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How much should a pastor tell his wife?

Thu, 05/23/2019 - 10:25

Pastors know privileged information not simply because of their positions but because of their influence. Trust has been established. Help has been previously offered and accepted. The sheep find in the shepherd a safe place to share deep, personal information. But this relationship becomes complicated when pastors receive personal information in confidence but need to seek additional help to know how to extend wise care and counsel.

The pastor’s wife further complicates confidentiality. After all, she is the pastor’s helpmate and support. She cares for him on a daily basis. When he comes home for dinner, she sees the burdens weighing on him. She bears the brunt of his distracted mind. She deals with his clipped responses. And she naturally wants to know, “What is wrong?”

So how much does a pastor share with his wife? Should a pastor keep some things from his wife? Let me turn for a balanced perspective to my wife — a pastor’s wife.

Her perspective

We do not need to know everything in our husband’s ministry. It is not our business to know all the dirt on every church member, nor is it our job to be involved in those counseling situations. Yet at times, our husbands need to share what’s going on or seek our advice in how to advise a particular member. Our experiences may make us uniquely suited for helping another church member. But we need to respond with much fear and trembling, for with information comes temptation to share.

Not all women are tempted to gossip, but let’s face it, ladies—-the Titus 2 warning for the older women not to be gossips is there for a reason. Even if you’re young, be careful not to turn into that older gossiping woman.

So ladies, do not demand information from your husbands that they are not free to give or do not see the benefit of sharing. My husband is cautious in sharing information with me, particularly, about other men in the church. For example, knowing about all the men in our church who struggle with pornography is not necessary or helpful; it can actually be harmful. Sometimes, sharing information with me can even constitute a breach of confidentiality, which can have legal consequences.

When we receive information, our husbands must be able to trust that we will not turn around and tell our best friends. And sharing the news as a prayer request still counts as gossip. If we cannot be trusted with confidential information, then we do not need to be told.

That said, confidential information shared with us needs to be left to our husband’s discernment. My husband has involved me in several counseling situations with women at our church, both as a protection for him and also because in some situations I can better relate. He does not meet with women alone. I trust that my husband is not putting himself in compromising situations, and he is quick to involve me if it looks like there might even be a question about propriety. But he also knows that he can trust me in those situations. Indeed, the people of our church know that I can be trusted in those situations. I do not share any information without the permission of that person, and I usually don’t even ask to share information unless she hints toward it. We can be very damaging to our husband’s ministry if we are known as gossips in our church.

Wife, not pastor

Pastors, we must lead our wives well to capture balance. Stray too far to one side, and we are keeping our heart from our wives and cutting her out of our inner circle. Stray too far to the other side, and she can feel trapped about situations where she has no voice or recourse. Remember, she is your wife, not your fellow pastor. Include her for her benefit and the benefit of others, but she is neither called nor required to carry the same burdens.

Tips for a pastor to deal with confidential matters with his wife:

Gain permission from the beginning on confidential matters to speak with other pastors, your wife, or another mature Christian woman if dealing with sensitive female matters where another woman’s help and perspective would be beneficial.

Include your wife when it would help her, the situation, and her ability to care for you as your helpmate. Make sure permission has been granted by the one who shared the confidential information.

Remember, she is not your fellow pastor. Be mindful to protect, not dump!

Editors’ note: This article was originally publishedat The Gospel Coalition.

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Categories: Seminary Blog

Cara Croft

Thu, 05/23/2019 - 10:18

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Categories: Seminary Blog

You need friends, especially in ministry

Tue, 05/21/2019 - 16:21

The New Testament knows nothing of solitary Christianity. One of the great sources of spiritual strength is Christian friendship and fellowship. John Calvin, who has had the undeserved reputation of being cold, harsh, and unloving, knew this well and had a rich appreciation of friendship. The French Reformed historian Richard Stauffer reckoned that there were few men at the time of the Reformation “who developed as many friendships” as Calvin. Two of his closest friends were his fellow Reformers Guillaume Farel and Pierre Viret. Calvin celebrated his friendship with these men in his preface to his Commentary on Titus, where he stated:

I do not believe that there have ever been such friends who have lived together in such a deep friendship in their everyday style of life in this world as we have in our ministry. I have served here in the office of pastor with you two. There was never any appearance of envy; it seems to me that you two and I were as one person.

This brotherly friendship is well revealed in the extensive correspondence of these three men. In their letters to one another, not only are theological problems and ecclesiastical matters frankly discussed, but there is an openness in relation to the problems of their private lives.

Here is but one example: On Jan. 27, 1552, Calvin wrote to Farel and chided him for reports he had heard—true reports, one must add—about the undue length of Farel’s sermons. “You have often confessed,” Calvin reminds his friend, “that you know this is a fault and that you would like to correct it.” Calvin went on to encourage Farel to shorten his sermons lest Satan use Farel’s failing in this regard to destroy the many good things being produced by his ministry.

Esther Burr

Another example of the importance of friendship for believers can be found in the diary of Esther Burr, the third of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards’ eight daughters and a Christian housewife living in Colonial New Jersey. In the mid-1750s, Esther unequivocally declared: “Nothing is more refreshing to the soul (except communication with God himself), than the company and society of a friend.”

The wife of Aaron Burr Sr., president of what would become Princeton University, and the mother of two small children, Esther earnestly sought to know the presence of God in the hurly-burly of her daily life. As she did so, she came to appreciate the fact that friends are a divine gift.

Writing in her diary on Jan. 23, 1756, she said she was convinced that “‘Tis… a great mercy that we have any friends—What would this world be without ‘em—A person who looks upon himself to be friendless must of all creatures be miserable in this Life—‘tis the Life of Life.” For Esther, Christian friends were one of this world’s greatest sources of happiness. Why did Esther put such a value upon friendship? Surely it was because she realized that Christian friends and conversation with them are vital for spiritual growth.

Similar convictions are found in something she wrote the previous year on April 20, 1755, to her closest friend, Sarah Prince:

I should highly value (as you my dear do) such charming friends as you have about you—friends that one might unbosom their whole soul to.… I esteem religious conversation one of the best helps to keep up religion in the soul, excepting secret devotion, I don’t know but the very best—Then what a lamentable thing that ‘tis so neglected by God’s own children.

Notice the connection between friendship and what Esther calls “religious conversation.” For the Christian, true friends are those with whom one can share the deepest things of one’s life. They are people with whom one can be transparent and open. In Esther’s words, they are people to whom one can “unbosom [one’s] whole soul.”

In the course of a conversation about spiritual things, the believer can find strength and encouragement for living the Christian life. In referring to spiritual conversation with friends as “one of the best helps to keep up religion in the soul,” Esther obviously viewed it as a means of grace, one of the ways in which God the Holy Spirit keeps Christians in fellowship with the Savior.

