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Pastors Today: A New Website for Pastors

Greg Strand – January 8, 2014 2 Comments

Thom Rainer, president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources, loves the church and pastors. In his ministry roles, he is committed to serving both.

This week he began a new website devoted to pastors and pastoral ministry: Pastors Today. As he notes, in America there are 400,000 churches, which means there are at least that many pastors. Rainer notes four aims of this website.

  1. We want to express love for pastors.
  2. We want to encourage pastors.
  3. We want to inform pastors.
  4. We want to resource pastors.

This website will be a helpful resource to and for pastors.

HT: Michael Strand

Being Examples, Not Domineering

Greg Strand – July 26, 2013 1 Comment

Peter writes as an elder to fellow elders the following exhortation: “So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory (1 Pet. 5:1-4).

Peter gives one main exhortation: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight.

Peter brackets this section of Scripture with references to Christ: His sufferings and as the chief Shepherd.

Peter concludes this exhortation with a promise (or condemnation if the negatives are more reflective in your ministry of exercising oversight because the chief Shepherd sees, knows and will return and judge): you will receive the unfading crown of glory.

In between, Peter states how elders are and are not to exercise oversight, (I reverse the way in which Peter writes this focusing on the positive, which is then followed by the negative):

  • Willingly, as God would have you, not under compulsion.
  • Eagerly, not for shameful gain.
  • Being examples to the flock, not domineering over those in your charge.

Sam Storms, Lead Pastor for Preaching and Vision at Bridgeway Church, Oklahoma City, OK, focuses on the last one and lists the ways in which a pastor can sin against Christ and His redeemed people in the congregation by being domineering. He refers to such individuals as “pastoral bullies.”

A man can “domineer” or “lord it over” his flock by intimidating them into doing what he wants done by holding over their heads the prospect of loss of stature and position in the church.

A pastor domineers whenever he threatens them with stern warnings of the discipline and judgment of God, even though there is no biblical basis for doing so.

A pastor domineers whenever he threatens them with public exposure of their sin should they not conform to his will and knuckle under to his plans.

A pastor domineers whenever he uses the sheer force of his personality to overwhelm others and coerce their submission.

A pastor domineers whenever he uses slick verbiage or eloquence to humiliate people into feeling ignorant or less competent than they really are.

A pastor domineers whenever he presents himself as super-spiritual (his views came about only as the result of extensive prayer and fasting and seeking God. How could anyone then possibly disagree with him?).

A pastor domineers whenever he exploits the natural tendency people have to elevate their spiritual leaders above the average Christian. That is to say, many Christians mistakenly think that a pastor is closer to God and more in tune with the divine will. The pastor often takes advantage of this false belief to expand his power and influence.

A pastor domineers whenever he gains a following and support against all dissenters by guaranteeing those who stand with him that they will gain from it, either by being brought into his inner circle or by some form of promotion.

A pastor domineers by widening the alleged gap between “clergy” and “laity.” In other words, he reinforces in them the false belief that he has a degree of access to God which they don’t.

Related to the former is the way some pastors will make it appear that they hold sway or power over the extent to which average lay people can experience God’s grace. He presents himself in subtle (not overt) ways as the mediator between the grace of God and the average believer. In this way he can secure their loyalty for his agenda.

He domineers by building into people a greater loyalty to himself than to God. Or he makes it appear that not to support him is to work at cross purposes with God.

He domineers by teaching that he has a gift that enables him to understand Scripture in a way they cannot. They are led to believe they cannot trust their own interpretive conclusions and must yield at all times to his.

He domineers by short circuiting due process, by shutting down dialogue and discussion prematurely, by not giving all concerned an opportunity to voice their opinion.

He domineers by establishing an inviolable barrier between himself and the sheep. He either surrounds himself with staff who insulate him from contact with the people or withdraws from the daily affairs of the church in such a way that he is unavailable and unreachable.

Related to the above is the practice of some in creating a governmental structure in which the senior pastor is accountable to no one, or if he is accountable it is only to a small group of very close friends and fellow elders who stand to profit personally from his tenure as pastor.

