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.

 

What We Can Learn from J.C. Ryle

“The world will let a man go to hell quietly, and never try to stop him. The world will never let a man go to heaven quietly—they will do all they can to turn him back…let him begin to read his Bible and be diligent in prayers, let him decline worldly amusement and be particular in his employment of time, let him seek an evangelical ministry and live as if he had an immortal soul-let him do this, and the probability is all his relations and friends will be up in arms…if a man will become a decided evangelical Christian he must make up his mind to lose the world’s favours; he must be content to be thought by many a perfect fool” (Iain Murray).

The name J.C. Ryle seemed to be forgotten by the winds of time after his death. For fifty years, Ryle’s work would be left in the dustbin of history. But when the battle for the Bible began raging on and the conservative resurgence took shape, Ryle’s works once again grew in popularity. Now that a new wave of “young, restless, and reformed” have swept on the scene to retreat from the shallow theology of easy-believism, there is a renewed interest in J.C. Ryle, and for that we should all be grateful.

J.C. Ryle served as the first bishop of Liverpool and his life spanned most of the 19th Century. He has authored a number of works including Holiness, Simplicity in Preaching, and Expository Thoughts on the Gospels. Everything I quote regarding his life in this blog comes from Iain Murray’s book entitled J.C. Ryle: Prepared to Stand Alone.

John Charles (J.C.) Ryle was born just over two hundred years ago, on May 10, 1816. Although he was born into a very wealthy family with his father running a bank, his promise of fortune ended when the bank went belly up and he was left to pay off large amounts of his father’s debts for years to come. He recalls from his childhood that he, his brother, and his four sisters, “were brought up in the greatest comfort and luxury, and had everything that money could get” (pg. 4). Ryle later comments on the crash of his father’s bank: “I was going to leave my father’s house without the least idea what was going to happen, where I was going to live, or what I was going to do…an eldest son, 25, with all the world before me, lost everything, and saw the whole future of my life turned upside down, and thrown into confusion. In short, if I had not been a Christian at this time, I do not know if I should not have committed suicide” (pg. 49).

Although J.C. grew up in a church-going family, his was not a truly Christian church or home. He remarks, “The plain truth is, that for the first 16 or 17 years of my life, there was no ministry of the gospel at the churches we attended…we had no religious friends or relatives and no real Christian ever visited our house…neither at home, nor school, nor college, nor among my relatives or friends, had I anything to do good to my soul, or to teach me anything about Jesus Christ” (pg. 18).

At about the age of 21, J.C. Ryle began sporadically attending a new Church of England congregation in his home town of Macclesfield, which was unlike the other two churches in the area, “where you might have slept as comfortably in those churches under the sermons of their ministers as you might in your own armchairs with nothing to wake you up.” It was here, under the ministry of John Burnet that Ryle saw, “a kind of stir among dry bones.” He speaks later of his conversion, “Nothing I remember to this day, appeared to me so clear and distinct as my own sinfulness, Christ’s preciousness, the value of the Bible, the absolute necessity of coming out from the world, the need of being born again…all these things…seemed to flash upon me like a sunbeam in the winter of 1837, and have stuck in my mind from that time down to this” (pg. 23).

Ryle’s later call into the ministry came after failed attempts at other things and seemed to be forced upon him. Although he didn’t want to be a clergyman and was fairly skilled in law, he would later say, “God ordered it differently, and would not allow me to be a lawyer.” He even said, “every avenue seemed shut against me.” He also remarked, “If my father’s affairs had prospered, and I had never been ruined, my life of course would have been a very different one. I should probably have gone into Parliament very soon, and it is impossible to say what the effect of this might have been upon my soul.” He served churches in Exbury, Winchester, Helmingham, rural Suffolk, and Stradbroke before being asked to become the first bishop of Liverpool. He was regularly in the houses of his parishioners, even visiting every family once a month. His commitment to visit his members so frequently came from a desire to preach the Gospel to them in their kitchens and living rooms as much as from the pulpit. His heart beat for discipling his people with the Word. Ryle saw it as his life’s work to preach the Gospel in the Church of England so as to keep it from drifting away into ritualism and Roman Catholic influences, a serious threat which we see now in our day. Having grown up in the Church of England, Ryle had studied the 39 Articles and loved the legacy of the Reformers, so he was intent to do his part to keep the Church of England on solid ground. Many would have abandoned such a hard road for another denomination with a brighter future, but not Ryle.

