Archives For Ministry

Missionaries Are People Too

Mark Beuving —  February 2, 2015 — 3 Comments

In class this morning, we discussed some of the challenges facing missionaries as they seek to plant churches in cross-cultural settings. There are many factors that make this difficult, but I want to share one factor that seems most relevant to those of us “at home,” whether because we are not overseas missionaries or because we haven’t left for the mission field yet. This factor is simple: unrealistic expectations.

I have no idea what comes to your mind when you think of missionaries, but I’d venture to say that most Christians have unrealistic expectations regarding missionaries. Paul Hiebert, a missiologist and long-time missionary to India, speaks to potential missionaries about these expectations:

“The public’s image of a missionary is a hardy pioneer who suffers great deprivations; a saint who never sins; an outstanding preacher, doctor, or personal worker who overcomes all obstacles—in short, a person who is creative, brave, sensitive, and always triumphant. When we are young, we almost believe that we can become such persons when we cross the ocean.” (Paul G. Hiebert. Anthropological Insights for Missionaries. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985. Pg. 73)

Is that an accurate description of how you view the missionaries your church supports? Do you tend to see them as slightly super-human? These are the truly spiritual ones. They’ve figured life out, they’re willing to give up their dreams for the sake of Christ, they’re tough and brave and untouchable.

Ecuador

I’m guilty of often thinking of missionaries in these terms. To be clear, I do think that missionaries are extraordinary people. But that’s the thing—they’re still people. They’re obedient people, they are models of faith that we ought to follow, but they’re still human beings. So when we expect our missionaries to be idealized cowboys, we’re forgetting that they encounter the same struggles in life that the rest of us face. Not only that, but they face struggles most of us cannot begin to imagine as they seek to live and minister in a foreign culture.

So when we place these expectations upon them, or when they place the expectations upon themselves, it can have a big impact:

“It is not surprising, then, that we face depression, often severe, when we discover that we are still very human. Going abroad has neither changed our weak and sinful natures nor given us new talents.”

One of my students pointed out that it’s almost like we expect some magical transformation to happen on the airplane. But of course, missionaries arrive at their new mission field as human as ever, but with new fears, stress-inducers, and frustrations.

For those of us living “at home,” this is a good reminder that our missionaries are human. They need our prayers. They need support. They need us to be realistic about the real trials they face. They need us to be compassionate when they make mistakes or need extra help or fail to meet goals and deadlines. These missionaries are still part of the body of Christ, and we need to graciously share in their hard labor as much as we can.

And for those of us who hope to one day serve in a cross-cultural setting, it’s important that we get our expectations in order. Jesus is the only Savior, the only perfect human being, the only perfect missionary. He calls us to play an important role in his mission to redeem and restore, but accepting that calling does not necessitate perfection or superhuman capabilities. Be sure to remember that as you follow him to the ends of the earth.

Your pastor prays for you. His God-given duty, after all, is to “keep watch over your soul” (Heb. 13:17). But unless you’re a rare individual, you don’t pray for your pastor as much as you should. I want to convince you that your pastor desperately needs you to pray for him consistently.

A major factor in your pastor’s need for prayer is the simple reality that he is a human being. He is tempted, as we all are. He sins, as we all do. He is targeted by spiritual warfare. Because he is a human being seeking to live a godly life, he needs prayer and support.

But there are other reasons for his need for prayer related to his unique role as a pastor. I want to explore three of those below:

 

  1. YOU EXPECT YOUR PASTOR TO SPEAK FOR GOD.

All of us desperately need to know what God thinks about all of the issues we face in life. We need to hear from God—regularly, insightfully, passionately.

So put yourself in your pastor’s shoes here. Week after week, you gather with other believers to hear a word from God. And your pastor is the one who will deliver God’s word to you. His job is to stand before you on a regular basis and declare, “Thus says the Lord.” Much of the Spirit’s conviction in your life will come from words your pastor speaks. Many of your beliefs about the nature of God or how God wants you to behave in a given situation will originate in your pastor’s sermon prep.

Your pastor speaks to you on God’s behalf. He feels the weight of that burden. Make sure you’re praying for him. Pray that God will speak to him. Pray that he will listen. Pray that God will empower him as he takes on the formidable role of a modern day prophet.

Francis Chan Preaching

 

  1. YOU EXPECT YOUR PASTOR TO SOLVE ALL YOUR PROBLEMS.

Perhaps this sounds overdramatic. But when something goes wrong in your life, who are you turning to for help? When you’re struggling with sin, when you can’t navigate a dysfunctional relationship, when you’ve experienced loss, when you’re depressed, when you need some guidance—who is it that you turn to in these situations? If you’re like most Christians, you’ll turn to your pastor to help you solve your problems.

