Category Archives: Pastoral Ministry

Flavel on Pastoral Pressures

Puritan pastor John Flavel said the following words in his address, “The Character of a Complete Evangelical Pastor, Drawn By Christ,” as published in The Whole Works of the Reverend John Flavel (Edinburgh, 1820), 6:568-569:

I may say to him that snatched at the ministry, as Henry IV did to his son that hastily snatched at the crown: He little knows what an heap of cares and toils he snatches at.

The labors of the ministry will exhaust the very marrow from your bones, hasten old age and death. They are fitly compared to the toil of men in harvest, to the labors of a woman in travail, and to the agonies of soldiers in the extremity of a battle. We must watch when others sleep.

And indeed it is not so much the expense of our labors, as the loss of them, that kills us. It is not with us, as with other laborers. They find their work as they leave it, so do not we.

Sin and Satan unravel almost all we do, the impressions we make on our people’s souls in one sermon, vanish before the next. How many truths have we to study! How many wiles of Satan, and mysteries of corruption, to detect! How many cases of conscience to resolve! Yea, we must fight in defense of the truths we preach, as well as study them to paleness, and preach them unto faintness.

But well-spent head, heart, lungs, and all; welcome pained breasts, aching backs, and trembling legs; if we can by all but approve ourselves Christ’s faithful servants, and hear that joyful voice from his mouth, ‘Well done, good and faithful servants.’

Obey Your Pastors and Submit to Them

Few passages are more commonly misread, or simply avoided, than Hebrew 13:17:

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.

It shouldn’t surprise us that this passage often goes avoided. This is bound to happen in a culture where postmodernism rejects all claims of authority and where examples of abuses of authority are not hard to find in the news.

To make matters worse, a surface reading of this passage seems to sanction some form of authoritarianism, an unqualified obedience and submission to pastors in all matters. But that’s not the message of this passage, as we will see.

What follows are a few important thoughts on this passage, beginning with a closer look at the idea of “obeying.”

Here is how W. E. Vine defines the Greek word “obey” (πείθο):

In Hebrews 13:17, believers are commanded to obey their leaders. The word used is peithō which has the usual meaning of “convince” or “persuade.” The “obedience” suggested is not by submission to authority, but resulting from persuasion. Peithō and pisteuō, “to trust,” are closely related etymologically; the difference in meaning is that the former implies the obedience that is produced by the latter.

Peithō, “to persuade, to win over,” in the passive and middle voices, “to be persuaded, to listen to, to obey,” is so used with this meaning, in the middle voice, e.g., in Acts 5:36-37 (in v. 40, passive voice, “they agreed”); Rom. 2:8; Gal. 5:7; Heb. 13:17; Jas. 3:3.

The “obedience” suggested is not by submission to authority, but resulting from persuasion. Peithō and pisteuo, ‘to trust,’ are closely related etymologically; the difference in meaning is that the former implies the obedience that is produced by the latter.

In other words, when “one allows oneself to be convinced by someone: one follows and obeys him” (EDNT).

Paul Benware applies this point well in an article ["Leadership Authority in the Church," Conservative Theological Journal 3.8 (1989), pp. 10-12]:

The emphasis here [Heb. 13:17] is on an obedience that comes from being persuaded that something is true. In this case, it would be the truth of the Word of God that is in view. Here they are being called upon to persuade the people that follow them with the truth of the Word of God… The elders are not to say “Do it because I say so”, but rather “Do what I show you from God’s Word.” …

Leadership authority in the church, then, is the power granted to men to lead the flock of God according to the Word of God, guiding, protecting and feeding them for their benefit and God’s glory. This kind of leadership authority will persuade believers from the scriptures resulting in obedience and submission to Christ the one and only head of the church.

John Loftness, the senior pastor of Solid Rock Church [Sovereign Grace Ministries], recently explained this point in a helpful sermon. Here’s a transcribed excerpt from his sermon ["Hebrews 13" (11/20/11)]:

“Obey your leaders and submit to them” (Heb. 13:17a).

This translation is puzzling. The major 20th century English translations all translate this “obey your leaders.” Same with the KJV. But the word “obey” (πείθο) is different from the word that speaks of obedience. In fact if you look back to 5:9, there’s a different word used for obey: “And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey (ὑπακούω) him.” This is a different word.

