Reflections and resources for lifelong learning for missionaries

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Union with Christ
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Follow-up: Union with Christ

The book of Ephesians is different than the other letters we have looked at in this series on Paul’s follow-up with the churches he planted. For instance, there are no problems that he is trying to correct nor questions that he is answering. Also, it is less personal than his other letters.

Ephesians: A Summary of the Gospel

F.F. Bruce writes:

It [Ephesians] sums up in large measure the leading themes of the Pauline writings, together with the central motif of Paul’s ministry as apostle to the Gentiles. But it does more than that: it carries the thought of earlier letters to a new stage.1F.F. Bruce, The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians, NICNT, Eerdmans, 1984, 229.

Clinton E. Arnold offers a statement of purpose for the letter:

Paul wrote this letter to a large network of local churches in Ephesus and the surrounding cities to affirm them in their new identity in Christ as a means of strengthening them in their ongoing struggle with the powers of darkness, to promote greater unity between Jews and Gentiles within and among the churches of the area, and to stimulate an ever-increasing transformation of their lifestyles into greater conformity to the purity and holiness that God has called them to display.2Clinton E. Arnold, Ephesians, Zondervan, 2010, 45.italics original

Partnership in the Gospel
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Follow-Up: Partnership in the Gospel

How does Paul follow-up with the church at Philippi? We have been asking this question in previous posts about Galatia, Thessalonica, and Corinth. Our source of information has been Paul’s letters to these churches. Today we will look at his letter to Philippi.

Philippians, a Friendship Letter

Many commentators have noted that Philippians has features common to friendship letters in the Greco-Roman world.1G. Walter Hansen, The Letter to the Philippians, Eerdmans: 2009, p6f. and Gordon Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, NICNT, 1995, p 2f. For instance, expressions of affection and terminology like “yoke-fellow” (Phil. 4:3) were common in letters between friends at that time. Yet the letter is more than just communication between friends. Gordon Fee writes:

But “hortatory letter of friendship” is only part of the story, and in many ways the least significant part of that. For in Paul’s hands everything turns into gospel, including both formal and material aspects of such a letter. Most significantly, friendship in particular is radically transformed from a two-way to a three-way bond – between him, the Philippians, and Christ. And obviously it is Christ who is the center and focus of everything. Paul’s and their friendship is predicated on their mutual “participation/partnership” in the gospel.2Gordon D. Fee, p 13.

young pastor being ordained
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Follow-up: Understanding Authentic Christian Ministry

As we saw in an earlier post, the Corinthians needed to learn to keep culture in perspective. This was especially true in their understanding of leadership and Christian ministry. The leadership values of the culture were exploited by Paul’s opponents, causing some in Corinth to question Paul’s credentials. George Guthrie observes,

In short, in the apostle’s seeming humility (even humiliation 12:21), his taking on the role of a servant, his rejection of patronage and the concomitant rejection of financial gain, and his refusal to advance his status by use of rhetorical skills, he stood in violation of key leadership values and principles embedded in the Corinthian culture. The apostle, on the other hand, presents to the Corinthians an alternative; a theocentric and biblical vision of authentic leadership. 1George H. Guthrie, 2 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, 2015, p17.

While not all cultural leadership values will conflict with authentic Christian ministry, they will need to be compatible with the message of Christ crucified. We, like Paul, need to model and teach authentic Christian ministry so that the leadership of the churches we plant reflects the cross in their ministry. I observe seven key characteristics of authentic Christian ministry in 2 Corinthians.

The Church is God’s Household

In this series of posts on the letters to Timothy and Titus, I have emphasized that Timothy and Titus were co-workers with Paul in planting churches in Ephesus (Timothy) and Crete (Titus). These letters are Paul’s instructions to his co-workers for dealing with various issues such as teaching sound doctrine and warnings against false teaching. About halfway through 1 Timothy Paul expresses another purpose in writing:

I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of truth. – 1 Timothy 3:14,15 (ESV)

Behavior is very important in the letters to Timothy and Titus and in a future post, I will explore “good works” as a component of church planting.

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Review: Hearers and Doers

In his recent book, Hearers and Doers: A Pastor’s Guide to Making Disciples through Scripture and Doctrine, Kevin Vanhoozer makes the claim that everyone is a disciple of someone else. Hearers and Doers: A Pastor’s Guide to Making Disciples Through Scripture and Doctrine by [Vanhoozer, Kevin J.]We all follow someone else’s words or stories. The question is whose words, whose stories are we following. We often follow the stories that provide meaning for our culture. The book identifies as a pastor’s guide but has valuable insights for missionaries. Vanhoozer makes use of Charles Taylor’s (the author of A Secular Age) concept of social imaginary. He explains:

A social imaginary is the picture that frames our everyday beliefs and practices, in particular the “ways people imagine their social existence.” The social imaginary is the nest of background assumptions, often implicit, that lead people to feel things as right or wrong, correct or incorrect. It is another name for root metaphor (or root narrative) that shapes a person’s perception of the world, undergirds one’s worldview, and funds one’s plausibility structure. … Social imaginaries, then, are the metaphors and stories by which we live, the images and narratives that indirectly indoctrinate us. Yes, we have all been indoctrinated: filled with doctrine or teaching. The doctrines we hold, be they philosophical, political, or theological, feel right or wrong, plausible or implausible, based largely on how well they accord with the prevailing social imaginary or world picture. – p.8, 9

Book Review: Well Sent

51xanlIajuL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_QL70_I have frequently been asked about resources for local church missions programs. In 2015, Steve Beirn, Global Ministries Pastor at Calvary Church in Lancaster, PA, published Well Sent: Reimaging the Church’s Missionary-Sending Process. Steve served at our sending church in Holland, Michigan before going to Calvary so I know him well. He writes with passion and experience. In the introduction he writes:

This book seeks to elevate the role of the local church in the sending effort. The trend in missions today is to place the individual at the center of the sending process. Sometimes the agency is placed at the center. This book places the local church at the center of the sending process. – Well Sent, p. 17.

The Vine Project: A review

Jesus told us to go and disciple all nations. That means that those of us who have been called and sent are to be disciplemakers who equip others to be disciplemakers as well. The question that I have been asking myself recently is, “Are the sending and training structures that we have established to help get people to the nations effective in equipping them to be disciplemakers?”  We train people to raise their support, learn and adjust to a new culture, learn to speak a new language, prepare for various security risks, educate their children, and get along with their teammates – but are they learning to become disciplemakers?

I read The Trellis and the Vine a number of years ago. This short book differentiated between the work of actually discipling people from the work of creating and maintaining the structures and programs that support this disciplemaking.  The former was called “vine work” and the latter “trellis work”.  The authors, Colin Marshall and Tony Payne, made the sobering and accurate observation that often trellis work has taken over most of the church’s time and energy, so that very little actual disciplemaking is happening. The book called for a radical mindshift that would prioritize disciplemaking over programs and building organizations.

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