The Pastor and Personal Holiness

“My people’s greatest need is my personal holiness.” So wrote Robert Murray M’Cheyne (1813-1843), an influential Scottish pastor of his time. If you were to survey pastors today and ask them this simple question: “what do you think the greatest need of your congregation is?” I suspect you would get a whole host of different answers, and few would have anything to do with personal holiness.

Admittedly, it is tough to write on a subject such as personal holiness. I know my own sins better than anyone else. I often find myself returning to the words of Paul to his young apprentice, Timothy.  The pastoral epistles (1 and 2 Timothy, Titus) are a goldmine of rich instruction, especially for young ministers. The last verse of 1 Timothy 4 is one such example. “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching.  Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (1 Timothy 4:16) Another example is 2 Timothy 2:22, which says, “flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord with a pure heart.”

Being a Dad, my kids are quick to point out when they see me teaching something or correcting them for something I don’t actually do myself. In all reality, I am going to be a much better Dad if my life actually aligns with my teaching. Maybe you have heard the saying, “do as I say but not as I do” before. We can chuckle at that, but if that is what we are advocating in our parenting or in our pastoring, then we have a serious problem. When a pastor is humble and striving for holiness, there is a much better chance his people will actually listen to him. On the other hand, when his lifestyle does not match his teaching, there is a good chance his people will tune him out.

Kevin DeYoung is right when he says, “My congregation needs me to be humble before they need me to be smart.  They need me to be honest more than they need me to be a dynamic leader.  They need me to be teachable more than they need me to teach at conferences.” No doubt pastors face a lot of pressure.  There are a number of different expectations that keep pastors busy these days.  My recommendation is place one expectation on yourself that trumps all others – a commitment to personal holiness. Before you can effectively “make disciples,” you must be a disciple. If you fail to walk closely with the Lord and “keep in step with the Spirit,” (Galatians 5:25) you will soon lose your ability to minister to others.  No pastor wants that, and no church wants that for their pastor.

What a great reminder this is from Mr. M’Cheyne. As Pastors we ought to be committed to preaching the Word, loving the people, being men of prayer, and training and discipling new believers. But if we desire to have a fruitful and effective ministry, then it must start with our own personal holiness. Integrity, godliness, and holiness of life serve as the foundation for all spiritual leadership (1 Timothy 3:1-7). If we get sloppy and try to cut corners and neglect our own walk with the Lord, we are bound for trouble. We may even find ourselves disqualified from leadership. This has happened countless times and it often has a devasting effect on the pastor’s family and his church.

Pastoral ministry is a high calling – a very high calling! We must constantly pray for the grace of God while at the same time keep in mind that our aim is to please the one who enlisted us, the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 2:3). If He has truly called you, He will give you the moral integrity and the grace you need to be about the care of souls. “He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:24). Glory be to God!

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Preach the Word and Love the People

I will never forget a conversation I had with one of my seminary professors shortly before I graduated. I had already accepted a call to serve as pastor of a small rural church in Ohio and was eager to hear what he (a former pastor) had to say. I asked him, “what advice he would give to me, a young pastor, just starting off in ministry?” The simplicity of his answer blew me away – “Preach the Word and love the people.” Of course, he went on to say more, but that was a good summary of his advice.

Now, I need to tell you a little about my professor. He had earned two PhD’s, pastored a very large church, and was clearly a brilliant man. I guess when I asked him that question I was expecting more, something a little deeper and more profound. But now having spent 10 years in ministry, I see the wisdom of his answer. All too often, we pastors are tempted to jump on the latest bandwagon…..to follow the latest fad…..to employ the latest “grow your church quick” scheme. We forget that these fads are a lot like shooting stars. They come, they go, and before too long people forget about them.

My professor knew that pastoral ministry is really simpler that we think. It is not about always trying to be on the “cutting edge” and using all the latest church growth gimmicks. Rather, pastoring is all about being faithful to God’s call. And what has God called us to do? Well, you could summarize it in this way. “Preach the Word and love the people.” In the future, if a young pastor ever asks me for advice heading into ministry, I would answer in much the same way as my professor did. And while I have not always been successful in following this, his advice has been a great reminder to me to “keep the main thing the main thing” and to not let distractions get in the way.

Brothers, may we be faithful to our Master and Lord! Pray continually that God would give you a special love for your people and that He would equip you to preach the gospel and “rightly handle the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

2 Timothy 4:1-2: I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.

1 Peter 5:1-4: So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed:shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.

The Call of God

I have always been fascinated by the bible passages where the call of God is given directly to His chosen servant. Let me give you a few examples.

Moses:

“Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt. But Moses said to God, Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt? He said, But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain” (Exodus 3:10-12).

Joshua:

“No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go” (Joshua 1:5-7).

