How God Leads Those in Ministry (Part 1)

One of the paradoxes of Christian ministry is that leaders are first and foremost followers. When Jesus called His first disciples–those who would give leadership to His church–He told them, “Follow me.”  So unless we are following Jesus, we have no business leading others.

tough dMost of us agree with that in principle.  But in practice it gets more difficult.  How can we be sure we are following Jesus as we lead others?  When we face difficult and complex issues in ministry–personnel selections, financial choices, directional decisions–how can we be confident we are doing what God wants done?

That’s a question I’ve been considering as I’ve studied through the book of Acts this year. Acts is a great place to look for an answer to this question because it gives us case studies of  how God led the first Christians who launched out in mission.

After reading and re-reading the book of Acts, I’d answer that question like this:  God leads those in ministry by His Spirit.  Throughout Acts we read about the Holy Spirit’s ongoing involvement in the lives of those who were engaged in ministry.  In fact, some biblical commentators refer to the book as the “Acts of the Holy Spirit.”

But that answer is still rather vague, isn’t it?  You might be thinking, “Well, exactly how go that waydoes that happen?”  I’d answer by saying that God leads believers by His Spirit in three primary ways.  While these three ways are found throughout the book of Acts, examples of all three show up in chapter 16. [If you take a moment to read through Acts 16, you’ll track better with my comments below.]

I’ll start by focusing on one of the three ways and deal with the other two in successive posts. Finally, I’ll wrap things up by reflecting on how we can integrate and apply what we learn about God’s leading to our current ministry situations.

God leads through providential provisions

Acts 16 opens with Paul and Silas launching out on a second missionary journey (the first missions trip is chronicled in Acts 13-14). As they come to the city of Lystra, they meet Timothy, a young man who is highly regarded by the believers in his church. Paul sees in Timothy a perfect replacement for John Mark (who had deserted the team on the first missions trip).

While you could say meeting Timothy was just a happy coincidence, it’s more accurate to view it as a providential provision. God sovereignly directed Paul to Timothy, providing him with a “son in the faith” (1 Timothy 1:2) and life-long ministry colleague (see 2 Timothy 4:9-13).

We see a similar providential provision when Paul, Silas and Timothy come to Philippi. They make their way to a nearby river “expecting to find a place of prayer” (16:13). Here they happen to meet a woman named Lydia who believes the gospel message and welcomes them into her home. She helps launch the church in Philippi. Again, God provides just the right person for the extension of the mission.

We could point to still another providential provision later in the chapter.  After Paul and Silas are locked up in jail, God sends an earthquake to open the prison doors (16:25-34). The earthquake was perfectly timed to open both the prison doors and the heart of the jailer on duty; he “fell trembling before Paul and Silas” and asked, ‘What must I do to be saved?” (16:29-30).

Throughout the chapter God directs His servants by providentially orchestrating circumstances to provide what was needed at just the right time:  a young apprentice for Paul, a woman to host the fledgling church and a earthquake to move a Roman jailer put his faith in Christ.

God still works providentially in lives and ministries today. He connects us with the right people at just the right time. He shakes things up to open eyes and hearts to the gospel. He sovereignly works to guide and provide for those who are on mission for Him.

We’ve recently seen this happen at Heritage in some personnel additions.  God moved circumstances in some stunning ways to direct us to several individuals who were the right fit for our staffing needs.

So God can lead His people through providential provisions.  But that’s not the only way God’s Spirit leads those on mission. Next time, we’ll explore a second way.

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On Tour

While spring is in the air in Southern Ontario, we’re still watching the ice melt on Prince Edward Island. No complaints, however, it is a joy to be here!

We’re enjoying a trip along with the Heritage Singers, and delighting in both Acadian hospitality and the kindness of pastoral couples on the East Coast.

Years ago, we (Rick and Linda) were given the opportunity to travel with the choir.   Our director, Loren Wiebe, had a profound impact on both of our spiritual lives, and the friendships we made in the Biola Chorale have continued over the decades.Biola Chorale

We learned to abide by Dr. Wiebe’s policy: “never tired, always hungry” as we were billeted in homes along the West and East Coasts.   The privilege of staying in the homes of believers, some very wealthy, and some very poor, was a life–enriching experience. The opportunity to see churches in large cities and churches on the prairies left lifelong impressions on us.

