Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Small Group Leader, You are a Pastor

Small group leader, you are a pastor.

I tell group leaders this all the time. I’m not always sure they believe me. Or perhaps they think I’m trying to validate them or make them feel important, but I don’t really it. But if you lead a small group, I have an announcement for you: YOU ARE A PASTOR.

Maybe you’re still skeptical. “Thanks for the encouragement. It’s cute. But pastors are seminary-trained professional Christians. They preach, administer sacraments, have ministerial status from the IRS, and receive a paycheck from a church. None of that applies to me. You surely don’t really think I’m a pastor.”

Oh, but I do. And I expect you to take this seriously.

In fact, most of the pastors in the early centuries of the church did the same stuff you do as a small group leader. They had people over to their home regularly - not random people, but a small core of individuals or families who were committed to the group. They ate food, sang together, shared scripture, and prayed together. Then they spent hours in dialogue about the mission of God and the teachings of Jesus, and what that meant for them.

As they met in each other’s homes they were devoted to one another (Rom. 12:1). This means they accepted each other (Rom. 15:7), were patient with each other (Eph. 4:2), honored each other (Rom. 12:10), forgave each other (Eph. 4:32), instructed each other (Rome. 15:14), carried each other's burdens (Gal. 6:2), encouraged each other (1 Thess. 4:18), prayed for each other (James 5:16), confessed sin with each other (James 5:16), and spurred each other towards love and good deeds (Heb. 10:24).

That sounds like the kind of stuff that happens with your small group. 
Or it should.

And the people who led these small groups - these gospel communities or house churches - were pastors.

Most of these pastors were employed elsewhere; they didn’t receive a paycheck from their group. They didn’t have a church office. They didn’t have a seminary degree. (They could read Greek, but that’s only because it was their native tongue.) Truth be told, none of those things are required to be a pastor.

Let’s cut to the chase. What are pastors supposed to do?

First let’s talk qualifications. Pastors are expected to be mature and trustworthy, faithful to their family, hospitable, and display blameless character (Titus 1:5-9). If you can commit to this Christ-like lifestyle, you can be a good pastor.

Next, let’s talk responsibilities. Pastors are required to be in disciple-making relationships with their people. That means the people in this group are being equipped to do ministry and make disciples as they mature into fully devoted followers of Jesus (Eph. 4:11-16). If you are willing to lead and equip your group this way, you can be a great pastor.

Finally, let’s talk roles. This is surprising to some, but the word “pastor” never occurs in your New Testament. It’s written that way in English, but the title is translated from three different Greek words: Shepherd, Overseer, and Elder. These three terms sum up the job description of an excellent pastor. A shepherd knows his flock, cares for their souls, and equips them for ministry. An overseer monitors the health of his/her people (Acts 20:28), manages the group (1 Tim. 3:1-5), and leads (Philip. 1:1). An elder exhibits model character (Titus 1:5-9) and offers spiritual guidance (1 Tim. 4:11-16).

Good pastors live Christ-like personal lives.
Great pastors equip and lead.
Excellent pastors exercise shepherding, oversight, and eldership.

It’s time to pastor

As a pastor who leads dozens of pastors, I am humbled to partner in ministry with you. I don’t know your group very well, but you can. I can’t shepherd your group, but you can. I can’t lead your group, but you can. I can’t have real, individual conversations with each person in your group about their place in the mission of God, but you can. In short, I cannot pastor your small group. Only you can do that.

Take time to meditate on or memorize the following texts. Pastoring is an awesome opportunity and an enormous responsibility.

“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.” (Acts 20:28–31, ESV)

“The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” (Titus 1:5–9, NIV)

“So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” (1 Peter 5:1–4, ESV)

“It was he who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers,to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God—a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature.So we are no longer to be children, tossed back and forth by waves and carried about by every wind of teaching by the trickery of people who craftily carry out their deceitful schemes.But practicing the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ, who is the head. From him the whole body grows, fitted and held together through every supporting ligament. As each one does its part, the body grows in love.” (Ephesians 4:11–16, NET)

Sunday, May 3, 2020

What Exactly is the Christian Hope?

Those who follow Jesus are instructed to have hope. We are told that, unlike others who have not sworn allegiance to Jesus, we have “hope as an anchor for the soul” (Heb. 6:19). We are told that when we mourn, we may mourn with hope (1 Thess. 4:18). No matter what hardship befalls us in this life, we can still live in hope (1 Cor. 15:19, Rom. 8:24).
Hope is a good thing! But what exactly does it mean?

