Today there is a need to have more sound and functional Messianic congregations that effectively testify that Yeshua is the faithfulness of God to both Israel and the nations. It is my desire and goal for “all Israel to be saved,” that is, for the Jewish people as a whole to come to personal faith in Messiah Yeshua (Romans 10:1; 11:26). In Jeremiah 31:35-37 God has made a gracious commitment to preserve the Jewish people as an identifiable nation:
Thus says the Lord, Who gives the sun for light by day, and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar; The Lord of hosts is His name; “If this fixed order departs from before Me,” declares the Lord, “then the offspring of Israel also will cease from being a nation forever.” Thus says the Lord, “If the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth searched out below, then I will also cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done,” declares the Lord.
A Messianic congregation serves as an expression of God’s gracious commitment and is essential to His Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). Yeshua has “all the authority in heaven and on earth,” and with that authority He has commanded us to make disciples (Matthew 28:18). If we are convinced of His Lordship, we must therefore be committed to His discipleship, for He said,“Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). This means raising new believers in the faith so that they will live out God’s faithfulness in their circumstances.
The primary function of any congregation is to be a disciple-making center, even as the Lord’s faithfulness is evidenced in a discipled believer. If a new believer understands his or her Jewish identity in Messiah then it will serve as a testimony of His grace to the Jewish community. Also, as Gentiles are saved through the evangelistic work of Messianic congregations they will be grounded and grow in the same faith, by the same discipleship. This makes their own communication of the Good News more clear and meaningful to their Jewish friends and neighbors. Despite all that the enemy has attempted to do, the Jewish people have been kept by God. In Messiah, we, as a remnant people, are restored to God’s service and testimony. The existence of Messianic congregations testifies to God’s triumph.
We are blessed to live in such a time where we see Messianic congregations springing up in the last century as part of the renewal of the Jewish testimony to Yeshua. Therefore, Messianic congregations serve as centers for worship, instruction, fellowship, and proclaiming the Good News of Messiah.
The ministry of the Word has two dimensions of service: inward and outward. Within the body of Messiah, the Word (Torah) provides edification, and outside the body, that same Word ministers evangelization. The Word testifies of Yeshua, and “the testimony of Yeshua is the spirit of prophecy” (Revelation 19:10). We proclaim the Living Word according to the written Word, and proclaim the written Word to exalt the Living Word.
A Biblical Strategy
In Acts 20, Paul was speaking to his own disciples, who were now leaders of the congregation at Ephesus. He reminded them of the time spent with them, of his investment into their lives:
“You yourselves know…how I kept back nothing that was profitable, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house” (Acts 20:20).
Paul says he “taught publicly.” A biblically strong pulpit ministry in the congregation is vital.
Proper discipleship includes one receiving public teaching. When individuals want personal teaching (including counseling) I encourage them to come to services regularly (Heb. 10:25). In this way, they can gain the big picture from the weekly expository teaching.
However, Paul also taught “from house to house.” He encouraged personal application for the believer from the principles he gave publicly. Paul was not merely being sociable, but was seeking to build up individual lives. In addition to public teaching from the pulpit, there needs to be personal discipleship of individuals. New believers need to be individually grounded and rooted in the faith.
Don’t Hold Back
Paul says that in his teaching he “kept back nothing that was profitable,” that is, useful and beneficial to their spiritual lives. From this we learn aspects of the content of his discipleship work.
Kept back nothing. This word “kept back” was used by the Rabbis in the Septuagint (Greek text of the Hebrew Bible) for show partiality, as when Job skewers his friends for their speeches to him: “Will you show partiality for God?” (Job 13:8). Too many teachers shrink back from teaching publicly or privately the most difficult subjects of the Scriptures.
Leadership demands boldness to stand for the truth. Failure comes from cowardly rather than courageous leadership. Paul details the teaching further in Acts 20:21, “solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Yeshua the Messiah.”
Testifying is also used in Luke 16:28 and it means to give warning. Whenever one teaches the word of God, one never preaches an unimportant message. It is either vital or it is not worth anyone’s time to hear it. The unique unity we have in Messiah means no one may be excluded. We teach what is sufficient for all people, which results in unity in Yeshua for both Jews and Gentiles.
Repentance and faith, that is, turning from sin and also trusting in the Lord. The focus, though, is not what we have given up, but to Whom we have turned. This encompasses the grace of God and the whole counsel of God. A directive style of expository teaching helps the congregation to understand the focus of Scripture. The congregation is the place to give full discipleship, teaching the full counsel of God.
“Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.” (Acts 20:26-27)
Presenting the whole counsel of God was liberating to Paul and kept his conscience clear. Is courageous, constructive, and comprehensive teaching going on in your congregation? We would love to be praying for and assisting you in developing a 20/20 Vision, making maturing disciples who will glorify the Lord. May we all press on to finish our race with joy, and the ministry which we’ve received from the Lord Yeshua, to testify to the Good News of the grace of God. Please pray for us as we plan Congregation Planting Conferences in 2014 on the East Coast and let us know if you would like to be involved.
What does God do when we’re discouraged? In compassion for His people God gives us His Word, His promises, so that in the present life we’re living, we can rejoice and fulfill His purpose for our lives. The Fall Feasts of Israel are a vivid picture of God’s provision for every aspect of our lives laid out in Leviticus 23. Following the Spring Festivals that picture redemption and new life in Messiah we have a long summer of labor. Leviticus 23:22 says,
You are to reap the harvest of your land, moreover, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field nor gather the gleaning of your harvest; you are to leave them for the needy and the alien. I am the LORD your God.
This portion talks about the summer of service. Prophetically speaking this is the period of time that we are in right now. We are in a time of service, a time of labor as we seek the lost and share the Great News for our Great God and what He has done for us in Messiah, so all may get to hear the Great News (Romans 1:16). Now following that long period of service, we anticipate the Fall Festivals in the 7th month as the program of God’s redemption takes the next turn. The Fall Festivals have to do with God’s gathering His people together to Himself as the great gatherings of God.
However, before we can enter into His presence as these festivals portray, we need to know how to appear before the King of kings. In traditional Judaism, the month preceding the Feasts called, Elul, serves as a time for proper spiritual preparation. The month Elul is the sixth month of the Hebrew calendar and falls on August 18 till September 16 this year.
One of the customs is the reciting of Selichot, special prayers for forgiveness where people consider the profound issues of life and death, sin and forgiveness. The significance given to these prayers in traditional Jewish thinking shows up in the three levels of forgiveness which people hope to attain.
Traditionally, these three levels are identified by three Hebrew terms: selichah (pardon), mechilah (wiping away), and kapparah (atonement). They are all related to forgiveness, but each has its own shade of meaning. In Israel selichah is a common word for “pardon” or “excuse me.” This is the first step someone takes if a sin has been committed, whether against God or man. One asks for forgiveness, saying to the offended party, “I am sorry for what I did; I sincerely regret having done it, and will never do it again.” It is considered cruel to disbelieve a person’s sincere apology and not accept it.
Mechilah is usually translated as “wiping away” and it responds to the request, “can we normalize our relationship back as it was before I offended you?” In this level the relationship gets a “reset button.” It is more difficult than slichah but not impossible.
Kapparah is usually translated as “atonement,” (as in Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement). This level of repentance is the deepest of all because it addresses a person’s guilty conscience (Hebrews 10:22). It should be recognized that only God can heal and comfort the conscience of a person. In traditional Jewish circles “Kapparah” completes this three-part process on Yom Kippur.
We learn in the New Covenant that there is One who can fully forgive sins (Matthew 9:6) even to the core of our being and to the cleansing and healing of our souls. Hebrews 9:14 states, “how much more will the blood of Messiah, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”
Our prayers are now of praise and thanksgiving because of His once-and-for-all atonement; there is never a need for any other offering for sin (Hebrews 10:18). Therefore, let us confess our sins knowing that Messiah’s atonement is always sufficient (1 John 1:9). The Fall Festivals are the vivid picture of how we receive our atonement and how to receive forgiveness of sins.
In Messiah’s atonement we have the grace of God to forgive one another for any offense done against us (Ephesians 4:32). Indeed, by that same grace we can not only forgive, but also comfort any who are guilt ridden by their own consciences (2 Corinthians 2:7). In Messiah’s atonement is full forgiveness, not merely restoration to a previous relationship, but “forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith” (Acts 26:18).
The Feast of Trumpets reminds us of the day when Messiah will return; let us prepare our hearts that we will not be “ashamed at His coming” (1 John 2:28). The Day of Atonement reminds us of the day when national Israel will trust in Messiah’s atonement (Zechariah 12:10, 13:1) and will be restored back to God as His servant people. So let us plant those seeds of faith by sharing Yeshua with Jewish people and all people, for the Lord loves us all. And finally the Feast of Tabernacles reminds us that one day He will reign over all as He is glorified by all peoples (Zechariah 14:9).
