Archives For Pastoral Ministry

We tend to embrace technology without much consideration. Advancements must be good because, after all, they are advancements.  If we can be more connected to people and process more information then it must be a win. Right? Why should we even give it a second thought?

The ubiquity of smartphones should cause us to think for a minute. According to Pew Research data, 58% of Americans have smart phones while 90% have a cell phone (source). This is a very connected society. It is also a very new phenomenon in history. This should cause us to think and ask some questions.

For example, is this level of connection necessary? Is it good, harmful or indifferent? Is it changing me? Is it changing the way I relate to others and do my job?

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It is a fact of life along with taxes, mismatched socks, traffic when you are in a hurry, that in this world we are going to have trouble.

In fact Jesus, who himself encountered more trouble in this world then all of us combined, said, “…in this world you will have tribulation…” (John 16.33). Furthermore, for believers who have been saved by divine grace, given a new nature, yet still imperfect and given to sin, we seem to encounter varied forms of ‘trouble’ even in the body of Christ.

Even more for those of us in pastoral ministry, we seem to partake in espresso strength doses of trouble. I remember a particular ‘green’ moment in my first year of full time ministry when I asked the guys during a staff meeting (this was about 4 months in), “Is it always like this?” To which they lovingly responded, “It is Mach IV with your hair on fire. Buckle up. Heaven will be great.” This was during a particularly tumultuous time, but it has nevertheless characterized ministry. Those of you who are in ministry know what I am talking about.

So how do we respond? Well, the temptations abound, and the natural responses are, well, natural. We can become bitter, self-consumed, tired, discouraged, or even depressed. All of these things will naturally happen when we find ourselves inwardly focused and dressed with thin skin. But is this God-honoring? Is this biblically right?

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Technological advancements have made communication much easier. We can email, text, instant message, call, or Skype. While this makes meeting easier it does not necessarily make it better. As Christians we should endeavor to be loving in everything we do. This requires thoughtful intentionality when considering the medium for communicating information. Ease must never trump love.

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If the evangelical church were a boat then it would have some leaks. And everyone seems to have an opinion as to the problem. If I could put the two most common critiques in buckets they would be 1) the preaching, 2) the appetite of church members. In my years of ministry I have often found it quite ironic that many evangelicals complain about preaching not being “biblical” while pastors often complain about “evangelicals today who don’t want biblical preaching”.

Somebody cue the Alanis Morissette.

I can’t attempt to bridge the gap nor fix the problem in a short blog post, however, I can offer a suggestion that I think would help: Make use of the old confessions and catechisms.

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In his design of the Christian experience, God has created very simple ways for experiencing his grace. Particularly in the gathered church, we have prayer, Bible reading, preaching, singing, the Lord’s table, baptism, and fellowship. These ordinary activities don’t lend themselves to off-the-chart experiences but rather they are, steady, compounding and shaping. Over time one can look back with some surprise and say, “God has been so gracious, he has changed my life.”

As a result of both the ordinariness and God’s faithfulness, we may slouch into a posture of passivity and presumption. Neither are helpful. Let me explain.

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If you get around a couple of preachers you will hear them eventually begin to discuss preaching. At some point in the discussion they will talk about how they prepare their sermons and what formate that use for their notes. It’s very interesting shop talk actually.

Myself, I have, over the last several years, significantly adjusted the way I prepare and use my notes for preaching. Much like a batter adjusting his swing to gain some advantage, a preacher is always analyzing, evaluating, and tweaking.

I have gone through several variations and now am at the place where I am comfortable (for now). Here are some of them. If you are a preacher, I’m sure you can relate to a few.

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Prior to full-time ministry I worked for several years in a Fortune 500 company. As in most companies there were people who were highly respected experts. They were able to do their job well, advance, and experience great professional success.

At the same time, many seemed to do it mostly alone. They really seemed like loners who had their way of doing things and they did it well. One thing I remember is that not only did people keep their own trade secrets close to the vest, they also frequently knocked the ladder out from others trying to climb up with them. I am not describing a unique professional environment here. Many companies and professionals thrive on this type of competition.

