When we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, we are celebrating nothing less than God’s work in reawakening the church to the central truths of the gospel. The central truths of the Reformation must still be defended and taught in our churches. The modern age needs these truths just as urgently as the church did in 1517.
In 2016, Mercy Me released the single “Dear Younger Me.” The popular song is birthed from lead singer Bart Millard’s reflections on a troublesome childhood. The message considers the advice he might offer were he afforded the opportunity to speak to the 8-year-old version of himself. That idea is most intriguing. Consider the possibility of giving counsel to your younger self, especially in light of pastoral ministry. What advice might a seasoned pastor offer the younger version of himself as he begins pastoral ministry?
In my case, I would impress on that young man the importance of intentionally learning to relate to God’s people as a shepherd. Scripture often describes God’s people as a “flock” and “His sheep.” Coupled with the charge given to “shepherd the flock” (1 Peter 5:1-3), it seems fitting for the pastor to grasp some important shepherding principles as he leads his congregation. While the list of such principles could be lengthy, I would suggest these five “musts” to my younger self beginning to shepherd the people of God.
1. A good shepherd must be compassionate.
Sheep are sensitive, fragile creatures that require a measure of gentleness. They can become distraught, easily disoriented, and filled with despair. A good shepherd must be mindful of their fragility in order to lead and care for his flock well. There is a clear and present danger of callousness in pastoral ministry. The regularity with which you are exposed to people in vulnerable stages of life can lead to a hardened heart, losing sensitivity to the dangers surrounding the sheep. The antidote for callousness is compassion. A good shepherd must be compassionate toward his sheep if he is to serve them and lead them effectively in Kingdom ministry for the glory of God.
2. A good shepherd must be patient.
Sheep are senseless, frustrating creatures that can try the patience of the most caring and disciplined shepherd. A casual reading of Exodus and Numbers reveals how easily Israel was deceived by either themselves or others. The people quickly turned to idolatry while Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving the Law from God. They constantly complained about circumstances, consistently questioned leadership, and refused to enter Canaan even though they possessed the presence of God and the promise of His deliverance. Scripture recounts that they reasoned among themselves to return to Egypt as slaves. It is hard to imagine a level of senselessness greater than when one desires slavery over following God in faith.
Moses’ relationship with the people highlights the need for patience in a shepherd. For the most part, Moses sets the example well, but even he grew weary beneath the load of senseless behavior. In one act of anger and frustration, Moses disobeyed the Lord, and it cost him dearly. After shepherding Israel for 40 years in the wilderness, he would not join the sheep in the grazing fields of Canaan. Instead, he would die and be buried on Mount Nebo. Learn from Moses’ shepherding example. There are times in pastoral ministry when frustration with the sheep you serve will be overwhelming. You must learn to be patient. Failure to do so will only serve to bury you on Nebo and keep you from ever entering Canaan.
3. A good shepherd must be firm.
Sheep are stubborn, foolish creatures. Rarely, if ever, do sheep discern the presence of a dangerous predator. Often, one will wander from the flock and hardly seem to be aware of its vulnerability. Indeed, much of the history of Israel seems to be one bad decision after another. Refusal to heed Joshua and Caleb’s counsel to enter Canaan, the desire for a king like the surrounding nations, and compromise with pagan peoples within their borders are just a few of the plethora of the poor decisions of God’s people.
Pastoral ministry is one of the most difficult tasks known to man. It is the nature of humanity to rebel. This stubborn streak in God’s sheep often emerges as the shepherd attempts to guide them along the Lord’s path. A good shepherd must learn to balance his compassion with strong leadership, and his gentleness with firmness. Ultimately, the responsibility and accountability of a good shepherd is to the Great Shepherd who commands our loyalty and obedience, whether popular or not. Be gentle, because sheep are fragile; but also be firm, because sheep are stubborn.
