“13 Plus, they get into the habit of being idle. Not only are they idle, but they band together and roam from house to house, gossiping about and meddling into other people’s business; they talk about all sorts of things that should never be spoken of.” 1 Timothy 5:13 The Voice (VOICE)
My father in law was a God fearing, quite, humble and sagacious sage. When I was just starting out in ministry, I like the young pastor in Paul’s writing; Timothy would seek advice about ministry from my father in law, Rev Eldor Bickel. He was reluctant in some ways to give too much information. Looking back, I believe it was because he knew I would face different challenges as the landscape in which I was doing ministry was very different from his context. With that being said, he did give me an ideal approach to managing gossip in the church and my personal life. Not in my wildest dreams could I predict just how regularly this counsel would aid me in ministry?
It is an uncomplicated formula, and maybe it will serve you well as it has me. He referred to it as the Three Gates Test. When you encounter gossip how do you process what the proper response? Well, the test will give you a method to discern God’s will as you prayerful consider your next steps. Once you process the information through these three gates, it will give you guidance to determine whether you share it or bury it.
Gate one: Is the story true? This first one seems obvious, yet how often do we receive communications about someone or something that has happened and the intelligence is inaccurate. Often there is a measure of truth contained in the report, however from there it takes on a life of its own. Morris Mandel has a great quote about the dangers of gossip. “Gossip is the most deadly microbe. It has neither legs nor wings. It is composed entirely of tales, and most of them have stings.” Before you give that story wings take the time investigate its truthfulness.
Gate Two: Is it kind? The Apostle Paul reminds us, “Since you are all set apart by God, made holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with a holy way of life: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” Col 3:12 We are called to be distinct and unique from the rest of the world. Christ has claimed as members of his flock. Our words and actions reflect the call of God in our lives. Is the information that has been shared with us, of such a nature that it is crucial to the well-being of the individual, our team or the body of Christ? Or is it just a malicious rumor that in the end only serves to lift us up? Wrestle with that through prayer to seek direction.
Gate Three: Is it necessary? Your information may pass the first two gates, but the last one is critical. Do people need to know the information you have to share? It may be true, and may even be kind, but how will this information build up the individual or the body of Christ. There are times when the information we have is necessary for people to hear and by keeping it silent we are doing harm. My fear is that usually, it is information we are just dying to share with them for our benefit. Before you go off and share gossip keeps this little poem in mind from Henry Lesser:
May I give all of you some very sound advice?
When you speak of others, say something nice;
Try to say good things, regardless of who is around,
If you have nothing good to say, don’t utter a sound.
You may find that an innocent remark, in the end,
May lose you a close and valued friend.
Life is about relationships, is any gossip, we have stinging our lips worth losing the people we value? May this advice from the heart of a humble man of God be as much of a blessing to you as it has been to me. God bless you, and God bless his church.
“If you want to change the face of outreach and evangelism in your congregation then you need to start raising up a new kind of leader. The church needs to stop overburdening their leaders with additional tasks. And instead, focus their mission, equip leaders for ministry and send them out to proclaim Christ to a society looking for answers.” Keith Haney
Avoiding Leadership Burnout
One of the biggest challenges for the small church is how to get things accomplished with so few leaders. The quote above is designed to be a jumping off point for this post. You need to stop operating as a big church. Big churches have the staff and the additional leadership to take on more avenues of ministry. Smaller congregations do not. Trying to be all things to all people just means that fewer and fewer people are wearing more and more hats. The leadership gets stretched and pulled like taffy until they reach a point where the taffy snaps and when the taffy snaps you have leadership meltdowns and burnout. I have never done an adequate job juggling multiple plates and responsibilities all at the same time. I recall at some point starting to resent the person or individuals who put all those burdens on my back at once.
Equip Leaders for Ministry
Where do you begin to equip people for the mission of Christ? I love this illustration:
When Hudson Taylor was director of the China Inland Mission, he often interviewed candidates for the mission field. On one occasion, he met with a group of applicants to determine their motivations for service. “And why do you wish to go as a foreign missionary?” he asked one. “I want to go because Christ has commanded us to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature,” was the reply. Another said, “I want to go because millions are perishing without Christ.” Others gave different answers. Then Hudson Taylor said, “All of these motives, however good, will fail you in times of testing, trials, tribulations, and possible death. There is but one motive that will sustain you in trial and testing; namely, the love of Christ”. Source Unknown
The love of Christ is the heart of what we need to carry on the work that He began. It is out of love for Jesus that we share the message of salvation with those outside of God’s grace. It is out of love that we face trials and testing yet remain true to our faith. As the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian Christians, “If we are ‘out of our mind,’ as some say, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you.14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” 2 Corinthians 5:13-15
Equipped leaders are leaders who are grounded and compelled by the love of Christ. Love never fails. Love covers a multitude of sins. Love is the master motivator.