Interestingly, as I was coming up the ladder professionally I was also considering whether or not full-time ministry was something that I should pursue. I would try to get time with church leaders to ask questions and get counsel. I found that my requests were largely ignored or worse—critically received. As I lived in the professional environment but was desirous of the ministry environment, I became frustrated (and embarrassed) that the church reflected an unhealthy and unbiblical business model.

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One of the cries of the Reformation that is particularly instructive for us is Semper Reformanda or “Always Reforming.” The concept is that as a people we are always being reformed by the Scriptures. So long as we live on this side of glory, we are always reforming. To be more precise, the essence of the term is not that the church is changing but rather she is is always being reformed (by the Bible). This reformation pivots on our understanding and application of the gospel.

I rejoice in the work of church revitalization today. If you are not familiar with the concept, revitalization has to do with the reinvigoration of an unhealthy church with biblical ministry. This always starts with restoring the gospel to its rightful place of preeminence. The gospel, once enthroned in the church, seeps down into its marrow so that all of her life and ministry is calibrated by the truth of Christ crucified for sinners.

My contention is that every church needs to be continually revitalized. Let’s call it all ongoing revitalization (in contrast to major revitalization). The church is to be always engaged in the work of revitalization. This is because sin is not going anywhere and the gospel is infinitely precious. And every pastor should be aware of and therefore engaged in this work.

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4 Friends Bible Students Need

Erik Raymond —  September 22, 2014

“What do I need to focus on?”

This is a regular question that I get. Sometimes it comes from guys who are looking at the potential of being in full-time ministry at some point. Other times it comes from men or women who just want to grow in their ability to serve the Lord. I always point them to 4 friends that they need to get acquainted with.*

1) Systematic Theology. This is the study of what the Bible says about a particular topic. It is a particularly important discipline because of the fact that the Bible is sufficient to tell us all that we have to know in order to grow in godliness and understanding (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Therefore, I can wring out the text on a topic and know what I need to know. Further, if I have built up a solid Systematic Theology then I can keep myself from biting on the shiny packages of false teaching. It’s like the rails on the bowling alley (not that I bowl)– it keeps you in line.

Suggestions for books: 1) Berkhoff, 2) Grudem, 3) Reymond

2) Historical Theology. This is the tandem to Systematic Theology. Historical Theology traces the development of theology throughout the history of the church. This is also helpful as it shows the various heresies and doctrinal battles that have occurred. So often, it’s the same demonic script, repackageed and resold. Knowing history helps in the present. Continue Reading…

Prayer before preaching is essential because, without God’s help, we are useless.

In Deuteronomy 32 Moses is no doubt feeling quite a burden. You see, Moses is about to die–and he knows it. He is going to look into the eyes of the covenant community once again. He is going to preach and plead God’s character, promises, and threatenings to them.  In the ensuing words of chapter 32 he uncorks one if the heaviest, pastoral, and most passionate sermons in print. Remember, it was this chapter that proved to be the sermon text for Edwards’ Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.

How does he begin?

May my teaching drop as the rain….For I will proclaim the name of the Lord; ascribe greatness to our God! Deu. 32.2-3

The preacher’s burden has never changed, therefore his prayer remains the same. God–may you be pleased to use my words to magnify your name!

Moses knew himself, a dying man preaching to dying men (to use Baxter’s phrase). As a result, he did not long for such temporal and base things like what the crowd would think of him, how they would remember him, or how he would feel saying what needed to be said. Instead, he pleaded the living word of the living God! And in his prayer he struck the flint for God to light up his people with an awareness of God’s awesomeness and sin’s repulsiveness. Oh, that more preachers would preach a deep awareness of their own mortality as well as God’s eternality!

Whether you are stepping into the pulpit tomorrow or will be in the pews tomorrow, this is they type of prayer that you can pray for the sermon: “May this teaching drop as the rain…may the name of the Lord be proclaimed, may he ascribe greatness to our God!

