Being a Seeker of Men

About twenty-five years ago, a new way of speaking spread throughout the church. Those whom we used to call “non-Christians” were all of a sudden identified as “seekers.” This shift in language was felt to be less alienating, and it recognized that all human beings have a deep longing for God. Seekers might not know God yet, but they are on the path toward enlightenment.

In some ways, there may be a God-shaped hole that only Christ can fill, on the other hand, the Bible is clear that no one seeks after God, no not one (Isaiah 31:1 NASB, Jeremiah 30:14 NASB, Romans 3:11). God must draw the person to himself (John 6:44), and we have the promise that when we seek God, he will be found (Jeremiah 29:13).

“Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?” (Luke 15:4)

In Luke 15, Jesus uses similar imagery to describe those who are separated from God, but in a surprisingly different manner. In Luke 15:3-7, he paints a picture of a sheep that has strayed from the flock and the shepherd’s care. The sheep is not so much a seeker as it is one that is lost. Yet there is a seeker in Jesus’ story… the shepherd! The shepherd leaves the rest of the flock in order to search for the lost sheep. When he finds it, he brings it home and calls together all of his friends so that they might rejoice with him because the lost sheep was found.

Jesus is underscoring something essential about God’s nature and his own kingdom-centered mission. He is also drawing from a vivid description of God found in the Old Testament. In Ezekiel 34, the Lord revealed himself as the good shepherd who searches for his lost sheep (Ezekiel 34:11-12). Jesus represents this kind of God, and is this kind of God has come in the flesh.

Whether we refer to non-Christian people as seekers or not, we must remember that God is the Seeker. He is the Good Shepherd who seeks after those who are lost, including you and me. This is such an amazing truth.

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Being a Bible Teacher

One thing I have emphasized in our discipleship ministry is that we are not just to be teachers of the Bible in our classes; we are to be shepherds of people. Besides, we don’t really teach the Bible anyway, we teach people the Bible. Josh Hunt sent this article out this week (by Elmer Towns) and it captures what I have emphasized over the years:

A Sunday School teacher is not just an instructor, like a saved public school teacher who is teaching the Bible. A Sunday School teacher has a much broader task than just communicating biblical truth.

[ Here is a video series on Shepherding God’s People ]

A Teacher Teaches People
There are two expressions of the spiritual gift of teaching.

  1. The first is the gift of teaching where the person has a desire to study, to discover new truth, then communicate it in the instructing process. This is not the gift that best describes the Sunday School teacher, though many Sunday School teachers have this gift.
  2. The second gift is the “pastor-teacher” described in Ephesians 4:11, “And He Himself gave . . . some pastors and teachers.” The pastor-teacher uses instruction to nurture his pupils. Even though the King James Version separates the two words, “pastors, and teachers,” the Greek language joins them as one function. The pastor is a teacher.

That brings us to the next step.

A Teacher Shepherds People
A Sunday School teacher is a shepherd. A woman who has four small children around a table in a church basement should be doing a lot more than telling Bible stories about baby Moses in the bushes, or Noah’s ark. She should be giving spiritual care to her students, which involves telling Bible stories. Just as a pastor shepherds his flock in more ways than preaching, so a Sunday School teacher cares for the Sunday School flock in more ways than teaching.

Everything the pastor is to his flock, the teacher is to his Sunday School class. The same Greek word is used for pastor and shepherd, suggesting their work is similar.

A Teacher is the Pastor’s Extension
The Sunday School teacher is the extension of pastoral ministry into the life of the class. Just as an extension helps you get to hard-to-reach places, so a Sunday School teacher helps the pastor reach hard-to-reach people (at least hard for him to reach). A pastor can’t always reach down to a three-year-old boy, but a Sunday School teacher can. Classes need to be more than content centers, they need to be shepherding centers.

The Apostle Paul’s advice to the pastors of the church at Ephesus is also a challenge to Sunday School teachers today. “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God, which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing-the flock. . . . Therefore watch” (Acts 20:28-31). Notice the three words that are emphasized in these verses. These words contain the threefold job description of a pastor or Sunday School teacher.

