Make Disciples

Three Reasons We Hire Interns at First

It is a privilege to have a cohort of interns each year at our church, as they grow together and do excellent work on behalf of our congregation. We set out to hire our first cohort a couple years ago and we were not sure what God might do. When you begin a process to hire a cohort of interns and then lead that cohort through a year of development, you never know who might apply or what might happen. We have been fortunate to not only have great individual interns but great teams that work well together. On multiple occasions, I have found myself reflecting on our intern cohorts, and they are truly a highlight of ministry each year.

Through the year, we seek to invest in our intern cohort. Interns can sometimes be seen as only cheap labor, but that is a serious disservice to what an internship should be. Someone asked me about leading a cohort of interns and what I have learned, I told them that unless you are prepared to invest in people, don't hire interns. The jokes are too common - interns are seen as cheap labor. This is absolutely not the case at our church. Our cohort has done excellent work together this year, and they have served our congregation well. This requires a serious investment on the part of a congregation - one we are happy to make.

There are many reasons to hire interns. The list could grow quite long, but here are three reasons we hire interns at First.

We want to Develop Leaders

We want to develop leaders. Plain and simple. We are working to create a culture at First Baptist that recognizes growth and multiplication as Biblical values which must necessarily be expressed in our congregation. We want to help people grow, whether it is in the area of spiritual disciplines, care for others or leadership skills. An essential part of growing as a disciple of Jesus is multiplying ourselves into others. Paul exhorts Timothy, "What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also (2 Tim 2:2)."

As our congregation makes a commitment to invest resources into developing leaders through our intern cohort, we also communicate a commitment to growing leaders all over our church. As we seek to make growth and multiplication part of the culture at First, our investment into a cohort of interns moves us in the right direction. One of the reasons we hire interns at First is because we value leadership development and our intern cohort is a natural result of that value.

We want to Prioritize The Kingdom

We want our church to prioritize God's Kingdom over our own kingdom. Churches are unfortunately prone to be territorial and only care about their own agenda. We want to fight against that tendency in every way we can. When we hire a cohort of interns, we prioritize The Kingdom. On day one, we tell each of our interns that we want them to invest fully into our church throughout the year of their internship. Once the year is over, we do not place any expectation that they remain a part of our church. We want to release them for Kingdom work, whether that is in another church or another city.

We want to release our interns for Kingdom work, but is also a joy to report that several of our former interns have remained a part of our congregation. We do hope this is the case, because it is a sign that these young leaders are excited to continue investing in our church. Whether they remain for just their internship or a few years after, it is likely they will move away at some point, and our prayer is that the investment we made is multiplied ten, twenty or even a hundredfold for God's Kingdom. We hire interns at First, because we want to prioritize The Kingdom.

We want to Do Excellent Work Together

We hire interns at First because we want to do excellent work together. It is our intention to provide an environment that facilitates growth in each of our interns, and along the way, it is our expectation that we will do excellent work together on behalf of our congregation. I am not interested in having our cohort simply execute menial tasks in a mediocre fashion. As I work with our cohort, we want to complete meaningful work on behalf of our church, for the good of God's Kingdom, the glory of God's name and the joy of all peoples, and we want to do it in excellent ways.

It would be impossible for me to outline all the excellent work our cohorts have done. They have supported our partnerships with our 26 missionaries, they have provided necessary leadership for our youth ministry, they have led retreats, they have led worship, they have invested in congregation members, they have served the needs of our downtown community, they have supported one another, they have prayed for one another, they have loved our church and they have done excellent work together. We hire interns because we want to do excellent work together.

Actively Waiting for Christ's Return

Waiting for Christ's return is not a passive activity. We are not simply hanging out with nothing to do. Our waiting is not like pulling out a phone and playing meaningless games while waiting for our friends to show up for the movie. It is more like a limo driver, waiting for passengers to arrive. The hired driver isn't waiting aimlessly, because he has a job to do. They have been commissioned for a task and are actively waiting for their passengers.

When it comes to the topic of Christ's return, people spend a great deal of time concerned with predicting when Christ will return, when we should really be thinking more about how we wait. Like a hired driver, it is an active waiting. We are not simply hanging out on this large rock with nothing to do. We have been commissioned by our savior and he has given us a job to do. In teaching his disciples, Jesus seems less concerned with telling people when he will return and more about what sort of posture they should take in their waiting. It's less about when and more about how.

