Spiritual Life of the Leader - Lesson 1

Christian Activism

Christian activism is Christians seeking to be involved in the issues and needs of the day and time. Wesleyans in the 1700's in England sought to minister to people that others didn’t care about. To be called by Christ is to be called into the body of Christ. A biblical model is that every member is a full-fledged minister of the gospel without distinction between clergy and laity. 

Stephen Martyn
Spiritual Life of the Leader
Lesson 1
Watching Now
Christian Activism

Christian Acitivism

I. Personal Introduction

II. Sociological and Ecclesiological Issues

A. 1800's in England

B. Rise of Christian Activism

C. Definition of Christian activism

D. Sermon by Alexander Mclaren 1901

1. What Christ does for us

2. What Christ does in us

3. Everyone should be involved, not just the clergy

4. Life is the root of work and more important than work

5. In some cases, the works of the churches generate activity but mask death

6. Martha has her own way now

All Lessons
Class Resources
  • Dr. Martyn has surveyed church leaders around the world to understand their responsibilities and pressures. He aims to use his experience to help them develop a model of ministry that encourages spiritual formation, discipleship, and worship in a healthy way. His class is comprehensive on topics such as spiritual formation, discipleship, leadership principles, and worship. Listening to this class could benefit anyone regardless of whether they have an official leadership position or not.
  • Christian activism is Christians seeking to be involved in the issues and needs of the day and time. Wesleyans in the 1700's in England sought to minister to people that others didn’t care about. To be called by Christ is to be called into the body of Christ. A biblical model is that every member is a full-fledged minister of the gospel without distinction between clergy and laity. 

  • Mysticism can be described as the direct communication of your spirit with the Divine Spirit as taught and illustrated in the New Testament as a fundamental part of Christian belief. Receptivity means that I am open to what the Lord is saying to me through the revelation of his word, the magnificence of his son and the voice of his Spirit which is consistent with the written word. The church was emphasizing what they were doing for God rather than on first listening to what God wants us to be and then acting. Union with our Lord must come before any type of donation or work (kenosis) for our Lord. (Download the complete text of the sermon by clicking on the link on this page or under the Downloads heading on the class page.)

  • Which do you love more, the Lord or the projects you are doing for him? Is your goal to exalt the Lord or build a personal kingdom? Essence of anxiety is whether or not you can trust God. The question to ask when you begin having feelings of self-pity is, “Is you life going to be defined by how you think it ought to go?”  The blame-shame mindset is that you are unhappy because there is something wrong with the people around you. When you experience these red flags in your ministry, you should recognize it as time that it’s possible that the Lord may be prompting you to make a change in your life.The Mary in you must rest at the feet of Jesus if the Martha in you is to do her work.

  • Essence is who the Lord has created you to be. Biblically, essence precedes existence as oppose to Sartre's teaching that man is no more than what he makes of himself. God has given us the capacity of reception, to be able to hear God’s voice and follow it. The spiritual life that God calls you to live is based on what you receive from God, not on what you do for God.

  • How do you determine if your motives are right in your efforts to serve God? The more gifts and talents we have, the more susceptible we are to self-deception regarding our motives. Resist the urge to make pleasing people your primary motivation. You will never please everyone and in the process you lose sight of focusing on pleasing God. When people have expectations of you that don’t match what God has called you to do, there are times when you must, “let Lazarus die.”

  • God wants us to be faithful to the kingdom and his son and fruitful according to his metrics. What’s the goal and what condition do our hearts need to be in to understand the goal? The Mary in us needs to rest at the feet of Jesus in order for the Martha in us to do her work. Think about when you experienced renewal and think about when you were blessed. When you have received God’s blessing, how has that resulted in demonstrating his hand of mercy to someone else? How are your activities balanced?

  • A canal simultaneously pours out what it receives. A reservoir waits till it’s filled then discharges water without loss to itself. Today, there are many in God’s church that act like canals. The reservoirs are far too rare. So urgent is the charity of those through whom heavenly doctrine flows that they want to pour it forth to us before they have been filled. They are more ready to speak than to listen, impatient to teach what they have not grasped, and full of presumption to govern others while they know not how to govern themselves. High mountain lakes have one stream out and water level relatively constant throughout the year. How is the water level staying constant in your life? Depletion results in erosion of presence, and results in just going through the motions. 

  • The Lord desires that we live dispositionally. Important elements include loving God, living devotionally, relational strengthening, vocational serving (listening with the intent of following what I hear). Dallas Willard wrote, “If I am a disciple of Jesus, I am with him to learn from him, how to be like him." The primary calling of a pastor is to follow Jesus, within the calling of leading a church. 

