Monday, July 11, 2022

Ten Random Thoughts on Missions

In recent months, I have found myself engaged in several conversations about missions with a number of dear friends and some strangers who are doing remarkable work for the Lord all over the world. The conversations were provoking & heartwarming, and they challenged my thinking and attitude. My heart was encouraged to see what the Lord is doing throughout the world to draw many souls to himself. Some of the works will never be heard, but the results will be seen when God's people gather around the throne from every tongue, tribe and nation, worshipping the Lamb who is worthy! Let me share some random thoughts with you from these conversations. 

  1. Awareness about missions is not the same as action. It is possible to talk about the need for the gospel and to go and give, but that awareness must not be mistaken for action.
  2. We need more believers willing to count the cost to take the gospel to places in desperate need of the good news. An estimated 3 billion people in the world have never heard the gospel and live in the most unreached areas in the world.
  3. Christian families must be committed to praying and giving to the work of missions generously and regularly. To build a culture of missions in our churches, we must start in the home.
  4. Christians must be intentional about sharing the gospel with those around them. One cannot be committed to the gospel to far places if they do not have a lifestyle of sharing the gospel with those they live and work with.  
  5. Churches must send qualified and capable men to plant churches. Unqualified and incompetent leadership is dangerous and unhelpful to all involved.
  6. It's unwise to send someone to church plant cross-culturally when they have not gained or received some practical ministry training and exposure in their local context. To move someone straight from the classroom to cross-cultural church planting is potentially careless and dangerous for the person and the ministry. The potential damage is great. And while the wounds may heal, the scars will remain.
  7. Churches must have a clear strategy to take the gospel to the unreached people groups. We need to study, be on the lookout for new places developing, and be aware of where gospel preaching churches are most needed.
  8. Some missions curriculums and textbooks in bible schools need some revision. A lot of the places that were considered frontiers are now doing missions. Going into these places and serving effectively will require a change in mindset and approach.
  9. The west needs to know and learn from the church planting endeavours of churches in Africa. 
  10. The African churches need to learn from the good and bad of several years of mission effort from western churches. Our brothers and sisters have led and set an example for us. There is much we can learn and emulate; there is also a lot we should avoid and keep far from us.

Onwards and upwards, dear Christian, onwards and upwards!

 

Monday, May 23, 2022

The Implications of Friendships on Ministry and Missions

             “How can I develop meaningful relationships with the locals so that I can be accepted and welcomed among them,” a Western couple asked, during their orientation, weeks after landing on the mission field in Africa.. “You can’t” was an understandable but shocking response. Understandable because the ethnic and cultural barriers are enormous and near impossible to navigate. Shocking because shouldn’t Christians pursue gospel unity amid diversity? Doesn’t the gospel bring down these cultural barriers? Devastated at the prospect of having to live and serve among and alongside fellow believers without the prospect of meaningful Christian relationships, my friends went home sad.

            We are a product of faced paced action. We move from one program or event to another. We measure our success in terms of projects we have accomplished or programs we have successfully organised. People and relationships are simply part of the package that comes with our programs and projects. It is easier and less messy not to get too involved with their lives. It is costly and inconvenient. It will slow down your progress and then there is a chance you might have to start adjusting as you are confronted with your own lessons.

            So, in the spirit of the age, we prefer shallow and superficial relationships. They provide us with enough social interaction to make us have an appearance of normalcy but not deep or real enough to require accountability and appreciate vulnerability. While this might be the trend in the world, it must not be so among Christians, regardless of our social, economic and racial background or make-up.

Understanding the makeup of a church family

            Some of the analogies used for the church are body, building, bride and family. The gospel of Christ calls God’s enemies to turn from their stubborn and sinful rebellion to God in repentance by trusting in the finished work of Christ on the cross. Christ died and paid the penalty for sin. This salvation brings peace between God and man. It also brings us into the family of God. We are adopted and given the right to be called children of God. But God then calls us to love one another in this new family. What this means is that we selflessly care and are concerned for the welfare of others and  be willing to sacrifice for them. But it also means that we are committed to knowing and pursuing relationships with them so that we can sincerely share and have all things in common.

