Winston and Kevin join Barry to talk about the role common sense plays in society.http://barrycreamer.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/CWC-2016_08_29.mp3
Winston, Daisy, and Steve join Barry to discuss the interesting story behind a 2008 picture; Olympic attire; and unexpected results from a survey on friendship.http://barrycreamer.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/CWC-2016_08_26.mp3
Dear Dr. Craig
I've recently had my worldview shattered and pretty much torn apart by the natural arguments for the existence of God, the Kalam Cosmological argument, the Teleological argument, the Ontological argument, and a few others which you present in outstanding accuracy and clarity. Being 17 years old, as any other teenager I thought I had everything figured out, I had responses ready for every argument that could've threatened my atheist belief ...
In his 13 years as senior pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church in Louisville, Brian Croft has seen it all. He has experienced profound lows in the ministry but has sought to remain faithful and has also seen God bring the church from death to life.
He chronicles that incredible tribute to God’s grace in a new book Biblical Church Revitalization: Solutions for Dying & Divided Churches (Christian Focus). He founded Practical Shepherding and serves as senior fellow for the Mathena Center for Church Revitalization at SBTS. In this interview, we discuss the book and lessons learned from many years in pastoral ministry.
In the new book, you tell the story of Auburndale and relate many wise lessons learned during your time at Auburndale BC. When most guys enter pastoral ministry, not too many of them think of their church as dying, divided or declining. When and how did you know you were in a revitalization situation?
I took a church with 30 elderly folks, no money, and an old, but beautiful building falling down around us. The church had been in decline for over 30 years and no pastor since 1972 had stayed longer than four years. The community around us despised the church. It was pretty obvious it was in trouble and on its last leg.
When you are in a revitalizing situation, how do you communicate that to the people in under your care? Do you ever use that language with them or speak publicly of the need to get healthy as a church?
Churches need to know they are broken and dying before real, important change can take place. Many churches do not know how bad the situation has gotten. It is a mistake for a new pastor to just come in and tell them this, although it might be true. A pastor should first come in, love them where they are, earn their trust, then break the news to them of their current state.
What’s the one piece of advice you would give to a student with a newly-minted degree from SBTS who is about to take his first pastorate?
I would first remind them that “newly-minted degree” showed they were well trained theologically, but it did not make them a pastor. Their instincts should now be to preach faithfully and sacrificially love and shepherd their people the first few years. Don’t go if you are not willing to stay at that church five years.
What’s the worst mistake you’ve ever made as a pastor and what did you learn from it?
That’s hard to say. Many to choose from. I would say there were numerous occasions where I dismissed words of counsel from elderly members early in my ministry who proved to be right years later. I missed good opportunities to grow as a young pastor if I would have listened to them. A close second is putting people in leadership positions before they are ready.
Better than most I’ve ever heard, your story demonstrates the difficulty and danger of pastoral ministry. Do you think most men really think it’s going to be tough when they are entering their first pastorate?
No. I think young pastors are way too idealistic about what being a pastor will be like. I partially blame the celebrity pastor culture combined with a lack of local churches taking responsibly to expose young men to the dirty, messy daily grind that is real pastoral ministry.
How can a man go to a church and stay 10, 20, 30 years? Is that even possible or advisable in today’s here-today-gone-tomorrow church culture?
Not only do I think it is possible, but those willing to do it in this type of culture you describe will show to be noble examples of faithfulness that will be rare in decades to come. I believe those willing to plant and stay will bear fruit in ways others who leave every three or four years in a church will not experience. Lasting change in a church will not come inside 5 to 10 years.
You oversee the Mathena Center for Church Revitalization at SBTS. What is the main purpose of the Mathena Center and how are you integrating your own work at Practical Shepherding into that?
It is the kind providence of God that SBTS asked me to play this role because it feeds so well from both my pastoral ministry in my local church as well as Practical Shepherding. The Mathena Center exists to help struggling and dying churches find new life and to train young men who are willing to go into these churches and engage in this hard, but noble work. The resources of Practical Shepherding are largely used to help train these men for this work of shepherding these wounded sheep in these churches and to minister God’s Word in such a way that the Spirit breathes life back into them.
