Thank You, Cecil: The Persistance of a Patient Pastor

Originally posted in June 2014 at .

Gather to Go

Thank you, Cecil, for taking me out of my pastoral legalism.

We live in a microwave society. What you want things immediately. If they don’t come immediately, then we go to the other extreme and become so despondent, that life becomes almost unbearable. And sadly enough, we don’t recognize the issues of our own heart that’s causing this impatience and, thus, start blaming other people for not moving in our timing.

It’s a form of legalism. How so? Legalism this when we began to impose a law on someone else in order for them to be righteous. The Pharisees expressed a form of legalism in which they took a diluted law of Moses , and impose it on the people for them to approve they’re righteousness before God and before them. If they did not rise to their standard, they would be mocked, ridiculed, and possibly excommunicated from the temple.

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Threefold Purpose in Leading Established Churches (At First)

I’ve never served in a brand new church plant.  I’ve served at churches that have started in 1785 (two, in fact), 1877, 1912, 1938, and now in 1960–none later.  No 1990s or 2000s starts, only churches that had been established where the culture I inherited had long been, well, established.

In my almost four years at ARBC and my eight years at Boone’s Creek in Lexington, KY, and in 22 years of ministry, I believe I’m starting to understand God’s purpose for me in these churches, especially behind the pulpit.  And I couldn’t be more thankful.

Defining the terms:  We use the terms worship, leadership, scholarship, fellowship, partnership and the like in so many ways.  What do they mean?  Is biblical fellowship just hanging out with each other?  Is worship just walking out of the assembly feeling good?  Is church membership just a name on a roll and attending a few times?  Define the terms in the way the culture of your church uses them.

Clarifying the terms:  Part of a pastor’s job is to lead the church to understand these terms biblically.  Over time, these words develop new definitions and connotations–we must recognize the culture in which bred these terms, then put that up with Scripture.  The hope is, if they are using the terms rightly, God be praised.  If those terms have evolved over the years into something more or less biblical, God be praised that the Spirit made us aware.

Sharpen Your People:  We then take the biblical terms now clarified and sharpen them to see what that looks like in our context. Obviously, some things universally transfer, but others will look differently depending on your place of service. For instance, we want folks to come in an worship, that is, to exalt Jesus and encourage/edify those around us. Since music and preaching are involved in this, the music in Denver, CO will be different than that in Lexington, KY.  Fellowship is not just hanging out, but has an aspect about it where we protect each other in the faith and from false gospels.  Again, here in Denver, the false gospel issues may be different than in New England or in Madrid or in Indonesia.  We take the biblical principle and sharpen it for our people, so they will stay sharp.

Repeat:  “Well, Matt, we did this process ten years ago.”  Great!  Since you know the way, do it again!  You’d be surprised what accumulates over that amount of time.  You don’t say, “Well, I sharpened my knives 10 years ago–I’m good.”  No, knives grow dull with use.  Without an intentionality about be Word-centered, truth-driven, Great Commission people, we will grow dull.

So this purpose is not ‘sudden,’ just more clear as the days go on.

May God give us grace to be intentional.

South Carolina, the Confederate Flag, and Leading Smart

Many leaders and commentators have said much regarding the Confederate flag that flies on the grounds of the Capitol building in Charleston, SC—the place where nine African-American Christians were shot in cold blood after a church service at Emanuel AME Church.  The shooter?  Dylann Roof, a man with racist ties to numerous organizations who felt he had to do this.

My intention isn’t to talk about the shooting, but about the controversy surrounding the flying of the Confederate flag.  As someone who was born in Virginia and has a great love for all things Civil War, I understand both sides of how one approaches the Confederate flag.  One side says this flag merely represents the heritage of the South, and nothing else.  Another side sees this flag as a symbol of race-based slavery and oppression.

I recently put up on my Facebook page a link to Russell Moore’s article, “The Cross and the Confederate Flag.”   He closed the article with this paragraph:

That sort of symbolism is out of step with the justice of Jesus Christ. The cross and the Confederate flag cannot co-exist without one setting the other on fire. White Christians, let’s listen to our African-American brothers and sisters. Let’s care not just about our own history, but also about our shared history with them. In Christ, we were slaves in Egypt—and as part of the Body of Christ we were all slaves too in Mississippi. Let’s watch our hearts, pray for wisdom, work for justice, love our neighbors. Let’s take down that flag.

I agree with this—but I would like to add some thoughts:

No one can change history.  It happened.  Slavery happened.  Jim Crow happened.  Segregation happened.  Racism still happens. Taking down the flag will not change history.  Those pages have already been written.  Removing the flag will not remove history.  More is the pity.  We can’t change it—but we must beware we don’t embrace it or revise it either.  More on that later.

