Thursday, November 28, 2013

What Would Jesus Say About Your Church?

In order for a sick patient to get treatment an individual must admit that he/she is not well.  The same principle is true with regards to sick churches.  In a previous blog post Dr. Rainer suggested some of the warning signs that often reveal that a ministry is unwell.  When a sick church lives in denial over their true spiritual condition they are often only "one stage away from becoming terminal."  Many ministries slowly but surely whittle away (numerically, financially, and most importantly spiritually) because they are unwilling to humbly admit that genuine repentance and biblical change are drastically needed.  Pride and apathy often make people blind or indifferent to the words of Christ

Having said that, many ministries that appear to be successful on the outside are often plagued with stage four cancer on the insideNot everything that glitters is gold.  Just because a church is packed each and every Sunday does not necessarily mean they are growing spiritually.  Just because a church is the talk of town does not mean it is a model ministry.  In fact, many evangelical churches that are a mile wide are often only an inch deep.  If you think "bigger always means better and more successful" in the eyes of God than you have not carefully read through the New Testament Scriptures.

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Beloved Physician

Colossians chapter 4 serves as a wonderful reminder that effective gospel ministry is a team effort.  Many different friends served both Paul and the cause of Christ during Paul's very fruitful ministry.  In many of his inspired epistles the faithful apostle humbly acknowledges his ministry "teammates."  It is certainly appropriate that we give "honor to whom honor is due."

As Paul faithfully upheld the truth of God's Word in the trenches of ministry the Lord's bondservant experienced a life full of pain and suffering.  Along the way this "spiritual piñata" was given a most loyal friend in doctor Luke.  In fact in Colossians 4:14 Paul refers to Luke as "the beloved physician."  One can only imagine the practical ways God would have used Luke during Paul's missionary journeys. 

In my previous post I described some of the physical ailments that I have experienced during our church revitalization efforts in Freeport.  In God's good Providence the Lord provided me with a "beloved Christian physician" as well.  Doctor Brian Bennett was the compassionate and gifted doctor that I needed during some of the more challenging and painful valleys in ministry.  Doctor Bennett is a faithful church member at another evangelical church in town and so he is uniquely gifted to minister to both body and soul.  Dr. Bennett's medical expertise and love for Jesus make him the perfect pastors' physician.  In the spirit of Colossian 4:14 this article is dedicated to my ministry partner Dr. Brian Bennett.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

..."for the sake of your stomach and infirmities"

In 1 Timothy 5:23 the apostle Paul instructs his ministry protégé Timothy to not drink water exclusively but to use a little wine for the sake of his stomach and his frequent illnesses.  It is impossible to say with absolute certainty what specific physical ailments were plaguing this faithful pastor.  Timothy's gastrointestinal tract appears to have been seriously out of whack.  It's also clear that his aches and pains were somewhat constant.

We also know from the biblical text that Timothy was a young pastor.  At times Timothy struggled with being timid in the face of push back, potential persecution, and real pain.  Like all Word-dominated leaders Timothy's ministry in Ephesus experienced highs and lows.   He needed a lot of encouragement, counsel, and care as he served Christ's cause in Asia minor (see 1 and 2 Timothy).   As a loving shepherd and spiritual father Paul instructs his son in the faith in 1 Timothy 5:23 to take a little wine for the sake of his aching gut.   

When I came to Freeport in 2008 God had blessed me with twenty-eight years of very good health.  In the summer of 2009 however I began to experience many painful gastrointestinal symptoms.  When the fires of "revitalization ministry" blazed most (for example note this, this, or this) my stomach often "flared up" as well.   My "Timothy ailments" included internal burning, regurgitation, constant gnawing stomach pain, and massive abdominal bloating all of which resulted in weight loss (thirty pounds over four years) and at times radical restrictions in diet (hence the weight loss) to help manage the chronic pain.  After a particularly painful season where I experienced my own "Black Tuesday" I was only able to stomach Ensure and a few other liquid food items.  During these painful seasons I sometimes found it quite laborious just to make it through the day.  By the grace of God I never missed a day of work and pressed in gospel service.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Calvin and His Ailments: Pastoral Productivity in the Midst of Pain

This six minute video highlights the life of Calvin and how he pressed on in Christian service even in the midst of many physical ailments.  This video complements the articles that follow this particular blog post.

"Calvin and His Ailments: Pastoral Productivity in the Midst of Pain"

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The High Cost of Church Revitalization

"Consider the cost before building a tower."  This principle is true not only in regards to Christian discipleship it is equally true of pastoral ministry; especially if God calls you to join His cause in the work of church revitalization.  If you want to understand more fully what church revitalization is and why it is often needed please consider these excellent resources here, here, and here.

In hindsight I wish I would have better understood the high cost of church revitalization before I ever stepped into the deep end of the ministry pool.  Had I known then what I know now maybe I never would have come to Freeport in the first place?  Perhaps like Jonah I would have run away from God's calling on my life?  I certainly hope not!  "Here I am Lord. Send me!" is the heartbeat of every minister that is truly called into 'vocational ministry.'

The following resources have helped me and my leadership team put our challenging ministry into a larger context: Note this, this, and thisIf God uses our experiences to help encourage and instruct other believers along the way that would be a tremendous blessing.  May we all press on towards the goal of the upward calling in Christ!  Wherever the Master takes us may we serve Him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength!  As Pastor Rick Holland says, "If it bears His name it is worth our best."

