Archives For The Ministry

Political discussions have dominated social media for several years now and only seem to be getting more heated. With every executive order issued by President Trump or protest aimed at changing a current practice, social media will generate a plethora of links and opinions. These opinions often lead to debates in comment sections that generate way more heat than light.

For the Christian, how we engage in political discussions on social media can be especially tricky. On the one hand, our faith touches every arena of life, so politics is important. On the other hand, we know that every person in the world must stand before Jesus one day and the ultimate issue will not be whether they had the correct position on national security issues.

When you consider how divisive politics can be and how often we say things in the heat of a moment that can influence the way people view Jesus and the Gospel, Christians must spend time in careful thought before they post about politics on social media.

In fact, I would suggest that there are seven questions you should ask yourself before you post about politics or share a link to an article about a political issue.

Do I have the correct facts?

“A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” While King Solomon couldn’t foresee the advent of social media, he knew the human heart. Proverbs 18:2 reminds us of the importance of hearing and understanding a matter before we start talking about it. The more divisive the issue, the more time we need to spend understanding it.

Does the Bible speak to this issue? If I think it does, am I sure that I understand the biblical passage in its proper context and that I am applying it correctly to the situation? Are there other texts that speak to this that I have not considered?

I would suggest that you read a wide range of resources on an issue before opining about it on social media. Read the most fact-based article that you can find on it. For example, Joe Carter posted a roundup of frequently asked questions about President Trump’s executive order on immigrants and refugees.Reading this type of article can help you get a grasp of the basic facts. Then, read several articles from more liberal publications and several that come from more conservative publications. Read The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The National Review. Look at the points each side makes and see how the other side answers them. Through this type of careful reading, you can gain a better grasp of the issue before you speak about it.

Does this need to be said?

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Most of the times that I heard Ephesians 4:29 when I was growing up, it was the verse that was used to tell us not to cuss. While it may speak to that, it also has something to say about our interactions on social media.

“That it may give grace to those who hear.” Is what you have to say going to bring grace to those who hear it? Will they increase in understanding and gain a greater insight into the Bible’s perspective on this issue? Will your words point them to Christ? Or, is what you are going to say be mere venting? Are you going to bring light, or are you going to bring heat only?

What you have to say may be correct, but it may not need to be said.

Why do I need to be the person to say this?

Let’s pretend that what you want to say about politics on social media should be said. Now you need to consider if you are the right person to say it. Do you have an insight into this issue that you haven’t seen somewhere else, or are you merely repeating an argument you read in another place? Do you have a role or responsibility where people are looking to you for guidance? Why should you be the person to say what you are about to say?

Am I saying this in a way that represents Christ?

“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” People who have experienced grace should speak in a way that exhibits grace. Often, we post the first thing that comes to our minds about an issue, don’t read it to see how it sounds, and end up bringing shame upon Christ and his church through our hasty speech. Venting opinions that are not thought out and that insult others is a sign of tremendous foolishness, demonstrates a lack of love for our neighbors, and does not bring honor to Jesus.

Before you post something, read it three or four times. Take a screenshot of it and send it to a friend. Is it kind? Is it accurate? Is it designed for the good of others? Will it negatively impact how other people think of Jesus?

On a closely related side note, if you need to think twice before posting about American politics, then you need to think ten times before posting about denominational politics. In fact, I can think of no good reason for denominational squabbles to be shared before the watching world on our social media feeds. Discuss them in groups or the comment sections of blogs, but do not drag them out into public and bring dishonor to the cause of Christ.

How could I be misunderstood?

I learned my lesson this past August on Facebook. I posted about what I believed to be Donald Trump’s lack of commitment to pro-life issues and said that it was a terrible mistake to nominate him. Almost immediately, my friends and family perceived that my concerns about Trump were an endorsement of Hillary Clinton.

The lesson I learned from this was that there was nothing to be gained by questioning the decision to nominate Trump, which at this point was in the past. The Presidential contest was primarily between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. I failed to think through how people would interpret my concerns about one candidate as an endorsement of the other. My post brought no light or grace to the situation and only brought confusion.

Stop and think before you post. Are you communicating clearly and is there a possible way for a significant number of people to misunderstand you?

What are my motives for saying this?

“Whatever you do, whether you eat or drink, do it all to the glory of God.
Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God.” While the question of our motives has been underlying several other questions, we should ask it on its own. Can you honestly say that you are saying what you are saying for the glory of God and the good of others?

We must be aware of our motives because they will determine what we say, how we say it, when we say it, and how we will respond to people who disagree with us. If our motive is to vent because we are angry, we will speak harshly, rashly, immediately, and eviscerate those who disagree with us. On the other hand, if our motives mirror Paul’s in 1 Corinthians 10:31-32, then we will speak graciously, kindly, thoughtfully, and respond patiently to those who disagree.

Can I wait until tomorrow to say this?

When Abraham Lincoln got angry with someone, he would fire off what he called a “hot letter.” He would set aside the letter until his emotions cooled off. Then, he would read the letter with a cool head. He left many letters unsigned and unsent.

While Abraham Lincoln wrote letters instead of posts on social media, his practice provides a worthy example for us today. If your post deals with a particularly sensitive topic, can it wait until tomorrow? If it can wait a day, save it as a draft and revisit it tomorrow. You may find that you read it with fresh eyes and see that you shouldn’t post it. Or you may see that it would be helpful to people and click “post.” Either way, the longer you can wait before inserting yourself into a conversation, the better.

Christians, we need to remember that we are Christians first. We represent King Jesus and his church. When we speak, it should reflect the priorities and character of our King and his kingdom. This concern means that we need to take extra care to consider the words we speak online.

Related Posts:
Choosing Courage over Outrage

Putting Out the Fires of Conflict

For Further Reading:
Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel by Russell Moore

Pastors can engage in much hyperbole about how difficult the ministry is. On its best days, the ministry is demanding, but so many great things are happening around you that the aggravations fade into the background. The bad days in ministry can be downright terrible. Whether it’s another person in your church walking through sickness and death, a leader leaving for another church, dealing with someone who is walking through a season of outright rebellion against God, or facing fierce opposition from within the church, the bad days bring trouble that can make you forget the good days ever existed.

I have always been encouraged by 2 Corinthians, in which Paul unfolds the heart and motivation behind a mature ministry. He writes to the Corinthian church, which he started in the midst of terrible opposition and discouragement. Now, a group of men have come into this church boasting in themselves and actively working to discredit Paul’s ministry among the congregation. They attack Paul’s appearance and lack of rhetorical impressiveness, even going so far as to use the physical sufferings he has faced in ministry as a way to discredit him.

In chapter 11, Paul catalogues the hardships he has faced in service to Christ, but he doesn’t do this to complain or engage in one-upmanship. Instead, he recites his sufferings for the sake of advancing the Gospel to boast in his own weakness because they show that it has been the power of God which animated his ministry all along.

He says something curious as he lays out his physical hardships. After speaking of beatings, lashings, nights spent in the cold, imprisonments, and days spent in hunger and thirst, he says, “And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.” The authorities gave Paul the thirty-nine lashings five times, three times they beat him with rods, and once he was stoned; and in the same paragraph he mentions his anxiety for the churches. This tells us something about the pressures of ministry.

