Jesus Is the Center of Preaching, Not You [me]

[box_holder background_color=”]

It’s Sabbath morning, 11:30 am. The pastor approaches the pulpit to speak. He buttons his suit jacket, lays his Bible open, has a solemn prayer, then preaches passionately and winsomely on the evils of rollerskating and the virtues of walking on two un-wheeled feet. He closes with a powerful charge: “Brothers and sisters, say no to skates! Turn away from the foolishness of wheeled shoes and go forth in the glory of upright walking!”

I hope you’d be puzzled by this. Um… what? 

I hope you’d even feel indignant. This guy just wasted thirty minutes of my time preaching about foolishness. I hope you’d notice that he left out the message of the gospel.

But the gospel message, the message of the cross, isn’t just about what is said, but also how it’s said.

Paul says: “When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.” (1 Cor 2:1-5)

Paul says: I didn’t allure you with my glossy handbills. I didn’t impress you with my physique or designer suit. I didn’t awe you with my light show. I didn’t wow you with my rhetorical superiority. I didn’t woo you with my trendy terminology. I didn’t manipulate you with emotionalism.

The Corinthians might be yawning at this point. They’re living in times when your status was tied to the status and eloquence of your teacher, and they wanted something a little extra from Paul. The message of the cross was good, but it needed more celebrity, more panache, you know? But Paul just wouldn’t compete with the more eloquent, more flashy, more wealthy secular speakers strutting their stuff around town.

Maybe you and I would take the criticism to heart and work a bit harder on our impression management skills. Paul does not.

When the Corinthians complain that Paul is weak in worldly wisdom and not so good at attracting the applause of the affluent, he nods in agreement and then points out that it is in these places of apparent weakness and foolishness that God performs the strength and wisdom of the gospel.

For example, he says, “Whereas Jews asked for signs and Greeks seek wisdom, we proclaim a crucified Christ: to the Jews an affront; to Gentiles, foolishness; but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, a Christ: God’s power and God’s wisdom.” (1 Cor 1:22-24)

A man publicly humiliated and executed on a cross seems an unlikely place for divine power and wisdom, but there it is on display in Christ and Him crucified.

In fact, Paul can say in 1 Cor 1:17, “For Christ [sent me] to proclaim the gospel, and not in wise-sounding rhetoric, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of His power.”

If he had come with dazzling flourish, then the message of the cross would have been emptied of its power.

How could Paul have preached the message of a brutalized Savior in a way that celebrated human achievement and skill? How could Paul have proclaimed the self-sacrificing love of God in a way that attracted followers to himself, in a way that secured status for himself? How could he preach Christ with an air of celebrity?

And how can we? How could we? How can we fuss over our pocket squares and Sabbath socks as we stand to tell the world of Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels….that He might taste death for everyone? (Heb 2) How can we engage in one-up-manship, trying to out-preach, out-baptize, out-grow one another in the name of Christ Jesus, who, “made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant”? (Phil 2) How can we make our ministry about us, when the message is so very clearly about Him?
[/box_holder]

Five Things Parents Do That Make Youth Ministry Harder

[box_holder background_color=”]

From youth workers everywhere, to parents anywhere: We love you and appreciate you, but we sometimes want to strangle you! After working for 22 years alongside my wife in youth ministry, I have seen from parents some mistakes I’d like to see corrected. Here are five of the most common ones:

  1. Punishing their kids with church.

Yes, you heard it right. Johnny or Maria behaved badly. As punishment from their infraction they can’t go to Camporee or youth group. I believe there are 1,000,001 other ways you can punish your kids. Please use them. One day, you will want him/her to go and she won’t want to. Why make that day come sooner?

  1. Make the youth worker work extra hard.

Many times the people that lead or volunteer in your youth group have kids of their own. They want to make a difference. They don’t have much time, just like the rest of us. Some parents make the least effort possible to get their kids involved in youth activities. I had the following happen too many times: Parents that would not pick up or drop off kids. After a long drive following an outing they expected the youth leaders to drop them off at the house (that usually was my wife). Once, coming back from an activity, one of the teens in the car contacted her parents that said they could not pick her up. After midnight, we had to go and drop them off. We did not mind, but, really?

