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What Does it Mean to Have a Pastor’s Heart? (Part 3)

Mar. 4, 2015By: Evan Burns

13c52f7a2d2b5536c7a83a67f807fdb3In Mark’s gospel Jesus’ heart to shepherd the sheep was principally expressed in the proclamation of the gospel, the announcing of the kingdom, and the call for repentance and faith (1:15).  Jesus unquestionably revealed His heart in exorcising demons and healing the suffering out of compassion (1:41; 9:22); nevertheless, the main reason for such miracles was that they demonstrated His unique identity and bore witness to His exclusive authority (2:1-12).  The text never states that Jesus ministered to people for the select purpose of meeting physical needs, healing, or exorcism, though He certainly worked such miracles with compassion.  His heart chiefly resolved to preach (1:38).  Even the miracle of feeding the five thousand was an offshoot of his compassion, not the objective of his compassion.  “When He went ashore He saw a great crowd, and He had compassion of them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.  And He began to teach them many things” (6:34).  

His stated resolutions in Mark disclose His heart for His sheep, of which all His under-shepherds ought to take note:  He came to preach (1:38).  He came to call sinners (2:17).  He came to give His life as a ransom for many (10:45).  Teaching was the center of His shepherding, and His unique identity was the center of His teaching.  And the cross was the illuminating center of His identity.  Jesus’ heart did not bleed with desire to serve any and every need.  The book What is the Mission of the Church? by Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert has been very helpful in reflecting on this theme.  They make a strong case that ultimately Jesus’ heart was “the proclamation of the gospel through teaching, the corroboration of the gospel through signs and wonders, and the accomplishment of the gospel in death and resurrection” (57).

As His under-shepherds, we will never imitate Christ’s mission, but we must imitate His heart in bearing witness to what He has already done.  As His shepherds, we are not new incarnations of Him to people (contrary to trendy jargon from contemporary ministry philosophy); we are just the true Shepherd’s representative spokesmen, compassionately teaching the flock where to find Living Water, graciously proclaiming His good news, and affectionately imploring lost sheep to be reconciled to God (Jn 21:15-19; 2 Cor 5:20).  This is how the Chief Shepherd expresses His heart through His under-shepherds.  The Father’s heart desired to send the true Shepherd to a scattered flock so that by believing in His name the flock of God might find life (Jn 1:12).  The Chief Shepherd sent His under-shepherds with the same heart to bear witness to the One who is the way, the truth, and the life (Jn 14:6; 21:15-19).  Shepherding is truth-love work; truth without love is deadening hypocrisy, and love without truth is shallow sentimentality.  Competence and character are foundational for shepherding and leading as Jesus would.  Competence and character are best friends, and the work of shepherding malfunctions if one is substituted for the other.  

"Competence and character are best friends, and the work of shepherding malfunctions if one is substituted for the other." - Tweet this

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What Does it Mean to Have a Pastor’s Heart? (Part 2)

Mar. 3, 2015By: Evan Burns

Pastor-preaching-mediumUnderstanding the heart of the true Shepherd is necessary for knowing how to emulate His model to the flock under one’s care. It would be easy to describe what we ourselves think a pastor’s heart should be like based on our current or previous pastors, church-growth gurus, and our own experience and personality; however, seeing the heart of the true Pastor in the Bible and imitating Him is our authoritative model. 

Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (Jn 10:11).  Essentially, the heart of a shepherd is that of a bondservant.  Although, it can be misleading to argue that Jesus’ heart was one solely of service.  It is not a problem if we mean what Mark 10:45 meant by service, in that Jesus “came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many”.  It is true that Jesus’ heart of compassion for His people was often demonstrated in meeting physical needs, like feeding hungry people and healing demonized people.  However, it is misleading to contend that Jesus’ heart in ministry was primarily to serve the felt-needs of everyone—always available to counsel, accepting every party invitation, and giving ample consolation to every hurting person. 

"It is misleading to contend that Jesus’ heart in ministry was primarily to serve the felt-needs of everyone" - Tweet this

The over-active ministries of some pastors demonstrate their heart’s passion is to be always available to hear complaints, ready to counsel anyone at any time, willing to frequently hang out with the sheep, and to present enjoyable dynamic sermons that the sheep want to hear.  Such a busybody-heart can actually demonstrate that such an under-shepherd may have a Messiah-complex, which shows his heart is mainly driven by pride, believing he can “do it all”, and not by submission to the Chief Shepherd’s commands. 

