9Marks recently received the following question:
"I have grown up in a church culture where giving is always secret. Perhaps a trustee, treasurer, deacon or two know the giving of each family (someone prepares the tax receipts), but the pastors of the church remain in blissful ignorance. The reasons for this range from official policy to the pastor's desire to avoid favoritism (James 2:1-13).
But is this practice biblical? Jesus teaches on money and giving more than any other topic except the Kingdom of God. Giving is such an important spiritual thermometer (Matthew 6:21, Matthew 19:16-26). And Jesus taught on the topic as he watched the widow give all that she had--her very life--at the temple (Mark 8:41-44).
When it comes to shepherding, it seems perilous to neglect one of the most important evidences of spiritual fruit, or lack thereof. How should the elders of the church handle this sensitive subject? What are the biblical and pragmatic reasons for and against pastoral oversight of the offering plate?"
Here are a few thoughts. (Any other 9Marks bloggers are more than welcome to weigh in.)
I recently had the chance to talk with John Smuts, a pastor in the Sydney, Australia area, about how he and other local Baptist pastors are working together to raise up pastors through a partnership called The Noble Task. Their work is an excellent example of the kind of apostolic pastoring we commended in a recent 9Marks Journal.
I hope that many pastors will be encouraged, challenged, and equipped for similar work through learning from John’s experience.
Bobby Jamieson: Tell me a little bit about The Noble Task. What do you do?
John Smuts: A bunch of likeminded Baptist pastors in New South Wales (Australia) got together to form a network for the express purpose, under God’s grace, of raising up the next generation of Baptist pastors. Being a relational network means that while we are not seeking to be exclusive, we are all roughly on the same page theologically.
Bobby Jamieson: Why did you and other pastors in your area start The Noble Task?
John Smuts: In Sydney there has been a lot of good gospel ministry, particularly among students, that has encouraged a generation of believers to consider full-time ministry. Some of it has been inter-denominational and some of it has been amongst the strong denominations, such as the Sydney Anglicans. We thank God for all those initiatives and are keen to carry on partnering with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Nonetheless, it occurred to us that no one is going to encourage godly men to consider Baptist pastoral ministry in particular if we don’t. We are not in competition with other churches but simply acknowledge that they are not going to send guys our way. Why should they? Therefore we started The Noble Task to set up both a clear path into Baptist ministry and a network of likeminded churches to encourage people along the way.
Bobby Jamieson: How do you try to equip churches to raise up pastors? And could you give a few examples of how the local churches themselves are training men for ministry?
John Smuts: The Noble Task is very low maintenance. It is not an organisation with staff and an office. It is just a network. We’ve got two main strategies:
1. Recruiting and networking pastoral trainees. We do this through The Noble Task information evening, campus appearances and promotion, advice, and a job-openings network linked to the MTS traineeship paradigm (MTS = Ministry Training Strategy, based here in Sydney).
2. Equipping and resourcing pastoral trainers. We do this through The Noble Task pastors’ day and church networks.
Therefore the administration for The Noble Task is light. We have one event in November to recruit men to full-time Baptist pastoral ministry, and the pastors meet in June every year to share names of those in the process and to pray for the Lord to raise up gospel ministers. Mostly it functions as a relational network, but the key aspect is its intentionality.
We believe that the main work—the hard work—is done at the local church level. All the pastors are praying for and identifying gospel workers in their churches. Usually this starts with meeting up with them 1-to-1 while beginning to give them some ministry responsibility. Following on from that, several churches appoint pastoral trainees for one or two years. This can happen before or after formal theological training.
As an example, we have been privileged to see many guys going into ministry here at Petersham Baptist. It is exciting to meet up with pastors in Sydney and NSW who have staff members who were student pastors here just a few years ago. Currently both the pastor of our evening congregation and our female Children and Family worker were members at PBC before we appointed them to staff.
This year we have four student pastors, all studying at local theological colleges and training for ministry. We pay them only a little, basically a very generous book allowance, but give them some responsibility within the church. One key aspect of my role (and the evening congregation pastor’s role) is to train them. We cannot take the credit for all these people since the main reason why some of them are here is the proximity of our church to several evangelical Bible colleges. Nevertheless it does show what exciting things can happen, by God’s grace, when we are intentional about recruiting and training for gospel ministry.
Bobby Jamieson: What fruit have you seen so far?
John Smuts: Last time the pastors got together we came up with a rough list of thirty names of men at some point on the journey towards full-time pastoral ministry. I’m not great with numbers but I think we are praying for fifty new Baptist pastors here in NSW, from our network, by 2020.
Bobby Jamieson: Any lessons learned that might serve other pastors who are similarly trying to raise up pastors?
