Sunday, December 28, 2014

Biblical Exhortations For Battered Pastors (pt. 5)

In this, my final post in the series, I (Todd Pruitt) am picking up where I left off in part 4...

4. Devote time to reading works by and about battered pastors.

All pastors need companions. This is especially true for the battered pastor who, out of a sense of shame, will draw inward into isolation. It is in those times when he needs to know he is not alone. Devote time to reading the accounts of pastors who experienced great pain but nevertheless endured. We need the stories of these men who persevered. Specifically, we need the stories of those pastors who endured through personal attacks, betrayals, and unrelenting criticism and slander.
Become acquainted with the following works:

The Roots of Endurance by John Piper - When I was undergoing my own experience as a battered pastor, this book became a very good friend. The chapter on Charles Simeon is well worn. Also you will want to listen (over and over) to Dr. Piper's outstanding biographical addresses on Charles Simeon and Charles Spurgeon. They are a wealth of sober thinking and encouragement.

The Full Harvest by Charles Spurgeon - The pastor of London's Metropolitan Tabernacle goes into excruciating detail about the terrible slanders leveled against him. He was battered by outsiders in the press, doctrinal compromisers within his denomination, physical maladies, and a tragic event which haunted him until the day he died.

Lectures to My Students by Charles Spurgeon - The chapter entitled "The Minister's Fainting Fits" is worth the price of the book.

New Life in the Wasteland by Douglas Kelly - This little exposition of 2 Corinthians pays special attention to Paul's sufferings as a pastor. Highly Recommended.

5. Shun self-protection.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Wise Counsel For Discouraged Pastors (part 4)

Pastor Todd Pruitt offers some very helpful advice for battered church leaders. Before you offer biblical counsel to a wounded pastor prayerfully consider this blog series. It is obvious that God used Todd's suffering for good.

"All people experience hurt at the hands of others. But we are all also, without exception, the source of hurt. We are all simultaneously receivers and inflictors of pain. This is true of pastors. What pastor believes that he can somehow be insulated from the sorts of pain we inflict upon each other? He is, after all, a sinner called upon to lead other sinners. Parishioners often project upon their pastor a whole set of expectations that no ordinary man can fulfill. As a result, being criticized is an inescapable feature of being a pastor. If you cannot tolerate being criticized then don't be a pastor.

These common sorts of criticisms and pains are not what I have been writing about in this series of posts. Rather, I am seeking to shine a light on the very real problem of toxic followers, those who mob the pastor and seek his downfall. The battered pastors I am writing to and about are competent pastors but have found themselves in churches who, for whatever reason, are pastoral "meat grinders" (I learned that phrase from an elder at a previous church).

At the risk of sounding alarmist, I do believe that the church (in the West at least) is going to see (is seeing?) an increase in the number of churches which batter their pastors. It makes perfect sense. With the demise of the very idea of authority it should not be surprising that more pastors are being driven from their churches. A consumerist church cannot abide a prophetic pastor.

Douglas Kelly, in his wonderful little book New Life in the Wasteland writes, "Wherever there is a faithful ministry in today's culture, it is very likely that those who begin feeling the authority of God coming through the preaching of the Word, will first of all start attacking the minister...People feel more free than ever to give the fullest reign to their dislike and their criticisms of the leadership" (34-35).

If you are a battered pastor, I offer to you seven exhortations (three in this post, four in the next

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A Bruised Reed: Some Questions For Lay Leaders (pt. 3)

This series was written by Pastor Todd Pruitt and has been republished with the approval of the author.

Questions for lay leaders:

"Every organization has leaders and followers. While this structure is sometimes informal, normally it is a deliberate arrangement. Because of this, not everyone is or can be a leader. Organizations are as dependent upon good followers as they are upon good leaders. In an organization, if everyone is the leader then no one is. This is certainly true for the church. God gave his people a structure of leaders and followers and accountability for both. The church is to be led by a plurality of elders with those who labor in preaching and teaching (pastors) being given "double honor" (1Tim 5:17). These God-called, congregationally-recognized leaders are to be followed obediently (Heb 13:17).

It seems obligatory at this point to mention that men like Hitler, Jim Jones, and Willy Wonka (the creepy factor) ought to not be followed obediently. But we must be careful to not disobey the biblical command by killing it with a thousand qualifications. Certainly, churches ought to have proper accountability for their elders in order to keep wicked or unqualified men out of that office. This is yet another way in which proper denominations and well-functioning presbyteries serve the church well. But I digress.

Much ink has been spilt examining what happens when pastors fail to lead, lead poorly, or behave wickedly as leaders. So much has been made of the failure of pastors that I fear an assumption of pastoral guilt has been established to explain every problem in a church. What is easily forgotten is just how influential followers are within the church.

The authors of the helpful book Handbook for Battered Leaders, which I've previously referred to in this series of posts, identify the sorts of problems that arise when followers become toxic. In chapter three they refer to six assumptions about followers taken from Barbara Kellerman's book Followership: 

 A. Followers constitute a group that, although amorphous, nevertheless has members with interests in common.

B. While followers by definition lack authority, at least in relation to their superiors, they do not by definition lack power and influence.

