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  • Direction: Phases in Problem Solving: A Biblical Model for the Christian Community
    model for the contemporary Christian community THE NARRATIVE ACTS 15 1 35 Antioch in Syria was one of the earliest Christian centers in the Gentile world Here indeed the followers of Christ were first called Christians Acts 11 26 Luke s narrative in Acts 15 begins with certain Christian teachers from Judea who arrive in Antioch teaching that unless persons are circumcised according to the Law they cannot be saved Paul and Barnabas rigorously oppose this view As a result of the intense division the Antioch church decides to send Barnabas and Paul together with some of the other believers to Jerusalem to bring the issue to the apostles and elders When they arrive in Jerusalem they are welcomed by the church and make an initial report of what God is doing in the Gentile world Some of the local Pharisees however are quick to raise the issue of 7 circumcision again So the apostles and elders gather to consider the question Key participants in the meeting are indeed the apostles and elders They are mentioned five times in the narrative The apostle Peter and Barnabas and Paul make major contributions that fundamentally influence the direction of the meeting James the leader of the Jerusalem church provides a final interpretation joining reported experience with Scripture and proposes a final resolution The entire church finally joins with the apostles and elders in confirming the proposed direction and sending a letter articulating the resolution with a delegation back to Antioch Implicit in this narrative is a sequence of phases in problem solving Together these phases form a chiasm a common literary form in the ancient Hebrew world In the chiastic structure beginning and ending segments as well as corresponding intervening segments parallel each other as in an A B C B A sequence The center is the fulcrum a point of critical importance The chiasm implicit in the narrative then may be framed as follows A Community Tension 15 1 2a Christian teachers from Judea having come to Antioch teach that the Gentiles must be circumcised if they are to be saved Paul and Barnabas vigorously disagree B Initiation 15 2b 5 A delegation including Paul and Barnabas are sent to consult with the apostles and elders in Jerusalem The delegation is welcomed in Jerusalem make an initial report and the issue is quickly joined as believers from among the Pharisees insist that Gentiles be circumcised C Exploration 15 6 7a Interpretation I The meeting begins with much debate D Narrative Story Peter s Story 15 7b 11 Peter breaks into the debate and reminds the meeting of the story of his Joppa vision and experience with Cornelius Roman centurion in which it had become clear that God had accepted the Gentiles He challenges them by reminding them of their own story in which they themselves had been unable to bear the yoke that they now wished to place on the Gentiles 8 He concludes by focusing the Jesus story Salvation for both Jew and Gentile comes only through the grace of the Lord Jesus Barnabas and Paul s Stories 15 12 The assembly is silent as they listen to these stories of what God has done among the Gentiles through Barnabas and Paul C Correlation 15 13 18 Interpretation II James begins with Peter s story and shows how the prophets agree B Resolution 15 19 29 James proposes the conclusion The apostles and elders together with the entire church agree and discern that the Holy Spirit approves The answer is formulated in a letter A Community Action 15 30 35 A delegation is sent with Paul and Barnabas to convey the message to the church at Antioch They are well received in Antioch and the Antioch church rejoices at the news In the chiastic structure of these phases of the Jerusalem Council narrative is at the fulcrum the pivotal center of the process THE PHASES ELABORATED The five central deliberative phases are framed by recognized community tension to begin with and community action to end with Assuming that these are self explanatory I will focus attention here on the central five The Initiation Phase What and Who Initiation requires attention to two issues The first is the identification of the question Questions may be putative or real vague or clear In the case of the Jerusalem Council the question is both real and clear Gentile circumcision in particular and keeping the Mosaic Law in general are at stake Identifying the community of authority to address the question is the second issue Here the response is both theological and practical Theologically authority to bind and loose was given by Jesus to the church Matt 16 13 20 18 15 20 The Jerusalem Church is exercising that authority Practically 9 without the specific involvement of the particular communities that are concerned issues cannot be put to rest After all the church at Antioch could have processed the issue themselves But they were not the only community of concern The problem arose because of visitors from Judea The question of circumcision and keeping the Mosaic Law was first of all a problem for the Jewish church Jerusalem of course was also the mother church in this situation and the apostles and elders carried special weight in this early church setting but practically speaking without their involvement the issue simply could not be put to rest What and who then are the principal issues in this initiation phase of problem solving The Exploration Phase This phase is quickly summarized in the text as much debate or much discussion The Greek noun here used suzetesis ranges in meaning in the ancient world from a joint seeking Young or common investigation to dispute or quarrel Kittel 7 747 748 Current translators predominantly use either debate e g Revised Standard Version Revised English Bible New American Standard or discussion e g New International Version Jerusalem Bible in this context Though this phase is quickly summarized in the text we must be careful not to dismiss it as without function This phase is important even if not surprising Indeed we can guess that this typical beginning contains elements of what contemporary discussion group dynamics theorists call ventilation Barnlund and Haiman 1960 86 orientation Bales and Strodtbeck or appraisal of the issues Janis and Mann 1977 172 From a rhetorical perspective it entails articulating the stasis critical points of disagreement of the issue From a conflict management perspective it is akin to creating a human conflict spectrum In such a spectrum members of a group imagine a line running from one end of the room to the other with the ends reflecting opposite extremes of the issue Each then proceeds to stand at a point on the line that best reflects the person s position on the issue A visual picture of the diversity within the group is thus created Having physically positioned themselves standing together they may now articulate and clarify their reasons and feelings for the 10 others thus creating mutual understanding