A few weeks ago I attended Generate, a church planting conference for leaders and pastors in South Africa. Our speaker was Andrew Heard, senior minister of EV Church and the founding director of Geneva Push, an Australian church-planting network. The conference was very stimulating and challenged our approach, both practically and in principle, to ministry. Over the 4 days that I listened to Andrew he made many provocative yet warranted points. In this post I will unfortunately only have space to review a few that struck me, and which I believe are an important corrective to how we think about ministry in South Africa, especially in my own church culture.
1. An exposition of Revelation
Revelation 5:9 reads: “They sang a new song.” It is so easy to overlook the adjective, “new.” But Andrew argued that it carries a weight few of us ever realise, and many of us resist. This new chorus, which rings throughout the heavens, marks one of the most significant turns in the biblical storyline. Andrew suggested that the very fabric of eternity is broken, by the Lamb’s death to ransom sinners. A new song is sung in the throne room of heaven, the old song celebrating creation is in some ways relegated. We tend to forget the implications of this heavenly shift, as our lives are cluttered with the marvels of the created world. The challenge for Christians is not to ‘keep the cross central,’ as if our ignorance could dethrone the glorified Lamb, but we are tasked with remembering that Christ’s work eclipses everything and therefore proclaiming it until his coming. Jesus’ death is the subject of heaven’s praise and we must repent where we have forgotten the new song, which we are also invited to sing.
2. The very real tension between God’s sovereignty and our responsibility
Many times in ministry I have been comforted by the words, ‘God does the growing, just be faithful,’ or something along those lines. Andrew challenged these sentiments by calling the church to be responsible, to take ownership of our role in the advance of God’s kingdom, as well as our failings. With a rankling turn of phrase Andrew warned us against, “drinking too deeply of the sovereignty of God.” He also said that the attribution of floundering ministries to God’s sovereignty is blend of myth and hyper-Calvinism, which we summon so that we can sleep better at night. But maybe we should not sleep easily at night; for we should be consumed with what Andrew called “godly discontentment” that longs to reach more people with the gospel, causing them to become mature disciples of Christ (Colossians 1:28). We need to ask if we have settled too quickly into excusing failure by retreating into the doctrine of God’s sovereignty. Have we settled for merely remaining faithful? If we have then we need to repent of being so apathetic towards the many who have not yet come to Christ and received eternal life. We should toil, struggling with all of God’s energy that he powerfully works within us (Colossians 1:29).
3. A dangerous but indispensable desire for growth
Lastly, Andrew called us to cultivate a healthy desire for church growth. His qualification of healthy growth was made because, while most ministers have a passion to see their churches grow, some have fallen into the associated traps of seeking to liked, respectable, friendly and inoffensive; this is too often achieved by sitting lightly on the truth. This is not to advocate pietistic hostility but rather to remain true to our Lord, whose gospel is inherently confrontational. N.T. Wright often speaks about the strikingly subversive meaning contained in the words “Jesus is Lord.” Not only was it an affront to the Imperial cult but it also says to each of us today, ‘Bend your knee for Jesus is your Lord.’ Thus a healthy desire for growth will not be seen in the city and the church sharing a hug, holding hands and walking off into the sunset. We might need to repent of desiring the friendship of the world above the friendship of God our Father. Or perhaps we need to repent of being embarrassed about Jesus’ lordship that summons every creature to bow before the Lamb who was slain, and who is seated on the throne.