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Book Review: Pastoral Leadership Is..., by Dave Earley

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Something is wrong with pastoral ministry—at least Dave Earley thinks so. Introducing his book Pastoral Leadership Is, he laments that in the Western world we have “adopted an unbiblical model on pastoral leadership, that is killing our churches and harming our people” (1). Pastors have become “chaplains.” In truth, God has called them to be “spiritual warriors, missional leaders, and multiplying mentors.” The situation is dire, but the solution is at hand. We must return to “what the Bible says about pastoral leadership” (2).

BACK TO THE BIBLE

The book divides into five parts that collectively form an understanding of the pastorate. Pastoral ministry is “being a man of God,” “praying with power,” “teaching the word of God,” “equipping and leading others,” and “shepherding God’s flock.” These five major divisions are further subdivided into six smaller chapters apiece, which explore the larger theme in detail.

Easley makes good on his promise to plant our noses in the Bible. Scriptural references are copious throughout, and the ministries of Moses, Jesus and Paul—understood as paradigmatic for pastors—are prominent. These ministries involved three central responsibilities: prayer, the ministry of the Word, and equipping others to serve. These tasks are the essence of pastoral work. They are tasks which “every effective shepherd simply must do” (12).

At the same time, Easley does not overlook the character of the pastor: “Personal integrity and godly character are the foundations for authentic, God-blessed pastoral leadership.” (28).

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Five Reasons We Don’t Disciple (Part 1)

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Seven years ago Christianity Today magazine asked John Stott to assess the growth of the evangelical church. This was his reply:

The answer is “growth without depth.” None of us wants to dispute the extraordinary growth of the church. But it has been largely numerical and statistical growth. And there has not been sufficient growth in discipleship that is comparable to the growth in numbers.

Sadly, seven years on, that assessment still rings true. Although our growth has been wide as the ocean, it’s often about as deep as a puddle. Why is that? What is going wrong? Over the coming months, I’m going to suggest five reasons we don’t disciple—or at least don’t disciple well.

But first, what is the biblical rationale for discipling? There are many, but the key passage is Matthew 28:18-20:

Then Jesus came to [the eleven disciples] and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you...”

Now the question is, does this command (“go and make disciples...”) apply only to the eleven disciples Jesus was speaking to? Or does it apply to every Christian disciple?

Sometimes translations give the impression that “go” is the emphasis of the command—which is how the verse came to be the catalyst for the modern missionary movement. But the main verb of the sentence is “make disciples.” One commentator puts it like this: “Jesus’ commission here is not fundamentally about mission out there somewhere else in another country. It’s a commission that makes disciple-making the normal agenda and priority of every church and every Christian disciple.”

D. A. Carson draws the same conclusion:

...the injunction is given at least to the Eleven, but to the Eleven in their own role as disciples. Therefore they are paradigms for all disciples...It is binding on all Jesus’ disciples to make others what they themselves are—disciples of Jesus Christ.

Which brings me to a troubling question. If the Lord Jesus himself has commanded every Christian to “make disciples,” why isn’t everyone doing it? What is keeping our churches from being thriving communities of disciple-makers?

Let me suggest five reasons—one now, and four to follow in future columns.

WHY DON’T WE DISCIPLE? BECAUSE WE PREACH CHEAP GRACE

You’ll remember Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor and theologian. He defined cheap grace like this:

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.” (The Cost of Discipleship, 43-44)

When the gospel is preached in your local church, what do your people hear? Do they hear, “Of course you’ve sinned. But now everything is forgiven. Jesus paid the price for your sin. So everything’s taken care of.”

That’s okay as far as it goes. But it doesn’t go far enough. The problem is that this gospel contains no demand for discipleship. There’s no requirement for repentance. No holding out for holiness. Isn’t that at odds with Jesus’ insistence in Mark 8:34? “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

As the old truism goes, grace may be free—but it isn’t cheap. It cost Jesus his life. And it will cost us our lives too, if we want to follow him. The invitation may be extended to all, but only those who obey Jesus’ call—deny yourself and take up your cross—have received it.

And the question is, are we teaching this gospel in our local churches? Does our gospel contain the demand for discipleship? Or do we cough loudly over Mark 8:34, and relegate it to the small print, hoping no one will notice until after they’ve signed on the dotted line? Are we lowering the cost of discipleship in the hope that more will buy?

