Minister’s wife


Julia Jones, of Bethel Church Liverpool, steers us through the pressures.

I have been known to say to my husband, ‘Couldn’t you get an ordinary job that you could leave at the office?’ Every job has its pressures. But the pressures of ministry life may come as a shock to those new to ministry. To the uninitiated what I share here will say, ‘These are the kind of things you can expect to handle’, and to the experienced it will say, ‘You are not alone’ and ‘It is not just you’.

Self-induced pressures

• The desire to please
This well-meaning instinct is overdeveloped in some of us and can land us in trouble. Especially when you are in a new pastoral situation, you will want to win people. This makes you tend to say ‘yes’ to all kinds of requests. Of course, it is excellent to help out where we can. But set your own reasonable boundaries, even write your own job description according to your current responsibilities and gifts, and learn to say ‘no’ in the gentlest and most encouraging way you can. We must not confuse serving people with pleasing people.

• The pressure to be perfect
Some ministry wives are keen to set an example. They therefore feel that their homes, their cooking and their children should be perfect. This is seriously bad news for your children. But it is also bad because of its impact on the church. Suppose someone achieved perfection in any of those areas. Would anyone ask parenting advice, for example, of the parent whose children have never seemingly misbehaved, who are wonderfully well-balanced and who know no grades below A* and no sporting achievement below a gold medal? I think not.

• Church obsession
Ask yourself this question: ‘What do I do that is not related to church?’ As ministry wives it is easy to completely narrow our focus to church. It becomes our whole world. No wonder then that little ripples of discontent threaten to engulf us. Those ministry wives who have some kind of external employment are less likely to encounter this pressure, but those who do not might do well to explore opportunities and outlets just to be members of the human race. I decided to become a rep for a well-known cosmetics firm in a few local streets. It only takes a few hours a week, but it is a great way to get to know the locals. Avoiding the pressure to be church-obsessed will help us to serve the Lord and his church better.

•The need to succeed
Whatever the size or state of the church, we are looking for growth: numerical growth by conversion and spiritual growth as members mature in Christ. Sometimes that growth can be painfully slow. Sometimes it can seem non-existent. That is when we start to beat ourselves up. Of course there may be some useful evaluating of the way things are done. But there is no formula for success in the ministry. The work of God is frequently hidden and rarely dramatic.

Circumstantial pressures

• End of weekending
If you were in some other kind of employment before the ministry, you might just start to remember weekends as they used to be: that Friday night ‘schools-out’ feeling when you throw off your work clothes and get ready to play. Other people in the congregation will go away for the weekend and, as a pastor’s wife, you will start to notice just how often that is. Meanwhile you remain at your post or in your pew. It is fine, but the realisation that you have to be there can hit you quite hard.

• The unspecified hours
Most pastors have no idea what hours they work, and when they have finished, of course they haven’t. There is always a bit more they could do. This can leave a wife wondering when, if ever, she has a right to a piece of her husband. ‘He is doing the Lord’s work’, she tells herself, and this, she unscripturally reasons, makes him kind of off-limits in terms of family demands. On the other hand, if he happily takes an afternoon off to help her with the shopping or the children, sometimes it is she who feels vaguely worried that he is not doing enough.

• The smaller income
There is a vast variation between the salaries of ministers, but most are paid less than their various qualifications would earn them in secular life. I remember when we went to our first church, we accepted the call before we found out what we were going to be paid — we thought we were being spiritual. However, having worked out the minimum we could survive on, we discovered that the salary was a couple of thousand pounds short. The only way forward was to be honest and explain our predicament; the church met us halfway, but it was still a struggle.

• The tied cottage
You may have been in the happy position of owning your own property before you entered ministerial life. But if not it can be difficult to live in church property. You will find that other members of the congregation are better acquainted with the house than you are. Such talk may make you feel that this is not your own home. Practically, it is important to understand the ground rules of the arrangement before you move in. Who is responsible for what? If you and your family are to make this house your home, not just a church annexe, you must not only understand the ground rules, you must accentuate the positives to yourself and to your children.