At times I have to remind my heart that it is a mercy to serve the Lord's cause no matter how difficult one's ministry lot may be.  All ministry that is truly biblical is costly.  If you faithfully honor Christ and seek to uphold the full counsel of God you will experience various hardships.  However if the Holy Spirit leads you to a "Corinth like ministry" rather than taking you to "Philippi"" you will likely experience a different sort of ministry.  I believe every church leader involved in biblical reformation work has experienced very similar challenges.

I was not fully prepared for the ministry of church revitalization when my family moved to Freeport.  I am certainly not adequate for these things.  God continues to refine me and teach me and shape me and mold me as I attempt to serve Him faithfully in the ministry trenches.  Here is one quote that every pastor and lay leader involved in church revitalization ministry needs to prayerfully consider:  
By this point in the book, you may be greatly inspired by the numerous stories of leaders who persevered in the midst of significant trials. On the other hand, you may be scared to death by the high cost these leaders paid to move their churches to new levels of excellence. You have already read of leaders who were dismissed, stressed-out leaders who found themselves in the hospital, and leaders who faced the wrath of those who were once supporters. Unfortunately, difficulties are commonplace in churches that move to greatness (greater biblical fidelity). Sometimes moments of crisis are sensed internally by those who lead the change in the church. Inevitably the crisis also takes place with many of the members. And more often than not, the members who experience the crisis blame the pastor for the difficulties they encounterThom Rainer.
Below you can read various emails from former church members.  I have chosen to include these unedited letters (without any person's name attached) in effort to illustrate three principles: 
1) I want you to understand that Thom Rainer's quote (listed above) is very insightful and is often quite true of reformation ministries.  "Consider the cost before building the ministry tower."  On going conflict (growing pains) can lead ministry allies to leave the same ministry they once so esteemed.  Self inflicted ministry wounds need to be humbly acknowledged along the way.  At the same time fighting the Lord's battles and making tough/unpopular decisions as you attempt to do the work of church revitalization is at times very messy.  You will get your hands dirty.  Thom Rainer is correct.  The one at the tip of the spear will be blamed and sometimes attacked when those crisis moments in ministry come.  2) I have included notes from different members to further validate that my overall evaluation of the work here is accurate. In the spirit of 2 Corinthians 13:1, By the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established.   As I open up my heart in this ministry blog I am trying my very best to not misrepresent the story.  In other words, many members (current and former)  have made these same observations.  This blog does not just represent the perspective of one person.  3) To remind my readers that the work of church revitalization is not the work of one personThe "human heroes" of our story are actually the courageous lay leaders of the church.  Their steadfast perseverance combined with the essential prayer support and encouragement of many faithful members is the chief means God used (outside Scripture) to bring about the necessary changes at First.  Some of the letters listed below encouraged us to press on during those intense crisis moments in gospel ministry.

I was praying for you and your family this morning during my prayer time at home thanking the Lord for bringing you here to this “spiritual desert” and asking Him to continue to give you wisdom and understanding of people. I understand the nature of these meetings today and will be interceding for you dear brother.


"Just a quick note of encouragement to keep pushing forward. Hope the recent attacks are not discouraging you too much. Remember the source that they are coming from; Not very reputable, not spiritual, definitely not very discerning. Again consider the source.

Now if someone like Phil Johnson wrote an "open letter to Caleb Kolstad" on Pyromaniacs that might be kind of concerning. =) But seriously, it's a comfort for us to know we have a pastor that will keep his "hand to the plow" and one who preaches the Word to us every Sunday.

More than likely FBC has been in diapers for the past 165yrs. so it will take time to get them out of them.

I continue to pray that one day FBC will be a healthy church and one that will "adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect" (Titus 2:10b).

Your friend,

"I just wanted to send you a little note of encouragement. I know last night couldn't have been easy. I was at times embarrassed, angry, and encouraged by what you were compelled to do. But the lasting impression I have is that God is good and has blessed us with a true man of God. I have never been under the shepherding of someone capable of doing what you did. I know last night was difficult, but at least for me, it was a HUGE blessing. I cannot explain to you how powerful it was to see my shepherd expose his heart and reaffirm that 1. he is a man that is 2. submitting in word and deed to the truth of the Word. The humility, grace, patience, and prayerfulness that has been consistently exhibited by you and the other men in leadership has not gone unnoticed. As you said last night, this is an exciting time! God is working!

 Anyway, "John Doe" challenged me last night to be more vocal about the good God is doing in our midst and in the community at large. I guess sometimes it's just assumed that you know you are appreciated and loved. That's an incorrect assumption on my part. You have served to bolster me and my family in a time when what we need is a strong, gentle hand. I thank God and pray for you (almost) daily. :-) There is a peace I have in worshiping at FBC that I have NEVER experienced before. Much of that comes from your spiritual shepherding. Thank you for your testimony, your willingness to do the difficult job of shepherding, and your preaching of the Word."


XX and I were talking afterward and wonder if some within the mutinous minority were expecting you to say ‘I’m sorry, please forgive me and I will accommodate your preferences’. That did NOT happen; and when you directed our thoughts toward ‘we have run out of pastors to blame for our inner turmoil and it is time to begin looking at the man in the mirror’ then this will be the dividing line. Yes indeed another line has been drawn in the sand and it is time for some folks to recommit or remove themselves.

