Some Lessons Learned From 10 Years of Pastoral Ministry

Hard to believe, but this past May marked my 10thanniversary in pastoral ministry. This has been a deeply gratifying and rewarding experience and I am grateful to God for His call upon my life. While in some ways I am still just a beginner in ministry, there have been many lessons learned during my first decade in ministry. Let me share a few with you.

The centrality of prayer.

Ministry makes huge demands upon the pastor and his family. There is always something more to do, and because of all the busyness, it is often prayer that gets left out. This is unfortunate and can be quite damaging over time. Therefore, the pastor must ensure that prayer is built into the daily rhythms of his life. I am very thankful for a church that holds me and my family up in prayer, along with other friends and family members that do the same. Ministry is war and without prayer the minister is headed for trouble.

People grow through the Word of God.

I guess I am a slow learner, but it took me a while to realize that the Word of God is absolutely central to our growth in Christian maturity (see Matthew 4:4 1 Peter 1:22 – 2:3). I see pastors all the time relying on gimmicks and programs and more gimmicks – things that promise to make disciples and fulfill the Great Commission, but in the end, only disappoint. Shepherds must ensure that the flock is well fed so that they can grow and flourish in the Lord. It is only through faithful and consistent Bible teaching that this can happen. There is simply no substitute! The sooner we learn that the Word of God is sufficient (2 Timothy 3:16-17), the sooner we will see gospel growth in our churches.

The Need for Patience and Perseverance.

I grew up on a farm and I know the importance of patience when it comes to sowing and reaping. The farmer plants his crop in the spring but has to wait several months until the fall to harvest it. If people grow through the Word of God (as we have just established) then it will require patience over the long haul. Pastors must commit themselves to diligently and faithfully teaching the Word of God year after year after year. In due time, there will be an abundant harvest, but it takes patience and perseverance. No doubt, there will be times of trial, disappointment, setbacks, and who knows what else, but we must persevere in the strength that only Christ can provide The words of Paul are especially helpful: “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up (Galatians 6:9).

The importance of one-to-one discipling relationships.

I love the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8. When Philip found the eunuch reading Isaiah 53, he asked, “Do you understand what you are reading? And he said, ‘How can I unless someone guides me?’ ….Then beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus” (Acts 8:30-31, 35). Although this was more of an evangelistic encounter, there is no question the church needs more of this today. And it all starts with pastors. The pastor must set the tone when it comes to mentoring and discipling relationships in the church. This sets in motion what could be called the multiplication process where disciples make more disciples. Paul told Timothy, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2). The pastor can’t disciple everyone, but he can train a few who will train a few, etc. etc.

The Church needs to be the church.

What is a healthy church? I suppose there are a few ways of answering this question, but one indispensable quality of a healthy church is love among the brethren (John 13:34-35). Plain and simple, within a healthy church, people care for one another, serve one another, love one another, etc. etc. This love that marks every true church is present because Christ first loved us (1 John 4:19). When we begin to understand the love of God in Christ in our own lives, we can’t help but love one another.

What a valuable asset my wife is.

Steph is my most trusted friend and counselor and has been an immense help to me in ministry. Pastors (and husbands in general), thank God for your wife and treasurer her, for she is an incalculable blessing.

Family ministry is a critical part of the Pastor’s job.

When I started off in pastoral ministry, it was around the same time that Steph and I got married. We had two years of marriage to get to know one another and settle down in life and ministry, but then the Lord blessed us with children. And not just one, but twins to nurture and care for! For those first few years of being a Dad and being a pastor, I felt a strong tension. I always felt like I needed to be at the church or out and about doing ministry but at the same time I wanted to be at home with my family. Finding the right balance was a real challenge for me.

In the providence of God, a fellow pastor gave me some wise counsel. He reminded me that an important (even critical) part of pastoral ministry is to shepherd your family. In the qualifications given for elders and overseers, Paul writes, “He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” (1 Timothy 3:4-5). What a great point the apostle makes! Paul is not suggesting we should spend all our time at home, but he is saying that key aspect of the pastors’ ministry is to his family. It is never a good idea to neglect your family in the name of “I’m just doing what God has called me to.” Clearly, that is not a way to find success in the eyes of the Lord. Rather than seeing your family as a hindrance to your ministry, see them as your ministry. This was a big paradigm shift for me, but it has made a huge difference for me as a husband, father, and as a pastor.

Conclusion

What a joy it has been to serve the Lord as a pastor for these 10 years. No doubt I could share more lessons, but this post is already a little lengthy so I won’t keep you any longer. God has been faithful (as always) and I praise Him for His grace to me and my family.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ministry of the Holy Spirit: Lessons from John 14-16

A couple weeks ago I was teaching on the ministry of the Holy Spirit and I was struck by just how much we learn from John 14, 15, and 16. Of course, the whole Bible contains lessons about the Spirit, but we learn more in this portion of Scripture than anywhere else. Here is a sampling which I trust you will find encouraging in your walk with the Lord.

