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What Can Small Churches Do Together?

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This is a guest post by Chris Bruno. He is the coauthor (with Matt Dirks) of Churches Partnering Together: Biblical Strategies for Fellowship, Evangelism, and Compassion.


An Unlikely Partnership

Matthew grew up in an idyllic Scottish village by the sea. Mez grew up in institutions in Ireland, moving from foster home to children’s home to prison. No, this isn’t the opening to a Charles Dickens story.

Matthew grew up trying to avoid the Mezs of the world. Mez grew up trying to steal from the Matthews of the world. But God intervened to bring these two men to Christ and, ultimately, to an unlikely partnership.

Mez had replanted a dying church in the poorest community in Scotland, called Niddrie Community Church (it sounds better with a Scottish accent). The church is located in the middle of the worst “scheme” (low-income housing project) in Edinburgh, a community plagued by drugs and prostitution. But the congregation was composed of middle-class Christians who commuted in for Sunday services and left as soon as the benediction was given. Completely isolated from the neighborhood, Niddrie was regularly firebombed by antagonistic residents.

On his first night at the church, Mez was pulled over and arrested by the police, who couldn’t believe a thuggish-looking guy like him would be driving a nice car registered to a gentleman named Rev. Mez McConnell. By God’s sense of humor, Mez’s arrest gave him immediate street cred with his new neighbors. The church started to fill with unbelievers from the scheme, and it quickly became a vibrant hub of community life. Many people were redeemed and radically transformed by Christ. The difference between their old lives and their new was as stark as black and white.

Matthew had moved to America and planted a church in rural Kentucky called Bardstown Christian Fellowship (he says it sounds better with a redneck accent). He had a deep desire to return to Scotland to plant churches, but never felt released by God to leave his church in Kentucky. Then, at a pastors’ conference, he met Mez. Hearing about the incredible things God was doing in the schemes, Matthew saw a way to fulfill his dream and God’s calling: form a partnership between the two churches.

Niddrie Community Church needed funds and full-time workers to fulfill its vision to plant gospel churches across the schemes of Scotland. Reaching the residents of the schemes requires endless hours of intense personal counseling. So Bardstown Christian Fellowship began to recruit and send trained workers for long-term ministry at Niddrie.

Expanding the Vision

The partnership’s vision quickly began to expand. The partner churches asked, What would it take to plant or replant gospel-driven churches in the twenty neediest schemes in Scotland? The answer: a highly trained church planter and five full-time workers for each scheme, along with the financial resources to sustain them.

This was far beyond the capacity of two churches, so Matthew and Mez got to work finding additional partners. More churches soon signed on. Each church personally invests in one scheme church plant, sending money, long-term workers, and short-term teams. The church knows that if it doesn’t follow through on its commitments, a church on the other side of the ocean might not be planted or revitalized.

But this isn’t just about giving. The American churches feel that they are receiving as much as they give. After sending its first team, Bardstown Christian saw short-term missionaries come back from Scotland better equipped to reach the same kind of people they met in the schemes. Alcoholics and drug addicts started showing up at their Sunday services. Broken people with messy lives soon met Jesus through a group of Christians who, just a few years before, would have been very uncomfortable even talking to them. Matthew explained, “Making disciples in the schemes of Scotland helps us make disciples in rural Kentucky.”

Guidance from the First Century

These twenty-first century churches are imitating the church of the first century, when Gentile churches across the Roman Empire partnered together to invest resources, leaders, and prayer for the ministry of the poverty-stricken church of Jerusalem. This ten-year-long project consumed more of Paul’s time, energy, and emotion, than any other single initiative in his ministry. He saw it as a way to accomplish kingdom goals of fellowship, compassion, and evangelism that no single church could achieve on its own.

And even better, Paul saw it as a way each church could be blessed in its giving: “Your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need” (2 Cor 8:14). Like Bardstown Christian Church discovered, true partnership is interdependent. It’s not just a way for bigger, wealthier churches to feel better about themselves by helping smaller, poorer churches. Everyone can expect to gain something from one another in partnership. Churches of all sizes can accomplish great things and benefit in amazing ways when they partner together for God’s glory.

In what ways might God be calling your church to partner with others?


