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Singing for Apprentices?!

  • 29 August 2017
  • MinistryLift blogger

"Why are you going to seminary to study worship? All a song leader needs to do is open the hymnal and choose 3 songs." 

My aunt said this to me just before my family and I moved to Eastern Mennonite Seminary in 1994. I was pursuing a church leadership degree with a focus on congregational worship and music. My wife and I have often chuckled about her words. Yet they stay with me for two reasons. First, I'm sad that my aunt didn't understand what I wanted to learn. Second, I think congregational singing is often an underappreciated means of forming one another as Jesus' apprentices. 

In November, Mennonite Brethren from across Canada will meet in Abbotsford for the biennial Equip Study Conference. This year's theme is "Transforming Discipleship." According to the preparatory materials, "A growing disciple is one who is being transformed in such a way that the deeds of Jesus, done in the power of Jesus, become an increasingly natural way of life." Simply put, a disciple is an apprentice of Jesus. 

According to Paul in the New Testament, believers gather regularly to build up the church and each other (1 Corinthians 14). Another writer teaches that believers meet to provoke each other to love and to do good deeds; they also meet to encourage each other (Hebrews 10:24-25). Since singing has been a part of Christian meetings since the church began (cf. Ephesians 5:19a), I'm prompted to ask, "How does singing build up the church? And how does singing train apprentices?"

Pastoral Care as Discipleship through Life's Challenges

  • 24 August 2017
  • MinistryLift blogger

As I sat in church, I saw her: burden showing on her face with tears gently flowing over her cheeks. I moved quietly from where I was to sit at her side and said, "Can I help?" This woman was not new to the congregation—not a seeker, but a longtime member. The sadness in her eyes matched her sorrowful words as she said, "I don’t think I can tell anyone in church what is really going on in my life." 

A heaviness came over me and lingered with me as I reflected on the depth of what she was saying. This woman feared sharing her burden with believers. How could that be? In the times of life's great challenges, we need to be drawn not just to the house of the Lord, but to the community of believers. Pastoral care—the demonstration of Christ’s compassion—should be found within the community of faith.

Charles Gerkin wrote of the need to rediscover the congregation as the primary agents of care for the members, saying that "in a sense, we who have from generation to generation made up the Christian community have always known that the primary source of Christian nurture and care lies in the gathering together of God's people" [1]. Gerkin asserts that while knowing this, we as a community of believers have given the dominant emphasis of this ministry to the ordained. It is important therefore for each of us as believers to remember that the term pastoral as used in our Judeo-Christian tradition has a communal connotation denoting the care of the community for its members. Ronald Sunderland states, "It derives from the figurative language of Jewish scriptures and, supremely, from the Lord's care of Israel (Psalm 23, 80)" [2]. 

As I sat with the woman who was burdened by life, could I enter her story, hear it for what it was, and demonstrate God as not only present, but active in her life? Could I enter in without the platitudes or the rush for her to claim victory? Could I just be with her in her challenge until she could see her burden in Christ's hands?

How to Incorporate Accountability into Your Discipleship Approach

  • 9 August 2017
  • Randy Wollf

two women talking and listeningReggie McNeal has said, "Genuine spirituality lives and flourishes only in cultures and relationships of accountability" [1]. If this is true, and I believe it is, then accountability must be an essential element of our disciple-making strategies.

According to Dr. Dave Currie, accountability is "the volunteer surrender of your life to the regular and frequent scrutiny and encouragement of another person for the purpose of ongoing life transformation that brings glory to God" [2]. 

Currie believes that this kind of accountability helps people get perspective on current problems. It paves the way for support in tough times. It provides a consistent challenge to grow. It helps keep us focused on the future and to take necessary next steps in our personal growth. In the words of Bob Proctor, "Accountability is the glue that ties commitment to the result." 

Now, it's important to realize that the most effective forms of accountability combine loving graciousness with tenacious and consistent support. Accountability should not be legalistic or brutal. It's meant to provide just enough pressure to initiate and sustain growth at an optimal pace.

So, what does accountability look like? It's simply discussing what's going on in your life. What are your current struggles? What are the possibilities that excite you? It's talking about the emotions that you experience, particularly those that are recurring emotions. Accountability provides an opportunity to explore our primary relationships. It's a place to ask hard questions.

In his book entitled Cultivating a Life for God, Neil Cole shares a number of accountability questions that people can ask each other in what he calls "Life Transformation Groups"—groups of two or three Christians that meet weekly to help each other grow in their relationship with God. Cole includes the following questions from James Bryan Smith and Richard Foster: