Fire

By Frederick Buechner

FIRE HAS NO SHAPE OR SUBSTANCE. You can’t taste it or smell it or hear it. You can’t touch it except at great risk. You can’t weigh it or measure it or examine it with instruments. You can never grasp it in its fullness because it never stands still. Yet there is no mistaking its extraordinary power.

The fire that sweeps through miles of forest like a terrible wind and the flickering candle that lights the old woman’s way to bed. The burning logs on the subzero night that save the pipes from freezing and give summer dreams to the tabby dozing on the hearth. Even from millions of miles away, the conflagration of the sun that can turn green earth into desert and strike blind any who fail to lower their gaze before it. The power of fire to devastate and consume utterly. The power of fire to purify by leaving nothing in its wake but a scattering of ash that the wind blows away like mist.

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A pillar of fire was what led the children of Israel through the wilderness, and it was from a burning bush that God first spoke to Moses. There were tongues of fire leaping up from the disciples on the day of Pentecost. In John’s apocalypse it is a lake of fire that the damned are cast into, and Faithful and True himself, he says, has eyes of fire as he sits astride his white horse.

In the pages of Scripture, fire is holiness, and perhaps never more hauntingly than in the little charcoal fire that Jesus of Nazareth, newly risen from the dead, kindles for cooking his friends’ breakfast on the beach at daybreak.

This article was originally published at: Beyond Words

Christ-Centered Discipleship

A few months ago, Dr. Rubén Fernández published in the Didache theological resource website an essay on discipleship within the context of the Mesoamerica Region.  I found it to be a bold, insightful rebuke of our current Church leadership and methodology (I include myself in that distinction).  Below I have provided an extract of this article that I hope you’ll find challenging.  The entire document is here.

We need a greater commitment to the life of holiness. As disciples of Christ we need to fight against the desires of the flesh that want to impose themselves on those of the Spirit. Desires that lead us to accommodate ourselves, to avoid situations or confrontations that may cause us harm, to believe that we have the right to ‘enjoy life’ by turning a blind eye to sin and the suffering that surrounds us.

We must practice a biblical and Christ-centered discipleship that mobilizes the Church to serve the world.

Today, for many Christians (both Roman Catholic and Evangelical), the cross is simply an element that is part of their dress code or a sort of protective amulet for their house or vehicle. Jesus died for our sins. That’s true. But it is also equally true that Jesus died because he confronted the corruption of power. The ministry of Jesus, was really transformative, countercultural and revolutionary and, therefore, highly dangerous.

Biblical and Christ-centered discipleship should shake the church out of its comfort zone and out of its ‘heavenly spirituality’ and lead the church to serve people by transforming their communities.

Young people are waiting for a militant, dissenting, reactive church. We are losing the new generations that reject a church interested in keeping things as they are.

How much do we teach people what it would be like to take up the cross today? To be radical will involve denouncing violence, defending those who are attacked unjustly, taking the side of the weakest, children, the elderly, the unprotected, etc.

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What is the price that a person pays for condemning these things? They will not have more money or win friends. More likely, they will probably be ‘in the sight’ of the Central American gangs, drug cartels or human trafficking in Mexico, corrupt police, purchased judges or unscrupulous politicians almost everywhere. If we put ourselves in the place of those brothers and sisters who have been victimized and others who live under threat to their families, it seems difficult to believe that our ‘prophetic voice’ could deal with those issues.

John Wesley said, “The world is my parish.” How can we mobilize each Nazarene to carry their cross with dignity, so that they may respond to their personal call and become actively involved in the transformation of that place in the world where God has sent them to serve?

My observation in Mesoamerica is that the leadership of the evangelical church in general terms is of a conformist type. What we do well is preserve the status quo. We do not develop true discipleship on the road to the cross. We do not carry out real transformational leadership, like that of Jesus; we only put bandages on the wounds (and not that that’s wrong, but is it enough?). There are some of the countries in our region, such as in Central America, where the percentage of evangelicals is high and growing, but with a tiny impact on the change of society.

Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, who was murdered in cold blood at mass in 1980, said in a homily a year before his death: “A sermon that does not point to sin is not a gospel sermon…When the Church hears the weeping of the oppressed it cannot but denounce the social structures that nourish and perpetuate the misery from which the cry comes.”

How do we Nazarenes see the involvement of our church members in political careers? What message are we communicating to our members about the value of investing life in professions related to service and public administration?

How can we change the paradigm that still exists in many churches that the only way to serve God is through the pastoral profession or intra-ecclesial leadership?

How can we change from being trainers of church leaders to being trainers of leaders for our present context and reality?