• The claims of fame
As a ministry wife you will not enjoy anonymity; you will be categorised by the congregation as ‘the wife’. In your neighbourhood, once people find out, you will be ‘the minister’s wife’, with all the misconceptions and expectations these bring, you will not escape notice: not your clothes, nor your shopping habits, nor your children. Interpersonal pressures

• Your husband
You are the only church member who goes to bed with the pastor. You are the only one who sees him at breakfast; you see him in grumpy mode as well as when he is at prayer. This is the man you love, but this is also a sinner. He is not as good a pastor as either he or you would like him to be. Resist the temptation to tell him what to preach on or how to spend his day.

• Church members
When I was a teacher and we had a staff training day, we would often joke that school was a great place without the children. Sadly, sometimes we can also feel the same about church. Thankfully, it is not usually all the people. Most are delightful — winsome, supportive and hard-working. But there are some identifiable types in most churches: the fault-finder, the unreliable, the demanding, the unlovely; these are just a few of those you will encounter after every Sunday service. It can be, to say the least, a strain. How do we handle all of this? The simple answer is that we must dress properly for church. ‘Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience’ (Colossians 3.12).

• Loneliness
The pastor’s wife can be the loneliest woman in the church. Because you don’t have weekends, the opportunities to meet up with close friends or family who live elsewhere may be rare. Perhaps your husband’s position sets you apart in the church and in the community, so that you are never quite one of the gang. Some ministry wives will say that it is either impossible or inadvisable for a pastor’s wife to have friends in the church. Such a mantra may be the bitter fruit of painful experience. I sympathise, but it still does not sound right to me. Jesus called his disciples ‘friends’ ( John 15.15). Who do we think we are? In any relationship worth having there is always a risk of being hurt. But we all need friends and are all called to be friends. Perhaps via inter-church networks you can meet up with other ministry wives formally or informally. These are great opportunities for honest sharing and the relieving of some of the pressure. We need others to make us laugh at ourselves, lest we take ourselves too seriously. So these are the pressures. Like them or loathe them, we must learn to live with them. And pray for grace to do so cheerfully.

This article is a heavily condensed chapter from The Minister’s Wife (edited by Ann Benton, recently published by IVP, RRP £8.99, ISBN 978 1 844 745 562), and is used with permission.

‘Fathering Leaders, Motivating Mission’


FATHERING LEADERS, MOTIVATING MISSION 
Restoring the role of the apostle in today’s church
By David Devenish
Authentic Media. 338 pages. £8.99
ISBN 978 1 860 248 375

The thesis of this stimulating book is that there are apostles in the church today, and that their service is vital to the health of Christ’s body and the effective worldwide spread of the gospel.

Working on that novel and highly debatable premise, David Devenish works carefully through the wealth of New Testament material about the life and ministry of the Apostle Paul and seeks to use it as a pattern for the ministry of those who are generally recognised as fathers in the wider church and pioneers in international mission.

The result is a book which has lots of wholesome insight and instruction. It evidences a healthy regard for the local church as central in all God’s work. It stresses the relational nature of leadership. It strongly affirms that God gifts some men to serve far beyond the confines of one local church. It speaks thoughtfully and with weight on many issues relating to the church and the service of Christ today.

The problem with the book is not any weakness in stating the gospel foundation of the church, the special nature of the original apostles, or the completeness of the canon. It is its insistence that the church in every age must be built on a foundation newly laid by contemporary apostles and prophets. While the author puts much weight on the fact that the New Testament recognises more apostles than the original 12, his key argument seems to be that, in Ephesians 4, Paul implies that no church can be brought to maturity without the full range of gifts mentioned there, including apostles and prophets.

David Devenish surely reveals the fatal weakness of his basic position when he tries to draw a distinction between apostles chosen by Christ as witnesses of his life and ministry, and different apostles who are the gift of the risen Christ to his church. Even more desperate is his attempt to draw from Paul’s heavily ironic words to the Corinthians (‘Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you’) the implication that congregations may choose the apostles they will recognise and to whom they will relate! In truth he never really answers the classic position that apostles are those who have seen the risen Christ and been specifically appointed by him, and that Paul was the last to be set apart.

This is certainly an interesting and thought-provoking book, but its basic thesis failed to convince this reviewer. Indeed, even though the book is written with real grace and humility, it still rings some alarm bells over issues of authority and responsibility in the church.

Graham Heaps, 
co-pastor of Dewsbury Evangelical Church, a Grace Baptist congregation

Contending for Christ in Dubai


Remarkably, great opportunities for the gospel have opened up in the Gulf State

Although Thabiti Anyabwile pastors a church in the Cayman Islands, he has had deep involvement with the growing church in Dubai. He has taken part in a number of Christian / Muslim debates there. Recently he spoke to EN.

