Monday, June 30, 2014

The Corinthian Church: Sanctified and Set Apart

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours. (1 Corinthians 1:2 ESV)
Paul writes to the church in a specific location, Corinth, but to help them see themselves as part of a larger movement he identifies them with the universal church because of the self centeredness of the church and their propensity toward disunity.   The Corinthian church is identified two ways: as sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be saints.  The verb sanctified is a passive, demonstrating that God is the agent, the one who has done the sanctifying work.  They are already sanctified; hard to believe as you read the letter!  This verb is used this way most of the time in the New Testament, the church is already sanctified, set apart as holy.  It is our position and our identity.  Then Paul uses a related word, an adjective, translated as holy or saints.  God has set the church apart as his holy and because they are God’s people they should reflect his holiness.  This reminds us of the great calling upon Israel in Exodus 19:5-6 to be a holy nation, showing the continuity between the Old Covenant people of God and the New Covenant people of God, the church being the fulfillment of Israel.  Peter make this more explicit:
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10 ESV) 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Look at me when You’re Talking to Me

Good word from Brad Lomenick.

Because of my role with Catalyst and other organizations, I get the chance quite often to hang with leaders who I really admire. Folks who are high profile and well established. At the top of their industry. Influencers in the truest sense. I’m always honored to be in the room with folks who are well-known and considered experts.
One thing I’ve noticed about those who have “arrived” in terms of influence, and stature, and credibility, is that they are usually the kind of leader who authentically takes an interest in you when you first meet them. They ask good questions, and are genuinely interested in talking with you and learning more about you. They look you in the eyes. They don’t gaze around the room looking for someone else to talk to- they truly engage in conversation with you. Very authentic. Very real. Interested and eye to eye.
Then there’s the “posers.” John Maxwell categorizes these kind of folks as “climbers.” You’ve met them before. So have I. They arrive at any gathering, party, function, or event, and immediately want to see who else is in the room. Especially those who aren’t as “well known.” They are way more interested in climbing than connecting. Talking to you is just simply a step in the right direction to someone else who is way more important.
That really bothers me. And I know I’ve been guilty of doing this before. And that bothers me even more.
So let’s all commit to truly being present in conversations, especially with new folks. Let’s look each other in the eyes. I am reminded today of how important it is to focus on who and what is in front of you. Being present. Whatever environment you are in, it’s way more important to be a concerned connector rather than a conceited climber.

Monday, June 23, 2014


Here is a list of suggestions for guys taking a lead pastoral position from Mark Driscoll.  I found it very instructive.


Second, there is the organizational responsibility. Ministry includes a seemingly never-ending list of administrative duties: meetings, policies, procedures, phone calls, emails, meetings, planning, budgeting, etc. Most preachers I know do not excel in these areas. They are “prophets” who preach and teach, and/or “priests” who provide counsel and care. They are not “kings” who organize and administrate. (You can read more here on the concept of prophet, priest, and king in leadership.)
I was speaking to the head of an organization that does employment searches for churches, and he said that the demand for executive pastors has exploded in recent years for this very reason—to free up the preacher/leader/pastor with someone whocomplements them rather than competes with them. If you want more information on executive pastor roles and responsibilities,Sutton Turner (executive pastor at Mars Hill Church) has written many blogs and a book to help.


Third, there is the relational responsibility. Now that you are up front often, more people than ever will feel close to you, want to get time with you, and take time and energy from you. As a pastor, this is part of what we do, because we love the people. But you also have limits in time and energy.
Ministry includes a seemingly never-ending list of administrative duties.
This is where a robust small-group structure that is sermon-based is beneficial. Other leaders who are gifted and able to meet with and invest in people are also a big help. In my experience and research, once a church gets beyond 80 people, even the hardest-working and most loving pastor is simply out of hours in the day to meet with and love all the people.


Fourth, there is the preaching responsibility. There is nothing like preaching. As a non-Christian student body president in high school, I often spoke to groups of a thousand or more. I also got my bachelor’s degree in speech and often spoke to crowds. Like you, I cut my teeth teaching in a college ministry for a few years before I began preaching every week. These early experiences did not take the energy out of me like preaching.
No form of speaking I have ever done has taken my energy like preaching. An old seminary professor who trained a lot of preachers once said that an hour of preaching was akin to eight hours of other work insofar as how much energy it cost.
If you are privileged to preach more than one sermon each week, that will help you improve as a preacher, but it can also be doubly exhausting. At my peak, I think I was preaching six sermons per Sunday, nearly every Sunday of the year, for over an hour each time. On Monday I felt like I had been hit by a truck. As the months wore on, I felt equally terrible on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Once a church gets beyond 80 people, even the hardest-working and most loving pastor is simply out of hours in the day to meet with and love all the people.
There are a lot of things I can do for eight or nine hours a day, but I found out the hard way that preaching is not one of them. Preaching requires a day or two of message preparation for most preachers. Those who memorize or manuscript often require longer. Preaching also requires the messenger to prepare spiritually, as we have to repent of our own sin, get alone with God, check our hearts, and invite the Holy Spirit to make us students before we are teachers.
Preaching expends a great deal of energy emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically. Once the preaching is done and the adrenaline wears off, most preachers hit the proverbial wall physically and emotionally. I’ve heard it said that Monday is the most common day that a pastor resigns, often because of the depression that sets in after they have poured themselves out on Sunday.
With all of that in mind, here are a few practical tips:


If you are preaching around 40 times a year, take off the most non-mission-critical weekends and have someone else preach. In the States this would include the Sundays around Independence Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day Weekend, Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc.
Check your weekly attendance stats for the year to identify the weekends when the church is not at the high-water mark of mission. These are good opportunities to get time with your family. If you have someone else at your church who is able to preach effectively, then use them. If not, invite someone from outside your church as a guest. You must have someone you can trust, otherwise you’ll take the day off but find yourself very distracted about what the speaker might be teaching the church.
Preaching expends a great deal of energy emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically.
If you have young leaders who want to grow as preachers, do not start them on Sunday but find other outlets like the ones you had where they can grow in their gifts and get feedback and training before standing in front of the whole church.


Do not have your hardest or most draining day be the one before you preach. I take Saturdays off to be with family, and I try and go to bed early and get a good night’s sleep.


Do not schedule meetings before you preach, except for what is necessary, except for perhaps a brief pre-service meeting to review the service order and such. Guard your energy.
If you have multiple services, be careful to get a bite to eat, drink some water, use the restroom, and gather your thoughts between services rather than getting caught by complaints or counseling. You don’t have the time between services for extensive pastoral work, so have other leaders love and serve people in that way at that time.
Preaching requires the messenger to prepare spiritually, as we have to repent of our own sin and invite the Holy Spirit to make us students before we are teachers.
Where you physically position yourself is important. If you want to say “hi” to lots of people, stand near the front door. If you want to meet the visitors, set up a place where they can meet you after service. Have other leaders on hand who can get newcomers’ contact information and follow up with them.


Your body needs good nutrition as fuel. When I’ve not heeded that bit of wise general revelation, I find my energy levels drop and I get sick.


Lots of preachers get dry mouth as they are burning a lot of calories and fluids on the day they preach. I drink more water on Sunday than any day of the week. Be careful of too much caffeine, as it actually dehydrates the body.
You don’t have the time between services for extensive pastoral work, so have other leaders love and serve people in that way at that time.


After you preach, if possible, don’t go into meetings or teaching a class right away. Sit down or take a nap to recover a bit before you go do anything else energy-depleting. If you have to focus on more than the sermon, you will be distracted and your energy divided.


This will take time. As a leader, no matter how hard you work, because of your love for Jesus and his people, you cannot preach, lead, administrate, and counsel any more than a baseball player can play pitcher, catcher, centerfield, and second base at the same time.
You are human. You have God-given gifts and also God-given limitations. Those limitations are opportunities for other people to use their God-given gifts, which are different than yours. This is why Paul is so fond of the metaphor of the body in relation to the church and the need for all the parts to be working together.
You are human. You have God-given gifts and also God-given limitations.
Let the leaders you train know how much you need them, and how much you appreciate them. Look for leaders who are different than you and complement you. Share with them your vision, as well as your strengths and weaknesses and the areas where you need their help. Invite them to work with you, following Jesus the Senior Pastor as he builds his church. This is the pattern in Acts 6:1–7. The preachers get so busy with administrative and counseling work that they don’t have time to pray or prepare to preach. So they choose godly leaders with complementary gifting and share the load.
This does not all happen overnight. There is no shortcut. And we never get it right the first time. So work hard and plan well, but give yourself some grace and do not get discouraged. The same Holy Spirit who chose you for this role will also help you do it well because he loves you, your church, and the fame of Jesus.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Your Three Options When Instituting Change

From Pastoralized . . . 
church-change-three-optionsChange is hard no matter where it happens, but it seems like it can be hardest in churches. People have a vested interest in keeping things the same. Maybe they are comfortable with where the church is. Perhaps it has taken a lot of work to get there. Or maybe certain ministries suit their interests. Charting a new direction can sound as exciting as dental work.
But until Jesus comes back, change will be necessary in church.
So what should you do if your ministry needs less of a tune-up and more of an overhaul, especially if you know that folks are going to voice concerns over the changes you want to make? You have three options.

