Hosted by pastor-scholar Hershael York, the Pastor Well Podcast provides a wellspring of wisdom from pastors, teachers and ministry leaders about the insights learned from faithful ministry.
In Ephesians 4, the Apostle Paul is preeminently concerned with the unity of the body of Christ — how they function as one unit, how they strive for one mission, how they reach one goal. From the beginning of chapter 4, Paul takes up the task of identifying this “one body.” According to Paul, believers should:
- Walk worthy of their calling (Eph 4:1)
- Bear with one another in love (v. 2)
- Maintain a unity of the Spirit (v. 3)
- Maintain a bond of peace (v. 3)
- Equip others for the work of ministry (v. 12)
- Build up the body of Christ (v. 12)
- Attain to the unity of the faith (v. 13)
- Speak the truth in love (v. 15)
These glorious features of the body of Christ should be the identifying characteristics of all mature believers. Mature believers are essential in achieving the purpose and fulfilling the call to which the church has been called. How do we produce mature believers?
Aren’t we just being picky?
In an age when doctrine is chided and dismissed as arcane, Paul reminds us that biblical sound doctrine is the golden chain through which all the above facets are linked. Without sound doctrine, the chain falls apart and is good for nothing. We could put it another way: Without sound doctrine, the church falls apart.
In Ephesians 4:13, Paul writes, “So that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” As the church is unified and believers are equipped for the work of ministry, they mature and grow from childhood to adulthood. Paul had the same analogy in mind when he wrote 1 Corinthians 13:11, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.”
Paul is clear that the primary means by which believers are matured and grow up in the faith is through the teaching and practice of sound doctrine. Therefore, the church must not only be concerned with the unity of the body, the abiding fellowship with Christ, and Christ-likeness but also in the knowledge of sound doctrine. In other words, Paul is offering the church a warning. If you are not matured in sound doctrine, you will be dangerously “tossed to and fro.”
A matter of maturity
Using Paul’s analogy of childhood and adulthood (or maturity), those susceptible to being “tossed to and fro” are children. In their immaturity, children will believe just about anything you tell them. As a boy, if it were up to me, I would have eaten Snickers bars for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Children are undiscerning and have to be carefully taught, educated, and molded. My mother recounts the story of how unafraid of the water I was when I was a young boy. We would vacation to the beach, and I would immediately run into the ocean completely unafraid of the potential dangers of hazards. I had to be instructed that flotation devices were an absolute necessity until I learned to swim. At that point in my maturity, I was unable to discern between the danger of drowning and my desire to have fun.
Paul says, young believers are like children, they are undiscerning, unable to differentiate between what is true and what is false. Therefore, they can be easily deceived and are “carried about by every wind of doctrine.” Pastorally, I have seen this again and again throughout twenty-five years of ministry. Believers who are not properly grounded in the Scripture are easily persuaded to shift doctrinal positions. Every new fad, every flashy new book, every new healer, every new snake oil salesman is able to persuade them of just about anything.
How do we mature?
How do we mature beyond this point of gullibility? How do young believers come to the place they can properly discern between the truth of God’s Word and false doctrine? Just as you physically grow by eating and drinking, our Lord wants us to nourish ourselves on the words of sound biblical doctrine. This is how Christians are to be equipped for the work of the ministry––by learning to abide in the Word. You become like John describes in 1 John 2:14, “You are strong because the Word of God abides in you, and you’ve overcome the wicked one.”
We often desire quick fixes or crafty methodology to reach maturity. But, Paul is clear that believers must know the Word of God. Otherwise, we are prone to be deceived by “human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Eph. 4:14). Paul is talking about here going astray from the truth. You can be sure that Satan uses clever schemes to attack young believers who are not yet able to properly discern between that which is true and that which is false. He desires to trap and ensnare people with his craftiness. John MacArthur comments: “Believers must be strong to be safe from instability, and the only way you’re going to protect them from false doctrine is to give them true doctrine.”
What is the practical implication here? Believers of all maturity levels must remain consistently in the reading and study of God’s Word and under the preaching and teaching of sound doctrine. There are no short-cuts. There are no substitutes.
In my teenage years, while on vacation with my family at the beach, I discovered a sand bar a few hundred feet from the shoreline. The water between the beach and the sand bar was visibly deeper. I had reasoned that I could exert myself in order to get to the sand bar, rest once I arrived, and then swim back. So, I set out in full confidence; there would be no problems. I exhausted myself in swimming to the sand bar only to find the water was much deeper than I had anticipated, and I couldn’t touch the sea floor. Every muscle I had ached, and I was finding it difficult to stay afloat. I held my breath, sank to the bottom to rest my arms and legs, and tried to muster enough strength to make it back to the shallow water. From the beach, my dad noticed I was struggling, grabbed a float, and began paddling after me. When he arrived, my head was barely above the water.
My initial confidence was like many young believers, as they are not skilled or trained to withstand the deeper waters of craftiness and immediately sink to the bottom. The Lord Jesus has provided the float of sound doctrine to rescue us from absolute ruin and destruction. Take hold, savor, and delight in God’s truth to mature you into the likeness of our dear Lord, Jesus Christ.
Editors’ note: This article was originally published at Servants of Grace.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The post Compel People to Come In, that My House Shall Be Filled appeared first on Southern Equip.
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.
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.
The post Thinking in Public: Christianity and Politics in an Age of Upheaval appeared first on Southern Equip.
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:
- Heresy on some fundamental truth is being taught from the pulpit (Gal. 1:7-9).
- The leaders of the church tolerate seriously errant doctrine from any who are given teaching authority in the fellowship (Rom. 16:17).
- 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).
- Unholy living is tolerated in the church (1 Cor. 5:9-11).
- The church is seriously out of step with the biblical pattern for the church (2 Thess. 3:6, 14).
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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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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.
- 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.
- 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).