It’s been great to receive so many feedback emails from you, and in this episode, we thought it would be great to answer some of the questions that you raised. We’ll catch up on a whole bunch of interesting questions about evangelism, culture, ministry, and the call to ministry.
We hope you enjoy this discussion.
Special Q&A Episode
TP: The first question is from David. He's been reading your book The Coming of the Holy Spirit, and he quotes from it, “It was the spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ who brought me from death to life, just as He brings every Christian believer from death to life. Such an understanding has all manner of implications for our evangelism. But most of those belong to a different book” (pp 233). David’s question is, “I wonder what those implications are for evangelism that he had in mind for a different book. Has that book been written? And if not, could you talk about what those implications might be?”
PJ: Well, it hasn't been written yet, but the implications, I think, are enormous. We really need to see that the work of evangelism is a spiritual work. It's not an intellectual work. It's not even a moral work. It's the spiritual warfare that Ephesians 6 speaks of, that as we preach the gospel of the Lord Jesus, it is the Spirit who does the great work. Remember Jesus speaking to the rich young ruler, and the disciples after that conversation, and how they thought, “Well, if the rich can't be saved, who can be saved?” And Jesus says, “With men it is impossible, but all things are possible with God.”
And that is an important first step for an evangelist–the impossibility of ever seeing anybody converted and yet the possibility of God converting people. You won't engage properly in the job if you don't understand those two things. But there are other implications that then help me with the role and place, for example, of apologetics, because in the end, it is not my reasoning that is going to persuade someone, it is the work of the Holy Spirit. That is why, I think, being faithful to teaching the gospel itself and explaining the word itself is more important than reasoning. Using apologetics and reasoning is all very good, but it stops lots of Christians from evangelizing because they're terrified they won't have good arguments or put it across properly or answer objections, when in fact, it's the Holy Spirit changing the heart of the listener, as the word of God is faithfully declared (aka evangelism), and not by the capacity for winning debates.
Indeed, it saves a sinful person like myself, who likes to win debates, from using evangelism as a place to express my sinfulness of winning debates. You can win debates and lose people. The sense of failure or the sense of success, either one is bad. When I don't see anybody converted, I go away saying I'm not much of an evangelist. When I see people converted, I go away saying I'm a great evangelist. But when I understand that it is the Spirit of God that brings people to new life, and not the cleverness of my preaching or the profundity of my arguments, then failure doesn't exist, and success doesn't exist. I rejoice that people come to Christ. I mourn when people don't. But it's not about me. It's about them. It's about God's work in their lives.
And it also shows me that whomever I’m speaking to, they're never beyond the possibility of salvation. So I don't just preach to the people whom you would think have a big chance of coming to Christ, but also to those whom you think have absolutely no chance of ever coming to Christ. One of the things I've noticed over the years actually, is that some of the people I've seen converted have been the most fierce opponents whom no one would think would become a Christian. The spirit is more powerful than their willfulness. So there are lots of implications. There's just a few that I've rattled out for you, because I haven't written the book yet. But as you stop to think about them, it's really important that we understand that it's the Spirit's work, not ours, and it is he who is working through us.
TP: The passage that springs to mind is 1 Corinthians 1-2, where Paul makes a point of the fact that for many people, the gospel is not impressive; it appears weak, it appears foolish, but God has deliberately crafted the gospel and his salvation in such a way that it does shame people who are looking for the impressive or wise or powerful thing. And then he goes on to say the whole reason that we grasp that secret wisdom and understand it is because of the Spirit of God. And so it's all spiritually discerned. It's why for the non-spiritual person, it's all folly.
PJ: Yes, there are many parts of the scriptures such as Psalm 8, out of the mouths of babes and infants come the praises of God, or the passage I love in 1 Thessalonians 2, when the Thessalonians heard the word from Paul, they didn't receive it as the words of men, but as it really is–the word of God which is at work in them. The words of men are the words of men, but the words of God are the powerful words by which the world has been created. And 1 Corinthians 1:21 which says that God, in His wisdom, chooses not to be known by human wisdom. It's the plain statement of the truth by which God will be known. And it will be received, not by sinful people, but by sinful people who have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit. We who are dead in our sins and trespasses, will never come to life without the Spirit bringing us to life.
TP: I think that book on evangelism needs to be written sometime, Philip. Let's get on to the next question from Jono. He loved the episode The new and improved Twits, the sanitization of literature, and what we said about the nonsensical approach of contemporary culture to a bunch of these things. He had a question about what this looks like in everyday conversation. His question is this: “I loved it so much that I was wondering if you, Philip, have any insights into how one might have a kategoric conversation about these kinds of things. I'm not sure how I bring this up tactfully, or how I challenge someone on this, perhaps, especially if it's less of an intellectual issue for them and more of an emotional one.”
