What is a Member Initiative Driven Church?

August 31, 2016

Desiring God Community Church is a member-initiative driven church, rather than a program-driven church.

What does that mean?

Let’s get to that question first by asking: Did the first-century church have programs? That is, did the leadership set up ministries in the church, decide what positions were necessary to operate those ministries, and then fill those positions from within the church?

The answer? Maybe.

Consider the church’s support of widows, first mentioned in Jerusalem in Acts 6 and discussed more fully by the Apostle Paul about 25 years later in 1 Timothy 5:3-16. Paul, writing to Timothy in Ephesus, describes conditions under which certain widows should be “enrolled” (ESV) or “placed on the official support list” (HCSB). So there must have been at least a somewhat formal organization, defining who was to be served, who was doing the serving, and what services would be offered. We don’t know how the ministry to widows began – whether by church leadership, or by an individual beginning to minister, and then as the ministry expanded gradually bringing in others to help. In any event, this is an example of a ministry that at least takes on some characteristics of a program. We want to be careful, therefore, not to think of programs per se in a negative light.

Today, many churches not only have programs, but are program driven: That is, their programs define the church. Ask why you should attend such a church, and the answer often will be a list of the various programs that are set up to serve members, or to reach the community.

What are some advantages of a program-driven church?

  • First, the leadership may have a good feel for the needs of the congregation and the opportunities in the community, and can set up ministries that will effectively meet those needs
  • Second, when people come to the church, the leaders can guide them quickly and easily into a slot in a program, and thus assimilate them into the life of the church.
  • Third, the leaders can define a plan for the future, and see that plan implemented over several years.

What are some disadvantages of a program-driven church?

  • The first is the flip side of one of the advantages: The leadership may not have a good feel for the needs of all parts of the congregation, or for the opportunities in many segments of the community. Church members may have a much better sense of these needs and opportunities – particularly in the relationship circles in which they regularly function.
  • Second, when ministry is understood to consist of participating in the church’s programs, members often will close their eyes to needs and opportunities outside those programs.
  • The third disadvantage is related to the second: In a program-driven church, it is easy to fill up all your spare time with the church’s programs. Then, even if you notice needs and opportunities elsewhere, you don’t have the time and energy to serve.

So, as stated above, we aim to be a member-initiative driven church. What does that mean?

Fundamentally, it means that all of us are taking initiative to grow as disciples and to step out in ministry in our circles of relationships, in the Charlotte area, and with unreached peoples around the world. Our leaders speak the Word to us, provide us resources, set an example, help us partner together with others, pray for us and with us, speak with us about the needs and opportunities that they discern, and help us imagine what God might do in us and through us – but we all are responsible to grow in Christlikeness and to serve faithfully and lovingly, reaching out with the Gospel and with Christ’s love.

When that happens, it is impossible to plan for what God might do. For in a member initiative-driven church, a key way the church fulfills its ministry is by everyone in the body stepping out and ministering. A member may see a need, and begin to serve. Opportunities to serve may expand. In consultation with leaders, that member may invite others to participate and serve. As the ministry grows, it may take on some characteristics of a program. But it all began with one person stepping out faithfully. And this is replicated time and again, the church’s array of ministries can become what the leaders never imagined.

We want our people to be like the Good Samaritan – on his way, presumably traveling for business, he encounters a needy man, and is a neighbor to that man (Luke 10:25-37). Or like Philip – in response to mysterious leading by the Spirit, he heads away from town on a road, and encounters an Ethiopian reading Isaiah. He takes the initiative to begin from that passage to speak the Gospel (Acts 8:26-39). Philip wasn’t participating in the Jerusalem church’s evangelism program – he was simply sensitive to the way the Spirit was leading him in his day to day life. Or – especially – like Jesus. Whether He unexpectedly encountered Jairus, or the woman with the flow of blood (Mark 5:22-43), or the rich young ruler (Mark 10:17-22), or the widow from Nain (Luke 7:11-17), or a woman wiping His feet with her hair (Luke 7:36-50), or a blind man (Mark 10:46-52), or a man with a demon (Mark 5:1-20), He loved them, He served them; He glorified the Father.

So, we thank and recognize the many of you who are taking initiative, stepping out, and serving faithfully, whether that is with international students, with neighbors, with refugee women, or with poor children. We encourage all of us: Do this more and more. Open your eyes. Grow in Christ. See the fields ripe for harvest. Pray. Go. Speak the Gospel. Live out the Gospel.

And may God be pleased to build up from our initiatives hundreds of people coming to faith, hundreds of lives changed, hundreds of people loved and served , all to the glory of God.

Search the Scriptures

August 19, 2016

Most churches have one statement of faith. We have two – a statement of faith that all members must agree to that basically outlines the Gospel, and a statement of faith governing teaching that goes in to more detail. All of the elders must agree with this more detailed statement of faith.

Why did we go a different direction? What value do we derive as a church from having that second statement of faith?

