Oro Bible College commencement message 2014

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Nineteen years ago, I came to Oro Bible College as a seminary intern. My wife and I were thinking that the LORD could use us here as instructors, and that we might possibly make it as missionaries. Since I survived that internship, we brought our family here in 1996. What followed was the best 13 years of our lives. We are deeply grateful for the privilege of serving at OBC, for working alongside some truly remarkable educators, and for the privilege of investing ourselves in the training of hundreds of young people for the Christian ministry.

Today I get to share a few words of encouragement with you, the class of 2014, as you conclude your time of preparation here. Your friends and family join me in honoring you for the work you have done, and we rejoice with you that this phase in your education is now completed.

My message today will be short, because none of us will remember most of it anyway, and we all have a lot on our minds. I will give you the outline up front, and you can decide which parts you feel are important enough to listen to. If I start to see everybody’s eyes glazing over, I will just skip that section because I do not want to bore you.

The first thing I want to do is correct a possible mistaken assumption about the purpose of Oro Bible College. Then, I want to explain how you may best use the skills you have obtained in the past few years at OBC. Finally, I want to suggest your next field of study, and give you some guidance on how to obtain your next degree.

THE REAL PURPOSE OF OBC

I mentioned that I want to correct a possible mistaken assumption about the purpose of Oro Bible College. Lots of people think that a person goes to Bible college to train for church leadership. They think that once a person has spent a few years in academic training at a school like OBC, they are automatically qualified for spiritual leadership. There is a name for Bible College graduates who walk down theIMG_0315se aisles and get their diplomas and then think that that qualifies them to lead the church. That name is wash-outs. If you think that your time at OBC is the end of your leadership training, you will wash-out in the ministry, and you may even drop out of the faith altogether. So, I am here today to seriously warn you not to think that the purpose of OBC is to qualify you for spiritual leadership.

Just in case you are thinking about suing the board for your money back, I think it best to show you that we have been telling you that all along. From your very first orientation and the first time you read the OBC manual, you have encountered a sort-of motto for OBC. It is taken from two verses in the Bible, and I will quote those verses now:

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12 ESV).

I know how some of you have been reading those verses. You were thinking that once you got through with this silly time of studying, and taking tests, and going to chapel, and doing your ministry skills assignments and your internship that you would finally graduate, and you would be equipped for the ministry. You were thinking that OBC was training you for church leadership, and once you were finished you would have all the spiritual authority that you need. Sorry, that is incorrect.

Let me explain why. First of all, Ephesians 4:11-12 was not written about OBC, or any other place where one gets a theological education. We use Ephesians 4:11-12 as our motto, not because it explains what OBC does, but because it explains what OBC graduates are supposed to do.

IMG_0403The subject of Ephesians 4 is unity in the body of Christ. Paul teaches that Jesus has given certain believers to the church for the purpose of helping all the members of the church to function in the ministries that the Holy Spirit gave them. When these people do what God called them to do, the church is built up, and this one whole body glorifies God.

Who are these special people? They are not the OBC staff. They are not the OBC faculty. They are not the OBC administration. Ephesians 4 is not about qualifying people academically for church jobs. You may go directly into a job in a church or para-church ministry soon, or you may not. What we have really been training you to do is to serve as missionaries, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. It is important to understand that these are not job titles. They are functions in the equipping ministry. They are the way that you can use the gifts that the Holy Spirit has given you to help others in the church use the gifts that the Holy Spirit has given to them. You are the equippers.

In my experience, there have always been students at OBC who never got that. They thought they were training to be qualified for a job, so they paid very little attention to learning how to help people within the church. Some of these were very gifted students, who passed all their classes. But they are not in ministry today.

HOW TO USE YOUR OBC EDUCATION

I want to explain how you may best use the skills you have obtained in the past few years at OBC. I don’t want you to be one of those students who get your degree at OBC, and then waste all your gifts and skills and training on something else besides the equipping ministry. Some of you might not really want to be equippers. That would be a shame. It would be a waste of several years of your life.

I am speaking now to those of you who dare to accept the challenge. You are saying that you will agree to focus your time and talents and energy and resources by investing them in the lives of other people – people in the church.

IMG_0407Some of you will be called to cross-cultural apostleship. You will invest yourselves in the lives of people who are different from you. They may live in another country, and speak a different language. They will not think the way you do. It will not be easy for you to cross those cultural barriers. But you will be determined to do it, because deep inside of you beats the heart of an apostle. For you, fighting the good fight will mean establishing the church where it isn’t now, and not building your work on anyone else’s foundation.

Some of you will be called to speak God’s heart to a people and a church that is unwilling to hear him. You will dare to stand up and tell people that what they are doing is wrong, and that God is going to judge them. You are not going to have many friends, and you are not going to have an easy life. But deep inside you beats the heart of a prophet. For you, fighting the good fight will mean correcting the church, based on the eternal standard of righteousness found in God’s word.