That’s as it should be, to a certain extent. Your pastor does indeed keep watch over your soul; he is there to help you grow. But once again, consider it from your pastor’s perspective. What if you were the last line of defense (and often also the first) with every major issue anyone in your congregation could possibly encounter? That’s an enormous burden to bear. And an impossible schedule to maintain. (Even if your church has multiple pastors, that means your church has more people to care for.) Be sure to pray for your pastor in this regard. Ask God to give him wisdom, patience, and endurance.

 

 

  1. YOU EXPECT YOUR PASTOR TO THINK & ACT LIKE YOU IN EVERYTHING.

You’re not offended by everything your pastor says, but let’s be honest: there are a good handful of topics over which you would be horrified to hear your pastor disagree with you. What if your pastor preached a sermon that gave a differing view on the end times, or on speaking in tongues, or on the proper use of alcohol, or on the way Christians should relate to politics, culture, homeschooling, workplace evangelism, infant or adult baptism, or whatever? The list of issues upon which Christians disagree is almost literally endless.

You might not be upset about every theological point your pastor makes, but someone is likely to be. Consider it from your pastor’s perspective: It’s impossible to preach on the end times, hell, the role of obedience in the life of the Christian, or spiritual gifts without offending someone. You can imagine the weight that this places on his shoulders every week.

Pastors face constant criticism. Their lives are lived in a fishbowl, with everyone analyzing what the pastor and his family do (and don’t do). Not only that, but he also has to present his (well-studied) views on controversial topics to a large roomful of people every week. Can you imagine the pressure? So don’t forget to pray for him. Be gracious to him when he “gets it wrong” theologically, and don’t forget to pray that God would give him grace, patience, and encouragement as he has big and small conversations week after week with people who are angry about something he said.

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You may love your pastor deeply. Or you might have a real problem with him (for good or bad reasons). But either way, be sure that you are praying for him. He has devoted his life to speaking for God and ministering to your soul. That’s an impossible job. Keep praying that God will encourage, shape, and empower your pastor. And please heed these words from Hebrews:

“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (13:17)

Why Christians Can Disagree

Mark Beuving —  December 8, 2014 — 2 Comments

Christians often disagree. That’s why we have so many denominations. That’s why we have so many Christian books about every subject imaginable. That’s why we have so many commentary series. That’s why we have so many blogs.

Disagreement amongst Christians is common. But it’s unsettling. Doesn’t it bother you that we can’t all agree on how or when to baptize a person? Or how the sovereignty of God relates to the human will? Or how the world will end? There are a host of issues that Christians have disagreed upon for centuries.

Don’t you sometimes wonder how a group of people who are supposed to be united can disagree on so many topics?

It’s startling that we can worship the same God and read the same Bible and still come to so many disagreements. But there is a strange beauty in the whole thing.

disagreement

What unites all Christians is our union with Christ. What we all have in common is our shared commitment to following Jesus. When we “give our lives to Christ,” we are pledging our allegiance to a Person. We let go of our own ambitions and agree to do whatever Jesus tells us to do. A person of faith is a person who believes the words that God says.

So when a Presbyterian baptizes his baby, he does so because he looks at God’s word, sees a connection between New Testament baptism and Old Testament circumcision, and firmly believes that baptizing his child is an act of obedience to Christ. And when a Baptist waits for his child to mature before baptizing her, he does so because he looks at God’s word, sees adults being baptized in the New Testament as a confession of their own faith, and firmly believes that being baptized as a conscious believer is an act of obedience to Christ.

A Calvinist reads her Bible carefully and sees passages about God moving the hearts of men, about God working all things according to the counsel of his will, and about God’s involvement in even the most trivial or tragic of human affairs. She wants to understand God’s truth, and she believes and teaches about God’s sovereignty out of obedience to Jesus. An Arminian reads her Bible carefully and sees passages commanding human beings to repent and believe, passages that show human decisions and their real consequences, and about the responsibility of human beings to respond to God and his truth. She wants to understand God’s truth, and she believes and teaches human responsibility out of obedience to Jesus.

So we don’t agree on every point of doctrine. But for Christians, that’s okay. It’s okay because we know where we need to go for the answers. We’ll disagree on what those answers are, but we all know that truth is found in the Bible.

