This month: 189 - Freedom in Christ
Exploring the Heart of Restoration

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Archives for 170 – Fasting & Prayer

Can we talk about fasting? When I was in college, two Bible professors at our school regularly told their students that they fasted one day per week. Another professor criticized them for this, saying that they were violating what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount:

But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Matthew 6:17-18)

I disagree. Jesus gave similar warnings about public prayer, yet no one complains when others pray in their presence. We were warned not to let others know when we give, yet we regularly have a public offering during our assemblies. Only fasting has been placed in the “don’t ask, don’t tell” category.

I think that our policy of silence on fasting has hurt the church. We rarely teach about fasting. If truth be told, we rarely fast. Is that what Jesus wanted?

Hardly. Note that his teaching above begins “But when you fast,” making it apparent that he expected believers to fast. In the same way, He said that when He was no longer present on earth, His followers would fast (Mark 2:20). And Jesus fasted while living here on earth (Luke 4:2).

The early church fasted as part of its worship (Acts 13:2-3) and as part of the process for appointing elders in the church (Acts 14:23). Some Christians avoid talking about when they fast, but these passages show that the early church was comfortable in sharing that information. If we never talk about fasting, we’ll never learn to practice it.

Here are some suggestions:

  • We need times of corporate prayer and fasting, like we see in the book of Acts. There is power in practicing these spiritual disciplines.
  • We need to talk about fasting and teach about fasting. In New Testament times, fasting was relatively common, so little practical instruction needed to be given. Today we need to talk about how to fast, when not to fast, how long to fast, etc.
  • We need to remember that spiritual fasting isn’t about increased health nor weight loss. Nor is it just about abstaining from food. Fasting should be accompanied by prayer. Use the time you would spend eating to spend in time with God.

The early church was comfortable with fasting. They taught about it. They practiced it. They even dared to talk about it.

We should do the same.

You know the feeling of that moment.

You’re sitting in your usual seat. The worship period is just beginning. The elders move as a group to the pulpit. One of them steps forward with a paper in hand, and says, “We have an announcement to make.”

Uh oh! What’s happened? What awful thing are we about to hear?

Sometimes—often—that announcement has to do with your pulpit minister. A long-tenured, much-loved minister is retiring. A young, vibrant minister—for whom everyone sees a bright future—has accepted a pulpit in another state. There’s been an affair. Ailing parents necessitate a move. The minister—discouraged—will be seeking secular employment.

The reasons are varied. The results are the same. Our church is losing its pulpit minister. Our “normal” has just changed. Ahead yawns a season of transition. Like a lost tooth, we will all feel the gap, poke and prod at it, and wonder how (when!) we can find a replacement.

Nobody welcomes transition. Nobody enjoys the loss, uncertainty, stress, doubts and dangers of a transition season. Individually, or as churches, we don’t respond with fondness to change.

Our common response to seasons of transition, then, is to hold our noses and run like mad through the transition, determined above-all-else to get to a new “normal” as quickly as possible. Transition is not just inconvenient … it is intolerable. Transition is not simply stressful … it is toxic. Avoid transition! And, when it can’t be evaded, abbreviate it by every means possible! The longer the transition, the greater our anxiety. The longer the transition, the more vulnerable we feel.

Hope Network Ministries believes God works most powerfully among his people in times of transition. Transition is not an “illness” we experience between periods of normal health but a regular interluded in the rhythm of God’s people … a necessary and wholesome “breather” in the busyness of church life.

Consider Israel’s transition from Egypt to the Promised Land. The Exodus wasn’t comfortable. It wasn’t predictable or safe. It made Israel vulnerable to hunger, thirst, and war. There was plenty of grumbling and complaining along the way.

But look how God used that season to accomplish powerful things in the life of his people: new leadership, the formation of a nation, Sinai and the revelation of the Law, fresh reliance on God’s guidance and provision, a new home. The “interim” of the Exodus became the most formative and transformative period in all Israel’s long history. This season of transition resulted in new life.

Consider the Jerusalem church during the days of Saul’s persecution. The church was growing by leaps and bounds. The Spirit of God was present and alive and moving. The Apostles were preaching and training and moving from house-to-house among the believers.

And then Saul threw a grenade into the good things God was doing—or so it must have seemed to many in the Jerusalem Church. Everything changed overnight. Shock. Alarm. Fear. Flight. Luke tells us Christians fled the city and “all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria” (Acts 8:1). They transitioned from peace to persecution … from mega-church to a small group (again) … from enjoying “the favor of all the people” to a hunted and haunted faction.

