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Confessions of a fallen worship pastor

Fri, 03/24/2017 - 09:50

Three times each semester the Institute for Biblical Worship at Southern Seminary hosts a special speaker and lunch for the worship majors enrolled in the Boyce College and Seminary music and worship programs. In the past we’ve had a wide variety of guests including Matt Boswell, Keith Getty and Mike Harland. We try to expose our students to influential voices in the area of worship leadership and ministry beyond the classroom. You can hear recordings of past presentations here.

In his chapel message at SBTS on February 21, Dr. Denny Burk spoke on 2 Timothy 2:22, where Paul reminded Timothy to “flee youthful passions.” It is not coincidental that Dr. Burke is sensing the same concern for students throughout the entire seminary that we have for our worship majors.

The sobering story of Brandon Watkins

Last week, we had a speaker named Brandon Watkins. Brandon drives a Schwan’s food truck. He gets up every morning at 2:30 a.m. and delivers frozen food to the customers on his route in this region of Kentucky. He didn’t always work for Schwan’s. Several years ago he was a student at Southern in what was then the School of Church Music. Throughout his high school and college years, Brandon sang for a traveling evangelist in a ministry that took him all over the world. When Brandon speaks you can tell he can sing. . . he has that natural, resonant quality to his vocal tone you often hear from someone on a stage in Nashville.

Until about seven years ago, Brandon was a full-time worship pastor in a large, growing church in the south. He was married and had two little girls. But he lost them and everything else in life because of an addiction. While he was in high school he, like so many other young men, began looking at pornography. As a Christian and a traveling musician in an evangelistic ministry, he convinced himself that he could “manage” the sin. After all, good Christians (especially traveling evangelists) aren’t supposed to struggle with bad things like porn, and he didn’t want to admit he had a problem.

Brandon said this to our students:

“When sin isn’t exposed to the light, it leads to a stronghold, and when a stronghold isn’t dealt with, it leads to an addiction.”

Brandon’s story is heartbreaking. At the height of his deception, he still thought he could “manage” the double life of being a worship pastor and a daily customer at a strip club. He justified his actions by saying that God didn’t answer his prayers. Here was his prayer: “God, if you want me to quit going to the strip club, then take my voice away from me.” He told our students it was incredible the things he would come up with to justify his double life. His singing voice stayed strong, the ministry at his church flourished, and he kept right on living in the darkness of what he thought was a secret sin.

Rock bottom

Finally, the stress and burden of lies and deceit became too much and he confessed to his wife, his pastor, and his church what he had been hiding. For the next six months, he lived the life of the prodigal son. There was no more hiding what he had become, and he stepped completely out of the light and into darkness. Five months later, on his 31st birthday, he was alone on the back porch of his empty house. The water and heat had been turned off, and other than a mattress and a table, there was not any furniture in the empty rooms of the home he once shared with his family. As he sat on his porch and looked down at the half-empty bottle of Jack Daniels next to him, reality finally hit him—he had hit bottom.

Watkins’ testimony opened the eyes and ears of several of our students. He told them his pride kept him from asking for help and his arrogance duped him into thinking at each stage of his growing addiction that he could “manage” his sin and deceive everyone around him. Through his tears, he looked at our students and said, “Each one of you is living in one of three categories right now:

  1. You are actively and intentionally protecting yourself from a fall because you know you are vulnerable.
  2. You are in the middle of a fall.
  3. Or you are arrogantly thinking you will never fall—and if that’s the case—you’ll be calling me within five years and asking for my help because you’ve lost everything.

I once heard a pastor say that among men who are no longer in ministry because of moral failure, the fall was never a moral blowout, but a slow leak. Those men let down their guard on the small things, like a second look at the tabloid in the grocery store check-out line, or a daydream that fueled lustful thoughts. For Brandon, and all of us, this is a battle that never ends. The measures of protection match the severity of the sin. Brandon and his new wife, Kala, do not have internet at their house.

Why should we take address a topic like this? Because so many worship leaders and pastors are struggling with the devastating sin of pornography. During the Q&A time with Brandon, one of the students asked, “Why aren’t we talking about this more and being proactive in battling against it?” Brandon said that when he was younger he didn’t want to share his battle because a worship leader wasn’t supposed to be dealing with a sin like porn.

As he ended his testimony, Brandon introduced his mentor, Ray Carroll, who has a book and a ministry called Fallen Pastor (www.fallenpastor.com). In the last few years since he began this ministry, Ray has spoken with more than 500 pastors who have fallen. Over and over throughout Brandon and Ray’s talk with our students, they encouraged the students to seek help, develop true accountability, and shed light on the sin.

So, whoever thinks he stands must be careful not to fall. No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humanity. God is faithful, and He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape so that you are able to bear it. (1 Corinthians 10:12-13)

____________________

Joe Crider is the Ernest and Mildred Hogan Professor of Church Music and Worship and serves as executive director, Institute for Biblical Worship. He also serves as worship pastor at LaGrange Baptist Church in LaGrange, Kentucky.

