Thinking Out Loud

December 8, 2021

Jesus Taught 12 Students for 3 Years: What Was the Curriculum?

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:24 am

This drawing first appeared at my devotional blog, C201, a year-and-a-half ago. I find it amusing looking back that the related article I wrote specifically mentions Matthias and Justus, the two nominees to replace Judas after the betrayal, but in the drawing it’s Matthias and “?.” (There’s a pun here somewhere about how sometimes there’s just no Justus.)

The two were mentioned toward the end of the article as an example of people who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. (Acts 1: 21b – 22a) in order to show that while “the twelve” were the “official” disciples, there were others such as the siblings Mary, Martha and Lazarus; Mary the mother of Jesus, two other Marys (a popular name; they must have been Catholic) and people like Nicodemus who appears at both the beginning and end of John’s Gospel, and John Mark, who might have been too young to be counted at the outset but is definitely part of the inner circle in the Garden of Gethsemane.

When I say, “official” disciples, I realize some are confused by the use of the term “the twelve apostles” and then there is the matter that we are all, today, disciples. And if we want to throw out numbers, let’s not forget the 72 (or as some prefer, 70) who Jesus sent out two-by-two. Casual adherents and visitors wouldn’t have been allowed on that missions trip.

The point of all this is to bring us to this verse:

Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written. – John 21:25 NIV

Want an example?

In Luke 24:13-35, we have the story of Jesus appearing to Clopas and the other unnamed person on the road to Emmaus. The crucifixion has left them shattered, and they describe their sadness to Jesus and then Jesus responds.

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. – v27

Of all the “other things” that John was referring to, most people I know would give their eye teeth to have a transcription of that small group discussion. The entire, big-picture story-arc of the Bible as taught by Jesus himself. Nobody knew it was happening, but for a brief span of time, it was the hottest ticket in town.

So how does this connect with “the twelve?”

The thing that separates those young men from the additional disciples is a rabbinical relationship between teacher and student. He was their rabbi, and for three years they followed him (literally, as he was itinerant, always on the move) as he did whatever might be expected of a rabbi, plus a few extras that probably weren’t.

So what was on the curriculum? What was in the syllabus?

I haven’t seen much written about this, but I would expect there would be teaching on ethics, on philosophy, on Israel’s history, and perhaps even a lecture or two about dealing with pesky parishioners or doing fundraising to support their ministry. Things that rabbis taught their pupils, necessary for advancement on the day they themselves became teachers, plus some of whatever elements would distinguish one rabbi’s teaching from another.

The point is, we don’t know.

Most of what we see and hear of his teaching happened in a public setting, leaving us with enough in terms of the “red letter” quotable quotes to advance the kingdom and change the world; but also leave us hungering for more, such as Clopas and the other person got to hear while walking from Emmaus.

At the site BibleRef.com, the point is made that because of the writing style in John, this observation about the volume of unrecorded actions and teachings of Jesus, is the only time the writer uses the pronoun, “I.”

Throughout the gospel of John, there have been overtly anonymous references to a particular disciple (John 1:37; 13:23; 18:15–16; 19:26; 21:23). The prior verse seems to confirm this person is John, the author of the entire work (John 21:24). John may have used a secretary to write down his words as he spoke, partly explaining why this writing ends with a specific claim to authorship. There appears to be an additional stamp of approval, possibly from a local church, attached to that statement as well.

Here, the “signature” concludes with the gospel of John’s only explicit use of a first-person perspective. It’s not entirely clear if this is still John speaking, or if this continues the note of approval which began with the phrase “and we know…” from the prior verse. Either way, it makes the point that Jesus’ earthly ministry could not be fully detailed in a single book. Further, to explain or understand those words would require immense effort. The existence of Bible commentaries—such as this very ministry—which are many times longer than the text itself is further proof of this.

Apparently John himself (or if you prefer, the writer of the Gospel of John*) is most emphatic on this; grammatically, it’s the crescendo in what has been, after all, a first-person account.

As Knowing-Jesus.com states,

John only related a fraction of the inexhaustible fullness of all Christ did during His 33 years on earth, which was spent going about doing good. He humbled Himself and only did those things He heard from His Father in heaven and He worked the works of God, through the mighty power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

…John’s gospel only touches on the fringe of inexhaustible fullness of all that Jesus did – for words are insufficient to capture the infinite riches of His unparalled life.

The site Heartlight.org sums up the passage well:

Jesus did many great deeds when he was here. He also is continuing to do those great deeds through his people and for the people of the world. But even though the world could not contain a book that recorded all the good things that Jesus did, Jesus did walk on our planet, look up at our stars, and face our mortal frailties so we could see God. Why? Three reasons are especially important to John:

  1. Jesus loves us, as does his Father.
  2. We need Jesus’ love, mercy, grace, example, message, and truth.
  3. The Father wanted Jesus to come and reveal himself to us.

