Monthly Letter – June 2018

Dear Friends

Following Jesus means we’re future-oriented people.

Not that we’re either ignorant or dismissive of the past: far from it – we do what the Lord always calls us to do and remember just what He has done. Always.

We’re lastingly thankful for the grace that He’s shown us in Jesus, for all that He’s wrought by His Spirit in each of our lives, and for all that we owe to our forbears in the faith down through the generations.

But we don’t ever live in the past. We don’t even yearn and hanker for that past. It’s been and gone and we’re not going back.

Nor do we downplay the present, of course. It’s the here and now after all in which we live.

Now is the time of God’s favour, now is the day of salvation,” wrote Paul: not because he’d had an off day and jumped ship and embraced a “Let’s-eat-and-drink-and-be-merry” perspective on life. But rather because he knew very well that we may not have a tomorrow. Today is what we’ve been given. God speaks today. We hearken today. We get the chance to serve today.

And yes, our present enjoyment of God, while partial and far from the pure final thing, has nonetheless given a taste of the age still to come.

All of that’s true. But we don’t put down roots in the present. Not just because we’re pilgrims on the high road to eternity; but because as well we’re warriors on the march. There is work to be done, there’s a war to be waged, there are battles which have still to be fought.

It may sometimes seem (when our lives are being bathed in the Spirit of God and the presence of Jesus is palpably, thrillingly real) – it may sometimes seem as if we’re almost there (as the old song says): but we’re not there yet – and sometimes, in truth, it will seem as if we’re a whole million miles from home.

But that’s where Jesus is headed; and that’s why following Him means we’re always ourselves a future-oriented people. That’s the whole direction of our living.

We’re next-generation people. Thinking down the line. Not just upbuilding the saints of today but equipping the saints of tomorrow.

We sometimes sing the Hillsong praise with the line which runs like this (well, two lines, I suppose, so far as the pedantic are concerned!) –

“I see a generation rising up to take their place,

with selfless faith, with selfless faith…”

But that doesn’t happen – neither, in the first place, a next generation rising up to take their place, nor that next generation being marked by a selfless faith – that doesn’t happen by some sort of wishful-thinking magic, far less by any accident of grace. It happens when we are clearly, consistently and prayerfully intentional in embracing and applying to our life here as a fellowship that ‘next-generation’ perspective.

It’s that perspective which on the broader canvas lies behind the foundational training programme we’ve been seeking to establish with both DCF and Hebron: what I wrote about last month. And it’s that self-same perspective which, on the somewhat narrower canvas of our local life, means we’re now intent on raising up that next generation of leaders here.

A new generation of leaders rising up to take the place, assume the sacred mantle, and embrace the privileged role, of their forbears in the eldership: a new generation of leaders marked by that same selfless faith and that self-same passion to move forward the purpose of God and see the King of glory come again at last.

We call these leaders ‘elders’ here, a term which highlights less their age and more a real maturity of faith, a measured, well-informed maturity in Christ which fits them well for all the varied burdens which they’ll bear, enabling them to handle all the facets of that leadership within the church of God which will secure the well-being and the growth of both the people and the on-going work of Christ.

It’s no place for a weak, faint-hearted faith: it’s no place for the volatile or those who seek to use it as a power base: it’s no place for self-confident individuals who haven’t learned that absolute reliance on the Lord for wisdom, strength and grace. The stakes are far too high. Maturity is required.

These leaders are referred to also as ‘overseers’. This way of speaking of such leaders has to do with what their calling is, the role they have, the task which is committed to their care. These leaders are there to watch over the people of God with a view to their growth in grace: and to oversee the on-going work of the Lord in this place.

‘Shepherds of the church of God’ is how such leaders find themselves described. Or pastors, to use an equivalent term.

And when the Bible speaks of the leaders as such, it’s always against the backdrop of the sacrificial system. Sheep were the fuel on which that system ran. Sheep were pastured and nurtured on the hillsides of the promised land with one great end in view: they were fed and led, guided and guarded, with Jerusalem as their final destination, and the temple as their destiny. The shepherds of Israel were fitting their sheep for the altar. For the priest rather than the butcher. For the spiritual life of the people, rather than for their Sunday (or Saturday!) lunch.

