Our hope and vision for Tenth Presbyterian Church is that through the power of the Holy Spirit we will see the making and maturing of committed followers of the Lord Jesus to the glory of God the Father.
Each year as we celebrate Easter, the Global Outreach Commission seeks out beneficiaries for the annual Easter Sacrificial Offering (ESO). This year we’ve partnered with seven ministries that ease the sufferings of others and faithfully proclaim the gospel around the world. As a result of the generous contributions made by the congregation, we’re pleased to announce that the ESO collected just over $87,000. This amount will directly fund the work of our partners as they seek to make Christ’s name known around the world. For information on how each partner will use the funds, please see below.
Forgotten Voices International
Forgotten Voices International is an organization that equips local churches to meet the physical and spiritual needs of children orphaned by AIDS in their communities. The organization has partnered with nearly 100 churches in Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Malawi and is currently on pace to serve more than 15,000 children and their caregivers this year. Our gift of $16,500 will enable Forgotten Voices to continue their ministry and help them attain their goal of serving as many as 20,000 children and their caregivers by next year.
The Integration House is an initiative of the Exarcheia Church in Athens, Greece. It offers aid to those who arrived in Greece during the refugee crisis of 2015. They provide the occupants with housing, assist in job and education placement, and assist the families in finding low-cost apartments. Our gift of $12,000 will allow them to fully renovate and furnish one new bedroom.
Merkinch Church Plant
The Merkinch church plant is in the city of Inverness, a region that is among the most deprived in Scotland. Our partners have set out to establish a church that engages the gospel and serves the community. Our gift of $7,000 will allow them to continue making disciples through mission and evangelism.
Rock Spring Presbyterian Church
Rock Spring Presbyterian Church was planted in Monrovia, Liberia, through the teaching, encouragement, and financial support of our congregation. After renting a facility for many years, Tenth helped Rock Spring acquire a property on which a foundation and walls have been built. Our gift of $7,000 will aid in the completion of the building, with the hope that they’ll be able to use the new building later this year.
Sight for Souls
Sight for Souls is transforming the lives of communities in Ethiopia through the gift of sight. Started by Tenth members John and Lori Kempen and motivated by the love and example of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Sight for Souls seeks to alleviate blindness through sustainable programs in the areas with the greatest need. Our gift of $15,000 will allow Sight for Souls to continue providing for the spiritual and emotional needs of patients and their families affected by blindness in the developing world.
SIM Galmi Hospital
Since 1950, the SIM Galmi Hospital has been an oasis in the desert. Located on the south edge of the Sahara Desert in Niger, West Africa, this 180-bed hospital provides compassionate care to Nigerians from all walks of life and serves as a training center for surgical residents from several African countries. Galmi’s outpatient and HIV clinics serve up to 300 men, women, and children daily, each of whom hears the message of the gospel through educational films and their interactions with hospital staff. Our gift of $20,000 will help them do major structural improvements and make new additions to their facility.
Widows and Orphans in Africa
Our partner leads a ministry focused on helping widows and orphans recover from tremendous hardship and loss. The ministry helps the women and children learn new skills and re-establish themselves by providing food, schooling, and job training. Our gift of $10,000 will supply these widows and orphans with food, sewing machines, and schooling.
Birthed in adversity when the Roman Empire was at its zenith, a fledging group of Jews surfaced near the time of the Jewish feast of Pentecost in Jerusalem. The Christian church emerged as a visible community of members who confessed the eternal Lordship of a resurrected Galilean executed at Golgotha a mere three days before he was recognized alive in the city of his death. Led by peasants turned Apostles who were informed by the writings of ancient Prophets, these people were gathered together as a new Israel in one place at one time for one purpose: the worship of Jesus.
From one assembly, other churches were begun first out of synagogues where believing Jews joined with Gentiles in a new type of community where ethnicity no longer defined the boundaries of association. Their identity determined their activity in ways that facilitated an ongoing relationship with each other as determined by the words of Jesus through the written instruction of his Apostles. Thus, Apostolic doctrine directed Apostolic practices in the fledging congregations that soon would spread all over the world.
How this was accomplished is not a matter of mystery. It was no accident. A defined and observable pattern of instruction, engagement, and management was realized among the early churches that has largely been ignored by the Christian church of the 21st century. Modern American business practices have bonded with various biblical concepts (normally proof texts taken out of context) to create an entity resembling a hybrid model the Apostles of Acts 2:42-47 would not recognize.
