Results tagged “ministry” from Reformation21 Blog

As Jesus Sees It

|

One of the benefits of having young children while being a pastor is that it affords you the opportunity to get plugged into the local school system. When we first met with someone who worked at the school, we told them the name of our church. Their immediate response was, "Oh we used to go there! It's a great church! But...there just weren't enough teens for my kids to have friends." I also heard this from another person who had visited our congregation.

When I shared this with a friend of mine, he told me that he has had similar experiences. He noted that he had followed up with two families who had visited the church he pastors; but, that they ultimately decided to go elsewhere. Their reasoning was the same. The sound preaching of the Word was there--and that was the most important thing for them--but there just weren't enough young couples their age with whom they could connect.

As I was relaying these two episodes to a mentor, who is himself a retired pastor, he wistfully looked to the corner of the room and mused to himself, "You know, if every family that complained we didn't have a big enough youth group had just stuck around we'd have had the biggest youth group in town!" If I didn't laugh, I would have cried.

There are a lot of things that people look for in a church. Those things can be superficial (e.g. "the building needs to be beautiful"). They can be substantial (e.g. "The Word needs to be preached faithfully"). Others are understandable (e.g. "I want people my age with whom I can connect"). Often the things for which visitors are looking are things that lie outside of their control. For instance, a visitor may like certain things about a local church but cannot change the pastor's preaching. But, when visitors leave a church because of its composition (e.g. young, old, racial or otherwise) they are giving up on a church because of one aspect of the life of the church that they actually have the ability to do something about.

What amazing things would happen in local churches all over our nation if people attended solely for the sound ministry of the Word of God and then contributed their time, talents, and treasures to help make the church what it could be in other areas that are secondary, tertiary, preferential or understandable. What if, instead of seeing the church that isn't there, we saw the church that is there?

One of the things that the Apostle John sets out for us in the book of Revelation is how Jesus views seven churches. He views some as faithful but small (Rev. 2:9). He views some as needing to repent over serious issues (2:16). There is one church that Jesus sees as having a great reputation and seeming healthy on the surface, but which He explains is actually dead deep down (3:1). This last church in particular shows us that first impressions are often deceptive. If someone had shown up at the church of Sardis they would have said, "This church is respectable. They have a good reputation. They look good. And wow, check out that youth group. Sure, they're a little spiritually sleepy (3:3), but you know, every church has its problems."

When we consider the seven church that Jesus addresses in the book of Revelation, we find that He takes issue with almost all of them; and yet, He doesn't simply walk away from any of them. When it comes to the secondary issues, what if we all started seeing the church that Jesus sees? What if we all said, "You know, the church isn't what it should be or could be...yet; but, maybe the Lord will use me with my time, talents, and treasures to make it a place that can meet the needs of the saints? Instead of seeing the church as a place where people serve me, what if we all started to see the church that Jesus sees-a place beloved by Him (that may not be where it should be yet) and in which God may use me to build it up?

Jesus and the Victim Card

|

All men share in the common experience of being image bearers of God, in having descended from the same first parents, of being fallen in the same federal representative and in needing the same salvation in Christ. However, no two people have exactly the same experiences or conditionings in their lives. Even siblings who have grown up in the same home--who have experienced the same love and the same sinful dysfunctions of their parents--have many different life experiences. This fact is profoundly intriguing when we consider the way in which our unique God-ordained personalities and our unique God-ordained circumstances intersect. However, it can also be a profoundly dangerous thing when one seeks to use uniquely painful experiences in order to hide our sin. It is this danger to which I wish to focus our attention.

We are all masters at latching onto any and every excuse in order to dismiss our sinful actions and words. Like our first parents, we are natural born experts at blame shifting, covering ourselves and downplaying the severity of our sin when it comes to light. One of the most sophisticated ways that we can excuse our sin is by hiding behind the painful experiences of our lives. It is actually quite easy to adopt the persona of a victim. We have all--at some time or another--been the object of unjust actions or words. Accordingly, all of us have an ample supply of experiences with which we can play the victim card.

