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The Preacher, the Counselor, and the Congregation

Nov 11, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

At University Reformed Church, one of our firm convictions is that the ministry of the preacher and the ministry of the counselor are not different kinds of ministry, but rather the same ministry given in different ways in different settings. Both are fundamentally, thoroughly, and unapologetically Word ministries. One may be more proclamation and monologue, and the other more conversational and dialogue, but the variation in approach and context does not undermine their shared belief in the power of the Word of God to do the work of God in the people of God. What shapes our understanding of pulpit ministry is a strong confidence in the necessity, sufficiency, authority, and relevance of God’s Word. The same confidence shapes our understanding of counseling ministry.

 The Word of God is necessary. We cannot truly know God or know ourselves unless God speaks. While Christians can learn from the insights of those blessed by common grace and those with gifts of reason and observation, the care of souls requires revelation from the Maker of souls. We preach and we counsel from the Scriptures not simply because they help us see a few good insights, but because they are the spectacles through which we must see everything.

The Word of God is sufficient. All we need for life and godliness, for salvation and sanctification has been given to us in the Bible. This doesn’t mean the Scriptures tell us everything we need to know about everything or that there is a verse somewhere in the Bible that names all our problems. The Bible is not exhaustive. But it is enough. We don’t have to turn away from God’s Word when we get to the really hard and messy stuff of life. The Bible has something to say to the self-loathing, the self-destructive, and the self-absorbed. We do not need to be afraid to preach and counsel from the Word of God into the darkest places of the human heart.

The Word of God is authoritative. The Christ who is Lord exercises His lordship by means of His Word. To reject His Word is to reject Him. In a day filled with sermonettes for Christianettes, we must not forget that what most distinguished Jesus’ preaching from that of the scribes and Pharisees was His authority. The Word gives definitive claims, issues obligatory commands, and makes life-changing promises. All three must be announced with authority. This authority may be spoken in a loud voice or a soft whisper, in a prayer or in a personal note, with an outstretched finger or an open embrace. Authority is not dependent on personality or one’s position within the church building. Authority comes from God’s Word, and the counselor no less than the preacher must bring this authority to bear on all those encountered, especially on those who swear allegiance to Christ.

God’s Word is relevant. Terms change. Science changes. Our experiences change. But the human predicament does not change, the divine remedy does not change, and the truth does not change. This makes the Word of God eternally relevant. Whatever work we can accomplish in the church apart from the Word of God is not the work that matters most. When it comes to matters of heaven and hell, matters of sin and salvation, matters of brokenness and healing, we are powerless in ourselves to effect any of the good change we want to see. This is why we must rely on the unchanging Word of God. If Christ is relevant—and what Christian would dare say He is not—then we can never ignore what He has to say to us. There is less wisdom in our new techniques than we think and more power in God’s Word than we imagine.

A Gospel-Tuned Tag Team

I love the partnership in the Word that I share with our Director of Counselor, Pat Quinn (not the current governor of Illinois!). It’s encouraging—and unfortunately rare in many churches—to know that what I preach on Sunday will be reinforced by our counseling ministry Monday through Saturday. I don’t have to worry that Pat will be working from a different foundation or pursuing a different cure. He’s far more gifted than I am at asking questions, assigning homework, leading Bible studies, and gently helping people apply the Word of God to their problems. But though he may be more skilled in his context, he doesn’t do anything substantially different from what I do in mine. He talks about faith, repentance, sin, salvation, the gospel, justification, lies, truth, forgiveness, promises, commands, communion with God, and union with Christ—all the same themes I expound from the pulpit week after week.

I’d like to think my preaching makes Pat’s counseling easier. He can build on what I teach, use what I preach, and remind people of last week’s sermons because when we both work from the Word, we end up saying the same things. I know I’ve become a better preacher knowing that Pat is such a good counselor. Hearing the questions he asks and the cases he’s working on helps me make sure that my message does not just aim for an announcement of truth, but also for the care of souls. It’s always more effective to preach with real people, real hurts, real struggles, and real temptations in view. Being involved in our counseling forces me to think how this week’s text speaks to a teenager with same-sex attraction, or to an older man struggling with bitterness, or to a young couple with no hope for their marriage, or to a confused wife who can’t stand her husband.

