Pastors who walk into existing churches are quickly burdened by needed changes to improve the church. Where the challenge is for most of us is when and how those changes need to be brought. If you are wondering how to choose those battles wisely, first receive this most excellent counsel I received as I entered my first senior pastor position at a church clearly needing change and revitalization, “Preach the Word, sacrificially love those people, and do not change anything for a while.”
Now, having shared this invaluable counsel that should be applied first, here are 3 questions to ask yourself as you move to bring the change that is needed and how to do so with discernment and wisdom:
- Is it biblical or merely a preference?
Whatever you wish to change, make sure you have a strong biblical argument to do so. If you desire to change the structure of your church to a plurality of elders/pastors or raise the commitment of all church members to gather regularly on Sundays together (Hebrews 10:25), those are appropriate biblical changes that should be pursued. If you want to change which translation of the Bible to preach, the style of music, or remove the giant picture of a white, American Jesus in your lobby, those do not possess as clear a biblical argument. Whether it is biblical or a preference matters in how you bring change, and in many cases, whether you should change it at all.
2. Is it the right time?
Just because a biblical argument can be made for the change does not mean it is the right time to make the change. So many young pastors walk into an existing church, make quick, needed changes because “it’s in the Bible” and think nothing of shepherding a congregation through those changes.
Then they wonder why eighteen months into their pastorate, half the church remains, and there is a general lack of trust and suspicion towards the pastor. That’s because the new pastor was too busy figuring out what “had to change” instead of first loving and shepherding that congregation so they would later be receptive of the change.
3. Is it worth the possible consequences?
Determine if the change can be taught as biblical, consider if the timing is right, then a pastor must weigh whether the consequences deem it wise and worth the risk. For example, I would not split the church over a plurality of elders/pastors or purging an inflated membership role in the first few years at a church. Those are changes that can come later with good teaching and patience. However, I would risk being fired over confronting a deacon found in open adultery or an attack on the deity of Christ, whether the church was ready for it or not. Choosing the right battles wisely involves whether you are willing to face the potential consequences of your decision as well as stand before God with a clear conscience.
This is a general template to follow as you determine the changes you desire to make and how they should be chosen and done. Whatever you do, choose battles wisely as if you will be at that church ten years or more. That will give you a different perspective and will help you be patient.
Oh, and one more thing. Listen to your wife. My wife kept me from getting fired a few times by her wise cautions about a few different things I was about to change. Your wife is your helpmate and will be a particular help to keep you from doing something you might regret. Listen to her.
Editors’ note: This article was originally published on churchleaders.com.
The post 3 questions pastors should ask before they fight for change in their church appeared first on Southern Equip.
I did not grow up going to church every week. My parents did not have family worship every evening, or ever that I recall. No adult that I was around on a regular basis read their Bible conspicuously, but even as a kid I knew that my grandmother (“Mamaw” to us) did.
One of my early memories is riding with my mother to pick up Mamaw’s Bible from a bindery where it had gotten a new cover. I didn’t know what bindery was, but I figured out that its cover had gotten worn out because of lots of use, and that knowledge must’ve settled down deep inside me, for it imparted a respect for reading the Bible that I couldn’t explain at the time.
When I was 16, I started going to church and, at a Centrifuge camp in Tennessee, responded to an invitation and shortly thereafter began a humble and halting habit of reading the Bible. That was 1993. I could try and pretend I read every day without failure, but that would only be pretending. Yet after a quarter-century of semi-disciplined reading, I’ve come to value the benefit of long-term Bible reading and want to meditate on it here to encourage other start-stop readers.
Why re-read it over and over?
What’s the point of reading and re-reading the Bible over the span of one’s lifetime? Why is there particular value in investing so much time, which really is the most precious thing we have, on reading and not on some more outward-focused activity?
For one thing, the daily experience of merely living as a sojourner in this world has a calcifying effect on our minds. “Calcification” may not be a word we use often, but vascular surgeons and plumbers use it regularly. Calcification refers to constriction that occurs over time. After 30-40 years, a quarter-inch pipe or your arteries are likely to have a reduced capacity due to the accumulation of “stuff” on the inside.
