Archive for ‘Pastoring’


Learning Leadership from Tom Kirkman

I’m a bit relieved that ABC did not renew Designated Survivor for a third season.  The plot intrigue fizzled out fairly fast.  The storylines got too far-fetched and predictable as the second season went on.  But Andrea and I were hooked on the character of Tom Kirkman (played by Kiefer Sutherland).  He is decent, a trait absent in most real life politicians.  Kirkman definitely wasn’t Jesus, but I think he bore resemblances that attracted viewers to him.  I learned a lot about leadership from watching him.  This scene in the series finale sums it up.  Michael J. Fox’s character (Ethan West) concludes his investigation into Kirkman with these words:

West: Everyone’s working an angle.

Kirkman: And you’re just realizing that now?  How long have you been in Washington?

West: Long enough to recognize someone who’s not working an angle… and that’s you.  You don’t scheme.  You serve.


May pastors and other Christian leaders be decent, honorable, principled, and not be scheming, but simply serve God and others.

“A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest.  And he said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors.  But not so with you.  Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves.  For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves?  Is it not the one who reclines at table?  But I am among you as the one who serves'” (Lk. 22:24-27).


Radio Interview

Dan Ehrman recently interviewed me for Leading the Church on AM 1160.  In it I share my story of coming to faith, call to ministry, coming to Chicago, and some lessons learned along the way.  You can listen to it here –


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.”


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.


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.


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).


Making the Ask

Justo Gonzalez tells the story this way:

Calvin arrived at Geneva in 1536 with the firm intention of stopping there for no more than a day, and then continuing his journey to Strasbourg. But someone told [William] Farel [the leader of the struggling Protestant movement there] that the author of the Institutes was in town, and the result was an unforgettable interview that Calvin himself later recorded. Farel, who ‘burned with a marvelous zeal for the advancement of the gospel,’ presented Calvin with several reasons why his presence was needed in Geneva. Calvin listened respectfully to the other man, some fifteen years older. But he refused to heed Farel’s plea, telling him that he had planned certain studies, and that these would not be possible in [Geneva]. When the latter had exhausted his arguments, and failed to convince the young theologian, he appealed to their common Lord, and challenged Calvin with a dire threat: ‘May God condemn your repose, and the calm you seek for study, if before such a great need you withdraw, and refuse your succor and help.’ Calvin continues his report: ‘these words shocked and broke me, and I desisted from the journey I had begun.’ Thus began his career as the reformer of Geneva.

From The Story of Christianity: Volume 2 (Peabody: Prince Press, 2005 [1985]), 65.

The question another pastor friend of mine here in Chicago put to me was: Can we do that??? I don’t know. Maybe the next time someone useful for the mission here comes to tell me he’s sailing away I might just try calling down a curse from heaven on him and see what happens.


For Preachers this Sunday Morning

Here is a great reminder from D.A. Carson:

When I was a young man, I heard D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones comment that he would not go across the street to hear himself preach. Now that I am close to the age he was when I heard him, I am beginning to understand. It is rare for me to finish a sermon without feeling somewhere between slightly discouraged and moderately depressed that I have not preached with more unction, that I have not articulated these glorious truths more powerfully and with greater insight, and so forth. But I cannot allow that to drive me to despair; rather, it must drive me to a greater grasp of the simple and profound truth that we preach and visit and serve under the gospel of grace, and God accepts us because of his Son. I must learn to accept myself not because of my putative successes but because of the merits of God’s Son. The ministry is so open-ended that one never feels that all possible work has been done, or done as well as one might like. There are always more people to visit, more studying to be done, more preparation to do. What Christians must do, what Christian leaders must do, is constantly remember that we serve our God and Maker and Redeemer under the gospel of grace.

From Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor: The Life and Reflections of Tom Carson (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008), 92-93.


No Need To Worry

Phil Ryken
Phil Ryken was asked –

As a long time pastor and now college president, what is one piece of advice you would give to a young pastor or church leader?

His answer –

Keep it simple. The Christian life is only as complicated as we make it. So trust absolutely in the goodness, the grace, and the sovereignty of God. There is no need to worry about anything. If you have a need, God will supply it. If you lack wisdom, he will give you direction. If you have trials, he will bring you through. If your gifts are limited—as everyone’s are—his Spirit will still be able to use what you offer to make an eternal difference for Christ and his kingdom.

You can find the whole interview here.


When Others Are More Fruitful

Our church has recently helped plant another church. They meet in our space on Saturday nights and have packed the place out. Yesterday they launched another site on Sunday mornings. The space seats 159 and they had 187 in attendance! Many non-believers were present and many conversions are happening!! It’s awesome!!! It really is.

Meanwhile, I’ve been going at it for almost nine years and seem to be preaching my church into a remnant 🙂 I finished reading Zack Eswine’s Sensing Jesus: Life and Ministry as a Human Being this weekend and was so blessed by it. This section pokes at the heart of a pastor and displays our ludicrous temptations:

Two men left home to plant a church in a city of need. One arrived prior to the other. He dreamed of a city reached for Jesus with the gospel. Through this prior pastor, people came to know Jesus, believers gathered, and a community of Jesus followers was born. It was slow work, but it was happening. His prayers were being answered.

In time, he began to meet with the one who arrived later, in order to encourage the newcomer. The old-timer and the newcomer prayed for Jesus to reach the city for the gospel. Through the newcomer pastor, people came to know Jesus, believers gathered, and a community of Jesus followers was born.

Ten years later, the one who had come first pastors an ordinary church. Its two hundred-plus members demonstrate the love of Jesus in ways that did not exist there ten years earlier. The newcomer who came second pastors a famous church. Its thousands of members and multiple sites around the city demonstrate the love of Jesus in ways that did not exist there ten years earlier. The prayers of both men were answered. Why then is one of them sad?

From page 282.