The Roles of Elders, Deacons, and Members

In order for the church to be more faithful to Scripture and obedient to our Lord in the area of polity (i.e., church government) we must ultimately be an elder-led congregational church—a church that is ruled by Christ, governed by the congregation, led by elders, and served by deacons. This means we must be well-informed and understand the roles and responsibilities of elders, deacons, and members.

The Role of Elders

When we come to the New Testament, the evidence indicates that every church had a plurality of elders. Merkle writes, “There is no example in the New Testament of one elder or pastor leading a congregation as the sole or primary leader”i (see Acts 11:30; 20:17; Php. 1:1; 1 Tim. 5:17; Titus 1:5). But what do elders do?

First, elders pray (Acts 6:4; Jas. 5:14). Elders plead for the flock of God under their care. They pray for the souls over whom they keep watch and for whom they will have to give an account. We see this commitment to pray in the decision of the Apostles in the early church, who appointed others to serve the needs of the growing church so that they might devote themselves “to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (see Acts 6:1-7). For them, prayer was a time-consuming labor that inevitably caused other duties to be set aside.ii In order for a pastor to be effective in his ministry, he must be faithful to pray. He must be fully reliant upon the power of God, who alone “gives the growth” (1 Cor. 3:7). “Intercessory prayer is perhaps the most basic ministry of the elder. In order to speak to men for God, elders must speak to God for men. They must be away of the futility of all their actions apart from the life-giving work of God’s Spirit.”iii

Second, elders preach and teach (Acts 6:4; 2 Tim. 4:1-5). Elders serve the word to the sheep under their care. Since God rules his people by his Word, elders must be faithful to proclaim the Word to God’s people. As the Apostles devoted themselves to prayer, they also devoted themselves to the ministry of the word (6:4). Because “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17), because we are born again through the word of God (1 Pet. 1:23), because all Scripture is profitable to make the man of God “complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17), this is an indispensable component of pastoral ministry.

Elders are called to rightly handle the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15) and declare the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27); therefore, they must be devoted to knowing God’s Word. Pastors proclaim Christ, “warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom” in order that they may present the sheep under their care “mature in Christ” (Col. 1:28). It’s crucial to remember that “the Bible alone is absolutely authoritative in a church’s life. . . . Elders bear authority over Jesus’s church only to the extent that they teach, obey, and enforce Jesus’s word.”iv Elders lead by standing before their congregation on behalf of the Lord Jesus Christ and proclaiming his rule, his truth, and his commands.

Third, elders shepherd (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1-5). Elders are intimately involved with their sheep in order to see them grow in Christian maturity. They should, as one pastor puts it, smell like sheep. Peter exhorts elders: “Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock” (1 Pet. 5:2-3). The Apostle Paul encouraged the Ephesians elders to “pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). Elders shepherd God’s flock! Shepherding involves such responsibilities as providing godly counsel and biblical instruction, helping resolve conflicts peacefully, protecting the flock from wolves, caring for struggling sheep, and providing oversight of the spiritual well-being of the flock. (This is also why church membership matters: Elders need to know who their flock is!)

Fourth, elders lead by example (Heb. 13:7; Titus 2:7). Elders not only lead by teaching the Word but by obeying Christ and modeling Christian maturity. They are to not only keep a close watch on their doctrine but also on themselves and their families (1 Tim. 3:2-7; 4:12, 16; Titus 1:6-9). As elders teach the congregation to trust God and grow in godliness, loving and persuading them to obey Christ, Hebrews 13:17 calls believers to “obey your leaders an submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your soul.” (Again, membership matters!). But earlier, in Hebrews 13:7, believers are commanded: “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” Elders lead not only by teaching sound doctrine but by imitating Christ! Jeremy Rinne writes:

God has called elders to be men worth imitating. . . . When a church appoints a man to be an overseer, it is formally saying, ‘Here is an official, church-recognized example of a mature follower of Jesus.’ He is not the only example, not a perfect example, and not necessarily the best example in that congregation for every single Christian virtue. But an elder is a duly designated model nonetheless.v

Fifth, elders raise up elders (2 Tim. 1:14; 2:2). Elders disciple and train specific individuals to carry on the work of gospel ministry. As Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 2:2: “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.” As God’s stewards (Titus 1:7), pastors are entrusted with oversight of both the household and the truth of God. Not only must they seek to preserve the truths of the gospel for their own generation, but they must see to it that the faith once for all delivered to the saints be carried into the next generation of sheep.

The Role of Deacons

When it comes to the role of deacons in the local church, the Scriptures are surprisingly quiet. In fact, “We have no description in the New Testament of deacons acting as deacons, with the single exception of Acts 6, which, while controverted, is still widely used as a model for the ministry of deacons. Aside from that episode, we have no example of deacons at work.”vi Writing to the Philippians, Paul addresses “all the saints in Christ Jesus . . . with the overseers and deacons” (Php. 1:1). We find the qualifications of deacons following those of elders in 1 Timothy 3:8-13. In these passages, the Greek word diakonos refers to an office. But the word is often used in a more general sense to mean simply ‘servant’ or ‘minister.’ Even in Romans 16:1, when Paul commends “Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae,” who was “a patron of man and of [Paul] as well,” it’s debated whether she was an official deacon of that church or simply a faithful servant of the church. All Christians are diakonoi!

However, the Bible is clear that the office of deacon is indeed one of the two scriptural offices to be found in a local church, and it is an indispensable office for gospel ministry. Deacons care for the physical, logistical, and practical needs of the church in order to support the ministry of the elders and to maintain unity in the body (Acts 6:1-7). “They are not the spiritual leaders of the church. Instead, based on the pattern established in Acts 6 with the apostles and the Seven, it seems best to view the deacons as servants who do whatever is necessary to allow the elders to accomplish their God-given calling of shepherding and teaching the church.”vii

Deacons support the elders’ ministry of the Word by being responsible for tasks not related to shepherding and teaching. Under the oversight of the elders, deacons may be responsible for the practical details of church life: facilities, finances, benevolence, meals, guest services (such as ushers and greeters) security, media and technology, the Lord’s Supper, and so on. “Perhaps one reason why, in the providence of God, we are not given an explicit job description for deacons is to allow them the flexibility to serve in a variety of roles.”viii As for the number of deacons needed in a church, there should not be a set number or limit. (Acts 6 is narrative more than normative). Rather, the number of deacons should be determined by (1) the needs of that particular church and (2) the number of qualified deacon candidates.

The Role of Members

While the Christian church recognizes the offices of elders and deacons, it is also appropriate (and biblically warranted) to understand church membership as an office as well. Members, possessing the keys of the kingdom (Matt. 16:13-19; 18:15-20), are obligated to perform certain duties. Jonathan Leeman, who has written extensively about church membership, provides a helpful list of job responsibilities for church members: (1) Attend church regularly; (2) Help preserve the gospel; (3) Help affirm gospel citizens; (4) Attend members’ meetings; (5) Disciple other church members; (6) Share the gospel with outsiders; (7) Follow your leaders.ix

The Bible makes the role of members undeniable, unmistakable, and unavoidable: discipleship. Discipleship is simply God’s people helping God’s people to do all that Jesus commands. We have been given the task of preaching the gospel, making disciples, and being ambassadors of reconciliation (Matt. 28:18–20; 2 Cor. 5:18–20). We are called to protect the gospel (1 Tim 5:19-20; 2 Thess. 3:6; cf. Gal 1:6) and put the gospel on display by living a life of holiness, love, and grace. Leeman writes, ” Our work is to share and protect the gospel, and it’s to affirm and oversee gospel professors—church members. . . . The job here is bigger than showing up at members’ meetings and voting on new members. The church member’s job lasts all seven days. Ours is the work of representing Jesus and protecting his gospel in each other’s lives every day.”x

Church’s practicing meaningful membership tend to have a church covenant. This covenant summarizes the commands of the Lord Jesus given to those who belong to him and his church. Obedience to these commands proves our profession of faith and baptism to be genuine. In fact, church membership is what it looks like to be a disciple of Jesus; a disciple is a healthy church member.

Conclusion

Church polity is inevitable. Every church has a particular understanding of and implementation of church government. The question is whether or not your understanding and practice of church government is biblical and pleasing to God. While church polity can seem like a trivial matter, understanding the offices in the church is vital for being faithful to what God commands in Scripture and for having a healthy church.

So, to sum it all up: Elders equip the saints to do the work of ministry. Deacons serve the church by supporting the work of the elders. And members of the body of Christ make disciples by being key-wielding citizens of heaven through membership in a local church.


  1. Benjamin L. Merkle, “The Biblical Role of Elders,” in Baptist Foundations: Church Government for an Anti-Institutional Age (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2015), 285.
  2. John Piper, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2013), 76.
  3. Mark Dever, Understanding Church Leadership, Church Basics series (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2016), 24.
  4. Jeramie Rinne, Church Elders: How to Shepherd God’s People Like Jesus, Building Healthy Churches series (Wheaton, IL; Crossway, 2014), 81.
  5. Rinne, Church Elders, 101.
  6. John S. Hammett, Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches: A Contemporary Ecclesiology (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2005), 193.
  7. Benjamin L. Merkle, “The Office of Deacon,” in Baptist Foundations: Church Government for an Anti-Institutional Age (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2015), 319-20.
  8. Hammett, Biblical Foundations, 195.
  9. Jonathan Leeman, “Your 7 Job Responsibilities as a Church Member
  10. Jonathan Leeman, “Church Membership Is an Office and a Job”

…all things…

“To be clear, that tub was purchased to hold water balloons.”

That’s what one of our elders told me in a group text the day before we were to hold our first baptism service in quite a long time. I had casually mentioned months prior that I would be happy to “rinse out the baptism tub and get everything ready.” I had assumed that was the reason we owned a largish sturdy plastic tub stored upside down in our church back yard. I suppose the elders just didn’t have the heart to tell me that the tub was meant for holding several hundred rounds of Methodist baptism ammo, rather than a tank in which to freestyle-baptize a few folks on a Sunday. But, there I stood, about to baptize a husband, wife, and son, an awesome dude whose wife had been praying for him for years, and my 12 yr old son. And here’s Jesus, using a water balloon tank to show the Universe that he can use anything.

This is what Jesus does. He uses the foolish to shame the wise and the weak to shame the strong.

