Only One Prophet-Priest-King

Let’s face it. Not every pastor is gifted in the same way. Some pastors are extraordinarily gifted preachers, delivering mainly “home runs” each week. Other pastors will only preach a “home run” sermon once a month, yet may be strong in the area of pastoral care and counseling. Meanwhile, a third category of pastor may not be the best preacher or the most caring and compassionate with his people, but he may excel in leading the body of Christ forward like none other. We can probably see in our own pastors one of these qualities rise above the others.

Every church wants a pastor who excels in all three areas: preaching, pastoral care, and leading. A problem arises, however, when church’s assume their pastor will fill out in these areas equally. The reality is, many churches expect more from their pastors than they would from any other human being in their lives. While pastors are called to be living examples to the flock and set apart from this world, they are still fellow sheep smack dab in the middle of their own sanctification. When churches expect their pastors to be golden-mouthed pulpiteers, Mr. Rogers-like companions, and dynamic vision-casters, they are looking for something in a man that can only be found in the Son of Man. Only Jesus is the perfect preacher (Prophet), shepherd (Priest), and leader (King). We see this in Matthew 12.

In Matthew 12, Jesus highlights the fact that He alone perfectly fulfills each of these roles. In order to tell us who He is and what He came to do, Jesus ties together the three offices which held the entire Old Testament together: that of the prophet, the priest, and the king. Each of these three offices was instituted by God and serves as a representative of God to His people. Yet Jesus explains that he came not to fulfill only one of them, but all three.

“Something greater than the temple is here”- Jesus is the Great High Priest who makes atonement for our sins

Jesus begins in verse 6 by staring down Israel’s flawed religious leadership. When the Scribes and Pharisees ridiculed Jesus for leading His disciples to break the Sabbath, He called Himself the, “Lord of the Sabbath” and even said, “Something greater than the temple is here.” Jesus knew that the temple was the place where God dwelt and the place where blood sacrifices for sin were made. By saying, “Something greater than the temple is here.” Jesus was showing them that a new day in salvation history had come and that God’s people could now approach Him solely on the basis of Christ’s person and work.

This means Jesus and Jesus alone is our Great High Priest who has made atonement for our sins. We have no need to make sacrifices and approach a certain man to enter God’s presence once a year and hope this atones for our sins. The once-for-all time sacrifice of Christ has been offered and we are cleansed of all sin through faith in Him. This frees us up as Christ’s people to rest in His priestly office instead of expecting it’s total fulfillment in our local pastor. Your pastor may not be as personable as you’d like, but that’s okay, as long as he is aiming for more Christ-likeness in that area.

“Something greater than Jonah is here”- Jesus is the Prophet who speaks God’s Word to us

In verse 41, Jesus returns to this theme of His fulfillment of the three Old Testament offices. He moves from a focus on the office of priest to that of prophet. Jesus amazingly connects Jonah’s experience to His upcoming death, burial, and resurrection. Then, Jesus says that a new day has come regarding the office of prophet. Jonah was a prophet with many sins, and Jesus uses Him to point out that this office of prophet had never found a perfect officeholder. But now the perfect Office-holder was here and that means Jesus perfectly delivers God’s Word to His people. Jesus not only is the perfect preacher and, “The prophet who is to come” (Deut. 18:15), but He is also, “The Word made flesh” (John 1:14). Throughout the gospel accounts, people were constantly remarking that Christ taught, “As one who had authority” (Mark 1:22, Matthew 7:29). After appearing to the disciples on the Road to Emmaus, the men remarked: “He opened to us the Scriptures” (Lk. 24:32), then in verse 45 we’re told, “He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.”

This means that Jesus speaks God’s Word to us clearly and accurately, so we can trust His every word. This also means it should be our ambition to know nothing except, “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). When we know Jesus is the, “Word of Life”, we will heed Him when He says, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matthew 7:24, italics mine). We will then not be discouraged if week after week, our local pastor only delivers a “base hit” with an occasional “home run.” We can be content sitting under our pastor’s preaching so long as this broken mouthpiece delivers the Word of God to us.

“Something greater than Solomon is here”- Jesus is the King who reigns in our hearts forever

Then, in the very next verse, in Matthew 12:42, Jesus mentions Israel’s wisest king, Solomon, and shockingly says, “Something greater than Solomon is here.” It is surprising enough that Jesus claims prominence over the temple as the true Priest, and supremacy over the prophets as the true Prophet; but to say that He is, “greater” than the greatest of Israel’s kings is huge. Jesus is claiming that His rule and reign and His wisdom excel that of every other human to walk the face of the earth. No mere man holds a candle to the perfection that shines forth from Christ.

This means that Jesus and Jesus alone is worthy of our soul’s total allegiance. We are freed up from looking for flawless leadership in our local pastor when we have bowed our hearts to the King of kings. Since Jesus is leading us to the Promised Land of Glory and has “prepared the way” for us by means of His cross and resurrection, we are content when our local pastor does his best to lead us. We don’t need to reject our pastor’s leading when he obviously has sought God’s best for us and is aiming to lead us forward in holiness. We can submit to our pastor’s leadership because we know he is merely trying to get us to follow Christ.

I am not saying pastors should not strive for excellence in preaching, shepherding, and leading. I believe the strongest pastor is the one that humbly repents of his shortcomings and sins and seeks to grow in grace in each of these three areas. My point is, Christ’s sheep should not seek for something in a man when they should find it in the God-Man. When church members find Christ to be their true Prophet, Priest, and King, they don’t get upset when others fail to fill these positions. Rather than finding fault in their flawed leaders, these church members rejoice as they see the light of Christ shining through the “jar of clay” that stands before them each Lord’s Day. Your pastor may never be a C.H. Spurgeon or a John MacArthur, but they are another instrument God has raised from the dust to sound forth for His glory.

May we all as Christ’s sheep follow our Good Shepherd, even as we submit to His flawed under-shepherds. And one day, all sheep and under-shepherds, will bow at the feet of, “The great Shepherd of the sheep”, the Lord Jesus Christ (Hebrews 13:20b).  

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Creeds, Confessions, Catechisms, and Covenants in Corporate Worship

In his instructions to Titus, Paul writes that ministers are to “teach what accords with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1). The pulpit ministry that upholds and follows biblical exposition heeds these words of Paul. The pastor preaching the Scriptures verse-by-verse by using the historical-grammatical-theological/redemptive hermeneutic feeds his congregation. Theologically-rich, biblically based hymns are also a means by which the congregation is taught sound doctrine.

I would like to recommend a further means why which the preaching of sound doctrine can be faithfully taught in the corporate gathering of the saints each Lord’s Day. The 4 “Cs” are a way in which the congregation celebrates biblical truths, theology, and ecclesiastical bonds with the past. These four “Cs” are: creeds, confessions, catechisms, and covenants. Each of these is rooted in the Scripture: 1. an expression of doctrinal beliefs, 2. a reminder of the importance of church membership, and 3. a guide believers in the instruction of the faith.

Creeds

Perhaps you have heard that Baptists have “No creed but Christ” or “No creed but the Bible.” Some have boldly asserted these phrases to celebrate what they perceive as a Baptist distinctive: anti-creedalism. But Baptists are not anti-creedalists. While it is true that Baptists rejected creeds as a litmus test for citizenship, since Baptists abhor a state church, Baptists never disowned creeds as though they had no importance in the life of the church. Baptists have always held to Christian orthodoxy as expressed in the Apostles’ Creed, Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. Both Particular and General Baptists affirmed the use of creeds. The Baptist Orthodox Catechism, edited by the Particular Baptist, Hercules Collins, says the Nicene Creed and Athanasian Creed ought to be taught. In The Orthodox Creed, the General Baptists affirm and encourage Baptists to learn and teach the aforementioned creeds. The early Southern Baptist theologian, B.H. Carrol, affirmed the importance of creeds, when he wrote: “The modern cry: ‘Less creed and more liberty,’ is a, degeneration from the vertebrate to the jellyfish, and means less unity and less morality, and it means more heresy.”

Why should Baptist churches use the historic, ecumenical, orthodox creeds in corporate worship? These creeds provide biblically faithful and understandable defenses and explanations of the Trinity, the hypostatic union of Christ, and other central tenets of the Christian faith.

