Monday, January 27, 2020

The Measure of Ministry

*This blog article was originally published in the Northern Canada Evangelical Mission's, Northern Lights magazine and on their website. (HERE)

AS MANY OF US IN MINISTRY CAN ATTEST, we like to measure how effective we have been. Measuring gives us opportunity to report. In fact, there are entire ministries dedicated to assisting other ministries with measuring!

The question: “How are things at your church?” might be met with something like: “Great! We have five new programs and 100 new members.” This is how we communicate a measured success. But an honest answer like: “Fifteen percent stopped coming because the cost of Christian discipleship was taught … those who remain are growing in their faith” would more accurately express a healthy measure of success.

AT ARROWHEAD Native Bible Center we desire, above all, to hold high the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the glory of our most Holy God. We’ve begun to measure our ministry differently.

No longer do we count and report the number of converts that we have the immense pleasure of seeing. Our hearts rend for the lost souls that we welcome to the Center, but the convicting and saving is a work of the Holy Spirit. We are called to disciple and to teach (Matthew 28:19-20). As Arrowhead director, I am responsible to see that the Gospel is handled well and communicated adequately – a serious charge that I do not hold as trivial.

We cannot measure this ministry based on the number of converts. Delivering a new nature in redemption is a work of God. Of course there is great value to seeing numbers of people being saved, and we should rejoice and pray for that very thing. Scripture emphasizes numbers being added to the Church (Acts 2:41, 4:4).

I CAN, HOWEVER, seek to ensure and measure two things:
1 Was the Gospel clearly, consistently and accurately taught?
2 Was the teaching clearly and accurately received?

These we can observe by the questions coming back from those exposed to Gospel teaching. We’ve found at Arrowhead that, when given the opportunity, our campers ask the most profound questions! This shows us what they are understanding, and what we need to further address from Scripture.

When people leave one of our conferences or summer camps, it is my responsibility to see that they have been taught, and taught well. Whether they decide to reject or invest in the Gospel is between them and God. I cannot force someone to understand the Gospel – God alone gives understanding (2 Tim. 2:7, Rom. 10:17, Eph. 2:8-9). I am commanded to give them an answer, and to do so with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15).

I THINK ABOUT A CERTAIN TEEN CAMPER. She said she didn’t believe in God and, following each chapel, would challenge our speaker. The truth of Scripture was creating a tension with the lies she had believed. Sad to say, she left camp holding firmly to her atheistic beliefs. We could not make her understand or force her to believe. We could only lovingly point her to God’s Word. “Some plant; some water, but God gives the increase” (1 Cor. 3:6-7).

With joy I can say that others have not resisted the Holy Spirit’s prompting. I cannot and should not try to coerce or manipulate anyone, lest I try to take on God’s role (1 Cor. 2:14). This can be tempting to do in our zeal to see people saved. But we can plead with and persist in the proclamation of God’s Word. That includes educating and equipping ourselves to communicate clearly. Teaching and discipleship are so much more than simply delivering information – it is striving to make the truth clearly understood!

IF I CAN ANSWER yes to these two questions, then I can be confident that I have been obedient to the call of God in the proclamation of the Gospel. Of course that by no means draws an end to my role as a discipler, but it is an appropriate measure of my calling. I don’t need observable results other than my submitted and sacrificial obedience. The rest is God’s work and I am meant to be content in that.

Obedient discipleship is never of ill effect. Tensions arise when people’s expectations supersede the expectations of Christ. If we have been overwhelmed by expectations of “measurable” results in our ministries, let’s be encouraged that to obediently disciple and teach to the greatest of our ability is the real measure of success. That ultimately makes God the object of our work!

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

The Gospel is Not Tupperware

We talk so much about all of the mechanics of cross-cultural missions and ministry and strive to walk deeply in the pool of culture and sound communication. It can be easy to lose sight of Christ if we are not intentional about maintaining Him as central to our ministry and indeed, our very lives. So often we neglect to examine ourselves in light of scripture and with our relationship to the philosophies of our world. Do we recognize just how profoundly we allow ourselves to be affected by our own culture?

