I look down, and on the pages of my bulletin I see these words:
Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free
For God the just is satisfied
To look on him and pardon me.
I look up, and across the room I see Jeremy. He’s smiling with abandon. He’s belting out these words like he means them. And here’s the surprising thing: He’s looking right at me. It’s as if he’s willing the truths of this song into my soul by the sheer force of his contagious joy.
Do you love the members of your church enough to minister to them through song?
A few months ago, Desiring God’s David Mathis argued that God intends our corporate worship to nurture love among the body of Christ. I want to apply his point to congregational singing in particular.
Why? Because if we’re not careful, the individualistic tendencies in our hearts can lead to a “me and God” approach to worship through song. We close our eyes, meditate on the words, and sing along softly with the band — all the while missing out on one of the hallmarks of congregational singing: the ministry of the family of God to one another.You’re in the choir
The New Testament describes singing as a corporate activity. A hallmark of those who are filled with the Holy Spirit is that they address “one another” in song (Ephesians 5:19). Why? Because singing is an avenue for Christian love. Consider Colossians 3:16, Paul’s famous teaching on singing, in its broader context:
Above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Col 3:14–16)
There are countless threats to the unity of the body (Col 3:6–9). Paul knows that brothers and sisters may have “complaints” against each other (Col 3:13). What does it look like to foster a community of forgiveness and love? One important part of the answer, according to verse 16, is the singing ministry of each member. In other words, Paul has just signed up every believer for the choir.
Remember, each week we gather as wounded people to have our spiritual sores treated by the Great Physician. In his mercy, he uses our songs to apply his sweet balm.
The Christian enduring persecution from his biological family needs to hear the dozens or hundreds in his spiritual family sing, “Jesus, I my cross have taken, all to leave and follow Thee.” The believer struggling hard against shame needs to watch you exult, “My sin, not in part, but the whole, has been nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more!” The saint overburdened by work, striving, and performance needs to listen as you affirm, “We rest on Thee, our shield and our defender.”
Of course, we don’t only address one another as we sing. Ephesians 5:20 and the psalms of praise teach that God is the primary audience of our songs and melodies. But raising your voice to edify others is, in fact, precisely one of the ways we exalt God’s worth. By singing, we beckon our brothers and sisters to delight in his beauty.Does it make a difference?
If we see our singing as part of our personal ministry to others, it will shape how we approach music at church in practical ways. Here are four suggestions to help press the implications of Paul’s command into the corners of our worship.Pray for church members prior to and during the gathering.
As part of your preparation for Sunday, consider their struggles, fears, and trials. Ask God to remind them of his kindness through the songs. If a line in a hymn brings someone’s situation to mind, pray that the words would minister to him or her in that particular moment.Sing with conviction.
As I mentioned earlier, my friend Jeremy buoyed my faith simply by showing that he believed the words he was singing. One way to demonstrate conviction is to sing loudly. There are few things more spiritually invigorating than being surrounded by believers exalting Jesus at full volume.Use body language.
This will vary according to your personality and culture, but even in the most subdued settings, we can convey a lot through our body language during corporate singing. Smile during hymns of joy. Convey contrition during songs of confession. Perhaps most importantly, don’t always keep your eyes closed. Making occasional eye contact with others is a powerful way to show that you’re singing with them in mind.Lay aside your stylistic preferences.
Since one of the main purposes of corporate singing is to build others up, music gives us a wonderful opportunity to “count others more significant than yourselves” (Phil 2:3). If the words are true, excellent, and beautiful, try to engage with every song, even if it’s not your favorite genre. You might just find that the joy you see on others’ faces helps you appreciate the song for its ability to edify people who have different tastes than you.
We sing because Christ first loved us. We love because he first loved us. May we do both as we gather with his beloved bride this week.
Editors’ note: This article originally appeared at The Institute for Biblical Worship.
Matt Merker (@merkermatt) serves as a pastoral assistant at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. He has composed several congregational hymns, including “He Will Hold Me Fast.” He lives on Capitol Hill with his wife and their daughter.
I take college football too seriously. I try not to, but it happens every year. I have rooted for the Auburn Tigers since for as long as I can remember. One year, I watched the opening game of the season with some friends at Buffalo Wild Wings.
Over half the restaurant was filled with Alabama fans who were there to watch their opening game as well. Auburn started an hour earlier than Alabama, so the Alabama fans were actively cheering against Auburn for the first hour of our game. This didn’t really bother me until Auburn fumbled and an Alabama fan started taunting our table. And by taunting, I mean pointing and yelling at us.
This was in the early days of Twitter and I may have had 100 followers and they were all my friends. Thinking it would be funny, I tweeted, “Have I mentioned lately how much I cannot stand Alabama fans?” What I forgot when I did this was that my Twitter account was still linked to my Facebook profile and everything I posted on Twitter also posted to Facebook as well. Several people I knew and loved saw the status and were immediately insulted. How could a man who claims to know and follow Jesus say he couldn’t stand people because they cheer for a different football team than he does?
What I wrote in a thoughtless moment under the guise of trying to be funny hurt and angered people that I care about — and hurt my witness in their eyes. I wish I could say this was the last time I did something like this, but it wasn’t, and I highly doubt it will be the last.
I doubt that I am alone in posting on social media in a way that detracted from my Christian in witness. In fact, I know I am not alone. Christians often post thoughtlessly on social media. We speak about people and issues in ways that detract from our witness to Christ. This is especially true when we follow up a post about the goodness of God with a post mocking other people.
The worst part about this is that a lot of our social interactions with people now come via social media. We might see five posts from a neighbor for every one in-person encounter we have, so our social media posts have an outsized effect on the way they think about us. Therefore, we must realize that what we say on social media will have a real impact on our witness to the people around us.
Here are four ways that Christian harm their witness on social media:Share stories without verifying their truthfulness
Most of the people who scream the loudest about “fake news” share stories and memes without verifying that what they say is actually accurate. The same people who think The New York Times always prints lies have no problem sharing a meme from Facebook groups called “Hillary Clinton is Crooked” or “Donald Trump is the Worst President Ever.”