Up until about a year ago, I felt a bit like an overturned water trough in the backyard of the Church. I had spent my entire adult life serving in youth groups and pulpits only to find myself sanding drywall and painting baseboards. I knew from about age five that I was called to be a preacher, so, where was the pulpit? What had I done wrong? Had my calling run its course? At 40 years old, was I all poured out and washed up? Then out of what seemed to be nowhere; a tip on Facebook, “My brother’s church needs a pastor.” A text message. A return phone call. Another call. Another call. And then here I am, 52 weeks later, baptizing adopted sons and daughters of God in front of a congregation that has entrusted me with the honor of shepherding them.

How can I express this truth in a way that doesn’t sound like the lamest of well- trodden cliches? Let me try…

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9)

THERE we go. That’s nicely put. Oh, but wait… did you know that 1 Corinthians chapter 2 ALSO has a verse 10!?

“These things God HAS revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.”

See what the Bible just did there? The Bible just said that for the believer, for those in whom the Holy Spirit dwells, those “unseeable” “un-hearable” and “unimaginable” things HAVE been shown, told, and imagined. It should have come as NO great shock to me that the Lord could rinse me out, fill me up, and use me for great things.

But, what would have happened if Jesus had never shaken the drywall dust off my sandals and walked me into a pulpit? Would he still be good? Would he still be able to do great things through me? Would I still be a part of his awesome preordained plan? Can He use a handyman as well as a preacher man? Can he use all things or just some things? Well, I think you know where I’m going with this…

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

If you’ve ever sipped from a coffee mug from an out-of-business Christian bookstore then you’re familiar with that verse. The tricky part of that passage is that pesky word ‘all.’ In its original language, it meant ‘total’ or ‘entire’ or ‘everything’ or ‘excluding nothing’ or ‘the universe.’ See what I mean? The word ‘all’ is a giant pile of screaming greased pigs – very hard to get around and impossible to ignore. We either believe that God uses all things or we do not. The middle ground is not given to us. Is there a situation or entity in all of creation that is outside the reach of God’s right or ability to use? Is there a person, place, or thing that can tell God ‘no thanks, I’m good, I’d rather not be used according to your purpose? Class? Anyone? Anyone? Jonah? Great fish? Donkey’s Balaam? The answer is no, obviously. Unless of course, you’re a discouraged out-of-the-pulpit preacher scrambling to pay the bills as a handyman, or a once-used and long-forgotten tub for water balloons. In that case, you would be WAY out of God’s reach.

Our discouragement comes from failing to see what we thought 1 Corinthians 2:9 told us was unseeable. We fail to see, by the power of the Holy Spirit and an anchor of Biblical truth, that our circumstances, our heartache, our mistakes, our every moment of every day, is a part of the ‘all things’ that God is going to work together for His glory and our good. But, here’s the key, we have to desire God’s greater glory over our better circumstances, and choose greater joy over immediate happiness. You have to be willing to see past circumstances and feelings and see God’s greater purpose for everything. 

Holy Spirit, give us the eyes to see your working in all things.

Let me leave you with a poem. Yeah, I know, how 80’s preacher of me.

“Just, a Poem of All Things”

I’m just clay on the bank of a river,
Now I lay in the corner of a workshop.
Spinning on a wheel,
My discontentment is dizzying.
Pressed, and pulled, and stretched, and formed.
Do I have no say in what I become?
Just a bowl?
Fired in a kiln and sealed with glaze.
After all that… I’m just a bowl?
Placed in an upper room and forgotten.
Just, a bowl.
Filled by a carpenter? I should have been used by a King!

Poured out to rinse the dust of fisherman’s feet?
I wanted to be important.
But no,
Just a bowl.

All glory be to Christ, Tommy Shelton

Who is Sufficient For These Things?

In 2 Corinthians 2:14-16, Paul speaks about how gospel ministry spreads the fragrance of Christ. This fragrance is either an aroma of life or it is an aroma of death. This is quite a visual that the apostle presents before us. He then asks a question, “Who is sufficient for these things?” Recently, this passage and that question have pierced my heart. This is a season of pastoral ministry where I am acutely aware of my insufficiencies as a pastor. In the life of our church, we have seen a dear sister diagnosed with cancer, relationships in need of biblical counsel, and various physical/spiritual needs in the body. Who is sufficient for these things? I am not. Thankfully, this is the posture a pastor needs to be in. For when we confess our insufficiency, we are brought to remember what is sufficient for such trials in the life of a church. The Lord graciously brings back to my remembrance what I am to lean upon daily in the face of my insufficiency. I want to call your attention to see the sufficiency of the Shepherd, the Spirit, and the Scriptures.

The Sufficiency of the Shepherd   

In shepherding, pastors feel often overwhelmed with the responsibilities and burdens they feel in caring for the flock of Christ. This needs to drive us to see our dependency upon the Chief Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ. Psalm 23 must be a text that comes to our hearts over and over! He is our Shepherd! He purchased us with His own blood! He brings us to His table and calls for pastors to come and dine. Pastor, you must not be one who only thinks about the gospel when he is in the pulpit. For your own soul, you need to return over and over to the precious truths of gospel of grace in Christ. Meditate over Ephesians 1 and see how by union with Christ, you know election, adoption, redemption, holiness, and an eternal inheritance. The work of the Shepherd is not only sufficient for your conversion but for every part of your life and ministry. Brother pastor, your labor is not in vain! After giving instructions on how to shepherd, Peter writes these words, “And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” (1 Peter 5:4) Rest in that promise that while you are not the perfect shepherd, you are trusting in the One who is and pointing your people to Him! The Good Shepherd is sufficient not only for justification but for every need in the life of your congregation! He is sufficient for your own heart and soul! Behold again the beauty of the Shepherd!

The Sufficiency of the Spirit

In shepherding, there are many problems and we want to fix all of them. It is our tendency to see an issue, a conflict, or a tense situation before us and immediately begin to think about how we can resolve it and overcome every obstacle. Yet, so much is before us that is way beyond us and our abilities. When someone is diagnosed with a terminal condition, we do not have the capacity to heal. When someone continues in unrepentant sin and rejecting the gospel, we cannot change their hearts and make them new. This drives us to depend upon the work of the Spirit of God. Do you rest in the sufficiency of the Spirit? The Spirit brings real change and brings real comfort. As Jesus describes the work and ministry of the Spirit in John 14-16, our hearts need to bow and submit to His power and authority. This is not a passive path that the pastor takes in depending upon the sufficiency of the Spirit. It is a great comfort because you will be driven into the ground and despondent if you think that you are capable and sufficient to change all of the people and circumstances that exist in your local church. The Chief Shepherd put you there as His man. He gave you the Spirit who will bring forth fruit in due season. Yes, you are insufficient to change that man or woman. Yes, the Spirit is fully sufficient and able to raise the dead in sin to life in Christ! He is the source of our strength to persevere!

The Sufficiency of the Scriptures

“Preach the Word.” The mandate is clear and plain. Do you believe that the Scriptures are sufficient and meet the needs of your people? No, I am not talking about a mere biblicism that just goes looking for a proof text and treats the Bible as a collection of sayings and clichés. I am talking about the commitment to the beauty and flow of redemptive promise and accomplishment found from Genesis to Revelation. What will you give yourself to as the pastor serving your flock? The Scriptures point to the Shepherd and were written by the Spirit. What will you bring to your people week in and week out? You might confess that you believe in the inspiration, inerrancy, and infallibility of the Bible. However, if you are not committed to sequential exposition that is rooted in the centrality of Christ, your view of the Bible might not be more than lip service. Give your people the Word.

Conclusion

I say none of these things as one that perfectly relies upon the sufficiency of the Shepherd, the Spirit, and the Scriptures. I confess that there have been moments lately where I felt real fear in seeking to process how I would navigate through the waters of trials and tests in the life of our church. The question “Is it worth it?” can creep around in the deep recesses of the heart. I can tell you that it does. A lady in our church recently diagnosed with stage four lung cancer thanked me and my fellow elder this past Sunday. What was she thanking us for? She thanked us for preparing her for this trial due to our commitment to the ordinary means of grace. By biblical exposition, seeing the gospel as connected to every part of life, and rejoicing in the Spirit connecting us as a church family, she felt an inner peace and joy in the face of this trial. Those words brought me back to the question Paul asked, “Who is sufficient for these things?”

Certainly, Jake Stone is not. I rejoice to know that there is One who is!

What to Watch for in Ministry

As I took off my headphones, I told my wife, “I think I just heard the best sermon I’ve ever heard. I need to listen to more from this guy!” I told this to my wife about a famous preacher last year and was surprised to discover recently that he had fallen to sexual immorality and left the ministry. In recent years, others have fallen also, some of which were once stellar preachers and theologians. Names like Joshua Harris and Marty Sampson remind us that apostasy is not some ancient phenomenon to the church. 1 John 2:19 reminds us that news like this will be the case until Jesus comes back and for that reason, we need not be surprised. But when news like this comes to our attention as believers, it should sober us. We need to be reminded from time to time that no amount of homiletical skill, theological astuteness, or ministry fruitfulness protects us from making shipwreck of our faith and leading others astray. But in light of this, what can pastors and elders do to stay the course? Paul charges the church leaders to keep watch. First on ourselves, then on our teaching, and finally on the flock entrusted to our care.

1. Keep a close watch on yourself 

Keep a close watch on yourself...”-1 Tim. 4:16a

Pay careful attention to yourselves…”- Acts 20:28a

Just after announcing in verse 1, “in later times some will depart from the faith,” Paul urges Timothy: “Train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Tim. 4:1, 7b-8). Godliness is not a helpful add-on to ministry effectiveness. It is not the sprinkles on the cake; it is the eggs and flour that make up the cake. It is a vital ingredient we cannot afford to do without. Let us remember that God will hold us accountable just as He will the rest of His people.

In the Acts passage, Paul had gathered the Ephesian elders together and shared that from among their own selves would arise false teachers. He charged them to “stay alert.” This charge to, “keep watch” and “stay alert” is found throughout Scripture, but Paul takes it a step further. He calls the church leaders among us to an even more careful scrutiny of our lives: “Keep a close watch on yourself…pay careful attention to yourselves.” This is cautious and careful watchfulness that refuses to rest the eyes of the soul. This is the kind of watchfulness a man has when looking for his lost wedding band in the parking lot or the kind of watchfulness a soldier exhibits when walking into a field full of mines. It is the kind of watchfulness the Wallenda family exercised recently while walking a tightrope over Times Square amid the chaos of flashing lights, city sounds, and strong wind gusts. If even First Century pastors who knew Paul could become false teachers and apostates, we must beware in our Twenty-First Century age.