In Acts, the transition lasted only a few verses. But, in real time, months passed before Christians began to trickle back to the city and resume their normal lives. But, once again, God used this period of transition to accomplish powerful things in the life of his people. Some of the Christians who were scattered during Saul’s persecution traveled to Gentile territory and “began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus” (Acts 11: 20). Peter had his vision and visited the home of Cornelius (Acts 10). Barnabas began his gospel work among Gentiles in Antioch (Acts 11:22ff).

God used transition to drive the gospel beyond Jerusalem and the Jews to a waiting Gentile world. Because of this transition—in spite of its pain and threat and disruption—the world changed and God’s purposes prevailed.

Hope Network Ministries believes God still does his greatest work among his people in seasons of transition. One of those transitions involves the loss of a minister. Between the last minister and the next, in that uncomfortable “interim,” God can accomplish powerful things in our churches.

The “Interim Ministry” division of Hope Network focuses on this time of transition in the local congregation. We have experience leading scores of churches through such change. We have tools and processes to help churches address the interim season in effective ways. We can help your church walk through the interim to a new and vibrant future.


Hello Wineskins Readers! This is Matt. I wanted to let you know that this article is here in conjunction with the right sidebar ad of our sponsor for November, Hope Network. We believe in what they do, so we approached them about advertising with us. I have personally benefited from their work and that is why I was excited to get the word out about what they do! Check out their site through the links above!

Renewal begins: Another congregation’s journey
In my consulting work with congregations I have the remarkable opportunity to walk alongside all sorts of churches. More and more often, the ones I work with are churches that recognize they are getting smaller and older. Recently I have had multiple conversations with leaders in churches that are preparing to sell their buildings and close up shop. Are there other options?

Yes, other options exist – provided that folks believe in a God who brings life out of death. Church revitalization or church renewal is quite possible when a congregation is willing to acknowledge that, without the work of the Spirit, there is no future for us. In other words, for a church to really thrive, it must first actually believe in the Christian faith!
I’ve been spending a lot of time with one such church for the past six months. Click here to continue reading on Mosaic.

Equipping for Ministry
Are you looking for ways to connect with other leaders in your area? Equipping for Ministry is a networking and learning opportunity we provide in collaboration with the ACU Alumni and University Relations team. Participants gather to share a meal, connect with other leaders, and gain valuable resources. If you’re a minister, elder or other Christ-follower interested in vibrant churches and healthy church life, you’re invited! Save the date for our upcoming spring events in Houston, Dallas/Fort Worth, Austin, and San Antonio (see dates below). Learn more.

From the trenches to the balcony Ministry often occurs in the trenches as ministers offer hands-on service to their churches and communities – from hospital rooms to baptistries. While this work is vital, it is also vital for leaders to spend time in the balcony, writes Dr. Daniel McGraw (’16 D.Min.), who serves with the West University Church of Christ in Houston. The balcony offers a different perspective, helping ministers envision a path forward. Read more.

Ministers’ Support Network (MSN)
Countless ministry couples have become adept at pretending the hard questions don’t exist. Is the call to ministry still a passion, or does it feel like a job? After pouring into the lives of others, what happens when the minister or spouse feels spiritually empty? MSN offers a safe space to tackle the hardest questions as well as a community that will walk with you long after the retreat is over. Contact Robert Oglesby (’81) to recommend yourself or someone else for MSN. Learn more. Fulfill UR Ministry If planning mission experiences is something you do, check out this robust database of more than 1,700 missions resources and missions-sending organizations. Anne Hocking, who works down the hall from us in the Halbert Center for Missions and Global Service, manages this website, which is free for all users. She and her team have compiled a wealth of information about these organizations to help people find tools to benefit current missions endeavors or missions opportunities that align with factors such as core values, group size, trip duration, and destination. Learn more. Team spotlight: Ron Bruner In addition to his work as executive director of Westview Boys’ Home in Hollis, Oklahoma, Dr. Ron Bruner (’10 D.Min.) serves as editor of our digital journal, Discernment: Theology and the Practice of Ministry. With an emphasis on effective ministerial practice, Discernment presents articles from an array of contexts such as cross-cultural settings, congregational life and ministries, extra-congregational ministry, and mission contexts. To access published articles or submit an article for review, click here.

MARK YOUR CALENDARS Equipping for Ministry: Houston Ministers’ Breakfast, Jan. 27
Contemplative Ministers’ Initiative Retreat, Feb. 10-13
Equipping for Ministry: DFW Ministers’ Lunch, Feb. 27
Equipping for Ministry: Austin Ministers’ Lunch, March 24
Equipping for Ministry: San Antonio Ministers’ Breakfast, March 25
Ministers’ Support Network Retreat, April 2-5

PARTNER WITH US
Our work in the Siburt Institute is made possible by the generosity of friends like you who support and share our mission to serve church leaders and other Christ-followers.