Since Jesus is the truth and the ninth commandment calls us to be people who tell the truth, truth should be of utmost importance to us. If you share something that conveys information, especially if it is about another person, make sure that it is true before you share it. If it’s information about an event, look up the event. If it is a quote, look up the quote to make sure that it was quoted correctly and there is not some additional context that affects the way it should be read.
For those of us who follow Christ, we know that the gospel is strong enough to stand up the most thorough scrutiny. It does not need untruth to keep it from unraveling.Share memes and stories intended to tear down another person
One theme you will see through several of these points is that Christians cause many hindrances to their witness by posting too often and in the wrong way about politics. Unfortunately, politics in the United States has become a zero-sum game where we think that we are just one election from extinction. Every election is “the most important of our lifetime” and takes on apocalyptic importance.
In our zeal to make sure the right side wins in political and cultural wars, we share as much as we can about politics on social media in hopes that we can convince just a few more people to vote our way. As with almost everything in politics, getting someone to change how they vote depends not on showing the rightness of your side, but showing how terrible the other guys are.
Christians, we cannot play this game. Sharing stories or memes that are strictly intended to tear down another person, even a political opponent, is a quick way to make sure that you turn your friends and neighbors away from the Gospel. If you give the impression that being a Christian means that truth gets shoved out of the door and that speaking ill of other people is okay, they likely won’t want any part of it.
Let’s paint a hypothetical scenario. Let’s say that you convince ten people to vote differently in the upcoming midterm elections, but you also turn one person off from the Gospel, was it worth it? Pretend that one thousand people vote the way you think they should because of something you share, but one person will not listen to one more word you say about Jesus, what have you really accomplished?Vent about your neighbors and local businesses
The internet and social media have given us many outlets for voicing our displeasure with other people’s behavior. We give negative reviews based on bad restaurant experiences. If we have an irritating neighbor whose dog barks constantly, we can post about it on social media and “feel better” because we got our frustration off our chest.
Too often, we forget that what Scripture says about how we treat other people also applies to our online interactions as well. When we take to social media to lash out about our frustrations with people rather than talking to them ourselves, we violate Jesus’ command to go to our brother when we have something against them.
In addition, when our unbelieving friends, neighbors, and family members see these tirades, our words about the love of God ring hollow. If the world will know that we are Jesus’ disciples because we love one another, what happens when they see the people of God speaking ill of others on social media rather than handling our disagreements in a biblical manner? (John 13:35)Go on self-righteous tirades
The human soul latches onto some strange sources of self-righteousness. We consistently find ways to make our lives look better than they are or use convictions about third-tier issues to judge ourselves superior to other brothers and sisters. This can be especially true when it comes to parenting.
Beware of practicing your righteousness before men on social media. (Matt 6:1) You can play outside with your kids without going on self-righteous tangents about how you don’t allow your kids to have too much screen time. You can serve your community without posting a picture on Instagram. Take Jesus’ warnings about self-righteousness seriously and watch out for the subtle ways we violate his commands.
Christians believe in the gospel of grace. This means that we understand we have done nothing to earn the favor of God, but rather receive it freely by faith alone in Christ. We cannot undo our proclamation of the gospel of grace by acting as if we have our act together and everyone else just needs to be more like us.The second commandment applies when you are online
Jesus laid out a good rule of thumb for all of our online interactions when he said, “love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt 22:39) When we live by the second commandment, we treat other people the way that we want to be treated and think about how our words might affect the people around us. Therefore, let us resolve to be more diligent in conducting ourselves in a way that demonstrates love for others and magnifies the grace of Christ.
Scott Slayton (M.Div., SBTS) serves as Lead Pastor at Chelsea Village Baptist Church in Chelsea, Alabama. Scott and his wife Beth have four children: Hannah, Sarah Kate, Leah, and Matt. He regularly writes on his blog at Patheos, One Degree to Another.
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It seems as if everyone is talking about pastoral mentorship these days. Not a week goes by that I don’t receive something in the mail at my office that reminds me of the importance of training younger men in pastoral ministry—a task that I embrace and seek to practice wholeheartedly. But most of the material I read inevitably leaves me feeling as though I’m woefully inadequate at mentoring the next generation of church leaders. According to one article, if I don’t have a 5-year pastoral residency program, or at minimum a 3-year pastoral internship (curriculum and stipend included), I’m failing in my responsibility to mentor young men in pastoral leadership.
I’m grateful to God for churches that can offer such training; may their tribe increase. But for those of us who can’t, at least not yet, what we can offer young men in our churches is spiritual fathering. Spiritual fathering is a relationship between an older or more seasoned pastor and a younger man who desires to be in ministry, in which the pastor pours his life into his “adopted” spiritual son. In the same way a natural father shapes, serves, and shepherds his own son so as to reproduce himself in him through the depth of relationship, a spiritual father seeks to reproduce himself through developing that kind of relationship with the young men in his church who are called into ministry. The apostle Paul’s relationship with Timothy provides a great example for us.
