Jimmy Davis: We rightly expect our pastors to spend hours preparing before they preach on Sundays. But what should the people in the pew be doing? How can God’s people prepare to receive the message the preacher has prepared? While reading through Acts, I noticed a pattern of preparation tucked away in chapter 10. When Peter arrived to preach the gospel to Cornelius, he was welcomed with these words: “I sent for you at once, and you have been kind enough to come. Now therefore we are all here in the presence of God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord” (Acts 10:33). Cornelius displays the desire we ought to have as we wait on God’s Word to be delivered to us. We can prepare our hearts for preaching by cultivating five characteristics. 1. Eagerness to Hear from God As soon as Cornelius heard from the angel that God had a message for him, he “sent for
5 Effects of Expository Preaching on a Church
Anand Samuel: To publicly herald God’s Word is an act of worship (2 Tim. 2:15), and a stewardship for which we’ll give an account. Here are five ways expository preaching beautifies Christ’s bride. 1. Expository preaching teaches church members how to interpret Scripture. By regularly sitting under expository preaching, our members learn important interpretive skills. They hear the pastor say things like this: “Beloved, look at the text. What does this word mean?” “Does the context help us?” “What is the ‘therefore’ there for?” “What does the author intend for us to understand?” “How do you think the Israelites would have received this Word?” “Why did the Holy Spirit inspire the author to repeat this word four times in this text?” “Can you see how this theme of God saving his people through judgment appears once again as it did in chapter eight last week?” When you work through a text, you train your congregation to ask the right questions.
Re-Imagining Success in Ministry
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
The Christian Life Is Church-Shaped
Thom S. Rainer: I am a Christian. Four life-defining words. Christ died for me, rose for me, redeemed me. If you can say, “I am a Christian,” these truths apply to you as well. Sometimes, though, when we memorize Scripture, we end at Ephesians 2:8–9 (“God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.“). But there is much, much more: “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago” (Eph. 2:10, NLT). Don’t miss it. We were saved not by our good works, but to do the good works God has planned. And there’s more—a further point that’s often overlooked. Yes, we’re saved by grace through faith. Yes, we’re saved to do good works. But we’re saved to do those good works in the context and under the accountability of a church. In the book of Ephesians, Paul
How Pastors Should Answer the Hardest Leadership Question
Sam Rainer: It’s the most challenging leadership question to answer: Am I humble? Humility is the most difficult leadership trait to determine about ourselves. Pride is the most dangerous leadership trait. Arrogance is the root leadership problem. Our sinful nature propels us to an excessive and unhealthy focus on ourselves. It’s the quintessential leadership struggle. We stand on a sliding scale somewhere between healthy humility and unhealthy pride. Even at our best, determining where we are on this scale is tricky. We almost always believe we are more humble than we are. Unfortunately, we rarely recognize our pride until it’s too late. Fortunately, there are three key questions to ask to reduce the potential for pride to puff up. Are you capable, and are you striving to learn more? This question involves competence. Quite frankly, do you know what you’re doing? Too many leaders fake it. Too many leaders do not want to swallow pride and ask for help. Too many leaders fear looking small by
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How to Spot a Wolf
Rutledge Etheridge III: The Bible commands Christians, “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account” (Heb. 13:17, NIV). But God’s Word also tells of times when we shouldn’t trust and submit to leaders. What are the circumstances when honoring God means disobeying, fleeing, or even calling out those who minister in his name? Paul warned the Ephesians elders of wolves who would come and not spare God’s flock (Acts 20:29). The apostle borrows the image of the wolf directly from Jesus (John 10:12; Matt. 7:15). As patterns of abuse come to light in the church, we urgently need this biblical warning that shows us the difference between a godly shepherd and one who preys upon the sheep. False teaching—preaching “a different gospel” (Gal. 1:6–7)—is a primary way a wolf reveals his true nature, but what are some other ways to tell a true shepherd from a wolf
What Does a Committed Church Member Look Like?
Thabiti Anyabwile: The Essence of Membership Is Committed Love Our Lord Jesus specified one defining mark for his disciples. Of course, there are many marks of true discipleship, but one mark is singled out as signifying to the watching world that we belong to Christ: A new commandment I give you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34–35) The mark of Christian discipleship is love—love of the kind that Jesus exercised toward his followers, love visible enough that men will recognize it as belonging to those people who follow Jesus. Not surprisingly, then, a healthy Christian is one who is committed to expressing this kind of love toward other Christians. And the best place for Christians to love this way is in the assembly of God’s people called the
What Is the Job of the Pastor?