He domineers by viewing the people as simply a means to the achieving of his own personal ends. Ministry is reduced to exploitation. The people exist to “serve his vision” rather than he and all the people together existing to serve the vision of the entire church.

He domineers by making people feel unsafe and insecure should they desire to voice an objection to his proposals and policies.

He domineers by convincing them, ever so subtly, that their spiritual welfare is dependent on his will. To cross him is to cross God!

He domineers by misinterpreting and misapplying to himself the OT command: “Don’t touch God’s anointed.”

He domineers by building a culture of legalism rather than one of grace. People are thus motivated to embrace his authority and bow to his will based on extra biblical rules that supposedly are the criteria for true spirituality.

He domineers by arguing or acting as if his movements and decisions are ultimately determinative of the spiritual welfare of others (cf. 2 Cor. 1:23-25).

He domineers when he leads people to believe that their faith hinges (i.e., rises or falls) upon his life and decisions.

He domineers when he uses people as a means to his own satisfaction rather than enabling them to experience satisfaction in Christ alone.

Questions to Ponder

Which of these do you check off? To which responses are you tempted? Why?

If this is the list of what the negative trait of domineering might mean, of what would your list consist if it focused on the positive trait of “being examples?”

In yesterday’s post we highlighted the interview with Wess Stafford as he addressed the importance of the gospel of Jesus Christ being at the center of one’s life and ministry. This does not just happen but requires being convinced of its priority in doctrine and practice, and being intentional and purposeful in ensuring that the gospel is at the center of everything. Often the best “test” of this is to ask others what they observe about your passion, what they hear from your lips, and what they observe in your life. To get to the heart of this is to ask what you are most excited and passionate about. That will reveal what is at the center of your heart and priorities.

Often we say the gospel is, but then we press on to other things that are perceived to be important, and they probably are, and the next thing that is necessary to do. But the gospel is never not to be at the center of all of life and ministry. One never moves beyond it or moves on to other issues and ministries. Instead one embraces the gospel of Jesus Christ and then works, ponders and prays toward the application of that gospel to all of life and ministry. It is always foundational. This is why that one must acknowledge, affirm, proclaim and live both the centrality of the gospel in doctrine, in proclamation and in life and ministry, i.e. its functional centrality.

In light of this important truth, and building on what we learned yesterday about finishing well, here are additional questions:

  • For those who are young, just beginning in ministry, what are the disciplines and habits you are establishing to ensure this happens? From whom are you learning? Be assured it will not happen by default, but it will by Spirit-prompted/empowered design.
  • For those who are somewhere in the middle ages of life, those who have been in ministry for a number of years, what do the disciplines and habits reveal? Have you established a good path, or is it necessary to make some mid-stream adjustments? If you do not, will there be gospel regret when you reach the end? Be reassured it is not too late to make those changes. At this point, the temptation is to take an attitude of “been there done that” without even needing to seek the Lord or to remain dependent on Him or to trust that the gospel is the power of God.
  • For those who are towards the end of the ministry race, those who are soon to retire, what is required to ensure you finish and transition well? What does your life and ministry reveal about the gospel and its centrality? What are you doing to ensure that the centrality of the gospel does not end with you or your ministry? There are two kinds of temptation at this stage. One is to think that it is either too late to change or to make corrections or confessions. All of these are not signs of weakness but of strength, recognizing that ministry is not about the pastor but about the Person, the Lord Jesus Christ. The other is to think that everything that remains was about the pastor and to conclude that as long as everything is running smoothly and there are no major problems, all is well. There may be some truth to that, but if people don’t love the Lord Jesus Christ and the gospel more than you, the pastor, you have laid the wrong foundation. It is the gospel of Jesus Christ that is the only foundation. There is no other.
  • For those who are retired from vocational ministry, what can you continue to do to give your life and service, though probably in a non-vocational capacity, to the gospel, in life, in proclamation and in ministry? There are also a couple of temptations for those in this stage of life. One temptation is to think I have “paid my dues,” I am going to enjoy retirement. There is no such retirement! There is another temptation in which a retired pastor senses a need to be preeminent or is jealous for the people’s love or affection. This is misplaced in that for the one who loves the Lord Jesus Christ and the gospel, what matters is that the Lord and the gospel are preeminent, not self, and we are grateful to be stewards of it in whatever capacity serves the gospel best. We are jars of clay, and grateful to be so, for in this reality the surpassing power and greatness of God’s gospel is seen in our own weakness, dependency, and delighting in this truth.