“But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.” (Mk 13:32-37).

No one knows the time or the hour. Not even the son. It would be unwise to claim knowledge about something Jesus says you cannot know - something he says he didn't know himself. Jesus says we should not spend so much time trying to figure out exactly when, but we should spend our time considering how.

He tells us to wait like a servant, waiting for their master to return. What does that mean? How does a servant wait? Here are a few ways that a servant waits, which can inform our own manner of waiting. 

Know your task

It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work (Mk 13:34)

When the master leaves, he puts his servants in charge, and gives them work to do. Servants are not hired without an awareness of what they are being asked to do. Jesus has given us clear commands about our work as his followers. It is helpful for me to think about my call as a disciple to grow in my love for Jesus in three primary ways.

First, to treasure Jesus. Loving Jesus means finding our joy in him above all else. This happens as we treasure Jesus in the gospel and pursue habits that raise our affections for him. Second, to live consistent. Loving Jesus means living with character that is consistent with our love for him. As followers of Jesus, we are called to a new set of behaviors in our lives. And third, to make disciples. Loving Jesus means we participate in the glorious task of making new disciples. This means we live with intentional mission to multiply our faith into others.

Be active not passive

When we, like a servant waiting for their master, know our task, we must be active and not passive. The parable of the master and servants points to an active waiting. While their master is away, servants do not simply gather each morning to give one another a pep talk, discussing how great their master is and how excited they are to complete their day's work. Then leave that morning meeting only to spend the rest of their day playing meaningless games, rocking a chair on the porch or continuing to talk with one another about the work they should be doing.

God has called us to be active in our waiting. Our gatherings on Sunday morning are meant to be a catalyst to send us out into the world. We are not intended to gather each week in order to feel good about ourselves but then see no meaningful result. God has given us work to do. We are called to treasure him and actively grow in our love for Jesus. We are called to live with character consistent to our commitment to Jesus. This means we fight sin, we serve others, we seek the good of our city, we care for our family, we treat people with respect, put on love and joy and peace and patience and the list could go on. It also means we are actively making new disciples through sharing the good news with those around us.

Waiting for Jesus means we are actively engaged in the work he has called us to do as his followers.

Be ready at all times

Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. (Mk 13:35-36)

We need to always be ready for Christ's return. We don't know when, but we need to be ready. Are you ready?

What does it mean to be ready? It doesn't mean you are perfect. It doesn't mean you have arrived. We have not obtained perfection, but we press on toward holiness (Phil 3:12). In order to be ready for Christ's return, we don't need to achieve perfection, we simply need to be growing as his disciples. Faithfully committed to him and actively engaged in his Kingdom.

We are not sitting on the porch step, doing nothing but staring down the road. Although, we may look to the horizon every once and again, looking with excitement to see if the master's silhouette can be seen in the setting sun. We are not compelled to work hard in our waiting because we feel a need to impress him. We labor in our waiting, because we are grateful for our master, and we look with hope at the horizon, because of the joy we have in anticipating his return.

When Intermediary Goals Undermine the True Goal

The story is all too common. Someone has a vision for their ministry, their church or their community group and somewhere along the way they find they are no longer moving toward their initial goal. Unknowingly, their attention has shifted and their path has diverged from its original direction. I am not talking about someone committing an egregious sin which disqualifies them from ministry, although that can certainly have a derailing effect. This isn't about the person who falls into sin, but more about the person who gets distracted and realizes they are no longer heading toward their goal.

We set out to pursue a great aim, and along the way, we get caught up in pursuing intermediary goals -what was intended to be a step along the path becomes a perch on which we sit. Stuck on a ridge, we fail to see the precipice we had set out to climb because these intermediary goals actually begin to undermine the true goal. This is never intentional and often goes unnoticed.

When intermediate goals undermine THE goal

When intermediary goals become THE goal, our tactics can begin to undermine the ultimate goal we originally set out to accomplish. The potential scenarios are innumerable, but allow me to illustrate a few.

