Showing posts with label Church Leadership. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Church Leadership. Show all posts

09 February 2016

Here be giants

A few days ago I watched a Louie Giglio presentation at a friend's home. He was talking about 'giants' in people's lives, issues that they struggle with but have not been able to completely subdue. Louie Giglio used Goliath to teach that 'giants must fall', but I think there's a much deeper meaning in the David and Goliath story.

Dwarfs and giants are real, by the way. Not so often today because of hormonal treatments that can control a person's growth. The photo shows Robert Wadlow (right) and his father (left). Robert reached almost nine feet in height; he was immensely strong and was still growing until his death in 1940.

Robert Wadlow
Robert Wadlow
Personal or corporate? - At first sight it seems that Goliath, slain by David, is a great illustration of the personal battles we face as individuals. And we heard that David represents Jesus so, like the Israelite army, I am not the one who defeats my giant - Jesus is. I'm sure Giglio is right to point this out, but I am equally sure that Goliath represents a giant that threatens, not just individuals, but the entire church.

Goliath (and several other giants in the same period) did not come to defeat individual Israelite soldiers. Goliath came to defeat the entire army and, indeed, the whole nation. He shouted defiance against Yahweh (the god of Israel) and he threatened the gathered people of Israel. I suggest that there are giants defying the Most High in our day, and threatening the church. And just as David won the entire war by defeating Goliath (1 Samuel 17:9), so will Jesus have a mighty victory when he brings down the defiant, threatening giants of our day. Let's unwrap this a bit more.

The giants - Let's think about these giants. They are very big issues that the church has developed during her long history, they mislead us and are strong and powerful, difficult to identify and shake off. The people are afraid to tackle them; these giants defy the Almighty and they cause confusion and doubt. Can we identify any of these giants? I have some preliminary ideas that I will share, but there are likely to be others I haven't identified.

The leadership giant - I believe one such giant is our great misunderstanding of church leadership. I am not referring to people here, but to an idea. The giant is not a bad church leader, he is a wrong view of what it means to lead in church. Jesus clearly said that he is the only teacher and master we need, and that we are to be absolutely humble and loving (Matthew 23:8-12, John 13:1-17, John 17:21). Yet the church is full of many leaders - bishops, elders, pastors, vicars, priests, deacons, apostles, evangelists and so forth. The problem is that we have forgotten that we have one head, Christ himself, and we are not to rule over one another. To look to others to lead us is to defy the will of the Father expressed in and through the Son. There are leaders in church life, but they don't look like the leaders I'm referring to here. For more on leaders, see Jesus, Disciple, Mission, Church (JDMC), especially the sections on The APEST gifts and Other leaders.

The denominational giant - Another giant opposing the will of the Most High regarding church is the dreadfully divided state we are in. Paul criticised the Corinthians for being divided (1 Corinthians 3), and as the centuries have passed things have just gone from bad to worse. Denominations sometimes cooperate with one another, and that's great as far as it goes, but it's not the same as being one. Jesus calls us to be one 'as I and the Father are one' (John 17:20-23), Think about that for a moment. Can it be said to be true for the church today? If not, surely we're guilty of disobedience? Paul writes about one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism (Ephesians 4:1-6). Some denominations even regard themselves as the one true church. If this is so, what do they think about all the others?

Wrong thinking about mission - Mostly, the church focuses on evangelism. When we think about outreach we think about sharing the gospel. But read Jesus' words in Matthew 28:18-20. Where does he mention the gospel or evangelism? He does, however, say that he has all power and authority, that we should make disciples everywhere and that he will be with us as we do it. The evangelism giant prevents us from doing what we have been clearly told. Let's try being and making disciples as Jesus commands, evangelism will happen along the way. (See the JDMC section on Becoming Disciples.)

Other giants - Are there more giants than these three? Undoubtedly, though three is probably more than enough to consider right now. The great difficulty with these giants is that we are so used to them that we no longer really see them. These giants are almost invisible, or we are so nearly blind and deaf that we neither see Goliath nor hear his daily challenge to us.

We need to ask our 'David', who is the same Jesus who said, 'Go in my name, make disciples, and I'll be with you', to demolish these giants for us.

