Most Pastors start out their ministry being bi-vocational. According to a recent article in the Baptist Press, bi-vocational Pastors make up nearly half of all the Pastors in many states. When I served in West Virginia, our association of 15 churches only had 2 full-time ministers. It is expected that in the coming years the numbers of bi-vocational Pastors is going to increase. Before I talk about how to prepare sermons as a bi-vocational Pastor let me first remind you the ApostlePaul was bi-vocational throughout his ministry and that you should never feel second-class or unimportant. Bi-vocational Pastors are the iron men of the ministry and have helped to push the gospel into places that it would have not penetrated. The first two years of my ministry were spent in bi-vocational work and honestly it was some of the most exciting days of my ministry. The very nature of this kind of work forces you to be dependent upon God, but it does come with its own set of problems. Not the least of which is the problem of how to get everything done when you are working two full-time jobs.
Beginning today I am going to dedicate my Friday blog posts to reviewing the books I’ve been reading or that have made a particular impact on my life and ministry. This morning I want to begin with a review of Jeff Iorg’s book entitled “The Case for Antioch.” Dr. Iorg currently serves as the President of Golden Gate Seminary but prior to coming to this position he served as a Pastor and church planter. In this book Dr. Iorg presents the church of Antioch as a case study for what a healthy church should look like.
He begins the book by showing the difficulty that occurs when we say that we want to be a New Testament church. Which one of the many local churches mentioned in Acts do we want to be like? — Corinth with it’s infighting and moral problems, Galatia with their fundamental doctrinal errors, Thessalonica with their end times fury. The simple truth of the matter is that nearly every church mentioned in the New Testament struggled with the very same problems that the modern church does. But of all the churches mentioned in the New Testament, Dr. Iorg suggests, that one stands out as a shining example for what the church should be like —the church at Antioch.
In the first chapters of the book, Iorg provides us with a brief history of the church in Antioch and how it came to occupy such an important place in the New Testament. You will remember during the first ten to fifteen years after the resurrection of Jesus, the work of the church primarily focused on Jewish evangelism in and around the city of Jerusalem, but after the martyrdom of Stephen in Acts 8, the church began to be scattered. In Acts 11:19-20 a group of unnamed, innovative evangelists preached the gospel to the Hellenists in the city of Antioch. When the news came back to the church at Jerusalem the elders there sent Barnabas to check out what was happening. He in turn went to find Saul and together they returned to the city of Antioch where they spend the next year teaching and preaching in the city. Acts 11:26 says that “the disciples were first called Christians” in the city of Antioch. Over the next several years, Antioch would become the base for Paul’s three missionary journeys and in many ways eclipse the church in Jerusalem in terms of importance.
In the subsequent chapters of the book Iorg walks us through the history of the church at Antioch. These chapters provide us with a solid case-study approach of how a healthy church functions and carries out its mission. Each of these chapters is backed with solid Biblical and practical material that could easily be adapted into sermons or Bibles studies. Last year, I drew a great deal of information from this book in a series of messages that I preached entitled “What Kind of Church Are We Going to Be?” Several of our church leaders read through the book while I was preaching the series and found it to be extremely beneficial. This year, I plan to use it as one of the small group classes that we offer on Sunday nights.
What I liked best about this book is that it provides us with a Biblical model. There are a tremendous number of books on the market about how various churches are growing and conducting their ministry. These are helpful and I enjoy reading them, but what I most want as a Pastor is to be able to develop a Biblical model for how the church should function. “The Case for Antioch” would be at the top of my list for anyone wanting to develop a Biblical view of what the church should be and do.
The death of Moses, recorded in Deuteronomy 34, must have been a life changing experience for the entire nation of Israel. It is hard for us to grasp just how devastating the death of Moses must have felt to the Israelites, who had been following his leadership for the past forty years. Few figures in history have left such a lasting legacy upon the world, therefore, we struggle to grasp the meaning of his death. Some of you reading this may be old enough to remember the death of Franklin Roosevelt, others can remember the assassination of John F. Kennedy. While too young to remember either of these events, I grew up hearing from my parents and older siblings the stories about the two days these great American presidents died. The closest parallel that I can draw from me personally is the day that Ronald Reagan was shot outside of the Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C. Events such as these send chills down our spines when we remember the fear, confusion, and despondency that occur when the leader of a nation is suddenly taken away. These are the closest parallels that we can think of in order to try to imagine what the Israelites must have been going through, but even they do not come close to putting us in the mindset of what the Jewish people must have been experiencing.
