Archive for the ‘Discipleship’ Category

When you think about Gospel ministry I wonder what comes to your mind? What do you think a call to ministry actually means? Do you think there’s a chance God is calling you to ministry? I suppose most of us who are genuine and aware of our inner self think about what a noble and difficult task this is. We think about God’s word, about preaching to others and shepherding. We wonder how can I, a mere sinner help others in their relationship with God? How can a broken man lead others to the holy God? In this case, we think the call to ministry is something others can do but not us. No, we don’t qualify to lead others.

But perhaps your answer is different. If you’ve been serving elsewhere perhaps you do feel this is where the Lord is leading you. Your pastor thinks you can do it. You’ve led a Bible study before and enjoyed it. You’ve been involved in organizing for missions that went well and many souls were saved. And when you’ve had the opportunity on a Sunday to hammer the word people do seem to like your preaching. So it feels like yes God is calling you to ministry. You do realize it’s a noble task and you need help but you are largely convinced God is calling you to ministry.

Both of these are responses we hear every time we try to encourage people to do ministry. And there’s one thing that seems to drive these responses; if our heart is in the right place we think about the flock which is admirable. We ask ourselves can I serve God’s people? I’m I the right guy for the mission of God in reconciling the world to himself? Do I have the gifts and skills to pastor them? I’m I equal to the task of bringing others to the kingdom of God? Which I think is a very important question for anyone considering Gospel ministry.

The thing many of us forget or seem to miss is that a call to ministry though is actually a call first to personal discipleship before it is a call to disciple others. God’s call on his minister begins with the minister himself. He doesn’t call the qualified he qualifies those he calls. And to a great extent they never really qualify. No one is fit for that job. No one graduates to be a minister, instead, it is the student of the Word that leads other students in Gospel ministry.

But I know when I talk about ministry and mission the place that easily comes to mind is Matthew 28:16-20 which is the classic place we got to encourage people for missions and Gospel ministry. That’s where we get our job description. Now, I hope you don’t get this wrong but I think that’s the wrong place, to begin with, get me right I said to begin with. First, because if you read the Gospel accounts carefully as they should be read that’s where you end not where you start. Second, because when we start there we assume a lot about the people going for ministry and think very highly of them.

If you read the Gospels carefully you’d see how insufficient the men God sends are. This is especially clear when working through Mark’s Gospel. It should shock you that Jesus decides to send these guys. None of them qualifies. They want to be lords, not servants. They struggle to grasp what Jesus is doing, they are not A students. In the end, one betrays him, the other publicly denies him and they all desert the Saviour when he needed them the most. How can they qualify?

Now I’m not trying to split hairs and argue for the sake of it. Actually, I would still use Matthew 28 to encourage people to go to the ministry field and I think we don’t do this enough in our churches. But I do want to convince you why discipleship needs to come first before mission because even in the Gospel accounts it comes first. When Jesus called his disciples heres what we are told was to be their Job description:

14 And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach

Mark 3:14 ESV.

We easily get the second part of that verse but we miss the first. The first mission for the first disciples was Discipleship, to sit and learn from Jesus. He called them to be with him and he stayed with them 3 years before he could issue the Great Commission. And even at that point, I would say still these guys were not ready and they were not going to be ready.

Brothers and sisters what I’m trying to convince you and I is; that it’s only after we have been with Jesus when we are walking with Jesus when we are killing sin and striving for holiness every day that we can even think about Gospel ministry. In others words, the call to faithful ministry is a call first to be a faithful Christian. And it’s a daily call, not something that happens once in a dream. Not something that happened when they commissioned or ordained you. The Higher calling is not calling others but answering the call yourself first.

This is the case even when we think about the people of Israel. God’s call on Israel was a call to himself even before they could be a light to the nations. What does God say in Exodus 19?

5Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

Exodus 19:5 ESV

The call on Israel like the Christian call and to the Gospel preacher is a call to God first. The things we’ll do for God are great. The sacrifices we make for God are worthwhile and part of the package. The souls we’ll preach to and be added to the kingdom will glorify God. But if we miss the calling on our lives for the calling of others then the heaven we talk of is a place we’ll never set our feet on. Others will make it partly because of our ministry but Jesus will say on that day depart from me for I never knew you. If you think Gospel ministry is for you think about your devotion life. If you sense you’ve got the gifts for the job ask yourself if you have the heart for it. And if you feel weak and unqualified and yet see the need for Gospel ministers then ask God to qualify you and to do so every day.

