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Would you like a free copy of Bibleworks8? I know I sure would!
Fellow blogger Nathan W. Bingham over at Cal.vini.st is offering a way to get this software…for free!
Find out how to register to win: Cal.vini.st First Anniversary Giveaway
In this post, Ken Davis, Pastor of Thistletown Baptist Church, Etobicoke, ON addresses the issues of success and failure in the ministry.
I am not happy about the number of conversions in my church. I want to be baptizing genuine believers on a weekly basis. I want the community where my church does its work to know that we are here and know they are welcome and that we care for them. I want a budget that enables us to get more pastors on staff, maintains more ministries to the needy, and has evangelism programmes that makes the Gospel known in the marketplace. I want the walls of our church building to bulge on Sundays because of the people pushing to get in. I want my life and my church to be the vehicles used by God to bring large, significant, life altering change to the community. In short, I want to be successful.
Success in the ministry. Who doesn’t want that? No one, not pastors or anyone else, plans to be a failure. And this is not wrong. Paul told the Thessalonian church that his work among them was not a failure (I Thessalonians 2:1). The issue is hardly one of success versus failure.
No one wants, or should want, to fail. God does not call people to fail.
In fact, a large part of the Gospel message is that God never loses. He loses none of all that He gives the Son (John 6:39). He is going to totally vanquish all His enemies and all who belong to Him shall be victorious with Him. Faith is the victory that overcomes the world (I John 4:5). The reward of eternal life is for those who conquer (Revelation 2-3). Jesus promises great reward for those who triumph over their opponents and temptations. God is the ultimate winner and He never fails to achieve what He sets out to accomplish (Isaiah 55:11). To be on the side of the triune God is to be gloriously successful. It cannot be otherwise. No, the issue is never “Does God want success?” the issue is always “Is this the success that God wants?”
The trouble with so much of the contemporary North American church in this matter, is that success and failure are defined somewhat differently than God defines them in the Scriptures. Various arms of Christ’s church will speak of success in their ministries, churches and denominations in different ways. Meeting the financial goals is a common one and in churches that practise believers’ baptism the number of baptisms performed can be set as a standard for success. Many evangelical churches will measure success in the number of converts, or worse, in the “decisions” made.
Those of us in pastoral ministry face incredible pressure to produce results in our work. Pastors can be blamed for everything from a lack of conversions to the faulty plumbing. Too few converts, too few baptisms, too little money in the plate, lack of attendance Sunday night, Wednesday night and a general lack of interest in spiritual things can all be traced back to the pastor and therefore make him to be the failure. Like the sports team that fires it coach for its lackluster performance, churches are most likely to blame its pastors for its lack of success. This is not to be unexpected and it is not always wrong.
People expect much from their leaders and quite often we who lead are far too willing to give them the impression that we can perform a respectable evangelical not-contrary-to-nature miracle in the form of increased attendance, increased baptisms, increased conversions, increased giving, increased influence in the broader community. Just as the sheep are prone to blame the leadership for the lack of results in the desired area, so too the leaders are prone to blame the lack of commitment, the lack of vision, the refusal to buy into our flawless vision, as the real reason for the lack of success. This is human nature and, sad to state, it is thriving in the church. Failure is always someone else’s fault. We are the perfect children of our first parents:
“the woman you gave me…”, “the serpent deceived me” (Genesis 3).
Pastors should be at least willing to consider that there might be some justification for the church’s expectations of its spiritual leadership.
Paul’s comment to Timothy that if Timothy watches his life and doctrine closely then he will save both himself and those who hear him is a text that we who are pastors need to treat very seriously and adjust ourselves accordingly if the fruit that Paul guarantees is not present.
In defence of the pastor in light of that text, Paul does not say how many converts there will be and we know that he does not mean everyone who hears the preacher will be saved. Nor does Paul say when these converts will be realized. We all know that William Carey laboured for many years before he saw anyone come to a saving knowledge of Christ.
And if that one convert after Carey’s eight years in India was the only one that he got the whole time he was there then the promise of Paul to Timothy would have been proven accurate.
This, of course, is where much of the contemporary North American church in many circles is simply patently unbiblical. It often crosses the line from wanting success in terms of converts, doctrinal soundness and holiness of life to wanting to be what other churches, pastors, denominations and ministries that have a successful track record are.
