Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Pastoral Transitions 101: Starting Strong and Ending Well

Pastoral Transitions 101
Long before I knew that the Lord had plans to transition our family to a new ministry context I came across an article that made a huge impression on me.  The blog was titled, "How Pastors Accidentally Ruin Their Church."  Flowers opened with these haunting words: Most pastors really love their church. They understand their calling as under-shepherds tasked with guarding the bride of Christ. Caring for the thing that Jesus died for is a heavy responsibility. Pastors will endure stress and criticism, they will work long hours, and they will sacrifice to protect the church.

Yet, I’ve seen these same men inadvertently bring their church to the brink of ruin. They are good preachers, caring counselors, and men of prayer, yet their church suffered. These pastors followed the play book, but their church nearly closed the doors. It wasn’t on purpose. They never meant any harm to come. But they sat and watched as the church they loved crumbled.  The weakness was not in how they served the church, but how they left the church.

Having witnessed the negative impact of a very selfish pastoral transition before I resolved to do everything I could to never "ruin a congregation" by leaving in a less than exemplary manner; (On a more positive and happy note, having recently experienced the benefits of another Senior Pastor's graciousness to me I am striving to follow "the golden rule.")

Here are a few things I have done in effort to try and help maintain the spiritual momentum here.  Our desire should be to do everything we can to help set up the next guy to succeed (whoever that may be):

1) Write a personal letter to each member and regular attendee.  In this note identify evidences of grace and thank them for their commitment.  Share your heart, highlight the path forward, and encourage them to fix their eyes on Christ.  Remind them that God is faithful and can always be trusted.  Keep reminding them and yourself that Jesus cares about His Church more than every believer combined.

2) Continue to shepherd the flock faithfully and to preach the Word diligently all the way until your very last day.  If you are getting paid for what you do and love the people in your flock, how could you do any less?  This isn't rocket science: 1) start strong- 2) run the race with endurance- 3) and finish well (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Lake Country Bible Church (10 Factors that Led to this Transition)

Lake Country Bible Church
http://www.lakecountrybible.org/
The invisible hand of providence is always at work even when our human eyes (Gen. 50:20; Rom. 8:28-29) fail to see it.  Jesus is not only the Creator of all things He is also the cosmos' Sustainer (Col. 1:16f)!

Some time ago a ministry friend from Florida told me about a like-minded church outside of Milwaukee that was searching for a new Senior Pastor.  This pastor colleague of mine was friends with Lake Country's Youth Pastor via his finance who was a member of this shepherd's church in West Palm Beach, Florida.  He recommended I connect with the P.S.C there.  Are you confused yet?  In God's good Providence this human connection was God's initial means to eventually transition us from Illinois to Wisconsin.  What things led Andrea and I to accept the pastoral call to a ministry setting outside of suburban Milwaukee?

Here is a list of 10 Factors:

10) I immediately connected with the initial contact person from LCBC.  Long time member and PSC chair (Jason Valentine) quickly became a friend.  The more he expressed leadership's heart for gospel ministry the more compatible we appeared to be.  The fact his family was the same age as mine was also a blessing.

9) Lake Country Bible Church clearly knew what kind of shepherd-expositor and lead pastor they were looking for.    One of the things that discourages me the most about the American church today is how so many Word-dominated and biblically qualified pastors have such a difficult time finding full-time ministries.  I have many friends (that are much better men than me) who have been unable to find ministry work.  I was impressed that the founding pastor and elders at LCBC had a good grasp on what the priorities of a local church are (Col. 1:28-29; Eph. 4:11-16) and therefore they also knew what kind of lead pastor they were looking for.

16 Things First Baptist (Freeport) Has Going For It

This morning I had another encouraging meeting with our lay leader chairman.  This dear man has become very special to me.  Over the past nine years I have found that those who fight on the front lines of ministry together often develop a close bond of brotherhood.

