Ant Greenham: Friendship and the Great Commission, Part 1

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[Editor's Note: Dr. Ant Greenahm is Associate Professor of Missions and Islamic Studies at Southeastern. A specialist on the Middle East, he is author of Muslim Conversions to Christ: An Investigation of Palestinian Converts Living in the Holy Land (WICU, 2011), and co-author (with David Black and Allan Bevere) of The Questioning God: An Inquiry for Muslims, Jews, and Christians (Areopagus, 2012). He is also passionate about helping students see the breadth of the Great Commission. To that end, he writes below about the nature of friendship in the Great Commission. This is the first post in a three-part series. Come back next Monday for part two.]

“What surprised you the most about your trip to . . .?” I love asking this when I speak to anyone on their return from an overseas visit. It was also the question I put to my twelve-year-old niece, Amy, at RDU airport in July 2012. She was about to go home to South Africa after spending a month with us in the U.S. Well, what surprised her most was the heat (it was the 3rd hottest summer on record), but she also exclaimed how friendly Americans are.

If you know the U.S., Amy’s second observation isn’t all that remarkable. It’s something that Moreau, Corwin and McGee note in their helpful textbook, Introducing World Missions.[1] In a discussion ranging across their 14th chapter, “Relating to People of Other Cultures,” they consider friendship from a missions’ point of view. First, they speak of the need in all cultures to reduce uncertainty when meeting someone for the first time. Americans typically counter such hesitancy “by being friendly (upbeat, smiling, ‘chipper’) . . . in meeting strangers” (p. 234). This was the characteristic that struck Amy repeatedly while she was here. That’s how Americans come across, and my niece appreciated it.

But does initial, spontaneous friendliness translate into something more—into the depth of relationship? Addressing this, Moreau and company write of American friendships developing quickly (as with a child enthusing about the “new best friend” he or she made on the first day of school), but remaining rather shallow. In particular, they point out that “American friendships are formed in shared activities. They like to do things together. They have church friends, school friends . . . hobby friends, and the like” (p. 242). However, such activity-based friendship (ABF) has a downside. When folks “become interested in new activities or lose interest in old ones, they add or drop friendships related to those activities” (p. 242). This doesn’t mean folks act in an unfriendly way when they bump into their old acquaintances. If they have time, they may well enthuse how great it was to work/graduate/play/travel/participate with the person concerned. Unfortunately though, when the activity ended, the substance of the relationship would have ended too.

Moreau, Corwin and McGee examine the ABF phenomenon within Christian circles. Typically, people band together for a particular activity (such as a book-study or an organizational program) but feel no compulsion to stay with the group once it’s done. This obviously has implications for ongoing church membership and involvement. And it’s something we care about at Southeastern, given our concern to see students serve the church and fulfill the Great Commission. For now then, let’s compare ABF with the imperative of the Great Commission which, of course, is to make disciples.

Long before he captured and catapulted the essence of his mission on a Galilean hillside (Matt 28:16-20), Jesus showed how disciples are made. We see this in all four Gospels (and the rest of the New Testament too), but Luke and Mark help us on our way. Essentially, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40, ESV). Such likeness has to come from constant personal exposure. Thus, when Jesus chose his twelve disciples, he did so “that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach” (Mark 3:14, emphasis added). The latter purpose, preaching, is an activity to be sure. But it follows (and draws its strength from) being with Jesus. In fact, the crucial disciple-making activity commanded in the Great Commission is vitally encouraged by Jesus’ ongoing presence: “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20).

Spending time with, being with his disciples, in the midst of all kinds of activities, was central to Jesus’ disciple-making strategy. The relationship did not end when a particular activity did. But since that’s the case, how can we make disciples (and so fulfill the Great Commission) any differently? Friendship for the long haul, across a range of changing activities, is the way to go. In other words, for disciple-making Christians, ABF has significant limitations.

If that is so, it seems ABF needs some fixing, which brings all kinds of cultural and behavioral implications into play. But I’ll have to explore this (and the broader question of friendship in America) more deeply in posts to follow.

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[1] A. Scott Moreau, Gary R. Corwin and Gary B, McGee, Introducing World Missions: A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Survey (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004).

John Ewart on Critical Abilities, Part 3

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Editor’s Note: Every Thursday morning at Between the Times we highlight the work of Southeastern’s Spurgeon Center for Pastoral Leadership and Preaching. Directed by John H. Ewart, who also serves as Associate Vice President for Global Theological Initiatives at Southeastern, the Spurgeon Center exists to equip and encourage pastors to lead healthy, disciple-making churches for the glory of God around the world. In the effort to accomplish this mission, through the board of advisors and others the center will be offering assistance, resources and training to our students, as well as to pastors and churches, to further equip them to serve well in the crucible of real life ministry. This week Dr. Ewart continues his series on Critical Abilities in pastoral leadership.

In my last post I shared that the first critical ability a missional leader must possess is the ability to understand the true mission. If we miss the mission of God, we miss it all. To bring Him glory is our ultimate goal, it is why we exist. This mission is unchanging and predetermined regardless of context. It is supra-cultural. I do not have to create it or wonder about it. It is there…always. This truth provides the framework, the train track, the station from which we depart and the destination we seek to reach.

So, how do I live and lead in such a way as to glorify Him always and fulfill this mission? This question drives the second critical ability that missional leaders must possess. Church leaders must possess the ability to establish a biblical vision. The vision is the specific plan for your specific people, in your specific place, at this specific time to carry out the ultimate mission.