Jeff Robinson (M.Div. and Ph.D., SBTS) is editor of the Southern Seminary blog. He is pastor of New City Church in Louisville, serves as senior editor for The Gospel Coalition and is also adjunct professor of church history and senior research and teaching associate for the Andrew Fuller Center at SBTS. He is co-author with Michael A. G. Haykin of To the Ends of the Earth: Calvin’s Missional Vision and Legacy (Crossway, 2014). Jeff and his wife Lisa have four children.
Barry continues yesterday’s conversation about hermeneutics, worldview, and biblical interpretation.http://barrycreamer.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/CWC-2016_08_25.mp3
Barry tackles the difficult topic of Scriptural interpretation.http://barrycreamer.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/CWC-2016_08_24.mp3
“Todos somos Marcos” se convirtió en una popular frase en México y en muchos lugares del mundo. El primero de enero de 1994 el denominado Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional inició una lucha armada en el estado de Chiapas en el sur de México. El subcomandante Marcos era el líder de este movimiento que buscaba justicia, trabajo justo y equitativo entre otras demandas básicas. El subcomandante Marcos se convirtió en un personaje carismático y enigmático porque tenía un pasamontañas que cubría su identidad. Para protegerlo y para identificarse con las demandas de este movimiento muchas personas empezaron a decir “todos somos Marcos” y de esta manera borrar las diferencias entre esta persona y ellos mismos ...
Winston, Daisy, and Scott join Barry to discuss the perhaps not-so-necessary role of dental floss, a defense of surburbia, and the new civil rights-era doll from American Girl.http://barrycreamer.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/CWC-2016_08_23.mp3
One of the most frustrating parts of living overseas was placing an order at a fast food restaurant. Virtually every time I would have to elbow my way to the counter, mentally rehearse the order for a family of five in another language, and then hope that I could communicate without being misunderstood or worse, cut off.
In America it should all be much easier. But on a recent trip to Panera, we realized it isn’t. No one was in front of us when we stepped inside, yet we froze about six feet from the counter. All of us stared in bewilderment at the myriad options on the menu boards. Soon I became self-aware and turned to notice a neatly-formed line of about ten patrons behind us stretching out the door. I looked at my wife and whispered, “Don’t these people know how to cut in line?”
Now that our missionary family has come back to the states, we’re finding that the struggles are very different here—and yet the same. We’ve come back, but we don’t exactly feel at home. Some days we’re happy to be here. Others find us downright homesick—aching for that foreign place that had become our normal. But much of the time we’re just a helix of confused emotions as we try to acclimate to our newest country of residence, waiting for it to feel familiar again.
Pastors and churches who watch the mess of returning missionaries often want to help. But maybe they aren’t sure how to best go about it. Here are a few suggestions from someone fresh off the field.
1. Provide logistical support.
In most cases, missionaries travel to places where ministry is already established, where at least some expats are living. Before we arrived at our place of service there were partners on the ground who helped us find a home, find a car, and find a school. Those first days we were entirely dependent on our team for locating everything from furniture to fresh eggs.
When we returned to the states, we needed help with the very same kinds of things. Most missionaries sold all their possessions before heading overseas. Many do the same before coming back. Thankfully, when we arrived, a family from church generously offered us their van until we could acquire one of our own. Others helped stock our pantry or just gave cash for groceries. Still others have helped us find work or even a dependable dentist. All of these kindnesses, small and large, have proven invaluable.
2. Be a friend, especially to our children.
Sadly, missionaries who have traveled the world and have hundreds of people reading their newsletters can be among the loneliest. When we first left the states, we wept as we said goodbye. While we were gone, those stateside relationships didn’t necessarily end, but they changed. People moved on, priorities shifted, and friendships adjusted. Coming back, we don’t know where we exactly fit in, and we don’t know how to pick up where we left off.
What complicates our insecurity is the grief of fresh goodbyes. In our case, we walked away from deep relationships with our team, neighbors, and church. This reality has made returning stateside hardest on our children. They left America when they were young. Those original goodbyes weren’t so difficult. But this time they have felt the pain acutely. The only place they have ever truly known as home is now 6,000 miles away, and this time they’re old enough to realize that they will likely never see it, or their friends, again.
All of this makes coming back incredibly distressing. And what we need about as much as anything are close relationships. While we cannot recover what was lost, we need friends new and old who will take the time to get to know us for who we are, even if we have changed. Even if we are a little strange.