Tonight the lay leadership and I will be meeting to talk specifically about the way forward for First Baptist Church as I prepare to transition into a new ministry setting and as I help this special band of brothers find their next Sr. Pastor candidate.  I will continue to be one FBC's biggest cheerleaders as I pass the ministry baton on to another faithful shepherd-leader.  I am confident that God will continue to bless the faithfulness of this special congregation.

Here is a short list of 17 Spiritual Blessings and/or things FBC, Freeport has going for it.


1) The current Sr. Pastor is leaving on great terms and is committed to helping the next Lead Pastor succeed.  I have presented our lay leaders with a binder with twelve articles on the pastoral search process.  I also gave them a short list of potential Sr. Pastor candidates for them to interview, research, and pray over.  If it works out for FBC to host Keith and Kristyn Getty in September I will continue to serve as the event coordinator.  So long as FBC hires a qualified, like-minded shepherd I am committed to helping him flourish in ways I never did.

2) The congregation has developed an appetite for meaty, Text-driven, expository preaching.  Hebrews 5:12-14 infant Christian living has become the norm in the professing evangelical church so serving a flock with 1 Peter 2:2 members is a real blessing.  It's the people that make up the Body of Christ and FBC has many special people.

3) For the past 4 years our congregational meetings are harmonious and peaceful. By the grace of God, long gone are the days of “Jerry Springer-esq” infighting. The mutinous minority that wrecked havoc on my first four years of ministry have all moved on.  The present flock is united in love and in truth.

4) Our Awana ministries averages over 50 children each Wednesday night. 18 of these children are FBC’ers and the rest are unchurched kids from the community.  Our Awana ministry reaches into the minority neighborhoods of our community.

7 Things We Will Miss Most About Freeport

7. The close proximity of everything.  Though Freeport is the smallest city my wife and I have ever lived in we have come to appreciate how nothing in town is more than an eight minute drive away. Traveling 45 minutes to get Starbucks or a Chipotle burrito in Rockford was an adjustment for we 'suburbanites' but we do enjoy the close proximity of everything that comes with living in a smaller town.
1020 S. Benson Blvd.

6. The affordable housing market.  It is a blessing to own a nice 3 BR home on a quiet street with friendly neighbors and a beautiful, fenced in yard and to pay less than a thousand dollars in monthly mortgage payments.  Benson Blvd. has been a wonderful place to raise a young family.  If you know of anyone looking to buy we are looking to sell. :)

5. Union Dairy. With over 50 varieties of ice cream in a historical ice cream parlor Union Dairy is a family favorite.  It is also a great place to bring out of town guests.

Union Dairy 

4.  Read Park Pool and Aquatic Center.  Every summer Read Pool has been Andrea and the kids home away from home.  The friendly pool staff and spacious swimming area has brought many smiles over the years.
Read Park Pool

3. Krape Park.  "Awarded 'Outstanding Multi-use Facility' award by Illinois Parks and Recreation Association.  Since our first summer Krape Park has been a family favorite.

Monday, March 27, 2017

How Pastoral Transitions Can Cripple or Bless the Lord's Church

A few years ago I came across a thought provoking article titled, "How Pastors Accidentally Ruin Their Church."  In this post Pastor Andy Flowers made the following statements:  Most pastors really love their church. They understand their calling as under-shepherds tasked with guarding the bride of Christ. Caring for the thing that Jesus died for is a heavy responsibility. Pastors will endure stress and criticism, they will work long hours, and they will sacrifice to protect the church.

Yet, I’ve seen these same men inadvertently bring their church to the brink of ruin. They are good preachers, caring counselors, and men of prayer, yet their church suffered. These pastors followed the play book, but their church nearly closed the doors. It wasn’t on purpose. They never meant any harm to come. But they sat and watched as the church they loved crumbled.  The weakness was not in how they served the church, but how they left the church.