Jonathan Leeman: A Crucial Role Leaders play a crucial role in any church, and we’ll refer to them as pastors and elders interchangeably because that’s what the Bible does (see Acts 20:17, 28; Titus 1:5, 7; 1 Pet. 5:1–2). Your ability to do your job as a church member depends on pastors or elders doing their jobs. Your job is to be a priest-king. Jesus tasked you with watching over the what and the who of the gospel, as well as extending the gospel’s dominion throughout the earth by making disciples. But what is a pastor’s job? As churches emerge from COVID-19, it’s as important as ever before that we know the answer to that question because of the impact the COVID-19 quarantines had on trust inside of churches—trust among members and trust toward leaders. We’ll think about this more in a moment, but part of building trust back up is knowing exactly what a pastor’s job is. The short description of a pastor’s job is that
Yes, Preaching Really Does Change People
Mike Bullmore: If you’ve been in pastoral ministry for any length of time at all you’ve asked the question: Is my preaching actually doing anything? Is it having any effect? The question could be addressed on several different grounds. It could be addressed on historical grounds, pointing to the powerful effects of preaching in various times and places in the history of the church, notably, from the beginning in the book of Acts. It could be addressed on personal grounds by means of collected anecdotes—“Let me tell you about Joe and Mary Black and what God did in their lives through the faithful preaching of God’s Word.” But without question, the most compelling response is going to be a theological one, grounded in the realities presented in Scripture regarding who God is, what he is doing, what his Word does, and what he fully intends preaching to accomplish. AN UNDER-CELEBRATED CHARACTERISTIC We rightly celebrate the authority, the trustworthiness, and the sufficiency of
A Congregation Is Not an Audience
J.T. English: What is Jesus doing right now? According to Ephesians 4, he is ascended in heaven and is gifting his church for greater mission and unity. He’s giving leaders, who equip all the saints for ministry, so that the whole family can be built up in maturity. By contrast, we all too often create ministry systems that prioritize professional ministers, not the whole body. But Ephesians 4 reminds us that we need the entire church to be engaged in mission, not just professional ministers. This is what I like to call “deep discipleship”—the invitation to all members into the task of building a unified church growing in Christlike maturity. That’s Jesus’s mission. And if it’s Jesus’s mission, then it should be the local church’s mission as well. Ministry Is Not Just for Experts One trend that’s common in the church is an expert/amateur divide. The divide between the “experts” and “amateurs” is easily seen when the experts—those employed by the church—think their job is
Why You Can’t Be a Christian without the Church
Mark Dever: Reconciled to God A Christian is someone who, first and foremost, has been forgiven of his sin and been reconciled to God the Father through Jesus Christ. This happens when a person repents of his sins and puts his faith in the perfect life, substitutionary death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. In other words, a Christian is someone who has reached the end of himself and his own moral resources. He has recognized that he, in defiance of God’s plainly revealed law, has given his life over to worshiping and loving things other than God—things like career, family, the stuff money can buy, the opinions of other people, the honor of his family and community, the favor of the so-called gods of other religions, the spirits of this world, or even the good things a person can do. He has also recognized that these “idols” are doubly damning masters. Their appetites are never satisfied
God Made Us to Gather – The Fresh Wonder of Corporate Worship
Bob Kauflin: Only God could have ordained that I would be writing an article on the benefits of corporate worship during the COVID-19 pandemic. My church in Louisville hasn’t met since March 15, and we’re still trying to decide what the process of meeting together again will look like. Livestreaming Sunday mornings is beginning to feel almost normal. Almost. Although I’m thankful for the virtual contact technology has made possible during this season, God has unique purposes for the weekly gathering that no livestream or Zoom meeting can replace. Perhaps we feel similar to the apostle John when he wrote, “Though I have much to write to you [or many virtual meetings to participate in], . . . I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete” (2 John 12). Not being able to meet in person makes us appreciate more deeply the privilege, joy, and benefit of gathering with the
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How Is Ministry Going?
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
Should Your Church ‘Transform’ the City?