1. The white flag approach: no change

The easiest option is to forego making changes. This keeps people happy with you, and saves you from the stress of making new ministries happen (or, even harder, making ineffective ministries stop happening).
The first problem with this route, of course, is that no change means no progress. In fact, if you are trying to maintain the status quo, you’re actually going backwards, because the world is changing around you.
The other problem – at least I assume, since you are reading this blog – is that ultimately you won’t be content raising the white flag. Change helps you thrive, since you are driven to lead your church (if you’re a lead pastor) or your ministry (if you’re a staff pastor) to make the biggest impact for God’s kingdom as possible, for his glory.

2. The bulldozer approach: fast change

On the other end of spectrum, you could blow the whole thing up and start from scratch.
In Wheaton, IL (where I used to be a junior high pastor) people would buy a small, decent house, tear the whole thing down, and then build a brand new, huge home. Fresh hardwood floors, granite counter tops, and enough walk-in closets to keep the kids playing hide-and-seek for hours. Pastors often would like to take this approach in ministry and opt for a clean start.
A couple questions I’d like to ask you before you try this one out. Why do you want to start from scratch, and rebuild it just the way you’d like it? Are there control issues lurking behind those desires? Some perfectionistic tendencies? Are you being impatient?
A couple more questions. Are you ready to lose all the strengths of the ministry you want to bulldoze? Are you sure there aren’t any? Are you prepared to lose good people who genuinely love the Lord and have been endowed by the Spirit with gifts that can build up your church?
As relieving as it seems to tear something down and start over, there are more downsides than upsides to this approach. Granted, if a church is broken beyond repair, this might be your only option. But if there is any chance that incremental adjustments would work in the long run, then approach number three is your best choice.

3. The tortoise approach: slow change

There are simply too many advantages to taking baby steps toward the next chapter for your church or ministry.
For one, we leaders rarely have in our head the exact destination we need to go right at the beginning. It takes time for it to crystalize. Making small changes eventually leads us to that crystalizing moment, which we would not have gotten to just sitting in a chair and thinking about it.
Another benefit is that you learn more about the people you’re leading when you take things more slowly. It is easy for us to caricature our members after a couple interactions, and assume we have them all figured out. But the more we get to know them, the more we understand their needs and their gifts. This enables us to lead them better individually, and utilize them more as you lead the ministry overall.

God takes the tortoise approach with us!

We all grow slowly, caught in this already/not yet era between justification and glorification. Yet God is patient with us, still guiding us by his Spirit so that we are gradually conformed into the image of Christ.
Why would we not lead our churches in the same way that God leads us?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Your Cup Has to be Full to Overflow

You will not be able to extemporize good thinking unless you have been in the habit of thinking and feeding your mind with abundant and nourishing food. Work hard at every available moment. Store your minds very richly, and then, like merchants with crowded warehouses, you will have goods ready for your customers, and having arranged your good things upon the shelves of your mind, you will be able to hand them down at any time without the laborious process of going to market, sorting, folding, and preparing… Take it as a rule without exception, that to be able to overflow spontaneously you must be full.  Lectures to My Students.
Charles Spurgeon,

Monday, June 16, 2014

Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe

While I don't agree with all of his presuppositions, he says some great truths about leadership and running organizations.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Paul spends chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians expounding upon and defending the resurrection of Jesus Christ and then closes with this statement:

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 (1Cor 15:18)

Therefore tells us that he is drawing a conclusion from his defense of the resurrection.  As a result of the resurrection being a real historical fact, no ministry towards others is in vain!  None of it, none of the long hours studying and preaching, none of the long hours of counseling, not one time the gospel was shared, none of the seemingly fruitless conversations we have had, none of it.  What motivates me to keep going is knowing that nothing I do is in vain, even when I see no evidence of fruit.  That is why we are called to live by faith and not by sight!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Problem of Unconfessed Sin

This is from Gospel Centered Discipleship by Jonathan Dodson (p. 66-67), which I am reading with my elders:

Those who avoid confession surrender the fight.  This unfortunately surrenders leads to sick disciples who hobble along in unbelief, refusing to believe God's promise of healing in confession: "Therefore confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed" (James 5:16).  When we avoid confession and prayer, we dont think of ourselves as cowardly or indifferent to grace.   In fact, when we lack an earnest faith, we dont always appear sick.  We may seem very normal, cordial with others, regular in church attendance, even fun to be around.  But like an undiagnosed cancer patient, we carry on everyday life ignorant of the deadly disease growing inside of us - unconfessed sin.  In Psalm 32:3-4, David poignantly describes the effect of unconfessed sin:

For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Friday, June 6, 2014

A Better Way "To Come Out"

Found this thoughtful video on secret habitual sin, eternal security, sanctification, and community.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

5 Common Small Group Myths

By Steven Lee, Pastor of Small Groups and Community Outreach at College Church in Wheaton, IL. 
What you believe about your small group will dictate how you approach potential problems when they arise. If you buy a house knowing it will be a fixer-upper, then you approach that faux wood paneling in the family room as an opportunity to upgrade and improve. Whereas if you buy your dream house and find out the basement floods, you’re pretty disappointed and discouraged.
In the same way, people are often disappointed in their small group because they come to it with the wrong expectations. Here are five common myths about small groups, and the corresponding truth that corrects our wrong thinking.

Myth #1: A successful small group will not be relationally messy

While most people wouldn’t explicitly say their small group shouldn’t be relationally messy, it’s what they ultimately believe. They go in thinking that these people will be their best friends (more on that later) and when they find out they’re nothing alike they wonder if they’re in the right group. When someone in the group is passive aggressive or talks way too much about politics—you’re looking for the closest exit.
Yet the reality is that small groups are comprised of sinners all along the same journey of faith. It’s going to get messy relationally, which is precisely why we have the gospel of grace that shows us how we ought to be long suffering and humble towards one another (Phil. 2:1-11).
Truth: Small groups are where the grace of God overcomes all types of relational messiness.

Myth #2: Small groups exist for others to meet my needs

Don’t misunderstand this. It is a wonderful blessing that our relational needs can be met by one another in small groups. It’s a good thing that if you don’t feel connected, or know anyone, you can join a small group and meet others at the church.
But the broader overarching reality is that small groups exist for you to love God by loving his body, the church. Small groups exist for you to love others with the love of Christ. This is a radically different orientation than expecting others to meet your needs. And when we all have this aim—to love each other with the love of Christ—then we do meet each other’s needs.
Truth: Small groups exist for you to love others with the love of Christ.

Myth #3: Trust and transparency take many years to cultivate in a small group

Consider Acts 2 where the believers had all things in common, making sure none was in need, breaking bread together, praising God together—how long had they known each other? They probably had been in community for a couple of weeks or months, but not much longer.
The reality is that more time together doesn’t always mean more trust and transparency. That just tends to be an excuse. I think stepping into a small group, where the expectations are properly set, trust can be cultivated very significantly from day one.
What prevents you from opening up? Perhaps it’s shame over your sin, embarrassment that your marriage is struggling, or perhaps the heartbreak over your wayward children. This is precisely what the gospel addresses. Christ took the wrath of God at Calvary and with it took our shame, condemnation and fear of man. We can in fact be open and honest about where we are with God because God is actively in work in us to conform us to his image.
Truth: Trust and transparency are fruits of recognizing we are all recipients of God’s abundant grace for the forgiveness of sins.

Myth #4: Small group members should become best friends

Certain expectations are embedded into this – idealistic visions of taking vacations together, our kids growing up and marrying each other, attending each other’s birthday parties and that we’ll be lifelong friends. While it would be a wonderful blessing if members of the same small group did become close friends, the NT is nearly silent on the importance of friendship as a basis for love.
Rather, our unity in Christ is the foundation and basis for our sacrificial love for one another. The whole of Ephesians 2:11-22 is about how Christ demolishes the hostility between Jew and Gentile by his unifying work on the cross. Is this not amazing? Similarly, it is the blood of Christ that unifies us to be members of Christ’s body, committed to encourage, build up and love one another.
Truth: Small groups are united by the blood of Christ and members of one body.

Myth #5: Small Groups should focus only on Bible study, not sharing sins or engaging in outreach

Small groups that truly focus on Christ and his word, will inevitably explore how the gospel changes our life in all ways, including how we can share our faith. Unfortunately, some small groups hide behind Bible study in order to avoid talking about the deeper heart issues that the gospel aims to address. If we truly allow God’s word to speak, it must speak into our lives so that we confront our sin, strive to serve one another, and make intentional efforts to share this good news with the lost in our spheres of influence.
Truth: Small groups focus on how the gospel of Jesus Christ transforms us as his disciples who grow in holiness and as witnesses of his truth.

Make the gospel central

These five common myths underline a greater issue: the gospel must be central in the vision and mission of your group. If your group exists to meet your personal needs, then when it begins to fall short you go looking for the next group. But if the group exists to be a microcosm of the church, where people of all types gather at the foot of the cross, then challenges, sin and brokenness are an opportunity to apply the gospel of Christ.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Why Playing it Safe as a Pastor Is the Riskiest Move You’ll Make

Great article by Eric Kiddie.

