Seven Pastoral Practices for Bringing Biblical Theology to Church

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Yesterday, I gave seven pastoral cautions for bringing biblical theology to the church. And as advertised, here is the rest of the story: seven pastoral practices for bringing biblical theology to church.

This is list primarily for pastors and the role their preaching can play in helping their congregation value a unified reading Scripture that leads to Christ—for this is what the best biblical theology does. However, these encouragements may also serve any member of the church, as healthy congregational have more than biblical pulpits. They must also have members who long for and pray for the Word of God to grow in their midst.

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Be Slow to Judge and Quick to Make Peace: What Pastors Can Learn from Doubting Thomas

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19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
— James 1:19–20 —

In the Bible Thomas gets a bad rap. In the face of seeing Christ’s death on the cross and not seeing Christ’s resurrection, the apostle, who previously volunteered to die with Christ (John 11:16), is unable to believe. For a whole week this beloved follower of Christ is kept in the dark, and not until Jesus returns to the Upper Room does he believe. But when Thomas does believe—he offers one of the most illuminating testimonies of Christ’s identity: “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).

There are many lessons we can draw from Thomas’s delayed faith, but one of the most important is that faith is based on evidence. The Christian faith is not a leap in the dark; it is based on the evidential history that Jesus rose from the grave, walked on the earth for forty days, so that he could teach his disciples about the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:1–8; Acts 1:1–8). In that time, Jesus revealed himself to 500 disciples at one time, before his ascended to heaven in the presence of his followers (Acts 1:9–11). In short, God granted to those who saw the resurrected Christ.

With respect to Thomas’s doubt, his request for the physical body does not deny his faith; it ensures his faith is placed rightly in the resurrected Christ. Even today, faith is dependent on the eye-witness account of Christ’s physical resurrection (1 John 1:1–3). Thomas did not have that yet, and thus his delayed faith testifies to the need for eye-witness testimony.

At the same time, there’s second lesson to be learned from Thomas and his doubt. It relates to faith and evidence too, but it is not about believing the gospel but believing other believers. Until Jesus showed himself to Thomas, there was a division in the household of faith. Ironically, this is a division caused by Christ himself, as he revealed himself to his disciples at different times. But it is a division nonetheless, and one Jesus remedied when he returned to the Upper Room a week later.

Truth Takes Time to Perceive

Today, believers do not find themselves in the same position as the original disciples. For us, the gospel has come fully formed. Christ is exalted to God’s right hand of God, the Spirit has been poured out, and the New Testament has been finished. Hence, the transitional nature (which led to the temporary division between Thomas and the disciples) is not repeated today.

What is repeated are events in the life of the church where one member or one group come to see or understand something that others have not (yet) understood. This knowledge and belief may be a theological truth, a decision for ministry, or a situation of church discipline.

In such cases, believers may come to understand a doctrine or a situation at different times. Like runners traversing the same course, they may have different opinions on the race—not because they are on different paths but because they are looking at different sections of the course. In such instances, painful divisions can occur and tear apart the body of Christ. But unlike the division which Christ intended in the days following his resurrection, this division is not intended by Christ. Or is it?

Could it be that God plans temporary divisions in the church that cause his people to learn how to listen to one another? Could it be that various churches or individuals have different degrees of theological understanding or practical wisdom on various issues? And could it be that God wants his people not only to be at peace, but to learn how to make peace with one another?

Indeed, if we listen to the Bible, we see that God’s children are not just at peace with God (Rom. 5:1) and one another (Eph. 4:1–3), we are to be peacemakers (Matt. 5:9). And pastors are to be the ones who lead in making peace in the church. Continue reading

From the Gospel to Good Works: A Church’s How-To Manual for Elders (1 Timothy 5:17–25)

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From the Gospel to Good Works: A Church’s How-To Manual for Elders (1 Timothy 5:17–25)

What are you supposed to do in church? What are elders supposed to do in church?
And how do elders and members work together in the church?

On Sunday I answered these questions with six “how-to’s” from 1 Timothy 5:17–25. In this section to Timothy about elders, Paul gives inspired counsel for providing for how to honor elders, protect elders, rebuke (sinning) elders, and appoint elders—to name a few things Paul says.

You can hear the whole sermon online. Response questions and additional resources about elders and churches are below. Continue reading

Where Do Elders Come From?

churchFrom the beginning of the church, there were designated leaders. And though given various names (e.g., elders, pastors, overseers) they served the same function. As God-given leaders of God’s flock (Acts 20:28) and under-shepherds to the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:1–4), these men were called to model the faith before God’s people and to teach the word of God, protecting God’s children from error and bolstering their faith in Christ.