How should Baptist churches use these creeds in corporate worship? I recommend that churches consider using the creeds at the after they celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Reciting the creeds together will remind the congregation of the essential doctrine that unites them, but it will also remind them of the link they have with those who have gone before us in the Christian pilgrimage. As all churches are commanded to celebrate the Lord’s Supper until Christ returns as an expression of union and communion with Christ, the creeds reinforce the universal communion of all churches of Jesus Christ by reinforcing the essentials of orthodoxy.

Confessions

Founders Ministries has many excellent resources on confessions of faith. The public reading of confessions of faith is of practical use in corporate worship. Either the leader behind the pulpit or the entire congregation may read an article or paragraph from one of the historic Baptist confessions during congregational worship to teach the church sound doctrine and to express praise and worship to God for such wonderful truths. The New Hampshire Baptist Confession of Faith and the Abstract of Principles are excellent confessions that can be read systematically by article. The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith often explains its doctrines in longer form and thus might require the reading of multiple paragraphs and it could take a little longer. In any case, reading sound confessions in worship and explaining them teaches the church sound doctrine. Additionally, as a pastor preaches through a book of the Bible, he might come upon a theological truth that is particularly well-articulated in a confession of faith, and he could use a confessional definition in his sermon. Utilizing confessions of faith contributes to the sound doctrine being taught to the people. This will also equip them to explaining the faith to others.

In 1855, C.H. Spurgeon gave an explanation as to why the 1689 was reprinted and the importance of confessions:

This little volume is not issued as an authoritative rule, or code of faith, whereby ye are to be fettered, but as an assistance to you in controversy, a confirmation in faith, and a means of edification in righteousness. Here the younger members of our church will have a body of divinity in small compass, and by means of the scriptural proofs, will be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in them.

Consider the exhortation given by Spurgeon: employ confessions to train believers in the faith.

Catechisms

Some in Baptist life think that only Roman Catholics use catechisms. But that notion reveals a lack of knowledge about Protestantism in general and Baptist history in particular. Baptists employed catechisms from the very beginning. An Orthodox Catechism edited by Hercules Collins in 1680 and The Baptist Catechism of 1692, perhaps edited by William Collins and Benjamin Keach, reveal the emphasis Baptists put on training in the Scriptures. In Southern Baptist life of the 19th century, both James P. Boyce and John A. Broadus wrote catechisms to teach Baptists sound doctrine. C.H. Spurgeon modified The Baptist Catechism and also produced a catechism for his church.

Parents should use catechisms regularly in the home as a tool for training up their children in the Lord. Catechisms are also great tools to be used in corporate worship. For example, the leader could ask the congregation a catechism question, and the congregation could read the answer from the worship guide, which has the Scripture references printed there as well. Families could then use the worship guide during the week to review and learn the catechism’s question and answer. Catechisms are wonderful tools of memorization. A case might be made that Baptist young people are unable to defend their faith when it comes under assault, partly because Baptists have neglected catechisms over the past century. It is nothing short of heartbreaking that men and women sitting in Baptist churches for 50 years are unable to explain in a simple way the tenets of the biblical faith. Once again, consider the counsel of C.H. Spurgeon:

In matters of doctrine, you will find that orthodox congregations frequently change to heterodoxy in the course of thirty to forty years, and it is because too often there has been no catechizing of the children in the essential doctrines of the Gospel. For my part, I am more and more persuaded that the study of a good Scriptural catechism is of infinite value to our children.

Covenants

If you grew up in a rural Baptist church in the South, like I did, you attended a church that had a “Church Covenant” on the wall, but the document was never taught, enforced, or even acknowledged. That is a tragedy because the doctrine of the covenant is one of unifying themes of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. Church membership is covenantal. In a time when membership has become meaningless and even non-existent in many Baptist churches, I submit that church covenants need to be restored and used. Does it mean anything to be a member of your church? Baptists historically have used covenants to teach and strengthen the covenantal bonds among members in a local church. Timothy George describes the early Baptist covenants this way:

Common themes which resound through the various church covenants . . . include a commitment to doctrinal fidelity, the maintenance of family worship, mutual prayer and watchfulness over one another, financial support for the church, the faithful administration of the ordinances and discipline of the congregation together with the public worship of God, and an openness to receive further light from God’s revealed Word.

Historically, Baptist churches would often recite their church covenant before taking the Lord’s Supper together. Communion has direct links to church membership and church disciple. A congregation that reads the covenant together beautifully reminds everyone of the sacred vows that they have taken to Christ and of the oaths they have made to each other. Churches may also find it useful to read the church covenant at the business meeting to help promote the blessed ties shared among members.

Conclusion

You might not be in a position where you can implement all of the “Cs” in your context immediately. Be patient. Incorporate their usage prudently. Explain to the church why they are important. You might begin with catechisms in a Sunday School class or teaching through the church confession on a Wednesday night. Expose your people to these rich documents that are built on the Bible, linked to church history, distinctively Baptist, and promote church unity. In his opening convocation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in the fall of 1993, Dr. Albert Mohler made this remark about the Abstract of Principles: “The Abstract remains a powerful testimony to a Baptist theological heritage that is genuinely evangelical, Reformed, biblical, and orthodox.” Brother pastors and laymen, let this be the heritage taught and passed on in our day!

This article originally appeared on Founders.org.

Just A Pastor?

Perhaps you are like me and you are the pastor of a smaller church.

The thoughts of feeling insignificant and with little influence compared to the conference speakers and prolific authors leaves you believing that it really does not matter at times. Should I really devote that much attention to the expository sermons I prepare? Do I need to really need to be reading these books on theology when I pastor such a small flock? I remember feeling down and out once about the ministry entrusted to me. When the question came as to what was my ministry calling, I replied, “I am just a pastor.” It then hit me that to be a pastor is not to be undervalued.

Far too often being a pastor is equated with being a CEO, gameshow host, stand up comic, charismatic orator, marketing guru, good ole boy, and the list could go on. I am a native Mississippian who grew up in church and I have seen many different men occupy the office of pastor but did not have the calling. Has God called you to be a pastor? As I survey Baptist life (since this is my denominational heritage) in the South, my heart is grieved for what seems to be a cycle on repeat for decades if not longer.

Too many churches are engulfed by conspiratorial dispensationalism believing every website talking about implanted chips and books on blood moons as the sign of the apocalypse drawing near. Charles Finney-inspired evangelism creates a view of worship being only successful if the altars are filled, decisions made, and doing everything between A and Z to set the mood right for conversion. Charismatic experientialism leads many in churches to say that they believe what God told them with no basis in the Bible but rather what feels right. They claim they have the Spirit and the Bible allowing them to create their own version of Christianity inside or outside the walls of a sanctuary. The Civil War still wages on with many succumbing to the “Noble Cause” historical revision giving cause for many to engage in racism whether subtly or overtly. Finally, superstition-driven family culturalism leads many in the church to say that blood is more important than holy living. This is what leads people to say things such as they feel dead relatives in the room and viewing this as their source of comfort. How did so many churches in the region I love and call home arrive here? What can we do to see a change?

Brothers, to just be a pastor means that you have the calling and opportunity to stand in the gap and be used by Christ to make a difference. You are God’s man appointed to shepherd and feed the people (1 Peter 5:2). Preach the Word to them! Take them verse by verse sequentially through the Bible. Be patient, dependent upon the Spirit, and watch the Word change the people. Your goal should be that the people in your congregation eventually read the great theologians of the church. Yet, remember that you are going to be the primary theologian they read and listen to. Read and fill yourself up with solid truth to dispense to the people answering their questions. As painful as it is to write about the scene in many areas of the Bible Belt, we should also be patient, merciful, and gracious to so many who have never heard anything else but these unbiblical alternatives. You need to remind your people that you are just as reliant upon the gospel as they are. They need to know from you that you are not superman even if you think that you are. Do not be hesitant to open up to them about your battles with sin, continual repentance in life, and your thankfulness for grace (Rom. 7:24-25; 1 Tim. 1:15).

Just a pastor? You are given the task of leading the people to Christ every week! Brother pastors, hear the words of Paul to Timothy: teach, invest, disciple, and train up faithful men (2 Tim. 2:2). By doing so, you are raising up biblical husbands, fathers, and leaders. Read with these men the Bible and solid books. This is a fight, a spiritual battle. You are not sufficient in yourself for the task. Yet, you have not been left alone for He is with you!