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Categories: Seminary Blog

When you proclaim the gospel, use words

Fri, 05/17/2019 - 09:24

The emphasis on good conduct and “witness without a word,” in 1 Peter might lead some to assume that verbal witness was not a priority for Peter and the witness of early Christians in Asia Minor. On the contrary, Peter, the apostle who preached the gospel to thousands on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), demonstrates in his first letter that verbal proclamation of the gospel is central to Christian witness and mission in the world. Tom Schreiner writes, “The declaration of God’s praises includes both worship and evangelism, spreading the good news of God’s saving wonders to all peoples.”

It is imperative for Christians around the world to rightly understand not only the missional nature of their identity and lifestyle, but also the critical gospel message that they must explain while living in the midst of a non-Christian world. Dean Flemming writes, “We have seen that Peter focuses on bearing witness through ethical living . . . This does not mean, however, that verbal testimony plays no role in Christian mission. Indeed, the witness of word and life are inseparable in 1 Peter.

In other words, Peter emphasizes at strategic points throughout this letter that those who have been born again to a living hope cannot be silent.

The role of verbal proclamation: 3 mentions

Peter makes at least three explicit mentions regarding the nature and role of verbal proclamation in Christian mission in his letter.

First, Peter refers to the initial explanation of the gospel that the original readers of this letter received that led to their own salvation. Peter writes, “It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look” (1 Pet. 1:12, NASB).

Peter alludes to the fact that it was the gospel that was proclaimed to these believers in Asia Minor that ultimately changed their lives. Furthermore, the language that Peter intentionally uses is not descriptive of a casual or passive conversation, but of active and intentional proclamation of the good news.

Torey Seland writes, “The use of this verb here is crucial, it being the most important term in the NT writings for proclaiming the message of Jesus Christ: εὐαγγελίζεσθαι is not just speaking and preaching; it’s proclamation with full authority and power … one of the most common terms among the early Christians denoting the propagation of the gospel.”

Peter’s emphasis on evangelism early in the letter centers on a clear and articulate presentation of the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It was the announcement of the gospel that brought about genuine change and transformation in the lives of these early Christians in Asia Minor.

Second, Peter highlights the ongoing need and expectation for Christians to continually proclaim the gospel in the world. Incorporating significant Old Testament imagery and language, Peter writes, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9, NASB). Peter asserts that all Christians have a responsibility to speak of the majesty and splendor of God.

Those who have been changed and shaped by the gospel cannot help but speak and share the gospel. Flemming writes, “Missionary proclamation, then, flows out of the church’s identity as a holy priesthood (2:9a), and it partners with the kind of ethical conduct that attracts those outside into the sphere of God’s grace.

The witness of the word is wedded to the witness of life.”

Donald Senior adds, “The Christian mission is to proclaim publicly to the world the ‘great deeds’ of God, that is the acts of salvation that have given life to the Christians and are offered to all who would accept the gospel.”

Central to the witness of the early Christians in 1 Peter is a clear and compelling proclamation of the gospel.

Third, Peter describes the need for Christians to be ready to explain and engage in an apologetic defense of the gospel to anyone and everyone in society. Peter writes, “But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you…” (1 Pet. 3:15, NASB).

The focus for Peter in this passage is on the need for a verbal testimony that explains the hope Christians possess because of what Jesus accomplished on the cross and in the resurrection. Seland writes, “The Christians of 1 Peter are exhorted to have a much more active role in society concerning their faith. In addition to the texts dealt with above, the apologetic emphasis of 1 Pet. 3:15 is another strong indicator of this missional attitude.”

Living a distinct lifestyle in the culture will inevitably provoke questions and inquiries from those in society. As a result, Christians must be able to give a verbal testimony, defense, and response to those who ask about their distinct and contrasting behavior and beliefs. Eckhard Schnabel writes, “The term apologia signifies that they should be prepared to give an account of the objective foundation of their Christian faith and identity.

The Christians to whom Peter is writing, by nature of their transformed lives and missional presence, must be able to speak and respond directly to questions concerning their identity and lifestyle as those who are in Christ.

Use words

In summary, the message that Christians around the world must explain is that of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Verbal witness and proclamation of the gospel are to accompany the good works and conduct of Christians as they live out and speak the gospel to those around them. Christians engage in the world precisely because they have a message of hope to explain to the world.

Furthermore, the missional identity and lifestyle of good works embodied by Christians serves as a stimulus and elicits curiosity and spiritual questions from a watching world. Peter’s evangelistic exhortations to the early Christians in Asia Minor remain applicable for all Christians around the world today. The sharing of the gospel was central to Peter’s message and must be central in our lives as we embody and explain the hope we have in Christ.

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Categories: Seminary Blog

What’s It All Worth Anyway

Fri, 05/10/2019 - 10:30

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Categories: Seminary Blog

I Commend You to Him Who is Able

Fri, 05/10/2019 - 10:00

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Categories: Seminary Blog

When should a member consider leaving a church?

Tue, 05/07/2019 - 10:05

It is the conversation with church members every pastor dreads but inevitably comes to every man who has shepherded a local flock: “Pastor, we need to meet with you and discuss our future at the church. We have been praying about transferring our membership to another church.” Naturally, you ask the inevitable question, “Why?” The answers are as varied as the variety found in wayfaring members, ranging from “The church up the street has more to offer my youth/children” to “We just don’t find things exciting here anymore,” or most troubling, “We love you and your preaching, pastor, we we don’t really like this church.”

There are certainly legitimate reasons to leave a church and sadly, it sometimes become necessary or even a duty to find a more biblically faithful body. Sometimes churches become theologically or morally bankrupt, leaving a sound believer no choice. But it seems in our self-intoxicated, consumer-driven evangelical culture, what is often referred to as “church hopping” seems to have reached a virtual epidemic. There are a number of reasons for this reality with biblical illiteracy, a loss of a robust ecclesiology, a distaste for authority, the disappearance of church discipline and the decay of meaningful church membership ranking high among them.

