Acceptable Mediocrity Among Preachers is Unacceptable

Paul Tripp posted this at The Gospel Coalition blog:

He was rushing out of the luncheon meeting with the staff of his church. Often at the end of a weekend conference, I will meet with the paid and volunteer leadership of the church, make a presentation, and answer their questions. It was about 2:30 p.m., and he was in a rush to get going because his sermon for the next day was hanging over his head. He had some errands to do, dinner with his family, and then sometime in the evening he would lock himself in his home office and try to put together his message for the next day. No matter what happened the rest of that day, no matter how much time he was actually able to devote to his sermons, and no matter how well his preparation went, and no matter how prepared he felt to deal with the text before him, he would get up and say something.

I wondered how many pastors were in the same place and had developed the same ministry habits. I wondered how many of them were throwing something together at the last minute; how many sermons were not given the time necessary for them to communicate what needed to be communicated. I wondered how many congregations around the world are plainly and simply being poorly fed by unprepared pastors. I wondered how many sermons end up being boring restatements of favorite commentaries or little more than impersonal, poorly delivered theological lectures.

I don’t need to wonder anymore. Having spoken at hundreds of churches around the world, I have experienced this Saturday afternoon sermon scenario over and over again. It has left me both sad and angry. No wonder people lack excitement with the gospel. No wonder they don’t approach Sunday morning with excitement and anticipation. No wonder they quit believing that the Bible speaks to the drama of their everyday struggle. No wonder they quit thinking their pastor can relate to what their life is like or answer the questions that tend to haunt them. No wonder so many people in so many pews sit there with minds wandering and hearts disengaged. No wonder it’s hard for them to push the last week’s problems or the next day’s duties out of their minds as they sit there on Sunday morning.

I am very concerned about acceptable Sunday morning mediocrity, and I am persuaded that it is not primary a schedule or laziness problem. I am convinced it is a theological problem. The standards you set for yourself and your ministry are directly related to your view of God. If you are feeding your soul every day on the grace and glory of God, if you are in worshipful awe of his wisdom and power, if you are spiritually stunned by his faithfulness and love, and if you are daily motivated by his presence and promises, then you want to do everything you can to capture and display that glory to the people God has placed in your care. It is your job as a pastor to pass this glory down to another generation, and it is impossible for you to do that if you are not being awe-stricken by God’s glory yourself.

Read the rest here (“Ambassadors of Glory for a Beaten-Down Church


Even the Acceptable Sins Will Kill You

6760271Many evangelical churches speak out against certain sins such as abortion, same-sex marriage, drinking, smoking, gambling, etc. Granted, some of these are specifically spoken of in Scripture, while some are more cultural and can be (can be) implied from Scripture.

I read through Romans 1:18-32 on Sunday morning during our Reading of the Word portion at the beginning of the service.  It’s dealing with how, even though creation screams out God’s eternal power and divine attributes that leave the world without excuse as to whether God exists or not, the lack of honoring Him or giving thanks to Him sets us on a downward trajectory.  They exchanged God’s glory for that which is created.  Therefore, God gave them up to their passions (Romans 1:24-32).  But look at the last paragraph:

28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips,30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

Paul begins to speak of ‘acceptable sins’–sins that we tolerate in our own lives and among the believers in a church.  Sins such as:

  • Gossipping
  • Slander
  • Disobedience to parents
  • The malicious person who disrupts

And many times, we put this caveat in:  “Oh, that’s just the way they are!”

And that’s the problem!  If that’s the way they are, and yet they refuse to (1) have an awareness of this fact, and (2) do not see a need nor have a desire to repent of it, then what will happen.

“Those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them, but give approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1:32).  Acceptable sins!  And even acceptable sins can kill you–and you can be an accomplice to the death of others by our acceptance of these matters.

In our churches, we need to spend just as much time on these acceptable sins as we do on those sins we find (and God finds) unacceptable as well.

Otherwise, blood will be on our hands!

Help for Established Churches via Podcasts

I listen to a lot of podcasts, and of those podcasts, I listen to ones dedicated to the established church.  We are not a church plant, we are not a replant, we are not a parachurch organization nor a philanthropic organization (exclusively). My church was planted in Colorado in 1960, an old church in Colorado terms.

Here are some podcasts I listen to that help me as a lead pastor in an established church to navigate all the issues that arise:

Church for the Rest of Us–Jimmy Scroggins

A place to find principles, strategies, and ideas that you can implement right now with the resources you have.

EST.– for the Established Church–Sam Rainer, Micah Fries, & Josh King

A weekly discussion for the established church.  Micah Fries (Brainerd Baptist Church, Chattanooga, TV), Sam Rainer (West Bradenton Baptist Church, Bradenton, FL), and Josh King (Sachse’s Church, Sachse, TX).