[In 13:17] “obey” means to put confidence in, to trust, and by implication — because you trust someone or are confident in that person — you do what he says. It means to be persuaded. The same word is used in the next verse: “Pray for us, for we are sure (πείθο) that we have a clear conscience” (Heb. 13:18). The word translated “are sure” is the same as the one for “obey” [in 13:17]. So we should listen to our leaders, let them persuade us, let them speak God’s word to us, let them teach us so that we get such confidence in God’s word that we do what they say.

What kind of leaders should you listen to? Who are the kind of leaders you should submit to?

First, submit to those who are “keeping watch over your souls” (Heb. 13:17b). When they’re asking you to submit they are asking you to submit to God. I have no authority in your life apart from the clear teaching of Scripture. I can’t say, “I’m the senior pastor of this church. Ben, the car’s kinda dirty, can you wash it right away?” No, that’s not how it works. You want to follow a teacher whose concern is for your soul, who wants you to see and follow Jesus, and not stray into strange teachings (see Heb. 13:9). So there is an authority that your teachers carry but it’s authority grounded and founded in God’s Word. That’s the kind of teacher — he’s looking out for your soul and trying to make specific application of Scripture so that you will follow Jesus.

Second, you want to obey teachers who are aware that one day they will have to answer to Jesus for what they taught you. That’s what it says: “as those who will have to give an account” (Heb. 13:17c). I am deeply aware — and now that I’ve done this for decades — I’m aware of points where I’ve gotten it wrong, things I’ve missed. Why am I aware of that? Because one day I’m going to stand before Jesus Christ — just like you. But I’m not just going to have to answer for my own life, I will answer for my influence on you. I’m going to have to answer for how I taught you. If that was driven by selfishness and pride or laziness, unwilling to dig into the text to explain it accurately, I will stand before God and his judgment and I will give an account.

That’s the kind of leader you want to follow: someone whose first concern is your prosperity in God. And secondly, he’s aware that he will give an account for what he taught.

So this is not a call to do whatever your pastors tell you to do, it’s a call to submit to the teaching they bring you because it’s grounded in the Bible. A teacher’s function in the church is to bring you the Word of God so you can put your faith in Jesus and obey Him. And they should do this in a persuasive way, they should teach and lead so that you have confidence in the teaching. And then, submission becomes much easier, and it makes much more sense.

John Owen says much the same in his commentary on Hebrews 13:17:

1st. It is not a blind, implicit obedience and subjection, that is here prescribed. A pretence hereof hath been abused to the ruin of the souls of men: but there is nothing more contrary to the whole nature of gospel obedience, which is our “reasonable service;” and in particular, it is that which would frustrate all the rules and directions given unto believers in this epistle itself, as well as elsewhere, about all the duties that are required of them. For to what purpose are they used, if no more be required but that men give up themselves, by an implicit credulity, to obey the dictates of others?

2dly. It hath respect unto them in their office only. If those who suppose themselves in office do teach and enjoin things that belong not unto their office, there is no obedience due unto them by virtue of this command. So is it with the guides of the church of Rome, who, under a pretence of their office, give commands in secular things, no way belonging unto the ministry of the gospel.

3dly. It is their duty so to obey whilst they teach the things which the Lord Christ hath appointed them to teach; for unto them is their commission limited, Matt. 28:20: and to submit unto their rule whilst it is exercised in the name of Christ, according to his institution, and by the rule of the word, and not otherwise. When they depart from these, there is neither obedience nor submission due unto them.

Finally, Matthew Henry, in his old (and under-appreciated) commentary, offers this pointed one-sentence summary:

Christians must submit to be instructed by their ministers, and not think themselves too wise, too good, or too great, to learn from them; and, when they find that ministerial instructions are agreeable to the written word, they must obey them.

Ultimately pastoral ministry centers on Christ and His Message, not on the pastor and his role as messenger. And so to obey and submit to our pastors is a call to esteem and respect and obey the Word of God. This is why it can be said that “an elder with no Bible is an elder with no authority” (Mark Lauterbach).

