Saturday, 26 December 2009


Advancement! What a great word this is. Synonyms for it abound. Words like progress, improvement, furtherance, gain, promotion and headway. I’ve never liked the word retreat; especially when it comes to Christian leaders taking time out for a “retreat”. Why not call it an advance. After all, if we are taking time for God, to seek Him and hear from Him – like Jesus did, isn’t that the beginning of all progress and advancement?

The Christian life is about progress; it’s about growing and learning; it’s about inner transformation, thinking differently and therefore living differently. Jesus could challenge people to follow Him because He was going somewhere – He was advancing. Out of His personal advancement came the opportunity to advance God’s Kingdom. This is ultimately why we are here. To push back satan’s kingdom by advancing God’s Kingdom.

The whole of history is in a sense the story of how God has been advancing His purposes. He looks for those who are willing to take a step forward; a step into the unknown, into uncertainty, into territory that is unfamiliar to most, so that His Kingdom can come on earth.

Joshua understood advancement. It meant fighting. Being given the inheritance wasn’t enough; enemies had to be driven out, land had to be taken. And each step of faith caused them to inherit more of what was already theirs. It took time. It often meant being open to divine strategy, like in the taking of Jericho. It meant moving forward, even when they made a covenant with the Gibeionites against God’s express command. They refused to be held back by guilt and self-condemnation. It meant dealing with sin, like that of Achan, so they could advance.

The American President Harry S Truman once said, “Men make history, and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skilful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.”

The book of Judges is testament to this truth. Israel found herself on a cycle of rebellion and apostasy that lead to some form of oppression or enslavement. Sometimes this lasted for a few years, like the seven year oppression of the Midianites during Gideon's day, Judges 6.1. Often it extended to forty year bondage, like that of the Philistines during Sampson’s time, Judges 13.1. What is crucial to see is that God raised up Judges – deliverers to save the people of God. They led them back to Him and freed them from the oppression of their enemies. Under these judges they advanced. Without them, Israel quickly fell back into their old idolatrous habits that led back to bondage and oppression

Paul was passionate about advancement. He longed for the church to mature and grow up into Christ, Eph 4.12-16. at a personal level he too said 'I press toward the goal of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus’, Phil 3.14. Earlier in the same letter he specifically addressed the issue. Things had not gone well for Paul. He had been arrested and the letter to the Philippian church is one of those prison letters. Yet it is full of hope and joyful rejoicing. Here is how Paul began to see his situation:

But I want you to know brethren, that the things which have happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard and to all the rest that my chains are in Christ; and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are more bold to speak the word without fear, Phil 1.12-14.

Here was a situation that looked bad; Paul in prison. No more preaching, no more evangelising, no more church planting. Not by him anyway. But the gospel still advanced because other people became inspired to overcome their fear through Paul’s attitude. And he rejoiced. He would gladly pay that price of sacrificing personal freedom if it meant the advancing of God’s Kingdom and people coming to the saving knowledge of Jesus.

Not only that, Paul does not allow himself to be discouraged but gets on with writing letters to encourage churches like that at Philippi and young leaders like Timothy and Titus. And we have that legacy today preserved as scripture – a significant part of our New Testament. Time and distance from his first arrest had given Paul a new take on his circumstances. Now he could rejoice. God knows what He is doing. There is no need to be discouraged even by what may appear as a setback. That might be God’s way of advancing you. Who knows?

Joseph discovered this. God used all of the rejection and injustice in his life to form a character that could handle the advancement He had prepared for Joseph. And when it came, he was ready. He did not allow himself to become bitter or resentful but put his hope in God – and God was faithful. Perhaps you are facing what looks like a setback; a hindrance to your progress, as you see it. But maybe God sees it differently. Perhaps this is God’s way of preparing you for advancement. Perhaps this is a test of faith that requires you to stay the course. Hold on. Stand firm.