  1. First, he is to oversee the flock, which is leading sheep.
  2. Second, he shepherds or feeds the flock, which is giving instruction.
  3. Third, he protects the flock by watching over them.

A Teacher is a Leader
How does the Sunday School teacher “shepherd” the flock in his care? He does so by fulfilling the three primary functions of the shepherd. First, a shepherd leads the flock. The greatest influence of many Sunday School teachers has been the result of their leading by example.

A Teacher is a Feeder
Second, a shepherd feeds the flock. While good Bible teaching will not guarantee your class will grow, poor teaching will hinder its growth

A Teacher is a Protector
Finally, a shepherd protects the flock. Jesus told Peter to ‘tend My sheep” (John 21:16). A Sunday School teacher visits the students who are absent to protect them from falling away. One of the best known and loved passages in all Scripture is the Twenty-third Psalm. In this passage, David describes the care he received at the hand of his Shepherd, the Lord. The example of the Lord who is our Shepherd is a constant challenge to the Sunday School teacher who is trying to be to his class what the Lord is to him.

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Are You a Reluctant Leader?

There are many excuses that people give so they don’t step up to fulfill their role of leadership in the church. I have worked with people for many years and have heard lots of reasons. Here are a few good responses:

I’m not sure I have been called” – Disciplemaking is not a matter of calling but of command. Every believer has been commanded to make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). The Great Commission is a command for every believer, not just given to the church (as an organization). Choosing not to make disciples is not an option.

“I’m scared to lead a group” – All the great leaders in the Bible were scared when God called them.

  1. Moses (Exodus3:11-12)
  2. Joshua (Joshua1:9)
  3. Paul (Acts 18:9-10)

The Great Commission comes with a promise (Matthew 28:20), we will not be alone. If we are about the Father’s business of making disciples, Jesus promises that his presence will be evident.

I don’t think I can lead a group” – Many times Jesus said in essence: “I cannot do anything without the Father.” Jesus recognized in his humanity that if he was going to make disciples or accomplish any ministry objective, he had to be dependent upon the Father. (John 17:7, 5:19, 30, 38, 6:38, 8:28, 10:20-21). This is also true for us. Jesus said in John 15:5 “for apart from Me you can do nothing.” God never intended for us to do it. He wants us to simply be available to work through us.

I don’t know enough” – You will grow the most when you are placed in a situation where you are responsible to disciple a few other people. Everyone knows more than someone else.

When I taught seminary in Zambia, I did not have an arsenal of lesson plans and class notes under my belt; each class was brand new for me. I had to stay ahead of my students, which made learning and teaching go together.

The responsibility of leading a group has a built in accountability and it keeps you striving toward deeper spiritual growth. It is important to remember that the best leaders are learners and when you stop learning you stop leading, regardless of how much you know.

The key to discipling people in a small group is being “love with skin on it.” It is better to be a shepherd of people than a teacher of the Bible. A discipler who is passionate about fulfilling the Great Commission in a Great Commandment way (loving God and loving people) finds the means to grow the members of his/her group up in Christ.

“I still have small children” – I read a story about a couple who had pulled out of small group leadership and then ultimately out of the group entirely, all done in the name of “Family Values.” The mom said it was an awful mistake for two reasons.

  1. First, it was a mistake because it isolated her from her primary network of friends that could have made those earlier years of child raising easier. There was no one to take turns with watching the children so she could find some free time.
  2. The second reason it was a mistake is because parenting never gets easier and discipling is always a matter of priority. The most powerful environment to raise children is an authentic biblical community (2 Timothy 3:15). The value of watching mom and dad point others to Jesus in the context of a small group throughout the growing up years has a positive and powerful impact on the life of a child.

“I don’t want to fail” – If you don’t try, you can be sure you won’t succeed. Our discipleship ministry is designed to help you succeed, but there is still an element of risk. No one has ever attempted great things for God in some low risk adventure. Faith is required and “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

This also raises another unseen element, the spirit world. Satan is trying to undo whatever you spiritually accomplish in people’s lives. This is one of the reasons why we need to envision ourselves as a Desperate Church. In desperation we seek God’s face for his wisdom and power. We desperately need God! We don’t want to be like the self-absorbed and affluent church of Laodicea that thought that they were in “need of nothing” (Revelation 3:17). They thought that they didn’t need God.

