leadership

The Art of Spiritual Guidance

I have been sharing a series with our staff on spiritual formation. At our staff meeting this week, I spoke about spiritual guidance or spiritual direction. This is a lost art in contemporary evangelicalism. The role of pastor can be spiritual direction in a sense. But classically, spiritual guidance happens in a one on one setting. Spiritual direction is not about Biblical information but about heart transformation. I encouraged our staff to both avail themselves to spiritual guidance as a receiver and as a giver. To seek a mentor and to be a mentor. When I got to ‘be a mentor’ time, I shared six simple principles for the art of spiritual guidance. One of our pastors jotted down some notes about it and then forwarded it to me. So here they are. Obviously this is not exhaustive by any means but it is practical and helpful. Definitely not the final word on the subject but some important ideas just the same.

1) Focus on Gods kingdom and design instead my plans for that person.
What is God’s will for this person? How has he designed them? How
can I help them down that road?

2) Keep your advice founded in the Bible. From the Book outward instead
of the opposite of that. Most of the issues with historical and contemporary spiritual guidance comes when it is divorced from the heart of God in the Word of God.

3) Founded on care and concern. Love them with the concern of Christ. Care and concern will always (with the exception of intercessory prayer) translate into time spent together. So you must figure out how to make time for that person.

4) Have a listening ear. Eugene Peterson said, “Show up an then shut up.”
Let people express their hearts. Where they are at. Do not jump in. Wait
and see where they are coming from before you put in your .02. Give
them an opportunity to express themselves. Then pick your words wisely and
choose carefully what you are going to say.

5) Be humble. The people who walk with the Lord the longest and the
closest recognize their neediness for God the most. Lead with
humility not pride. When you are addressing them, do not forget that you have a plank in your own eye!

6) Lead with the premise that you are going to reproduce yourself
spiritually
, whether good or bad. It is a great responsibility. Is our
own walk where we want it to be? People we disciple will take on many
of our characteristics. Things we do and say will show up in their
lives because we are encouraging them to walk down the road with us.

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Walking the Line

So he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart, and guided them with skillful hands. -Psalm 78:72

Sitting in seminary one afternoon, one of my professors shared a story that made a huge impact.  Class hadn’t started yet, or we were on a break or something, but the professor began to share that looking at the books in his home library was a humbling experience for him.  This pegged my interest and I began to listen intently wondering, “How in the world could looking at some books be a humbling experience?”  He continued to explain that many of his book were given to him by friends that dropped out of ministry over the course of years do to one moral failing or another.  Wow.  Powerful.  The books to him weren’t books, but scars (in some respect) of dear friends of his that didn’t make the distance.  He lesson to us was clear–if we were going to go the distance, we needed to a close watch on our hearts.

The above verse contains valuable lessons from the life of David.

Integrity of Heart.  God seems to care more about the inside of the leader than He does the fruit of his life.  Most men have the priorities backward.  Our hearts are slippery creatures that seem bent on evil.  How do we maintain our integrity of heart?  As as young believer I was blessed to be surrounded by men who were honest about their struggles and passionate about God.  Being surrounded by these men helped me understand that we can be passionate while imperfect.  In sharing struggles and shortfalls with these men helped me grow stronger in my walk with the Lord.  As I left the military and headed for the ministry, I have seen over time that isolation from true friends, or peers is a common pitfall.   In this last 7 years in the ministry I have found that it has been helpful to nurture relationships with fellow pastors.  I am thankful for these guys who are friends.  Guys I have freedom to share my struggles and successes with.  Through them I believe the integrity of my heart has been strengthened.

Skillful hands.  Preaching and teaching is an amazing calling that is a wonderful blessing.  I am grateful that I have been called to the ministry of the proclamation of the Word.  There is freedom here.  There are pitfalls.  We can become lazy in our preparation, but I believe God cares about the quality of our work of preaching and shepherding.  Preaching every week requires much time in preparation.  I have learned that it takes hard work to cut out time to work on my skill as a pastor.  We need to.  In recent months I have tried to increase my reading on preaching and pastoring in order to sharpen my skills.  I went to a pastor’s conference hosted by Alistair Begg in May to encourage and invigorate my passion for the ministry.

