This week I share an interesting article about the death of family pets, an interesting resource for how to watch the news, and then we’ll be continuing our interesting study of John Bunyan’s classic, Pilgrims Progress.
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It is my deep desire to help you pursue your faith, fall in love with Jesus and His church, serve and make your church the place where you expect great things to happen. What happens in the Christian Church is what is going to last for eternity. What we do together is what we will be talking about and celebrating with Jesus one day. Your church is worth pursuing and sacrificing for.
The Most Important Organization on Earth
I’ve been part of the Christian church for a long time. For literally as long as I can remember, with only a short period of rebellion during my first year in college to break the chain, I have been a part of a Christian family and have attended Christian services.
The Christian church is very important to me and the closer I have gotten to Jesus the more I care for His church. The longer I have worked for the church the more I’ve grown to believe that it is the most important organization on the planet. We are capable of so much more good than any other organization. There are Christian churches in every nation in the world full of believers who want to do good for others and share the message of salvation. Christians around the world are working hard to make the gospel real in people’s lives by sharing not just the message of salvation, but practical examples of grace too.
Christian Relief Organizations
I don’t usually make political commentary during my sermons. Politics are complicated and I don’t consider myself informed enough to be able to speak on the subject with any kind of authority, so I generally avoid any kind of political commentary. But something happened a little while back that bugged me, and seemed to bug a lot of evangelical Canadians. Thomas Mulcair, leader of the NDP, said that evangelical Christians go “completely against” Canadian values and law. He was talking about the Crossroads group that builds wells and provides clean water to people in Uganda, who also teach that homosexuality is a sin.
This irritates me because on of our national core values is being a nation that helps other nations — and it is the Christian Church throughout the centuries who has led the charge of mercy missions throughout the world. No, Christians don’t have a perfect record, but it is overwhelmingly the Christian church who have left their homes, spent their money, risked and lost their lives, in order to bring mercy (and the gospel) to the world. That’s very Canadian.
I did a quick search of the top disaster relief organizations in the world and then specifically went down the list of groups that went to aid in Haiti in 2010. They are overwhelmingly Christian organizations. Samaritan’s Purse, Catholic Charities, The Salvation Army, Feed the Children, Food for the Poor, Habitat for Humanity, and World Vision (and I could go on and on) help millions and millions of people around the world and they are all Christian-based organizations [even Red Cross was started by a Christian]! Of course, this doesn’t even count the work of local Christian churches. These amazing people have been bringing global assistance to victims of natural disasters, war, disease and famine, at great cost to themselves. They share food, water, shelter, and education to the most struggling, most dangerous areas of the world — in Jesus’ name. The Christian church is changing lives all over the world, all the time, and I am proud to be part of that group.
Living Out Our Purpose
Over the years I’ve learned a lot of lessons about what it means to care for His people and the place He has for me in His organization. I spent a lot of years working through who I am in Him, and who I am NOT – and trying to reconcile those two things for His glory. In the same way I have been praying about and working out our church’s place in the global body of Christ – our responsibility, our local expression of the Kingdom. I believe that God has a mission and a purpose for every believer, and I believe that He brings believers together locally to accomplish a His special purpose together.
God plants His churches and calls every Christian. He has a purpose for us, and it is up to us to work out together what that is. It is only when we are pursuing our purpose that our relationship with God will grow, we will mature as disciples of Jesus, we will see the work of the Holy Spirit, and our love for each other will grow deeper.
Applying the Truth
I was talking to a pastor whom I hold in very high esteem this week who reminded me that I missed an important part of my sermon last week (and maybe the last few weeks): the application. He reminded me that it’s not enough to simply relate the truth, it must be grounded in reality and give us something to do. His words ring in my ears, “Most people don’t really care about the truth… they just want something that works.” So I can stand up here all day long sharing truth, but it only becomes helpful when coupled with application I think a lot of people, if given a piece of truth can’t (or won’t) naturally take the leap to applying it without some guidance.
The Apostle Paul, as he was writing his various letters to the churches, would write deep theological truths, and then give commands and encouragements on how to apply it. It’s almost a 50/50 split – half teaching, half application. God is just as interested in us knowing the truth as He is in us living it out.
A Deficit of Maturity
Last week I said this:
“If we are in KOINONIA with Jesus, then we will have KOINONIA with the people of the church. It’s a powerful truth that the closer we are to Jesus, the closer we will feel to His people, and the further we are from Jesus, the further away we will feel from His church.”
I want to go back to that for a moment. There is a dramatic deficit of mature believers today, and I believe one of the key reasons people are distant from Jesus is because they are distant from the church. There is a consumerist mindset among Christians where they are more concerned with being “fed” than growing closer to Jesus and the people around them.