Give to the Siburt Institute.The Siburt Institute for Church Ministry exists to equip and serve church leaders and other Christ-followers for God’s mission in the world.   For more information, visit siburtinstitute.org or contact our office at siburtinstitute@acu.edu or 325-674-3732.


If you have spent any amount of time in the theological tradition known as the Restoration Movement, specifically in the Churches of Christ, you have probably been told that “church of Christ” exclusivism is a conservative idea. In other words, if a congregation or individual openly proclaims that everyone who attends worship somewhere other than a “church of Christ” is lost, then they are the conservatives who are defending the truths of Scripture against the ever-dangerous and ever-growing “liberal” tendencies within the church. These conservatives are the gatekeepers of orthodoxy and everyone else is simply compromising the gospel due to cultural influence and pressure to adapt. To be fair, it is important to note that not all forms of this exclusivism are as explicit or as unforgiving. Some may say that it’s not membership in a “church of Christ” which is central, but rather worshipping properly on a Sunday morning, and of course, a correct understanding of baptism at the time of immersion. Regardless of what form of exclusivism is articulated, one central premise remains: God’s people only consists of the church of Christ, and that church is made up only of those who have a proper understanding of baptism and who do everything correctly during the worship assembly (and for the more extreme, for those whose church has the proper name). 

            Here’s the thing: church of Christ exclusivism is actually a progressive idea. The notion that all Christians who disagree with us on baptism or who belong to a “denomination” are lost, is in fact a departure from original Restoration principles, thus making it a progressive doctrine. This exclusivism was explicitly rejected by the founders and most prominent leaders of the original Restoration Movement. In contrast, these men openly acknowledged that there were Christians in every denomination, even in those which practiced infant baptism! Their idea of unity was not predicated upon theological precision, but rather a love for Jesus and a commitment to biblical authority. They, needless to say, hated the divisions in the body of Christ that had manifested themselves in the form of Protestant denominations and invited all Christians to abandon denominational loyalty and be “Christians only, but not the only Christians.”  Below are a few examples of what the early Restoration Movement leaders thought about Christians in other denominations. They certainly didn’t think of them as “lost” or as “outsiders.” 

Thomas Campbell:“We speak to all our Christian brethren, however diversified by professional epithets, those accidental distinctions which have happily and unscripturally diversified the professing world. By our Christian brethren, then, we mean . . . ‘All that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity, throughout the churches.’ ”[1]

Alexander Campbell:“But who is a Christian? I answer, every one that believes in his heart that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, the Son of God; repents of his sins, and obeys him in all things according to his measure of knowledge of his will. . . . I cannot make any one duty the standard of Christian state or character, not even immersion into the name of Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and [cannot] in my heart regard all that have been sprinkled in infancy without their own knowledge and consent, as aliens from Christ and the well-grounded hope of heaven. Should I find a Pedobaptist [one baptized as an infant] more intelligent in the Christian Scriptures, more spiritually-minded and more devoted to the Lord than a Baptist, or one immersed on a profession of the ancient faith, I could not hesitate a moment in giving the preference of my heart to him that loveth most. Did I act otherwise, I would be a pure sectarian, a Pharisee among Christians.”[2]

Barton Stone:“My opinion is that immersion is the only baptism. But shall I therefore make my opinion a term of Christian fellowship? If in this case I thus act, where shall I cease from making my opinions terms of fellowship? I confess I see no end. . . . Let us still acknowledge all to be brethren, who believe in the Lord Jesus, and humbly and honestly obey him, as far as they know his will, and their duty.”[3]

Walter Scott:“Christians who have not been baptized for the remission of their sins! Strange! Whoever read of such Christians in God’s Word? But the times are peculiar, and as faith does purify the life of a man, and as the man of pure life and pure heart is accepted of God and may receive the Spirit, therefore we must allow, that there are now a days Christians in heart and life who have not been baptized for the remission of their sins. What evidences, then, have they for themselves and others, that they are possessed of the Spirit? None but the moral graces which have already been quoted, viz: love, joy etc.; they don’t need to depend upon an opinion; they feel within themselves and show to those without them by their fruits, that they have been made partakers of the Spirit of Christ.”[4]

            These quotations may come as a surprise to some, and if that is the case, it shows how much the movement itself has changed. The Churches of Christ in our present day do not exactly have a reputation for being inclusive. Yet, the Restoration Movement started as one of the most ecumenical movements in Christian history! When I was an SBC Pastor, I joined the Restoration Movement not only for theological purposes, but also because of the ecumenicalism I read about when studying the origins of the movement. If these men had purported some of what we hear today that is considered “conservative” within the Churches of Christ, I would have wanted nothing to do with the movement. 