Chris Bruno (PhD, Wheaton College) is the executive director of the Antioch School Hawai‘i and pastor for discipleship and training at Harbor Church. He spends most of his time leading a church partnership for theological education and church planting. He has written numerous articles and reviews and is the author of The Whole Story of the Bible in 16 Verses and the coauthor (with Matt Dirks) of Churches Partnering Together.

 

September 2, 2014 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Church Leadership,Church Ministry,Community,Evangelism / Missions,Life / Doctrine | Author: Matt Tully @ 8:15 am | 0 Comments »

The Biblical Foundation for Church Partnerships

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This is a guest post by Chris Bruno. He is the coauthor (with Matt Dirks) of Churches Partnering Together: Biblical Strategies for Fellowship, Evangelism, and Compassion.


A Challenging Prospect

Every Christian understands that the world will know we are Christ’s disciples by our love, so you probably have a desire to display Christ’s love by connecting with other churches in your community. So you plan a park cleanup day together. Or a pastors prayer gathering. Maybe, if you’re daring, a joint Easter sunrise service. But to go beyond that, into long-term committed partnership? There are a hundred reasons why that wouldn’t work.

You have a limited amount of time, resources, and people in your church. Isn’t it possible to overcommit these God-given gifts by deploying them in ways God doesn’t intend? Your church has a unique theological and philosophical identity. What if you wake up and find yourself unequally yoked to another church that believes and behaves differently? You have a deep desire to reach people and influence them to see God the way you see him. Won’t there be people who are reached by your partnership ministry who decide to go to other churches or denominations? After all, you’re only half-joking when you call other churches “the competition.”

Learning from Paul

To answer those questions, we need to start by looking at Paul’s missionary strategies and practices. Once he had evangelized a city, established a Christian community, strengthened the saints in the church, and raised up leaders to guide the church, he called the church toward partnership in God’s greater kingdom. And there was one major task he recruited each of the churches he planted to carry out: collecting money for the poor in Jerusalem.

After spending ten years planting churches, strengthening churches, connecting churches, and collecting from churches, Paul finally decided it was time to deliver the big gift. This obviously wasn’t an impulsive effort. He traveled one thousand miles to take the collection to the church in Jerusalem (Acts 21:17–20; 24:17), bringing with him representatives from at least three of the four regions where he had planted churches. The saints in Jerusalem received the gift with great joy and gratitude, but as Paul expected, he was arrested by unbelieving Jews soon after the gift was delivered.

What drove Paul to strive and strain toward a partnership of wildly different churches? What motivated him to risk his life delivering their gift? There are at least three key reasons that propelled Paul, and these still inspire most partnerships today:

1. Compassion

When Paul wrote to the Galatians, possibly with the goal of recruiting them into the partnership, he said, “As we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10). Compassion toward the poor and suffering is natural for people who have experienced Gods compassion. As Paul said to the Corinthians, “[God] comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor. 1:4).

2. Evangelism

When Paul delivered the Jerusalem collection, there’s a strong possibility that he was blessing not only needy Christians but also needy unbelievers. After he was arrested in Jerusalem, he testified before the Roman governor, Felix, and said: “I came to bring alms to my nation and to present offerings. While I was doing this, they found me purified in the temple, without any crowd or tumult” (Acts 24:17–18). Paul may have given most of the collection to the church in Jerusalem, but he probably gave a portion of it to the temple for distribution to needy unbelieving Jews. Why did he do this? “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for [the Jews] is that they may be saved” (Rom. 10:1).

3. Fellowship and Unity

When Paul described the Jerusalem collection, he used many words. Service. Gift. Privilege. But one of the most powerful is the Greek word koinonia (Rom. 15:26). Literally meaning “sharing,” this word is often translated as “fellowship.” Paul saw the collection as a unique way to draw churches together and display the unity of the Spirit.

This wasn’t natural, especially in the racially charged church of the first century. Paul continually challenged churches to pursue gospel unity among all Christians, both Jew and Gentile (Galatians 3; Ephesians 2), but the Jerusalem collection partnership was a powerfully tangible demonstration of how the gospel transcends race, culture, and tradition. Paul made this purpose clear: “For if the Gentiles have come to share in [the Jews’] spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings” (Rom. 15:27).

