The Art of Turning

The World Cup is here! In the past eight years of our Spanish blog, that has meant that we have highlighted various nations and their cultures, while offering perspectives on the state of the Church in each country as well as some prayer requests. See, for example, Pamela Alvarado’s write-up on Ghana or Mario Josué López’s article on Croatia.

This year we will be doing things a bit differently. Every now and then during the next month we will be offering articles and sometimes videos dealing with different aspects (namely the “culture” side) of the World Cup.  So, to start us off, read this testimony by a former Premier League Player who God called to be a Pastor.  The following is an excerpt froma Christianity Today article originally published in June 2016.

By Gavin Peacock

One skill my dad taught me as a child was the art of turning with a soccer ball. I was never going to be tall, so he would take me into our backyard in Southeast London and teach me how to quickly switch directions with the ball at my feet. “The big guys won’t be able to catch you!” he said. For hours I would practice turning to the left and right, dribbling in and out of cones, spinning this way and that. My dad was right: the art of turning served me well. Many of the goals I scored in the years to come were a result of that lesson.

I was not brought up in a Christian home and never heard the gospel preached. Sunday school gave way to Sunday soccer. The most biblical form of instruction I received was in assemblies at the Church of England school that I attended. I was a kid who intensely wanted to achieve in the classroom and on the field. My father taught me the necessary self-control, discipline, and skills to succeed in education and in the professional sports arena.

At age 16, I left school and signed a professional contract with Premier League Queens Park Rangers (QPR). I had achieved the goal—and I wasn’t really happy. I was playing for the England Youth National Team, and it wasn’t long before I broke into the starting eleven at QPR. But I was an insecure young man in the cutthroat world of professional sport. Soccer was my god. If I played well on a Saturday I was high, if I played poorly I was low. My sense of well-being depended entirely on my performance. I soon realized that achieving the goal wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

calcio-rifondare.jpg

Turning to Christ

Then, when I was 18, God intervened in my life, the first of two dramatic turning points. I was still struggling to find purpose, so I decided to attend a local Methodist church one Sunday evening. I don’t remember what the minister preached on, but afterward he invited me to his house, where he and his wife hosted a weekly youth Bible study.

I decided to return to the Bible study the following week and the next, and I began to hear the gospel for the first time. I realized that my biggest problem wasn’t whether I met the disapproval of a 20,000-strong crowd on Saturday; my biggest problem was my sin and the disapproval of almighty God. I realized that the biggest obstacle to happiness was that soccer was king instead of Jesus, who provided a perfect righteousness for me. I realized what Augustine had expressed many years before in his Confessions: “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” Over time, my eyes were opened through that Sunday meeting, and I turned, repented, and believed the gospel. MY HEART STILL BURNED FOR SOCCER, BUT IT BURNED FOR CHRIST MORE.  

In professional sports, the highs and lows of life are extreme, very close together, and very public. The scrutiny is intense. Christian maturity is a slow process, but in the world of professional sport, your slow sanctification is on show. You can sign a lucrative contract one day, and your career could be finished by one tackle the next day. Those were thrilling and testing days, filled with massive highs and lows, cup finals and promotions, defeat and relegation. I experienced the full gamut as a believer.

Uncertainty plagues the professional soccer player. On one level the uncertainty and drama spur men on to play their best; on another level they cause deep insecurity. That used to be me as a young man, but as a Christian I now feared the Lord more than the crowd. Soccer wasn’t my idol anymore.

Turning to Ministry

A door opened after my retirement for a broadcasting career with the BBC, and it wasn’t long before I was covering weekly shows, like Match of the Day, for several million UK viewers. It was a job that found its apex at the 2006 World Cup. Yet shortly afterward the second turning point came: the call to pastoral ministry.

Until then I had always had opportunities for Christian witness as a soccer player and broadcaster, but never had the urge to preach. Then, while reading though the pastoral Epistles, I began to feel a strong desire to pursue pastoral ministry. My church affirmed the call, and after a period of testing, I knew I was going to give up a second dream career for ministry. In 2008, I left the shores of England. Within weeks I went from speaking on TV about David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo to writing papers on John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards.

