Added Walking in Their Sandals: A Guide to First-Century Israelite Identity by Markus Cromhout to the Bibliography.
Archives for July 2010
Many of the posts here on GTS have pointed out that seminary students realize during their academic career just how starved they were for formal training. Even students who were reared in church all their lives have commented on how little they actually knew about the richness in God’s Word that can be discovered by learning new study methods or language principles.
That’s where leaving a legacy for someone else can be so important. Many of our young men and women coming up in our churches as the leaders of tomorrow may feel that they do not have time for seminary. Many men and women who are answering or hearing God’s call later in their lives may feel that they do not have time either. The fact is, though, that they are just as in need of solid training as those taking a more traditional academic track.
It is also worthy to note that with the multiple options available today due to technology that there is very little reason that someone can’t further their education in at least some fashion. There are classes available for little to no cost at most denominational associations. There are online studies and blogs that lend themselves to students and learners who wish to enhance and deepen their biblical knowledge. And there are a growing number of seminaries that are increasing the online availability of their content so people can take classes without uprooting their lives.
So how is this at all related to a legacy? It’s easy “ we need to, as seminary students and graduates, convey to others the richness we have realized as a result of our formal training. Here are a few simple steps that will help you leave a legacy that will go beyond the degree you receive in seminary.
1. Work to dispel the myth that seminary is not needed. Sure — seminary to some may seem like a waste of time and money. And certainly I have experienced classes that seem to be less useful in ministry than others I have taken. But I have yet to take a class that offered nothing to me in light of my ministry calling. All of the classes I have taken have given me at least a portion of insight that I did not have before taking them. Your opinion of the value of seminary may be the qualifier that someone is looking for to go ahead and take the first step toward enrollment.
2. There is no such thing as ‘when I have time!’ If we all waited until we had time to do that ‘next thing’ in our lives “ we would NEVER get to them. Ministry is just as demanding, if not more, than any other vocation. And since we are focused on matters that are spiritual, it can be easy to drop in to a belief of ‘I can’t spend time on my training because my ministry will suffer.’ The truth of the matter is that ministry will be enhanced by further training. Helping ministers realize that they will be a more effective by pursuing training may be the gentle nudge they need to readjust their priorities and make time for seminary.
3. It doesn’t have to be ‘all or nothing.’ Some people will know right-off-the-bat that they will not be able to complete any type of seminary degree. They will either not have all of the resources to pay for it or they will convince themselves that they just do not have the time to do it. But they can take at least one course or two every year. Be the voice of reason for someone by telling them that even though they may not be able to complete an entire degree “ they can take a class or two here and there that will help them be more effective in ministry. This will allow them to focus on classes that are specific to their ministry focus and will allow them to be exposed to the seminary process. Who knows “ they might even find a way to give more time to their training and pursue more creative avenues for paying for it.
4. If you can “ put your money where your mouth is. It is no secret that the academic community has been just as affected by the current economic situation as other companies and institutions. The tragedy here, though, is that the value of their impact on the spiritual pulse of our nations and world is very significant as their training impacts the ministers of our nation and world. If you know of someone who needs to be pursuing seminary in some fashion and you are able to do so “ offer to pay for a portion of his or her classes or for all of them. If you do not have that capability, use some of the resources you found for yourself when paying for seminary to help persons push their creative boundaries for resourcing their schooling. Your investment will leave a more significant mark on their lives and the lives they will touch for God’s Kingdom than any Greek organization.
The year is 2015. Flying cars and hoverboards are everywhere, and most of us will have graduated from seminary. Maybe most of the world’s problems will be fixed in this short amount of time. There could be self-drying clothes and pizza that takes just seconds to hydrate—but probably not. And regardless of whether life is any easier five years in the future, Christian ministry will remain a tough task. So what are some of the challenges we will face in the future as we lead churches and ministries? It’s impossible to predict exactly what issues will face the church in the years to come, but it is highly likely that three problems which currently plague the church will only continue to be a problem if we don’t do anything about it.