Does it mean God will deliver us from our troubles? Does it mean that we never have to worry about having enough food, or lodging, or daily necessities? Does it mean that, no matter how bad things get, they’ll eventually get better for us?

Unfortunately, none of that is promised. We are not guaranteed wealth, health, or prosperity. In fact, the guys who wrote those passages about hope in our New Testament had a pretty good feeling they would not be dying from natural causes.

In order to avoid being trite or shallow, I want to speak very clear about this hope that we have. If you follow Jesus, then you can have absolute hope in two things: (1) Hope in being resurrected, and (2) Hope in being glorified.

Hope in being resurrected

“But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died.” (1 Corinthians 15:20, NLT)

Christ died. He was buried. It was over. But He did not stay dead, nor did he remain in that grave. The core belief of Christianity is that Jesus resurrected from the dead - literally, physically, bodily - as in it really happened. (Read more about that here.)

And Jesus’ resurrection was not a one-time phenomenon. 1 Corinthians 15:20 reads that Jesus was “the first of a great harvest” (or “first-fruits”) of resurrections.

I have hope that when I breathe my last breath and my body grows cold and hard, I will rise again from the dead, receive a new body, and live again. And I do not have this hope because it’s a cool idea to believe in. I have this hope because it’s been done before (1 Pet. 1:3).

Hope in being glorified

“... we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” (Romans 8:17, ESV)

Jesus died and resurrected. Likewise we have hope that we will be resurrected after death.

But once Jesus was raised from the dead, He was glorified. This is the second part of our hope: We will be glorified.

This idea of “glory” can be misleading. Perhaps you think of shiny, glowing creatures. Or having superpowers, like flying or reading minds. That is definitely not what this writer has in mind!

Glory is significance. Authority. Weight. To have glory is to return to our purpose as humans - to lead this world on God’s behalf and rule with Jesus. (To hear a fascinating conversation about this word in the Bible, check out The Bible Project podcast)

In the original creation, Adam and Eve were given jurisdiction and authority to lead this world, protect this world, care for this world, and rule over creation on behalf of God. They were the image of His glory on this earth. Of course they messed that up… But one day God will restore this world, He will resurrect our bodies and restore us, and then we will be glorified with him.

So much more could be written on this concept of being glorified. My next article will deal with that very topic. Until then, be strong and love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. Because one day you will be given a new body and the glory to lead creation with Jesus.

“We know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself… Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:14–18, NIV)

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Why God Isn't Fixing This

Back when I was in high school, not too long after I began following Jesus, I remember talking with a girl my age about my new faith. She didn’t seem to have an interest in God, the church, or following Jesus. Out of an abundance of curiosity I asked “Why not?”

Then she told me a very sad story. Recently her grandma had died. After becoming ill, my new friend prayed for her healing. But her grandma never recovered and passed away. This left he angry at God. She asked, “Why would God let my grandma die like that? Couldn’t He have saved her life? I prayed to Him but He didn’t heal her. I don’t want anything to do with a God like that.”

I had no idea what to say. That question stuck with me for some time. Could God have healed her grandma? I suppose, yeah. He’s all-powerful and all-knowing. So why didn’t God roll up his sleeves, flex His muscles, kick down the door and fix this?

We have all asked that question. Why doesn’t God fix this? It’s a natural question in a hard world. And Romans 8 tells us that the whole world is suffering, “groaning” in fact, from pain.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. (Romans 8:22)

There are innumerable “groans” from all over the world.
Every COVID-19 patient death is a groan
Every lost job during this recession is a groan
Every natural disaster is a groan.

Everywhere I turn I see groaning and I’m reminded that this is not how the world is supposed to be.

Why God is not planning on flexing and fixing everything

In that same text, we see what God has no intention of fixing this. In fact, we see a very different plan at play. A strange solution if you ask me.

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:18–21)

Did you catch that? What this groaning world is waiting for, according to Romans 8:19, is the “the children of God to be revealed.” For followers of Jesus to be glorified, whatever that means.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been to several places in the world, and I’ve seen my share of groaning. But I don’t think I’ve ever bumped into someone who said “You know what I’m waiting for? The children of God to be revealed. Everything in this life will be better when that happens.” I have never, ever, heard someone say that plan is the best way to fix the world’s groaning.

But it’s true. Here’s why.

God has flexed and fixed things already. Many times. And it never works.

He flexed and fixed this world back in Noah’s day. God made the tough call to destroy the whole world because of all the wickedness and suffering with a flood. And He started over with the most righteous man alive, along with his family. But soon thereafter the groaning continued...

