Working Toward Effectiveness

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Yesterday I preached a message from 2 Timothy 2:1-7 on effectiveness in ministry. In the passage, Paul paints four pictures of effectives ministry for his associate, Timothy: a strategic teacher, a selective soldier, a self-disciplined athlete, and strong farmer. Yesterday I preached the message, today I’m working on putting it into practice.

The pictures presented in the passage all have an application to my life and ministry, but the picture of a selective soldier stands out me right now. The picture of a selective soldier is a picture of priorities. A soldier can’t follow the order of his commanding officer if he’s wrapping up in civilian affairs.

I have a tendency to try to be all things to all people. This seems like a positive quality, but it’s not. It’s not good for me to be involved in so many things that I don’t do anything well. It’s not healthy for me to find my joy and self-worth in making other people happy, no matter how noble the task. I know myself well enough to pushback against this natural impulse.

Effectiveness in life and ministry means setting priorities. As a result of yesterday’s message, I am trying to prioritize three things: preaching, gospel conversations, and quality time with my family. Some weeks are “messier” then others and I don’t set aside enough time to prepare for my preaching responsibilities. Since I have been gifted as a pastor-teacher and I have been called to serve Unity Baptist Church, effectiveness for me preparing and preaching to the best of my ability.

I believe that preaching is important, but so is personal evangelism. I’ve had the privilege of studying evangelism at the highest academic levels, but that doesn’t make me an evangelist. Sharing the good news about Jesus Christ and pursing gospel conversations makes me an evangelist. I am praying right now for opportunities to share Jesus this week.

As a vocational minister, my personal life and my work life are intertwined. Sometimes these roles get out of balance. At various times in my life, I’ve prioritized my work life over my family life. I honestly feel like I’ve improved in this area, but I don’t want to repeat my unhealthy patterns of the past. I just came back from a week-long family vacation and I praise God for an opportunity to prioritize time with my family.

These are just some of the things I’m thinking about to work towards more effectiveness in my ministry. I want to serve Christ as faithful soldier who choses his duties wisely.

What are you doing to improve your effectiveness in ministry?

Photo by Paulette Wooten on Unsplash

The Power of “With”

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The Apostle Paul made an important discovery near the beginning of his second missionary journey. In Acts 16 we read about his visit to Derbe and Lystra. While he was there, Paul discovered a young man named Timothy. Timothy was the son of a Jewish mother and a Greek father. Timothy’s mother, Eunice, and grandmother, Lois brought him to faith in Jesus Christ and mentored him (2 Timothy 1:5). The Christian community in Derbe and Lystra spoke well of Timothy.

The Apostle Paul an even more important decision in Derbe and Lystra. Paul decided to take Timothy with him on the rest of his missionary journey. Timothy would become one of Paul’s main associates he planted churches and ministered throughout the Roman Empire. Timothy stayed with Paul into his third missionary journey and on into his imprisonment in Rome (Acts 20:4).

Paul’s bond with Timothy is evident in the two New Testament letters that bear the younger man’s name. While Timothy was serving as the pastor at the church in Ephesus, Paul referred to his protégé as his “true child in the faith” (1 Timothy 1:2). Paul closes his second letter to Timothy with a plea to “make every effort to come to me soon” (2 Timothy 4:9).

How did Timothy become one of the most influential leaders in the early church? I believe it happened through the power of “with.” Paul chose to take Timothy with him and share his calling with Timothy. Paul was a visionary leader and a high achiever. He may have been able to travel faster, prepare quicker, and accomplish more by himself, but he chose to include Timothy. Paul invested himself in others because he knew the value of along-the-way discipleship and mentoring.

I wonder what would happen in our churches if every ministry staff member, every deacon, every Sunday School teacher, every ministry leader took the time to invest in just one other person? I think it would change our churches for good in at least three ways. First, it would help to close our generation gap. If those who are older and more experienced in their faith would look for opportunities to bring someone younger along with them, it would build a bridge between generations. Second, it would solve our volunteer crisis. If those who know took the time to train others it some of the practical aspects of church ministry, it would go a long way towards empowering others to serve. Third, it would breathe new life and excitement into our churches’ ministries. Leading and be lonely and exhausting. If leaders would slow down long enough to share their load, they might rediscover what lead them to ministry in the first place.

Will you find someone that you can mentor in your own areas of life and ministry? Whatever you do for the Lord, you can share it with someone else so they can follow in your footstep, even if you’re not a “ministry leader.” You will also discover the big power of a small word – the power of “with.”

What You Need to Know Before Sunday

Sermon Graphic - 1 Corinthians 2016This coming Sunday morning I will start a new preaching series in 1 Corinthians titled, “Becoming Who You Are.” The Apostle Paul planted the church in Corinth at the end of his second missionary journey. Even though they had genuinely responded to the gospel, the Corinthian Christians had a hard time living out the gospel in their everyday lives. They were shaped more by their cosmopolitan culture than their connection to Christ. Like the believers in Corinth, you and I need to become who we in Christ.

Paul’s salutation (1:1-9) is surprisingly optimistic when compared to the rest of the letter. In verse 2, Paul describes the Corinthian believers as “those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus,” and “saints by calling.” The term “saint” is derived from the Greek verb hagiazō, which means “to set apart,” “sanctify,” or “make holy.” In order to understand this first passage and its connection to the rest of the letter, you need to know what the Bible teaches about the doctrine of sanctification.

Sanctification explains how a holy God can come to have a relationship with sinful people. Sanctification includes two distinct aspects: positional and progressive sanctification. Positional sanctification means that believers are set aside as God’s possession and declared holy by faith in Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross.  This is the kind of sanctification that Paul is referring to in 6:9-10.