C. Followers can be agents of change.

D. Followers ought to support good leadership and thwart bad leadership.

E. Followers who do something are nearly always preferred to followers who do nothing.

F. Followers can create change by circumventing their leaders and joining with other followers instead. (52-53)

All of this means that followers are quite powerful. I suggest that this is particularly true in a church. The leadership of pastors and elders is highly contingent upon the willingness of the followers to follow. Certainly, there are times when dissent is necessary. Leaders within the church must understand that theirs is not an autocracy. Sometimes needed change can be delayed or missed entirely when good followers fail to confront poor or ungodly leaders. But, as the Balda's point out, there are times when followers "simply act in a contradictory manner, frequently without considering the impact of their misplaced loyalty and misguided behaviors" (p. 53). This is when followers become toxic and pastors are battered.

In the chapter entitled "These People Can't Be led," The Balda's write:  "A classic follower response in certain situations is the palace coup. This is the point when the mutiny begins flexing destructive muscles and everyone but the leader realizes a corner has been turned. We all know of situations where a powerful and evil despot abused followers...We are less convinced that simply misguided, or even evil, followers can bring down an otherwise competent leader on their own. However, there should not always be a presumption of innocence when confronting followers who have an agenda, as they can eventually destroy leaders and organizations" (p. 59).

The church seems to be wired to lay most if not all of its dysfunctions at the feet of the pastor.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Battered Pastors (part 2)

"The call to be a pastor is one of unparalleled privilege. It is a joy, though a sobering one, to apostle paul.gifpreach God's Word for the benefit of God's people. For battered pastors, however, (and they are numerous) the glad labor of being a pastor has become detrimental to their well-being and that of their family.

I have written previously that the reality of battered pastors is a scandal upon the church. A startling number of pastors leave the ministry every month. The proof is in the research. The anxiety of caring for the church (to use Paul's words) is simply too much for many pastors to bear. They leave not because they lost their love for Christ. They love Jesus and they love his church. But the battering they have received at the hands of a congregation or elders has left them too wounded to go on. It is for these men that my heart aches.

In 1989 the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership Development embarked on an 18 year study that revealed some rather frightening statistics about pastors. It is important to point out that this particular study focused only on evangelical churches. Mainline denominations were not included in the testing.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Battered Leaders and Toxic Followers (part 1)

Just recently a ministry friend sent my wife and I the following note.  "I don't know if you listen to this broadcast or not but all I could think about was you guys!"  Our Christian friend then directed us to the most recent Mortification of Spin podcast.

After downloading this twenty minute recording I understood why this Christian friend thought of us while listening to this program.  First of all, the topic of abusive members (congregations) and battered leaders is something I have reflected on quite a bit over the past many years.  After our first few years of ministry in Freeport we had a much better understanding of what Paul encountered while seeking to shepherd the flock in Corinth (by the grace of God much has changed for good over the past 7 years).

Secondly, though Todd Pruitt is a Reformed Presbyterian and I'm a Reformed Baptist, Pruitt's ministry testimony is quite similar to my own "revitalization" story.  The lessons Pastor Pruitt recounts in his ministry blog are many of the same things the Lord has been teaching me over the past six and half years.  Truly there is nothing new under the sun.

Todd and I have both observed that many books and blog articles are published each year that highlight the common pitfalls, problems, and temptations faced by pastors and church leaders alike.  Paul David Tripp's recent book Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry is one such example.  Most of us have read  and witnessed firsthand various horror stories of how 'fleshly' pastors have wrecked havoc and heartache on well-intentioned congregations.   Having said that, not many books and blog articles draw attention to the role unhealthy churches and toxic church members play in the current evangelical landscape.

Whether you are a church member, an elder/deacon, or a pastor the following blog series is well worth your time. 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

When the Pulpit is Bullied

"How high should standards be for a pastor and his ministry? Do we rate his success in congregation size, fame, or by how white his teeth are? Standards can be unrealistic and unbiblical when a new pastor comes on the scene, and comparisons can foster a culture of critique and criticism. Bad pastors are also a reality. However, the church has a common crisis at hand: are we firing, disrespecting, even "bullying" otherwise competent men who don't live up to our superficial standards? But what if there is a real problem with your pastor? How do you deal with it?"

The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals answers these questions and more here. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Overcoming the Flames of Ferguson

In the aftermath of the controversial Darren Wilson grand jury verdict and the Ferguson city riots each of us has read dozens of opinion and cultural commentary pieces.  The Gospel Coalition offered two different perspectives on this tragedy through the writing ministries of Thabiti Anyabwile and Voddie Baucham (both men are faithful, gospel loving, black pastors).  I personally believe Voddie Baucham and Bobby Scott offered the most discerning insights in their respective blog posts concerning the situation in Ferguson. 

Having said that, I have not read many articles that have offered a positive alternative to the racial tension that seems to be growing in America.  Here are some thoughts on how Christians can work to overcome the flames of Ferguson and how we might go about minimizing the personal distrust that exists in many of our communities.

 1) Show the love of Christ to your neighbors (Matthew 22:38-39).

In Carmel, Indiana our family enjoyed a special relationship with our Muslim next door neighbors (immigrants from Turkey) and had a wonderful friendship with our (Christian) African American next door neighbor (Kim). These relationships began with small talk. They grew with “random acts of kindness” and eventually they blossomed into friendship meals in each other’s homes. Matthew 22:38 is not rocket science but applying this verse will require prayer and Spirit-empowered effort.

In our current neighborhood we strive, by the grace of God, to be good Samaritans to all of our neighbors. This includes taking meals to the widower next door, talking over the fence, showing interest in the lives of our neighbors, etc. We also enjoy a very friendly relationship with our black neighbors who live across the street from us. I have shoveled their driveway before and they have brought us over some delicious baby back ribs.

