Archives For humility

I have been listening (via Audible) and reading again through Robert Coleman’s classic book, The Master Plan of Evangelism. It has been over a decade since I last read it, and I am finding more and more jewels than before (hopefully a sign of discernment). This morning, I came across a profound observation from the ministry and method of Jesus in shaping and forming his disciples. In his chapter on “Supervision,” Coleman writes:

Here is on-the-job training at its best. Jesus would let his followers have some experience or make some observation of their own, and then he would use this as a starting point to teach a lesson on discipleship. The fact that they tried to do his work, even though they have failed at it, gave them greater awareness of their deficiencies, and hence they were more disposed to the Master’s correction. Moreover, their encounter with life situations enabled Jesus to pinpoint his teachings on specific needs and to spell it out in the concrete terms of practical experience. We always appreciate an education more after we have had the opportunity to apply what we have learned (96).

Jesus’ method of instruction and training was intensely practical. He employed his disciples in the work, and quite often they failed in it or did not understand the life Jesus was calling them to embrace. Having been confronted with repeated failure and disappointment, the disciples learned humility and greater dependence upon their Master. Being conformed into the image of Jesus meant a constant chipping away at their lives so their thoughts, desires, and actions were brought into complete submission to the way and will of their Master.

I find this method of Jesus rather foreign to current methods of training and discipleship today.

For example, when someone trained for leadership in the local church is told they should go to Bible college or seminary, they are brought into an environment of the classroom where they gain a considerable amount of knowledge. But where is the intensely practical training? Where is the opportunity to fail? Where is the molding and shaping of everyday life where they model their teacher? When these are absent, what we find is disciples to correcting others rather than being corrected by their Master. Because they know more, the “practical application” is exercising that knowledge to make a point, win an argument, or demonstrate their superior intellect – all manifestations of spiritual pride.

One of the reasons we do not have a movement of disciple-making in America is because we have bought into methods of training different from our Master. We are setting ourselves up for failure, and when we wonder why evangelism and disciple-making are waning, we ask those in the classroom to hold a conference or present a lecture on evangelism and disciple-making.

What we need are a bunch of failures who have stubbornly continued in deeper and deeper levels of humility to follow Jesus in his ways of loving people and sharing the gospel in everyday life. We need practitioners who view the front yard as their classroom, the neighbors as their disciples, and their community as their mission field. We need people who have felt the cuts and bruises of daily conformity to the ways of Jesus as their pursue the kingdom of God and pray it down in their hearts.

Where are these people today?

We need them.

Share Button

Own Your Weaknesses

Tim Brister —  August 10, 2009 — Leave a comment

During our evening service yesterday, Tom Ascol shared with the Grace family his reflections over the past 20+ years, addressing the strengths, weaknesses, and prospects for the future.  What struck me in particular was the sincerity and humility of heart exhibited in addressing the weaknesses where Tom confessed his fingerprints over the areas where the church needed to be strengthened (he did not mention, however, the fact of his fingerprints over the areas where the church is strong–which are many).  It is tempting to give a superficial examination of the areas where you are weak and consequently give an equally superficial expression of repentance by simply admitting their existence and not following through with genuine change.

Working with Tom as a fellow pastor has been an education like none other, including the fact that he is the first pastor I have known to address areas where we are we and call us to repentance–himself leading the way.  Sadly in many cases (in my past experience) the finger is pointed at other people in accusation and self-righteousness, and yet the gospel requires that we point the finger at ourselves and expose the areas where we need to repent, mature, and reflect the character of Christ more faithfully.

The prospects of the future are tied both to how we humbly and gratefully handle our strengths and how honestly and repentantly addresses our weaknesses.  A failure to own our weaknesses is a failure to recognize our need for God’s grace in our lives on a continual basis.  It is in weakness that both God’s power is made perfect and His grace is found to be sufficient (2 Cor. 12:9).  The strength of the church is not found in focusing on its strengths but by focusing on its weaknesses so as to experiencing God’s grace and power.  We are to “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 2:1) because it is “by the grace of God that we are what we are” (1 Cor. 15:10).