Understanding our vulnerability and openness in the church family

            These kinds of relationships are rich, rewarding and refreshing. They are also, messy, draining and costly. They demand hard work and selflessness. They demand that you open up and make yourself vulnerable. It demands that you are strong enough and radically transformed by grace to be willing to learn from others, even from those who are different from you. It also means that you would have to often be corrected. It will demand that you cry a lot and laugh a lot as you bear one another’s burdens. This is the essence of friendship and family. It is what the disciples shared with the Lord Jesus Christ—from the demonstration of power on the mount to the agony of Gethsemane; from the pain of betrayal, denial and abandonment, to the joy of restoration, commissioning and empowering.

Understanding the implications for ministry and missions

            Programs and projects are not an end in and of themselves. They are not our goal and they should not be our motive. Programs and projects are a means to an end. Our legacy must not be in the number of projects we completed nor the magnitude of the program we undertook. The end is making disciples (people) of all nations (tribes and tongues; people). We commit (invest and train) the things we received (from people) to others (people), who will train (invest in) others (people). The Lord is on a mission to draw a people to and for himself. He is gathering worshippers from all the nations who will worship him in spirit and in truth so that he may be glorified. Projects and programs have their place and they are useful, but they are not the mission.

            Biblical ministry and missions enterprise will pursue people and build meaningful, deep and vulnerable relationships with them. This is true regardless of the cultural and ethnic differences because the gospel takes those who have no business to be friends and makes them family (brother and sister), such that Western Christian, has more in common with an African Christian than even with a Westerner who is not a Christian. That is the power of the gospel.

            In the light of this priority, my Western friends are committed to developing genuine relationships with the locals. They gave of themselves and all they had and sometimes, awkwardly but humbly, received what the locals offered them. They have over the years developed meaningful relationships and their lives and ministries are better off for it. That is the power of the gospel. So, in the midst of awkward, difficult people and our differences, we still pursue them diligently, humbly, lovingly and patiently.  That is the power of the gospel!   

 

 

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

RESPONDING TO HURT IN THE CHURCH

 

The Bible presents the Church using beautiful and glorious word pictures. The Church is the body of Christ, which shares in the perfections of her head (1 Corinthians 12:20Ephesians 1:22-23Colossians 1:18). She is a building that is built on the firm foundation of Christ (Ephesians 2:20). She is also called a radiant bride, loved and purchased by the blood of the Son of God (Ephesians 5:25Revelation 19:7-8). These images are not only beautiful but reassuring. They, in a sense, present the Church in an attractive and alluring manner. That said, one does not have to stay long in a church to notice that beauty and glory are often a distant illusion. It’s in the church that many of us have experienced profound hurt.

The Church Is The People

The church is not the building or its programs. It is the people. And as we all know, people are often messy and hurtful. Hurt people hurt others.

If you are reading this and you belong to a local church, there’s a good chance you’ve been hurt before. This could be through neglect in time of need or some form of nasty treatment—actual or perceived. The reality is that by joining a group of sinners, you are almost guaranteed to be hurt in some form or shape. Thus, part of our sanctification is to know how to deal with hurt and the hurting among us.

Sources Of Hurt

These hurts come from various sources or in different forms. The first and most apparent is inter-personal conflict. These conflicts and quarrels come because of selfishness and sinful desires in our hearts (James 4:1-3). Unless they are dealt with biblically, these conflicts have a way of breeding hurt and will soon affect a congregation (Philippians 4:2). Divisions about doctrine, practice, or ministerial philosophy are also a source of hurt. Those who ‘lose’ the battle will often be marginalised or hounded out.

Another source of hurt in the church is abuse. This comes in many forms. Some have experienced manipulation from false teachers or leaders who are intoxicated with power. Sadly, we have even seen cases of sexual abuse. Another common source of hurt is the wrong expression of church discipline as well as how we respond to it. Going through such experiences will leave one emotionally and mentally hurting. Many of us have scars to show for it.  

Two Tempting Reactions To Hurt

When one has experienced any of the above hurts, or others, two reactions are instinctive.

The first is to retreat and let the pain simmer inside. These people harbour hatred and bitterness or resort to self-pity. They will often abandon the local church altogether because they cannot stand the pretence and hypocrisy. They figure they are better off alone. In some instances, they may have tried to voice their frustrations, but they were not heard.