            And this realization is imperative for those within the movement today to understand: people want nothing to do with this sort of church of Christ exclusivism. There are numerous aspects of the Restoration Movement that are appealing to a good number of people today, including young people. Congregational autonomy, no clergy-laity distinction, a commitment to biblical preaching, and no allegiance to denominational beliefs, structures and/or traditions are all present within the best of the Restoration Movement. These are all things the Churches of Christ should be able to offer! And we know that the churches which actually do offer these , they are growing exponentially. A recent study done by scholars at Harvard University in conjunction with scholars at Indiana University revealed that church attendance and religious devotion in the United States is actually very steady.[5] Yes, most Protestant denominations are in decline, especially the mainline denominations. However, some Christian groups, such as many nondenominational churches, as well as the Christian Churches, are indeed experiencing growth. In short, people are abandoning certain types of churches in favor of others. 

            There is a bit of irony to be found here for those of us in the Churches of Christ: people love the idea of nondenominational churches! We were supposed to be those churches. And as I said, there is much within our tradition that is admirable and worthy of respect. All of the available data we have concerning church growth/decline in America suggests to us that people desire substantive Christianity; most do not desire a church which will simply exist to entertain them or one that would question the historicity of Jesus/deny his bodily resurrection. The Churches of Christ, at their best, offer a substantive articulation of the historic Christian faith as well as the freedom for those attending to seek truth for themselves. We respect the great thinkers which came before us but are not bound by their conclusions. We embrace historical theology as an indispensable discipline while acknowledging our authority comes from Scripture alone. Whatever someone thinks of these ideas, it is inarguable that this particular approach to Christianity is attractive to the masses in our day. 

            What is the problem, then, for the Churches of Christ? Well, an obvious answer could be that not all of our churches are places where these theological inclinations can be found. Some would say people are not free to search for truth in Churches of Christ, for example. Nonetheless, I do not desire to explore that here, though it is undeniably accurate. Rather, what I simply wish to say is that the Churches of Christ, as originally conceived, were ecumenically minded as well as theologically driven. If the Churches of Christ looked like original Restoration Movement churches, they would be growing just like the Christian Churches are. The problem which I believe is the source of most other problems in this regard, is the widespread rejection of Christian ecumenicalism that took root within our movement in the 20thcentury. This exclusive thought so permeated the Churches of Christ that eventually many thought convincing their Baptist neighbor to be re-baptized or to join their local church of Christ was the equivalent of evangelism. People within the movement no longer viewed other Christians as their allies; they viewed them as a mission field. This paradigm shift was devastating for the movement due to a plethora of reasons that would take an entirely different article to explore. For now, suffice it to say that we became obsessed with winning a debate about baptism or musical instruments and lost sight of what it meant to actually be faithful to Jesus or to reach the unchurched with the gospel: in reality, we lost sight of what discipleship even was, replacing it with church of Christ exclusivism. Perhaps we talked more about “the Lord’s church” than the Lord himself. 

            This was not just detrimental to the people within the movement; it turns out, as I have said, people want nothing to do with this church of Christ exclusivism. They may like taking communion every week, congregational autonomy, simple church structure, a rejection of denominational allegiance and a high view of biblical authority, but they want nothing to do with that sort of exclusivism. People can find these desirable traits while replacing exclusivism with Christian ecumenicalism, and they have. They’re flocking to churches with these same desirables, but not to the Churches of Christ. Church of Christ exclusivism is biblically illiterate, void of historical theological considerations and is simply grotesque. For these reasons people want nothing to do with it; in my experience, it is the single largest barrier for people to even consider joining the Churches of Christ. 

            The good news is, there is hope in all of this! If the Churches of Christ can embrace their historic theology; if, dare I say, we can become more “conservative” by embracing Christian ecumenicalism, I am confident the movement will once again experience growth. People are willing to have conversations, and people are willing to even admit they were wrong about some tenant of theology. I certainly was! What they are not willing to do, however, is accept that they aren’t even a Christian simply because they’re mistaken, in our minds, about some contemporary theological debate. That is a silly concept, and we would do well to rid ourselves of such a paradigm of thought. It is not an overstatement to suggest that the future of our movement depends on it. 

[1] Millennial Harbinger, Series 1, May 1844, p. 199.

[2] Millennial Harbinger, 1837, p. 411-412.

[3] Christian Messenger, 1831, p. 19, 21.

[4] The Evangelist, No. 2, Vol. 2, Feb 4, 1833, p. 49.

[5] See, https://thefederalist.com/2018/01/22/new-harvard-research-says-u-s-christianity-not-shrinking-growing-stronger/



I made mention a while back that the word disciple is used nearly 300 times in the New Testament, all in the Gospels in Acts. The word is never used again after Acts. Meanwhile, the word “church” is used only a couple of times in the Gospels while it is used repeatedly in the epistles.

