How do you preach a passage you don't particularly like? Many pastors, of course, would just find a different one. But for those committed to expository preaching, sometimes the text staring you in the face isn't one you would've picked.
"If I don't like a passage it's usually because I either don't understand it or don't see how I'm going to preach it," Mike McKinley explains in a new roundtable video with Bryan Chapell and J. D. Greear. Yet time and again, the pastor of Sterling Park Baptist Church in northern Virginia observes, "I've learned God is pleased to use things that don't impress me."
"If I understand what the Lord is saying but just don't like it, I have to learn to love it," says Chapell, pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Peoria, Illinois, and former president of Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis. "I've got to try to figure out the reason God put it there and then fall in love with that reason."
"I look back on my early years and am embarrassed by how little confidence I had in the Word of God," admits Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in North Carolina. "But though there have been books of the Bible I didn't think I would like, I can honestly say I've never preached one that didn't prove to be profound and life-changing."
Watch the full nine-minute video to see these pastors discuss Monday morning terror, why Chapell bowed out before finishing Daniel, when application unburdens, and more.
"I don't know any pastor who has been more personally fruitful in discipleship ministry than Randy Pope," Tim Keller observes. "Nor do I know of any church leader who has had a more sustained, lifelong commitment to making the ministry of discipleship a pervasive force throughout his whole church."
Pope sat down with Mark Mellinger to discuss his vision for and experience with church-anchored discipleship over the past 25 years. "Discipleship is laboring in the lives of a few to give away your life and the gospel," explains the founding pastor of Atlanta's Perimeter Church and author of Insourcing: Bringing Discipleship Back to the Local Church(Zondervan, 2013) [written interview | TGC13 workshop]. "If you want to see lives change, you've got to do it life-on-life."
How does this vision get worked out practically? "We start small and invest deeply in the lives of a few," Pope says. "It's important to go deep before you go wide." At Perimeter this process entails small groups that gather weekly to invest time in truth, equipping, accountability, mission, and supplication ("TEAMS").
Watch the full nine-minute video to see Pope discuss leadership development, training clinics, how this vision fuels global missions, and more.
Are "non-shepherding" pastors ever legitimate? You know, ministers who, due to other commitments (such as preaching) abstain from counseling and visitation and other life-on-life ministry during the week. Apart from perhaps a brief window on Sundays, they're essentially inaccessible.
"It's never okay to have a non-shepherding pastor," J. D. Greear insists, since you "can't separate those roles [shepherd and pastor] God has joined together." Nevertheless, the pastor of North Carolina's 4,000-plus-member The Summit Church admits, this principle will look different according to context.
"These duties are wed in Scripture," notes Bryan Chapell, pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Peoria, Illinois, and former president of Covenant Seminary in St. Louis. He points to Paul's instructive words: "Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well" (1 Thess. 2:8). Like Greear, though, Chapell admits there will be different "gifts" and "degrees of calling" when it comes to shepherding and proclamation.
"It's good to know your own personality so that you'll be able to work against your weaknesses," adds Mike McKinley, pastor of Sterling Park Baptist Church in northern Virginia. As an introvert, he's acutely aware that "books are easier to love than people."
Just because you can't pastor everyone doesn't exempt you from pastoring anyone. Indeed, despite the priority of preaching, you won't be "half the preacher you ought to be if you're not individually involved in people's lives."
Watch the full seven-minute video to hear these pastors discuss generational shifts in expectation, the place of preaching, multiplying leaders, and more.
"Job's friends were great counselors," Tullian Tchividjian observes, "until they opened their mouth."
Tchividjian sat down with Paul Tripp and Dave Furman to discuss things you shouldn't to say to a person in pain—many of which they've learned the hard way.
"I've made the mistake of comparing one person's pain to someone else's," recalls Furman, pastor of Redeemer Church of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. Though perhaps well intentioned, this approach diminishes the real struggle before your eyes and leaves the person to conclude you "have no idea what I'm going through." Along similar lines, Tripp adds that it's remarkably unhelpful to tell someone, "You will never suffer as much as Jesus did." To the person who suffers this comment sounds like Jesus set the bar so high that no one else's pain matters.
