RSS

In the Depths of the Sea

I am always amazed when archaeologists or explorers find something ancient. It’s fascinating to me to see an object, or sometimes even a skeleton, that is hundreds or thousands of years old. Those old objects and people have stories. It’s like the past comes to life again. A recent news item caught my attention.

The story begins, “The remains of a centuries-old shipwreck have been discovered more than a mile below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of North Carolina, a reminder that history can be found anywhere. A team of researchers stumbled upon the previously unknown wreck, which appears to be from the late 18th or early 19th century. Among the artifacts spotted on the ocean floor were a metal compass, an iron chain, glass bottles, a ceramic jug, ship timbers, red bricks and a navigational tool.”

My first thought at reading this was, How cool! My second thought was of a truth found in Scripture. It is this: God pictures His forgiveness of my sins as putting them into the deepest part of the sea. But they will never be found!

The prophet Micah spoke of God’s forgiveness of the sins of the nation of Israel,

Who is a God like You,
Pardoning iniquity
And passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage?

He does not retain His anger forever,
Because He delights in mercy.

He will again have compassion on us,
And will subdue our iniquities.

You will cast all our sins
Into the depths of the sea.
(Micah 7:18-19)

The New Covenant includes the promise that God will remember our sins no more (Hebrews 8:12).

My thought on seeing the news article was this. People find shipwrecks that have been covered by the ocean for centuries. But my sins have been cast away by a forgiving God, never to be raised up by Him and used against me. Sure, those old sins would have stories. But Jesus died for me and rose again, and the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses me from all sin (1 John 1:7).

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on July 23, 2015 in Current Issues and Events

 

2000 Sermons, 25 years, Some Observations (Part 2)

Having reached, by the grace of God, the milestone of 25 years of pastoral ministry and 2000+ sermons, I am writing here a few things I have learned along the way. The first post was things I have learned about preaching.

My pastoral ministry has included serving in three different churches over a 25 year period. In the first I served as a youth pastor for 4 years. I served in the second as the senior pastor for 9 ½ years and have been senior pastor at my current church for 11 ½ years. Here are some things I have learned about ministry and churches. There are many observations that I could make. These are some that stand out to me, with minimal explanation. Each paragraph is a separate observation, in no particular order.

Jesus Christ is building His church. I come back to this truth over and over. I cannot do it, nor am I responsible to do it. The church will survive and thrive because He is building it.

The church is an amazing entity. It is a place of worship, growth, love, friendship, and encouragement like no other on earth. I love the church.

It is best for a pastor to start out by serving in a church where he can learn the ministry, preferably in an assistant position. I am thankful that I had the opportunity to serve with a man who taught me the ministry before I became the one fully responsible for pastoring a church.

It is good to have one or a few older pastors that you can go to for advice and counsel, especially during the first few years of ministry.

Every church has its own culture. This does not have to do primarily with the basic doctrines or even the polity of the church, though those will determine the culture to some degree. I’m talking about other aspects, such as the traditions of the church, how conservatively the people think, who the influential people are (other than the pastors), how major as well as less significant decisions are made, why the church was started, what theological and practical controversies have arisen in the church’s history, what the previous pastor’s leadership and preaching style was like, what musical preferences and practices the church has (both as a whole and the individuals within the church), whether the mood of the services are formal or have more of a family atmosphere, and numerous other factors. A church’s culture isn’t necessarily good or bad, though it can be either. It is very important for the pastor to learn this culture. This takes time – months and even years in an established church. The new pastor must adapt and work within the existing culture to a great degree starting out. He may be able to create needed change in a church culture, but it will take prayer, patience, teaching, planning, and effective communication. Many church members are as attached to the church’s culture as they are to its doctrine. Regardless of whether this degree of loyalty is right or wrong, it is reality.

When you are the pastor, the church shapes who you are. The responsibilities, activities, relationships, problems, seasons, and joys associated with church life have a formative influence on your own thinking, priorities, emotions, state of mind (day and night), schedule (day and night), view of God, level of encouragement or discouragement, friendships, childrearing, Bible reading, Christian walk, local community involvement, marriage, and more. The pastor’s life is closely linked to the life of the church.

Expressions of love and support from church members are much, much more encouraging than people realize. A few words expressing appreciation for a message, prayer for me and my family, or support through a decision or change will lift my heart for days afterward.

