God tasks parents with the holy calling of raising our children, “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” In this our greatest task is to help them understand the Gospel so they might trust in Christ and be saved. The problem for parents is that we often have a difficult time discerning when our kids have truly come to Christ. Either we get excited that our kids are showing interest in the Gospel and pronounce them Christians too quickly or we are so afraid of them making a false profession of faith that we go a long time without treating them as a brother or sister in Christ.
As parents we do have some guidance in knowing if our children are truly in the faith. Everything that would be present in an adult’s conversion will be present in a child’s conversion, but it will show itself in a different manner. I was 19 when I came to Jesus, and was aware of my new life in Christ the moment it took place. At the same time we have stories like John Piper’s. He does not remember his conversion, but his mother was convinced he came to faith and he does not remember ever not believing since then.
We can never know beyond a shadow of a doubt if our child has actually trusted in Christ, but we can see evidences that point to a genuine conversion. Here are some questions we can ask as we attempt to discern whether or not our children have trusted in Christ.Is your child aware of their need for a savior?
Awareness of sin and the need for a savior is an absolute necessity in conversion. While a child will not have years of drunkenness or debauchery for which they should be ashamed, he will know he has sinned and needs to be forgiven. In Romans 2, Paul talks about the law being written on the heart of every person. We instinctively know we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
When your child tells you he wants to become a Christian or starts talking about baptism, ask him why he is thinking about this now. Draw out of him, in his words at his age level, whether he feels conviction for his sins and knows that he needs a Savior. Unless he is convinced of his sins, he cannot know that he has a problem from which he needs to be saved.Does your child understand Jesus’ death and resurrection?
If your child shows awareness of and conviction for sin, begin to talk to her about Jesus. You will not be looking for her to give a discourse on the hypostatic union or penal substitutionary atonement. Does she know Jesus is the son of God? Does she believe that he is real, and that he lived the perfect life we could never live?
Then you should move into a discussion about Jesus’ death and resurrection. Can she articulate the basic facts about Jesus’ death and resurrection? Again, you are not looking for a doctoral level treatise, but in her words can she tell you about what Jesus did for her. What you are looking for here is illumination. As she talks about Jesus, do you see an awareness that she understands and knows this at a heart level?Does your child believe she is saved by repentance and faith?
The other night we read about the woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment so she could be healed in our family devotion. Jesus told her that her faith made her well. I took that opportunity to talk to our daughters about salvation being by faith alone. Their Dad is a pastor, their Grandfather is a pastor, their Uncle is a pastor, and their Great-Grandfather was a pastor. They never remember a time when they were not gathering with the church each Sunday and never remember a time when they were not hearing the Gospel in family devotions and in discussions during everyday life, so I wanted to make sure they heard a clear reminder that none of these things make them a Christian.
When your child approaches you about becoming a Christian, you must make sure that she gets this. “For by grace you have been saved through faith and that not of yourselves.” The Scripture’s testimony is clear, and while your child may not be able to give you an excursus on justification by faith alone and imputed righteousness, you do want her to evidence that she knows she must repent and trust in Jesus. Does she understand that her works or her baptism don’t make her a Christian, but that repentance and trust in Jesus do? Does she have childlike faith in Jesus Christ alone?Is your child showing signs of new life?
Seeing signs of the work of the Spirit in your child’s life is not as evident as it would be in an adult. Your six-year old is not going to have the same kind of testimony that a man with a notorious past would have, but his salvation is just a miraculous. If he has trusted in Jesus, he has been born again and the Holy Spirit indwells him. He will shows evidences of conversion.
If believers grow in conviction over our sins, compassion for other people, and display the fruit of the Spirit, then this will be present in your child’s life. It will be there in childlike form, but it will be there. You will also start to see the lights come on for him spiritually. He will start to understand more of God’s truth and demonstrate a greater awareness of God’s work in his life. As you observe his life, do you see signs of the Spirit’s work in him?Is your child free from external pressures?
The invitation system, a pressure-packed VBS or kids’ camp, and friends getting baptized can start putting pressure on your child to make a profession of faith without actually understanding the Gospel. Often children want to know why they can’t take Communion, and hear the answer, “because you haven’t been baptized yet.” In their minds the solution seems simple, “then let me get baptized so I can take Communion.”
You can never know for certain that your child has pure motives in his desire to become to profess Christ, but you should examine to the best of your ability any outside forces that may be exerting pressure on him. Ask him what made him start thinking about this. It may have been a friend’s baptism, but what about the event made him start pondering it for himself? Communion may have sparked an interest in him, but does he just want to take the bread and juice, or did hearing the meaning of Communion draw him to Jesus? These are all factors for you to ask about, think through, and pray over.Always bring the gospel to your children
Your child does not get a visible mark on her forehead or a stripe on her back when she comes to Jesus, so you have to talk, pray, and discern. Invite your pastor in to talk to your child and ask questions. He may be able to see and hear things you don’t.
Most of all though, keep putting the Gospel in front of your children. Talk about it in everyday life, in family devotions, and around the table after Sunday worship. Sing songs, pray over your kids, and repent to them when you have wronged them. God’s word never returns void, our labor in the Lord is not in vain, and in due time we will sow if we reap, so take every opportunity to tell and show your kids that Jesus is better than life.
Stretching from the time of Moses (Psalm 90) to the exile of Israel (Psalm 126 or 137), the Psalms as we know them—150 songs ordered in five books—took a long time to write. So, how do we read them in their historical context? What is their historical context? And how do we sing them today, knowing that at least some of them were first written and sung in Solomon’s temple (cp. 2 Chronicles 5:13 and Psalm 136)?
The answer, I believe, is to read them with multiple historical contexts in mind. This is not to change the author’s original intent, but to recognize that through the history of redemption (and the progress of revelation), the inspired Word of God, especially the Psalms, found multiple literary settings whereby God led his people with his Word.
Accordingly, we who come at the end of the line, or better, we on whom the end of the ages have come (1 Corinthians 10:11), must learn how to read Israel’s songbook as part of the deposit of faith given to the church (see 2 Timothy 3:16–17). But how do we do that? My proposal is that we learn how to sing the Psalms in four keys, a practice outlined by Bruce Waltke and Franz Delitzsch.
First, Bruce Waltke, in his essay, “A Canonical Process Approach to the Psalms,” (found in Tradition and Testament: Essays in Honor of Charles Lee Feinberg, 3–18) observes four historical phases in the development of the Psalms. He writes,
The four distinct points in the progressive perception and revelation of the text occasioned by the enlarging of the canon are: (1) the meaning of the psalm to the original poet, (2) its meaning in the earlier collections of psalms associated with the First Temple, (3) its meaning in the final and complete Old Testament canon associated with the Second Temple, and  its meaning in the full canon of the Bible including the New Testament with its presentation of Jesus as the Christ. (9)
Interestingly, Waltke is not the first to think of the Psalms in this way. He cites from Franz Delitzsch classic commentary on the Psalms:
The expositor of the Psalms can place himself on the standpoint of the poet, or the standpoint of the Old Testament church, or the standpoint of the church of the present dispensation–a primary condition of exegetical progress is the keeping of these three standpoints distinct and, in accordance, therewith, the distinguishing between the two Testaments, and in general between different steps in the development of the revelation, and in the perception of the plan of redemption. (Biblical Commentary on the Psalms, trans. Francis Bolton, 64)
Indeed, whether from three “standpoints” or four “stages,” the New Testament believer must give attention to the way in which the Psalms have various historical contexts. Only then can we apply the Psalms to ourselves, avoiding both extra-textual allegory and Christ-less historicism.Singing the Psalms in four keys
Now, I can imagine that the prospect of reading the Psalms with four stages in view might seem a little daunting. So here is a memory device that might help.
Just as songs can be sung in different keys, I suggest you think of singing the Psalms in four keys. Indeed, in any given moment you may only read the Psalm in one key, but we must be aware of the others. Only when we pay attention to all four keys do we have the full understanding of the Psalms in their historical context. Here are the four keys.
- The key of D sets the individual Psalm in its original setting. ‘D’ stands for David or any of the other historical authors of the Psalms. Psalms which have historical superscripts help us immensely here. In some cases, we do not know the details of the historical setting. But we know from the other Psalms, that each Psalm originally possessed an historical setting where the Psalm originated.