Brothers, I pray that we would be mighty in the Scriptures. May we be used of God to be the public theologians who shepherd the people with biblical, systematic, and historical theology. This is our calling. We are in the trenches together. So, if you are just a pastor, you have spoken a mouthful that only begins to scratch the surface of the high, glorious, and gracious calling that Christ has put in your life!

7 Steps to the Pulpit

Many times I’ve sat on the front pew just prior to the sermon time looking at the steps to the pulpit. In these moments each Sunday morning I’m reminded of the great task with which I have been entrusted and my own weakness to perform it. 

After hours of painstaking study and prayerful preparation, I still stare at those steps and feel under qualified, knowing I’ve only scratched the surface of the message. There is a certain holy trembling a preacher feels before climbing those steps to proclaim God’s eternal Word. In centuries past, preachers like Charles Spurgeon and Martyn Lloyd-Jones had to climb winding staircases to reach the “sacred desk”, but many pulpits today are just a few steps above the floor. Whether you have many steps or none at all, it is an other-worldly task we have been given. The following are a few practical steps preachers can take before climbing the real ones on Sunday morning…

Get in the Word

We must immerse ourselves in the text at the outset of all sermon prep, otherwise we will start with our own flawed opinions instead of the rock solid truth of God’s Word. 

Read the text multiple times, letting its arguments and warnings and promises inform and shape your thinking. Know the context of the passage and how it fits in the chapter, the book of the Bible it is in, and the grand scope of redemptive history. Beware of relying on your own history with the text, but don’t forget how it has affected you in the past. Familiarity with famous passages often requires we do a lot of un-learning before we can really understand it. This is the step in which to consult the original languages and discover the many nuances and word plays happening. Its also a good time to ask lots of questions of the text and consult commentaries to iron out the logic. Get the tone of the text in your head as well, so that you don’t carry the wrong tone into the pulpit. Since the tone of Psalm 23 is much different than that of Psalm 10, our preaching tone ought to reflect this. Breaking the text down into truths for the Christian life is best at this stage as well.

Let the Word get in you

This second step follows closely behind the first. You may know the Word well and have consulted the Greek and several scholarly commentaries, but you are not yet ready to preach it until you have let it get into you. 

Have you been humbled or encouraged or corrected by its teaching yet? What about it are you disobeying right now? Spend time thinking over these questions. I give myself an entire day for this stage. Before we preach the gospel from this text to others, we must first preach it to our own hearts. This is the step where study Bibles and devotional commentaries can be helpful. Such tools as the ESV Gospel Transformation Bible help to take the text and apply it with gospel force to our lives. It is also helpful at this stage to open oneself up to the scalpel of the Puritans, as their applications are heart-searching. A work like Banner of Truth’s Voices from the Past can assist you here as it has texts listed in the back to easily look up.

Pray the Word back to God…a lot

We ought to be praying at all times anyway, but especially over the text we’re to preach on Sunday. I have found that the more time I spend praying the text back to God, the more He reveals about it. 

If I’m preaching on the Great Commission this Sunday, I’ll be much more likely to share the gospel that week if I’ve been praying it to God multiple times. This also gives us a deeper conviction about its necessity before preaching it to others. After reading Tim Keller’s book entitled Prayer, I have since followed Martin Luther’s prayer method, which involves thanksgiving, confession, and supplication (p. 90). I first thank God for the text at hand and how it relates to the gospel. I then confess my failure to obey that particular text. Lastly, I pray for God’s grace to obey the text this week.

Get with the people to see how they need the Word

Your sermon will always need tweaking and will never be fully complete, but the people God has entrusted under your charge need you. One secret to preach better sermons is to get to know the people to which you’ll preach it. Sometimes I’ll realize a powerful application of a text only after visiting a family undergoing some turmoil. Trust me on this: getting to know your members will be some of your best sermon prep in the week.

Illustrate the Word in a fresh way to engage their minds

This stage takes the most effort from me personally, yet can cost me dearly if I skip it.

Sermon illustrations serve a number of uses: mental break, artful explanation, real-life scenario, and many more. The best sermon illustrations, however, are those which take the congregation on a two minute journey outside of the building and four walls to help bring home the message of the text in real life. You can even use church history here to bring a truth home. Jesus was the master teacher because he used current events, everyday objects, and simple stories to add further weight to the message. Beware of using too many illustrations, but have some on hand when the need arises.

Apply the Word to the people

You can’t personally apply the text to every scenario in the life of the congregation, but you should give more application than, “Just do this”.

We can tell others the gospel is amazing all day long, but if we don’t show them it matters for their work attitude or their family relationships or how they run their errands this weekend, we’re doing a disservice to God’s Word. If you struggle with application, Mark Dever has a helpful idea known as the application grid. He basically asks questions of how the text relates to various groups in the church body (age groups, believer/unbeliever, married/single, father/mother to children and vice versa, work, etc.) and then address a few of those in your message each week.

Preach the Word from the heart

The final step in sermon prep is the preaching of it.

Familiarity with the text and your sermon manuscript/outline is vital. I try to look over my sermon manuscript at least four times before preaching it. I want to make sure I know the points and how to transition to them in a way that does justice to the text. But make sure you always leave some on the cutting room floor. If you try to say every single thing you prepared, you’ll only sound wooden, distant, and possibly rushed. Sometimes pausing for a few seconds after a truth has been communicated conveys you care more about bringing the message home than regurgitating a manuscript.

There are multiple other aspects to sermon prep which I didn’t even cover, but these are just a few to help my fellow pastors deliver the Word.

God’s grace to you as you ascend the steps of the pulpit this week to proclaim His Word.

The Word Did It All

I recently listened online to Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr. preach a chapel sermon at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary concerning the orthodox beliefs Christians hold concerning the Bible. In that sermon, Dr. Mohler shared an observation from a secular historian regarding the Protestant Reformation. This historian noted that in a generation, Christians in Germany shifted from going to church to see the mass to now going to church to hear the Word of God. Dr. Mohler added that once you have heard the Word of God, nothing else will do.[1]

Martin Luther would wholeheartedly agree. Luther, commenting on what took place during the Reformation, summarizes what causes profound spiritual change: “I simply taught, preached, wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. While I slept … the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that never a Prince or Emperor inflicted such damage upon it. I did nothing. The Word did it all.”[2] Such movements of Reformation and Revival are always marked by the pulpits of churches coming back once again to faithful, biblical exposition. In his great work, Preaching and Preachers, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes: “What is it that always heralds the dawn of a Reformation or of a Revival? It is renewed preaching. Not only a new interest in preaching but a new kind of preaching. A revival of true preaching has always heralded these great movements in the history of the church.”[3]

This seems rather straightforward but a famine exists in churches today. Why do so many pastors and preachers confess their beliefs concerning the inerrancy, inspiration, and infallibility of the Scripture but practically deny its sufficiency? Does one really believe in the supernatural power of the Scripture if one believes that it is not enough to convert sinners and strengthen the saints? The pull that so many pastors and churches feel is to adopt the standards of the world when it comes to whether they are achieving success, relevancy, and notoriety. So, if that becomes the measuring stick then it is not surprising when pastors and churches move away from the sufficiency of Scripture to believing that it must be supplemented with something else. Before long, the Bible becomes less and less central to the church while the methods of the world become more and more prominent within the church. Dr. Steven J. Lawson pens these poignant words: “God’s work must be done God’s way if it is to know God’s blessing. He provides the power and He alone should receive the glory, but this will happen only when His divinely prescribed plan for ministry is followed. When people-centered schemes are followed, often imitating the world’s shtick, the flesh provides the energy, and people – not God – receive the glory.”[4]

A new generation of pastors must hear the words of Paul written to Timothy. “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13). In his final words recorded, Paul increases the emphasis on sound preaching: “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:1-2). These are only two of many passages with clear teaching concerning the manner and the content of what pastors and preachers are to be giving to the flock of Christ. This is what is called expositional or expository preaching. Why is biblical exposition so important? Mark Dever writes: “Expositional preaching is preaching in service to the Word. It presumes a belief in the authority of Scripture – that the Bible is actually God’s Word…A commitment to expositional preaching is a commitment to hear God’s Word – not just to affirm that it is God’s Word but to actually submit to it.”[5]

What would be said about your ministry or the church you are a part of? Would you join with Luther and say that the Word does everything? Pastors and churches must throw off the yoke of a worldly measure of success and be faithful to the Word. As the pastor of a church that has undergone a revitalization process transforming from a fundamentalist, legalistic Baptist tradition to now being a Reformed Baptist congregation, it was the Word that has and continues to do everything. It will require patience from you but if you give your people the Word week by week, doctrinal exposition centered on Christ, and out of a heart that loves the flock, you will see the effects and you will know that it was the Word that did it all.

 

Citations:

[1] http://equip.sbts.edu/chapel/bible-gods-word/

[2] http://www.ligonier.org/blog/expositor-magazine/

[3] Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers. (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), 31.

[4] Steven J. Lawson, Famine in the Land. (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2003), 26.

[5] Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013), 44.

I Want to Be That Man

Don Whitney, in his Spiritual Disciplines of the Christian Life, reminds every Christian who is seeking maturity in Christ that “there is simply no healthy Christian life apart from a diet of the milk and meat of Scripture.” Oh, how true that is. The Word of God is irreplaceable in the Christian’s pursuit of personal holiness; there simply is no substitute.

God transforms us by the renewing of our minds—Romans 12:2

God cleansed us by the washing of water with His Word—Ephesians 5:26

God pierces our consciences, discerns our thoughts and intentions of our hearts by His Word—Hebrews 4:12

God draws us to Himself and reveals Himself to us through His Word—Romans 10:17

It is no surprise to those who are pursing Christ that His Word plays an intricate role in our sanctification. But, as students of the Word we (and by we I mean “I”) can get lost in the “meat of Scripture,” as Whitney described it and lose sight of the “milk.” Milk feeds, nourishes, and sustains the infant & the mature alike.

As I was reading through the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) I was moved by the Holy Spirit and reminded that the academic pursuit of God alone is an exercise in futility.

Let me explain: As a preacher, teacher, and theologian I often approach the Scriptures from that position, recording notes in my Bible like “Your reward should motivate you” (from Matthew 6:20-21). When in reality, my notes should read “My reward should motivate me.” For truly, the Holy Spirit is seeking to transform ME, cleanse ME, pierce ME, and draw ME; milk before meat.

The meat of Scripture, the intellectual pursuit of exegesis & exposition, often take priority in my study & pursuit of the knowledge of God which leads to a spiritual dryness, and understandably so.

So, it was in the milk of Matthew 7:24-25 that the Lord reminded me of who I needed to be and caused me to re-think, re-read, and then apply that which he was teaching me. The Holman Christians Standard reads this way: “Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on the rock. The rain fell, the rivers rose, and the winds blew and pounded that house. Yet it didn’t collapse, because its foundation was on the rock” (emphasis added).

In other words, don’t just hear the Word and not act upon it but rather apply to your life that which is being taught (James 1:22-25 as well). Hear, act upon that which you heard, and you will be firmly established upon The Rock (not Dwayne Johnson), Jesus Christ. I want to be that man.

Profound, huh? Not really…just reality. Milk, not meat, is still needed; even greatly needed. As a dear friend of mine often reminds me, “Our orthopraxy must always match our orthodoxy.” For orthodoxy without orthopraxy is worthless!

May God bless you richly as you apply His Word and thereby glorify Him with your life!

Church Growth & Decline

“If we’re not growing, we’re actually declining.”

Have you ever heard that before? The cultural business trends and models have crept into the Church and given pastors and congregations a skewed view of successful ministry. It’s easy to fall into, really. Numbers equal success and expansion is the fruit of faithful ministry; or is it?

We all want to grow. We want to see fruit and we often times consider numerical growth as fruit and a blessing from the Lord. But what if decline is blessing? Can a shrinking congregation, a downsizing small group, or a program being completely eliminated actually be a blessing? Pastors, could you rejoice in this? Congregants, could you encourage each other in this?

Most of The Publicans readership is familiar with Ahab and Jezebel from 2 Kings. Their partnership in leading Israel was wicked through and through and it was in this wickedness that “growth” was rampant. When anything goes, often times, an increase in numbers will result. But God raised up Jehu (2 Kings 9-10) to deliver His judgement on the wicked house of Ahab.

But it’s not Israel’s growth during idolatry that drew my attention. It was 2 Kings 10:32 and the sovereignty of God that jumped off the page at me. Here it is in several versions:

ESV—“In those days the LORD began to cut off parts of Israel…”

NASB—“In those days the LORD began to cut off portion from Israel…”

HCSB—“In those days the LORD began to reduce the size of Israel…”

NLT—“At about that time the LORD began to cut down the size of Israel’s                                          territory…”

Why would the Lord reduce the size of territory? Why would the Lord intentionally hamper growth? Perhaps it’s because the Lord didn’t understand then what we know now, namely, that if we are to be successful then we must be growing. And growth is up to us: how we present ourselves, whether or not we are relevant, and making the masses comfortable (I hope you can read sarcasm).

Don’t misunderstand me, I pray that God saves all 13,241 people who reside in Greene County, Illinois (we’re pretty small, huh?) and that Christ’s Church explodes in genuine, heart-exuberant, God pleasing praise and worship until the glorious appearing of the Lion of Judah! But is that God’s plan? What if God’s plan is to cut off parts of Eldred Baptist Church? What if God’s plan is to reduce the size of the local body in our area? What if God’s plan is to prune Greene County and in so doing enrich worship in Spirit and in Truth in those who belong to Christ thereby bringing purity to our worship, a pleasing aroma to Him? What if we started defining successful ministry by the accuracy of the presentation of the Gospel, the authenticity of the heart in worship and adoration of the King, with humble submission to God’s perfect will and way, regardless of what the latest Christian magazine or best-selling book on growth tells us is success?

Brothers and sisters, I pray to encourage you in times of growth and decline, the Lord is Sovereign. Preach the Gospel and praise God as He grows or declines the church; after all, the Church is Christ’s and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.

C.H. Spurgeon: Of all I would wish to say this is the sum: my brethren, preach CHRIST, always and evermore. He is the whole gospel. His person, offices, and work must be our one great, all-comprehending theme. The world needs still to be told of its Savior, and of the way to reach him…We are not called to proclaim philosophy and metaphysics, but the simple gospel. Man’s fall, his need of a new birth, forgiveness through an atonement, and salvation as the result of faith, these are our battle-ax and weapons of war.[1]

John S Hammett: …a successful church and a successful pastoral ministry is one that pleases Christ by honoring God’s Word and his design for the church…If God has given us instruction in his Word concerning his people, he is honored and a church is successful to the degree that it follows his instruction. Thus, the successful church is the faithful church.[2]

The Holy Spirit through Paul: I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives growth.[3]

 

 

[1] Lectures to My Students, vol 1, 1897

[2] Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches, pg. 352-353

[3] 1 Corinthians 3:6-7, ESV

Why Preaching Calendars?

Last night had a great dinner with friends of mine who also serve in the ministry, during dinner he asked me why do I do schedule my sermon series the way I do. Currently I tend to go from book to book interspersing random Psalms or five-week topical series between books.

The thing that you very quickly pick up on if you talk to any pastor is all have different ways of laying out sermon series. In that regard I would agree with many that there is no necessary right way to lay out a teaching calendar: whether it be year to year, three months, or monthly sermons. Some may ascribe to the notion that to even plan more than two weeks in advance is to deny the Holy Spirit’s work in your church or you may subscribe to the school that if we are in deep prayer with God trusting in his work and purposes planning our sermon series for the year will involve allowing the Holy Spirit to lead us into those choices. Today though here are three reasons I choose to plan out a year in advance

It allows us to see the Bigger picture

By this I mean putting together a sermon series beginning in September and working all the way around to the following August we can see the different ways they connect and how they will instruct the church throughout the year. Using 2016 to 2017 as an example we began in the book of Mark to instill with in our church an understanding of the Gospel message of who Jesus is and what He did.

In middle of this series we took a break and began to speak about the Great Commission for four weeks topically walking through our job as disciple making disciples, called to spread the faith building on Jesus’ own mission in the gospel of Mark calling people to repent and believe for the kingdom of God is near.

To close out the year we are going to the Old Testament in the book of Ezra. In this book we begin to see God renew his people as he brings them back to the city that they once called home. We see a rejuvenation of worship amongst the people that didn’t believe they had a purpose any longer. For a church in the midst of great transition in a community that is transforming around them this is a book that reminds us that God has a purpose for his people and that purpose is to worship him and to make his name great growing into the temple of the living God. So in laying out the year this way I hope that the church was able to see the continuity of the Bible as informs us in both the old and the New Testament of the work of God and what He is doing, while simultaneously showing how God builds his kingdom using his people.