We don’t know every single word that was spoken by Jesus on this earth, but we’re given enough that, if we can process and assimilate that, we can indeed transform our world.


Some of the teaching of Jesus that we do have recorded were indeed asides to the twelve. The public, including seekers, scribes and spiritual leaders were not present. But most of what we read is part of what is termed his “public ministry.”

If you want to delve further into Christ’s teaching, The Gospel of Matthew is your best bet, containing five (count ’em, five) of Christ’s discourses. Much attention is given to the first one, which we call The Sermon on the Mount, but if you want to read what we covered at C201 a year ago about the others, here are the links:

The Teachings of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: Mission

The Teachings of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: Parables

The Teachings of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: The Church

The Teachings of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: End Times


* I included this phrase as a concession to those who believe and teach that the Gospels weren’t necessarily authored by the person whose name they bear. I’m all for advances in research and textual criticism, but the phrase, “the writer of the Gospel of John” is just an awkward sentence construction.


Warning: Speculation as to what all is contained in the things that Jesus may have said or done which are not recorded is a dangerous pursuit. To say it differently, this is how cults get started. We have enough solid content from the common canon of scripture without having to elaborate or focus on things which are pure conjecture.

November 20, 2021

Building a Personal Christian Library

This material was written for another audience, but although it may seem rather basic, deserves sharing here as well…

A Library for Christian Growth

The internet is great … for some things. But have you ever wished you could pick up an actual book and see the information you want displayed in a different form?

Lots of people do. Print books — both in general and in the Christian marketplace in particular — have had a strong year. Print is making a serious comeback. But if you wanted to have a shelf containing the best of the best, where would you start?  Here are some ideas:

The Bible – Everyone reading this should have a text copy of the Bible in their home.

A Study Bible – While no single study edition will tell you everything you want to know about every Bible passage, one good one will at least get you started in the right direction and demonstrate the depth of what’s available to learn when you’re prepared to dig a little deeper.

Concordance – People still ask for these, but honestly, this is one area where I think Christian publishers and booksellers are prepared to concede a point to computers. They’re fast and they’re geared to whichever translation is your favourite. Furthermore, stores no longer sell Bible software as much, as the online equivalents — such as BibleGateway.com are free!

Bible Handbook – This is a book which has one chapter for each of the 66 core Biblical books, presented in the same order. It’s an overview of all the major people, places and activities in the Bible’s big-picture narrative.

Reader’s Version – This is a more recent product genre which can eliminate the need for a Bible handbook (though not entirely.) It presents the Bible as one continuous story without books, chapters and verses. The best-known is The Story which uses either NIV or NKJV text.

One Volume Commentary – This is like a Bible handbook on steroids. It gets you into verse-by-verse explanations and connects you with other related passages. Always hardcover, and about the size of the New York City Telephone Directory, circa 1980.

Individual Commentary – Got a particular book of the Bible you’d like to explore in great depth? For lay-people (non-academics or people not in vocational ministry) there are a number of series worth checking out including the Tyndale Commentary series (IVP), The Bible Speaks Today series (IVP), The Life Application series (Tyndale) and the Daily Study Bible series (William Barclay, John Knox Press). (For pastors and scholars we also keep two books on the shelf describing the best academic titles in detail.)

Bible Atlas – I can remember as a kid not having much interest in those maps of Paul’s missionary journeys or the location of the ten tribes of Israel, but now I see the need for these to a greater degree.

Bible Dictionary – Usually a larger hardcover book, Bible dictionaries let you look up words that are in the Bible and tells you what they mean. Obvious, maybe, but remember you won’t find the word trinity inside because it’s not a Biblical word.

Theological Dictionary – For those who want to have an entry for trinity and don’t mind missing out on the entries in a Bible dictionary. Not as popular. If you want to keep going down this road, there are also Philosophical Dictionaries and Dictionaries of Religion.

Devotional – At a certain point a lot of the study books listed here become all about information whereas the spiritual formation process should be all about transformation. Dictionaries and study Bibles provide all the head knowledge you need, but the message of Jesus is also meant to touch hearts.

Book of Customs in Biblical Times – I’ve added this toward the bottom because I see it is used in the chart (below) I wanted to include. However, these now take many different forms as people grow increasingly interested in the overall situation (politically, culturally, and in the understanding of key words and phrases) during the life and ministry of Jesus, in a category called “Hebraic Roots.”

Biographies – Every Christian should at some point read about the life of William and Catherine Booth, founders of The Salvation Army. Then there are 20th Century people like Corrie Ten Boom (The Hiding Place), Nicky Cruz and David Wilkerson (The Cross and the Switchblade), Don Richardson (Peace Child); but also older stories of people like Johann Sebastian Bach, John Wesley, Dorothy Sayers, or William Wilberforce.

Christian Living – Finally, here at the bottom of the list, is the catch-all category that Christian publishers use to describe the general books by today’s top authors as well as some classic writers. This list is already longer than I intended, but in the future we’ll recommend some key authors and books which should be part of your library.

