Reflections and resources for lifelong learning for missionaries

Category: Disciple-making Page 1 of 16

Firm grip on the Gospel
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Finishing Well: Keeping a Firm Grip on the Gospel

In the first post in this series on finishing well, I compared a ministry assignment to a leg of a relay race. I also pointed to the baton as a distinguishing feature of a relay race. Furthermore, I identified the baton as the gospel in our ministry race. The gospel is the distinguishing feature of our ministry.1 While Tom Steffen does not identify the baton as the gospel in his book, Passing the Baton, he does devote a whole chapter to “Presenting an Accurate Gospel.” (p 127-141 in the 1993 version of the book.) As relay runners must keep a firm grip on the baton, so also church-planters must keep a firm grip on the gospel. This is no less true for administrative assignments in mission organizations.

What is the Gospel?

This may seem like an unnecessary question. Yet, when we read the definitions of the gospel from Christian websites, confusion is evident.2Greg Gilbert, What is the Gospel?, 2010. p 18-20. In a similar way, J. Mack Stiles warns of assuming and confusing the gospel and cultural Christianity.3 J. Mack Stiles, The Marks of the Messenger, IVP, 2010, p 37-47. It is critical to the race before us that we know what the gospel is.

The Gospel Holds the Bible Together

At the first conference of the Gospel Coalition in 2007, D. A. Carson made this observation in a message titled “What is the Gospel?”:

God's purposes
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Keep God’s Purposes in Mind

Editor’s note: We are continuing our blog series on mentoring using the Mentoring Pillars written by the late Jim Feiker, a former member of SEND International. This sixth pillar tells mentors that they need to remember God’s purposes for the mentee and work toward those ends.

In the process of spiritual mentoring, seeing the beginning and also the end are both of significant importance. We need to see both the way things ought to be and the way things really are now. Clarity in both where people are right now in their spiritual journey, and in where God wants them ultimately to gives us a realistic, balanced perspective.

To see only the beginning brings tolerance and grace toward a person’s humanity, but does not provide any direction in where to go. On the other hand, to see only the end purpose gives us direction. However, it may impose too high of standard (given where a person is now). It will lead to legalism and a failure to accept their humanness.

The journey between these two critical points is the process we call biblical transformation. Unless we are in sync with a person’s design (Pillar #5) and with God’s eternal purposes, we will not develop a clear God-ward perspective in our mentoring.

The purposes of God have three different aspects:

  1. God’s ultimate purposes in the universe – where he is going with his people into eternity.
  2. The universal purposes or objectives God has for every believer.
  3. His unique purposes or calling that he has for each person individually.
ministry as relay race

Finishing Well: Ministry as a Relay Race

I have been doing a lot of thinking and reading about finishing well in the past several months. In part, this is because I turn 70 in November and will retire at the end of 2021. But I am also interested in this subject because SEND U has been asked to develop and find resources to help SEND missionaries finish well whether in a ministry assignment or at the end of a career. When reflecting on finishing well, I find it helpful to view ministry as a relay race. 1Tom Steffen’s book, Passing the Baton: Church Planting That Empowers also uses this analogy.

Over the next few months, I will be writing a series of blog posts on finishing well in ministry assignments as a leg in a relay race. In this series, I will be applying the analogy of a relay race to finishing well in a ministry assignment. Presently, I plan to write six more posts. This will be followed by a shorter series on finishing well at the end of a ministry career.

In this post, I want to sketch the analogy between ministry and a relay race.

Ministry as a Race

The apostle Paul describes his ministry as a race in a number of passages (Acts 20:24; 1 Corinthians 9:24-26; 2 Timothy 4:7). In the Acts and 2 Timothy passages, he uses the same word in the original language2 (the ESV translates it “course” in Acts and “race” in 2 Timothy). Interestingly, in both passages, he writes about finishing his course or race. In the former passage, he expresses his desire to finish his course and ministry well. In the latter, he expresses his confidence that he has finished his race well.

The Whole Christ: A review

The Whole Christ

I recently watched a breakout session from The Gospel Coalition 2021 National Conference (TGC21) discussing grace and works in the Christian life. Specifically, the question that was posed was “Does grace oppose hard work?”. However, the breakout session did not resolve the issue. Sinclair Ferguson’s book, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance – Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters provides helpful guidance. Because these issues are vital for evangelism and discipleship, this book is an important resource for missionaries.