Every pastor walks through dark nights of the soul. The pain of betrayal, the sting of failure, and despair over people walking away from the faith is often more than the pastor is able to bear. Some days, being beaten with rods sounds preferable to the tense meeting, the painful confrontation, and the smile you force while one more person tells you they are going somewhere else.

You don’t get to shut down when you’re in these times of trouble though. While there are times when a pastor needs to get away, for the most part when times are tough we have to keep plodding for the glory of God. We continue to pray, preach, evangelize, disciple, and counsel even when we are in great need of help ourselves.

How do you do this though? How can a pastor continue to work faithfully while walking through overwhelming pain and trouble?

Ground Your Identity in the Gospel

Please don’t skip this point for the more “practical” stuff I say below. One thing I find to be hard about the ministry is how intertwined my spiritual life and my vocation are. While all work that contributes to the flourishing of mankind is a sacred calling, there is something about the ministry that makes you question your standing before the Lord when things are not going well. You can wrongly assume that if you were praying more, sharing the Gospel more, reading the Bible more, and being a more faithful Christian your church would be doing better than it is right now. Do not fall into this trap. Some of the godliest men I have ever known have faced some of the greatest uphill ministry battles I have ever seen.

Pastor, remember that you are a Christian first. Before God called you to be a pastor, he called you to himself. You are a child of God through faith alone in Jesus Christ. You have been promised an incredible hope, not because of your effectiveness in ministry, but through the grace of God in the Lord Jesus Christ. By his life, death, resurrection, and continuing ministry at the right hand of God you are a justified saint with access to the throne of God. And this is all true, not by any great work you have done in the name of Jesus, but because of Jesus and what he has done. Come back to this great truth every single day.

Talk to Your Wife

Talk to pastors about how much you should tell your wife about what you are facing at church and you will get varying responses. Many men believe you should not weigh down your wife with the difficulties you are facing. I cannot presume to speak for every marriage because every man and wife are different, but I think I would shrivel up inside if I did not talk with Beth about the pressures I faced in ministry and the effect they were having on my soul.

The reasons I choose to be so open with her about the pressures of ministry are many, but they begin with the fact I adversely affect our relationship more by hiding my struggles than I do by being open about them. Men, our wives know us well and have great insight, so we cannot hide when we walk into the house with a two-ton weight on our shoulders. They know it, and shutting them out hurts our marriages more than it helps them.

Our wives follow Jesus too, and know us better than anyone else does, so why wouldn’t we want to invite them into our struggles? We need their wisdom, their help, their understanding, and their prayers. If you can tell your struggles are weighing your wife down as well, don’t assume not talking is the right response. Ask her the best way to talk through these things with her without overburdening her. Don’t assume you will make the right call on this without hearing her insight.

Trust Your Church’s Leaders

I am a firm believer that every church’s leadership meetings need to begin with prayer. By this I am not talking about a quick, obligatory prayer that we feel like we must offer because we are talking about “church business.” Instead, the church’s leaders need to have honest conversations about how they can pray for each other and begin the meeting with ever church leader prayer over one of the other church leaders. Doing this builds an incredible sense of brotherhood and reminds us that we are partners in a great cause, not belligerents in a battle.

If you are walking through a time of pain and difficulty, trust your church’s leaders enough to let them know. Explain the source of the trouble and what is happening to you as you walk through it. Listen to them as they counsel you and receive the encouragement God gives as they pray for you. Then, as they may want to come along and offer practical help, let them. The church is a body, and you rob yourself of the help that comes from this glorious truth when you try to forge ahead alone.

Pray

You knew I was going to go here, but I once had a friend ask me an incredibly important question about prayer and you need to hear what he said too. “Scott, have you prayed about this?” “Yeah, I’ve prayed about it.” “No, Scott, have you really stopped and prayed about this?” The answer was, “no.”

Too often, we throw up one quick prayer and say we have prayed about something. We have to stop and come before the Lord with our burdens. The promises we so often quote to people about prayer apply to us too. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Bring your burdens before the Lord, and receive the peace that he gives to his people.

Read Your Bible

Fellow pastor, I don’t mean to insult you by insinuating that you don’t read the Bible. I know you do, but like with prayer it must be asked, “Do you read the Bible?”. By this I mean that you read the Bible for the sake of your own soul and not just so you can teach it at the next appointed hour.

In the Bible you will find constant encouragement. As God speaks to us in the pages of Scripture, we hear the truths we need to persevere in the face of trials and difficulty. We remember the heart of why we do ministry and the proper means by through which we accomplish it. You’ll see how the people of God throughout history kept going forward when adversity came and how the Lord helped them overcome it. We need this constant nourishment. We need the truths of the Gospel and a reminder about the gracious character of God. We find these truths in the Bible alone.

Get Outside

When I was young I read a biography of Charles Spurgeon and found his bouts with depression to be a curious battle for so great a man. What I found particularly strange at the time was how much he felt likes walks on the beach and getting into nature restored his soul. He said things like this, I before I was a pastor myself I didn’t get it.

Let a man be naturally as blithe as a bird, he will hardly be able to bear up year after year against such a suicidal process; he will make his study a prison and his books the warders of a goal, while nature lies outside his window calling him to health and beckoning him to joy.

He who forgets the humming of the bees among the heather, the cooing of the wood-pigeons in the forest, the song of birds in the woods, the rippling of rills among the rushes, and the sighing of the wind among the pines, needs not wonder if his heart forgets to sing and his soul grows heavy.

A day’s breathing of fresh air upon the hills, or a few hours, ramble in the beech woods’ umbrageous calm, would sweep the cobwebs out of the brain of scores of our toiling ministers who are now but half alive.

A mouthful of sea air, or a stiff walk in the wind’s face, would not give grace to the soul, but it would yield oxygen to the body, which is next best.

Heaviest the heart is in a heavy air,
Ev’ry wind that rises blows away despair.

The ferns and the rabbits, the streams and the trouts, the fir trees and the squirrels, the primroses and the violets, the farm-yard, the new-mown hay, and the fragrant hops—these are the best medicine for hypochondriacs, the surest tonics for the declining, the best refreshments for the weary.

For lack of opportunity, or inclination, these great remedies are neglected, and the student becomes a self-immolated victim.

Most of our work is inside work. We meet with people over meals or coffee. Then we head back to the study to sit in a chair while we read, study, pray, return emails, and meet with more people. Sitting down inside this much is not good for us, so we must look for every possible opportunity to get moving and get outside. Reading on my back porch and my 5AM walk have done immeasurable good for my soul. Spurgeon was right about nature, and only had to walk through some tough times to see how right he was.

Pastor, fight the good fight in the encouragement God gives. Get in the word, get on your knees, get outside, talk to your wife, and talk to your leaders. Remember who you are because of Jesus and Jesus alone. None of these things will make the ministry easy, but they will help to keep us going when things get really hard.

