All vocations have their share of land-mines. Experienced, successful, and honest tradesmen will admit to making a ton of mistakes on their trip from journeyman to craftsman. Whenever a peer has the opportunity to listen in to these types of professional flubs they should take the opportunity. This vocational intel is gold. After all, what’s better than learning from a mistake without having to suffer its consequences?
I’m thankful for Kyle McClellen, a loving pastor who wrote a book to share his mistakes with other pastors. His goal is to share some of his vocational missteps, learning experiences, and bruises of sanctification with us. Through this relatively short book (120 pages in paperback) Kyle flips through his ministry scrapbook and offers commentary on his pastoral scars, black eyes, and speeding tickets.
Kyle went into seminary and ministry with a fair amount of approval. This did not serve him very well. It stoked his pride. He did well at seminary and then got called to a church. Well, multiple churches. In a short period of time he managed to burn through 4 churches! He found himself pulling orders at an Amazon warehouse. He was in a bad spot. Through a series of events he ended up reading Wendell Berry, falling in love with the town he grew up in, planting a church there, getting over himself, and pursuing what Jesus would have him pursue. He figured out who he is and what he is supposed to do. But, this did not come …
It is a problem that all pastors doubtless face, “How can I make sure that I am feeding all of the people that God has given me?”
When I look out upon our congregation on Sunday morning I see a wide spectrum. I see faithful and mature folks who have been walking with the Lord for decades and then some who have been Christians for only a few months. I see people in their 60’s and then folks in their 20’s. In addition to that there are many little 5 year-olds staring up at me trying to understand. There are people from a completely biblically illiterate background and then there are those who have grown up in evangelical churches but never heard the gospel. Then there are many guys who are running hard theologically and wanting to be challenged and fed.
And so I push back from the table, exhale, put my hands behind my head, and wonder to myself about how to best deal with this good problem.
I was sharing this dilemma with a friend recently. He would be in the ‘running hard theologically’ category. He smiled and said, “Just make good fish and chips every week. If you make fish and chips well then we will all be happy and fed.”
His point was this, regardless of what you are used to, expecting, or really want, you always appreciate a well-made plate of fish and chips. It seems to have that unique ability to simply ‘hit the spot’ every time …
We like shortcuts assuming that they get us to where we are trying to go. If they do not then they are dangerous, unproductive detours. In his book The Priority of Preaching, Christopher Ash argues that there are no shortcuts for preaching with authority. He writes, “The authority is a wonderful authority, but it is an authority borrowed only at great cost. This is why there are no shortcuts that work.”
Ash then helpfully warns preachers of three common shortcuts that preachers are tempted to take. I’ll state his points and briefly summarize them.
1. Beware of the shortcut of individual interpretation. This is the notion that we can just beaver away at the passage like we were the first person to ever read it. Many, many Christians have gone before us and wrestled with these same passages. No matter how trendy it is today to have our own interpretation of things Christians preachers must know that they we are accountable to God and one another to hear what the passage really means. “We must not be lazily idiosyncratic.”
2. Beware of the shortcut of second-hand interpretation. When listening to others we must not just copy others. Ash tells the story of how early in his ministry he heard a famous preacher nail a sermon and figured that he and his hearers would be better served if he just copied the sermon and delivered it as his own. The result was a true failure. Why? First the context was completely different, so the style didn’t …
In addition to leading and teaching, pastors are called to protect or guard the flock (Titus 1.5, 9; 2.15; John 21.15-19). Therefore, it logically follows that it is important for pastors to know who is in attendance and membership within the congregation. There are obviously many practical reasons for this, but one is certainly to protect the flock from potential harm.
So I ask you, “Who is the most dangerous guy at your church?”
I don’t know that I have ever seen an experience that could rival it. There was crying so loud that people could hear it from a far distance away. The crying was strange though, it was mixed with happiness and lament. It was 2,500 or so years ago in the land of Israel. The exiles had returned and had laid the foundation for the new temple. The older folks were wailing with lament because they had seen the previous temple in all of its glory. The younger folks who had grown up in exile were excited and full of joy as they looked ahead to this new temple.