  1. God the Father will send the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ name (14:16, 14:26, 15:26)
  2. The Holy Spirit is called the Helper, Advocate, Counselor, Comforter (14:16, 14:26, 15:26, 16:7)
  3. Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as “another Helper” (14:26). The first, of course, was Jesus.
  4. The Holy Spirit will be with believer’s forever (14:16)
  5. Also called the “Spirit of truth” (14:17, 15:26, 16:13)
  6. The world cannot receive the Holy Spirit because it does not know Him (14:17)
  7. The Holy Spirit dwells within believer’s (14:17)
  8. The Holy Spirit will teach believer’s all things (14:26) and guide then into all the truth (16:13)
  9. The Holy Spirit will bring to our remembrance all that Jesus says (14:26)
  10. The Holy Spirit will testify on behalf of Jesus (15:26)
  11. Jesus will send the Holy Spirit (see the connection with #1) (15:26, 16:7)
  12. The Holy Spirit will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment (16:8)
  13. The Holy Spirit will not speak with His own authority (16:13), but with the authority of God.
  14. The Holy Spirit will declare to believer’s the things that are to come (16:13)
  15. The Holy Spirit will glorify Christ by declaring the Word of God (16:14)

Two bonus lessons: The Holy Spirit is God (who else could do all of the above) and the Holy Spirit is a person (the pronoun “he” is used throughout John 14-16).

There are NO Atheists

Recently I found myself watching a debate between Doug Wilson and the now deceased Christopher Hitchens. I must admit, I couldn’t help but be impressed with Hitchens. His knowledge of history, science, philosophy and literature was impressive. Obviously I don’t agree with the conclusions he draws, but he was clearly a brilliant man. As I watched Hitchens and Wilson, it occurred to me that no matter what Hitchens labelled himself, in all reality, there are no atheists. Think of what the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 1:

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! 

We live in a very secular culture, and yet most people still call themselves “theists.” In other words, the majority of people still believe in a personal God, who created and sustains all things. So what are we to make of the minority who call themselves atheists? According to God’s word, they are deceived having “exchanged the truth of God for a lie.” Evidently they are blinded to reality, and have become “futile in their thinking.” They refuse to see what is “clearly perceived……in the things that have been made.” Deep down in their heart of hearts, they know that there is a God, who created and governs all things. They just refuse to accept what is so obvious and clear and plain to see. As the Psalmist puts it, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). God has stamped his signature upon this whole universe and upon the confines of human heart. You simply can’t miss it! You can’t miss Him! Therefore, as another Psalm puts it, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.'” Scripture doesn’t mince words – everyone who denies the existence of God and the reality of God……is a fool. 

I don’t accept the notion that there are atheists. No one can stop a person from using that label, but it is not a truthful statement. Having said that, let’s do all that we can to point everyone to the truth of Christ’s gospel, including atheists. Bottom line…..people need the Lord. We have a message, we have a mission, and we need to pray that God would open the hearts of those who are blinded to the truth. Paul’s words to the Colossian believers are a fitting way to conclude: “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person ” (Colossians 4:5-6).

Stop saying “I’m fine!”

We have all heard it before. You pass someone you know and ask them, “how’s it going?” or “how ya doing?” Answer: “fine.”  Or….. “I’m fine thanks.” There are other go-to responses to that question, but “I’m fine” tends to be among the most popular. Steph and I had the opportunity to attend a pastors conference this past week and one of the speakers made an offhand remark about the meaning of “fine.” He said that it really stands for:

Fouled up, Insecure, Neurotic, Exhausted

We all laughed, but we also recognized the truth that he was hinting at. Fine really doesn’t mean fine. It often means I could be doing a lot better…… I’m struggling…… I have a lot of problems that seem insurmountable, etc, etc. Now, just to give a little disclaimer, often when someone asks how we are doing, they are not looking for us to unload all of our troubles on them. Nor are we. But you would admit that we have the tendency at times to be dishonest in our assessment of ourselves. It is human nature to want to put on a good front and project a stoic, “got it all together” image of ourselves. But one of the things that should characterize us as Christians is our desire to be real and transparent and genuine.

One of the major themes in the Bible is that of loving and caring for one another. God never designed the Christian life to be an individual, lone-ranger kind of thing. God designed the Christian life to be a community project where we share one another’s burdens and constantly point one another to the power of the Gospel. The Church of Christ is a wonderful gift! Brothers and sisters in Christ are a wonderful gift! But in order for this gift to work, we must be real with one another.