4. A good shepherd must be loyal.
Sheep are relational, familial creatures. The bond between a shepherd and sheep can be quite strong. Such a relationship demands loyalty. Sheep need a shepherd who is intentionally committed to them. Pastor, be careful to guard your heart. The temptation to be envious and covet a flock other than your own can be immense. It is easy to desire another flock when they appear to be more appealing and healthy than yours. Do not be so easily fooled. Every flock has sensitive, senseless, stubborn, and sick sheep; and every shepherd faces the same issues. Be loyal to the Great Shepherd and to the flock over which He has made you an overseer. Certainly, He can move you wherever He desires, but unless/until He does, remain loyal to sheep He has given you to serve.
5. A good shepherd must be diligent.
Sheep are treasured, favored creatures. The Great Shepherd loves His sheep. Such royal devotion demands a resolute diligence from those who serve the sheep. Pastor, no one loves your church more than God, and because God loves your church, she deserves your diligence. Study well. Invest deeply. Serve all. Work hard. Do all of this unto the people of God, but for the glory of God.
God has made you an overseer of His flock. He treasures them. They are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation”; they are “a people for God’s own possession” (1 Peter 2:9). Your church is His church, your flock is His flock, and both God and His people demand your diligence, loyalty, leadership, patience, and compassion. Listen carefully, young man: Start well and finish strong, faithfully shepherding the sheep of God!
Does leadership have to be a lonely venture? Listen to some of the most prominent voices on leadership, within Christian circles and beyond, and you will be reminded that leadership more often than not brings with it a measure of aloneness.
The leader will, at times, find himself or herself standing alone. And the experience can make one feel as though there is no one else who fully understands the burden of decisions and pressure. A 2012 survey reported half of all CEOs expressed feelings of loneliness in their work.
Christian leaders are not immune.
Though there are unique burdens to bear, friendship is essential for a Christian leader. I remain a relatively young man with a limited leadership role entrusted to me. But in my experience and reflection, I am convinced friendship is vital to joyful and effective leadership. Friendship is more than a luxury afforded only to the fortunate few. It is part of what it means to be human, to live a good life. And leaders are not, thanks be to God, exempt from that divine design.
Friendship is more than a luxury afforded only to the fortunate few. It is part of what it means to be human.
As historian Martin Marty wisely noted, “The quality of friendships or the absence of them tells more about the lives of great people than most other features.” In the hyper-individualistic West, I fear we miss this ancient truth. But consider it for a moment. Many great figures in Christian history depended on friendship in their vocation.
Here are three lessons I continue to learn by God’s grace, and will for the rest of my life.1. A true friend tells you the truth
Our relationships mirrors the divine fellowship. And that kind of friendship is built on truth telling. The Christian faith holds this as integral. Fellowship with God requires truth telling, finding that the God of the cosmos has spoken his Word to us, revealing himself to his creatures as an act of friendship. He is therefore fully trustworthy, worthy of adoration and faith.
At their truest and best, our human friendships reflect this reality. Friends tell us the truth about others, ourselves, and the gospel.
Leadership is predicated on forming judgments and determining a wise course of action. These necessarily involve judgments about others, including those we’re called to lead. I’ve often found my judgments misinformed or incomplete, and I needed a true friend to provide me with a more accurate perspective. When someone disappoints the leader, it’s easy to dismiss them or assume the worst. But a friend explains there is more going on than meets the eye. Friends help us assume the best about others. And when needed, they also caution and warn against those who present themselves as allies, but have set themselves against the organization’s mission. We need both. Only a friend will do that for a leader.
Friends are also necessary to tell us the truth about ourselves. Like all humans, leaders are tempted to believe their own press. Sin and pride make us quick to underestimate our weakness and overestimate our abilities and virtues. A colleague may reinforce those blind spots, whether out of unvarnished sycophancy or fear of disappointment. But a friend steps in and, with near prophetic courage, calls us to account. Do you see your friends as gifts of grace to protect you from yourself?
