One of the things that comes up from time to time in pastoral ministry is frustration with people. This is especially true when we have put a lot of time, thought, prayer and effort into something and no one rocks up to it or people are late or drop the ball etc.One of the things that I want to do when this happens is challenge the person who I am frustrated with. I want to say things to them about letting the team down and not being committed enough. Now these things may be true, the person we are frustrated with might not be committed enough and they may be letting the team down. But will having this conversation achieve what you and I want it to achieve?I have been reading a book called Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success by Phil Jackson who was a coach in the NBA who coached guys like Michael Jordan, Shaq and Kobe Bryant. He tells a story where Jordan is getting frustrated with the players on his team because they were letting the team down and they weren’t being committed enough. In true Jordan fashion he would try harder showing them what he expected of them and willing them to do it. He would scowl at them and tell them what they were doing wrong. But it wasn’t working.A trainer named George Mumford said this to Jordan:“It’s all about being present and taking responsibility for how you relate to yourself and others,” says George. “And that means being willing to adjust so that you can meet people where they are. Instead of expecting them to be somewhere else and getting angry and trying to will them to that place, you try to meet them where they are and lead them where you want them to go.”When I read this quote I had a aha moment because I realised I expect the people whom I am frustrated with to be where I think they should be, I get angry and I try to will them to be where I think the should be instead of trying to meet them where they are at and lead them slowly where they should be.When I am frustrated with people I forget two things:1. How patient and gracious God is with me2. That ministry is measured in years and decades and not days and weeks.Paul says to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2 Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.
There are four things from this passage that guard against frustration in ministry.Firstly, when we preach. We preach in season and out of season. We preach when things are going great and when things aren’t. We preach when fruit is coming and when it isn’t. There are going to be times of fruitfulness in ministry and times where we will see hardly any fruit. This is to be expected but we preach knowing that God gives the growth.Secondly, we are to preach with great patience. We preach knowing that spiritual growth takes place over long periods of time and therefore we don’t get frustrated if we don’t see instant spiritual results. Ministry is not an instant thing. In ministry we see growth not over days and weeks but over years and decades. Therefore we know God is working if we are proclaiming his word and so we are not frustrated but patient.Thirdly, we see the tragedy of people turning away from the truth. This passage reminds us that people want to believe things other than the gospel so when we are ministering to people and they are turning away from the gospel we are not surprised but we carefully and lovingly instruct and remind them of the gospel over many conversations hoping to win them back to the gospel and sound doctrine.Fourth, Paul is real about ministry. He says we endure hardship. The hardship we endure is not through long hours, although there may be long hours. Nor it is from tiring work, although the work is tiring. I think the main hardship in ministry is a broken heart. We see people come close to Jesus and reject him, we see people fall away, we see people do stupid things, we get hurt by people, people don’t grow like we want them to. All these, and many more, break our hearts. But Paul says we endure through this. How can we endure though all this? We endure through all this not because we are strong and tough but it is God who is strong for us. He is the one who energizes us and gives us strength. He is the one who reminds us that he loves us no matter how great or how poorly our ministries are doing. We endure hardship because he first endured the cross for us.Brothers and sisters, ministry is tough and hard work and we need to remember that the course is long and the cost sometimes is high but the reward is eternal! So let us not get frustrated. Let us love the people that God has given us to lead and let us encourage them in the gospel and wait for God to give the growth.You may also like:
Liberal Christianity is a wing of the church which tries to modify or change some of the central beliefs of Christianity so that the modern world, in which we are in, would see Christianity as more acceptable. But if you do this type of theological and ethical surgery to Christianity do you still have Christianity when you are done?
One of the greatest books on Liberal Christianity is Christianity and Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen. In it he says that Liberal Christianity is not Christianity at all. Here is his conclusion:
What is the relation between Christianity and modern culture; may Christianity be maintained in a scientific age? It is this problem which modern liberalism attempts to solve. Admitting that scientific objections may arise against the particularities of the Christian religion — against the Christian doctrines of the person of Christ, and of redemption through His death and resurrection — the liberal theologian seeks to rescue certain of the general principles of religion, of which these particularities are thought to be mere temporary symbols, and these general principles he regards as constituting “the essence of Christianity.” As a matter of fact… what the liberal theologian has retained after abandoning to the enemy one Christian doctrine after another is not Christianity at all, but a religion which is so entirely different from Christianity as to belong in a distinct category.