Every year at iServe Africa we send out invitations to college graduates who are sensing a calling of God for ministry to do our one-year Apprenticeship program. This offers them an opportunity for training and testing the waters for ministry. The problem is often times when we talk about ministry they like us tend to think about preaching, going for missions, and discipling others. We think about ourselves as agents that God is sending to others so they can hear the Gospel which is partly right. But the thing we spend most of our time trying to convince our apprentices is that ministry is more about becoming than it is doing. For them, the year is more learning and unlearning than it is hammering the Gospel. It’s about discipleship before it’s about the mission. For only the faithful disciple makes a faithful Bible teacher.

The rebuke we need to hear friends for those of us in ministry is whether we are leading others where we are not following. There are extremes of those who are clearly leading others astray leading them to themselves and to the idols of their hearts. But if we claim to be faithful ministers we need to ask if we are faithful disciples. This is not aimed at guilt-tripping us or making us feel insufficient although that’s how we should feel. But to encourage us to go the Father so he can qualify us with his word. We ought to think the word we are preaching applies to us, not just the naughty teenager in front of us. We need to feed so that we can point others to where they can find pasture. For we are all sheep and we have one Shepherd, the Overseer of our hearts, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

If you are starting on in Gospel ministry or trying to make that decision I hope you can see where it all begins and stays. It’s a higher calling because God wants your heart before he can use your mouth, hands, and feet. Actually, I hope all of us can see that in one way or the other God is calling all of us for ministry. We may not have the gift set of a pastor but God is calling us to himself so he can send us to our neighbors. God is calling us to fellowship with him before we can go out for his mission. He’s asking for our hearts before we can give him our hands. Our heads before our mouths. Our life before we give him our gifts and skills. This is the higher calling.

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Have you ever been in a conversation where you feel totally out of place? This happens to me quite often. I get in a matatu on a Sunday morning headed to church. It’s tuned to one of the local ‘tribal’ stations. I think it’s a gospel show going on because I can hear some ‘Amen’ and ‘God bless you’. Almost everyone in the matatu seems engrossed in the conversation going on on radio. I can hear them laugh, one or two nod their heads. But where am I? Poor me, I can’t understand a word. I have no idea what they are laughing about. Worst of it is when one talks to you commenting on the ongoing conversation on radio. I don’t know, how do you expect me to respond?

It feels so awkward! On the one hand, you want to listen in and hear, on the other hand, you don’t want to hear any of it. I am not only victim but done it too- I have been around my mzungu friends who don’t know Swahili yet that’s what I speak with my Kenyan friend- it gets worse when we switch to Sheng!

Now, come to church. We are talking to young people. The topic/series is Relationships and Marriage- trust me this is a guaranteed topic. In our thinking, this is what every young person is struggling with. We need to speak about these real issues. And so, what we do is get a married couple to tackle this. Share about dating/courtship & how to go about it. How long should it take before you get married? Get an ‘expert’ ‘marriage counsellor’ ‘relationships coach’ to handle this with the hope that the young people shall be helped. The expectation is that they will all get married and live happily ever after.

But the problem is, in this whole conversation, there’s someone who feels awkwardly totally left out- the single and not dating. We concentrate on the dating/courting/engaged and forget about the single and not dating. The question they are asking is how can I be pure and live without thinking that there’s something totally wrong with me? How can I serve my brother/sister without looking at them as my suitor? Sadly, this is never answered yet in answering, we not only help the single & not dating but also the dating, courting, engaged, married, widowed… all of them.

So, why do we leave them out? Why do we totally forget them;

  1. Glorifying Marriage, Despising Singleness

In our society, somehow people view marriage (at least in Christian circles) as the goal for every young person. Culturally, you are only regarded as a man, able to speak before men, if you are married. Some churches even go to the extent of not ordaining single people.

Marriage has been glorified and put perhaps next to salvation! That means if you are of age (whatever that means, in your twenties perhaps) and aren’t ‘seeing someone’ or not ‘being seen’ by someone then there’s a problem with you.

No wonder in our preaching series, there’s no place for talking about singleness!