The next time someone asks how you are doing, don’t feel like you have to tell them how fouled us, insecure, neurotic, and exhausted you are. Simply do your best to answer honestly and accurately. Along with that, remember what an amazing gift God has given us in the Body of Christ and seek to attach yourself to that Body. Find people that you can minister to and people that can minister to you.

“And let us consider how to stir one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:4-25)  “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.” (Romans 12:10)  “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2)

 

On Preaching – by H.B. Charles Jr.

Last fall I had the opportunity to attend a Simeon Trust Workshop on Biblical Exposition in Youngstown, Ohio. At the workshop we were all given a copy of a book by H.B. Charles Jr., simply called On Preaching. I heard H.B. speak at the 2017 TGC national conference, and he recently preached at T4G, so I am certain his name will be familiar to many of you. H.B. Charles is an outstanding expositor of God’s word, and this book is a distillation of his pulpit wisdom and skill. It is interesting to note that On Preaching began as a series of blog posts, but I am delighted that H.B. had the vision to turn them into a book. In light of that, you won’t be surprised to hear that this is not an in-depth treatment of preaching, but it is a highly practical sketch.

 

On Preaching is broken down into 3 parts, and 30 short and easy to read chapters. Part 1 deals with Preparation for Preaching and looks at such topics as training, finding time to study, using a sermon calendar, and the all-important aspect of prayer. Part 2 concerns the actual Practice of Preaching. Here, H.B. dives into some of the nuts and bolts aspects of preaching including such topics as outlines, titles, introductions, transitions, illustrations, conclusions, and preaching without notes. Finally, part 3 looks at Points of Wisdom for Preaching. Such things as being yourself, developing your style, being consistent, pulpit plagiarism, and being a guest preacher are covered in this section. As you read through this book, it will become clear that H.B. has thought a lot about preaching and particularly, what makes for good preaching vs. mediocre or even bad preaching.

 

Perhaps the best two chapters in the whole book are the first and the last. In chapter 1, aptly titled Preach the Word, the author powerfully reminds us that we are to preach God’s word and not our own. Much of what accounts for modern preaching is really not preaching at all. Why? Because the preacher has substituted his own word for God’s word. H.B. writes, “Paul’s charge to Timothy is the Lord’s charge to every preacher: Preach the Word! This divine command obligates us to preach; moreover, it specifies what we are to preach: the Word. The importance of preaching rests in its content, not in its function. Our preaching is not the reason the Word works. The Word is the reason our preaching works.” Amen! The book concludes with a chapter titled The Bottom Line in Christian Ministry. The author reminds preachers that we have been charged, by God, with this most important of all tasks. Therefore, “The goal of Christian ministry is that you may be approved by God.” In a similar cord, he writes, “Make it your ultimate goal to hear the Master say, ‘Well done.’”

 

There are no shortage of preaching books today, but for both the seasoned expositor and the beginner, On Preaching is chalked full of wisdom and advice that will aid in your development as a preacher. In both the macro and the micro areas of preaching, I am certain this book will help you think through your craft in order to better communicate the Word of God to your listeners. Reading this book only fueled my desire to become a better preacher and I think it will for you too. In short, I would highly commend On Preaching to you.

Why Time Seems to Speed Up As You Get Older

Ever feel like the older you get, the faster the time goes by? If so, you are not alone. I often catch myself saying things like…..I can’t believe it’s April! Or….I can’t believe it’s 2018! Given the broad consensus on this sentiment, there has been a good deal of scientific research done in order to makes sense of this. Feel free to probe deeper on your own, however, I did want to share what my friend Chris Hackman had to say on the matter. Chris told me that the older you get the smaller the percentage of time each successive year makes up of your life. For example, when you turn 4 years old, the upcoming year will represent a quarter of your life! However, when you turn 50, the upcoming year will only make up 2% of your life…..a big difference to be sure. Chris went on to say that this reality (each successive year making up a smaller percentage of your life), contributes to our feeling that time goes by faster and faster. You can agree with Chris or not, but I thought his idea was pretty clever.

 

Ephesians 5:15-16 reads as follows: “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” Whether you feel like time seems to speed up as you age or not, the one thing we know for sure is that our time here on earth is short and I touched on this in my last blog post. We as Christians must redeem the time knowing that today could be our very last. We can take comfort in knowing that the Creator God has numbered our days (Psalm 39:4-6, 139:16) but we must also remember that our Lord and Savior has work for us that remains to be completed. It is of particular importance that we “spend and be spent” (2 Corinthians 12:15) in service to King Jesus.