The second reaction is to attack. Wounded people are often a danger to themselves and others. For we naturally desire to get even, and take the offensive. There is a desire to pay back and put people in their place. Hence, malicious slander and gossip ensues. But this sort of conduct is not befitting of God’s people.  

Whatever the reaction, whether retreating or attacking, we must remember that these reactions, though instinctive, are not biblical. In many ways, followers of Jesus must live counter-intuitively to their nature. One of the ways we can be set apart, demonstrating holiness, is in how we respond to hurt.

Make Christ Your Example

In order to respond differently to hurt, we will need the example of Christ before us. For the Son of God came down to earth to live among and die at the hands of the people he had created. What is even more remarkable is that at the very moment they were crucifying him, he was sustaining their lives and dying for their sins.

Therefore, Paul writes: “If there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:1-5).

How To Respond to Hurt

With Christ as our example, contrary to the ways in which we instinctively react to hurt, I will conclude with four biblical responses.

1. Pray  

One of the hymns we sing as a church family asks the following questions: “Are you weary, are you heavy-hearted”; “are you grieving over joys departed”; “do the tears flow down your cheeks unbidden”? The refrain, and the answer, is: “Tell it to Jesus”. We have an all-knowing, sympathising high priest who cares for our needs and knows about our struggles. Dear hurting Christian, cast your cares on the Lord (1 Peter 5:7). Tell him how you feel. Ask for grace and humility to handle the matter in a way that honours him and loves others.

2. Confront 

If someone has sinned against you, we have a Christian responsibility to point out the error of his or her ways lovingly so that they may repent (Matthew 18:15-20). This is part of our responsibility of growing one another. When we develop a healthy culture of confronting sin with the goal of reconciliation, we will, in turn, build one another up in our faith. It is through confrontation that those who are wolves in sheep's skin are exposed and expelled. It is worth noting, that failure to confront is disobedience to God's word and simply enables and encourages those who hurt others. 

3. Forgive 

Whenever a group of sinners comes together, it is guaranteed that they will offend and hurt one another. One sure way churches can live in harmony is by ensuring that we forego our rights to demand retribution. Instead, we must cultivate forgiveness and grace. Resist the temptation to hold grudges and harbour bitter anger.

4. Patience  

Change is a process. Individual Christian faith and maturity grow slowly. It takes time. This is also true of the broader Christian community. Therefore, as we pray, confront and forgive one another, we must exercise patience. Paul exhorts Timothy to teach with all patience (2 Timothy 2:24). As we deal with frustrations and hurts within the church, we must heed the instruction to bear with one another.

Note: This was first written for the Gospel Coalition Africa blog. 

https://africa.thegospelcoalition.org/article/how-not-to-respond-to-church-hurt/


 

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Four Temptations Young Preachers May Face


I started pursuing vocational ministry at a young age, right out of high school. And I was officially ordained for pastoral ministry nine years ago. I still draw looks of sympathy and shock when people find out I am a pastor at Faith Baptist Church. All that to say, I am still a young man. Thankfully, we have more young men desiring ministry and serving in different churches and organisations.  I have received numerous warnings during my time in ministry to watch my life and doctrine. “Be wary of the three big sins; pride, sexual scandals and love for money.” They would say. Of the three, greed for money and sexual immorality are emphasised partly because they are often prominent and easy to notice and prove. Pride, however, is harder to prove. Have you ever tried to confront a proud person about their pride? Or do you remember your response the last time you were confronted about your pride? You get my point, right? While what I say here can be true of everyone, my focus will be on the young ministers (both in age and newness to pastoral ministry). 

The pride of Impatience                                            

Youthful zeal and vigour are the blessings young people possess in abundance. They have the strength and always boiling to get things done. They want to preach people out of their sins and see everyone grow to maturity like yesterday. They want success now. They also have seen and admired the success of their spiritual heroes. They want to emulate their successes and enjoy the privileges that their heroes enjoy. They forget that their heroes have laboured for decades and are beginning to see and enjoy the fruit. The ministry is not like throwing popcorn in the microwave; it is like a farmer planting a seed in the ground and waiting patiently. Impatience leads to frustration and discouragement, which leads to joyless service.