I think Machen is correct in his assessment of Liberal Christianity. Because, in the end, when you take out the guts of the gospel you are left with no Gospel at all.
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What is the main aim in preaching? Is to teach the Bible? Is it to educate? Is it to persuade? To motivate? In Tim Keller’s great book Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City Keller has a great quote from Martin Lloyd-Jones about the primary aim of preaching:
The first and primary object of preaching… is to produce an impression. It is the impression at the time that matters, even more than what you can remember subsequently… Edwards, in my opinion, has the true notion of preaching. It is not primarily to impart information; and while [the listeners are taking] notes you may be missing something of the impact of the Spirit. As preachers we must not forget this. We are not merely imparters of information. We should tell our people to read certain books themselves and get the information there. The business of preaching is to make such knowledge live.
What do you think? Do you think the primary aim in preaching is to make an impression or something else?
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Leading people is always a tough job. One of the hardest things to do as you lead people is to assess where people are at spiritually. This is hard because spiritual growth is usually unseen. One of the ways I have assessed spiritual maturity and growth in the past is by seeing how much people are serving in church. If they are serving a lot I would think they are mature and growing in their faith if they aren’t serving much or at all that must mean that they are immature and not growing.
But as Greg L. Hawkins and Cally Parkinson show in their book Move: What 1,000 Churches Reveal about Spiritual Growth. Judging spiritual maturity or growth on the hours one puts in at church can be misleading. Here is what they say about being active in church and the spiritual disciplines:
Never let the passion to serve eclipse a commitment to personal spiritual disciplines. Since those Growing in Christ are very active volunteers, it’s easy for leaders to affirm this segment’s high levels of serving as a clear measure of their spiritual growth. But leaders must not lose sight of the need to affirm and challenge these individuals in their commitment to personal spiritual disciplines such as prayer and reflecting on Scripture. Spiritual growth is about more than being involved in church activities; among other things, it also requires spending time with God.
Here is what they say about high levels of service and qualifications for leadership:
Don’t confuse high levels of service with qualifications for Christian leadership. The fact that some people serve a ton in your church does not by itself mean that these individuals are ready for leadership roles—especially ones that require spiritual leadership over a group of people. Their high degree of involvement does not necessarily mean they are mature followers of Christ. We wish this were not the case. It would be much easier and a lot more convenient to just ask people about their previous serving experience and then place those with the most impressive resumés into leadership. That is how it works in most organizations, and some people in a congregation assume that is how it should also work in the church. They tell us all about what they are involved in and how successful that involvement has been as justification for a leadership position in the church. But we can’t let that influence us. Instead, it’s vitally important to shift the focus from activities and accomplishments to the condition of the heart. We need to listen between the lines to make sure they are in love with Christ and not just the church. Have they organized their lives so they can spend time with Christ, the one they love, when no one else is watching? It’s tempting to settle for a record of service as qualification for leadership—especially when you’re trying to find ten or twenty new small group leaders—but resist the temptation.
What the authors are not saying is that church involvement isn’t an indicator of spiritual growth and or maturity they are saying it is not the only one.
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Check out this video of Tim Keller talking about evangelism in the 21st century.
What do you agree with? What do you disagree with? What would you like to ask questions about?
