May 30, 2016

What I Have Learned Serving a Church Plant: Expectations

This guest posting is from Pam, who is preparing to move from Mississippi to Canada to help plant a church with her husband, Josh. They have two little girls.

My husband and I are so thankful that we are a part of a church plant called Grace Reformed Church, where he serves as an elder.

We both have a heart for church planting and seeing people come to know Jesus - for the first time or in new and deeper ways. Being a part of it for three years has taught us a lot about ministry.

If you are considering joining a church plant and are not sure what to expect, here are a few things we have learned.

 

Those of us in a church plant must expect to...


Sacrifice our preferences. Church plants don’t have the same structure, access to resources, or number of bodies as established churches. This means they won’t have the same kind of worship band, programs/ministries, childcare and facilities that we may be used to or long for.

It is helpful to stay focused on the vision and mission of the church.  Worship Jesus by teaching the Word, proclaim the gospel, witness to the kingdom and disciple people so that these lesser issues don’t become primary. R.C. Sproul says it well, “I think the greatest weakness in the church today is that almost no one believes that God invests His power in the Bible. Everyone is looking for power in a program, in a methodology, in a technique, in anything and everything but that in which God has placed it—His Word. He alone has the power to change lives for eternity, and that power is focused on the Scriptures.”

Additionally, it is important to be mindful of the ever-growing and ever-changing distinctness of a church plant. Many things will be tried and either added or abandoned. This requires and allows members to have an easy-going, accommodating attitude.
Serve faithfully using our time, money, energy, talents and resources to minister to the church and proclaim the gospel (1 Peter 4:8-11).  Based on their income, schedule, ability or role in the church, some people in the congregation will serve more than others. Serving is not about fairness. It will never be perfectly even. We don’t live in light of fairness, we live in light of the gospel!

It is easy to be self-righteous about our own service in the church when we compare ourselves to others. Our own desire to serve the church is a gift from the Lord. When we believe this, our self-righteous frustration, bitterness and anger towards others begins to diminish. And, we are able to be thankful for those who are willing to serve in any capacity.

Pray for more people to be so transformed by the gospel that they actually desire to give self-sacrificially. Ask God to help them begin to see the church as a place to serve rather than consume. Lastly, serve by simply showing up each week!
Seek people. In large churches, it is easy to be invisible. In small churches it is easy to choose invisibility. But the gospel motivates us to step out of our comfort zones, and talk to people, whether they approach us first or not.

Let’s seek the people who are sitting alone, who are outside of our life-stage or generation or who “rub us the wrong way.” Consider the people we wouldn’t normally have an opportunity to engage with. Invite them over for dinner. Church is a family. Intentionally building community is for our good and His glory.

Struggle to love others. Relational difficulties are going to be there because we are busted sinners. Sadly, churches are too often places where grace between brothers and sisters in Christ goes to die rather than come alive.

There will be miscommunication, disagreements, gossiping and hurt feelings between both leaders and congregants. These relational difficulties can range from simple to serious. We might encounter differing parenting choices, various music style preferences, theological disagreements and personal hurts and offenses. The biggest battles of ministry are fought on the turf of our own hearts.

Therefore, praying for the church, fighting for unity, being honest with one another, forgiving quickly and being willing to repent and seek forgiveness can feel impossible. But, the gospel tells us that through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection we have been freed from bondage to sin and self. By his Spirit, we are given motivation and power to reconcile with one another. The God we worship is a God of reconciliation and his people are a people of reconciliation (Ephesians 4:25-31; Colossians 3:12-17).

Share in one another’s hardships (Romans 12:9-16). One of the ways the church shows God’s love is by caring for the practical needs of people. This means knowing the people we worship with well enough to know their needs. We need to take initiative because hurting people will infrequently ask for help. Some examples of ways to love, serve, and minister to people include making meals, running errands, offering specialized services, caring for the sick and crying with the brokenhearted. This is a joyful burden, a blessing and part of being the body of Christ!
See God's work. Hearts are changed, people are saved and the Spirit moves in big and small ways we have never imagined. The Lord will bring broken people from different backgrounds, ethnicities, ages, life stages and income levels together to share, hear, believe and be transformed by the gospel. We can expect to see Jesus redeem and change lives, including our own, from the inside out because the Word of God is powerful, active and alive. (Hebrews 4:12; 2 Corinthians 5:17,18; Romans 5: 18-21)

For more about the model used to plant Pam's church, see "Simple Church Planting" on the desiringGod website.
 