  1. Never get involved, but make a big stink when you don’t like ___________________.

Please don’t write letters and complain because of hearsay or comments other parents made. Don’t you just love it when parents that put no work in and have not attended any of the events all of a sudden write nasty emails because of one event or situation that did not go right? Honor your youth workers. They are not perfect, and need correction like all of us. Give them grace. They take care of your kids.

  1. Using kids as pawns.

Some church members use kids for political games. Boycotting events and having kids to ask leading questions that really came from you are destructive and can really damage your teen’s faith. Millennials in their majority already think the church is shallow. They see church people not acting very churchy. Fight your own battles. Kids are not your pawns, messengers or political allies.

  1. Attending the youth ministry event and forgetting IT’S FOR YOUTH!

Some of these mistakes include taking over the lesson and not letting the teens speak, criticizing the music, dress, and content of the program. It’s not for you! Don’t show up for a camp and demand quiet at 10pm. Ask God for patience and a higher level of tolerance. You will need it. No one needs to hear all the stories about how great your youth group was growing up.

Will you help me pray for all youth workers today? We honor your service and dedication.

[/box_holder]

The Colporteur Leadership Dilemma (part 2)

[box_holder background_color=”]

The discussions were only whispered at first, but they were persistent. Should women be allowed to become colporteur leaders?

But by now the feminist movement was gaining alarming ground in worldly circles. Feminism insisted women should be able to force their way into any position men could fill. Feminism demanded that women become soldiers in the trenches of war! Worse, it spat in the face of God’s ordained plan for husbands to be the heads of families. Surely by allowing women equal opportunity to sell books, and especially to teach men to do so, the colporteur work was joining a spiraling downward trend toward evil.

It was decided that the church should not support or appear to join such a dangerous movement. Accordingly, almost all female colporteurs were removed from the field of ministry. Those allowed to continue until retirement were not replaced. In select liberal areas, a few were allowed to receive training, but this was frowned upon by other areas that held to what was considered a more biblical view of male headship. Those who received training were warned that they probably were receiving it in vain, as they would likely not be hired. This proved true. Females in the canvassing ministry became nearly a thing of the past.

This had an especially negative impact on the ministry of selling books to women, because many women would not open doors when men knocked, or confide to men about what books they needed. A few desperate women did appeal to men for help with heart issues, but problems of inappropriate interaction sometimes developed. After that, men were trained to avoid talking alone for any length of time, or in any depth, with women at doors. This tragic development, of course, meant that the women in most neighborhoods were left unreached, unable to buy the books they desperately needed. But it could not be helped. This, it was declared, was God’s way. Women who needed help would have to find it in self-help bookstores down the street.

For decades the canvassing work limped along with virtually no female assistance. Those who volunteered their efforts because of a strong sense of calling were sometimes reluctantly allowed to work, but books were only supplied to them at a rate that meant they worked basically for free. After all, confusion with the feminist movement could not be allowed. However, the women who could, kept working cheerfully, because to them all that mattered was spreading the Gospel.

Finally, the work was suffering so greatly that the men in charge of colporteur programs decided to reopen discussion about women’s ministry. They formalized the debate by creating a committee of colporteur leaders to prayerfully study and examine the situation.

A strong unity was reached on some obvious points immediately: women had clearly been used by God in the past to spread His Word through canvassing, and God’s work was being grievously injured by the current approach. Furthermore, if women were doing this work, they should be paid for doing it—and paid equally with men. The current way of handling things was disgraceful and should not be tolerated. Almost all of the women called, qualified and burdened to do the canvassing work—including many of the most naturally gifted—had been turned away from the work. Almost to a man, everyone agreed this catastrophe must be remedied!

Ignoring this immediate crisis, however, the colporteur leaders now focused their time and study on three elements upon which they could not agree. Was it biblical to have a ceremony in which hands were laid on the women, and a prayer was offered for their ministry to be Spirit-filled? Could such women be called “colporteur leaders”? And most importantly, was it biblical to allow women to teach men how to canvass?

