Results tagged “Pastors” from Reformation21 Blog

On Pastoral Laziness

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At the outset of a difficult topic -- pastoral laziness -- I want to be clear that my purpose is to encourage both pastors and their congregations. Where conflict arises over the minister's work ethic, I believe most of the time there is a path forward to strengthen the bonds of affection that should exist between a pastor and his congregation.

That said, here are some hard words: Apart from heretical doctrine or immorality, one of the most serious charges that can be levelled against a pastor is sloth. In the judgment of his congregation, he fails to take his cues from the "hard-working farmer," one of Paul's models for pastoral ministry (2 Timothy 2:6), and seems unfamiliar with Solomon's exhortation: "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might" (Ecclesiastes 9:10).

The evidence is not difficult to detect: poorly prepared and delivered sermons, failure to visit and care for the flock, chaotic administration, and invisibility in the community. Laziness is a serious sin. Haphazard shepherding of God's flock is inexcusable, a dereliction of God-given duty. It also insults the congregation who provides his salary so that he might pursue the work of ministry "free from worldly cares and avocations" (Presbyterian Church in America, Book of Church Order, 20-6).

Fortunately....

Read the full article here.

Is It Only About Trust?

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Recently, my friend Adam Parker wrote a helpful article reminding us that a pastor is not an hourly employee. In his article, Adam describes how the work of pastoral ministry is difficult to quantify and more time in the office does not equal a more effective ministry. He also offers a gentle and appropriate rebuke to elders or sessions who stalk pastors' hours. If you haven't read Adam's article, I commend it to you.

And yet, as I read it, it felt incomplete at points. Rather than starting a social media exchange (where I know from previous experience Adam would have gracefully listened to my concerns and responded appropriately), I thought I might add to the conversation here at reformation21. And after sending Adam this article, it turns out we agree. Consider this piece an expansion to his earlier suggestions.

My difference with the first article is the way it places all the fault for conflict over time-management on sessions; it has little to no encouragement or correction to help pastors in their portion of the struggle. While the article recognizes "lazy pastors" exists, Adam says he's not writing to them. Thus, it is written only to pastors who feel they've been wronged and also (and possibly more pointedly) to ruling elders and sessions. Indeed, the only corrections or takeaways from the article are directed toward ruling elders and sessions--mostly involving their need to trust their pastor more. Is this a one-sided issue?

I think the problem is much more likely an issue for both sessions and pastors. Rarely are relationship struggles one-sided. Why would this one be any different? Yes, there are some sessions who shoulder all the blame for conflicts. But just like the anonymous "lazy pastor" who Adam's not writing to, I am not writing to them. Instead, I would like to address the many pastors and sessions who are earnestly trying to do their job well. And in doing so, I think we find the answer is more complicated than sessions needing to trust their pastor more.

When we acknowledge that both the "lazy pastor" and the "stalker session" are in the wrong, I think we can make real progress on this issue. Indeed, this matter is one I have experienced from both "sides." I have served as a ruling elder at a PCA church, and I currently serve on full-time staff at a PCA church. Perhaps this diversity of experience has given me a broader perspective to see the challenges facing both pastors and sessions.

Here's my hunch: if a pastor feels he is being overly scrutinized, the session feels their pastor isn't doing "enough." For healthy pastors and sessions, this challenge is mostly an issue of expectations and communication. Yes, trust is involved. And yes, part of the solution might be encouraging the session to trust their pastor more, but that usually won't be the entire solution. Telling an elder who is worried about how his Pastor spends his time simply to "trust him more" is akin to telling a sad person, "Don't be sad." It doesn't reach beyond the symptom of the problem and deal with the actual issue. Assuming both parties (elders and pastors) are moderately healthy, and assuming both have at least some "fault" in the conflict, what are some of the underlying causes for this tension and how can sessions and pastors help to overcome these hurdles?

Adam already hinted at some of these, but here's my take.

1. Agree on expectations at the beginning.

First, pastors and session should come to a mutual agreement on both ministry priorities and time commitments for the role. I know Adam agrees here, but it's the only starting point for a healthy work environment. Before any pastor is hired, the session should be very clear about their expectations. Did their last pastor work 60+ hours a week? If so, is that what they expect of the next guy? I would guess in several of Adam's examples, the pastor and the session didn't ask many of these types of questions.