As those of you who are members heard in the What is DGCC class, the second statement serves in part as “truth in labeling.” The statement of faith governing teaching speaks to many issues unaddressed by the statement of faith for members. When you read the more detailed statement, you learn what you will hear preached on a number of important issues. You don’t have to agree with the statement to become a member, but you do have to be willing to sit under preaching that brings out these points.

When churches don’t have such a statement, there are still theological guidelines that control what is preached – they’re just unstated. Frequently they consist of whatever the primary preaching pastor believes. And it may take a while for visitors to figure out what those guidelines are. Furthermore, the guidelines are subject to change with a pastoral change.

We don’t think that’s helpful for visitors or healthy for the congregation. We want to be upfront about what we believe – thus this second, more detailed statement of faith.

But the preface to the Statement of Faith Governing Teaching helps bring out a second reason we think it is valuable:

The aim of this statement is to encourage a hearty adherence to the Bible, the fullness of its truth, and the glory of its Author. A passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples is best sustained in an atmosphere of deep and joyful knowledge of the character of God. We thus aim to teach the whole counsel of God rather than aiming to discover and teach some minimum required for salvation. In affirming what we believe on these matters, we separate ourselves doctrinally from some brothers and sisters within the universal church.  The cause of unity in the church, however, is best served not by finding the lowest common denominator of doctrine, but by elevating the value of truth through stating clear doctrinal parameters, and then demonstrating to the world how Christians can love each other across doctrinal boundaries, rather than by removing those boundaries. We commit ourselves to both elevating truth and loving our brothers.

So we’re saying this more detailed statement helps us “elevate the value of truth.” How does it do that?

After Paul tells Timothy that all Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, reproof, correction , and training in righteousness so that each man of God can be thoroughly equipped for every good work, he gives the younger man a solemn charge: “Preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season; using the Scriptures, reprove and rebuke, exhort, encourage, and comfort, with great patience teaching all doctrine” (2 Timothy 4:2, my paraphrase).

So that’s what we try to do: As we say in the preface just quoted, we aim to “encourage a hearty adherence to the Bible” through teaching “the whole counsel of God.” We don’t avoid controversial passages or issues; we primarily preach straight through books of the Bible – Old Testament and New, prophecy and narrative, wisdom and epistle, Law and Gospel – and thus have to address the whole range of issues that Scripture brings up. We believe, as the Apostle states, that this is for your good.

So through the two doctrinal statements, we’re saying, “Here in this shorter statement is what we all must believe to be united in the body of Christ; and here in this longer statement is what the elders of this church think Scripture says on a much wider range of vital, life-giving biblical doctrines. This second document is the Cliffs notes version of what you will hear from us. All these scriptural truths are profitable; and we’re going to do our best to patiently teach all of them to you over decades. Through such teaching you can be fully equipped for every good work.”

So the statement of faith governing teaching serves both as truth in labeling, and as a way to elevate the value of biblical truth.

We want to emphasize those last two words: BIBLICAL TRUTH. This more detailed statement of faith is not above Scripture; it is rather an attempt to summarize what Scripture says on a number of issues. If the statement of faith were to supplant Scripture as our authority, we would be in the wrong.

Consider Acts 17:10-11. Paul has been persecuted in the city of Thessalonica.

 The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.

The Jews of Berea question what Paul is saying. They are intrigued. They are eager. But they are not convinced that what Paul says is true. So they go back to the Scriptures. They search them. They examine them. They test Paul by the Scriptures.

The author, Luke, does not fault the Bereans for searching the Scriptures to see if what Paul said was true. He doesn’t say, “Those foolish Bereans – they didn’t believe the Apostle Paul based on his own authority!” Rather Luke commends them – they were more noble than the Thessalonians.

We want all of you in Desiring God Church to be like those Bereans. Scripture is our authority. Not the elders. So when we say something that puzzles you, something different from your previous understanding of Scripture – go to the Word! Search the Scriptures! Ponder them! It’s ok to disagree with something said in a sermon, and it’s ok to disagree with something in the statement of faith governing teaching. We want to drive you to Scripture – if we do that, we’ve succeeded in our teaching, whether or not you in the end agree with us on the interpretation.

So rather than stifling debate, the longer statement of faith brings these truths to the forefront where they can be discussed. We’re by no means saying through this statement, “Never talk about alternative understandings of Scripture.” Comparing Scripture to Scripture, we’re trying to build up from Scripture what it says about God, about man, about the plan of redemption. Some of our conclusions are widely debated in the evangelical church – and we welcome such debates among us , when together we search the Scriptures to see what is true.

How then do we see this longer statement of faith functioning in the life of the church?

Authoritative teaching at DGCC – that is, speaking without discussion – is to be done in accord with the statement. That includes preaching, and other occasions in which Scriptures are opened up without discussion. But in small groups and in Sunday School classes where there is considerable discussion, we welcome alternate understanding of passages when these discussions are aimed at honestly trying to discern what Scripture says. Indeed, as young men neither Pastor Fred nor I agreed with a number of the doctrinal positions of our longer statement of faith; we came to believe these doctrines through searching the Scriptures ourselves, and through teachers who helped us search the Scriptures. We believe that all the doctrines in our longer statement of faith stand up to scrutiny – but we want you to search the Scriptures, and not necessarily take these positions because we do.  And so we welcome, and never want to stifle, discussion.