Hebrews 13:17 is beautifully balanced and stabilizing for Christians who live in a culture suspicious of all authority. It encourages our biblical discernment. It encourages us to find a solid church where the Bible is taught clearly and persuasively. It moves our attention off autonomous human authority. It focuses our attention on the weightiness of Scripture. And it encourages humble submission of our lives to the faithful preaching and counsel we receive from our still-fallible pastors. It is a passage that helps us see the faithfully preached word for what it is — an authoritative message from God to be obeyed.

Modern Day Church Fathers

Transcribed from Douglas Wilson’s second address at the Desiring God pastors conference:

We have to recover a proper understanding of the role of fatherhood in the church, and I don’t just mean your familial fathers, the fathers of the families that come to church. I’m talking about fathers for the church.

First Corinthians 4:15–16 says this: “For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me.”

Notice what Paul says, I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. So the father here that Paul is being, the role he is playing here, does not interfere with the gospel, it is the instrument by which God brought the gospel to them.

One of the fundamental qualifications given for church leadership in the New Testament is that we must have men who know what it means to be a father (1 Timothy 3:4–5). If we continue to ignore the obvious it gets pretty complicated pretty quickly because we don’t understand how imitation governs the world. We have neglected one of the fundamental realities: we are supposed to imitate. As a result everything downstream from that goes to pieces. …

Churches need fathers to govern them, but unfortunately today’s church appears to show all the signs of being managed by the ecclesiastical equivalent of single moms. Paul requires that the church be governed by road-tested fathers. …

Now this also explains why the controversy over women’s ordination is not going to go away anytime soon. The issue is not exegesis, the issue is not what the text says. For several centuries we’ve exalted some very feminine virtues to the highest place in the church, and we have demanded that men conform to those standards. … Unfortunately, if those are the standards — if we don’t know what masculine piety looks like anymore, and we have enshrined feminine virtues in the church — then we are stuck. If those are the standards, women would do a better job at being women-pastors than men would do as women-pastors. If we must have women-pastors, then women will be better at it, it would seem to me.

I believe honestly we’re scared by masculine piety. It’s not very easy to control. It’s unsettling. So we’d rather have sweet virtues, we’d rather have feminine virtues in place, and then ask the men to conform. …

It’s not a coincidence that the requirement that bishops be road-tested family men, fathers who rule their families well, is a requirement that immediately follows the prohibition of women in ministry (1 Timothy 2:12). Because we have neglected the qualification that you must be a reliable father, we have patched together some other characteristics that we think would be “nice.” Thus we have come to demand essentially feminine virtues of our ministers, but we are stuck with this arbitrary line from the Bible that keeps the most qualified members of the church, as far as being sweet goes, out.

Stabbing Public Pastoral Prayers

Pastor Thomas R. Mckibbens in his article to pastors, “Prayer In Corporate Worship,” [Faith and Mission (SEBTS), 7.2:22–23]:

At the risk of seeming to waste your time, consider reading great fiction, poetry, and drama. Go back and pick up those books which you know you “should have read” back there in college or even high school, but that you have secretly kept quiet about when the book was discussed in your hearing. I am speaking of Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey, and some of the Greek plays by Sophocles or Euripides. I am speaking of classics like Milton’s Paradise Lost and the great novels of Tolstoy.

Enjoy the imaginative writings of J. R. R. Tolkien or C. S. Lewis or Charles Williams. Or you may prefer to read American classics like Melville’s Moby Dick or Faulkner’s novels or contemporary writers like Walker Percy. I am not talking about forcing yourself to complete an agonizing book just so you can say you have read it; rather I am talking about leisure reading for fun! Why pollute your mind with junk novels when you could, with a little forethought, be reading the great works of the English language? After a number of years of this you will be surprised at how many of the great books you can call your friends.

The pleasure of all this reading is not only that it is fun, but also that you enrich your mind with a store of imagination. In the preparation of public prayer, it is a way of forming your sentences and shaping your thoughts which stabs the imagination of the congregation, and they are a vital part of the prayer you voice. It becomes their prayer, because you have said it just the way they wish they could have said it.