It’s the same with our minds and hearts.
Simply by living in our world, we accumulate a lot of stuff. Consider your average week: how many disparaging conversations do you overhear? How many sarcastic remarks? How many tempting scenes do you encounter on television, movies, web searches, etc.? How many self-focused thoughts do you fight, some that you win and some you lose? Arguments, frustration, hurt feelings, kids that won’t stay in bed, road rage, arguments with your spouse, arguments with your customers, not to mention the banal things that snatch at our attention.
What effect do these situations have on you? How do they cause you to struggle with gratitude? How do they affect your contentment? How do they shape your devotion? What do they do to your worship? Your heart? Here’s where developing a long-term habit of Bible reading is so vital. Being regularly exposed to the word of God reminds us of what God declares to be true and interprets our experience in the world.
What surrounds us subtly shapes us in ways we may not always appreciate or detect. Slowly, we drift. Regular Bible reading serves as an anchor to ultimate reality. It also serves as a purgative to a world-saturated mind. Regular Bible readers have continual reminders of God’s meticulous works of providence, Jesus’ present lordship, and the Spirit’s real leadership.
Read it all
Spend time in the Old Testament historical narratives and you realize the long-term and extensive consequences of flirting with worldly power structures. Return often to the wisdom literature for regular reminders that this world and all of its beautiful things are really temporary. Develop a habit of reading the Psalms to enrich and expand your vision and vocabulary of prayer. Go to the prophets often to see the consequences of ignoring, or oppressing, the widow, the stranger, or the poor.
Come often to the Gospels to behold Jesus clearly and be transformed into his image. Visit the epistles to remember how to live well in our homes, in our churches, in our conversations, to stir our faith, to direct our hope. Read the Apocalypse to anticipate the marriage supper of the Lamb.
What might happen if we regularly allowed the pure water of the Word to saturate and purge our minds?
We are always changing, but the Word does not
What are the reasons many Christians develop a life-long pattern of Bible reading? One reason is so obvious that we may look right past it — we are not the same people we were last time we read the Bible and thus our encounter with the never-changing Word is vital. At minimum, you have simply gained more “mileage” in your walk. Things you were unprepared to catch or know at an earlier point in life will now stand out.
Teenagers may not appreciate the celebration of the blessings of old age that seems so very distant, but when you encounter such passages in your 40s, they command more attention. If you are reading the Bible as a single 20-something, passages celebrating marriage will be no less true but perhaps more opaque than reading them after your first year of marriage or your 21st year of marriage. As you grow in experience in your job, and receive promotions and more responsibility, you must continually be reminded that your fundamental call is to deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Jesus. You must be reminded that the path of servanthood really is the true path for leaders.
These examples are merely representative. I don’t want to suggest that the Bible is shaped by our own reading, but only that as we return to Scripture after years and decades, we are probably better prepared to see what has been there all along.
Our knowledge of Scripture is ever-changing as well. Let me speak candidly as one entrusted with the instruction of the word of God to others similarly entrusted — to Bible college and seminary students, teachers, professors, and pastors of all kinds. Because our calling puts us in regular proximity to the Bible, we must be especially cautious not to rest on our training and past experiences and avoid fresh encounters with the word itself. These past readings have formed us to be who we are today, but we “press on toward the upward goal” (Phil. 3:14).
We must practice the habit of reading the Bible long-term to ensure that we are always submitting ourselves to the searching and penetrating Word of God. He desires to use our disciplined, long-term reading for the beauty of his bride and the good of our neighbor. Prayerfully, our theology still being deepened and our hearts molded after God’s glory with each successive pass.
Read, don’t skim, and write notes
Of course one of the main hurdles to long-term Bible reading is actually reading and not merely using a few keywords to jog our memories and skimming the text. One strategy that has helped me in this regard is to read aloud, often sub-vocally, with a pencil or an extra-fine point pen in hand. I don’t follow a set form of marking my Bible, although inductive Bible study teachers have developed helpful approaches. Rather, I make marginal notes, identify key ideas, or select passages for memorization that stand out today.
