Monday, February 26, 2018

The Possibilities Because of the Incarnation

I am reading on Christology these days as I grapple with the reality of Jesus Christ.  Specifically, I am trying to sort out how the two nartures related to one another without the charge of contradiction.  Here is a quote I found mind blowing . . . .

The humanity of Jesus was so open to the divine that it became a permanent point of access between earth and heaven. . . . As a result, anything was possible: authoritative teaching, healing, invitations to life, and wondrous acts of divine power. . . . Jesus, fully divine and fully human, is the point where human history intersects with the creative and sustaining hand of God; at this point of meeting nothing is impossible. ~ Michael Casey, Fully Human, Fully Divine An Interactive Christology (Liguori, MO: Liguori/Triumph, 2004), pp. 128-129.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Love That Makes the Beloved Beautiful

Owing Beauty to God

God’s love is different from human love because it is a beautifying love. God does not find people who are beautiful and then decide to love them. Rather, he makes the objects of his love beautiful. They owe their beauty to him. Human love can have a beautifying aspect too, for example, when a husband desires to beautify his wife by helping her grow more into the likeness of Christ.
But human love is not, or perhaps is only very rarely, beautifying at its outset. I do not know anyone who has begun to love someone while finding him or her positively lacking in the principal kinds of beauty. Most relationships probably begin with an awareness of what might best change in the other, but a preponderance of such sentiment will spell trouble for the future. Human beings conceive a romantic love for those they find beautiful in some way.
For example, the elders of Troy describe Helen as “fearfully like the immortal goddesses to look at.”1 Romeo says that Juliet has “beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear.”2 Zuleika’s visage, though not classically beautiful, “bewitched” the Duke of Dorset instantly.3

God Loves the Unlovely

By contrast, God loves us when we are unlovely to him. He finds us languishing in the filth of our sin and chooses to cleanse and make us holy. Samuel Crossman expresses this idea beautifully in his hymn: Love to the loveless shown, That they might lovely be.
Christ is a husband who makes the church beautiful when he weds her, not a husband who wants to wed her because she is beautiful. Martin Luther put the contrast between divine and human love very well in his twenty-eighth thesis for the Heidelberg Disputation in 1518: “The love of God does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it. The love of man comes into being through that which is pleasing to it.”4
God’s love is a holiness-creating love, not a holiness-finding love.
Paul teaches in Ephesians 1:4 that God gives his people the beauty of holiness: “He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.” Note the wording: “should be,” not “because we were.”
God’s love is a holiness-creating love, not a holiness-finding love. In Christ God creates the beauty of those he loves: Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. (Eph. 5:25–27)
Note the connection here between Ephesians 1 and 5: in chapter 1 Paul praises God for choosing the church to be holy, and in chapter 5 he writes of Christ the bridegroom dying in history to make the church holy. As C. S. Lewis writes, “The Church has no beauty but what the Bridegroom gives her; he does not find, but makes her, lovely.”5