Some of you feel a tug in your heart to grow closer to Jesus but you don’t really know where to start. You have questions that plague you, which are a stumbling block on your spiritual journey. You don’t know where to find the tools you need to take the next step towards Christian maturity. Some of you are struggling with relationship issues, addictions, fears, anxiety, anger, depression… and you’ve never told anyone – or you’ve only told a few people who have been affected by your pain – and you don’t know what to do.
Some of you have a gift, but you’ve never used it to serve God, and don’t know what it’s like to bless others in the way God designed you. You may even think that you don’t have a gift because you don’t look like the people around you. There are things you love to do, that you are good at doing, and have no idea how to do it in a way that would serve God and His church. Some of you have a passion in your heart, something you’ve wanted to do for a long time, but don’t know how to take the next step towards pursuing that passion.
This is why God created the church! You are in the exactly the right place to become exactly who God has created you to be – but many Christians don’t know, or don’t believe that to be true. They are looking for something else, when what they need is right in front of them.
God designed this organization, His Church, to be a place where you can reach your full potential to bless God and others. This is a place where you can find healing for your deepest hurts, and support in your darkest times. This is the greatest organization in the world, which has the greatest resources, the longest reach, the best cause, the most reason, and the best Leader – Jesus Christ.
Over the next couple of weeks, as part of this Foundations series, I want to share with you a few ways that you can reach your potential right where you are.
Lean On Church Leaders
The first way that I want to share with you about how to use the church to grow as a believer is to Lean on Your Church Leaders. As one who God has called to be a church leader, this one is particularly close to my heart but it’s difficult to talk about. If I don’t tread carefully here I can easily come across arrogantly, as though I have some kind of Messiah complex or think I’m better than everyone else. I don’t believe that, so I want to make a bit of a biblical case for what I’m talking about here.
A Biblical Case for Christian Mentors
The scriptures talk a lot about imitating not only Christ, but also other Christians especially good, Christian leaders.
- Paul says to the Philippians , “Join with others in following my example.”(3:17).
- To the Thessalonians he says, “You became imitators of us and of the Lord… And so you became a model to all the believers.” (1 Thess 1:6-7).
- To the Corinthians Paul says, “I urge you, then, be imitators of me.” (1 Cor 4:16)
- To the elders of the church Peter says, “…be examples to the flock.” (1 Peter 5:3)
Hebrews 13 has a couple of verses which give some pretty strong commands to believers:
- “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” (Hebrews 13:7)
- “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.” (Hebrews 13:17)
Why It’s Not Happening
Christian mentoring is supposed to be normative in the church, but it’s not happening the way it used to. I believe there are a myriad of reasons why it isn’t happening in churches today.
1. Because of some very high-profile failures, people hesitate to trust Christian leaders, and so they write them all off.
2. Some people worry that imitating another Christian or even having leaders in the church goes against scripture because it makes idols of them. Which can be true, but I would argue is rarely the case on the local level (though it can happen to people who begin to idolize certain “celebrity” pastors and teachers).
3. Another reason might be the rise of these “celebrity Christians” who become a long-distance models for Christians who would consider them their mentor. They don’t meet with them, talk to them, know them, or pray with them, but they consider them mentors. It’s not that we can’t learn from these folks, but Christian leaders and mentors are meant to be people who you meet with regularly, who know your name, your family, your struggles, and who care for you as an individual. Long-distance, celebrity preachers, can’t do that.
4. Another problem is that there are a lot of Christian leaders who simply are not worth imitating because they are not pursuing their relationship with Jesus. It’s not a lack of desire for some people, but a lack of option. Unfortunately the Canadian and North American church does have some bad eggs, and many churches are stuck with immature elders and leaders, and they are ruining it for those who desire to grow.
5. Another problem is that many Christian leaders don’t see it is their responsibility to mentor other believers. In my experience, and after a lot of reading, I know that many church leaders think their job begins and ends with getting their ministry tasks done. I know of very, very few Christian leaders who believe their primary job is to replicate their faith into the next generation of believers. I’m not sure if it’s laziness, or they are too busy, or it’s lack of training, (or all of those), but most Christian leaders don’t find mentoring and training to be an important part of their job.
6. On the other hand, there are some great leaders out there who are not being taken advantage of! It really does break my heart that there are some great Christian leaders, pastors and teachers in North America – hundreds and even thousands of competent ministers who know the scriptures, pray for their people, have wisdom that they want to share – but are watching the people they care for whiz by them towards destruction without so much as a word. These leaders, both the professionals and the lay-leaders (and I know how they feel), stand ready to bring sound teaching, good doctrine and wise counsel, practical love and have access to lots of ways to help – but coming up against a wall that they can’t seem to get over.
How To Pursue Your Church Leaders
So my encouragement to you, as it is to every Christian I talk to, is to pursue your local Christian leaders. That’s how God designed his church to work.
Here’s what I’m not saying: I’m not saying we are perfect – far from. But I and the other leaders of the church have been given to you as a gift from God (Ephesians 4:11-12) – and that can come across as prideful, but believe me I (and the other leaders here) don’t see it that way – if anything, it’s terrifying (especially Hebrews 13:17)!