Most of the colporteur leaders freely admitted that they had benefited richly from women teaching or training them in the past. Many of the best books they sold were written by a female author. But some still held staunchly to what they claimed was the Biblical standard—that only men could teach or lead other men in spiritual matters.

On these points, the discussion raged, with leaders on both sides arguing passionately for their understanding of a Biblical approach. The longer the battle continued, the sharper it became, until a permanent canyon threatened to open between the two sides. “We cannot compromise,” both sides insisted. “We must obey the Bible.” Even the work that had been going well for decades was now threatened by the debate about allowing women to join in spreading the Gospel.

Finally, a tentative suggestion was made by a small group—women who were canvassers. Many of them had been selling books quietly for years, at little or no profit. Scores of others longed to do so, but could not, because they could not afford to leave their other responsibilities unless they were paid to do the work they felt God was calling them to do, selling books. Now they came unitedly to the committee to present a solution.

“Could we perhaps redirect our energies into solving the present crisis?” the women asked. “As we argue about these issues, women in the neighborhoods you are canvassing are dying without hope and without God. You dare not reach them, and even if you would, they dare not ask you for help.

“If we can be trained, equipped and paid decently, we will be happy to go out into the field and work. You don’t need to worry about calling us ‘colporteur leaders,’ or even about laying hands on us and praying for the Spirit to bless our ministries. Just let us work. Reduce the price of books to one that we can reasonably afford, and we can go out to save souls.”

And the women who could, kept working cheerfully, because to them all that mattered was spreading the Gospel.

Note: To read part 1 of this installment, click here.

[/box_holder]

 

387961_10151189420875204_236355998_nNicole Parker was once a zealot intent on changing the world, but is now an astonishingly domesticated homeschooling mom living in quite possibly the tamest town on earth–Collegedale, Tennessee. While engaged in her mundane tasks of chopping veggies and sweeping floors, she enjoys lofty theological ponderings, a pursuit also enjoyed by her husband Alan, a professor at Southern Adventist University. This penchant has led her to inch her way through a master’s degree in biblical counseling, and now has her devouring a master’s degree in pastoral ministry from Andrews University. However, she has zero intention, and even less desire, to become a pastor. Check out her website at www.heartthirst.com

The Colporteur Leadership Dilemma (part 1)

[box_holder background_color=”]

Once upon a time, in a conference far, far away, the church leaders prayerfully decided to begin a canvassing program. Experienced colporteurs trained several young men for leadership, and teams of young men and women who were eager to witness for the Lord joined the movement. There was a special service at the beginning of the new program, in which each young man set aside for leadership was solemnly prayed over by those who had trained him, for the Holy Spirit to bless and use him in ministry. This was a tear-filled, sacred hour. Then the young men were pronounced “colporteur leaders,” and they commenced the work with earnestness and the power of the Spirit.

Great blessings attended their efforts. As the young men worked, however, they couldn’t help noticing that many of the young women were equally gifted by the Lord in ministry. Their prayers and efforts at doors seemed to be blessed as much as the men’s—well, almost, anyway. With a little training, the women might be capable of doing just as well. Unconcerned, the women kept working cheerfully, because to them all that mattered was spreading the Gospel. But after some whispered consultation among the men, the women were allowed the privilege of training by experienced colporteurs, as the men had already enjoyed. This dramatically increased their effectiveness, and everyone praised God for it.

Soon it was noticed that when experienced young women were allowed to work alongside other students, just as the colporteur leaders did, blessings began to be poured out exponentially. Some of the men began wondering if it were possible that women could teach others how to canvass, too.

However, of course there was a problem. If a young woman worked alongside another young person, the sales between the two must be divided. This meant the young women could not be paid fairly if they worked with others. But what could be done? To pay them from the earnings of the team would be like calling them leaders. Eventually it was decided that the men could be paid $50,000 a year for their work, and the women could be paid $15,000. And the women kept working cheerfully, because to them all that mattered was spreading the Gospel.