In a similar way, negativity and criticism becomes magnified and intensified in the pastor’s mind. Sometimes negative feedback about a decision or direction is healthy and constructive. Other times it is arises from resistance to change, misunderstanding of the pastor’s motives, or a complaining spirit. The pastor has to learn to welcome the constructive criticism. He also must learn to discern unhelpful negativity and not be discouraged by it. One or two instances of criticism can seem, in his mind, like there is significant opposition to him or the direction he is leading. But it usually represents less people than he thinks it does.

Be very careful about moving forward on a decision when a significant percentage of leaders (pastors, deacons, etc.) or members express concern or opposition to it.

It is not the talent and personality of leaders, nor is it the efficiency of administration, variety and quality of programs, latest technology, or culturally-contextualized facilities that leads people to Christ and helps them grow. These may be helpful but are not vital. It is consistent teaching, preaching, and loving leadership over time – years of time – that truly influences people for Christ.

The key passage that describes the role of the pastor and what church life should be is Ephesians 4:11-16. This passage is fairly complex, but every pastor should study it carefully and in depth in order to develop a sense of purpose and direction for himself and his church. Then he should teach it to the church and lead the church in pursuing it. The church should continually progress toward embodying Ephesians 4:13.

There will be people along the way, hopefully only a very few, with whom a pastor will have a strong disagreement that leads to a parting of ways. This may happen with a church member or another pastor. The disagreement, in my experience, has not been about primary doctrine. It has been over philosophy of ministry or a counseling issue. It doesn’t usually involve sin, just seeing a matter in a very different way. I think it is what Paul and Barnabas experienced, called a “sharp contention,” as described in Acts 15:37-41. I hate it when it happens, and it is one of the most painful experiences I have in ministry. I have learned that I may or may not see how this parting of ways fits into God’s great plan, but I know it does.

When I started in ministry, it was pretty clear what a Fundamentalist was. Now Fundamentalism has so many variations and the term comes with so much baggage that what it represents is unclear. I used to call myself one. I belonged to an organization that promoted Fundamentalism, and I identified with the churches and influential people within the movement. I am still a separatist in a biblical sense, but I haven’t used the term “Fundamentalist” to describe myself in a long time due to the confusion and misunderstanding associated with it.

A good church is like a family. There is love, mutual respect, and warm acceptance among the people. There is willingness to confront and work through difficult issues, combined with a strong commitment to one another through whatever problems they face. The people truly enjoy being together. There is a warm spirit among them when they gather. They think about and pray for each other when they are apart. They love to lift their hearts and voices in praising their Heavenly Father. They are, individually and corporately, developing toward “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13). Jesus is “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14), and “of His fullness we have all received” (John 1:16), so the people and the church are becoming more and more characterized by grace and truth. It has been my blessing to pastor in churches like this. I am deeply blessed, and forever thankful to God and the people I have had the privilege of pastoring.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on July 17, 2015 in Church Life, Pastoral Ministry

 

Finding Your Voice

Last week I started a sequence of posts that include observations at this point in my life and ministry. In talking about preaching, I said, “Be yourself . . . Don’t mimic the manner or channel the personality of other preachers. Develop your own characteristic style, rhythm, and sense of humor. Be who God made you to be.”

I didn’t use this terminology, but I was describing what is known as “finding your voice.” I’m not referring to your physical, audible voice. This use of the word “voice” refers to your unique manner of expression. Many dictionaries (online, at least) don’t include this definition, but I found one that does, albeit the 8th and last entry:

  1. The distinctive style or manner of expression of an author or of a character in a book.(http://www.thefreedictionary.com/voice)

I’m applying this idea, not to communicating through written words, but through speaking, especially preaching.

I think when you’re younger as a preacher you feel like you have to fit a certain mold. Your idea of how to communicate may come from your training in a homiletics class, from observing certain preachers you respect or who seem to be effective, or from other sources. As you mature, you should develop your own speaking style, manner of expression, sense of humor, and way of connecting with the audience.

Philips Brooks defined preaching as “Truth through personality.” Of course, preaching should give voice primarily to the text of Scripture you are preaching. But because of the nature of preaching, that truth is voiced through the preacher’s personality.

In my next post I’ll share some more observations at this milestone in life and ministry, on Ministry and Churches.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on June 25, 2015 in Pastoral Ministry

 
 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,237 other followers