Send Your People Out
For those who are sent out. Keeping your eyes on the mission is important. If you take the time to examine what you are doing, it will scare the heck out of you. You are going out into the world that is seeking answers but is opposed to the very nature and person of Jesus. Jesus’ way is in stark contrast to the ways of the world. We need to approach our work as soldiers of the cross like this Marine approached his deployment.
One afternoon author Patsy Clairmont found herself on an airplane, sitting next to a young man. She writes, “I had already observed something about this young man when I was being seated. He called me “Ma’am.” At the time I thought, ‘Either he thinks I’m ancient, or he’s from the South where they still teach manners, or he’s in the service.’ I decided the latter was the most likely, so I asked, “You in the service?” “Yes, Ma’am, I am.” “What branch?” “Marines.” “Hey, Marine, where are you coming from?” “Operation Desert Storm, Ma’am.” “No kidding? Desert Storm! How long were you there?” I asked. “A year and a half. I’m on my way home. My family will be at the airport.” I then commented that he must have thought about returning to his family and home many times while he was in the Middle East. “Oh, no, Ma’am,” he replied. “We were taught never to think of what might never be, but to be fully available right where we were.” Focus on the Family, July 1993.
Here is the way Jesus described this in Luke 9: “Jesus replied, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.’” v.62
To be effective witnesses we need to keep our eyes focused on Jesus, the author, and perfecter of our faith. Because if we take our eyes off him as Peter did, we start to concentrate on the wind and the waves of life. Those turbulent waters can sink us. The winds of divisive talk can overwhelm us. The stormy seas of Satan’s hold on the strongholds of society can discourage us. But Paul reminds us that we are more that conquerors. We are sent out to break down those strongholds with the Word of God.
Other posts to encourage the Small Church:
This is a very interesting and impassioned talk, by Rabbi Brous. In it, she shares four principles of a revitalized religious practice and offers faith of all kinds as a hopeful counter-narrative to the numbing realities of violence, extremism and pessimism. It is something that Christian Churches can benefit from implementing.
Calvin Coolidge wisely expressed it: “One of the first lessons a president has to learn is that every word he says weighs a ton.” And so do those of the preacher! -G. C. Jones.
When I first began in the ministry over twenty years ago, I did not excel at preaching. I am by nature an introvert. I am not into big crowds so public speaking is a challenge even to this day, The process I have to go through to prepare to preach is exhausting. Add to that the anxiety and the gravity of the task at hand and it is a recipe for disaster.
In my first year of preaching, my sermons, designed to last 15-20 minutes, lasted on average seven. I was so nervous that I only took one breath during the message. One dear older, wiser Christian pointed out to me one day, “I like what you had to say, but young man the speed at which you said it made me tired.” Armed now with that full disclosure that I am not by any means the model preacher, it dawns on me that those given the task of sharing God’s Word with God’s people should be reminded of the balancing act that preaching truly is.
Preaching can be a huge blessing to the hearers, but it can also be dangerous.
The writer of Hebrews talks about the danger of God’s word in chapter 4 of the letter,
12The word of God, you see, is alive and moving; sharper than a double-edged sword; piercing the divide between soul and spirit, joints and marrow; able to judge the thoughts and will of the heart. 13 No creature can hide from God: God sees all. Everyone and everything is exposed, opened for His inspection; and He’s the One we will have to explain ourselves to.
Preaching the Word of God.
Preaching the truth is dangerous because the Word of God cuts through all the barriers we put up to not allow people to really know who we are deep down. If people knew all of our struggles, our dirty little secrets, the demons we struggle with, the brokenness of our relationships, we would end up more lonely and dysfunctional than we are now. Consequently, when we come to church and the verse used for the day begins to tear away each layer of our self-denial and unlock our protected passwords to our life, God’s word becomes dangerous. Our hearts are left bare because nothing is hidden from God. Everyone and everything is exposed. Every relationship and every sin are open for inspection. Now, as truth is preached to us we have to explain our choices, our decisions to the One, our Lord, and Savior Jesus Christ, who already knows the answer.
