Friday, May 25, 2012

Using the Bible?

TITLE: USING THE BIBLE?
SCRIPTURE: 2 Timothy 3:16-17
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 25 May 2012

[Part 2 of a series of 4 on the topic of Bible Studies.]

Last week, I touched on an important area of developing Bible Study leaders. In any group, it is important to have leaders. In a Bible Study group, the leader needs to be one who has and willing to cultivate a servant heart. This week, I will touch on the question of the use of the Bible.


A) Getting Something Out Of the Bible

Using the Bible for us, or to know God?
Sometimes, I hear well-meaning Christians confessing to me in private. "I cannot seem to get anything out of the Bible." Honestly, I shudder at such a statement. While I appreciate the frank comment, I feel sad that the statement tells more about the mindset of the person rather than the Bible per se.

In our consumerist culture, we use tools to fix our stuff, like a screwdriver to tighten screws, or a hammer to punch nails. We use a microwave oven when we need to heat food, and a car when we want to travel from place to place. We buy material things with money, and we exchange ideas with ideas. With such a dominant consumerist mindset, we unwittingly apply the same logic to the Bible, and especially Bible study.

So diverse are the needs of people, and the great belief that the Bible can be used to meet all of these needs, that Bible publishers have turned the Holy Bible into a "Chicken Soup" series like enterprise. From busy mums to retirees, from little children to working adults, from sportspersons to military people, there is a Bible for every kind of need. The premise is simple. The Bible is God's Word for us. We are needful people. The Bible meets needs. Thus, use the Bible to meet self-needs.

KEY POINT: The statement, "I am not getting anything out of the Bible" reflects more of a pathetic case of self-importance. Read the Word. Pray, and ask for help, trusting in God's time, we will understand what the Word means to us. That is the purpose of Bible study: Meditate, keep the Word, and wait.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Developing Bible Study Leaders

TITLE: DEVELOPING BIBLE STUDY LEADERS
SCRIPTURE: 2 Timothy 3:10-11
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 18 May 2012

"You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them." (2 Timothy 3:10-11)

[This is Part One of a Four-part series on Bible study.]

For the past four weeks, I have been writing on the small groups ministry, a vital part of any growing church. For the next four weeks, I will reflect on the place of the Word of God. In many Churches, Bible studies remain the core purpose of coming together. Call them care groups, contact groups, family groups, Alpha groups, Christian fellowship groups, or simply Bible study groups, all of them have one common purpose: To study God's Word. Part One focuses on developing the Bible Study Leader, beginning with ourselves. Before that, let me share a little of my life last week.

A) A New Phase

I graduated last week in absentia. Due to financial and logistical reasons, I had to skip the ceremony in Boston and South Hamilton. It would have been awesome to have my entire family celebrating the occasion with me wearing my doctoral regalia and receiving the award as a visual witness of the fruits of my years of work and hard labour. At least, my seminary has been kind enough to list my name on the website here. The journey had been long and tough.  Yet I feel strange. I feel awkard when people call me "Dr" to prefix my last name. I feel shy about it all, and also a little concerned whether my new title will distance me away from people I care for. At the same time, there is also that weirdness over expectations. Are people going to expect me to say profound words all the time? Am I going to be pushed out more into the limelight? How then do I remain grateful for the accomplishments and at the same time be humble about it all?

The end of one phase is but the beginning of another.

Someone asked me if I will be continuing with this Sabbath Walk weekly writings. Of course! Sabbath Walk has become my sabbathing journal. I write not because my dissertation topic happens to be on the Sabbath. I write because I love to write. I love to share my learning. I love to think aloud with words. That is my calling. That may very well be my second vocation. One thing is for sure, the Word of God will remain my key launchpad for any writing. I hope to encourage all of us to learn to handle the Word of God carefully, passionately, diligently, and reverently.

B) What is the Bible For?