Integrity of heart and skill of hand are linked together.  We need to be diligent on both battle fronts.  I desire to go the distance in this marathon.

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Pastoral Ministry Practice #3

 In John 17:4 Jesus refers to the work He has already accomplished.

 I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do.

Suffering a sacrificial death and rising in power were not the only assignments given to Jesus.   In John 17:6-13 He lists out the work He accomplished before going to the cross.   These verses serve as an outline of the pastoral ministry of Jesus Christ.  These verses set before us the four essential practices of pastoral ministry.  What Jesus exampled in His ministry and reviews in prayer here before His Father are the essence of being a shepherd to the flock of God.

The first essential work of pastoral ministry is given in 17:6 – I manifested Your name to the men You gave Me out of the world.  The second essential work of pastoral ministry is given in 17:7-8 – I gave them Your words…

The third essential work of pastoral ministry is given in 17:9-11I ask on their behalf…keep them in Your name.

Pastors, you are to pray for those God has given you to care for.  For all of what Jesus says in vv9-11, He asks just one thing: …keep them in Your name… The word ‘keep’ means ‘to guard carefully…to keep one in the state in which he is’.   Paul tells us that we don’t always know what to pray for, but here’s something that’s on target every time.  You’ll never have to wonder if this is God’s will because it always is.  “Father, keep them in Your name”.  We pray so many things for so many people – things that can very well be peripheral to what God desires to do in someone’s life.  But when you pray this, “Father keep them in Your name”, you are always praying in the direct center of the will of God.  For when you pray this, you are asking that the ones you pray for be held at the place of power and promise and joy and peace and grace and mercy.  The name of God means all these things – and so much more.

Without the Name of God there is no ministry of God.  Jesus said that He revealed the Name of His Father to the disciples and now He prays that they be kept in that Name.

 The Name of God is the first thing and the continuing thing in the ministry.

Jesus doesn’t ask the Father that His disciples be good preachers and expositors of the Word.  As previously discussed, you can be a whiz kid with the Word of God and a bust with the Name of God.  You may have a ministry and it may flourish – for a time.  But a man’s character always catches up with him and is something that can’t be hidden.  Remember Balaam!

Jesus doesn’t ask for their success – buildings, budgets, and bodies.  He is more concerned with the character of the church than the size of the church.  He prays that their hearts would always be focused on the heart of God.  How easy it is to have your attention moved from the heart of God and begin to be dominated by thoughts of ministry success and personal reputation.  When the pastors and spiritual leaders of a church are no longer concerned with the Name of God they will begin to compromise the Word of God and any success they have had in ministry will begin to be reversed.  The dramatic plummet in numbers of the mainline denominational churches in America is an attestation to this truth.  A disregard for truth and of life lived in the Name will undercut your prayer life.  If you are not kept in His name, you won’t pray for others to be kept in His name.

Pray your vision

Please note that what Jesus valued gave shape and form to His prayer life.  His vision was for the name of God and His vision gave birth to His praying – Jesus prayed His vision.  What do you pray for?  What is the vision you have for your life and ministry?  Do an inventory of the things that you ask for in prayer.  Be aware of what it is you say and do during your time of devotion.  What you ask for in prayer defines your vision.  In a very real way, prayer gives expression to and the awareness of the will of God for you and those for whom you are praying.

Your prayers will rise no higher than your vision.

When we hear someone pray and they are asking that God use them in powerful ways to reach their city for Christ; that God would fill them with His Spirit and flow through them with His love; that He would heal the sick and save sinners; that the church would be strong in the name of Jesus – we know that we are listening to someone with a big vision and someone who understands and realizes what it is that God is seeking to do.

Many pastors say, “That is my vision, too”.  But to listen to them pray, you wouldn’t know this.  They pray for their Aunt Sally in Minnesota and they ask God to bless this missionary in Brazil.  They ask that the church potluck be successful and that this week’s offering be large enough to take care of the bills that are currently due.  There is a difference between this kind of prayer and the prayer that Jesus modeled for us in John 17.

