christian ministry

How to Keep Going in Christian Ministry

I got this blog post in my email inbox this morning. It’s from “Practical Shepherding,” one of the most useful and, well, practical ministry blogs I follow. Well worth the (short) read:

One of my pastoral teachers and heroes, Bill Hughes, said goodbye to his beloved wife of over 60 years this past week who met her Savior in glory and is no longer suffering.  Bill spent most of his long and faithful ministry serving in Scotland.  Thinking about and praying for Bill this week reminded me of a simple, but profound truth I learned from him about how to endure through the constant struggles of pastoral ministry.  In an exposition of 2 Corinthians 4 I once heard Bill Hughes preach, he made this observation to answer the nagging question, “How do I endure through the difficulties of pastoral ministry?”

“Never forget the debt to mercy we owe.”

See what I mean?  Simple.  Stunningly true.  Yet, when measured against anything we might face as pastors, it produces endurance in every trial, struggle, and difficulty.  Bill instructed that when we remember who we once were and the amazing debt to mercy we owe to our Savior, we will be more patient, gracious, and merciful to even the most stubborn and petty of conflicts and complaints we experience in the church.  Likewise, if we forget who we once were  and presume upon this debt to mercy in the gospel, those same petty people and issues will eat us up and will destroy us and our ministry.

Dear brothers, if you find yourself discouraged, angry, wondering why some of your people do and say what they do and you can’t take it any more…do not forget the debt to mercy you owe.  It is a debt greater than you and I could ever payback.  It is a debt that should weigh heavier on our joyful hearts than the most difficult person in our church.  Apply this truth that I was so powerfully taught to me by this sweet and faithful man and see if you then find the hope and perspective you need for that struggling person or circumstance you face in your ministry.

What’s the main thing you need to be a pastor?

This both encourages and challenges me: the main qualifier for ministry is steady growth in love for God and others. Paul Woodson writes,

There is no one style of ministry that is productive and no one type of personality that represents good pastoral ministry. The sheer diversity of personality types among ministers is surely a sign that any particular personality type has little to do with the building of the Church. But the pastors whose ministries I particularly applaud (whether successful in the eyes of the world or not) are those whose love for the Lord Jesus is transparent and growing, whose ability to expound the Scriptures with devotion, clarity, practical application, and real unction is increasing, and whose love for people is not artificial or sentimental but self-denying and perceptive (this is essential to what is often called “pastoral care”), and whose desire to proclaim the gospel and work out its implications dictates the focus and priorities of their lives.

You can download this book, “Letters Along the Way” by D.A. Carson and Paul Woodson for free as a pdf by clicking here.

Free Book: Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church

Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church - A Guide for MinistryA free book from logos.com this month: Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church: A Guide for Ministry by Michael Lawrence.

From the Logos website: “Do you want to understand how each part of the Bible fits together to form one unified, unfolding message? Michael Lawrence helps you to do just that. This essential volume presents the substance and practical importance of biblical theology for ministry. He begins with an examination of a pastor’s tools of the trade—exegetical, biblical, and systematic theology—and commends biblical theology as the tool that should never be on the shelf. Lawrence helpfully distinguishes between biblical and systematic theology, but also emphasizes the importance of their collaboration in ministry.”

Usually, you have to go to different sections of the bookstore to find good books on biblical theology, systematic theology, ministry, the church, and the Christian life. At the very least, the relationship between theory and practice seems strained. However, this book brings these concerns together. Michael Lawrence believes that good shepherds are theologians and good theologians are shepherds. For anyone who believes that theology needs the church and the church needs theology, this will be a welcome resource. For anyone playing with the idea, it will be a compelling one.

Michael Horton, J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics, Westminster Seminary, CA

McKiddie on Offline and Online Leadership

A word in season for many I think. Definitely for me. Eric McKiddie writing on how impactful leaders are offline influencers:

Eric McKiddie

Eric McKiddie

The social media landscape can make the average person wonder if he can make an impact in the world today. If you take a look at well-known pastors, you can’t help but notice they are prolific, not only in printed books, but in tweets, blog posts, and Facebook likes.

