Theology

There’s much about the life and ministry of Jesus that resonates with me, and that I appreciate and aspire toward. The Gospel of John is an incredible work that speaks volumes to the person of Jesus and his ministry importance. John, however, writes in order to inspire the faith of his readers, that’s not taken for granted.  There are many ‘signs’ in John’s Gospel that allude to the identity, purpose and mission of Christ, coupled with the infamous seven “I AM” sayings. The Gospel of John unequivocally points to the deity of Jesus Christ and the calling of Christ in mission that beckons readers to not only observe, but become participant observers in God’s great mission endeavor. There’s nothing like a church fired up for mission, and nothing like individuals and families set on course for the common good of a community because of the Gospel. However, as the Gospel unfolds, there are many obstacles to transformation that present themselves that require our urgent attention.

 

Take a brief moment to join me in a personal, reflective journey regarding a few obstacles that you ay encounter as you seek to serve God faithfully where you’re at.  Start this section by reading John chapter 4 and taking special note to anything that detracts and distracts from transformed lives. Using John 4 as a basis of discussion I would like to present a number of obstacles to Spiritual transformation below.

 

OBSTACLES TO SPIRITUAL TRANSFORMATION

OBSTACLE #1: CONFORMITY

Conformity to culture seems a norm in churches and among Christians these days, and Christians have even invented a name for this- relevance. Cultural relevance in many instances compromises the Gospel and makes culture the axis and goal instead of Christ, love and truth. Throughout his ministry, Jesus showed that he was a non-conformist when it came to the rules of men and the institutions of men that neither glorified God, nor achieved his purpose. John 4 opens with a reminder that religious folk will not always be happy with a genuine move of the Holy Spirit and growth in ministry. In verses 1, Jesus decided to travel to Galilea rather than have a confrontation with leaders who wanted to bring him down and criticize what God was doing in and through his ministry.

OBSTACLE #2: CULTURE

“Jesus had to go through Samaria”; what a statement of purpose/ intent. Truth be told, Jesus’ intent on traveling through Samaria after his first sign in Cana of Galilea and his trip to Jerusalem at the time of the Feast, was a helpful allusion to the fact that God’s Kingdom includes those who may not fit our mold, or cultural preference.  Our culture, or the recipient culture may be a real stumbling block to sharing the Gospel. Much can be written on this topic, in fact much has been written on the tools to be employed in cross-cultural mission. However, the starting point, in my mind, is the equality of all cultures at the foot of the cross and our versatility and humility in bridging the gap. Jesus illustrates this point perfectly in John 4, and provides a helpful point of reference for breaking the barrier of culture in sharing the Gospel.

OBSTACLE #3: COMFORT ZONES 

Leading on from the previous obstacle, each of us is socially and culturally conditioned, whether we like it or not. Part of this is our insistence that our culture is right, fitting and supreme. We’ve all become comfortable in may ways with our culture, beliefs, geography, worship etc. Our comfort zones can serve a impenetrable barriers in sharing the Gospel when we do not allow God’s kingdom to break down our natural proclivity toward our self-interests and desire to preserve our lives, along with all that comes with it. The Samaritan women became rather used to the rhymes of a life of social isolation from the other members of her community that led her to draw water in the 6th hour, in isolation from others. Truth is, God’s not too interested in our comfort as there is a bigger picture at play- one that involves removing the obstacle of our comfort for the sake of God’s greater good.

OBSTACLE #4: CONCEALMENT

Many of us struggle with living with a concealed identity like the Samaritan woman- our lives are filled with shame and guilt that oftentimes paralyze our ability to either see God at work, or join in his mission purposes. We may easily hide or mask our struggles, identity or sin from man, but nothing is hidden from God’s sight. Why have our churches become a place where we display our false sense of security and model our success before the hoards of people we feel we need to impress. God’s approval is the only one we need to seek, and in order to gain this, as well as the respect of others in God’s unfolding mission, we need to eat humble pie and allow our testimony to speak to those who know the best and worst about our lives.

