mistakes

Failures and Lessons Learned

Two weeks ago I blogged about ways to remain motivated in ministry. In the article I mentioned a string of painful events that led to my resignation from the pastorate in Monterey in 2006.

One of the comments on that post was from Gunnar Hanson, who asked me the following question:

“You planted the church and were there for 27 years when something bad happened (I have no idea what this was other than what you shared above) that caused you to resign. As I young pastor, I am very curious about what happened and the lessons you learned through this to serve as a warning for us younger guys that might get to big for our britches so to speak…hope this makes sense.”

I’m going to use today’s blog in an attempt to respond. I could speak for hours on the subject, but I promise to be brief here.

There were several things that happened that led to my resignation. The big one was that my marriage was in need of major repair, as we attempted to recover from my wife’s infidelity and issues that may have contributed to it. The public nature of our issues created unrest and some anger in the church. Approximately 5% of the people had been identified with varying degrees of angst. The board was supportive of me continuing on, but I was majorly challenged on three fronts: I was fighting to save the marriage, there was a need to work with the 5%, and there was a significant church body to continue pastoring. I figured I could handle two out of the three (with much grace, of course), but not all three. So I resigned. I do not regret it, although it was extremely painful to do so. I loved the church and people of CC Monterey Bay.

What lessons did I learn? Great question. Mistakes can be a great teacher, and I made my share of them, including in the last couple of years.

1.    Don’t become relationally disconnected from leadership. Unfortunately, I did just that. The senior pastorate is a privilege, and since we senior pastors normally have a great deal of freedom to determine our own schedules, pace, appointments, etc., we must use our freedom well. In the last couple of years, I focused more on the machinery of the church than on people.

2.    Don’t go “corporate” with your leadership structure. Because I had allowed relationships to wane, I tried to adjust to the relational deficiencies by adopting a corporate model of leadership, with a top to bottom org chart that further isolated me from some. The result: there were reporting channels to maintain, and some no longer had access to me, and I to them.

3.    Don’t raise up the wrong people. I put a couple of people in positions of authority that should not have been given that kind of responsibility or visibility. The “do not lay hands on anyone hastily” admonition in 1 Timothy is tremendously important. I knew that … was usually very careful for 25 of 27 years, but I got careless and paid for it.

4.    Talk to yourself with proper “self talk.” David talked to himself, and the results were most often very good. 

“Bless the LORD, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name!” (Psalm 103:1)

“O my soul, you have said to the LORD, ‘You are my Lord, my goodness is nothing apart from You.’” (Psalms 16:2)

“Why are you cast down, o my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God.”

But there was at least one occasion when David’s self talk was inaccurate and harmful—and almost led to his destruction.

And David said in his heart, “Now I shall perish someday by the hand of Saul. There is nothing better for me than that I should speedily escape to the land of the Philistines; and Saul will despair of me, to seek me anymore in any part of Israel. So I shall escape out of his hand.” (1 Samuel 27:1)

David was NOT going to perish at Saul’s hand! It was not gonna happen! He was God’s anointed and chosen king. But in spite of the truth, David acted on that lie he told himself, and went to live with the Philistines for 16 months. Near the end of those months, David’s men were talking about stoning him to death! It was a horrible decision David made, based on very bad information.

I lied to myself in those last couple of years, and my decisions reflected it. God had been faithful, He was being faithful, and He would continue to be faithful. I needed to believe what was true, what I truly believed! We pastors need to speak God’s truth to ourselves.

5.    Don’t believe your own press clippings. In the pastorate, there will be those who love us to pieces, there will be those who are real fans, and there will be others of different categories. People will talk, people will write things, and lots of opinions will flow and circulate. 

We mustn’t rely upon these things. The only true thing about us is what God says about us. He identifies and knows us completely. His estimation is what matters.

Next to God’s estimation of us is our wives’ estimation of us. She knows the truth better than anyone else.

Humility is the state of realistic thinking about one’s self. It’s a constant struggle to be sober-minded, but we must trust the Holy Spirit and God’s Word to help us.

6.    Keep the main thing, the main thing. My marriage didn’t survive, after all. I ended up divorced … it was a divorce I did not want. I have since remarried to a godly, beautiful woman who is a great source of encouragement and support for me. The Lord gave Sheri to me, and I have found a good thing (Pr. 18:22). 