Many modern churches now face a leadership crisis because most church growth consultants (far too few of them pastors of local churches) lack a sufficient biblical theology of leadership training to navigate the cultural and technological shifts now challenging congregations. Phil A. Newton’s, The Mentoring Church: How Pastors and Congregations Cultivate Leaders is an antidote to the largely biblically vacuous literature of leadership resources for local congregations.
Influenced by his own experience of being “sixteen, called, and clueless,” Newton first begins to reveal just how widespread the problem is among entire denominations. Based on his research, most modular courses designed to help train future leaders are ineffective precisely because they ignore the very people they are designed to help–local churches. “Denominational protocols” absent a robust ecclesial vision of exactly how leaders are to be recognized, trained, and supported will result in “merely multiplying churches” that fail “to answer the need for effective Great Commission churches.”
Lest there be any doubt as to what a “Great Commission” church might be and how it is to function in the world, Newton supplies detailed research from Holy Scripture listing the priorities of a local church and the “organic leadership development” that flows from attention to and obedience of the Bible. Churches must first preach doctrinal sermons, “raise membership standards, practice church discipline, maintain doctrinal fidelity, embrace a missional mindset, and model Christian community.” Cultural contextualization need not result in doctrinal accommodation, but the latter will eclipse the former if pastoral service in churches does not “take seriously the call of Jesus” to a “deliberate approach to training and equipping the leaders” of a congregation.
This book is not a “Harvard Business School meets the local church” sort of work. Case studies do not precede or ignore biblical exegesis. The term, “mentor,” is itself a derivative of the words “to train.” Newton shows that when compared with other institutions whose future depends on the training of future leaders, the local church is often woefully deficient. The balance between academic training and practical experiences of application where mastery of academics drives and supports critical execution of pastoral leadership, an obvious dichotomy emerges. The theological seminary and the local church are often inordinately separated – even divided and absent one from the other. Too often promising pastors and elders are simply “sent to seminary” in hopes they will emerge as dynamic Christian leaders for local congregations. This is not the method of the Bible’s own vision for the training of ministers.
Newton offers a helpful model where the academy is “best suited to expand on the theoretical,” but “the local church brings theory into applications and experience.” He calls for a partnership in aspects of training “between academy and church” where both do “what they do best to train leaders.” Helpful contemporary models appear as case studies detailing a step by step analysis of exactly how such a partnership might work for future pastors and church leaders. As an example of how such an arrangement might work, Newton states:
Trainees also need to receive assignments from their mentors. Pastors and elders can involve trainees in various aspects of pastoral ministry, giving them guidance in fulfilling their responsibilities, while offering feedback and critique on their response. They can assign reading related to ecclesiology and pastoral ministry, followed by discussion of the reading in order to clarify and layer a better understanding of life in the local church.
To his credit, Newton does not only provide modern examples of leadership development, he draws on leaders in the 16th through the early 20th centuries when churches were often more effective in their ministries, outreach, and planting efforts than modern churches with all the advantages technology and the information age provide. Philip Jacob Spener, John Gano, Thomas Ustick (Gano’s protégé who served as the dynamic pastor of the historic First Baptist Church in Philadelphia at the time of the American founding), Charles Haddon Spurgeon, and even Dietrich Bonhoeffer with his emphasis on “life together” all combine for a holistic vision of mentoring in the context of a local church.
Essential to Newton’s mentoring model is a healthy congregation. Future leaders are not to view congregations as a separate entity void of their personal involvement in the lives of those they serve. Moreover, he believes the local congregation is the ideal location from which future leaders would initially emerge. The business school model (all too easily practiced by many seminaries) where a trained outsider armed with the latest fads of marketing, financial modeling, and administrative prowess descend on an unsuspecting congregation is the very reason many pastors experience great difficulty in their ministries. “The congregation must be involved,” he writes or the “materials without mentoring” model of ministry based on the research of missiologist D. Michael Crow creates the illusion of pastors “who think they’ve got it when they really haven’t.”
Newton’s greatest strength as a thinker and writer is the critical skill of closing gaps of understanding opened by time. Too often, the modern Christian does not understand the world of ancient Rome where the early church first flourished. For this reason, the Bible is not often studied as a model for church government let alone leadership training for the modern era. Such subjects seemingly have no connection one with the other. Newton’s work is a holistic work fusing academic and theological rubrics far too long separated. It is a work sorely needed in the literature of theological training. Congregations and seminaries should read and heed.
Have you ever listened to a young child talk about their world? A child sees the world with wonder and anticipation. They grasp onto small details and celebrate both the new and the familiar. Their brains work like sponges soaking up new information. They can observe and enjoy the world with eagerness and freedom when they have someone willing to guide them.
