Brother-Theologians: Preach the Word!

samuel-zeller-432101A few years ago I wrote this article on David Prince’s website. As I go to teach Systematic Theology 1 this week, I am reminded of it, and the need for theologians to be preachers.

In theology, we are not just called to study and store up knowledge of truth. We are called to study to show ourselves approved so that we may preach—or teach, or write, or counsel, or anything else that qualifies as heralding the good news—sound doctrine. To that point, I repost this article, in hopes that God may continue to raise up men sound in doctrine who will preach the Word.

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When I came to seminary, I wanted to study the Bible and theology. Having never “preached” a Sunday morning message, I was uncertain as to the role preaching would have in my life. Ten years later, through a combination of providential opportunities and willingness to preach whenever I was asked, I have finished my theological education  (Yes, it took a decade!) and have preached more Sundays than not.

For nearly five years I have filled the pulpit at my current church—first as a supply preacher, then an interim pastor, and last as the senior pastor. In the lustrum before serving at our church, I like so many of my seminary peers preached in nursing homes, urban missions, country parishes. It was a wonderfully painful time, one where precious little flocks like Corn Creek Baptist Church endured my preaching and helped me learn how to preach.

During that time, preaching was a priority, but so was theology. By training, I am a systematic theologian, or at least, that’s what my degree says. Therefore, as a pastor and a theologian, I feel a measure of familiarity with both vocations. And I feel a fraternal affection and responsibility to exhort aspiring theologians with what Paul commanded Timothy: Preach the Word! Continue reading

So You Want to Go to Seminary: Seven Words for Aspiring Pastors

room chair lot

In recent months I’ve had the joy of talking to a few young men who are thinking about seminary. With that in mind, I want to share seven words of advice that come from my own experience, which inlcudes choosing a seminary, going through seminary, helping found a seminary, and now teaching at that seminary—Indianapolis Theological Seminary.

These words of counsel are not fool proof, but hopefully you will find them faithful.

1. Your church, more than your seminary, will shape the formation of your theology.

When I went to seminary, it became immediately obvious who the most mature students were—they were the ones who had gone through a pastoral internship at church just down the street from our nation’s capitol. Immersed for a semester or more in this church, these brothers had thought deeply about the church and had been shaped by the pastors and the community found therein. As a result, they came to seminary with a great understanding of the church and pastoral ministry. Moroever, their theological training built on a solid foundation of practical and practiced church ministry.

At the same time, there were other students who sat in the same classes and believed the same doctrines, but whose experience in the local church differed. As a result, this second group tended to maintain the pragmatism of their churches, even when their theology, defended in class, did not match the church’s methodology.

Certainly, there are other healthy churches beside the one highlighted above, but the point remains: Where you go to church matters. And, in my limited experience, where you go to church will shape your views of ministry more than the classes you take in seminary. So, as you go to seminary, do not forsake the local church or ignore the way that your local church will confirm or deny the faith you profess.

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Preach the Manuscript: Ten Ways to Improve Sermon Delivery

jesusA few years ago I led an online class on the subject of preaching. As expected, we discussed all sorts of questions pertaining to preaching—sermon length, the use of illustrations, the necessity of expositional preaching, as well as how to preach Christ from the whole Bible. Among these conversations, we discussed the place for manuscripts over against using or not using notes.

In seminary, I learned from two gifted preachers who both taught that manuscripts were not helpful for preaching. For the first few years of pastoring, I followed their advice and brought into the pulpit four to five half-sheets of notes. This taught me how to preach to people and not just read notes. But a few years in, I deviated from their counsel and now manuscript all my sermons.