As a preacher, Ryle often preached from short, pithy texts and filled his sermons with no-nonsense straight talk about the real issues of life. He always spoke to his congregants like he believed he would one day have to give an account for their souls. J.C. Ryle was once referred to as, “that man of granite with the heart of a child.” Ryle earned the title of a “man of granite” by his rock-solid stance on the truthfulness of God’s Word against a host of Roman Catholic sympathizers wreaking havoc in the Church of England. He also took a bold stand in his preaching and was unashamed who was offended by the message of the cross. He did not cower before the opinions of others, even when those others were in the majority. He once told a group of ministers, “Stand fast, both in public and in private, even if you stand alone…Stand fast in the old belief that the whole Bible from Genesis to Revelation was given by inspiration of God, and that the historical facts recorded in the Old Testament are all credible and true” (Murray, pg. 194). On the other hand, Ryle was said to have, “the heart of a child” because of his sincere love for all people. Some men take themselves so seriously that they turn people away from the truths they preach, but Ryle was not this way. On his daily walks, he would often be seen speaking to a group of young boys playing a game on the road and giving them a piece of sharp and witty advice. The children also knew that whenever they saw Mr. Ryle coming he had plenty of candy in his pockets.

Ryle’s ministry included suffering, as his first and second wife both died prematurely and left him with five children to care for all on his own. He eventually married Henrietta, who more than made up for all his suffering. Henrietta was more than a good wife to J.C.; she was also the perfect partner for him in the stresses of ministry. A good help-mate can make or break a man’s ministry, and she certainly made his thrive.

Perhaps one of the saddest events in J.C. Ryle’s life involved his son Herbert. Herbert studied and began preaching liberal theology to the dismay of his aging father. It is one thing for a preacher’s son to be lost and yet a whole other thing for that son to be a popular false teacher rising among the ranks. J.C. went to be with Jesus in 1900 and his son Herbert seemed intent on removing his father’s evangelical heritage. All that J.C. Ryle stood for theologically, his son Herbert stood against. The new era of liberal theology seemed to cast a dark shadow over all Ryle’s efforts and his son Herbert rejoiced to see evangelical theology dissipating into the dark recesses of the history books. Little did Herbert and his liberal contemporaries know, the “faith once for all delivered to the saints” can never be truly extinguished, but will shine ever brighter until Christ’s return. Liberal theology only served to close church doors as J.C. had foretold, but evangelical truth, which J.C. Ryle had stood for, would face another resurgence decades later.

Praise God for the life and ministry of His servant J.C. Ryle in a day where his memory is once again celebrated. Ryle teaches ministers today to have a thick skin and a soft heart. He also teaches us to be dead earnest about the Gospel and yet not take ourselves too seriously either. We would do well to learn these lessons from a dear brother gone before.

IX Marks Day 2

Last week I gave a quick overview of the first day of the First Five Years conference held in Fort Worth by IX Marks. Today I would like to highlight two additional talks that took place on the second day of the conference. The first one dealing with the needed reminder that as pastors we have the greatest job in the world, and the second one, which closed out the conference, dealt with suffering in the midst of ministry. These two talks bookended a phenomenal day of teaching and fellowship that featured some great pastors who gave time out of their busy weeks to help bring encouragement to us young ministers. So I hope this brief summation of how their words spoke to me will be an encouragement to you.

Remember the Joy of Pastoring

We kicked off the second day of our conference with an encouraging reminder of the privilege we have to be ministers of the gospel. Whether we have been serving the church for weeks or years this is one of the key things we need to be continually reminded of, we work for the greatest boss in the world, God himself. We have the privilege of waking up each morning to serve the Lord; by the way we talk to our staff, by the way we love our congregation, by the way we spend time with Him, and the kicker is we get paid for it all. This is such an amazing thing to consider, God has given us a great calling, week in and week out we get to proclaim the gospel to the people God has placed in our churches. We get the privilege to spend hours in God’s word to present the truth of it to our sheep in a way that will teach them the truth of the gospel and its role in our lives. Now these two things alone are amazing to reflect on alone. However, this doesn’t mean that these things will come easy or that we don’t have to work hard at the task, but like all things we should find joy in the Lord’s gift to us as minister to love his sheep and preach the gospel to them.

Additionally, these are not the only things we can take away from pastoral ministry. These first two areas allow us to see some amazing things over the course of our time in ministry, especially if we get the blessing of serving in one congregation for a lifetime. If we should stay and love the people of God well and preach the gospel to them and pray diligently to them, and not lose sight of the end, we get the blessing of seeing people change. We get to hear stories and see marriages that were near the end become staples of God’s holiness and reconciliation. We get to see people running so hard away from God become teachers and leaders in the church, through the power of God’s Word in them transforming their cold hearts into hearts of flesh. Just let it sink in, we see the gospel in action, but we need to have a long term perspective, people don’t change overnight, people don’t grow overnight, but step by step as the word of God transforms them. These are enormous blessings and as pastors we need to see our joy in God and the knowledge that it is in Him that lives our changed, and we trust in Him to do the work, because unlike many jobs, the work we do serves eternity and we answer for how well we loved our Lord and watched over His sheep.Which leads us to the other side of the ministry coin.

