Four Encouragements and Challenges for Young Pastors

4278335002_3e90e703c3_zI first started serving on staff at a church when I was 18 years old. Forest Hills Baptist Church called me to be their student pastor at the age of 23. Then they called me to be their Senior Pastor at 25. I say that not to draw attention to my age, but to share a continual struggle I’ve experienced the last decade in my ministry—not being despised for my youth. Over the course of my first decade in ministry, 1 Timothy 4:11-16 is well worn in my Bible. I’ve referenced it frequently in the midst of my insecurities for encouragement and guidance.

“Command and teach these things. Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (1 Timothy 4:11–16, ESV)

I know there are many young pastors like myself out there who struggle to minister to people much older than themselves. But what Paul shows us in these few verses is that over time and by the grace of God, the older saints will grow in their respect for us as they see our maturity in Christ. How do young pastors model godliness as leaders to those around them? Paul gives us four ways.

1. We Model Godliness in our Character.

We are to set “an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” This means that the godliness we cultivate in our life is put on display in our relationships with others. If you hope to garner the respect of the congregation, the grace of God should be evident in your life. If you’re a gossip or if you are a hot-headed, immoral, unreliable person, you are not going to gain the respect of anyone. We are all called to set an example to one another, particularly for those in leadership in the church.

2. We Model Godliness in our teaching.

Paul instructs Timothy to “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.” He tells Timothy not to “neglect the gift you have,” that gift being teaching. The authority of the pastoral office is not derived from age or experience, but from the authority of God’s word. The Bible is the rod in the hand of God’s shepherd. If a young pastor hopes to garner the respect of older saints, he must display a mastery of the Scripture but also display that he’s been mastered by it. He must use his gifting of teaching to faithfully build up the church. This for me (as shown in the journal quote earlier) became the great truth I’ve clung to as a young pastor. When anyone seeks to despise me from my youth, not only have a sought to model godly character, but I’ve devoted myself to faithfully teaching the Scriptures. I’ve labored hard to proclaim the word of God in season and out of season, and though I may be young—I pray that I’ve garnered the respect and trust of my congregation.

3. We Model Godliness in our Growth.

Paul tells Timothy to “Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see you progress.” As a young pastors, we are far away from arriving to perfection. Yet, if we hope to gain the respect of older saints, we must display a pattern of growth, saturating ourselves in the truth. All should be able to observe our progress, our growth, and our maturity. As I think back over the last decade, I think of so many failures and sins in my life! I thank God I’m not the man I was at 18! I thank God that I’m not the man I was last year! I think of how much I’ve grown as a husband and father, pastor and preacher—and I still have such long ways to go! Again, no body hits perfection in this life, but over the course of our Christian journey those closest to us should be able to observe our steady plodding and growth in godliness.

4. We Model Godliness in our Endurance.

Our faithfulness to Christ must stand the test of time. Paul cautions Timothy to “keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching.” Watch your life and your doctrine closely! He goes on to instruct Timothy: “Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” By enduing in the work of ministry over time, persisting in cultivating and modeling godliness, God will work. By continuing to faithfully shepherded the congregation, even as a young pastor, not only will Timothy’s own life be saved, but so too will those entrusted under his care. We must persist and persevere in Christ until the end, and a faithful shepherd who watches his life and teaching well not only has the gracious reward of heaven, but has the joy of knowing he helped his church to cross the finish line of faith.

Are You A Church Reformer?

The Church always needs reformers. In every generation, the church drifts into theological malaise and a numbing apathy. The Gospel leaks from our churches over the decades as churches assume the Gospel, forget the Gospel, then replace the void with a non-gospel. There tend to be two different times of drift in churches (often they happen together, but not always). On the one hand is Gospel-drift. Churches can drift into heresy as they abandon orthodoxy, reject the authority of Scripture, and modify the Gospel for the contemporary palate. On the other hand is mission-drift. Churches can abandon their mission to spread the Gospel, as their orthodoxy grows stale, legalistic, and dead; their hearts grow cold to the lost and dying world as the church would rather preserve their traditions than modify their methods for reaching their community. God uses church reformers to boldly correct these two errors. As pastors shepherd their churches they may discover potential gospel-drift or mission-drift. Sometimes they will discover both. Perhaps you are a pastor or a ministry leader serving in a church that’s in need of reform. After all, no church is perfect. If you are called to reform or revitalize churches, what are the characterizes of church reformers? Let me offer four suggestions.

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1. A Deep Dependence on God

Reform can only happen by the power of God. The man who thinks he can bring about reform and revival within his church in his own might and ingenuity is a fool. Church reformers know that the power for transformation does not rest on their own talents and abilities, but the power of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, church reformers regularly fall on their knees and beg God for help.

