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The Extraordinary Pastor

The Extraordinary Pastor – An Endangered Species

It was a real eye-opener recently to discover that a significant proportion of preachers are in it for themselves. This fact wasn’t gleaned from statistical analysis: at first I thought I was dreaming when I read Philippians 1.15. “Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will.” This was what Paul concluded from observing how various Christian preachers behaved while the apostle was imprisoned: some laboured harder to break new ground for the Gospel, taking advantage of the publicity which Paul’s trial and imprisonment brought; others, regrettably, saw an opportunity, out of envy and rivalry, to stir up public antipathy and government hostility, and make Paul’s jail term torturous. It forced me to conclude, reluctantly, that the principle being taught is something along these lines: quite a number, if not the majority, of pastors, ministers, evangelists and preachers, for part of the time at least, are tempted to, or actually do, preach from unworthy motives, to make life harder for others, or increase their own success.

Can it really be true that a disinterested Christian leader is a kind of ‘lesser-spotted dodo’ and thus a very rare endangered species? As I […]

Avoiding Hyper-Calvinism as We Preach

Could it be that, in heart and practice, many of us in Reformed churches are not preaching evangelistically because we allow our Calvinism to bind us rather than propel us as it should? Perhaps we can learn from a controversy in Spurgeon’s time.

When it comes to controversies and Charles Spurgeon, the conflict he is most known for was the “Down-Grade Controversy” toward the end of his ministry. The Down-Grade was a battle against late Puritan ministers who began sliding toward liberal doctrines, philosophical and moralistic preaching, and less than holy practices. This controversy received its name from Spurgeon who warned: “We are going down hill at breakneck speed.”

Yet, as Iain Murray makes known in his book Spurgeon v. the Hyper Calvinists, Spurgeon faced a lesser known but equally dangerous controversy. In his early ministry he was attacked by reformed ministers because they believed he was offering the gospel too freely.

These ministers taught that in preaching the gospel care should be taken that sermons spoke only to the elect. Thus, they preached (and taught others to do the same) that when people are called to respond to the gospel, they are not to be called to believe in Christ directly but rather they are to ask for faith […]

Spiritual Abuse: It’s Not Just Celebrity Pastors

When I was in seminary there were two sins—all too common among pastors—that frightened me so much I nearly gave up my pursuit of the ministry. One of those was the sin of spiritual abuse. After all: “Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Feed by lambs.’” Twice more he brought Peter’s love to the test, and each time bid him to have a careful regard for his sheep. Our love to Jesus is, to a certain extent, shown by the way in which we treat the sheep. If he is a liar who says he loves God but hates his brother, I suspect it cannot be good for that one who says he loves the Great Shepherd but hates the Shepherd’s sheep.

Yesterday Christianity Today reported that celebrity pastor Darrin Patrick, had been fired from the mega-church he pastored in St. Louis. They reported: “[The church] cited a range of ongoing sinful behaviors over the past few years including manipulation, domineering, lack of biblical community, and a history of building his identity through ministry and […]

Of Burner Phones and Busy Lives: Making the Best Use of Time

A couple of weeks ago I walked into a cell phone store and said,  “I would like to trade in my iPhone 6 for a dumb phone.” Puzzled, the clerk asked why I would do such a thing. I told him I longed for the simplicity of the 2000s. The look of puzzlement continued as I described why I only wanted talk and text: I am tired of the media access on my phone. It’s a time vacuum.

He consulted with another employee and then informed me that they no longer sold dumb phones and said I would have to buy a “burner phone” to avoid media. I could try CVS or Target. All phone plans now carry a media charge; it cannot be avoided.

I went home disappointed, but as a small victory in the media-fatigue battle I deleted my Facebook app. I love you all, but you don’t need to join me on coffee dates with my wife and you don’t need to accompany me to the park with my children. I don’t need to see your vacation pics while I’m waiting for the light to change. There are better ways for me to use my time.

The Apostle Paul, writing to the church in Ephesus, gives a […]

Sowing Gospel Seeds

Why do many Christians struggle to share their faith with others?

I believe one answer to that is that they feel unqualified. They believe that they have to have a perfect presentation or be well-trained before they are able to do so. I especially believe that we who are in the Reformed camp have made sharing Christ more complicated than it need be.

Think for a moment of the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4. She clearly was not well-versed in Scripture. Her education would have been minimal. Her lifestyle up to this time was grossly an immoral one. Yet she was used to lead a whole village out to Christ (John 4:30) and many believed in him (John 4:39, 41).