Even in the Joy of Ministry There is still Pain

While the final day opened with a joyful reflection on our need to see the great things about being a pastor, it concluded with the reality that sometimes the reality is that life and ministry can be hard, not only hard but sometimes life just hits you with all the force of a Semi. This final talk was given by John Onwuchekwa a pastor from outside of Atlanta, over the last 18 months he launched a church, buried his brother, buried a new believer from his church and over and again struggled with depression, while still ministering to the people of his congregation. I give you the background to reinforce the power of his message. Throughout the closing remarks of the conference John continued to point us back to the reality that we will suffer in this life, pastors are not exempt, if anything we may be most affected by suffering, because we tend to do it alone and in public simultaneously. However, he didn’t want this to be an excuse for ministers but rather to see suffering for what it is; a momentary stop in the journey that God has in store for us all.

This final talk focused us back on the fact that no one suffers by accident it is always by appointment. God has put together the course of our lives and is in control of the steps we will take, and if we know and trust in the Lord we can have joy in the midst of suffering. We can teach others to love well in the midst of suffering. Suffering teaches us empathy and love, it teaches us that we are not invincible, it teaches us that we need God and we need his people. We cannot see suffering as an accident but part of something bigger than ourselves that God uses to grow us in our journey into becoming like Christ. 

Therefore, we must learn to never suffer in isolation or silence. If pain and heartache comes your way, the family of God is called to weep with those who weep and to care for its members as they struggle through the dark seasons of the soul. We must teach our flock to love each other well, we must stand by those who suffer, and we ourselves when we go through seasons of trial, pray our elders and people will love and walk with us through the pain we will endure.

IX Marks: First Five Years Day 1

12 hours of non-stop theological and evangelical action.

That is probably the best way to sum up the first day of the First Five Years conference being hosted in Fort Worth. We had the opportunity to worship through song, be encouraged through fellowship and be encouraged through seven speakers over the first day. And the speakers came in many new faces mostly unknowns if you will, along with some who you wouldn’t expect at a IX Marks conference, such as Paige Patterson, and of course the headliner of the evening, Mark Dever.

Now for many when they go to conferences they’re more drawn to the names rather than the substance. This conference on the other hand was headlined by many who would probably be considered unknowns, but when you hear the Word preached you are reminded that it is not about the size of their congregation or the size of their ‘platform’ it is their commitment to their local congregations and love for fellow pastors that make them worth having at a conference, especially for young pastor who may struggle with the desire to be famous. That is most likely why the first word we heard was an encouragement to keep the Lord’s Word at the center of how we do ministry from 1 Kings 13. A text that reminded us that if the Lord’s word is clear there is no other man worth listening to, even if he claims to be speaking on behalf of God. No man no matter how seasoned in ministry has authority apart from the Word of God and any advice we receive should be tested against the Scriptures first and foremost.

This was just the beginning.

Now I don’t have the time or energy to unpack all that was in day one but two major highlights from the preaching that I found especially edifying was first the need for churches and pastors to never go at it alone. We have brothers and sisters around us in ministry who we can labor with for the gospel. This is an important reminder that we do not own the gospel. It is the Lord’s gospel, He is the one who has given it to His people and calls us to labor well in our mission. In this way we are encouraged to pray for other churches in our community that the Lord’s name will be made great in them. We are reminded that we must seek to make much of God and one of those ways is through communicating and encouraging brothers and sisters from other churches. We must remember that we don’t compete with one another, we labor together.

The second talk I wanted to highlight was Mark Dever’s evening session on the importance of church discipleship. Over the course of the final talk Mark walked through 16 points on the need and work of discipling well in our churches. First, he pointed out that discipleship is not an option in the church it is the life blood of a spiritually growing church. This is driven by the fact that we disciple one another by making much of Christ in our interpersonal church relationships. This is a key aspect that he helped to hammer home. We must take time to observe how much we speak about God in our lives. Is He saturating our conversations. When we speak with brothers and sisters is it more often about the mundane things of the world or about things of lasting value. Do we genuinely care about the spiritual health and vitality of each other or only the basic and in some way superficial things?

Again, not that we can’t talk about the general nature of life, but if that is the primary thing that identify us to one another and not the gospel than we are no more than a glorified social club. This is especially true when we discus one on one discipleship relationships. Do we only disciple people that are like us? Do we only spend time with people who are within our age bracket or maybe younger (giving us some form of superficial authority)? Do we make sure that we are loving people from across the whole church body? His is but a small sample of a much longer talk and next week I hope to post a more concise review of the second day and highlight some of the great things that took place.

IX Marks in Texas!!!