EN: What is your family background and how did you come to Christ?

TA: I grew up in what’s commonly called ‘the Bible Belt’, the south-eastern United States, known for its culturally conservative nominal Christianity. Like most people, I considered myself a Christian simply because I grew up in ‘a Christian nation’. But I knew almost nothing of the Lord and his gospel.

Things worsened as a senior in high school. After being arrested for a crime, I began going to church with the hopes that the trouble would blow over and I could get a fresh start. The church didn’t faithfully and clearly preach the gospel. So, I continued with my moralistic view of things and my project of self-improvement. When I inevitably failed, I grew cynical about Christianity, believing it to be a delusion and false.

In my second year at university, I converted to Islam. The initial appeal included its simple claim of one God and the outward discipline of the religion. It was perfect for a self-righteous young man like myself. I became something of a Muslim apologist, an opponent of the cross, and an increasingly angry young man.

My heart grew more cold over the years of practising Islam. Until one Ramadan, up early for the fast to read the Qu’ran, I was suddenly aware that what I was reading could not be true. The Qur’an admitted too much on the one hand (the gospels as signs or revelation, the virgin birth, references to Jesus as Messiah, references to the Holy Spirit) and yet denied too much on the other hand (the deity of Christ, his crucifixion, etc.). That created a crisis for me. After a year of searching for answers, I threw my hands up in unbelief and rejected all religious claims.

I continued that way for about a year. Then a few months following a miscarriage, my wife and I attended a local church in the Washington, D.C. area. I’ll never forget the exposition of Exodus 32. It remains one of the most powerful sermons I’ve ever heard. It was law and gospel in the finest sense. By God’s indescribable grace, my wife and I were converted to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ on that Sunday morning.

EN: Tell us about the spiritual state of Dubai and how you got involved there.

TA: The Lord first granted me the privilege of visiting Dubai in 2005. I accompanied another brother as he interviewed with a church about the possibility of becoming their pastor. Originally, I was simply along to carry his bags and keep him encouraged.

But almost immediately Dubai enchanted me. There’s a strange confluence of Arab and Western sensibilities. The wealth of the region is well known. More building cranes are erected in Dubai than most of the rest of the world combined. Though things have slowed, when I first visited, Dubai was at the height of rapid growth materialism.

Dubai represents an important opportunity for the gospel. There exists an unprecedented openness as a result of the diversity of peoples and cultures and the influx of economic interests. With the great number of expatriates coming and going, the emirate represents a strategic sending station for the Good News into the wider region. Churches are being planted and God has been pleased to grant them growth. When I first visited six years ago, it seemed the church was in poor health, unfocused, and perhaps too insular. Now, there’s a fresh vibrancy, boldness, joy, and risk-taking zeal for the glory of our Lord. There is much work to be done there, but there’s great work already underway.

EN: Can you explain something of the debates in Dubai with Muslim leaders and how they came about.

TA: The Christian-Muslim dialogues in Dubai began through an amazing act of providence. When I first visited Dubai, the work among university students was just underway. Campus workers found there were perhaps two Christian students on campus. They began to reach out and disciple those students — both of whom were suspicious of the Westerners’ interest in them. But, in time, the campus workers convinced the students to risk something never attempted before in that region — apply to be an official Christian organisation on campus. The students were understandably fearful.

But, in the end, the Lord granted them courage to take a risk of faith. In God’s rich kindness, one of the area universities granted official permission for the Christian fellowship club to meet on campus. Those two young students became the nucleus of a new work and the first officially recognised Christian campus organisation on the Arabian peninsula.

Not long after they were granted permission to meet, they began hosting a Bible study through the Gospel of Mark. Normally sparsely attended, one day the room was filled to overflowing with young Muslim students. Uncertain about the change in interest, the campus worker simply continued the study through Mark. Part way through, two young women in full burkhas peered through the door. They eventually announced that a scheduling error had occurred. The Muslim organisation was scheduled to meet at the same time — originally in the same room — but had been moved. They asked if the campus worker could redirect those students to the Muslim student association meeting. He promptly apologised for the mix-up and made the announcement. Not a single student moved! They remained to hear more about the Lord in Mark’s Gospel. that began a relationship between the two groups which quickly grew into discussions about a possible Christian-Muslim Dialogue.

