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9Marks Explained : A Letter From Mark Dever


How can a pastor wisely transition his church from being deacon-led to elder-led?

A couple days ago I posted an introduction to our "Answers for Pastors" that contained a Q&A from an article by Phil Newton on transitioning a church from being deacon-led to being elder led.

Here's another Q&A from that same article. Do you know a pastor who's working through this issue in his church? Pass it along to encourage him in the work!

White Board Redux -- May 21

My friend Ben Arment (who trashes me in the comments here... :) is putting together a second run of The Whiteboard Sessions (or WiBo, as the cool kids refer to it).  It's going to be held on May 21st in Virginia Beach.You may remember the first WiBo as the event that featured Mark Dever, a guy advocating the use of Desperate Housewives video clips as sermon illustrations, and a DJ "scratching" the speakers on stage.  It was like a thought provoking Christian freak-show.  I mean that in the best sense possible.This year's speaker line-up is great.  Al Mohler, James MacDonald, and Eric Mason are on the docket, along with Jonathan Falwell and others.  Each leader has been asked not to deliver a "talk", but to treat their allotted time like an extended senior-level staff meeting.  It's a time to share an idea, a dream, or an epiphany.  With those speakers, it should be great.You can get more info and register here.And just for giggles, you can check out the video that I used to introduce Mark Dever at the last WiBo here.

A. T. Robertson, the Book of James, and Dudes with Ambition

If you have not picked up Greg Wills's recent The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1859-2009 (Oxford, 2009), you owe it to yourself to do so.  It's a huge book, it is an institutional history, and it may seem esoteric, but in reality, it reads crisply, it tells an engrossing story, and it offers wisdom on a great number of topics related to Christian life and ministry. 
In the course of reading the text, this section stood out to me.  Wills describes how the seminary's fourth president, E. Y. Mullins, handed down a policy in 1911 that pushed faculty away from leadership positions in the Southern Baptist Convention.  This may have happened 100 years ago, but I assure you that it is relevant for us today:
"Mullins apparently felt that the seminary president alone should exercise significant denominational leadership.  Mullins may have feared that his faculty would become more popular and influential in the denomination than he was.  Robertson, Sampey, McGlothlin, and Carver were indeed becoming very popular.  Robertson especially was growing in the esteem of the denomination for both his preaching and his scholarship." (280)
Wills comments on how two of the professors handled this seeming slight:
"Robertson became Mullins's warm supporter and promoter, and Mullins came to rely heavily on Robertson's counsel.  He gave up aspirations to equality with the president and became instead his promoter and chief counselor.  McGlothlin, however, apparently transgressed Mullins's restrictions inadvertently around 1914 or 1915, as McGlothlin attained the kind of leadership that had thus far eluded Mullins." (282)
In situations like this, there is always more than meets the eye.  Whether in a seminary, on a church staff, or among friends, jealousy and ambition have a way of finding an entryway.  In this particular case, Mullins seems to have acted out of naked jealousy and thus put his faculty in a difficult and unfair position.  He was the principal wrongdoer here.  In response, A. T. Robertson chose the high road and sacrificed his interests for the sake of peace at Southern.  McGlothlin took a different tack and ended up leaving the school and becoming the president of both Furman University in 1919 and the Southern Baptist Convention from 1930-32.  His route to leadership involved the loss of friendship with Mullins.
It surprised me in reading this sad story how much it mirrors the trajectory mapped out for jealousy and ambition in James 3:13-18:
Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.  But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth.  This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.  For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.  But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.  And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. 
We note that James predicts perfectly what will happen when we allow the "bitter jealousy and selfish ambition" that reside in our hearts to creep into our friendships and working partnerships.  Peace will evade us.  "Disorder" will overtake us.  This is what happened at Southern nearly a century ago; this is what happens today, in countless places and situations, including in churches, seminaries, homes, and the contexts of everyday friendship.
It is a difficult thing to find the balance between righteous agency, of the kind commended, for example, in Proverbs and the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), and "selfish ambition".  Mullins and McGlothlin were both gifted for leadership; neither was sinful in principle for pursuing the application of their gifts in ministry.  But the way in which we fallen people work out the application of our gifts amongst brothers and sisters takes careful discernment. 
It can be very difficult to know whether in seeking more work, or a role that better suits our abilities, or the improvement of a certain sphere of our church, we are being selfishly ambitious and acting in part out of a jealous desire to displace others and exalt ourselves.  Or take another example.  In the age of the Internet, is it "selfishly ambitious" for authors to in some way advocate for their texts?  Or is it wise stewardship?  Is it better to have one's book languish on Amazon, unnoticed and thus of little benefit to the church, or to push a little harder and get the material into the hands of readers who may benefit from it?  These are tricky questions that necessitate prayer, brotherly counsel, and keen discernment.
What we can say for sure, though, and what we might forget as we tackle such thorny issues is that James commends "the meekness of wisdom" to those who are tempted to be sinfully ambitious and jealous.  What exactly does meekness look like?  Does it mean talking in a soft voice?  Limply shaking hands?  Wearing sweater-vests on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays? 
Speaking as a young man, I wonder whether those of us who want to kill our sin and embody "the meekness of wisdom" might locate this quality in an inward demeanor, a posture before the Lord that is "pure, peaceable, gentle...open to reason" and so on.  Those of us who want to avoid a limp-wristed Christianity need to remember that these traits are commended to us by God.  This does not put them in opposition to other biblical traits like agency, dominion-taking, kingdom shrewdness, boldness, courage, strength, and much more.  But it does mean that these qualities need to figure prominently in our character, and especially in areas where we are tempted to be jealous and ambitious.
That balanced way of life reminds us ultimately of another man and His own self-sacrifice for something much greater than a seminary or an institution.  In Jesus Christ, we have both the perfect example of self-sacrifice and the blood-bought means by which to live in "the meekness of wisdom".  We need when tempted to promote ourselves (a sin expedited by certain features of the web) and to hate others out of jealousy to remember with A. T. Robertson that the work the Lord has given us to do is rooted in Christ and the promotion of His fame and glory.  He is infinitely worthy of celebration; we are not. 
As we learn this--and it will take some of us young dudes a while to do so--we recall the biblical irony that characterized Christ's life and that should characterize our own.  In seeking a position of lowliness, He became great (Philippians 2:1-11).  In adopting a course of existence that sometimes appeared so weak, He in fact destroyed the powers of darkness that rule this world.  So may it be for us if we will allow God to humble us and further conform us to the role of servant in order that we might rule with Him.