Scripture is sufficiently simple to ensure that we all know God and his truth as we read. But Scripture is sufficiently complex to ensure that we will never exhaust the rich themes, nuances, paradoxes, and genres it contains. This second feature of Scripture, it’s beautiful complexity, also ensures that we’ll all disagree at some point. We will all see a certain theme or nuance so clearly that we will lose sight of another equally important theme. Our interpretations differ, but we’re all mining the same source, a source that will never relinquish all of its unified complexity.

All of us will mine this book forever. To borrow some terms from Francis Schaeffer, we will all know biblical truth TRULY, but we will not know it EXHAUSTIVELY. And the simple fact that no single person on earth can hold every Scriptural truth, theme, and emphasis in mind at any given moment ensures that we will all disagree. For this reason, only God knows his word completely, knows it exhaustively. And it’s our joy to continually seek the mind of God as he has revealed it in Scripture.

So Christians can respectfully, joyfully, graciously disagree because none of us is (or none of us should be) studying the Bible so that we can be right. We are studying the Bible to know God and obey his will. And because we know the Christians across the street are doing the same, we don’t need to be troubled by their disagreement. It simply drives us to pursue God all the more and seek to understand him increasingly more until the day we see him face to face.

I can disagree with you because I am not the source of truth, and neither are you. If we remember that, and if we continue pursuing the source as an act of loving worship, then our disagreements can only make us stronger followers of Jesus and thereby increase our unity with one another.

 

 

 

Three Things to Be Famous For

Mark Beuving —  November 19, 2014 — 2 Comments

Each holiday season, we send a dangerous type of person out into the world: Bible College students. You may think I’m trying to be funny, but honestly, this is a dangerous group. Think about the dynamics in play here.

A student leaves his church and comes to an environment where he spends the equivalent of a full-time job learning the ins and outs of the Bible, learning how people function and how we can best help them grow and change, and learning how we should function as the church. He has learned concepts he had never considered before, he sees treasures in Scripture he could never have dreamed of, and he has necessarily formed opinions about the best way to teach and practice these things.

Bible College tip: Use the word "exegesis" in every conversation.

Bible College tip: Use the word “exegesis” in every conversation.

And then Thanksgiving and Christmas roll around, and we are careless enough to send this young man back to his home church for a time. While there, his idealism is deeply offended. He finds that his church body is not perfect. His pastor is not wringing every ounce of insight out of the biblical text. His friends and family are not using the words “kingdom” and “worldview” enough. So this dear soul spends his holidays putting his ¾ of a semester of Bible College training to work in correcting his church family.

Having seen this scenario play itself out year after year, we have taken to gathering our students just prior to the holidays and giving them the “don’t be a jerk when you go home” talk.

The reality is, we can all benefit from this talk—on a regular basis. Just like the first year Bible College student, we all suffer from misguided passions. As a Christian, you may want to gain a reputation for knowing the Bible well, for being a strong leader, being a powerful speaker, being above reproach morally, being theologically precise or profound, or some other equally noble goal. Honestly, each of these is a worthwhile pursuit, each is modeled in Scripture, and each is commended in the Bible.

But I want to present you with three traits that may not be at the top of your list. Yet the Bible tells us to be famous for each of these things.

1. Be known for love.

Jesus told his disciples to love one another just as he had loved them. Then he said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). What should we be known for? What characteristic will set us apart as followers of Jesus?

It’s not good theology. It’s not impeccable moral standards. (Good though both of those things are.) It’s love. Love for God should lead to good theology and godliness. But love is the defining characteristic.

Be famous for loving people. Do it sacrificially, following the example of Jesus. Love even your enemies. Love the arrogant, the mistaken, the misguided, the uneducated, the overeducated, the immoral, the rude. Love because you have been loved. Until people see you and think immediately of love, you haven’t taken Jesus’ words seriously.

2. Be known for gentleness.

Paul says it clearly: “Let your gentleness be evident to all” (Phil. 4:5, NIV). Other translations say “reasonableness” (ESV), “gentle spirit” (NASB), “moderation” (KJV), or “forbearance” (ASV). Each of these translation choices gets at the meaning. Here’s the definition of the Greek word: “not insisting on every right of letter of law or custom, yielding, gentle, kind, courteous, tolerant” (BDAG).

Paul says that our gentleness should be obvious to everyone who looks at us. They should think: She has a lot of patience. She never insists on her way of doing or seeing things. She’s reasonable in dealing with other people; so courteous!

I don’t often hear gentleness or a willingness to yield being praised in Christian circles. We’re certainly not famous for it. But Paul says it should be immediately obvious to the people around us.

3. Be known for humility.

Peter makes this huge statement: “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’” (1 Peter 5:5). Being “clothed in humility” is rich imagery. Clothing covers us; its visibility hides our covered selves. What if we wore humility like that? What if every inch of our being were only accessible beneath a covering of humility?