All those years ago, my earthly father taught me the art of turning, but it was my heavenly Father who turned me first to Christ and then to preach his gospel. Turning from sin and trusting in Christ for salvation isn’t just a one-time initial event; it is the substance of the Christian life. This is a message the church needs to recover. And so, I continue to turn and teach others to turn.

Gavin Peacock is missions pastor at Calvary Grace Church in Alberta and coauthor of The Grand Design: Male and Female He Created Them.

Comparison is Stealing Your Joy – Part 2 of 2

*This is part two of the article published in the previous post.

As ministry leaders, the perfection impulse already looms large—resisting the desire to look, preach, lead, and think like other successful people is vital, but also quite difficult. Here are five practical tips for combating comparison in your life and ministry:

  1. Raise your awareness.

Fighting comparison requires having a clear picture of its presence in your life. For many of us, comparing ourselves to others is so second nature as to be practically invisible. Pay attention to your inner dialogue as you go through your routine for a couple of days and keep a simple tally of how often you compare yourself to someone else, whether it’s in person or online. The challenge is even catching yourself doing it! In the season of “perfect” holiday parties, gifts, meals, and experiences, the siren call of comparison is everywhere: “I could never,” “I will never,” “If only I had,” “If I were more,” “If I could do.” Become conscious of your brain’s litany of comparisons and take note of it. You might be surprised by the number of these messages your brain is regularly entertaining!

  1. Take a break from social media.

Fasting from social media requires some honest self-evaluation. You know how much time you spend on social media, and only you know how it affects you. For some of us, a cold turkey fast might be unrealistic, which sets you up for quick failure. Instead, limit yourself to only checking social media at certain times of the day—preferably not first thing in the morning or last thing before going to bed. Replace your phone checking habit with something else if it proves too tempting—read a book or an interesting article, or listen to a song. For many of us, checking our phones has become muscle memory, so this is going to take serious effort. Don’t let that stop you!

  1. Ask for positive reinforcement.

Sit down with someone you are close to, and ask him or her to talk to you about your strengths. This might sound like an odd request, but most of us can very easily list off our weaknesses yet stumble when it comes to listing our strengths. Ask a friend, spouse, or family member to sit down and do this with you, and return the favor—chances are they need to hear it, too. Record their words, or take notes—seriously! This will be a great reminder during times when your focus may be on all the ways you believe you are coming up short. Come back to your list when you find yourself in a comparison rut.

  1. Rethink your perceived weaknesses.

Consider Paul’s reflections: “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Cor. 12:8–9). The idea of perfection we keep in our minds might be causing us to perceive individual character traits as weaknesses, or fail to see where God can use our actual weaknesses.

762425161-home-office-navegar-internet-sms-estudiar.jpg

For example, I am a processing thinker, and frequently need time to think things through before I respond. During a meeting, I am usually not the most verbal person when discussing a topic, but will reliably have a very well-considered verdict an hour or two later. In the past, I have considered my “slow” brain to be a flaw, and envied the people in the room who could immediately respond. Over time, however, I came to see that a strong team has both kinds of thinkers, and dearly needs people who will think through things from all angles—not just give first impressions. After meetings, I now send emails beginning with, “After giving this some thought,” and I provide additional points the group may not have considered, which generate further productive conversation. God can use your “less than ideal” to make your teams stronger.

  1. Consider the whole body.

Regularly take some time to meditate on the body of Christ and your place in it. Print out a copy of 1 Corinthians 12. Read through it a couple of times, highlighting verses and phrases that speak to you. Write those verses on a notecard, placing it somewhere you will see it often. I have written verses 18 and 19 out—“God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be?”—and stuck it on the mirror in my room as a reminder.

Kringel tells of a time God spoke to her about not leaning on others in her life. “It’s called the body of Christ and the family of God for a reason. If I would have created you so you didn’t need the gifts that other people have, then I would have put them all in you. But I didn’t, I dispersed them. So in order for you to be all that I called you to be, you have to utilize the gifts of everybody else.” God made us to need each other. If we had all the gifts we wanted, we wouldn’t need anyone!