Allows us to more clearly teach in every aspect

By knowing what I’m preaching on Sunday mornings for a year the elders are much more easily equipped to see where else what other aspects of God and the Scriptures nee d to be highlighted in our teaching. By knowing the books of the Bible that will be teaching as well as the topical series in between we are able to know where we should be leading our small groups as well as our Sunday school, children and youth ministries. By laying out Sunday morning so completely we can see the different theological ideas that may not be addressed in that given year. So maybe were able to put in a series in our Sunday schools on giving, personal relationships, marriage enrichment, or theological studies such as who is God, what is the role of Christ and culture, what is sanctification or justification.

In regard to small group it shows us what other books we may want to cover.  For example maybe our small group should study Nehemiah to see the back half of what takes place in the kingdom of God in Ezra or while preaching through the book of Mark a small group could say study the book of Matthew or John and see another angle to the gospel story. So Sunday preaching calendars simply allow us to better utilize our time in teaching to help explain the whole counsel of God.

Allows us to disciple intentional

Yearly preaching calendars can greatly enhance the ability to intentionally disciple, as spending time in a given book over the course of many months allows it to seep in and allows better questions and better connections to flow out of the text. It also allows our churches and people to really dive into a text each week before coming to worship. By allowing your church to know where you’re going and why you’re going there they are able to take a deeper ownership of their own personal walk coming into service on Sunday morning. It forces the pastor also to make sure that when studying the passage that they are answering the questions that come to mind while studying and praying that those are the same questions that have begun to germinate in the minds of those will sit in that service on Sunday morning.

 

I Hope this helps give you a glimpse into why some pastors choose to organize and do things the way they do. Probably this gives you a little insight into my mind and why we do things the way we do at Riverside. At the end of the day the goal is that we lead with conviction and passion for the word of God while not leaving out the work of the Holy Spirit. These yearly calendars are not put together on a whim but rather through much prayer and study. Seeking to know the people of the church as well as the direction the Lord is leading our church. It involves a lot of trust and faith in God and the Holy Spirit to lead us well in the midst of these decisions. In the end thought we know that His word does not return void. So whether you are one that listens to a sermon week to week or one who prepares it, may your heart be filled with joy at the hearing of the word of God and trust in the work of the Holy Spirit to change lives.

I Am Him, And He Is Me

This year I have endeavored to read through the Bible chronologically, and so far so good! This week I’ve been in 1 Kings, and today I came to the story of the great prophet Elijah. Chapter 17 opens with Elijah predicting three years of no rain, and the Lord telling Elijah to go out and hide himself from King Ahab. From there we read incredible accounts of God’s provision and faithfulness not only to Elijah (being fed by ravens) but also to others such as the widow who had enough oil and flour to make one last cake before she and her son were going to die (God continued to provide oil and flour for them until the drought ended).

The climax comes in chapter 18, when Elijah challenges King Ahab to see whose God the people will follow, YHWH or Baal. Preparations are made to build stone altars, with firewood laid on top, and then a bull on top of that. The Baal prophets go first, and work themselves in a frenzy to see if Baal will bring down fire to burn their offering. Nothing. Silence. Elijah mocks them, telling them they should cry louder as maybe Baal is going to the bathroom or is asleep and can’t hear them.  So they cry even louder and “cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them.” (18:28) And still nothing.

Then it’s Elijah’s turn. Not only does he prepare his altar with the same stones, wood, and bull, he also digs a trench around it and douses the whole thing with water.  And not just one with time with water, but three times! 1 Kings 18:36-38 records what happens next.

‘And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your word.  Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.’

Not only was everything consumed, Elijah then takes the prophets of Baal down to a brook and slaughters them all that day. Immediately after that, God sends rain, after having withheld it for the past three years.

Victory! Elation! Fear! What? After seeing the incredible display of God’s power, King Ahab’s wife Jezebel threatens to do to him what he just did to their false prophets. Elijah flees to the wilderness, and basically tells God he’s done. He wants to die. But even there in the wilderness God continues to provide food and water for him.

God then asks him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Elijah goes into this spiel about how he has been very jealous for God. The people of Israel have forsaken God’s covenant, killed God’s prophets, and thrown down His altars, and he Elijah, is the only one left, and now his life is being sought to be killed.

God then sends a strong wind storm, and then an earthquake, and then a fire. But the Lord was not in any of those things. Next came a whisper, in which God tells him that there are still 7000 men who have not bowed the knee to Baal, and that he is to go back to Damascus, and take care of some business, which Elijah does.

I can relate to Elijah. Yes, this incredible prophet of the Holy God of Israel, the one who was with JESUS on the Mount of Transfiguration, is just like me. Or, I’m like him. Either way, we’re the same.

I’ve not been happy to wait to go to the mission field. In my heart, I’ve even said to God, “Don’t you see what we’ve given up? We’ve given up owning a home, having nice cars, and a steady income!” I have basically said to God much like Elijah did, “you owe me!”

But now, just like then, God doesn’t answer my pride with force (ie. fire, wind, earthquake). No, he answers us in the stillness. He says to Elijah, to me, and to you, “Obey Me.” Whatever dreams and aspirations we may have for our future, He continually reminds us to obey Him in that moment. Not to worry about what the future may bring.

Jesus gives the same message to the Apostle Peter in John 22:21. After having had an intimate conversation with Jesus in verses 15-19, Peter notices the Apostle John following them. Peter immediately asks, ‘”Lord, what about this man?”  Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”‘

OUCH! If friends are buying houses to put down roots here, I’m to follow Him still. If fellow missionaries raise 100% of their support within six months, I’m to wait and follow Him. If friends and family can afford nice vacations but we can’t, I need to be content with His provisions for us, and follow Him.

So, I will set my heart to obey Him, and leave the timing of things to Him. I know, so much easier said than done. But I can guarantee we will never regret obeying Him. No matter what comes next.

Reflections from the Major League

Encased between “the amber waves of grain” and infinite rows of corn is the small community in rural Illinois that God has called me to serve. It is by His grace and for His glory that He has called my family here to advance the Kingdom (Mt. 6:33) and we are truly blessed. Outside of millions upon millions of bushels of corn, wheat, and soybeans, there just isn’t much that is produced in the middle of fly-over country; except that one guy.

Recently, one of our high-school standouts was noticed by a Major League baseball scout and was drafted into one of their franchises. He, like so many others before him, is currently working his way through the Minors as he refines his skill-set with the hopes of one day donning the MLB logo and taking the field as a professional at the top of his game…corn, wheat, soybeans, and that one guy. I hope he makes it; what an inspiration he will be to the little leaguers who take the field that year!

Just last week, I had the blessing, and privilege, of serving on one of my best friend’s ordination council as he was commissioned and charged with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Some might conclude that he has made it to “the Majors” as a pastor who bears the glorious title of “Reverend” (please take that with all satire intended). But it was he who spoke of being “out of his league” when he stated to his assessors, “I feel as if I’m still in Tee Ball as I sit with you all who are in the Majors.” I remember that feeling well as I sat being examined by my soon-to-be colleagues. I remember thinking, “I hope they don’t see how unprepared I am; how ill-equipped I am; how inadequate I am for the task.” And yet, this is exactly where I still find myself today.

My response to my now ordained brother in Christ was, “When the tables are turned and you are examining someone else for ordination you won’t feel that way anymore.” I didn’t mean that he was now also in the Majors but that we are all still in the Minors; strike that—we are all profound sinners saved by God’s marvelous grace, called out of darkness into his marvelous light, that we might proclaim the excellencies of Him who called us (that sounds less than Tee Ball like that). There are no “Majors, Minors, or Tee Ball” in God’s economy. Our Puritan brothers, with all their faults and failures, saw themselves so clearly:

“Eternal Father,

Thou art good beyond all thought, but I am vile, wretched, miserable, blind; my lips are ready to confess, but my heart is slow to feel, and my ways reluctant to amend. I bring my soul to thee; break it, wound it, bend it, mould it. Unmask to me sin’s deformity, that I may hate it, abhor it, flee from it.My faculties have been a weapon of revolt against thee; as a rebel I have misused my strength, and served the foul adversary of thy kingdom. Give me grace to bewail my insensate folly, grant me to know that the way of transgressors is hard, that evil paths are wretched paths, that to depart from thee is to lose all good. I have seen the purity and beauty of thy perfect law…yet I daily violate and contemn in its precepts…yet I choose devises and desires to my own hurt, impiously resent, grieve, and provoke [your Spirit] to abandon me. All these sins I mourn, lament, and for them cry pardon…” (The Valley of Vision, pg. 124-125)

Does this sound like the pride of accomplishment from a “Major Leaguer?” The honest self-evaluation of the Puritans and their openness to provide, to all who would peer, a glimpse into their souls demonstrate to the world that even those who appear to “have arrived” are still a work in progress. This is why the Lord could pray, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth…I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through [the disciples] word…” (John 17:17-20). The Disciples didn’t have it all together, the Puritans didn’t have it all together, your pastor doesn’t have it all together, and I don’t have it all together.

