One of the lectures I give each year in my Gospels class is titled “Who’s Invited and What Should They Do?” In the first part (“Who’s Invited?”), I talk about who it was Jesus invited (invites) to follow him, to repent and believe, to enter his kingdom. Here we talk about what the label sinner meant in the first-century and how it described those who’d transgressed both God’s law and the “laws” of Palestine’s religious establishment. In the second part (“What Should They Do?”), I try to sketch Jesus’ ethics. What sorts of behavior did (soon-to-be-king) Jesus require of his disciples? Here we look at the epitome of Jesus’ ethics found in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5–7). I’ve yet to finish off this talk feeling like I’ve done justice to Jesus’ sermon. And, considering its importance—these are Jesus’ ethics, after all!—I’m very interested in doing a better job. Just yesterday, in fact, I received in the mail a new book I’d ordered on the sermon. It’s part of a new commentary series (!) by Zondervan entitled “The Story of God Bible Commentary.” It’s by veteran Gospels scholar and teacher Scot McKnight. In his introduction, McKnight summarizes Jesus’ ethics with four observations that I found helpful. Here I thought I’d simply share them and encourage any of you puzzled by the sermon to get McKnight’s book and see how (if?) each observation plays out in Jesus’ ethics. (That’s, at least, what I’m going to do.) Before I list them, let me also say that the first three are what, it seems to me, McKnight thinks sets Jesus’ ethics off as biblical ethics, over against the ethical programs of Aristotle (virtue ethics), Kant (duty or deontological ethics), and Bentham and Mill (utilitarianism; cf. consequentialism). And the last one sets his ethics apart as fulfillment-era ethics. That is, it reflects the fact that these are ethics coming from one who came to fulfill the law and the prophets (Matt 5:17–20). So, according to McKnight, Jesus ethics are...
(1) ethics from above. Jesus’ ethics are divinely-revealed ethics. Just as the Torah came from God, so also does Jesus’ “law.”
(2) ethics from beyond. Jesus’ ethics, like the prophets of old, encourage the people of God to live in the present in the light of the future. (Here I couldn’t help thinking of the way Peter puts this in 2 Pet 3:11.)
(3) ethics from below. Jesus’ ethics, like Israel’s wisdom traditions, encourage the people of God to live in God’s world in God’s way. Live in light of the way the world works (or, is supposed to work).
(4) messianic ethics. Jesus’ ethics are ethics for the new era brought about by messiah’s death and resurrection and, moreover, they are possible only for those filled with the eschatological spirit, Jesus’ new community.
From time to time I’ve met professing Christians who for one reason or another claim that they do not need to be part of a local church. In most cases, they seem to believe that because God has placed them in the universal Church, they can worship God just fine apart from a local body of believers. I’d like to suggest that such a view is not only mistaken, but is also harmful to the unchurched person and dishonoring to God.
Everywhere one looks in the NT, one sees believers actively participating in a local body. In fact, the NT knows nothing of a perpetually disconnected Christian. The apostle Paul says roughly as much about healthy unchurched Christians as he does about minotaurs, unicorns, and leprechauns. From the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) to the seven churches addressed in Revelation 2 and 3, everywhere the NT assumes that those who profess faith in Christ in this dispensation are part of a local body of believers. Much of the NT was originally written to specific local churches and addressed questions about how the local church should conduct itself. The professing believer who attempts to live apart from a local church will not be able to obey a significant portion of the NT (1 Tim 3:15). Although I’m thankful for access to good books and sermons produced by believers all over the world, it is first and foremost within the context of a local church that believers are to be instructed in the Word and exhorted by fellow believers (Eph 4:11–13; 1 Tim 4:11–16; 2 Tim 4:2; Titus 3:1–2). Those who profess Christ but remain disconnected from a local church need to realize that they have turned away from one of God’s clearly intended means of spiritual growth: the leadership and fellowship of a local assembly.
More importantly, those believers who choose to live apart from a local church dishonor the head of the Church. Both the Church universal and the church localized are God’s idea, not man’s (Matt 16:18; Acts 2:41–47). God’s Word never depicts local church involvement as optional for the believer. And God certainly didn’t intend for there to be two kinds of Christians, those who worship him within a local church and those who just do their own thing. Those who profess to follow Christ while remaining disconnected from a local church are really saying that they know better than God.
The local church is one of God’s gifts to his people. It is a means by which they can be taught, encouraged, and exhorted to follow Christ. And ultimately, local church involvement is an essential part of a genuine Christian profession. Apart from such involvement, the profession itself can only be incomplete and highly suspect.
