Wednesday, 25 May 2011

The Shape of Gospel Partnership| Part 3b: Partnership for the Sake of the Gospel (2)

Gospel partnership is a partnership that is founded on the gospel, for the sake of the gospel, and shaped by the gospel. In the previous post in this series we began to examine what it means for our partnership to be for the sake of the gospel. We shall continue to explore this in this week's post and next week. last week we saw that partnership for the sake of the gospel means (1) defending the gospel and (2) proclaiming the gospel. In this post we shall look at two more implications of partnership for the sake of the gospel:

3) Training and Deploying Gospel Workers
Obviously, if we want to see the gospel proclaimed throughout our own nation and beyond, both now and in the future, this means that more workers for the harvest field will be needed. These workers are not going to come from nowhere, we will needing to be deliberate about training and deploying them.

There are two key areas that come under this heading:

i) Training the local church. Every member of the church is a partner in the gospel; they are all gospel workers with a unique part to play. We need, therefore, to be thinking about how we can be equipping the members of the churches we serve to serve faithfully as members of the body of Christ. This will mean training them as Sunday School teachers, Youth Group leaders and Bible Study leaders etc.

Again, this is something that we can better do together. Working together, we will be able to serve one another with the specific resources and experience and strengths that we have. This can take many shapes and forms. It could involve setting up a regular training scheme between churches in a local area to use our resources and gifts in different congregations to serve one another, so that as churches as a whole we are not committed just to the building up of our own churches but of those around us also. It will also help foster a mentality of sacrificial service in our churches as they see us committed to building up the ministries of others. On another front it could mean preparing and making available resources to help serve these different ministries in our churches (using, for example, a Sunday school curriculum that we have developed in our church to prepare materials that could serve many other Sunday school teachers in their minist
ries). On a larger level, it would be helpful to think how we could be doing such training on a country-wide level. Perhaps an annual conference for training members of the local church in the various ministries they are involved in their local church.

ii) Training full time gospel workers. As well as training those in our congregations to serve in our congregations, we also want to be training others to be sent out to serve in other parts of the harvest field. If we are to see Ireland and beyond reached with the gospel, both in our lifetime and beyond (if Christ has not come before then), then we will need to be working hard about raising up a new generation of gospel workers.

Whilst we must recognise that through the faithful exercising of the ministry of the word and prayer God, in His grace will be raising up men and women for this work (that is, such people will be one of the natural outcomes of a faithful ministry), we need also to recognise that it is something that we need also to be deliberate about. One way that this can be done is through some form of apprenticeship scheme. Such a scheme will involve looking out for those in our churches who are godly and show the appropriate gifting and ability for gospel work (however embryonic these might be), and giving them opportunities to serve in the work of prayer and the ministry of the word in different forms, and providing training and the opportunity to learn from an older Christian in full-time ministry. This can be done in individual churches. However, it will be much more effective if we work together to raise up and train such apprentices.

There are many strengths that come from partnering together in apprenticeship schemes. We can share resources for training, so that the training that the apprentices receive is not merely dependent upon the pastor they’re under, instead there could be a shared central training for different apprentices in a certain area. Also, if we are working together we can provide opportunities for people to do apprenticeships in different churches other than their own so that they can gain experience of ministry in different contexts and be equipped to serve in different harvest fields in the future. It also means that those in larger churches can support smaller ones by sending apprentices out to do apprenticeships in smaller churches and thus support the work of the gospel there.

Another element to mention under this heading is more formal theological training. One of the things we that needs to be grappled with as we seek to raise up workers, is the question of how and where they shall receive faithful theological training after apprenticeships in order to equip them for a lifetime of gospel ministry. At present in Ireland there is a huge gap in this regard, many are heading abroad to receive this training and a large number of them end up not returning to Ireland. Therefore, we need to think about how we can be preparing the ground for, and taking the first steps towards providing more and more good quality theological training for the workers of the future.

4) Supporting Gospel Workers
The work of the gospel is not something that we can do, or should attempt to do, alone. We need the support and accountability of others. It has been said that ‘lone-rangers are dead-rangers’. The more and more we isolate ourselves the more danger we put ourselves in of making a shipwreck of our ministries, causing great damage to those we serve and bringing the gospel into disrepute. Therefore, it is essential that we are thinking carefully through how, not only can we raise up gospel workers, but also how we can give ongoing support and accountability to one another for the whole of the ministries that God has given us.
There are many ways that such support can happen. Here I want to mention just a few.

First, on a small scale, an accountability group or prayer triplet (or quadruplet etc) can be a great way of doing this. This would be a small group of gospel workers who meet together regularly to open the Bible together, pray for one another and ask each other the hard questions. It will mean being committed to each other in the group and committing to wrestling in prayer for them and their ministries, marriages and family life.

Secondly, on a slightly larger scale, in order to keep us fresh in our preaching and teaching, a local preacher’s workshop would be of great value. This would be where pastors in a local area come together on a regular basis to sharpen one another up by listening to and giving feedback on one another’s sermons. This could also include keeping one another fresh in our thinking by reading good meaty books and discussing them together.

Thirdly, on an even larger scale, another idea would be conferences of various kinds which would serve to continue to encourage and equip gospel workers in their ministries. This could be something like a large annual conference, but also having smaller, more generalised conferences throughout the year. There are many benefits that such conferences bring: they bring many gospel workers together so that they can encourage one another, they provide quality teaching to build up gospel workers and they help to promote a healthy mindset of being lifelong learners, always sitting under the Word, rather than thinking that once we’ve left theological college we’ve arrived and are the finished article.

Fourthly, printed resources can be a great support to gospel workers. There are many great magazines and periodicals available which are aimed at keeping gospel workers fresh. However, what about such a magazine written from and for an Irish context, aiming to keep us going and thinking through how we do gospel ministry in an Irish context?

Previous Posts in this series: