Monday, September 18, 2023

Ephesians 4:11 - Training Teachers

Greetings again from Uganda!  I leave today for Hyderabad, India for a conference with BAM (Business as Mission) South Asia.  This past week was a very busy week with conferences in three different parts of Uganda: Kampala, Soroti, and Bukwo.  Uganda is a beautiful country and it was a very enjoyable week.  I look forward to this coming week in India and learning how BAM is being implemented in different parts of Asia, while sharing about the potential for BAM to integrate more with the local church.

This past week I spoke a lot about Ephesians 4 and the call for all Christians to recognize that they are in fulltime ministry - either in foreign missions (the minority) or home missions (the majority).  Their fulltime job description is to glorify God and their specific locations of where they do this are very different.  We pleaded with pastors to recognize their positions as coaches to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, so that they grow in ministry to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers in every place and space.  We encouraged pastors (coaches) to understand their "players," what their strengths and weaknesses are, what their individual parishes are and the opportunities and challenges in those places.  We saw our message resonate as pastors recognized that there has been too much focus on the building, and not enough on equipping the members for when they are scattered.

And so this week, we see the last of the five-fold ministry listed in Ephesians 4: teachers.  We are to be teachers of the gospel of Christ, discerning true from false doctrine.  The church and culture are changing quickly in many places.  There are many false teachings that abound.  This week I heard that poverty is equated to holiness, therefore wealth is considered sin; that only pastors are called to full-time ministry; that pastors are to be given free things at every business where their members work as a sign of respect; that pastors should never do business, even if the church is hardly able to support them.  Every culture has their false teachings and so we need to continue to teach, learn, and be shaped by the Biblical worldview.  All Christians need to be prepared and ready to teach when given the opportunity.  

We do this more naturally with our children, but there is great potential in the workplace where we will have the opportunity to exercise the gift of teaching.  The best teaching comes in the context of a good and trusted relationship. Think of a favorite teacher you had growing up and the qualities that he/she showed. Some of the best teaching comes by asking questions rather than providing answers. Especially in the workplace with other adults, remember that the majority of teaching that is done is non-verbal! That is why it is said, "Preach constantly. When necessary, use words." (Quote credited to St. Francis of Assisi but many do not think it came from him.)

Thank you for your continued prayers for the seeds being sown!

The beauty, the flourishing of farms, the jubilant fields.  Such beauty to behold!

My dear sister in Uganda, Grace Koelewijn.  Love this lady!

The leader of the Lema Institute, Rev. Joshua Amaezechi, a Nigerian-American who lives in Michigan, and coordinates this work in Uganda and Nigeria.

The training team in Soroti, with speakers from Dordt and Calvin University, as well as the CRC in Nigeria, and others!

The Nile River in Uganda

The bridge over the Nile.

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Ephesians 4:11 - Preparing Pastors

Greetings from Uganda!  This trip continues to be a blessing as we see doors opening in many places!  In Uganda, we have trainings with several groups in Kampala, Soroti, and Bukwo (near Mbale on the east side of Uganda).   In each place I am greeted by the DML team from that country, and they join me in teaching and handle all the follow-up. I will be here for about eleven days before going to India for the last leg of this trip.

While I am in Uganda, another DML team has arrived in Sierra Leone (Dr. Gaga from Nigeria and Rev. Lisa Travis from Liberia) to begin the work of DML with the Wesleyan Church.  We pray for these new seeds being planted!

Our time last week in Nigeria with Nigerian Baptist Convention in Ibadan was very fruitful!  This is a very large denomination with more than 10,000 churches and strategic ministries in so many places.  We were blessed to have the President of the Convention join us, along with several of the Vice-Presidents.  It is unusual to have leaders at this level sit for several hours because of so much activity.  And this week was especially a challenging one for them - they launched their new day-care program for the elderly AND they held a youth convention for 20,000 youth, the largest convention they have had for some time.  We stopped in at the youth convention on our way back to Lagos and it was AMAZING!  [I was pulled onstage by the President's wife to join in the worship and dancing!]  I can't imagine the logistical challenges of 21,000 people (that was the count when I was there - I don't know how high it actually got.)  Pictures are below.

As we continue in our discussion of preparing all Christians to be mature, this week we look at being pastoral.  This is yet another gift that is offered to foster growth in the body of Christ, to strengthen the church (the people of God).  Pastors can be seen as shepherds, who nurture and care for the flock.  Typically, this work is seen in the church when gathered, but as all Christians are part of the priesthood of believers (1 Peter 2:9), we see our spheres of influence as our parishes.  For most of us, that is our homes and workplaces.  What does it mean for us to be pastoral in those settings?  Shepherds are to lovingly watch over the sheep.  They must be listeners and followers of the Good Shepherd to do this well.  There must be integrity of heart as well as skilled hands.  Shepherds care not only for the physical health of the sheep, but also spiritual, emotional, and mental health.  

