry, yet it many instances they remain. But even then they become something you don’t want to become. You see them politicking their way through associational or denominational life, and you say, “I don’t want to become like that.” You overhear their cynicism in conversations and you say to yourself, “I don’t want to become like that.” You perceive their sense of self-importance when you meet them and they tell you where they serve, and in your mind you say, “I don’t want to become like that.” You bring up spiritual matters and get the clear impression that they’re more interested in other things than the things of God, and you recoil and think, “I don’t want to become like that.” You hear them preach and their arrogant attitude, or their worldliness, or their lack of earnestness, or their professionalism, or their hypocrisy causes you silently to pray over and over, “Lord, please don’t let me ever become like that.”

The sad reality is, you will become like that. That’s you in a few years. That’s what younger ministers will think of you. It’s almost inevitable for every minister—or you will make progress. There is no middle ground.

It’s always been this way. When the Apostle Paul was inspired to write the letters we call the Pastoral Epistles—those letters written to instruct ministers—many who had entered the ministry were being ruined.

In 1 Timothy

  • 1:6 there were ministers who had “turned aside to fruitless discussions.”
  • 1:19 some had “suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith.”
  • 4:2 he warned of ministers filled with “. . . the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron”
  • 6:4 he told Timothy to watch out for the minister who “. . . is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions,
  • 6:5 Paul spoke of the hold money had on these ministers, for he says, they “suppose that godliness is a means of gain.”
  • 6:20-21 he warned Timothy to avoid ministers characterized by “. . . worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called “knowledge”—which some have professed and thus gone astray from the faith.”

In 2 Timothy

  • 1:15 Paul names two ministers who “turned away from me.”
  • 2:16-18 he speaks of ministers whose “talk will spread like gangrene.” Then he names two such ministers “who have gone astray from the truth.”
  • 3:5 he warns of ministers who are “holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power.”
  • 3:8 these ministers are “men who oppose the truth.”
  • 4:3-4 Paul speaks of ministers who will teach in accordance to the desires of people who “will not endure sound doctrine.”

In Titus

  • 1:10-11 he described many ministers as “rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, . . . teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain.”
  • 1:16 he warned of ministers who “. . . profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed.”

Paul warned ministers about these things because they had happened to ministers and ruined them. And God inspired and preserved such words for ministers of every generation because these terrible things still happen to ministers and ruin them. There is an almost inevitable ruin of every minister, and it will happen to you unless you avoid ruin by making progress. How do we make progress in ministry instead of making shipwreck? Paul wrote to Timothy—and God to us—in 1 Timothy 4:15-16, “Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all.”

What are “these things” which, if we “take pains” with them, our “progress will be evident to all?” In the larger context, “these things” are all the things Paul has written about in this first letter to Timothy, and ultimately in all three Pastoral Epistles. In the immediate context it is the discipline Paul commends to every minister in 4:6-16. And these are summarized in verse 16: “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.”

In order to make progress in the ministry as opposed to making shipwreck of his ministry, a minister should pay close attention to himself and to his teaching.

First, “Pay close attention to yourself.” If you are going to “pay close attention to yourself,” then . . .

DON’T LET THE MINISTRY KEEP YOU FROM JESUS

And that’s just what will happen—the ministry will turn your attention from Jesus—unless you “Pay close attention to yourself.”

But that sounds rather self-centered and narcissistic doesn’t it? No, for when the Apostle Paul was inspired by God to write to the younger ministry Timothy and say, “Pay close attention to yourself,” he was saying “Pay close attention to yourself” as a man of God, pay close attention to your relationship with Christ Jesus. In other words, make sure you stay close to Him, keep your eyes on Him, grow closer to Him, and grow more like Him. Watch to make sure you do not let anything—including the ministry—keep you from Jesus.

You might be thinking, “How could this happen? My whole life is built around Jesus. Not only am I living for Him in general, but I have given myself to study His Word and minister to His people and do the work of building up His kingdom every day. How could the ministry of Jesus keep me from Jesus?” Remember, that this command, “Pay close attention to yourself” was first written to a minister. And we refer to 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus as the Pastoral Epistles because they are God-given instructions to those in the ministry, and then applicable to every other Christian. So the Apostle Paul instructed Timothy, his younger protégé in the ministry to pay close attention to himself precisely because it is so easy for a minister not to pay close attention to himself and to be spiritually ruined by the ministry.

The ministry keeps you from Jesus when it keeps you from hearing from Jesus. But remember that “the ministry” is “the ministry of the Word” (Acts 6:4). There is no real ministry apart from the Scriptures, for the Scriptures are the Lord speaking to us. And when you don’t have time to sit at the Master’s feet and hear what He says to you through His Word, something is keeping you from Jesus. And how can you regularly speak for Jesus with power without regularly hearing from Jesus?

The ministry also keeps you from Jesus when it keeps you from talking to Jesus. Are you still a person of prayer? If you don’t have time for unhurried, long-lasting time with Jesus, your life is not only too busy and too complex, chances are you are being deceived. Paul wrote of this concern to the Corinthian Christians when he said, “But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3).

Don’t be deceived about the necessity of devotion to Christ, and the necessity of keeping close to Him. Devotion to Christ is a simple and pure thing, but we can be tempted to make it too complex. We tend to think that if we don’t have just the right circumstances, or just the right place, or just the right time, or just enough time, or the right books that we can’t spend time with Him as we should and love Him as we ought.

And these temptations of complexity are especially deceptive for those actively involved in ministry. As life and ministry gets increasingly complex, the simplicity and purity of devotion to Jesus may not seem as essential for someone with our ministry skills, or our theological education, or our years of experience, or simply not as important as the other things we have to do. After all, we’re being called upon to serve Him in ways that require a lot of time. After all, ministry is a 24/7 responsibility. There are more and more needs to meet, more and more meetings to attend, e-mails to answer, phone calls to return, visits to make. Why do I need to watch my life to make sure I stay close to Jesus when everything I do is for Jesus?

One of the leading Baptists in South Africa, Martin Holdt told me a story I asked him to repeat to me in an e-mail. He wrote,

The story I told you was about a friend of mine who was a principal of a Bible college who after his fall came to see me and told me that on the basis of two things he fell: he had become so busy in the Lord’s work that he simply neglected to read the Scriptures and pray. The long-term effects of this neglect, he believes, led to his adultery. When I shared this with Bob Sheehan [a minister from England] earlier this year when he was in South Africa, his words to me were, “I almost interrupted you before you told me the two things because I wanted to say that I knew exactly what they were in light of discovering this to be true of every known case of ministerial adultery in the UK!” Bob went on to tell me that a leading theologian in England whose once widely accepted ministry had fallen into disfavour admitted to him that he felt that he had outgrown the reading of the Scriptures!

It may be sexual adultery, or it may be a spiritual adultery to hunting, or fishing, or golfing, or exercising, or surfing the net, or activism, or denominational politics, or a hobby, or a thousand other things that leads you astray from seeking Jesus and His kingdom first and foremost. But it’s almost inevitable that in one way or another every minister will be ruined. It’s either progress in the ministry or shipwreck in the ministry.

Pay close attention to yourself. Don’t let the ministry keep you from Jesus.

