Archive for ‘Ministry’

05/09/2017

Calvin’s Company of Pastors

I gather monthly with a group of like-minded pastors for fellowship and to discuss pastoral ministry.

 

Lately we’ve been reading together Scott Manetsch’s Calvin’s Company of Pastors: Pastoral Care and the Emerging Reformed Church, 1536-1609 (Oxford UP, 2013).  This is from the Epilogue:

 

The task of the historian is not simply that of an antiquarian who dusts off ancient artifacts that are roped off from the general public with a sign reading ‘do not touch.’  The study of religious history invites, even compels, us to investigate the past with an eye toward the present, to explore the foreignness of history with the expectation that ‘cultural immersion’ of this sort will not only expand our knowledge of peoples and events but also enrich our experience by providing needed perspective, timely wisdom, apt warnings, and precious glimpses into the failings, the beauty, and the sheer complexity of the human condition.

Manetsch then provides four final observations and insights for pastoral life today gleaned from its practice back then.

(1) “The vocation of Christian ministry is a difficult one.”   “Pastoral effectiveness in Geneva required courage, a clear sense of vocation, thick skin, a generous dose of humility, and solid Christian faith.”

(2) “The importance of accountability and collegiality in pastoral work.”  “Contemporary Protestantism, with its infatuation for robust individualism, celebrity preachers, and ministry empires, has much to learn from the example of Geneva’s church.”

(3) “The leading role that the Scriptures played in Calvin’s Reformation, suggesting the central importance of God’s Word for Christian renewal in our own day.”

(4) “The ministry of pastoral care.”  “In our modern world where men and women so often struggle with spiritual dislocation, fractured relationships, and deep-seated loneliness, Calvin’s vision for pastoral oversight that includes gospel proclamation and intense relational ministry appears especially relevant and important.”

04/27/2017

Pastor Moses

I’m finishing up Deuteronomy this Sunday and coming to the end of 10 years in the Pentateuch.  It’s actually kind of emotional.

 

In the conclusion of his commentary on Deuteronomy, Dan Block draws several lessons for pastoral ministry from Moses’ life:

The pastoral ministry of Moses is paradigmatic.  All who are called to divine service should surely emulate his passion for the agenda to which God has called them, his determination to preach only in accordance with the revealed will of God, his plea for gratitude for the grace of God in salvation and providential care, his call for wholehearted and full-bodied obedience to God’s will as the proper response to divine grace, his realistic view of his congregation, his vision of the church in God’s program of salvation for the world (Deut. 26:19), his refusal to erect monuments in his own honor, and his confidence in God to do his work by his means.  The flavor of ministry that arises from these commitments differs greatly from the self-serving, egotistical, and pandering paradigm of ministry that drives so much of the evangelical world.

Daniel I. Block, Deuteronomy, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 817-18.

03/21/2017

The Loneliness of Leadership

From Peter C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy, NICOT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976), 373:

[Deuteronomy 31:]23     After addressing Moses in the tent, the Lord then speaks to Joshua, who was soon to assume the office held for so long by Moses.  Be strong and be courageous – see also vv. 6, 7 (above).  The words that would be the source of continuing strength to Joshua come at the end of the verse: I will be with you.  Of the forms of loneliness that a man can experience, there are few so bleak as the loneliness of leadership.  But Joshua assumed his lonely role with an assurance of companionship and strength.  God’s presence with him would be sufficient to enable him to meet boldly every obstacle that the future could bring.

01/05/2017

Compensatory Godliness

I feel like a very mediocre preacher, counselor, and leader.  I pray that I will grow more and more in godliness that can make up for it as Tim Keller describes here:

There are three basic roles or functions that a Christian minister has: preaching, pastoring/counseling and leading.  No one is gifted or equally gifted in all three areas and yet we must do them all.  The greatest factor in the long-term effectiveness of a Christian minister is how (or whether) he covers his necessarily gift-deficient areas with his character.  Most of the leadership literature does tell us to know our deficits, our gift-deficient areas.  But it usually tells us to surround ourselves with a team of people with complimentary gifts.  That is helpful, if you can pull it off.  But even if you can, that is not sufficient, for your gift-deficient areas will undermine you unless there is compensatory godliness.  What do I mean?

a) You may not have strong public speaking gifts; but if you are very godly, your wisdom, love and courage will mean that you will be interesting.  b) You may not have strong pastoral or counseling gifts (e.g. you may be very shy or introverted, etc.); but if you are very godly, your wisdom, love and courage will mean that you will comfort and guide people.  c) You may not have very strong leadership gifts (e.g. you may be disorganized or very cautious by nature); but if you are very godly, your wisdom, love and courage will mean that people will respect and follow you.