If we want to help more and more people become mature followers of Jesus, we might set an intermediate goal of getting people into our church building. This is based on the conviction that true Christian fellowship is an important way God draws people to Himself. Eventually, we might work so hard to get people into the building, the strategies we use to accomplish that goal undermines the true goal of creating mature followers of Jesus.

Here is another scenario. We want to expand our ministry in order to bring glory to God and help others grow, so we set an intermediary goal of developing a social media presence. We begin to post, share, like and more, but eventually, the intermediary goal of getting more followers becomes THE goal, and along the way the strategies we employ undermine the ultimate goal of growing our ministry in order to bring glory to God.

A third example comes when we want to know God more, so we endeavor to increase our Bible reading. The goal of reading our Bible more is in the interest of the greater aim, knowing God more. In order to do that, we develop a plan designed to help us read more. Along the way, we become a slave to the plan. Our goal has become checking off the box more than knowing God. There is no discernible fruit produced or joy experienced. The true aim of knowing God was undermined by our slavery to the plan.

Safeguard the true goal

You have likely experienced or observed one of the three examples used to illustrate the problem. You might be in the middle of one right now. Here are five ways you can safeguard the true goal from being held captive by the intermediate goal.

 

1. Remind yourself of the true goal

Simple. Have a clearly stated vision and then remind yourself often. When considering church ministry, we really all have the same goal - to make disciples, baptizing them and teaching them (Mt 28:19-20). Like Paul, we want to present our people mature in Christ (Col 1:28). As we toil after this aim, we must always continue to remind ourselves of that primary goal. We might state the goal differently, we might bring our own contextual nuance to how we communicate this aim, but every church should have the same ultimate goal. In the interest of not being led astray by the mile markers on the way to our destination, we must always continue to remind ourselves of the ultimate aim.

2. Ensure intermediary goals align

Like markers on the bowling lane, our intermediate goals need to be aligned with the final aim. If they are not going to serve the ultimate purpose, then we should not allow these short-term goals to get in the way. Ask yourself, does this actually move me forward in the direction I want to go? If so, how? Further, we need to be aware of how our intermediate goals can get us off the rails. Where are the potential pitfalls? If we want to always be moving toward the true aim of making mature disciples, then we need to ensure that everything we do serves that ultimate goal.

3. Don't fall prey to analysis paralysis

In an effort to develop the most sophisticated strategies and ministry plans, we can bury ourselves under a mountain of complexity. As we over analyze, we can paralyze our work and limit our momentum. Planning is good. Intentionality is good. Strategy and models and analytics are all great, but only when they are actually serving the goal. Don't fall prey to analysis paralysis.

4. Don't fix the problem with the same problem

Commonly, we fix problems using the same strategies that got us into trouble in the first place. When you become aware of how you might have gotten sidetracked with some of your intermediate goals, don't try to remedy the problem with a quick fix. You may find yourself in the same place six months later. Rarely do quick fixes and easy solutions make a situation better. Step back and do it right. Patiently pursue the true goal.

5. Remember who actually accomplishes the goal

In the end, we need to know who is the author of our lives. You and I have the great privilege of participating in God's mission to draw worshipers to Himself, but we need to remember that we are participants, and he is the great mission-accomplisher. Rather than begin with your own plans, begin with prayer. Acknowledge that God is in control. God accomplishes the mission. We get to participate. Once we get that correct in our heads and hearts, then we can pursue our work with excellence, remembering that it is all done by God's poet and for God's glory.

Reflections and Updates on my Costa Rica/Panama Trip

I'm back. Our team of 31 spent ten days (Dec 27 - Jan 5) in Central America, beginning in Costa Rica and ending in Panama. Our primary purpose was to support the work God is doing through our missionary partners, Marvin and Vielka Cabrera. It was an extremely fruitful trip, and I was highly encouraged by our church's important partnership with the Cabreras. You can read more about the background in my pre-trip updates, found here. The team did well overall - we had some illness, one hospital visit for a broken arm and some sore bodies from all the hard work, but the team was flexible and grew in maturity and grace together.

