Mark Dever: Author and theologian David Wells reported in his 1994 book God in the Wasteland that “[Seminary] students are dissatisfied with the current status of the church. They believe it has lost its vision, and they want more from it than it is giving them.” But dissatisfaction is not enough, as Wells himself agreed. We need something more. We need positively to recover what the church is to be. What is the church in her nature and essence? What is to distinguish and mark the church? A HISTORY OF CHURCH HEALTH Christians have long talked of the “marks of the church.” The topic of the church did not become a center of widespread formal theological debate until the Reformation. Before the sixteenth century, the church was more assumed than discussed. It was thought of as the means of grace, a reality that existed as the presupposition of the rest of theology. With the advent of the radical criticisms of Martin Luther
Darryl Dash: “How’s ministry going?” I confess I never know how to answer this question. I sometimes offer the response I once heard: “Reasonably well, all things considered.” If I had the time to explain, I think I’d offer a three-part answer: it’s hard, joyous, and difficult to measure. Ministry Is Hard I’m preaching through 2 Corinthians right now. A group of super-apostles invaded the Corinthian church (2 Corinthians 11:5). They were powerful, impressive, and successful. Paul confronts the Corinthians with the truth: ministry is rarely impressive. It’s hard. It’s supposed to be. “We were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself,” Paul writes (2 Corinthians 1:8). “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies” (2 Corinthians
Michael Kelley: Christians are communicators. While some Christians may be more or less gifted in communication, all Christians are “witnesses.” Since we have been born again into Christ and witness personally the power of the gospel, we are to bear witness of what we have seen and heard: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). It is expected. Jesus did not say “you might be” or “from time to time you could be,” but instead “you will.” We have been issued a divine summon, and we must appear and testify. This is not optional. All of us, whether we are a plumber or a preacher, a poet or a pastor, are communicators of the gospel. We communicate truths about God and His Word. We communicate the gospel in our homes, our jobs, with our
Darryl Dash: 1 Peter 5 is a goldmine for pastors. I’m intrigued by how Peter introduces himself: “So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ…” (1 Peter 5:1) Not only is Peter a fellow elder, but he’s also a witness of the sufferings of Christ. Why does Peter write about the sufferings of Christ as he begins to address elders? Two reasons. The Cross Is All We Have In the ministry of pastors, the cross is all we have. Without the cross, we have no message, no power, no confidence, and no hope. Peter heads to the cross because it’s impossible for him to imagine ministry without it. Peter heard Jesus predict his sufferings. He heard Jesus’ family call him crazy. He saw Jesus become popular, and he saw the crowds turn against him. He sat at Jesus’ last Passover meal, and he watched Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, and trial.
Darryl Dash: The older I get, the more I try to remember the basics. This is what I appreciate in the pastors I love. These are the qualities I want to see in my life. A deepening love for the Lord — Nobody should be more amazed by the depth of God’s grace than the pastor. The thing that people need most from a pastor isn’t strategy or charisma. It’s a heart that is alive to the triune God. A genuine, loving marriage — I remember seeing Jill Briscoe laugh at Stu Briscoe’s jokes. It told me more about him as a man and pastor than if I’d read every book he’d written. Rejoice in the wife of your youth. A ministry committed to the Word — I take 1 Peter 4:11 seriously. If you speak, speak God’s Word. Don’t give us your thoughts or musings, or repackage something you read or heard. Give us God’s Word. Gratitude and love
Eric Geiger: Researchers and leadership authors continually contend that the best leaders are those who love and care for those they lead. Examples include: In his seminal book Servant Leadership, published over forty years ago, Robert Greenleaf coined the term “servant leader” and painted a picture that the most effective leaders love and serve those they lead. In his popular books Emotional Intelligence and Primal Leadership, researcher and author Daniel Goleman writes that the most effective leaders are emotionally intelligent. They have the ability to manage their emotions, to genuinely connect with people, to offer kindness and empathy, to lead with joy and inspiration, and to display the master skill of patience. In the recent research-based leadership book Return on Character, Fred Kiel reveals that better performing companies are led by leaders who are filled with integrity, compassion, and forgiveness. Christian leaders should be the most loving leaders. God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the
“When I was a young man, I heard D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones comment that he would not go across the street to hear himself preach. Now that I am close to the age he was when I heard him, I am beginning to understand. It is rare for me to finish a sermon without feeling somewhere between slightly discouraged and moderately depressed that I have not preached with more unction, that I have not articulated these glorious truths more powerfully and with greater insight, and so forth. But I cannot allow that to drive me to despair; rather, it must drive me to a greater grasp of the simple and profound truth that we preach and visit and serve under the gospel of grace, and God accepts us because of his Son. I must learn to accept myself not because of my putative successes but because of the merits of God’s Son. The ministry is so open-ended that one never
Sam Storms: What accounts for the relational disasters, financial corruption, and moral failures that continue to erupt in our local churches? There are undoubtedly numerous explanations that could be cited, but I want to focus on one that most people typically ignore: bad and unbiblical ecclesiology. I have in mind those churches in which the senior pastor is given excessive and often unbridled authority and remains largely unaccountable for his decisions. This is often the result of an appeal to the Old Testament as a model for local church government. Joshua 3:7 comes immediately to mind. There God said to Joshua: “Today I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with you.” Some refer to this as the “Moses Model” of local church government. The almost unilateral authority that God invested in Moses, and in his successor, Joshua, is embraced and
“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. . .
In his booklet, Leadership: How to Guide Others with Integrity, Stephen Viars asks these instructive, recalibrating questions: Do people understand more of God’s mercy because of the way I respond to their mistakes? Do people understand more of God’s holiness because of my high ethical standards? Do people understand more of God’s patience because of the time I give to grow and develop? Do people understand more of God’s truthfulness because of the way I communicate honestly? Do people understand more of God’s faithfulness because they see me keep my promises? Do people understand more of God’s kindness because of the tone of my voice? Do people understand more of God’s love because I go out of my way to help and serve them as I lead? 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)
J.I. Packer’s words, as relevant today as they were in 1958: “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
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).
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)
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
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
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.
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
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)
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)
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