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.
As a pastor I often get the question, “Do you have any advice for helping my kids to benefit from the sermon?”
This is a question that I really appreciate because it recognizes the importance of the preaching of the Word of God and our reception of it. It recognizes that even the children are to hear, and to best of their ability, understand what is being preached.
What follows are some things that I have done as a Dad and also as a pastor.
We know pastoral ministry is hard, but it is also tricky. In a given week a pastor can get the following comments:
Your preaching is blessing me greatly. I am learning to love Christ more and more!
Your preaching is too theological, it is not helping me.
Your preaching is too emotional, you need to be more doctrinal.
Sometimes this type of thing will cause you to spin in circles asking, “What am I doing? Is this working?”
I’ve heard John Piper speak of this and he talked about feeling like he is looking in one of those mirrors at the carnival. As you look at one angle the head is small, at another the head is big, etc. No matter which way you turn you get a different view. Ministry can be like this and the pastor can begin to think he is viewing his ineffectiveness in a carnival mirror.
One great, but often neglected resource for encouragement and straight-shooting is the pastor’s own wife. In this case they may not want to seem weak, complaining, or whatever. However, I would encourage pastors to talk to their wife. There is no one who knows you better (for better or worse) and no one who loves you more and wants what is best. You can trust them. So ask questions. Encourage honesty.
What’s more, take note of your wife’s growth in godliness. Many times we take for granted that our wife is going to be godly and growing in godliness. We should never presume upon grace! Instead, …
I found this quote from Clowney’s book Called to the Ministry to be very encouraging.
Have you ever lost interest in Bible reading when you came to the endless names of the Book of Numbers, or the genealogies of Genesis or Chronicles? You may stumble in pronouncing those strange names, but you would not want a Bible without them. God’s people are known by name. Their names are recorded in the book of his covenant, and he remembers. The very writing of the names is a memorial of the faithfulness of God. As the names of the tribes of Israel were written upon the precious stones in the breastplate of the high priest when he stood before the Lord to pray, so the names of the true people of God in all their generations are written in God’s book (Ex. 28:9-12, 17-21; 32:32; Ps. 56:8; 69:28).
…It is well to reflect on the fact that your individual calling is in the midst of the people of God. You are called individually, but not alone.
Edmund Clowney, Called to the Ministry, (pp. 8-9)
As a pastor I find myself reading and rereading books on pastoral ministry. When written well these pastors serve others in the fraternity by providing thoughtful and practical insights into their own ministries. Sometimes the smallest detail can translate to a large impact in other setting.
I recently read through On Being a Pastor by Derek Prime and Alistair Begg. Most likely you have heard of Begg while perhaps you are not familiar with Prime. Derek Prime served at Charlotte Chapel in Edinburgh for over 30 years. In fact, it was here that Alistair Begg served as an assistant pastor. This book was originally written in 1989 towards the end of Prime’s ministry and served to capture many items that he did well while also exhorting a new generation unto faithfulness. Later it was decided that the original should be revised and expanded a bit to fit a wider context. Begg joined the team and they labored together to produce this volume.
Like most books on pastoral ministry there is detailed treatment of the qualifications for ministry as well as the responsibilities of ministry. This book also spends time talking about things such as leadership, delegation, leading a worship service, family life, and leisure. If that sounds ambitious it is—and it’s not a short book (weighing in at nearly 300 pages).
Pastors who wake up on Mondays face a unique reality. We are coming of a time where we have worked hard the previous week in the study. The preparation culminates on Sunday morning as the sermon is delivered. In the aftermath we are humbled and encouraged; humbled because of our preaching and encouraged because of God’s sovereignty. But overall, much of the time, we feel good because we worked hard.
Now it’s Monday. And you feel, well, helpless. What can you do? Can you call up individuals and give application questions, or have them restate your proposition, main points and fallen condition focus? Unlikely (and unrecommended.) We are in that familiar spot of weakness. We so want people to get it but feel so limited in how to make them get it.
Everyone is prone to discouragement. No matter our vocation, we all face the temptation to feel like what we are doing does not matter. I can remember working in the military and wondering how much my work really supported the mission. I recall working in Insurance Compliance and debating in my mind as to how in the world all of these reports and analysis really did anything. These are natural and common questions.
From my seat there is no other vocation that trumps pastoral ministry with the feeling of not making a difference. In addition to our knowledge of our own weakness there is the front-row view of many other people’s problems. The pastor sees people at their worst. Whether it is the horrific impact of sin on their lives or the activity of sin within the church. Furthermore, there is the overall burden to see every member presented complete or mature in Christ (Col. 1.28-29). Oh, and by the way, you, Mr Pastor, will give an account for the souls of your sheep (Heb. 13.17).
So here you stand, knee deep in the sludge of personal and corporate sin, knowing your own weakness, and watching sheep alternating between picking each other off and falling asleep, and you ask, “Am I doing anything?”
It’s Monday morning. If you are a pastor who preached yesterday it means that you probably are somewhat discouraged. Of course you try to shrug it off by thinking through it logically but even that reminds you that you left some runners on base.
So what do you do? By about noon you start to feel the blood pumping a bit as you look ahead to the week. You might even go and grab the Dr’s medicine, Preaching and Preachers by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (MLJ). He does a fair job of reminding us of the task at hand. It’s good. You start to get encouraged, but then it hits you, “I wish I could preach like MLJ.”