As I return, I have a few reflections and updates to share. I write these reflections for a few purposes. One, to share them with you, because many of you have prayed for our team, supported our work financially or are simply interested in what went on in Costa Rica and Panama. Second, writing my reflections is helpful for me to process my experiences. I write for me as much as I do for you. Third, I hope you and I can learn something together. Whether it is an immediate application or possibly a lesson that comes in reading this a year or more in the future, the documentation of my reflections may serve a purpose entirely unknown to me at this time. So, here are six updates and reflections on my missions trip to Costa Rica and Panama.

Costa Rica Reflections and Update.png

I am grateful for our partnership with the Cabreras

Prior to this trip, I only had a few brief interactions with Marvin and Vielka, but after spending a week with them, I am even more grateful for our partnership with them. They are hospitable, hard-working, patient, kind and joyful people who love Jesus and want to help others know and love Jesus as well. They are highly committed to their work, and it is a privilege for our church to partner with them.

Short-term missions is done best when it occurs in partnership with local, long-term missionaries. I would go so far as to say that unless this is the case, it probably should not be done at all. Over the past three years, we have sent teams of 26, 27 and 31 on three different trips to support God's work in partnership with the Cabreras. That requires a significant amount of resources - time, people, energy, finances, etc. People might question whether this is a good use of those resources. A valid question, which requires an honest answer.

I feel confident in saying yes - it is absolutely worth our resources. If it were not for our partnership with the Cabreras and the work God is doing through them, I would be far less sure. In partnering with the Cabreras, we are working with high-quality people, who remain on the field, and are engaged in work that aligns with our own mission and vision. I am grateful for them and excited for the future.

The need for Biblical Literacy and Leadership Development

The Ngäbe (Guaymi) are considered a "reached" people group, in the sense that there is an established and indigenously led church that exists among the Ngäbe. There are still needs and we are excited to partner with Marvin to help meet those needs. While there is an established church, there are still many who do not know Jesus as savior, and we are excited about seeing more and more hear the gospel message and respond in worship.

Marvin helps to mentor six different pastors who are leading Ngäbe churches, many of which have no place to meet. Homes are too small to host gatherings, so they often meet outside wherever they can find some shelter under trees. One way we can help is to assist in funding and building structures that can be used as a gathering place for local churches.

In conversation with Marvin and other missionaries working with the Ngäbe, there is also a need for ongoing discipleship, Biblical literacy and leadership development. In George Patterson's article, The Spontaneous Multiplication of Churches, he lists four simple things anyone can do to promote the multiplication and growth of disciples and local churches.

  1. Know and love the people you disciple.

  2. Mobilize your disciples to immediately edify those they are discipling

  3. Teach and practice obedience to Jesus' basic commands in love, before and above all else

  4. Build loving, edifying accountability relationships between disciples and churches in order to reproduce churches.

This is a great summary of what is needed. An increasing understanding of the Bible and obedience to its commands, while reproducing loving and intentional disciples who can help to reproduce loving and intentional churches. In many ways, the needs of the Ngäbe (Guaymi) church are simple, and quite similar to what is needed among our churches in the United States as well.

It's hard to be away from my family

Without question, the most challenging aspect of the trip for me was being away from my family. Leaving Megan home for ten days with three children four and under is not something I want to do lightly. I do not regret going on the the trip, and I am grateful for Megan's sacrifice to help make it happen, but it was hard - for them and for me. I love my family dearly, and have long been committed to being a present and intentional husband and father. I have seen or heard about too many pastors who sacrifice their family on the altar of ministry, and wind up with wives and children who grow to resent the local church.

Megan and I spoke with the kids often about the importance of daddy's trip. We told them that I was not "leaving them," they were "sending me." We prayed together with the kids on the last night I was home, helping them to see the importance of the work.

The communication was difficult, because the wifi was very poor at the location our team was lodging. Megan and I did our best to communicate, but it was hard to be away and have little opportunity to communicate. As I return, I am thankful for God's goodness toward my family while I was away. Overall, things went well at home. I am also thankful for our community - there were many family and friends who helped make things a little easier on Megan.

Getting to know other team members was invaluable

I loved the many conversations I had with team members throughout the trip. Whether over a meal, on the trail hauling blocks, sipping a ginger ale at the end of the night or playing a card game, it was invaluable to connect with other team members. As a pastor, I struggle with the challenge it is to not know everyone in our congregation in a deep way. I recognize it is not possible to know everyone well, and it is not the job to which I am called. I am called to equip the body, so we can all know and care for one another, because it isn't possible for any single person to know and care for everyone well. But it doesn't change my desire to know our congregation better. This trip was a great chance to deepen those relationships. 

