Your Sunday meeting is discipleship 101. It is the very heart of your discipleship and training. You may find any other number of things helpful, you may think your church should be doing all sorts, but your primary point of discipleship is the weekly gathering of the saints around the Word with a focus on fellowship, prayer and the breaking of bread.
In the Christian world, we are never far away from someone – or several someones – loading us up with guilt about something or other we need to think about, do more of or that we aren’t doing but we definitely should because someone, somewhere else, does it and it’s really vital. It can, at times, get a bit overwhelming. As I argued a while ago here, give yourself a break and remember if it isn’t in the Bible you don’t have to do it.
But some things are in the Bible. One of those things is discipleship. Sure, the Bible doesn’t say exactly how we are to do it. There is more than one way to skin a cat (not that I have ever tried but I take it on trust). But there is no question that we are certainly called to do it. It is when we are called to do something in scripture that we are faced with a raft of people soon telling us exactly how we ought to be doing it too. Things that the Bible doesn’t expressly demand, but nevertheless have been deemed useful and helpful. But it is often a short jump from what is helpful and useful to an insistence it is the best way, and if the best, why would you want to do anything less for the Lord? That is, it becomes de facto biblical and, with it, something you really ought to do.
Well, let me give you a bit of relief. If you are meeting as a church weekly and you are teaching the scriptures, devoting yourselves to the Apostles teaching, then you are engaged in the task of discipleship. To put it in the form of a question: why does everybody overlook the preaching of God’s Word and the fellowship of his saints on Sunday when it comes to discipleship? It’s not as if the Bible hives off discipleship apart from the gathering of God’s people.
You Might also like
By Jimmy Wallace — 2 years ago
The problem of evil, pain, and suffering is difficult to bear on a personal level. Christians should be careful not to too-quickly dismiss the concerns of people who have experienced these very-real realities. However, the presence of these in our world does not rule out the existence of God. In fact, the presence of evil only makes His existence more likely. One may not understand why God chooses to allow evil, pain, and suffering to occur now, but scripture makes it clear that one day all pain will end and God’s ultimately justice will be accomplished.
Three centuries prior to the birth of Jesus, Greek philosopher Epicurus posed an enduring question related to the existence of God: “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?” Two thousand years later Epicurus’ words still resonated and influenced the writings of atheist philosopher David Hume. (Hume 1779, 186) A 2018 Barna study showed that this question is still important today; the “problem of evil” is the highest barrier to faith for members of Gen Z and second highest (after Christian hypocrisy) for Millennials. (Barna 2018)
The question as originally posed appears on its face to be a logical proof, suggesting God must be either unable to prevent evil, unwilling, or a combination of the two. This line of reasoning rests on the idea that an all-loving, all-powerful God could not have a reason to choose to allow evil to occur. However, this conclusion does not necessarily follow: it is possible that such a God could exist and choose to allow evil for some unknown reason, even if this possibility initially seems unreasonable. It is not logically impossible for God to allow evil, regardless of personal opinions as to the reasonableness of such a God existing. Christian philosopher Peter John Kreeft makes just such an argument, stating, “Even David Hume… said it’s just barely possible that God exists… there’s at least a small possibility.
By Stephen McAlpine — 2 years ago
That narrative still has some unfolding to do, but in the meantime we can prepare ourselves for its eventualities, first by deeply understanding the claims it is making, second by living blameless lives among our colleagues and friends, and third, by constantly showcasing Jesus as the one who did no harm to anyone. And fourthly, and perhaps most confronting, by wearing the scorn and shame in the way he did, even though he did no harm.
So you finally convince your work colleague Ethan to come to an apologetics talk on Friday night. You’ve been friends for a while, and you’ve had the chance to chat about spiritual matters. He’s at a bit of a loose end, having been through a relationship break-up. Following a coffee after work one evening, you strike up the courage to ask him along. People are often open after difficult times, right? Besides you’d love for Ethan to hear about how Christianity is still plausible in this modern age. After all, he’s familiar with the visiting speaker, who is a well-known apologist, because you’ve shared some Youtube clips with him that were great conversation starters across the cubicle.
So on the night you introduce Ethan to some friends, grab a quick bite beforehand with them all (they clicked well with Ethan, from what you could see), then you head to the talk.
The lecture title is “Can you be happy without God?” It’s sharp, punchy, funny and emotionally on the money. You glance sideways from time to time and Ethan seems to be laughing at all the right spots.
The QandA after is a bit more intense and at one stage the speaker is quizzed about homosexuality, with a questioner pushing hard on why God is even bothered about who we sleep with. The speaker handles it well, giving a big picture answer, using Romans 1 as a launch pad. He gets a round of applause from some in the crowd, which seems a little strange, and one brave, lonesome cat-call. The moment passes, and afterwards you try to pick how Ethan might have felt about the talk, but he says he isn’t up for going out for coffee with the group, and heads home early. Oh well, you can speak on Monday at work.