Another, related question: do we speak of God’s love as “unconditional”? If we do, we unwittingly contribute to the problem of cheap grace. Because in one sense, God’s love isn’t unconditional at all. Listen to what David Powlison says here:

“While it’s true that God’s love does not depend upon what you do, it very much depends on what Jesus Christ did for you. In that sense, it is highly conditional. It cost Jesus his life.” (God’s Love: Better than Unconditional, 11)

If we fail to teach the “conditionality” of God’s love, we’ll serve up cheap grace. Grace that requires no radical obedience, only a sleepy nod. Grace that cannot stir, only sedate.

The gospel is not conditional (“If you obey me, I will love you”). But neither is it unconditional (“I love you regardless of whether you obey me.”). The gospel is contra-conditional (“I love you even though you haven’t obeyed me, because my Son did.”). And the obedience of the Son on our behalf moves us to love and obey. As Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey my commands” (John 14:15).

My fear is that in our evangelistic desire to get “decisions” from people, we may have rendered many of those “decisions” meaningless. It is one thing to “pray the prayer,” another thing entirely to repent and believe. It is much easier to tread the sawdust trail than to walk the Calvary road.

HOW CAN WE MAKE GRACE “MORE EXPENSIVE”?

So what should we do (if I can put it this way) to make grace more expensive?

First, when we preach the gospel, it is tempting to preach only the identity and mission of Christ (“Jesus is the Son of God and he died for sinners like you.”). But we must also preach his call: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34).

Let none of our congregation be in any doubt: a Christian demonstrates that fact by denying self and taking up their cross. That means that in our gospel preaching, we must not forget the way Jesus himself preached the gospel. He called people to repent as well as believe (Mark 1:15). The two are inseparable. We must never drive a wedge between them in our preaching, as if “belief” is necessary to make someone a Christian, and then “repentance” is an optional extra for the really keen Christians. Neither are negotiable.

Second, when people ask us how they know they are truly in Christ, let’s not point to a prayer prayed, or an aisle walked. The biblical grounds for assurance is our continuing walk along the Calvary road, bearing the cross of shame, and also bearing fruit in keeping with repentance (Matt. 3:8).

Cheap grace may be easier to “buy.” It may help our churches to fill. But we will watch them fill with people who aren’t disciples, don’t particularly want to be, and therefore have no desire to disciple others. We will have created a culture where discipleship is essentially irrelevant.

Next time, I’ll suggest a second reason we don’t disciple.

Barry Cooper is the author or co-author of Christianity Explored, Discipleship Explored, One Life, The Real Jesus, and If You Could Ask God One Question. He blogs at Future Perfect, Present Tense and is helping to plant Trinity West Church in Shepherd's Bush, London.

Click here for part two of this series.

Topics: Discipleship

What Faith Isn’t and Is

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When people pursue faith in an unbiblical way, false converts are made, and the world is misled about what it means to follow Jesus. Pastors, therefore, need to keep an eye out for false faith, that they might separate the false from the true:

1. True faith is not deedless, but shows itself in deeds.

James asks what kind of faith is saving by asking about faith’s relationship to deeds. “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder” (James 2:19).  According to this passage, knowing the truth is not enough. It is possible to know about the truth, and be deceived.  So mere knowledge does not equate to a real saving faith. Rather, true faith shows itself in deeds.

2. It is not faith in yourself, but in God.

Walk into any Christian bookstore and you’ll see bestselling Christian books with self-help advice. Westerners today love talk of the God within. Yet we cannot save ourselves: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2:4-5). Following ourselves and believing in ourselves will not result in eternal life, but eternal death.

3. It is not faith in heritage, but in Christ.

Growing up in a Christian home is not what saves you. Having grandparents who are saved is not what saves you. If anyone had reason to place their faith in heritage it was Paul—“circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews,” and on and on he goes (Phil. 3:4-11). But all this is rubbish, he concludes—our heritage does not save us. Christ does.

4. It is not faith in faith, but in Christ’s completed work.

Much so-called Christian TV and radio programming today panders to what peoples' "itching ears" want to hear: the promise of earthly gain. Over and over again we hear the testimonies of businessmen who "turned on to Jesus" and saw their businesses double. “If you don’t have these things,” people are told, “it’s because you are not believing hard enough. So believe harder!” Notice two problems here: stuff (not Christ) is the end, and looking inward (instead of outward at Christ) is the means. Sadly, people take their eyes off of Christ’s finished work on the cross, and put them on themselves. But true faith does not look to itself, it looks to Christ, his work on the cross, a sacrifice that we know God accepted because he raised him from the dead.

