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Category Archives: Ministry

Ministry in the Middle

On any normal Sunday, pastors minister to a cross section of people. Young and old. Immature and mature. Weak and strong. Struggling and stable. Liberal and conservative. Vocal and quiet. Extroverts and introverts. Givers and takers. Participants and spectators. Sinners and saints.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a whole new dimension of opinions and viewpoints. As churches begin to reopen and start meeting again, pastors are once again placed firmly in the middle with the challenge of ministering to people on various stages of the spectrum.

On the one hand  

 

P

A

S

T

O

R

S

 

On the other hand

Stay home and stay safe

End the lockdown

The virus is deadly

The lockdown is politically motivated

The crisis is real

It’s all a hoax

Face masks are required

Face masks don’t work

Self-isolation keeps people safe

Self-isolation is killing the economy

Flatten the curve / Find a cure / Wait for a vaccine

The goalposts keep changing

Churches are non-essential

Worship is a First Amendment Right

Churches should not have corporate worship because singing is dangerous and spreads the virus

Scripture tells me to praise God through singing

Practice social distancing

I show compassion by hugging

The writings of the apostle Paul provide pastors with a good model of how to minister to a divided church. 1 & 2 Corinthians in particular were written to a church divided over party politics, spiritual gifts, role of women, practice of worship, church discipline, and a number of other issues. Paul’s emphasis was to get the church to focus on Christ and Christ alone (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).

In the book of Romans, Paul gave counsel as how to act when you find yourself on the opposite side of the table from another believer. Paul encouraged both parties to place themselves under the authority of the government leaders (13:1-7), seek to love one another (13:8-14), not to pass judgment on someone who holds a different opinion (14:1-12) and not to cause another person to stumble because you believe your position is “right” and their opinion is “wrong” (14:12-23).

While we as pastors cannot please every person and satisfy every whim, we do need to be gracious as we serve all those who are present. As we do, we must keep our focus on God and seek to please him above all.

 

Ministry is a contact sport

The thoughts below were originally published in May 2009 under the heading “Germ-free fellowship.” They were written during a concern about swine flu. In light of the current fears over the coronavirus and the talk of canceling large, public gatherings, it seems appropriate to repost these thoughts. Be safe. Be prudent. But don’t live in fear. Instead, dwell in God’s shelter and abide in his shadow and trust him to protect you (Psalm 91).

**********

At church yesterday, one person asked if we would continue our normal greeting time during the worship service because of all the concerns about swine flu. Another person suggested that we substitute a fist bump for a handshake.

Maybe we should consider having a “virtual church” through video conferencing so that we don’t catch someone else’s germs. Perhaps I could record my sermon in a sound booth and simply make the messages available over the Internet. Rather than meeting in small groups to pray, maybe we should just post the prayer requests on a website and let people pray individually in the safety of their own home. Perhaps we should issue surgeons masks and gloves to everyone who enters the building.

On the one hand, we have done what we can to promote good health. We have placed hand sanitizers in all the bathrooms and classrooms. We encourage people to practice good hygiene.

On the other hand, how do you have biblical community if you avoid coming in contact with one another? How can you practice the “one another” commands of Scripture if you rely solely on impersonal means of communication and contact? How do you bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2) and demonstrate compassion and forgiveness (Ephesians 4:30, 32) without getting close to other believers? Can you encourage one another (Hebrews 3:13) and build one another up (1 Thessalonians 5;11) through email so as to avoid personal interaction? How do you offer hospitality to one another (1 Peter 4:9) without being in the same room? Can you substitute a wave of the hand for the instruction to “greet one another with a holy kiss” (Romans 16:16)?

While we should practice common sense in order to stay healthy, we also need to practice obedience to the commands of Scripture. We have to interact in close proximity to one another if we want to be a biblical community of faith.