But paying close attention to your spiritual life is only half the warning of this verse. There are some who maintain a devotional life of great piety whose effectiveness can be ruined in a different way. You will also be ruined by the ministry if you don’t, as verse 16 also says, “Pay close attention to . . . your teaching.” And so I plead with you . . .

DON’T LET THE MINISTRY KEEP YOU FROM LEARNING

When the text says, “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching,” the Greek word is didaskalia, which means “teaching, instruction, or doctrine.” That’s why some translations render it as “Pay close attention to your doctrine.” If you’re going to do that, you have to keep learning doctrine and learning the things of God. So my second appeal is: don’t let the ministry keep you from learning.

When a man is in his formal training for the ministry, he is immersed in learning, almost forced learning. If he’s taking very many hours in seminary he sometimes feels like he is trying to take a drink out of a fire hydrant. He goes to one class and is flooded with information, and he goes right out of that one into another where he is deluged with more information. The he goes home and studies for hours more. The information overload is so great that he is like a man standing on the beach attempting to hold back the waves.

But the day he walks out of the classroom and into a church ministry full-time it’s just the opposite. Now he is like a well and everyone in the world is a bucket. Everyone has needs and demands, and every few days they come back expecting another sermon, another lesson, another discipleship class. And if he doesn’t keep learning, they will drain him dry. It’s inevitable. That’s the nature of the ministry. So a minister must keep making progress, and one of the ways he makes progress is by continuing to learn the things of God.

In the last of his inspired letters, the Apostle Paul exhorted Timothy, “You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them” (2 Timothy 3:14). You have learned doctrine. Good! Continue living it and continue learning it. You have learned the Bible. Good! Continue learning it. You have learned how to preach. Continue studying and learning how to preach all your life. This is the way of the ministry. For if you don’t continue learning the things you have learned already, you’ll be ruined as a minister; either ruined in your personal life or ruined in your effectiveness.

For a truly God-called man, one of his greatest fears is of his life not counting for Christ, all his efforts making little difference for the sake of the kingdom. But that’s exactly what will happen, your effectiveness will be ruined—it’s almost inevitable—if you let the ministry keep you from learning.

Men who make progress in the ministry are the like the men in Proverbs 10:14 where we’re told, “Wise men store up knowledge.” They store up Biblical knowledge, they store up theological knowledge, they store up pastoral knowledge, they seek out and store up any knowledge that will draw them closer to Christ, that will help them know God better, that will make them more effective in the ministry. Do you want to be wise? Sure you do! Then don’t let the ministry keep you from learning.

Listen to another of King Solomon’s inspired observations in Proverbs 15:14: “The mind of the intelligent seeks knowledge.” According to Scripture, the way to determine whether you are intelligent and discerning is not so much by your GPA or degrees, but by whether you seek knowledge. A man may struggle to get through seminary, or have no seminary training at all, and yet make progress in the ministry and be fruitful for Christ partly because he pays attention to his doctrine and he continues learning the things of God. And another man may be the most gifted and accomplished man in his denomination, but if he begins to coast in his pursuit of the things of God, he is a fool.

Samuel Hopkins, one of the early biographers of Jonathan Edwards, said that when he met Edwards he was impressed by the fact that a man already twenty years in the ministry had still “an uncommon thirst for knowledge . . . he read all the books, especially books of divinity, that he could come at.”2 Edwards is chosen by theEncylopaedia Brittanica as the greatest mind America ever produced, and yet he never stopped using it for God’s glory and his people’s good. He didn’t let the ministry keep him from learning.

Edwards reminds me again of the Apostle Paul, near the end of his life and writing one of the final sentences we have from his pen, pleading with Timothy, “When you come bring the cloak which I left at Troas with Carpus, and the books, especially the parchments” (2 Timothy 4:16). Here’s a man with distractions and persecutions and responsibilities we can hardly imagine, and yet he didn’t let the ministry keep him from learning. Even as an old and skilled minister, he didn’t rely on his age or experience, but he kept pursuing the things of God with both his head and his heart. That’s how he “fought the good fight,” that’s how he “finished the course,” that’s how he “kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).

Without this kind of intentionality, this perseverance to pay attention to life and doctrine, a minister will be ruined. It’s almost inevitable. But it’s also virtually imperceptible, at least for awhile. You hardly notice as time goes by that you are becoming the kind of minister you once despised. Year after year in ministry can be like driving from the Rockies toward the Mississippi—it seems to be a level road for mile after mile, but you don’t even realize when you’ve descended a thousand feet. “Pay attention,” says the text, “Pay attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things.”

And don’t think that somehow things will improve on their own and in the future the ministry won’t keep you from learning as it tends to do now. Seminarians sometimes tell me that once they no longer have to read the books required for their classes and don’t have to study for exams that they’ll have great new blocks of time both for ministry and for learning. And they are either stunned, grieved, or angry when I tell them that isn’t so.

“But,” they protest, “once I graduate I won’t be spending every Tuesday night, away from my family and studying all evening for exams or writing papers.”

“True,” I reply, “but now you’ll be spending all evening at a deacon’s meeting, or at the hospital, or in a committee meeting, or out visiting—what’s the difference?”

The issue is time, and because of the exponential increase in the pace and complexity of life, you will always become more busy, not less; you will always have more to do, not less. Richard A. Swenson documents this in his insightful book, Margin, where he observes that if you’re typical, life is busier and more complex for you today than it was a year ago. And unless something changes, your life will busier and more complex a year from now than it is today. Worst of all, this trend will continue every year for the rest of your life. But the driving forces of the complexities of life are not likely to change and slow down. In other words, things are not likely to change on their own so that you get fewer e-mails, fewer phone calls, or fewer responsibilities. You’ll get more and more the rest of your life.

For ministers, you also have to factor in that if your church grows, or if you move to a larger church, that means you have more people’s needs to meet, more visits to make, more weddings and funerals to conduct, and more meetings to attend than you do now. Sure, you might eventually get to the place where the church realizes the crisis and provides another staff member, but while that helps out in some ways, it increases the responsibilities you have in other areas, as in the number of people you have to supervise. And the additional members that new staff member’s work might bring in will also increase the number of folks you are responsible for, and the spiral continues.

Suppose you eventually get to the place where you have enough staff and volunteers to take most of the administrative load from you. By this time your ministry will have been recognized to the point where you will have a growing number of responsibilities placed upon you from outside your local church. You’ll be sought out for more associational, state, and denominational service, and I hope you feel some sense of stewardship for that. Your influence will be sought on boards and committees.

On top of this, your family will be growing—in age if not also in size—and you’ll have more of their ballgames and events you will want to attend, just as you should. As your days and years accumulate, so do your privileges and responsibilities. But before long, if you are not paying attention, they build into a tidal wave that overwhelms you and dominates you so that it becomes almost inevitable that in one way or another, you will be ruined.

And you wake up one day to realize that you are busier than you’ve ever been, but no deeper in the things of God than you were years ago. You wake up—or at least I hope you do—to discover that you’ve become a religious professional, a minister with more style than substance, a minister who knows more about denominational politics than doctrine, who knows more about church growth pragmatism than prayer, and that you have become the kind of minister you once prayed you would never become.