When not to leave

When should you leave a church? I think it is helpful to first think through a number of reasons why not to leave a church. Here are a few illegitimate reasons for leaving a church, reasons I have heard over the years:

  • Because our children want to go to another church. The most spiritually immature (presumably) members of the family should not single-handedly make the most important decision facing a family. This is perhaps the most common reason I have heard for people leaving a church and I find it deeply troubling.
  • Because there aren’t many people here my age. The body of Christ is supposed to reflect the culture which is made up of a diversity of ages and backgrounds. The church is not a social club, but the gathering of sinners saved by grace. The world should be at odds to explain the church. It should wonder, “What is it that brings together such a diverse collection of people in such a tight bond of love?”
  • Because I don’t like the music. The contemporary/traditional question is usually wrongheaded, in my opinion. Of greater importance is the question: What is the content of the songs being sung? Is the church singing good theology? Tune and text must fit one another, but I find that this debate usually falls out along generational lines.
  • Because the pastor’s sermons are too long. Preaching is the central act of Christian worship and should receive the lion’s share of the time.
  • Because there are many sinners in the church. As Luther put it, followers of Christ are simul iustis et peccator, simultaneously a saint and a sinner. The local church is a hospital for the sick. Obviously, there is a serious sickness where open, wanton, unconfessed sin is tolerated, but that is not what I have in view here.
  • Because the pastor doesn’t do things the way we did back in 19__ (add your favorite year). Tradition can be helpful, but traditionalism is where churches go to die a thousand deaths.
  • Because they don’t have a good youth/children’s program here. Parents are the spiritual caretakers for the children. The church should merely reinforce the biblical truths taught in the home. No church program will adequately shepherd our children; that is the calling of parents, particularly fathers.
  • Because the worship/preaching is boring. The aim of worship is God’s glory, not our amusement.
  • Because they have/don’t have Sunday school. I realize many adherents of family integration will disagree with me here, but I want to argue respectfully that the gospel and theological truth—not secondary convictions—are the proper unifying point for a local church.

Valid reasons for leaving

Those are invalid reasons for leaving a church and there are dozens more besides. But there does come a time when seeking a new church home is a legitimate consideration. So, when should one leave a church? John MacArthur is helpful on this point. He advises (and provides biblical rationale) that you should consider leaving a church if:

  1. Heresy on some fundamental truth is being taught from the pulpit (Gal. 1:7-9).
  2. The leaders of the church tolerate seriously errant doctrine from any who are given teaching authority in the fellowship (Rom. 16:17).
  3. The church is characterized by a wanton disregard for Scripture, such as a refusal to discipline members who are sinning blatantly (1 Cor. 5:1-7).
  4. Unholy living is tolerated in the church (1 Cor. 5:9-11).
  5. The church is seriously out of step with the biblical pattern for the church (2 Thess. 3:6, 14).
  6. The church is marked by gross hypocrisy, giving lip service to biblical Christianity but refusing to acknowledge its true power (2 Tim. 3:5).

Above all, be humble

When members or friends have discussed leaving a church with me through the years, I have typically advised them to stick around and be a gracious, reforming presence and avoid exacerbating the problems in their local body.

Both joining a church and leaving a church are serious business, business for which those involved will give an account before God. Even if it does become clear that leaving is best for us or our family, our attitude must be chastened and humble on the way out.

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Categories: Seminary Blog

When does a pastor stop counseling?

Mon, 05/06/2019 - 08:27

As a pastor or counselor, how do you know when to stop counseling? As you try to decide whether or not to end counseling, you will probably be aware, with some uneasiness, that not every problem has been solved. You will sense the need for more growth or the person’s desire that counseling continue regularly. But these are not adequate reasons to perpetuate counseling. When to end counseling is always a judgment call that requires a lot of wisdom. The decision to bring the counseling process to a close is sometimes clear, but often not.

It’s best to think through the decision to end counseling with some clear criteria. Consider two positive indicators, and four less pleasant ones.

  1. The person understands his problem and is equipped to handle it.

The best indicator for ending counseling is when the person has been adequately equipped to respond in faith to his troubles and is showing a consistent pattern of doing so. The symptoms have lightened: the depression isn’t as bad as it was; the husband and wife have reconciled and have rebuilt their trust; the young man hooked on pornography has had a considerable reprieve from his sexual sin. The pressure of the original problem is no longer wreaking havoc on their life. And suddenly, they don’t feel the need to meet with you anymore. And, as much as you love them, you don’t feel the need to meet with them either.

  1. In the course of your care for them, another person’s care emerges as more effective.

If you are counseling in the context of the local church, you will be utilizing other couples or individuals to come alongside a counselee. Often, these other individuals become more effective than you in addressing the issues of this person’s heart. This is not a threat to your position as pastor or counselor, but rather a mark of how the church should work. It should thrill you that others demonstrate a skill or have an insight that you didn’t. If you recognize this as the case, it may be best to transition them to the care of others.

Sadly, not all counseling ends with a positive conclusion. Sometimes other reasons compel a transition to other counselors or other types of care.

  1. Things don’t seem to be changing at all.

You have tried to help for a while, and things just don’t seem to be going anywhere. They have, at least apparently, been striving to make changes, but the same problem they started with is still plaguing them. Maybe it’s even gotten worse. This may be from a lack of insight or skill on your part, or it may be from hard-heartedness, ignorance, or other factors on their part. Usually it’s a bit of both. But the point is, nothing seems to be making a difference. That’s a good time to consider making a shift to someone else.

  1. They aren’t interested in working.

You will be in counseling situations when counselees will basically use meeting time to gripe, gossip, and complain. But when it comes to the hard work of studying Scripture, thinking through heart motives, confronting sin, or facing their own misgivings, they just don’t want to do it. These folks expect you to do the heavy lifting in the sessions. But we don’t serve our people by indulging their sense of “doing something” about the problem by coming to counseling when they refuse to actually do something. Do not let people deceive themselves into thinking they’re putting forth effort when they’re not. If they do not do the homework and are uninterested in answering the questions you lay out, the counseling needs to end for their sake.

  1. They don’t trust you.

There will also be situations where your mistakes are painfully evident. Maybe you messed up by speaking into a matter without understanding it or by responding to them in plain frustration. You’ve forgotten appointments or been unable to fit them in your schedule with reasonable turnover. Two things you know are true of yourself: you are a sinner and you are a human. The point is, they have lost trust in you — whether through your fault or their unrealistic expectations. Regardless, people will not follow your guidance if they don’t trust you, and it’s time to end counseling. If they are unwilling to trust counsel from anyone else in the church, it may also be time for them to consider moving on to another church.

  1. They need more help than you can offer.

Their problem is intense enough to need more time or expertise than you can offer. You wish you had more time to spend with them, but fulfilling your other responsibilities would become impossible since they would need more than just a one-hour-a-week conversation. For instance, drug addiction can become so out-of-control that strugglers need daily interventions. You wish you had more skill to know the contours of a particular problem, but you don’t have the insight, skill, or time needed to sort through the complexity. Now, keep in mind, the threshold of what you can handle is higher than you might realize. But we also want to recognize that certain troubles have become so spiritually complex or physiologically engrained that you should seek someone with greater skill. The goal is not to pass them off; rather, it’s to get them the help they need.

Don’t feel like a failure if you have to refer them to someone else in the church (another pastor or another mature believer) or someone outside of the church (a counselor or doctor in your community). Sometimes the best way to care for them is not to continue the work yourself, but point them in the right direction — to someone who can give them the adequate time and attention that is needed.

