Pastor, what’s your job?

Pastor what’s your job?  How we answer that will have a huge impact on how we spend our time.   It will also shape how we preach and teach, especially how we apply the bible and what we describe as ministry.  How would your elders answer that question?  And how does that shape their, and your, expectations and practice?

I wonder what your church would say if you (dared) survey your members and asked what the job of the pastor or wider staff team was?  It would be a really interesting survey, though I’m not sure we’d always like the answers.

I’ve been really struck over recent weeks as I’ve been studying Matthew 13 about Jesus descriptions of the kingdom and how he is helping disciples understand when they live.  And what that means for how they should live.  I’ve also still got fresh in my mind Ephesians 4v16, which says that those with word gifts use them to equip church members for works of ministry.

I wonder how much that would feature in the answers to that survey?  I also wonder how much time we give to teaching that to our congregations.  Ministry is not only what happens on Sunday.  Rather what happens on Sunday is ministry to facilitate their everyday ministry in all of life.  Sunday’s teaching should prepare and equip believers to live out their faith in every area of life every day. How much of our preaching, teaching and application reflects that sense of equipping for everyday godliness?

Too often it seems that the brightest and best are called out of the world to come and work in the church.  Rather than the brightest and best being equipped in the church for ministry in school, in the staffroom, on the trading floor, as they make deliveries and serve customers, as they marry and parent and to it all to the glory of God.

It can be a painful experience to look back on the last 3 months sermons asking the question how did this teaching equip those who heard it for works of service where God has put them?   How did it help them engage with the cultural issues of the moment?  How did it help them see their work as Christ did, be it paid, unpaid, or voluntary work?  How did it help them in the moments of crisis respond as God would call his people to? How are they being trained to respond to cultures trends in a way that balances truth and grace? Or have we defaulted to leaving that parachurch organisations that specialise in teaching for Christians in certain professions?

I wonder if we’ve drifted into a clericalism that sees real ministry as that done at church.  That sees pastors and the church ministry team as the real ministers and everyone else merely as recipients.  It doesn’t take a genius to see the problems with that and how blatantly unbiblical that is, and just how stupidly short sighted it is in terms of multiplying ministers.  The law was designed to show every Israelite how to live for God’s glory responding to his gracious rescue in every area of life.  Jesus does no less with his disciples, he is constantly teaching equipping and then sending them out.  In Acts we see the Apostles ministry equipping an army of the extraordinary believers to minister in their homes, work and market places and that turns the world upside down.We gather together to hear God’s word so that we are equipped as we scatter to where Jesus has put us to live for his glory.  If we really grasped that how would that change our working week?  How would that change our application in our preaching and teaching?  How would it transform our expectations and our prayers?  How would it reshape the questions we ask our congregations?


Stop catastrophising

We live an the age of the sensationalised and catastrophised. Everything is either the greatest ever or the worst ever. Headlines ping pong between two extremes, TV and radio hosts grab for ratings by taking extreme views and being hostile in questioning anyone who disagrees with them. And society is polarised into us and them, right and wrong, good buys and bad guys.

In Corinth one of the problems was that there was too much of the city and it’s culture in the church and I wonder if the same could be said of us. I’ve been struck by the panicked response of many Christians at the erosion of Christian values in our society. I share some of those concerns but I think catastrophising about it doesn’t help anyone. For a start we need to recognise that we have enjoyed a period of tremendous privilege. And secondly we must recognise that biblically and historically that is not the norm.

It wasn’t the norm for the church in the first century, it wasn’t the nom for Jesus, it wasn’t even the norm for God’s prophets in Israel. Prophets like Jeremiah and Ezekiel and Elijah would be amazed at the privileges and protections the church has enjoyed in the UK over recent centuries. But I can’t help thinking they would also have some sharp warnings for us.

Just as Israel were lulled and dulled into a functional faith rather than a radical treasure God at all cost faith by life in a largely conquered promised land under godly kings I wonder if they’d warn us that we face the same danger. Have the privileges we enjoyed made us soft? Have they made us expect rights and protections and privileges? Have they dulled the sharp edge of our faith? Has it left us unsure and unable to comprehend what life as one of the bad guys, on the outside might look like? What it looks like to live for Christ on the margins?

I don’t think Christian organisations sensationalising things helps us. It makes us long to maintain our rights and imagine crises befalling the church if we don’t. It makes us think that the hope for the churches growth lies in legal protection not in a radical stand for Christ living, not in following Jesus, denying self, carrying a cross, as we go to the world with the good news. It makes us view the world as us and them.

I’ve been really struck as we’ve begun a series in Matthew 13 that Jesus is teaching about the Kingdom not in it’s glory and power and burgeoning reign now. But it terms of it’s smallness now. In terms of it being treasure worth giving everything for, but also being opposed for. In terms of future hope not over realised hope for now. Jesus doesn’t catastophise. He helps his disciples see when they live and the treasure and privilege that is theirs in seeing the fulfilment of God’s messianic and kingdom promises and treasuring it so they will thrive living in a society that opposes them.

We need to prepare to live life in the margins. Jesus doesn’t call us to have access to the halls and levers of power. He calls his church to serve when opposed, to pray when persecuted, to keep on sharing the good news of the kingdom come even when arrested, put on trial, imprisoned and persecuted. What would it look like to prepare to live like that?