2. A Commitment to the Authority of the Scripture

Church reformers point people to the authority of God’s word. They are committed to its power and authority in the life of the church. Sadly, protestant churches, who so zealously committed themselves to sola scriptura at the launch of the reformation, sadly begin to look exceedingly Catholic, as their own traditions supplant the authority of God’s word. The church reformer commits himself to the authority of the Bible, and leads the church in light of its teaching. Thus, the Church reformer boldly preaches God’s word every week, as he constantly explains the Bible and and calls the church to action.

Everything is suspect, and no tradition is unchallenged. Every church practice, every ministry, every organizational activity must be cast under the probing word of God. The reformer loves the Bible and continually points the people to obedience to the Scripture, no matter what the cost or the extensiveness of the change. People will say, “We’ve always done it this way”, but the reformer responds with, “My conscious is bound to the word of God.” He challenges assumptions, digs out idolatrous motivations, and calls people to obedience to the Scriptures.

3. A Willingness to Put Your Neck on the Line.

Any man who wishes to engage in such work, must be willing to put his neck on the line. Church reform is risky business. Those who challenge the status quo will be bombarded with criticism and critique. If you want a comfy pastorate, then simply tell people what they want to hear. Yet, that’s not what we are called to as pastors. We are called to challenge sin in the life of the church and call for repentance and belief.

People may accuse you of the most malicious motives. They will grow angry and begin to squirm under the biblical intensity you bring. Yet the purity of the church is at stake: the integrity of the Gospel, the souls of your community, and the glory of God. Press on! What’s the worst that could happen. You lose your job? Church history is filled with courageous reformers who acted in fear of far worser consequences.

4. An All Consuming Love for the Flock

Finally, reformers must display a deep love for the flock. What compels the reformer to action is the glory of God and the love of the people. He must long to see the people flourish in holiness and engage in mission. Every action he takes is not for his own ego, but for the good of the flock. Church reformers endure such criticism and heart ache because they want the best for God’s people. Though sometimes we must strike the sheep when they wander into a den of wolves, we always strike in love.

Church reformers labor in love for their flock. Therefore, they are willing to be patient and they delay plans of reform when the people are not yet ready. Church reformers see their churches not as projects to be accomplished, but a people to be loved and cared for.

The Call of Every Pastor

Church reformers depend on God, commit themselves to God’s word, and put their necks on the line to love the flock of God for the glory of God.

I believe the call to church reform is the call of every pastor. Ecclesia temper reformanda set; the Church is always reforming. Every Pastor must take his flock again to God’s word, address areas of Gospel-drift or mission-drift, and call the church to repentance.

Passing the Baton at Forest Hills

At the conclusion of our centennial celebration, I couldn't help but be filled with joy. Seeing so many faithful saints return produced great thanksgiving in my heart. In many ways, I'm still humbled that God has called me to shepherd a church like Forest Hills. I've developed a profound appreciation for the legacy and heritage of Forest Hills over the years. As I thought about this weekend, I knew it would be special. In some ways this weekend symbolized a passing of the torch, the handing off of the baton to me and my generation of believers. IMG_0901

As I stood on stage and introduced James Herron, our oldest living senior pastor, I couldn't help but be thankful for men like him whom God used mightily for his Kingdom. Yet, in his sermon this Sunday, he cautioned about making too much of the past, but charged us as a congregation to move forward into a new century. Nostalgia is a wonderful, powerful sensation, but too much of it will drug you as you become gloomy about the present and pessimistic about the future. Ironically, we never realize we were living in the good ol' days, until those days are gone. By the grace of God, we tend to forget about the dark days, as our memory preserves the bright spots.

Yet, nostalgia cannot hinder God's work in the present and his vision for the future. The work is not yet over. The Great Commission lies before us, and lost souls need to hear the Gospel of Jesus. In our nostalgia, we cannot run our race backwards. This is the tension of churches with such great history like Forest Hills. We must simultaneously give thanks and honor those who have come before, and at the same time run with our eyes on the finish line, not on the starting line. Indeed, that's what those who came before us desire. Who runs a relay race, takes the baton from his teammate, then turns around and backtracks towards the starting point? Our teammates want us to move forward, not backward. We must sprint towards Christ, not to an idolized vision of the past.

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Over the weekend, I've felt that tension within my own soul. My gratitude for my forebears, the faithful shepherds of this church who've come before me, cannot adequately be expressed in words. They have preserved the apostolic Gospel, preaching Christ now in our church for a century. In an overwhelming and monumental way, that mantle has now fallen on my shoulders. By the calling of God, I now stand with the baton of the Gospel in my hand, charged to lead these wonderful people into the next century.