And not only did the collection unite Gentiles and Jews, it also bonded Gentile churches to one another. When Paul wrote to the Corinthian church about the collection, he told the story of the churches in Macedonia: “For in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord” (2 Cor. 8:2–3). This “reminded the members of these congregations that they were partners in the gospel with one another, no less than with the poor among the saints in Jerusalem.”When churches work side by side with one another, they are reminded of their union with one another in Christ.

In thousands of cities across the globe, churches large and small haven’t considered the amazing things God could do through them in partnership with others. He used kingdom churches to turn the first-century world upside down (Acts 17:6).

What will he do in the twenty-first?


Chris Bruno (PhD, Wheaton College) is the executive director of the Antioch School Hawai‘i and pastor for discipleship and training at Harbor Church. He spends most of his time leading a church partnership for theological education and church planting. He has written numerous articles and reviews and is the author of The Whole Story of the Bible in 16 Verses and the coauthor (with Matt Dirks) of Churches Partnering Together.

 

10 Things You Should Know About Church Elders

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This is a guest post by Jeramie Rinne, author of Church Elders: How to Shepherd God’s People Like Jesuswhich is part of the 9Marks: Building Healthy Churches series.


1. Elders are shepherds.

Both the Old and New Testaments repeatedly employ the metaphor of “shepherding” to describe the spiritual leadership of God’s people. Not surprisingly, the New Testament views elders as shepherds as well (e.g. Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1-4). The elders’ mission is to lead, teach, protect and love their church members the way shepherds care for the sheep in a flock, so that the church members will grow up into spiritual maturity (Ephesians 4:11-13).

2. Elders are pastors.

This second point restates the first, but it bears repeating. The word “pastor” means “shepherd.” We often call paid preachers “pastors” and lay leaders “elders.” This distinction can subtly shape our thinking so that we view pastors as the professional ministers and elders as the church’s board of directors who support the ministers. But a pastor is an elder, and an elder is a pastor. Elders should do those things in a local church that they assume a pastor would do, even if they spend fewer hours per week than the paid pastor.

3. Elders are plural.

We always find elders (plural) in New Testament churches (e.g. Acts 15:4; 20:17; Titus 1:5). Each congregation should have a team of shepherds.

4. Elders must be godly.

The New Testament job descriptions for elders focus largely on character qualities (e.g. 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9). Elders must be self-controlled, sensible, holy, and hospitable. They can’t be drunkards or bullies or money-grubbers. Elders must be “above reproach.”

5. Elders should model godliness.

The elders’ character matters because the elders model Christian maturity for the church (1 Peter 5:3; Hebrews 13:7). Church members should be able to see in their elders inspiring, albeit imperfect, examples of the character of Jesus.

6. Elders should teach.

Elders must be able to teach (1 Timothy 3:2) so that they can build up the church in sound doctrine and refute false teachers (Titus 1:9; cf. Acts 20:30-31). Elder teaching can take lots of shapes: one-to-one instruction, small groups, classes, or preaching. An elder doesn’t need a PhD in biblical studies, but he does need to be able to faithfully explain biblical truth.

7. Elders must lead.

Elders have a measure of authority over the local church. That’s why the New Testament also calls them “overseers.” The elders’ authority is not absolute or unquestionable, nor should it be exercised in a domineering manner. Yet God calls his shepherds to provide leadership for the flock, and, in general, God expects the church to submit to that leadership (Hebrews 13:17).

8. Elder leadership starts at home.

If married, an elder should be “a one-woman man” (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6), which at the very least means that he is a faithful husband. If he has children, he must parent them well so they’re not out of control (1 Timothy 3:4). You should demonstrate able leadership of your own household before you presume to lead God’s household.

9. Elders must be men.

Male-only eldership is a hotly contested issue. And yet the Bible seems extremely straight-forward: an elder must be a “one-woman man.” Just as God calls men to be the heads of their households, so he calls faithful men to lead his church.

10. Elders are not Jesus.

Jesus is the Chief Shepherd, and elders are merely his temporary helpers (1 Peter 5:4). At their best, elders model Jesus’ character, teach Jesus’ word, and lead the church by pointing it toward Jesus and his mission. Good elders never lose that awareness that they themselves are still sheep, utterly dependent on the grace of the Good Shepherd.