Here are the numbers:

Here is where the word “disciple” occurs in the New Testament (NIV)

Matthew – 78
Mark – 59
Luke – 50
John – 81
Acts – 26

Here is where the word “church” occurs in the New Testament (NIV)

Matthew – 2
Acts – 19
Romans – 5
1 Cor – 22
2 Cor – 9
Gal – 3
Eph – 9
Phil – 2
Col – 3
1 Thess – 2
2 Thess – 2
1 Tim – 4
Philemon – 1
Hebrews – 1
James – 1
3 John – 3
Revelation – 12

If we focus on Paul over the gospels and Acts we will be more focused on the church than we will about being a disciple. I wonder if the same thing is true when it comes to fasting.

The word typically translated fasting is used 20 times in the New Testament in 15 verses:

Matthew 4:2 – Jesus fasts 40 days and nights in the wilderness
Matthew 6:16-18 – Jesus instructs on how to fast.
Matthew 9:14-15/Mark 2:18-20/Luke 5:33-35 – Jesus asked why his disciples don’t fast.
Luke 18:12 – The Pharisee in the parable, boasting of his righteousness.
Acts 13:2-3 – The disciples were fasting and praying when the Holy Spirit sets apart Barnabas and Saul/Paul for mission work.

We don’t get the word after Acts 13. I wonder if our emphasis on Paul has resulted in our missing how fasting is part of the a disciple’s life? If Paul had addressed fasting in the same verbiage Jesus used “When you fast” or “in those days they will fast” would we have a better track record on fasting than is typical today?

My theory is that the American Restoration Movement that we come out of in Churches of Christ came about (and thrived) at a heavily Christian time. In some circles, the discussion wasn’t about reaching non-believers (people were already convinced about Jesus) as much as it was what makes one distinctive from other churches/believers (they had to be convinced on how to do church right, correct doctrine of the church, etc). If you want to engage those discussions you go to Paul rather than to Jesus. You go post-Pentecost rather than pre-Pentecost. Again, discipleship (in my opinion) was lost through the audience at hand and the topics our conversations focused on. In our emphasis on church we missed some important teaching on what it means to live as a disciple of Jesus.

The same may be true about fasting.

Jesus fasted. He is our example (as his disciples) so should we.

Jesus’ disciples fasted (after he left) and they serve as an example. So should we.

The early church fasted (Acts 13) and they serve as an example for us. So should we.

Fasting is an essential component of the life of a disciple/follower of Jesus. Some note we don’t do it because it isn’t directly commanded. But when did that stop us from doing other things that aren’t explicitly commanded?

What is more, if you read the above passages it is very clear that Jesus wants us to fast – “When you fast” (it is expected). In another instance (Matthew 9:14-15/Mark 2:18-20/Luke 5:33-35) Jesus says his disciples will fast after he departs. Jesus said, “In those days they will fast.”

One might conclude Jesus is only talking about when he is arrested or when he ascended. But as you read Acts you notice that “those days” gets us all the way to Acts 13!

The New Testament is clearer on God’s expectations that disciples fast than I ever understood. Obviously, there are some precautions that come along with this like if you have health issues or concerns, you should consult your doctor. But that doesn’t negate the fact that the first Christians fasted. It was part of their Jewish roots. It was part of Jesus’ teaching. It was how disciples lived. Remember the great commission where we are told making disciples entails both baptism and teaching people to obey all Jesus taught.

Fasting will be crucial to the future of the church. It will put us in a better position to determine the will of God. It will spiritually form and shape us.

Don’t start swinging for the fences. Start small and go from there. Watch and see how God shows up!

I have been a Christian since 1991 and a minister since 2002 and I have just recently, for the first time, gotten into a regular rhythm of fasting and it has truly blessed me life and ministry. Let’s do what we can to normalize fasting for disciples of Jesus. Before we can do that, it seems, the first step would be to normalize discipleship because a disciple will do what they see their teacher doing (see Matthew 4:2), not for 40 days but on some level.

If your church is like mine, then you likely spent the past 25 years deconstructing the unhealthy elements of your faith. You slowly and painfully stripped away the toxic lies. A previous generation had taught a legalistic view of faith, and you needed to undo that. You finally realized that salvation was not dependent on church attendance, a cappella music, weekly communion, or (gasp!) getting every single skin particle and hair follicle beneath the watery grave of baptism. Jesus saves, not our works or rules. Hallelujah. Amen.

But something was lost along the way. A baby got thrown out with the bath water. People lost interest in church. With your deconstruction complete (or close to it), your church now struggles to populate its activities, classes and programs. Your church members apparently got the message that the bar for salvation is low. As a result, they don’t find your offerings compelling enough to sacrifice much of their time and energy for them.

Churches are asking too little of people. Simply hoping that people show up for a midweek gathering or a weekend coffeehouse is too shallow a commitment, and your church people know it. That’s why they struggle to make it a priority.

