How do we as Christians practically act as God’s stewards in this world? A steward is someone who looks after the owner’s property and protects the owner’s interests. Money, time, energy and everything else is exercised according to the owner’s instructions. They manage the property and honestly report to the owner every detail. One of the foundational passages for this in the NT is the parable of the talents.
Matthew 25:14-18 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.”
In four blogs I want to look at Maturity, Ministry, Materialism and Money… to do so with some practical ideas – what do our choices and commitments say about our faith? Would someone know we are a Christian by the way we speak, the way we act, the way we spend our time, the movies we watch, the company we keep, the books we read, the way we spend money, the way we act at work, the way we treat the poor, the way we speak to or about our spouse or kids?
If you’ve ever been tempted to read one of the “Dummies Guide’s to…” – well that’s my aim – a “Dummies Guide to Stewardship”. You don’t have to be dumb or act dumb – a dummies guide is simply a non expert’s guide – an everyday guide. Stewardship for us is not a matter of putting into practice our expertise but rather putting into practice our beliefs and our trust.
I want to challenge you for four commitments.
- Maturity… actively working towards maturity in Christ through prayer, Bible reading, regular church attendance and ministry.
- Ministry… to use God given gifts in ministry for the encouragement and building up of Christians and the ministry of the Gospel
- Materialism… to prayerfully and courageously stand against the world in the pursuit of happiness through possessions.
- Money… to give generously and regularly to the ministry of the gospel in your church.
A Dummies Guide to Ministry
Two Little Boys – P.S. it’s a Joke!!!!
- Two little boys, 8 & 10 were always getting into trouble – whenever anything happened in their small town their parents knew their sons would get the blame. But mum heard on the grapevine that there was a clergyman who’d been successful in disciplining kids, so she asked him to speak with her boys. He agreed to see them individually the next day.
- So, mum sends her youngest down to the church next morning. The clergyman, a huge man with a booming voice, sat the boy down and asked him sternly, “Where is God?”
- The boy’s goes to speak, but makes no sound, sitting there with his mouth hanging open.
- The clergyman repeats the question. “Where is God?”
- Again, the boy makes gives no answer.
- The clergyman raises his voice, shakes his finger and bellows, “Where is God!?”
- The little boy screamed, sprinted from the room, ran home to hide in his wardrobe, slamming the door behind him. His brother finds him crying, and asks; “What happened?”
- The little boy, fighting off tears says: “We’re in so much trouble – this is bigger than anything we’ve ever done. God’s missing, and they think we did it!”
Ministry’s such fun!
The Church 100 years on!
100 years ago that story might well have been a good description of church – things have changed dramatically (though you can still find churches that would not think this joke was a joke!). Ministers were scary – fire and brimstone preachers bellowing about sin and damnation from pulpits high in the air – dressed in black with big black Bibles. They still exist!
In the Anglican church and in plenty of others what the priest said was law – except it had greater authority because it came from God. The priest had standing in the church and the community; he was an integral part of society. Churches did limited ministries – teaching happened at church by the preacher. It happened in the home when every member of the family was catechised – which is what catechists used to do – come to your home and teach you the catechism – it’s in the back of the prayer book. The Priest preached and read services, did the prayers and the readings (3 or 4, even 5 at times) – there were few lay preachers or readers. Sunday Schools, if they existed, were tightly controlled by the minister, there were few youth groups, mostly no Bible Study groups (we have the Wesleys to thank for those in the modern church) – the ones that existed were an opportunity for the priest to come to preach to the gathered group in your home. I know this probably seems foreign to most – yet I know from personal experience that some groups still operate this way, and some ministers and even lay people operate this way.
Makes me wonder how they dealt with a passage like…
1 Peter 4:7-9 “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ…”
Mostly today the church is very different. The 16thC Reformation changed how we view church and ministry by going back to NT principles – especially that ministry was never meant to be the exclusive domain of the professional ministers and priests. Peter speaks of the new people of God, the church, as a priesthood of all believers.
1 Peter 2:9-10 “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
Once we did not belong – we were not the people of God – but together now Christians are the people of God, the priests of the kingdom, called to declare the praises of Jesus who called us out of darkness – we are chosen and we are priests – a holy nation that crosses all boundaries, all colours, all national and racial differences to form one nation of priests under God.
The Dummies Guide to Ministry says… Ministry is not the domain of professionals – it is the responsibility and lifestyle of all who believe.
The Priesthood of all Believers
Peter writes about change – the real change that’s required of those who belong to Jesus. This shouldn’t come as a surprise – at least the theory – yet Peter goes to great lengths to describe the changes. His letters describe Christians at length – the new people of God – a chosen people, a royal priesthood, holy, a nation belonging to God, receivers of God’s mercy – God’s elect, strangers in the world, no longer strangers to God – spread throughout the world, yet gathered around the word, gathered before the throne of God – the chosen ones, made clean by God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit, chosen for obedience, made one with Christ by his blood, granted peace and God’s grace in abundance. Why go on and on?
Why so many descriptions of the change?
