Posts tagged church
James Glattfelder uses principles from the world of physics to explore the complexity of the global economy. It all sounds kind of geeky, but it’s intriguing nonetheless. As I listen to Glattfelder explain the way control works in this complex system, I can’t help but wonder about the potential results of similar research in the social arena.
By “social,” I’m not talking about Facebook and Twitter, but about churches, non-profits, NGOs and the like. If similar data was collected and the connections or interactions charted, would we find the social world similarly connected, or would the graph look completely different? Would United Way, the Red Cross and USAID be in the power center, or would it all point back to government superpowers and the money they are pouring into the “system”?
I don’t know the answer and I don’t have the brains or the cash to do the research, but if there’s anybody out there willing, I would love to see the results. I’m writing this today from Kenya, where thousands upon thousands of organizations are trying their best to “help,” with many doing the same things for some of the same people. My fear is that, rather than being too interconnected (like the global economic system) that the social system is too independent. I’m afraid that our connections are too weak, our power holders too aloof and our output measurements focused on all the wrong things.
I would love to see the numbers.
Paul and Timothy had a special relationship. Not only was Paul a mentor to Timothy, but they were also close friends who suffered a lot of persecution together as well as sharing in ministry successes. This letter, then, is written as a letter between friends, as an instruction manual from a mentor to a mentee and as a reminder of some of their adventures along the way.
When Paul encourages Timothy to take a stand against false teachers and false doctrine, he does so knowing that Timothy has seen him do the same. That’s why there isn’t a whole lot of instruction as to how to oppose these people. That may be frustrating for us, but it wasn’t for Timothy because he had seen it in action.
Much of what is written is very similar to Paul’s various letters of instruction to other churches. This makes sense, of course, because if Paul was consistent in his teaching, he wanted Timothy to be just as consistent.
One section of this letter that does stand out, however, is the instructions on how to select deacons – or church leaders. Much has been made of this list, with some churches and denominations going so far as to create checklists with each specific item listed out and to use these checklists as part of their selection process.
Now, I don’t think there’s necessarily anything wrong with that, but I also don’t know that this is Paul’s point. I think there is a larger point to be made here not about the things that the prospective deacon values, but about what we value. You see, sometimes it’s easy to put someone into a leadership position who shouldn’t be there simply because they bring something to the table that we think we need.
Maybe they have incredible social or business connections. Maybe they have a lot of experience. Perhaps they’re very wealthy and we hope that they will “buy in”. Whatever the case, Paul says that these are the wrong considerations. Character, above all else, must be the initial deciding factor. After character, then, comes skill set – the ability to teach, etc.
Character matters…a lot. Paul says (in verses 2 and 7) that this person must be respectable/reputable both inside and outside the church. In other words, someone who does great things at church, but is a harsh and cruel businessman need not apply. Likewise, a well-respected member of the business community who is seen as a troublemaker and cynic in the church need not apply either.
This is the framework that Paul gives us for selecting church leaders (this and more). For those of us who are in such roles, it’s important that we don’t allow those other “worldly” factors to take precedence.
Paul’s writing to the Corinthians spans a full spectrum of church and personal issues. Just in today’s reading, he tackles sin, faith, reconciliation, personal difficulties, idolatry, repentance and generosity. But there is a common thread throughout today’s reading, and, indeed, throughout Paul’s letter – a thread of Paul’s love of and pride in the people of the Corinthian church.
Multiple times, Paul speaks of “boasting” about this church. In today’s language, Paul would be hashtagging #ilovethischurch over and over when he talked about the church at Corinth. These guys were the real deal and Paul knew it. Of course, they had their issues, as we all do, but Paul could see through the mucky parts and recognize the incredible heart on display in this church.
Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians is really the result of him seeking to help them live up to the hype! He knows the things they’ve struggled with an he knows some areas where they have seen some success. He also knows that they have good intentions, but he wants to be sure they follow through with those intentions.
At the end of the day, Paul is a champion for these people – he is an advocate of the highest order. And, like his old pal Barnabas, he is an encourager – a cheerleader – for these young followers of Jesus. He walks the fine line between admonishment, instruction and encouragement. And for this thriving young church, it was just what they needed.
I’m guessing that, at some level, that’s just what we all need – at least a little. Hold me accountable for the things I know I screwed up, encourage me in the areas where I’m doing well or making progress and instruct me in those areas where I lack some wisdom, knowledge or skill. Yeah, I’ll take that all day long!
The question I have for myself and for you is this: Who do we have in our lives who could use this kind of mentor? It’s easy to criticize, easy to cheer-lead and even easy to instruct. Marrying the three into the kind of care Paul exhibited to the church at Corinth requires dedication, laser focus and , most importantly, empowerment from the Holy Spirit. Let it be!