Because of Love

In eternity God chose us to be holy, and in time Christ makes us holy. The cross is God’s revelation in time of his purpose in eternity. Why is this his purpose? Why does God love us if he does not find us beautiful? Quite simply, because this is who he is, as Leon Morris explains: “He loves not because of what we are, but because of what he is: he is love.”6
Our thinking can be so warped that we find this good news hard to accept. While we ought to delight in being beautified, we all too easily grumble about being told that we are not beautiful by ourselves. We are like a bride whose beauty on her wedding day is accentuated by her dress and the glorious tresses of her hair but who finds in people’s compliments only an insult to her previous appearance: “What was wrong with how I looked before?”
John Calvin saw how “we always desire to be somewhat, and such is our folly, we even think we are.”7 Lewis also notes how we struggle to remember our place:
Depth beneath depth and subtlety within subtlety, there remains some lingering idea of our own, our very own, attractiveness. It is easy to acknowledge, but almost impossible to realise for long, that we are mirrors whose brightness, if we are bright, is wholly derived from the sun that shines upon us. Surely we must have a little—however little—native luminosity? Surely we can’t be quite creatures?8
Certainly it is humbling to acknowledge that we are not by nature beautiful, but we must not forget that it is astounding good news that God makes us beautiful! It is the good news of the gospel. It is the good news of who God is.
  1. Homer, The Iliad, trans. Martin Hammond (Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin,
    1987), 45.
  2. William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, ed. René Weis (London: Bloomsbury, 2012; repr. 2013), 1.5.46.
  3. Max Beerbohm, Zuleika Dobson (London: Minerva, 1991), 18.
  4. Martin Luther, Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings, ed. Timothy F. Lull (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1989), 32.
  5. C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves (London: Collins, 1963; repr. 1965), 97.
  6. Leon Morris, Testaments of Love: A Study of Love in the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1981), 142; emphasis original.
  7. John Calvin, Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, with the Antidote, in vol. 3, Selected Works of John Calvin: Tracts and Letters, ed. and trans. Henry Beveridge, 7 vols. (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1851; repr. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1983), 6th session.
  8. Lewis, Four Loves, 119–20; emphasis original.
This article is adapted from His Love Endures Forever: Reflections on the Immeasurable Love of God by Garry J. Williams.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Enneagram for Pastors

Interesting article from Christianity Today.  I have yet to take this test but a gal in our church is an Enneagram fan.  I recently bought a book on it and this article has motivated me to take the test!
My husband, Joe, is a pastor. In other words, he is teacher, public speaker, counselor, children’s story teller, youth leader, HR director, master of ceremonies, facilities coordinator, volunteer coordinator, mission trip coordinator, hospital chaplain, creative designer, office equipment technician, mediator, fundraiser, finance officer, funeral director, father, and grandfather.
Does he excel at every one of those tasks? How could anyone? He thrives in some parts of the ministry, and in other areas he merely gets by. For 2,000 years, men and women have tried to discern a call and find their way in the ministry, only to find a world of expectations that cannot be met.
Through his 40-plus years of pastoral ministry, Joe has found a number of tools to manage the range of expectations that come with ministry. None have been as helpful to him as the Enneagram. The Enneagram is a tool that helps us identify ourselves as belonging to one of nine personality types. Those types aren’t so much about what we do, as they are about our motivationfor doing the things we do.
The Enneagram explains the differences in those who have filled the pews in the churches we were appointed to serve. It has helped us become aware of how we all see the world differently, how we respond differently to what we see, and the specific steps we can take to become more like Christ.
Of course, like any self-assessment tool or personality test, there is a danger in making the Enneagram more than it is. It is simply one helpful tool as we journey toward understanding who we are, who God is, and who we are in relation to God. By itself, the Enneagram doesn’t have much to offer, but when combined with prayer, Bible study, and other spiritual practices, it can be extremely helpful.
Below are descriptions of the nine Enneagram types, as well as some advice for those who find themselves in those descriptions, applied to the pastoral role. You might be tempted to think of others who fit each description. That’s an understandable impulse, but the healthiest way to use the Enneagram is by focusing on self-awareness, not diagnosing others. Try to discern where you land and consider how growing in this kind of self-awareness might help you in your life and ministry.
If you have no idea which number you are, take this quick assessment.

One – The “Perfect” Pastor

You do your work with a commitment to giving the best you have to offer. You take your role as pastor seriously and have a perpetual to-do list. You probably notice error—in thought, word, and deed—that others don’t see, and you may feel a personal responsibility to correct it. You assume the first thing people see as they walk into your sanctuary are the burned-out light bulbs or the crooked table cloth.
You are personable, but your constant inner critic finds fault with everything you do. As a result, you may struggle to believe that you are good or worthy enough to lead your church or ministry. Your judging and comparing mind can make you feel like you fall short of what is required. As a result, others may seem better suited for ministry than you.
The path forward: Instead of seeking perfection in every area of ministry, work to allow a few things to be “good enough.” Perhaps your benediction doesn’t need a four-point alliteration, or perhaps your board would be fine with unstapled agendas at a meeting.