Can We Hear the Sheep Bleating?

  Mark Lauterbach has a great series of posts going on things he's learned from the sheep.  Typical to Mark, the posts are humble and insightful.  Bleatings from the SheepOne of the great temptations of pastoral ministry is to treat the congregation, the members, as "stupid".  We may not use those words, but we act like either they are slow to grasp truth and need constant prodding or nagging, or they are children and we pastors are fathers who must care for them.  Both bear bad fruit -- both create a clergy/laity division which, it turns out, is not just a Catholic problem.  Both can lead to a spirit of distrust and excessive carefulness in how pastors shepherd their flock. Bleatings from the Sheep: OUCH!I have a "clever" side.  I once liked to preach in a way that debunks myths people believe.  In my first year as a pastor I did a series of messages on prayer. There are lots of prayer myths -- slogans that I found as easy targets for my brilliant critique.  Each message was a shot at wrong thinking and a declaration of truth.  I took down some major myths and applauded myself for prophetic courage.About a year later a member of the church asked to come see me.  It was clear that she was full of fears in doing so.  I assumed she had some personal problems.  Read the entire post.Bleatings from the Sheep: Slow to ChangeOne of the most godly people to enter our pastoral world was a woman in the church named Helga.  She was 20 years our senior but far more our senior in maturity in Christ.  I had all the seminary degrees.  She knew God and knew herself before God.  Read the entire post.Bleatings from the Sheep: ToneCreating downhill paths to the pastor's office and heart is critical.  By downhill, I mean easy easily traveled. My office, my most visible role behind the pulpit, and the call to be submissive create for my people large obstacles and a steep path to travel to my heart. It takes intentional effort to hear what they have to say.But there are observations that are overheard as much as heard.  These are worth mining, as what is overheard is as significant as what is heard.  Read the entire post.Bleatings from the Sheep: Birthday CardsOne of the marks of arrogance is viewing all of life through my eyes, not considering how others see things.  I find it all too easy to assume that my perspective, my abilities, my limits are the truth for all.  It is not so!  I am not the center of the cosmos.  Read the entire post.

Tim Keller on Why Redeemer Does Multi-Site

Thought this was a helpful, brief post from our brother Tim Keller on why Redeemer does multi-site.  To summarize, Keller gives two reasons that did not drive them to go to multi-site:First, we did not go to multi-site because it was more economical or efficient for us.Second, we did not go to multi-site to quickly reach more people.Then he gives two reasons why they did go multi-site:First, we sent our services out into different locations so that people could worship closer to where they lived.Second, the multi-site model is a transition design for us. Redeemer
has a timetable for turning each site into a congregation in its own
neighborhood, with its own pastoral leadership.I appreciate the comments.  Read them in entirety.  Any thoughts?