Later in life Paul wrote to Timothy. He gives him some helpful instruction on pursuing success in ministry. 1Tim 4.12-16. He deals with self concept – let no man despise your youth. He deals with his relationship with other believers – be an example. He deals with his focus in ministry – give attention to reading to exhortation to teaching and finally he deals with his call, remembering when and how it was activated in his life – do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership. To crown it all he says: Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all, 1Tim 4.15.

This word progress is the same Greek word he used earlier in Philippians for furtherance or advancement. Paul wants the whole church to see Timothy’s progress. As he advances it will inspire the church to do the same. But notice that it will require all his energy – ‘give yourself entirely to them’. It is not outside his reach, everything he needs for success has been deposited within him, but he must stir it up, he must activate it, 2Tim 1.6.

What have you received from God that needs to be re-activated, stirred up so that you can advance? What do you need to give yourself ‘entirely’ to at this season in your life? What readjustment in perspective has to be made so that you can be joyful about where you are in life? What are meditating on that is allowing you to progress? And is your progress evident to all?

The American actor, lawyer and writer Ben Stein once said, “Personal relationships are the fertile soil from which all advancement, all success, all achievement in real life grows”. I agree. Timothy advanced because a man like Paul saw his potential and made room for him. Jesus did the same with the twelve. Churches advance under good leadership. Nations are blessed under the influence of Godly men – even when they have ungodly kings. Think of Daniel’s influence in Babylon and Esther’s influence in Persia. They were secondary figures in power, but major players in influence. And that’s what really counts.

If you want to progress in life, in ministry, in relationships then become intentional about whom you allow to be influencing you. Paul said, ‘meditate on these things, give yourself entirely to them’. Don’t give in to the aggressive influence of our modern culture through the relentless messages of the media. Be discerning. Fill your mind with something that will help you advance. And as you do others will see your progress and be inspired to live life loud.

David advanced through the friendship and encouragement of Jonathan. In time he took a group of men who were described as ‘in debt, discouraged or discontented’ and led many of them to become mighty men; great warriors who performed unusual acts of bravery. They were transformed by following a transformational leader. God is faithful to give us people who can help us advance. In time, we too become those who influence others to advance and so God’s Kingdom expands and moves forward. Let's be all we can, so that God can do all He can - through us. That's advancement.


Excellence is our second value as a church. It’s a word that has huge currency in the business world since the publication of Peter’s and Waterman’s book “In Search of Excellence” back in 1982. They were two consultants who researched hundreds of organisations to see if there were common factors that made these companies successful. What they discovered became the substance of their book. One of the key things that emerged from their research was that for too long ‘bean counters’ (accountants) had been given too much influence in how companies ran.

Profit was not the only bottom line. In pursuing excellence some companies actually made unprofitable decisions, just because it was the right thing to do. They maintained quality, both in their product and their relationship with customers. And many times this bought them trust, respect and loyalty which, in the long term, had a definite impact on the traditional bottom line. This of course touches on one of the most essential ingredients of Excellence that the scripture agrees with – Integrity.

In Dan 6.3 we read; “Then Daniel distinguished himself above the governors and satraps because an excellent spirit was in him; and the king gave thought to setting him over the whole realm”. Excellence is not just what we do or produce like excellent craftsmanship. True we can have excellent results. Biblically excellence is what we bring to something, an attitude, an approach to life, a conviction about what is of true value, a spirit if you will.

This is what distinguished Daniel. He was surrounded by ambitious men. We see this play out in the rest of chapter 6. They were jealous of Daniel; jealous of his success and favour with the king. But all of that was a by-product of a man who lived by his integrity. What he believed he lived – no matter what the cost was. He learned back in chapter one that God was able to bless him if he walked in integrity. He was tested for ten days to see if a simple diet would nourish him as well as the king’s food was sure to do. After ten days he and his friends looked better and more nourished than all the other men who ate the king’s fare, Dan 1.11-16.