What is the Bible for? Ask any Bible believing person and they will be quick to point out Scriptures that talk about the profitability of the Word of God, and how it can be beneficial for us.
 "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
Plain reading of the above suggests to us the purpose of the Bible. We can use it to teach, to rebuke, to correct, and to train in righteousness. In our culture of consumerism, there is a danger to consuming the Word and letting it end in our heads. Like a dam that prevents water from flowing farther downstream, when this happens, the Bible becomes merely a tool for self-knowledge and personal devotion. It makes the Bible appealing from a consumer standpoint, that while one can find his material needs from the world, one finds his spiritual needs from the Word. Put them together and one has a 'balanced' life. Right? No. Our goal in life is not about maintaining a balanced life as if we are controlled by a "yin-yang," "black-vs-white" or a "0 and 1" world. It is about glorifying God, regardless of personal balance or imbalance.

The trouble with such a mode is that we tend to miss out the context of 2 Timothy 3:16-17. We cannot read this verse in isolation from the person who had been inspired by the Holy Spirit to write it.  It is to be read together with knowing who is writing this. It comes from the pen of one who has been taught in the Word, who has lived in the Word, who has learned the Word in patience, kindness, goodness,  who have endured great trials and tribulations, and still is able to affirm the beauty and the power of the Word.

C) Profiting or Profiteering?

Is the Bible a tool for us? Is the Bible to be used the same way we use a screwdriver or a car? Is the Bible an engine to help us achieve our own objectives? Well. Sad to say, some people do. Some clever and classy people are experts at using the Bible to draw crowds, and then to promote themselves. Look at some of the prosperity gospel preachers, who come to the people declaring their love for God, and go away with loads of cash, voluntarily given by faithful believers who are taken in by the charisma or the good-feel effects of the charismatic preacher.  Others use the Bible as a pretext for self-gain. Like a leader of the Church who uses the Bible like a judge using his gavel, to push forth his ideas and his plans, using the name of God through the Bible. Cult leaders are experts at that. They take one or two verses in the Bible and then interpret it to the extreme.

No. God's Word are not for self-profiteering. It is for God-glorifying. Make sure our leaders are not gearing themselves out for personal profits to the detriment of the people and God.

D) Servant Leadership

The Word of God is seen to be alive in Paul, the teacher and discipler of Timothy. This means that the person that we are doing Bible study with must be exemplary in his life as a disciple. This is one of the most important marks of a Bible study leader. Is this leader a practitioner of the Word of God? Has this person gone through the ups and downs of life, and is still growing faithfully? Like Paul, is this leader able to endure and trust God to deliver? What do servant leaders look like? The table below from Stacy Rinehart gives us a stark contrast between power leaders and servant leaders.


As a Bible study leader myself, I need to be reminded again that my role is not to hang on to my role. My role is to develop leaders. My role is to be loyal to the people instead of insisting on people's loyalty. My role is to be faithful even though people in my group are not as regular, as punctual, or as faithful. My role is to magnify Christ above all. My role is to affirm God's kingdom, and not grow my own empire. My role is to be a servant and not insist on others being servants. My role is to make disciples of all nations, beginning with myself.
How to develop servant leaders? Use the Five Keys as a start.

How then do you develop Bible study leaders? In the light of 2 Timothy 3:10-11, we develop leaders beginning with ourselves. We may not take on an official role anytime yet. That does not mean we disqualify ourselves altogether. Why not consider living a life of a disciple first? Let me adapt Stacy Rinehart's five points about cultivating relationships by calling them keys on learning to be servant leaders.
  1. The Key of Sharing: "learn to risk sharing our weaknesses."
  2. The Key of Speaking: "say hard words in love to a brother."
  3. The Key of Subjecting Self: "to let someone really know our temptations and faults."
  4. The Key of Solidarity: "enter into someone else's pain."
  5. The Key of Serving: "care about the person and not the objective."

THOUGHT: "When we lament to God about the lack of servant leaders, and pray for more servant leaders, do not forget to look at the mirror, and ask God by saying: 'Here I am Lord, use me if you wish beginning with the five keys above.'"

