Category Archives: Ministry

Quick review: 40 Rockets

40 Rockets40 Rockets by Craig Josling

“40 Rockets which, when translated, means 40 short and punchy tips on sharing the message of Jesus with people at work.” (With apologies to verses like John 1:42.)

Lots of good tips. And easy quick read, but not designed to be read quickly. Each tip is for thought and reflection. Preferably with someone else.

This is not a theology of the message of Jesus, nor of the reason to share Jesus’ gospel. It’s not a listing of all the blessings Jesus’ death for the world. This is not an academic treatise. But none of these things are a problem – for 40 Rockets does not aim to be any of these things.

So what is this book? Words from an experienced, but far from perfect, Christian to help us all do better at promoting the news of Jesus.

Here are some chapter headings to give a feel for the topics/rockets: Be convinced that the workplace is a great place to share Jesus; Be gracious in conversation; Don’t let work define your value; Memorize Romans 6:23; Give honest and sincere appreciation.

I’m thinking how to use this book, because it strikes me as totally usable. Some ideas:
* pair up, and have a 5 minute phone chat each week to discuss that week’s tip
* give a copy to every member of a Bible study group, spend a few minutes each week at the start of your group looking at that week’s rocket
* for two months of Sunday church, pick a rocket a week for someone to summarise
* include a rocket a week in the church bulletin
* read a chapter each day with housemates (in a share house, with family, whatever)
* read a chapter on the bus to work, and summarise it in an email for fellow believers in your business

Undoubtedly there are many more.

And I want to get on with using 40 Rockets when I am. From Matthia Media.

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Speaking of church

“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the golden lampstands.'”
Revelation 2:1

[To the church in Smyrna] “I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) …”
Revelation 2:9

[To the church in Laodicea] “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realising that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”
Revelation 3:19

These verses from Revelation demonstrate a couple of important things about church – that church is all about Jesus, and that church appearances can be wrong.

Firstly, church is all about Jesus being present. In Revelation, the image of seven stars and seven lamps symbolise the seven churches. No church is defined by its building, its programmes, its leadership, … It’s a church because Jesus is there. Take away Jesus and you have no church.

But secondly, church appearances can trick us. The church in Smyrna was described as poor – yet Jesus’ point of view was, “but you are rich”. The church in Laodicea was very confident that they had everything, and more than enough. But Jesus’ words could not be more different: “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked”.

So how should we speak about churches? I reckon we speak in two ways: one way for our church, another way for other churches.

Talking about other churches: humility

The way to speak about other churches is with humility.

We have good reason to speak about other churches – it’s not gossip! I want to hear about churches. I try to listen and remember what I hear about churches. If I know someone moving to a new town, I want to be able to say, “Hey, when you move, try out Church X.”

On the flip side, it’s a great help to know if a church might be going astray. If I meet someone from there, or they move to my area, this knowledge gives me a head-start on what issues to be wary of, and what conversations to have.

And yet …

And yet appearances can be wrong. Reputation might be inaccurate. So while I argue that we can talk about other churches, we must be humble. In others words, we admit that we don’t know everything – only Jesus does – and we might be plain wrong.

Talking about our own church: not humility

But when we speak of our own church, let’s drop the (false) humility. If we are part of a church, it should be because we are convinced that Christ is with us by his Spirit. A church with Jesus lacks nothing.

In short, we know our church as a real and living church because of the presence of Jesus – no matter what the appearance may be.

So let’s speak up confidently!

Let’s forget the, “We’re not doing much. Nobody really knows us. You’re probably not interested in this, but I’ll invite you anyway …” Instead, we remember that Christ walks among us!

Ask me

What help do you (actually) ask for from Christians?
What help would you like to ask for?

I enjoyed visiting churches while on holidays – I always do. One sermon got me thinking about what help we seek from people in ministry.

(By ‘people in ministry’ I particularly mean people who prayerfully teach God’s word. Employed preachers, Bible study leaders, Sunday school leaders, etc. These people are paid and unpaid, ministering formally and informally. They all lead us to the Lord’s word.)

The preacher shall remain unnamed – because he too was a guest and I do not know his name. He spoke on 2 Corinthians 5, and finished with a great set of ideas for putting into practice this part of God’s word.

  • Practise telling your own Christian story in a way that explains Jesus more than it glorifies yourself
  • Memorise helpful Bible verses to share
  • Learn a simple way to explain the good news of Jesus, a gospel outline
  • Get training in how to lead a Bible study for a person who is investigating Christianity

Great ideas! And a good encouragement at the start of a new year. Thank you, anonymous preacher-man.