But how? Puritan Thomas Brooks was right when he closed his book on Satan’s temptations stating that this world is full of snares. How does one maintain such careful and cautious watchfulness while living in such a self-centered culture?

This is only possible by the Spirit’s enabling. Therefore, we must strive to maintain a position of weakness and dependency upon God. One of the sins in ministry that lead to other sins is pride or spiritual independence. As pastors, we are prone to being people-pleasers and know-it-alls. People look to us for spiritual guidance and biblical wisdom, and it can be easy to forget Paul’s warning: “What do you have that you did not receive?” We must stay humble. None of us are indispensable. God doesn’t need a hero. He is it. When the most meek man, Moses failed to uphold God as holy before the people, God put him on the shelf. Let’s stay humble.

I feel it important to point out also that we and our spouses know us best, so we know what else we must keep watch on. Perhaps you are prone to make ministry a mistress in your life and need to show more affection to your family and prioritize your schedule to aide this. Perhaps you often give into envy of other “successful” pastors or churches and slip into unhealthy discouragement or competitive relationships with other church staff. We must know ourselves and then keep watch on the sins to which we are prone. One helpful thing to do is to take your wife or a close friend out for coffee and ask them to share some helpful feedback on your life and specific areas in which you could improve. This is humbling, but it can be part of careful watchfulness. We must keep a close watch on our devotional lives, our marriages, our family. We must know what causes us to stumble and actively resist these and rest in Christ.

2. Keep a close watch on the teaching 

Keep a close watch…on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”-1 Tim. 4:16b

In the Pastoral Epistles, Paul often emphasizes the importance of sound teaching or doctrine. James warned that teachers will be judged with greater strictness (3:1). Jesus said we will give account for every careless word we speak. This should cause us to think more carefully over the words we let roll out of our mouths and strive to teach  in a way that aligns with God’s infallible, inerrant, and inspired Word. Indeed, since God’s Word alone has the power to save and stands alone in its authority, our preaching/teaching/writing must never stand apart from it. We are even promised that if we are careful to watch our lives and teaching, God will save us and our hearers. What use is preaching if it fails to save? Therefore, let us live and preach in a way that will help the grace of salvation be displayed and not hinder it. I believe the best way to preach and teach in a way that keeps such a close watch is to preach expository messages where the preaching is merely exposing what God has said clearly in His Word. This way the preacher doesn’t have to constantly wonder if his words are valid, for they will merely be the unfolding of God’s Word.

The last thing we must keep watch on is the sheep under our charge…

3. Pay careful attention to all the flock 

Pay careful attention…to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers to care for the church of God, which He obtained with His own blood.”-Acts 20:28b

It is entirely possible to watch our own souls and our teaching, while neglecting the souls of those to whom we preach. But we certainly don’t want to be the kind of shepherd described in Ezekiel 34 who fails to feed the flock. We want to take Jesus’ charge to Peter seriously and to, “Feed my lambs…tend my sheep…feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17). Or as Peter put it, “Shepherd the flock of God among you” (1 Pet. 5:2). We must strive to know our people and be involved in their lives to the point that they feel comfortable opening up to us. As one pastor told me recently, we must smell like the sheep. Paul had just previously told the Ephesian elders that he went “from house to house”, and we would do well to follow his example. Pastors who know their people discover that living rooms, hospital rooms, job sites, and ball games are often great places to speak the truth of the gospel into the lives of their members. We must also invest in discipling other men, not content to let the pulpit be the only preaching they hear from us. Paul charged Timothy to entrust the gospel to faithful men who will then teach it to others (2 Tim. 2:2). All these things require time outside of the office and pulpit. Whenever we feel ourselves isolating ourselves from our people, we are forgetting they are the entire point of our ministry. In his book, Praying with Paul, Don Carson writes, “There are preachers who so loudly declare their love of preaching that it is unclear whether it is their own performance and their love of power that has captured them or their desire to minister to the men and women who listen to them.” Let’s not be preachers who are seldom seen but in the pulpit. Let’s pay careful attention to God’s flock entrusted to us.

So if we wish to experience God’s blessing on our ministry, we must not neglect any of these three important areas of which to keep watch.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones on Altar Calls

David Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981) was a Welsh Protestant minister, preacher, and medical doctor who pastored at Westminster Chapel in London for almost 30 years. Considered by many to be one of the greatest preachers of the twentieth century, Lloyd-Jones was devoted to fervent prayer and faithful ministry of the word. His passion for Spirit-empowered preaching, which he defined as “logic on fire,” made a profound and lasting impact on the church on both sides of the Atlantic.

Preaching and Calling for Decisions

In 1969, he delivered a series of lectures on the essence of powerful preaching to the students of Westminster Theological Seminary. These essays were later compiled and published as the book Preaching & Preachers,which has become a definitive text on biblical exposition. One of the many topics he addresses is that of ‘altar calls’: the issue of whether or not a gospel minister should call for decisions at the conclusion of his sermon by inviting people to come forward to be saved.

Personally, Lloyd-Jones did not subscribe to this practice and offered several compelling reasons why preachers should likewise avoid such invitations. But he also makes an important and charitable point regarding his position: “I am in no way querying the motives or the sincerity of those who use this method, or the fact that there have been genuine converts” (Preaching & Preachers, 295). God has surely used altar calls or other forms of invitations as a means of conversion for many. However, that does not mean that the practice is biblically sound.

While much more could be said about the history and the confusion that results from altar calls, below is simply a summary of the arguments against the practice which Lloyd-Jones gives in his lecture. Whether his reasons are compelling to you or not, you decide.

The Argument from History

Far from being a New Testament practice or a pattern throughout the entire history of the church, altar calls only came into the life of the church during the nineteenth century. In particular, the focus on calling for decisions was a result of the ministry of Charles G. Finney (1792-1875). As the father of American revivalism, Finney promoted several “new measures” in an attempt to produce spiritual conversions at his evangelistic meetings. One of these strategies was the so-called ‘anxious bench’ where people were invited to make decisions on the spot, and served as a precursor to the altar calls of today.

However, if one examines the teaching of Charles Finney, it becomes clear that his theology was radically different from the evangelical faith. Lloyd-Jones explains that “it is not an accident that it came in with Finney, because ultimately this is a matter of theology” (285). If the goal is to preach Christ in the power of the Spirit, then the results are left up to God. But if the goal is conversion—a result that only God can bring about— then ends will justify the means. Lloyd-Jones also adds that, at the same time, “we must never forget that an Arminian like John Wesley and others did not use this method” (285).

Pressuring the Will

Calling for decisions at the conclusion of a sermon applies direct pressure to the will of the hearer. However, Lloyd-Jones argues that it is dangerous, even wrong, to address the will in this manner.  Such an approach can produce results, but those results “may have no real relationship to the Truth” (288). His reasoning comes from Paul’s words to the Romans: “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed” (Rom. 6:17). Notice the order: their choice to obey came from the heart, and the heart had been moved by the truth of the gospel which they had first been taught.

Lloyd-Jones explains that the will is to be approached through the mind and then the affections. “As the mind grasps [the Truth], and understands it, the affections are kindled and moved, and so in turn the will is persuaded and obedience is the outcome. In other words, the obedience is not the result of direct pressure on the will, it is the result of an enlightened mind and a softened heart” (286). Yes, we want sinners to obey the gospel and choose to follow Jesus, but the preacher must be first concerned with proclaiming the word of Christ and praying that his hearers may “come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4; see also Rom. 10:17).

In reality, pressuring the will “may produce a condition in which what has determined the response of the man who ‘comes forward’ is not so much the Truth itself as, perhaps, the personality of the evangelist, or some vague general fear, or some other kind of psychological influence” (286-87). A person might choose to come forward to escape the torments of hell or to receive promised blessing from God—but you don’t have to be born again to want blessings or escape from suffering. (A similar argument can be made regarding applying pressure to the emotions, especially through the use of music. Have you ever heard of an altar call without music playing in the background?)

A Sinner’s Inability

Related to this idea of focusing on the will, Lloyd-Jones explains that this method “carries in it the implication that sinners have an inherent power of decision and of self-conversion” (289). An unbeliever can be led to think that if they answer the invitation to raise their hand, walk the aisle, and say a prayer, then they will be saved. The danger with this thinking is that coming forward to an ‘altar’ is not always indicative of true repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus. “This method tends to produce a superficial conviction of sin, if any at all” (289). It can lead a person to believe that conversion is the work of man rather than the work of God.

While salvation is a free gift of God’s grace, available to all who repent and believe the gospel, sinners will never obey the gospel unless the Holy Spirit first does the work of regeneration (more on this below). The Apostle Paul makes this abundantly clear: “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). Unless God makes us alive together with Christ by grace his grace, we will remain spiritually dead in our trespasses and sins; salvation is the gift of God, “not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:1-10).

Again, God may very well use a sermon to convict people of their sin and grant them the gift of repentance and faith so that, when a call is given, they respond wholeheartedly. But the bottom line is that God alone gives the growth; God alone gives life to the dead and calls nonexistent faith into existence (Rom. 4:17). To insist that an altar call is necessary for people to “make a decision for Christ”—that a sinner simply needs to be given a chance to choose and respond to an invitation in order to be saved—is an unbiblical notion.

The Work of the Holy Spirit

This leads Lloyd-Jones to emphasize what he considers the most serious issue: a misunderstanding of the doctrine of regeneration. “This work is the work of the Holy Spirit, and His work alone, no one else can do it. The true work of conviction of sin, and regeneration, and the giving of the gift of faith and new life is solely the work of the Holy Spirit. And as it is His work it is always a thorough work; and it is always a work that will show itself” (291). As an illustration of this, Lloyd-Jones refers to Peter’s sermon in Acts 2, and how his hearers cried out under conviction, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). They didn’t wait for an invitation to respond, and no music was needed to set the mood; the Spirit did the work.

Paul again explains this in unmistakable terms: “It depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (Rom. 9:16). Those who receive Christ and believe in his name are those who are have been born “not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13). In short, regeneration precedes faith. Even Jesus himself said that a sinner is unable to come to him unless the Father draws him (John 6:44)!