5. It does not fail to repent, but changes direction.

Apart from repentance, faith is not real and it is not saving.  There are many people who say they believe in Jesus, but nothing has changed in their lives. They refuse to renounce the old way of living.  Repentance is not just feeling sorry for sin. Anyone can feel bad about sin. True repentance begins with sorrow, seeks forgiveness, and then culminates in a change of direction. A person turns around and starts walking the other way.

Real saving faith is repentance and trust in Jesus Christ as a living person for forgiveness of sins and eternal life with God. 

It is full reliance on Christ. He is the object.

It is the way of surrender, and evidences itself as real by the authentic crop it produces.

Ross Sawyers is lead pastor at 121 Community Church in Grapevine, TX.

Topics: Gospel

Steve Jobs and the Goal of Preaching

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The grind of preparing and delivering weekly sermons is a challenge for me in many ways, but the struggle to apply the text stands at the top of the list. At this point I’ve got more book learning than life experience. So, to borrow an image from Tim Keller, my preaching tends towards words that too rarely take on flesh. And the more obscure the passage, the more acute the problem.

About a year ago I was in the early weeks of a series on Hebrews, barreling towards those Melchizedek passages. And it was then that I received some help—at least on a conceptual level—from an unexpected source.

HOMILETICS CLASS WITH STEVE JOBS

A friend had loaned me a copy of Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, a captivating read. I was especially struck by a passage where Jobs describes his product development strategy and its relationship to market research:

“Some people say, ‘Give the customers what they want.’ But that’s not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do. I think Henry Ford once said, ‘If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, “A faster horse!”’ People don’t know what they want until you show it to them. That’s why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page” (567).

Job’s point is that it’s not enough to offer customers what they already think they need. He wanted Apple to be a transformational influence, which meant his goal was to expose and then meet needs and desires that customers didn’t realize they had. He was aiming at things that, in the minds and hearts of his customers, were “not yet on the page.”

With a little tweaking, I’ve found this Jobsian insight to be really helpful for pushing myself out of the realm of Bible trivia and into the realm of life transformation.

THE BIBLE DOESN’T JUST ADDRESS OUR NEEDS—IT DEFINES THEM

What makes Scripture glorious is the time-tested truth that it's not only God-breathed but "profitable" (2 Tim. 3:16). Surely one step in helping our people see its profitability is to know our people well. We need to get in their lives and in their minds so we internalize their questions, empathize with their struggles, and then apply the gospel where they need to hear it in our time and place. 

But there’s a danger here if we limit the goal of our preaching to so-called felt needs, those desires already “on the page.” If we limit our aim to these, we’ll be in trouble when we get to Melchizedek. In fact we're not likely to get to Melchizedek at all. Not many of us serve people who wake up thinking that what they really need to get through the day is a dependable high priest, preferably one in the order of Melchizedek.

But if the Bible is God-breathed and profitable, a covenant document preserved in total for our good, then all of it stands over us with authority to define our true condition and diagnose our deepest needs. And if this is true, preaching that submits to the Bible’s priorities and seeks to meet the deepest needs of our hearers will address needs that are not yet on the page. Part of our job as bridge-builders is to help people get a taste of their needs as the Bible defines and meets them.

Ford knew his customers wanted faster horses, but what they “needed” was the Model T. Jobs knew customers wanted thinner flip phones to leave more room for carrying around their Palm Pilots, but they “needed” pocket-sized computers that make phone calls.

We know our people want advice on how to make relationships more stable, peaceful, and fulfilling—certainly an important need which the Bible richly addresses. But we know our people truly need something even more fundamental. We have broken the relationship at the core of our lives. So we need a priest, a mediator to bridge the gap and make peace. And what we really need is a priest like Melchizedek. We need one who not only knows us inside and out but one who won’t die and pass our case on to someone else.

To faithfully communicate the whole counsel of Scripture in all its diversity, we must labor to free our people from the tyranny of felt needs so they can see beauty and life-giving goodness even in textual obscurity. It will mean looking at every text and trusting that it meets a real need of your people, and that your goal is to explain it to them. This kind of application takes work and gets nowhere without the illuminating power of the Spirit in us and in our people. But this is our target. Guided by Scripture, we go after what's not yet on the page.

Matt McCullough is the pastor of Trinity Church in Nashville, Tennessee and the author of “My Brother's Keeper”: Christian Nationalism, Messianic Interventionism, and the Spanish-American War of 1898 (University of Wisconsin Press, forthcoming).