Two – The Generous Pastor

You know what your parishioners feel and need, and you’re anxious to be helpful. People in your church feel loved, accepted, and wanted by you; that’s probably because they are.
Being a pastor seems right—you want to be needed. You give and give, building relationships with almost everyone you encounter. That impulse can also be exhausting. Sometimes you return home feeling taken for granted or even feeling annoyed. There are times when you struggle with the business of ministry. Hospital visitation may feel more important than clarifying the interest rate of the endowment, but both are important for the church.
The path forward: It is a gift when pastors find some balance between thinking, feeling, and doing. Since you easily pick up the feelings of your parishioners and you know almost immediately how to best respond to those feelings, it would serve you well to ask some hard questions about your impulses: Why do I feel like I need to move toward this person and see what they might need from me? If I do offer my help, do I expect to get anything like appreciation, affection, or loyalty in return? Does this person really want or need my help? It might be good to think before feeling and doing.

Three – The High Performance Pastor

You are known for being enterprising, motivating your parishioners to help execute whatever plan you may have for your church. You are good at setting and achieving short and long-term goals and helping your congregation move forward. You focus on ministry metrics, quickly identifying inefficient or ineffective people and processes, sometimes to a fault. At times you focus too much on the goal and not enough on the spiritual and emotional health of your parishioners. Your determination to put a good face on things makes you a master at hiding anger, fear, sadness, disappointment, and embarrassment.
Would a merger be right for your congregation?
The path forward: Eugene Peterson calls the Christian life a long obedience in the same direction. Keep in mind that the quickest, more efficient route isn’t necessarily the best for the spiritual development of your congregation or yourself.

Four – The Empathetic Pastor

You have some gifts for ministry that are unparalleled. You can bear witness to pain without having to fix it, and your ideas are best expressed though stories and symbols and liturgy. You have a need to be authentic and unique, and you live with the idea that something is missing in your life—that you won’t be complete until you find it. You are comfortable with a melancholy mood that others often misidentify as depression.
The path forward: There are times in ministry when people in your parish need to experience you as light-hearted and fun loving. It may seem shallow, but make yourself available for “small talk” about football, fishing, or music. Your comfort with pain has the potential to limit your relationships. Most people benefit from times with their minister when conversations aren’t so weighty and they can forget that he or she is a pastor.

Five – The Well-Studied Pastor

You are well read and well informed—a wonderful source of knowledge for your parishioners. If you don’t know the answers to their questions, you’ll find the answers. You have a limited amount of energy for personal encounters, so you spend most of your day in your study and schedule your days to allow for study and sermon preparation.
You don’t love committees and probably think of them as the unwilling asked by the unable to do the unnecessary. Your tendency is likely to observe, but it is a great gift to the congregation when you really engage. Many people, if not most, thrive on participation. At times when you can walk beside them in the ordinary business of making decisions for the church, it’s good for everyone.
You can emotionally detach, which means you can have feelings and let them go. This can be both a strength and a weakness in ministry. Detaching from your own emotions can leave you with a clear enough head to lead a beautiful funeral service for a longtime member, but prolonged emotional detachment can lessen your empathy.
Why would a church of one denomination help to plant one of a different denomination?
The path forward: Thomas Merton’s writing is published in every known language on the globe. That’s probably because he was able to combine head and heart in his work. If you rely heavily on mental acuity, it would be good to add some expression of feelings to that.

