Monday, May 09, 2016

One on One

In his book The Master Plan of Evangelism Robert Coleman points out the example of Jesus in his ministry as individual instruction, small group instruction and preaching to large congregations.  These three are at least helpful in considering how a church should organize the discipleship ministry of the church.  Making disciples is a direct command in Scripture (Mt 28:18-19).  Jesus’ example of making disciples when working with individuals, small groups, and larger gatherings is strategic for the modern church. This blog post focuses on one to one discipleship.  

Richard Baxter (1615-1691) in his book “The Reformed Pastor” describes how he traveled from home to home teaching the catechism.  He had a clerk arrange appointments for the members of the parish.  Rev. Baxter would visit each family in the parish. The church provided printed catechisms which he left with his congregation members.  His approach was to talk with all members of the household but the time spent with the children was by habit short.  He focused on teaching the catechism to the fathers who was expected to pass down the information to the rest of the household.  Depending on family composition, he may work more with the mother who was head of household or wife of an unbelieving husband.  His work with individuals consumed much of his time, and he worked exceedingly hard.  He had lasting effects on the congregation many years even after his death. 

Fast Forward to the 20th Century when Dawson Trotman (1906 – 1956) worked with individuals in the military.  He met with US Navy sailors individually.  He taught practices such as daily Bible reading and prayer.  He also covered basic teachings such as salvation, Christian growth and inspiration of Scripture, however he focused on instilling practices that would lead the individuals he was mentoring into finding God for themselves in Scripture.  This approach has been successful in teaching Biblical literacy and praxis but was light on theology. 

I have personally gone through several discipleship programs which used the individual instruction method.  In college I was discipled by Don Braem as an older brother in the Lord. (Discipleship period: 1981-82).    While stationed in California I went through the Barnabas program (Discipleship period:1986).  I was mentored by Steve Martell, who was mentored by Bill Holdridge, who was mentored by Cliff Stabler, who was mentored by Ray Stedman. This program used the book Authentic Christianity by Ray Stedman which directs the Christian away the tendency of seeking salvation by faith but seeking sanctification by works.  Sanctification is also a work of God.  Later when stationed in Virginia I went through the One-to-One discipleship program mentored by Ron Johnson (Discipleship period: 1989-1996).  This was 10 lessons on basic Christian life.  I took four other guys through the material.  When I moved to Maryland I was mentored by Arthur Ames (Discipleship period: 1996-1999).  I had wrestled in embracing the Reformed faith.  Arthur was just the right guy to answer my questions and lead me down the right path.   All of these and other Christians have been instrumental in my own growth as a Christian.  

One on one is best for establishing foundational information, identifying educational gaps and removing them, and developing mature leaders.  

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

The Source of Conflict in My Life

Πόθεν πόλεμοι καὶ πόθεν μάχαι ἐν ὑμῖν; οὐκ ἐντεῦθεν, ἐκ τῶν ἡδονῶν ὑμῶν τῶν στρατευομένων ἐν τοῖς μέλεσιν ὑμῶν;
(Jas. 4:1 NA28)

Where do wars or conflicts come from in you? Do they not come from the pleasure you find in war making in your members?
(James 4:1 my own working translation)

We have conflict and fight with each other because we like it. I know people often are the victims of other people's love of the fight, however, we have to be constantly vigilant of our own hearts. We have to be aware of our own instinct to dig someone else, to go head to head, or to just compete in an unhealthy way. In recent years people have often thought that war comes from lack of resources. That may be a contributing factor, but the heart of mankind is the real source. People often think poor communication techniques or lack of empathy is the reason we have personal conflict. Communications techniques can help, but often our heart will turn good techniques on their head when used for sinful purposes. When we viciously compete with our neighbor and win, a part of our triumph may be to know exactly how they feel when they loose. It is not that we have not engaged emotionally with the other person, it is that we have engaged with sinful purpose in mind. We fight because we like conflict. We like the fight whether it is verbal or physical. We like the fight whether it is via gossip or the sports field. We all have conflict and often we like it if we can win or think we are winning. Not addressed in the verse is the idea of healthy and unhealthy conflict. The verse mainly deals with the source of conflict which is the human heart, my heart and your heart.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

We Hold Convictions Because They First Hold Us

If we go to a clothing store, we expect choose according to our taste and preference.  There are practical concerns like size and season that may inform our choices, but we can buy any article of clothing in the store.  It need not be our size or fit our marketing demographic.  I can buy a pair of jeans that would be more suitable for a young man in his twenties.  Besides the functional issues, clothing choice is a matter of style and taste.  These define what we want to communicate about ourselves.  It is our choice.

                        Image result for creative commons images buying clothes

There are other decisions we make in life that define our story.  If we accept or reject a marriage proposal, it has a great deal of impact on our life story.  If we are able to choose between two career paths that appear to be significant, meaningful work, that choice will influence our income, our life-work balance, our mobility, our health, and our professional network.  While practical concerns are expanded in impact and issues of the heart are deep, we still have a choice to make.

