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2 pleas to perseverance in revitalization

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - 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.

The post 2 pleas to perseverance in revitalization appeared first on Southern Equip.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Neither Forsaken nor Estranged from God

Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary - Wed, 04/17/2019 - 14:51
Not long ago, I was able to attend a conference, where Dr. Mark Snoeberger presented on the question of what may rightly be said about the death of God in the death of Christ. This paper, published in The Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry, is a written form of that presentation. I heartily encourage you... Read More
Categories: Seminary Blog

Neither Forsaken nor Estranged from God

Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary - Wed, 04/17/2019 - 14:51
Not long ago, I was able to attend a conference, where Dr. Mark Snoeberger presented on the question of what may rightly be said about the death of God in the death of Christ. This paper, published in The Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry, is a written form of that presentation. I heartily encourage you... Read More
Categories: Seminary Blog

10 priorities for the busy pastor

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Wed, 04/17/2019 - 10:54

Everyone is busy. This is the reality of our modern culture. There is work that needs to be done, a family to care for, a house and car to maintain, friendships to cultivate, doctors to visit.   There are kid’s activities to schedule and guests to host. For those of us who are Christians, you can add to the normal busyness of life attendance at church, possibly volunteering once a week. Life in the twenty-first century feels like an unending rat race. We only slow down when crisis and sickness force us to take a break.

Those who pastor God’s people experience many of the same pulls, pressures, demands, and responsibilities as other Christians. And because a pastor is called to be involved in the lives of the people in his congregation, he must learn to juggle his own schedule with the busy and hectic schedules of his church members as well. Their busy lives create additional tension in ministry, setting many pastors up for failure—even before they begin.

Two traps

Many pastors fall into two traps.

In some cases, a pastor quickly realizes that he cannot provide adequate care for his congregation, so he doesn’t. Even with a smaller congregation, it’s not possible to be at every surgery, ball game, funeral, doctor’s visit, home invitation, church work-day, and counseling request. Discouraged, some stop trying altogether. A pastor may choose to focus more broadly on administrating large activities, managing busy programs, and overseeing the general functioning of the local church, leaving the work of “ministry” to others—or neglecting it altogether.

On the other hand, some determined pastors recognize that they can’t do it all but they commit to pushing through the pain. They set an ambitious hand to the plow and hope that with enough effort they will at least please some people. This approach has its own dangers, though. The pastor is now enslaved to the demands and needs of his church. The congregation, whether directly or indirectly, largely determines how his time is spent. His ministry faithfulness and fruitfulness will be based on how happy his congregation is with his efforts, and while some will be pleased, there will always be people who can never be satisfied. Satisfying people becomes his way of measuring faithfulness, yet this will leave him feeling exhausted and empty.

 

His true calling 

A pastor is not called to run programs for the masses. Nor is he called to do it all and try to please everyone. God is the one who calls pastors to ministry, and the specifics of that calling are clearly outlined in God’s Word. The only way a pastor can avoid these pitfalls and remain steadfast throughout his life and ministry is to know what God has truly called him to do—and to do it! The Apostle Peter exhorts elders/pastors to be shepherds—to care for God’s people. He writes:

Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away (1 Peter 5:2-4).

Peter’s exhortation to pastors can be summarized in a single sentence, “Be shepherds of God’s flock under your care until the Chief Shepherd appears.” And in case you missed it, Peter is pretty clear about the who, what, when, and how of a pastor’s biblical calling.

What: Be shepherds of God’s flock.

Who: The flock that is under your care.

How: Not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.

When: Until the Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ, returns for his flock placed in your care.

A pastor’s true calling, then, is to shepherd the souls of God’s people humbly, willingly, and eagerly, and to do all of this on behalf of the Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ. This has not changed from the time Peter wrote these words until today. Though our culture has changed and life is quite different today than it was in the first century, the basic responsibilities of pastoral ministry have not changed.

The word of God is sufficient to provide us with an outline of a pastor’s divine calling, and it is sufficient to instruct a pastor in how he should prioritize his daily schedule. God’s Word consistently highlights the priorities of faithful shepherds and affirms that these priorities revolve around the core calling—to “be shepherds of God’s flock under your care.”   God’s Word has the power to cut through the demands, pressures, and expectations that crush a pastor’s spirit.

Ten priorities for ministry

In my book from a few years back, The Pastor’s Ministry, I set forth ten key priorities that should be at the heart of every pastor’s ministry. Here they are:

1.      Guard the truth (2 Tim. 1:13-14)

A pastor must be committed to the Word of God and the apostles’ teachings and willing to preach, teach, and defend them when they are contrary to the culture.

2.     Preach the Word (2 Tim. 4:1-2)

A pastor must faithfully preach the whole counsel of God’s Word, carefully explaining the meaning of the text and applying it to the lives of those under his care.