Some of the women seemed to have excellent skills at navigation, organization, and driving. One could almost think that some of them were safer drivers than the men! There was no real discussion of whether women could drive cars to lead teams, but one day when crisis hit and all of the men were down with the flu, it was decided that it was better to let women drive the teams, than to not go out at all. The women drove, and to everyone’s surprise, the Lord blessed the teams just as much as if the men were driving! So even though men still drove the majority of the time, it was eventually accepted that women could drive, not just in off hours to take people to laundromats and grocery stores, but even for ministry. And the women kept working cheerfully, because to them all that mattered was spreading the Gospel.

Over time, some of the young women expressed a strong desire to spend their lives in full-time canvassing ministry. This was a perplexing situation, and required some discussion. In the end, they were notified that if they married young men who were canvassers, they would be able to work as teammates with them. Of course, both would have to survive on the men’s $50,000 salaries, but this was understood. There weren’t nearly enough men for all of the women to marry, so of course most of the women had to leave the canvassing work and find other jobs to support themselves. But a few were able to continue, and for this they were very grateful. And the women kept working cheerfully, because to them all that mattered was spreading the Gospel.

As one by one the women had children, raised them and then found themselves able to return to the streets to colporteur, some leaders began to see the unfairness of the situation. It was accordingly decided, after much prayer and discussion, that the women who returned to work alongside their husbands (having taken care of their other ministries of mothering) should be paid very generously! They were given $25,000 salaries. And the women kept working cheerfully, because to them all that mattered was spreading the Gospel.

One day it dawned on someone that these women still were being called “colporteurs” while their husbands were called “colporteur leaders.” This was leading to confusion, as the titles didn’t distinguish between experienced and inexperienced canvassers. These women were leading. Shouldn’t they be called “colporteur leaders”? This caused great consternation and discussion, but a few bold people began calling the women “colporteur leaders.” Though at first everyone thought the term “colporteur leader” automatically meant a male, over time people began getting accustomed to “leader” being used to refer to a female at times. And the women kept working cheerfully, because to them all that mattered was spreading the Gospel.

Finally, the day came when someone asked the obvious question. “Could it be possible that women could be prayed over and dedicated to the Lord’s work, as men are? Could we dare pray that the Holy Spirit could fill them and use them, as He uses men?”

And the women kept working cheerfully, because to them all that mattered was spreading the Gospel.

photo credit: /ponder via photopin (license)

[/box_holder]

 

387961_10151189420875204_236355998_nNicole Parker was once a zealot intent on changing the world, but is now an astonishingly domesticated homeschooling mom living in quite possibly the tamest town on earth–Collegedale, Tennessee. While engaged in her mundane tasks of chopping veggies and sweeping floors, she enjoys lofty theological ponderings, a pursuit also enjoyed by her husband Alan, a professor at Southern Adventist University. This penchant has led her to inch her way through a master’s degree in biblical counseling, and now has her devouring a master’s degree in pastoral ministry from Andrews University. However, she has zero intention, and even less desire, to become a pastor. Check out her website at www.heartthirst.com

For Such a Time as This

[box_holder background_color=”]

Imagine that you are a soldier crawling through the underbrush, trying your best to stay alive. It’s the Civil War, and you are right on the edge of a brutal battle. You’re crouching alone in the mud behind a large, rotting log, when through the mist you spy a soldier striding through the woods straight toward you. Your heart pounds as you focus intently: what color is his uniform? Is he in blue—or gray?

Within the body of Christ today, an alarmingly similar mentality is escalating. Whenever a certain topic enters a conversation, the brethren lean forward anxiously, trying to discern: which side is this person on? They visibly bristle if their fellow “soldier” is discovered to be on the “other side.”

The topic is, of course, women’s ordination. Suddenly families, churches,ministries and friendships are being ripped apart based on loyalties to what are declared to be the only two “sides.” I am astonished at how quickly people are labeled and defenses are lowered.

I’m afraid for our church. This movement is stark evidence that being “all of one accord” is now of far less consequence to us than conquering each other. Instead of pre-Pentecost putting away differences and coming into sweet accord, we’re bickering like the disciples in the Upper Room. Once again we have fallen into the deadly distraction of arguing about who is the greatest.

