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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!

The Trench Work of Pastoral Ministry - Practical Shepherding

Let me add a word of recommendation to Mike's post below introducing you to Brian Croft's new blog, Practical Shepherding
Last week, Brian Croft and his father, Dr. Bill Croft, greatly blessed the interns and some of the staff at Clifton Baptist Church when they came and talked to us about pastoral visitation. Brian's final words to our group are still ringing in my head. He rightly reminded us that God's word is central to the pastor's ministry, and preaching is very important. But the danger in many of our churches is the idolization of the preacher at the expense of the trench work of ministry. God’s word needs to be central, but the centrality of the word plays out not just in preaching, but in reading scripture to the sick person in the hospital (and their families!), visiting shut-ins and praying with them, etc. Brian rightly encouraged us to remember the trenches of ministry and preach God’s word here. And if we're doing the trench work faithfully, it will culminate in our teaching, preaching, application - in short, our whole ministry. Brian knew the vanity of my own heart, and the attraction to be sucked into the perceived areas of glamour. May God give us grace and humility to find joy here in the trenches. Read his books, his blog, and enjoy the trench work!

Practical Help for Pastors

If you are a pastor or are aspiring to be one, you should be reading Brian Croft's blog "Practical Shepherding".  Brian is the pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church and the author of Visit the Sick and the soon-to-be-released Test, Train Affirm, & Send Into Ministry.  From my observation, Brian is a wise, thoughtful, and gentle pastor.  As an emotional cripple, I find Brian's counsel extremely helpful.  Recent topics on the blog include:How do I approach visiting someone in the hospital who is sharing a room with another patient?How do you care for a wife hurt by her husband’s pornography struggle?How do I care for a widow on her anniversary?andWhat responsibilities does a young man aspiring to pastoral ministry have to his local church?

Spiritual Warfare, Humility, and the Pastor as Chief Repenter

My friend Ant Adams recently told me about a letter in The Heart of a Servant Leader: Letters from Jack Miller. In the letter, Miller is responding to a missionary in Africa who felt he was engaged in a time of unusual spiritual warfare. Miller's prescription: humility and prayer.

He wrote:
Frequently humble yourself as you did during our recent time at Entrebbe. That was great! But let the team and the Ugandan Christians see you as the chief repenter, the one who is quick to renounce idols.   Confess hindering sins like pride, impatience, coldness, anger, lack of tenderness, love of preeminence, self-dependence, boasting, and misuse of the tongue.  Perhaps you don't struggle with all of these nasties, but I do, and I suspect they are the sins that much afflict leaders like us.  Please read Bonar's Words to Winners of Souls and Joe Church's Quest for the Highest.  Pray for me that I would be more ready to confess and forsake publicly my own sins.What an amazing concept.  Think of all the things people expect a pastor to be: chief executive offier of the church, chief Bible expert, chief father and husband, chief visionary... But what would happen if pastors were committed to being the chief repenters?  What if we publicly confessed and forsook our sin?  Can you imagine how Satan's inroads into our lives and congregations might be cut off?    If you think about it, Miller's is very Biblical counsel.  James 4:6-10 makes the link between resisting the devil and repenting of sin.  Matthew 6:13 teaches us to humbly ask the Father to deliver us from evil.  If you think about it, even Jesus came and bound the strong man not through a display of power but through the humility of the cross.  I pray that the Lord would help me (and you!) to put pride to death as a display of his power over the evil one.

Who Influences Protestant Pastors?

Last November, Lifeway Research surveyed 1,002 Protestant pastors to find out which pastors most influenced them.  The list of potentially influential pastors crossed the denominational and theological spectrum.  The Christian Post has a brief article on the survey's results (HT: Challies).  Here's the list of the top ten:- Billy Graham, who serve as a pastor as a young man, but is best known for his evangelistic crusades around the world;- Chuck Swindoll, senior pastor of Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, TX, and on-air teacher for Insight for Living radio program.
- Charles Stanley, senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Atlanta, and founder of In Touch Ministries.
- Rick Warren, senior pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., and author of the best-selling book, "The Purpose-Driven Life."
- John MacArthur, pastor-teacher of Grace Community Church in Sun
Valley, Calif., and president and featured teacher of the Grace to You
- Barbara Brown Taylor, religion teacher at Piedmont College in
northeast Georgia and author of 12 books including "An Altar in the
- David Jeremiah, founder of Turning Point Radio and Television Ministries and senior pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in San Diego County, Calif.
- Max Lucado, minister of writing and preaching at the Oak Hills
Church in San Antonio, Texas, and the recipient of three Christian Book
of the Year awards.
- John Piper, pastor for preaching at Bethlehem Baptist Church in
Minneapolis and author of more than 30 books, including "Desiring God."
- Andy Stanley, senior pastor of North Point Community Church,
Buckhead Church, and Browns Bridge Community Church – all in the
Atlanta area – and founder of North Point Ministries.This is an interesting list.  I can say that I've been "influenced" in some way by more than a couple of these men, and I praise God for them. But I think there's probably a significant confound with this survey research.  Disproportionate in the list are pastors with daily radio ministries.  Now, they have daily radio programs for a reason--somebody is listening!  But I'm not sure that the list really indicates influence as much as notoriety.  As a good social scientist, the most we could say from a survey like this is, "More research needs to be done."  Or not.What do you think?  Who is the most influential pastor among pastors?