- The key of E sets the individual Psalm in the context of the Psalter itself. ‘E’ stands for Exile, the place where the Psalter in its canonical form arose. Whereas the ‘D’ key focuses on the original historical setting, this key focuses on the literary setting. The whole Psalter was written to post-exilic Israel, so there is an historical setting. But this key helps us most carefully with the arrangement and messianic message of the Psalter.
- The key of C sets the individual Psalm in the context of the Bible as a whole. ‘C’ stands for Christ, the Messiah of whom the Psalter speaks. While many Psalms speak of David or his son Solomon, the ultimate aim is that of Christ. It is this reason why Acts 4:25, quoting Psalm 16, can say that David spoke of Christ (“For David says concerning him”). In the key of D, Psalm 16 may not have spoken of Christ, but very shortly, as David’s song was put in the key of E, it would soon be pointing forward to the messiah. Accordingly, when Jesus proved to be the Messiah, the messianic intentions of Psalm 16 are clear.
In this way, we do not read the Psalms cherry-picking messianic psalms. Rather, as Waltke rightly observes, “In all fairness, it seems as though the writers of the New Testament are not attempting to identify and limit the psalms that prefigure Christ but rather are assuming that the Psalter as a whole has Jesus Christ in view and that this should be the normative way of interpreting the psalms” (7). The whole of the Psalter is messianic and should be read accordingly.
- The key of F applies the Psalms to God’s people in union with Christ. ‘F’ stands for fellowship and represents the spiritual union we have with the Christ, of whom the Psalms are ultimately directed. Truly, we may often intuitively translate the Psalms into this key. It would be laborious to always work through each key to get here. Daily devotions may and should live in this key. Still, it is important to know how and why we can sing and pray the Psalms for ourselves. Likewise, in applying them to ourselves, we should not miss who the king is and who the worshipers are. Without attention to the previous keys, we may easily employ messianic psalms for our own kingdoms (see Pss 20–21). However, by increasing our awareness of keys D, E, and C, we should avoid praying, “My kingdom come.”
Indeed, only as we read the Psalms in these four contexts can we rightly understand them.Learning to play the four keys
Again, we need not attend to every key in every sermon or prayer. But the reason why we can apply these temple songs of Israel to ourselves today is because of their progressive nature. What was written by David and Asaph and the sons of Korah was taken up and collected in the temple; then in time it was arranged as we have it in the Psalter. Finally, in the fullness of time, we see who the Psalms (especially Books 4 and 5) anticipated, and we can read the whole thing as anticipating Jesus Christ. Just read how Peter preached Psalm 16 in Acts 2 or the author of Hebrews quoted Psalms 2, 8, 45, 102, 104, and 110 in Hebrews 1–2.
In sum, we should read, sing, and pray the Psalms as our own (cf. Col 3:16), but only because of the way Christ brings them to us. Accordingly, as we interpret them, we should be aware of the way the Psalms spoke to him and about him. Only then, in union with him, can we make them our own—as sons and daughters grafted into the vine of Christ. To make this kind of personal application is in no way allegorical, it is Christian. It honors the history of the Psalms and the wisdom of God who inspired, preserved, focused (in Christ), and amplified their message.
Let us take up the Psalms then and behold the way in which Christ emerges from their lyrics. Let us give praise to God for the Psalms and praise him with the Psalms.
Critics of the slogan “faith alone” often point out that Scripture only speaks once about whether we are justified by faith alone—and that text denies it: “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24, CSB).
What does James mean in saying we are justified by works?
I won’t defend the truth of justification by faith alone in detail, but it’s clearly taught, for example, in Romans 3:28: “A person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.” Or, as Paul teaches in Romans 4:5, “God justifies the ungodly.” Both Abraham and David were justified by faith and not by works (Rom. 4:1–8; Gal. 3:6–9).
Salvation, as Paul elsewhere demonstrates, is “by grace” and “through faith” (Eph. 2:8–9). Works are excluded as the basis of salvation—otherwise people could boast about what they have done. Salvation by grace through faith highlights the amazing and comforting truth that salvation is the Lord’s work, not ours.
But does Paul contradict James?James and Works Righteousness
James 2:14–26 repeatedly argues that faith without works doesn’t save on the last day. Those who claim to have faith but lack good works aren’t saved by such a claiming faith (Jas. 2:14). James compares such faith to “words of love and comfort” given to someone who is cold and hungry. Such words are meaningless if not accompanied by actions to feed and clothe the person in need (2:15–16). So also, faith without works is “dead” and “useless” (2:17, 20, 26).
Faith that is merely intellectual, or faith that claims to believe but is bereft of any action, is no better than “the faith” of demons. After all, they subscribe to the orthodox belief that “God is one,” and they “shudder” in terror (2:19). James highlights that Abraham was “justified by works” in offering up Isaac (2:21), and Rahab the prostitute was “justified by works” in receiving the spies and protecting them from danger (2:25).More than intellectual belief
At first glance, it might seem James rejects justification by faith alone, but first glances aren’t enough when reading the Scriptures. We are called to read deeply and canonically. James doesn’t deny that faith saves; he rejects the notion that a particular kind of faith saves—a faith that doesn’t produce works. In short, faith that is merely intellectual assent is not saving faith.
Again, demons professed that Jesus is “the Holy One of God” (Mark 1:24), but their belief in that truth didn’t save them. Even though they knew who Jesus was, they hated him. Saving faith, then, is the act of the entire person. It includes the will and the emotions, such that those who believe in Jesus give themselves to him.Faith alone justifies
Let’s think of it another way. Faith alone justifies, but only the kind of faith that inevitably produces good works. Now, such good works aren’t the basis of justification; indeed, they can’t be, for one sin makes you a lawbreaker (Jas. 2:10–11). Good works can’t function as the foundation of our justification because God demands perfection, and even after we are converted we continue to sin.
James, in fact, says this very thing in the next passage after discussing justification by works: “We all stumble in many ways” (3:2). The word “stumble” means “sin,” as the parallel text in James 2:10 shows. Every one of us without exception—including James (“we all”)—continue to sin.
Is he saying we sin only occasionally? Absolutely not. He says we all sin “in many ways.” We don’t just sin in a few ways, but in many. Since sin continues to characterize the lives of believers in remarkable ways, and since God demands perfection, works that justify can’t form the basis of our justification.Fruit, not root
How should we understand the works James requires? Certainly good works are necessary, for without them we will not be justified, but we have seen that they aren’t the necessary basis or foundation.
The best solution is to say they are the result and fruit of faith. True faith expresses it in works. Paul actually says the same thing, teaching what ultimately matters is “faith expressing itself through love” (Gal. 5:6, NIV).
The concept isn’t hard to understand. If I said the room you were in was about to blow up in one minute, and you believed me, desired to live, and were physically able to leave, you would hurry to exit. True faith would lead to works! Leaving the room would be the result of your faith. So it’s right to say, as the Reformers did, that we are justified by faith alone, but that true faith is never alone. I would suggest James is teaching this very idea.
It isn’t as if our works save or justify in the sense that they qualify us to enter God’s presence—as if our virtue wins us God’s favor on the last day. James teaches that there is an organic relationship between genuine faith and works. If we truly trust Christ, that trust shows up in how we live. Works evidence our faith.Twin biblical truths
Why do Paul and James sound so different? Why does it appear at first glance they contradict? We need to remember that letters were written to specific situations facing specific churches. Paul wrote to churches where people were tempted to trust in their works for salvation, while James wrote to those who were disposed to think intellectual assent could save them.
Paul counteracts legalism, while James corrects antinomianism.
Of course, Paul rejected antinomianism as well: “I am warning you about these things—as I warned you before—that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:21). He also believed good works were necessary for eternal life, but both Paul and James believed such works were the fruit of saving faith, not the root.
In the beauty and completeness of God’s Word, Paul and James teach complementary, not contradictory, truths.
What is your plan for communion with God during your vacation? Charles Spurgeon often visited the coast of France for rest and healing.
Go forth, beloved, and talk with Jesus on the beach, for He oft resorted to the sea-shore. Commune with Him amid the olive-groves so dear to Him in many a night of wrestling prayer. If ever there was a country in which men should see traces of Jesus, next to the Holy Land, this Riviera [Mentone] is the favoured spot. It is a land of vines, and figs, and olives, and palms; I have called it “Thy land, O Immanuel.” While in this Mentone, I often fancy that I am looking at the foot of the Mount of Olives, or peering into the mysterious gloom of the Garden of Gethsemane. The narrow streets of the old town are such as Jesus traversed, these villages are such as He inhabited. Have your hearts right with Him, and He will visit you often, until every day you shall walk with God, as Enoch did, and so turn week-days into Sabbaths, meals into sacraments, homes into temples, and earth into heaven. So be it with us! Amen.
