Monday, November 26, 2012

“Roy’s Three Questions” by Garris Elkins

Many years ago, when I was a student at Ministries Institute at Faith Center in Eugene, Oregon, I learned a valuable lesson about sermon preparation from my pastor, Roy Hicks, Jr.

Roy was a profound teacher of God’s Word.  He taught about God’s Kingdom. His focus on Kingdom preaching wrecked me for desiring anything less in my own ministry.

One day in one of our classes Roy said, “There are three questions you need to ask yourself as you prepare to teach God’s Word.  ‘What is God’s heart in the passage? What is the human response? What is the personal application?’”

I will never forget Roy’s words.  Over the years I have studied the disciplines of sermon preparation, like Hermeneutics and Homiletics, and have benefited from these studies, yet those three questions from Roy have had the strongest influence on my life.

Once, Roy gave each of us a copy of his sermon notes.  It was only one page in length.  I thought there would have been more. Embedded in that single page of notes where the answers to his three questions.  I still have those notes.

Today, almost 35 years later, I still teach those same three questions to the young men and women who attend our school of ministry in Medford, Oregon. Roy’s questions have been so impacting because they have caused me to dig deeper into the Word beyond just a commentary level of study. Roy’s questions made me press into the heart of God.  The questions have also made me apply the Word to my own life as I prepare a message each week.  This has been painful at times. I think this kind of sermon preparation is part of the continuing process of incarnation where the Word becomes flesh in the people of God. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

“A Missional Jesus” by Garris Elkins

I have been around the Church-world for many years. I have seen lots of buzzwords enter the vocabulary of the Church.  A current word in our ecclesiastical buzz-a-sphere is, “missional.”  It’s not a bad word – it’s a good word.  In using this word we are trying to get the Church to revisit her assignment and make sure she is tracking with God’s mission.  I have seen the health that has come from this conversation. As I look at our current definition, in some ways, it appears to be a three-legged stool trying to stand with a leg missing.

If you had a friend who had served God and who was about to die by execution, – a beheading to be precise, what would you tell them as they waited to die? What words would you use to assure them they had not served in vain or invested in the wrong things? In other words, what would you tell them so they could die in peace?

John the Baptist was in such a predicament.  He was arrested for telling a political figure that his lifestyle was perverted.  As he waited in prison he began to doubt.  He was sensing his days were numbered so he sent a delegation to Jesus to ask him if he was the One. 

Jesus sent back a profound answer,

“Go back to John and tell him what you have heard and seen - the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.”  (Matthew 11: 4-5)

Of all the information Jesus could have sent back to John, so John could die in peace – this was it.  He didn’t include in his message a statement of things that could be done in human power and strength – good things like painting houses, raking leaves in your neighborhood or doing oil changes for single moms in the church parking lot.  Jesus sent back a functioning definition of a Spirit-empowered Church living in culture.

As I look at the early disciples, and the Church birthed on the Day of Pentecost, I see a missional church that was a supernatural cohort embedded in culture making God known in any and every way possible – good works and the supernatural included.

If you are reading this and you serve in the Church, I don’t mean to step on your toes.  I write this to simply have each of us revisit our definition of what it means to be missional and make sure it includes something of the supernatural dimension that Jesus shared with John along with all the other wonderful works we do in his name.  These elements work together, not in exclusion of each other.

If we don’t revisit and expand our current definition of missional to include something supernatural, we will end up producing a ministry of good works that our local service club could do without Jesus and that would not be a message that would have brought John much peace as he waited in prison.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

2015: A Coming Transition in Leadership – Living Waters Church, Medford, Oregon

(The following letter was given to the congregation of Living Waters Church in Medford, Oregon, on Sunday, November 11, 2012, announcing a coming change in pastoral leadership that will take place in 2015.)

In the fall of 1998 Jan and I were in Athens, Greece.  Early one morning the Lord awakened me and downloaded a word about our future, showing me a twenty-year timeline. The first five years of the timeline revealed that Jan and I would participate in building and rebuilding something. In the middle 10 years, we would see the reason why God had sent us to that assignment. During the last 5 years of the timeline, which will begin in 2015, we would enter a time of transition.