3. Listen to our stories.
I will never forget the one time my grandfather sat down to talk about his experiences from World War II. The man I knew as a humble cattle farmer and ‘Grandpa’ had known the fear of taking shelter under his truck to avoid strafing gunfire. He had been at the Battle of the Bulge, marched into Germany, and occupied post-war Austria. He had innumerable stories to tell, but I had heard almost none of them. And to this day I regret not hearing more.
Missionaries aren’t quite the same as war heroes, but we have witnessed and walked through the unimaginable. Sadly, those experiences often remain unspoken. Sometimes the silence is owing to us, to trauma we have felt. But the last thing we want to do is come back and unload in a way that sounds like complaining. Or worse, boasting. But in such cases, what we need is a listening ear, maybe even from a professional counselor who can help us process it all. The most meaningful listeners, though, will always be our friends and family who take interest in trying to learn what our life used to be.
4. Tap into our experience.
Part of listening to missionaries can involve giving them a voice. Churches, perhaps unwittingly, rarely provide returning missionaries a platform to speak. Even though we’re no longer raising support, we can still give a report on God’s work among the nations.
We also feel that we have much to offer in terms of ministry experience, especially in evangelism and discipleship. For instance, former missionaries can be a great resource for helping church members reach out to internationals in their own community. Or they could offer adult education on topics such as missions history, world religions, or contemporary missiology.
Every missionary is going to be different, but I would guess that many would jump at the chance to be integrally involved in some kind of outreach or training ministry in the states. Sometimes missionaries return and feel an instant void in their lives when they no longer have natural discipling relationships. But churches could fill that void by vesting missionaries with specific responsibilities that both draw on their experiences and empower other church members.
5. Challenge us to acclimate to our new culture.
If listening is difficult, speaking into the lives of missionaries may be harder still. True, you don’t know where we’ve come from and all we’ve experienced. You haven’t walked a mile in our moccasins—or clogs or geta or terlik, as the case may be—but you can still challenge and critique us. In fact, you should.
Missionaries are not without error. We who have worked so hard to enculturate into a foreign land are often the worst at learning how to live in America. We who decry ethnocentric ideas can return with cultural snobbery directed toward the West and the church. We who spent our lives investing in others can come back reclusive and sheltering. Our struggles might be as complex as a soldier dealing with PTSD, or they can be as simple as not knowing how to order food.
Culture shock is natural, but it’s also often comingled with sinful attitudes or behaviors. So when we are battling reverse culture shock, we need brothers and sisters alongside us who will patiently and continually point us to the truth of Scripture. We need the church to help us fit in in appropriate ways, and reach out in powerful ways. Just like we did overseas.
Elliot Clark (M.Div., SBTS) lived in Central Asia for six years where he served as a cross-cultural church planter along with his wife and three children. He is currently working to train local church leaders overseas.
George Whitefield (1714-1770) was arguably the greatest preacher of the 18th century. Converted as a university student at Oxford, the young convert devoted himself to knowing God by committing himself to intense spiritual discipline and Christian service within John Wesley’s Methodist movement. In time, Whitefield was ordained and soon began preaching, and it became apparent that he possessed a rare gift for preaching powerful evangelistic sermons. Within several years, Whitefield was an international celebrity as he preached justification by faith and the new birth throughout England and North America.
It was Whitefield’s preaching that helped ignite the First Great Awakening in 1740, a phenomenon that led to the conversion of thousands across the North American colonies. People came from far and wide to hear this 25-year-old phenom. It is sometimes said that virtually every New Englander heard Whitefield preach during the First Great Awakening, a testimony of the intense interest he generated. Benjamin Franklin estimated that upwards of 30,000 persons could easily hear his booming voice outdoors, a stunning figure in an age without modern amplification.
Interestingly, when we read the dozens of sermons that he published, we do not feel the affecting power and musicality that many witnesses noted when they heard him preach. Often words on a page simply cannot capture the sheer life that great preachers like Whitefield brought to their orations. We can, however, observe several rhetorical techniques that he employed in his sermons. One that I wish to look at here has to do with the art of probing questioning. Toward the end of his sermons, Whitefield often made application by delivering a barrage of questions designed to draw unbelievers into a period of self-examination. Question upon question was given to corner the unbeliever, leading them to a startling conclusion: “I have not been born again; I need a savior!” His examples are instructive of the way evangelistic preaching was done in the 18th century.