If any of these indicators apply to your situation, it’s probably time to end counseling by asking for a final meeting. Some folks will be more than happy that counseling is over. Others will be quite alarmed. For the latter, a final meeting is a killer for them. They want counseling to go on much longer than is needed, perhaps even arguing with you about how they need more help. If you, in your wisdom (and not your impatience), have concluded that things should wind down, then be gracious and stay the course in bringing things to a conclusion. Don’t let the pitfalls and pressures of overly needy people set the pace of your counseling. Humbly listen to their concerns; pray about it; and then you determine what is best.

Editor’s note: This article is an excerpt from Jeremy Pierre and Deepak Reju’s book The Pastor and Counseling: The Basics of Shepherding Members in Need (Crossway). It is reprinted here from the 9Marks site.

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Categories: Seminary Blog

Author Interview: Donald S. Whitney on “How Can I Be Sure I’m a Christian?”

Thu, 05/02/2019 - 12:14

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Categories: Seminary Blog

Two big reasons the Trinity matters

Wed, 05/01/2019 - 14:10

How much does the Trinity matter to you? If you found out tomorrow that God is actually only one person instead of three, would your relationship with God feel any different? Would it require a drastic overhaul in the way you think or witness or pray? How much does the Trinity matter to you personally?

How much does the Trinity matter to your church? If you found out tomorrow that your beloved youth pastor had become a staunch modalist—he now insists the Father, Son, and Spirit are actually one person in three manifestations instead of three distinct persons—would your church excommunicate him? Or would that seem like splitting hairs? Is the Athanasian Creed really right to say, “Whoever wishes to be saved must think thus of the Trinity. And whoever rejects this faith will perish everlastingly”? Or is that the overstatement of the millennium?

Judging by the church’s historic creeds, Christians used to think the Trinity is really important. Judging by the honest answers likely given to the questions above, many modern Christians have lost the sense of why it’s so important, even if they’ve retained it in their doctrinal statements. But judging by a growing number of voices, there’s a renewed sense we’ve lost something precious that needs to be recovered.

Most of us have retained a formal belief in the Trinity. What we need to recover is an understanding and a felt sense of why it matters so much. To help us do that, here are two reasons why the Trinity matters.

  1. The Trinity matters because the gospel matters

The Trinity isn’t some complicated distraction from the simple gospel—it’s actually part of the gospel. Now, as Fred Sanders once quipped, this doesn’t mean you should begin every witnessing encounter, “God loves you and has a wonderful Trinity for you to understand.” You don’t have to unpack the Trinity in every gospel presentation (although you might, especially if you’re talking to a Muslim).

Nevertheless, I would maintain that the Holy Trinity is right below the surface in even the simplest gospel presentation (and it may poke its head up now and then).

If you don’t believe me—if you still think the Trinity is just advanced theology for the experts—consider John 3:16, one of the most famous and simple gospel statements in the whole New Testament. And think carefully about what it says: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.”

Did you ever notice that even in John 3:16 you’re already wading into trinitarian waters? Don’t get me wrong—I’m not saying that the whole doctrine is here full-blown (you’ll need the rest of John’s Gospel to get the Holy Spirit, including a few verses earlier in 3:5). But just think about all the Trinity-related truths stated or implied in this one simple verse. I can think of at least six:

Two of the three persons are explicitly mentioned: God and his only begotten Son.

The fact that God has a Son tells us that he’s a Father. It also suggests that when Scripture speaks simply of “God,” it’s often referring specifically to the Father.

The fact that the Father gave his Son tells us they’re distinct persons. The Father can’t be the Son if he gave the Son.

It says something about how the Father loves his Son that giving him would be the ultimate demonstration of his fatherly love.

The fact that Jesus is referred to as God’s only Son suggests there’s something unique about Jesus’s sonship. After all, Scripture teaches that God has other sons (Job 2:1; Heb. 2:10). In fact, John has already told us in 1:13 that when we believe in Jesus, we become God’s children. So how can he say that Jesus is God’s only Son? Answer: because while we are sons by grace, he is Son by nature. We become God’s sons by adoption and regeneration, but he doesn’t become God’s Son—he simply is God’s Son, begotten from the Father before all worlds, God from God, light from light, begotten and not made.

John 3:16 tells us that this is how we receive eternal life—by the Father giving his Son. Salvation is trinitarian. The Father has an only, eternally begotten Son, and in his love for sinners he sends that Son for us. The Son of God becomes a Son of Man, so that the sons of men might become sons of God. And then, the Father and Son send their Spirit to to dwell in us so we can experience this new life as sons (John 3:5, 7:37–39, 15:26, 16:12–15).

As Paul puts it in Galatians 4,

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Gal. 4:4–6)

As one writer has said, “The Trinity and the gospel have the same shape.” Are you beginning to see why? This is how God saves us—by sending his Son and Spirit. Our salvation hangs on these two sendings. Without them, God would still be a Father, but he wouldn’t be our Father. He would still have a Son, but he wouldn’t have many sons.

The Trinity matters because the gospel matters.

  1. The Trinity matters because God matters

The Trinity matters because this is who God is. It’s who he always was and would’ve been even if there had been no you, no me, and no heavens and earth. The question isn’t first and foremost, “Is this practical?” or “Will this be on the test?” The question is “Do I want to know God?” As Fred Sanders observes,

It makes no sense to ask what the point of the Trinity is or what purpose the Trinity serves. The Trinity isn’t for anything beyond itself, because the Trinity is God. God is God in this way: God’s way of being God is to be Father, Son, and Holy Spirit simultaneously from all eternity, perfectly complete in a triune fellowship of love. If we don’t take this as our starting point, everything we say about the practical relevance of the Trinity could lead to one colossal misunderstanding: thinking of God the Trinity as a means to some other end, as if God were the Trinity in order to make himself useful.

One reason we Americans neglect the Trinity is because we’re so pragmatic. Instead of asking “Is it true?” we’re more likely to ask “Is it useful?” “Will it help me get ahead?” “Will it make me a better spouse or parent?” Those are good questions, but if that’s all that matters to us, then how are we any different from the pagans? Even the pagans care about those things.

The number one question is, “Do you want to know God?” Because as Jesus said, “This is eternal life: that they know you the only God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

To know God savingly is to know him as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Anything less is sub-Christian. The Trinity matters because God matters, even if it doesn’t strike us as practical.

And yet it is practical.

Because—to bring our two points together—the kind of God we have determines the kind of relationship we will have with him.

For example: Is your God an all-sufficient fountain of joy and love with an inexhaustible supply available for you anytime? Or did your God create you and save you because he was lonely and needed you? It depends. Is your God the unitarian God of Arianism (think Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses), modalism, or Islam? Or is he the biblical three-in-one? The God of John’s Gospel was never lonely, because even in the beginning, before anything made was made, he already had someone with him. “The Word was with God” (John 1:1).