Wide Open World, or WOW, is a ministry of Tenth that taps into this young eagerness and curiosity. Each Sunday evening during the summer, children are offered a guided tour as they explore their world on a global level. Children explore faraway countries through crafts, activities, songs, books, and biographies. WOW provides vehicles for children to travel to far off lands and learn about the cultural diversity of God’s people. Through a multi-sensory adventure, children are introduced to people and places different from what they already know.
Beyond teaching children about different countries and cultures, WOW stirs children to understand the world’s desperate need for God. Each year, WOW’s passport program serves as a way for children to engage with a global need. By completing certain tasks, such as praying for Tenth’s global partners, memorizing scripture, trying international food, doing crafts related to other countries, or reading missionary biographies, children can earn passport stamps. Each passport stamp is matched monetarily by members of the congregation to fund projects around the world. Through this program, Tenth’s children have earned thousands of dollars to help refugees, orphans, the sick, and poor. They helped buy an oven for orphans in Colombia, pews for an international church plant, coffee hour supplies for a refugee church in Greece, and much more.
WOW’s passport program encourages families to continue their learning and exploration during the week at home. In many cases, the entire family gets involved. One of my favorite memories of WOW as a child was having Tenth partners over for dinner. I loved listening to them tell my parents stories and talk about their experiences. I also enjoyed playing with their kids! WOW still serves as a strong bond between my family and Tenth’s partners.
Hosting Tenth’s global partners is one of WOW’s greatest privileges. Through pictures, stories, and prayer requests, children learn about the countries our partners serve in, the people they work with, and the needs they encounter. They also hear about the incredible power of the gospel to work in these situations. Children are encouraged to pray with and for our partners and consider how they can go and share the gospel too.
“Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven’” (Matthew 19:14). WOW seeks to encourage and equip the littlest of Tenth’s kingdom-bearers by introducing them to the world so desperately in need of their Savior and telling them stories of his wonderous love and provision.
WOW begins on June 2. Contact Julia for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When a phone rings at 1:30 AM in the morning, the news is seldom good. The voice on the other end of the line spoke in official terms, “Is your brother’s name Michael?” I responded with a sheepish reply that yes, I had a brother by that name. I was informed at that moment his body had just been pulled from the river after drowning. My first thought upon hearing this news? I was glad my mother had died earlier and was not forced to hear these words. My next thought: I was the sole survivor of my family. At twenty-one years old, I was alone.
Sudden death isn’t the only sort of tragedy that creates the shock and awe of grief. For others it might come as the shock of discovering their spouse has been having an affair or a child is arrested for a crime or a job is lost. Whatever the cause, the experiences of loss and pain are universal in their reach and touch every human being in some way. Loss is common to all, but the modern American church has moved experiences of sorrow to the periphery of her public witness to the point that denial is the only psychological term that is an appropriate descriptor for much of modern ministry. In the words of Ligon Duncan, however, when life falls apart, “You will introduce yourself to yourself.” In moments of crisis, what resides in the heart is revealed with great force, and what is really believed is made clear.
But what about the Christian who truly believes the gospel and has sought to build their life on the Word of God? What about the Christian who has sought to live a godly and holy life in this present world but continually encounters trials to such a degree that even unbelievers who observe their lives begin to doubt the goodness of the God they profess to serve? When life crashes and the worst fears of the heart come true, to what and to whom does a Christian turn?
Don’t Waste Your Sorrows
Somewhere between the dark clouds of pain reside the deep mercies of God. How to find them and to abide in them requires that a believer learn to lament—and lament well. This idea of lament appears with such great frequency in the Bible that it is strange modern Christians have ignored it for so long. Read the Psalms, and lament is there. Read the Gospels, and lament is present as Jesus encounters the world, the flesh, and the Devil himself. Mark Vroegop’s book, Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament, is a corrective to the pabulum of the modern prosperity gospel.
Early in the book, he admits, “to cry is human, but to lament is Christian.” Lament is not a common word used in modern conversation, so he carefully and with great precision defines it according to biblical categories. “Lament is a prayer in pain that leads to trust,” he states. “Lament is the honest cry of a hurting heart wrestling with the paradox of pain and the promise of God’s goodness.”
