When it comes to grasping the nature of pastoral ministry, Ephesians 4:12–13 is one of the most liberating and inspiring passages in all of Scripture. In a letter loaded with theology and practical instruction for what healthy churches believe and do, this passage is one that leaps off the page.
It’s liberating because it releases pastors from the ever-present temptation to be the center of all the ministry and mission that happens within the body. When the vision of “equipping the saints for the work of ministry” is caught and transferred, the burden of the church’s mission spreads to many shoulders.
It’s inspiring because Paul is describing a body of active participants, not mere spectators. The local church shouldn’t look like an NBA team with one Alpha Dog doing all the scoring and grabbing all the headlines, while his teammates watch. It should be like a great football team (as much as it pains me to say it, think of the recent Alabama teams), where every player—from kicker to quarterback—has a role that is essential to the team’s success. When every member of the body of Christ senses their unique gifts and role in building up the body, there is an outpouring of Spirit-filled excitement. And there is an exponential increase in the capacity of that local church for engaging in gospel mission.
The role of elders is to help God’s people comprehend their vital role, help them discern how they are gifted to contribute, and then see them deployed in grace-empowered ministry. As Paul says in Ephesians 4:13, “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…”
That’s the vision behind our new Mission Briefs at Providence Community Church. They are quick testimonies that describe how people are living out different aspects of our mission: To be a community of disciples who Treasure, Declare, and Mature in the gospel of Jesus Christ for the glory of God. They are snapshots that show all the different ways God is making and maturing disciples through the ministry of normal Christians, people who were simply faithful to the gospel opportunities God placed before them.
Our first Mission Brief, seen in the video below, tells the story of Leon. He’s a young man from Shanghai, China. His father is a prison warden (you can imagine what this might mean), and neither of his parents are believers. Through God’s design, he ended up at a community college just down the street from our church. And that’s where the saints, equipped and deployed for ministry, come in. Leon was invited to live with one of our families. He began attending a weekly meal for international students at another home in our church. Through numerous members taking their place in gospel ministry and mission, Leon heard about Jesus for the first time. And through the grace of God, extended through his people, Leon was born again to a living hope (1 Peter 1:3–4)!
Matthew Wassink is a 2009 graduate of the Pastors College and served as an associate pastor at Sovereign Grace Church (Bloomington, MN) before moving to Kansas in 2011 to be the senior pastor of Providence Community Church. Matthew and his wife, Hannah, have two children.
December 24, 2012 by
Categories: Evangelism | Christmas
On Sunday morning, December 21, 1856, Charles Spurgeon preached a sermon to prepare his growing church for the coming Christmas season. He titled it “Going Home,” and the aim of the message was to encourage each member of his congregation to humbly, wisely, and appropriately find opportunities to share their personal testimony with family and friends.
Spurgeon had become the pastor of New Park Street Church in April 1854. At that time the church had 232 members. By Christmas of 1856 the membership had risen quickly to around 4,000. A large number of newly converted Christians needed to be prepared for their return home for Christmas.
Spurgeon’s sermon text was taken from the dramatic account of Jesus healing the Gerasene demoniac in Mark 5:1–20. Spurgeon focused his attention on Jesus’s commission to the man after he was healed: “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you” (v. 19).
After explaining the demoniac’s radical life-transformation by Christ and his commission to go home, Spurgeon commissioned his church to return home. In the remainder of the sermon Spurgeon develops several practical points:
- Christmas is suited for sharing the gospel with family and friends.
- Aim to share the story of God’s grace in your life.
- By sharing we edify believers.
- By sharing we reach lost friends and family.
- Be alert for one-on-one opportunities to share your story.
- Don’t expect this sharing to be easy.
- Overcome this fear by sharing to honor your Savior.
- Share your story with gratitude to God.
- Share your story with humility.
- Share your story truthfully—don’t embellish it.
- Tell your story seriously—don’t share it flippantly.
