The Pastor and the Church in Disciple-Making

Mark Dever: From the Desiring God 2013 Conference for Pastors.

1. Centrality of the Church in Disciple-Making

Centrality of the Church in Disciple-Making from Desiring God on Vimeo.

2. Connecting the Dots Between Shepherding, Disciple-Making, and Meaningful Membership

Connecting the Dots Between Shepherding, Disciple-Making, and Meaningful Membership from Desiring God on Vimeo.

Let Your Pastor’s Wife Be Herself

Here’s an excellent article by Melissa Edgington that every member of a congregation should read. Lets set the bar high in loving our pastors wives well! (original source here)

Let Your Pastor’s Wife Be Herself

Every year since Chad became a pastor, we have hosted a Christmas open house in our home. I love decorating for Christmas, and I like to deck out the house and have our friends over for a fun night of hanging out and eating delicious food. Tonight is the night, and I am so looking forward to throwing open the doors and welcoming our community in.

But, I have a scandalous pastor’s wife secret: I am not baking a single thing. I’m not making punch. I’m not diving into my trusty recipe box and planning a menu. I didn’t even clean my own floors. Instead, I’m writing. I’m listening to sermons. I’m composing a talk that I’m going to deliver to a women’s group in a neighboring town. I’m wrapping gifts in paper that coordinates with my Christmas trees. I’m sending my kids off on field trips at crazy hours of the morning. I’m attending the senior adult Christmas lunch (which I am not cooking). I’m plotting with the kindergarten teacher about Christmas fun next week at school.

And our church seems to be okay with all of this. When we first came here I didn’t offer any illusions that I am a great cook or a great housekeeper or the ultimate hostess. Our amazing church secretary can prepare a meal for 250 people without batting an eye, but I break out in hives at the thought. Yet, our church members continue to encourage me in the things that I do well, in the things that I enjoy and have giftings for.

I can’t tell you what a difference that makes.

Everyone has expectations of their pastor’s wife. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have any. We should expect the pastor’s wife to be kind, spiritually-minded, and invested in her church family. But we also have to remember that every pastor’s wife has her own unique interests and talents, and she should have the freedom to minister in ways that line up with her strengths. Not all pastors’ wives are great communicators or great cooks or great decorators. Some prefer to quietly minister in the background, talking with people one on one, sending cards or texts, washing dishes in the kitchen, noticing needs that others may overlook. If your pastor’s wife is reserved and seems a little withdrawn, give her the benefit of the doubt. Assume that she is ministering in her own ways through personal contact that isn’t in the forefront. Assume that her prayers can move mountains. Assume the best of her, and pray for her to find her own ways to work alongside her husband in the mission of the church.

If your pastor’s wife is loud and boisterous and fun and tends to say things she will later regret, have grace for her. Assume that her outgoing personality draws people to her and to the church. Assume that her ability to talk to people helps her love them well. Assume that she is hearing stories in her conversations that need to be told, and that she is bringing outsiders into her circle with her extroverted ways.

And if your pastor’s wife doesn’t cook or doesn’t often have people over, if she is not interested in decorating or in fashion or in crafting or in whatever it is that you think a pastor’s wife should do, then give her the space to be herself. God calls pastors’ wives into ministry just like He calls pastors. And He uniquely gifts them to do the work He would have them do. Your pastor’s wife may not look or act or be exactly like you expected, but she will be much more likely to flourish in her role if you assume the best of her, if you pray for her instead of criticize.

Above all, please remember that your pastor’s wife is human. She will make terrible mistakes. She will say stupid things. She will have days when she is selfish and self-centered. She will go into spiritual slumps. I know because I do all of this and more. But, one thing that keeps bringing me back to a biblical focus is the grace and goodness of the church of Jesus Christ. This family loves me well and puts up with my quirks and my moods and my weaknesses. And they don’t even seem to care that I can’t cook to save my life. What a blessing. What a love. Be that church member that commits to supporting your pastor’s wife in her uniqueness. It will bless her more than you know.

How can I best support my pastor?

The Ascended Christ has given gifts to men (Eph. 4:11,12), one of these gifts being the pastor/teacher. Pastors are given the assignment of leading, feeding and caring for the sheep, as well as fending off wolves who would seek to devour them.

