Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Review - 5 Things Every Christian Needs to Grow by RC Sproul

The thought I had while reading this book is that it would be a helpful resource to give a new believer. The information found in it would be of great value to new converts because this book covers topics that are needed to grow in Christ. In the chapter on service the author, RC Sproul from Ligonier Ministries, explains why he chose the five topics discussed in this book. To quote, The five practices we are exploring in this book are all means of grace. A means of grace is a tool or instrument that God uses to strengthen and nurture us so that we grow in conformity to Christ. The five tools that RC gives us are foundational to growth in Christ - Bible study, prayer, worship, service and stewardship. Clearly these are tools that all Christians, new and old alike, need each day in their walk with God.

RC writes in a clear and easily understood manner. A person doesn’t need a theological degree to grasp each topic and the importance they have in the life of a Christian. He takes us to Scripture to show us how each tool is needed and required of believers. RC's desire for his readers to grow in Christ is evident on every page.

I would encourage anyone to pick up this little book, new believer or life-long Christian. When you finish you will be better equipped to grow in Christ. You can purchase it from LigonierChristian Book or from Amazon.

Disclaimer - I received this resource free as a PDF from Reformation Trust Publishing. I will receive a free copy of this book as compensation for my review, positively or negatively, on my site.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Review - Beyond Opinion by Ravi Zacharias

Beyond Opinion from Thomas Nelson Publishers is a collection of writings by different authors that deal with a variety of apologetic issues of the Christian faith. These issues are divided into four general sections which make it easier to access for future reference. And I believe that is exactly what this book is, a reference book. This is a book that you could use to prepare conversations you may have with a Muslim, an atheist, someone who believes in science to prove existence and to aid in response to those who question how a loving God would allow evil and suffering in the world, just to name a few.

This book is academic in nature and very heady. And that should be expected since defending our faith with unbelievers is mainly intellectual in nature. It is a book that could very easily be used in an apologetics class to facilitate discussion.

In the last section Ravi writes that as well as being intellectual we must also live our faith. He gives a quote from a non-believer who questioned whether our new birth was truly a supernatural act. The question was this, “If this conversion is truly supernatural, why is it not more evident in the lives of so many Christians I know?” After reading this book you shouldn’t need to have that question asked of you.

You can currently purchase this book from Christian Book in paperback for $11.99.

Disclaimer - I received this resource free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their Book Sneeze book review blogger program. All that was required of me is that I review it, positively or negatively, on my site.

Review - The Trellis and the Vine

The subtitle of The Trellis and the Vine from Matthias Media sums up the book perfectly - it is a literal ministry mind-shift. The concepts discussed go against popular church-growth models and suggest something radical - having a ministry that is Biblical.

The authors, Colin Marshall and Tony Payne, have undertaken the task of clearly outlining what it means for a church to fulfill Biblical ministry and use the idea of a trellis and its vine as a metaphor. (In case you don’t know what a trellis is, and before this book I didn’t either, it is what the vine grows on.)

They explain trellis work as the organization, governance, committees, structures, programs, activities, fund-raising and the like that support the vine, which is the true work of the church. The vine work is making disciples and training them to make other disciples of Christ. Colin and Tony explain vine ministry this way, “The basic work of Christian ministry is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of God’s Spirit, and to see people converted, changed and grow to maturity in that gospel. That’s the work of planting, watering, fertilizing and tending the vine.”

The question/proposition this book is based on is this, “Are we making genuine disciples of Jesus Christ? Our goal is not to make church members or members of our institutions, but genuine disciples of Jesus. Our goal is to grow the vine, not the trellis.”

To do this, they say, is not as easy as growing programs. We can create programs with little or no thought but the vine work is, “personal and requires much prayer. It requires us to depend on God, and to open our mouths and speak God’s word in some way to another person. By nature (by sinful nature, that is) we shy away from this.” You may be saying like I did that I don’t shy away from that responsibility, I proclaim Christ to all that I can. They then explain why we don’t do vine work like we should with the following scenarios - “What would you rather do: go to a church working bee and sweep up some leaves, or share the gospel with your neighbor over the back fence? Which is easier: to have a business meeting about the state of the carpet, or to have a personal meeting where you need to rebuke a friend about his sinful behavior?” This was like a dagger through my heart. It revealed that I would rather stay busy doing trellis work than to do vine work. This book exposed many areas of weakness I have in the ministry.