Today begins IX Marks’ First Five Years Conference in Fort Worth, Texas. Adam attended the conference held last year in South Carolina, and this year I have the privilege of attending as I wrap up my fourth year of full-time ministry to the people of Riverside. I am incredibly grateful to my elders for allowing me the time off to come and be refreshed.

Over the next two days’ pastors from around the country will gather here in Texas to be encouraged and convicted to love their families, churches, and communities well for the cause of Christ. I will be posting a couple blogs to wrap up what I have learned and been encouraged by over the next few days, but today I wanted to briefly explain why conferences like these are important to pastors, especially those in independent denominations or churches.

Pastors can be encouraged by the fellowship and testimonies of others.

One of the great things about conference like these are that as a young minister they give us opportunities to share stories and prayers with other men working hard in the trenches of church ministry. Sometimes we can get so stuck in our own heads and focused on what is going on in our own churches that we forget to see the big picture of what God is doing in other churches just like our own. Sometimes you even run into pastors from your own communities. Last year at a revitalization conference while in a hunt for pre-conference coffee another pastor and I went on an exploration of DC looking for a good coffee place before the conference began, about 10 minutes into our journey we discovered we actually serve about 30 minutes apart and even graduated from the same small Bible college (though in different years). I was encouraged to hear what the Lord was doing in his life and the lives of the people he served. It was also great to receive some wonderful counsel and direction in my own personal life and ministry, from a man who had been in a similar situation not long before. It is connections like these that can make conferences so beneficial.

Now of course many guys will point out you can have this in your community, just pick up the phone and contact other pastors and hang out. Well for most pastors in their early years that’s exactly what we do, only to quickly find that that same desire for community among pastors is not as easy to find as many would hope, especially in many Reformed and Baptist circles. But if you are reading this blog than clearly you know that pastors working together and praying for each other and ministering together in different congregations in the same community is not impossible. Unfortunately, not everyone has those relationships and these conference help to build and create those relationships. While also giving opportunities for pastors to reconnect with friends who serve in different parts of the country.

Pastors are refreshed by the word of God preached and celebrated.

We get to hear the Word Preached. In case you are wondering sometimes it is hard to fit listening to the word of God preached into our pastoral schedules, and trust me there is nothing compared to sitting with other believers hearing the Word preached, podcasts just can’t compare to the real thing. Conferences like these allow pastors to join together to hear the Word preached by Godly men and applied to our lives of ministry in practical and God directing ways. In the case of FFY it’s a two-day experience under the Word of God. I learn so much when the Word of God is opened and preached in power through the work of the Spirit. While some practical aspects and plenary panels are encouraging, at the end of the day it is the preached word of God that is the fuel these conferences offer and give. Sometimes we begin to see ministry in a new light; sometimes it is a reminder to not lose sight of the reality of the work of God in the midst of your own struggles; and sometimes it opens you up to things you have been missing in your ministry or personal life that the Lord needs to take over leadership. The Word of God divides, convicts, and directs and in a conference like this it is two straight days of the Spirt and the preached Word at work.

Now as a pastor in an Elder led church I have the privilege of having time off to be able to hear the Word preached from godly men in my own congregation, this year I will have been given roughly 12 weeks out of the pulpit and in that time have been allowed to be encouraged by hearing the Word from my elders along with fellow staff members and at the end of this week a fellow minister, Matt Noble (fellow Publican), who will be covering our pulpit. Unfortunately, many pastors don’t have either the elders, pastoral relationships or the staff to be able to leave the pulpit for a week and just sit as a member of the church body and be encouraged. While we love to preach the Word it is also energizing to hear the Word preached. This week I am looking forward to hearing much from the Word.

So stay tuned Thursday for my wrap up of the first day.

Feed my Sheep

In 1877, Charles Spurgeon preached this sermon from John 21:15 to a pastors conference in London, and over a hundred years later he preached it to me.

It’s hard to believe the impact that Spurgeon has had on the history of the Christian church. His sermons, letters, and journals remain in print to this day. He is read and studied in seminaries. He is beloved by many, but in this passage that Spurgeon so eloquently exposits, he points to the real motivation behind it all; and that is the pastoral command to feed the sheep of God. But as we see in the passage there are other aspects that go into pastoral ministry. In this concluding passage of John, we find three: feed the sheep, follow Jesus, and don’t compare yourself to others.

A Distinct Call to Feed and Tend the Sheep

Jesus, three times to restore Peter to ministry, calls him to feed and tend the sheep. At the heart of this command is Jesus showing that He has not passed Peter by but has restored him. It is not the perfect and blameless that are being called to ministry, but the broken ones who love God and cherish making Him known. Only a few pages earlier in John’s text we see Peter deny that he even knew the Lord, but now the same Christ who he denied is calling him to lead and feed. This is an important feature of John’s gospel because it shows us that those who are called to teach and care for the flock of God are those who understand their own limitations and failures, and whom Christ restores not of their own merit but of His gracious gift. Peter did not earn God’s reconciliation. Jesus gave it freely, and the outflow of this reconciliation was the commission to feed and tend.