The strange chorus of weeping and wailing punctuates the epic scene in Ezra 3 as the foundation for the new temple is laid.
At the same time we can read of the prophet Zechariah dealing with the attitudes of lament here as well as the forthcoming fear of man in chapters 4-5 of Ezra. One of the big prophetic hammers that Zechariah brings to this party is a statement about what God is doing and the fact that people are not to despise the day of small things.
“This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts. Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain. And he shall bring forward the top stone amid shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!’ ”…For whoever has despised the day of …
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. (John 10.27)
Have you ever been overcome with despair as you wonder how to get through to your friend who is presently a stubborn professing Christian? Have you looked into the eyes of an unbeliever and asked yourself how you might bring them to Christ? Have you wondered how you might appeal to them and somehow have them follow the Savior? If you are a pastor, have you sat in your study and wondered how you might help people to “get it”?
To one degree or another all believers have shared these thoughts. What happens next, however, is of vital importance. What do we do about it?
Since many readers of this site are pastors, even young pastors, I thought it would be helpful to share this quote of a confession from Bryan Chapell concerning a misguided practice from his early days of preaching.
In my earliest years of ministry, I most valued mining obscure texts. I thought the effort showed how serious I was about all of Scripture. I also believed that handling such passages well would show how qualified I was to preach.
Preaching difficult and little-known texts was like showing my diploma. I later learned to love shedding light on important texts or bringing new life to familiar texts. Concentrating on the Bible’s ‘fine print’ gave people the impression they could not read their Bible’s without me. My pride may have appreciated this perception, but it was poor pastoring.
The Bible became an opaque book full of grammatical mazes and logical knots that I had to untangle each week. Thus, by consistently choosing texts in the Bible’s densest forests, I denied people the sunlight it more regularly offers and made them less willing to approach its paths.
Some people may have thought much of my abilities to handle the Word, but more lost confidence in their ability to do the same. (Chapell, Bryan. Christ-centered Preaching: Redeeming the Expository Sermon. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005. 69.)
If you are an engaged, commitment member of a local church then you have probably at some point said to yourself or a friend, “We should do this ministry.” Often times these types of thoughts and ideas give birth to very fruitful and faithful ministries. As church leaders pastors pray for increasingly burdened and active church members.
But, there is more to it than this.
Let’s say that an entire church membership of 200 people are all burdened for new ministry expressions. Some want to work with international students, others with children in the congregation, still others with women in the church, and others with the poor in the community. And, for the sake of the illustration, they all are bringing these ideas to the pastors. How should the church leaders think through this ideas?
I have found three questions to be very helpful in evaluating ministry. These questions are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but rather they represent a process for working through faithful ministry in the local church.
(1) What do we need to do?
This is the question of what the Bible clearly says we as a church are called to do. The Bible is actually quite simple. The church is to assemble together, preach and teach the Bible, pray, read the Scriptures, encourage and admonish one another, observe the Lord’s Supper, baptize new converts, disciple one another, and spend time together. We often complicate things by elevating things that we have seen in other churches or ministry contexts to this level, but …
As a preaching pastor I found this quote from Kaiser to be both helpful and convicting:
“Evangelicals in particular are known for leaving messages at the cognitive level. We often think we have done our job when we have asked God’s people to ‘think about this,’ or ‘believe this,’ or ‘remember this.’ But it suddenly struck me one day that Beelzebub could respond just as well to my sermons if that was all I was asking people to do. The devil believes all of these things and more. He knows they are true; he just doesn’t act on any of these claims. Thus, we must call for action.” (Walt Kaiser, Preaching and Teaching from the Old Testament, p. 59)
I can still remember my mom encouraging me to count sheep as a viable option to cure my adolesent insomnia. Even though it seemed strange to me to count sheep I was compliant. I can’t remember if it worked or not. At any rate, the saying endures through another generation.
I can tell you first hand, from a pastoral perspective, that counting sheep will not put you to sleep. In fact, it will do the opposite. If I wake up in the night and something comes to my mind concerning members of Emmaus or other believers that I love, then I am toast. I will toss and turn, restlessly praying for them.