Do you see your friends as gifts of grace to protect you from yourself?
Most importantly, a Christian friend tells us the truth about the gospel. They keep the good news before us in concrete and personal terms. A friend reminds the leader that they’re a sinner, that they need daily grace, and that any good thing—even their leadership ability—is entirely a gift. A friend reminds us that the most important thing about us is not our organizational success or status, but our identity in Christ. A friend presses us to hope in what is enduring, not in what is fleeting.2. A true friend is motivated by love, not self-interest
Friendship is preferential love. Not only do we prefer some above others, but Christian friendship means we prefer others—our friends—above ourselves.
We can be friendly with many people, but true friendship is rare. Our lives are embedded within institutions and organizations that, by necessity, demand a culture of friendliness. We see colleagues in the hallway, at meetings, at social functions. And certainly a broad culture of warmth, courtesy, and amicable goodwill is an essential characteristic of healthy organizational ethos. But true friendship that extends beyond professional conversations and sheer transactionalism is a rare gift.
The reason for this is an ancient truth rooted in the beginning of all things. We are made for God, to be sure, but we are also made for others. At the center of this design is the dynamic force of love. Self-interest draws us to see others as opportunities for transactions, beings from whom I can make a withdrawal to satisfy my needs for security, affirmation, validation, and pleasure. But love, which is part of the overflow of Trinitarian relations, is not self-seeking. It is self-giving.
The commodification of friendship is seen in the countless ways we look to people to render us some sort of service. Instead of mirroring the intra-Trinitarian fellowship of joy, friendship is traded for something far less. Because of sin, all of us are prone to distorted and skewed realities in our friendships. But Christian leaders need to be mindful of the specific ways self-interest can subtly masquerade as friendship. It may yield something that has the appearance of friendship, but is a lethal counterfeit.3. A true friend remains when your leadership fails
At some point, your leadership will wane. Age will bring this about naturally, but failure has a way of accelerating the process too. It’s one thing to find yourself in a season of success surrounded by many who appear to be friends. But what happens when your company fails, your organization goes bankrupt, or your reputation is no longer about competence and skill?
The Bible presents a picture of friendship enduring: “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Prov. 17:17). While your siblings are there in moments of crisis, your friends are present in all life’s ups and downs. We don’t get to choose our siblings; they are providentially assigned. But there is a voluntary nature to friendship that makes it all the sweeter. A friend can reject and spurn us. That elective dynamic makes friendship a risky venture, but one that holds potential for unspeakable joy and love.
If you’re a leader and think you’re surrounded by friends, don’t be too sure. On the other hand, don’t let awareness of the fickle and opportunistic nature of professional relationships make you crudely cynical. A far more biblical and wise tact is to approach relationships with a measure of realism. Cynicism will compound your loneliness and make you distrust others, robbing you of opportunities for the joy of friendship. Realism will give you a clear-eyed appreciation for genuine friendship and protect you from disillusionment when others disappoint you.
Friendship is a risky venture, but it holds potential for unspeakable joy and love.
A true friend will be there when all else is gone. This kind of loyalty and steadfastness is a sign, pointing us to an even greater reality—to the One who perfectly embodies friendship. It surely is as the hymn writer said, “Jesus! What a friend for sinners! Jesus! Lover of my soul / Friends may fail me, foes assail me, he, my Savior, makes me whole.”Acquaintances vs. true friends
You likely have fewer friends than you realize. In an age of social media and pseudo-friendships, there is a noxious counterfeit that easily misleads us. You may have hundreds of acquaintances, but chances are you have only three or four true friends. If that sounds disappointing, perhaps you’ve misunderstood the nature of friendship and so are routinely frustrated by misplaced expectations.
Many of us have confused what C. S. Lewis clarified in distinguishing between friendship and companionship:
Friendship arises out of mere companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden). The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, “What? You too? I thought I was the only one.”