I am therefore entrusted with a stewardship, which is to take care of her and treat her as Christ treats His church. I am one with her. I am called to obey 1 Peter 3:7 just like any married Christian man is called to obey 1 Peter 3:7.

Right now, I am trying to learn the kind of intimacy and oneness with my wife that I haven’t known well enough in the past. It’s a major challenge for me, but I must follow through. I want to follow through.

Next to my relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is my relationship with this woman. It’s got to be my main thing.

There’s much more I could say, but I’ll stop there. Maybe in another blog I’ll add to these thoughts. Thanks for reading.

Gunnar, thanks for asking the question.

Abortion: Lessons from Daniel’s diet challenge

Gunnar’s post on 1/10/12, “Sanctity of Human Life” was right on.  Not long after coming to know the Lord in 1981, I was exposed to the reality of what abortion really is.  I had family members and friends that chose abortion based on the biased and limited propaganda that Planned Parenthood spewed pretty much unopposed.  Because that was pretty much all they were exposed to, they made a decision that not only had a radical consequence for their unborn babies, but also radical, life-long consequences for they themselves.

In response, I studied up on the subject and got involved with the pro-life movement in various ways, leading people from our church, (CC Escondido), to picket outside an abortion clinic in San Marcos, CA,  and even picketed with a large group of people at the NOW national conference that was held at the Hotel Del Coronado back when Roger Hedgecock was mayor of San Diego.

At the abortion clinic we pleaded with the women who were entering to re-consider what they were doing and tried to give them the reasons why we were pleading with them, attempting to explain to them what really takes place during an abortion.  We also warned them that they would be held responsible by the God who created mankind because they were willfully destroying a little person created in His image and likeness.  We never did turn actually turn away a woman while I was there, but the foot traffic in and out of the clinic definitely decreased on the days we were out there.

After a while, I was personally convicted that my role was to change in the battle for baby rights because others–many others had felt the call to do the confrontational stuff.  So, along with Pastor Pat Kenney, (the Sr. Pastor of CC Escondido at the time), we linked up with some other folks and actually attended a few of foundational steering committee meetings for what would become Alternatives Women’s Clinic, the clinic that Gunnar serves as a board member.

I wouldn’t have explained why I began to concentrate on that front of the battle the way I’m about to, but suffice it to say that I recognized that we had no credibility and no moral leg to stand on in the eyes of unbelievers if we didn’t offer an alternative to the women that we were trying to keep from aborting their babies.  (Which is why I believe the name “Alternatives” is about as good as it gets for what used to be called a “crisis pregnancy center”).

Over the years, I’ve stayed engaged to a degree, (but honestly, not to the degree that I’m content with), in various ways with Sanctity of life issues and was even blessed to speak at the annual fund-raising dinner for the Crisis pregnancy in St. George, UT, a few years ago.

As with pretty much all other things, my cross-cultural ministry study and experience, (think:  Missions!), has given me a different grid to process the whole abortion issue through.  I’m sharing it here because I’ve found that when I explain it to Christians and even non-Christians using this kind of terminology, it seems to bring some clarity to them.  I believe that as a pastor I need to regularly look for new ways to frame biblical truth so that God’s people can have a greater understanding of things and then be provoked by His Spirit to engage in those things that we know are close to His heart.

Here’s how I share my perspective of the abortion issue in America today:

1.  Do little girls joyfully dream about getting older and then having a medical procedure done on them that will destroy the baby that is growing inside of them?  I think not.

2.  If that is true, then what might cause a girl or woman to choose to submit to a procedure like abortion?

3.  Basically, in a free society like ours that values self-esteem as its pinnacle virtue,  a high degree of individualism is necessary in order for each person to esteem themselves as much as possible.  Thus, you have fertile ground for abortion rights and abortions to exist.

4.  Because of these foundational cultural traits, abortion is tolerated by the vast majority of Americans, even though they say they are personally against it.

5.  And thus, abortion is not only legal, but to most Americans it serves a crucial cultural purpose:  It provides a choice for the girl or woman to remove an obstacle that she believes will in some way limit her individualism because if her individualism is hindered,  her self-esteem may never be obtained and she may never be a completely fulfilled person.

