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Posts Tagged ‘Discipleship’

Our Missions manager, Stanley teaching during Induction Workshop

We learn preaching long before someone sits us down to say this is how we should preach. We pick up things from our favourite preachers and we seek to emulate that. We might change a few things borrowing from different people but we rarely come up with new ways. It’s not just in preaching actually life itself is a copy-paste exercise. We see something good and we want to do that.

But somewhere along the line, we might get an opportunity to sit and learn that there’s a right way to do this. We might not accept it immediately or even drop everything to follow this path but slowly we are won over. I think this is what happens when we start learning Expositional preaching that seeks to let the Bible speak for itself.

The problem, however, is trying to apply here does not come easily. You spend all your preparation trying to get the passage right only to realise it’s full of good truths but little application. You see if you grew up hearing and doing problem-solving, motivational preaching that wouldn’t be a problem. You already have an application in mind and all you need is the Bible to agree with it and you have a sermon. Here you’ve got to do the hard work of getting the passage right and then wrestle asking how does this apply from them to us.

This is probably the main reason we might give up on expositional preaching. It feels too hard and academic. We feel like the church is becoming a school and we know few Kenyans loved school. We might do it but drop the ball at the end by going for the quick and obvious applications. Tell them what complex doctrine they should learn from here. Remind them to pray, read their Bibles and go to church regularly. Fix their gender and sexuality views, questions of abortion or their commitment to mission, whatever we think are the big things in the public sphere. All these are possible but mostly lazy ways of doing Biblical application. And I’m speaking about this because I’ve done it before even without realising it.

But we can grow friends as we give more time to apply and learn from others. It won’t be fixed in a day but we can grow as we remember the word has spoken to real people in the past and is for real people in the present. Here are a few things I’ve picked up mostly from others but also when I’ve paid a bit more attention to the passage in front of me and the world around me.

Aim for the Heart, not just the Head
This one I learnt from my apprenticeship years but I always need to be reminded of it. That the Bible isn’t an academic book and that fixing the head without the heart won’t do it. It should be obvious but it’s not. You look at the life of Jesus disciples, they were learning directly from him so knowledge shouldn’t have been a problem though it didn’t always come easily. But how long did it take them to believe him? Actually, towards the end these guys will desert him, betray and deny him. Peter saying he was the Christ in Mark 8 didn’t prevent him from denying him in Mark 14. And I bet Judas had a lot of good theology but his heart was somewhere else.

When we come to applying the Bible it’ll help if we ask ourselves where change begins. And we don’t need to go to psychology for this. Look at how Paul writes his letters. There are great and beautiful truths to blow our minds away but he also beckons the heart to believe and the hands to act. Ephesians chapter 1-3 is followed by chapter 4-6. His job is not finished until he persuades the heart and by effect seek a real change from the heart that brings a change in conduct. He tells them not just what they should know but also what they should believe and do by effect.

Think Culture not General
So often we forget the power and the influence of the environment we live in. We forget that the Bible speaks both to the person and the world around him. If you fix the person and keep him in the same environment there’s no guarantee he won’t go back. A lot of things we do are shaped by where and who we live with. If you want to help someone struggling with pornography you need to ask what is making it so common these days. You can’t just say stop it you might need to say change your environment and your patterns of rest. Go out and hang out with friends. Put the gadgets off.

But this is not something we bring to the Bible, actually, it’s there if we pay a bit more attention. The Bible from day one tells us we are not alone in the universe. It warns us about the world, the flesh and the devil. We need to deal with all these enemies. It teaches us to kill sin in our lives, to turn away from the flow of the world around us and say no to the schemes of the enemy. Actually, the Bible often shows us all these enemies work together like we see in Ephesians 2:1-3. To grow in Biblical application we shouldn’t ignore one of these for the other.

Go for Progress, not a Quick Fix
The worst thing about living in our consumer world is we want to fix things like yesterday. We do one sermon and expect change by the latest tomorrow morning. It’s no wonder we can get very disappointed when we don’t see results and sometimes try to cook the results ourselves. But that’s naive because if we were honest there are things we learnt years ago that we still struggle with. How do you expect your audience to change overnight?

Actually, if we were to pay attention to our Bibles we’d realise God plays the long game. How many years is he telling Israel to have no other God but him? And how long does he have to wait until he finally sends them to exile and still he doesn’t give up? How long does Jesus tolerate his disciples who simply don’t seem to get who he is when all the evidence is pointing to him? And how long does he have to wait for them to accept his mission and follow in his footsteps? When you think application think progress however messy, not a quick fix.