April 2013

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Book Review: Brothers, We Are Not Professionals (new ed.), by John Piper

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I was fortunate to attend a very healthy seminary. That said, I recall being assigned a book in a pastoral ministry class that discussed the color of socks a pastor should wear. I also endured a lecture that instructed us to dress from the “upper third of your wardrobe.” While I’m confident my professor was a godly man and a wonderful pastor, this comment seems to owe a little too much to the professionalism that has taken root among American pastors. And a focus on appearance is just one facet of the professionalism which John Piper takes aim at in his recent, updated and expanded edition of Brothers, We Are Not Professionals.

This updated edition has a new introduction along with six additional chapters. The reason Piper gives for these additional chapters is that “they [have] pressed themselves on me. One for personal reasons like health (chap. 27 [Bodily Training]). One for family reasons relating to my own sanctification (chap. 22 [Act the Miracle]). Two for theological reasons where I felt I needed greater clarity or correction (chaps. 4 & 6 [God does make much of us & God is the Gospel]). And two in pursuit of being a better preacher (chaps. 13 & 18 [Bible oriented & Tone of Text])” (xi).                                                                

This re-release comes at the close of Piper’s 33 years as pastor for preaching and vision at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. As Piper looks back on the ten years since the release of the first edition he not only remains convinced of the need for this book, but believes that the “pressure to ‘professionalize’ the pastorate has morphed and strengthened” (ix). As such, the book, and in particular this new edition, would encourage and instruct many Christians, but its aim is pastors.

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Leading the Church While Leading your Family

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Seventeen years ago I went on a two-week trip to India and Korea to teach in a Bible college and some churches. Security at the airport was not as tight pre-9/11, so my family accompanied me to the gate. As I left my wife and three young children in the midst of a Michigan winter, my youngest daughter cried out "NOOOOO!" so long and so loud that the echo followed me down the jet way into the plane itself. She wasn't the only one who cried that day.

As I sat on the plane and tried to catch one last glimpse of them, I wondered, "What was I doing to my family? Was this trip really worth it? Was I right to do this? Couldn’t someone else have taught this course and preached these messages?" It was not the last time I would ask those questions.

Serving the church is not merely a job; it is an all-consuming responsibility that can threaten a family. The emergency hospital trips and the frantic calls from a heartbroken spouse never come when you are sitting at home, caught up on your to-do list, bored stiff, and hoping for a crisis to break the monotony. For most of us, our bodies may be home, but our full attention is slow to arrive.

There are always more visits to schedule, more people to counsel, more calls to make, more meetings to attend, more functions to pray at, more books to read, more emails to answer, more blogs to write (and read), more classes to take and teach, more work for the sermon(s), more degrees to finish or pursue, more, more, more, meaning that your family will get less, less, less. How many times have you come home late knowing that while you were trying to save your church, your wife was left alone trying to save your kids?

Can we really be effective pastors and good husbands and dads? Do we really have to choose between the church and our family?

In this article I’ll argue it does not have to be an “either/or.”

HOW TO LEAD WELL IN THE CHURCH AND HOME

Leading a church well and leading a family well are not mutually exclusive: “[An elder] must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive” (1 Tim. 3.4).

However, Paul is not only saying that an elder can lead both family and church well, but that he must. But how? Through the gospel! The gospel protects you from taking yourself too seriously and exposes the idols of your heart.

Don’t Take Yourself so Seriously

The gospel reminds me that I am a sinner prone to self-centeredness and self-righteousness. The fact that I am a pastor does not mean that I don’t have to confess my sin with my family when I have blown it. In fact, I need to take the lead in confessing when I have sinned against my family.

Your kids know that you are human. They see your underwear in the laundry and smell your breath in the morning. They’ve watched you try to fix that faucet, replace the water heater and drop your cell phone. You are not a perfect parent. You are going to overreact, over-promise, and forget. You are going to fail. You are a sinner. On many occasions, I’ve had to go into my kids’ bedroom and ask forgiveness for being a jerk. They forgave me. Some of my most humble moments in life have been sitting on my kids’ bed, while being patted on the back, hearing one of them say, “It’s okay, Dad. I sin too.” Respect is best earned through relationships built on love, rather than rules that can only make demands.

Christ Is a Better Savior than my Image

I am tempted to believe that if I am a perfect pastor, then others will think well of me, and I worship that approval. And in order to be a perfect pastor, I need to have perfect children. Therefore, I need to get my children to cooperate with my desires to be respected.