 
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Posted by on March 11, 2020 in Church, Ministry, Personal growth

 

Generosity is a Matter the Heart

We have been studying the topic of generosity over the past several weeks, seeking to understand what Scripture says about money and giving. We have examined passages in the Old Testament (1 Chronicles 29:10-22; Proverbs 3:9-10; Malachi 3:10-12) and the New Testament (Matthew 25:14-30; Mark 12:41-44; 1 Corinthians 16:1-4; 2 Corinthians 9:6-15).

We have gleaned several principles from our study:

  • Everything belongs to God (1 Chronicles 29:11-12)
  • We give back to God what he has given us (1 Chronicles 29:14-16)
  • We are to worship God with our first and best (Proverbs 3:9‑10)
  • God promises that if we give, he will meet our needs (Proverbs 3:9-10; Malachi 3:10-12; 2 Corinthians 9:6-15)
  • We are to give to God first, and then he will meet our needs (Proverbs 3:9-10; Malachi 3:10-12; 2 Corinthians 9:6-15)
  • We are to give generously and then see what God does (Proverbs 3:9-10; Malachi 3:10-12; 2 Corinthians 9:6-15)
  • Rather than tithing (giving 10%), the New Testament teaches generosity (2 Corinthians 9:6-15)
  • While tithing may not be a requirement, it is a good guideline, since it was the practice of godly people before the Law was given (Genesis 14:17-20; 28:10-22)
  • Our giving should be periodic, personal, planned, proportionate, and properly protected (1 Corinthians 16:1-4)
  • Generosity is best determined by what we give when we have little, not when we have much (Mark 12:41-44)
  • We have been blessed in order to be a blessing (2 Corinthians 9:6-15)
  • We are to use all we are and all we have for God’s glory (Matthew 25:14-30)

As we wrap up this series, we will compare and contrast a couple that was not generous with several churches that were generous.

Ananias & Sapphira

Acts 5:1-11

The Churches in Macedonia

2 Corinthians 8:1-5

Influenced by Satan (3)

Inspired by grace (1)

Lived in great affluence (1)

Lived in great affliction (2)

Gave out of their surplus (2)

Gave out of their poverty (2)

Told self-centered lies (3)

Gave with a sense of joy (2)

Kept as much as possible (3)

Gave as much as possible (3)

Reactive—caught up with the emotion of the crowd (4:32‑5:1)

Proactive—they initiated the gift (3)

Felt an obligation to give (4:32-5:1)

Begged for the privilege to give (4)

Concerned for the opinion of others (4)

Concerned for the needs of others (4)

Met expectations

Exceeded expectations (5)

Gave their money (2)

Gave themselves (5)

Appearance of worship (2)

Authentic worship (5)

Revealed a phony faith (2-4)

Confirmed a real faith (5)

Condemned (5, 10)

Commended (1)

A frightening example to avoid (5, 11)

An encouraging example to follow (1)

God doesn’t want our time, talents, and/or our treasures. God wants our heart. When he has that, we will willingly give him everything else. Generosity is ultimately a matter of the heart.

Excel in the grace of giving (2 Corinthians 8:7)

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on March 8, 2020. It is the final message in a series of expository sermons on Generosity. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Plan your preaching

At a recent pastor’s gathering, one of the men asked what we were currently preaching. As we went around the group and shared our current topics and series, one man questioned the wisdom of preaching a long series. He had read somewhere that preaching should be done in short, topical series rather than a long series preaching through a book.

In contrast, I received an email from crossway.org with “7 Tips for Planning a Sermon Series.” The article advocated planning your sermon series months, if not years, in advance, and argued for preaching through complete books of the Bible.

I appreciated Crossway’s article since it resonated with my own values and convictions about preaching. My approach to preaching is to teach the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). I am committed to expository preaching, explaining what the text means and how to apply it in daily life. As I lay out my calendar, I try to balance Old Testament books, New Testament books, and topical series. With the Old Testament, sometimes I preach through a whole book and sometimes I focus on one character (Abraham, Joseph) and preach through the section of the book that deals with their life.