The Lord has blessed your ministry efforts in leading us back toward a more biblical model what the Lord’s church was intended to be. The battles along the way will be necessary and yet I believe the Lord will reward us for our faithful obedience to His word both now and in the next life.

Grace to you dear brother!


I thought Sunday night went wonderfully!!!! I am SO pleased we did not get/take questions… would not have facilitated the healing process or the working out of grievances…It was pretty clear to me that you had everyone’s attention, and my hope is that people got the message….doing things biblically is not always easy, it can be tough, but it’s right (that’s most important), and THAT is the direction we intend to stay on.

Had anyone jumped up with comments/questions I would have reminded them of the wisdom of Solomon recorded in Proverbs: He who troubles his own house shall inherit the wind……, and that we consider the words we have heard—they were heartfelt, biblical, well spoken….to lapse into a nasty congregational to/fro would have made that the headline of the night, and people would have talked about THAT. My prayer is that instead of talking about it, people think about it and consider what was said…..My prayer this week is that people look in the mirror a bit….

Keep at it….. XX

Thanks for the encouragement! Just know, that you and your family are precious to us and we thank you for bringing the true word of God through expository preaching and teaching and by the humble example you and Andrea lead on a daily basis.

In His Arms,


Thursday, November 7, 2013

"O You of Little Faith, Why Do You Doubt?"

Jesus and the Storms of Life
In John 6 Jesus tests his disciples in order to help them grow in the knowledge and grace of Christ.  Jesus' disciples quickly fail heaven's pop quiz before receiving an invaluable spiritual lesson from their Master Teacher.  After the Lord Jesus flexes His Deity muscles for all to see He sends the twelve back across the Sea of Galilee.  Less than twelve hours later the disciple's faith is tested once again this time in the middle of a giant sea storm.  Without the perceived presence of Christ the disciples panic (Mayday!!!).  These manly fishermen are quickly overcome with white-knuckle fear and in short order have to basically relearn the same lesson Jesus taught them just a short while ago.  Sound familiar anyone (my hand is raised)?

When preaching through this narrative the Spirit reminded me how often I respond just like these knucklehead disciples. How many times must Jesus say to you and I, "O you of little faith.  Why did you doubt? Why are you so afraid?" 

After God's amazing and abundant provision for First Baptist Church just a few years ago I would like to tell you that every time our ministry ship has gone through various life storms that I've always responded with steadfast faith and courage; that would be a LIE.  So many times in life and ministry I find myself crying out, "Lord I believe!  Help my unbelief!" Or "Father, cure this spiritual amnesia of mine and forgive me for ever doubting You, Your plan, or Your Holy Word."  "Help me so I can help those entrusted to my care."

As I post this series of journal articles I want to do everything I can to make much of Jesus.  Even when we respond faithfully or make a Martin Luther like stand for the truth let us quickly direct all praise and glory back to God (Romans 11:36). 

In Christ alone
I place my trust
And find my glory in the power of the cross
In every victory
Let it be said of me
My source of strength
My source of hope
Is Christ alone

In Christ alone do I glory
For only by His grace I am redeemed
For only His tender mercy
Could reach beyond my weakness to my need
And now I seek no greater honor in just to know Him more
And to count my gains but losses to the glory of my Lord

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Lord Will Provide: Here I Raise My Ebenezer (pt 2)

How many times have you heard someone say, "Be faithful Christian and trust God with the results."  "The Lord will provide (per 1 Cor. 4:2, and Genesis 22:14)?" Or, "Trust and obey, for there's no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey." The longer I have been a disciple of Jesus the more this maxim has been tested and the more God has shown Himself to be Faithful and True.

As we began to see last time these simple principles however are not always quite so easy to live out. In my opening article I recounted father Abraham's extreme test of faith (Genesis 22:1-18).

The painting above is a powerful reminder of how God generally works. It is often not until the 'last moment' that the Lord chooses to rescue His people from the miry pit. God often "tests" His elect to prove and improve their faith (Job 1:1-21). King Jesus does this very thing with His beloved disciples in John 6. In Abraham's case it was not until the Patriarch "passed" his extreme test of faith that the Lord provided a glorious substitute.

Jehovah Jireh: The Lord Will Provide (part 1)

This chapter spotlights God's immutable reliability.  The God of Abraham is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  Abraham's God is our God.  I want to share the particular details of this story in effort to raise our Ebenezer stone (1 Samuel 7:12) in honor of the One who is Faithful and True.  When God tests our faith (James 1:2-4) may we remember Genesis 22 that we might trust Jehovah-Jireh.     

The extreme test of faith that Abraham receives in Genesis 22 is one of the most familiar stories in Scripture.  Would Abraham trust and obey the Lord even when doing so made no sense at all?  "When praise demanded a sacrifice would he worship even then?"  Genesis 22:1-2, After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here am I."  He said, "Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you." 

For First Baptist Church our faith was tested when obedience to God's Word meant ongoing internal opposition, much slander and gossip, and eventually numerical and financial losses.  Let me be honest here.  Even when you are firmly convinced that the most important kind of church growth is spiritual growth (per Col. 1:28) it is still not easy to remain faithful to the Word of God when you begin to suffer for righteousness sake.  It is not so easy being a 'Word-dominated, 9-Marks' church when the going gets tough.

