Last Sunday, I spoke of the pressures we stand under in life and in the course of the message I mentioned several practical steps that may be of some benefit to you as you seek to manage the stress of everyday life.
The last step I mentioned was the wonderful benefit of reading Christian biography. Hebrews 11 inspires us to look back at all those that have faithfully followed Christ before us and draw strength and inspiration from their lives. The following are a few suggestions to help you get started:
1. Memoir and Remains of R.M. M’Cheyne by Andrew Bonar
2. To the Golden Shore: The Life of Adoniram Judson by Courtney Anderson
3. Five Who Changed the World by Daniel L. Akin
4. The Hiding Place (Hendrickson Classic Biographies) by Corrie Ten Boom, Elizabeth Sherrill and John Sherrill
5. Shadow of the Almighty: The Life and Testament of Jim Elliot (Hendrickson Biographies) by Elisabeth Elliot
6. Through Gates of Splendor: The Event That Shocked the World, Changed a People, and Inspired a Nation (Hendrickson Classic Biographies) by Elisabeth Elliot
7. William Tyndale: A Biography (Yale Nota Bene) by David Daniell
8. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
9. Eric Liddell: Pure Gold: A New Biography of the Olympic Champion Who Inspired Chariots of Fire by David McCasland
10. Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas
11. Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery by Eric Metaxas
I like being a man and I like the ministry, so why have I traditionally not liked most men’s’ ministries? It is puzzling even to me. I’m not sure what my problem is but I suspect that I am not alone. I certainly don’t have a corner on the market of masculinity or biblical masculinity for that matter, but I like to publically ponder a few things regarding Christian men and what is commonly called men’s ministry.
What if it’s a ruse; a crutch; a vapor? What if men’s ministry is so illusive that in order to have a dynamic and thriving men’s ministry you’ve got to keep changing, sticking and moving? You need a wild game supper here or a professional athlete there. Perhaps a race car driver and an ex professional wrestler to really get the men fired up. Fire trucks and helicopters and hand grenades will get them going. I don’t know. To me, what passed for dynamic men’s ministry in the 90’s just looks like a bad toupee’ that’s just not getting the job done.
What if the right tools for effective men’s discipleship are already available? What if genuine men’s ministry involves getting up before your family, reading the Bible, saying your prayers and then going to work? What if being a Christian man means doing unglamorous, unrewarding necessary things for the glory of God. What if being a Christian man really is being at the church when the doors are open and leading your family to do the same? What if Christian manhood is participating in worship, listening to the sermon and giving to the Lord? What if men’s ministry is giving the church a strong back that does hard work without complaining and finds joy in seeing the Lord’s church strong and healthy and moving forward? What if Church, and all that goes with it, is men’s ministry?
I have a good friend at our church that is probably the leading man in our congregation. He spends time with the Lord, provides for his family and loves them dearly. He’s 80 years old and is as enthusiastic about the Lord’s work as he was 50 years ago. He serves in a ministry every week, leads in Sunday School every Sunday and provides stability in the life of our church in fairly unstable times. He’s sturdy. What if men’s ministry is basic, straightforward Christ-exalting discipleship that creates a steady race of sturdy men? Just some thoughts about the what if’s of men’s ministry.
I love good music of all kinds. When I am in the car I almost always have some sort of music playing. My love for music has driven me to make several (failed) attempts at learning to play an instrument. I love to sing in church especially those songs with robust theology and high-minded lyrics that exalt the name of Christ. There is a real sense of fellowship with the saints as we sing songs to and about the Savior.
As a preacher, I love to walk to the pulpit following a tremendous time of worshipping through song; it makes me feel like the people are ready and desirous of hearing from God, and indeed they are if they were genuinely engaged in worship. Few things are more thrilling in life than to preach with a real sense that people are hungry for the Word you are about to deliver. By God’s grace, Christ exalting worship music has the ability to satiate and stir up all at the same time.