I believe that there is a good understanding of this in our homes, as we seek to parent our children and love our family members.  

But there is less of an understanding of this in our workplaces, whether we function as employers or employees.  In both cases, we have an ability to be pastoral, to be caring for those around us, looking at the whole person.  This means we need to be prepared to listen and learn about their life and their challenges.  It means we are prepared to offer a kind word, a prayer, or a word of encouragement.  This is not a responsibility that is only for those in organizational authority, but it can go in all directions - you may need to be pastoral toward your boss.  There are many lonely people in this world who do not feel that they have someone who will listen in love.  

So we need to prepare ourselves for this.  And the best way to do this is to learn from the Good Shepherd, who laid down His life for the sheep.  May God help us!

A teaching moment with the Nigerian Baptist convention.

The leaders of the Nigeria team, Solomon Aliyu on the left, and Dr. Abraham Gaga on the right.

In the center is Rev. Dr. Israel Akanji, the President of the Nigeria Baptist Convention, with his wife in the burgundy on the left.  On the right is Dr. Elizabeth Aderounmu, the Director of the Social Development Ministries, who was our host for this conference.

This is just a portion of the sea of youth that make up a crowd of 20,000.  It was truly amazing, and we pray that the Holy Spirit met many people there, reminding them of His love and delight in each one!

Sunday, September 3, 2023

Ephesians 4:11 - Equipping Evangelists

Greetings from Nigeria, where we are so privileged to present to the Nigeria Baptist Convention over the next couple of days.  One thousand pastors and church leaders are gathering together to learn about workplace discipleship and reclaiming the Marketplace for Christ.  We have been talking to leaders from this denomination for some time and have been praying for this opportunity, and we are now here!  We ask for your prayers that the Holy Spirit will use us to present a compelling message for the affirmation of the priesthood of all believers in every workplace!

Our visit in Ghana with the Assemblies of God, as well as the Methodist and Presbyterian pastors, went well and we are excited for the seeds sown.  Below are a couple of pictures from our time together.

But this week, we want to continue to looking at Ephesians 4 where we find the purpose of the church is to equip the saints for the work of the ministry.  There are some who are given special gifts of being apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.  These giftings are not meant to only be offices but to be used to equip all members for growing in maturity in these areas, that the members may not be easily shifted by the winds.

Last week we looked at prophets, and the week before at apostles.  Today, we look at evangelists.  One of the things we often say in our teaching is that "evangelism programs can be one of the greatest barriers to evangelism."  This is often surprising for people to hear, but we explain that when something is a program, it gets compartmentalized.  Our brain likes to put things in different boxes:  this is home, this is work, this is community, this is church.  Within the church box, we often put more boxes:  this is worship, this is Sunday School, this is evangelism, this is giving, etc.  When we do evangelism as a program, it means that when the event is completed, our brain will often say, "Check!  Evangelism is done until the next planned program."  

Rather than a program, evangelism is to be a lifestyle.  We are told to bring the fragrance of Christ to all places, which is an attraction to those around us (2 Cor. 2:14).  Most communication is non-verbal and even the way you live your life and do your work brings the fragrance of Christ.  The Great Commission is for all of us - we are all to be making disciples.  We are either in home missions or we are in foreign missions, but all of us, as mature Christians, are to be in missions.  For some, this comes easily.  For others, it takes great effort.  But all of us are expected to participate in this important call because Christ's love compels us.  We have been loved so much that we now want to share it with others.  

Who might God be urging you to speak to?  Are you asking God for specific opportunities or ways in which to engage?  If you aren't sure where to start, there are lots of places where you can get some great ideas and basic training in finding those opportunities.  

Church, let's equip all members to be evangelists!

A cross-section of the Assemblies of God conference.  Next to me is the General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God Ghana.
Some of the great DML team leaders as well as the Assemblies of God Ghana General Superintendent and the Missions Director.  
With Hopeline Institute, a workshop with Presbyterian, Methodist, and other denominations in Kumasi, Ghana.

Monday, August 28, 2023

Ephesians 4:11 - Prompting Prophets

Greetings from Ghana!  I have the privilege this week to bring the message of "Work as Worship" and workplace discipleship for the local church to the Assemblies of God Ghana denominational leadership, who have 6000 churches across the country.  We anticipate approximately 500 pastors from all over the country to gather in Kumasi from August 29-31.  Please pray with us that this message may be received, and that information will move to application which then then turn into transformation!

I want to continue to look at Ephesians 4, as we seek to learn to become mature Christians, able to safeguard against false teachings.  Last week, we looked at activating apostles, and this week, we turn our attention to prompting prophets.  

