In the movie Shrek, Shrek tells Donkey that there are many “layers” of himself as an ogre. Peeling away the layers of an ogre is a lot like peeling layers on an onion.
Suppose after you peel away the identities that others put on you, you end up with nothing. After you peel away all expectations from people, you find nothing else is there. Does everyone have a “self” waiting to be found? I don’t believe it. Has anyone ever “found themselves”? Self is not something waiting to be found. One’s self is created. There is only one way to form an identity and with this, find meaning in life. That is through commitment. It is what we commit ourselves to that shapes our identity.
Believing is not just accepting the facts about something, it is giving yourself over to the one you say you believe. Are you committed? To what are you committed? For the Christian, there’s a big difference in you doing something “for” Jesus and Jesus doing something through you. The Christian life is not about believing in Jesus but in being committed to Jesus.
Having a sense of your calling in life is a powerful aspect of following Christ throughout your life. Paul’s letter to Timothy comes as Paul is reflecting on his own life and challenging Timothy because Paul knows he himself won’t be around much longer. Paul’s letters to Timothy were his last before he was executed. His life is consumed by what Christ had called him to which is evident in these verses.
“Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began…” (2 Timothy 1:8-9)
Paul was confident in being a person called into God’s purpose. He believed he had been chosen by the grace of God before the world was ever created. So we are also called into God’s own purpose and grace. Jesus still calls his disciples to “Come and follow me.”
God’s call leads to adventure and joy. There’s no greater joy than following Jesus, than embracing a commitment to your calling.
One of the key passages to look at when asking the question ‘Are there apostles today?’ is Ephesians 4:11-13:
It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and because mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (NIV)
This chapter seems to speak to the continuing needs of the church throughout its history, and not just to its initial first-century foundations. The five-fold ministries were given by the ascended Christ as love gifts to the church for a particular purpose, namely that God’s people would be equipped or prepared for works of service, so that the body of Christ might be built up. This need continues until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
This equipping ministry is surely needed in every generation, and it is not a natural reading of the passage to assume that there is a distinction between gifts that should continue to perform this equipping function and gifts that should not. It seems to me the most natural reading is to assume that the church in each generation needs the gifts of the ascended Christ, just as it needs and is promised the power of the Holy Spirit, similarly given from the ascended Christ. Though the day of Pentecost was the first pouring out of the Holy Spirit, it was not one single event for all time, as the verse ‘The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call’ makes clear, but an on-going promise of forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The whole tone of Ephesians 4 seems to suggest something both dynamic and normative for the church at all times. As Markus Barth writes:
In 4:11 it is assumed that the church at all times needs the witness of ‘apostles’ and ‘prophets’. The author of this epistle did not anticipate that the inspired and enthusiastic ministry was to be absorbed by, and ‘disappear’ into, offices and officers bare of the Holy Spirit and resentful of any reference to spiritual things. Ephesians 4 does not contain the faintest hint that the charismatic character of all church ministries was restricted to a certain period of church history and was later to die out.1
This post was originally from the Catalyst Network Blog.1 Markus Barth, Ephesians4-6 (Doubleday 1974), p. 437.
'Far more labours, far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death, five times I received from the Jews the 39 lashes, three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep, frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from countrymen, dangers from Gentiles …' 2 Corinthians 11:23-26
You think, this guy might know a bit about pressure! ‘A day and a night in the deep’ is a verse I often recall when I have an extended delay at an airport. You can feel a bit vulnerable at times, but it’s nothing by comparison with the experiences of Paul. And he’s learned the secret of being content.
Unbelievers are under the impression that Christians are forced into morality, obey rules and go to church. If they really understood that we’d found the secret of being content they’d wonder where we got it. And they’d queue up outside our churches to find the secret for themselves. Paul’s great claim has been tested through the centuries, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’
It’s about fellowship and communion with Christ. Now we must distinguish between these two different things: first ‘being united with Him and declared righteous as a gift’ and second ‘enjoying communion with Him’. In his book, ‘Communion with the Triune God’, John Owen speaks about union and communion with Jesus.