But more than the amount of time, sessions also needs be clear about what aspects of the ministry are most important and deserve the most time. The PCA's MDF form does a decent job of laying out these categories, but each category means different things to different people and every pastor has different strengths. These conversations should be clear at the outset. Any pastor that feels overly criticized for his use of time probably has an implicit disagreement with his session about what aspect of the job is most important. The expectations don't match. Maybe these expectations weren't set correctly at the beginning or maybe they changed over time. Either way, conversations about what is important and what that looks like at "this church" is important.

Additionally, the session and the pastor should consider the pastor's own unique work style when setting expectations. I've worked with pastors who do 90-99% of their sermon preparation at home because if they are in the office they get distracted. When I preach, I do approximately 0% of my sermon writing at home because if I'm at home I get distracted. Knowing how a pastor works best has to be part of the conversation and can help both parties come to a mutual understanding of not only what's important, but what it looks like to achieve the important goals.

2. Schedule recurring time and ways to talk about expectations.

But then, what do you do if you find yourself--as an elder or a pastor--in the position where you never set these expectations? Or, what if you feel like the expectations have changed since things started and now you (1) are being unreasonably criticized or (2) feel as though the pastor isn't pulling his weight? Thankfully, for reasonable elders and pastors, there is a way forward: pastors and sessions should schedule ongoing conversations about priorities and time commitments.

Over time, the needs of churches change. The skill-set of pastors also change. Sermons that took 30 hours to complete at the beginning of your ministry, might now only take 20 hours. What should you do with the extra 10 hours? I agree with Adam that a pastor should not think of his work as hourly, but he should still think of his work as work. Freeing up 10 hours a week doesn't give a pastor the right to not work.

Or, consider the example of a small church who needed their new pastor to spend an abundance of time helping to heal old wounds in the first years of his ministry. But after 5 years of steady growth, the church has doubled or tripled in size and few of the congregants remember the old issues. Now, most of the church wants their pastor to focus on outreach or improving Sunday services. That church probably needs their pastor around the church building a bit more, shepherding a larger organization instead of spending significant time with a small handful of families.

Call me old-school, but I don't think the pastor should make that choice by himself in a vacuum. Instead, that decision should be made in a concert of counselors, specifically, the session. Adam's article at times suggests if a session is concerned about their pastor's use of time, they simply need to give him space and trust him more. I think a more helpful solution is to schedule appropriate times to have that conversation together.

Yearly or bi-annual conversations about church ministry priorities and time commitments can be a great way for a session and pastor to come together. Not only can these meetings help set a mutually agreed upon ministry strategy, they also give the pastor an opportunity to remind the session how pastoral ministry works. I agree with Adam that many ruling elders do not understand some aspects of pastoral ministry. This type of meeting would be the perfect place to help teach the session those very lessons.

Additionally, these meetings could help list the needs of the church and give an estimate for the hours (roughly) expected to perform each task. It's not that a ministry should be measured in hours, but a rough estimate can be a helpful way to summarize the work a pastor does--even the work that is hard to quantify. Your numbers will vary, but weekly time estimates can help show a session how much goes into each task. Maybe the session wants their pastor to prepare a thoughtful sermon (25+ hours), teach Sunday School (5-10 hours), communicating with church members and leaders (10 hours), oversee Men's & Women's ministries (3 hours), visit 3 families each week (6 hours), counsel the afflicted (2-6 hours), reach out to the community (2 hours), etc. These tasks add up. Both the session and the pastor should discuss (1) what needs to be done and (2) generally how much time to spend on those categories. And while this should not lead to an hourly time sheet, setting out the expectations can go a long way in bringing the pastor and session together. I would even suggest that a pastor who isn't willing to discuss what they do and how they spend their time with the session is making the opposite, but equally grievous, mistake as the elder who wants a time-sheet.

Avoiding conversations about priorities and time only delays, or even encourages, the gap between ruling elder and pastor, and as Adam suggested, may lead to separations. Scheduling regular meetings where both parties can discuss their values and differences with the goal of mutual understanding could help avoid such dissolutions and encourage more healthy sessions and pastors.

3. When trust wavers, seek outside counsel.

But what happens when the gulf is too large? What happens when the two parties can't come to agreement on how and where the pastor should spend his time? I think Adam and I agree here as well. He mentioned trust several times. I agree that ruling elders who question how a pastor spends his time ultimately struggle with trusting their pastor. Trust between session and pastor is essential. When the pastor or the session finds himself/themselves in a position where they no longer trust the other, it's usually time to bring in outside help.