No one can change hearts.  Suppose the South Carolina authorities listen to the outcry and take the flag down.  Will that change the hearts of those engulfed in racism?  Will that remove all the bitterness that racism has caused?  No!  The only thing that can change hearts from outside is the Holy Spirit who shines the gospel.  Taking down the flag could result from the same motive as stores keeping the word “Christmas” in their advertisements and verbiage—it doesn’t mean they agree.  In the case of the stores, they just want your business.  In the case of politics, they risk saying, “We just want your vote!”

South Carolina leaders can lead smart to initiate change.  Yes, removing the flag will not change history or hearts, but the symbolism of the flag is powerful—as all symbols are.  In the Christian tradition, the symbols of the cross, the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, serve as powerful symbols of a reality.  Christ identifies the reality, so we have help in understanding the symbols.   One of my church members rightly pointed out that the American Indians, given our respective history with them, could look with offense at our American flag and ask us to remove this.

So here’s the takeaway.  Remove all the Confederate flags, you won’t remove the racism.  Remove all the Confederate general references in the bridges, parks, and street names, and you won’t change the history—nor will you change hearts.  The issue for the leadership in South Carolina moving forward is this: will they be proactive in their leadership in showing Charleston, South Carolina, the South, the nation, and the world that you do not embrace anything regarding the race-based connections their history holds?

That involves more than keeping or removing a flag.  That involves recognizing that whichever way you go, you will face opposition from one camp or the other.  Leadership is not about pandering to one camp or another to get their vote or their funding.  Leadership means joyfully embracing that which emboldens all citizens to move forward together with a common goal for wisdom, justice, and reconciliation.  If that means taking down the flag, then so be it.

But taking down that flag in itself may serve as a symbol moving forward.  It’s just not the end of the solution—but it’s a start.

The Five C’s of Examining Christ’s Call Into Ministry

Leading with joy starts with the foundation of Christ’s call into the ministry.  When you know that the Sovereign ruler of the universe has called you into His kingdom work, a fair dose of terror but also of joy fills your heart.  You love Him more, you love His Word more, you love His people more–and you also begin to hate the sin in your heart even more!

When aspiring into the ministry, one must look at the five C’s to examine that call:

Calling:  Do you sense God calling you into the ministry?  Why?  Where did you sense this calling?  Is this an unrelenting passion?  What influences did you have in sensing this calling?

Paul had a passion to preach the Word to the Gentiles.  Romans 15:18-20 says:

18 For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed, 19 by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God—so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; 20 and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named,lest I build on someone else’s foundation.

His ambition, his passion, his calling fulled his joy!  What about you?

Consecration/Cleansing:  Are you working diligently to fight sin and all its effects?  Are your spiritual disciplines in place?

Paul told the Roman church to set their mind on the things of the Spirit, not the flesh.

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God (Romans 8:5-8).

The Christian in general, but the minister in particular must set their minds on the things of the Spirit.  This intentionality fights the war against sin and anything that does not uplift Christ in thought, in word, or in deed.

Character:  Are you the same at work, at home, and at a church?  Do you have a ‘church’ facade and a home facade?  The key words are integrity and consistency.

So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord, and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free (Ephesians 6:5-8).

All of life is worship. As you sense that call to ministry, do you see that all of the Christian life is a ministry of worship before the Lord?

Communicate:  Are you sharing your faith regularly?  Are you being discipled by someone in the church?  Are you discipling someone in the church?  Have you shown an ability to teach and care for people whom seek to teach about the gospel?

“Go, and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19) is not just for the apostles but for all Christians. Is this a reality for you?  Do you expect this to change once you become ‘official’ in ministry? No!  That should not be!

Confirmation:  Would your wife, your work, and those around you confirm your calling into ministry? What would the leaders in your church say? 

I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control (2 Timothy 1:3-7).

When it came to Timothy, the apostle Paul, Timothy’s grandmother and mother, and all the church leaders confirmed God’s call into Christ’s ministry–and how that calling and confirmation should stoke Timothy to lead with joy and not fear.

Look for upcoming videos on these topics and others.

Brian Croft on Busy Pastors and Daily Schedules

Brian Croft serves as Senior Pastor at Auburndale Baptist Church in Louisville, KY and also as head of Practical Shepherding, a site I highly recommend for basics in faithful pastoring.  He gives some great tools for our pastoral toolbox in his article, “How Does a Busy Pastor Plan His Daily Schedule?”  Here’s an excerpt:

A pastor is not called to run programs for the masses. Nor is he called to do it all and try to please everyone. God is the one who calls pastors to ministry, and the specifics of that calling are clearly outlined in God’s Word. The only way a pastor can avoid these pitfalls and remain steadfast throughout his life and ministry is to know what God has truly called him to do—and to do it! The Apostle Peter exhorts elders/pastors[ to be shepherds—to care for God’s people.

