This week we begin our spring semester for The Master's Seminary and one of our assigned books is The Reformed Pastor by Richard Baxter. This is a timely re-read for me since it deals with the importance of shepherding the flock. Baxter, a puritan from the 1600’s, carries the testimony of ministering house to house to hundreds of families who were in his charge. His life and convictions and testimony are convicting, but translating what he accomplished then into what we do now creates a real question mark for me.
The real question I am always trying to answer with our busy mission is how to actually reach everyone’s needs when there are so many of them up here. Our church, including babies and kids, regularly populate to over 400 people on any given Sunday. It might not seem this big but this is because we meet in different rooms, scattering in different areas of our building for teaching and fellowship throughout Sunday mornings. Our corporate worship is broken up into two services and we have dynamic youth and adult fellowship groups meeting during both. One of the main reasons these fellowship groups gather is simply to meet people’s spiritual needs. Yes, there is singing, teaching and preaching that fills a lot of the time, but what people are really hungry for these days is connecting with each other.
These gatherings make up some of whom I feel responsible for, but there are also many others who call Anchorage Grace their home who join our worship through livestream. How many of you are out there? I'm not sure. We count the media hits from our website, FB Live, and YouTube and this adds up to somewhere between 150 and 200. What does this mean in terms of families? I'm not sure about that either. Then, we have Awana that reaches well over 100 people each week on Wednesday evenings. Then, there is Grace Christian School that goes all week long with sports and events throughout the week and over weekends accounting for 500 plus K-12 students, numerous parent volunteers, several teachers, and administrators accounting for somewhere around a 1,000 people with some kind of touchpoint. Not to belabor this point, but we also broadcast sermons around our city and valley through radio. A small number of AK villages also hear us through repeater dishes from Voice for Christ radio.
So, my question is: How do you shepherd this kind of flock? In Acts 20, Paul gave one of his final exhortations to a group of men classified as the Ephesian Elders. Paul would pass through Jerusalem on his way to Rome where he ultimately would go to prison and be executed. Suffice it to say, this was the last thing these men would hear directly from Paul’s lips. The Spirit had told Paul this would be his last communication to them, so we should assume what Paul said carries weight.
ESV Acts 20:17-21 Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. And when they came to him, he said to them: "You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ." (Act 20:17-21)
From these brief phrases we know Paul’s ministry was both public and private. He addressed these men through preaching (which includes the whole flock) and privately (“house to house”). The broader context tells us that Paul basically lived with these men and this church for three years. He ministered to them night and day and did not hold back anything in terms of biblical content or exhortation. In Acts 20:26 he says he was “innocent of the blood of all!” meaning he left nothing on the table. He told them everything that was on his heart with full integrity.
So, how does this translate into our mission up here? Simply this. Paul made the focus of his ministry on leaders. Specifically, developing men who would lead and would develop other leaders. How did he do this? He preached broadly and then specifically focused private applications from the Word toward leaders in the making. Isn’t this exactly what Jesus did? The three. The twelve. The seventy. The 120. This is always the approach for disciple making that becomes perpetual and perpetuating. This is how we functionally share the load between a lively church and school. I want to invest in ways that result in the exponential growth of disciples. I think we all should have this goal. Jesus’ great commission says as much! We are all called to “make disciples” and as we work together, God’s promise to build his church is being fulfilled.