John Wesley Asks: Who is a Gospel Minister? #UMC

 

The answer comes in his essay: “Thoughts Concerning Gospel Ministers”:

Who is a Gospel Minister, in the full, scriptural sense of the word? He, and he alone, of whatever denomination, that does declare the whole counsel of God; that does preach the whole gospel, even justification and sanctification, preparatory to glory. He that does not put asunder what God has joined, but publishes alike, “Christ dying for us, and Christ living in us”. He that constantly applies all this to the hearts of the hearers, being willing to spend and be spent for them; having himself the mind which was in Christ, and steadily walking as Christ also walked; he, and he alone, can with propriety be termed a Gospel Minister.

Let it be particularly observed, if the gospel be “glad tidings of great salvation which shall be to all people”, then those are, in the full sense, Gospel Ministers who proclaim the “great salvation”; that is, salvation from all (both inward and outward) sin, into ” all the mind that was in Christ Jesus”; and likewise proclaim offers of this salvation to every child of man. This honorable title is therefore vilely prostituted, when it is given to any but those who testify “that God willeth all men to be saved”, and “to be perfect as their Father which is in heaven is perfect”.

Keep Up the Good Work: Criminal Mercy in South Florida

The governing authorities are the servants of God to uphold what is good and right. But sometimes the servants get wrong. Bad wrong. Crazy bad wrong. When that happens the servants need to be reminded who they serve and what their role is. Such is the case in Ft. Lauderdale where three people have been arrested for feeding homeless people. Yes, you read that correctly. Apparently, one of the arresting officers instructed the culprit to “drop that plate right now.” Yes, drop the plate and move away slowly…with your hands up! You have the right to remain silent.
How many passages of scripture flood to mind after the reading of this headline:

“I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink…just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it unto me. And these will go away into eternal punishment.” -Jesus, Matthew 25:42,45-46

“In all this I have given you an example that by such work we must support the weak.” -Paul, Acts 20:35

“When you give a banquet, invite the poor.” -Jesus, Luke 14:13

“They asked only one thing, that we remember the poor, which is actually what I was eager to do.” -Paul, Galatians 2:10

“Has God not chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom…But you have dishonored the poor.” -James 2:6

“If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your own community…do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be.” -Deuteronomy 15:7-8

I could go on. There are many, many others, not to mention the texts that curse those who oppress the poor. That’s right, curse. The imperative to care for the poor is a chorus that rings throughout scripture. It cannot be missed by anyone reading with their eyes open. What is astounding is that this sort of tomfoolery must actually be named for what it is. Any clear-minded person should see the savagery in criminalizing ministries of mercy with the impoverished. Talk about having it backwards. 
In this case, Mr. Abbot and the pastors who have been arrested are the ones who have it right. And they should take comfort in the promise of Jesus, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10). Well done, fellas, keep up the good work.
Photo credit: Associated Press

Who are you in the heavenly realm? (@ministrymatters)

I enjoyed the opportunity to participate in the most recent edition of the Converge Podcast at Ministry Matters with Shane Raynor, Grace Biskie, and David Dorn. The podcast is a companion resource to Shane’s four week Bible study on Who You Are in Christ, which is part of the Converge Bible Studies series. Here’s the video in which we discuss a variety of topics including grace, access to God, and the blood of Christ.

Catching a Fresh Vision of Faith

You no longer have to go to church to hear about faith. We are constantly surrounded with talk of faith and belief. From Hollywood to popular music; professional sports to political campaigns; the language of faith is everywhere. And in each context, it seems to take on a new meaning. The problem, though, is that a word that can mean anything usually ends up meaning nothing. More importantly, when that happens to a word that comes to us from the heart of the gospel, it is of the greatest importance for the church to reclaim her language by recapturing and defining her words. So, in light of the cultural watering-down of the language of faith, I’d like to offer four reflections on the nature of faith: what it is and what it isn’t.

Read the rest of this post offering four brief reflections on faith at Seedbed.
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Image: Janaka Dharmasena/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A Novel Idea?