By preserving these notes now, I begin to read at a deeper level of attention, moving between reading and meditation, and this approach helps me listen to what the Spirit is saying through this passage to my circumstances today. Invariably, however, I’ll forget today’s insight. But the next time I peruse my marked Bible, reading this text again, I have a way to trigger my recollections.
I remember a particularly diligent student asking how he could come to know the main point of every chapter in the Bible. I remember answering him something like this, “well, you could memorize all 1,189 chapters in the Bible or you could read it for the next 20 years and that would work well too.” Five years after giving that answer, I haven’t changed my mind. The student’s question was genuine. I am sure he wanted to foster a deepening knowledge of the Bible. What I wanted him to see, what I want you to see, and what I need to remember is that God has chosen to sanctify us over time. Long-term Bible reading is part of that sanctification.
My Mamaw’s rebound Bible now belongs to me. It sits unread in a China cabinet in my basement. This thick black Scofield King James Reference Bible shows all the marks of a lifetime of Bible reading. Words are underlined, paragraphs marked, undoubtedly reminders that she wanted to impress upon her GAs.
I don’t know what these notes and underlinings mean, but she did, and a lifetime of Bible reading shaped her deeply. Although rebound, its aging pages testify to the memory of a life spent reading the word of God.
Occasionally, when I am reading one of my older Bibles, I wonder if one day my own grandchildren will flip through its pages, amused at my notes and scribbles. If they do, I hope they will be able to think back on a granddad that modeled the faith, hope, and love these pages bear witness. I hope the same for you.
- Introduction & background
- Challenges in the Church in regard to same-sex attraction
- How to have a flourishing singles ministry
- Singleness for the glory of God
- “Erosion of friendship” in Christian fellowship
- Advice to pastors to be faithful in ministering to Christians with same-sex attraction
- Preaching philosophy & preparation
- Lighting Round!
The post Episode 7: Singleness, same-sex attraction, and preaching with Sam Allberry appeared first on Southern Equip.
I’m an insignificant pastor in a small church in a forgettable town. Many of my friends have gone on to plant or pastor successful churches with exponential growth, vibrant community, and lush gospel fruit. That hasn’t been my experience. My guess is, there are a lot of you out there in the same boat with me.
Let me tell you a bit about my first few years of ministry. I was called by a struggling congregation—what is now commonly called a church revitalization effort. I entered eyes wide open, knowing it would be a long slow work. And boy, did I work.
In addition to shepherding responsibilities to our church, I did regular ministry at the local schools. Every other week, I preached the gospel to a hundred students in FCA gatherings. I taught a Bible elective class and did one-on-one discipleship with unbelieving college students through the book of John. We hosted the college soccer team for cookouts.
In the community, I tried to meet people at the local gym. Every Sunday I encourage our members to go and advance the gospel in our community. My wife and I hosted a small group in our home hoping that it would provide an environment for true discipleship. We threw block parties in various neighborhoods trying to build new relationships for the gospel.
But still no fruit. I don’t mean God didn’t anything; there were little evidences of his grace and mercy especially among our little enclave of members. At the time, those little changes were overshadowed in my mind by one glaring absence: no new believers repenting of their sins and turning to Jesus. Hadn’t God promised, “My word shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isa. 55:11)? I’d been clinging to that promise for three years with no visible results.
I used to look down on Elijah. Do you remember the story where just after he’s been on Mt. Carmel and seen fire fall from heaven, he runs off into the wilderness because Jezebel threatens to kill him? Sulking alone in a cave in the wilderness, “The Word of the LORD came to him, and he said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ He said, ‘I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life to take it away.’” (1 Kings 19:9-10)
I used to think, “How could a prophet of God be so depressed? What is wrong with him?” However, the despair in Elijah’s heart is no longer foreign to me. In those early years it settled into my soul. It was that sense of helplessness when you have tried to do everything that God instructed, yet nothing has changed. Fire came from heaven! Surely this will turn the people back to the Lord! Elijah thought. When he woke up the next morning, he realized everything remained exactly the same.