This article was originally published at The Gospel Coalition.
Then Charlottesville, now Sutherland Springs. In contemporary America. Islamabad. Cairo. Worshippers gathered together are met with unprovoked lethal violence. And we mourn. We mourn as fellow humans, we grieve as fellow believers, we mourn as a world-wide church. We grieve as those who hope in the resurrection of the dead assured by our anointed King and Savior Jesus who will come again to establish righteousness and equity through judgment ...
How is there both unity and diversity in reality? Why is there both change and sameness over time?
According to Frederick Copleston, in his massive ten-volume A History of Philosophy, these questions relate to the first philosophical issue people wrestled with, which is often called the problem of the one and the many. In the 5th and 6th centuries B.C., Greek philosophers wanted to know what accounted for both the unity and diversity within nature and so they began to offer various theories for ultimate reality ...
A tragedy occurred at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, yesterday. Something that should never happen happened as a small group of Christians gathered together to worship. A man walked into the church during worship and shot and killed 26 people—ranging in age from 5 to 20—and wounded about 20 more. A common first reaction is to try to make sense out of this, but there is no explanation that will provide comfort or understanding, for evil is not rational or understandable. For many, the next two reactions revolve around fear and a desire to help.
Overcoming fear. I think it is vital for churches to use this tragedy as an opportunity to prayerfully consider what preparations they can make to prevent or minimize tragedy. Discussing the possibility of a tragedy occurring in your church and how to prevent or minimize it is important even though it may be difficult. Churches need to consider not only an active shooter, but also weather emergencies, fires, and responding to a violent person or one disrupting a church activity, among others. God is the Author of life, and each person is created in the image of God. We should do all we can to honor and preserve lives. One of the roles of a shepherd is to protect the sheep, and I believe that a pastor should lead his church in discussing and praying about such issues as he seeks to shepherd God’s people. Pastors should also minister Scripture that reminds people who God is, that He is worthy of our trust, and that He can help us overcome fear.
Some ways to help. The most important way we can help is to pray. This tragedy did not take God by surprise. There are many stories that will come from Sutherland Springs, most of which we will never know. God knows all the stories and knows and loves all the people impacted. He is the One who can bring true comfort and peace that surpasses understanding. Don’t forget to pray for the family members and friends who had loved ones taken away from them yesterday, for those who are injured, for the emergency service workers (police, fire, and EMS) who responded, and for others as God brings them to mind. Pray for opportunities to share the Gospel and look for ways to comfort those you know who are particularly troubled by yesterday’s shooting.
I had the opportunity to minister and provide counsel to many after the Wedgwood Baptist Church shooting that occurred in Fort Worth in 1999. After ministering through that tragedy, my colleague Dr. David Penley and I began the process of searching the Scriptures to see what we could learn about ministry in the midst of crisis. We developed what we call the Biblical Crisis Ministry Model. Some may have the opportunity to minister personally to those affected by today’s shooting or possibly another crisis. To assist in either ministering or preparing to minister in such a situation, I present a brief summary of this model.
Biblical Crisis Ministry Model
Foundation – Effective biblical ministry to those in or impacted by a crisis should be based on four foundational principles. The ministry must be:
- Biblical. That is, it must focus on glorifying and honoring God (1 Corinthians 10:31) and recognize that Scripture is sufficient for ministering to those in crisis as well as superior to the any of the world’s approaches. It recognizes and purposefully pursues the ultimate, eternal values of evangelism for the lost and discipleship for the saved, while being sensitive to people and context.
- Relational. Biblical crisis ministry focuses on relationships—both loving God and loving neighbor (Matthew 22:36-40). The relationship with those being ministered to is not a professional/client relationship, but rather a discipling relationship modeled after Jesus’ example.
- Comprehensive. The focus of a biblical response is ministering to the whole person. If a person in crisis needs food, clothing, or shelter, the appropriate response is to do everything possible to provide for them, in Jesus’ name.