Footnote: In the article, I made a very general statement about Study Bibles. Please note that in the case of the Life Application Study Bible (available in five different translations) the approach is quite different. Application notes are more devotional, and whereas a typical study Bible takes us into Bible times to understand context and meaning, the Life Application approach brings the Bible into our times and helps us apply it to our modern context and challenges.

The image at the top is from NavPress, a Christian publisher. I believe the lower image was created by Thomas Nelson, another Christian publisher.

February 25, 2021

Fantasy New Testament Lineup

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:46 am

People have fantasy football teams, so I thought I might be allowed to dream when it comes to the order of the books in the Second Testament of the Bible. And dream is a good word, since I started thinking about this a few nights ago when I couldn’t sleep.

At first it was just about the order of the gospel accounts. (What we have is called the Augustinian order.) I thought that opening with John would be good because of the symmetry of the “In the beginning…” language with Genesis. But then I started thinking of not running the gospels consecutively at all, but pairing them with other books that were related.

Then it got more complicated. Because Matthew was written to a Jewish audience, I thought that pairing Hebrews with it would be most appropriate; but I also considered that a new believer, reading in the order I first imagined, might find Hebrews a little complex.

Also pairing Luke and Acts seemed so obvious. At first. Then I thought about how I wanted to construct the lower part of the list, and reconsidered that.

So this is all subject to revision, but here’s an example of how it might look:

  1. John
  2. I John
  3. Philippians
  4. Mark
  5. Romans
  6. James
  7. Matthew
  8. Hebrews
  9. Galatians
  10. Jude
  11. Titus
  12. Luke
  13. I Peter
  14. Colossians
  15. Ephesians
  16. II John
  17. I Thessalonians
  18. II Peter
  19. III John
  20. Acts
  21. I Timothy
  22. II Thessalonians
  23. I Corinthians
  24. II Timothy
  25. II Corinthians
  26. Philemon
  27. Revelation

What do you think? What changes might you suggest?


Supplementary Reading:

August 14, 2020

The Teachings of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: Mission

Most of my energies online are now spent with our other blog, Christianity 201. Last weekend, I was intrigued by the teaching passages in Matthew’s gospel, and ended up writing C201’s first 4-part series, which appeared Friday thru Monday. I decided the series was worth sharing here as well…


Ask someone to name a section of Christ’s teachings in the Gospel of Matthew and they will invariably answer “The Sermon on the Mount” or “Matthew, chapters five, six and seven.” But that’s only one of five possible answers.

Since I chose to read the Matthew title last, I’m almost finished the collection of the Biblical Imagination Series commentaries on the Gospels, by Matthew Card. He was the one who really drew my attention to the “The Five Discourses” in a way I hadn’t seen before.

But what is a discourse? Dictionary.com says,

  • communication of thought by words; talk; conversation: earnest and intelligent discourse.
  • a formal discussion of a subject in speech or writing, as a dissertation, treatise, sermon, etc.
  • Linguistics. any unit of connected speech or writing longer than a sentence.

But the one thing the dictionary website offers that’s most useful to us is a listing of related words, some of which include:

communication, discussion, conversation, monologue, huddle, homily, chat

Can you guess which one jumped out at me? Huddle. That’s what I see happening here. The coach calling in the key players who will be on the field to discuss the game plan. (I’m not a sports guy, so that last sentence is a bit of a minor miracle.)

I know some are loathe to get their theological points of reference from Wikipedia, but I’ve been finding it somewhat reliable lately, and on this point they begin,

In Christianity, the term Five Discourses of Matthew refers to five specific discourses by Jesus within the Gospel of Matthew.

The five discourses are listed as the following: the Sermon on the Mount, the Missionary Discourse, the Parabolic Discourse, the Discourse on the Church, and the Discourse on End Times.

Each of the discourses has a shorter parallel in the Gospel of Mark or the Gospel of Luke.

A very small taste of what to expect when you visit Steve’s cartoon panels on The Five Discourses. Click image to link.

Better yet, in a world where visuals aids like The Gospel Project really sparks learning to life, I found a most interesting website where cartoonist Steve Thomason has illustrated all five discourses. (I don’t feel the liberty to copy/paste more than a very small section of one panel here, and can only encourage you to visit this one especially.) The expressions on the disciples faces as Jesus tells them a little about what they might face are priceless. And realistic.

Steve has the discourse/passage beginning at Matthew 9:35 and carrying through all of chapter 10. The first four verses of chapter 10 are the choosing or appointing of the twelve disciples. As we mentioned a few weeks ago, we need to disabuse ourselves of the notion that there were only twelve. The followers were many.

The real meat of Christ’s instruction to the twelve however starts in verse 5 and continues to the end.

At this point, you need to read that entire section.

For those who don’t click, a few highlights would include:

7 As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’

8b …Freely you have received; freely give.

16 “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.

19 But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, 20 for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

27 What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs.

28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

32 “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.