If my sermon’s don’t help with counseling, then I need to rework my approach to preaching. And if a church’s counseling is totally unlike, in substance and grounding, faithful expositional preaching, then the church’s counseling probably is something other than biblical. The preacher and the counselor working together, teaching the same truths from the same Bible to the same heart conditions, can be a powerfully gospel-tuned tag team.

Adapted from my contribution to the new book Scripture and Counseling: God’s Word for Life in a Broken World (eds. Bob Kellemen and Jeff Forrey).

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Monday Morning Humor

Nov 10, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

Still my kids’ favorite commercial.

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What Is the Heartbeat of Reformed Theology?

Nov 06, 2014 | Jason Helopoulos

Guest Blogger: Jason Helopoulos

What is the heartbeat of Reformed Theology? Some would point to the Doctrines of Grace (Five Points of Calvinism) and others to the Solas of the Reformation. Still others may be inclined to assert that it is the sovereignty of God or union with Christ. All of these are good answers, but if I was pressed to articulate the one thing that drives Reformed Theology, I would reply that it is the glory of God as revealed in the Scriptures:

  • We emphasize reliance upon the Scriptures because observing the rule He has given for faith and practice ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize the sovereignty of God because a theology rooted in His supremacy ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize the distinction between Creator and creature because a right understanding of His “otherness” ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize the sinfulness of man because recognizing His unfathomable grace ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize the inability of man in salvation because accentuating His mercy ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize predestination and election because distinguishing He is a God who freely chooses ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize prayer because faithful dependence ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize the preached Word because listening to His voice ascribes glory God.
  • We emphasize the sacraments because participating in these gifts to the church ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize holiness in the Christian life because being conformed to the likeness of Christ ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize daily quiet times because seeking Him in private worship ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize worship in our homes, because centering our homes upon Christ ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize Lord’s Day corporate worship, because gathering with the bride of Christ ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize preaching Christ from all the Scriptures because maintaining the centrality of Christ ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize providence because trusting in Him for all things ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize missions because spreading His fame throughout all the earth ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize theological rigor because worshipping God with all our mind, heart, and soul ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize the covenants because treasuring God’s faithfulness ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize the pilgrimage of the Christian life because seeking Christ above beauty ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize that the treasure of heaven is Christ because observing there is nothing better ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize conversion because calling men, women, and children to faith in Christ ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize common grace because recognizing that all good things come from above ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize the local church, because as the appointed bride of the Son ascribes glory to God.
  • We emphasize union with Christ in salvation because seeing every aspect of our salvation in relation to Christ (as the Scriptures do) ascribes glory to God.

What is the heartbeat of Reformed Theology? I wouldn’t feel the need to argue with someone who would suggest it is the Doctrines of Grace, union with Christ, or even the Solas of the Reformation. Yet, I think it is more accurate to say that Reformed theology is a system of doctrine that seeks to rightly articulate the teaching of the Scriptures for the glory of God. It is His glory that is our heartbeat, propels us to action, and the reward that we seek after.

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20 Ways to Refresh the Hearts of the Missionary Saints on Furlough

Nov 04, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

Guest blogger: Jason Carter

Jason Carter (Ph.D., University of Edinburgh) is a missionary professor at Instituto Bíblico “Casa de la Palabra” (IBCP Seminary) in Equatorial Guinea, the only country in Africa where Spanish is the official language (http://ibcp.wecinternational.org/index.php/en/). Jason is married with three children. He blogs occasionally at http://thecarterteam.wordpress.com/.

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In my own experience, church members often appreciate missionaries, admire their sacrifice for the Gospel and think highly of their ministries. Yet it’s hard to understand that returning for furlough to one’s “home” country can be a highly exhausting and stressful experience for many missionary families. Between the tension-filled task of an international move, setting up a new place to live, a frenzied travel schedule and finding one’s missionary budget stretched to the limit, a missionary faces a multitude of challenges during furlough.