Small fissures in trust can absolutely be resolved "in house." But if you, as a session, are thinking of making your pastor fill out a time-card, you need to bring in an outside voice. Alternately, if you, as a pastor, consistently feel scrutinized and haven't made progress towards mutual understanding, you need outside counsel. This could look several ways. Maybe you find another pastor in the area who's willing to join your next session meeting to hear both sides. Maybe a nearby church can send both a teaching elder and a ruling elder to help mediate. When the rift is significant enough, however, you might need to elicit the help of a respected consultant or even Christian counselor.

The point being, if trust has been broken, you need to spend time on the repair. At that point, the time management conversation is merely a symptom. If the session and pastor are not able to mend the damage themselves, the answer isn't a simple exhortation to "trust more." Rather, pastors and sessions should heed the repeated proverb that wisdom is found in an abundance of counsel (Prov 11:14; 15:22; 24:6), and they should look for that wisdom outside their small church.

My hope is that these suggestions can help mend relationships and build healthier churches. Conflict in the church is inevitable, but it is rarely one-sided. Any church that wants to keep a pastor should absolutely trust him. But ruling elders also have a responsibility to the congregation. If a ruling elder does not understand the role or work patterns of a pastor, the two sides should do their best to come to a mutual understanding of priorities and expectations. Once those priorities and expectations are more clearly established, building trust becomes much easier.

Adam concludes his article saying, "Any church that wants to keep their pastor needs to learn to trust the man, and to trust the Spirit of God to deal with the man when he fails." I agree. I would also add: "Any pastor who wants to keep his pastorate should listen to his elders." The problem of time-management seems to be at the intersection of these two ideas. In most situations, by God's grace, humble, frequent, and patient communication is the healthy way forward.


Jonathan Kiel (MDiv, Reformed Theological Seminary) is Pastor of Discipleship (Elect) at Christ Church in Bellingham, WA. He is currently completing his PhD in Old Testament Studies at Southern Seminary.


Related Links

"Battered Pastors" by Todd Pruit [ Pt. 1  |  Pt. 2  |  Pt. 3 ]

"Pastor: Will You Burn Out?" by Leon Brown

Persevering in Your Church and Ministry, 2014 [ MP3 Disc  |  Download ]

Persevering in Your Church and Ministry, 2016 [ MP3 Disc  |  Download ]

 

The Pastor as Hourly Employee?

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One of my favorite things is getting together with other pastors and asking them how their ministry is going. Most of the time a pastor will say that things are going great, and then he will share some of the joys of his ministry. However, occasionally a pastor will sigh deeply and tell me that things are getting difficult... and on more than one occasion, that the pastor goes on to tell me that he has a particular elder who demands to know how he spends his time.

There are few things that elicit a deeper groan of sympathy from my own heart than a fellow pastor of a smaller church who tells me that his elders are suspicious enough to resort to tracking how much time he spends "in the office." To me, it is an immediate sign of an unhealthy session that distrusts the pastor when the elders want a man to keep track of his hours or when they take it upon themselves to do so. I once knew a fellow minister who had an elder who would drive past the church and take note of what time he arrived each day and when he left each day. If he wasn't keeping the same hours as the elder did before he was retired, he was reprimanded at the next session meeting. Being treated like this makes the pastor feel like a pack animal or Ben-Hur rowing in the slave galleys, rather than what he is - a trustworthy minister and pastor.

I hear enough of these stories that it seems like something that needs to be addressed. And part of the reason I feel I can address this, myself, is because I serve a church where the session does not treat me as a paid hourly employee. They don't demand that I account for every minute of my day or scrutinize my schedule. In the church where I currently serve, I have never, ever felt like I am their employee; I feel I've been treated as a pastor, a minister who seeks to use his time well and live a life that is above reproach. 

On the other hand, there are many pastors out there who don't have the freedom to speak on this issue--and likely won't even feel free to share this article on social media--because they are literally turning in time sheets and showing their work as if they were high schoolers clocking in at their first job at the Burger King.

There are a few things we can know about a small church that watches and scrutinizes the hours of its pastor:

1) Most likely, there are business leaders on the session.

2) The session members do not trust their minister.

3) The church will almost certainly chase their pastors away.

If you are a ruling elder on a session where you know the minister is being watched and scrutinized like this--if not by you, then maybe by another elder--I hope to give you a few reasons to stop this practice immediately, and consider even repenting to the pastor for how you've treated him.