Every Pastor is very human. As the saying goes, “the best of men are men at best.” Some things encourage them greatly, while other things are definitely hard to deal with. A pastor must always remember Whom he is most trying to please – that being, God Himself. He must please the Audience of One. While he wishes all to be happy as the local Church moves forward in the Lord, in the final analysis, if God is pleased, it does not matter who is displeased. Conversely, if God is displeased, it does not matter who is pleased. A Pastor lives, eats, sleeps and breathes to see a people formed who want that also – the will of the Chief Shepherd in their lives.

With this in mind, Dr. Ligon Duncan answers the question, “how can I as a Church member best support my pastor?”:

She’s Not Real

Written some years back, this article still has relevance:

Porn and paper pastors by Dan Phillips

Decades ago, I read a disturbingly candid essay by a pastor about his struggles with pornography. It was in Leadership magazine. Years later, two of his realizations still stand out to me.

The author came to see (as I recall) that he was attracted to these images because they were unreal. The women in the pictures never had bad days, were never crabby and demanding, never disrespectful and demeaning. No mood swings. They always suited his mood, his needs, his wants. They were unreal.

He came to see that he had no actual relationship with these women whatever. If (he named a female celebrity) had sat down next to him in an airplane, she wouldn’t know him from Adam. Whatever may have happened in his sinful fantasies, the two of them had no relationship in the real world.

Of course, this is why so many women resent actresses and models. It isn’t catty pettiness or smallness. It is that they know how visually-tempted men can be, and they know that they can’t compete with a fantasy — if their man is fool enough to chase one.

And they’re right, in a way. They can’t compete with these women. Because these women don’t exist in the real world! They may not even look like their pictures! Thanks to computer wizardry, the pictures we see may actually bear only the slightest resemblance to the actual women.

Nobody can compete with a fantasy.

And this post is not about pornography, men, women, nor marriage.

It is about people with paper pastors.

Now, some professed Christians sin outright, by never physically attending an actual, in-person church. We’ve talked about that, and they aren’t our focus.

But others do attend a church — physically. They come in, they sit down. They sing, they may give financially. They may look at you, Pastor, as you preach.

But you know their heart belongs to another.

Their real pastor isn’t you. It’s Dave Hunt. Or it’s John Piper. Or it’s John MacArthur, or Ligon Duncan, or Mark Dever, or David Cloud, or Joel Osteen. Or it’s Charles Spurgeon, or D. M. Lloyd-Jones, or J. C. Ryle. Or Calvin, or Luther, or Bahnsen, or de Mar, or R. B. Thieme (Jr.), or J. Vernon McGee.

And they’re such better pastors than you are! You know they are!

Why? Continue reading

The Role of a Shepherd

Article by Dr. R. C. Sproul: What Does It Mean to Be a Shepherd Over the Flock? (original source here)

When we examine life in the early Christian church, we see a remarkable phenomenon recorded for us in the book of Acts. In Acts 8:1 we read, “At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him.”

A little bit later in the text we read these words: “Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word” (Acts 8:4). We notice here that the people described as going everywhere preaching the Word were not the apostles. They were the laity of the first-century church. The apostles remained in Jerusalem and were not numbered among those who fled during the great persecution.

It is obvious from this text in Acts that one of the functions of the leaders of the early church was to equip the laity so that the ministry of the gospel could be effected through their labors. This was a precursor of what Luther had in mind in the sixteenth century when he advocated the doctrine of the “priesthood of all believers.” In that doctrine, Luther did not intend to obscure the distinction between laity and clergy but simply intended to point out that all Christians are to be involved in fulfilling the mission of the church.

At the same time, the New Testament makes it clear that there are those appointed to be leaders in the local church, and they are called by various names, but in the main we think of the pastor as the leader of the local church. The supreme paradigm, or model, for pastoral ministry is seen in the work of Jesus Himself.

One of the titles that the New Testament bestows upon Him is that of the Good Shepherd. The metaphor of the shepherd who cares for his flock becomes then the metaphor that defines the work of the local pastor. But what does it mean to be a shepherd over the flock?

In the first place, to be a shepherd over the flock of sheep means that it is the shepherd’s responsibility to lead the sheep. If anyone has observed the behavior of sheep who are left unguided, without the care and constant supervision of a shepherd, he is aware that sheep tend to move willy-nilly in all directions without any order to their movement. They are prone to getting lost, getting injured, and being left in a state of vulnerability unless they are cared for by a shepherd. So it is with the flock of Christ. It is the chief responsibility of the pastor, who is the shepherd, to lead the sheep.