- Don’t neglect your personal devotions during Christmas.
- Rest upon the Holy Spirit’s help to share.
- Remember that this story you share over the holidays is the story that will be on your lips eternally.
What follows are a few excerpts taken from the message that have been slightly modified and rearranged for readability.
A pdf of this post is available here (7 pages). You are free to download, email, print, or copy this file as you wish.
May the Savior be glorified this Christmas season as we gather with friends and family.
Going Home: A Christmas Sermon
December 21, 1856
The demoniac’s story
This poor wretch, being possessed with a legion of evil spirits had been driven to something worse than madness. He fixed his home among the tombs, where he dwelt by night and day, and was the terror of all those who passed by. The authorities had attempted to curb him; he had been bound with fetters and chains, but in the paroxysms of his madness he had torn the chains in sunder, and broken the fetters in pieces.
Attempts had been made to reclaim him, but no man could tame him. He was worse than the wild beasts, for they might be tamed; but his fierce nature would not yield. He was a misery to himself, for he would run upon the mountains by night and day, crying and howling fearfully, cutting himself with the sharp flints, and torturing his poor body in the most frightful manner.
Jesus Christ passed by; he said to the devils, “Come out of him.” The man was healed in a moment, he fell down at Jesus’ feet, he became a rational being—an intelligent man, and what is more, a convert to the Savior.
The demoniac’s commission
Out of gratitude to his deliverer, he said, “Lord, I will follow you wherever you go. I will be your constant companion and your servant, permit me so to be” [Mark 5:18].
“No,” said Christ, “I esteem your motive, it is one of gratitude to me, but if you would show your gratitude, go home to your friends and tell them of the great things the Lord has done for you, and how he has had compassion on you.”
Christmas is suited for sharing the gospel with family and friends.
True religion does not break the bonds of family relationship. True religion seldom encroaches upon that sacred—I had almost said divine—institution called home. It does not separate men from their families, and make them aliens to their flesh and blood.…
Christianity makes a husband a better husband, it makes a wife a better wife than she was before. It does not free me from my duties as a son; it makes me a better son, and my parents better parents. Instead of weakening my love, it gives me fresh reason for my affection; and he whom I loved before as my father, I now love as my brother and co-worker in Christ Jesus; and she whom I reverenced as my mother, I now love as my sister in the covenant of grace, to be mine for ever in the state that is to come.…
For my part, I wish there were twenty Christmas days in the year. It is seldom that young men can meet with their friends; it is rarely they can all be united as happy families….I love it as a family institution, as one of England’s brightest days, the great Sabbath of the year, when the plough rests in its furrow, when the din of business is hushed, when the mechanic and the working man go out to refresh themselves upon the green sward of the glad earth.
Aim to share the story of God’s grace in your life.
It is to be a story of personal experience: “Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee.”
You are not to repair to your houses to preach. You are not to begin to take up doctrinal subjects and expatiate on them, and endeavor to bring persons to your peculiar views and sentiments. You are not to go home with sundry doctrines you have lately learned, and try to teach these. You are to go home and tell not what you have believed, but what you have felt—what you really know to be your own; not what great things you have read, but what great things the Lord hath done for you; not alone what you have seen done in the great congregation, and how great sinners have turned to God, but what the Lord has done for you. And mark this: there is never a more interesting story than that which a man tells about himself.…
Go home, young man, and tell the poor sinner’s story; go home, young woman, and open your diary, and give your friends stories of grace. Tell them of the mighty works of God’s hand which he hath wrought in you from his own free, sovereign, undeserved love. Make it a free grace story around your family fire.
By sharing we edify believers.
