As the society advances, we work hard to prevent unnecessary hiccups in life. We ensure our transport system goes well, our company runs well and our education system functions well. While it is good to get these systems up and running well, we must remember that they do fail us at times no matter what. There is nothing fool proof and there is no Titanic that even God cannot sink. We need to be realistic about life.
But what is more crucial is how much we can tolerate such inconvenience. We can end up having such a high expectation of the systems that we start to complain whenever something goes wrong. We become intolerant to others’ failures. We think that they should get the job done well. They shouldn’t allow mishaps to happen at all. It’s their responsibility and it’s all their fault.
Secondly, we can become superior. In all these fault picking, we see ourselves as superior to others. We think they should serve us because we pay for the service.
Thirdly, we become inflexible. In a sense, we are handicapped. We do not know how to go round the problem. We do not know how to live with problems. Problems becomes something bad. But this is not necessarily true. The Bible tells us that God uses problems to build us up. Problems can train our patience and shape our character.
All these can have implications on our family. Our children are looking at us all the time. They see how we react to things in life. They would end up expecting us to solve all their problems. We become their servants rather than parents. They would not know how to solve their life problems and expect everything to be perfect. Dear parents, it’s alright to meet with problems, let your children solve theirs too. Let them face the real world and be shaped to be a strong yet flexible generation.
A Forbidden Word
Have you ever wondered why Christians these days seem less committed as compared to the first century Christians? Try to get them to follow you and you may get questioned back. It’s not as simple as Jesus’ call of “follow me” anymore.
Perhaps, one of the most crucial reasons is the lack of preaching and teaching on repentance. Repentance has become a forbidden word in many churches. We focus more on love and grace of God. When we want to talk about repentance, we speak briefly about it. We go around it and dare not talk boldly about it. We don’t even dare to confront the sins directly. We are afraid that we would offend our members and chase them away from church. Gone are the days of John Sung, and the other great preachers.
The impact can be great on the church. Firstly, we compromise the holiness of God. We emphasize on the love and grace of God more than the holiness of God. But our God is a holy God and He calls each of us to be holy. People who truly understand the love of God would respond in holiness. They would repent from their sins. Secondly, we produce weak Christians. When there is a weak call for repentance, we produce carnal believers who are self-centred. They end up living their old lives and indulging in their sins. They remain attention seeking and create disunity in church. This problem also affects the quality of leadership in church. We would, as a result, produce weak leaders to lead the church. This deteriorating phenomenon is a worrying crisis that we need to pay attention to today.
Thirdly, we give a bad testimony to others. We are called to be the light and salt of this world but because of the lack of repentance, we are giving a bad testimony to others. In fact, it is not difficult to see heartbreaking behavior of our fellow believers today. It is really sad to see that some Christians are among the most prideful, snobbish, arrogant, egoistic, grudging people around. They expect others to live for them rather than to live for others. They expect others to wait upon them rather than to serve the people. They complain almost about all things.
We need to bring this word “repentance” back into our dictionary. God is still calling us to repent and live a godly life for Him. Will we be bold enough to heed this call today?
Reading Too Much Into God’s Word
As our audience gets more intellectual, there is a tendency for us to to make our teaching more and more academic. We try to find new “teachings” and new “meanings” from the Bible so that we can impress our audience. But as teachers of the word, we must be extremely careful for we will be judged more stringently than others. We must be careful not to read too much into the word of God. Some can end up expounding every word in a verse. Some use Hebrew and Greek so much that nobody understands. Of course, some actually have little knowledge of these native languages but they just refer to word study guide. But the usual problem is that while only certain nuance is only used in a certain context of the Bible, the teacher gives the whole spectrum of the meaning of the word used. While it may amazed the audience, biblically speaking, it is using a word out of context. The general audience today do not bother much, they just want something interesting. But as a teacher, we need to be careful. We are not called to be entertainers or brain teasers. We are to be faithful to the word and be a good workman approved by God.
Don’t get me wrong here, I am not against Bible study or going deep into the word of God. I am just cautioning against reading too much into the word of God. God has chosen to make certain things plain, so don’t read more than what it should. Anyway, as teachers of the word, we are not here to impress others, but to impress the word of God into the hearts of man. Don’t make the simple things of God complicated, let’s make the complicated simple.
Pitfalls of Discipleship
A lot of people know the importance of discipleship. But to carry it out effectively is the challenge. It is not easy to know what content to use. Even when we have good content, it still depends on the discipler to shape and pitch the discipleship process. Here are a few pitfalls to beware of.