As a small bonus, we also had two young men from Cities Church join us. Our church is in conversations and prayer about the possibility of two churches becoming one. As we look at the possibility of "marriage" with Cities Church, it was great to spend extra time with two of their young leaders. 

Shared experience, especially when it is in service to God's mission, plays an extremely important role in deepening relationships. I was able to do that with all sorts of different team members. As I reflect on my trip, this is one of the many great aspects I had the joy of experiencing.

It felt good to use my body to do hard work

My daily work is not physical. Whether I am reading, writing, meeting with someone, doing administrative work or planning for future ministry opportunities, I spend most of that time sitting. It felt amazing to use my body to do hard physical work. I grew up doing physical labor, and our bodies were made to be used, so I was grateful for the chance to get sore for the glory of God.

Don't get me wrong - it was exhausting. Hauling cinder blocks 1/4 of a mile through mountainous hiking trails was not easy. It took a toll on my body. I was blistered, tired, scraped, bruised and sore from the work. Each day, our team would end our work and be exhausted. It was not easy, but it felt so good!

Excited for the future

I left Panama excited for the future of our partnership with Marvin and Vielka. There is so much opportunity to continue serving God's mission together with the Cabreras. There many possibilities, but I wanted to mention a few specific ways I am excited to continue partnering.

First, there are multiple locations that still need a building for their church to meet. We are not at a loss for work projects that would be meaningful and help support the churches Marvin is mentoring. There is opportunity near where Marvin lives in Paso Canoas, Costa Rica. There is also opportunity near the area we spent time working in Panama. Prayer and discernment is needed for our church's leadership as we continue to plan intentional short-term trips to partner with God's work in Costa Rica and Panama.

Second, Marvin and Vielka are great to partner with. I am excited about the future, because I am excited about continuing to work with the Cabreras. Who knows what God might be kind enough to do through this partnership. I pray He continues to exceed our expecations with what He can do.

Third, last year's team helped construct a dorm building, so that Ngäbe kids in Costa Rica could live there and have access to schools. Currently, children need to travel multiple hours, by foot, just to make it to school. During the rainy season, this journey is often impossible to make. Because of the challenge that exists in getting to school, many end their education early in life. The dorm building would help up to eight kids live there and get an education, while being cared for by Christian dorm parents. There is a need for funds to be raised in order to make this vision become reality. Pray with me about how you, our church and I might be able to help support the hopes Marvin has for this dorm building

Want to hear more?

Maybe this short update peaked your interest? If so, send me an email and I would love to talk with you more - whether it be over coffee, email, lunch, phone, or whatever we can figure out.

A short lull on the blog - here's why

Costa Rica / Panama Update

I will be taking a short break from blogging - just a few weeks - because I am heading to Costa Rica on December 27th with a team of 31. First Baptist Church has a beautiful partnership with our Sister-Church in Paso Canoas, Costa Rica and I am helping to lead aspects of the trip. If you want to read more about our trip, please check out my Costa Rica / Panama Updates.

Additional Reading

In the meantime, I want to encourage you to read about the three primary categories that inform my writing on jeremyadelman.net. At the bottom of each page, there are three suggested articles to read. This should give you plenty to read for awhile.

Free E-Book

Finally, if you haven't already gotten my e-book, I want to encourage you to download it today. It is short (only about 15 pages), but it is designed to help kickstart your Bible reading. With the new year coming, people are usually motivated to read their Bibles more. This small resource can help. Click on the image below to download the book.

There is a Person Behind that Question

When we are open with those around us about our love for Jesus, we are bound to end up in conversations about faith. At times we might be responding to antagonistic barbs, other times it might be someone who is genuinely interested or we might find ourselves explaining our commitment to someone who is skeptical about Jesus. Whether the conversation excites us or scares us, whether it is with someone who is impolite or gracious, we need to recognize there is more to their questions than simply the words.

