Monday, 9 August 2010

As I imitate Christ

Not too long ago I was teaching the adult Sunday School from Acts 20 - Paul's farewell speech to the Ephesian elders.

One thing that struck me is that Paul spent most of the time talking about... himself.

That seems quite surprising, when we consider that 1) Paul was speaking under inspiration and 2) in another place, under inspiration Paul said that he did not preach himself, but Jesus Christ the Lord.

But what was the summary of what Paul had to say about himself? When teaching, I put it like this: "You've seen what I've done; now you do the same."

I've found that thought a great challenge and spur to my thinking. Can I say the same to my people. When the time comes for me to pass on, will I be able to say...
"You know how I've lived and taught. Now that you are the leaders here, you make sure you do that, and don't do something different."
I can't remember ever hearing someone say that, or even teaching that we should. And yet Paul does, and thinks we should too (that's the point!). Or will I have to say:
"You know what I've taught you to do - make sure you obey those things."
That's not a bad thing to be able to say - but it's lacking. Against the apostolic, Biblical standard, it falls short. Biblical is "be followers of me, even as I also am of Christ" (1 Corinthians 11:1).

Jesus did not just teach us how to be servants; he also pointed to himself as the true example of it (Mark 10:35-45 - which I preached on last week). Paul followed this pattern in life as well as in doctrine. All of Christ's servants  - but especially pastors and church-planters - are expected to do the same. When the time comes for us to move on (whether through a new calling or incapacity or death), we should not need to say "now, for some new leaders, you'd better send to the seminary/denominational HQ/wherever". We should be able to say to those we've trained, "you know exactly what I've done, day in and day out - you do that".

I have the growing conviction that a lot of church-planting missionary work falls short because this goal is hardly even considered. The outsider comes in and does what he does - but it's not something that could be imitated by those inside the culture he's come to. Only someone with his education, specialised training and access to resources could do it. But that does not only apply in missionary situations. Even in the local church - how often do leaders automatically think of dispatching potential leaders off to the specialised institutions where they can learn the special secrets of the initiated? If we could just say to those potential leaders "you well know my practice - do that!", what kind of church growth might we, by the grace of God, then see? (Whilst we're on this aside, here's another one that I read in a book earlier today - notice in Acts 20:34-35 that Paul challenges the local church elders to remember how he, Paul, worked hard to provide for the needs of the poor - and then says that they, the local church elders, should do the same. That's interesting, isn't it... how many local church elders do you know who have followed Paul's instructions here?).

But whether church leader or not, if someone wanted to know how to serve Christ, what would you say? Could you say "watch and see"? That's meant to be the basic answer every right-walking believer should be able to give.

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