Many missionaries that I know get reprimanded by their mission leaders to physically rest, spiritually recharge, invest in their marriages and reflect on ministry practices during furlough. These are formidable challenges amidst busy schedules. To borrow a phrase from Henry Nouwen, many missionaries come home on furlough as “wounded healers” who desperately need the body of Christ during their home assignment.

Recently, Jason Helopoulos challenged us to be like Philemon in encouraging the hearts of the Lord’s people. The apostle Paul commended Philemon as embodying traits which refreshed the body of Christ: “Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people” (Philemon 1:7).
What would it look like for the body of Christ to refresh the hearts of missionaries on furlough? Here are a few practical ways that you can serve those who serve:

• If you are part of a bible study or small group, adopt a missionary family from the supported missionaries of your church. Pray for them regularly. Send care packages, birthday cards and encouraging letters.

• Buy a kindle for a missionary. Tell them to make a long list of books they want to read. Regularly buy kindle books for them when they return overseas.

• If you are a dentist, offer free or discounted dental work. If you are a lawyer, offer to update their last will and testament. If you are a counselor, offer free marital counseling (i.e. a marriage tune-up). Use your vocational gifts to bless the missionary body of Christ.

• Offer to host a dinner party where the missionary can share about the ministry. If there are financial needs, share those needs with the group so the missionary doesn’t have to.

• Offer to keep in storage some of their earthly belongings while they are serving overseas.

• Send a missionary to a Christian conference or spiritual retreat where they will be equipped and refreshed for the ministry.

• Purchase return plane tickets for the missionary’s family. Two overseas trips in a short time frame (to the States & back to their field of service) are extremely expensive for most missionary budgets.

• Offer to give the missionary couple a date night every week or two. Instead of inviting the whole family to dinner, offer to take the kids for a night.

• Own a condo or time-share? Gift a week (and spending money) to a missionary family.

• Nominate yourself as Chairperson of their Furlough Committee. You might be a committee of one, but you can scout out housing in advance of their furlough, equip the place with some furniture and leave a Fruit Basket (or Krispy Kreme donuts) on their front step when they arrive from overseas.

• Loan (or give) a car to a missionary family to use during their furlough, and find a couple car seats for their children.

• Tell the missionary all the ways you have diligently prayed specifically for them.

• If the missionary family homeschools, offer to buy some curriculum or books for the missionary kids.

• Have your own kids adopt a missionary family. When the family returns overseas, encourage your kids to pray for the missionary kids’ international or home schooling, friendships with national kids, foreign language learning, good health, and that the kids will come to love and serve Jesus Christ.

• Ask to see the pictures. All of them. Via photos, see their adopted clan, meet their missionary colleagues and get a feel for their ministry context. It´s cathartic for missionaries when people are interested in their life and ministry.

• Ask the missionary family for a list of movies they want to watch during their next term overseas. Purchase 25 DVD movies so that the missionaries can enjoy a “movie night” during their next term of service. Netflix and quality DVD movies (gasp!) still are not available in many countries.

• Set up a home office for their furlough: desk, chair, computer and printer.

• Encourage your kids to invite the missionary kids over for playdates, play on their soccer teams and take them to youth group. Remember, while the parents may enjoy long-lasting friendships with members of their home church, missionary kids often experience all these new people as strangers.

• Let them know you are filled with joy at their service and sacrifice for the Gospel.

• Tell them all the ways you will be praying for them during their next missionary term.

One of least-helpful things people often say to missionaries on furlough is this: “Let me know how I can help.” That places the missionary in a difficult spot – is this person just saying that to be kind? Do they really want to hear about our deepest frustrations and concerns right now? Are they asking to be on our support team?

A better idea would be to choose 1-2 practical ways to refresh the hearts of the missionary saints among you. Pray for them. Invest in their ministry. Become personally invested in their lives and in their ministry. Take the challenge: dare to be a Philemon to a missionary. I bet you’ll be glad you did.

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Monday Morning Humor

Nov 03, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

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Is the Reformation Over?

