Summary of the sermon preached by Rev Dr K. Song on 24 September 2017 at St Columba’s Presbyterian Church, Peppermint Grove.
Bible Readings: (OT) Deuteronomy 6:1-15 / (NT) 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12
I. Three purposes of nurture
II. Some misconceptions about nurture
III. Practical guidance in nurturing
The main theme for today is ‘nurturing’ as an important aspect of St Columba’s ministry vision. This is, in a sense, continuation of the previous two sermons on evangelism and mission as all three topic areas – evangelism, mission and nurture – are about growth inwardly and outwardly. Spending three weeks to talk about growth is natural because, as I mentioned last week, growth is natural thing for a living organism as the living body of the living Lord Jesus.
Whereas evangelism and mission are church’s reaching out to our close and distant neighbours, nurture is what a church does to ensure growth of individual members, thus, the whole congregation. For this reason, nurture is closely related to evangelism and mission. A church through nurture may know the reason for evangelism and mission, thus, go out and witness Jesus to neighbours.
So, I’d like to consider three points on nurture that we pray to take place in the congregation of St Columba’s: first, the purpose of nurture, second, some misconceptions about nurture and, finally, practical guidance in nurture.
I. THREE PURPOSES OF NURTURE
We begin with the purpose of nurture. The ultimate purpose of nurture is, as I mentioned earlier, growth like a baby does being fed from his mother. Just like every baby’s growth is purposed, church’s nurture aims to achieve three goals. First, to know the Lord, second, to do the Lord’s will, and, third, to be like the Lord. Nurture is to let all church members know the Lord, do His will and, ultimately, be like Him in all ways (cf. Eph. 4:11-16).
These three purposes of nurture are so evident in the passage we’ve just read, that is, 1 The. 4:1-12, like many other parts of the Bible. If you look at vs. 1 and 2, you hear the Apostle Paul talking to those Christians in Thessalonica about how they’ve come to know the Lord, the first purpose of nurture. It was through instruction and transferring the knowledge of Jesus. Then, in vs. 3-8, the word talks about the ‘will’ of God notified and put into action by those Thessalonian believers. They abstained from sexual immorality – which is quite timely for this generation at this specific moment as we make our voice against legalising same-sex marriage in Australia – and, further, they controlled their bodies in holiness and honour, not in the passion of lust. In a word, they were nurtured to do the will of the Lord. Then, vs. 9 and 10 talk about the third purpose, that is, to be like the Lord. In other words, loving one another as brothers in the Lord. That’s how Jesus introduced Himself to us, as in Jn. 15:13, that He laid down His life for His friends.
Christian nurture aimed to achieve these three goals is not strange at all to parents who raise children. Their greatest joy is no other than seeing their children grow up to full maturity, knowing the love of their parents, doing what is right and honourable, and finally becoming faithful followers of Jesus.
II. SOME MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT NURTURE
So, people almost inherently know these three purposes of nurture. But, at the same time, there are some misconceptions about achieving these goals of nurture. These misconceptions sometimes cause serious problems for a church to focus and achieve nurturing in the congregation. So, let me give you some typical misconceptions.
1. The most widely spread misconception is that church would grow ‘naturally’ by itself as the Holy Spirit nurtures it. Based on this misconception, some people pay no or minimum attention to church education and do nothing or little about it. The idea itself is not really false because the Holy Spirit does nurture church through the word and whether a church is well established or fledging, the Lord surely strengthens it. But their indifference and inaction are false because church is called to take part in strengthening one another up.
2. Another wide spread misconception about nurturing is that the children of believing parents will learn Christian faith from their parents automatically by observing them. So parents simply show the ‘things’ they do to their children with a minimum or no explanation at all. But, often, this is more than a misconception; it is an awfully wrong and dangerous idea because their children most probably will not understand the foundation of their parents’ religious ‘things.’
Among numerous examples of this, let me talk about worship. Parents take their children to Sunday worship services. They sit down and stand; they sing hymns then close their eyes in prayers; they remain quiet during the service and give their attention to the preaching. They used to put the best cloths on when they come to church. Their children watch their parents attentively. But, without really having a biblical explanation of each of these ‘things.’ Parents didn’t tell their children why they did this and that; they didn’t give ‘why’s to their children’s young minds filled with unspoken questions. When they grow and reach an age of independency, then, they start finding answers for themselves rather than going through a process of reaffirming what they heard from their parents. They become vulnerable and it’s usually too late for them to pay good attention to their parents’ words. Their inquiries move from ‘Why do we do these things in worship?’ to ‘Why not do it this way?’, for example. In this way, the focus of worship has shifted from God to people; the centre of worship from preaching of the word to singing choruses. Similar things take place in many other areas of Christian doctrine and practice.
This problem is not only for us of the twenty-first century, but also for Israel of Joshua’s time. If you read Jdg. 2:6-15, you’ll be surprised with your finding from there. When Joshua, the great leader of Israel, and all elders of Joshua’s time died, there arose a generation who did not know the LORD or the work of the Lord He had done for Israel. Almost immediately after Joshua’s generation, a completely new generation arose and they knew neither the Lord nor His mighty works done from Egypt to Canaan, the promised land. Joshua and his elders were good in conquering the land and settling in the promised land, but they were silent and not sufficient explanation – that is, nurturing and education – was given to their children. Its result was shockingly challenging to every generation in church history as the generations after Joshua’s did what was right in their own eyes. In a word, they departed from the Lord and lived in sin.