"The mandatory happiness we require inside the church often perpetuates the pain people feel," says Tchividjian, pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. "But we have a faith that actually embraces suffering, that looks it square in the face and is realistic about it. The idea that God suffers for us and with us is what sets Christianity apart."
Watch the full seven-minute video to see these pastors discuss blunders they've made, comforting their kids, awkward silence, and more.
When it comes to church leadership, the New Testament pattern is clear: a plurality of elders shepherding a flock entrusted to their care. Some of them, such as the senior pastor, often serve as paid, full-time staff at the church. But many others may not. They have "regular" full-time jobs outside the church.
Senior ministers Ryan Kelly and Rick Phillips talked with lay leader Bob Doll about the conflicts that sometimes arise between staff and lay elders. "Some tension is inevitable," admits Kelly, pastor of Desert Springs Church in Albuquerque. "It requires patience on the part of the staff elders to bring the others up to speed and understanding on the part of lay elders that much has gone on."
Doll, chief equity strategist and senior portfolio manager at Nuveen Asset Management, points to inadequate vision-casting, poor communication, murky lines of responsibility, and conflict avoidance as factors that typically yield problems. Additionally, according to Phillips, pastor of Second Presbyterian Church in Greenville, South Carolina, "It's important to ensure non-staff elders aren't viewed or treated as mere rubber stampers, an applause audience for the staff."
Watch the full eight-minute video to see these leaders discuss lay elders with demanding jobs, the cesspool of sinners, losing votes, and more. Next month Phillips will be speaking at TGC's southwest regional conference, Clarus, hosted at Kelly's church in Albuquerque.
In this roundtable video, Trillia Newbell, Scotty Smith, and Justin Holcomb discuss how churches can more intentionally and effectively preempt abuse.
Education is essential, Newbell suggests, since most people just don't realize the statistics. When child abuse happens, therefore, they're utterly shocked. Moreover, it's vital to equip members with a biblical view of sexuality. "Sometimes the best defense is a good offense," Smith says, "and teaching about the God who designed our delights will help us to be proactive rather than reactive."
It's that time of year. Many of us are encountering the opening chapters of Luke's Gospel afresh as we prepare to celebrate our Savior's birth.
Produced in partnership with LifeWay, The Gospel of Luke: From the Outside Inis a 12-session group study offering a thorough look at the life of Jesus through the eyes of Luke and the interpretation of scholars David Morlan and D. A. Carson.
The following excerpt from the lesson on Luke 1-2 features written commentary from Morlan and video teaching from Carson.
In the first two chapters of his Gospel, Luke highlights that Jesus didn't arise out of a contextless situation. God didn't choose him from any random family or people, nor did he just drop him in out of nowhere. Jesus was connected intimately with what God had been doing with Israel through ages past. Indeed, the story Luke tells about Jesus isn't a new story, but rather the culmination of one reaching back thousands of years.
So if the story Luke is telling connects Jesus with the story of Israel in the Old Testament, then that means the God connected to Jesus is the Lord of Israel. The God who called Abraham and spoke through the ancient prophets is the same God whose plan unfolds in the opening scenes of Luke's narrative.
Echoes of Creation
And a major character at work is the Holy Spirit. Indeed, the language used for the conception of Jesus (Luke 1:35) echoes the language for the beginning of creation itself. Genesis 1:2 says, "And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters." Just as the Spirit "hovered" over the deep before God's great miracle of creation, so he "overshadows" Mary before the miracle of Christ's conception.
Luke assures his readers that "the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God" (Luke 1:35). This previews a special relationship between Jesus and the Spirit that will become increasingly evident as his ministry progresses. It also reveals the magnitude of what the Father is doing in Jesus—it is an act on the scale of creation itself.
Superior to John
If the story of Israel and activity of God come together dramatically in the person of Jesus, what does this tell us about him? Jesus is utterly unique. And the main way Luke demonstrates this is through a comparison with John the Baptist. John is an immensely important prophet like Elijah who prepares the way for God's people; Jesus is God's own Son who will rule on David's eternal throne. While John's conception occurs in the conventional way, Jesus' comes about through the creative work of the Holy Spirit. While John, like the Old Testament prophets before him, points to salvation, Jesus actually brings salvation. John's father, Zechariah, gives him the role of prophet and forerunner while directing his attention mostly to the one who "raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David" (Luke 1:69). Even as an adult John admits his baptism was just with water while he pointed to Jesus' baptism being with "the Holy Spirit and fire" (Luke 3:15-18).