People want to make a difference in this world. Call it narcissism. Call it the Instagram effect. Call it the wisdom to know that your time is short. Doesn’t matter what you name it. It’s a reality. Most folks can sniff out irrelevance.

They don’t want to be like Eddie, the long-time employee of a hardware store. When Eddie retired, someone asked the owner if they were going to hire a replacement. The owner answered, “No, we’re not hiring. Eddie didn’t leave a vacancy.”

No one wants to be like Eddie, yet churches keep replicating models and methods that make people feel as useless as Eddie. Here’s something to consider. If your church and your church’s programs were to disappear tomorrow, what difference would it make in the lives of your members and your community? Would it leave a vacancy? Would anyone notice?

Along with a couple friends, I once helped lead a young man named Zdenek to Jesus. We spent a lot of time together over a period of several months. One of the best things that happened to him, though, was that we were separated for three years before I moved back near him.

In that interim period, Zdenek had to seek out Christian guides to disciple him. He ended up in a residential discipleship program that emphasized prayer, fasting and evangelism. I visited him there and instantly felt as though I had wandered into a world of committed Christians who were perhaps more sold-out for Jesus than I was. It was humbling.

A year or two later, Zdenek had married and felt the call to dedicate himself to ministry. He embarked on a 40-day fast (forty days!) during which his only nourishment was from fruit juices. I’ll never forget his visit to our apartment near the end of that journey. He looked emaciated and walked with great deliberation. Zdenek told us that he felt weak but that his mind and spirit had never been clearer. He was completely in love with Jesus and wanted to spend his life serving him. And he has continued to do so. I marvel at Zdenek.

Honestly, Zdenek should be thankful that we didn’t disciple him. The Lord led him to Christians who weren’t recovering from the pain of legalism but who were sold out to radical acts of discipleship like prayer and fasting.

What would you give to have a few people like Zdenek in your church? What if your church could finish the deconstruction of the past and could start with the construction of disciples? Not everyone wants to go all in for Jesus, but I’m convinced that many are longing for a deeper sense of commitment and belonging. Instead of giving them Wednesday night Bible studies or a snazzy lounge, how about teaching lifestyles committed to prayer, fasting and evangelism?

Almost every church I know wants to attract young adults like Zdenek. You’re likely fishing around for programs or styles that will cater to his demographic. And like most churches I know, you probably want easy answers that don’t require much more than money or cosmetic changes.

But here’s the reality. Joining God’s mission requires radical acts of discipleship such as prayer and fasting. I believe God’s mission will only break out in your church when you can return to the simple yet powerful practices of early churches as in Antioch: While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit spoke, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying, they laid their hands on them and sent them off (Acts 13:2-3).

As one astute church person commented, “Your church is producing exactly the results it’s designed for.” Are you producing Eddies? Or are Zdeneks multiplying in your midst? Take an honest inventory.

Fasting is a fascinating subject. When I bring it up in conversation or in a lesson, some have a knee jerk reaction and quickly say “there are no commands in the New Testament for us to fast!” I get it. That’s what I was taught, too. I agree that there is no explicit command and I truly believe we are not to bind upon others (or ourselves) anything other than that which God has bound. That said, it is interesting that Jesus said, “when you fast” (Matthew 6:16-18) and the early church fasted before making decisions or commissioning Christians for specific work.

When I ask people what it means to fast, they almost always say “To not eat for a period of time” and they are correct, but only in part. You can fast from food for a day or longer, or you can fast from a particular food as many do during Lent. You can fast from an activity, again, as some of my friends do when they withdraw from social media or TV and movies during Lent. There are severe fasts where you neither eat nor drink during the daylight hours, as my Muslim friends do during Ramadan. I have sat with them as the evening sun is setting and they are finally allowed to eat and drink. It is a remarkable experience.

Isaiah 58 makes it very plain that fasting is not about us. It is not about trying to force God’s hand or prove our righteousness. Rather, fasting is about handing over our lives to God and allowing Him to live through us and that all starts with a lovely little word: no.

“No” is a spiritual word and it is a complete sentence. (My thanks to John Laster, my executive minister who taught me this when I was serving in Rochester, Michigan) You are allowed to use that word and, in fact, you must. It is important to learn how to use that word to protect yourself from the demands and noises of this world. It is also important to learn how to use that word to police your own behavior. We’ve all met people who have never been told “no.” I knew kids in high school that got whatever they wanted – including cars, clothes, gear – whenever they wanted it. Their parents just couldn’t say no and, thereby, they ruined their children’s lives and their children’s sense of entitlement and lack of boundaries ruined the lives of others. We see millionaire sports stars spend their money on bling and sabotage their lives with risky behavior because no one tells them no. We see entitled politicians and bureaucrats who assume the rules do not apply to them for who will tell them no?