Abraham's radical response of faith is described in verses 3-10. So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. 4 On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar. 5 Then Abraham said to his young men, "Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you." 6 And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. 7 And Isaac said to his father Abraham, "My father!" And he said, "Here am I, my son." He said, "Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?" 8 Abraham said, "God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son." So they went both of them together. 9 When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son.

Our response of faith was not nearly as "radical" or "moving" as father Abraham's but it was just as necessary if the reforming work of God was to continue at the FBC of Freeport.  From weekly sermon expositions of controversial texts (2 Timothy 4:1-5), to private one another type conversations with wayward church members (Gal. 6:1-4, Matthew 18:15), to explosive outbursts of wrath at congregational meetings, the temptation to compromise was ever before us.  Would the lay leaders continue to hold the line or would they try yet another ministry paradigm?  Would the membership continue to come back each week to worship, serve, and fellowship?  Would the pastoral staff persevere during the most trying of times?  Would our church continue to trust and obey even when doing so did not make a lot of sense (humanly speaking)?  When obedience demanded a sacrifice (time, treasure, reputation) would we worship and obey Christ even then?  This test of faith seemed to reach a pinnacle for us in 2012.  


Thursday, October 31, 2013

"All that glitters isn't gold"

The following perspective comes from the heart of a faithful church layman.  I believe his summary of First Baptist (past and present) is both honest and accurate.

"From what I am seeing, God has His hand on First for whatever purpose. But His purpose seems best revealed through a humble church.  Over the many decades FBC has been known as 'the' church in Freeport. Large crowds, big choirs, impressive musicals, a wealthy church, a place to go to be among the who's who. It appeared however to be a proud church. 

Pride caused many to overlook the sins within the church. Pride placed a premium on relatively shallow teaching/ preaching. I notice many of the choir songs have a Christian bent, but are very shallow in message. Grandeur, but not necessarily Gospel.  Style without corresponding substance.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

How Church Discipline Can Be Like Doctor Shopping

Article written by Dr. Russell D. Moore
"Law enforcement officials use the term “doctor shopping” to refer to the way those addicted to prescription pain medications seek to avert accountability. If you go to your doctor to ask for Vicodin, and your physician refuses to prescribe it, you are doctor shopping if you then seek out multiple doctors until you find the one who will prescribe the Vicodin. Sometimes an addict will have multiple doctors going at once, all prescribing different medicines, often those that are dangerous to mix. I’ve noticed the same thing going on when it comes to church accountability.

The truth is, there’s a certain type of personality that doesn’t want accountability, but affirmation. If one wants to divorce someone one shouldn’t divorce or marry someone one shouldn’t marry or do something one shouldn’t do, he seeks out a pastor’s “accountability.” When the pastor tells him the opposite of what he wants to hear, he leaves and goes to find a pastor or counselor who will. And this goes on and on.

This isn’t being shepherded. It’s the same old autonomy of the self, that first manifests itself in the life-cycle of a child saying, “But Dad said it was okay…” except now grown up into something with a far more malevolent motive and a far more dangerous outcome.

Sadly, there are too many ministers of the gospel out there willing to empower this sort of behavior. If you have a church member who has been warned or disciplined by another pastor or church, you have a responsibility to investigate what’s going on. True, it might be that the old church spoke where there is no authority to speak, disciplining a parent for not homeschooling, for example. But, even then, if you will give an answer for the soul of this person, you bear the responsibility to find out what exactly is going on.

If you’re the kind of minister who refuses to acknowledge the discipline or accountability structures of other churches, you might simply be more enlightened than those churches and leaders. Or you might not know what you’re dealing with. And you just might be fighting against a word spoken by Jesus himself, handing over an unrepentant soul to Satan, with the hopes of ultimate repentance (1 Cor. 5:4-5).

Your affirmation of an unrepentant and fugitive-from-discipline church member isn’t an act of love or mercy. It’s an act of hatred. You are empowering the unrepentant to “bear the name brother” or sister (1 Cor. 5:11), to assuage a conscience that should be convicted by the Spirit. If so, you’d be better off just prescribing an addict another round of Percocet." 

Article by Dr. Moore and posted at  

Friday, October 25, 2013

Alexander the Coppersmith

"Alexander the Coppersmith did me much harm

In college I was privileged to be discipled by a number of faithful men.  Pastor Mark Spansel was one of the godly men who invested in my life and future ministry.  Mark often let me use his office at the Master's College so I could study the Word and utilize his personal library "after hours."  As an extended family member of the late Dr. D. Edmond Hiebert Mark owned a number of books from the personal library of the great New Testament scholar.  One of the Hiebert books that has been most helpful to me is shown above. "In Paul's Shadow: Friends and Foes of the Great Apostle." 

It is obvious in reading the New Testament epistles that the apostle was not afraid to name names.  Alexander the Coppersmith was one of the many named "ministry foes" of the apostle Paul.  Apparently this metalworker wrecked havoc on Paul's pastoral ministry.  In time Alexander did God's servant a "great deal of harm."  2 Timothy 4:15 informs us that Alexander strongly opposed the apostolic message.  The rest of the backstory would have likely been very familiar to the original audience and so Paul does not say much more than this.

As a faithful Christian the great apostle tried to practice what he preached.  For example in Romans 12:18-19 Paul wrote, If possible, so far as depends on you, be at peace with all men.  Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, 'I will repay, says the Lord."  Instead of trying to settle a personal score in a fleshly way Paul left room for the wrath of God.  Paul believed that God Himself would "repay this man for his sinful deeds." 