Oct 31, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

Ask a Protestant today what is the biggest threat to orthodox Christianity today, and he might mention nominalism, the sexual revolution, or old fashioned liberalism. But if you would have asked a Protestant the same question a hundred years ago, he would have almost certainly mentioned the Roman Catholic Church. Until fairly recently—we are only talking about a few generations—Protestant and Catholics in this country were, if not enemies, then certainly players on opposing teams.

Today, much of that animosity has melted away. And to a large extent, the thaw between Protestants and Catholics has been a good thing. Protestants and Catholics have found themselves to be co-belligerents in the culture war, defending the unborn, upholding traditional marriage, and combating moral relativism and secular humanism. And in an age which discounts doctrine, evangelical Protestants often share more in common theologically with a devout Roman Catholic steeped in historic orthodoxy than they do with liberal members of their own denominations. I personally have benefited from Catholic authors like G.K. Chesterton, Richard John Neuhaus, and Robert George. I have respected the Catholic Church for taking principled, unpopular stands on moral issues.

And yet, the theological gulf between Protestants and Catholics is still wide and in places very deep. If we care about the doctrines that were most precious to the Reformers we must not dare to assert that the “Reformation is over,” as if all the theological hills have been laid low and all the dogmatic valleys made into a plain.

Below are a number of points which still separate Catholics and Protestants. No doubt, many Roman Catholics don’t actually believe (or even know) what Catholic theology states. I am not claiming to know definitely what Catholics think and practice in all these areas. But by seeking to understand official church documents we can get a good idea of what Catholics are supposed to believe. And what they should believe include a number of points sola Scriptura Protestants cannot affirm.

The Church
Since Vatican II, the Catholic Church has softened its stance toward Protestants, calling them “estranged brothers.” Nevertheless, to be a part of the church in its fullness one must be immersed in the Roman Catholic system of sacraments, orders, and under the authority of the Pope. “Fully incorporated into the society of the Church are those who…are joined in the visible structure of the Church of Christ, who rules here through the Supreme Pontiff and the bishops.” Further, the Pope is considered infallible when he speaks ex cathedra (from the chair); that is, when he makes official doctrinal pronouncements. The Catholic Church also has seven sacraments instead of two-Eucharist (or Lord’s Supper) and baptism like Protestants, and then penance, holy orders, marriage, confirmation, and last rites.

Scripture
Catholics have a larger biblical canon. In addition to the 66 books in the Protestant Bible, Catholic Bibles include the Apocrypha, with books like Tobit, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccebees, Sirach, and Baruch. Catholic teaching also elevates Tradition more than Protestants do. Granted, many evangelicals suffer from ignoring tradition and the wisdom of the past. But Catholic theology goes beyond just respecting the past; it sacralizes it. “Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence,” states the Catechism. Likewise, the Magisterium has the authority to make definitive interpretations. “The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living, teaching, office of the Church alone…to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome.”

Lord’s Supper
Central to the Catholic faith is the Mass (their worship service). Central to the Mass is the celebration of the Eucharist. Catholics believe that bread and wine are transubstantiated into the actual, physical body and blood of Jesus Christ. The elements are offered as a sacrifice from the church and a sacrifice of Jesus Christ’s work on the cross. This is not simply a remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice, but the same atoning work: “The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice…the sacrifice [of the Eucharist] is truly propitiatory.”

Baptism
Catholics teach that “justification is conferred in Baptism.” The waters of baptism wash away original sin and join us with Christ. Baptism is not merely a sign and seal of grace, but actually confers saving grace.

Mary
Mary is not only the Mother of Christ, but the Mother of the Church. She was conceived without original sin (the immaculate conception) and at the end of her earthly life “was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things” (assumption). She intercedes for the church, “continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation,” and is “a mother to us in the order of grace.” Mary was more than just the faith-filled mother of Jesus: “The Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix.”

Purgatory
Those who die in God’s grace, but still imperfectly purified, are assured of eternal life, but must first undergo purification in purgatory. Because of the presence of this intermediate state, the Catholic Church has developed the practice of prayer for the dead. “The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead.” Concerning the salvation of those who do not hear the gospel, the Catholic Catechism states “Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience-those too may achieve eternal salvation.”