If you’re a pastor, bookmark this site.  You’ll benefit greatly!

Videocast #3: The AMEN of Preaching

We have no shortage of preaching formulas on our bookshelves and pervading the blogosphere.  And here I am, adding my own two cents worth to the subject.  It’s the AMEN affect!  These four items should be (must be) in place as you prepare and preach the Word!

Author’s original meaning.  You’ve heard the advice that the first question a Bible study leader asks is not, “What does it mean to you/me?” They ask, “What does it mean?”  Presently, I’m preaching through the Minor Prophets.  This requires significant study as to the background of the book, historical location and significance, and why God chose to speak through that person, to that people, in that time?  While the Bible is for us, it wasn’t written originally to us, but to those in that context.

Main Idea. What’s the main idea, the one thing that your audience should keep with them as they walk away?  Pastors risk making sermons about multiple things–especially if you usually have 3-4 points. You could have a sermon about 3-4 different topics.   Work to give a main idea that’s meaningful and memorable.

Examining Christ’s presence.  While Christ may not be prominent in each passage, we know that Christ is there in every passage (see Luke 24:25-27).  Spurgeon wrote that as all roads in England lead to London, so do all roads in the Bible lead to Christ. Are you taking those roads (even in the Minor Prophets) to Christ?

Next Steps.  Preaching is for life-change.  How does the preacher apply the authorial intent, the main idea, and Christ’s presence to the 2014 life of where we are?   What next steps are you asking your people from the text to take in their walk and journey with Christ?

I look forward to fleshing this out at some later date.

Why He Blew the Biggest Speech of His Life

Andrew Johnson served as the 17th President of the United States—although he was not elected as president but as Vice-President to Abraham Lincoln for Lincoln’s second term in office.  Lincoln’s first vice president was a man from Massachusetts named Hannibal Hamlin.  Yet, for the second term (beginning in 1865, just as the Civil War came to a close with a Union victory and the surrender of General Robert E. Lee), Lincoln chose a man from Confederate Tennessee but one who did not resign his seat in the Senate during the War.   In fact, in 1862, Johnson served as War Governor of occupied Tennessee and supported Lincoln’s policies for reconstruction in that area.  Sworn in as VP on March 4, 1865, we was sworn in six weeks later on April 15, 1865 as president the day after Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth shot the South’s best friend, President Lincoln.

But back to his short time as Vice President.

In David O. Stewart’s book Impeached, he recounts early in the book that, due to a torrential downpour, Johnson was sworn into office March 4, 1865 (Inauguration Day is now on January 20).  As part of the ceremony, he gave a speech before the Senate body that was, shall we say, problematic.  You see, Johnson was a heavy drinker, religiously drinking vast amounts of whiskey.  He was set to give the biggest speech of his life, and had some acclaim in his political career as a fine speaker who usually spoke without notes.  This time, however, for whatever reason (he later claimed the pain of a recent bout with typhoid fever caused the partaking of that alcoholic beverage), he allowed other influences to mar one’s preparation and delivery of important speeches.

That can happen with sermons.

So many influences come our way to distract us from our preparation and presentation.  Let’s tackle preparation first:

  1. Good things can distract us from the best thing.  Planning, strategizing, correspondence, visitation and the like are good things—necessary things even!  But when they predominate and take away from precious sermon preparation time when the pastor/preacher has little time to pray, meditate, and marinate himself in the things of Scripture, those are influences that need to be dealt with.
  2. Reading things about Scripture and pastoral ministry more than reading the Scripture to inform and illuminate pastoral ministry.  I have some blogs and books I love to read, and one day I will recount those blogs and books.  But woe to all of us who use these as substitutes for Scripture rather than supplements to Scripture.

What about presentation?

  1. Remember the Charlie Parker Syndrome.  Charlie Parker was an outstanding jazz saxophonist in the 1930’s and 1940’s who changed the game of jazz from his time on.  A skilled man but tortured by his own demons and influence of illegal substances, he reportedly said, “”Master your instrument, master the music & then forget all that & just play.”  His point for musicians is that you can spend so much time worrying about the musical aspects of a piece that you forget the nature of music itself!  So too pastors can spend all their time worrying about saying something grammatically correct, saying that story just right, or getting every item you want out that they forget the nature of preaching.  Just get up and preach the Word!  Prepare, yes—but then get up and just preach!
  2. Looking to the supporter or critic rather than Christ.  By nature, all men and women are people pleasers.  We love to receive affirmation from our supporters and want to keep even those who may be critical happy (or at least not unhappy).  Fear grips the heart of the pastor when that pastor begins to look to the supporter or critic more than Christ.  Paul encouraged Timothy to not have a spirit of fear as a young pastor and not to be ashamed of the testimony of Jesus (2 Timothy 1:7-12).  Preach the Word of the Lord and the Lord of the Word!
  3. Don’t let your presentation distract from the person of Christ.  Andrew Johnson gave (up to that time) the biggest speech of his life—drunk!  According to Senator Zachariah Chandler, he “disgraced himself and the Senate by making a drunken foolish speech.” (source)  Our deportment influences for good or for ill what we have to say.  Body language accounts for 55% of all communication!  Make sure your presentation matches your content!

