9Marks First Five Years Conference: A Reflection

IMG_0700Am I doing this right?  What should I be doing different?  What am I doing right?  Should we be growing more?  Should I seek out ways to build a bigger church?  What does it mean to be faithful in pastoral ministry?  Why is this so hard?  These are just a few questions that were addressed and answered this past week at the 9Marks conference for new pastors called First Five Years in Charlotte, NC.  I along with hundreds of other young pastors sat and listened to young pastors themselves speak about their own hopes, pitfalls, joys, failures, successes, and hardships in their first five years of ministry, and I was greatly helped.  The overall tone was the desire for young pastors to not merely survive, but thrive, in our first five years of ministry. (The above picture are a few of the books they either gave away or had on sale, quality stuff.)

This is the first time 9Marks has done this conference and I hope they do it again.  Here is a brief summary of what went down:

Talk 1: John Onwuchekwa – Usefulness in ministry is an awful goal for pastoral ministry.  Productivity is an awful north star for pastoral ministry.  Matthew 7:21 shows that many useful ministers are now in hell.  What then should out goal be?  Faithfulness.  Relax, settle in for the long haul…strive to be faithful, God will bring results according to His will and purpose in His timing.

Talk 2: Edgar Aponte – Though trials in ministry may be large at times, and though they tempt us to doubt God’s faithfulness to us, trials are not the end of our story, comfort is.  God purposefully brings trial into our lives and the lives of our congregations to bring us to new pastures.  Everything will fade away as grass, but the Word of God will endure forever – therefore build your ministry on the Word, not on grass.

Talk 3: Bobby Jamieson – How we relate baptism to church membership teaches our people the significance of both.  Thus, we must eagerly pursue the entrance into church membership through baptism.  Baptism is how a believer commits themselves to the church and submits themselves to the authority of Christ’s lordship.  If we remove the tie between baptism and church membership we move away from Biblical church membership.

Talk 4: John Worsley – We sometimes tend to forget that churches face a real hindrance to gospel growth due to a deep-rooted violent satanic influence.  This will tempt us to trust ourselves for church growth, or tempt us to think God is not doing anything at all among your congregation.  Solution?  Trust God steadfastly for growth.  He grows His Church in His way and in His time.

Talk 5: Ken Mbugua – Pride is one of the largest temptations you will face as a pastor.  It is so dangerous because it tends to camouflage itself in a million different ways.  To fight our pride, and we should fight our pride, we should: 1) commit to keep our eyes on the cross because the One crucified on the cross is the only One who deserves glory, 2) place our confidence in God’s power rather than our own to accomplish His work among His people, and 3) keep an eye on judgment day because knowing how we’ll one day be laid bare before God only to have assurance in the blood of Christ will keep us in our rightful and humble place.

Talk 6: Anthony Moore – How can we move through the suffering we’ll see in the lives of our people?  How can we continue on through the suffering we’ll see in our own hearts?  Knowing that God is good, God is present, and that God is not silent.  He brings suffering into our lives as the great surgeon, cutting us in deep/painful ways to rid us of harmful things.  We should never waste our suffering.

Talk 7: Jeremy Yong – What is the key to successful shepherding?  Love.  But more specifically loving Christ’s sheep with the love that He loves them with.  How do we do this?  By loving Christ supremely.  A supreme love for Christ brings forth a love for His people because we you love Christ you come to love the very things that Christ loves.  Therefore Christ’s purposes for His Church become our purposes for His Church if we love Christ.  Our purposes and plans will fall into the background and His will remain, strong and steadfast.

Talk 8: Tahiti Anyabwile – What is the one thing that should consume your first five years of ministry, the very thing that will pave the foundation of your ministry for the next 50 years?  Encourage your people.  Why encourage?  Because the gospel is encouraging.  These churches are not ours, they’re Christ’s.  We’re called to serve His people by encouraging them in the gospel.  Do this in public, in private, in sermons, in counseling, and in all you do encourage your people.

Talk 9: Trip Lee – As a pastor what is the main thing you’re to give your attention to?  1 Timothy 4:16 gives us the answer: your teaching and yourself.  By doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.  Be sure of this, that you embrace and believe yourself what you call your people to embrace and believe!  That you heartily and affectionately love the Savior of sinners you call your people to love.  Pastor, it matters not mainly that you teach, but what you teach.  It matters not mainly that you live, but how you live.