When it comes to Christmas and Easter, I have planned out a 3-4 year cycle of messages. While I do repeat myself, it’s not every year. Christmas/Advent: (1) Mary, Joseph, Wise men, Shepherds; (2) Anna, Simeon, Mary’s song of joy, Isaiah 9:6; (3) Isaiah’s prophecies, Isaiah 9:1-7, 11:1-16, 40:1-11, 52:13-53:12; (4) 7 “I AM’s” of Jesus. Palm Sunday: (1) Matthew 21:1-11; (2) Matthew 21:12-22; (3) John 12:12-26. Easter: (1) Luke 24:1-12; (2) Luke 24:13-35; (3) 1 Corinthians 15:1-19; (4) Luke 24:36-49.

My current sermon calendar is planned out through the next 18 months—Generosity; 1 & 2 Samuel (life of Samuel and life of David); 1 & 2 Thessalonians; Elijah & Elisha (1 & 2 Kings). And I already have a pretty good idea of what I will preach afterwards—the Gospel of John. I have outlined the book but not committed it to calendar dates. Laying out the preaching calendar allows me to collect material and consider the passages and topics before I begin to study them.

Several years ago, I also began the practice of producing a bookmark for the congregation with the next 3-4 months of my sermon calendar. This encourages the congregation to read ahead and be prepared for what we will consider the coming Sunday.

 
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Posted by on March 7, 2020 in Ministry, Preaching

 

Tozer on Money

“As base a thing as money often is, yet it can be transmuted into everlasting treasure. It can be converted into food for the hungry and clothing for the poor. It can keep a missionary actively winning lost men to the light of the gospel and thus transmute itself into heavenly values. Any temporal possession can be turned into everlasting wealth. Whatever is given to Christ is immediately touched with immortality.”

A. W. Tozer

 
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Posted by on March 5, 2020 in A. W. Tozer, Finances, Ministry, Quotes

 

Lord, send a spiritual awakening!

Lord, send a spiritual awakening to our country. We are not a Christian country that has fallen asleep or sick and can be revived. We are not moral people who merely need to be reminded of right and wrong. We are not shallow Christians who can be challenged to recommit ourselves.

We are a nation that has turned its back on God. We have sought the gods of pleasure and instant gratification. We have chosen to embrace the gods of affluence and materialism. We have chosen to worship creation rather than our Creator. We have sought to be independent of all rules and regulations and not have any one rule over us. We have broken each and every commandment you have given and acted proud of our actions.

Lord, we need a spiritual awakening. We need to be convicted of our sin and self-centeredness. We need to humbly bow before you and acknowledge that we have strayed from your path. We need the Holy Spirit to convict us of sin. Break our hearts with the things that break yours.

Lord, help us to believe that if we seek you that we will find you. Help us to know that forgiveness is available through Jesus Christ. Help us to believe that healing is available through your grace. Help us to let go of our independence and acknowledge our need for you.

Lord, send a spiritual awakening to our country! Lord, heal our land!

 
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Posted by on March 4, 2020 in Culture, Ministry, Prayer

 

Lord, send a revival!

Lord, send a revival, not to our country, but to your church.

On any given Sunday, I stand before a congregation that resembles 1 Corinthians 2:14-3:3. It is made up of nonbelievers, seekers, new believers, immature believers, carnal believers, growing believers, and spiritually mature ones as well. There are those who want to learn and desire to grow and those who have convinced themselves they can’t understand the Scriptures and need to be spoon fed. There are those who have gained victory over temptation and sin and those who are comfortable in their complacency. There are those who are generous in their giving and those who are so encumbered by debt they cannot afford to give. There are those with happy marriages, those who have broken families, those who have skipped marriage and are living together, and those who struggle in their sexuality. There are those who have tried and failed and given up and are stuck in their spiritual ruts. There are mature, spiritual leaders, and pew-sitting observers. There are givers and there are takers.

