Needed: Tough and Tender Pastors

Justin Taylor passed along a quote from John Piper on a vision for tough and tender pastors in controversy.  Here’s an excerpt:

It seems to me that we are always falling off the horse on one side or the other in this matter of being tough and tender—wimping out on truth when we ought to be lion-hearted, or wrangling with anger when we ought to be weeping. . . .

Oh how rare are the pastors who speak with a tender heart and have a theological backbone of steel.

I dream of such pastors. I would like to be one someday.

A pastor whose might in the truth is matched by his meekness.

Whose theological acumen is matched by his manifest contrition.

Whose heights of intellect are matched by his depths of humility.

Yes, and the other way around!

Click here to read more. 

The Need for Pastors to Rest

Thabiti Anyabwile writes a helpful article about the pastor’s need for rest.

Ministry veterans like Piper and John Stott among others have come to see the value of regular periods of rest.  I’m freshly grateful to God for a church family that supports my pastoral labors as well as rest from those labors.  I’m deeply thankful for a church family that understands that the church belongs to the Lord and His reign is not threatened when His under-shepherds rest.  When I’m not rested, it’s usually my fault.  I’m either over-extending myself or I’m not being effective with my time.  There are periods where the load is really heavy, but with the encouragement and support I receive I should be rested and fresh most days.

Read the rest here.

(HT: Challies)  

Preaching a Funeral For An Unbeliever

Yes, I am actually posting.   It’s been a long while since I’ve posted–good to be back.

On occasion, I am asked to preach a funeral for one who has died without Christ.  The first time I encountered this difficulty was actually before I became a pastor.  My uncle died as an avowed atheist who had rejected Christ up until the end.  He died unexpectedly.  I remember my parents telling me how sad and hollow the service was, because he had rejected any notion of the afterlife.

For the pastor, a great tension exists.  On the one hand, you have grieving family members and friends who want the funeral to be about the deceased’s earthly life.  On the other hand, the Scriptures are clear about the reality of their eternal life (or death, as the case may be).   How does the minister of the gospel of Christ handle this?

Always acknowledge and validate the deceased’s life. This person is someone’s grandfather, grandmother, father, mother, son, daughter, etc.  In other words, this person was greatly loved and will be missed.   A lifetime of memories are stored on the bookshelves on their minds.  A myriad of pictures may be displayed by the casket representing a lifetime of events and experiences.  These cannot and should not be denied, even in light of their refusal to receive Christ in this life.

Develop a close relationship/friendship with the family of the deceased. Whatever the reason they asked you to do the funeral (such as:  you were the only one to visit them at their home or in the hospital; they looked you up in the phone book; you are the pastor of a relative, etc.), you must take time to get to know the family personally.  Visit them in their home, call them, go to the viewing at the funeral home or church.  Your presence speaks volumes.  You are not to simply arrive and preach your message.  You come alongside them and help share their grief and bear their burdens.  And you will be amazed at how they appreciate your presence and will lean on you for support.  At that point, you are as Christ to them by virtue of your calling into the Gospel ministry.  Which leads me to the next point… .

Remember your ultimate calling as a minister of the gospel of Christ, even in this situation.  In the course of your visits and conversations with the family, you will find yourself tempted to lessen the blow of the deceased’s eternal reality — something which can happen easier that it initially appears.  The family is so grieved and despondent that, even in light of the deceased’s apathy or even outright rejection of Christ, may comfort themselves in thinking that the deceased is in “a better place.”  The alternative of believing someone they loved so dearly is suffering eternal judgment in hell may be too much to bear.

But even so, we have a higher calling.  The funeral is for those in attendance, not just the one in the casket.   Remind those in attendance of this fact, then show them the comfort that may be found.  How?  “Preach Christ crucified!”  The reality of Christ must break through the muddle of thoughts that are settling in their grief-stricken minds.  While they may comfort themselves that many other issues and thoughts, family and friends, and fill in the blank — in reality, the only comfort that may be found in any circumstance or situation is in Christ.  We must not turn away or be ashamed of Christ, even if it means breaking through their sensibilities of what the ‘afterlife.’

