Posts tagged ‘Ministry’

Ministry Myth: Jesus Always Addressed Felt Needs

Jesus Heals ParalyticA while back, I was in a meeting with church leaders from across the country who are devoted to bringing Christ’s gospel to all nations.  In our discussions, one of these leaders pointed out that, as important as church programs and friendly atmospheres may be for engaging people who don’t know Christ, ultimately, what reaches people is the preaching of the gospel.  “It is the Word of God,” he said, “that touches and transforms hearts.”  To this, another person replied, “Yes, the gospel is important.  But we can’t start with the gospel because the gospel alone won’t reach people.  We need to begin with people’s felt needs. Jesus always began with people’s felt needs.”

Well, yes He did…except when He didn’t.

Like the time a paralytic’s friends brought him to Jesus.  Jesus saw that they had faith enough to bring their friend to Him for healing.  But He did not respond to their felt need for healing – at least not right away.  Instead, He said, “Son, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5).  Jesus dealt with this man’s deeper need – his need for forgiveness – before He dealt with this man’s felt need – his need to be healed from his paralysis.

Or how about the time one of Jesus’ dearest friends – a man named Lazarus – fell ill?  His sisters, Mary and Martha, begged Jesus to hurry over and heal him.  But Jesus did not meet their need.  Instead, He intentionally let His dear friend die.  Why? So that Jesus could address humanity’s deeper need – the need to be rescued from death – which far outweighs the felt need of being temporarily healed from a frustrating ailment.  This is why Jesus says to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in Me will never die” (John 11:25-26).

Don’t get me wrong.  I am not saying that Jesus never began by addressing people’s felt needs.  After all, He fed a crowd of 5,000 by miraculously multiplying loaves of bread before declaring Himself to be the bread of life (cf. John 6:1-35).  He began with a felt need for physical food before He moved to a deeper need for heavenly food.  Jesus does sometimes initiate an engagement by addressing people’s felt needs.  However, Jesus does not always begin this way.  Indeed, sometimes, He flat out denies people’s felt needs as He challenges them with their deeper needs.

The problem with felt needs is that, often, felt needs are not helpful needs.  Sometimes, felt needs can even be sinfully selfish needs.  Jesus has little interest in meeting our felt needs for riches, for ease, and even for happiness.  Thus, for us to begin and base our ministries on what people think they need, and then to try to meet those needs before we share Jesus, can devolve, if we are not careful, into merely enabling sin.

I have learned over the years that Jesus has a funny way of resisting the easy ministry models we like to apply to Him.  To those who say that Jesus always begins by addressing people’s felt needs so they will be open to the gospel, I must say, “I think you’re wrong.”  But then again, to those who say that Jesus never begins by addressing people’s felt needs as a foray to share the gospel, I also must say, “I think you’re wrong.”  Jesus does both.

We should too.

Perhaps we would do well to learn to pray a slightly modified version of Reinhold Niebuhr’s famous, though contested, Serenity Prayer as we seek to faithfully reach the world with the gospel: “God, grant me the tenderness to address people’s felt needs at certain times, the boldness to challenge them with their deepest needs at other times, and the wisdom to know when to do which.”

That’s my prayer as I seek to reach out with the gospel.  Will you join me in praying the same?

April 25, 2016 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Reverse-Engineering Your Life

Home FamilyThe other night, I, along with three other pastors, had the pleasure of meeting with a group of seminary students for an informal discussion about life and ministry. I cherished my time with these guys. Even though we were with them for only a short time, it quickly became apparent that they are theologically curious and nuanced and have a deep passion to serve in Christ’s Church as pastors. I am excited to see what the future holds for these men.

Our discussion took on an informal Q&A feel, with seminary students asking any questions they wanted. One question particularly struck me: “What goals do you have for ministry and how do you work backwards from those goals to develop a plan to reach those goals?” This is a great question. It’s a question of reverse-engineering. You start with the end in mind and work back from that to get to that. But this question also took me aback a little bit. Because I do have goals. And I have done my share of reverse-engineering to try to reach these goals. But my goals are not particularly inspiring, captivating, or scintillating. I simply want to love Jesus, love my family, and be a faithful pastor.