Timothy J. Keller and J. Allen Thompson, Church Planter Manual (New York: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2002), 63.

09/28/2016

Fresh Dose of David Wells

I first read David Well’s No Place for Truth back in the late 90s.  I praise God for leading me to good books in my formative years!  Every few years I need to get a fresh dose of David Wells and thankfully every few years he publishes a new book in this same vein.  Right now I’m reading the latest – God in the Whirlwind (Wheaton: Crossway, 2014).

There are, in fact, gut-wrenching changes taking place in our Western societies.  Our world is being shaken to its very foundations.  Instead of offering great thoughts about God, the meaning of reality, and the gospel, there are evangelical churches that are offering only little therapeutic nostrums that are sweet but mostly worthless.  One even wonders whether some current churchgoers might even be resistant were they to encounter a Christianity that is deep, costly, and demanding.

That is why we must come back to our first principles.  And the most basic of these is the fact that God is there and that he is objective to us.  He is not there to conform to us; we must conform to him.  He summons us from outside of ourselves to know him.  We do not go inside of ourselves to find him.  We are summoned to know him only on his terms.  He is not known on our terms.  This summons is heard in and through his Word.  It is not heard through our intuitions.

These are our most basic principles because they deal with our most basic issues and our most basic calling.  That calling is to know God as he has made himself known and in the ways that he has prescribed.  We are to hear this call within the framework he has established.  He is not there at our convenience, or simply for our healing, or simply as the Divine Teller handing out stuff from his big bank.  No, we are here for his service.  We are here to know him as he is and not as we want him to be.  The local church is the place where we should be learning about this, and God’s Word is the means by which we can do so.

05/18/2016

Oaks not Mushrooms

Chapter 7 – “The Growth Chart of the Christian Life” – in Tony Reinke’s book Newton on the Christian Life: To Live Is Christ (Wheaton: Crossway, 2015) came at just the right moment for me this week, when I’ve been discouraged and impatient.  There’s so much wisdom in this chapter!

It closes with this quote from Newton:

Remember, the growth of a believer is not like a mushroom, but like an oak, which increases slowly indeed but surely.  Many suns, showers, and frosts, pass upon it before it comes to perfection; and in winter, when it seems dead, it is gathering strength at the root.  Be humble, watchful, and diligent in the means, and endeavor to look through all, and fix you eye upon Jesus, and all shall be well.

And these words from Reinke:

In our impatient smartphone culture, this may be the most important takeaway from Newton’s three letters on the growth of grace in the Christian life.  Sync your spiritual expectations to the leisurely agricultural pace of God.  Live simply and live patiently, knowing that God is growing you for the ages.  Be patient and faithful in the ordinary means of grace.

Faithful pastor, don’t fuss over the imperceptible growth in your flock.  Let God’s timing recalibrate your expectations for what maturity will look like in them.  Although the progress is often unseen, and your pastoral labors never end, the Spirit-born fruit is growing.  Celebrate even the smallest evidences of maturity you see.  Christian, don’t fuss over your current mood as a gauge of your spiritual health, but keep two eyes focused daily on the Christ who hung on a tree (158-59).

04/16/2016

Cooperation in Theological Unity

Here’s my latest article for the Illinois Baptist newspaper.

I often find myself at denominational functions looking around the room and wondering, “What is it that really brings us together here?”  Is our unity based simply on an expressed common desire to reach the lost?  Or do we gladly join together in mission because we have deeply shared doctrinal convictions?

 

Did you know that there is actually a lot to be found in the little books of the Bible?  One way to read 2 and 3 John (which combine for a total of just 28 verses) is to put them side-by-side as two crucial lessons in cooperation.

 

Here is the background to both books: a church planting movement is taking root in the Roman world furthered by traveling missionaries who depend upon support from other Christians, primarily in the form of food and lodging.

 

In 2 John the tone and feel is one of caution.  “Many deceivers have gone out into the world.”  “Watch yourselves.”  The emphasis is on getting the gospel right.  Specifically, some of these traveling missionaries “do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh” – what has been referred to as the “Gnostic heresy.”  John speaks soberly of remaining in Christ’s teaching and not going beyond it.  He then directs genuine believers – “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your home… for the one who says, ‘Welcome,’ to him shares in his evil works.”  In other words, don’t cooperate with everyone!

 

The tenor is different in 3 John.  Here John is commending a “dear friend” for his generosity to certain missionaries.  The emphasis in this mini-epistle is on getting the gospel out.  “You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God.”  These missionaries “set out for the sake of the Name” and trusted God to provide through his people.  “Therefore, we ought to support such men,” says John.  He even calls out a guy named Diotrephes for his independent spirit.  “He not only refuses to welcome the brothers himself, but he even stops those who want to do so.”  Don’t be like Diotrephes.  Don’t cooperate with no one!