The Product
Our consumer driven, individualistic culture has had a far more profound impact on how we understand the Gospel (and how we communicate it) than we like to consider. But we must. You see, if sin is simply something we do, then there must simply be an opposite action to reverse that sin. And if that is the understanding we have of the Gospel, then we start to think of how we can present this opposing action to those who are not Christians. This way they to can compartmentalize their sins and move on. Say this prayer, walk this aisle, sign this card, act this way, sing this song, do all of these things, follow these rules and you can have this personally beneficial religion. The gospel message becomes a sales pitch for a product. Jesus, scripture and the Church become products, totems for the consumer. Christian lifestyle becomes a product, prosperous and personally beneficial. Christianity becomes a means to an end, a service that can provide benefits to the client.

The Pitch
As with any good sales pitch we must convince our client of their need for the product. We replace evangelism and discipleship with marketing. This is then done by extolling the virtues of the product, the benefits that it can offer to the consumer; forgiveness, a better life, happiness, wealth, prosperity, health, heaven, community. But a good salesman also presents the inverse benefits of the product, what will this product prevent; it staves off depression and darkness, protects you from evils and keeps you safely from the fires of hell. But further to that we have to consider the market research, how has this product benefitted others? Just look at all of the fabulous Christians in all of the fabulous churches and how wonderful they have found life to be as a result of this product called gospel. Our personal testimonies become lists of benefits instead of being a story about how Jesus raised us from spiritual death to life. And then, of course, we must report to one another our sales figures. Counting heads and claiming huge numbers of converts. The question we have to ask is; converts to what?

The Pricing
By forgetting the depth of our sin and the magnificence of the redemptive, sanctifying and preserving work of God in our lives and allowing ourselves to compartmentalize our sin, we have made a horrible mistake that has impacted both our relationship with the gospel message and with our Redeemer. The price of the product is presented; prayer, Bible reading, attending church, giving monies. Paying these expenses ensures that the product will always be there when needed. Our perspective should be precisely the opposite, the gospel maintains us, we don't maintain the gospel. God's work in us is daily gospel work, and often that work is hard and it hurts. It is God working is us that which is well pleasing and good, and this by His Spirit for His Glory.

The Tupperware
The gospel is not Tupperware; long lasting, freshness locking, preserving — following Jesus is not simply an investment in our future. It is not a product that we must convince others to buy. It is true, there are so many fantastic blessings to following Christ. The gospel of hope has magnificent rewards. But we err when we forget that all of the blessings that come with following Christ are simply byproducts. Heaven is the bonus, not the prize. What the gospel produces is change, often painful, always entire — change (Ezekiel 36:26), rooted only in a moving of the Holy Spirit. What we get, is Jesus; and in Jesus — life. Jesus is the beginning, middle and end of the Gospel. When we present anything else we make the gospel a sales pitch for a religion to be bought and sold.

The Consumers
We ring our hands and wonder why youth aren't interested in church. Why people buy our product and then seem to fall away, they want a refund. So often, I fear, it is because we have made ourselves salesmen instead of evangelists. We have invested all of our energy in making the Gospel a product, and that appeal to the flesh sets Jesus aside as secondary to the client — the consumer. To be an evangelist of Christ we must bring this good news of Jesus by holding Him high and exclusive.
"He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." 2 Corinthians 5:21
The Glory of Christ
The Glory of the Gospel is Christ. Proclaiming His Glory by virtue of His nature and character. The change that following Him precipitates is His work in us. We don't have to convince anyone to buy anything we're selling. We are called simply and clearly to proclaim Christ, to disciple and teach. We don't have to convince or manipulate, simply teach; and when unbelievers continue in their unbelief — we teach again, we start over. We proclaim Christ.
“but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles.” 1 Corinthians 1:23  
“For I didn’t think it was a good idea to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” 1 Corinthians 2:2