the weblog of Alan Knox

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The non-vocational option

Posted by on Jul 23, 2013 in discipleship, elders, personal | 23 comments

A few years ago, my family was part of a megachurch in our area. We were involved in many of the programs offered by the church organization, and we had many good friends who were part of the church. There came a time when I sensed (somehow) that God wanted something different… something more…

I talked to a few church leaders, and I was given two options: God was either calling me to be a vocational pastor or a vocational missionary. Obviously, there were different jobs (“callings”) within those two options, but everything fell within those two divisions.

After much prayer and counsel – and deciding that God was not calling me to go overseas – I decided to go to seminary to prepare to become a vocational pastor. I’m glad that I made that decision, even though the outcome is not what I expected. I am not a vocational pastor, and I do not intend to become a vocational pastor. Instead, one thing I’ve learned over the last few years is that there is another option: the non-vocational option.

More and more people are beginning to understand both the scriptural precedence for and the practical benefits of serving others in a “non-vocational” manner – that is, serving others without being a vocational pastor or minister.

For example, see the Washington Post article from May 2013 titled “Seminary graduates not always ministering from the pulpit.” By the way, I’m not suggesting that you must be a seminary graduate to serve others. This article simply shows that even many people attending seminary are beginning to recognize the benefit of “non-vocational” service.

Recently, while speaking with a friend, he reminded me about a conversation that he had with a mutual friend a few years ago. Our friend was a seminary student, and had plans to become a vocational pastor. He was beginning to understand this different view of serving others, but didn’t know what he was going to do. He only had Bible school training and didn’t know how he was going to support himself and his family if he did not have a job with a church.

Lately, not only have I learned that God can use someone who works a “full-time secular job,” I’ve also been able to help others who want to transition away from a “full-time vocational ministry job.” Through this, we’re all learning that there are many benefits both to the individual and the church from serving others while also working a full time job (that is not a church job).

Hopefully, God will continue to provide opportunities for me to encourage others into this non-vocational option, and even continue to help them find jobs that provide for themselves, their families, and others – much like Paul encouraged the Ephesian elders to do in Acts 20:33-35.

What benefits do you see for individuals in being non-vocational servants instead of vocational pastors/ministers? What benefits do you see for the church? Are there any disadvantages?

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But, Paul, why are the Jews rejecting the gospel?

Posted by on Jul 22, 2013 in scripture | 10 comments

We have had a great time discussing and learning from Romans over the last few months. We just finished studying through chapter 10. In Romans 9-10, Paul seems to be answering the question, “But why are the Jews rejecting the gospel?”

Obviously, all Jews did not reject the gospel – Paul was a Jew, for instance. But, many Jews not only rejected the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ, they actively worked against this message.

So, why were the Jews (in general) rejecting the gospel?

In Romans 9-10, Paul offers at least three answers to this question:

1) God chooses who to save. (Romans 9:6-29)

2) The Jews do not trust (have faith in) Jesus Christ. (Romans 9:30-10:13)

3) The Roman Christians (and other Christians) are not proclaiming the gospel to them. (Romans 10:14-17)

I find it very interesting that Paul places the “responsibility” of the Jews’ salvation in God’s hands, the Jews’ own hands, and his readers’ hands. They are all responsible – in different ways, and it’s not helpful or complete to remove the responsibility from any of the three.

Also, it’s not helpful to see these three “answers” (or responsible parties) as working separately. Obviously, it all goes together: God choosing – People having faith – Believers proclaiming the gospel… they all go together.

I think this is a great pattern to remember when we’re thinking about salvation for anyone – either a large group of people (a “people group” for instance) or even for an individual.

So, I thought I would include you (my readers) in our discussion. Obviously – and unfortunately – you were not part of the actual discussion – either last week or the many weeks studying Romans leading up to this discussion. But, still, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

First, do you agree that Paul is giving these three answers to the question, “Why do the Jews generally reject the gospel?”

Second, do you agree that it’s beneficial to keep these three “answers” (or responsible parties) in mind when considering salvation today (either for large groups or individuals)?