Our neighbors seem to really enjoy our children (most of the time anyways) and our kids enjoy our neighbors. Children often bring people together as they are a source of much happiness, joy, and life. Teach your children the virtue of serving others and show them how believers can care for all different kinds of people (old, young, white, black, etc). Help them to understand what Matthew 22:39 should like in your unique context.

2) Get to know other Word-centered pastors and support one another in the ministry of gospel reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:14-21).

Monday, September 1, 2014

How A Struggling Church Can Grow Again

Many churches in America are spiritually sick, but they know it not, often because things on the outside appear to be "alive and well."

If a local church is growing numerically and financially the (false) assumption is that God's hand of blessing must be on that ministry/business/church/pastor.  A cursory reading of Scripture (think about the 'unsuccessful' public ministries of Jeremiah or of Messiah Jesus) informs us how dangerous this line of reasoning is.  Yet every American pastor, where bigger is always better, is tempted to to think this way.  Pastor R. Kent Hughes addresses this very important issue in his classic book, Liberating Ministry For the Success SyndromeNot everything that glitters is gold.  Robert Schuller's, "Crystal Cathedral" and Joel Osteen's, "Faith Center" are obvious illustrations of this.  Many of the largest churches in America, and likely many churches in your own neighborhood, are often a mile wide and an inch deep. 

Suffice it to say, many churches in America (large and small) are in need of serious spiritual revitalization and biblical reformation.  Both the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals and the leaders of Together for the Gospel have come to this same conclusion.   This is one of the reasons why I have devoted so many articles to this theme. 

A few months ago I came across an insightful interview and I wanted to share it with you.

The article that introduces this interview begins with these words, We can debate the reasons, but we cannot debate the reality: churches across the United States are aging, and many of them in the coming decade will face the agonizing prospect of closing.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Lessons Learned From the Driscoll Fallout (part 2)

As I have observed Mark Driscoll's very public ministry over the past many years here is a list of questions and concerns that immediately come to mind.  I hope and pray the people of God learn many valuable lessons from this very tragic fall.   I am also praying for Mark Driscoll and for Mars Hill.

Questions and Concerns: 2) Is the gift of New Testament "prophesy" still operative today?  If the gift of fallible prophesy does not exist then what does that say about some of Mark Driscoll's spiritual counsel?  If the gift does exist, is Mark Driscoll using this spiritual gift in a way consistent with the purposes of God as revealed in Holy Scripture (1 Peter 4:10-11)?  What does 1 Corinthians 12-14 teach us about abusing spiritual gifts?  How do these inspired Texts harmonize with Mark Driscoll's public ministry? 

3) When you describe things related to bedroom intimacy the way Mark often does, what sensual images might you be conjuring up in the minds of your hearers and/or readers?  Is this kind of 'salacious' speech appropriate; especially during a corporate worship service?  Where does prudence, self-control, wisdom, and understanding the "weaker brother" fit in?

"Shock and awe" seem to be a major reason why this pulpit allures so many young people.  Yet James chapter 3 provides a sober warning for all church leaders and Bible teachers. Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we shall incur a stricter judgment.

What does this pattern of speech suggest concerning Mark's heart?  In Luke 6:45 Jesus said that the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.

Mark Driscoll not only has the stewardship of a being the lead pastor of a mega church he has also accepted the responsibility of being a "teacher of teachers."  This evangelical hipster pastors many young pastors.  Mark's influence travels far and wide.  Mark is a church planter, a best-selling Christian author, and an unofficial spokesperson of the young, restless, reformed movement. In light of his global influence, how much greater is his sacred stewardship?

The goal of every church leader should be to live and preach in such a way so as to say with Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:1, Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.   Or Philippines 3:17; Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.

Mark's pastoral example must include modeling verses like Ephesians 5:3-4 (especially when standing behind the sacred desk). But do not let immorality or any impurity or greed even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.

....To be continued

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Lessons Learned from the Driscoll Fallout (part 1)

As I have observed Mark Driscoll's very public ministry over the past many years here is a list of questions and concerns that immediately come to mind.

Since the true Church belongs to King Jesus it is His sovereign prerogative to establish biblical qualifications for those serving as New Testament elders and deacons.  Popularity, pedigree, and giftedness do not trump the inspired qualifications of Holy Scripture. The last time I checked the phrase "must be" actually means a man "must be" X, Y, and Z.  When we neglect the safeguards of Holy Scripture the people of God always sufferNo safeguard better protects the flock than the biblical qualifications.

The non-negotiable qualifications for a local church elder/pastor-teacher are clearly preserved for us in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.  It is obvious when reading through the Pastoral Epistles that character is more important than giftedness in the mind of God.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Mark Driscoll Is Not My "Homeboy" and Why I Am Praying For Him

For a long time I have watched the "Christian celebrity" phenomenon blast off before it eventually crash landed on top of the American evangelical church.  What this celebrity phenomenon illustrates, among many things, is that evangelicalism as a whole has very little spiritual discernment.  We want 'results' even when it means succumbing to worldliness, pragmatism, or you fill in the blank.  We desperately want to be viewed as relevant, hip, innovative, and successful.