- Practical. A biblical response is hands-on, challenging, sometimes messy, and does not hide behind supposedly helpful platitudes. It is not, “Take two Scriptures and call me in the morning.”
The Tools of Crisis Response – There are five activities of crisis ministry that build upon the above foundation. These are showing compassion, listening, serving, ministering Scripture, and praying. As you read the brief descriptions of each of these ministry activities, notice how the four foundational principles of ministry (biblical, relational, comprehensive, practical) can be woven throughout.
Showing Compassion – Jesus’ life provides our example for true compassion. He left heaven to walk among humans. He saw the people and recognized their need. He was moved with compassion and motivated by love. He took action to help.
And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us…. (John 1:14)
Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd. (Matthew 9:36)
When He went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and felt compassion for them and healed their sick. (Matthew 4:14)
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. (Romans 12:15)
Listening – God’s Word teaches us that it is wise to listen. Jesus’ example shows us that asking questions is part of effective listening. Listening requires time and a willingness to humbly refrain from interrupting with our own opinions or quick-fix answers. As we listen and ask questions, our goal is to move a person toward biblical hope.
While they were talking and discussing, Jesus Himself approached and began traveling with them. But their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him. And He said to them, “What are these words you are exchanging with one another as you are walking?” And they stood still, looking sad. One of them, named Cleopas, answered and said to Him, “Are You the only one visiting Jerusalem and unaware of the things which have happened here in these days?” And He said to them, “What things?” (Luke 24:15-19a)
This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger. (James 1:19)
He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him. (Proverbs 18:13)
Serving – Jesus’ example as a servant reminds us that no task is too menial for us. As Christ washed the disciples’ feet, so too must we be willing to serve those to whom we minister. Our service cannot be limited to offering counsel but must be comprehensive, including practical service such as providing food, shelter, transportation, childcare, and the like.
You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. (John 13:13-14)
But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. (Luke 10:33-34)
Be hospitable to one another without complaint. As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. (1 Peter 4:9-10)
Ministering Scripture – Ministering Scripture begins with Jesus’ example of confronting people with the Truth of God’s Word and the truth of their circumstances. Each situation is different and dictates our approach. Sometimes we must minister the direct commands of Scripture. Sometimes we minister Scripture by relating stories from the Bible. Still other times, we may share the comfort found in the pages of Scripture. Remember to point people to the hope found in Scripture.
Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)
If the Lord had not been my help, my soul would soon have dwelt in the abode of silence. If I should say, “My foot has slipped,” Your lovingkindness, O Lord, will hold me up. When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, Your consolations delight my soul. (Psalm 94:17-19)
And He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in the Scriptures. (Luke 24:25-27)
For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures, we might have hope. (Romans 15:4)
Prayer – Jesus’ life vividly portrays the importance of prayer in life and ministry. Prayer is vital before, during, and after ministry. Pray for those to whom you minister. Pray with people to whom you minister. Pray with and for those who minister alongside you. Solicit prayer support from others.
After He had sent the crowds away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray; and when it was evening, He was there alone. (Matthew 14:23)
Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission that he may sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you; that your faith may not fail…. (Luke 22:31-32a)
Brethren, pray for us. (1 Thessalonians 5:25)
Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. (James 5:16)
Application of the Biblical Crisis Ministry Model
The BCMM does not prescribe formulas and packaged responses to crisis and disaster. Effectively using the model requires a deep understanding of God’s Word and how to apply it to life’s circumstances. It requires prayerful sensitivity to the leadership of the Holy Spirit. Learn to depend on God’s Word when you face crises of any magnitude.
... I take your question, Joe, because it embodies what seems to be a common confusion. Success in natural theology (i.e., arguments for God’s existence) is not determined by whether one’s argument proves all of the attributes of God (much less His omni- attributes!). The argument needs to raise the plausibility or probability that God exists to count as successful ...
