God moves to slow for us, particularly for us pastors. With great expectations, we enter the pastorate prepared to usher in a great movement of the Holy Spirit. However, it doesn’t take long for zeal of youthful optimism to shatter.Read More
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.
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.
God created us with unique personalities including the often subjective scale of introversion and extroversion. We can understand ourselves and each other better by learning where people place themselves on that scale. Our personality brings certain strengths and weaknesses no matter if your the outgoing extrovert or the reserved introvert. As the Spirit convicts me and helps me to know thyself, I've learned how my personality impacts my work as a pastor. In my experience, the pastoral ministry tends to attract more of the introverted than the extroverted. This is due to the rigorous personal study that comes with that weighty mantle of the ministry of the word which requires solitude. As a self-confessed introvert, I've found that my personality helps and hinders my ministry. Every personality contains facets that are prone to sin and to faithfulness. As I've learned (and am still learning) myself and my own quirkiness, I've identified three advantages and three disadvantages of my introversion when it comes to my pastoral ministry. I pray these personal musings will help fellow introverted pastors assess how their own personality can help or hinder their ministry.
Advantage 1: Diligent Study Comes Easy
Introverts recharge in the quiet of solitude. Thankfully, the pastoral ministry requires great time alone. Each week the pastor must feed the congregation with the Scripture, therefore the work in the study is paramount. Introverts thrive in this environment. The quiet tasks of reading, writing, prayer fill the introvert's heart and the soul. While our more extroverted friends would go stir crazy digging through the Bible, parsing verbs, studying commentaries, and writing sermon manuscripts, this environment energizes the introverted pastor.
Advantage 2: Listening Comes Easy
Introverts are inclined to listen before speaking. Many times we often speak before we think, and talk before we listen. Though even introverted pastors can hastily take over the conversion (trust me, I've done it several times), in general, the introverted pastor listens before speaking. When it comes to counseling, handling critiques, or observing the spiritual life of the congregation, introverted pastors excel at taking the pulse of those around them. Listening helps you to discern the issues beneath the conversation and draw them out to the forefront.
Advantage 3: Discipleship Comes Easy
People draw the typical caricature of introverts as those who cannot stand to be around people. This just simply isn't true. Introverts love being around people, it is just that people drain rather than recharge. Introverts hate small talk or chewing the cud with the latest weather reports or sports team, but we love conversations that probe deeper issues of significance. This makes introverted pastors able to invest easily in personal disciple making. Introverted pastors though they tend to the many, thrive best when they invest heavily in a few. As a result, sitting over a weekly discipleship breakfast talking about the joys of the Christian life, the implication of the doctrine of justification by faith, or the struggle of temptation, come easily to the introverted pastor. Introverts love conversation, just meaningful conversation. In a world filled with small talk, superficial commentary, and meaningless pleasantries, introverted pastors can drill down the conversation into the recesses of people's hearts.
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Struggle 1: Pastoral Care Can Drain You
Yet, there are not only advantages that come with introversion in the pastoral ministry, there are also struggles. One of them is the fact that people drain you, and as a pastor you are with people a lot: hospital visits, meetings, phone calls, counseling, and more. As a result the sometimes laborious and unrealistic expectations churches have on pastoral care, fatigues the introverted pastor. Out of all the aspects of pastoral ministry, this one is my greatest weakness. It is not that I do not enjoy seeing my people, visiting with them, or checking-in with their needs, it is just that it drains me physically, emotionally, and above all spiritually. I tend to pack most of my pastoral care visits on Monday, and I intentionally plan my sermon prep day on Tuesday. By the end of the day Monday I'm so spent (especially coming off Sunday), it takes a day in the study to recharge for the remainder of the week. While extroverted pastors thrive in pastoral care, introverted pastors often struggle and can sometimes sinfully neglect this vital responsibility.
Struggle 2: Large Groups Fatigue You
Each Sunday I walk into our sanctuary. I "work the room," moving from pew to pew, shaking hands and giving hugs with a smile. After worship, I hang around saying goodbye as people leave and engaging in conversations with questions about the sermon. This wonderful work leaves me dead tired by the end of day. Those large group meetings fatigues introverted pastors due to the taxation they take on the soul. Introverts tend to avoid large group settings and would prefer standing quietly in the corner, avoiding the lime light. Yet, out of love we must step outside of our comfort or preferences, mingling with the people of God—providing encouragement, prayer, and love.