34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.

38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

42 And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.” (all NIV)

Back to Michael Card, he explains why this chapter is so very much worth reading:

Matthew 10 provides a good illustration of what is fundamentally different about this gospel as compared to the others. When Jesus sends the twelve apostles out on their first mission, Mark devotes only two verses to Jesus’ instructions to them (Mk 6:10-11). Luke provides only three verses (Lk 9:3-5). Matthew devotes an entire chapter of forty-two verses. While Matthew may be a selective minimalist in regard to the detail of the story, he is at the extreme opposite when it comes to the words of Jesus. Remember in Mark we have only twenty-two minutes of “face time” with Jesus. In Luke we have fifty-three minutes with Jesus speaking directly to us. In John we have only forty-four. But in Matthew, Jesus speaks to us for more than an hour…

Matthew: The Gospel of Identity, p98

If our devotion includes a desire to ‘spend time with Jesus’ then Matthew ought to rank highly in our list of New Testament books.

 

June 11, 2020

Cookie-Cutter Book Recommendations

Two days ago I watched a YouTube video with a title something like, “Top Ten Books Every Christian Should Read” that had been posted two or three years back by a popular Christian blogger. It came up in the YouTube/Google algorithm as something recommended for me, but I also considered the possibility that Google is being paid for search engine optimization.

As I scrolled through the list, my reaction, to use the words of a well-known climate activist was, “How dare you!”

As someone who has been blessed by Christian books since my pre-teen years — which is a long time ago — I have books that I’ve enjoyed on a personal level. They’re part of my story, and if people ask, I share what some of them were, but not to the degree of recommending that they need to read them.

And as someone who has spend a lifetime working in Christian publishing at both the wholesale and retail level (and on the fringes of the acquisitions and author development level) I don’t think I have ever recommended any of these books to the people with whom I’ve been in contact.

Mind you, seasoned Christians, veteran Christ followers, whatever you call them, usually know what they’re looking for. The people looking for advice are often wanting to get started at going deeper and for that I have suggestions. (As I’ve stated recently, keeping up with those means there were times my own reading wasn’t as deep as it could have been. If starting over, my library would be more InterVarsity Press and less Thomas Nelson/Zondervan, but what do you do if the former isn’t cooperating and the latter actually knows how to market books?)

My wife suggested I simply publish my own list.

I also know that any ‘Top Ten’ lists are considered clickbait, and when you are a very successful blogger the pressure to publish is immense. I say that as a once moderately successful blogger who felt compelled to produce new content every day for more than ten years.

I guess that, although I’ve poked at this topic repeatedly, what was printed was simply a list of ’10 Books Every Reformed Christian Should Read.’ That would describe it, right?

Wrong.

It wasn’t even that. It was a list of ’10 Books Which One Reformer Thinks Every Other Reformed Christian Ought to Read.’

1. Knowing God by J.I. Packer
2. The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul
3. Ashamed of the Gospel by John MacArthur
4. The Disciplines of Grace by Jerry Bridges
5. Overcoming Sin and Temptation by John Owen
6. Spurgeon by Arnold Dallimore
7. Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney
8. Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey
9. The Pleasures of God by John Piper
10. The Cross of Christ by John Stott

Yes, there’s a woman on the list, but honestly, until two days ago, after the aforementioned lifetime in Christian publishing, I had never heard of her or the book, or had an inquiry about it. Perhaps she paid for search engine optimization, too.

Lists like this need to be subjective. It reminds me of an instructional article that shaped me years ago as to how to respond when someone asks what is the best Bible translation. “Best for whom?” we were taught to say.

Not knowing where this list is going to land, I would not begin to recommend these books, nor assume that the recipient fits into the “Every Christian” mold that is presumed. People are unique. Their journey with Christ is personal.

“How dare you!”

 

May 29, 2020

Those Twelve Disciples Probably Asked, “What Have We Got Ourselves Into?”

During the past ten weeks, I’ve been doing more original writing at C201, than here at Thinking Out Loud. While I don’t want this to simply be a mirror site for those Bible studies, I do want to share them here from time to time. This one appeared a few days ago…

Two weeks ago we looked at The Twelve Disciples. I’ve been continuing to think about them in the days which followed.

I wonder what I might have done in their shoes. A decade ago, a popular Christian speaker said these guys, like other Hebrew boys, might have dreamed of being selected to follow a Rabbi. Only “the best of the best of the best” were chosen. These guys were (for the most part) plying trades and weren’t on any Rabbi’s short list. Their life trajectory was headed in another direction.

Then Jesus appears. He invites them to basically ‘stop what you’re doing and follow me.’ And out of the blue,

Matt.4.20.NIV At once they left their nets and followed him. (See three different gospel accounts.)

It was an offer they couldn’t refuse.

Or could they?

Today, most of us would not consider taking a job without investigating the potential employer. What is their reputation? How is their stock price doing? What are the working conditions?