Spurgeon argues for spiritual (but real) visitations from Jesus to his people. Such visits are “something more than for us to have the assurance of our salvation.” They are more than simply knowing that “Jesus loves me” or contemplating Christ. Spurgeon said, “It is the actual, though spiritual coming of Christ which we so much desire.”
He further stated, “By spiritual we do not mean unreal; in fact, the spiritual takes the lead in real-ness to spiritual men. I believe in the true and real presence of Jesus with His people: such presence has been real to my spirit.”
He also wrote, “As surely as the Lord Jesus came really as to his flesh to Bethlehem and Calvary, so surely does He come really by His Spirit to His people in the hours of their communion with Him. We are as conscious of that presence as of our own existence.”
What are the results of such spiritual visitations? Spurgeon asserted that such visitations with Jesus “bring first peace, then rest, and then joy of soul.”
When we travel to the beach or mountains or elsewhere seeking rest, but also with an eye towards meeting with Jesus, we might discover “a divine serenity and security” that truly restores. During those times, Spurgeon declared, “Jesus fills the horizon of our being.” Seek Jesus. Call on him. Ask him to visit you as you meditate on the Scripture. Spurgeon’s words are beautiful: “If you long for Him, He much more longs for you.”
The best kind of vacation involves a restorative encounter with Jesus. So when you go on vacation this summer, be sure to follow Spurgeon’s advice and take time to refresh your relationship with Christ.
(Note: Quotations are from C. H. Spurgeon, Till He Come: Communion Meditations and Addresses (London: Marshall Brothers, n.d.), 11-20.)
I don’t think that there’s a one size fits all age of when a person can come to faith in Christ. I think with different testimonies, you have different people talking about when they became a believer. I know there are some people who confessed that they believed they were a believer at the ages of seven or eight.
What the person would need to be able to do is to be able to conceptually process the Gospel, to be able to understand at the age in which that child is what sin is, understanding that that child is a sinner, understanding that Jesus died on the cross for sins and God raised him from the dead so that sinners can be saved. And I think whenever a person is able to process that in a way that allows that child to turn away from his or her own sin and recognizing he or her as a sinner, he or she as a sinner, then that child can be saved.
It’s not always easy to discern whether a child has been converted because what I’m learning as a parent is that sometimes the child wants to read the Bible, wants to pray because the child knows that makes mommy and daddy happy and then there are other occasions where the child wants to read and wants to pray and wants to obey Jesus because there is something happening in the heart.
And so then practically, what about those of us who have young children who think they are believers? Are they believers because they prayed for Jesus to come into their hearts? Is that what we look for? Or is it a pattern of lifestyle that we’re trying to help shepherd them in to discern whether there’s been a genuine conversion experience? As a parent of a child, of an eight-year-old, one of the things that I try to do to discern whether or not there’s been a genuine conversion is to constantly emphasize to him the Gospel, to have conversations with him about the Gospel.
You learn a lot about what your child thinks about God by asking him questions about God or questions about Jesus or questions about sin. Making those kinds of questions part of the shepherding and discerning process can help create the kind of certainty or assurance that we want as parents as to whether there’s been a genuine conversion experience. But then also helping him to understand that if he has committed his life to Jesus and believes by faith that those things are true, then a Christian also obeys Jesus’ teaching and so I think with children especially it’s important to make sure we don’t become content with believing that there’s a genuine conversion experience just because the child’s prayed a prayer. As we know, Jesus says, “Follow me.” He doesn’t say, “Ask Him to come into your heart.” He says follow Him and so one of the things I try to emphasize with my child is the importance of giving his entire self to Jesus.
That means my son has a responsibility then to show his faith in an eight-year-old way that he follows Jesus by doing basic things like obeying his parents, loving his neighbors, loving his friends.
For a child who has expressed faith in Jesus and who follows Jesus and loves Jesus, that love will be an eight-year-old love or a seven-year-old love or a 10-year-old love and the point is not does my child’s faith or another person’s child’s faith resemble a mature 25 or 39 or 50-year-old faith, but is there a genuine desire for Jesus and to follow Him and is that being worked out in that child’s life? And as parents, I think we need to rest in looking at the child’s life holistically and not get fixated on our child asking Jesus into their hearts.
I’ve been asked this question many times not just through my Practical Shepherding website, but even more recently in my own church by visitors. It is a common scenario. You move to a new area. You get find your new residence and job. You get the kids enrolled in school. Where you settle in a local church often becomes a longer, more drawn-out task.
After checking out all the churches you desire to visit, here are four questions to ask yourself as you narrow the search to make a decision.
- Is this a church where my family will be regularly fed by God’s Word?
This is the first question that needs to be asked. Not just are they faithful to the Word of God, but will this church preach and teach in such a way that my soul and the souls of my family will be nourished? In other words, are they preaching expositionally through books of the Bible as the regular, steady diet of the congregation? This approach does not automatically answer this question, but it is a great place to start and evaluate.
- Is this a church where I am convinced the care of my soul will be a priority?
Does this church have real pastors/elders who see their primary task to be the spiritual care and oversight of the souls of the members? In other words, just because they have powerful, biblical preaching does not mean your individual soul will be tended to on a regular basis. Ask the pastors. Ask other church members. It will not take much investigation on whether this work is a priority of the leadership of the church.
- Is this a church where my family will experience meaningful Christian fellowship and accountability?
To know this, it will require a bit of a commitment to one church for a time to build relationships, attend some church fellowship events, and get to know some of the pastors and leadership. Yet you must have a realistic expectation as you are not yet a member, so do not expect to be treated as one.
- Is this a church where I can serve God’s people and use my gifts for its benefit?
It will help to know where you are gifted and what some of the needs of the church are. Some needs can be filled by your simple presence and commitment. Also, do not assume you know what those areas of need are by your limited observations.
You should be able to know the answers to these questions within a few months of attending one church if you give yourself to the process. If you can answer in the affirmative to all four of these questions, it is a good possibility you have found your next church. At that point I would encourage you not to delay but to pursue membership.Important note
One final element is the key to persevering with the zeal required in this search. You and your family should feel a sense of persistent unease knowing that you are not in covenant fellowship with a local church and are not under the authority of undershepherds caring for your souls. The freedom and absence of accountability many experience in the search for a new church can cause a sinful complacency.
In other words, you do not ever want to become comfortable being one of God’s sheep who has wandered away from the fellowship of the flock and the accountability of shepherds to care for you, even if that journey at the time feels fun and exciting.
This article was originally published at The Gospel Coalition.
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Dear new elder,
I am encouraged by the work God is doing in you and through you in calling you to serve as an elder. As the apostle Paul wrote, “Anyone who aspires to the office of elder desires a noble task” (1 Tim. 3:1).
Noble indeed, but also dangerous.
I use those phrases “in you” and “through you” intentionally, for when God raises up a man for pastoral ministry, he never leaves him in the condition he found him. He cannot. God must mold you into the right instrument to wield for building his body. God has called you, and I am certain he is fitting you for the task.
I cannot improve on Paul’s words to a young elder named Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:6–16. Based on these paragraphs and various other writings of his, I offer five lines of encouragement for you.
- Don’t be daunted by youth and inexperience.
God has called you. He will equip you and lead you. Just as a soldier learns the best strategies of warfare on the battlefield, so your seasoning will come in the trenches of ministry. Before long—through study, experiential application, meditation, prayer, failures, sufferings, and hard-won victories—you will grow into your vocation as a vessel fitted for the Master’s use.
You will learn to be a shepherd by tending sheep. And no matter how many years God gives you in ministry, you will ever be enrolled as a student in his ministerial academy.
- Immerse yourself in the things of God, especially the Bible.
This may sound trite, even condescendingly obvious, but you will be tempted to plunge yourself into other things. But you are a minister of the gospel, and as such, you must know the good news and every truth related to it—much as one working at the federal mint masters the attributes of currency.
