Leading through Holiness

by Shawn McMullen 

Robert Murray M’Cheyne was a nineteenth-century Scottish minister, a powerful preacher and leader. He had a lasting impact on the church even though he died at the age of 29 during a typhus epidemic. After his death, his friend Andrew Bonar compiled M’Cheyne’s writings along with his biography under the title, The Memoir and Remains of the Rev. Robert Murray M’Cheyne.

M’Cheyne was known for his devotion to Christ and his love for his congregation. Speaking about his ministry in the local church, M’Cheyne is reported to have said, “My people’s greatest need is my personal holiness.” M’Cheyne realized that if the Lord was going to bless his ministry and open even greater doors of opportunity, he needed to live a holy and blameless life to the glory of God.

But there’s more. M’Cheyne believed that personal holiness is more important to God’s work than any amount of skill and charisma. He is also credited with this observation: “It is not great talents God blesses so much as great likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God.”

It helps to be talented, of course, but that’s not what’s most important. What matters, as M’Cheyne suggested, is “great likeness to Jesus.” And how are we most like Jesus? When we imitate his holiness. Certainly Paul must have had this concept in mind when he wrote, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). Can you imagine how society would be affected if every follower of Christ lived like this? Can you imagine how the lives of church members would be affected if every church leader lived out God’s call to holiness in their personal life and set that as the standard for conduct in the church?

Naturally, our first call is to imitate the Lord. But it’s also true that seeing holiness lived out in another Christian helps pave the way for our imitation of Christ. Let’s go back to something M’Cheyne said to see how it applies to leaders in the local church: “A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God.” Every soldier who goes into battle wants the best weapons available in the best condition possible. Going into battle with inferior equipment, or even good equipment poorly maintained, can be the difference between victory and defeat, even life and death. To those who lead and serve in the local church, personal holiness is that weapon. It changes more lives than great preaching or great leading. It wields more influence than charisma or confidence. It produces more lasting benefits than great programming or great fundraising.

Think about the great revivals of earlier centuries. Or the exponential growth of the house church movement today in countries hostile to Christianity. Have these movements past and present hinged on impressive facilities, charismatic leadership, skillful communication, stellar programming, or great coffee? Not at all. Powerful movements within the church are led by the Spirit of God, and the Spirit of God works in and through God’s holy people. Paul pointed to personal holiness as a priority in his own ministry: “You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed” (1 Thessalonians 2:10).

Transformative ministry is rooted in personal holiness. If we’re living holy lives to the glory of God, we become “awful weapons” in God’s hand. If we are God’s weapon of choice in the battle against Satan and the forces of darkness, what kind of weapons should we be? What kind of weapons will we be?

Thanks

by Jared Johnson 

“I mean, what’s with the Christmas cups; it’s barely Halloween?”

I wouldn’t say it any differently myself. I teach Bible at a faith-based high school nearby during 1st hour and on Monday after Halloween a couple weeks ago, one of the students was commenting on his coffee cup, decorated with wintry/Christmas-y motifs. It seems to be our cultural default anymore to “skip” directly from the fright, decay and blackness of Halloween straight to a “gimme stuff” mode around Christmas – at least, culturally.

In between, of course, we’ll probably do something to deliberately celebrate Thanksgiving. AAA has been projecting 50+ million Americans travel around the Thanksgiving holiday in each of the past few years; it’s not as if we ignore Thanksgiving completely, but on the other hand, I don’t think it’s inaccurate to surmise that we mentally jump ahead to Christmas and give little thought to Thanksgiving, besides how we’re going to tolerate an obligatory visit to the relatives.

I have always enjoyed Thanksgiving. In our family, we have deliberately celebrated with my mom’s family for the vast majority of the past 30 or so years. I consider myself fortunate and blessed that we, a family comprised 50% of preachers, would often meet in a church’s fellowship hall space and utilize their kitchen. And if it wasn’t a preacher hosting that year, we would meet at my grandparents’ house, and they were always deficient – at least in the world’s eyes – in the TV department, so watching the Macy’s parade or a football game just never became part of our pattern. Even now, the 4th generation – my kids – automatically associate Thanksgiving with travel, games, good food, laughter, cousins and second cousins.

I’m glad I live in a place with a long history of giving thanks on a holiday, both culturally and through official laws of the land. When we see a “Festival of Shelters” or “Festival of Booths” in Scripture, it’s functionally what we think of as Thanksgiving – a society-wide celebration of God’s blessing in light of harvest at the end of a growing season. Like our Thanksgiving, the ancient Hebrews didn’t completely ignore it, but it isn’t exactly preeminent in the biblical story either. It was established in Leviticus 23, revisited in Numbers 29 and Deuteronomy 16 and 31, and we see it celebrated during the reign of Solomon (1 Kings 8, 2 Chronicles 5, 7, 8), along with a deliberate corruption of it under Israel’s first king Jeroboam (1 Kings 12). We next see it overtly celebrated only after the exile period, under Ezra/Nehemiah, in the mid-400s BC (Ezra 3 and Nehemiah 8).

Giving thanks, as a culture-wide celebration in some fashion, has a very long history.

“Thank” and its various forms is used, depending on your translation of choice, about 150 times throughout the Bible.