This problem is often compounded by the fact that God has commanded His people to bear one another's burdens. It is one of the greatest of all Christian virtues to sympathize and empathize with those who have suffered (physically, sexually or emotionally). When someone begins to share their burdens in the context of the church, they inevitably draw the attention of deeply compassionate church members. They immediately identify those who could give them the attention for which their hearts have longed. Love for approbation and affection then leads such a person to nurture his or her sin struggles by constantly linking them to past experiences of suffering. One of the evidences that this has happened is that he or she will talk about these struggles ad nauseam. No amount of friendship or counseling ever helps. Rather than experiencing growth in grace, they paralyze themselves by nurturing self-pity. Instead of going to the Scriptures and to Christ, they form an unhealthy dependency on others.

When we find ourselves in a situation in which we are seeking to help someone who is playing the victim card, we must remind them that Jesus also had painful experiences. The Scriptures tell us that Jesus wasn't particularly physically attractive (Is. 53:2). The Evangelists constantly draw our attention to the fact that he was ridiculed by His brothers (John 7:3-5), mocked by his fellow church members (Matt. 9:24), forsaken by his disciples (Matt. 26:31; 56), falsely accused by powerful government officials (Luke 23:6-12)  and crucified with criminals (Mark 15:27-28). As a boy, Jesus was most likely scorned by His friends on account of the fact that his mother conceived out of wedlock--though she was a virgin (John 8:41). We can be sure that Jesus had many other painful childhood experiences. Yet, he never adopted a victim mentality. Jesus never played the victim card. He never allowed his past circumstances keep him from pressing on in order to accomplish the will of His Father in Heaven.

The writer of Hebrews brings the experiences of Christ to the forefront of the secret of Christian growth in grace when he tells us that Jesus "was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Heb. 4:15). On account of that, he can sympathize with us in our weaknesses. We have a great High Priest who was touched with the feelings of our infirmities. This is what qualifies Jesus to be the perfect helper in our time of weakness. No one will sympathize with us like Jesus. No one has power to change us but Jesus. Jesus became the man of sorrows in order to help His people in their time of sorrow. He never allows us to live in our sin, and never turns His back on us when we come to Him for grace and mercy to help in time of need (4:16).

While God calls us to be compassionate and sympathetic toward those who come to us with their burdens, we must also ask whether we are helping them or not. We may actually be enabling others to hide their sin behind their painful past experiences. At the end of the day, our job is to point others to Scripture and to the Savior who is revealed in Scripture. We must resist the snare of putting ourselves in the place of the Redeemer in the name of "being there" for those who are hurting. Our job is to point others to the only one who is able to give both us and them the grace that we need to change.

Moving Prayer to the Center of Ministry

|
God's people need to be prayed for. They need to led in prayer. They need to be taught how to pray. We all believe that prayer is important. Nevertheless, working our convictions about prayer into our practice of ministry is challenging. The Apostles declared "But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word" (Acts 6:4). Have you noticed that prayer actually comes first in this sentence, but that most often in conversations ministers will speak of "word and prayer." There may be something to this inversion of order in our speaking. Too often we expect that prayer will happen organically or accidentally, or to frame it more spiritually, providentially. And yet, we don't expect other aspects of ministry to unfold without intentionality, planning and leadership. Let us make sure that we are giving the ministry of prayer the same intentional focus that we are giving to preaching, teaching, worship, evangelism and discipleship. Below are five relatively simple, manageable and non-radical (ordinary Christians can do this!) ways to incorporate more prayer into your leadership and ministry. 

1. Pray for Officers--Most pastors already pray for the officers of their congregations. But often I find that our prayers are not specific enough or don't reflect the concerns that the officers have about their own lives. It is a peculiar challenge of ministry that it can be difficult for a pastor to maintain a spiritual fellowship with his officers, especially his elders. Conversations with elders tend toward routine assessments of ministry or analysis of problems in the life of the church. Pastors and elders frequently call each other with matters of concern about the church; matters concerning the soul are much less frequent. 

To move toward specificity in ways that are meaningful to the men you shepherd, ask your officers to write down on an index card how you can pray for them. Offering some categories may be helpful: career, family, fruit of the spirit, etc. Pray daily for these items, adding your own prayer emphases as well (emphases that you may or may not chose to share). At some regularly interval, ask again using the same plan. An intentional plan for prayer provides a clear way for a pastor to insure that he is ministering to his elders, and not simply with his elders. If there are differences in emphases or philosophy of ministry, a pastor's prayer for an elder will help keep his heart soft toward him as a brother and fellow elder. 

