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9Marks Explained : A Letter From Mark Dever


The Beauty of Marriage in One Sentence

I just finished Tim Keller's Counterfeit Gods.  As every other Christian in the blogosphere will tell you, it's awesome.  But it was something at the very end of the book, in the acknowledgments, that really got me.  In thanking his wife, Keller quotes John Newton writing to his wife Polly:It is no wonder if so many years, so many endearments, so many obligations have produced such an uncommon effect, that by long habit, it is almost impossible for me to draw a breath, in which you are not involved.I don't know if anyone has ever better summarized the beauty of marriage in one sentence.

Parenting Your Enemies

A great point from Gospel-Centered Family by Ed Moll and Tim Chester: Oftentimes parenting can feel like a battle. And the "enemy" is your two-year-old who's just thrown their dinner on the floor (again); or your fifteen-year-old, who's just slammed the door on you (again). But still your job is to show them what our Father in heaven is like. Yes, they need to learn to live under authority. But they also need to learn of a God who welcomes His enemies, loves His enemies and gives His life for his enemies. If you're looking for a good, user-friendly guide to parenting for groups or individuals, I highly recommend GCF.  You can read a sample chapter at The Good Book Company site.

The Wives of Pastors

Welcome Owen and Kevin! I look forward to reading your insights here.A few weeks ago Deepak asked a question about the expectations churches have for pastors's wives. I'm thankful that Mt. Vernon, the church I serve, has been very protective of my wife and has cared for her well. They have given her opportunities to serve but have not made her feel like she has to do anything as "the pastor's wife." I know they want her to be able to support me and our kids. It's a great situation. But there is more. As I've seen the Lord use my wife to undergird the ministry I'm in, there are a couple things I've come to expect.First, I've come to expect my wife to see herself as a missionary with me. Of course, every Christian couple should see themselves as missionaries wherever they are. Still, I think there is something unique about being in full-time ministry. For us this has meant living far from relatives and committing ourselves to model lives of discipleship and evangelism. I would not have gone into full-time ministry if my wife didn't share this desire with me. Pastoral ministry is just too demanding for us not to be on the same page.Second, I've come to expect my wife to speak the gospel to me. I need to rely on Christ alone. But I'm so thankful to see how God uses my wife in my life. When I'm discouraged, when I'm losing perspective, when I'm not seeing things clearly, my wife often reminds me of what is true: I'm a sinner who has been saved by the atoning work of Jesus Christ. It may sound simple, but I am hugely helped when she speaks the gospel to me: lovingly, sharply at times, and consistently.So, I do have some expectations for my wife. I'm sure there are 1,001 other things she does that enable me to serve as a pastor, but these are two expectations I've come to appreciate.

Great Expectations, and why we should never have heard of William Carey.

Deepak, Thanks for the great question about pastors' wives.Thabiti, thanks for the great response.As someone who made his greatest ever decision in his life (that wasn't effected by irresistible grace - though she's pretty irresistible) in asking Hannah to marry me, let me give unmarried (would-be-)pastors some tips on looking for a woman who will make an exceptional pastor's wife.1) Recognise that an exceptional pastor's wife is someone who will be exceptional at encouraging you to be a faithful pastor. This means first of all that you will have someone who loves Jesus, and loves to see you love Jesus. Whenever I act in transparently sinful ways, I'm so thankful for a wife who is quick to encourage me to spend time in the word and on my knees. Though there are no biblical qualifications for pastors wives, I think it is a practical necessity that a pastor has a wife who deeply loves Jesus. If not, he has enough pastoral work to do within his family without seeking pastoral responsibilities outside of it. 2) Don't marry a woman who has as her life's ambition the desire to be an exceptional pastor's wife. If, as Thabiti so rightly said, "pastor's wife" is not a biblical office, look for a woman who will be a great wife and mother. A woman who particularly wants to marry you because you are a pastor may have all kinds of pre-conceived expectations of what her life might look like in that role, but it is very likely that just trying to be a faithful wife, and, Lord willing, mother will not be high enough on her agenda. When Hannah and I started talking about marriage, she was willing to be a pastor's wife because she wanted to marry me. Don't go marrying someone who is willing to marry you because she wants to be a pastor's wife.3) Before marrying, make it clear that you feel that the Lord would have you serve as a pastor. When you are married, however, recognise that the possible places where you will serve the Lord will be made clear to you in part by the response of your wife to particular opportunities. So, if you decide that the Lord calls you to go to be a missionary in India, and your wife makes it clear that she is unwilling, recognise that the Lord is saying through your wife "no, not now". If you still really feel the Lord would have you in India, pray for a change of heart in your wife, but don't go "with or without her consent". I'm grateful for the Lord's providence in using Carey's decision to go to India without his wife's consent. However, I don't think that this decision should ever be a model of how we prioritise ministry to the world over ministry to our wives, however strategic that ministry might be. OK Carey fans, shoot me down...

