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Help for Average Christian Leaders

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I knew exactly what he meant. I’ve struggled with the same fantasy. Get enough money, people, recognition, staff, volunteers, lay leaders, salary, book deals, and speaking gigs that we don’t need to depend on God for anything anymore. But in serving as a pastor and working with fellow pastors for many years, I’ve found two characteristics essential to do ministry in a way that depends on God: courage to be ordinary and comfort with obscurity.

Courage to Be Ordinary

One of my mentors often tells me, “It takes extraordinary courage to be ordinary.” For the longest time, I would nod in agreement but not believe him.

I needed to be extraordinary. When I replanted a church, I often over-functioned in my role as a pastor. I carried the entire weight of the church on my shoulders. I had my own scorecard full of the metrics that mattered to me. And one was becoming a self-supporting church.

I prided myself on how quickly we achieved it, all the while hiding the fact that we became self-supporting because I was secretly functioning as the financial savior. I carried way too much of the financial burden. I was rarely honest about our monetary needs. I didn’t take the full benefits package the church offered me. I rarely turned in my reimbursements. And I did it for respect.

As pastors, we can often trade love for respect. We are afraid people won’t love our true selves, so we keep going, wearing ourselves out doing more than we are made to do to sustain the image of a successful pastor. We quietly say to ourselves, “I can’t stop or the whole thing will fall apart.”

It is exhausting and lonely to keep up that image. Jesus is the one to build his church, rest in being just one piece of his work in the world.

How to Be More Ordinary

Three things help us find the courage to be ordinary: vulnerability, suffering, and prayer.

Vulnerability is necessary to be ordinary because it embraces the limits of being human. You will not meet everyone’s expectation. You don’t have all the gifts the church needs. You need help.

For me, it meant letting my elders know that the church wasn’t really self-supporting, and we couldn’t afford all the ministry we were doing. I know admitting that kind of need sounds simple and silly; for me, it was nearly impossible. I felt exposed and ashamed. I admitted a competency failure, which can be harder to admit than a character failure.

In terms of suffering, it means whatever gain you have, you count as loss for the sake of Christ. You suffer the loss of all things in order to gain Jesus. You admit your limitations and put your resume and reputation at risk.

And finally, as you embrace your limitations, you will cry out to God in “Jesus only” prayers. My pastor, Geoff Bradford, introduced me to the idea of “Jesus only” prayers. A couple of years ago, he started making a list of things he longed to happen that only Jesus could make happen. And he started to pray for those things every day. I hear the massive problems and start looking for quick fixes. He keeps praying Jesus only prayers, and therefore often getting Jesus only answers.

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“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

“Only Jesus Christ, who bids us follow him, knows where the path will lead. But we know that it will be a path full of mercy beyond measure. Discipleship is joy.”

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“Discipleship is not an offer that man makes to Christ.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

DSCN1327 “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out” (Jesus in Luke 19.40)

Seventeen Aspects of Holy Dissatisfaction


The Danger of Drifting Away

One mark of Christian authenticity is discontentment with anything less than “all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:19). Coasting is not discipleship. Drifting in self-contentment is not like basking in the pool of security, but like floating, fast asleep, toward the falls. “We must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away” (Hebrews 2:1).

There is a holy discontentment. It is not a nail-biting uncertainty about our standing with God. It is the increased appetite of those who have tasted and seen that the Lord is good (1 Peter 2:2–3). It is the pursuit of those who have been pursued and captured by the strong arms of love. “Not that I have already obtained it, or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12).

Therefore, the biblical passages that follow are a way of waking our drowsy souls to feel a pure and holy dissatisfaction and stirring us up to pursue “all the fullness of God.”

  1. “Grow in grace.” “But he gives more grace.” (2 Peter 3:18; James 4:6)
  2. “We have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding . . . bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (Colossians 1:9–10; 2 Peter 3:18)
  3. “Increase our faith!” “We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly.” (Luke 17:5; 2 Thessalonians 1:3; 2 Corinthians 10:15)
  4. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Romans 15:13)
  5. “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all.” (1 Thessalonians 3:12; See also 1 Thessalonians 4:10; 2 Thessalonians 1:3; Philippians 1:9)
  6. “We ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more.” (1 Thessalonians 4:1)
  7. “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)
  8. “Let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.” (2 Corinthians 7:1)
  9. “[God will] increase the harvest of your righteousness.” “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (2 Corinthians 9:10; Matthew 5:20)
  10. “Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 15:58; 2 Corinthians 9:8)
  11. “Be filled with the Spirit.” (Ephesians 5:18)
  12. “The word of God increased and multiplied.” (Acts 12:24; 6:7)
  13. “The number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem.” “I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.” (Acts 6:7; 1 Corinthians 9:19; Acts 16:5)
  14. “Since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.” (1 Corinthians 14:12)
  15. “As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him . . . abounding in thanksgiving.” “Give thanks always and for everything.” (Colossians 2:6–7; Ephesians 5:20; 2 Corinthians 4:15)
  16. “Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” (Ephesians 4:15)
  17. “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48; Philippians 3:12)

Father, we fear our deadly fondness for floating toward the falls when we ought to be swimming against the current.

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“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship   

“No man can look with undivided vision at God and at the world of reality so long as God and the world are torn asunder. Try as he may, he can only let his eyes wander distractedly from one to the other. But there is a place at which God and the cosmic reality are reconciled, a place at which God and man have become one. That and that alone is what enables man to set his eyes upon God and the world at the same time. This place does not lie somewhere out beyond reality in the realm of ideas. It lies in the midst of history as a divine miracle. It lies in Jesus Christ, the reconciler of the world.”

~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), Ethics

No, A Christian Cannot Recognize Muhammad as a Prophet

Posted January 29, 2016

Islam has an ally in the Roman Catholic Church. Allah, the god of Islam, is the same as Jehovah, the God of the Bible, according to Pope Francis. Wheaton College Professor Larycia Hawkins appealed to Pope Francis when she donned a Hijab to show “support” for Muslims and asserted that the god of Islam and the God of Christianity are one and the same (my response). Now Craig Considine, a Roman Catholic Sociologist, argues that Christians can recognize Muhammad as a legitimate prophet of God—similar in status if not quite equal in status with Jesus in this article.

Considine attempts to justify his recognition of Muhammad as a true prophet by defining a prophet as “a messenger of a Higher Power who works on earth to bring justice and peace to humanity.” As a Roman Catholic Considine it is not surprising that he does not appeal to scripture to support this definition of a prophet, but it would have been helpful if he would have provided at least some explanation of how he arrived at this definition. Even if we do not appeal to scripture, Considine’s definition of a prophet proves to be untenable. The assumption seems to be that anyone who seeks “to bring justice and peace to humanity” is a messenger from a “Higher Power,” that is, a prophet. What if a member of the occult becomes a humanitarian leader? Would Considine be willing to recognize a devil worshipper as a prophet? Probably not. Clearly Considine’s definition of a prophet is too broad.[1]

But the basic problem with Considine’s argument is not his definition of what a prophet is. His basic problem is that he is not a Christian. Considine anticipates that his recognition of Muhammad as a prophet  might cause people “to question my credibility as a self-professed Christian.” He explains, “People might say, ‘Jesus is the only way. You’ve turned your back on God. You’re no longer Christian.’” It does seem that Considine is indeed contradicting John 14:6 by teaching that Muhammad offers a way to God in addition to Jesus. However, Considine more clearly demonstrates that his claim to be a Christian is false in statements that do not have to do with how he views Muhammad.

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