In this vein, Phil Johnson wisely notes- Dr. Trueman is right to point out that it is a uniquely American evangelical phenomenon to foster these cults of celebrity and to encourage each wave of superstars to push the limits of sobriety and propriety further than the last superstar did. American evangelicalism has become a large jingoistic freak show. Sadly, some of today's evangelicals seem to think that's something to gloat about. The Evangelical church seems more than willing to justify questionable behavior and/or salacious speech if the person or church in question are popular enough.

Before I get into that issue let me first say this.  As in all areas of life it is very difficult not to fall into an "extremist ditch" when fleshing out the Christian faith.  For example, some envious "no name" pastors have been hypercritical of any "well known" pastor, any "best-selling" Christian author, and every local church larger than their own.  It comes as no surprise then that these same jealous critics have been skeptical of even the most orthodox of mega conferences such as Together for the Gospel, Ligonier Conference, or the Shepherds' Conference.

On the other hand, quite a few Christians believe popularity equals not only "success" but also ministry "fruitfulness."  People in this camp often assume that big buildings and large crowds validate someone's theology (note 1 Corinthians 1-2) as well as their ministry methodology (note 1 Corinthians 3-4).  Popularity and fame have provided certain choice "evangelical celebrities" and/or mega churches a free pass on valid critiques from within the larger body of Christ.  From the Elephant Room debacle to you fill in the blank.   After all, "God must be blessing so and so."  "Look at how fast his church has grown!"   "Look how many books they've sold."   "Look how many unchurched people attend there satellite services; etc, etc."  Pastor Jerry Wragg and Dr. Carl Trueman have voiced some of these same concerns here and here.  Dr. David Wells also addresses this problem in his classic work, The Courage To Be Protestant: Truth lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Backbone of the Church: Faithful Lay Leaders

"Lay leaders are the backbone of the local church."  This ministry mantra has been one of my main points of emphasis during the church revitalization work at the First Baptist Church of Freeport.  The Apostle Paul shared this same conviction for he instructs Titus in Crete to "appoint elders in every town."  Titus was to appoint "qualified," servant-leaders who would help him shepherd, protect, govern, and feed the flock of God (note Titus 1:5-16 and 1 Peter 5:1-4).   Paul gave similar marching orders to Timothy (note 1 Timothy 3 and 2 Timothy 2:2) in Ephesus.  As a young pastor Timothy was specifically told to train faithful men who in turn would train and teach others.  2 Timothy 2:2, The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many faithful witnesses; entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.   

In my judgment, the second most important thing a Senior Pastor does, after the faithful exposition of Holy Scripture, is to train, develop, and raise up faithful lay leaders.  After all, faithful lay leaders are the backbone of the local church.  I wholeheartedly concur with the assessment of Dr. Harry Reeder who said, "If you and I die, or move on from our present pastoral ministry, and we do not have other leaders trained and ready to take our place, then we have not been good leaders.  Period.  ...Great leaders develop more leaders; they multiply themselves continually and intentionally."  By the grace of God, I have very intentionally devoted a lot of time into the men's leadership training and discipleship ministry at First Baptist Church and have witnessed God bless our Church through these faithful men.

Monday, July 21, 2014

"The Pulpit is the Rudder of the Church"

"As the pulpit goes, so goes the church." This straightforward quote explains why so many local churches are weak, shallow, immature, and in desperate need of spiritual revitalization.  "Successful" churches seem very content to be an inch deep so long as they remain a mile wide.

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was right when he said, “The most urgent need in the Christian Church today is true preaching; and as it is the greatest and the most urgent need in the Church, it is the greatest need of the world also.”

In this vein, Dr. Steve Lawson adds some insightful commentary, "If a reformation is to come to the church, it will be preceded by a reformation of the pulpit. A return to preaching—true preaching, biblical preaching, expository preaching—is the greatest need in this critical hour. If we are to see God usher in a time of reformation, there must be a significant alteration of the pulpit. Today’s preaching, which is light, shallow, trivial, man-centered and devoid of Scripture, must become once again weighty, profound, God-centered, and saturated with Scripture."

One of the most important tasks of a pastor is to faithfully preach the Word of God.  Sadly their is a famine in the land for the hearing and preaching of holy Scripture.  Much of what is called Biblical preaching is nothing more than shallow, evangelical principlizing.  Droves of American Christians seem to prefer preaching that is easy on the ears and not too demanding on the Sunday Daytimer.  Even during a time when many contemporary praise songs extol a high view of God many preachers still present a user-friendly Deity.

So what is true preaching? How can one know whether they are hearing an expository sermon or something else?

Dr. Walt Kaiser Jr explains, Expository preaching and teaching begins and remains with the biblical text throughout the whole sermon. Rather than beginning with a human need or concern as the impetus for the sermon, the expository sermon deliberately reverses the action and has the sermon originate in the exposition of the Biblical text itself. Exposition starts with the Biblical text and holds fast to that text throughout the sermon or lesson. —Preaching and Teaching from the Old Testament, p. 50

Saturday, July 19, 2014

How the Doctrines of Grace Aid Church Revitalization

In this short video Dr. John Piper explains how the doctrines of grace aided the work of church revitalization at Bethlehem Baptist Church.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Show Us Christ!!!

In Colossians 1:28-29 the apostle Paul beautifully summarizes his philosophy of ministry with these inspired words; We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me. 

I am thoroughly convinced that every reformation work or revitalization effort that is of God is always grounded in Christ-centered preaching.  Yes, the whole counsel of God is to be systematically taught, but above all else, faithful ministers of the gospel preach Jesus Christ!  To borrow language from the pen of J.C. Ryle, "The true shepherd of the souls is he who enters the ministry with a single eye to Christ, desiring to glorify Christ, doing all in the strength of Christ, preaching Christ's doctrine, walking in Christ's steps, and laboring to bring people to Christ."

