Half of My Life: Seven Insights

I accepted the call to the ministry when I was 16 years old.  At 15, I entered started home school and was amazed by the Bible teaching that I received.  An impression was made on my life.  Ministry was more than sharing simple stories but was full of timeless truths that needed to be shared.  In the span of a year, I wrestled with my calling and finally accepted it on August 11, 2001.  Now, in this year, I can say that I have been in preaching ministry.  I have looked forward to this milestone.

Here is a list of some the best insights from my experience (even though it’s shorter than some).  From one young minister to others.  I spent the first 22 years of my life in traveling ministry with my parents and the last ten in pastoral ministry.  One year as an assistant pastor and nine years as a lead pastor.

1. Ministerial training is essential.  Being hungry for God is vital.

I thank God for the opportunity to go to various colleges and seminaries.  What I have learned is of the greatest value to my ability to minister.  God equips those He calls.  This can be done formally and informally.  Whatever the path, pastors need to be hungry to learn God’s Word and best practices in the ministry.  I remember a conversation with an older pastor about the training of new preacher in his church.  What he said floored me.  The pastor said, “He can do that later.  He needs to focus on studying for his real job now.”  It doesn’t matter whether a minister is full-time or bi-vocational, they need to be hungry for the things of God if they desire to labor in His Word.

 

2. Spiritual formation is key to preaching from a full cup.

Something that took in my seminary experience was a healthy amount of soul searching.  Spiritual disciplines were not new to me at that point, but my professors challenged and encouraged personal observation.  It has made a world of difference.  Ministers must take the time to be in the Scriptures and prayer.  To serve others and to evangelize.  Observing these, among other disciplines, are key to being full in our spirit.

 

3. Read and write on a regular basis.

This is a struggle at times.  I love reading the Bible.  I also love reading textbooks and commentaries.  However, reading novels and most biographies is hard.  They are not my cup of tea.  But, I am growing in this area, and the benefits are great.  A statement that I have adopted is, “Leaders are readers, leaders are listeners, and leaders are learners.”  Another is, “Think yourself empty, read yourself full, write yourself clear, and pray yourself hot.”

4. Always be ready.

You never know when you need to offer a word of hope, challenge, or correction (2 Tim. 4:2; 1 Pet. 3:15).  My pastor said once, “If you don’t get to preach regularly and there are a few weeks between preaching engagements, you should be studying and ready at any given moment to share what God has shown you.”  Preach from your devotions and always remember your testimony.  How many times did Paul share his salvation testimony in some form as part of a sermon or speech?

 

5. Don’t forget who called you to preach.

After the death of the deacon at our church, I noticed myself preaching from an empty cup.  I was dry, and I couldn’t seem to get past the dense fog that had shrouded my heart and soul.  This went on for a few months until the Lord led another preacher/professor into my life through a class.  Their testimony and the assigned reading breathed fresh air into my soul.  The biggest reminder was that God called me into ministry.  It wasn’t the result of a pizza-induced dream, the appeal made by a particular church, or denomination.  God called and equipped, and my task was to obey Him.

 

6. Preach the Word.

This is where I started my ministry.  I was enamored with verse by verse teaching in homeschool, and my Father was telling me, “As long as you stick between the covers of the Bible you can’t go wrong.”  There are many approaches and styles in preaching that I have utilized to get the message across, but one thing remains, share the true and straightforward meaning of God’s Word.  What’s the history of the passage and what is its application to us?

 

7. Enjoy your family.

Finally, make room for your family.  One professor shared with our class that the best example of our disciple making efforts is seen in our immediate family.  I can’t lead them from afar.  I am not only responsible for their spiritual growth and overall well-being, but they are also the best encouragers and accountability partners that a person could have around.  I thank God for my wife and children.

What is sin?

There are several passages of Scripture that help us to define sin.  Sin is a transgression of the law. “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4). To transgress means to go beyond, to overstep the boundaries, to exceed the limits imposed upon us by God.  Some look at Romans 3:20 to help, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”  Sin or being sinful is then missing the mark or our shortcomings before God.

Those definitions are fine, but I want to look at something else a little deeper.  What is sin? Or, “Why is something sinful?”  Some describe God as a cosmic killjoy.  Viewing God simply as one who declares something sinful arbitrarily.  Something like Roman Emperor Caligula (AD37 – AD41), who would make rules, write them on a little board and posted high on pillars so no one could see them.  Caligula would then punish lawbreakers who were unaware.

God is not like that.  We must always remember that God’s laws are given to us for our own good. The One who made us knows what will bring us true happiness, but in spite of this truth, people would rather follow their own will.  First John 5:1-4 reminds us that God’s commands are filled with love, life, and are not “burdensome.”