3.     Pray for the flock (Eph. 6:18)

A pastor should be an intercessor, bringing the needs of his church before God and modeling prayer both publically and privately.

4.     Set an example (1 Tim. 4:12)

A pastor is an example to his flock and should always be aware that others are looking to him as a model. While a pastor should model righteous behavior, he must also model confession and repentance, acknowledging that he is also a sinner and teaching his people how to apply the gospel to life.

5.      Visit the Sick (James 5:14)

Pastors should visit those who are sick and in need of care and encouragement, and they must train up others in the congregation to help care for others in need.

6.     Comfort the grieving (1 Thess. 4:18)

In the face of death, a pastor should grieve with those who grieve and should sensitively remind those who are grieving of the hope and encouragement of the gospel. This involves preaching gospel-focused messages at funerals and graveside services.

7.     Care for widows (1 Tim. 5:3)

A biblical teaching that is much neglected today, pastors are responsible for the widows of the church and should find creative ways to model care for widows by involving their families and other members of the church in caring for these special women.

8.     Confront sin (Matt. 18:15-17)

Pastors need to confront sin and lead the church in the exercise of discipline in the hope of repentance and restoration.

9.     Encourage the weaker sheep (1 Thess. 5:14)

 

Though it can be tempting to dismiss people who are slow to change, God calls pastors to model patience and persevering hope by working with those who are difficult, despairing, and challenging.

10.  Identify and train leaders (2 Tim. 2:2)

It is the primary responsibility of pastors to identify, raise up, train, and affirm leaders in the church. Every pastor should have a plan for how to do this in his local church and should be actively seeking out the next generation of leaders.

Each of the priorities listed above are grounded in God’s Word and then should be practically fleshed out in the context of life and ministry. We need to be biblically grounded in these pastoral imperatives before we can develop the practical tools to engage in these tasks.

 

Ultimately, I pray that every pastor who feels the burdens and pressures of ministry and who deals with the impossible expectations of shepherding people will be freed from the bondage of meeting every need, giving away time that is not available, trying to be at two places at once, and maintaining countless unappreciated head-spinning tasks. My hope is that the power of God’s Word will invigorate every pastor to see what God desires for his life and ministry and to better discern what he can do that will please the Chief Shepherd.

The post 10 priorities for the busy pastor appeared first on Southern Equip.

Categories: Seminary Blog

1 Kings 18:17-40

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Tue, 04/16/2019 - 10:00

The post 1 Kings 18:17-40 appeared first on Southern Equip.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Why Do Christians Believe in the Trinity? Is It Rational?

Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary - Mon, 04/15/2019 - 11:22
Christians are people of the book, but the word “Trinity” is not found anywhere in the Bible. So, is the Trinity a biblical doctrine? And if so, is it rational? What Does the Bible Teach? Though the Bible does not contain one verse that sums up the Trinity, it gives at least three distinct truths... Read More
Categories: Seminary Blog

Why Do Christians Believe in the Trinity? Is It Rational?

Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary - Mon, 04/15/2019 - 11:22
Christians are people of the book, but the word “Trinity” is not found anywhere in the Bible. So, is the Trinity a biblical doctrine? And if so, is it rational? What Does the Bible Teach? Though the Bible does not contain one verse that sums up the Trinity, it gives at least three distinct truths... Read More
Categories: Seminary Blog

New Resource: KJVParallelBible.org

Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary - Fri, 04/12/2019 - 12:50
A unique resource has finally been fully completed, and I thought our readers should take note. Mark Ward, a graduate of BJU who now works at Logos, has worked for two years compiling a helpful resource for comparing the Greek text underlying the KJV (TR) with modern versions (UBS/NA).[1] The unique element is that the... Read More
Categories: Seminary Blog

New Resource: KJVParallelBible.org

Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary - Fri, 04/12/2019 - 12:50
A unique resource has finally been fully completed, and I thought our readers should take note. Mark Ward, a graduate of BJU who now works at Logos, has worked for two years compiling a helpful resource for comparing the Greek text underlying the KJV (TR) with modern versions (UBS/NA).[1] The unique element is that the... Read More
Categories: Seminary Blog

What is the unpardonable sin?

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Fri, 04/12/2019 - 10:43

I still remember well, as a young Christian, listening to The Bible Answer Man radio show. I don’t remember much of what was said, but I distinctly recall the occasional poor troubled souls who’d call in hoping for consolation, despair in their voice, fearful they’d committed the unforgivable sin — blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.

Little did I know at the time, those late 2oth-century callers were only the latest in 2,000 years to worry about whether they’d indeed committed the blasphemy of the Spirit. We know this was an issue in the early church, and different branches of the church had different opinions. For many, it was understood that a falling away under persecution, for example, was this kind of unforgivable sin. And we know different portions of the church split over whether a relapsed Christian could re-enter the church.