Six – The Reliable Pastor

You are loyal, steadfast, and concerned about the common good. You are aware that we live in a world full of threat, and you have a lot of anxiety about possible future events. As a result, you appreciate structure and rules. Be mindful that too much structure can prevent creativity, and many “church rules” have not been reconsidered for years. You are respectful of the fear and anxiety we often find in churches, so you would be good at leading parishioners through an examination of how things have always been done and how that might need to change. You appreciate the need for group projects and committees. You like always to have a plan, and you try to use your gifts to provide safety for your parishioners.
The path forward: There is a time and place for concern about possible future events. When people are in that mindset, it’s good to be both present and patient with their concerns. At the same time, as the leader of the congregation it’s good when you can model the peace you have in believing that God is always faithful.

Seven – The Popular Pastor

You like the variety and spontaneity of ministry. You relate well to all ages, and you’re probably popular with most of the parishioners. If it doesn’t require too much preparation time, you really enjoy preaching and leading worship. You prefer to dwell in the happy half of life, so the emotional demands for dealing with tragedy, sadness, illness, and death requires extra effort. You can be creative and capable in dealing with conflict, yet struggle with problems that can’t be solved in a “reasonable” amount of time.
The path forward: Tender, holy moments are often found on the margins of life—both in great joy and in deep pain. Instead of immediately dismissing or reframing the painful parts of life, work to stay in those holy moments if even just for a minute or two longer.
What in the world is Dinner Church, and how could its concepts help your church?

Eight – The Visionary Pastor

You are a strong leader and an independent thinker. You are good at mobilizing your people to actively participate in protests, or evangelistic missions as the case may require. Your passion tends to be contagious, no matter the topic. Anger is your emotion of choice but it is almost always directed at injustice, and it never lasts long. It’s important for you to pay attention to the effect you have on other people.
The path forward: If you slow down enough to deal with your parishioner’s feelings, questions, and concerns, and make the effort to relate to them on an emotional level, your people will be as excited about your vision as you are.

Nine – The Peace-loving Pastor

You are a peacemaker. You always see at least two sides to everything, and you don’t take a strong stand unless it’s about something that involves integrity or morality. You sometimes set aside your own thoughts or desires while merging with other people’s plans or ideas.
You lead by consensus—something that is both a gift and a problem in church leadership. It is a gift when everyone in a congregation believes they have a voice. However, it is difficult to make time and provide room for people who spend a fraction of their week at the church to have a say in most of what occurs in the life of the church. You sometimes take too long to assert yourself as pastor and leader of the congregation.
The path forward: It is a gift that you are able to take in and often merge with the ideas of other people, but you are the leader, and your parishioners often need you to take a stand. So, when it’s time, make a decision. You can always change your mind later.
My hope is that we can use this knowledge and wisdom from the Enneagram to love one another better, understand one another better, and bridge the differences that separate us. For this is our desire: to grow more like the One we follow, Jesus the Christ.
Suzanne Stabile is the cofounder and co-director of Life in the Trinity Ministries at the Micah Center in Dallas, Texas. Her first book, The Road Back to You (coathored with Ian Morgan Cron), is an Enneagram primer while her second, The Path Between Us (out April 2018), uses Enneagram wisdom to build healthier relationships. Her weekly podcast, “The Enneagram Journey,” seeks to help listeners fully understand themselves and those they share life with.

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Impact of Loneliness on the Human Body

A recent article on the widespread issue of loneliness is of "epidemic proportions" and found that not only does it impact us psychologically but also physically.  This includes:

  • High blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.
  • Reduced immunity.
  • Inflammation.
  • Poor sleep.
Read the whole article here.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Giving and Receiving Godly Criticism: Sharpening Each Other With Your Words

Anohter helpful article from 9Marks . . . 
"Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another." Proverbs 27:17
Criticism is something most of us like to shy away from. We naturally want to avoid tough conversations where our actions, motives, or ministries are put under another person's microscope. At the same time, many of us don't like to share critique or criticism with others because we don't want to come across as judgmental or risk hurting someone's feelings.

