Apprentice Lesson 1: The Bible is essential for Christian ministry.

After I became a Christian in January 2007, I came across this song on Youtube, and had never heard anything like it before.  I downloaded it as soon as I could on iTunes, and played it over and over again, just because I concurred with its sentiments.  Please have a listen.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cr90nKpiGi8

I haven’t come across anyone who also likes this song.  You may have found it cacophonous and grating on the ears.  You may be cringing because you don’t like rap or grime, or you generally find it cheesy, aggressive or even offensive.

The song doesn’t explicitly say it, but I reckon Simply Andy and the rest of those rappers wouId agree with me:  The Bible is God’s word.

And that’s said a lot in Christian circles.  I’ve heard it countless times whilst growing up and at university.  It’s probably one of the first Christian sayings I started spouting when I first became a Christian.  For years, I knew in my head that the Bible is God’s word.  But not in my heart.  Last year, God opened my eyes to truly see how vital His word is in each believer’s spiritual walk, in gatherings of God’s people and in our evangelism.

God’s word saves rather than human philosophy

My realization was a slow process.  The scheme I did had two training sessions every week.  These focused on both doctrinal and spiritual issues with people from the staff team, and examined a book of the Bible over several weeks.  We led Bible studies and gave talks for other apprentices, and of course, received feedback from the student workers.  That was on Monday morning and Thursday afternoons.  The rest of the week was spent preparing for those sessions, preparing for our weekly student Bible studies and our student leaders’ own Bible studies, our second ministry area (mine was teaching 6 to 8 year olds in Sunday School) and our meet-ups with students over tea or coffee.  And the rest of the time we had left over from that was spent mostly with other believers, often with the Bible open, discussing issues and grappling with passages’ meaning.  And finally, our own personal times of prayer and reading the Bible.  This probably meant that each day, I read or talked about the Bible for about ten hours.  I loved the Bible before the scheme, but loved it even more from this daily saturation.

That heart realization of how essential the Bible is, happened a few months after the start of the scheme.  I listened to a series of evangelistic talks aimed at non-Christians, and was deeply saddened and furious after the first one.  And unfortunately, I couldn’t escape listening to the rest of them.  (I had to literally sit on my hands so I didn’t face palm.)  I had only felt like that once after a Christian talk before, and I’ve heard many over the last few years, at CU, at churches, camp  and conferences, with different approaches, styles and varying timings and depths of analysis, without having a problem with any of them.  Yes, I’ve felt a bit disgruntled with some of the talks, but this was different.

Meanwhile, I had started preparing 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5, for my first talk to give to the other girl apprentices.  At first the passage made no sense to me.  But having listened to these talks and prayed and reread and reread and reread the passage again, I realized why I felt so angry.

I highly recommend you read the passage for yourself, but to save you a bit of time, Paul is writing to the Corinthian church about God’s wisdom and the world’s wisdom.  The Corinthian church thought they were great because there were many among the Christians who were deemed wise by worldly standards.  That church lived in a culture where philosophy was highly prized.  Just like scientific and philosophical academia is highly prized and valued by our society today.  But Paul had some bad news for them.  Worldly philosophy and academia does not enable anyone to know God.  Paul says in verse 21: ‘The world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.’  The world (us) cannot be saved through intellectual debates, discussions and philosophical arguments.  It’s by hearing God’s voice.  It’s by responding to the news which seems like foolishness.  That Jesus, who came to save the world, in verses 24 and 30, is God’s wisdom.  And how can we hear about this news? By opening up what was recorded by eyewitnesses – by hearing what Jesus says: reading the Bible.

So I wasn’t furious with the speaker because of his poor delivery.  It wasn’t because he used philosophical arguments too complex for people like me to understand.  It wasn’t because he wasted time so the question and answer session was basically non-existent.  I was furious because the speaker did not open the Bible at all.

With this new understanding, I realized how easy it is for any Christian to disregard the Bible and instead lean on their own wisdom.  I vowed I would never do that, and tried to work as hard as I could with my talks from 1 Corinthians for the rest of the scheme, striving to get to the heart of what each passage said, and not just saying what my initial thoughts were.  I also realized how key opening the Bible was in evangelism.  That’s why UCCF’s Uncover is a fantastic resource.  It exposes the reader to God’s wisdom (Jesus Christ), and provides the way for those who don’t know him to be saved.  Philosophical and scientific arguments do not save the unbeliever.  Jesus does.

But God decided to teach me even more over the next few months.

God’s word doesn’t change

I mentioned in my introduction that I found last year tough.  And when I worked out that I shouldn’t go into further ministry training after that year (unless I drastically changed in temperament), I worried a lot about the future.  As an English graduate, there was no clear route for me to follow.  I didn’t know what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.  All I knew was that I wanted to go into secular work, but live and speak for Jesus, and use what I learnt this year to serve at a Bible-focused, gospel-centred church in the UK.