It can be easy to get into a debate, utilizing all the apologetic arguments we have accumulated over the years and forget there is a person behind the question. It's like continually treating the symptoms of recurring stomach pain, but never taking the time to figure out the root cause. When we are only focused on winning the argument, we only treat the symptom. In order to deal with the root, we must get to know the person behind the question. Jesus did not come to simply win apologetic arguments, he came to love and save people - real, living and breathing people.

Answer the question

I am not suggesting you do not need to answer their questions, though. It is not enough to only answer the question but we do still need to give an answer. The first step to answering their question is to make sure you have understood what they are asking. Have you actually listened to their objection? Or do you assume you know what they meant and launch into your reply? Take the time to clarify what they are asking through the use of reflective listening skills, repeating their question back to them, ensuring you have a clear understanding so you can respond to their actual question.

Then provide a coherent and thoughtful answer. There are a ton of great resources out there to help answer objections to faith. I have really enjoyed Timothy Keller's book, The Reason for God, which is a very helpful read. He has also written a newer book that serves as a prequel of sorts to his first book. I have not read the newest book, Making Sense of God, but I have seen some great reviews. Keller's books are only a couple examples and there are more great ways you can learn how to provide quality answers to their questions.

In the end, don't make something up. If you don't know the answer, then admit you don't know, and then do the hard work to find an answer and follow-up later.

Answer the person

As you engage in the conversation, don't forget there is a person behind the question. You are not simply answering an intellectual appeal, you are answering a person. Every question has a context because every person has a context. No question is asked in a vacuum. Each person brings with them different experiences, fears, hopes, dreams, doubts, hurts and more. We must remember that when we are answering a question, we are actually answering a person.

It is not uncommon that the question they asked is not the true question they want to be answered. Their question is like stomach pain, it is felt and it is surfacy, but it is only a symptom. There is a deeper root that is holding them back from following Jesus. Take the time to ask them some questions and drill down into what are their true objections. These are often deeply personal and unknown to the person asking the question, so be gentle and kind. The goal is not to expose them, it is to introduce them to your savior.

As you begin to answer the person and not only the question, you can find ways to show them how Jesus is the true answer to their deepest pain and fear. Consider how you can provide a Christocentric answer that captures their heart and not a stale answer that, while true, is not beautiful in the least. It can be easy to win an argument even while failing to help them see how the gospel answers their deepest needs. You can give a true answer that actually clouds the gospel rather than illuminates. This can happen when we answer a question, but forget that there is a person behind the question.

Three Marks of a Mature Church

"I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another." (Romans 15:14 ESV)

We are inclined to complicate that which needs no complicating. Toward the end of Paul's letter to the Romans, he offers a brief encouragement to his readers, commending them in three different ways. He writes that he is satisfied with them, and then tells them why. We would do well to note the three reasons he is pleased with his audience. In them, we see three marks of a mature community of faith. Hardly an exhaustive list, but it is an instructive one.

I say we are inclined to complicate matters because we can turn ourselves in circles asking what our church community "should" look like. We develop extensive plans and programs, creating rules and regulations. All the while, we have a nice simple list at the end of Romans. Again, not an exhaustive list, but if these three qualities are true of our church, then we can be confident we are in a good place. As you read these three marks of a mature faith community, ask yourself if they are true of your church.

Full of goodness

A mature church treats one another with kindness, goodness and respect. Being full of goodness (agathosyne) is a fruit of God's Spirit (Gal 5:22) working in a person's heart. As we become more like Christ, we grow in goodness. What does this look like in a congregation? A church that is full of goodness is a church that seeks reconciliation over quarreling. It is a church that serves one another sacrificially. A church that cares for one another. A church that is marked by kindness and grace. Unity. Love. Patience. These are the virtues that inhabit a mature community of faith.

How can you be an agent of goodness in your church? Do not allow dissension, discord, backbiting and gossip to gain a foothold in your church. Do not contribute to it, and as you are able, put a stop to it in others. Fight for goodness by pursuing kindness toward others, patience in disagreement and forgiveness when wronged. Pick someone up who needs a ride to church, provide a meal for someone who just had a baby, check-in on those who have lost a loved one to death - in short, be good to others.

Filled with all knowledge

A mature church is filled with all knowledge (gnosis). Much is wrapped up in this little phrase, but very simply, it means that the church has a clear understanding of the Christian faith, which means they have a clear understanding of God's Word. This requires godly leaders who are qualified to teach, and faithful members who are attentive to learn and grow. In the words of the psalmist, "I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word. (Psalm 119:15-16 ESV)." In them, we find knowledge.