PJ: In one sense, it's pretty hard to explain it here. It's more something to illustrate,, to be with him in doing it. But one move is to talk about not the issue they are concerned about, but a parallel one that they've got no emotional commitment to. You say, “Oh, it reminds me I saw a very funny YouTube video the other day about this man who was saying he saw himself as a 10 foot gorilla.” And you move into that, which is not personal with the person you're talking to, but is part of the way the world has become really irrational and unscientific and stupid. And so you shift away from the personal and get them to agree with the concept that there are things being said today which really are very silly. A key element to it always is humour. Humour diffuses lots of antagonisms. And so if you can show them the funny things, once people start laughing with you about something, it's much harder for them to have that same commitment to the views they were holding beforehand.
At the election recently, I was a little disappointed this time. I didn't have the opportunity of talking to the Animal Justice Party, because I liked talking to them as I come in to vote each year. I ask them about which animals they want to protect. And of course, they always go for polar bears and koalas and other nice things. But I try to move them down to cockroaches. I want to know if they want to protect cockroaches or mosquitoes or malaria-carrying mosquitoes? And how far will they go before they want to say no? And then when they get there, I want to say to them, “Well, what about foetal life? What about a baby in its 38th week of conception, because surely, that's got some more valuable contribution to life and the universe than the mosquito or the cockroach?” And so it's edging people down to their plate. That's a slightly different tactic. That is the tactic of accepting people's viewpoint, and accepting their emotions. And then in accepting their emotions, actually helping them to see how inadequate their emotional response is. That's a different approach to it. But one of the ways of the counsellor is to accept not the content of what people are saying, but the emotions of what they say.
I went last night to see a high school production of West Side Story. (Yes, I have many grandchildren.) And it was a very nice production. It's a musical set in 1950s New York and a remake of Romeo and Juliet. It's about star-crossed love between a young man and a young woman who belong to different gangs in this case, who aren't allowed to mix, paralleling the Montagues and the Capulets from Romeo and Juliet.
PJ: Yes, and it's worth saying that it's violent–spoiler alert, like Romeo and Juliet, they die at the end. I was fascinated that towards the end there were two women, one's boyfriend has murdered the other’s boyfriend. And they're singing to each other–one sings about how you can't trust that man, you've got to get rid of him, and the other responds, “but I love this man”. And they come to a chorus that they sing together at the end, saying, “When your love is so strong, there is neither right nor wrong.” And here we are, in the 1950s, saying, “Love is love”. No wonder it's so powerful in the 2020s, because for two to three generations, we have been imbued with his idea that in real love there is neither right nor wrong. Which over and over again is seen in things like the adulterer saying, “Well, I just love her or I just love him. And I don't love you anymore. So I don't stay with you.” And so love becomes the one absolute that we have. It’s so difficult for we Christians because we want to preach God is love. But what we're talking about with that word is so dramatically different. I mean, 1 Corinthians 13 says that love does not rejoice in wrongdoing. Love, loves the truth. But the world's love (ala Hollywood) has got nothing to do with morality. It's got nothing to do with right and wrong, true or false. It’s just got to do with the overwhelming emotion that they have. We've got to understand, in a sense, our culture by being critics of our culture, it's easy to see what's wrong in other people's cultures. But our own culture? It's what we swim in, and we don't see it.
If you don't critique your culture, you don't see truth from falsehood. And our culture has been saying now at least since the 1950s that love is everything. Helping people see the stupidity of that is an important part of evangelism. And that's what John was asking about how we do it. But I do it by seeing a show last night, seeing the problem, and then telling you about it the next day, even before you say something silly to me.
TP: It reminds me of another useful way to have conversations with people and that is your saying don't critique the particular issue that might be really important to them, critique something that's parallel that's not as emotionally charged. Another way to do it is to critique yourself, to critique some of the things that I've believed and thought and realized about myself and things that I've taken for granted, the positions I've held and just grew up with and assumed and didn't ever think about their nonsense. And so it's often a good way to have a conversation is to critique yourself rather than the other person.
PJ: Yes. And that's why that self-deprecatory humour that Australians love so much works, and I'm saying about an idea that actually, is stupid, isn't it? And if I can say that about what I'm thinking and feeling, it encourages you to be able to say that about what you're thinking and feeling as well.