In a sermon on Luke 19:9-10, “The Conversion of Zaccheus,” Whitefield calls his listeners to measure their Christianity against the example of Zaccheus:
What therefore has been said of Zaccheus may serve as a rule, whereby all may judge whether they have faith or not. You say you have faith. But how do you prove it? Did you ever hear the Lord Jesus call you by name? Were you ever made to obey the call? Did you ever, like Zaccheus, receive Jesus Christ joyfully into your hearts? Are you influenced by the faith you say you have, to stand up and confess the Lord Jesus before men? Were you ever made willing to own and humble yourselves for your past offenses? Does your faith work by love, so that you conscientiously lay up, according as God has prospered you, for the support of the poor? Do you give alms of all things that you possess? And have you made due restitution to those you have wronged?
His point: If you are not like Zaccheus, then you are probably lost and need to be found by Christ.
Similarly, in a sermon on Matthew 18:3, “Marks of a True Conversion,” Whitefield went to great lengths exploring the dramatic change wrought in the soul when one is truly converted to Christ. He then unleashed a torrent of questions calling sinners to examine the true nature of their religious lives:
What say ye, my guilty brethren? Has God by his blessed Spirit wrought such change in your hearts? … [Have you] any well-grounded hope to think that God has made you new creatures in Christ Jesus? … Are ye sensible of your weakness? Do ye feel that ye are poor, miserable, blind and naked by nature? Do ye give up your hearts, your affections, your wills, your understanding to be guided by the Spirit of God, as a little child gives up its hand to be guided by its parent? Are ye little in your own eyes? Do ye think meanly of yourselves? And do you want to learn something new every day? I mention these marks [of true conversion], because I am apt to believe they are more adapted to a great many of your capacities.
In a sermon on Jeremiah 23:6, “The Lord our Righteousness,” Whitefield asks his listeners if they have ever come to regard Christ as “their righteousness” not merely as a theological affirmation, but in a way that coincides with a lively belief in his work done on behalf of sinners:
Can you then in this sense say, The Lord our righteousness? Were you ever made to abhor yourselves for your actual and original sins and to loath your own righteousness? For as the prophet beautifully expresses it, ‘your righteousnesses are as filthy rags’ [Isa 64:6]. Were you ever made to see and admire the all-sufficiency of Christ’s righteousness and excited by the Spirit of God to hunger and thirst after it? Could you ever say, my soul is athirst for Christ, yea, even for the righteousness of Christ? O when shall I come to appear before the presence of my God in the righteousness of Christ! Nothing but Christ! Nothing but Christ! Give me Christ, O God and I am satisfied! My soul shall praise thee forever. Was this ever the language of your hearts?
For Whitefield, such questions as these—personal, pointed and probing questions about one’s spiritual state—were employed to bring unbelievers face to face with their spiritual poverty and their need for Christ. From there, Whitefield would often end with a passionate plea to come to Christ.
Come then, poor, guilty sinners. Come away, poor, lost, undone publicans. Make haste, I say and come away to Jesus Christ. The Lord condescends to invite himself to come under the filthy roofs of the houses of your souls. Do not be afraid of entertaining him. He will fill you with all peace and joy in believing. Do not be ashamed to run before the multitude and to have all manner of evil spoke against you falsely for his sake. One sight of Christ will make amends for all.
For Further Reading:
- George Whitefield, The Sermons of George Whitefield, The Reformed Evangelical Anglican Library 1.1, 2 vols. ed. Lee Gatiss (Stoke-on-Trent, UK: Tentmaker Publications, 2010).
- Thomas S. Kidd, George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014).
Barry walks through difficult territory as he answers a listener’s question about how we should understand genocide in the Old Testament.http://barrycreamer.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/CWC-2016_08_22.mp3
Following are seven reasons you might be struggling to love Muslims. The seventh reason is probably the most important ...
Barry is joined by Winston, Daisy, and Rob to discuss San Francisco’s proposed tax on tech companies, the most photographed man of the 19th century, and the supposed differences between cat people and dog lovers.http://barrycreamer.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/CWC-2016_08_19.mp3
Dear Dr. Craig,
Thank you so much for your ministry and the work you do for the kingdom; I really appreciate the work that you've done. I am also glad that you have chosen to take on the atonement, as I have had just this past school year some puzzlement about the philosophical issues of the atonement, particularly Penal Substitution. In reading to try and find some answers, it happened that most of the resources on Penal Substitution are written from a reformed perspective, and my question is over your views on the extent of the atonement. If the atonement is "definite" or "limited" as Calvinists believe, it seems perverse of God to command us to offer the gospel indiscriminately, when most people couldn't even possibly be saved by it. On the other hand, one of the principal arguments against taking an universal atonement perspective is basically that, given penal substitution, it would either result in universalism to be true, or it would be unjust of God because the penalty of an unsaved person's sin would be borne both by Christ and by the person, which is double jeopardy. How do you address this objection? I agree with you that the Bible teaches both Penal Substitution and unlimited atonement, but am struggling on putting these together ...