2. Make Corporate Prayer part of Your Stated Session Meetings--Prior to your stated meeting gather requests for prayer from the congregation, officers and staff. Before moving toward proposing ideas or developing plans for ministry, bring the life and ministry of the church before the Lord in prayer. Do a very brief devotion from Scripture to set the trajectory for the time. Twenty to thirty minutes in corporate prayer is a tangible way to keep in step with the Spirit as he seeks to minister Christ to the church. There may be concern over making the meeting longer, especially if you have a busy docket. However, praying together about ministry tends to shorten meeting. We are more likely to agree in the Lord with one another when we have sought the Lord with one another. Struggles for power and influence tend to dissipate when there is a shared sense that God is present and moving us forward. 

3. Have a Monthly Prayer Meeting for Elders to Pray for the Church--"Once a month!" you say. "Shouldn't elders pray daily for the church?" Yes. But this meeting is different. A monthly meeting provides a clear space in the life of the church where the congregation knows that the elders are praying specifically for them. Elders ask members to provide requests for prayer so that the elders can intercede for them. Elders can personally initiate with folks in the congregation, asking them how they can pray for them at the monthly meeting. Each elder can write a hand written note to the people that they prayed for. A stated monthly meeting also provides a place for elders to pray with people in times of crises or distress. A significant amount of prayer can take place in 45 minutes. No preaching. No Scripture reading. No discussion of ministry. All those things are already happening elsewhere. At this meeting requests that have been prepared beforehand are distributed quickly and prayed for. 

4. Have a Weekly Congregation-Wide Time of Prayer--For reasons we won't discuss here, let's acknowledge that it is difficult to get people to come to meetings designated for prayer. However, while folks won't come to a meeting to pray, they will pray when they come to a meeting. People will come to a meeting with good Biblical teaching/preaching and singing. Taking 15 minutes for corporate prayer in an evening service or mid-week meeting can be transformative in the life of a congregation. This time is led best by a pastor who sets the site of the congregation upon the kingdom of God. Prayers for the sick will inform the time, without overwhelming the meeting. The scope and gravity of the matters considered will be on par with the New Testament's own emphases for prayer. Consider having folks form small groups for prayer in this time. There are few things more encouraging than hearing the quiet rumble of a room full of folks praying. 

5. Lead with Prayer--Each one of the occasions for prayer listed above becomes an opportunity to pray for God's mission in and through the church. If you have a burden for your church, lead spiritually by praying with others before you develop plans for ministry. "Let's pray that God would draw young people in our city to Christ" is a burden. "I am starting an evangelistic Bible study downtown at Starbucks" is a plan. People in the church can be genuinely impressed with plans and supportive of our ministry without ever becoming partners in ministry. A principal form of partnership in ministry in the New Testament is prayer. Pray and lead with prayer in such a way to allow folks to become partners in ministry with pastors, elders, and ministry leaders. 

There is certainly more than one way to pray more in your ministry. We have found these five practices to be a blessing in our congregation for a number of years now. We have also seen how God has acted in very tangible ways among us as a result of moving prayer more to the center of ministry in our church. God delights to hear the prayers of his people and will bless your congregation as you move prayer toward the center of your ministry. And, it may be a lot easier than you think. For starters, you can share this post with some elders and pray about it!              

Jay Harvey is the senior pastor of Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Newark, Delaware. Jay has written articles for Tabletalk Magazine. He is also a contributor to Don't Call It A Comeback: The Old Faith for a New Day.

Church Revitalization

|

Effective Strategy? Biblical Mandate? Both! 

In 1980 a young Pastor, fresh from seminary, arriving at his first pastorate encountered some startling realities. Thinking he was informed as to the condition of the church, he soon learned just how uninformed he was. When you get "onsite" you soon gain "insight." Church attendance had diminished from over 1,000 to an average of 55. There were no children's Sunday School classes because there were no children. The average age in the congregation exceeded 70 and its past had become glorified nostalgia. On his first Sunday, the service ended at the expected 12:00 hour. As he and his wife made their way to the lobby. Amazingly, in spite of the infirmities of age, the congregation had exited and rapidly emptied the parking lot. The church attendance box for the week had been checked and they were ready to move on. There were no sounds of fellowship from lingering crowds only an empty sanctuary and parking lot within five minutes of the benediction. He went outside to try and speak to the departing congregation before and found himself embarrassingly locked out of the church building by the equally rapid exit of the part-time church janitor. After breaking into his own church to obtain his Bible and car keys, the pastor and his wife looked at each other with the sudden realization of just how enormous this pastoral challenge would be. But, there was more to come.