To paraphrase John Piper, “When Twitter is gone and Facebook is forgotten, you will have your Bible. Master it.” God’s Word must be the cornerstone for your ministry, for it will form the substance of all you preach and teach. The Puritan Richard Baxter famously exhorted young pastors to “preach as if never to preach again, as a dying man to dying men.” You are a dying man, called to proclaim the Word of life to dying men.
Nothing will change hearts and renew minds like the Bible. Read it. Memorize it. Pray it. Preach it. Cherish it. God’s Word is also the coal that fuels the engine of your own transformation. So hide it in your own heart, asking God to empower you to submit to its glorious demands.
- Keep a close watch on your life and doctrine.
Again, Paul’s words elsewhere are applicable here and, if you ponder their implications, they will sober you: “But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:27). Read God’s Word again and again. Memorize it. Pray for illumination. Read all 66 books each year if possible. Nevertheless, don’t mistake theological knowledge for ministerial competence.
Set a guard on the walls of your thought life, too. Proverbs 23:7 reminds us, “As a man thinks, so is he.” Learn sound doctrine. Teach sound doctrine. Live sound doctrine. How important is this? Heaven and hell hang in the balance: “Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:16). A strategic battle for you in this ongoing inward war is your own preaching. Preach your sermons to yourself before you enter the pulpit and preach them to others. Be careful not to traffic in unlived truth.
A key theater in this battleground will be your home. You must pursue reformation in your own family before you do so in God’s. What you do with your little flock at home has potential to either enlarge or undermine your influence among the larger flock (1 Tim. 3:4–5), and it provides a vital training ground for your service in the church. Your wife and children constitute the first congregation for which you must give account to God.
- Set an example of godliness for other believers.
Local church ministry puts you under a microscope. This is to your benefit. As Paul instructed Timothy, “Set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12). This is simply another way of saying you’re a man in the middle of his sanctification, so pursue it with gritty determination. In this way, you will serve as an example to those under your ministry. Pursuing holiness will ensure that you become a man of prayer, for only through the watering of God’s grace will sweet fruit germinate.
Moreover, pride will be your most resilient enemy. Humility is essential for a Christian, yet in ministry you will find it the most elusive virtue. You must pursue it above all else, for it is the tributary from which all other graces—love, joy, peace, patience—flow. A strong aid in the pursuit of humility is unceasing prayer (1 Thess. 5:17). In prayer we admit our weakness and our constant need of grace. God must act on our behalf if anything good is to happen. Your need is constant, hence the admonition to pray constantly. This will help keep you in your place, and God in his.
- Prepare for the Calvary Road of suffering.
In a thousand different respects, ministry is a death sentence. This too is a good thing—your old man must die if you are to be effective in Christ’s cause. He died and so will you. If you are to be raised to walk in newness of life, you must first die.
When Paul speaks of training for godliness, he compares ministry to preparing for rigorous athletic exertion. You will suffer much to get in shape for a marathon. You will run along a winding, obstacle-strewn course if you hope to reach the finish line. So it is in ministry. Scripture’s verdict thunders forth with the clarity of ice-cold water: There is no crown without a cross. Suffering for the pastor is normal. Sometimes he suffers at the hands of his own people, sometimes at the hands of a fallen world. Either way, God will use it to conform you to the image of his Son. As John Bunyan put it, “The Christian is to be like a great bell—the harder you strike him, the more clearly he rings.”
Paul suffered. Jesus suffered. Calvin and Luther suffered. Edwards suffered. Spurgeon suffered. You will suffer. How? I don’t know; as an old divine said, God does not break every man’s heart alike.
So immerse yourself, body and soul, in the things of God. Realize you cannot grow the church—that’s God’s business, which he’s promised to do (Matt. 16:18). Rest in this and strive for holiness and faithfulness, and God will sharpen you into an instrument deployed for his kingdom and glory.
This is adapted from an article that originally appeared at TGC.
The post Dear new elder, here are 5 things to consider as you begin appeared first on Southern Equip.
I think most of the people watching this video would be familiar that fasting is in the Bible. For example in Matthew 4 and Luke 4, it says Jesus fasted 40 days and 40 nights but now let’s talk about how he quoted Scripture to the devil. So we notice that we sort of pass over it. But it’s a very important teaching in Scripture, it’s a very important spiritual discipline not in the sense that it’s a mechanistic way of getting our prayers answered. That if you will fast, that guarantees that God will answer. That’s a theology of works there. And even though our fasting doesn’t manipulate God, let’s be reminded, fasting is God’s idea.
The most important thing about fasting when you actually try it is to realize that fasting is to be done for a purpose, a God-centered, biblical purpose. Otherwise it becomes a miserable, self-centered experience.
So many people say, well, I’ve heard about fasting, so I decided to try it, and boy I was so hungry and all I could think about was the growling of my stomach and I thought, well if I ever get through this, I’ll never do this again. So they finish and their whole time, whenever they’re hungry, they think, how much longer till this is over? Their whole thought is how long till it’s over.
That’s just works, that’s just legalism, that’s just endurance and self-inflicted suffering in hopes that God will be impressed by my self-inflicted suffering. That’s not what fasting is about.
The most important thing about fasting is to practice fasting for a God-centered, biblical purpose. In my book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, I summarize 10 purposes found in Scripture for fasting, but most of them have to do, in one way or another with prayer, to strengthen prayer.
John Piper speaks of fasting as an intensifier. Here’s how it should work, for the motive to be right. When your stomach growls, when your head aches and you say, man, I’m hungry. Your next thought’s going to be oh, that’s right, I’m hungry because I’m fasting today. If your next thought is, and how much longer till it’s over, wrong motive. It’s going to be just a bad experience. But your next thought should be oh and I’m fasting for this biblical purpose.
For example, let’s say you’re fasting for the purpose of praying for your spouse, or for the salvation of your child, and throughout the day your stomach aches and growls. Your head hurts and you think, oh man, I’m really hungry. That’s right, I’m hungry because I’m fasting today. Oh, that’s right, I’m fasting for the purpose of praying for my wife, for my child. So what do you do all day long? You’re praying. So actually you want to feel hunger, your hunger serves you, your hunger serves your higher purpose which is to pray all day for your spouse, or for your child.
That’s why hunger is a good thing when it comes to fasting, because you’ve got to, the goal is not to feel hungry. The goal is not to suffer and think that God will be impressed by your suffering. The hunger serves your higher purpose which is to pray for your spouse, to pray for your child or whatever it might be.
I think most people have a fear of fasting. Of all the spiritual disciplines, it is the one we feel in our bodies. And it’s an uncomfortable feeling. No one likes to feel hungry, but when you remember that your hunger serves you. I mean, is there never a time you want a prayer answered more than you want lunch? Is there never a time you want someone to be saved more than you want a Big Mac? Well that’s where fasting comes in, when you say, I want this so much. I want to pray about this all day and I’m going to fast as a reminder to use that hunger as a reminder for this all day long.
Some people say, I would like to serve others more. I would like to have more money to give. That’s where fasting can come in. Don’t have lunch. Use your lunch hour to serve someone. Use your lunch money to give.
So we dare not miss the many benefits there are fasting. Don’t be afraid of fasting. Now I think it’s important to add this feature, because I see this a lot with my students. When I talk about fasting, some people, a lot of people, in fact, will rule themselves out because they’re diabetic or maybe they’re pregnant or they have migraines if they fast. Well certainly we would not want to be asking anyone to do anything that would cause any harm to themselves or certainly to their unborn child.
But in the Bible, Daniel, you’ll remember, in the first chapter and his 10 friends had only vegetables to eat for a period of time and water to drink instead of the food that was offered to them. And so historically we have looked at that as a partial fast. So I have found that in almost every case where a person wants to fast but they have some physical limitation, by means of a partial fast, they can participate.
Traditionally, this has been one of two ways. If they balanced nutrition, they have a balanced meal, but much smaller portions. Or maybe they just have one simple food, like just rice, just bread. And the point is to get the minimal nutritional intake to keep them from having physical problems, but yet they still feel a lack of full satisfaction. They still feel a little hungry, or they have something that prompts them physically still to pray. So I think where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Our flesh wants to excuse all of us. We don’t enjoy hunger, so we say, well I can’t fast for this reason, or I can’t fast for that reason. Well we wouldn’t to ask anyone to fast in such a way that would cause them any physical harm whatsoever. However, where there’s a will, there’s a way.