This past Sunday evening, we had our annual Ministry Equipping and Training Seminar here at Inter-City Baptist Church. During this time we have ministry-specific seminars and also general sessions. I did a general session on “Discipling the Next Generation: The Mission and Goals of the ICBC Children’s Ministry.” There is a lot of discussion in families and churches, much of it critical, of the role of age-graded children’s ministry–especially among those in favor of so-called family integrated churches (for a brief, helpful article on that movement, see Doug Brown’s article here.)
Here at Inter-City, we don’t just have Sunday School, Junior Church, AWANA, and other programs just because “that’s the way we have always done it.” For us, our children’s ministry has as its mission to honor God by making and maturing disciples who are becoming like the Lord Jesus Christ among the children of our church and community. This mission reflects our church’s mission and is specific to children. Paul’s exhortation and Timothy’s experience in 2 Tim 3:14-17 guide us in setting our goals, which are as follows:
We believe discipled parents are key to those who have one or both parents in the church, so we provide nurseries to lovingly care for small children so parents and others are not distracted in giving their attention to preaching and teaching. We provide Sunday School to give regular, systematic teaching of the Bible and theology to children. We provide Children’s church on Sunday mornings to give opportunities for age-specific preaching and singing, yet still in a God-honoring format similar to our adult services. We provide AWANA both for outreach and discipleship on Wednesdays. All of these programs serve our mission and goals, not vice-versa.
Parents have the responsibility to evangelize and train their children, but it is also the responsibility of the church to evangelize and disciple people of all ages, and a well-organized children’s ministry can help accomplish these goals. Don’t abandon ministry to children!
If you have been in ministry for a number of years since seminary, you know how easy it can be to get into a ministry routine and allow other things in your life to become your first love, whether it is a hobby, a recreational pursuit, or other amusement. We, as pastors, need help in staying sharp, setting priorities for continued growth in knowledge and ability in that which is our main calling–the ministry. Here are some tips for doing so:
1. Take a class. Perhaps every other year or once a year, enroll in a class at a nearby seminary or online that will push you to read, study, and interact with others. At DBTS we allow grads to audit a class and provide a discounted audit rate for non-grads. We are now offering a few remote classes and other schools offer good online courses. You may even want to pursue another degree if your circumstances permit it.
2. Form a reading group with other nearby pastors. Many pastors form a regional reading group, reading through a book together and meeting to discuss it weekly or monthly. This exercise provides mutual encouragement and edification.
3. Start a new series or class. Pastors, you can offer an elective Sunday School class on a particular topic, a Bible Institute level class, or small group study that will push you to read and study in a new area.
4. Submit book reviews or articles. Many blogs and journals will receive book reviews from pastors willing to invest the time in reading newer books and offering a critical review. Others accept submissions of articles. Set a goal to do one or two of these per year for your benefit and hopefully for the benefit of others as well.
5. Read biography and history. Reading biography and history will usually lead to a refreshing of your desire to re-engage in ministry growth. When you see how others poured their lives into people or how others erred in history, you will be all the more passionate about your ministry and careful with the truth.
6. Attend a conference. Ministry-specific conferences on preaching, counselling, or theological issues can be helpful in keeping us sharp. The large rally-type conferences are encouraging (and often expensive) and helpful to a point, but smaller, more interactive conferences and seminars can be most profitable for the purposes of staying sharp.
These suggestions are some ways I have sought to stay sharp in ministry–now over 15 years past my M.Div. Do you have other ways you have sought to stay sharp in ministry? Please feel free to comment.
Theologically Driven features insight on Scripture, the church, and contemporary culture from faculty and staff at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary. DBTS has faithfully prepared men for gospel ministry since its founding in 1976. As a ministry of the Inter-City Baptist Church in Allen Park, Michigan, it provides graduate level training with a balance between strong academics and a heart for local church ministry.
Contributors to the blog include:
John Aloisi, Assistant Professor of Church History
Bill Combs, Academic Dean and Professor of New Testament
Bruce Compton, Professor of Biblical Languages and Exposition
Jared Compton, Assistant Professor of New Testament
Sam Dawson, Professor of Systematic Theology
Dave Doran, President and Professor of Pastoral Theology
Pearson Johnson, Assistant Professor of Pastoral Theology
Bob McCabe, Professor of Old Testament
Mark Snoeberger, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology
To find out more, visit Theologically Driven.