The next step after that, is to conclude that we can be like them if we do what they did. If it worked for them, it is reasoned, then it will work for us and we will have the same results as they did. The Scriptures then cease to be the standard of behaviour or success. The successful church/ministry/denomination is. This is idolatry. It is faith in a plan, a programme, an idea or someone’s philosophy of ministry. It necessarily credits the skills and gifts and genius of those who developed the plan. It is the plan that is to be credited and so the plan is canned and sold to frustrated, discouraged and maligned churches and leaders as the answer to their fruitlessness. It is the non-prosperity Gospel version of the prosperity Gospel that evangelicals enjoy slamming so much. We would never say that God’s will for everybody is health and wealth and we will preach the opposite, but we don’t mind preaching that the necessary evidence of being in the will of God for a church is conversions, big budgets, multi-pastor staffs, building programmes and exponential growth. “And you can too, if you adopt our plan”.
This is a horrible thing to do to a pastor whose heart aches for converts and longs to know that what he is doing matters for eternity.
It is like putting a dish of food just beyond the reach of the hungry, chained dog. The poor creature will do almost anything to get at that food. And the poor despairing pastor will just about do anything to become something that matters, because it has simply been far too long since he tasted the succulence of real success. And far too many denominational leaders, magazine articles, books and church boards believe that dangling that meat is the right thing to do.
Again, all this is not to say that the absence of conversions, growth, money and multi-pastor churches are the sign of God’s blessing either.
That is the point being made here. Let’s define success differently.
How then, should we define success?
The answer lies in the Scriptures. “You know”, Paul said to the Thessalonians, “that our coming to you was not in vain”. How did he know that? Let’s look at the text.
1 Thess. 2:1-10 (ESV)
For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain.  But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict.  For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive,  but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.  For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed— God is witness.  Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ.  But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children.  So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.  For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.  You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers.
How could Paul say that his work was not in vain?
1) Verse 2 – He was bold to preach the Gospel in the midst of much conflict, and with a record of suffering everywhere he had preached, before he got to Thessalonica. In fact when we look at the record of Paul’s travels through Asia and Macedonia in Acts 14-17 we are taken, not so much with the fact that Paul suffered whenever he preached, but that he dusted himself off every time and went to another city to do the same thing all over again. If you leave a situation because of the trouble you got into and then go to another place and do the very thing that got us into trouble before, knowing that it is going to do the same thing again, you may be called a lot of things, but successful will not one of them. But that is what God calls it. We need to reacquaint ourselves with a solid biblical doctrine of suffering for the Gospel.
Most of the Christians in most of the world have to deal with horrific costs to their belief in Jesus. The West has, at least up until now, been spared much of that. With the clear teaching of Scripture that we are only heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ if we suffer with Him (Romans 8:16-17), and the fact that all who live godly will suffer persecution (II Timothy 3:12), we ought to be wondering about the validity of our faith, more than how we can become more successful. We are failures if we do not suffer for Jesus Christ. We are successful if we continue to give the Gospel knowing that it is going to cause others to oppose us, hurt us, ignore us, ridicule us and relegate us to the fringes of society.
2) Verse 3-5 – Paul’s goal was to please God. He spoke the truth, his life was pure and he was absent of deception. Paul reminds the Thessalonian Christians of this by stating everything in the negative.
He was not impure. He did not speak error and he did not deceive. The reason he was not those things is because he was far too busy trying to do and be something else – one who pleases God. The absence of those unacceptable traits was because of his God centeredness. He went into Thessalonica with the goal of pleasing God. The question he asked himself as he made his plans for Gospel penetration of Thessalonica was “What does God want?” Failure is when the horizontal takes precedence over the vertical. Success is keeping the vertical in the first place.
The primary reason for declaring the Gospel is the glory of God. God is glorified in the salvation of sinners. We should of course be motivated by compassion for the lost, for the social improvements that true conversion brings and the love that results. But ahead of them all is the glory of God. Our goal is specifically not to please people. We seek to please God with the knowledge that we will have to give account for not only our work, but our motives as well. We have failed if we cannot look inside ourselves and claim to be pleasing to God because we know our motives are pure and have led to work that is right. We are a great success when we can go to bed at night and know that God has said, “well done”, no matter what the results are.
3) Verse 5-6 – Paul was not duplicitous. He was not trying to be one thing with people for the sake of impressing them or getting something out of them. Paul could look back on his time with the Thessalonians and find great encouragement from the fact that no one could justifiably say that he had bilked them of money or things. He was free of hypocrisy. He didn’t offer free gifts to people for the sake of getting money from them. In fact he refused to take money from them and worked at his trade in order to keep body and soul together rather than lay himself open to the charge of being into the Thessalonians for their money. No insisting on his rights being respected, his income being adequate to his education and experience, his need for four weeks a year holidays and two weeks of conferences. He avoided such things so that the Gospel would be what people remembered and fled to. Here is success; a clear conscience with God and men. To live and work in the work of the Gospel in such a way today that one knows he can recite II Timothy 4:7-8 when he is about to leave this life.
