Loving the Flock as a Shepherd/Teacher

This week I received some admonishment from a minister concerning how a pastor should love his flock. I was told it is more important to love the flock than it is to give them long sermons.  By “loving the flock” he meant that consists of going to the hospital and being in homes. I’ve been thinking about this admonishment for the past few days since I received it.

I absolutely agree it is an act of love and super critical for a pastor to spend time with his sheep. I’ve found that in ministry this is a big part of being a pastor, and this ministry often extends to folks that are beyond your flock to family members and friends. I’ll also be the first to admit that as a young pastor I still have a lot to learn about visiting my church members in their homes and in hospital beds. I fall short in this area and so I take the admonishment seriously. I’m not sure I’ll ever spend as much time as I’d like and perhaps as I need to spend among my folks at church. (PSA: They’re a fantastic group of people to pastor and spend time with.)

Being in the hospitals, nursing homes, and homes is part of being a pastor. I’m not sure how a man call can himself a pastor without spending time with his sheep. The very word for pastor in the New Testament is the word for shepherd. You cannot be a shepherd without spending significant time with sheep. It means spending time with them when they’re born, when they’re sick, when they’re feeding, and when dying. Being a pastor means being a shepherd. As important as it is to be a shepherd, it isn’t mutually exclusive from being a preacher.

I take my admonishment to love my people and my community by spending time with them, but I reject the idea that our churches don’t need pastors who can preach “long sermons.” I think the Apostle Paul would reject it also. When Paul writes in Ephesians 4:11-12 about the people and ministry that Christ has given to the church he says, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…” Paul says God gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, then he lists another office: pastors and teachers. He links the two together because as far as the New Testament is concerned the role of a pastor/elder is always that of a pastor/teacher. Christ has given the church pastors and teachers. Pastor, our role is to be a shepherd and a teacher, not one or the other.

It is absolutely essential that pastors shepherd and teach because souls are in danger, Paul continues:

to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” – Ephesians 4:12-16 ESV

I think what our churches need are pastors who will spend time with them and spend time in their study. We need pastors who spend time with their nose in their Bibles and their books and pastors who spend time in hospital waiting room chairs and 1970’s green couches. It isn’t mutually exclusive that pastors need to be “visiting pastors” or “preaching pastors,” God calls us to be both and if we neglect one or the other we will not love our flocks well. May God give us grace to shepherd well in the home, in the study, in the prayer closet, and in the pulpit.

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. – 1 Peter 5:1-4 ESV

 

 

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Head West Young Man – On Mission to Montana, Again

Last year I had the incredible privilege of going on a mission trip with a couple of folks from church to Montana. I wrote about our anticipations and how to pray for that trip in this post. You always have different expectations going to a new place and your expectations are sometimes met and sometimes they aren’t. Having been to Montana last summer I’ve got a different perspective about the trip this year. That being said, this years trip will be a little different and I’m not entirely sure what to expect.

This year the team going will be a little different. I’ll be going with my lovely wife and my good friend Jeff Burns who is a pastor in Greensboro.

Last year we did a Bible Camp (think VBS in the most beautiful setting you can imagine) in a town with no, I repeat no, evangelical church. We’ll be spending the first part of the trip there in St. Ignatius again doing Bible Camp. There are some incredible kids out there that came every night to eat, play, and learn about Jesus. That last part is a big deal when you consider there is no evangelical church in their town and the entire state of Montana is only 1.5%, not 15, but 1.5% evangelical. We’re praying we can reach the kids and their families and hopefully see some of the same kids we saw last year.

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During the second half of the week and during Bible Camp we’re gonna be doing our best to help canvas the reservation with hopes of helping future church plants. We’re partnering with a great church out of Tennessee who has sent a missionary there for the year to help with the church planting efforts. It is hard for us who live in the Bible belt to imagine a town without churches, let alone no Baptist churches. But the need is tremendous in Montana because as our NAMB president said this week at the Southern Baptist Convention, “church planting is evangelism.” Church plants in this kind of area aren’t like the church splits many of us have seen in the rural south that we call “church plants” these are gospel outposts in a land that is dark and needing of Jesus. We’ll be spending time intentionally praying for areas, canvasing, and trying to establish relationships in the communities.

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This is one of the things I’m most excited about, I see a tremendous potential for our church to continue to partner with other churches to see churches planted in an area where there is a tremendous need. Not only can we be involved financially, we can pray, and help to do work on the ground.

I’ll ask as I did last year, will you join me in praying for this upcoming trip to Montana? Will you pray:

  1. Pray that our hearts will be open to serve and sensitive to the work of the Holy Spirit.
  2. Pray for the children and families we will meet during the kids camp in St. Ignatius.
  3. Pray that the Lord would already be at work in the lives and hearts of the people we will come in contact with to be receptive to the gospel.
  4. Pray for the churches we will be serving alongside of that we can help in their mission.
  5. Pray that churches would be established on the Reservation and throughout Montana.
  6. Pray for the interns from our local association spending the summer on mission in Montana.
  7. Pray for the people that we will encounter in the airports and on the planes.
  8. Pray for our families while we are gone away from them.
  9. Pray for safe and speedy travel during this holiday weekend and upon return.
  10. Pray for Oak Grove Baptist Church and Shepherd’s Fellowship Greensboro in our absence.
  11. Pray for the continued work throughout the entire summer in Montana.

