Friday, November 29, 2013

What I Wish I Had Known or Done: Reflections on nearly 40 years of pastoral ministry

A great post by Sam Storms that every young pastor must read!
What follows is the substance of a brief talk I delivered to the Oklahoma chapter of the Gospel Coalition on October 2, 2013. I will post it in two parts. The first article identifies a few things “I wish I had known or done” but, sadly, didn’t. In the second installment I’ll focus on some lessons I’ve learned, maybe a small bit of pastoral wisdom as well, and put them in the form of encouragement for the future. But let me first speak about a few things I wish I had known when I first started out as a pastor.

(1) I wish I had known that people who disagree with me on doctrines that I hold dearly can often love God and pursue his glory with as much, and in some cases more, fervency than I do. The sort of intellectual pride that fuels such delusions can be devastating to ministry and will invariably undermine any efforts at broader Christian unity across denominational lines.

(2) I wish I had known about the inevitable frustration that comes when you put your trust in what you think are good reasons why people should remain loyal to your ministry and present in your church. I wish I had been prepared for the feelings of betrayal and disillusionment that came when people in whom I had personally invested so much love, time, and energy simply walked away, often for the most insubstantial and flimsiest of excuses.

(3) I wish I had known how deeply and incessantly many (most?) people suffer. Having been raised in a truly functional family in which everyone knew Christ and loved one another, I was largely oblivious to the pain endured by most people who have never known that blessing. For too many years I naively assumed that if I wasn’t hurting, neither were they. Related to the previous point, I wish I had known that the pulpit is not a place behind which one might hide from the problems and pain of his congregation, but rather a place from which to address them, commiserate with them, and apply God’s Word to them.

(4) I wish I had known the life-changing truth of Zephaniah 3:17 long before Dennis Jernigan introduced me to it. I’m honored when people thank me for writing a particular book with comments such as: “This was very helpful,” or, “You enabled me to see this truth in a new light,” or something similar. But of only one book, The Singing God, have people said, “This changed my life.” This isn’t some vain attempt to sell more books, but a reminder to pastors that most Christians (including pastors) are convinced God is either angry or disgusted with them, or both. I wish I had known earlier how much he enjoys singing over them (and over me).

(5) I wish I had known how people’s response to me so deeply affected my wife. For many years I falsely assumed that her skin was as thick as mine. Regardless of a woman’s personality, rarely will she suffer less than he from the criticism that is directed his way.

(6) I wish I had known how important and helpful it is to understand yourself and to be both realistic and humble with regard to what you find. Don’t be afraid to be an introvert or extrovert (or some mix of the two). Be willing to take steps to compensate for your weaknesses by surrounding yourself with people unlike you, who make up for your deficiencies and who challenge you in healthy ways to be honest about what you can and can’t do.

(7) I wish I had known that it is possible to be a thorougly biblical complementarian and also to include women in virtually every area of ministry in the local church. In my early years in ministry I was largely governed by the fear that to permit women into any form of ministry was to cross an imaginary biblical boundary, even though the Bible itself never imposed any such restrictions on their involvement. My tendency was to make unwarranted applications by extrapolating from explicit principles something not there or necessary. Aside from “senior governmental authority” in the local church (the role of Elder) and the “primary” responsibility to expound and apply holy Scripture, is there anything the Bible clearly says is off limits to females? Trust me, men, we need them far more than we know.

(8) I wish I had known that it was ok to talk about money. Don’t be afraid to talk about money. Just be sure you are humble and biblical and don’t do it with a view to a salary increase for yourself (unless you genuinely and desperately need one!). For far too many years I allowed my disdain for prosperity gospel advocates to silence my voice on how important financial stewardship is in Christian growth and maturity. I never formulated a strategy for calling people to life-long financial generosity without it sounding self-serving.

(9) I wish I had known about the delusion of so-called confidentiality. Pity the man who puts his confidence in confidentiality. You can and must control the information that comes to you, but you can never control the information that comes from you. Once information is out and in the hands of others, never assume it will remain there, notwithstanding their most vigorous promises of silence. And be very cautious and discerning about to whom you promise confidentiality, under which conditions (it is rarely if ever unconditional), and in regard to what issues and/or individuals. “Sam, you don’t appear to have much trust in human nature, do you?” It’s not that I don’t trust human nature. I’m actually quite terrified of it! What I trust is what the Scriptures tell me about human nature.