As I contemplate the challenge of ministering to a group of people that spreads from one end of the spiritual spectrum to another, I cry out that I am deeply in over my head. I cannot move the needle of commitment one degree, let alone produce any semblance of lasting life change. Despite my best efforts at being faithful, I cannot generate maturity, commitment, or increased attendance and/or giving. I desperately need the power of the Holy Spirit to convict hearts and change lives. I need God to move in our midst to draw his people into a deep, abiding relationship with himself. I need the Holy Spirit to soften hearts, heal broken relationships, restore hope, help people break free of temptations, gain victory over addictions, and let go of self-centered pride. I need God to pour out his Spirit in his church. I need the Father to breathe new life and vision into his people.

Lord, send a revival to my church. Send a revival to the churches in our community. Cause those who claim to be your followers to commit themselves to holy living and to truly follow you.

Lord, send a revival!

 
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Posted by on March 3, 2020 in Ministry, Personal growth, Prayer, Theology

 

Forgive, if you want to have a long, healthy ministry

In his book, Resilient: Key Factors in a Long and Successful Pastorate, author John Miller includes the “Capacity to Forgive Wrongs Suffered” as one of his factors. He writes,

I am persuaded that ministers who remain spiritually healthy through the years and decades have made the often-challenging decision not to hold grudges. They have endeavored to wish no ill on those who have wronged them, lied about them, betrayed them, backstabbed them, front stabbed them or abused them. In fact, these shepherds have learned through the rugged realities of ministry that forgiveness is the best medicine for healing a wounded heart.

I think the author has hit the nail on the thumb. Though difficult to do, it is so much healthier in the long run to let go of the hurts and forgive those who caused them. I have found it helpful to pray a blessing for those individuals when God brings them to my mind today.

 

 
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Posted by on February 19, 2020 in Books, Ministry, Quotes

 

If you want to be an effective teacher

“If you stop growing today, you stop teaching tomorrow.” Howard Hendricks, Teaching to Change Lives

 
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Posted by on February 12, 2020 in Ministry, Personal growth, Quotes, Tim Challies

 

Why do you spend so much time preparing sermons?

I recently had a conversation with an individual from another church about philosophy of ministry. The person expressed surprise that I spend a great deal of time each week in sermon preparation. While it was not expressed quite as crassly as I posed the question in the title of this blog post, the question did come across that way. The person wanted to know how I balanced sermon preparation with the other people demands of ministry.

A pastor’s job contains a wide range of responsibilities—preaching, teaching, counseling, visiting the sick, committee meetings, community meetings, administration, prayer, breakfast meetings, lunch gatherings, planning, budgeting, recruiting, training, denominational responsibilities, mentoring, and the list goes on and on. While all of these are important, preaching must be at the top of the list.

In 2 Timothy 4:2, the apostle Paul instructed his protégé, Timothy, “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” In Acts 6:4, the apostles appointed the first deacons and delegated the practical ministry of the early church to them so that they could devote themselves to “prayer and the ministry of the word.”

In order to preach and teach well, one has to study and prepare. Ezra provides an excellent example of this commitment. “For 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). Ezra’s approach indicates there are five steps in the process of good teaching and preaching. (1) Commitment – “set his heart”; (2) Study the Scriptures – “to study the Law of the Lord”; (3) Application – “and to do it”; (4) Teaching/Preaching – “and to teach his statues and rules”; and (5) Know your audience – “in Israel.” If one follows Ezra’s approach, four-fifths of the process center on knowing the material and one fifth is about knowing your audience.

While the people part of a pastor’s job is important and must be carried out, the preaching/teaching role is the most important. Good preaching and teaching require an adequate amount of prayerful study and application before one steps into the pulpit and delivers the message.

Since I take that role and responsibility seriously, I spend a fair amount of time each week in sermon preparation.

 
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Posted by on February 5, 2020 in Ministry, Personal growth, Preaching, Scripture