In our age of modern commerce, marketing towards our choices is common place.  If we go to Starbucks, we expect to have a multitude of choices.  If we book a hotel, we may be focused on price, amenities, location, or style.  These type of decisions may appeal to our sense of self by helping us to define ourselves.  Style, social association, and self-identification through our purchases is part of our modern culture.  Most of us, including this author, participate in these social rituals.

Image result for creative commons images buying coffee

This is not how freedom of religion works.  We do not sit down with a list of tastes, preferences, and practical benefits of religion and decide what we want.  If we have the luxury of choosing clothing, food or entertainment according to personal preference it is nice, fun and satisfying.  Weighty decisions that influence our story or define our character are a part of all our lives.  We should enjoy it.  However, this is not how freedom of religion works for anyone.  If we choose according to taste, this is not really encountering God.  We are in the driver’s seat and God is in the back seat.  In other words, we are our own God.  That leaves us not with freedom of religion, but of perhaps freedom of association and freedom of expression.  It may be a means of self-identification, not service to the God whom you have encountered.  Freedom of religion is based not on my preferences, but on my convictions.  A conviction is not centered on taste but on truths about justice, meaning, purpose, and story.  We may have an appetite for the truth or we may not.  A conviction takes hold of us so that whether we have an attraction to something or not, we pursue the stance consistent with the conviction.  Convictions differ from preferences in that a preference is what we pursue for pleasure. Convictions are what take hold of  us so that we are willing to suffer for them.

In a society where religion is handed down either by the family or by the state and there is no conviction on the part of the one practicing it, this is not freedom of religion.  A religion handed down is one that means a person chooses what to do, not a religion taking hold of the person.  God is not taking hold of the person.  This is not a transcendent experience that encounters God, but a human experience where a person encounters human ritual, human thought, and human community.  On a human level, we decide what we are going to do with that.  Shall we embrace it?  Shall we use it for social or business advantage?  Shall we let it pass by as a social artifact?  Shall we give lip service to the religion of the state or family?  We have a lot of choices when religion is handed down.  I can not speak authoritatively for other religions, but as Christians if it is simply the human experience we have lost the essence of Christianity.  If there are no eternal truths, we are merely holding the shell of the Christian experience.  If we have not met God through Jesus Christ, we are nominal Christians at best.  When the United States was founded on freedoms, that freedom of religion principle was based on the idea that women and men should not have to suffer under the hand of the government for their convictions.  The founders had observed how many people had suffered greatly for their convictions.

However, if we have freedom of religion we are not looking for preferences we are looking for convictions.   A conviction is something we hold as a fundamental truth for which we will suffer to live up to.  A conviction is not a preference we find within ourselves, but a principle whose importance, beauty and truth has captured our heart.  In a sense freedom of religion means we are captive to truth, justice, and righteousness.  A preference is that we can choose bottled, tap, mineral or sparkling water.  A conviction is that there is only one source of living water.  A conviction is not about my preference.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Review of Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus by J. Mack Stiles

I've been a student of evangelism for years. I've taken multiple college and seminary courses. I've been trained in church based programs. The motivation and theological reasons to do evangelism are often addressed. Sometimes these are the only issues of evangelism addressed because we are more comfortable with theological reflection than meeting people. At other times the techniques of evangelism get addressed. As one explores techniques, it is often the same as general persuasive communication used in business decisions, sales, policy debates, and public speaking...but watered down to one sales pitch which addresses one dimension. Often one sales pitch takes into account all the great public speaking techniques, but the techniques are usually not taught explicitly. These techniques of persuasive speech are incorporated into the structure of the canned presentation, but not taught explicitly. This would be indicative of training, not education. It is my observation that there is theology and techniques, but there is not much robust praxis. What is the difference between praxis and technique? I would say praxis is what we do in the Christian faith that has theological reflection as to why we do it. Technique on the other hand does not assume Christian theology so much as pragmatic outcomes as its rational. Praxis is more global in the issues addressed and multi-layered in issues addressed. Often the techniques of evangelism looks at what worked for one person and tries to teach other people to do the same. This often works but it often does not work. When it works we rejoice and use it as a reason everyone should adopt the technique. When it does not work we hide it and blame the one who did not follow the technique faithfully. I remember no indications that Mack Stiles intended to write a book about the praxis of evangelism, but it seems to me he did. He sees the persuading as a patient retelling of the gospel message multiple times in many contexts. The core of the gospel message is constant, but the individual stories of how one moves from rejection to consideration, from consideration to acceptance is a non-linear story in real life. Stiles seems to know this from experience. He understands that a culture of evangelism as a team is important. His book is one of the best on this topic.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Prayer of Repentance

Dear Jesus the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,

               We praise you and thank you that you did not just die for some of our sins but you took away completely our sin if we trust in you.  Lord as a body of evangelicals we are guilty of often confessing our personal faults and our sins as an individual and though our individual sins create disharmony, suffering, disorder, and cut off our relationship with you, we recognize particularly our corporate sins as a church, as a nation, and as a people today. We also realize that through our corporate sins we have created unjust systems, unjust advantages, and suffering not just those in our immediate social circle but upon many in far reaching corners that we cannot seeing.  Forgive us where we have not taught against and opposed racism.  Forgive us where we have not sought peaceful protection of the unborn.  Forgive us where we have not given an uplifting hand to those burdened with systemic disadvantage.  Forgive us where we have had no concern for the stewardship of your creation, sometimes call our environment.  For these and other corporate sins we ask your forgiveness. 