Take a Day off, Take Your Vacations, and Take a Retreat

Unfortunately pastors think we can abuse ourselves by working nonstop because, “I’m doing this for Jesus.” Pastors, we can never bring glory to God by pretending like we are him. God alone never slumbers or sleeps, and we demonstrate great foolishness when we think we can keep plowing without rest like God does. This idiocy starts in seminary, where we use how little we’ve slept as some kind of badge of honor, and if we are not careful it continues into our work in the ministry.
Pastor, take twenty-four consecutive hours off from work to rest, hang out with your family, do yard work, or whatever you want to do. Your body and your mind need a break. Your family needs your attention. To be honest, I’ve struggled with this lately and felt myself starting to wear down. We left town a couple of days ago to come visit family and I did nothing work related yesterday. After just that one day, I feel incredibly rested, rejuvenated, and ready to get back to work tomorrow.

One day a week will only cut it for so long. Take your vacation time and get away. Tell people to only call you if there is a real emergency. Get everything in place for who will cover your responsibilities and go somewhere. Take naps, enjoy nature, eat good food, and have fun with your family. You need it more than you know, so pull out your calendar right now and make the time to get away. (Notice I said “make the time.” We need to excise “find the time” from our vocabulary. You never magically “find” time for the things that matter. You have to “make” it.)

Also, work with your leaders to schedule time for a study and planning retreat. This is not a vacation, but a time or two a year for you to get away and work in a distraction-free environment. Work on sermons, plan outreach events, or develop training for your leaders, but make this time to get away and work without the ringing of the phone or the pinging of the email. (Many denominations have camp grounds or conference centers that would be great for this. Also look for cabins in state parks or find out if someone in your church has a place where you can go.)

I’m sure there’s a lot more that could be said about persevering through hard times in the ministry. Where do you find encouragement to keep going when ministry gets hard?

Related Posts:
48 Scattered Thoughts about Pastoral Ministry and Being a Pastor

Six Foolish Things I Used to Believe about the Ministry

For Further Reading:
The Pastor’s Justification by Jared Wilson

Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome by R. Kent Hughes

Dangerous Calling by Paul David Tripp

In an honest moment at lunch after church this past Sunday I slammed my hand down on the table and said what I had been thinking for the past half hour. “My sermon stunk today.” I didn’t say this to fish for compliments; I meant it. If the sermon was a soccer team it would have been relegated when I got finished.

I’m not the only pastor who has felt this way, and many Christians have had these thoughts about their pastor’s sermon at the close of the Sunday worship gathering as well. He may have preached the text of Scripture in front of him and didn’t say anything heretical or unbiblical, but it just wasn’t good. Maybe the main point of the sermon wasn’t clear, the application felt stretched, or he just seemed “off.” Whatever the cause, you were glad it was over and he probably was as well.

The Sunday sermon is important because we understand that this is how God has ordained for his word to be taught to his people. So when the Sunday sermon falls flat and is unhelpful, what should we do?

If You Heard the Bad Sermon

Review it to Find Something Helpful

“A mature Christian is easily edified.” With this simple phrase Chip Stam reminds us that we can grow and receive encouragement from any sermon. If the sermon you heard this past Sunday seemed to have nothing to say to you, think through it again. Reread the passage of Scripture and look over any notes you may have taken. If the sermon was true, then there will be something you can glean from it to help you grow as a believer in Christ.

Pray for Your Pastor This Week

No one dissects the sermon each week at your church like your pastor. If the sermon was flat or confusing to people, he will know it. Pray for him this week because there is a better than average chance that he is fighting discouragement. He wants his preaching to draw people to Jesus and help believers grow into maturity, so he deals with great disappointment when he believes a sermon goes bad. Pray the Lord will encourage him and pray for his preparation for this week. Also, when you have prayed for your pastor during the week it helps you show up on Sunday with a greater sense of anticipation to hear God’s word.

Read Your Bible

Spend a little extra time in your Bible this week. If you usually read a chapter or two, maybe read one more or take closer notes on one of the chapters you read. Spending more time in serious Bible reading and study will help you grow and also prepare you for the coming Sunday as you gather with your church family to hear God’s word.

If You Preached the Bad Sermon

Trust in the Power of the Holy Spirit

Pastor, remember that even your best sermon would be dead on arrival without the power of the Holy Spirit to make it effective in the hearts of the people who hear it. Remember that you do not trust in the effectiveness of your delivery or the power of your argumentation for your sermon to stick, you trust in the work of the Spirit. You never know what he may do through what you believe was a subpar sermon. As the Puritans used to say, “God can strike straight with a crooked stick.” This isn’t an excuse to neglect to grow our preaching gifts, but it is a great encouragement on the weeks you think things went terribly.

Examine Your Motives

When you preach a poor sermon, your instinct is to think that you can do a better job next week and redeem yourself. Don’t think like this because the pulpit is not the ground of your justification and it is not the place for you to find your identity or bring in your ego. While we love the stories of a guy who gets knocked down and gets back up, the ministry is not the place for your reenactment of Rocky IV. Instead, look forward to an opportunity to share the Gospel with those who do not believe and for the chance to teach and encourage God’s people.

Related Posts:
How to Preach in an Age of Sporadic Attendance Patterns

For Further Reading:
Saving Eutychus by Gary Millar and Phil Campbell

Spiritual Disciplines Within the Church by Donald Whitney

photo credit: soybean14 via photopin (license)

photo credit: soybean14 via photopin (license)

My freshman year of college started with my giving attention to everything but studies and thought about anything serious. My only goals had to do with bourbon and girls and my entertainment consisted of Adam Sandler, Beavis and Butthead, Jim Carrey, and Chris Farley. When you consider my knot-headed trajectory, God placing serious and caring Christians in my path is a humorous providence. I wanted nothing to do with what they were talking about, but I could not help but be attracted by how genuine they were and how they treated other people.

One particular Christian always stuck out in my mind. We had several pointed conversations about Jesus and the Gospel, with him always approaching me with kindness and compassion. He offered to read the Bible with me, and treated me with respect even when I didn’t return the favor. In addition, I could tell by his life that this was not forced by outward compulsion for him. He seemed to embody a genuine joy, cared about obeying Jesus, and looked for opportunities to talk about him in ordinary conversations.

Providence took me to a different University the next year where I was born again and trusted in Christ as Lord. I always wanted to let this guy know what the Lord had done through him in my life, but had no idea how to get in contact with him. Thankfully Facebook came along ten years later and I decided to look him up. After he accepted my friend request I immediately sent him a direct message. I told him I didn’t know if he would remember me 12 years later, but he invested in and and cared about my soul. I wanted him to know that I had come to know Christ, was pastor at a church, and was grateful to him for the witness he had been to me.

His response testified to the ridiculous grace of God. He didn’t remember me at all, but was grateful to hear of my conversion and gave glory to God for any way the Lord may have used him in my life.

Knowing that one of the people I considered to be an instrument in my conversion didn’t even remember who I was continues to give me great encouragement. This man faithfully sowed Gospel seeds through both word and deed. God took the seeds he planted and reaped a harvest without him even knowing it happened.

We need to hear stories like this as pastors, because we often don’t see obvious fruit from our labors. We proclaim God’s word on Sunday morning, and don’t know what the Lord did in anyone’s heart through it. People come to us for counseling, so we listen and then show them the truth of God’s word, but we have no idea what kind of impact it may have on them. We love our neighbors and try to share a word about Jesus with them, but don’t see it making an evident impact on them. All of this sowing with no clue about whether or not a harvest will come wearies and discourages us.

