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The best preparation for gospel ministry

george_whitefield

“Dear Gentlemen,

With unspeakable pleasure have I heard that there seems to be a general concern amongst you about the Things of God. . . . What great things may we now expect to see in New England, since it has pleased God to work so remarkably among the Sons of the Prophets?  Now we may expect a reformation indeed, since it is beginning at the house of God.  A dead Ministry will always make a dead People.  Whereas if ministers are warmed with the love of God themselves, they cannot but be instruments of diffusing that love amongst others.  This, this is the best preparation for the work whereunto you are to be called.  Learning without piety will only render you more capable of promoting the kingdom of the devil.  Henceforward therefore I hope you will enter into your studies, not to get a parish, not to be a polite preacher, but to be a great saint. . . . The more holy you are, the more will God delight to honor you.  He loves to make use of instruments like himself. . . .”

George Whitefield, writing to students at Harvard and Yale preparing for the ministry, 25 July 1741, quoted in Richard L. Bushman, editor, The Great Awakening: Documents on the Revival of Religion, 1740-1745 (New York, 1970), page 38.

(HT: Ray Ortlund)

Questions to Diagnose Your Leadership

leadership

In his booklet, Leadership: How to Guide Others with Integrity, Stephen Viars asks these instructive, recalibrating questions:

  1. Do people understand more of God’s mercy because of the way I respond to their mistakes?
  2. Do people understand more of God’s holiness because of my high ethical standards?
  3. Do people understand more of God’s patience because of the time I give to grow and develop?
  4. Do people understand more of God’s truthfulness because of the way I communicate honestly?
  5. Do people understand more of God’s faithfulness because they see me keep my promises?
  6. Do people understand more of God’s kindness because of the tone of my voice?
  7. Do people understand more of God’s love because I go out of my way to help and serve them as I lead?
  8. Do people understand more of God’s grace because I avoid being harsh and unreasonably demanding?

To what extent does my leadership actually model and teach something about the character of God?

(HT: Justin Taylor)

Turn Your Back on Sterile Aberrations

J.I. Packer’s words, as relevant today as they were in 1958:

packer“The honest way to commend God’s revealed truth to an unbelieving generation is not to disguise it as a word of man, and to act as if we could never be sure of it, but had to keep censoring and amending it at the behest of the latest scholarship, and dared not believe it further than historical agnosticism gives us leave; but to preach it in a way which shows the world that we believe it wholeheartedly, and to cry to God to accompany our witness with His Spirit, so that we too may preach ‘in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.’

The apologetic strategy that would attract converts by the flattery of accommodating the gospel to the ‘wisdom’ of sinful man was condemned by Paul nineteen centuries ago, and that past hundred years have provided a fresh demonstration of its bankruptcy.

The world may call its compromises ‘progressive’ and ‘enlightened’ (those are its names for all forms of thought that pander to its conceit); those who produce them will doubtless, by a natural piece of wishful thinking, call them ‘bold’ and ‘courageous,’ and perhaps ‘realistic’ and ‘wholesome,’ but the Bible condemns them as sterile aberrations. And the Church cannot hope to recover its power till it resolves to turn its back on them. (Fundamentalism and the Word of God, 168)”

(HT: Kevin DeYoung)

Knowledge Doesn’t Mean Maturity

Jonathan Parnell:

Our heads learn faster than our hearts, and that means danger.

Just because you can communicate an idea does not mean you have submitted yourself to it. And if we are not careful, we will mistake the communication part as the barometer of our maturity.

Paul Tripp calls it “academizing” the faith — when we define our spiritual growth by our biblical literacy. But as he warns, “You can be theologically astute and be dramatically spiritually immature.”

Get Paul’s book, Dangerous Calling (Crossway, 2012).

Where Is Your Identity?

Stop looking at yourself in carnival mirrors. This is one plea from Paul Tripp’s new book, Dangerous Calling. Carnival mirrors give us a distortion of who we really are, and they’re everywhere we look.

This is especially true of the pastor or ministry leader who is tempted to stay locked in on the horizontal level. The danger is to mistake our work to be what defines us — to be so fixed on the “carnival mirror of ministry” that we buy as our true identity the twisted depiction it reflects. Paul Tripp explains:

(HT: Desiring God)

The Secret to Ministry

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Every pastor should read this book!