Ultimately, each of these tips should help us toward the biggest antidote to comparison, which is simply resting in Christ. After Peter asked, “Lord, what about him?” with a nod to John, Jesus replied, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me” (John 21:22). The temptations and opportunities to compare ourselves are everywhere and constant—and still Jesus says to us, “What is that to you? Follow me!”

This article was originally published at: Christianity Today

Comparison is Stealing Your Joy – Part 1 of 2

By Amanda Fowler

There are so many cautionary tales in the Bible about comparison—beginning with the very beginning. The serpent in the garden suggests to Eve that she compare herself to God. If only she will eat fruit from this one tree, it tells her, she could be like God in her knowledge of good and evil. The stories of Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers, Saul and David, and so many more illustrate the extremes of what can happen when people compare themselves to others, falling prey to jealousy and envy. Even the disciples were not immune, jockeying for positions at Jesus’ right and left hand. And Peter’s last recorded words to Jesus in the Gospel of John are, “Lord, what about him?” after hearing an unsettling word about his own future.

_92160833_mediaitem92160832.jpg

Of course, all of the comparisons we read about in Scripture happened in real time. Imagine if King Saul had been able to scroll through David’s Instagram feed—each perfectly staged, tagged, and filtered photo more infuriating than the last. Think of Peter wondering why John posted so many selfies with Jesus, all hash-tagged #beloveddisciple. Envision Martha glancing between the vivid, mouth-watering image at the top of a pinned Pinterest recipe and the not-so-picturesque dish she was about to serve her honored guest.

The internet and social media are wonderful in many respects, connecting us in unparalleled ways. But studies have shown we are growing less content with our own lives as we consume a near constant stream of images, status updates, articles, recipes, party decor suggestions, how-to videos, and self-improvement tips from others. Comparison is one of the signature elements of our fallen humanity—social media didn’t create the problem, but it has certainly amplified its power.

Beyond the visual, relational, and material information in our social media feeds, the most dangerous forms of comparison happen when we look at the gifts of others with longing—and on our own gifts with disdain. This kind of comparison is most insidious, as it takes the beautiful image of the body of Christ, with all its diversity, and turns it into a discontented mass of people, each wishing they were like someone else.

I spoke to Pastor Maria Kringel, who serves and leads at Life Church in Roscoe, Illinois alongside her pastor husband, about the presence of comparison in the roles she plays. A mother of four and a health coach, Kringel acknowledges her fight against comparison is an ongoing journey she will probably always face. Yet, she recently found new strength to push back by refusing to let the idea of perfection rule her. “I finally broke through and got to a point where I don’t care. There’s always a voice saying, what would this person do? How would they handle this situation? Well, who cares? I don’t live for their approval anyway, and if I try to be like them, I don’t get to be me. It shuts down who God made me to be.” Of social media’s role in persisting comparison, Kringel says, “It steals so much. It’s such a strong pull. You think in your head that all these people have it perfectly together, but in truth they really don’t—you’re only seeing the highlights.”

One way Kringel decided to fight against this as a church leader is to intentionally be more authentic, both from the pulpit and in her social media posts. Rather than only posting the positive and perfect, for example, she writes honestly of a hard day with her son Isaiah, who has cerebral palsy. She finds not just acceptance from congregants, but also gratitude. “People are so hungry for real authenticity. In ministry, they can’t identify with a lot of us because we have this image of perfection.”

*This article will continue in the next post.

Trickle-Down Evangelism

By Jeff Christopherson

Are disciples becoming disciple-makers?

Does trickle-down evangelism work? If we feed the disciple enough, will he or she become a powerhouse warrior for the Kingdom of God?

sequia-mexico.jpg

Here’s the version you’re most likely to hear: “We have to focus on our people. So many of them are immature and in desperate need of spiritual instruction. If we prioritize the growth and maturity of our people then that will have a trickle-down impact on their passion and ability to live on mission and share the gospel.” And so we design our churches for growth, consciously or unconsciously, through this filter.