Furthermore, I know that some positions I hold are wrong. I don’t know which ones (or I would change them!). The Lord will show me at an appropriate time – perhaps on the Last Day, or perhaps by one of you convincing me from Scripture that I am wrong. So – once again – we welcome discussion.

So, people of Desiring God Church: Be faithful Bereans. Search the Scriptures. Know the Scriptures. And spur one another on to know them better.

(An earlier form of this article served as the devotion at the August 14 members meeting.)

What is T4T?

May 13, 2016

What is T4T?

If you are a part of Desiring God Church for long, you will hear the phrase “reproducing discipleship,” and the acronym, “T4T.” You may also be aware of debates within the wider evangelical church about whether T4T and church planting movements are biblical.

The name “T4T” stands for “Training for Trainers.” The name was coined by a missionary in southeastern China, Ying Kai, as he tried to describe a discipleship and church planting movement in which those who come to faith are trained immediately to share their faith with unbelievers in their circle of relationships. The movement that developed subsequently saw at least a couple of million people come to faith and gather in multiplying house churches in a short period of time. In this movement, all new believers were taught one way to share the Gospel, and one introductory set of Bible stories.

Praise God for that movement to Christ. But that history of the term “T4T” has led to misconceptions about its core principles. So let’s begin by making four “Not Statements” about T4T.

  • First, T4T does not consist of using a particular Gospel presentation, or a particular set of discipleship materials.
  • Second, T4T does not contend that if we follow the right program, many people will come to faith and many churches will be planted quickly. Indeed, T4T is not really about the number or speed of conversions.
  • Third, T4T is not contending that the church gathering in worship is unimportant, or that preaching is unimportant.
  • Fourth, T4T is not contending that house churches are better than churches that meet in church buildings.

Yes, some practitioners of T4T at times have spoken as if one or another of those “Not Statements” is true. But T4T does not imply any of them.

Instead, T4T begins with these five biblical foundations. We all should begin with these same foundations whenever we consider our role as God’s agents of change in the world:

  • First, we start with the Word of God. The Word and only the Word is authoritative; the Word is able to make us wise unto salvation; the Word will guide us, instruct us, rebuke us, train us, and correct us so that we are equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:15-17).
  • Second, all nations must hear the Gospel. We must take God’s message to every people group – not only to those like ourselves, but to every tribe and tongue and people and nation. For “This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). Thus, whatever evangelism, discipleship, and church planting strategy we devise must at least have the potential to reach every people group.
  • Third, there is no other name than Jesus Christ by which men must be saved (Acts 4:12). Specifically, no program, no formula, no technique has ever saved anyone.
  • Fourth: God the Holy Spirit is the agent of change, miraculously shining the light of His glory in our hearts, thus giving us new life by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6). God converts people, not us. We bear witness. We testify. We must do so. But only a miracle brings people to faith.
  • So, fifth: We must pray diligently, persistently, unceasingly for God to do that great work. Even the Apostle Paul tells others they must help him by prayer (2 Corinthians 1:11).

T4T rightly emphasizes those five truths, which are common to all biblically solid evangelism and missions. Always interpret missionary accounts of church planting movements and techniques used in light of those biblical truths.

But in addition to those five truths, the proponents of T4T emphasize four additional biblical truths, arguing that these have often been overlooked in the church.

First: “Go!” not “Come!” Our Lord tells us in the Great Commission:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you (Matthew 28:19-20a).

Too often our churches have thought of evangelism in terms of inviting unbelievers to an evangelistic service, or to an evangelist’s crusade. Praise God, some come to faith through such events. But our estimates in Charlotte are that somewhere between 40% and 60% of the population – including 100% of some people groups – will never come to an evangelistic event. Our Lord tells us to go to them, and we must do so. An evangelism and church planting strategy for a city does not even have the potential to reach all people groups unless it includes our going.

Second: “Disciples” not “converts.” Jesus tells us to make disciples. We are to teach new believers not only all that Jesus commands, but how to obey all that He commands. This implies practice and repetition; this implies looking at Scripture and asking how to obey it, then after a period of time looking back, being accountable, and seeing if I did obey. This also implies continuing in relationship with the person who has come to faith through my witness, helping him or her to become self-feeding from the Word, and day by day to become a more obedient follower of Jesus.

Third: Disciples make disciples. If that new believer is to learn to obey all that Jesus commands, he must learn how to make disciples of all nations – for Jesus commands that! So the new believer must learn to share the Gospel, to share the story of what great things God has done for him, and to lead others to share the Gospel and their story. So T4T emphasizes helping brand new believers to learn and practice a simple Gospel presentation, and then to learn and practice how to lead others in the same steps of discipleship they themselves have gone through.

The New Testament tells us of brand new believers whom God uses as evangelists, such as the woman at the well (John 4:1-42) and the man who had had a legion of demons (Mark 5:1-20). In the latter case, just hours after his healing, Jesus tells the man not to accompany Him. Instead He commands him: “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you” (Mark 5:19).