His point about the value of classic literature to sharpen (pun) one’s prayer language is a good one, as long as we do not underplay the value of the prayers, Psalms, and prophetic writings of Scripture to do the same.

The Cross, Our Life, and Christian Ministry

1 Corinthians 2:2:

For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

Roy Ciampa and Brian Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians (Eerdmans, 2010), page 114:

In contrast to “the wise” in Corinth and in the church, who could expatiate endlessly on all sorts of subjects, all Paul wanted to talk about was “the cross of Christ” (1:17). On first blush this may seem rather narrow and limited. After all, Paul spent eighteen months in Corinth and would have engaged in pastoral work alongside evangelism. However, as 1 Corinthians 1:10–4:17 itself demonstrates, for Paul even the most practical ills, such as divisions and problems of leadership in the church, are remedied by focusing on the cross. For Paul, Christ crucified is more than just the means of forgiveness and salvation; rather, it informs his total vision of the Christian life and ministry.

Pray For Your Pastor

John Newton, in a letter dated July 26, 1776 and published in The Christian Correspondent (1790), pages 131–132:

How fast the weeks return—we are again upon the eve of a Sabbath. May the Lord give us much of his own Spirit on his own day. I trust I have a remembrance in your prayers. I need them much—my service is great.

It is, indeed, no small thing to stand between God and the people—to divide the word of truth aright—to give every one portion—to withstand the counter tides of opposition and popularity—and to press those truths upon others, the power of which, I, at times, feel so little of in my own soul. A cold, corrupt heart is uncomfortable company in the pulpit.

Yet in the midst of all my fears and unworthiness, I am enabled to cleave to the promise, and to rely on the power of the Great Redeemer. I know I am engaged in the cause against which the gates of Hell cannot prevail. If He died and rose again, if He ever lives to make intercession—there must be safety under the shadow of his wings: there would I lie. In his name I would lift up my banner, in his strength I would go forth, do what he enables me, then take shame to myself that I can do no better, and put my hand upon my mouth, confessing that I am dust and ashes, less than the least of all his mercies.

Happy Birthday Thomas Boston

Puritan minister and author Thomas Boston was born on this day (March 17) 335 years ago [ht: Nathan Sasser]. Just about everything Boston wrote is worth reading, but especially the personal covenant that he wrote at the outset of his pastorate:

A Personal Covenant
by Thomas Boston
August 14, 1699

I, MR. THOMAS BOSTON, preacher of the gospel of Christ, being by nature an apostate from God, an enemy to the great JEHOVAH and so an heir of hell and wrath, in myself utterly lost and undone, because of my original andthomasboston.jpg actual sins, and misery thereby; and being, in some measure, made sensible of this my lost and undone state, and sensible of my need, my absolute need of a Savior, without whom I must perish eternally; and believing that the Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of the eternal God, is not only able to save me, by virtue of his death and sufferings, but willing also to have me (though most vile and ugly, and one who has given him many repulses), both from my sins, and from the load of wrath due to me for them, upon condition that I believe, come to him for salvation, and cordially receive him in all his offices; consenting to the terms of the covenant.

Therefore, as I have at several opportunities before given an express and solemn consent to the terms of the covenant, and have entered into a personal covenant with Christ; so now, being called to undertake the great and weighty work of the ministry of the gospel, for which I am altogether insufficient, I do by this declare, That I stand to and own all my former engagements, whether sacramental, or any other way whatsoever; and now again do RENEW my covenant with God; and hereby, at this present time, do solemnly COVENANT and ENGAGE to be the Lord’s and MAKE a solemn resignation and upgiving of myself, my soul, body, spiritual and temporal concerns, unto the Lord Jesus Christ, without any reservation whatsoever; and do hereby give my voluntary consent to the terms of the covenant laid down in the holy scriptures, the word of truth; and with my heart and soul I TAKE and RECEIVE Christ in all his offices, as my PROPHET to teach me, resolving and engaging in his strength to follow, that is, to endeavor to follow his instructions.