On Monday at work, however, things seem strained. More than strained. Ethan brushes off your approaches to talk about the event. In fact he seems distracted and somewhat distant. It’s only on Tuesday that things heat up. Turns out he’s asked to shift desks, to the other side of the office. He avoids eye contact, and is too busy to hang out at lunch. You notice the HR representative chatting with him later that afternoon. You go home wondering what has happened.
It’s only on Wednesday, when you are called into the HR department, and your supervisor is sitting there that it clicks. After exchanging pleasantries the supervisor starts the real conversation:
“We just wanted to have a chat with you, to get your side of what might have happened.”
“Happened? About what?”
“Just some concerns we have about how you and Ethan might be able to continue working on the same project as we move forward.”
“Why wouldn’t we? Is there something wrong with our work? Has Ethan got a problem with the way I work?”
“Well not exactly about the way you work. He’s come to us requesting he move teams. He’s a bit upset about that Christian meeting you took him along to on Friday night. I know it’s in your own time, but we’re committed to making the work space a safe place for everyone, whatever their views and opinions. We want to discuss with you whether it was appropriate to ask a work colleague to an event like that.”
“Really. Ethan hasn’t said to me. Besides that’s not a work issue, it was a private event.”
“Well it’s become a work issue now, and we have to resolve it for the sake of good relationships in the office. Perhaps it would be helpful if you began by explaining why you invited Ethan to something that he found a little bit triggering.”
You can see where this conversation is going. And if you think that could never happen, then you’re actually behind the eight ball already. Companies and civil service departments across the Western world are already taking measures to ensure that work colleagues cannot put other work colleagues in so called “harm’s way” when it comes to non-working hours functions. And in our current climate harm includes any event or public that could appear coercive around matters of sexuality, or that speaks of sexual diversity as something less than positive.
By Scott Manetsch — 2 years ago
For Calvin, the call to be a Christian pastor was a high and holy calling — but it was also a most challenging vocation, not to be lived in isolation. Ministers of the gospel flourished as they experienced communion with Christ through his word, were empowered by the Holy Spirit, and enjoyed the precious gift of godly colleagues in ministry.
ABSTRACT: Many who know John Calvin as a brilliant Reformed theologian do not yet know him as a model of pastoral collegiality and accountability. Under his leadership, ministry in sixteenth-century Geneva often happened in plurality and community. In particular, four regular meetings fostered Calvin’s vision of collegial ministry: the weekly Company of Pastors, Congrégation, and Consistory, and the quarterly Ordinary Censure. Through these institutions, the city’s pastors prayed together, studied together, encouraged and exhorted one another, and labored for the advance of the gospel together. Their model of ministry offers an enduring case study for pastoral practice, especially in a day when many pastors feel discouraged, isolated, and perhaps on the verge of burnout.
In a New York Times article from August 2010, Paul Vitello describes the serious difficulties faced by many Christian ministers in the United States today.
Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans. In the last decade, their use of antidepressants has risen, while their life expectancy has fallen. Many would change jobs if they could. Public health experts . . . caution that there is no simple explanation of why so many members of a profession once associated with rosy-cheeked longevity have become so unhealthy and unhappy.1
During the past decade, researchers have probed various factors contributing to the poor mental and physical health of America’s professional clergy.2 Some factors commonly identified include poor pastor-church alignment, lack of resilience, lack of self-awareness, unresolved conflicts, heavy workloads, unreasonable expectations, financial pressure, and loneliness or isolation. Though no single aspect is usually decisive, the cumulative effect of these tensions and troubles frequently produces high levels of stress that force pastors to question their vocation, or cause them to leave the ministry altogether. Pastoral work often becomes “death by a thousand paper cuts.”3
Thankfully, a variety of helpful resources are now available to support and encourage pastors who are burned out, bummed out, or burdened with congregational ministry.4 One important resource for pastoral health and flourishing that is frequently overlooked in contemporary discussions, however, is the history of the pastoral office — the practices, convictions, and institutions that Christians in the past have adopted to nourish and strengthen gospel ministers. As we shall see, a historical awareness of the pastoral office can provide a broader perspective and a refreshing draught of wisdom as modern-day Christian ministers live out their vocations in ways that are pleasing to God and sustainable for a lifetime of faithful and fruitful ministry. This present essay offers a case study of the model of ministry created by John Calvin in Geneva from 1536–1564. As we’ll see, Calvin recognized the unique challenges faced by faithful gospel ministers and created practices and institutions to promote pastoral collegiality, accountability, and spiritual vitality.5