 

I recently stumbled across a prayer that I found to be quite edifying and instructive. It’s from a little book called Spurgeon’s Prayers and it reads as follows:

 “O Saviour, let thy kingdom come. Oh! That thou wouldest reign, and thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. We pray thee, use every one of us according as we have ability to be used. Take us, and let no talent lie to canker in the treasure house, but may every pound of thine be put out in trading for thee in the blessed market of soul-winning. Oh! Give us success. Increase the gifts and graces of those that are saved. Bind us in closer unity to one another than ever. Let peace reign; let holiness adorn us.”

 

Friends, let us resolve to make the best use of the time God has graciously given us. Indeed, the days are evil and countless souls need to hear the gospel message. May we run well and run with endurance the race set before us (Hebrews 12:2) knowing that if we are faithful, we will be richly rewarded by our Master (2 Timothy 4:8).

The Day I Almost Drowned

I will never forget the day I thought I was going to die. It was summer of 2006 and my friend Christopher Berera and I were swimming in the South Saskatchewan river near Saskatoon. Neither one of us were very good swimmers but we were having a great time and somehow managed to cross the river and explore the other side. When we decided it was about time to go, we walked a ways upstream knowing that the current would carry us down, and we wanted to land somewhere close to where all our stuff was. Christopher and I noticed there was a sandbar in the middle of the river, so we planned to stop there and rest, and then cross the rest of the way.

 

Well, as you may have guessed, things didn’t exactly work out as planned. We had never swam across a big river before and we underestimated the strength of the current. Christopher was able to land on the very end of the sandbar, but I missed it completely. However, instead of just turning and heading back to shore, I tried to swim against the current to where Christopher was on the edge of the sandbar. Bad idea! Trying swim against the current was like stepping on a treadmill going 30 miles an hour. It was an impossible task. In the midst of it all, when I had completely exhausted my energy reserves, I thought I was going to die. It was only for a few moments, but let me tell you, it was scary.

 

From this hopeless situation, I prayed the only prayer I knew how to pray. “GOD SAVE ME!” It was a prayer that I don’t think I had ever prayed before – at least with that sense of desperation. Almost immediately, I realized (by the grace of God) that I needed to turn back and not attempt to cross the river in my exhausted state. I tried to swim in a way that used as little energy as possible and it proved to be effective. Though I wasn’t aware of it at the time, Christopher had decided to swim back too. We reached the shore at about the same time and both collapsed in exhaustion. (Our dilemma was resolved after Christopher made a make-shirt raft which allowed us to cross the river).

 

It has been said before that in the midst of great suffering and desperation, no one is an atheist. That is true. No doubt, countless souls have cried out (like me) in desperation to God, knowing that He is the only one who can save them. But while many people recognize their plight when their physical life hangs in the balance, most don’t realize they have a spiritual problem that is even more serious than any life-threatening situation. And just like my near-death experience, it is only the Creator God that can save them.

 

Whether you know it or not, you are a sinner. You have broken God’s law, and you are deserving of death…..eternal death (Romans 6:23, Ezekiel 18:4). One day your physical body will die (Hebrews 9:27) and you will enter into eternity. We just don’t know when our day will come. In the book of James, it says, “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:14). This past weekend, there was a bus crash in rural Saskatchewan (not far from where I grew up) that claimed the lives of 15 people, most of whom were young men. I am certain that none of them woke up on Friday morning believing it would be their last day….yet it was.

 

As we look back on our lives, there have been times where we could have perished from this earth. But according to God’s sovereign purposes, we are still here today. It is only God’s grace that has preserved us. However, one day we will die and enter eternity. We might be old and full of years, or we might be young with seemingly many years in front of us. Whatever the case, the only way to be prepared for death is to be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:20). In short, you must repent of your sins and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ (Mark 1:15). The Scriptures make it clear it is only the Lord Jesus Christ that can save you (John 14:6, Acts 4:12). The Bible also teaches that our salvation is not due to any merit or worth of our own, but wholly of grace and must be received through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9).

 

Twelve years ago, when I thought I was going to die, I cried out to God and He saved me. However, one day I will die……and you will too. The question is – are you ready to meet your Maker? Have you been forgiven of your sins and granted new life in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17)? Be encouraged because if you haven’t, it is not too late. There is no magic formula as to what you need to say, but if you are genuine, there will be a sense of desperation. You will cry out “God save me from my sins!” You will acknowledge that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is the only way for you to be saved and forgiven. And you will express a desire to follow Christ and be his disciple (Matthew 28:18-20) for the rest of your days.

 

Praise God for the salvation we have in Christ! Praise God that in the midst of a world filled with pain and suffering, where vast multitudes are looking for answers, we have hope! May you look to Christ (Hebrews 12:2) and the salvation that only He can bring.