This man has read the Psalms over and over during seasons of mourning and grief, and he has discovered what previous generations of Christians knew all too well. The Psalms provide the language of prayer for Christians to use in order to speak their complaints to God even as they trust in the core doctrines so carefully articulated for them in the Bible. It is not that the doctrines of God’s sovereignty, goodness, and power are hidden from their eyes. It is that their experience has created a gap between what they feel and what they know. Lament helps close that gap, and the process Vroegop gives is the roadmap for grief during seasons of lament.
Vroegop doesn’t present mere formulaic prescriptions for grief. Rather, he uses what could be described as a return, of sorts, to what the Puritans accomplished in their writing more than two centuries ago. He searches the Psalms and discovers a pattern of prayer and action that sustained the people of God in every age. When circumstances of sadness and woe rained down upon them, they first turned to God in prayer, spoke words of complaint to God in those moments of prayer, learned to ask God boldly for help and hope, and chose to trust him and his mercy even when answers were few and understanding was hidden from their eyes.
“To be a Christian means trusting in what God says and who he is,” writes Vroegop. “Choosing to trust through lament requires that we rejoice without knowing how all the dots connect.” Lamenting helps the believer practice what he calls, “active patience.” In this season of despair and heartache, the continual turning to God in prayer where the Christian breathes out their woe in prayer gives way to a fervency of asking God for help that finally expresses a trust in his providence and mercy even and especially when the trial continues. Over time, the providence of God and the patience of the Christian comes to a point of believing what they know to be true “even though the facts of suffering might call that belief into question.”
Lament for Life
An entire book of the Bible written by the prophet Jeremiah is dedicated to the spiritual reality of lament. The book? Ironically, its name is the very practice itself—Lamentations. This is an area of the Bible most Christians avoid except, as noted by Vroegop, the famous verses of Lamentations 3:22-23: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
Most assume these verses appear in a place much like a Thomas Kincade painting where all is peace, joy, and light. Frankly, Jeremiah wrote these words “over a dark and tragic landscape.” The ashes of Israel’s existence were shattered and virtually everything about their life and civilization was gone only to be replaced by violence, abuse, and death.
Lamentations teaches that every sorrow of earth can ultimately be traced to the reality of sin. Vroegop is careful to state that while it is not always the personal sin of someone that leads to the sorrow they experience, the presence of sorrow is, at some level, the direct result of sin. Somewhere, somehow, the stench of sin is present, and it is important to allow the experience of lament to accomplish its work of reorienting the mind toward a less dependent attitude on the changing scenes of earth and anchoring them more in the certainties of God’s eternal justice.
To say this is hard when the fires of grief burn hot is an understatement. The active waiting on God must be driven by a continual recitation of the facts of doctrinal truth that will, over time, help the Christian discover that waiting on God is not a waste of time. Through the process something happens to the believer. The experiences and places of grief become a memorial that speak of God’s presence in the midst of horror and tragedy. The book of Lamentations helps the church to anchor itself in the truth that through the agonies of life something happens to the company of those who lament. They are changed and made more like Christ. They learn to see with new eyes and feel with hearts made more holy as they open their hands to release the idols of earth only to find God himself fills their lives with his great mercy and help in time of need.
“Lament is the language that calls us, as exiles, to uncurl our fingers from our objects of trust,” Vroegop writes. Somehow, through the pain, believers are taught not to waste their sorrows, but to use them as pathways toward peace as they journey to the end. Perhaps Vroegop’s counsel might best be communicated by Ecclesiastes 7:4: The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning. More funerals, fewer parties; more prayer, less idle talk; more trust, less anger. For through many tribulations, we must enter the Kingdom of God (Acts 14:22).
God has been showing me through the lives of others how he brings hope and begins new work amidst grief and loss. He pointed this out to me again during our time at Hogar La Providencia (which houses John Calvin School) in Santa Marta, Colombia. The people there had just lost their visionary founder and leader, whom I had heard referred to as a “power house” multiple times—Jaime Leal, Pastor Enrique’s uncle. Our team traveled from Barranquilla and arrived in Santa Marta on a sultry Tuesday afternoon. The school children had already been dismissed for the day. Our goal for Tuesday was to get the lay of the land, meet with some of the leadership, and return the next morning to work on the projects we had been tasked with.
As we explored our surroundings, walked through the classrooms and the empty corridors, the sense of loss seemed evident. I was subconsciously comparing what my eyes were seeing at Hogar to what I had surmised of the operations at Los Olivos (an outreach of La Roca church, which hosts an after-school program for under-resourced children in Barranquilla). Los Olivos seemed like a well-oiled machine, whereas it seemed clear that Hogar was moving through a transitory phase. I heard Frank Esposito, who had visited Hogar several times previously, echo these observations. I was tending toward concern. But, thankfully, with the next day the Lord revealed fresh perspectives and brought new hope.