In the realm of cross-cultural missions, if the missionary discovers a specific cultural trait that is contrary to Kingdom culture, that cultural trait must be exposed, condemned, and then abandoned.  But doing those things alone will NEVER really bring about true transformation away from that cultural trait.  The reason for this is simple:  Because every cultural trait serves a purpose within the larger culture.

So, we MUST be diligent and put forth the time and energy necessary to discover the role that specific cultural trait plays within the larger culture.  Once we understand what that purpose is within the larger culture, we can seek God’s wisdom regarding the introduction of a new cultural trait that is in line with Kingdom culture and that is capable of replacing the one we are condemning.  We basically make known to people that God and His kingdom offers a viable alternative to the ungodly practice.  That alternative is in line with His Kingdom and will actually accomplish what the ungodly trait did, but in a non destructive to mankind and God-honoring way.

A good example of this approach is found in Daniel, chapter one.  Why did kings in those days sift through the people their armies had conquered to find the best and brightest young people?  So they could shape them and mold them into people who would perpetuate the kingdom later on in their lives.  In their minds, the ultimate motive was for the good of the kingdom.  They believed their training regimen, right down to what the captives would eat, was the best way to accomplish their ultimate goal.

That was the context Daniel and his buddies were dropped into by the sovereignty of God.  They didn’t take a stand against learning a new language, a new culture, a new education, or even having their names changed to reflect pagan Gods. But, they did take a stand against the diet their training regimen required.  At that time, that diet was clearly opposed to an aspect of the Kingdom culture God had called His people to live within.

Daniel modeled the point I’m making.  He offered an alternative.  He asked for permission to embark on an alternative diet and then he gave the Babylonians the right to judge whether his alternative might actually have accomplished their ultimate goal better than their existing specific cultural trait, (unclean foods).

It’s similar to polygamy among many ethnic groups.  Polygamy isn’t primarily an expression of sexual addiction among the men.  In their culture, it serves many practical purposes.  Most of those purposes can be accomplished by a local church.  Alternatives can and should be offered, not just condemnation of the ungodly practice.

And so it is with abortion.  God’s people should offer alternatives.  We need to be able to say to those girls or women who are pregnant that we have an alternative for them.  We will use our resources to give them a choice.  Yes, there will be a minor restriction on their individualism if they see the pregnancy through to full term, but we’ll use our love and resources to keep that to a minimum.  And the day the baby is born, we’ll ensure that they can have their full individualism back at the very same time we place the baby into a family that will love and care for it with absolute joy.

To offer an alternative like this hinges on the body of Christ working together in unity and I thank God that it’s happening and I pray it will increase until the evil of abortion is done away with.

Finally, as a pastor John Piper challenges me at a number of levels.  In the area of abortion, his devotional book:  A God-ward Life contains a number of daily entries that analyze abortion from a number of different and very well thought out angles.  His commitment to doing a Sanctify of Life message every January for his congregation and his engaging the abortion issue in picketing abortion clinics and writing letters to the editor of his local newspaper is inspiring and convicting.  A senior pastor not just teaching about engaging his local community holistically but actually modeling it himself is something that a local church and the unbelievers in his community NEED to see.

 

 

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Air Prayer

You’ve heard of Air Guitar, but have you heard of Air Prayer?  They are alike in significant ways.  WIKIPEDIA describes Air Guitar as –

… a form of dance and movement in which the performer pretends to play rock or heavy metal-style electric guitar, including riffs/solos/etc.  Air guitar is generally used in the imaginary simulation of loud electric guitar music.

There is a lot of pretend and the imaginary in Air Prayer.  Air Prayer pretends to be a serious approach to God and is the imaginary simulation of coming before Him.

Air Prayer is a professional hazard for the pastor.

One of the characteristics of Air Prayer is that it is formal and ceremonious.  And in pointing this out I mean that it is required and official and something that has to be done.  Routinely, prayer is structured into the very form of our public times together.

We all have formal times we pray – because we have to or feel obligated to – at meals/at service/before and after Bible studies, etc.  There are times that, if we didn’t pray someone would say or think, “Hey, we’re supposed to pray before we eat, teach the Bible, begin the service, go street witnessing, etc.”  Routinely, prayer is structured into the very form of our public times together.  And this is a very good thing – and yet it poses a professional hazard. You are very acquainted with this professional hazard.  Just examine your own experience.

