Category Archives: Ministry

New Dutch Article

Missionair en gereformeerd — tien stellingen (translated by R. Sollie-Sleijster for Een in Waarheid)


Missional and Reformed — Five Positive Theses

Fostering an outward-looking perspective for our Reformed churches is important to me.  Doing that while maintaining a Reformed identity is also vital.  So, the other day I posted five negative theses about being missional and Reformed.  Today, as promised, I’m following up with five positive theses.  As before, I offer the thesis and then a little explanation/commentary (asking you to realize that way more could be said).

1. Being missional involves putting Jesus and the gospel at the center of everything

This one is first because it is of primary importance.  Since we recognize the pressing urgency of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), Reformed churches must be always self-consciously putting the gospel out there.  By “gospel” I mean the good news of everything Jesus Christ has done and will do for sinners.   That gospel message has to resound not only in our preaching, but in every aspect of church life.   We ought to be known as churches that just can’t stop talking about Jesus.

2. Being missional involves intentional discipleship into an outward-looking mindset and practices

It is odd to me that the idea of discipleship is not more strongly emphasized in many of our Reformed churches — because Scripture teaches that one of the key things that defines a Christian is being a disciple of Jesus.  Being a disciple means being a student, not only in the sense of learning information from the Master, but learning to follow and imitate the Master’s way of life.  Our Teacher’s way of life was always outward-looking — he seeks and saves the lost.  So as Reformed churches, we ought to be discipling existing and prospective church members to do likewise.  Catechism classes should include discipling our younger members in how to reach out.  New member classes should be so bold as to teach new disciples how to start right away at making more disciples — we need to harness their excitement and enthusiasm for the gospel to spread the gospel further!

3. Being missional involves an attitude shift

Sometimes people have the idea that becoming more missional means radically changing everything we do as Reformed churches, dropping some things and adding others.  Not so.  Instead, at its heart, missionality involves a shift in perspective.  We go from having a church which exists as an end unto itself, to being a church oriented outwards and inwards.  We beginning thinking about the lost, we talk about the lost, and we pray about the lost.  This shift in perspective/attitude, also means adjusting existing programs to incorporate an outward looking perspective.  I give one such example here.

4. Being missional involves a cultural shift

Most, if not all, of our Reformed churches are what we call “high-context cultures.”  There are many unspoken assumptions embedded in our local church cultures.  For example, in the Free Reformed and Canadian Reformed churches, we usually expect everyone to know there is a section of Psalms in the Book of Praise, followed by a section of hymns.  In some of our churches, you are expected to look at the church bulletin and know that the women’s society meets at the church at such and such a day and time — no one will tell you, you just ought to know.  In other churches, strangely and sadly, you are expected to know that there is assigned seating.  Many more examples could be given.  Being missional means shifting to a low(-er) context culture where we don’t assume newcomers will automatically understand everything we do and say.  An excellent place to begin putting this into practice is the church website.  Ask an unbeliever to look at your church website and point out the Reformed jargon or anything unclear.  You might be surprised.

5. Being missional involves awareness that on any given Sunday we could have guests worshipping with us

We ought to pray about guests — that God would bring them and that God would bless them.  We expect to see guests and when they arrive, we want to be aware that they’re there.  For some years, I have greeted our members and guests before the worship service.  Part of the reason I do this is to be aware of who is worshipping with us, whether we have guests or not.  But congregation members should also be attuned to this.  In some of our churches, there are Bibles and Books of Praise in the pew (good missional practice, in my view), in others not.  For those who don’t, the members of the church should be observing newcomers and whether they have a Bible and Book of Praise, or not.  If they don’t, offer them one of yours, or help them to access the books from the ushers or whatever.  When there are guests, warmly welcome them — introduce yourself, offer hospitality, etc.  We do this because of who we represent — we represent our King.  He has a warm, friendly heart and so should we.

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With these five negative and positive theses, I don’t claim to have exhausted what could be said on this topic.  I also don’t claim that all of these are implemented in the church I serve or by me personally.  However, I believe they are goals for which we ought to strive.  I commend them for your serious consideration.  The world around us is perishing and the church is the means by which Christ will bring rescue.  Therefore, it behooves us to look outward and care deeply about the lost, while at the same time continuing on stand on the biblical teachings and practices which define us as Reformed churches.