Again, in God’s unique timing and providence, I was slated to be in Dubai in a few months’ time. So, the organisation was kind enough to invite me to participate in the dialogue. Ironically, my counterpart was another African-American who had been raised in a Christian home, but later converted to Islam. He was now a resident Imam and something of a minor celebrity on college campuses. Here we were, two African Americans a long way from home on the east coast of the United States, discussing our respective journeys and the counter claims of Islam and Christianity.

The Lord blessed the event with peace and an opportunity to preach the gospel publicly for the first time ever on that campus. What an immense privilege to unfold the message of salvation in Christ alone through faith to an audience full of Muslim students and administrators who likely had never heard a Christian explain the faith at length. We distributed a number of Bibles and the work gained favour with the administration and momentum with the students.

Since that first visit, I’ve had the privilege of visiting Dubai to engage in such discussions every two years. At my last visit earlier this year, there were student groups meeting on about seven campuses and a leadership conference involving 70 campus leaders! That’s a long way from the two nervous and nominal Christian students just six years ago! The work there has advanced with remarkable depth as students have come to saving faith in the Lord Jesus and been discipled in his word.

EN: What is your take on how the church should best seek to share the gospel in the Muslim world?

TA: Well, honestly, there is no secret or unique way to share the gospel in the Muslim world. There are challenges and there is, in some cases, persecution. But the task of sharing the gospel is the same wherever one lives.

What Christians in the Muslim world —and everywhere — need is renewed confidence in the power of the gospel to save (Romans 1.16). Sometimes we’re too concerned about apologetics, contextualisation, and strategy. Those things have their place. But it seems to me that many people invest so much in those issues that they never really get around to building relationships and sharing the Good News. We seem to think that the power lies in persuasion and technique. But the power of the gospel is encapsulated in the gospel message itself. That means we simply need to be faithful in sharing it and prayerfully trusting God to make dead men live again. The gospel is enough if we’ll share it.

Thabiti Anyabwile is Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church, Grand Cayman.

Alcoholism: best left to the experts?


Paul Witter asks if the church can still help drunkards

‘My name is Paul, and I am an alcoholic.’

With these words I introduce myself to the meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous that I have attended for the last 16 years.

They are significant words. They imply difference and that implied difference often has church members (and leaders) feeling out of their depth when confronted by an individual alcoholic. But I want to suggest that the little known Oxford Group (not to be confused with the Anglo-Catholic Oxford Movement), from whom modern AA emerged in the 1930s, can help evangelical churches recover the issue for Christ.

Beyond getting drunk

Proverbs 23.29-35 shows that the Bible is fully aware of the problem that today we call alcoholism. It is a vivid description not only of the ill effects of getting drunk, but also of the craving that results from persistent alcoholic drinking. It ends with the words every alcoholic will recognise: ‘When will I wake up so I can find another drink?’ Much of the AA 12-step programme is drawn from biblical principles which they received from the Oxford Group. From them they got the idea that alcoholism is a spiritual malady requiring a spiritual solution. If they are right (and I think they are), then why is the church not providing that solution?

Perhaps we have bought into the notion that there is something unique about alcoholism that means we need to leave it to the experts? One of the things that Christians can learn from the Oxford Group is that this just isn’t so. Very few, if any, of the Oxford Group could claim medical expertise in dealing with alcoholism. Yet they were able to reach a common denominator with alcoholics that made alcoholics listen to them and brought about change via the gospel.

1st-century Christianity

The Oxford Group saw itself as recreating 1st-century Christianity and was within the broad evangelical spectrum of its time. In the mid-30s, the Group began to have some success with alcoholics even though the vast majority of the Group itself were non-alcoholic. Between 1935 and 1939, at just two Oxford Group gatherings, nearly 100 men obtained lasting sobriety. Two of these, Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith, became the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous. They eventually started to meet separately, leaving the Oxford Group by the early 1940s. Wilson and Smith’s first meeting had impressed on them the positive effect of one alcoholic talking to another. However Smith and Wilson’s creation of AA led, in time, to the myth that this was the only effective way to help alcoholics. Although undoubtedly helpful, it wasn’t essential for many of those who obtained sobriety through the Oxford Group and it needn’t be today.