1. Time =/= Increased Productivity.

In the business community, time equals productivity. If you're working in a restaurant, another hour equals more food made and more people fed. If you're running a lawn care business, productivity means more grass cut as fast as possible. If you're in banking, staying in the office for just another hour means that account will be completed, which means tomorrow you'll be able to move on to something else, and over time that productivity turns into greater returns. The business world knows what productivity looks like: Greater return on investment and cash in the books. Time really does mean more productivity in the business world.

But what does pastoral productivity look like? More money in the church coffers? More behinds in the seats on Sunday mornings? More conversions? More baptisms? The biblical answer is that pastoring is not a job like making widgets or generating financial returns. Biblically speaking, productivity looks like the pastor fulfilling his calling with "a good conscience and sincere faith," which cannot be numerically measured.

2. Time in the Office Is Not the Sum Total of Pastoral Ministry.

This is very important: If you think your pastor is being productive because his car is in the church parking lot, you have missed out on what a pastor does.

Sometimes pastors are out performing visitations to people. That takes time, and doesn't look like any traditional definition of productivity.

Sometimes pastors work from home. I've been known to rise at 4 or 5 in the morning and work on my sermons. Many pastors relish the flexibility to work odd hours, or even to pepper their work throughout the day when they find spare minutes.

But let's just say the session does consider visitation to be "work." What about when a pastor is reading a book for his own edification? Or what about when a pastor takes a walk with his wife and discusses what he's been reading? What about when a man talks to his daughter about the news of the day and discusses how to think biblically. What about if he is having lunch with a deacon?

There are parts of being a healthy pastor with a healthy family that simply do not fit neatly into the categories of traditional productivity or time well spent, and yet without them the pastor's life would be a mess and he would be entirely unable to minister in the long term. In other words, you could never really measure the time a pastor spends being a pastor, because he never stops. Probably even the man himself could not tell you when he stops being a pastor and when he shifts into "average joe" mode, and that is because of the next point I want to mention.

3. Pastoral Ministry Owns All of a Man's Life.

Part of the reason why office time does not equal pastoral ministry is because all of the pastor's life is ministry in some way. Even when I take my son to Taekwondo, what am I doing? I'm reading a book on my Kindle that helps me be a better pastor. I might visit with the person next to me and see if there's some comfort I can share with them. Sometimes I am sitting with my iPad in my lap tweaking a sermon. I may be composing a letter to a church member, all of which is very nontraditional when it comes to counting office hours.

Pastors are always on call and always need to be ready to respond. We might have a disaster at 9pm on a Saturday that requires our attention. Family movie night may have to go on without us. We may have a church member stop by our house unannounced that needs ministered to. We may have a hundred unplanned interactions each day that look nothing like the equivalent of flipping a certain number of burgers or mowing a certain quota of lawns in a day. You cannot quantify the work of a pastor because his whole life is, in a sense, spent on call. 

There are certainly examples of lazy pastors. Sure, that happens. And perhaps someone needs to write an article on that subject. But even then, pastoral laziness still cannot be measured in terms of hours. Pastoral laziness will show up in terms of how the people are cared for, the care that goes into the sermons, whether administrative concerns are being taken care of and so on. Hours "on the clock," I hope you can see, are not the way to gauge pastoral laziness.

Elders, I cannot emphasize this enough: Trust your pastor. Give him room to be himself and give him the freedom to work in a way that he sees best. I have developed my own routines through trial and error, and I am still learning, but I would feel utterly stilted and trapped if I was treated the way some of my fellow ministers are being (or have been) treated, and I would warn a prospective pastor to any church that I knew treated their pastor like this. Many pastors have straight up told me, "I had a church that treated me that way, and life's too short - never again. I would say no to any church who did that in a heartbeat."

I fear that many church sessions are not very reflective on the nature of the pastorate or what they really have when they have a pastor. This mentality that treats the pastor as an employee is a reflection of an imported business-mentality, but not of a biblical mentality.

Some sessions see their job as creating friction in the pastor's life, pushing back at every moment and making his life difficult so that he doesn't "rest on his laurels." However, this philosophy misses the very real fact that every pastor is already his own worst critic. There is plenty of friction in the soul of the average minister.

Derek Thomas has spoken of the epidemic of pastoral guilt - that fear that I'm never doing enough - that fear that there is always something more... that if I could just accomplish one more thing, or preach an even better sermon, I might be worthy of this office or I would deserve to be here. Some pastors cope with that by doubling down and eventually burning out. Others cope with it by descending into deep depressions that they feel they cannot share with others (especially the members of the session). Still others decide not to cope with it and leave the ministry. Sessions, your job is accountability and congregational care, but not to create difficulty, misery, or guilt in the minister's life simply for the sake of friction.