Apathy against holiness- The first of these three problems is a general apathy: a nominal version of Christianity. The church doesn’t have a problem getting people into the pews—the real problem is getting those same people out of the pews and into the streets as ambassadors for Christ and sold-out disciples. The problem lies in a consumerist mindset found in our culture: that we go to church only to receive a service, and we need not make any contribution. There are many today who say that they believe in Christ and that they have been born again, but their life testifies that they have never truly been changed. They rely on a past conversion experience to get them by as a form of ‘fire insurance’ to save them from hell, but there is no true fruit of salvation in their lives. If we look closely at Matthew 7:13-23, we see the danger of living no differently than the world and not having any fruit that accompanies genuine repentance. This faulty mindset that says holiness and a changed life is not a necessary fruit of salvation is often a result of:
Illiteracy concerning the Word- A second major problem in the church is a lack of knowledge about Scripture. The Bible might be the best-selling book of all-time, but unfortunately it isn’t as often read. If we don’t teach our congregations to dig deep into the Scripture and hide God’s Word inside their hearts, they will not be affected by God’s truth, convicted by the Spirit, encouraged by God’s promises, and strengthened to fight daily against sin and temptation. The danger here is evident. Christians who don’t know the Word will lack discernment, and will be spiritually malnourished. And without discernment, many will be deceived and led into.
A distortion of the gospel- Possibly the greatest danger facing the church now and in the future is a distortion of the gospel. When people see God as some sort of all-powerful Santa Claus who exists to shower them with earthly riches and make them feel good about themselves, we have reduced Christianity to nothing more than one great therapy session, and when we do this we leave the key doctrines of our own sinfulness, Christ’s work on the cross, and his victory over the grave far behind. I was once told to ‘never preach a sermon that would still be true if Christ has not been raised.’ This is the greatest advice I have ever received. If we lose sight of the gospel and of the glorious work of Christ, we have lost the essence of true Christianity. If Christ had not died on the cross, we would still be dead in our sins, and if Christ had not been raised, we would have no hope at all. We must keep these truths in the forefront of our minds and our teachings.
Of course we do not know what the future will hold, and it would be silly to make the claim that we do. But if these trends continue, they will remain serious issues for the church to contend with for many years. As those entrusted with the gospel and pursuing Christian ministry in some form, we need to lead the charge against these faulty ways of thinking. We must preach expositionally, teach and disciple individuals with fervor, and set the example ourselves. If we do not take a stand for faithful discipleship and sound doctrine, revival in the church will seem as unimaginable as flying cars in five years.
A frequent question we face is ‘How do we get done all that we want to do?’ It’s a very important question, but if we think about this way, it’s the wrong question. A better question is ‘How do I do all that God has given me to do?’ There is one person who has walked among us who has been able to do just that. John 17 is a well known chapter in which Jesus prays for His disciples. But right before he does that, note carefully what He says in verse 4: ‘I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.’ (NIV) That’s quite a shocking statement, especially given the fact that he says this before He has gone to the cross. Yet He has completed all that God has given Him to do. He has not done all he could do, and definitely has not done all that others wanted Him to do, but God simply doesn’t ask us to do more than we can. Ever.
I was thinking about this in reading Nancy Wilson’s recent post on GtS on ‘The Balancing Act.’ She realized that she had placed too high an importance on her coursework, that ‘while I needed to attend to my studies, I didn’t have to give 110% every time.’ How did this good advice go together with my post on ‘Maximize Your Learning Experience’?
When it came to getting things done, Jesus was a master of prioritizing at two different levels: strategic and operational. He got the big picture right – He knew why He was here, what His priorities were, and where He needed to invest most of His time. That meant for some very tough decisions. He focused on doing the will of the Father, on reaching the people of Israel, and on building deeply into the lives of only a handful of men. Everything He did reflected His top priorities. Equally importantly, he always seemed to get it right in-the-moment. He took time out for individuals, to heal people, to go to dinner parties with sinners. His sermons got to the point, His teaching time was focused, He never got bogged down arguing with His critics, and He balanced family and ministry perfectly.
Well, we don’t have perfect knowledge what God has called us to do in detail, nor do we know perfectly what is going on in the lives of those around us “ so how do we do better at getting things done? We also need to think in terms of our time and priorities both at a high level and in the details, and tie the two together as best we can. It starts with making the most vital things top priorities in our lives (not just on paper) “ time with God, with family, taking care of ourselves, serving others, and sharing Christ. Also at a high level, we need to spend time listening to God and exploring His call for our lives. We need to understand our gifts and strengths, as these shed much light on what He expects from us.