Where are you in these various stages? How would you respond to these questions?

“So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Cor. 3:7).

“But one thing I do: ‘forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13b-14).

Part Two: Sinclair Ferguson’s “A Preacher’s Decalogue”

6. Speak Much of Sin and Grace

Spiritual surgery must be done within the context of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. Only by seeing our sin do we come to see the need for and wonder of grace. But exposing sin is not the same thing as unveiling and applying grace. We must be familiar with and exponents of its multifaceted power, and know how to apply it to a variety of spiritual conditions.

Truth to tell, exposing sin is easier than applying grace; for, alas, we are more intimate with the former than we sometimes are with the latter. Therein lies our weakness.

7. Use “the Plain Style”

C. S. Lewis’s counsel on writing applies equally to preaching:

Use language that makes clear what you really mean; prefer plain words that are direct to long words that are vague. Avoid abstract words when you can use concrete. Don’t use adjectives to tell us how you want us to feel—make us feel that by what you say! Don’t use words that are too big for their subject. Don’t use “infinitely” when you mean “very,” otherwise you will have no word left when you really do mean infinite!

In a similar vein, here is J. C. Ryle’s counsel: “Have a clear knowledge of what you want to say. Use simple words. Employ a simple sentence structure. Preach as though you had asthma! Be direct. Make sure you illustrate what you are talking about.”

Of course, there are exceptions to these principles. But why would I think I am one? A brilliant surgeon may be able to perform his operation with poor instruments; so can the Holy Spirit. But since in preaching we are nurses in the operating room, our basic responsibility is to have clean, sharp, sterile scalpels for the Spirit to do his surgery.

8. Find Your Own Voice

Yes, we may—must—learn from others, positively and negatively. Further, it is always important when others preach to listen to them with both ears open: one for personal nourishment through the ministry of the word, but the other to try to detect the principles that make this preaching helpful to people. . . . We ought not to become clones. Some men never grow as preachers because the “preaching suit” they have borrowed does not actually fit them or their gifts. . . . The marriage of our personality with another’s preaching style can be a recipe for being dull and lifeless. So it is worth taking the time in an ongoing way to try to assess who and what we really are as preachers in terms of strengths and weaknesses.

9. Learn How to Transition

How do we do this? To begin with by expounding the Scriptures in a way that makes clear that the indicatives of grace ground the imperatives of faith and obedience and also effect them. This we must learn to do in a way that brings out of the text how the text itself teaches how transformation takes place and how the power of the truth itself sanctifies (cf. John 17:17).

Do we—far less our congregations—know “how to”? Have we told them they need to do it, but left them to their own devices rather than model it in our preaching?

Some years ago, at the end of a church conference, the local minister, whom I knew from his student days, said to me, “Just before I let you go tonight, will you do one last thing? Will you take me through the steps that are involved so that we learn to mortify sin?”

I was touched—that he would broach what was obviously a personal as well as pastoral concern with me, but perhaps even more so by his assumption that I would be able to help. (How often we who struggle are asked questions we ourselves need to answer!) He died not long afterwards, and I think of his question as his legacy to me, causing me again and again to see that we need to exhibit what John “Rabbi” Duncan of New College said was true of Jonathan Edwards’s preaching: “His doctrine was all application, and his application was all doctrine.”

10. Love Your People

John Newton wrote that his congregation would take almost anything from him, however painful, because they knew “I mean to do them good.”