Now, years later, we’re hoping these students have the same life-shaping educational
experience. We’re hoping that as they visit homes they’ll feel the love of believers poured out over them, and that as they travel and sing they will have the opportunity to shine the Light of Jesus.

We’ve been taken with tIMG_0007heir songs; with the way they open the concert acapella, and close with a Zulu song that reminds us we are “marching to Zion.”   We’re delighted with the community of care they show to one another and their respect for Dr. Thomson.

And we are really blessed by those who are showing “hospitality to strangers” (Hebrews 13:2; Romans 12:13). More than once, we’ve all shown up at a church to receive a warm, hearty welcome with chili, chowder, or chicken casseroles. It’s a great reminder to all of us to welcome in the stranger.

In several of the churches, Rick has closed the concert with the gospel. In one church, people opened their hearts not only to the Heritage singers, but to the Lord Yahweh.

So, for all of us, may we welcome in the stranger, and most of all, welcome in the Lord!

P.S. If you’d like the host the Heritage Singers next year, or take in a pastoral intern, please contact us.

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Graduation 2015: Passing the Torch  

2015This is graduation week at Heritage and there’s excitement in the air. On Wednesday, students, faculty are staff will celebrate with a trip to the Toronto aquarium and a barbeque dinner. On Friday night, we’ll host a Grad Banquet for all graduates and their families. Then on Saturday morning (10:30), we will gather in the Heritage Community Centre for the graduation ceremony.

Over fifty graduates will walk across the stage this Saturday and then step into the next phase of their lives.  Linda and I have come to know a number of these grads on a personal level: some are headed into pastoral ministry, some will be worship leaders, some are planning to be missionaries, others will serve Christ in the marketplace and be key leaders in their local churches.

I’m thrilled with the caliber of so many of these graduates. I believe God will use their lives to strengthen the Church in Canada and spread the gospel around the world. That’s the reason Linda and I are grateful to serve at Heritage—we want to see the next wave of spiritual leaders equipped for life and ministry.

At the Grad Banquet on Friday night we will give each graduate a small brass pin shaped torchlike a torch. It’s our way of symbolizing the passing of the ministry torch to them. The faculty and staff at Heritage, along with parents and home churches, have sought to prepare them to carry the light of the gospel into the next generation.

These graduates leave Heritage with our love and prayers. We are proud of the efforts they have put into preparing for a lifetime of ministry. We will miss them on campus, but are delighted to see them step into the future God has for them. May they carry the torch high and well.

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Martyn Lloyd-Jones on Preaching

MLJ 1Last night I finished reading Ian Murray’s biography of Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Lloyd-Jones was a powerful preacher in London (and throughout the United Kingdom) in the 20th century. Each Sunday morning and evening for the better part of thirty years, he preached to several thousand people at Westminster Chapel in London.

As a young man, he was seen as a rising star in the medical field. But he traded his future as a physician of bodies to become a surgeon of souls:  he became a preacher.

He was known for his expositional, doctrinal approach to preaching. In fact, he preached 366 messages on the book of Romans and 232 on Ephesians. (My advice to young preachers: Don’t try to emulate the Doctor on this one!)

MLJ was a man with strong, definite convictions about preaching. Here are few:

On “sacrificing” a promising medical career to become a preacher:

“I gave up nothing. I received everything. I count it the highest honour that God can confer on any man to call him to be a herald of the gospel.” (99)

On the importance of diligent study and preparation for preaching:

“You will always find that the men whom God has used signally have been those who have studied most, known their Scriptures best, and given time to preparation.” (102)

On the vital importance of the preacher’s relationship with God:

“The minister should always move amongst the people as one who has been with God. His chief object should be to please God rather than to please men. What is needed is not the spirit but the Holy Spirit . . . . He can only win his place and have respect by a holy life.” (159)

On the blending of passion and truth in preaching:

“Preaching is theology coming through a man who is on fire. A true understanding and experience of the truth must lead to this.” (308)

On forgetting yourself while you are preaching:

“. . . be so absorbed in what you are doing and in the realization of the presence of God, and in the glory and the greatness of the truth that you are preaching, that you forget yourself completely.” (308)

The danger of finding your identity in preaching rather than in Christ:

“Our greatest danger is to live upon our activity. The ultimate test of a preacher is what he feels like when he cannot preach.” (450)

At this week’s Gospel Coalition conference, a new documentary on Lloyd-Jones’ life was premiered.  Here’e a link to the trailer for Logic on Fire.