Similarly, none of us would enroll in a program of education (which is closer to what they were doing) unless we knew that upon completion, the certificate or degree was actually recognized; that it truly meant something. (The accreditation process facilitates some of that investigation for us today.)

Would they accept not knowing all the facts? Apparently so.

First, they were signing up with a peripatetic teacher.

Don’t let the big word scare you, it’s similar to itinerant and simply means “traveling from place to place.” Jesus the teacher was not attached to a synagogue. Being schooled with him didn’t mean an actual school, but rather wandering from place to place, sometimes eating on the road by biting the heads off the grain in nearby fields (and getting into arguments over so doing.) See Matthew 12 for that story, but don’t miss verse 8 where Matthew adds the phrase “Going on from that place…” to emphasize the traveling ministry. Even his long discourse in the last quarter of John’s gospel is delivered while walking from the upper room to the Garden of Gethsemane.

(A big shoutout here to anyone who has ever slept in their car, or at the side of the road. I’ve done both, but not lately. That’s the idea conveyed here, although the twelve plus Jesus were sometimes billeted in the homes of supporters in various towns.)

When one of the scribes considers following him, Jesus utters his famous “foxes have holes” line which The Message renders as,

Matt.8.20.MSG Jesus was curt: “Are you ready to rough it? We’re not staying in the best inns, you know.”

Second, Jesus wasn’t trained by a rabbi they knew.

There was a strict process here. One rabbi trains a group of students (as Jesus is doing) and then they wash, rinse and repeat. (Couldn’t resist.) But you always know, at least in name, the person your rabbi sat under for his training.

So Jesus commences his ministry, and the crowd (specifically, elders, scribes and chief priests) ask him who has commissioned him in ministry; who has authorized him to preach. In our day, being ordained or being a commended minister carries with it the concept of accountability.

Mark.11.28.NLT They demanded, “By what authority are you doing all these things? Who gave you the right to do them?”

repeated in Luke,

Luke.20.1-2.NASB On one of the days while He was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders confronted Him, and they spoke, saying to Him, “Tell us by what authority You are doing these things, or who is the one who gave You this authority?”

Most readers here would quickly say that Jesus’ ministry is confirmed by his Father. More than once in the gospel accounts we find the “voice from heaven” speaking. (A good topic for another study!) But the disciples would be risking their own reputation following a teacher whose own schooling doesn’t have earthly verification.

In balance however, we need to remind ourselves that the miracles Jesus performs validate his teaching. Things ‘no one could do unless…’ Nicodemus gets this when he says,

John.3.2b.NIV “…For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Third, there are lingering questions as to the legitimacy of Christ’s birth.

In a world without user names and passwords, people would have a longer memory for stories, and while Joseph and Mary weren’t celebrities, their story is the hard-to-forget type which would make great fodder for the tabloids and TMZ.

So when Jesus begins teaching, they ask

Mark.6.3a Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son…?”

they don’t simply mean, ‘Isn’t this the boy next door?’ but rather are dredging up a host of other memories which would recall the earlier scandalous story where Mary finds herself pregnant.

In another story where the authority or power of Jesus’ teaching is questioned, the Jews to which he is speaking come back with an indirect, but hard-hitting shot at Jesus

John.8.41b.NIV We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God himself.”

Commentators have been so bold to suggest that this phrase can be translated, “We’re not bastards!” It’s a direct allusion to Jesus’ parentage.

Knowing these three things, would we accept the call?

I will leave that question open.

There are three applications we can take from this:

  1. Following Jesus may take us to unexpected places, it might involve sacrifice, and may result in experiencing less than optimal conditions.
  2. The path of discipleship may mean unconventional employment, perhaps even contradicting the norms of standard vocational ministry.
  3. Following Jesus the Nazarene may impact our own personal reputation; we will need to simply not care what people think of us or Him.



March 21, 2020

Parents: Don’t Assume Kids Will Automatically ‘Catch’ Your Faith

Just take them to Church each weekend and your kids will ‘catch’ it, right? In a sense, that may have been more true in previous generations than it is today. But many parents are finding they singularly can’t take anyone spiritually beyond where they are themselves without help.

Some good input for parents comes from Canada’s Natalie Frisk in her book, Raising Disciples: How to Make Faith Matter to our Kids (Herald Press). After her undergrad work at Redeemer University in Hamilton, she completed her Master’s degree at the same city’s McMaster Divinity School.

In a recent interview with Redeemer’s Resound magazine, the story unfolds as to how the book came to be:

Throughout her time as a youth pastor, Frisk would get a lot of questions from parents about having their kids follow Jesus. “I started to keep track of that with no real plan for what to do with it at the time,” she says.

It wasn’t until later, when an editor from a publishing company asked to meet with her, that she realized she had some great material for her book.

“It is the shared wisdom of so many people who have been part of my spiritual community,” she said. “It’s kind of crowdsourced from people who are rockstar parents. There was a lot of community involvement. I just got to write it down.”