While it may feel unnatural, I want to suggest that giving and receiving godly criticism is a necessary element in the life of healthy relationships and healthy churches. If we intend to help people grow in godliness but can't give godly criticism, we won't end up helping them very much. God uses his people to speak the truth to one another in love, and this includes critical truth. If you're missing this element in your discipling relationships, you're like a shepherd with no rod.
The words "criticism" or "critique" don't show up much in our English Bibles, but the concept certainly does. Terms such as rebuke, reproof, correction, admonishment, and instruction all capture the same idea.
Here's my shot at a definition of godly criticism: to give a corrective evaluation of another person and their service to the Lord with the intent of helping that person grow in faithfulness to God.
For the sake of this article, I'm focusing on giving and receiving godly criticism in the context of a Christian relationship. This may be between a husband and wife, friends, fellow church members, or a church staff. I also want to emphasize that we are talking about godly criticism. This is important because not all criticism is godly. Some criticism is Satanic.
Some people give criticism inspired by the sinful flesh (1 Cor 3:3) that lacks spiritual wisdom (James 3:14-16) and does nothing but hurt others (Gal 5:15). Often times this ungodly criticism is aimed at tearing others down and lifting up oneself to appear "spiritual" (Lk 18:11-14; Prov 30:32). This insensitive attack is void of constructive grace and leaves people hurt rather than helped.
To help us avoid giving that kind of criticism, I'd like to share a few suggestions on how we should give and receive godly criticism.
1. The goal is growth.
The chief goal in any Christian relationship should be to help each other grow up in Christ (Eph 4:14-15). This means critiques must be aimed at building up, not tearing down (2 Cor 13:10). So when you speak, prayerfully consider how your words can give constructive grace that will help others mature in Christ (Eph 4:29). Show them how your correction, if applied, can help them better reflect the glory of God (Matt 5:16).
2. Criticize humbly.
Pride delights in criticizing others. So, if you're excited to dish out critiques, it might be a sign that pride is guiding your heart. The best way to grow in humility is to spend time thanking God for the many ways he has graciously corrected you. Rehearse how the gospel is good news for you and be stirred afresh by how gracious God has been to you (Eph 2:1-5). This will help you to take the log out of your own eye before helping someone else take the speck out of theirs (Matt 7:1-5).
3. Give encouragement with your critique.
Critique should almost always be served with a healthy dose of encouragement. This is not a psychological trick to avoid hurting feelings; rather, it's a way of affirming that God is working in them, despite their need to keep growing.
For instance, when our staff gives me feedback on my leadership or preaching, I need them to help me see both what needs changing and what I should continue doing. Pointing out evidences of grace along with areas to improve will make your critical conversations all the more helpful. You can read more about giving encouragement here.
4. Be thoughtful.
Give consideration to what you should say before you say it (Prov 29:20). This will help you sift out nit-picky stuff and get to the heart of what needs to be communicated. Prayerfully ask yourself, "What is the main issue I need to address? What do I hope they walk away from our conversation remembering? What really needs to be said and what can be overlooked?" This work on the front end will serve both you and the person you are confronting.
5. Be clear.
When you give critique, be as clear as possible. Are you speaking about a sin issue or a personality issue? Is this a big deal or something that could become a big deal? One way to do bring more clarity is to use examples.
For instance, don't just say "you are rude." But you might try saying it like this, "I know you have good ideas, but I've noticed that you tend to cut people off when they are talking. I'm not sure if you've caught yourself doing this, but it can make people feel like you don't need to hear what they have to say." Being clear in your critique will help make sure you get to the heart of the issue.