A Good Question for Your Pastor's Sanctification

One of the new practices on our elder board is that we take 30 minutes at the beginning of every meeting to cross-examine one of the brothers. You hear a lot of expected questions (How is your prayer life and quiet time?  How is your parenting?), but you also hear a wide range of unexpected questions.  One question that I heard recently that I thought would be good for other pastors to consider:
"If the devil were to ruin your ministry, what area of your life would he pursue?"
And a follow-up question:  "Whatever area of life is vulnerable, what are you doing right now to protect against the devil's work?"  
Brothers, don't let the devil get a foothold in your life.  Pray and Fight.  There is much work left to be done.

Can Someone Who is 29 Years Old Be a "Senior" Pastor?

Mike G-S,In your post, you asked us to comment on Dave Harvey's six conclusions about the preaching pastor as a "first among equals".  I think they are all fine and make sense.  In our church, we practice a "first among equals" approach.  This is just a natural development:

  1. I was the first elder here and served by myself for some time.
  2. I do 90% of the Sunday morning preaching.  I used to do all the Sunday night preaching as well.  A certain amount of authority accrues with that.  This is also true with the other elders in our church.  While we're all "equal", some elders will have more authority in the congregation than others by virtue of their teaching and care for the congregation.
  3. This is my job and my life.  I spend all day every day thinking about this stuff (except when I'm thinking about this or this).  The other non-staff elders are committed, but they have day jobs to attend to as well.

I do not, however, take the title "Senior Pastor".  The other elder on the church's payroll and I just go by "pastor" and the other elders (not on the church's payroll) for the most part go by "elder" rather than "pastor".  We do this for a few reasons:

  1. This is how normal English speaking church-goers use those words.  When we say "pastor", we usually mean "elder on staff" or something like that.  I realize there are exceptions and it's not a Biblical distinction, but I think Reformed people are weird enough.  Let's try and be normal whenever we can.
  2. I don't take the title "Senior Pastor" (or even the honorific "Reverend") because I have authority issues, so I am constitutionally allergic to inflated titles.  Plus, when I started the church I was 29; nothing seemed very "senior" about me. 
  3. Also, Jesus seems to think it's a dumb idea.

A few precautions:

  1. Because elders are godly men, some may naturally be deferential towards authority.  So a pastor in the "first among equals" position will need to work hard to draw the other elders out and get them involved in the decision making process.  So in our elders meetings, I try to wait until every other elder has spoken before I state my opinion.  That way they say what they really think rather than adjusting their thoughts to come in line with my opinion.
  2. Our hearts are prone to self-worship.  We all secretly believe that we know what we're doing and don't need much help.  We need to cultivate humility and actually listen to what our fellow elders are saying.  This helps them to develop as leaders and helps to avoid a monarchy.  Plus, it's great to have a group of men to share the blame the burden of leadership genuinely.

Preaching and Prayer Around the Blog

Kevin and Owen, welcome to the 9Marks block party!  Glad to have you both on the team!
A couple things I thought might interest readers:
Hereyou can see the video and find a time-stamped outline (those SovGrace guys do everything with class, don't they?) of Jeff Purswell's address called, The Pastor's Teaching.  Along with Kevin's piece on learning to be yourself when preaching, this is good food for thought for all those looking for a sermon break today, or trying to recover from their sermon on Monday!
Also, our brother Lig' is teaching us to pray scripturally.  If we preach the word, we'd better start by praying the word.
Whether preaching or praying, Tony Carter reminds us do so like a Calvinist all the time.

Multi-Site Churches... Again

I know a number of you guys like to talk about this development in some churches, so I thought I'd link to some thoughts from James MacDonald and ask what ye think.  It's part of his contribution to a recent book on multi-sites, giving some guidance to those considering (part one and part two).  And here is a video, "Multi-Campus Ain't for Everyone," about a two-minute summary.  What say ye?

A Sanctifying Punch Between the Eyes

A while back, Justin Taylor posted links to two Ken Sande articles on leadership.You can find them here. (Link fixed)The first one dealt with approachability.  The second dealt with accountability.This is the kind of thing you don't want to read unless you like being given a sanctifying punch in between the eyes with the truth about yourself.  I gave these to my wife and then sent the articles and a form of the suggested email to several people in our church (leaders, involved members, less-involved members) and asked for feedback.  It was very, very helpful (but not always easy) to see how other people see me as a leader.  You may want to try it.  What have you to lose except your faults?