Need for conversion

The Oxford Group believed in the need for souls gripped by sin to be converted and saved by the work of Christ. They believed that confession of current temptations and past sin was essential for healthy Christian living and for witness. I believe it was this sharing of changed lives that was the key to the Oxford Group’s success with alcoholics during this period.

Oxford Groupers talked of sin as a form of addiction that needed to be brought out into the open in order for it to be properly dealt with. Their testimonies were strong on the addictive and dominating power of sin over their lives prior to their conversions.

And this, it seems, enabled alcoholics to make a connection. For the first time they were hearing people speaking with blunt honesty about themselves and they found that much of what they thought they alone had done was actually more common than they imagined.

Alcoholics are not as unique as the church fears or they themselves think they are. The reasons that stand behind their drinking are often complex and numerous, but they are far from exclusive to them. The alcoholic’s sense of remorse over past and present failings is a significant factor in his or her continued drinking. The Oxford Group was able to show these people that the sins, which they thought were so vile that no one would want to know them, were sins shared by others. And these others had found a way out of their bondage to these sins, and the guilt that went with them, by a means other than drowning their feelings in alcohol.

In short, they saw that the gospel had practical implications for their deep-seated problems, of which alcoholic drinking was merely the tip of the iceberg.

Ultimately the Oxford Group would show, through their testimonies (which were their chief means of evangelism both in major meetings and in one-to-one conversations), that the root of all of their sin problems was the fact that they were selfish, self-centred and self-worshipping.

How the gospel speaks

Once we locate the root problem of alcoholism in this idolatry of self we can see how the gospel speaks into the heart of the issue. That does not mean that we simply have to proclaim the gospel to alcoholics and that should sort it out. Whatever your view of alcoholism as a disease, the fact remains that long-term excessive drinking makes you ill. Well-meaning folk telling someone to ‘just stop’ could, without that person having medical support, cause that person to have withdrawal fits.

However, medical intervention only goes so far. We need, as the Oxford Group seemed able to do, to help alcoholics come to terms with the idolatrous root behaviours (some of which are negative reactions to them being sinned against) that lie behind alcoholism, and with their guilt and remorse. If we don’t, then these things will eventually lead the person back to a drink.

The Oxford Group not only helped alcoholics see the reality of their own sin, they also provided an environment of rigorous honesty that enabled them to continue to bring to light the effects of sin in their lives. And this honesty will still be found in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Many alcoholics, finding sobriety in AA, report that they see no similarly rigorous honesty in the churches they have been to (many of them evangelical). And so they do not see the church providing anything they cannot already get in their meetings or with their sponsors. That too needs to change. After all, being new creations in possession of the power that raised Christ from the dead (Ephesians 1.19-20), we ought to be able to demonstrate changed lives more readily than AA.

Curing souls

Much work needs to be done on the details if evangelicals are to recover the task of curing souls trapped in alcoholism. We could begin by learning the positive lessons from the Oxford Group. But such a ministry will also need to recover the shared identity of all the people of God as forgiven sinners who struggle with temptation, who are ready to be radically accountable to one another. By God’s grace, this will break down the notion that somehow the sins of alcoholics are unique and only capable of being dealt with in a separate group.

In the 1930s, Alcoholics Anonymous decided that dealing with alcoholism had to be taken away from the church. Maybe now is the time for the church to take it back?

Paul Witter studied at Oak Hill Theological College, London, and has an MTh in Theology and Pastoral Studies.


‘The pastor as scholar and the scholar as pastor’


THE PASTOR AS SCHOLAR AND THE SCHOLAR AS PASTOR
By John Piper and D.A. Carson
IVP. 128 pages. £7.99
ISBN 978 1 844 745 418

This book began life as an evening event during the Gospel Coalition annual conference in 2010. John Piper and Don Carson were the speakers to a packed live audience, then watched on the internet by thousands. Their material has been worked into this short and very readable book.

The book has four sections. An introduction by Own Strachan and conclusion by David Mathis, with the ‘meat’ being two chapters first from John Piper followed by one from Don Carson. They need little introduction: the former is a church pastor, the latter a New Testament professor. Both are prolific authors and significant leaders within worldwide evangelicalism. In his short introduction, Strachan reminds us that many of the great theologians of church history were also pastors. John Piper subtitles his chapter, ‘A personal journey and the joyful place of scholarship’. The chapter falls into two sections. The first is largely autobiographical. He traces his journey from his youth, via his Wheaton College studies, his seminary days at Fuller, doctoral studies in Germany, teaching at Bethel College, to his call to be pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. But the section is much more than personal history. In this section, Piper shows what led him to be committed to truth and to people.