Perhaps it's significant that David felled Goliath with a smooth river pebble. Jesus is more than a pebble, he is the very bedrock on which his church is built. And it's worth mentioning that he doesn't call us to build it. He did tell us that he would build it.

31 March 2014

The Black Swan Effect - A new book

Felicity Dale is a woman and a church leader; in some circles that combination would be a real no-no. As part of her busy life, Felicity is an active author and a blogger at Simply Church. Her latest book, 'The Black Swan Effect', examines the arguments around women and church leadership.

Felicity Dale
Felicity Dale
Here are some questions about the book, with great answers from Felicity.

The Black Swan Effect is an unusual title. Why did you choose it?
The title comes from a story in the introduction to the book. Back in 16th century London, people had never seen a black swan, and so the term came to mean something impossible, a bit like a unicorn. Then in 1696, a Dutch explorer discovered a whole species of black swans in Western Australia. So the meaning of the term changed. It symbolized something that once was thought impossible but is now known to be possible, even commonplace.

All it took was one black swan to change people’s minds forever. Similarly, all it takes is one Phoebe, one Junia, one Deborah, one Esther to prove that God uses women in his Kingdom in all kinds of roles, including leadership.

Who wrote the book?
There are 14 contributing authors, both men and women. They come from many different backgrounds and church traditions. Between us we have written more than 50 books. Each of us writes from his or her own passion and expertise into a specific area. The whole is woven together to form a single narrative.

What do you hope to achieve through the book?
For too long women have been held back because of church tradition and a few challenging Scriptures that stand against the general tenor and trend of the Bible as a whole. We long to see men and women working together, as equals, side by side, for the sake of the Kingdom [Tweet it!]. This will take men being willing to champion women as they boldly break through the barriers that have held them back. And it will take women daring to step out and follow the Holy Spirit as he leads them into roles where they’ve never gone before.

Who might be interested in a book such as this?
We think three different groups of people would have a specific interest in this book:

Many Christians—both men and women—have come to the conclusion that there is no better way to double the size of God’s missions workforce than to fully deploy women to use their spiritual gifts and God-given capacities.

Others are asking theological questions. They are investigating how the Bible portrays women, especially women leaders. Were the New Testament writers—in particular, the Apostle Paul—misogynists? Are there alternative interpretations for some of the really difficult passages of Scripture? 

Still others who enter this discussion are drawn to it because of issues related to justice and human dignity. They want to know why some religions undermine the worth of women, why many churches are not equal opportunity employers, and why Christians are not engaging more with issues such as sex trafficking and global female infanticide. As they study Scripture, they can’t even imagine a God who would discriminate against women.

What kind of questions does the book raise?
We are not afraid to ask the right questions with a right heart at the right time. That’s not the same as saying we come up with answers to all of them!

Here are a few of the questions we air:
  • Does God like men more than women?
  • Has God ever used a woman to change the course of history?
  • What about those troublesome verses?
  • Who leads better—men or women?
  • Are women ever their own worst enemy?
  • Why is gender such a big deal in many cultures?
How can people get hold of the book?
The book is due to be published on 5th April. You should be able to find it on Amazon and elsewhere from that date.


Questions:

  • What are your personal views on women and church leadership?
  • Have you read any of Felicity's earlier books?
  • Which of her answers above do you find most interesting - and why?

See also:

06 August 2013

Gifts, prayer and needs

Leaders in the church, Part 13
< Some issues to grapple with | Index | No later items >

As we grow in living the way Jesus calls us to, we become examples for those around us, those coming next. If we live wrongly and make bad choices we will mislead others and that would be a fearful thing.

Bread of life
Bread of life
It's becoming clear to me that everything in Matthew's Gospel is of value to all believers and also to all leaders. In other words there is nothing here so far that applies only to leaders or only to followers.

Instead, the pattern is a progression, from new believer to disciple and from disciple to leader. As we learn and grow we should all aspire to guide and encourage and build those around us. Even at the earliest disciple stage we can do what Jesus' followers did; bring more people to Jesus.

We need to learn to exercise ourselves in these activities, bringing people into Jesus' presence, helping them to grow as disciples, and continuing to grow in the process ourselves. In a sense there is no distinction between leader and follower; we are, without exception, called to be both.

