Consider Moses and the Apostle Paul. What traits did they have in common? I think of them as highly intelligent and highly educated men. Would you consider Jesus' disciples to have the same traits? Why did Jesus pick disciples who were not highly educated? We don't know how smart they were, but Jesus did call them "dull"(Matthew 15:16). Moses and Paul were great leaders - but so were the disciples. Something is going on with the training of the disciples that might bless our lives. Let's dive into our lesson and see what we can learn about the way Jesus trained future spiritual leaders!
Discipling Spiritual Leaders
Commentary for the March 15, 2014 Sabbath School Lesson
“Now it was the practice of the priests that, whenever any of the people offered a sacrifice, the priest’s servant would come with a three-pronged fork in his hand while the meat was being boiled and would plunge the fork into the pan or kettle or caldron or pot. Whatever the fork brought up the priest would take for himself. This is how they treated all the Israelites who came to Shiloh. But even before the fat was burned, the priest’s servant would come and say to the person who was sacrificing, ‘Give the priest some meat to roast; he won’t accept boiled meat from you, but only raw.’ If the person said to him, ‘Let the fat be burned first, and then take whatever you want,’ the servant would answer, ‘No, hand it over now; if you don’t, I’ll take it by force.’” 1 Samuel 2:13-16, NIV
Many years ago, I worked for a major national insurance company as their registered agent. I sold insurance and also was licensed to sell equities. I assisted individuals with several aspects of their financial and estate planning based on excellent training received from the insurer in these areas. During the years that I was employed there, I discovered that in order to be successful, an agent must be willing to convince people to buy products that they did not want and perhaps did not even need. We had very detailed computer projections that we would trot out to show that they did indeed need what we were selling to avoid the possibility of a very dire future. This was very similar to an evangelist working an audience. Initially, I bought into these projections, but as I learned more and more about true financial planning principles, it became more and more difficult to rationalize this company’s business model, and we parted company.
One of the fundamental principles that I learned about financial planning is if the financial planner stands to make money from your choices whether you win or lose, they may not have your best interests in mind. Some may see the soundness of this when it comes to their finances. However, is it possible to be sensible like this when it comes to our retirement planning and then lose this sense of rationality when we transfer over to the spiritual domain? In short do we ask who stands to gain from what we are being told?
The Christian church has come a long way from its humble beginnings in the 1st Century, C.E. Back then, wealth and property were held in common[i] and no one gained a material advantage by convincing others to follow Jesus. This resulted in an inclusive faith with the interplay of many different perspectives that allowed for a flexible theology to take the message of the Gospel to much of the Mediterranean world and beyond. Perhaps this egalitarian attitude allowed the leaders in Jerusalem to feel so accommodating toward the non-Jewish Christian converts when Paul met with them over the issue of circumcision.[ii]
Eventually, things changed. Perhaps they changed when Paul instructed the church to take a harder line toward the needy.[iii] The Book of Acts, which scholars believe was written in the 7th decade, CE,[iv] purports that the church of the 4th decade was egalitarian financially. Paul’s guidance to the Thessalonians is dated to the mid-6th decade.[v] If this is indeed a harder line, then it occurred rather early, perhaps within twenty years of Christ’s ascension. However, since it is bracketed apparently by earlier practice that is different and is described by someone writing a decade after Paul’s statement may indicate that Paul’s statement is applicable to a specific context and not seen as the general policy of the first century church.
While the idea of some profiting from the Gospel was apparently not practiced early on, the fact that Paul mentioned it to the Corinthian church gives support to the idea that it was at least under discussion.[vi] Why would it even need discussion? Aren’t Paul’s words on the matter adequate to establish the practice of some being paid to work full time for the Lord? Perhaps at issue then as now is the purpose of the church. Should the church exist primarily to provide resources to support a clerical caste? Or should its resources go primarily for evangelism and benevolence?
A study done in the Episcopalian Church and presented in an article in the “Daily Episcopalian,” illustrates the burden this creates for congregations.[vii] The article’s author, George Clifford, states that the total compensation package for even one full time cleric can run well over seventy thousand dollars. This would mean that for a small congregation of thirty members, each member would have to contribute an average of over $2,300 per year or almost $200 per month simply to break even notwithstanding the expenses of operating the physical plant. Perhaps this reality is what caused Paul to prefer a “tent-maker” ministry where he supported himself from secular employment rather than drain the finances of the church for his own needs.