Don’t let the ministry keep you from learning.

MORE APPLICATION

While there are many ways to further apply this passage, I will suggest two.

Beware the barrenness of busyness. The increasing rise in the influence of technology allows us to be ever more efficient. We can talk on the phone as we eat fast food while using the ATM. But not only are we better at multitasking and becoming more productive and efficient, along with that increased pace more is required of us. And so we hurtle through life faster and faster, becoming busier and busier. Notice how you never speak with another minister or with anyone from the church for more than sixty seconds without one of you talking about how busy you are. The result is that in our busyness and productivity we are becoming increasingly efficient at leading meaningless lives.

Resist the temptation to believe in microwave spirituality or shortcut Christlikeness. I recently read James Gleick’s popular book, Faster3. The subtitle describes not only the contents of the book, but the contents of our lives. Faster’s subtitle is: “The acceleration of just about everything.” But ministers need to remember that one thing that will always be an exception to acceleration is the rate of growth in godliness. The increasing speed of our machines cannot stimulate a corresponding rate in the growth of our souls. Faster Internet connections do not make us or our people like Jesus more quickly. The growth of a soul-your soul and the souls of your people-takes time.

Fruitfulness, whether in terms of evangelistic fruitfulness or the growth of souls into Christlikeness, comes as the result of paying close attention to your life and doctrine. Listen to it in 1 Timothy 4:16 again: “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.”

There is a difference between activity and progress. You can drive five hundred miles at two hundred miles per hour on a NASCAR track and get nowhere. In the same way, you can be busy in the ministry and yet barren in the ministry. So beware.

Take pains with the Pastoral Epistles. I return to the exhortation we started with, the words of the older preacher to the younger one in 1 Timothy 4:15, “Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all.”

Nothing is more common for a seminary professor to hear from alumni than, “They never taught me that in seminary.” A seminary prof is well aware of the limitations of a seminary education. Believe me, we would love to have our students stay longer-for a number of reasons. And while three or four years of seminary education sounds like a long time, when you start looking at how much time can be devoted to specific subjects and issues when there are so many to deal with, it really isn’t that much. For instance, I think it is very important for ministers to study the Pastoral Epistles. The “seminary” in the Bible is the Pastoral Epistles, those two letters of Paul to Timothy and the one to Titus. And yet in three or four years’ time, it would be very unusual for a student to spend more than one or two classes at most on, say, the letter to Titus.

That’s why you mustn’t let the ministry keep you from learning. A seminary can’t give students everything they need for a lifetime of ministry, there isn’t time. We professors give our students tools and valuable experiences; we give them a Biblical compass and set them on a ministry course. But thereafter on their own they must pay close attention to themselves and to their doctrine, they must persevere in these things. Or as Paul puts it in verse 15, they must “Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them.”

One practical way to be absorbed in them would be to read a chapter of the Pastoral Epistles every day. For the rest of your life, keep cycling through them, one chapter at a time.

Christian author Os Guinness quotes a Japanese businessman who said, “Whenever I meet a Buddhist leader, I meet a holy man. Whenever I meet a Christian leader, I meet a manager.”4 The ruin of every Christian minister into a mere religious manager or worse is almost inevitable. Don’t be a manager, be a minister of Jesus Christ. Be a holy man. And to be a holy man of God you must be absorbed with the holy things of God.

Whenever I see a group of graduates at our commencement exercises each May, clustered together for the final time before leaving the seminary, I feel somewhat as I imagine General Pickett must have felt when he sent his troops from Seminary Ridge up toward Cemetery Ridge in what he knew would be a bloody charge at Gettysburg. I can almost see one taking a bullet to the heart, a second decimated by grapeshot, a third torn in two by a cannonball. And I see nearly all, in one way or another, though they started well and were well-intentioned, being ruined and falling in the field. It’s inevitable.

The world, the flesh, and the devil outnumber you, and they have you in their sights. Whether you are fresh out of seminary or a veteran in the ministry, unless you make the kind of spiritual progress that’s spoken of in the Pastoral Epistles, you will be hit by enemy fire. Take pains with the things of God. Be absorbed in the Pastoral Epistles. Pay close attention to your life and to your doctrine. Don’t let the ministry keep you from Jesus or keep you from learning.

Don Whitney
http://www.BiblicalSpirituality.org

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Don’t Fish For Compliments by Andy Morgan

“Don’t fish for compliments, lest you defy God while you are applauded. “If I yet pleased men” Paul says “I should not be the servant of Christ.” He stopped pleasing men when he became Christ’s servant. For Christ’s soldiers march on through good talk on the right hand and evil talk on the left. No praise excites them. No criticism crushes them.” Jerome (347-420 AD)

 

As we begin the season of Lent, I am drawn to this quote by Jerome. How many of us fish for compliments? Our natures eagerly feed off compliments like a hungry animal. Yet Jerome encourages us not to fish for compliments “lest you defy God while you are applauded.” What does this mean? Being complimented can lead us into danger. We can become so enamored with compliments that our diligence to following the commands of our God can wane in favor of trying please others. This is because compliments usually lead us to want to please men rather than God.

 

The pleasing of men is the positive side of the more negative saying, the fear of men. Do we want to please men or God? That is Jerome’s point and challenge to us. The question seems simple, but the reality is that many of us struggle – our heads tell us to please God and yet our hearts are drawn to pleasing men, or being concerned about what men (people) think of us.

 

How releasing – how powerful – how wonderful it would be to say with Jerome that no praise excites us and no criticism crushes us. To reach this point requires us to be honest with ourselves – honest about whether the fear of men or the pleasing of men dominates our thinking and actions – and then to come to God and ask him to change our hearts so that we would be more concerned about what God thinks.

 

Maybe we might want to put Jerome’s quote in a prominent place this Lent to remind us that we should not be trying to please, or pacify people. Instead we should look to the living God. To Him only should we want to please, serve, worship and obey and to him only should we bring our concerns. And alongside Jerome, why not put Proverb 27:21 which says:  “The crucible for silver, and the furnace for gold, but a man is tested by the praise he receives”

Obedience by Andy Morgan

Thomas a Kempis once said that Instant obedience is the only kind of obedience there is; delayed obedience is disobedience.

We can know this to be true in our own lives. Kitty can ask me to do something and I’ll say yes I’ll do it but in my own mind there is no set time. Kitty will come back 20 minutes later and see that the thing she asked me to do has not been done and she will then vigorously encourage me to do it right now. For Kitty, when I said yes I’ll do it she expected me to get up and do it. Instant obedience; I am learning.

There is a story of parents who would always say to their son, “please go and tidy your room NOW.” The son would always agree to tidy up, but then wouldn’t follow through. After high school the young man joined the Marine Corps. When he came home for leave after basic training, his father asked him what he had learned in the service.

“Dad,” he said. “I learned what ‘now’ means.”

Ananias is an unsung hero of scripture. We know nothing else about this man except what we read in Acts 9, but what we do learn is that this is a faithful, obedient servant of God.

He was a man who knew the voice of God. God calls him and he says “yes Lord, here I am”. The fact that God called upon Ananias shows not only that he was a man of faith, but that he could be trusted. Yet God’s command to Ananias must have made him very afraid – go to Straight Street and seek out Saul of Tarsus.