4) Verse 7-8 – The opposite of being duplicitous for the sake of getting things out of people is to give yourself to them at your expense. Paul knew his work was a success because his heart was burdened for the Thessalonians and he showed it with practical, on hands loving service for them. He loved them. We can identify with Linus, from Peanuts, who exclaimed “I love mankind, it’s people I can’t stand”. People can be very trying. They can be demanding, hard headed, hard hearted, dull, stupid, stubborn and unteachable. I can’t imagine anyone who has pastored who hasn’t encountered the depraved human nature in some form that demonstrated itself in opposition or unfaithfulness. It can be tempting to see simply surviving in some situations as the mark of success. We are not told if Paul encountered the kind of problems with the Thessalonians as he did with the Corinthians, but I doubt whether it would have mattered. Paul did not love the Thessalonians because of their wonderful personalities. He loved them because it was his calling.
Because of who called Him. You want success? Love your people; especially the hard headed, hard hearted, dull, stubborn, and unteachable.
5) There is one final mark of success hat needs to be brought out from this text. In the first verse of this chapter Paul calls the Thessalonians “brothers”. The Lord calls a man into the pastoral ministry because He is going to save one or more people through his ministry. The Thessalonians knew that Paul’s ministry with them was not a failure because they were saved. If he had not visited them, they would not have heard the Gospel. This does not mean that every pastor is going to have a mega-church with hundreds of converts being added to the church every year. It doesn’t even necessarily mean that the pastor will be aware of all the people he has influenced with the Gospel. But it does mean that someone whom God has called into the pastoral ministry will be used by God to lead or influence someone into the Kingdom of God. I Timothy 4:16 leads us to this conclusion as well 1 Tim. 4:16
(ESV) Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. So here is real success. Someone is going to live for God’s glory and get to eternal glory because God chose to use you to win Him.
The striking thing about all these marks of real success in the ministry is that they all are a result of the grace of God at work in the heart of the pastor. And since they are all the result of God’s grace they serve the purpose of drawing attention, not to the pastor who has exhibited them, but to the God of grace who has enabled him to exhibit them. This is truly the mark of success. When the people you preach to and visit and pray for; when they meet you and after hearing you preach, teach and pray; when they have been visited by you and been led through a meeting by you; their conclusion should not be what a great pastor they have. The conclusion should be what a great God they have.
I want to be baptizing genuine believers on a weekly basis. I want the community where my church does its work to know that we are here and that they know they are welcome and that we care for them. I want a budget that enables us to get more pastors on staff, maintains more ministries to the needy, and has evangelism programmes that makes the Gospel known in the marketplace. I want the walls of our church building to bulge on Sundays because of the people pushing to get in. I want my life and my church to be the vehicles used by God to bring large, significant, life altering change to the community. And I want my people, when such things happen, not to say, “Aren’t we blessed to have such a pastor who brings us such great success”. I want them to say, “How utterly amazing it is that God should allow us to know Him and be used by Him. He has done great things for us and we are glad.” And, like Paul, I will know that my work among them was not a failure.
Ken Davis has been Pastor of Thistletown Baptist Church, Etobicoke, ON since 1993.
Here is an excellent challenge about pastoral mentorship from Aaron Rock, Lead Pastor of Southwood Community Church, Windsor, ON.
“Jesus in his living provides us a clear paradigm for our living.” Richard Foster
What did you do with your time over the past seven days? As a leader in your church, how did you use your time? If you’re like most Protestant clergy you spent 33% of your time involved in worship and preaching prep, 19% on pastoral care, 15% doing administration and attending meetings, 13% teaching and training, 6% on community and denominational activities, 7% on prayer and meditation, and 4% on other reading. Those stats come from an organization known as Pulpit and Pew Research on Pastoral Leadership.
These are the activities that our churches anticipate we’ll engage in, and our seminary professors have taught us to do well. Most contribute to the corporate worship life of our churches, or at least to various small groups within our churches that are tied into the overall church. I too, spend my time on these activities.
In my fifteen years of vocational ministry however, I have come to terms with the fact that there is a glaring deficit in my ministry and in the lives of many pastors. We are good at doing big church. We are competent enough to pull off a service or series of services every week, and we are more than able to lead and manage ministry teams, church councils, and cell groups. But how many of us have embraced the ancient pastoral task of one-on-one mentoring? How many of us have people in our lives that we are deliberately discipling?