Contextualization in Scripture

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Whenever I read a book, I usually make notes afterwards for future reference.  I finished reading Keller’s Center Church a couple of months ago, but I’m only finally getting around to writing my notes on it today.  As I’m doing so, I’ve across something worth sharing about contextualization.  Keller defines contextualization like this:  “…it is giving people the Bible’s answers, which they may not at all want to hear, to questions about life that people in their particular time and place are asking, in language and forms they can comprehend, and through appeals and arguments with force they can feel, even if they reject them” (page 89).  A little further in that chapter, he gives this helpful sidebar:

Craig Blomberg points out that in Matthew’s parable of the mustard seed, the sower sows his seed in a “field” (agros, Matt. 13:31), while in Luke the sowing is in a “garden” (kepos, Luke 13:19).  Jews never grew mustard plants in gardens, but always out on farms, while Greeks in the Mediterranean basin did the opposite.  It appears that each gospel writer was changing the word that Jesus used in Mark — the word for “earth” or “ground” (ge, Mark 4:31) — for the sake of his hearers.  There is a technical contradiction between the Matthean and Lukan terms, states Blomberg, “but not a material one.  Luke changes the wording precisely so that his audience is not distracted from…the lesson by puzzling over an…improbable practice.”  The result is that Luke’s audience “receives his teaching with the same impact as the original audience.”  (page 95)

I looked into this a little bit and it seems to check out as correct.  Just one small point:  I would prefer “apparent discrepancy” to “technical contradiction” (after all, fields and gardens are not exactly polar opposites).  The main point is that contextualization is evident in Scripture — therefore, we need to take it seriously too.  For myself, as a Canadian living and ministering in Australia, I try to use the right words for my audience.  I try to avoid Canadian idioms and use Aussie ones.  However, I’m quite sure that I still have a long way to go in minimizing linguistic distractions when I preach and teach.


Luther: Take Hold of Those Ears!

I came across this quote yesterday in two books.  It’s in Volume 1 of Pieper’s Christian Dogmatics (190).  Then I also found it in a book I just received, Trials of Theology (ed. by Andrew Cameron and Brian Rosner) (30).  It’s classic Luther, speaking straight words to aspiring theologians:

But if you feel and think that you know it all and are tickled with your own booklets, your teaching and writing, as if you had produced something very precious and had preached admirably, and it pleases you much to be praised before others; if you are highly pleased when someone praises you in the presence of others, and would sulk or quit what you are doing if you did not get it:  if you have that sort of pelt, my friend, then take hold of your ears.  If you grab right, you will find a fine pair of large, long, shaggy ass’s ears; then risk the full cost and decorate yourself with golden bells, so that, wherever you walk, people can hear you, point you out , and say: ‘Look, look!  There goes that wonderful creature that can write such fine books and deliver such eloquent sermons.’  Then you are happy, and superhappy in heaven; ay, where the fire of hell is prepared for the devil and his angels!  To sum up, let us seek honor and be elated where it is in place.  In this Book the glory belongs entirely to God, and it says:  ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.  To whom be glory forever and ever.  Amen!” [Deus superbis resistit, humilibus autem dat gratiam.  Cui est gloria in saecula saeculorum.  Amen!].

Those are convicting words!  Pieper adds this exhortation:  “We advise all theologians and those who would become such to read Luther’s theological methodology repeatedly, in order to follow it by God’s grace, at all times.” (190)


Should Pastors Get Doctorates?

Dr. John Piper offers his take on this question over here.  My experience was different than Piper’s.  My doctoral research has definitely enriched my ministry.  A big reason for that was that I was able to study with an institution that shared my values and confessional commitments.  I highly recommend Reformation International Theological Seminary (RITS) to anyone looking for a doctoral program that’s both theologically rigorous and confessionally oriented.  I recently became aware of another local Reformed pastor (of a NAPARC church) who is working on a doctorate with RITS.  Some men you may have heard of with their doctoral degree from RITS:  David Murray (professor at Puritan Reformed Seminary) and Robert Grossmann (formerly of Mid-America, now with Heidelberg Theological Seminary).