In 1932, the University of Southern California started stenciling “Property of USC” on athletic t-shirts for the purpose of preventing theft. Their anti-theft strategy backfired when the stenciled attire became more popular than the original unstenciled t-shirts. USC turned this problem into a profit by producing and selling “Property of USC” shirts to students. Today, nearly every university and sports team in the United States stocks and sells some sort of “Property of” sportswear.
The phrases “kingdom of priests” and “holy priesthood” (Exod. 19:6; 1 Pet. 2:5) are like “Property of” t-shirts that God places on everyone he has chosen and purchased as his own. When God referred to Israel as a “kingdom of priests,” he was declaring his people to be “Property of God.” The apostle Peter applied this terminology to the church, identifying new covenant believers as a chosen community devoted to God’s purposes.
Leadership in a Holy Priesthood
United with Christ the great high priest, the new covenant people of God become God’s property, devoted to God’s purposes. This devotion of the whole community frees leaders from at least two deadly delusions about their role in the church. Through this devotion to God’s purposes, leaders are released from the delusion that the people are the leader’s property and from the delusion that the leader is the people’s property.
The delusion that the people are the leader’s property
It is a privilege to lead the people of God—but the privilege of being a leader of God’s people never transforms the people into the leader’s property. Godly leadership results in humble stewardship, not prideful ownership. Church leaders are not called to stand above a conglomeration of individuals as if the purpose of these people is to fulfill our vision. God calls us to serve as shepherds in the midst of a flock that has been wholly devoted to his purposes.
It is a privilege to lead the people of God—but the privilege of being a leader of God’s people…
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And yet, the delusion that the people are our property remains a persistent temptation.
Some expressions of this delusion are obvious. There’s the dictatorial pastor who’s driven to rage when people don’t measure up to his expectations, the bullying elder who silences dissent by abusing the gift of church discipline, the unaccountable leader who demands control over the church’s finances. A leader may rack up charges on the church’s credit card that don’t clearly contribute to the purposes of the church. In each of these instances, the people and their resources are clearly being treated as if they’re the leader’s property instead of God’s property.
But this delusion also manifests itself in more subtle ways—in ways that may be hidden or even accepted among church leaders.
The temptation of treating the people as a platform
Sometimes, the delusion is revealed through our complaining and impatience when the church doesn’t immediately applaud our best-laid plans. In other cases, it’s seen when a church is used as a pastor’s platform to promote his own personal brand for the purpose of gaining book deals and multiplied popularity in the world of social media. “With the internet being what it is, local church ministry is no longer local church ministry,” Barnabas Piper has pointed out. “Pride is an occupational hazard for all of us: if you have a byline, if your name is on a book, or you have a podcast, it comes with pride.”
It’s treating a small congregation or an associate ministry role as a passing inconvenience until a more prominent position becomes available. It’s any action or attitude that treats the church as a tool to be manipulated for our benefit instead of as a holy communion in which we share a sacred stewardship. Dietrich Bonhoeffer described the despairing results of this delusion well when he wrote:
The church is not a platform to send a pastor’s visionary ideals into orbit around his own wishful dreams. Neither is the church meant to serve as the source of our social stature or emotional well-being. The church is the blood-bought property of God. For a pastor to treat the people as his platform is an act of treasonous theft, stealing for himself that which Christ our great high priest has purchased at the cost of his own blood.
The delusion that the leader is the people’s property
“Let me tell you something, Dr. T.,” the deacon leaned over the lunch table to make certain I [TPJ] didn’t miss a single word he had to say, “if your wife ever has to call me about this again, I will personally take over your calendar so that you’re home when you need to be.” More than a decade in retrospect, I realize that this threat from a deacon who loved me probably saved my ministry.
