Monthly Archives: November 2012

The Power in Knowing the Story

So is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it
~Isaiah 55:11 (NIV)

There is a lot of power in Scripture.  Nowhere else does God more clearly share his heart, mind, and character with us than through the gift of his Word.  Too often, though, it is easy for me to forget this.  As a seminary student and a pastor there is a real danger with becoming too familiar with the Bible.  After reading countless commentaries, writing numerous papers, and preaching dozens of sermons on a text, the impact and beauty of the Word of God can be dulled as studying it becomes just one more thing on a long list of to-dos.

That is why I am so grateful that the past two weeks have really rekindled my heart for and awe of the Word of God.  It all started a couple of weekends ago when preaching on Mark 5:1-20.  This text was difficult for a variety of reasons, but none more so than the fact that it tackles a subject which is so difficult for those in our modern, American context:  spiritual warfare.  However, as I talked with some of the other pastors and wrestled through the text, it really came alive for me.  Through this passage I was brought face-to-face with the beautiful truth that Jesus Christ saves us from nothing less than the powers of death and destruction themselves.  It was an incredible reminder of the grace and power of God through Christ.

But that was only the beginning.  Partially as a result of that message, and partially due to other connections within the church, I’ve spent the past two weeks talking to a variety of individuals who are really struggling with their faith.  While I am not at liberty to discuss the details of those conversations, what has inspired me is how, through our discussions, I’ve had to come back to Scripture over and over again.  In fact, during one conversation I found myself answering each question that a person raised with one story from Scripture after another.  By the end of our conversation this person responded by saying, “Wow.  I never knew all that stuff was in the Bible.”

You see, oftentimes when we talk about the importance of studying Scripture, we talk about it in growth-oriented terms.  We emphasize how studying the Bible will help you grow in your relationship with God and strengthen your faith.  But over these past two weeks, this reality has taken on another dimension for me.  Not only has studying Scripture strengthened my own faith, it has helped me to strengthen the faith of others.  By knowing the Word and meditating on it, I’ve found that I’ve had answers to some very difficult questions that others are raising.  And that has inspired me to want to study the Bible even more.

One of my former colleagues used to talk about how we only really grow in our faith by giving it away.  This truth has been driven home to me over and over again in the past few weeks.  The beauty of knowing God’s story is that it not only helps us to know God, but it empowers us to help reconnect others with him.  As we learn the story that God is writing, we can help others locate their own stories within it.  There truly is power in the Word of God, and we dare not diminish through misuse and overfamiliarity.

My hope and prayer for my congregation, and for the Church as a whole, is that we would once again be captured by the beauty of Scripture.  But, more importantly, I pray that we would be captured by the one to whom it points:  Jesus Christ.  And as we are captured by him, I pray that we would share that story with others; that they would come to know the love of God which surpasses all understanding.

PS  If you’re interested in rediscovering the beauty of Scripture, I would invite you to join us in 2013 as our church takes 31 weeks to look at the grand narrative of the Bible through the use of The Story.  You can get more info by visiting our website at www.tlc4u.org.

Who Shepherds the Shepherds?

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me”

~John 10:14

I had just spent the evening preaching to a group of college students from the University of Chicago at their Fall Retreat.  The topic of the retreat was discipleship.  After sending the students off to a time of personal prayer and reflection, I sat down with two of my friends and former colleagues from InterVarsity.  As we spent time catching up, one of them asked me about my transition from IV to pastoral staff had been going.  As I recounted the ups and downs of this change, one of the things that I kept coming back to was how much I missed the level of soul-care and development that InterVarsity gives to its staff workers.  I realized that, after a weekend of talking about discipleship, I was missing that same kind of discipleship in my own life.

In his book Building a Discipling Culture, Mike Breen says that disciples of Jesus are people who dedicate themselves to being life-long learners of Jesus.  Furthermore, they engage in mission by intentionally teaching others to be life-long learners of Jesus as well.  For the disciple of Christ there is this ongoing process of learning and teaching others.  It is a compelling picture of what discipleship can and should look like in the church.

But this is where I struggle.  As a pastor, it is our responsibility to build up, encourage, and train the people that God has placed under our care.  In essence, we are to be disciple-makers.  There is a high calling to the “teaching others” sphere of discipleship.  Yet, I am finding that when it comes to our own development as disciples, such intentionality is not always there.  In the language of church leadership development we often talk about helping people become “self feeders” in terms of their spiritual life.  What we mean by this is that we want people to move from being passive, spiritual sponges to becoming people who actively seek out opportunities to grow and put into practice what they are learning.

However, often this language of “self feeding” leads to an image of discipleship and growth that is highly individualistic:  “It’s all up to me to ensure that I grow.”  Yet when I look at Scripture, the model that I see is not one of the Lone Ranger disciple, but rather of a tight-knit community of believers who walk together, encourage each other, and train one another as they pursue the mission that God has given them.  There is a balance of pouring into others and being poured into BY others:  a willingness to teach and a hunger to learn.

And it is right here that I find myself falling short.  As a pastor, I’m missing being poured into by others.  When I worked for InterVarsity there was an intentional effort, as an organization, to build community among staff workers.  Just as we were encouraged and empowered to “go and make disciples” we were also poured into and cared for as disciples.  The result was that ministry was extremely dynamic and life-giving.

Yet, since I’ve transitioned to pastoral staff I feel I have really been missing that piece in my life, and I worry that the language of being a self-feeder might be at the root of it all.  As pastors, people who are charged with being leaders in the church, I think that the assumption is that we are already “self feeders”:  that we know exactly where to turn for our own growth and discipleship.  But here is my confession:  I don’t.  I don’t know exactly where to turn.  I’m in a denominational structure that I don’t understand.  The church leadership team works hard, but I feel like we are all moving so fast I don’t even know when or where I can slow down and just “do life” with my fellow pastors.

I don’t say this as a criticism.  As a leader, I see this as a reminder that I need to step out and seek those opportunities out, and I realize that I could be placing more of a priority on this in my personal life.  But I share this simply as a way of expressing how unprepared I was for the level to which this would be lacking in my new position.  Many times during my seminary career and during my years in InterVarsity I would hear pastors and professors talk about how serving in pastoral ministry can be one of the loneliest positions in the world, but it never really sank in until now.  And I’m realizing just how much I need it.

But on another level, I think this is a keen reminder of how vital it is to be discipled as we disciple.  After all, we cannot give away what we do not have, and we cannot disciple if we do not know what it means to be discipled.  So, over the next couple of weeks I’m going to be taking some time to talk with people in my life who are in pastoral leadership and looking for relationships/networks/resources through which I can be developed and led even as I seek to develop and lead others.  But I’d like to open this comments section to the rest of you:  if you are in leadership in the church, whether as paid staff or as a congregational leader, what relationships have you cultivated that are truly life-giving in terms of your spiritual walk?  Who do you look to, spend time with, and learn from as you grow as a disciple?

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