Category Archives: Jesus

Limitless Grace for Limited Leaders: How Accepting Our Boundaries Frees us to Flourish as Pastors

cliffs edge

Cross-posted at For The Church

Since the day our church was planted, our pastors have fielded many questions on the topic of mission from the younger generations in our midst. “Do we have a plan to serve the poor?” “How are we going to plant missional communities in the most underserved parts of our city?” “How soon are we going to be able to bring the gospel to the unengaged peoples in the world?” Our standard (and honest) answer has been that we have a heart for any place where Jesus is not truly known. But we look at the work and our five fish and two loaves and know that the Great Commission is a God-sized task.

One the one hand, we love their ambition. It challenges and sharpens us. It’s easy, even as pastors of a church plant, to suffer from missional drift. On the other hand, the pastoral wisdom that comes with experience and age makes us cautious. We know that we can’t achieve everything that needs to be done missionally. We find ourselves speaking the truth in love that there are confines to what only one church can accomplish.

I recently was reflecting our church’s missional ambitions and I began to feel a deep sense of conviction about something. I began to see inconsistency in the way I shepherd others with their dreams of mission versus the way I shepherd my own heart in ministry. I warn others of the dangers of trying to do too many things missionally but struggle with warning my own heart of the hazards of not understanding the “perimeters” of my pastoral abilities. I remind others that God will clarify those few things we must do missionally but struggle with reminding my own heart that God has set boundaries of gifting for me in ministry to “move” within. I even preach to others that we should have faith that God will help us do a few things well but struggle to preach to myself that I’m only a small part of God’s eternal plan.

So why am I nervous to admit that I can’t do everything that needs to be done? I think it’s simple. I am afraid to to confess that I have limits. I’m afraid to admit that I have God-allotted periods and boundaries of my dwelling place (Acts 17:26). And I’m afraid that will render me unimportant.

In a 2012 New York Times article entitled “The ‘Busy’ Trap,” Tim Kreider says:

“Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.”

Kreider is touching on something we would do well as pastors to hear. And there’s so much more. The clamor to be the smartest person in the room, the pressure to make everyone like us, the temptation to be the biggest church in our city – these are attempts to make our lives exceptional. But admitting that we have boundaries means that we have to accept that much of our ministry “busyness” is a veiled attempt to make much of ourselves and not Jesus.

Jesus didn’t seem to struggle with limits or boundaries like us. In Zack Eswine’s book, Sensing Jesus, he says:

“Limits repulse the driven. The driven therefore struggle with the sense of place that Jesus had…[But] the holy One of God became a man – and this incarnation included limiting himself and inhabiting a locality on the earth.”

This is the heart of Philippians 2. Jesus emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. This was a “limiting” act on the part of Jesus.

Why was Jesus willing to do this? Jesus was inclined to live within earthly boundaries because he had a white-hot focus on one thing: joyful obedience to his Father that would lead him to a cross for our sake. This should reorient us all. Eswine again, “The divine condescension to locality challenges my ambition that is restless to embrace various things at once.”

See, if the God-man Jesus was willing to live within human flesh and in a local place that would ultimately lead to him sacrificing his life for ours, we can joyfully accept our lesser limits too.

This is where limitless grace meets limited leaders. We can only rest in our limitedness when we see that Jesus limited himself by leaving the culture of the Trinity and entering the culture of man for our sake. His act of incarnation and redemption settles our need for significance on this side of eternity. Healthy leaders accept their limits because when we look to Jesus, we see the ultimate limitation – God becoming flesh and blood to bring us spiritual rescue. And as we rest in this truth, we can let the unlimited One and his limitless grace give us courage to be the limited leader that we are and in the end, flourish for the good of our churches and the gospel.

Quotable…
from The Prodigal Church  by Jared Wilson

I am posting some of the quotes that caught my attention from Jared Wilson’s new book, The Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto against the Status Quo, chapter by chapter. Wilson is the director of content strategy at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri, and managing editor of the seminary’s website for gospel-centered resources, For the Church. He is a popular author and conference speaker and blogs regularly at The Gospel Driven Church, hosted by The Gospel Coalition.

prodigalchurch

Today, we look at Chapter 3 entitled – “What Works?”:

While we have great freedom in contextualization, we also face a great danger. That the Bible is somewhat vague about specific methodologies does not mean every methodology is fair game. Not every method is neutral. We have to go deeper and test our working assumptions. Beneath the exercise of liberty in methodology is always a functional ideology driving our decisions. (48-49)

