Archive for the ‘Pastoral Ministry’ Category

No, that’s what churches are supposed to do

I realize that this is a sacred cow and a much larger conversation than a blog affords but it needs to be said. Seminaries cannot fully prepare a man for ministry. Thinking like this is like assuming that buying a ratchet at Sears will automatically change the oil on your car.

It usually comes out this way in conversations. A graduate of XYZ Seminary says, while rolling his eyes, “they never prepared me for [fill-in-the-blank issue/problem].” To which we should reply, “no, that’s what your church is supposed to do.”

In his new book Think, John Piper traces his spiritual development through his theological training and makes a simple yet excellent observation:

“I didn’t expect college and seminary and graduate school to teach me things that have to be learned on the job” (26).

If this sounds like I’m placing undue blame on seminaries, I’m not. To some degree, seminaries do what they do because the church has not done what it should do. I’m not in favor of re-conceptualizing everything that seminaries do but churches should give more careful thought to how they are 1) recognizing men for ministry and 2) how they are being equipped for ministry.

What are some of you doing in your churches with these last two points? Keep in mind that your ideas here could be a real blessing and encouragement to others so feel free to speak up.

Ezekiel and the “call” to ministry

Daniel Block, reflecting on Ezekiel’s call to ministry in Ezek 3 notes an important theological implication concerning the “call” to ministry. His statement is not meant to be an exhaustive treatment of the subject yet it’s worth considering.

First, whoever would serve as a messenger of God must recognize that the calling comes from God alone. Neither the needs of the field, nor oratorical gifts, nor any other external qualifications authorize one to enter divine service. Moreover, the God who appoints his servants also defines the task, chooses the field of serivce, provides the message, and assumes repsonsibility for the outcome. The less evident the fruit for one’s ministry, the more critical is a clear sense of calling.

from Daniel I. Block, The Book of Ezekiel Chapters 1-24, NICOT, 130.

How to preach when your wife has cancer (or some other “distraction”): Part Two

See Part One here.

1. Review your history

As a minister of the gospel you will inevitably encounter “distractions.” The word distraction for our purposes is a fluid term. Right now, I am easily distracted by the fact that my wife has cancer. I can be knee-deep in a riveting exercise of exegetical study only to have this fact surface in my thoughts and derail the project for a spell. This reality drops in for a visit at the most unexpected times and rarely does it knock.

I realize that not everyone is dealt the same measure of distractions but they are sure to come in one shape or another.  These things, as they say, go with the territory. Our territory as ministers of the gospel is the local church. I think we can rightly infer from Matthew 16:18 that the church will persevere by the grace of God but it will also endure Hell in the process. Brother, you will endure difficulty in the ministry. Those who fail to see this are like those who believe the Army recruiter really wants them to see the world and meet interesting people. However, in fine print at the bottom of the pamphlet is something about bullets being fired at your head.

A great encouragement in persevering through pain is that you stand near the end of a long line of faithful saints. How you endure ministerial suffering today can be a reflection on your understanding of the past. It is incumbent upon us to keep our fingers on the pulse of those who endured before us. The writer of Hebrews says that we receive a kingdom that cannot be shaken from its foundation (Heb 12:28) and because of this the Lord is our helper and there’s no reason to be afraid (Heb 13:6; Psa 118:6). Exhibit A of this truth is that you can “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith” (Heb 13:7).

In the study of our history there is a lot to learn, much to righteously repeat, and plenty to caution our present steps. C. S. Lewis, who lost his wife to cancer, likened ignorance of history to joining a conversation after the fact. He said, “If you join at eleven o’clock a conversation which began at eight you will often not see the real bearing of what is said.”[1] Lewis furthered this idea by calling us to read old books stating, “It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.”[2]

So on the one hand I can struggle with Lewis in the anguish of his deceased wife (in A Grief Observed) and then keep reading backwards and find many others paddling the same boat. Lloyd-Jones and Nazi bombs, Spurgeon and his invalid wife Susannah, Brainerd and the pain of tuberculosis, Baxter grieving over the death of his bride Margaret, Luther watching his daughter Magdalene die in his arms, Calvin losing both children and his wife Idelette, and many other testimonies along the way. Real ministers have experienced real suffering (i.e., “distractions”) throughout our tangled history and there’s no forecast that promises otherwise. Read and drink deeply from these ministers who walked before you. Chances are you will find great help, counsel, and encouragement along the way.

One thing stands out to me in all this. The old saying says, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” A great illustration of this comes in 1 Corinthians chapter 10. There, the Apostle rehearses the sordid web that is Israel’s faith and failure.  Paul says, in effect, don’t think for a minute that you’re any smarter than they were (1 Cor 10:12). However, there’s a positive here as well. In verse 13 he reminds us that we’re not alone in the struggle and our temptations are the same ones that litter the roads of history. Something else should be noticed in verse 13, the faithful covenant-keeping God continues to make His name great through your endurance. Brother, as you endure disruptive elders, wayward children, sinful congregants, or physical suffering, God is making His name great through perfecting you in weakness. Keep your fingers on the pulse of history and this will always be fresh in your mind.


[1] From the introduction to St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1996), 4.

