Prepare now for your next spiritual drought

After many cycles of spiritual growth and dryness in my own life, I have learned the value of ‘banking’ spiritual graces.

Have you ever tried to read the Bible only to realise that after ten minutes you have not taken in a word? Or spent time with your eyes closed attempting to pray but really chasing anxious thoughts as if herding cats?

It is normal to go through seasons of spiritual dryness. Times when prayer and Bible reading become exercises in raw discipline or diminish to nothing. None of us want to remain in such a barren place, but how long we have to endure is God’s call, not ours.

I think it is good to always attempt to nurture your relationship with God, even when it feels as if you are just ‘going through the motions’. I also think it is valuable to accept the barren season for what it is and not heap guilt upon yourself when the going gets tough.

After many cycles of spiritual growth and dryness in my own life, I have learned the value of ‘banking’ spiritual graces. I now try to fill up with the disciplines of Bible reading, memorization, and prayer during my times of plenty. This gives me a reserve to draw upon when it is difficult to read the Bible and God seems distant.

In seasons of growth, make the most of it. Farmers use the growth seasons of spring and summer to make hay to feed their stock through the dark winter months. Be wise and use easy times (or even just ‘normal’ periods) to grow spiritually. Hard times will come again and once they arrive it is too late to start building spiritual condition.

When the fight is difficult, it is enough to stand (Ephesians 6:13).

If you are able to read the Bible today, do so. If you can pray even a little, take the opportunity to come into God’s presence. Go to church, or homegroup, even if it is tiresome or inconvenient. The day will come when you will wish you had done all this much more.


Scripture references:

Ephesians 6:13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. (ESV)

A church like your brain

This week’s 5 Minute Friday prompt is ‘Connect’

Go:

Your mind is amazing, far more powerful than the most sophisticated computer ever constructed. Your brain can quickly and constantly adjust to the ever-changing environment around and within you by making new synaptic connections and pathways. These new connections enable new thought processes to occur and enhance how you can approach novel problems.

To maintain such connections the mental pathways need to be used so that the connection is strengthened, otherwise it will be broken down and discarded to maintain the lean, mean thinking machine of your mind.

God has designed the Church to work a bit like this too. Jesus told us to always remain connected to him, the true vine from whom we draw our life. Stemming from this life He gives we connect with others and build them up, gaining new strength ourselves from the interconnected relationships.

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:15-16 ESV)

Stop!

(Five Minute Friday is when we use the prompt chosen by Lisa-Jo and write for 5 minutes without over thinking or editing. Then link up to Lisa-Jo’s post and leave a comment for the person who linked up before us. Easy, and fun!)


Image: iStock

Why do Christians get so nasty?

Christians like to claim we are peaceful, sadly we are not.

If you want to witness heated debate, parliament is a good place to find it. If you want to see nasty, divisive debate, go to a church meeting or poke around on blogs written by Christians. The current hot potato is gay marriage, though women in ministry seems to also be ranking high in certain sectors, and in the US gun control is good to get a reaction.

These are all issues which should be discussed and even debated within the church, but why do people become so astonishingly nasty in their words and even actions over mere issues when we are supposedly all united in Christ?

Reading Philippians 4:7 would make me assume that Christians would be able to enter discussions about even contentious issues with a deep peace that regardless of the discussion outcome they remain secure in Christ:

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7 ESV)

This is particularly appropriate given that Paul introduced this paragraph pleading for some Christians to reach agreement on some divisive issue between them:

I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. (Philippians 4:2 ESV)

Instead of agreeing, it seems that many folks take this example of disagreement in the ancient church as license to foster disagreement in the modern church. Perhaps our problem is a lack of rejoicing in the Lord, and failing to let turn over our anxieties to God in prayer?

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.(Philippians 4:4–6 ESV)


More on this topic from others:

Good to be back

For the last month I have been rostered on weekends at work, so it was great to be able to go to church this Sunday. During our worship it occurred to me that some of the songs we were singing would be sung all over the world in many different languages.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9–10 ESV)

As you are probably aware, I have just finished a month of praying for, and reading and writing about, the Shan people of Burma. There are are very few Christians in this ethnic minority, so I would guess that their churches are fairly small. Maybe this is why I kept thinking of them this morning as our little church met to worship. We also are a small group of believers without the resources to pay a pastor, living and working in a culture that is very negative about Christianity.

When I have been unable to get to church for a while it is very noticeable how much I have missed it when I finally get back. This is my spiritual home, these people are my family. We can take each other for granted at times, but boy do I miss these folks when I’m not able to see them for a while!

If this is what other small struggling churches are like also, then I suspect God is very happy when we all meet together in our little congregations all around the world, praising Him in all our stumbling ways.