and joint seeking But whatever the method beginning by naming our present reality is important Truth seeking in the case of the Jerusalem Council began by naming defending and refuting the interpretative options How does one understand the Scriptures the Law and the prophets How does one interpret the Christ event These are critical questions What is our beginning stance Through New Lens A Digression on Seeing I frequently travel from my valley home to a small retreat facility that I manage in the mountains Yet occasionally I am surprised to see along the way a new house perched on top of a nearby hill Its appearance however clearly indicates that it has long been there Indeed a fellow traveler may confirm its long presence though I may playfully debate whether that is so or not Surely I could not have missed it the hundreds of times I have traveled this way But the truth is I have missed it Reading the Bible is sometimes like that I may have read a passage a thousand times but suddenly I am surprised by a word or a phrase that strikes me for the first time The territory is old but the perception is new It is a gift Seeing what before has not been seen may indeed come as a gift But it may also come as the result of a deliberate search Driving down Rosemead Lane I notice the television repair shop at the corner of First and Rosemead when for the first time I am looking for a place to take my broken set My need or question directs my eyes So also it is with the Bible The Bible Phyllis Trible observes is like a pilgrim wandering through history to which each age brings its particular questions 1 The questions already significantly shape what is seen They direct our eyes in the search So it should not surprise us if we see new things in the Bible when we ask new questions It is not the Bible that has changed We have changed The television repair shop was at First and Rosemead long before I saw it My frequent passing in itself wasn t enough to make me see it Seeing new things then may come by way of a deliberate search or a gift Michael Novak has called these the ascent of the mountain and the flight of the dove 59 The first reflects the disciplined and orderly search for truth analogous to ascending the mountain The second reflects the unexpected 11 and surprising breakthroughs of God s Spirit analogous to the mysterious appearance of the dove Both are part of human experience and both reveal God s will Now the exploration phase of problem solving entails a deliberate search akin to ascending the mountain The question already provides a new lens through which to view Scripture and the tradition Both old and new are linked New lens initially create strain on the eyes We are not always sure what we are seeing Indeed we may resist putting on the new lens at all Initial naming and articulating of what we think we see is a necessary beginning to our communal search The Narrative Phase the Fulcrum Whereas the prior exploratory phase is typical and predictable the narrative story phase is surprising It constitutes an important and critical departure from the usual rational empirical sequences of discussion group dynamics theorists This phase stands at the critical center of the chiasm It is the fulcrum on which the process is balanced It elicits silence and attentive listening It fundamentally shapes the discourse and response that follow The Apostle Peter who apparently has been listening in silence to the debate begins this phase by alluding to his vision in the coastal town of Joppa in which something like a large sheet had descended from heaven filled with unclean animals reptiles and birds A voice had commanded him to kill and eat Peter had refused and the voice had responded What God has cleansed you must not call common Acts 10 15 This vision led immediately to his encounter with the Roman centurion Cornelius in Caesarea and his revolutionary recognition that God shows no partiality but in every nation any one who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him Acts 10 34 35 In the Council Peter simply alludes to this story for all in the Council surely already know it from his previous telling in Jerusalem Acts 11 1 18 Beyond Peter s allusion to his own story he refers to the Jews story of being unable to bear the yoke themselves that they now wish to place on the Gentiles And he concludes by referring to the Jesus story All will ultimately be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus whether Jew or Gentile Silence and listening significant qualities of reflection and thought now characterize the assembly as Barnabas and Paul 12 spin out story after story of the signs and wonders that God has been performing through them among the Gentiles Why then these narratives First because of the very nature of God God speaks and acts These are the essence of story Stories hence are primary data in Christian faith Amos Wilder has put it well The very nature of God as Judaism and Christianity understand it comes to expression in a story as it does in dialogue and drama Wilder 1971 63 The stories told in the Jerusalem Council are special sign signs and wonders stories that signal God s approval for new ways of thought and conduct In rhetorical language they constitute evidence In Novak s formulation portray the flight of the dove They disclose God breaking into human experience in surprising ways They reveal God s will These signs of the presence of the Kingdom of God James Loder prefers to call transforming moments in human experience They are part of the ongoing transformation of human life under divine initiative 1981 12 In communal decision making the narrative phase allows for the stories of these signs to be told Communities as well as individuals may experience transforming as God is revealed through the lived and told stories of the people Stories also serve to unfreeze our positions our habitual ways of perceiving God and the world As the Spirit Dove surprises us with signs and wonders we are jarred into considering new possibilities Peter s vision in Joppa was clearly of this nature He was surprised and his view of God and the Gentiles was forever altered His perception of God s intention for the people was shaped anew So too the stories of Barnabas and Paul were confirmations of new modes of seeing So too are current stories that reveal God at work in human lives both individually and within community Luke T Johnson has written The Scripture will be heard to say the same thing over and over again eternally unless our hearing is renewed by the story being told us now by the Spirit Without the narrative of the experience of God discernment cannot begin and decisions are theologically counterfeit 1983 93 Without the intervention of stories that portray God at work in the world we face a greater probability that our perceptions may in fact be frozen into habitual patterns that may not be truly biblical Habit may be more comfortable but as Gamaliel feared when the Sanhedrin was sitting in judgment 13 of Peter and the Apostles