(10) I wish I had known about the destructive effects of insecurity in a pastor. This isn’t because I’ve ever struggled with it but more so due to the impact of it I’ve seen in others. Why is insecurity so damaging?

  • Insecurity makes it difficult to acknowledge and appreciate the accomplishments of others on staff (or in the congregation). In other words, the personally insecure pastor is often incapable of providing genuine encouragement to others. Their success becomes a threat to him, his authority, and his status in the eyes of the people. Thus if you are insecure you will likely not pray for others to flourish. 
  • Insecurity will lead a pastor to encourage and support and praise another pastor only insofar as the latter serves the former’s agenda and does not detract from his image. 
  • An insecure pastor will likely resent the praise or affirmation that other staff members receive from the people at large. • For the insecure pastor, constructive criticism is not received well, but is rather perceived as a threat or outright rejection. 
  • Because the insecure pastor is incapable of acknowledging personal failure or lack of knowledge, he is often unteachable. He will always be resistant to those who genuinely seek to help him or bring him information or insights that he lacks. His spiritual growth is therefore stunted. 
  • The insecure pastor is typically heavy-handed in his dealings with others. 
  • The insecure pastor is often controlling and given to micro-management. 
  • The insecure pastor will rarely empower others or authorize them to undertake tasks for which they are especially qualified and gifted. He will not release others but rather restrict them. 
  • The insecure pastor is often given to outbursts of anger. 
  • At its core, insecurity is the fruit of pride. 
  • In summary, and at its core, insecurity is the result of not believing the gospel! Thus the antidote to feelings of insecurity is the rock-solid realization that one’s value and worth are in the hands of God, not other people, and that our identity is an expression of who we are in Christ. Only as we deepen in our grasp of his love for us and sacrifice on our behalf will we find the freedom and confidence to affirm and support others while never fearing either their success or threats. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

John Murray on the Atonement

Sin involves guilt and the death of Christ as a sacrifice is the provision for our guilt.  Sin evokes the wrath of God and propitiation is that which propitiates the wrath of God.  Sin alienates us from God and reconciliation is directed to that exigency arising from sin.  Sin consigns us to bonadage, bondage to sin itself and to Satan.  Redemption is the provision for this bondage, the death of Christ is our ransom. John Murray, Collected Works, 1:38

Monday, November 25, 2013

How Close Christ Came to Sinful Humanity and to Sin

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Co 5:21 ESV)

The fact is that the Lord Jesus came not only into the closest relation to sinful humanity that was possible for him to come without becoming himself sinful, but he also came into the closest relation to sin that it was possible for him to come without thereby becoming himself sinful.  John Murray, Collected Works, 1:38

Friday, November 22, 2013

Becoming Like That Which We Love

Like grapes in the wilderness, I found Israel. Like the first fruit on the fig tree in its first season, I saw your fathers. But they came to Baal-peor and consecrated themselves to the thing of shame, and became detestable like the thing they loved. (Hos 9:10 ESV)

The great danger of all our worship is that it will slowly and surely take hold of our hearts until we become like the very thing we worship.  Not literally but in very nature of its moral quality.  Think of Smeagol and how he becomes like Gollum in the movie Lord of the Rings.  His desire for the ring overtook all moral sensibilities and drove him to his death.  You can see the transition as story progresses.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Unfaithfulness to God in the Book of Hosea

My people inquire of a piece of wood,and their walking staff gives them oracles. For a spirit of whoredom has led them astray, and they have left their God to play the whore.  Hos. 4:12
Hosea often portrays Israels' consistent unfaithfulness to the true God metaphorically as"prostitution."  A prostitute is, after all, about as far away from marriage fidelity as is possible to imagine. . . In the prophetic metaphor of marriage relationships, Israel should be Yahweh's faithful wife.  Instead, she has deserted him and needs again to be betrothed to him after an imposed period of confinement, exile.
Douglas Stuart, Word Biblical Themes, p. 2