Is it so detailed because even after 2000 years we still struggle to leave our old lives behind and be wholeheartedly committed to the new?
1 Peter 4:3 “For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry.”
All this we must leave behind gratefully, enthusiastically, with a sense of the reality that faces all people – that we must face God and deal with the lifestyle we have led.
1 Peter 4:4-5 “They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.”
In the face of imminent judgement – how are we to live?
1 Peter 4:7-9 “The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.”
Living as Priests
This passage is the Dummies Guide to Ministry. As we read the rest of Peter we can see that as God’s gathered people we are to be holy, to be self controlled, to purify ourselves through reading and obeying the Scriptures. We are to love one another, to crave what is good, to encourage rather than tear down, to get rid of all the relational tools that don’t belong in the church – malice, rage, anger, slander – there are standards of behaviour and love that we must live according to, no matter how imperfectly.
It is spectacularly easy to fail in these areas, to fall back into the behaviours of our old life, to revive the relational tools we were committed to as non-Christians. If that’s where you find yourself – failing in relationships as Peter is speaking of here – it’s not impossible to change, though it will often feel like it is. If you wrong someone – apologise – go to them and seek forgiveness – be open about it, talk about it – ask them to forgive you. It’s tempting to just ask God and to think that’s enough – it’s not. When we sin we sin against God and people – we need to seek the forgiveness of both. If its 20 years ago then deal with it today – seek forgiveness today. Forgiveness can only happen when you seek it. And if you fail today – seek forgiveness from the person you have wronged and repent and start again. And if you fail tomorrow do it again. How many times do we need to forgive – or be forgiven…? Jesus says 7 times 70? 7 is the number of God, times the number of God, times 10. We might say infinity + 1.
Christians are the priesthood of the kingdom – we have a new lifestyle – not one given to satisfying our cravings but given to ministry. Don’t think of ministry as a great list of gifts and abilities – Pater has no lists – this is the Dummies Guide – the experts guide for the rest of us – it gives us the simplicity of love and hospitality. Every Christian is a minister – we are each responsible to build, encourage, teach and train – to use our gifts, which every one of us has been given, to further the work of the gospel. We are to think clearly and carefully about life, relationships, the world, church, the cross, salvation, money, family – think clearly about this things from God’s point of view. We are to be self controlled – not pursuing things that will kill us but instead that which will save and keep us. It’s the work of a lifetime – to give up pagan commitments and commit to the work and life of Christ. Ministry starts with love.
Ministry Starts With Love
Actually – ministry starts with recognition – every one of us is a minister. There are no pew sitters in Christ’s kingdom.
1 Peter 4:7 “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.”
We have to start by believing God – he declares he has gifted us for his work.
Do you believe God?
Do you believe God when he says that you have been gifted by Him for the work of ministry? I guess I’d want to ask if you think God hasn’t gifted you – why is that? Why would God single you out to lack the gifts to serve in ministry – when he clearly promises that every Christian is gifted for the good of the church?
Maybe it’s hard for you to see where you can serve – maybe you need help working out where to get involved – maybe you need an environment that supports you or a ministry team who will encourage you – but the Bible is clear that each of us, as Christ’ chosen people, have been given the gifts required to serve Christ’s church faithfully.
1 Peter 4:9 “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.”
The thing is – getting involved in ministry is not a complex issue. It’s not a matter of discovering a specific gift – though that can help. Rather it’s a matter of realising the wonder of what we have received – the grace of God, the riches of Christ, the glory of heaven, and the forgiveness of sins… once we realise how unbelievable it is that we are in a right relationship with God through Christ – ministry is the means by which we will share that news. Ministry starts with love that is clear about the nature of this world and the judgement to come and out of love for God and others shares the gospel.
When two people get married – how ready are they for what’s to come?
Let’s be honest – they are not!? They’re not ready for the changes, the commitment, the differences, the day-to-day wonder of learning to live in intimate relationship. But… we commit to love and to service – to love one another to the exclusion of anything that will destroy, wreck, hurt, damage etc.
It’s the same in ministry – we don’t have to know precisely what our gift is or how to use it – what we need is a commitment to love. With self control – not living just for pleasure… and with clear mindedness – not clouded with the world – and a commitment to pray – we must love each other deeply and offer hospitality without grumbling.
The Whole of Ministry
This is not just the Dummies Guide to Ministry – this is the whole of ministry. Everything else fits into these two ideas. Firstly Peter speaks of Agape – love of a family member – Christians – we are to demonstrate a real and abiding love for each other firstly by sharing the gospel together and building each other up in the truth of God’s word. That love is powerful because it can bring about the obliteration of sins. Peter says “love covers over a multitude of sins” – in the context of church and relationships and ministry. He doesn’t mean we sweep the sins under the carpet – we don’t deal with them as some churches do with a false ceremony of absolution, which has no effect whatsoever. No – the love of the Christian community can deal with sin – on the basis of love we can make sin disappear – we can remove the stain of sin from our relationship and relate to each other not based on sin but on holiness. The pain from personal hurt may well remain, but relationships can be rebuilt. Peter says we are through with sin – that was our lifestyle but no longer. Our practice should meet up with the theory, and though it never will in this world, that is what we are to strive for. We minister together when we deal with sin, forgive sin and no longer treat each other as sinners but as forgiven and beautiful.