If you want to make your mother’s heart leap within her, and to make your father glad—if you would make that sister happy who sent you so many letters, which sometimes you read against a lamp-post, with your pipe in your mouth—go home and tell your mother that her wishes are all accomplished, that her prayers are heard, that you will no longer chaff her about her Sunday-school class, and no longer laugh at her because she loves the Lord, but that you will go with her to the house of God, for you love God.…
Cannot you imagine the scene, when the poor demoniac mentioned in my text went home? He had been a raving madman; and when he came and knocked at the door, don’t you think you see his friends calling to one another in affright, “Oh! there he is again,” and the mother running up stairs and locking all the doors, because her son had come back that was raving mad; and the little ones crying because they knew what he had been before—how he cut himself with stones, because he was possessed with devils. And can you picture their joy, when the man said, “Mother! Jesus Christ has healed me, let me in; I am no lunatic now!”
By sharing we reach lost friends and family.
I hear one of you say, “Ah! Sir, would to God I could go home to pious friends! But when I go home I go into the worst of places; for my home is amongst those who never knew God themselves, and consequently never prayed for me, and never taught me anything concerning heaven.”
Go home to them, and tell them, not to make them glad, for they will very likely be angry with you, but tell them for their soul’s salvation. I hope, when you are telling the story of what God did for you, that they will be led by the Spirit to desire the same mercy themselves.
Be alert for one-on-one opportunities to share your story.
Do not tell this story to your ungodly friends when they are all together, for they will laugh at you. Take them one by one, when you can get them alone, and begin to tell it to them, and they will hear you seriously.…You may be the means of bringing a man to Christ who has often heard the Word and only laughed at it, but who cannot resist a gentle admonition.
Don’t expect this sharing to be easy.
For I hear many of my congregation say, “Sir, I could relate that story to anyone sooner than I could to my own friends; I could come to your vestry, and tell you something of what I have tasted and handled of the Word of God; but I could not tell my father, nor my mother, nor my brethren, nor my sisters.”
Overcome this fear by sharing to honor your Savior.
I know you love him; I am sure you do, if you have proof that he loved you. You can never think of Gethsemane and of its bloody sweat, of Gabbatha and of the mangled back of Christ, flayed by the whip: you can never think of Calvary and his pierced hands and feet, without loving him, and it is a strong argument when I say to you, for his dear sake who loved you so much, go home and tell it. If Christ has done much for you, you cannot help it—you must tell it.
Share your story with gratitude to God.
No story is more worth hearing than a tale of gratitude. This poor man’s tale was a grateful story. I know it was grateful, because the man said, “I will tell thee how great things the Lord hath done for me.” A man who is grateful is always full of the greatness of the mercy which God has shown him; he always thinks that what God has done for him is immensely good and supremely great.
Share your story with humility.
It must be a tale told by a poor sinner who feels himself not to have deserved what he has received. Oh! when we tell the story of our own conversion, I would have it done with deep sorrow, remembering what we used to be, and with great joy and gratitude, remembering how little we deserve these things. Why, then, my eyes began to be fountains of tears, those hearers who had nodded their heads began to brighten up, and they listened, because they were hearing something which the man felt himself and which they recognized as being true to him, if it was not true to them.
Tell your story, my hearers, as lost sinners. Do not go to your home, and walk into your house with a supercilious air, as much as to say, “Here’s a saint come home to the poor sinners, to tell them a story.”…
Do not intrude yourselves upon those who are older, and know more, but tell your story humbly; not as a preacher, but as a friend and as a son.
Share your story truthfully—don’t embellish it.
Do not tell more than you know; do not tell John Bunyan’s experience, when you ought to tell your own. Do not tell your mother you have felt what only Rutherford felt. Tell her no more than the truth. Tell your experience truthfully, for one single fly in the pot of ointment will spoil it, and one statement you may make which is not true may ruin it all.
Tell your story seriously—don’t share it flippantly.