***Dr. Rubén Fernández is Rector of the Seminario Nazareno de las Américas (SENDAS) in San José, Costa Rica.

A Plea to not Join the Jaded: Resisting the Soul-Withering Cynicism in Ministry

By Scott Armstrong

I was a rookie missionary, new to the field and eager to change the world.  I was chatting with a missionary colleague who had served for nearly a decade about a delicate conflict in the Church both on the field and back home.  At one point I expressed optimism that all would soon work out.  She rolled her eyes and shook her head in an all-knowing manner: “Wait a couple years.  You’ll be just as jaded as the rest of us.”

What!? This happened years ago, and I still remember it vividly.  Were ministry and missions going to gradually become a steady slog through dashed hopes and increasing distrust of leadership? This is not what I signed up for – let alone what I felt called to!

I recently heard Matt Chandler at one of the Exponential Church Planting and Multiplication Conferences.  He shared a story about taking his seven-year-old daughter to a Disney Fairies show.  She was so excited that she dressed up in a fairy costume.  Her dad had bought great tickets and her face beamed as they made their way down to the first row.

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However, from that particular section of the auditorium, Matt realized that they could see backstage where all of the fairies were putting on costumes and where the stage manager was signaling to all the actors when they would enter and exit. Props were being readied and then moved on stage.

Matt’s daughter began to give her attention more to what was happening backstage than to the amazing production right in front of her.  At one point she leaned over to her daddy and said, “Those aren’t the real fairies.  Those are just people dressed up like them.”

There was no more awe in her voice.  She had lost the magic.

Doesn’t this happen to us as we go through life, and ministry specifically? If we have been around for more than a few years, we have seen a lot of guck in the church, and it is not relegated to the average layperson.  Through experience (and some of our own selfishness and poor decisions, too) we see backstage and start to understand the good, the bad, and the ugly in leadership.  We start to use phrases like: “labor of love” and “plugging away” to describe our daily work. The thrill is definitely gone!

We cannot be naïve – there is a lot of life and ministry that is difficult and tiring. This news should not catch any of us off guard.

At the same time, the peek backstage does not have to take the magic of ministry away. Part of maturing in service to Christ and his people should not mean that we eventually by default become jaded!

So how do we resist this slow creep of cynicism? In my next post I will offer some important suggestions that have helped me personally with keeping spiritual fervor and not becoming jaded in ministry.

The Fragrance of Knowing God

By Cathy Spangler

Experts say that the most easily-remembered of our five senses is smell.

We forget many parts of a song days after we have heard, or even sung, it for the first time.  In many cases, our recollection of the specifics of what we see starts to fade mere hours after an event.  However, years after the fact, a certain aroma captivates us and brings a flood of memories. Yes, the sense of smell is powerful, indeed.

There are pungent odors and beautiful odors.  In the days before air conditioning in schools, the smells of sweaty children often filled the hallways and classrooms.  Walking into a beauty shop will immediately mean aromas of permanents, shampoos, and hairsprays.  I work on a farm and absolutely LOVE the smell of my horse’s neck when I hug him.  I adore the familiar scent of my husband’s aftershave.  And I even love the smell of baby lotion!

After walking home from school on cold, snowy days when I couldn’t feel my legs anymore, I remember coming into my house and being met with the smell of cinnamon rolls fresh out of the oven. Still to this day, when I smell cinnamon rolls cooking, that aroma connects me with my mom’s loving care.

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Did you ever have someone walk by and you could smell their perfume or cologne? 2 Corinthians 2:14 says that God will diffuse through us the fragrance of our knowledge of Him in every place!  When you enter a room, can people “smell” the presence of God in your life?

As we spend time in relationship with Him, seeking to KNOW Him more, people will sense it like a heavenly smell!  As they are in contact with me, I want them to get a sniff of His love, His healing, His kindness and power!  I want to “smell” like I’ve been with Jesus!

Do you “smell” like you’ve been with Jesus?

Fear…and Popcorn

By Cathy Spangler

“God has not given you a spirit of fear, but of power and love and a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7).

Fear is a pretty built-in thing.  We teach our kids to “fear” a hot stove or traffic.  Fear protects us from danger sometimes; in other words, it’s quite often healthy to be afraid.

So why does the Bible say, “Fear not” a jillion times?

Moments ago, I let my horse, Popcorn, out to pasture.  When I opened the gate, he looked at me like I was threatening him.  He snorted and backed up.  I realized then that my jacket was flopping in the wind and it was scaring him.  None of the other horses even noticed my jacket…they were just excited at the freedom of getting out.  After I softly encouraged him, my horse finally got the nerve to pass me and gallop away as fast as he could.