Pray for Someone

This morning at Oak Grove, I preached a “Mother’s Day sermon” on 2 Timothy 1:5;3:14-15. You can listen to it here if you’d like.

To set up the context of verse 5, we looked at the surrounding context as Paul begins his letter to Timothy. In verse 3 he writes,

“I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day.”

I shared with my folks at church this morning that we should pray for one another. Paul at the end of his life not knowing if he’d ever see Timothy again tells him, I’m praying for you. I think we’d do well to tell our brothers and sisters that we love them, that we thank God for them, and that we’re praying for them (really actually praying for them). I’m not inclined to think we should dismiss thoughts of people when they come to our mind. I think those seemingly random moments when a particular person comes to mind is a great opportunity to pray for that person. The simple act of praying and shooting that person a text can be a difference maker in someone’s day. It glorifies God, reminds us of our dependence on him, and can be a huge encouragement to someone else.

There’s nothing incredibly profound or insightful here, just what I think to be a helpful reminder to pray for people and let them know you’re praying.

Teaching Children – A Gospel Cordial from Charles Spurgeon

The Holy Scripture may be learned by children as soon as they are capable of understanding anything. It is a very remarkable fact, which I have heard asserted by many teachers, that children will learn to read out of the Bible better than from any other book. I scarcely know why; it may, perhaps, be on account of the simplicity of the language, but I believe it is so. A biblical fact will often be grasped when an incident of common history is forgotten. There is an adaptation in the Bible for human beings of all ages, and therefore it has a fitness for children. We make a mistake when we think that we must begin with something else and lead up to the Scriptures. Parts of the Bible are above a child’s mind, for they are above the comprehension of the most advanced among us. There are depths in it in which leviathan may swim, but there are also brooks in which a lamb may wade. Wise teachers know how to lead their little ones into the green pastures beside the still waters. – Charles Spurgeon

Spurgeon Commentary: 2 Timothy, ed. Elliot Ritzema, Spurgeon Commentary Series (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014), 219.

Acting Like a Theological Toddler – Using Ad Hominems

I said something in a sermon the other week I’m not sure I should have said, “poopy pants.” It is silly to say such a thing from the pulpit. As silly as it is, I was using it as an illustration of an ad hominem you might expect to hear from a toddler.

An ad hominem can be defined as follows:

1. appealing to one’s prejudices, emotions, or special interests rather than to one’s intellect or reason.

2. attacking an opponent’s character rather than answering his argument.
Toddlers and small children aren’t always the most reasonable little people, they don’t know how to argue and so when they don’t like someone or something the resort often times to name calling. As toddlers grow, they eventually become adults and often times they don’t stop the name calling.

I used this in my sermon because of what the Pharisees were doing to Jesus in John 8. Jesus had discussion with the Pharisees about who He was and who His Father was, they laid claims to Abraham as their Father and Jesus appeals to Abraham welcoming the day of Jesus, they didn’t have a theological leg to stand on when debating with Jesus. So, what did they do? Did they appeal to the Torah? Did the appeal to the prophets? No, they called Jesus names:

 The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” 49 Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honor my Father, and you dishonor me. 50 Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. 51 Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” 52 The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ – John 8:48-52

The Pharisees called Jesus a Samaritan and said He was demon possessed. They tried to insult Him by calling Him a Samaritan, and they tried to discredit Him by saying He was demon possessed.
I really began to think about this even more as I made my way through John 9 this past Sunday. The Pharisees have an interrogation of the man who was born blind that Jesus healed. They want him to answer who he thinks that Jesus is, and all the man can do is point to the works that Jesus had done. He can’t tell you if Jesus is a sinner or not, all he knows is that he was blind and now he sees and that only someone from God could do such a thing. This clearly isn’t the answer that the Pharisees are looking for from the man who had been healed, so how do they respond? Do they appeal to the Torah? No, they begin with the ad hominem attacks again.

And they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. – John 9:28  ESV

They answered him, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And they cast him out. – John 9:34 ESV
They can’t prove Jesus to be a sinner, they can’t disprove the man having been born blind. So, they respond by attacking his character. They revile the man and say that he was born in sin.
As I preached through this text a couple weeks ago one of my points of application was to know what you believe and to know why you believe it. We need to be able to articulate what we believe when discuss theological issues. If we find ourselves unsure, we just need to go back to the Scriptures again and evaluate. We need to ask ourselves, “is this what the Bible teaches? Is that what this passage is really saying?” None of us have arrived to a full understanding of the faith delivered once for all to the saints, we can be wrong. However, far too often what I see when people get into theological discussions, rather than dealing honestly with the text of the Bible when they get to a place of disagreement they call the other person, camp, group a name. Calling someone a theological moron isn’t going to win any debate, and more importantly it isn’t going to win any hearts. We far too often get into theological mudslinging rather than honest discussion of the text or the issue at hand. It is okay to have disagreements and to have discussions. In fact, I think we should have discussion on points of theology and practice. But as we do so, let’s do so in a way that is charitable and honoring to Jesus and honoring to those we disagree with.