Finally, do you think there are problems with focusing only on one or two of Paul’s “answers”? If so, what problems could arise from that?

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Scripture… As We Live It #269

Posted by on Jul 21, 2013 in as we live it, scripture | 1 comment

This is the 269th passage in “Scripture… As We Live It.”

And how are they to preach unless they are sent are educated, ordained, and hired by a church? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Romans 10:15 re-mix)

(Please read the first post for an explanation of this series.)

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Replay: A biblical theology is a practical theology

Posted by on Jul 20, 2013 in biblical theology, blog links, discipleship | 2 comments

Four years ago, I wrote a post called “A biblical theology is a practical theology.” The post was inspired by several things: a couple of blog posts that I read at that time plus several years studying “biblical theology” in many different forms. There are many theoretical theologies around today – and there have been theoretical theologies around since time began. However, the “theology” that we read about in Scripture is not theoretical – it is extremely practical. And, in fact, even when we discuss theoretical theologies, our real theology is the theology that we live.


A Biblical Theology is a Practical Theology

There is a very interesting and very important discussion occurring in a couple of blogs. It was started by Jeff (at “The Practicing Church“) in his post called “Practicology.” After reviewing the many “-ologies” which various groups espouse or emphasize, Jeff makes the following statement:

Truth is, I’m not as impressed by how much someone knows about the Bible as I am whether someone is living out what they know.

Jeff concludes with this statement:

So if there’s an ‘-ology’ I’d coin to describe all this – I’d want it to be ‘practicology’ – the study of putting our faith into practice. A faith that works itself out in life.

Laura (at “Who in the World Are We?“) continues Jeff’s discussion in her own post called “Practicclesiology” which is focused primarily on a practical ecclesiology – a practical understanding of the church.

Laura describes the theory of ecclesiology like this:

The theory of ecclesiology consists of the rich, deep biblical truths, describing our safe identity and position in Christ as persons and community. Properly understood, these truths help us, persons and community, to live ordinary lives of risky creative participation in the world for the sake of Christ.

Next, she defines the practice of ecclesiology like this:

The practice of ecclesiology consists of the extensive and intensive influence of a church, grounded in proper understanding. A properly functioning church (persons and community) moves into the world in Christ and by the Spirit, applying a rich diversity of skills to live boldly in the world while pointing to Christ.

Finally, she combines the two into practicclesiology (a term she coined):

In sum, practicclesiology is a manner of life together that understands and lives out deep connection to Christ and one another in order to dream and risk the seemingly impossible.

In reality, it is impossible to have a biblical theology that is not practical. A biblical theology is a practical theology.

Now, I understand why Jeff and Laura are concerned about the distinction between theoretical theology and practical theology. Discussions about this distinction and arguments as to which is more important have been going on for centuries and longer.

However, when we study Scripture, we find that it is impossible to separate our thinking about God (theoretical theology) from our life (practical theology). In fact, according to Scripture, the way we live demonstrates what we actually think about God more than what we say.

In 1 John, the apostle makes the bold statement that someone who does not demonstrate love to another person does not love God, regardless of what that person may say (1 John 3:17; 4:20). James writes something similar about faith – faith that does not demonstrate itself in our lives is not faith at all (James 2:14-26). Paul follows his most theoretical argument (Romans 1-11), with an exhortation to live in accordance with this understanding (Romans 12-16). As followers of Jesus Christ, an understanding of God that does not demonstrate itself in the way we live is not a biblical theology.

How does this work with the church?

People discuss and argue about many aspects of ecclesiology. For example, many argue about whether the Lord’s Supper (Communion) should be for local church members only (closed communion) or for any believer (open communion). Someone once tried to convince me of closed communion by arguing that we should only share the fellowship of the cup and the bread with those we know. However, as I pointed out, he cannot know all the thousands of people that he meets with every Sunday. His theoretical argument for “closed communion” was nullified by his own practice.