If we are going to pursue excellence we need to cultivate an excellent spirit like Daniel. And that begins with living by integrity. The word integrated comes from the same root as integrity. The more our life is integrated – where the outside world and the inside world match, the more we have laid the ground work for pursuing excellence. Integrity means we are reliable, trustworthy, faithful and true to our word. Excellent results need to be preceded by an excellent spirit.

Excellence is not about doing things perfectly. Perfectionism is a curse. Perfectionists seldom live with any real sense of satisfaction from their achievements. They see the faults and this robs them of the joy of what is good about what they have done. Perfectionism is usually rooted in a need for recognition that is only achieved when something is faultless. And this is usually an impossible goal. Notice too that perfectionism is always about the end product.

Excellence is not like that. It is about what we bring to a task. Think of Jesus for a moment. He chose to use weak, imperfect people. This is the power of redemption. He saw their potential and called them apostles long before they were walking in the reality of what that meant. They learned from Jesus that it’s not about trying harder; it’s about surrendering all we are to Him so that He can work through us. The Holy Spirit is the excellent Spirit we all need and in time His fruit is developed in us so that we bring excellence to all we do.

Henry Ford once said, “Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently”. Perfectionism makes no room for failure but excellence is able to learn from failure and move on. Thomas Edison failed over 900 times to produce a working light bulb. When mocked for his failure he said, “I have successfully proved over 900 ways not to make a light bulb”. I like that kind of attitude. He had an excellent spirit and broke through in the end; a breakthrough that has literally reshaped our world.

John Mark had every reason to give up on ministry. Having attended with Paul and Barnabas on their first journey he abandoned them when they left Cyprus and reached the mainland. It must have been difficult for the team because when Paul wanted to revisit the churches he and Barnabas had planted Barnabas was of a mind to give John Mark a second chance. Paul would have none of it. So these two great leaders went in two different directions, unable to reach agreement on this issue.

I am persuaded Barnabas – the son of encouragement who had been instrumental in making room for Paul, Acts 9.26-27; 11.25-26; was able to see past Mark’s failure. This is the young man who went on to accompany the apostle Peter and become to him what Timothy had been to Paul, 1Pet 5.13. He wrote the gospel that bears his name and later in life Paul could write these words, “Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry”, 2Tim 4.11. These are some of the last words the great apostle ever penned. In them there is a tacit admission that Barnabas got it right.

Failure should never hold you back from pursuing excellence. It is the lesson that should motivate you to try again – more intelligently. The danger with all failure is that we stop trying. After all, failure is embarrassing. Nobody wants to be mocked or noticed in that kind of way. Worse we may even develop a fear of failure and this has a paralyzing effect on us. But when others believe in us we should allow their words of encouragement to enter our hearts – for that will inspire faith. And faith dares to take the next step in the pursuit of excellence.

Another distinctive feature of those who pursue excellence is that they have a ‘whatever it takes’ attitude. It’s like they are ready for resistance and have made up their minds they will overcome. Some do ‘whatever it takes’ at the expense of their integrity. But those with an excellent spirit do so within the bounds of their integrity. It is a gritty attitude of stick-ability. Have you ever read this unusual verse in 2Sam 23.10; “He arose and attacked the Philistines until his hand was weary and his hand stuck to the sword. The Lord brought about a great victory that day; and the people returned after him only plunder”.

This was Eleazer, one of David’s three mighty men. I love this little story. It summarises what I am trying to communicate. Eleazer had a ‘whatever it takes’ attitude. All Israel was fleeing but he stood his ground to fight. He fought so long that when it was all over he couldn’t let go of his sword. It had become part of him! He was stuck with it. And that’s my point. Some people are able to do things in such a way that it looks like it is a part of who they are. The golfer, the tennis pro, the ice skater, the brilliant chef all make it look easy. What they do has become part of who they are without necessarily defining who they are.