Can I just make a bit of an aside and be really, really clear. Sweeping sins under the carpet is not what we are talking about. I wouldn’t suggest for a moment that a victim of abuse (for example) should be told that “love covers over a multitude of sins” as though that somehow fixes the sin of others who did the abusing – it doesn’t in any sense. But go from a different position – the active, compassionate, practical, persistent and long term love of a Christian congregation towards a victim of abuse can mend brokenness and ‘cover over’ the sins and bring healing.
- A girl who has been abused by her mother might (eventually) find a whole group of mums at church that care for her and provides the sort of relationship a daughter has with a mum. It’s not the same – but it can bring healing and strength, a person or people to confide in, get advice from and to learn from. The mum still needs to be brought to account if that’s possible. But you know what churches so often do – they support the mum because they can’t believe their friend would ever do such a thing, and they condemn the girl and try to force her back into the abusive relationship.
- Or consider the case of a paedophile priest – for too long the church has fumbled around ineptly dealing with these issues – all too often by sweeping the sin under the carpet, blaming the victims, and paying people off whilst moving priests to new location where their past is not obvious. The church has taken the idea of ‘love covering over a multitude of sins’ entirely the wrong way! This is wrong! The victims of abuse deserve support and love that in time may cover the effects of the sin by rebuilding trust, faith and hope. And for some victims this will not be complete until we reach heaven – in fact maybe for most victims. All too often the victims are the ones rejected by the church – frankly this is reprehensible – if we do that we deserve the condemnation we so often receive in the media. But a church can also demonstrate the love of Christ by not covering over the sin, by not excusing the behaviour of the abuser, by not condemning the abuse victim, by not allowing the evil to continue, by not assuming that the priest could never have done such things because he’s always been such a lovely man, by not excusing sin as an aberration. The priest who abuses deserves to feel the full effects of the law and the condemnation of the church. Whilst the aim of the law is punishment, the aim of the church is to bring that priest back from sin to forgiveness and relationship – but that should not EVER be an easy path and they must NEVER be trusted without responsible and obvious supervision at all times – that is part of loving both the victim and the perpetrator – and even of loving those who could have been victims had the priest been allowed to continue. They must repent publicly and openly (within the bounds of the law) – there must be no prevarication – they must be thrown out of the church and we must not fellowship with them until they are fully aware of their sinfulness, and make a full, honest and public confession and pay for their crimes – we must treat them like the criminals they are. If and only when they have completed an appropriate lengthy time of repentance and excommunication should they be allowed back into fellowship – under the strictest conditions and warnings. We may forgive the truly repentant, we may choose to fellowship again with them and treat them as a fellow Christian, but it is right that their sin should follow them – for the sake of others.
Anyway – back to the Dummies Guide – the second part of ministry is this…
1 Peter 4:9 “…Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.”
The word hospitality is not really the word we think of – it comes from a Greek word that means to demonstrate love to the stranger. It’s hard to see that in English. On the one hand we are to love our brothers and sisters deeply – with such love that we face up to sin – we don’t sweep it under the carpet but we deal with it – and once dealt with we forgive and get rid of it and no longer relate on the basis of the sin (duly noting what I have said above about abuse) – and – we are to love the stranger in our midst. We are to welcome strangers into our gatherings and into our lives. We are to give them of ourselves, our homes, our wealth, our resources, our time, our energy – we have a responsibility as priests of the Kingdom to…
1 Peter 2:9 “…declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
True love for non-Christians is not to condone their lifestyle by getting involved in the pursuit of pleasure (which so many Christians do – and I’m guessing all middle class western Christians probably fall into that trap at least at some point)… but to call them out of darkness into God’s wonderful light – to help them confront their sin and deal with it obediently under Christ.
A Dummies Guide
If we’re going to be practical about this then how do we do it? How do we minister? The Dummies Guide to Ministry is about good basic practical things.
- The end of all things is near – so don’t give into the world but live prayerful, self controlled lives – be clear about the world.
- Christians – love each other deeply. Love is ministry – love leads to ministry and love deals with sin.
- Love those who are not Christs’ people – yet! Tell them the truth and help them be won to Christ – this is ministry.
- Each of us has been given gifts for the purpose of serving Christ’s Church.
- Use your gift to faithfully administer God’s grace.
- If your giftedness is as a speaker of the Word then speak as though God were speaking – be humble but strong, loving but don’t water it down, ever truthful but gentle.
- If your giftedness is a service gift get on with it and do it with the strength God provides.
- Whatever you do in life as a Christian you are a minister – in all things we should live so that God may be praised through Jesus Christ.
- The end result of ministry should be…
1 Peter 4:9 “…that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.”
From our ministry people should be left praising God.