Clamour for attention and platforms

Social media has made all of us into self-marketers. We have learnt how to package, parade and promote ourselves. We put ourselves out there and wait for the likes, shares and comments. We desire to take the word out, but we also want to be noticed and recognised. We clamour for attention and platforms. We want the big and famous to see and recognise us. We love the church, but we want a personal ministry venture by the side, which can be considered our initiative. So we look for praise and applause wherever we can get it, and we are shocked and unprepared when confronted, criticised or condemned. We deem ourselves experts on every issue and freely and strongly share our opinions. We will do anything to get attention, including attacking and slandering other Christians. After all, the more malicious and cynical our comments are, the more airwave they receive. We need to constantly remind ourselves that Self-praise and self-referential ministers do not point to Christ. 

An assumed holiness

One blessing of ministry is the gift of regular opportunities to teach, study and read extensively. Ministers get to answer questions and have conversations with people about all kinds of spiritual and biblical topics. With this comes the temptation to have assumed holiness. To think that because you have taught something, you have lived it. And to believe that you become holy by the sheer fact that you have read and taught something. As a result, it is not uncommon to find young ministers whose self-assessment of their holiness is far from reality and whose life is screaming louder than their words. This is the failure to learn and listen to those who have gone before us and assume we know it all. We behave like that single and childless seminary graduate who wrote his dissertation on “the five definitive principles of raising children,” his bold and assuming title underwent several revisions after marriage and children came; from “five principles to raising children” to “five suggestions” and last “, help me I am dying” after the fifth child! Teaching truth and even doing it well is not the same as living it out.

An argumentative and quarrelsome spirit

Young people are inclined to be argumentative and quarrelsome. It is partly because of the eagerness and because they are just beginning to learn principles and are not fully exposed. They see things only one way and are therefore narrow-minded. They are ready to jump into every fight and burn bridges—cue in social media, which unfortunately provides a platform for both the wise and unwise. Paul warns Timothy to pursue purity, and in this context, he is concerned about a quarrelsome spirit. Paul says that an antagonistic spirit comes from an impure heart.

            In our pride, we want everyone to be like us. We expect them to agree with everything we say and support all our ideas. They must fit our tradition, and we do away with them if they do not. That was the spirit of disciples when they stopped someone from casting out demons because he was not one of them. They forgot that the Lord can use anyone to advance his kingdom. We will mark and avoid them purely because they are not part of our tribe.

Conclusion

        When not dealt with rightly and humbly, these temptations and struggles make for some angry, discouraged, and envious young preachers. They blast, shout, complain and grumble about the church and everything else. They are often discouraged and do not experience the joy of their Christian service. They do not delight in the work because they do not delight in the Lord. Their angry preaching is mistaken for powerful preaching. Their self-pity attitude is spiritualised and called suffering in the ministry. Discouraged, angry and joyless people do not make for good shepherds, nor are they examples of Christlikeness. And so, young ministers need to learn to delight in Christ and find their satisfaction in him alone because he is more than enough. John’s declaration should be every minister’s declaration, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

 

Monday, January 24, 2022

Satan’s Agenda for the Church

Mike Fabrez once challenged a group of preachers to prepare and preach with expectations that Satan is a foe who has an agenda for the church, the family, and individual believers. This reality should fuel prayer and passion in preaching. This tremendously challenged my perspective, and I thought I should share the truths I learned. So, what is Satan’s agenda for the church? 

1.                  To persecute the church

Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death. Revelation 2:10

2.                  To keep the church apart

But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face, because we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, again and again—but Satan hindered us. 1 Thessalonians 2: 17-18

3.                  To promote conflict in the church

Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. 2 Timothy 2:23-26

4.                  To oppose the church’s evangelism

But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me. Acts 26:6-18

5.                  To get people to depart from the doctrine of the church

Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. 1 Timothy 4:1-3

 In view of Satan’s agenda for the church, preachers must heed Paul’s solemn charge to the young preacher Timothy—to preach the Word and not relent from doing so at any time. The congregation must be devoted to praying for the preacher and the preaching of God’s Word. Furthermore, congregations must demand that the preacher preach the Word so that they can be equipped to submit to God and resist the devil.

 It is instructive that Paul says to the Ephesians believers that when members are equipped, they do the work of ministry and the church is built up and is able to withstand the fiery darts of the devil (Ephesians 6:12-16).