In the end, the cure to this problem of sessions treating pastors like employees is remarkably straightforward: Sessions need a biblical understanding of the pastorate and of elders. We need to stop importing the things we've learned in the business world as if there is a 1:1 relationship between our previous success and the office of elder. I fear far too many successful business men have become elders due to perception of competence and worldly achievement when really they ought to be Sunday School teachers or deacons. The result is business philosophy masquerading as biblical eldering or tough love.

A church pays their pastor so that he will be free of worldly concerns, not as reciprocity for hours spent. The intention of paying a pastor is that he is free to minister the word well, shepherd the church, serve the people, and make sure that he and his family are spiritually fed so that he can keep ministering for the long term, not so that he is motivated to work harder or eventually burn out. Ministering well in a sustainable way involves finding a work flow and lifestyle that can leave him free to do those things in the way he best sees fit with a "clear conscience," and that may not look like the easily counted 40, 60, 80, or 100 hour work week.

If your church is stalking the pastor's hours, watching every movement he makes, and letting him know that you are holding his feet to the fire, I believe you are in the process of running your minister off, and I believe that you need to repent. This behavior reflects a business-like mentality that does not belong in the church. It reflects a belief in the power of productivity that is wrong-headed, and misses the fact that soul-enrichment is totally unquantifiable. It reflects a distrust of a minister of the gospel who is responsible before God for how he lives and serves the people under his care. Any church that wants to keep their pastor needs to learn to trust the man, and to trust the Spirit of God to deal with the man when he fails.


Adam Parker is the Pastor of Pearl Presbyterian Church (PCA) and an adjunct Professor at Belhaven University. He is a graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, MS, and most importantly the husband of Arryn and father of four children.


Related Links

"Battered Pastors" by Todd Pruit [ Pt. 1  |  Pt. 2  |  Pt. 3 ]

"Pastor: Will You Burn Out?" by Leon Brown

Persevering in Your Church and Ministry, 2014 [ MP3 Disc  |  Download ]

Persevering in Your Church and Ministry, 2016 [ MP3 Disc  |  Download ]

City-to-City Evangelism

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Many of us who grew up in the D. James Kennedy era of Evangelism Explosion embraced the idea that spiritually mature Christians should be involved in formal and methodical one-on-one evangelism. The same is true of those who were influenced by the Way of the Master approach, spearheaded by Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron. I have personally benefited from both of these ministries at different times in my Christian life. As a young Christian, I had a compulsive zeal for door-to-door evangelism, as well as to preach extemporaneously in public settings. In seminary, I used to go with a friend to knock on the doors of the houses around the school I attended. On a rare occasion, we saw someone come to church with us and make a profession of faith. Additionally, my wife and I spent several summers working at the Boardwalk Chapel--an evangelistic ministry of the OPC in Wildwood, NJ. We would go out on the boardwalk many nights throughout the summer and talk with others on the boardwalk about the Gospel. I frequently preached from the stage inside the chapel to those passing by on the boardwalk. Once or twice, I tried my hand at open air preaching on the boardwalk. The last summer we were at the Chapel, a group of the staff members told me that a young man had come by asking for me by name. He told them that the summer before, he had heard me preach the Gospel and was, by God's grace, converted. 15 years later, I think of that with hope that he truly trusted Christ. I sometimes even wonder what it will be like for us to be in glory together for all of eternity. While he knew my name, I still don't know his. The Boardwalk Chapel was a special ministry tied to a wonderful local church. We need more ministries like it.

That being said, I have undergone something of a shift in my understanding about both door-to-door evangelism and open air preaching. For several reasons, I am not sure that they are as important or effective as I once believed. Most proponents of door-to-door evangelism appeal to Jesus sending out the 12 (Mark 6:7-13) and the 72 (Luke 10:1-5) into the cities and towns to which he was planning on going throughout Israel. Proponents of door-to-door and open-air evangelism have long insisted, "Since this was the example of the early disciples it ought to be the practice we follow." The same line of reasoning is, interestingly, made by Charismatics with regard to many of the supernatural practices descriptively outlined in the book of Acts. Anyone reading the Gospels or the book of Acts must surely recognize that these were no ordinary times. Many of the methods and activities of the early church were circumstantially unique to that time in redemptive-history. There is, however, another factor to consider when seeking to understand whether or not Jesus commissioned door-to-door evangelism in the Gospels--namely, whether the text actually teaches that  the disciples went door-to-door. 