Let them see you mean it. Do not talk about religion flippantly; you will do no good if you do. Do not make puns on texts. Do not quote Scripture by way of joke. If you do, you may talk till you are dumb, you will do no good, if you in the least degree give them occasion to laugh by laughing at holy things yourself. Tell it very earnestly.…
Perhaps when you are telling the story one of your friends will say, “And what of that?” And your answer will be, “It may not be a great thing to you, but it is to me. You say it is little to repent, but I have not found it so; it is a great and precious thing to be brought to know myself to be a sinner, and to confess it, do you say it is a little thing to have found a Savior. If you had found him too, you would not think it little. You think it little I have lost the burden from my back; but if you had suffered with it, and felt its weight as I have for many a long year, you would think it no little thing to be emancipated and free, through a sight of the cross.”
Don’t neglect your personal devotions during Christmas.
When you are at home for Christmas, let no one see your face till God has seen it. Be up in the morning, wrestle with God; and if your friends are not converted, wrestle with God for them, and then you will find it easy work to wrestle with them for God.
Rest upon the Holy Spirit’s help to share.
Do not be afraid, only think of the good you may possibly do. Remember, he that saves a soul from death has covered a multitude of sins, and he shall have stars in his crown forever and ever.…Let your reliance in the Holy Spirit be entire and honest. Trust not yourself, but fear not to trust him. He can give you words. He can apply those words to their heart, and so enable you to “minister grace to the hearers” [Ephesians 4:29].
Remember that this story you share over the holidays is the story that will be on your lips eternally.
When we go home to our friends in Paradise, what shall we do?
First we will repair to that blest seat where Jesus sits, take off our crown and cast it at his feet, and crown him Lord of all. And when we have done that, what shall be our next employ? We will tell the blessed ones in heaven what the Lord hath done for us, and how he hath had compassion on us.
And shall such tale be told in heaven? Shall that be the Christmas Carol of the angels? Yes it shall be; it has been published there before—blush not to tell it yet again—for Jesus has told it before, “When he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbors, saying unto them, Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost.”
Poor sheep, when you shall be gathered in, will you not tell how your Shepherd sought you and found you? Will you not sit in the grassy meads of heaven, and tell the story of your own redemption? Will you not talk with your brothers and sisters, and tell them how God loved you and has brought you there?
Perhaps you say, “It will be a very short story.” Ah! It would be if you could write now. A little book might be the whole of your biography; but up there when your memory shall be enlarged, when your passion shall be purified, and your understanding clear, you will find that what was but a tract on earth will be a huge tome in heaven. You will tell a long story there of God’s sustaining, restraining, constraining grace. And I think that when you pause to let another tell his tale, and then another, and then another, you will at last, when you have been in heaven a thousand years, break out and exclaim, “O saints, I have something else to say.” Again they will tell their tales, and again you will interrupt them with “Oh, beloved, I have thought of another case of God’s delivering mercy.” And so you will go on, giving them themes for songs, finding them the material for the warp and woof of heavenly sonnets.
November 21, 2012 by
Categories: Articles | Evangelism
“I think it’s simple,” my dad said in one elders meeting, “I think we need to repent.”
For the past several years God had been growing a conviction in our hearts that our church did not have God’s heart for the lost around us. Though there were a few members that excelled in sharing their faith, our church as a whole wasn’t marked by the kind of evangelistic fervor we saw in the New Testament. We were struggling to find the right language to talk about this major change we felt God was calling us to as a church. Then we realized it was simple: we needed to repent.
Repentance is sometimes a term we can be afraid of because we wonder, “What if people think I don’t have it together?” But one of the theses Martin Luther famously nailed to the door in Wittenberg was this: “The Christian life is one of constant repentance.” We as Christians are in a continual state of repentance this side of heaven––turning away from our sin and turning toward Christ.
So for the last two years we’ve sought to turn away from passivity and turn squarely toward God’s commission to bring the gospel to those around us (Matthew 28). And by God’s grace, repentance is bearing fruit.
It had been many years since anyone had been saved through our church’s direct ministry, so about a year ago I began praying: “God please just bring one person to Christ through our ministry here. Let our whole church see how amazing it is when someone goes from death to life.” I had no idea that while I prayed, God was already at work.
