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On The Different Response Of The Church To The Challenges Of Nominalism And Secularism (via Rory Shiner at The Gospel Coalition Australia)

A thoughtful piece by Rory Shiner about the differences between nominalism and secularism and how the worshipping church responds differently to each.
The observation that nominalism (people who identify as Christian without meaningfully following Jesus, while following a form of traditional church observance) and secularism (people who don’t identify as Christian or followers of Jesus, while having no knowledge of the Gospel or the actions of the church) are quite different and require nuanced expressions of church life and behaviour to help people understand the Gospel and where they are in relation to Jesus +gasp+ is helpful in thinking about church corporate practice.

Part of Shiner’s article:

The post-war generation was fighting a crucial battle. They saw the threat nominalism posed to the gospel.
But today, it would not occur to the average younger Christian that reciting the Lord’s Prayer might be inauthentic, precisely because no one they know outside the church knows the Lord’s Prayer at all. Going to church in a building that looks like a church doesn’t illicit a PTSD response in the under-40s. They find it at least neutral, maybe even attractive. They are not shadow boxing with nominalism. In fact, they’ve often never met a person who is nominal. By the time you’ve bothered to say you’re a Christian in this culture, chances are you are serious about being on Team Jesus.
Currently, the great threat to the gospel is not nominalism, but secularism.
The fact that the wider culture is in some ways interested in Christian practices is fascinating. It’s a vote against the listlessness, the disorder, the aimlessness, and the sheer loneliness of secularism.
In 1950s Australia, Christianity gave our culture a rhythm of work and rest. We had a universally observed Sunday, an expectation of shared family meals, and a deep sense of connection with the local neighbourhood or parish. Now we live in a world of 24-hour shopping. Sunday looks suspiciously like Every Other Day. Secular life is disordered life. You can be watching cat videos at 2pm on a Monday in your office, and replying work emails from the bath at 10pm on a Saturday.
Productivity literature is now full of advice that sounds suspiciously Sabbatarian. Young urbanities choose walkable neighbourhoods. They want to know their locality, buy from the same shop, know the name of the grocer, and so on. My grandma would find it all strangely familiar.
Or consider the rise of atheist churches in London. Young, secular Londoners gathering in churches to sing bad John Lennon songs and share fellowship. They have turned on its head our assumption that people like Jesus, they just don’t like the church. It would seem the other way around. They like church, they just don’t like Jesus.

Read the whole post at Gospel Coalition Australia.


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Killing The Many Sins Of Ministry (via Peter Adam)

Peter Adam points out that being in pastoral ministry is not being in an environment that automatically promotes growth in Godliness and firewalls the pastor from sin.
The opposite is true.
Pastoral ministry provides a rich environment of stumbling blocks through which temptation yield the fruit of besetting sin.
Pastors can learn and those who pray for pastors can be informed of the spiritual warfare your prayers sustain your pastor through:
From Adam’s article:

People sometimes say to me, ‘it must be wonderful to do Christian ministry as your job, because it must keep you free of sin.’
I reply, ‘actually, it increases temptation and opportunity for sin, and opens up many more possible sins to commit. It also increases responsibility not to sin, because we who teach will be judged with greater strictness’ (James 3:1)!
If you found that unconvincing, you might like to think on the fact that many of our strengths and gifts carry with them potential sins.

Read the whole post at Gospel Coalition Australia.


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On The Difference Between Ministry Training And Pastoral Ministry (via Rory Shiner)

Rory Shiner writes a perceptive article about an aspect of ministry that I hadn’t considered, but which makes sense.
He poses the idea that the types of activity and attitudes which are great preparation for pastoral ministry differ from the activity and attitudes that usually constitute pastoral ministry.
The experience of that difference is not because something is wrong, but because both are distinct, yet beneficial, aspects of activity.
From Shiner:

Let me explain. In a program like the (fabulous) Ministry Training Strategy (MTS) you spend two years working in a live ministry context, learning the ropes of gospel work. If it’s done right, this will involve huge amounts of time reading the Bible with both Christians and non-Christians. It will mean organising talks. And camps. And conferences. It will mean running teams; overseeing evangelistic events; fielding ministry-related administration; preparing talk, Bible studies and seminars. By the end you’ll have read through Colossians with more people that you can remember. You’ll have talked to umpteen guys about their struggle with internet porn. You’ll have experienced the joys and frustrations of working with volunteer teams. You’ll have talked patiently through the problem of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility so many times you could do it in your sleep.
Then you become a ministry leader.
Now, your timetable looks very different. You start to have more governance meetings. You are involved in less acute and more chronic pastoral situations. Less “I’ve just broken up with my boyfriend and it hurts like mad”, and more “we’ve been working on our marriage for ten years and it just won’t fix” kind of stuff. You need more time to prepare teaching. You need to read deeply and widely. Many of your meetings are with senior leaders. Indeed, you find yourself at either end of the bell-curve, meeting either with very gifted and strong leaders, or with people facing complex and intractable problems on the other side. You don’t get much time in the middle. You feel like you are “away from the coal-face” of ministry.
That’s the observation. Here’s the application: I think that shape is basically right in both cases. We should embrace it, not fight it.

Read the rest at Gospel Coalition Australia.


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The Coming King And The Dead Man Riding (via Simon Camilleri)

A matter of perspective: the crowd thought they saw a king coming in triumph, when what they saw a a king coming in sacrifice; and yet in the sacrifice was the triumph they needed.
Which is helpful to remember as we prepare for Easter – Jesus is the Saviour we need, not the one our desires demand.
From Simon Camilleri at Gospel Coalition Australia.