Fast forwarding, we read in John Bunyan’s famous and influential tale his own wrestling with this issue. Indeed, in the last 300 years, probably the largest group of people who’d be anxious about this kind of question came from Puritan stock. We know of many stories including a most tragic one where an English Puritan named John Child actually took his own life, convinced in despair and melancholy he’d committed this unforgivable, unpardonable sin.

Texts and their reception

The “blasphemy of the Holy Spirit” language comes directly from the Gospels and is found in parallel accounts in Matthew 12:31-32, Mark 3:28-29, and Luke 12:10. Beyond this threefold witness, it also appears in roughly the same form in the Didache (11:7), and it’s the 44th saying in the Gospel of Thomas. In all these cases the literary context varies slightly, but there’s a consistency in emphasizing the one greatest and unforgivable sin—the “speaking against” or “blaspheming” of the Holy Spirit.

Ambrose and the Didache understand the unforgivable sin to be opposing the Spirit’s work — not just in Jesus’ day, but continuing through his Spirit-inspired prophets in the contemporary church. Many in the church connected this saying with the “sin unto death” of 1 John 5:16, understood as an unforgivable post-conversion relapse, while others interpreted it more generally as a rejection of the gospel. Augustine, who dedicated at least one whole sermon to this topic, is typical and influential in arguing the blasphemy isn’t a specific act but a state of enmity and impenitence lasting unto death. It’s a hardness of heart that, if not repented of in this life, will prove to be unforgiven. In this sense, then, the blasphemy is understood simply as unbelief that persists throughout life.

Space doesn’t permit a fuller exploration of the nuances of these views nor, more importantly, a thorough examination of each of the Gospel passages in their literary and historical context—something essential for the wisest reading of these texts. This would include a sensitive reading that allows each Gospel writer to make his own nuanced interpretive application of the famous blasphemy saying. (For example, Luke’s witness to this saying seems most generic and less contextualized than Matthew’s and Mark’s.)

Nevertheless, we can highlight here what seems to be the overall meaning as well as note some common misinterpretations. On the latter score, it’s important to emphasize that however one interprets the blasphemy saying, it cannot be construed as the same thing as “grieving” or “quenching” the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30; 1 Thess. 5:19). These instructions from Paul aren’t warnings of unbelief to Christ’s hard-hearted opponents (as in the Gospel accounts) but exhortations to Spirit-imbued believers to continue in Spirit-empowerment, not giving themselves over to bitterness and conflict. Paul makes it clear: Christians must resist prohibiting the mysterious work of God in the assembly of God’s people.

Another misinterpretation would be to understand the blasphemy too generically as meaning that anyone who at any point rejects Christ openly can’t be a true Christian later. While we may initially read these texts this way (especially in Luke’s least-explained version), the New Testament’s own retelling of key events belies this interpretation. Specifically, we see contrary evidence in both Peter and Paul. Paul’s conversion story wasn’t simply one of ignorance and then acceptance of Christ but rather one of hardened opposition to Christ and his followers preceding his conversion (Acts 9:1-19). Such open rejection of Jesus apparently wasn’t an unforgivable sin. Even more shocking, Peter himself — after following Jesus for some time — denies him openly (three times!), yet is restored not only to forgiveness but leadership in the early church (John 18:15-27; 21:15-19). Without question, this sin on Peter’s part, though equal parts serious and incontrovertible, cannot be construed as an unforgivable blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.

Final choice

So what does the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit really mean, and how does it apply to us today? In short, I suggest it’s a specific, active, and final choice to declare the person and work of Jesus as being demonic in origin. The specificity of this charge is clearest in the most detailed version of the event we have, retold by Matthew (12:22-37). There it’s clear that, after a contracted series of interactions with Jesus, the Pharisees have made a final, declarative decision that Jesus is not from God and must be killed (12:14 is the turning point of Matthew’s narrative on this score). As a result, they have no choice but to openly interpret Jesus’ good works of healing and teaching as Satanic in origin. Jesus, in a showing of his incredible wisdom, reveals the terrible inconsistency of their logic (12:25-29). Instead, he argues, these godly works come from God’s Spirit. Therefore, to call the Spirit’s work through Jesus demonic is the greatest, unforgivable sin (12:31-32).

Augustine’s view that the unforgivable sin is a state of unrepentant enmity toward God isn’t wrong, but it doesn’t deal with the specificity to which the Gospel texts speak. It’s certainly a truism and a valid reading/application of these texts to argue that a state of unbelieving enmity toward Christ results in no forgiveness. But the first reading of the blasphemy of the Spirit in the Gospel texts is much more specific: it’s a hardened evaluation of Jesus’ work as being demonic in origin.