TP: And one of the most important things, Jono, to think about in these conversations, is that love isn't just a feeling; it's not merely desire. Love is a commitment to the benefit of the other person. And in conversation, that's what we're seeking to do. We want what's best for this person, we want to listen to them, we want to see where they're at, so they can grow and change. We want to take the trouble to converse and open up conversation with people because we love people, aiming to encourage and help that person take a step forward in their understanding. It's not to win a debate. It's not to seem clever. It's love, real love, which sees that there's a good for this other person in God that we want them to understand and experience.
PJ: And yet, only sometimes we need to actually say to the person–but make sure we're saying out of our love, kindness, and true concern for them–that you don't really believe that, because frankly, that's silly.
TP: That's a very loving thing to say. Is there anything more loving than to try and help people see that? A change of tack in this next question, which relates to an episode from November last year on the gospel call to ministry. We were discussing the reason why some ministries succeed in recruiting people into full-time gospel ministries and others don't and the key factors in calling on people to give their lives up for the gospel and go into ministry. A brother who has written this particular letter has heard that call and did some MTS at a certain point, but it didn't work out well, or it didn't finish with him proceeding on into gospel ministry or going to Moore College or anywhere else of that kind. How do we deal well with those situations? He asks, “Why do you think exhortation to vocational ministry seldom mentions that all Christians are part of the body of Christ, and we all have different gifts?” Similarly, “Why is deciding not to pursue vocational ministry after an apprenticeship or an MTS program seldom showcased as success?”
PJ: Sorry to hear that he's been in a struggle. I don't know the situation in particular so I can only speak generically rather than about him in particular or his particular situation. I can feel the hurt that is there, especially in that first question you asked about how rarely do you hear this subject being preached in this way? It's got to do with where you are in that regard. Sometimes people hear preaching badly, and things are said but they just never noticed them before. Sometimes preachers don't preach the things that they should, in which case I think you’ve been in the wrong church. I would have thought that it's important in the teaching of the gospel that we teach all Christians or ministers in whatever context they're in.
And that the difference between full-time ministry and non-full-time ministry has got to do with ‘full-time’ and not to do with ‘ministry’, that we Christian tentmakers will either pay for ourselves or other people fund us. So the difference has got to do with funding. It's got to do with the amount of time that you can give to something but it's got nothing to do with the quality or importance or value of the ministry. The Sunday School teacher teaching three-year-olds is doing the same thing as the preacher who's preaching to the congregation. When you are first released from your parents’ control and placed in the hands of another adult who tells you about the love of God and the Lord Jesus Christ, that is terrifically important. It may not be a matter of paid ministry, but it's every bit as important as any other ministry of God's word.
And so it's important that when people are challenged about giving up their working life in order to pursue more ministry, that it is part of that bigger context that all Christians are called to minister. When Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, take up the cross and follow me. For whoever will lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” You can't accept Jesus without accepting Jesus' ministry of the salvation of mankind and being committed to it in whatever part you play in it.
As for the second question as to why not deciding to continue into full-time ministry is not showcased as a good outcome, well, in part because it's not a good and successful outcome. It’s partly a sign that we have misunderstood who the person is. Because Jesus says, “Whoever puts his hand to the plough and looks back it's not fit for the kingdom of heaven.” Entering into paid Christian ministry is not something that we should just ‘try this out and see how it is’. It’s something that we should move to a default position of life. And when we recruit people into full-time ministry in terms of well, why don't you just give it a try, we are diminishing the seriousness and importance of what it is we're calling upon them to do. It's also a pastoral failure. I've always taken that as one of my failures when this happens. That is, while they may be a general call upon people that they may give up their working life to take on this task, the actual conversation of a person doing it is personal. It’s the pastor's responsibility to sit down with a person and talk through whether they are suitable, whether they are showing the signs that would make this a reasonable thing to do.
And so when, after a couple of years, we come to the conclusion that really this person's gifts, abilities, aptitudes, character, capacity for work or whatever it may be show that that's really not going to work for them, as a pastor I don't feel they have failed, I feel I have failed, because I should have seen and known them better before I encouraged them. I should have discouraged them earlier. And I noticed that in the years in which I was running an MTS program, that the majority of people who dropped out or who decided not to pursue it further were ones that had came from outside our ministry. I didn't know them well; they were people who were recommended from overseas to me and things like that. They were not actually members of our congregation that we had pastorally cared for enough to have a wise choice. And so that taught me to be very wary of taking people I did not know well, because I couldn't give them wise pastoral advice. Having said that, there were still others that as I look back, and that was my failure to know them better and to care for them enough to have warned them beforehand.