I am thankful to serve the Lord’s church in an era that is experiencing a renaissance of true worship. Even as challenging as it sometimes can be, we must continue to fight against a “performance” based idea of worship and press into a divine experiential idea of worship. A congregation that learns to worship together stands a better chance at unity, fellowship and mission.
Fueled by biblical exposition and gospel centeredness, a church that really worships together will develop into a force to be reckoned with. A congregation that shows up for a performance on Sunday that has little to do with true worship is little better than the crowd at the movie theater that bought the ticket, enjoyed the show and left fundamentally unchanged. At his core, no pastor wants that.
If you are a preacher then by the time Sunday rolls around you have spent untold hours preparing the sermon. Done correctly, your sermon will emerge from the text and point people to Christ. For a few shining moments on any given Sunday, you happen to be the expert in the room in regards to the passage you are preaching. You have defined words and consulted commentaries and parsed Greek words ad nauseum infinitum.
Armed with all that knowledge it can be tempting to tell everything you know. After all, you ARE the expert and your expertise should be on display, and that is where we get in trouble. The temptation to put your knowledge on display can be cloaked under the wholesome desire to teach. I’ll be the first to admit there is a dearth of doctrinally sound exegetically robust preaching out there and our first priority is to “rightly divide the Word”, but don’t try to impress people with your intellect. Sunday is not about having the preacher’s knowledge on display; Sunday is about the glory of Christ on display.
We must resist holding resources back or making it sound like we have some sort of esoteric knowledge back behind a secret curtain. Resource your people, point them to good blogs, websites and books. Let them know what you are reading, how you prepare and why you handle a passage like you do. As you strive to exalt Christ, preach the bible and equip your people, hope they walk away Sunday after Sunday further impressed with Christ and not with you.
Besides, you are probably not as smart as you think you are.
I am growing more and more convinced that God’s Word is sufficient. What I mean is, if you’re a preacher you don’t need to be overwhelmingly creative or remarkably innovative, you need to do work. Open the book, spend the time and find out what the scripture says. Our people are hungry for solid exposition born out of faithful exegesis. The lost need fuel for the Spirits awakening and the Redeemed need food for their souls; there is only one source for both. I am thankful to see a growing number of young pastors teaching the deep truths of the Bible and trusting the sufficiency of Scripture. I certainly believe you should present the Truth with all the energy and earnestness that God has given you, but I don’t think the preacher should ever let anything take the place of the power of God’s Word.
Several years back there was a growing trend of using dance to interpret truth as if somehow a gyrating body in a unitard could accurately divide the Word. I have found that the people doing the interpretive dance happen to be the only ones in the room actually enjoying it. In other words, I think it’s silly. Let us forsake the superfluous, unnecessary and distracting, and focus on stirring songs filled with robust doctrine from God’s Word. Let us hold forth the Word of God and trust the Spirit of God to do His sovereign and saving work. The Gospel ministry is a wonderful way to spend a life, let’s make sure we are spending it doing those things that honor Christ and impact people.
Almost a year has passed since I went into suspended animation on the blog. I am ready to get back at it adding my thoughts on ministry and life in the context of the local church. I intend, with some regularity, to share some things I have learned along the way about ministry and life in a Baptist church. I’m not an expert by any stretch. I was 30 yrs old before I preached to more than a couple hundred people in one room. Nonetheless, I have learned some things along the way that may or may not be helpful or beneficial, you be the judge. I love the church and can think of no better life than that of being a pastor in the local church. With that in mind let’s get to the first topic.
In ministry, you need to love what you do.
