Archive for November, 2006

Waymeyer joins Expository Thoughts

Our good friend Matt Waymeyer has finally given-in to bribes and threats and has agreed to join us here at Expository Thoughts as a “full-time” contributor (a term which may or may not be meaningful depending on who the term is applied to, just ask Chris). At any rate, Matt is a thoughtful pastor and a lucid writer and we are please to have him on board with us.

Last week, I introduced Matt to our readership with a two part interview (here and here). Be sure to check out the interview and while you’re at it, here are a few articles below to get you started. Welcome aboard Matt (everyone give him a warm golf clap).

The Faithful Pastor (Pt. 3)

The faithful pastor also (# 3), Declares the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:18-27).

              This of course was the hallmark of the Apostle Paul’s ministry (while in Ephesus).  Notice what Paul said in his farewell address in Acts 20:18-20, And when they had come to him, he said to them, “You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews;  20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house…”Therefore I testify to you this day, that I am innocent of the blood of all men.  “For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God (vv. 26-27).” 

             I submit to you that this is a model worthy of imitation.  Biblical exposition is a wonderful way to declare to your people everything that is profitable under the sun.   Take your people through the Scriptures.  Unleash God’s truth “one verse at a time.”  Joe Flatt’s commitment to biblical expository-preaching has helped him follow in the footsteps of Paul (and many of the great preachers of the past)… 

              Joe Flatt’s verse by verse journey through Scripture has helped our congregation answer some very difficult questions:  How should the church to be governed: Elder-rule, Deacon-rule, or Congregational rule?  If God is sovereign, then why is their so much pain & suffering in this world? How do you explain hurricane Katrina or 9-11 or the Beslan, Russia tragedy?  In what manner is the atonement of Christ- Limited? Could an infinitely loving God really condemn people to hell?  How can human responsibility and divine sovereignty co-exist?  Is it possible for one to have assurance of his/her salvation?  Can I know with certainty where I will go after I die?  What does the Bible say about the role(s) of men and women in the church & in the home?

              Friends you know the answers to all of these questions, in large part due to the faithful expository ministry of Pastor Flatt.  This is some of the wonderful fruit that comes from this type of dedicated ministry.…Even when proclaiming God’s message made him unpopular.  He did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God!” 

       (Mark #4) The faithful pastor loves his wife and diligently shepherds his family (Ephesians 5; 1 Tim. 3:4; 1 Pet. 3:7; Col 3:19).

              The man of God, models Eph 5 (“Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church”).  His marriage is such, that others seek to imitate it.  Single girls ask God to provide them a husband who loves the Lord like there pastor.  Single guys want to have this type of marriage one day.  Young couples go to him for premarital counseling. The faithful pastor’s wife is his greatest human treasure & his children are his most precious earthly possessions.  He manages his own household well (1 Tim 3:4).  Though he is normally busy serving the church, he doesn’t neglect his own family.  He is involved in his kid’s lives.  His children and grandchildren experience his gentle care and his wife knows his most tender affection.  Pastor has been Judy’s “covenant-companion” now for 38 years. They have 5 adult children and 3 grandchildren.  The faithful pastor loves his wife and diligently shepherds his family.

Little reminders from Stuart Little

Mondays are my usual day off so I spent the day catching-up on things around the farm and raking lots of leaves. I curled up this evening with our four year old and got about six chapters into E. B. White’s classic Stuart Little. At the end of chapter two, entitled “Home Problems,” there is a little episode where the Little family discusses how they would hate to offend Stuart, their small mouse/son. They are sensitive to the fact that he is just a mouse and might be sensitive to his lowly place in life. Therefore the Little family seeks to rid themselves of any reference that might offend poor Stuart. They care for him deeply, which is never doubted, but they do him a disservice when they attempt to avoid any reference to his true nature (as a mouse). It all starts when Mrs. Little tears out the page from the nursery rhyme book and its reference to “Three Blind Mice.” She reasons that it would be terrible for Stuart to grow up in fear and run the risk of bad dreams. The family even conspires to rewrite the classic “Twas the night before Christmas” because of its not-so-veiled reference to a lazy mouse (“not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse”). However we all know that the truth of the matter is Stuart’s a mouse and making his environment more user-friendly won’t change that. This is just a child’s story but it’s one many preachers would do well to heed. Changing the surroundings, tearing pages from the book or skipping over difficult words in the text might make them feel better in the temporal but it might also be robbing your congregation of what they really need to hear. Preach the Word. . . all of it!