Many in our churches think they are not gifted in evangelism, and use that as an excuse for not sharing. T4T rightly emphasizes that we all share in the privilege and responsibility of sharing the Gospel – even while we value those with evangelistic gifts. A gifted evangelist may know 100 ways to share Gospel. He or she can adjust the presentation, respond to questions, and switch method depending on the listener’s response. A new believer, on the other hand, is probably better off knowing only one Gospel presentation. But he needs to know that one well.

Fourth and finally: Disciples gather into churches. As people come to faith, as they are taught to obey all that Jesus commands, they must become part of a church. Many of us in the American church have assumed that when someone local comes to faith, that new believer should become part of the same church as the one who spoke the Gospel to him. But that’s an extra-biblical assumption. Instead, T4T emphasizes that we should ponder the question: What should church look like for this new believer? And part of the answer to that question is: What church structure will help this new believer to continue to grow in obeying all that Jesus commands – including the command to go and make disciples? That is: What will keep the reproduction process going? If this new believer immediately shares the Gospel with friends and relatives who also come to faith, one possibility to consider is the beginning of a house church – with the initial evangelist continuing to invest in building up this new believer in understanding what a church is biblically, and being able to teach and share with those he has brought to faith.

Some are disturbed by the notion that a new believer could lead a church. But consider Acts 14. Paul and Barnabas spend a little time in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. People come to faith, but opponents become stirred up also, and they drive out the apostles. But then – perhaps only a few weeks later, at most a few months – Paul and Barnabas return, and appoint elders for them in every church (Acts 14:23). They appoint as elders men who had not been believers for more than a few months.

So the reproducing discipleship process called T4T is built on foundational principles common to all biblical evangelism. T4T emphasizes four other biblical principles which also should characterize our disciplemaking. I encourage you, like the faithful Bereans, to search the Scriptures and see if these things are true (Acts 17:11) – and then to go, make disciples who make disciples, and gather them into disciple-making churches.

(For a book-length examination of the biblical foundations of T4T and church planting movements, see Steve Addison, What Jesus Started: Joining the Movement, Changing the World.)

Pioneering Movements: Leadership that Multiplies and Disciples Churches

October 30, 2015

I write this after spending the last week with an Asian church planting movement that has started thousands of churches in the last few years. The leaders of this movement are humble, with servant hearts; focused on filling thousands of villages with the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea; very conscious of their own inadequacies and limitations; supremely confident in the power of the Holy Spirit through prayer to overcome the forces of darkness; effectively organized for the raising up and training of apostolic church planters who will reproduce themselves; and have a track record of identifying unreached, unengaged people groups, then sending workers to them to spread the Gospel. They are pioneering leaders.

Steve Addison has chronicled the advance of the Gospel through such movements, both on his website, www.movements.net, and in his three books. His first, Movements that Change the World, identifies five key characteristics of church planting movements. His second, What Jesus Started, provides the biblical foundations for this range of approaches to church planting, and briefly describes a number of such movements around the world. His new book, Pioneering Movements: Leadership that Multiplies Disciples and Churches, focuses on lessons regarding the type of leaders God uses in these movements.

The first six chapters are the meat of the book.  Chapter one relates Addison’s personal story of becoming a movement leader, emphasizing that successful movement leadership results from a change of heart and perspective rather than from adopting a particular strategy or following a particular formula. One characteristic of church planting movements is an emphasis on obedience, teaching others to obey all that Jesus commands, rather than simply teaching what Jesus commands. The author had to take that lesson to heart himself. One aspect of that change was shifting his focus to training others to build up the movement, rather than building dependency on himself, the leader.

Chapter two considers Jesus as the model for a movement leader, summarizing some of the content from What Jesus Started.

Chapter three then looks at Peter’s leadership of the early church. By any human standard, Peter was not qualified for this role. But he had been with Jesus – and that made all the difference. With that foundation, Peter continued to learn; he developed other leaders; he remained focused on the Word received; he moved wherever God led him. Along the way, Addison addresses a common misconception in Western churches. In Acts 6, the apostles do not get involved with the dispute about meals for widows so that they can focus on “prayer and the ministry of the Word.” He writes:

To our ears, [this] sounds like something a pastor does in his study before preaching. . . . [But in Acts] the Word is a living force unleashed by the living God (Acts 4:4, 29, 31). . . . So when the apostles described their priority, . . . it meant they were leaders of an expanding missionary movement driven by the living Word and the power of God released through prayer. (p. 54)

Chapter four focuses on structures that allow church planting movements to flourish. Paul’s missionary band was not an arm of the church in Antioch, but a separate entity, supported and encouraged by that church. This, Addison argues, should be the pattern for us today, as missionary bands go out in an apostolic fashion to unreached peoples, local churches go out evangelistically to those around them, and both partner, prayerfully and financially, for the advance of the Kingdom.