The last ingredient is that those who pursue excellence take responsibility for their life and actions. Some people make excuses for the way things are. Blame shifting is easy. It may give us a temporary feeling of being justified but it never gives us a sense of fulfilment or satisfaction. How can it? Excellence requires that you take ownership for the way things are beginning with your own life. As long as you blame parents, siblings, lack of education, work, your boss, life, God you don’t get on with living much less pursuing excellence.

Your life can make a difference if you take responsibility for the way it is now and through the indwelling power of the Spirit seek to change it. And what we experience personally we can experience together. Society changes when the church stops pointing the finger in blame and takes ownership for bringing about change. We bring an excellent spirit to all we do in the community. We fight on behalf of our community and like the people who followed Eleazer the community gets the benefit of the plunder.

What area of life or ministry do you need to take responsibility for? What is waiting to change if someone will just take responsibility for it? Daniel accepted his life in Babylon. It meant a new language, a new way of dressing, a new name, a new education program, a new country; things that speak to our identity. But the one thing he could challenge was his diet. None of those other things were prescribed in scripture. He could let them go. But what he ate. That said a lot about his faith. And we know how that worked out.

Taking responsibility has a way of focusing our attention. Daniel knew where he needed to focus in maintaining his integrity and it left him free to embrace many changes in his life. Into the godless society of Babylon he served and ruled – with excellence. And he was noticed, even by an ungodly king. That’s the beauty of pursuing excellence; it gets you noticed and often leads to promotion. And in such a place we can influence others towards the Kingdom of God.

Think of an area of ministry you have been involved with. Would you describe it as excellent? What changes and improvements would you like to see? What will it look like in three years time? What can you do now to begin to move you in that direction? Are you reproducing excellence in others by the way you approach what you do? I pray that in character we can become like Daniel and touch our world with an excellent spirit.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Our Mission

Having spoken over some weeks about what is the church, I want to focus in on our church, Jubilee. Over the next few weeks I'll unpack some of our values; but for now let's look at our mission statement. Equipping people for life through faith in Jesus Christ. That's it!

The word Equip comes from the Greek word Katartizo. The main part of the verb is artizo, from which we get the English word "artisan", a skilful worker with his hands, and the prefix kata in front intensifies the verb. It carries several shades of meaning. To the young church at Thessalonica Paul desired to ‘perfect’ that which was lacking in their faith, 1Thess 3.10. They had more to learn, more to experience, more to grow into. To the Corinthians he prayed that they would be made ‘complete’, 2Cor 13.9, more well rounded.

This thought is expanded in Hebrews as the writer there encourages them to be ‘complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight through Jesus Christ’, Hebrews 13.21. In Luke 6.40 we have the notion that equipping is about being 'fully trained', placing tools in the hands of others so that they can do every good work, empowered by the Spirit.

The word is used to describe what James and John were doing when Jesus met them – ‘mending’ nets, Matt 4.21. The metaphor is also used in Gal 6.1 for those overtaken in a fault that need to ‘restored’. Clearly as people we need mending and restoring.

Out of the mouths of babes and infants God has ‘perfected’ praise, Matt 21.16. Perhaps we could dare to say He has restored it? For it is to children that Jesus points to when we are to understand how to enter into the Kingdom of God. Their uncomplicated openness teaches us something about the real nature of worship and faith.

Peter tells us that God will ‘perfect’ us after we have suffered for a season. Suffering does seem to have a way of getting our attention and focusing us on eternal realities.

Finally we have the classic text of Eph 4.11 where Paul describes various ministries given to the church by the ascended Lord Jesus in order to ‘equip the saints to do the work of ministry’. Whatever else we think about these ministries one thing is certain; without them the church will not reach its full ‘stature’, its full potential. We need the input of others; those gifted by God to help us grow and mature so that we can be released into all that God has called us to do.

From all these scriptures we can see that Equipping is about training, restoring, mending, completing and perfecting the saints. It involves being ‘hands on’. At times it’s tricky and risky, like helping the Corinthian church see that they were missing it by a mile when it came to relationships. It sometimes requires great humility and gentleness when people are hurt or have failed. Consider the Grace of Jesus in John 21 when He restored Peter. No condemning words, only reassurance and a reminder of his call.