This may sound heartless and unspiritual, but it is true: it simply was not Jesus’ heart passion to heal all the sick and meet all the demands of the needy, though He cared more for them than any other.  His heart’s desire was to fulfill what the Father sent Him to do: to save His people from damnation (Jn 3:17), that He would be lifted up on a cross so that believers could have eternal life (Jn 3:14-15).  The Father sent Him so that whoever feeds on Him would live forever (Jn 6:57-58).  Jesus’ chief passion as a Shepherd was eternal and spiritual in nature, though He certainly cared for the physical and emotional pangs of the masses. 

 

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What Does it Mean to Have a Pastor’s Heart? (Part 1)

Mar. 2, 2015By: Evan Burns

Jesus-Good-Shepherd-guides-me-2In recent months, I have meditated deeply on what it means to have a pastor’s heart.  Ultimately, TLI seeks to train biblical leaders, and a synonymous description of leaders in the Bible is “pastor”.  Of course prophets, priests, kings, sages, and apostles are all leaders in the Bible, but the role of pastor in the New Testament commonly identifies the ordained biblical leader within a local church.  In this post and subsequent posts, I am seeking to answer the question: “what does it mean to have a pastor’s heart?” 

Unpacking the biblical meaning of a pastor is the best way to initially answer this question.  A pastor is simply a synonymous word in the English Bible for shepherd, and is often identified with the office of elder/overseer/bishop, though not all believers with a pastoral-type gift are to lead in the office of an elder.  But all elders are pastors (Acts 20:17-35), and all pastors are shepherds, and all shepherds are teachers (Eph 4:11).  

Two primary passions of the biblical shepherd’s heart must be to lovingly feed the sheep and lovingly protect the sheep, and all other expressions of a shepherd’s heart are derivative of those two all-consuming desires of love.  Moreover, feeding and protecting the sheep are chiefly done through the ministry of teaching.  Nevertheless, a teaching ministry is not to be relegated only to pulpit time on Sunday’s, any more than it would suffice to only feed sheep once a week.  A pastoral teaching ministry is one of loving, intentional disciple-making in speech, conduct, conversation, confession, illustration, informal opportunities, formal occasions, and essentially in patiently leading sheep to green pastures in which God’s flock might find solace and fodder for their souls, away from wolves and barren lands. 

Ministry is not to be relegated only to pulpit time, any more than it would suffice to only feed sheep once a week. -Tweet this

True shepherds do not desire to lead the sheep as entertainers, life-coaches, CEOs, comedians, politicians, programmers, motivational speakers, cultural architects, artisans, bosses, butlers, therapists, professionals, professors, psychologists, or actors.  The heart of a biblical shepherd should be to lovingly lead the object of his love (Christ’s flock) to feed on the source of all love (Christ Himself), away from wolves (false teachers) and stale water and dead ground (love of money, pride of life, lusts of the flesh).  

 

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A Plea For Gospel Sanity in Missions – From East to West (Part 2).

Feb. 27, 2015By: Aubrey SequeiraAuthor Bio

Editors Note: This post is one in a three part series. You can read the first article here.

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I sit there, intrigued, as I listen to the man’s story. We are in an important (and extremely unreached) city in North India. Detail upon intricate detail mounts as he narrates the amazing events that caused him to renounce Sikhism for Christianity. I listen intently as he tells us of the healing his mother received from a life-threatening illness, his subsequent rise from rags to riches, the persecutions he has faced, and most importantly, the supernatural vision in which he saw a figure cloaked in white who squeezed his hand and told him “I will bless you.” 

He rubs his moistened eyes, wiping away tears…and then he tells us that though it has been over 20 years now, he can still feel the hand of that otherworldly figure squeezing his hand today. My Western friends listen, some of them wary, but a couple of them, enthralled… 

My Indian co-laborer nudges me as we listen. We are all too familiar with the gimmick—this is something we’ve seen and heard many times before. The man finishes his story, and one of my Western friends, a sincere brother—in fact, one who is fairly solid in his theology—remarks, “Wow! Praise God! That’s such an awesome testimony brother!” 