Joy in our hearts
In the second half of his chapter, Piper shares his conviction that ‘God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him’. To this end we are to have Christ-exalting joy in our hearts. Piper then proceeds to show from Scripture nine pointers that demonstrate that to awaken and sustain joyful satisfaction in God requires right thinking (scholarship). His conclusion is that the pastor, in handling the Bible, ‘is called to read carefully and accurately and thoroughly. That is, he is called to be a “scholar”’. Don Carson subtitles his chapter, ‘Lessons from the Church and the Academy’. His chapter also comes in two parts. In his introductory first section, Carson helps us understand what he means by ‘scholar’ and helpfully reminds us that God gifts people differently. He writes: ‘Some scholars will never display great pastoral gifts, some pastors will never function as gifted scholars’. He also pens his journey to being Research Professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Chicago.

Retaining a pastoral heart
This said, the second half of Carson’s chapter gives 12 very practical pointers for those who work in ‘academic’ environments, to enable them to retain a pastoral heart. Most are principles from Scripture itself that Carson then applies to the scholar. For example, Carson calls his readers not to polarise into either an ‘objective’ study or ‘devotional’ study of the Bible. He reminds us that whether the Bible is read alone at 5.30 am or in preparation for an exegetical class at 10.00 am, the Bible is still the Bible before which we are to tremble. The pointers are, therefore, as applicable to those not working in an academic institution.

The book’s conclusion is a call to both the pastor-scholar and the scholar-pastor to remember that the gospel is ultimately what builds people up and makes us holy. The book is penned by two extraordinary men. Both are gifted by God such that either could pastor a local church or be professor in a theological college. However, both are united in the conviction that we need both thoughtful shepherds and pastoral scholarship. It is a great book and deserves to be read widely, both within the local church and the theological seminary.

Justin Mote
Director, North West Ministry Training Course; member, St. Andrew’s Leyland

Christianity Explored: next ten


Christianity Explored has just celebrated its tenth birthday. We thought we should celebrate what has been achieved and — most importantly — plan and pray about how to take the ministry forward over the next ten years.

Firstly, it is worth remembering that Christianity Explored (CE) in its current form was created by Barry Cooper, Sam Shammas and myself at All Soul’s, Langham Place. It sought to ‘let the Gospel tell the gospel’ in the most powerful way we could find by letting people discover the Identity Mission and Call of Jesus from Mark’s Gospel.

Expansion

Ten years on, the ministry has expanded its range of products dramatically. It now publishes a wide range of different materials, including the follow-on course, Discipleship Explored (DE) and books such as One Question and One Life. Various versions have been developed, including the youth version. English as a second language editions of both CE and DE are also now available. These resources are all designed to introduce the Christian faith, from the Bible, to non-believers, primarily in group settings. Increasingly, however, we are seeing them used in very small groups and even for one-to-ones.

More than 5,000 courses a year now run in over 70 nations around the world. We believe this figure represents just over a third of the member countries of the United Nations. Courses span the denominational spectrum and have been translated into more than 20 languages and numbers continue to grow all the time.

Last year

Our most significant decision in 2011 was to invest in a third edition of the core CE course. This meant shortening it from ten sessions to seven, re-shooting the DVD and creating an all-new CE website aimed at seekers wherever they may be around the world. Since the new edition was launched in May we have seen a rise of well over 50% in the number of handbooks sold.

This is a humbling result and looking back there are certain key phrases that I have found myself saying again and again to individuals and at conferences. I believe them far more passionately now than I did ten years ago and, as an evangelist seeking to prepare God’s people for service (Ephesians 4.12), I am passionate about the fact that they bear repeating. Indeed, whatever else happens to CE, these truths will be central to our ministry over the next ten years. Time and again I’ve found these are the places where the battle is fought as we plead with churches to become more evangelistically focussed. So here are the phrases.

1. Get the calendar right

Evangelism is like mother’s milk and apple pie. In theory everyone is for it, but the first battle you have to fight is getting courses running regularly in the church year.