I came to Freeport with this core conviction and have made every effort to make Christ-centered preaching and God-centered worship the defining marks of our local church.  In other words, it is no accident that I choose the Revelation of Jesus Christ as our first expository series when I started pastoring this local church.  This verse by verse study was followed up by a in-depth study of the Lordship of Christ in the book of Colossians.  Recently I have preached 58 sermons highlighting the glories of Christ in the gospel of John.  

Why?  Because God is jealous for the glory of His Son!    

The goal of my expository pulpit over the past six years is perhaps best summarized in the wonderful worship song Show Us Christ.  

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Be Faithful and Trust God With the Results

We long to see thy churches full, That all the chosen race. May, with one voice and heart and soul, Sing Thy redeeming grace.   

Jesus promised to build His Church and articles like this one by Meredith Flynn remind me He is doing this very thing in America and around the world.  We should all rejoice when we hear of a "Word-centered ministry" flourishing in the Lord!

Article by Meredith Flynn —  June 19, 2014

"A 16-page church bulletin leaves little to the imagination. At Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., worship attenders know exactly what they’re getting into from the time they walk into the split-level, high-ceilinged sanctuary, less than a mile from the U.S. Capitol.

The order of service, printed neatly on the inside cover page, lists every hymn, prayer, and Scripture reading. Every song is there in entirety – not just lyrics, but actual music.
Even the Nicene Creed gets its own page, with three paragraphs of explanation about where it came from and why we recite it. (“I said this in church for 28 years,” said one visitor, “and nobody ever explained it to me.”)

Your first impression is that this church is good at welcoming new people. They remember well that not everyone who walks in the door has been here before, and maybe they’ve never been in any church before. But it’s more than that. There’s a shrewdness here (in the nicest sense of the word), and an attention to detail that may be best matched just down the street under the Capitol Dome.  Capitol Hill Baptist Church is a church for its very unique city.

What’s most interesting is that there are Millennials here – that elusive generation that’s giving churches fits around the country. A variety of ages are represented at Capitol Hill, but the congregation skews young. A few families sat in “bulkhead” seating at the back of the sanctuary, with a little extra leg room to accommodate a fidgety toddler. The rest of us were packed into crowded pews – between 900 and 1,000 are here for worship on Sunday mornings.

Capitol Hill isn’t doing what most churches do to try to reach Millennials. Lately, the normal prescription is a relaxed dress code, coffee bar in the lobby, and maybe a violinist in the worship band.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Are We Really Together For The Gospel? (pt 2)

In my previous article I mentioned how a local pastor actively encouraged his church family to recruit members from other local churches under the banner of biblical "missionary" activity.  Some of my friends had a hard time believing me when I told them this.  This post is for you. 

For the record, the "Reformed" minister who wrote this letter transitioned to another ministry context some time ago.  Even more encouraging, the current pastor of this local fellowship is a godly, like-minded, minister of the gospel.   

As a result of these experiences here are some questions that I have been asking myself recently:  Are we really together for the gospel?  What does it look like to be together for the gospel?  How can pastors and churches that really are T4G come alongside one another in more intentional ways?  How can I better demonstrate to our people that our local church is not the only ministry that is doing things "God's way?"  How do we fight against the kind of behavior that destroys relationships between like-minded churches and pastors? 

The following note is an actual letter:   "As you heard during my presentation, Grace is now entering an exciting stage in it’s early ministry—where the stakes are high! In this stage, we must all start seeing ourselves as “missionaries to Freeport—recruiting other missionaries to Freeport.” Large churches like Crossroads can survive for quite some time based on size, budget, different-ness, and momentum. Park Hills can survive based on size, multiple staff and a broad, mainstream evangelical culture, and migration from broad evangelical churches. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

How One Area Pastor Helped Revitalize Our Local Church

On June 8th, 2014 a small group from First Baptist traveled to Rockford to pay our respects to Pastor Bob Bixby and Morningstar Church.  The special service we were participating in was not a funeral rather it was a special "commissioning service" for Bob Bixby.  We were attending this service in large part to show our appreciation for a selfless servant of God.  Our group also wanted to thank Morningstar Church for what they have meant to our congregation over these past six years. 

For a long time I have wondered if conservative evangelicals are really "Together For the Gospel"?  Yes, I know more and more local churches now say they embrace the chief tenants of biblical Calvinism and I realize that pastors come together in droves today for mega conferences telling the world along the way that we are gloriously united in the truth (see the Gospel Coalition and Together For the Gospel for example).   However, I have witnessed and experienced first hand many actions that seem to tell a much different story.  I have found that professing evangelical churches often function as if we embraced religious Darwinism.  It's the survival of the fittest. It's lets grow my ministry even if it's at the expense of undermining yours brother-pastor.  It's your loss is our gain (praise the Lord). It's, can I say, a dog eat dog world out there!?! 