Inwardly, I feel flabbergasted! How is it that even people who know their Bibles and understand the Gospel well get duped by this stuff?! Isn’t the complete absence of the gospel in his testimony obvious?? 

My Indian friend and I begin to explain to the man about the true forgiveness of sins that only Jesus can provide, about Christ’s death and resurrection and his sin-bearing substitutionary sacrifice on the cross…he looks puzzled, for he has no idea what we’re talking about! All he knows is that “Jesus is the only god who will bless you.” That’s why he became a Christian. That’s why he became a pastor. And he’s been a pastor for 20 years! He used to be a poor Sikh, but now he’s driving a posh SUV as a “Christian bishop.” He drives us to his “church” building, a multi-story mega-church that seats 3000, and tells us that he’s the “bishop” over a ministry that plants several hundred churches every six months. But one could replace the name “Jesus” everywhere in his testimony with the name of any other god, and it wouldn’t make a difference… 

And to make matters worse, this “bishop” has a Western missionary, totally taken in by his story, functioning almost like his foot-servant. Why not, since the missionary can report back all this bishop’s numbers as his own! 

In my previous post, I talked about the evil fruit that results from a craze for numbers and “rapid growth” in missions in India. In this post, I want to focus on a second major problem—the West’s enchantment with the “supernatural.” My intent here is not to enter into the debate over whether God still operates supernaturally or not. Rather, I hope to alert my brothers and sisters in the West to the dangers of being allured by sensational stories that are devoid of the biblical gospel message. I also hope to call my brethren in both India and the West to keep the gospel message central in all our gospel work, and to prize the power God’s Holy and Authoritative Word above all else. 

Has the Holy Spirit Migrated from West to East? 

The Beatles. Madonna. Julia Roberts. Eat, Pray, Love. College students without a job. One can think of a long list of people in the West who are fascinated with the otherworldliness of Eastern spirituality. And this trend has found its way into the Church as well. I’ve grown weary of hearing it over and over: “We Western Christians are so narrow-minded. We put God in a box! We place limits on what he can do. That’s why we don’t see God work supernaturally here like he does in the East.” Many of my brothers and sisters in the West have bought into this false idea that the Western church is devoid of the Holy Spirit’s supernatural work today—while the third member of the Trinity is greatly active in the East, in places like India and China, where people are purportedly seeing dreams and visions and miracles are happening all over the place. In the West, people are fascinated and allured by all the amazing testimonies and reports they hear from what is happening “out there” on the mission field. 

But sadly, this fascination with the “supernatural” is often accompanied with a loss of discernment. At times, Westerners get so googly-eyed with sensational stories from the East that they don’t even notice the non-existence of any form of the gospel message.

Westerners get so googly-eyed w/ sensational stories that they don’t notice the absence of the Gospel. - Tweet this 

Beloved friends, Wake Up! The Holy Spirit has not transferred locations! He is just as active in the West as He is anywhere else in the world, doing what He has been sent to do—empowering witness to Christ (John 15:26–27; Acts 1:16; 1 Pet 1:12); convicting the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8); leading the church into all truth (John 16:13); glorifying Christ by drawing people from darkness to light as the gospel message is proclaimed (2 Cor 3:12–4:6); and sealing God’s people for the Day of Redemption (Eph 1:13). 

Oh that we would recognize that the greatest, most supernatural work of God is when the Holy Spirit opens the eyes of sinners to the glory of Christ, regenerating and renewing them through the proclamation of the gospel, so that they are transferred out of the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ in repentance and faith! Do we not realize that the Spirit of God is sovereign and active, accomplishing this work in every place where Christ is faithfully proclaimed from the Scriptures? 

I know of so many dear brothers and sisters in the West whose testimony goes something like this: “I grew up in a Christian home. From my youngest years, my parents taught me the Bible. My parents loved the Lord. They pointed me to Christ and told me of his sacrificial death on behalf of sinners. I was very young when I heard the gospel, repented of my sins, and trusted Christ for salvation. And so I’ve grown up almost all my life knowing the Lord.” Beloved friends, is this less glorious or less supernatural in any way? Is this not a demonstration of the Holy Spirit’s power to raise dead sinners to life? Have we forgotten the glory of the gospel? Have we forgotten that all heaven celebrates when one sinner comes to repentance? 