I have put out some other posts on preaching a funeral:

Scriptures I Use For Funeral Services

Practical Tips For Preaching a Funeral

Any other thoughts on this matter?

Pray For Me — Leading a Pastor’s Conference in Trinidad

On January 16-17, 2009, I will be leading a pastor’s conference in Trinidad. The theme will be “Stewards of the Gospel” and will march through 1 and 2 Timothy. I am excited about this, but also excited about a possible book that may come from this. Roddie Taylor, pastor of the Mt. Beulah Evangelical Baptist Church in Point Fortin, and I are working on writing a book for Trinidadian/Caribbean pastors in the area of preaching and pastoring biblically. Many pastors are being greatly and harmfully influenced by the TBN model which spreads the heresy that faithfulness means that God will bring material blessing. So we will be talking to a number of pastors and ministers, doing research and leg work for this book.

We would appreciate your prayers!

The Razor’s Edge of Pastoring, Part II

Another razor’s edge of pastoring is that I would shepherd the flock of God willingly!  In other words, pray that I would not see my calling as a pastor simply as a job, as something I do to pay the bills.  Pray that God would grant me and guard in me a hart that is one who desires to love, serve, preach to and shepherd this church.  Pray that nothing would take away the joy found in Jesus!  Pray that I would work willingly, not just being self-motivated but God-motivated, Christ-motivated, Word-motivated.   Pray that computers, phone calls, worry, lack of rest, and a myriad of other issues would not divert me from the crux of my calling: preaching and teaching the Word of God.

(If you would like to read Part I of this series, click here.)

The Razor’s Edge Balance of a Pastor, Part I

Summary: Have the emergent church folks got it right in saying that pastors shouldn’t not exert any type of ecclesiastical authority in the church, or have the more formal churches got it right when they try to separate themselves from their flock? This is the razor’s edge balance that pastors must find.

—————-

First of all, let me say how glad I am to be back. Cindy and I went to Florida to celebrate our 10th anniversary. My sister let us use one of her timeshares at the Ron Jon Cape Caribe Resort in Port Canaveral. Then we went to St. Augustine about two hours north, then we went south to see some old friends in Clewiston. I had the privilege and the honor of preaching at the First Baptist Church of Clewiston where I served as Minister of Music and Youth from 1998-2001.

While down there, I really had an opportunity to revisit the place where God called me into the preaching ministry. I obtained my B.S. in Church Music from Palm Beach Atlantic University in 1994, then went to the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary to obtain my Master of Church Music, which I received in 1997. I went to FBC-Clewiston right after in March of 1998. I planned on having a long and wonderful ministry among those wonderful people.

God had other plans. A call to preach. Back to seminary. Serving in small churches. Children on the way. Times of joy and times of strain. While in Clewiston, we were financially set and were saving money like crazy. Since, with children and school, finances have been ultra-tight. Yet, being in God’s will has been a tremendous blessing and joy.

As I was pondering this, along with a sermon series I’ll be doing on Church Membership, along with my DMin project which seeks to make the case for the local church to take up the mantle of training preachers, I came across again for the first time (you know what I mean, right?) 1 Peter 5:1-4:

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: [2] shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; [3] not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. [4] And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory (ESV).

I asked the flock at Boone’s Creek Baptist Church here in Lexington, KY, to read this passage and craft it into a prayer for me that I would be able to navigate the razor’s edge of pastoring and preaching.

Pray That I Would Shepherd Diligently

Churches and the people of God are often referred to in the Word of God as a flock of sheep. Wiersbe helped me realize that sheep are clean and tend to flock together (a good thing) but have a tendency to stray, desiring to go their own way. Sheep are defenseless and in need of protection.