So it may be through a limited meal that we’d call a partial fast. But usually where people want to do this, they can find a way to do this and I hope those who are watching this video, if they’ve never done that before will give it a try. You know, one meal can be a fast. It doesn’t have to be 24 hours. Anyone planning on a longer fast of three days or more maybe should get some medical advice before they do that. But even one meal for spiritual purposes can be a biblical fast.
A Bible, passport, some gear and a change of clothes. That’s about all Southern Seminary and Boyce College students need as they venture out to support missionaries serving throughout the world.
For ministry leaders in training, missions teams are not tourism, they are training, they are not vacation but preparation for a vocation, less about observation and more about participation. Each year, the day after Boyce College graduation begins the mission team season for Southern Seminary. From East Asia to South America, students venture out to advance the work of Christ and support the missionary effort of alumni and friends across the world. For some students, this experience will cement the missionary call God has on their life. For others, it will be equip them to be a tenacious advocate for global Great Commission.
During the school year, the mission team participants have diligently trained and prepared their hearts and minds. Now with the academic demands of the semester behind them, they are set to deploy. You may not be able to go with us this year, but you can join us in prayer. Below are a few ideas to help structure your prayer:
- For the Southern Mission Teams
- That God will be glorified in how the team members love and serve each other
- For discernment in how to serve and support the career missionaries
- For the inevitable disruptions to yield unexpected opportunities for evangelism
- For humility and flexibility with changing plans and health challenges
- For teachable hearts that are ready to learn from those with whom we partner
- For perception to anticipate and respond to any need at any time
- For timeliness in knowing how to communicate the gospel effectively
- That God will clarify His calling on team members lives to missionary service
- That God will watch over the families of those traveling
- For strangers we will meet
- For God to go before us, preparing hearts to hear the gospel
- For the salvation of many and the listening ear of all who will hear
- For boldness, courage and kindness in talking to strangers about Christ
- For opportunity to connect them to the career missionaries & local churches
- That they will see the love of Christ through our efforts
- For the believers we will serve
- That they will be encouraged by the reinforcements
- That they are able to express the challenges they face so that we can better support their work
- That they will be well served by the efforts of the team
- That their needs will be met as a result of our service
- That they will recover quickly from the exhaustion of hosting our team
Overall, pray with us that God will be glorified, that Jesus Christ will be proclaimed, and that His Spirit will work mightily in the hearts of all who are involved.
Oh, my brothers and sisters in Christ, if sinners will be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our bodies; and if they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees, imploring them to stay, and not madly to destroy themselves. If hell must be filled, at least let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go there unwarned and unprayed for. (Spurgeon, C.H. 11).
For more information on SBTS mission teams please visit the Bevin Center’s webpage.
Jim Stitzinger serves as the associate vice president of Institutional Advancement and director of the Bevin Center for Missions Mobilization at Southern Seminary. Previously he has served as a church planter and pastor in SW Florida and as the pastor of local outreach and evangelism at Grace Community Church in Los Angeles, CA.
Perhaps “launch” is not the best term, because they may stay in ministry for many years. But they never seem to do well. They never seem to have a peace. They seem like they are always trying to prove something.
I recently went through my old seminary pictorial directory. I was able to locate 47 people I knew in seminary who I know where they are today. Of that 47, only eight remained in ministry. If you are doing the math, that is an 83 percent dropout rate.
Vocational ministry is a calling. It is not just another vocation. If you enter ministry for the wrong reasons, you will not likely do well. Indeed, you will not likely make it.
What are some of the terrible reasons to enter vocational ministry? Here are five of the most common failures:
Escape from a secular job
I know a man who has a huge desire to work fulltime in ministry for a church. But the only reason he ever articulates is his hatred of his middle management secular job. He sees ministry vocation only as an escape from the problems of corporate work. I hope his heart changes before he makes the leap.
Fulfilling family expectations
About one-third of my peers who dropped out of ministry came from families in vocational ministry. Don’t hear me wrongly. It is admirable to see multiple generations in ministry for the right reasons. But too many in ministry feel compelled to enter that world because of family pressure. One peer of mine told me, “Dad called me into ministry, not God.”
When your spouse is not supportive
Vocational ministry is demanding and can be exhausting. If ministers do not have the support of their spouses, their lives will be miserable from the point of entering vocational ministry. For those of you who have supportive spouses in ministry like me, count your blessings.
Not theologically prepared
I recently heard a man preach a sermon that had, sadly, several biblical and theological errors. Those errors did not go unnoticed by many members in the congregation. The role of teaching and preaching in ministry is not to be held lightly. Do not enter ministry theologically unprepared.
Skewed views of the demands of ministry
I was in a conversation with a 30-something pastor who came into ministry from the secular world. His conversation went something like this: “I had this idea that I would have all this free time and short work weeks. Ministry seemed like a piece of cake compared to the world I was coming from. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It is unbelievably demanding. I am on call 24-hours a day whether I admit it or not.”
For those who enter vocational ministry for the right reasons, the work can be incredibly rewarding and fulfilling. For those who don’t, the frustration will seem unbearable, and the failure rate is high.
This article was originally published on Rainer’s blog.
The post Five terrible reasons for surrendering to vocational ministry appeared first on Southern Equip.
S. Lewis famously said, “It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.”
Similarly, J. I. Packer urged Christians to read two old books for every new one. This summer, we hope you are resting and reading some good books.Matthew Hall
Dean of Boyce College
New: The Blood of Emmett Till (Simon & Schuster) by Tim Tyson. Tyson is one of those historians who is always worth reading and who is a master of prose. His newest book is beautifully written and meticulously researched, but often painful to read. Our country has buried too many black and brown boys. Reading this book is a needed reminder of the complex and far-reaching reality of sin, depravity, and evil in a racialized society.
Old: The Negro: His Rights and Wrongs, the Forces for Him and Against Him (Cornell University) by Francis Grimke, 1898. A friend recently gave me a copy of this and I was delighted to know of its availability in print. Originally delivered as a series of sermons in 1898, Grimke’s biblical call for justice and hope still rings out with hope.
Old: David Walker’s Appeal (Hill and Wang) ed. Sean Wilentz. Written in 1829, Walker’s abolitionist manifesto remains a remarkable testimony to the power of biblical truth to demolish the “principalities and powers” of injustice. Walker’s devastating critique of slavery and his call for repentance was one framed and filled with Scripture. Any Christian who wants to be better equipped to engage with the ongoing challenge of racial injustice and inequality in our nation, and in our churches, would do well to pick it up.Michael Haykin
Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality
New: William Grimshaw of Haworth (Banner of Truth) by Faith Cook. A gem of what revival Christianity looks like—despite his eccentricities (which this reader found utterly endearing), Grimshaw epitomizes the heart of 18th century Evangelicalism. A cure for wimpishness!
Old: The Memoirs of Samuel Pearce (Kessinger) by Andrew Fuller. In this work, Fuller sketches the life of his close friend Samuel Pearce (1766-1799), the mutual friend of both Fuller and William Carey. Pearce stands for Fuller as a model of “holy love” and missionary piety, and was regarded as such by many in the 19th century, the age of missionary globalization.
Old: A Breviate of the Life of Margaret Charlton by Richard Baxter. In this brief work, the famous Puritan leader Richard Baxter outlines the life of his wife Margaret Charlton and the major contours of their marriage, a quintessential Puritan union of intimate allies.Rob Plummer
Professor of New Testament Interpretation
New: A Change of Heart: A Personal and Theological Memoir (IVP Academic) by Thomas C. Oden. This autobiography gives you an inside look at a mainline Protestant’s fascinating journey from a liberal, social gospel to Christian orthodoxy. I read this book at the beach this summer and found it both enjoyable and spiritually nourishing.
Old: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Dover) by Robert Louis Stevenson. We’ve all heard of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” but have you ever actually read the captivating book? I listened to the audio book after hearing Tim Keller reflect on Robert Louis Stevenson’s Presbyterian background and what the book teaches about depravity. There’s a good free audio version available via the LibriVox app. (I recommend the version read by David Barnes.)
