Monday, February 25, 2013

Pray for your tithes

There seems to be general agreement that a good number to start tithing at is ten percent of your gross income.  Like any fixed arbitrary number, however, ten percent means different things to different people.  The general principle I like to follow when it comes to tithing is that you give until it hurts.  This is the effective embodiment of self-sacrifice, one of the tenets of Christian love (John 15:13 and Romans 12:1).

It must not be forgotten, however, that act of tithing can be corrupted if the motive behind the tithing is impure, or if the use of the tithes is not honorable to God.  After all, how many times have we heard of faith healers and ministers seeking love offerings, only to spend lavishly on themselves?

The important thing to keep in mind is that we must always ask for the Lord's blessing upon the contributions we give, to our churches, charities, loved ones, etc.  Before every tithe, we should ask Him to allow our offerings to be used in a manner that is glorifying to Him and His Kingdom.  Then can we feel at peace when dropping our checks in the offering bins.  

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Principles of Christian leadership

One of the hardest things I've found about serving in ministry is that on one hand, Christian leadership has human-centered expectations attached to it, and on the other, these expectations are totally in contradiction with the tenets of God-centered leadership.  To define a "leader" from the secular paradigm, there is the subject-- the one doing the leading, and the object-- those under subjugation of that leader, i.e., the follower or followers.

In the Biblical paradigm, however, there is only Creator and created-- the latter put wholly under the subjugation of the former, who is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent.  Thus, "leaders" in the church do not lead in the truest sense of the word, but are merely vessels who guide their peers to worship of their Creator.

Too often, those in ministry are predisposed to adopt leadership principles of a worldly sense, inviting the sin of pride and hypocrisy into their hearts.  Kathy Keller outlines the dangers of "faking it" in ministry over at TGC:  
And after a while you hardly even admit to yourself you're faking interest in the other person, faking enthusiasm for Christ and his gospel, faking your entire Christian life, because you don't even recall what it was like to have a vibrant relationship to God. You have become hollow. You may still look and sound good on the outside, but inside the reality of God's presence is gone.
Within the parameters of human-centered leadership, there are only two parties: a human leader, and a human follower, both of whom are sinners who need God's grace.

Leadership in the Biblical sense, on the other hand, is better thought of as guidance, a God-gifted ability for a select few to shepherd or tend to fellow Christians.  When Jesus asks Peter three times whether or not he loves Him (John 21), we see a moment not of rebuke, but of instruction, where Peter is to demonstrate his love for Jesus by dutifully caring for Christ's flock.  It is out of a love for Jesus in which Peter is called to leadership through herding (pomaine) and tending (boske) fellow believers.  What a change from the petty moments when Peter squabbled with his fellow disciples over who was the greatest (Luke 9:46)!

Like Peter, I've come to learn that leadership in the church is not about who is greatest or what he or she can do to lead a body of believers, but about humbling oneself before God, and being charged with loving the Lord first-- and only then is shepherding Jesus' flock possible.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

What makes a Christ-centered fellowship?

Jesus issues a very basic refrain in Matthew 18:20: "For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.”  The logical underpinning in Christ's statement is straightforward-- the physical gathering of a fellowship is always joined by His own presence, assuming fellowship is being done in His name.  The corollary then follows that no matter the numbers attending in a Christian gathering, worship to the Lord will be equally pleasant and equally sweet.

This doctrine is simple, so why is it so overlooked and misunderstood in the modern Church?  It's with increasing frequency you might hear statements like, "worship today was awesome; we had a great turnout!" or on the contrary, "worship felt kind of dead since so few showed up."

There is a fundamental problem with correlating a "worship experience" with numbers.  In reality, Jesus is the "worship experience."  The Bible tells us that He is our only path to salvation, and thus the only reason for enjoining with other Christians in fellowship (2 Corinthians 3:5).  Christ should be the pure and sole center of our worship within a gathering.  And to do that, only two are necessary, as long as they will to meet in His name.

After watching attendance of our college fellowship plummet over the course of two years on my watch as coordinator, my instinctive human reaction was initially to lament of failure and defeat.  As the success of any secular gathering is measured by its size and presence, I foolishly likened the fellowship to that, ultimately basing our gathering's premise on people, rather than God.

The hindsight narrative shows that I was searching for a people-centered fellowship that dethroned Christ from His righteous place in the center.  But the Bible tells us that we must be yearning for a Christ-centered fellowship (1 Corinthians 1:9), one that can be found simply by heeding His words in Matthew 18:20.