This man prayed his needs; Jesus prayed His vision.

Let me restate that: the pastor prayed his needs and Jesus prayed His vision.  Do you pray your needs and the needs of those around you or do you pray your vision?  Do your needs or your vision dominate your prayer life?  Obviously, there is a time to pray for needs – and there is a time to press your vision in prayer before the Lord.  Your prayers will rise no higher than your vision.

Paul prays his vision

The high priest bore on His breastplate the names of the children of Israel  – they were upon his heart whenever he went into the holy place. He also wore the names of the children of Israel on the shoulders of the ephod, engraved in stones, and worn as he went about his priestly ministry in the tabernacle (cf. Ex. 28:12, 29).  They were upon his heart as indicating the affection of God for them, and upon his shoulders, the place of strength, to illustrate his power in the support of them.  Like the high priest, the pastor bears upon his heart and his shoulders the people he pastors.  Paul gives us a pattern of how to pray for those we bear upon our hearts and shoulders.   We have clear insight into how Paul prayed in the book of Ephesians, chapters one and three.

For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints, do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.  Eph. 1:15-23

What is he praying for?  What does he want to see come to pass in the life of those for whom he prays?  Note the ‘so that’ in v18 – So that…

#1  You will know what is the hope of His calling

#2  You will know what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints

#3  You will know what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe

His vision for the church is that we be dialed in to God’s dream for us and the power available to bring to pass His purposes.  His vision for the church is not just that we go out and ‘do’ ministry, but that we would understand and recognize (know) of all the resources in God that are provision for us.  That is His vision.  Here is his prayer:

…that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened…

Paul prays for wisdom and revelation and enlightenment.  These aren’t part of his intercession just because they sound mystical and spiritual.  These dynamics of spiritual life are his prayer because they relate directly to his vision of what the church should be.  Even as the high priest bore upon his chest and shoulders the names of the children of Israel, even as Jesus is praying for us – bringing us before His Father – so we have the great privilege and responsibility of bearing on our chests and shoulders those for whom the Lord has given us responsibility for.  The church is in our hearts and weighs upon our shoulders – we are to bring these before the Lord in intercession and seek that God be glorified in them.  Whatever else we pray, let’s pray that they may be kept in the name of God.

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Light In The Darkness

“Unto the upright there ariseth light in the darkness: he is gracious, and full of compassion, and righteous.”

 

Dark seasons come to us all. This is regardless of where we are or who we are or what we are doing. We are here. We are involved in this thing called “life” and the reality is that we all experience dark times. But there is a marked difference between the darkness that is experienced by the upright and the unjust.

The unjust dwell in darkness, and it a manifold darkness. They are lost in the darkness of sin, of confusion, of ignorance, of pride and stubbornness. Their eyes are blinded by the god of this age, their foolish hearts are darkened, they stumble in the darkness groping for anything solid, yet terrified and held back by fear not knowing what they will find…and they have no light…ever.

The upright have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of God’s dear Son. They were once in darkness, but now have been made children of Light, in fact, the light of this world. And yet we remain living testimonies in a world of fallen things. And we dwell daily in fallen bodies. These fallen systems love darkness and not light. And God is gracious and has given us His word to be a lamp to our feet and a light to our paths as we walk life’s narrow way. And because we are living epistles and stewards of light, living in the midst of a crooked and lost generation, we find ourselves at times in darkness. At a loss of which way to go, of our purpose, of our goal…and we fret. We become anxious.

But always the upright has hope. The upright has fixed his or her heart upon the One to whom they have cried out to for their salvation. He alone has shown Himself strong on their behalf. He alone has freed them from their prison and set them at liberty from their oppressive labors. And in the times of darkness, there arises a light. In the Lord’s time, there arises a light. Hope is renewed and strengthened, the sails of vision are filled to full strength, the upright begins afresh to be the living extension of the kingdom of God among those lost in darkness…

And he is once again gracious to those around him. He is full of compassion to those who do not know what compassion is. and above all and through it all, he is righteous. Not because of what he has done through the trying time of darkness, but righteous because of the One who has called and redeemed and adopted and made alive by the word of the gospel and the generous, miraculous work of His Holy Spirit indwelling and empowering him.

justice

Does it matter?