Giving and praying - So here in Matthew 6:1-4 we see Jesus speaking about giving to those who have insufficient and doing it secretly without show or boasting. And in Matthew 6:5-15 he tells them that it's the same for prayer. Pray privately, just between yourself and the Father. Nor is it about fancy words, the most striking thing about the prayer Jesus taught them is its simplicity. Even so, each of those simple words is loaded with meaning and significance. This is not a prayer for those who do not mean business!

Again, fasting is not for show but to be done secretly (Matthew 6:16-18).

Focussing on heaven - Matthew 6:19-24 shows how Jesus wants us to focus on heaven, not earth; to be full of light, not darkness; and to serve the Almighty, not material things.

And we are not to be anxious about food, drink, clothes or time (Matthew 6:25-34). Instead we must search for the kingdom of the Most High and for his righteousness.

By doing all these things we will become living books that people can safely follow. 'Do what I do' needs to consistently bring people right into the places where Jesus is present.

Questions:

  • If I do not give to those in need or those who ask, how will this affect my friends' understanding of Jesus?
  • Can you list some ways in which secret prayer is better than public prayer?
  • Now list the ways in which public prayer is better than secret prayer.
  • How will this affect the way you pray in future?

See also:


< Some issues to grapple with | Index | No later items >

10 July 2013

Some issues to grapple with

Leaders in the church, Part 12
< Back to front truth | Index | Gifts, prayer and needs >

Speaking to his disciples, Jesus stresses the importance of avoiding anger, lust, divorce and swearing; he also tells them how important it is to be selfless. He was speaking to leaders in training and it's important that we understand these things are especially significant when we lead.

An angry man
An angry man
Matthew 5:21-42 records some of Jesus' teaching about negative things - anger, lust, swearing oaths and retaliation. After these are dealt with he continues with some positive essentials.

As we pay attention to what he says about both negative and positive, we should bear in mind that he is speaking here to leaders in training, the followers he will later send out to work on their own.

This stuff applies to everyone, but it applies especially to anyone who leads. And if we are truly following Jesus we will do what he does (and that includes leading others into the truth).

The highest standards are demanded of people who lead others. We need to be very serious in understanding the harm that we can do, and we need to accept that we are held accountable by Jesus himself.

Anger - In Matthew 5:21-26 Jesus explains that murder is illegal and will be judged. But then he says something quite astonishing. He tells us that anger, insults and even calling someone stupid will be judged equally seriously.

He tells his apprentices that even if they're in the middle of an important and public religious act at the Temple, if it occurs to them that they've wronged someone in any way they should drop what they're doing and go and put things right straight away.

Or, if someone has a legal case against you, come to an agreement with them before the court appearance. It's just common sense really. But it's an illustration of spiritual common-sense too. We are called to love one another, and amongst other things that means keeping our relationships with one another healthy. If we let anger, differences, grudges or hostility creep in we are failing in love. That is a more serious matter than we may realise and it goes against the new, great commandment to 'love one another as I have loved you'.

Lust - Once again, Jesus' standards exceed those of the law. Even looking is condemned as adultery. It is the heart that counts, not just the actions of the body.

Jesus presses this message home by using a Hebraic figure of speech, absurd exaggeration. Hopefully nobody will take these remarks about gouging out an eye or cutting off a hand literally! But the point about lust is important enough to warrant such words.

Truly loving other people is the key to resolving this issue, as with anger. We cannot hurt those we truly love.

We don't need to list recent examples of sexual misconduct in church circles. It happens more often than we like to think. It's usually well hidden for as long as possible and it's always shocking when the truth comes out.

Divorce - Once again, Yahshua insists that the parting of husband and wife is more serious than many assume. The paper certificate is not the issue here. As with anger and lust we need to see that love will prevent this. But we'd better not mix up the different kinds of love in our minds, I don't mean romantic love here, I mean the kind of love Jesus himself calls for, sacrificial and compassionate.

Swearing - Yes or no is enough. Does this apply only to everyday conversation or does it also apply in a court of law? It applies in both cases. When asked to swear in a court of law, find out if there's an option to affirm that you will tell the truth instead. Such an option exists in both UK and USA law.

Whether or not you consider yourself a leader, remember that you are setting an example that others may follow. In this sense whenever we speak or act we are leading those who are watching and listening.