Matthew’s additional material in 12:33-37 both makes this reading clear and also shows interpreters have regularly misunderstood how 12:33-37 relates to 12:22-32. Despite our New Testament editions’ paragraph break at 12:33, these following verses aren’t a new, unrelated section but the culmination of Jesus’ conflict with his opponents and the explanation of what this blasphemy is. Continuing in his argument, Jesus forces the Pharisees to face their own position and make a choice—either declare that he’s a good tree or a bad one (12:33). It makes no sense to say he’s a bad tree (demonic in origin) producing good fruit (healings). This statement, which is regularly conflated with Matthew’s other uses of the tree analogy (3:10; 7:15-20), is actually the same argument he’s just made about the illogicality of his opponents’ position (12:25-29). Again, the blasphemy against the Spirit is saying that Jesus’ good works (by the Spirit) are the fruit of a bad (demonic) tree.

This in turn also explains the equally troubling saying in 12:36-37: “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” Rather than being a general statement indicating all of us will be faced at the pearly gates with an embarrassing video recording of all the stupid things we said in life, these verses directly address and complete the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit argument. Jesus is warning his opponents that these careless words (that Jesus’ work is demonic in origin) will result in their condemnation—another way of saying they won’t be forgiven for this hardened position of opposition to him.

His smiling, welcoming face

So when troubled souls come to us anxious about having committed the unpardonable sin, what shall we say?

It’s important to emphasize in the first instance that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is a specific, hardened opposition to Jesus that entails deeming his work as demonic in origin. I doubt many of our parishioners will find themselves in such a position. It is not, again, any failure to obey a perceived leading of the Spirit in our lives.

This isn’t to minimize the pinch and pain of these strong words of Jesus. It’s a valid extension to warn people of a persistent hardness of heart in opposition to Jesus. But this is a message not for the tender conscience or the stumbling believer, but rather for the pseudo-religious who stands over against Jesus in smugness. The Peters and Pauls and millions of other believers through history have failed and fallen and have yet found Jesus’ smiling, welcoming face of forgiveness.

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

The post What is the unpardonable sin? appeared first on Southern Equip.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Effective Witnessing

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Thu, 04/11/2019 - 10:00

The post Effective Witnessing appeared first on Southern Equip.

Categories: Seminary Blog

3 ways to revitalize the revitalizer

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Wed, 04/10/2019 - 11:24

Since I was born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee, the beaches of Florida were always within a day’s drive.  I love the gulf coast so much, that even as a college pastor I took our students on summer trips to Destin. Once on the beach, I always made sure that I knew where my condo was and would use that as my directional marker. On one occasion, I remember being out in the ocean for around 30 minutes simply having a good time and soaking up the sun with everyone. However, when I went to look up and head back to the beach, I did not see my directional marker. What happened? I had been drifting and did not even know it.

Biblical community, in essence, is biblical accountability. As revitalization leaders and pastors, when we hear the word “community,” we tend to think in terms of small groups, fellowship gatherings, and basically shepherding the sheep. However, we need to be asking the question, “Who is shepherding the shepherd?” Simply put, it is not just the sheep that need biblical community and accountability, but also the shepherd.

I remember the day like it was yesterday. It was the day I helped my family bury one of my heroes, best friend, and the man who helped raise me: my grandfather. I will never forget the words that someone shared about him back on that August day of 2006 in Memphis, Tennessee. His pastor shared that he was a marathon runner, not simply a sprinter. If you knew my grandfather, you would have known that he was not a marathon runner physically, but he was indeed spiritually. He finished well and the day that he went home to be with his Lord, he was still faithful to his Savior, wife, family and local church. Those words were downloaded into my memory bank that day and have crossed my mind on a constant basis ever since.

Let’s face it; revitalizing a local church is indeed a marathon and not a sprint. I believe in order for us to finish the race well, we need to set up some basic boundaries and mile-markers along the way. Here are a few practical suggestions to help us to keep from drifting and staying revitalized as we lead the revitalization effort:

1. Get Alone with God

Proverbs 1:5 teaches us to, “Let the wise listen to these proverbs and become even wiser. Let those with understanding receive guidance.” Growing churches have growing leaders. Before there can be activity for God, there must first be intimacy with God. Communion with the Lord on a daily basis is an essential.

2. Guard Your Heart

Proverbs 4:23 teaches us to, “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” Yes, I am theologically aware that as a born-again believer we are called saints. This does not mean however that we are no longer sinners. The struggle is real. As John Owen once said, “be killing sin or sin will be killing you.

 

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3. Gather a Team

Proverbs 11:14 teaches us that, “Without wise leadership, a nation falls; there is safety in having many advisers.” Pray and select a group of men that will love you enough and give them the freedom to hold you accountable and speak into your life. This is where it is so critical to have biblical community in the life of a church revitalization or any church for that matter. The leader must crave community. You cannot lead where you have not been. If we expect those who follow our leadership to be in community, then we must lead by example.