I believe that in many contexts when a pastor comes to a new ministry that is either 'spiritually unhealthy' and/or one that is in need of 'revitalization' that poor pastoral transitions is probably one of the leading factors that contributed to the current unrest.  Many pastors hurt the Lord's people as they transition from one ministry to another (sometimes even unintentionally).  Every situation is certainly unique but too many times pastors make very little effort to serve the congregations that they are leaving.  Midnight exits, hurtful comments to remaining members about how the current congregation or current leadership team failed them, and a thousand other vices can greatly harm the Lord's Church. 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Two Essentials Components of a God-honoring Pulpit Ministry

As a pastor’s kid growing up in a Christian home I have listened to more expository sermons than many believers twice my age. In addition to this stewardship I spent close to thirteen years at the Grace Community Church. Besides sitting under the regular preaching ministries of John MacArthur, Rick Holland, Ken Ramey, Phil Johnson, Carey Hardy, and Jerry Wragg I was also exposed to the likes of James Montgomery Boice, W.A. Criswell, Alistair Begg, Al Mohler, John Piper, Steve Lawson, and R.C. Sproul. All that to say, I have listened to far more sermons in my life than I have preached. As I have matured in the faith I realize that if the Word of God is faithfully taught, regardless of the human mouth piece, the Spirit of God will use His Word to transform the lives of all Spirit-filled believers (Colossians 1:28-29, 1 Thessalonians 2:13). For those of us “Joe the plumber” preachers this is an encouraging thought!

In biblical preaching God is most interested in two things: faithfulness and humility. Allow me to make a case for this assertion.

God does not give every saint, or preacher for that matter, the same measure of talent and/or spiritual giftedness. If I can borrow a principle or two from the Parable of the Talents I may be able to make this point more clearly. In Matthew 25 the text says, For it is just like a man about to go on a journey, who called his own slaves, and entrusted his possessions to them. And to one he gave five talents, to another, two, and to another, one, each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey. When I was in seminary it was obvious to me that all of us “pastors in training” had a lot in common. It was also clear that we were not all given the same measure of giftedness. Some of the men had photographic memories and world class IQ’s, while others had golden tongues. One of the lessons God was trying to teach me during this time of ministry preparation was how much I needed to grow in humility. Instead of being envious of the way God gifted a few of these exceptionally bright students I needed to be grateful. If biblical ministry is all about the glories of Christ then how God chooses to bless a man is His sovereign prerogative.


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Band of Brothers

This is the first D. Min class under the leadership of Dr. Steve Lawson at The Master's Seminary.  We are a band of brother (expositors) who want to glorify Christ and build up His precious Church.


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

How Did We Get Here? Desensitize, Normalize, Demonize, Idolize, Legalize, (Victimize)!

Michael S. Williamson—The Washington Post/Getty Images
http://time.com/3938935/white-house-rainbow-gay-marriage-decision/ 
For many decades the LGBT movement has worked tirelessly in effort to fundamentally transform America’s conscience with regards to sexuality and gender.  This has been achieved, in large part, with direct assistance from public education, the music industry, and Hollywood.  In a Hollywood Reporter article from 9/25/14 Natalie Jarvey wrote, "Gay couples? Gay kisses? Yawn. New sexual boundaries are being broken as Amazon’s 'Transparent' is the latest to tackle a once-taboo topic."  Long before Bruce Jenner decided to go public with his transgender decision the path had already been paved for him by Hollywood and friends.  A team effort strategy during a sweeping "moral revolution" is what helped advance the LGBT cause so rapidly.

Our LGBT friends need to remember that now beloved Liberal politicians, Bill and Hillary Clinton and Barrick Obama, once campaigned in favor of traditional marriage.  The night before his election victory in 2008, then candidate Obama said, "Marriage is between and a woman." I do not support same sex same weddings though I do oppose California Proposition 8.  Much has changed in seven short years.

If I were to summarize the LGBT strategy I would use five simple words: Desensitize, Normalize, Demonize, Legalize, Idolize, (and for some,Victimize)!