Rainer on Leadership — Thom Rainer and Jonathan Howe

This podcast interacts with various areas of leadership in established churches.

Revitalize & Replant –Thom Rainer and Mark Clifton

Revitalize & Replant is a weekly discussion on church revitalization and replanting featuring Thom Rainer, Jonathan Howe, and Mark Clifton. Revitalize & Replant with Thom Rainer is presented by the North American Mission Board.

Practical Shepherding — Brian Croft

Many pastors lack the necessary training to perform even the most basic of pastoral duties.  In fact, even pastors who have had some kind of formal theological training still lack the practical training that every pastor will inevitably need to face the daily grind of pastoral ministry.   There are very few outlets and resources for this training, and this reality grows even dimmer once outside the United States.  Most of the pastors we help cannot financially support our ministry.

White Horse Inn — Michael Horton and crew

Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast

“Ever wish you could have a conversation with some of the top leaders in ministry today? Well, that’s what my new leadership podcast is designed to bring you.”

Five Minutes in Church History — Stephen Nichols

Each podcast offers an easily digestible glimpse of how the eternal, unchangeable God has worked in the church over prior generations, and how this can encourage us today. This is our story—our family history.


What are some other podcasts that have helped you?

Form vs Function: Our Programs are to Serve, Not Be Served


Scott, you are an artist par excellence.

At times, churches are so connected to certain ministries and programs that they remain long after their effectiveness is gone. Part of it is a leadership issues, but part of it is a resuscitation or even a resurrection issue–that is, it either needs new life breathed into it, or it needs to die and be brought back in another form all the while keeping the function.

This is nothing new.  In Mark 2:27, Jesus told the religious leaders, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” The religious leaders had developed so many rules as to what you could or could not do on the Sabbath that it failed to extend grace, even to the point of where they struggled in seeing Jesus heal someone on the Sabbath. The form (the Sabbath) was to feed the ultimate issue, which is the function (rest and recharging by remembering God’s good grace). The religious leaders, however, set this on its head: people were serving their rules of the Sabbath, thus oppressing rather than releasing them to enjoy their life in God.

In churches today, we see this happening, say, with music. Though styles have changed over the years, we see some gravitating to a preferred style.  That preference, if one isn’t careful, turns into a test of faith for others. As a result, those who prefer hymns or choruses in a specific way impose that preference on others. The church suffered much through worship wars, rather than seeing that there were both good hymns and bad hymns as there were good modern songs and bad ones. Take the best of both: those that honor Christ, encourage the church, and are singable.

In our Southern Baptist culture, missions in another. I grew up with various missions programs that mean a lot to me during the years. But I also came across other missions programs (forms) that were just as impactful in getting the Great Commission in our children’s heads (function).  Let me give you a more pointed case that’s happening now at our church.

My associate pastor, Scott Morter, has long sensed a call to missions in Ireland. Our normal lane of sending is through the International Mission Board (IMB). Our Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions goes to help the IMB put missionaries in place all over the world–sort of.

You see, the IMB is focusing on the 10-40 window (10 degrees north latitude to forty degrees south latitude), which is mainly North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia.  You don’t have to be a geography scholar to realize that Ireland is not in that window.  Yet, where Scott and his family will go is the least evangelized area in the English speaking world (0.2% evangelical).

Our form (IMB) did not provide a lane, but another group, WorldVenture, did.  Remember, the function is to get the gospel out to areas where the gospel ain’t. If we were married to the form, we would say, “Scott, we will only support you go via the IMB.”  As Jesus taught the religious leaders, that would be legalistic and, yes, sinful. But, we say, “Scott, the goal is for you to get on the field to get the gospel where the gospel ain’t, so we will pray and support and help all we can.”  Yes, he will have to do his own partner development (i.e., fundraising), as opposed to the IMB which provides what’s needed through our giving to the Lottie Moon Offering and the Cooperative Program.

Even so–it’s an example that when our programs reach a tipping point to where we are serving them, even if it’s not accomplishing what they set out to accomplish, rather than the programs serving the Great Commandment/Great Commission function, it’s time to evaluate. Perform CPR, and if that doesn’t work, there’s no sin in letting a program (form) ride off into the sunset so another form can come in to perform the Great Commandment/Great Commission function needed.


What the Ancient Celtic Christians Teach Us About Christian Living

A friend of mine recommended a book by George Hunter called The Celtic Way of Evangelism. This not only went over the ministry of St. Patrick centuries ago, but also in their work and success in reaching varying cultures for the gospel. Below is an excerpt of ten lessons we could learn even now.