As a faithful shepherd Paul also sought to protect his flock and Timothy from the contaminating influence of this Coppersmith foe.  So Paul mentions this man by name in a letter that would have been read aloud to the entire congregation.  In 2 Timothy 4:13-15, the apostle dually warns these believers of this human "leaven."  So what does Paul and Alexander have to do with me or FBC?

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Nine Secrets Your Pastor’s Wife Wishes You Knew

This is a very helpful read from

Nine Secrets Your Pastor's Wife Wishes You Knew
Article written by Christina Stolaas posted on June 4, 2014

"She’s always there. Sometimes in the background, sometimes with a welcoming smile up front, sometimes noticed and appreciated, sometimes being silently judged. Your pastor’s wife; the powerful force behind most church leaders often perceived as a mystery by the rest of the church. It doesn’t have to be that way.
What if we just asked our pastor’s wife to candidly, honestly, even anonymously share some of their secrets? What if we invited them to share their hearts and tell us what they wished the church knew?

I posed a simple, open ended question to a panel of pastors’ wives in different states, from different denominations, with various years of service, “If you could tell the church a few things about your role as a pastor’s wife, what would you say?”

Friday, May 3, 2013

"But you excel them all: The Hidden Gem in it All."

Behind every faithful pastor their is an even better woman.  That is why I want to dedicate this post to my helpmate in the spirit of Proverbs 31. "You my dear excel them all."

Proverbs 31:27-31, She looks well to the ways of her household, And does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and bless her; Her husband also, and he praises her, saying: "Many daughters have done nobly, But you excel them all." Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, But a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised. Give her the product of her hands, And let her works praise her in the gates.

My wife and I have been married for ten precious years now.  Of those ten we have been in pastoral ministry for eight and half years.  I cannot imagine trying to persevere in revitalization ministry without a godly spouse, confidant, counselor, prayer warrior, mother, helper, and true friend like my bride Andrea.  My life and ministry is what it is because of this gift!

Having said that, one of the hardest things about the ministry is that a pastor cannot shield his wife from all the pain, hurt, personal attacks, and disappointment of church life from the front row pew.  As many authors have pointed out the challenges of pastoral ministry are in some ways unique (as are the blessings).  I recently read an article by Ed Welch that said being a pastor's wife is the "toughest job on the planet."  Outside of being a godly mother I agree with Dr. Welch's assessment 100%.

Welch's article (below) explains one of reasons why being a "PW" requires so much grace and humility.  Faithful church members should not only remember to pray daily for their pastor but for their PW's.  In this vein, I believe the best chapter in Iain Murray's recent biography on John MacArthur is chapter ten (Patricia MacArthur).  She is the hidden gem behind MacArthur's faithful (public) ministry.

A Pastor’s Wife: The Toughest Job on the Planet 
By: Ed Welch

"Your husband received a near unanimous vote from the congregation when he was called but someone must have rigged the count. After his very first sermon, his approval rating started its relentless downward course, and it feels like the nay-sayers are killing your soul. And all the while, you are expected to keep on smiling and maintain civility.

Pastoral Ministry: A Sure Way to Be Dishonored. (By Ed Welch)

The following article by Dr. Ed Welch summarizes the trials and tribulations of revitalization work and of pastoral ministry in general.  It is a very good article and is well worth your time.   This article captures the pathos of 2 Corinthians and the wounded heart of a loving pastor. This follow up article highlights some of the unique challenges a pastor's wife faces in ministry.

2013 was a very difficult year for the leadership team at First Baptist Church. In some ways it was more painful than any previous year of ministry in it's own unique way.   Welch's article summarizes the deep pain many shepherds have to work through as the strive to build up the body of Christ.  Brother Welch reminds us to "look to Jesus all you undershepherds of Christ!"

ARTICLE: "Here is one reason you must be called to pastoral ministry: the people you love will not love you back—at least some of them will not love you back. They will say utterly horrible things about you, so you better be sure you want to do this. It is one thing to be dissed by the world around you; it is something else again to be demeaned by your own church family while you are pouring your heart out for them.

Personal Attacks
This is the worst feature of pastoral ministry. Every pastor, unless he is surrounded by others who shield him from criticism, has dozens of heart-breaking stories. Take the example of the pastor who receives anonymous weekly letters from a congregant who claims to be speaking for many others when she writes, “I pray every day that you would leave the church.” The letters are all cut out from magazines so they have that creepy look of a murder threat.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus...

Photo Credit:
All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution (2 Timothy 3:12).  Which means, local churches that try and follow the Word of Christ faithfully should expect some measure of push back and opposition too.  Now granted not every hill is worth dying on.  Self-inflicted gun shot wounds are not uncommon in the Christian life or in the pastorate; but now I digress. 

While commenting on John 6:16-21 Pastor Kent Hughes draws out this same principle.
The disciples were in trouble because they had steered their boat into contrary winds. What is the meaning of this? Our Lord is saying, "Those of you who have decided to follow me as your Savior are going to be sailing your vessel into the winds of life. You are going to have trouble. But obey anyway." There are two ways to get into storms. One is to flee God’s will, like Jonah did. A great storm blew up, and he ended up in a fish’s belly. That is different from the disciples’ situation. They were in the midst of a storm because they were obedient to God. Those who decide to follow Christ and give him their allegiance will face contrary winds, no doubt about it. Moses would never have felt rejected by a complaining people if at the burning bush he had decided not to obey Jehovah. Daniel would never have had to face a lion’s den if he had not decided to be faithful to God. Just think of how much persecution Paul would have avoided if he had just stayed in Tarsus. But then these great men would have never known the refreshing winds of the Holy Spirit flowing through their lives. Yes, following Christ will take us into some fierce storms, but the rewards are even greater.