One of the great tragedies in the church of the twenty-first century, particularly in Protestantism, is that while pastors are given the responsibility for leading their congregations, rarely do they receive a level of authority that matches that responsibility. For the most part, they are considered hirelings by the governing boards of the local church, whether it be a board of elders, deacons, or a consistory. So that the pastor, in being subordinate to the elder board, always has to keep one eye on his supervisors before he takes the reigns to lead the flock of Christ. This is one of the reasons why so many pastors have compromised the preaching of the gospel. They have been so fearful that they would lose their jobs by being bold in their preaching and passionate in their concern for the sheep that they keep one eye on the sheep and the other eye on those who hire and fire them. This is not the biblical model.

From Old Testament times beginning with Moses into the New Testament, those who were called to be elders and deacons were to be placed in a position to give aid and assistance to the shepherd, who was given the authority and responsibility to lead the flock. Some pastors are very effective in leading without that authority simply by the sheer force of their personality or the skills they have in leading.

Secondly, the shepherd is responsible to feed the sheep. This was set forth with great emphasis in Jesus’ discourse with Peter after the resurrection, when He inquired of Peter’s love for his Master. Jesus three times gave the mandate to Peter to feed His sheep — to tend the flock. Sheep without food soon grow thin, weak, emaciated, and sickly — ultimately perishing.

It is the first responsibility of the pastor to make sure that the sheep under his care are fed, nourished, and nurtured by the whole counsel of the Word of God. The New Testament rebukes the believer who is satisfied with milk and flees from serious learning of the things of God by avoiding the difficult digestion of the meat of the Word of God. But a good shepherd weans his sheep from the elemental principles of milk that is given to babes, and he gives them a diet that will cause them to become strong and fully equipped to do the ministry of the gospel. That feeding is given at the responsibility of the pastor.

Thirdly, the pastor is called to tend the flock. Following again John’s imagery from nature, when a sheep is wounded or becomes ill, it is to be noticed by the good shepherd, who takes that sheep from the flock and gives the special attention needed by the sheep to be restored to fullness of health. So it is that the good pastor is one who knows the aches, the pains, the joys, and the sorrows of each member of his congregation, so that he can tend to their needs and so that they aren’t overcome by physical maladies or by spiritual and psychological distress. He is there to encourage the sheep and to see to it that they grow to the fullness of maturity in the life of Christ, conforming to Christ’s very image.

It is the responsibility of the pastor to equip the sheep by teaching them and training them. There is a difference between teaching and training.

Teaching involves the imparting of information from one person to another.

Training requires more hands-on participation, showing someone how to master a particular skill.

It is not enough for a pastor simply to communicate information through expositional preaching or to explain the doctrines of the faith to his flock. He is also called to see to it that they are trained in certain skills necessary for growth in the faith. It is the pastor’s responsibility to teach his sheep how to pray, how to worship, how to evangelize, how to be engaged profitably in the mercy ministries of the church.

In all of these enterprises, the pastor is to mirror and reflect the ministry of Jesus Himself, who gave of Himself completely to those given to Him by the Father. So the pastor must see his congregation as a flock of sheep that is entrusted to him by the Father and by the Lord Jesus Christ, that he may help the saints become all that they can become in the ministry of the gospel.

The Pastor’s Purpose

Article “What’s the Purpose of … Pastors?” by Tim Challies (original source here)

The Bible knows nothing of lone Christians, of believers who are willfully independent from a local church. Rather, Christians gather in communities to worship together and serve one another. And as God commands his people to gather in community, he also commands them to be led—led by men called and qualified as pastors or elders (terms the Bible uses interchangeably). As we progress through a series of questions about things we as Christians often take for granted, we now come to the question of church leadership and ask, “What’s the purpose of pastors?”

Common Views of Pastors
In the church today we find a number of common views of the role and purpose of pastors. Unfortunately, some of these, though perhaps well-intentioned, are unbiblical. Here are two prominent views that both fall short of what the Bible teaches.

The first is the pastor as CEO. According to this view, the pastor’s primary purpose is to keep his organization (i.e., his church) running smoothly and growing steadily. Like the Chief Executive Officer within a corporation, he must apply sound business principles to his operation and will find success when he satisfies the desires of church attendees and experiences numerical growth. Those who hold this view claim that the “pastor as shepherd” view threatens to stunt the growth of a church and is impractical for the challenges of our day. Though shepherding care is good and necessary, it should be carried out by church members or ministry leaders so the pastors can focus on the challenges of leadership. Carey Nieuwhof explains, “Saying the model of pastor-as-CEO is bad for the church is like saying leadership really doesn’t matter. It’s also saying business should get all the best leaders. … If all we do is recruit pastors who love to care for people until they die, the church will die.” The task of the pastor, he says, is to lead, “to take people where they wouldn’t otherwise go.”