Next He tried establishing a nation of people called by His name. With His law. With a fearless, faithful, meek leader (Moses). God clears out the barbaric people of Canaan and He gives his people the new land, promising them everything in their hearts. But soon thereafter the groaning continued...

Maybe all that was a lack of money and education. So God also found the wisest leader around, Solomon, and gave His people a killer economy. He makes them a recognized superpower in the known world. But within a few years there’s a civil war and everything falls apart again, and the groaning continued…

You get the picture. God could flex and fix it all. But that never works.

God doesn’t flex and fix. He fixes people.

As we suffer pain, and toil, and endure hardship, God is preparing us. He is preparing us for the day when the world will be made new. And we will be made new - given a new body and a new heart. And once we have been fixed, this world can be fixed, too, without spiraling right back into “groaning.”

It’s fascinating to think about all this.
What’s the point of this life if God can just “fix” us all now? (And why the suffering?!)
How is God preparing us for that day? (And what on earth do we need to be prepared for?)
What “glory” will we have? (Will there be red carpets all over heaven for me to walk on?)

In my next post, I’ll dig into these questions a bit more. Click below to see the next article:
What is the Christian Hope?

Monday, April 20, 2020

Is it wrong for a Christian to fear?

We are living in scary times. And for Christians, we sometimes feel guilty for experiencing fear. Isn’t it sinful for us to be scared? Didn’t Jesus rebuke his disciples for being fearful and having too little faith? If I’m a Christian, am I supposed to be calm in the midst of all storms?

But I really want my readers to consider what all this means. I am convinced that we SHOULD be scared in times like these. But there are two ways we should think about this fear:

(1) Fear of God > Fear of _____

To be a Christian is to be a person who lives in fear. Jesus, without mixing words, advised us to “fear him who can destroy both soul and body” in reference to God the Father (Matt. 10:28). And even though the word “fear” might turn some away, I think that’s a good word to use. At Mount Sinai when God showed up to meet with Moses the entire mountain was engulfed in smoke, and the sound of thunder was overwhelming. We are told “all the people in the camp trembled” (Ex. 19:16). After Jesus calmed the stormy seas, the disciples were “filled with great fear.” Make sure you don’t miss this: they were petrified OF Jesus AFTER the storm was calmed.

In the original Hebrew and Greek, the terms translated “fear” mean something along the lines of wet your pants, run for the hills, and cry Momma. Many have argued that the fear of God is simply a reverential awe of God. However, defining fear in those terms is too benign. This is genuine fear we are talking about! The fear of God drives us to piety, reminds us of our place, and forces us to recognize God’s sovereignty.

The key is to fear God more than fearing other people. Or nature. Or Satan. Or circumstances. Keep in mind fearing God doesn’t necessitate us NOT fearing these other things. It means that we have full faith and confidence that the lion standing behind us is way more powerful than the barking dog in front of us. After all, “greater is he who is in us than He that is in the world” (1 Jn. 4:4).

(2) Act on your greatest fear

As Christians we are called to act on this fear of God. I may be petrified of what is to come, but if my fear of God is greater than all my other fears I know intellectually that God is stronger, smarter, and scarier. God is more powerful than a job loss, or an emergency surgery, or spiritual attack, or being deported in war, or a recession, or a life-threatening virus.

I act on this fear of God by stepping into the danger rather than running away. A police officer can charge into a room of convicts with confidence AND fear, because he knows the pistol in his hand, the training in his head, and men behind him, and the chopper in the air above him is to be feared more than those convicts.

If you are scared right now because this pandemic is claiming lives, crashing stock markets, upending the economy, and forcing isolation, I want you to know you are in good company. You should be scared. If you are not worried at all right now, then you lack good self-awareness and empathy skills. (You should go see a psychiatrist.)

But here’s what it means to be fearful of life circumstances while simultaneously fearing God. Act on your fear of God while facing your fear of everything else. If God prompts you to make sacrifices, or help out a neighbor, or make decisions, or reach out to someone, or take a risk, then do it.

Scared? You’re in good company. 

The disciples were likely scared when Jesus said “let’s go talk to that deranged lunatic in the forest” (Mark 5). The Israelites were probably petrified when Moses said “let’s run that way into the sea” (Ex. 14). Peter was probably worried when Jesus said that he would not die from natural causes (John 21:18-19). It’s not bad to be fearful. It’s only bad to fear other people or things more than God. And if you’re not there yet, join in with the man who told Jesus, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).