 

Pragmatism reasons that God’s ability to use anything means our freedom to use everything. Pragmatism treats church methodology like a vending machine. (53)

 

The pragmatic approach to too many attractional churches aims for quantity in disciple making but suffers in quality. So as the pragmatic spirit drives our methodology, the kind of discipleship culture that results is shallow and frequently artificial…So the most effective way to turn your church into a collection of consumers and customers is to treat them like that’s what they are. (54)

 

In the attractional model, the center of worship is too often the preferences of the children and too rarely the proclamations of the Father. (60)

 

Pragmatism and consumerism also can taint a church’s numeric growth, because even as the place fills up with people, it may actually become less distinctively a church. (60)

 

Truer to the biblical portrait…is the church as a community that certainly values the worship gathering (and even the quality of the experience therein), but not as the central hope of evangelism or life change.(62)

 

What the Bible seems to express is that unbelievers in the service are best served not by having their tastes catered to but by witnessing the gathered church exalting God in the receiving of Christ-centered teaching, the singing of God-centered songs, and the observing of the sacraments. (66)

 

I fear that many evangelical church leaders have not adequately explored the relationship between the dominant youth ministry culture of yesteryear and the production-minded, casually relevant attractional church culture of today. (67)

 

What we do in church shapes us. It doesn’t just inform us or entertain us. It makes us who we are. The worship service, in other words, doesn’t just cater to certain tastes; it develops certain tastes…what we win them with is what we win them to. (67)

 

It is not in the best interest of the very unbelievers we’re trying to reach to appeal to consumerist tastes in the interest of offering them the living water of Christ. They’ve been drawn by the promise of lesser satisfactions. And when we make such a big production out of these lesser satisfactions, we communicate that in actuality they are what really satisfies. (67-68)

 

As the production values begin to dominate our worship, we relay that it is the production that we find really compelling, not so much Christ himself. When the invitation to trust Jesus comes, if it ever does, Jesus feels a little like an awkward guest at someone else’s party. (68)

 

The Bible’s ‘functional ideology’ – contrary to consumerism and pragmatism – is that ‘what works’ is the Holy Spirit through the message of the gospel of Jesus. And neither the Spirit nor the gospel needs help from our production values. (70)

The Guest List of our Lives

invitation

My daughters received an invitation to attend a birthday party for our neighbors recently. If you’ve ever wondered how screams could be collected for energy (see Monsters Inc.), you’ve never been in the same room when young girls receive soul-thrilling news in the form of an invitation. My daughters’ hearts could have burst and their shrieks could have powered a small village—easily.

Ecstatic joy flowed out of my daughters so naturally, I felt like I was being let in on something. We like to be invited to things. It makes us feel loved. It makes us feel like we belong. Jesus once told a parable about an invitation. It was an invitation, not to a birthday, but to a dinner—and at its core, it was a very unusual invitation.

The Parable of the Great Banquet

In Luke 14, Jesus first tells the Pharisees that when you give a banquet or a dinner, don’t invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors so they will invite you in return. Jesus instead says when you give a feast, invite the typically uninvited—the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.

Now, this is counter-intuitive because the Pharisees and scribes felt a sense of supremacy in their separation from those on the fringes. When the Pharisees and scribes would throw a party, they would only invite the people who could invite them back. In other words, the Pharisees manipulated hospitality for their own self-glory and reputation. Parties were about raising your social capital. Only those who could further that agenda were welcomed.

But the marginalized—those on the outside looking into the cultural upper echelon—had no way of doing this. In fact, if they were invited, they wouldn’t accept the gesture because they knew they would be required to repay the courtesy and they knew they couldn’t do that. It would be too humiliating to accept that type of invitation because they did not have the means to reciprocate, so they would refuse.

To further make his point, Jesus launches into a story to illustrate his teaching with the opening line, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many.” This was going to be a huge event thrown by a very wealthy man. The Jews would have understood this. To be at this party would be the height of social recognition. In fact, when you were invited to a large dinner like this, you would typically get two invitations. The first invitation acknowledged you as an honored guest. The second invitation would come to alert you that the party was about to officially begin.