The second view is the pastor as priest. According to this view, the pastor is a kind of spiritual guru whose purpose is to take sole or primary responsibility for all of the church’s ministry. In that way, he serves as a kind of mediator between God and his people.

While few evangelicals would actually vocalize their adherence to this view, many tacitly hold it when they only go to their pastor for prayer and spiritual care. They may feel that the prayer and ministry of church members are somehow less effective than the prayer and ministry of their pastor. This view may also affect evangelism, as believers downplay their own ability to share the gospel and instead only focus on bringing unbelieving friends to church to hear the pastor, as if this is the only means through which God works.

Addressing the Error
While it is true that the wise pastor will learn practical strategies for leadership, and while it is true that all truth is God’s truth, the pastor as CEO view has dangerous implications for pastoral ministry. In Jeramie Rinne’s powerful critique, he insists that this view eventually and inevitably reinterprets the church through a business or organizational lens. It is true, of course, that churches “have business aspects. Churches often use financial officers and budgets, employees and personnel policies, facilities and insurance, workflow diagrams and goals, bylaws and committees.” All of these are within the scope of a healthy church. But “the problem arises when these businesslike elements become part of a comprehensive business model for the congregation that ignores biblical teaching. It might look something like this: pastor = president/CEO; staff = vice presidents; members = shareholders/loyal customers; visitors = potential customers.”

John Piper has also warned of the danger of this view, saying, “The professionalization of the ministry is a constant threat to the offense of the gospel. It is a threat to the profoundly spiritual nature of our work. I have seen it often: the love of professionalism kills a man’s belief that he is sent by God to save people from hell and to make them Christ-exalting, spiritual aliens in the world.” This view teaches Christians to interpret and evaluate churches like businesses. It teaches them to evaluate pastors like they evaluate CEOs, so their performance becomes more important than their character. They fail to consider that of all the biblical qualifications for pastors, there is just one related to skill. All the others are related to his godly character.

Meanwhile, the pastor as priest model neglects a key doctrine recovered by the Protestant Reformers: the priesthood of all believers. While Luther and the other Reformers affirmed the office of the elder or pastor, they also emphasized that, through Christ, we are all ministers of the gospel and all have access to God. God continues to call men to pastoral ministry, but he also calls every Christian to minister to one another. This view minimizes the New Testament’s emphasis on the role of the pastor as the one who equips believers so they can carry out the work of the ministry. Ephesians 4:11-12 expresses this: “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” The truth is, we are all ministers. Some are set apart to lead as pastors, but we are all called to minister.

What the Bible Says about Pastors
The Bible assures us that pastors exist to shepherd God’s people in local churches until Christ returns (1 Peter 5:1-5). The calling of the pastor is inextricably tied to the biblical metaphor of a shepherd tending to his flock of sheep. Alexander Strauch says, “If we want to understand Christian elders and their work, we must understand the biblical imagery of shepherding. As keepers of sheep, New Testament elders are to protect, feed, lead, and care for the flock’s many practical needs.”

Pastors shepherd God’s people by protecting them. One of a pastor’s foremost responsibilities is to protect his sheep, for just like sheep need the protection of a shepherd, God’s people need the protection of pastors. Paul’s farewell address makes it clear that this includes protection from false teachers: “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). It also includes protection from their own sinfulness, which is why a pastor is called to a ministry of exhortation—of calling people away from behavior that is dishonoring to God and toward behavior that is pleasing to him (Titus 2:15). It is why pastors eventually confront ongoing, unrepentant sin and enforce church discipline (Matthew 18:15-20).

Pastors shepherd God’s people by feeding them. A shepherd not only protects his sheep from danger, but he also cares for them by feeding them. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,” says David. “He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters” (Psalm 23:1-2). The shepherd provides for the sustenance of his sheep. Similarly, pastors must feed God’s people with the spiritual food and drink they need—the Word of God. The pastor’s ministry is a Word-based ministry in which he uses the Word for preaching, teaching, and counseling. “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9).