The best part about this: God answered the prayer. Read the sermon; it drips with God-centeredness.

How do you deal with difficult passages in the Bible? Thankfully the Bible is straight-forward and understandable. The most important things are the most clear. However, there are passages that are more difficult, requiring more work by the interpreter.

I remember about 12 years ago as I worked as a pastoral intern at a church. I was teaching through a passage and my pastor gave me some feedback. “You are calling out audibles like a quarterback.” I was working through a difficult passage and in order to prove my interpretation I marshaled some other (many) verses. Like Peyton Manning yelling “Omaha! Nascar! Bradshaw! Montana! Hut Hut!” I was calling out Bible verses from everywhere.

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I grew up playing and watching a lot of baseball. It was almost a religion for me and Fenway Park in Boston was my church (so to speak). To further the illustration, the elders and leaders were players on the Red Sox. I think of Roger Clemens, Dwight Evans, Jim Rice, and Carl Yastrzemski. When I would arrive at Fenway I can remember walking out of the tunnel and being overcome by all of the images and sounds. There was the fresh cut grass, the 37′ wall in left field, the Prudential Building, and the sight of the players warming up. I was absolutely invested–I might have even secretly felt like was on the team.

Several years ago one of these players, Roger Clemens, was investigated for cheating. He was found to have used performance enhancing drugs, or banned substances. Clemens, along with a bevy of other players, have received something of an asterisk on their career because they have dishonored the sacred tradition and integrity of the game.

As a baseball fan I can appreciate the way the league, players, and fans have renounced the way these guys tried to take a short-cut. Some players cared more about themselves than the game. This, according to baseball is unacceptable.

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Lately I am learning of the indispensability of personally listening to sermons. Let me explain. Over the last several years I have preached, on average, nearly 50 Sundays per year. The times I have not preached I have been on vacation or traveling. As a result, I very rarely sit under preaching. I am making a distinction from listening to sermons and sitting under preaching. I listen to sermons all the time but rarely sit under the preached word live.

I believe that this has not helpful to me. In fact, I need to sit under live preaching.

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“He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness.” (Hebrews 5:2)

The word translated “deal gently” has the idea of being balanced on the spectrum between anger and grief. It was the healthy mid point that allowed the person to not be so indifferent that they were unmoved by grief but not so emotional that they could not be firm on sin. What was to result was a spiritual rock, one who could compassionately identify with weak people to bring them help.

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Pastoral ministry is hard and there are a lot of ways that someone can go awry. This is brought to the fore in an article in Christianity Today noting that Mark Driscoll is retracting his best-seller status and “resetting his life.” This due to the fact that controversy seems to be as much a characteristic as blessing in his ministry.

As a pastor you can become inflated with pride and bang your head on the door frame, because you believe the lie that all of the good things that are happening in your ministry are because you are awesome. On the other hand, you can be thrown into the depths of despair because things are not progressing as well as the other guy or whatever your expectations might have been.

The danger on both sides is that our identity, standing, security, approval, etc are based upon us. Attendance is up? I feel good. Attendance down? I feel like a failure. Excitement over ministry? I’m excited. Issues of discontentment or discouragement? Suddenly I’m sullen. You see, pastoral ministry is hard because I am selfish.

I can relate to Driscoll. I don’t agree with everything he says and does but I see how he got where he is right now. And, if you’re a pastor, you should see it too. The idol self-approval is deadly. Whether you have 30 people or 30,000 people in your church, you are prone to this and so am I.

I don’t pretend that all of Driscoll’s issues should be swept under the rug now that he has owned up to some of what has happened. However, I am saying that of all people, pastors should be able to identify with him and be rooting for him to bear fruit in keeping with repentance. This we do while looking to ourselves lest we too be tempted–because we know we already can.

How can you tell that your pastor loves you? This could get tricky. We might be tempted to exegete his facial expressions, evaluate his manners, or consider whether or not he sends you a birthday card. However, the Bible actually gives several ways that demonstrate this love.