This is, I’m certain, why my friend’s statement stung so deeply. It’s true, we ebb and flow in spiritual lives from time to time and I was definitely in an ebb; and elongated ebb…and I was likened to being in “The Majors.” You see, I knew where I was in my walk with Christ and regardless of what others may have seen, I knew I was not on the field with the pro’s; I was nursing some wounds and making my way back to the Great Physician who could heal my soul.

It has been attributed to many people throughout the years but I first heard it from a circuit speaker for Alcoholics Anonymous name Earl H. Earl said that he struggled all his life with this one thing: He was comparing his insides with other’s outsides and he was losing every time. What the recovering heroin junky and alcoholic was saying was that he knew who he really was; deep inside there was a scared, inadequate, weakling in desperate need of something greater; someone greater. And when Earl measured himself against the façade people often portray in public his fears and inadequacies were exacerbated.

But isn’t this where we should find ourselves before the cross of Christ; broken, desperate, and in need of something we cannot get anywhere else, searching for forgiveness, fulfillment and restoration? Isn’t this why the Apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, cried out in anguish, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25a)

So, I can write today, pray today, read God’s Word today, praise and worship today because even though I may not be in “The Majors” I am in pursuit of that for which Christ Jesus has laid hold of me. I “press on” (Philippians 3:12, 14) as the Apostle says. God has saved me by his grace and called me to a life of Christ-likeness, yet I sin; “but he gives more grace.” (James 4:6) Aren’t those the most beautiful words for a work in progress like myself…But he gives more grace…Ahhhh; like cool drink from the Fountain of Life in the arid plains of sin and despair. And for that sweet grace I will ever proclaim his excellencies.

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)

Pastors & Spiderman

The other night my wife and I decided to watch one of the Spiderman movies we owned at the house. During the movie, I felt an odd connection with Peter Parker and his Spiderman persona. It was then that I started thinking about all the ways pastors and Spiderman have a very similar calling.

First, like Spiderman, pastors are urged to serve because of the serious need they see around them and the unique calling given them.

Whereas Peter Parker is urged by the screams of people who are in danger, we are urged by the lostness around us. When Paul was at Athens, his spirit was provoked when he saw the idols they worshiped (Acts 17:16ff). As pastors, we must never stop seeing the spiritual desperation in people’s lives. All believers are called to serve others for the sake of Christ, but pastors have a unique calling to shepherd their souls as well.

Second, both pastors and Spiderman share the struggle of their calling with one woman (our wives, except in the case of Peter Parker).

Peter Parker’s girlfriend Mary Jane left her fiancé waiting on the altar to express her desire to spend her life with him. But just as the sparks were flying, Spiderman was called to save someone else in another part of the city. The look on Mary Jane’s face is the same look I’ve seen on my wife before. It’s that sort of look that conveys understanding for the nature of a pastor’s calling and yet discouragement that his calling often interrupts family time. The difference is, unlike Spiderman, we know God is the one doing the saving, and that frees us up to say “no” to some situations that can be handled later. Our families must never bear the brunt of our over-eager concerns for being well-liked by our congregants.

Third, pastors are like Spiderman in that they save people from very real threats, albeit spiritual ones.

In fact, Spiderman can save people from burning buildings, but he cannot save people from burning in hell forever. The salvation we preach and minister is one that calls them to die to this life so that they can live forever with Christ. The evil characters that threaten Spiderman’s city are make-believe, while the demonic realm that holds people captive to sin is more real than anything we see with our eyes (2 Tim. 2:26, Eph. 6:10-12). Jesus told Paul at his conversion that he was sending him to turn people from the power of Satan to God (Acts 26:18). Our gospel truly saves people from super-human evil forces.

Fourth, like Spider-man, pastors are sometimes elevated too highly, but are just as much in need of salvation as those they seek to save.

At one point in the movie, we saw Spiderman’s pride puffed up because of all the people who praised and admired him for his kindness and sacrificial service. The man Peter Parker then began confusing his calling for his identity and it caused serious problems. Pastors must beware of perhaps the most dangerous threat of all: pride. We pour ourselves out for others and often don’t see much physical fruit of our labors, but when that fruit seems to abound, we can easily believe it came from us. We must resist the selfish pride which puts us at the center of God’s saving action in the lives of others instead of Christ. We must also not confuse our calling with our identity. We ought not draw our identity from our calling as pastors, but from our union with Christ in his death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. When Peter Parker was at his lowest and had learned the folly of self-reliance, Mary Jane came to him and said that even Spiderman needed a savior sometimes. As pastors, we understand the gospel so well and can preach it to anyone at anytime; yet when we think for a second that the salvation we hold out for others isn’t also meant for us, we’re in trouble. We must beware of a Messiah complex that always presents us before others as some perfect version of ourselves.

So pastors, take heart. You are specially called by God to bring the message of salvation to God’s image-bearers who are currently enslaved to spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Yet you pastor are not the message, for you yourself are in need of the same Savior. As you hold out the Word of life to this lost and dying world, remember that only Jesus is the true Savior. And whatever you do, don’t sacrifice your marriage and family on the altar of ministry. Since you aren’t the Savior, don’t attempt to be. Simply preach and minister the powerful message of salvation and watch God do with it what He always does…change lives.

How to serve God in the midst of Opposition

This week I picked up Andy Davis’s new book on Church Revitalization and was going to write a blog in reflection on one of the chapters that I found thought provoking, however it seems Dr. Davis beat me to the punch in his own article this morning. For that reason I will let him do the talking and I’ll make a quick note at the end.

10 Reasons to Be Humble Toward Opponents

Andrew Davis / April 24, 2017

Gospel Coalition Editors’ note: This is an adapted excerpt from Andy Davis’s new book, Revitalize: Biblical Keys to Helping Your Church Come Alive Again. Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2017. Used by permission.

From elementary school (when I had my last schoolyard “fight,” which I lost) until I became senior pastor of First Baptist Church Durham, I had no human enemies. Yet within 18 months of beginning my ministry at this church, I had dozens who at least wanted me fired, perhaps sued, and, it seems, possibly (based on facial expressions) dead. That experience was shocking to me. My ministry and convictions had earned me many enemies.

God doesn’t will for us to give in for an instant on issues of biblical truth. It’s not humilty but self-serving cowardice that causes us to back down from doctrinal attacks. We must fight like lions for the truth of the gospel—the souls of our hearers are at stake.

I think it’s unlikely for a work of church revitalization to go on without overcoming significant human opposition. But God commands us to be humble toward our opponents, entrusting ourselves to him. This is among the greatest displays of grace. And it’ll be instrumental in transforming your church.

As personal conduct goes, I believe there are at least 10 reasons we should be humble toward our opponents.

  1. Because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (1 Pet. 5:5). 

God detests pride in any form, and if church revitalizers are more zealous for their own agenda than God’s glory, he will fight them as much as he will fight the nominal Christians at that church.

But God gives grace to the humble. So humble yourself, and God will lift you up.

  1. Because we are sinners too.

Every church leader, no matter how godly, is a sinner saved by grace. We all deserve eternal condemnation. How are we different from those who oppose us? Is there any sin we see in our opponents that we are incapable of? “Who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Cor. 4:7)

Meditating on God’s grace in your own life should destroy any arrogance you may feel toward others.

  1. Because God is motivated to fight for those who don’t fight for themselves.

In this way, we’ll be following the example of Jesus Christ and how he treated his enemies: “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Pet. 2:23).

In entrusting ourselves to him who judges justly, we’re forsaking the right to defend ourselves. God’s wisdom and power in defending those falsely attacked when serving him are beyond our calculation. And God will use our humble suffering to advance his purposes in the church.