The Faithful Pastor (Pt. 2)

Let us examine God’s Word and uncover “10 Marks of a Faithful Pastor.” God’s opinion is really the only voice that matters, right? We need to ask then: What characteristics does God value in a Pastor? What “Marks” separate faithful shepherds from all the rest? 

Mark #1: The faithful pastor knows His Maker. 

Said another way, the faithful pastor has an intimate relationship with His Savior.  The qualifications for elders are clearly laid out for us in Titus 1 and in 1 Tim 3.  This mark is not mentioned in these texts, but I do believe it’s assumed.  For godly character is never formed in a box.  Personal holiness is not gained apart from personal exposure to the Knowledge of the Holy.  It was the burning bush and the 10 plagues that helped Moses better understand Who it was he was working for!  I hope you understand this point. 

The faithful pastor walks humbly with His God (Micah 6:8).  He has a personal relationship with the God of the universe.  His life is marked by prayer because he is humbly dependant on God (Acts 6:4).  Daily, he communions with God and he lives to know God more intimately each day (see JI Packer’s ‘Knowing God’). 

AW Tozier put it this way, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”  Do you want to know whether or not your Pastor has intimate knowledge of the Creator?  Then listen to his theology proper!  Does He have a high view of God and a proper view of man?  Does his preaching EXALT the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ?  Listen to your pastor’s theology proper.  Pastor Flatt’s God-centered sermons tell us a great deal about His knowledge of God.  Don’t underestimate the importance of this first mark!  Later in his classic book, Tozier correctly notes that, “The first step down for any church is taken when it surrenders its high opinion of GOD.” Mark #1: The faithful pastor knows His Maker.

 

Mark #2: The faithful pastor accurately & consistently preaches the Word! (2 Tim 2:15, 2 Tim 4:1-5) 

There are NO substitutes for God’s Word!  God has disclosed Himself to us in one book, and in one book alone! The Bible alone makes us wise unto salvation & it alone is sufficient to sanctify (2 Timothy 3:15-17).  The faithful pastor believes this and thus feeds His people wholesome food!  He, like the good Shepherd, leads his people into green pastures (to feed).  Jesus told Peter three times to ‘Feed his sheep’ in John 21:17.

 

Would you respect a mother who constantly feeds her children junk food, even when she has a refrigerator full of delicious & nutritious foods?  I hope not!! I have a major sweet tooth.  I appreciate dots and juju fruits and chocolate milk more than the average Joe.  But one can not receive constant nourishment by eating junk food.   Then why do so many today applaud those ear tickling preachers, who simply expand there peoples (already) massive egos?  Why do people flock to churches where all they receive is spiritual junk food?  For the life of me I don’t get this.  Nothing has become more fashionable then to be a shallow, evangelical, principlizer when it comes to preaching God’s Book.      Which is why 2 Timothy 4:1-5 is so crucial.  I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom:  2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.  3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires;  4 and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths.  5 But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

This is why men pleasers don’t make good preachers!  You need to be willing to bring God’s message whether or not it is fashionable to do so or not.  Biblical preaching may not gain a huge crowd but it will most definitely build up Christ’s church!  Strauch says it like this, “The Christian community is created by the Spirit’s use of God’s Word (1 Peter 1:23; James 1:18).  There is a famine in the land when it comes to solid expositional preaching (see Steve Lawson’s wonderful book)!  Only those who preach weekly understand the immense challenge it is to accurately and consistently bring God’s message each Sunday!  Your only as good as your last sermon and your last sermon is never good enough.  Why?  Because we’re dealing with God’s holy revelation.  Every single Monday a preacher has to start from scratch.  It’s like writing a new dissertation, every single week of one’s life. BUT for the faithful minister there’s ONLY one option.