The joyful noises of children running down those same corridors and filling the classrooms drew my focus. Their adorable smiles and sincerity in wanting to get to know us was heartwarming. They lavished love upon my one-year-old son, Daniel, and one of the young boys even sang him a song in Spanish, with encouraging applause from his peers.
The hospitality of Alex and his wife Sofia (who had just moved from Barranquilla to lead Hogar) was generous and kind. Among larger undertakings, the team was tasked with a simpler job of replacing the light bulbs in the classrooms with brighter ones. As Aaron Redus and John Ward switched out the bulb in one classroom, the students clapped with excitement as the new one went on; and you would’ve thought their faces lit up brighter than the light bulbs!
Judy Ward and I had the privilege of going to many classrooms and sharing our testimonies of Christ’s work in our life with the children in various grades. Some listened intently with their attention riveted on the one speaking, and of course there were some to whom an afternoon snooze seemed more welcome! I particularly enjoyed interacting with our translator Rosa (the English teacher at Hogar) and exchanging some cross-language English-Spanish tips. Later that evening when we met at Iglesia La Puerta for the scheduled prayer dinner, Rosa shared with me how she thought the children needed to hear more of people’s salvation stories. She was encouraged at how the students absorbed what we said, and I was encouraged by her report. One of the most uplifting aspects of the day was witnessing the resolve and commitment of leaders and staff to press on in their call to serve the students at John Calvin school.
Our Tenth leaders met with the leadership at Hogar, and there was mutual encouragement emerging from that meeting as well. A path forward remains to be established as to how Tenth will continue partnership with Hogar La Providencia in Santa Marta. The process of building up must continue. It is encouraging to be reminded that God is actively present there, working all things together for good. Amidst loss, he is bringing about new vision and ideas, raising up faithful men and women to steward and water the ministry that he planted through his servant, Jaime Leal. Let’s keep our brothers and sisters in Colombia in earnest prayer and seek how the Lord would best have us at Tenth Church partner with them.
There hides a man within the shadows who I know all too well. He follows me day and night crying: “Come to me! For it’s only your soul you must sell!” I answered: “No, no! From outside of His presence I cannot dwell!” In a cunning manner he spoke: “You needn’t worry, for who have I to tell?” Despite the pain, I gave into his demand, and into the darkness I reached my frightful hand. What started as a shadow, had turned into a flame! In agony I cried: “What wicked place is this?! Surely you are to blame!” Laughing he spoke: “Foolish man! It was your heart that brought you here! I merely whispered its longings into your ear.” I screamed: “Darkness! Oh darkness, free me from your grasp! Who can save me from this eternal clasp?!” But in the midst of the darkness I saw a shimmer a light. There appeared to be a man, just barely within sight. Upon His back, He carried what looked to be a tree. As He passed, He whispered: “Go now! For I have set you free!” Just then, the chains of darkness had shattered so! As I jumped for joy, I stopped and thought: “That voice I’m sure I know.” “Jesus of Nazareth!” the demons cried. “From the darkness you may leave, it was for you that Man had died.” I jumped for joy and yelled: “Lord! Lord! You have come for me! You were the Man who carried the tree!” Into the shadows my soul fell, yet from the darkness He rescued me from the depths of hell.
We have spoken previously in a Tenth Press article about some of the ministries that we at Tenth will be supporting this year through our Easter Sacrificial Offering. As a reminder, those ministries are: SIM Galmi Hospital, Sight for Souls, Jiyii-nun, Forgotten Voices, and Rock Spring Church in Liberia. The final two ministries that round out are giving recipients this year are the Merkinch Church Plant in Scotland and the Integration House Ministry in Greece.
Merkinch Church Plant
The Merkinch church plant is located in the Merkinch community of Inverness, Scotland. The area is among the most deprived areas in Scotland, with many facing low income and poor overall health. The Merkinch Free Church has set out to serve the community by establishing a church that engages the gospel and provides believers with a place to fellowship with one another. Funds from the ESO will enable the Merkinch Free Church to continue in their goal of making disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ through mission and evangelism. Here is a video explaining how the church is actively working.
Integration House Renovation
The Integration House is a Christian based initiative of the Exarcheia Church in Athens, Greece. It operates as part of the Exarcheia Church’s ministry by providing aid to those who arrived in Greece during the refugee crisis of 2015. Integration House provides initial housing, assists in job and education placement, and aids the families in finding low-cost apartments. Funds from the ESO will provide funding for needed building renovation that will provide further housing for refugee families and a new place of worship.