Jeramie Rinne (MDiv, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary) serves as senior pastor of South Shore Baptist Church in Hingham, Massachusetts. He has been a regular contributor to the 9Marks Journal, a devotional writer for the Good Book Company, and an instructor for the Simeon Trust Workshops on biblical exposition. He is the author of Church Elders: How to Shepherd God’s People Like Jesus (excerpt). He lives with his wife, Jennifer, and their four children on the south shore of Boston.


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June 12, 2014 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Church Leadership,Church Ministry,Life / Doctrine,Preaching / Teaching | Author: Matt Tully @ 8:15 am | 0 Comments »

An Interview with Bill Pollard

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In this interview, we talk with C. William Pollard, chairman of Fairwyn Investment Company and best-selling author of The Soul of the Firm. His newest book is The Tides of Life: Learning to Lead and Serve as You Navigate the Currents of Life.


Why did you write the The Tides of Life? Who was your intended audience and what do you hope they’ll take away from the book?

Originally, I thought I was writing the book for my family—specifically for my grandchildren. The idea arose from watching my wife knit blankets for her great grandchildren . . . great grandchildren who have not yet been born and who she might not get a chance to see. But she wanted to knit these blankets as gifts for them. Seeing her do that got me thinking about the experiences that I want to share with my grandchildren and great grandchildren.

However, as I began writing, I realized that the book might have a broader appeal, since I reflect on lessons I’ve learned related to making good choices and navigating the opportunities and obstacles that we all face in life. I think anyone who is currently navigating significant changes in their life—whether related to their career, family, or some other position that they may hold—could benefit from the lessons that I reflect on in the book.

What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned over the course of your life?

Many of the lessons I’ve learned relate to leadership—not only in business, but in the home as well. One of the most significant lessons I learned came from a piece of advice I received from Peter Drucker. I remember we were sitting in his office discussing some leadership challenges I was facing at ServiceMaster. He leaned back in his chair, thought for a moment, and said, “Remember, Bill, a leader really only has one choice to make: to lead or mislead.”

I think it’s also important to know what you believe and why you believe it. Leaders need to know where they’ve come from and where they’re going. Of course, when you ask questions like that, it raises questions related to faith: “What do you really believe in?” and “How does God fit into your life?”

I’ve also found that life is full of difficult experiences, often stemming from our own mistakes and failures. In those situations, it’s important for leaders to admit their failures and, in some cases, ask for forgiveness. When you do that, you add an element of transparency to your relationships and build others’ trust.

Who’s had the most significant impact on your development as a leader?

I can’t name just a single person—it’s not possible in relation to my life. Many people have contributed to my development as a leader, including Peter Drucker, many of my colleagues at ServiceMaster, Hudson Armerding [president of Wheaton College], and my father-in-law. Of course, my relationship with Billy Graham has had a significant impact on my leadership. Finally, Warren Buffet had a profound influence on me, particularly in relation to how I view certain issues in the business world.

In the foreword to your book, Billy Graham refers to you as a “longtime friend.” How and when did you first meet Mr. Graham, and what kind of influence has he had on your life?

I first met Billy when I was serving at Wheaton College and he was on the Board of Trustees. One day, I had to make a presentation to the Board. After the meeting, Billy approached me and we began talking.

This conversation ultimately led to a few more long talks in the weeks that followed. He took a personal interest in me while we were both at Wheaton College and just wanted to get to know me. About a year after beginning at ServiceMaster, I received a call from Billy in which he asked me to serve on the board of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

What are the essential qualities of a true leader and how can aspiring leaders seek to develop them?

Again, I’ll come back to Drucker’s comment on leadership. He starts off by saying that leadership, in and of itself, is not something that we should seek. It’s a very interesting comment that you don’t normally hear in discussions or books related to leadership.

Drucker goes on to say that leadership is just a means to an end. The real question is, “To what end?” According to Drucker, the proper end of all leadership is the thriving of those who are following the leader. Leadership is not simply about the vision or desires of the leader. Rather, true leadership looks to the needs and abilities of those who are being led—true leadership entails taking responsibility for those who are following you.