Gifts I have noticed recently

655) Finding a new polarfleece top for only 20% of the marked price!
656) Watching the new BBC Jane Eyre movie with my wife.
657) Just the two of us enjoying a walk on the beach together.
658) Reminder to come to Him as I am, childlike.
659) Cuddling my wee boy to sleep.
660) Sitting in sunshine.
661) Kids spending days building their tree-hut.
662) Cooking dinner.
663) A beautiful park to walk in.
664) Reading and writing on a rainy day.
665) Finding a baby stick insect on the floor and setting it free outside.
666) Daughter playing compassionately.
667) A refreshing cup of tea.
668) My son has spirit and persistence.
669) Girls giggling as they wash the car and each other.
670) The story God is weaving into this ordinary life.
671) That NZ has no snakes.
672) Safe traveling on a long weekend.

The pastoral scapegoat

After writing this post and submitting it for publishing, I realised that it does not fully reflect my thinking on the topic. Do read the two comments below the main body of the post as they illuminate this a bit. I’ve also seen the huge benefit that finally employing a part time pastor in our little church has brought and this has further changed my viewpoint. I’m leaving this post on the site as it is a reminder to me that I’ve always got much more to learn and can easily get cocky in my views.


the-pastoral-scapegoat

“We are too small to be able to afford to pay a pastor, the church will have to close.”

Bad call!

Employing a pastor is not a necessary requirement of a healthy church. In many cases it is really a convenient way to make life easier for the elders and church members.

Many small churches are struggling to balance budgets, yet the last expense to be cut is usually the pastor’s salary. As an elder myself I would never want to make a pastor redundant, but after our part-time pastor resigned a year and a half ago we did not employ anyone to replace him. Despite some doubts, our congregation is still thriving, we have an excellent Sunday school program, great sermons and heartfelt worship singing each week.

I would like for us to employ a pastor, but my reasons are largely selfish – it would make life easier for me. It would probably also tempt me to disobey God. My responsibility as an elder is to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you;” (1 Peter 5:2 ESV). I cannot push that responsibility onto someone else by casting my vote to pay them a salary from the church budget. The commission to shepherd (pastor) God’s people was given to me when I accepted the office of elder.

Likewise, no Christian can delegate their obligation to love one another onto a pastor by virtue of contributing to his salary. Responsibility for serving God’s people lies with all believers according to the grace God has given (1 Peter 4:10).

At its best, a group of believers would act in accordance with the exhortations of Romans chapter 12. Those with particular abilities use them for building up the whole group. God promises to give what we need to serve Him, so we can assume that He will place within each group the skills, or ability to acquire the skills, required to fulfill the purpose He has for that group. The leaders in such a group of believers would be:

  • Experienced
  • Stable and above reproach
  • Humble
  • Willing servants
  • Committed to the wellbeing of those in the group (see 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and 1 Peter 5:1-5).

What is missing from this picture? Plenty, if you are using contemporary churches as the measuring standard. A couple of obvious things are buildings and a pastor. But if we use the New Testament as our standard, buildings are barely mentioned and neither are pastors.

We do see elders as a required church office in the Bible, and that those who labor for the gospel and in preaching are worthy of wages for their work. It is OK to pay those who labor in ministry, but nowhere are we told that a church must employ a pastor. The responsibility for shepherding (pastoring) lies with the elders.  If we can trust God to give all we need for life and godliness, and if we believe that spiritual gifts are given for the common good of the church, then it is reasonable to assume that within each congregation of His people God provides grace to corporately fulfill His mission without dumping most of the work onto one man.

In order to follow such an ideal of church leadership we have to adjust our expectations. By accepting that God gives the grace to achieve His call on each fellowship, we also have to accept His standards and priorities for His work. We know God doesn’t judge outward appearances and that He is happy to accept people who are shunned by everyone else. So elders, brace yourselves for a shakedown of any appearance-based expectations and to be called-out on substandard shepherding.

Netted recently, May 15

Netted recently:
  • Tim Keller discusses why Martyn Lloyd Jones thought it is important to be present when a sermon is preached rather than just listening to it on an ipod or viewing the YouTube video:

Dr. Lloyd-Jones effectively dismantles the idea that watching a video or listening to an audio of a sermon is as good as coming physically into an assembly and listening to a sermon with a body of people. (Lloyd-Jones on the Primacy of Preaching)

I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little.

  • Mother’s Day in Burma:

“All my life they have been chasing us. They have done a lot to my family. They killed my husband, my brother, my uncle, my cousin, my brother in law and my father.” “Do you know why the Burma Army come and attack you,” I ask. The answer is so sad: “We don’t have any idea. The Burma Army never speak to us or tell us anything.”

We sit in silence. We both are mothers. We both love our husbands. We both have dreams and fears. We both have a sense of humor and like beauty. We both want a day off to do whatever we want. We both sit in the same room. But our lives are as different as lives can be. I think it is unfair.