Selflessness - We must be humble, accepting injustices and giving over and above what is asked of us. This, too, is Christlike. He went to the cross without complaint and neither should we complain when harmed or taken advantage of.

We are to love our enemies. This is an astonishing statement! We are to pray for them. What is this all about? It's a matter of being like our Father who is perfect. The more we are like him the better. Jesus told his disciples that if we have seen him we have seen the Father. So it's just the same as saying we are to be like Jesus.

This is what leadership is all about, becoming daily more like Jesus. Jesus is on a mission and we must follow him in that. And out of mission will come discipleship. Others will follow us as we follow Jesus - that's what it means to 'make disciples'. Jesus reveals the Father to us and we must reveal Jesus to those around us.

We can do nothing greater then lead; we dare do nothing less. All of us. And we can copy Jesus in one more thing. If we remember that he was speaking here to trainee leaders we should understand that we, too, need to be training leaders. It is the most important and effective thing we can do.

Questions:


  • Can you think of some ways in which you could become more like Jesus in thought and deed?
  • In what situations have you led others by your actions or words this week?
  • Which of the negatives and positives above do you find most problematic?
  • Are there strategies you could use to better deal with those problem areas?
See also:


< Back to front truth | Index | Gifts, prayer and needs >

21 June 2013

Back to front truth

Leaders in the church, Part 11
< Jesus makes a start | Index | Some issues to grapple with >

Jesus gets away from the crowds and begins to teach his closest followers. There are strong hints here, and more than hints, that leading is going to be costly. It will require great humility and self sacrifice, hard labour, unpopularity and persecution, and (not least) righteousness.

Galilee with hills on the horizon
Galilee with hills on the horizon
Chapters 5, 6 and 7 of Matthew's Gospel show us Jesus teaching his close followers. It is his apprentices that he speaks to here, his disciples, not the crowd. Matthew 5:1 explicitly says that when he saw the crowds he went up on the mountain and while he was sitting there his disciples came to him.

In terms of leadership there are several things to pay attention to here. Yahshua has been travelling throughout Galilee speaking about the good news and showing it in action by healing the sick. As a result he is now being pursued by large crowds, he has become famous.

Heading out - Leaving these crowds deliberately, he goes to a remote spot involving a steep scramble that many of the sick would not have been able to tackle. He sits down on a hillside far above the lake and away from the towns and villages. Only the most determined would have followed him there. He wants to train those who will continue the work of the kingdom after he has returned to the Father.

Leaders all need to do this, at least some of the time. It's essential to reach the crowds, that is the purpose of the mission. But it's every bit as important to pass on the method and the foundational truths to the core followers. What is unique about Yahshua is not that he teaches his followers; all Jewish rabbis did that. He is different because he also goes direct to the crowds. The Pharisees and Sadducees taught their disciples in great detail, but they didn't touch the lives of ordinary people very much.

So here, in Matthew 5:1-20, Jesus comes away from the crowds and does some standard rabbinic teaching. As you read it, remember that he's speaking to leaders, those he will soon be sending out on their own. He needs them to understand some basic truths. And these truths are all back to front. Did the Pharisees think the weak would be blessed?

The beatitudes - These famous sayings of Jesus are very intriguing. Most people are puzzled by them at some level and it's likely the disciples were too. One way to get to the bottom of what seems to be a conundrum is to reverse the individual statements. I outlined this idea a couple of years ago and I have just revisited it in more detail in another post.

But the thing to notice right now is that these statements would have made the disciples think. They would have understood that this Jesus was not motivated by power or wealth, but by humility and compassion. And they would begin to realise that he wanted them to have the same approach to life. This is the underlying philosophy that all church leaders need to have. If not, church becomes an oppressive and hurtful place instead of the place of peace and welcome that Jesus intended.

Trouble, salt and light - In verse 11 Jesus makes it very clear that leaders can expect to suffer in a variety of ways because of him. Why because of him? Simply because anyone who says what Jesus says and does what he does will attract the anger of those holding worldly authority. The scribes, law teachers and Pharisees handed Jesus over for execution. The prophets suffered in the same way. The newly arrested John the Baptist was a very fresh example if one was needed!