 

 2 Timothy 2:15, Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth.  It’s about cutting the Word straight every time the preacher preaches!  The word on the street I hear is, “If you want in-depth Bible exposition, check out First Baptist Church of Carmel!”  32 years of diligence brings about this reputation!  That is something us younger pastors should strive for.  So (#1) The faithful pastor knows His Maker &  (#2) The faithful pastor also accurately & consistently preaches the Word.  To be continued…

Pick your press

Here we are at the end of the busiest week in the history of Expository Thoughts. We have watched our daily readership sore from an average of 450 a day to over 1,800 in one day due to Challies naming us “King for a Week” and because the MacArthur rap was picked-up by the guys at Sharper Iron. Tim Challies was nice enough to write, “While the site’s primary audience is pastors and church leaders, there is plenty at the site to benefit any Christian.”

However, we want you know that we are also aware that not all see us the same way so in the spirit of fair reporting, here’s what a few others had to say about us:

  • “their exclusively masculine references to clergy do not reflect (I hope this is obvious) the purposes of the RevGalBlogPals webring.” ~Female Pastor from United Church of Christ
  • “Yes they are from a male perspective and reference male clergy exclusively so take them with a grain of salt.” ~Rev. Abbi (UMC Minister)
  • “Sometimes I just get tired of the assumption that clergy = male (and I know you do too).” ~Will Smama (“Mom-Wife-bread winner-solo pastor”)

Have a nice weekend.

Interview with Matt Waymeyer: Part Two

See Part One here.

PSL: What are you preaching right now and how is it shaping your understanding of the preaching task?

MW: On Sunday mornings I am currently preaching through 1 Peter. (At our Sunday evening service I usually teach in more of a classroom format, with a syllabus, PowerPoint, white board, and interaction.) It’s hard to say exactly how preaching 1 Peter in particular is shaping my understanding of the preaching task. I’ve been here at CBC for two years now, and I am growing very comfortable with the people and feeling very at home in the pulpit. This seems to be allowing me to be more effective during the extemporaneous parts of my messages. I manuscript much of what I say in my sermons, but I also give myself ample opportunity to abandon my notes and spontaneously explain a portion of the text or exhort the people to a certain response. I am seeing the value and effectiveness of these moments in the delivery of the sermon.

PSL: What are three encouraging signs or movements you see in the church today? Three not so encouraging?

MW: Encouraging: (1) the remnant of believers today (like the people at our church) who will not settle for anything less than expository preaching; (2) the growing reformation that seems to be taking place within parts of the Southern Baptist Convention; and (3) the courage and discernment of believers who refuse to put up with the seeker-friendly shenanigans that have captivated so many.

Not So Encouraging: (1) the kind of superficial Christianity which is reflected in the popularity of religious books which have little or no biblical substance; (2) the way so much of the church seems to have lost its sense of the majesty of God; and (3) the way so many who profess the name of Christ evidence so little submission to the authority of Scripture in what they believe and how they live.

PSL: Where are you being stretched and challenged the most in ministry?

MW: I read somewhere recently that pastors must learn to co-exist peacefully with a substantial amount of chaos in their lives and ministry. I am finding this to be very true and very challenging. My personal preference is to see lots of closure and lots of check marks on my to-do list, but so much of ministry simply doesn’t work that way. A pastor needs to learn to live with lots of loose ends.

Part of it is simply being stretched to be able to do a multitude of things well at the same time, and another part is being able to shift gears from one thing to another. I remember one time I was driving to someone’s house, thinking about all these different issues in the church, and probably stressing out about them. I’ve got to do this and that, and how am I going to handle such-and-such a situation? That sort of thing. Then, when I was about two blocks and 60 seconds from my destination, my thoughts returned to where I was going and why: The father of one of our church member’s had just dropped dead unexpectedly and I was on my way to comfort the family and pray with them. I feel so inadequate at those moments.

PSL: What are you reading right now?