First, he says that we are united with Jesus and have received his righteousness for ever and that this is the basis of our relationship with him. Our relationship is never based on how much we’ve enjoyed his fellowship. Sadly, many believers think that if they have a season of remoteness from God, he’s unhappy with them and they end up in condemnation. Jesus is our righteousness for eternity. God poured out his wrath on his Son and we escape. We never move from our righteousness in Christ. Even if we don’t have an extended time of fellowship with him, we can still say, ‘Thank you, Lord. You’re the same yesterday, today and for ever, my righteousness.’ That’s union with Christ.
Second, Owen says that once we have union with Christ, we go on to have communion with him. We talk to him and listen to his voice. We hear him through the Scriptures and sing praises to him for the sheer joy of knowing that he’s our God. This is how we get strengthened with might in our inner being. We have fellowship with Jesus.
Day after day we experience fear, battle, hurts, sickness, wounds, unkindness and perplexity. We didn’t expect what’s happened to us. How do we get through? ‘Well, pull yourself together!’ No! Our strength comes from Jesus. Isn’t He the Saviour? Doesn’t He save? Fellowship with Him!
Salvation is a huge thing. Jesus saved me back in the ‘50s and has been saving me daily ever since. One day he’ll save us when he presents us to himself in glory. But while we’re on earth things will go wrong. And then we’ll need to draw close to Jesus to be daily, continually, repeatedly saved.
‘I must take care to cultivate communion with Christ, for though that can never be the basis of my peace, mark that, yet it will be the channel of it.’ - C.H.Spurgeon
If you haven’t had amazing experiences of communion for a little while are you losing your peace? No, because the basis of peace doesn’t lie in communion with Christ, but in his righteousness. It’s by being justified by faith that you have peace with God. Communion with Christ will be the channel of peace, reflected in your enjoyment of him and his strength.
Have you ever felt like you had to “fake it” in leadership? Like the real you wasn’t enough and you needed to put on the right mask for whoever you were talking to? You know, the “hip” mask, the “religious” mask, or something else? If you’ve ever struggled with this, you aren’t alone.
How can you become an authentic leader? You need to grapple with faith, fears and confidence.
Church leaders are constantly talking about the gospel, but authentic leaders are constantly embracing it through faith. It is easy to get these two confused and unless we are clear about it, we will fall further from authenticity and become better actors rather than better Christians.
When was the last time you grappled with the implications of what Jesus has done for YOU? Not just searching the scriptures for application to others but allowing deep gospel truths to marinate your heart with grace? In 2 Tim 1:8-14, Paul outlines the good news of Jesus Christ to Timothy, challenging to lay hold of and guard the faith deposit in his heart. Not just for his people, but for Timothy, himself.
The gospel is not good advice to others it’s good news! The war is over, the price has been paid and our lives have been saved. Jesus’ perfect life, brutal death and amazing resurrection have made us a way to know and be known by God.
Martin Luther said “The gospel is also the principal article of all Christian doctrine...Most necessary it is, therefore, that we should know this article well, teach it unto others, and beat it into their heads continually.”
Authentic faith knows what God has saved you from. Do you remember the first day that the grace of God “appeared” to you? Revel in the freedom. Too often, we forget how much God has done in our own lives. Paul was not ashamed (2 Tim 1:12) because he knew Who had saved him and celebrated his liberation! Becoming an authentic leader begins with faith and that starts with your story.
In my next post I will be exploring how authentic leaders not only have faith but also fears and confidence. Check back soon.
‘He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is perfected in weakness’ (2 Cor. 12:9)
We don’t gain strength like the stoics. They aren’t looking for anything outside themselves. Their focus is to keep going and not to show any weakness. If there’s a problem, they grin and bear it – indeed, if they acknowledge that it exists at all. Paul was no stoic. He had a weakness, a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet him. Paul did not put on a brave face. Three times he asked the Lord to take it away. I think that this refers to his engaging in fervent prayer, maybe with fasting. Clearly he wanted it off his back, but the Lord said to him, ‘My grace is sufficient for you for my strength is perfected in your weakness.’