This rationale at first seems prudent, but far too often the stated goal never comes to fruition. Rather than passionate, mobilized, mature believers, the church’s efforts end up fostering an inwardly-focused people who are increasingly isolated from the world they are commissioned to reach. Instead of a kingdom warrior, our trickle-down efforts seem only to muster an isolated, insulated, and evangelistically impotent churchman.

In reality, the longer it takes for new disciples to become disciple-makers, the more unlikely it is they will prioritize this work. Over time, the gravitational pull of their new relationships in the church will extract them from their relationships with others who are far from God and his church. The stronger the signal that church sends of ‘come and see’ over ‘go and tell,’ the less likely personal evangelism will ever take place. What’s worse, the more the pastor is observed as a ‘teller’ rather than ‘doer,’ the less likely the flock will be personally engaged in the work of evangelism.

So the trickle-down evangelism theory suffers from two fatal flaws: it creates a busy leadership that in their busyness become largely evangelistically unengaged; and, in our unending efforts to ‘equip,’ we have unintentionally isolated the mission force from the mission field.

New Believers and Evangelism

That’s why it’s vital that we create structures to unleash new believers into the harvest immediately after conversion. Writing to the church in Corinth, Paul reminds believers that all those who have been reconciled to God through Christ have been entrusted with the message of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:16–21). This work isn’t for those who have crossed a certain threshold of sanctification; it is a mission given to all those who’ve trusted in Jesus for their salvation. “God saves and sends” isn’t a trite cliché; rather, it is the two-fold pattern God uses throughout Scripture and history to foster his missionary work in the world.

The temporal link between saving and sending maximizes the potential evangelistic impact and builds life rhythms that foster evangelistic intentionality throughout the new believer’s maturation process.

First, those who have recently come to faith are far more likely to live, learn, work, and play with those who are far from God and his church. Their previous patterns of life were likely infused with those in need of seeing and hearing the gospel. Not only are they in relationship with the lost, but these relationships are the prime context to model the transformation that the gospel brings.

Who better to notice the change of thought and practice that follows conversion than those friends who have seen the fruit of unrighteousness that once defined a person’s life? Since the relational bridge to these relationships is already in place, it is wise to immediately leverage them for the sake of the gospel.

Second, this level of evangelistic intentionality creates rhythms that should define the life of anyone seeking to walk faithfully with Christ. The malaise and apathy toward evangelism that far too often characterizes God’s church is likely attributable to the fact that many new believers internalized their church’s priorities which failed to engage them in evangelism early in their Christian walks.

As a result, in order for evangelistic fervor to mark God’s church once again, they must unlearn all sorts of habits that seem to imply that evangelism is an arbitrary add-on to an otherwise sufficient Christian life. Linking saving and sending allows the church to build healthy practices from the outset, rather than expecting healthy rhythms to mystically emerge after long contradictory patterns have already been forged.

This mindset need not imply that it’s unnecessary to equip and train believers to maturity. What’s at issue isn’t this laudable goal, but the pursuit of discipleship in a way that is disconnected from the work of evangelism. We can’t expect that an extracted disciple’s growth in maturity will trickle-down to a waiting harvest no matter the quality and quantity of the sacred buffet that we offer.

After all, if disciple-making is the assignment that Jesus gave his church, then evangelism really isn’t finished until the evangelized find themselves as evangelists and disciplers.

This article was originally published at: Christianity Today

Wanted: New Church Methods For New Church People

By Karl Vaters

Changing the world with the Gospel of Jesus is less likely to happen using traditional methods with every passing year.

There’s nothing wrong with traditional methods of doing church. As long as you want to minister to traditional church members. Traditionalists (whatever your tradition may be) need places to worship, learn and be discipled. Too many of them have felt overlooked, even ridiculed, in recent years as many churches have rushed to make changes.

But, the traditional church member is dying out…literally.

If we truly want to change the world with the Gospel of Jesus, that is less likely to be done using traditional church methods with every passing year.