So for all who aspire to the role of elder and minister, this is the same commission given to you. Feed the sheep. The only thing we see worth feeding on is the truth of the word of God. It is the only thing, when coupled with the Spirit, that builds up a believer. We cannot be fed by anything less than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. His truth is what grows us and sustains us.  It is also the same Gospel that calls us to repentance and faithfulness. As we feed the sheep we also tend them. We point them to the Gospel and call for growth and reconciliation, calling each other to walk in holiness.

A Call to Follow

Now after Jesus finishes His command to feed and tend, He gives Peter another command: follow Me. Now this is a command Peter was very familiar with. It is the very one that began it all when Jesus called him out of the boat and into the life of a disciple. The command to ‘follow Me’ is the same command Paul will later give to the Corinthian Church, as he calls them to follow him as he follows Christ. The life of ministry is a life of following after Christ. A minister cannot love the sheep well if he is not in love with the true shepherd and learning from Him first and foremost.  We see this clearly in Jesus continual asking of Peter of His love for Him. He must love Him if he is going to follow after Him.

As the text tells us, Peters future would be one of hardship and death, but we also see that he endures the life set before him because of his love for Christ. It is the love of Christ that fuels the minister’s soul. It is the model that Jesus set before us that enables us to endure suffering and to preach the Word in spite of our culture and to seek forgiveness from those we have wronged while freely forgiving those who have wronged us. We are motivated by the love of Christ and model His love to others as we follow Him.

Don’t Compare

The final thing we see in Jesus’ discourse with Peter is a lesson we all must learn. The final words we have in John to Peter is to not concern himself with God’s will for another minister of the gospel, but to serve Him alone. Peter being Peter, sees John in the text and asks Jesus to explain what would happen to him also. In short Jesus says it’s not your concern, your job is to follow Me. Too often as ministers, it is easy to look at other ministry’s and churches and begin to compare what the Lord is doing, and somehow doubt that you are doing what God has called you to do, but as the text points out we are called to feed, tend, and follow.

Spurgeon may have been one of the greatest communicators and expositors of his day, but you know the vast majority of the world who came to know the Lord in the 1800’s probably never heard of the man. But they did hear about Jesus. They never heard a single sermon of his, but they heard the Word of God faithfully given to them by other faithful men, whose names we do not know. We today are the product of many faithful ministers of the gospel whose names are unknown to us, but not to God.

So in this world, most of us will go unnoticed by the world at large, but God sees us and knows us. We are not all destined to be mega church pastors, it is God who destines all things. We are but called to be faithful stewards of the Gospel. We are called to love and follow the Lord, teach the word, disciple the body, and judge ourselves on that alone.

John Knox: Remarkably Ordinary

Throughout this week I’m pointing you to three blogs that I’ve found helpful recently. Today, I point you a recent post on the Ligonier Blog by Douglas Bond about the Scottish reformer, John Knox. His example is one we pastors ought to follow and learn from. Enjoy the post below:

From the first page to the last of John Knox’s written works, the reader is brought relentlessly back to the source of Knox’s greatness: Christ was at the center of every dimension of his life. It is this, and this alone, that made Knox mighty in his weakness.

Peel back the layers and read between the lines—there is never a hint of false modesty in the man; his statements about himself, good or bad, are corroborated by those closest to him. His was an age when one did not admit weakness; devouring lions crouched in wait to crush weak men. Yet Knox unabashedly admitted his fears: “I quake, I fear, and tremble.” It was that honest admission of his frailty, and his corresponding reliance on Christ, that gave him such force against the enemies of the gospel. He was not posturing when he admitted his fears. Because he knew himself to be a man of inherent weakness, and because he was an honest, humble man, he could say without pretext, “I sought neither preeminence, glory, nor riches; my honor was that Christ Jesus should reign.”

When a man is so subdued by the grace of God in the gospel that such a self-assessment is, in fact, accurate, that man—love him or hate him—stands out in the crowd. Thus, Knox had preeminence in Scotland. Yet disproportionate to that preeminence, he had neither glory nor riches. He gained preeminence because, like so few, he did not seek it; he did not set out to rule his world for himself. There was no pretext when Knox wrote, “It has pleased His merciful providence, to make me, among others, a simple soldier, and witness-bearer, unto men.” As such, he bent every spiritual nerve of his existence “that Christ Jesus should reign.” Surrounded by men of higher birth and greater formal learning, Knox nevertheless emerged in 1559 as the undisputed leader of the Reformation in Scotland. He remarkably managed to do so without hipster apparel, video streaming, or social media. He was a mega-preacher in a world unencumbered by such a category. Yet he was a tender pastor, a simple shepherd guiding simple sheep to a profoundly great Savior. In all of this, despite his stature, about Knox there was an aura of grandeur and force that defies modern measure.