Ananias response tells us a number of things. Firstly, it tells us that word of Saul’s mission had reached the Christians of Damascus. In fact, Ananias was relatively safe from Saul.  Saul had extradition papers to capture Christians from Jerusalem, who had fled, and bring them back for trial, and Ananias was a Damascene Christian.

Secondly  It would appear that Ananias was not aware of what had happened to Saul and his encounter with the risen Lord.

Neil Marten, a member of the British Parliament, was once giving a group of his constituents a guided tour of the Houses of Parliament. During the course of the visit, the group happened to meet Lord Hailsham, then Lord Chancellor, wearing all the regalia of his office. Hailsham recognized Marten among the group and cried, “Neil!” Not daring to question or disobey the “command,” the entire band of visitors promptly fell to their knees!

Saul experienced something which instinctively made him fall to the ground asking the question, “who are you LORD!”

 

 Having  expected to enter Damascus in the fullness of his pride and power, as a self confident opponent of Jesus Christ was instead led into the city, humbled and blinded, himself captured by the very one had stood against. Ananias also feels that he needs to remind God exactly who Saul of Tarsus was – as if God might have forgotten – this was the man intent on destroying the church; imprisoning Christians – threatening any who followed Christ. Going, willingly, to a man who had approved of the killing of Stephen would seem foolish in anyone’s eyes.

But God tells Ananias to go.

And so Ananias goes.

He was obedient to the call of God and he goes to Straight Street (a street which is still there in Damascus today) to lay hands on Saul.

Now Saul, by this time had been blind for a number of days. I wonder what went through Saul’s head when he heard and saw Jesus standing before him on the road. Jesus’ words are very powerful – “Saul, Saul why do you persecute me?” – in other words, to persecute the church was to persecute Christ himself.

Saul now discovers that this Christ was indeed the Messiah – risen and alive.

This was the beginning of a total conversion for Saul – a conversion of will, intellect and emotion which now set his life upon the purpose and direction of being obedient to Christ. Saul / Paul’s obedience begins here – when while blind begins to pray and seek after God.

And finally these two men come together – the faithful obedient disciple Ananias and the newly born, newly obedient servant Saul – Ananias lays hands upon Saul and his blindness leaves him and he is baptized.

Obedience is not always the easy road. Ananias went to Straight Street, not knowing what would happen to him or what he would find but in full obedience, trust and faith in his God.

Saul’s new life of obedience to God was about to begin – a life which we know would involve suffering for the name of Christ. We also know that Saul, Paul, embraces it not just willingly but joyfully.

A life of obedience to God is not always the easy road, but it is always the fruitful one, form only when we are obedient to Christ in our personal lives and corporate lives can we do anything of value.

 This is what Jesus’ disciples learnt. The disciples spent three incredible years with Jesus – seeing and experiencing things beyond their imagination.

Yet after Jesus is crucified the disciples go back to Galilee and become fishermen again. They return to what they thought they knew best. The problem is that what they know best is just not working for them. When Jesus first met Peter, he said that he would become a fisher of men.  Jesus changed his job description. That was their life and their task now and they were not doing anything about it. The fact they caught nothing (John 21 – not a good thing for supposedly professional fisherman!) is a kind of metaphor that they will not catch anything when they are fishing in the wrong place – they can do nothing, nor achieve anything without Christ.

Jesus appears on the bank and cries out “children, have you caught anything yet?” The sentence structure demands a negative!

Just like a parable, Jesus tells them to put their nets over the other side – it is not a suggestion but a command and instantly the nets fill with fish. Even as the resurrected Lord Jesus is teaching his disciples to do what they must do –   they haven’t caught anything because they are not fishing were they should be fishing – in the towns and cities of Israel. Fish when, where and how Jesus tells us to and we will have the harvest!

Ananias, Saul, Peter and the six disciples, you and I are called to be obedient to Christ BECAUSE apart from Christ we can do nothing and achieve nothing of value.

It is the first step of our calling as believers, followers and worshippers of Christ.

That Christ is the center of our obedience is shown in the book of Revelation. It says in Chapter 5 ; “Between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders, I saw a lamb standing, as though it had been slain…” The lamb is the central figure in heaven – on whom all the attention is focused – a lamb that bears the marks of violent death because he was obedient to his Father – but yet standing, alive, not dead.

Is the lamb the central place in our lives? Is he what moulds us and directs us and inspires us?

And here is the main point – the lamb – Christ – is worthy because he is the model of obedience – he is worthy because he laid his life down for every tribe, tongue and nation. He came and did the fathers will – “Not my will be done but yours”.

He is worthy to be worshipped – to be honored – to be praised because he too was obedient, even to death. How much more should we also be obedient as believers.

Somebody once said, “The first duty of every soul is to find not its freedom but its Master”.

 

IS CHRIST OUR MASTER TODAY?

The Paradox Of A Divided Church Called To Be Reconcilers To The World by Andy Morgan

Introduction

 

“The greatest barrier to the gospel in contemporary western culture is the church,” or so says New Zealand Theologian Mike Riddell. It is quite ironic that the very message, entrusted to us by Jesus, is in danger by the body created by Jesus to spread it. But what does Riddell mean? We call the church ‘a family’ and yet, if the church were to go into therapy, it would be considered severely dysfunctional, un-communicative and often abusive.

 

Our congregations…function as conglomerations of committed individuals, little different from a bowling club or a Rotary club group. Most Western Christians regard even major life decisions as their private arena and would never contemplate opening the process to fellow Christians.

 

The church has become an impersonal club – a place where you go to once a week and then leave to go back to normal life. Those with needs or problems are seen as a burden because they disrupt the ‘normal’ functional life of the church which is about the Sunday service going smoothly and uninterrupted.

 

Jurgen Moltmann also raises this problem. He ponders on Romans 15:7 Receive one another, then, just as Christ also received you, to God’s glory…(New English Translation) and writes;

 

Accept one another. Even in Church what hurts most is our lack of human relationships. The worship services in which we participate every Sunday morning themselves remain devoid of genuine human contact. We scarcely know each other with any genuine mutuality. We do not even consider it very valuable to create community with each other. ..

 

Of course we ‘have’ acquaintances with people within our churches, but these relationships tend to cease once we leave the service or meeting and go home. What is the reason for this alienation? For Moltmann the issue is that we only accept people on our own turf and view them only with our preconceptions. The conclusion of this attitude is that we do not at all seek the other but only ourselves in the other . In other words, we only seek out the things in a person which we like or agree with or that are like us. The bits we dislike or disagree with or are not like us are ignored, dismissed and avoided. This seems to affirm Aristotle’s famous words ‘birds of a feather flock together.’ Yet it was not always like this in the church.

 

The New Testament Church had no buildings, it had no clergy, it had no money and it had no authority. People relied upon each other. To be a Christian was to go completely against the social and economic stream of the day. You would have stood out. You would have been different. People met in other peoples houses. No neutral, cold, impersonal buildings, but somebody’s private living space. Yes they had faced persecution, and they would again. You did not make the decision to become a Christian lightly. Decisions were made as a community and life was lived in the context of community. And the community of believers crossed the divides of social and economic status.

