Looking again at Scribes and Pharisees
I recently heard a gripping sermon where the preacher described “scribes and Pharisees” as cautious and concerned people, not as demons. We meet many of their contemporaries in our churches today. Some are looked up as pillars of the church, custodians of the faith etc. They are regarded as upright, respected stalwarts of the community. Thinking of my own spiritual journey, I used to keep company with them. I made sure that those who exercise leadership cross their “t” and dot their “i” correctly O how we love to take theological or moral swipes as those who do not sing from the same hymn sheet as us or march out of step with our version of the Lord’s army. And we frown at those who do not do things according to our tradition.
Different perspectives on church growth
When I became more open to the Spirit and allowed him to re-mould my mind-set and values, grace rather than a rigid law governed the way I made my decisions and related to people. It reminds me of the words of a radical Christian friend who said, “Christianity is not about drawing within fixed lines but expressing our faith with a riot of colours.”
My encounters with modern scribes and Pharisees surprisingly lie in the issue of church growth. When I assumed full time responsibilities of Emmanuel Church in 1991 in London, my passionate goal was to grow and multiply our congregation. I longed for it to be international, reflecting the cosmopolitan nature of London. I still recalled an elder coming to me and urging me not to beat the international drum. I was astounded when he brazenly released what he called “hard words”. “If we have more folks coming from the black community, think of how Chinese parents will feel if blacks were to marry our daughters. Do we want to produce a hybrid church?” He was well intentioned. I didn’t see demonic horns sprouting out of his head. His racial prejudice, however, could have easily destroyed the dream of establishing an international faith community. Thankfully he left our church a few months later and our congregation did become international.
How the Church Grows
When we hit 200 adult members mark and with an enlarged property of our own, we chose to grow along the lines of cell groups. We aimed at growing numerically and qualitatively. Cells were not groups that gathered to sing, study the scriptures and to enjoy warm fellowship. They incorporated evangelism and discipleship; each cell adopted the goal of multiplying itself within 15 to 18 months. We were growing. You would have thought that we were all thrilled. But I was receiving complaints from the scribal quarter. “We use to spend at least an hour in group Bible study. What a challenge it was to interpret the passage and getting firm grip of biblical truth. In our new cell agenda, we are only given 40 minutes to study the scriptures.” They were not warming up to the priority of praying for pre-Christians and seeking to win our pre-Christian friends to the Lord. All they wanted was to have their warm fellowship grouping. Then there was a verbal tussle with another church leader. I remembered him accosting me. “I don’t like the cell framework. When we were a church of 150 nearly everyone was invited to a church wedding. We were one close family. Now only cell members plus a few others are invited. Such a pity.” Church growth from conversions and reaching out became a threat for him. He preferred operating in a cosy family-size set up. That was his comfort zone and newcomers made him uncomfortable.
Why one Local Church did not Grow
Close to our church in Westminster is a local Baptist church. The minister had been pastoring there for 50 years. One day, he invited me over a chat. He had just celebrated his 90th birthday. We had been in our new church premises for nearly a year. This old saint grabbed my hand and began to sob, much to my embarrassment. “I don’t get it. Do you think it’s fair? I’ve been serving here in this church for five decades and my church attendance is dwindling. We are fortunate if we get 30 folks to our morning service and 20 to the evening. You have just moved into our ‘parish’ and your church, I learn, is growing by leaps and bounds. See the organ behind you? I turned round. He continued. “We’ve been singing hymns faithfully accompanied by that organ. No guitars. No drums. Besides, I have unswervingly preached from the King James Bible and never shied away from a gospel appeal. And yet our numbers are declining.”
I thought he might ask me why our congregation was growing. But he didn’t. He simply wanted to air his frustrations. After a while, he composed himself. “Thanks for listening. I suppose the bottom line is faithfulness. In the parable of the talents, the master commended two of his servants for their faithfulness, not their success.” I was going to challenge him by pointing out that the Lord commended them for their faithfulness because they were successful. They had invested wisely, worked hard and were therefore commended. I bit my tongue. I felt rather sad for this old pastor. He wasn’t a winner; he was not willing to learn and adapt to effective ways of pastoring.
Both Faithfulness and Success Commended
Reflecting on my life and ministry, I’m so glad that the Lord wired winning and success together with faithfulness in me. I’m a firm believer in Romans 8:37, where the apostle Paul assures us that “we are more than conquerors through Christ”. He himself reminded the Christians in Corinth that his goal was to run, fight and win. (1 Cor.9: 24-27)
Winning does not mean that we have terrific physique nor does it mean that we pray and do nothing else. Stephen Hawking the renowned astro-physicist, given only two years to live in 1964 when was diagnosed with motor neuron disease, did not cave in to his physical limitations. He did not subscribe to the victim complex. In his wheelchair, he continued to write, research and lecture and his book “A Brief History of Time” sold over 10 million copies. What I admire most about him was his ability to inspire and influence countless students to be captivated by the wonder of the cosmos. Many mourned his passing last month; his body is now interred among other famous men and women in Westminster Abbey.
On 4 April this year, millions remembered a great champion – Martin Luther King Jr. He was tragically assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee 50 years ago. Why is his death commemorated? He was a man who courageously fought inbred racism not with the weapons of hatred and violence but with truth and love.
Timely Quotes from Stephen Hawking
Stirring Quotes from Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Winners with Alastair Campbell
Alastair Campbell is well known as the man who helped Tony Blair to launch New Labour and to win three terms as Prime Minister of the UK. He is much sought out speaker and strategy “guru” He spent years interviewing winners in politics, business, fashion and sports. In his book, Winners, he summarises winning traits.
Winners think big and bold. They are ambitious.
Winners have a plan and where possible stick to it.
Winners pay attention to details, knowing that it is in the constant iteration of planning that that winning objectives can best be met.
Winners never give up. They embrace pressures and setbacks,
Winners turn disappointments into progress. They learn from their mistakes.
Winners always want to improve; the desire to improve leads to innovation.
Winners focus on the next win, not on the last one.
Winners know that the physical and the mental are always connected.
Winners have the will to win; this not the same as wanting to win.
Winners care about their reputation and building it never stops.
Winners hate talents being wasted.
Winners hate losing.
Winners win, because they have to.
Campbell noted the winning secrets of Haile Gebrselassie, world champion long distance runner from Ethiopia:
- Use your background
- Use your talent.
- Love doing what you do.
- Have role models.
- Have a good team around you .
- Always maintain discipline.
- stick to a schedule
- Prepare properly
- Focus on your next win
- See the broader significance of winning.
• The recipe for perpetual ignorance is: Be satisfied with your opinion and content with your knowledge.
• The final proof of greatness lies in being able to endure criticisms without resentment.
• Cultivate habits that you are willing should master you.
• We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit.
• We first make our habits, then our habits make us.