Great Leaders Think Small

By Gustavo Crocker

In a well-known story, D. L. Moody was asked how the night’s evangelistic meeting had gone. His celebrated response was, “We had two and a half conversions.” His interviewer responded, “You mean two adults and one child?” “No,” Moody replied, “two children and one adult. The adult only has half his life left to follow Christ. The children have their entire lives to do so.”

This exchange reminds me of the inclination to think about children as “not-yet participants in the kingdom of God.” This cannot be further from the truth! Great leaders think of children as essential players in God’s kingdom and God’s plan of reconciliation. They see them as central to their mission.

Jesus used children to illustrate some of the greatest truths about the kingdom of God. Jesus reminded the disciples that not only are children a model of faith to enter the Kingdom, but we are required to examine ourselves on how we welcome children in our midst.

What does it mean to put children in the middle?

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Matthew records the disciples discussing greatness in the kingdom of heaven. Before Jesus responded, He painted a vivid metaphor in leadership: He placed a child in their midst. Putting children in the middle means that we cannot think of children as peripheral. True leadership conversation must start with the perspective that children matter and are at the core of God’s plan of redemption.

Children are a model of faith. Jesus’ bold response to the disciples highlights the damaging power of “growing up” (Matthew 18). “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Child-like faith is absolutely necessary to enjoy the fullness of the riches of His kingdom. A child’s faith is unspoiled, genuine, and unbiased. As children grow older, their faith, already tainted by the Adamic propensity to sin, becomes spoiled by the agnostic, materialistic, self-centered societies that shape and train them. As our faith becomes sophisticated, we begin to question even the most evident truths. To enjoy the rich, unadulterated blessing of God’s kingdom, we must become like children.

Children are the most ripe and ready mission field. Around the world, in any country or culture, more than three-fourths (75 percent) of adults now filling our churches received Christ between the ages of 4 and 18. Missiologists have defined this group age as the 4/14 window, the world’s most ripe yet unreached people group.

Unfortunately, we think of them as “ways to attract their parents,” “a drain on our budgets and programs,” “a distraction to our solemn services,” or even as “non-productive entities who do not vote and who do not give.” The disciples were in the same boat. Matthew 19 narrates another event with Jesus and children. As people brought their children to Jesus for Him to pray and bless them, the disciples rebuked the parents. Jesus’ response was emphatic: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Do not hinder children. You were one of them.

Throughout church history, theologians and practitioners have discussed the “reliability of the faith of a child.” Well-intentioned leaders, infected by the “grown-up bug,” question the validity of a child’s conversion. To them, D. L. Moody responded: “It is a masterpiece of the devil to make us believe that children cannot understand religion. Would Christ have made a child the standard of faith if He had known that it was not capable of understanding His words?”

Children are the most prolific mission field. Harvest it!

Children can be agents of God’s mission. We cannot stop at ministering to children and youth only. Great leaders invest in children and youth as agents of the transforming mission of God. Children and youth are capable of sharing the love of Christ to their relatives, friends, and social networks and leading others to join them in their faith.

The Scripture is full of stories of children and youth used by God to accomplish His mission:

…a trafficked child, Joseph, brought hope to his people…

…a shepherd boy, David, defeated a giant and became king of Israel …

…a young minister, Samuel, led God’s people while serving in times of dryness and desperation…

…an anonymous, well-prepared boy provided resources for Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the five thousand…

…and Jesus Himself, while still a young boy, declared His commitment to the Father’s business…

It was said by the prophet Isaiah: “…and a little child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11:6).

Great leaders express their greatness by thinking small. We must focus on the child in our midst.

The Reformation(s) of the Church

*During the month of October we will be focusing on the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

By Charles W. Christian

Looking back on the Protestant Reformation reminds us of God’s continual desire to be in right relationship with His Church. 

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Reformation before Luther

Though the catalyst to the series of events known today as the Protestant Reformation was sparked in 1517 by Martin Luther’s posting of his 95 theses to the church doors at Wittenburg, the Church had long before been engaged in the process of reformation. In fact, one could argue that ever since the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, God has been reforming. The Church continues its process of reformation today.

The coming of Jesus and the new Kingdom He embodied was a clarification of the reform that God had been attempting throughout the Old Testament. Even after the resurrection of Jesus, the disciples felt the need for ongoing reform. The experience of Pentecost in Acts 2 assisted the Church in carrying out the admonition of Jesus (Matthew 28) to “go into all the world,” because the Kingdom of God defies societal limitations and borders.

The work of God among the Gentiles through the ministries of Peter and Paul added another dimension of reform, culminating in key agreements among early church leaders in Acts 15. Through the words of Paul and other writers, the rest of the New Testament demonstrates a variety of “mini-reforms” needed among a growing and changing constituency. God lovingly and consistently reforms the Church.

The “next generation” believers, commonly referred to as the Church Fathers and Mothers, experienced a myriad of reformation opportunities, the best known of which were the Ecumenical Councils and the formulation of creeds in the first eight centuries of the Church’s history. These steps toward reformation led to unity among several groups, but also resulted in schisms. Most notably, the Eastern and Western branches of the Church (the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic groups, respectively) experienced an official schism in 1054 A.D.

On Luther’s Doorstep and Beyond

Around the time of Martin Luther, the stage had been set for a particularly earth-shaking renewal. A century before Luther, for example, a Czech priest and professor named Jan Hus (1369-1415) had been put to death for writings and protests regarding the actions of key church leaders. In fact, after Luther posted his 95 theses, many began referring to Luther as a “modern Huss-ite.” Many factors surrounding Luther’s contribution to reformation in the early sixteenth century, such as his education, the invention of Gutenburg’s printing press, and Luther’s powerful friends, allowed Luther’s message to transcend the confines of his village and of Germany and become a key catalyst of reforms already taking place throughout the world. From there came other movements: Calvinists, Arminians, Anabaptists, Quakers, Puritans, and Wesleyans, just to name a few.

This article was originally posted at: Holiness Today

 

Heart of God: Parable of the Mustard Seed

By Howard Culbertson

Though [a mustard seed] is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” — Matthew 13:32

Matthew 13 contains over half a dozen of Jesus’ parables about the Kingdom.  Jesus opens with the parable of the sower.  Then, He talks about an infestation of weeds, a mustard seed, yeast, hidden treasure, a valuable pearl, a fishing net and a homeowner.

To explain the mustard seed parable, Pastor Leo Hartshorn uses only eight words: “A handful of disciples become a worldwide church.”  That the Kingdom of God is going to be large is without question a central point of the mustard seed analogy. There is, however, one detail in it which gets little attention: the birds.

The transformation of a mustard seed into a giant bush emphasizes the Kingdom’s organic, continually expanding aspect. What those birds emphasize is that the Kingdom is open to all. Unfortunately, if people think about the birds at all, they see them as “window dressing” or as simply an indication of how big the bush is.

Sadly, that misses the point of the birds. Here, as in a similar scenario in Ezekiel 17, birds represent various people groups. Jesus mentioned birds to say that the Kingdom is not just for “my kind” of people (those who think, act and speak just like me).  The Kingdom is for all kinds of birds!

Bird watchers say that the land of Israel is a paradise for them.  Indeed, it is. In that fairly small area — 70 miles wide and 270 miles long — more than 400 species of birds have been sighted.  That is because the area where Jesus lived and ministered is a main bird migration route to and from Europe and Asia to the north and Africa to the south.

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In light of that, the “birds of the air” (in King James and English Standard version wording) surely means more than a few sparrows or starlings. Palestine had 70 indigenous bird species.  With those different kinds of birds around, plus all the migratory fowl passing through, wasn’t Jesus likely trying to get us to think about how inclusive the Kingdom of God is?

Furthermore, the birds illustrate that the Kingdom is beckoning to all peoples.  Where the King James version speaks of “perching,” translations like the New Living and New American Standard use “nesting.”  The Kingdom thus is to become a “home.” “Nesting” means that the Kingdom we proclaim is something that is inviting and attractive.

The inclusiveness portrayed in the mustard seed parable evokes for me words I have sung often: “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world.  Red and yellow, black and white . . .”

The wonderful thing for us is that we get to point all the different “birds” (peoples of the world) toward that extraordinary tree called the Kingdom of God!