Strength is perfected in weakness. What does that mean? ‘Hey, soldiers be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might. Come on pull yourself up.’ No. Paul is the one writing, the chief soldier. And what a soldier! He was crying out to God, asking him to get the thorn out of his life. Have you noticed – he doesn’t just state what God said about grace, strength and weakness, but begins with the words, ‘But he said to me…’? I’ve underlined that phrase in my Bible. Paul is strengthened because he knew what God had said to him. That’s why he could declare, ‘I’ll glory in my weakness! I’ll boast in it, so that the glory of God can rest upon me.’
So when you wonder if you can keep up with others and you feel that everyone else is more capable than you are, call on God and hear him say, ‘My strength is perfected in weakness. I love you. I called you. I chose you. I’ll strengthen you.’ Paul celebrated his weakness. This is the wonder of Christian strength. It’s not about pulling ourselves together but about hearing from God.
When Daniel was seeking God and fasting, one came to him and said, ‘O man of high esteem, don’t be afraid. Peace be with you. Take courage, be courageous’ (Dan. 10:19). As soon as he spoke, Daniel received strength and said, ‘You have strengthened me.’ If we keep saying to ourselves, ‘I must pull myself together’ we’ll have a nervous breakdown. But if we hear the words, My grace is sufficient’, we’ll go on for ever and ever.
Paul says, ‘I’ve learned the secret. I’m familiar with weakness. I’ve learned to be content’ (Phil. 4:12). This is interesting because here Paul uses a fairly well known technical phrase associated with initiation into one of the mystery religions. That phrase is: ‘I have learned the technique’. Paul borrows it and applies it to the secret of being content. Then he goes on to say, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’
We can be tempted to think that this verse about being able to do all things through Christ actually refers to amazing ministries, power and signs. We desperately need these things in the church, but Paul isn’t talking about them here. Rather, he’s focusing on coping with pressure. He’s learned to do all things through Christ. He’s gained strength by the Spirit within him.
This post was adapted from the 1st of three sermons on the Armour of God preached at Together on a Mission 2010 on Terry's blog.
The book of Ephesians wasn’t written in the context of academic research but against the backdrop of hostility, conflict and battle. Paul wrote from prison, not as an academic, but a warrior. The great truths taught in the earlier chapters come alive in the setting of conflict. It could even be argued that the whole book is building up to the sixth chapter – the preparation for warfare. So Paul’s epistle finishes up more like a fighting manual ‘put on armour and get ready for the battle that’s ahead’.
It’s a strange business that the world comes at us from one of two angles. Sometimes it enforces conformity with an iron fist and sometimes it seduces with a delicate invitation. In Paul’s day Caesar ruled with an iron fist and the same is true in many nations today. But in the free west, people are often lured into a desire to be like others. The world wants to shape your thinking. You can become lazy, lustful, legalistic. All of these are manifestations of the flesh.
Satan is still a roaring lion seeking someone to devour.
Our battle is against the world, the flesh and the devil. We’re in conflict – and we need to know it. Paul writes to help us in the battle, to give us this word: ‘Be strong’. And that’s the phrase I want to concentrate on first. The armour comes later. We start with ‘Be strong’.
‘Be strong’ is a kind of transition word. When Moses is preparing Joshua to lead the next generation, he repeats again and again, ‘Joshua you must be strong’, ‘get strong and courageous’.
What does Moses know about strength? Well he’s been through a few experiences. He’s confronted Pharaoh. He’s led two million people through the wilderness; He’s seen a people turn against him. He watched as his sister challenged his authority and became leprous, and as the sons of Korah who followed suit were swallowed up by the ground beneath them. Moses has been through battle after battle. He’s carried the people all the way, and now he needs to encourage his successor. So he says, ‘Joshua, we’ve been through some battles to get this far, but there’s a land ahead of you; there’s a river to cross; there are cities walled up to heaven; there are giants in the land. If you’re going to carry God’s purposes further you must be strong’.
Look at David. His word to his son Solomon is: ‘Solomon now be strong and very courageous’. Why does he say this? Because Solomon’s leadership is going to be contested. He’ll have to go through battles as he establishes God’s temple and fulfills God’s plans for the nation.
What does David know about battles? Well he knew what it was like to have Saul’s spear hurled at him, to live as a fugitive, to hide in rocks and caves and to have his son, Absalom rebel against him. And now he turns to Solomon and says, ‘Now come on. If you’re going to get the next phase, you must be strong.’