In one 'real world' situation a former lay leader left our local church, after trying to secretly run me out, only to be welcomed by another evangelical pastor the next Sunday.  No follow up phone call ever came even though this pastor knew me and was fully aware that this member use to joyfully serve at our church.  This whole situation saddened me but honestly it really did not surprise me because I have experienced similar situations like this many times before and I am guessing most of my pastor readers have too.   My favorite story is the (former) "missional" pastor in town who was actually teaching his local church that being a 'missionary' involved actively recruiting Christians from other local church congregations (including ours) to come and join the mission at ___ church.   In a previous ministry context I remember when our senior pastor received an email informing him that in a few weeks a new, like-minded, church plant was going to start up just a few blocks away from our location.  A few months later one of our pastor's fellow elders left to join the "Harvest team" down the street.  With interactions like this, are we really together for the gospel?

Thankfully I/we have also  had the joy of meeting some amazing pastors and local churches.  These shepherds truly care about the spiritual health of local churches that they don't even pastor!  They actually look out for one another and serve one another in the joy of the Lord.  They contact each other if a member from another local church starts attending their ministry just to make sure everything is above board.  Some of them even pray for one another's ministries by name on Sunday morning.  I have briefly written about this refreshing experience in a previous blog post. 

No pastor has modeled this spirit more than Pastor Bob Bixby (pictured above).  Bob was greatly blessed to have a plethora of gifted preachers at the church he "planted" many years ago.  Of course some of these men were the direct fruit of Bob's ministry labors.  Rather than hoard these gifts Pastor Bixby willingly shared these men with like-minded ministries that were in need of assistance.  He even commissioned two of his best men to go pastor other needy congregations.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Six Years Later

Six years ago the Lord brought our family to Freeport, Illinois to shepherd the flock at First Baptist Church.   The revitalization work here has never been dull.  Despite my mistakes as a Lead Pastor God has shown Himself to be faithful and good during this roller coaster journey (Joshua 1:8-9).

The following archived Journal Standard article by Hilary Matheson brings back a lot of memories. 
Posted Aug. 6, 2008 @ 12:01 am

Freeport, Ill.

The son of a pastor, Caleb Kolstad is now into his sixth week as senior pastor of First Baptist Church. Kolstad joined the church after serving First Baptist Church in Carmel, Ind., as an associate pastor for three years.  Witnessing the highs and lows, challenges and blessings, as a pastor’s son was a great learning experience, Kolstad said. “There’s a great group of people that make up the congregation and a great staff – Steve, associate pastor, Sandy, the children’s director – so it seemed like a perfect fit,” Kolstad said.

Becoming a pastor was a change in Kolstad’s plans of becoming a sports broadcaster. He gets different responses from friends who remembered him talking about being a sportscaster since junior high.

The responses vary from those who tell him he should use his intelligence in another job and those who give him a lot of  respect for his decision.  “It depends on really what the perspective of the Christian ministry is. For those who are Christians, they think, as do I, it’s the highest calling God can give to a man,” he said.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Young, Restless, Reformed

Much has been written lately about the Young, Restless, Reformed (YRR) movement.  This is only appropriate seeing that Time magazine (a secular publication) actually identified the New Calvinism as one of the 10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now.  This huge wave of interest in a more God-centered theology is a wonderful thing to behold and to participate in.  Having just attended the bi-annual Together for the Gospel conference for a second time I am happy to say that their is much to rejoice over concerning the work of God in the life of the Bible-believing (evangelical) Church. 

This Reformed resurgence has brought about many edifying things. Such as more praise songs/hymns with precise, doctrinal lyrics that have a more Christ-honoring, gospel-centered bent to them.  A renewed zeal for personal evangelism and global missions.  Thousands and thousands of new titles or republished old books that are theologically astute and Word-centered.  Dozens of helpful preaching conferences for pastors and lay people alike.  A Scriptural understanding of biblical manhood and womanhood (YRR is a complementarian movement).  More attention given to the "Five Solas" of the Reformation (which summarize the biblical gospel).  A healthy appreciation of the past (in the form of gospel creeds and the many saints who have come before us); A renewed affection for Christ and for the grace of God in our redemption; and the list could go on and on.

Having said that, the YRR movement has also tracked in some unhealthy dirt from under its sneakers.  As many have already observed the YRR movement have at times promoted unbiblical and/or imbalanced aspects of doctrine and practice.   Since this is not a monolithic movement and because redeemed sinners are involved in this movement we should not be entirely shocked by this.  With that being noted, if Reformed pastors and churches are unwilling to address the dirt from under our own camps shoes the entire house is going to get really dirty along the way.  Author, Greg Dutcher, recently wrote a book titled, "Killing Calvinism: How to Destroy a Perfectly Good Theology From the Inside." 

During the "Great Awakening" Jonathan Edwards was concerned about something similar in his own lifetime.  This godly concern for sound doctrine and holy living led him to write, Religious Affections.  In this helpful book Edwards points out the signs of true and false revival. 

In that vein, let me express my main concern for the Lord's Church as it relates to New Calvinism and the resurgence of Reformed theology among the YRR movement.  It appears to me that if someone preaches the gospel with a Reformed soteriology many in the Gospel Coalition circle seem to think that everything this pastor/author/leader writes and does must be ok (or at the very least should not be scrutinized). Recent examples of this include James MacDonald's "elephant room" debacle; Mark Driscoll's ongoing ministry issues, confusion surrounding 'free grace' sanctification, and Tim Keller's 400 page treatise on methodology and ecclesiology.  The cycle seems to go like this.  If you are a church leader who embraces the doctrines of grace (especially if you are a Calvinist pastor of a large church) you are one of us.  Since we are together for the gospel we must remain 'center bound' and not really critique one another ("after all, isn't that what killed the early Fundamentalist movement?").