  • The eight deadly sins are in the order that Satan uses to try to get us and in the order in which we need redemption. Gormandize means you are overdoing it and being a slave to flesh. Fornication refers to a wandering heart and seeking to devour others. Avarice is the love of money and sometimes is a fear of not having enough. Anger is a rancorous spirit. The spiritual cancer of depreciation is looking at the vast horizon of God’s goodness in his creation and my life and depreciating it, only seeing what’s wrong. Psalm 51:10-12, create in me a clean heart, O God and renew a right spirit within me.

  • When you experience a difficult situation, how do you begin to turn your focus away from the negative and on to what God is doing? How do you respond when you are working closely with people that don't like you? What do you do as a leader when there is a person that is angry with you and disagrees with how you are leading?

  • The sin of acedia is, “I don’t care anymore.” The sin of tristitia is sadness, wrongly processing suffering and loss, allowing the soul to close in on itself and refuse instruction from God. Tristitia is neither a result of other people or of our outward circumstances. Satan wants to get us off the track in stupid presumption or in sinful carelessnenss. God redeems the hurt that evil has done.

  • In the early church passion was seen as something that controlled you and out of control and leading you astray, not a positive motivation. John Cassion described vainglory as passion to take pleasure in our own qualities. The danger is that we take credit for what God is doing. In pursuit of being popular, we often sacrifice who we are at the core. Pride is the original vice from which all others spring. Pride can develop into functioning atheism. The cure for pride is to have the humility of Jesus in our heart. 

  • Is there a sin that's not deadly? To what extent can you worry about something before it becomes a sin? What does it take to overcome gluttony? The minute you make an exception for yourself, you either presume on the grace of God or break a known law of God. Admit what you are feeling and submit it to God to have faith in him in the situation, then do your part.

  • Instead of gluttony, we see temperance. Temperance means living a balanced life. Chaste love is extending love to others, not preying on them. Poverty of spirit rather than greed. Cultivate meekness to deal with anger. You have been forgiven much so you should be willing to forgive others much. Cultivate faith, hope and love to deal with hopelessness. Cultivate humility to deal with vainglory. Evangelism in the first 300 years a result of the quality of the lives of disciples as they lived in a hostile environment. 

  • A transcendent crisis is yearning for the “more than.” “Is life meaningful?” “Is God good?” Can I trust my life to God or have I been abandoned by God? An idolatry crisis happens when you run after a passion rather than pursue God. Each person in your sphere of influence is going through crises in their own lives. God can use a crisis to help something in us die so we can experience and share the light of Christ.

  • To feed the 5,000, the disciples had to rely on Jesus because they didn’t have the resources. Jesus walked out on the water to comfort the disciples with his presence. The disciples thought they were going to die a terrible death. If you choose to think your situation, the church and others are hopeless, it results in ego desperation, or hopelessness. You see what’s wrong, you think you have exhausted your resources and you see no way that it’s going to get fixed. If you allow the crisis to take you into the life of Christ and dependence on him, it will not destroy you. 

  • It's important for us to understand how our relationship with God is affected by being born at a certain period of time and in a certain society. The vital is the physical dimension of the human life. Vitalism is where your physical pleasures become the priority in your life.  Functional is the roles, tasks and responsibilities we take on. It’s a problem when we allow our roles and responsibilities to define us, which is functionalism. Transcendent is the longing for the “more than.” Pneumatic/Ecclesial level is the capacity the Lord has given each of us to hear and respond to the Holy Spirit, God’s voice. When ambition gets separated from the leading of the Spirit, it can become self-promotion. Functional Transcendence is you using the things of God for self-gain.

  • It's important to keep Christ at the center of who you are. Interiority includes memory, intellect, will. Augustine says will is most important.In addition to our personal thoughts, we exist in community with others who are submitting their lives to the will of Christ. The Lord has placed us in a certain place and time and wants you to live a life of obedience in that context every day, not just one day a week. The Father is seeking to form your life into the image of Christ as you were meant to be. Through our experiences, God forms you into a unique person. On the relational side, this results in compassion for others because we love others with the same love we experienced. God gives us confidence that he has given us the gifts and resources we need to live out the calling he has given us. Competence that our ministry will be effective. Our courage comes from trusting in the strength of the Lord. Community, the work of God’s Church is a work done with others. Confirmation comes internally from God and externally from the community of faith. 

  • If you are following Jesus, you have a role as a leader. If a spiritual leader does not understand what their task is according to scripture, then their spiritual life is not going to have the focus the Lord wants them to have.  Worship is a response of the love that has been shown to us. Worship involves our all aspects of us and is enabled by God’s Spirit. We worship God because of who he is. By looking at Jesus, you see who God is.