Chapter five relates the story of one contemporary movement leader, Nathan Shank, and some of the leaders developed through his ministry in South Asia. One of these new leaders, Lipok, had by any standard a successful ministry starting churches among the Mising people in the early 2000s. To Lipok, a successful church plant had to have a building.  Paid evangelists went out to the lost, bringing people to Christ, and then sending them to the churches with buildings. But he realized “he couldn’t build churches fast enough to reach all of the Mising people” (p. 83). Through Nathan’s influence, Lipok began training every disciple to become a disciple-maker. Multiplication skyrocketed. By 2014, Lipok attests that over 10,000 churches have begun in this movement. A movement dependent on paid evangelists would not multiply. Nor would a movement dependent on building buildings. But a movement that expected new believers to obey the biblical command to make disciples, and trained and encouraged them to do so, could grow exponentially.

In contrast, Addison tells the story of 19th century Methodist missionary William Taylor, who saw great response to the Gospel through his ministry on six continents. He aimed for missionaries to be servants rather than masters, founding churches that were self-supporting and self-governing. Yet his missions board was furious at this lack of dependency (p. 92). Such attitudes have been far too prevalent in the history of missions.

Chapter six details five levels of movement leadership, culled from the experience of numerous movements: Seed Sowers, who know how to share the Gospel and who to share it with; Church Planters, who know how to disciple others to obey Jesus’ commands and to become seed sowers, know biblically what a church is, and help new believers to become well-functioning churches; Church Multipliers, who help churches to produce daughter, granddaughter, and great-granddaughter churches, releasing authority to the church planters they produce; Multiplication Trainers, who reach outside their own network to spur other church planting movements; and Movement Catalysts, who focus on developing church planting movements within an unreached people or region. Addison argues that church planting movements are rare today in the West because very few Church Planters ever even consider becoming Church Multipliers (p. 101).

Chapters seven and eight provide case studies of several movements and leaders in the US and in South Africa, while chapter nine discusses movements among Muslim peoples. Chapter ten concludes the book with a warning: All movement leaders will face crises, disappointments, and pain. All movement leaders are weak in and of themselves:

Movement pioneers see cities, regions and nations. They make bold, audacious plans. Along the way they face hardship and disappointment, opposition and delay. At times they may feel abandoned by God and alone. They will also see the power of God at work. Prayers will be answered. God’s provision will come at the very last moment. Workers will be mobilized. The gospel will spread. History will be made. There is a price to pay, and it’s worth it. (p. 164)

Some pastors and theologians, skeptical about church planting movements, have criticized taking lessons from the experience of a small number of movements and baptizing that experience as the way to do missions. They argue that CPMs are the latest fad – and we should not follow fads, but rather follow the biblical prescriptions for discipling all nations. I myself have made similar arguments about the faddishness of much of the church planting literature in the US. We surely want to remain grounded in Scripture’s lessons, and not jump from fad to fad.

Addison modeled how to counter this line of argument in What Jesus Started, by showing the biblical basis for this approach to missions, and highlighting movements that differ in many details but share this common biblical approach. Unfortunately, in the latter chapters of this latest work he sometimes slips into a pattern of speaking that lays himself open to the critics. For example, speaking of CPMs among Muslim peoples in chapter nine, he writes:

The place to begin [in evangelism of Muslims] is with the story of creation and move through portions of the Old Testament, such as the prophets of the Old Testament, before moving on to the stories about Jesus in the Gospels. (p 152)

Here Addison has departed from describing the way Muslim movements have worked, and instead is prescribing the way Muslim movements should operate. Yet other missionaries have seen a positive response among Muslims from starting with Proverbs, or starting with stories from the Gospels. Addison instead could have written, “Others desiring to work among Muslims should consider seriously this pattern of beginning with the story of creation and then much of the Old Testament prior to getting to Jesus.”

There are similar issues in the conclusion to chapter eight, where the author tells us how to become a Great Commission church. Addison again sometimes slips into using language that can sound as if he is providing a formula: “How to start a church planting movement in ten easy steps.” This too plays into the hands of the critics. The pity is that there are powerful lessons in this chapter for churches that want to move in this direction. And as he himself argues cogently earlier in the book, there is no formula. There are biblical patterns; there are experiences from around the world. So let us study Scripture, learn what we can from the experiences – and step out in obedience.

In sum, Pioneering Movements is a helpful and important work that draws on biblical foundations and the experience of church planting pioneers over the last 200 years to draw lessons for today. God is at work building His church among the poor and among the rich, among the reached and among the unreached. I have seen it firsthand. Read this book. Search the Scriptures to see if these things are true. Consider the experience of many in such movements. And then play your role in the drama God has ordained, as He builds His church from those of every tribe and tongue and people and nation.

Steve Addison, Pioneering Movements: Leadership that Multiplies Disciples and Churches, IVP, 2015. The book will be available in early December, 2015, and can be pre-ordered today. See www.movements.net for any possible discounts on orders.