Paul’s relationship with Timothy was one of filial affection. He never referred to Timothy as his intern or pastoral resident (indulge the anachronisms for emphasis sake), but repeatedly called him his son/child (1 Tim. 1:2; 2 Tim. 1:2, 2:1). This dynamic of their relationship marked the entire process of how Paul mentored Timothy from beginning (Acts 16:1-3) to end (2 Tim. 4:6-9). And the richness and simplicity of Paul’s spiritual fathering of Timothy is summed up nicely in 2 Timothy 3:10-11 and is worthy of our consideration and encouraging for imitation:
“Now you [Timothy] followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, steadfastness, persecutions, and sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium and at Lystra; what persecutions I endured, and out of them all the Lord rescued me!”“Teaching”
Paul didn’t send Timothy off to rabbinic school, but personally instructed his spiritual son in the word of God and the gospel. Timothy “heard” (2 Tim. 1:13) the word from His spiritual father and “learned” (2 Tim. 3:14) his doctrine from him. Paul was so confident that he had sufficiently prepared his son Timothy that he charged him with the responsibility of passing on the teachings of the gospel to others as well (2 Tim. 2:2). Unlocking the mysteries of God and the glories of the gospel for a young man is a task that every pastor can handle in the local church, even if your resources, structure, and staffing are limited.“Conduct”
Last I checked, there’s no seminary class that can produce godly conduct. That can only be forged by the fire of the Holy Spirit working through the means of grace in the context of personal discipleship, and there’s no better relationship to bring that about than through spiritual fathering. Paul modelled godliness as his son Timothy lived with him throughout their ministry travels and witnessed Paul’s conduct in both the good times and the bad times (2 Tim. 3:11a). Timothy was so acquainted with and effected by his spiritual father that when Paul called other churches to “imitate” him, he sent Timothy as an exemplary reminder of his conduct (1 Cor. 4:17). This kind of life-on-life influence is arguably worth more than a hundred classes on spiritual formation. Giving young men a book to read on godliness is fine, but giving them your life as an open book to follow is priceless.“Purpose”
Who else better than a spiritual father can cast the proper ministerial vision for a young leader’s heart? That’s what Paul did for Timothy. Through teaching, example, and intimate time together, Paul, with the help of the Spirit, produced in his spiritual son the same Christ-centered gospel purpose that marked his life (Phil. 3:12-14 & 1 Cor. 16:10). Paul did this without a program or a finely-tuned curriculum, and so can you.“Faith, Patience, Love, Steadfastness”
The inner spiritual life of Timothy was profoundly impacted by Paul. The holy sobriety he would need to fulfill his ministry he inherited from his spiritual father and it set him apart from others in ways that no professionalized approach to mentorship could ever achieve. Paul’s own words about Timothy confirm this:
“But I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, . . . for I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus. But you know of his proven worth, that he served with me in the furtherance of the gospel like a child serving his father” (Phil. 2:19-22).
Jesus said, “A disciple is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher” (Lk. 6:40). I believe spiritual fathering can produce fully trained men who will shepherd the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ in the coming generations. Dear pastor-brother, pick up the mantle of spiritual fatherhood, prayerfully adopt a spiritual son in your church and pour your life into his, and maybe by the grace of Christ, when the “chariots of fire” arrive to take you home, you’ll hear these words from your spiritual son, “My father, my father . . .” (2 Kgs. 2:12). And may a double portion of your spirit be upon him!
The aim of change for any declining local church is revival, growth, and maturity in Christlike
love for God and His people. As a pastor, nothing gives me greater joy than to see God’s people
being renewed in their desire to know God intimately, to praise Him passionately, and to love His
people without hypocrisy. But the weightiness of bringing this change about can be overwhelming at times; even debilitating. And in light of Jesus’ stern words to the church at Ephesus: “But I have this against you, that you have left your first love” (Revelation 2:4), every pastor knows that apart from other problems a local church may have, lost love for God is the final nail to its soon-to-be-buried coffin.
So how can pastors headed into this dilemma bring about revitalization? What is the best
strategy that can warm the frozen hearts of people who profess to know God? And how can a
pastor reignite those same hearts with zeal and love for their Redeemer and His Church?
Clearly there are principles set forth in Revelation 2, particularly in verse 5, which calls the
church at Ephesus and every other declining church to “remember, repent and re-engage.”
But the next question is, how best can a pastor shepherd God’s people toward heart-
compliance to those exhortations?
Let me suggest that the often-missed answer is Christ Himself. Through His life, death, and
resurrection, Jesus Christ fulfilled the Great Commandment in our place (Matthew 5:17-18).
He is the embodiment of love—love of God, love for God, and love for His people. As the risen
Lord of the Church, He alone can mold the hearts of a dying church to His own likeness to
duplicate that very love.
Here are 3 ways a pastor privileged with the task of revitalization can cultivate a Jesus-shaped
The greatest encouragement that I come back to regularly as I labor in Christ’s Church is found in Matthew 16:18, where Jesus promises to build His Church. These 4 Greek words, οἰκοδομήσω
μου τὴν ἐκκλησίαν are a pastor’s anchor of hope as he labors among cold hearts.
Pastor-bother, never forget that Jesus is the One who promised to build His Church. And trust
me, you cannot do a better job than Him. So, along with all your planning, strategizing, and
vision-casting, remember that you are but a tool in the hand of the Master Builder. Stay sharp,
stay ready, and plant your flag of effort on the rock-solid promise of Christ, trusting that as you align yourself with Him—His will, ways, and word—you can rest assured that your church will be blessed by Him.
Brothers, Christ rules and shapes His Church through His Word. It is His kingly scepter through
which He builds, and we must Preach Him in the Word so that His voice and power are released
among His people (Colossians 1:28-29). It is His risen presence that will revitalize your fledgling congregation as you exalt Him from the Word, expound Him in the Word, and exult over Him through the Word.
Be prepared to encounter pushback. Christ’s exalted presence will be unnerving for many
(Revelation 1:17). But a regular diet of Christ-exalting sermons is the only sufficient food that will feed the starving souls of your people and make them hunger for more. And once God’s people
have “tasted and seen that Jesus is good,” they will not settle for a counterfeit. Their spiritual taste buds will awaken to the satisfying sweetness of Christ, and they will love Him.
Charles Colton said, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” That might be true. But in the Christian life the call for imitation isn’t for flattery’s sake, but for Christ’s sake. And as Christ’s under-shepherds imitate Him, they become vessels through which a local church sees and experiences the palpable love of God (1 Corinthians 11:1 & 1 John 2:5-6). Brother, your obedience to Jesus out of love for Jesus will be used by Jesus to form Jesus in the lives of your people.
Above all else, God desires that His Church resemble His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is “the
radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature” (Hebrews 1:3a). Our churches
will do that as they reflect His character, which will be most clearly seen when a congregation is loving God and loving each other. Pastor-brother, that’s your aim. Hold Jesus up high, and watch the flood-gates of God’s love be poured out on your church to the praise of His grace and the encouragement of your soul.