Pastors shepherd God’s people by leading them. Sheep are wandering creatures who are prone to meander out of safety and into all kinds of danger. They need a shepherd who will lead and guide them. In much the same way, Christians need pastors who will provide leadership. This is a specific form of leadership, though, that better equips them to fulfill the ministry to which God has called them. They carry out this leadership by setting an example in godly character, knowing that the pastor’s standard for character is really the standard for every Christian. “Shepherd the flock of God that is among you … being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:2-3).

Pastors shepherd God’s people by caring for them. Sheep that are ill or in distress rely upon their shepherd to tend to them. And when God’s people are distressed or uncertain, they rely on their pastors to bring comfort, instil wisdom, and offer prayer. “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord” (James 5:14). The pastor has a special function in caring for the people in his charge.

Conclusion
God’s church needs pastors. It needs pastors who will function not first as priests or CEOs, but as shepherds—shepherds who will protect God’s people; feed them spiritual food; lead them by modeling godly character; and care for them in life’s temptations, trials, and triumphs.

Ultimately, pastors exist to “care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28).

On When to Resign as a Pastor

Article: On Knowing When to Resign by D. A. Carson, research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and general editor of Themelios. (original source here)

Certain kinds of questions come my way by email fairly regularly—every few weeks, every couple of months. One of these regulars runs something like this: “How do I know when it is time to resign?” If this is being asked by a pastor who is still young, it is usually prompted by a difficult situation that he longs to flee.

Circumstances of that sort are so diverse that I won’t attempt to address them here. What I have in mind is the pastor who poses this question at the age of 55, or 60, or 65, or 70. This pastor is wondering when it is time to lay down the burden of local church ministry, and consider something else—itinerant ministry, perhaps, or teaching overseas for a while, or working with a mission agency, or half-time pastoral work, perhaps as someone else’s associate. Are there any biblical and theological principles that should shape our reflection on these matters?

(1) In one sense, this is the right question to ask. Here is not someone who has reached some long-awaited ideal retirement age and is looking for an excuse to withdraw from ministry in favor of buying an RV to spend the next couple of decades alternating between fishing lakes and visiting grandchildren. After all, there is no well-articulated theology of retirement in Scripture. Rather, this is a serious question from someone who has borne the heat of the day, and who, for various reasons, wonders if it is not only permitted but right to ask if it is time to move on.

(2) In recent years, I’ve been passing on what I’ve picked up from a few senior saints who have thought these things through. The most important lesson is this: Provided one does not succumb to cancer, Alzheimer’s, or any other seriously debilitating disease, the first thing we have to confront as we get older is declining energy levels. Moreover, by “declining energy levels” I am referring not only to the kind of declining physical reserves that demand more rest and fewer hours of labor each week, but also to declining emotional energy without which it is difficult to cope with a full panoply of pastoral pressures. When those energy levels begin to fall is hugely variable (at age 45? 65? 75?), as is also how fast they fall. But fall they will!

It follows that if one attempts at age 85 to do what one managed to accomplish at age 45, a lot of it will be done badly. Frustrations commonly follow: old-man crankiness, rising resentments against the younger generation, a tendency to look backward and become defensive, even an unwitting destruction of what one has spent a lifetime building up.

Three things follow:

As long as God provides stable energy levels, one should resist the glitter of common secular assumptions about retirement—e.g., that there is (or should be) a universal retirement age, that somehow your work entitles you to a retirement free from all service, that the end of life should be dominated by pleasurable pastimes emptied of self-sacrifice and service. This is not to argue there is no place for, say, time devoted to creative tasks of one sort or another; it is to argue that it is sub-Christian to imagine that our service across the decades entitles us to a carefree retirement.

Once energy levels start to decline (whenever that might be), then, assuming that neither senility nor some other chronic disease is taking its toll, the part of wisdom is to stop doing some things so that with one’s remaining energy one can tackle the remaining things with enthusiasm and gusto. I can think of two or three senior saints who have become wholly admirable models in this regard. In their late 60s, they slowly started to put aside one task after another, with the result that, now in their early 90s, they can still do the one or two remaining things exceptionally well. One of them, for instance, will still preach, but never more than once a day. And he won’t fly anywhere: travel to the place he is to preach is either by car (with someone driving him), or by train. But when he does preach, you can close your eyes and listen to a man thirty or forty years younger.