As so Jesus as our Great Shepherd has placed undershepherds to serve in shepherding the flock of God.Jesus, as he is in heaven working among the churches (Revelation 1:9-20), initiated his church in such a way that he places pastors (undershepherds) to oversee the people of God. Paul tells young Timothy in 1 Tim. 3:1-2

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. [2] Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach.

I would read over this passage and think, “God, no way! Keep me as a music and youth minister, but do not call me as a fellow sinner — and a young fellow sinner at that — to oversee a people.” So for 18 months I wrestled. Yet the Hound of Heaven would not leave me alone! Finally, he brought me to a point where I finally submitted and left Clewiston to return to seminary training and a new area of minister.

Shepherds are not always called on to maintain the peace — sometimes that rod of staff is not just for comfort but for correction! Shepherds of God have a tough balance — pastors are among the sheep as the people of God, but also “over” the flock.

Yet, some pastors swing one way or the other. Some reject having authority, as the emergent church folks tend to do, and say, “It’s not about us having authority, but merely facilitating.” Yet, we are overseers. Hebrews 13:17 addresses this:

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

As you can see, it takes prayerful study of God’s Word and a high degree of character to find the God-ordained balance he seeks.

(Tomorrow: Part II — Pray That I Would Shepherd Willingly)

To The Young Pastor (Tabletalk)

In the May 2008 edition of Tabletalk magazine from Ligonier Ministries, Ron Gleason (senior minister of Grace Presbyterian Church in Yorba Linda, CA, and founder of Renewed Life Ministries) contributes an excellent article aptly titled, “To the Young Pastor.” He gives five pieces of advice that are just spot on.

  1. Preach expository sermons from both the Old and New Testaments. An excerpt: “The pastor is primarily called to proclaim the riches of Christ through the preaching of the Word and the clear exposition of Scripture. In this manner, he both equips the saints and prepares them to present the true, pure Gospel to the lost.”
  2. A faithful pastor takes worship seriously. “To worship God rightly means to worship Him scripturally. The pastor and his congregation must pay careful attention to what God requires in His Word.”
  3. Manage your time to the glory of God. “Far too many pastors waste precious time performing ever-nebulous “networking.” Time, once spent, cannot be regained.”
  4. Maintain office hours and be approachable. “Make good use of your study and be available by phone, for personal visits, or a spontaneous ‘hello.’ My study door is almost always open and I enjoy people sticking their head in and saying hello.
  5. Visit the flock. “It is a time of personal accountability, equipping, and teaching that is so often missing in today’s churches.”

The Driving Question of Faithful Preaching Ministries

I find myself pondering the place of the preaching ministry not just in the life of the church in general, but in my church in particular. Having been here almost five years, I am now seeing the importance and the cruciality of leading from the pulpit. The pastor is the primary vision-caster and mission developer of the church by virtue of his leadership status but also due to his studious diligence in his primary duty, preaching and teaching the Word. In Acts 6:1-4, we read:

Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. [2] And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. [3] Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. [4] But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:1-4, ESV).

This oft-quoted passage really stresses the necessity of why “prayer and the ministry of the word” is so important. Prayer crafts our hearts to the framework of God’s will and way. The Word helps give us an objective anchor to the relevation of God through the person of Jesus Christ. The pastor is the intercessor and the point person for each local church assembly to connect with God and then in turn connect God’s people with God’s vision for them.

Ultimately, God’s vision for his church is found in Romans 8:28-29:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. [29] For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

God’s vision for his local church is to conform his people to Christlikeness. And the preaching ministry should and must drive every person and every other ministry to this pursuit.

Where churches encounter trouble is when we forget the ‘why’ of a particular ministry or program and simply get caught up in the ‘what.’ If a missions program exists, we are tempted to focus on the ‘what’ of that program and how we should have that program because its that program. But when asked ‘why,’ the response can be boiled down to the following: ‘Because this is what has always been done.’ It can be any other ministry in the church.