6. Be gentle.
Wrap your words of correction with gentleness. Love seeks to communicate truth in a way that can be easily swallowed. It's a mark of spiritual maturity to gently help people grow in spiritual health (Gal 6:1). Gentleness must not be viewed as weakness, but rather a heart posture that God can use to lead others to repentance (2 Tim 2:24-26). One way to grow in gentleness is to think how you would want someone to speak to you if they were giving the same critique (Matt 7:12). How can you show them honor while still helping them grow (Rom 12:10)? By considering how they will hear what you say, you can shape your words to be given gently.
7. Be patient.
"Love is patient" (1 Cor 13:4). Remember that some habits or sins take time to be corrected, especially when they are deep-rooted heart issues. Take the long view in your relationship and ask God to help you remember how patient he has been with you (Ex 34:6). This will keep you humble before God and patient with those you are helping to correct.
8. Be prayerful.
Ruth Graham once said of her husband, "It's my job to love Billy; it's God's job to change him." There is much wisdom in that statement. While we can bring truth to a heart, only God can make that seed grow (1 Cor 3:6). What this means for us is that if we aren't praying for people, we certainly shouldn't be trying to change them. God alone is able to change a person, so plead with him on behalf of other people.
1. Be hungry to grow.
Do you desire to grow in spiritual maturity? Do you long to look more like Jesus? If so, then you must do all you can to put to death the pride that wants to protect your image. When others criticize us, our natural reaction is to defend ourselves and make excuses for the critiques they bring up.
Brothers and sisters, put the idol of image to death. Proverbs 12:1 says, "Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid." The reason those who hate reproof are stupid is because there is nothing better than to be corrected for the glory of God. So plead with God to make you want to grow in holiness and usefulness above all other things. Ask him to help you not fear being made stronger through being humbled by the help of those who are speaking into your life.
2. Assume you need to be corrected.
Proverbs 12:15 reminds us that "the way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice." Do you assume you need people in your life to critique and correct you? Do you assume others can see things in you that you might be blind to? It's foolish to presume that even on our best days we cannot be helped by the critical insight of others.
3. Don't be easily offended.
Spurgeon once wisely advised, "If any man thinks ill of you, do not be angry with him, for you are worse than he thinks you to be." The pride in our hearts is often ignited when someone speaks corrective words to us. Plead with God to help you remember that no matter what someone says to you, it is far less cutting than what God has said to you in the gospel. 
4. Ask clarifying questions.
When someone gives you criticism, thank them for helping you grow and then follow up with questions. Ask for examples to help you understand better. Ask for suggestions on how you might change. By doing this, it turns the critiques into a conversation, which is what is always the best place for growth to happen.
5. Assume there is at least some truth in what others say to you.
People are not infallible, so there are times their words of criticism or critique will be off-base and unwarranted. Your first response shouldn't be to shoot holes in what they are saying, but rather to see what bit of truth may be salvaged from their words. It's rare that you can't find a little gold in even the biggest load of trash.
6. Keep the church in view.
When you are corrected by others, you aren't the only one who benefits. Because you are part of the Body of Christ, your growth means good things for everyone (1 Cor 12). I could probably list 10-15 corrections I've received over the years that significantly altered the course of my life and ministry.