Advocates of altar calls insist that such invitations allow room for the Holy Spirit to work. But Scripture is abundantly clear the Holy Spirit of God works through the word of God! This isn’t to say that a preacher doesn’t need to instruct his hearers on what repentance looks like, or how to begin living life as a disciple of Jesus; even Peter told his hearers to repent and be baptized! (In fact, baptism—not responding to an altar call—is the biblical way we are to publicly identify ourselves with the church of Christ.) This also doesn’t mean that a pastor doesn’t need to be available after a sermon to speak and pray with those under conviction. Lloyd-Jones was insistent that a preacher must make himself available. But the work of conviction and regeneration is the work of the Holy Spirit, and far be it from us to use means that imply (whether we think it does or not) that we can manipulate his work.

What Then Shall We Do?

Ministers of the gospel must boldly proclaim the words of our Lord to a lost and dying world: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28)! “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25)! Yet preaching the word and calling for decisions should not be separated in our thinking. A separate altar call is not necessary for the Spirit to do his work. “The appeal is a part of the message; it should be so inevitably. The sermon should lead men to see that this is the only thing to do” (296).

As the truth of the gospel is declared, as we prayerful preach the word in full reliance upon the sovereign power of the Spirit, the hearts of our hearers will either be hardened or softened. The word of God will be either the aroma of death or the aroma of life (2 Cor. 2:14-17). Our concern should not be with decisions or immediate visible results, but the Spirit’s work of regeneration and his fruit of repentance, faith, and love towards God and the brothers. In sum, as Lloyd-Jones reminds us, “We must learn to trust the Spirit and to rely upon His infallible work” (296).


For Further Reading:

Preaching and Preachers, by Martyn Lloyd-Jones

The Life of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, by Ian H. Murray

The Passionate Preaching of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, by Steven J. Lawson

Revival & Revivalism: The Making and Marring of American Evangelicalism 1750-1858, by Ian H. Murray

The Perils of Preaching

Preaching: Google defines it as “the delivery of a sermon or religious address to an assembled group of people, typically in church.” BDAG defines it as “an official announcement, proclamation, of the content of a herald’s proclamation.” I define it as “perilous.”

Seriously. Outside of being a husband and a father preaching has unquestionably become the most difficult and dangerous task I have ever undertaken. Let me explain.

The Work of Interpretation

If you’re a pastor, or regularly exegete Scripture for a study of some sort, you understand not only the real labor that goes into properly interpreting the Word for the consumption of another but also the reverent fear that accompanies misinterpretation.

Let’s face it, anyone can take a verse, paragraph, or passage and mangle it like a playful cat with its recently caught mouse. But, to take into consideration the Testament, Genre, Author, Audience, Purpose of the Book, Cultural, Historical, Grammatical, Christological, Theological, and Applicational (of course, this list is not meant to be exhaustive) context of a passage is work; it’s hard work. To misinterpret could very well led to misapplication and I don’t have to remind you (but I will) of Jesus’ words about the “millstone, river, and causing sin in a little one” (Matthew 18 & Luke 17).

Careful work in the office with the Scriptures is an absolute necessity for the work of interpretation and to neglect that is dangerous.

The Struggle of Application

First, let me say that I don’t mean that the struggle of application is that I struggle with telling YOU how to apply what the passage says. The struggle of application begins with me. It’s a trap that I’ve fallen into as a preacher and I don’t think I’m alone. Here’s how it goes:

My personal devotional reading begins to turn into some version of sermon-prep, the books I am reading begins turning into some version of quotes and illustrations for the sermon I’m preparing, and the notes in the margins of my Bible begin to look like “You cannot…” “We cannot…” “No one should…” and “If you…” instead of “I cannot…I should…If I…”

Somehow, somewhere, sometimes, I stop reading and learning and pursuing Christ and I start prepping all the time, ceasing personally applying the glories of the Gospel to my own needy soul. Needless to say, that descent leads down a perilous road.

The Pain of Mortification

Maybe I’m alone in this one (although I doubt it) but killing sin week after week after week is painful. Sure, I want to be “pruned that I might bear more fruit” just like the next Jesus-lover but I’m just being honest; pruning is painful.

Between Sunday sermons, Sunday School, New Believers & New Members Class, Sunday Night Men’s Group, Monday AM study, and personal discipleship with others through the week I find myself engulfed in the Word of God. That’s a good thing! What an honor and, truthfully, a joy to have been called to serve the Lord and His Church in this capacity. But (and this is a big “But”), do you know what I find in every single page of Scripture? Sin in me. I don’t measure up. I am constantly under the conviction of the Holy Spirit as I study and as I teach/preach.

Now, before you rise and take the stones of “That’s too much Law, Don, and not enough Grace” to bury me with I want to agree with you. The Law is meant to reveal sin but also to drive us to Calvary and sometimes in the laborious and perilous task of killing sin I stop too soon at the revelation of sin, wallow in fear and pity, then walk away feeling discouraged that I’ll never measure up.

But Jesus did.

The Joy of the Gospel

It’s true, I’ll never measure up but I know the One who not only measured up but voluntarily gave up His place of glory, sacrificially took my place of shame, and victoriously defeated death that I might be given His righteousness and not be shackled by my hideously damning unrighteousness; His name is Jesus Christ.

Paul David Trip said, “If you are not resting in the one true gospel, preaching it to yourself over and over again, you will look to another gospel to meet the needs of your unsettled heart” (Dangerous Calling, pg. 36). I couldn’t agree more and have yet to find anything outside of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that can settle my heart. The Gospel is the salve of the soul and the right interpretation & application of the Scriptures, by the power of the Holy Spirit, is just as necessary for you (us, me) as it is for your (our, my) people.

Pastors, preachers, evangelists, and teachers, don’t stop at the Work of Interpretation, the Struggle of Application, or the Pain of Mortification take yourself to the Joy of the Gospel. Revel in the glories of the Christ who loves you and gave himself for you too (not just your hearers). The perils of preaching are overcome in the protections afforded even you (I mean me) at Calvary “to the praise of His glorious grace” (Eph. 1). Amen

Ministry Can Be Dangerous

“Did you hear about all the pastors convicted of sexual abuse?”

My wife’s question left me with an ache in the pit of my stomach. As a Gospel minister who struggles daily to love Jesus and kill indwelling sin, I can’t say that I’m surprised. In fact, to be surprised would expose some bad theology on my part. The more I read the Bible, the more I’m reminded that I’m more sinful than I ever imagined and the Gospel is more glorious than I ever imagined. Still, news of sexual abuse must always be received with a heavy heart. The Houston Chronicle reported some 220 Gospel ministers convicted of sexual abuse, leaving about 700 victims affected. Many of the stories are well documented and put a chill in your spine as you read them. I broke down over footage I saw of a police officer questioning a four or five year old boy molested by his “church-man.” Other footage was of jailed pastors sharing how they compromised on their convictions. Each of these were truly disturbing and humbling. Then only a day or two later, Christian news turned to abuse of authority by leaders. I learned famous pastor James MacDonald was fired by his church for serious abuse of authority. Before MacDonald, there was Driscoll, Tchividian, and Mahaney; all men whose sermons have greatly impacted me, and all left with question marks over their character, yet who went on to preach and lead other churches. Not to mention Patterson and Pressler, men who stood on biblical convictions against a tide of liberalism in my demonination, and yet who fell over bad counseling methods and sexist comments and actions. Meanwhile, some Southern Baptist pastors with massive ministries flaunt massive pride in the pulpit and we put up with it.

In light of this, here are five essentials for avoiding moral failure in ministry. There are many others, but these are just a few we would all do well to heed…

Don’t be a glory thief (Jer. 45:5)

The biggest ministry problem out there is theft. By theft I don’t mean stealing possessions, but stealing praise. All of us can be glory thieves from time to time, but stealing God’s glory in ministry is especially dangerous. As one pastor has remarked, we must never intercept the bride’s affection for the Bridegroom. Jeremiah 45 is a short chapter in the book and yet it packs a heavy punch. In it, God uses Jeremiah to challenge his assistant Baruch with this: “And do you seek great things for yourself? Seek them not…” I remember my first class at Southern Seminary was with Dr. Don Whitney and was called Personal Spiritual Disciplines. Dr. Whitney was about to share with us about Charles Spurgeon and he made a humbling remark to this effect: “If one of you were going to have an impact like Charles Spurgeon, we would all already know by now.” I was guilty of seeking great things for myself and this reminded me how foolish I had been. We must learn to pray with the Psalmist, “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory…” (Ps. 115:1). Better to be unknown and faithful than known and unfaithful. As those who love the phrase, Soli Deo Gloria, it would be quite ironic to minister as though it were about us. We must glory in the Gospel we preach, but never in the way we preach it. We are like Moses in with a glow about us from being in God’s presence, but we must always be turning people’s attention off us and onto Christ, the source.

Keep a close watch on yourself and the teaching (1 Tim. 4:16)

It is amazing how our eyes can play tricks on us. Years ago there was a video going around of basketball players dribbling and passing the ball back to each other and the viewer was asked to count the number of times the ball bounced. But when you watch the video and don’t focus on the ball, you notice a man dressed in a gorilla uniform casually walks out right in the middle of the screen and waves, before walking off. Lazer-like focus on one thing will eliminate even the most glaring distractions. Paul told Timothy, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:16). Watching ourselves requires knowing the snares that tend to trip us up and avoiding them and staying in the Word and prayer. Watching our teaching requires caring about our words when communicating God’s Word. A ministry that fails to emphasize what God emphasizes is bound to mislead and fall short.

Be appropriately honest about your weakness (James 5:16)

All sheep are not shepherds, but all shepherds are sheep. Sometimes pastors fall into this weird mindset that they are not really sheep in need of the Chief Shepherd. We begin to live and believe as though we have to attain some standard not given the rest of God’s people. The truth is, however, that we are all weak and easily tempted. We must learn to share regularly with our people of our struggles, while not sharing too detailed of course. James 5:16 reminds us of this: “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed…” A church that thinks its pastor has to be above this is only adding to his burden. We need honesty and openness again about pastoral struggles.