Old: The Wealth of Nations (Bantam) by Adam Smith. Published just prior to the American Independence in 1776, this book is foundational for understanding economics, free trade, division of labor, etc. Parts of the book are boring and dense; others are lively and fascinating, with immediate application to current political debates. I’ve been listening to the free audio version of the book read by Stephen Escalera, available via the LibriVox app.Tom Schreiner
Professor of New Testament Interpretation and Biblical Theology
New: Destroyer of the gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World (Baylor University) by Larry Hurtado. In this excellent book, Hurtado shows how Christianity stood out in its cultural environment in the first centuries. It was considered odd and strongly opposed in the Roman world. Hurtado’s book is helpful for us today as we are relearning what it means to be a Christian in an alien culture.
Old: A Bruised Reed (Banner of Truth) by Richard Sibbes. This book is a gospel balm for to heal our wounded and hurting souls.
Old: Pensées (Penguin) by Blaise Pascal. Pascal never finished the book he intended to write, but the notes he collected continue to be read four centuries later. Pascal speaks to modern people searching for meaning and for life.Donald Whitney
Professor of Biblical Spirituality
New: Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (Penguin) by Tim Keller. If there’s a more comprehensive volume on prayer, I’m not aware of it. Deeply rooted to Scripture, with healthy, helpful doses of theology and Christian history, Keller’s well-written book is also intensely practical.
Old: The Pilgrim’s Progress (Desiring God) by John Bunyan. An allegory of the Christian life, Bunyan penned this masterpiece in the Bedford, England, jail where he was imprisoned for his rejection of the law that preachers must be licensed by the state. Published in 1678 and never out of print, it is often regarded as the all-time bestselling book in English other than the Bible. Spurgeon claimed to have read it 100 times. Enough said. Make sure to get an edition with parts 1 and 2, and avoid modern-language versions, which invariably modify the theology. The inexpensive Oxford University Press paperback is a good choice.
Old: George Müller of Bristol (Waymark) by A. T. Pierson. Written in 1899 following Müller’s death the previous year, it recounts the life of the man considered by many the most remarkable person of prayer and faith since the New Testament. With more than 50,000 specific recorded answers to prayer in his journals—30,000 of which he said were answered the same day or hour he prayed them—Müller’s life reads almost like a continuation of the Book of Acts. I devoured this biography when I was in seminary, and it changed my life.Shawn Wright
Professor of Church History
New: God’s Word Alone—The Authority of Scripture: What the Reformers Taught . . . and Why It Still Matters (Zondervan) by Matthew Barrett. Every generation of evangelicals must take a firm stand on the authority and sufficiency of holy Scripture against not only the overt onslaughts of secularism and liberalism but also our own sinful facade of self-sufficiency. Now Matthew Barrett has done the church a service by building on both of these great thinkers and by showing us that the Bible is able to withstand all attacks from anti-God forces. God’s word has authority and sufficiency for God’s people because it is the very word of the triune, covenant-keeping God to his people.
Old: It Says, Scripture Says, God Says, by B. B. Warfield. Warfield’s classic essay demonstrates the inerrancy of the Bible based on an in-depth inductive study of the Bible’s treatment of its own words.
Old: Fundamentalism and the Word of God (Eerdmans) by J. I. Packer. Packer’s book from the mid-20th century follows Warfield but also also employs Calvin’s notion that the Bible is self-authenticating since it the production of the Holy Spirit himself.Hershael York
Professor of Christian Preaching
New: Learning from a Legend: What Gardiner C. Taylor Can Teach Us About Preaching (Cascade) by Jared E. Alcántara. Not only is this a book about preaching, but also an examination of a preaching life. Gardiner C. Taylor was one of the greatest masters of the pulpit of the last 100 years and this book strikes gold at the intersection of biography, history, homiletics, and rhetoric.
Old: How to Preach without Notes (Baker) by Charles W. Koller. This reprint actually combines two of Koller’s books, Expository Preaching without Notes and Sermons Preached without Notes. While the title is actually a bit of a misnomer, because what Koller actually teaches and advocates is preaching with very brief notes more than none at all, but his masterful instruction will liberate a preacher from the albatross of dependence on a manuscript and enables him to preach from the overflow of the study of the Word and the power of the Holy Spirit.
Old: Cadences of Home: Preaching among Exiles (WJK) by Walter Brueggemann. Though a word of caution is in order—Brueggemann does not hold my theological convictions—he correctly argues that to preach today is to proclaim the Word of God to people who are not at home in this world. Written in the 1990’s, his word to preachers is even more relevant today in a culture increasingly at odds with historic Christianity. In addition, Brueggemann is a master of verbal imagery and his evocative manipulation of language stands as both inspirational and instructive to anyone who wants to use the language well in order to proclaim the excellencies of Christ.
In terms of dealing with fear and evangelism, I think the starting point is to realize that not all fear is bad. Fear reminds us of the significance of the task of sharing the gospel. It’s not something we should take lightly, and it also forces us to depend on the Lord, and in that case, fear can be a very helpful thing. But most of the time when people talk about fear and evangelism, they’re talking about a fear that keeps them from sharing.
Three common fears that I’ve observed. The first is not knowing enough. They’re afraid they’re going to be asked a question that they can’t answer, and I tell people, you don’t need to be afraid of that. That will happen. I have two Master’s degrees and a PhD in theology and my own kids ask me questions that I couldn’t answer. I would just stand up tall and clear my throat and say, “Go ask your mother.” It’s okay to say, “I don’t know the answer,” to a question or, “Let me research that and get back to you.”
A second common source of fear, people are afraid of the fear of failure. They’re afraid that they might do more harm than good, but whenever I hear someone share that they’re afraid they’ll do more harm than good, I always think, “That’s not your problem.” They’re a sensitive person. They’re not going to come across like a bull in a china shop. It’s the person that never gives sensitivity a second thought that may come across as aggressive, but when someone says, “I’m afraid I’ll do more harm than good, that’s not their problem. They don’t need sensitivity, they may need boldness.
I love Dr. Bill Bright’s definition of evangelism. He said, “Successful witnessing is sharing the good news of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit and leaving the results up to God. We can’t change anyone’s heart. Successful witnessing is when we share the good news.
I guess the greatest source of fear, if people were really honest, is fear of rejection. They’re afraid, “What will this person think about me if I identify with Christ? I think of the rulers that John talked about in John 12. Many of the rulers believed in Jesus, but because of the Pharisees were not confessing him lest they be cast out of the temple. And then in John 12:43, he gives this epitaph, For they love the approval of men more than the approval of God.
We have to confront that our fear of rejection is really loving the approval of men more than the approval of God. We need to love those who don’t know Christ more than we love ourselves. In Acts 4, we see that the disciples were afraid. They’d been threatened, and they were afraid, and so what did they do? They prayed for boldness. I believe that’s a prayer that God delights to answer. When we’re afraid, we simply acknowledge that and say, God I’m afraid, I’m scared right now. Would you fill me with boldness? That’s a prayer that God loves to answer. Someone described it in this way. Fear knocked at the door, faith answered, and there was no one there.
The discipline of memorizing Bible verses pays great dividends in the life of a Christian. Having Scripture stored up in our hearts helps us to remember God’s promises in tough times, flee from sin in moments of temptation, possess greater confidence in sharing the gospel, and give fresh words of encouragement to struggling Christians.
The problem for us is that while memorizing a verse presents a challenge, remembering it in three months is a great difficulty. We often find ourselves wanting to quote something we spent two days memorizing but cannot remember the exact wording of the verse or the precise reference to save our lives.
How can we remember the Bible verses that we memorized a week, a month, or a year ago?For the long haul
We often fail to learn Bible verses well the first time we memorize them. We can’t remember them a month later because we never really got them into our minds and hearts.
When you memorize a Bible verse, make sure that you are learning the precise wording of the verse and the exact reference. Do not be content with forgetting whether the verse says “so that” or “in order to.” The scholars who worked on the translation that you use made the choices they did for good reasons, so learn it as it is printed on the page.
In addition, think of memorizing Bible verses as a multi-day task. Too often, when we memorize a Bible verse, we work on it for one day, say it somewhat correctly, and then move on to the next verse. If you struggle to remember a verse a month after you memorized it, work on memorizing it for three days instead of just one day. The first day, read it repeatedly until you have the flow of the verse. On the second day, read the verse out loud several times again, then cover up the verse and say it at least five times, only looking at it to make sure that you said it correctly. Use the last day to read the verse out loud again. Then say the verse multiple times without looking at it. If you memorized it correctly, move on to the next verse you want to learn. If not, work on it one more day to make sure that you have it down.Memorize in context
Often our Scripture memory consists of individual verses we learned from many different books of the Bible. We struggle to remember what they say because we plucked them out of their context and we have no frame of reference for remembering what the verse said.