The Marrow Controversy

The historical background of Ferguson’s book is a debate in the Church of Scotland in the early 18th century. Now, the term “marrow” seems a bit strange to our ears today. Yet, in the 17th and 18th centuries, it described the seat of a person’s vitality and strength, the essence of a subject matter.1Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Whole Christ, Crossway, 2016, p.22. The controversy acquired its name from Edward Fisher’s book, The Marrow of Modern Divinity, written in 1645. As Tim Keller points out in the foreword, the author “does a good job of recounting the Marrow Controversy in an accessible and interesting way”2 (p. 11).

introductions and conclusions
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Preparing to Preach: Introductions and Conclusions

Taking off and landing require a pilot’s utmost attention. Likewise, sermon introductions and conclusions demand careful preparation by a preacher. In fact, the introductions and conclusions will make or break the connection with our audience. In the introduction, we meet them coming from their daily life of the previous week. Then, in the conclusion, we send them off to live in the light of the biblical truth expressed in the sermon’s big idea. So, introductions and conclusions must be carefully worded to connect our audience with the big idea. For the simple reason that we need to know our destination before we start a journey, writing the conclusion precedes writing the introduction.

Writing the Conclusion

Conclusions Conclude

A sermon conclusion should not resemble a jetliner in a holding pattern waiting to land, or worse, aborting an attempted landing. Rather, it should briefly summarize the thrust of the sermon. An extended conclusion will frustrate our audience. It should not introduce new ideas but provide listeners memorable statements to aid in application.

selecting mentees
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Focus Mentoring on a Few God-given People

Editor’s note: We are continuing our blog series on mentoring using the Mentoring Pillars written by Jim Feiker. This second pillar addresses the question of how to select mentees.

God is actively, and personally in the process of bringing people into our life to whom we might minister, and who, in turn, can minister to us. Significant relationships are one of His divine change agents for life transformation. Since God will uniquely bring people into our life, we need to be sensitive to the Spirit of God in identifying those divine mentoring connections.

Ways God might connect mentors and mentees

1. The mentor proactively selects the mentee

The mentor keeps their eyes attune to people in their natural relational network to whom God is obviously leading, and seeks them out. This was true of Barnabas to Paul, Paul to Timothy, and Jesus with the Twelve. We are often drawn to people who have similar giftedness, vision, or life experiences.

Major advantages to this approach:
  • The mentee feels valued, sought after, cared for and believed in by the mentor.
  • The mentor often knows the person, and there is usually a natural relational bond.
  • The mentee and mentor very quickly sense mutual respect and the safety to share and be honest.
  • The mentor declares his commitment to help the person develop and become effective.
Major disadvantages include:
  • The mentor can easily take responsibility for the growth for the learner rather than encouraging them early in the process to be responsible for their own growth. The mentor’s role is to be a facilitator of active participation by the learner.
  • The mentor can also easily project his giftedness and vision on the person, rather than letting them develop in their own unique God-given vision and gifts.
  • The mentor can also build dependence on himself rather than on God.
illustrating and applying
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Preparing to Preach: Illustrating and Applying the Big Idea

In this series on preaching for missionaries, I have stressed being students of Scripture and of our audience. This “double listening” (as John Stott calls it)1See the first post in this series. is critical for illustrating and applying the big idea of our biblical text. In fact, illustrating and applying form the key connection between the biblical truth and our listeners. Additionally, illustrations set the stage for the application in the daily lives of our audience.

Illustrating the Big Idea

Shining light on the big idea

Illustrations include quotes, anecdotes, examples, comparisons, statistics, testimony, and poetry. Sources include personal experience, news, history, literature, imagination, and the Bible. Whatever the type or source, they must shed light on the biblical truth and connect with listeners. That is, illustrations must help our audience understand and identify with the biblical truth. For instance, a quote from a book your listeners have probably not read would not make a good illustration. It is helpful to listen to traditional stories and everyday conversations to identify types of illustrations commonly used. Remember, your illustrations are the key connection between the biblical text and your listeners. So, they must be faithful to the biblical text and understandable to the people.

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