At that time, I thought the timeline was for our next assignment in Europe. In 1999, through a set of God-ordained steps, we found ourselves being offered the pastorate of this wonderful church.  From the very start we have felt God’s hand upon this assignment.

One of the first things the Lord said to me upon our arrival in Medford was, “Start giving this away.” From the start, I knew that in order to give away ministry we would need to function as a team. While I am responsible to lead the church, the pastoral team has always been released to function in their unique and individual callings. God’s plan has been for all of us to come alongside one another as a team, not to function in a top-down structure where the man on top calls all the shots all of the time.

Twelve years ago, I brought Ryan Rhoden on as a part-time Youth Pastor and a short while later he became full-time.  About eight years ago, Ryan came to me with a wonderful vision to develop a school of ministry for young men and women called Anthem. Since that time Anthem has become a vital part of the life of Living Waters.

As I watched Ryan’s leadership skills develop, and saw both Ryan and Kate’s integrity and passion for God, their love for this church and the community, it became obvious God was preparing and commissioning Ryan and Kate to someday lead Living Waters.  This year I released Ryan into a new and increased assignment as Lead Pastor where he functions in an executive role of leadership, handling the daily administrative tasks of the church.

Most church structures are built vertically.  In this kind of structure change only happens when the leader on top either dies or falls off. These situations can be crippling for the potential growth and life of a local church. As we look at church history, all five gifts of Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Pastor and Teacher, are needed to have a strong, healthy and functioning church. 

We have prayerfully desired to rely on God to direct us into the future, raising up and releasing a strong and gifted team who will “equip the saints” to do the same.  We are on a continuum of life expecting increase and change, a sign of transformation and good fruit.

Two years from now, in January of 2015, Ryan and Kate Rhoden will assume the Senior Pastor assignment at Living Waters. At that time we will enter the last 5-year phase of our ministry timeline. After Ryan assumes his new role, Jan and I will continue to function as part of the pastoral team, but we will be released to do other things that come at this stage of life and ministry.

Ryan and I have been talking about this transition for the last 2 years.  Ryan once said, “I don’t want to do this without you.”  I replied, “I don’t want to do this without you, either.” All of us are being invited to enter this season together as a church family, serving alongside each other with love and honor.

The end of the 20-year timeline will come during my 69th year, 7 years from now. At that time God could give us a new assignment.  Whatever that new assignment may be, this valley is our home and this church is our family. It has been and will continue to be a joy and great honor to be part of what God is doing in the life of Living Waters.

“The Push of God has Begun” by Garris Elkins

Recently, I took part in a conference with people attending from all around the world. The worship was powerful.  During one of the morning worship sessions the Lord began revealing to me a developing image of a father’s heart. I saw a father gently pushing one of his children out onto a stage where the child was about to take part in a school play.  He had never been on this stage before. The child began to resist the Father’s gentle push. He was afraid of being abandoned and left alone in front of the audience.

As this image developed I realized this was a word for the Church.  It was a picture of God who was beginning to propel his people out onto the world stage by the breath of his Spirit. Some who are feeling his push are resisting.  They have been given promises in the past that have not yet been fulfilled and they are responding to God out of disappointment and fatigue. 

As this image was taking place, I heard the Lord say,

“I am beginning to push my people into a new season upon the world stage. This push will be a work of my Spirit needed to overcome a reluctance that has developed in your hearts. I will never call you to a new place where I would ever leave you alone and without power.  As I told my servant Joshua, I tell you today, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.’ The stage upon which I am now positioning you is a place complete with everything you will need to accomplish my will.  My presence will be your single resource in this new place. Bring nothing with you. I want your trust to be placed in my presence alone, not in your performance or what has worked for you in the past. I will stand with you in this new place to help you experience the fullness of what I have called you to do in my name.  I have begun a good work in you and this push of my Spirit is to move you to a new place where you will stand confident until my good work is completed in you.”

This is a season of countdown for the drawing of a curtain where things God has promised are about to be seen.  Many have chosen to remain standing in the wings of God’s miraculous stage instead of stepping out onto this visible platform of faith.  It has been such a long time that some have forgotten why they are waiting. They have forgotten the words of their part in God’s play. They don’t remember their cue.  The push of God’s Spirit is coming to launch them out onto God’s stage for a demonstration of His love and power as the curtain of time is pulled back.