  1. Failure to Point people to Christ as the Real Source of Our Joy & Satisfaction

Marriage has been seen as a ‘problem-solver’. We think the solution to masturbation is for one to get married. Are you struggling with lust & pornography? It’s high time you got married, so we say. Or perhaps the reason you are so disorganized and late to church is because you are not married- get married and things will be ok. We think this is the real source of joy and satisfaction yet that’s not true. We forget that our identity as forgiven sinners, redeemed by Christ’s blood, we who once were alienated but have now been brought near & become children of God, a people of His own possession is what matters most! The most joyful, satisfying & peaceful thing is that we belong to Christ.

We thus need to be pointing people to Christ, whether they are married or not. He’s the one who’s dealt with & deals with our biggest problem of sin and God’s punishment on us. He’s the one we need to look at & point people to, married or not. So, struggling with masturbation, lust, pornography? Look to Him, behold Him, He is the most satisfying, glorious… all that we need.

  1. The Ultimate Marriage

That marriage is only but a picture of something bigger, greater- Christ and the Church- is a mystery! How can that be the case? Well, Christ is the head of the Church, He died for her, He nourishes her & clothes her. The Church submits to Christ joyfully serving Him. This how it’s supposed to be for a husband (head) and wife.

Even more fascinating is the Church, the bride of Christ is waiting for its marriage to the groom, who is Christ. At the moment, Christ is preparing her, adorning her, for that great marriage. The bride has to be ready. It shall be the most glorious event for us- this is the ultimate. Nothing of the marriages on earth now can compare to it.

Let us rejoice and exult and give Him the glory, for the marriage supper of the Lamb has come, & His bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure… blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” Revelation 19:7-9.

This is what all of us should be looking forward to- the ultimate marriage- whether single or married!

So, please the single men and ladies there are crying out. Who will listen to them? Why don’t we think of how we can address them in their current state and encourage them to be fruitful in the ministry and service to the LORD? What if they are being called to singleness for life? Is there a place for that in our thinking or we think there’s definitely a problem with them? My encouragement to all singles out there

Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you from that.” 1 Corinthians 7:27-28

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What are we supposed to learn as we read the narratives of Abraham and Moses and David and all the rest? What are we supposed to emulate? How should they help us?

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a cloud of witnesses, let us… run…” (Heb. 12:1a)

Question: What are the great cloud of witnesses witnessing?

If we don’t know the answer to that then we risk missing a great motivation and guide to running the Christian race well.

Hebrews 12:1a is clearly the bridge between Hebrews 11 (the hall of fame) and Hebrews 12:1b about running the race marked out for us. “Therefore, since we are surrounded… let us…”

So it clearly can’t be that these are non-Christians witnessing our lives (a common interpretation in our context). The witnesses in Heb. 12:1 are those in Heb. 11.

But what or who are they witnessing? Are they witnessing us or something/someone else?

Let’s look at the guys in Hebrews 11. Where was their gaze fixed? In the summary verse 13 it says that they saw what was promised them even though it/he was still far off (cf. Heb. 10:36-37). Moses faith meant ‘seeing the Unseen One’ (Heb. 11:27). In fact most of those mentioned in the ‘hall of fame’ here are notable in the Old Testament as those who ‘saw the LORD’ (e.g. Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Gideon, David and Samuel).

This would fit with the primary use of ‘witnesses’ throughout the Old and New Testaments. The ‘witnesses’ in Isaiah 43:12 are of the LORD and his mighty words and deeds. John picks up on this understanding of witness in his Gospel and presents us with various witnesses to Jesus (e.g. John 5). The Apostles are send out as witnesses of Jesus (Acts 1:8). The secret of their joyful courage was a vision of the glory of God and of Christ (Acts 7:55).

So I would conclude that the witnesses of Heb. 11 and Heb. 12:1a are those who witnessed Christ. They were not necessarily exemplary (think of Jephthah and Samson). It is not so much a hall of fame as a hall of faith. They saw something. They saw Christ. They witnessed Him. And so they did the only logical thing, they counted this world as rubbish and perishing, they looked forward to Christ and his resurrection day, they obeyed the heavenly voice, they ran towards their saviour God.

And that is the way they are an encouragement to us. I suspect that it is not so much that we are running and the saints of old are watching us from the sidelines and cheering us on (though that’s possible), rather we are supposed to look at them and see how they ran and then notice that their eyes are fixed straight ahead, on Christ. We are to see them and see what they are looking at, and run like that.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a cloud of witnesses, let us throw off every weight and the sin that entangles and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus

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Great piece from Sammy Maina, programme coordinator at iServe Africa:


The Messiah has risen. Yes he is alive from the dead. And word has been sent out to His disciples and that they should go to Galilee and there they will see the risen Christ. Off they go [the eleven of them] to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.

