John Newton and perseverance in ministry
Vaughan’s pen portraits are becoming something of a regular feature of the EMA (though we’re switching to another expert next year for a take on Luther in the Reformation 500th year). This year’s Newton bio was top of the class. Make yourself a coffee, watch (or listen) and be encouraged to persevere.
Some [personal] staff news
Here’s our latest staff announcement which has a particularly personal angle, as you will see.
The Trustees of The Proclamation Trust (PT) today announce that Adrian Reynolds, Director of Ministry for the Trust since 2009, will be leaving his post at Easter 2017 to take up a role as Training Director for the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches (FIEC).
Adrian and his wife Celia, together with their family, moved to London from Hampshire to serve the Trust.
In his time at PT Adrian has delivered and taught on over 100 conferences, including overseeing the move of the Evangelical Ministry Assembly from its historic location at St Helen, Bishopsgate to its new home at the Barbican Centre in London. He has also been responsible for our book editing, writing two volumes himself and editing a further ten. Adrian has been a regular teacher on the PT Cornhill training course and has, along with Celia his wife, tutored many of the students. Adrian has also overseen our backroom work in the office, drawing on his previous experience in the business sector.
The Trustees want to express their sincere thanks to Adrian for his contribution to the ongoing ministry of the Trust. Vaughan Roberts, Chairman-Elect, said, “We are hugely grateful to Adrian for his enormous contribution to the work of the Proclamation Trust over the last seven years, and also to Celia for helping in so many ways. Adrian’s servant leadership, faithful teaching, administrative skills and godly example have been greatly appreciated by the whole PT family.”
Adrian’s new role – which does not begin until Easter 2017 – will be to oversee the training ministry of the FIEC. The FIEC is a family of over 500 independent churches located throughout the United Kingdom. He will be working alongside the existing Directors and training providers to serve local churches as they seek to train and equip men and women for ministry.
Please pray for Adrian & Celia and their daughter Isabel as they plan for this move. Roberts asked: “Please also pray for the trustees and staff at the Trust as we make plans for the future and seek to build on Adrian’s superb work.”
EMA audio and video now online
You may have noticed this already, but all our audio and video from the EMA 2016: Leaders who last is now up and online. Over the next couple of weeks I want to highlight some of the, well, highlights. It’s all accessible through the website, and all worth some of your time. I particularly enjoyed Simon Manchester’s morning expositions from Exodus 34, 1 Kings 19 and Mark 6. For me, this middle one was the stand out.
Here we go again… and three old friends back again
I know it’s still August, but we’re back. In the UK we’ve had a bank holiday (public holiday) so today is the first working day of the autumn/winter (gulp!) stretch. Hard to write when the sun is shining and Miss R is still to go back to school. But for the most part, it’s business as usual. Praying. Reading. Studying. Preaching. Pastoring.
Don’t you ever get bored of it, someone once asked me? Simple answer: no. I get tired sometimes, but not of the task. I am often wearied by the hard-hearted response that ministering seems to bring. But my heart is always livened by three ministry truths, old friends really.
1. Jesus has saved me by grace. My ministry work is not going to make a jot of difference to my salvation. Of course, I have to work hard, and I have to work out my salvation – and that will sometimes be wearisome for all kinds of reasons. But I am not – thank God – working for my salvation.
2. It is Jesus’ church and not mine. Caught up in the business of ministry, it’s easy to forget that I’m nothing more than an under-shepherd serving the great Shepherd of the sheep. It’s his church. I am – at best – a caretaker. When people reject the word they are rejecting him. When people flourish under ministry they are flourishing under Christ. Not me.
3. Jesus sustains all things by his powerful hand. I serve and love an absolutely sovereign God. Nothing I experience or manage to achieve is outside of his loving control. That does not make everything easy, but ultimately it makes everything right.
Three old friends; three old truths that always sustain me in ministry, whatever the season.
My brother used to work in an electronics factory that had a summer shutdown. Everyone took two weeks off at the same time. That was the way it worked. Frankly, it’s not dissimilar to PT Towers. Things quieten down considerably over the summer as we recover from Cornhill and conferences. We all need a break. In order to keep the blog fresh, that means a summer shutdown, starting today. There’s lots to go back over, lots to catch up with (particularly on the resources tab), and lots of other people to read. So go on, take a break. We are.
See you in the autumn.
Eight lessons on leadership from 1 Timothy 3
1 Timothy 3.1-13 is a reasonably straightforward passage. There are one or two exegetical questions (perhaps particularly in v11). But given that it is found in a letter addressed to an individual with a church listening in (note the plural “you” in 6:21), what are we to learn from this great list of qualifications? Here are eight truths which every church member needs to grasp.