Reuben Hunter: Christians believe in transformation. After all, we are transformed people. Individually, when one is regenerated by the Holy Spirit, Paul says that “the old has passed away; behold the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17). That’s a radical transformation if there ever was one. But we’re also transformed corporately: “We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18). And as the “earth is filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Hab. 2:14), the effect of these transformed lives on our local communities will have the salt-like effect Jesus expects them to have (cf. Matt. 5:16; 1 Pet. 2:9–12). So it’s every church planter’s dream that they move into an area and grow a church that has a transformative effect on both the lives and also the culture in a given area. But what does
Pastors Are Special
Jared Wilson: 4 REASONS PASTORAL WORK IS DIFFERENT (AND WHAT YOU AND I SHOULD DO ABOUT IT) I’ve been a pastor and I’ve not been a pastor, and I have to tell you, pastors are special. There is nothing quite like pastoral work, and I’ve discovered it is sometimes difficult to communicate that effectively to congregations. If you’ve never been a pastor, you may even suspect all the anxious, recent talk about pastoral stress and burnout and the like is overblown. We’ve all heard the jokes about how pastors only work one day a week. There are also plenty of us who have served under or otherwise been led by manipulative, lazy, or even abusive pastors, giving us even more cause to raise an eyebrow about any posture toward ministers other than “keeping them honest.” There are certainly too many unqualified men in the pastoral ranks. But I’m convinced the vast majority of pastors are good and faithful men doing their imperfect
The Word-less “Church”
W. Robert Godfrey: Many American churches are in a mess. Theologically they are indifferent, confused, or dangerously wrong. Liturgically they are the captives of superficial fads. Morally they live lives indistinguishable from the world. They often have a lot of people, money, and activities. But are they really churches, or have they degenerated into peculiar clubs? What has gone wrong? At the heart of the mess is a simple phenomenon: the churches seem to have lost a love for and confidence in the Word of God. They still carry Bibles and declare the authority of the Scriptures. They still have sermons based on Bible verses and still have Bible study classes. But not much of the Bible is actually read in their services. Their sermons and studies usually do not examine the Bible to see what it thinks is important for the people of God. Increasingly they treat the Bible as tidbits of poetic inspiration, of pop psychology, and of self-help
How Corporate Worship Strengthens Weary Saints
J. Garrett Kell: When my church gathers, it appears we have little in common. Our skin colors vary. Our political tastes differ. Cultural backgrounds have ingrained us with diverse identities. We have distinct preferences and convictions. Yet, we have two realities that bind us together. The first is our love for the Lord Jesus. Though each salvation story is unique, we bear the marks of his divine love. He died for us, rose for us, called us, converted us, and continues to hold us fast by his grace. We love him for this, and so we gather to worship him. Secondly, we all suffer. I have my own scars, as do the rest of these heavenly pilgrims. While I preach, I see their faces tell a story. Or when they sing, sometimes I hear and sense the hurts and pain of God’s people. Why Gather? As a pastor, I have the privilege of walking with many through their pain. Miscarriages.
Fill Believers, Not Buildings: Why Success in Ministry Isn’t a Numbers Game
Jaime Owens: Pastoring an existing church is stepping into a family. As you dig into the archives and sift through old photographs and letters, you take in the highs and lows through the years and are presented with the opportunity to reflect on the life and character of those who pastored before you. All this feels a bit like becoming acquainted with distant relatives. In the church I pastor, Tremont Temple in Boston, Massachusetts, there’s a long list of pastors spanning back to 1839, and it wasn’t long after I swung open the massive, iron, bank-style vault door, that I took a special interest in Frank Ellis. He was the pastor of our church way back when it was called Union Temple Baptist Church, from 1880–1884. Guy Mitchell, Tremont’s very own historian, produced an impressive unpublished manuscript in the mid-20th century titled History of Tremont Temple. In it he reflects on Ellis’s short tenure as pastor: Although most of the clouds which
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Why Every Healthy Church Emphasises Preaching and Teaching
Greg Gilbert: As the pastor of a local church, I have to make decisions every day about where to invest my time and what to prioritize in the life of the church I lead. There are so many worthwhile activities vying for attention. If I didn’t have clear direction from God’s Word about what is most critical for building a healthy church, I might be swept away by the dozens of new church programs that arrive in my mailbox every month. Fortunately, God has promised to use one thing to give life and grow his people. And that one thing is the proclamation of his Word. The Word of Life Throughout the Bible from start to finish, it’s clear that God’s Word is the life-giving Word. When God brought the universe into existence out of nothing, he did so simply by speaking. When he gave life to Adam, he breathed into his body the breath of life. When the dry bones
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Seven Biblical Reasons Why Singing Matters
Tom Olson: Have you ever wondered why God desires for his people to sing? What role should singing play in the life of a Christian? What is it about worshiping through song that is so important to God? You may not know it, but God has already answered these questions in the Bible. Seven Biblical Reasons Why Singing Matters The seven reasons below answer these questions and unpack more important truth about singing in the life of an individual Christian and the church. 1. When you sing, you obey. Singing isn’t an option in Scripture. It’s a command: Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16) And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and