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“The God School”

Recently I stopped in at the TD Bank across from Heritage to make a transaction. One of the tellers working the line that afternoon was a young man who usually has a friendly greeting for me.

On this day he asked, “So how are things at the school?”

“Great,” I replied.

He surprised me by responding, “Are you just saying that to be positive?”

I answered, “Well, I have to admit that schools like Heritage are facing challenging times. But we have a group of students who are sharp and vibrant. I have some of them in my preaching course and I love it. So things are great.”

What he said next still has me smiling.

GroupHe turned to the teller next to him and said, “I can always tell the ones who go to the ‘God school.’ They say ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ The students from the ‘God school’ are different from others who come in here.”

I’d never heard Heritage called the “God school” before, but I take it as a great compliment.   In 2 Corinthians 2:15 the apostle Paul writes, “For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.”

I’m grateful for students who are the aroma of Christ, not just on campus but wherever they go. And I’m banking on the fact the Lord will answer our prayers and direct more sharp and vibrant students our way.

If you know of students that would benefit from our one year program or a full-degree program, please encourage them check out the Heritage website (discoverheritage.ca) and to apply online.

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Surprised by Resurrection

wrightSeveral years ago I  purchased a copy of N.T. Wright’s massive book, The Resurrection of the Son of God.   It’s a thorough investigation of the historical validity of Jesus’ resurrection.  This Easter, I reviewed the opening chapters of the book and was struck again by one of the main ideas.

Wright shows that in Jesus’ day virtually no one thought resurrection was possible (by “resurrection” we mean return to physical life in transformed body after physical death).  Following the thinking of Homer and Plato, Gentiles thought resurrection was a ludicrous idea, both unthinkable and undesirable. Some Jews (i.e. Pharisees) believed in a physical resurrection, but only at the end of history.

So Jesus’ resurrection caught everyone by surprise.  The people in Jesus’ day (both Jews and Gentiles) didn’t have a category for someone rising physically from the dead in the middle of history.

Here’s the big point Wright makes: Believing in the resurrection of Jesus required a major shift in worldviews for both Jews and Gentiles.  And since worldviews normally change gradually, not suddenly, we are forced to explain the sudden shift.  How could so many people change their worldview about resurrection so quickly?  How could the early church grow rapidly in a cultural context where its central message (the gospel of a resurrected Christ) ran counter to current thinking?  Wright’s conclusion: only the actual resurrection of Jesus could account for such a change.  Any other explanation doesn’t fit the facts.

After completing his book, Wright gave it to a philosophy tutor (i.e. professor) at Oxford to read.  The tutor told Wright he had done a great job making a sound argument for the resurrection.  But he went on to say that he was still choosing to believe there must be some other explanation, even though he didn’t know what it was.

Easter requires faith from each of us.  It takes faith to believe in the resurrection.  But given the overwhelming evidence of both Scripture and history, it also takes faith not to believe.

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Courses for Women in Ministry

One of the new initiatives at Heritage Seminary is our Graduate Certificate for Women in Ministry. The program is designed to provide excellent academic training for women engaged in ministry their churches and communities.

Linda oversees the program and invited Dr. Phyllis Bennett from Western Seminary in Bible Study Curriculum 1Portland Oregon to teach a course on Designing Life-Changing Bible Study Curriculum. Linda had taken the course at Western several years ago and wanted to bring it to help the churches in Canada.

The seventeen women who took the three-day course were enthusiastic about what they learned. One woman wrote a note that said, “I just want to say thank you for your pursuit in putting courses like this together for women in ministry. What a great benefit and encouragement it was!”

Bible Study Curriculum 2The insights and skills the women gained in this course will help them develop Bible study curriculum for their local churches. Several of the women plan to write Bible studies for different language groups. We are thrilled to think of the impact this course will have on many lives.

The next course for the Graduate Certificate for Women in Ministry is a class on “Great Women of the Faith.” The course will run from June 15-19 and be taught by Dr. Michael Haykin and Linda Reed. It will provide an inspiring look at the lives of key women from Bible times to the present time.

I’d encourage some of you reading this to consider taking part in this course–or one of the other summer courses at Heritage. It would be an investment in your spiritual life and a way to become better equipped for life and ministry. You can find more information on our summer courses here.

UPDATE:  If you’d like to see ALL the upcoming courses in the Graduate Certificate for Women in Ministry program click here (or select the “Women in Ministry Courses” tab in the banner at the top of the page).

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