Today she is a curriculum developer for The Meeting House family of churches and that curriculum is being adopted by churches all over the world, including many in the newly-formed Jesus Collective.

Her publisher, Herald Press summarizes the book,

Children and youth will just “catch” the faith of their parents, right?

Not necessarily. Talking with kids about Jesus no longer comes naturally to many Christian parents. In Raising Disciples, pastor Natalie Frisk helps us reconnect faith and parenting, equipping parents to model what following Jesus looks like in daily life. Filled with authenticity, flexibility, humor, and prayer, Frisk outlines how parents can make openings for their children to experience God in their daily lives.

As curriculum pastor at The Meeting House, one of the largest churches in Canada, Frisk calls parents who follow Christ to ask the big questions about the spiritual formation of children and teens. In practical and thoughtful ways, she equips parents to disciple their kids in various stages of childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. Raising Disciples will awaken parents to the possibly of Jesus-centered parenting and encourage us to engage in the lost art of discipling our own kids.

Redeemer’s Shannon McBride continues Natalie’s story,

…[T]here are two parts to how parents can model faith to their kids: intentional practices and unintentional lived moments.

Intentional practices are things like praying with and in front of your kids and reading your Bible. “They see you doing it, so they know you value it,” she says.

Unintentional lived moments are things like modelling forgiveness to your kids. Frisk says parents should apologize to their kids when they do something wrong. “Get down to their level and ask for forgiveness. And forgive them when they apologize. That offers a glimpse of the heart of our Father God.”

October 29, 2019

MacArthur: A Lesson for the Boys and Men

Filed under: Christianity, current events, theology, women — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:30 am

This is about the 8th or 9th time I’ve found a Twitter thread that I felt was worthy of a wider forum or a different media. This time around the author is Tish Warren Harrison, author of Liturgy of the Ordinary (InterVarsity). I know as I’m typing this that some of you are weary of this subject, but I believe she offers a fresh perspective.

When everyone was talking about John MacArthur and “Go home,” I was busy having a human being, so I haven’t been online. But do I care? Of course I care. I care because I’m a female priest and care about Beth Moore. And because I care about the church. And here’s what I thought:

I have often said that I keep having this conversation — not just about women’s ordination/roles but about women’s catechesis/discipleship, institutional empowerment and accountability, theological training, leadership, and depth — for my daughters, but this week, I had a son.

And I have realized that we need this conversation just as much for him and every boy of the next generation. Because it is hard to be a faithful, orthodox Christian in the world. I think it is getting harder.

If boys and men can’t learn from and value the gifts, insight, teaching, knowledge, writing, ministries, and works of God in 50%+ of the church, it will be all the harder for them to walk with Jesus.

Sexism is a sin. We don’t often speak of it in those terms, but it’s not just “problematic.” It’s a principality and power. It is idolatry. And like all sin, it diminishes us as a church, not just those sinned against, but those who are in sin.

(And note I’m not talking about complementarianism as a biblical conviction, which is not what any of this is about — Beth isn’t ordained even. This is about if women can speak about God.)

September 26, 2019

Local Church Initiatives: More Isn’t Better

Some background: On Tuesday I posted a brief article contrasting those churches which are programmed to death with those not offering enough avenues for engagement. You can read that article here.

That promoted this reader comment:

I’ve been involved as a leader in both “kinds” of churches…at one church, we had the philosophy that MORE ministries were better, in other words, it was like a smorgasbord of ministries that were available every week. The calendar HAD to be full. I constantly felt the pressure as a leader to fill positions, fund initiatives, provide space, and pressure people to be involved.

Then I started leading a church where the only ministries we had were the ones that “surfaced” within the Body itself…in other words, people who felt the leading of the Lord to begin a ministry, started them and “staffed” them with like-minded people they knew who shared their passion, I found so much freedom in that…and I found that the ministries took care of themselves better over the long haul.

I am now a firm believer in “less is more”…in fact, in most of the churches I’ve led since my “smorgasbord” days, the church has been healthier because we have allowed the Lord to lead us in birthing ministries instead of having a busy “template” for what church should look like. In fact, I think for most churches, they could let about 1/2 of their ministries “die” and they would be happier and healthier. The issue is giving people the freedom and encouragement to build their lives in the Lord IN the midst of their lives instead of forcing them to live the life we think they should live…one built around church activities instead of simply living for Jesus in the spheres of influence that is their daily life. That’s been my experience…

The comment came from Rev. Dr. Robin J. Dugall who describes himself as “Pastor, Professor, Musician, Teacher and follower of Jesus;” and writes at Spiritual Regurgitations. (see more below*)

Because of his insights with this, I invited him to expand on this…

More isn’t better: It’s exhausting and counter-productive

The editor of this blog started “thinking out loud” and, in the process, requested a bit more from a reply that I posted to “Volunteers Wanted.” This issue has been the story of much of my professional life in the Church. Without bringing up at all any thoughts regarding the differentiation between “volunteers” and those using their gifts in ministry as an expression of their unique Kingdom calling, I’ll wade into the invitational waters.