Let us not emphasize other things, for this has disastrous consequences…

The Fabrication of Testimonies that Titillate 

In my last post, I talked about the corruption prevalent in ministries in India owing to an emphasis on numbers in the West—Inflated numbers and false reports of great revivals are generated in order to bring in Western cash. Likewise, the West’s fascination with sensational stories has a similar corrosive effect—testimonies are fabricated in order to dazzle and daze Western believers into generously giving financial support. And once again, I am sorry to say that my Western friends—even the theologically sound ones—are gullible. 

In India, I have encountered professing Indian believers who don’t say much to me by way of testimony—why would they, since I am just a fellow Indian. But these very people, when they meet a Westerner, as soon as they see white skin, are quick to narrate stories of dreams, visions, and amazing supernatural experiences. 

On more than one occasion, I have had the heartbreaking experience of meeting churches and believers in the West who have had the awful experience of being duped by Indian “ministries.” For instance, one Indian “evangelist” hoodwinked a whole network of churches with his fantastic testimony: 

He claimed to have been raised as a religious Hindu, and his family owned a snake that they worshipped daily. As an adult, he was gripped with religious fervor and zeal for Hinduism. He was on his way to attack and kill Christians when he saw a vision of Christ that halted him, and brought him to tears. He then became a Christian, resolving to proclaim the faith he once persecuted, and despite being rejected by his family and friends, he is following Christ and serving him as an evangelist. 

Several churches and ministries supported this “man of God,” only to later learn that the entire story was made up! This man actually grew up as the son of a pastor in a “Christian home,” and fabricated this testimony because he learned that it is only testimonies like this that generate support from the West. And let me assure you that this story is not an isolated case! There are many, many others like this one… and in every case, my Western brothers and sisters are quick to be amazed—and sadly—deceived. 

Such deception could be avoided by exercising more caution and discernment—by verifying every detail of such testimonies (especially in view of its extraordinary details) on the account of eye-witnesses; and by carefully checking if the person understands the biblical gospel and prizes it above such experiences.  

The Propagation of the Prosperity “Gospel”

 When Western believers unwittingly get carried away with sensational stories of the supernatural, not only does corruption thrive in India, but so does false teaching. Even churches and believers who decry the evils of the heretical prosperity gospel actually promote its growth in India. How? By endorsing and supporting ministries in India that emphasize great miracles while teaching the anti-gospel health-and-wealth doctrine. Because the ministries in India that emphasize great miracles are also those that most often teach the anti-gospel health-and-wealth doctrine. They do not begin with the biblical gospel, so we should not be surprised to find that the content of their ministries is not the biblical gospel! Yes, it’s true. And this is also tied to the craze for numbers: the “prosperity gospel” prospers, and brings in the people by the droves. It thus boasts of both supernatural “miracles” and big numbers.  

Let’s Put the Emphasis in the Right Place

My brothers and sisters, the only way for true gospel growth to happen in India is for us to remember how gospel growth comes—through the Gospel! The Gospel proclaims that all people everywhere have sinned and rebelled against God our Creator and stand justly condemned under his holy judgment; but God graciously saves sinners through his Son Jesus Christ, who lived a sinless life, died a sacrificial death on the cross as a substitute for sinners, and was raised from the dead, so that all who repent of their wickedness and trust in him alone receive full forgiveness of sins and eternal life through him. The Story of God’s great and supernatural plan of salvation must take precedence over all other “supernatural stories.”

Let us not get carried away by stories of dreams and visions, but let us stand firm on the bedrock of the inspired Word of God. Even the apostle Peter, who was an eye-witness to the glory of Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration, who heard the very voice of God and saw with his own eyes the Son of God in all his majestic glory, tells us that we have something more sure than his experience. Something “more fully confirmed, to which we would do well to pay attention”—the Bible (2 Pet 1:16–21). 

The faithful Indian co-laborers that I know, who sincerely work for true gospel growth in the hardest regions of India do one simple thing when anyone comes to them with stories of a dream or vision or anything else. Open God’s Word. Point them to the Bible. Remind them that such “supernatural” occurrences might be shaky and uncertain, but the Scripture is steadfast and true. Do we thank God for dreams, visions, supernatural healings, deliverances and any other special acts of God’s providence that glorify Christ? Absolutely. But the most supernatural work of all is when the Holy Spirit brings people to submit to the Supernatural Book.