Thankfully, neither God nor my children have gone along with my desires. When my son was about four, we went to a funeral home to visit the family of an influential lady in the church who had died. After looking at her body in the casket, my son announced to her daughter that the lady had died because, “She ate too much.” That evening I updated my resume, believing that I would need it shortly. There were many situations with my children when I was forced to ask, “Am I more concerned about my children and the gospel, or about how their failures will reflect on me?”

Again, the gospel is clear. Christ alone is my hope, not my children. If I expect perfect behavior from them, I am demanding from them what only Christ can provide, and that expectation will crush them. They need to have the freedom to fail, so they too can experience grace. Along the way, my church family has seen our warts and imperfections. They did not have a perfect pastor, but that’s okay. They have a perfect Savior.

FOUR MORE PRINCIPLES TO PONDER

With those two things in mind, here are four more specific matters that have helped me navigate the leadership of my home while leading the church.

1. You Can’t Please Everyone.

First, you can’t please everyone. It is tempting to listen to a visitor tell you how terrible that “other church” is. They seem so sincere, so hurt. And so now, I am going to rush in and show them what a real church, a real pastor should be like. I will impress them with my sacrifice, my availability, and my attention to their needs. I can be a hero. I can restore their faith and rescue them. Really? Now, obviously, there are plenty of people who truly need care. But there are some people who do not want to actually deal with their issues; they just want attention from you. They don’t care if you sacrifice your children for them. They will take all that you offer and demand even more.

One summer, while I was on vacation with my family in Florida, a church member called to ask if I would do his aunt’s funeral—three and a half hours across the state. My wife was stunned. I am ashamed to admit that because he was new to the church, and I wanted him to think well of me, I agreed. I had to buy a suit, shoes, shirt, and tie, leave my family, and drive across the state, all to make a good impression. A few years later he left the church because he did not get to sing enough solos. Remember, if Jesus isn’t good enough for some people, what makes you think you will be?

Related to this is the reality that only God is omnipresent, not you. You simply cannot be in two places at the same time. It is tempting to break a promise to your family because, after all, “they will understand” that something has come up. The truth is, they will understand—they will understand that others matter more to you than they do.

2. Your Family Is Part of Your Church—or by God’s Grace Will Be.

Second, remember that your family is part of your church—or by God’s grace will be. Often people ask, “What is more important: your family or your church?” Yet as our kids were growing up, Cathi and I attempted to integrate our family and the church, and did things to involve our family in the church. For example, when appropriate, I took my children with me on home or hospital visits. One evening they sang to a lady who was dying from cancer in her home. Her husband never forgot this.

I discovered that while my children may have to share me with many people, they get to share in many things as well. They get to see the reality of death more than others. They get to see how a church family serves one another. They get to meet missionaries and other pastors. They get to unlock doors, turn off lights, fill the baptismal, fold bulletins, and make copies. They get to see so many things that others may take for granted, which can help them have a greater sense of ownership as church members.

If your children have professed faith in Christ and have become members of the church, they are part of your church in the fullest sense. If they are not members yet, you are preparing them for the day when, you hope, by God’s grace, they will become members of the church. In both cases, you are seeking to instill in them a love for the church.

Yet they are in the spotlight to some degree. You cannot prevent that. They are part of your qualification as a pastor (1 Tim. 3:4). But you can also help the congregation try to treat them like they would treat any other members’ children. I attempted to minimize the spotlight on my children by not using many family stories in sermons, and by ensuring that they had to play by the same rules as everyone else.

A word of caution: some people in the church will hurt you. It may be tempting to feel sorry for yourself and gossip in front of your children. There will be times when you feel taken advantage of and are tempted to play the “victim” card with your family. Please, guard them from that! In spite of the difficult days, it really is a privilege to carry water for the church and wash her feet. Let your children know what a privilege it is to serve the church. This is—or, Lord willing, will be—their family too.

3. Your Church Can Get another Pastor, but Your Kids Can’t Get another Dad.

Third, your church can get another pastor, but your kids can’t get another dad. There are times when we have to choose between an important event for our kids and an event for the church. When facing those decisions I have often asked, “Is this church event something that someone else can cover?” I also ask, “Is this event something that my child really needs me to be at?” Not every event in my child’s life is a really big deal. But if I knew the event was important to them, I did everything I could to be there.

4. Little Things Really Do Matter.

Fourth, little things really do matter. Every night when I would say goodnight to my children, I would usually pray with them and then my last words to them were, “I love you. I will always love you and there is nothing that you can do that will ever make me stop loving you.” (There were times I would have to add, “But don’t push it!”) I did this night after night, year after year, until when I started in they would say with a sigh, “Yeah, I know Dad, and there is nothing that I can do that will ever make you stop loving me.” And I would respond, “And don’t you ever forget it.”