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Seemingly Impossible Task of the Preacher

Monday morning after a particularly long weekend and still feeling tired after almost 11 hours of sleep (don't remember the last time I slept that long) is probably not the best time to read an article on preaching, especially with this introduction!  But it is encouraging to remember many others are in the same boat I am in.  You can see the whole article here.   David

Preaching well is hard work. We're expected to be witty, warm, and wise. And then next week, we have to do it again.
The great science fiction writer H. G. Wells reportedly said most people think only once or twice in a lifetime, whereas he had made an international reputation by thinking once or twice a year. Lots of pastors have to think once (or more) a week! More often than we would like to admit, we begin preparing a sermon with the feeling not that we have something to say, but that we have to say something. Only one time in twenty do I start my preparation feeling that this sermon will go well. The creative process is accompanied with a feeling of ambiguity, uncertainty, of trying to make the unknown known.
Like the homemaker whose goal of three nutritious meals a day is complicated by toddlers making messes, demands of a part-time job, overflowing baskets of laundry, and a phone that won't stop ringing, the multiple demands of pastoral life make fresh thinking and sermon writing even more difficult.
People never die at convenient times. The administrative load preoccupies pastors with scores of details that won't go away. Emotional weariness from dealing with people problems drains creative energies. And speaking several times weekly outstrips your capacity to assimilate truth fully into your life.
Just as savvy homemakers find resourceful ways to feed their families—a deft combination of ten-minute recipes, healthy snacks, a microwave special, and a few full-course evening feasts—pastors, too, can find ways to keep tasty and balanced spiritual meals on the table. ~Haddon Robinson

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Free eBooks You Cannot Pass Up!

A couple of free ebooks.  The first is excellent; have not read the second.
How People by Timothy Lane and Paul Tripp here.

Risen: 50 Reasons Why the Resurrection Changed Everything by Steven Mathewson here.

A New Book on the Atonement

Here is a new book on the nature of the atonement that argues for definite atonement.  I wish I had had it before last weekend when I taught on the subject.  The link is here.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Middle School Football Team Players Execute Life Changing Play

Once you dry your eyes, think about some of the huge implications of this story for people who serve in Christian ministry, personally or vocationally.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Evangelism Training - Everyone Needs It!

Two hour workshop this weekend at Christian Community Church.  Friday 7-9 pm or Saturday 9-11 am.  

Why Must the Cause of the Universe Be Personal?

Apologist William Lane Craig on why the cause of the universe must be personal and not impersonal.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Read this today; it reinforces what I have been preaching on in our Open Door series.  Some comments from David Platt and Francis Chan at the Multiply Gathering.  See the whole article here.
As we proclaim the message of the gospel, one of the temptations we face is to add to the gospel. This may seem like a good idea, but Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:17 that adding to the word of the cross is actually to empty the cross of its power. God has chosen to use the foolish and weak. We simply, speak, obey, and trust in Him.
One comforting thought as we move out to make disciples is the reality that God is already at work in people’s lives. We ought to trust that as we seek to engage people. However, there will be rejection. But when we are rejected, we ought not be discouraged. This is expected; we’re not failures. A failure is the person who doesn’t speak the gospel, not the person who speaks and is rejected. Like Isaiah in Isaiah 6, we may be called to a work where there is only rejection. Like Amos, we ought to be in awe that we would be used to speak God’s Word to others. Therefore, we should not be discouraged when we are told not to speak. We didn’t come up with this in the first place.
Picture people you know who are unsaved and trust that God is at work in some of their lives. Trust that He has put you in their life. And He wants some of them to come to have life in Him. Do not let the Adversary cause you not to believe in God.
Move out toward unbelievers you know while trusting in God’s power.

Friday, November 8, 2013

5 Self-Truths to Realize to Become a Better Pastor

Good advice for any pastor or leader.  BY 

SelfThe painful truths are usually the ones that best aid growth. These five truths about yourself as a pastor are painful to realize but will help you grow as a pastor and as a person.