I never thought I would say this much less write it, but I’ve lived a good majority of my 65 years of life involved in some manner or form of “Church.” From parachurch ministries to outdoor ministries…from small congregational ministries to what used to be regarded as “large” church settings. Thanks to the Lord, I’ve never had the opportunity to live my Kingdom life within the sphere of the megachurch. There is a part of me that cringes simply imagining the intensity of financial and organizational pressure that goes along with the management of any large “company.”

As a “churchworld” (I’ll define that term below) leader, my responsibilities have ranged from that which would be regarded by some as the sphere of the Senior Pastor to the leadership of a plethora of “sub-ministries” including children’s, youth, music, small groups, leadership and theological/biblical development. So, in regard to this issue of “Volunteerism” and what it takes these days to not only “do” ministry but enable and equip Jesus following people to be responsive to the call of God upon their lives, I’ve had my share of experience.

I must say that I’ve made some drastic, strategic and, in my mind, God-honoring changes in my ministry philosophy over the past two decades. Much of those changes have occurred because of witnessing the futility and counter-productivity of the “more is better” mentality. I’ve been involved as a leader in both “kinds” of churches…at one church, we had the philosophy that MORE ministries were better, in other words, it was like a smorgasbord of ministries that were available every week. We operated under with the mindset that the “calendar HAD to be full.” Subsequently, it was. It wasn’t simply the fact that I was out of my home probably five to six out of seven nights per week, but we constantly felt the overwhelming pressure as leaders to fill positions, fund initiatives, provide space, and pressure people to be involved. The key aspect of the previous phrase is “pressure people”…and, trust me, that’s what happened.

When Christendom ruled, the belief stood that the Church should be the center of life. And, in some respects, Christendom did appropriately draw one’s faith journey into a rich life of worship, fellowship and encouragement in faithfulness. Yet what has occurred over time as many Christians have bemoaned Christendom’s demise is that a form of institutional tyranny arose in its place. The Church was no longer the center of culture, so Church people formed a hybrid (more of a mutation) of Christendom to take its place – something I call, “churchworld.” When I talk about “churchworld” I am attempting to put into approachable language some way to clarify the overwhelming, insatiable “hunger” of religious institutionalism to demand the whole of a person’s life and attention.

“Churchworld” is one-part theme park and one-part assembly line…one part “money pit” and one-part shopping mall. It is built upon the values of consumerism and utilitarianism – in other words, how can we get the most out of people in order to give back to people what we perceive they need. In my humble opinion, that’s what “churchworld” does…just as the price of a ticket to any Disney park has insanely and prohibitively increased in cost for day’s excursion, so has the “cost” in time, energy, money, and “personnel” of feeding the demands of “churchworld.”

My wife and I have adult children that are involved in “churchworld” ministries. They constantly give witness to the increasing demands for the totality of their lives to be focused on sustaining the institution’s strategy of ministry. They have shared with me the fact that many people who are their friends in the Lord have made it a habit to leave churches after a year or so simply because of the increasing burdens and demands of involvement. Once involved in feeding the “beast,” it is hard to back away graciously without risking the subsequent woes and grief given by overwhelmed staff. I would never coin myself as a predictive prophesy individual, yet it doesn’t take much forethought to see the coming fall of “churchworld.”

One of my favorite authors, John Kavanaugh compares Ancient Rome’s adherence to “bread and circus” (the book, Following Christ in a Consumer Society; John Drane says the same in his books on the McDonaldization of the Church) to that of “churchworld’s” fascination with entertainment and feeding/attracting the masses.

Contrast that experience with what happened in my life as a leader and fellow disciple when I started leading a church where the only ministries we had were the ones that “surfaced” within the Body itself…in other words, people who felt the leading of the Lord to begin a ministry, started them and “staffed” them with like-minded people they knew who shared their passion and sense of calling for that ministry. Some call this ministry strategy, “Organic.” Truthfully, that kind of language aptly describes what occurs in reality. The kingdom of God that Jesus described is viral, organic and, by nature, a movement. It grows where no apparent strategy or potential can be found…and it lives, not by human energy and ingenuity, but by spiritual mystery.

In the organic ministry realm, we are much more apt to be praising God for his leadership and fruitfulness in people’s lives than praising ourselves for the plethora of activities that we can effectively manage and multiply by sheer effort and relational intimidation. Personally, I found so much freedom living as a living “organism.” With that mindset, with a renewed embrace of the dynamic spiritual nature of the Body of Christ, I found that the ministries took care of themselves better over the long haul. For example, in my current congregational setting, we have a few teenagers who would benefit from a good youth ministry program. Now, I could for a ministry team, hire a youth worker and build an entire infrastructure to handle that ministry need…that’s the programmatic approach. Even so, we have no one in the church who is sensing the “call” of God to form another program.