Moses was more than just a political or military leader to the Israelites. If it were not for his faithfulness and obedience to the call of God, Israel would still have been trapped in the bondage of slavery in Egypt. Moses was more than a political leader, he was in a sense their savior, deliverer and rescuer. His death marked the end of one of the most important phases of Israel’s history and the beginning of one of its most trying periods. There are several book of the Old Testament that begin by recording the death of a leader- Judges (Joshua’s death), 2 Samuel (Saul’s death), 2 Kings (Ahab’s death)- each of these mark an important transition in the history of the nation, but none of the others comes close to capturing the emotional sadness and crisis brought about by the death of Moses.
No one in Israel was positioned to experience the death of Moses more personally than Joshua. For years, Joshua had been Moses’ faithful servant. When Moses went up on the mountain to receive the law, Joshua was there with him (Ex 24:13; 32:17). Whenever Moses went out to the tent of meeting to receive a word from God, Joshua was there with him (Ex. 33:11). When Moses needed a trusted general to lead the army of Israel into battle with the Amalekites, he turned to Joshua (Ex 17:8-16). When selecting members of from each tribe of Israel to go in a spy out the promised land, Moses chose Joshua to represent the tribe of Ephraim (Num 13:8). For over 40 years, the lives of these two men had been inseparably linked together. Now Moses was dead. The people had lost leader but Joshua lost a friend and mentor. The people had lost one of the founding figures in their nations history, but Joshua had lost a father figure who had invested his life in teaching Joshua how to serve God. The people had lost one of the inspirational leaders of their past, but Joshua had lost a man that he didn’t think he could ever live without.
The author of Joshua begins by abruptly stating that, “Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise and go over this Jordan, you and all the people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel.” Commenting on this verse, Warren Wiersbe cited the well known modern proverb, “God buries His workmen, but His work goes on.” (Wiersbe) I came across that statement about ten years ago, while I was preaching a series of messages through the book of Joshua. That statement initially startled and even offended me because it seemed to make God callous and indifferent. It seemed to me, at the time, to convey the idea that God was more concerned about His work than about His servants. I was convinced then, and remain so today, that there is more going on here than God merely passing the mantle of leadership from Moses to Joshua. Reading this passage merely as the historical record of the succession of one leader after the death of another misses the point the Biblical author is trying to make. In order to properly understand the intent of this passage we must read Joshua 1:1-5 as more than mere history- we must read it as theological history. This is not meant to deny that the passage contains a record of actual historical events, but to read it merely as history misses the point. The historical records contained within the Bible have a unique theological purpose, they are written with the intent of showing how God keeps His promises within the context of time and space.
In Joshua 1:1-9, God wanted to make it clear that the events going on around the nation, in no way changed or invalidated His promises. The death of Moses brought out the worst fears that the people carried with them. What will happen to us? Who is going to lead us? Is Joshua really up to the challenge of leading the nation? Should we just give up an go back to Egypt? All of these question and more would have been running through the minds of the Israelites as they sat stunned and dismayed in the desert. They needed hope. They needed help. They needed a Word from God and just as He had done 40 years earlier, God broke the silence and spoke to His servant, Joshua, and gave Him a set of promises. “Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given you…No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life…I will be with you…I will not leave you nor forsake you…you shall cause the people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them.” These words must have been like music in Joshua’s ears and they serve to remind us of some of the helpful applications of God’s eternal character.
The Promises of God Rest on His Eternal Nature
Many Biblical scholars have noted that the thrust of this passage is developed around the threefold repetition of the phrase “Be strong and courageous” in verses 5,6, and 7. While I agree that this threefold command forms the crux of God’s message to Joshua I want to point out that the command to “be strong and courageous” rest on the eternal nature and promises of God. The author of Joshua points us in that direction when invokes the name Yahweh at the beginning and end of this passage (v.1, 9). We have already seen in the previous chapter that the divine name Yahweh is a declaration of His self-existence and eternal nature, therefore, I want to suggest that the author had three primary rhetorical purpose for invoking this particular name for God in this passage.
First, he used the repetition of the divine name (YHWH) to form an inclusio, which marks the beginning and ending of the first rhetorical section of the book. At first glance this may seem like nothing more than a literary device, however, closer inspection shows that it is part of the author’s larger literary goal. To see what I mean we need to compare how this book opens with the way it closes. Notice that the book begins and ends by recording the death of a leader. It opens with the death of Moses and concludes with the death of Joshua. In the opening scene, the author shows how the Lord appeared to Joshua after the death of Moses and commanded him to be “strong and courageous.” At the end of the book, Joshua speaks to the people just before his own death and raises the question of whether or not they will remain faithful. We will return in a moment to this observation, but for right now let it suffice to say that the opening section of Joshua is marked by the presence of an inclusion formed by the repetition of the nameYahweh and that the book as a whole is marked at both the beginning and end by the death of Israel’s leader.