Acts S we could in the end find ourselves actually opposing God Narratives then are powerful in unfreezing our static habitual perceptions of God s will for the people They have the potential not of altering Scripture but of mediating and confirming more truthful understandings of Scripture Finally stories give voice to the powerless Debate is the art of the elite Who can match the apostles and elders in debate over biblical interpretations Stories however are another matter God has made story our common language For God is no respecter of persons but chooses to break into the lived story of persons of all stations of life including most certainly the outsider God is the primary actor in the story of Peter and the stories of Barnabas and Paul in the Jerusalem Council But the Gentiles Cornelius the Roman centurion of Peter s story and the numerous Gentiles who figure in the stories of Barnabas and Paul who are powerless in the Jewish community are also actors These are their stories too But their stories become compelling because they are empowered by God Indeed their stories and God s story have become one Empowered by God the powerless cannot be turned away without denying God s story itself The asymmetrical power relationship between Jew and Gentile has been transformed by God into symmetry In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek Gal 3 28 In time it is often through story as in the Jerusalem Council that the powerless first enter the company of the powerful Narrative precedes presence Stories pave the way If the powerful are able to hear the stories and the stories meet appropriate tests of authenticity physical presence may follow Refusing to allow the stories to be told or suppressing the stories is what the powerful do when they want to maintain control For stories threaten the monopoly of the powerful The Jerusalem Council to its credit modeled silence and listening in this phase of its meeting and so were ultimately able to transcend the limitations of the initial discussion debate Narrative then is the pivotal central phase in this chiastic model of problem solving Stories reveal God s will assist in unfreezing habitual modes of seeing and give voice to the 14 powerless They fundamentally shape what follows as the Council now moves to resolution The Correlation Phase The Principle of Congruency Narratives motivate another look at Scripture In the earlier exploratory phase of much debate the interpretative possibilities are named and their legitimacy tested A human conflict spectrum as I have observed is figuratively formed in which positions are disclosed and defended How to understand the Scriptures is the pre eminent question In the interpretative sequence that now follows the narratives Scripture which remains the normative test of truth again becomes important Experience and Scripture must now be correlated The central question is that of congruency Are the central narratives which appear to be evidencing God at work in the world congruent with the historical revelation contained in the Scriptures In the Jerusalem Council James the leader of the Jerusalem Church clearly articulates this congruency He specifically draws on the Apostle Peter s story and proceeds to show how the story is congruent with the prophets In so doing he quotes directly from Amos 9 11 12 Jeremiah 12 15 and Isaiah 45 21 While Scripture remains normative the intervening narratives have mediated new understandings

    Original URL path: http://www.directionjournal.org/19/2/phases-in-problem-solving-biblical-model.html (2016-02-16)
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  • Direction: Church Leadership: A Historical Perspective
    emphasis of Anabaptists was not on an 22 institutionalized leadership but on leadership which recognized giftedness and which remained accountable to the congregation 19TH CENTURY RUSSIA In Russia in the early 19th century elders and preachers were usually wealthy landowners who had no special training for their task There is little evidence of extensive reading or writing John B Toews says that the elders produced virtually no theological or edifying literature prior to 1860 6 They were maintainers of tradition and establishment The majority of people supported them in this role of maintaining the status quo The main struggle in this early period was not between the role of the elder and the role of the congregation but rather the role of the elder and the role of the Mennonite civil authority Church and state were one in this Mennonite commonwealth It is not surprising that serious conflicts should emerge There were also divisions between elders and segments of their congregations but the issues tended to be not so much the role of the elder as the orientation of the elder with respect to specific issues e g elder Bernard Fast and his progressive views re Bible societies etc By 1850 in the Molotschna the elders had banded together to form a Kirchenkonvent Council of Elders which supervised the religious life of the colony They were conservative and suppressed religious inquiry Each elder supervised a number of congregations which constituted his Gemeinde and each congregation had its own preachers In contrast to elders teachers at first had little respect status and authority But by mid nineteenth century teachers began to have a much more significant status Gradually more and more ministers elders and preachers were selected from the ranks of the teachers The Early Mennonite Brethren Church In the early MB Church the role of the ministry was a key issue not only in regard to the reason for the secession but also in relation to the nature of the conflict in the initial years and in relation to the internal life of the MB Church as it sought to establish itself In the document of secession the old church 23 leaders are harshly criticized for their own lifestyle as well as for their inability to discipline erring members 7 The elders of the old church in turn applied very harsh measures against the secessionists The initial group of secessionists did not include any ordained leaders or persons who had held religious office 8 A number of them appear to have come from the ranks of the teachers although they were obviously without theological training Others were merchants millers or estate owners but conspicuously absent were representatives of the colony farmers who constituted the establishment 9 The church functioned under the guidance of a number of lay ministers although there was also the unique office of administrator Regierer for a time The secession document recognizes two types of calls to the ministry 1 by God alone and 2 by the believers This no doubt was an attempt to protect themselves much like the early Anabaptists from charges that they had no legitimacy The first elders were ordained in 1868 Huebert and 1869 Unger Elders functioned in the traditional Mennonite pattern as superintendents of districts or parishes At the 25th anniversary in 1885 there were four elders in the six main churches