Proclamation of the Word
When John Calvin (1509–1564) first arrived in Geneva in the summer of 1536, the city republic had been Protestant for barely two months and faced an uncertain future. As Calvin later recalled, “When I first arrived in this church there was almost nothing. They were preaching and that is all. They were good at seeking out idols and burning them, but there was no Reformation. Everything was in turmoil.”6 Over the next 28 years (with a three-year hiatus from 1538–1541), Calvin emerged as the chief human architect responsible for building a new religious order in Geneva that prioritized the preaching of God’s word, the fourfold ministry (pastor, elder, deacon, professor), church discipline, and intensive pastoral care and visitation. Calvin’s vision for a church reformed in doctrine and practice was articulated in Geneva’s Ecclesiastical Ordinances (1541), in the city’s catechism and liturgy (1542), and in Calvin’s expansive biblical commentaries and sermons. For the Genevan Reformer, the faithful exposition and proclamation of God’s word was one of the marks of a true church, standing at the center of gospel ministry. As he once noted, the word is the “means of our salvation, it is all our life, it is all our riches, it is the seed whereby we are begotten as God’s children; it is the nourishment of our souls.”7
One of the first steps Calvin took upon arriving in Geneva was to restructure parish boundaries in order to give priority to the preaching of the word of God. He and his colleague Guillaume Farel consolidated nearly a dozen Catholic churches and chapels into three parish churches within the city’s walls — St. Pierre, la Madeleine, and St. Gervais — and recruited six or seven Reformed ministers to serve these three urban congregations. Calvin also consolidated Geneva’s countryside parishes and appointed around a dozen pastors to serve these rural churches.
The proclamation of God’s word stood at the center of religious life in Calvin’s Geneva. In the city, preaching services included weekday sermons at 8:00 a.m., early morning sermons at 4:00 a.m. for domestic servants, Sunday sermons at 8:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m., and a catechetical sermon on Sundays at noon for children. By 1561, there were 33 sermons preached within Geneva’s city walls each week. Calvin and his pastoral colleagues shared the preaching load and rotated between the city’s pulpits. “The preacher was not the proprietor of a pulpit or the captain of his congregation: it was Christ who presided over his Church through the Word.”8 Even so, a disproportionate responsibility for preaching fell on Calvin and his more gifted colleagues such as Theodore Beza and Michel Cop, who regularly preached more than 150 sermons per year.
Calvin and Geneva’s ministers prioritized God’s word in other ways as well. The Genevan liturgy, written by Calvin in 1542, was filled with scriptural allusions and rich biblical language. The singing of the Huguenot Psalter was a standard feature of both public and private worship in Geneva. Children were required to attend catechism classes where they learned the Apostles’ Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer — a basic primer for Christian faith, conduct, and worship. In 1555, the ministers, along with the church’s elders, also began conducting annual household visitations to ensure that all of Geneva’s residents had a knowledge of basic biblical doctrine as articulated in the catechism and were living in accordance with God’s word. Finally, during the sixteenth century, Geneva became a center for Protestant publishing, with the city’s presses printing no fewer than eighty editions of the French Bible as well as translations of the Scripture into English, Italian, Spanish, and Latin. For Calvin and Geneva’s ministers, reading, hearing, and obeying God’s word was essential for the life of the church and the spiritual health of God’s people.
Pastoral Collegiality and Accountability
In addition to prioritizing the proclamation of God’s word, Calvin also created pastoral institutions in Geneva to encourage the collegiality, accountability, and spiritual health of the Protestant ministers who served the city’s churches. These institutions included the Company of Pastors, the Congrégation, the Ordinary Censure, and the Consistory — four pastoral bodies that profoundly shaped religious culture in Geneva and preserved Calvin’s theological legacy for generations to come.
Company of Pastors
In the mid-1540s, Calvin began to convene the ministers of the city and countryside every Friday morning to discuss the business of the church. This institution, known as the Company of Pastors, became a fixture of religious life in Geneva thereafter. The Company, whose membership consisted of around fifteen to eighteen pastors and several professors, was responsible to monitor public worship in the city, recruit and examine new pastors, supervise theological education at the Academy, oversee the work of the deacons and public benevolence, and offer godly advice to the city magistrates. Owing to the theological stature of Calvin and several of his colleagues, the Company of Pastors soon developed a vast correspondence with Reformed churches throughout Europe, becoming a kind of hub of international Calvinism. As such, the Company served as an advisory board to foreign churches on doctrinal and practical issues, solicited financial and political support for embattled Protestants, and supplied student-pastors to foreign churches. Moreover, the Company of Pastors began in 1555 a top-secret program where it recruited and trained Reformed ministers and sent them as missionary pastors to Catholic France.