Progressive sanctification denotes the believer’s advance towards spiritual maturity and practical holiness.  Sinless perfection is not possible this side of eternity (1:8), but it is the goal Paul has in mind for his readers as he encourages us all to become who we are in Christ.

Please join me at Unity Baptist Church this Sunday if you are in the Ashland area as we kick off this series together.

Devotional Thought for Leaders: The Cult of Personality

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1 Corinthians 1:10-17, 3:4-9

One of the issues the ancient church at Corinth struggled with was division.  In the Apostle Paul’s first letter to that church he wasted no time in identifying one of the main sources of their conflict.  Apparently, the church had been influenced by a cult, the cult of personality.  The people in the church had divided their loyalty among several key church leaders.  Some people had aligned themselves with either Paul or Apollos, while others claim exclusive allegiance to Peter or Jesus Christ.  It would seem that the last group had the right idea, but lived it out in a divisive way.

 Paul goes on to remind the Corinthians that every human leader in the church is just that – a human leader.  Compared to God the Father, or His Son, Jesus Christ. we are all just “workers” in God’s field.  Some may plant and some may water, but it is “God who cause the growth” (3:7).

Unfortunately, the cult of personality didn’t end with the first century church.  Power, fame, and influence are big values in our culture today, and they slip easy into the church.  Sometimes it’s a pastor who is secretly (or not so secretly) set on becoming more popular than Jesus.  Sometimes it’s an up-in-coming staff member or lay leader who wants to make a name for him or her self.  Sometimes it’s a long-time member who enjoys exerting their influence and control.  Whatever form it takes, this passage warns us that the end result of the cult of personality is division, and ultimately distraction.

Here are some questions to help you stamp this cult out in your church or organization:

Is the conflict in your church or organization issue based or personality based?  If it is personality based, what are people doing to create the problem?  Are you part of the problem?

How can you humbly engage with the divided parties and turn their attention back to God and His mission?

Devotional Thoughts for Leaders: Ministry Transitions

Paul's mapActs 13 is the transition point between the Apostle Peter’s ministry “in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria” in the first half of the book and the soon to be Apostle Paul’s ministry “to the ends of the earth” in the second half.  The church at Antioch was the first major church planted in those “ends” and things were going well.  The church was growing fast and being discipled.  Their leadership team, which included Barnabas and Saul, grew too, from 2 to 5 in just a few years.

But one day everything changed.  While the church was “ministering to the Lord and fasting” the Holy Spirit sent orders for Barnabas and Saul to leave and set out for a new work.  The leadership dream team was broken up and the church at Antioch had to adjust.

As the rest of the Barnabas and Paul’s ministry played out in the book of Acts, it’s important to realize God removed them from a good situation and placed them in a better one.  God led both men, especially Paul, into an unprecedented mission ministry throughout the known world.  Not only did Paul plant church all over the known world, he wrote half the New Testament.  But none of that would have happened if they hadn’t left Antioch.

Changing your ministry responsiblity or location can be hard, but it helps to remember that when God removes us from a good situation, He places us in an even better one.  And sometimes that situation is even better than we can imagine.

Why Do I Have to Wait?

waitng by the roadWaiting seems like a waste of time.   It makes us feel unproductive, ineffective, and sometimes worthless.  It wears us down. Like treading water, waiting dulls our senses and saps our strength.

No one looks forward to waiting.  We pay large amounts of money and go to great lengths to avoid it.  We judge our satisfaction of products, places, and even people by how long they make us wait.  Patience may be virtue, but only in a bygone era.

Recently, I realized that waiting is a major theme in the Bible.  Many of the major characters in the Bible had to wait for days years, and even decades for their situations to be resolved and God’s promises to be fulfilled.

Noah waited for over a year on a boat filled with wild animals for the flood waters to recede (Genesis 7:6, 8:13-14).

Abraham and Sarah waited for 25 years for the birth of their special son, Isaac (Genesis 12:4, 21:5).

Joseph waited for two full years for the chief cupbearer to remember him and get him out of jail (Genesis 41:1).

Moses watched his father-in-law’s sheep on the back side of the desert for 40 years waiting for God’s plan to unfold (Exodus 2:23, Acts 7:30).

Job waited for seven days and seven nights for a comforting word from his so called “friends” and even longer for a comforting word from God (Job 2:12, 38:1).

<strong>David waited about 15 years to ascend to the throne of Israel (1 Samuel 16:1-13; 2 Samuel 5:1-5).  Mary and Martha watched their brother, Lazarus, die and then waited four agonizing days for Jesus to come to them (John 11:1-46).

The Apostles waited for three dark days before Jesus appeared to the them and commissioned them as witnesses (John 20:19-23).

The Apostle Paul waited for three years in the desert before starting his ministry to the Gentiles (Galatians 1:17-18).

In addition, the prophets waited for God’s judgment to fall (Jonah 4:5).  The Wisdom literature contains repeated references to patience and waiting (Psalms 27:14, Proverbs 15: 18, Ecclesiastics  7:8).  Patience is even listed as one of the nine fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22).

So what lessons can we learn from this survey of waiting in the Bible?

1.  Waiting is normal.

Following God does not mean you will have a wait-free life.  In fact, it guarantees that you will have to wait as He works out His perfect plan for you.

2.  Waiting is beneficial.

Waiting builds character as you learn to depend on God and His promises.  Waiting brings perspective to your life as you view things from the lens of eternity.

3.  Waiting is difficult

There are no short-cuts to patience.  Waiting is hard work, even if it feels like no work is getting done. 

Can you name another lesson we can learn from tracing the theme of waiting through the Bible?