When we consider the thousands of clerics paid by the various denominations, perhaps this goes a long way toward explaining the dismal evangelism returns for Christianity in the Western and Orthodox worlds where this practice of paying clergy is most prevalent. In North America, accretion rates are typically below three percent. In fact, the fastest growing church, the Seventh-day Adventist denomination grew in the United States at the rate of only 2.5 percent as reported by USA Today in 2011.[viii] In the official report of the denomination on their denominational news site in 2013, they did not even publish the figures for the United States so perhaps they were even worse.[ix]
When we consider all the pressure this must place on the clergy to urge the local church to support the burden of their own salaries, perhaps we can see the potential for clergy to engage in perpetual fund raising at the expense of gospel outreach. One aspect of this fund-raising is seen in encouraging “obedience” to tithing and stewardship regulations. This can cause moral distortions in church practice. For instance, if tithing is a key requirement for church lay office, the faithful tithe payer with borderline morality, may be more likely to hold office than a non-tithe paying member with stellar morality. Perhaps it is possible to see how this might end up with the wolf minding the sheep pen.
The pressure of providing for a clerical salary may also result in the pastor, bishop, administrator, etc. taking poor counsel from those he or she shouldn’t have listened to simply out of fear of offending a hefty contributor to the church coffers. We might ask if it is proper that money be able to buy the cleric’s ear in this manner.
Perhaps worse, what happens if someone is pastoring a relatively poor congregation? Suppose the congregants are mostly elderly pensioners or disabled individuals struggling to manage to pay for medicines and basic household expenses each month. We know that Jesus would never drive such persons away, yet because such a church would have a hard time meeting the obligations to maintain a clerical presence, the pastor might feel the pressure to push the members to contribute all they can to offset that expense, even if another church may be subsidizing the effort.
Is it possible that all of this financial pressure in any way is contributing to membership attrition? Has it turned our Christian clergy into the equivalent of the financial planner that makes money from the product he sells? Can an agent with such an agenda be trusted to be impartial when it comes to issues of obedience and faith? Or does this set the stage for a clergy that sells out to the highest bidder and whatever their agenda might be?
Some have said that to be a successful church pastor, elder, or administrator, one must excel at the practice of politics in order to navigate the minefield of competing agendas. Yet, isn’t the rule of money exactly what we see in the secular political arena?
Historically the church has been fraught with an insatiable appetite for gold. Whether we consider Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome and the Hagia Sophia of Constantinople, the Gothic Cathedrals of Europe, or the costly international administrative offices and mega churches of the various denominations today, it is rivers and oceans of gold that have built the infrastructure and continue to sustain it, both then and now. Sadly the implied belief in all of this is that should the gilded rivers cease flowing, God’s work will stop. Perhaps, instead, it will finally be set free, and the church of Acts will be reborn.
[i] Acts 2:44-45, Acts 4:32
[ii] Acts 15:1-35
[iii] 2 Thessalonians 3:10
[iv] "Acts of the Apostles," Wikipedia Article, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acts_of_the_Apostles
[v] "2 Thessalonians." Wikipedia Article, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2_Thessalonians
[vi] 1 Corinthians 9:7-18
[vii] "Do Churches Exist to Support Clergy?" Daily Episcopalian, http://www.episcopalcafe.com/daily/clergy/do_churches_exist_to_support_c.php
[viii] "Adventists' back-to-basics faith is fastest growing U.S. church," USA Today, March 18, 2011, http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/religion/2011-03-18-Adventists_17_ST_N.htm
[ix] "MEMBERSHIP NEARS 18 MILLION, SECRETARY HIGHLIGHTS REGIONS OF GROWTH, DECLINE," Adventist News Network, October 13, 2013, http://news.adventist.org/all-news/news/go/2013-10-13/membership-nears-18-million-secretary-highlights-regions-of-growth-decline/
1. Have a volunteer read John 16:7-12.
a. Ask class members to share a thought on what the most important point in this text is.
b. Was there more truth that the disciples needed to learn through the study of the Bible and the guidance of the Holy Spirit?
c. Personal Application: Do you think we have all the truth, or is there truth as a church for us to discover? What about individual truth? Do we need to grow in our understanding of God’s truth? Share your thoughts.
d. Case Study: One of your relatives states: “I do and say whatever the Spirit leads me to. He impresses my mind and controls my thoughts. Too many people are stuck on doctrinal issues when what they need is a dose of the Holy Spirit to liven their lives and lift their spirits.” How would you respond to your relative?
2. Have a volunteer read Luke 6:12-16.
a. Ask class members to share a short thought on what the most important point is in this passage.
b. Why did Jesus pray all night before choosing His disciples? Didn’t He already know who would be right for the job?
c. Personal Application: Which of your church leaders do you look up to the most? Why? Share your thoughts.
d. Case Study: One of your neighbors states, “How does the church select its leaders? Do some people show signs of leadership? What are these signs? Do people in your church know what their spiritual gifts are?” How would you respond to your neighbor?