One that I most often remember came in my first year of preaching when a friend pointed out that I consistently preached the cross but rarely mentioned the resurrection of Jesus. He encouraged me to bring Jesus out of the grave in my preaching. I'm glad he did, and I'm thankful to the many others who have loved me enough to share their godly criticism with me.
7. Do it for God's glory.
First Corinthians 10:31 says, "Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do [including giving and receiving criticism] do it all for the glory of God." This means that our aim in giving, receiving, and applying critique must always be to help God be seen clearly in our lives and the lives of others. If God's fame is our greatest aim, it will guard our hearts in what can be tough and trying conversations.
What we don't want to do is create a culture of critics who are constantly eyeing one another for mistakes. But what we do want to see is a church deepen in their love and care for one another so much that they are willing to engage in deep, painful, graceful, helpful, character-shaping conversations that will bring God much glory.
1. Preach the gospel.
The more regularly we preach and apply the gospel to ourselves and others, the more we'll be equipped to give and receive grace-centered critique. To learn more about the cross and criticism, I highly recommend thisexcellent article by Dr. Alfred J. Poirier.
2. Model it.
Pastors and those who are spiritually mature must serve as models for those around them (1 Cor 11:1). How are you opening yourself up to critique as a model for your flock? How are you offering and inviting godly criticism as part of your date nights, family meetings, staff meetings, or discipling relationships?
3. Invite it.
Make giving and receiving godly criticism a normal part of your discipling relationships. This doesn't mean that you should always be critiquing each other, but it does mean that you want to give each other permission to speak freely to each other. I often tell people, "You have permission at any time to point out any thing in my life that you think I need to hear." I don't say that to everyone, but the people I am discipling know they have free rein to walk around in my heart and ask any question. This has proven to be a wonderfully fruitful and freeing practice for me.
4. Organize it.
Find ways to make giving and receiving feedback a standard part of your life. During date nights my wife and I will sometimes ask the questions "What is something you'd like me to stop doing? What is something you'd like me to start doing? And what is something you'd like me to continue doing?" In the same way, our staff meetings include prayer, planning, and reviewing the services from the previous Sunday. This time of getting feedback on my preaching has proven invaluable in my growth as a minster of God's Word.
5. Guard yourself from cultivating a critical spirit.
If you're part of a church that gives and receives godly criticism, you will at times be tempted to develop a critical spirit. Every song, every prayer, ever sermon, every conversation could come under scrutiny. We must guard our hearts against this sinful quality. It is not godly to be critical, but it is godly to be able to help others with criticism. Understanding this distinction is essential to the life of every person.
6. Simultaneously cultivate a culture of encouragement.
A culture of encouragement is the key to a healthy culture of criticism. I'm not sure what a healthy ratio is, but I hope my wife and children and friends and partners in ministry hear 5-10 times more encouragement from me than they hear critique. If encouragement is intentional, persistent, and honest, then critique will serve as a polishing cloth on each other's hearts. If it is not, then it will turn into a flamethrower.
7. Pray over it.
Pray that God will create a culture in your church that desires to help each other grow. Pray that he will give you and others wisdom in spurring each other on to godliness (Heb 10:24-25). Pray he'll cultivate a humility in your church that delights in being corrected according to God's truth (Acts 17:11). And above all, pray that through speaking the truth in love the church will be built up into a body that gives glory to Jesus (Eph 4:15).