Popcorn is a 21-year old quarter horse gelding that I bought about 6 years ago.  He had “trust” issues when I first started riding him; he was always scared of something.  Once when my husband and I were on a trail ride, an automatic sprinkler came on near us – the kind that goes back and forth.  Popcorn was terrified and spun in a circle because I would not let him run away.  He tripped, fell, and pinned my leg under him.

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After an overnight hospital stay, I recovered.  But I realized that now I also had a problem with fear.  When I rode Popcorn and he got scared, I became scared, too.  A year later, Popcorn got spooked and fell down with me again!  I wasn’t hurt this time, but fear was something I had to master to even get on him. 

When I brought this whole issue to the LORD, He pointed out that my fear was not just relegated to riding Popcorn.  In fact, my fear was keeping Him from using me in different areas of my life.

I’m afraid to drive in cities.

I’m afraid I won’t be liked or effective.

I’m afraid to get up in front of people.

I’m afraid of conflict or confrontation.

It seemed like God was saying, “I tell you to ‘fear not’ because fear comes between us.  Your fear needs to be replaced by trust quickly or this spirit of fear will get a foothold.  It is robbing you of your power, your love, and your sound mind!  Get rid of your fear by stirring up your faith!”

Because of his continued fear, I can no longer ride Popcorn.  It is so disappointing!  That horse is a beautiful, sweet, little guy that I cannot use at all.  May it never be said of me that God loves me, but He can’t use me because of my overwhelming fear.  No – I’m repenting and renouncing my fears.  I am replacing fear with faith, and saying to myself every day, “I DO NOT HAVE a spirit of fear, but of POWER, LOVE and a SOUND MIND!”   

How about you?

Know What You Cannot Do – Fence Post #4

By Ed Stetzer

This is the fifth and final blog post in a series regarding pastors developing healthy boundaries in their ministry. I’m sharing four key points in the process, thinking of them as four fence posts around a healthy ministry.

I have already shared the first three “posts:” recognize your role in the church, pursue personal health, and guard your flock even from other Christians.

In a church I planted a few years ago, I knew going into it that boundaries were going to be vital as I was going to continue to work full-time at LifeWay Research. So, from the very beginning, my leadership team and I created my job description around those boundaries.

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Know Your Boundaries

The fourth post supporting a healthy ministry is knowing what you can and cannot do.

At that church plant there were three things and ONLY three things that I did: I met with the staff/apprentices, I preached about 70% of the time, and I led a small group in my home.

One of the benefits this boundary had brought to the church is that we were very clearly not a pastor-centered church. I was very upfront with my role in that church. I explained I could not do funerals, visits, phone calls, or meetings. This left the door wide open for our congregation to see areas of leadership where they were needed, and to respond accordingly.

Choose Boundaries Based on Your Situation, Church, and Gifting.

The question arises: why are those the three things? Because they were the three things that only I could do. My boundary may not look like your boundary. But, God called me to teach and preach and that is part of what I do.

Leading the small group was a really important component of my job description. It was mission-driven and it included several of my neighbors.

My small group gave me a personal, front-line connection with the people that we needed to reach. It prevented me from developing tunnel vision from just preaching and talking with the staff each week, while reminding me that I could not lead what I did not live.

The other major component that my small group brought me was regular personal interaction. As your church grows, you need to sacrifice some personal interaction. That can be tough because a lot of people go into pastoral ministry because they are passionate and good at gifts like serving, providing personal care, etc.

A person can’t care for people like this for a group much over 100. It’s why the typical median church size in America is under 100 people. Growing a church past that size means being willing to allow some of those close relationships to change and shift along the way.

A small group is a perfect venue to meet that need for pastoral care when your church has grown beyond your ability to provide that for the entire congregation. It’s where real shepherding and friendships can happen.

Being a pastor is a lonely business. You see a lot of people, but you aren’t in community with a lot of people. A small group is an integral part to solving this problem.

Be Clear and Consistent on What You Can and Cannot Do

The key to establishing this boundary is knowing what you can and cannot do. Churches will want you to do everything. You should do something, but you should do the right thing.

Typically, your “right thing” will line up with your gifts. Other areas are where you should bring others alongside you, and build a team. This team is what will truly help you to accomplish what God has called you to do as a leader.

When you establish these four fence posts – recognizing your role in the church, pursuing personal health, guarding your flock, and knowing what you can and cannot do – you will enable and encourage growth in yourself and your church. Without these four, you will more than likely experience ministry burn out and hinder the development of those under your care and the church as a whole.

You must be intentional about the long term viability of you, your family, your ministry and your church. If you are not, your boundaries will be compromised and your schedule will be full, but your body and spirit will be exhausted.