This where my experience as a paid minister kicked in. I considered the things people ask me to help with. The list is long, and has a huge range.

  • Can you help us find more musicians?
  • I’m moving to the area, can you help me look for a house?
  • Can you alter my place on the roster?
  • Did you find my Bible after church on Sunday?
  • Can you conduct my wedding?
  • I’m about to have an operation but forgot to bring money – can you pay today and I will pay you back? (Only once!)
  • Can you help me move?
  • Can you witness me sign this government form?
  • Could you visit me in the hospital locked ward?
  • My son lives near you. Could you drop in to see if he is safe and OK?
  • Can you print my assignment?
  • Can you be my referee for a job/rental application?

It’s amazing to touch so many parts of people’s lives. I feel this as a privilege to accept, and a responsibility to honour with discretion and privacy. I don’t want these requests to stop. (If I can’t do them, I know how to say ‘no’.)

But what if people were limited to just four of five requests they could make? Or, to put it differently, what if I could specify the requests that I most want to hear?

If that were the case, my list would look like the conclusion to that holiday sermon. The requests I love to hear are these:

  • Can you pray for me?
  • Can you tell me more about this Jesus guy, I need to know about him?
  • I trust the Bible, can you help me with its teaching?
  • Can you help me grow in serving Jesus?

These requests bring a smile everyday of the week.

Since these are so important, my role is to make them happen more and more. That’s what ministry is. As for Christian maturity: that is the wisdom to ask for these things.

So go on – ask me!

 


 

Quick review: The search to belong

The Search to Belong: Rethinking Intimacy, Community, and Small GroupsThe Search to Belong: Rethinking Intimacy, Community, and Small Groups by Joseph R. Myers
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I wavered between two options when it came to choosing a star rating for The Search to Belong. Because there are some powerfully helpful ideas, I considered four out of five. But everything else moved me towards two from five.

No matter which way I went, I knew that I disliked reading the book – even the bits I liked. So that decided the matter: **/*****.

What’s valuable: Myers picks up the analysis of Edward T Hall that society consists of four “spaces”: public, social, personal, and intimate. Each space has its own character, strengths, and modes of operation. And each is valuable in its own right, not as a mere stepping stone to the “really real” relationship of intimacy.

So, applied to churches, Myers urges readers to make sure people have room to relate in any and all of the social spaces. Excellent!

What I disliked does not undermine the benefit of those valuable thoughts. But what I disliked I really disliked. Some examples.

Myers has an ear for how people feel. He frequently speaks of how he felt in different situations. That’s a wonderful skill. But Myers turns how we feel into obligations: “people feel this therefore we must act in the following way.” There is apparently no possibility of people feeling the wrong thing, or entertaining awful desires.

Similarly, we are told people at churches can only lead themselves. “Only you can lead you.” It’s imperative, therefore that ‘leaders’ in churches get out of the way. They can supply a framework for people to grow, but must refrain from trying to lead people. The irony: Myers forcefully tells us – leads us – to the only possible truth, that there is no such thing as forceful leading.

The irony is one thing, but more significant to me is the biblical insistence that there are leaders (in church, home, and society) and that these leaders have God’s commission to lead. (See all the biblical language of authority and submission, to investigate further.)

For a third and final criticism, I think the book is a touch confused. In the first two chapters, for instance, Myers frequently spoke of the need to define connection, or community, or belonging. But I never found the definition. So I was not surprised to read a free interchange of terms: with loose definitions it’s easy enough to use any term that feels close enough. But that’s not good enough if you are trying to present a clear case.

My recommendation, then, is to read this book but to pare back the emergent packing and enjoy the thoughtful idea social spaces.

 


 

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Acts 10 & the importance of preaching

Acts 10 is at a revolution point in God’s wonderful work. It’s where the news of Jesus goes directly to a non Jew. The whole world has direct access to Jesus by trust – always God’s plan, now fully revealed because of the completed work of Jesus.

And God’s revolution comes by preaching.

Proclaiming the news of Jesus often feels and looks unutterably weak. Yet many indications of Acts 10 show apostolic preaching to be God’s chosen way. (Brackets for verse numbers.)