At that time, my mom had been building a friendship with a girl in her twenties. Slowly, this girl began to be more than an acquaintance and began to get a window into my parents’ life. One day, completely unprompted, she asked, “Can I go to church with you?” She began attending our church, but more than that, she began becoming part of our extended family. Eventually she was meeting with my wife for coffee and asking deep questions about the gospel and the Christian life. Then after many conversations and many family dinners, God saved her. A few months later she’s joined our church as a member.
But God didn’t stop there.
Also in our latest new members class was a young man in his twenties that got connected to our church through a college classmate. Despite living at least 40 minutes away from our church he started attending our singles meetings and Sunday gatherings. Many in our church befriended him and helped him better understand the gospel of Jesus and what it meant to be a Christian. Finally, he came to a place where he truly understood that he’d placed his faith in Christ and desired to be baptized.
A few months ago we sat down for pizza and he told me, “You know what held me back for a while? I got to this point where I really believed I understood the gospel and how to respond to it. But it just seemed too good to be true. It took me weeks to believe it.”
The gospel truly does seem too good to be true, and yet it is true. This changes everything.
Here are a few ways we see God at work in our church today in this area:
- My friends Larry and Marian started inviting soldiers over for lunch after church and this has grown into a ministry specifically serving military folks.
- My friend and fellow pastor Tom is inviting his neighbors to the small group meeting at his house.
- My friend Raoul has been inviting his neighbors over for a weekly Bible study for over a year.
- My friends Richard and Ingrid have been building a friendship with a wonderful single mom and her kids.
- My friend Jon mentors a boy from a low-income area and has invited his family to church.
- My friend Jath moved into a low-income area known for gang activity to reach out to folks there it would otherwise be difficult to reach.
- My friend Neil organized a coat drive for the school he teaches at, which is located in one of the poorest zip codes in the country and where nearly every student lives below the poverty line.
- All 800 students from this school received a sweatshirt this past year through the generosity of members of Cross of Grace Church. As a result, this has led to many opportunities to share the gospel.
So far we’ve not had hundreds come to faith in Christ, but we have had some, and we rejoice in this. We’re convinced this can’t be a quick fix. This has to be a change for the long haul.
All this has only been possible because of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We realized that our evangelism problem was really a gospel problem. But the good news is that the gospel makes true repentance possible. When we realize that, in Christ, we can’t make God do anything to love us more or love us less, it frees us to repent.
The gospel also propels us to change. Understanding how truly good the message about Jesus is turns us outward to share our lives and share this message. When we truly encounter the Savior, our heart grows with love for him, and when we love him, we love the mission of introducing others to him (Luke 8:38-39).
Recently I shared all this with a friend from another church, including God answering my prayer that God would save just one person. He smiled and said to me, “Well, it looks like next time you should pray for more than one!”
Amen. May we be a family of churches that pray always “for one more” to be saved. May we be known both for our love for the gospel and our deep desire that those around us know the gospel. And may we take hold of the grace of repentance as we learn and grow together.
Ricky serves as the lead pastor at Cross of Grace Church in El Paso, TX. He grew up in El Paso and has a deep passion to see the gospel proclaimed in the city. His primariy responsibilites include overseeing vision, preaching, and leadership of the pastoral team. Ricky graduated with Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing from UTEP in 2008 and graduated from the Sovereign Grace Pastors College in 2010. He is happily married to Jenn and they have one son. You can watch Ricky share his testimony here.
October 3, 2012 by
Categories: Articles | Evangelism
If you could change anything about yourself to make you more effective in evangelism, what would you change?