1. You are not the best pastor out there.

I hate to be the one to break it to you, but name a pastoral skill (e.g., preaching, discipleship, administration) and you can find another pastor out there who’s better at it than you. And that’s okay. You’re not trying to be better than Pastor So-and-so (at least I hope you’re not), you’re trying to be the best you can be with what God has given you so you can serve the congregation where God has placed you.

2. Not everyone likes you or will like you.

I know you think you’re just lovable. Maybe you are and maybe you aren’t. Some people hate Teddy Bears and Mr. Rogers but lots of people like Lady Gaga. My point is, as wonderful as you are, some people just aren’t going to connect with you, like you, be able to follow you. That’s okay. As long as those people continue on to find a place where they can serve and don’t stir up trouble there, let them go with God and don’t bind yourself to their opinion of you.

3. You don’t know everything.

I sure wish I didn’t have to tell you this. If you have seminary training then your area of expertise is ministry, theology, or biblical studies, or a combination of those. In seminary my recognized area of expertise was systematic theology (I’m a systems thinker). This was validated by the faculty award I received at graduation. I have been trained in the other areas, however, and that along with my experience both in ordained ministry and as a layman means that I can speak with confidence as somewhat of an expert in those areas. Sometimes I am able to speak outside these areas. I was in management at a large mortgage operations center before getting into ministry so I can speak to some aspects of business life. I can talk about which copy machine company we should use because I use the copy machine and have been responsible for the machines in my department when I was in the business world.
In other areas I must defer to other peoples’ judgment. I know nothing about roofing so my opinion is pretty much useless when it comes to which roofer we should contract with to re-roof the church building. Ditto on a company to repave the parking lot. I don’t know what is wrong with the air conditioner. I cannot tell you where you should invest your retirement funds (I have a guy and I’ll recommend him but other than that…).
And, you know what? I don’t have to know those things. The church didn’t call me because I was a reliable air conditioner repairman; they called me to serve as pastor. As long as I’m the best I can be at that, everything will be fine. If the church is looking for something more or different, then they have unrealistic expectations.

4. There are people in your church who can do some things better than you.

This is similar to the previous point but hits a little closer to home. There are probably people in your church that are better than you are even at things like discipleship, evangelism, pastoral care, and other areas of church ministry. There are two ways you can respond to this. (1) You can be jealous, let ego get in the way, and refuse to let these people use their gifts to serve the church, serve the Lord, and make your life and ministry easier and better, or (2) You can be grateful God has sent someone to serve the church by making up for areas in which you are weak.
If this is all about you, then do the first, but if you’ve realized that this is about Christ and his church, then your only reasonable response is gratefulness that the body of Christ is being helped.

5. As gracious as you think you are with your people, sometimes they’re just as gracious with you.

I know people can be difficult. (Please believe me when I say, “I know.” I really do.) But sometimes you can be difficult, too. This is just a fact and you know it’s true (don’t pretend it’s not).
If you serve your people well and love them with Christ’s love, most of them will love you back. (The ones that don’t you must still love and serve but you must leave them to the Lord.) When your people love you back, they will put up with your less-than-stellar behavior as well.
I am notoriously cranky. I’m more than half a curmudgeon anyway but sometimes I just plain get cranky. I try not to be and I’ve had to apologize more than once for my crankiness, but they’ve always loved me in spite of it. I know that they’re being gracious with me simply because they love me and it’s even easier to love them back.
Their love for me in return just confirms that I am where God wants me to be.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