When we do come to that conclusion, the follow-up work I think is very important. Having made that mistake in encouraging somebody when I shouldn't have, I want to make sure that they do not feel as our questioner has felt. I want them to understand that it's not failure and to see the other good things that they can be doing and the things that they have learned in these last two years by which we can channel their energies, their abilities, their gifts, their skills. It's important for their sake and for the congregation’s sake. And it's a disaster for them to continue feeling an obligation that they've got to go ahead because they've put their hand to the plough.
Having said all that, there are other people who have gone ahead, gone to theological training, and then gone out into full-time ministry, who down the track have burned out or who have failed in one way or another. I don't see that in the same sense of failure in recruiting. I see that Christian ministry is being on the battlefield. And on the battlefield, people get hurt, there are casualties, and I'm very sorry for them. When I have had enough of a relationship to be able to speak to them, I try to do so. And in as much as we're able, we've got to look after the people who suffer the loss or the casualty of the Christian warfare. Sadly, sometimes, I haven't been able to do that. And sadly, sometimes, I think there's a bitterness that they ever tried or ever started, which means there's a loss of relationship which is greater for them than it is for me, in the sense that I would love to spend some time with them, but they do not want to spend time going back to where they started from.
TP: It is a difficult subject. A number of things just occurred to me as you were speaking. One is that as I've grown older, more and more of my friends, colleagues, fellow workers in similar stages of life who have been in ministry with me are no longer in ministry, as they have really suffered the scars and wounds of Christian ministry, have accumulated emotional wear and tear that is then manifested physically or is connected with other physical issues that mean you just haven't got it in you anymore. But it's almost like–in army terms–an honourable discharge. I feel a great deal of honour and affection for the suffering that they've gone through for the gospel. A little bit like the apostle Paul, he tells us of all his hardships and wounds, and sometimes those wounds are too much for us. That's just the nature of the frailty of our human existence. And it's a good thing to have spent and expended your life and energy in the Gospel, even if you bear the consequences down the track.
PJ: Yes. And I confess that I have always told and warned people. But I know they have not heard; when you're a young man, young woman, full of the successes of life, to be told that this is going to be painful and difficult, you'll be persecuted and hated, and people say all manner of evil against you. And it will cost you far more than you realize. They do not hear you saying it. It's not that you haven't said it or tried to illustrate it by pointing to your own life and things that have gone wrong; it’s just not a message that is easily received. And Jesus does it with Peter, he keeps telling the disciples that it's going to be this, it's going to be that and Peter keeps saying “I'll die with you”. And then when it happens, he denies Jesus three times. It's the naivety of youth, which in a sense, if you didn't have you never try anything. But for some of us, God has been kind and enabled us to go through to the very end. For others, there are all kinds of problems that they've had. One is not better than the other. And there's not to be criticism.
TP: It's also true that in whatever ministry we end up doing, whether we're ministering in a full-time vocational capacity, pastors or elders, and so on, whether we're ministering in our families, raising our children, serving in our local churches, ministering in Sunday schools. There's hardship and hard work in all of those ministries. And it's really important, I think, to end on the note that all ministry does have that common sense of purpose and call and direction and importance. I think lying behind some of the questions that are coming through here is quite a valid concern that it's easy for Christians to fall into a kind of a clericalism, that the people who are engaged in the professional ministry have a certain status. And then there are the rest of us sinful people who don't have that status. It's easy for those sorts of attitudes to grow within Christian fellowships because sometimes it actually suits both sides.
PJ: It's awful for both sides. It's awful to pride yourself. And it's awful to envy others. It’s ungodly both ways. The Sunday school teacher of a three-year-old I champion, because they're doing a fantastic job. And the person who puts out the chairs and puts them away afterwards. And when I get to conferences, the two most important people I've got to deal with are the sound desk people and the cooks. So I think you've got to see the value of any and every ministry that comes in the name of the Lord Jesus, and not to think more highly of yourself than you ought.
TP: Absolutely. I hope that's a helpful answer. And to our brother who's written that heartfelt letter with lots of great questions, we hope this discussion has been helpful. And for the rest of you listening to Two Ways News, we hope that it has prompted you to think about the call to ministry, what the gospel call to ministry really is, a call to all of us to give up our lives in the name of the Lord Jesus for the sake of others.
PJ: I hope our brother also is able to talk to someone in his church in his situation, and not just let these concerns trouble him without dealing with them in relationship to the people that he's been in connection with.
TP: Well, thanks for being with us. On this episode of this wide ranging episode of Two Ways News we've covered a bunch of different questions and bounced around to a number of different topics. We hope it’s been useful and helpful.
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