So, that being said, let me share a few ways that you can take the ball and run with it. I’m going to share some of these from a personal perspective, but I believe they are universally applicable for other church leaders as well. So, here are some ways you can use your church leaders to help you grow in spiritual maturity:
1. Test us. Make sure they are called of God and qualified to lead. God has a list of requirements in scripture for the men and women He calls to be leaders in His church. The list of qualifications for elders in the church is found in 1 Timothy 3:2-7 and Titus 1:6-9. The list of qualifications for deacons is found in 1 Timothy 3:8-13. Before you submit to their authority and give them a voice in your life, check out their life out and test them first.
2. Tell us your dreams, aspirations, fears and anxieties. Take off the mask, and take down the wall. Share your heart with them, not just the news and weather. My heart is to help you meet Jesus in new ways, and to help you explore your full potential in Him, and I can’t do that unless I get to know you better. It does you no good at all to pretend in front of me, make things up, or put on some kind of holy façade to impress me. Let me know what is going on in your heart, and let me help you unpack that from a Christian, Biblical worldview.
3. Bother us. Don’t think you’re a nuisance or a bother because serving you is what we live for! I have been given to you for the purpose of helping you meet Jesus. Like any other person I am happiest when I am able to exercise my gifts and abilities for the glory of God – but my gifts require you in order to exercise them! You are not a bother, you are the whole reason we are here.
4. Ask us tonnes of questions. We’ve put a LOT of work into studying life, scripture, theology, history, the church, personal and family counselling, and some other things because we want to be able to help you. Pastors all over the world are seeking God in prayer and studying their little hearts out so they can be of service to you! So ask us some things – there’s a good chance you’re going to get a decent answer, or at least you’ll have a fellow believer who will be seeking those answers with you. The only thing keeping you from a good answer to that nagging question is yourself.
5. Trust us. This could come across as a sort of power trip, but if you have checked us out using the criteria in 1 Timothy and Titus, then we are supposed to have a good reputation, care for people, be sober-minded, respectable, not quarrelsome, gentle, and not be in this job for money or our own selfish pursuits. One of the qualifications of an elder is that we not become “puffed up with conceit” because as soon as we start power-tripping or manipulating people or situations to our advantage we lose the blessing of God.
This is just standard, no-brainer advice. If you walk into the doctor and he says, “you’re sick, take this pill”, you do it. If you walk up to your personal trainer and he says, “eat this and do these exercises”, it’s not a power-trip, it’s why you came to them in the first place. Yes, anyone can be wrong, but hopefully what this Christian leader is saying is coming from scripture, blessed by the Spirit of God, from a heart that cares for you, and is tempered with the wisdom of experience. No, you don’t have to submit, and there’s really nothing we can do about that, but it’s to your own disadvantage not to. At least give it a try!
6. Help us pray for you. I’ve said this already, but it can’t be overstated – share your heart and concerns with us. Stop me where I am and ask for prayer. Call me and ask for prayer. Email me and ask for prayer. It’s not that my or any other Christian leader’s prayers are worth more than yours, or anyone else’s, or that God somehow listens to us more than you, but a huge part of my ministry, according to scripture (Acts 6:4), is to pray for you, and I can only do that effectively if I know what is happening in your life. I can mobilize people to pray for you too. I have a voice and connections you don’t have, and I can get more people to pray, if that’s what you want. Share your prayer concerns with me and the leaders of the church.
7. Get to know us as people. Some people see Christian leaders as talking-heads who aren’t really people, but super-busy, bible-quoting machines, holier-than-thous who float above everyone because they get to go to special meetings and talk on Sunday. Let me assure you that Church leaders are just people. I like wings, beer, steak, pizza, pool, sports, books, and tv – maybe even a little too much. Many Christian leaders are introverts (including myself), and so it’s tough for them to get to know people sometimes. Sure, we love people, but we also hide behind the work of ministry so we don’t have to get out of their comfort zone. So we need you to come at least half-way. I would like to get to know you and your family more, so please give me a call and let’s get together. Not because it’s my job, but because I really want to know you more.
8. Lovingly support us, and help us grow so you can grow. The scriptures say in 1 Timothy 5:17, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.” This is a tough job. It’s public, political, religious, and all-encompassing. Our hearts are on the line every day. We are under constant spiritual attack. It is a HUGE, terrifying, weighing, responsibility to bring the Word of God to people week-after-week in a way that is infused with the Holy Spirit, proclaims the gospel of Jesus, honours and worships God, and helps the people we care about.
Pastors and Christian leaders are dropping like flies – 1500 leaving the ministry each month due to burnout, conflict or moral failure. If you have a good pastor (elder, deacon), be good to them and take care of them. Do what you can to strengthen them, and help them to grow as a believer, a leader, and a person. Take care of them financially, physically and emotionally. Bless them so they can be a blessing to you.