This is good news, because it tells us God didn’t create us because he needed somebody to love. He wasn’t without family. He was already a Father. And he already had an eternally begotten Son, the radiance of his glory and the exact imprint of his nature (Heb. 1:3), lying in his bosom (John 1:18) and basking in his love (John 17:24).

You and I aren’t the result of some man-shaped hole in the Father’s heart; rather, you and I represent the overflow of the Father’s eternal love for his Son—as though the Father had said, “Son, this love of ours is just too good to keep to ourselves. So together with our eternal Spirit, let us make man in our own image, so that others might see and experience our love, and so that you might be the firstborn among many brothers” (cf. Gen. 1:26; Rom. 8:29).

Is the Trinity practical? Let me ask you—what kind of salvation does your gospel give you? A judge who forgives your sins? Not bad. But not good enough. The triune gospel is better by far. It’s God giving himself to you in creation and redemption. The same Son who was begotten by the Father before all worlds was sent by the Father into this world, to live and die for us and our salvation. And the same Spirit who proceeded from the Father and the Son from all eternity was sent by the Father and the Son into this world, to live inside us and bring us to Christ—and through Christ to the Father—so that we might be taken into his family, surrounded by his life and love, to glorify and enjoy him forever.

It’s more than forgiveness. It’s joining an eternal family. It’s being conformed to the image of the Son by the Spirit (Rom. 8:29) and becoming a partaker of the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4). In short, it’s the kind of salvation that only the trinitarian God can offer.

This is the Holy Trinity. This isn’t just a doctrine; this is our life. It’s more than just a mystery or a mind-bending math problem; this is our God, who loves and gave his Son for us (John 3:16), who loves us and gave himself for us (Gal. 2:20), who loves us and lives inside of us (Rom. 5:5).

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Categories: Seminary Blog

How do you handle a ‘church disrupter’?

Fri, 04/26/2019 - 15:48

He is in almost every church.

In fact, the “he” may be a “she,” but I’ll use the masculine pronoun for simplicity.

He is the church disrupter. Unlike church bullies, the disrupter rarely attacks leaders directly. He is good about stirring up dissension, but he seems to always feel like “God led me to do it.” He can have a gregarious and pleasant personality (unlike the typical church bully), and can thus attract a following for a season.

How to recognize them

The disrupter is just that. He disrupts the unity of the church. He disrupts the outward focus of the church. And he disrupts the plans of church leadership. So what are some key traits to watch in church disrupters?

Here are six:

  • He often seeks positions in the church so he can get attention. So be wary if he asks to lead the student group or the praise team or become chairman of the finance committee. He loves to exert his negative influence through key and visible positions.
  • He often votes “no” in business meetings. Again, this tactic is yet another attempt to get attention.
  • He loves to say, “People are saying…” He wants you to think his issue is more widespread than it really is. Another approach is, “If we had a secret ballot vote, there would be a lot more dissenters.”
  • He tries to get followers at the church for his cause of the moment. That is another reason he seeks positions of influence in the church.
  • He often assures the pastor and other church leaders how much he loves them and supports them. And then he goes and stabs them in the back.
  • He loves to use “facts’ loosely for his case or cause. Accuracy is neither required nor expected.

What should a pastor do?

So how should pastors and other church leaders address the problem of church disrupters? Allow me to suggest a few ideas.

  • Determine you will love them as Christ loves you and them. It’s tough, but it can be done in Christ’s strength.
  • Pray for them. Seriously.
  • Be on the watch for them. They can be manipulative and deceptive; they can cause chaos before you see it coming.
  • Get other leaders to help you address the disrupters and their disruption. But, be aware, they will be shocked you perceive them that way.
  • As soon as possible, get them out of key leadership positions. They are a problem now, but they can become toxic later.

I have my theories on why church disrupters act the way they do, but that is a topic for another post. In the meantime, be wary of church disrupters. But love them and pray for them anyway.

That is the way Christ would respond.

Editors’ note: This article originally appearedat Churchleaders.com.

The post How do you handle a ‘church disrupter’? appeared first on Southern Equip.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Duke K. McCall Leadership Lecture

Thu, 04/25/2019 - 10:52
Categories: Seminary Blog

Pastor, don’t neglect the least of these

Wed, 04/24/2019 - 10:15

“Dad, they acted like they didn’t even see us,” one of my children said. The words still ring in my ears to this day.

She made the remark at large church in the suburbs where I was invited to speak. As we waited several minutes to enter the worship hall, we were surrounded by hundreds of people who were excitedly conversing among themselves. But for some reason, no one spoke to us. Maybe it was because we were visitors, or maybe it was because we’re a large family of seven, or maybe it was because of something else. Maybe it was because we were different. Different because we had a child who obviously had special needs.

Thankfully, experiences like that are far and few in between—at least for me. But as I speak to other families who are living with disabilities, the experience of being overlooked is all too common. In fact, for many, it’s their normal experience, even in their own church. Because I know their pain, I am intentionally more sensitive to those in my church (and those who visit my church) who are affected by disabilities.

As a church leader, revitalizer, or church-planter the desire to be faithful at shepherding Christ’s flock must include that no group ever feels overlooked or rejected because they’re different. Unfortunately, too many pastors have not yet seen the need to be intentional at reaching out to the oft-slighted disabled people among them as part of their church growth strategy.

Most church leaders would never deny that the local church should be a ministry of inclusion for all who profess faith in Christ. I’m sure most pastors would embrace the vision of the church as a gospel banquet, which not only includes the typical, but the atypical as well (Luke 14:12-14). But there seems to be a glaring gap between notional gospel rightness and applicational gospel practice, especially when it comes to the disabled.

Pastors can change the landscape of congregations to better reflect the heart of God toward those suffering from and living with disabilities. As a fellow under-shepherd, I offer five pleas to pastors to help assist in reaching out and connecting with those who often feel the most neglected in the church. 

  1. Seek out those in your congregation who are living with and caring for the disabled.

Many Christians living with a disability stay on the fringes of the church. Like Mephibosheth, who was lame in both feet (2 Samuel 9), they live in exile in the land of Lo-debar (which means ‘no pasture’) because they don’t feel welcomed to the greener pastures of the church and its corporate body life. Pastors must be intentional in going after them like all the other sheep who need to sense the inclusive and enfolding love and care of Christ (Luke 15:4).

  1. Make them as much a part of the congregation as any other group in your church.

The thought of coming out of the shadows can be intimidating for families with disability. They’ve had to navigate the various roads of discrimination, rejection, avoidance, and patronization almost everywhere they go.