A cursory reading of the New Testament shows how important these men were. In Acts we find elders in Jerusalem (11:30; 14:23; 15:2, 4, 6; 21:18) and Ephesus (20:17). When Paul planted churches in Galatia, he appointed elders in each church (Acts 14:23). In correspondence with Titus, he told him to appoint qualified overseers in the churches on Crete (Titus 1:5–9). Similarly, Timothy received instruction on the qualification of overseers (1 Timothy 3:1–7) and instructions for removing unqualified elders (5:17–23).

Even before Paul wrote his Pastoral Epistles, he had called churches to care for those who taught them (Galatians 6:6–9) and to honor those who led them (1 Thessalonians 5:12–13). Similarly, James, Peter, John, and the author of Hebrews all spoke in various ways about the office of the overseer/elder/pastor (see James 5:14; 1 Peter 5:1–4; 2 John 1; 3 John 1; Hebrews 13:7, 17). In short, the New Testament says a great deal about this important role, and it does so because the health of the church depends on those who lead them with God’s Word.

Yet, for all that it says about the office, we should ask another important question: Where do elders come from? Thankfully, the New Testament is not silent on this question. Just as it describes how to recognize an elder, it also describes where they come from. And faithful churches (and the elders who lead them), will be aware of how God raises up elders.

Where Do Elders Come From?

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Be a Table Host, Not a Dinner Party Speaker: Ten Ways to Create Meaningful Discussion in Your Next Bible Study

priscilla-du-preez-697322-unsplash.jpgIn the Bible we learn that preaching is not the only way God’s Word is communicated. In the Old Testament, the Levites are seen explaining the Law to the people of Israel (Nehemiah 8:7–8). And in the New Testament, Paul says of his ministry, “I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house” (Acts 20:20).

In both of these contexts, teaching occurred in small groups, where God’s teachers could answers questions, give the sense of the word (Nehemiah 8:8), and lead discussions about applying the Law to life (see Ezra’s approach in Nehemiah 8:10). Today, teachers of the Word are called to do the same, and experienced teachers will master the art and science of leading discussion that is fundamentally different than just declaring what Scripture says.

To lead this kind of dialogue profitably is challenging and takes time—a lifetime even—to master, but it is invaluable for helping disciples of Christ learn to read Scripture, ask questions, think with others, and apply truth to life. And in what follows, I want to suggest ten principles for leading a good discussion. Four of them simply relate to question-asking; the other have to do with developing a conviction for the value of discussion and the need to change your preparation habits for leading discussion, as opposed to preaching.

I pray these principles may be helpful. If there are other ways you have learned to facilitate discussion, please share in the comments. Continue reading

What Servant Leadership Looks Like: Seven Lessons from Theodore Roosevelt

bookFor the last few weeks I have been listening to the audiobook by John Knokey, Theodore Roosevelt and the Making of American LeadershipThis has probably been one of the most enjoyable and fascinating biographies I’ve ever read. Knokey traces the development of Theodore Roosevelt’s leadership from his developmental years at Harvard to his two terms as president of the United States.

Most of his time—or at least, the most memorable time—is spent with Roosevelt as a frontiersman in the Dakotas and a military colonel on the way to Cuba. In these anecdote-filled chapters, the reader is given a firsthand introduction to how Roosevelt became a leader and how his leadership forged the spirit of America for the next century.

For anyone interested in American history or presidential leadership this book is excellent. In fact there are many lessons about leadership in the book and countless stories to illustrate them. To summarize, I will distill seven lessons from Roosevelt’s larger-than-life leadership, and make a few applications to Christian leadership in particular. Continue reading

Teddy Roosevelt and His Rough Riders: An Illustration of Diversity’s Glory

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There is a peculiar kind of glory that comes to a man
who unifies and empowers genuine diversity for a common good.

In history, we celebrate stories of heroic leaders who take disconnected misfits and make them a strong army. If you are familiar with the Bible, you might think of David and his mighty men—a diverse group of malcontents who became champions under David’s command. If you are more familiar with popular movies, you might think of Remember the Titans, where Coach Herman Boone led a newly-integrated T.C. William high school to a state football championship.