Merit
It is not really fair to say “Catholics teach that you can earn your salvation.” That may be what many Catholics believe, but the official teaching of Rome is more nuanced, but still troubling. The Catechism summarizes: “Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification, at the beginning of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life.”

Justification
Catholic teaching rejects the Protestant understanding of imputed righteousness. The question is this: is the righteousness whereby we are forgiven and made right with God a righteousness working in us or a righteousness reckoned to our account? Catholics say the former, Protestants the latter. The difference is between infused and imputed righteousness-infused righteousness is like having $100 in cold hard cash in your actual possession, imputed righteousness is like having $100 wired to your account. According to Catholic teaching, justification is more than God’s declaration of our righteousness based on Christ’s work, it is also a renewal of the inner man and reconciliation with God. Of course, these are good things too, but Catholics make them present in and through justification, rather than by faith alone. The Council of Trent, from the 16th century Catholic counter-reformation, declares: “If anyone says, that men are justified, either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ, or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of grace and charity that is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, and is inherent in them; or even that the grace, whereby we are justified, is only the favor of God: let him be anathema.”

Should Catholics and Protestants treat each other decently and with respect? Of course. Will we labor side by side on important moral and social matters? Quite often. Can we find born again Christians worshiping in Catholic churches? No doubt. Are there still critical doctrinal issues which rightly divide Protestants and Catholics? Absolutely. We do neither side any favors by pretending otherwise.

Sanctify us by your truth, O Lord; your word is truth.

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Preparing for Sunday Worship

Oct 30, 2014 | Jason Helopoulos

Guest Blogger: Jason Helopoulos

The Christian life is lived from Lord’s Day to Lord’s Day. Corporate worship is the high point of our week and the constant rhythm of our lives. We dare not “neglect meeting together, as is the habit of some” (Heb. 10:25), because there is nothing as meaningful, rich, and glorious on earth as the church gathering together with its Lord and Savior in worship. Most Christians believe this, but does it translate to our practice? Or is the moment we are sitting in the pew or the auditorium chair the first time we think about corporate worship in our week?

I would suggest that if corporate worship is as significant as the Scriptures portray it to be (Ex. 19; Acts 2:42; 1 Cor. 11:17-34; 1 Cor. 14:26-39; Heb. 10:25) then we should prepare for it. We count preaching as significant, so we expect our pastor will prepare his sermon before he enters the pulpit. We consider worship songs important, so we expect our music teams, pianists, and organists will appropriately prepare before sitting down at their instruments. We believe our engagement in corporate worship is essential, so we should also expect to prepare even as we expect the pastor and musicians to prepare for their participation in the Sunday morning service. How can you prepare for worship? Here are a few ideas:

  • Seize the Rest of the Week: Practice family worship and secret worship throughout the week knowing that this will inform and encourage your experience in corporate worship.
  • Be Boring: Go to bed early on Saturday night. Friday nights can be filled with late-night activity, but Saturday nights should routinely be safeguarded. Sleepy heads make for drowsy worshippers.
  • Right Attitude: Cultivate a spirit of joy on Sunday mornings in your home. If this is the highlight of our week, then let’s act like it. Talk about how wonderful the day is going to be, wake the kids up with excitement, turn on good Christian music for the whole family to listen to, and put a smile on your face.
  • Media Blackout: Refrain from turning on the television, watching Netflix, or catching up on Facebook Sunday mornings. Our minds are so easily distracted. Safeguard your mental space.
  • Plan Ahead: Lay out your Sunday morning clothes on Saturday night, so you don’t have to change ten times on Sunday morning before finding an outfit that fits well, looks right, or is ironed (of course, this point was not intentionally directed to any particular sex!).
  • Don’t Be Surprised: Read and think through the Sunday morning text earlier in the week. We should seldom be surprised at the passage we hear preached. Working our way through a passage throughout the week provides more fertile soil on Sunday morning.
  • Early Bird: Rise early on Sunday morning and spend time reading the Word, praying, and meditating to prepare your heart for worship.
  • Talk & Drive: On the car-ride to church talk about the passage that will be preached, sing a hymn together, and converse about the things of God.
  • Timing it Right: Give yourself enough time on Sunday mornings. Rise early enough that the morning isn’t rushed. Leave home with plenty of time to spare. Try not to arrive at church late or even a few minutes before the service. Rushing out the door at home and rushing in the door at church has stymied many worshippers.
  • Collect Your Thoughts: Sit-down, read through the bulletin (if you have one), think through the songs, meditate on the Scripture readings, and pray before the service begins.