Though I would sometimes prefer not to talk to anyone, I intentionally die to myself and step outside of my comfort zone. I've seen many introverted pastors neglect their people by remaining a reclusive figure, clinging like a fly to the wall, avoiding their people like they have a disease. This is a sinful neglect, and introverts must combat their tendencies to withdrawal by forcing themselves to meet new people, start up conversations, and show love to others.
Struggle 3: Solitude Disruption Annoys You
If you've been a pastor for any length of time, disruptions come. Each day is never the same and at any moment the Lord throws a wrench into your plans for the day. A member drops by unannounced and barges into your office, interrupting a time of prayer or a phone call comes informing you of a members heart attack, so you drop what your doing and head to the hospital to meet them. Introverted pastors can find themselves usually annoyed by such interruptions, yet our ministry to people is not always convenient or time-sensitive. When duty calls, we must drop what we are doing and serve.
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I have my suspicions that Jesus might have leaned introvert. Though he loved the crowds and had compassion on him, we see the demands of his ministry often led him to get away to solitude. He got up early in the morning to spend time with his Father. Again, every personality comes with advantages and disadvantages. As I've assessed my own introversion, I've spotted some strengths and weaknesses. As we pastors shepherd our people, may we exercise our strengths and seek to balance out the aspects of our personalities that are prone to weakness or sin.
If you are a church member, be gracious to your pastor, patient in his short-comings and lift him up in prayer, showing him continual grace. He ministers for your soul and for your good. Whether extroverted or introverted, he loves he and works diligently of your spiritual vitality.
Shepherding a church can be an incredibly frustrating work. As a pastor you do your best to lead in accordance to God’s word. You seek his wisdom and his direction for his church. You preach your heart out week after week hoping to be catalyst for spiritual growth or even revival. Yet, the road to achieving that vision seems dark, lonely, and filled with bruises. Shepherding God’s church is not for the faint of heart. It takes guts, endurance, patience, and above all the work of the Spirit of God. I guess that is what I find the most frustrating thing about being a pastor. Despite all my efforts and all my labor, all I can do is plant or water the seed of the Gospel into the hearts of my people. I cannot cause the growth. In this since, the Pastor is impotent and unable to cause true revival and awakening in the hearts of his people, no matter how much he may long for it. The hardest part about leading a church is not the teaching, the meetings, the counseling, or the criticisms. The hardest part is waiting on the Lord.
Week after week, month after month, and year after year, the pastor stands before the people proclaiming the whole counsel of God to his people hoping that the seed scattered would take root and grow. Often God doesn’t work in our time table, but God works slowly over time. Revival is great and spiritual awakenings are wonderful but they are an extraordinary working of the Spirit’s work in a condensed amount of time. When it comes to revival in a local church, normally that revival comes slowly over many years of faithful Gospel teaching that exhorts, challenges, and admonishes.
The pastor cannot make spiritual growth happen anymore than he can direct the wind with a baton. The wind blows where it wishes, so it is with the Spirit. Perhaps God will move unexpectedly and profoundly in revival. Perhaps not. Yet, let us pastors not resort to gimmicks, fads, and entertainment in attempt to manufacture it. May we trust in those ordinary means of grace God has ordained to grow his church. Trust the Word to work and let the Spirit move in his time.
God’s sovereignty over the spiritual growth of our people can be so very frustrating, but so very hopeful. God’s work in our churches is not dependent upon our gifting, talents, or abilities, but rather on the omnipotent will of God. This truth brings us to our knees in prayer, trusting in God for growth not in ourselves. It gives us confidence to stand before our congregations each week and preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ not knowing that at any moment the glorious light of God might pierce through the darkened veil over our peoples eyes and grant them to see the excellency of Jesus. In our frustration, may we humble ourselves before God in prayer trusting in His Word to pierce the hearts of His people, all the while having confidence in God’s ability to work in us and through us.
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?
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?
A few weeks ago I had a spiritual retreat at the Cove in Asheville. It was a time to get away by myself to pray and seek the Lord concerning my own spiritual life and also the future of Forest Hills Baptist Church. The whole experience was profitable as I was able to completely detach and saturate my soul in the presence of God. I plan to make this spiritual retreat an annual thing in my pastoral ministry. Spiritual retreats are profitable for any Christian, but especially for pastors. For you pastors out there, let me give you some reasons why you should prioritize an annual spiritual retreat.