I have been challenged afresh to examine myself not with a cosmetic approach but one of a heart surgeon.  Our Lord is merciful to hear the cries of the humble and contrite of heart and display His mighty strength in weakness.  May we own them in gospel humility that God might own our efforts to bring Him great glory.

Share Button

“[M]y heart was not right towards my brother in Christ. I should have been more gracious, charitable and balanced in my words when commenting about his ministry in the Lord. In my zeal to champion reformed biblical theology which I deeply believe, I was blinded to the prideful log in my own eye while blogging about the speck in my brother’s eye. For this, I sincerely ask the readers of this blog and those associated with Mark and Mars Hill Church to please forgive me. I have already asked this of Mark privately and he has been most kind to extend to me a heart of mercy. It is my desire to always speak the truth in love and to not carelessly amputate another in that process.”

– Steve Camp [Source]

Thank you, Steve, for displaying gospel humility and seeking to promote the unity for which Christ prayed and died.  May the kingdom of Christ advance as we channel our energies on proclaiming, commending, and defending the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ.

Share Button

The following posts were made available at Sowing Grace this past week:

Sunday: Paul’s Prayer to the Ephesian Church
Monday: Monday Is for Membership: Biblical Theologian, Part 1
Tuesday: Developing Missional Patterns (Cultivating Community Contacts, Part 4)
Wednesday: Leadership in the Early Church (study in Acts)
Thursday: Greatness Redefined (chapter 3)
Friday: Fuel Friday: Church Planting Novice (Jonathan Dodson)
Saturday: Mark Dever on Three Things for Church Planters

You can subscribe to the Sowing Grace feed or check out the site for more information and upcoming posts.

Share Button

Wellum Says It Well

Tim Brister —  May 6, 2008 — 4 Comments

Kirk Wellum, a professor at Toronto Baptist Seminary, has written an excellent review/response to Collin Hansen’s book, Young, Restless, Reformed. Over the past month or so, I have read dozens of reviews and responses from Hansen’s book, but I have to say that I believe this is the best one yet. In this response, Wellum gives five areas where we need caution and provides us with wise words for our consideration. While I wanted to simply give you the five points in bullet form, I found his subsequent commentary quite good as well, so I decided to include it here. Wellum writes,

First, those who are young, restless and reformed must not become too self-conscious.

This is always a danger when the media picks up the story. More important than the headlines is our loyalty and commitment to Jesus Christ. If we start to read and believe our own press-clippings we are finished before we start. The world does not need another lobby group or evangelical Christian faction. What it needs are authentic followers of Jesus who keep their eyes on the master and are deaf and blind to the recognition of others. Self-consciousness leads to pride of reputation which short circuits God’s blessing.

Second, we (and I include myself in all of these things) must avoid a triumphalistic attitude.

It is good to gather in the name of the Lord Jesus and to give him praise, but as fallen creatures who are imperfectly sanctified it is so easy for our praise of Jesus to morph into praise for our group and then for us to feel superior to others who do not see what we see. The gospel of God’s grace is deeply humbling. It reminds us that we are debtors to mercy alone. But even here we can be proud of our humility, and we can glory in the repetition of our unworthiness in such a way that it comes across as arrogant and self-righteous. One mark of true humility is an appropriate silence in the presence of God and a reticence to speak about ourselves to others. Ironically too much talk of humility smacks of deeply seated “Aren’t I something! Look at me!”

Third, we must put our hope in God and not in our theological systems.

It is easy to criticize others for trusting in their programs and techniques to build their churches and evangelize the lost and then turn around and do the same thing in a different way. I have seen people adopt reformed theology, just like people adopt the tenents of the church growth movement or the emergent church, because they believe that if they get their theology right that will guarantee revival and blessing. However, it is not that simple as a survey of church history will reveal. God is sovereign and he reserves the right to use whom he will to accomplish his purposes. Theological precision is important but there are many times when God has used those whose with imprecise theology in powerful ways. Our relationship with God is first and foremost. Dotting all our theological ‘i’s’ and crossing all our theological ‘t’s’ will not guarantee revival, nor will setting up our churches according to the regulative principle, etc. as important as these might be in the grand scheme of things.