At other times its about giving direction and opportunity for others to grow and develop, like the time Jesus sent out the 70 in Luke 10 or when Paul wrote to Titus and reminded him of why he had left him in Crete; ‘....that you should set in order the things that are lacking and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you...’ Titus 1.5. Clearly he is given an equipping mandate that will strengthen the church.

Notice that this equipping is not just for ministry – it’s for life. Life in all its fullness, for that is what Jesus came to bring, John 10.10, life to the full. Of course this includes ministry but it touches on every area of life, work, health, relationships, marriage, sex, family, church, and politics, anything that relates to life! Nothing is beyond God’s power or desire to restore, complete, mend or perfect.

And all this comes about through faith in Jesus Christ; not simply as a one time commitment but as an ongoing relationship of following the Master. Faith is foundational to growth and development in the Christian life. Without faith we cannot please God, Heb 11.6. But with faith we can. Faith is about having confidence in what God has said.

God’s word has inherent power, but faith is the ingredient that releases that power in our life. We are told about the children of Israel in the wilderness who did not enter into the Promised Land because of unbelief. They did not mix faith with the ‘good news’ they heard and so God’s power remained locked up in His promise, Heb 4.2. Just as a seed remains only a tree in potential until it is planted so God’s word must first be planted in order for its potential to change our world is released. This is what the Parable of the Sower points to. The good soil is the person who out of ‘a noble and good heart keep it and bear fruit with patience', Luke 8.15

James tells us to receive with meekness the implanted word which is able to save our souls, James 1.21. Real faith is always accompanied with meekness. It is the ability to take revelation into our hearts and act on it. Faith sees, faith speaks and faith responds with action. But the seeing is always partial, 1Cor 13.9. Our confession is only the bit we know and in that sense incomplete. Our obedience is always tinged with a hint of uncertainty. This is why it’s called faith. It requires us to trust God for all the bits of information we lack, believing that at the end of the day it is not necessary for us to know.

Training people to live this way is not easy. It often begins with a small step that allows us to experience the reward of faith – fulfilled promises. And as we mature it seems that God is happy to let some things just hang, waiting for the right time, His time, when the fulfilment will impact the most people. Joseph learned this about God. Through rejection and suffering God actually prepared Him to fulfil his destiny. He equipped him for this purpose. God plan was bigger than one man and his personal dreams. It was about saving a nation (Egypt) and birthing a nation (Israel). It wasn’t about Joseph’s mission, it was about God’s mission; and Joseph had the privilege of being part of it after he let go of his own sense of self-importance.

What area of your life do you need to be equipped, trained, restored, mended, completed or perfected? Where is there a lack at present? Who are you allowing into your world to address this need? How open are you being with what you see? How open would you be for someone to tell you where they see a missing piece? And as you ponder these questions, dare to ask for help. Dare to get involved in helping someone else. Dare to believe that God can take you further into a great realisation of your inheritance in Him.

The Church - Sent to Make Disciples

In trying to understand the nature of the church I’ve been making a case for recognising that to be connected to Jesus is to be connected to His body – the church. No one gets married to just a head! In the book of Acts they were not only added to Jesus they were added to the church. The two went hand in hand. But now we come to asking the simple question; “Why is the church here?” This touches on the heart of why Jesus is building the church.

In the NKJV of the Bible the word ‘sent’ appears fifty seven times. Jesus came because He was sent – sent on a mission. And in John 20.21 He says to His disciples; “As the Father has sent Me so I am sending you”. God is a God of mission. “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved”, John 3.17. God’s mission is redemptive in nature. It is the ‘Missio Die’ as theologians call it. It is not so much that the church has a mission but that the God of mission has a church. And like Jesus we too are sent.