1. You Need Spiritual Rest
Pastoral ministry is unlike any profession. You simply cannot fake spiritual health for long. As a pastor you are constantly and continually pouring into peoples life through the preaching ministry, counseling, and pastoral care. The pastor is a man who must always give from deep within his own soul and he must also be a man who keeps his own soul filled. A pastor must first shepherd his own soul before he can shepherd others. He cannot give what he does not have. To take a few days to for spiritual rest, restoration, and refilling can be incredibly helpful and provides needed rest.
You might be afraid of leaving your church for a few days and getting out of town on a spiritual retreat. You may not think you can afford the time! “There is much ministry to be done”, you say. Yet you cannot afford not too. Before man can be poured out as a drink offering for his people he must be filled with the great joyous love of Christ. To take time away to refill the cup again is not only the best thing you can do for your own soul, but also for the souls of your flock. A tired shepherd is quick to fall asleep while watching his sheep. Get your rest so that you may be alert and awake as you watch not only your own soul but the souls of those entrusted to you by the chief shepherd.
2. You Need Time to Plan
A key part of my spiritual retreat was to plan out the next year in ministry. Not only did I set out to create goals and plans for Forest Hills Baptist Church, I also set out to plan the preaching calendar for the next year. This sort of concentrated planning takes a great deal of time and uninterrupted focus. So often pastors find themselves moving from one crisis to the next and unable to focus on what is most important–the ministry of the Word and prayer. Many spend all their efforts working for the church they spend little time working on the church. Leaders need concentrated time to focus on the big picture.
Taking the time to prayerfully seek God’s guidance in the future of your church is good not only for you but for the church. Taking the time away is a labor of love as you plot the path you will lead God’s flock. Take the time to travel up the mountain of the Lord so that you may hear his voice so that you may return to your people with the word of God to which to lead them.
3. You Need to Be Filled
Pastors need to be filled. Often this happens through diligent study and reading. Although I was by myself on my spiritual retreat I had a myriad of different teachers pouring into me. From sermons from Martyn-Lloyd Jones on the four hour drive, to Bunyan’s classic allegory Pilgrim’s progress, to the quaint honest soul searching of C.S. Lewis, I was in good company. Most importantly though I had the Holy Spirit as my teacher using the Scriptures to convict me of sin, grow me, and lead me. Learning, studying, and growing are life long endeavors for every Christian, even pastors.
4. You Need to Enjoy God
Pastor, be a lover of God. Long for his presence as a deer painting for streams of water. Do not be so focused on your daily ministry that you cease to delight in the one in whose name you are ministering. The labor of pastoral ministry can be fierce, demanding, draining, and exhausting. It is often in that busyness that we forget to enjoy His presence. Spending a few days by yourself will bring you to your knees. It provides focus and clarity on the lover of your soul. For who else do you have to talk to but God? Solitude ushers in a continual conversation with God as you walk with him and talk with him. Pause and enjoy the wondrous truth that the through the blood of Christ you have a relationship with the God of the universe. What a privilege it is to know him! Take the time away and be with Him.
As a pastor you are limited. Even young men fall exhausted, but it is those who wait on the Lord who will find themselves with the strength of the Eagle (Is 40). As pastor you must be a man daily dependent in every season on God, yet it is appropriate to spend some extra time away reminding yourself that it is in Him that you breath, and move, and find your being.
If you have yet to take a spiritual retreat, let me encourage you to do so. The Cove is a wonderful place to go and I highly recommend it. Yet a spiritual retreat can be at any location where you can disconnect and spend extended time in solitude and worship.
Have you ever taken a spiritual retreat? Would you recommend it to others? Why or Why not? Share with us in the comments below!
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.
Recently I’ve been preaching through the Sermon on the Mount with the people of Forest Hills Baptist Church. So far it has been a wonderful series working through some of Jesus’ most well known teachings. However I knew when the Lord led me to this series that there would be some difficult passages to come up. The two I was least looking forward to was on lust and divorce. As a pastor some times you must teach on some difficult passages of Scripture.
The Bible doesn’t always tell us what we want to hear, nevertheless they are all profitable and useful for the building up of the body. Much like the prophet Ezekiel, as a pastor we eat the sweet scroll of God’s word even though it is often a bitter word of judgement (Ez 3:3). All of God’s word is honey to our lips. Yet, the Scriptures function as a mirror. As we hold up the mirror of God’s word to our own hearts and to the hearts of our own people, sometimes we do not like what it shows us about ourselves. The word of God pierces our hearts and exposes our sin (Heb 4:12). It can be an uncomfortable endeavor but yet it is the task of the pastor to teach the whole counsel of God.