We have all prayed and then 10 seconds later can’t remember what we prayed.  We have all prayed and then 10 seconds into the prayer realize that we are just mouthing platitudes and really aren’t (if we’re honest) addressing ourselves to our holy God.  The prayer is addressed to Him, but our hearts and minds are engaged with what’s next.  We pray the same thing at the same time over and over again.  Anyone who has been paying attention can, after a while, get up and repeat our prayers.  (Caveat: we can pray the same thing over and again and, because of faith, we do connect with God and the people do experience the heartfeltness of it.  Yet, I have to be honest with myself and realize that often this doesn’t happen).  There is a difference between formal times of prayer and the prayers that are prayed during these formal times.  Yet the prayers prayed at formal times can easily become formal prayers – this is the professional hazard.

I’m a great air pray-er.  It’s easy for me to pray a formal prayer out of obligation and not from thoughtful consideration.  I often find myself 10-15 seconds into a public prayer and realize I am just mouthing platitudes.  When I preach, I will announce my text, read it, and then say, “Let’s pray.”  One-tenth of a second later I am praying, “Father, bless this time.  Help us to hear Your voice. We want to meet with You. We lift our hearts up to You.  May we hear what the Spirit is saying to the church.  In Jesus’ name, amen.”  Do I mean what I pray?  Sure.  Am I thinking about what I pray?  Not so much – it just rolls of my tongue without thinking.  Mealtime prayers, beginning of service prayers, end of service prayers, Bible study prayers, baby dedication prayers, healing prayers, etc., have become so familiar that I can thoughtlessly and seamlessly spew them forth.  I told you, I’m a good air pray-er.  But I have come to the place where I despise not formal times of prayer, but formal prayers, froth and foam prayers, thoughtless prayers.

One of the greatest lessons of prayer I have ever learned, I learned in 45 seconds one afternoon.  I was at some pastor’s event and Tony Holyde (pastoring CC Shoreline in Morro Bay at the time) was asked to pray.  We all bowed our heads and for 15 seconds there was silence.  I thought, “Maybe he’s just thinking of something to pray that will impress us pastors.”  Another 15 seconds of silence rolled by.  I cocked my head and squinted through one eye to see if he had heard that he was requested to pray and was getting ready.  I couldn’t discern anything with my subtle squint.  Another 15 seconds passed and finally Tony began to pray.  It was a simple prayer.  It was heartfelt.  It was in the moment – no pre-cooked words.  I connected with God through Tony’s prayer.  I was edified.  Tony wasn’t trying to impress us pastors, he was quieting his heart before God.

When you are asked to pray – 45 seconds is a long time to wait before you begin.  People begin to wonder/to look around/to feel uncomfortable.  A 45 second pause is, well … an inefficient use of time.  Yet Tony’s 45 second pause helped me in my prayer life more than 10 books on prayer ever could.  My greatest challenge in prayer is quieting my heart before God.  When I don’t still my heart before God, I default to automatic mode and pray what routine and repetition have programmed into my mind.  When I don’t quiet my heart and launch right into prayer, froth and foam come forth.  When I still my heart, gather my thoughts, zero in on what is needed in the moment, my prayer becomes a thoughtful, meaningful approach to God.  The words may be the same words I have prayed 100 times before, but the mood, the spirit, the Spirit is different – and the people can feel it.  And I can sense that the people have experienced God in the prayer and not just heard the words of the prayer.

I could still hold my own in an Air Prayer competition, but what I learned in 45 seconds of silence has helped to revitalize and preserve my prayer life – both formal and otherwise.

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Sanctity of Human Life

My thoughts are focused on the Sanctity of Human Life as it approaches this January 22–which also marks the 39th anniversary of Roe V. Wade. Think about this. It is estimated that 92,000 people died as a result of the earthquake in Haiti a couple years ago. This is the number of children that have been aborted every 22 days since this ruling in 1973. Let that sink in. 1.5 million babies have been aborted each year, on average, since 1973.  These numbers are greater than our ability to comprehend.