The Scope A God-Centered Pastoral Ministry

October 15, 2015

By Fred T. Balbuena

Paul’s call to the church leaders in Ephesians 4:11–12 is for the elders to equip the saints to do the work of the ministry. The leadership of the church is to raise up believers within the Body of Christ to be able to serve and care for one another in the matters of life and belief. They are to be good servants or “diaconas”—good ministers. Even though the word “servant” is used here, similar to the usage in chapter 3 for the deacons who serve alongside the elders, the excellent ministers of Jesus Christ are also pastors or servants. Their responsibilities are much more and they serve in a unique way. They are shepherds of the flock who are willing to do anything for the well-being of the sheep under their watch and care.

Pastoral Ministry is More than Preaching

In connection with the diaconal responsibility of the elders/shepherds, it is clear then that a biblical theology of pastoral ministry is an integration of pastoral and diaconal shepherding. They must also attend to all other responsibilities which a shepherd normally do in tending his flock besides preaching and studying. Shepherds lead, feed, nurture, comfort, correct, protect, and rescue the sheep. Being a pastor requires getting in among the sheep. It is not leadership from above so much as leadership from within. An effective pastor does not lead his sheep from the rear but leads them from the front. He shows them, not just tells them, where they are supposed to be going. This picture of a shepherd is what church leadership or pastoral ministry means. “Good preaching and good shepherding are quite compatible with each other, and he who is earnest will combine both.”[1] These are the primary responsibilities that should fill the pastor’s schedule.

The Ministry of the Word Through Pastoral Care

We need to consider that the ministry of the word is not primarily through preaching and teaching on a Sunday morning. Devoting ourselves to the ministry of the word is an important aspect of shepherding, but it’s not only through sermons and bible studies. There is more to it as we consider the word “servants of God”. We need to be servants who willingly serve in other areas of ministry that practically meet the need of our members individually. For this reason we must be willing to be intentional in engaging pastoral responsibilities that display biblical shepherding, not only those we think we are gifted in doing. Biblical theology is practical and useful in different situations and opportunities we face in the church, as Lawrence argued.[2] Therefore, we must see to it that we fulfill our pastoral task even when it’s not comfortable for us. People need to know about the word of God, but they also need to be guided, admonished and corrected in applying the truth of the word in the mundane and practical aspect of their lives.

 Shepherding Includes Lost Sheep

Every minister must believe what Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” (John 10:14-16) Jesus has other sheep which are still not in the fold who need to be led to salvation through the proclamation of the Gospel. This means the elders be intentional and sacrificial in shepherding not only those who are already in the fold but also those who are still lost. They need to hear the voice of Jesus. Thus, this reality must inspire us not only devote our energy to treasuring the gospel from within. We need to live out a biblical vision for pastoral ministry and biblical shepherding with the lost sheep in mind.

Biblical governance is a serious issue. The elders who serve in the church cannot take the responsibility of shepherding God’s church lightly or incorrectly. They will make an account before the judgment seat of God for their failure to care for his sheep, whatever role they played in shepherding. When pastors/elders do not emphasize what the Scriptures emphasize, it leads to confusion and disunity. This is predictable. Being a pastor/shepherd/elder is not easy and there are a myriad of potential problems that threaten them in leading God’s flock. Nevertheless, the reward is great when we obey the words of our Great Shepherd.


[1] John Angell James, An Earnest Ministry: The Want of the times (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Pub., 1868), pg. 91.

[2] Michael Lawrence, Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church: A Guide for Ministry (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), pg. 202.

Interview on Church Planting and Multiplying Disciples

November 23, 2013

In September, Brian Norris of Citylight Church interviewed me, focusing on church planting and DGCC’s vision for reproducing discipleship:


Brian Norris interviews Coty Pinckney

The Death of a Hero

June 7, 2013

Who are your heroes? Who sets an example that you want to follow?

One of my heroes is Sundara Rao. The father of Vijay Sastry (who visited DGCC two years ago), Sundara died in Hyderabad, India earlier this week. He was 58.

Sundara spoke little English. He had no higher education. But he was a man who did all to the glory of God. He was a man whose joy in Jesus was sparklingly evident. He was a man who out of that joy left all and followed Jesus – whatever the cost.

Born into a high-caste Hindu family, Sundara came to know Jesus as a 17-year-old, while seriously ill with typhoid. During weeks of illness, he prayed to god after god. He rejected the offer of a local pastor to come and pray for him. But after his condition continued to grow worse and worse, he relented. When the pastor came, Sundara was drifting in and out of consciousness; he only heard bits and pieces of the pastor’s words. But he prayed to this pastor’s God: “If you are the real god, save me, and I will give my life to you.”

God did save him, both physically and spiritually. Sundara then eagerly studied the Bible to learn of this God – and came to understand that it is only through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross that any human can come before God. He embraced Jesus as Lord and Savior, and savored Him as his treasure.

But this devotion to Christ had a high cost. Sundara’s father told him he could not be a Christian. Sundara tried to honor his father – to express his devotion and love – but said that if he had to choose between his family and Jesus, he must choose Jesus. So Sundara was disowned, and sent out with nothing.