The discouragement that comes from a lack of apparent fruit can often be exacerbated when we hear about the ministries of other men. At conferences we listen to a parade of men whose ministries appear to be successful. They tell us a fruitful church should see a constant stream of baptisms and bemoan the ninety percent of churches who are plateaued or declining.  Then we hear of a stories like the one of a famous pastor who mocked a church that “only” had twenty-six baptisms one year, as if this was something to be ashamed of.

As I reflected on the brother who didn’t remember me, I thought of a passage of Scripture that should serve as an encouragement to those of us who labor in obscurity without knowing what harvest may come forth. In the last section of 1 Corinthians 15 Paul glories in the wonderful implications of Jesus’ resurrection. Because God raised Jesus from the dead he will raise us too, so we can confidently face death knowing it does not get the last word. In addition, God gives us victory through the Lord Jesus Christ. Convinced of this reality, Paul says, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

Take heart pastor, nothing you do in the name of Jesus happens in vain. The Lord is at work through his word, even on those mornings when it seems like no one is listening. When you counsel with struggling couples, he is bringing grace to them in ways you may never know. When you share the Gospel, Christ makes the appeal through you to be reconciled to God. Though the person with whom you are sharing may appear to completely reject the word of God’s grace, it will not come back void and may be the beginning of the long process of the Lord opening their eyes.

Because God is at work in ways we don’t see or know about through our ministries, we also need to hear Paul’s admonition to the Galatians. “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” The temptation to shift into neutral when ministry gets discouraging can be strong, but the words of Paul in Galatians 6:9 remind us that we can’t stop and coast in Jesus’ service. The Lord will reap a harvest, so we cannot give up and we cannot grow weary. The Lord works through our witness, our preaching, our prayer, our counseling, and our shepherding. Continue to do these things with in the strength that God supplies, because all faithful ministry brings glory to him and he is at work even when we cannot see it.

Related Posts:
48 Scattered Thoughts about the Ministry and Being a Pastor

For Further Reading:
Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome by R. Kent Hughes

The Pastor’s Justification by Jared Wilson

“Discouragement is an occupational hazard of Christian ministry.” John Stott may be able to lay claim to some of the truest words ever spoken. I wrote a few months ago that pastors sound ridiculous when we talk about the ministry like it is the world’s hardest job, but it does have unique challenges, difficulties, and discouragements.

In 2 Corinthians 11 Paul lists the hardships he faced as part of his ministry. He received  beatings and imprisonments. He endured the forty lashes minus one five times. Paul lived under constant danger and threats from authorities. Then there were the shipwrecks and as well as nights spent naked, cold, and hungry. These sufferings and trials cannot compare to one other burden he bore though. “And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.” That Paul chose to mention his concern for the churches alongside his bodily sufferings tells us the enormous weight pastors carry.

The ministry allows us to see some amazing glories. We get to bear witness to the glorious truth about Jesus and experience people going from darkness to light through faith in him. Broken marriages reconcile, prodigals come home, and struggling people grow in their faith.

The heartbreaks can be profound as well though. When a marriage falls apart or someone walks away from the faith you look in the mirror and wonder what you could have done differently. People leave your church where you love and pray for them for the big church down the road where no one will know their name. When the ministry stagnates everyone looks your way. The pressures can be overwhelming.

What can tired, broken pastors do? Where do we go when the pressures of the ministry feel like they are going to break us?

Remember the Good News

I don’t start with the Gospel because we’re supposed to, but because the Gospel is our lifeblood. Our only hope in this life is the death of the Lord Jesus Christ for us and his resurrection from the dead. We must come back to this ever-flowing fountain every single day so we can be reminded of the hope, peace, and life we have because of him.

In addition we need to remember who we are because of the Gospel. Before you were called to be a pastor you were called to be a child of the King. Through your faith in Jesus you have been adopted as a child of God, and you can rest knowing nothing will separate you from the love of your father. Things may not be going well in your church family, but this does not change your standing before God because you have been justified by faith alone in Jesus and not by your performance in the ministry.

Because you belong to the Father through faith in Jesus Christ you have an audience with the Father. In 1 John 5:13 John summarizes his entire epistle by saying, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” He moves from this statement on assurance to our knowing God hears and answers us when we pray. Why would John connect assurance to prayer? Could it be that John wants us to see that when we know we belong to the Father we come to him with confident prayer? When we know we are part of the Father’s family, we take our burdens, cares, anxieties, and heartaches to the Father. He hears, he sympathizes, and he gives us his peace.

Rely on Your Fellow Leaders

As you read through the narrative passages in Scripture you never see just one man leading a church. The church in Jerusalem was led by the apostles. Paul had companions for his missionary journeys and he appointed elders in the churches that he founded. The idea of lone ranger ministry is foreign to the New Testament.

No one can shoulder the burden of ministry alone and as pastors we have to learn to be honest with our fellow leaders and rely on them. Unburdening our difficulties to our lay leadership can be humbling, but this means it’s the best thing for you to do. They need to know where you are so they can pray for you and help you. Do not try to walk alone because it never leads to anything constructive or God-honoring.

If you do not have lay leaders you can trust, you need to do two things. First, find a pastor friend you can talk to. They know where you are and can walk with you through the difficulty. Also, start disciplining some men who can be future leaders in the church. You don’t have to be stuck with unreliable leaders forever, so work to raise up some new ones.

(Pastor if you find yourself thinking about hurting yourself, how the world would be better off without you, or begin experiencing prolonged periods of darkness you need to see a medical professional and/or Christian counselor immediately. There is not one shred of shame in admitting you are dealing with crippling depression and the embarrassment of talking to a professional pales in comparison with the damage that would happen if you hurt yourself.)

Change Your Definition of “Success”

In our ministry climate the main point of Kent Hughes’ Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome becomes more important every day. We have to fill out statistical reports for the denomination each year. Pastors at conferences ask “whatcharunnin’” and well-meaning family members ask you if your church is growing over Thanksgiving dinner.

When filled seats and met budgets become our barometer for ministry “success” we set ourselves up for disappointment and frustration. Instead, begin to focus on faithfulness and looking for every evidence of grace which suggests God is at work in your ministry.

Evangelize, disciple, pray, and study. This doesn’t make for an interesting reality show, but faithfulness in these disciplines over the long haul will yield fruit for the kingdom of God. Look at your ministry for the fruit you cannot report on a denominational form. Rejoice when you receive a text message from someone asking about a Bible verse, when a young Christian gains victory over sin, or when someone who previously seemed uninterested came to you with a great idea for ministry. These seemingly small things and more can be evidence God is at work through your ministry. Look for these treasures and celebrate them.

Weary pastor, don’t give up today in doing the things that matter. Remember the Gospel, pray, lean on the brothers around you, and walk faithfully in the basics of ministry knowing your labor in the Lord will not be in vain.