In the last 5 years or so I’ve been intrigued by the research done by groups such as Barna, Pew, Gallup and others. While statistical analysis is not 100% accurate it is interesting to consider what the numbers say about the views and values of our nation. Such data is especially interesting when studies are repeated year over year for a decade ore more. Earlier this month Pew Research released the findings of their “Trends in American Values” study; a survey which they’ve conducted and expanded for the last 25 years. Although I’ve only skimmed the overview and have not read the full 164 page report, the trends are interesting, to say the least; and particularly so for the Church. For instance, on page 5 of the overview we read.

Republicans and Democrats are furthest apart in their opinions about the social safety net. There are partisan differences of 35 points or more in opinions about the government’s responsibility to care for the poor, whether the government should help more needy people if it means adding to the debt and whether the government should guarantee all citizens enough to eat and a place to sleep.

[…]

Just 40% of Republicans agree that “It is the responsibility of the government to take care of people who can’t take care of themselves,” down 18 points since 2007. In three surveys during the George W. Bush administration, no fewer than half of Republicans said the government had a responsibility to care for those unable to care for themselves. In 1987, during the Ronald Reagan’s second term, 62% expressed this view.

Later the report reveals Republican and Democrat value shifts graphically.

[divider_line]

 

Is this an issue?  Does it matter? I think is and does.

In chapter 2 of his book “Preaching & Preachers” Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones writes briefly of early 20th century British church history.  He cites the rise of a “social gospel” in Western countries prior to the First World War and explains that the same was happening in America at the time of His lecture series, which ultimately became the book “Preaching & Preachers.” Lloyd-Jones’ purpose in doing so was to highlight the importance of keeping the preaching of the gospel central to the work of the church.  He argues that this “social gospel” was “largely responsible for emptying the churches in Great Britain.” I do not question Lloyd-Jones’ assertion, nor do I disagree that preaching should remain primary within the Church.  The social concerns that Lloyd-Jones addresses are ones of ethics and morality, which he rightly argues are nothing without godliness; his points are actually well made .  My concern however, which I believe is represented in the above data from Pew Research, is that American Evangelical Christianity in the last half century, or more, has neglected its social responsibility.  This shift is certainly not because of Lloyd-Jones, but rather a position that seems to say “the purpose of the church is preaching, and we should vacate the social sphere.”

Yes, the proclamation of the gospel is the central work of the Church.  It is essential that we “Go into all the world and preach the gospel” (Mark 16:15).  But are there not aspects of the gospel that require the activity of the Church in the sphere of social issues?  Throughout it’s history, the Church has been the body which addressed humanity’s social ills.  Health and welfare are the responsibility of the body of Christ.  Be that as it may, somewhere in the middle of the last century, the American Evangelical Church withdrew from that sphere, leaving a vacuum.  Since nature abhors a vacuum, someone or something had to fill it.  Enter the Government.  What once was the ground held by the church is now occupied by federal, state and local government agencies.  What once was provided for by the loving charity of God’s People is now—out of necessity—funded by ever increasing taxation.  So, it is no surprise that Republicans, who are far more “religious” than Democrats, and who count themselves “socially conservative” would agree that It is not the responsibility of the government to take care of people who can’t take care of themselves, or meet the needs of the poor.  My question is, are we, the Church, ready to move back into the sphere that is rightfully ours and gladly meet the needs of others via our loving, compassionate charity?  What good is social conservatism’s push for prayer in schools and the Ten Commandments back in the public arena, if we’re unwilling to practically display the love of Christ through gospel demonstration?

To political pundits like Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage,  “Social Justice” is a catchphrase for Communism.  But it is elementary in Christianity that “I am my brother’s keeper.”