And he explained that leaders are responsible for providing flavour and illumination. Those who do not provide these things are of little or no value as leaders in the kingdom. We often read these chapters as if they are written to all believers - and to some degree they are. But specifically they are for the disciples, then and now. Of course, we are all disciples and we are all called to lead and show one another the way. Also, we are all called to the mission of going and making disciples and teaching them everything Jesus taught us. Disciples follow and lead others so that they in turn will become disciples.

And what of the Law? - Jesus explains how his coming affects the Law. Again, it's all about leaders. Those who are obedient and teach others the same will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Do you want to be called great? You will need to become more righteous than the scribes and Pharisees (who attempted to obey the Law in minute detail). How can any man or woman become righteous? It's only possible by believing Jesus, and if we believe we'll teach others to do the same.

Clearly, the standard for leaders in the church is very high indeed. Not in terms of paper qualifications or head knowledge (the Pharisees had all the learning and theology anyone could wish for). Not in terms of appointed authority (the High Priest had that in spades). But in terms of Christ-likeness.

If you aspire to lead, begin by reading Matthew 5, 6 and 7. Then consider what it means to 'follow Jesus up the mountain'. It is hard and dangerous work but very rewarding.

Questions:

  • Are you a leader? What do you think defines a leader?
  • Are you following Jesus? If so you are a disciple, doesn't that make you a leader?
  • Why do you suppose Jesus wanted to spend so much time with his disciples (rather than the crowds)? Surely the more people he could reach the better.
  • Is it better to go wide or deep? Jesus went wide with the crowd and deep with the disciples.

See also:


< Jesus makes a start | Index | Some issues to grapple with >

20 June 2013

Jesus makes a start

Leaders in the church, Part 10
< Jesus is tempted | Index | Back to front truth >

Matthew tells us how Jesus began his ministry by moving to a new town. Like him, we need to find the right time and the right place to proclaim the good news. Like him it's essential that we demonstrate good news as well as speaking about it as widely as possible.

Walking on the shore of Galilee
Walking on the shore of Galilee
Jesus leaves Judaea following John's arrest and returns to the region of Galilee.

He moves away from his home in Nazareth and goes to live in Capernaum instead, then he begins to preach his message about the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 4:12-25).

Isn't it striking that until this time he has done nothing but construction work for thirty years?

Often described as a carpenter, it's likely his work included more than that. He was a constructor and a repairer; if you think about it those were very appropriate tasks for someone who would later construct and repair relationships between the Creator and his creation.

A time and place for everything - At the right time and in the right place he begins his work as a leader. And what a leader! Here is the King of Kings beginning to speak into the world and reveal the redemptive purpose of Yahweh in an altogether new and more dynamic way.

How often do we speak and work in the wrong place and at the wrong time? Usually we will speak whenever and wherever we have the chance. But if we are truly going to be like Christ we must learn to be much more cautious, listening to the Spirit for guidance and doing and saying what he shows us at the time and place of his choosing.

But there's more here for us as leaders. How is it that in verse 16 the 'people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light'? Like Jesus, we must live among the people. It's difficult to reach people who are strangers to us. Jesus goes, moves to a new town, and lives there. If we are going to lead we need to first get in amongst the people we need to reach and allow our light to shine there.

Missional and incarnational - Alan Hirsch considers we need a missional impulse (going out from where we are), and an incarnational impulse (living amongst those we are sent to reach). Only when these are in place can we expect to reach the hearts of the people in meaningful ways that they can accept. Isn't this exactly how Jesus began his service, in Galilee, after John's arrest? He came with a mission and he came to live among us to do it.

And in living there and walking by the sea he sees Simon (known as 'Rocky') and Andrew and comments on what they are doing in such a way that they accept his invitation to follow. He collects James and John in the same way. Now they are a band of five.

And at this point he begins to travel throughout the region, teaching in the synagogues, sharing the gospel, healing the sick, and becoming famous. His ministry is under way! Notice how he has gone out from his home locality (Nazareth) responding to a missional impulse and then settles in Capernaum (responding to an incarnational impulse).

Perhaps he lived there for a period of time, we don't know how long. He might even have taken on construction and renovation work. So Simon, Andrew, James and John were not strangers when he called them to follow him, they lived in Capernaum and would have seen him and spoken with him before, perhaps often.

Speak and act in ways that bless - Matthew 4:23-25 fills in the detail on what Jesus did as he travelled around Galilee. He taught, proclaimed, and healed the sick and the oppressed. People came from miles around, from Judaea, and the Ten Towns and from beyond the Jordan too.