Indeed, we love to hear stories of leaders who take natural-born opponents and unite them together for the same cause. And even more, in our ultra-divided world, we need to hear these stories. And thankfully, there are many such stories that can be told.

Recently, I came across such a story in Jon Knokey’s book, Theodore Roosevelt and the Making of American LeadershipIn this fascinating book, Knokey tells the colorful tale of what happened when 1000 radically-different men from all over America were formed into a single fighting unit under the leadership genius of Colonel Roosevelt.

Here’s what he says. It’s long but entertaining and worth the read as it gives a fresh illustration of what we find in Ephesians 2—something I sought to bring out in yesterday’s sermon on Christ and his Church. Continue reading

Trust the Process: Learning to Make Disciples and Develop Leaders like Jesus

fireIf you go to church, I’m sure you’ve experienced the “foghorn announcement.” What’s the foghorn announcement, you say? It’s the long, droning, monotonous, unenthusiastic call for workers in the nursery, volunteers at the picnic, or helpers with an outreach event. It goes something like this:

Hi, the pastor asked me to make an announcement. So, here it goes. I know you are busy—we are all are busy, aren’t we—but we have an event coming up and we need help. We’ve made this announcement for the last three weeks. But we still don’t have enough help. It won’t take too much time and anyone can do it. Just sign up in the back as you head out today. 

Okay, this might be a bit overly dramatic—or underly dramatic. But these announcements are as common in well-meaning churches as foghorns on the coast of Maine. They begin with an apology; they make some non-descript invitation for everyone to do something; they often motivate with guilt, ease, or fear; and they fail to capture the wonder that the God of the universe who is building his church permits us to be a part of his work.

Surely, Jesus didn’t recruit leaders this way, did he? Therefore, the question hangs in the air: How do we recruit people to serve in the church? And how, especially, do we call leaders to follow us as we follow Christ? Continue reading

Household ‘Stewards’: A Rich Metaphor for Pastors and Churches

shepherdThis is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ
and stewards of the mysteries of God.
Moreover, it is required of stewards
that they be found faithful.
– 1 Corinthians 4:1–2 –

In creation, there is nothing more valuable than human life. And this is doubly true for those who have been purchased with the infinite blood of Christ (Acts 20:28; 1 Corinthians 6:19; 1 Peter 1:18–19). God sent his Son to Calvary to redeem a people for his own possession, and so great is his love for his people that the Good Shepherd has raised up shepherds who would tend his flock. Sometimes these spiritual leaders are called pastors, or overseers, or elders—synonymous terms for the same office. At the same time, while each of these labels stress different aspects of local church ministry, there is another title that needs consideration—steward.

In Paul’s letters especially, “steward” (oikonomos) describes the kind of ministry pastors are to have. As Christ gives pastors to his people (Ephesians 4:11), he gives them to particular, groups of people—i.e., local churches. In Acts 2, when the church was “birthed,” new converts were “added to the number” of the church (v. 47; cf. 4:5, 32; etc.). Later Paul could speak of a “majority” in the church (2 Cor 2:6) or the “whole church” gathering, indicating an awareness of the number of the people. The importance of this observation is that God has not simply given pastors to be spiritual mentors or life coaches to Christians in general. He has called them to manage local gatherings of God’s household.

For good reason, most pastoral literature focuses attention on the multivalent duties of the pastor/overseer/elder. However, focus on these three labels without consideration of the fourth gives us an incomplete picture. There needs to be equal emphasis given to the idea of the pastor as God’s steward. In fact, such a notion focuses the high calling of a pastor within the parameters of a local church and clarifies the importance for Christians to be members of a local church. Without disregarding the vital importance of the universal church, the pastor as steward corrects amorphous understandings of spiritual leadership and church life.

What is a Steward?

In the New Testament, oikonomos and oikonomia are two words related to the oversight of a house. Continue reading

What Should Churches Do Who Have Elders?

churchTitus 1:5–9 and 1 Timothy 3:1–7 give a host of qualifications for potential elders. Additionally, they give indication as to what an elder is supposed to do—to instruct the flock in sound doctrine and protect the church from false teaching, immorality, and division.

Yet, what about the congregation? Does the Bible have anything to say to church members as to their relationship with the elders who shepherd them?

While no virtue list exists for congregations like that of potential elders, the New Testament does instruct church members to love, support, and even submit to their leaders. In fact, from the context of many passages related to church leadership we find at least a dozen ways Christians should relate to those who lead them.

Twelve Ways The Church Relates to its Leaders

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