I used to have other goals. More exciting goals. Once upon a time, I wanted to build and pastor the largest congregation in my church body. Once upon a time, I wanted to become a renowned and respected spokesperson for orthodox Lutheranism. After all, it seems like on the broader stage of Christian dialogue, Lutherans are all but missing in action. Once upon a time, I wanted to be an esteemed public scholar to whom people would turn for insight. Once upon a time, I wanted to be a pastor who would change the world. Now, I just want to be a person who finishes life well.

As I ultimately wound up telling the student, long before you worry about reverse engineering your goals for ministry, you need to begin by reverse engineering your goals for life and, specifically, for your family. After all, if you change the world as a pastor but forsake your family as a husband or father, you have failed miserably because prior to your vocation as a pastor is your vocation as a husband and father.

The New York Times recently published an article on the state of today’s family. Its title sums up its mood: “Stressed, Tired, Rushed: A Portrait of the Modern Family.” Clair Miller, writing for the Times, explains:

Working parents say they feel stressed, tired, rushed and short on quality time with their children, friends, partners or hobbies, according to a new Pew Research Center survey

Fifty-six percent of all working parents say the balancing act is difficult, and those who do are more likely to say that parenting is tiring and stressful, and less likely to find it always enjoyable and rewarding. For example, half of those who said the work-family balance was not difficult said parenting was enjoyable all the time, compared with 36 percent of those who said balance was difficult.

This is sad, but it is also not surprising. As workplace demands continue to rise and the line between company time and personal time continues to blur, time to invest in family inevitably suffers.

Being a pastor carries with it many demands, which are often difficult – and, quite honestly, sometimes impossible – to juggle well.  There is no doubt about it. But this is why, long before you sketch out goals for ministry, you do need to set out goals for your marriage and your family. Goals of time together as a family. Goals of date nights with your spouse. Goals of daily expressions of love and affection. Before you worry about what is outside your home, tend to who is inside your home.

Jesus once asked, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul” (Mark 8:36)? It may behoove us to ask similarly: What good is it if a man changes the world, yet forfeits those closest to him? This question good not only for pastors, it’s good for everyone.

I hope you’re asking it. The people closest to you will thank you if you are.

November 9, 2015 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Mark Driscoll’s Fruit Punch

Credit: Mars Hill Church

Credit: Mars Hill Church

Jesus once explained how the world could recognize His disciples: “By their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:20). “Fruit,” of course, is what the apostle Paul describes as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). Thus, if others want to know whether or not a person follows Jesus, they need only to look at how he acts.

Of course, there is a little more to it than just this. Because even people who follow Jesus do not always bear the kind of fruit Paul enumerates. Indeed, even Paul himself admits, “What I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:19). Paul’s spiritual fruit is more like a fruit punch – a mix of good fruit and bad fruit, righteous fruit and sinful fruit.

This past week has been a tough one for Mars Hill Church of Seattle. Last Sunday, its pastor, Mark Driscoll, announced to the congregation that he will be taking at least six weeks away from the pulpit, explaining:

Storm clouds seem to be whirling around me more than ever in recent months and I have given much thought and sought much counsel as to why that is and what to do about it …

Some have challenged various aspects of my personality and leadership style, and while some of these challenges seem unfair, I have no problem admitting I am deserving of some of these criticisms based on my own past actions that I am sorry for …

I have requested a break for processing, healing, and growth for a minimum of six weeks while the leadership assigned by our bylaws conduct a thorough examination of accusations against me.[1]

Usually, when a pastor steps away from his pulpit because of some controversy or scandal, it makes no news. But Mars Hill Church is one of America’s most famous congregations. Thus, the controversy surrounding Driscoll has been very public – front page of The New York Times public, in fact. Two days before Driscoll announced his leave of absence, the Times published an exposé:

Mark Driscoll has long been an evangelical bad boy, a gifted orator and charismatic leader who built one of the nation’s most influential megachurches despite, or perhaps fueled by, a foul mouth, a sharp temper and frank talk about sex …

But now Mr. Driscoll’s empire appears to be imploding. He has been accused of creating a culture of fear at the church, of plagiarizing, of inappropriately using church funds and of consolidating power to such a degree that it has become difficult for anyone to challenge or even question him. A flood of former Mars Hill staff members and congregants have come forward, primarily on the Internet but also at a protest in front of the church, to share stories of what they describe as bullying or “spiritual abuse,” and 21 former pastors have filed a formal complaint in which they call for Mr. Driscoll’s removal as the church’s leader.