The necessity of healthy church structure has been a challenge from the time that the church began. It is not a new dilemma. Acts 2 describes how the first church developed a basic structure for worship, Bible study, and fellowship. As the church grew and additional challenges surfaced, the leaders added structure to take care of the need. As the church at large continued to grow, as the gospel spread across the known world, and as the church began to mature with age, new problems appeared. The Apostle Paul addressed some of the problems to his protégé pastor Timothy in his personal letter to him that we know of as 1 Timothy. The church being addressed was the one established in Ephesus.
Paul, accompanied by Aquila and Priscilla, established this church around AD 52 (Acts 18:18-26). He did not remain there long, but returned in AD 54 to serve as pastor of the congregation until AD 57 (Acts 19). After his 1st Roman imprisonment, he would leave Timothy in Ephesus in AD 63 to address problems and issues that had arisen during the time of the church’s existence. Paul would write his first epistle to Timothy most probably from Macedonia.
At this juncture, the church was no longer a church plant. It was an established church of 11 years and was facing the problems that churches face when proper structure is not in place or when faulty structure exists. According to Paul’s epistle known as 1 Timothy, the church that Timothy inherited faced difficulties with doctrine (1:3-7), worship (2:1-15), leadership (3:1-14), and money (6:6-19). If a proper structure was not put into place and followed, those problems would fester and eventually lead the church into decline. Unfortunately for Ephesus, Timothy would not remain very long with the congregation. By the time that the church at Ephesus is mentioned again in Scripture some 40 years after its birth, it became known as the church that had left their first love (Revelation 2:1-7). It may seem like a giant hermeneutical leap to go from the need for structure to a loss of love for Christ, each other, and the lost, but this one fact demonstrates why so many churches are in trouble. Instead of structuring for growth, they become cesspools of power struggles and fights over position. The issues root themselves far more in a spiritual structure than just in a physical structure. In other words, a church can have the right schematic that has a proven growth record. If the foundational spiritual structure is not in place, though, the structure will lead to control, not growth.
Therefore, look to the Scripture. Paul gives a clear picture of healthy structure in 1 Timothy. In fact, he really provides some insight into how to get a church back on target to grow again. What does a healthy, spiritual, and foundational structure look like?
1. The church must be grounded in the Word so that its decision-making, doctrine, and practice are biblically-based (1:1-11). Mark Dever defines a healthy church as “a congregation that increasingly reflects God’s character as his character has been revealed in his Word.” Being healthy is much more than just a performance of duties on the outside. It is a reflection of what we have become on the inside as a result of God’s transforming grace and power as revealed in Scripture.
2. The church must develop healthy leaders (3:1-7). The Bible gives some clear guidance as to the proper governance of the church, but Paul’s admonition to pastors/elders and deacons is far more than just the establishment of particular offices in the church. It is why he warns, “Don’t be too quick to appoint anyone as an elder” (5:22). The fact is, if someone is not a faithful church member, that person may not be a faithful pastor or leader. If he does not like attending and serving faithfully as a volunteer, he will carry that attitude with him as he leads. Therefore, the church must be structured so that it has accountability measures in place in order to produce, hire, and maintain healthy leaders.
3. The church must be structured to give the ministry away and allow others to serve (4:1-16). Believers need to grow to a maturity that challenges them to lead. They may never be called upon to fulfill an official church position, but they need to lead nonetheless.
4. The church must be structured to care for and discipline its members (5:1-16). As Paul addressed the need for Pastor Timothy to confront issues within the congregation – and especially with specific offending men and women in the church, he was to do it within a specific challenge. His church was not perfect. Notice the substance of the entire conversation. It was not unbridled and unloving discipline. It certainly was not self-centered, i.e., I am rebuking you because you hurt my feelings or did not do what I wanted.
The foundation of the discussion was that they were brothers and sisters in Christ. Therefore, the church must have a structure that allows for believers to have their needs met but also to understand the importance of what it means to be a part of that congregation.
5. The Church Must be Structured to Promote Healthy Relationships (5:17-25). My observation and conclusion on biblical leadership is that the Bible does not really talk so much about leadership the way that a lot of Christian leaders try to define leadership. If we lead like Jesus, we lead as servants. I may be overstating that supposition, but I have observed too many churches implode because of the prideful attitudes of leaders, both laymen and pastors.
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One of the frequent questions asked of me regarding church revitalization is, “What are the requirements for being effective in church revitalization?” Mark Clifton, in his book Reclaiming Glory: Revitalizing Dying Churches, has done an excellent job in outlining the characteristics necessary for a church revitalizer. I do not want to just repeat his thoughts, but there are several identifying qualities that I believe every pastor must possess to be successful in church revitalization. In the work that I do in training pastors and connecting them with churches in need of revitalization, preparatory assessments are absolutely necessary. Most, if not all, church planting organizations require assessments prior to entering into a church planting agreement. Some are rather intense. The same should be practiced in doing a church restart or a legacy replant. One of the things that has been recognized in church planting is the fact that not everyone has the mentality, training, or entrepreneurial spirit necessary for being a church planter. A similar idea holds true for church revitalization in some fashion, but every pastor needs to develop revitalization skills because all churches will need revitalization, change, or adaptation at some point or another (even the church plant).
The skills or attitudes that I would deem essential in church revitalization are the following:A Love for the Established Church.
Most churches in need of revitalization have a long, rich history (even church plants eventually). Within that history one finds sacred cows, multiple generations, traditions, habits, hurts, and a multitude of other traits, some of which are positive and some are negative. While all of us would love to start a church that would have no problems, quarrels, battles, or issues, the chance of creating such an entity is slim to none. Churches have problems because people have problems. Churches experience conflict because they are filled with Genesis 3 people. We are redeemed, but we are still in the flesh (1 John 1:8; 1 Cor 10:12). Remember that the only perfect church is the one without people – and that scenario then creates a whole new problem of its own.