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Copyright by SabbathWalk. This devotional is sent to you free of charge. If you feel blessed or ministered to by SabbathWalk weekly devotionals, feel free to forward to friends, or to invite them to subscribe online at http://blog.sabbathwalk.org . You can also send me an email at cyap@sabbathwalk.org for comments or enquiries.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Meeting One Another's Needs?

TITLE: MEETING ONE ANOTHER'S NEEDS?
SCRIPTURE: Acts 4:34
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 12 May 2012

"There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales." (Acts 4:34)

This is the concluding part of a 4-part series on Small Groups Ministry in the Church. The key point in this article is that meeting needs of members is not the primary responsibility of small groups. Meeting needs is very much secondary.

A) No Needy Among Them

Tucked in a corner of the book of Acts is this amazing little verse that says, "There were no needy persons among them." No needy people? You've got to be kidding!  In every Church I go to, every community I get involved with, the needs often exceed the supply. Some complain that the pastor hardly visits or calls on them. Others say that they feel neglected even on Sundays. Still, there are those who comment that the pastoral care in their community is grossly lacking. When they need some attention, the pastor is either unavailable or too busy.

My friends in the pastoral ministry regularly tell me that they needed a break, or a time away just to recuperate from an exhausting period of meeting the needs of their members and congregations. It is interesting that the very people who try to help parishioners rest in the Lord, themselves are often the recipients of their very own advice: The need to rest in God alone.

Meeting needs involve sharing and caring
B) Is It the Colony Instinct?

The book of Acts presents us with an interesting observation. Mind you, the early disciples in Acts are not rich people materially. They are often poor, and come from the lower ranks in society. Without a large personal bank account, or an enormous inheritance, they give whatever they have. If necessary, they sell their possessions to give to all who have need. Like worker bees individually collecting nectar from flowers, they return to the common hive to contribute to the food collection for the entire bee community. If anyone of us dares to look down on the collected nectar of each tiny bee, just take a look at the honeycomb.

I always believe that as a group, we meet one another's needs at different points of time. Not everyone of us is up or down all at the same time. There will always be some who is bubbly at some time. Others may be downcast at other times. In a group, there is a good chance that there will always be a mixture of the needy and the helper. Sometimes, we are needy. Other times we are able to help others. Together, we develop a caring and sharing community that ministers to one another at different points of time.

C) Weakness in the Small Group Model

In the book of Acts, meeting needs is not the primary responsibility of the pastor or leaders of the church. The responsibility lies in the entire community who essentially "were one in heart and mind." Dr Robert W. Kellemen points out a shrewd observation on the weakness of the small group model. While many churches use small groups to provide a care-and-share method, most people in the church (up to 50%) are not in small groups. Moreover, while the small group model works better than a mere dependence on the pastoral team, the small group system fizzles out over time due to fatigue or lack of training of small group leaders. He makes this observation.

"Unfortunately, many churches provide little equipping  in small-group leadership - especially  in the personal ministry of the Word of speaking the truth in love." (Robert Kellemen, Equipping Counselors for Your Church, Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2011, 41)

Kellemen proposes something better than mere care-and-share small group networks. He recommends "equipping." This is the key role in any leadership.

D) Equipping is the Key for Growing Small Groups

How did the early Church in Acts learn to meet each other's needs so well? Cursory reading may well suggest that the people basically sell all their property and distribute all to anyone in need. That is quite correct. After all, the act of sharing and giving is an act of trust. When one gives away something, one trusts God to provide in other ways.

However, I see something more crucial in the act of meeting one another's needs. Before Acts 4:34, there is Acts 4:31.

"After they prayed, the place where there were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly." (Acts 4:31)

Bingo! Meeting another's needs is not simply a physical or emotional exercise. It originates from something very spiritual. More specifically, it originates from the Word of God, inspired by the work of the Holy Spirit. It is from the inspiration of the Spirit and spurred the early Church to preach and practice the Word of God boldly. In other words, meeting needs is not the primary role of any group. Meeting needs is a subset of something bigger: Bold proclamation of the Word.