Second, the author used the divine name to show the continuity between the life of Joshua and Moses. Just as Yahweh appeared to Moses at the burning bush, so now He was appearing to Joshua to call and commission him to continue the mission that was begun through Moses. As we discussed in the previous chapters, the name Yahweh was given to Moses at the burning bush and was used as the special covenant name for God. It came to symbolize not only the eternal and self-existent nature of God but also His fidelity to His covenant. Now that Moses was dead, the people in general and Joshua in particular needed to be reassured of God’s continued presence and provision. D.R. Davis notes, “Yahweh’s fidelity does not hinge on the achievement of men, however, gifted they may be, nor does it evaporate in the face of funerals or rivers.” (Davis, 18) Moses may have been dead and gone but Yahweh was still alive and ready to carry out His promises.
Finally, and most importantly, He used this name as the basis for Israel’s faith. At several strategic locations in the Pentateuch Moses used the name Yahweh to set Israel’s God apart from the gods of the pagans. By drawing upon this name in the opening statements of the Joshua, the author shows that the commands given to Joshua were grounded in the very nature of God. (Howard, 73) This brings me back to the point that I was making above concerning the rhetorical strategy employed by the author of Joshua. As I noted above, the entire book is rhetorically formulated around the death of two leaders- Moses and Joshua. The deaths of these two leaders establish not only the historical setting in which this book was written but also form an important part of the author’s rhetorical strategy. What this shows us is that the author of Joshua wants to show how God was faithful to His promises after the death of Moses and the actions that Israel will have to take if they want to continue to experience Yahweh’s blessings. At the end of the book, just before his death, Joshua calls the people together and asks them to “choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell.” (24:15) The use of the name Yahweh throughout this book serves as a constant reminder that the promises of God rest in His eternal nature.
Since the promises of God rest upon His unchanging nature the death of a leader, even one as important as Moses, cannot not fundamentally change the relationship between God and His people. The saying that “God buries the workman, but His work goes one,” therefore is not a cold or callous statement about the indifference of God towards his servants, but rather a confession of His timeless, unchanging character. Rather than recording the mere transition of power from one leader to the next, the opening chapter of Joshua records for us the historical/theological account of how the God remains faithful to His promises from one generation to the next.” (Boice, 13-14) Every generation needs to be reminded of this truth.
This morning as I was preparing my Wednesday night Bible study I came across an interesting verse in Psalms 26:8, “O Lord, I love the habitation of your house and the place where your glory dwells.” In his commentary on this verse, Charles Spurgeon tells of a dear lady who was deaf but attended the preaching service of the church every week. When the minister asked this dear lady why she continued to attend the services even though she couldn’t hear a word that was being said she replied, “Though I cannot hear you, I come to God’s house because I love it…” Her comment stands in such contrast to the philosophy of many in our day who say they love Jesus but not the church. I would like to submit to you that to love Jesus means that we also love His church.
When David wrote the words of this Psalm, of course, he was speaking of the Temple as the habitation of God. What many Christians tend to forget today is just as the Temple was in the Old Testament, the church the dwelling place of God today (see Ephesians 2:19-22) In David’s day he would have thought about the Temple as being the dwelling place of God, but today the dwelling place or temple of God is the church. This is why I say that to Love Jesus means that we must also love the church. The church is now the dwelling place or Temple of God.
I understand that there are things that we would all like to change about the way we do church or the things that sometimes go on within the church. But this does not change the fact that we as followers of Christ we are called to love the church. It doesn’t surprise me when I hear those who don’t know Christ tear down the church, but it breaks my heart to hear Christians who seem to never have anything good to say about the church. To love Jesus means that we also love His church. Rather than tearing down and criticizing the church, I would urge all of us to stop and remember what David said, “O Lord, I love the habitation of your house and the place where your glory dwells.” I would like to invite you to take a moment and comment on why you love the church. It may be something that you love about the church in general or perhaps you have a specific way that the church has ministered to your need. But take a moment right now to share with everyone why you love the church in the replies. Let me start us off by sharing some of the reasons why I love the church:
1.) Jesus loves the church and died for it (Eph 5:25-26)
2.) Jesus has commissioned the church to be on mission with HIm (Matthew 28:19-20)
3.) The Keys of the Kingdom have been given to the church and the gates of hell will never prevail over us (Matthew 16:18-20)
4.) Jesus has gifted the church with Spirit-filled leaders (1 Corinthians 12)
5.) Jesus ministers to my physical, spiritual and emotional needs through the church.
6.) Jesus is fulfilling His plans and purposes through the church.
7.) The church is my family
Let’s see how many things we can add to this list.
Here is a link to an article by Thom Rainer that every church leader and member should read.
Yesterday, I talked about the importance of helping church members understand the difference between being committed to “missions” versus “the mission.” Today, I would like to share with you a few thoughts about leading people to embrace the mission.