Luke 10:1-12 is one of the great passages about the evangelistic ministry of Jesus. The kingdom of God had come and was growing and spreading. Jesus had already sent out the 12; now he is sending out 72. The number 72 is a symbolic number, drawing from the Old Testament leadership in Israel. However, it is also a multiple of 12. Minimally, we are to understand that Jesus is multiplying laborers for the spread of the Gospel. In fact, Jesus prefaces his commission by saying, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few." The Savior is equipping more laborers by giving them instructions about how they are to conduct the work of evangelism. He is also telling them what sort of outcome to expect. He sends them into the surrounding cities and towns. In a very real sense, Jesus is commissioning city-to-city or town-to-town evangelism, rather than door-to-door evangelism. In verse 7, Jesus says, "Do not go house to house!" I have sometimes jokingly said, "Jesus forbids door-to-door evangelism." What is the point of Christ telling the disciples not to go house to house? Simply put, he is telling the disciples that there will be cities and towns that will be receptive to the preaching of the Gospel and to His messianic ministry, and there will be others that are not. Being welcomed into homes in receptive cities and towns served as a sign that the Lord wanted them to stay and labor there. This is clearly a redemptive-historical provision for a special work to which Jesus was calling the disciples. Yet, some aspect of it continues to be paradigmatic of the advancement of the Kingdom of God until Christ comes. 

What then we do with the example of the Apostles in the book of Acts? Clearly, the Apostles were engaged in open-air evangelism. No one can read those sections of the book of Acts in which the great sermons of Peter, Phillip, Stephen or Paul are recorded and come away denying the role that extemporaneous preaching in public settings played in the advancement of the Kingdom after Jesus' ascension. I once held to the opinion that this was normative for the church and that, if we are faithful, we too would follow this example. What I failed to understand as a young Christian was that the intertestimental period was a transitional period during which the New Covenant church was being established among unreached people, primarily through the instrumentality of open-air, evangelistic preaching. As the church was formed and ecclesiastical government was established, we find less of this approach and more of the shepherding preaching within the context of the local church. This does not mean that it is wrong for men to be zealous to engage in open-air preaching. It does mean that we need to account of the uniqueness of the circumstances. The Apostle Paul, for instance, went into the Areopagus and reasoned with the philosophers and teachers there (Acts 17:16-34). The people there had never heard the Gospel before. There was no New Covenant church in Greece that could carry out the Great Commission. Perhaps the university campuses of our day would be analogous to the Areopagus; but, it would be impossible to carry over the exact cultural context of Athens in Paul's day into the 21th Century in our North American context where solid local churches have been established and are being planted. 

This necessitate a few further qualifications and thoughts. First, I do not believe that we have adequately committed ourselves to the teaching of our Lord Jesus about the evangelization of the world. What I have said above ought not diminish a zeal for evangelism. We can too easily write off our responsibility to bear witness to Christ because of methodologies with which we are uncomfortable. Rather, this ought to encourage us to think through ways that are consistent with Scripture and our own context to carry out the Great Commission faithfully. What would that look like in our context? I believe that the Great Commission should be properly carried out under the oversight of the local church. It should, first and foremost, be obeyed by ministers of the Gospel. The Apostle Paul told Timothy, "Do the work of evangelist" (2 Tim. 4:5). Evangelism is hard work. It take time, prayer, thoughtfulness and diligence. It is too easy to lag off with regard to an evangelistic zeal. It is too easy to write it off under the notion of other priorities in the local church taking precedent. We have to think through both the foreign and home missions aspect of the Great Commission. 

William Carey is a great example of what a modern day evangelistic ministry among unreached people should look like. He opened his home, started schools, planted churches and trained pastors to carry out the Great Commission. The carrying out of evangelism must begin with the minister of the Gospel himself having a vision for an evangelistic component built into the life of the local church. In some sense, it is a long term vision; whereas, door-to-door and open-air preaching can be a quick fix approach. 

In our own context of home missions, it would look like equipping a congregation to be outward focused, intentional about inviting unbelievers into their home and ultimately to sit under the preaching of the Gospel in the local church. It would look like committing to planting new churches where there is a need for a biblically faithful church. The people who say, "We have too many churches. There is a church on every corner" probably don't go to any church on any corner. My dad used to say, "Christ would be pleased if there were solid local churches in every neighborhood in every community on the face of the earth!" It might look like having a Christianity Explored course offered sometime during the week at the local church. It might look like hosting a Mother's of Preschoolers group in which the Gospel is taught to women who participate from the community. It certainly might include building out local church Bible studies in which the members are encouraged to invite friends, neighbors or co-workers. We have to think categorically about those with whom we rub shoulders on a daily or weekly basis. These, it seems to me, are far more effective methods than going door-to-door or to engaging in open-air preaching. 