Paul Tripp:

“I am more and more convinced that what gives a ministry its motivations, perseverance, humility, joy, tenderness, passion, and grace is the devotional life of the one doing ministry. When I daily admit how needy I am, daily meditate on the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and daily feed on the restorative wisdom of his Word, I am propelled to share with others the grace that I am daily receiving at the hands of my Saviour  There simply is no set of exegetical, homiletical, or leadership skills that can compensate for the absence of this in the life of a pastor. It is my worship that enables me to lead others to worship. It is my sense of need that leads me to tenderly pastor those in need of grace. It is my joy in my identity in Christ that leads me to want to help others live in the middle of what it means to be “in Christ.” In fact, one of the things that makes a sermon compelling is that the preacher is worshipping his way through his own sermon.”

Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry, p.35

(HT: Kevin DeYoung)

Recognising and dealing with insecurity in leaders

Some good observations from Ron Edmondson:

Here are 7 traits you may see in an insecure leader:

Defensive towards any challenge – The insecure leader flares his or her insecurity when ideas or decisions made are challenged in any way. They remain protective of their position or performance.

Protective of personal information – The insecure leader keeps a safe distance from followers. Their transparency is limited to only what can be discovered by observation. When personal information is revealed, it’s always shared in the most positive light.

Always positions his or herself out front – Insecure leaders assume all key assignments or anything which would give attention to the person completing them. They are careful not to give others the spotlight.

Limits other’s opportunities for advancement – The insecure leader wants to keep people under his or her control, so as to protect their position.

Refuses to handle delicate issues – Insecure leaders fear not being liked, so they often ignore the most difficult or awkward situations.

Makes everything a joke – One huge sign of an insecure leader is that they make a joke about everything. Joking is a coping mechanism used to bring attention and a false sense of being liked to the insecure leader.

Overly concerned about personal appearance – Some insecure leaders are never far from a mirror. They are overly conscious of their clothing. Afraid of not being in style or being accepted as hip or cool, they are constantly looking for the latest fashion trends or attempting to be cutting edge with the gadgets they carry.

Please understand, all of us have moments of insecurity. Leaders, especially if they want to be effective, must learn to recognize signs of insecurity, figure out the root causes of it, and attempt to limit that insecurity from affecting their leadership.

Here are 5 ways to deal with insecurity as a pastor or leader:

Avoid comparisons – Insecurity often develops when a person compares his or herself to another. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. Be yourself. Realize that who God designed you to be is not a mistake. Obviously, someone believed in your abilities as a leader. You need to stop comparing and start living in your own skin.

Concentrate on your abilities – What are you good at? Make a list of your good qualities. You probably have more than you think you do. In times of feeling insecure we often forget. Keep your list handy. It will help you to feel more confident if you focus more on the positives than the negatives.

Surround yourself with people who complement your weaknesses – Part of having a healthy organization is the strength that comes from different people. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are probably people who can do things you don’t feel comfortable doing. It’s not a sign of weakness to get others involved. It’s actually a sign of strength as a leader. (And its a more Biblical model of the church.)

Keep learning – Seek wisdom from other leaders. Read books. Take additional classes. Knowledge is power. The more you grow in information the more competent you will feel in your role. (By the way, when I feel overwhelmed or insecure, I read the stories like that of Gideon, Moses, Joseph, David, or Joshua repeatedly. Great encouragement.)

Ultimately, find your identity in what’s really secure – You have a relationship with Christ. Remember, “You can do all things through Christ who gives you strength”. If you are facing insecurity in leadership you may have to simply get better at walking by faith. “He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.” (1 Thessalonians 5:24)

Insecurity will weigh you down and hold you back as a pastor or leader. It will keep you from doing all you were called to do. Don’t let it!

How “Professionalization” in the Pastorate Has Changed in the Last 10 Years

From the new introduction to John Piper’s revised and expanded forthcoming edition of Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea for Radical Ministry (B&H, 2013):

Among younger pastors, the talk is less about therapeutic and managerial professionalization, and more about communication or contextualization.

The language of “professionalization” is seldom used in these regards, but there is quiet pressure felt by many pastors: Be as good as the professional media folks, especially the cool anti-heroes and the most subtle comedians.

This is not the overstated professionalism of the three-piece suit and the power offices of the upper floors, but the understated professionalism of torn blue jeans and the savvy inner ring.

This professionalism is not learned in pursuing an MBA, but by being in the know about the ever-changing entertainment and media world.

This is the professionalization of ambience, and tone, and idiom, and timing, and banter. It is more intuitive and less taught. More style and less technique. More feel and less force.

If this can be called professionalism, what does it have in common with the older version? Everything that matters. The way I tried to get at the problem ten years ago was to ask some questions. Let me expand that list. Only this time think old and new professionalism.