Before we start sputtering the arguments of either “side” regarding unity with our supposed enemies, let’s set aside what is, to me, the largely irrelevant discussion about whether we can call women pastors, or pray for them by laying hands on them. In other words, don’t try to figure out what color of uniform I’m wearing as you read this, because if you’re on either side, bad news, I’m not on your side. But good news: I’m also not on the other side.

I’m suggesting that maybe God’s side isn’t either one—that He is the God of unity,not war. He is the God of love, of perseverance in covenant relationship, not of divorce. Because while we argue, because we argue, souls are dying. I know. They’re emailing me. Dozens, no, hundreds of them, from around the world. And those are just the few who have found my email address somehow, or looked me up on Facebook.

And only those actually doing personal ministry like me realize what’s happening. Let me shift gears and explain why.

Decades ago, the humanistic psychology movement duped Christianity. Spiritual leaders were assured that “professionals” could now take over the messy work of counseling. Many relieved pastors escaped hours of tedious counseling regarding marriage problems, addiction issues, depression, anxiety, and the emotional scars of abuse. When concerns arose because secular psychologists were dragging scores of people away from dependence on Christ for answers, “Christian”counseling materialized. Christian counselors could listen non-judgmentally too, helping people “find the answers within themselves” without reference to Scripture unless such was requested (since the gospel was seen as optional for emotional healing). Pastors also dutifully accepted training in Christian counseling,although some pastors admittedly became frustrated at how little actual progress was attained using professional “unconditional positive regard.”

Counseling became synonymous with a huge waste of pastoral time. As it became more and more of a time-waster, pastors were forced to refer out much of their counseling in order to have time to tackle the “real” work of pastoring—administration, preaching, setting up committees strategizing for church growth, and a few stop-smoking seminars and prophecy seminars thrown in for evangelistic fervor. After all, they weren’t really trained to help people with all that other stuff.

In one generation, humanistic psychology replaced the gospel.

This ministry focus shift was one of the most colossal mistakes in Christian history. In one generation, humanistic psychology replaced the gospel as the“well” to quench to the thirst of the heart. Even worse, it became the placebo preventing people from seeking the only cure for idolatry disguised as addictions, marriage problems, and depression. The Christian church abandoned the Word of God as the key to unlocking heart issues. In one generation, we forgot the simple principle of the gospel: if I don’t worship God, I will worship self in the form of whatever idol captures my heart. And without the gospel, I will be powerless to break free.

It’s no shock that divorce, abuse, depression, anxiety and addiction have skyrocketed within the church in nearly identical proportion to the world in the last few decades. In the place of an uprooted gospel that boldly broke the chains of sin, a humanistic self-help culture has mushroomed. No one falls for the ludicrous idea that the water of life could transform a sexually addicted woman into someone who “thirsts no more.” Come on, Jesus. We know better than that now! She needs counseling.

But suppose that nothing but Christ could quench the thirst of the woman at the well—how would He do it? By sending this serial adulteress to her male pastor for counseling regarding her sexual addiction and codependency? Hold on a minute. What pastor wants to be thrown under that bus?

Actually, I’m not sure who would be in greater danger in that situation, her or the pastor. Most pastors at present don’t even know how to apply the gospel to their own addictions. Statistics tell us that nearly 50% of pastors are now addicted to Internet pornography—never mind TV, movies, social media, work,popularity, other forms of sexual deviancy, or—the list goes on.

So where would we send the woman at the well? The secular humanistic psychologist? I hope not. The Christian counselor who will only bring up Jesus if she requests it—and then only as an optional addition to a curriculum of “unconditional positive regard”? That’s scarcely any better.

What she needs is a woman in ministry to come alongside her and lead her to Jesus. And considering the looming disaster that is her life without Christ, I’d say that whether that woman in ministry is called a pastor, or has had hands laid on her in prayer, is somewhat irrelevant. What matters is that she is biblically trained (as a biblical counselor, perhaps?) and available for service.