These statements may not represent your reluctance in becoming a small group leader, but whatever the reason for your reluctance, God can help you overcome it. God loves to show himself strong for those who are totally dependent upon Him.

“Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God.” (2 Corinthians 3:5)

God is prepared to give you everything that you need to lead a small group if you are only willing to depend upon him and promise to give him the glory.

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Passion-Driven Sermon, Part 3

The Passion-Driven Sermon: The Passion-Driven Sermon: Practical Theology for Pastoral Preaching (Jim Shaddix).

  1. Preaching from a Biblical Perspective
  2. The Message of Preaching
  3. The Shepherd’s Stewardship in Preaching
  4. The Shepherd’s Power in Preaching
  5. The Shepherd’s Relevance in Preaching

The Shepherd’s Stewardship: Good Stuff or God Stuff?

Many conservatives have championed biblical inerrancy, however they are often functional errantists (by the way they handle the Bible in their preaching, like it was entrusted to us for any and every use under the sun).

Exalting God, Not Resourcing Man: it is the testimony of God

  1. The Essence of the Bible – People are weary of sermons listing only historical facts and no connection to real life. The Bible has a most important quality, its divine feature, that it is God-centered and not man-centered. The shepherd is to speak God-stuff (thus says the Lord) and not just good stuff.
  2. The Agenda of the Bible – The beginning and the end of the Bible are similar, a creation with a garden and the Tree of Life. On the journey between the two we are called to conform to the image of His Son. The shepherd and sheep must align themselves with God’s agenda.

Explaining Revelation, Not Revealing Information: new vs. existing revelation; God told me…

  1. A Revelation About Revelation – The author received a comment about not getting his messages from God, since he preached through books of the Bible. He was preaching the next passage that followed rather than listening to God and preaching what God wanted. Preachers cannot say, “thus says the Lord” if they are getting information from non-biblical sources. Are they heralding heresy or transmitting truth? God has revealed through His Word, new revelation from God would mean that Joseph Smith or Charles Taze Russell might be right.
  2. An Explanation About Explanation – Preaching has evolved from being revelatory to being explanatory. Post-apostolic preachers began explaining that which God has already revealed and persuaded men to act upon it. The Bible is our only source of knowledge of God’s truth (2 Timothy 3:16-17, 1 Peter 2:2). Today, people are more interested in personal experience, emotional feeling and pragmatic application than explanation of the biblical text.
  3. An Understanding About Understanding – Explanation is not an end unto itself but a means to an end, which is understanding.

In Nehemiah 8, those who could understand gathered at the revival event. First, they read directly from the book (Nehemiah 8:8). Second, Nehemiah gave it sense, likely it was translated from Hebrew into Aramaic (Nehemiah 8:8). Translation is not as effective as interpretation.

The Emmaus Road experience we see something similar, they did not have proper understanding (Luke 24:25, 27, 32). Paul challenges us to renew our minds (Romans 12:2).

The preacher is not to give opinions, indirect implications or extra-biblical principles, but instead to reveal the Spirit’s intended meaning in Scripture; to help their lives to transform.

Edifying Churches, Not Reaching Seekers: Although we are to be all about evangelism, being seeker-sensitive is not the same.

  1. The Savior on Church Growth – Jesus mentioned building His church on the Rock (Matthew 16), and that all that the Father gives Him will come to Him (John 6:37). Human efforts produce human results. The early church had the Spirit growing the church (Acts 2:39, 2:47, 5:14, 11:24, 13:48). Church growth is His doing, not any strategy, method, principle or program.
  2. The Shepherd in Church Growth – We are to be equippers of the saint, for the work of service (Ephesians 4:11-16). The shepherd is to build up the body, teaching gifted men who can teach others also (2 Timothy 2:2).
  3. The Stewardship of Church Growth – Seeker-sensitive services boast about making it casual for lost people, but where is the highest percentage of lost people, inside or outside the church? Most lost people never darken our doors. So, it is better use of energy and resources to build up the body to impact their believers’ circles of influence. The Great Commission uses a term, “as you are going…” like along the way, make disciples.

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