The same exhortation is repeated when Paul encourages Timothy. ‘Be strong in the grace that’s in Christ Jesus,’ he says. Paul has the marks of Christ in his body – not stigmata (crucifixion wounds) but scars from his beatings, the battles he’s had to endure. ‘Timothy,’ he’s saying, ‘Get ready. Fierce wolves will move in. They’ll have itching ears for what they want to hear. All kinds of difficulties are on the horizon. You’ll have to fight for doctrine, so be absolutely clear about truth. Study, show yourself approved by God, a workman who correctly handles the Word so that you won’t be ashamed. Timothy get ready, you’re a next generation leader. Get ready for the battles.’
This is a very timely word for those of us who are talking about transition. The next generation needs strength. Much ground has been gained but there are battles ahead. Moses could say that, so could David and Paul. Here Paul is writing to the Ephesians from prison. What lies ahead? Nation after nation, continent after continent – the whole world. The battles are coming and the word to you is: ‘Be strong!’
This post was adapted from the 1st of three sermons on the Armour of God preached at Together on a Mission 2010 and was first published on Terry's Blog.
Paul wanted followership based on heart-felt conviction. He wanted people to follow him because deep down they really wanted to, not because they 'had to' or because 'Paul says we must do that'. He wanted them to follow him with 'a clear conscience' (2 Cor. 4:2; 2 Cor. 5:11). Here are some ways that leaders can help people follow with a clear conscience:
When a leader lacks conviction about a doctrine or strategy, followers catch the uncertain vibe and their conscience may begin to rebel.
When correcting the doctrine of the Galatians and Corinthians, Paul was very thorough. He contended and persuaded them with well-laid-out truth. Rather than rely on personality pull or bullying, he let truth do the heavy lifting to help them line up their consciences with what you wanted from them.
It is important to go beyond 'the elders and I have decided…' For example, when embarking on a new initiative such as planting a church, starting a new Sunday meeting, or purchasing property, present the vision to the people in a compelling and thorough manner. Talk them through how and why God seems to be leading you. Lay out the prophetic, logical, and situational factors. You want them to come out of that meeting persuaded within themselves that this is a good plan that they can back with a clear conscience.
Don't gloss over the concerns and difficulties that lie ahead. On the contrary, I usually find it best to pre-empt and honestly lay out the challenges up front. Three years ago when we embarked on an audacious land project, at a church meeting I invited everyone to shout out the potential pitfalls and fears concerning starting to raise millions of dollars. They threw them into the middle like hand-grenades … and we defused most of them. People were reassured.
Speaking your faith is essential, but also articulate that you are open to God's direction and leading at every stage of the initiative. It helps people to know that the leadership is pliable and constantly looking to God to confirm the direction you have embarked on.
If you have one of the foolish and controlling environments where to question the leadership is on par with 'rebellion' or 'challenging the Lord's anointed', then you and your church have serious problems! On the contrary, actively develop a culture where no question is too silly or faithless, and model being open to the advice of your people.
I have started two churches from absolute scratch. On both occasions I gathered a few friends and asked them to give me 'just three months' to help get the church started. I said, 'after three months we will know whether or not God is with us'. This cut-off point helped them commit with a clear conscience. And all of them ended up staying way beyond the three months!
As leaders we have an ace in the hole called 'my way or the highway' or 'please, just trust me on this one'. But I recommend you hold this back for when you really, really need it. Persuade, don't bulldoze.
John Maxwell tells a story of a tribe in Central Asia who had a curse they would use on their enemies. They would say, “May you stay in one place forever.” May this never be the case for God’s people!
To be a healthy church leadership team is to never stop learning. Strong teams are never static but always growing and developing in order to be more effective in ministry.
Team members are willing to take risk in innovation. We are ever learning in order to be more effective in propagating the gospel. This means each leader is to be a learner. We are to read the bible, observe videos, the internet, etc. in order to be a listener and to stay current. Every person we meet has the potential to teach us something. John Maxwell notes, “The greatest obstacle to discovery isn’t ignorance or lack of intelligence. It’s the illusion of knowledge” (J. Maxwell, Leadership Gold, p.127).