The pulpit ministry of a church should encourage Christlikeness and challenge the traditions, mindsets, and ministries of the church by asking this question: “How does this exalt Christ, His gospel, and the believer’s transformation to Christlikeness and (to be redundant) holiness?” Pastors must challenge their people in this, regardless of the age or influence of the church. When churches begin to lose sight of this, it is because their leaders have lost sight of this.

So pastors, use the pulpit for not only to faithfully exposit the Word of God, but prayerfully consider how to apply this to your individual people and to the corporate ministries of the church. Evaluate, question, challenge, encourage, love, support, motivate, compel, and pray over everything that takes place under the banner of your local church and, ultimately, the Lord Jesus Christ. Pastors must not be afraid to lead. Hebrews 13:17 says:

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

What think ye?

A Vacuum Tube From Your Study To The Pulpit And Back?

I am finding a crucial balance between studying the text (which is primary, of course) and studying your people — and not just the people in your congregation but also in your community. This morning, we had the privilege of doing what we call our Athens Neighborhood Blitz. We aimed to put an ESV New Testament, John Piper’s Fifty Reasons Why Christ Had to Die, a church flyer, and a VBS flyer in every home within a mile of our church. With a few exceptions, we succeeded — and in the process got the rush of being obedient to the Great Commission.

Preachers must understand basic hermeneutics, for sure. We must certainly “rightly divid[e] the Word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). But if you read the Apostle Paul’s letters, his heart beat for his people. He would address a specific issue at the beginning of his epistles, then would give some greetings at the end peppered with particular comments and instructions. Paul made it a priority to know his people as well. I suppose that is why I find myself content at a smaller church of 160-170. I have the opportunity to get to know the people here at Boone’s Creek. With that comes heartaches as well simply because you are more aware of individual issues.

There is a relative safety and comfort for the preacher who only studies His books and commentaries. But no where in the New Testament do we see the ministers cloistered away from the people. No, like Jesus, the apostles went to where the people were — and so must we.

One minister noted that he wished there were a vacuum tube going from his study to the pulpit and back. The implication is there — he wanted this so he wouldn’t have to be disturbed by people.

So the question is: can one be a great preacher but a terrible pastor? Are these two mutually exclusive? What think ye? (I think you already know what I think on the matter.)

I Can’t Wait For Sundays

No really — I can’t wait for Sundays to roll around. As a pastor, most everything that occurs during the week comes to a fine point on Sunday morning. As I consider Acts 6:4 where the disciples gave themselves primarily over to “prayer and the ministry of the Word,” I find that my main ministry is that of connecting with God in prayer and ministering the Word of God through preaching and teaching — everything else stems off these two ministries.

What is it about Sundays that excites me so?

(1) I get to see my church family. Though I have only been here at Boone’s Creek for 3 1/2 years, I have noticed various transitions. I started out as “the new guy” with everyone anticipating in the first year but staying at arms length, to becoming “the preacher” to now becoming their “pastor.” I am now being seen as one of the family. This takes time, trust, and lots of love in Christ.

(2) I get to preach God’s Word to God’s people. What a privilege! What a calling! To be able to open up His Word and know that this is His revelation to the world in general and to His people specifically is a thought I can scarcely contemplate. And to know that the Holy Spirit will take that Word and apply it to hearts and will make sure it accomplishes all that it desires to accomplish — goodness!

(3) I get to hear stories of what God is doing in hearts and minds of his people. One person receives Christ, another person grasps a truth God reveals, another shares their faith, another asks questions trying to understand how God lives and moves and has his being … and the list goes on. That is exciting!

(4) I get to pray with my people. We get to connect with God together, linking arms and advancing his kingdom during this spiritual warfare. Praying for those who are lost, who are sick, in the military, our government officials, our church staff and deacons, our college students, our outreach ministries, our churches with whom we are partnering, and on top of that praising God for who he is and what he has done!

These are just four of many. What other things make you look forward to being with your brothers and sisters on for Sunday morning worship?