Traditional Church Methods Will Only Attract Traditional Church People

We need new ways of doing church. It’s ironic that I’m the guy saying say this. For at least two reasons.

First, I’m one of the traditional guys. A middle-aged, third generation pastor of a brick-and-mortar church with a mortgage and a full-time salary. Sure, the church I pastor has a slightly younger demographic than the average. And yes, we started dressing casually before most churches did. But if the sight of church members wearing jeans while sipping a coffee as they listen to the sermon feels radical – well, that’s just one evidence of how non-radical we really are.

Second, as a traditional church guy, I have no idea what I’m asking for. None. What would a truly God-breathed, Bible-honoring, life-transforming, people-reaching, radical change in the way we do church look like? I have no idea. But I do know this. We’re not just looking at one idea or one new way to do church. We need to be open to a whole lot of new ideas and new ways to do church. The days of landing on one particular church format, then promoting it as the right way to do church can’t end soon enough.

millennials-960x640.jpg

Future Church Possibilities

Actually, there are a handful of principles that I think are likely to become more common in the next few years. I think the new, dynamic church is likely to be

  • Meeting in smaller, rather than bigger groups, even in big cities
  • In non-traditional sites
  • Locally grown and less generic
  • More hands-on in mission and outreach
  • More focused on relationship building
  • Highly adaptable, even experimental
  • Passionately focused on the core truths of God’s Word

At least I hope so.

Unfortunately, it’s also very likely that, while these new ways of doing church will be met with joy and relief by some, they will be met with skepticism and anger by many.

Step Up and Stand Out

If you’re crazy in love with Jesus and want to help other people fall crazy in love with Jesus, but you can’t figure out how to do that in a traditional local church setting, here’s my suggestion.

Stop trying to fit in.

Start standing out.

Start ministering the unchangeable truths of Jesus in ways that make sense for the people God is calling you to minister to, even if they’re the kinds of people who won’t come to a traditional church. Don’t worry about all the naysayers who will condemn you just because what you’re doing is different.

The church could use a boatload of different right now.

And I’m not the only old, traditional church guy who will be cheering you on, either. There are a lot of us. We may not know how to do it ourselves, but maybe we can be like Simeon and Anna. Maybe we can recognize Jesus when he shows up at the temple in a way no one else expected.

After all, the only “right” way to do church is any way that reaches people for Jesus.

This article was originally published at: Christianity Today.

 

Tell a Good Story When You Preach/Teach – Part 2 of 2

This is part two of the article published in the previous post.

Illustrations that Connect

This is why illustrations matter. Illustrations help to place us in the story. But illustrations that invite us in need to be something we can actually imagine. Most of us did not fight Nazis in World War II. If you ask us to place ourselves in that story, we will always imagine ourselves as the hero—hiding Jews in our basement and standing up to the SS or giving bread to the hungry soldier from the other side.

But many of us can more realistically imagine ourselves fighting with a sibling over the remote control, or, in later years, fighting about where the extended family will have the reunion, or who should tell Dad it’s time to stop driving, or who gets the dining room table when parents have died. We won’t imagine ourselves the hero in these stories because we probably haven’t been. What we need in a story about our siblings is some idea about what to do next—what it would really look like for us to be like Christ, not in some French village in 1942, but in the family room today or on the phone tomorrow.

Because we know that illustrations help our hearers place themselves in the story, we preachers and teachers can spend a great deal of time searching for the perfect illustration: the story that ties to the Scripture passage, is just the right length, and moves us easily to the next point. This is why there are books of illustrations available to buy and websites eager for you to subscribe to their ideas. But canned illustrations usually taste that way: the essence of a good story, but lacking in color and tang.

The strongest illustrations are drawn from the life of the church and ministry itself. If you start a sentence with “This week in the Bible study, Ben mentioned…” or “Nancy, the chair of our church board, invited me to join her on a benevolence visit this week, and…” heads are going to go up. People are going to pay attention. Ben said something interesting in Bible study? What happened on the benevolence visit? 