On Giving Financially to the Local Church

What does a young pastor do when faced with the reality of potentially not meeting our budget? He blogs, of course. Thankfully, in response to a need, dozens of members stepped up and gave sacrificially.God provided. Through it all, three questions came up that I sought to understand myself and answer.First, what, generally does the Bible say about financial giving? Answer: give sacrificially. See more here.Second, what does the Bible say about tithing? Answer: it is a floor, not a ceiling. See more here.Third, what does the Bible say about giving to the church specifically? Answer: give to the church and, if you are giving sacrificially, you will have plenty to give to other ministries (like 9Marks!). See more here.

The Remarkable Ordinariness of Pastoral Ministry

When I started out as a pastor, I wanted our church to reach the lost.  I hoped to see our ranks stuffed full of people who had been graciously called from darkness to light through our proclamation of the gospel.  We've seen some of that happen.  We've planted churches for Spanish speakers, we're starting a food pantry that I hope will bring even more people in.  Folks have come to Christ.  It's not been the next Great Awakening, it's not even nearly what I hope for... but it's been more than what we deserve to see.I want more of that kind of ministry.  I want to be up to my eyeballs in lost, hurt people who are coming to Christ... but that's not what I spend most of my day doing.  I prepare sermons.  I counsel people.  I disciple believers.  I periodically blog.   I try to love my wife and shepherd my kids. And sometimes I get frustrated that I spend so much time doing things that seem so... ordinary.  Not really glamorous.  Not really the stuff that makes you feel like an awesome, successful pastor.But lately I've come to realize something... the people in our church who are doing the "exciting" ministry (planting churches, preparing to be missionaries, starting food pantries, evangelizing the lost) are people who were raised by caring parents or well-taught in good churches or discipled by an older believer.  Someone took the time to do "ordinary" ministry in their life, and now they are bearing a lot of awesome, exciting fruit.So maybe, just maybe, I won't be able to immediately see all the fruit of our church's ministry.  Maybe the lost that will be won aren't all here right now, but they are in foreign nations where a child in my congregation will someday go.  Maybe they are waiting in the office building of a college student I'm discipling.  Maybe my efforts today, caring, teaching, and shaping are an "exciting" investment after all.

An Associate Pastor comments on the Question about Senior Pastors

Mike, Thanks for the thoughtful discussion about the biblical and pragamatic basis for calling someone a senior pastor.  A few thoughts...
1. Honestly, I don't really care if the person calls himself a senior pastor, preaching pastor, or pastor of preaching and vision.  The title is not that big of a deal to me. 
2. The biblical argument for a senior pastor seems tenative at best.  What we can say is that Scripture does not disallow it, right? 
3.  Practially speaking, I could come up with a billion different reasons on why having a senior pastor (or whatever you want to call it) is a good idea.  For example, there are a thousand different decisions that a church staff needs to make every year.  In those situations when it is unclear what to do, it is good to have someone who has a final say in what will or will not be done. 
4. Humanity craves leadership.  There is something in our DNA that makes us look to others to point in what direction to go. 
5.  Take two principles and add them together and I think you get a senior pastor (or whatever you want to call them): (1)  if a church can afford it, you want to set aside the most gifted teacher to have time to prepare meaty, thoughtful, heart-provoking sermons; and (2) Authority accrues to those who preach the Word.   Those whom we have set aside to preach the word will naturally accrue authority through their public teaching, and in that sense, they naturally become more "senior" than the rest of the staff.   

More on Funerals

Mike,  Thanks for the post on funerals. I wanted to add a few more thoughts:

  • 1.  Funerals are great opportunities to reach into the lives of family members who you (the pastor) have heard about but rarely ever get to talk with. 
  • 2.  I've often heard from widows that the hardest part of the whole process is not the funeral (when you are surrounded by loved ones and church friends), but after the funeral, when everyone has left and you are all by yourself for the first time.   Pastors - visiting or calling a few days or so after the funeral is a good time for follow-up (especially if the person left behind is a widow). 
  • 3.  As you might expect, the holidays can be a painful reminder about the loss of a loved one. 
    4.  Funerals are great evangelistic opportunities.  Non-Christians know reality:  We will all die one day.  So a funeral makes you face your own mortality.  You can see why this would be a good opportunity to proclaim the gospel.
    5.  Pastors - have you thought about how your church responds to funerals?  Practically speaking, do you have a plan? 
    6.  For Christians, death is a strange mixture of both sorrow ("She is no longer with us") and joy ("She is now with Jesus").  So, as a pastor, you get to both comfort and rejoice with Christians left behind. 