There is another element in such decisions that is partly subjective, partly temperamental, partly a reflection of one’s sense of call—and of the ways these various factors interact with one another. John Calvin died on May 27, 1564, at the age of 54. All his life he held himself to the most rigorous, punishing schedule. That stunning self-discipline, a reflection of his passion for the glory of God and for the promotion of the gospel, was used by God to make the man astonishingly productive.

On the other hand, all the biographies I have read of him speculate that if in his latter years he had slowed down a little, he might have lived a good deal longer—and had he lived another decade or two, still with stable health, he may well have produced a great deal more.

But who are we to tell John Calvin what he should have done? Human motives are usually mixed. On the one hand, there is something hauntingly exemplary about a person who wants to burn out for Christ, to waste no time, to serve others, “… fill the unforgiving minute / With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run” (Kipling); on the other hand, there may be a wee touch of workaholism in such a stance, in which our very self-identity is tied to the number of hours we put in or the number of things we produce.

On the one hand, it might be a careful and thoughtful stewarding of our declining energies that makes a wise calculation about dropping certain responsibilities so as to maintain more important priorities; on the other hand, who is to deny that there may also be a touch of entitlement, or a cooling of youthful ardor, a dangerous love of mere ease? Each of us will have to give an answer to our own beloved Master, who knows us better than we do. It is probably not too much to suggest that if we are temperamentally drawn to one or the other of these extremes, we should be especially diligent to explore our motives most carefully.

(3) All things being equal (and of course, they never are), one should not leave one’s ministry until one or more of the following conditions is met:

One has to leave for moral reasons. Sadly, such failures are not restricted to young pastors. The older one gets, the more one should pray for grace to finish well.

Serious health issues mean that one can no longer discharge one’s pastoral duties fruitfully, with no realistic hope of returning to full strength (e.g., What is the prognosis after a serious stroke?).

One is clearly called by God to some other ministry. All of the usual complex factors have to be borne in mind. Continue reading

3 Ways Ministry Can Make You Conceited

I don’t always find myself in agreement with Tim Keller, but this article is very insightful (original source here).

“Ministry will lead to conceit unless God intervenes.” — Tim Keller

I’ve been in ordained vocational ministry for 42 years. Many who started with me didn’t get to the finish line. It’s a grievous percentage. One of the main reasons so many didn’t last, I think, is because no one warned them about the ways ministry can tempt you with pride.

This is where Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 12:7–10 have been so helpful to me as a pastor. Paul—the very apostle trained in theology and for ministry by the actual risen Christ—warns us that theological training and life in ministry can lead to conceit if you fail to cooperate with Christ’s gracious intervention.

Here are three ways ministry can make you conceited unless God intervenes. Pastors, be warned.

1. Theological Knowledge Can Puff You Up

First, there’s the conceit of theological knowledge. Now, you might think, It’s a stretch to say Paul is arguing theological knowledge leads to conceit. But elsewhere he says, “We all possess knowledge, but knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know” (1 Cor. 8:1–2).

Here he’s explicitly talking about theological knowledge. Some in Corinth had the right theological knowledge about meat offered to idols, but what did it lead to? Being puffed up. He’s saying something simple here. Knowing the truth has a tendency to inflate you. You become self-involved, proud of your knowledge and insight. Love, on the other hand, is self-emptying.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones put it this way:

Whenever you allow your relationship to the truth to become purely theoretical and academic, you’re falling into the grip of Satan. . . . The moment in your study you cease to come under the power of the truth, you have become a victim of the Devil. If you can study the Bible without being searched and examined and humbled, without being lifted up and made to praise God, or moved with sorrow over what God has endured in you, or amazed that the beauty and wisdom of what Christ has done for you, if you do not feel as much of a desire to sing when you’re alone in your study as when you’re standing in the pulpit, you are in bad shape. And you should always feel something in this power.

Lloyd-Jones proceeds to identify the marks of someone who’s learned to master the Bible as a set of mere information, not extraordinary power. One mark is you become a spiritual crank. A spiritual crank is someone always complaining about relatively fine shades of doctrinal distinctions, always denouncing in arguments over Bible translations or denouncing people on the wrong side of the latest theological controversy. A spiritual crank treats the Word of God as something you use, not something that uses you. He’s puffed up on intellectual pride and his theological tribe.

2. Ministry Can Become a False Identity

The second conceit comes from a false identity created by ministry. You will tend to identify personally with your ministry so much so that its success (or lack thereof) becomes your success (or lack thereof). Once you begin to identify in this way, you’ll create a false identity based on your performance as a minister.

