Flexing the Pastoral Muscles

October 5, 2009

“It really doesn’t matter how many sheep we gather if we don’t intend to feed them” (Stan Toler, “Leading from the Pulpit,” Preaching [Sept/Oct 2009], 17).

This past Sunday I was able to be with my flock again at Tunkhannock Baptist Church in Tunkhannock, PA. It is painful to “pop in” and “pop out” like this as we wait for my work visa so we can set roots down full-time and begin serving Christ’s flock that He has entrusted to us. But, I love to have the opportunity to begin to develop relationships with my sheep and to seek to feed them from the Word of God. One of the blessings I have is beginning to lead them in a study of What is a Healthy Church? in our Sunday PM series. This week we talked about Expository Preaching being a defining mark of a healthy church.

I tried to articulate that expository preaching (preaching that takes as its main point the main point of the Scripture that is being preached upon) is defended in the Bible itself, and tried to articulate both the benefits of it for the pastor and for the church. One of the things I noted was that a good thing sometimes takes a lot of effort. It is in expository preaching that we really flex our pastoral muscles.

Often it seems that many in our churches expect that we can feed them from the Word of God without actually preparing for it. This is both a crime for the preacher and for the congregation.

I have a friend, Heinz Dschankilic, who is a wonderful servant of Christ and Executive Director of Sola Scriptura Ministries International, who offers an excellent analogy about sermon preparation. He explains that there is quite the difference between a microwave dinner and Thanksgiving dinner. The microwave dinner is quick but rarely tasty and frankly, far from filling. Thanksgiving dinner though is delicious and highly filling, but it takes substantial time. For a shepherd to effectively feed his flock, he needs to take time to prepare the feast for the flock. Isn’t a feast better than a Hungryman TV dinner?

In the recent issue of Preaching magazine Stan Toler has an excellent article called “Leading from the Pulpit.” He offers the story of Pastor W. A. Criswell of First Baptist Church in Dallas, TX and the importance of study in preparation of Sunday. He writes that Criswell,

… used to stay away from the “office” during the weekday morning hours. He was home in his study–pouring over the Scriptures, seeking the Spirit’s leadership in putting the menu together for a sheep-feeding the following Sunday. Criswell said in his autobiography, Standing on the Promises, “If you want to succeed in ministry… keep your heart fixed on Jesus and your mind centered on God’s Word.” His afternoons were given to the church business, but his mornings we devoted to Bible study.”

It is important as shepherds to feed our flocks. If we want our flocks to be healthy and to live according to the glory of God, we need to feed them what they need, a steady diet of the Word of God. And before we can feed them, we need to prepare the feast. This takes time and effort on behalf of the preacher, but the rewards for both the pastor and the flock are extraordinary.

So, for my flock at TBC, know that I want the best for you and I intend to prepare feasts for you each week from the Word of God. This means that it will take me time each week to prepare the meal for Sunday. It means I need dedicated time to study the Scriptures, to apply them to my own life, so I can proclaim them to you. But in the end, this dedicated time of study will pay off as you are able to experience a steady diet of the Word of God. I intend to feed you and feed you well. So, I must prepare the meal well!

Pastors, love your flock so much that you spend time deep in study in the Word of God to prepare the feast of the Word of God for them each Sunday. Flex those pastoral muscles! Remember, it really doesnt’ matter how many sheep we gather if we don’t intend to feed them. And I would add, feed them well.

The Mentoring Pastor

June 22, 2009

Here is an excellent challenge about pastoral mentorship from Aaron Rock, Lead Pastor of Southwood Community Church, Windsor, ON.

“Jesus in his living provides us a clear paradigm for our living.” Richard Foster

What did you do with your time over the past seven days? As a leader in your church, how did you use your time? If you’re like most Protestant clergy you spent 33% of your time involved in worship and preaching prep, 19% on pastoral care, 15% doing administration and attending meetings, 13% teaching and training, 6% on community and denominational activities, 7% on prayer and meditation, and 4% on other reading. Those stats come from an organization known as Pulpit and Pew Research on Pastoral Leadership.