After a period of discipleship and training, Sundara became a pastor. Several years later he went to the village of Ventrapragada to plant a church. He began by ministering practically to the lower castes, living in their section of the village. Those of higher caste were unhappy to see one of their own mingling with those of lower caste, and approached him, offering him a place to stay in their section of the village. Sundara declined, saying he would live with those he was serving. Later the same higher caste folks asked him to come and teach them about Jesus. Sundara declined to hold separate meetings, saying they were welcome to his meetings with the lower caste folks. Jesus, he said, broke down all those barriers of caste and race. None came – for about a decade. But as Sundara cared for the sick of all castes and persevered in showing the love of Jesus to all, eventually those of higher castes began to come. The church today includes men and women from all caste backgrounds. As one elderly, high-caste villager said, “When you’re a Hindu, caste is everything. When you’re a Christian, Jesus is everything.”

Serving predominantly poor people, Sundara and his family had little to live on. But God provided for their needs – through gifts and, when necessary, through Sundara’s work as a laborer in farmers’ fields. On such days, after hours and hours of backbreaking labor,  Sundara would come home, clean up, and go out to serve the poor and the sick, or to hold an evangelistic meeting.

From early days, Sundara invested in young men. Seeing the need for church planters and pastors all around him, he cast vision, offered training, and challenged personally many youth to take their faith seriously and to go out for the sake of the Name. Over the years, dozens of churches were planted from this small village church.

God eventually used Sundara’s son Vijay to multiply the church planting ministry into what is today Reach All Nations. I met Vijay in Minneapolis in early 2009, and first met his father that summer. I have since participated in several pastors conferences and church planter training sessions with them.

Two years ago, Sundara suffered a stroke that left him almost blind and partially paralyzed. Yet he fought back, and was able to participate in preaching and training once again. Last month he suffered a major setback, and had to be rushed to Hyderabad. He seemed to be on the mend until right before he died. “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15). Sundara had finished his race. He kept the faith. He has received his crown.

Consider these Scriptural commands and exhortations in light of Sundara’s life:

Matthew 10:37-39  Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

2 Corinthians 5:14-15 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

Philippians 3:7-8 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.

2 Timothy 4:6-8  For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.

Will you pray with me?

Thank You, Father God, for Sundara, Your servant. Thank you for giving me the privilege of seeing so many biblical truths lived out in Sundara’s life. Thank You for saving him, for providing for him, for spurring him on to serve you with all his heart. O Father, may the ministry of Reach All Nations continue to build on the foundation Sundara laid, glorifying Your Name more than ever among the peoples of India. And may that same spirit of selfless giving shine through me and all of us at DGCC. May we be similarly focused and devoted to You, loving one another, serving those around us faithfully, proclaiming the Gospel with our lives and with our words – that we might live for Christ, count all else as rubbish, and love His appearing. Amen.

Questions for Elders

February 1, 2013

(We will install Karl Dauber as an elder this Sunday, following the unanimous vote in his favor at our members meeting of  20 January. These are the questions we will ask him, and two questions we will ask the congregation. Over the years, we have edited and added to the questions used by our friends at Capitol Hill Baptist Church.)

Do you reaffirm that the God of the Bible is the one and only true God, eternally existent in three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?

(In a time of much doubt about the reality and character of God, we must stand firm on this most central point.)

Do you reaffirm your faith in Jesus Christ, the second Person of the Trinity, the Head of the Church as your Lord, Savior, and Treasure?

(That is: Do you believe in Jesus as your Master, who has a right to control your entire life? Do you believe in Him as your Savior, the only One who can pay the penalty for your sin and grant you entrance into God the Father’s presence? Do you see Jesus as your Treasure, worth more than all the world has to offer?)

Do you believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, totally trustworthy, completely sufficient, fully inspired by the Holy Spirit, the supreme, final, and only infallible rule of faith and practice?

(We as elders acknowledge that we thus have no authority over what we as a church believe – faith – and what we as a church do – practice – except as we guide this congregation to follow God’s Word.)

Do you sincerely believe that the covenant and the Statements of Faith of this church contain the truth taught in the Holy Scriptures?

(Similarly, our covenant and Statements of Faith have derivative authority: we as elders affirm that we believe they are useful summaries of the truths of Scripture. But they have no authority apart from Scripture.)

Do you promise that if at any time you find yourself out of accord with anything in the Statements of Faith or covenant, you will on your own initiative make known to all the other elders the change which has taken place in your views since your assumption of this vow?

(Churches have frequently gone astray when following leaders who have gone astray. And many leaders have not been open concerning their doubts about the truths of Scripture. Elders here affirm that should their beliefs change, they will make that known – and therefore resign, unless the other elders and the church as a whole agree that the truths of Scripture are better stated in a different way.)

Do you promise to submit to your fellow elders in the Lord?

(Hebrews 13:17 holds for elders as well as for the rest of the congregation.)

Is it your desire, as far as you know your own heart, to serve in the office of elder from love of God and a sincere desire to promote His glory in the Gospel of His Son?

(That is, are you serving in this position for your own glory or for God’s glory?)

Do you promise to be zealous and faithful in promoting the truths of the Gospel and the purity and peace of the Church, whatever persecution, criticisms, opposition or discouragement may arise?