I had served four years as this church’s associate pastor when the senior pastor left to lead a church plant. A few months after the pastor resigned, the congregation asked me to take his place, and I accepted the call. But there was a problem: Even after calling an additional staff member, I wasn’t letting go of the roles I’d had as associate pastor. And so, in addition to leading the staff and preparing multiple messages each week, I was still overseeing monthly trainings for Sunday School teachers, attending every youth and children’s ministry committee meeting, playing guitar in the youth worship band, and helping with the logistics for three upcoming mission trips. The result was that my wife was spending far too many evenings at home alone with our first daughter.
My wife tried to talk to me about releasing some of my previous responsibilities, but I didn’t see the same problems that she was seeing. So Rayann called a faithful deacon named Mark and described what was happening in our household. And that’s how I ended up being interrogated over lunch at Applebee’s about why I was spending so many evenings enmeshed in church meetings instead of heading home.
That afternoon, I began the process of delegating and reassigning a long list of responsibilities, but I found the release to be much more of a struggle than I thought it would be. After an hour or so of wrestling with the list, I came to a painful recognition: I was living under the delusion that the church could not accomplish any of these tasks without my direct involvement. One result of this delusion was that I was living as if I belonged to the people and programs of the church instead of living first and foremost as an adopted child of God.
In some ways, the notion of living this way seemed noble and sacrificial. I recalled hearing older pastors boast about spending all their evenings at church and even admonishing younger pastors, “You take care of the church, and God will take care of your family.” But Scripture does not support such a split in responsibilities. According to the apostle Paul, our integrity as leaders in the church is grounded in our habits of leadership in our homes (1 Tim. 3:4-5). A pastor who neglects his family and acts as if he is the church’s property isn’t demonstrating sacrificial love for the church. What he’s revealing instead is his own unwillingness to develop and deploy the people of God for the work of God (Eph. 4:12).
Leaders who live as if the church depends on them are forced to live behind a mask of strength.
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In many cases, leaders who live as if the church depends on them are forced to live behind a mask of strength, never revealing their weakness. They cannot afford to disappoint or disillusion anyone, because they are the essential property without which the church cannot function—or so they believe. The problem with this pattern is that none of us can successfully isolate our interior life from our exterior life. Whenever we neglect the unseen aspects of ministry, we eventually find ourselves unable to engage in the visible practices of ministry in the power of Christ. What makes matters worse is that too many churches celebrate leaders who are overly busy and who fail to delegate responsibilities. When churches treat their leaders as the congregation’s indispensable property, the people of the church miss opportunities to use the gifts that the Spirit has given them.
So what’s the answer to this struggle?
The pastor must learn to see his central identity not as a property of God’s people or even as a leader of God’s people but, first and foremost, as a child of God and a follower of God’s Son. The pastor is the church’s servant but the church is never the pastor’s master. Leaders and laity alike are not the property of each other; together, they are the devoted property of God and God alone.
Timothy Paul Jones is the C. Edwin Gheens Professor of Christian Family Ministry. He also serves as associate vice president for the global campus and is editor of The Journal of Discipleship and Family Ministry.
Barry finishes Psalm 90 as Moses teaches us how to gain a heart of wisdom.http://barrycreamer.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/CWC-2016_08_18.mp3
The Bible is the most influential book of all time. Given its impact over literature, history, governments, philosophy and more, it should come as no surprise that there are many misconceptions about its nature. Christians need to avoid these misconceptions because Paul said, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15) ...
Barry covers the message of Moses from Psalm 90, answering the question: What should the brevity of our lives teach us?http://barrycreamer.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/CWC-2016_08_17.mp3
In his classic book, Lectures To My Students, Charles Spurgeon wrote, “Scarcely one man in a dozen in the pulpit talks like a man.” This is a problem all too common today.
Some preachers feel inclined to take certain routes in their sermon preparation, leaving them to be very unnatural in their delivery, as if they are trying to be something, or someone, else.
Here are four arguments for why a preacher must find his own voice in the pulpit.
1. Our people need to hear our voice.
Good preachers understand the needs of their congregations. Your congregation needs the preacher that God has sent them: you. Paul charged Timothy in the presence of God to “preach the word” in Ephesus where Timothy was serving (2 Tim. 4:2). Paul didn’t say, “Preach what I said, the way I said it.”
Surely, Timothy imitated Paul in some aspects (1 Cor. 11:1). God intends us to imitate our fathers in the faith, but God does not intend us to be clones. Preachers should be men of authenticity, leading the charge for the specific flocks that God has entrusted to them. In trying times, churches don’t want a word from the pastor of First Baptist Church (Fill in the Blank). They want their pastor.