Preaching makes us vulnerable. It cuts through the foolishness and gets right to the heart of the matter, our fallen nature. Misunderstood and incomplete bad preaching leave the sinner here. We go home beaten and discouraged. The law of God, with His high expectations of holiness, leaves us feeling unworthy, measured, found wanting, and finally abandoned. Complete preaching points us back to the clear message that Jesus’ death and resurrection did what we could not do. His sacrifice replaced the requirement of perfection with the perfect sacrifice. The law is replaced by grace.
Preaching the truth without discipleship is even more dangerous.
This may come as a complete surprise to you, but people at times misunderstand what you are trying to say. One way to combat that is to strongly encourage your people to be engaged in some Bible study outside of Sunday morning. Here is the reason why:
The Sunday morning message should not be the main course of our spiritual meal. Even on my best days that message, like Chinese food, lasts only about an hour before people forget most of the morsels of truth I, by the power of God, fed them. Hear me correctly, I am not saying God’s word does not have the power to accomplish its task, we know it does. However, conduct an online test of your members. Have them respond on Monday to what the message was about and how they are applying that in their daily lives. What you hear back in response will shock and disappoint you.
Conversely, Sunday school and other teaching venues provide unique opportunities to disciple people. Beyond your corporate worship gathering, consider focusing on small groups ministry as a means to further pour the Word of God into the life of your flock. When the deep questions arise from the Word of God doing its work with people, they will need a forum to wrestle with what God is revealing in their lives with the other disciples on the same journey alongside them. This will require you and spiritual leaders to identify and train mature leaders to shepherd and disciple their believers in partnership with you. It also means providing a clear vision for your small groups ministry. Preaching without this kind of on-going spiritual support leaves people vulnerable to carry out the work God has called the church to accomplish in His name.
One stormy night, Hudson Taylor was scheduled to speak in Birmingham, England, at the Severn Street schoolroom. His hostess attempted to dissuade him from going in the torrential downpour by telling him that everyone would assume it was canceled. “But was it not announced for tonight,” Hudson Taylor asked. He then said, “I must go, even if there is no one but the doorkeeper.”
The meeting was attended by less than a dozen people, but there was an unusual outpouring of the Holy Spirit’s power, and half of those present either became missionaries or gave their children as missionaries while the other half became regular supporters of Mr. Hudson’s mission. -Source: Hudson Taylor—The Growth of a Work of God, Volume 2, Dr. and Mrs. Howard Taylor
When it comes to following our Lord’s command to Go, it is easy to find reasons to stop. The mission is scary. The forces working against us seem dug in. The strongholds of evil look insurmountable. Are will even equipped to carry out this important work? It is my prayer that this will blog will encourage you and not guilt you. There is enough guilt tied to missions now that no one wants to even attempt it. Here is a simple starting point:
1. What has God gifted you to do?
This question is the first step along the journey of determining God’s call for your life. If you’re a good organizer, then God will ask you to work organizing something. If you’re a good problem-solver, then God give you problems to solve. If you have musical gifts, God will give you an opportunity to create musical works of art to the glory of His name. He will use you to do what he has gifted you to do. The Apostle Paul is 1 Corinthians 12 reminds us, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” Once you discover what your gifts are the next challenge is discovering who you are impacting with your gifts?
2. Determine whom God is calling you to reach.
These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.” Matthew 10:5-6
Why did Jesus limit the outreach efforts of his disciples? Was it because he didn’t like Gentiles or Samaritans? Of course not! Jesus himself often ministered to Gentiles and Samaritans. He sent his disciples only to the “lost sheep of Israel.” This is the K.I.S.S. principle; Keep It Simple Saints. Like any good leader, Jesus had them start slow. He started them off with something small that they could experience success. The disciples started with an audience they knew well, fellow Jews.
One mistake the church makes is that it sends people to go share the gospel who don’t feel prepared. They fear they are not equipped to talk to strangers. That feeling of failure and inadequacy kills missionary passion. So Jesus shows great wisdom he understood that the disciples weren’t ready. The disciples needed preparation to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel.” They weren’t yet equipped for such an all-encompassing mission. So, Jesus started them off with a smaller target.
