Pastoral Challenges For Our Ministry In The New Millennium
The following is a sermon by Brian Edwards, given February 15, 2000 at Brynygroes Conference Centre, Bala, at the annual Day Conference of the evangelical ministers of North Wales.
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We are living in unique days. Could it ever have been so hard to be in the ministry of the gospel as today? Consider the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19 which is over-used and under-valued. It is not primarily about evangelism at all. That is its under-level. Jesus does not say ‘herald’ or ‘proclaim’ the gospel, but ‘Go and make disciples.’ That is the higher level. Disciple-making produces a result. It is turning converts into disciples. What was the 1st century situation? There was a lust for power, political intrigue, war, and rebellion everywhere. Superstition was the religion of all and the ensuing immorality. There was the Coliseum, horoscopes, magic, and lewd pictures in a society of the very poor and extremely wealthy.
The challenge to the church was not how to evangelise but how to make disciples. The New Testament letters are not about evangelism but disciple-making. The church was not always successful — consider all those who fell away, and the troubles of the Galatian church, and the Corinthian congregation, while the Hebrews were still babes.
The Great Commission is to be obeyed against such a background, and there are at least six challenges.
1. Religious Ignorance
The apostles first went to speak in a synagogue, but we are going to people who have never been to Sunday School. Their knowledge is nil. They do not know what the Bible is all about, neither the children nor the intelligentsia. There are two areas where we are failing:– First, the people in our churches have such little knowledge, so we need positive programmes to turn our converts into disciples. Attractive, applied, biblical preaching is needed. Personal Bible reading and prayer should be encouraged with training programmes at all levels. Pastors should be involved in this Secondly, young children in our churches are being ignored. Some of our Lord’s most serious words were in Matthew 18 where he puts a child in their midst. Every church should run an effective programme for Christian children. We must put the Bible back into our people’s minds.
2. The Challenge of Spiritual Indifference
Our situation is like the first century’s. Paul often met people who believed in the reality of the unseen world. One of the charges brought against the early Christians was that they were ‘a-theists.’ Today the idea of God, judgment and hell are said to be ‘irrelevant’. Eternal issues are claimed to have no significance at all. Even the reality of death is given a cosmetic cover-up at crematoriums. Our society is perfecting what Paul says, ‘They do not think it worthwhile to maintain the knowledge of God.’ The only answer is spiritual revival which brings the presence of God into a community — that is what we are lacking.
3. The Challenge of Hard-Pressed Members
Think of the great slave-class of the first century and the limitations it imposed upon access to the meetings of the Lord’s Day. Today there is a different kind of ‘slavery.’ Four million people in Britain work 48 hours a week. Five million days were lost last year from stress. Severe depression seems to be spreadin, yet the world spends 10% of its income on leisure. The society of the local church is no longer many Christians’ chief source of social enjoyment. There is the gym, and golf, and rugby — weekends offer escapism, and so church-members go away.
4. The Challenge of Ministerial Overload
There are too many conferences on everything. We are not turning the tide. The overload of specialised speakers and subjects is confusing, and this makes no impact on the church let alone the world. 90% of church growth is merely shuffling the pack. We have lost our way. In suggesting that we can ‘expert’ and ‘conference’ our way out of things we have been making a rod for our own backs. The best place for counselling is the pulpit and the preaching of the word. Brian Edwards’ home church of Hook has a ‘Genesis Minutes’ programme of 30 Saturday mornings a year where they teach the people so that when their minds fall apart they can go to God, and not whinge, or run to others, or go to ‘counsellors.’ Who will claim that the church is stronger for the widespread emphasis on counselling? My challenge is so to preach the Word that all of the pressurised businessmen in the congregation can go back into the rat-race without becoming rats.
5. The Challenge of a Dispirited Church
‘It takes four years for a person to become a Christian,’ pretentiously claims the Bible Society. We all recognise how rare converting grace is given. Some churches can’t remember when their baptistry was last open, or when they last had a ‘good’ convert. This absence leaves our members not expecting converts. If men are preaching to a congregation of 20 people they don’t expect converts each Sunday. How do you reconcile an ‘expect great things from God’ with such a situation? The false prophets have been telling us for years about revival around the corner until we are weary of the claim. Then they change the definition of revival, and tell us that it has come, and keep on talking. Our prayer is yet for revival and reformation. We are to work for the one and pray for the other.
How do we respond to the challenge of a dispirited church? Not by starting new programmes and not by empire building: the answer is not in new projects. They are just a shot in the arm, and it is not long before the people clamour for another. What, then, is the right agenda? The church being what it should be — a haven of holiness and a place of hope and joy. The Hook church had a young man, Dave, in whom a very great change took place when he was converted. He told Brian Edwards that he had got so involved in the Martyn Lloyd-Jones biography that while walking down the road reading it he had bumped into a stranger. He apologised and told the lady how gripping the story of Lloyd-Jones was. This convert would be saying all the time to his fellow Christians in his new church home, ‘Good ‘ere, in’it?’ and that theme has never left his lips. He was converted under the preaching. So one great way ahead is to be encouraging the people with our preaching. Our feelings must not become the touchstone of the themes of our preaching. ‘When I am up I believe everyone is up and when I am down I believe that everyone is down’ said a deacon of Brian Edwards, and we can be like that.
6. The Challenge of Careless and Prayerless Christians
Both carelessness and prayerlessness flow together. ‘Shortly after the Falklands war I read a book on that war. The writer was thinking of his time in those short sharp battles, surviving in trenches that had to be dug in sodden ground etc. Technology had not changed any of that basic work. How did the smaller British force emerge victorious in that little war? It was the quality of soldiers that decided the outcome.’
We have seen all kinds of equipment spreading through the churches, and the claims of the Church Growth Movement conferences, the slogans and banners and music groups and entertainers etc. But we are not changing the nation and now we have a generation of people who know nothing. The fundamental problem is that the worshipping people of God are not what they ought to be. We are to be salt and light, and to be living this out day by day is tough activity. Moral purity and active good deeds — that is our salt and light.
Matthew 5:13-16 is about the quality of the soldiers. We are not fulfilling the church’s calling. Only when we act like salt and light are we that influence. The Christian is like ozone in a stuffy and oppressive age. We are to be salt — that is — we must have Christian leaders who are beyond sleaze. I grew up believing that a policeman was an exemplary and trustworthy man, and so taught my children to think this. But with us when a leader falls into wickedness church spokesmen are quick to show their loyalty to him and express their sympathy. The impression is given that this act is understandable, whereas James says that teachers are to be ‘judged more strictly’ (James 3:1). In other words, there are different degrees of sin. Christian leadership should be exemplary because it has such profile, privilege and responsibility. We need to be accountable to one another. When I lost my wife Barbara I lost my accountability. We had our ground rules of behaviour. Who is the pastor’s pastor today?
Our great need is for church members who are the aroma of Christ (Cp Euodia ‘sweet fragrance’ — but she was that in name only). Our churches must be model churches. We are to make the teaching of our God and Saviour attractive. We must have churches that are a model for the watching world. So must our families. The letter to the Ephesians is largely about relationships. Paul uses the word ‘together’ frequently. So we are called to do good to all, especially to the family of faith.
We all hope for revival, but don’t only wait for it but we work for God. Whenever God plans great things for his people he sets them a-praying. So it was with Moses and Daniel in the old Testament and the apostle Paul in the New Testament.
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