There are positive implications of our practical theology, and practical ecclesiology in particular. For example, last Sunday we were talking about times in our lives when we grow indifferent to God.  One brother said, “This is one of the reasons that I love this church, and one of the reasons that I hate this church. I know that when we meet together, someone is going to ask me about my life and my relationship with God. This is exactly what I need, but its not always what I want, especially when I’m feeling indifferent toward God.” He’s learned that our ecclesiology is not simply theoretical… we don’t just talk about fellowship and discipleship and the “one anothers”. Instead, we try to live these things. Our ecclesiology is very practical.

In fact, besides this blog (and times when I meet with people who contacted me because of this blog), I rarely talk about “ecclesiology.” It is more important to live our ecclesiology (or any theology) than to talk about our ecclesiology (or any theology).

Someone who does not offer grace and forgiveness to others does not understand the grace of God regardless of what they say or teach about God’s grace. A person who does not accept others as they are does not understand how God has accepted us in Christ, regardless of what they say about salvation by grace and not by works. Someone who does not share his or her life with other brothers and sisters in Christ in intimate fellowship and community does not understand discipleship, regardless of what they profess about the importance of the Great Commission. Our theology is demonstrated in the way we live our lives, not in what we say or write.

This distinction between theoretical theology and practical theology is a false distinction as far as Scripture is concerned. According to Scripture, it is impossible to know God (theology) without it affecting your life (practice). So, a biblical theology is a practical theology. A theoretical theology that does not affect a person’s life is not a biblical theology.

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Transitioning toward participatory church gatherings

Posted by on Jul 19, 2013 in blog links, gathering | 9 comments

Yesterday, on Dave Black’s blog (Thursday, July 18, 2013 at 7:48 a.m.), I read a snippet of an article on the website of Milipitas Bible Fellowship written by Brian Anderson. The article is called “Discovering Participatory Church Meetings.”

The article includes some great historical information, from the Jewish background, to New Testament evidence, into the second through fourth centuries, and even including the reformation. At each point, the author explains what was happening historically and how those events and circumstances affected the way that believers gathered together.

But, my favorite part of the article is near the end and is called “Our Journey in Implementing Participatory Meetings.” I love how the author explains some of the steps they took together to help each other understand why it’s important that they all participate together when they gather with the church.

For example, here’s one “step” in the process:

After a few months, as we became more comfortable with these informal home meetings, we began introducing more participation into our Sunday gatherings. I informed the congregation that anyone could participate by reading Scripture, praying during a lull in our praise singing, or starting a song that was on their heart. I brought the podium down from the platform to the lower level so that I could be closer to the people, thereby encouraging mutual interaction. We rearranged the chairs into concentric semi-circles so that we could look into one another’s faces when speaking, instead of the back of someone’s head. We bought a wireless microphone and began passing it around to those desiring to share what God had been doing in their lives or to encourage us by declaring what God had been teaching them from His Word. Sometimes these sessions included exhortations, admonitions, teachings, or the sharing of blessings or burdens. One woman revealed that she had recently been diagnosed with cancer. This allowed the whole church the opportunity to tangibly express their love and commitment by gathering around, laying hands on her, and praying. These changes felt a bit awkward at first. We had no previous model to guide us, and thus, felt a bit uncomfortable with them. Before long, however, many began contributing some very edifying insights and exhortations.

Take the time to read this great article, especially that last section. Many people believe that “traditional church” can never change. It’s just not true. It’s happening more and more.

However, in order for this kind of change to be effective, we must make careful changes, caring about the people involved more than we care about making sure we’re doing everything right.

For many of my readers, the quotation above sounds overly rigid and controlled. For others, it sounds incredibly freeing. For still others, it looks strange, alien, and completely impossible.

For me, the exciting part of this article is that they realized they needed to change, and they took the steps necessary to implement that change in a way that worked for them.

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Community based on the gospel and our shared identity in Christ

Posted by on Jul 18, 2013 in blog links, community | 8 comments

A couple of weeks ago, I read a great post by Fred at “On the Journey” called “Community: Sunday at 10:30.” If you’ve read this blog for very long (probably even for a short time), then you know that community in Christ is very important to me.