Paul says in Galatians 2:10, “Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.” Jesus says in Matthew 25:40, “And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me’.”
Here is an awesome thing to contemplate. Our spiritual ancestry traces back to the early ministry of Paul in Greece and to the later work of Protestant Reformers in Scotland. One might say that we owe a debt of gratitude to these lands for the spiritual blessings we have received from them. How fitting it is that at this time, through ESO, we can be a blessing to them for both material and spiritual needs.
Meeting Mez McConnell is a bit like encountering a Buzzsaw. He moves quickly past the pleasantries and wants to know the story of how someone arrived where they did and what they are doing with their life. He doesn’t like small talk. Rather, he jumps into deep conversations with both feet and moves forward in ways that can catch a person off guard if not ready for a serious discussion about areas of life most haven’t thought deeply about.
Knowing his history, he can’t be blamed for a desire to get to the heart of the matter quickly. This is a man whose mother abandoned him when he was two years old. His father was seldom present in his life. By his own admission, his step-mother “used his kidneys as a punching bag” for most of his early childhood. A northern England "scheme" was his home as a child and now he serves in the "schemes" of Scotland. The “schemes” of Scotland are a “cross between an American trailer park, an American urban housing project, and an American Indian reservation.” These areas were built as low-income housing for what has been termed the “new working class” in the late 1800’s across Scotland.
By the age of twelve, he was convicted of assault. He landed in prison, and one day some Christians came to see him. McConnell was converted to Christ by reading through the book of Romans. A Matthew Henry commentary on the Bible helped him learn more about the Bible, and as he read the Bible all the lies he had been taught all his life collapsed in his mind. So many social workers and drug counselors told him he was “a product of his environment.” Reading through the Bible, however, he realized he was a terrible sinner with a terrible future before him. His past was only a precursor to the judgement awaiting him as his life would most certainly continue on a downward spiral because something was wrong in him, not just outside of him.
The Gospel, the Local Church, and Social Ministry
He has dedicated his life to establishing churches in hard places, and he joined another pastor, Mike McKinley, to author a book by this title. The 2016 book, Church in Hard Places: How the Local Church Brings Life to the Poor and Needy, remains a widely read source for those seeking to better understand how the gospel and the local church impacts and transforms the poor and their communities. This book is a standard reference at a time when the issues of social justice, racial reconciliation, and cultural renewal are hot topics in Evangelical and Reformed circles.
McConnell and McKinley aren’t naïve when it comes to the complexity of poverty. Systemic and structural forces combine to perpetuate crisis in the lives of people abused beyond belief. Reading of McConnell’s own experience as a young boy when one of his friends was stabbed to death in front of him or of Innocencia, a thirteen-year-old street girl from northern Brazil whose parents abandoned her when she was five years old and survived since that time as a child prostitute, or of Picachu, a ten-year-old little boy whose grandfather beat him and “had sex with him since he was a baby” are horrific. Such circumstances immediately issue a call to action by the church of Jesus Christ. Surely, the church must not turn away from such suffering, but what exactly is a faithful church to do?
Analyzing the modern Evangelical scene, the practices of many local churches are to send short-term ministry teams into critical areas in partnership with sophisticated (and well-funded) para-church ministries. By his own testimony, McConnell has seen numerous teams from the United States and the United Kingdom “show up with their paintbrushes and hammers, but with no understanding of the gospel message they think they’ve come to proclaim.” The gospel, therefore, is the starting point for McConnell, and he admits that most who think about doing mission work in hard places do not readily understand the content of the gospel and how it applies to the thinking and habits of poor people.
The Gospel at the Center
Using the framework, of “God, Man, Christ, and Response,” McConnell exposits the gospel from the Bible and quickly moves to emphasize the prioritization of local churches being the chief means by which the poor are helped. Communities are transformed as the result of the work of a biblical church established according to the clearly defined and rigorously enforced aspects of church life. For McConnell, serving in a church is not glamorous or easy, but required for all Christians. He is well aware of the objections against teaching the poor Christian doctrine and calling them to become members of local churches to learn theology.
One objection that I hear from time to time is that poor communities typically have less access to quality education, which means the people in those communities do not have the necessary tools to learn doctrine…If you try, you will shoot over their heads and lose their interest…Honestly, such attitudes strike me as paternalistic and condescending. Poor people are poor, but they are not stupid. They are just as capable of understanding the character and ways of God as anyone else. Paul didn’t write his letters to the faculty of a seminary. His readers were generally not wealthy, privileged, or well-educated. And the Israelites leaving Egypt didn’t have advanced degrees in theology, but God didn’t hesitate to tell them all kinds of in-depth and complicated things about himself.