…the crowds were right! They were right to praise Jesus as king – for that is who he is. They were right to say “Hosanna!” which means “Lord, save us” – for that is what he came to do. They were right to expect that he had come to Jerusalem to establish God’s kingdom and reconcile people to God. They were simply wrong in how they expected he would do it.
The story finishes with the disciples being confused: “His disciples did not understand these things at first.” And I don’t blame them. Jesus was the king, but he came to Jerusalem on a donkey. Jesus was supposed to be the Messiah, but he talked about dying. How did it all fit together?
Well, it then tells us: “but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him.” It’s only after Jesus was glorified in his death and resurrection (John 12:23 & 17:1) that the disciples remembered the Old Testament prophecies like the one from Zechariah and saw how the puzzle pieces all fit together.
Fortunately, we live in the time after Jesus has been glorified. And every Easter we can remember the great work on the cross he did to die for sinners like you and me.

source


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Church With The Lights On (via Murray Campbell)

Murray Campbell provides an encouraging report about a gathering of people from different churches in Melbourne.
As part of that he writes of his appreciation for speaker Mark Dever asking that the lights in the auditorium be turned up.
The practice has crept into Christian gatherings with increasing frequency and serves to decrease the corporate and participatory nature of worship and emphasise a personal and observational based experience.
From Campbell:

The venue hosts (to whom we are greatly thankful for their generosity and hospitality), were setting up the auditorium’s lighting and sound when Mark requested that the lights be turned up. Why? Christian ministry isn’t a show with the spotlight shining on the preacher and where he can’t see the faces of the congregation/audience. Christian ministry, including the public teaching of God’s word, is not an exercise of spiritual manipulation or creating chasms between the ‘expert’ preacher and the congregation. Mark wanted to see and engage with the people present. For example, during question time, he would ask for peoples’ names and the church they belong too.
Observing this short interaction just prior to the event beginning reminded me of this salient point; ministry isn’t performance. It isn’t about the preacher or whoever is standing on the stage. Sometimes we complicate ministry by adding unnecessary elements which can create unhelpful theological and pastoral barriers. In public teaching or certainly for Sunday church, are we relying upon or utilising special effects in order to create the moment or to elucidate a response from the congregation? Does our architecture, our stage managing, and our use of multimedia support our ecclesiology and our trust in the power of the Gospel and the sufficiency of Scripture, or are we undermining these things? The topic of church music came up during question time: Does our music encourage the saints to sing, to encourage each other and to glorify God, or are they passive bystanders watching, admiring or criticising the band? Does the band function as an edifying accompaniment or as the main act? The point is so simple and yet we sometimes miss it. I am less seeking to answer these questions here, but to raise them for others to wrestle with them in their own context.

source


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The Unique Selling Proposition (USP) Of Christianity (via Gary Millar at Gospel Coalition Australia)

Gary Millar reflects that in contemporary culture, making the idea that a local church is ‘just like you’ as central to its efforts to reach out into the community is no longer effective.
His conclusion:

Ultimately, the gospel itself is the Unique Selling Proposition (USP) of Christianity. God in Christ has made it possible through Jesus’ death and resurrection for people like us to know and enjoy him forever, as part of his family. I suspect that we need to throw ourselves into, not just proclaiming the gospel, but also demonstrating its implications with fresh enthusiasm. Because of the gospel, church really is different kind of community. Through the gospel, we have been reborn into a community marked by love, joy, peace and hope. The gospel announces that in Christ we really aren’t just like everyone else, but have been brought from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. Perhaps it’s time to start proclaiming that with a renewed confidence. Because that really does set us apart from the ‘competition’.

Read the whole post at Gospel Coalition Australia.


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Finding Joy In The Giver, Rather Than The Gift (via Emily Cobb at Gospel Coalition Australia)

Christians who have been watching the Netflix show Tidying Up with Marie Kondo will have found much that is helpful in culture that seems to generate clutter.
There will have been some moments, statements and actions that will have struck disciples of Jesus as more than oddly idiosyncratic, but rather somewhat disquieting.
At Gospel Coalition Australia, Emily Cobb explains the world-view underpinnings of KonMari and why, though the outcomes may seem to harmonise with some Christian values, the philosophy it espouses stops short of the values that Christians live by.
From the post:

As I tuned in to the peaceful show of Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, I was taken aback with Kondo’s need to introduce herself to the house, and her instruction to thank the clothes that don’t bring joy. What is she doing? On one level, it seems like a lovely thing—one tidying up disciple labeled it as simply ‘being grateful’. Yet thanking inanimate objects such as a brick and mortar home, or a cotton blouse should cause us to pause and consider what is going on. While the show hasn’t explicitly stated any religious ties (aside from the Christian tidying-up disciples who say grace and thank God), this practice of thanking objects can be tied to the traditional Japanese religion of Shinto. In Shintoism, there is a belief that inanimate objects can actually possess a spirit or kami—a godlike essence or energy that needs to be respected. This reverence for the energy in objects is doing exactly what Romans 1:25 proclaims: worshipping the creation rather the Creator. Similarly, in materialism we place our hope and delight in an item, glorifying and idolising our purchase. While the spiritual significance may not be as abundantly clear as in Shintoism, the spiritual reality is almost identical. As Christians, we need to be grateful to the Giver, not the given. Worshipping and thanking God who provided the home or the clothes, rather than the objects themselves.

Read the whole post at Gospel Coalition Australia.