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Categories: Seminary Blog

Editorial: Learning from John Owen

Thu, 03/23/2017 - 11:13
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John Owen Timeline

Thu, 03/23/2017 - 11:11

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Being John Owen

Thu, 03/23/2017 - 11:08

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Socinianism and John Owen

Thu, 03/23/2017 - 10:49

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SBJT Forum

Thu, 03/23/2017 - 10:32

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Book Reviews

Thu, 03/23/2017 - 10:17

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Lessons from God’s school of waiting

Tue, 03/21/2017 - 14:29

I don’t like to wait. No, let’s be completely frank: I despise waiting. There is a certain highway in the city where I live that is notorious for snarled traffic, often for a couple of hours on both sides of rush hour. I avoid it like cream of broccoli soup. Every Sunday morning, there are certain members of my family who move at the speed of a glacier in getting ready for worship, and I’m convinced they make less haste on the days I preach. They make me wait, and I don’t like it.

And I am not alone. Fallen humans categorically do not like to wait. We want instant gratification. We want life’s knottiest dilemmas solved in a half hour. Why is it so difficult for sons of Adam to wait? Conventional wisdom says doing absolutely nothing should be easy for us, but it is not.
Over the years, I have learned that waiting on the Lord is one of the most potentially sanctifying (and necessary) aspects of the Christian life. It is one of those glorious “gospel paradoxes” that helps us understand what the LORD told Isaiah, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” (Is. 55:8).

We wait in hope

We pray in hope, and then we wait on the Lord to answer. A Christian man prays for a job so that he can provide for his family as God has commanded, and then he waits. A mother prays that God will draw her wayward son to himself unto salvation, and then she waits. We pray that God will make our future path clear, and then we wait. We read Matthew 6:34 for a thousandth time for comfort.

We wait, but we don’t surrender to passivity.

The Puritans understood this reality well and developed something of a doctrine of waiting; they referred to it as “God’s school of waiting.” William Carey understood it well. He spent seven years on the mission field before seeing his first convert. Of greater import, the inspired writers understood it well: “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Ps. 27:14).

Many seminary students will complete their theological training then do the last thing they anticipated: wait. I snail-mailed or e-mailed more than 200 resumes and suffered through seemingly as many interviews with schools and churches after completing my Ph.D. before leaving Louisville for my first full-time ministry, a pastorate in Alabama. Total wait time: three years. The last year of that period was particularly agonizing as I watched my closest friends take off, one-by-one, like jets off an aircraft carrier, and soar through ministry doors God had opened.

But there I sat, feeling a bit like mold or moss, waiting. But it was for my good.

As difficult as it can be, waiting builds spiritual muscles in a unique manner. My sinful impatience notwithstanding, Isaiah makes this truth clear:

“But they who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount with wings as eagles, they shall run and grow weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

Lessons from God’s school

What a glorious promise! And yet our discontented hearts find it difficult to wait on God. Still, waiting on the Lord does many good things for us. Waiting:

  • Causes us to pray without ceasing. We are needy, and he owns the cattle on a thousand hills. He is always faithful, and the outcome of our waiting proves him wholly true.
  • Instills in us a clearer understanding that we are creatures absolutely dependent upon our Creator. Though our sinful hearts crave omniscience and omnipotence, we possess neither, and waiting helps us to focus on that reality.
  • Increases our faith. After all, does not the writer of Hebrews define faith as “the conviction of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”? (Heb. 11:1). We wait and God works.
  • Transfers the doctrine of God’s absolute sovereignty from the speculative realm to the practical. In waiting, we actually experience God’s lordship in an intimate way.
  • Grounds our future in a certain hope. This is Paul’s point in Romans 8:24-25: “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” As we wait God instills in us patience, that most elusive of spiritual virtues.
  • Reminds us that we live between the times. When Jesus returns, the not yet will collapse into the already, and there will be no more waiting for an answer to desperate prayers. The kingdom will be consummated, and Jesus will set everything right. Until then, we pray and wait and are sanctified by God’s wise process.
  • Stamps eternity on our eyeballs. When we bring urgent petitions before the Lord, we wait with expectation, and the city of man in which we live fades in importance as we begin to realize that the city of God is primary. As Jonathan Edwards prayed, “O Lord, stamp eternity on my eyeballs.” Waiting helps to do that. It prioritizes the eternal over the temporal in accord with 2 Corinthians 4:18: “as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
Your waiting is not fruitless

Though it’s difficult for us to see, waiting, in God’s economy, is for our good. Even our waiting achieves God’s sovereign purposes. And waiting must not paralyze us. It should not delay ministry, even if it’s not what you are presently doing full-time. If you are called to ministry, unleash the gospel where God has planted you, even as you await his providential guidance for the future.