What are we supposed to do when we have tried to obey God, and we have clung tightly to his promises, but the lack of fruit drives us to near despair? We have lived the words of Paul: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16). We are not ashamed, but where is the power? We proclaim the gospel, but where is the salvation?
I remember turning to my wife one Sunday afternoon and saying, “This may sound selfish, but I need to see a baptism. I mean me. Ineed to see someone get baptized for my own faith, so that I can know that God is going to save people in this town—that the gospel is actually powerful to save here in our community.” After three years of positivity and blind optimism, I finally sunk to a place I had never been before. I had never felt so hungry to see someone come to Jesus.
My prayers changed. They weren’t polite asking with a gentle “If it’s your will, Lord” anymore. They were begging, pleading, insisting that my soul was going to be completely crushed if God didn’t save somebody soon. I felt like I was starving in a wilderness, completely helpless and utterly powerless to do anything. I had exhausted my patience and everything I could think of to influence people with the message of the gospel.
I longed to see God glorified in our community. I hungered for opportunities to rejoice in the power of the gospel. I wanted to see the Holy Spirit give new life. I was desperate to see King Jesus march forward and rescue his sheep from slavery to sin. And in this moment where all hope seemed nearly lost, and my soul felt like it was about to faint from hunger, God spoke these words:
“And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deut. 8:3)
I realized this: hunger in the Christian life is a blessing from the Lord. God intentionally lets us grow hungry so that we realize how desperately we need him. If he does not speak the word, we will perish. If he does not prosper the gospel, it will fail. It’s this same sense of wild-eyed desperation that we hear in the voice of Peter in response to Jesus’s question: “Do you want to go away as well?” And he said, “Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Looking back, I thank God for his sweet mercy in patiently teaching me — a well-intentioned yet sorely inexperienced pastor — how to hunger and thirst for him above all else. I have realized with Peter that what I desperately need is not a booming church or a successful ministry. What I need is Jesus.
This is how God operates. He lets his people hunger so that he may satisfy their longing: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matt. 5:6). Do I have a promise that this year God will allow me to see 100 people come to Jesus? No. Do I have a guarantee that my church will grow into a thriving, gospel-fruit-producing body of believers? Not really. But I do have a promise that God will satisfy my desperate hunger. He brings us to a place of deep longing to prove that he is the only one who can satisfy.
Hope has a way of grounding the soul. I have begun to realize that no amount of effort on my part will ever succeed without the Spirit. I have pled and begged God in ways I never have before. Jesus says: “I am the Good Shepherd. I know my own and my own known me…” (John 10:14). He will save his sheep. I might not be the one to see it. I might never see anyone come to Jesus again, or I might see tens of thousands come to Jesus. But what I truly need is for God himself to satisfy the hunger of my soul by the power, love, and forgiveness that comes through Jesus Christ the Shepherd of my soul.
One thing is certain: I continue in steadfast hope for the future of our church. The sense of feeble helplessness and dependence on the Lord that pervades our people even today is how the Israelites felt before the Exodus. It is how the disciples felt before Pentecost. It is how Hezekiah felt before God defeated 185,000 Assyrians.
It is how despairing Elijah felt before God swooped him up in a chariot of fire.
There is no better place for a church to be than completely, helplessly, desperately, and hungrily dependent on God to act, because that is the place where he is guaranteed to get all of the glory.
- Call to and early years of ministry
- Personal philosophy of preaching
- Sermon preparation
- The role of prayer in preaching
- The impact of wives on their husbands’ preaching
- Preaching “bad” sermons
- The role of spiritual gifts in preaching
- Lighting Round!
The post Episode 6: Preaching, theology, and writing with Thomas Schreiner appeared first on Southern Equip.