Her “method”? She gave a simple testimony of Jesus’ prophetic insights and wondered aloud if he was the Christ.

Similarly, I would like to encourage you to think of sharing the gospel as simply sowing seeds. Of course, Jesus spoke of the kingdom of heaven in this way, as of a sower going out and sowing seeds in many places (Matthew 13:1-9). We are told the seed represents the word of the kingdom (Mt. 13:18-19). As a seed is a small object, we need to remember that […]

The Call of God

Several young men have approached me as of late who are wrestling with the call of God on their lives regarding ministry. They have asked questions, common to many who begin considering pastoral calling, such as:

“How do I know whether this is the Lord calling me or just my own ambition?”

“Should I not feel more confidence rather than doubts about my gifts?”

“What if I go through preparing for ministry then realize I am not called?”

As I interacted with them personally about these questions and others, memories were stirred of my own struggles many years ago with this same matter. A graduate student in mathematics at Purdue University in the 1980’s, I had not gone to West Lafayette to become a pastor. Yet my growing desire to share God’s truths with others, enhanced by my friendship with Pastor Dave Long, could not be shaken. In one of the many times discussing this with Dave, he handed me a study on the call of God. I recently dug this study out of my files and gave copies to these young men.

I thought I would share this study in case it may be of help to others. I […]

So Andy Stanley Thinks I’m Selfish

I am a pastor of a relatively small church. Well, if statistics are correct it would be more accurate to say our congregation is just under the median size of churches in the United States. Nevertheless, we aren’t big. We have no marketing budget. We’re not on the cutting edge of anything. We don’t have an endless list of programs. We’re not into flashy or snazzy youth groups. We’ll never  have a large administrative staff. Also to be quite honest, we’ll probably never see our membership skyrocket. But we do concentrate on those things that matter most–preaching, sacraments, prayer, and fellowship.

I love my church! My wife and I have frequently commented to each other how grateful we are that this is the church our children will always call home. They know everyone and are known by everyone. They have adults of all ages who love them fiercely, invest in them deeply, pray for them often, guard them carefully, and encourage them sincerely. I can honestly say I wouldn’t want it any other way.

That’s why I was, at least in part, so shocked (even offended) when I heard mega-church pastor Andy Stanley denounce those who prefer or choose smaller churches without […]

To Listen or Not To Listen: Audio Sermons

We live in a day of instant access. Digital media has made most things available to us with a single click. This, of course, has brought untold benefits. We have more opportunities and resources at the tips of our fingers than any other generation in the history of humanity. But it also comes with its cost. I suspect one area where this is true is the modern phenomenon of audio sermons.

Now, to be fair, the mass production and distribution of sermons isn’t new. For instance, when Joseph Passmore and James Alabaster began printing and distributing Charles Spurgeon’s sermons in The Penny Pulpit, they could hardly keep up with the worldwide demand. Though I should note Spurgeon’s own hesitancy in this endeavor. But the instant access has become even more instant and we have available to us literally millions of sermons from tens of thousands of preachers. This has many of its own benefits. I, for one, am grateful for every contact the people in my church can have throughout the week with the Word of God. I’m also glad for the chance they have to benefit from particularly gifted preachers in a way that they may not benefit from me. […]

Harvest Eyes

I grew up surrounded by the cornfields of Minnesota and now I live encompassed by the ones in Kansas. Truth be told, they’re my favorite landscape. I know some people prefer the mountains of Colorado or the seacoast beaches. I’ve even met some people whose preference lies in cityscapes—I still can’t figure that out. As for me, I love the rolling green hills blanketed by a sea of golden tassels trembling on stalks of corn. And as summer slowly yields to autumn the silks, shucks, and stalks begin to turn varying degrees of brown as the dry out. To the unknowing eye it may seem the corn is simply dying. But to those who have harvest eyes it’s a good indication that the corn is ripe for the picking.

It’s remarkable to me that this is the way the greatest evangelist who ever lived saw people. I’m not writing about Wesley or Whitefield, Moody or Graham, but of Jesus. Everywhere Jesus went he saw a field that was ripe for the harvest. It didn’t matter where he was. Jesus evangelized in the high-population urban centers of government, commerce, education, and religion. He also spent time in those tiny out-of-the-way villages—a great […]

Seeking His Spirit

Lately I have been reflecting on the prophets’ visions of revival. Many of the wondrous things they see in the days of Christ and promises they extend have to do with fuller manifestations of the Spirit of God. For three familiar examples:

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army…And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.” (Ezekiel 37:9-10, 13-14)

For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants. They shall spring up among the […]