I know ministry is not easy and people can be draining and you are often underappreciated, but if you’re in ministry you need to find a way to love what you do. As ministers of the Gospel we stand on behalf of Him who is Life and speak hope to those that are dead in sin and hopeless in the world. As ministers we stand on behalf of those that are hurting and hopeless or cold and lifeless and summon the One who is Life. Don’t be afraid to throw yourself, all of yourself, into the Gospel ministry played out in the church. Your love for Christ must leap with fire into your affection for the church. People know when you love them and are giving yourself to them. There is no substitute for Gospel driven affection for the people God has trusted you to lead. I know that it will seldom be reciprocated with the intensity it was given but your love will not be wasted. If you don’t love ministry, it’s not a cardinal sin, you just need to do something else. Please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. The love I’m speaking of is not the blue bird on my shoulder, zippidy-do-da kind of love or the glibly sweet smooth edged sort of delusional love. I’m talking about a zealous, Gospel fired, irrational, supernatural, Christ driven kind of life-or-death love. The kind that carries burdens without complaint and receives criticism without flinching and absorbs the poisonous barbs of the war of ministry and finds a strange pleasure in the work. What we do is not easy but it sure is fun. In ministry, I hope you love what you do.
In December, I asked the congregation of Hickory Grove Baptist Church to join me in imagining and embracing a sharpened vision for our church. This vision calls us to reach beyond our “brick and mortar” buildings and to carry the Gospel more deeply into the community around us and, indeed, to the nations.
I asked them to imagine with me the possibilities that could become reality if we would only commit ourselves firmly to this vision. They enthusiastically responded in agreement!
This Sunday, March 4, we will begin putting feet and legs under this vision so that we can “walk our talk” and turn imagined possibilities into solid mission action.
The +1 Missions Challenge – which we will introduce in our worship services on this Sunday – is designed to engage us more practically and more purposefully in the mission of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Every person who attends Hickory Grove has a place and a role in taking the Gospel to our neighbors, to our nation and into the world. It is time to move from an imagined outcome to a tangible response.
Now is the time. March 4 is the date. Just imagine what we can do!
“Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” – John 6:54
I am not a fan of using shock value to get the attention of the people I shepherd. Over the past couple of weeks several evangelical leaders around the country have been using their platforms and publicity machines for the sole purpose of generating attention toward one issue in particular: sex. Recently, one mega-church pastor released a book on marriage that, despite a few positive elements, reads more like a tawdry sex novel than a gospel saturated exposition on Biblical marriage.
Last week a pastor at a large church in Texas spent the night on the roof of his church in a bed with his wife to draw attention to the fact that the “culture has kicked the bed out of the church and God out of the bed.” To the lost world, these stunts look like nothing more than a ploy to sell books and attract masses of people to their church. To me, this is nothing more than Howard Stern-style pastoral leadership.
I do not consider myself to be the model of a 21st century, cutting-edge pastor. I like to shine my shoes, put on a suit and stand before God’s people to proclaim God’s word. I am a pastor by calling, a pastor by trade and a pastor by choice. My life is bent around the leading of God’s church, the shepherding of his flock and the preaching of his word.
This week, however, was a departure from the norm at Hickory Grove Baptist Church as we experienced the energy and vitality that comes with having a Gospel-centered, Christ-exalting vision for what God has for us in the future.
This past Sunday, I stood before the church I lead and set forth a vision of where Hickory Grove is headed in the coming days. We have always been a Gospel people. Our rich heritage of faithful leadership and fidelity to the word of God is evidenced in the abundance of changed lives that walk in and out of our doors every Sunday. The vision I shared with our people is based on three principles—that we exist to Exalt Christ, Make Disciples and Pass the Torch. Everything we do from this point forward will be based on these three things.
Every ministry and every program will be held up to the light of the Gospel and what is working will be expanded upon while the things that do not push to this end must be reconsidered in light of our mission.
I do not claim to have laid hold to some great new truth or innovative church growth strategy, no, what we are committing ourselves to is that we are a Gospel-centered church that is on mission for Jesus Christ until he calls us home. This is who we are, this is where we are headed and by God’s grace we will see it through.
For more about the vision God has given us, click here.