Maintain healthy accountability (Prov. 18:1; 27:17)

Proverbs 18:1 always stands out to an introverted guy like me: “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment.” It is very easy to isolate oneself in pastoral ministry. Most pastors are preparing three to five different messages a week, not to mention all the phone calls and visits necessary. Then there’s administration, hospital visitation, counseling, event planning, discipleship groups to lead, and a whole host of others. But pastors who isolate and insulate themselves from people looking into their personal lives are setting themselves up for disaster. We need godly men who will ask us the hard questions and still choose to love us and pray for us. This is why Proverbs 27:17 states, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” We must not let our own spiritual blade or that of our brothers grow dull.

Pray, pray, pray…and did I mention pray? (1 Thess. 5:17)

When your eyes are on Jesus, it is nearly impossible to look for hope elsewhere. Puritan George Swinnock has said it well: “A Christian’s prayer may have an intermission, but never a cessation. There is no duty given to a Christian for his constant attention so much as prayer; pray always, pray continually, pray without ceasing, pray with perseverance, and pray forevermore. To pray without ceasing means: 1)To be in a praying frame all the time….2)No important business is undertaken without prayer…3)Set a regular time aside every day for prayer.” Prayerfulness is dependency and so the opposite of praying is living independently of God, which should terrify us. In his book entitled Prayer, Tim Keller has pointed out, “The infallible test of spiritual integrity, Jesus says, is your private prayer life.”

So may we all study, live, and pray in such a way that we avoid shipwreck and we pursue the safe haven for our souls and those who hear us.

 

Paul in Ephesus: A Biblical Model of Pastoral Ministry

Paul’s farewell address to the Ephesian elders (Acts 20:17-38) takes place at the end of his third missionary journey. On his way back to Jerusalem, Paul summons them while at Miletus in order that he might encourage them in the faith and charge them to continue the work of caring for the church of God. As Alexander Strauch has noted, this speech is a virtual pastoral manual. Paul begins by first reminding the elders of his time spent among them, how he ministered the gospel to them. Yet before he begins his actual commands to the elders in verse 28, his opening remarks provide us with a model of ministry worthy of emulation. Here, we learn that the pastoral ministry consists of both demonstration and declaration of the gospel.

Pastoral Ministry as Demonstration

And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews” (Acts 20:18-19).

First, Paul’s practice was public. Before Paul mentions the message which he taught them, he reminds them of the message that he lived before them. Here, Paul calls them to remember his practice—his character, his conduct, his work, his way of life. The Ephesian church could all testify to how Paul lived because they all knew him intimately! He had lived among them, in the same environment as the church. He was their brother, their friend, their pastor, and their fellow worker in the gospel. He didn’t live in isolation and wasn’t unapproachable. Like a good shepherd, he smelled like his sheep; he had dirt on his coat and fleece on his sleeves.

Second, Paul’s practice was above approach. He was confident that they could reflect on any portion of the three years that he had spent with them, from the very moment he stepped foot onto Asian soil, and his life would hold up to their scrutiny. They had witnessed firsthand his pastoral ministry, his godly character, and his courage in the face of persecution. But how exactly had Paul lived and ministered among them? This he goes on to clarify in verse 19.

Third, Paul ministered as a slave of Christ.  The word “serving” here means to act or conduct oneself as a slave, as one who is in total service to another. It is to be characterized by undivided allegiance to one’s master. Paul was controlled by the love of Christ and gratefully labored in the service of his good and gracious King. Paul also ministered with all humility. This is the same word found in Philippians 2:3-4, where Paul calls the church, based on the gospel of Jesus Christ, to “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” This is humility which takes the form of unselfishness and self-forgetfulness; it’s not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less! Finally, Paul ministered with tears and trials. Paul was personally and emotionally invested in the Ephesians. He not only cared for them deeply but continued to serve his Lord despite the profound anguish he felt because of Jewish opposition.

These verses serve to highlight a crucial aspect of pastoral ministry: shepherding is deeply relational and inescapably personal. It’s not simply preaching a sermon or teaching a Sunday School lesson; it’s imparting a way of life, investing in and setting an example before the flock. We are to lay down our lives for the sheep in humble, grateful, and joyful service to our Lord and Savior. We are to walk worthy of our calling and model the gospel before them in joy and in sorrow, in peace and in trial.

Pastoral Ministry as Declaration

“…how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:20-21).

As Paul continues, he reminds them not only of the godly life which he demonstrated before them, but of the gospel message which he faithfully declared to them. He calls them to remember his preaching—his words, his message, his teaching, his witness. First, Paul’s preaching was bold. This phrase, to “shrink back,” means to avoid doing something out of fear. It’s same word in Galatians 2:12, where Peter “drew back” and separated himself from eating with Gentiles, fearing the Jews. Here, Paul reminds them that he did not keep silent during his time with them, but boldly declared the message of the gospel.

Second, Paul’s preaching was comprehensive. Notice the terms he uses to describe his gospel declaration. He proclaimed to them everything that was profitable; in verse 27, Paul will explain this as being the whole counsel of God, since it is Scripture alone that is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). He taught them doctrine, which means that he provided a structured explanation of the gospel for the purposes of retention and better understanding its content. And Paul testified to the truth of the gospel. He “bore witness,” which means he was eager to make a solemn declaration about the truth of the message he proclaimed.

Third, Paul’s preaching was both public and private. He was not only involved in public gatherings and preaching sermons before large crowds, but he was personally invested in teaching sound doctrine to individuals and families! In other words, Paul was devoted to the work of Christian discipleship. This is an often-neglected component of pastoral ministry. We fail to realize that while Sunday sermons are necessary, they are not sufficient (for more on this topic, I highly recommend The Trellis and the Vine by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne). Simply put, individual instruction is complementary to public proclamation. We are to apply the whole counsel of God in specific, Spirit-directed ways to the needs of our sheep.

Fourth, Paul’s preaching was for all people. The good news of Jesus Christ is to be preached to all without distinction; the ground is level at the foot of the cross. As Paul told Titus, “the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people” (2:11; cf. 1 Timothy 2:4-6). What’s profound about this statement is not just that Gentiles are indeed included in the people of God (the “mystery of Christ” in Ephesians 3:1-12), but that Paul continued to preach to the Jews who persecuted him and rejected him! Paul showed no partiality in his pastoral ministry and gospel declaration.

And fifth, Paul’s preaching was all about repentance toward God and faith in Jesus. This is a beautiful summary of the gospel that all elders are called by God to declare. Repentance is necessary because all, both Jews and Greeks, have sinned and face God’s judgment (Rom. 1:18-3:23). However, by grace through faith in the risen Lord Jesus, everyone who trusts in him will be saved from God’s righteous judgment (Rom. 3:24-8:39). This phrase portrays repentance as an integral component of saving faith; both must be boldly declared if we are to be faithful ministers of God’s gospel.

Watch Yourself and the Teaching

Paul’s model of pastoral ministry as both demonstration and declaration is a recurring theme throughout the New Testament. In fact, this model of ministry also applies to the sheep as well. However, Paul’s emphasis is particularly found in the instruction given to pastors and leaders of the church. Paul commands Timothy: “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:12-16). Pastors must pay careful attention to both their practice and their preaching to “care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). This is our calling as ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Pastor, what kind of farewell could you deliver to your church?

Give Me the Old Paths

If you grew up in Baptist churches in the South, chances are you heard either a preacher, a church, or a ministry through a sermon or church sign declare a need to get back to “old paths.” I can remember many times hearing preachers talk about all that was wrong in churches today and then cry out, “Give me the old paths!” This phrase “old paths” is taken from Jeremiah 6:16. Yet, as I think back on these “old paths,” the problem with meaning behind this jargon for many is that their paths are not really old. The “old paths” they were referring to were beliefs, methods, and practices that can only be dated back to originating between 1900 and 1950. The “old paths” of altar calls for salvation, KJV-onlyism, dispensational eschatology of the Scofield/Hagee variety, join the church but attend rarely if at all, and Heavenly Highway hymnals are not the real “old paths” in evangelicalism. All of those items are a blend of Finneyism and Pelagianism that makes man the center of salvation. They feature revivalism techniques popularized by men like Billy Sunday, Frank Norris, and Jack Hyles such as making decisions, walking an aisle, and repeating a prayer, and a populistic theology that equated the United States with Israel as God’s choice people. Are these the real “old paths” that marked evangelicals, specifically Baptists? Give me the old paths, the real old paths! Consider the following “old paths” that need to be recovered in Baptist churches:

Christ-Centered Exposition

The history of Baptist preaching contains some great expositors who preached sermons rich in doctrine, pastoral application, and pointed chiefly to Christ! Consider the great sermons by Benjamin Keach on the parables as he unfolds the gospel witness in the discourses our Lord gave. The eminent John Gill faithfully preached line-upon-line and precept-upon-precept in the many volumes of his sequential exposition of the Bible. Andrew Fuller’s sermons through Genesis contain beautiful jewels of how the gospel is to be seen in the Old Testament. The great Southern Baptist preacher, John A. Broadus, taught preachers that, “We cannot understand the Old Testament, except we read it in its bearing upon Christ, as fulfilled in him.”[1] How can one not read the sermons of C.H. Spurgeon and be stirred in their hearts by the beauty of the gospel! Many today think that shallow sermons must be preached else our hearers be bored, lost, or unable to comprehend! Listen to Mr. Spurgeon’s counsel:

Some preachers seem to be afraid lest their sermons should be too rich in doctrine, and so injure the spiritual digestions of their hearers. The fear is superfluous. . . . This is not a theological age, and therefore it rails at sound doctrinal teaching, on the principle that ignorance despises wisdom. The glorious giants of the Puritan age fed on something better than the whipped creams and pastries which are now so much in vogue.[2]

Baptist pulpits need to be marked more than ever by faithful expository preaching that goes through books of the Bible with Christ as chief! The manner in which you preach is going to be the model your flock imitate when it comes to Bible study: what are you showing them?

Sovereign Grace Theology

It is quite a strange phenomenon that those who claim to hold to the “old paths” in Baptist life reject Calvinism/Doctrines of Grace/Reformed theology as heresy! Would they anathematize all of these men: John Bunyan, Andrew Fuller, William Carey, Samuel Pearce, Obadiah Holmes, James P. Boyce, John A. Broadus, and C.H. Spurgeon? All of these men were well grounded in the doctrines of grace. Reformed theology laid the foundation and served as the grid for how Baptists understood the world. The great institutions and movements that many Baptists proudly point to were built upon a theology of sovereign grace as found in Reformed theology. The doctrines of grace fuel and guide in how to think biblically about evangelism, missions, and discipleship. For material on how the doctrines of grace and Baptist heritage are interwoven, check out: https://founders.org/. We need a recovery of these precious doctrines! Mark Dever describes the preaching that historically marked Baptist pulpits: “The dominant preaching and teaching of the earlier part of the [19th] century was clear and unapologetic on the points of human depravity and divine election, of irresistible grace and perseverance – doctrines which tell little of what I must do, and much of what God has done.”[3] Reformed theology will not bring only the doctrines of what we call the TULIP but they will bring the proper understand of the law and the gospel, the providence of God in every part of our lives, and covenant theology.