Some discipling programmes just too academic. They focus a lot on head knowledge. As such, disciples get to know the Bible well, but they often lack the experience of God and a big heart to serve God. They end up spending too much time arguing about theology and strategy, but hardly got the passion to get things done.
On the other hand, some programmes focus too much on experience. They are usually actively engaging in spiritual warfare. They look for signs and wonders. They pray for healing. They listen to God’s prophetic word. They may even quote a lot of Bible verses. But they are often not properly grounded in biblical theology and principles. They tend to skew towards only a certain aspects of the Bible.
There are those discipling programmes whose main objectives are to get people out to serve. Not that serving is bad, but they miss out the task of shaping the inner man. These people end up running programmes for the church, but they are not renewed from within. Some may still be carnal rather than spiritual.
Some rely too much on their discipleship classes. They just run those programmes again and again, hoping that those classes would make disciples. They just do the same thing every year. But some of these courses may be outdated and warrant a review. They forget to work out discipleship for all their members rather than only those in classes.
A call for reflection and balance
We need to constantly reflect on the things we are doing. We may be very experienced in ministry. But our experience are not always right and we don’t always learn from experience. In fact, our experience can be a hurdle instead. We need to critically review the things we are doing and be courageous to call for a change. There is no point in doing the same old things again and again.
We also need balance. We tend to focus on those areas we are good at. But in discipleship, we need to disciple not just the head, but also the heart and the hands. We need to depend very much on the Holy Spirit to keep us in check all the time.
Disciple Your Staff
We often have plans to develop training or courses for the church. We probably have schedule to meet the leaders of the church and hold meeting with them. We may also meet those potential leaders in our midst. But one group of people we tend to miss is our staff. We maybe discipling them while they are not yet staff. But when they come on board and become our staff finally, we start to neglect them. Suddenly we have a lot of expectations on them to perform. We have a lots of work for them to do and follow up. We expect them to do well and show results. We may give comments and feedback but most of the time is about their work and duties. We do little about their character, their values and principles. Well, we may send them to a seminary and hope that the seminary transforms their lives. But it does not go this way most of the time.
We cannot leave the work of discipling or mentoring our staff to an institution or a programme or courses. It must be done in person. Being our staff, they have become the most important people to be mentored and discipled. They should have the priority in our time. Dear leaders, don’t neglect your staff. They are your most important assets in church. They would be your future leaders. Don’t just get them to work. Don’t just expect them to perform. Don’t just want them to show results. Spend time to relate with them and disciple them in their life, not just ministry.
We are often so busy and even hectic. We walk so fast and speak so fast. We don’t have time to enjoy the beauty of nature along our way. We don’t have time to listen to the voices of the people around us or tend to their needs. We don’t even have time to talk to our spouse or play and listen to our children.
Yet the irony is that while missing out so much of these things, we may be busy serving God, visiting people or sharing the Gospel with others. We have a whole list of people we need to meet and talk to. We attend so many meetings and accomplish so much things. We have become so programmatic and mechanical. Everything must be in accordance to our schedule and we must meet our goals.
Perhaps it’s time to slow down. Don’t do too much. Take time to enjoy the beauty of nature. Observe the people around us and listen to their inner voices. Talk to your spouse and play with your children. Allow things to get a bit ‘messy’. Don’t strive to control all things including time. Yes, we may be serving in church, but we maybe serving programmes and not God. We maybe just meeting our goals or quotas. Don’t be too deliberate in all things. Let things come naturally. We will realise that we always have people we can listen to, help or even discipled. We need not just restrict ourselves to targeted people only.
Let the life of Christ flow out of you naturally. Don’t try to squeeze it out. Don’t try to box it up. Time to slow down friends.
Preach For Transformation
Preaching is a very important element in worship. Yet it is also a time where it is most easily abused. If we are not careful, our pulpit can become a place for entertainment — a place to tell jokes and gain our popularity. It can also be a place to show our charisma and build our power. There are others who use it to say what they want or even use it like a ATM to draw their money from members.
For those who are more serious, they would teach instead of preach at the pulpit. Preachers can end up sharing a lot of biblical knowledge and even include a lot of Greek and Hebrew. This is not to say that all these are bad, but rather we should use it appropriately. We are not preaching to seminary students but church members at large. Besides the cognitive element, they also need the affective element.