[2] Ibid.

R. Kent Hughes on Preaching

Commenting on Colossians 1:25-29, “This charge has preaching as its main function, and specifically Biblical exposition.  The phrase ‘to present to you the word of God’ literally reads, ‘that i might complete the Word of God.”  The idea is to lay out the Word of God fully.  People cannot know Christ better without knowing the Word of God fully.  Preaching (exposition) was the heart of God’s call to Paul.

Preaching must open the Word of God.  Paul affirms here such preaching is primary to an authentic ministry.  There is no shortcut-it takes work.  Joseph Parker put it this way:

If i had talked all the week, I could not have preached on Sunday.  That is all.  Mystery there is none.  I have made my preaching work my delight, the very festival of my soul.  That is all.  Young brother, go thou and do likewise, and God bless thee.”

Knocking down the house of cards

C. S. Lewis has reminded me lately of a few truths as only the great Oxford don could do. About the only thing I have in common with Lewis is that we have watched first-hand as our wives suffer from cancer. After his wife Joy died from her struggle, Lewis penned a series of journals that would become his book A Grief Observed. I was able to read it a few mornings ago and found not a few poignant passages. In one entry, Lewis interacts with the common refrain that we often hear when suffering, “God has sent it to try us.” I couldn’t tell you how many people have lovingly reminded me of this in recent days. While there is ample biblical warrant for this (e.g., 1 Cor 10:1-13) it’s not the whole story. Lewis writes:

God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn’t. In this trial He makes us occupy the dock, the witness box, and the bench all at once. He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down.

Are you “burned-out” from ministry?

People-trouble is wearying indeed. It’s easy to grow cold and sarcastic about those particularly difficult people whose afflictions are largely self-induced. When a man takes the role of spiritual leader and comes in with selfish expectations, swift discouragement results when those expectations aren’t met. The church today calls it “burnout,” but in many cases it’s a simple matter of wanting ministry to function a certain way and resenting it when it doesn’t. Habitual cynics don’t make good shepherds. I pray for individuals who look at the church and see, not whiners and complainers to be avoided, but broken lives and needy souls who’ve been purchased by the precious blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:19). Hopeful optimism in ministry is like fresh water in the desert: People’s thirst for the tender care of a shepherd is fully satisfied.[1]


[1] Jerry Wragg, Exemplary Spiritual Leadership,130.

Jerry Wragg on Humility:

Humility is forged in the fires of an unmistakably clear vision of God, a biblically rich and abiding perspective of the cross, and a robust sense of man’s desperate sin-condition! When confronted with these realities, our deficiencies are properly magnified and successes are never allowed to take on a life of their own.

 Jerry Wragg, Exemplary Spiritual Leadership: Facing the Challenges, Escaping the Dangers, p. 33.

Leading leaders

This week is our annual elders retreat where we get away for a few days to read, pray, and sing together. We take a look at everything we have done, are doing, and hope to do with the goal of being more faithful shepherds of the flock. We plan for the meeting with a congregational family meeting where we take questions, ideas, and thoughts. We form a loose agenda and then put it all on the table for a few days. Every year we come away refreshed, challenged, and focused on the ministry before us.

I would like to hear what some of you do with your leadership in this regard. Do you have retreats, planning sessions, and the like? Please give us the details. What do you do for downtime? Please share in the comments.

New Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles: A Review

PE front 3

If you’re looking to add a time saving conservative commentary on the Pastoral Epistles to your library look no further than Dr. John Kitchen’s new work, The Pastoral Epistle for Pastors. This 600 page commentary has many useful tools included in it with hard working pastors and diligent church leaders clearly in mind.

The author of this new commentary is the pastor of Stow Alliance Fellowship and has been in pastoral ministry since 1987. He holds degrees from Crown College, Columbia Biblical Seminary and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. John Kitchen has authored five previous books, including Proverbs: A Mentor Commentary.

Let me begin by reviewing the end of this book first. Kitchen includes 5 helpful appendices at the end of his verse by verse commentary. Appendix A is a Pastor’s Self-Guided Study of the Pastoral Epistles. Appendix B is a Training Manual for Mentoring and Discipling Future Local Church Leaders. Appendix C is a Topical Index to the Ministry Maxims (practical helps). Appendix D contains many useful Preaching and Teaching Outlines. Appendix E has a profitable Annotated Bibliography section in it to assist the reader with future commentary purchases.

It appears to me that Kitchen is trying to bring the best of 3 commentary worlds into one helpful volume with this commentary (exegetical, expositional, and devotional styles). In the opinion of this reviewer Dr. Kitchen has succeeded. This is a book that every preaching pastor will want to have in his pastoral library collection. My copy has either been on my desk or on my shelf next to Mounce, Fee, & Towner’s commentaries.

Do not take my word for it however.   Here is another review from well known commentator Simon J Kistemaker. “Here is an excellent conservative commentary that aids pastors and counselors who preach and teach the Scriptures to church members and others. It is designed to coach the reader into digging deeper by asking and answering pointed questions that apply to one’s spiritual life. The appendices are a treasure that proves to be eminently helpful.”

Poll: Church discipline and non-members

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