Fourth, with regard to the way we structure our churches we need to give people some breathing room.

The Bible has much to say about the worship of God and it clearly outlines various things (like, prayer, the reading of scripture, the preaching of the word) which should be part of Christian worship. But at the same time it does not give us an ‘order of service’ nor is it so explicit that there is only one right way of worshiping the Lord. In the 70’s and 80’s there were too many fruitless discussions and more and more extreme positions taken with regard to ‘reformed’ worship. Generally, I think people had the best of intentions, but they got carried away by their own logic and needlessly restricted the freedom we have in Christ to creatively use our gifts and abilities within the overall boundaries of God’s word.

Fifth, we need to work and pray when it comes to evangelism.

Although there are many who have been reached for the Lord Jesus by those committed to reformed theology, there is more to be done. Too many in our “church plants” come from other churches rather than from the world. Even though there is definitely a place for ministering to and instructing those who are not being fed elsewhere, our primary concern should be to take the gospel to those who have never heard it before. One reason, from a human standpoint, that we have not been as effective as we should be is that we forget how to talk to those outside our circles and we are not meaningfully involved in their lives. If we are ‘restless’ is should be to see more people won to the Lord and not just to our theological position, or our particular style of worship, or pastoral ministry.

In conclusion, Wellum offers a sobering reminder:

If we combine our zeal for the word with a passionate love for God and a lost world then great opportunities lie ahead. But if our zeal turns inward and we start judging and dividing along party lines as if we alone have the truth, God will raise up help from somewhere else, as he has done many times before.

Well said, Dr. Wellum, well said!

Share Button

Cotton Mather, writing about the sin of young ministers, shared his own personal experience with the peril of spiritual pride.

“I found, that, when I met with enlargement in prayer or preaching, or answered a question readily and suitably, I was apt to applaud myself in my own mind. I affected pre-eminence above what belonged to my age or worth. I therefore endeavored to take a view of my pride–as the very image of the Devil, contrary to the grace and image of Christ–as an offence against God, and grieving of his Spirit–as the most unreasonable folly and madness for one, who had nothing singularly excellent, and who had a nature so corrupt–as infinitely dangerous, and ready to provoke God to deprive me of my capacities and opportunities. I therefore resolved to carry my distempered heart to be cured by Jesus Christ, that all-sufficient Physician-to watch against my pride–to study much the nature and aggravations of it, and the excellence of the contrary grace.”

It has been almost a month since I hastily jumped into the fray to “ask anything” with a question that had been burning on my mind for a long time. I feel that I have sufficiently explained the rationale behind the question and posited it with all sincerity and respect. I quickly found out, however, that the very presence of such a question would not be well-received by some. What I did not imagine, however, is that it would denigrate to questioning people’s salvation and impugning people’s motives. The discussion has continued to grieve me as it has turned away from the question itself to the ones asking and (presumably) answering the question on other blogs.

Continue Reading…

Share Button

Topic: Humility, depravity

Oh! to be little in our eyes! This is the ground-work of every grace; this leads to a continual dependence upon the Lord Jesus; this is the spirit which He has promised to bless; this conciliates us good-will and acceptance amongst men; for he that abaseth himself is sure to be honoured. And that this temper is so hard to attain and preserve, is a striking proof of our depravity–for are we not sinners? Were we not rebels and enemies before we knew the gospel; and have we not been unfaithful, backsliding, and unprofitable ever since? Are we not redeemed by the blood of Jesus? and can we stand a single moment except He upholds us? Have we any thing which we have not received? or have we received any thing which we have not abused? Why then is dust and ashes proud?”

John Newton, to Rev. Thomas Jones (January 7, 1767)

Share Button