As you seek to lead a multiplying church, we’ve created some Mission Group tools to help you grow as a leader, break through growth barriers, and build rhythms of outreach. We love to serve pastors and church leaders.

This series of articles was originally published at: EdStetzer.com

Guard Your Flock, Even From Other Christians – Fence Post #3

By Ed Stetzer

This is the fourth blog post in a series (intro, fence post 1, fence post 2) regarding pastors developing healthy boundaries in their ministry. I’m sharing four key points in the process, thinking of them as four fence posts around a healthy ministry.

I have already shared the first two “posts:” recognize your role in the church and pursue personal emotional health.

The next may be the hardest to implement in our culture. Also, I imagine it will generate the most disagreement. However, I think it demonstrates a biblical approach to shepherding of a congregation, rather than turning the church into a place where a group of customers demand that their area of interest is paramount.

The third post supporting a healthy ministry is guarding your flock, even if it is from other Christians.

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It may seem ironic, but some of the people from whom you have to most tenaciously guard your church are other believers. If you don’t, the focus of the ministry is to respond to the special interests of customer Christians. And, that means your ministry (and its boundaries) will be focused on keeping customers happy—and no boundaries will exist.

I wrote about this in another blog post entitled, “Why I Have No Problem Helping Issue-Christians to Move On.”

The inspiration for the post came from an incident after a service at Grace Church, the church I planted and pastored while I worked full-time at LifeWay Research (something, by the way, that I could only do with a lot of boundaries).

I basically encouraged a first-time visitor who was clearly well-versed in Revelation prophecies (and enjoyed sharing his interpretations with everyone he met) to move on from our church and find another that was going to best meet his passions and beliefs.

Now, let me clarify my thinking behind my actions. If someone in my congregation came up to me after the service saying, “I’ve been doing some reading and I have some questions about prophecy. Could we talk about it?” I would take some time right there for discussion. But that clearly wasn’t the case.

This guy was obviously a pro. He actually told me that his friends call him the “Prophecy Terrorist.” This was his introduction—The Prophecy Terrorist. He didn’t have questions. He wanted to get inside my church to find someone who would give him the attention he desired. He wanted me to meet with him so he could debate me—and convince me.

And, I have boundaries. I don’t do that. And, I shepherded a congregation at that time that also had boundaries. We did not need the “Prophecy Terrorist” distracting us from our mission.

You may not have met the “Prophecy Terrorist,” but I bet you’ve met other issue-driven Christians. There are “issue Calvinists,” “issue Charismatics,” “issue homeschoolers,” “issue political Christians,” and the list goes on and on.

Your church is not a public square for people to debate and opine. It’s a place that you are to guard and shepherd. You create boundaries—both personally and congregationally.

People won’t like that, but if you allow your church to be a gathering of special interest groups, then your ministry will be built around keeping them happy. Or, keeping them apart. And, promising them attention that you then spend your life trying to fulfill.

There is a better way, though not everyone will like it.

Creating a healthy boundary for your church means knowing who you are as a church, where you are, where you’re going, and what that means for people who are outside of that. Your church is not the place for issue Christians who want to dominate your time to be given the freedom to do so. Save that time for counseling the hurting, not arguing with the agenda-driven.

On the other hand, I will welcome and talk to “issue non-Christians” all day long. If someone came up to me and said, “I’ve been reading Deepak Chopra and thinking about some deep thoughts.” I would sit down and talk with them in a heartbeat about what Jesus has to say about Deepak.

There is a big difference between the two.

Issue Christians want to get inside so they’ll have someone to give them attention, and it destroys the boundary. Issue non-Christians need to be brought inside so that they can hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The most important reality is that “Prophecy Terrorists” and other issue Christians are not going to stop walking with Jesus because they’re not in my church. They will find a place—probably a church (and a pastor) without boundaries.

If it is in your church, however, I’m guessing there are a lot of people who are going to be driven out, including some who need Jesus.

Boundaries are set up by shepherds. That’s the term that the Bible uses several places in Scripture. You must be a shepherd. Your church is not a voluntary society of opinion givers and special interest groups. It’s a body that needs to be in community with one another—served and led by shepherds, pastors, and leaders, focused on a common mission.

So, this is a touchy ministry fencepost, but an essential one. You and your church must recognize that the mission is more important than special interest groups. Your church needs boundaries so that it is focused on its mission and won’t be distracted from that. You need boundaries so that you won’t spend your time trying to keep “issue Christians” happy and placated.

Those boundaries will cost you a few people, but they will focus your church in powerful ways and free you to do ministry about the hurting that otherwise will be overlooked.

In the conclusion of this series, I will explain the fourth and final ministry fence post: know what you can and cannot do.

This series of articles was originally published at: EdStetzer.com