Suddenly the life of the church has made it into the sermon. Someone was paying attention to things that happen every week. This wasn’t a once-in-a-lifetime event. Bible study happens every week. Board members visit people all the time. This was regular life being called out as an example of kingdom living. The illustration wasn’t theoretical, distant, or abstract. It was personal, relatable, accessible, and relevant. That gets people’s attention.

This also means we need to pay attention. If you have read and studied your text early in the week, keep watch for the rest of that week: notice anything that could link this text to the lives of these people. An exchange with the server at lunch. A magazine article. A song on the radio. Another passage of Scripture. A great quote on social media. As the week goes on, write these things down. Even if it is only remotely connected to what you’re preaching or teaching about, record it. You never know how the Spirit may use it.

preachers-toolkit-how-long-should-it-take-me-to-prepare-a-sermon.jpg

A Word of Caution

One important note: Always ask permission. If Ben says something in Bible study that catches your attention, mention it to him afterward and see if he’s okay with you using it and if he wants credit. Say something like, “I loved what you said about verse 5. I may be able to use that on Sunday—would it be okay if I mentioned your name?” Don’t promise that you’re going to use the illustration. We all know that what looks perfect Wednesday morning may not fit when we are finishing the sermon or lesson on Saturday night.

We also know that some brilliant illustrations hit us at 6 a.m. Sunday morning, and we don’t always have time to check with the person before we preach or teach. But if they don’t know you are going to use them, don’t use them. The use of others in illustrations is an opportunity for us as pastors and teachers to care well for people. We want them to look good in illustrations, and we want them to feel safe at church. Respect their wishes if they do not want to be used, or offer to change their name or the details of the event if that makes them more amenable to the idea. But if they decline, honor that. Think of your use of illustrations as an opportunity to build trust with your congregation.

This article was originally posted at: Christianity Today

Tell a Good Story When You Preach/Teach – Parte 1 de 2

By Mary S. Hulst

How to teach in a way that connects, compels, and builds trust.

TellaGoodStory.jpg

My stepsons come barging in the door after seeing a movie with their dad. They are laughing and talking and quoting lines from the movie as they scour the cupboards for snacks.

“How was the movie?”

“It was really good! So funny.”

Then I ask this question: “What was it about?”

I usually get a play-by-play of the story line, with one of them talking over the other to clarify a point in the plot. They tell me about the actors and the cars and the funny parts. They tell me who won in the end and if this one was better than the other one that was kind of like this one but starred that other guy. All of this is said through mouthfuls of cheddar and sour cream potato chips, of course.

Never, in all the times they have told me about movies, has either one ever looked at me and said, “I can’t remember. There was this guy, and maybe he was a detective or something, and he had a car. Something blew up. I don’t know.”

They always know. The can always remember. They can always tell me. That’s the power of a story. We can remember a movie because someone is telling us a story. The story begins with people who need something, or something happens to them, or there is the promise of love, the threat of global extinction, or an epic battle between good and evil. The story unfolds as the characters respond to whatever comes their way. A good story draws us in because we want to know how it turns out: Did the accused commit the crime? Do the aliens wipe out life on earth? Does the girl find love? 

Our challenge as preachers and teachers is that almost everyone who listens to us knows how the story turns out. God is in the still, small voice. The boy kills the giant. Jesus heals the blind man. Thomas professes faith. Paul, once again, tells people what to do. Yawn. Why should our people keep listening if they know how this is going to end? There is a problem. God solves it. Take the offering.

We need to create tension, or we need to acknowledge the tension that is already there. Because although most of our hearers know how the Bible stories turn out, they don’t know how their stories are turning out. They can’t read to the end of their books. All of us—preachers and pew sitters—listen to the words of the Bible and think, Is it true? Does it matter? Will it happen for me?

That’s the tension. Is this truth for me? Is this God really God for me? Are my sins really forgiven, and how would I know? Does a life of obedience really matter when it’s costing me so much?

And there is our hook. Everyone walks into church hoping, praying, begging for something to be said or sung that will help them, comfort them, assure them, and sometimes challenge them, convict them, or push them. To put it simply: they want to see themselves in the story.

This article will continue in the next post.