One of the local church pastors that has been a friend and great help to First Baptist Church over the years is Chris Brauns.  Pastor Brauns takes this theme and applies it a bit further here.  I've included some of his original post below.

Local Churches and Christians Should Expect Conflict

"Somehow American Christians believe that if they do everything right at church, there won’t be conflict.  I guess this is true, if everyone did everything right.  But, in a fallen world, the reality is the opposite.  When a local church really begins to follow Christ, then they can expect conflict.  It is certain.  In fact, a lack of conflict, may be a warning sign!
Still, when there is conflict some say, “Something is wrong – – we must not be headed in the right direction. . .” Of course, sometimes conflict is an indicator that leadership is making more decisions. But conflict does not necessarily mean that poor decisions are being made.
The Bible gives countless examples of how people who followed Christ faced conflict.  Reflect on the following verses:
After I go through Macedonia, I will come to you-for I will be going through Macedonia. Perhaps I will stay with you awhile, or even spend the winter, so that you can help me on my journey, wherever I go. I do not want to see you now and make only a passing visit; I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me (1 Corinthians 16:5-9).” 
Note also Acts 20:28-30, Jude 3-5, & Nehemiah 4:1-4)
And, consider these quotes:
“Over time and through hundreds of conversations we came to recognize that change does not happen without conflict.  As we reviewed the biblical patterns, every time – – without exception – – the people of God began to make adjustments to join God in his activity, conflict emerged.” [1]  Leading Congregational Change: A Practical Guide for the Transformational Journey
“As one pastor said, ‘All my life, I’ve judged my success by how happy everyone in the church was.  You are telling me that if I’m really on mission with God, one sign of my success will be the presence of conflict.’” [2]Leading Congregational Change: A Practical Guide for the Transformational Journey
By this point in the book, you may be greatly inspired by the numerous stories of leaders who persevered in the midst of significant trials. On the other hand, you may be scared to death by the high cost these leaders paid to move their churches to new levels of excellence. You have already read of leaders who were dismissed, stressed-out leaders who found themselves in the hospital, and leaders who faced the wrath of those who were once supporters. Unfortunately, difficulties are commonplace in churches that move to greatness. Sometimes moments of crisis are sensed internally by those who lead the change in the church. Inevitably the crisis also takes place with many of the members. And more often than not, the members who experience the crisis blame the pastor for the difficulties they encounter. [3] Thom Rainer.
Second, virtually every leader in Scripture endured some type of conflict in his or her life. The cost of following Christ is great. We cannot become complacent with the status quo just to avoid conflict. We must lead. Yes, we must love the people, and we must console them when change becomes increasingly painful to them. But we must lead. We cannot be content with a life and a ministry that could be described in the epitaph: ”This leader avoided conflict well.” [4] Thom Rainer.
But the greatest surprise was to hear of the cost of breaking out. My bias did not want this factor to be included in the study. I feared that describing the high price churches and leaders paid when they moved to greatness would deter and discourage others from taking this path.[5]  Thom Rainer
Perhaps the most significant lesson of all, though, was the realization that when you strip it all away, leaders do just two things: They create conflict and they resolve conflict. . . It’s not hyperbole.  Leaders create conflict simply by pushing people to focus on God’s vision.  That creates conflict for most people, because his vision is designed to cause change in our lives – – and most people resist change.[6]  Barna.
It is concluded that every congregation that successfully adapted and flourished in a changing community had a substantial church fight.  Those that chose to avoid conflict at all costs failed to flourish.  No exceptions.[7]  Gene Wood.
Don’t be surprised by painful trials (1 Peter 4:12ff); fix your eyes on the Lord (Heb 12:1-3).  It is worth it!"

The trials and tribulations of reformation ministry

For those called to do the work of church revitalization let us remember Martin Luther's "Theology of the cross." A modern day Reformer, Dr. Albert Mohler, opens up about the trials and tribulations of reformation ministry in a very honest way here

I've included some select quotes from this very moving article below:

Mohler recalls an Easter party when some of those who opposed him were mean to his children who were only 6 and 3 years old at the time.  "I sat down on the floor in the guest room in the president's home with Mary, and we just closed the door and lost it. And we, honestly, as tearfully as we could, prayed, 'Lord, it's in Your hands; we've got nothing more to give.'"

... "The full weight of the relational loss occurred in 1995, the evening when Mohler found himself alone with his wife, crying in the guest room of his home.  He was completely spent."

..."Two weeks earlier, the faculty of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, where Mohler had been president for less than two years, overwhelmingly supported a motion that rebuked him and repudiated his policies, with only two members voting for him and two voting in absentia. The days that followed weren't any easier."

..."I felt very imperiled about being able to be the president who would be able to build the institution on the other side," Dr. Mohler said. The trustees "needed me at least to get the hard work done and do the deconstructive work, even if I didn't have the opportunity to have the constructive work on the other side."