I TAKE him as my PRIEST, to be saved by his death and merits alone; and renouncing my own righteousness as filthy rags, I am content to be clothed with his righteousness alone; and live entirely upon free grace; likewise I TAKE him for my ADVOCATE and INTERCESSOR with the Father: and finally, I TAKE him as my KING, to reign in me, and to rule over me, renouncing all other lords, whether sin or self, and in particular my predominant idol; and in the strength of the Lord, do resolve and hereby engage, to cleave to Christ as my Sovereign Lord and King, in death and in life, in prosperity and in adversity, even for ever, and to strive and wrestle in his strength against all known sin; protesting, that whatever sin may be lying hid in my heart out of my view, I disown it, and abhor it, and shall in the Lord’s strength, endeavor the mortification of it, when the Lord shall be pleased to let me see it. And this solemn covenant I make as in the presence of the ever-living, heart-searching God, and subscribe it with my hand, in my chamber, at Dunse, about one o’clock in the afternoon, the fourteenth day of August, one thousand six hundred and ninety-nine years.

T. BOSTON

Pastoral Perseverance

From a seminary lecture by J.I. Packer to class of pastors:

You can define fellowship as toing and froing. That’s as good as definition as any. Fellowship is a two-way street not just a one-way street. [As pastors] we should look to those for whom we minister to give us what they have got. What that means will vary from one situation to another, but at the least one trusts it will be love and good will, which we should humbly receive.

If we are not thinking of fellowship as a two-way street then the chances are that, in our constant giving out, we shall become, in our mindset, conceited rather than humble, and self-sufficient rather than God-reliant, and maybe we will become Christian workaholics because we so love the feeling of giving out right, left, and center. Then we have burnout and breakdown, and we shall thoroughly deserve it. Are you with me? It’s the two-way street of fellowship that keeps us going. It’s the receiving of love and support from others as we seek to share with them. Maybe they have more than love and support to give us—maybe they have some wisdom to give us, too.

Go into every relational situation with Christians expecting to receive as well as to give and you will get through your 40s, and your 50s, and your 60s, and your 70s and you will still be rejoicing in the Lord. It’s a mindset thing, but it’s very foundational.

Introverts in the Church [book review]

Imagine you are called to ministry, but you are introverted. What do you do? Do you choose academic ministry and a life of reading, writing, and libraries? Perhaps, but what if you discover that the academic road is a mismatch? What then? Wing it as an introverted pastor in a local church? Or do you simply resign and leave church leadership to the extroverts?

This was Adam McHugh’s dilemma.

Just as McHugh was about to drop his resignation letter in the mailbox to discontinue his ordination process and leave his ministry hopes in the dust he paused, put the envelope in his pocket, and began to rethink the place of introverts in the church. His heart struggle and the ensuing research on this topic are now available in his newly published book Introverts in the Church: Finding our Place in an Extroverted Culture (IVP, 2009).

He writes:

Even before I began pastoral ministry, I was convinced that my personality excluded me from it. There was no room in ministry for someone of my disposition—or so I thought. In my mind at that time, ideal pastors were gregarious, able to move through crowds effortlessly, able to quickly turn strangers into friends. They could navigate diverse social circles and chat about any number of topics. They thrived in the presence of people and were energized by conversation and social interaction. Though they could work alone, their pulses quickened when they mingled among the people of their communities. They were charismatic and magnetic, capable of drawing all kinds of people to themselves by virtue of their likeability and able to persuade people to follow them based on charm alone. I saw them surrounded by eager church members, percolating with warmth, streaked with the admiration of their community.

I, by way of contrast, relished times of solitude, reflection and personal study. I enjoyed people, and I found satisfaction in depth of relationship and conversation, but even when I spent time with people I liked, I looked forward to moments of privacy. I found crowds draining. I could stand up in front of hundreds of people and preach a sermon without nervousness, but I often stumbled through the greeting time afterward because my energy reserves were dry.

Though I did not know this eight years ago, there is a label for this personality feature that I once thought crippled my potential for ministry: introversion. (11–12)

Partly, McHugh writes to expose what he considers to be an extroverted bias in our culture and in the church. “In mainstream American culture (in schools, corporations, and social institutions), those who are talkative, outgoing, energetic and assertive have a decided advantage. People who enjoy reflection and solitude, and listen more than they speak, are often viewed as enigmatic, antisocial and passive” (16). He quotes The Atlantic writer Jonathan Rauch (another introvert) who writes that introverts are “among the most misunderstood and aggrieved groups in American, possibly the world” (17).