By providing a comparison of John and Jesus, Luke wants us to see how truly unique Jesus is. If John, a great prophet of God, wasn't worthy to untie Jesus' sandals, what does that tell us about Jesus? If Jesus says "among those born of women none is greater than John" and concludes "yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he," what does that tell us about the importance of the kingdom Jesus is establishing (Luke 7:28)? John was great, but Jesus was absolutely unique.
Luke doesn't only situate Jesus within the history of God's people, but within world history as well. The events he recounts happened "in the days of Herod, king of Judea" during the rule of "Caesar Augustus . . . when Quirinius was governor of Syria" (Luke 2:1-2). The following chapter further roots Jesus' public ministry within world history: "In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene" (Luke 3:1).
By doing this, Luke is indicating that Jesus will not just affect Jewish history, but the history of the world. The stage is set for global ramifications. The borders of his kingdom will stretch to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). Indeed, this baby will be a "light of revelation to the Gentiles"—an ancient vocation Israel had forsaken long before (Luke 2:32; cf. Isa. 49:6).
Laboring away in their little non-strategic locales, rural Christians reach few influencers and probably do not impress Jesus. Bless their heart.
Though never put so baldly, some of today's "in the city for the city" rhetoric might at times give the impression that rural ministry is a bit second-class. In a new roundtable video, Collin Hansen sits down with Stephen Um and Jared Wilson to discuss the realities and peculiarities of ministry in rural, suburban, and urban areas.
"Since our world is becoming more urban, there is an undeniably strategic need for healthy gospel churches in cities," observes Um, pastor of Citylife Presbyterian Church in Boston and co-author of Why Cities Matter: To God, the Culture, and the Church[interview]. Nevertheless, he insists, just because cities matter does not mean they matter more.
If reaching cultural "influencers" made for automatically superior ministry, what would that say about our Savior? As Wilson, pastor of Middletown Springs Community Church in rural Vermont, notes, "Jesus went for the scrubs, the left-behinds."
"Not only is the world is becoming more urban, but rural areas are becoming less Christian," adds Hansen, editorial director for The Gospel Coalition. Nostalgic notions, then, of a moral middle America—"God's country"—are misguided and naïve.
Watch the full 10-minute video to hear these men discuss church planting, the need for patience, how Wilson ended up in Vermont, and more.
"Across the Lands" is a hymn that celebrates God speaking, from calling creation into being, to the incarnation—God's Word made flesh, to his death and resurrection, and his ongoing intercession on our behalf.
Echoing the language of John 1, the hymn is used increasingly as a song for Advent as well as being a call to worship and a declaration of faith.
Having written the song for the launch of the Operation World prayer book, it was a pleasure to bring it back and feature it as part at the TGC missions conference earlier this year. Kristyn and I consider it a privilege to join in the mission of The Gospel Coalition as we work together to develop a canon of new and theologically rich hymns for the church.
It is our pleasure to provide for you a free sheet music copy of "Across the Lands" (with gratitude to our publisher for their generosity in this as well) and pray it will be useful to you and your church during this season of Advent and all year long.
Should preachers aim for the affections? Is this even possible without resorting to manipulation techniques? In a new roundtable video, John Piper, Voddie Baucham, and Miguel Núñez—all Council members for The Gospel Coalition—explore differences between "working the crowd" and awakening authentic, God-honoring emotion.
"As long as preaching unpacks the greatness of God, the emotions should be moved," Núñez observes. Faithful exposition, then, is a excellent way to cultivate godly affection and safeguard against squalid manipulation.
A bored preacher misrepresents the God he proclaims, Piper adds, since God is not boring. Moreover, he explains, "the difference between emotion and emotionalism is whether you've awakened it with truth."
Baucham references a complaint sometimes voiced in more traditionally emotional (e.g., black and Latino) cultures that emphasizing truth and theology amounts to "denying your culture, your heritage, your ethnicity." But the call to awaken affections with biblical truth is not culturally specific. As Piper quips, "I want to be known as the best black preacher there ever was."
Watch the full 12-minute video to hear these three preachers discuss Grand Canyon moments, when God looks boring, and more.