 

2 John teaches us not to make our tent too big.  3 John encourages us not to draw our circle too small.  We need both messages.  Notice the disproportionate amount of times that the words truth and love occur in these two short letters.  We absolutely cannot disconnect them.  There are people who have great drive, but do not have good doctrine.  We have to be discerning about who we partner with.  On the other hand, there are Christians who are cranky and overly separatist.  We must be large-hearted and kingdom-minded.

 

Because of 2 John I know that the Apostle John would applaud the “Conservative Resurgence” in the SBC.  Is it not amazing that we have six top-notch seminaries that are committed to robust and orthodox theological training?

 

At the same time, based on 3 John I am pretty certain that the Apostle would thoroughly endorse the concept of the Cooperative Program and be thrilled with our North American and International Mission Boards.  It is wonderful that we have state and local associations.  And is it not telling that we have Directors of Mission and not District Superintendents?  We are the people who come up with campaigns like “Million More in ’54.”  And I love that I live in what was once a Strategic Focus City, now a SEND City.

 

However, we have not always gotten this balance right.  At times I have seen people approved for work in the SBC based on their passion without an examination of their doctrine.  And at other times I have seen people who were well qualified turned away because of a technicality.

 

In all of our missional zeal, may we will never fudge on doctrinal clarity.  And in making sure we are all on the same page about what the gospel is, may we make sure we are doing whatever it takes to get the gospel out.  If we are truly faithful to Scripture we will heed the lessons of both 2 and 3 John.  But there just might be something to the fact that 2 John comes before 3 John.

04/07/2016

No Desire to Lead

This quote could appear a little too mystical in some ways and we might think of Paul’s holy ambition (Rom. 15:10) and the trustworthy saying – “If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task (1Tim. 3:1) – but there’s something convicting about Tozer’s words here:

A true and safe leader is likely to be one who has no desire to lead, but is forced into a position of leadership by the inward pressure of the Holy Spirit and the press of the external situation.  Such were Moses and David and the Old Testament prophets.  I think there was hardly a great leader from Paul to the present day but that was drafted by the Holy Spirit for the task, and commissioned by the Lord of the Church to fill a position he had little heart for.  I believe it might be accepted as a fairly reliable rule of thumb that the man who is ambitious to lead is disqualified as a leader.  The true leader will have no desire to lord it over God’s heritage, but will be humble, gentle, self-sacrificing, and altogether as ready to follow as to lead, when the Spirit makes it clear that a wiser and more gifted man than himself has appeared.

04/04/2016

The “Theology Church”

If I’m not mistaken, our church is known around town as the ‘theology church.’  I don’t say that to pat my own back.  After all, taking theology seriously is no guarantee of spiritual fruitfulness and Christlike maturity.  Being known for faith, hope, or love might be safer than a reputation for theological erudition.  Still, all things considered, I’ll take ‘theology church’ over the ‘church that recycles batteries,’ the ‘church with Xboxes in the youth wing,’ or the ‘church with the gnarly fog machine.’

Kevin DeYoung in Kevin J. Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan, The Pastor as Public Theologian (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2015), 98.

02/23/2015

The Preacher’s Own Experience Of What He Talks Of

A.W. Tozer said:

It is especially important that Christian ministers know the law of the leader – that he can lead others only as far as he himself has gone…

The minister must experience what he would teach or he will find himself in the impossible position of trying to drive sheep. For this reason he should seek to cultivate his own heart before he attempts to preach to the hearts of others…

If he tries to bring them into a heart knowledge of truth which he has not actually experienced he will surely fail. In his frustration he may attempt to drive them; and scarcely anything is so disheartening as the sight of a vexed and confused shepherd using the lash on his bewildered flock in a vain attempt to persuade them to go beyond the point to which he himself has attained…

We cannot take our people beyond where we ourselves have been, so it becomes vitally important that we be men of God in the last and highest sense of that term.

So true and so challenging.

And yet, wherever we are spiritually we will always feel that we have not yet attained all that we desire. J.I. Packer, in the preface to Knowing God wrote:

I do not ask my readers to suppose that I know very well what I am talking about. ‘Those like myself,’ wrote C.S. Lewis, ‘whose imagination far exceeds their obedience are subject to a just penalty; we easily imagine conditions far higher than any we have really reached. If we describe what we have imagined we may make others, and make ourselves, believe that we have really been there’ – and so fool both them and ourselves.