MW: I am currently reading Christ-Centered Preaching by Bryan Chapell (on my list ever since I had the opportunity to meet Chapell and hear him teach on preaching three years ago); The Doctrine of Infant Baptism by Pierre Marcel (the best argument I’ve ever read for paedobaptism, but I remain entirely unconvinced); Getting Things Done by David Allen (so Paul Lamey will continue to think of me as the cutting-edge guy that I am); and Sinners in the Hands of a Good God by David Clotfelter (an excellent read on a difficult subject). I also just read a journal article by Thomas Schreiner: “Does Romans 9 Teach Individual Election unto Salvation?” (JETS 36, 1 [March 1993]: 25-40). For “fun” reading, last week on family vacation I read Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer by James L. Swanson and Greatness: Reagan, Churchill and the Making of Extraordinary Readers by Steven Hayward. I love history, and I’m an incurable Ronald Reagan fan.

PSL: Are your kids still beating you at Blokus?

MW: I don’t know which of my little rugrats told you they have ever beaten me at Blokus, but that is pure fantasy—my unbeaten streak lives on! Our family loves playing games (chess is the latest and greatest), and Blokus is a great one to play with kids of various ages. Even our three-year-old loves it. I suppose that once my kids unite and focus on taking me down together, I will never again win a game of Blokus. But so far this kind of conspiracy has not occurred to them, and I continue to dominate.

PSL: Can you tell us what writing projects you’re working on at the moment? How does writing help your preaching?

MW: In their book The Craft of Research, Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colomb, and Joseph M. Williams have an excellent section on why writing is so important. One of the reasons, they say, “is that once we get our thoughts out of our heads and onto paper, we see them in a clearer light, one that is always brighter and usually less flattering. Most of us…think our ideas are more coherent while in the warmth of our minds than they turn out to be in cold print” (p. 9). I have found this to be so true, and it motivates me to stay consistent in my writing, especially on subjects I am currently studying and working through in my own mind. It is not uncommon for me to start writing a position paper about an issue that I haven’t landed on yet. The process itself is valuable to me in how it clarifies the gaps in my thinking and the questions I need to answer.

Several years ago, Dr. Trevor Craigen (theology professor at The Master’s Seminary) told me that many preachers focus too much time and attention on lengthy illustrations and not enough on simply choosing their words carefully and in a way that articulates a concept in a clear and striking manner. I have found that writing helps me grow in this area. It also helps in the process of being clear in the pulpit, which is imperative. I actually edit my sermon notes much in the same way that I would edit an article I am writing (although I do so recognizing the difference between written and oral communication). So in this way, the practice of writing and editing equips me for sermon preparation.

As far as current projects, I have been doing some writing on various aspects of preaching and church leadership. Nothing too earth shattering, but incredibly helpful for me personally. Four years ago I wrote an article entitled “Am I a Dispensationalist?,” and even though I am basically satisfied with it, I am in the process of expanding it to address the relationship between the church and the New Covenant. But more importantly, my people have been meeting with Paul Lamey’s people about the possibility of me contributing some articles to Expository Thoughts. According to my agent, that’s when my career will really take off.

Fortune Cookies and Elder Rule

I had a pleasant lunch today with one my fellow elders at a local Chinese restaurant. My fortune cookie said (no kidding): “Go to the elders when you feel a confidence crisis.” How’s that for getting out the message of Biblical eldership? I wonder if Dever or Strauch are behind this?

P.S. My lucky numbers were 10, 24, 37, 22, 7, 40.

10 Marks of a Faithful Pastor (Pt. 1)

I consider myself a very blessed man. As a young pastor I have many reasons to count my spiritual blessings. God ordained that I would be raised in a Christian home where my father was both a faithful shepherd and mentor (he’s also a pastor). I spent many of my formidable years at (as Al Mohler calls it) “the Grace Community Church” under pastor/teacher John MacArthur. I was also able to earn degrees at the Master’s College and Seminary. In addition to these things, during the past 7 years I have been personally mentored by three giants in the faith: Pastor Jerry Wragg, Pastor Carey Hardy, and Pastor Joe Flatt. One can not overstate that importance of a godly mentor in a young man’s life and on a young man’s ministry.