Therefore, to be good at church revitalization, a pastor must love the church. Love the church for who she is as the bride of Christ. Love the church, warts and all. What I have seen in many church planters is the impatience of working through established systems, networks, committees, and structure. They do not have time nor the patience for all the interruptions that come in shepherding an established church. I do not view that characteristic as a negative. It just demonstrates the difference between a church planter and a church revitalizer. If church revitalization is the goal, it demands a love for the established church. Love the people; love the systems; love the challenges; love the possibilities. By loving these things, it does not mean that they cannot be changed. In most cases, it is easier to change something that is loved than that which is unloved.Love Multiple Generations of People.
Most church plants are targeted plants. They focus on a certain age-group or demographic. Their processes, strategy, and structure all point to reaching that target group. Church revitalization usually involves working with multiple generations, multiple socio-economic groups, and even multiple ethnicities. A church located in a transitioning community may have a make-up of several types of individuals. This diversity offers a certain set of challenges that the targeted church does not have. Think about it. If a church is made up of those of the Silent Generation (1945 or before), Baby Boomers (1946-64), Gen X ((1965-76), Millennials (1977-95), and Gen Z (1996-present), an incredible set of threats exists for ministry, worship, discipleship, fellowship, and evangelism. One set of blueprints will not engage all those groups. Worship wars probably occur or are smoldering. And the pastor must shepherd the entire flock.
Thus, it demands that the revitalization pastor love multiple generations, backgrounds, make-ups, ethnicities, affinities, and distinctives. Love the old, young, and everyone in between. It is learning to connect with people with whom a pastor has little or no connection. It is determining to love the things that the people love – or do – or cherish.Love the Ministry.
While some discussion takes place regarding the call to ministry, I am one who firmly believes in the specific call. R. Albert Mohler, in a blog post titled Are You Called?, writes, “The great Reformer Martin Luther described this inward call as ‘God’s voice heard by faith.’” It is my conclusion that the call to ministry is sometimes the one thing to which a pastor must hold when he is attacked or discouraged in his ministry (understanding obviously that we always hold onto Christ). When the pastor asks the question, “Why am I doing this work or serving this church?” the answer is, “Because I am called.” Ministry is more than a forty hour a week job. In fact, ministry is more than just a job. It is a calling, and because it is a calling, it becomes something that a revitalization pastor loves to do. He loves the church. He loves going to church, doing church, being the church, and serving the church. He loves and honors being in ministry, because when ministry gets difficult, love takes over. A pastor cannot revitalize a church effectively if he does not love what he does and is called to do.
As I believe that church planting is an important calling for the ministry, I am equally convinced that church revitalization is an essential calling for a pastor. I would challenge every pastor to check out the qualifications for revitalization and see what it takes to help a church return to health. Remember that healthy churches plant healthy churches. The two are intrinsically connected.
When we start the process of church revitalization, it is easy for our focus to be on the church and the way “the church” needs to change to be more faithful and vibrant. And as we identify critical issues we must apply biblical wisdom to address them. But, before we begin with the corporate we should begin with ourselves – with our own hearts. Church revitalization begins with personal revitalization. You can’t revitalize a church before you have been revitalized.
It’s easy to make excuses for ourselves and our churches. We have poor parking, poor deacons, a poor location, poor facilities, poor signage, you get the picture. We can easily slip into a victim mentality – poor us! If only we had what other churches had, we’d be setting the curve! We would be “off the charts” in terms of our growth!
Michael Green, author of Evangelism in the Early Church begins his classic work by observing . . .
It was a small group of eleven men whom Jesus commissioned to carry on his work, and bring the gospel to the whole world. They were not distinguished; they were not well educated; they had no influential backers. In their own nation they were nobodies and, in any case, their own nation was a mere second-class province on the eastern extremity of the Roman map. If they had stopped to weigh up the probabilities of succeeding in their mission, even granted their conviction that Jesus was alive and that his Spirit went with them to equip them for their task, their hearts must surely have sunk, so heavily were the odds weighted against them. How could they possibly succeed? And yet they did.
How could they possibly succeed? Look at all their liabilities! They had no seminaries, no tracts, no lifestyle evangelism seminars on DVD. No national polling agencies doing demographics on the local population, no buildings, and no microphones. No radio, television, or ESV Study Bibles. So what caused this small band of followers, who had deserted Jesus after His arrest, to become those who “turned the world upside down”? (Acts 17:6)
They were personally revitalized – they were filled with the Holy Spirit – they were on fire for the Lord! The story is told of John Wesley being asked, “Why do people come to hear you preach?” Wesley replied: “I set myself on fire and people come to watch me burn.” While historians debate the historicity of this account, Wesley’s life certainly reflected this reality. Like the apostles (post-Pentecost), John Wesley was a man on fire for the Lord. As we begin the process of church revitalization, we need to pause and conduct an honest assessment of our lives. Are we really living as though we are “on fire” for the Lord, or is too much of our life lived at room temperature?
Richard Baxter, the great Puritan pastor (who saw an amazing church revitalization in his parish of Kidderminster, England), noted the correct order of Paul’s charge in Acts 20:28: “take heed to yourself, AND THEN to the flock of God.” Recognizing this biblical pattern, Baxter devoted the first part of his classic work, The Reformed Pastor (written to fellow pastors) to “The Oversight of Ourselves.” His second directive concerning the nature of this oversight is, “See that you be not only in a state of grace, but that your graces are in vigorous and lively exercise.” Baxter challenges pastors with this admonition:
When your minds are in a holy, heavenly frame, your people are likely to partake of the fruits of it. . . . They will likely feel when you have been much with God . . . I confess I must speak it by lamentable experience, that I publish to my flock the distempers of my own soul. When I let my heart grow cold, my preaching is cold; and when [my heart] is confused, my preaching is confused; and so I can oft observe also in the best of my hearers, that when I have grown cold in preaching, they have grown cold too; and the next prayers which I have heard from them have been too like my preaching.” (Baxter, The Reformed Pastor, 61.)