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The Dark Side of Church Planting

I have been a strong advocate of church planting as long as I have been in the ministry. And I still believe very much in church planting. I have heard it said that the key to the spread of the gospel is new churches. I dispute that. The key to the spread of the gospel is the Spirit working through the church. New and local congregations should be part of the universal church. God did not ordain new churches. He ordained THE church that is meant to spread virally like yeast in flour. With this reality in place, church planting has become very very sexy amongst Evangelicals in the recent seven or eight years. This is not a bad thing either. But like all things, there exists a shadow side. As a three time church planter (and someone who has coached and counseled literally hundreds of church planters), I wanted to spend some time exploring that dark side.

It’s not a church plant, it is a church transfer

This, to me, is the largest dark side to the current obsession with church planting. Statistically, church are being planted with rapidity but the number of Christians are declining in the West. What that means, simply, is that many church plants are really church transfers. A new congregation is birthed but with existing members moving from another church. So one church begins by the pillaging of another. This is not a bad thing when that is an intentional mitosis model of the existing church (multiplication by subtraction). But usually it is not the plan of the existing church. Instead it is imposed on the existing church by a new congregation that subverts the existing church. This problem is also exacerbated by our Western success models. A church plant is ‘successful’ if there is x number of people there. So for a church plant to be deemed successful, they need bodies in the building, no matter where they came from. So I have always advocated that the best way to discern the fruitfulness of a church plant is by baptisms, not by Sunday attendance. So if a church has 30 people in the end of the first year and did 20 baptisms, to me that is a realistic church plant. If a church has 500 people at the end of the first year and did 50 baptisms, then that is a church transfer in my estimation. I always tell church planters this, “Seek and save the lost and throw back the already saved.” By the way, the “market share” of those outside Christ far exceeds those inside.

Not All church plants are alike

In trying to understand the impact of a church plant, we have to look at the circumstances in which it was birthed. Some church plants I like to call ‘trust fund’ church plants. Like a person with a trust fund, their work is fully bankrolled by a large sending organization (both finances and people). Another type of church plant is a “you against the world” church plant where it is a single individual just doing it without any help. Neither one of these ways (or any of the shades in between) are better, worse, more spiritual or less, but they are different and should be viewed differently. In a culture that finds its value by understanding itself in relation to another, this creates a pretty toxic environment. If a church just moved 100 people in an area from elsewhere and have 150 people at it, is it really more mightily used by God than a church that began with one family and has 40 people? In our culture, the church planter with 150 is considered a success and the planter with 40 is just another church planter. Do you see the rub there?

The church split plant

This is all too common and truly sad. This is the church plant that is really a split off of another church (usually led by a disgruntled ex-pastor, missionary or popular volunteer). This plant is within about 30 minutes of the host church and is fueled solely by the disgruntledness against the host church. It is never characterized this way though (until after some time when honesty prevails). It is always characterized in the most spiritual of terms, God’s calling, seeking to disciple differently then they see around. When I have talked with church planters contemplating this, I always say the same thing. “Don’t be THAT guy.” You see, once you are that guy, you carry that with you for the rest of your ministry.

In conclusion, our goal should always be the glory of God in the people of God by the Spirit of God. Church planting should not be a competition nor some sort of carnal badge of honor. It is the calling of God for us to be in His army in the way in which He desires. As churches continue to be planted, let us make sure that we do it with the strength that God supplies that in all things he will get the glory in Christ Jesus.

social-media-seo-tips-and-tricks

The Modern Pastor

May and June have been an interesting months for me.  I apologize for my absence in posting,  but we ended up buying a new house and moving on May 5.  The was a blessing, but a bit overwhelming at the same time.  It wasn’t scheduled and this presented a problem because May was already booked with a conference in Cleavland at Alistair Begg’s church, a wedding in San Luis Obispo, and my Spanish pastor had a heart attack resulting in a 5-way bypass (he is okay). Did I mention that my wife is about 36 weeks pregnant?  Minor detail. Oh well, we would push through this busy month trying to rest in Him while pushing with all our might.