This is a litmus test for our ministry. It means that my preparation is a more sacred enterprise than simply satisfying my own love of study; it means that my preaching will have characteristics about it, difficult to define but nevertheless sensed by my hearers, that reflect the apostolic principle:

What we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. (2 Cor 4:5)

We were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. (1 Thess 2:8)

In Jesus Christ, the church’s One True Preacher, message and messenger are one. He is the Preacher, and also the message. That is not true of us. But, in union with Christ (and we preach “in Christ” as well as live and die “in Christ”), a coalescence of a lesser sort takes place: the truth of the message is conveyed by the preacher whose spirit is conformed to the grace of God in the message. How can it be otherwise when preaching involves “God making his appeal through us” (2 Cor 5:20)? “A preacher’s life,” wrote Thomas Brooks, “should be a commentary upon his doctrine; his practice should be the counterpane [counterpart] of his sermons. Heavenly doctrines should always be adorned with a heavenly life.”

My challenge – This whole article was helpful and challenging. I appreciated three key quotes from faithful pastors/preachers/theologians:

  • I must not be an illiterate. But I do need to be a homo unius libri – a man of one Book.
  • We need to exhibit what John “Rabbi” Duncan of New College said was true of Jonathan Edwards’ preaching: “His doctrine was all application, and his application was all doctrine.”
  • A preacher’s life, wrote Thomas Brooks, should be a commentary upon his doctrine; his practice should be the counterpane [counterpart] of his sermons. Heavenly doctrines should always be adorned with a heavenly life.

A reminder – one is never too old to learn these important components of faithful and fruitful ministry of the gospel.

A nudge – these are the kinds of helps that are important to pass on to those beginning in ministry as they establish the habits, patterns and disciplines of ministry that will, by God’s grace, serve them and God’s people well for a lifetime of ministry. Where we are now, what are the things we had wished a godly mentor would have imparted to us as we began a ministry of preaching? Make sure you pass those on to younger pastors and leaders today!

A couple of years ago Sinclair Ferguson wrote an extremely wise and helpful article entitled “A Preacher’s Decalogue Themelios 36/2 (August 2011).  This piece was generated by Ferguson’s reflections on this question as he pondered his own life as a minister and preacher of the gospel: “What Ten Commandments, what rule of preaching-life, do I wish someone had written for me to provide direction, shape, ground rules, that might have helped me keep going in the right direction and gaining momentum in ministry along the way?” Ferguson is Senior Minister at First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, South Carolina, and Professor of Systematic Theology at Redeemer Seminary in Dallas, Texas, prior to which he taught Systematic Theology for many years at Westminster Theological Seminary. Ferguson is a true pastor-theologian in that he has simultaneously served both in the church and the academy.

What follows are the “ten commandments” Ferguson compiled from his forty years of ministry. I will include brief excerpts under each of the points, and include Ferguson’s complete statement on his final point. Since this is long, I will include five today, and follow with the rest tomorrow. I conclude with a few challenges.

1. Know Your Bible Better

I must not be an illiterate. But I do need to be homo unius libri—a man of one Book.

2. Be a Man of Prayer

Alas for me if I don’t see the need for prayer or for encouraging and teaching my people to see its importance. I may do well (I have done well enough thus far, have I not?) . . . but not with eternal fruit.

3. Don’t Lose Sight of Christ

. . . systematic exposition did not die on the cross for us; nor did biblical theology, nor even systematic theology or hermeneutics or whatever else we deem important as those who handle the exposition of Scripture. I have heard all of these in preaching . . . without a center in the person of the Lord Jesus.

Paradoxically not even the systematic preaching through one of the Gospels guarantees Christ-crucified centered preaching.

4. Be Deeply Trinitarian

Our people need to know that, through the Spirit, their fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. Would they know that from my preaching?

5. Use Your Imagination

Imagination in preaching means being able to understand the truth well enough to translate or transpose it into another kind of language or musical key in order to present the same truth in a way that enables others to see it, understand its significance, feel its power—to do so in a way that gets under the skin, breaks through the barriers, grips the mind, will, and affections so that they not only understand the word used but feel their truth and power.

What is the secret here? It is, surely, learning to preach the word to yourself, from its context into your context, to make concrete in the realities of our lives the truth that came historically to others’ lives. This is why the old masters used to speak about sermons going from their lips with power only when they had first come to their own hearts with power.