  • The Church needs you to present what Scripture says, not your own ideas. Worship means to kneel before someone out of respect or honor. We owe it to God as an act of service to sit at his feet and worship him. Spiritual worship is to place our physical bodies at God’s disposal. Are we leading people to worship God, or just providing religious goods and services to them? Solid biblical teaching is important. Structure follows purpose. We are failing to dig down into the revelation of God and let the revelation of God set the compass. If you are not careful, your program sets your agenda.

  • Movements in worship: 1. kneeling in acts of loving worship. Kneeling in submission before God to acknowledge that you are dependent on him. 2. Exalting God by declaring his worthiness 3. Receiving God’s life symbolized by the sacrament of communion. 4. Empowers us and encourages us to go out and serve. We participate in the fellowship and life of the Trinity. We need to immerse ourselves in relationship to God and let that inform and empower what we do so that our worship service is more than creating an experience or transmitting information. Be explicit about your purpose in worship and include prayer.

  • The elders fall before the throne, they worship the Lord and they cast their crowns before him. Falling before the throne represents an acknowledging of God as absolute deity. What is going to happen in the future tells us what we should be doing now. When we fall down before the throne, our heart condition is inward humility and submission to the Lord. Then they raise up and exalt the Lord by proclaiming his worth. Inward love results in proclaiming what is right, good, just and holy. Taking of crowns is an outward expression of placing everything we have under the Lordship of Christ and an inward movement of total abandonment of everything we are to God.

  • The call of Jesus to, “follow me” is the call to redirect everything in our lives. A disciple is one who seeks to fulfill the will of the father by actively following Jesus the Son while continually depending on the Holy Spirit for guidance and strength. Faith is my trust in Jesus as well as the content of the Gospel. Practice is putting it into play. Catechism is the content of the faith, and catechesis is how you express it. Cheap grace is not biblical because it allows for justification without ensuing discipleship. Primary purposes of the church are to proclaim the Gospel, worship and make disciples. In addition to knowing the content, you must live it out. Clergy need to learn how to make and train disciples. Laity must be fully committed full-time ministers of the body of Christ.

  • Movements that are necessary for the church today to fulfill what God is calling them to do. For the clergy, 1. moving from pastor as the primary minister to each believer fulfilling their calling as full-time ministers in their spheres of influence; 2. Moving from preaching only to not only appropriate sermon preparation time but also discipling a core group; 3. Moving from a priority on numbers to staying with a process that results in mature disciples; 4. From solo leadership to team leadership. Discipleship should not be optional. Old Christendom model is breaking down but confusion on who and what we are called to be. “Is my first aim to make disciples, or do I just run an operation?” For the laity, 1. From going to church to being Church; 2. From expecting benefits from Christianity requiring no sustained effort to being intent on being disciples; 3. From being passive observers to full-time ministers. Primary purpose of leader is to equip the people of God to do the work of God.

  • The sermon is a critical part of the discipleship process. The “through” movement is the process of the “from-to” movement. Each of these steps must be contextualized to your situation. We are aiming for maturity in Christ. As a leader, you love the whole but you only disciple the few. Don’t neglect public proclamation but don’t see that as the end of your ministry. Daily pray, read scripture, weekly services, small groups acts of service, fasting, giving. Discipleship is helping people integrate the word of God into their lives.

  • Tozer says we don’t have the right of choosing Jesus as Savior and postponing our obedience. Dispositions are something that’s part of your daily life. Christian disciplines help us to love God and love our neighbor. Encourage people to seek God’s direction for where he wants them to serve. The biblical model is that mature Christians will live as disciplined followers. Make it a goal for pure love to fill your heart and govern your words and actions.

What do you think the priorities should be for a leader in the Church? How do you cultivate your personal spiritual life in a way that keeps you emotionally healthy and helps you avoid choosing sin? What is your measure of success for your church? How does that compare with a biblical measure of success? What is a disciple? What should the process of discipleship look like? What principles can you learn from the way Jesus interacted with his followers that will help you to encourage spiritual formation of the people in your sphere of influence? What are sins that people in leadership have commonly struggled with over the past 2,000 years? How do you recognize them in your own life and what are some practical ways to avoid them or repent and recover from them? What is the essence of worship? How do you live your life so you are worshipping God authentically in everything you do? How do you lead worship in a group setting in a way that encourages others to worship authentically? 