Now before you dismiss this article outright as coming from one of those "angry Baptist preachers" I would encourage you to at least consider the real life examples that are listed below.  The goal of this post is not to call on Christians everywhere to boycott Hollywood.  Every Spirit-filled believer has to make their own Biblically informed decisions as to what they are going to watch, listen to, and read.  Unlike some pastors, I do not believe that Christian liberty should not be taken away from believers just because it is regularly abused (for more on what the Bible teaches concerning grey area decisions consider this, this, and this).

Monday, March 20, 2017

Classical Conversations, Freeport (2017)

It has been a joy for the generous people of First Baptist to share our wonderful facility with the ever growing Classical Conversations group here in Freeport, IL.




Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Feasting on the Word

"Oh, that you and I might get into the very heart of the Word of God, and get that Word into ourselves! As I have seen the silkworm eat into the leaf, and consume it, so ought we to do with the Word of the Lord; not crawl over its surface, but eat right into it till we have taken it into our inmost parts. It is idle merely to let the eye glance over the words...but it is blessed to eat into the very soul of the Bible until, at last, you come to talk in Scriptural language, and your very style is fashioned with the words of the Lord."  C.H. Spurgeon.

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Standard of Success

This article originally appeared at https://www.tms.edu/preachersandpreaching/the-standard-of-success/
How should we define success in ministry?

Take a look at the most-celebrated names in broader evangelicalism, and it would be easy to conclude that numerical fruitfulness is what defines ministerial success. But both Scripture and church history remind us that steadfast faithfulness is actually the true measure of success.

Consider the prophet Jeremiah, for example, whose tireless preaching was met with little to no visible fruit. Or William Carey, at the outset of his heroic missionary career, who waited seven long years before there was any response to his evangelistic efforts.

In today’s post, I would like to consider some of the dangers that come from measuring success by the wrong standard.

Unintended Consequences

When “numerical fruitfulness” is equated with “ministry success” a number of unintended consequences may surface. Here are a few:

1. When ministry labors (Col. 1:29) fail to yield noticeable numerical fruitfulness, pastors can be tempted to abandon a biblical philosophy of ministry in favor of church growth theory.

One of the strange phenomena of this “New Calvinism” is the proliferation of churches that have tried to merge Reformed theology with a market-driven methodology. Far too many in the “young, restless, reformed movement” promote Calvinistic soteriology while at the same time maintaining an unbiblical ecclesiology. This is problematic, in large measure, because biblical oil and pragmatic vinegar simply do not mix!

John MacArthur, David Wells, and Gary Gilley have addressed this issue quite well here, here and here. As I’ve noted elsewhere, not everything that glitters is gold.

2. When the faithful proclamation of Scripture does not result in visible numerical fruitfulness, pastors can be tempted to abandon genuine expository preaching.

When numbers are made the standard of success, sound biblical exposition is often thrown overboard. In its place, ‘evangelical fluff’ is served up for the sake of popular appeal, in hopes of establishing a broader audience. It is a sad reality but many today seem to wear Hebrews 5:12–14 as a badge of honor; (they glory in their shame).

Shallow sermons, in turn, propagate the doctrinal ignorance, biblical illiteracy, and theological compromise that dominates the American evangelical landscape today. To make matters worse, gifted orators who mishandle the Scriptures are often elevated as exemplary leaders. The numerical success of their ministries is used to justify their lack of faithfulness to the Word of God.

3. When numbers, nickels, and noses are equated with “ministry success” many church planters, missionaries, and pastors, can be tempted to leave their current “unsuccessful” ministries prematurely.

Surely one of the reasons behind the proliferation of two to three-year ministry tenures comes back to this. When numeric success, rather than ministry faithfulness, is paraded (even unintentionally), it has the potential to dishearten and discourage those who do not see that visible fruit.

Why Expository Preaching?

Matt Waymeyer teaches Greek and Systematic Theology at TES and serves on the pastoral staff of Grace Immanuel Bible Church in Jupiter, FL. Below is a brief conversation TES had with Matt about local church ministry.