That said, I strive to preach the manuscript and not just read it. In using a manuscript, I value the clarity and forethought I can put into the message. And ultimately, that is why I change to a manuscript somewhere around 2011. At the same time, manuscripting does lend itself to a dry delivery. Still, I believe the benefits of manuscripting outweigh the costs, so long as preachers learn to do more than read their notes. To that end, here are ten things I’ve learned in preaching a manuscript that might help others who use a manuscript. Continue reading

On Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality, and Policy Changes: A Pastoral Rationale for Speaking Out Loud and In Public

patrick-fore-5YU0uZh43Bk-unsplashPhoto by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

Over the last five years, Critical Race Theory has become a hot button issue in our country and among Christians. Concerning the latter, local churches are breaking apart, as pastors are—or are perceived to be—adding elements of social justice to the message of the gospel. Larger organizations too—seminaries, denominations, etc.—have had to debate the issue of social justice and Critical Race Theory. And to date, the results have not born the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

Part of the reason for this division is that those advocating CRT—in part or in whole—are imbibing a way of thinking that is intended to divide and deconstruct. Conversely, many who respond to CRT do so with the same spirit of anger and division. Hence, the dumpster fire that is the current state of evangelicalism. We will save comment on the church for another day, but suffice it to say, the division caused by CRT is significant and growing.

Outside the church, CRT continues to be just as divisive. For instance, local school board meetings have become battle grounds for what will be taught about America and the history racism. Companies large and small are virtual signaling their wokeness by celebrating equity and inclusion and canceling those who will not join them. And more to the point of this post, federal, state, and local agencies are introducing policies that champion the ideas of CRT and the tools of Intersectionality.

Our county is one of those places where the tenets and tools of CRT are trying to be implemented. And recently, our Board of County Supervisors (BOCS) invited public comment on their new 10-page Equity and Inclusion Policy. As a resident interested in this subject and its impact on the church and its freedom to live and move and have its being in our increasingly secular age, I took time to read the proposed document and comment on it. What follows on this post is my letter to the Prince William County Board of Supervisors.

I share this as a model of what it might look like to speak up for truth in the public square. As a resident whose convictions lead him to have massive concerns with the proposal, and a Christian who is called to seek the welfare of the city (Jer. 29:7), it leads me to speak. I also encouraged other church members to do the same. Maybe I’ll share more of my biblical rationale for that later, but here’s my pastoral rationale. Continue reading

The Sermon Begins in *Your* Study: Why ‘Apt to Teach’ Means More Than ‘Apt to Speak’

alexander-michl-g8PFVtzzkYA-unsplashFor Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord,
and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.
— Ezra 7:10 —

Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife,
sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, . . .
— 1 Timothy 3:2 —

Earlier this week, I sat in a room full of pastors talking about preaching, plagiarism, and what it means to be “apt to teach,” the qualification for elders in 1 Timothy 3:2. And I made the point that being “apt to teach” and “apt to speak” are not the same thing. And I made the point because it seems as though there is a great confusion about what it takes to be a pastor today.

Can someone be a pastor if they are a good communicator? Or should someone be a pastor because they are biblically qualified? And what do the biblical qualifications entail, anyways? 

In some circles, being a good communicator seems to be the sine qua non of the pastoral office. If someone can communicate well, then they have what it takes to be a preacher. Never mind their other weaknesses, if they can communicate in a way that really connects, then they are a great cornerstone to building a vibrant church. (Please compare Ephesians 2:20 and note the irony!)

By contrast, Scripture gives a different and more complete picture. For instance, when defending his apostolic ministry, Paul testifies to his weakness in preaching. Addressing the super-apostles, whose speaking may have exceeded his own, Paul says of his critics, “For they say [of Paul], ‘His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account’ (2 Cor. 10:10). Aware of his weakness(es), Paul defended his qualifications not by his charisma, but by his faithfulness to the truth and his suffering for that truth.

Today, such a perspective is under threat. For since the news broke concerning J.D. Greear and Ed Litton, I have heard much anecdotal testimony from various pastors that many large church leaders see themselves as communicators of the truth, more than shepherds of the flock or students of the Book. That’s my way of phrasing it, and it certainly doesn’t fit everyone. But with the popularity of groups like the Docent Research Group and Ministry Pass, as well as LifeWay’s large selection of manuscripts free for the taking, it seems that one reason why so little concern has been raised by Ed Litton’s use of J.D. Greear’s sermons is that pastors preaching the work of others is something of an evangelical cottage industry. (If I’m wrong, please show me).