Saturday, March 07, 2015

Changing Church in the USA

I'm told that the church in the USA is becoming more ethnic and less white.  I go to a church that is predominately white but welcomes other ethnic groups.  We have some African, Hispanic and Filipino backgrounds among our usual gatherings for Sunday morning worship.  At work I find that most people who are dedicated Christians are people who are not white.  I find more in common with my African-american co-worker because of our unity in Christ than I do in my co-workers who identify as white but do not identify as Christian.  I welcome the church being diverse and welcoming not because we are trying to mimic the USA culture on the issue but God is glorified as we have every nation, tribe and tongue worship him.  Sometimes that is in congregations that are culturally and ethnically diverse.  The article on the Association of Religion Data Archive called "Are Black Americans the Most Religious - and Virtuous - of all?" shows how African-american Christians have many of the marks of true discipleship. I recommend it for your consideration.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Review of the Book "The Reformed Pastor" by Richard Baxter

Richard Baxter's book is considered a classic by many, but I found it a bit long winded for the content and on the side of moralistic teaching.  The book does not fit our modern disposition for techniques and effectiveness.  It is my understanding that Richard Baxter was quite the effective pastor however, he begins with and dwells for quite some time on the topic of self-examination of the pastor.  This self-examination does not let up but he makes sure that one has sensed one's sin as a pastor.  While it may appear heavy handed by modern measurements, it would be a mistake to dismiss the book.  His point of view from where he sits in church history is instructive to those of us in 2015 and beyond.  Basically, his advice is simple:

1.  Walk with the Lord God yourself
2.  Be diligent in seeking the Lord God
3.  Work hard as a pastor to study
4.  Work hard as a pastor to teach everyone in your care with personal instruction
5.  Do not think the office of the pastor is a job to keep one from hard work
6.  Teach a good catechism to your people

It may not have come in that order, but that is about the gist of it.  The emphasis on self-examination dwells and stays there for quite sometime so that if one completes that book, one cannot escape the emotional impact of his call.  The emphasis is addresses issues of the heart than any particular technique to be used for action.  Where he does talk about technique is on the area of pastoral visitation.  He emphasizes that one should do personal visitation of each and every member under pastoral care.  I was anxious to receive his instruction on this, however, the instruction is quite light in comparison with the challenge to examine one's self.  I read the whole thing to get to some fairly light things said about how to conduct visitation in the home.  Baxter had his cleric arrange the times to visit.  He wanted to talk with all in the home but focus on the heads of the household.  He encourages a proper tone and attitude with whom one speaks.

A benefit of Baxter's book to me personally was his brief discussion of the use of the catechism.  I was raised some of my youth in the Cumberland Presbyterian (CP) church.  While that denomination has many fond memories for me, and I studied diligently the teachings of the CP church, I did not observe anyone teach the catechism of the CP church.  We did study the Confession of Faith, but never the catechism.  As a middle aged adult I have found a denominational home in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).  I identify more closely with the PCA's fondness for Bible believing academics and rigorous teaching of the Bible.  However, I have found the only examples of catechism teaching in the PCA is that of self-study of those who are preparing for ministry or one example of a man raised in a pastor's home who dearly loves the teaching of Westminster Shorter and Larger Catechisms.  Outside of that, I've wondered how to properly employ the catechisms.  What are their places in our teaching, doctrinal understanding and Christian Education?  Baxter's work helped me to understand the right use of a catechism.  Baxter uses it as a basic Christian Education curriculum.  Baxter does not so much want one to use "THE" catechism so much as use "a" catechism.  He says that the main questions in a catechism should be focused on the most crucial and basic questions.  This was helpful to me to view the catechism as a focused Christian Education curriculum.  This view of the catechism helps me understand how I would use it.  I am hesitant to ask people to memorize anything but Bible verses. I want as many Bible verses memorized as possible and I'm concerned that if I ask people to memorize the catechism they will not get to the Bible memory discipline.  I'm also concerned that we might consider memorization of the catechism would replace constant searching out of the Scriptures in an in depth fashion, that pat answers could replace a deep devotional reading and rigorous study of the Bible.  However, seeing that a catechism as a Christian Education resource helps me.  I have become frustrated with curriculum that is build more for its selling value than for a richer understanding of God's Word and a walk with him.  Topics chosen are often suited for answering modern temporal concerns than answering transcendent questions that are timeless.  The catechisms I've read do a good job of focusing on the major issues in the Christian life.  Baxter's discussion of the catechism helped me place the catechism in a place that has less tensions for me.  I do question how we make the catechism teachable, but its place in our Christian community is more clear for me.

Overall, I would only recommend the book for those who need stirred to do the work of the ministry. I've heard it said that pastors tend to either overwork themselves or toward laziness.  This is a book to urge those who make constant soft choices to push themselves toward deep devotional life, a self-examined life, and invest themselves into the lives of their flock.  The overworked might better look elsewhere for their balance to their disposition.