If you have the dates of a course in the diary (spring, summer, autumn), then there is a place to put the visitors who come at Christmas and Easter, if their interest is sparked. It’s a focal point for preachers because they can say: ‘If you’re not a Christian here today, then thank you so much for coming and if that point strikes you, well here is a place to discuss it’. And, above all, the church family knows where to bring its friends. Having courses that run regularly is critical, because many people take a long time to come. I reckon it usually takes 18 months from someone hearing about the course and being asked to them eventually coming. This means that the church family needs to know it is rock solid in the diary.

2. You can do it

From 1996 I had been trying to teach church leaders and members how to go through Mark’s Gospel with non-Christians. During those sessions I would so often see the screensaver go up in people’s eyes and the sentiment was obvious: ‘Rico, you can go through Mark’s Gospel with people, but I never could’. Then, really by chance, as we met to plan the filming of the first DVD in 2000 we saw that the journey through Mark could be summed up with three words — Identity (who is Jesus?), Mission (why did he come?), Call (what does it mean to follow him?).

I’ll never forget the first training session I went to after that three-word discovery. It was in Stirling on a bank holiday weekend. I announced that understanding Mark’s Gospel is about grasping these three words and the drama is seeing that the disciples are blind to them. People listened, I could see the hope in their eyes because it was so simple and yet so profound. At the end I turned to an old lady in a group to my left and I asked: ‘Do you think you could teach through Mark’s Gospel?’ And she replied in a deep Scottish accent: ‘Well dear, if it’s only three words, I think we probably can’.

3. How they come is how they stay

The CE material encourages individuals to come to faith as they hear the Bible at four levels — and to establish that foundation of Bible input that will take them from here to eternity.

The four levels are: (1) from the front — they hear the talks; (2) in a small group — they look at the studies together and ask questions; (3) one-to-one — particularly at the end of the evening they discuss where they are at with their leaders individually; and (4) in the home study where they read the Bible for themselves through the week.

This means we are aiming not so much at having biblical pulpits but creating biblical churches. Underlying all this is a question I so often ask at training conferences: ‘Where in the Christian life is the power?’ Well, the power is in the Word (Mark 4.26).

4. Cross the painline

Victor Hugo said: ‘Life’s greatest happiness is to be convinced we are loved’. Christianity Explored as an experience often stands or falls on whether an individual has grasped grace. However, to really understand grace we have first to see the horrors of our sin. We must see that sin leads to judgment, where we will experience God’s wrath and ultimately find ourselves in hell, unless we have trusted in the rescue of the Lord Jesus (1 Thessalonians 1.10). So the question is, as a leader, do I have the nerve to repeat to people the warning of Jesus in Mark 9.43-48? If I think I can do what I like with the hands and feet and eyes that God has given me, I’ll find myself in hell for eternity. It is a desperately counter-cultural message, but, as Billy Graham said, ‘In evangelism it’s not getting people saved that’s the problem, it’s getting them lost’. This is why from weeks two to seven we say to people: you are not good people going to heaven, but sinners going to hell. So please embrace the Lord Jesus Christ.

Hard-wired lessons

These lessons are hard-wired into CE, we are passionate about getting them out and as we now look ahead they will be our guiding lights. So where do we want to be in ten years’ time? We recognise the need for a third course that sits alongside CE and DE, although precisely what that will look like at this point is unclear.

We will undoubtedly need to respond to the dramatic technological revolution taking place in the dissemination of information. This means that all our courses will be able to be delivered over the internet as well as face to face. This has exciting implications for evangelism in places officially hostile to the gospel, where seekers may in future do CE online, away from the prying eyes of the prevailing civil or religious authorities.

Having said that, we will not overlook the fact that many churches in our land remain unaware of CE. We therefore aim to have a network of CE advocates operating in every county or region, and in every major town in the UK, by 2021. And internationally, we hope and pray that, within the next ten years, we might have penetrated fully two-thirds of UN countries, through CE having been translated into no less than 50 different languages.

Are such grand designs possible, in such a time of almost institutional cultural opposition to the gospel in the UK? Well, if they accord with God’s purposes, and if we always stay faithful to him, they just might.

Rico Tice

For more information about the CE course, visit http://www.christianityexplored.org/ or for resources go to http://www.ceministries.org/