In his book, Dangerous Calling, Paul Tripp clearly portrays this truth by simply stating that he finally came to the understanding that he needed others in his life. He further claims that growing up, he had no idea that his walk with God was indeed a community project. Let us remember the words of our Lord in Hebrews 3:13, “You must warn each other every day, while it is still today, so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God.” We need community. We need accountability. We need one another. We also need revitalization.

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Categories: Seminary Blog

The most important gift for a missionary

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Tue, 04/09/2019 - 14:38

What is the best gift for a missionary? I’m thinking particularly of a missionary who is called to proclaim the gospel and to win converts among the unconverted.

Every missionary would love to be gifted in the many ways as the apostle Paul, who proclaimed the gospel boldly, did signs and wonders and miracles, and turned the world upside down (Acts 17:6). But when we come back down to earth, we realize that we won’t be like the apostle Paul, even though the Lord may use us in dramatic ways.

How, then, should we think about our gifts as missionaries? I will suggest that the gift we need most of all isn’t the first one that comes to our minds when we think of gifting for ministry.

Evangelism and teaching

Two of the most coveted gifts among missionaries are evangelism and teaching.

It’s hard to vote against evangelism (Eph. 4:11) since those who have such a gift are particularly gifted to proclaim the good news of Christ crucified and risen for the forgiveness of sins. Philip is identified as an evangelist (Acts 21:8), and Paul’s words to Timothy function as a good reminder to all missionaries: “Do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim. 4:5).

While pride of place should be given to evangelism for missionaries who are laboring to win the lost, the gift of teaching plays a crucial role as well. The gift of teaching, which means that one explains and unpacks the words of Scripture, receives prominent attention among spiritual gifts (Rom. 12:7; 1 Cor. 12:28; 14:6, 19, 26; Eph. 4:11; cf. 1 Pet. 4:11). Any missionary who has a gift for evangelism will be especially well-suited for the work if the gift of teaching is also present. Those who are converted desperately need clear and faithful teaching which helps new believers grasp the good news they’ve embraced.

The most important gift

What a blessing for a missionary to have the gift of evangelism or the gift of teaching, but Paul reminds us that there is an even “better way” (1 Cor. 12:31). The most important quality for a missionary is love. If missionaries don’t have love, all their evangelism and teaching is “a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Cor. 13:1). Perhaps their knowledge of apologetics and of theology is deep and profound, but without love, they are “nothing” (1 Cor. 13:2). Yes, there is even deep sacrifice which is not accompanied by love (1 Cor. 13:3).

Missionaries are ordinary humans like the rest of us; what they need most is to “be filled by the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18), to “walk by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16), to be “led by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:18), to “keep in step with the Spirit” (Gal. 5:25), and to “sow to the Spirit” (Gal. 6:8). Only in this way will they produce “the fruit of the Spirit,” which is “love” (Gal. 5:22). Missionaries need supernatural power and divine strength, enabling them from on high to carry out their ministries.

Even those who are gifted as missionaries face many discouragements: (1) adjusting to a new a culture that may be significantly different from one’s own, (2) financial pressures, (3) health challenges, and (4) struggles with children.

Also, discouragement may set in when the work isn’t going as one hoped, when there aren’t as many converts as one anticipated, or when some of those converted fall back into sin or when they mature slowly. What is perhaps most surprising to some missionaries are the tensions that can erupt with other missionaries on the field. They anticipated a happy band, a united team effort. But life on the ground turns out to be quite different.

Power of the Spirit

What the missionary needs most, as we saw in Scripture, is the power of the Spirit. And the power of the Spirit leads to a life of love, and “love is patient” (1 Cor. 13:4), recognizing that our schedule and our timetable aren’t the same as the Lord’s. Love isn’t “irritable” with fellow missionaries, and it doesn’t keep a list of the wrongs they have done (1 Cor. 13:5). Such love doesn’t mean that decisions should be avoided.

Sometimes missionary teams need to go separate ways if their philosophy of ministry is radically different, but in every situation, the Lord calls us to spiritual maturity, to kindness (1 Cor. 13:4). We’re to beware of being envious or boastful as if we’re always in the right (1 Cor. 13:4).

So, what do missionaries need most?

Yes, they need spiritual gifts and abilities to serve. But the best gift for any missionary—and for any Christian for that matter—is to be like Jesus, since Jesus is the paradigm of love (John 15:12–13). God is working all things for our good so that we will “be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:29). We’re most like Jesus when we live sacrificially as he did and when we pour out our lives for the sake of others.

Editors’ note: This article was originally published on the IMB blog.

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Categories: Seminary Blog

4 things to remember when choosing worship music

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Fri, 04/05/2019 - 09:44

This traditional wedding adage for the bride is good advice for serving the bride of Christ musically each Sunday. While everyone has their favorite music, the bride of Christ represents a diversity of age, perspective, and preference. Every service has the potential of serving everyone while inevitably frustrating someone. If done well, each service will likely accomplish both.