This has also made me evaluate all that we are doing at Open Door, my home church. Are we growing true disciples or are we growing programs? Are we seeing spiritual growth? Are we seeing people grow in, as they call them, the three c’s:
  • Conviction - their knowledge of God and understanding of the Bible
  • Character - the godly character and life that accords with sound doctrine
  • Competence - the ability to prayerfully speak God’s word to others in a variety of ways
All of this, except the three c’s, are in the first few pages of the first chapter. The rest of the book doesn’t disappoint. It is sorely needed. With all of the church-growth material out their these guys have focused on gospel growth, which they point out is the only growth Scripture mentions. They get our focus back on discipleship and away from focusing on filling our church bulletins with a growing list of programs that we offer. It will make you think, it will cause you to evaluate, it will challenge. If you approach it with a mind that is open to having its preconceived notions about church ministry challenged then there is much to glean from it.

I highly recommend this book for those in church ministry (this book makes the point that all of us are in the ministry, not just the pastor or elders or leaders so it’s for all of us). You can purchase it at Christian Book currently for $8.99.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Reflections on Being Installed as an Elder

My church had what our denomination calls a “Pastor’s Council” form of church governance for around three-and-a-half years. Being a member of the Pastor’s Council for those years I understood the qualifications and responsibilities of that position which are lined out in our denominations guidelines. It is a full-time “job” that I willingly and gladly fulfilled as best as I could, all the while knowing that type of church leadership was not the elder model found in Scripture (Titus 1:5)

Sunday night (January 30, 2011) we changed from the Pastor’s Council model to an Eldership Team which lines us up with Scripture. It is a change that excites and humbles me and is a long time coming.

The past few months our pastor has taken me and the other members of the Pastor’s Council through the Biblical qualifications for elders (I Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9). We read Alexander Strauch's booklet, “Biblical Eldership: Restoring the Eldership to Its Rightful Place in Church”, spent much time in prayer, which prepared us for Sunday nights changing over from a Pastor’s Council to an Eldership Team.

A few days before the installation I wondered what my reaction would be, knowing that the change would take place, knowing that I would be installed as an elder to serve in God’s church. Would I be excited? Would I be joyful? Would I be humbled? Would I be moved at all?

I was all of those (except the last question) and more. The instant our church voted their approval I felt God in a mighty way. It was as if He was letting me know that He would be with me on this new journey. I realized that my wife was holding my hand which was God’s way of telling me that she was going to be with me in this as a true partner in His service.

After the vote my pastor called the newly elected elders to the altar and had the church come and pray for each of us individually. I felt a sense of unity that I don’t think I had ever felt. As the other elders were prayed for my heart longed to pray for the other men more than I ever had. I was ready more than ever to do the work of the Lord with each, to serve in God’s church with them.

As my pastor and church laid their hands on me and began to pray I was overcome with emotion. I felt so much love from them that it was almost unbearable. I wept as God’s presence overwhelmed me. The prayer my pastor prayed over me I will never forget.

After the church prayed for the elders we spent time in individual prayer. I could do no other than to fall on my face and cry out to God. He reassured me that I wouldn’t have to rely on my abilities to serve as elder but that He would give me the power, knowledge and wisdom to fulfill this calling He has place on me. I wept even more. Why God uses a sinner like me to lead His people is beyond me.

As the night concluded I knew that I will not be alone in this journey. The church will be there with me and the rest of the elders every step of the way. As I serve our church my wife will be praying for me and disciplining me as only a wife can and should. Above all of that God will always be with me. He called me and will empower me to serve Him in this capacity.

And that is exactly what an elder is - a servant (Mark 10:45). Being an elder is not a position where I say look at me but I help others fix their gaze on Christ (II Corinthians 4:18). This is not a position where I think that I am more important than others but must look at others as more significant than me (Philippians 2:3). I don’t want people to believe that I am perfect (which I am nowhere near but striving to become) but I want to lead my church to the only Perfect One (Matthew 5:48).

I am reminded of the grace that God has bestowed on all of His children. Paul’s words in I Timothy 1:15 sums this up beautifully: “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” Praise God that He still saves and wants to use broken vessels to do His work.