What other influences may add or detract in regards to preparation and presentation/delivery?

(Originally published at Gospel Gripped on June 29, 2011.)

“I’ll Pray For Your Leadership—You Pray for My Follow-ship!”

After a particularly joyous Sunday at our church where I pastor (with a fellowship to follow), one of our dear senior adults came up to me and engaged me in a conversation about the service.  Since I’m still learning the ebbs and flows of the church where Christ has placed me, I often use humor to scope out the lay of the land.  This time, our service went somewhat longer than usual, and I preached a few minutes longer than usual.  So I made a comment about having a talk to that “long-winded preacher we have.”   This time, though, I followed it up with, “We say when we start, but not when we end.  And God did something wonderful this morning.” 

How this person responded not only encouraged me, but reminded me of an important lesson.  He said, “Preacher Man, we have been trained here over the years to be done by 11:30.”  (He paused, and I honestly braced myself for what was to come.)  “But you’re just going to have to un-train us!  Keep preaching the Word!  It’s taking hold!” 

When we parted, he said to me, “I’ll pray for your leadership—you pray for my ‘follow-ship’.”   I hugged him and thanked him, promising him that I certainly would. 

No church is perfect!  At least, in my situation, if it was at one time, it lost it’s perfection the moment I set foot on the premises.  But you can’t love Jesus and hate His bride.  He’s called us to be a part of it with all its warts and wrinkles.  We know that He is working in us to make it  spotless and without blemish (Ephesians 5:28). 

John Maxwell once said, “If you are a leader or want to be a leader, and no one is following you—you’re just taking a long walk.” 

Are we leaders in our churches, but no one is following our lead?  We can react in one of the following ways:

  1. “Well, these people haven’t got it together.  They just need to get on-board.  I’m right—can’t they see that?  If they can’t, they must be so worldly as not to know better.”  These folks suffer from self-righteousness.  Don’t take time to share with them your struggles—they will subtly or not let you know that they just cannot relate to you.  If you’re a Christian, you should never struggle with Scripture reading, prayer, witnessing, or any other myriad of activities along this line. You have to lead people from where they are to where they need to be with boldness mixed with compassion (speaking the truth in love—Ephesians 4:15). 
  2. “Who am I to lead any of this?  I’m only a sinner saved by grace, but that’s all.  Who would ever want to follow my lead!  I can barely lead myself.”  Trevin Wax recently posted how dishonoring to the Spirit of God it is to say you’re “just a sinner saved by grace.”  Take the ‘just’ out and recognize that the Spirit of God dwells in you through the atoning work of Christ.  And recognize that God calls all Christians to tasks, and has gifted all Christians to certain tasks.   We were not given a spirit of fear, but of “love and power and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7).  Rest on the fear of Christ, not on the fear of man.
  3. “Before we do anything, let’s find out what others think because I’m afraid to make this decision.”  This can be a good rule of thumb, especially with your key leaders.  In our situation here with the hurt that has taken place over the years from various fronts, the key lay leaders here need to know that the ministry leaders hear them and have an avenue in which to contribute to a conversation.  So whenever we make a key decision, they need to be in on the discussion.  And when it comes to the congregation, they need to be communicated with clearly.  But there is a balance in discussing/communicating, and balancing that with not leading at all until you know where the current is flowing (politicians get blistered for not saying anything until the latest polls are in, then lacing their speeches with those poll-driven talking points.)  Leaders have to lead.  If this is out of balance, then the leadership and ‘follow-ship’ become reversed.  God has placed shepherds and teachers to lead in proclaiming the Word of God and to lead the sheep into His pasture.   And we must lead the sheep boldly, instilling in them the confidence that they know the shepherd cares about them and their ultimate well-being.

One young minister lamented how people kept getting in the way of his ministry.  The older minister replied, “People are your ministry.”   There’s wisdom in this reply!  Christ has called us to minister to actual people.  May we ministers minister, and may all of us have a heart ready for others to minister to us!