In the midst of this craziness, my wife and I discussed the idea of not setting up the Internet at our house until June 1.  We thought the idea of unplugging would be a great spiritual fast.  The only question we had was, “Could we survive such an extreme fast?”  I of course created a bunch of disclaimers such as: my iPhone was okay to use (but the reception is HORRIBLE at my new house) and we could still use the internet off site as I need to receive and send emails, etc, etc.  This was very inconvenient given my setting and that my office is at my house.

The first few days were very rough.  I came down with a bug and I literally felt like unplugging was making me physically sick.  I doubt it.  I’m sure it was just stress.  Through this month I was struck with how much pastoring I do through the Internet and other nontraditional methods like sending text messages.  I was sort of shocked to hear people say they felt disconnected from me and the church after about a week without Internet in my home.  I am sure this is accentuated because I don’t keep office hours and do most of my admin/study time from my home office.  But as I finish have finished my fast, I have come to conclude there are some very positive ways in which we can pastor–that come with very real pitfalls.

In many ways, I feel like the apostle Paul was one of the greatest pastors.  The epistles reveal his great heart for the people he shepherded.  He wrote letters.  Sent greeting through people.  And of course ministered face-to-face.  He had no email, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blog, text message plan, Skype, and certainly the great Cross Connection Blog did not exist then.  Does that mean he would not utilize these inventions?  I doubt it.

Positive Elements…

Texting, Facebook, and emailing are very quick and easy ways to connect with people.  I often send out blast through whatever medium is most convenient for the recipient.  As people come to mind, I try to say a prayer for them.  I will often follow up the prayer with text, note on Facebook, or an email saying that I appreciate them, am praying for them, and ask them how they are doing.  I haven’t formulated any method to my madness, but have done this more as the Spirit leads.

Facebook is an interesting tool as you are able to read about people and how they are doing.  I have noticed that Facebook has become a method for tracking people’s highs and lows.  I don’t always catch everything, but I do appreciate that when something is worthy of following up on I am often notified by a third party that I should check in with the person in question.

Skype.  The main way I used Skype is for keeping up with missionaries.  I am blessed to serve at a body that support me in traveling to visit with our missionaries for the sole purpose of encouraging them.  Through these trips, my relationship with them has deepened.  While away from them, I have found that Skype is an AMAZING tool for having a heart-to-heart conversation with someone around the world.

Pit Falls…

I believe the greatest pitfalls in the new technology is that they have the propensity to replace face-to-face people time to pseudo relationships through social media and text messaging.  I believe this is sort of a shift within society which makes finding the sweet-spot a little tricky.

Another problem is that between computer and smart phone these mediums can be very habit forming and can disrupt some of the most intimate relationship we have–our families.  I have heard more than one pastor’s wife complain about the invasion of the iPhone into their family.  We must guard ourselves from the additive trap of our smart phones.

All in all, I am thankful for the resources we have through technology.  The ease of communication has raced forward in the last twenty years.  We have the ability to “ping” many people throughout the day to stay in people’s lives.  But the reality is that the blessing comes with a curse.  We can have many shallow relationships that lack depth as a result.  If anything, this last month reminded me to unplug daily, to read more, to focus on building real relationships while simultaneously really appreciating how easily I am able to connect with my people through these various mediums.

 

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Pastoral Ministry Practice #2

In John 17:4 Jesus refers to the work He has already accomplished.

I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do.

Suffering a sacrificial death and rising in power were not the only assignments given to Jesus.   In John 17:6-13 He lists out the work He accomplished before going to the cross.   These verses serve as an outline of the pastoral ministry of Jesus Christ.  These verses set before us the four essential practices of pastoral ministry.  What Jesus exampled in His ministry and reviews in prayer here before His Father are the essence of being a shepherd to the flock of God.

The first essential work of pastoral ministry is given in 17:6 –

I manifested Your name to the men You gave Me out of the world.