Talk 10: Harshit Singh – Investing faithful doctrine, into faithful men, who then faithfully do this to other men is true discipleship.  This is the longterm Church growth principle that the Bible gives us to take up and put into practice.  No fancy gimmicks, or cool fads but long, messy, life-on-life, one-on-one discipleship.  This is not a factory set up for mass production, this takes a lifetime.  Faithful leaders, entrusting faithful doctrine, to faithful men is the Biblical pattern for discipleship.

Talk 11: Mark Dever – ‘…preach the Word…” How do you know if you’re preaching a good sermon?  What is a good sermon?  What is a bad sermon?  A good sermon is 3 things: faithful to the text, theologically truthful, and contextually applied.  Preaching the Word of God is the God-ordained way He intends to grow His people.  The preaching of God’s Word is the very thing God uses to accomplish His will in the lives of all His people.  Therefore ministry done according to God’s will is ministry done according to God’s Word.  God’s work, done in God’s way, never lacks God’s blessing.

Talk 12: Shai Linne – Pastors ought to be men of prayer.  Prayers of praise, prayers of intercession, prayers of confession, prayers of thanksgiving, praying publicly, praying privately, praying for the nations, praying for other churches, and praying expectantly.  If the pastor is not on his knees seeking the face of God for himself, his family, and his congregation – can he really expect God to move in power?

Talk 13: Garrett Kell – Pastors who love Jesus should labor to have pure hearts and pure lives.  Why?  Because it is only through purity that one see’s God (Matthew 5:8).  We are commanded to see the lavish grace we’ve been given in the gospel, and once we see such lavish grace bountiful gratitude should explode into our hearts leading us to purify ourselves more and more (1 John 3:1-3).

Of course, these basic summaries of all 13 talks given only scratch the surface of what we learned together.  I was rebuked, confronted, challenged, comforted, exhorted, and encouraged in the gospel.  And I am glad I’m back so I can begin to put these things into practice so my first five years in ministry are not spent by surviving, but by thriving for the glory of the gospel of the grace of Christ.

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Mark Dever: Growing Healthier with 9Marks

“When a person becomes a Christian, he doesn’t just join a local church because it’s a good habit for growing in spiritual maturity. He joins a local church because it’s the expression of what Christ has made him—a member of the body of Christ.”

Mark Dever serves as the senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC. Since his ordination to the ministry in 1985, Dr. Dever has served on the pastoral staffs of four churches, the second being a church he planted in Massachusetts. Prior to moving to Washington in 1994, Dr. Dever taught for the faculty of Divinity at Cambridge University while serving two years as an associate pastor of Eden Baptist Church.

In an effort to build biblically faithful churches in America, Dr. Dever serves as the executive director for9Marks (formerly The Center for Church Reform, CCR) in Washington, D.C. 9Marks encourages pastors of local churches look to the Bible for instruction on how to organize and lead their churches. Dr. Dever also teaches periodically at various conferences, speaking everywhere from South Africa to Brazil to the United Kingdom to Alabama. Feeling a deep burden for student ministry, Dr. Dever often addresses student ministry groups at campuses throughout the country. He has also taught at a number of seminaries, including Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, AL, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL. Dr. Dever’s scholarly interests include Puritanism and ecclesiology.

Dr. Dever currently serves as a trustee of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; he also serves as a member of the board, vice-chairman, and chairman of the Forum for the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. From 1995 until 2001, he served on the steering committee for Founders Ministries, a pastoral movement for biblical teaching and healthy church life within the Southern Baptist Convention. As Guest Senate Chaplain for two weeks in 1995, Dr. Dever opened the daily sessions of the United States Senate in prayer. He is a member of the American Society of Church History and the Tyndale Fellowship. He also held the J.B. Lightfoot Scholarship at Cambridge University from 1989 to 1991.

Dr. Dever has authored several books including a historical study entitled Richard Sibbes (Mercer University Press, 2000), four editions and two foreign language translations of a booklet entitled Nine Marks of a Healthy Church (CCR, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, Korean translation 2000, Spanish translation 2004), and a full-length book of the same title (Crossway, 2000, 2 nd ed., 2004). He co-authored a book entitled The Church: One Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic with Richard D. Phillips & Philip G. Ryken. Dr. Dever also edited a collection of historic Baptist documents on ecclesiology entitled Polity: Biblical Arguments on How to Conduct Church Life (CCR, 2000; 9Marks Ministries, 2004, 2 nd. ed.). Also published in 2001 by CCR was Dr. Dever’s A Display of God’s Glory—Basics of Church Structure: Deacons, Elders, Congregationalism, and Leadership. The Deliberate Church, co-authored by Mark Dever and Paul Alexander is now available.

