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.
Last summer our elders and I were talking about trying to find some of the best books on the call to ministry. As we talked we realized that we did not have many of these books on hand. After doing a fair bit of research I read through a number of books to try to find the best resources for our context. We were looking for a shorter book that helped men to discern whether they should pursue ministry as a pastor. In particular, we were looking for resources that involved the congregation in the process. Below are the best books that we found and reviewed according the this criteria.
Prepare the to Shepherd, by Brian Croft. Like most books on the subject Brian talks about the moral and spiritual qualifications for the office. But, the additional stuff you get from Brian would include a peak into how he prepares guys for the ministry. He lets us into his internship process at his church. Why is this important? Because he shows how the congregation comes to recognize and affirm the man’s gifting. It is short and very helpful.
Church Elders, by Jeramie Rinne. I love Jeremy’s book for new elders or for elder preparation. It is so very helpful. I also think it is helpful for helping guys to discern what an elder looks like and then to see if the gifting is evident. This book does the same thing for the congregation. Put this alongside Croft’s book.
Called to …
Awhile back I was having a bad day in the middle of a bad week. I was knee-deep in self-pity and was on the 3rd stanza of a country song about the ministry. Then suddenly the dog started barking. It broke my concentration on myself and I decided to go and see who was at the door. It was the mailman and he had a box. I tore into the box hoping to find something awesome, and was happy to find something very helpful. Inside the box was a copy of Jared Wilson’s The Pastor’s Justification. I sat down in the chair and read the introduction and the first chapter. Then I made some coffee and crushed the next several chapters. It was done the next day. I loved it. It was something awesome. And timely.
Let me explain. As pastors we have this devilish proclivity to make everything about ourself. We are tempted to the following sinful and unhelpful patterns: if the ministry is going “well” then we are validated and if the ministry is going “bad” then our identity is hanging in the balance. It is very tempting for pastors to tell everyone else how to apply the work of Christ while neglecting to do it ourself. We could preach justification by faith alone, by grace alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone; but subtly believe justification by success, by works, through the church, to the glory of self. This is deadly.
How do you …
Who would you say was the most pagan, biblically illiterate church in the New Testament? Chances are Corinth would be at the top of your list. Judging by the tone of and issues included in Paul’s two letters, we can safely say that the church had a bit of a pagan hangover mixed with gospel amnesia. But this did not stop him from dipping his pen in the inkwell of the Old Testament Scriptures to make his point.
When you consider that Paul only spent about 18 months with these people it is even more striking. He got a lot done. He reasoned with Jews and, along with Aquila and Priscilla, saw Gentile converts and a church planted (Acts 18; Rom. 16.3; 2 Tim. 4.19-20). This is a strong gospel encouragement, even amid a city that was so full of false worship (1 Cor. 8.5).
Think about how the Old Testament Scriptures are treated today in Evangelicalism. They are rarely touched and when they are they are often moralized rather than preached with any connection to Jesus. Ask the average church goer how the Old relates to the New Testament and you will get a surprising array of answers. Consider the sermons by pastors. How may preach the Old Testament? There are many scholars who are occupied with redaction criticism and cast serious doubts about the reliability of many Old Testament texts. Sadly, many preachers have become functional evangelical redactors by ignoring large portions of their Bibles or at least lacking the confidence or the understanding to show the robust significance …
Several months ago I carefully evaluated my personal reading habits. My conclusion troubled me a bit: I am reading a lot but it is not enjoyable. I read more because I have to instead of because I like to. This may not seem like much of an issue to you, but think with me for a minute and see if you can relate.
Being a pastor I have to read a lot. Each week I need to read commentaries for the passage I am preaching but also need to track down answers to questions from church members. I have books related to our residency program that I must also be very familiar with. Then there are personal items related to ministry that I feel I need to freshen up on or become familiar with. Having not gone to seminary and never read a book until 2002, I always feel like I need to be on the active end of filling any academic potholes that I may have. As a result, at any time there could be 10-15 books “in progress”. This is normal for most pastors and even a light load for others.
Brian Croft has proven himself to be a shepherd of shepherds. I can attest to this personally as I’ve benefited from the Practical Shepherding website and seminars, and even phone conversations with him and my elder team. The book The Pastor’s Ministry is like a roundtable discussion with Croft as he instructs on 10 priorities of a pastor. This is a much needed book for us “younger” reformed guys who may know theology like the back of our hand but could definitely benefit from deepening our wells in the practical side of pastoral care. Although I think every pastor should read the classic, The Christian Ministry by Charles Bridges, it’s not necessarily a book I would hand a busy pastor to help him get back to the basics of shepherding. Croft’s book, on the other hand, can be read in a few hours and bring immediate reform.