The second essential work of pastoral ministry is given in 17:7-8

I gave them Your words…

Please note the order of the prayer of Jesus

Jesus says in v8 that He has given the disciples the Word of God, but He did so only after manifesting the Name of God, which means He demonstrated the character of God.  Word follows Name.  This order is so crucial that if you don’t follow it your ministry will ultimately be of no effect.  Gehazi had the staff of Elisha, but he did not have the heart or the power of Elisha.  The staff of Elisha without the mantle of Elisha was powerless to evoke even a stir from the dead child.  If you preach the Word of God without manifesting the Name of God your preaching will be dead.  We all know that it is easier to speak the Word of God than it is to manifest His Name – this is why there is more preaching of Christ than demonstration of Christ.  It is easier for me to tell you to love your neighbor than for me to love my neighbor.  Many have heard of the gospel from preachers who do not live the gospel.  The Word without the Name has driven many away from Christ.

I once lived down the street from a man with whom I became acquainted.  He learned that I was a pastor and began to tell me about his involvement years before in an evangelical church.  From singing in the choir to sometimes working with the youth, he contributed to the ministry and was blessed in return.  He went on to tell me about being in a casino in Reno and seeing a deacon from his church at the roulette wheel.  He couldn’t believe that a leader from his church would be gambling.  (It was OK for him, but not for the deacon – go figure!)  From that time on he hadn’t stepped into a church because he was so disillusioned and disappointed.  In his mind, the deacon was denying and defiling the Name.  Conservative theology wasn’t enough for him, he wanted to see the Name fleshed out in the leadership.  Along with the Truth preached he wanted to see the Life lived.  So many have been grievously wounded and deeply offended by a church with the Word without the Name.  So many have been turned away by the Truth not adorned with the Life.

Truly, we are often the Church of No-Name.

Imagine that you are approached by a 300 lb. man who tells you that he has been on a diet for ten years.  He goes on to tell you that it is the best diet he has even been on and he just can’t say enough about it.  You ask a few questions and then finally ask how much he weighed before he began.  You figure that ten years ago he must have really been big to still be at 300 pounds today.  He tells you that ten years ago he weighed 310 pounds!  You quickly do the math and realize that he has lost only one pound a year in the last ten years.  You ask him again just to make sure you heard right and he confirms what he just said.  Well, to say the least, you are underwhelmed.  You immediately go from mildly interested to perplexed.  All of his talk, his rosy testimony, his enthusiastic endorsement have been erased by one simple fact – that to which he has been passionately committed to these past ten years has made no difference in his life – except maybe a bizarre emotional attachment to that which has not helped him.  How many in the pastoral ministry are like our 300 pound friend whose words carry no weight?  The glowing testimony doesn’t pass the test.

Incarnation and declaration are means of revelation.  The Name of God shows what God is like and the Word of God informs as to what God has done.  Declaration of the Word without incarnation of the Name insures poverty of ministry.  Do we need less Word of God?  No.  But we do need, and must have more Name of God.

Pastoral authority and personal credibility

You’ve been called into ministry and you have responded by becoming a serious student of Scripture, serving in various capacities in your church, and getting a solid education in the things of the ministry – theology, ministry, history, Biblical languages, administration, counseling, etc.  Your gifting and calling have been recognized and you have been encouraged numerous times by various people.  It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that call + preparation = authority.  This formula is short-sighted.

Your authority is the Word of God you preach, but your credibility is the Name of God you manifest!  We have to make a distinction between authority and credibility – Jesus did.  Consider His advice to the people about the Pharisees –

Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them.  Matthew 23:1-3

The Word of God has inherent authority, but authority was never meant to stand alone.  The authority of the message is to be accompanied by the credibility of the one who speaks it.  When authority is separated from credibility the power to persuade is eroded.  We can see this in the life of Lot.  Lot heard from the angels that God was about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah and that he was take his family and flee those cities.  He went and told his sins-in-law that the city was about to be judged for its wickedness and destroyed by the Lord.  Here’s how Genesis 19:14 reads:

Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who were to marry his daughters, and said, “Up, get out of this place, for the LORD will destroy the city.” But he appeared to his sons-in-law to be jesting.