This sense of mission was central to the motivation and focus of Jesus. When urged on one occasion by His disciples to eat He declared; “I have food to eat of which you do not know”. This left them confused thinking He was talking about a secret supply of food. He then clarified His meaning; “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work”, John 4.32-34. Jesus was feasting on doing the will of God, on participating in God’s mission – until it was complete. The piercing shouts from the cross, “It is finished!” John 19.30 was a testimony to the fact that Jesus completed His mission. This mission fed Him, it inspired Him it compelled Him and He willingly surrendered to all its demands.

This is how it is meant to be for us. Mission lies at the heart of why we are here. There are a number of areas covered by the word mission but chief among them is the mandate to “make disciples of all nations”, Matt 28.19. The word nation here is ethnos in the Greek. It means all ethnic groups. So even in one nation we can find many ethnos and in all major cities of the world ethnic groups abound. The full text says, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.....” Matt 28.19-20. In these few verses there are four verbs; go, make, baptize and teaching. The main verb is ‘make’ as in make disciples. All the other verbs serve this greater purpose.

We go because we are sent. Like the labourers we pray to be ‘thrust out’ by the Lord of the Harvest we go in response to the call of God. And as we go we make disciples of Jesus. We baptize them or literally immerse them into God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Further we teach them to do all that Jesus commanded His disciples to do. It is a process. Getting a decision is important but it’s not enough. Asking a girl on a date requires her to make a decision, but having her turn up shows the sincerity of her commitment. Disciple making is like that. We can’t be content with just making decisions. There has to be follow-through. We are here to make disciples.

A disciple is a learner. This implies a number of things:

1. Discipleship is a process. The Gospels show early on how Jesus called the twelve to ‘follow Me’, Mark 1.17. They were invited to enter a process where Jesus promised to make them ‘fishers of men’. And at the end of John’s Gospel in chapter 21 we have a dialogue between Jesus and Peter. The Cross is now a past event. Peter has denied Jesus. Will John now be chosen to replace his leadership because of this momentous failure on Peter’s part? Amazingly Jesus re-commissions Peter, leaving him with the words he first heard when he was called, ‘You follow Me’, John 21.22. Discipleship is more than just an event and a decision; it is a life-long process of following Jesus.

2. There is a clear goal. We are to become more like the Master – Jesus; Luke 6.40, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher”. It’s about living like He did, fully dependant on God the Father; speaking words that bring release, healing and empowerment; healing the sick, exposing religious hypocrisy, becoming like Him in every way.

3. The best word we have today that captures the essence of what this means is apprentice – someone who learns, on the job, alongside a master. It’s about watching, listening, learning and doing – ‘til we get it right. This is what the disciples of Jesus did. They went with Him seeing all He did and hearing all He said. But then they had a go! Sometimes they succeeded and sometimes they didn’t. It was part of the process, part of the learning. Finally they were left to get on with the job – empowered by the Spirit.

Think about your own discipleship for a moment. Where are you in the process? What is challenging you at the present time? Are you breaking through? The believers at Corinth were struggling to leave aspects of their old life behind. There were attitudes and practices that Paul had to challenge, 1Cor 3.1-4. Remember the goal is to become like the Master, living a purposeful life as a ‘sent’ one.

I see four stages in scripture that reflect this maturing process. The first is becoming a believer, a man or woman of faith. It is interesting to me that whenever Jesus encountered people this was always the first thing He looked for or tried to develop in them. The problem I see today is that we have unbelieving believers. People who have made a decision in the past, expressed faith in the past, but in the present moment do not believe. John’s gospel shows this.

Nathaniel is described by Jesus as ‘ Israelite indeed in whom there is no guile’, John 1.47. Nathaniel says what he thinks; no pretence, no hidden agendas. Yet when Philip told him that he had found the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, he is incredulous, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth”, John 1.46. In other words, ‘I know that town; no Saviour would ever come from there’. Yet, after exchanging a few words with Jesus, he declares, ‘You are the Son of God, You are the King of Israel’, John 1.49. In one exchange he goes from unbelief to faith.