1.     Something old

The bride wears an heirloom from the past to represent continuity with her heritage. This is done to show that she has a past with which she wants to remain connected. Musical choices in worship should reflect the rich heritage of the church’s musical worship past. Singing songs from the past demonstrates dependence upon the doctrine and practice of previous generations of worshipers.

2. Something new

The bride wears something new to show hope for the future. This demonstrates the newness of the marriage and anticipation for what is to come. Musical choices in worship should reflect this evidence of what is happening now in the church. Singing a “new song” demonstrates the relevance of Christ and his gospel to today’s generation of worshipers and hope for the future of the gospel’s work.

3. Something borrowed

The bride wears something borrowed typically from a happily married couple. This demonstrates the desire to honor the other couple by affirming the health of their marriage and seeking and hoping for a similar result in the new marriage. Music in worship should reflect this recognition of other groups who exemplify healthy, Christ-honoring music. Learning from others who worship well is a way the universal church can be edified by the example and practice of local churches.

4. Something blue

The bride wears something blue because the color “blue” represents love, purity, and fidelity. The implications here for both the bride and the church should be obvious. Whatever we sing should exemplify love for Christ, purity according to his word, and fidelity of the bride to Christ alone. Whether old, new, or borrowed, the ultimate test is the “blue” test. We cannot sing old songs just because they are “old.” Nor can we sing new songs just because they are “new.” And borrowing something that does not pass the “blue” test reveals a desire to emulate the wrong models. Whatever else they are, all of our songs should be blue.

This Sunday sing something old, new, borrowed, and blue. Someone will inevitably not be satisfied because it was not all “old” or all “new,” but if it is blue everyone will be served well and the bride of Christ will be encouraged to live like the true and faithful bride of Christ.

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Categories: Seminary Blog

3 ways God’s grace is amazing

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Fri, 04/05/2019 - 09:35

“Grace, Grace, God’s grace, grace that is greater than all our sin.” Such is the line from the old hymn by famed 19th-century hymnist Julia Johnson. The hymn goes on to speak of how God’s grace covers and forgives our sin, most evident in the atoning work of Christ on the cross. “Marvelous, infinite, matchless grace, Freely bestowed on all who believe!”

What a beautiful and timeless biblical truth, but there is much more to grace than our forgiveness of sin (though that’s a pretty big deal). God’s grace extends past forgiving our sins and provides the means for sustaining our entire lives. David in Psalm 41 provides readers with a beautiful picture of sustaining, transforming, and forever grace in the life of the believer.

1. Sustaining grace in the day of trouble (vv. 1-3)

What does your day of trouble look like? For some of us, today has been a day of trouble. For others, the day of trouble has been going on for months. And for others, the day of trouble has been a much longer season. Perhaps you feel like your life is one long day of trouble. We all know that we will have trouble in this life. And yet we have a promise of deliverance. We have a promise of protection. We have a promise of life. We have a promise of the Lord’s sustaining grace.

How have you seen the work of God’s sustaining grace in your life this week? It doesn’t take long to see how the Lord is sustaining us, even if we find ourselves in trials and hardship. We need to remember that this is not a promise towards perfect health and prosperity, nor is it a form of karma where one good work is met with equal blessing. The Psalmist is describing the life of the “blessed” one or the one who lives in the happiness of knowing and obeying the Lord. These characteristics and promises belong to the one who has placed their faith and trust in the Lord.

2. Transforming grace in the day of our offense (vv. 4-7)

The Psalmist, though speaking from the place of blessing (see v. 2), realizes that such a life will still include sin (both personal and the sin of others). Living a happy life before the Lord includes the realization that His forgiveness is necessary, both for us and for others. What area of your life are you longing for transformation? In what areas of your life do you want to see freedom? Maybe it’s personal sin, or perhaps it’s a cycle or pattern of sin. Maybe it’s suffering caused by the decisions of someone else, and they are continuing to weigh you down.

There is room in these verses to include both our personal sin and the sin of others. Either way, each is in need of transformation. We long to see the Lord transform our hearts and the situations which are causing us suffering and distress. This is the hope and the Psalmist. And this leads to the third important facet of grace in the life of a believer.

3. Forever grace in our day of triumph (vv. 8-13)

In this section of Psalm 41, we can connect the dots directly to the experience of Christ in His betrayal by Judas. Christ knows what it means to be betrayed and to suffer injustice at the hand of another. When you feel betrayed, did you know that you can turn to Christ who knows your story and situation? This is the promise that believers have, a sympathetic high priest and Savior (see Hebrews 4:15).