I’ve asked this question to many people, over many years, in many different places. A couple of weeks ago, I asked it to a group of folks from Akron, Ohio who wanted to grow in the area of evangelism. They gave the typical answers: “I wish I was more bold.” “I wish I knew how to answer questions better.” “I wish I was more outgoing.” It’s pretty easy to come up with a list of things about ourselves that make us unqualified to do evangelism. But imagine the early disciples reasoning in the same manner: “Listen guys, Phillip really seems like a people-person. Let’s have him do the reaching out,” or “Bartholomew seems to be smart and pretty persuasive. Let’s get him to do the evangelism.” That would be preposterous. Why? Because all the disciples were busy proclaiming the gospel (Acts 8:1.4)! From the very beginning, becoming a follower of Christ always included becoming a “fisher of men” (Mark 1:17). It was a job for not just the outgoing, not just the socially gifted, but everybody.
Here’s another way of looking at it. Have you ever heard a Christian say, “I’m not gifted in prayer—I’ll leave it to those who are really spiritual,” or “I’m not gifted in reading the Bible—I’ll leave that to the intellectuals,” or “I’m not gifted in giving—I’ll leave it to the generous people who have lots of money”? You’ve probably never heard this because these statements would sound ridiculous coming from a true Christian. But here is a statement that I have heard many true Christians make: “I’m not gifted in evangelism—I’ll just leave it to those who are more outgoing.” Although I understand the feeling, I think that statement is as ridiculous as the others.
Many Christians think they don’t have the “gift of evangelism” so they regularly opt out of it. Sadly, the mindset of “it’s-not-my-gift” has kept innumerable laborers from entering the harvest field. But the Bible never mentions such a gift. Rather, it mentions the gift of the “evangelist,” a church leader given “to equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Eph. 4:11-12), in this case the work of evangelism.
Christians don’t need to be uniquely gifted to evangelize; rather, we need to be equipped! And evangelism is not a gift given to some, it’s a command given to all. One of our main callings as followers of Christ is to help others become followers of Christ. Many of us have misfiled evangelism in the spiritual gift drawer when it needs to be filed in the spiritual discipline drawer. It’s not reserved for those who are outgoing, any more than Bible study is reserved for those who are studious.
When we make this correction in our minds, we see that we should seek to grow and be accountable in evangelism just as we do in other spiritual disciplines. Accountability is one of the key tools that God uses to help us grow. We are accountable in areas that are important to us—areas like quiet times, spending time with our spouse, parenting, etc. But we are rarely accountable in the area of evangelism. My community group has tried to make this adjustment by talking about reaching out. We will periodically go around the room and talk about who we’re having over to dinner or who we’re inviting to church. It’s always motivating to hear the stories, and it’s also a reminder that God wants to use us. It’s not that we don’t desire to reach people for Christ – that isn’t the issue (at least not in my community group). It’s just that it can be hard to make it a priority and fit it into our busy schedules. Accountability is what makes all the difference. We recognize that evangelism is something we are all called to participate in (we can’t just leave it to the evangelism Rambos) and we need each other to help get us there.
I have often thought about my church and how it is filled with wonderful, fun-loving, hospitable, enjoyable people. What has puzzled me over the years is how to get this fun-loving bunch connected with unbelieving men and women. I believe that encouraging each other in the context of small groups can help. We won’t all have the same passion or effectiveness when it comes to reaching unbelievers but we can all grow. And by God’s grace, he will use each of us with our personal strengths and weaknesses and our specific personalities to tell people about the glorious gospel of Christ.
*If you’d like to learn more from Jim on the topic of evangelism, check out the Proclaim DVD Course.
Jim Donohue serves as Pastor of Evangelism at Covenant Fellowship Church in Glen Mills, PA, where he loves getting to know new people. He has served on the pastoral team since 1996. In keeping with his primary responsibility to direct the church's call to evangelism, Jim also leads the college age ministry where he is able to care for college students as well as coordinate outreaches to local universities. He has enjoyed a number of Pastors College and seminary classes and also has a BS degree in Business Administration. He lives in West Chester with his wife, Tricia, and their four children, and spends his free time eating, reading, and working hard to beat his two sons at basketball, which may not last long.