I am currently serving at First Baptist Church (FBC) in Carmel, Indiana. Our senior pastor has been in full-time ministry for over 35 years now and more impressive he’s been at FBC for the past 32+ years. Recently I asked him a number of questions regarding his expository preaching ministry. I am going to post his answers on this blog in the next few weeks. Before I do that I want to share with you a recent sermon I preached (11/5) in honor of this man’s 32 years of faithful ministry.

Joe Flatt was just received the “Pastor of the Year” award from Baptist Bible College/Seminary. I hope this sermon will help introduce him to you as well as provide a litmus test for all of us who serve the Lord in FT ministry. May all who come behind us find us faithful!

10 Marks of a Faithful Pastor

1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 says, “But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another.

The Scriptures tell us to give honor to whom honor is due (Rom 13:7). More specifically, the Bible teaches us that the flock of God should ‘appreciate’ and ‘show limitless respect’ for the man of God. Isn’t that what 1 Thess 5:12-13 clearly requests? Those ministers who labor to the point of exhaustion on behalf of their congregations; Those who work like this: should be known, cared for, and deeply cherished… Sometimes we forget there are many different ways in which we bring glory to God. One of the ways we glorify God is by esteeming faithful pastors.

1 Thessalonians 5:13 says this appreciation needs to be clothed in agape love. Like children who cover their dolls in baby clothing so we the congregation of God should cover our respect for our pastor(s) in agape love.

Similarly, 1 Peter 4:8 commands us to,Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.” This context of course is for the entire church to obey. All of us need to love one another in this manner. Agape Love covers both wrong-doings and short-comings. 32 years of God-honoring ministry will inevitably include a few mistakes. Pastor Flatt (being the humble man that he is) would be the first to admit this reality to you. Both Pastor Flatt and I adhere to the priesthood of all believers but we firmly deny the concept of papal infallibility. We are not here tonight venerating a new saint or worshiping a human being.

But we do acknowledge that the Scriptures teach us that faithful pastors (they themselves) are gifts from the Lord to the Church (Ephesians 4:11). Thus it is proper to honor them for their steadfastness and commitment. Yet, “the best of men, are still men at best!”

With that said by way of introduction, It is most appropriate to identify evidences of grace in the life of our pastor and to praise God for “there” faithfulness to us.

One of the highest callings and most demanding jobs in the entire world is to faithfully lead Christ’s Church. It is all consuming and requires a life’s work. Ministry is a great privilege but it also requires great responsibility.

(i) “Ministry” means constantly shepherding people; (and all people, are sinners).

Pastor’s shepherd sheep; and sheep, by nature: bite, kick, spit, go wayward, and sometimes even rebel. Shepherding spiritual matters of the heart is no easy task. It is actually an impossible job without outside assistance (from the Holy Spirit). When I applied for personal life insurance a few years ago, my tester informed me that the pastorate is a high risk job in regards to stress. I say now just a couple years later, “go figure!”

(ii) “Ministry” means constantly dealing with yourself; (and every pastor has his own struggles and battles).

Every pastor has to fight indwelling sin in his own life (Romans 7). Every pastor has to deal with his own finiteness and short-comings. Did you know that all pastors are Reformed? Better said, all pastors are in the process of “being Reformed!” We better not forget this. Not only do Pastors constantly deal with the sins of others, they also have to fight their own inadequacies. I am daily made aware of this in my own life and ministry and it is a constant source of frustration.

Finally, (iii) “Ministry” also means constantly dealing with matters of eternal importance.

The quotable John Piper put it this way, “The preacher’s mantle is soaked with the blood of Jesus and singed with the fire of hell.” Dear friends, does it get any weightier then this? The pastor’s lifework involves matters of eternal importance. Heaven & hell; wrath & forgiveness; condemnation & grace; these are the themes that control a pastor’s ministry. In addition to this, Hebrews 13:17 says, Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. There is a seriousness and a weight to this calling. Every pastor/elder will stand before God and “give an account” for the manner in which they cared for there congregations soul(s). Perhaps this is one of the reasons why “the Colonial” is often sober-minded. I think HE understands what’s at stake. For time sake we must move on.