Mentoring is a biblical paradigm, albeit identified by different names in the relevant scriptural texts. The Bible is replete with principles and examples that invigorate Christians to practice mentoring in the community of faith. To neglect mentoring is to do so at the risk of violating scriptural precept. As Keith Anderson and Randy Reese comment at the beginning of their book on spiritual mentoring, “Christianity is an imitative faith.” People develop best when they see their beliefs lived out in other Christ-followers. The Christian faith encompasses a God-dimension, whereby God initiates and sustains our faith, as well as a human-dimension. We need to see people, in the context of biblical community, modeling this thing called the Christian life that we so value.
The Lord Jesus Christ engaged in ministry that was large-scale in nature, small-group oriented, as well as offering attention to individuals within his small group (John 13:6-10). An exploration of His ministry on earth reveals that Christ ministered to the masses, to clusters, as well as to individuals (Matt. 9:9; 16:16; 18:21). While Jesus primary is known for His ministry to a small cluster of men, His life was marked by an intense interest in imitative faith. At times He addressed the crowds, other times He addressed His inner circle as a group, other times He addressed His disciples in pairs, and still other times He spoke directly into the lives of individual men. Unlike some modern church growth models which solely advocate the supremacy of the congregational church service to the neglect of individual discipleship, Jesus struck a balance with an emphasis on all three of these focal areas.
At the commencement of His ministry Jesus demonstrated the priority of engaging in discipleship by inviting a select group of young men into a disciple-making process. In Matthew 4:18-22, following Jesus’ temptation, He immediately augments His public preaching with the establishment of intimate relationships with Simon Peter and his brother Andrew. In the biblical text, this process included an invitation to come and follow Christ and a promise to make these guys into fishers of men in the course of time. Jesus models the principle of intentionality, in that His offer of relationship was for the clear purpose of initiating these men into Kingdom service. Jesus intentionally made disciples. Do you?
Aaron Rock is Lead Pastor of Southwood Community Church in Windsor, ON. He is married to Susie and is father to five children. He earned his D.Min. from Liberty University and is pursuing an M.Th. in Homiletics from Waterloo Lutheran Seminary.
For more on pastoral mentoring see the excellent session done by Paul Martin titled, “Pastor: Mentor the Young Men” given at the Toronto Pastors Fellowship on September 22, 2008. You can find a PDF of the lecture here or the audio here.
To practice biblical theology is to know God’s macro story of redemption. Second, the biblical theologian is a person committed to understanding the history of revelation, the grand themes and doctrines of the Bible, and how they fit together. In other words, healthy church members given themselves to understanding the unity and progression of the Bible as a whole–not just isolated or favourite passages. They approach the Bible knowing that they are reading one awesome story of God redeeming for himself a people for his own glory. And in that story, they see that God is a creating God, a holy God, a faithful God, a loving God, and a sovereign God as he makes and keeps his promises to his people, beginning with Adam and Even and progressing to the final consummation of all things.
Thabiti M. Anyabwile, What is a Healthy Church Member? (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), p. 28
This is one of the biggest problems in our churches today: Christians who cannot think about the Scriptures with the grand progress of redemption in mind. They look at Scripture in isolated ways and in a moralistic fashion. I mentioned this problem in a previous post, Is Too Much Bible Teaching the Problem or the Solution?
Let’s consider the book of Esther for instance. I have heard so many times in both children’s and adults Bible studies that the main purpose of Esther is to stand up and be courageous for what you believe in the midst of tough circumstances. My friend Chris Brauns, in a post on this issue quotes Karen Jobes in her commentary in the NIVAC in attempting to know the point of Esther.
Beyond the fact that the book of Esther is conspicuously nonreligious, the two main characters, Esther and Mordecai, do not seem to reflect the character of other great biblical heroes and heroines. Unlike Daniel and his friends, Esther shows no concern for the dietary laws when she is taken into the court of a pagan king. Instead of protesting, she conceals her Jewish identity and plays to win the new-queen beauty contest. Esther loses her virginity in the bed of an uncircumcised Gentile to whom she is not married, and she pleases him that one night better than all the other virgins of the harem. When Esther risks her life by going to the king, she does so only after Mordecai points out that she herself will not escape harm even if she refuses to act. Furthermore, Esther displays a surprising attitude of brutality. She hears that the Jews have killed five hundred people in Susa, she asks that the massacre be permitted for yet another day and that the bodies of Haman’s ten sons be impaled on the city gate. As a result, three hundred more Gentiles die (Karen H. Jobes, NIVAC commentary on Esther, page 20).