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As a pastor I want to see people’s lives change. But when I am not being refreshed by the gospel I preach morality rather than grace. I preach that peoples morals need to change rather than preaching the gospel and showing how the gospel changes morality. The difference is subtle but the outcomes are huge. In the end the very moral change I want to see in my people won’t come if I preach morality but, if over time, I preach the gospel the change will come. This is exactly what Tim Keller shows us in his great book Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City:
Moralistic behavior change bends a person into a different pattern through fear of consequences rather than melting a person into a new shape. But this does not work. If you try to bend a piece of metal without the softening effect of heat, it is likely to snap back to its former position. This is why we see people who try to change through moralistic behaviorism find themselves repeatedly lapsing into sins they thought themselves incapable of committing. They can’t believe they embezzled or lied or committed adultery or felt so much blind hatred that they lashed out. Appalled at themselves, they say, “I wasn’t raised that way!” But they were. For moralistic behaviorism — even deep within a religious environment — continues to nurture the “ruthless, sleepless, unsmiling concentration on self that is the mark of Hell.”5 This is the reason people embezzle, lie, and break promises in the first place. It also explains why churches are plagued with gossip and fighting. Underneath what appears to be unselfishness is great self-centeredness, which has been enhanced by moralistic modes of ministry and is marked by liberal doses of sanctimony, judgmentalism, and spite. To complete our illustration, if you try to bend metal without the softening effect of heat, it may simply break. Many people, after years of being crushed under moralistic behaviorism, abandon their faith altogether, complaining that they are exhausted and “can’t keep it up.” But the gospel of God’s grace doesn’t try to bend a heart into a new pattern; it melts it and re-forms it into a new shape. The gospel can produce a new joy, love, and gratitude — new inclinations of the heart that eat away at deadly self-regard and self-concentration. Without this “gospel heat” — the joy, love, and gratitude that result from an experience of grace — people will simply snap. Putting pressure on their will may temporarily alter their behavior, but their heart’s basic self-centeredness and insecurity
How can you remind yourself to preach the gospel for change and not just moral change itself?
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I love the theological college I went to. I love the faculty, I love the things I learnt there, I love the people I met there. If you have been to a bible/ theological college I hope you love the one you went to as much as I love the one I went to.
Every week I pray for my college. One of the things I pray for every week is that it would stay theologically strong. Satan would love to see any theological college turn into a theologically liberal college.
Here are the powerful words Albert Moher wrote about the place of theologcial colleges in the life of the church and how liberal theology can creep into them:
Theological education is a deadly serious business. The stakes are so high. A theological seminary that serves faithfully will be a source of health and life for the church, but an unfaithful seminary will set loose a torrent of trouble, untruth, and sickness upon Christ’s people. Inevitably, the seminaries are the incubators of the church’s future. The teaching imparted to seminarians will shortly be inflicted upon congregations, where the result will be either fruitfulness or barrenness, vitality or lethargy, advance or decline, spiritual life, or spiritual death.
Sadly, the landscape is littered with theological institutions that have poorly taught and have been poorly led. Theological liberalism has destroyed scores of seminaries, divinity schools, and other institutions for the education of the ministry. Many of these schools are now extinct, even as the churches they served have been evacuated. Others linger on, committed to the mission of revising the Christian faith in order to make peace with the spirit of the age. These schools intentionally and boldly deny the pattern of sound words in order to devise new words for a new age — producing a new faith. As J. Gresham Machen rightly observed almost a century ago, we do not really face two rival versions of Christianity. We face Christianity on the one hand and, on the other hand, some other religion that selectively uses Christian words, but is not Christianity.
How does this happen? Rarely does an institution decide, in one comprehensive moment of decision, to abandon the faith and seek after another. The process is far more dangerous and subtle. A direct institutional evasion would be instantly recognized and corrected, if announced honestly at the onset. Instead, theological disaster usually comes by means of drift and evasion, shading and equivocation. Eventually, the drift accumulates into momentum and the school abandons doctrine after doctrine, truth claim after truth claim, until the pattern of sound words, and often the sound words themselves, are mocked, denied, and cast aside in the spirit of theological embarrassment.
As James Petigru Boyce, founder of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, argued, “It is with a single man that error usually commences.” When he wrote those words in 1856, he knew that pattern by observation of church history. All too soon, he would know this sad truth by personal observation.
Please read the rest of the article called Confessional Integrity and the Stewardship of Words and please pray that our theological and bible colleges would remain faithful to God’s word.