I want us to look now to God’s Word and uncover “10 Marks of a Faithful Pastor.” God’s opinion is really the only voice that matters, right? We need to ask then: What characteristics does God value in a Pastor? What “Marks” separate faithful shepherds from all the rest? These “Marks” will not be an exhaustive list, but I trust it’s a biblical list.

I think you’ll be reminded tonight that we’ve been blessed to have this servant of the Lord, faithfully ministering to our body for over 32 years! I hope this sermon will motivate you first and foremost to praise God. That you’ll leave this place worshiping and praising Him for His unwavering covenant faithfulness; As well as deepen your appreciation for God’s faithful servant (pastor Joe Flatt)…To be continued

Interview with Matt Waymeyer: Part One

We will return to our series on prayer over the weekend. I wanted to take the time to introduce someone to our readers that they should know. We live in a day of mega-star pastors and when most folks are asked which pastors they admire the most, they can rattle-off familiar names that belong to either this or that persuasion. High on my list of men who inspire me in various ways is my friend Matt Waymeyer. I say this for reasons that you will probably pick-up as you read the following interview. I will post the interview in two parts and then end by providing a few links to some of Matt’s writings. Our readers also might like to know that I have attempted a grand coup d’État and have almost convinced Matt to become a full-time contributor to Expository Thoughts. Enjoy the interview, here’s part one:

PSL: Tell us briefly about you and your family.

MW: My wife Julie and I were both converted while students at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and met because we were involved in the same campus ministry. We became good friends, which eventually led to our marriage on May 6, 1995. She really is absolutely incredible, far better than I could have ever hoped for. I constantly marvel at what a blessing she is, and I honestly can’t imagine life without her.

After our honeymoon, we packed up and moved out to the San Fernando Valley just north of L.A. so I could attend The Master’s Seminary. I served on staff at Grace Community Church during that time, was ordained by GCC, and graduated from TMS in 2003. Just before graduation I began pastoring a church plant up in Montana and was there nearly two years. Then, in November of 2004, God brought us here to Community Bible Church in Vista, California—which is just north of San Diego—where I serve as pastor-teacher. CBC is an independent Bible-preaching church that was founded 10 years ago this month, and Julie and I often praise God for bringing us to such a great place and such great people. As the pastor of CBC, I totally love what I’m doing, where I’m doing it, and who I’m doing it with.

We have five children: Jessica (9), Caleb (7), Courtney (6), Jacob (3), and Zachary (3 months). Like most parents, I could go on and on about each of my kids, but suffice it to say that they are cuter, cooler, and smarter than yours. Oh, and we home-school our children, but we’re not weird like those one home-schoolers you probably know. The only other thing you need to know is that I was once held out of a third-story window by my ankles. Longest 30 seconds of my life.

PSL: Why are you doing what you’re doing in life?

MW: I’m not one of those pastors who is good at a lot of other stuff. You hear people give their testimonies about how they gave up a lucrative career in such-and-such to become a lowly preacher. I was basically a loser who was going nowhere and God not only graciously pardoned my sins through Christ, but He gave me a clear direction and passion in life. Immediately after my conversion, I had an insatiable desire to study and teach the Word. This God-given desire, along with the thrill it is to see the Lord transform His people through the preaching of His Word, fuels me daily as I seek to shepherd the flock.

PSL: Briefly walk us through the steps you take in going from text to sermon.

MW: The process varies depending on the genre of Scripture, but right now I’m preaching through 1 Peter, so I’ll think in terms of a NT epistle. I start by line diagramming the pericope in Greek and then block diagramming it in the English translation I am preaching from (currently the NASB, although I confess that the ESV is really growing on me). This helps me understand and see the grammatical flow of the passage. As I’m doing this, I do most of my syntactical exegesis, paying special attention to conjunctions, prepositions, and adverbial participles (side note: as I was just writing this, my son Caleb came into the room with a Bible question—he wanted to know the significance of the conjunction “for” at the beginning of Ephesians 2:8!). My Greek is strong enough that I am often able to do much of this without cracking a grammar, but at some point I usually find myself in Daniel Wallace’s Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics seeking clarification on something.