Related Posts:
48 Scattered Thoughts about Pastoral Ministry and Being a Pastor

Six Foolish Things I Used to Believe about the Ministry

For Further Reading:
Leading on Empty by Wayne Cordeiro
Dangerous Calling by Paul Tripp

photo credit: array via photopin (license)

photo credit: array via photopin (license)

Our church sits in the most unchurched county in the state of Alabama. While “unchurched” and “Alabama” don’t seem like they should go in the same sentence, our churches have grown at half the rate of the population. Since 1990 the population has more than doubled and our churches have grown by only fifty percent.

We planted Chelsea Village Baptist Church almost seven years ago, and in that time I have had conversations with many men who want to plant churches. Because of the trends I have seen in church planting in our context in particular, and in the broader culture generally, the talk I have with potential church planters has changed significantly.

The Delusion of Church Planters

For the last decade church planting seems to have been in vogue. Aiding this phenomenon has been the success stories of men who started a church and saw explosive growth in a short amount of time. Enough people have heard these stories that it feels like the norm in church planting.

Many men have felt called into church planting thinking they will move to a town, put up a sign, and see hundreds fill the chairs on the first Sunday. They come convinced their preaching will be the most compelling people have ever heard and their “worship experiences” will wow people in a way they have never seen.

What many men don’t understand is that the “success stories” stand out because they are so rare. Many more men see their churches close than see the kind of growth in their churches that gets them invited to speak at conferences. Everyone who plants hears about the high body count, yet they somehow still think they will be the exception to the rule.

The Need for Church Planters

Millions of people in the United States do not know Jesus and millions more claim to know him but have no connection to a healthy local church. Many regions in our nation do not have enough churches to reach the large number of people who live there. Therefore, we need an influx of churches who will proclaim the Gospel to their communities, train disciples, and plant more churches who will do the same.

Unfortunately, for us to plant the kinds of churches we need to plant the men who feel called to planting must change their expectations and their definition of “success.” We cannot bear another generation of church planters who want to be the next big thing. Men hungry for acclaim will do nothing to make a dent in the number of people in our culture who do not know Jesus.

When numerical success becomes the primary benchmark for evaluating the success of a church, a man will sacrifice his principles and build his ministry on all the wrong things to achieve his goal. Churches built on hype, great music, and a charismatic personality may reach some people who do not know Jesus, but it will mainly pull Christians from other churches. We don’t need more churches characterized by this mentality; we need thousands less.

The Task of Church Planters

The task of planting churches who are faithful to share the Gospel, make disciples, and plant more church calls for an army of men who are content with no one knowing their names except the people in their community and those whom they shepherd. These men must be willing to move into communities and plant their lives there. This means they work, not just for their church to grow, but for the good of the whole community by being a good neighbor and a witness to the Gospel.

The task of planting churches demands we plant churches on a sound foundation so they will still be bearing fruit in fifty years if the Lord tarries. This involves consistent teaching from the Bible, discipling believers, developing godly leaders, helping believers connect their faith to their work, and building a good reputation in the community. Every ounce of this work must be fueled by fervent prayer, asking God to strengthen us for the task to which he has called us.

The man who plants this kind of church must be willing to do work that doesn’t make for interesting tweets. He must be a man who cultivates his relationship with Jesus, his wife, and children each and every day. He has to be willing to spend hours glued to his chair with his head in the Bible so he can faithfully teach it to others. This man will dedicate significant time each week to purposeful conversation with other Christians, helping them to understand how to follow Jesus.

We need the man willing to work in obscurity because the real task of church planting is not easy or glamorous. At the same time the task is worth every ounce of effort. What can compare with seeing men and women pass from darkness to light? How much joy does it bring to see young believers maturing and progressing in their faith? And how great a blessing is it to see people we knew as young Christians become faithful leaders who are called to plant churches as well?

I once heard Mark Dever say that men often overestimate what they can accomplish in five years and underestimate what they can do it ten. When our desire is immediate numerical success, we never stick around long enough to see the real glories of Gospel ministry. However, when we plant our lives in a place, doing the hard and anonymous work which must be done for the sake of the Gospel we have the opportunity to see great things happen.

The Challenge for Church Planters

When I talk to church planters who want to plant churches, the talk I have with them sounds something like this. “We need new churches because so many people need the Gospel, but we do not need any more churches that are going to try to be the next big thing. We don’t need any more big shows whose desire is to grow at all costs. If your plan is to build your church by luring as many people as possible from other churches, we have that already and don’t need more of it. However, if you are going to go and compassionately proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, build a church on the Scriptures, plant your life in the community so you can be an effective witness in it, disciple the new Christians God sends your way, and plan to plant more churches that plant more churches so more people can know Jesus, then please go and plant because our culture needs the kind of church planter you will be.”

We don’t need more rock stars. We don’t need more men seeking the lime light. We need more anonymous, plodding church planters who labor faithfully for the spread of the Gospel and the glory of King Jesus.

(This post is a revised and expanded version of a post I wrote in 2014.)

Related Posts:
What I Wish I Had Known about Church Planting Before I Started
Six Foolish Things I Used to Believe about the Ministry

For Further Reading:
Nine Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever
Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome by R. Kent Hughes

This year is my fourteenth year working as a full-time pastor and either served on church staff or was in Seminary for a few years before. When I look back on my younger years in the ministry I often shake my head as I remember things I said or attitudes I harbored which were completely wrongheaded. Thankfully God is gracious, working through us in spite of ourselves and helping us to grow and mature.

So that others can learn from them, here are a few of the foolish things I used to believe about the ministry. (In ten years I will write about the foolish things I believed about the ministry in 2016.)

Before I was in ministry I worked a secular job.

This is common parlance, but horribly wrong headed. When we speak of non-ministry jobs as “secular” work we subtly send the impression that pastors do holy work and everyone else does non-holy work. Farming, accounting, teaching, welding, and thousands of other jobs are not secular work. They fulfill the creation mandate to subdue the earth, provide for the common good, and bring glory to God. One of the greatest needs in our generation is helping believers connect their faith to their work, and we will not accomplish this while we speak of non-church jobs as if they are a lesser form of vocation.

If I preach well everything else in our church will fall into place.

Early in my ministry I assumed that good preaching fixed all of the church’s issues. If people heard and responded to God’s word, they would be counseled and discipled through it instead of needing one on one meetings during the week. As we walked through the Bible and saw what the church is and what it is called to be everyone would be on board with necessary changes because they have been listening to the preaching. If anything, good preaching creates more need and opportunities for the pastor to counsel and do one on one discipleship as the word exposes sin and the need for growth in Christian’s lives. When people ask questions about decisions the church faces it provides great opportunities for personal conversations about the Bible and the church. Then after having these conversations through counseling, discipling, and decision making helps the pastor have a greater understanding of what is people are facing when he prepares to preach each week. A strong pulpit leads to more personal ministry and personal ministry leads to stronger pulpit.

I want my church to be so mature that I never have to explain difficult concepts because they understand them already.