These are the activities that our churches anticipate we’ll engage in, and our seminary professors have taught us to do well. Most contribute to the corporate worship life of our churches, or at least to various small groups within our churches that are tied into the overall church. I too, spend my time on these activities.

In my fifteen years of vocational ministry however, I have come to terms with the fact that there is a glaring deficit in my ministry and in the lives of many pastors. We are good at doing big church. We are competent enough to pull off a service or series of services every week, and we are more than able to lead and manage ministry teams, church councils, and cell groups. But how many of us have embraced the ancient pastoral task of one-on-one mentoring? How many of us have people in our lives that we are deliberately discipling?

Mentoring is a biblical paradigm, albeit identified by different names in the relevant scriptural texts. The Bible is replete with principles and examples that invigorate Christians to practice mentoring in the community of faith. To neglect mentoring is to do so at the risk of violating scriptural precept. As Keith Anderson and Randy Reese comment at the beginning of their book on spiritual mentoring, “Christianity is an imitative faith.” People develop best when they see their beliefs lived out in other Christ-followers. The Christian faith encompasses a God-dimension, whereby God initiates and sustains our faith, as well as a human-dimension. We need to see people, in the context of biblical community, modeling this thing called the Christian life that we so value.

The Lord Jesus Christ engaged in ministry that was large-scale in nature, small-group oriented, as well as offering attention to individuals within his small group (John 13:6-10). An exploration of His ministry on earth reveals that Christ ministered to the masses, to clusters, as well as to individuals (Matt. 9:9; 16:16; 18:21). While Jesus primary is known for His ministry to a small cluster of men, His life was marked by an intense interest in imitative faith. At times He addressed the crowds, other times He addressed His inner circle as a group, other times He addressed His disciples in pairs, and still other times He spoke directly into the lives of individual men. Unlike some modern church growth models which solely advocate the supremacy of the congregational church service to the neglect of individual discipleship, Jesus struck a balance with an emphasis on all three of these focal areas.

At the commencement of His ministry Jesus demonstrated the priority of engaging in discipleship by inviting a select group of young men into a disciple-making process. In Matthew 4:18-22, following Jesus’ temptation, He immediately augments His public preaching with the establishment of intimate relationships with Simon Peter and his brother Andrew. In the biblical text, this process included an invitation to come and follow Christ and a promise to make these guys into fishers of men in the course of time. Jesus models the principle of intentionality, in that His offer of relationship was for the clear purpose of initiating these men into Kingdom service. Jesus intentionally made disciples. Do you?

Aaron Rock is Lead Pastor of Southwood Community Church in Windsor, ON. He is married to Susie and is father to five children. He earned his D.Min. from Liberty University and is pursuing an M.Th. in Homiletics from Waterloo Lutheran Seminary.

For more on┬ápastoral mentoring see the excellent session done by Paul Martin titled, “Pastor: Mentor the Young Men” given at the Toronto Pastors Fellowship on September 22, 2008. You can find a PDF of the lecture here or the audio here.

An Ordinary Pastor

May 11, 2009

I like so many others am tempted by the glamour and glitz of pastors who write books, have large ministries, speak at many conferences, and the like. Frankly, my own selfish pride gets the better of me at times and says to me, “Allen, you can be the next John Piper.” I wonder sometimes at the purpose of my pursuing a PhD. Is it to help my ministry, or another academic credential. Isn’t being an “ordinary pastor” sufficient? Does the world even need another John Piper? Or does the world need more ordinary pastors?

I picked up my copy of D. A. Carson’s book about his father, Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor: The Life and Reflections of Tom Carson, a few weeks ago and picked it up to start reading it last week. At a brief 160 pages, and in a well-written narrative format, the book is a quick read. It is not your normal D. A. Carson faire. Instead of rich biblical studies or philosophical thoughts on postmodernism or some other topic, it is a simple biography of a simple man. It is a biography of his father, pioneering missionary in Quebec, Tom Carson.

I knew of Tom Carson and some of the other men who made their way into Quebec to face the predominently Roman Catholic French population. As one who grew up in a Fellowship church (a descendent of the Union that Tom started in) I was aware of “Fellowship French Missions” and the men that started it. I also learned more as I studied Canadian Baptist history in school and on my own and even more as I served at Toronto Baptist Seminary where Tom had attended school.