In my response to Chris I wrote this as the point of Esther:
God preserves and protects providentially His covenant people, upholding His promises to accomplish His grand redemptive plan to bring a people to Himself, even when His people are in a pagan nation and forget His statutes. God preserves His covenant even when His people do not.
That is the point of Esther. But that requires thinking. It requires thinking about how the book fits in with the grand progress of redemption and God’s purposes for bringing a people to Himself for His glory. This requires hard work and thinking and interaction with the text in its canonical context. It is not “this is what I think about….” We as pastors need to teach our people to interpret Scripture with this grand story in mind and not focus on the moralistic interpretations of Scripture (particularly the Old Testament) so prevalent in our churches and especially in our children’s and youth ministries.
Tim Kerr, Pastor of Sovereign Grace Church, a recent church plant in Toronto affiliated with Sovereign Grace Ministries, recently came to the home church of my wife and I, Hespeler Baptist Church in Cambridge. He shared a burden of his heart in the area of discipleship and mentoring. A comment caught my attention. I do not have it verbatim but the gist of it was, your spirituality is tied to the local church. Now readers of my personal blog, will know that the concept of the local church is of incredible importance to me. My three post series on The Primacy of the Local Church, there have been the culmination of strong teaching on the topic while I was in seminary, and much thought about the subject including living it out in the context of the church. My clarion call in much of my preaching on the local church is “the local church is God’s vehicle for accomplishing His will in this age.” The church is primary. Every believer should be an active part of a local church.
Yet, we live in a day and age when spirituality is viewed in very personal terms. My spiritual relationship is good when my personal relationship with God is good. My relationship with God is good when I am doing my personal Bible study and prayer. There is no concept that your spirituality might be affected by your body life, that is your relationship to the local church. The crux passage on this issue in my mind is Ephesians 4:11-16.
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 become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Here Paul is informing the Ephesian church about gifting noting that there were those in the church that had been given specific roles by their gifting from God with the express purpose of building up the faith of the church. These people were designed to teach the people so they knew what the Word said and would not be deceived by untruth but embrace the truth of the Scriptures. The capstone though is that there is a focus on growing in Christ as a body. Each part is necessary for the church to grow. Nowhere here does it say that we grow in our faith in Christ alone. We grow in our faith in Christ in the context of the body of Christ. The body of Christ, the local church, is necessary in the life of the believer for growing in faith and godliness. We were never meant to go it alone. We were always meant to be part of the church of Jesus Christ. And you cannot grow spiritually apart from that which Christ died for, the church!
When thinking about spirituality, let us never divorce what we need to grow in Christ from the local church. The local church is the place we grow in Christ as we learn, study, serve, and fellowship. So, the spiritual thermometer of your life should never just be about what you do alone with Christ. It should be what you do with Christ in His body. How you live with other believers, how you treat the local church, how you serve it, that is how you will grow in your spirituality. Christian spirituality IS local church spirituality.
My wife, Tracy Mickle, who is a keen observer of how we do ministry, offers her thoughts here on “Ministering to the So-Called ‘Generation Gap.’”
One of the significant challenges facing most churches is what many people are calling today “the generation-gap.” This generation-gap refers to those who are approximately between 20 and 35 years of age. Churches today find themselves concerned and perplexed as they seem to have a harder time drawing, connecting with, and maintaining this age group. Because I find myself within this age group, and have friends who are there too, I would like to comment on some of the methods churches have used to try to appeal to this group.
The usual wisdom of today in dealing with this enigmatic group has been to try to make church less formal, more approachable, and more relevant. In short, churches have tried to become friendlier and less austere. While some of this is probably appropriate and good, discussions I have had with many of my friends and acquaintances shows that this is not always the best way to reach out to these singles, students, and young professionals.
I have been very surprised to find that most people my age want the same things I want! They find church too informal with not enough hymn-singing; music that is too loud, and a real lack of reverence in many of our evangelical churches. Lest we think this is only coming from people who grew up in Christian homes and evangelical churches, I recently had a very interesting conversation with some friends who could be categorized as “seekers.” While they are attending a very contemporary church, they are disappointed in the overly relaxed atmosphere, informal dress of the congregation, and a general lack of awe and reverence they would expect to find in a church. After all, they believe church should look different then the everyday world in which we live. Among the population of “churched” young adults, one can find a similar sentiment. After a difficult church split at my home church in Pennsylvania, there are still young adults wandering around visiting churches and wishing they could find some place that “sings a few more hymns.”