A few years ago I was pursuing a doctoral degree, but withdrew from the program during my dissertation phase (my guilt speaking, but I will save that for another day).  During the summer of 2007 I attended a seminar that rocked my world. The topic was abortion. During the seminar, we met one of the director of the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform an organization that is fighting to protect babies that are facing abortion. During this seminar, he showed a very powerful video on abortion. I opted out for a number of reasons–primarily I didn’t want to face the reality of what it was. A few months after the fact, I decided I should watch it to see what it actually was.  As I watched the video the veil was lifted concerning abortion.  I could no longer live in denial about what it was–anything but a choice.  I encourage you, especially if you are pro-choice, to watch it by following this hyperlink:  This IS Abortion

The majority of Americans seem quite content living under an allusion that abortion is all about “women’s rights” and claim many reasons to justify it. You may be included, I know I was. If this is you, I implore you to watch the posted video so that you gain understanding concerning the truth of abortion.

God used this seminar to shake me to my core. It culminated January 2008, as I found myself pastor of Valley Baptist Church and preaching every Sunday. The Sanctity of Human Life Sunday was fast approaching and I had to decide would I comment on the issue.

Many factors seemed to be at play. First, I stumbled across a chapter in John Piper’s book, “Brothers, We Are Not Professionals” that challenged pastors on this topic–me in particular. I felt like such a coward. Then, I realized that I was finishing First Timothy the Sunday before Sanctity of Human Life Sunday…what would I do? I had no excuses. Ultimately, I decided that I needed to take a stand. I would preach on the topic from a biblical vantage point. This was the hardest sermon I have ever preached. I came with great personal pain, anger, and sorrow. I have preached on this subject ever since without regrets.

In my heart I don’t think that someone can remain “pro-choice” after viewing this posted video, yet I know that I am wrong because many people are involved in this “medical procedure” day in and day out and are not moved by their actions. Our conscience is truly seared concerning this subject.

There are a few things that I want to say specifically on this matter:

1. If you have been involved in abortion (both female and male), Jesus has paid the penalty for you sin. Forgiveness is available to you if you ask Him. Forgiveness and consequence are two separate matters. Once forgiven, I believe it can take many years to sort through the guilt, shame, and scars.

2. I believe aborted children are resting in the arms of God. They are safe with Him.

3. Concerning abortion to day. This is murder. We must act to defend the lives of the innocent. I am not suggesting that we murder abortionist, but we must rise up and help the helpless through political means, supporting your local pro-life pregnancy clinic, reaching out to abort-intent women, along with caring for young single moms who decided to keep their kids.

To you apathetic Christian, I implore you to watch the video and ask yourself, “What does God think about this?” Do you say, “Personally, I would never do it. But, I could never tell someone else what to do.” Really? Watch the video, then tell me that! Then I would encourage you to read Proverbs 24:11-12 and ask yourself, “How does this passage relate toward abortion?”

To you apathetic pastor, you must realize that in your seats sit those young, older, single, with kids and without kids who are contemplating abortion.  I sit on the board of Alternatives Women’s Center in Escondido, CA.  I am shocked to see the social-economic range of ladies who come in considering an abortion.  Yes, pastor, your people included.  Also, realize that statistically 1 out of 3 women in your church have had an abortion and are suffering in silence.  I am shocked at the number of pastors who are cowards, I use this word coward very intentionally, when it comes to the speaking of abortion.  You have an obligation to speak on this matter for three reasons: 1) to education your people on the biblical reasons against abortion,  2) to offer hope and healing to both men and women who are suffering in silence with the scars of abortion, and 3) help your people get involved in this battle to protect the lives of the unborn.

Please people, watch this video. Let it hurt. Let the tears flow. Let it move you into action.  Be ignorant no more!

How Do We Stay Motivated?

I’ve been involved in pastoral ministry since 1976, and in a full-time capacity since 1979. Recently, I’ve been thinking about pastoral motivation. What is it that keeps us pastors going?

By that I don’t mean, what keeps us going professionally, as though our motivation were derived from statistics, budgets, salary, and benefits.

What I do mean is what keeps us going … doing real ministry to real hearts in authentic ways?

2 Corinthians 4:1-2 Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart. {2} But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor handling the word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. 