 

The Joining of the State and the Church

 

So what went wrong? All this changed with Constantine. Christianity became vogue. Very soon it was given money and lands, a status which it had never before had. The rich began worshipping this Christian God, and appropriate people had to help them. A hierarchy soon developed. The Church became institutionalised.

 

Whether you think Constantine was good or bad for Christianity is a matter of debate. What I would suggest is that this institutionalisation was the beginning of the dysfunctional church. It made the church respectable – and that was not the function of the Church. Dare I say it, but Constantine let the wrong sort of people into the church!

 

This is not about never letting the rich, respectable and powerful into the church. The Church should cross social, economic, gender and racial divides However as mentioned above, the decision to follow Christ would not have been taken lightly in the first century. You risked losing everything. You risked being an outcast. Your commitment would have to be total. This is seen in the early churches practise of taking those who were interested in joining the church and putting them through a three year course which ended in baptism. This was not a decision to take lightly or flippantly.

 

Constantine effectively took this away. It became fashionable to join the church. It became respectable and wealthy. Constantine began the process of the church and state coming together. Because of Constantine the church would experience incredible influence and power in society. Today, I believe we live with this legacy and for over 2000 years we have tried to untangle ourselves from the influence of Constantine.

 

We have lost that radicalness of what it means to be a follower of Christ. Few of us have to lose our families, our jobs, our status, our positions and our reputations when we become believers (there are people today who do risk losing these things when they follow Jesus). No longer do we live or work out our life decisions within the context of the faith community;

 

If the church is essentially the community of God’s people rather than an institution then it is through the church as people that God is accomplishing his cosmic plan – not in the first place through organisation and institutions, though these may be useful tools .

 

The dividing line between seeing the institutional church as a useful tool and the church as essentially the community of God’s people accomplishing his cosmic plan has been lost. And this has had a serious repercussion on the church. Because the church needed to maintain an institution the focus of the church shifted towards power and authority. In order for an organisation to run well it requires good, strong structures which are maintained and upheld.

 

Focusing On Our Actions

 

I would suggest that whatever our focus is that will be how we act – the church’s focus has been in holding onto power and influence and so that is how it has acted. The church, over the previous centuries, has been used to wielding great authority in the affairs of the world. The ecclesiastical institution has not taken kindly to being pushed to the margins. But the church is a canny player. If power could not be exercised within the society at large, it could at least be maintained within the church. How was this power maintained? Through the establishment of strong leadership and authority, and this was built upon knowledge. Theological and doctrinal emphasis grew. Those with knowledge were powerful. This has meant that now the pinnacle of the Christian life is to become a leader. Almost everything we do within church is to ‘train’ others in order to create leaders. This is vital in order to maintain a hierarchical structure. So, a judgment is made of you. You are either leadership material, or your not. If you are, an investment of time, energy and sometimes money is made into your life in order to develop you towards leadership. If you are judged not to be leadership material, then you are asked to simply ‘serve in the body.’ No investment of time and energy is made other than weekly preaching and small group gatherings. The result of this is that some members of the community of Christ became valued over other members.

 

This is one of the foundational reasons for the divided church; an institutional focused church goes against Jesus’ teaching that life in the kingdom of God in inextricably linked with the welfare of one’s neighbour, (John 13:34, Matthew 16:24 & John 13:14).

 

Much of the church today is not in love with its neighbour, but with words, doctrines, rational arguments and statements about faith. Alongside the need for power and control, for many, church life has been an experience of abuse. Abusive when people are told to accept the word of those in authority and to question those in authority is an affront to God. Abusive when any person or groups of person claims to speak the word of God and that claim is not subject to discernment by the wider community of believers. Abusive when decisions are made in secret by a small group of power holders, and such hierarchical rule is interpreted as being Christian. Abusive when difference is demonised, and when departure from a prescribed moralistic lifestyle is portrayed as either sinful or evil. Abusive when control is exercised to ensure the maintenance of the institution.

 

Abuse, be it physical, sexual or spiritual abuse, takes place when we refuse to accept another person as Christ accepted us, but rather use them for our own purposes. This has been the legacy of church for too long.

 

Moltmann’s suggestion is that Romans 15:7, ‘Accept one another as Christ has accepted you’ needs to become a new orientation in our lives, breaking through our limitations so that we can, to use his words, ‘spring over our narrow shadows.’ Indeed, this verse has incredible repercussions within the church. The church has simply not accepted people as Christ accepted us. It has not just disobeyed this verse, but it has put into practise throughout church history many plans to actively not accept certain people in to the church. In this respect much of the church has failed. And how would we fair, if we judged ourselves the same way that we judge others? Maybe we would reject ourselves and fail our own criteria. If Christ accepts us while still his enemies (Romans 5:10) then what theological excuse can be mustered that we continue to not accept others?

 

One of the most powerful examples comes from a book by Alan Jamieson called A Churchless faith – Faith Journeys Beyond the Churches. Jamieson explores the faith of those who have left the church. He discovers a number of things which surprises him; that many who leave the church are those who have held some form of leadership and often been faithful members of their churches for between 10-15 years; that their faith is not just maintained but actually develops and grows once they have left the church; that the decision to leave the church community was a major, long thought through process. He discusses the fact that in 99% of the cases, the pastors interviewed never once thought that the problem for an established member of a church to leave was on their side. The responses were that those who left were backsliders (which defied the evidence), unstable or just trouble makers. He quotes one senior pastor as saying:

 

Every church needs a soundproof room where a pastor can take certain people and head butt them. Of course this would be followed by prayer….

 

A joke maybe, but it hides the more sinister side of the church. The church which is called to be a peacemaker, a reconciler to the world, to love its neighbour, cannot bring peace to itself, both internally and between different churches. Further more, many leaders do not have a clue how to lead, manage and pastor people effectively. And a large part of the reason for this is how the church views ‘leadership.’

 

Embracing Powerlessness

 

Mike Riddell suggests that it may be necessary for much of the formal structure of western Christianity to ‘fall into the ground and die’ (John 12:24), in order for new shoots of faith to arise. A total shift in focus is vital for the church; the shift away from power and authority to embracing powerlessness. Henri Nouwen writes that:

 

“[Christian leadership in the future] is not a leadership of power and control but a leadership of powerlessness and humility in which the suffering servant of God, Jesus Christ, is made manifest…I am speaking of a leadership in which power is constantly abandoned in favour of love. It is a true spiritual leadership. Powerlessness and humility in the spiritual life do not refer to people who have no spine.”

 

Indeed, powerlessness requires a tremendous amount of courage and faith in God. There is nothing to prove to anyone. I call it the John the Baptist principle. John the Baptist had a tremendous ministry. People flocked to hear him and be baptised. Then Jesus comes along. In John 3, we have the disciples of John concerned for his ministry. They say to him in v26, look, that guy you baptised is also baptising and everyone is flocking to him! And John’s response? Does he increase his ‘baptism’ times, or try and maintain his ground? No, he says He must become more important while I become less important. (v30). Other translations says He must become greater and I must become less!