So, they need a different experience with their family of faith—an experience in which believing will, in fact, lead to belonging because their shepherds see them with the eyes of compassion (Matthew 9:36). A simple luncheon on a Sunday afternoon can communicate volumes of your commitment to them as their caring shepherd. 
 

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  1. Cast a vision for your church of the power of weakness for the full display of God’s redemptive glory.

Until a congregation is led to the reality that God’s transforming power is displayed most fully in the weak and broken, few will make the connection between gospel truths and those suffering with disabilities. Our gospel beckons all “who are weary and heavy laden” to come to Christ for rest (Matthew 11:28-30; Luke 14:16-24).

Fostering an effective disability ministry and culture in your church starts from the top and works its it way down into the lifeblood of the church. There’s more to be gained by doing a series on Jesus’ interactions with the disabled in the Gospels than by simply having wider bathroom stalls (although that’s important too). 

  1. Mobilize those who have a heart to serve to meet the particular needs of those living with disability.

Like all ministries in a local church, servant-volunteers are of the utmost importance. Disability ministry in the church is no different. To faithfully shepherd your families and members with disability, you will need to rally your congregation to crush the barriers of ignorance, indifference and fear. Understandably, many people in the church are uniformed about the lives of those with disabilities and are afraid to broach the conversation for fear of saying or doing something wrong. Pastors can provide forums for discussion and training to make the world of disability more understandable and accessible to the whole congregation.

  1. Model compassion for your congregation by spending time with the disabled of your church.

To walk in the steps of the Chief Shepherd is to spend time with those who are diseased, lame, and blind (Matthew 4:23-24; 15:29-31). Leaders who show this commitment will inspire others to follow their example. Like King David of old, who displayed the covenant love of God by bringing the disabled son of Jonathan into his home to eat at his table regularly (2 Samuel 9:7-13), Christlike pastors will shape and stir the hearts of many by their time commitments and shepherding efforts to the disabled among them.

Pastors’ plates are already full. I know that.  I pray no hardworking church leader will feel any unnecessary guilt after reading this article. God’s grace covers not only our sins, but our weaknesses that may give rise to neglecting certain people in our churches. But we cannot fully glorify our great God if we continue to marginalize those who are the weakest and most needy among us.

Jesus calls us to reach out to all who come to Him in faith and hope. May we have the courage to cross whatever barriers that might exist in order to love and care for the disabled minority within the walls of our churches so the one from whom and through whom and to whom are all things will receive greater glory through us.

The post Pastor, don’t neglect the least of these appeared first on Southern Equip.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Generic Jesus can’t do anything for helpless sinners

Tue, 04/23/2019 - 15:51

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, drive out demons in your name, and do many miracles in your name? ’ Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you lawbreakers!’”Matthew 7:21-23 (CSB)   

Every person in the city of Cincinnati is a Christian.

That’s at least how it felt when I went to the Great American Ballpark to see the Reds play on a hot summer afternoon. The stadium was full of fans who had shown up to watch the Reds take on the Chicago Cubs. There was loud applause after the national anthem was sung, and a fifth-inning home run brought the hometown fans to their feet as the Reds took the lead against their division rivals. But the cheers after that towering home run to center field were nothing compared to the crowd’s reaction in the middle of the seventh inning.

One of my favorite parts of any Major League Baseball game is called the “seventh-inning stretch.” This is where the fans from both teams stand up and stretch their arms and legs while singing the classic song, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” It is a great tradition that brings families and friends together to sing loudly, without a care in the world. For just a moment, all fans are supporting the same thing—the great game of baseball. Legend claims the song first played at a ballpark at a high school in Los Angeles in 1934. The song became synonymous with the seventh inning stretch when broadcaster Harry Caray would lead the fans in singing the song during Chicago White Sox games (and later in his career, with the crosstown rival, Chicago Cubs).

But this particular day at the Reds game, the seventh inning stretch did not deliver quite the nostalgia I was hoping for from my past experiences. This happened to be a Sunday, and ever since the terror attacks on the United States on September 11th, 2001, Major League ballparks have a new seventh inning tradition. On Sundays, singing about peanuts and crackerjacks gets set aside for a more somber display. During the middle of the seventh inning on any Sunday game, every Major League ballpark pauses, brings out the players from each team to stand in a line with their hats removed, and plays the song “God Bless America” for all to sing. (The New York Yankees practice this tradition at each home game, but the other Major League teams observe this as a Sunday tradition.) This Sunday in Cincinnati, 45,000 people stood and sang at the top of their lungs, asking God to bless America.

I’ve been to Christian conferences that filled arenas and nobody sang about God this loudly and cheered so passionately at the conclusion. I stood there and wondered if the ovation after the final note was louder than when the Reds upset the Oakland A’s by sweeping them in the 1990 World Series. As soon as the song was over, we went into “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” and I felt my favorite part of being a fan had the thunder stolen in the name of God blessing our nation.

After the game, I had plans to meet up with some local church planters from my denomination, as is customary for me when I travel. I find that connecting with other church planters is always inspiring, and it is probably nice for them to have someone treat them to a meal or dessert, as church planting can be very difficult. These particular church planters came to Cincinnati because the North American Mission Board (NAMB) had identified it as a “Send City.”

NAMB’s church planting strategy emphasizes highly populated areas with a low number of evangelical churches per capita. Knowing this, I had been so caught off guard by the crowd’s enthusiasm during the seventh inning festivities. I actually paused during the game to “research” NAMB’s evaluation of Cincinnati. Apparently, I thought, there wasn’t a need for church planting in this city because nothing got the crowd more excited than singing about God and asking Him to bless America.

To my surprise, the “Send Cincinnati” information revealed that just 13.7 percent of metro Cincinnati residents were affiliated with an evangelical church. 13.7 percent. That rate is bad even when we’re talking tips at a cheap diner. But as a percentage of people affiliated with a local evangelical church? No wonder NAMB had identified this as a mission field.

So, then, who were all of these people singing so loudly?

That day in Ohio, I was reminded that Cultural Christianity isn’t just an epidemic of the American South. I had just witnessed thousands of people worshiping enthusiastically in the church of civic religion.

The reality of civic religion

Civic religion is practiced from the high school football locker room, where teams incorporate a prayer before the game, to the grand stages of Hollywood, where you can find a celebrity thanking God during an acceptance speech. It is rampant in American politics and is expected from national leaders, though the reasoning for that falls somewhere between tradition and sentimentality. Of course, there are those who go bananas over “God language” in the name of separation of church and state, but that hasn’t yet been able to kill the American practice of sprinkling in sentimental religious language when needed. Has a modern-day sitting president of the United States ever failed to say “God Bless America” as the closing in a major address to the nation? While it is certainly a nice gesture (and I’m sure some have had sincere Christian faith), these small nods to God keep civic religion and Cultural Christianity alive.