 

For the Christian, there is no sweeter moment in the week than Sunday morning. How good it is to meet with God and His people! Because it is part of our weekly activity, there is a temptation to treat it as common and routine. May it never be! One of the ways to ensure that this is not the case with us is to prepare our hearts, minds, and souls for corporate worship each week. Take the time and effort, your soul will be the beneficiary.

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Magnify Conference, November 14-15

Oct 29, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

magnifyWe’d love to see you at University Reformed Church for the Magnify Conference this November 14-15. Mark Dever will be giving three plenary addresses on “The Church Matters.” I will also be speaking.

I’m partial to this conference, and not just because we host it:

1. We partner with several other churches in the Lansing area. It’s a great opportunity to meet other brothers and sisters from mid-Michigan and beyond.

2. The conference is not massive. I enjoy big conferences too, but this one is several hundred instead of several thousand. It’s a nice dynamic.

3. Singing together. Always a blessing.

4. The pastors/leaders breakfast on Saturday morning.

5. The conference is long enough to be meaningful but short enough to be manageable for parents, students, and lay people.

6. The cost–only $15 for an individual/$25 for a family!

Mark Dever will also be preaching for us on Sunday morning. I will be continuing my systematic theology series during the evening service.

Here’s Mark talking a little about the conference. Join us!

Mark Dever on the Local Church | Magnify Conference from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

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The Unexpected Sacrifices of the Mission Field

Oct 28, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

Guest blogger: Jason Carter

Jason Carter (Ph.D., University of Edinburgh) is a missionary professor at Instituto Bíblico “Casa de la Palabra” (IBCP Seminary) in Equatorial Guinea, the only country in Africa where Spanish is the official language (http://ibcp.wecinternational.org/index.php/en/). Jason is married with three children. He blogs occasionally at http://thecarterteam.wordpress.com/.

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My wife and I have been overseas since 2006. All our three children were born outside the U.S.. We have experienced unbelievable joys, life-long friendships, soul-transforming ministries and enjoyed worshiping with brothers and sisters in Christ in Central Africa who know the true meaning of sacrifice for the Gospel. And there have also been challenges.

We have missed our extended family – grandparents, aunt & uncles and cousins. We have experienced attempted break-ins to our house at night. Our car has been vandalized. Malaria has visited our family multiple times. While the joys abound, the challenges are manifold. Yet it has often been the unexpected challenges of the mission field that surprise me the most.

First, my kids are third-culture kids. This means, among other things, that my oldest child is really good at making new friendships. Everywhere, with everybody. Yet it also means that I can’t judge childhood success or failure by the American parameters which informed my own childhood. This is unexpectedly hard. I grew up an avid basketball fan, playing the game multiple times a week through high school and college. It bugs me, perhaps more than it should, that basketball leagues are non-existent where we live. That March isn’t full of Madness.

In many ways, I still want my kids to experience all the joys of an American childhood. I want to give them the same joys that I had as a child. This is feels natural, since my own childhood is the only childhood I know. Yet missionary parents must learn to distrust this feeling, however natural it might be to view your own kids through the lens of your own childhood experiences. It might seem obvious: “I shouldn’t shackle my kids with expectations of ‘the American childhood experience’ since, after all, they aren’t growing up in America.” But it’s surprisingly hard.

Second, furloughs are hard. I was ready for the challenges of adjusting to a new culture. New culture, new people, new food, new ways of being the church – all of this, more or less, I was prepared to find in our new adopted country. The unexpected challenge was finding our furlough experience a challenging time.