C.S. Lewis wrote in, Mere Christianity,

“God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.”

We were made in rhythm with creation.  God declared a threatful warning in Genesis 2:17, “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”  Sin has consequences and as the first part of Romans 6:23 reads, “For the wages of sin is death.”

It is easy to see that what God deems sin are those things which try to diminish the glory of God and destroy the life of man.  Sin devalues human dignity.  Disobedience is celebrated over obedience.  Sin is the corruption and ruination of humanity.  Sin is that which eventually deals out death.

References

Lewis, C. S. (2009-05-28). Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis Signature Classics) (p. 50). Harper Collins, Inc. Kindle Edition.

Unity

Unity is a precious commodity.  Israel struggled to keep it.  Eventually, unity was lost, and Israel became a divided kingdom under its fourth king (third in the Davidic dynasty).  King David’s grandson, Rehoboam split the nation in 930 B.C. through a miscalculated power play.  Ten of the founding tribes made Jeroboam their king to the north with Samaria as their capital.  The last two tribes remained faithful to Rehoboam and God in the south and Jerusalem as their capital.  The evil northern kingdom from this point was called Israel.  The faithful kingdom was known as Judah.

1 Kings 12:6-20

And king Rehoboam consulted with the old men, that stood before Solomon his father while he yet lived, and said, How do ye advise that I may answer this people? And they spake unto him, saying, If thou wilt be a servant unto this people this day, and wilt serve them, and answer them, and speak good words to them, then they will be thy servants for ever. But he forsook the counsel of the old men, which they had given him, and consulted with the young men that were grown up with him, and which stood before him: And he said unto them, What counsel give ye that we may answer this people, who have spoken to me, saying, Make the yoke which thy father did put upon us lighter? And the young men that were grown up with him spake unto him, saying, Thus shalt thou speak unto this people that spake unto thee, saying, Thy father made our yoke heavy, but make thou it lighter unto us; thus shalt thou say unto them, My little finger shall be thicker than my father’s loins. And now whereas my father did lade you with a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke: my father hath chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions. 

So Jeroboam and all the people came to Rehoboam the third day, as the king had appointed, saying, Come to me again the third day. And the king answered the people roughly, and forsook the old men’s counsel that they gave him; And spake to them after the counsel of the young men, saying, My father made your yoke heavy, and I will add to your yoke: my father also chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions. Wherefore the king hearkened not unto the people; for the cause was from the Lord, that he might perform his saying, which the Lord spake by Ahijah the Shilonite unto Jeroboam the son of Nebat. 

So when all Israel saw that the king hearkened not unto them, the people answered the king, saying, What portion have we in David? neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse: to your tents, O Israel: now see to thine own house, David. So Israel departed unto their tents. But as for the children of Israel which dwelt in the cities of Judah, Rehoboam reigned over them. Then king Rehoboam sent Adoram, who was over the tribute; and all Israel stoned him with stones, that he died. Therefore king Rehoboam made speed to get him up to his chariot, to flee to Jerusalem.

So Israel rebelled against the house of David unto this day. And it came to pass, when all Israel heard that Jeroboam was come again, that they sent and called him unto the congregation, and made him king over all Israel: there was none that followed the house of David, but the tribe of Judah only.

 Unity

How quickly is unity lost?  David wrote in Psalm 133:1, that unity is “good” and “pleasant.”  Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:3 that we are to “endeavor” to keep the “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  I’ve said it many times that unity among people is similar to a group of hibernating porcupines.  They enjoy being close for warmth but when they get too close they stick each other with their quills.

Part of being saved is that we are placed into a family, called, “the Church.”  We cannot grow as believers without the church, and we will not make it without other believers.  Someone might say, “All I need is Jesus.  I don’t need anyone else.”  That may be right in regards to personal salvation, but the Bible says the Church is the “body of Christ” (Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor. 12:27; Eph. 4:12, 5:23; Col. 1:24).  We need to remain unified despite our diversity and faults.

 

 

The Design of the Church

God left much of the organization of the Church up to the Apostles and the early Church.  Scripture will show us about the particular characteristics and life qualifications for pastors, elders and other servant leaders of the church.  While the organization of a congregation was given to each local gathering, we do find in Scripture the design or purpose of God’s Church.

Matthew 16:18

And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

In this passage, we find the plan of Christ to build a Church. The word church itself means those that “are called out and belong to the Lord.”  By that definition, we quickly understand that it is not the building but the people. What is the purpose of the Church? Simply, the purpose of the Church is to do whatever Christ has designed it do.

For what purposes has Christ created the Church?