..."We were, day by day, living in the tortuous context of walking into nothing but unending conflict, from beginning to end," Mohler said. The conflict "wasn't just on the campus, but extended over into the SBC, extended over into the world of theological education, extended over into the city of Louisville, such that Mary and I were almost unable to go eat in a restaurant without having invectives hurled at us."

..."If it's about the convictions, then you can handle the opposition, the criticism, the controversy because it's not most importantly about you," Mohler said. "My ambition and goal and purpose has been to articulate convictions that I believe are not only true, but are important for the sake of the church, for the sake of the world, for everything from eternal life to human flourishing. If you understand the issue of the truth, if you have confidence in the truth -- and your convictions ... are not only true, but urgently important -- then you have to be willing to undergo a great deal of controversy."

..."Like any movement, the return to orthodoxy and confessional fidelity at Southern Seminary included not only a leader, but many people. Among them, Mohler expressed his thankfulness for the support of the trustees and pastors within the conservative movement who provided essential support and encouragement."

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Gossips, Busybodies and Wisdom from the Pastoral Epistles

The holy Scriptures are the inerrant and infallible Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16).  His Word is trustworthy and true because the Divine author of Scripture is a God who cannot lie (Titus 1:2).  As such we must interpret our experiences through the grid of Scripture rather than interpret the Word of God through our personal life experiences.   The longer I am in Christ and the more time I spend in full time ministry the more I see how Divinely powerful, perfectly accurate, and relevant the Bible truly is (Hebrew 4:12; 2 Timothy 3:17, Psalm 119).  God's Word is totally sufficient for all things pertaining to life and godliness.

In 1 Timothy the Spirit of God, through the apostle Paul, provides a young pastor (Timothy) with an inspired church manual.   1 Timothy 3:15, but in case I am delayed, I write so that you may know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.  In chapter five Paul provides specific instructions related to body life including how the church ought to minister to widows and how widows ought to conduct themselves in the household of God.  One of the passages of Scripture that always seemed just a little bit harsh to me was 1 Timothy 5:13, And at the same time they (young widows) also learn to be idle, as they go around from house to house; and not merely idle, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not.

We do not want you to be uninformed...about the troubles we experienced (WHY?)

In 2 Corinthians 1:8-10 Paul wrote the following inspired words, For we do not you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia.  For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.  Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death.  But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.  He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us.  On Him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.

Some  will surely accuse me of being too weak, too vulnerable, too transparent, and/or too candid in this "Decision Points" series of articles and personal reflections.  Though I am unequal to compare myself to the Apostle Paul in any significant manner I do hope to imitate his heart as I compose this ministry blog.

Paul said that he did not want his church family to be unaware of the many hardships his ministry team experienced as they attempted to faithfully serve King Jesus.  One of the reasons why so many Christians gravitate to this letter is because Paul is so open and transparent in it.   Apparently this mature pastor with skin as thick as an elephant hide also possessed a heart as tender as the psalmist.  The theologian with razor sharp logic was also a shepherd with real affection and passion for people. 

By emphasizing ministry opposition, push back, fears, disappointments, & various set backs Paul sets the stage to further magnify the grace and power of God.  The God who calls us into gospel service is the God who raises the dead!  The God who takes His people through many dangers, toils, and snares is the same God who will deliver us time and time again! The pilgrim's pain is intended to help us not be so self-reliant (which is a constant problem) that we might depend entirely on Him.   

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Reform of First Baptist Church of Durham

"On Sunday morning, August 19, 2001, I (Andrew Davis) began corporate worship at First Baptist Church Durham by calling on the members of the church to repent. The church had just elected a woman deacon for the first time in its history, and deacons in our church’s polity were treated as spiritual leaders with shepherding responsibility for the flock. I had been teaching the congregation that Scripture reserves spiritual leadership to men, and I had made private efforts to forestall this result. Still, the church voted in a woman as an authoritative spiritual leader.

So I began worship by calling on all the people of FBC to repent—including myself. In the spirit of Daniel 9, I felt that all of us must take responsibility for violating God’s clear guidance.  My call was an object of horror to many of the members of the church. They were outraged. In their minds, repentance was something you do at the beginning of the Christian life and then never need to do again. For them, it was as if I were saying, “Because you voted for a woman as a deacon, you are not Christians.”

But I didn’t believe that at all. Rather, I know that because of the power of indwelling sin described so clearly in Romans 7, a healthy Christian life is one of constant conviction over sin and repentance from that sin.

A church that stops reforming is dead. And as dangerous and uncomfortable as church reformation can be, the far greater danger is not reforming. FBC Durham was a church very much in need of reform.


My personal journey with FBC’s road of reformation began in August of 1998. I remember kneeling before the Lord in my office at Southern Seminary where I was finishing off my PhD dissertation.

Small Change-Important Shift

Most people who travel to Freeport from out of town do so on highway 20.   One of the billboards you will pass by when entering 'the Port' is pictured above.  When I first came to First Baptist our billboard was in some ways a microcosm of the direction of the church.  Our billboard once proudly declared the following two taglines. FBC: Where everybody is a somebody. And FBC: Where lasting friendships are made.  

Setting the larger context: My ministry predecessor had taken our church through "the 40 Days of Purpose" and was influenced by the Warren/Hybels church growth movement.  For a biblical review of this very popular 'philosophy of ministry' I would encourage you to carefully read this very important book or listen to this classic sermon. 