I believe that fasting is given to us as a gift from God so that we can learn the power of the word “no.” Think about it for a moment: we were designed to need food. And, look! There is food available for us! We are blessed to live in a land of abundance full of places that will even provide us with a dollar menu (because fat is cheap). So, to review, we were designed to need food, and there is food available to us. Add to that the fact that food is a gift from God (1st Timothy 4:3) and you can make a good case for sitting down and enjoying your meal. But…think about this…

You are hungry. You have food available. And then you say no to yourself and yes to whatever God needs you to do for Him (Isaiah 58 again). You learn the power to say no to yourself. You make a decision to lay aside your rights and your needs for a time. The world may be calling you to join them in a meal or to take part in an activity, but you have the power to say no. You’ve learned how by fasting (in whatever form) regularly. It can change your life. It did mine.

I was raised in a strict, pain filled home. I was taught to judge and hate anyone who was not like us or in full agreement with us (we didn’t use the word “hate” but that was what we felt and projected). From my middle school years, I debated my peers and those older than I. I lived for that and, in my eyes, never lost a debate. I almost never won over my opponent but that, to me, was beside the point. I made the superior argument. In my opinion, if they did not acquiesce, it was due to their moral deficiency or intellectual cowardice. My arrogance was only exceeded by my failure to love. Early in my marriage, my attitude and my “take no prisoners” attitude began to hurt my relationship with my wife. It took years for me to understand what I was doing and how it affected others. Once I “got it” I had to find a way to modify my behavior and I am here to tell you it was not easy.

I decided I could no longer be a predator, but I knew I would need a constant reminder of my decision. I carried a small metal cross in my pocket so that, every time I put my hand in my pocket to retrieve keys or change, I would remember that the people around me at that moment were beloved by God and it would be wise for me to treat His kids with kindness, especially since I believed I had an appointment to face Him one day. I knew I needed to go further so I made two more changes that seemed extreme at the time. First, I vowed to say nothing negative about any person for the next six months. That was brutal. I still had to drive and negotiate my way through the day to day world but, now, I couldn’t complain about the traffic or how I was treated at the repair shop… Wow. That was harder than I thought, but it taught me to say “no” to my instincts and training.

Adding to the cross in my pocket and the vow to speak no negative words about others, I added one more reminder: I stopped eating meat. I loved meat. My family still ate meat and I still bought it for them. I was not opposed to eating meat or even to hunting. I stopped eating meat to remind myself I was not a predator anymore and, by that, I meant that I was not to prey on humans with my words and attitude. I remained a vegetarian for more than 10 years. After our children left home, my wife sat me down and said I had changed my life and personality long ago and that I should allow myself to eat meat again. Besides, she said, with only two of us in the home, it was difficult to make a meal we could share if I continued being vegetarian. I started eating meat that day.

Learning how to say no to myself was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. And I still have to fast from time to time to remind myself of my need to hear that word. I also have to constantly remind myself of the other side of the fasting coin: saying no to myself and saying yes to whatever God needs from me at that moment. I am not at all the man I want to be, but I am far from the man I was and fasting played a big part in that journey. I am sure it will play a big – and necessary – part in the rest of my journey. So, I do not fast because I believe I was commanded to fast. I fast because I need to fast.

Patrick Mead

Fasting is not a command but a privilege.  Perhaps the most familiar fast to the Bible student is that of Jesus in the wilderness.  He went without food for 40 days. (Matthew 4:1-11)  It was assumed by Jesus that his disciples would fast (Matthew 6:16-18).  The disciples of John the Baptist engaged in fasting and so did the Pharisees (Matthew 9:14).  They questioned why the disciple of Jesus were not fasting.  Jesus answered them saying, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, then they will fast.”  (Matthew 9:15)  They will fast! 

And, so they did fast.  “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work for which I have called them. So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.” (Acts 13:2-3)  Paul and Barnabas went on a mission to appoint elders in each church they had planted and did so “with prayer and fasting, committing them to the Lord.” (Acts 14:23)

Again, while Jesus was with his disciples they did not fast.  Other religious groups, namely the Pharisees and the disciples of John the Baptist, thought it strange that Jesus’ disciples did not fast.  It is also interesting that Jesus did not push fasting for his disciples. He was okay with them not fasting.  It seems however that the death of Jesus would motivate his disciples to fast and he expected them to fast after he died.

A take away from the scriptures shared in this article is that there is a deep spiritual experience that can be found in worshiping the Lord while fasting and praying.  James 4:8 states, “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.”  Worshiping, fasting and praying with intentionality will draw God near to us and us near to God.  Imagine a long rope with you on one end and God on the other.  You both are winding the rope up and as you do you are drawn closer to each other.  God is ready to start winding!  Are we? AM I?