Finally the moment had come for him to ascend to the Father. What would he say?

When they saw Him, they worshipped, but some doubted.  Then Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Are these the words they expected to hear? I don’t know what the disciples expected to hear. But what am sure of, is that what Jesus said, had a huge of impact not only to the lives of the 11 disciples but also to all those who would ever follow Christ.

What was Jesus central mission on earth?

Jesus’ mission was His Father’s mission and the mission was to save his people from their sins (Matt. 1:21). For this to happen first and foremost Jesus had to die to bear the curse and burden and punishment of his people, and second the good news of salvation (the gospel) had to be preached to all peoples because the Father’s love is global (Matt. 8:11-12; 4:42) and salvation comes through hearing and believing in the gospel word (John 3:16).

But now that Jesus was returning to the Father, He had to ensure that God’s mission to draw peoples from all nations to himself was accomplished. Just as the Father had sent the Son (Jesus) so was Jesus to send out His disciples (then and now) to make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:18-20; John 20:21). And that is what the risen Christ was calling His disciples to. This is what came to be known as the great commission. Looking at the book of Acts, it’s evident that the 11 disciples didn’t just listen to Jesus’ command but actually went forth to preach the good news from Jerusalem, to the uttermost parts of the earth. They did not just “go and tell” but they “went, told and made disciples”.

Is the great commission only about going out to another country?

No, it’s more than that. But sadly unlike the 11 disciples some of us today over-emphasise “the going”. “The commission is not fundamentally about mission out there somewhere else in another country.

It is a commission that makes disciple-making the normal agenda and priority of every church and every Christian disciple. (The Trellis and the Vine,  Marshall & Payne, 2009, p. 13)

What is the essential goal of the church?

The goal of the church is making disciples. Simply defined a disciple is a pupil or, if you like, a student and follower of another person and/or his teachings. The disciple does not only learn, but also meditates and acts upon the teachings. As Christians we are Jesus’ pupils. Discipleship is personal. And discipleship is a process. It’s not as instant as coffee or as quick as sending and receiving money via M-Pesa. Discipleship calls for commitment and hard work. When Jesus called the disciples, he taught them, nurtured them, mentored them, prayed for them and walked the talk. And part of following him was to be made into fishers of men. Therefore the church should make disciples who make other disciples.

What’s the simplest to do between a) discipling and b) going to out to preach the gospel?

The other day I posed this question to some of my friends and colleagues. These were answers I got:

  • discipleship is handwork but doable;
  • discipleship requires a lot of commitment and dedication;
  • discipleship has got to be deliberate and there must be a plan on how to do it.

Enough said. I couldn’t agree more. Discipleship is hard work but doable.

What is required to make disciples?

To make disciples, you have got to have disciple makers. Disciple makers are Christians who have already been discipled. This doesn’t mean that they have attained perfection and are no longer disciples. Until one goes to be with Christ (whether by being called home or when Christ returns) one remains His disciple. The 11 were not anywhere near perfect.  Nonetheless they had already gone through the “Jesus Discipleship School” – particularly in those crucial 40 days between His resurrection and ascension when Jesus opened their eyes to see Him and His Kingdom in all the Scriptures and sent them out to preach that message (Luke 24:44-49; Acts 1:2-3). Jesus knew that it would not be easy, all through. The disciples were to encounter a number of challenges and face death daily. But Jesus did not leave them helpless. He promised that he would be with them to end of the age. He gave them what they needed for the task ahead of them. He gave them his Word (Luke 24:44-46), his Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49) and more so His grace (Luke 24:36).

So by God’s strength, the 11 disciples (and Paul) made disciples that made disciples. Consequently, as we see throughout the book of Acts, multiplication resulted and many followed Christ not just as disciples but as workers making more disciples.

Making disciples is by grace and to grace

As we seek to make disciples, it’s worth underling this point that making disciples is by grace and that as disciplers we are directing people to Christ. To begin with it is by grace that we become Disciples of Christ (saved by grace); it is by grace that we remain his disciples and follow Him (sustained by grace); and it is by grace that we serve Christ. When we keep that in mind, we will disciple others in humility; we will be patient with them as they grow in Christ to maturity; we will rebuke them in love when necessary.