This excerpt is taken from The Mighty Weakness of John Knox by Douglas Bond.

Hearing the Voice of the Lord in Your Pastor’s Sermon

This week I’ll be posting the writing of other’s that I’ve recently found helpful. Today, I draw your attention to Danny Hyde who has given us 5 helpful ways to be better listeners during sermons. What follows is from Hyde over at Meet the Puritans:

“And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers” (1 Thessalonians 2:13).

Reformed churches believe God still speaks. While we do not believe he speaks via the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we believe that via preaching God’s voice is as real and vital to us as it was through the mouths and pens of prophets and apostles. How can we say this? Here’s the doctrine formulated as simply as possible: when a lawfully called and ordained minister (Rom. 10) preaches the Word of God and not his own words (2 Tim. 2:15) and does so in sincerity to honor God and not himself (1 Thes. 2:3–6), God speaks. His words are “not . . . the word of men but . . . the word of God.” In the words of Heinrich Bullinger (1504–1575): “Wherefore when this Word of God is now preached in the church by preachers lawfully called [per prædicatores legitime vocatos], we believe that the very Word of God [ipsum Dei verbum] is preached, and received of the faithful” (Second Helvetic Confession, 1.4). So how do you hear the voice of the Lord in your pastor’s sermon? Obviously I’m assuming the above is true of him. Here’s how:

1. Expectantly—“Lord, I expect you to speak” Since we gather together on the Lord’s Day to hear what Paul says is “not . . . the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God,” we need to come expectantly, crying out to God, “Lord, I expect you to speak.” This means that we need to prepare all week to hear him speak through the preaching of his Word on the Lord’s Day. We need to be preparing our hearts all week long with a spirit of anticipation. The prophet Isaiah spoke of our day, saying, the Lord’s mountain would be exalted and the nations would flow to his house: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths” (Isa. 2:3). Because of this we need to be saying to ourselves, “God’s going to speak. What’s he going to say? I can’t wait.”

2. Hungrily—“Lord, I need you to speak” When Sunday morning rolls around, we need to hear the Word hungrily, crying out, “Lord, I need you to speak.” Why? Why do we need him to speak through the words of men, which are in reality the Word of God? Because his Word is the food of our souls. In our age of instant gratification and having the world at our fingertips on our iPhones and Blackberries, we are ever-connected to each other and to information. But that feeling is passing. It does not last not does it satisfy our souls. Like our forefathers in the wilderness, our hungry souls need the Word. “Man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deut. 8:3). Like the prophets of old who ate their scrolls to signify the people’s need to have the Word within them to nourish them, so too we need to partake of the Word to satisfy our spiritual hunger. What kind of an appetite do you have? Do you want the empty calories, the quick sugar high of the devil’s words, the world’s words, your own words, and sadly, the words of so many professing Christian preachers today? What kind of appetite do you have? Do you want your ears tickled with promises of a better life now, health, wealth, and happiness? Instead, we are called to have an appetite for the Word like a nursing child has an appetite for milk. As Peter says, “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation” (1 Peter 2:2). Milk is nourishing. Milk is healthy. Milk is satisfying.

3. Attentively—“Lord, I will listen to you speak” To make best use of that nourishment we need to hear the Word attentively. During the sermon, we need to be praying, “Lord, I will listen to you speak.” This means every week and even every moment of the sermon, we need to be saying to ourselves, “These are not the words of Pastor ____, but what they are in truth, the words of God.” As we recognize that God is in our midst and that he is speaking, we will be able to give our attentive listening to the Word. This is why the Westminster Confession calls the “conscionable hearing” of the Word an act of worship. We are hearing God, and hearing him, giving our minds and hearts’ full attention to every last word. One example of hearing the Word attentively is in Deuteronomy 32:47. At the end of one of Moses’ last sermons, he exhorted the people to recognize the profundity of what was happening in that sermon: “For it is no empty word for you, but your very life.” Here is a challenge for pastors as well as for parishioners. Can you say of the preaching of the Word in your church that it is not empty? Can you say of the preaching of the Word that it is your very life? Let me challenge you with all that is in me to think of preaching totally different after this sermon. Let me challenge you to fight fatigue, to fight distracting thoughts, and to fight what the devil wants you to think about all this, that it’s boring. Worship is the place and the time where God speaks!