The psalmist expresses another fundamental truth of God’s grace: it continues forever. The Lord’s grace sustains, transforms, and carries us into eternity. This is what it means for the Lord to uphold us and set us in His presence. We can be confident that the Lord will uphold us and keep His promises to us. We can trust that we will be in the presence of God forever based on the righteousness of Christ applied to us in which the Father sees us as His adopted sons and daughters (see Ephesians 1:3–14). Thus, we trust in Christ’s integrity living in us by faith. We have the promise of His forever grace because we have been united with Christ forever. We have the promise that God delights in us because the Father delights in the Son and as believers united to him, we share in that delight.

So when we consider the purpose and work of God’s grace, the psalmist gives us a rich tapestry of grace to consider. Being the basis of our forgiveness, it is also the sustaining force in the believer’s life. Sustaining us, it also is the means of perpetual transformation.

Lastly, it is power that carries believers through and into eternity. The concluding line to the old hymn states: “You that are longing to see his face, Will you this moment his grace receive?” May we at every moment long to receive God’s grace, because we yearn to see his face both now and forever.

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Categories: Seminary Blog

5 vital questions to ask during a revitalization process

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Thu, 04/04/2019 - 12:04

I have a love/hate relationship with home renovation shows. You know the ones I’m talking about. This couple picks an outdated and dilapidated old home and then with the help of some fancy computer program they’re able to see what the house could look like (with the right amount of money, of course). In less than an hour, you get to watch as the old and ugly house is replaced by the new and beautiful one. The new house is revealed to the overjoyed family and they live happily ever after – The End. The process is quick, clean, and easy. Church revitalization works nothing like this.

While I love the transformation from the “before” to the “after” in these shows, as a pastor in the thick of church revitalization, it can also be a frustrating reminder of how painfully slow the process of change really is. There are no quick fixes in ministry. And so revitalization demands that we learn how to live in the monstrous and messy gap between the “before” and “after” — that we learn to live with the tension between the way things are and the way God wants them to be, all the while seeking to slowly and faithfully take us one step closer.

The trouble is, there’s no one-size-fits-all plan. There’s no step-by-step process we can follow. Why? Because every church is different. Yes, every church needs faithful preaching, prayer, and godly, humble leadership – but at some point changes will have to be made. And the timing, order, and manner in which those necessary changes take place can make or break a revitalization effort. To use a home renovation analogy, if you start knocking down load-bearing walls without the proper supports in place, you’ll quickly find the whole structure collapsing around you. The same is true with revitalization. The right move at the wrong time can derail your efforts and undermine your best intentions. So, it’s with this in mind that I offer these five questions to ask before making a change:

  1. Is the intended outcome spiritual or superficial?

Whenever we step into a church in need of revitalization, the primary need and issue is almost always spiritual. However, what’s going to grab our attention is the cringe-worthy décor, building issues, and outdated media items everywhere we look. And while there is certainly a time and a place for addressing these issues – beware the impression that updating the look of your church building or website makes you a healthier church. Outdated or run-down buildings, websites, media, etc. are merely one superficial symptom of a deeper spiritual issue. Yes, they need attention, but not if it distracts from the more significant changes that need to be made first. For many pastors in their first few years, this just means you need to leave the paneling and the picture of Jesus alone for now and focus your attention on being with your people, prayer, and preaching.

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  1. What and who else is going to be affected?

When you reach the place where you’ve identified a specific structural or procedural change that needs to be made, just make sure you know who else it’s going to impact you. Just like every piece of a house is connected to some other piece, so every change you make is going to impact someone or something beyond that immediate situation. In other words, before you go pulling out a two-by-four, just make sure you know what it was holding up. This is the only way you can wisely evaluate whether or not the change is worth it.

  1. How long has it been there?

Some traditions become harder and harder to dig out the longer they’ve been around. Before you make a change, it’s a good idea to know how long it’s been in place. Something seemingly minor can be a big deal if you’re messing with a tradition that’s been around longer than you’ve been alive. Some of what seemed to be the easiest changes turned out to be some of the most difficult simply because they had been in place for so long. At our church, we had always sung the doxology after the offering and before the message. I wasn’t prepared (foolishly, it seems) for the backlash I experienced when we sang something else one Sunday. When I asked people why they loved it so much, their only response was, “Well, we’ve always sang it.” So, be aware that often minor changes can create major reactions if they involve long-running traditions.

  1. Do you have the support necessary to do it?

There’s nothing worse than getting halfway through a home project and realizing you really need another set of hands in order to get the job done. And just like having enough “hands” is critical to some home projects, your ability to make substantial changes in a revitalization process will also often need help. One of the most substantial shifts we made in the first few years of my pastorate was to move towards meaningful membership and to clean up our inflated church rolls. This was a long and involved process, but one of the most important steps I took was to spend months specifically investing in our deacons to make sure they both understood WHAT we were doing and WHY it was necessary. When the process was presented to the church, several people were upset, but because our deacons fully understood and supported the action, the opposition quickly faded. As one of my bosses used to say, “If I’m going out on a limb, I’m taking someone with me.” Since change is always risky, it’s a good idea to take as many people with you as you can.