If You Can, Take a Church When Your Wife Is 4 Months Pregnant

Hey Mike,
Don't worry, man, I'll be in your session cheering you on.  Of course, I think I'm introducing you and your topic.  But it'll be an honor to be there and I can't think of anywhere else I'd rather be.  Really.
Dee, great questions bro.  This can be a source of great pressure and strife inside a church and between a pastor and his wife.  Churches would do well to be careful about their expectations for a pastor's wife.
First, "pastor's wife" is not a biblical office.  She is not given specific qualifications in 1 Tim. 3.  Titus does not include instructions for her duties, etc.  Despite the whole "first lady" and "co-pastor" phenomena in some church circles, there are no biblical responsibilities for her other than being a good Christian, wife, and mother, which fall to all the women with this calling.
Second, it's important for the pastor, wife, and church to realize that many women in this role have discipleship needs of their own and not a few insecurities because of all the horror stories.  So treating her like "just another member who happens to be married to the pastor" should go some ways in letting her grow spiritually and easing her fears.  The "fishbowl" is a terribly lonely and painful place to live.  Always being on display is simply paralyzing. 
Third, the pastor really must shepherd his wife through this.  Which means he needs to kindly but clearly put the leaders and church on notice that her main responsibility is to be his wife.  It's not a "2-for-1 deal."  And for him to serve faithfully and fruitfully, he needs her to be his wife, not another elder.  So, guys have to step up here and protect the wife from unbiblical expectations and from burdens she may place on herself. 
Finally, I'd say, if at all possible, take a new charge when your wife is about 4-5 months pregnant.  Of course, I'm only joking (half-joking).  We moved to Cayman when Kristie was about 4.5 months pregnant with Titus, in all her showing glory.  The older ladies loved her.  And because they loved her they put up with me.  Great planning, if I do say so myself.
Kidding aside, though, the Lord has brought us to what must be one of the most gracious and kind congregations on the planet when it comes to caring for the pastor's wife and family.  We've been nothing but loved and honored here.  And as far as I can tell, Kristie has been free to be herself and to settle into life and routine here with wide and deep support.  And that's allowed her to be very fruitful in a number of ways as the Lord has given opportunity. 
That's the counter-intuitive part of all this: It's when the pastor's wife is free to be herself without impositions and demands that she becomes fruitful.  But try to exert unbiblical or extra-biblical requirements and she very often must retreat from the life of the church for her own well-being.  Churches would be wise to support the pastor's wife in being the pastor's wife.  The Lord will give the increase.

Expectations for a Pastor's Wife

Thabiti, Mike M., Mike G., Aaron, Jonathan and Greg,
What are reasonable expectations for a church to have for a pastor's wife?  Before we arrived at CHBC, we were told that aside from the pastor's wife caring for her husband and children and occasional doing hospitality, there were no particular expectations for the pastor's wife.  For us, these expectations have turned out to be a true representation of what we have experienced in DC. 
Unlike our own situation, I know a lot of friends in ministry who have wives who are under an immense amount of pressure to be Superwoman--play piano, lead a woman's bible study, be an amazing chef, disciple lots of women, have  exemplary children, respond to any and every crisis, etc.  Are churches unreasonable about the expectations they put on the pastor's wife?  Even worse, does a pastor's wife typically put a lot of pressure on herself to be superwoman?  Do pastors put too much pressure on their spouse to do much more than is reasonable for any human being? 
Gentlemen, what do you think?