I wanted them to know that what I attempted to do imperfectly was done for them perfectly by God through Christ. I wanted them to know their acceptance and security was not rooted in their grades, awards, achievements, and success as the world defined it. They heard this before solos, piano competitions, spelling bees, basketball and soccer games, final exams, college entrance exams, and every night before bed.

One day I was at a track meet for my youngest daughter. I was screaming loudly as she ran her event when my other daughter called from college in great distress. She was facing a test of monumental importance that would determine the success or failure of her entire degree program, and she felt that she was cracking under the pressure. Four years was resting all on this! I reminded her that she was not sufficient for this, but that her confidence and rest was in Christ. I was eleven hours away. With my fist pumping the air for my youngest who was crossing the finish line in record time, I cried with my other daughter and prayed with her to rest in Christ. Then I said again. “Remember, I love you, I will always love and there is nothing that you can do to ever make me stop loving you.” She knew I would tell her that and just wanted to hear it.

WORTH IT

When I became the pastor here, our son was two, Cathi was expecting our second child, and our third was several years away. Now, our kids are basically grown and gone from the house. It is a bit odd that after years of frenzy, loudness, laughter, and chaos, the home is rather quiet. We used to be the young pastor’s family but are now viewed as the seasoned warriors.

Any time with our children is a joy, but there is something that is even more delightful. Recently two of our children flew halfway around the world to serve on a team attempting to reach people on an island in the Mekong River in Cambodia who had never been exposed to the gospel. They left the day after Christmas. Sure, it took away “family time,” and perhaps someone else could have done it. But on that trip, they were able to get to the island and were some of the first believers ever to do so. Today, fourteen months later, there are a couple dozen believers there.

Bob Johnson is the senior pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Roseville, Michigan.

April 2013
© 9Marks

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format, provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 1,000 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be explicitly approved by 9Marks.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © 9Marks. Website: www.9Marks.org. Email: info@9marks.org. Toll Free: (888) 543-1030.

 

Topics: Pastoring

Book Review: The Imperative of Preaching, by John Carrick

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If you love biblical theology, if preaching in light of redemptive history is your jet fuel, if the gospel is life to you and not just a trendy buzzword, then you really need to read John Carrick’s book The Imperative of Preaching. Hang on and I’ll tell you why. But first things first.

MOODY PREACHING

Carrick advocates for what he calls “sacred rhetoric.” Essentially he has given us a theology of grammar. You heard it—a theology of grammar—which doesn’t sound terribly exciting, but is actually surprisingly helpful. The Bible, as you know, has sentences in it, and those sentences have moods, and those moods work on us in various ways. Why, therefore, shouldn’t sermons follow the same grammatical path? The preacher who has an ear, let him hear.

Take the indicative, for example, which is the mood of declaration. The New Testament brims with indicatives. This should come as no surprise, since the New Testament is full of gospel declarations. Likewise, sermons should have their fair share of indicatives. The text must be explained, truth must be unpacked, news of the gospel must be announced. The indicative appeals to the mind, and Christianity falls without it.

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Book Review: The Creedal Imperative, by Carl Trueman

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In The Creedal Imperative, Carl Trueman argues that, if a church hopes to “follow the pattern of the sound words” that has been entrusted to it (2 Tim. 1:13), that church requires a robust confessionalism.

Trueman begins the book with an anecdote about a preacher who held the Bible in his right hand and said, “This is our only creed and confession” (12). It is a statement that has a noble and pious ring, but it is ultimately false. Trueman aptly points out that everyone has a creed and confession; everyone holds to a particular summary and synthesis of what the Bible teaches (15). The difference is that some make their creed explicit by writing it down while others do not.

The Creedal Imperative demonstrates both the value of creeds and confessions for the life of the local church and the serious consequences that follow if we refuse to make our doctrinal beliefs explicit in writing. 

Click here to read the whole review.

Shepherding a Church through the Loss of a Shepherd

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Over time, we pastors grow accustomed to going straight from labor and delivery to the hospice floor. At the end of a worship service, we learn to grieve with those broadsided by tragedy only to laugh a few minutes later with those who want to share something with us that was really funny. These are roles we are expected to play. And if we are not careful, we can play the part well simply because we have done it so many times.