I/we wear many hats: we’re sons of God, disciples of Christ, husbands, fathers, grandfathers, pastors, teachers, examples, equippers, evangelists, visionaries, mentors, counselors, administrators, executives, sons, and for those who are bi-vocational, tentmakers.

A couple of weeks ago, I was listening to a Bible study I taught sometime in late 1999. That time period was while I was still with Calvary Chapel Monterey Bay, prior to a string of painful events in my life that led to my resignation from that pastorate. While I was listening to the message, I was once again realizing the tremendous trust placed in me by so many. Again I felt a strong depth of sorrow for the people … again, I’m so sorry that those things had happened.

Not long after those thoughts came new ones; I began thinking about the great cloud of witnesses from Hebrews 11. While scripture doesn’t seem to be super clear about how much these witnesses are able to observe right now, it’s at least possible that they may indeed be watching us. (The angels are certainly looking into spiritual things, and are present at our gatherings.) At the very least, they will be welcoming us upon our entrance into eternity. Are they praying for us? Are they rooting for us? I suddenly had the very strong sense that the way I’m living my life right now has amazing implications and ramifications. I found myself, for a moment at least, in touch with eternity. I was being motivated!

So back to the main question: what keeps us pastors going?

Here are a few important truths for me. Maybe you can add your own as part of this discussion. Let’s encourage one another to love and good works.

…I’m motivated by my calling into ministry. (I love to remind myself often of the specifics.) For me, it was very supernatural.

…I’m motivated by the main thing, and the challenge of doing it. The main thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing. And the main thing of the Great Commission is discipleship. What a challenge to actually do it!

…I’m motivated by my peers in ministry. When I get close to other pastors and hear their stories, there are so many great things that I see that are encouraging.

…I’m motivated by the 2nd Coming of Jesus, and by the fear of the LORD.

…I’m motivated by the cloud of witnesses.

Etc. (here’s where you can add your own)

Thanks for reading.

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Beyond Bible Study

For 21 years I’ve grown up in, been discipled under and now served within a movement of churches that is dedicated to verse by verse exposition of the scriptures. Prior to attending Calvary, my family attended an Episcopal church for several years and a fairly charismatic Pentecostal fellowship for a short time while living in London. Calvary has remained our home due largely to the fact that the scripture, and the teaching of them, has always been central. Expositional bible study is certainly not unique to Calvary, but “Simply teaching the word of God simply” has been something of a mission statement for the Calvary Chapel family of churches; may that never change.

Being raised up under such a model, and ordained a pastor within such a movement, I’ve always elevated bible study highly. I mean, the bible is God’s word, right? And God has exalted His word above His name; shouldn’t we therefore exalt it in bible study too? Of certain that has been the logic I’ve often employed and encountered; and not only within Calvary. The centrality of bible study within many evangelical churches is good, even great. Yet there is a downside I’ve observed, especially since becoming a senior pastor.

In my church and others, many believers find their Christian experience to be summed up by bible study. If asked to describe their Christian walk it is often boiled down to the bible studies they attend or are involved with. Planning to have a group of believers meet together in your home? It’s a home bible study. A coffee shop meeting, it’s a bible study. We have men’s bible study, women’s bible study, youth, college, young adults, mid-week, Friday night… The list could go one and on. If you say, “We’re going to start a Saturday night meeting,” the question comes, “What will you be studying.”

This was all the more evident to me more than a year ago when we put our men’s and women’s bible studies on hold for the fall, while we focused our attention on the Perspectives On The World Christian Movement class. I received more than a few notes and emails from people saying things like, “You’re taking away our bible study.” Some of them very dramatically said things like, “This is going to be catastrophic for many people in our church.” It wasn’t. Then again several weeks ago when we announced to our fellowship that we would no longer be having a mid-week bible study in the new year. Several people approached me with real concern. “What will I do with out the Wednesday night bible study?”

Please don’t miss understand. Bible study and a knowledge of the scripture is certainly important. But I’ve realized in the last year that I’ve often weighed my success as a pastor by whether or not the people under my oversight are good students of the bible and not by the exercise of spiritual discipline or bearing of spiritual fruit in their lives. I think, in part that this arises from the fact that we tend to make little to no distinction between the pastor-teacher role we find in Ephesians 4:11.