I often hear this phrase from different speakers in Africa (taken loosely from Amos 7:14):  "I am not a prophet, nor the son of a prophet, but I will prophesy."  The actual verse says this: Amos answered Amaziah, "I was neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees."

I love this verse because it reinforces the ability for those in business to also prophesy.  Throughout Scripture, we find most people were engaged in business in some way - from patriarchs, to prophets, to disciples, apostles, and our Savior.  Even the Levite priests had farms that they took care of when it was not their turn in the temple (Nehemiah 13:10).  

But what does it mean to be prophetic?  Being prophetic is to offer a new truth.  In contrast, teachers expand and reveal more about a revealed truth.  The book, The Church of Christ, by Everett Furguson, reminds us that individual prophets often only receive a part of a new truth and their message needs to be tested by the community because there are many false prophets.  Lynn Cohick, in her commentary on the Letter to the Ephesians, says that prophets encourage, comfort, edify, and strengthen the church, and the gift of prophecy should be one that Paul encouraged the Corinthians to long for.  Both men and women were prophets in the Bible.  But delivering the message is just one part - the testing and judgment of the message by the people who hear it is critical.  

Some people believe that God is speaking less to people today than in times past.  But I believe that God has not changed.  We, however, have become poorer at listening.  At the same time, seeking power and prestige is a sin that is common to many, and for those who claim to hear the voice of the Lord, we also need to listen so that we can judge whether the word is from God or from the flesh.

I've never considered myself a prophet (not sure that Amos did either!) but there have been times when I have felt prompted to say something, which in hindsight seemed prophetic.  I need to be open to hearing God's word and will (which means listening prayer!) and then have the courage to speak it when He needs me to open my mouth!  I believe that is true for all of us.

It's true that some have a special anointing for prophecy.  But that gift is not for them alone but for the equipping of the church.  Those with that gift not only share what they hear from the Lord, but also teach us to know how to listen as well and develop that gift.  All of us, like Amos, while we take care of the sheep or the tree farm, can listen and can speak truth into situations that are unique to us based on our spheres of influence. 

This world needs truth as well as faithful, obedient, God-fearing truth tellers.

Are you open and willing to be prophetic in your spheres of influence?  Are you listening to what God is already doing in your home, community, workplace?  And when you hear prophetic voices, are you able to discern what lines up with who God is and what does not?

May we all continue to strive to grow in maturity and wisdom, so that we may "speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of the body, the Church." (Ephesians 4:15)

Monday, August 21, 2023

Ephesians 4:11 - Activating Apostles

As a continuation from last week's blog, this week I want to dig a bit deeper into what it means to be an apostle. 

In case you didn't read last week's blog, we looked at Ephesians 4:11-13 in light of every Christian growing in capacity of the gifts that God has given (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers).  In light of some of your comments (which I love getting - keep sending me your thoughts!), God has indeed given these as gifts and for some, those gifts are very apparent and strong!  Some of us are very gifted in one of the five, but I believe all of us have the capacity to grow in all of the five. 

This is the goal!  As a theologian reminded me this week, the purpose of these gifts is found in the very next verses, 14-16: 14 Then we will no longer be immature like children.  We won't be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. 15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.  16 He makes the whole body fit together perfectly.  As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and glowing and full of love.

An equipped Christian understands that there are times when we need to be pastoral, when we need to be an evangelist, when we need to teach, and so on.  There are actually five different lists in the New Testament of different giftings, each of which is different.  As Christians, we are to be building capacity in ourselves in this UNTIL we reach unity in our faith (v.13).  It's a long process and we are all at different points in the journey, but that is the first destination.  The second destination is maturity (v.14), as we seek to become a complete person, becoming more like Christ.

Paul is not concerned with church order in this text, as nothing is said about overseers or deacons. He is interested in the dissemination of wisdom and correct knowledge of the gospel to each believer, in addition to the gift of grace and the gift of Christ. In a commentary by Dr. Lynn Cohick, The Letter to the Ephesians, the gifts described are not an individual's spiritual gifts but rather gifts to the church.  She says, "The focus is not on how the Spirit gifts individuals for ministry but on the duty of such roles in helping the church mature" (pg. 267).

So what does it mean to be an apostle?  Often we think of the twelve disciples whose term changed to apostles after Jesus' death.  But Paul refers to himself as an apostle throughout the New Testament in a different way than the Twelve, more generally as someone who was called after Christ's earthly ministry, especially as a leader for doctrinal and moral guidance.  Other men and women who were called apostles are James, Barnabas, Apollos, Andronicus and Junia.  From this same commentary by Cohick, a third use of the term is for a person who is commissioned by a congregation for a specific duty. 