The pulpit must be honoured because God has used it to bring transformation in the church. God forbid it to be abused. How can use the pulpit appropriately to bring transformation in our church? Here are some pointers to share.
1) Centrality and Supremacy of God.
God should be the centre of every sermon. It’s not the church nor the preacher, or any other human. God forbid the pulpit to be abused. It is time where the word of God is declared. Through the word of God, God is exalted and glorified.
2) True to the Text.
The sermon must be true to the text. It must be what the passage wants to say. Some preachers just choose a passage, but they say whatever they want. Even some may preach very well, but they are not true to the text. We need to go back and ask what God wants to say through His word first.
3) Derive Points from Text.
Besides being true to the text, we need to derive our points from the text too. From the different verses, we need to show how points are exegeted. Some points are just too far fetched these days. These points are from the Bible no doubt, but just not derive from that passage. Some might have confused topical preaching for expository preaching for that matter.
4) Surface Wrong Worldviews.
A lot of sermons these days focus on actions. There are steps as to getting something done. While these steps provide good handles, they focus a lot more on behaviour or methodology. As such, we may end up knowing more things we should do without knowing what is wrong with our worldviews. The risk is that we may be doing a lot of Christian thing without transformation from within. Bear in mind that we can only change what we know about ourselves. When we do not know what is wrong with our worldview, there is no way we can change. This is perhaps the greatest crisis of Christian faith today. We have many Christians who are actively serving but living untransformed lives. We think they are alright because they are already serving actively in the church. In our preaching today, we ought to surface some of the wrong worldviews the passage is highlighting so that the audience can reflect about their own thinking and perceptions.
5) Show Biblical Values and Principles.
Rather than showing the steps or methodology, let me suggest that we should in fact derive biblical values and principles from the passage. Instead of telling people what they should be doing to achieve something, it would be better to give people new attitudes they should adopt and the guiding principles that they need to consider when making decisions. In this manner, we help the people to be more mature in their thinking and get them to be responsible for their decisions. Life is never as simple as following a simple set of steps or methods.
6) Give Examples and Illustrations.
It would be good if the points of the sermon can come with relevant examples and illustrations. It is not necessary that the illustrations must be a joke. Sometimes we can be carried away by it. People end up remembering the joke but not the point we are illustrating. It is also important to find something relevant and suitable to the audience. An adult service may require different sets of examples and illustrations from the youth service. Life examples are good. They allow the people to see real struggles and how problems can be overcome with the help of God. People would tend to appreciate if preachers would reveal more about their own lives. It shows that they too are humans and are not perfect. But God can work something good out of them too.
7) Suggest Possible Applications.
Applications are important but they are often mistaken as things to do. After weeks of sermons, we can be overwhelmed by a list of things to do. How many things can we do every week? We can end up becoming a legalistic Christian. Applications can also be things to reflect. Through the renewing of our minds, our actions will be changed. It is important that our applications are getting people to start thinking before they start doing. Then there will be life transformation.
It is my hope that we will preach to transform lives. We may need to break away from our old molds and try out new ones. God has given us a great and awesome responsibility, so let’s treasure it and do it well.
Convert or Disciple
Many churches today are under the pressure to grow their churches. It may be a good thing because we can see more people being saved. The Lord is opening up many doors for us in recent years. There are many kinds of social outreach activities churches can be involved in, not just to the locals but also to the migrants as well. We need to seize these opportunities to help these people know the Lord. We need to rise up and develop relevant ministry to help these people.
But we need to be careful not to chase after the numbers blindly. We cannot love the results more than we love the people. There are times we put results over relationships. Sometimes we just want people to convert more than treasure their repentance. As such, we try to make converts first before they know what it means to be disciples of Jesus Christ. While I understand that a person may take time to grow in the Lord and be committed fully, care need to be taken so that believers understand what repentance means. They cannot just be people who just want the love, grace and blessings of the Lord without repenting and living new lives for God. As a new convert, he is also a new disciple. We should not try to create a stage where people can first become converts then disciples. In the end, we may have greater problems in church because these people have never really believed in the first place. Then we have to get them to convert again in church.
Disciples need to repent and believe in the Lord. I don’t think there is a easier path. Of course, we can get people into the church first, but let us not rush to make them say the sinner’s prayer until they understand the whole Gospel. Perhaps this is also the reason why Christians are less committed these days compared to the first century. We have unknowingly created a easier path on the way to Calvary. But it may not reach the cross.