Bible College Student

So whether you are a first-semester Bible College student, a graduating Bible student, a homemaker, a banker, a pastor, an elder, a retiree, or anything else, evaluate your reputation. What do you want to be known for? God wants you to be famous for love, gentleness, and humility. How are you doing with these things?

If your knowledge of God and his word leads you to apathy, a harsh or dogmatic spirit, or pride, then you are squandering your knowledge. But if your increased knowledge leads you to greater service and a decreased desire for accolades, then something is going right.

Picture yourself as that first-semester Bible College student travelling home for a few weeks over the holidays. How would you put your newly gained knowledge into practice? When you returned to school would your church be in awe of your knowledge? Would they be “humbled” by your theological precision and insistence that doctrine matters? Would they be scrambling to quickly put your hasty reforms into action? Or would they feel encouraged, supported, and loved as you headed back to school to study the Bible in greater depth?

It’s impossible to make a stronger statement about why these things matter than this: God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.

churchMany of our towns are overflowing with churches. If you’ve ever tried to find a new church, you know how many options are typically available.

You can choose based on denomination: Baptist, Presbyterian, Evangelical Free, Assembly of God, Foursquare, Brethren, Methodist…you name it. And many of these broad categories actually refer to several denominations (e.g., there are multiple Baptist and Presbyterian denominations). And don’t forget the large number of nondenominational churches out there that don’t align with any denomination.

You can also choose based on the style of worship music. Do you prefer hymns or modern praise songs? If modern praise songs, do you lean more towards Chris Tomlin, Hillsong, or Maranatha?

You can also categorize churches based on their approach to preaching. Do you prefer expository, verse by verse preaching? Or do you like the topical approach with relevant sermon series?

How do you like to take communion? Weekly, monthly, or at a special communion service? Which is more “biblical,” juice or wine? Should communion be taken all at once or on an individual basis?

What’s your take on baptism? Full immersion? Sprinkling? Adult or infant? On the spot or after a lengthy baptism class?

The point is, church comes in many varieties. But should it? Aren’t we all worshipping the same God and reading from the same Bible? If that’s true, then why do we have so many denominations?

The simplest answer I have come across (from Tim Keller) is that denominations will always exist as long as Christians are concerned about both unity and purity.

If we were only concerned about unity, it wouldn’t matter what differences we encounter in doctrine or practice. One church per town would be enough. On the flipside, if we were only concerned about purity in our doctrine and practice, we wouldn’t be able meet together at all, because we all disagree with each other on some level.

Church2So every group of Christians is trying to walk that line between unity and purity. To love one another, even in the midst of significant differences, while still upholding the truth of Scripture. And that’s tough. Not only do we disagree about specific doctrines, we also disagree about which ones are “hills to die on.” Should you leave a church and/or start a new one because your church is/isn’t elder ruled? Because there is too much/little liturgy in the services? Because the doctrinal statement affirms/denies a premillenial, pretribulational rapture? These are all issues that have produced new denominations.

Throughout church history Christians have been navigating this tension between unity and purity.

We all have to wrestle with this question: How do we balance unity and purity? I can’t imagine the fragmented state of the church today makes Jesus happy. And yet, I’m sure that he is pleased when someone takes a courageous and gracious stand for the truth of Scripture. I’m also sure he is pleased when someone chooses to love and serve together with people who disagree.

Maybe the point of it all is that simply getting all of the churches together under the banner of unity isn’t the obvious choice. Doctrinal purity matters too. Nor is splitting churches over minor doctrinal issues the right approach. Unity is important. Perhaps it’s more about the way we view and interact with the other denominations in town. Even if you’re not sitting in a pew with the Baptists or Presbyterians or whomever, do you still consider them fellow workers for the sake of the gospel? Brothers and sisters in Christ? Co-recipients of the command to make disciples of all nations (including your own town)?

Here in Simi Valley, most of the pastors in town meet regularly to pray together. These are pastors of churches that belong to a variety of denominations and hold significantly different views over many doctrines. They are each trying to be faithful to what Scripture teaches about baptism, the return of Christ, communion, and so on. But they see themselves as part of the same team, so they pray together. I love that picture of godly people working to preserve both purity and unity.

It won’t surprise you when I say I don’t have a solution for the “problem” (if it is indeed a problem) of denominationalism. But I will say that unity and purity are both important. The way we relate to one another matters. So be sure to wrestle with that question: How do we balance unity and purity?

(By the way, if you’re trying to choose a church or denomination, here are some wise words from C. S. Lewis.)