This is where the equipping of the saints is highly crucial. Remember Jesus' reply to the tempter in Matthew 4:4? Responding to the temptation of turning stones into bread, Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

E) The True Source of Meeting Needs

It is easy to be distracted by the needs around us (bread) that we forget the true source of help (Word). It is also tempting to try to touch every single life we meet with our modern church models, even small groups, substituting our primary responsibility (to proclaim God) with our secondary duties (meeting needs). Worse, while trying to meet needs as a primary focus, we end up trying to play the role of God. Can a blind lead the blind? Can the weary bring true rest to the needy? Are leaders really super-counselors that they have less needs than others?

No! If meeting needs is the key focus of any leader in the church, it is only a matter of time before that leader burns out. The key focus of a leader is to equip. There is no substitution for the Word of God. Kellemen adds,

"Our trainees need to feed on God's Word. They need to develop the conviction that the deepest questions of the human soul are God-questions, and that we find our deepest answers in God's Word." (Kellemen, Equipping Counselors, 207)

Let me repeat. Meeting the needs of members are secondary purposes of any small group.  That is the responsibility of the movement of the Holy Spirit. The primary responsibility is the Word of God. Our role is to equip one another in the Word, to disciple one another to become more like Christ. In prayer, in coming together, in sharing, we must always have the Word of God in our midst. Otherwise, we can easily become another statistic in the unending numbers of needy ones. As we fix our eyes on God, through the Word of God, our awareness of our neediness becomes strangely dim, in the light of God's glory and grace.


THOUGHT: Plant a word in the mind, and you will reap an act. Plant the act and you will reap a habit. Plant a habit and you will reap a character. Plant a character and you will reap a nature. Plant a nature and you will reap a destiny. (unknown)


sabbathwalk


Copyright by SabbathWalk. This devotional is sent to you free of charge. If you feel blessed or ministered to by SabbathWalk weekly devotionals, feel free to forward to friends, or to invite them to subscribe online at http://blog.sabbathwalk.org . You can also send me an email at cyap@sabbathwalk.org for comments or enquiries.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Four Kinds of Small Group Participants

TITLE: FOUR KINDS OF SMALL GROUP PARTICIPANTS
SCRIPTURE: Ephesians 5:1
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 3 Apr 2012

"Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." (Ephesians 5:1-2)
[This is Part 3 of a series on Small Group Ministry]

This week, an opinion poll suggests that "Canadians want everything for nothing." The statement is based on half the number of people surveyed who will vote against any politician who hikes taxes. While they are quick to demand for all things, from social welfare to personal benefits, they are extremely reticent, even vocal against paying for them. Paul Kershaw, a professor at the University of British Columbia observes that there are more people with an "anti-tax" sentiment who "want something for nothing." (Source: News1130.com, May 2nd, 2012)

Scary. If the report is true, that we are seeing a new generation of people who want everything, but unwilling to give anything, we are in trouble. In economic theory, the:re is what is called a "multiplier effect," where a stimulus leads to a knock-on effect that will generate a life of its own. Governments often provide the initial investment. A simple example goes like this. The Government issues a billion dollar contract to a big corporation to build a highway. This big corporation goes on to engage hundreds of other subcontractors and workers, who in turn benefit other entities like restaurants, hotels, transportation, logistics, school, and other miscellaneous sectors. In other words, one giant stimulus gets multiplied many fold. While there are other practical limits to such a theory, the idea is basically this: Giving stimulates economic activity or giving, taking, and sharing.

What if in our small groups in church, we see more of such people who give nothing but expect everything? There will be no multiplier effect. Worse, it becomes a shrinking effect when everybody takes and nobody gives. Continuing our series on small groups, this week, I like to suggest that there are at least four kinds of people in any small group environment. On the healthy end of the spectrum is a group called "healthy lambs" and "skinny goats" that nourish the whole community. On the unhealthy end, the appearance of "lamp-poles" and "leeches" suck away the life of the group. My main point in this article is that we should all strive to become the healthy kind, the healthy lamb. Let me first begin with the worst kind of participant, what I call the LEECH. Eeek!

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