The circles I run in seldom practice fasting.  A statement from Rick Atchley plays in my head as I read these text on the practice of Jesus and those that he said would fast after he was no longer with them: “Is the Book of Acts a collection of exceptions or a collection of examples?”  There are other things in the Acts 14 text that are equally outside of our normal practice:

  1. Fasting
  2. The Holy Spirit speaking to us
  3. Experiencing a call from God
  4. Fasting and praying as we commission missionaries
  5. Placing hands on those we fast and pray for

Fasting has a long history with the people of God.  Read Isaiah 58 to understand what a “true fast” is. What will we do with these truths? 

Jim Woodell, Executive Director 

www.John 3:17 Ministry.org

Written by Grady D. King, D. Min
HN Co-Leader

His voice reverberated with frustration and weariness.
As an elder for a declining church in a changing neighborhood, what are their options?

Her voice quivered as she described the depth of her loneliness in ministry.
As the children’s minister, she was isolated, does anyone care?

Our elders and ministers are polarized and stuck. We have agreed that we need help.
Do you have someone who can help? The sooner the better.

We have a good group of elders and ministers. We need a vision.
Can you help us with a vision process and implementation?

Our minister has resigned. We didn’t expect it.  We hear you have an interim ministry process.
When can we visit with you to find out more information and connect with the elders?

CONTEXT

The conversations continue as church leaders reach out. It’s no secret that many churches are in decline. The present cultural milieu is incredibly challenging. It is, however, no more challenging than the 1st century followers of Christ experienced.  Aging membership. Conflict among leaders. Confusion about mission. Cultural forces. These are common conversations. Many a leader feels a sense of failure, self-doubt and a loss of hope.  One church leader summarized it well, “Everything we have depended on in the past—buildings, programs, good preaching, worship and the right location doesn’t work anymore.”

This is why HOPE Network is about empowering leaders for vibrant churches. We mentor, coach, consult and guide churches in a variety of ways depending on the need.  In short, we CONNECT. ASSESS. GUIDE. It begins with listening and prayerful dialogue rooted in biblical hope—confident expectation in the power and promises of God through the Holy Spirit.  

HN HISTORY

HOPE is the heartbeat of this network which began 23 years ago (1996) by Lynn and Carolyn Anderson. The Anderson’s knew that church leaders needed hope in turbulent times. In April of 1997, Lynn released his most popular work: THEY SMELL LIKE SHEEP:  Spiritual Leadership for the 21st Century. In this work, Anderson explores the biblical models of shepherding, mentoring, and equipping which has characterized the Anderson’s life, ministry and focus of HOPE Network to this day.

HN VALUES

In 2013, Grady King and Jon Mullican became the co-leaders of HOPE Network. Now guided by an 18-member board, 19 partners and five associates committed to four core values.

1. We value GOD’s MISSION for his kingdom, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the lordship of Jesus Christ, Scriptures as God’s Word; therefore, we submit to God’s authority.

2. We value CHURCH LEADERS: therefore, we provide mentoring and guidance for the purpose of equipping leaders for shepherding and service among local churches.  

3. We value TRANSFORMED DISCIPLES: therefore, we provide spiritual formation resources for fostering transformation of church leaders and churches for spiritual kingdom ends.

4. We value HEALTHY CHURCHES as the heartbeat of God’s action, mission and community; therefore, we provide relational and collaborative processes to foster healthy relationships with God and each other.

HUMILITY, NOT ARROGANCE

We are a network of helpers who understand the challenges of ministry.

We have failed and been stuck and empathize with you.

We have lines on our faces and scars on our hearts.

We too feel the insecurity of our changing culture and uncertainty.

We come from a variety of universities, geographic locations, backgrounds and church contexts.

We offer friendship, collaboration, resources,  best practices, experience, and most importantly, HOPE.

“Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.  We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.
2 Corinthians 4.1-3

Contact us to begin the conversations that matter!

214.586.0375
www.hopenetworkministries.org

____________________

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My first exposure to fasting was in undergrad. I had to write a paper for a gen ed Bible class and I choose fasting. If it tells you anything I was stunned by how normal fasting is talked about in the Bible in general and the New Testament in particular but didn’t engage in the practice myself until quite some time later.

That is one of the big temptations when studying the text – the disconnect between thinking and doing. I could tell fasting was important but not important enough for me to change my behavior.

Unfortunately fasting isn’t nearly as normative now as it was then. Maybe we missed it because it wasn’t commanded? I don’t know. Maybe even if it had been commanded it would have entered the realm of holy kisses and holy hands – something for them, not for us. We will never know.

But we can make it a regular practice of our faith.

We will be talking about fasting and prayer this month at Wineskins. My prayer is that the articles during this month will encourage you to move past thinking to doing! You will be richly blessed if you do.