“I want our church to know the Bible so well that I can say ‘justification’ and they know what I am talking about without my having to explain it.” This sentence came out of my mouth. In one sense I was right because I want to see Christians growing in their faith and understanding of the Bible, yet I missed two vital issues. Even Christians who know what justification is need to hear it’s glorious truth laid bare before them so they continue to grow in the knowledge of who they are in Christ, worship Christ because of what he has done on their behalf, and gain a greater understanding of how to explain these glorious truths to others. Also, having a church full of people so mature that they don’t need theological truths explained to them assumes there are no new Christians, struggling Christians, or non-Christians in the room. A healthy church is not composed only of mature believers, but instead sees mature believers, growing believers, new believers, struggling believers and people who are not yet believers when it gathers together before God’s word.

Because I’m the pastor I have the best ideas of anyone in the room.

Unlike the previous point, this precise sentence never came out of my mouth, but my heart and attitude exuded this sentiment. Because I had studied theology, church history, and church ministry and was continuing to study these things I assumed my ideas and ministry plans were going to be better than the ones originating from people who were not devoting the time I was to these issues. This proved itself to be a false assumption time and time again. First I got to see many of my best and brightest ideas go down in flames before my eyes. Then I also saw what happened when we implemented ministries and changes originating with other believers in our church and they flourished. This reminded me that the church is a body and everyone in Jesus’ church is gifted for ministry. Because of this there will be many actively engaged believers who will not only put forward great ideas we need to implement, but who can also hear my plans and offer input so they become stronger and more effective.

New churches don’t have any of the baggage that established churches do.

Remember the idyllic days of the early 2000’s where we all possessed a romanticized view of the new churches we were going to plant which were free of the traditions and problems that exist in established churches? Walking through life with friends who were planting and then planting myself convinced me that new churches have just as many issues as established churches do. Unless you plant a church where you are the only person in attendance, you will have people with strong and competing ideas about what the church is and should be doing. Then, if your church plant survives for a couple of years you will have strongly entrenched traditions that people don’t want to change too. All faithful ministry is hard, all faithful ministry has the opportunity to make an impact, and all faithful ministry brings glory to King Jesus.

I enjoy my work so I don’t really need to take a day off.

Sometimes in Seminary men studying for the ministry imbibe the idea that there is some kind of glory in running on very little sleep. How few hours I have slept in the last four days somehow becomes a badge of honor that shows how hard I am working. This mentality easily transitions into our ministries where we work for weeks without an off day and tell ourselves that this is a good thing because we are doing it for Jesus. Not taking a day away each week from regular ministry duties depletes our energy, burns us out, causes us to neglect our families, and violates the principle of Sabbath rest. We need to labor each week to take 24 consecutive hours away from our pastoral work so we can devote ourselves to rest, time with our families, recreation, and work around our home. Making sure to take this time each week pays great dividends as it builds our family and restores us physically, mentally, and spiritually. (In addition to spending time with your family, yard work is a great thing to do on your day off. When you are a pastor it is refreshing to work at something which gives you immediate, visible results.)

Related Posts:
48 Scattered Thoughts about Pastoral Ministry and Being a Pastor

For Further Reading:
On Being a Pastor by Derek Prime and Alistair Begg

By God’s grace I have been able to be a pastor for the last thirteen years, both as a church planter and the pastor of an established church. What follows is not everything I could say about the ministry, but are some things I have been learning and thinking about lately.

General
1. Find your identity in the Gospel. God the Father loves you, God the Son died for you, and God the Holy Spirit lives in you. Looking here will sustain you when looking at the fruit of your ministry will either puff you up with pride or lead you to despair.
2. Look for every little evidence of grace that God is working in your ministry. The discouragements feel bigger than they really are, so you have to work harder to see the good things happening.
3. When we talk like we have the hardest job in the world we sound ridiculous.
4. The pastoral ministry has unique challenges though, and you can whine about them or embrace with them.
5. The Gospel does have the power to transform people. Keep pointing them to Jesus.
6. You will be tempted to allow the Sunday attendance to be a barometer of the effectiveness of your ministry. This will lead you to despair when things are bad and arrogance when they are good. Don’t do this.
7. Walk with Jesus every day. The Father called you to be his child before he called you to be a pastor.
8. Be a good neighbor to the people who physically live around you. Know their names, talk to them when you see them, and help out any way you can. Don’t awkwardly try to get them to come to church the first time you meet them. If you are a good neighbor they might just invite themselves.

Marriage and Family
9. Spend time with your wife every day. Date nights are great, but there is no substitute for daily time together.
10. Choose a spot on your drive home from church where you put everything from your day behind you and ask the Lord to help you be fully present when you are home with your family. You need this and they need it too.
11. There’s a lot of different advice about whether you should tell your wife about all of the things stressing you out or not. This depends on how your wife is wired, but in general you want her to know when you are struggling and some of the reasons why. You don’t want her feeling like she’s being kept at arms length.
12. Family dinnertime is fun. Make it a priority. Tell stories, laugh, read the Bible, pray, and play games afterwards. Your kids will only be around your table for a few years, so enjoy it.

Humility
13. Do something to serve your community which has no apparent benefit to your church body.
14. Don’t trumpet every act of service your church performs. We need to take Jesus’ instruction to not let the right hand know what the left hand is doing seriously. If every act gets a social media post or a hashtag, you’re doing it wrong.
15. Over 100,000 people pay loads of money to watch Nick Saban do his job every week. You’re not a big deal because you have a church of 500 people.
16. Tattoo this across your forehead- when I am with other pastors I have nothing to prove.

Preaching, Study, and Reading
17. Get up early on Sunday mornings to look over your message. This way if there are crises to deal with when you get to church you won’t be freaking out about your sermon.
18. Get started on your sermon early in the week. If a crisis happens on Friday you won’t be freaking out about your sermon.
19. Preach the Bible. We have sixty-six books laying out the beautiful plan of God’s redemption. They are interesting, compelling and life-changing. You don’t need to add to it. Preach it.
20. Don’t apologize before your sermon if you didn’t sleep well, don’t feel well, or didn’t have enough time to prepare. Just preach. God will work through his word anyway.
21. When you have a guest preacher you don’t need to repreach his sermon for five minutes at the end. You’ll be back in the saddle next week.
22. Read good Christian biography. We need to learn from men who lived outside of our context and preached the same Gospel. Many of their thoughts on ministry rebuke the prevailing wisdom of our day.
23. Don’t copy another pastor. You are you. Learn from other godly men and apply what they do well.
24. Listen to sermons but don’t listen to the same person too much. You will hear them in your head while you are preaching. I can watch old sermons of mine and know who I was listening to the most at the time.
25. Make time to read. You will not magically find time.
26. You will not magically find time for anything. What needs to be done will only be done by making time.
27. Read theology, biography, history, literature, and cultural studies. Reading broadly will help you make sure you don’t get stuck always saying the same thing the same way.

Physical and Emotional Health
28. We don’t talk enough about the reality of depression in the ministry. Be honest if it happens and get help.
29. Physical exercise will help you ward off onsetting depression.
30. Physical exercise will save you from high blood pressure which makes you feel terrible.
31. The ministry is a sedentary job involving meetings around meals. Get physical exercise.
32. If the nice little old lady offers you a piece of pie while you are watching what you eat, you should eat the piece of pie. Just don’t eat three.
33. If you resent the people you minister to they will know it by your personal interactions and preaching. Pray the Lord would soften your heart towards people and to help you forgive.
34. The emotional stress of the pastoral ministry can be overwhelming. If you find yourself thinking you would be better off dead or have prolonged periods of darkness, you need to talk to someone immediately. There is no shame in admitting you are weak. Have you read 2 Corinthians?
35. You need sleep. Turn off screens 30 minutes before you go to bed, and then get in bed and go to sleep.
36. Take a day off. Spend time with your family. Take a nap. Read a novel, Go for a walk. Watch a movie. You need this, for you are not God.