May 23, 2016

How to Pray Out Loud Online

Years ago, I worked for a Christian audio magazine—a forerunner to podcasts, I suppose. At the time, the studio was transitioning between analogue and digital.  Some interviews got edited digitally on the computer—the audible discards disappearing silently into the void—but mostly the editing still produced tangled snips of physical tape, curled on the studio floor like the remnants of a haircut.

I was reminded of this as I wrote and edited Praying Together. Behind its 158 pages lies a pile of discarded snippets—some physical bits of paper and some existing only in my mind. Mostly, the book is decidedly better for what got left on the floor. But some of those tangled curls of thought just won’t be swept up and thrown away. They didn’t belong in the book, sure, but I’d like to think they belong somewhere.

This is one of them.


_______________________

How do you pray online?

Almost daily, I am asked to pray “with” others when I’m not actually with them. If you are in a church, it probably happens to you, too. In this digital age, we frequently receive prayer requests from people at a distance. 

They email us. They text us. They post on social media.

Pray for my dad. He’s having surgery in 30 minutes.
Prayers, please. I need to be at the airport in 10 and I can’t find my passport.
I’m feeling so anxious today. Would you pray for me?
At the crisis pregnancy center. Please pray for the couple I’m counseling.

Praying for others is our great privilege. It’s a way to love our brothers and sisters and to bear their burdens, priorities so essential that the Bible equates these obligations with fulfilling the whole law of God (Rom. 13:8, Gal. 5:14).

Praying for others is also a means of exhorting them, of reminding them of truth from God’s Word, and of lifting up their heads and pointing them to Christ. As they hear our confident and tender prayers, the suffering brother or sister will be encouraged.

Online or in a text message, though, we tend to reply with a quick “Praying!” and click on. Sometimes, that's all we can do. And, it is certainly better than nothing.

But in these situations, I think it is best to pray out loud online--to share the exact words that we are at that moment bringing before the Lord. We don't do this to show off our eloquence or piety. We do this because prayer is a means of strengthening one another's faith and encouraging one another with our love.

First, it's good to say exactly who we are petitioning. Prayer is an activity of relationship—it is children talking to the Father whom they know and love. 

Not everyone understands this. Some people who see the social media post or receive the group text will mistakenly think prayer is nothing more than a good wish or a lucky charm. Out loud online prayers, then, affirm that true prayer is communication within an intimate relationship. 

We are praying to someone. And that someone is gracious and compassionate.

Even other Christians often need to be reminded that the sovereign, loving, and holy God hears and answers our prayers. He is the same God who once healed the sick, released the prisoners, comforted the grieving, and gave bread and fish to the hungry. Most of all, he is the God who took his enemies (us!) and made them his friends.

Knowing who we are praying to gives us confidence that he will hear and confidence that he does all of his holy will. Knowing that God has worked faithfully in similar situations gives us hope that he will act again. 

Praying to the One who healed ten men in one instant. . .
Praying to the God who made the borrowed axe-head float. . .
Praying to the Father who numbers the hairs of our heads. . .
Praying to the Lord who came to seek and save the lost. . .

It is also good to say exactly what we are asking. Christian prayer is not a vague mumbling or a meaningless mantra. Prayer is “an offering up of our desires unto God.”

Identifying exactly what we desire from the Lord will help us to evaluate whether it is something according to his revealed will and character. It will also help us to recognize his gracious answer when he gives it. And this, in turn, will allow us to give public thanks.

. . .praying that he would heal you.
. . .praying that he would allow you to find your missing object.
. . .praying that he would reveal his love for you as you meditate on his Word.
. . .praying that he would be at work in her soul.

And then I close my eyes, bow my head, and bring that before the Lord. It may not be as good as standing shoulder-to-shoulder, together at the Throne with my needy friend, but it is something. One day we will be together there—and I trust that all of our prayers and all of his answers will be fully revealed to the glory of Christ.  

Brothers and sisters, let us pray.
_____

You can purchase Praying Together from Amazon, Crossway, The PCA Bookstore, Westminster Bookstore, or Christianbook.com.

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