One might derive an invalid conclusion from this phenomenon, thinking, “If well-known pastors are making a big impact, and have a massive social media following, then if I’m going to have a big impact, I need a social media presence, too.” …

The difference between attention and impact
The social media climate has caused some people to confuse attention with impact. Many, pastors included, assume that if you have people’s attention, you will necessarily make an impact on them. While, it’s certainly true that you can’t impact someone without their attention, having their attention doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll have an impact on them. This is good news for pastors who are neither interested in social media nor have the time to learn how to use it effectively.

How do offline pastors make an impact in a world that is crazy about social media?

Furthermore, how should pastors who are active on social media measure their influence for the gospel?

His answer? Sacrificial leadership.

A decade-long diet of well-prepared sermons and encouragement during times of need are the kind of things that impact people for the kingdom. Yes, a ministry like this will come at a cost to you. But if you are not willing do this, you don’t deserve a massive online following. You should not even be in ministry at all.

Read the full article here, and check out his great blog for pastors and leaders, Pastoralized.

How Can God Be Good In Suffering?

I don’t know exactly why, but this video encouraged me tremendously. Perhaps it’s because these men exude such incredible confidence about the applying the gospel to life, while I’ve been focused (for a while) on what you might call “theoretical” issues.

Whatever the reason, I was stunned and encouraged and uplifted and corrected and confronted by their honest advice about what to do and think when suffering strikes.

These guys have experienced degrees and lengths of suffering I’m not sure I ever have. Perhaps you’ll be helped by their measured words (I didn’t hear one stray or flippant thought) and real-life encounters with God in the midst of suffering.

Don’t Offer People False Hope

Real comfort is more thank thinking the right things in times of trouble. It involves having my identity rooted in something deeper than my relationships, possessions, achievements, wealth, health, or my ability to figure it all out. Real comfort is found when I understand that I am held in the hollow of the hand of the One who created and rules all things. The most valuable thing in my life is God’s love, a love that no one can take away. When my identity is rooted in him, the storms of trouble will not blow me away. …

This is the comfort we offer people. We don’t comfort them by saying that things will work out. They may not.

… Giving hope is more than convincing people that things will get better, or helping them decide what to do. Giving hope introduces them to a Person.

Paul Tripp, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Handspg 151-152, 157.

Personality and Ministry: Perspectives

In this “personality and ministry” series, I’ve sought to provide my own answer to the question, “how do I fulfill my duties in ministry in a way that is (primarily) faithful to the gospel and (secondarily) faithful to the kind of person I am?”

The question hints at my priorities. I want, most of all, to be faithful to the gospel. On the last day, I want to hear God say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Don’t we all? But I realize that I’m living out this faithfulness with a particular set of strengths and weaknesses. Everyday I have to deal with me.

Thankfully, other people have worked through these issues before me. I’m not the first person to ask that two-fold question. In this post I’ll be pointing your attention away from my little blog and toward some articulate and thoughtful men who have wrestled with this issue.

1. Gavin Ortlund: We Shouldn’t Moralize Strengths and Weaknesses

In his article, “Why I find the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator Helpful,Gavin Ortlund makes a really helpful observation about the relationship between personality and morality:

No personality trait has any moral superiority to any other; God simply makes people differently. And yet it seems to me that we all tend to think that the way we operate is the “normal” one. … while the disputes that can occur between a J [judging personality type] and a P [perceiving personality type] can touch upon moral issues, they are not necessarily moral issues. The line between “personality” and “wisdom” or “personality” and “right/wrong” is not always crystal clear. … They remind us that not all of our differences are moral differences, and thus help us not make unnecessary judgments. They help us leave room for God-given differences, and thus learn from others where we might be tempted merely to criticize, and be cautious to assume our way is always the right way.

Do you see what he’s saying? The ways we operate as extroverts and introverts, perceivers and judgers, or whatever, are not always moral issues; though they can be. This is an area where discernment and caution can save us a lot of trouble.

Orltund makes two other helpful observations, and the rest of the article is worth your time if you’re interested in this subject.

2. John Piper: Awareness does not excuse complacency

John Piper I’ve had about seven Jiminy Crickets (Pinochio’s “official conscience”) walking around on my shoulders while writing these posts. They’re reminding me that I like, love my comfort zone, and that I better not slack off in my areas of weakness simply because I know they’re areas of weakness. I can’t let myself say, “I’ll leave those things (I’m not any good at) to other people.”