In evangelical debates over women in ministry, two biblical texts have always stood as an obvious obstacle to the egalitarian view:
But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. (1 Timothy 2:12)
The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. (1 Corinthians 14:34)
At first blush, these two texts seem to settle the matter in favor of the complementarian position. After all, this is the sense adopted in the vast majority of English translations. How could they all be wrong? Clearly, Paul does not intend for women to be teaching or preaching within the church, right?
Egalitarians have marshaled a variety of exegetical arguments against this prima facie reading. They argue that, despite appearances, Paul doesn’t really mean to shut down women from exercising their teaching or preaching gifts in the gathered assembly. Egalitarians point out that Paul clearly understood women to be gifted teachers (e.g., Acts 18:26; Titus 2:3).
Moreover, the very same book that enjoins female silence also allows for women to prophesy to the entire church (1 Corinthians 11:5). These female prophets — along with their Old Testament counterparts like Miriam, Deborah, and Huldah — demonstrate that whatever Paul means in 1 Timothy 2:12 and 1 Corinthians 14:34, he can’t mean to impose a universal ban on women teaching men. He must mean something else.
Egalitarians conflate prophecy and teaching
One of the major problems with the egalitarian argument at this point is that it conflates the gifts of prophecy and teaching. For example, Gordon Fee writes:
It seems altogether likely that Paul intends “praying and prophesying” to be not exclusive of other forms of ministry but representative of ministry in general. And since “prophets” precedes “teachers” in the ranking in 1 Corinthians 12:28 and prophesying is grouped with teaching, revelation and knowledge in 1 Corinthians 14:6, one may legitimately assume that women and men together shared in all these expressions of Spirit gifting, including teaching, in the gathered assembly.
Fee’s logic here is clear. Because Paul allows women to prophesy to the gathered assembly and because prophecy is a greater gift than teaching, then certainly he would allow women to teach as well.
This account of things, however, misses the fact that Paul treats prophecy and teaching as two different gifts and that he regulates them differently in his churches. Paul never issues a blanket prohibition on female prophecy to men in any of his letters, but he does on female teaching. Why is that?
There is a key difference between prophecy and teaching
The gift of prophecy consists in spontaneous utterance inspired by the Spirit. Prophecy consists of divine revelation. The gift of teaching, however, is different. Teaching does not consist in new revelation but in instruction based on revelation that has already been given, Tom Schreiner argues.
This difference between teaching and prophecy is crucial because the gift of teaching is not merely passing along information from one person to another. The gift of teaching in Paul’s writings has a certain content and mode. The content of the gift of teaching is the authoritative apostolic deposit, which is now inscribed for us in the New Testament (Col. 2:7; 2 Thess. 2:15; 1 Tim. 4:11; 6:2; 2 Tim. 2:2), according to Douglas Moo. This teaching is done in the imperative mood. It contains explanation, but it also includes commands and prohibitions. For that reason, it is always authoritative because it instructs people what they are to believe and to do.
Command and teach these things. (1 Timothy 4:11)
Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. (2 Timothy 4:2)
It’s very clear that when Paul has the gift of teaching in mind, he is thinking of instruction given with imperatives and commands. As Douglas Moo further concludes, “teaching always has this restrictive sense of authoritative doctrinal instruction.”
That is why Paul issues the prohibition that he does in 1 Timothy 2:12. Women must not teach men. Why? Because of the order of creation (1 Tim. 2:13). The role of leader in the first marriage was Adam’s. His leadership was established in part on the basis that God created him first (a principle of primogeniture). The order of creation establishes male headship in marriage (cf. 1 Cor. 11:3; Eph. 5:23), and a woman teaching and exercising authority overturns this order. After all, how can a wife submit to her husband if she is telling him what to do when she preaches? Avoiding this potential conflict is the reason why Paul bases the gender norms for teaching upon the gender norms for marriage.
Why does Paul tell women to “remain silent”?