Most importantly, in discipleship we point or direct people to Christ. By all means the discipler must be a good example for others to learn from (imitating them as they follow and imitate Christ). But it is Jesus that all should follow and become like. Everything that the disciple does has to be done in light of the Christ’s gospel.

At iServe Africa we are passionate about Christ’s mission and his command to make disciples. And ours is not just a passion. But we are in active pursuit of the same. Every year we seek to make disciple-making disciples, through our apprenticeship programme. We train, mentor and equip young men and women, and send them out to make disciples. It’s not the very easiest thing to do. Even so Jesus’ promise to be with us to the end of age is always of encouragement to us.

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2014-08-24 16.14.23

Thanking God for a good day yesterday. Here are the notes so far:

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At the ministry training today two things came out particularly strongly for me:

  1. The gospel is for believers. Fidel preached on 2 Tim. 2 and wonderfully brought home verse 1 – be strengthened not by your bank balance or friends or vague hopes or false promises but be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus. Then in Colossians 1 we saw that we mustn’t move on one inch from the gospel we first heard (v23). The way to get people mature in Christ is… to preach Christ (v28).
  2. God has given us books. Not a random pick-and-mix collection of verses. I’m getting increasingly excited about preaching and discipleship and training that is basically just going through books. Instead of coming up with our own ideas and complex schemes and finding verses from all over the place to support that, how about taking the books that God has given us and seeing what the particular message and target of each of them is and just let them do what they’re there for. So instead of coming up with 10 points on gospel ministry that we think the apprentices need to know at the beginning of their year, let’s just let Fidel preach 2 Timothy – a letter all about handing on the baton of gospel ministry. Instead of us trying to come up with an introduction to the doctrine of God, the gospel, expository preaching and how to live in the light of the gospel – let’s just go through Colossians.

Notes from the day:

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  1. Discipleship is discipline – suffering (as a soldier), keeping to the rules (as an athlete or workman), working hard in season and out of season (as a farmer) as you preach the gospel (1:8,11-12; 2:3-6, 10, 15; 3:10-12; 4:2, 5, 7)
  2. Discipline flows from the grace of Christ – suffering, faithful gospel service flows from the massive grace of our salvation in the crucified and risen Christ (1:8-10; 2:1, 8, 11) and His Spirit dwelling in us (1:7-8, 14; 4:22)
  3. Discipline is a means of grace – it is through our continuing in the reading of the Word that God makes us wise for salvation in Christ, trains and thoroughly equips us (3:15-17) and it is through our continuing in the struggle of preaching the gospel that God shines the light of life, the elect find salvation in Christ, the church is kept from dangerous error and brought to maturity (2:2, 10, 14-15, 24-26; 3:16; 4:2-5).

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culturally specific looking Bible study group

Before we get into how to lead an inductive Bible study we need to question whether it’s worth doing, whether it’s an appropriate and justifiable method of gospel ministry in our context. Christopher Ash warns that:

An interactive Bible study is not culturally-neutral. To sit around drinking coffee with a book open, reading and talking about that book in a way that forces me to keep looking at that book and finding my place and showing a high level of mental agility, functional literacy, spoken coherence and fluency, that is something that only some of the human race are comfortable doing. Not everyone feels comfortable when the bright spark in the corner pipes up, “Ah, yes, but I was wondering about the significance of the word “However” in verse 3b. What do you think about that?” Some of us love that kind of seminar interaction, but many do not. For those who can do it, it may way be profitable; but many people can’t, and just feel daunted or excluded by the exercise. (The Priority of Preaching, p.28)

He goes on to mention that Bible study groups can also be places where “discussion substitutes for submission to the word of God” (p.29). Instead, he argues, preaching is pre-eminent as the culturally neutral way in which all people can come under the authority and grace of God’s Word. I would wholeheartedly agree with this.

The question is, does discussion necessarily mean a lack of submission to the Word? And is interactive Bible study necessarily culturally specific and exclusive?