"Why are you committed to expository preaching?

Let me begin with a definition. Expository preaching is the authoritative proclamation of God’s Word in which the preacher clearly sets forth the divinely intended meaning of the biblical text and brings the contemporary implications of its timeless truth to bear on the lives of the people. My commitment to this kind of proclamation flows out of my conviction that Scripture is the Word of God. Because the Bible is God’s Word, it possesses a trustworthiness, an authority, and a transforming power that no other source possesses. Therefore, to the degree that we faithfully preach the divinely intending meaning of the biblical text, our preaching carries that same trustworthiness, authority, and transforming power. But conversely, to the degree that we depart from the divinely intended meaning of a given passage, our message has forfeited its trustworthiness, authority, and transforming power, and we make ourselves not worth listening to.

What do you believe are the benefits for a pastor if he has a thorough understanding of Hebrew and Greek? What do you think are the potential limitations without a grasp of the original languages?

The primary benefit of knowing the original languages is that it enables the pastor to be more accurate and precise in his understanding of the biblical text. This is foundational to everything he does as a shepherd, from preaching to counseling to formulating his systematic theology. The original languages are especially critical to his preaching ministry. Every semester I tell my Greek students that precision in the study leads to clarity in the pulpit. In other words, if you want to be a preacher who clearly presents the divinely intended meaning of Scripture from the pulpit, you must be precise in your own understanding of Scripture in the study, and so much of that precision comes from the original languages.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

8 Things I Love about My Present Ministry

Pulpit view from inside FBC Freeport's sanctuary
As I reflect on the past I have much to thank God for today.

1) The leadership team and I share the same doctrinal commitments, the same core values, and the same philosophy of ministry. In many ways our biblical convictions have been forged in/through fire.

 As you labor together in ministry, especially in the trenches during difficult seasons, you see each other’s strengths, weaknesses, and quirks. You also grow to love and to appreciate one another all the more (Eccl. 4:12; Prov. 18:24).

It has been said that you do not really know what you believe (or at least how deeply your convictions are) until you have to suffer for it (2 Tim. 2-3). Over the years I have been blessed to be surrounded by faithful lay leaders who have been willing to endure hardships for the sake of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15). Church revitalization is definitely not easy but it is nonetheless biblically prescribed (see Titus 1:5).

2) The men and I are able to agree to disagree on wisdom matters without growing apart (Eph. 4:1-3). By God’s grace we also know when we need to agree not to disagree on something. For a lengthier explanation read this article on Maintaining Doctrinal Standards and Revising Church Constitutions.

3) The church and leadership team have always given me ample time to study and to preach the Word (per 1 Tim. 5:17-18; 2 Tim. 2:15; 1 Pet. 4:10-11).

Friday, March 10, 2017

Sick Churches

Dr. Thom Rainer has been writing some helpful articles on church revitalization lately.  I do not agree with every assessment or statistic Thom shares but one should never throw the baby out with the bathwater. Thom, like every shepherd, wants the Lord's Church to be spiritually healthy and to radiate the glory of Jesus Christ!  If you want to really grow from Thom's articles you must read his blog posts/books with all humility.  Dr. Rainer calls it just like he sees it as he communicates the truth in love.


"I like to be a bearer of good news. I like to be able to be positive about situations, especially when those situations involve churches. At the same time, I refuse to deny reality. Such denial can only lead to a worsened condition.

For the past several months, I have been researching and writing my upcoming book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church. The book actually began with a post on this blog. The responses to that post were overwhelming, so much so that I decided to expand it to a short book that will be released by B&H Publishing in May 2014.

Churches typically do not move from good health to dying overnight. It is usually a more subtle deterioration. I have identified five simple stages:
  • Health
  • Symptoms of sickness
  • Very sick
  • Dying
  • Deceased
I estimate that about 40%, or around 150,000 churches in America, are in the very sick stage. They are one stage away from being terminal.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Revitalize: Why We Must Reclaim Dying Churches—and How

Photo Credit: http://thomrainer.com 
 
"There’s more here than you might expect. That was true for me. I’ve been hearing the argument for church revitalization for years, and it has always sounded like a conversation about practical matters. There are practical reasons to sometimes plant a new church. And there are practical reasons to sometimes revitalize an old church.