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

What’s Right About Elders? Part 2 of 2 on Finding a Pastor

Another helpful article (2 of 2) on selecting a new pastor by Mark Dever at 9Marks . . .

As I mentioned in the previous article “What’s Wrong with Search Committees?,” a pastor should feel a strong obligation to help find his successor before he goes. What shepherd waves good bye to his sheep, wishes them luck, and skips off to greener pastures?!
Sometimes the Lord calls shepherds away precipitously, as when a man dies. Generally speaking, however, a shepherd shouldn’t assume his charge is complete until he does everything within his power to secure a worthy successor. Does he love the sheep or doesn’t he?
Beyond the pastor’s own work, it’s the elders who should lead a church toward finding the next pastor. They have the character and biblical understanding to lead out in making this momentous decision. Biblical understanding and pastoral discernment are key, and biblical understanding and discernment are the very qualities which should define elders as elders in the first place.
Elders won’t be perfect in this, and they can fall prey to some of the same pitfalls listed in “What’s Wrong with Search Committees?” But God has charged this biblical body with leadership in the local church.
Now, the New Testament does teach that the congregation as a whole has responsibility for its membership, discipline, and doctrine (Matt. 18:15-20; 1 Cor. 5; Gal. 1). In line with this, it seems that there is good biblical precedent for viewing the congregation as owning final responsibility for recognizing its leaders (Acts 6:3). Yet within this congregational framework, God charges elders to teach, shepherd, and lead the congregation, and the congregation is to submit to its elders (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Tit. 1:5-9; Heb. 13:17; 1 Pet. 5:1-5).
With this basic structure in mind, here are a few reasons why elders, rather than a search committee comprised of a demographic cross-section of the congregation, should lead a church through the process of searching for a new pastor.
1. Elders are best qualified to assess a man’s preaching and teaching.
The Bible charges elders to teach sound doctrine and to ensure that no false doctrine is propagated in the church (Tit. 1:9), which is why all elders must be apt to teach (1 Tim. 3:2). Further, since a pastor is simply an elder who is set aside to preach full time, his most important job is to preach the Word faithfully (2 Tim. 2:15, 4:2). This means that the elders should be the best qualified group in a church to judge the soundness of a man’s preaching, and the soundness of a man’s preaching is absolutely central to his being a good pastor.
2. Elders are best qualified to assess a man’s character.
Another crucial issue when considering a potential pastor is the man’s character, and here again the elders are best qualified to lead.
Elders are men whom the church has recognized as possessing exemplary character (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Tit. 1:5-9). Through their godly character, elders serve as examples for the whole flock to follow (Heb. 13:7; 1 Pet. 5:3). As they teach, disciple, counsel, and chase down errant sheep, it’s the elders who share many of the same day to day ministry burdens as the senior pastor.
It’s also the elders who may well have had confidential conversations with members of the congregation, such that they would best recognize which issues a new pastor would face as well as any matters that might disqualify a man from eldership or even from playing a large role in choosing an outside pastor. By virtue of regularly having such conversations, they are probably most prepared to have the kind of careful conversations which a church should have with any prospective pastoral candidate. They should have a more practiced ability to detect weak spots.
By both qualification and experience, a church’s elders are best able to assess a potential pastor’s character.
3. Elders are charged to raise up other elders.
In 2 Timothy 2:2 Paul writes, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.” God intends for those who teach the Word in the church to raise up others who will be able to teach the Word as well. While Scripture doesn’t tell us whether Timothy held the office of elder in the church in Ephesus, this verse clearly seems to establish a pattern which elders are to follow today. After all, if Timothy was to teach reliable men who would be able to teach others, those men would have understood from Timothy’s example that they were to raise up other teachers themselves.
This means that elders should always be raising up other elders. So what about when the church needs to find an elder who is particularly gifted in preaching, whom we often call a “senior pastor”? Of course a pastor who is leaving should have already raised up a replacement for himself. But if he hasn’t, there should be a whole group of biblically qualified men who are already in the habit of recognizing and cultivating godly men to be elders. When the need arises for the church to find a particularly gifted elder to set aside to preach full time, shouldn’t the group who have already devoted themselves to the business of raising up elders take the lead?
Finding a new pastor requires wisdom, discernment, theological acuity, and more. If you’ve got elders, this is when you need them most!
So then, if elders are the ones who should lead in the process of finding a new pastor, how should they go about this work? Here are a few tips.
1. Involve the current pastor.
First, assuming that the current pastor is leaving on reasonably good terms, involve him as much as possible. He should have taken the lead in identifying and training a successor before he ever had plans to leave, but even if he didn’t, he should be involved in the process now. So, ask your current pastor if he has anyone to recommend. Ask him to tell you other people to ask for recommendations, like old seminary professors or likeminded friends in ministry.
2. Ask other trusted pastors for recommendations.
Faithful pastors should be raising up other faithful pastors. So think of a pastor whose life and ministry you trust, call him, and ask him who he would recommend. The sober judgment of a seasoned minister will be a far better guide to a good pastor than an impressive résumé.
3. Ask probing questions about the man’s character, theology, and philosophy of ministry.
When it comes time to assess an individual candidate, focus your efforts on learning as much as you can about the man’s character, theology, and philosophy of ministry. Ask probing questions about each of these areas, and be ready to follow up with more. Here’s a list of questions to get you started.
Click here for the first article: “What’s Wrong with Search Committees? Part 1 of 2 on Finding a Pastor.”