and 35 other ministers 10 The role of the elder began to be questioned by about 1900 In 1909 Elder David Schellenberg was deposed from the Rueckenau church According to A H Unruh the Rueckenau church came to the interpretation that all ministers are elders 11 The ministers together functioned as a kind of council of elders and the leader was the first among equals DEVELOPMENTS IN NORTH AMERICA This section will deal primarily with Canadian developments with only brief references to the United States U S and to the entire North American context In the U S the elder system was retained until about 1920 None was apparently ordained after 1919 In general U S leadership developments preceded Canadian developments by about a generation In Canada however according to J A Toews no elder was ever ordained although a number who had been ordained in Russia migrated to Canada e g Franz Friesen in Coaldale 24 The first generation of leaders in Canada after the mass immigration from Russia in the 1920s were men who had already risen to the status of leaders in Russia and were educated in Russia These included particularly men like B B Janz and A H Unruh 12 Janz became leader of the Coaldale church in 1928 Toews characterizes the Coaldale church as one which fostered a vigorous open democracy 13 Church members often admonished and on occasion humiliated their leaders Janz was criticized for a leadership style which was too pompous and unspiritual and for insisting on his own viewpoint But Janz showed a real concern for the church and its witness in the community e g the issue of the Reiseschuld Conflicts within the church were dealt with forthrightly e g disputes over distribution of irrigation water For a time Janz had to give up his leadership position and then resumed it reluctantly later on Circumstances did not allow him or other leaders to escape the tensions of his own church and opt for another Somehow brothers had to learn how to live with one another A H Unruh is characterized by David Ewert as a man whose influence was second to none in the Canadian brotherhood 14 When he was moderator of the Conference he did not necessarily demonstrate competence in executing parliamentary procedures but he did manage to preserve a spirit of brotherliness Ewert also states that Unruh had a deep seated fear of episcopalianism autocracy and that he had the profound conviction that authority was vested in the brotherhood 15 He was irenic by nature and regarded himself simply as one of the brethren His sense of humor

    Original URL path: http://www.directionjournal.org/19/2/church-leadership-historical-perspective.html (2016-02-16)
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  • Direction: Issues in Church Polity for North American Mennonite Brethren
    of today are the Presbyter Bishops of the New Testament In deference to J B Toews he said Every name employed in the Scriptures to designate God s minister implies the idea of superintendency authority and leadership He is therefore to be recognized respected obeyed and supported in his leadership 12 Clearly this was a very high view of the ministers office in the church one wonders whether it is really compatible with a community and or congregational polity Braun s view fits more easily with episcopalian and presbyterian polities Seen in the overall context of Braun s paper his view focused much more sharply on the ministers relationship with God in terms of the ministry than on the ministers relationship with the congregation Church polity however does not normally address the matter of the relationship between God and the church or between God and the ministers At the local level it has to do with the relationship of the ordered ministry to the congregation and in the Conference it has to do with the relationship of leaders to the Conference and of local churches and area conference to the General Conference Braun conceded that in at least three areas the Mennonite Brethren Church had adopted Presbyterian principles in working out its polity He said 1 We believe in councils on the local level and in assemblies on the Conference level 2 we believe in the equality of the ministers 3 we believe in the people s right 13 When he drew together all he had said about the polity of the Mennonite Brethren Church Braun stated By careful selection in the light of God s word and by peaceful blending into one polity much that is good in both congregational and presbyterian polity we have come to a Brotherhood concept of church polity 14 In the light of Braun s comments the current preoccupation 33 in Mennonite Brethren Churches for a bent towards a presbyterian polity is an old phenomenon Braun s paper highlights either the reluctance of the Mennonite Brethren Church to accept a brotherhood polity or its confusion and uncertainty in matters of polity A Formal Proposal on Polity In 1951 the CRC indicated to the delegates at the convention that the denomination had two options on polity It could adopt the association idea or it could adopt the idea of an interdependent brotherhood 15 The CRC noted that the association idea was a convenient idea to which independent churches resorted when they had insufficient resources for the projects they wished to undertake In this way the association became a resource center to which member churches had access The notion of the interrelated brotherhood was based on the principle of an organism where the independence of the individual remains subordinate to the larger body The idea of the interrelated brotherhood grew out of an understanding of interdependence As part of their report the CRC recommended the establishment of a Board of Elders to meet more fully the expressed needs of the churches in the Conference 16 This was a deliberate move in the direction of a presbyterian polity The proposed Board of Elders was to have duties both in relation to the Conference and in relation to local church In relation to the Conference the report stated It shall be the responsibility of the board of Elders after the example of Acts 15 to advise and guide our brotherhood in all matters pertaining to doctrines and church polity 17 In relation to the local churches this Board was to have the responsibility of watching over the spiritual life of the churches and districts Cases of ministers taking doctrinally unsound and unscriptural positions were to be referred to this Board All rulings of the Board would be considered final till the matters could be presented to the General Conference The fact that after three years of review in the churches this recommendation was not supported is an indication that the membership of the Conference had authority over the elected officers A congregational polity rather than a presbyterian 34 polity won the day Polity Development of Institutions and Dissent In the late 1940s the Mennonite Brethren Conference was deeply concerned about Conference unity A number of initiatives were taken to address this matter One of these was the election of a commission to