Is your church community filled with all knowledge? Do you have a good understanding of God's Word? I don't just mean a good understanding of some theological concepts and church traditions - I mean the very Scriptures themselves. Does someone get up on Sunday and teach from God's Word? Are people bringing their Bibles and testing that teaching like the Bereans (Acts 17:10-11)? A church that is not anchored to God's Word is liable to drift unaware from the true faith. Culture and context will gain more and more influence, and the church will be tossed by every wind or wave that exerts its influence. A mature faith community is filled with all knowledge, which means they are rooted and anchored on God's Word.

Able to instruct one another

The third mark of a mature faith community, the ability to instruct (noutheteo) one another, is a natural result of the first two. Not only does it flow from the prior two, but it requires the initial marks in order to be done well. The word for instruct here is not simply to teach, but has a sense of exhortation, admonishment or warning. This is instruction with a mind toward growth and correction. The soil of goodness is necessary for the seed of instruction to take root. The nourishment of knowledge waters that seed and helps it grow. 

This sort of instruction is done from the pulpit on Sundays and also in homes throughout the week. Exhortation comes from our elders at times and from fellow congregates at others. No matter the source, a mature faith community is able and willing to instruct one another out of its goodness and knowledge.

As mentioned earlier, this list is not exhaustive - but it is informative. There are other essential elements to a healthy church body, but these three marks give us a good sense of a mature community of faith. Use this litmus test to examine your church and ask yourself whether you are contributing to the goodness, knowledge and instruction in your own congregation.

Sharing our Faith is like Picking Apples

We hosted some of our missionaries in town recently, and one of them shared an analogy with me and the missions committee. He explained that sharing our faith is a lot like picking apples. When you go apple picking and find an apple that looks tasty, a great way to know if it is ready is by turning the apple slightly. As you turn the apple in your hand, if it easily falls off the tree then it is ripe and ready to be take home. But if you twist the apple and it stays firmly attached to the tree, then you leave it for someone else to enjoy later.

Sharing our faith is a bit like picking apples. God calls us to be faithful to share the message of the gospel, but we are not responsible for the response. It is our job to communicate the good news, not to force someone into conversion. We won't always know if they are ready to respond, so we try, and wait to see. If they are not ready, we don't beat ourselves up, or them, we move on with our days and share it with the next person too.

Like the watchman

The prophet Ezekiel was given the responsibility from God to be like the watchman on the tower. It was said that the watchman's job and was to warn the city's inhabitants about the impending danger that he saw coming. If anyone heard the warning but did not heed the trumpet, it was no longer the watchman's responsibility. It was on them for not listening. But if the watchman failed to give the warning, then they held responsibility for those in the city (Ezekiel 33).

We are meant to be like watchmen to our world. We have the words of life, and we know the impending doom that comes to those who fail to trust in Jesus. It is our job to sound the trumpet, to share the message of salvation. If anyone hears our warning and does not heed the message, it is not our responsibility. But as followers of Jesus, we do bear the responsibility to communicate the good news.

Be my witnesses

Following the resurrection, Jesus exhorted his disciples to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). We cannot control the response of those around us, but we can be witnesses to the message of the Scriptures and the new life Jesus has created in us. We cannot know whether the apple will be ripe, but we are called to twist the apple none the less. We cannot know whether the hearer will heed our message, but like watchmen, we are called to send out the warning all the same.

Our job is to be faithful; Jesus does the rest

In all this, our job is to be faithful. We are called to be faithful messengers of the good news, witnesses to the coming Kingdom. We are called to communicate the gospel, and leave the rest up to Jesus. We see this happen in Acts. Paul faithfully communicates the gospel repeatedly throughout the book. In Acts 16 we see a story of Paul in Philippi, witnessing to the good news. It says that "One who heard us was a woman named Lydia... The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul (Acts 16:14)." Paul was faithful, and God opened Lydia's heart.

We don't now which apples are ripe. We are just called to give them a twist. Our job is to be faithful, and then we let Jesus take care of the rest. Be faithful today. Twist some apples.