While the disciples and Apostles did exercise their gifts of preaching and teaching among the unreached in unique ways and circumstances, they did so with the goal of establishing local churches. The local church, in turn, became the typical way in which the world would be reached with the Gospel. The city-to-city approach of Jesus supports the conclusion that the Savior is establishing His kingdom in communities and not simply among individuals. It would serve us well to rethink the biblical call to city-to-city evangelism, bolstered by the ministry of the local church in which we are committed. 

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Editor's Update: Al Baker has written a response to this article, which can be read here.

Fences and Fellowship

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I've tried not to be, but I can't help it...I'm a Baptist. I've read all I could about pedobaptism, I've talked to many friends, I've prayed for wisdom and clarity, and in the end, I've been all the more convinced of Baptist principles (of the 1689 London Baptist Confession variety). The truth is, Reformed Baptists (or Particular Baptists, if you prefer) have far more in common with confessional pedobaptists than we often do with others who identify as Baptist. We share a very similar confessional heritage and an overwhelming percentage of our doctrine is identical. There is no good reason why confessional Baptist and confessional pedobaptist brothers and sisters cannot enjoy intimate ecumenical fellowship with one another.

I have several friends with whom I cannot fellowship. Some of my friends aren't Christians, and others are acquaintances whom I have not had the opportunity to invest much time. Fellowship is only fellowship when friends are committed to a common cause or goal, and it flourishes through our common pursuit of that cause or goal. For the Christian, the shared goal ought to be the glory of God and the proclamation of the gospel. Without a conscious effort to utilize our God-given relationships to achieve such an end, we may have friends, but we don't have fellowship. However, I don't believe true fellowship exists only among those with whom we share complete agreement on every issue. Baptists and Presbyterians can, and should have true fellowship with one another (in addition to other relationships with Christians in other faithful circles).

A lot of reformed believers seem reluctant to use the word ecumenical, and often for good reason. We are confessional for a reason: we don't abide by the namby-pamby spirit of everyone just getting along for the sake of getting along. Our distinctions really do matter. What we believe to be true from Scripture is worth maintaining and standing on. Every Christian's conscience and every church needs to be conformed to the truth as we understand it. It would be wrong to assume that fellowship requires a Baptist to baptize their infants, or a pedobaptist to withhold what they believe to be a sign of the covenant for their children. Our authority is the Bible and we must submit to it lest our actions not proceed from faith (Romans 14:23).

Fences Make Good Neighbors

Anyone living in a neighborhood understands the blessing of a fence. We can have the best neighbors the world has to offer, but without a fence, we can sometimes run into difficulties. Where does one person's property end and the others begin? Who's responsible for the patch of grass between the two, and what happens when one neighbor wants to plant a new tree but we don't know where the property line is? Boundary markers are useful and important, but the distinction between what's mine and what's yours doesn't mean we can't love each other, don't care about what's going on in each other's homes, or won't lend a hand to our neighbor just because their yard isn't ours! It is because we have boundaries that we can be better, more loving neighbors without reason for discrepancy or upset.

Reaching Over Fences

The desire for ecumenical fellowship sometimes exists, but working through it practically may be difficult. How do we foster healthy, ecumenical relationships between churches? In most instances, the most probable avenue is through healthy ecumenical pastoral fellowship. Some of my best pastor friends do not share the same confession of faith with me, but our hearts beat together on most matters. As a result, we've been able to engage in various endeavors together: Preaching at each other's conferences or special events, pulpit swaps, or even joint vacation Bible schools or youth camps. We've even had others join us in some evangelistic efforts in the city. I've benefitted greatly from being able to talk to other pastors face-to-face about members who have left our church to go to theirs or visa-versa. It has been a blessing to be able to share resources and ideas with men who aren't entrenched in my context. Every Lord's Day, I am sure to pray publicly for a church in our network (Reformed Baptist Network) from other states and nations, but I'm also sure to pray for other faithful local churches and their pastors. When God's people can follow a pastor's leadership and shed territorial spirits, there is greater opportunity for unity and less church swapping and accountability avoiding in the entire community.