What are we to make of all of this? After all, aren’t we giving people what they want when we try to “meet them where they are?” I am no church-planting or church-growth expert, but let me humbly suggest some points to ponder based on my own observations.
First, most people want to feel a sense of awe and reverence when they attend church. While we would all agree that everyday and every event in a Christian’s life is “sacred” (we must avoid at all costs the dichotomy of sacred verses secular in our lives), it is also appropriate to set aside the time that we meet with God’s people to worship corporately the living and all-powerful God of the universe as a special time. We want to approach and treat this time with the respect it deserves. Perhaps we all should consider entering the sanctuary with a more reverent attitude. Maybe we need to tone down our loud conversations and boisterous laughter and focus on preparing our hearts for worship. Fellowship and enjoying one another’s company is wonderful, but maybe some of the noisier parts of that should be left for after the service is over. Some formality in the structure of our services also gives people a sense of routine and tradition. It is a connection with the saints of the past as well as a foundation upon which to plant our feet for the future.
Second, in my experience it is not true that young adults only want to sing choruses. Most people I speak with would enjoy a blended service, but we typically find the blend to be rather out of balance. My experience with blended services is that there is usually a ratio of about 80-90% choruses and 10-20% hymns. While everyone agrees that there are some excellent choruses and modern worship music out there, we would like to see a more balanced approach with approximately equal time for both choruses and hymns. Expanding our hymn repertoire would also be wonderful. Our evangelical churches tend to love the gospel hymns of the late 1800s and early 1900s, but let’s not ignore some of the wonderful chorale hymns of the 1500s through the 1700s. Hymns like “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” and “All Creatures of Our God and King” speak tremendous theology which is much needed in our day. The bulk of our hymnals contain gospel hymns, so we may have to go searching for some of these older hymns, but I think we will find the search well worth the effort.
Third, let’s consider turning down the volume on the drums and guitars. While additional instruments are wonderful and can add much to the service when done well, they often are so loud they drown out the singing. The truth of the matter is that the louder the music, the less people will be inclined to fully sing out because they can’t hear themselves singing! Too much noise in the service is a distraction.
Fourth, let’s consider resurrecting the “king of instruments”—the organ. While the organ is not necessarily appropriate for every song we sing in church, there is nothing like it for inspiring reverence, awe, and wonderful singing from a congregation—again, when it is played well. Surprisingly, there is a longing for this standard “church instrument” almost every time I discuss these issues with people.
Fifth, people my age are hungry for solid, though-provoking, challenging sermons. We don’t want to hear pat answers or short, simple sermons. We want to grow and be changed. We live in a complex world with many challenges and difficulties. Young adults are longing for solid answers from the Bible on how to live a consistent Christian life in today’s world. Anything less insults peoples’ intelligence and leaves us without hope that we can grow and change and “work out our salvation” (Phil 2:12).
Doing church is quite a daunting task in today’s world and I hope I am sympathetic to the struggles. Everyone is concerned for the future of the church, and realistically it is the “generation-gap” of today that should be in training to take up the work of the church and be tomorrow’s leaders. It is important to reach out to this group of people and do what we can to bring them into our churches and hold them accountable to faithful attendance. For those who are in the household of faith, we need to realize that some tradition, reverence, and awe are good things and need to be resurrected in some of our churches. Even the “seekers” whom we are so desperate to reach innately realize that it is a serious matter to fall into the hands of the Living God (Heb 10:31).
By God’s grace, I believe we can maintain the best of what has been good in the past while we expand and use the best of what is good today. Let’s make sure that in the attempt to update our services and keep them relevant and spontaneous, we don’t lose the tradition and solemnity that has always marked the church and set it apart from the world. If we can keep these two extremes in balance, we may find that the very group we want so urgently to reach will find what they are looking for in our church services.
Our churches today focus on marketing strategies in order to grow churches. Pastors are viewed as CEO’s who if unable to grow the church by certain percentages over a certain amount of years should be terminated as being unsuccessful. We take our church growth strategies from the business world instead of the Scriptures. Instead of marketing the church we should be seeking revival to grow the church. The problem is, the church has more than one view of what revival is.
Revival can be viewed as something “extremely rare, humanly unattainable state of temporary overheated spirituality” (Josh Moody, The God-Centered Life: Insights from Jonathan Edwards for Today [Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 2007], p. 36). In contrast the opposing view sees that revival “may be manufactured by following certain techniques or methods” (Moody, The God-Centered Life, p. 36). Both of these extreme views are really foreign to the Scriptures.