While all other churches in the area had monthly accounts at the local office supply store he soon learned his church was excluded and designated as "cash only" due to past payment delays. The first Session meeting revealed that not all of the elders had a personal saving relationship with Christ. They seemed to be well-meaning but did not "know the Lord." Of the two elders who exhibited some spiritual maturity, one was transferred within three months and the other died of leukemia. The church had not met its budget in years. Perhaps the most startling event was a phone call from one of the previous nine pastors revealing a tumultuous past. This pastor, while graciously welcoming the new pastor to his charge asked a strange and probing question. "Did you pray before you accepted this call?" After answering "yes" the obvious question was, "Why did you ask?" The answer was stunning. He informed the new pastor that he believed the church "had the mark of Satan upon it."

He then began to share the "horror stories" of what had happened to the previous pastors. All of which was not encouraging for a new pastor in his first pastorate. So what do you do?

While grateful for his seminary education he realized he was unprepared for this moment. But thankfully his seminary preparation had been framed by a relentless commitment to the inerrancy and the sufficiency of God's Word. So to his study and to the Scripture he went. I can verify all of the above since I was this young Pastor. So how would God's sufficient Word (which cannot be broken) instruct me to respond?

Here was a church in decline and its demise imminent. It could be said one flu season would put the church out of business. The Presbytery's counsel was to sell the property and use the proceeds to plant another church. Yet the neighborhood was full of unreached people. The daily vandalizing of the church revealed two factors. One, the neighborhood viewed the church as a derelict unused building. Two, there were people to be reached. Could this church be revitalized?  The Word of God was clear that I must preach and pray for revival but only the Lord could bring it. But I soon discovered a Biblical roadmap from Christ as to how pastors can lead a church back to spiritual vitality? Here is how that happened.

As mentioned, this took place in 1980, a year which also witnessed the rise and proliferation of "church growth" publications. Clearly, these resources were of interest to me and I devoured them. In doing so a few things became obvious. First, the writers of these publications were intelligently insightful and well-meaning. Second, most of the proposed remedies were "best practices" drawn from psychological, sociological and demographic ministry analysis. Of course, all of the recommended practices were "checked out" against the Scripture to make sure that no Biblical truths were being violated. Yet, few were actually derived from the Scripture. They were commended with the assurance that they would produce "statistical church growth" which surfaced another concern. While the Bible, in the book of Acts, records "statistical growth" in the church there is no indication that the leadership focused their ministry philosophy upon statistical church growth. The clear evidence is that 1st century church leaders focused on the spiritual vitality and health of the church with "statistical growth" recorded as a consequence of the apostolic ministry, not the objective of their ministry.

Furthermore, in my study, I was intrigued by the recorded expansion of the Kingdom of God through the church and the strategy employed by the Apostle in the Book of Acts.

First, the Gospel of the Kingdom proclaimed in Jerusalem by the Apostles established the church of Jerusalem (Acts 1-8). Then the Kingdom powerfully expanded as promised by the Lord to Judea and Samaria resulting in the church at Antioch (Acts 9-12). This eventually expanded the Kingdom to the world through another key church at Ephesus (Acts 13-28). At each step of the ever-expanding Kingdom through vibrant and healthy churches, statistical growth was a result of Gospel vitality furthered through the effective ministry of Gospel-healthy leaders and churches.

In Acts 13 Saul (soon the Apostle Paul) along with Barnabas are sent by the Church at Antioch on the first missionary journey. They employed a four-fold Gospel ministry strategy expanding the Kingdom to city after city. This recorded strategy was:

  1. Gospel evangelism and discipleship
  2. Gospel Church planting
  3. Gospel deeds of love, mercy and justice
  4. Gospel leaders multiplied and mobilized (at times they would leave leaders from their team because of the importance of leadership in the church.)

Later in Acts 15:36-16:5, after the conclusion of the first General Assembly of the New Testament Church in Jerusalem, Paul suggested to Barnabas that they take a second missionary journey. The narrative records their "sharp disagreement" as to whether John Mark should accompany them. The result was two mission teams instead of one. John Mark and Barnabas depart on their ministry while Paul takes Silas and later recruits Timothy on his second missionary journey. Now what would he do on this second missionary initiative?