For me, I’m not interested in doing the investigative reporting on this subject. I’ll leave that up to the Julie Roys and Warren Throckmorton’s of the evangelical world. What I am interested in is asking is this: Is it ever appropriate for a pastor to preach someone else’s sermon? Or, biblically speaking, is it a requisite qualification  to preach what one has learned from the personal study of his Word. Such a personal study of the Word,  where the minister of the Word encounters the God of the Word, is my personal conviction, and it was the conviction of all the pastors with whom I spoke this week.

But what does Scripture say? What does it mean to be “apt to teach”? And does teaching necessarily require the personal study of the Bible? Thankfully, Scripture is not silent about these questions, and by returning to the Pastoral Epistles we can find a solid answers to these questions.

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Seven Pastoral Cautions for Bringing Biblical Theology to Church

person reading book

Recently, I received an email asking how to incorporate biblical theology in the church. If you are familiar with this blog, you know the value I place on this discipline and how it impacts so much of what I do in preaching, writing, and all of ministry.  (If you want an introduction to biblical theology, read this.)

What follows here are seven pastoral cautions for bringing biblical theology to church. Tomorrow, I’ll add seven pastoral admonitions for bringing biblical theology to church Continue reading

Resting in a Received Ministry

batonYears before receiving a call to serve as pastor, I received one of the most helpful lessons on ministry from Eddie Rasnake and the pastoral staff of Woodland Park Baptist Church.

In 2002 I moved to Chattanooga, Tennessee to go through the SALT Institute. SALT stands for Servant Approach Leadership Training. And this two-year cohort program—which continues to serve the people of WPBC—equipped (aspiring) church leaders with sound principles for Bible study, disciple-making, and ministry. Nearly fifteen years later, the things I learned in SALT continue to shape my approach to ministry. That said, one of them, stands above the rest—ministry is received, not achieved.

What is an Achieved Ministry?

Have you ever met someone whose singular aim is to convince you they are called to ministry? Maybe they give away scores of Vista Print business cards inviting you to invite them to your church; maybe they email you regularly to convince you why they should speak or sing or play at your next youth event; or maybe they give as much attention to networking as to prayer and the study of God’s Word. All of these are symptoms of an achieved ministry.

To be sure, Christians ought to be zealous in using their gifts (Romans 12:8, 11). We ought, as William Carey once said, “Expect great things from God,” and “attempt great things for God.” But while God honors such passion, we must admit there are plenty of zealous people not named Carey. In other words, not every zealous minister is equally pleasing to God. Too many are driven by impure motives. And here, I’m not just talking about others. I know my own heart and the conniving ways I seek to assert myself.

So what is the solution? My answer, the answer I received from the SALT Institute, is to crucify self-achieved ministries and pursue, with a patient heart, a received ministry. 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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What is an Elder Supposed to Do?

eldersatwork

When Paul instructed Titus to appoint elders in every town (1:5), he immediately listed qualifications to find those men (vv. 6–9). What he spent little time on was the specific tasks they were supposed to do as elders.

From the remainder of the letter, it can be surmised that elders who oversee the church must silence false teachers (1:11), teach what accords with sound doctrine (2:1), model good works for others (2:7), exercise authority in matters of doctrine (2:15), and protect the flock from divisive persons (3:10). Yet, these are only some of the tasks mentioned in the New Testament. Today, I want to enumerate seven others, beginning with Jesus’ words to Peter in John 21..

Seven Tasks of an Elder Who Oversees the Flock

1. Feed the Flock.

It is arguable that the genesis of the pastoral office began on a seashore in Galilee. In John 21 Jesus went in search of Peter. Days before, on the night of Jesus’ arrest, Peter denied Christ three times. Crushed by his own disloyalty, Peter returned to fishing. However, as Jesus had called him to be a fisher of men before (Matt 4:19), he again came to restore Peter to Jesus’ ministry.

In verses 15–19 Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love me more than these?” (Presumably motioning to the fish). Each time Peter responded, “You know I love you.” And each time, Jesus assigned him a pastoral task: “Feed my lambs” (v. 15); “tend my sheep” (v. 16); “feed my sheep” (v. 17). Using this pastoral metaphor, Jesus announced the primary duty of an elder (cf. 1 Pet 5:1)—to feed the flock of God with the food of God, i.e., God’s holy Word! Continue reading