Civic religion promotes a god without any definition and a generic faith that means, demands, and asks nothing of its followers. Participants stretch across the cultural spectrum in terms of geography and socioeconomic status. In some areas, civic religion is even proudly theistic and likes the idea of Jesus. Selective words spoken by Jesus in the New Testament will be used and cited when the political cause of the day needs a rally cry. Whether it is government-run healthcare, the death penalty, same-sex marriage, or immigration, Jesus is positioned as having an opinion that can suit one’s side, regardless of one’s adherence to the authority of Scripture as a whole.

A religion of “good people”

When asked to indicate their religion on an application or form, many Americans, without hesitation, would check “Christian.” By this, they mean to say that they are “good people” who believe in God but aren’t Jewish or Muslim. Many people who are comfortable with the idea of God and familiar with some image of Jesus have no concept of what the gospel of Christ actually is.

There is a perception among Cultural Christians that the gospel is for more extreme, perhaps “born again” people. Mainstream cultural Christians aren’t wrapped up in promoting some kind of gospel message. They are simply trying to be nice to others, pursue their idea of personal happiness, pray when something bad happens, and rest in the belief that they are going to heaven after they die. What is missing from their perceived Christianity is the actual gospel of Jesus Christ.

Let’s unmask the generic Jesus

The question that must be answered is how do we reach people who identify as Christians, and simply are not? Perhaps this is the largest mission field in America, but we don’t even realize it because we don’t have a category for a generic theist with a sentimental faith that has nothing to do with the person and work of Jesus Christ.

I have written The Unsaved Christian to help the church understand that this is not a discipleship issue. It is not that people need to get more serious about their faith. I argue, rather, that this is an evangelism issue, and cultural Christians need to be reached with the good news of the gospel. My prayer is we will awaken ourselves to the need, realize this is the state of people in our own families, neighborhoods, and even churches, and get to work pointing people away from a Christianity by culture and toward a Christianity of conviction.

Editors’ note: This article is an adapted excerpt from Dean Inserra’s book, The Unsaved Christian: Reaching Cultural Christianity with the Gospel (Moody).

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Categories: Seminary Blog

Do You Have It In You?

Tue, 04/23/2019 - 10:00

The post Do You Have It In You? appeared first on Southern Equip.

Categories: Seminary Blog

8 reasons the resurrection matters more than you think

Fri, 04/19/2019 - 17:45

I had a conversation with a close friend a few years ago, and he asked me a question that I chewed on for days afterward: Do those of us who adhere to the doctrines of grace tend to downplay the resurrection of Christ? Do we, in our drive to make everything gospel-centered and cross-saturated unintentionally underemphasize the final miracle in the doctrines of grace, the vindication of the Son by the Father in the empty tomb?

The more I have thought about it, the more I wonder if perhaps there is not some subtle truth in this notion, though there is no way to empirically substantiate it. As adherents to historic evangelical orthodoxy, we love to proclaim Good Friday and its staggering implications for fallen humanity. Rightly, we cherish the great truth of Christ’s substitutionary, effectual death on behalf of His people. We exalt His propitiating the wrath of the Father—the wrath that we deserved to bear, Christ bore. How could we not exult in so glorious a truth?

Centrality of preaching the cross

We speak often of Christ’s active and passive obedience and the application of both for the imputation of His righteousness to sinners: “God made him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf so that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” That may be the Olympus of theological truths.

As I thought of these things and my friend’s question, I realized that in my own speaking of the gospel, I always frame as the “person and work of Christ” or His substitutionary atonement, but invariably, I (unintentionally, of course, I’m not suggesting any of us does this on purpose), leave off the resurrection.  In the past few days, I have found myself saying “Christ’s death…and resurrection in our place.” After all, his resurrection secured our resurrection and Paul tells us that we are raised in him.

The resurrection has been the focal point of attack from atheists and liberals throughout the history of the church. Jesus contended with the Sadducees whose central theological thrust was a denial of the resurrection. In the Enlightenment, British empiricist David Hume virtually made a career out of attacking the validity of Christ’s resurrection in his assault on the Christian faith. Hume, the Sadducees and all skeptics know that if one proves the resurrection of Christ false, then the Christian faith and its supernatural power collapses like a house of cards.

8 devastating results if we lose the empty tomb

Of course, we who cherish sound evangelical doctrine certainly also cherish the resurrection of Christ, for without it, the cross is void of significance. With Good Friday looming in a matter of days, Paul’s exposition of the centrality of the resurrection of Christ in 1 Corinthians 15:12-22 serves as a good reminder for us all of the catastrophic consequences for our fallen world if Christ “be not raised.” If the resurrection is not true, then Paul says eight awful truths emerge that renders false the Christian faith. If Christ is not raised, then:

1. Not even Christ is raised.

This is the first and most obvious consequence. This is nuclear fallout. If there is no resurrection from the dead, as Hume and the Sadducees claim, then Christ’s body was eaten by dogs or taken by thieves or secretly removed by Jesus’s disciples or there exists another naturalistic explanation for the claim by hundreds of witnesses to have seen the risen Lord.

2. The preaching of the gospel is useless.

The good news is then no news. Actually, it is bad news. For, apart from the resurrection, Jesus has not conquered suffering, sin or death and these three evils will forever be our conquerors. As Barney Fife always loved to tell people while dispersing a crowd in Mayberry, there is nothing to see here.

3. Faith in Christ is worthless.

Faith in a lifeless corpse buried somewhere in the Middle East will save no one. If Christ did not rise from the dead, then Hebrews 11 would better be dubbed the “hall of fools” instead of the hall of faith.

4. Every witness to the resurrection and all preachers of the resurrection are liars.

To deny the resurrection is to call the apostles and every other New Testament leader liars. They are not simply mistaken, but are peddling a whopper of a myth. Jesus, too, is a liar, for it was He who said, “I am the resurrection and the life.”

5. Christianity is a fairy tale

Scripture is nothing but a book of history comingled with superstition and myths. Missions and evangelism are a colossal waste of time, energy and money. We do not waste effort and resources peddling Mother Goose and we should not waste our time on this ancient myth.

6. All of humanity is still in its sins.

What Paul says remains true, “The wages of sin is death.” Our world is still fallen, still captive to sin, still enslaved to death.

7. Everyone who died is in hell.

There remains no sacrifice for sins, if Christ be not raised. This consequence follows from the sixth one and means that every human being will face the full, unmediated wrath of God for all eternity.

8. Christians are the most pathetic people on earth.

Paul puts it this way, “If Christ be not raised, then we are of most men to be pitied.” Indeed. And this is why the world, as Paul says so well in 1 Corinthians 1, sees the cross of Christ as foolishness. If every part of the Gospel is not true, then we will have spent our days pursuing a God who will not be able to benefit us beyond the grave. Not only are we objects of pity, the skeptics around us are correct. Blaise Pascal’s famous “wager” will do little to make us feel better in eternity.