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Categories: Seminary Blog

6 encouragements for introverted church leaders

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Sat, 03/30/2019 - 12:20

Contrary to what some around me might think, I love people. I love to sit and watch people interact. I love to listen to people tell stories and share burdens.

I’m also an introvert.

I know, it seems strange that an introvert would be in a profession that requires public speaking every week. However, not all introverts struggle with public speaking. For me, introversion means that relational activities, like the ones that are necessary and crucial for pastoral ministry, can be taxing and difficult. Some people conclude long conversations and feel like their batteries have been re-charged. I come out of long conversations and can feel spent.

As I’ve served in various leadership roles, I’ve tried to examine the relationship between my personality, my leadership style, my faithfulness, and my effectiveness. Below are some strategies that I have tried to implement as I have been blessed to be an introvert in leadership.

  1. Know yourself.

Know what your natural inclinations and gifts are, but also know where you are weak. Personally, I am more comfortable in my study than I am in the fellowship hall. As an introvert, I could sit in my study all day and read, pray, and work on my computer, and I would be pretty content. I need to remember often that seclusion is not healthy for pastoral ministry, and that there are aspects of my ministry that cannot be fulfilled from my study. I must be among my flock.

  1. Work alongside extroverts when you can.

Pastoral ministry (and leadership in general) requires small talk and mingling, which can be difficult for introverts. However, one way that I try to mitigate some of those relational weaknesses in my personality is to work alongside extroverts when I can. For example, I’ll take an extroverted pastoral intern or deacon along with me to make hospital visits; or, I’ll try to have my extroverted wife by my side at functions that will require lots of small talk. She has a gift for conversation, so I let her bless me (and others!) by taking the lead in mingling whenever I can.

  1. Plan your time wisely.

This is related to my first point; part of knowing yourself well is knowing how to best schedule your time. Make sure your schedule includes time for recovery and rest. Because I preach most Sunday nights, I am usually physically and emotionally drained on Mondays. Therefore, I try to plan mostly administrative work on Mondays, and save the more emotionally and spiritually taxing ministry elements for later in the week (e.g., counseling meetings).

  1. Be intentional about accountability.

One strategy that has been good (though sometimes challenging) for me is to be accountable to extroverts. I meet weekly with another pastor that is extroverted, and I’ve asked him to keep me accountable. I want him to make sure that I am working on being hospitable, both at church and at home. He lets me know how my actions may be perceived by others. My wife is also helpful in this area. She encourages me to get outside of my comfort zone and better love others by engaging them in conversation.

  1. Remind yourself that people, not task lists, are the focus of ministry.

Most people tend to gravitate toward what is easiest. My temptation, as an administratively-inclined introvert, is to focus on what comes naturally to me, like emails, schedules, writing, and reading. I can easily see my to-do list as an indicator of my ministry effectiveness and productivity. Rather, I have to constantly remind myself that the goal of ministry is to love people. When an unexpected visitor drops in and needs to talk, that visitor is an opportunity for me to love and serve, not a scheduling problem to be resolved. When I go on a hospital visit, I remind myself that the goal is not to get in, read a few verses, pray, and get out, even if that’s what my to-do-list-oriented personality wants to do. The goal is to love the sheep by encouraging them with the word and prayer, and to seek to make them feel loved by genuinely listening and communicating with them.

  1. Remember the gospel.

Remember that you are a sinner, whose natural inclination is bent in toward yourself. But also remember that Christ has redeemed you from bondage to sinful self-centeredness. Christ was willing to give up his heavenly station to come down and take on flesh for me. He was willing to be beaten and killed for my sin. He was consumed with love for his bride, even at the cost of great personal sacrifice. And I’ve been given His very own Spirit. It is through prayerful dependence upon the Holy Spirit that I can serve in Christ’s strength, motivated by the love that he’s shown to me.

When I’ve really reflected on the grace and hospitality shown to me, then I can find the strength to be hospitable to others on Sunday morning. When I see that Christ has taken the initiative to reach out to me in love, then I can find the strength to initiate conversations with strangers. When I see that Christ has borne a huge load for me, then I find the strength to bear with others and their heavy burdens.

In sum, introversion is not necessarily sinful. However, introverted personalities can be tempted to sin in particular ways. The wise introverted leader will recognize those temptations, take steps to prevent succumbing to them, and will look to Christ for the strength to love others well, especially our relationally-oriented, extroverted brothers and sisters.

___________

Jon English Lee serves as minister of education and administration at Morningview Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Auburn University in Montgomery, a master of divinity from Southern Seminary, and is currently a PhD candidate in systematic and historical theology at Southern. He has served several churches in Kentucky. Jon enjoys reading, scuba diving, and most any other outdoor activity. He and his wife, Rebekah, have three sons: Jonny, Jack, and Graham.

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Categories: Seminary Blog

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