Many pastors, myself included, look to Ephesians 4:11-12 as those verses that describe their very calling. I have taught them and heard them taught many times.

And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:

Ephesians 4:11-12

These verses unfold for us what has been oft referred to as the “fivefold ministry” within the church. Here we are presented with five roles or offices (apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher) that many evangelicals believe to be – in some way – still active within the church today. There are certainly different ways in which these roles are defined (especially apostles and prophets), but I think few would say they’ve completely disappeared. However, some question, whether it should be a fivefold ministry or four, as there is some reason to connect the roles of “pastors and teachers” into one office of “pastor-teacher.” The wording in the Greek makes it possible to connect pastor-teacher while separating apostles, prophets and evangelists. Yet, I believe the roles should be separate, albeit overlapping.

I could get real technical and delve into Granville Sharp’s rule, in which I’m convinced I could make the case for separate, but overlapping offices; for the sake of this article, I will not. Needless to say, I think it’s important to recognize that not all pastors are called to teach, and not all Christian ministry should be wholly bible study oriented. There is a real need in our day for pastoral leadership that aids in the development and encouragement of spiritual disciplines and fruitfulness in every area of the Christian’s life (i.e. church, home, work, school, recreation, etc…). Our Christianity must needs extend beyond bible study.

These realities are incredibly important for modernistic western Christianity to grapple with as our own culture continues to move beyond postmodern and Christianity persists in it’s push through the global south. Perhaps we would do well to consider how Christianity grows and flourishes in these settings. In such environments discipleship is more relational than informational. Narrative based discovery of the biblical texts take precedent over expositional exegesis. The applications of the biblical narrative overflow in intentional missional outreach; and churches are planted through spontaneous multiplication and not demographical manipulation.

 

Recommended Reading – “Perspectives on the World Christian Movement Reader

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Looking Back, Looking Up and Looking Forward

I wrote this for the folks at Crossroads Community Church. Since this is the start of a new year, I thought it was apropos.

So in just a few days, we will be turning the page on the year 2011. It is amazing to think how quickly this year has flown by. When I was at Crossroads last week, I had the pleasure of sharing God’s word with the church at our Sunday morning gatherings. What an amazing time! But I was also overjoyed to share a short devotion with the Crossroads and Cornerstone staffs at our Christmas party. I shared about looking back (to 2011), looking up (in the present) and looking forward (to 2012). I thought that the main points would be worthy of consideration for all of us as we prepare for a new year.

God bless you all and we cannot wait to join you all in the Pacific Northwest in just a few days!

LOOKING BACK (the past)

1) Embrace the lessons/disappointments
2) Own your part (and don’t forget to give God His glory)
3) Repent for your failures and your successes
4) Cast it upon Jesus, trusting Him

LOOKING UP (the present)

1) It’s about God and you (mind your passion)
2) Take some time to rejoice, enjoy the step that you are on
3) Make a gracious but honest self-assessment of where you are presently
4) Acknowledge God’s prevenient grace – you are here now for His foreordained plans

LOOKING FORWARD (the future)

1) Tell God that you believe but to help your unbelief for 2012
2) Ask for a God sized vision for your life, your specific ministry, our shared work at Crossroads
3) Please make some action plans to change what needs to be changed
4) Let’s travel this path together with unity, love and joy with a lot of laughter

Perfect Bride 1

THE PERFECT BRIDE?

“Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.” And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.” Revelation 19:7-8

 

“Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God [is] with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them [and be] their God. “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:2-4

 

If there is a day on which a bride appears nearly in a state of perfection it is  her wedding day.  She isn’t wearing old and tattered clothing.  Whatever perceived flaws of skin and appearance are covered.  For many brides the joy of being united to their groom in marriage subdues even the most negative dispositions or would-be sources of discouragement on that day.  Little things that would seem monumental on any other day seem to fade away into insignificance at the joy of how she looks, feels, and what she is experiencing.

 

So it will be with the Bride of Jesus Christ (the church) in a similar way on her wedding day, yet her perfection will be entirely literal.  The scars she now bears will be utterly healed.  Her struggle with sin and unfaithfulness will be transformed and redeemed.  Her vulnerability to deception and discouragement will vanish.  God’s Word goes so far as to tell us that every tear will be wiped from her eyes.  Death will hold no threat in her life anymore.  And the greatest of all gifts is that she will never be separated by time, space, or sin from her glorious Groom, Jesus Christ!