One tactic that will help you down the road is memorizing the entire paragraph where the verse you want to memorize is found. For example, let’s say you want to memorize Romans 3:23. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” That seems easy enough to remember, but our minds are clouded with lots of information. So, in order to better recall the verse in the future, memorize Romans 3:21-26 instead of just Romans 3:23.
This approach has practical and theological advantages. Practically, you get into the flow of how Paul wrote the letter and this always helps recall move more smoothly. You start with the first few words of a paragraph and the rest has a way of coming back to you as you pick up momentum. Theologically, this method helps you to keep Bible verses in their proper theological context. You won’t quote Philippians 4:13 to get your team psyched up for the baseball game when you remember that Paul was initially speaking of his learning to be content in whatever position he found himself.Use a schedule
In order to remember the Bible verses that you memorize, you must get on a review schedule. Ideally, you would spend a few days memorizing a verse and then the next couple of days reviewing it. Then, let it sit for a couple of days and review it again. After that, review it next week, the in two weeks, and then in a month. Determine the maximum amount of time that you can allow between reviews to keep the verse fresh in your mind. (For me, it’s three months. And honestly, this may be too long. I worked back through some verses I had not reviewed in three months and struggled with them mightily.)
Here is one area where our smartphones can be an aid to our devotional lives, as there are several helpful Scripture memory apps on the market. Both Fighter Verses and Verses have great interfaces and use multiple types of interactive quizzes to memorize Scripture. (Fighter Verses also has music and other resources to aid in memory.) My personal favorite, though, is ScriptureTyper. For me, ScritptureTyper allows me to keep verses in collections the way I prefer to have them and puts verses on a review schedule. You can manually set the maximum time allowed between reviews.Put it in a “microwave”
Using a review schedule to keep our Scripture memory fresh will reveal verses that have slipped from your grasp. You may stumble through portions of the verse or have forgotten it completely. When this happens, you need to pull this verse out and treat it like you are memorizing it for the first time. Think of it as sticking leftovers in the microwave. (I borrowed this terminology from my father-in-law, Mark McCullough, who is the pastor at First Baptist Church in Frisco City, Alabama.)
The first day you put the verse in the microwave, read it out loud multiple times and then cover it up to try to say it from memory. On the second day, read it out loud a few times and say it from memory again. The final day should consist of ensuring you have it fully memorized. After you have done this, review it once a week for the next month to ensure you have it down before putting it on a less consistent review schedule.
I know this sounds like a lot of effort. It is, and it is worth every second to have God’s word stored up in our hearts.
Joe thought he’d be a better preacher. Did you?
I don’t mean he had pretensions to glory, necessarily. Just that of the range of things he knew he’d have to do once he started ministry, he figured preaching would come easiest. It’s what drew him to ministry in the first place, after all. He loves study, organization, communication. He listens to Keller and Piper when he jogs. He’s got bios of Spurgeon and Whitefield on his night stand.
Coming out of seminary, he knew counseling would be a challenge, that administration would take on-the-job training, that he knew little about effective marketing, that managing staff or volunteers wouldn’t be natural at first. But he figured if there’s one thing he can do well, it’s understanding and explaining the Bible in an engaging way.
And good thing too, he thought, because biblical preaching is the lifeblood of the church. He believes that if everything else has to fail so preaching can go well it’s a worthy cost. It’s a cost Joe’s paying. Balls are dropping all around him so he can spend his 20 hours prepping.
All of this amounts to a huge existential burden that each sermon has to carry. Joe feels like he’s got to hit a home run to justify mediocrity in every other area of his job. But his sermons rarely feel like home runs.
And there’s more. Joe knows from his pastoral care that his context is far removed from the class full of seminarians where he delivered his first sermons. He’s not working with theory anymore. He’s speaking into the lives of real people—people he knows and loves and desperately wants to help. He knows they need more perspective on the hard things in their lives. More confidence in their faith that Jesus is true. More urgency while facing the problems in their marriage. He knows what they need is so great and so specific to the circumstances of each one of their lives he can’t imagine how a single sermon could get the job done. But Joe’s trying his hardest. He carries that weight in his study all week; it’s on his shoulders every time he steps into the pulpit.
To whatever extent this description reflects your experience, your experience reflects mine. In more ways than I’d like to admit, I’ve been Joe. Weekly preaching is a tremendous emotional, intellectual, and psychological burden we carry with us all the time. Some of that is in the nature of the beast. Some of it stems from the idol factories we nurture inside. It’s a complicated burden and it can deal a deadly blow to ministry longevity.
Where can we find the perspective we need to keep pressing on? How do we learn to live with the fact that no sermon will ever measure up to the depths of our text, to the needs of our people, or to our ideal images of ourselves? What does success look like when you know your preaching will never be good enough?
John the Baptist
A while ago I was pressing through a season of discouragement in my preaching at the same time I was preparing for a new series on John’s Gospel. The way the Evangelist describes the ministry of John the Baptist was incredibly helpful for me then—and it’s a perspective I’ve been seeking to grow into ever since. There are three places the ministry of the Baptist shows up, and in each case there’s a message we need if we want to preach with confidence, freedom, and joy.
- “I am not the Christ” (John 1:19-28).
We first hear John speak when the priests and Levites come down from Jerusalem for an up-close look at his ministry. The Evangelist doesn’t fill in many details of John’s style or his popularity, but given the way other writers describe him it’s not difficult to imagine what these Jewish leaders expected to find.
They come asking, in essence, who do you think you are? They’d surely heard about his bohemian dress, his eccentric diet, his outlandish statements. They probably expected a guy who was full of himself. But John’s answers only speak to who he’s not: “I am not the Christ” (1:20).
John isn’t trying to protect himself and deflect attention. This isn’t an Obi Wan, these-aren’t-the-droids-you’re-looking-for evasive move. He’ll give up his life soon enough. Here, though, he doesn’t want to talk about himself because he knows and loves the fact that he’s not the point. He’s not the solution. He’s not the hero. He can’t save anybody. He’s not the one you’re looking for. And he not only accepts this reality—he embraces it.
There’s great freedom for us when we as preachers embrace that, too. There’s no denying our sermons will never be able give our people what they really need. Thank God I am not the Christ.
Of course, it’s essential that we bear the burdens of our people alongside them. It’s unavoidable that we carry those burdens into our pulpits, but it is not left to us and our sermons to deliver our people from those burdens. Only the Christ can do that, and it’s precisely what he came to do.
Consider this prayer as you rise to address your people this week:
Thank you God that you have given them—given me—a far greater Savior than I could be. Thank you for Jesus, whose work is finished, and for your Spirit, who knows how to apply it.
- “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:22-30).
The next time we hear from John the setting is somewhere out in the Judean countryside, a place where there was plenty of water. Jesus and his disciples are in the area performing baptisms, and John was nearby doing the same thing. The dialogue opens with John’s followers who come to him with an all-too-human concern. They’re worried that John’s ministry has been eclipsed by Jesus’. Jesus was a nobody before John talked him up, they imply, but now look what’s happened. Their exaggeration makes their frustration clear: “Everyone’s going to him” (3:26).
John’s response offers remarkable clarification for our goal in preaching. It follows directly from the fact that we’re nobody’s Christ. Our job is to set people up with the one who saves and then to get out of the way.
The metaphor John uses with his friends still speaks powerfully today. He refers to the bridegroom—that’s Jesus; the bride—that’s his people; and the friend of the bridegroom—that’s John. “The one who has the bride is the bridegroom,” John says. But the friend of the bridegroom isn’t jealous. He was looking to make the introduction, not looking for a bride of his own. He was looking to set his buddy up, and he “rejoices greatly” that the job is done (3:29).
From one perspective, John’s ministry—his life’s work—is fizzling out. In a matter of months he’ll have his head served up on a platter. Surely he can read the signs. But, far from despairing, he claims “this joy of mine is now complete” (3:29). He faces obscurity and death with joy because the aim of his life and ministry was focused and fulfilled: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (3:30).
That’s a liberating manifesto for preaching ministry, isn’t it? For a while I kept the phrase on a sticky-note attached to my office computer where I write my sermons. Where I struggle with disappointment over sermons that aren’t what I wish they were. Where I’m tempted to write in content that will make me look good. It’s good to be creative, insightful, vivid, and winsome. But in the end, there’s one main question we must ask of our sermons, one metric for judging their effectiveness: is the beauty of Jesus accessible?