(All elders will face opposition – sometimes from outside the church, sometimes from loved ones within the church. An elder must be aware of the certainty of future opposition, and he must be prepared to continue to serve faithfully despite opposition. Similarly, discouraging circumstances and events will happen to every elder, and he must be prepared to continue the labor despite the discouragement.)

Will you pursue and strive for unity of this church, committing yourself humbly to a ministry of biblical peacemaking and reconciliation?

(An elder must be humble, gentle, bold and resolute in pursuing confession and repentance in himself and the flock. Restoration and reconciliation of fellowship with God and fellow believers within the flock must be an essential priority.)

In dependence upon Jesus Christ’s redemptive work in your life and by the power of the Holy Spirit, will you strive to love your wife as Christ has loved you and gave Himself for you?

(Elders are to be examples in all aspects of their lives; marriage is the area Satan is most prone to attack, and where, conversely, God can be most glorified by our faithful example.)

Will you be faithful and diligent in the exercise of all your duties as elder, whether private or public, and will you endeavor by the grace of God to adorn the profession of the Gospel in your manner of life, walking with exemplary piety before the congregation?

(That is: Are you going to walk the walk and not just talk the talk? “Piety” is not a word we use frequently these days; it refers to a godward orientation of one’s life, a respect for God that pervades all of one’s thoughts and actions. Who is equal to this? None of us, except by the grace of God.)

Are you now willing to take personal responsibility as an elder by God’s grace to oversee the ministry and resources of the church, and to devote yourself to prayer, the ministry of the Word, and the shepherding of God’s flock, in such a way that Desiring God Community Church and the entire Church of Jesus Christ will be blessed, built up, and protected against false teaching and division?

(Here we lay out the responsibilities of the elders: Prayer, the Word, and shepherding/pastoring the flock. As elders fulfill these three responsibilities, the entire Church is blessed.)

Questions to the Congregation:

Do you, the members of Desiring God Community Church, acknowledge and publicly receive this man as an elder – a gift of Christ to this church?

(Who is the Giver of this gift? God Himself! He is the One who raises up elders, not the existing elders and not the church. God equips men and raises them up to serve in this capacity. So praise God for your elders!)

Will you love him and pray for him in his ministry, and work together with him humbly and cheerfully, submitting to him and giving him all due honor and support in the leadership to which the Lord has called him, that by the grace of God you may accomplish the mission of the church, to the glory and honor of God?

(This is a wonderful summary of the responsibility of the congregation to the elders. How we need your prayers; how we covet your love. And note what happens when the congregation rightly loves, prays for, and submits to her elders: The church fulfills its purpose – glorifying God. May God be pleased to glorify Himself through this church as the elders and the congregation work together by His grace.)



Ministry and Results

October 31, 2008

(For a version of this devotion that is easier to print, follow this link.)

How does God use you? What is your personal ministry? Are you excited because you have seen results? Are you discouraged from lack of results?

Consider these words from the Apostle Paul:

Romans 12:3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.

Whatever our personal ministry might be, if we see good results, we are tempted to pat ourselves on the back. We’re tempted to think, “I’m really something, given what I’ve done!” But Paul says that when we think clearly, when we think soberly, we see that our faith is all that matters – our faith in the One with all power, with all authority, who has given us whatever gifts and skills we have, and who Himself accomplishes whatever He wishes through us.

Paul elaborates on this idea in 1 Corinthians, when writing to those who were lining up behind one or another leader:

1 Corinthians 3:5-7 5 What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.

Those God chooses to work through for His good purposes are His servants. The work they accomplish is God’s work, which He assigns. Paul goes so far as to say that the workers are nothing. The work is all of God, from beginning to end. Read more

Why are my Pastors and Elders so Disappointing, and What Should I Do About It?

August 13, 2008

(This is a summary of the last sermon in the six-part series, “God Gave Pastors and Teachers,” preached on July 20, 2008. The audio is available here.)

What do you expect from a pastor?

What do you expect from an elder?

Consider this description of the perfect pastor found in various forms on the internet:

The perfect pastor works every day from 7am until midnight and is a wonderful family man. He is content with a salary of $100 a week, wears stylish clothes, drives a late-model car, buys plenty of books, and donates $100 a week to the church. He is 29 years old and has 30 years pastoral experience. He condemns sin roundly but never hurts anyone’s feelings. He is enthusiastic about missions, but never encourages anyone’s child to live the rest of his life overseas. He makes 5 visits daily to members’ families, visits shut-ins and the hospitalized, spends all his time evangelizing the unchurched, never misses a committee meeting, and is always in his office when anyone calls. That’s the perfect pastor.

People tend to have high expectations of pastors – and they are often disappointed. Some end up hopping from church to church, trying to find someone who fits their ideal. Others work hard to get rid of each inadequate pastor who comes to their church, expecting to be able to find someone better. But then after a few months or a few years, the next man proves just as disappointing.

Surely God doesn’t intend us to church hop, nor does He intend us to trade in our pastors for a newer model every two years.

How should you handle disappointment in pastors and elders? Read more

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