Jeremiah:

“Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying, Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations. Then I said, Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth. But the Lord said to me, Do not say I am only a youth; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord. Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me, Behold I have put my words in your mouth. See I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and break down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant” (Jeremiah 1:4-10).

Ezekiel:

“And he said to me, Son of man, stand on your feet, and I will speak to you. And as he spoke to me, the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and I heard him speaking to me. And he said to me, Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against me. They and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day. The descendants also are impudent and stubborn: I send you to them, and you shall say to them, Thus says the Lord God. And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them. And you son of man, be not afraid of them, nor be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you and you sit on scorpions. Nor be dismayed by their looks, for they are a rebellious house. And you shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear, for they are a rebellious house” (Ezekiel 2:1-7).

The First Disciples:

“While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him” (Matthew 4:18-22).

Paul:

“But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? And he said, Who are you, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do” (Acts 9:1-6).

Some Reflections……

The world looks for strategies and programs; God looks for a man.

A few years ago, I heard a sermon by John MacArthur on the prophet Jeremiah. In reference to the call of Jeremiah, MacArthur explained, “When there is a crisis, people look for a program. But God looks for a man.” Is it not true that we constantly look for some magical program to take our church to the next level? We think, if only we could find the right program or curriculum, our church would grow and thrive. But more than programs and strategic planning, God is looking for men and women of faith. When God says, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” God is looking for people like Isaiah who say, “Here I am! Send me” (Isaiah 6:8). First and foremost, there must be a willingness to obey the call of God.

The “call” is not based on the skills/abilities/gifts of the man.

Jesus didn’t pick the 12 disciples because they were the most gifted men he could find. They were just ordinary men with an extraordinary calling. I am sure they were skilled in their various trades and occupations, but no one would have suggested they would change the world. Yet in only a few decades, that’s exactly what happened. “The gospel….which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister” (Colossians 1:23). How remarkable that this ordinary cast of characters took the gospel all over the known world in such a short time. What this demonstrates is the power of God. As Paul explains, “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29).

The “called” often feel weak and inadequate for the task at hand.

Moses thought he was a poor communicator (Exodus 4:10) and Jeremiah thought he was too young (Jeremiah 1:6). What is ironic is that God knew these men better than they knew themselves. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” he said to Jeremiah. God was aware of weaknesses they had no clue about, but none of that mattered. If God had truly called them as His chosen instruments, He would certainly equip them for the task at hand. We might also add that too much pride and confidence in one’s own abilities is actually a hindrance to fulfilling God’s plans. Pride has a tendency to produce self-reliance and not God-dependence. That’s why Paul says, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

Faith and courage were required for the assignment.

It’s safe to say that Joshua never forgot God’s instructions to him, “be strong and very courageous” (Joshua 1:7). Joshua would face giants as he led the Israelites in the conquest of Canaan. Their enemies would not simply hand over the land without a fight and therefore, strength and courage would be absolutely essential to victory. This is true for every man of God. I love how God tells Jeremiah, “But you, dress yourself for work; arise and say to them everything that I command you. Do not be dismayed by them, lest I dismay you before them” (Jeremiah 1:17). In other words, it’s almost as if God is saying, “if you don’t trust me, I will humiliate you before the people.” Jesus said, “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both body and soul in hell” (Matthew 10:28).

Success was not always guaranteed.

Those of you who are familiar with the ministry of Jeremiah will know that it was not a great success. He was not a prophet who witnessed revival after revival in response to his preaching. But we also know that Jeremiah was faithful and obedient to God. Popularity was not something he enjoyed throughout his life, but he faithfully delivered the Word of God, so there is a sense in which he was successful. Think of all the missionaries around the world who have labored for years on end with few converts to show for their work. Does that mean they were failures? Of course not! The prophet of God is responsible to speak the words of God and then leave the results up to Him. “And you shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear” (Ezekiel 2:7).

The guidebook for the man of God – the Word of God.

Every year, thousands of new books are published. In my personally library, I have well over 1000 books and have access to thousands more on the internet. Indeed, as King Solomon reminds us, “Of making many books there is no end” (Ecclesiastes 12:12). What is amazing about this verse is that it was written 3000 years ago, long before the publishing industry flooded the world with books. But for the man of God, it is needful to master only one book – God’s book. As God told Joshua, “Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go” (Joshua 1:7). Paul adds to this in saying, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). In short, God’s Word is sufficient!

Those “called” could always count on the presence of God.

God told Moses, “I will be with you” (Exodus 3:12). God told Joshua, “Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you” (Joshua 1:5). God told Jeremiah, “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you” (Jeremiah 1:8). And just as the Spirit of God entered into Ezekiel (2:2), so too did Jesus give his disciples the Holy Spirit (John 20:22) before he left them.

Certainly, much more could be said, but as I close, let me leave you with the words of the great apostle, to his young apprentice Timothy. “But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Timothy 6:11-14).