Some of us may try to remedy this problem by building better discipleship programs. Yes, it will work well for those who have genuinely believed, but it is fire-fighting to those who have a vague or blind faith. Discipleship must come with a clear decision. It’s not something to sort out after we have made them say the sinner’s prayer. Let us make disciples with integrity. Make true disciples and not just converts.
Doing More May Not Be Always Good
In our service to God, there is always a tendency of wanting to do more. People who are successful, want to expand their work. Those who do not see much results want to try other new ministries to make them work. As such, no matter we are effective or not, our work keep increasing.
Perhaps, there is pressure to do more for God. Well, there are surely lots of work that can be done for God. We may feel that we have let God down if we do less. There are also those who compare themselves with others. Since others are doing so much, they ought to be doing more as well. Some others feel guilty if they do not do enough. These people hardly have time to rest. There are also those who want to be involved in everything. They do not like to delegate the responsibilities to others. Either they are perfectionists or that they are crazy over power and authority. There are also those who are very capable and their work just keep expanding. But yet they face a shortage of manpower. They are so busy that they do not have time to raise leaders to support their work.
Whether by our own choice or not, we have become so busy. Hopefully we still have time to come to Jesus to find that spiritual rest. But some may just be pushing themselves too hard. Perhaps, what is needed here is a change in our worldview. We must realized that doing more is not always better. Rather than seeing Jesus as a model for living a busy and hectic lifestyle, we should be seeing Him as a relational man who always availed Himself. He was never in a rush to meet deadline. His schedule was never so tight that He could not minister and teach the multitude. He did not even have a secretary to help Him take minutes or arrange His schedules. He did all things by Himself. He never acted like a CEO of today. He was a simple carpenter.
Perhaps, we have to ask “What would Jesus do?” if He is a minister today. Would He live the kind of lifestyle we live today? Will He get busier than us? Probably not. At the end of the day, we may have to admit that our ministry is modelled after the world rather than Jesus. We have used the lens of the world to interpret that Jesus lived a busy and hectic lifestyle. But yet Jesus was always quick to reject ministry opportunities given to Him. He could have made it bigger and better. But He did not. He just wanted to concentrate on those things the Father told Him to do.
The trap we are in today is that we are trying to do too many things, so much so that we are being spread too thinly.
Jesus, on the other hand, was very focus in His ministry. He never allowed Himself to be spread too thinly. He wanted to do the work entrusted to Him well. He never rushed in a conversation. He never rushed to make someone says the sinner’s prayer. He never rushed to get people to serve. He just patiently called those who were His. He trained them and challenged them. He built relationship with them and walked with them. What a contrast!
It is time we take a step back and see as Jesus saw, minister as Jesus ministered and serve as He served. Do not rushed our way to Jesus.
Build Deep and Right
Some disciples may be involved in many areas of services, yet they may not have built deep in their spiritual lives. They need the recognition and the busyness to prove their worth in God. Others need the continual manifestations of miracles, signs and wonders to excite them and keep them going. Some as leaders, interpret the word wrongly and speak according to the meaning they want the Bible to say. Others misquote the Bible and use the verses out of context. We also see leaders running the church as if they were magicians or CEOs. All these problems may not be new, yet little has been done to address them. Why? This is because those who do things in this manner firmly believing that they are doing the right thing.
As such, it is not enough to just build our spiritual lives deep. We can possibly build our lives on the wrong foundation altogether. It is important that we must get it right too. These days we see false teachings becoming more and more prevalent. But sad to say, churches are not making much of a stand. When some prominent figure appears, churches would tend to support regardless of what kind of background the person is from. Sometimes, churches are even not aware of the background of the person. Take the Prosperity Gospel as an example, it can camouflage itself as a sound teaching so well that even the evangelical churches may not be aware of it. Now, there’s the gold dust phenomenon happening in churches. Many Christians are not even asking whether it is biblical. They are not testing the spirits or see whether it is of the world. People are just fascinated and taken in.
It is time for us to be careful of liberalism again. Secularism, consumerism, pragmatism and syncretism have crept into the church subtly to dethrone Jesus. We must be able to read the times of today. We cannot afford to follow the trend blindly. We need to continually search our hearts and test every spirits that come our way. Do not assume our positions and views are always right. As we build deep, make sure we build it right too. There’s nothing better than to go back to the Source.