In DML, we recommend that marketplace ministers are commissioned by the church to be ambassadors for Christ in the marketplace.  Does this in fact make them all apostles?  

I'm not advocating for titles here but challenging us to live into the idea that we have an apostolic calling as followers of Christ.  

What does this mean to you?  

What does it mean to me?  

If I understand that I am an apostle, does it change the way I do my work at my workplace?  In my home? In my community?  What does maturity look like in this particular gift?

My goal in this series of writings is not to provide answers but rather to ask questions; questions that hopefully lead us to thinking thorough our own answers in our own context.  

Next week, prophets!

Monday, August 14, 2023

Ephesians 4:11-13 - Equipping the Saints

What is the church? And what is the purpose of the church?

These are questions that we ask time and again, when speaking to pastors and church leaders.  While we often receive a variety of answers, there is general consensus that the church is the people of God, the "called out ones" (ecclesia), and that the purpose of the church is to "equip the saints for the work of the ministry."

This "purpose" comes from Ephesians 4:11-13 (NLT):  11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers.  12 Their responsibility is to equip God's people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.  13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God's Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.

Understanding of purpose of the church is critical for how we do church.  If we get the purpose wrong, we are not able to fulfill the purpose.

If we believe the purpose of the church is to worship together (a commonly given answer), then we run the risk of reducing worship to only one morning per week and no transformational power of the people of God outside the building.  

If we believe the purpose of the church is to fellowship together and learn about God, we run the risk of being a social club that knows the Bible very well, but without transformational power.  There is this saying: "Satan doesn't care if you read your Bible and go to church, as long as you don't apply it to your life."

Ephesians 4:12 and 13 tells us that the people of God are to be equipped to do his work and build up the church (the people).  Where do we do His work?  Not in the building (although a few are called to do it there) but outside the building.  As we are built up, we come to unity of faith and knowledge of God's Son SO THAT WE WILL BE MATURE, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. 

Each Christ-follower is to be mature, measuring up to the standard of Christ, able to stand confident in all places of darkness to be salt, light and leaven. Each Christ-follower is to be a saint, ambassador, and priest in the parish God has granted them.

That's the goal.  That's the purpose of why we gather on Sundays.  The purpose of Sunday is Monday.  That transformation must be seen, especially in nations that are majority Christian. Sunday is the only day that the church is closed as we gather for our team meeting - a team huddle - where we lament what happened during the week - where we celebrate the good that we've seen - where we are reminded of our purpose, and we are taught how to fulfill it when we leave the building.

In "team" terms, pastors are coaches and every member is a player.

But I have been thinking about verse 11 for the past number of months, which is often referred to as the "five-fold ministry."  In this text, we read that God gave gifts to the church: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers.  

For much of my life, I read those words as offices.  In fact, I know many people who are affectionately called "Pastor ___" and that title shows up in their email and other places.  It is who they are.  In Kenya, teachers are called Mwalimu and I was often called "Mwalimu Renita."  I know people who are called Apostle ____ and Prophet ____.

But that has been changing for me, and I'm beginning to read these gifts not as titles or offices, but rather as skill-sets designed for ALL Christians.  

I used to hang my hat on being a teacher, which then allowed me to disqualify myself from the others.  I could say, "I'm not an evangelist.  I'm not a prophet.  I'm not a pastor."  But I realized that that is a bit too easy.

This rethinking of these terms started for me with my dear Aunt Jannie.  She is incredibly hospitable and one day at her house, I made a comment (which I have made many, many times in my life, especially as a strong introvert) and she immediately challenged me on it.  I said, "I don't have the gift of hospitality."  In her wise and gentle way, she said, "Well, it's not really something we can opt out of though, is it?"  Ouch.  Right to the heart.  Since then, whenever I've thought that, I had to tell myself that it isn't an option to not be hospitable.  I must learn to grow in hospitality.  And my aunt has taught me, as have many others.  

And so I'm going to spend a few blogs looking at each of these recommended skill sets and try to unpack what it means for each of us to learn to grow in the capacity of each of these gifts.  

I hope you will journey with me.

And thanks for reading.  It may make you uncomfortable, and for that, I share the following (sent to me by another mentor, Lou Haveman):

St. Francis Prayer… Reversed

Lord, make me a channel of disturbance.  Where there is apathy, let me provoke, where there is compliance, let me bring questioning, where there is silence, may I be a voice.

Where there is too much comfort and too little action, grant disruption.  Where there are doors closed and hearts locked, grant the willingness to listen.

When laws dictate and pain is overlooked, when tradition speaks louder than need; grant that I may seek and do justice rather than to talk about it.

Disturb me, O Lord. To be with, as well as for, the alienated, to love the unlovable as well as the lovely.  Lord, make me a channel of disturbance.  

Author Unknown