Not long after I started my ministry at our church, we began having regular visitors who soon were asking about becoming members. While I was grateful to God for bringing them to us and thankful for their interest in joining our church, I knew that we needed to have a church membership class so that they could get to know our church better and we could get to know them better.
But what should I include in a membership class and how should I structure our time together? I decided to focus on answering six questions that would be helpful for those considering membership with us:Who should be a member of our church?
As Baptists, we believe that churches should be made up of regenerate church members. So only those who are believing in Christ for salvation and have followed Him in baptism can become members of our church. However, we live in a day when many will identify as Christians who have never believed in the gospel of Jesus Christ for salvation. Maybe their family background is Christian or they want their children to be raised with good morals but they have never come to faith in Christ.
Others have been in churches who have not preached the gospel clearly and do not know the gospel clearly themselves. In a church membership class, I cannot assume that those who are coming already know and believe the gospel. So I present the gospel to everyone attending, appealing to them to repent of their sins and believe in Christ as their Savior.Why should I be a member of a local church?
The biblical truth of church membership itself has fallen on hard times, with many Christians failing to understand why they should join a church at all. In my discussions with visitors and other believers, I have heard this question raised so many times that I wanted to include a defense of church membership in our class.
From the accountability it brings to the practice of spiritual gifts among one another, I want those attending to recognize the importance of church membership and why we take our membership so seriously. I have also asked them to read Jonathan Leeman’s excellent book Church Membership and given time during class to discuss what they have read to help develop our appreciation for membership. There are many good resources available to assist churches with a biblical defense of church membership, and I have found utilizing them in these discussions to be very helpful and rewarding.Where should I be a member of a local church?
Obviously, I want people to become members of our church, but I care most that Christians will find a church where they can best glorify God and grow in Christ’s grace. So I want to lay out the biblical priorities in determining which local church to join, and then I spend some time explaining who we are as a church. Because the relationship between members of a local church is a close one of love and encouragement, I want those who are considering joining us to have a good understanding of who we are before deciding to become members. What is our history? What is our vision? What are our ministries? Answering questions like these and allowing time to answering their questions about our church are critical for them to get to know us. I also want them to have read through our church’s constitution so that they understand how we operate as a church.What does our church believe?
Because of heresy and theological error, and in light of different denominations in our community and our own doctrinal distinctives, I want everyone who is interested in learning more about our church to know what we believe. This is why I love being a confessional church, because I can hand them a copy of the 1689 Second London Confession of Faith and we can discuss what they will hear preached and taught as well as the beliefs that we corporately confess God’s Word reveals.
I am deeply saddened when I look at most church websites today and see nothing about a statement of faith, or their beliefs are so basic that cults could affirm them! I am not interested in leading a church which is trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator. I would rather share with them what we believe the Bible teaches so that they will know what they will hear when they are members with us.What does it mean to be a member of our church?
I also want to make sure that we are up front in showing people our expectations of members. I am thankful that our church has a biblical and faithful church covenant with the commitments that all church members make when they join and practice as long as they are members with us. Therefore, I work through our covenant statement-by-statement, explaining what this looks like practically among us. I would rather Christians decide not to join because of our commitment to the Lord’s Day and corporate worship or because of our desire to give of our time and money than later filling our rolls with people who disagree with us and refuse to live in light of way that we believe Scripture says we should live.How do I apply for membership?
Finally, I want those in our membership class to have a clear understanding of our membership process as well as what the next steps are if they decide to apply for membership with us. Since we ask member candidates to write out their testimony, I also provide them with a basic template to help them think through their testimony. I also invite them to schedule a time to meet with the elders for further discussion if they are interested.
I am sure that I will further develop and refine our membership class as the years continue, but I hope that these questions will be helpful to others who are thinking through how to start and structure a membership class. Above all, I pray that Christ will be at the center of our church life together, with unity among our members while we serve our Savior and one another.