Talking to Kenyan brothers, a few characteristics of Bible studies in our context seem to come out:

  • Many university students (largely through the work of IFES/FOCUS) are familiar with a more ‘Western-style’ inductive Bible study – going through 10 or more pre-determined questions, looking closely at a Bible text and discussing the meaning. This has undoubtedly been very helpful to many but can tend to be a bit academic and ungrounded.
  • Outside of university contexts it seems to be more normal to start with just one or two questions or a topic or a recap of the sermon to spark a free-flowing discussion. A Bible text would probably be read but there would be much less reference back to it or detailed analysis.
  • There is a spectrum in leadership styles from open-ended and lightly facilitated discussion (e.g. in middle class Nairobi) through rather more firm and didactic leading (in more traditional contexts) all the way through to what would basically a Bible talk by the leader with little interaction. In fact many churches would use ‘Bible study’ to mean the expository talk that happens early on a Sunday before the main service.
  • One of the challenges a few have noted is in terms of application. In a communal shame/honour culture it is difficult to admit weakness, faults and struggles in a group setting. This can mean discussion becomes rather abstract or applied to “them out there” rather than “me in here”.
  • Practical challenges – a pastor working in an informal settlement pointed out some to me the other day that most of his congregation live in a 10 x 10ft house space so would find it virtually impossible to host a Bible study group of 6-10 people. On top of this, those who have jobs often don’t get back home till 8pm or later in the evening so would not be able to get to an evening group.

Bearing all this in mind, I think a strong case can still be made for inductive Bible study groups:

  1. Group discussion is not particularly culturally specific. Most cultures, particularly non-western, value communal discussion. Certainly it might look quite different to the coffee-drinking, sofa-lounging, seminar style. There might be more respect for age and hierarchy. There might well be a need for everyone to participate and give their contribution on each question (and I’ve found that a really nice part of Kenyan Bible studies). Literacy may certainly be an issue but this is not insurmountable. Friends in Nakuru are leading oral Bible studies where Bible stories are learnt verbatim, recited, repeated back, corrected, interrogated, retold, questioned.
  2. Questions are very powerful. Jesus used questions regularly to point people back to God’s Word: “What is written?” “How do you read it?” (Luke 10:26) “How/why is it written?” (Mark 9:12; Luke 20:17). While he did often proclaim God’s Word and give his definitive exposition (e.g. Luke 4:16-21; 20:37-38) he was also very happy simply to point to Psalm 110 and ask devastating questions (Mark 12:35-37).
  3. The Bereans of Acts 17:11 seem to be a ‘noble’ model for us. Their daily searching of the Scriptures was almost certainly corporate. They were checking what Paul had said against the Scriptures; checking that Paul had used the Scriptures rightly – not twisting them out of context; looking through many other Scriptures to see if they really did all point to Jesus’ suffering and exaltation as Paul seemed to be suggesting. This concept of checking preaching against the Word is hugely relevant in our context – in fact in every context – if it was a good thing to check the great apostle Paul how much more my preaching? How much false teaching could be stopped in its tracks if those in the pews were meeting throughout the week, searching the Scriptures for themselves, seeing if these things are so?
  4. There is great power in seeing something for yourself. The Bereans hear Paul as he preaches the necessity of Christ but it is when they see the same things for themselves in the Scriptures that they believe (17:11-12). Similarly in John 4 the Samaritans say, “It is no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and we know that this is indeed the Saviour of the world”. This is not to say that preaching isn’t hugely important in drawing people to Christ (as it was with Paul and the Samaritan woman); nor is it to say that preaching can’t bring instant faith – it very often will (Acts 17:4) but it is very important that faith consists in being personally convinced by God’s Word. In a context where an eloquent or respected pastor may be believed simply for his rhetoric or authority, inductive Bible studies may play a very important role – a place where people can see the wonderful truths of Christ for themselves in the Scriptures.
  5. Inductive Bible studies affirm the power and clarity of the Scriptures. As a preacher it is quite possible to leave the congregation with the impression that either a) this was a very obscure Scripture that no-one could possibly have understood without me but I have been able to bring something clever out of it; or b) this is quite a dull or lifeless Scripture but through my anointing, charisma, dazzling illustrations, and rhyming points I have made it a thing of power. With a good inductive Bible study we all go away thinking the Bible is actually very clear and we trust only in the power of the Word itself to change people – which is quite a vulnerable and humbling place to be…
  6. On the practical question of accommodating this sort of Bible study group – It does seem that the early church met in houses throughout the week, eating, praying, praising, talking about Jesus together (Acts 2:42-47; 12:12; 20:8; 1 Cor. 16:19). Many early Christians would have been very poor (e.g. the NT letters clearly address slaves) but often there would have been someone in the church like Gaius (Romans 16:23) who could accommodate a group. The building is not the important thing though – it could be an open space (Acts 20:20 “publicly”) or, as in the case of Christians in Rome in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, even underground burial chambers!