In the telling of the healing of the Nobleman’s son we have a similar story, John 4.46-54. He asks Jesus to come and heal his sick boy, but Jesus sends Him home with the assurance, ‘....your son lives’. His response is faith, ‘So the man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went his way, John 4.50. But the story goes on. On returning home he discovers his son is well and enquires when the healing took place. It was exactly at the time he encountered Jesus the day before. The text concludes, ‘And he himself believed and his whole household’, John 4.53b.

But I thought he already believed? As soon as Jesus spoke to him he believed, didn’t he? So now we come to the point. John is trying to help us see that this Nobleman went to another level of faith. He became a believing believer and it impacted his whole household. They too believed. Is your faith growing? Have you reached a plateau, doing what is within your comfort zone as a believer? Are you allowing yourself to go to new levels of faith? All of us need to be in a faith zone if we are to do anything significant with our lives.

But I see another level, the apprentice. It’s not that we graduate from being a believer. Rather we add the dimension of learning to do what Jesus did while a believer – apprenticed to Him. Today that means we actually allow someone to influence our life, to train us the way Paul trained Timothy or Peter did with John Mark. The concept of an apprentice is age old and is one of the best ways to learn a skill or develop a new way of thinking. In the field of sports most athletes have a trainer or a coach. They help the athlete reach their full potential, bringing all their years of experience and wisdom to bear. They know how much training will stretch them to go to new levels and how much will damage them. We all need that kind of input. Where are you getting yours from?

The third level I see is that of practitioner. Again, we don’t ever really graduate from being an apprentice, yet we do learn enough and have enough success for us to be trusted to do it alone. Most disciplines have a graduation day. Doctors are allowed to practice after years of study, yet they all know that their learning and skill will develop over a lifetime. So it is with ministry. Jesus trusted His disciples enough to send them out on mission trips alone. On their return they reported all that had taken place. It built their faith and they grew through the process, Luke 10.1-20.

The final level I see is that of ‘labourer’, spoken of by Jesus in Matt 9.36-38. A labourer is a practitioner who has been sent. And according to Jesus they are few! For a labourer is prepared to go anywhere they are sent. The Greek word for sent in this text is ‘ek balo’. Two words in Greek that together mean ‘thrust out’. It is this phrase most often used by the gospel writers to describe what Jesus did when He ‘cast out’ demons. They were literally ‘thrust out’. I am left with the impression that these are the practitioners who have a bit of a track record. They know how to bring people to faith and produce disciples. They have done so for some time. Now they are ready to be ‘sent’ to a part of the harvest that needs their skill.

Think of the apostle Paul. He tried to preach in Damascus and had to escape from a conspiracy to kill him. He tried to preach in Jerusalem and again had to get away before being killed. He returned to Tarsus and we don’t hear about him again until Barnabas brings him to Antioch. Years of silent obscurity re-learning his craft of teaching. Then in Antioch some eleven years after his conversion, according to many scholars, we see him in leadership – a practitioner alongside of Barnabas. But after a year of leading the church he is set apart by the Holy Spirit for a specific task. The practitioner is now a labourer, crossing all kinds of boundaries to take the gospel to new parts where the harvest is ripe.

Let me encourage you to pray for this kind of maturity and development in your own life. The Lord of the harvest knows where hearts are open and ready. He was able to encourage Paul at Corinth, “Do not be afraid but speak and do not keep silent; for I am with you and no one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city”, Acts 18.9-10. Paul must have been tempted to go for a quite life in Corinth. His own confession to them was, “I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling”, 1Cor 2.3. But Jesus came with a word that showed Paul the harvest was ripe in this city. The only obstacle he had to overcome was his own fear. And he did. And the church of Corinth was established and grew.

Let’s dare to be developed to new levels of faith, being apprenticed by those who are a few steps ahead of us until we can be practitioners – doers of the word. Then we too will be ready to be thrust out by the Lord of the Harvest into His Harvest.