My brothers and sisters in the West, will you hear me out? In your support of gospel work in India, will you be discerning and resolve not to get carried away by the sensational stuff? Will you remember that the proclamation of the gospel and the teaching of the Scriptures are what produces a people conformed to Christ’s image? Will you ensure that any “gospel work” that you endorse or support is founded on the message of Christ’s death and resurrection for sinners, the gospel of repentance and faith, and God’s Holy and Inspired Word? I pray that you will. 

So the next time you hear a testimony from India (or anywhere), be careful to discern whether the person has truly understood the gospel. And be careful to ensure that God receives the glory above all else for his marvelous supernatural work in saving lost sinners. 

 In my next post, I will address another burning issue in missions in India—“contextualization.”

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Ancestor Christology? A Christ Who Cannot Save!

Feb. 26, 2015By: Philemon YongAuthor Bio

It is unfortunate that portrayals of Jesus as an ancestor by liberal African theologians go unchallenged in most African settings. Yet, there are various reasons to be concerned.

Unbiblical Starting Point
The starting point of ancestor Christology by African theologians is not the Bible. Orobator, forsangoma example, denies the historicity of the Gospel accounts of Jesus and argues that they were concerned with “faith” and not “facts.” Therefore, any talk about Jesus must be from the point of a view of faith (68). Thus, African Christology must be concerned with how to bring about faith or encourage the African’s faith, and not about objective facts about Jesus.

Anything African that communicates Christ and results in faith is acceptable. What this means, then, is that the faith of the African determines how one talks about Jesus Christ. Why so? Because each Gospel account of Jesus is an interpretation of who Jesus is from their faith community. We can speak of the Jesus of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (Orobator, 69). Following the example of the Gospel writers, Africans are to work out their own answers to the “fundamental question of Jesus in Matthew 16:13-16: ‘Who do you say that I am?” (Orobator, 72).

Rejection of the Jesus of the Missionaries
Christ as presented by the missionaries in the advent of Christianity in Africa is foreign to the African person (they assume). It is argued that Africans do not understand the name or the person. So, there needs to be a recast of the person of Jesus in authentic African categories for him to make sense. One of the categories for recasting Jesus in the African context is that of an ancestor, which is authentically African. Only then will the African man cease from embracing a foreign Jesus of the missionary whom he does not know.

The problem here is that the focus is on the agents (those who preached Christ) and, therefore, a rejection of Jesus as the missionary Jesus. Is the quest for an African Jesus the answer? Rather than searching Scripture to understand Jesus as preached by the early missionaries, these theologians assume that he was a Jesus created in the image of the missionary’s culture and must be replaced by a Jesus of the African culture.

Authority of the Bible is Missing in this Debate
It is obvious that those who argue for ancestor Christology do not hold the Bible as the revealed Word of God with authority. They easily set it aside as reflecting cultural experiences of people who were trying to make sense of Jesus. Yet, a proper reading of Scripture gives us a solid biblical Christology that transcends cultures.

Christology Built on Myth? 
Ancestor Christology is built on a belief system that even Africans cannot objectively argue for. This Christology requires one to believe that the cult of ancestors, as Africans understand it, is real. Is it? It requires accepting that the dead (ancestors) are playing the role of life giver, mediator, and should be appeased through rituals and sacrifices. Is this really a good starting point for understanding Jesus?

Jesus Christ is no Longer Exclusive
In this system, Jesus is only unique in the sense that he is the Son of God and therefore his role transcends that of the ancestors. In other words, he is better than them, but they play essentially the same role. The truth is that Christ alone saves. Ancestors are dead people and cannot be the source of life.

Ancestor Christology Does Not Save
Nothing is said about our sin against God (instead, sin is against the community as they argue), judgment, or the role of Christ as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the World. He is only looked at in the role of ancestor. Yet, the Bible is clear on the centrality of Christ in our salvation. The liberal African Jesus is not difficult to embrace, yet he does not save.

The liberal African Jesus is not difficult to embrace, yet he does not save. -Tweet this

All Man, Not God
A careful reading of ancestor Christology gives us Jesus only as a man and not as God himself. That is the only way this kind of theology can work.

Having pointed out the ways ancestor Christology is deficient, what then should be our approach in communicating Christ in a relevant way within the African context?

 

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