My goal is to keep my homiletics completely separate from my exegesis and to not even think about how I’m going to preach the passage until I have thoroughly interpreted it. But realistically, this almost never happens. Nine times out of ten, as I am doing my exegesis, I am already thinking about how to frame up the passage in some kind of outline. Oftentimes the diagram itself will tell me how many points I am likely to have, because I try to let the structure of the passage inform the structure of my outline (with a NT epistle anyway). I am convinced that the main verbs are the key in this regard.

Once I understand the flow of the passage, I begin to study key words or concepts in the passage itself. I start with Bauer’s lexicon (third edition) and oftentimes don’t go far beyond it (although it’s not uncommon for me to trace down the various uses of a Greek word using Englishman’s Greek Concordance). It’s at this time that I will look into the historical or cultural background of a concept found in the passage. Because I preach verse-by-verse through entire books of the Bible, I am already good-to-go on the literary context and historical background of the book as a whole, but sometimes a new concept is introduced in the passage. Also, I am not a big cross-reference guy, but I do want to see how any themes I’m studying in the passage may be developed elsewhere in the epistle and incorporate it into my study.

When my exegesis is completed, I try to capture the main essence of the pericope in a single statement, which I eventually develop into what I call my proposition. My proposition is a single statement which captures the main idea of the message. In order to zero in on this main idea, I look for the common thread which weaves its way throughout the entire passage. I often rework the proposition several times before I get it just how I want it.

Next come the points of my preaching outline. I begin by isolating units of thoughts and summarizing each unit as clearly and accurately as I can in a single sentence. Only later do I take these statements and shape them into points that are concise and ready to preach. I sometimes use alliteration in the final points of my outline, but more often I simply aim for a parallelism which communicates clearly and accurately. My mantra is to never sacrifice clarity in the name of being clever.

From there I begin to work on the actual body of the sermon, which primarily consists of explaining the meaning of the text I am preaching. I am big on pointing the hearers to the words of the passage and making sure they are clear on the actual meaning of the text. As I work on this, I incorporate into the body of the sermon various points of application and exhortation rather than saving these until the end. I am also on the lookout for illustrations which will serve to clarify key concepts in the passage.

The penultimate step in my sermon preparation is to develop an introduction, hopefully one that captures the listener’s attention but also that leads into the proposition by highlighting the spiritual need that the sermon is intended to meet. Lastly I work on a conclusion, although I confess that sometimes I leave myself with a single statement of transition and then permission to exhort the people in an extemporaneous fashion.

PSL: What is the most challenging aspect of preaching for you?

MW: I think my greatest challenge is to maintain a proper intensity in sermon preparation and delivery without getting burned out. One of my all-time best friends and favorite preachers is Rick Holland, college pastor at Grace Community Church. After sitting under Rick’s preaching for six years, what impressed me most was how he always seemed able to capture and communicate the profundity of the passage he was proclaiming. And I mean every single time. He always said that his favorite passage in the Bible at a given moment was the one he was preaching that Sunday, and his preaching made you believe it. I find it difficult to maintain that kind of intensity week-after-week without getting exhausted.

I once heard a preacher exhort a group of other preachers not to aim for the fences every week, but just to try to hit a single every time up. That was liberating to me when I first heard it, but eventually I found that it led to temptation toward laziness in my sermon prep. When I was pastoring in Montana, my office was in our garage. Sometimes I would come into the house on Saturday night shaking my head and telling my wife that I just wasn’t quite satisfied with my sermon. To which she would respond: “Then get back out there until you are!” That’s what I really needed to hear.

Along those same lines, about five years ago I was talking to Dan Dumas (also a pastor at Grace Community Church) after he had preached an especially good sermon on a Sunday morning. He mentioned to me that he had started to go to bed the night before, but he just wasn’t content that he was ready to go the next morning. I can’t remember if his concerns were exegetical or homiletical, but they led him back to his study where he stayed the entire night to make sure he was prepared. Dumas is the kind of preacher who has the rhetorical ability to get by without that extra preparation, and his refusal to do so left an abiding impression on me.