And that’s what all present day pastors are called to be doing as well, as they shepherd the flock of God: feeding and fashioning and fitting the followers of Jesus in such a way that they “offer (their) bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God..” (Rom.12.1).

It’s a role which is tough and demanding, involving the pastor in “admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom” (Col.1.28). And the end in view is clear – it is to ”present everyone fully mature in Christ” (Col.1.28), every believer marked, that is, by real growth – their attitudes, outlook and living alike being conformed more and more to the likeness of Jesus Himself.

It’s akin to the work we might find in a personal trainer, stretching us right to our limits (and sometimes beyond) to get and keep us fit: it’s akin to the work which a physiotherapist does, wisely (often painfully – for the patient at least!) working with a person ‘til that person is restored and fully functioning again.

That’s what these leaders (our elders or pastors) are called by the Lord to secure: the true health of God’s people, and the progress of God’s work.

Why does it matter so much that there is that sort of rigorous pastoral ‘oversight’? For these three primary reasons.

First, to honour God’s Name. It’s life which God has given us in Jesus, and that life finds expression in growth. Always. He isn’t ever honoured by the stuntedness of those He’s brought to life.

Secondly, to advance God’s work. There’s work aplenty which remains to be done and it’s there to be done by the saints. Believers. Not some elite higher echelon of gifted men and women, but each and every person who has come to trust in Jesus for salvation. They need to be strengthened, equipped and empowered to rise to that calling in Christ – and to do the work.

And thirdly, to enrich God’s people. There are depths of experience which infants can never enjoy and which only really our growing into adulthood affords. Infancy is fine as a stage in our lives – but not as a permanent condition: it’s a fullness of life which God means us to know.

That’s what the elders, or pastors, are called to secure – the growth into maturity of those who’ve come to place their trust in Christ. And we’re seeking now to raise up here the ‘next generation leadership’.

We’d like you to make this a matter of prayer, first of all: that as those presently entrusted with the great responsibility of leadership, we’d be directed clearly by the Lord to those whom He is calling to this role; those in whom we see the needful gifts already given (if only in an embryonic form); those in whom we recognize this sort of pastoral ministry being exercised already in the way that they engage with those around them in the fellowship.

You may well wish to offer us the names of those you see as being well qualified and gifted for this task: we’d only ask that in so doing you offer names in confidence, without in any way alerting those you mention to the Leadership Team that you’ve proposed their name. Please recognize the crucial sensitivities involved in this; and speak only to anyone presently on the Leadership Team* – by the 30th June.

What should we be looking for? We’ll be looking at this in more detail in our Sunday morning worship: but you do well to check the ‘criteria’ which Paul himself sets out in 1 Tim.3.1-7 and in Titus 1.6-9. In brief, when we’re looking for the next generation of elders here, we’re looking for men who are marked first by a clear relational maturity (Titus 1.6), then, too, by an obvious personal integrity (Titus 1.7-8), and finally by an evident pastoral authority – evident in their being committed to biblical truth, their being able warmly to commend and apply that biblical truth, and their being quick to contend for that biblical truth in the life and lives of God’s people (Titus 1.9).

And, yes, men! We take the view that there are complementary roles which men and women play within the life of Jesus’ church, like partners combining in ‘Strictly Come Dancing’, and that here in the dance of the gospel that lead’s to be taken by men. We’ll think this through more fully on Sunday 17th June.

But back to where we started and our future-oriented living – and as an integral part of all that, the raising up and nurturing of the next generation of leaders. May the Lord Himself lead us forward and grant us leaders who breathe the spirit of that song to which I alluded earlier on –

Ev’rything I am, for Your Kingdom’s cause.

As I walk from earth into eternity.

May that be the outlook we, all of us, choose to adopt.

Yours in the Lord Jesus Christ,

Jeremy Middleton

 

* Those presently serving on the Leadership Team along with the minister are – Brian Gourlay, Rob Howard, Donald Mackenzie, Richard Moon, Albert Rodger, and Mike Strudwick