Although I am still a young preacher and have much to learn, having recently taught through both lust and divorce from the sermon on the mount, I offer these five helpful principles for preaching through tough passages of scripture.
1. Practice Expository Preaching
In order to preach difficult passages you must get to difficult passages. With the absence of expository preaching it is tempting for pastors to pick hobby horse passages or passages that will merely tickle the ears of the congregation. As a result, consciously or not, many pastors skip over difficult or controversial passages.
Walking through sections of scripture verse by verse is so helpful because it forces us to encounter and deal with difficult passages. My people know we are walking through the Sermon on the Mount and they would notice if we skipped Jesus’ teaching on divorce. No matter how difficult it may be or though I may not desire to preach it, the accountability of my people force me to deal with difficult texts.
Yet, expository preaching can be a safe guard. When you deal with difficult passages in a expository series, it keeps the difficult sermon from sounding like a personal attack from the pastor. No one in the congregation is saying “I wonder why he picked a passage on lust this Sunday? I wonder who was in the counseling room this week?” The church knows this passage is next, so it removes any perceived hostility people may read into the pastors sermon. Thus the sermon becomes less of the words of a perceived vindictive pastor and more the prophetic, authoritative voice of God.
2. Preach in Humility, as a Man Under the Authority of the Scripture.
When I was preaching the sermon on lust, I tried to set the tone for the sermon at the beginning. I knew I was going to be having to deal with some difficult truths and that it was vital for me to be filled with conviction over sexual sin. I knew that many would perceive as strong word as judgmental self-righteousness, which would be the furthest from the truth. So before I got into the meat of the sermon I said,
This morning I plan to proclaim to you harsh truths that you may perceive are announced in judgement and self-righteousness. Hear me carefully before we begin. I speak as a man who is not above this text but stands condemned underneath it. I am a man who is a condemned sinner redeemed and restored by Jesus Christ. As I read Jesus’ words here what shame and dread come upon me. For which of us can here can read these words and not be condemned?
These words helped remind me and my people, that as a pastor I am a sinner who is saved by grace. The only power that enables me to stand in that pulpit without cowering in holy fear is that I’m clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
3. Speak Clearly and with Conviction
Set God’s word loose on your people. Do not be timid or fearful on difficult truths you know your people might not want to hear. So often our fear of men causes us to be timid lambs in the pulpit when we must be roaring lions. When it comes to the sexual immorality of our culture or the no-fault divorces that happen every day, it is necessary to bring a strong word of judgement against sin. However as you do, highlight the Scripture as your authority and not your own opinions.
4. Share Briefly Multiple Interpretations
The teaching on divorce was exceptionally difficult for me, not just because it is a hot-button issue, but because the text is a hermeneutical gordian knot. Many Christians wrestle on what the Scriptures teach on divorce and many books have been written on the subject. The greatest struggle for me was:
- How much should I share about the debate?
- Do I want to only share my position and act like the others do not exist?
Those were the sort of questions that plagued me as I was preparing for that sermon.
If you are preaching on such a text it is wise to briefly mention the debate around this text and briefly highlight some of the other views. But spend the bulk of your time proving your position from the text. The pulpit is not the place for an academic lecture on the precise definition of porneia. In fact most of the congregation doesn’t even care, they just want to know what the Scripture says. They don’t want a seminary dissertation on the subject.
5. Give Grace and Preach the Gospel
My great fear in preaching a sermon on lust or divorce is that I sound like some self-righteous right wing bigot. Although there are sections of those sermons where I must come down hard on what God calls sin, I must always point people to the Gospel. Pastor, if you hold up the mirror of condemnation to your peoples hearts you better point them to calvary before you close in prayer. Sins like lust are so pervasive and are hidden deep within our hearts. When you bring those things up to the surface and expose them to the light, it can get uncomfortable and often guilt begins to take over. Yet, I do not want my people to leave my sermon feeling badly over their sin, but gloriously in awe of a God who would save them despite their sin.
I want to leave them with Jesus. I want to point them to the savior who fulfilled the righteous requirements of the Law in their place. I want to point them to the suffering servant who was nailed to that tree for the forgiveness of our sins. I want to point them to the liberator who frees sexual captives and the God who never divorces his adulterous wife. He is the always faithful God who is ready to forgive and restore. When you preach these difficult sermons give your people what they need the most, Jesus.
Pastors, how have you dealt with difficult passages? How do you handle texts that you know will elicit controversy? Share your wisdom in the comments!