It is right for us to contact MP’s and make representation about our concerns. But we must not catastrophise. Whilst grateful to God for the period of peace and privilege we have enjoyed, we need to stop and consider how it has changed us, softened us, shaped us. And see again the call of Christ, see again the hope of the church is in Christ’s power not in our legal status.

Don’t develop a persecution complex

Where do we get our leadership models from? I can’t help wondering how much we import from our culture. And the current model we may be in danger of copying is that of a certain ‘Special One’. He’s the master at creating a bunker mentality, nobody loves us or even likes us, it’s us against the world, every one is out to get us. So hunker down, train harder and go out and prove them wrong.

There are certain social trends that mean many Christian are worried about loss of freedoms that we have enjoyed in the UK for a long time. There are threats to our freedoms in the proposal to ban gay conversion if it goes to the extreme of banning prayer and preaching and teaching what Jesus preached and taught. But there are also horrifically abusive practices that need to be made illegal and have no part in a church that claims to represent Jesus.

The apology of Kier Starmer today for visiting a Church and praising their work as a vaccination centre because they hold to Biblical teaching on sexuality is another example that is causing many to develop a persecution complex. And my worry is that many Christians and churches are taking a leaf out of the ‘Special Ones’ book and developing a persecution complex. We’d do better to look to Jesus’ words the end of the Sermon on the Mount:

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs. You are blessed when they insult you and persecute you and falsely say every kind of evil against you because of me. Be glad and rejoice, because your reward is great in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you”

Or read Acts 4 and the Apostles and Early Churches response to persecution, or turn to 1 Peter 2v11-12: “Dear friends, I urge you as strangers and exiles to abstain from sinful desires that wage war against the soul. Conduct yourselves honourably among the Gentiles, so that when they slander you are evildoers, they will observe your good works and will glorify God on the day he visits.” Jesus and Peter both encourage disciples to engage with a hostile culture, to serve and love and live out righteousness even when persecuted or slandered. That is a far cry from much of the reaction I fear we are seeing to current events.

It is right to contact our MP’s about our concerns. It is good for us to pray about these things and bring our fears to God. But persecution and opposition are the global and historical norm for Christians and churches. Even in the history of the UK we live in an unusually persecution free period of Church History. Have we lost our edge? Have decades of acceptance and comfort and protection dulled us so that we cannot comprehend of what church and following Jesus would look like without our privileges and rights?

Why are we surprised that the world and it’s culture increasingly view us as the bad guys? Yes a generation ago we were the good guys – though I wonder if it was more in the way the people of Jesus day viewed the Pharisees as good guys than we think. But Christianity is a call to follow Jesus not the culture. It’s a call to be a counter culture that is not hidden but is active in loving, serving and preaching the gospel no matter the temperature of the cultural waters in which it does so, no matter the slander that we face.

We must take our cue from Jesus. After all in claiming to be Christians we claim to follow Jesus so lets do so. Jesus did not fight for cultural acceptance from the elites and the powerful. He was uncompromising in his compassion and service and in his preaching and teaching even when it led to clashes with those in power and ultimately to the cross. And he left us a pattern to follow suffering then welcome into glory..

Reset 14: Disciples Persevere (part 3)

Disciples are assured because of the work of God in Christ. There is now no condemnation or separation from God’s love because of Jesus work on the cross and his resurrection. So when we struggle we look at Jesus and are assured. But that assurance leads us to persevere as we keep on looking at Jesus.

Chapter 11 of Hebrews gives us a gallery of faith.  Men and women who’ve lived lives of faith, not perfectly but faithful to the end.  Trusting God’s promise, believing in the coming Messiah and his kingdom and fighting sin and playing their part in the kingdom coming.  (39)“All these were commended for their faith.”  They were all saved by faith but their faith wasn’t passive it was active, fuelled by hope they lived lives of faith.

And now in 12v1-3 we see the application.  It’s not let go and let God.  It’s not tuck your ticket to glory in your back pocket or wallet and keep it safe while you wait.  It’s not look back fondly to date you believed or were baptised.  But “let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus.”

We are secure in Christ.  God assures us that if we have faith in Jesus nothing will condemn us or separate us from God’s love.  But from our perspective we’re called to persevere in running the race of faith, to pursue Jesus secure in his love.  Jesus is the pioneer he’s trailblazed the way and we’re to follow him.  Disciples pursue Jesus, that’s how we begin life as a disciple and it’s how we live everyday as a disciple.  We know he loves us and we want to be with him because we love him so we pursue him.

How do we do that?  Practically we throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.  We persevere by fighting sin so it doesn’t trip us up and leave us sprawling not running.  We throw off everything that hinders our following Jesus.  It may be a good thing that slows us down, that chokes our joy, but we give it up because we want to pursue Jesus.

We also need to recognise the course we’re running.  It’s life long.  It’s a daily following Jesus, it’s marked out for us by those who have gone before, who’ve lived by faith.

Thirdly we fix our eyes on Jesus.  We keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.  We follow where our eyes are looking.  Have you ever tried teaching a child to ride a bike, you have to keep saying look up, look straight ahead, but they naturally look at you beside them and what happens they turn that way and wobble and fall off.  We need to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on what he has done for us at the cross, on his being at the Father’s side interceding for us, on his love for us.  Longing for the joy that he longed for of being with his Father.  Considering Jesus so that we don’t grow weary and lose heart and give up.

Disciples persevere, assured of God’s love and forgiveness again and again as we look to Jesus.  Disciples follow Jesus daily.  Discipleship is a long obedience together with the church following Jesus.