By Prayer not Might
It might shock some of you but it seems this has taken me longer to learn. That no real change coming from the heart comes unless God acts. It should be obvious because Jesus says it, apart from me you can do nothing, John 15:5. We should see it if we paid attention to our own lives. We just need to remember how we came to faith in the first place. How long God was beckoning our attention before we said the prayer. And still how long he has to tolerate us as we hold on to our precious little idols. But no, we keep thinking a little more hard work and commitment will do it. We can even give principles of how to overcome a certain sin and grow a certain gift in a day. I think we are setting ourselves up for failure and depression.

Dear friends, I’m learning prayer isn’t just for the beginning and the end of the sermon. Prayer is what makes the sermon work. Prayer is your main application. You need to ask God in the closet and in your preaching to change you and those people. You need to point them to him if you truly want to see change. If God doesn’t work don’t even bother preaching unless you are doing it for fun. I’m learning to ask how can we prayerfully apply this? What prayer do we need to make on this? Lord, what are you telling me to pray on this? I think this is a gold mine and it’s no wonder Jesus would drop important ministry for this. He knew if he was going to accomplish anything it’s only if the Father did it. Apart from him, we can do nothing friends. We can’t even change ourselves leave alone anyone else.

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I’m sure you’ve heard someone say something about God that logically should make sense but is biblically not true. For instance, someone will say, if it is of God it should be easy. Now when you pause to think about that you can see how it actually makes sense to some extent. You can even get verses to support that. I mean if the Almighty God is behind it who can challenge it and succeed? How can it be difficult if the good and gracious God is behind it? But we only need to turn our Bibles to look at Jesus, look at the prophets, look at Jesus’ first disciples, and realize none of them had an easy time.

Jesus about to execute his most important mission to save humanity faces a great deal of struggle emotionally and spiritually. Matthew 26 tells us:

38 Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

This was God’s own mission but it wasn’t easy. Actually, the life of Jesus, the son of God, was full of sorrow. It wasn’t easy trying to open his disciple’s eyes. It wasn’t easy being rejected by his people even his own family who thought he had lost it. If this is the one who calls us to follow after him then we shouldn’t expect it to be as easy.

Paul in 2 Corinthians 11 paints a picture of his life that leaves you wondering was that God’s mission or something else? It wasn’t an easy life for him yet his ministry is one that glorifies the Lord to date. I might go as far as saying that if it is of God it’s most likely going to be difficult because we live in a hostile world.

Perhaps you’ve heard this popular one that since God owns everything and we are his children, especially those of us in ministry, then we should have everything. To some extent again logically it makes sense. If you pause it there you’d say that can’t be wrong. I mean why wouldn’t the one who walks on gold not throw some of it down to his beloved people? Why wouldn’t the caring God heal his beloved children? How can he watch us struggle and not act immediately?

But our logical knowledge here is betrayed when we turn to the scriptures and look at Jesus, God’s beloved son, his first disciples, and all those Messengers God sent through Israel’s lifetime. How many of them came with private jets to deliver his message? How many of them lived in mansions? And if the son of man was the one who unlike the fox didn’t have a place to lie down why would we expect ours will be the easy life?

The problem here is we might actually have read our Bibles but closed them too quickly to make our conclusion. We needed to realize there’s life now and a life to come. We’ve not arrived yet and if we have comfort and something to spare here and now that’s by the grace of God, not the norm. Here and now we live in a hostile world like Jesus did. A poor world like Jesus did. A persecuting world like Jesus did. But his sure promise is to guide us to him by his Spirit and walk with us through it all.

Our riches are what we find in Ephesians 1:1-14. That we now have all the spiritual blessings in Christ, we are the most privileged people spiritually speaking. Our confidence is the promise Jesus made in the Great Commission to be with us to the end of the age, Matthew 28:20. And we have the assurance that he has gone to prepare a home for us so that where he is we might be there also, John 14:1-3.

Now the aim of this article isn’t necessarily to split hairs or make the Bible sound illogical. Instead, it’s to encourage us to always ask this question, what does the Bible and the whole Bible say about this issue. Logic alone won’t do here as often our logic stops where our comfort ends. We are also not to pick one passage and run with it. We need to ask what’s the context and what do other portions of scripture say about this issue.

We’ll be good disciples if we read more than our favorite verses. We’ll be better disciples if we humble ourselves before God’s Word to say, teach us Lord we who are simple. And a far greater honor goes to the disciples who don’t just do this exercise to win arguments but to live it out and help others gently and lovingly. How I pray that the Lord makes me that disciple. A disciple who listens and abides in what his word says even when it’s contrary to what I want for myself. A disciple who opens his Word in humility and his heart in obedience.

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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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