A preacher should be elated to know that God has sent him to a specific church. While it is helpful to listen to other preachers and study their ways, those men don’t know your congregation like you do. Those men don’t know the marriages, deaths, sicknesses, financial struggles, and depressions like you do. Ultimately, God can use you in a way that is different from anyone else. The Lord may want you to read and learn from another preacher’s ministry, but he doesn’t want you to be another preacher. God wants you.
2. Your inside voice and outside voice must be the same.
Pastors should understand that preaching is not the only speaking event in their job description. There is as much, if not more, conversation that takes place outside of the pulpit. Pastors often counsel, teach, preach, pray, converse with members, talk to family, etc. And all of these voices must be the same.
In Scripture, Timothy was told to be an example “in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12). The same man who is to speak in the pulpit is the same man who is to speak out of the pulpit. If the preacher isn’t careful, he can easily find himself in an identity crisis. Good preachers do not have dual identities like the many superheroes we watch on television. They speak clearly, in all of life, with one voice.
As this fallen world is changing from day to day, people need the everlasting word of God and a preacher who feeds it. Christians need solid churches that are grounded in the Bible, led by preaching which finds the hero to be Christ.
3. Preaching is corporate, yet personal.
It is amazing that two preachers can take the same text and deliver faithfully different sermons. Why? Every preacher has a different past, a different present situation, and a different church relationship. These variables will inevitably affect sermons. Knowing this should allow freedom in sermon preparation.
Let’s be clear. Every biblical text has been authored with deliberate intentions and every passage points to Christ (Luke 24:27). The Bible is objective truth with a specific message for mankind. But, before a word is spoken at the pulpit on Sunday, God’s Word has been stirring in the preacher. This will change the way the message is delivered. As Warren Wiersbe has said, “The preacher is not only a herald, but also a witness.”
Some water nozzles have options for different spray patterns, such as: mist, cone, jet, shower, etc. Various spray patterns are determined by tiny, little holes where the water exits the hose. The water is all the same, but it just may be delivered differently. The message of Christ’s salvation can be delivered in diverse ways. Preacher, be amazed that God intends for you to preach Christ in your own way, in your own voice.
4. There are not many voices preaching today.
We can easily doubt our calling, assuming that nobody wants to hear us because we are terrible compared to others. “Why would anyone want to listen to me when they can hear amazing preaching from ____________?” Know that this is a lie and a satanic ploy to close your mouth.
God wants your mouth open speaking about his wonderful Son, Jesus! And no matter what you may think, there are not many voices out in the world preaching today. Remember, the workers are few to reap the harvest (Luke 10:2). Several churches are closing their doors and many others are desperately searching for a pastor to feed them with God’s word. People are dying who have never heard the name of Jesus.
Christ commands his people to preach (Mark 16:15).
Thankfully, the world doesn’t need another MacArthur or Piper. God made you who you are, with your skills, and your desires, and your personality. God has been using the mouths of men to proclaim his wonderful message throughout the years like Charles Spurgeon and John Stott. But, before them God used the voices of Peter, Paul, Malachi, and Moses. This long list should not intimidate us. We should be encouraged that normal, imperfect men are used as agents of God’s will.
Please, do not try to be someone you’re not. Be authentic. Give yourself to laborious study, diligent prayer, intense brainstorming, personal creativity, and practice, practice, practice. You have a voice, and it is no one’s voice but yours. God has placed you somewhere to preach the same gospel message that faithful men have proclaimed for centuries. Marvel at the fact that God has called you to join them in this heavenly duty.
Cheston Pickard is a master of divinity student at SBTS and intern in the Office of the President. He serves as associate pastor of youth ministry at Sunnyside Baptist Church in Shepherdsville, KY. Cheston and his wife, Megan, have two beautiful children, Carson and Delaney.
I have just finished reading through (most of) the new 1,200+ page book, The Enduring Authority of the Christian Scriptures, edited by D.A. Carson. This book is a splendid example of deep thinking about important subjects presented in a format readable not just for advanced students and scholars, but also for other deep-thinking Christians. I am not saying that the topics are simple. Quite to the contrary, this book tackles some of the most difficult questions surrounding the authority of Scripture. The doctrine of inerrancy in particular is underscored throughout the book ...