In the end, all this has led me to consider why my diligence often leads to fatigue and burnout. I’ve concluded that what ultimately wears me down is not diligence per se, but rather things like personal sin, laziness, an idolatrous craving for comfort and ease, a desire to impress people with my preaching, and a failure to depend on the Lord in prayer. Recognizing these as the enemy has been far more liberating than the recommendation to take it easy.

Prayerless Pastors: Part Two

This is a short series on the need to reform prayer in ministry. Part One can be found here. In Part Three we will examine some of the more practical features of ministerial prayer life. This is not meant to be a scholarly treatment of the subject but a few scattered thoughts I have been sitting on for a long time.

#2 It is practiced in the home

There is no more important ministry than the one God providentially gives us through our families. Prayer is a key aspect of a family’s daily worship. I believe true family worship should be neither manufactured nor only for certain seasons. I think some well-meaning Christians have gone too far in this area and have made laws out of preferences. Nevertheless, the general direction that we try to follow in our house is to treat all of life as an opportunity to worship and enjoy God through His creation (cf. Deut. 6:4-9). This forces us to think of worship as more than just formal times where we sit down together to sing, read or pray.

However, there are also special times and seasons where we gather and focus our attention upon the Lord. It is not my intention to discuss the dynamics and peculiarities of what is commonly called “family worship” here. Others have ably dealt with this subject in other resources and I’m well aware that there is a diversity of opinions in this area. My simple point is that we are nothing in public ministry if we are not praying with and for our most intimate relationships which is of course our families. Whether in the morning, over meals, before bed, on the way to church, a case can be made for all times. To be clear, my concern is not timing but doing, not formality but faithfulness, not perfection but direction. Employing a little math, some have figured out that we will have 5,630 occasions to pray, read, and worship with our children over an eighteen year period (outside of Sunday worship). As I look at my two young ones and the third that will join us soon, I know that some of those 5,630 opportunities are already passed but today is a precious opportunity to practice prayer in my home with those who witness my ministry first-hand.

#3 It flows over the sacred desk

Ministerial prayer flows over the sacred desk on Sunday morning. The phrase “sacred desk” is commonly used to refer to pulpits and the character of the responsibilities that should take place there. However, I think we can understand this phrase in a wider context. My sacred desk is present whenever I am called upon to unfold the Word of God. This has taken place at home, in prisons, schools, by the side of hospital beds, at funerals and every Sunday behind the pulpit in my church. Your sacred desk might be a kitchen table where you are discipling your progeny to be faithful to the Lord and discern truth from fiction. Or your sacred desk might be a regular lunch meeting you have with a guy in your church who struggles to put off sinful habits and has come to you for help. Your sacred desk could be to a coworker who keeps asking you why you can have so much hope when the world seems like such a wicked place. Wherever God gives you an opportunity to unpack the rich bounty of His Word, that is your “sacred desk” and prayer should be present.

Those to whom we minister should hear us pray and pray often. We shouldn’t just tell our people to “trust God” we should show them how by exhibiting persevering prayer. The Apostle Paul viewed prayer as a means of grace that fueled his ministry of the Word. He let the churches know that God used prayer to further his preaching and missionary ministry (cf. Rom. 15:30; 2 Cor. 1:11; Phil. 1:19). Pastors have a unique opportunity to not merely “deliver” a prayer on Sunday but to lead through their public prayers. How do we encourage our people to pray more fervently and patiently? How do we get them to see the richness of communion with Christ over the humdrum? I would suggest we teach them the prayers of Scripture which provide a rich tapestry of faithful example and steadfastness. Furthermore, we pastors can let our ministerial prayers be an encouragement to people who struggle with this spiritual discipline. More than our jokes, our announcements and the endless opportunities to rehearse the mundane our congregations need transparent, humble prayer from their leadership.

On this note I was encouraged by this reminder from James Usher, “We have assurance that we shall be heard in what we pray, because we pray to that God that heareth prayer, and is the rewarder of all that come unto Him; and in His name, to whom God denieth nothing; and, therefore, howsoever we are not always answered at the present, or in the same kind that we desire, yet, sooner or later, we are sure to receive even above that we are able to ask or think, if we continue to sue unto Him according to His will.”

to be continued…

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