As Paul Tripp puts it, waiting on God is not at all like the meaningless waiting you do at the dentist’s office:

We don’t just wait—we wait in hope. And what does that hope in God look like? It is a confident expectation of a guaranteed result. We wait believing that what God has begun he will complete, so we live with confidence and courage. We get up every morning and act upon what is to come, and because what is to come is sure, we know that our labor in God’s name is never in vain. So we wait and act. We wait and work. We wait and fight. We wait and conquer. We wait and proclaim. We wait and run. We wait and sacrifice. We wait and give. We wait and worship. Waiting on God is an action based in confident assurance of grace to come.

I pray that God will sanctify my impatience. After all, isn’t that the word that really describes our distaste for waiting? Perhaps it really is a sign of God’s love for me that I seem to find the rush hour traffic jam virtually every day.

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Categories: Seminary Blog

Together

Tue, 03/21/2017 - 10:00

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Five common objections to church discipline

Fri, 03/17/2017 - 07:50

A few months ago, our elders preached through a series on the church. The penultimate message addressed the important, often misunderstood topic of church discipline. Expounding on Matthew 18, Jamie McBride, articulated a vision of church discipline that is compassionate, convictional, church-building, and Christ-centered.

Jamie considered five faulty objections that are often used against church discipline. Jamie answered these objections in his sermon. And I will seek to answer them here, drawing on many of his biblical insights.

Five common objections to church discipline 1. “It’s none of my business.”

In our hyper-individualistic culture, we are accustomed to passing by the plights of others. In the church, however, we cannot simply ignore the needs of others. We are not a restaurant that gives out biblical teaching and communion wafers. We are a family, a household of God, brothers and sisters committed to Christ and one another. We are not like Cain who mocked, “Am I my brothers keeper?” We are our brother’s keeper.

Therefore, when sin enters the church, we cannot say, “It’s none of my business.” We are called to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:1–2) and to confront sin when we see it appearing in the words and actions our fellow church members. This is the point of Matthew 18:10–14 (the passage preceding Jesus’ directives about church discipline): It is God’s will that none of his little ones should perish. Each step of church discipline brings this desire into action. And thus loving Christians can never say: “It’s none of my business.”

2. “I don’t want to cause a problem.”

This objection to church discipline sounds so noble, so humble. It is anything but. A dentist who always gives a clean bill of health— “No cavities. Again.”— is not good; he’s dangerous. A housing inspector who turns a blind eye to termite damage in the rafters is inviting residential collapse. So too, the church or church member who refuses to address sin is not making peace; they are insuring that the Satan’s warfare will succeed.

Addressing sin with gospel truth and loving rebuke is not causing a problem. It is aiming to fix a problem. Sin is the problem and love-driven, Christ-centered, repentance-seeking church discipline is the solution. The church should be a place where weak believers are protected from the lies of Satan and where the poison of sin can be leeched from infected lives. In this way, it is patently unloving and untruthful to avoid church discipline (at any stage) because “it causes a problem.”

3. “I’m not supposed to judge others.”

This is the most biblical objection when it comes with a proof text: “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matt. 7:1). If any verse defines our culture today, it’s this one. And countless Christians have adopted the mentality which says “Who am I to judge? I’m a sinner too.” But this misses Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 7:1–5, which calls for Christians to examine their own hearts (“remove the log from your own eye”) so that they can perform spiritual surgery on others (“remove the splinter from another’s eye”). In other words, Jesus’ command doesn’t teach heartless passivity, but humble proactivity.

It is not judgmental to confront those who break God’s law. It’s loving. It is judgmental to condemn others by the laws and traditions we make. Church discipline aims to rescue others from judgment; it seeks reconciliation and forgiveness. Matthew records Jesus’ parable about forgiveness right after Jesus’ speaks about church discipline (Matt. 18:21–35), because the goal of discipline is restoration, not condemnation.

4. “I can’t address the sins of another.”

Matthew 18:15 says, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault.” This translation follows the later MSS. Earlier manuscripts do not include “against you.” The wrong implication by including “against you” is that if someone has not sinned directly against me, I can let it go.

However, this passivity does not hold up. James 5:19–20 and Jude 22–23 call Christians to “bring back” erring brothers and “save others snatching them out of the fire,” respectively. Therefore, the best manuscript evidence for Matthew 18 and the overarching teaching of the New Testament is that we pursue others—especially members of the church (who have entrusted themselves to the care of the church). It is unloving and unbiblical to say, “I can’t address the sins of another.”

5. “I just want to be loving.”

Some object to church discipline because it feels so unloving. And yet, it is just the opposite. As Jonathan Leeman explains in his excellent book The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Lovechurch discipline is only perceived as unloving when we have an unbiblical understanding of love. Yet, when we define love by the cross of Christ, the place where God’s wrath was poured out in full, we learn that true love judges (sin), hates (evil), and disciplines.