As I think about my own shortcomings as a leader and inadequacies as a pastor, the responsibility can be overwhelming. Yet, press on in the race we must. We must preserve the integrity of the Gospel and innovate new methods of reaching a new generation in a drastically new American culture. As a result, change is afoot in Forest Hills Baptist Church. Ministry strategy and programs have been and will continue to shift over the next several years around our vision to treasure Christ, equip believers, and send disciples for the glory of God.

As we run our race, may we not falter in our steps, but press on towards Christ, prepared and ready to pass off the baton to the next generation. May we not break the chain of faithful saints who came before, and may the great relay race of the saints, that has continued at Forest Hills now for 100 years, continue in our church till Christ returns for us.

What if My Husband Refuses to Be a Spiritual Leader?

What if my husband refused to be a spiritual leader? Sadly, it's a question I hear all to often. Many Christian wive's cry out in frustration and disappointment, longing for their husbands to do what God has called them. It amazes me how many professing Christian men struggle to bring the gospel to bear on their family life. For many men, spiritual things ooze of femininity, weakness, emotion—things men are typically opposed too. Somehow the church has failed to cast a vision for a strong, robust masculinity that sacrifices, denies the self, and serves others. As a result many men, though professed Christians, abandon their spiritual responsibility and pass off spiritual issues to their wives. 6359473191_84de9fbaf0_z

Yet, many wives long to see their husbands take more initiative in leading the family, particularly towards Christ. A man may go to church with his family, but he distances himself and checks out.  You can see it in his eyes; he'd rather be out on the golf course. Where is the godly man whose soul pulses with the strength of Christ and whose heart burns in gospel zeal? Churches, pastors, and ministry leaders must sound the alarm to the spiritual lethargy in so many christian homes, caused in large part by lazy and apathetic men.

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But what about the wife who longs for her husband to take leadership in this way? How can she encourage her husband to take spiritual leadership in a way that respects and affirms his leadership? That is the question I want to help answer today, but first a few disclaimers:

  • I'm assuming you and your husband both confess Christ. If your husband is not a Christian, that's a different situation requiring different counsel. For starters read 1 Corinthians 7 or 1 Peter 3:1-6.
  • I'm assuming you agree with male headship, and that the man should be the spiritual leader in the home. I won't take the time to defend that position in this brief blog post, but I believe the biblical position on gender is the position of complementarianism.

So, with the disclaimers out of the way, how can a Christian wife encourage your husband to take the spiritual leadership? Let me suggest five ways.

1. Pray for your Husband

Love your husband through prayer. Bring him before the Father daily, asking God to strengthen his faith and his walk. Pray that God would protect him from sin, and that his heart would be filled with love for God and his family. Pray for his spiritual maturity and his growth in Christ.

If your husband lacks the motivation or desire to lead you spiritually, God must give that desire to him. Therefore, fall on your face and petition the Lord to bring a work of awakening in your husband's life so that he can grow into the leader you need him to be and that he's called to be.

2. Talk to Your Husband about his Spiritual Leadership

Many people mistakingly think that submission means silence. That certainly is not the case. As a wife, striving to live out God's word in your roll, you can and should share your heart, emotions, and concerns with your husband. As a result, talk to your husband about his leadership, and ask him to take more of a lead.

However, a few words of counsel. Men can be incredibly prideful (I know because I am one!). If you approach your husband in anger, hostility, and bitterness your husband will only became defensive. Speak tough words to your husband with gentleness and kindness. Your aim is not to hurt your husband with passive aggressive guilt, rather your aim is to spur your husband to fulfill God's call.

Find a time when the kids are asleep, the night is calm, and emotions are cool, so you can approach your husband in a gentle and non-threatening way. It won't make your words any easier to hear, but if your husband humbles himself, he will listen to what you have to say. I can't help but hold my own wife Kaitlyn as an example. There are times when I have failed greatly in my own spiritual leadership in my family. Yet, Kaitlyn approaches me with respect, gentleness, and firmness. The words still sting, but my defenses are down and I'm more apt to hear her.

3. Get Involved in the Community of the Church

I hope you and your family already participate in a solid local church, but the community of the saints is essential for your families health, and your husbands spiritual leadership. Do not be spectators, but join in the community. Get to know other couples. Get involved in Bible studies. Learn and grow together as a family. Within the community of the church, your husband can learn from other men what it means to be a godly husband and father.

Now, what if your husband refuses to go to church? Well, that sort of mule-like stubbornness is all to common. Yet, I'm assuming your husband is a Christian, so a Christian who refuses to participate in a local church doesn't make a lot of sense of me. How can you be a member of Christ's body but never gather with his body? Talk with your husband about this, and your desire for him to attend. If he is a member of your church, get your pastors or elders involved in reaching out to him. Yet, if your husband demonstrates a consistent, antagonistic attitude towards the local church, I'd consider his profession of faith suspect. Perhaps your husband is not a Christian. Not that your church attendee saves you, but a refusal to go indicates an unregenerate heart.