Distinctively Baptist Federalism

While there are many dispensationalist brothers that I have learned from and respect, there is much I find wrong with that system and hermeneutic. Furthermore, one either speaks from pure ignorance or blatant error if they claim that “the old paths” in Baptist life are anything but a well-grounded federal or covenant theology. If you read 17th century Baptists like Spilsbury, Keach, Bunyan, and Coxe, then you will find a distinct Baptist covenant theology. if you read 18th century Baptists like Abraham Boothe, John Gill, and John Ryland, then you will find a distinct Baptist covenant theology. If you read 19th century Baptists like James P. Boyce, John Dagg, Robert Howell and C.H. Spurgeon, then you will find a distinct Baptist covenant theology. Why do Baptists need to recover a Baptist covenantal understanding? Consider this summary from Spurgeon:

THE doctrine of the divine covenant lies at the root of all true theology. It has been said that he who well understands the distinction between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace is a master of divinity. I am persuaded that most of the mistakes which men make concerning the doctrines of Scripture are based upon fundamental errors with regard to the covenants of law and of grace.[4]

For more information about Baptist covenant theology see: www.1689federalism.com

Robust Confessionalism

Many Baptists today parrot the Campbellite movement that said away with creeds and confessions. This is not the Baptist position. Baptists have historically used creeds and confessions as a doctrinal basis for pastors and preachers, for church membership, for teaching members the core tenets of the faith, and for associational membership. Baptists wrote confessions of faith from the beginning as found in the 1st London Confession in the 1640s and the 2nd London Confession in the 1670s/80s. Baptists in America adopted confessions from the north in New Hampshire, the mid-Atlantic in Philadelphia, and the south in Charleston. When the first Baptists came to my home state of MS, the first church organized did so around a confession. That confession would later become the confession of the first association of Baptist churches in Mississippi.[5] Baptists did not use these documents as something to cast a quick glance at but as real documents with theological teeth in them. They were tools to explain the Bible. Only those who rejected orthodoxy rejected the usage of confessions and creeds. Dr. Greg Wills writes:

Baptist churches and associations in America had adopted confessions of faith with few exceptions…It was against this uniform practice that Alexander Campbell aimed his efforts to reform Baptist churches. He attacked the Baptists for their use of creeds and for the Calvinistic doctrine contained in them. He drew many Baptists to his views until Baptist churches and associations expelled Campbell and his followers in the 1830s. Campbell’s followers became known as the Disciples of Christ and the Churches of Christ. Baptists reasserted the scriptural grounds for their adoption of confessions of faith.[6]

Churches need today to declare what they believe, why they believe, and how they will use what they believe to further the kingdom of Christ in this world! The Baptist way is a way of putting on paper, supported by the Bible, and testified to by church history what we believe!

Biblical Polity

I cannot recommend highly enough two books: 9 Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever and Democratic Religion by Greg Wills. These two books show the biblical and historical pattern of Baptist churches. Local church membership was covenant membership. A church covenant was more than an ornament hanging on the wall. Members publicly affirmed and wrote their signature to covenant with one another in a local church. A healthy congregationalism led by faithful elders was the polity. The ordinary means of grace, the regulative principle, and a healthy understanding of the Lord’s Day all drove Baptists in their polity and celebration of the ordinances. The “old paths” knows nothing of a drove of “carnal Christians” who comprise membership roll books in so many churches. The “old paths” are found in the covenant understanding of what it means to be a local church.

Conclusion

So, what are the “old paths” that we should be longing for in Baptist life and in evangelical life? These are the paths, in many ways, of not only Baptists but the Puritans, the Reformers, and even Augustine. It goes back though to the apostle Paul and to our Lord Himself. Let me give Spurgeon the last word as to what we should be preaching and teaching:

The old truth that Calvin preached, that Augustine preached, that Paul preached, is the truth that I must preach to-day, or else be false to my conscience and my God. I cannot shape the truth; I know of no such thing as paring off the rough edges of a doctrine. John Knox’s gospel is my gospel. That which thundered through Scotland must thunder through England again.[7]

These “old paths” were not only thundered in Scotland and England but were championed throughout the United States, especially among Baptists in the South. Let us resolve to once again commit ourselves to these biblical marks that form the faithful heritage passed down to us!

 

[1] Sermons and Addresses, 160-161.

[2] https://www.crossway.org/articles/10-things-you-should-know-about-charles-spurgeon/

[3] Polity, 13.

[4] https://contrast2.wordpress.com/2015/07/17/did-spurgeon-hold-to-1689-federalism/

[5] http://www.reformedreader.org/ccc/1806msbc.htm

[6] History of SBTS, 1859-2009, 20-21.

[7] http://www.romans45.org/spurgeon/calvinis.htm

Gospel Propositions = Self Deprecation = Hard Work

1 Corinthians 15:3-7 says, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then He appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles.”

Paul is eager to remind his readers that this gospel isn’t something he made up, but is a gospel he received from God. And more so, this gospel he’s about to explain to them carries first importance, it carries an unmatched prominence, so that nothing is more central or precious to the Christian than the gospel. But again I ask, what gospel? Beginning in v3 Paul explains the gospel through a series of propositions:

Proposition 1: Christ Died for Sins

That Christ died for sins carries with it some implied meaning Paul doesn’t explicitly speak of here. Firstly, for Christ to die for sins implies that the eternal Christ once came to us, that He in His Person bridged the gap between God and man. Truly God He became truly Man in His incarnation, He walked among us, He lived among us, He became and is now forever the God-Man.

Secondly, for Christ to die for sins implies that man is in a desperate sinful condition and cannot save himself. I’m afraid this is a point many people leave out of the gospel because it is so unwelcome to the heart of man. If the bad news about ourselves is left out we not only have no true understanding of the good news, we have what amounts to a kind of gospel-lite where one learns how to be saved without learning why one needs to be saved.

Thirdly, for Christ to die for sins implies that Christ died for sin. Which means He absorbed the wrath of God due to us, in His body, in our place, as our substitute. The wages of sin is death, and because Jesus drank the full cup of God’s wrath dying for our sins as the Old Testament Scriptures had foretold, we can have the free gift of eternal life.

Proposition 2: Christ was Buried

The culmination of the shame Christ bore for us was not just that He condescended and came to us, not just that He lived a life acquainted with sorrow, not just that He died on the cross for us, but that He was buried. That the very Author of life laid dead in a tomb is staggering. It shows us the ultimate end sin will bring us to if we remain in it. It shows us the truth that because He truly expired we can now truly be born anew. He embraced the chill of death that we could feel the warmth of new life.

Proposition 3: Christ was Raised

Wonder of wonders, when Jesus died, did He stay dead? No! He rose! He rose! This resurrection was the divine stamp of approval that the Father had accepted the Son’s sacrifice. This resurrection was the validation that Jesus was truly the Son of God in power. This one act sets Jesus apart from all others. Think of all other religious teachers what you will, there has only been and will ever only be One who rose from the dead. Where is Moses? Where is Mohammed? Where is Buddha? Where is Confucius? Where is Gandhi? Where is Mother Teresa? In the grave. Where is Jesus? Ruling at right hand of His Father, interceding for and building His Church. As they did of His death, so too, the Old Testament Scriptures told us Jesus would rise.

Proposition 4: Christ Appeared to Many

After rising from death, Jesus made public appearances to all the leaders of the early Church and a group of 500 people who are, for the most part, still alive. You know what that’s called. Verifiable data. He came, He lived, He died, and He publicly rose.

These are Paul’s gospel propositions that he employs to explain the gospel to us. But let’s ask a question…

What kind of personal impact did this gospel have on Paul? What kind of personal impact does Paul want this gospel to have on the Corinthians? And lastly, what kind of personal impact does God want this gospel to have on you today? The answer is a twofold impact in which self is dethroned and God in His grace takes center place. Some people, well intending, argue against the kind of self-deprecation in view in 1 Cor. 15:8-11 and think of it as something unhealthy. But I want to plead with you this morning to embrace it and to begin cultivating a holy self-deprecation yourself.

Paul knew himself, that he didn’t deserve the grace shown to him. In fact, he knew himself so well that he confessed everything good thing in his life was solely due to God’s grace. v10, “By the grace of God I am what I am.” You need to be able to say this yourself, and you can’t truly say this as long as you believe that who you are or what you’ve done through work, effort, or ability is the reason why your life is the way it is.

This gospel is not a call to improve yourself, it’s a call to come to the end of yourself and become someone entirely new.

So reader, gain an appreciation for a holy self-deprecation, renounce all self-esteem and replace it with God-esteem! For grace to be central, self must be die, and you must rest in the work of Christ for you. Some would have you believe that this kind of grace heavy religion will only lead to laziness or licentious living. ‘If the gospel truly is all of grace, than we can just do whatever we desire…right?’ Wrong. v10 again, “By the grace of God I am what I am. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”

A true understanding and embracing of God’s grace – that He gives us grace not because of who we are but because of who He is and despite who we are – this grace leads to a life overflowing with a passion to work hard for the kingdom. Paul renounces self, embraces grace, and works harder than anyone.

Do you?

Sure, some of you are busy. Some of your schedules are already filled to the brim, but I fear our schedules betray us, revealing our hearts true affections because busy as we may be, what kind of busy-ness devours us? Worldly endeavors, worldly lifestyles, worldly accomplishments. At the end of his life Paul said he felt like he had been poured out like a drink offering…while most of our lives are aimed at increasing comfort. Rest in gospel grace, yes, but if you’re not wearing out for the kingdom you haven’t got grace.

Three Reasons to Preach Through the Bible

God gave us an entire Bible, and He intends for us to use all of it to help us grow. Below are three reasons why this truth changes how we preach.