 

The goal of ministry is not church growth but Kingdom growth. Or even better, the goal of ministry is to become less while Christ becomes greater. It is from this place that we can again begin to be a peacemaking church, a church who brings reconciliation, because we bring only Christ, not our authority, or power or influence. Just as Christ emptied himself of his divinity, humbling himself, so we too empty ourselves of everything in order to bring Christ. If this was the principle upon which leaders operated, there would be greater unity within churches, and between churches.

 

What Is Our Attitude?

 

Philippians 2:5 begins with Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus…. and goes on to talk of Jesus making himself nothing; taking the very nature of a servant; humbled himself; became obedient to death.

 

This should be our attitude, yet our courses for training ‘leaders’ today do not include classes on ‘making yourself nothing’ or ‘taking the nature of a servant’ or ‘humility’ or ‘how to humble yourself to the point of death.’

 

This is because within the church the word for ‘leader’ is associated with power and authority; that leadership is the goal and aim for a Christian in church life. My suggestion is that we cannot create leaders – leaders are called. So often we have made a person a leader because they are gifted in communication, or are charismatic in their personality or are great motivators. All these gifts are valuable but they do not make you a leader. These gifts need to be developed and encouraged in creating disciples, but leadership is a calling upon a life which comes from God. Leonard Sweet, author of Summoned to Lead says that “the church has it all wrong. It is trying to train leaders. Instead it ought to train everyone to listen and develop their own soundtrack.” We can stop putting leadership upon the pedestal of authority. Indeed, we should now remove it completely from the pedestal.

 

The power based leadership is the cause of the divided church. The desire to protect and maintain authority among the congregation, causes people to be neglected or used; It results in dealing suspiciously with anyone who might challenge the leadership, especially other leaders from other churches. Hence, a protective cocoon develops around the leader and the church, and anyone who tries or is perceived as trying to break into or through the cocoon is a threat and needs to be dealt with.

 

New Model of Leadership

 

Henri Nouwen calls for a whole new type of leadership, free from the model of power games and focusing on the servant leader, Jesus . We need to recapture something of the attitude and spirit of the early church which had servant hood, peacemaking and loving your enemies at the core of their thinking. Yet, over a period of time talk went from the converting of weapons into plough shares, spears into farmers hooks (Justin Martyr) to picking up the ploughshare and converting it back into a sword (Augustine).

 

How seriously do we take the call of Jesus to love our enemy; to turn the other cheek? Surely, the argument goes, Jesus does not want us to be weak. Surely this teaching is figurative, not literal! We try and do creative accounting with the gospel – we need to make the Gospel back our ideas for how we deal with people – we need to use violence, or be aggressive towards others so how can the gospel help us. Oh yes, Jesus showed anger in the temple, he used a whip, he drove people out. This is a whip moment – this is us imitating Christ in the temple. Many times I have heard the argument from Pastors that anger is acceptable because Jesus got angry, and then preceded to act in horrendous ways towards people.

 

This does not mean we avoid conflict – on the contrary, as Lederach has said regarding Matthew 18, we must embrace conflict; church does not have enough conflict in it. We must stop avoiding issues, or ignoring them and hoping they will go away, but instead move towards conflict. But so often, the conflict step within churches, the conflict begins from someone in the congregation approaching a minister and expressing their problem. The pastor sees a threat and immediately entrenches himself in order to protect his authority. The battle lines are drawn. Pastors need to stop entrenching themselves and immediately ask the question of themselves, ‘Am I at fault?’ ‘Is this a fair or true reflection of my actions?’ The congregation member may be wrong. But currently, the power model, dismisses any possible fault with the minister.

 

Jesus’ motive within conflict is not to establish power but to bring peace and reconciliation, reconciliation to himself and the father. Should not this be our focus as well? Larry Crabb, the well known Christian writer had a vision of this, which changed his entire outlook and ministry. His book, Connecting: Healing For ourselves And Our Relationships describes his journey. He writes:

 

The most powerful thing we can do to help someone change is to offer them a rich taste of God’s incredible goodness in the New Covenant. He looks at us with eyes of delight, with eyes that see a goodness beneath the mess, with a heart that beats wildly with excitement over who we are and who we will become. And sometimes he exposes what we are convinced that it would make him turn away in disgust in order to amaze us with his grace. That’s connecting .

 

Moving from a power and authority based leadership model to one which embraces powerlessness and a servant outlook will not be easy. Alan Krieder is right to say that we live in an environment that is not conducive to good conflict or peacemaking. As Christian’s we have lived within a worldview of adversarial and combative thinking. It has been so ingrained within us that to move away from it will take time, education and example.

 

I tend to agree with Mike Riddell that it may be necessary for much of the formal structure of western Christianity to fall into the ground and die in order for new shoots of faith to arise. This cannot be a change which happens over months and years, but rather decades. Even so, that does not mean that we cannot begin to model the example now.

 

What does embracing powerlessness as a leader look like? It looks like Jesus. It does not do ‘things’ in order to gain status or recognition. Henri Nouwen captures the essence of this when he says;

 

I am deeply convinced that the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self. This is the way Jesus came to reveal God’s love. The great message that we have to carry, as ministers of God’s word and followers of Jesus, is that God loves us not because of what we do or accomplish, but because God has created and redeemed us in love and has chosen us to proclaim that love as the true source of all human life.

 

If Jesus emptied himself of his divinity, humbled himself and took the role of a servant, why should a follower and a leader of the people of Jesus be any different? Maybe it is because too many leaders do not how to exercise healthy, intimate relationships. They have become empire builders who are unable to give and receive love. This brings me again to my suggestion that too many leaders have been created in stead of being called.

 

As Jesus dies on the cross, the temple curtain was ripped from top to bottom revealing the holy of holies . It was symbolic. God declared in a very powerful way that no longer was access to him done through the ‘professional’ priest who restricted access to God. God is available to all. Yet the institutionalised Church has, for the last 1500 years, been trying to sow that curtain up again.

 

Conclusion

 

If the church is to become a reconciler, a peacemaker, then we need to re-think how we exist as believers. Alan Krieder gives four attitudes and four skills of a peacemaker. The attitudes are; humility, commitment to the safety of others, acceptance of conflict and hope. The four skills are; truthful speech, expectant listening, alertness to community and good process (making decisions which are truthful, just and corporate.) While these skills and attitudes can be taught they need to be lived. They must become apart of the DNA of the Church Leader. Powerlessness, brokenness and servanthood are resident within these skills and attitudes.

 

But fundamentally, this change needs to happen in the places where leaders are trained. There needs to be a complete re-working of what we teach and how we teach people in seminaries and colleges. For Nouwen, while powerlessness is a key to the leader of the future, the leadership of the future must also be a theological leadership. Nouwen says:

 

Thinking about the future of Christian leadership, I am convinced that it needs a theological leadership. For this to come about much, very much, has to happen in seminaries and divinity schools. They have to become centres where people are trained in true discernment of the signs of the time. This cannot be just an intellectual training. It requires a deep spiritual formation involving the whole person – body, mind and heart. I think we are only half aware of how secular even theological schools have become. Formation in the mind of Christ, who did not cling to power but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, is not what most seminaries are about. Everything in our competitive and ambitious world militates against it. But to the degree that such formation is being sought for and realised, there is hope for the church of the next century.