4. Ask to be Mentored by a Wiser Couple

So if you and your family get involved in the local church, you will meet other couples who has marriages you respect. Now, no one has a perfect marriage, but many people have the experience and wisdom you lack. The joy of the Christian church means we can learn from one another and grow together. That's called discipleship.

As you meet other, older, wiser believers in your church, ask to be mentored by them. Get together for dinner and come with a list of questions. There your husband can build a relationship with another godly man who can help him learn what it means to love Jesus and love his family. In addition, you not only hear wise counsel, but you both can watch the marriage of the other couple.

Encourage your husband to surround himself with other godly men and let them to the training. Men tend to respond better to rebuke and correction from other men. Help your husband build those relationships with other men who love Jesus, so they can speak truth and confront when necessary. The church exists to equip the saints, training husbands to be spiritual leaders. Press into the body of Christ, so that you both can be equipped together.

5. Find Hope in Your True Husband

Sometimes this idea of "my husband as a spiritual leader" becomes a mythological fair-tale with unreasonable and unrealistic expectations. No matter how strong in his faith, your husband can never be Jesus to you. There is only one husband who never disappoints, and he died on the cross for your sin. We sinful, but redeemed husbands do our best to imitate the husband Jesus who lays down his life for the church, yet only Jesus is the real deal. Yes, love your husband and pray that God would help him become the spiritual leader, but at the same time even in your husband's failures, may your identity be so wrapped up in the love of God that your joy remains fixed on Christ.

4 Ways to Shatter the Super Pastor Illusion

People put pastors on a pedestal, and rightly so.  Pastors are called to be examples to their flock.  They are to lead by modeling spiritual maturity and Christ-likeness. Pastors are men who are to be above reproach. Many people look to pastors as super Christians.  Although they might struggle with sin or find it difficult to spend time in prayer, the pastor doesn’t, at least thats what people think. Many people envision that pastors have a special connection with God or even a direct line to him that normal Christians just do not have.  All of this is just hogwash. Pastors are just like every other Christians, sinners saved by grace.  Although a pastor is called to lead by example, the idea of a “super pastor” is a lie.  We struggle with personal sin. We find it difficult to love our wives and families well.  We sometimes struggle to find our joy in God. There are even times in which preaching on Sunday morning is the last thing we want to do.  If you are a pastor reading this, you know this to be true.  Yet, pastors self-inflict themselves with a demand to maintain the image of “Super Pastor”.  We think we must always have the right answers even though we do not know, and we must always seem joyful even though we are in a season of melancholy, and we must always seem righteous even though we struggle with hidden sin. Not only is this the hight of hypocrisy, the pressure to carry the weight of this projected image will one day cause our collapse.

Pastor, the best thing we can do for ourselves and for our people is to shatter the illusion of “super pastor”.  We must invite people into our brokenness and remind them that we too desperately need Jesus each and every day. They need to see that you too are a real person, who sometimes struggle to follow Jesus.  They need to know that Jesus is the only savior, not you.  Here are a few ways you can help shatter the illusion of super pastor not only for yourself, but for your church.

1. Don’t Make Yourself the Hero

Its easy to be the hero in all your own sermons and to spin illustration after illustration of your own illustrious spiritual life.  Don’t do that. You are not the hero, Jesus is.  In your sermons constantly be pointing to Jesus and pastors need him too.  Share stories (where appropriate) of your own failures and struggle to obey the text your preaching from that Sunday.  Talk about your failures as a Christ follower, a husband, or a dad.  Although we want to make sure we are being appropriate and we do not want to be self-effacing to create some guise of profound humlity, we do want to be reall with our people. We want to invite them into our lives and even be vulnerable both publicly and privately.  Again, caution and discernment are important here, but we must not seek to create an image of infallibility.  We are not the hero, Jesus is.

2. Ask Others for Forgiveness

Pastor’s mess up a lot.  We make mistakes. We speak in the flesh.  We hurt other staff members in our actions. When we do sin, we must be quick to confess it and ask for forgiveness.  Own up to your error and ask your brother or sister to forgive you. Every time your confess sin and ask forgiveness you begin to shatter that illusion of super pastor, and people begin to see you too as a sinner in need of grace.  However humility in this way will not hinder your leadership, but help it.  No one wants to follow a man who thinks he’s always right and refuses to admit he’s wrong.  By displaying humility and confession not only do we shatter the illusion of our own perfection, we actually lead our people more faithfully.

3. Ask for Help

You cannot do it all.  I’ve tried, trust me. Pastors must be quick to ask for help for the demands of ministry whether from another pastor, deacon, or another church member.  When you ask others for help it encourages others to join together in the cause of ministry and helps raise future leaders.  When we ask other people in our church for help, it shows that we are not super pastors and we need the body of Christ just like every other Christian.