Dr. Dever has a been contributing editor to the Cambridge Papers, and his works have been published in the Journal of Ecclesiastical History, Christian Arena magazine, theFounders JournalLeadership Journal, Regeneration Quarterly, Modern Reformation, The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, Tabletalk, the Disciple’s Study Bible, andBuilding on a Sure Foundation (The Westminster Conference, 1994). Dr. Dever has also contributed an article on John L. Dagg to Theologians of the Baptist Tradition(Timothy George and David S. Dockery, eds., Broadman, 1990). More recently, he has contributed to many books including The Compromised Church (John H. Armstrong, ed., Crossway, 1998), Telling the Truth (D.A. Carson, ed., Zondervan, 2000),Christianity in a Changing World (Michael Schluter, ed., Marshall Pickering, 2000),Reclaiming the Gospel and Reforming Churches (Tom Ascol, ed., Founders, 2003), Give Praise to God: A Vision for Reforming Worship, (Philip Graham Ryken, Derek W.H. Thomas, J. Ligon Duncan III, eds., P&R Publishing, 2003), Christ and His Church (together with Richard Phillips, Philip Graham Ryken, P&R, 2004), A God-Entranced Vision (John Piper and Justin Taylor ed., Crossway, 2004), Dear Timothy, Letters on Pastoral Ministry (Thomas K. Ascol, ed., Founders Press, 2004), “ A Theology for the Church” (Danny Akin and David Dockery eds., forthcoming from Broadman and Holman), and Sex and the Supremacy of Christ (John Piper and Justin Taylor ed., forthcoming, Crossway). He also has articles in Reforming Pastoral Ministry (John H. Armstrong, ed., Crossway, 2001), Why I am a Baptist (Tom Nettles and Russ Moore, eds., Broadman, 2001), and The Westminster Confession into the 21 st Century, vol. 1, (J. Ligon Duncan III, ed., Christian Focus, 2003).

Dr. Dever received his Doctor of Philosophy in ecclesiastical history from Cambridge University. He also has a Master of Theology from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, a Master of Divinity, summa cum laude, from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and a Bachelor of Arts, magna cum laude, from Duke University.

He and his wife Connie live and minister with their son, Nathan, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

Why do I have such affection for Dever’s ministry?  Because through it God taught me what a healthy church looks like, focuses on, and seeks to do.  9Marks is a phenomenal resource to have at your side.  Anytime I step into a Dever book or a 9Mark resource I know I am growing healthier as a pastor.

What Makes a Healthy Church?

For those of us who are in and around pastoral ministry the question of the health of churches comes up naturally.  For those of us who attend church but do not have a leading voice in what happens in a Sunday meeting the question is just as pressing.  What makes a healthy church?

This matters a lot because we (laypeople and leaders alike) should only desire to be in churches that are “healthy.”  Therefore how one goes about defining the word “healthy” matters because this then determines where we will spend not only Sundays; it determines what local body of believers we will gives our lives to.

So what makes a healthy church?

As you can imagine there are as many answers to this question as there are church leaders and members.  Is it music, Deacons, Elders, the Pastor(s), the atmosphere, teaching, location, denomination or belief, social justice, serving the lost and soul seeking?  The fundamental question behind the question of healthy churches is this: how is God glorified in a local church?  Has God laid down the standard of a healthy church in His Word?  Or are we just given principles to see throughout Scripture?  What are the key ingredients that make up a healthy church?  Is it a few key things or many?  Can we know this at all?

Well yes we can know it, and the Word of God tells us the answer to it.  Through church history people have largely answered this question by giving two key things that they saw present in every New Testament church example in Scripture: a healthy church will be a place that preaches the Word of God, and rightly administers the sacraments.  That’s it.  Today the list has seemed to grow and though I don’t think it’s wrong to have more than 2 items on this list (it’s quite simple and straight forward that way I think), I do believe further clarification is needed to answer this question well in our day due to the many people who deny the viability and necessity of “the Church” at all.  Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church and founder of 9Marks ministries, has written a book called “The 9 Marks of a Healthy Church” and I have loved it for some time now.  What are his 9 marks?

Preaching, Biblical Theology, The Gospel, Conversion, Evangelism, Membership, Discipline, Discipleship, & Leadership

It is not only these things as they exist, but a healthy church will have these marks in existence in the right manner, or, as they are in truth.  What are they then and how should we rightly define them?  Welcome to my new series on the blog: The Marks of a Healthy Church.  Tomorrow I’ll begin with explaining the first of these, preaching.

See you soon!