Just as Jesus made disciples out of the people around him, so can we. Potential disciples surround us, all the time. But we must speak to them. And, just like Jesus, we need to bring good news, not only talk about it. Jesus brought good news in the form of healing, freedom and grace. He blessed people. He was kind.

If you aspire to lead, follow his example!

Questions:

  • Are there people in your area with needs? (eg Elderly, sick, struggling to manage, poor)
  • Can you think of ways you might bring something good to such people?
  • Who is more likely to listen, someone who knows and likes you, or a stranger?
  • Jesus hung out with people, where could you go to do that?

See also:


< Jesus is tempted | Index | Back to front truth >

05 June 2013

Writing to Philemon

Paul's letter to Philemon throws light on slavery in the Roman world. It also shows how Paul taught, not by demanding certain behaviour and instilling knowledge but by applying principles and illustrating them by living them out in his own actions and thoughts, setting a good example.

Roman slaves filling bowls with wine
When Paul wrote his letter to Philemon he was appealing to him as a fellow believer on behalf of a runaway slave. I've just read Steve Addison's take on this in chapter 16 of his book, 'What Jesus Started'.

The book is an excellent read, by the way. I'd recommend it to anyone wanting an introduction to life in Israel and the Greco-Roman world of the first century.

Steve describes the life of Jesus and the disciples, and the beginnings of church as the early believers were scattered. He also covers the life and work of Saul (Paul to the Greeks) and how this continues in us, today. He brings it all to life and makes it seem very real. It's both interesting and challenging; it's an accessible glimpse into the lives of real people lived two thousand years ago.

Here's a brief extract...

Paul spent about a quarter of his ministry under arrest. On one occasion Paul was under house arrest, probably in Rome awaiting trial, when a runaway slave came looking for him.

Onesimus was a slave in the household of Philemon, a friend of Paul's. Onesimus must have known something of the gospel, as Philemon was a Christian in whose home the church gathered. Onesimus had fled after he wronged his master in some way. Under Roman law a master had the right to hunt down and brutally punish an escaped slave, and anyone harboring an escaped slave was liable to pay the owner for compensation. Onesimus may have hoped Paul would mediate between him and his master.

Through Paul, Onesimus became a believer. Paul loved him as a father loves his son and came to rely on his help during his imprisonment. Paul wanted to reconcile Philemon and Onesimus, so Paul wrote a short note for Onesimus to take back to Philemon.

The letter to Philemon gives us an idea of how Paul trained disciples to follow Christ in a world corrupted by sin. Paul wanted Philemon to see how Christ could transform his social relationships. Onesimus was still a slave under the law, but he should no longer be treated as one because he was now a brother in Christ. Paul reminded Philemon that both slaves and masters are servants of Christ and members of the one household of faith. Philemon, Onesimus's master, himself had a master in heaven. Paul could have ordered Philemon to act in a particular way; instead he appealed to the truth of the gospel and its implications for how Philemon should treat a brother in Christ who happened to be a slave.

Paul offered to repay any wrong Onesimus had done, but because Philemon had found Christ through Paul, he owed Paul a greater debt than Onesimus owed him.

The shortest letter Paul wrote, Philemon is a window into how Paul trained disciples. Both Philemon and Onesimus came to know Christ through Paul. Having shared the gospel of God's grace with them, Paul was now, from prison, teaching them to live out the gospel's implications. He was not laying down a new law; he was teaching disciples to follow Christ.

Let's look again at the points Steve makes here; they are essential for our lives in Christ as believers and followers. Further into the chapter, Steve explains that Paul regularly uses the same structure in his letters and in his recorded conversations in Acts.

He begins by setting out the basic truth of the gospel and then, using that as a launchpad, he appeals to people to have attitudes and lives that are modelled on that gospel and on Jesus himself. So all of the things that the Bible teaches us about grace and forgiveness, love, caring for the weak and the sick, generosity, holiness and all the rest, all of the things expressed in the life of Jesus, these things become challenges to us to live and think the same way.

He does it here twice in this very short letter. He has evidently persuaded Onesimus to return with the letter, showing by his own life and imprisonment that obedience to Jesus is necessary regardless of the cost. In the same way, Onesimus should show obedience to Philemon.