 

Billy Graham’s Biggest Regret

As the tributes have poured in from all over the world following the death of the renowned evangelist Billy Graham, I remembered back to an interview he did with Greta Van Sustern a few years ago. In one of the questions, Sustern asked Graham, “If you were to do things over again, would you do things differently? Graham responded by saying he would study more, pray more, travel less, and praise the Lord more. This is yet another example of the humility which characterized his life.

Way back in 1977, Graham said something similar: One of my great regrets is that I have not studied enough. I wish I had studied more and preached less. People have pressured me into speaking to groups when I should have been studying and preparing. Donald Barnhouse said that if he knew the Lord was coming in three years, he would spend two of them studying and one preaching. I’m trying to make it up. (Christianity Today, September 23, 1977)

What a great reminder for young preachers like myself. Few (if any) will have the kind of platform Graham enjoyed over his long ministry, but we have all been called, in the words of the apostle Paul, to “study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

You can watch the interview here and here

Bible Verses for Pastoral Visitation

An important aspect of pastoral ministry is that of visitation. Pastoral visitation will be done in a number of different contexts, but whatever the venue and whatever the situation, pastors need to be ready to minister the Word to those in need, especially when it comes to visiting and ministering to the sick. In his helpful book The Pastor’s Ministry, Brian Croft encourages pastors to have “a large store of passages laid up in memory and ready for use.” He goes on to list and categorize several different Scripture passages that can be used depending on the situation. They include the following:

  • Passages of comfort: Psalms 23; 28; 34; 46; 62; 145; Hebrews 4:14 – 16
  • Succinct gospel passages: John 11:25 – 26; Romans 5:6 – 11; 2 Corinthians 5:17 – 21; Ephesians 2:1 – 10
  • Passages dealing with the purpose of suffering for the believer: 2 Corinthians 12:7 – 9; James 1:2 – 4; 1 Peter 1:6 – 7; 4:12 – 19
  • Passages related to the reality and hope of eternity with Christ: John 10:27 – 30; 14:1 – 3; Philippians 1:21 – 23; 1 Peter 1:3 – 5

I would add just a few more: 1 Corinthians 15:50-58, Isaiah 40:28-31, James 5:14-20, Psalm 139:1-16, and Colossians 1:15-20

Obviously, the Word of God is vast and deep and you will no doubt find many more relevant passages, but this list does provide a good start. The important thing is to come prepared to minister to the Word of God to those in need.

Acts 20:17-20: 17 Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. 18 And when they came to him, he said to them:

“You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Battle Against Envy in Ministry

You have probably heard the 10th commandment before. The short version reads: “You shall not covet” (Exodus 20:17). We all know what this means – be content with what you have and don’t envy your neighbor for what God has given him. We know this but I think we would all admit it can be hard to follow through on. My wife and I have four youngsters and we see envy up close and personal every day. One child has a toy and the other child wants it so he steals the toy. This doesn’t surprise us when it comes from a child, but how often do we “mature” Christians struggle with this same sin? Even pastors, if we were honest, would admit that we too struggle with envy at times. As we encounter fellow pastors with larger churches, the sin of envy is always lurking nearby.

 

I sometimes remind our congregation to pray for myself and our elders. We are, after all, fallen sinful men right in the middle of our own sanctification. Just because God has appointed us to lead and shepherd does not mean we don’t still struggle with sin, including envy. As John Brown (1830-1922) said to one of his ministerial pupils who was newly ordained: “I know the vanity of your heart, and that you will be mortified that your congregation is very small in comparison with those of your brethren around you; but assure yourself on the word of an old man, that when you come to give an account of them to the Lord Christ, at his judgment seat, you will think you have had enough.” (Cited from Mark Dever’s “The Church”)

 

Small church pastors (like myself) can be prone to this, but I have learned that large church pastors also struggle with envy and covetousness. There is always someone with a bigger, more fruitful church that we can compare ourselves to. Brown’s words are particularly helpful because they remind us that we will all give an account before the Lord. The writer of Hebrews tells us “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account” (Hebrews 13:17). One day, every pastor-shepherd will stand before God and give an account as to how he led, fed, cared for, and protected the flock God entrusted to him. Whether your church is 50, or 500, or 5000, the responsibility is monumental. This is why the “numbers” measuring stick is not always the best (see 1 Corinthians 3:10-15).

 

The business of soul-care has eternal ramifications. This is what makes pastoral ministry so challenging but at the same time so rewarding. Rather than focusing on how big our friend’s church is (and how small your church is), may we commit ourselves to pray for our fellow brethren in the ministry. Rejoice in how God is blessing and working in your friend’s church and remember that he desperately needs your prayers and support, just as you need his. Along with that, renew your commitment to care for the flock of God entrusted to you. This is a stewardship like no other stewardship, and only the deepest commitment to God and His people will do.