3. Be Clear about the content of your message.
“As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.'” Matthew 10:7
The NRSV translates it this way…
(v. 7) “As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.'”
We don’t get to make up the message we tell those far from God. The heart of your message is the good news that God has sent His son Jesus Christ into the world. Jesus came to announce the forgiveness of sins through His death and resurrection. God’s message to the world is always a message of hope. Even when Jesus confronts us with our sin, he also comforts us with his offer of forgiveness and everlasting life.
When we fail to articulate accurately the message God has given us, the results can be that people perceive us as being judgmental. We come off as holier-than-thou. Growing up in the Bible belt of the deep south, the message people heard from the church is, “You’re a sinner and you’re going to hell.” The message of the church is you have bee redeemed, through the blood Jesus and you are called to share that with those who are still outside God’s grace.
May this move you to seek through prayer and the study of God’s word, whom God is sending you to be a messenger of hope too. You have been uniquely gifted by God. He placed you in this world to make a kingdom impact. As Matthew 5 points out,”You are like that illuminating light. Let your light shine everywhere you go, that you may illumine creation, so men and women everywhere may see your good actions, may see creation at its fullest, may see your devotion to Me, and may turn and praise your Father in heaven because of it.”
Other blogs in this series on missions:
Friendship House MSU predominantly serves International visiting scholars, graduate students, Ph.D. students, post-‐doctoral students and their family members. One who arrived from China about a year ago was a student with an intense curiosity about Christianity. She attended all of our Bible studies, as well as many of our English As A Second Language (ESL) classes, and held in-depth discussions with several of our teachers about the who, what, where, when and why of their Christian faith. She began attending what is called the “Chinese church” that serves Chinese Internationals on campus. She also visited the worship services of many of our Lutheran congregational partners. She excitedly came into my office one day and announced with an emphatic, revelatory tone, “I am Christian!” As she poured out her zeal and joy, I was nearly overcome myself, a witness to her amazing declaration and transformation. She was later baptized and apparently thirsting for more and more about scripture, faith, and her personal evangelical responsibility. I asked her to attend ISM, Inc’s
She and In-Depth Seminar readily agreed. Right after she returned from what she felt was a mountaintop experience at In Depth, she learned that her husband’s oldest brother had passed away. As the family Skyped in the days following his death, our student shared the Good News, urging them to consider Jesus as the best and only source of comfort to them. Initially, the new eldest brother rejected her entreaties, calling such talk dangerous and subversive. Still, as the family gathered at weekly internet chats seeking some form of mutual solace, our student would continue to urge their attentions on Jesus. The eldest brother continued to reject her suggestions. Then, a few weeks later, the eldest brother called our student on her cell. He said, “What do I need to do to know more about Jesus?”
Our student felt called by God to return to her country for the rest of the summer to witness among her extended family and share God’s peace and joy to all who would listen. She spent many hours with the eldest brother. She returned to MSU and Friendship House for the fall semester. When she called me in my office, her smile was as broad as a summer’s day. “My brother-‐in-‐law is starting to believe,” she said. “This is important because the family follows his lead.” Along with her courses and research at MSU, our student returned to our Bible classes. Late in the semester, she and I met to talk about her continued desire to be a witness for Jesus. What came out of our discussions was a new class, which started last Sunday afternoon at one of our partner churches. The church pastor agreed to lead our student as his assistant. Incredibly, our student personally recruited 29 other Chinese Internationals from MSU to attend this class. She arranged for transportation so they could safely arrive and return home afterward. They all came. They all stayed. They are all coming back. He said to them,
“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. (Mark 16:15)
By Rich Bearup, Executive Director of the Friendship House at Michigan State University
For more information on the ministry of MSU click here: http://www.schoolius.com/school/112819728824007/Friendship+House+MSU
An architect of the “Boston miracle,” Rev. Jeffrey Brown started out as a bewildered young pastor watching his Boston neighborhood fall apart around him, as drugs and gang violence took hold of the kids on the streets. The first step to recovery: Listen to those kids, don’t just preach to them, and help them reduce violence in their own neighborhoods. It’s a powerful talk about listening to make change.
Valuing quiet and solitude in academe.
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Book reviews and lessons
“I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father. You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father. Yes, ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it!" -John. 14:12-14
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A Joint Project of Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries and Word & World