Leadership
37. Trust your the other leaders around you. They are not obstacles to be overcome but partners in a great work.
38. Whether your church is elder-led, deacon-led, or staff-led, begin the meeting by praying for each other. This reminds you that you are brothers and not adversaries.
39. Also read the Bible at the beginning of your leadership meetings. You need to remember that this is his church and should be led according to his word.
40. If there are two ways to take what someone says to you, assume the better meaning.
41. Stop looking for a magic bullet to make your church “succeed.” Pray, preach, disciple, care for people, and love your neighbors. This bears much fruit in the long run.
42. Ask people how you can pray for them and then pray for them. According to Acts 6 this is a major component of our ministry task.
43. Do not put off unpleasant conversations. By ignoring things they rarely work themselves out in a satisfactory manner.

Relating to Other Churches
44. Don’t try to increase your church’s attendance at the expense of other churches in your area.
45. Take every opportunity to speak well of the other churches in your area.
46. Many people have been laboring for the sake of the gospel in your town before you got there. Don’t act like ministry didn’t exist in your area before you showed up.
47. There will be large churches in your area who do a terrible job at pastoral care. Their members will seek you out for help and you will feel obligated. You shouldn’t feel obligated because you are not their pastor, but feel free to help them as a neighbor and a friend. Make this distinction clear up front. People often don’t understand that pastors of smaller churches are busier than the staffs of large churches because they do not have an army of people to help them.

48. Sit down and write a list of thoughts about the ministry, then repent over how often you don’t follow your own advice.

Recently many have noted the decline in overall church attendance. Fewer people attend church on an average Sunday, but recently observers started noting one of the underlying causes behind this phenomenon. Many Christians attend their church’s worship gathering less frequently than they did before. Because of other commitments or a lack of desire to be with God’s people, the average church goer attends less than they did ten years ago. Even churches adding new people regularly may see a decline in average attendance because of declining attendance patterns.

Pastors face a strategic decision about this hew phenomenon. We can berate people for their “lack of commitment” or we can intentionally and compellingly preach the Gospel so their affections are awakened when they worship with God’s people. Our current choices are preaching for behavior modification or preaching for genuine change brought about by the work of the Spirit through the Gospel.

Since the Bible calls us to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves, we must think strategically about how we preach in this climate. If the average church attender is only hearing twenty-six to thirty-nine sermons a year, how can pastors make the most of each opportunity so our people are being changed by God’s word?

Recommit to Expositional Preaching

The tendency in our low commitment, attention deficit culture is to craft messages to entertain our hearers. Spend time perusing church websites and you will find no lack of “creative” sermon ideas. These sermons inevitably major on minor points, are heavy on “how to,” and short on biblical exposition. Hearers walk away having had a great experience, but the weight of God’s word has not rested upon them. Instead our churches must double down on expositional preaching. By expositional preaching I simply mean preaching that focuses on a passage of Scripture and drives home the point of that biblical passage. The preacher will explain the passage, illustrate the passage, show how the passage points to Jesus, and apply the passage to the heart and lives of his hearers. This kind of preaching does not begin with what people want to hear or with what we think will build a crowd, but rather it allows God’s word to set the agenda.

Expositional preaching can range from a verse by verse walk through Romans to covering a section from Psalms. They can be an overview of biblical books or diving into the life of a biblical character; but whatever the form may be, the substance must consist of God’s word having the primary word. The pastor must have people open their Bibles, then read a passage of Scripture to them, both explaining it and applying it to their hearts.

We must be honest, people who do not attend church regularly most likely don’t read their Bibles regularly either. This means they are not hearing from God on a regular basis, but instead are having their minds shaped by the prevailing winds of our culture. Should they then come to worship with God’s people and hear messages that are only tangentially tied to a passage of Scripture or should they take in a hearty meal from God’s word?

Work on Your Introductions

You are more likely than ever to be dealing with people who have not been thinking about God or the Bible during the week. To begin your sermon by telling everyone to turn to a verse and quickly recap what you talked about last week only leaves people thinking they won’t understand this week since they weren’t here last week. To help those who are present to engage with the sermon we must set the table for them so they have a context in which to understand the message.. Endless possibilities exist how you can introduce your sermon, but a great place to start is by finding something your people likely have been thinking about during the week and then turn their attention to the Bible which will speak authoritatively to their concerns. This helps them to see how God’s word speaks into their life’s questions and reminds them this is where they should be turning in the first place.

Also our introduction needs to set the context for the passage of Scripture we will be preaching. Pastors typically preach to a congregation where fifty percent of the people present were not there the week before. You cannot simply dive in to the passage and assume the people listening have any understanding about the section of Scripture you are preaching. It does not take long to explain who wrote the book, to whom he wrote, and the general theme of the book. This creates a mental framework for understanding the basic message of the passage.

Make the Gospel Crystal Clear

The people sitting before a pastor on Sunday morning are probably not hearing the good news of the Gospel on a daily basis. They receive a daily dose of hearing they should cast off all restraints or they are hearing a hundred ways they need to try harder. The two times a month they come to worship with God’s people they must hear the good news of the Gospel. They don’t need more self-help talks about how to get along better in the world. They’re beaten down, weary, and weak. They need the Gospel more than they could ever imagine, so we must proclaim it to them in all its fullness.

This must be especially true in imperative sections of Scripture. As you preach on parenting, honesty, evangelism, being a good neighbor, or sexual purity the people listening to you will begin to feel guilt as they sense they have disobeyed the Lord in these areas. Help them understand muscling up the resolve to work harder at obedience accomplishes nothing. Point to Jesus, who never disobeyed in the ways we have disobeyed and then died on the cross bearing the penalty for our disobedience before rising triumphantly from the dead. Remind them his death covers the guilt and penalty of their sins and his perfect life allows them to stand before God fully righteous in his sight. Then show them how the resurrected Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to empower them to obey and currently stands ready to help them in their moments of weakness because he was tempted in all the ways we are.

Aim for the Heart

If pastors are honest, our tendency when we see a disturbing trend is to hammer on it. We think we can change people by simply appealing to their wills. Let’s show them all of the reasons why attending church less is bad for them. Tell them stories to make them feel guilty and help them see the idolatry behind their lack of attendance. This type of approach might change people for a season, but it will not alter the love of their hearts and produce lasting change.

Pastors must preach to the heart. Jesus said the mouth speaks out of the heart and Solomon instructed his son to guard his heart because the springs of life flow from it. This reminds us that all behavior springs from desire and so we need to preach in such a way that the motivations of the heart are changed. So we must hold out to people the beauty of the Gospel and the desirability of being changed into the image of Jesus. Our motivational pep talks and scoldings will make little headway, but real transformation from one degree of glory to another takes place when people see the beauty of Christ and long for it. When we sin in all of its horror and Christ in his glory, our people will increasingly long for Christ and jettison the things of this world.