This kind of false identity can manifest itself in at least four ways:

1. Success

Any of us can build a false identity based on circumstances and performance. You go to church every Sunday. You say you’re a Christian. You have three homes. You appear to be successful, and that’s your identity. But it now suddenly looks like you’re going to lose your career or your wealth. You think, I can’t let that happen! And even though you’re a Christian, you embezzle. You cheat. You exploit. You trample somebody else and destroy his career in order to stay where you are.

Every single Christian struggles with a false identity. Every non-Christian has a false identity. Those of us in full-time ministry will face the sting of success one way or another. When people come to your church, you’re going to feel like they are affirming you, and when people leave your church, you’re going to feel like it’s a personal attack.

2. Criticism

If your ministry becomes your false identity, you won’t be able to handle criticism. Criticism will come and be so traumatic because it questions how good a pastor you are. Criticism says, “You know, your preaching really isn’t very good . . . I want my preacher to be better.” It feels like a personal attack. The criticism either devastates you or you dismiss it and don’t grow from it.

3. Cowardice

If your ministry becomes your false identity, you will succumb to cowardice. There are two kinds of cowardice. There’s true cowardice—being afraid to rock the boat or to offend the people who give the most money to the church or to preach a word that turns young people off. That’s true cowardice.

But there’s another kind of cowardice that I call “counterfeit” cowardice. This is the cowardice of being too abrasive, of being too harsh, of running people off and then saying, “See, I’m valiant for truth.” This also comes from identifying with your ministry. It’s not who you are in Christ; it’s who you are in your ministry.

4. Comparisons

One last sign you’ve fallen into a false identity is you cannot stand comparisons. You get envious when you see others succeeding who you don’t think work as hard as you do or are not as theologically astute as you are.

3. Ministry Can Make You More Outward Focused

When you speak to people about God, you have two options: commune with God or act like you commune with God. Since the minister’s job is to tell people how great God is and how wonderful the Christian life can be, his life needs to reflect it. So you either have to be close to God as you minister or you have to act close to God. Either you truly learn how to commune with God or you learn how to fake it. You talk as if you’re a lot closer to God than you actually are. And not only do people start to think that, but you start to think it, too. This can be devastating for your heart.

On Jesus’s last night with the disciples, he said one of them would betray him (John 13:21). It’s interesting to consider how the disciples responded. They all look around and ask who this person is. In fact, after Jesus tells them that it’s the one he gives bread to, they still don’t get it. You know why? Because Judas didn’t look any different than they did. Outwardly, he was an effective minister; but inwardly, there was nothing there. He took care of his outward life more than his inward life. Jonathan Edwards, in his great book Charity and Its Fruits, talks about the fact that God used Judas even though he wasn’t saved. We don’t want that to be our legacy in ministry.

But here’s where hypocrisy starts. Ministry is either going to make you a far better Christian or a far worse Christian than you would have been otherwise. It’s going to make you a hard pharisaical hypocrite or it’s going to turn you into a softer, more tender person because it forces you to go to the throne of grace and to beg the Lord for help in your weakness. The ministry will either drive you to him or drive you away from him. Like Judas, you choose what life you care for.

Overcome Your Conceits

So how do we overcome these conceits?

Remember Paul’s situation in 2 Corinthians. He’s facing false apostles and teachers who are saying he doesn’t have the credentials to be a true apostle. Paul counters that he does have the credentials—but not the kind we would expect. He inverts all the categories. Instead of boasting about his theological knowledge, great success, or picture-perfect outward life, he boasts in insults, hardships, and being run out of town on a rail. This is how he contends that God is truly with him. He tells us to look at all the things God has done to bring him to his knees.

Pastor, consider all the things God has done to break your pride. Look at all the ways he’s brought you to the end of yourself so that you would cling to him more tightly. Let all your failures and disappointments and weaknesses drive you like a nail into the love of God. Only by embracing them will you ever become a true minister and make it to the finish line.

Do the Work of an Evangelist

Article by Dr. Steve Lawson:

In his final letter, Paul charges Timothy, his son in the faith, to “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim. 4:5). By these words, the aged Apostle establishes the timeless standard for pastoral ministry, not only for young Timothy but for all pastors in every generation and in every place.