1. Christ appoints leaders; it is the church’s role to discern his mind (1.18; 3.1-13 and Eph 4.11). We have to hold the tension between the supernatural calling of leaders (seen explicitly in Ephesians 4 and implicitly in the prophetic setting apart of Timothy) and the fact that the church is given a checklist of sorts in 1 Tim 3.1-13. This almost certainly means we need to make a deliberate change in some of the language we use – we are not, for example, “choosing” leaders but, rather, applying wisdom to seek the man of God’s choosing.
2. If the church is to fight false teaching, it needs godly leaders in appropriate roles (3.1-13). The thrust of the letter is that Timothy is to lead the charge against heresy. This is done by having godly praying (which occupies the bulk of chapter 3) and godly living (chapter 4 onwards), underpinned by godly leaders (chapter 3).
3. It does not necessarily follow that the most gifted men and women are the most suitable (1.20; 2 Tim 2.17; 2 Tim 4.14). Our natural inclination is always to look to gifts before character. Of course, we want a man who can preach! However, that is not the emphasis of the passage. Although see (6) below.
4. It is clear that those who start well do not always continue well, and so we must use this text to encourage leaders and pray (1.20). Alexander and Hymenaeus are sobering reminders that leaders who start well do not necessarily continue. In other words, a church should not see 3.1-13 as a static entry point to leadership, but a means of bearing leaders up in prayer and deliberately and intentionally encouraging them.
5. We are not looking for perfectly formed leaders, but we should see godliness and progress (3.1-13; 4.15). There is a danger, of course, that this could lead us to look for the perfect leaders who never sin. I only know a couple of people like that. (That is a joke, for the uninitiated). Timothy himself is to make public progress and we should expect the same in all our leaders. There will be some sins which disbar them from leadership; but in other areas, we should expect to see growth as leaders grapple with sin.
6. Having said all this, gifting is not unimportant (v2, v4, v10, v12). It is tempting to make so much of the character qualities that we end up making leaders of godly incompetents. There are explicit references to gifting the passage and there is an implied (particularly from the negative commands in chapter 2) context that those being considered are gifted to lead.
7. Good leaders benefit the church AND “save themselves” (3.13; 4.16). We can sometimes make leadership a real burden which implies that those who lead do so at great personal cost with no benefit whatsoever. Not so. Verse 13 is clear and reinforced by 4:16. Serving as a leader is a joy and delight and does us good!
8. Leaders also teach by example, so their flourishing is for our good (3.1-13; 4.12). Timothy is to make himself an example, and so when we wisely apply 1 Tim 3 to our own leadership selections, we are actually making decisions about what we want to look like ourselves.
1 Timothy 3 – preaching implications
How do you preach a passage like 1 Timothy 3.1-13? At one level it is just a list of qualifications for eldership and diaconal roles. In a normal sermon I would preach a good proportion of exegesis and then some application (although not in so linear a way). In this sermon, my approach is reversed. I’m going to do a very little exegesis (it’s for a normal church congregation). But for the most part I’m going to concentrate on the implications that arise from the passage set in its context. I’m not making that my normal diet of preaching, but in this case, it is more appropriate to church members (amongst whom are a scattering of leaders) to spend a good amount of time helping them draw out the implications that arise directly from the passage and its wider setting in the context of 1 Timothy.
Let’s be honest about porn
I’ve just finished reading one of the most traumatic books I’ve ever read. Kat Banyard’s Pimp Nation is an assessment of the sexualised culture we live in as seen through the scope of prostitution, pornography and associated issues. Banyard is not a Christian. She works for an aggressive feminist lobby group called Feminista UK. I’m guessing we don’t have a whole heap in common. Nevertheless, this is an excellent book (Note: it’s not for the faint-hearted; I feel I have read it so you don’t have to!)
In it, Banyard lays bare some of the myths of the adult world. She demolishes several arguments about prostitution (showing, along the way, how those who pimp prostitutes often win support craftily by using language of sex ‘trade’ or sex ‘workers’ thereby legitismising it). I think some of what she writes about prostitution would find agreement amongst our evangelical constituency (though I’m guessing many of us would be shocked to know exactly what goes on and how abusive it is; for the record she nails prostitution as a clear form of sexual abuse which would not be tolerated in other parts of society).
However, it is her writing about porn which is especially helpful, demolishing the notion, often bandied around that porn is fantasy. She points out the absurdity of a school education programme which encourages pupils to play ‘real sex/fantasy sex’ putting porn acts into two categories to try to show pupils that some thing that they see on screen are not for real relationships. But, argues Banyard, the very fact that they are on screen, graphically enacted, means that they are real for some.
