For over 20 years I have been a pastor. I am still a pastor. But for the last three years, I have also been a seminary president where we train pastors and leaders for the global church.
In my work, I now get to work with many churches and denominations. We have over 60 denominations represented at RTS! I am often asked what I have learned since I came. Let me share six observations that I think you will find interesting.
First, I have learned yet again, that the gospel is greater than I knew when I started. A disciple of Jesus is by definition a learner. I have learned all kinds of things in a seminary setting, by rubbing shoulders with brilliant yet godly teachers. But I’ve especially learned that the love of God is deeper than I realized. Don’t get me wrong. I knew it was great. It’s just that I am more aware of my need for Jesus than ever. His righteousness, cross and resurrection are more important to me. God’s grace is not just amazing grace, it is stunningly amazing!
Second, I have learned that the church is more wonderfully diverse than I realized. I get out to preach at least two Sundays a month. I preach in small, medium and mega church settings, in Chinese churches, African American, Baptist, independent, Anglican, and all kinds of Presbyterian churches. This is a great privilege that I did not have when I had to preach each Sunday in one place. Can I remind you that there are many wonderful, Bible believing churches out there. It is often tempting to think “our” church is the only true church. But I am an eye witness to the fact that we have many wonderful brothers and sisters in other parts of God’s vineyard. Rejoice in that.
But here is something I cannot rejoice in. Third, I have learned that the prayerlessness of the church is worse than I thought. It is scary how little prayer accompanies most of the Sunday morning worship services I visit. I often wonder what explains the powerlessness of the Western church. My theory is that a great deal of our powerlessness is due to our massive prayerlessness. God’s work goes forward by prayer. But it seems that prayer is usually the last thing we do. We are generally too busy to pray. And it’s showing.
Fourth, I have learned that the culture is turning faster than I thought possible. When I started my pastoral ministry, people would say confidently that we are a “center right nation”—even “a Christian nation.” Now they say we are a “center left nation” and “post Christian.” Things have happened I never thought possible. There has been a huge culture shift where we now pursue, not freedom under God, but apart from him. But hear me. While part of me laments this shift, another part is thankful for the privilege to be a minister of the gospel in a new cultural setting where to be a Christian means something.
Fifth, I have learned that the global Christian movement is more vibrant than I imagined. The hope of Revelation—where a people from every language, tribe and nation worship the lamb around his throne—is coming to pass. I get to spend time with our international students–some training to be pastors, church planters or apologists. I also get to collaborate with amazing Christian leaders from around the globe. Some of the people I met with this week are facing persecution, some are in the middle of wonderful spiritual harvests. But the good news is—God is raising up a global church and you and I have the privilege of partnering with them in God’s mission.
And finally, I have learned that the coming generation of students is better prepared for leadership than I realized. It is always tempting for older people to criticize the younger generation. But I’ve got to tell you—this rising generation of leaders will be uniquely prepared as gospel ministers in a new cultural landscape. They are at home in a digital world. They grew up on diversity and will be more effective in a pluralistic society. Globalization has shaped them to work with a global church. They have a distaste for nominal Christianity. They are passionately serious about truth and theology. When I see today’s students, I know Christ’s work will go forward with strength.
These are some of the things I have learned as a disciple of Jesus over the last three years. What have you learned? Do you ever sit back and reflect, about what God is doing in and around you? As you take a break this summer, my prayer is that we would together grow as disciples and learners of Jesus.