consider and study the practical aspect of a Mennonite Brethren seminary 18 The discussion of the seminary raised two important issues The one had to do with the possible professionalization of the ordered ministry to be dealt with later The other had to do with the right to dissent within the polity of the day to which we now turn In 1954 a resolution to establish a unified seminary was brought forward Before the delegates voted on this resolution the Moderator of the Canadian Conference interrupted the proceedings and announced on behalf of the Canadian delegates that they would abstain from the discussions and that the matter should be regulated as an area issue 19 In terms of polity this action raised the question of jurisdiction Does an area Conference have the right of dissent J H Quiring at a meeting of the CRC in 1958 asked Should district or area Conferences be permitted to come to the General Conference with a ready made decision and vote as a block 20 It is of interest that the minutes record that These questions arose in the minds of Brethren who have been strongly influenced by congregationalism and democracy The records do not show that the question of dissent within the Conference s polity was settled In 1975 a resolution was adopted whereby the ownership of the seminary was transferred from the U S Area Conference to the General Conference As to polity and procedure it is clear from the records that the Conference leaders were not able to institute the joint seminary program until the Area Conferences and the churches within those Conferences had given their consent

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  • Direction: Issues in Church Polity in the Brazilian Mennonite Brethren Church
    the early 1960s to form the Association they immediately began to send missionaries to those regions of the state of Santa Catarina where they themselves had settled originally At first the work was conducted in German as there were many descendants of German colonists in that area But with the trend toward urbanization many families moved to larger cities As a result the churches also became more urban and thus began the process of language transition The population reached by the Association s endeavors belong to a somewhat higher social class than those of the Convention which has affected the issue of leadership One more observation may be helpful During the last decade a number of leaders and prospective leaders were exposed to a trend that has become popular among Brazilian evangelicals the notion that the pastor is the man of God As such he has broad authority to order and command on the basis of biblical principles That view has dented or warped the traditional concept among Mennonite Brethren whereby the church the body participated actively in decision making According to the trend mentioned above decisions are made on top and handed down Without a doubt the pastor is a man of God but certainly not the only one in the congregation and especially as he is not the head of the body My impression is that at least in part this trend is a consequence of attributing excessive merit to spiritual gifts Thus when the proponents of such thinking recognize that they have the gift 41 of leadership they simply assume the right to order and demand According to that interpretation there is no room for a servant leader and soon the church no longer participates or but little in the decisions that are made What have we done What have we planned to do What might be done in order really to discern and practice what the Bible teaches regarding church government In the German ethnic churches the question of government arose with the advent of the salaried pastors Until that time the government had been congregational and democratic But currently on the one hand the churches have a president and council and on the other hand a pastor who cannot be relegated to merely a decorative role A similar situation prevails in the churches that were planted through the missionary outreach of the Association These churches once they are organized and established possess both a natural leadership and an Association missionary who now has become a pastor Because the missionaries were transformed into pastors those churches experienced a series of administrative difficulties Many of the workers did not know how to adjust in order to work with a council or with congregational leaders who formerly had depended so much on them Within the Convention churches perhaps because of necessity or because of external influences the pastor has usually been the president as well As Mennonite Brethren of Brazil we have been aware for some time that

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  • Direction: Affirming the Laity for Ministry
    It is plain no ministry is too humble or exacting if it is done in response to Christ s grace and love This service belongs to the whole church body Clergy and Laity In the church today there seems to be a rather sharp distinction between clergy and laity There is a general perception that the clergy are a type of first class citizen of the church and deserving of special attention The laity on the other hand are relegated to the general second class seating area of this household of faith This impacts how we function Consider for a moment the derivation of these terms The term clergy is derived from the word kleros which means God s lot or heritage Laity on the other hand is derived from laos the people of God Michael Green makes the observation that in the New Testament these words are not contrasted All Christians constitute God s kleros Acts 26 16 18 Col 1 12 and 1 Peter 5 3 Equally all Christians make up God s laos 2 Cor 6 16 1 Peter 2 9 10 5 All believers are both ministers and the people of God This is a foundational insight into the nature of the church The New Testament offers us a church full of God s people who are all significant ministers Frank Tillapaugh an outstanding churchman adds Unleashing our churches and our potential for personal ministry means moving away from the world s fascination with titles and external credentials The only title that really matters is the title of Christ one If you wear that title you have authority as God s ambassador 6 What About the Ordained Those who are ordained are both kleros and laos Their function however is to fulfill the Holy Spirit s gifting and enabling to prepare equip God s people for works of service until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge 47 of the Son of God and become mature attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ Eph 4 12 13 These people gifts who shepherd and lead the congregation through equipping them for ministry are key in the functioning of a vital congregation Exactly how important is this function It is absolutely essential In one sense everything rises and falls on the quality and responsiveness of these shepherds and equippers in the local church When they equip and exhort laity to ministry then the Spirit is freed