We should work toward fellowship when we share the common goal of God's glory, even though doctrinal disagreements exist. We know where the line is, so instead of spending our time determining who needs to rake the leaves, we can focus on the things that unite us. With all sincerity and love, we should be able to say to other brothers and sisters in different, yet very similar churches and denominations, "We thank God in all our remembrance of you, always in every prayer for you all making our prayer with joy, because of our fellowship in the gospel of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:3-5). No doubt, there are churches that are only churches in name, but there are others who are deeply committed to the things that matter. We don't need to change what we believe to join together in meaningful ways to bring the gospel to our communities.

Can you and do you give thanks to God for your brothers and sisters in Christ, not just in your local church, but around the world? Throughout your community? Fellowship is not easier outside the local church than it is inside, but it's worth the effort for the sake of God's name, for the health of His church, and for the growth of His people.

When Everything is a Gender Question

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Recently, I was having a discussion with a friend (who happens to be in pastoral ministry) about the gender debates that are raging in our culture and in our churches. In the course of our conversation, my friend said, "I think that part of the difficulty with this discussion is that far too many reduce everything down to a matter of gender, whereas --more often than not--Scripture speaks in terms of social rather than biological constructs." Not fully grasping what my friend was getting at, I asked him for further explanation. He said, "Scripture speaks of fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, friends, politicians, pastors, teachers, elders and deacons, rather than simply answering the questions, "What can a man do?" and "What can a woman do?'" Since that discussion, I've been ruminating over my friend's observations. I believe that he's onto something important. 

So many of the conversations about leadership in the church seems to be framed around the following questions: "What can a man do?" and "What can a woman do?" Instead, we should be asking, "What social constructs has God established in the home, the world and the church," "To what authoritative standards should we look to understand who is to fill the social roles that God has established," and "How are those who are called and qualified by God to carry out these roles once they are given the office?" When we fail to ask the later questions--and we substitute them with the former questions--we do a great disservice to ourselves and to the church. In many respects, both conservative Christians and progressive Christians have erred in replacing the later questions with the former, thereby making almost all leadership questions about gender, rather than about understanding the nature of God-ordained social constructs. Let me explain. 

In socially conservative churches, male only ordination is prized, defended and promoted. The problem? Many of the men who are placed in the office of either elder or deacon are not biblically qualified. How did they manage to get into these offices? It may have had to do with their bank accounts, or their successful business practices, or their heritage as a member of a particularly important family in the church. Whatever the reasons that lay behind biblically unqualified men holding these offices, of this much we can be sure--the church and its leadership put them forward largely because they were men. Gender is the leading qualification for quite a considerable number of conservative churches. To be sure, such men must appear to have their lives together. They obviously couldn't be notorious womanizers, drug addicts or scandalous; but, they also don't have to meet the qualifications set out in Scripture (which is often apparent based on their lack of teaching gifts or spiritual mindedness). The Bible does not teach that just any "good ol' boy" may hold the office of elder or deacon because he happens to be a man. It teaches that only those men whom God has called, gifted and set apart for the work may hold office--which means that there will be plenty of men who are not qualified or gifted to hold office and should not, therefore, hold office. 

Clearly, gender differentiation occurs in the process of identifying and electing church officials according to God's revelation. However, when progressive churches give women the functional role of elders (i.e. shepherds), they too are leading with the assumption that leadership in the church is primarily a gender issue rather than a God-ordained and God-defined social construct. When challenged as to why they allow women to teach men in various parts of the worship service, many pastors now commonly respond by saying, "A woman can do anything that a non-ordained man can do." Therein lies our problem. When conservative churches start to give "non-ordained" men the functional leadership roles that God has reserved for ordained officers of the church, they have made leadership a gender issue rather than a God-defined social construct. When progressive churches put non-ordained women into functional leadership roles that God has reserved for ordained officers, they defend their action on the idea that all of this is simply a gender issue. 

Perhaps what the church needs more than anything today is a reassessment of the doctrine of church offices--a revisiting of the great works of ecclesiology that the church has in its historico-theological repository. We need a reconsideration of what arguments we are employing--in order to know whether or not we are asking the right questions. As we go to Scripture (e.g., 1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9; 1 Tim. 2:12) and to the great ecclesiastical works of church history in order to understand why the stalwarts of the faith believed that God had uniquely entrusted the Keys of the Kingdom to ordained elders--and that they, and only they, are called by God to exercise a faithful and diligent use of them--we might free ourselves of the reductionistic notion that gender equality means equal outcomes in the Church's God-ordained social constitution.