  1. Preach the Whole Counsel of God

If you are like me, then your preaching tends to lean towards your favorite Biblical themes. For me it often ends up being the gospel message or God’s sovereignty in salvation. For you it could be eschatology or church membership or a million other things. Typically, we are bent to our preferred Biblical themes in preaching. If we just chose our favorite things to preach on, those few things would be all that our congregation hears. However, when we preach verse-by-verse through a book of the Bible, we are going to preach on things that we may never think to preach on our own. This is a healthier form of preaching because it allows the church to be exposed to the whole counsel of God rather than preaching only the portion that the preacher is inclined toward. God gave us an entire Bible, and He intends for us to use all of it to help us grow.  This makes for a more mature church body.

  1. Keep Scripture in Context

When you are preaching topically, it can be easier to take a verse out of context, even if it’s accidental. Preaching verse-by-verse through a book of the Bible will force you to study the context surrounding the passage. You will be doing an in-depth study of that particular passage. Since you are chronologically going through it and the context is there for everyone to see, it will be more difficult to err because of lack of study within context. Whereas, if you were to just grab a verse that seems to fit your topic and place it in your message, you may not be preaching it in the context that it was intended. Therefore, you are at risk of misrepresenting God’s Word. We don’t want to be guilty of that.

  1. Get the Full Story

The Bible was written as letters, songs, stories, etc. When Paul wrote his letter to the Corinthians, I don’t think he intended them to read the first 2 verses and then read 2 verses from Exodus, and then one verse from Proverbs. When he wrote his letters, he intended them to be read as a whole unit, in context. Because the Bible was written in this form, I think it’s a good idea to preach through all that Paul intended his readers to hear. This will also help the hearer to remember last week’s sermon and put the pieces of Scripture together to flow as a unit. Preaching through books of the Bible helps this to take place.

Whether you’re preaching or hearing, may God bless you and may the whole counsel of His Word run swift into our hearts.

Finding Contentment in His Calling

The notion of climbing a ladder, seeking the maximum achievement in your profession, and doing what you can to promote yourself expresses the common belief, practice, and mindset in American culture when it comes to your career. Certainly, one should not settle for mediocrity but the drive to succeed and be known among your peers becomes one of the dominate themes in many lives. None of us in ministry should ever think we are immune to such overtures. As soon as you think that you are not susceptible to the bright lights and fame of ministry, you best be aware that you are in the prime spot to fall into the trap.

As Paul finishes his first letter to Timothy, the apostle makes a profound statement. “But godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6). In this section of 1 Timothy, Paul provides a connection between false teachers and motivations of greed consuming their lives. Naturally, our mind goes to those who promote the so-called “prosperity gospel” where the message given is that Jesus stands ready to give you all the carnal desires of your heart. Yet, if the only application or implication we draw from this text deal with Joel Osteen, Kenneth Copeland, and that sordid band of false prophets, then we are neglecting a needful truth.

Every minister of the gospel faces the onslaught of the “celebrity pastor” image especially as more technological advances are made. The temptation to view each church or ministry opportunity as a stepping stone to the next place (which is usually larger and/or more prestigious) is nothing new. Today, with social media, blogging, podcasts, etc., ministers confront an even greater enticement to be read, seen, heard, or watched. The writer of Hebrews gives a similar exhortation when he writes, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Hebrews 13:5).

What is the Spirit of God saying to those of us in ministry? By the Spirit’s power and divine grace, we must be content in His calling. What does it matter if we are called to minister in obscurity? I do not write these things from an ivory tower as someone who keeps this truth perfectly. I can confess that over the last few months, the Lord has taught me and shown me that pride had gripped my heart more than I realized. The temptation is real to not be content with what the Lord has called me to. As some dear brothers came around me, I began to see more and more how ego-driven I had become. This had led to lapses and shortcomings in private devotion and holiness as time in the Word and prayer diminished at times. When the feelings of insecurity would grow in my life, I had nothing to fall back on except my own whims and wisdom. All the while I might hear more compliments from people on my sermons and writings, I was hearing applause for me.

Brother pastors, fellow preachers, and co-laborers, our drive should be to live out our ministry in private integrity and public faithfulness even if that is in a modern “Nazareth” that is off the beaten path. My mind has gone back over and over the last two months to a statement I heard Dr. Steven J. Lawson make at an Expositors’ Conference in Mobile in 2013. He made the statement that the Last Day will reveal many faithful pastors who were off the main highways and plodding along in a Nazareth. I want that to be my testimony. The Lord called me to pastor the dear saints at New Testament Baptist Church in Biloxi, MS. We are off the beaten path. Despite my failures and shortcomings, the Lord continues to grow us in love for Christ and one another, as well as to bring new people and families into our midst. There is nothing spectacular from the vantage point of the “celebrity pastor” in what we do. The work we are doing is spectacular because it is driven by the Word of God seeking the Glory of God. The King calls me to be the pastor-theologian in this context, to care for the souls of this flock, and to be ready to give an account for them. This is more than enough to send me to my knees and keep my head in the book ploughing forward.

History is one of my passions and I have been working through the three-volume set entitled “The British Particular Baptists: 1638-1910” which is published by Particular Baptist Press out of Missouri. I highly recommend this publishing house for they offer a treasure trove of wealth when it comes to Particular Baptist theology and history. In the chapter on Benjamin Francis, Dr. Michael A.G. Haykin provides a quote from British Baptist historian Raymond Brown concerning some of the British Particular Baptist pastors of the time. These words gripped my heart as to what really matters:

[These pastors] were content to serve their respective churches for forty and fifty years, pouring their entire working ministry into the pastoral care of rural congregations, faithful biblical preaching, the development of association life, the establishment of new causes and, in each case, the composition or publication of hymns.[1]

There is nothing here that gives room to concern for prestige, platform, or publicity. May to God we learn from and take such a heritage as our own! I am still learning, still growing, and still fighting. I do not write these words as if to say I have arrived. The allurement is still real. Pray for me that I would keep my head down and be busy for the Master regardless of who knows about it. Let us be content in His calling for us satisfied in the One who has called us.

 

[1]“Benjamin Francis” in Michael A.G. Haykin, ed.,  The British Particular Baptists 1638-1910 (Springfield, Missouri: Particular Baptist Press, 2000), II, 19.

7 Ways to Stoke the Fire and Avoid Burnout

There are a lot of people burning out these days; some for moral reasons, others because they tried to balance too much for too long. Many who haven’t “burned out” are not exactly following Paul’s charge to, “not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit” (Rom. 12:11a). So what can we do to keep the fire going and avoid burnout? Here are just a few ways we can practically thrive in our walk with Christ…

  • Meditation

“I have hidden Your Word in my heart that I might not sin against You.” Psalm 119:11

Steep your heart in the Word everyday. Don’t just read with your eyes. Turn it into a prayer. Pray the Word back to God. Meditate, then memorize, then meditate some more on what you’ve memorized. One way to do this is to carry around a tiny notepad and record what God has spoken in His Word that day to give you something to chew on all day and savor it completely. The late Jerry Bridges made this helpful point, “God’s Word must be so strongly fixed in our minds that it becomes the dominant influence in our thoughts, our attitudes, and our actions. One of the most effective ways of influencing our minds is through memorizing Scripture.”

  • Perspiration

“…bodily training is of some value…” 1 Timothy 4:8a

I know perspiration doesn’t sound as spiritual as meditation, but it is also important. Many of the problems we face could be solved with a little exercise and some healthy eating. One author has stated, “The cure for anything is salt water…sweat, tears, or the sea.” While that obviously takes things too far, we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of a good sweat. God created our beating hearts and sweat glands for a reason. As embodied spirits, we often aren’t aware of how connected our bodies and spirits are. Many have seen depression and discontentment lift after a period of regular exercise. Doctors say our hearts should beat at a rapid pace at least 30 minutes each day and we will do wise to heed them.    

  • Recreation

“…much study is a weariness of the flesh.” Ecclesiastes 12:12

While similar to perspiration, recreation focuses more on the creativity God gave us. Hobbies are good for the soul. Whether it’s carpentry, karate, racquetball, or cooking, we all need diversions from the demands on us. Some think the Bible’s call to sober-mindedness condemns this, but this is wrong. The truly sober-minded know that high levels of work and stress often lead to sin, so they insert recreation into life. Ancient watchman were given one watch of the night so they’d be fully alert during that watch. We’ve also got to mention the all important…sleep. God wired us so that we’d need this nightly recharge and for those who won’t humble themselves to get it, God will see to it that they are humbled for lack of it. In his little book Zeal Without Burnout, Christopher Ash writes, “To neglect sleep, Sabbaths, friendships, and inward renewal is not heroism but hubris.”

  • Mortification

“For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Romans 8:13

There is no sanctification without mortification. The great men of God in the Bible and church history were known for vigilance in this. John Piper calls this, “Holy sweat” and we can’t forget John Owen’s famous line that, “We must be killing sin or sin will be killing us.” There is no more sad creature in all the world than a believer cozying up to sin. Unbelievers live in sin, but they are blind to the glories of Christ. Believers, however, are at odds with their new union to Christ when they sin. They feel what David felt when he said, “My bones wasted away…my strength was dried up.” This is why Jesus said of indwelling sin, “kill it, gouge it out, pluck it out, and tear it from you.” Peter told us indwelling sin, “wage[s] war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11). Along with killing sin, we’ve also got to learn to say, “No” to extra demands on our time that keep us from what is most important. Even learning to discipline ourselves to put down the smartphone could help us keep a good pace.

  • Association

“Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:25

No believer was created to be a lone ranger. We need fellowship with other believers, especially in a local body with which we have covenanted. The church who practices biblical church membership is built upon this deep fellowship in the body of Christ. But sitting in a pew once a week is not sufficient to stir up our souls. We need a one-on-one relationship of accountability in the body and we also need a small group in the church that will keep us lifted in prayer and provide us with the necessary encouragement. All the while, we must not forget that we are there to serve our brothers and sisters and not merely be served by them.

  • Proclamation

“…Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” 1 Corinthians 9:16b

The Dead Sea is a fitting example of the Christian who neglects evangelism. Like the Dead Sea, if we have no outlet of the Gospel into the lives of others, we will grow stagnant and dry. Evangelism always reminds me of the lostness of the world around me and the great wonder of God’s saving grace in my own life. When you rub shoulders with the lost and listen to them share their worldview, it may just remind you how blessed you are to be in Christ, in turn filling you with a passion to share the Gospel with unbelievers.