4. Faithfully—“Lord, I believe you when you speak” You need to leave worship saying to God, “Lord, I believe you when you speak.” I know this is difficult to believe that in preaching it is not the words of men but the words of God. I know it must be hard to believe that your pastor’s words are not merely his words but God’s words, given that you know that he is a mere man, a sinful man at that. Because of this receive the preaching of the Word by faith as God’s word to you. Because preaching must be received by faith, that faith is inevitably going to be an object of the devil’s temptation. We too easily give into the devil’s subtle designs on this point. How? He wants us to judge the minister with our eyes—his appearance, his fashion or lack thereof, or even the fact that he may wear a robe to signify his office but that turns you off to the content of what he preaches. The devil wants us to judge the minister with our hearts. Don’t ever tell him your gripes, but hold grudges, hold spite, and hold adverse opinions about him that you are saving as weapons for a later time. He wants us to judge the minister with our minds. How easy it is to fall into the trap that one of my college professors said parishioners fall into when he said, “Some people know just enough Hebrew and Greek to be dangerous.” We puff ourselves up in our minds so that we can do mental battle with the preacher. All this is so that we do not listen to him.

5. Obediently—“Lord, I will obey you when you speak” Instead, God wants us to hear the Word obediently. He wants us to leave, saying to him, “Lord, I will obey you when you speak.” The Thessalonians heard the Word, they received the Word, and they accepted the Word. And it was that Word that was “at work” in them. The Word is never fruitless, but is always fruitful. As the prophet Isaiah said, “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
 and do not return there but water the earth,
 making it bring forth and sprout,
 giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
 it shall not return to me empty, 
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
 and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isa. 55:10–11). Are you a doer of the Word and not merely a hearer? We need to learn how to fine-tune our spiritual senses that we are able to hear the Lord in a world of noise. We can do that as we listen expectantly, as we listen hungrily, as we listen attentively, as we listen faithfully, and as we listen obediently. Let me challenge you to do so that your life will be saturated with the Word in every part and guided by the Word at every turn of your life. Let me close with a wonderful quote that summarizes it all. The Puritan Joseph Alleine once said—and I pray this is true for us all: “Come from your knees to the sermon, and come from the sermon to your knees.” Amen.

The 4 Kinds of People in Your Church

I’ve been in and around pastoral ministry for 10 years now and over that time I’ve noticed that in every congregation there usually are 4 kinds of people present. I find these distinctions to be quite helpful because each group requires a different approach, and they need different things (that I want to be able to give them) from me as their pastor.

Now, not every person fits into one of these categories. I have been in all 4 myself over the years and I’m sure you have too. I’m sure you also will be able to tell who these people are in your church, well, that is, if your church is smaller rather than bigger. Though it’s rare, sometimes you will run across someone who doesn’t fit into any of these groups, but I’ve found it’s a rare exception. Most all people do fit into one or more of the following groups.

Shy Guys

These are folks who are timid and shy in large AND small group settings. This isn’t a bad thing at all. Shyness is a gift of God, for it keeps many people from sins they’d dive into if they were more extraverted or proud. What is tempting for this person is to sit back and hide, or fade into the background so no one notices them. And in their hiding they can easily begin to believe that they have nothing to offer their church. That’s a lie.

Shy guys need to be reminded that God has placed them in a specific church with other specific people for a specific purpose. A purpose which won’t be able to be completed if it weren’t for their contribution to the whole. This means in God’s sovereign plan He has so ordained that this shy person be in whatever church they find themselves to be in for their good AND the good of those around them. They have gifts, great gifts and abilities, that must be put into practice if the body is to be built up as it should. I’ve often found that it is the shy guys, as opposed to any other group, who thrive in one-on-one discipleship settings.

Pray for them, that God would make them bold and eager to jump in with all hands on deck.

Prideful Allies

These are folks who are proud and deeply desire to prove their usefulness and talents to you. Opposed to the shy guys above, these folks think they’ve got a whole array of gifts and abilities to offer the church, and that if those gifts are used often they believe the church will be ‘better’ than it is now. These people will normally ask you to lead something in the church within 10 minutes of meeting you, and upon doing so will promise glorious results. Beware this person. In the beginning they will seem like one of your biggest allies and for a time will actually be just that. But when asked to stick in for the long haul and become a committed member they usually leave quickly.

The sad thing about this group is that most of the time, they do have very developed gifts that are rare and could be very useful if put into practice. But, pride getting in the way usually prohibits them from actually doing so. The longing to lead isn’t a bad thing (see 1 Tim. 3:1), but the longing in this person isn’t to lead for the sake of the body as much as it is to lead for the sake of being seen in the spotlight.

Pray God would humble them in your ministry and give them more joy in humility than they thought was possible.