4. Ask for Prayer

Ask others for prayer when needed.  Again, this must be done when appropriate, but do not think so highly of yourself that you cannot ask others for prayer.  We need other people to be interceding to the father on our behalf, because we need the body of Christ!

These are just four simple ways that pastors can begin to shatter the illusion that we have it all together.  We don’t.  Pastors need the gospel just like every human being needs the gospel.  We are broken sinners whose only hope is Jesus. Pastor, make sure your people know that you are not the epitome of a Christ follower.  Any maturity in your life is by the grace of God, and continually point to Jesus as the hero, and not yourself.  The only super pastor who ever existed was Jesus Christ.  He is the one your people need.  Point them to the true super pastor.

Have you ever felt the pressure of maintaining a perfect pastor image? How are some ways we can shatter this facade?

The 6 Challenges Young Pastors Face

Young pastors face unique obstacles and challenges.  Sure they may be challenges with leading God's people, but most of the problems in my ministry are not external, but internal.  The six challenges are largely a result from my own experience.  Pastoral ministry is gloriously challenging.  If you are a young pastor, may these six challenges be helpful for you as you identify potential obstacles.  If you are a church member with a younger pastor, you can pray especially for him in these areas.  Yet, I'm sure that I will come to find that these six challenges are not unique to young pastors but are challenges all shepherds face.  So here they are, six challenges young pastors face.

1. The Challenge of Experience

When I was being considered as the Senior Pastor at Forest Hills, this is the one great concern that came up time and time again was my experience. As a 25 year old guy at the time, the concerns were not only real but valid. Thankfully my lack of experience was made up by their careful observation of my leadership and ministry the past few years.

Yet young pastors face this very obstacle; we just are not very experienced. Seminary can be a great teacher, but so can the school of hard knocks. Young pastors have to deal with crisis, problems, and obstacles for the first time. This doesn't mean they are unable to faithfully shepherd, it is just that they lack the great practical wisdom that experience can teach.

How can young pastors compensate for their lack of experience? I've discovered two ways. First, read, read, and read some more. Learning from the experience of others can help prepare you. Second, hang out with older, wiser pastors. Spend some time with some men who have been in the trenches of ministry a while and glean from their experiences. I've tried to do both of these things, and it has helped me greatly overcome this challenge.

2. The Challenge of Balance

Young Pastors tend to struggle to balance between church and family. Pastoral ministry is largely unlike any other profession in that your personal and professional life blur into one. It is impossible to separate the two into nice, neat little compartments. As a result it is easy to begin getting out of balance, spending to many hours focused on studying, visits, meetings, and emails at the expense of family. Young Pastors tend to have young families with young children. This makes the balance especially tricky.

This challenge I have yet to truly figure out (I doubt I ever will!), yet all pastors must first prioritize their personal spiritual health and the health of their family. For you young pastors out there, we must guard the church from becoming our second wife. The church is Jesus' bride, not yours.

3. The Challenge of Patience

To be young is to be impatient. Young Pastors want results and want them now. My generation is the fast food, instant gratification generation. We want what we want when we want it. Yet, people are not fast food restaurants. It takes time, patience, and diligent investment to often see spiritual fruit. May young pastors enter into a position in ministry and then give up after a year or two when things do not seem to be progressing or moving at the speed they'd like. Young pastors must be taught patience by the Spirit and seek to be consistent and have the endurance to stay in the same place.

Young Pastors, we must be patient with our people as God has been patient towards us. Sure, our people can be thick headed and hard hearted, but so are we. Be faithful in preaching the Word week in and week out. You might not see immediate fruit and results, but the Spirit is working. Give it time and you will be amazed at God will do.

4. The Challenge of Respect

A challenge young pastors have is to "not be despised for their youth" (1 Tim 4:12). It is a very really challenge, but you are not respected simply because you hold the title "pastor". Titles don't earn respect, but character does.

Young Pastor, don't feel as if you are entitled to respect just because you have the title of pastor. Earn it by watching your life and your teaching. If you are faithful seek to preach the word of Christ and live the life of Christ, you will earn the respect of your people.

5. The Challenge of Humility

Young men tend to be overly self-confident. Humility comes naturally to no human being, but is especially absent in young men. As a young pastor, you can begin to really on your own gifting, education, and ideas more than the Spirit of God.

Young Pastor, you must be teachable and humble. Be open to be corrected. Be quick to repent of your sin. Humble yourself and ask for the forgiveness of others. Pray that the Spirit would humble you and learn to think of yourself as servant to all.

6. The Challenge of Trust

It is easy to begin to doubt and question God's ability. In fact, I find myself sinfully thinking if God will be faithful in my ministry. Yet God is a God who can be trusted. More than that, he is the only one who can do anything with the mess of our ministries. All pastors should be marked by an incredible, daily dependency on God.