In Josh Moody’s recent book, The God-Centered Life: Insights from Jonathan Edwards for Today, he argues that one area that Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), the great American theologian and philosopher ,can have a great impact on the church is in the area of revival. I am currently just reading this book and have found I cannot put it down. Moody is an excellent writer with a pastor’s heart (he is Senior Pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, New Haven, CT) and an incredible grasp of Edwards (his PhD from Cambridge was on Edwards response to the Enlightenment (his dissertation is published as Jonathan Edwards and the Enlightenment: Knowing the Presence of God).
It takes little imagination to understand the pastoral challenges that can arise from these opposing views of revival. The first idea of revival so strongly emphasizes God’s sovereignty that there is an inevitable tendency to passivity in evangelism. If I can do nothing to create revival then it is understandable to wonder whether I need do anything. The second idea of revival can produce exactly the opposite challenge. If revival can be produced by a predetermined mechanism and if revival fails to arrive, spiritual disappointment, even depression, is possible, to say nothing of the pressure to produce results, which leads to spurious conversions, or those who think redemption, regeneration and revival is in their and not God’s hands (p. 37).
What can Edwards teach us then about a more biblical approach to revival? Edwards is uniquely qualified to teach us on the area of revival. He experienced first hand two revivals and was a historian of a third. He preached and taught on revival and wrote one of the key books ever written on the subject, A Treatise Concerning the Religious Affections. What we can learn about revival from Edwards is a more balanced biblical approach to revival.
Revival is not random, not manipulative, not tied to a particular system or certain ecclesiastical machine. It is God’s initiative, his action, his intervention, his applying salvation to the church and the world. Much of the contemporary criticism of revival is well founded. Revivalism can be manipulative and shallow, its techniques unthinkingly aping modernistic attitudes of industrialism and individualism and woefully inadequate to anticipate changing culture in which we live. Revivals can also be excuses for delay, inaction and remaining passive in the face of the challenges the church is called to address. All these and other criticisms targeted towards revivals are at least to some degree cogent. Edwards would have agreed: for him, true revival was less mechanical and more magisterial, less passive and more powerful and Christ-like (p. 48).
While revival, or what Edwards would call an “awakening” was something only accomplished by God and could not be accomplished by the hands of men, he acknowledged that man was involved in the process. Not only did God ordain the end, that is revival, He ordained the means. Edwards noted that things like prayer and the preaching of the Gospel were ordained means of accomplishing revival. God used the prayers for revival and the preaching and urging for men to repent was used by God to bring about awakening or revival. Therefore, what Edwards teaches us is that church growth is not about man it is about God but it is also about God using man.
No amount of strategizing by man can bring about church growth through revival. But God does involve us in the process. We are not to sit idly by. We are to actively pray for revival and preach for revival! That is what Edwards teaches us about revival.
Moody concludes his chapter on the area of revival by addressing three issues in the church today. First, the church needs to revive preaching. We must boldly and clearly proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. “A greater commitment to careful explanation of the text would be married with a relevant and emotionally engaged application” (p. 50).
Second, Moody calls us to revive the church. The church is God’s vehicle for accomplishing His will in this age. We need to makechurch first place in our lives once again. “The church too needs to be revived, because communities of salt and light are necessary for such preaching to be realistically and practically modeled. Without free samples of Christ the message of Christ is hard to swallow” (p. 51).
Finally, we need to emphasize other areas of spiritual revival. “If spiritual revival is ecclesiastically controversial today, it is also manifestly necessary. The levels of holiness, of the fear of the Lord, of simple spiritual power, are at a low ebb in the West” (p. 54). There are other means to promote revival including personal testimony, cocerts of prayer, and other opportunities to allow the Holy Spirit to work through us to bring about revival.
Moody concludes the chapter,
Edwards’ theology of revival has three practical and strategic implications. First, it encourages us to emphasize preaching. Second, it calls us to focus upon the basics of building local churches. Third, it points us forward through the power of the Holy Spirit. Revival as an unblical an manipulative belief in the capability of human agency to generate spiritual change must be eschewed. Revival meaning a passive and stagnet excuse for doing nothing because God has not brought revival needs to be exposed for what it is: an attitude foreign to the vigorous missionary effort and evangelism modeled by the Apostle Paul. Revival as a principled reliance upon expectation of divine initiative for the advance of the kingdom through God-given means is what we should embrace.