 

The Bride

In the Bible the Bride is symbolic of the  church.  She represents all of Jesus’ people who are His through faith in the biblical gospel.  If you know that you’ve offended God in your behavior, thought-life, and attitude toward Him, there is good news! God came to earth as the Man Jesus Christ on a rescue mission of love for you.  Knowing you could never live a truly righteous life from the inside out, Jesus fulfilled that requirement for you.  He lived a perfect human life in your place never acting unrighteously at the level of thought, desire, emotion, or behavior for you.  He took the penalty you deserve to undergo because of sin.  The Bible tells us the wages of sin is death and Jesus died in your place for yours sins on a roman cross some two-thousand years ago.  Further, while on that cross He became a propitiation for you.  This means He soaked up the wrath of God the Father which was directed at your sin like a sponge soaks up water.  And victory of victories, He rose from the dead conquering satan, sin, demons, death, and hell on your behalf.  His offer of love is that if you understand your sin and trust in all He did for you to be a sufficient remedy to your sin and a bridge between you and the God from whom you are separated, He will forgive you.  He will clear your spiritual record forever.  He will consider you His perfect child, and part of His perfect Bride, in spite of your enduring imperfections in this life.

 

Already/Not Yet

Faith in this gospel brings the believing person into an already/not yet relationship to individual perfection.  Positionally, because of our faith in the gospel, we are already considered perfectly righteous because our proverbial spiritual bank account has been credited with the very righteousness of Jesus.  This is due to what Martin Luther called the Great Exchange.  At the cross Jesus took all of my sin. At the moment I trusted in the gospel Jesus credited me with all of His righteousness.  This Great Exchange makes us positionally perfect in this life.  And yet, practically and experientially we are not yet literally perfected until we as the Bride are united to Jesus our groom in the age to come.  Until that time we still sin, struggle, and wander at times.  But even in the hardest of times we have hope because we know that “He who began a good work in (us) will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 1:6)

 

Application

What the already/not yet reality of the Bride of Christ means for us today can be looked at from at least two ways:

1. Pastors need to keep working toward a perfect church with perfect Christians, but stop looking for a perfect church with perfect Christians prior to the wedding day.  Lately I’ve found myself dealing with a lot of heart-breaking sin in the lives of God’s people.  Fornication, adultery, marital conflicts, sectarianism, and other things seem to abound.  At times I’ve found myself wanting to think that somehow our church is disturbingly special in our consistent experience of these things.  But when I surveyed the writings of the New Testament recently what I saw was that nearly every book contained words of necessary rebuke and exhortation to sinning Christians, and an imperfect Bride.  Pastor, the reason that letters containing rebuke about sexual sin, relational sin,and  rebellion are the letters God saw fit to govern His Bride for all time is that those problems would persist in ALL generations of her stay on earth, including ours.  If you really seek to be the church and lead the people to holiness we should expect dealing with an imperfect bride in our hearts and churches to be the norm.  The reason we as people need pastoring is that we are not yet a heavenly people, though we will be one day.  Keep working toward spiritual growth and maturity in yourself and the body, but don’t think you and your church are special because you don’t hit that mark before the wedding of the Lamb.

 

2. Christians need to keep working but stop looking for a perfect church with perfect Christians on earth as well.  One of the most common and saddening things I see in the church is people quickly leaving their local church when they’ve been offended by another sinner.  God’s call to us is to hold each other accountable and be willing to be held accountable.  If we continue to simply go find another group of Christians to hang out with at every little offense we face we will never learn how to pursue reconciliation with others through the gospel, our offenders will never grow because of a lack of loving but firm accountability in their lives, and we will continue to bounce from church to church as we are let down by the reality of offenders causing offenses in every house of prayer we enter.

 

Exhortation

The Bride of Christ is already perfect positionally, but we have a long way to go practically.  Let’s all look forward in eager anticipation of that day of perfection when we meet Jesus together face to face, and let us practice the grace of the gospel toward one another in the meantime as the Holy Spirit trains us together in this life for that final and only true utopia.