In your ministry you will get discouraged. You will want to quit and throw in the towel. You may doubt God's goodness and power. Yet, always trust Him. He is faithful and even though we my suffer for His sake, "rejoice and be glad for your reward is great in heaven" (Matthew 5:12).

You Will Face Challenges

Young pastors do face unique challenges and obstacles. Yet God doesn't call the qualified he qualifies the called. Be dependent on God in all things in your ministry. By his grace you will grow in these areas and may we run the race of pastoral ministry well and be faithful by the chief shepherd Jesus Christ.

What challenges have you experienced as a young pastor? Any you would add to this list?

Pastor, Be a One Trick Pony

I’m sure you have probably have heard the phrase “one trick pony”. It pretty much describes someone who only has one joke, one skill, or one talent. They are not good at much else, but they have one thing in which they excel. In our world of the super powered CEO, many pastors feel the weight of being a counselor like Dr. Phil, a innovator like Steve Jobs, a shrewd financial business man like Warren Buffet, an intellectual apologist like Ravi Zacarhias, or a mega church pastor like….well take your pick. The pastoral ministry is an incredibly diverse profession in which at any moment you can be managing the church's budget, reading commentaries, leading a staff meeting, brainstorming new ministries, or praying with a mourning family. The pressure to be diverse in our skill sets can often feel overwhelming, because most of us are not prodigies in any one of these areas, let alone all of them.

The Only Hope for the World

If you are a pastor, I’ve got some encouraging news for you. You just need to be a one trick pony. You don’t need to be skilled in every possible area imaginable, you just need be skilled in one thing and one thing only – the Gospel of Jesus Christ. What your people need most from you is to be an expert at applying the Gospel of Jesus Christ into how you serve your people. Study the Gospel, treasure the Gospel, and understand its many facets as a diamond in the light. Then bring the truth of the Gospel into your peoples lives. As you preach, as you teach, as you counsel, as you manage, as you pray, as you write, do it all with Gospel intentionality, bringing the truth of what Jesus has done into each of these areas of your ministry.

We have one message and one message only–the risen, crucified Christ. That’s it. We have nothing else to offer our people but Jesus, yet he is more than enough. Pastors do have the most important jobs in the world, because the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only hope for the world. You don’t need to be a modern day renaissance man, you just need to know the Gospel and bring its truth into everything you do in your ministry.

Practice Applying the Gospel to Your Own Heart

It is not easy being an expert in any one area. In a sense, to say you are an expert in the Gospel is really foolish, because we will spend eternity still growing in our knowledge of God’s mysterious plan called the Gospel. However it takes practice to learn how to apply the Gospel to your peoples lives, and it is best to start with your own. Probe your heart, study the Scriptures, and learn who to take the Gospel message and apply it to your marriage, your family, your finances, your physical health, your friendships, your diet. If you want to be multifaceted in applying the Gospel, apply it to every little hidden area of your life.

One Remedy, Administered in Many Ways

As pastors we have one remedy and it is Jesus. As we look at the hurting and sick world around us, there is only one treatment and that is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

When we encounter someone who is spiritually dead, we share the remedy of the Gospel praying God would give them faith and thus life.

When we encounter a broken marriage, we share the remedy of the Gospel in which God reconciles us to himself through Christ and thus gives that broken marriage hope for reconciliation.

When we are dealing with mourning families, we share the remedy of the Gospel and point them to the coming return of Jesus and the coming restoration in which Christ’s resurrection was the first fruits.

When we are counseling addicts, we point them to the remedy of the Gospel about Jesus the liberator who through his death breaks the shackles of addiction through his victory on the cross.

When we are managing our churches finances, we share the remedy of the Gospel, knowing that God owns it all and that he has purchased it all through Christ, therefore we are but stewards of this money.

When we a preparing for sermons, we do so knowing that it is through the remedy of the Gospel that our eyes are open through Christ to perceive and understand the Word of God.

When we are preaching the word of God, it is only the remedy of the Gospel through the application of the Holy Spirit that can bring try transformation and revival in our people.

Do Not Be Ashamed of Being a One Trick Pony

Pastor, do not be ashamed if all you have to offer the world is the Gospel. That is more than enough. You may apply it and prescribe it in different ways, but you only have one medicine in the bag. Preach and proclaim Christ. Do not be ashamed that this is all you have, because as the apostle Paul said the Gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom 1:16). In your pastoral ministry make it your life’s ambition to preach the Gospel and do not get distracted with feelings of inadequacy, ministry comparison, or a manufactured pragmatism. Decide like Paul “to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). You may be a one trick pony, but within your medicine bag remains the one hope of the world, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Do You Want to Be Great?