  1. Celtic Christian leaders would counsel today’s church leaders to relinquish the full responsibility for making Christians into better Christians. Church leaders cannot do it for people—through preaching harder, scheduling more prayer meetings and retreats, or making all other attempts to do it for people through more and better programming. As we have already learned in the field of adult education, delegate to the people the responsibility for their own development. There are limits to what any leaders or programs can achieve in the learning and lives of passive attendees; there are no known limits to what people can become through their own disciplines and (even more important) through nurturing one another’s development.
  2. They would counsel us to relinquish the illusion that Gutenberg’s printing press produced a panacea. From the first printing of Bibles, in the 1450s, Protestant leaders seem to have assumed that if every church member had his or her own copy of the canon we would produce a biblically literate, rooted, informed church. It has never happened in more than five centuries. There is no reason to be confident that it will happen tomorrow—no matter how many translations and paraphrases are published, marketed, and promoted. Celtic Christian leaders would remind us that, before Gutenberg, Christians memorized much of the Bible. In the monastic communities, they came to know all 150 psalms, and much of the rest of the Bible, more or less by heart. The Scripture that is in us informs much more of our ongoing internal conversation than Scripture that we merely read.
  3. They would counsel us to relinquish the illusion that a brief daily devotional each morning, in which (say) people read a snippet of Scripture, a brief reflection, and a short prayer—all on one page of The Upper Room devotional guide—will shape great souls. The people of Alcoholics Anonymous have learned to begin and end each day in devotional focus. The ancient Celtic practice scheduled three times per day, as modeled in Ray Simpson’s A Holy Island Prayer Book: Morning, Midday, and Evening Prayer and in the Northumbria Community’s Celtic Daily Prayer.
  4. Not even three scheduled times for prayer each day make for powerful Christian spirituality. The most important practice, as the Celts recalled Paul’s words, is to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). That is, you pray into each of the day’s situations, events, responsibilities, and tasks, and you include the Holy Spirit in your ongoing internal conversation.
  5. Feel free, often, to pray with your eyes wide open. Often, you have to keep your eyes open when you pray while driving, speaking, attending a meeting, or conversing with someone. But praying with one’s eyes open is not a regretful necessity or a second-class approach. Closed is not necessarily better than open. The Celtic Christian saints often prayed with their eyes open, using something in the creation around them to fix on as a sign of God’s presence.
  6. Harness your imagination in your life of devotion to God. The saints imagined the Lord before them, behind them, above them, within them, or meeting them through a creature of the forest or a person in need. Imagination focuses and catalyzes prayer. (See Esther de Waal’s The Celtic Way of Prayer: The Recovery of the Religious Imagination.)
  7. They would recommend that every Christian have an anam cara—that is, a “soul friend.” One’s soul friend, as I understand it, is not a superior or even one’s spiritual director, but a peer with whom one can be open and vulnerable. (John O’Donohue’s Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom takes the place of the single source that we never had before!)
  8. Meet weekly or biweekly in a small group in which you are in ministry with one another, rejoicing and weeping with one another, pulling for one another, interceding for one another, holding one another accountable, bringing out the best in one another, identifying one another’s gifts of the Spirit, and in which you learn to engage in ministry and to converse about the faith.
  9. In your spiritual life, do not engage in endless ongoing self-assessment and spiritual navel-gazing. Canon Bryan Green, a great Anglican evangelist in the Celtic tradition, once said that too many Christians remind him of the fellow who planted a small bush in a pot and watered it every day—and pulled it out of the soil every day to see if the roots were growing! (Of course, they were not.) The purpose of the spiritual life, after all, is not to reinforce the pride, self-preoccupation, and narcissism that are our original sin, but to become open enough to the Spirit to be pulled out of that selfcenteredness; to be reconciled to God, others, and creation; and to have the marvelous freedom of largely forgetting oneself for stretches of time—before regrouping in scheduled times of discipline.
  10. The main purpose in the life of Christian devotion is not so much to get blessed, get our needs met, become happier, or accomplish any of the other early goals that people usually have in mind when they begin praying. The main purpose is to become like Christ. As C. S. Lewis reminded us, the Holy Spirit wants to make us “little Christs.” Thomas á Kempis was right; it is about “the imitation of Christ.” In life’s ultimate paradox, as we become more like Christ—living by the will of God, reflecting the love of God—we become more like the people we were born to be and have really always wanted to be.

Five Sermons on the Five Solas

At my church, we took the five Sundays to preach five sermons on the Five Solas.  Below are the links to the audio:

Scripture Alone – The First Pillar of our Christian Faith

Grace Alone – The Second Pillar of our Christian Faith

Faith Alone – The Third Pillar of our Christian Faith

Christ Alone – The Fourth Pillar of our Christian Faith

To the Glory of God Alone – The Fifth Pillar of our Christian Faith