Paul, repeated his four-fold strategy of expanding the Gospel of the Kingdom and he intentionally added another strategy - Gospel church revitalization to fulfill his repeatedly stated objective "let's return and strengthen the churches" - the same churches they had planted on their first missionary journey.

Gratefully Paul's strategy of church planting has been received and embraced with passion and energy but his emphasis on a strategy of intentional church revitalization is not embraced by today's denominations. For the most part struggling churches are left to fend for themselves and in some cases I have encountered they are encouraged to close the church while the denomination energetically pursues the planting of churches. But Paul, while remaining committed to church planting also intentionally and strategically sought to "strengthen the churches" who were stalled, plateaued or declining by leading them to spiritual health and vitality.


A Closing Challenge


In the book of Acts there are thirteen words uttered in frustrated anger from an enemy of the Gospel in Europe less than 25 years after the Ascension of Christ which I would love to hear once again - "these people who have turned the world upside down have come here also." We know who turned the "world upside down" - the people of God empowered by the Spirit of God. We know what turned the "world upside down" - the power of the Gospel. We even know how they turned the "world upside down" -- Gospel evangelism and discipleship; Gospel church planting AND church revitalization; Gospel deeds of love and mercy; and Gospel leaders multiplied and mobilized. We are not in need of new strategies we simply need to implement the Apostolic strategy to "turn the world upside down." So let's be specific. To reverse the two decade decline in the number of churches each year the evangelical church needs to do two things.

Focus upon the means of grace to produce Christ-exalting, Spirit-filled, prayer-saturated Bible-shaped, Gospel-healthy churches which are on mission, message and ministry.
Every church, presbytery, association and denomination ought to be fully committed to a two-fold Gospel ministry of church planting AND church revitalization. Not to do so is to embrace continued failure. More importantly not to do so is to at best ignore Christ and His Word and at worst to disobey Christ and His Word as well as the tried and true Apostolic strategy to fulfill the Great Commission. Let's plant more by closing fewer.

So what is church revitalization and how is it done? Glad you asked. In the next blog let's examine the church revitalization roadmap revealed by Jesus for us in His sufficient Word.


Dr. Harry L. Reeder, III is the Senior Pastor of Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, AL. Harry completed his doctoral dissertation on "The Biblical Paradigm of Church Revitalization" and received a Doctor of Ministry Degree from Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte, North Carolina (where he serves as adjunct faculty member). He is the author of From Embers to a Flame: How God Can Revitalize Your Churchas well as a number of other published works.

During a recent evening worship service at our church, the Rev. Scott Cook was ordained to the gospel ministry.  Scott is a recent graduation of RTS (Charlotte) and had previously been an outstanding intern at our church.  I had the enormous privilege of preaching from John 3:22-30, on the theme, "The Friend of the Bridegroom."  Ordination services are important, and I'd like to note just a few reasons why I love them.  

  1. The Church.  An ordination service reminds us that the church is not just a social body where we have all decided to hang out for a while.  Rather, it is the household of God and the repository of the means of grace.  God is always acting in the church through the means of grace, but in an ordination service we especially see God's hands resting on the man he has called.  It reminds us of God's presence in all that we do according to his Word.  An ordination service also reminds the church members that it is Christ's church more than it is their church.  Few things helps communicate to the church better than an ordination service the spiritual authority invested in the church, to which Christians are to yield proper submission by receiving God's Word from the minister's mouth.  It is also most wholesome in these gender-confused days for the church to see faithful and loving men exercising biblical leadership for the good of the whole church.  (My wife says that ordination services are her favorite: "It makes me feel like a woman to see all those faithful men in God-given authority," she says.
  2. The Gospel Ministry.  An ordination service involves the exalted Lord Jesus' on-going fulfillment of his promise to provide ministers to his gospel.  Paul writes that when Christ ascended into heaven "he gave gifts to men" (Eph. 4:6).  Among these gifts are "the pastor/teachers" (Eph. 4:11).  So to see a faithful man called and ordained into Christ's gospel ministry is to realize that our Lord continues to provide for the needs of the gospel in this world.  It gives me chills to lay hands on a new minister and to realize (without imbibing any Romish apostolic succession theories) that we are today carrying on a divine provision that goes back to the apostles and to Christ himself.  It reminds us what history is really about.
  3. The Gospel Minister.  An ordination service speaks extremely powerfully to those already ordained.  It reminds us of our high calling and its divine origin.  It points out to us the privilege and thrill of being a minister of the gospel.  It also invokes a fearful sense of responsibility and inadequacy that drives us to the grace of our Lord for our lives and ministry.  Just as, when conducting a wedding, I always make eye contact with my wife when the bride comes down the aisle -- seeing with crystal-clear memory the glory of my own wedding day -- during an ordination service I lift my eyes to my Savior and Master, letting him know that I do realize the privilege and obligation that he has given me by making me a steward of his grace.
TimWitmer.jpg
TheShepherdLeader.org, the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals newest web site, is the result of Alliance members who see the need to build up leadership teams that truly shepherd their churches. Be sure to bookmark the website and come back often. Pastor-scholar Tim Witmer will provide regular insight and on-going coaching material for church leaders. His system contextualizes biblical principles for the specific ministry roles and needs found in today's Church.