Baxter concludes: “O brethren, watch therefore over your own hearts . . . be much with God . . . Above all, be much in secret prayer and meditation . . . remember, you cannot decline and neglect your duty, to your own hurt alone; many will be losers by it as well as you.” (p. 62)
E.M. Bounds drove home this point forcefully in his book Power Through Prayer:
What the Church needs today is not more machinery or better, not new organizations or more and novel methods, but men whom the Holy Ghost can use — men of prayer, men mighty in prayer. The Holy Ghost does not flow through methods, but through men. He does not come on machinery, but on men. He does not anoint plans, but men — men of prayer.
We must begin with our own hearts. To modify the words of the hymn, “It’s not my brother, not my sister, but it’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer. It’s not my deacons, not my S.S. teachers, but it’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer.” Brothers, church revitalization begins with personal revitalization.
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Is it important to know your spiritual gifts? Or is that concern evidence of the narcissism so characteristic of our culture today?
Perhaps we can compare figuring out our spiritual gifts to the current interest in personality tests and profiles like the Enneagram. The Enneagram explores nine different personality types and has made quite a splash in evangelical circles. Kevin DeYoung rightly warns about the dangers of the Enneagram, explaining that it’s alien to Scripture in many respects. Russell Moore is sympathetic to what DeYoung says, agreeing that the Enneagram isn’t helpful if embraced root and branch, but thinks it can be used as a tool to discern and understand one’s potential strengths and weaknesses, as well as the motivating desires and inclinations of others.
I think we can say something similar about the process of discerning spiritual gifts.Spiritual gift tests?
Over the years, it has been popular to use spiritual gift inventories and questionnaires to help believers discover their spiritual gifts. The major problem with these tools is that they’re an abstraction; we can take those tests and try to discover our gifts without being involved in the life of the local church. When used this way, spiritual gift inventories are artificial and even misleading.
They’re artificial because we don’t and can’t discover how God has gifted us in isolation from others. Gifts can’t be traced in a laboratory like DNA. The questionnaires are also misleading because the tests themselves, even if helpful in some respects, are inevitably partial and flawed. In other words, the inventories are produced by humans who have their own biases and preconceptions, and thus believers may wrongly come away from such an inventory thinking they have a particular gift when they don’t. On the other hand, they may think they don’t have a gift after taking the inventory when they do.Discovery through the life of a church
The best way to discover your gift, then, is not by taking a test. They didn’t have such instruments in the early church, and people discovered and used their gifts just fine. Rather, if you get involved in the lives of others in your church and love as Jesus commanded, then you will discover your gift.
Some might say they still don’t know their gift. But knowing your spiritual gift isn’t as important as exercising your spiritual gift. Surely many believers in history didn’t know their spiritual gifts or think much about them, and yet they exercised those gifts in powerful ways. If you aren’t sure what your spiritual gifts are, I wouldn’t worry about it.
If you give yourself to other believers in the church, you will inevitably be using your gifts.
All of this brings us back to the matter of spiritual gift inventories. If you’re involved in the life of the church and take such an inventory, it might prove helpful. Sometimes we don’t see ourselves clearly, and other believers and resources can help us discern where we’re gifted. Obviously, such tools can be used in a narcissistic and self-absorbed way, but it’s also true that understanding ourselves better may help us become more effective ministers.Know yourself
The importance of knowing ourselves is clear from Romans 12:3:
For by the grace given to me, I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he should think. Instead, think sensibly, as God has distributed a measure of faith to each one.
Here Paul warns us neither to have an inflated view of ourselves, nor to denigrate ourselves, but to know and assess ourselves rightly. We know that mistakes can be made in both directions regarding spiritual gifts. Some might say their gifts aren’t important and aren’t needed in the body (1 Cor 12:15–16). Some might say they don’t need the other gifts and members of the body (1 Cor 12:21). But every member is needed, every member plays an important role, every member is significant.
When we look at some of the spiritual gifts, it becomes clear that knowing our gifts is helpful (even if not essential). For instance, Paul says those with the gift of service should concentrate on serving, those with the gift of teaching on teaching, and those with the gift of exhortation on exhorting (Rom 12:7–8). If you know your gift is exhorting, you can focus your energies. This doesn’t mean you don’t serve or do evangelism or give counsel, of course. We shouldn’t twist what Paul says into an excuse to be selfish. Still, life is short, and we should concentrate on our strengths, because in doing so we build up the church.
Knowing our strengths and gifts helps us to focus on the ways we can be most helpful to other believers. If you don’t know your gift yet, don’t worry. It’ll become clear as time passes, and asking other believers can help you discern your gift. We’re often in a great hurry to find our gifts, but God isn’t. He has a purpose and plan to use you in the life of your church, and it will become clear as you serve him and others.
Editors’ note: This article was originally published at The Gospel Coalition. Tom Schreiner is author of a new book on spiritual gifts, Spiritual Gifts: What They Are and Why They Matter (B&H).
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Editors’ note: This article was adapted from the new ebook from Southern Equip and The Gospel Coalition, Porn and the Pastor: The Life and Death Consequences of Addiction in Ministry, edited by Jeff Robinson and Garrett Kell. The book is available for free download.
Time Magazine published a cover story in March 2016 titled “Porn and the Threat to Virility.” I’m not being hyperbolic when I say that this is one of the saddest, most horrific articles that I have ever read. But it’s not sad and horrific in the sense of war or violent crime. It’s sad and horrific because it narrates the kind of slow-motion suicide that our culture is committing against itself.
The article is about pornography use among young men. At the heart of the article is the backlash against internet pornography use among young men who have been heavy users throughout their adolescence and young adulthood. The author, Belinda Luscombe, writes:
A growing number of young men are convinced that their sexual responses have been sabotaged because their brains were virtually marinated in porn when they were adolescents. Their generation has consumed explicit content in quantities and varieties never before possible, on devices designed to deliver content swiftly and privately, all at an age when their brains were more plastic — more prone to permanent change — than in later life. These young men feel like unwitting guinea pigs in a largely unmonitored decade-long experiment in sexual conditioning.
The rest of Luscombe’s article recounts what these young men have been consuming for the last decade and what the results have been in their adult relationships with real women. Many of them are simply unable to experience a response with a real woman. They are only able to respond to pornography. In fact, they prefer it.