From the opening chapter of Tom Oden’s book, After Modernity…What? Agenda for Theology:
What the ancient church teachers least wished for a theology was that it would be “fresh” or “self-expressive” or an embellishment of purely private inspirations, as if these might stand as some decisive improvement” on the apostolic teaching.”
Yet from the first day I ever thought of becoming a theologian I have been earnestly taught and admonished to “think creatively” so as to make “some new contribution” to theology. Nothing at Yale was drummed into my head more firmly than that the theology I would seek would be my own, and my uniqueness would imprint it. So you can imagine that it took no small effort on my part to resist the repeated reinforcements of my best education in order to overcome the constant temptation to novelty. And you can understand how relieved I was to see such an intriguing epitaph prefigured in a dream, one that at last seems to be coming true on these pages – “to make no new contribution to theology” – Laus Deo (22).
It would seem, according to Oden, that the thing most needed by present-day theological studies is a revival of interest in the ancient and historic teaching of the Christian faith. Oden is certainly right that the task of passing on what has been handed down goes against the grain of contemporary theological studies where every graduate student is charged with making an “original contribution to knowledge” in his or her specialized discipline. My question is this: is there any wisdom for the practice of ministry in this statement from Oden? Where is the balance between finding new and effective ways to reach new people and ensuring the preservation of what we have received?

Young Pastors’ Network Reflections: Strategic Planning

I have the privilege this year of being among 44 young United Methodist pastors being mentored by Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter as a part of the Young Pastors’ Network 2011. YPN is a “leadership development school” that includes six days together at key events and ongoing interaction through the use of social media. Last week we all met at Ginghamsburg Church for three intensive days of learning and mentoring. It was like drinking from Niagara; I’m continuing now to reflect on and process the things I learned.
One topic we covered that made a significant impact on my thinking was strategic planning. I was struck by the way in which Hamilton and Slaughter both developed very specific plans, though often quite different plans, to implement their respective visions. Fruitful ministry does not just happen; it is the result of planning and implementation.
After some ongoing reflection, the thing that strikes me is that I didn’t have a class on strategic planning in seminary. I didn’t learn how to build a comprehensive strategy that would bring cohesion to the mission and ministry of the local church. I think seminaries are attempting to compensate for this lack with courses on Christian leadership, but those classes cover a range of topics related to leadership. They do not necessarily put strategic ministry planning in the core of the basic divinity degree.
Now let me be clear. I’m not bashing seminary here. My time at Asbury Theological Seminary was a hugely important part of my ministerial training, and I look that time with fondness and appreciation for professors who made a significant investment in me both inside and outside the walls of the classroom. And every pastor has the responsibility of continued learning after graduate school in order to cultivate continuing effectiveness. 
I’m wondering, however, whether this is a place where seminaries need to find creative ways of providing students with training for developing and implementing a strategic plan for the local church.
I also wonder if this is something that even can be accomplished in the typical way we’ve done seminary. By virtue of their vocation, many (if not most) seminary professors have not been pastors in local churches where they’ve had to develop and implement a long-term plan for carrying out the mission of the church. Again, the goal here is not to be overly critical but to consider whether this is a limitation of the traditional way we’ve trained pastors.
So, what’s the solution? Well, Hamilton and Slaughter are making a contribution by gathering young pastors together to teach them the basics of  strategic planning. Beyond that, perhaps seminaries need to look at partnering with local pastors and churches who have demonstrated that they can plan and implement effectively to take a vital role in the training of upcoming clergy. I think some schools and churches are already engaged in such partnerships, but I also think that we need to find ways to make these partnerships the norm rather than the exception.
I’d like to learn from you on this. Pastors, do you have a strategic plan for the church you serve? Where did you learn how to create such a plan? Has it been fruitful? What resources did you use? Can you recommend any helpful books?
Laypersons, do you know whether your church has such a plan? If so, what is your role in implementing the plan? Has the leadership of your church been effective in communicating the plan?