The Disenchanted 

These are the folks who have an exaggerated dislike of you as the pastor. For whatever reason everything you do is seen as suspicious and strange. This person usually doesn’t enter the church in this way. In order to be a disenchanted person they must have once been an enchanted one. It takes a series of events, or a one time event that changes a lot within the church to turn them into this kind of person. They once bought in to the vision of the church. They once looked on the pastor with respect. They once joined in and gave their life to this body of believers. They may have even been a part of leading to some degree. But now, for a reason (that is very real/meaningful to them) they are backing away slowly.

I’ve found this person is one who is hurt. Through certain events, or a major change at the church, the person no longer feels like a welcomed or appreciated member of the team and from this they grow discontent. In this anger (that’s really what it is) the person will see everything the church does as suspect and wrong, even if it is something they actually agree with. This is a sad story, every time, because I’ve found that these people don’t often let you know about their feelings until it’s too late. The hurt is real, deep, and prolonged. No one can survive for very long in that mode. So they give up after a while, assume the worst of the particular ministry (and minister), and their exit is often a hard one because they’ve been around for so long.

Pray for them, that God would give them an eagerness and excitement to join in again and contribute their own gifts to the ministry. Things may not look like what they want it to be, remind them that’s ok.

The Overenchanted

As opposed to the disenchanted person above, the overenchanted folks have an exaggerated love of you as the pastor. These are often folks who are new to the church and have only been around or been members for a year or less. The newness hasn’t worn off yet, which puts them in a ‘honeymoon period’ with the church. Everything the pastor says is fantastic, even if it’s wrong. Everything the ministry is doing or not doing is seen as justified, even if it’s wrong. Rose-colored glasses are on and in use at all times for this person, and they’re not aware of it.

Because of the heightened approval this person has for your ministry the danger is obvious isn’t it? Once the rose-colored glasses are taken off they could easily become a disenchanted person. Remind them of your sins, remind them you’re not perfect, that you struggle, that without good commentaries you’d be lost in sermon prep, and without God’s grace you’d be nothing. The sad thing about this case is that just as the disenchanted person see’s everything as suspect, the overenchanted person will see everything as glorious, even if it’s the pastor admitting his own weakness and need for help and grace. Remind this person that the kingdom is bigger than your particular ministry, that you’re not the best thing since sliced bread (you know you’re not right?), and that you really do need God’s grace to make it everyday.

Pray for them, that God would give them a true sense of the ministry, that He would remove their rose-colored glasses and create an honest and deeper enjoyment at your church.

I must end, but remember this. Acts 20:28 stands as the banner over these 4 kinds of people and really all kinds of people in our churches. ‘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.’

Pastor or church member, be faithful. Pursue these people, love these people, lead these people.

The Purpose of Church Staff

I think we’ve all been there before.  When you want to know about what a church is like you go to their website and click on one thing: CHURCH STAFF, or LEADERSHIP.  We do this because we know (for better or for worse) the church will look like or reflect it’s leaders.  So there you are, viewing descriptions of a church staff or its leaders: who they are, where they went to school, what their hobbies are, etc.  When you do this have you ever asked yourself the following questions: Why do churches have staff?  What are church staff supposed to do?  What is the purpose of church staff?

Most of us do not have the correct answers to such questions, but thankfully God gives us just that.  The right answer to this question comes to us in Ephesians 4:11-16 where Paul says:

And He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds, and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.  Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

What are church staff and what do they do?  See the multifaceted answer to this one question in this passage.

First, the what.  God gave His Church Prophets and Apostles.  It was these men who wrote the Scripture.  It is their teaching that provides the basis for all other sound teaching.  Thus the evangelists, teachers, and shepherds that God gives His Church are to be those who teach, not their own created doctrines or beliefs; but the doctrines and beliefs already given to us in the Scripture.

Second, the why.  God gives His Church teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry and  in this way the body of Christ is built up.  Pastors are teachers, who preach, teach, and labor not to do ministry, but to facilitate ministry.  Don’t get me wrong, pastors are to do ministry, but their ministry is to teach others to do ministry, so that the whole body begins to minister to one another.  In this way a congregation is built up into the fullness of Christ.

Third, the goal of church staff.  God gives His Church teachers and pastors so that the Church would be mature and united.  Maturity and unity is to come about as the pastors teach the congregation to do the works of ministry among the congregation.  When this happens a church will attain unity in faith and maturity and because of this they will grow up in every way in the Head of the Church, Jesus.

Fourth, the consequences.  When this is actually done rightly.  When a church hires church staff for the purpose of facilitating ministry rather than doing ministry, the congregation is built up in unity and maturity.  When there is unity and maturity ‘the manifold wisdom of God is communicated through the local church to the watching world.’ (Eph. 3:10)

Therefore, your church staff isn’t designed to do ministry for you, your church staff is designed by God to move you toward ministry and equip you for the work of ministry.  If your church isn’t mature or unified perhaps it’s because your church staff isn’t functioning in the manner God intends them too?