Dear Pastors and Ministry Leaders,
Happy New Year! I pray that the year ahead will be for you one of joy and fruitfulness in Christ.
As I noted in last month’s Equipper, “Renewal” will continue to be our guiding theme in 2017. For us to travel that Spirit-led journey together, it’s vital that we make some mutual commitments. There are several I could mention (and we’ll explore more of them as the year unfolds), but in this issue of Equipper, we focus on our commitments to prayer, to providing one another with high support and high challenge, and to discipling our children. In this issue, we also introduce a new feature, which provides high support to pastors and others committed to preaching the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL). Please give these articles your prayerful consideration.
Let me begin our discussion of mutual commitments by noting the central role that prayer has in advancing our journey of renewal. Out of prayer (alone and in groups) flows the discernment so vital to our participation together in God’s mission of love to the world. In 2017 (and all years) we desire to actively share in what God is doing.
The apostle Paul, a champion of church renewal, and a man of exceptional discernment, was a person devoted to prayer. His devotion, and the commitment that went with it, is seen in the many powerful prayers he inserted in his letters (epistles) to various churches. Though written in the first century, these prayers apply in all ages, ours included. Note his prayer on behalf of the followers of Christ in the city of Philippi:
It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruits of righteousness which come through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11, ESV)
Paul prays that love will abound in the lives of these believers. That love (agape in Greek) is a particularly tender love that flows to others without expectation of return. It is the sacrificial love that originates with, flows among, and then out from the Father, Son and Spirit. It is the love Jesus had in mind when telling his disciples to “love one another” (and all people by implication), the way they have been loved by him, thus advancing the mission of God to the world (John 13:34-35).
Note in Philippians 1:9 (ESV) that Paul joins love (agape) to the twin virtues of knowledge and discernment. Knowledge includes sound biblical doctrine and practical truth. Discernment (spiritual perception) includes spiritual sight, spiritual hearing, spiritual feeling, and spiritual taste—perceptions involving all our “sensory receptors.” Knowledge and discernment, which flow from prayer, guide our love away from being ill-judged, thus keeping us from carelessly hurting the ones we seek to serve.
Paul’s prayer reminds us of the apostle John’s description of Jesus as “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). As pastors and ministry leaders, we want to walk in step with Jesus by being gracious truth-tellers. Some leaders champion truth, while deemphasizing grace. Others do the opposite. But Jesus brings grace and truth together. A prayerful combination of grace (love) and truth (knowledge/discernment) will lead us to seek to first validate, then celebrate, what is excellent and good in others. Then, in that context of love, we can (and as mentors/supervisors, should) point out those things where our protégés fall short (things that are wrong or mediocre). Truth without grace tends to be abusive; grace without truth-telling tends to hinder progress (and thus renewal).
It is this combination of grace and truth (grounded in the discernment that flows from prayer) to which our CAD team aspires. We are committed to seeking the best for our pastors, other leaders, churches and members. This commitment is expressed by one of our guiding slogans: High support and high challenge. Rick Shallenberger’s article in this issue explains how we seek to live out this slogan in everyday ministry.
Paul concludes his prayer for the church in Philippians 1:11 (ESV) with a phrase that is easy to overlook: “Filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ.” Jesus is the one who gives us the highest support (grace) of all, which yields the bountiful fruit of righteousness (truth). This “filling” from Jesus is ongoing (not just something that happens in the future). It comes to us as we journey in communion with Father, Son and Spirit, growing ever-deeper in knowing Jesus and the reality of his marvelous grace and truth, all the while hoping and watching for “the day of Christ” (Philippians 1:10 ESV)—our Lord’s second advent when he appears in glory. It’s through this ongoing journey with Jesus that we are filled—empowered to be the kind of church that Paul is praying for.
Let us join our prayers to Paul’s in praying for GCI’s continuing renewal in the year ahead. Let us journey together, committed to our Triune God and to one another, abounding in the grace and truth of Jesus Christ.
Praying with you,
Director of GCI-USA Church Administration and Development
PS: Want to read more of Paul’s prayers? Here are links to several:
- Romans 1:8-10; 15:13, 30-33
- 1 Corinthians 1:4-9
- 2 Corinthians 1:3-7; 2:14-16; 13:7-9
- Ephesians 1:3-5, 15-23; 3:14-21
- Philippians 4:6-7, 23
- Colossians 1:3-24; 4:2-4
- 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16; 5:23-34
- 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12; 3:2-5
- 1 Timothy 2:1-3
- 2 Timothy 1:16-18
- Philemon 1:4-7