These are a few of the questions that Dr. Martyn poses to begin a conversation regarding the subject of the spiritual life of the leader. As a pastor for more than 20 years, Dr. Martyn asked and answered these questions in the context of loving and serving people personally. As part of his current position of teaching future pastors at Asbury seminary, he and some of his colleagues have conducted extensive surveys of church leaders throughout the North America and the world to get a better understanding of the responsibilities and pressures that church leaders face every day. His goal is to be able to understand biblical principles and use his experience to help leaders develop a model of ministry that helps them develop their personal spiritual life and give them a model to disciple and encourage the people they work with in a way that is healthy and encourages their faith and practice. 

Whether you have an official leadership position or not, you will benefit from listening to this class. It is one of the most comprehensive classes on spiritual formation, discipleship, leadership principles and worship that you will ever hear. If you listen and reflect on each of the lectures from beginning to end, you will be glad you did. 

Dr. Stephen Martyn
Spiritual Life of a Leader
Christian Activism
Lesson Transcript

Christian activism is Christians seeking to be involved in the issues and needs of the day and time. Wesleyans in the 1700's in England sought to minister to people that others didn’t care about. To be called by Christ is to be called into the body of Christ. A biblical model is that every member is a full-fledged minister of the gospel without distinction between clergy and laity.

I. Personal Introduction

I was a pastor for twenty-eight years ministering all over the United States and I am now at Asbury Theological Seminary. After being a pastor for so long, now I am training pastors. We are going to ask the Holy Spirit to guide us and bless and use this for God’s glory and his kingdom. I pray that there will be something here that the Lord will use to help you wherever you are and whenever you are. I hope these lectures will better equip you as a minister of the Gospel whether ordained or not. I pray during this teaching series that the Holy Spirit leads and that God’s goodness will contain and keep everything from any error. We want to hear from God, his life and liberty and his great love for all of us.

II. Sociological and Ecclesiological Issues

A. 1800’s in English

I want to start out by looking back at some sociological issues and ecclesiological issues. Ecclesiology is the whole church and how the Lord works through his body, the bride. I want to look back at some trends that go back to the 1800's to get an overview of what happened in England at that time and why that matters to us today. There are dynamics behind the history that we find ourselves in at this moment, especially in how we work and think about ministry. I am going to post a sermon that was by a famous Baptist preacher by the name of Alexander Maclaren. He has a whole volume of preaching and teaching messages that is great exegetical work with solid material behind it. I want to go back and look at this closely. Maclaren lived until 1910 and was a pastor of Union Chapel in Manchester, England. It was a great leading church during of that day. This was a time of no electronic projection which would require him to have a booming voice. You had your main Anglican Church that wasn’t a part of the mainline church of that day. Keep in mind that key ministers during the time of Queen Victory; the whole world was getting better and better and England was expanding all over the globe. It was a great time. Yet, there were some issues then.

B. Rise of Christian Activism

Christianity made a sociological jump in Great Britain in the 19th century. This was the rise of Christian Activism. This word activism is part of some of the words they used then. In the century before this, there was a great revival that took place in the 1700’s, specifically from 1739 to 1790 in Great Britain that was led by John and Charles Wesley. Even during their day, there were no public schools and so John and Charles Wesley starting the public school system. They were literally kicked out of the established Anglican Church; they then preached in the streets and city squares and you can see historic markers today in where they preached. They led common people to Christ; people who wouldn’t necessarily end up in an Anglican Church. They didn’t have the clothes to go to an Anglican Church for one thing. Besides schools, they started Orphanages; medical dispensaries and they educated people on how to read. They developed ways to take care of widows and established other types of Christian ministry. These things were always tied to the presentation of the Gospel and in-cooperated into God’s church. Good works were never disassociated or cut off from the Gospel. Then by the latter part of the 1700’s, they were starting to send missionaries out as were the Anglicans. Actually, the Anglicans had been sending out missionaries long before this time.

C. Definition of Christian Activism

But now in the early 1800’s, this thing starts to expand and this business of Christian Activism; in other words, Christians seeking to be involved in the needs and in the issues of the day and time. This was all a very good thing. Are we not as Christians called to be involved in whatever the needs of the day and time are. The whole dynamic of the Wesleyans sought to minister to the poor, to the downcast, otherwise to people that others didn’t care about. There is nothing wrong with Christian Activism as such. But we are now going to see and also in the coming sessions that there are some issues in regards to who we are in Christ. So, there were organizations and missions and benevolent societies. A lot of people became involved in outreach into the lives of others in England. You can look back in registries in cities such as Bristol. Of the twenty-one such societies registered early in that century, by the end there were a hundred and sixteen registered religious and benevolent institutions. This was during the time of the Salvation Army with Booth which is even today in China. This was one of the great miracles that we have seen in the last decade coming out of the Methodist Church. Their target audiences were working with the poor. All of these institutions were doing good work in the name of Jesus. In that day and time, the high water mark of attendance in Anglian Churches happened in 1859. After this, attendance started to erode in these churches. There was an invention that came in 1859 that involved activity and movement; this was the bicycle. People started to disassociate from going to church on a regular basis. And today in the States regular attendance is around once a month. This trend started in 1859 with the dominant church in England, but at the same time mission activities increased.