This is applicable to leadership in any sphere, whether it be the workplace, the church, or the home. Leaders must know the answer to fundamental questions related to where they’re from and where they’re going. But ultimately leaders must address an even more fundamental question: “How does God fit into my life and leadership?”

In the context of a business, leaders must navigate how they’re going to integrate their faith with their work. The marketplace reflects the diversity of the world, including differences related to gender, race, ability, and beliefs. Therefore, leaders must learn how to affirm their faith without imposing it.


C. William Pollard (JD, Northwestern University School of Law) is chairman of Fairwyn Investment Company. For 25 years he participated in the leadership of The ServiceMaster Company, twice serving as the Company’s CEO. He is the author of a number of books, including The Soul of the Firm and The Tides of Life: Learning to Lead and Serve as You Navigate the Currents of Life (excerpt). He and his wife, Judy, have been married for over 55 years and have 4 adult children and 15 grandchildren.

How to Read the Bible in Seminary

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There is more to seminary, and the whole Christian life, than the necessity of pursuing daily soul survival in the Scriptures, but this need must not be overlooked. An otherwise impressive theology degree is utterly unimpressive if your soul has shriveled in the course of study. As Christians, daily Bible intake is to our souls what breathing, eating, and drinking are to our physical bodies. As the incarnate Word himself says, quoting Deuteronomy 8:3, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matt. 4:4)

How to study the word for more than words:

First, seek to make your seminary studies devotional. Pray for God’s help before class, before studying, before writing a paper or taking a test, and during all these activities. Continually consecrate your studies to Jesus and ask him to freshly meet you in them, keep your spiritual blood flowing, and keep you soft to his grace.

It is important for every Christian, and perhaps especially for seminary students, to never come to the Scriptures with anything less than a devotional approach. Whatever the assignment, intentionally seek the growth and warming of your soul. There’s no spiritually neutral gear when handling the Bible. You don’t need to learn the lesson far too many have experienced about trifling with holy things–you either survive or shrivel.

Second, set aside at least a brief season daily to focus on feeding your soul. Find a good patch in the Scriptures (maybe through an annual Bible-reading plan), one you’re not studying in preparation for a class, a test, or a sermon, and graze a while, just for your spiritual well-being. Crumbs from such a meal will inevitably bless those to whom you minister, but try not to make your future flock (or present ministry) your explicit focus in this feeding. The aim is the daily strengthening and sustaining of your soul.

An often-helpful reminder to seminary students is to not read merely for information. Such information, glorious as it is, won’t keep your heart soft and your soul breathing. What we desperately need is spiritual sight of the living Christ. We need the person of Jesus himself, whom we find in and through the Scriptures. Our souls long for a living connection with the living God-man. We were made for this.

Therefore, be on the unashamed lookout for Jesus and his gospel, for soul-satisfaction that runs up verses and doctrines to a person, the God-man, rather than terminating on concepts and ideas. In an explicitly “devotional” time, set out to explicitly enjoy Jesus in the Scriptures as your great end, not as a means to anything else, whether it is a class assignment or ministering to others in some way.

You can never afford to settle for anything less than the words of the Bible, but extreme as it may seem, your soul needs more than words, more than facts, more than studies and new head knowledge. You need the Word himself. Your soul needs Jesus to survive. And for now, the devotional imbibing of the Scriptures is an essential way to find him.

This post was adapted from How to Stay Christian in Seminary by David Mathis and Jonathan Parnell.


David Mathis

David Mathis (MDiv, Reformed Theological Seminary Orlando) is executive editor at desiring God.org and an elder at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. He also serves as an adjunct professor at Bethlehem College and Seminary. David and his wife, Megan, have two sons.

 

 

 

Jonathan ParnellJonathan Parnell (MDiv, Bethlehem Seminary) is a content strategist at desiringGod.org and has spent the last nine years of his life studying on seminary campuses in North Carolina and Minnesota. He and his wife, Melissa, live in Minneapolis and have four children.

 

 

 

March 13, 2014 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Bible Study,Church Leadership,Church Ministry,Life / Doctrine,Theology | Author: Lizzy Jeffers @ 8:30 am | (3) Comments »