to bring a new season of fruitfulness to the congregation This leadership however is neither called to be complacent nor authoritarian They are first and foremost Christ s servants and then the people they are called to serve Their dedication is to bring people to maturity anxious to ensure that every member of the Body is working properly so that the presence of Christ can effectively energize the church to evangelize a needy and skeptical world Where such leadership is exercised in affirming equipping and energizing laity for ministry a dynamic church of ministers is fashioned In such a context the spirit of servanthood in the leaders draws out people to risk testing out their own giftings for ministry The godly character of the leaders motivates people to follow and become leaders in their own right The releasing of the various gifted people in the church family unleashes person after person into the calling God has uniquely placed upon them In such a setting ministry becomes a natural expression of lifestyle One layman once observed that ministry boils down to finding a need and meeting it That covers a whole gamut of opportunities in the church and community WHERE DO WE BEGIN Jesus demonstrated three principles for equipping which bonded his disciples into a formidable force in the world His focus was on a small cell of twelve and the ministry formation is clearly described by Mark He appointed twelve designating them apostles that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and have authority to drive out demons Mark 3 14 We know that it was Christ s intent to evangelize the whole world but significantly his strategy was to equip a rather small team of laymen who would then 48 multiply that ministry to all the world It is rather obvious that there are three phases to this strategy as recorded in Mark First He was with them This becomes character formation Having called his team Jesus made a practice to be with them For three and one half years they were exposed to his character his friendship his teaching and his discipline Knowledge was gained by association before it was understood by explanation To John and Andrew he simply invited them to come and see John 1 39 Philip and others received the gracious invitation to follow me John 1 43 This model of Christ was not the Greek style of teaching which consisted of lecture and debate Rather it was the Hebrew model of learning in real life settings This same basic principle is strategic in affirming laity for ministry A congregation needs to function as a multi celled organism where individuals can be drawn into smaller circles of affirmation and ministry development Contrary to what one might expect in the ministry of Jesus as the second and third years came he gave increasingly more time to the chosen disciples not less 7 His whole ministry evolved around them Coleman makes the arresting observation that Christ actually spent more time with his disciples than with everyone else in the world put together 8 When the ordained minister is characterized as the one everyone needs to be with to be equipped counselled and helped then the limitations are obvious Yet it is too often the expectation of congregations that the minister is to do all the ministry to the members and for them It is only as the pastors discern affirm and equip lay leaders to

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  • Direction: Jesus and Women in the Gospel of John
    focus on the way the author portrays Martha John introduces the three characters involved in the narrative in verse 1 It is of note that he portrays Lazarus in terms of his relationship to Mary and Martha It seems likely that in the eyes of the Evangelist both Martha and Mary were more prominent than Lazarus The author obviously expects the story of Mary s anointing of Jesus to be familiar to his readers since he refers to it in 11 2 but has not yet narrated the event itself cf 12 1 8 Jesus names Martha Mary and Lazarus as objects of Jesus love v 5 The only other individual in John of whom this is said is the Beloved Disciple Witherington feels that this implies that Mary and Martha as well as Lazarus were disciples of Jesus 108 Already in verse 3 the narrator encourages us to see Mary and Martha as persons of faith The message they send to Jesus telling him of Lazarus illness hints that they believe only Jesus can deal with their drastic situation Witherington 109 This impression is strengthened when Martha tells Jesus that if he had been there her brother would not have died Martha s response to Jesus assurance that her brother will rise again verse 23 gives evidence of her theological awareness expressing the belief of Pharisaic Judaism in the resurrection of the dead at the last judgement Ellis 186 It is at this point that Jesus attempts to move Martha from her affirmation of traditional eschatological expectations to a realization that he is the one who fulfills Jewish expectations Jesus addresses one of his I am sayings to a woman and Martha responds with a climactic confession of Jesus as the 58 Christ the Son of God who was to come into the world verse 27 Her confession is similar to Simon Peter s great confession in Matthew 16 15 19 which has often been viewed as related to his position of leadership In fact this is the closest parallel to Peter s confession found anywhere in the Gospels The Literary and Cultural Context The story of John 11 is the longest narrative found in the Fourth Gospel apart from the Passion account It is also the climactic sign of Jesus ministry as it immediately precedes the account of his own death and resurrection It is significant that John chooses to highlight a story which makes a woman the recipient of one of Jesus most profound statements about Himself and in which a woman makes an accurate and appropriate response to his declaration The dialogue between Jesus and Martha is one of the most magnificent revelations of Himself which the Son of God ever made Hers is one of the most unreserved confessions Ketter 287 John presents Martha as the ideal of discerning faith Martha s confession is notably fuller and perhaps even more satisfactory than the Petrine confession in John 6 68 69 It is Martha rather than Peter who serves as the Johannine model of discerning and steadfast faith Within a culture which placed little value on the word and witness of women John portrays Martha as an exemplary model of what it means to confess the truth about Jesus Jesus transcends the typecasting of his day and views Martha as a person capable of a perceptive and discerning faith Witherington states The account illustrates the Fourth Evangelist s conviction that women have a right to be taught even the mysteries of the faith and that they are capable of responding in faith with an accurate confession In short they are capable of being full fledged disciples of Jesus 109 Jesus and Mary Magdalene The goal and apex of John s Gospel is reached in chapter 20 1 18 Here we find the ultimate revelation of Jesus identity as the