Mr. Driscoll is rapidly becoming a pariah in the world that once cheered him.[2]

When The New York Times says your empire is “imploding” and calls you a “pariah,” that’s not good. But this is what Mark Driscoll is now facing.

As I’ve been reading people’s comments on Driscoll’s absence from Mars Hill’s pulpit, it’s been fascinating to read both the comments of his fervent supporters as well as those of his vociferous detractors. On Mark Driscoll’s Facebook page, people came out with glowing messages of support and prayer:

BEST BIBLE TEACHER EVER! Love you pastor Mark, thanks for teaching me how to man up and love Jesus and my family! Your sermons helped me through one of the most difficult moments in my life. I thank God for your faithfulness in teaching his word and I can’t wait to see you come back and do more amazing things!

And this:

Pastor Mark, I got baptized a few years back with Mars Hill on Easter and my now husband got baptized this past Easter. What makes it even more amazing is that after he got baptized he turned and baptized his 9 year old son … You have changed us and my marriage is truly saved by the grace of God but we wouldn’t have gotten here if it wasn’t for your teachings.[3]

On a blog critical of Mark Driscoll, readers can be treated to comments like this:

Driscoll needs to step down for good, not for 6 weeks. The man is dangerous. He has fired high ranking members of his staff on the spot, and created a culture of spiritual abuse disguised as “church discipline.” He is mean, he has publicly insulted “effeminate worship leaders” and implied Ted Haggard’s homosexuality
was the result of “wives who let themselves go,” to name but a few of many highlights.

And this:

[Mark] has repeatedly found himself embroiled in accusations of abuse, stealing others intellectual property, fleecing his church to pay for his best seller status, fleecing his church with his fake global fund … He has lived more as a son of the devil than the son of GOD.[4]

There doesn’t seem to be a lot of middle ground when it comes to opinions about Mark Driscoll. Even his apology has gotten mixed reviews. Some people believe Driscoll has sincerely repented of his sin and is the best man to lead Mars Hill Church while others doubt Mark’s sincerity. One person commented, “I listened to Mark’s ‘apology’ and I didn’t see any repentance.”[5]

So what are we to make of all this?

In a sentence, I would say: Mark Driscoll has made fruit punch. Like the apostle Paul, Mark has born both good fruit and bad fruit, righteous fruit and sinful fruit. And whether or not you applaud or denounce him has to do with what fruit of his you are looking at. To only applaud his good fruit while ignoring his bad is to make an idol out of him. Only Jesus bears only good fruit. But to only denounce his bad fruit while overlooking his good is to stand in self-righteous condemnation of him. We must never forget that it’s not only Mark Driscoll who makes fruit punch. We do too.

So from one fruit-punch-making pastor to another I say, “Mark, I’m praying for you. And, I’m praying that the team of overseers who are reviewing the charges against you make a decision that is best for you, for Mars Hill, and for the glory of God’s Kingdom.” Then, for all Christians who make fruit punch – and we all do – I am also praying. I am praying that we would continue to be “transformed into [the Lord’s] likeness with ever-increasing glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18) until our fruit punch becomes the Spirit’s pure fruit in heaven.

_______________________________________

[1] Mark Driscoll, “An Update From Pastor Mark,” marshill.com (8.24.2014).

[2] Michael Paulson, “A Brash Style That Filled Pews, Until Followers Had Their Fill,” The New York Times (8.22.2014).

[3] facebook.com/pastormark

[4] Warren Throckmorton, “Announcement: Mark Driscoll Will Take At Least Six Weeks Off,” patheos.com (8.24.2014).

[5] Celeste Gracey, “Forgiving My Pastor, Mark Driscoll,” Christianity Today (August 2014).

September 1, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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