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.

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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.

 

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.