As we approach the High Holy Days during this month of Elul, let us commit to pray not only that we would be prepared, but that in the true forgiveness which comes only through Messiah, Israel and all people will be prepared to meet with the Lord as it says in Amos 4:12: “Prepare to meet thy God, O Israel.”
Biblical teaching must be at the heart of prayer and worship ministry. The Samaritans did not have sound teaching, and thus it was wrong even if it was sincere (John 4:22-23).
Worship has the additional by-product of further building up disciples in the truth. From a communications perspective, there are three means of carrying truth directly to the heart: humor, pathos, and music. People will often think about what they sang in worship. The worship may bring the truth of God and His salvation deeper into their souls. Therefore, sound teaching must be the basis of our prayer and worship.
Worship teams need to be prayer leaders, that is, men and women with a strong prayer life. A good voice and musical skills have value, but are no substitute for prayer. An individual’s prayer and worship life helps foster his or her healthy relationship with the Lord, and so all team members must desire deeper levels of prayer and worship. It is a matter both of personal growth and integrity before the Lord.
An Elder-Led Responsibility
God teaches that His house would be “a house of prayer” (Isaiah 56:7). This primacy of prayer is further seen in the history of our people. In Exodus 17, the first battle after Israel came out of Egypt was with the Amalekites. In this portion of Scripture we find there was a division of labor. Joshua took the army and fought the Amalekites while Moses, along with Aaron and Hur went to the top of the mountain and with arms outstretched to God, we find them praying. That prayer ministry was the key issue in the victory. Moses’ arms coming down pictured the stopping of prayer, that is, stopping our dependence on God and our abiding in Yeshua. At those times, the army of Joshua failed. Prayer was and is the essential issue in victory—for Israel, for our homes, and for our congregations. It prepared us as a people, as to how we were to live in the land. Future victories would result from prayer.
In Exodus 17:14 Moses says, “Write this down for Joshua to read.” Why is Joshua singled out? Perhaps as an action-oriented man and leader of soldiers, he would need to be reminded to pray since his natural response might be to merely fight in his own strength. When we read the book of Joshua, we see that Joshua only had two defeats. In Joshua 7, he prayed only after the defeat; and in Joshua 9, he did not pray before negotiating with an enemy. His two defeats resulted directly from a lack of prayer. A lack of prayer can also be the cause for defeat for any congregation which gets established; consequently victory comes as leaders lead in prayer.
In the New Covenant
Paul tells Timothy that in the congregation there is to be prayer “first of all” (1 Timothy 2:1). Our community life is to be a beit teflilah, house of prayer. Benedictions, supplications, intercession, praise—all types of prayer ministries are part of our prayer priority. However, elder-led prayer is biblically normative. Men everywhere were to lift holy hands in worship, and so men are normally to be leading in prayer (1 Timothy 2:8). Why would they have to be instructed to do that? Perhaps to show that prayer would be primary in how a man manages his own home (1 Timothy 3:5). If men are not leading in prayer at home, how can we expect them to lead in prayer in the congregation?
Not only do we want to make sure we are praying as a community, we want the leaders to be praying for the community. Who knows what battles our “Joshuas” are fighting at home, school and at work? In fact, one of the marks of spiritual leadership is that they lead in prayer.
Hearts for the Lord
In the Biblical picture of heaven, the elders are forever falling down on their face before God, leading in prayer. They are prayer and worship leaders. Whether in the home or in the congregation, prayer prepares us for heavenly service like nothing else.
All prayer should be from the heart. In this regard, there is no distinction between formal liturgical prayers which the congregation prays and more informal prayers. However, people need to be taught to pray. The Messianic congregation is the place for people to grow as praying disciples. As we come into a new season together we are thankful that you are offering prayers “first of all,” and hope that you will continue to stand with us in prayer.
We were incredibly blessed to host a unique conference for Congregation Planting, which as the first in the new building brought together planters and from around the country to learn Biblical principles and share ministry approaches. What a wonderful way to end the year. Part of the fruits of the conference was a new book Establishing Healthy Messianic Congregations: Planters, Planting, and Planning. The following is an excerpt from the new book, on the role of prayer in a functioning congregation. Prayer is the most important responsibility for a congregation (and a family, community, etc.). In fact, this may be the only aspect of congregational life taking place in olam haba (the world to come). In light of this, the ministry of prayer is preparing us for our future home. Prayer and worship can be considered together because, whether it is in singing or speaking, both prayer and worship are praises and supplications directed to the Lord and intended to bless and bring honor to Him. The worship itself could be in an instrumental arrangement or a cappella, even so it is all to be praise and prayer unto HaShem.