He has designed it to glorify God

“Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout al ages, world without end. Amen. “Eph. 3:21

We are truly the Church as we bring God glory.  We worship with hands raised high and hands that are held out in service to our neighbors.  We glorify God as we obey and keep His commandments.

He has designed it to edify its membership.

“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.” 4:11-12

This includes strengthening the church it. It also includes purifying the members of the church. This is all called discipleship.  Preaching, modeling, praying, gathering for collective worship, encouraging, challenging, and many more disciplines are all at our disposal to building up those in the Church.

He has designed it to evangelize the world.

“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. ” Matt. 28:19-20

Evangelism in its purest form is me sharing with you what Christ has done in my life and the good news of the Gospel as clearly as I possibly can.  The Church is a community of believers that share in numbers what God is doing.  We encourage people to share their faith out of the overflow God’s provision.

Encouragements for pastors

Pastoring is not a light task or easy role.  It can bring a person to the highest of highs and lowest of lows.  Being a pastor requires a God-given calling.  Paul told Timothy, “This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of bishop, he desireth a good work” (1 Timothy 3:1).  The following provides a few key insights for navigating the pastorate.

Be Aware

Being a pastor is more than preaching.  You have to know what the spiritual and physical state are for the people you lead.  You need to know what is going on in the world and your community.

Be Available

Shepherds smell like the sheep.  That is because they are with them.  Social media means that we can be near people in a virtual environment 24/7, but nothing can replace hugs, handshakes, and physical presence.  With that, not everything requires physical presence.  Sometimes we need to take the call, answers the text, and read the e-mail (or a good hand-written letter).  If you miss one of those, respond quickly.  Let people know that you are not ignoring them and that you are there for them.

Be Approachable

Stay humble and welcoming.  You should challenge your people to grow by your preaching, but if you always speak past your people, they won’t see you as someone they can approach.  Approachability means you are trustworthy and likable.  You can be considered as a teacher of God’s Word that can help people with questions of faith and life if you are approachable.

 

Important things to keep in mind this year.

We need to reflect and remember God’s truth in light of a new year.  The following is the outline for the first Sunday morning sermon of 2017.  The title of the sermon was “Doctrine for a new year.”  You can hear the sermon at our church website (click here).

The Triune God invites you into His web of relationships.

  • 1:26, “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”
  • Acts 17:27, “That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us:”
  • 13:5, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”

Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.  You can only have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

  • John 14:6, “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”
  • Acts 4:12, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.”

There is one church that is made alive by one Spirit.

  • 1 Cor. 12:13, “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we beJews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.”
  • Ephesians 4:4-6, “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

Humanity is sinful but redeemable.

  • 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
  • 1:13-14Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins:

Being made new is God’s plan.

  • 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
  • 21:5, “And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful.”

Help for small Church pastors to start 2017.

If you have not already done these three things,  pray, seek God’s will, and start moving forward.

15826583_10154132945531828_7069625561356625094_nAsk God for direction

Scripture is clear that planning and preparation without humility before God are sinful.  James 4:13-17 is one such Scripture that gives us this position.  Paul reminds us that all work is fruitful only because of God’s blessing (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:7).  Again, James gives us the go ahead on planning as long as we keep our eyes on God’s will.

It is my practice to ask God to help me see where we are going.  Where does God want us to go this year?  Once God has given direction, we then need to know what our current reality is?  Once we know where our feet are resting, we can pray and ask God how He wants us to get there.  Check out the follow posts that focus on this type of work from Nehemiah (hereherehere, and here).

Work on the calendar

This year presented many churches with a cultural and religious tension.  What to do on Christmas and New Years.  These both took place on Sundays.  My question to you, do you know when Easter is and what day Christmas will be this year?  What about the other Christian holy days?  Have revivals been scheduled or homecomings?  VBS?

Get a hold of a calendar and with God’s direction in mind, starting filling in that timetable.  If you plan sermon series, you’ll have a better idea of the route you can take and how God can use you to lead the Church.  Once you have at least a tentative calendar made, you can begin to share it with the other leaders in the congregation.  They have helped me to remember many things that I have forgotten and have contributed in shaping my understanding of God’s will for the congregation.

Having the calendar settled makes it easier for the next helpful task…

Prepare the budget

Knowing the yearly and month to month funds is vital in leading a congregation.  You do not want the budget to be fully centered on maintaining where you currently are.  God requires faithful stewardship, and I have seen personal ministries and congregations derailed by debts and non-budgeting.  No one can predict what surprises will happen, but you can budget in preparation for such a time as those.

More importantly, is that you have to plan for ministry.  Outreach efforts can require funds.  Benevolent gifts and help from the church to individual’s in the community can’t happen if funds are going to operate un-evangelizing, non-disciple forming, non-worshipful activities.