So what distinguishes the extrovert from the introvert? McHugh summarizes the extrovert/introvert distinction by three primary categories: (1) extroverts recharge around people; introverts recharge in solitude, (2) extroverts can receive a lot of input and can process this information on their feet; introverts retire to process input and collect their thoughts, (3) extroverts tend to be broader in their thinking, thriving on broad input; introverts tend to be more focused and research limited topics more meticulously. McHugh gives evidence that these distinctions may be rooted in biological and neurological differences (43–46).

McHugh seeks to employ the introverted strengths for the service of the church. His repeated conclusion: “In our day, I am convinced that introverts are an important ingredient in the antidote to what ails evangelism. Our slower pace of life, our thoughtfulness, our spiritual and intellectual depth, and our listening abilities are prophetic qualities for the evangelical community” (31). In other words, introverted pastors can provide a church with a level of theological and spiritual depth and are suited to strategically disciple young men in the church.

In the celebration of the introverted strengths, however, the author is careful to ensure that introverted tendencies are never used as an excuse to avoid uncomfortable self-sacrifice for others (63), never an excuse to avoid fellowship and community (86–112), and never an excuse to avoid personal evangelism (170–186).

McHugh—a Presbyterian pastor—is most persuasive when he argues that biblical pastoral qualifications (eg Titus 1:5–8, 1 Tim 3:2–7, 1 Pet 5:1–3) do not favor extroverts over introverts. “The mark of godly leadership is not a magnetic personality; it is discipline, because discipline develops character” (123). Jonathan Edwards is one historical example of introverted leader he focuses on. Edwards was a disciplined introvert who led by his “relentless, probing intellect” and his “powerful, personal devotion.” Such a man will “radiate both the light and the heat of the gospel” (133). But nothing is mentioned of Edwards’s clumsy relational flubs (like the “young folk’s Bible” episode).

Conclusion

McHugh’s book investigates new territory, and because of this will likely attract a lot of attention. It will at least begin to help clarify the value/role of introverted pastors today (and throughout history), the value/role of introverted church members, and even how to reach the lost introverts of our communities with the gospel.

But you may not agree with everything. At times sections of the book lacked theological precision, some examples revealed a fuzzy polity, there was a heavy use of non-theological sources, an eclectic mix of ministry examples (some of whom I find theologically disagreeable), and the predictable trappings of therapeutically-defined goals (e.g. “healing” and “self-acceptance”).

Ironically, for all the introvert/extrovert temperament talk and therapeutic labels, this book may actually provide what we need to redirect our attention to God’s priorities in leadership selection. A discussion such as the one in the book may help us to move away from “personality type” labels and to discover church leaders that (more importantly) conform to the biblical pattern of faithfulness and discipline. It’s not a definitive book, but Introverts in the Church: Finding our Place in an Extroverted Culture is thoughtful and will help us celebrate the diversity of gifts God has given to the church.

Exegeting A Crowd

I’ve been meaning to transcribe an excerpt from a recent message at my home church, Covenant Life (Gaithersburg, MD). Being in Louisville, perhaps, is why the excerpt from Dr Albert Mohler’s message came back to mind.

On May 4th Dr Mohler preached on The Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-23). He made these remarks at the beginning of the message:

“The crowd is so large that has been gathering over the course of this day that Jesus is required to do what a teacher must do and that is find some way to get distance from the crowd that is necessary to be seen and heard. In this case Jesus gets into a boat and goes slightly off shore in order that he might teach. The crowd is a very important factor to this passage.

The crowd is a matter of some question–some challenge, some perplexity–to us as well. Is has become clear that evangelical Christians in particular have a hard time understanding the nature of a crowd. We are tempted to think of a crowd as a great gathering of receptivity.

We understand that the crowd is gathering because something has been happening. We as evangelicals sometimes mistake a crowd for a church. It’s hard for us sometimes to understand what’s going on. Jesus helps to clarify this for his own disciples.”

–Albert Mohler, The Parable of the Sower, sermon at Covenant Life Church (Gaithersburg, MD) on May 4, 2008.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 454 other followers