Everyone longs for greatness. We want to be the best. We want to out perform the competition. We want to make a difference and leave an impact. This universal desire that we all have for greatness seems to be hard wired within us. I think this ambition for greatness is a good thing given to us by God. Yet our sin corrupts and twists this God given desire and turns it into a zealous lust for power. As a result many seek power, position, and prestige in order to dominate other people. In some ways we play this twisted game of survival of the fittest in order to devalue one another. The rat race for power is filled with the cut-your-throat-to-get-ahead mentality. We acquire riches and accolades in order to exalt ourselves above all others. We do this all in the name of deciding that age old question, "Who is the greatest?"

Who is the Greatest?

The disciples of Jesus tended to fight over that exact same question. In fact it seems to be a recurring issue Jesus had to address in his ministry. So many of them in their journey of following Jesus were seeking prestige and power in the Kingdom of God. In the Gospel of Luke, this dispute arises again during the last supper. In the disciples last meal with Jesus before his death, they continued to bicker over who is the greatest. We read in Luke 22:24-27:

“A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.” (Luke 22:24–27, ESV)

As this dispute came up in one of Jesus' most intimate and important lessons, the Lord's Supper, he tries to help his disciples understand what greatness looks like in the kingdom of God. Greatness in the kingdom is fundamentally different from the greatness in the world. Greatness in the world is determined by authority, age, power, money, or accomplishments. Jesus flips the worlds understanding of greatness up side down. Greatness is not determined by power but service.

The answer to the question of "Who is the greatest" is he who serves. Service is the mark of true greatness.

Servant Leaders

If you seek to be great in God's Kingdom then begin to serve. If you have ambition to make an impact for King Jesus then you must sacrifice for the sake of others. Greatness is not determined by position but through serving the least of these. Jesus is instructing his leadership team, the disciples, that as they will lead the church they must not lead as dominate, elite rulers. Rather, the disciples are to identify with the low as they serve all people. Jesus is training them to be servant leaders.

Lead Like Jesus

Jesus tells his disciples that they are to follow his example. Jesus is by default the greatest in the Kingdom of God. He is God. Yet although Jesus is the greatest he leads his people through service. Jesus' words to follow his example could not ring more powerfully when we understand them in the context. Jesus speaks these words to his disciples at the last supper. He had just finished describing how his body would break and his blood would pour out. Jesus is going to establish and lead his church by giving up his life on the cross, so that by his death we might receive forgiveness from our sins and be cleansed from all unrighteousness. The greatest man became the greatest servant. If God himself would stoop to such low levels to serve you and me, we too should live lives of service for one another.

Do You Want to Be Great?

Do you want to be great? Do you want to make an impact in our world? Than follow Jesus' example and serve. Your greatness in the kingdom of God is not determined by the prestige of your profession, the size of your church, or a position you may hold, but it is determined by your dedication and service to one another.

Do You Want to be Great? Be a servant.

Passing the Baton: Preserving the Gospel from Generation to Generation

There is nothing quite like a good old fashion relay race. The concept is simple. One person runs a certain length as well as they can, then they pass the baton to the next runner on their team who takes it a little bit further. Then that person will hand it off to the next person. You get the picture. In Paul's letter to his protégée Timothy he describes this passing of the baton as he writes awaiting his execution. Paul knew his time was coming up and his section of the relay race was coming to an end. He had run his race well. He had carefully guarded the deposit of the Gospel. Now it was time for him to pass the responsibility of guarding the Gospel to the next generation. It was now Timothy's turn to guard and protect the truth of the Gospel. He charges Timothy:

"By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you" (2 Timothy 1:14)

Over the past 2000 years, the Gospel taught by the apostles has been passed from one generation to the next. As a younger pastor I feel the weight, the excitement, and the responsibility of carrying the baton of the Gospel. As the millennial generation (of whom I belong) begin to take leadership in our culture and in churches there is a changing of the guard that is beginning to take place. So as the next generations of Christians begin to bear the weight of responsibility, there are a few things we must remember.

1. Protect the Gospel from Distortion

The Gospel message of salvation by faith alone through grace alone will be attacked in every generation. This will be especially true of the next few decades as Christianity continues to be marginalized. The Christians of tomorrow will face the same challenges of Christians of yesterday. We will be tempted to distort, twist, or water down the Gospel to make it more culturally palatable to 21st century people. As the baton is passed to this new generation, the truthfulness of the Gospel must be preserved. We must continue to unapologetically defend the exclusivity of the Gospel and point people to Jesus alone for salvation. In a culture hostile to Christianity we will be tempted to take the easy way out and change all that might be controversial. We must resist that temptation and remain faithful to Jesus and His word.