resurrected Christ the Son of God Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb of Jesus in the early morning hours Having discovered the empty tomb she runs to tell Peter and the Beloved Disciple After viewing the empty 59 tomb the Beloved Disciple believed v 8 This is difficult to reconcile with verse nine They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead Paul Minear solves this dilemma by arguing that the belief of the Beloved Disciple was not in the resurrection of Jesus but rather that having seen the evidence himself he finally believed Mary Magdalene s report 127 Since the witness of a woman was not considered credible within that particular cultural context it is possible that John wanted to highlight the Beloved Disciple s belief in the report of a woman Upon encountering the resurrected Jesus Mary is commissioned to tell Jesus brothers the news of his resurrection Mary eagerly proclaims the message of the risen Jesus to the disciples and the disciples believe Mary s testimony This is consistent with John s portrayal of Jesus appearance to the disciples in verse 20 where he does not record surprise or shock on their part The Cultural and Literary Context In traditional scholarship priority has been given to the male oriented tradition of Jesus resurrection appearances preserved in 1 Corinthians 15 1 7 While Paul has nothing to say regarding the witness of women to the empty tomb and the resurrection the Gospels make their witness prominent Frank and Evelyn Stagg state The most significant affirmation of women in the New Testament may well be found in the tradition made prominent in all four Gospels that women were the one to find the tomb of Jesus empty 144 The resurrection is foundational to New Testament faith 1 Cor 15 12 19 1 Thess 4 14 and Rom 10 9 Thus it is significant that Jesus entrusts a woman with the most crucial message of his earthly mission the message of his triumph over death While Peter and the Beloved Disciple are at the tomb in John 20 Jesus does not

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  • Direction: The Pastor's Role in Managing Church Conflict
    permission to be vulnerable in the presence of another without being victimized for it 69 Attend to the thoughts and feelings being spoken so that the speaker gains a sense of being heard Do not give the sense of taking sides with or against the speaker but rather seek clarification both for yourself and for the speaker The second step in developing better communication and group behavior is to help people learn how to clarify perceptions and avoid assumptions The technique I find most useful is to practice and teach the Report Repeat Clarify trio of shuttle communication It can be accomplished in several ways In dealing with two people the three steps can be presented or outlined on a marker board or piece of paper and the pair can be coached through one or two practice sessions of the technique In dealing with a small group of people the steps can again be presented by lecture and illustration People can be paired off for practice sessions using issues and questions prepared by the pastor teacher In dealing with a conflicted group the pastor or process leader can watch for natural pauses in the conversation and then ask R R C questions of the group For example Jim could you say that over again stating specifically what happened and who said what Ann could you repeat for me exactly what Jim said to make sure everyone understands it Sam it seems to me in listening to you that you and Herschel have different perceptions of what happened Can we separate differentiate between your views and Herschel s so we have a more complete picture of what occurred Jayne it seems to me that your view of what happened is based on the assumption that Is that correct Frank my understanding of what you said is that you want to occur for the following reasons and Shane s opposition comes because of Can you suggest one or two ways that both your goals and his can be met without disappointing either of you A third step to be followed in developing better group behavior is to teach people how better to relate to each other Biblical statements such as Philippians 2 4 Ephesians 4 26 and 5 21 and Colossians 3 9 and 15 must be presented as absolute rules of Christian behavior and then explicated carefully and specifically with illustrations and examples In the last several years I have had countless opportunities to follow 70 this counsel in very dramatic and specific ways and it works People really do appreciate that kind of specific help Ways of implementation include Teaching people how to let an initial wave of emotion pass without imputing grave sin to the occasion Helping people understand that feelings are not bad only bad behavior is bad Sin is not in the initial thought it is in the extension of the thought to malicious words and deeds I believe that Jesus internalization of sin had to do with dwelling on the thought not having the initial thought Encouraging people to say something good about another person or event before saying what they don t like about it Show that the Apostle Paul generally followed that rule and then extended it by making critical statements only in constructive and positive ways Showing people that in the biblical narrative collaboration was many times more useful than confrontation in resolving differences Thomas 1988 This however requires that one follow up with teaching on how collaboration works A fourth step in developing healthier behavior in church groups is the process of empowering weaker members of the group to act and to speak forth Empowerment may be either an event or a process but it must be directed toward the individual who does not feel strong enough to participate in the decision making process Some times empowerment is an event During a conversation board or committee meeting or even a group or congregational meeting the pastor or group leader may expedite the inclusion of a shy person in the discussion This may occur either by calling her name motioning towards him during a pause in the conversation or asking for additional comments from those of you who have not spoken yet At other times empowerment may take the form of a process as the pastor or committed lay leader works with an individual in personal discipleship and sometimes in counseling The goal should be the development of personal resources together with courage to begin to participate in group process where they have for too long been silent Empowerment lies in teaching individuals and the whole group the dynamics of group interaction The systems approach to group dynamics as well as family functionality can offer much to the church Being aware of how people react 71 to words and events and how the pecking order affects the flow of power in the church are only two examples of the insights which may be provided by systems theory and analysis Understanding the emotional climate of a group and the impact of different leadership styles upon different people are two others Beyond the need to teach persons in conflict better ways of communicating and relating to one another pastors may also teach people in troubled congregations how to be permission givers Many texts of the Bible call believers to maintain the traditional values and teachings once and for all delivered unto the saints Jude 3 Acts 15 however is the record of a struggle to deal with discontinuity in the midst of continuity It was an earnest and intense effort to sort out that which was changing from that which should not change 1 Corinthians 8 and Romans 14 15 show that the process was not accomplished as easily and with the amount of finality which the church had desired in Acts 15 Growth in grace and in knowledge does not occur quickly for everyone Therefore pastors in troubled churches must model permission giving and