Dr. Witmer's book, also titled The Shepherd Leader, has been tremendously helpful to pastors and church leaders around the world. Expounding on his leadership-themed books, Tim's blog will provide further instruction and furnish ministry materials to impact those in leadership and to encourage and equip pastors. You will also find a speaking schedule and free resources that will greatly benefit your ministry.

The fundamental responsibility of church leaders is to shepherd God's flock. The aim of TheShepherdLeader.org is to provide a practical guide to shepherding in your church. Subscribe to TheShepherdLeader.org today 

The Shepherd Leader give away is now closed. You may purchase a copy at ReformedResources.org.

Winners of The Shepherd Leader

1. Thomas H, Colorado Springs, CO
2. Matthew P, Blandon, PA
3. Alex S, Apex, NC
4. Scott H, Vermillion, SD
5. James P, Globe, AZ
6. James R, Winona Lake, IN
7. Doug N, Brunswick, GA
8. Mark H, Bentonville, AR

Text links
http://www.theshepherdleader.org/
http://www.alliancenet.org/
http://www.alliancenet.org/join-the-alliance
http://www.reformedresources.org/books/the-shepherd-leader/
http://www.theshepherdleader.org/blog-subscribe


A Tired Church or Tired Christians?

|
Which ministry-related programs are available at your church? Generally, whether reformed or not, many churches have Sunday school, a men's and women's group, perhaps a mid-week Bible study or small group, VBS during the summer, nursery, youth group, music ministry, and a homeless outreach. If you are a larger church, and depending on your location, you may have a ministry to military personnel, counseling center, outreach to high school students, AWANA, young mothers ministry, and/or short term missions. Each of those programs can require a significant amount of time and energy.

While I am not writing to advocate for or against certain ministry-related church programs, it has been my experience that churches with a variety of programs often shuffle the same people throughout those ministries to ensure the programs remain available and are running somewhat smoothly. It is the old 80/20 rule. Eighty percent of the work is accomplished by twenty percent of the people. 

When this occurs--and I have seen and heard numerous stories like this--it has the potential to produce a tired church. In other words, the saints, along with their children, as a recognized visible institution, are worn out. They are weary, but since they are intent on keeping all the programs afloat for consumers, they stay in a state of fatigue, especially considering help from the majority of the congregation does not exist.

At this point, ministry leaders begin to triage all church-based programs. The important ones remain while those that seemingly do not produce much fruit or never really got off the ground cease. Unfortunately, if the church is a highly programmed entity, the ministries that were cut will only be replaced by other ministries. The new ministries will be staffed by the same people thereby repeating the cycle of creating a tired church.

There are times, however, when the church is not tired, but Christians are. Perhaps one's church adequately staffs the various ministries it maintains and has overthrown the 80/20 rule, yet the people still seem a bit lethargic? Why is this occurring? While some Christians may not be in a  program-based church, a church that has many ministries, or a church that is experiencing the 80/20 rule, their lives are often program-led. I have observed this primarily with families with several children. 

Although this does not have to be the case, it seems that many families are consumed in the extracurricular activities of their children. On Mondays, they have soccer practice. On Tuesdays, one child has piano lessons while another child has to be dropped off at swim class. On Thursdays, the oldest son has martial arts training. On Fridays and Saturdays, depending on the age of the children, many of them spend time with their friends. This is not often downtime for parent(s). They have to catch up on things they did not accomplish throughout much of the week because they were chauffeurs for their children. Or what normally happens, depending on the financial predicament of the family, the mother is the chauffeur because the father/husband is working all day. She, therefore, is exhausted by the time the week comes to a close.