Paul opens his letter by mentioning Philemon's love for all the believers. His appeal is based on the love that Jesus showed, paying our great debt and forgiving us out of his pure love for the lost. In Christ we are all sinners rescued by grace because of love and Philemon should continue to imitate Jesus in this.

But above all, Paul shows us that we should be especially slow to judge one another, slow to criticise, and avoid telling one another how to behave. Instead we should ourselves behave in ways that are full of love and grace and are worthy of following; then we will demonstrate the way to others just as Paul himself did, and just as Jesus did.

Questions:

  • Do you know people who are imitators of Christ?
  • What advantages do you see to modelling Jesus in your daily life? (First for yourself, then for those who watch you.)
  • There's an old proverb, 'Actions speak louder than words'. Is it true? Why, or why not?

See also:

17 May 2013

Jesus is tempted

Leaders in the church, Part 9
< John the Baptist | Index | Jesus makes a start >

Jesus was cast out into the Judaean wilderness (an arid semi-desert). As an example of a good leader he was tempted and passed the test with flying colours. We need to be like him in that respect. Whether we are dealing with material things, the miraculous or worship, we'd better get it right.

The Judaean wilderness
After he was baptised, the Holy Spirit led Yahshua (Jesus) away to be tempted.

Because Yahshua is our King, teacher, master and Lord he is the prime example of a leader. He's a perfect example in every way. Therefore, in this study of leadership in the church, there is no better approach than to pay attention to what Jesus said and did.

All of us are tempted, and it follows that all leaders are tempted, and because Jesus lived among us as a human being he was tempted too. So what can we draw out from Matthew 4:1-11?

Spirit led - The prayer Jesus taught his apprentices includes the words 'Don't lead us into temptation but release us from evil'. So it may seem surprising that here in Matthew 4:1 we read that the Holy Spirit led him into a barren place to be tempted.

All leaders suffer particular forms of temptation when they are in a barren place, so let's bear that in mind as we work through these verses. But let's also bear in mind that it's not necessarily wrong to be in a barren place. The Spirit himself may choose to lead us into and through such places in our lives, if necessary repeatedly.

Something to eat - Jesus has come to the uninhabited, semi-desert country where there's little or nothing to eat, he's fasted for forty days and nights. And Matthew 4:2 states the obvious - he was hungry!

In our places of greatest lack and when things are at their most desperate we may be tempted to take shortcuts. For Jesus, bread from loaf-shaped rocks would have been cheating, removing the temptation by means of a shortcut. But we don't grow by taking shortcuts; we don't feed just on bread, we feed on what Yahweh says. We must feed on his words of life. The first temptation is to be more concerned with bodily needs than with spiritual needs.

Something marvellous to see - What could be more of a draw than a man jumping from the top of a high and significant building in the heart of a city and landing unharmed? This time the evil one actually quotes from the Old Testament to make his point! This is about impressing people.

We are all tempted to do whatever it takes to get people's attention. For leaders this is always going to be a potential issue. Nobody is listening... OK then - watch this! Maybe I'm not going to jump off a building, but I might try loud, professional music or fancy artwork or special promotional offers.

But once again we must resist. Jesus shows us the way to handle the issue, the evil one is capable of quoting from the Bible but he is always looking for a way to trap us. He made a double mistake; he tried to test the Son by getting him to test the Father.

He may encourage you and me to test both the Father and the Son, but since that first Pentecost, we also carry in our hearts the same Spirit that is in the Father and the Son. If we are hearing from the Holy Spirit we will be just as hard to trick as the Son himself. We have a real advantage over the enemy.

An offer to receive power - The enemy has dominion over the world and offers to give it to Jesus. But the price is far too high. Jesus will never worship anyone but the Father and neither should we. I almost feel sorry for the destroyer, he is already defeated and nothing he offers is of any real worth. He must be desperate to try a ploy like this!

I will only accept what Jesus offers. I will worship him as he worships his Father. They and their Spirit are one and I will worship only the One.

An issue for leaders - There's a serious consideration here for anyone who aspires to lead. It's bad to go astray. But to lead others astray is far, far worse. If I serve anyone or anything other than the Lord and others follow me, I am leading them into peril. If I worship anyone or anything other than the Lord and others copy me, I am leading them to worship false gods.

