Praising God for His Church!

May 7, 2009

My wife and I go to the world’s best church, Hespeler Baptist Church, in Cambridge, ON. Ever since coming to the church last year we have been welcomed, loved, prayed for, invited into homes, allowed to serve, and privileged to be a part of this body of Christ!

Ever since we lost our job in March we have been worried about what would happen to us. We are running out of money and have not received any unemployment, and despite my efforts at trying to find a job, nothing has happened yet. But we do not have a church that simply says, “go, be warm and well fed.” No, we have a church that loves us and wants to care for us and seeks to mee our needs in practical ways. Our elders are always asking us how we are doing so they can pray and care for us. I have never felt so cared by a church and its leadership in my life. Today, I want to thank God for our local church, our lifeline! Without our church, we would be drifting! But our churhc loves us and wants to care for us! Praise God for His church!

Pastor Candidate Questionnaires

May 6, 2009

Is anyone else tired of filling out questionnaires?

Just today I finished three different questionnaires. One was for a job at a college, one was for a church planting opportunity, one was for pastoring. They all ask the same questions but in different ways. It makes it impossible to simply cut and paste your information from one to the next. Isn’t it possible to somehow standardize pastoral candidate questionnaires?

I understand the purpose of pastoral candidate questionnaires. They are designed to better weed out people who really are not the right people for a pastoral position. That is a good thing! In an age when a million people can apply for a single rural church through the wonders of the internet, things like pastoral questionnaires are helpful. Here is where they are not helpful:

1) A pastoral questionnaire that you send out to every individual who applies that is 7 pages long and asks you every possible question, is not helpful.

2) A pastoral questionnaire that asks the same things that are on a resume, yet you still ask them, is not helpful.

3) A pastoral questionnaire that asks for your mother’s maiden name and your medical history is not helpful.

4) A pastoral questionnaire that you really will not look at (because you end up asking the same questions later) is not helpful.

A pastoral candidate questionnaire should be something that initially weeds out undesirables but does not force every candidate to provide transcripts of their schooling, a DNA test, and a credit check. It should ask basic questions like answers to basic theological question and controversial issues, how you would handle different situations, etc. It should not ask what will be on a resume or what can be heard on sermons. When a church decides to move forward with a candidate then they can ask more specific and probing questions throughout the process.

When I filled out a 10 page pastoral questionnaire last year and I never even received confirmation they received it, I realized there was big problem when it came to churches and questionnaires. A church of 50 people should not Google “pastoral candidate questionnaire” and pick one at random that better applies to a church of 300. Ask the questions that are pertinent to the specific church. You will make less work for yourself and not frustrate the candidates incessantly.

Any other thoughts about pastoral candidate questionnaires?

Michael Horton on Joel Osteen

May 4, 2009

J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California, Michael S. Horton, has written a brief but excellent critique of the theology of Joel Osteen. Read and be edified by “Joel Osteen and the Glory Story: A Case Study.” Horton’s conclusion:

My concern is that Joel Osteen is simply the latest in a long line of self-help evangelists who appeal to the native American obsession with pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps. Salvation is not a matter of divine rescue from the judgment that is coming on the world, but a matter of self-improvement in order to have your best life now.

Horatius Bonar “The shed blood of Christ: The foundation of Christianity”

May 4, 2009

What is Christianity? Not metaphysics, not mysticism, not a compilation of guesses at truth. It is the history of the seed of the woman–that seed the Word made flesh–the Word made flesh, the revelation of the invisible Jehovah, the representative of the eternal God, the medium of communication between the Creator and the creature, between earth and heaven.

And of this Christianity, what is the essential characteristic, the indispensable feature from first to last? Is it incarnation or blood-shedding? Is it the cradle or the cross? Is it the scene at Bethlehem or at Golgotha? Assuredly the latter! “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani,” is no mere outcry of suffering nature, the cross is no mere scene of human martyrdom, and the great sepulchre is no mere Hebrew tomb. It is only through blood-shedding that conscience is purged; it is only at the cross that the sinner can meet with God; it is the cross that knits heaven and earth together; it is the cross that bears up the collapsing universe; it is the pierced hand that holds the golden sceptre; it is at Calvary that we find the open gate of Paradise regained, and the gospel is good news to the sinner, of liberty to enter in.

Let me, with the newly sharpened axes of rationalism, do their utmost to hew down that cross; it will stand in spite of them. Let them apply their ecclesiastical paint-brush, and daub it all over with the most approved of mediaeval pigments to cover its nakedness, its glory will shine through all. Let them scoff at the legal transference of the sinner’s guilt to a divine substitute, and of that Surety’s righteousness to the sinner, as a Lutheran delusion, or a Puritan fiction, that mutual transference, that wondrous exchange, will be found to be wrapped up with Christianity itself Let those who, like Cain of old, shrink from the touch of sacrificial blood, and mock the “religion of the shambles,” purge their consciences with the idea of God’s universal Fatherhood, and try to wash their robes and make them white in something else than the blood of the Lamb; to us, as to the saints of other days, there is but one purging of the conscience, one security for pardon, one way of access, one bond of reconciliation, one healing of our wounds,, the death of Him on whom the chastisement of our peace was laid, and one everlasting song, “unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood.”

Horatius Bonar (1808-1889)

Michael A. G. Haykin and Darrin R. Brooker, Christ is All: The Piety of Horatius Bonar (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2007), pp. 79-80.

See other volumes in this series (Profiles in Reformed Spirituality) on Alexander Whyte, Jonathan Edwards, Hercules Collins, George Swinnock, and John Calvin.