John Smuts: Leading a church is hard work. The overwhelming temptation is to devote all our efforts into keeping the wheels turning. It is costly to make this a priority. Am I most concerned with using my time for extra sermon prep and conference speaking and the things that make me look good? Or do I invest in training others to make them look good? Yet, according to Paul in 2 Timothy 2:2, this is how the church grows. Pastors find godly men to whom they can entrust the message, and then train them to pass it on to others. That is The Noble Task.
(Editor’s note: A few weeks ago, Jonathan Leeman posted about pastors’ wives. The following post offers a complementary perspective, especially regarding Jonathan’s comments about the “louder volume.”)
From personal and pastoral experience I think that we should look for certain qualifications in an elder’s wife, even though no such qualifications are specified in the New Testament. Not asking for any specific qualities from an elder’s wife would seem to express a lack of concern and love for that sister and her husband. The charge of spiritual leadership of an elder is no light burden, and an elder’s wife will inevitably feel some of the effects of that burden.
If the elder is to be above reproach and serve the local church with joy, this man will need his wife to be able to support her husband, rest in Lord in moments of distress, never lose her love for the church of Christ, and keep her life free from serious sin that would reflect poorly on her husband and the church.
I have found through the years that spending time with prospective elders and their wives talking and praying about the kingdom of God, the life of a Christian family and serving the church is the best way of gently evaluating and training future elders’ wife to adequately and joyfully support their husbands when the time comes. At our church we do this by coaching the prospective elder and his wife for 2-3 years, but that is another subject.
Credo Magazine interviewed Bobby Jamieson about his AWESOME new study guides on each of the nine marks. Here it is.
Each of the study guides offers a six or seven week inductive Bible study on the nine marks. I recently taught about a dozen people through the booklet on church leadership. It went really well. The members were able to see for themselves in the Bible how God intends for authority to be used for good in the church's life. They were encouraged. So was I!
For real, you want these!
It's been a while since we've mentioned this... but one of my favorite audio resources is on the Capitol Hill Baptist webpage. Reading Sibbes Aloud is a collection of Richard Sibbes sermons read aloud by Mark Dever.
This is great stuff. I like reading Puritan sermons as much as the next nerd, but sermons are meant to be heard more than they were meant to be read. So the Sibbes project allows you to experience the wisdom and beauty of Sibbes' work in format similiar to the one in which he originally delivered it.
You can get the sermons through the CHBC podcast or from the church website.
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (ESV)
In the sermon, Chalmers argues that the only way to do away with our love of the world is to replace it with a great love. It’s not enough to simply show someone that the object of their love (be it money or power or sex or what have you) is vain and fleeting. That won’t quench the human need to desire and love. Instead, you must replace it with something better, a greater love:
…The way to disengage the heart from the positive love of one great and ascendant object, is to fasten it in positive love to another.
Chalmers writes that only the gospel has the power and beauty to truly displace the love of the world in someone’s heart:
… In the Gospel do we so behold God, as that we may love God. It is there, and there only, where God stands revealed as an object of confidence to sinners and where our desire after Him is not chilled into apathy, by that barrier of human guilt which intercepts every approach that is not made to Him through the appointed Mediator. It is the bringing in of this better hope, whereby we draw nigh unto God - and to live without hope, is to live without God; and if the heart be without God, then world will then have all the ascendancy.
This has application to preaching. First, it means that you don’t have to be the most clever preacher in the world. While it’s helpful to be skilled at displaying the folly of the world’s system of love and affection, that’s not the most important thing. Speaking of the less-skilled (but faithful) preacher, Chalmers writes:
He may not be able, with the eye of shrewd and satirical observation, to expose to the ready recognition of his hearers, the desires of worldliness but with the tidings of the gospel in commission, he may wield the only engine that can extirpate them. He cannot do what some have done, when, as if by the hand of a magician, they have brought out to view, from the hidden recesses of our nature, the foibles and lurking appetites which belong to it. - But he has a truth in his possession, which into whatever heart it enters, will, like the rod of Aaron, swallow up them all - and unqualified as he may be, to describe the old man in all the nicer shading of his natural and constitutional varieties, with him is deposited that ascendant influence under which the leading tastes and tendencies of the old man are destroyed, and he becomes a new creature in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Thus, the most important thing for a preacher is to be able to hold up the gospel in such a way that it will replace the old thing that our defective heart loves with a new and better one. Only the pure gospel, free from any works-righteousness, can accomplish this work:
Salvation by grace - salvation by free grace - salvation not of works, but according to the mercy of God - salvation on such a footing is not more indispensable to the deliverance of our persons from the hand of justice, than it is to the deliverance of our hearts from the chill and the weight of ungodliness. Retain a single shred or fragment of legality with the Gospel, and we raise a topic of distrust between man and God. We take away from the power of the Gospel to melt and to conciliate. For this purpose, the freer it is, the better it is.