  • Cornelius needs to hear the gospel, so God sends an angel (=messenger) who says: send for Peter (5). Why not let the angel talk? Because it had to be the apostle. This is extraordinary preparation to hear preaching
  • Peter experienced a disturbing vision from God to show that all people have immediate opportunity to trust Jesus (15). God could have given Cornelius this vision. This is extraordinary preparation for the preacher
  • When Cornelius sent for Peter, the go-betweens specified that it was to hear what you have to say (22)
  • Even more than that, Cornelius himself knew that Peter had been commanded by the Lord to speak (33)
  • Cornelius is scared of the angel (4), but tried to worship Peter (25). Mistaken worship, but a right assessment of relative importance
  • Cornelius’ crowd already knew about Jesus’ ministry (37). This is not information transfer. They needed Peter’s preaching
  • The apex of Peter’s sermon is that God sent people to speak about Jesus (42-43). Beforehand were the prophets, and after the resurrection Jesus sent eyewitnesses to preach and testify
  • It was while Peter was speaking that the Holy Spirit came upon Cornelius (44)

The major amazement of Acts 10 is that the benefits from Jesus are poured out freely “even on the Gentiles” (45). But along the way we read plenty of reminders that God’s chosen method of saving is by preaching the apostolic message.

May we never lose confidence in speaking the gospel of Jesus.

 


 

Ministry and the art of motorcycle maintenance

ute

It was the alternator

Apologies twice. There’s no motorcycle involved in this post, just a picture of my busted ute. Neither is there any reference to the famous Robert Pirsig novel – I simply could not resist.

Here is the honest headline: Christian ministry is more like fixing a car than driving one.

In Christian ministry, we want to go somewhere with people. The journey is from unbelief to trust in Christ and growing likeness to Christ. Ministry is all about helping others on this path, by announcing Christ.

As Paul said about Jesus:

Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.
Colossians 1:28-29

So often we treat this trip as a straightforward drive. We think that all who enter the vehicle will end up and the right destination. The vehicle might be church services, or small groups, or some other programme.

Motor maintenance is messy. When the car breaks down, you have to get safely home. Perhaps there’s a tow truck involved. Or roadside patch-up repairs.

When back in the garage the process is still irregular. Thirty minutes while the other guy finds the special tool he just knows he bought. Two hours testing out one part of the engine – that turns out to have no problem anyway. More time scratching heads for further options. Wondering if there’s an expert around. And always getting your hands dirty under the hood.

And this is just like Christian ministry. The word of God is sharp enough to open us up (Hebrews 4:12-13). The scriptures equip us by teaching, rebuke, correction and training (2 Timothy 3:16-17). These things are messy.

Ministry uncovers guilt and broken lives. It teaches that on our own we’re all stuck in sin. It makes confession and repentance a normal part of belief. It shows that reconciliation is God’s way, though running away is more appealing.

Often also ministry has long periods of apparently nothing happening. There’s no conversion or no change to see. We look at one area of life as a big problem – but it was not so important after all. So we keep on, even if unsure about what is the real story in that life.

We feel inefficient and not able to make the difference and unsure of ourselves. But that’s perfectly fine – because the ability never lies in the person ministering. The ‘ability’ to minister always lies in God and his grace. And he will bring his children home. So press on!

And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.
Acts 20:32

 


 

 

Quick review: The First 48 Hours

The First 48 Hours: Spiritual Caregivers as First RespondersThe First 48 Hours: Spiritual Caregivers as First Responders by Jennifer S. Cisney

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As a volunteer ambulance chaplain, I was given this book by my senior chaplain (thanks Paul!), and I am very glad to have read it. In two words: highly recommended.

Before I describe why, however, there is one bugbear to note – questionable use of the Bible.

I’ve often seen that Christian books dealing with counselling or other personal helps tend to read their pastoral situations back into texts of the Bible, and thereby determine what they think a particular Bible verse means.

So here we read of disciples, ‘Struggling with direction, full of doubt and fear, they believe they are alone’ (p.20) – this sounds more like one of the authors’ crisis care situations than an accurate portrait of Matthew 28:18-20. Yes, there are elements of this, but not as much as is claimed. And so Jesus’ closing words (‘I am with you always, to the very end of the age’) become comfort. There is, undoubtedly, an element of comfort. But also of challenge: the one with all authority has given a command and is with us!

This is important because the Bible word lives and is powerful. When Christians adopt powerful emotional ties to wrong interpretations, it’s an unstable help. One of the authors mentions how Hebrews 12:1 is a great comfort to him after his father’s death: believing that the ‘great cloud of witnesses’ witness us, rather than bear witness to the faithfulness of God (p.120). I could not help but think he will be painfully discomforted when someone points him to a more accurate reading of Hebrews 12.

Noting this point, though, I still highly recommend this book.

It has a clear focus on the first stages of helping people in crisis. It has helpful definitions (for example, the difference between critical event and crisis). And it is so very realistic – speaking of the first 48 hours as a first aid-type involvement. That is, first responders don’t need the advanced skills of fully-trained psychologists or psychiatrists.