What’s the tie-in to moment-to-moment decisions? How does it impact letting a course slide versus maximizing learning? Return on investment of time. With our fixed budget of hours, where do we see the highest return in the light of our calling and priorities? If family is a top priority, block out time on your calendar for it. Figure out how much time you should be spending on studies (the balancing act), then make the absolute most you can the time with your study time (maximize your learning). For example, spending an extra 30-60 minutes writing notes and reflecting on application after I’ve read a book greatly increases the value of reading it. That’s a super return on investment. All courses are not equal in the light of your calling. ‘Get by’ with those that aren’t, and do so guilt-free knowing that you are focusing your time where God wants you to. Your seminary professor will choose what is required reading vs. what is supplemental, but that doesn’t mean you give all books equal attention (or ignore ‘optional’ ones). Skim some, read others, and devour the ones that can really impact your life and ministry. Go the extra mile when you see an opportunity to tie in studies with your current ministry, do the minimum when the benefit is minimal. Share what you learn with others who would benefit from it “ that’s a triple win: you learn more by teaching others, they benefit from hearing, and you build relationships and build leaders in the process.
We can’t get done everything we would like to do, but when we tie-in what we’re doing and where we spend our time with what God has called us to do, we get a lot more of value done â€“ without short-changing ourselves or those we love.
“There is a danger of doing too much as well as of doing too little. Life is not for work, but work for life, and when it is carried to the extent of undermining life or unduly absorbing it, work is not praiseworthy but blameworthy.”
Ralph Turnbull (1901-1985)
How good are you a tightrope walking? How many items can you juggle at one time? What are the most important balls to keep in the air?
These are among the many questions I was faced with during my first semester in seminary. I knew it wouldn’t be easy…not with a husband, two young children and two geriatric dogs in tow. I understood it would require a sizeable adjustment having moved our family (as well as my mother-in-law) to a new area, requiring us to find new dentists, doctors, libraries, schools, grocery stores and more. I sensed it would involve great sacrifice since my husband would be gone nearly five days of each week for his job…only leaving us a small window of time together on the weekends.
So, how did I juggle all of these responsibilities? And, how well did I do in meeting them? To answer this question, I called upon Stephen Covey’s time management grid where Covey* identifies four areas (quadrants) signaling how we should spend our time: (1) urgent and important, (2) not urgent but important, (3) urgent but not important,and (4) not urgent and not important.
One area in which I think I succeeded (in some small measure) was that my family remained in quadrants (1) and (2). Obviously, I had to make judgment calls as to when the needs were urgent or not and I had stress maintaining those levels but I sacrificed to make sure they were honored.
Where I fell short was in how I treated my seminary work, my devotions and myself. Regarding seminary, more often than not, I had placed my coursework in the urgent/important grid. I did that knowing that my family sacrificed a lot to allow me to follow my calling so I thought I was doing them a favor by pursuing my seminary coursework “all out” such that their support would not be in vain. What I realized later was that they had already given enough and, while I needed to attend to my studies, I didn’t have to give 110% every time. Regarding my devotions, I often found myself empty and exhausted from the reading and the writing of seminary work and it ate away at the time I had set aside for personal study and prayer. I think this is what troubled me most because I knew how monumentally important it was. And, concerning myself, I neglected good eating and exercise regimens and I did not get the level of sleep that my body most desperately needed. Frankly, I’m still feeling and seeing the effects of this personal neglect.
As I look toward the fall term and the balance of my seminary journey, I realize I need to make some adjustments or I’ll be paying a price I am no longer willing to pay. Regarding coursework, I’ll give it a good effort and be willing to consider completed assignments to be “good enough”. Regarding my devotional time, I simply need to observe the Sabbath day as it was intended. In so doing, I can spend more time with my family, be more caring toward myself and be able to reconnect more fully and deeply with God. To remind me of these commitments, I plan to keep a copy of Covey’s grid posted on my wall along with Jesus’ commandments to love the Lord with all of my heart, soul, mind and strength and to love my neighbors as myself (Mark 12:30-31).
Perhaps Galileo said it best when he noted”I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forego their use.” I, for one, need to heed God’s words of wisdom when it comes to understanding what is truly important and how best to balance that to which I have been called.
*Stephen Covey is the author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People