The total supremacy of Christ

We are all inclined to boast, some are more subtle than others. Paul really goes for it in Colossians 1:17-18, starting with a John-like comment about Christ existing before all things and holding everything together, he then says that Jesus is head of the church before returning to speak of the beginning and Christ’s supremacy over everything.

And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.
(Colossians 1:17-18 ESV)

What makes this boasting OK is that it is true – Jesus is all this.

I find it interesting how Paul structured this passage – I’m no literary scholar but even I can see the pattern:

– creation/beginning
– church
– beginning

Even the larger context of Colossians 1:15-20 has this movement, with emphasis weighted on beginnings/creation in verses 15-17 and on the church and reconciliation in verses 18-20. Paul seems to use our ready comprehension of the authority and power of Christ displayed as Creator to point out the even greater majesty and glory of his being the head of the church.

This puts caring for, serving, honouring, shepherding and loving the church into awesome perspective, doesn’t it?

Is the era of full-time ministry over?

As a member of a ‘lay’ preaching team in our small church family, I have found that the benefit to me of preaching far outweighs the inconvenience and late nights needed to fulfill this role. We certainly miss some of the benefits of having a paid pastor, but I am increasingly wondering if being paid to ‘do ministry’ as a full-time job like any other nine-to-five job is something we should not aspire to?

In musing along this line, I came across an interesting comment from Jim Elliston who resigned from a full-time position as worship pastor for Cornerstone church in California to start a design company and now leads worship as a weekend ministry, without being paid to do so. Here are his thoughts:

I still lead worship for Cornerstone (now I’m right around 2 weekends a month), but I’ve realized that ministry and vocational ministry are 2 totally different things. I know it’s scary, but I think those in vocational ministry need to examine whether or not they are truly called to take a paycheck to do their ministry. I know that if I would have stayed in vocational ministry, I would have missed out on so much of what God has really called me to. (Interviewed by Justin Taylor.)

I do not think this should cause every pastor to resign, but it warrants consideration. Also weighing in on this topic recently was Justin Wise with a blog post called Bi-Vocationalism and the New Pastor in which he (accurately I think) says that:

the role in the “superhero” pastor is, … not “scalable” for future generations. We’ve forced our pastors to be the Every Man and Every Woman that No One is capable of being.

While New Zealand doesn’t suffer much from the mega church phenomenon of North America, the expectations of some Christians can easily become an ‘entertain me’ mindset when it really should be an attitude of servant humility and fellowship. As church membership declines and people are less inclined to entrust themselves to ‘the clergy’, perhaps the idea of ‘pastor’ as a job title will be replaced by pastoring (shepherding, guarding and guiding a flock) as a role that is shared by several people in a congregation, none of whom is paid as though it were a job.

I realize that Paul considered it appropriate for a church leader to be paid for the work they did. Yet Paul himself refused to draw a salary from the churches he established, the impression given is that as the burden of pastoring a church grew and precluded the pastor from working at paid employment and shepherding God’s people, the churches shouldered the responsibility of providing his material needs (see 1 Corinthians 9:4-18). Now we are in almost an opposite situation in many churches – the church is declining and yet still having to pay a pastor. As an employee, the pastor feels a responsibility to show he is earning his keep so becomes a Jack-of-all-trades and desperately tries to keep the church from declining any further.

Maybe God is wiping the slate clean and destroying the church structures that became a crutch which enabled people to lean upon an institution rather than Christ? Perhaps God is removing the excuse we invoke that certain things are the job of a pastor and so not our responsibility? Could it be that we are being nudged out of the comfort and complacency that the Western church has wallowed in for too long now?


Addendum

It seems that I am not alone in considering that the role of pastor needs to be re-examined. Ed Stetzer has written on this topic in Debunking the Clergification Myth, positing that the economy’s toll actually may liberate church leaders—and members. I did not know about this article until today (14 July).

By the sweat of your brow

In Genesis 3:17-19 God consigns Adam to a lifelong battle with weeds. Churches are not exempt from this relentless toil.

On this past Saturday afternoon half our church turned up for a ‘summer clean’ of the buildings and grounds. We certainly toiled, the women ‘glowed’ and the guys dripped with the sweat of their brows. Floors, toilets, ovens and benches were scrubbed. Rooms were tidied, freezers moved, trees chopped down, weedeating done, culminating with a barbecue dinner.

Despite the philosophical futility of cleaning and weeding, it was a great time together. There is something strengthening about working alongside one another which builds fellowship even when conversation is minimal. When we are exhorted in Hebrews 10:25 to not give up meeting together this need not be limited to church worship. Our labours together in kitchens, gardens, workshops and offices can similarly honour God.