 

Nouwen is saying that theological leadership needs to be reclaimed. In the past theological knowledge was used to establish authority and power over people, creating a separation between leaders and the community; the new model of leadership takes theology and helps leaders to close the gap. Theology is not about knowledge and the mind, but about the whole person. True theological knowledge leads us to taking on the mind of Christ who emptied himself of the privileges of his divinity. True theology should lead us to powerlessness, peacemaking and reconciliation, formation in the mind of Christ. And while our seminaries and leadership schools are not teaching this at the moment, we need to continue to teach this message so that future seminary leaders can begin to teach spiritual formation in its wholeness. 

9Marks Review Of Simple Church

“Simple is in. Simple works. People respond to simple.”  

With those three summarizing catch phrases Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger begin one of the latest offerings to church growth literature, The Simple Church.   

Having done extensive research of churches across the U.S., these authors conclude that there is a strong correspondence between simplicity and growth. Vibrant churches, that is, churches that have increased their membership by at least 5 percent a year for the last three years, are more likely to be 

simple churches. On the flip side, stagnant churches, churches that have evidenced slow or no growth, are more likely to be complex churches.  

WHAT’S A SIMPLE CHURCH? 

What is a simple church? Here is Rainer and Geiger’s definition: 

A simple church is designed around a straightforward and strategic process that moves people through the stages of spiritual growth. The leadership and the church are clear about the process (clarity) and are committed to executing it. The process flows logically (movement) and is implemented in each area of the 

church (alignment). The church abandons everything that is not in the process (focus). (pp. 67-68) Rainer and Geiger explain that churches that are full of different programs and activities are not often growing churches, even if the individual programs are successful. This is because they don’t have a 

clearly defined process for discipling people. They don’t move people from one stage of spiritual growth to another, and their programs suffer from mediocrity because their energies are dissipated across so many programs.  

Often these churches suffer because their staff, while good at running their particular program, doesn’t share the same ministry philosophy. This causes disunity and unnecessary replication in the church calendar as things like evangelism training are repeated by different programs in different ways.  

Simple churches, meanwhile, have a clear process with a clear aim. The church and the leadership unite around one process and one aim as each member moves from one program to another, requiring a bigger commitment to discipleship at each stage. They remove the clutter of programs that don’t fit into 

the church’s strategy, even ones that may benefit the people involved.  

THE STATS TO BACK IT UP 

Rainer and Geiger don’t simply make this claim from anecdotal observation, although they have plenty of this too. No, they’ve done extensive research that backs up their claims. They explain,  The vibrant churches were much more simple than the comparison churches. The difference was so big 

that the probability of the results occurring with one church by chance is less than one in a thousand. Statistical people call this a relationship at the .001 level….Finding something at the .001 level does not happen often. It’s a big deal. If you’re a stats person, it’s “highly significant.” (13-14)

 

So throughout the book the reader is offered statistics and graphs based on those statistics in order to support each of the points being made. 

CLARITY, MOVEMENT, ALIGNMENT, FOCUS 

The bulk of the book is an explanation of what a simple church is, under the four headings clarity, movement, alignment, and focus. The book hammers home those four points, and, for me at least, it did it so effectively that I didn’t need to look at the book to type that list.  Clarity involves having a clear statement of how discipleship should work in the church. Examples given include “Loving God, Loving Others and Serving the World” or “Connecting, Growing, Serving.” The key is not the content of the statement; it’s the fact that the statement should be clear. This process should be able to be visualized and explained clearly to the whole church, who should commit to the process.  Movement means that the programs should be designed for each stage in the process and people should 

be able to move clearly from one program to another. For instance, the church whose statement was “Loving God, Loving Others and Serving the World” had weekend worship services for helping people love God, small groups for enabling people to love others, and ministry teams for serving others. And each stage challenges people to move to the next stage.  Alignment means placing all the church’s resources behind the process. This includes hiring staff who are 

behind the process and making sure that any new ministries fit into it.  

And focus means eliminating programs that don’t fit into the process and limiting additional programs. Again, the ability to explain the process easily is emphasized. 

GOOD POINTS 

Simple Church makes a number of good points. Surely a clear and uniform process for discipleship is more likely to succeed than crowded and conflicting programs with no clear vision or strategy. Rainer and Geiger are exactly right to say that churches shouldn’t just fill their calendars with programs that may or 

may not help the congregation grow spiritually. “Programs were made for man, not man made for programs,” they say. “If the goal is to keep certain things going, the church is in trouble. The end result must always be about people. Programs should only be tools” (p. 43).  Beyond this, the authors make a number of helpful comments about ministry, the need to move a church towards simplicity sensitively, the need to be ruthless about killing unnecessary programs, and more. I especially liked the commendation of new members interviews. The authors comment,  It seems that the commitment to buy contact lenses is greater than the commitment to join many churches. Most churches only require new members to fill out a card or a triplicate form. It happens so fast. Expectations are minimal. Signing up for a department store credit care takes more time. Simple 

churches, however, tend to require new members classes…great dialogue occurs, and people walk away with a deeper connection to your church. (158-59)  

It’s good to hear some kind of membership advocated, even if it is on pragmatic grounds. 

WORTH READING?  

Given, then, that the books main thesis seems persuasive and it has some useful practical insights into church life, would I recommend a friend or a pastor read Simple Church? Probably not. Here are three reasons why.

 

Does Simplicity Necessarily Lead to Success? 

First, is this book really worth reading given its premise? On the face of it, the book makes a simple and, quite frankly, obvious point. Having a clear plan and strategy is going to be advantageous for any activity, whether it be running a Fortune 500 company or going to the local grocery store. However, I wonder if the authors’ premise is correct. Throughout the book, being simple is described as a route to ministry success. The books final paragraph reads, 

While becoming simple will be difficult, it is also worth it. The gates of hell will be pushed back, dented, and damaged. The upcoming generations will be exposed to the gospel and the goodness of our God. And the people in your church will be placed in the pathway of God’s transforming power. (241) 

Stirring stuff, but are the writers sure that becoming a simple church will dent the gates of hell? Does being simple necessarily cause ministry “success”? Well, what do you mean by success? I suppose it may produce one kind of success, but does it ensure the kind of “success” the Bible is interested in? 

Confusingly, Rainer and Geiger deny this in an appendix to the book, 

Q: Are you suggesting that a simple church design will cause a church to be vibrant? No… We cannot claim that a simple church design causes anything. We are simply saying that there is a relationship between a simple church design and the vitality of a local church. And this relationship is highly significant. (249) 

Rainer and Geiger don’t elaborate here on what that relationship is, but the whole premise of the book up to now is that simplicity causes vitality. If it doesn’t, then why bother trying to make a church simple? Could it be that churches are simple because they grow, not growing because they are simple? Perhaps 

it is the case that churches stay simple while they grow because the few programs they run work, and when they stop growing they become complex as they seek after new growth by adding more. Perhaps, the research could be read either way, but if Rainer and Geiger’s interpretation isn’t the correct one, then 

there’s not much point reading the book.  

Worrying Omissions 

Second, there are some worrying omissions in the book. In the discussion on clarity, the criteria for a good statement are not fidelity to the biblical process of discipleship but literary clarity. It may well be that the biblical process of discipleship can be defined simply, but so can unbiblical ones. Throughout the 

book simplicity is held up as the key rather than faithfulness.  

