IVP - Online Pulpit - September 2012 Archives

September 17, 2012

Time Will Tell

by Eddie Gibbs

Looking back over fifty years of ministry provides a perspective that eluded me when in the turmoil of daily ministry demands. Some projects we thought highly significant for the future vitality and direction of the church outlived their shelf life to leave little if any lasting impression. Perhaps they were of value at the time, but with a changing spiritual climate and the cultural marginalizing of the church the day came when they had to be laid aside without regrets.

On the other hand, other projects that were puny in comparison and we thought were making little impact have in the long run assumed strategic importance. Perhaps that’s what Jesus had in mind when he described the kingdom of God as a mustard seed. Never underestimate small beginnings. The Journey of Ministry is indeed one of surprises and has to be traveled with a lifelong commitment. We cannot chart the course beforehand, and there are many twists and turns that we were not able to anticipate. That is what it means to walk by faith.

This is not to cast doubts on the vision of those leaders who had a clear and unswerving sense of direction throughout their ministry. They were privileged to see the end from the beginning, which provided them with both focus and resilience. If such describes your own journeying experience, then I rejoice with you. However, I have become convinced as I have reflected not only on my own past experience but also on the ministry journey of other church and mission leaders that this clear and specific sense of call toward a defined goal is the exception rather than the rule.

The reasons for these contrasting experiences are many. Some are given a specific sense of direction and a clear destination to enable them to survive the many obstacles that lay along the journey. For those of us who have stumbled along with the Lord surprising us with each new challenge, it has been a case of learning to trust him at each stage. If the Lord had revealed the whole course of the journey, we might have recoiled in horror or fright. We could never envision ourselves in any of those future scenarios. We felt so utterly inadequate. In response the Lord has graciously dealt with us at each stage, giving us the opportunity to learn the lessons and gain the necessary experience to function in that role, until we were ready for the next challenge.

In my own experience, I have always felt ill-prepared for that next stage, whether it is an overseas missionary assignment, an administrative and vision-casting role in a major Christian organization, a seminary professor or a leadership trainer in other parts of the world. Christian discipleship entails a lifelong apprenticeship. Any worthwhile accomplishment is due entirely to the grace of God, which includes both his provision and his patience.

GibbsOP.jpgEddie Gibbs is senior professor in the School of Intercultural Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, and a senior adviser to the Brehm Center for Worship, Theology and the Arts. His new book, The Journey of Ministry, is available now from InterVarsity Press as part of the launch of IVP Praxis.

Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at 12:06 PM

September 5, 2012

Pastoring in a Sex-Crazed Culture

By T.C. Ryan

Sexually charged advertising, Internet pornography and delivery vehicles like iPads and smart phones have created great challenges for the folks in our churches. Today over half of American adults are struggling with negative consequences due to compulsive sexual struggles, including loss of income, inattention to work and family, marital indifference and decline, and loss of physical, emotional and psychological health. Helping our people navigate their spiritual lives in a sex-crazed culture is crucial. And it’s not just adults who are in trouble. As I wrote in the preface to Ashamed No More:

The next generation is under siege. Today a nine-year-old boy will receive an email image on his own cell phone that contains images of men and women sexually abusing each other. He will not know how to process it, but will receive the message that “this is what adults do; this is what sex is.” Today an eleven-year-old girl will perform a sexual act on an older boy because she is being taught in this culture that her value exists in using her person and sexuality to service others. These are not extreme examples; they are ordinary. They are happening many times every day.

And they are happening to kids in our congregations. How do we help our people follow Christ in a sex-stimulated society?

Sternly exhorting folks to moral purity doesn’t work. Scolding, cajoling, employing fear and shaming do not work. In most cases, these tactics will only make folks hide. They will make folks lie (to you, to each other, to themselves, to God).

We ignore sexual temptation and brokenness to the distinct detriment of the spiritual vitality of our people. Compulsive sexual behaviors are afflicting at least 40 percent of the men and 20 percent of the women in our congregations. Those percentages are higher with younger people. People are divided in their focus, distracted by their thinking patterns and ashamed of their hidden behaviors. Weariness from sexual temptation and shame from sexual struggles are the primary sources of spiritual acedia—spiritual sloth—for the majority of folks in our churches. The result is a huge siphoning off of emotional and spiritual energy to follow Christ and engage ministry in healthy, open ways.

We need to change the way we think and teach about human sexuality. We must become open in addressing the issues of sexual behaviors. A few of the points I offer in chapter twelve of Ashamed No More which will help lead us to vitality in our churches are:

  • There is a profound and God-given link between our spirituality and our sexuality.
  • Compulsive behaviors are always symptoms of deeper spiritual issues.
  • Sexual sin is no greater than any other sin.
  • Isolation, shame and hiding are toxic to genuine recovery and spiritual vitality.
  • We must use all the tools God has given us, the grace and truth of Christ’s gospel, honest life with each other, the Holy Spirit as the guide and the center of our beings, and developing healthy patterns of living—including all the tools of recovery.
  • Genuine recovery—as the genuine spiritual life—has to be founded on and fueled by love of God and ourselves; if it is fueled by shame or fear, it is not genuine recovery but another form of bondage.

Most clergy struggle with the weight of ministry. The pastorate is inherently isolating, and some of us already have a predisposition to aloneness. When I was starting out, stumbling into sexual behaviors or utilizing print pornography might have afflicted less than 10 percent of us. But the Internet has changed everything. Today well over half of clergy struggle with compulsive sexual behaviors.

If you’re wrestling with these things you are not alone. Help is available. Use it. Don’t stay hidden, no matter how afraid you are.

Do we really believe the gospel? If not, we are far worse sinners than we think we are. We really are. We have trouble grasping just how holy God is and how cloudy our motivations are. We are people prone to the shadows.

But we also don’t grasp how wildly loved we are. The spiritual life is not about our righteousness and our abilities to extricate ourselves from self-destruction. It’s about the Father whose eyes are always scanning the horizon of our souls and when we turn our attention his way he gathers up his robes, running through the cosmic Middle Eastern village of Luke 15, making a fool of himself and clothing us with love. That is the gospel.

Don’t let the enemy have domain over sexuality in your church because you are keeping things secret. Sex and the spiritual life are too good for that.

RyanOP.jpgT. C. Ryan is the author of the recently released Ashamed No More: A Pastor’s Journey Through Sex Addiction. Dr. Ryan and his wife, Pam, live in the middle part of America where he is a writer and speaker. More information is available at his website tc-ryan.com and he occasionally tweets @tcryanone.

Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at 10:15 AM