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.

0000000183L

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.

[Tweet "Nostalgia cannot hinder God's work in the present and his vision for the future."]

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.

[Tweet "Where is the godly man whose soul pulses with the strength of Christ and whose heart burns in gospel zeal?"]

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?