What’s your experience of Bible study groups? How much is this a cultural thing?

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climbing stairsOne way to look at spiritual disciplines is as stairs to climb to get up to heaven. This is the way Luther saw the Christian life in his early days. By his own account he almost killed himself with fasting, praying, vigils, confession, pilgrimage, even literally climbing up a venerated set of stairs in Rome on his hands and knees. It’s possible to come to prayer and Bible reading like this – as a work that gets me credit with God or gets me a bit further up the holiness ladder or ‘gets me into the presence of God’ or somehow tries to bring heaven down or at least makes me feel less guilty for not doing it.

window-of-heaven-The later Luther saw things very differently. The Scriptures had become to him a gateway to heaven. Prayer had become the cry of a son secure in his Father’s love coming in confidence to the throne of grace. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper were wonderful assurances of a sure and finished salvation in Christ. Where before there had been a desperate striving to overcome the displeasure of a frowning God, now it became all about hearing the promises of a God who smiled on him in Christ. Spiritual disciplines in this paradigm are means of grace. The arrow is not pointing up it is pointing down. As we open the Bible or turn to prayer we are simply opening windows in heaven and standing under the waterfall of truth and love and grace.

And here’s something from Peter Mead on that…

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Even in the hitech corporate world, companies like Amazon are realising the value of writing – long hand, pen and ink and dead trees – particularly in getting your thinking clear.

“There is no way to write a six-page, narratively structured memo and not have clear thinking.”

You could delude yourself into imagining you understood Chaucer or organic chemistry until the exact moment you tried to sit down and write a paper on the topic.

(see article here)

That’s partly why writing a research paper on a theological or biblical or pastoral issue is part of the iServe Africa apprenticeship year. Below is something we shared recently with the apprentices on “Research as discipleship” – or to put it in other words: writing a research paper is (or should be) an expression of the fruit of the Spirit…

  1. Humility 
    • Research should be a humbling exercise in itself as we start to glimpse how much we do not know or understand.  Realise that these questions may have been discussed for thousands of years and thousands have spent lifetimes researching them.
    • Once you’ve done a fair bit of work it requires a lot of humility to accept direction and criticism and to cut stuff out (‘kill your babies’).
  2. Love
    • When interviewing or interacting with people don’t manipulate; get permission to use names, quotes, responses.
    • When writing about other people or arguing with an author you disagree with, imagine they are sitting there beside you and love them.
    • When writing, think about your reader – how can you make it as easy and clear as possible – i.e. clear structure, explaining technical terms, proof reading, not just getting it all out of your head but communicating clearly to someone else for their benefit.
  3. Peace
    • Respect those you engage with – ‘Honour everyone’ (1 Pet. 2:17), ‘bless those who persecute you… so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all’ (Rom. 12:16-18), write with generosity.
    • But ‘have no fear of them’ (1 Pet. 3:14) – ‘do not fear what they fear’ (Isa. 8:12) – don’t agree with a big name because he is a big name or with the ‘scholarly consensus’ just because it is the scholarly consensus.
  4. Patience and perseverance
    • Haraka haraka haina baraka.  Data collection, reading and writing can’t be rushed.  “The real task is much harder than to be intelligent. It is to unlearn all that, to relax and to slow down.”[1]
    • Better is the end of a thing than its beginning (Ecc. 7:8) – write down anything, keep writing, revise, revise, keep going, finish.
  5. Faithfulness and honesty
    • Don’t use fallacious arguments e.g. a ‘straw man’ or a false dichotomy.
    • Don’t make an assertion without evidence.
    • Don’t cut corners or pretend to have more evidence than you have.
    • Don’t just look for evidence that supports your argument – look just as diligently for counter-evidence and be willing to change to fit the truth.
    • Don’t steal words (Jer. 23:30) – When using sources (whether books, internet or spoken) reference properly with the author, the title, date of publication and the page number whether you are paraphrasing or quoting their words with speech marks.
  6. Joy – Research as enjoying Jesus. Never divorce mind and heart, doctrine and praise. It’s normal to use the third person rather than the first person and there must be evidence for what you say but never forget what and who you are writing about.
There’s some more on research papers to download here (especially for the current apprentices but may be of help to others).

[1] George Watson, Writing a Thesis: a guide to long essays and dissertations, Harlow: 1987, p. 11.

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