I could not say it better than that!
For more on Edwards, the Holy Spirit and revival be sure to check out Michael Haykin’s Jonathan Edwards -The Holy Spirit in Revival: The Lasting Influence of the Holy Spirit in the Heart of Man from Evangelical Press.
The more we know of Christ’s spirit, and the more we think of the meaning of God’s fathomless grace, the more will we be convinced that the way to please the Father and to follow the Son is to cultivate the grace of kindness and gentleness and tenderness, to give ourselves to the culture of the heart. Not in the ecclesiastical arena, not in polemic for a creed, not in self-assertion and disputings, do we please our Master best, but in the simple service of love. To seek the good of men is to seek the glory of God. They are not two things, but one and the same. To be a strong hand in the dark to another in the time of need, to be a cup of strength to a human soul in a crisis of weakness, is to know the glory of life. To be a true friend, saving his faith in man, and making him believe in the existence of love, is to save his faith in God. And such service is possible for all. We need not wait for the great occasion and for the exceptional opportunity. We can never be without our chance, if we are ready to keep the miracle of love green in our hearts by humble service.
Hugh Black (1868-1953)
Taken from Hugh Black, Friendship: A clasisc guide to finding, restoring and building lasting friendships (Guelph, ON: Joshua Press, 2008), pp. 28-29.
Robert L. Reymond’s John Calvin: His Life and Influence (Christian Focus, 2004) is an excellent introductory work on the life, work, and writings of the often misunderstood, John Calvin. This book had been reprinted in 2008 in anticipation for the 500th anniversary of John Calvin’s birth taking place this year. It is fitting to spend this year focusing on the life and teachings of this great servant of God, and Reymond is a helpful guide along the way.
Reymond is former Professor of Systematic Theology at Knox Theological Seminary, Fort Lauderdale, FL, and now regular pulpit supply at Holy Trinity Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, FL. The four chapters of this book comprise a series of four popular lectures the author gave on four consecutive Wednesday nights in February 2002 at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, FL.
Chapter 1 (or lecture 1) is God’s Preparation of the Future Reformed. Here Reymond highlights the young live of the soon-to-be reformer, his studies, his conversion, and how God shaped him through all his experiences and education.
Chapter 2 (or lecture 2) is The Young Reformer and His Institutes. This chapter moves from his young life to his beginning as a reformer and especially in the writing of his Institutes, the magnum opus of the Protestant Reformation. This point goes to Calvin’s expulsion from Geneva.
Chapter 3 (or lecture 3) is The Mature Reformer of Geneva and His Accomplishments. This chapter moves to Calvin’s life outside of Geneva, his return to Geneva and the importance of this period especially in his writings.
Chapter 4 (or lecture) finalizes the life of Calvin and deals with his last years in Geneva, his emphasis on his influence on others all over the world, and the difficulties in his life especially the burning of Servetus.
It concludes with 3 appendices looking at opposing biographies of Calvin, his influence on Western history, and recommend biographies on Calvin.
Why another biography when there body of secondary literature on Calvin and Calvin studies is probably only rivaled by those of Jonathan Edwards? Reymond’s book provides a helpful, positive, but not hagiographical look at a much misunderstood figure, his thinking, writing, influence, written for non-specialists. In this, Reymond excels!
The best chapter in my opinion is the last where he deals with the difficult issues in Calvin’s life and His influence. While he does not completely defend Calvin in the burning of Servetus, Reymond does show how the situation is not unusual in the time period Calvin was ministering. Also, Reymond emphasizes the importance of studying the primary resources and writings. Too many who think they know so much about Calvin and Calvinism have never once actually read Calvin. So, he encourages people to especially read his Institutes. I cannot agree with Raymond more. To not read the original sources is to allow others to tell you what someone else believes. Just as we learn Greek and Hebrew to help understand the Scriptures and not rely on someone else’s translation we must read the writings of those we seek to understand.
Whether friend or foe of Calvin one must know about him and his thought since he was such a profound figure in the life of the Church. Guides like Reymond help to wade through the mire of what is written about Calvin and help to bring added and needed clarity about him and his thinking. Especially important is helping those in the church know better about Calvin and Calvinism since there is great misunderstanding in this.
So, if you are looking for an introductory biography to Calvin I would recommend Reymond’s book highly. For those with knowledge of Calvin and Calvinism you will probably still enjoy it but would probably want to turn to some more techinical works on his life and thinking. And more than anything, as Reymond says, read the Institutes! There is no substitute for reading the primary sources when understanding historical figures and historical theology.