This is the “who and the how” to the “why.” What will we believe and do in order to bring God glory? If you remember the train track motif I suggested last time, this is train building. What type of train do we need to build to run down these tracks at this time and in this place?

steam-train-wallpaper_w520

With a degree and some experience in missions, I am always thinking in terms of context and culture. Though every train needs to stay on track toward its ultimate destination, not every train looks exactly alike or moves exactly in the same way. Not every church and ministry will be exactly the same either. Just because Dr. Bob across town is doing something does not necessarily mean that you are supposed to do it too. So please throw the cookie cutters away and seek the Lord within the context in which He has placed you.

There are plenty of models for vision out there. Probably a book a day! But remember, the critical ability is to establish a biblical vision. An effective strategy must be based on and driven by the Word of God.

Scripture reveals these “hows” to us in several ways and throughout its pages. A well-worn way to look at them is through Acts 2:42-47. Though this passage has been used and abused in many ways we do see the early believers intentionally moving forward in their biblical responsibilities. They were continuing the ministry that Jesus began on earth and God was blessing them.

I would also recommend looking deeper into the book at Acts 11 and 12 and see how the church at Antioch was fulfilling the mission. Here was a church that seemed to get it and what they were doing was bringing Him glory.

If teaching the lessons from these passages is too old-school for you find a biblical plan that speaks to you and your context. Use the book of Ephesians like my friend Chuck Lawless teaches, or another model, but find a biblical model to teach! An examination of biblical responsibilities can enable a congregation to evaluate their spiritual health and practice and to determine their vision for action. Leaders need to help their people understand they are on mission and there is a biblical vision for them to follow.

While I was pastoring full time, our vision began with a train made up of six cars from Acts 2. Our ministries, staff, budget, planning and agendas revolved around those six cars. We were all tied together in synergy by an overarching mission. No bumper cars in my world! Instead there was a powerful, Holy Spirit led, Bible driven ministry synergy. I have seen it, lived it, and led it. So can you.

Next time I am going to show you how it comes together. I am going to discuss how to coordinate leadership and ministries.

 

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Christians, We Need the Past

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[Editor's Note: In the following post Southeastern Associate Professor of Historical Theology and Baptist Studies, and already well-known BtT blogger extraordinaire, Nathan Finn, guides us through the corridors of God's economy as he explains why we need the past.] 

Most of all, perhaps, we need intimate knowledge of the past. Not that the past has any magic about it, but because we cannot study the future, and yet need something to set against the present, to remind us that the basic assumptions have been quite different in different periods and that much which seems certain to the uneducated is merely temporary fashion. A man who has lived in many places is not likely to be deceived by the local errors of his native village: the scholar has lived in many times and is therefore in some degree immune from the great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and the microphone of his own age.[1]

The words quoted above are taken from an address C. S. Lewis first gave in 1949. As most readers of Between the Times will know, Lewis was a renowned scholar of medieval literature, a popular Christian apologist, and the author of the beloved Chronicles of Narnia series of children’s books. Though he was not a professional historian by training, as both a scholar and a Christian, Lewis understood the importance of the past. The past takes us places. The past provides needed perspective. The past keeps us humble. Lewis prized the past so much that he famously suggested that the reading of old books is preferable to the reading of new books. “It has always therefore been one of my main endeavours as a teacher,” Lewis writes, “to persuade the young that firsthand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than secondhand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire.”[2] Any historian worth his or her salt would agree.

Unfortunately, not everyone would agree that knowledge of the past is valuable (or at least interesting). I have taught history courses for almost a decade to thousands of undergraduate students, seminary students, and research doctoral students. More than a few have informed me that they are not really that “in” to history—even Christian history. A few have even nodded off in class—doubtless a reflection of their lack of sleep rather than my abilities as a teacher! Truth be told, I can remember a season in my life when history seemed less-than-appealing. Though that changed my junior year of high school in an advanced placement United States History course taught by Coach Joe Haluski. At best, many people have a utilitarian view of history; they care to the degree they find history useful for the stuff that really matters in life. Almost everyone can quote at least a paraphrase of George Santayana’s famous quip, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”[3]

As a church historian, I see myself as promoting three key themes among my students. First, I need to persuade them that how we interpret the past should arise in part from the Christian worldview and the best of the Christian intellectual tradition. History should matter for us because it matters in God’s economy. Second, I need to convince them that all of Christian history is our history—even the parts that are less appealing or seem remote from our contemporary experiences. This can be a hard sell sometimes. After all, the past is so . . . different. Finally, I need to model for them how to apply insights from church history in such a way that it builds up the body of Christ, strengthens our spiritual walks with Christ, and helpfully informs our ministries. Church history has a pastoral function; to miss this in a seminary class would be a tragedy.

To be sure, not every student will find church history to be as scintillating as I do. I can live with that. Even for many students who do come to find the topic at least marginally interesting, their church history courses will not be their favorite classes. That’s okay, too. However, I hope students walk away from our church history courses at Southeastern Seminary understanding that the past matters—it matters for their spiritual lives, their churches, and their present and future ministries. C. S. Lewis was right: we need intimate knowledge of the past. This is especially true of the Christian past. In our current context, far too many Southern Baptists and other evangelicals unknowingly bow before the idol of the new and the novel, often forgetting the wisdom of those who have gone before us. Church history can be a means of grace in mortifying this particular idolatry and taking the long view of how God works among all his people in every time and every place to bring about his glorious purposes.

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[1] C. S. Lewis, “Learning in War-Time,” in The Weight of Glory: And Other Addresses (New York: HarperOne, 2001), 58–59.

[2] C. S. Lewis, “On the Reading of Old Books,” in God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1972), 200. This essay was originally published in 1944 as Lewis’s introduction to a new edition of Athanasius’s On the Incarnation of the Word.

[3] George Santayana, The Life of Reason: Or the Phases of Human Progress (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1920), 284.