With Apostolic authority, this imperative command comes with binding force. All pastors must do the work of an evangelist. They must earnestly proclaim the gospel message, urging people to trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. So, where should this pastoral evangelism begin?

First, every pastor must preach the gospel to himself. Before any pastor can call others to repent, he must believe in Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul exhorts Timothy, saying, “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you” (1 Tim. 4:16). That is, every preacher must examine his own soul first. The success of one’s evangelism is, first and foremost, dependent upon his right standing in grace. Continue reading

How to Pray for Your Pastor

Article by Melton Duncan, a ruling elder at Second Presbyterian Church in Greenville, S.C. (original source here)

When Roman legions invaded Caledonia (modern-day Scotland) in the late first century AD, it was said by the historian Tacitus that the powerful Celtic chieftain Calgacus emerged and rallied his tribes against the might of Rome, famously declaring, “They make a desert, and they call it peace.”

Today’s Christian pastor is likewise making similar stands for biblical Christianity in the midst of a secular desert created by an anti-Christian culture. The Bible describes a faithful pastor as an elder who oversees the flock and the household of God. According to Paul, pastor/elders rule the church (Titus 1:5) and guard the treasures of Christ (v. 9). Additionally, they minister to the people by teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16).

If ever there was an era in Christian history that believers should be committed to praying for their pastors, it is now. James rebukes our prayerlessness when he says, “You do not have, because you do not ask” (James 4:2). And what prayers are we offering up to God on behalf of our pastors? Let me suggest several.

THAT HE WOULD DELIGHT IN PREACHING

If your minister is not being blessed and instructed by the Word, it is highly unlikely that you will be. Your spiritual well-being is directly linked to your pastor’s seeking the Lord in his preparation for the sacred desk. If he is not diligently seeking the Lord, you won’t find Him in his preaching either.

A godly pastor is a joyful, dutiful herald of the most high King. His enthusiasm for proclaiming God’s Word will be infectious and unstoppable, and it will be readily apparent to all who hear him that this is a man who knows his God. Second Timothy 4:1–2 reads:

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.

THAT HE WOULD ENJOY THE LORD’S WAY

I suspect that many people who sit week after week in the pews of their particular church have no idea how difficult a Sunday is for a minister and his family. Pray for your pastor’s Sundays. Robert Murray M’Cheyne says: “A well-spent sabbath we feel to be a day of heaven upon earth. … We love to rise early on that morning, and to sit up late, that we may have a long day with God.”

THAT HE WOULD LEAD HIS FAMILY WELL

Pray that God would help your pastor in the midst of busyness to taste and see that the Lord is good. Pray that his children would grow up loved and cherished in the household of faith. Joel Beeke says: “Family worship is the foundation of child rearing. As family worship goes, so will go the family. The Puritans thought family worship was the whole backbone of society.” We read in Deuteronomy 6:4–7:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

THAT HE WOULD HAVE A HEART FOR THE LOST

May your pastor have a Christlike love for the lost and a joy in telling others about the Shepherd-King. If a man loves the Lord, he will love telling others the old story of the gospel. He also will teach and model for others a renewed sense of evangelism and mission. He is worthy to receive the glory and honor due Him (Rev. 4:11). Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, is worthy to receive the reward. We need our pastors to have a zeal for the lost.

THAT THE LORD WOULD PROTECT HIM

A growing personal relationship with Christ will supply the motivation and zeal needed for a pastor’s duty to God. It will be tiring. It will require an all-in, total commitment. Pray that God would provide every physical and emotional need for the call to serve. Pastors are often subject spiritual temptation, so pray for God to protect these men from the evil one. Pray that they would guard themselves and be granted personal holiness. Pray that they would apply the means of grace to their own hearts, by God’s help.

THAT HE WOULD PREACH THE GOSPEL

Thomas Smyth of the antebellum historic Second Presbyterian Church in Charleston, S.C., once charged a young pastor by saying:

Preaching is your pre-eminent employment, so the Gospel is the sum and substance of your preaching—the power of God and the wisdom of God unto salvation.

Necessity is laid upon you, yea, woe is unto you if you preach not the Gospel. … Preach Christ as set forth in the Gospel—the sum and substance of God’s testimony, and the author of eternal salvation to all who believe upon him.

Preach—this glorious Gospel of good news—first and last, every way, and everywhere, in public and in private; in the pulpit and by the press; to the living and to the dying; to the lost and the saved.

Pray for your pastor, pray as if your very life and those you love depended upon it.