D. Sermon by Alexander Maclaren 1901

On Monday, October 7, 1901, Maclaren gave the opening address to the autumn assembly of the Baptist Union. The address was a classic sermon which I was able to get. It is a beautiful address and definitely worth us looking at. He was in Edinburgh, Scotland at the time and at the beginning of the address, he starts off by talking about a sane and wholesome mysticism. This is not a word that we normally like to use today because of some of the present day movements in the Christian tradition which are not grounded and solid at all. But Maclaren was a solid biblical person and his understanding of mysticism includes that which is at the heart of Christianity. He is talking about a certain sense of what he would later define as the direct communion of the human with the divine Spirit. The Holy Spirit is at work in my life; I have a relationship with Jesus and I am following Christ and the Holy Spirit is pointing me toward Christ. He continued to say that we tend to think of Christ for us as the whole of the Gospel. Theologically, in talking about what Christ does for us includes atonement and substitution; it is anything to do with the Cross. This is a free gift to us.

So what did substitution accomplish for us? We are justified which paved the way for the use of the word justification. When we look at what Christ does for us, it really comes under this huge broad heading of justification. This involves the merits of Christ which has accomplished for us what none of us could do. This made possible a relationship back with the Father. But Maclaren is pointing at a historical classical Christianity here. He is going to try and make a case giving us a fairly sharp word and critique. He says that we must also take into account the other half of this business of what Christ does in us and what he accomplishes not only for us but in us. Because, what he is saying: this whole business of taking on the character and nature of Christ is paramount. You need both of these in your life, not just one. When we think about what Christ does for us in justification; so what is it that he does in us? This is sanctification. So we have justification, what Christ does for us and we have sanctification, what Christ does in us. This is the work of Christ which is his nature, his love and his goodness literally being poured into our lives, to where we are being conformed to his image. And that which destroys life, which is sin is no longer ruling and reigning in us. Justification breaks the hold of sin in our lives and allows for forgiveness to come and allows relationships to be restored.

Maclaren moves on when he talks about Christ in us. He comes to a climatic point which says that we must all rejoice in the manifold activity of the church. He is talking about all of this involvement that he saw throughout English, but this doesn’t just include Baptist Churches but also the Anglican Churches. There was a renewal movement happening in the Anglican church as well. He says that none of us would have these diminished but rather would wish that they would increase a hundred-fold until an inactive Christian was as much a rarity as people are always a walking contradiction. To be called to Christ is to be called into the body of Christ. This is not a two-tiered system where you have the pastors and the ministers doing all the work and the people receiving all the work and doing little. This wasn’t an early church model and it isn’t a biblical model at all. And regards to the reformation, the reformation isn’t finished for we have a long way to go in terms of understanding every member of Christ being a full-fledged full on minister of the Gospel. If you delineate it out where you have ministers and members; this is not a biblical mode of church. There will be some pastors and some that are called and hopefully gifted to specific things. This great old Baptist preacher is now pulling out a double edge sword and it is very sharp.

He says that life is the root of work and more important than work. We will be working on unfolding this in this teaching series. He is calling into question priorities in how we live and how we invest our time and how we walk and move. He is saying that life has to be hierarchical; in other words, there has to be a priority and what he is saying is that sadly our activities for God is not going to be at the top of the hierarchy. This is somewhat counter cultural. It was counter cultural then and also now. So life is the root of work and more important than work; and it is open to doubt that the abundant work of the churches, the local congregations, at present are the outcome of life that comes from God or whether they are not in some cases galvanic movements that stimulate vitality and mass death. He just puts the sword into the very heart of the world view of pastors and leaders in that day and age. When you galvanize something, you shoot an electrical current through it and it doesn’t rust or corrode. It takes a lot of energy to do this. So, he is saying that you are generating a lot of energy, you are burning a lot of fuel, pushing a large program but I’m not sure in the long run that this is kingdom work. So, we ask the Lord to give us this kind of prophetic courage in this day and age as well. The church still stands in need of reformation so we are asking for the ability to see the world views that are driving us to do the types of ministry and the kind of involvement that we have today. Maclaren goes to Luke 10 and says, ‘Martha has her own way now;’ we will look at this in the next session.