One of the ways the pastor shows his love is by feeding the flock (the church) the Word of God.

Where do we get this from? There are many places in the Bible, but a good place to see this is in John chapter 21.

“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.”” (John 21:15)

Jesus tells Peter to feed his lambs. He says the same thing in verse 17. The word has to do with caring for or looking after the flock. In the Middle Eastern agrarian culture the shepherd would lead his flock to food and the still waters of refreshment. He ensured that they were properly fed.

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Truth and Tone Go Hand-in-Hand

Erik Raymond —  February 10, 2014

Click on image for Photo Credit.

There are many different ways a pastor may be derelict in his duty. The most common and obvious would be his morality. If a man is not reflecting the doctrine that he is teaching then his ministry is a sham. We know that there are moral qualifications for the office of elder (1 Tim. 3:1-8). At the same time the pastor must be biblical in his doctrine; he must have a firm grasp on the truth. If he is in error doctrinally then his congregation will suffer. As a result Paul gives many encouragements to this end in 2 Timothy alone (2 Tim. 1:6-7, 13-14; 2:15; 4:1-4, etc). This culminates with the pastoral inclusio to watch your life and your doctrine closely (1 Tim. 4:16).

There is another aspect where a minister of the gospel may go wrong, and I fear it is becoming increasingly neglected or at least overlooked. He must give attention to his tone. The pastor is to be firmly committed to the truth while maintaining a tone that is consistent with the truth. In other words, truth and tone go hand-in-hand. If I might take some liberty, “what God has joined together, let no man separate.”

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I was greatly impacted by a meeting that I had nearly 15 years ago with my pastor at the time. During the meeting I was talking about my desire for ministry and a great burden for the gospel to be clearly preached and central to all that we do.

In the midst of the conversation the pastor got annoyed. His annoyance seemed to be connected to my burdens and how they communicated a referendum on his ministry.

At one point in the conversation he said something that left a tremendous impact on me. He said baldly:

When you get old you come to see that things don’t work out so neatly. We’ll see if you have the same passion in 10 years.

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Delayed adolescence is a reality in American families. There is no disputing the massive increase in number of young people that choose to live with their parents late into their 20’s and in some cases into their 30’s. Insurance companies have taken notice of this and have extended coverage of “children” well into the mid to late 20’s. There is no surprise then that while adolescence is prolonged the expreriences that correspond with being an adult are decreasing. Marriages are decreasing while video games sales are increasing. The delayed adolescence of the American youth is a fascinating and increasingly troubling trend.

But I am not a sociologist. I am a pastor. My concern is with the attitude and culture of delayed adolescence in the church. More specifically, I am not here thinking primarily about the evangelical culture that tends to awkwardly squirm away from and therefore curiously mute the conversation of male leadership in the church. I am thinking far more broadly than even this, to the philosophy and theological vision of churches that cultivate and promote a delayed doctrinal adolescence in the church.

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I recently came across an article about Nick Saban, the head football coach at the University of Alabama. I am more of an admirer rather than a fan of Alabama and Saban. I’m overall very intrigued by college football coaches. I enjoy watching what makes them successful and what is detrimental to their leadership.

The Saban piece was fascinating. Of particular interest is the coach’s eating habits. Each day he eats the same thing for breakfast and lunch: “for breakfast, he eats two Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pies; for lunch, a salad of iceberg lettuce, turkey, and tomatoes.” Why? “The regular menu, he says, saves him the time of deciding what to eat each day…”

If the coach is thinking about what to eat then he is not thinking about or doing something else. In Saban’s case it is the game plan, recruiting, or some other aspect of his leadership. This is a guy who has intentionally, some may even say fanatically, ordered his day by his commitment to his priorities. You don’t ascend to the height of a highly competitive field and stay there by accident. There is a tremendous amount of intentional ordering, reverse engineering, focus, discipline, and sacrifice.

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