The team leader will model learning and growing to team members. He does so by reading, attending conferences or retreats that aid learning, networking with others in order to learn. As a leader, you must train others for ministry. Expose yourself to a wide variety of information (i.e., not only theology books but TV, movies, music, etc.). We observe diverse information to be a more effective team in order to reach today’s world.
John F. Kennedy said, “Leadership and learning are indispensible of each other.” To lead as a team, every team member must be a continual learner.
Jesus commanded the Apostles to go and make disciples. They instinctively went and planted churches. Church life is the key to discipleship and creates an alternative culture where heavenly values can be formed on earth. Getting the church right is therefore a vital issue and one which should constantly stir and motivate us.
The purpose of Paul’s letters was not to teach theology but to mold behavior in and through churches that lived in the light of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and enthronement, and the subsequent outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It is possible to be objectively orthodox, but fail to live the life that God wants. So, although we do not undervalue doctrine, we emphasise the kind of church life that good doctrine properly observed and embraced should produce.
It is virtually impossible to live the Christian life alone. It was always God’s purpose that we should work out our discipleship corporately. The good health of the local church is, therefore, imperative, and we have tried to develop local churches living inter-dependently and focussed on world mission.
It is important for the local church, cared for correctly by its own elders, to embrace its own autonomy. Free from denominational constraints, it must nevertheless be aware of its inter-dependence on other churches and the vital role of trans-local ministries working among the churches in ongoing relationship.
This lack of independence has helped to establish the strong ‘family feel’ associated with Newfrontiers. When recently in South Africa we met people from Pakistan, India, the Philippines, Dubai, the UK, Australia and the USA – just a sample of our Newfrontiers international community. Evan Rogers’ infectious worship-leading resulted in a surge of shared joy, soon followed by intense corporate intercession. Enjoying fun (ie rejoicing!) before the Lord doesn’t inhibit our ability to cry to him in zealous prayer together. Laughter and longing happily combine. Love, joy and zeal easily co-habit.
God-centredness must characterise our churches. So much modern religion is man-centred, celebrating man’s skills, insights and personality. Although church planters can by nature be entrepreneurs, seeing openings where others see only problems, they must beware the danger of self-sufficiency and overcome the tendency to despise team work, finishing up as loners. Even the most faith-filled leaders need close friends and companions. The powerfully anointed David was so encouraged by Jonathan and supported by phenomenally gifted lieutenants.
Check back soon for Part 2
Church leaders who operate in team regularly give authority and responsibility to others and avoid any sense of hierarchy in their daily practice. Team-led church leaders function as coaches: giving advice, equipping, training, and encouraging people in ministry.
This team approach is a return to the biblical leadership model of Jesus. The church began by being led by a servant-messiah who crossed the religious establishment to bring genuine faith back to the people. Paul's analogy of the church was “the body of Christ” (1 Cor. 12:14-20). This model is highly effective in a postmodern world. You will not be given to hierarchal models of leadership based upon the New Testament model of the body. "The body is a bottom-up network based on cooperation, freedom, and the common good" (W.M. Easum, Sacred Cows Make Gourmet Burgers). Easum writes, "individual members of the Body of Christ find their fulfillment, not as their ministry makes them feel good but when their ministry contributes to the health of the Body of Christ" (p. 45).
In the community of God's own Triune self, there’s no sense of domination hierarchy according to Miroslav Volf in After Our Likeness: The Church as The Image of the Trinity. Volf cannot find a connection between the communal nature of God and hierarchical systems.
So how does one formulate and build a team based church?
First: Begin with the team itself
Second: Everyone in the church is involved in a team-based approach
Third: Give yourself to structuring around team (not committees but teams)
Fourth: Create an enabling environment. (For example, you may change configurations of chairs in meetings…meet in a circle. Make sure elders are getting with with people.)
Fifth: Make team-building a lifestyle, not a technique. This lifestyle is not only in small groups but can be seen in other things, such as releasing gifts, letting others baptize new converts, and developing ministry teams in a variety of areas in church life.
Confluence is a place where the reformed, the charismatic, and the mission-minded converge to equip and serve the church to transform communities. Our authors are mostly leaders in the Newfrontiers family of churches. Read more.
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