3. Have a volunteer read Matthew 11:29 and Isaiah 57:15,16 idea of this text is.
b. What does it mean to be of a contrite spirit? How can we tell if someone is humble or not? What is humility?
c. Personal Application: What if a leader is causing problems in the church through strife, contention, or a negative attitude? How does the church handle such issues? Share your thoughts.
d. Case Study: One of your friends states, “What are the most important qualities you want to see in a leader in your church? What are these qualities important? Can a person be a good leader in your church without them?” How would you respond to your friend?
4. Have a volunteer read Acts 1:23-26.
a. Ask class members to share a short thought on what the main idea of this text is.
b. What is the biggest challenge to you to make a disciple by being a mentor?
c. Personal Application: Have you been mentored by someone in the church? What have you learned from them? Was it focused more on knowledge or experience? Share your thoughts.
d. Case Study: Think of one person who needs to hear a message from this week’s lesson. Tell the class what you plan to do this week to share with them.
(Note : “Truth that is not lived, that is not imparted, loses its life-giving power, its healing virtue. Its blessings can be retained only as it is shared.” MH p. 149.)
"Discipling Spiritual Leaders"
March 15, 2014
Texts: Luke 6:12-16; John 16:7-14; Luke 6:20-49; Jeremiah 50:31; Isaiah 57:15; Acts 1
Winter Olympics are finished. We were all dazzled by the incredible feats of the star athletes, but often underestimate the hard work and training that goes into these amazing performances. What looks so effortless is hidden beneath sheer determination and persistent exertion.
So, what is considered the toughest of the 21 Winter Olympic sports? Figure skating is more than gliding around the rink, but it's not as challenging as the halfpipe or hockey. Aerials, downhill skiing, and ski jumping are definitely body jarring ways to break a rib, or an arm, or a leg, or your neck! But according to USA Today Sports, nothing is quite as brutal as the Nordic combined.1
Ever since the first ever Winter Olympics in 1924, this Nordic combined sport has been held. Norwegian soldiers first competed in Nordic skiing back in the 19th century. Oslo has held competitions since 1892. It's no wonder that Norway has brought the best and the toughest competitors to the Olympics since the sport began.
The Nordic combined is a blend of the grueling work of cross-country skiing mixed with the artistry of ski jumping. Some athletes focus on one sport, but this one takes multiple disciplines. Like the triathlon, it integrates exhausting endurance with jaw-dropping thrills. Just try pushing yourself to the limit for over 18 miles, often uphill. You'd probably collapse at the finish line like most of these athletes did. Once again, in last month's team competition, Norway won the gold. After all, the event is pretty much named after them.
In this week's Sabbath school lesson we focus on discipling spiritual leaders. Much like the training for the Nordic combined, Christ's method of developing a skilled leader required more than one discipline. Jesus did more than sit around and teach theory. The disciples trained for their work by watching and practicing. Knowledge was combined with experience.
The top picks for the Savior's leadership team wouldn't make it on today's sport pages. They were a mix of uneducated and undisciplined men who didn't appear too hopeful on the outside. This is part of the deep insight of Christ. Jesus saw what they could be, and instilled in them a vision to develop skills that would shake the world.
We look at the gloss and shine of star Olympic athletes and are impressed with feats we would never try ourselves. But the qualities that glow mostly brightly among Christ's team are characteristics like humility, patience, and self-sacrifice. In God's eyes, these are what bring you across the finish line.
Additional resource: sochi2014
1.In class, discuss your answer to Thursday’s final question. What can you learn from each other’s answers?
2.Read Acts 6:1-6. Why does the incident here reveal one of the reasons as to why the church needs good leaders?
3.Dwell more on this idea of a balance between experience and knowledge in the Christian life. Is it possible that different people will need different balances; that is, some people will put more of an emphasis on experience than they do on knowledge, while others will focus more on knowledge than they do experience. If so, how can we learn to be sensitive to these differences in our efforts to make disciples? How can we learn that perhaps what we need isn’t exactly what others will need? Also, look at this text: “For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom” (1 Cor. 1:22). How does this text reveal the differences between knowledge and experience?
1. Leadership happens as a church visions together. “The influence of vision exists both within a disciple’s experience with God and in the corporate nature of vision among the people of God.”
2. The Church leads together. “Leadership roles are shared, people are empowered, and trust is evident.”
3. The Church learns together. “The Holy Spirit guides as truth is sought and shared. Each is a learner, and biblical knowledge in particular equips each for their place in the leadership task.”
4. The Church acts together. “Christian disciples, ministering according to their spiritual gifts, join and organize for achieving a shared vision.”
5. The Church communicates together. “Churches exercise leadership in a climate of mutual understanding produced by conversation, understanding, and prayer.” (p. 930)
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