In time the leadership believed it would be appropriate to change the church billboard to better highlight what our ministry was all about (per 1 Timothy 3:15; Colossians 1:28-29).   Sometimes small changes represent important paradigm shifts.   For a season I use to honk my car horn whenever traveling past this sign.  This was my way of thanking God for His gracious work of revitalization at First Baptist.  "He who began a good work is faithful to complete it."

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Leadership Lessons Gleaned from George Washington & the American Revolution

1.       The best of men are still men at best.

As a military tactician George Washington was an average Commander.  He lost many military conflicts and was often wrong in his strategic planning.  Having said that, General Washington was courageous, loyal, and extremely dedicated.  His ‘courage under fire’ inspired his men and an entire nation to persevere during a war that would have broken many a lesser man.

2.       All one can do is be a person of character and conviction.  Serve God faithfully and leave the results in the hands of Almighty Providence. 

 At various points in Washington’s career, General Washington was a few set backs away from infamy rather than ‘eternal glory’ and ‘fame.'  There is a thin line between being heralded as a military hero, a founding father, and one of the nations all time great Presidents and being remembered as something far less.  All one can do is be a person of character & conviction.  Serve God faithfully and leave the results in the hands of Almighty Providence.

The Christian life is not about personal glory and fame (Col. 3:17, 1 Cor. 10:31).  Having said that, we all will leave behind some kind of legacy.  What will your legacy be?  Persevering faith in Christ and obedience to His Word or something far less?  Hebrews 11 is a wonderful chapter to dwell on when considering this subject.

3.       Washington’s leadership was challenged and opposed from within on more than one occasion.  Good leaders are not exempt from friendly fire in fact they often attract more of it.

 Major General Charles Lee (was very jealous of Washington’s appointment as "Commander in Chief"; Lee wrote letters undermining Washington's abilities in hopes of taking over himself; At one point Washington accidentally was given this letter.  Later Charles Lee disregarded Washington's clear directives in the Battle of Monmouth; Washington could not allow this act of insubordination to stand).

 General Benedict Arnold-  (was someone who George Washington trusted.  Benedict Arnold could not deal with tough setbacks which led him to betray his Commander and nation. This Judas ram agreed to sell out West Point for a command position and money from the British. Arnold's story is perhaps similar to disloyal Demas' actions in the apostle Paul’s day).

 American Soldiers and officers- (Like Moses in the Old Testament, Washington endured various attempted mutinies and acts of insubordination from among his own troops.  On one occasion Washington had 8 nooses tied.  He wisely decided to let seven soldiers go and only execute one of the leaders.  In another period of difficulty Washington had the leaders of a mutiny stand before a firing squad composed of the followers who joined this mutiny.  Those men had to execute their fellow insubordinate leaders.  All this was done with the entire army present to prevent chaos and mutiny from taking hold of the camp).

Godly leaders are Satan’s greatest enemies.  The devil will try and bring down all of God’s people especially those serving on the front lines.  Of those officers serving on the front lines he is most interested in bringing down those who are most faithful to Christ and His Word (church history and biblical history proves this is so).
Jesus had Judas Iscariot.  Paul had Alexander the coppersmith (2 Tim 4:14) and many others.  The apostle John had Diotrephes (3 John 1:9).  Moses had Korah (Numbers 16).  If you serve the Lord faithfully you better count on opposition.

Our ministry efforts have been undermined by outsiders and have been assaulted by a number of (former) members along the way. Character assignation through slander and gossip campaigns, rank insubordination, and many other fleshly tactics were Satan's attempts to thwart the revitalization and reformation of FBC.  

In the end, the Lord in His mercy decided to protect and preserve this work.  When a pocket of disgruntled attendees eventually left God provided for our financial needs through a very unexpected two hundred acre farm estate gift.  He provided for our spiritual needs by giving as one quality deacon board after another, by leading many like-minded new families to our church, and by encouraging the hearts of longtime members to endure yet another conflict. 
"Great is Thy faithfulness.  Sunday by Sunday new mercies we see!  All we have needed Thy hand has provided!  Great is Thy Faithfulness, Lord unto me." 

The Unity of The Spirit

When we moved to Freeport, Illinois my family did not know anyone in the region.  I had experienced the blessings of a close pastoral network in Indiana and I prayed that God might provide something similar in Freeport.  The Lord answered that prayer in an overwhelming fashion; my cup literally overflows with godly pastor-friends.  Pastor Larry Pauley was both a friend and a mentor to me.  Larry introduced me to some other like-minded men in the Rockford area.  Pastor Scott from FBC of Rockford, Pastor Chris Brauns from the Redbrick Church, Pastor Bixby from Morningstar Church, Pastor Brandon from Rock Valley Bible, each of whom pastor Word-centered, Reformed Baptist churches here in NW Illinois.  I have also been greatly enriched from a "John Wesley friend" in Pastor Tim Lehman.  Each week a small pocket of pastors sends out a Sunday morning intercessory prayer email to one another.  Pastor Bob and Morningstar Church provided FBC with many guest preachers whenever our ministry was in need.  On special occasions the men listed above have attempted to fill one another's pulpit.  

PSALM 133 
How good and pleasant it is
    when God’s people live together in unity!

It is like precious oil poured on the head,
    running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
    down on the collar of his robe.
It is as if the dew of Hermon
    were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the Lord bestows his blessing,
    even life forevermore.