Then, there is church. What can tired Christians give to the church? They are exhausted when they walk in the front door and perhaps they are more tired when they leave. Yet, their day is not complete because Sunday is assigned for grocery shopping. Life continues and church is simply another thing added to the list of to-do's for the tired Christian.

There are tired churches and there are tired Christians. While some seasons in the church and/or in our lives may be busier than others, producing a sense of fatigue, I hope that the sense of weariness, in God's good providence, comes to an end, and you begin to develop a vibrancy to serve both in your home and in your church. That may take a bit of re-prioritizing at church and in the home, but it is possible to avoid being a tired church or a tired Christian.
On numerous occasions, I have heard pastors and parishioners remark, "Your wife is your first ministry." The aforementioned statement can easily be expanded to, "Your family is your first ministry." However, for the purposes of this brief post, I will focus specifically on the former.

At its basic level, ministry simply means, "service," or a "period of service." When a pastor is ministering, he is serving that individual or congregation. The form of service takes a variety of shapes. Pastors counsel; they preach; they pray for; they witness. While they minister in many other ways, this is one of the great joys of pastoral ministry--service. In a general sense, pastors model their savior. 

Where we fail in modeling our savior, however, is when ministry turns into something much darker than service. Instead of being something in which we, as pastors, find great joy and delight, something that requires sacrifice and prayer, ministry merely becomes a task to be accomplished, a person to be fixed, a thing to occupy your schedule, a box to be checked on your to-do list. From this perspective, one's heart can easily be absent from ministerial responsibility. Furthermore, with this outlook, ministry can evolve into a burden. You would much rather be doing something else, something that brings you joy.

Pastoral ministry can assume all of those categories. From one moment to the next, it can be joyful and a burden. One can have his heart somewhat committed while two weeks later his heart is not in it. Perhaps, in this life, those dynamics come with the territory. One day, however, we will not have to worry about the personal peaks and valleys of pastoral ministry and how they affect us. We will all be non posse peccare and delighting fully in our savior and the service of others.

In the meantime, pastors, like all others, fight to conduct their ministries in a way that is glorifying to God. Most would acknowledge, it seems, that a pastor's ministry includes much more than his congregation, though. It also includes his wife. According to the Holy Spirit, husbands are to "love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word..." (Eph. 5:25-26). Yes, this should be every husband's desire. It should also be every pastor's desire (1 Tim. 3:4), but that does not always happen.

Pastors, like others, miscarry. We do not love our wive as Christ loved the church. We do not serve and nourish her in the word. More particularly, and perhaps surprisingly, we do not do these things even when our spouse appears to be our first ministry.

You see, when our spouse simply becomes a task to be overcome, a place holder on our busy pastoral schedules, a line item to be checked, we are serving her but in the wrong fashion. We may be giving her the time she desires all the while doing so with the wrong heart motivation. Put differently, our body is present with our wife but our heart is far from her. Our time with her has devolved into another item on the docket. In this sense, making our wife our first ministry is not good.

Many times our spouse can discern this. There are other times when she may not. It is something buried deep within a pastor's heart that must be changed. Thankfully, if we walk down this path, there is hope. Christ, our savior, not only forgives our sin and imputes his perfect righteousness to us based on his birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension, but he equips us, by the Spirit, to truly love and serve our wife. She truly becomes our first ministry. She is our delight and joy! We love serving her because she is a part of the bride of Christ and our wife. Our hearts, therefore, are in it when we serve and love her. She is more than a task to be accomplished in ministry (e.g., email); and besides Christ, she is our life.

I do believe our spouse should be our first ministry, but with all the different emotions and characteristics that ministry takes in a pastor's heart, we must be careful that she does not occupy that dark space that merely treats her, whether she knows it or not, as a person to fix, a burden to be overcome, or a place on our schedule from which we can move on once accomplished. That is what ministry can turn into even when we, as pastors, seem to present our wife as our first ministry. We want to take the high road and love our spouse making sure our hearts are in it because she is much more than a line item on our session docket. 

A Letter to Lecrae and Andy Mineo

|
Dear Lecrae and Andy,

We have never met, but I thought I would take the time to share some things with you. Your names have been floating around Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube quite a bit lately. As I am sure you know, not all of it is good. Apparently, it comes with the territory. The more one is elevated in the public sphere, the more one is susceptible to criticism. I hope in the midst of such criticisms, the Holy Spirit will sustain both you and your families.