What is so important about Tom Carson? Nothing ultimately…

What I mean is, nothing ultimately about Tom is important. Tom was a man who simply strove to follow Christ by serving Him in the ministry. Tom was not a great man. Tom was an “ordinary pastor.” That is what makes this book so important for so many people today. It personally reminded me of the point in which I began pursuing the pastoral ministry. It was not about me, it was about serving Christ.

The reality is, 99% of us will never be John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Matt Chandler, or Mark Dever. 99% of us pastors will be Tom Carson’s. Men faithfully plodding along in the vineyard where God has placed us. We will work in small churches, often see few converts, and will be discouraged and frustrated and wish we were more effective. We won’t write books and we won’t be on the radio. We won’t be invited to speak at conferences or the like. But, then again, that’s not really the point is it? The point of the Christian ministry is not fame but faithfulness in following our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Tom’s story moved me as it was faithfully told by his son. Through first hand account, journal entries, letters and such, Don Carson takes us into the life of an ordinary pastor. After reading it, I felt the need to repent of my sinful selfish desires for fame and fortune and rededicate myself to simply being an “ordinary pastor.” The point of the pastorate is not having the biggest church, the most converts, the best Sunday School, planting the most churches, writing the most books, having the most sermons downloaded, or being asked to the most conferences. God has called some men to this truly, but He has not called most. He has called most of us to be faithful servants and to plod along as “ordinary pastors.”

There are so many rich gems in this book but I simply want to leave you with an extended quote which finishes the book. Here Carson clearly points out the point of the life of this ordinary pastor. I hope my life will be found as worthy as his.

Tom Carson never rose very far in denominational structure, but hundreds of people in the Outaousais and beyond testify how much he loved them. He never wrote a book, but he loved the Book. He was never wealthy or powerful, but he kept growing as a Christian: yesterday’s grace was never enough. He was not a farsighted visioary, but he looked forward to eternity. He was not a gifted administrator; but there is no text that says, “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you are good administrators.” His journals have many, many entries bathed in tears of contrition, but his chilren and grandhildren remember his laughter. Only rarely did he break through his pattern of reserve and speak deeply and intimately with his children, but he modeled Christian virtues to them. He much preferred to avoid controversy than to stir things up, but his own commitments to historic confessionalism were unyielding, and in ethics he was a man of principle. His own ecclesiastical circles were rather small and narrow, but his reading was correspondingly large and expansive. He was not very good at putting people down, except on prayer lists.

When he died, there were no crowds outside the hospital, no editorial comments in the papers, no announcements on television, no mention in Parliament, no attention paid by the nation. In his hospital room there was no one by his bedside. There was only the quiet hiss of oxygen, vainly venting because h had stopped breathing and would never need it again.

But on the other side all the trumpets sounded. Dad won entrance to the only throne room that matters, not because he was a good man or a great man–he was, after all, a most ordinary pastor–but because he was a forgiven man. And he heard the voice of him whom he longed to hear saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of your Lord.”

New Post on Pastors and Wedding Ceremonies

February 23, 2009

My good friend Keith Edwards, who blogs at Live Life! International has written an excellent thought-provoking piece on pastors and wedding ceremonies over at Oratio, Meditatio, Tentatio called “Getting out of the Marriage Business.” I highly recommend you check it out!

New Blog Post at Oratio, Meditatio, Tentatio

January 16, 2009

Ken Davis, Pastor of Thistletown Baptist Church, Etobicoke, ON, has written an excellent post on success and failure in ministry at my other blog, Oratio, Meditatio, Tentatio. You can find his post titled, “Not a Failure,” here. It is most excellent and worthy of your careful study!

My New Blog

November 7, 2008

I have recently started a new blog, Oratio, Meditatio, Tentatio. Lord willing this blog will be reflections by myself and guest bloggers that would help to stimulate and encourage and challenge pastors on a biblically saturated, theologically sound, and historically aware pastoral theology. I encourage you to check it out and if you have something you would like to contribute please let me know!