  1. Because Paul was willing to trade his salvation to rescue his enemies.

In Romans 9:1–4, the apostle Paul made a stunning claim—that, if possible, he was willing to trade his salvation and spend eternity in hell if it would result in the salvation of his Jewish enemies. He had “great sorrow and unceasing anguish” in his heart concerning their spiritual condition.

Paul is a great role model for any leader in church revitalization. His Jewish enemies were hunting him down to kill him. Ours are doing far less. We should see our opponents in light of eternity—and yearn to win them over to Jesus.

  1. You can’t tell the wheat from the weeds.

In Christ’s parable about the wheat and the weeds, the mixed nature of the world—sons of God and sons of the Devil—could not be remedied before the end of the age. The servants offered to pull up the weeds; the master said, “No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them” (Matt. 13:29).

This indicates that before the end of the age, we won’t always be able to tell the difference between wheat and weeds. Paul, the greatest servant of Christ who’s ever lived, was initially the most vicious persecutor of Christians on earth. God’s grace can win any person at any time. Today’s hate-filled enemy may be tomorrow’s zealous co-laborer. And it is “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15) that God will use to win them.

  1. You aren’t the issue; God’s glory is.

When we pridefully rise up to defend our honor, we act as though that’s more important than the glory of God in the revitalization of a church for whom Christ shed his blood.

  1. A humble response to attacks will motivate church members to join you.

If you respond to mean-spirited attacks in like manner, it will be obvious to everyone you’re no different from your enemies. But if you are filled with the Spirit, speaking only scriptural truths and seeking repentance and reconciliation with every person, quiet observers will be strongly motivated to come to your aid in the church revitalization process.

  1. Your enemies may be right . . . about something.

It’s exceptionally humble to listen to your adversaries with the conviction they have something worth listening to. While we may disagree about the most fundamental issues having to do with the gospel or the scriptural principles of healthy church life, they may have a valid perspective God wants you to heed regarding some key aspect of the issues or of your own demeanor or performance. God can speak anytime through anyone.

For example, God enabled wicked Caiaphas to prophesy accurately about Christ (John 11:49–52). If God can speak through someone like Caiaphas, he can speak to a church leader in the midst of difficult revitalization work.

If some enemy comes to you after a particularly challenging meeting and says you were rude or you misrepresented his position or you did not follow Robert’s Rules of Order or you did something else he doesn’t approve of, be humble, take the input, and repent wherever you can.

  1. Humility will adorn the gospel for outsiders to see.

We never know who is watching us as we carry on our work of revitalization. And the world is watching the church all the time to see if we practice what we preach. Titus 2:10 says Christians can “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior” by how we act.

If you’re genuinely humble while dealing with in-church opposition, the Lord will at some point make it obvious to the community and use you to bring some lost person to Christ.

  1. Suffering well grows you in Christlikeness.

Never forget that the ministry God gives us is as much a part of our own salvation process as it is a part of the salvation of others. Our sanctification is far from over, and God uses bitter trials to conform us to the likeness of his Son, Jesus Christ. This is why Romans 5:3 says that “suffering produces endurance.” We need to be thankful for our enemies, because God is using them to shape our souls for his glory.

The Original Article can be found at the Gospel Coalition website: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/10-reasons-humble-toward-opponents

-As Pastors and as leaders in general we all have critics and for most of us it is probably one of the hardest parts of the job. We think everything is going great and then the voices begin. This short series of 10 points derived from Dr. Davis tenth chapter reminded me, along with Mark 11:27-12:12 which I preached this past week, that we are but tenants in God’s Garden called to watch over and tend to the vines and when the time comes give them to God, both the one who praise you and critic you are under your care so love them well, and remember they are all in God’s hands.

 

 

Second-Class Missionary?

My family and I are preparing for service in Paraguay, South America with New Tribes Mission. The biblical goal is to “make disciples of all the nations” – literally to every people group.(Matthew 28:19). As found in the book of Acts, we see that Paul and many others in the early church put this into practice by establishing mature churches among previously unreached people. Paul did this because of his desire to take the gospel to where it has not gone, (Romans 15:20)

The world has changed a lot since then BUT God’s Word has not. In brief, the ministry’s goal is to reach the unreached with the gospel of Jesus Christ, to see God’s Word translated in the heart language of a people group and see God build His church in another group.

Preparation for us to serve required specialized training to equip us to be part of a team to accomplish the above-stated goal. The task before us is complex, difficult and requires a long-term commitment to trust in the work of our sovereign God. Presently, we are in the stage of ministry which requires time seeking those whom God has prepared to join with us in ministry. Contacting, sharing, and following up is the “formula” of team building. Let’s not forget while praying for wisdom every step of the way. Once in Paraguay, it appears that my role will be in the realm of field administration. It has been a long road for my family and I, but we continue to press forward on the road God has for us to walk.

Let me share with you a real challenge which I face. Not in every case but many times in sharing with people, I have observed a worldly way of thinking. A way in which I think has subtly slid into churches and into the way missionaries are viewed. A thinking which claims that our identity comes from what we do instead of what God has done. Amy Medina, missionary to Tanzania spells out this distorted view within our churches today. She has written perfectly what I have been seeing and experiencing as we prepare for service in Paraguay. My prayer as you read the following is that you are challenged.

In Defense of Second-Class Missionaries

Imagine what it would look like if western churches hired their staff with the same priorities that they choose overseas missionaries to financially support.

First of all, a Children’s Pastor would definitely be out. Not strategic enough; he’s only supporting the children of believers. Youth Pastor? Also out, unless he targets neighborhood kids. How about a Music Pastor? Or Pastoral Counselor? Nope. Those are just supporting roles. Not enough front-line ministry. Administrative PastorReceptionist? Good heavens. We could never dream of paying someone for those kind of inconsequential jobs.

How about a Preaching Pastor? Well…..that’s if-y, but he probably doesn’t make the cut either. After all, he’s only feeding the Body. Most of the time, he’s not actually reaching the lost. So that pretty much leaves only the positions of Community Outreach Pastor or Evangelist. Yet how many churches even have those paid positions?

I’m not suggesting that churches go about firing two-thirds of their staff. I just want to talk about a double-standard I often see.

Let me introduce you to the class system among missionaries. 

Who is on the A-List? Well, that would be the Church Planters. Among unreached people groups gives you A+ status. Pastoral Trainers and Bible Translators might be able to squeak by with an A. The B-List? Doctors and other health workers, community development and poverty alleviation workers, ESL teachers. The C-List?  Administrators, missionary member care, MK teachers, or anyone else considered “support.”

Whatever tends to be the current trend in “justice ministry” also often ends up on the A-List. These days, that’s fighting human trafficking. It used to be orphan ministry, but that’s pretty much been relegated to B-status now. It’s cool, but not that cool.

Granted, this class system doesn’t usually originate with the missionaries themselves, but it’s come out of the culture of missions in their home countries. How many missionaries have sat before missions committees back home who examined if they fit into their “grid” of priorities? And often that grid looks exactly like the hierarchy I just outlined.

My husband and I worked for eight years in TCK ministry at a missionary school. When trying to raise support, we called and sent information packets to over 200 churches in California. We heard back from two. Churches told us, over and over again, ‘Sorry, but that ministry doesn’t fit into our strategy.’

That all changed when we transitioned to theological training of East African pastors. Finally, we had churches calling us. It was nice. But frankly, kind of frustrating. We didn’t change ministries so that we would become more popular with churches. We switched because that’s where God was leading us. But the truth is, we don’t consider theological training to be any more strategic, or any more exciting, than what we were doing at that MK school. 

Unfortunately, the missionaries themselves are often acutely aware of this hierarchy, and it makes many feel like they are second-class. Over and over again, I hear things like this from missionaries:

Yes, I love my job as an MK teacher and I know it’s really important, but I fill my newsletters with pictures of the slum I visit once a week. After all, that’s what my supporters are interested in.

Yeah, I’m a missionary, but not a ‘real’ missionary. I live in a city and spend a lot of my time at a computer.

My visiting short-term team was supposed to help me out with my ministry to TCK’s, but they only want to spend their time with orphans.  

Why do these missionaries feel this way? Maybe because when Christians stand up and say, I’m called to missionary care! I’m called to teach MK’s! I’m called to missions administration, the churches say, Well, sorry, you don’t fit in our strategy. We’d rather get behind the exciting church planters and the pastoral trainers and the child-trafficking rescuers. Except, we expect them to do it without all the other people they need to be successful.