Some of you will be called to share God’s good news to a hurting world, and win many people to Christ and his kingdom. Deep inside you beats the heart of an evangelist, and woe unto you if you do not preach the gospel. For you, fighting the good fight will mean finding just the right way to communicate the message of God’s love so that you melt the hearts of a stubborn, rebellious and sinful generation. You will live to see just one more soul won for Christ and his coming kingdom.

Some of you will be called to shepherd others. You will be a counselor for those who keep going astray. You will preach and teach, providing regular spiritual nourishment from God’s word to his flock. You will be there to pray for them when they need healing, deliverance and restoration. Deep inside you beats the heart of a pastor, and you will be that for them, whether you have the official position or not. For you, fighting the good fight will mean walking beside one or two or three generations, and helping them be what they are, the sheep of God’s pasture. You will be the under-shepherds. You will not own the church, and you will resist the temptation to feed upon them. You will live to see an entire community under the safe protection of God.

Some of you will be called to train others. You will take what you have learned in your personal studies, and what you have learned at OBC, and the teaching skills you have developed here, and you will utilize that training by training others. Some of you may teach on the church level, others may go on to further academic studies. Believe it or not, some of you might end up back at OBC as faculty. It has been known to happen. Just ask professor Reniel, or professor Billy, or pastor Art or pastor Jessie, or Dr. Nely. Deep inside of you beats the heart of a teacher, and you do not just share the text, you have to explain it. For you, fighting the good fight will mean investing yourself in studies long after you have taken your last exam. You will live to see the expression on people’s faces when they finally understand what that text actually means.

YOUR NEXT STEP

I want to suggest your next field of study, and give you some guidance on how to obtain your next degree. I do not mean your next academic degree. That might happen, or it might not happen. But I’m talking about your next step in the process that Ephesians 4:11-12 describes. Now that you have been given a fairly good education in biblical, theological, and ministerial studies, what next?

When you came to OBC, you submitted to a process of sequential study that was intended to expose you to all the academic disciplines you would need to graduate. Your curriculum covered all the general education requirements for a bachelor’s degree. It also introduced you to foundational courses in all the professional categories. You had Bible survey courses and basic doctrines. You had some courses that went a little deeper than that, just to give you a taste of the skills needed for more advanced study. You also had courses focusing on particular professional ministries. You also had courses which bridged the gap between theory and practice: you ministry skills practicums. You learned how to preach teach and counsel, and you learn what to preach, teach and counsel.

IMG_0398So, where do you go from here? I suggest that you go back to the basics, and develop a lifelong curriculum centered around three things that Jesus taught. This is self-study, and you will not be graded, and you will never graduate with this degree in this life. But I guarantee you that if you focus the rest of your life trying to master these three things, you will have a successful life and a productive ministry as well.

What are these three things? The two greatest commandments: love God and love your neighbor, and the great commission: make disciples.

I recommend that you intentionally use the next fifty or sixty years of your life falling in love with the LORD your God. Learn how to love him with all your heart, soul and mind and strength. Jesus said that of all the law’s commands, that is the greatest. That is what we are promised eternal life for.

To assist you in your studies of this topic, I recommend three things. First, immerse yourselves in the systematic reading and devotional meditation on God’s word: the Bible. I guarantee that if you do this, your mind will be changed. The more you learn about your LORD, the more you will love him.

Second, spend quality time in prayer. Don’t just pray for your needs. Don’t even limit your prayers to other peoples’ needs. Pray because you have a relationship with God. People in a relationship spend time with one another. Sometimes they even talk to one another. Go figure.

Third, God, the Holy Spirit manifests himself when the church fellowships together. You cannot have a personal relationship with God apart from fellowship with other believers. Don’t try it. It doesn’t work.

The second greatest commandment is to love our neighbor as ourselves. The people in Jesus’ day thought that their neighbors were the people like them, and people that loved them in return. But Jesus said, no. We should love even our enemies. they are our neighbors too. Even the Samaritans and the Muslims. Love of God the creator naturally extends to all his creatures, so we have a lot of loving to do.

Finally, Jesus commanded his church to get involved in one major activity and keep working at it until he returns. He told us to make disciples. He told us to make disciples here, and other nations as well – in fact all of them. When Jesus returns, he is going to bring his kingdom from the sky with him. But we can make citizens of that kingdom right now.

We do that by baptizing them the way John the Baptist did. He challenged people to repent and give their lives over to God. Those who accepted that challenge were baptized, and that confirmed them as disciples. We also make disciples by teaching. A disciple is a student. The content of discipleship is everything that Jesus commanded.

These three things. Love God, Love people, and make disciples. If you learn nothing else for the rest of your lives, learn to do these three things. That is my challenge for you today. Thank you.

Jefferson Vann

Oro Bible College Commencement,

Cagayan de Oro city, Philippines

March 27th, 2014.

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