  • Continuation

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9

All of the above will not matter if we fail to persevere. Jesus said it is those, “who endure to the end who will be saved.” While it is true that God preserves His people, it is also true that God’s people persevere. In the same short letter, the Apostle Jude referred to believers as those, “kept for Jesus Christ”, then commanded us: “Keep yourselves in the love of God”, only to conclude, “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling…” May we not lose heart and give up, for there is nothing but destruction for those who do. Hebrews 12:2 reminds us to, “run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus…”

May we all run this marathon race of life with endurance, focus, and sustainable pace.

The Pastor’s Wife

Let me begin by saying that what compels me to write this is not personal frustration with church members, but a pure desire to consider this great woman in the life of our church and point us to a more biblical view of the pastor’s wife.

There is perhaps no greater calling in the world than that of the pastor’s wife.

That being said, there is perhaps no more difficult calling in the world than hers. While the pastor gets the accolades, his wife often gets the odd looks and questions. While the church loves a pastor they can call on 24/7, his wife must get accustomed to saying goodbye to him at the drop of a hat. While the pastor is busy sharing the eternal gospel, leading sinners to Christ, and counseling struggling Christians, his wife’s ministry is behind-the-scenes and often considered less important. Some even take the liberty to say things to their pastor’s wife they wouldn’t dare say to the pastor, but for some reason they think she needs to hear it. Because of this, I think it would be helpful for us to consider a few questions together about this woman in our church…

Who is my pastor’s wife?

I must sadly admit that I never gave much attention to my own pastor’s wife growing up. In my mind, she didn’t even exist until the pastor called attention to her. Thankfully, I had a pastor who didn’t call negative attention to his wife as I’ve heard some heavily influential pastors do. Yet my pastor’s wife was never an individual soul, but always scrutinized through the lens of her husband. She wasn’t Ellen in my mind; she was Pastor Larry’s wife. As a matter of fact, I was kind of disappointed when I did see her occasionally (it was a mega church) for some odd reason, and I think it was because she didn’t meet my expectations of a pastor’s wife (and I didn’t even think I had any!). After talking to many church members, pastors, and pastor’s wives, I don’t think I’m alone here. Over the years of my life, I’ve lived in various places for college, seminary, and ministry, and have learned an important lesson: No two pastor’s wives are alike. One may be a type-A personality who is gifted in teaching the Bible to women or hosting events each month for the church; another may be introverted and quiet, more interested in one-on-one discipleship. But who is your pastor’s wife? I think the best thing we can do is first consider her to be another church member before we attach some label to her.

Why do I view her so differently?

I think if we’re all honest, we view the wife of our pastor differently than that of another church member’s wife. There are good and bad reasons we do this. Some expect that the pastor’s wife is to have similar spiritual gifts as her husband, but this is nowhere taught in Scripture. Others view the pastor’s wife as another overseer in the church, but this also is unbiblical. Still others have a biblical understanding of the pastor’s wife and yet still treat her as an employee of the church. Now that I’ve been married and in ministry for the last five years, I’ve seen this weird dynamic of a pastor’s wife from firsthand experience, and even I’ve struggled to understand her role at times. Mostly well-meaning people have told my wife things about how she can do a better job raising her children, how she needs to serve in the church more, on down to how she needs to wear her makeup. All of these statements to my own wife over the years have revealed that people expect their pastor’s wife to be someone more than God calls her to be. From comments like, “Hey, the toilet is overflowing in the women’s restroom!” to, “I’m sorry I wasn’t here last week. I’ll try to do better,” pastor’s wives are often put in awkward positions.

So then what are the biblical expectations of the pastor’s wife?

Are you ready for it? Okay, here it goes:

They are simply the same as that of every other believing wife in the New Testament, and praise the Lord for that.

God places on each of us no greater burden than that of faith in Jesus and the lifestyle that aligns with such faith. In the Pastoral Epistles, the Apostle Paul doesn’t address the pastor’s wife in his qualifications for overseers, and what he says about deacon’s wives is nothing monumental. Paul says deacon’s wives, “must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things” (1 Timothy 3:11). I think it is safe to say these qualifications are expected of every Christian, not just those serving in church ministry. Why does Paul pinpoint deacon’s wives? Perhaps because he knows the position of their husbands means others will see their lives in a more public way. Nevertheless, we shouldn’t expect anything more from our pastor’s wife than we would from any other godly woman in our church. She is to love and submit to her husband’s leadership in the home (Ephesians 5:22-24), nurture and disciple her children (Titus 2:4-5), love and serve her church family with her unique gifts (1 Corinthians 12:4-7), and be a godly example in this lost world (Titus 2:3-5).  

What can I do to be an encouragement to her?

This is perhaps the most important question for us. The pastor’s wife and family live in one is commonly called a “fish-bowl.” Since the wife of your pastor is viewed differently, you and I should make it our priority to be an encouragement to her as much as possible. One seasoned pastor’s wife in a church in our town shared how a church member had greatly encouraged her at the beginning of their ministry with one small statement. This statement was so uplifting that this pastor’s wife held it dear for decades, and it was this: “I want you to know that you are free to be Randy’s wife.” Now that may not sound like much to you, but it meant the world to this pastor’s wife. Have you ever spoken into your pastor’s wife’s life with a word of genuine appreciation like this? It could change her world or even the future direction of your church.

But perhaps the greatest thing you can do for your pastor’s wife is to pray regularly for her. What should you pray? The same thing you would for any other godly woman: to abide in Christ, to love her husband and children, to shine for Christ in this world.

Besides encouraging her and praying for her, you can also consider ways to serve her. I spoke with another pastor friend today who said his wife hasn’t been able to enjoy a church service in weeks because no one volunteers to help her children. This was really sad for me to hear, but sad to say I wasn’t surprised. One woman in our church noticed my wife had to take our toddler-aged children out of the sanctuary one Sunday when children’s church was canceled and she simply offered to watch the children. This is one simple way to truly encourage your pastor’s wife. You could even get her a small gift or write a note to her that expresses how much she means to you and your church. On top of all this, you could simply befriend her. Many pastor’s wives feels isolated from the regular ministry of the church, so you could just get to know her as a friend and sit with her during church services. Who doesn’t want a friend who cares about them like this?

A word to the pastor’s wife…

I know there are pastor’s wives who read these blogs. If you happen to be one, let me encourage you. Don’t let the current spiritual health of the members in your church discourage you. Don’t let your husband’s endless demands on his time discourage you. Don’t let the awkward position that you’re in each week discourage you. When the kids are climbing the walls of your house like chimpanzees and your husband has to leave five minutes after he walked in the door to make a hospital visit and when the only things you hear from other members are ways you can do better, don’t get discouraged. How? Keep drinking from the enriching milk of God’s Word. Keep your soul saturated in the life that is yours in Christ. Keep your eyes fixed on the certain and sure hope of heaven that awaits all God’s suffering saints. Keep finding your life in Christ and Christ alone. Only then will you be the woman God has called you to be instead of trying to be the woman others sinfully expect you to be.

Reflections on Matthew

On June 8, 2014, I preached an overview sermon on the book of Matthew to launch our series of preaching through this book. After 166 sermons, this past Sunday, April 29, 2018, marked the completion of that journey. There are many wonderful lessons I learned over the course of preaching this first Gospel in the New Testament. Consider these reflections with me:

Length of a sermon series does not equate faithful preaching

I want to be clear that just because it took me nearly 4 years to preach through Matthew does not mean that I would say that a book series must be multiple years. Some churches will not be accustomed to a lengthy series and some pastors might not feel comfortable going that slow through a book. In Matthew, I slowed down in chapters 5-7 as I explored “The Sermon on the Mount” while sometimes preaching two miracle narratives together. The pastor must learn his congregation. Yet, he should hope that the congregation’s appetite for expository preaching will increase.

The people at New Testament Baptist Church are awesome!

There is no way that I could have preached Matthew the way I have were it not for the support, patience, and endurance of the flock I pastor. Their hunger for expositional preaching deepened the further we journeyed into this book. I am so thankful for the way in which I saw their appetite for the Word developed.

King Jesus

Matthew starts and finishes with a resounding theme blasting in our ears: “Jesus is the Son of David, Son of Abraham meaning He is the Christ, the Covenant Promise, the Son of God, the King!” Immanuel came to us and He still is with us! In days of unbelievable turmoil politically and culturally, the church must fasten itself closer to the reality of who our King is. Paraphrasing John Piper, kings and presidents will be dust and forgotten in eternity while King Jesus rules and reigns. Let us not be hopeless! He is ever with us! All authority is given to Him and He sends us with His authority to our neighborhoods and to the nations! He is building His kingdom and He will accomplish His purpose. “It is all about Jesus” dare not be a meaningless cliché but the marrow that gives us life!

The NT teaches us how to read the OT

By God’s providence, the first book in the New Testament provides Christians an excellent blueprint and grid for how we read the OT. As Christians, we do not read the OT as if we are Intertestamental Jews in the years of silence. We are New Covenant citizens! Matthew 2 teaches us how a passage like Hosea 11:1 finds fulfillment in Christ for Christ is the True Israel. Matthew 12 shows how Jesus is the Suffering Servant of Isaiah’s prophecy. Matthew cites or alludes to numerous OT passages teaching the early church and us that we read the OT with Christ always in mind and the gospel of redemption to be the tapestry with different threads making it up.

Hope for the Pagans

Matthew is considered to be the most “Jewish” of the 4 Gospels but the hope for the Gentiles is a constant theme. The genealogy of Jesus in chapter 1 contains Gentile women who were a part of Jesus’ ancestry demonstrating redemptive hope. Matthew 8 tells the story of the Roman centurion who comes to Jesus. What a blessed promise when Jesus says the Gentiles will come and sit with the Hebrew patriarchs in the Father’s kingdom! The Great Commission closes Matthew with the gospel to be carried out to every corner. In the most “Jewish” Gospel, the promise of grace to pagans is found over and over. The New Covenant Jesus inaugurates by His blood and sacrifice purchases and forms a kingdom not just of ethnic Israel but the True Israel: Jews and Gentiles in union with Jesus Christ.

Much more could be said but I encourage you to read Matthew! Read it in one setting and be prepared to be amazed by King Jesus! Fellow pastors, I exhort you to preach through this book soon! You will find yourself amazed by the precious jewels that you uncover week after week!

Sola Scriptura! Soli Deo Gloria!