Lord, help me believe that the most important thing about me is the Jesus I proclaim. My only glory is his, shared with me as a gift because I’m one with him.
- “Everything that John said about this man was true” (John 10:40-42).
The final reference to the Baptist in John’s Gospel comes in chapter 10. He’s been executed by this point, and Jesus has come to an area where John had done much of his ministry. Many of those who had heard John’s preaching now encountered Jesus for themselves. Here’s their conclusion: “John did no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true” (10:41).
How’s that for an epitaph? Would that work for you?
Let’s imagine this is said of Joe, our melancholy preacher:
“You know, I heard plenty preachers more engaging. Others were funnier, more thought provoking and memorable. Joe did no sign. But everything he said about Jesus was true. We’ve seen it for ourselves.”
There’s the epitaph we want, brothers. And by God’s grace, so long as we’re faithful to his Word, it’s in reach for all of us. So let’s cast off our fears, our insecurities, our disappointments—and go for it.
Father, as I preach, guide me in truth. Protect me from error. Show them he’s true. Let them taste of his beauty.
This article was originally published at 9Marks.
I was on the patio of a Starbucks when I decided I was going to seminary. My wife and I were there with a local pastor to pick his brain on the pros and cons of theological education and before the conversation was over, I knew we were going. By this time, I had been considering seminary for a while. I was serving as a youth minister and felt called to spend my life pastoring, but I also felt ill-prepared for the task. Now, six years later, I’m sitting at a Starbucks again. I’ve just graduated from SBTS and am preparing to begin serving as a pastor in a church in North Carolina.
Perhaps you are considering seminary. You want to be used by God and you want to serve the church, but you are sensing that you, too, might need more training. You might also be wondering if it’s really worth it. After all, seminary requires lots of time and money. Should you go? Which degree program should you choose? Wouldn’t it be easier just to stay put and read a little more? Allow me to offer you a few pieces of advice. Just as God used that pastor to clarify my calling, I pray this would help do the same for you.The call to ministry is a call to prepare
So, should you go to seminary? That depends on if you want to be prepared for ministry or not. Over and over in the Bible, when God calls a man to ministry he first sends him into a season of preparation. Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David, Paul, even Jesus—they all spent time being equipped for the task they were called to. You are not an exception. If God has called you to pastor, then he has by extension called you to prepare.
Could you imagine running the Boston Marathon with no training at all? Of course not. A marathon is a grueling test of physical and mental fitness that takes quite a while to work up to. A lifetime of ministry is similarly grueling. You could jump right in and start running, but your chances of finishing improve considerably if you take the time to train before you begin.What if I’m not academically inclined?
One of my big reservations was that I’m not really a “school” guy. I don’t love studying, reading, writing, etc. Seminary seemed daunting to me. Many of the guys I knew that pursued theological education study as a hobby. Me, I just wanted to work with people. Is that you? Then you definitely should go.
Because study doesn’t come naturally to me, the structure of a degree program forced me to learn what I would have otherwise avoided. I might have read a preaching book on my own, but without seminary I just wouldn’t have studied church history or systematic theology. It turns out, however, that pastoral ministry requires a working knowledge of both. If you’re not the kind who will study theology on your own, then by all means please go to seminary!OK, but which degree?
Imagine you’re sitting on the operating table. The doctor hovering above you with a scalpel is about to perform open heart surgery. He seems nice, caring, and zealous for the task at hand. Reassuring, right? Now imagine that doctor only has a high school diploma. All of a sudden, you’re a lot less concerned with how genuine he is. Why? Because the job he’s doing is serious and he needs more than good intentions to do it well.
Pastors also have a very serious job to do. Just as patients need a skillful doctor, so too do our church members need skillful pastors. We hold doctors to the highest educational standards. How much more important is the work of a pastor? I know how tempting it is to rush seminary. At one point, I considered bailing on the M.Div.(designed to be a minimum of training for pastors) and getting an M.A. instead. But God had call me to pastor, and I was never comfortable cutting my training short. Put in the work and leave seminary trained for the task at hand. Don’t shortchange yourself or your ministry.More than academics
I am convinced seminary is one of the primary ways God builds character into his ministers. While everyone’s path through seminary is different, none of them are easy. For me, seminary meant working full-time and fitting classes into the margin. It meant working hard to prioritize my family. It meant working harder than I thought I was capable of. In other words, seminary didn’t just build my mind, it helped build my character.
Now, I know no one chooses seminary because they want to suffer. But you should know that the challenges involved are not something you should avoid. They are tools in the hand God used to shape you into the pastor he’s calling you to be. Do you desire to be a man of character? Of discipline? Of perseverance? Seminary will help.What are you waiting for?
So should you go to seminary? If God is calling you to pastor, then yes. You should enroll in a master of divinity program right away. You should know that it will challenge you and it will stretch you. It will teach you to think and argue and study so that you are prepared for the ministry ahead of you. It will be hard and it will be long. But it will be worth it.
In my family church where I grew up, we often sang the hymn, Wherever He Leads, I’ll Go. In my mind, I think I actually meant the words when I sang them. I can clearly remember the mood of the congregation as we sang and the sound of the music from the organ as my mother played. Interestingly, I have no memory of ever thinking that He’d lead me anywhere other than where I was at the time. Although I had gone through the motions of walking the aisle and getting baptized, I was in my mid-twenties before the Lord drew me to Himself and saved me. My life changed completely—radically, 180 degrees, inside out, pick one and it fits. After coming to Christ and being born again, I began to sing that song and meant it with all my heart. It was only then that I realized I had never really meant it before. With the change that salvation brought, I remember my morning prayers being something like, “What is it that is not being done, that ought to be done, and if it were done, it would result in greater glory to God and extension of His kingdom?”A calling
I began to think God was leading me to missions. With my life firmly established, making good money, and a young family to provide for, I still felt that God was calling us to leave it all and go. I just didn’t know where. Mary and I began to explore His call on our lives, first through reading missionary biographies, then going on short-term mission trips with our church. God began to make it plain that missions was his plan for our lives. On a mission trip to Ecuador, he confirmed the call and showed us the place.Abandon it all
Like anyone making such a massive life change, we were nervous and continued seeking confirmation that we had heard him clearly about the when, where, and what he had for our lives. In our nightly family worship time, we prayed through a book that listed and described the work in all the countries where our denomination’s missionaries were serving. If God wanted to point us somewhere else, we wanted to know and not rush into a decision without Him. I even went on a vision mission trip to another country to discern whether we felt strongly about Ecuador just because we had been there before. It was disconcerting to sell our home and get rid of most of our belongings to go to seminary for preparation while still praying for confirmation of where we would go next. Yet downward mobility and walking by faith was a rich and faith-growing time of entrusting every moment to God.We all have a role
“Ready to go, but willing to stay,” has been my heartbeat ever since the Lord led us back to the USA, but I confess that I do not always say that with a joyful heart. My prayer is that this is just a season of preparing and sending others, but that it will be followed by another season of being one of the sent ones. I cannot get my head and heart wrapped around the thinking of some who say, “No, not me. I would never go to the mission field.” God has called us all to go or give, to send or be spent, and He will have His way – ask Jonah when you get Home.Who is Lord?
You can say, “No,” and you can say, “Lord.” But you cannot say, “No, Lord.” The moment you do, he’s not; you are. What’s the attitude of your heart? What will you be thinking the next time you hear, “Let’s stand and sing, Wherever He Leads, I’ll Go?”
“Take up thy cross and follow Me,” I heard my Master say;
“I gave My life to ransom thee, Surrender your all today.”
Wherever He leads I’ll go, Wherever He leads I’ll go,
I’ll follow my Christ who loves me so, Wherever He leads I’ll go.
He drew me closer to His side, I sought His will to know,
And in that will I now abide, Wherever He leads I’ll go.
Wherever He leads I’ll go, Wherever He leads I’ll go,
I’ll follow my Christ who loves me so, Wherever He leads I’ll go.
My heart, my life, my all I bring to Christ who loves me so;
He is my Master, Lord, and King,
Wherever He leads I’ll go, Wherever He leads I’ll go,
I’ll follow my Christ who loves me so, Wherever He leads I’ll go.
Wherever he leads I’ll go. Will you?