This also explains why Paul commands women to be silent in 1 Corinthians 14:34-36. Paul is not commanding absolute silence, or else he would be contradicting his allowance of female prophesying in 1 Corinthians 11:5. No, Paul is specifically commanding female silence during the judgment of prophecies, D.A. Carson argues. What happens if a husband prophesies, and his wife is a prophet as well? Is the husband supposed to be subject to his wife during the judgment of prophecies? Are husbands and wives supposed to suspend male headship during corporate worship? Paul’s answer to that question is a clear no.
Paul does not want anything to happen during corporate worship or in any other setting that would upset the headship principle that he so carefully exhorted his readers to obey in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. For that reason, Paul enjoins women to refrain from the judgment of prophecies. He’s not commanding an absolute silence on the part of women. Indeed, he expects them to be praying and prophesying. He does, however, command them to be silent whenever prophecies are being judged. And the women are to do so out of deference to male headship.
Notice that the explanation in verse 34 indicates that headship is indeed the issue: “The women . . . should be in submission . . . ” The Greek word translated as “submission” is the same one from verse 32. A woman cannot be subject to her husband while simultaneously expecting him to submit to her judgments about his prophecy. To avoid this conflict, Paul says that while women may prophesy, they may not participate in the judgment of prophecies. In this case, the judgment of prophecies is tantamount to teaching, which Paul absolutely prohibits in 1 Timothy 2:12.
What is the bottom line here? Female prophecy in the Old and New Testaments is no argument in favor of female teaching or preaching. The gifts of prophecy and teaching are distinct in Paul’s writings, and Paul regulates them differently. While Paul allows women to prophesy in the presence of men, he does not allow them to teach men (1 Tim. 2:12; 1 Cor. 14:34-36). This feature of the New Testament’s teaching about gifts and ministry is lost whenever the gifts of prophecy and teaching are conflated. This is a confusion that careful readers of Scripture should avoid.
The post The big mistake egalitarians make when they interpret Paul appeared first on Southern Equip.
- Courtship and the first few years of marriage
- Tanya’s salvation & baptism
- Teaching at Seminary Wives Institute (SWI)
- Being a pastor’s wife
- Joys and trials of a Christ-centered marriage
- A lifetime of evangelism to Tanya’s father
- Lighting Round!
The post Episode 5: Marriage, family, and ministry with Tanya York appeared first on Southern Equip.
Choosing the Seminary Track was one of the easiest decisions of my life. I originally was discouraged because I felt called to go to seminary but had no earthly idea what to do for my undergrad. Along with that, I did not want to be in school for seven years. When I heard about the seminary track during a visit, I knew God was answering my prayers and providing a way to equip me thoroughly for ministry.How are your classes preparing you to minister the gospel in an always-changing world?
Every class I have taken had Christ as the center focus. Whether it’s New Testament Survey II with Dr. Schreiner at the Seminary or Hebrew or Ancient Near Eastern History with Dr. Howell, they are teaching us that in our ministries Christ is the goal. They provide foundational teaching that firmly establishes their students’ faith on the only constant reality, namely the immutable, triune God we serve.What professors have you developed unique relationships with during your time here?
Two professors in particular have poured into me outside of the classroom. Dr. Howell has allowed me to spend quite a few of his office hours to ask for wisdom, to speak of my doubts, to confess sin, and to talk about everything but Hebrew studies. This has been a huge encouragement and a blessing. The other, Professor Kleiser, taught my philosophy class first semester. I was amazed by his love for God and his selfless service to his family. God has used him as a brother in Christ to point me towards the truth, and even going out of his way to bring me Joella’s Hot Chicken while I was at work one Saturday. These men I look up to are more than professors, they are friends and brothers in Christ.In your experience, what has been the biggest advantage of the Seminary Track?
The biggest advantage of the seminary track is being able to experience both faculties from Boyce and from Southern. I have come to understand that I will not be able to perfectly remember every paradigm, Hebrew box, or theological Latin title, but I will remember the godly men who have given their whole lives to pouring out all they have learned. Both schools are dense with the highest caliber of scholars, and both desire nothing more than to see Christians grow. I’ve enjoyed talking with the professors inside and outside of class.
The post Seminary Track: Equipping the next generation of pastors appeared first on Southern Equip.