At e2, we give thanks often – daily – for leaders of God’s Church. Thank you, elders, for faithfully shepherding God’s people that He has entrusted to your care. Thank you, staff, for equipping the saints who gather every week to worship the One to whom we all give our collective thanks.

Preaching, People, Ministry

by John Caldwell 

As I write this, I’ve been in the ministry for 55 years, and have been retired for nine years from the local church where I served most of that time. I love to preach, but preaching is only a small part of ministry. I’ve been asked literally hundreds of times what I miss most about located ministry. I have a standard answer which is partly tongue-in-cheek, partly serious: “I miss the paycheck, having an administrative assistant, the office equipment … and some of the people.” The truth is that I miss most of the people, people Jan and I came to know and love while serving in the same church for 36 years.

The first year in “retirement” I preached in 48 different churches. Several times, I’ve done interim ministries that lasted as much as several months. After preaching five Sundays in a row at the same church in northern Indiana, something happened that caught me by surprise. As we were leaving the parking lot, I got a lump in my throat, my eyes misted over, and I said to Jan, “I didn’t realize how much I missed it!” By “missed it” I wasn’t referring to the preaching, for I’ve gotten to do plenty of that. I was referring to the relationships. In just five weeks I had come to know each of the elders and many of the regular worshipers. I looked forward to our weekly visits. I had occasion to pray with, laugh with, and sometimes weep with a number of people before and after the services. My preaching also had added meaning as I was taking them on a spiritual journey week after week.

Yes, ministry is first and foremost about Jesus, but it is also about people: connecting people to Jesus, reconnecting people with Jesus, and caring for people in Jesus’ name. The older I get the more I find myself touched by the hurts and heartaches of people. I didn’t get into ministry to build a big church. I got into ministry because of God’s call upon my life and because I cared about people. But there was a time when I was so busy “building the church” that I’m not really sure I noticed all the hunger, illness, fractured lives, insecurities, failure and grief that are all around.

Now, I’m sometimes overwhelmed by it.

As the church grew and grew, the reality is that I had less and less time for people. Some of my mega-church buddies used to tease me about the fact that I still took a day a week to visit people in the hospitals and nursing homes. But that was my favorite day of the week because I dealt with people. And nothing ever gave me more pleasure or satisfaction than personally presenting the Gospel to a seeker and seeing the truth about Jesus bring conviction and conversion to their heart. To be candid, I have no idea how anyone can preach effectively, truly connecting with the people, if they are not personally invested and involved with the people.

Yes, of course every Christian is to be an evangelist, a care-giver, a servant. No, a pastor and staff cannot and should not try to do all the ministry in a congregation. But those involved in vocational ministry must both teach and model those responsibilities. As a matter of fact, we teach far more effectively by what we do than what we say. One of my favorite lines came from an aged preacher named Jake: “It doesn’t cost much to be a preacher. Anyone with reasonable intelligence and a fairly decent voice can prepare a sermon and deliver it. But … if you want to be a good pastor, it will cost you your life.”

Some time ago I got a text message from my son, Shan, an executive pastor at a huge megachurch. It came at 2:30AM as he sat at the bedside of a dying woman from his congregation. And I thanked God that my son gets it. In a day of celebrity and CEO preachers where communication ability is seen as the primary qualification for ministry, I pray that a lot of other ministers get it too.

Jesus Came to…

by Ken Idleman 

It is the month of November 2019, and as a Christian leader, an under-shepherd of the Good Shepherd, I want to be sure I am representing Jesus and His purpose faithfully. Here is the checklist against which I am measuring myself today as a shepherd leader…

  1. He came to serve… “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life…” (Mark 10:45). This was His calling and it is mine as a Christ follower. I want to have the mind of Christ. I want to look not to my own interests, but to the interests of others. I want to be a servant of the Servant.
  2. He came to call sinners to repentance… Jesus said… “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32). In our present generation I know this has to be done with genuine concern and a spirit of humility, but I also know it must be done. Today, the lines have been blurred. The black and white of God’s truth has been reduced to a politically correct grey. I want to be bold to do what Jesus did in the way He did it.
  3. He came to give light the world… Jesus said… “I have come as light into the world…” (John 12:46). So many walk in darkness… stumbling, confused, lost… in some cases hiding from God or hiding out in order to victimize others. Without His coming our world would be a very dark place! And He said to his followers, “You are [now] the light of the world.” I want to be a bright spot in my corner of the world.
  4. He came to divide… “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). Jesus warned that His loving Lordship would not be appreciated or embraced by everyone and that His cross would be an occasion for division in families and between friends. It was true then and it is true today that there are deep divisions between those who believe in Him and those who don’t. I am committed to help people find the bridge over this divide.
  5. He came to save us from hell… “For God sent not the Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17). It is scriptural and it is rational, in a world so obviously dominated by the struggle between good and evil, to believe that a good God will punish evil and reward good, but in His mercy will save all who return His love. I want to be on a rescue mission with Him.
  6. He came to give us eternal life… “… whoever believes on Him [Jesus] will not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). It is stated in so many places and in so many ways in the New Testament. Like the thief next to him on an adjacent cross, one day we want to hear Him, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” I want to go to heaven with my family and take as many others with me as I can!

Will you join me in a devotional act of recommitment to His call?