  • Is there professional praying?
  • Professional trusting in God’s promises?
  • Professional weeping over souls?
  • Professional musing on the depths of revelation?
  • Professional rejoicing in the truth?
  • Professional praising God’s name?
  • Professional treasuring the riches of Christ?
  • Professional walking by the Spirit?
  • Professional exercise of spiritual gifts?
  • Professional dealing with demons?
  • Professional pleading with backsliders?
  • Professional perseverance in a hard marriage?
  • Professional playing with children?
  • Professional courage in the face of persecution?
  • Professional patience with everyone?

These are not marginal activities in the pastoral life. They are vital.

You can read the whole excerpt here.

(HT: Justin Taylor)

Pastors: Recommit Yourselves to What You Were Ordained to Do

Justin Taylor:

In a day when many pastors are downplaying serious study of God’s word and the necessary time for their own sermon preparation, I found this quote from Andrew Perves bracing and prophetic:

To ministers let me say this as strongly as I can. Preach Christ, preach Christ, preach Christ.

Get out of your offices and get into your studies.

Quit playing office manager and program director, quit staffing committees, and even right now recommit yourselves to what you were ordained to do, namely the ministry of the Word and sacraments.

Pick up good theology books again: hard books, classical texts, great theologians.

Claim the energy and time to study for days and days at a time.

Disappear for long hours because you are reading Athanasius on the person of Jesus Christ or Wesley on sanctification or Augustine on the Trinity or Calvin on the Christian life or Andrew Murray on the priesthood of Christ. Then you will have something to say that’s worth hearing.

Remember that exegesis is for preaching and teaching; it has no other use.

So get out those tough commentaries and struggle in depth with the texts.

Let most of what you do be dominated by the demands of the sermon as if your whole life and reason for being is to preach Christ, because it is.

Claim a new authority for the pulpit, the Word of God, Jesus Christ, over you and your people.

Commit yourself again to ever more deeply becoming a careful preacher of Christ.

Don’t preach to grow your congregation; preach to bear witness to what the Lord is doing, and let him grow your church.

Dwell in him, abide in him, come to know him ever more deeply and convertedly.

Tell the people what he has to say to them, what he is doing among them and within them, and what it is he wants them to share in.

He is up to something in your neighborhood, if you have the eyes to see and the ears to hear.

Develop a christological hermeneutic for all you do and say. Why? Because there is no other name, that’s why.

Andrew Purves, The Crucifixion of Ministry: Surrendering Our Ambitions to the Service of Christ (IVP, 2007), 44-45.

A Hateful Delusion

CH Spurgeon, The Sword and the Trowel, 1876:

Consciousness of self-importance is a hateful delusion, but one into which we fall as naturally as weeds grow on a dunghill. We cannot be used of the Lord without it leading to dreaming of personal greatness, thinking ourselves almost indispensable to the church, pillars of the cause, and foundations of the temple of God.

We are nothing and nobodies, but that we do not think so is very evident, for as soon as we are put on the shelf we begin anxiously to enquire, ‘How will the work go on without me?’ As well might the fly on the coach wheel enquire, ‘How will the mails be carried without me?’

–Charles Spurgeon, as quoted in Iain Murray, Spurgeon vs. Hyper-Calvinism: The Battle for Gospel Preaching (Banner of Truth, 1995), 20

The title to the editorial in which Spurgeon wrote this was: ‘Laid Aside: Why?’

(HT: Dane Ortlund)

Greater Works Than Jesus

In John 14:12 Jesus tells his disciples that believers will do “greater works” than Jesus himself did on earth. Whoa, wait, what?

So how are believers’ works “greater” than Jesus’ works on earth? John Piper explains in this three-minute clip from his most recent sermon:

 

(HT: Tony Reinke)

Jesus Chooses and Uses Failures

John Bloom:

“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was grieved. Sitting on the beach after breakfast, Jesus had just asked him for the third time if he loved him. Peter had already wholeheartedly answered yes twice. What else was he supposed to say?

With these questions, the Lord was putting his finger on a very tender wound in Peter’s heart. Peter’s failure on the night of Jesus’ trial had been simply horrible. In the hour of his Lord’s greatest anguish, Peter had denied even knowing him. This sin shook Peter to the core of his being.

Jesus had told him that he would do it.1 But in the Upper Room, over the Passover meal, with his fellow disciples around him, Peter did not believe it. He could still hear himself proclaim, “I will lay down my life for you.”2

He had had no idea how weak he really was. He had imagined himself boldly standing before the Sanhedrin side by side with Jesus, come what may. But that night, as Jesus was doing that very thing, Peter couldn’t even stand before a servant girl. “You also are not one of this man’s disciples are you?” He had completely caved: “I am not.”3

I am not. Those words had kept Peter up at night. He was supposed to be a rock.4 That night he had crumbled into pieces. He was not who he thought he was. Peter had never been less confident in himself.