This also means that goal of preaching is to display the gospel in such a way as to make the gospel seem beautiful to the hearer. Only when someone sees the amazing loveliness of God, perfectly holy but inexpressibly merciful and gracious to us in Christ, will they be able to love him instead of the world:
Let us not cease then to ply the only instrument of powerful and positive operation, to do away from you the love of the world. Let us try every legitimate method of finding access to your hearts for the love of Him who is greater than the world. For this purpose, let us, if possible, clear away that shroud of unbelief which so hides and darkens the face of the Deity. Let us insist on His claims to your affection - and whether in the shape of gratitude, or in the shape of esteem, let us never cease to affirm, that in the whole of that wondrous economy, the purpose of which is to reclaim a sinful world unto Himself - he, the God of love, so sets Himself forth in characters of endearment, that nought but faith, and nought but understanding, are wanting, on your part, to call forth the love of your hearts back again.
So, next time you have an opportunity preach the gospel, don’t be content with just getting the words right (though it’s important to get the words right!). Work and pray to make the gospel seem both clear and also wonderful to your hearers. Aim for their hearts, that they might see the loveliness of God in the gospel.
Paul Tripp had a great post over at TGC blog entitled 6 Traits of a Pastor in Awe of God. I was particulalry challenged by trait #3, which reads:
No matter what is or isn't working in my ministry, no matter what difficulties I am facing, no matter what battles I am fighting, the expansive glory of God gives me reason to get up in the morning and do what I have been gifted and called to do with enthusiasm, courage, and confidence. My joy isn't handcuffed to circumstances or relationships. My heart isn't yanked wherever they go. I have reason for joy because I am a chosen child and a conscripted servant of the King of kings and Lord of lords, the great Creator, the Savior, the Sovereign, the Victor, the One who reigns and will reign forever. He is my Father, my Savior, and my Boss. He is ever near and ever faithful. My passion for ministry does not come from how I am being received. It flows out of the reality that I have been received by him. I'm not enthusiastic because people like me, but because he has accepted and sent me. I'm not passionate because ministry is glorious, but because God is eternally and unchangeably glorious. So I preach, teach, counsel, lead, and serve with a gospel passion that inspires and ignites the same in the people around me.
It's well worth reading the whole post.
I laughed at the warning located at the beginning of Wendell Berry's novel Jayber Crow (which is a great read, BTW):
Persons attempting to find a "text" in this book will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a "subtext" in it will be banished; persons attempting to explain, interpret, explicate, analyze, deconstruct, or otherwise "understand" it will be exiled to a desert island in the company only of other explainers.
BY ORDER OF THE AUTHOR
I'd encourage you to check out the newest 9Marks Leadership Interview featuring John Piper.
In this conversation with Mark Dever, Piper discusses racism, the gospel, obstacles to reconciliation, and white guilt in light of his recent book Bloodlines.
Some Christians experience racism as a brutal, inescapable, daily reality. Others don't seem to experience it at all. But Piper argues that every Christian should give careful attention to this issue. At bottom, he says that it is not just a social issue, but a blood issue. The blood of Christ purchased people from every tribe and nation, so racism is a direct affront to the gospel.
We pray that this interview will not only provide a deeply biblical perspective on racism, but also give you hope to persevere in combating racism and pursuing reconciliation.
…Set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:13 ESV)
The character and object of a man’s hope determines almost everything that’s important about him. But look at what the apostle Peter says about our hope:
- Notice the verb he uses. Our hope is something that we must “set”. It’s not a passive process, but we must actively choose to locate our hope and place it in something.
- Our hope can be set to greater or lesser degrees. It can be “fully” set on something or it can be set half-heartedly.
- Hope looks to something we don’t have right now but that will be brought to us, namely, the fullness of grace (the amazing blessings!) that will be brought when Jesus is revealed.
Pastoral ministry and the Christian life in general are often marked by (a sometimes holy) discontent. We are constantly aware of deficiencies, problems, and things that need to be fixed in our lives and in the lives of our congregation. And it’s easy to place our hope in the immediate solution to those problems, whether it’s some church program or strategy for personal growth. But Peter reminds us that only one thing is worthy of our full hope: the sure promise that we will have everything our hearts have longed for and more than we can ever imagine when Jesus is revealed.
So, what’s your hope set on? What difference would it make if you set it (fully!) on the grace that’s going to be yours perfectly one day? What problems would not feel so overwhelming? What sins would not seem so attractive?