I was stunned by this article for a couple of reasons. First, our civilization has not even begun to understand what this crisis means. This is not a story about adolescent hijinks going a little too far. This is the story of broken men who have had their minds rewired to love darkness. And to understand this, you’ve got to wrap your mind around the scope of this thing: Pornography has been a pervasive part of these young men’s lives for the better part of a decade.
In 2007, broadband internet access reached over 50 percent of American households. In 2013, smartphone ownership exceeded 50 percent of the population in our country. What that means is at some point around 2007, more Americans than not had access to moving pornography. And by 2013, more Americans had access to this content at any time and any place through their smartphones.
The average young man first encounters this material when he’s 11-13 years old, which means many kids are younger than that. That means countless young men have spent the better part of the last decade with access to pornographic videos. For many of them, everything they have learned about sexuality has come from pornography. Their preferences have been shaped by this.
This is a civilizational calamity because pornography use eviscerates manhood. It doesn’t teach men virtue and honor. It mires them in passivity and morose private self-indulgence. It teaches them to view women at a distance and as objects to be used and discarded. It renders them completely unprepared for marriage and for fatherhood. If you don’t have marriage and fatherhood, you don’t have a civilization anymore. All you have is ruins.
This is an unfolding crisis for us. Pastors will tell you that none of the other issues they deal with —alcoholism, drug use, marital problems—comes close to the number of professing Christians that they talk to who are in the throes of this particular sin. This ubiquitous evil in our culture has become a ubiquitous evil in our pews. We should have no delusions about that. And that means that we have this thing among us threatening holiness, witness, marriages, fatherhood, childrearing, and every other precious gift that the Lord has given to us.
This is potentially an existential problem for us because porn use undermines holiness, and the Bible says that without holiness, no one will see the Lord. And none of us is going to be the exception to that.
In 2 Timothy 2, Paul warns the congregation against false teachers. But right in the middle of it, he issues this command to Timothy: “So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Tim. 2:22).
You cannot pursue God and pursue pornography. You can pursue one or you can pursue the other, but you cannot pursue both. This text is telling us how to pursue the narrow way that leads to life. There are at least three imperatives implied by what Paul writes in this verse: He’s telling us to (1) flee lust, (2) pursue the fruit of the spirit, and (3) embrace Christian fellowship.Flee youthful desires
The first thing is to flee youthful lusts. Before we can figure out what Paul is commanding Timothy, and us, to do in these texts, we have to figure out what he’s telling us to flee from. The word that’s translated as “passions” is the Greek word epithumia. It’s a term that simply means “desire.” It refers to the human experience of longing or craving for something, the longing or the craving in our hearts that motivates us to make the decisions that we make.
In Romans 7, Paul gives a chapter-long meditation on what he thinks about desire, or epithumia. What he says there should inform what we think Paul is saying in 2 Timothy 2:22. He says in Romans 7, “I would not have known about desire except that the law was saying ‘you shall not desire.’”
Paul says everything he knows about desire, he learned from the law, particularly from the 10th commandment, which you hear translated often as, “You shall not covet.” The Greek translation of the 10th commandment uses the same term for desire that Paul uses. In fact, Paul is getting this term from the 10th commandment.
Like Paul, if we want to understand “flee youthful desires,” we have to understand the 10th commandment, which says this: “You shall not desire your neighbor’s house, you shall not desire your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor” (Exod. 20:17).
When Paul singled out the 10th commandment in Romans 7, he did so because it may very well be the hardest of all commandments. Commandments two through nine address our deeds; the 10th commandment addresses our desires. Why? Because our desires aren’t neutral. They always have an object. And if you desire something that’s sinful—sexual or otherwise—your desire itself is sinful. That means that even if you never actually committed adultery with another woman, for example, the 10th commandment says that if you had desires commensurate with those deeds, you have already sinned. That means that the desires that we must flee from are any desires for something that God has forbidden us from. It’s certainly not limited to illicit sexual desire, but it does include illicit sexual desire.
Why does Paul use the term “youthful”? These desires are youthful in the sense that they are undisciplined. In other words, maturity and experience usually have a moderating effect on the way we experience our desires. The younger you are, and the less experienced you are, the less self-control you bring to your desires.
Viewing pornography is the opposite of fleeing youthful lusts; it is the embracing of youthful lusts. And every walk down that path is an open rebellion against God’s Word in the 10th commandment. It is a surrender to indwelling sin, the very sin that God calls you to repent of.
Practically, this means that you have to flee from the situations that provoke sin in you. This means that you do not do the things, hang out with the people, or go to the places that you know are going to arouse these kinds of desires in your heart. It might mean not owning a television, or not having cable or internet access at your house. It might mean owning a flip phone instead of a smartphone. Cut off your hand—do not be a fool about this. Lose your smartphone. Save your soul.Pursue the fruit of the Spirit
Paul contends that being a Christian is not just about being against something. It’s about being for something. In this case, we are being called to shun evil desire and instead to pursue its opposite—righteousness, faith, love, and peace. Three of those four virtues are actually listed as fruits of the spirit in Galatians 5: “The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, against such there is no law.” So when Paul commands Timothy, and us, to pursue righteousness, faith, and peace, he’s commanding us to pursue what the Spirit is already doing in us. He’s not calling you to do this alone. This is what the Spirit of God is already working inside of you to do.
Your active pursuit of these things is not at odds with grace. It is the evidence of grace in your life. Your active striving against sin is not legalism. It is the evidence that the Holy Spirit is having his way with you. The absence of that striving is the evidence of the absence of the Spirit. You can’t just stop doing the bad things. You have to start pursuing the good things, because you aren’t pursuing abstractions—you’re pursuing God. And when you pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, that’s evidence that you’re pursuing God.
If you’re trying to flee pornography, and your efforts consist merely in stopping one thing without the active pursuit of righteousness, you’re going to falter. You’re going to focus on what you think you’re missing instead of engaging your heart and your mind in something that is much better than what you’re giving up. The fight for holiness is a fight for joy, for what Thomas Chalmers famously called the “expulsive power of a new affection.” It’s leaving an inferior thing to pursue a better and more satisfying thing.