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. – 2 Timothy 2:24-26 ESV

Don’t Skip the Text: A Word on Commentaries and Sermon Preparation

I’m a preacher and in a very real sense being a preacher is a vocation and most vocations have tools. One of the most important tools that a preacher has are his books, in particular his commentaries. I own a lot of books and the majority of my books are Bible commentaries. I love them, I cannot seem to get enough of them. I love them because they are books about the Bible. I’ve made it a habit in my nearly 5 years in pastoral ministry to preach through books of the Bible expositionally.

That being said, I have lots of books on the books that I’ve preached through or I’m currently preaching through. Week after week I’ll pick up commentary after commentary on the book I’m currently preaching through. If it is reading through Logos on my Kindle or a good old fashioned printed book I’ll pick up at least half a dozen commentaries on any given week for my Sunday morning sermon. Every time I prepare I am faced with a temptation. That temptation is to jump into the text of the commentary and skip over the text of the Bible it is commentating on. I almost always have my Bible with me when I’m doing this exercise, it has its own tab on Logos or the Bible I preach from will be laid open on the front porch swing, desk, or kitchen table wherever I’m doing my sermon prep. It’s certainly sufficient in and of itself. I’ve read my passage several times through before I even begin to read Bible commentaries, so it seems natural and okay to skip over the presentation of the text in the commentaries, but don’t do it!

Anytime you have the opportunity to read over the text again as you prepare to peach it is a good thing. I’ve made connections by reading through the passage I’m preaching in a commentary that I’m not sure I would have made otherwise. When you read the Bible in a commentary you are using you have the opportunity to do several things. You will often get a different translation that you preach from. I preach from the ESV but the commentaries I read regularly expose me to the NASB, KJV, NIV, an authors own translation, and of course others that aren’t quite so common. I find exposure to those other translations is often helpful. You also get to see the Bible in a different format. This might sound silly, but sometimes just seeing the Bible laid out differently allows you to see things in the text you might miss where there is a page or paragraph break. And again, you get exposure to the text again. If the point of expository preaching is to proclaim the point of the passage, the more exposure the better. I do not know of anyone who really can say they have read their Bible too often. Read the text and read it often!

What is Wisdom?

I’ve begun this journey working through the “wisdom books” of the Bible this year and I think one thing that needs to be answered right from the beginning is the question of, “what is wisdom?”

The book begins with a call to wisdom:

To know wisdom and instruction,
to understand words of insight,
to receive instruction in wise dealing,
in righteousness, justice, and equity;
to give prudence to the simple,
knowledge and discretion to the youth—
Let the wise hear and increase in learning,
and the one who understands obtain guidance,
to understand a proverb and a saying,
the words of the wise and their riddles.
– Proverbs 1:2-6

Wisdom is clearly important to the writer of Proverbs and it is stressed that it should be important to the readers. Longman writes, “Wisdom is a rich concept and is not easily summarized.” He’s absolutely right, as you read across the book of Proverbs wisdom is personified, it is attributed to many different kinds of people as well as animals, wisdom seems to extend to as many subjects as one can find. One’s first implication might be that wisdom is intelligence, but mere intelligence doesn’t always merit wisdom. For the author of Proverbs, wisdom is knowledge applied and knowledge lived. One doesn’t need lots of intelligence to be wise. If it is the ant planning for winter, or the young man staying away from the promiscuous women, to be wise one needs to apply what one knows to make right decisions and right actions. Again, I find Longman helpful in defining wisdom:

…we will begin with the basic idea that wisdom is the skill of living. It is a practical knowledge that helps one know how to act and how to speak in different situations. Wisdom entails the ability to avoid problems, and the skill to handle them when they present themselves. Wisdom also includes the ability to interpret other people’s speech and writing in order to react correctly to what they are saying to us.

If Longman has a right understand of what the author of Proverbs is trying to teach his readers, we’d be wise to heed the wisdom of Proverbs (and Ecclesiastes and Job). Wisdom is for living, and I’m thankful God has revealed wisdom through the word written and the Word incarnate. In days to come I hope to expound a bit on some of the types of wisdom that are revealed in Proverbs.

Hear, O sons, a father’s instruction,
and be attentive, that you may gain insight,
for I give you good precepts;
do not forsake my teaching.
When I was a son with my father,
tender, the only one in the sight of my mother,
he taught me and said to me,
“Let your heart hold fast my words;
keep my commandments, and live.
Get wisdom; get insight;
do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth. – Proverbs 4:2-7