We have thus anonymised porn and made it ‘a little harmless fun.’ “Pornography isn’t fantasy – it’s a corporeal trade that extracts profits from sexual abuse, fulfilling a demand that sex inequality created.” Porn is sexual abuse. She writes “maintaining that the porn trade is not an industrialised form of sexual abuse relies on the fantastical notion that porn studios have somehow managed to create a kind of economic and sexual nirvana: a place where a woman’s desire to have sex is miraculously in sync with the director’s schedule; where she happens to want and like all the sexual acts required by the director and which just happen to be the same acts which are most profitable for said director.”
I really appreciated this direct analysis. We’re far too easy on porn. We’re wanting to help those caught up in it in our churches, but we tend to do so in terms of what is good for them. Of course, a porn addiction is ungodly and no good for those caught up in it. But there is more. It is participation in this monetised abuse, what Banyard calls “filmed prostitution.”
Perhaps what interests me most about all of this is that Banyard lays the blame for this entire culture at the door of what she calls sex inequality. In part, she blames the church for this. Fair point, the church has been guilty of sexual misogyny in the past. But for me the deep irony is that it is the Bible, God’s word, which makes the best argument for sex equality. 1 Corinthians 7 anybody! It’s radical stuff.
We have something positive to say and we must not be coy about saying it. But even deeper than this, in the church today, we must be honest about porn.
Providence not just sovereignty
This is not the first time I’ve applied a simple truth to my own life, nor will it be the last. The truth is this: we believe in God’s sovereignty and his providence. I wonder if our renewed interest in all things reformed, especially as we ingest what he hear from across the pond, has made us super-sovereignty adherents (something that is of course true), but have neglected the doctrine of providence.
It is, of course, possible, to read too much into providence. Famously Oliver Cromwell used to see all kinds of portents in all kinds of places. And God’s providence as a sole means of determining God’s will for us seems a little haphazard and unwise. We could say, I guess, that at times some of the puritans had an over-realised understanding of God’s providence.
Nevertheless, we must not throw out the proverbial baby. God is indeed sovereign and he is provident – his sovereignty is worked out in the lives of his people for the good of his people. Therein lies our comfort. We pray ‘Our Father in heaven.’ He is both in heaven ruling and reigning and he is also our Father. What amazing truths: truths which I need to preach to myself over and over again.
Five lessons from our wives’ conference for guys
As a bloke, and a husband, I always find it fascinating and alarming in equal measure to listen to minister’s wives talk to me at our wives’ conferences. I think, for the most part, the wives are more honest than their husbands or, at least, more direct about the various joys and struggles of ministry. Here are five themes I picked up this year – they’re all pretty general as I don’t want to reveal any confidences. However, I did wonder as I heard some of these things whether husbands were aware of them or (in some cases) their own negligence. Make of them what you will.
1. “I get to hear hardly any Bible teaching”. This is a common refrain. Wives are often busy running the Sunday School (because no one else will) or with the younger kids. Her husband is always on duty and so her spiritual input tends to be picking up a few crumbs here and there. We get many women coming to our conferences who simply can’t get enough input because it’s their only annual fix. Guys, how did you let things get like this?
2. “My walk with God is completely dry/I don’t have a quiet time”. This is not quite the same point as number 1. A number of wives confided this year that their spiritual life is completely dry. Time is taken up with kids, husbands, ministries and so on and they have let things slip. My follow up question was generally, ‘Does your husband know?’ More often than not the answer was no. The blame here – in my mind – lies squarely with husbands, called to lead their families. It is no kind of leadership to squeeze the spiritual life from your spouse. Shame on you.
3. “My husband and I have no time together.” This is a common refrain, sometimes expressed more explicitly in terms of sexual intimacy (or lack of it). Not only is a lack of intimacy prohibited by Scripture (1 Cor 7), it is a sign of deeper malaise. Often the flip side of this is that our kids demand all our time, but the best gift to our kids is a strong marriage. Again, husbands need to bear some or all of the blame here.
4. “My husband spends all his spare time in ministry.” I want to be careful critiquing this complaint. Ministry is all consuming. Those of who are ministers need to feel something of the burden of the high calling we have as under-shepherds of Christ’s sheep. But we serve neither our people, nor our wives (nor Christ) by operating as though we were single men. Paul is right, being married and in ministry does mean we have ‘divided interests’ (1 Cor 7.34). That is not a complaint on Paul’s part, it is simply a statement of fact. But many married ministers carry on as though they were not.
5. “I am not discipled or taught by any elder women.” Perhaps this is for younger wives especially. But a shocking number tell of how they are not mentored at all. There is very little Titus 2 stuff going on. Perhaps, you say, this is not down to you. Maybe so. Maybe not – as a husband and a minister, you should be making sure your wife is pastored, just as you should be ensuring all women are pastored appropriately. Why is she missed off this list?
Perhaps I am too provocative? Perhaps a little too much hyperbole? Forgive me, but I want to make the point clear. In short, too many of us married ministers are scarcely loving our wives as Christ loved the church.