10 Ways to Connect With Your Neighbors This Fall

Another way to be missional and reach out to your neighbors.  David

photo credit: Chaval Brasil
It doesn’t take much imagination to find ways for small group members to connect with their neighbors.  Sometimes all it takes is a crisp fall morning or a spooky October evening.
Here are my top 10 ideas:
  1. Movie night outside for kids and families.  Easy to do with a video projector.  Pick the right movie, circle up the lawn chairs, and bring on the popcorn.
  2. Drop in for waffles and bacon on a Saturday morning.  Again, everyone’s kids will love this idea.  3 or 4 waffle irons make it easy.  Add-ins like blueberries, chocolate chips, and pecans make it fun (and tasty!).
  3. Invite neighbors over for a potluck theme dinner night (Italian, Mexican, etc.).  Go all out with music and decorations.  Make it fun and it will be easy to connect.
  4. Garage sale for a local cause.  Gather up your merchandise.  Pick out a great local cause or charity.  Be ready to talk about why you’re doing it.
  5. Pull a fire pit or chiminea onto your front porch or driveway.  Bring out the patio furniture.  Be ready to offer a warm cup of cider and a s’more to neighbors passing by.
  6. Join in the fun to offer some safe Halloween fun.  No tracts.  Just the best candy and the friendliest people on the block.
  7. Chili cook off.  No better time to host a chili cook off complete with judges, prizes and Tums.
  8. Block party cookout.  Roll the grills into the cul de sac and bring out the lawn chairs.  Do it right it might turn into an annual event!
  9. The Big Game on the big screen.  Plan a party for the day of the biggest college game in your area.  Think Super Bowl party with local flair.  Make it fun for the whole family.
  10. Game night with pizazz.  Whether your game of choice is bunco or pictionary, there’s a way to do that’s even more fun.  Think tournament.  Have goofy prizes for the winners.  Mr. Microphone adds another level of enthusiasm.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

7 Deadly Thoughts of Leaders

Wow!  Great advice for leaders. - David  BY 

Deadly Warning
By the time we hear of a leadership failure, any attempts at intervention to save the leader are usually futile. The damage has been done. The family or organization suffers as their leader has fallen or, at the very least, made a major mistake.
Most great leadership failures, however, don’t begin with some stupid action. The leader usually has thoughts about the action well before he or she actually makes them. Some of those thoughts can be warning signs to heed. They are like the bright, flashing red light that demands we stop. Failure to stop can result in great harm.
I’ve had the opportunity through the years to listen to leaders talk about their biggest victories and their greatest failures. When the latter takes place, these leaders reflect that, most of the time, the failure took place in a deadly thought pattern. They lament they didn’t recognize these deadly thoughts for the warnings that they were. Here are the seven most significant warning thoughts I’ve heard:
  1. “It won’t hurt to compromise a little.” So the numbers get fudged a bit. Or the private meeting with someone of the opposite gender is deemed harmless. Or you take credit for something you didn’t do.
  2. “I can give my family time later in life when I’m more established.” You may not even have a family if you wait until later. Few leaders have ever died wishing they had put more hours into work. Many have died lamenting their failure to give their family time and attention.
  3. “No one really pays attention to what I do.” Wrong! If you are a leader, many people are watching you more closely than you think. In organizations, those under your leadership watch you closely. In families, the children watch the parents with an eye for detail that can be downright humbling. What are they seeing when they watch you?
  4. “I need to be careful not to rock the boat.” Granted, some people put their mouths in action before their minds are in gear. But too many leaders, to mix the metaphor from a boat to an athletic event, play defense and not offense. They are too risk averse. They are more worried about failure than proactive leadership. Thus their thought patterns are almost always about playing it safe.
  5. “I can put off that tough decision until later.” Leaders often think difficult decisions can be put on hold. They are involved in “analysis paralysis” thinking as an excuse to defer the decisions. Their thinking leads them to deadly procrastination.
  6. “That person messed up five years ago. He doesn’t deserve a second chance.” Many driven leaders shared with me that they failed to demonstrate forgiveness and grace in their leadership role. Their thought patterns focused on the failures of those in the organization or family. They thus “wrote off” these people. When a time came in the leader’s life where he needed an extra measure of grace or forgiveness shown, few people were willing to give him what he himself failed to give.
  7. “My main goal is money.” Money is not evil; the love of money is. If leaders’ thought patterns are consumed with money, problems are on the horizon. Money can be an instrument for good or evil. The goal is not to make money, but to make a difference with your money.
I am grateful to be able to hear from leaders who shared with me openly and transparently. What would you add to these seven deadly thoughts?
This article was originally published at on <>. Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam,  Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainerand at

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Why You Should Criticize Your Pastor

Jared Wilson is refreshing.  This past month has been Pastor Appreciation Month.  Usually what most pastors get is criticism, often times unrealistic expectations one has with their shepherd.   Here is some sage advice on how to criticize your shepherd and when not to criticize your shepherd!