Now, to be fair to the authors, they do state that they believe in the “primacy of sound, biblical, and orthodox doctrine in growing churches” (14-15). The churches they use as examples are defined as “evangelical.” And I don’t want to criticize the book for failing to do what it never sets out to do. Still, I have 

to ask, is organization and strategy really to be prioritized over conformity to the Scriptures?  The book is written almost entirely at the practitioner level, which is fine, but what the Bible teaches about church is never really addressed.  Therefore the reader is left to wonder what the Bible mandates for the 

church. Being, or becoming, a vibrant church, which is defined as a numerically growing church, is the goal that seems to fill the pages of this book. 

Methodology

Third, and finally, the whole methodology of the book is suspect for Christians who intend to rely on the sufficiency of Scripture for the church. The entire basis of the book is the research that Rainer and Geiger have conducted on church simplicity.  Fine research it seems to be, too. Again and again, Rainer and Geiger point to the findings of their research and go to great lengths to explain its rigor and merit. The book is full of statements like, “According to our research…” or “Our research indicates that you should…” (p. 126) clearly making the research results the ground of the argument. But how far should we allow research to drive the life of our churches? Obviously, it may play a useful role in helping us to understand the world around us. But it should never control the way we approach church.  If research tells us that doing something will make our church grow, should we do it?  It seems to me that this approach is based on the underlying assumption that Scripture is insufficient to lead a church. But could it be that if we studied Scripture closely we would find that the Lord of Church has not left his undershepherds in the dark for knowing how to lead the flock? 

 

CONCLUSION 

Simple Churchis not a bad book. You won’t be confronted with any heresies. It just strikes me as an unnecessary book. It points church leaders in the wrong direction—statistical research. Rainer and Geiger simply use their research to make a number of points that vary from helpful to banal, but what they don’t point to as the foundation for the church is the faith once entrusted to the church, the eternal Word of God. Read a book that will.  

 

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Joel Beeke On T.V

We are living in a sin-sick, morally degenerate, and pleasure-mad world. Our society continually demands entertainment, amusements, and pastimes at an ever-increasing level. 

What is the goal of this “continual-entertainment” spirit? To keep modern man happily busy

In a certain sense, entertainment does succeed in its goal. It keeps thousands and millions busy. 

The very words themselves reveal this fact. The word amusement comes originally from the French and literally means “to stare at fixedly so as to prevent musing or thinking.”  The word pastime speaks for itself. It means to kill or use up time as a thing of little value; to pass time away. The root of the word entertainment means to divert. Thus it implies something which takes us away or diverts us from the normal, real world of everyday life. 

In other words, entertainment, amusements, pastimes are things which keep us busy – busy avoiding the realities of life and truth as they are set down in God’s Holy Word. They keep us busy avoiding thinking about eternity, hell, heaven, sin, God, Christ, salvation, our own selves, and especially our need for a new heart. 

But if entertainment succeeds in its first goal of making man busy it fails miserably in its second: happily busy. Never has there been so much restlessness, dissatisfaction, and yes, unhappiness – in spite of the millions who immerse themselves in modern-day entertainment. Despite our freedom from poverty, our multiplication of opportunities in nearly every walk and aspect of life, plus our continual drinking in of entertainment – no age has been as unhappy as modern man. 

Entertainment can never give enough – it always leaves an empty feeling behind. The more it is practiced and relied on, the emptier it becomes. 

It has turned our society into an object of pity, for we are victims of our own system. Society goes full cycle, from being pleasure-hungry to pleasure-mania to pleasure-boredom. 

At the very heart and center of our modern entertainment spirit stands TELEVISION. This is an obvious fact. Television sets are in the homes of 97% of Americans today and 91% of all television time is dedicated solely to the purpose of entertainment. Entertainment-addiction and television-addiction cannot be separated from each other. 

Our society has become TELE-HOLIC. On a night when wives do not leave home, 95 out of 100 will spend it watching TV and 85% of their husbands will do likewise. Among teenagers, 80% will follow their parents’ example, and 75% of children will also spend their evening [watching] TV. 

The average TV viewer spends 5½ hours per day watching TV. By the time an average American youth becomes sixty-five years old, he will have spent fourteen years of his life watching TV (compared to one year spent in church and Sunday School, if he comes faithfully to all). In the U.S.A. children three to five years old spend fifty-four hours every week watching TV, which is 64% of their time awake. When the average graduate from high school receives his diploma at seventeen years of age, he will have spent 11,000 hours of his life in school, but 22,000 hours watching TV. Every time an adult sits down to watch TV, he/she averages 3½ hours of watching time before turning the TV off. Children are glued to TV for an average of 2½ hours per sitting. With the exception of sleeping, the average American will spend more time in his life watching TV than anything else – yes even more than working. Do we not have a tele-holic society with respect to our precious, God-given time? 

Man does not control TV. TV controls him. Only one study of many will prove this point. Approximately four years ago in St. Catharines, Ontario, the newspaper headlines read one day: $500 paid for disposing of TV. The article went on to say that a study was done in Detroit in which the goal was to find out to what degree people are controlled by TV. Two hundred fifty families were scientifically selected from various races and classes to be offered $500 if they would live without their TV set for one month. After thirty days they could take it back in, and receive $500 free. Out of 250, only fifty families agreed to do it. How many families “made it” through this trial of thirty days? Eight! The other forty-two forfeited their $500 sometime during the month – one family took their TV back in on the 29th day. The eight who made it through were interviewed extensively. All said it brought their family closer together without TV. Six fathers said they first learned to know their children. One father said: “The day that I disposed of our TV  was the first day in twenty-five years that no one was killed in our living room, no sirens screamed, no shots rang out, no artificial merriment told us when to laugh, and no one slashed anyone else.” And what was the final result of these eight families of whom seven said their family life was considerably more rewarding without TV? The last line of the article tells us: “All eight families took their TV back in.” 

Tele-holism. Knowing it does more harm than good, and still keeping it is slavery. 
Dear friend, I urge you to dispose of your TV today.

John Chrysostom homily 3 On the Second Letter to Timothy

Let each therefore, with an upright conscience, entering into a review of what he has done, and bringing his whole life before him, consider, whether he is not deserving of chastisements and punishments without number? And when he is indignant that some one, who has been guilty of many bad actions, escapes with impunity; let him consider his own faults, and his indignation will cease. For those crimes appear great, because they are in great and notorious matters; but if he will enquire into his own, he will perhaps find them more numerous. For to rob and to defraud is the same thing, whether it be done for gold or silver; since both proceed from the same mind. He that will steal a little would not refuse to steal much, if it fell in his way; and that it does not, is not his own choice, but an accidental circumstance. A poor man, who robs a poorer, would not hesitate to rob the rich if he could. His forbearance arises from weakness, and not from choice. Such an one, you say, is a ruler; and takes away the property of those who are under his rule. And say, dost not thou steal? For tell me not that he steals talents, and you as many13531353 δέκα. pence. In giving alms, some cast in gold, while the widow threw in two mites, yet she contributed not less than they. Wherefore? Because the intention is considered, and not the amount of the gift.