2. Proclaim the Word of God

This next generation of Christians must continue to stand firm on the truthfulness of God's word. However we must not only hold to key doctrines of inspiration and inerrancy, we also must keep God's Word central in everything we do. We must stand firm on its truthfulness and proclaim it to others. As we evangelize and we disciple, we must do so with God's Word. We must proclaim truth to all, even though they may not want to listen. At the very end of 2 Timothy, Paul gives him one final charge in how to guard the deposit entrusted to him. He writes:

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. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (2 Timothy 4:1-4)

Those words remain just as true to us today as they did to Timothy in his day. The next generation must proclaim God's word.

3. Pass the Gospel to the Next Generation

The Gospel can be lost within one generation. If one generation refuses to disciple the next generation the Gospel would be lost. This is why we each generation is given the baton of the Gospel and they are to pass it to the next generation. As a young man, it is hard for me to imagine a time where I am 50 or 60 years old. However as any 60-year-old would tell you, old age comes quicker than you realize. Our life is a vapor. We are here for one second and gone the next. As a result, we must continue to pass the generation on to the next generation. We must teach them, instruct them, and show them how to faithfully follow Jesus.

From Generation to Generation

Every generation of Christians must Protect the Gospel, Proclaim the Gospel, and Pass the Gospel on to the next generation. This cycle has continued for the past 2000 years and it will continue until Jesus returns at his second coming. Receiving the baton and then passing it on to others is a huge responsibility. However we have this hope as Paul did that "I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me" (2 Timothy 1:12). As we have the weight of responsibility we have this promise, that God will protect his truth. The Gospel will be preserved no matter what the obstacles or no matter how hostile the culture. The Church will survive across generations. Then on that day when Jesus returns, we will all stand in the assembly of saints spanning generation to generation and the relay race will be finished and we will celebrate with all of God's people that the race has been finished and Christ has won.

Two Vital Relationships for Leaders

2779598066_647f7ae6d5_o It is often said that it is lonely at the top, especially in leadership. Often times this is very true, but most the times it is lonely because we want it to be that way. Many pastors and leaders intentionally alienate themselves from other leaders who can encourage them and love them. Often times leaders fail to make connection with other leaders outside of their organization for accountability and learning. In addition, most leaders tend to distrust building deep relationships with the leaders in their own organization out of fear of betrayl.

Isolation is a terrible thing for anyone, especially leaders. Many leaders build an emotional wall protecting themselves from the community and felowship that would bring them life and vitality. Isolation is the breading grounds for sin which often manifests itself when we are devoid of community. For a leader's own health and effectivness he must learn to surround himself with community outside the organization and inside the organization.

Developing Community Outside of the Organization

A leader must build relationships outside of his organization. For a pastor, it might mean meeting weekly or bi-weekly with other like-minded pastors for prayer and encouragement. For a business person it might mean networking and learning from people from other industries.

In my own life I've done this by meeting with a group of other student pastors every Tuesday morning for breakfast. These are other men in my city who have a passion for the Gospel of Christ and who are in the trenches of ministry dealing with many of the same issues I am dealing with as a leader. In addition to the plethora of wise counsel I receive from these men, we pray for each other and ecourage each other after a tough week.

People outside of our organization can perceive things that we are unable to see. They can be a neutral third party in dealing with a leadership dilema. They can be a sounding board of your latest idea or even a punching bag to vent about your latest frustrations. Devloping relationships with people outside of your organization is a key component to thriving as a leader.

Developing Community Inside the Organization

As a pastor, this one can often be very difficult to do. As a leader there is a tension between a courageous privacy and a humble openess concerning those in our own organization. We don't want to seem weak as a leader by laying all our junk on the table, but at the same time it is perlous to think of yourself as super man and present yourself that way to the leaders in your organization. No matter how hard you try to convince them you have the emotional callousness of a Vulcan and the Physical Stamina of Super Man, the people you lead know that is not true.

As I've become the Interim Senior Pastor of Forest Hills Baptist Church, there have been a wonderful group of men, our deacons, who have been a constant source of encouragement to me. They take care of me and minister to me in ways I don't even know I need. Even this past Tuesday at our meeting these men gathered around me, layed their hands on me, and prayed for me as I lead our church. Wow! That meant the world to me and it made me aware of this reality: We need leaders in our own organizations who can be our source of community and encouragement.

A Leader is Not an Island

You are unable to do everything on your own.  A leader cannot be effective as an island that is stranded all alone in the chaos of the seas. There is something beautiful about humanity in that we continue to need and depend on one another. A leader is not a solo-dicator robot walking around without needs or cares. No one wants to follow a robot, but they do want to follow a human being. They want to follow a courageous man who is willing to be served by other leaders. If you are a leader, look to build community outside your organization but also within your organization. You may be suprised just how life giving these relationships can be to your own leadership and your persuit of your vision.

How have you developed community outside of your organization? How have you developed it from within your own organization? Love to hear how you do this in the comments so we can learn from each other.