Scripture couldn’t be more clear. The father disciplines those sons whom he loves (Prov. 3:11–12; Heb. 12:5–11); the children of God obey the one whom they love (1 John 5:1–3). In contrast to the world which says love is free to do as it pleases, biblical love obeys the laws of God (John 14:15, 21).

Love is never set against law; just the opposite. The law commands love (Lev. 19:18; Gal. 5:14), and love is the fulfillment of the law (Rom. 13:8–10). Moreover, love ceases to be love when it ignores justice: “Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth” (1 Cor. 13:6). In this, the most loving thing we can do is point people to Jesus or help them walk in obedience to him. The objection “I just want to be loving” turns out to be one of the most unloving things a Christian can do.

Love disciplines

In the end, church discipline is not only biblical, it is loving. Indeed, nothing could be more loving than prayerfully, compassionately correcting an erring brother or sister. God honors such endeavors and has often preserved the souls of his sheep through the vigilant watch-care of a local church. Indeed, this is what the church is for.

We are not a spiritual interest group who enjoys a hearty potluck after a good sermon. We are a people called out of darkness to walk in the light of his love. We have fellowship with God and one another as we abide in him. And when that fellowship is destroyed by sin, love compels us to sacrifice ourselves in order to discipline others. This is what love looks like. And because it is so foreign to us today, we must continue to let Scripture inform our minds and transform our hearts.

May God help us love . . . and when circumstances necessitate, discipline from hearts compelled by Christ’s love to see others love God through repentance and obedient faith.

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Categories: Seminary Blog

Why are there manuscript variants?

Wed, 03/15/2017 - 06:16
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Ask Anything Live (Episode 2)

Tue, 03/14/2017 - 15:00

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Praying with Power and Confidence

Tue, 03/14/2017 - 10:00
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Follow Spurgeon’s example in reading good books

Tue, 03/14/2017 - 09:07

What did Spurgeon read? He read all sorts of books. He read the Bible, the newspaper, Christian classics, history, biography, and fiction. He averaged reading six substantive books each week. Most of those books were weighty Puritan works. John Piper writes:

I think one of the reasons Spurgeon was so rich in language and full in doctrinal substance and strong in the spirit, in spite of his despondency and his physical oppression and his embattlements, is that he was always immersed in a great book—six a week. We cannot match that number. But we can always be walking with some great “see-er” of God. I walked with Owen most of the year on and off little by little and felt myself strengthened by a great grasp of God’s reality.

A primary reason that Spurgeon was such a great writer was due to his reading habits. W.Y. Fullerton in C. H. Spurgeon: A Biography recounts,

The whole Spurgeon Library, therefore, taking no count of tractates, consists of no less than 135 volumes in all, or, including the reprints, 176! If we add the albums and the pamphlets, we get an output of 200 books!

Fullerton says of Spurgeon’s personal library: “At the time of his death there were 12,000 volumes in Mr. Spurgeon’s library, in addition to those that he had sent to furnish the well-filled shelves of the library at the College.”

12,000 volumes provided the foundation of his library but, as Fullerton indicates, Spurgeon had even more books.

Spurgeon wrote, read, reviewed, distributed, and treasured books. Fullerton asserts, “To listen to his talk on books one would think that he had done nothing but read in the library all his life, and to mark his publications would fancy that he had done nothing but write.”

Yet we know that Spurgeon did much more than read and write. He was a pastor; he was an itinerant preacher, he led numerous institutions, and his services were constantly in demand.

We can distill down from Spurgeon’s reading habits several helps that we can employ.

1. Find good books. In Spurgeon’s library there were many used books that he found in the catalogues of second-hand-bookstores. Whether used or new, find good books. Especially find hardback books that will last through the years and can be passed on to your children.

2. Read good books. Books look beautiful lined across oak shelves. However, books are meant to be read. Spurgeon exhorted: “Give yourself unto reading. The man who never reads will never be read; he who never quotes will never be quoted. He who will not use the thoughts of other men’s brains, proves that he has no brains of his own.”

3. Read a variety of books. It is assumed that you will regularly feast on the Bible. Beyond that, read history, biography, hymns, classics, and good fiction. Spurgeon asserted:

We are quite persuaded that the very best way for you to be spending your leisure time, is to be either reading or praying. You may get much instruction from books which afterwards you may use as a true weapon in your Lord and Master’s service. Paul cries, ‘Bring the books’ — join in the cry.

4. Read as much as you can. Spurgeon was a uniquely gifted man. You are not Spurgeon, but it is likely you can read more books than you are presently reading. Start somewhere. Attempt two pages per day. In a month you will have read 60 pages and in three months you will finish your book. Start somewhere and then grow in your reading.

 

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