Now, when the second invitation comes in this parable, we go from the invitation to excuses. Every single person highlighted in this passage says, “I can’t come.” All of them. The Pharisees would have said, “Nobody would do that. This is disrespectful. This is uncivilized.” But in Jesus’ story, they all decline. So the wealthy man does the unthinkable. He tells his servant to go out and seek another group of people. He tells him to bid the outcasts to come to the banquet—the poor and crippled and blind and lame.

In the minds of the Pharisees, the first group wouldn’t turn down the invitation and the second group would never have been invited. But in this story, the master says go and bring them in. In Greek, the verb bring in highlights that they would have to be taken in because they would resist. So they would have to be forced to come. And they knew the etiquette—they would have to pay the master back with an even greater feast if that happened. And that would be impossible.

Head over to Gospel Centered Discipleship to read the rest of this article and see how Jesus pushes us to go even further missionally in our pursuit of the outcast.

Quotable…
from The Prodigal Church  by Jared Wilson

I am posting some of the quotes that caught my attention from Jared Wilson’s new book, The Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto against the Status Quo, chapter by chapter. Wilson is the director of content strategy at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri, and managing editor of the seminary’s website for gospel-centered resources, For the Church. He is a popular author and conference speaker and blogs regularly at The Gospel Driven Church, hosted by The Gospel Coalition.

prodigalchurch

Today, we look at Chapter 2 entitled – “What If the System’s Broken?”:

There’s not really anything wrong with having or not having a cross on your church walls, but for many of us, in retrospect this removal became symbolic of what seemed to be taking place message-wise. (27)

 

A cognitive dissonance can result for those who hear a message all about what they should do to be more successful or victorious or happy…only to hear the proposition that Jesus died for our sins. To hear a lengthy appeal to our abilities, culminating in an appeal to our utter inability, can cause spiritual whiplash. (27)

 

…we may mistake the rising of something for the health or success of the thing. So it’s possible to look big, to look successful, and to not actually be big or successful in the ways that matter. The is not a strike against having a megachurch. It’s only a strike against the idolatry of the megachurch. It’s a strike against a church of any size that is trusting in growth, whether it’s actually experiencing it or not. (40)

 

Sometimes healthy things grow, but the growth continues on in a momentum of its own and ends up obscuring areas of concern or deeper need that are easy to ignore because of the easy justification and visibility of the growth. (41)

 

…the problem is not really one of size but of an unhealthy obsession of size, with a pitting of bigger against smaller, and with the failure of growing churches to compensate for their numeric growth with scalable efforts to maintain pastoral care, community, and discipleship. (43)

 

In too many attractional churches, committed Christians are put to work largely in service of the weekend worship experience…In the beginning of such ministry, enthusiasm is high. But when the lion’s share of one’s discipleship is occupied with weekly efforts toward the worship service, it is not too long before the volunteers begin to feel interchangeable, like cogs in a wheel…if they [weekly efforts] are the sum total of one’s connection to the church, they do not provide the nourishment that growing Christians need. (44)

 

…when it comes to proclaiming the gospel to the lost and feeding the sheep, we have to give great care to the means. And in fact, how we do church will have a direct impact on the quality of the results we get. (46)

Four Lessons From Visiting a Prosperity Gospel Megachurch

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Image Credit: The Gospel Coalition

Recently, Steven Morales, associate editor for The Gospel Coalition’s Spanish site, Coalición por el Evangelio, who lives in Guatemala with his wife and is pursuing church planting in Guatemala City, visited a prosperity gospel megachurch in his home country. In reflecting on his visit, I thought the four lessons he shared were helpful for all of us who struggle with how to respond to this subculture. Here are the four lessons from Morales, with thoughts from within each lesson:

1. It’s easy to make the Bible say whatever you want.

If we approach Scripture only a few verses at a time, we’ll easily change its message to adapt to our own. The Bible is the key to its own lock, and we must let it interpret itself. Read it. Study it. Pray over it. And don’t teach it until you know the whole story.

2. False teaching can be easily hidden under superficial Christianity.

Although this is most evident in false teachers, we’re all guilty of this sin to some degree. After all, who hasn’t tried to look his best, do the rights things, and act as “Christianly” as possible to hide the filthiness residing within (Matt. 23:27)? We need Jesus. If our exterior doesn’t correspond with our interior, it’s time to pray for repentance and run to Jesus (1 John 1:9–10).