After setting up a small apartment from scratch (no small task!), our family recently embarked upon 3 months of traveling with three small children on a budget that doesn’t easily support such a lifestyle. Though some days are filled with rich times of fellowship, other days leave me feeling more like Clark Griswold than the Apostle Paul.

Third, downward mobility becomes more, not less, of a challenge. I left the States for the mission field in my late 20s – married but carefree with no kids. Our earthly belongings in the States mostly include my theological books and my wife’s pictures and memory boxes. For the most part, this doesn’t bother me. I’d gladly do it all over again.

Yet as children are added to the family, making ½ of the salary we earned 12 years ago becomes more of a challenge. As I get older, I wrestle with the fact that my wife never gets to “nest” in a home we’ve purchased. As one friend puts it, missionaries are “global nomads”. Like many things connected to the missionary movement, there is a tinge of romanticism in being labeled a “global nomad”. Yet living a nomadic existence with children, at times, is more like a dark comedy than a romantic fun-filled adventure. Especially on long plane rides.

I once thought, perhaps naively, that after selling our stuff and moving overseas, that I would view the challenge of downward mobility in my rear-view mirror. Maybe that’s the case for some missionaries. Yet for me, counting the cost of missionary service (Lk 14:28) has gone up, rather than down, over the years. I find that I daily need Christ’s radical call of discipleship (Lk 9:23) in my life — not only to go to the mission field but to stay on it.

Fourth, serving others is really about others. Sadly, the days of churches and denominations “planting their flag” in an exotic locale simply because “our brand isn’t there yet” is still a reality in the 21st century. I see it all the time in the country where I serve.

I’m involved in a ministry, however, where training and empowering indigenous leaders is at the core of what I do. My ministry is more about teaching others to fish, rather than bringing back my own prize-wining catch.

I have found this unexpectedly hard, especially as I grew up in a culture of performance. All my life, I was taught to compete. Life was about my accomplishments, my resume, my accolades – and later, sadly enough, this morphed into my effectiveness in ministry.

What I’m learning is that missionary service is…well, service. It’s others-centered. It’s not glamorous. It’s about finding joy in the trenches. Most of the time, I’m not called to direct (from up front) but support (from behind or alongside). I’m not called to plant the church but to equip biblically and theologically the church planter.
This is a kind of “vocational sacrifice” which I did not expect. I’m not called to be the “lead pastor” but serve, love and empower indigenous servant leaders.

It’s unsettling that the ministry ambitions which initially drove me to the mission field have to be tamed and completely re-worked. In my context, to put the work of the Gospel first essentially means that I must learn to prize and place the ministry of others above my own ministry. If I really believe that these indigenous leaders, rather than missionaries, are at the heart of the advance of the Gospel in my adopted country (which I do), then I must put their ministries ahead of my own. To paraphrase John the Baptist: “Their ministries must increase, my ministry must decrease.”

I pray it may be so for me. And I pray it may be so for many of my fellow missionaries who have the absolute joy and privilege of serving Christ overseas.

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A New Book and Some Guest Bloggers

Oct 27, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

new_booksChances are you’ll be seeing a few more guest bloggers than usual over the next two months. The reason: I’m working on a new book and need to cut back in a couple areas if I’m going to finish the manuscript by the end of the year (crazy busy and all that jazz). The new book is entitled What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality? It should be available by spring.

More about the book later. But today I want to introduce two guest bloggers.

The first needs little introduction. Jason Helopoulos is part of the pastoral team at University Reformed Church, an author in his own right, and a frequent blogger on this site. Look for Jason’s posts this week and next week.

The other guest blogger is Jason Carter, a friend of mine from seminary and a missionary in Equatorial Guinea. In addition to having experience on the mission field, Jason recently received his Ph.D. in World Christianity from the University of Edinburgh. He has two excellent posts in the queue: one on suffering as a missionary and the other on supporting your missionaries. The first post will be up tomorrow. Don’t miss it.

I may post something on Friday for Reformation Day, but check the byline for the next two weeks. It probably won’t be me.

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