The children of believing parents need to be taught from the cradle; every detail of the ‘things’ their parents do in faith must be explained. Parents’ faith does not automatically transfer to their children; it must be explained.
3. Let me give you another misconception about nurturing that requires our consideration. That is, ‘Christian education is an indoctrination or brainwashing.’ That’s not true at all. Teaching doctrine or teaching the Bible as a whole is a good thing and essential thing. Why? Because having a bird’s eye view on the teachings of the Bible is like having a GPS or map in one’s mind. Doctrine will become a tour guide as you go page after page of the Bible. It keeps you form being lost in your reading and studying the word of God. Studying doctrine is seeing the Bible as a whole. In nurturing, therefore, teaching and studying doctrine is essential.
4. The last misconception I’d like to point out is that children should wait till a certain age for learning doctrine. That’s wrong. Young children are able to understand difficult biblical concepts like salvation, justification or redemption. Although some of them show difficulty in expressing how much they understood such concepts, children are definitely able to comprehend them. What matters is how to explain them to children. This matter of ‘how to’ is about practical guidance in nurturing which is our next point.
III. PRACTICAL GUIDANCE IN NURTURING
How can a church carry out nurturing of everyone from young to advanced? A perfect picture of it will be a three-tiered nurture. I mean, Sunday worship service, Bible study and personal discipleship.
Church members attend worship service on every Lord’s Day. And what’s in worship service in terms of nurturing? Worship service is, basically, a learning experience. It begins with what it is to come to and meet with God. Through worship, we learn about both personal and corporate relationship with our Father through the Son. Bowing to God in prayer of repentance and thanks as well as petition, and singing praises, we are nurtured with experience of the truths about God and Christ. Listening to the word and the message that expounds the Scripture is the core of nurture taking place in worship.
But worship service alone is not sufficient for believer’s nurture. The Bible needs to be read and studied, examined and meditated then applied in life. This can surely be done individually, but, the Lord gave church His servants to help the believers in their understanding of the word and its application. This will be covered in detail next Sunday. The shepherds and teachers are to equip the saints for the work of ministry, as Eph. 4:13 says. Studying the word of God together will also prevent anyone from misunderstanding of any part of the Bible. Moreover, through Bible study, one could easily and quickly learn to have an eye to see the Bible as a whole. After all, this is the picture the Lord spoke about through His prophet Isaiah that “every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low … and the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together” (Isa. 40:4, 5).
Having been nurtured through worship service and Bible study, discipleship is another part of nurture in church. Discipleship means, a mature Christian provides training in godliness to others who need to grow. It is ‘mentoring’ taking place between church members. A more mature believer watches less mature member and, in Christ’s love, strengthens, encourages and challenges when needed. This also includes rebuking and exhorting, yet, with a humble and caring heart.
This doesn’t mean, however, that all church members need to be divided into two groups – one, mentors and the other, the mentored. No, that’s not the idea. Simply put, each member has this discipleship relationship with at least two other people. That is, one to train and another to receive training. For example, an Elder disciples a male member while having a minister as his mentor. Yet, the minister will have one of the Elders of the church as his mentor. A mature female member disciples another female member while being helped by one of the mature female members. Do you see the picture? But, any one shouldn’t have more than three to disciple at a time. The purpose of this discipleship is to build up a web of accountability among church members and learn from one another aiming mutual growth in faith and life. This is the teaching of Prov. 27:17 that says, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”
In this way, everyone in a church grows together through attending worship services, studying together in Bible study meetings, then, each one sharpens another through sharing faith and life together. We at St Columba’s must have this picture in our minds and pray and ask God for His grace and work together to make it happen in our midst in the name of our Lord Jesus!
Let me emphasise another important aspect of nurturing at St Columba’s. It’s about nurturing our next generation. We haven’t got a Sunday School in its full extent, we don’t have a youth ministry, but we must understand what needs to be done for nurturing our next generation and pray for it to take place in our church. Nurturing our next generation must also be a three-tiered nurture. It requires church, home and Sunday School/youth group work together.
As a church, all church members pray and give hands to nurturing our next generation. This is the starting point; without this prayer and consistent interest and support, no result can be expected. If Joshua and his elders’ generation lost their children to the idols of the world, we can expect nothing at all. So, church’s corporate prayer and interest and support is essential.
Then, every home should rear their children with the word of God every day. Our first Bible reading from Dt. 6 is an excellent guidance for parents and children what to consider and do at home. The, finally, Sunday School/youth group teach children reflecting what they have learned at home during the week and what would be their study in the coming weekdays. It sounds that there must be a lot of planning and coordinating. But that’s nothing if all work together for our next generation.
Hearing this, let us not say, ‘It’s impossible,’ because in God all things are possible. Let us also not say, ‘There’s not enough man-power,’ because asking more workers in prayer in the name of the Lord will surely be heard and our Father will provide us suitable and gifted servants. Only thing that is required of us is to desire this nurturing to be implemented in our midst – especially this ‘three-tiered’ nurturing with worship, Bible study and discipleship, and church, home and school – and pray and start working together. The rest, our gracious and faithful Father will carry out in the name of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. All praise be to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit! Amen. ***