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  • Direction: The Biblical Call to Unity: Implications for Mennonite Brethren
    New Testament imperatives A third possibility is to condone the present divisive situation One may argue that the modern scenario differs so much from the first century that the biblical call for unity is an unattainable ideal which belonged to a different world a world which contained a super spiritual church where miraculous gifts and communal sharing were common While this may appear to be a viable option the picture of the early church which emerges in Acts and in the Epistles simply does not reflect a church that had no struggles with unity The book of Acts records the denominational activities of the Judaizers 15 5 and a group of Hellenistic Jews 8 4 27 11 20ff 26 13 1ff The most well known recorded incident of disunity 80 is that found in the Corinthian community My brothers some from Chloe s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you What I mean is this One of you says I follow Paul another I follow Apollos another I follow Cephas still another I follow Christ Is Christ divided Was Paul crucified for you Were you baptized into the name of Paul 1 Cor 1 12 13 NIV The early church struggled with and was to some degree successful in overcoming impediments to unity There is no New Testament support for limiting the call for church unity to the first century A fourth option is to enter into deliberate interaction and dialogue with Christian groups beyond one s own denominational boundaries with a desire to seek a unity in the knowledge of Christ while recognizing a legitimate diversity of gifts This move could take many forms from active interdenominational participation at the local level to full blown ecumenicalism at the international level The pros and cons of this option as well as the level of involvement which seems most appropriate still need to be explored STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES OF INCREASED ECUMENICAL INVOLVEMENT The first and most powerful argument in favor of increased ecumenical involvement is that the appeal for unity in the body of Christ is a clear biblical mandate Russel Mast in a presentation to the General Conference Mennonite Church in 1960 articulated this conclusion most emphatically It is an appalling fact to say the least that the average Protestant nay the average Mennonite can read the New Testament and yet have such an incredibly weak conscience on the disunity of the church both local and ecumenical 8 The second argument which is often used is that ecumenical unity is an absolute necessity for the effective proclamation of the Gospel A world that sees a church divided into denominations which are unwilling to work together will have a difficult time being convinced that the church is where the 81 God of love and reconciliation is present Once again to note John 17 2 23 unless the Church is one the world will be unable to recognize Jesus relationship to the Father and subsequently his role and mission This is certainly a vital reason for working toward increased unity As Mast states the divided nature of the church constitutes an intolerable handicap to its work and witness to the world 9 Another reason for increased ecumenical involvement derives from the theological understanding of God s oneness which needs to be mirrored in the oneness of his church The Old Testament formulary Hear O Israel The Lord our God the Lord is one Dt 6 4 represents a central biblical affirmation concerning the nature of God The existence of a deeply divided church is an affront to God s nature In addition some have suggested that increased ecumenical involvement creates a fine opportunity to share with other groups particular denominational distinctives based upon biblical truth The ecumenical context allows for dialogue which is often not there when each denominational group is focused inward upon its own concerns J H Yoder advocates this motivation for involvement the conviction that we have a truth which others need should be a major reason for increased ecumenical involvement 10 This giving must also be balanced by an awareness that the ecumenical dialogue can be a context for learning A final reason for increased involvement relates to very practical questions The existence of a myriad of denominations often leads to the multiplication of denominational structures schools mission boards etc which in many cases represent needless duplication Often particularly in missions contexts financial physical and human resources are wasted because of the inability of denominational groups to cooperate On the local level a number of small churches may limp along for years and never consider amalgamation with another Christian group From a practical angle there are some strong arguments for increased ecumenical involvement Although there are compelling theological and practical arguments for increased ecumenical involvement opponents strongly caution about moves in this direction Theirs are often critiques of the full blown form of ecumenicalism and must be considered for validity in that light 82 The first of these is a doctrinal caution Full blown ecumenicalism may lead to an acceptance of only that which can be affirmed by all parties This lowest common denominator is simply not acceptable to many people Moreover even what can be affirmed is interpreted differently by the parties involved The World Council of Churches the foremost ecumenical body in the world defines itself as a fellowship of Churches which accept our Lord Jesus Christ as God and Savior 11 While this statement would appear acceptable to almost every Christian debate over appropriate definition of terms has been vigorous Edward John Carnell is an example of those who are unwilling to compromise here When a decision must be made between unity and truth unity must yield to truth for it is better to be divided by truth than to be united by error 12 The opposite motto of ecumenicalism is where truth and love are in apparent conflict love should prevail over truth as it is imperfectly apprehended 13 This question

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