Lot’s life lacked spiritual credibility so much so that even though his message was true, it lacked spiritual authority and the ability to persuade.  He lived such an unspiritual life that when he does speak of spiritual things, his sons-in-law think that he’s joking around with them – they couldn’t take him seriously.  Is this not the condition of many within the church today?  The word we speak is drowned out by the life we live.  Our lack of credibility undermines the authority of the Word of God.  The world doesn’t see us living the Name and therefore doesn’t respond to us speaking the Word.  We are told that there is a crisis of authority today – in actuality, it is more a crisis of credibility. We are told that if we learn the Word, study the Word, polish the Word, preach the Word that the world will come.  Yes and no.  We haven’t clearly understood the scope of the challenge facing the church in the 21st century.  If those who claim to follow Jesus would truly do so, our message would gain a more respectful hearing.  It’s not so much that they don’t believe the message (and they don’t), but that they don’t believe us, the messengers!

The order of the ministry essentials that Jesus highlights in John 17 is so crucial – Name before Word.  And here’s why –

Like the legs which hang down from the lame, so is a proverb in the mouth of fools. Pr. 26:7 

A lack of credibility results in the loss of authority.

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Fellowship

This week most of us who write for Cross Connection attended an annual conference for the Senior Pastors of Calvary Chapel. There are many such conferences throughout the year in other parts of the nation, but this one is unique as it is hosted by Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa and Pastor Chuck Smith.

Over a 1,000 pastors came to worship and be encouraged together, but more than any other thing I think we gather to see one another. In fact, I’d say that the primary reason I attend is for the blessing of seeing and spending time with good friends who are serving in other parts of the nation and the world. It’s our annual family reunion.

Yesterday morning I was blessed to have coffee with Pastor Tim Brown. I’ve know Tim for several years now. We met through an online email forum for pastors, and all of our interactions for three or more years have been online; until this week I’d never spoken with Tim in person.

It’s strange the “connected” world in which we live in the 21st century. Although we’re separated by [sometimes] great distances, we’re connected virtually. Such virtual connections give a ‘sense’ of community and fellowship, but I am more and more convinced that they do not satisfy our genuine need for connectedness.

Email, texts, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin… virtual social networks abound and make it easier than ever to connect. I can instantly interact with my friend Luke as he travels through the bush of Mozambique. I can see my wife and kids on my phone via FaceTime when I’m in Europe, or even just down the street at my office. But there is no substitute for person to person connection. In fact, seeing them in that context only serves to kindle more the desire to see them in person. In our conversation yesterday, Tim and I actually zeroed in on this reality for a bit.

As I shared a couple of weeks ago, we were created for oneness. Virtual social networks cannot satisfy the inner need and desire. Therefore, I’m thankful for conferences such as the one this last week.

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Ponder the Path

“Ponder the path of thy feet,

And let all thy ways be established.

Turn not to the right hand

Nor to the left:

Remove thy foot from evil”

 

Seems a good a time as any, since many are at the Senior Pastor’s Conference in Murrietta to pause and reflect upon the path we are each treading.

Think about the “Path” you are on today. Think about where you started and where you find yourself today. Look back at the amazing faithfulness of the Lord who has called you out of darkness and transferred you into the Light of the Kingdom life of His Son, whom He loves. What power, what love, what trustworthiness, what faithfulness! Words cannot paint a pleasant or fitting enough picture worthy of the One to who it is ascribed. God has taken us from the dungheap of a vain, empty and damned life because of our rebellion against Him, and has redeemed us from the curse of the law having sent His only Beloved Son in whom He is well pleased to bear the curse for us and vicariously nailed it to the cross for all those who would believe on His Name! What mercy, what grace, what peace, what forgiveness!

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.”

Do not turn from the One who called you and set you on the path your on today. Keep your hands in His. Fix your gaze afresh upon the One who loved you and gave Himself for you. Follow His lead, for His rod and His staff are there to protect, guide, and comfort you. His desire is to restore your soul in the path He has prepared beforehand for you to walk along. Do not be afraid of what lies ahead or how you will be provided for.

“Behold the birds of the air. They neither sow, nor reap, nor gather into barns; yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?”

Don’t waver, or turn from the path. Don’t meander into the fields of another. Look to the Good Shepherd, let Him know your requests, and you will find the greates clarity and the greatest satisfaction you have ever known.