I believe that when God saves us, he immediately includes us in his family and we are immediately connected to and responsible for our brothers and sisters in Christ who are part of our lives. This “community” is not one of our own making; it is built by God through his Spirit. We do not get to pick and choose who are part of that community. As I wrote once, when we accept Jesus, we automatically get everyone else at his table.

However, it takes work – yes, real work – to live in community with one another. Now, we say that work consists of yielding to or submitting to the Holy Spirit in our lives, and that would be correct. It is still work, though.

Of course, we can also try to build community that is not based on our shared identity in Jesus Christ. There are many kinds of communities like this. In his post, Fred wrote about several of those communities. Then he wrote this:

I believe the church is different. Community is something that is not based on personal preferences, on a charismatic individual, on shared experiences. In the church, the only kind of community that matters must be based on the Gospel and our shared identity in Christ. The community that God wants is a community that lives life together, learning together to follow Jesus and love our brothers and sisters. In order to do this we must be together more than one day a week. Community needs time and contact to develop. The disciples were with Jesus 24/7 for three years. The first Christians met daily, going from house to house. I know things are different in the 21st century, but we still need time with each other often. We can not do this without learning from each other on a consistent basis.

There is much to encourage us and challenge us in that short paragraph. Yes, it takes time, patience, grace, forgiveness, etc. to see community – even community in Christ – grow and flourish. And, it does take the humility necessary to “learn from each other on a consistent basis.”

But, when you read that, you may be disheartened because you are part of a group who only meets once a week in a pre-planned, scheduled gathering (often called a “worship service”). Does this mean that community in Christ is impossible for you? Not at all.

This is how Fred ends his post:

If you are part of a church body that meets in a building at a particular time on a particular day and gathers as friends and family at various times throughout the week, good for you. If not, why not begin?

Good question, Fred. Why not?

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Ministry (service) in Jesus’ name

Posted by on Jul 17, 2013 in service | 3 comments

In this series of posts, I’m looking at “ministry” (“service”) – the two terms actually come from the same Greek term: διακονία (diakonia). In my introductory post “What is ministry?“, I said that I was planning to examining the basic nature of ministry (service).

In the next post – “The basic aspects of ministry (service)” – I suggested that there are three basic parts of any type of service: 1) Service is provided by an individual or group. 2) Service is received by an individual or group. 3) Service is a need recognized (as a need) by the receiving individual or group.

So far, I’ve talked about any type of service. But, when we turn to the New Testament, we’re primarily interested in a new type of service – a service that is done in Jesus’ name, empowered by the Holy Spirit. There are certainly differences in this type of service. However, we should remember that it remains “service” at its base.

So, what’s different about this kind of service?

Ministry (service) in Jesus’ name is still a form of service. Thus, it is still performed by one person (or group) in order to fulfill a real need of another person (or group). And, just like normal service, the person(s) being served recognizes the need being fulfilled as a real need. The person giving the service cannot make that decision.

But, there are big differences. For one thing, when serving others in Jesus’ name, the motivation is different. There are many ways to say it (many ways that the authors of Scripture say it): loving God, loving others, trusting God, obeying God, following Jesus, being led by the Spirit, etc. But, they all boil down to one thing: God motivates the service; he is the reason that the service is being done. Even though there is a real need, the person(s) perform the service because of God.

Beyond the motivation, there is also an extended purpose for serving in Jesus’ name. While the service (if it is service) does meet a need recognized by the person being served, there is also an additional purpose in serving in Jesus’ name. That purpose is to see others know Jesus and to grow or mature in him.

But remember, even if this different motivation and this different purpose is present, the person may not be serving someone else if the basic aspects of service are not met as well. This does not mean that the action is not valid or good, but it may not be service.

We’re doing a disservice (pun intended) when we call something “ministry” or “service” when no one is actually being served.

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Three basic aspects of ministry (service)

Posted by on Jul 16, 2013 in service | Comments Off on Three basic aspects of ministry (service)

In my introductory post “What is ministry?“, I said that I was planning to examining the basic nature of ministry (service). Remember that in the New Testament, the terms “ministry” and “service” are both translations of the same Greek term: διακονία (diakonia).