3. It’s easy to focus on the wrong things.

I don’t care if your music is loud, as long as your theology is louder. I don’t care if your church is big, as long as your view of God is bigger. I don’t care if your stage has bright lights, as long as your love for Christ is brighter. I don’t care if you make a joke or two, as long as you’re serious about the gospel. Don’t get upset about peripheral things; get upset that the gospel isn’t being preached.

4. People need Jesus, not your snarky criticism.

We don’t need to share another video depicting another ridiculous thing that happened in a prosperity-preaching church; we need to start sharing the gospel with people…patiently explaining why King Jesus is better than any promise of earthly prosperity.

 
Read the entire article here.

A Buoyant Hope

Behind the veneer of much of our discipleship (and honestly, my own weathered and jaded heart), there is something in the depths of my heart that regularly flusters and flummoxes. It is something we all crave but even on our best days, we feel very little of. In our pursuit of it, we have replaced it with falsified versions that aren’t up to spiritual snuff. And thought it’s right under our noses, it’s possible that the reason we may not have much of it is because we are looking in the wrong nooks and crannies for it.

Oh hope, where art thou?

More Like the Mona Lisa

One of the reasons that we overlook hope is because we are wrongheaded in our definition of it. Hope is typically expressed as doubt rather than a deep certitude that what seems impossible is assured. I’ve said it before. “I hope everybody shows up tonight for missional community” or “I hope they remember to show up for this counseling meeting” or “I sure do hope they like this sermon.” But that is not biblical hope. Hope is not just an aspiration for something good but an expectation that it will happen—an assurance that it will happen. An inevitability that the good we anticipate and long for will transpire. In other words, biblical hope is not finger­-crossing. It is a thumbs up kind of hope—a hope that it is embedded, not in skepticism, but in the stalwart faithfulness of God.

My children loves to color our carport sidewalk with chalk. It’s one of their favorite activities. Pinks and greens and blues and yellows all scribbled on gray concrete. I love to watch them as they make the grandest creations with no thought about their lack of permanence. Inevitably, a rain shower eventually rolls in and washes away their artwork. Gone. In a moment. Hope in a faithful God is never like this. It doesn’t wash away with a little rain. There is firmness in it that can’t ever be dissolved because God’s purposes are more like the Mona Lisa—enduring and unfading. Hoping in God and hoping in anything else is the difference between chalk and paint. One fades, the other abides.

Seeing the Unseen

The writer of Hebrews adds a vital component to the idea of hope: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb 11:1). Wherever there is full guarantee of hope, there is faith. Or said another way, faith is the jam-­packed, self­-confidence of hope. I admit that I regularly lack that kind of confidence but that is what real hope brings. It brings spiritual assuredness. I need that kind of inspiration for my flimsy faith. But the writer of Hebrews also says that yes, faith includes hope but it is more than hope.

Charles Spurgeon says it this way, “Though the ‘things’ are only ’hoped for’ and ‘not seen’ at present, the eye of faith can see them, and the hand of faith can grasp them.” See, faith­-shaped hope does the unthinkable and the counterintuitive. It sees what is unseen and clasps on what is intangible. It has vision for what is undetectable. It clutches onto what is indiscernible. That’s good news to me because frankly, my faith tends to be miniature sized. What was Jesus’ proposal to his disciples for their little faith? He told them to grow it to the size of a tiny mustard seed (Mk 4:31). I love that. Jesus, as only he can, gives me hope that I can have a faith that believes and sees what can’t be seen if it’s as big as something that is very small because my faith is small most of the time.

The Bible describes the patriarch Abraham as a man of deep faith who had this kind of hope. He was filled with hope that God was able to do everything that he had promised ­ even though reality raged against God’s promise. “In hope he believed against hope” (Rom. 4:18). Interesting verbiage. Webster’s Dictionary has a separate entry for the phrase “hope against hope.” It is defined as “to hope without any basis for expecting fulfillment.” Does this sound like Abraham’s faith? Not even close. Abraham’s hope had a different tone and focus.

Abraham’s “against hope” meant that from a conventional human perspective, there was not an ounce of likelihood that a miracle could happen. Remember, Abraham was old and his wife was barren. Abraham knew that hope is never anchored to what is achievable by man’s effort. Biblical hope gazes to the promise of a miraculous God. Abraham had a Hebrews-like hope. We must point our hearts and the hearts of others to this kind of hope in our discipleship.

Head over to Gospel Centered Discipleship to the last part of this article and read how hope is like a cork for the soul.