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.  James 3:1

No, your church leaders are not above criticism. Sometimes they deserve it and need it. Here are some reasons you should criticize your pastor(s):
1. They don’t preach the gospel.
As in, they actually don’t preach Christ’s finished work. Not that they don’t emphasize the points you would or they don’t present the gospel the way you prefer or they don’t give an altar call or they miss this angle of the good news or that one or they don’t preach like Carson or Keller or Piper or Chandler — but that they actually don’t preach the gospel.
(Titus 1:9Galatians 2:11-14)
2. They are regularly engaging in sins or unhealthy habits that would disqualify them from the office.
He’s cheating on his wife or engaging in other sexual immorality. He’s a drunk. He has no self-control. His reputation in the community is terrible. He’s inhospitable. He doesn’t know how to teach. He’s violent. He’s domineering or emotionally, verbally, or otherwise psychologically abusive. He’s argumentative. He’s greedy. He doesn’t take care of his wife and kids. He got saved recently. He does not submit to his authorities. He’s arrogant. He’s undisciplined or lazy. He doesn’t rebuke those who contradict sound doctrine, won’t correct heresy or protect the flock from wolves. He himself teaches doctrine in contradiction to the tenets of the historic Christian faith.
(1 Timothy 3:1-7Titus 1:5-91 Peter 5:1-8)
Well, that’s pretty much it. But that’s a lot and can be applied in a variety of ways.
Now, just because you are allowed to criticize your pastor doesn’t mean you are allowed to do it any way that seems right to you. So when criticism is merited, how should you criticize your pastor?
1. Gently.
2. Personally and privately, first. If necessary, personally and with witnesses, second.
3. Humbly.
4. Respectfully.
5. Graciously and lovingly.
And it bears mentioning that there are ways to have conversations with your pastor that sharpen him and encourage him toward improvements of various sorts without criticizing him. And there are ways to make suggestions without criticizing or complaining (but be sure you’re actually doing that, not being passive aggressive).
And it bears going the other way, too. Why should you not criticize your pastor?
1. He just kind of annoys you.
2. He’s not your best friend. (Or, for the ladies, his wife isn’t yours.)
3. He knows how to teach but he’s not as dynamic or animated or interesting as you’d prefer.
4. He makes decisions that aren’t the result of sin or unhealthy habits but are simply decisions that you wouldn’t make if you were in his shoes.
5. You think every critical thought needs to be expressed or that being the “loyal opposition” or “devil’s advocate” is normal.
6. You don’t understand something he’s done or said. (This would be cause to ask questions, not lodge complaints.)
7. He’s not ____________ enough. (See: political, creative, extroverted, entrepreneurial, rich, poor, outdoorsy, indoorsy, scholarly, etc.)
8. A bunch of other stuff the Bible doesn’t condemn or forbid.
This may all seem a little burdensome when you feel like you ought to be able to say whatever you feel however you feel whenever you feel it. But your pastor bears similar burdens. Keep in mind that he likely has multiple people with “helpful suggestions” speaking to him every week. Measure your thoughts out appropriately, choose the right hills to die on, and pray for your pastor. He needs it.
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
– Hebrews 13:17
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
– Galatians 6:1-2

Monday, November 4, 2013

Chan and Platt Reflect from the Korean DMZ

What will it take for us to gain a sense of urgency for the gospel?  

Just a few hours ago David Platt and Francis Chan were standing at the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)—a strip of land serving as a buffer between North and South Korea. They recorded this short, candid video reflecting on the realities of a closed country with little or no access to the gospel.

They offer a challenge for church to be more active in helping North Korea rather than simply observing the situation like a tourist. Let us pray more fervently for Kim Jong Un and the people of North Korea, and act with greater urgency to bring them the gospel.
Ben Peays is the executive director of The Gospel Coalition and a PhD candidate at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.