    How We Do Congregational Care and Oversight, Part 2

    The elders are essential to congregational care and oversight. This
    should be obvious, because elders, by definition, ought to be caring
    for the sheep and exercising oversight. Our elders do this in a few
    different way.

    First, we pray for people. We pray when called up. We seek to pray for
    people when they need help. And we pray for our people at our elders
    meetings and retreats.

    Second, our elders oversee our growth groups. Ben is the point man, but
    most of our elders--a couple elders are excused because they are
    involved in our executive committee--are responsible for overseeing a
    few growth groups each. This does not mean they lead a group in their
    home, though they can if they want.  Oversight means two things. One,
    it means that the elders come to the every other month growth group
    leaders training session and meet with the leaders under their care.
    This is a time to trouble shoot, hear how things are going, and pray.
    Two, oversight means that the members of the leaders growth group (see
    previous point) are in the elder’s district (see below).

    Third, we divide the church into elder districts. The district is first
    of all assigned by growth groups. So if Larry oversees two leaders, Moe
    and Curly, then Larry has all the members of Moe and Curly’s growth
    groups in his district (man is that a rough district). The elder
    district also includes members not in a growth group and regular
    adherents of the church who, for whatever reason, have not joined.
    These names, non-growth group members and adherents, are assigned
    alphabetically. The elder is responsible to pray regularly for his
    district, and he must make contact with each person in the district at
    least once a year.

    We do not expect the elders to personally disciple the people in their
    districts or know everything going on in their lives. This is why we
    have growth groups. But the elder usually has a good feel for the major
    issues that have surfaced. Our elders meet twice a month. The second
    meeting of the month is our normal business meeting. At this meeting we
    always ask “who is in need of spiritual help and/or is not making
    faithful use of the means of grace?” Follow up calls are usually
    assigned based on the district someone is in.  Three times a year we do
    a thorough review of our districts as an entire elder board.

    We are blessed to have an active and capable diaconate. At University
    Reformed Church, we have deacons and deaconesses. They care for many of
    the physical needs of the congregation, especially those that are long
    term. So, for example, when a member of the church was diagnosed with
    ALS, the diaconate helped to arrange a group of recruits to come over
    on Saturdays and take Don out around town.

    The diaconate is also where I turn first when people come to me with
    financial problems. Often I’ll get people from in our church or outside
    of our church who come to the pastor wanting physical or monetary
    assistance. When this happens, I try to assess the situation, pray for
    them, and then put them in contact with either the chair of our
    diaconate or the on-call deacon/ess of the month.


    Last, but certainly not least, the congregation cares for the
    congregation. This includes meals to new moms, one-on-one mentoring,
    D-groups (where our college student leaders meet in the homes of church
    families), making use of the email prayer chain, free babysiting,
    hospitality, and a thousand other good things that people in most
    churches do for each other.

    Wrapping Up

    Do we have weaknesses? Absolutely. We don’t have a system in place for
    making hospital calls. Historically, the church I serve has been very
    young and there hasn’t been much visitation to do. But this will change
    and we need a better way to do it. Likewise, only recently have we
    developed funeral policies and a plan for elders to make follow-up
    bereavement calls (after six months have passed). This year we added a
    part time biblical counselor to our staff. His work with counseling and
    training other counselors is critical. In the near future, I’d also
    like to see us (me!) use the congregational prayer on Sunday morning as
    a more effective means of pastoral care.

    So like any church, we are a work in progress. We will never get to a
    point where everyone is cared for just right and there are no more
    cracks for people to fall through. But we’ve made big strides in the
    past several years. I’m thankful to work with so many wonderful people
    who serve the body so well, often better than I can. By God’s grace
    we’ve got some things in place.

    In closing, let me say I’m always surprised to learn how few churches
    actually take member care seriously. You don’t have to do things just
    like we do, but every church, and every elder board in particular,
    needs to think and pray carefully about how, and if, they are really
    caring for one another and fulfilling the responsibilities and
    privileges God has given them. We are required by our denomination’s
    Book of Church order to ask at our elders’ meetings, “who is in need of
    spiritual care and/or not making faithful use of the means of grace?”
    It’s a good policy. But I wonder how many churches in our denomination
    or yours regularly ask this question. And I wonder how many churches
    have any mechanism in place to know who these people are and how to
    help them once they are identified.