OBSTACLE #5: CONTAINMENT

I greatly appreciate the scene that unfolds in John 4 where the Samaritan woman abandons her jar of water (immediate, real need) and runs to the village to share of her encounter with the Messiah who knew her heart, secrets and failures, yet did not abandon her or push her aside. Her enthusiasm for sharing her testimony is commendable, and yet is so lacking in my own life and in the lives of people that claim to be followers of Jesus. Containment of the good news is in effect denial of its effect and refusal to share is perhaps the greatest shame for those around us. All that the woman shares is what she has sees and experienced of Jesus, perhaps there’s a lesson in this; we’re not expected to have a perfect theology, or a vast knowledge with all the answers, all we need is a valid experience of Jesus that excites us to share it around.

 

What about you?

Which of the obstacles above best describe you personally? One aspect that I am constantly challenged about is my tendency to ‘contain’ the message and good news to the confines of the church. Throughout this year, my desire it to see my walk with God overflow into various sectors of life and see greater Gospel impact, even as a ‘leader of leaders’ within the lives of other. Feel free to share your thoughts with me and interact on this post. DH

Justine Ubsdell is a final year student at the Baptist Theological College of Southern Africa and will be graduating with her Bachelor of Theology at the 2016 congregation of the Seminary. This research was submitted as part of one of her subjects and I thought this would be useful for you to consider seeing the topics of evangelism and social engagement are at the forefront of discussion on many fronts.

 

You can download her research project here:

justine-ubsdell-social-gospel-and-evangelism.

 

Serving in Pastoral ministry is never an easy role, and the road can often be fraught with many hazards and obstacles that can easily derail you from serving God’s purposes. According to a recent pastor and student survey conducted by the Department of Missiology at BTC, these are five struggles of South African Pastors that emerged you might find informative.

  1. Pastoral Co-dependency- many pastors struggle to find a balance between how they ‘see’ themselves (equippers of Believers) and how they exercise their leadership through influence. Around 12% of pastors struggle to delegate to lay leaders and about 1 out of every 4 pastors serve tirelessly and find the need to multitask because of the lack of time or commitment from lay leadership. Around 16% of pastors need all their decisions ratified by a Church council or Board creating frustration and laxity among congregants, prohibiting the effective management of Church ministry and structures.
  2. Personal growth and connection- Around 73% of respondents indicated that they did not attend a regular Pastor’s Fraternal and that those who attend usually stick within their denomination. Many pastors have unfounded perceptions of their peers because of this insular focus. Interestingly, the bulk of South African Pastors receives input from peers through one-on-one contact and ‘coffee’, indicative of a broad-based breakdown of confidence in denominational structures, which will most likely increase the need for networks without direct authority structures, and without the baggage of history.
  3. Community impact and transformation– Many pastors struggle in the area of evangelism and transformation of individuals and families and feel ill-equipped and resourced to care for people effectively. Evangelism is heavily reliant on events and Sunday sermons at a local level, and most money is channelled to the periphery toward evangelism in outlying areas that would not have a direct impact on the local church growth. Around 42% of respondents indicated that the bulk of new church members were from other churches in the area, which indicates an increasing need for effective evangelism and integration of new Believers.
  4. Effective Christian discipleship – Most Evangelical pastors would admit to a dire need for their ministry to focus on discipleship, however, most churches are geared more to reach the unsaved, but lack clarity regarding a process of discipleship that works for their congregation; moving Believers toward greater spiritual maturity. There is a direct correlation between transfer growth in South African churches to the growth of Christians in our Churches.   
  5. A dynamic relationship with God– many pastors indicated that they struggled on a daily basis with maintaining devotional integrity. 1 out of 3 South African pastors do not have a consistent quiet time and about 1 out of 6 indicate that ministry consumes all their time and they find it hard to meet recreational needs. I would imagine that there is a direct correlation between the lack of dynamic relationship with God to pastors leaving the ministry for secular employment.

 

What are some challenges you face, or you know others face that have not been included above?