McConnell isn’t shy about critiquing the prevalence and wealth of some parachurch ministries who often take money from local churches and do not advance the gospel. He takes to task ideas that a church is a bad means of changing society, and he thinks “mercy ministries are dangerous” because they can be “easily abused;” actually be designed to “support sin” and become “self-serving” in ways that undermine the primacy of preaching, meaningful church membership, and stop the natural diversity endemic to a local congregation that is growing in its awareness and obedience to the Great Commission.
The book is often met with criticisms of reductionism and false caricatures of those whom the authors single out as agents that stymie the real path to advancement of the gospel. Yet, these men are convinced as pastors of local churches that their work is hard because sin has infected the world with its deadly poison of godless rebellion, and only the church of Jesus Christ has the God-ordained task of reaching beyond the immediate to the eternal by preaching and teaching and serving and living the gospel. At bottom, they call each Christian to invest their lives in whatever hard place God has deployed him because “the pearl of great price is worth selling everything to buy.”
I have always appreciated how Dr. Goligher consistently returns us to our most fundamental reality and its principal truths. Before we think about ministry, we must first think about God. If we do not understand who the God we serve is, how can we serve God rightly and well? This attention to first truths also clarifies the proper ends to which we should be oriented. In our finite, fallen natures, we tend to conflate means with ends. Dr. Goligher consistently points us to our true end—union with God—as an antidote to this flawed thinking: thinking to which we so often succumb.
The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle established the ultimate end of human beings as eudaimonia, a word that, because of our inescapably human tendency to infuse words with unwelcome connotations, defies simple translation, but can be approximated by “happiness” or “flourishing.” From the most mundane trip to the grocery store to the biggest life decisions, think through the causal process involved and eventually, according to Aristotle, you will get to eudaimonia. (Without attributing too much to Aristotle where it not warranted, we might also conclude that sinful endeavors are motivated by a corrupted form of eudaimonia, most often self-serving pleasure-seeking.)
The idea of eudaimonia has intuitive appeal, but it is still fundamentally self-oriented. Under a Christian understanding, a purely human pursuit of happiness is bound to fail. The beauty of the gospel is that true happiness is attained as an “accident,” or byproduct, of the achievement of our true end, which is union with God. In other words, God, by virtue of his character, necessitates that our ultimate end be union with him, which requires worshipping and glorifying him, but he, in his great mercy and love, has established that a byproduct of achieving this end is our eternal happiness. Put more simply, the only way to achieve our natural, desired end (our own happiness) is to consciously not pursue it and pursue God instead. This truth unlocks the wonderful paradoxes of the gospel (e.g., the first shall be last, for whoever wants to save his life must lose it, etc.).
It also puts into perspective the responsibilities of the church. Because our ultimate end is union with God and not happiness or something else, everything else we do is necessarily some kind of means toward that end. Bible studies are means, prison ministries are means, even global outreach is a means. So are capital campaigns.
I have heard murmurs that Tenth should not be in the “real estate business.” This is obviously in reference to Tenth’s growing list of buildings and what we should do with them. One might imagine a similar charge leveled against fundraising: “A church should not be in the fundraising business.” In the context of our ultimate end, however, these objections fall short of their intended target. For as long as churches need money and churches need buildings—read: until Christ comes again—we will be in the “business” of fundraising and the “business” of real estate. These pursuits serve the church, which was instituted by Christ as the primary means toward our ultimate end.
Just because these things are means does not entail that there are no moral principles to govern our pursuit of them. The church must uphold certain standards in its work—higher standards, in many cases, than the law, or even similar organizations, uphold. It also goes without saying that the church has a biblical call, as do all of God’s people, to be faithful stewards of the resources we have been given. But these are principles that govern the church’s means; they do not preclude the use of these means in the first place. Likewise, the church should not be buying up buildings in the name of a quick profit. Nor should it engage in any other means that run afoul of any principles that derive from our ultimate end. But to claim that the church should not be in the “real estate business” is to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Just because these things are means does not entail that there are no moral principles to govern our pursuit of them.
So where does all of this leave us? Well, buildings are not our end. Neither is missions, nor even is Sunday worship. Each is a means toward our glorious end. Some means are more effective at striving toward our end, and other means are not worth pursuing at all. The relevant question, then, is whether the current capital campaign is effective means toward our pursuit of our ultimate end. I would submit that it is.