The complete works of Hortaitus Bonar can be purchased here.

Peter Toon Resources

May 1, 2009

Peter Toon (1939-2009) was a priest in the Chuch of England and an excellent theologian and historian. Many of his books (if not all) are available here. I would highly recommend all of his material but would particulalry direct you to his book, The Emergence of Hyper-Calvinism in English Non-Conformity, 1689-1765, originally published in 1967. It is an excellent work. Obviously he was not perfect and I do not agree with all of his theological/historical conclusions but this is an excellent resource for pastors and academics alike.

(HT: Justin Taylor)

What do you do Until the Honeymoon is Over? Preaching During Your First 6 Months

May 1, 2009

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about preaching.

With the hope of being in a full-time pastorate soon the thought had occurred to me, what should the content of a pastor’s preaching be during the first 6 months he is there? I mulled over this question for sometime. My thought was, you cannot possibly know exactly what a church will need to hear from the Word of God until you have spent some time with them.

In some ways, the first 6 months is like a honeymoon period. No pastor walking into a church should think they can change anything during the first 6 months. One must even be careful about considering changing anything after the first 6 months. We need to earn the church’s trust before we can consider changing everything they are doing. Granted, things may need to be changed to be more reflective of the Scriptural requirements for a local church, but we must be careful how that occurs.

But back to preaching.

What should a new pastor consider preaching at his new church? Too many pastors do not think this through. They just jump in preaching through Ephesians or something without taking some time to consider the needs of the congregation. Obviously no one can truly know their flock after only 6 months, but 6 months will give you a handle on some of the issues facing the church, certain needs that need to be addressed, so you can effectively come in and begin to teach through the whole counsel of God in a redemptive fashion. While all Scripture is profitable, not all Scripture is applicable at certain times in the life of the church. So, with these questions in mind, I sent an e-mail to those I knew in the ministry and asked their thoughts.

I got a few answers that I considered typical. Preach through Ephesians. Preach through 1 Corinthians. Another one I got was one I did not expect: Preach through a Gospel. This they argued would show that the emphasis on your ministry was Christ. Good thought. These were the typical kind of answers I received. Those who suggested preaching through a book did not seem to think one should preach a “topical” series at the beginning because expository preaching is the mandate of the pastor. Now, I agree that we should preach in an expository fashion, but to think we cannot preach expositionally through a topical series is misunderstanding the full nature of expository preaching.

Two kinds of answers though stuck out in my mind. One came from a wise pastor I know here in Ontario. He said, Pray! That seems so basic but often left out of the equation of what the content of a pastor’s preaching should be. Pray about what you should preach. The Lord will impress on your heart and mind a book or a topic that needs to be preached. God knows better than anyone what should be preached! This is an excellent foundation. While I think many expository preachers lack basic planning and thinking through why they preach what they preach, no matter what we choose or what we plan to preach on, the starting point should be seeking direction from the Lord in prayer.

The next answer I received from my own pastor and from my wife’s former pastor. They dovetailed nicely and I thought this was the ideal approach to take about what the initial content of preaching should be for the first 6 month tenure of a pastor. My pastor wrote me and said,

…don’t be reluctant to preach the Gospel often in the early months of your ministry in a new church.  Faithful believers will rejoice in the Gospel being preached and those who are not saved need to hear it!  Exalting Christ through the Gospel will establish the tone of your ministry from there forward.

These are wise words. My wife’s pastor wrote me and suggested the following:

Unless there is a specific need to address another topic or Biblical passage, I would strongly suggest a topical series (that may be handled expositionally) staking out Christian and church priorities. Highlight things like a high concept of God, the authority of Scripture, Christ-centered faith, our dependence upon grace for salvation and all things, the heavy Biblical concern for devotion and personal godliness (and what that looks like, etc), evangelism, what Biblical church and ministry look like – these kinds of things. Stake out the priorities, “this is what we are all about,” etc.

So, my suggestion is, during the first 6 months, the pastor approach the content of the Gospel as his message. This could be presented in a topical series about the foundation we have in the death and resurrection of Christ, biblical priorities, the nature of salvation the expectation of Church members, etc. The gospel should obviously saturate all our preaching, but during the first 6 months, as “Gospel” preachers, we should clearly make the Gospel the content of our preaching. As my wife’s former pastor said, “Stake out the priorities.” And as my pastor said, “Exalting Christ through the Gospel will establish the tone of your ministry from there forward.” These are both wise suggestions in my opinion.

So during the first 6 months, preach on the Gospel. That is really what the ministry is all about is it not? The Gospel of Jesus Christ? Then when you have had the opportunity to observe the congregation you can map out where you want to go from there in your preaching. That might mean going to the Gospel of Mark, the book of Ephesians, or the book of Genesis. It will depend on your congregation and the leading of the Spirit. But my call is to all you expositional preachers out there; do not pick your preaching randomly. Ask the following questions:

1) What are the needs of my congregation?

2) What is the Spirit communicating to me I should preach?

3) How will this book of the Bible fit in with the larger context of the progress of redemption?

4) How will this book of the Bible fit in with what I have previously preached and what I will preach after?

Unless you are John MacArthur and can preach through the entire New Testament in one church, you will need to think hard about what you will preach to your people. And please, pastors, stop neglecting the Old Testament! We do our people a disservice by neglecting 2/3 of our Bible! They need Leviticus just as much as they need Romans!

So, preach the Gospel, and think and pray carefully about the content of your preaching.