Related Posts:
If I Were to Preach at a Pastors’ Conference
Guilt-Driven Preaching Needs to Die

For Further Reading:
Preaching by Tim Keller
Christ-Centered Preaching by Bryan Chapell

Like many pastors my age, if you were to ask who influenced me I would be tempted to list the men whose books I read and whose sermon tapes I listened to in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Men like John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, John Piper, Steven Lawson, D.A. Carson, Mark Dever, and Tim Keller are great gifts to the church and I benefitted greatly from their writing and teaching, but these men have never been my flesh and blood pastor. It often feels like I know them because of how often I have listened to them, but I’ve never had the opportunity to observe their lives up close or seen the fruit of their family life. There have been men though whose lives I have seen up close. These men faithfully listened to me, taught me, and invested in me. These men have been my pastors throughout the years and there is no time better than Pastor Appreciation Month to honor them and share what I learned from them.

Ed Lacy was never technically my pastor, but on March 27, 1997 he faithfully preached the Gospel and the Holy Spirit awakened my heart to my need for the Gospel and I came to know Christ. Afterwards, he didn’t treat me like a number to report the supporters of his ministry, but sought out opportunities to teach me how to faithfully follow Jesus. His single-minded devotion to Jesus and desire to see people come to know Christ has often challenged me out of my spiritual lethargy and reminded me that life is not a game. This devotion has often manifested itself in going to difficult places to preach the truth about Jesus and train pastors in the truths of the biblical Gospel. Even the mention of his name encourages me to read my Bible, spend time in prayer, and get about the business of speaking the Gospel every opportunity I get.

Almost twenty years have passed since I Johnny Kendrick was my pastor at Tompkins Baptist Church, but I often think of things he taught this wet behind the ears youth pastor who thought he knew a lot. He let me tag along with him on hospital visits and personal visits in homes, taking time afterwards to talk with me about what I could learn from these visits. Every time I heard him preach, he passionately called people to Jesus; reminding me to always have an evangelistic edge and passion in my preaching. He patiently endured my interruptions in his office to ask him questions while he was working, and taught me through his example that people are never a distraction from the work of the ministry. From his example I began to see what it looks like to have the heart of a shepherd.

During my Seminary years Charles Moore was my Pastor at North Oldham Baptist Church in Goshen, Kentucky. When I picture Pastor Charles I see a huge smile. He always had a kind greeting and an encouraging word. In personal conversations he always listened intently and was genuinely wanted to know and help you. There was never a time when he was my Pastor that I did not feel like he was for me and wanted to do everything he could to help me. He truly modeled for me what it meant to be a shepherd. His kindness and humility were even more remarkable considering his unenviable job of being the pastor to know-it-all seminary students. Never once did I see him bristle at criticism and grow impatient with our endless opinions. I consistently praise God for the three and a half years I had with him because I learned many things from him I am still benefiting from today.

For six months before we planted Chelsea Village, I had the privilege of serving with Ron Sumners at Meadow Brook Baptist Church. Without his leadership and the kindness of so many at Meadow Brook our church would not exist. Even though this is true, he never once acted as if we owed him something for this. He cheered us on with a characteristic humility I would commend to every Christian. In addition, Ron taught me one of the most important leadership lessons I have ever learned. He worked to establish some basic guidelines for our church plant, core doctrinal commitments and missions cooperation, then gave us the freedom to be who we needed to be. I would ask him for advice and he would give it followed by the words “but now you do what you think you should do.” From him I saw how to give someone with whom I am serving guidance and direction for their ministry without micromanaging them. This gives people the freedom and joy to serve without feeling like they are on an island.

Grove Hill Baptist Church called David Curtis as pastor around the time I began my Freshman year of college. At this stage of life I had no interest in Jesus, his church, or the new pastor, but God dropped him in my life at one of my darkest moments. My first memory of him is sitting in our living room after my Father was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He prayed with and showed great kindness to our family, even going to Houston for my Dad’s surgery. Because of his kindness to us I started listening when he was preaching and what I heard has shaped me in more ways than I will understand. He faithfully plugged away at preaching the Bible each and every week. When God called me into the ministry, I started seeking him out to ask questions about the Bible, theology, and ministry. He patiently answered many questions, consistently pointing back to the Scriptures as our source of authority and life for the church. I interned with him for two summers and got a close up look at what it took to preach the Bible week in and week out while faithfully shepherding a congregation. I saw him leave with the sunrise to visit hospitals in Mobile and study until well after the sun went down. His faithful friendship to me since those years has been a constant source of joy and challenged me to know God’s word and proclaim it faithfully because it is the only power to change the lives of men and women.

My father-in-law Mark McCullough has never officially been my Pastor, but he has shepherded me through many ups and downs over the fourteen years I have known him. He has shown me in hundreds of little ways how to be a godly man, husband, father, and pastor. He has been willing to answer many off the wall, difficult, and awkward questions. More than anything though I have learned from him what faithful tenderness looks like. By this I mean he has shown me how a man has a tender heart towards the Lord and towards the people around him. This hasn’t been contrived or rehearsed, but flows from who he genuinely is towards the Lord. In addition he has modeled genuine wisdom for me. Once I asked him a question and an awkward silence followed as he looked out of the window. I was close to asking the question again and he began to answer. While he was talking I was trying to figure out why he paused so long before he started talking and then it hit me. He was thinking before he spoke! Very few of us do this in our culture and his example of thinking before speaking and his unwillingness to speak ill of others calls me away from my hotheadedness and propensity to put my mouth in gear before my brain can catch up. Finally he has shown me how to be a shepherd through his heart for the people First Baptist Church of Frisco City. He labors faithfully to teach God’s word for them each week while also having a faithful pastoral presence. This has shown me again the importance of both the ministry of the word and my ministry among people.

If you are a pastor I hope you saw one of the major traits these godly men had in common. The first thing I remember about them is their humility, patience, and willingness to listen. Rather than cutting me off, writing me off, or acting like I had no clue what I was talking about they patiently bore with me and encouraged me. They gave well-worded correction when necessary, but their overwhelming posture towards a brash young guy was one of kindness. If you have young men among you, don’t delight in tearing them down or act as if they are an annoyance. Give them opportunities to lead and fail. Pick them up and help them on their way when they do. Patiently listen and patiently teach as well. Above all, continue to walk with Jesus in humility. They will be paying attention and by God’s grace they will learn.

Although I did not mention it with each man, they all were men who were saturated in the Bible. Like Charles Spurgeon said about John Bunyan, if you pricked them they would bleed Bible. I saw this in their lives not just as they prepared to preach, but as they saw they would only live by the bread which comes from the mouth of God. They were men who read, memorized, meditated, and frequently quoted the Bible in conversation. Their examples consistently point me back to this fountain of God’s revelation. Pastor, be a Bible man. The world wants us to be men who are known for our catalytic leadership and promotional ability, but we primarily must still be men of the one great book.

Related Posts:
Another Big Mistake Young Preachers Make

For Further Reading:
The Shepherd Leader by Timothy Whitmer
The Supremacy of God in Preaching by John Piper