We have here three examples, right attitudes to material things (bread), right attitudes to the miraculous (falling without being hurt) and right attitudes in worship (due only to the Almighty). These three stand for a host of other similar things - the stuff of life (daily needs, hobbies, worldly goods) - testing Papa ('look at me' in healing, prophecy, working of wonders) - worshipping false gods (money, power, fame).

Who is worthy to lead? Who will rightly feed the sheep and guide them?  If you set an example the sheep will follow, so make sure your example is a sound one!

Questions:

  • Jesus was tempted in body, mind and spirit. Can you think of examples from your own life?
  • What clues does Jesus' example offer concerning good strategies to avoid sin?
  • How long do you think you could survive in the desert?
  • We all lead and we are all followed. How can you be sure to set good examples in your life? 

See also:


< John the Baptist | Index | Jesus makes a start >

05 May 2013

John the Baptist

Leaders in the church, Part 8
< To Egypt and back | Index | Jesus is tempted >

John the Baptist came to prepare the way. We can learn about the purpose and right mode of leading from John. Like him we are to prepare the way for Jesus, encouraging people to see their need of cleansing and purity. Like John we must go first and when Jesus comes we do whatever he tells us.

Headwaters of the JordanIn Matthew 3 we read about John the Baptist.

John was a relative of Jesus' and he came to prepare the way for the coming Messiah.

He lived an unusual life out in the wilds, told anyone who would listen that they needed to turn away from every bad thing in their lives, and washed them in the River Jordan to make them pure.

He told the religious leaders that they should not make assumptions about their purity but must instead demonstrate it by producing good fruit in their lives. He explained that a greater one was coming and would separate the valuable crop from the worthless waste.

So when Jesus arrived and asked to be washed, John objected at first. When he did baptise Jesus the Spirit of the Most High rested on him and a voice said, 'This my Son whom I love, I'm very pleased with him'.

Leading people - So what is going on here, and what can we learn about leadership? John prepared the way and led people to a place where they were able to respond to Jesus. This should be the goal of everyone who leads. John's example shows us that we need to draw people from where they are now to a place where they can respond to Jesus and be made pure.

This is just as true for believers as it is for people who have not yet met Jesus. No matter how far we have come there is always the potential to take another step forward. If anyone wants to lead, that person should prepare the way for Jesus. Smooth the way, straighten out the lumps and bumps so that there will be fewer obstructions that might prevent a person coming closer into his presence.

It's not our place to do Jesus' work, it is our place to prepare people, to show them that they are not in a good place, to let them know that someone is coming who will sort out the good from the bad, the spiritually profitable from the unprofitable, the harvest from the waste.

Our job is to point to Jesus as the coming King and then to get out of the way so that everyone can hear and see the Light of the world for themselves. One of the most powerful ways we can do this is by becoming living examples, showing people the way and not merely telling them. This is the real meaning of the word 'leading', it's a matter of going ahead so others can follow.

Choosing or chosen? - John did not choose or select those who came in repentance and for washing. They chose and selected themselves. He baptised the humble folk and the distinguished leaders alike. Neither are we to pick and choose those we come into contact with, we must be willing to share the good news with anyone and everyone.

John did object to washing Jesus because he knew that he was already pure. But when it was clear that this was Jesus' purpose, John relented. Once again, John sets us a good example. If Jesus shows you clearly to do this or avoid that then you had better hear him and obey!

If anyone chooses to follow Jesus we must accept them joyfully and baptise them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Spirit.

If we are to lead we must do it in utter humility just as John did. We don't dress in fine or important clothes, we have no position or authoritative power. We eat the lowliest of food and live in the simplest of homes.

We meet people where they are and we tell them that Jesus is for them and loves them and wants to know them and spend time with them. We bless them and we leave them in his capable hands. We pray for them, we visit them, we encourage and help them and the little seed of new life within them begins to grow and flourish.

Questions:

  • Do you think people learn more deeply from instructions or demonstrations?
  • Why? Justify your answer to the first question.
  • John used both words and actions. Can you identify examples in Matthew 3?
  • You can plant a seed and water it. But can you cause a seed to grow?

See also:


< To Egypt and back | Index | Jesus is tempted >

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