With presence, sensitivity, compassion, one’s own life experience, and a few fundamental skills caregiving is possible.

The First 48 Hours names these skills, as well as illustrating them with real life examples. Perhaps most importantly, it generously encourages Christians to provide this type of crisis care.

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Advice for school scripture teachers

NSW government schools’ ‘scripture’ (more formally, Special Religious Education) is where students receive instruction in a faith given by members of that faith.

I spoke recently at a scripture teacher commissioning, and we looked at Mark 12:13-17. I suggested that it’s OK that Jesus sparks controversy and difficult questions – Jesus is more than capable of facing any challenge thrown his way. The task of Christians, I think, is simply to be publicly amazed at Jesus.

The task of Christians, I think, is simply to be publicly amazed at Jesus.

I finished with four bits of advice for being a scripture teacher in a government school. Perhaps they apply to any Christian in any position in any school. What do you think?

  • In schools, be present as a visible and available representative of Christians and churches. Representing us is a serious matter. Don’t let us down!
  • In schools, be present as a Christian in a existing vibrant community. Each school has its own real community of people and values. Be a Christian who can understand that culture, appreciate it, and contribute to it
  • In schools, be present as a speaker for Jesus Christ and about Jesus Christ. Jesus’ influence on our society is great, therefore Jesus repays serious study by everyone. Schools teach and learn – so teach clearly that people may learn. Some learners will turn to Jesus. Fantastic! We don’t, however, control people but we do control our teaching
  • In schools, be present for all: Christian and non-Christian; interested and uninterested; enquirer and mocker; student, staff or family


 

Average preachers, a follow-up

Last week I wrote a tip for average preachers. The tip (pray for better listeners) follows my belief that sermon quality for average preachers depends on the quality of the listeners.

I kept that bog post short, even though my mind was full of other implications. This post is all about the implications.

The big implication is this: usual church preaching is a co-operative activity. Preaching is a team event, not solo performance – it’s the activity of a body, not a hero. Speaker and listeners work together.

The ways we live that out are many:

  • We start with thankfulness for each other
    Speaker & listeners are joining in the great task of hearing God speak, with dedication to faithful obedience. It’s immense that we do so together, no matter what the numbers, abilities, etc
  • We encourage everyone’s part
    It’s wonderful that people come to church (preacher or not). Let’s say that more often, and to each other as well
  • We work on the preaching setting
    How’s the room you meet in? Can people hear OK? Is it too cold, too warm? Are there Bibles available, especially for visitors? I’m sure there are weeks when a sermon ‘worked’ because someone decided to close the back door and block the traffic noise
  • We work outside the preaching setting
    A church that builds its members in love for 167 hours a week will make better use of the 168th hour of the week, the hour that includes a sermon
  • We train listening ability
    Everyone helps training happen, preachers and non-preachers. We can learn better how to listen well, to understand, to seek clarification, and to expect God’s word to change us. In addition, churches can run formal training on making the most of sermons
  • We practice humility
    This is for the preachers. It’s not that our finely-crafted words are the secret to church life. The ‘secret’ is God’s word calling forth faith in his children – if God uses us, that’s a wonderful privilege and kindness


 

A tip for average preachers

No teasing – here’s the tip for average preachers: pray for better listeners.

This post is not about extraordinary and brilliant preachers. These people have wonderful content that’s true and challenging. Their communication is excellent, being clear, engaging and memorable. Even those who disagree enjoy the listening.

This post is not about poor preachers, who fail in both content and communication. Everyone who hears them goes away confused.

I am writing about the majority of preachers. They have something to say, but  are not Einsteins of the text. These preachers communicate adequately, but they won’t take Olympic gold medals for oration.

I’m convinced that, especially for average preachers, the quality of the sermon depends on the quality of the listeners. Faithful and devoted listeners make for good sermons. Grumbling and faithless listeners make for poor sermons.

the quality of the sermon depends on the quality of the listeners

Why? Because the listener to average preaching will find what they’re looking for.

A grumbler has real reason to say, ‘He’s not that insightful. The jokes are half funny. And those tongue stumbles when he gets excited – I just can’t listen.’ It’s poetic justice that a selfish listener gets no benefit for self.

A good listener is the opposite. This person finds the gold amid the dross, and overlooks odd verbal habits of the preacher. This generous listener is kind to the preacher, and the result is spiritual blessing to the one who hears.

So, as an acknowledgement of our own ‘averageness’, pray for better listeners.