Recently Patrick McGoldrick, a friend of mine who served with me as an elder and pastoral staff member, was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). He died the day after Christmas, barely a year after diagnosis. This was my friend, my brother, and my colleague. He moved to Detroit (imagine that) in order to serve in this church, never realizing that he would die here and leave his family to our care. We served together for over 12 years. My children spent many hours in his care in his home, on mission trips, on camping trips, and at retreats and conferences with him and his wife and kids. My son served in an internship directly under his care.

So, when Patrick was diagnosed with this disease, it seemed surreal, but not for long. It was real and I needed to think about how to shepherd a shepherd who is dying.

SHEPHERDING A DYING SHEPHERD

Paul Tripp addresses pastors’ temptation to allow the ministry to define our identity (Dangerous Calling, 21). It is also a temptation for pastors to view other pastors that way. Was Patrick my friend only because we served together? Did I care for him because he was able to make such a worthwhile contribution to the church? Or, did I really cherish him as a brother, no matter what he could or couldn’t do? If I ignored him now because he could no longer perform, then it would be clear that I was not treasuring the gospel and that the church was no different than any other corporate endeavor, and perhaps worse.

So, I determined not to let Patrick be isolated. He should not go home and wait to die. Instead, taking a cue from John Piper, I sat down with Patrick and talked with him about how not to waste his dying. He was already thinking in that vein. Out of that conversation and subsequent talks he decided to start a website in order to keep the congregation updated. I asked him to preach one last time before he lost that ability. I told him that he could stay on the staff as long as he wanted and that his office was his for as long as he desired. He was welcome to come to staff meetings, elder meetings, and anything else as much or little as he wanted. My goal in all of this was to treat him as he is: a brother in Christ, nothing less.

The disease advanced rapidly. As Patrick’s ability to speak, walk, type, and even whisper eroded away, I attempted to keep him informed of what was going on at the church. I informed him of what we were discussing among the staff or the elders. I asked for his opinions and relied upon his counsel. I began to weave in stories of how he had impacted the lives of people. On other occasions, I would just stop by his house to watch a football game.

SHEPHERDING A CHURCH THROUGH THE DEATH OF A SHEPHERD

As Patrick drew closer to the end, our talks became more direct. I prayed with him and read the Word to him, sometimes through tears. He was a pastor who needed a pastor, a brother who needed a brother. He was a friend and a co-laborer who allowed me into some of the most intimate parts of his life. He and his wife told me and my wife of his diagnosis before they told just about anyone else. And I was one of the last people he would see before he closed his eyes for the last time. It was a huge gift of trust that he gave to me, a gift I will cherish for the rest of my life. Meanwhile, I had a flock who were hurting as much as I was. I needed to consider how to shepherd a church through the death of a shepherd.

This I found challenging. It has been said that every church has a choice: we can be a bag of marbles or a bag of grapes. Marbles only affect each other when they happen to collide. No marble changes shape, color or design. No marble really affects the life of another marble, and it really does not matter if there are 149 or 150 marbles in the bag. What’s one marble? But a bag of grapes is different. When a bag of grapes are in that bag for a while, the skin begins to break down and the grapes themselves begin to mesh with each other until every grape becomes part of the whole. Eventually, you cannot tell where one grape ends and other begins. If you took one part out, you would take out a part of every grape that was originally placed in there.

Now, that sounds attractive until you realize that every grape that goes into the bag is rotten. The whole thing can end up being a stinking mess. Pastoral ministry is living inside this mess, as one of the stinking grapes.

There are few things in life that will put you under such relentless scrutiny like the ministry. People talk about you: what you wear, what car you drive, where you live, how your children behave—or don’t behave. People scrutinize your hair, weight, choices, habits, vacations, schooling decisions for your kids, and hobbies. There is no way you can please every single person. Neither can you handle every situation in a way that will keep you from disappointing someone or shield you from criticism.

When that truth eventually hits you, it can be devastating. Your inadequacies are displayed before what seems like the whole world. What is the natural reaction to that? Most people would want to run and hide. I do not want you to see my inadequacies and weaknesses. You do not want me or anyone else to see yours. So, instead of being a bag of grapes, we choose to be a bag of marbles.

How then is a shepherd supposed to die as part of the congregation? It is not easy to live in full view of the flock. Do we have to die that way too? How much information should be shared? Does everyone really need to know every detail? How can well-meaning but at times un-informed people provide care so that it truly is care? I determined to give the congregation opportunities to express care for Patrick while protecting him from an onslaught of visitors that would not be helpful. The nature of the disease and other factors are going to call for different responses. But for us here is what we did.