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Reading is essential for pastoral ministry. It is where we are refreshed, it is where our ideas and theology are honed. It helps us think more deeply about scripture, theology and our work.
My great hero Charles Spurgeon was a great reader and a great preacher. When he preached on 2 Timothy 4:13 (“When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments”) Spurgeon said this:
We do not know what the books were about, and we can only form some guess as to what the parchments were. Paul had a few books which were left, perhaps wrapped up in the cloak, and Timothy was to be careful to bring them.
Even an apostle must read.
Some of our very ultra-Calvinistic brethren think that a minister who reads books and studies his sermon must be a very deplorable specimen of a preacher. A man who comes up into the pulpit, professes to take his text on the spot and talks any quantity of nonsense is the idol of many. If he will speak without premeditation, or pretend to do so, and never produce what they call a dish of dead men’s brains—oh, that is the preacher!
How rebuked they are by the apostle!
He is inspired, and yet he wants books!
He has been preaching for at least thirty years, and yet he wants books!
He had seen the Lord, and yet he wants books!
He had had a wider experience than most men, and yet wants books!
He had been caught up into the Third Heaven and had heard things which it was unlawful for a man to utter, yet he wants books!
He had written the major part of the New Testament, and yet he wants books!
The apostle says to Timothy, and so he says to every preacher, “Give attendance to reading” (1 Tim. 4:13).
The man who never reads will never be read.
He who never quotes will never be quoted.
He who will not use the thoughts of other men’s brains proves that he has no brains of his own.
Brothers and sisters, if great men like Paul and Spurgeon took time to read ordinary men like the rest of us must make time for it too.
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Having a positive culture in any organisation is a key to growth. This cannot be more true of church. Mark Driscoll has written a great piece about about the three types of people Positives, Neutrals and Negatives. Here is what Driscoll says about keeping your church culture positive:
For a ministry to remain positive, three things need to occur. First, the senior leader and the other official and unofficial leaders who wield the most influence must be positives. Further, they must be continually exhorted to remain positives. This means that even when they deal with negative things, they do so in a positive way for the glory of God and the good of his people. Second, the negatives must not be allowed into leadership. If they are in leadership, official or unofficial, they must be rebuked. Titus 3:10–11 describes this rebuke: “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.” Too often negatives are tolerated for too long; the longer their sin is tolerated, the more toxic the ministry culture becomes. Therefore, unrepentant negatives need to be brought through formal church discipline after their negativity has been documented and addressed; this process may end with their removal from the ministry, if needed. Ministry leaders are often reticent to deal so forthrightly with negatives; however, the longer they are tolerated, the more neutrals they infect with their gangrene. Third, the neutrals need to be lovingly and patiently informed that they are in fact neutrals and that they need to take responsibility to not give in to negatives. Additionally, neutrals cannot be allowed into ministry leadership because they are prone to be influenced rather than be influencers. Sadly, neutrals are often nominated for and voted in to ministry leadership because they tend to be nice people who are likeable because they are amiable and easily influenced. But they are prone to work toward consensus rather than lead and are therefore not helpful for moving a ministry forward into innovation and growth. Change is controversial and requires someone who is a strong positive to build consensus for change and who is also able to neutralize the negatives rather than being influenced by them.
What do you have to do to either get a positive culture at your church or maintain the positive culture you now have?
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Everyone in ministry wants to finish well. We all want to hand off the ministries that we have built and created well. Ed Stetzer has written a great blog called 5 Reasons Some Leaders Finish Poorly. Make sure you read the whole blog (especially the great story about Jack Hayford!). But for now, here are the five reasons that Ed gives as to why some leaders finish poorly.
1. They did not trust the very people they developed for succession.
2. They fought over things which were just not that important.
3. Their identities were too connected to their movement.
4. They grew angrier as they grew older.
5. They could not pass on what they helped create.
Ed elaborates on each of these points. But it made me think as a young man how am I going to work each day to minister well and finish well?
What are you doing in your life to make sure you finish well?
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