For decades, God’s people at Tenth have prayed over the buildings at issue here. They earnestly believed that these buildings would help Tenth church better pursue the ultimate end of his people. They believed this, because they had an abiding confidence in God’s providence and a great hope that he had wonderful plans for the future of our church. They also believed this because they had the wisdom to recognize that the church needed resources—practical, tangible resources—in this pursuit.
This is not to diminish the costs associated with our pursuit. Monetary costs, yes, but also of our time—time that could be invested in any number of Tenth’s fruitful ministries. Those faithful congregants of Tenth who prayed over our neighboring buildings were laying a foundation. They laid a foundation with their monies, with their time, and most importantly, with their prayer. We have been given an opportunity to expand this foundation for the next generation of God’s faithful servants at Tenth. It is up to us to meet this call.
It also goes without saying that the church has a biblical call, as do all of God’s people, to be faithful stewards of the resources we have been given.
I ask that you would pray for wisdom for those who will decide how Tenth stewards these buildings that we have been given, for the monies to sustain these buildings, and that these buildings—these “means”—will bring us closer to the achievement of God’s glorious end. What great love God shows in welcoming us to participate in his grand work in our world!
Finally, I also ask that, if you do feel the call, you will consider supporting our capital campaign with your money as well as your prayer. If you would like to learn more about the campaign’s vision, our buildings, and anything else, please pull one of us committee members aside; we’d love to hear from you. Thank you for your support of Tenth Presbyterian Church.
In our house, Easter morning is wholly unlike any other morning all year. We wake up at 4 AM, disoriented and not yet very joyful. The cat is displeased that we woke him up instead of the other way around. As we drive through the quiet city and turn on lights at church, I like to think about the women who went to see Jesus believing he was still in his tomb. What heaviness they must have felt walking to his body. But like these women, Easter is also one of my favorite days and particularly at Tenth. The cares and burdens of everyday life are put in perspective as we come together to celebrate what the resurrection means for our earthly and guaranteed everlasting life. Following the sunrise service at Rittenhouse Square, we invite you to join Maranatha for breakfast. Over the years, we’ve had cooks create this meal so that it is delicious and attentive to various allergies. This event also serves as a fundraiser for the youth summer mission trips. We need to raise roughly $60,000 this year to provide our day camps in West and Northeast Philly and an urban farming and learning from refugees trip to Buffalo, NY. The pancake breakfast is a time to provide a meal for those attending the sunrise service, serve and welcome visitors and newcomers, and give us time together as a church family on this special day. I love the energy and joy in the building on Easter morning!
Here a few testimonies from some members of Maranatha that testify to how the Lord has used these trips in wonderful ways in their lives.
Not only have I learned more about the love of God during mission trips, but I have also gained and strengthened bonds. This great community that God has made for us not only allows us to help others, but also allows others to know more about him. Every day I see God working in the hearts of the kids, and it makes me smile to see that he cares so deeply about every one of them. That is why I love being a part of these mission trips.
–Rickey Cheng, 10th grade
Every summer, the Maranatha youth group embarks on a journey throughout the city and to places such as Buffalo or Puerto Rico to help with hurricane relief and rebuilding. We do it to help kids to come to know Jesus Christ. However, it isn’t just the kids that learn. For the past two summers I have gone on the Northeast Philadelphia Mission Trip, and it was amazing to watch those kids come back each day excited to learn about God and do fun activities. It was exciting for me because I was able to teach what I had been learning in Sunday School and the sermon to them. With the funds we make from the Pancake Breakfast and the students’ support letters, we are able to send Maranatha on an exciting adventure every year to help other students learn about Jesus.
–Adam Humeniuk, 8th grade
Mission trips are so valuable to me, because while I was on them, I was able to devote everything to the Lord and serving others. Upon reflecting, nothing has made me happier than serving alongside my peers, and I would never have known that if I had not gone on these trips. They didn’t change my relationship with God. Instead, they strengthened it by calling me to rely on him for things like energy and strength. In addition to this, they allowed me to learn more about the gospel. The pancake breakfast is an opportunity for many of Christ’s children to be together on a day that is so important for worship. The breakfast is a great way for us as children and young adults to show our love for others through sacrifice (getting up early) and hard work.
–Anna Cole, 11th grade
Working on mission trips has taught me the value of Christian community. I am consistently amazed at how God uses trials and difficulties to drive brothers and sisters closer together and to accomplish amazing things.