1. Give people a missional hermeneutic for reading their Bibles.
If people are going to embrace the mission, they must understand what the Bible has to say about it. I try to accomplish this in three ways. First, I teach a new members/believers class entitled “On Mission with God” every other month. This class introduces every new member of our church to the mission of God and helps to show them how it connects the entire Bible together. This is a four week course that I wrote specifically for First Baptist, Metropolis but would be glad to share a PDF copy with anyone who requests it. Second, I try to connect every message that I preach to the mission of God in some way. Since the majority of my preaching involves preaching through specific books of the Bible, it is important that I constantly remind the congregation that what we are reading in Numbers, for instance, is connected with the larger mission of God revealed throughout the entire Bible. Finally, at least once a year, I like to preach/teach and entire series of messages that lay out the mission of God and show how it connects the entire Bible together. What I am finding is that after several years of this kind of preaching and teaching, our people are starting to read their Bibles with a focus on the mission.
2. Be Patient
I cannot stress enough the importance of being patient. People will not embrace this mission overnight. This is a long and arduous process and if you are not committed to sticking it out you will not see much success. Over the past several years I’ve talked with several young Pastors who went into a church and tried to lead them towards a deeper commitment to the mission only to be disappointed when the people did not immediately respond. I have been at First Baptist Church for five years and feel that we have only just begun this process. I know guys who have been leading the same church for over ten years who feel the same way. What I am trying to get across is that this process takes time. Don’t give up just because they did not get it the first time you preached or taught it. Stay with it, be faithful, and overtime they will start coming around.
3. Don’t fret too much when things go wrong.
Yesterday, I talked about the importance of helping people to see the difference between the mission and missions. Ultimately we want our people to be committed to “the mission,” which will naturally lead them to be involved in “missions.” If we get this backwards chaos can ensue. People who get this backwards will develop rival factions and pet projects. Usually they will be committed to good endeavors but somehow have divorced them from “the mission” of God. When this happens, don’t freak out! It is part of the growth process. But at the same time, don’t throw in the towel and give up. Leading people to embrace the mission will require patience and long suffering.
Recently I talked with a Pastor friend who was diligently trying lead his church to embrace ‘the mission” but the vision got highjacked by a small group of church leaders who were committed to another “missions” vision. He was frustrated because the particular organization they had gotten involved with had no plan for evangelism or church planting. They were merely involved in relief aide, specifically digging wells for villages in Western Africa. There is nothing wrong with digging wells and in the right context this can be a valid avenue for sharing the gospel and planting churches, but the organization they were involved with had no such plans. They were merely a humanitarian organization. So he asked what I would do in that situation. My response surprised him. I said, “Don’t kill it, but continue to preach/teach and organize other opportunities that will be more tied to the mission.” Over time the people will see the difference and they will eventually turn away from merely being involved in “missions” and genuinely embrace “the mission.” Teach it and give them opportunities to experience it and eventually they will embrace it.
Last week I had lunch with a Pastor friend of mine
who asked me a difficult question, “How do I motivate my people to go on mission with God?” This is a question that a lot of Pastors are struggling with right now. We all know the frustration of laying out a vision to our people but then never seeing it catch wind by turning into action. Therefore, over the next few Mission Monday’s, I am going to try to lay out some basic thoughts about how we can motivate our members to be on mission.
The first question we need to ask ourselves in this process is, “What exactly are we trying to motivate them to do?” Here is where I need to make a careful distinction between “the mission” and “missions.” Motivating people to participate in “the mission” means that we want to help them see their lives in relation to the ongoing mission of God through history. Motivating people merely to “missions,” on the other hand, involves getting them to give money or to go on trips. I would like to suggest that by helping people to see their lives in relation to the “the mission” motivates them to be more involved in “missions.”
I fear that within Southern Baptist Churches specifically, and evangelical churches in general, we have fallen into the trap of leading people to be involved with “missions” without first leading them to be committed to “the mission.” This may seem like a minor distinction but in reality the results can be devastating. When we lead people to merely be involved in “missions” they end up seeing “missions” as just another of the many activities of the church. Even worse, they often see “missions” as just another option on the smorgasbord of ministry opportunties. But when we focus on “the mission” people are able to see their lives in connection with God’s overarching plan for history. This results in people being able to see “the mission” as a lifestyle rather than just one of the many activities that their church offers.
This may seem like a distinction without a difference but I am convinced that motivating with “the mission” rather than with “missions” is the key to seeing our people get more involved. The first step in motivating church members to go on mission is always to show them exactly what we mean by “the mission.” We are not just evangelizing or planting churches or taking care of orphans, we are participating in God’s overarching mission to glorify Himself through Jesus Christ. The more clearly our people see “the mission” the more motivated they will be to “go on mission.” Tomorrow, I will share some of the ways that I try to accomplish this at First Baptist Church, Metropolis.