The primary critique that flashes across my Facebook newsfeed is that you have abandoned so-called Christian Hip Hop (CHH). From what I gather, your lyrics and some of your public comments are not saturated enough with the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Some suggest, therefore, that you are compromising the essence of CHH. You are ashamed of the gospel. From my perspective, those critiques seem a bit harsh, but I am unaware as to what validates hip hop as Christian. Is it the amount of times you mention Jesus? Must the gospel be presented on every track much like a sermon? Here I reveal my ignorance.

Despite my lack of understanding as to the criteria that qualifies what is and is not Christian hip hop, I am a bit saddened by some of the criticisms I have read about your music. The tone and balance are unbecoming. People seem unnecessarily harsh and cynical. Many of the responses I have read lack grace, love, and gospel-edification. No one is beyond criticism, but when it comes, one must not only present law (i.e., this is what you are doing wrong), but also provide hope for change (i.e., in Christ, he restores and renews). At this point, I have not seen much of that. I would add that the best place for accountability, discipleship, and growth in Christ is the local church, not the public square. From what I understand, you brothers are connected and committed to a particular church. I would like to believe you are receiving the accountability required from your elders, deacons, and parishioners in your local congregation to help you along the way as you continue to produce music.

I hope Christians will be much more careful when offering comments, specifically negative ones, about your music. I, for one, am thankful for the music that I have heard from you. Some of the youth in my church listen to it; they are thankful as well. In God's providence, I can only imagine the doors that have opened for you as a result of your music. You have access to people with whom you can share the gospel and talk about the glories of Christ's Church that I will likely never have the privilege to talk to. I praise God for that! He is presenting different venues for his message to be shared. I only hope that as opportunities present themselves the Spirit of the living God will strengthen you and grant you clarity of speech to share the beautiful truths of the gospel.

I know how hurtful people can be in their criticisms. Pastors are not exempt. However, I pray God will continue to preserve you and your families in the faith. While I know your faces are in the spot light, your families are affected as well when charges are leveled. Whatever happens from this point on in your ministry, I pray the Lord bless you and keep you, may his face shine upon you and give you peace.

Cordially,

Pastor Leon Brown

The Crucifixion of Ministry

|
As I prepare to gather a core group (or "launch team," depending on your perspective) for a church plant in Richmond, Virginia, I am attempting to get ahead by developing a leadership training manual. Thankfully I have many resources from other churches in NAPARC member congregations. That takes a weight off my shoulders that I do not need to reinvent the wheel.

One of the most beneficial books I have read on ministry is Andrew Purves' The Crucifixion of Ministry: Surrendering Our Ambitions to the Service of Christ. It revealed many of my self-centered ambitions in ministry while at the same time providing hope for change in Jesus Christ. If the Lord wills that I plant this church, I definitely hope to have this book on the reading list for leadership training. 

Here are some quotations from the book.

"My goal in this book is to offer a perspective on ministry and illustrate a practice that liberates ministers from the grind of feeling that 'it's all up to me.'" (11)

"The ministry of Jesus the Lord is displacing me from the throne of 'my' ministry. In truth it was never mine. We refer to our ministries as if we own them and as if they are all about us. We deeply invest in our own success, although we wrap it up in pious language to soften its prideful aspect. We wish for professional preferment and fulfillment. We enjoy the applause and warm affirmations when they come. We are human, after all." (25)

"To ministers let me say this as strongly as I can. Preach Christ, preach Christ, preach Christ. Get out of your offices and get into your studies. Quit playing office manager and program director, quit staffing committees, and even right now recommit yourselves to what you were ordained to do, namely the ministry of Word and sacraments." (44) 

"Is ministry something we do, or is ministry something Jesus does? The answer, of course, is Yes. We have a ministry, but it is a derivative. It depends in every way upon the continuing ministry of Jesus. His ministry is in the present tense. This is the good news. He is not Lord in name only, but also in act, and not only in the past act, but in the present and future act." (52)

"Ministry is not a matter of a minister working hard, preaching relevant sermons, being a super-efficient congregational administrator, attending those who are sick, downcast, grieving and lonely, all the while growing the congregation and charming the people with a winsome and attractive ability to relate warmly. Outside of abiding in Christ, we have no ministry. It matters not how full our pastoral tool bag is and how much energy we bring to the tasks of ministry. We can do nothing apart from Christ. (119).