So when Jesus questioned Peter’s love for a third time that morning, Peter grieved that he might have lost the Savior’s trust. He had failed. But he did love him. All he could do was appeal to Jesus’ omniscience:

“Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”

And Jesus did. In fact, later Peter realized what Jesus had done in that painful conversation. He had not doubted Peter’s love at all. Rather, he had allowed Peter to confess his love for every wretched denial he had made on that dreadful night. Amazing grace.

And the Lord had a word for Peter. In the future there would be another opportunity to confess his love publicly in the face of great cost. And then he said, “Follow me.”

________

Shame over past failures and sins can haunt and inhibit us in many ways. And Satan seeks to steal and destroy our faith by shoving our failures in our face. But Jesus intends to redeem us completely.

When Jesus chose you to be his disciple, he foresaw your future failures as sure as he foresaw Peter’s. We may not want to believe that we could deny Jesus by engaging in a sin that contradicts everything we believe. But Jesus knows what is in us.5 So he exhorts us along with Peter to “watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”6

And when we do fail, we must remember what Jesus said to Peter before his failure: “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”7 Peter was going to sin — miserably. But Jesus had prayed for him. Jesus’ prayer was stronger than Peter’s sin, and it’s stronger than our sin too. “He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.”8

And Jesus is the great restorer of failures who repent. Jesus had said to Peter “when you have turned again [repented], strengthen your brothers.” And there on the beach he again gave Peter the greatest invitation any of us can receive on earth: “follow me.” The failure was to be left behind. There was kingdom work to do, and eternal life to enjoy.

Peter’s failure did not define him. And ours will not define us. They are horrible, humbling stumbles along the path of following Jesus, who paid for them all on the cross.

And Jesus specializes in transforming failures into rocks of strength for his church.

Occupied With Christ

If I allow my work to get between my heart and the Master, it will be of little worth. We can only effectually serve Christ as we are enjoying Him. It is while the heart dwells upon His powerful attractions that the hands perform the most acceptable service to His name; nor is there anyone who can minister Christ with unction, freshness, and power to others, if he is not feeding upon Christ in the secret of his own soul. True, he may preach a sermon, deliver a lecture, utter prayers, write a book, and go through the entire routine of outward service, and yet not minister Christ. The man who will present Christ to others must be occupied with Christ for himself.

C.H. Mackintosh, Genesis to DeuteronomyNotes on the Pentateuch, 1862

(HT: Allsufficientgrace)

Rest in God and Find Your Focus in Ministry

 

Paul Trip writes:

Pastor, many things nip away at your attention and schedule. You know many people who love you and have a wonderful plan for your life. You know that many conflicting motivations, thoughts, and desires give shape to your life and ministry. Sometimes you lose sight of why you’re doing what you’re doing. So this question is vital: do you live with singleness of focus? Is your life and ministry shaped, structured, and directed by the pursuit of one glorious, fulfilling, heart-satisfying thing?

We don’t live by instinct. Our lives are directed by the thoughts and motives of our hearts. We are always interpreting, and we are always desiring. We live in perpetual pursuit of something. We are always evaluating our progress toward that thing we think will give us life. We are always in the service of some kind of dream. Maybe this is the best way to say it: in every moment of life and ministry, you and I are living for something.

Creator and Creation

Scriptures like Psalm 27 and Matthew 6:19-33 remind us that everything a human could live for falls into two categories. The first category is the creator category. When I am living and ministering for something in the creator category, I’m living for what can be found only in God. It means my life is shaped and directed by my resting in the pursuit of his grace, glory, goodness, and plan on earth. Another name for this category is the kingdom of God.

The second category is the creation category. When I am living and ministering in the creation category, I’m seeking to find my identity, meaning, and purpose in something that has been created. So I look to my ministry, gifts, success, experiences, friends, possessions, congregation, or a position to satisfy my heart. Another name for this is the kingdom of self.

What does all of this have to do with pastoral focus? Only when I hook my life to the glory and grace of God and derive my identity from him can I truly live and minister with singleness of focus for the long run. Only God who has the power to satisfy my heart. I was made for him. I was made to acknowledge his presence, rest in his love, and pledge allegiance to his purposes. Only then will my soul find satisfaction and my heart find rest.