Soon, the Christian world will celebrate both Good Friday and Easter Sunday. In all the teaching, talking and theologizing we who march behind the banner emblazoned with the five solas tend to do, let us remember that we cannot have the one without the other.

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Categories: Seminary Blog

2 pleas to perseverance in revitalization

Wed, 04/17/2019 - 14:52

I suspect most readers have heard the story of Louis Zamperini from either the best-selling book by Laura Hillenbrand or the major motion picture that chronicles his life. Both are titled Unbroken. Zamperini enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps in 1941 and was stationed in the south Pacific as a bombardier. While on a mission searching for a lost bomber, his plane crashed killing eight of the eleven men onboard. After surviving the crash, Zamperini and two others drifted on two small rafts in the open ocean for more than a month and half. During that time, they drank only small amounts of rainwater and ate small fish and birds that landed on their raft. They fended off numerous shark attacks, nearly capsized in a storm, and were strafed multiple times by Japanese bombers. One of the three men died on the 33rd day of the ordeal.

After 47 days, Zamperini and the other man, Russell Phillips, landed in the Marshall Islands, but their story of survival was just beginning. Immediately captured by the Japanese, they were held in torturous POW camps for the next two years. Zamperini endured horrific mental and physical abuse throughout his imprisonment and unconscionable torment at the hands of one of Japan’s most notorious war criminals, Mutsuhiro “The Bird” Watanabe. As the war came to an end, he was released in August 1945 and returned home to a hero’s welcome.

Zamperini’s story doesn’t end here and the spiritual renewal that followed exceeds his physical endurance. But I stop here to reflect on a comparison. If we’re honest, his story is as far away as it is fascinating. At no point in reading it did I think I could replicate it. I can’t imagine spending one night on the open ocean, spending one day in a POW camp, or spending one minute on the sharp side of an executioner’s sword. His story might make the hair on my neck stand up, but it doesn’t make me think I could walk in his shoes. I love the story, but it is more likely to embarrass me than it is to motivate me. It makes me want to look in the mirror and say, “Hey cry baby, until they rip out your fingernails, you need to quit whining.” The harrowing tale illustrates perseverance in a way that only highlights my weakness.

It might seem odd to compare the extraordinary story of Louis Zamperini with that of a pastor. Certainly his story is very different than ours in a variety of ways. As a pastor, I’m ill-equipped to prepare you for a survival in a life raft or in a prison camp. My keyboard fingers look more like they’ve had a manicure than done manual labor. (Just so we’re clear, I’ve never had a manicure). Most years I suffer more paper cuts on my hands than work blisters. My neck and back pain have more to do with the way I rest my arms on the mousepad than from lifting, carrying, or swinging a heavy tool. I have little to nothing in common with Louis from a physical standpoint.

Yet despite the obvious differences, his story compares well with what we’re called to do in pastoral ministry. As a pastor you probably won’t float in a raft until you nearly starve to death, but you might find yourself adrift amid the tumultuous waters of financial stress, wondering how you’ll feed your family. You probably won’t face torturers who try to break you physically, mentally, and emotionally, but you will suffer the physical effects of the emotional and mental weight of ministry burdens. And your leadership efforts will, at times, chum the waters within a local congregation drawing predators to the surface.

You probably won’t face all manner of insults… oh wait… you likely will face that one. You probably won’t face constant threats on your life, but you will be attacked. At times these assaults will come from those in obvious opposition to you and your leadership, but other times, they’ll arrive in the form of friends. The experiences are miles apart, but they correlate.

Take nothing away from Louis and his remarkable story, but endurance is as necessary for pastors as it is for POWs. I’m not diminishing the gravity of what he faced or presuming to know what he suffered, but pastoral ministry is not for the faint of heart. Surviving four decades in pastoral ministry is just as miraculous as surviving four years in a prison camp. Neither is humanly possible; both require God’s grace and power. One could even argue that surviving in ministry is more remarkable because the battle behind it is supernatural and not natural. I’m not going to argue this with a POW, but I think you get the point.

The difficulties in pastoral ministry combine to call for a word to encourage and equip a generation of pastors to labor with endurance in all fields, but especially in the difficult ones of church revitalization. In these contexts, God’s Word is often not very popular and endurance in ministry is not humanly possible. Shepherding in these fields will mirror Isaiah’s experience of preaching to deaf ears in seasons of stagnation and even decline. These pastors will empathize with Paul’s description of his ministry in Macedonia: “fighting without and fear within.” Yet, hope is not lost, and perseverance is possible. If you know this struggle firsthand, receive two words of encouragement.

  1. Persevere through the trials

First, the trials associated with pastoral ministry are not new and you’re not alone. Throughout the scriptures and church history, faithful pastors have labored under the weight of hostility, apathy, and adversity. These three categories encompass most every specific circumstance in one way or another. Hostility or active aggression toward God, his word, and/or the pastor confronts most who lead a church toward change. Apathy or indifference toward God, his word, and/or the pastor awaits those who lead in places where the status quo is comfortable. Adversity or a wide variety of personal and family burdens, church-related emergencies, and community catastrophes will inevitably arise. Thousands of faithful brothers – some well-known and most entirely obscure – have labored through hostility, apathy, and adversity. None have faced your specific trial or circumstance, but they’ve preached to blank stares, dodged grenades from opponents, taken friendly fire, and persisted amid internal strife.

 

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  1. Persevere through the seasons

Every season and every trial comes by the sovereign and gracious hand of God. Each is instruments for his work in you. God progressively sanctifies each one of his children – including pastors – shaping us into the image of His Son. The struggles of pastoral ministry, therefore, are key tools for this work in us. He will use even these hostile members, apathetic listeners, and adverse circumstances for your good and His glory. To borrow from James 1, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet [these] trials” knowing that they will produce a harvest of fruit in you.

Imagine your average Monday morning. How would you describe your state of mind? Feel like you’re lying in a raft in the middle of the ocean clinging to life? Did you barely manage to escape the strafing by the enemy and the “friendly fire” yesterday? Feel like their prepping for another attack? Do you feel alone? On an island surrounded by people, but without a friend? Feel like a complete failure? Disappointed in yourself because of yet another subpar sermon? Do you feel beaten and battered? Overwhelmed with stress that has nothing to do with the previous day?

Regardless of your state of mind, perseverance is possible because pastoral ministry is a Holy Spirit-empowered, God-honoring, Christ-exalting work. The Lord of Sunday is still the Lord on Monday. Your circumstance has come by His gracious and sovereign hand and these trials are for His purpose in you. He is building his Church and making you blameless at the same time. Don’t lose hope, for the One who has called you is faithful, and he will surely do it.

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