The call to ministry is a call to confrontation and controversy. It’s impossible to read the Bible and come to another conclusion. Moses, Jeremiah, Jesus, Peter, Paul, and John each faced their share of conflict from within the community of God’s people, and from without. From above, they cheer us on in our own races, and we must press on for the joy of whatever cross we have been called to carry, following in our Savior’s track.
With all the opposition we face in ministry, it’s tempting to play it safe. Evasive maneuvers often seem like the best course of action. Mitigate the risk, and live to minister another day.
The irony is that while avoiding church conflict buys you time now, long-term—as I hope to show you—it guarantees failure. And anything that guarantees failure is the opposite of safe. It’s the ultimate risk, because you’re betting you will be the one-in-a-million pastor whose church problems go away all by themselves.
If playing it safe isn’t safe in church anymore, then what is? Risk is. In ministry, risky is the new safe.

Theological risk

Has it ever been riskier to hold theologically conservative beliefs? A contingent of your church may be threatening to leave over your position on hell or homosexuality. Your denominational standing might hang in the balance over insisting that Jesus really is the only way to the Father. In the here and now, adopting a moderate view—or letting your church adopt such a view, while you personally maintain yours—would make these issues go away.We don’t need to guess whether maintaining a conservative theological position is best long term. Church history has played this saga out for us already, and has proven that the riskiest theological path is the one that veers left. One century later, look at the mainline denominations. One decade later, look at the emerging church. They took the risk that budging on the authority of God’s word would keep them relevant in our culture. They lost.What did Paul tell Timothy? “Pay close attention to your life and your teaching; persevere in these things, for by doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:16). In the scope of weeks, decades, and eternity, souls are safest—both yours and those of your church—when you, the pastor, stick to what the Bible clearly teaches.

Church risk

We’ve just seen how pastors need to not change. For other pastors, change is precisely what their church needs. But the church is against it. They haven’t added a new song to their worship service since “I Could Sing of Your Love Forever.” The extent of their social media presence is the marquee on the road. They haven’t met a need in their local community since the church was founded.
But if the pastor tried to change any of these things, the whole church would go bananas. “We like our church the way it is!” Yet the pastor knows that if changes don’t happen, the church will eventually close.
Short term, it seems risky to make changes at a church. Contentious congregational meetings will ensue. Someone will sneak into the room where the letters are and put a mean message about you on the marquee.
But the real risk is not to try for change. Will anyone (whether believer or unbeliever)not be repelled by an inward focused, uncontextualized church? Will young people who don’t want to waste their life stick around, hoping that the church will someday come to its missional senses?
That’s a risky bet. It’s more likely that the visitors will look for other churches and the younger people will switch churches. The people who stay will not change, and the church will die with them.
But the last thing we need is less churches. We can’t afford to let another one die and get turned into a microbrewery or coffee shop.
What is one change you could make that would breathe new life into your church? Despite what opposition you experience now, it’s your best chance of securing your church’s future.

Pulpit risk

Did you know it’s possible to maintain your beliefs in the midst of a rapidly changing culture without offending anyone? All you have to do is veer away from passages that are controversial. You know what you believe about Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6, and 1 Timothy 1, but your church doesn’t have to. It’s sticking to your convictional guns, but never pulling the trigger.
But steering away from sermons that might get you into trouble poses serious risk for you. Consider what Paul said to the Ephesian church in Acts 20:26-27, “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of everyone’s blood, for I did not shrink back from declaring to you the whole plan of God.” Paul didn’t avoid anything. He preached the whole enchilada.
It’s not worth it to avoid conflict in the here-and-now if it means you will have blood on your hands later. In the near future, it seems riskier to preach passages that you know will rile people up. They might leave your church. Or stay to stir up division. But in light of the stricter judgment coming to pastors (James 3:1), it’s safer to have all that chaos if it comes with a clean conscience and clean hands.

Risky doesn’t mean stupid

Pastors can’t avoid risk in ministry. It’s simply a matter of whether you are risking something temporal or eternal, and whether you are looking short term or long term.
But the necessity of risk doesn’t give you a green light to be foolish. Stick to your theological convictions, yes, but don’t pick fights and be patient with people who disagree with you. Introduce change at your church, yes, but not all at once. Preach the controversial passages, yes, but hit them as you preach through books expositionally, rather than hitting the hot topics week by week.
And when it seems hard, even impossible, remember there’s a great cloud of pastors in heaven cheering you on.
Get in on the comments here.