In May, I seriously considered leaving the scheme at the end of the month.  I knew I needed to apply for work experience, internships and entry-level jobs as soon as possible, but got discouraged when I saw that the ones which interested me started straight away.  There was one week where I felt physically sick and couldn’t go into work, because thinking of the next steps had made me so unwell.  I felt like my head was bursting with enough knowledge about God and the Bible and how to do ministry to stay for much longer.  I wanted and planned on telling my supervisor about this decision.

And then we reached John 20 in our student leaders’ own Bible studies.

I’ve always felt sorry for Thomas, who was told off by Jesus for not believing He had risen from the dead.  And I shared this with my group at the start of the study.  However, as the evening progressed, I started to see that Jesus was absolutely right to rebuke Thomas for doubting.

A few weeks beforehand, we had just finished looking at the Upper Room Discourse (John 13 to 17).  This is where Jesus said many things to the eleven disciples (i.e. the apostles) before he is arrested and crucified.  One big thing is about Jesus leaving and the Holy Spirit coming instead:

  But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin,because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.

12 I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:6-15, ESV)

(I know it can be tempting to skim over large chunks of quotations, but please don’t.  Otherwise it’ll be really hard to understand what I’m trying to say next).

At first thought, it can seem lame that Jesus isn’t here with us today.  And the disciples were feeling the same way about Jesus leaving them.  But in verse seven, Jesus says it’s to the disciples’ ADVANTAGE that Jesus leaves (!)  Though Jesus is God’s Son and is very powerful, He’s only been able to appear to and convict the people of Israel, some Samaritans and anyone who was in Jerusalem at that Passover time.  But in verse 8, Jesus says the Holy Spirit is going to come to help them, to convict the WORLD of their need for Jesus to be rescued.  So many more people than those Jesus was able to reach out to physically.  The apostles NEED the Holy Spirit, because they literally cannot take in everything Jesus is saying (verse 12).  They need to be given the Holy Spirit to know God’s plan (vv 13 and 15).  The apostles have this special role, to be reminded of what Jesus said to them through the Holy Spirit, so they can spread the word (literally).  The truth about sin, righteousness and judgement (verses 8 to 11).

And in John 17, when Jesus prays to the Father, he explains what the special role of the apostles is:

 “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. 11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.[a] 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them[b] in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself,[c] that they also may be sanctified[d] in truth.

20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.

From looking at the whole of chapter 17, the disciples are the people in verse 6.  They have been given Jesus’ words from God.  His words have been passed onto them.  And everyone else who follows Jesus afterwards will believe in Jesus THROUGH the apostles’ word (verse 20).

And what is the apostles’ word?  Well, it’s all of the New Testament.  The New Testament has the apostles’ stamp all over it.  It’s made up of their eyewitness testimony of people who knew the apostles recorded down by scribes, apostles’ letters to churches, and writings of people like Paul, who were wholeheartedly recommended by the apostles (2 Peter 3vv15-16).

So when the disciples saw Jesus and passed the news onto Thomas, they were carrying out their role of passing on the word about Jesus’ plan (John 17v20).  Jesus gave the apostles’ testimony authority.  The fancy name for it is apostolic testimony or apostolic witness.

So Thomas had forgotten that future believers would believe because of the apostles’ words.  He needed to be rebuked.

And it sounds like a weird thing to be encouraged by, but it makes sense of Jesus’ famous statement: Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29, ESV)

Those of us who believe and follow Jesus now that he’s no longer here, aren’t worse off than those who had the privilege of walking, talking and eating with Him.  The apostles’ testimony is God’s word, passed onto the apostles, and passed onto us, with nothing diluted or missed out.  And historically we can be sure of this from the manuscript copies of the New Testament, with very few discrepancies between them (compared to other ancient texts).

So when we read the New Testament, we are truly reading God’s Word, and therefore hearing God’s voice.  We are BLESSED indeed, not worse off or at a disadvantage. 

This revelation made me so excited towards the end of the study.  All thoughts of quitting the rest of the scheme fled instantly.  With this in mind, I saw how much of a privilege word ministry is.  Because Jesus kept and referred to much of the Old Testament, and is 100% God and 100% human, this applies to the Old Testament as well as the New Testament.

When we open the Bible, we are hearing God speak. The books of the Bible are not just historical documents, but also supernatural.  When we open the Bible, God is speaking to us and into our situations.  And as one of his millionth followers, when I open up the New Testament, I hear exactly what Jesus said to his first followers.  Nothing has been tampered with, and it still has the same power as when Jesus first spoke those words.  And his words are EXACTLY the same because the Holy Spirit is powerful enough to bring to mind EXACTLY what Jesus said.  I could not stop talking about this realization for the following month, as it ensured that I saw the rest of my time as an apprentice as a real joy and privilege, and not a chore.

God’s word – highly valued today?

As a result of these lessons God has taught me about His word, I want to stand up for the position of the Bible in the church today.  I’m so encouraged by the churches in the UK who prioritize teaching the Word over other elements in services.  However, I look around, and see that God’s word does not take priority in many other churches.  Music (I’m not going to call it worship because that term is confusing) is one thing which holds great influence over choosing a church to settle and be happy in.  Also the ‘vibe’ – the feeling of a church, is something people try and get right.  There are other things too which seem to take precedent.