In practical terms, that means that you don’t just sit on your couch staring at your computer, wondering how long you can hold out. It means you get up and get to work. You pursue righteousness. You do the things that make for good character. You work hard. Proverbs says, “It is by his deeds that a lad distinguishes himself if his conduct is pure and right.” Don’t leave yourself one minute to waste on pursuit of youthful lusts. Pursue love. Pursue faith. Read your Bible. Pray heaven down into your life and into your relationships and into your work. Listen to the Word preached. Pursue the means of grace that God has given you that sustain faith and confidence in King Jesus.
If you give yourself to those things, you will learn self- control and love and goodness and a thousand other beautiful things that God wants to do in your life. Flee youthful lusts to pursue the fruit of the spirit.Embrace Christian fellowship
That last phrase, “along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart,” is not a throw-away phrase. That last phrase is telling you how to pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace. It’s telling you that you must not do it alone. Pursue these things with a group of other people who are also pursuing these things. That’s the church.
Flee youthful lusts, and pursue the fruit of the Spirit, and embrace the fellowship that leads to sanctification. I want to leave you with just a handful of practical things that you can do to flesh this out.Confess your sin
“Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another,” James says. Your secret sin is an open scandal in heaven, and what you’re hiding now is not really hidden. Confess this to God, but also find a trusted friend you can confess to.Pursue accountability
If you’ve got areas in your life that you are intentionally keeping in the dark, you’ve not only got to confess your sin, but you’ve got to attach yourself to people who can help keep you accountable. And those people can’t be people who are mired in the same problem you are. They have to be people who have proven faithfulness in this area and can actually pull you forward in constructive ways. And I would add that you should pursue this accountability with somebody in your church. Your accountability ought to be under the purview of the discipline and order of your church.Cut off your hand and gouge out your eye
Be willing to take extraordinary measures to beat this. There is nothing that you can lay down the Lord won’t replace with more joy. If you lay down your smartphone, then do it.Realize what’s at stake
Jesus said, “Enter by the narrow gate, for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life and few are those who find it.” If you’re looking at pornography, you are walking down the broad road. You’re not walking down the narrow path that leads to life. So everything is at stake in this. Jesus said, “No man can serve two masters.” You can serve God, or you can serve an idol. You cannot serve both.Define struggle in terms of victory, not defeat
I hear a lot of guys talk about this as a struggle. What they mean by struggle is they try hard not to look at this material, then they fall, they try hard again, then they fall again, they try some more, then they fall some more. And so, for them, struggle means entrenched patterns of defeat. That’s not biblical struggle.
Biblical struggle is not embracing patterns of defeat but embracing patterns of faithfulness. Test yourself on this. If your struggle is just patterns of defeat with no progress, you’re not doing biblical struggle. So don’t call it that. You need to take even more extraordinary measures to see progress if that’s where you are.
The grace of the Lord Jesus is sufficient for this. Flee youthful lusts. God has enabled you to do this. The Holy Spirit of God is working in you to do this, if you know him.
Denny Burk is a professor of biblical studies at Boyce College. He also serves as associate pastor at Kenwood Baptist Church in Louisville.
In 2 Corinthians 6, we read that the apostle Paul commended himself to the Corinthian church. Aspiring pastors need to do the same.
Of course, future pastors — seminarians! — pick up the books of study and papers of class in order to commend themselves to the work. But when it comes to being ready for ministry, one qualification usually remains the most elusive: experience.
In his book Habits of the Mind, James Sire writes about two ancient paths of instruction: monastic and scholastic. The monastery teaches by experience. This is where we get apprentice models of education. The scholar teaches through lecture; seminaries are largely built on this model. The people who make up pastoral search committees, more often than not, are looking for both.
I spend my time helping connect ministers to ministry, prospective pastors to churches with openings. I approve hundreds of open positions (through Southern Seminary’s Ministry Connections), and trust me, churches want both school and experience. They want educated workers who rightly divide the Word of Truth. They also seek seasoned ministers who can shepherd with experience.
Most of us know how to get the education ministry requires. But what about that experience part? Here are three ways to become “career-ready’” for the pastorate:Serve.
The average length of time it takes to complete a Master of Divinity degree is three to -five. And guess what? The average experience required for a pastoral opening is three to five years. The math is simple: Spend your time in seminary serving the local church, maybe even as a full-time pastor.
You should seek out pass/fail ministry opportunities that rely on you for growth in the depth and breadth. Don’t settle for practice that never puts you in the game.Find a mentor.
When it comes to finding your first pastorate, you can receive three types of references. The first reference will claim you won’t mess up the ministry. The second reference will explain you will do a good job with the ministry. The third reference, a mentor, will introduce you to a ministry position.
The ideal mentor gets the chance to observe you throughout your studies. He or she will fill your heart as your head expands, and give you honest, real-time feedback for areas that need growth.
Paul mentored Timothy and Titus, even calling them children in the faith. He also encouraged the church to pass on the faith in individual relationships (2 Tim 2:2). Paul believed in one-on-one discipleship, and he practiced mentoring young men. If you can’t automatically name a mentor figure in your life, find one.Submit to your local church.
I choose the word “submit” for a reason: Far too often, I see people placed into pastoral ministry without guidance from a sending church.
Submission to the sending process of a local church means you trust the providence of God in placing your gift set into that body for a reason. It also grounds our process to real relationships that can prove for long-term retention in positions.
Sometimes I hear people say, “But my church won’t invest in me or help me find a position of ministry.” Well, Have you asked? Many good intentions die in the field of assumptions. Let us make finding a pastoral position on our own a last resort rather than our default setting.
At Southern Seminary, Ministry Connections can serve churches and potential pastors by connecting through our website. Students and Alumni may create a profile to submit their resume to open positions, and churches may post a job throughout the year. But remember: We are an aid to an ancient path of “commending ourselves” through discipleship and the local church.
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