In this context, it suddenly becomes clear why our church has been advised, from the earliest years of its organization, to put women into ministry positions,and pay them similarly to men. In the current context of explosive controversy,perhaps it is best that, rather than arguing about historical or biblical limitations or opportunities for women in ministry, we focus on at least obeying what all of us agree God has commanded: that we put women into ministry, at least to other women, and pay them. Because I can tell you, while we stand on the shore and argue about lifeboats, our women are drowning by the thousands for lack of personal ministry from other women.

The woman at the well is not an irrelevant example. As I write, one-third of those watching Internet pornography are female. Lest we think that sexual addiction is still primarily a man’s problem, add to that the number of women addicted to novels, music, movies and fantasy. Based on my experience as a biblical counselor, I’d say we should be as concerned about sexual addiction among women as among men.

But it’s not the only crisis crying out for personal application of the gospel. What about the women dealing with bitter marriage problems, who will only too eagerly welcome the caring attentions of a godly male pastor? In addition, with the skyrocketing of porn has come sexual abuse like the world has never seen. Conservative statistics tell us that at least one-third of our women have already been sexually abused by age 18. That number is escalating every year. Where should we send these women for help? To male pastors? Seriously? I’m asking the question because these women need answers.

These women need personal ministry, and they need it from other women. Sexual abuse strikes at the heart of a person’s ability to keep the law of God, because it is one of the most powerful arguments against God being a God of love. If God does not seem loving to me, how can I love Him with all my heart, soul, mind and strength? Never mind loving my neighbor as myself! To love and forgive abusers is impossible without the empowering love of God within us.

In this context, how can we shrug off the desperate need for women in ministry?Let’s stop arguing about calling them pastors and ordaining them. Let’s focus on what matters: obeying the commands of God. Let’s put women into ministry,at the very least to other women, and pay them. I have a hunch that if we prayerfully focus on Spirit-filled obedience to what 99% of us agree is the clearly revealed will of God, the other stuff will work itself out. Unlike a bitter couple hurtling toward a nasty divorce, let’s focus on our 99%agreement: we need women in ministry, at least to other women.

What I am proposing is simple and radical, and could change the face of the debate: Let’s lay down our crusades for all-or-nothing. Rather than making our goal“winning,” like the disciples in the Upper Room, we can instead make our goal Spirit-filled unity in doing what we all agree God has commanded.

Either way, we are defying the commands of God to put women into ministry, at the very least to other women, and pay them.

Let me be more specific. If you are convicted that women should be pastors, big deal–seeking to unitedly obey God’s clear commands is not failure. If you are convicted women shouldn’t be pastors, big deal–see previous answer. Because all of the options on the table right now are, in my opinion, bad ones. Put women into ministry only in cultures where calling women “pastor” is culturally acceptable, while shrugging off the needs of our desperate sisters in other regions of the world? Those women are writing me despairing appeals for help, and I’m telling you, that’s not enough. Successfully ban all women from the main avenue to paid ministry currently available in the church? Practically, how does that solve this desperate need for women to help women? Either way, we are defying the commands of God to put women into ministry, at the very least to other women, and pay them.

Perhaps this battle has not been a distraction from God’s call. Maybe it has been the opposite: a wake-up call from our loving Savior, showing us how far we have fallen from Spirit-filled willingness to put aside our differences and wash one another’s feet. Maybe, rather than being a call to arms, this is a call to service, to radical humility, to the “one accord” experience necessary for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Let’s not make the same mistake made in 1888. Because I don’t know about you, but I want to get off of this rock and go home.

“The righteousness which Christ taught is conformity of heart and life to the revealed will of God.” DA 310

 

387961_10151189420875204_236355998_nNicole Parker was once a zealot intent on changing the world, but is now an astonishingly domesticated homeschooling mom living in quite possibly the tamest town on earth–Collegedale, Tennessee. While engaged in her mundane tasks of chopping veggies and sweeping floors, she enjoys lofty theological ponderings, a pursuit also enjoyed by her husband Alan, a professor at Southern Adventist University. This penchant has led her to inch her way through a master’s degree in biblical counseling, and now has her devouring a master’s degree in pastoral ministry from Andrews University. However, she has zero intention, and even less desire, to become a pastor. Check out her website at www.heartthirst.com

[/box_holder]