But the supposed gifting of worship leading is barely mentioned in the Bible.  How a believer should feel or what they should experience emotionally at a gathering of believers isn’t mentioned in the Bible either.  It says nothing in the Bible about a gathering of God’s people having to be relevant to our culture, or high-tech.  And it also says nothing about being traditional or sticking to a certain format.

What is a constant theme throughout the Bible is God and His word.  At His word, Creation is formed.  And God tells the apostles to listen to Jesus (Mark 9:7).  In Acts (which we’ve been looking steadily at since September 2013), what is the more frequent is not the varied miracles, but the pattern of God’s church growing.  People sent to preach the Word, people responding, people joining the church, being encouraged to stick with Jesus or wanting to kill Christians.  That is the way the church grew, and how it is truly growing today.

So do we prioritize God’s word in our lives?  Even if we go to a church which highly values God’s word, is it forefront in the way we live?  Do we value it and treat it as God speaking to us?

To answer my own question, I personally don’t think I treasure God’s word in my life as much as I ought.  Even though last year I learnt so much about the supremacy and power of God’s word, when I’m in trouble, or feeling sad, I’m more likely to turn to music, or a trusted friend, or a TV show, to make myself feel better.  And as my generation slowly but surely stops reading books and turns to the internet, TV and films for entertainment and every-day-knowledge, it is harder to truly enjoy reading books at all, or even make time for it.  Even if it is God’s word.

And regarding ministry last year, I dread to think what would have happened if I didn’t open the Bible at all.  I’m not dissing giving sensible advice or being there for someone and having a cup of tea with them and listening to what they have to say.  It’s important to care practically for brothers and sisters.  But compare my wisdom with God’s wisdom.  Surely God’s wisdom is better! And by not opening the Bible with a brother or sister in Christ, I’m not just choosing to do ministry in a different style.  I’m not doing Jesus’s ministry at all.  I’m not letting Him get a word in edge ways.  I’d be doing MY ministry: aiming to make them feel better, and not allowing Jesus, who is God’s wisdom, to speak into situations and lives.

That is what truly matters in this church today.  We must not shut off God from speaking to us by closing our Bibles and trying to pursue new ways to hear him speak.  The apostles’ testimony, recorded for us in the New Testament, is how Jesus has chosen to fulfill His plan to rescue the world.  We must uphold and trust Jesus that His word we’ve received from the apostles’ is sufficient to grow and strengthen His people, and add more brothers and sisters to God’s household, while we wait for Jesus’ return.

Do you agree? I would love to hear what you think in the comments below.  Next time, I’ll be looking at what I learnt about handling the Bible itself.  Watch this space xx

Go back to the Introduction

Advertisements

What I learnt as a Church Apprentice: Introduction

Dear Readers,

From the end of August 2013 to the end of August 2014, I worked as an apprentice at a large church in London.  I originally applied at the start of my final year of university (which seems like a lifetime ago), to see if going into full time Christian work was God’s plan.  I also wanted to learn how to lead Bible studies.

In all honesty, I found the year tough.  I spent the first six months often thinking (mostly to myself) that the church had made a terrible mistake in letting me work for them.  And then I often spent the rest of the year yearning to be in a secular workplace instead.  Not all the time, but fairly often.

Yet at the same time, it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.  I know I’ve learnt and grown so much, because I now feel like a very different person.  I’ve loved reading the Bible by myself and with others AS MY JOB. And I’m so thankful for getting to know more brothers and sisters in God’s household, who have become very dear to me.  And it’s been such a privilege to see God at work in wonderful ways in my and others lives.

I’m planning on sharing what I’ve learnt on here regularly.  Why?

1) I think more Christians should know what working for a church is like.  I personally think that there are misconceptions about Christian work which need to be addressed and corrected.

2) I want to record as much of this down for posterity before it all disappears from my brain.

3) This is a perfect excuse for me to blog regularly, now that I have more time.

4) I want to encourage and build up my brothers and sisters in the Lord.

5) I want those of you who don’t follow Jesus to learn more about Him and His church.

DISCLAIMER (Please read this):  What I write is from my own personal experience.  It’s not representative of every person’s experience of undertaking a year of Christian work.  I haven’t named the church I worked at for the sake of my own privacy (if you know me, then you’ll know which church it is anyway).  It’s also so no one can accuse me of libel (though I have very little to say which is bad about this church).  I don’t know everything about Christian work.  I’m not always right.  I’m not perfect.  I’m a very unique person (yes, everyone is unique, but me more than others).  I am sinful, but through God at work within me, growing more and more like Jesus as the years progress.  For that I am indebted to Him and very grateful for His kindness and goodness to me when I don’t deserve it.

Hopefully I’ll be able to share these insights regularly on here for the next couple of months.  Please feel free to comment, send me a message about them or share the posts with others.  I’d love to hear what you think.

Keeping you posted,

Immy x