On the other hand, when I seek to satisfy my heart by pursuing a seemingly endless catalog of God-replacements, my heart will be anything but satisfied. So I will abandon one dissatisfying creation dream for another, only to have that one leave me empty as well. I’ll run from my friends to my ministry or possessions in the frantic but impossible pursuit of what can be found only in the Lord. My life will be characterized by fickleness rather than singleness of focus, because I was created to be satisfied in God alone.

Pastor, is your life and ministry is shaped by one great desire, a desire for the Lord? Or does your ministry reflect a constantly changing resulting from asking the creation to offer what only the Creator can give? Your heart will rest only when he is the one thing that gives your life focus.

One thing have I asked of the LORD,

that will I seek after:

that I may dwell in the house of the LORD

all the days of my life,

to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD

and to inquire in his temple.

Psalm 27:4

How to be Used for God’s Glory

I love this from Jared Wilson:

Something instructive about the way God glorifies himself in the gospel power available to trusters in him found in YHWH’s call on Moses.

We can break down Moses’ five objections/questions and God’s five responses this way:

1. Who am I to go for you?
Never mind who you are. That’s irrelevant.

2. Who are you for me to go for you?
I am GOD.

3. What if they don’t believe me?
It’s not your accomplishments you’re testifying to, but mine. Here, have some miracles.

4. Me no talk good.
I use junk and jackasses all the time.

5. Send somebody else!
I’ll send somebody with you, not instead of you.

So now we can make 5 basic assumptions about the way God uses Christians to bring glory to himself. Here are the basic qualifications to be used by God:

1. First, be a nobody.
2. Secondly, don’t worry about your accomplishments or ability to persuade: what God has done — namely, in the historical good news of Jesus Christ — is a powerful persuasion all its own, and the Spirit will control who it stirs.
3. Thirdly, know God.
4. Fourthly, be unimpressive on your own.
5. Fifth, don’t go it alone.

“I never made a sacrifice”

“If you knew the satisfaction of performing a duty as well as the gratitude to God which the missionary must always feel in being chosen for so noble and sacred a calling, you would have no hesitation in embracing it.  For my own part, I have never ceased to rejoice that God has appointed me to such an office.  People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa. . . . Anxiety, sickness, suffering or danger now and then, with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us pause and cause the spirit to waver and the soul to sink; but let this only be for a moment.  All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall hereafter be revealed in and for us.  I never made a sacrifice.  Of this we ought not to talk when we remember the great sacrifice which He made, who left His Father’s throne on high to give Himself for us.”

David Livingstone, quoted in J. H. Worchester, The Life of David Livingstone (Chicago, 1888), page 46. Italics original.

(HT: Ray Ortlund)

The best preparation for gospel ministry

“Dear Gentlemen,

With unspeakable pleasure have I heard that there seems to be a general concern amongst you about the Things of God. . . . What great things may we now expect to see in New England, since it has pleased God to work so remarkably among the Sons of the Prophets?  Now we may expect a reformation indeed, since it is beginning at the house of God.  A dead Ministry will always make a dead People.  Whereas if ministers are warmed with the love of God themselves, they cannot but be instruments of diffusing that love amongst others.  This, this is the best preparation for the work whereunto you are to be called.  Learning without piety will only render you more capable of promoting the kingdom of the devil.  Henceforward therefore I hope you will enter into your studies, not to get a parish, not to be a polite preacher, but to be a great saint. . . . The more holy you are, the more will God delight to honor you.  He loves to make use of instruments like himself. . . .”

George Whitefield, writing to students at Harvard and Yale preparing for the ministry, 25 July 1741, quoted in Richard L. Bushman, editor, The Great Awakening: Documents on the Revival of Religion, 1740-1745 (New York, 1970), page 38.

(HT: Ray Ortlund)

The Cross, Our Life, and Christian Ministry

1 Corinthians 2:2:

For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

Roy Ciampa and Brian Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians (Eerdmans, 2010), page 114:

In contrast to “the wise” in Corinth and in the church, who could expatiate endlessly on all sorts of subjects, all Paul wanted to talk about was “the cross of Christ” (1:17). On first blush this may seem rather narrow and limited. After all, Paul spent eighteen months in Corinth and would have engaged in pastoral work alongside evangelism. However, as 1 Corinthians 1:10–4:17 itself demonstrates, for Paul even the most practical ills, such as divisions and problems of leadership in the church, are remedied by focusing on the cross. For Paul, Christ crucified is more than just the means of forgiveness and salvation; rather, it informs his total vision of the Christian life and ministry.

(HT: Tony Reinke)

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