Worldview and Discipleship: The Excluded Middle

No Shortcut to Success
No Shortcut to Success

Since the second day of T4G 2022, I’ve been reading no shortcut to success, and I have been loving it. But chapter 8 took things to a whole other level as it addressed worldview and discipleship. There is just so much in it to commend to you, my reader.

Getting There

More than once I’ve heard it said that if you can only read a part of this book, read chapters 1-3. And those first few chapters, where Matt Rhodes lays out the issues he is seeing on the field, are great. They are clear, helpful, challenging. But more than anything, I reached the end with a feeling of, “A ton of this applies not only to missionaries, but to pastors and elders here at home.”

Mark Dever, in the forward, suggests, “Particularly important are chapters 2, 3, 6, and 9.” (p.14) And for sure, chapter 6 is important, articulating the need for clarity in proclaiming the gospel and, especially, taking the time to learn the language. Being a language nerd in the extreme, I needed little encouragement to the importance of this task for the missionary. And had I found a quote to share, it could easily have been ignored; “Of course he would say that!”

But, despite Dever not highlighting it, I want to draw attention to chapter 8, with the following quote:

According to missiologist Paul Hiebert, missionaries often succumb to the “flaw of the excluded middle.” In other words, they address people’s “lower” needs – things like disease that are seen, felt, and experienced – and their “highest” needs – things like answers to life’s most important questions. In doing so, however, they ignore a vast “middle” of people’s worldviews. For example, what about things like “mana, astrological forces, charms, amulets and magical rites, evil eye, evil tongue”? On these topics, people are generally left undiscipled. It isn’t difficult to imagine a similar situation in which one’s “highest” beliefs about God and the afterlife were more or less correct, but one’s fundamental “middle beliefs” about money, power, sexuality, other ethnicities, alcohol, and the worth of women were confused, at best, and downright depraved at worst. Perhaps we don’t even have to look too far in some of our own churches to find such cases.

p.180

I just had to stop reading there for a moment. This is the struggle churches and pastors face every day. We have a culture (here in the US) that has been, to a great degree, saturated with the rough outline of the gospel, but knows little of its implications. The world is enamored of the “lower” message and how the church can get on board with their humanistic agenda. Any time the church deviates even the slightest from this focus, it risks losing the world’s attention, or more, its commendation. And so many churches are content to earn the applause of the world by “meeting people where they live.”

The Excluded Middle

And all the while, there is this “middle.” What does our culture value? What are some cultural assumptions and expectations, the axioms that drive how we think, talk, and act? The following values quickly come to mind:

  • Performance
  • Results
  • Fame
  • Youth
  • The American dream
  • Freedom and autonomy
  • Privacy
  • Self-esteem
  • The Individual

Each of these left to itself can wreak havoc on gospel proclamation and cause real needs to go unmet. Worldview colors the way we relate to one another, the way we make decisions as a body, the way we hold one another accountable, and the way we worship. It affects who we invite into our lives and who we reject, who we listen to and who we won’t.

On the mission field, no less than here, the goal ought to be churches being built up, whose members are growing in holiness. They are being discipled into mature believers. And the danger is we may skip this for sound bites and numbers (Performance? Results?). Because discipling worldview takes time and is messy. Or maybe we believe that worldview will work itself out. Or that we can avoid having a run-in with the world and its systems if we just stick to “the gospel.” But the gospel includes worldview! As much as we neglect the hard and long work of worldview discipleship, we neglect to actually teach them “to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 18:20)

As a pastor, it definitely gives me pause.

To Love Those To Whom We Preach

I am absolutely loving the 40th Anniversary edition of Preaching and Preachers, by Martyn Lloyd-Jones. His writing is passionate, clear, and helpful for anyone considering or engaged in the task of preaching. That’s not to say I wouldn’t quibble here and there – his comments on lay preaching (pp.113ff), for example – but overall, I’ve definitely benefited from considering the task of preaching and pastoring through this shepherd’s eyes.

As he begins to deal with the act of preaching, and what sort of character and attitudes should go into it, I was particularly struck by “urgency”. This is an area where I can certainly grow, allowing the message to both work on me as I prepare, and then work in the delivery so that the body recognizes deep down that this is not just more information, but necessary for their spiritual health and walk together as a body.

But for all that, the following caught my eye, as Lloyd-Jones deals with “pathos and power”:

Preaching & Preachers

Richard Cecil, an Anglican preacher in London towards the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth said something which should make us all think. ‘To love to preach is one thing, to love those to whom we preach quite another.’ The trouble with some of us is that we love preaching, but we are not always careful to make sure that we love the people to whom we are actually preaching. If you lack this element of compassion for the people you will also lack the pathos which is a very vital element in all true preaching. Our Lord looked out upon the multitude and ‘saw them as sheep without a shepherd’, and was ‘filled with compassion’. And if you know nothing of this you should not be in a pulpit, for this is certain to come out in your preaching. We must not be purely intellectual or argumentative, this other element must be there. Not only will your love for the people produce this pathos, the matter itself is bound to do this in and of itself. What can possibly be more moving than a realization of what God in Christ has done for us? Any attempt therefore to consider and to understand it should move us profoundly.

Preaching and Preachers, pp. 105-106

As we inch closer to Easter, its a good reminder that those who are elders and pastors are under-shepherds. We must be diligent to emulate the Great Shepherd, to learn true compassion from its source. We must not forget to love as we strive to persuade. And as we grow in skill and confidence, we must not founder in care. For certainly, the sheep will smell out the fake.

-redbeard

On Pastoring – Guard The Bank

On Pastoring

Lately, I’ve been reading On Pastoring by H.B. Charles, Jr. a few minutes each day. It has short, powerful and incisive chapters that are perfect for quick reads while waiting for other things to complete. In any case, the following from yesterday caught my attention:

A new pastor began his ministry with the key leaders of the church board. The church board members introduced themselves and told the new pastor about their area of ministry. Each department leader proceeded to tell him what was expected of him, stressing the importance of their department, and making it clear that the kingdom of heaven was at hand only if the pastor devoted his chief energy to that department. The long series of speeches and the tension-filled atmosphere made it impossible for him to give a detailed reply to all he heard. So when the series of priority-shaping speeches finally ended, the pastor stood up and said, “Thank you for your advice. I will try to please you all, but I shall try most of all to please God.” He then prayed and ended the meeting.

This is what it means to guard the bank. Do not allow yourself to be distracted by secondary things. Do not use your strength to climb a ladder that is leaning against the wrong wall. Do not spend your energy running in different directions at the same time to please people. Focus on the things that spread the gospel, build up the saints, and glorify the Lord.

On Pastoring, p.67

He goes from there to looking at Acts 20:28-31, reflecting on Paul’s own attitude along these same lines. It is just so easy to get caught up in “good” things, and allow the main things – the bank – to get robbed. The attempt to please everybody, especially, tends towards distraction, and ultimately, failure to accomplish the task actually before us. Pleasing our Lord Jesus comes first in the task of pastoring, as it does in any other endeavor. It is no wonder our church articulates “Treasuring Jesus Christ” as our first mission!

And with that in mind, pray for me that I will be focused and diligent with the things God has put in front of me. I pray you too will treasure Jesus Christ today, and serve him first and most.