  1. Patrick and I announced his diagnosis to the church at the end of a morning service. We took an extended time that morning to inform the congregation, then to read the Word. On that day the words of 2 Corinthians 4:16, “So we do not lose heart,” were etched on our hearts. It would be a phrase that we would return to over and over in the coming months.
  2. As I mentioned earlier, Patrick preached a sermon before his ability to speak was completely gone. This afforded the congregation and many other friends an opportunity to see and hear from him in an extended period of time.
  3. With the help of his wife, Patrick started a blog to let people know of the daily aspects of his life, and of his hope in Christ. Both the sermon and the blog became wonderful resources for people to share with unbelievers.
  4. Because Patrick had been our Student Ministries Pastor, on the Sunday when we would normally honor our high school graduates we had a student from every graduating class that had been under his care stand in order of their year of graduation. We had prepared a runner’s baton with the words of Hebrews 12:1-2 engraved on it. The graduate from last year took the baton from the current class and handed it to the representative from the next who handed it to the next until all of the classes were covered. At the hand-off each said to the other, “Press on, pilgrim,” until the last one handed it to Patrick and admonished him to “Press on” as well.
  5. Patrick, his wife, and I pre-planned his funeral service. We covered every detail that we could think of ahead of time so that when he died, we were able to put the plan into place.
  6. When Patrick died, I interrupted my series and preached the next two Sundays from 2 Corinthians 4 and 5. I did not want to waste his dying, nor his death.

This whole situation was made even more complicated by the fact that Patrick was a staff pastor, in the employ of the church. So what does a church with a dying pastor do about the logistical details like salary, health insurance, and all of the additional expenses? Our church budget, like many others, affords little wiggle room. On the one hand, you cannot cut a brother off financially, and yet how can you hire someone to serve in the now-unfilled ministry capacity when you do not have extra funds? Thankfully, we were spared some of that angst because several years ago our finance team took out a disability policy on the pastoral staff members. This proved to be extremely helpful. While it did not cover all of Patrick’s salary during the time of his illness, it covered a lot, and the church made up the difference as a gift. This enabled us to care for Patrick and his family and replace the position on staff at a reasonable time.

But even so, we found out that the level of detail we had to provide insurance companies could be exhausting. So, we had to learn very quickly to put things in writing not only for them but for us. If we made a commitment to “take care of that” we needed to write it down so that we all knew exactly what we were talking about and so that there were no hidden assumptions.

SHARING IN CHRIST’S SUFFERINGS

Ministering to my friend allowed me to experience a depth of pastoral care that I believe was helpful to him and satisfying to me. To get that close to someone is not only an opportunity to show them Christ, it is an opportunity to know Christ and to share more fully in his sufferings. It was also a much-needed reminder of the personal care that every member of the flock needs.

Bob Johnson is the senior pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Roseville, Michigan. 

March 2013
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Being informed on challenges to religious liberty

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In a recent post, I argued that the end of 2012 and beginning of 2013 have left American evangelicals with a growing sense of their own disenfranchisement in the public square. Christians will have different responses concerning whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. But one thing I hope that Christians can agree upon is that Christians should pray "for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness" (1 Tim. 2:2).

I don't want conflate this text with every argument you might find for religious liberty, particularly those which depend upon some idea of the supreme and autonomous individual. Yet I do think this text encourages Christians to pray and possibly work for something like religious liberty. Let me try putting the verse in my own words: pray for your political leaders, that they would write constitutions, pass laws,  build institutions, and make judgments which, among other things, would permit churches to exist and for Christians to live according to their understanding of biblical godliness and holiness, never required by their political leaders to contravene the commandments of Scripture.

What do you think--a fair rendering?

As you may know, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has chosen to apply the Affordable Care Act in a manner that requires non-church organizations of over 50 employees to provide insurance which covers contraception and abortifacient drugs. And the question at stake here is whether requiring an employer to provide this kind of insurance is requiring them to contravene the commandments of Scripture and is therefore a violation of religious liberty.

In order to educate its own members as well as the community at large, Capitol Hill Baptist Church invited a representative of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty to explain how the HHS mandate is a violation of religious liberty. Westminster Seminary's Carl Trueman was also on hand to offer his two cents on the matter.

I am posting the video of this event because I believe churches and their leaders should take the time to inform themselves of what's at stake with the HHS mandate. Plus, members of the public have an opportunity between now and April 8 to officially comment on the coverage of certain services under the Affordable Care Act.   

Watch a video by Henry Forum: The HHS Mandate and Challenges to Religious Liberty