Remember yesterday when I said that I wasn’t sure if Paul would have ever made it to Rome had he not been sent there as a prisoner? Look at these words written to the Roman followers of Jesus at some date prior to Paul’s visit:
I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you.
I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong— that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles. (Romans 1:10b-13)
When I read those words, I have to wonder about Paul’s appeal to Caesar that we read about in Acts. Knowing Paul’s desire to finally make it to Rome, is it possible that he saw in his trial the opportunity to finally meet the people of the Roman church and to preach to the Jews and Gentiles there? Is it possible that his appeal to Caesar was not just an effort to have himself freed (which, it was indicated, could have happened without his appeal) but was somewhat of a ruse to get the Roman government to unknowingly fund his mission?
Let’s face it, Paul was a sharp guy and I certainly wouldn’t put it past him to devise a clever plot like that to fulfill his desire to visit Rome. Whatever the case, it is obvious that Paul had a strong urge to see people in Rome come to know Jesus. He wrote this letter several years before his trip there. And in these opening paragraphs, he seeks to do what we will see him do in much of his writing. He seeks to level the playing field between Jews and Gentiles.
At that time, Jews thought of themselves as superior – dozens of generations of people being told that they were “God’s chosen ones” had worked to great affect. The Gentiles, then, were second-class citizens, especially in the Church. Paul would spend much of his time in ministry dispelling that notion.
Here, we see him begin to level that ground by reminding Roman Jews of their own sin. In fact, he tells them that because they operate under the law, their sin is sometimes more egregious than the Gentiles who do not operate under Jewish law. Moreover, he essentially tells them that they are getting in the way of the expansion of the Kingdom of God among the Gentiles:
…you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” (Romans 2:21-24)
Ouch! Not a great way to make friends, Paul. Of course, Paul was way more concerned with making disciples of Jesus than he was with making friends and he understood that the Jews – even Jews who were following Jesus – would have to come down off their pedestals in order for more Gentiles to find Jesus.
The same is true for the Church today. Many of Paul’s accusations still ring true. I often say (and I probably heard someone else say it before me) that the Church is it’s own worst enemy. If not for Christians, more people might follow Jesus. Does that sound harsh? What if I word it as Paul did? God’s name is being blasphemed among the unchurched because of you. Is that better?
Here’s the reality: “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” and we continue to sin and fall short daily. If we pretend that we don’t have those failures or if we pass judgement on others who have, perhaps, different failures than us, but failures nonetheless, then we do damage to ourselves, those people and to God’s church. And if we pass that judgement in the name of Jesus, as many Christians like to do, the we are blaspheming God’s name among the unchurched – an offense even more egregious than the ones being committed by the person we are judging.
So often in this year-long journey, it has been the mundane that has made a big impression on me. Some of the passages that I’ve never heard anyone preach on and which are typically glazed over – those are the ones that seem to spring to life for me right now. Today is no exception as I was struck, in the midst of reading about Paul’s incredible ministry, by the following verses:
He was accompanied by Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Berea, Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, Gaius from Derbe, Timothy also, and Tychicus and Trophimus from the province of Asia. (Acts 20:4)
What, you may ask, is so significant about that verse? These traveling companions of Paul are not, for the most part, notable figures. But they are notable for this reason. Look at their cities of origin: Berea, Thessalonica, Derbe and the province of Asia. In other words, these were people from the cities and countries that Paul had visited. He picked them up along the way.
For me, this says two things: First, Paul believed in the importance of mentoring. He was able to identify some young guys to take along with him and to train. He trained them to do what he was doing. He did so in order to multiply his efforts.
The second thing this tells me is that Paul was the kind of guy that people would follow anywhere, at the expense of leaving friends, family and home behind. Paul had a kind of charisma about him that attracted people to him. No doubt he also had the favor of the Holy Spirit, which is, of course, incredibly attractive.
My point is this: Paul had the ability to be the popular guy – the guy everybody wanted to be like. And yet, he chose the most difficult path – teaching about Jesus in hostile cities. He also had the ability to become some kind of superhero, but he chose to give his ministry away – to take some hand-picked individuals from the cities he visited and to give them an opportunity to do ministry along side of him. This was the way Paul did things.
And it’s the way Jesus did things – taking some people along, training them and, ultimately, releasing them to go out and do what they had learned to do. And this model is the one used to grow the Church from a small crowd in Galilee to a community of hundreds of millions of believers all over the world.
My question is this: If this model was good enough for Jesus and good enough for Paul, shouldn’t it be good enough for us? If it helped grow the Church (big “C”, global Church) into what it is today, couldn’t it help grow our churches (little “c”, local churches), too? To be a mentor or a coach is not only a great calling and a huge responsibility. It is part of God’s plan for growing his Church and for bringing more people into relationship with himself. I think it makes sense for us to get on-board!