Having recently read Pastor Jon Anderson's three part review  of Pastor Tim Keller's "Center Church" I kept saying to myself, "I cannot believe that (Calvinist) pastors and (Reformed) churches can read this book and conclude that Keller's methodology is apostolic/biblical." Yet the reality is that many pastors are trying to build the Lord's church using Keller's "Center Church" methodology (or something very similar). 

As I read Anderson's thorough review of Keller's very influential book and as I look around at the evangelical church in America I have drawn the following conclusion.  This is what happens when you take biblical, Calvinist soteriology and try and merge it with church growth (Hybels/Warren) methodology and then package your ecclesiology using a little bit of Emergent lingo. (I witnessed this strange merger of church growth methodology and Calvinistic soteriology first hand at a large church in Bothel, Washington).  Jon Anderson is right to sound the alarm (in love) here.  In short, Anderson suggests that Keller is trying to mix good oil with bad vinegar.  It is not only important that pastors get the central message right (per 1 Corinthians 1 and 2) we also need to build the Lord's Church with the right materials and build the right way (1 Corinthians 3-4).  Methodology and Ecclesiology are very important!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

A Faithful Flock that Perseveres!

I originally began publishing this new blog in order to highlight the triumphs and tribulations of church revitalization ministry.  Along the way I have tried to magnify the unchanging character of God.  God is good and He does good.  To Him alone belongs the highest praise!

Because this blog is very much a work in progress there are still many important stories that need to be published.  Some of these chapters have not yet unfolded and many others are simply waiting to be told.  The following is one of many posts that is long overdue:  One of the major ingredients of every successful reformation story is a faithful flock that perseveres.  If the Spirit of God calls a man of God to come and faithfully preach the Word of God there must be an eager congregation that is willing to receive the inerrant Word and to do the work of ministry.  Effective ministry is always a team effort (see my exposition of Colossians 4:7-9).

God must raise up, add to, and/or preserve a faithful remnant that will continue to press on in the midst of various setbacks.  This is true of any local church but is especially true in reformation contexts.  Most revitalization efforts take many, many years before they begin to fully blossom (note for example the pre-reformation Reformers) and herein lies the problem.  Because we live in a "microwave society" it is not uncommon for church members to grow impatient and/or to become frustrated with what has not yet come to be.  Some of these friends eventually set sail for bluer waters.  This is no doubt one of the most discouraging realities of reformation ministry for leaders and laity alike.

Let's return our thoughts a final time upon the faithful flock that perseveres.  In one of my very first posts I wrote this, "It needs to be said at the onset that some of the believers who were apart of this ministry for many, many decades are true saints of the highest order.  These faithful believers had been praying for reformation and revival long before I ever arrived.  Their piety and prayers combined with the steadfast courage of a group of layman is the human reason why this local church now stands strong in the Lord."

During the past many years of ministry trials and God-sent triumphs our entire church has been purged in the Lord's holy fire.  I have been honest about the dross that has been removed and the gold that has been refined along the way.  What I have not emphasized enough are the faithful believers who have patiently endured this season of gospel maturation.  In the Lord's kindness He has preserved a number of long time FBC members (Christian servants) and has added a number of crucial like-minded saints along the way.  This faithful flock has chosen to patiently endure trials of various kinds in order to become the kind of church the Lord loves to bless (see Revelation 2-3; Acts 2:42).

Despite our many wrinkles and warts I humbly believe that FBC Freeport has become the most Bible-driven, grace-exalting, Christ-focused local church in Stephenson County.  I write all of this to the praise of His glorious grace!!!  Ephesians 3:20-21; Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

"Show Me a Sign For Good"

Psalm 86:15-17; Thou, O Lord, art a God merciful and gracious, Slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth.  Turn to me, and be gracious to me; Oh grant Thy strength to Thy servant, And save the son of Thy handmaid.  Show me a sign for good, That those who hate me may see it, and be ashamed, Because Thou, O LORD, hast helped me and comforted me

When it comes to government bailouts Americans are pretty divided.  When it comes to Divine intervention and Supernatural provision  however Christians are totally united.  Philippians 4:19-20; And my God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.  Now to our God and Father be the glory forever and ever. Amen.    Or we simply pray, Jehovah Jireh (God our Provider).  In the mount of the Lord it will be provided.  

In this light, a friend recently encouraged me to post more articles that highlight the "LUX" of ministry lest God's people get lost in the darkness along the way.  That was very helpful counsel.  One of the great blessings of dark trials is that these seasons help us better appreciate answered prayers!

In the last six years of revitalization ministry First Baptist Church has gone through two seasons of somewhat intense spiritual pruning.  I have briefly summarized our first season of pruning here and here.  The second season of refining has been summarized here.  Suffice it to say, as we entered into the final quarter of 2013 our ministry was down (numerically and financially).  During one of the low points I candidly remember one of our financial guys saying, "Only God can save us now!"  Collectively we wondered, "How are we going to maintain this massive four million dollar church facility long term?"  "How will we continue to do X, Y, and Z?"

The Lord had already shown us His abundant provision a few years earlier in the unexpected provision of a massive estate gift from a very unlikely source.  The Lord certainly did not owe us that grace gift nor did He owe us anything else.  Nonetheless, in our better moments we poured out our hearts to Jesus knowing that Thou, O Lord, art a God merciful and gracious, Slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth!  

During this season of waiting on the Lord I received the following letter (see picture above).  