But, for some reason, New Testament translators often alternate between translating διακονία (diakonia) as either “service” or “ministry.”

Before we begin to look at any possible difference the NT usages, we should first begin with the basic aspects of service. From my perspective, there are three basic aspects of service:

1) Service is provided by an individual or group.

2) Service is received by an individual or group.

3) Service is a need recognized (as a need) by the receiving individual or group.

There are a few issues related to these three basic aspects of service. For example, service is costly (in some way) to the individual or group providing the service. The cost could be in resources, time, energy, etc., but it is some kind of cost.

On the other hand, regardless of the cost involved, if the service does not provide a need that is recognized as a need by those receiving it, then it is not actually a service. The one(s) receiving the service bear the responsibility of recognizing the act as a service. The one(s) providing the service cannot make that determination.

Here’s an example. Suppose someone needs food and water, but does not need clothing or shelter. Someone providing food or water has provided a service. But, someone providing clothing or shelter has not provided a service. Of course, providing a service does not mean that the entire need has been met (which is usually impossible), but it does mean that some actual need has been met.

Remember, the need provided through service may not be something physical such as food, water, clothing, or shelter, although it can be. Service could also include providing emotional support, advice, training, etc. Service could also refer to simply listening to someone else. But, even in those cases, the person(s) receiving the service are actually in need of that service, and they recognize that need.

Now, when we talk about “ministry,” we’re usually talking about a specific kind of service, but it is still a kind of service. (Remember, the same term was used by New Testament authors.) So, while “ministry” may refer to something more than basic service, it cannot refer to something less.

In the next post, I’ll begin to look at some of the differences (or additions, rather) to this basic kind of services for those of us who are in Christ and who are serving people in his name.

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What is Ministry?

Posted by on Jul 15, 2013 in service | 7 comments

Last week, I travelled out of state for a few days for business. The trip went as planned until we were ready to fly back. Soon after arriving at the airport, we found out that our flight had been cancelled. During the next few hours (and into the late morning of the next day), we worked to get back home.

The airline that we were flying “helped” us with our travel plans. Yes, I put the word helped in quotation marks because most of their help consisted of repeating the phrase, “I’m sorry, sir.”

In the end, this experience caused me to think about the term “customer service.” From my understanding, “customer service” refers to something that is done for or on behalf of the customer. Unfortunately, in this instance, this airline did very little on our behalf. However, they called what they did “customer service.”

This experience also caused me to think about the term “service” in general, especially when it comes to the church and followers of Jesus Christ.

In the New Testament, the Greek term διακονία (diakonia) is the term normally related to “service.” The same term is also translated “ministry” and “the office of the deacon” in many translations of the New Testament.

Here are a few examples:

…that I may be rescued from those who are disobedient in Judea, and that my service (διακονίαdiakonia) for Jerusalem may prove acceptable to the saints… (Romans 15:31 ESV)

And there are varieties of ministries (διακονίαdiakonia), and the same Lord. (1 Corinthians 12:5 ESV)

Say to Archippus, “Take heed to the ministry (διακονίαdiakonia) which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it.” (Colossians 4:17 ESV)

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service (διακονίαdiakonia)… (1 Timothy 1:12 ESV)

In the passages above (all written by Paul), the term διακονία (diakonia) is sometimes translated “service,” and at other times translated “ministry.” (By the way, “ministry” is a transliteration of the Latin term that means “service.”)

But, what does “service” mean when it comes to the church and to followers of Jesus Christ? Is this different than “ministry”? What makes them different? Why are different terms used? Did Paul intend for “service” and “ministry” to have different meanings?

Over the next few days, I’m going to consider these questions and others in relation to the terms “service” and “ministry” related to the Greek term διακονία (diakonia).

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Out of the office…

Posted by on Jul 8, 2013 in personal | Comments Off on Out of the office…

I will not be able to blog for the next few days. I will not be publishing new blog posts, and I will not be able to reply to comments. (I will try to moderate comments as much as possible.)

I should be able to begin normal blog publishing toward the end of this week.

Thank you again for reading and commenting!