The Pastor's Personal Finances, Part 2

Yesterday I posted some initial thoughts about the pastor's family budget.  Here are some of the reasoning that I laid out for myself and shared with our church's elders as I hashed out my family's 2010 budget.  Some of the specifics have been redacted (I'm all for transparency in the church, but not on the web!).  Perhaps this will be helpful to your family and your church as you budget for next year:Biblical Principles-- True life does not consist in wealth (Luke 12:15). -- Planning is wise (Proverbs 24:3-4, 21:5, 27:23-24).  Ultimately, however, our plans are in God’s hands (James 4:13-16).-- Money is a tool for which we will give an account (Proverbs 3:9, Luke 12:48, Matthew 25:40).-- Ultimately, we trust that God provides for us.  We don’t have final confidence because our budget sheets balance out nicely, but because God promises to be kind to his children (Luke 12:22-32).-- Enjoyment of God’s good gifts is an act of worship (I Timothy 6:17).  There is no inherent shame in having some nice things.-- Financial gain is a gift and a reward for hard work (Proverbs 12:27, Proverbs 10:22), but not the ultimate motivation for our hard work (Proverbs 23:4, Luke 12:20-21).McKinley Family Budgeting Priorities/Principles-- Giving generously to the church-- Having margin to be hospitable and generous to those in need.-- My wife should not have to work if at all possible.-- Standard of living that does not make the kids feel a particular burden because Mike is a pastor (as if pastors must be poor or can’t have nice things) but teaches them that ultimately we live our lives for a far greater treasure.-- Experiences are valued over possessions -- High quality purchases often save money in the long run.Financial Goals for 2010-- One vacation where we can be particularly generous with the children-- Here I listed some other financial goals related to saving and such.Areas That Could Be Trimmed If Needed/Non-essential Expenses-- Here I listed areas in the budget where there was some wiggle room if necessary (for example, things like sports packages for the TV and gym memberships are not essential).Concerns-- Here I listed some areas that represent both short-term and long-term concerns (things like: are we able to save enough for our kids' college education?  What if one of them isn't able to play D1 football on scholarship, as unlikely as that seems?)If you are new to the idea of budgeting, check out the tools at Crown Financial Ministries or at Joseph Sangl's blog.

Pastors' Kids Say the Darndest Things

Hey guys,Thanks for sharing about your kids.  Really scintillating blogging there.  I'm not one to be outdone, so here's a snippet from a recent spat at the McKinley home:Kendall (age 7) -- Dad, Knox called me a semi-Sabellian!  Make him stop!Knox (age 5) -- No, I didn't, you Apollinarian.Dad -- See, kids, I knew it was a mistake to teach you about early Christological heresies.  Go to your rooms.

The Pastor's Personal Finances, Part 1

It's budget season around our church, and we're working on hashing out how much money it will take to address both the needs of the congregation and the dreams that the Lord has laid on our hearts for ministry and missions in 2010.Our church's elders do a great job handling our staff salaries.  They are very caring and pastoral, and the congregation as a whole is extremely generous, appreciative, and encouraging.  So the approach to staff salaries is not based on what's fair, what other churches do, or what is the minimum they can get away with paying the staff.  Instead, our elders spend time trying to understand the needs and challenges that each staff member and his family are facing so that the church can pay them accordingly.  So one of our values is that long-term staff should be able to purchase a home in the area (not a small feat in Northern Virginia).  In order to assist the other elders in that process, I decided to provide them with a detailed 2010 monthly budget for our family, showing them where every penny of my salary goes.  At first this felt weird, because when someone can see what you do with your money, they can see into your soul (Luke 12:34). But I quickly realized that it was a great idea.  Three reasons:

  1. I should have nothing to hide.  What was I concerned about them seeing? Was I secretly ashamed of the way I handled my family's money?  
  2. Jesus talked about money a lot.  He taught that the way we handle money is a barometer for our spiritual health.  I would be a fool not ask godly men to examine that aspect of my life and give me constructive feedback.  
  3. I am always trying to cultivate a culture of transparency in the church and among its leaders.  Transparency can be uncomfortable, but the pastor should take the lead. 

  A little later this week, I'll post some of the thoughts that I used to guide our family budgeting process.

Vacationing For the Glory of God

I took the family camping a few weeks back.  I enjoy camping well enough.  I am not a wilderness nut, but I can appreciate the virtues of marshmallows burned over an open fire as much as anyone.  We returned home happy, tired, and sore (it seems that the ground gets harder ever year).  As I was helping my wife unpack, I was reminded that taking a trip with the family is an act of spiritual leadership.It had rained on our trip, so the tent was a bit wet.  It was also muddy and had its share of debris in it.  The last thing I wanted to do when we got home was set the tent up, clean it out, let it dry, and then put it away.  I began to work on it with a mildly grumpy attitude when it occurred to me: this is not an annoying interruption in my day, this is an important act of spiritual leadership.  I need to serve my family in this way so that they can have fun, enjoy God's creation, and build memories.  And most importantly, I need to do it with intentional joy.Well, August is vacation time for many pastors.  Our family will be heading out to Ocean City, NJ (site of this conference) at the end of the month.  I am reminded of this excellent article by CJ Mahaney on what it means to be a leader on your family's vacation.  It's got seven lessons to remember while on vacation:1. A Servant Heart2. A Tone-Setting Attitude3. An Awareness of Indwelling Sin4. Studying Your Family5. Skillful Surprises6. Intentionally Together7. Gratefulness to GodEnjoy your trip!