Monday, March 3, 2014

Post Tenebras Lux

The title of this blog, Post Tenebras Lux, highlights a famous Protestant Reformation saying.  "After Darkness Light" is a wonderful summary of what God accomplished in Europe during the years 1517 to 1648.  I choose this blog title because I believe that is what every revitalization ministry prays for (lux). I also selected this title because that is exactly what the Holy Spirit has begun to accomplish here in Freeport (on a much smaller stage of course); hence the subtitle: How God Revitalized a Local Church to the Praise of His Glorious Grace.

Having said that, one does not go from Egypt to Canaan overnight.  Many of the articles so far have talked about the trials and tribulations of reformation ministry.  You may call these "wilderness" articles.  Every church revitalization resource that I have examined includes much blood, sweat, and tears.  This "cross" is what Dr. Trueman talks about in his book, "Reformation: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow" (see in particular his fine chapter on a Theology of the Cross).

Like most good things in life and ministry where there is no pain there is no gain.  As such I have tried my best not to completely sugar coat this revitalization record.  The past six years has included both highs and lows.  Half of these years have included more low lows than high highs.  Nonetheless, I embrace the plan and purpose of God for my life and for this local church!  God's timing is not always our timing but His timing is always best!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Be Encouraged and Press On!

Most believers realize that the Apostle Paul was a Christian lion.  He was one of the strongest and bravest men of God to ever serve King Jesus.  In comparison with Paul, and those like him, I am an absolute zero!   Having said that, 1 and 2 Corinthians include many, many, many humble expressions of weakness, sadness, and various admissions of pastoral discouragement.  In that vein, do passages of inspired Scripture like 2 Corinthians 1:3-112:47:6 11:28-3012:7-10 make the great apostle Paul any less of a faithful Christian role model?   Do these honest confessions make you less inclined to listen to him?

If the great Apostle Paul had "low lows" in Christian ministry should we expect lesser men to go through life valleys without grief, sadness, and their own seasons of discouragement?  As a Christian who greatly looks up to this eminent Apostle (per 1 Corinthians 11:1) I am most grateful for Paul's humble admissions of weakness throughout his many letters.  Paul was a man of great faith but he was also a man of clay.   Just like you and I, the Apostle Paul battled through life (Romans 7) and struggled in the ministry trenches (1 & 2 Corinthians, 2 Timothy).   Yet he is clearly one of the great heroes of the faith!

Lest you assume I am making too much out of one isolated example let me provide you with two more biblical examples.  I) The Psalms are universally loved by all of God's people, in part, because they are so raw and honest.   Many of the Psalms express despair, hurt, fear, betrayal, and lament all in the context of WORSHIP.   Are we greater soldiers of the LORD than David the giant killer?

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Applying What We Read to Life and Ministry (Church Revitalization and Spiritual Discouragement)

Applying What You Read to Life and Ministry 
Church Revitalization and Spiritual Discouragement

Charles Spurgeon is not only "the Prince of Preachers" he is also the Pastor's Pastor.  Very few men excel at both preaching and shepherding.  For example, Dr. John MacArthur is one of the greatest expository preachers of our generation.  John readily admits however that he is not the best counselor.  Surely this is one of the reasons why Mr. Spurgeon is still so popular today.

This new series of blog posts is built upon Spurgeon's masterpiece lecture, The Minister's Fainting Fits, which I have summarized for you here and here.  If you have never read this lecture in its entirety I would implore you to do so.  For church members this lecture will help you understand how to better pray for your pastor (Eph. 6:19-20) and will show you how you can better encourage him in the Lord (1 Thess. 5:12-14).  For counselors this lesson will help you appreciate the inner-workings of those you counsel (especially pastors).  For pastors these articles should encourage your inner man while reminding you that you are certainly not alone (1 Peter 4:12).

As I recently listened to Spurgeon's lecture on The Minister's Fainting Fits it felt as if Spurgeon had spent time reading my ministry journal.  Please allow me to draw some parallels between lecture and life and I would encourage you to try and do so yourself as you read these articles.  As always I pray that these blog posts will benefit the larger body of Christ.

As Spurgeon begins this lecture he notes, "There maybe here and there men of iron, to whom wear and tear work no perceptible detriment, but surely the rust frets even these; and as for ordinary men, the Lord knows, and makes them to know, that they are but dust."  When listening to a recent Question and Answer session by Dr. John MacArthur (who was my faithful pastor for twelve years) I realized that Pastor John is one of those unique "men of iron" that Spurgeon refers to here.  I believe Dr. John Piper made this same observation when Dr. MacArthur spoke at one of his pastors conferences (note 39.15 in audio).  For the record, there is no one in the world I respect more, or have learned more from, than John MacArthur.  For most of us, we are but ordinary men to whom our Sovereign Lord regularly reminds us that we are but dust.  One of the chief means God uses to keep His Pastor-teachers humble and dependent on Him are ministry trials and thorns (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

Spurgeon drives home this very truth at the end of his lecture when he says, "The lesson of wisdom is, be not dismayed by soul-trouble. Count it no strange thing, but a part of ordinary ministerial experience. Should the power of depression be more than ordinary, think not that all is over with your usefulness. Cast not away your confidence, for it hath great recompense of reward. Even if the enemy's foot be on your neck, expect to rise amid overthrow him. Cast the burden of the present, along with the sin of the past and the fear of the future, upon the Lord, who forsaketh not his saints. Live by the day—ay, by the hour."