John Piper would agree. There is no reason for any sensible person called to ministry to settle for what they find themselves with. Piper, the man who has had more influence in my life than almost any other, wrote about this issue early in his days at Bethlehem Baptist:

When I came to this church I knew that I was not gifted in evangelism and personal witnessing. I have never been very good at turning a conversation with an unbeliever into a serious spiritual discussion of his condition before God. I suppose I could content myself under the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit and say that he has called me to be a pastor-teacher, not an evangelist. … [but] unless the Lord makes it very clear to me that I must, I am not going to accept my lack of giftedness in evangelism. I have been praying and will go right on praying and ask you to pray with me that God will give me the gift to win people to Christ, one-on-one and through my preaching.

3. Justin Taylor (observing John MacArthur and John Piper): God does not create all pastors equally

Justin TaylorAt a conference in 2007, Justin Taylor led a discussion with John Piper and John MacArthur about a range of subjects related to ministry. In the video below, Taylor asks the two men how they deal with depression. Their responses are as different as is possible:

MacArthur: I don’t get depressed.

Piper: I get really depressed really often.

God uses the ministries of both these men to bring the truth of his Word to lives all around the world, but he does so through their black-and-white different personalities. I’m filled with hope when I realize that personality is not an obstacle to God’s grace — it is a conduit of God’s grace.

Conclusion

I begun by saying that I approach this whole issue with two goals, 1) I want to be faithful to the gospel, and 2) I want to be faithful to the person God made me to be.

These goals are not equally weighted. Like Paul, I am a servant of Jesus Christ. He has bought me with his blood and I am belong to him. Jesus begun his public ministry by telling people: repent and believe. Both of these are self-effacing actions. They both require that I look to Another. My most important calling is to be faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ — to repent of my sins and believe in the Good News.

But I’m daily submitting to Jesus’ kingship as the person he made me. Which means that my “repent and believe” will look slightly different when compared to yours. I daily have to repent (per point 1) of judging people for not being organized and self-disciplined, daily believe (per point 2) that God is intent on transforming me by his grace and not content to leave my in weaknesses, and I’m daily reminding myself (per point 3) that God will use me in whatever place I am. It’s never that neat and tidy. But it happens. There are moments of repentance. Sweet moments when I’m aware of God’s grace and his ability to use me wherever I am.

What have you heard people say about this issue?

What are your thoughts about the call to this two-fold faithfulness?

Words Aren’t Enough

Image courtesy of http://www.paultripp.com

 

[12] Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, [13] bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. [14] And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. [15] And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. [16] Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. [17] And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
(Colossians 3:12-17 ESV)

Paul is calling us to a state of Biblical readiness for the ministry opportunities he will bring as he changes us through the ministry of others. … Paul is reminding us that what we “wear” (that is, the character qualities we put on) to moments of ministry is as important as what we say. The list of character traits Paul gives us a summary of the character of Christ. Paul is saying, “If you are going to be involved in what God is going in others, come dressed for the job!

Paul Tripp, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Handspg 135.

What Is the Church?

Paul Tripp, a counselor and pastor gives his perspective from years of experience:

instruments redeemers handsImagine a doctor coming out of an examination room to say to his receptionist, “Sick people, sick people, sick people! All I ever see is sick people! Why don’t healthy people ever come and visit me?” The church is full of people dealing with the effects of sin, people who are not fully formed into the image of Jesus Christ. The church is full of people who have lost their way and don’t even know it, who haven’t made a connection between their daily problems and the transforming grace of Jesus Christ. … The church is not a theological classroom. It is a conversion, confession, repentance, reconciliation, forgiveness, and sanctification center, where flawed people place their trust in Christ, gather to know and love him better, and learn to love others as he has designed. The church is messy and inefficient, but it is God’s wonderful mess — the place where he radically transforms hearts and lives.

Paul Tripp, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Handspg 116.

What Hope Do You Really Have?

Mark records Jesus’ words this way: “The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15). It is tempting to think that this is merely Jesus’ way of introducing himself, but his announcement is more than that. It gives all of us who endure the harsh realities of the Fall the only valid reason to get up in the morning. If offers hope that is wonderfully practical and intensely personal. … God had not forgotten or lost interest in humanity. Since that horrible first fall into sin, he had been bringing the world to this day. What looked pointless and out of control was, in fact, the unfolding of God’s wonderful story of redemption, which reached its crescendo with the coming of Christ.

Paul Tripp, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Handspg 3-4.