And so what happens? The talented church planter gets bogged down by administrative tasks. The mom who is gifted and called to women’s ministry has no choice but to homeschool. The child-trafficking rescuer has a nervous breakdown because he has no one to help him work through the trauma of what he is facing. Missionaries are particularly prone to burn-out. Could this be partially because they are trying to do too many jobs themselves? 

I’m all about strategy in missions, and it’s important for churches to be careful in their vetting process of potential missionaries. But can we expand our idea of what strategy means? Missionaries, as an extension of the Church, must function as the Body of Christ. Could the Western Church function by only hiring evangelists? I realize that mission work can have different goals than churches back at home: Missionaries are working ourselves out of a job; they are doing everything they can to replace themselves with national believers. But to get there, they need the Body of Christ. 

We, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them. (Romans 12)

The legs can’t do anything without the arms and fingers and neck. So go out today and find your nearest missionary accountant or counselor or MK teacher. Join their support team. Encourage them in their pursuit of their calling. Affirm their value to your church or your team. And remind them they are never second-class.

Andy Davis on Single Pastors and Elders

One of the great blessing and significant challenges that I face in the realm of ministry at this phase in my life is my own singleness. It can be a blessing in that my schedule is extremely flexible and open to minister to those in the church and in need, but at the same time it is a challenge because people don’t always see you as authoritative on issues of marriage or parenting (not that I would ever claim to be). In the newest IX Marks Journal on Pastoring Singles, which as a whole is a fantastic journal for everyone in ministry to pick up, Dr. Andy Davis deals with this very question “Can a Single man be and elder and by proxy a pastor.” I hope you will enjoy Andy’s article as much as I did.

Andy Davis’ IX Marks Article

Full disclosure he was also one on my professors at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Here is his article below:

 

Can Single Men Serve As Elders?

One of the most significant early steps we made in the journey of church revitalization at First Baptist Church in Durham was filtering deacon candidates according to biblical qualifications. At that time, FBC’s polity consisted of a single elder, a “board” of deacons, a slew of committees, and congregational authority expressed in voting at church conferences. The deacons exercised an unbiblical role as undershepherds, working with “the pastor” to achieve the ministry of the church. Deacons were elected by a democratic process with almost no filtering at all—the top eight vote-getters simply got in. Often, this meant the community’s most successful business leaders or hardest working volunteers became deacons. In short, it was a popularity contest.

So, when we began to require deacon candidates to give testimonies of their qualifications based on 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, things began to change in a remarkable way. Since then, the roles of elder and deacon have themselves been reformed by biblical standards, as the process of choosing qualified candidates for both offices has also gotten more robust and healthier.

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However, it’s possible to use these passages in 1 Timothy and Titus in a wooden way and therefore filter out godly candidates whom the Lord has qualified to serve. But before we overly filter, we must make sure we’ve “rightly divided” (2 Tim. 2:15) the relevant passages. To be overly restrictive based on these passages can prove to be almost as harmful as to have little or no restrictions at all.

So, let’s get to the question at hand: can single men serve as elders, or must they be “filtered out” for not meeting the “husband of one wife” qualification (1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:6)? In short, I believe filtering out single men is overly restrictive, and therefore causse churches to miss out on some rich blessings the Lord has given.

This restriction wouldn’t even come to mind except that that the passages seem to be teaching it. But a closer look shows that such an approach leads to unhealthy, even absurd conclusions. For example, it would eliminate Jesus, Paul, and (it seems) Timothy from the office of elder. It would also negate the powerful case the Apostle Paul makes in 1 Corinthians 7 for the benefits singleness brings to ministry. Paul celebrates single servants as being “free from concern” and able to focus completely on how they may please and serve the Lord, living in undivided devotion (1 Cor. 7:32, 35).

Based on this, single men who serve as elders can highlight these very truths in the life of the congregation, especially since it’s so unusual, at least in the Baptist churches I’ve been around. Just as married elders can live out in front of their congregations the immeasurable value of a healthy marriage and godly parenting, so also can a single elder live out the superior aspects of the single life, as celebrated in 1 Corinthians 7.

Beyond this, to forbid single men from serving as elders based on exegesis of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 3 leads to some unhealthy parallel conclusions. For example, would not a widower be excluded from serving, since he is not presently the husband of one wife? One can imagine a man losing his wife and his ministry in the same day, all from an overly restrictive interpretation. Similarly, what about childless men, or fathers of only one child? Wouldn’t they be excluded? After all, Titus 1:6 seems to require children.

I believe the same way we handle that text applies to how we handle the “husband of one wife” requirement. If a man has children still living at home, they must be submissive to his authority, not wild or disobedient; if a man is married, he must be a “one-woman man,” that is, openly living out Ephesians 5’s Christ-church analogy of marriage. But the text doesn’t require either a wife or children in order to serve as an elder.

Of course, there are some challenges for single elders in the life of the congregation. Their ability to teach on marriage and parenting may be questioned, though it ought not to be. Jesus and Paul were both single men, and they taught on both marriage and parenting. It’s not necessary that Bible teaching must in every case be supplemented with role-modeling. Beyond this, the single elder must walk in open holiness with members of the opposite sex, as Paul commanded Timothy, saying he should deal with younger sisters-in-Christ “in all purity” (1 Tim. 5:2). If he’s seeking a wife, there may be some awkwardness in the courting process if she ends up being a member of the congregation. But these practical challenges must not outweigh the benefits of singleness Paul expounds in 1 Corinthians 7.

To sum up, it’s essential that the filtering process of elder candidates be conducted according to biblical standards. This means that unqualified men must be filtered out. But this also means that qualified men must notbe filtered out by faulty exegesis. Godly single men may serve as elders of a local church, and their churches will be richly blessed by their single-minded devotion to the Lord in shepherding his flock.

3 Ways to Pray For Your Pastor

In Hebrews 13 we are told that pastors must give an account for those they watch over (Hebrew 13:7). We see this again in the epistle of James where we are told that pastors will be judged with greater strictness (James 3:1) as they have tremendous influence over the church. Pastors have been given a very weighty task – to shepherd God’s people (Acts 20:28). This is an enormous responsibility that at times can be daunting. Certainly there is great joy in pastoral ministry. It is a tremendous privilege and blessing to shepherd God’s people. However, at the same time, the toll of ministry can truly cause pastors to become overwhelmed, discouraged, and even burnt out. It is so important that we lift our pastors up in prayer regularly, asking God to guide their every step.

Here are three ways we can do this:

Pray For His Walk with Jesus

It is important that we pray for our pastor’s spiritual growth. We want him to be a man who is walking closely with Jesus and who is striving to be more and more like Him everyday. Over the years the church has had it’s fair share of pastors who have fallen in moral failure. Certainly we do not want this to be true of our pastor. However, sin and temptation are never far away (Genesis 4:7). Therefore, it ought to be our prayer that God would guard our pastor’s heart from sin. The Bible calls for our pastors to be men who are above reproach (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6 ) and that needs to be our regular prayer for him. This includes all areas of his life – his family relationships, his work relationship, his personal friendships, and ultimately his walk with Jesus.

Pray For His Preaching

Every week our pastors stand before their congregations and preach God’s Word (hopefully). This is one of the most important, if not the most important, things he does. God’s Word is spiritual nourishment to God’s people. It helps them to grow into mature, healthy believers. Therefore, it is important that the church is served a hearty portion of God’s Word each week. Pray then, that God would guide our pastors each week in their sermon preparation and study. Pray that they would rightly divide the Word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15) each time they step into the pulpit. And most importantly, pray that God would be magnified and that we would grow through the preaching of God’s Word.

Pray For His Leadership

There are many decisions to be made, people to counsel, and problems to solve when a person is in pastoral leadership. In each instance we want our pastor to lead wisely and in a way that honors God. We want him to be moving in the direction that God would have him go. This requires prayer. We need to pray that God would grant great wisdom to our pastor as he leads the church (James 1:5), meets with individuals, and plans for the future. We want each step our pastor makes to be guided by God.

Prayer is a crucial component to the Christian life and your pastor needs to be included in your regular prayers. Don’t just think of your pastor as the one who should be praying for and helping you – he is just as much in need of prayer as any person. Never stop praying for your pastor. He covets your prayers, he needs your prayers, and your prayers will have an impact.