There is a lot of pressure on Pastors to be leaders. A whole industry of self-help resources and leadership books have risen the past few decades. Pastors are expected (as they should) to be leaders. Despite the wonderful practical wisdom that many of the most popular leadership books teach, a Pastor must always lead the church uniquely from the corporate business types. A Pastor is a shepherd who must lead his people with the rod of God's word. Paul makes it quite clear what should be the focal point of our leadership in his great charge to Timothy as 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.” (2 Timothy 4:1–2, ESV)
The Scriptures are essential in all aspect of a pastor's ministry, especially in his leadership. How do we preach the word in every aspect of our ministry and not just the pulpit? Shepherding with the Scriptures in hand takes discipline and practice. As a young pastor this is something in which I try to be intentional. I still have great room to grow, but here are some practical ways pastors can lead their people with word of God.
1. Practice Expositional Preaching
True preaching is grounded in the Scriptures. The temptation for many pastors is to shift to a topical model of preaching that focuses more on the congregants felt needs than the Word of God. The best way a Pastor can begin to center his flock on the Scriptures is to lead by example through the weekly sermon. Preach through books of the Bible and refer to the Scripture often in the sermon. Don't just take a verse and launch off on your personal soap box. Do as God has commanded and "preach the word".
A steady diet of scripturally rich expositional preaching will begin to transform church culture over many years. Don't underestimate the cumulative effect of a faithful expositional preaching ministry.
2. Carry a Physical Bible
This may seem a little silly, but it is something I think is important. In a day and age where digital bibles are so readily available it is easy to rely only on a smartphone for the Bible. I love technology. I even use my iPad for all my sermon notes while preaching. Yet I always carry around my physical Bible.
Although the accessibility of digital bibles is wonderful, lugging around a physical Bible communicates something about its value and significance. Carrying a physical Bible around with you communicates to your people the source of your authority in ministry. Our authority as pastors is not in our charisma, knowledge, experience, or skill, but in the infallible word of God. Carrying a physical Bible communicates that to my people in a way a digital version does not.
3. Use the Bible in Pastoral Care
Monday afternoons is the time I go out and visit shut-ins and those who need pastoral care and I always be sure to take my Bible with me. To go minister to members without a Bible is like a plumber who forgets his wrench or a football player who forgets his helmet. So too should pastors always bring their staff when they go to the flock. Bring the Bible with you.
Towards the end of my visit with the person I always try to finish my time with a church member by opening up the Bible and reading a passage of Scripture. Then we will close our time in prayer. I do this because the Scriptures are relevant in every situation and I want to teach my people to look to the Scriptures in moments of crisis and need. God's word provides reassurance, reminding us of the wonderful promises of God. Whether in counseling, visitation, outreach, or funerals be quick to take your people to the Bible. Lead them with the Scriptures.
4. Open Every Meeting with Bible
Every meeting I lead at our church I open with a short devotion from Scripture. I want to model for our people Scripture's relevance and importance in all situations from finance meetings to deacons meetings. Starting with Scripture also puts things into perspective and reminds everyone that it is on the word of God we must build God's church and we make decisions.
5. Go to the Scripture in Conflict
This one must be handled carefully, but it is vitally important. As in most churches there will be fights and disagreements. When those times come, the pastor must lead with the Scriptures. In those high and intense meetings, know your Bible well enough to counsel from the Scriptures.
You must handle this carefully because you don't want to necessarily beat your people with the Bible to justify your opinions. Yet, going to the Bible when there is a disagreement reminds everyone (including the pastor) that our opinions are secondary to the truth of God's word.
6. Ground Change in the Scripture
As a pastor and leader you must lead your people through change. Whenever a ministry needs to be cut, revised, or started always ground your methodology in your theology. Do your best to explain the "why" and the biblical reason for the change. Show your people important texts that show the urgency or reason for why this change is necessary. Although there may still be resistance, if your people are lovers of the word of God they will be encouraged and obedient.
Shepherding with the Scriptures
Pastors are to be men of the word. The Scriptures must impact how we think about every aspect of our ministries. Bring the Scripture into every aspect of your ministry. Get creative and always be pointing them to the Scriptures. It is in the word of God that tells us about the word who became flesh. Point them to the Bible and you will be pointing them to Christ who is the chief shepherd whom you will be accountable for in your leadership.
How Have you led with the Scriptures? Any tips or practices that I missed? Share your wisdom with us in the comments!