In the past, I would have beaten down people in an attempt to build another program. I chose not to do that. Instead, I called a pastor friend of mine who leads another church in town. They have an amazing youth ministry program and have built a solid ministry strategy to disciple teens. I talked to the pastor; told him I was interested in “investing” the kids in our church into their youth ministry program. I felt that partnership was more important than simply duplicating what is happening right down our street (so to speak). I talked to the parents of the teens, the youth themselves and now they are loving what God is doing in their lives as they participate in that other church’s ministry.

Some might say, “well, aren’t you fearful that you will lose that family to that other church?” No, I’m not and if they did leave, I would bless them on their way. I’m not going to try to be “all things to all people” any longer. I’m not going to fear ministry partnerships…in fact, I want so desperately to affirm them.

Church, at least in what I read in the New Testament, has more to do with organic living than most people want to admit. I am now a firm believer in “less is more”…in fact, in most of the churches I’ve led since my “smorgasbord” days, the church has been healthier because we have allowed the Lord to lead us in birthing ministries instead of having a busy “template” for what church should look like. In fact, I think for most churches, they could let about half of their ministries “die” and they would be happier and healthier.

The issue is giving people the freedom and encouragement to build their lives in the Lord IN the midst of their lives instead of forcing them to live the life we think they should live…one built around church activities instead of simply living for Jesus in the spheres of influence that is their daily life. This explains why Jesus did not ask us to go and “make gatherings or churches or home groups or…” He did not ask us to go and “make house churches.” He said, “go and make disciples.” Discipling viral disciplers is the end game. This places YOU and ME squarely in the midst of reproductive life that the kingdom is intrinsically about. We become movement-starters not church-starters. We release disciples who will influence the world throughout their lifetime and beyond.

When we start “churches, communities, meetings, etc.”, our focus tends to be on the communal gathering—what to do, how to do it, what it looks like, etc. We may say to ourselves that we are learning to “be” the church but often our priority remains on developing the structure/form/institution. When following Jesus and inviting others to follow him becomes our focus (discipling viral disciples), we have to shift from the “gathering” mentality to the “lifestyle-going” mentality. This shift will propel us from being church-starters to movement starters (where churches and gatherings spring up along the way).

One more thought – consider “wiki-based ministry.” In other words, I desire to build a “Collaboration based” ministry environment. I believe that God is active in EVERY person so that our community creates meaning – our ministry partnership is a reflection of a descriptive process with no prescribed meaning; we fix us, no experts are needed; leadership teams and pastors are good but only one of the gifts of community. We believe in a distinctly relational ecclesiology. That is organic…that is a celebration of less is more.

 


*From his About page: “Currently, in addition to being an Adjunct Professor in Biblical Studies at Azusa Pacific University, he is a pastor of a faith community, Adjunct Professor at Concordia University (Portland, OR) and an instructor/mentor of the Missional Training Team for the Lutheran denomination.”

September 24, 2019

Volunteers Wanted: A Tale of Two Churches

Ted and Tom are twin brothers. In their early 40s. Living at opposite ends of a large city. Both attend churches with weekly attendance in the four-to-five hundred range.

volunteers needed 2At Tom’s church, the Sunday announcements are fairly predictable. More people are needed to serve in the nursery. And the food pantry. And the middle-school boys Sunday School class. And the tenor section of the choir. And a drummer for the contemporary worship team. And the facilities committee. And now they’re asking for people to serve as parking lot attendants.

“Why do we need parking lot attendants with only 250 parking spots?” said Tom aloud to no one in particular.

“Shhhh!” said his wife, as the couple in front turned around and scowled.

“Did I say that out loud?” Tom asked.

…Across town at Ted’s church the situation is much reversed. There are not as many ministry initiatives, and Ted who happens to be a drummer and a tenor and a fairly competent pre-teen Sunday School teacher has nothing to do on Sunday morning. He shows up. He gives money. He has meaningful conversations with people during the coffee time between services. But he always feels a little lost on Sunday mornings and to his credit, he helps out on Monday nights at The Salvation Army and on Saturday mornings he is committed to a men’s group at another church. There just aren’t any pressing needs for anything Ted has to offer.

Ted and Tom often compare notes. While there’s nothing new about churches asking for assistance in various departments, Tom wishes his church was more like Ted’s (and that there were fewer announcements.) On the other hand, Ted his envious of Tom’s situation; he’d like to feel he was needed even if it was the superfluous task of welcoming cars in the parking lot.

volunteers neededSo which is the more healthy situation? What would the church metrics people say about these churches? Is a healthy church one in which there are always needs because lots of exciting things are happening, or is a healthy church one in which people are stepping up and filling volunteer ministry positions as quickly as they become available?

And what about Ted? Should there be some avenue of service for him to continue to develop his spiritual gifts? Should Ted’s church be creating some new ministry initiatives so that people like Ted can feel more involved or plugged-in?

Where on the continuum does your church lie?

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