But reading through the articles for this edition of the 9Marks Journal, I discovered something larger, something older, something more basic. Church revitalization, it occurred to me, goes to the very heart of what it means to pastor. And the desire to see churches revitalized, I dare say, should be a constituent part of a Christian’s heart. Could it be that we’ve been missing something as basic as evangelism and discipleship, even if it’s rarer?

Church planting is a great thing, and there’s no need to take anything away from it. But there should also be a default setting in a Christian’s heart that always longs to see dying churches revitalized. It’s not like the debate in your head about whether to fork over $2000 to the mechanic to fix your clunker of a car or to just buy a new one. It’s more like a decision about whether to walk away from a dear but difficult relationship. Our hearts should never want to do that, even if once in a great while we must.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Why Revitalize?

     

9 Marks Journal Article
By Matt Schmucker

"I asked the young man sitting across from me at lunch, “Why did you decide to go to seminary?” He said, “I want to do great things for God!

His answer made me shudder slightly. I wondered if he had ever read any biographies of men who had “done great things for God.” Did he know the sacrifice that comes with “greatness?”  Many of the great ones were reformers. They saw something broken, directionless, or distorted, and set about to change course—to re-make. Those great ones were actually pastors: they were students of the Word who took on the burden to proclaim. They worked like prophets, not through foretelling, but through forth-telling: being forthright about the present in light of what was written in the past. That’s what a pastor does. He holds up God’s Word and calls men and women to renew their minds and reform their ways. If you don’t want to be a reformer, you don’t want to be a pastor.

MOTIVATIONS FOR REFORM

When you look at a small, broken, unhealthy, body of believers, what could drive you to begin the reforming work that’s necessary? Let me suggest six motivations:

1. For the Christian’s Sake 

In John 21, we hear Jesus ask Simon Peter (three times), “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Three times Simon Peter says, “Yes.” And three times Jesus says, “Feed my sheep.” In Luke 15, we read of Jesus valuing his own people so highly that if they were sheep he would “leave the ninety nine in the open country” to rescue the one lost. God loves his people. He wants them gathered, and he wants them fed.

In every church revitalization I’ve seen, there have been at least a few sheep present (often amidst wolves). They have been malnourished and even mistreated. But they have been adopted by Christ and are therefore deserving of care. Consider revitalizing a church for the benefit of the true believers who are there.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

For this reason God sent us to Freeport (Titus 1:5)

Picture of Church Building of First Baptist, Freeport

How God Revitalized a Local Church to the Praise of His Glorious Grace!

Titus 1:5, For this reason I left you in Crete, that you might set in order what remains, and appoint elders in every city as I directed you. 

The year was 63 AD.   "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair."  In many ways, the young churches in Crete were already spiritually broken.  In response, Paul left one of his young protégés behind in order that "Doctor" Titus might help put "humpty dumpty" back together again.

Titus was to "set straight" this broken ministry.  Note the inspired purpose statement mentioned in Titus 1:5.  For this reason I left you in Crete, that you might set in order what remains, and appoint elders in every city as I directed you.  This young pastor was to put on his reformation cap and with God's help he was to try and right anything that was defective in a God-honoring way.  He was to reform these churches according to the precepts of Holy Scripture. 

As important as Titus was to this revitalization effort he was not to try and carry out this mammoth sized task alone.   Titus 1:5b, and appoint elders in every city as I directed you.   Titus was to find, select, train, and set apart qualified leaders (note Titus 1:6-9) who would help him shepherd the flock of God (see 1 Peter 5:1-4; Acts 14:23). I believe this has always been God's plan for His Church (note Acts 14:23, Phil. 1:2, Hebrews 13:17).