Imagine for a second that you’re inept in the kitchen (for some of us, that’s not much of a stretch). Picture this: you need to make one cookie. It has to be in a specific shape. Thankfully, you have the right cookie cutter and the right ingredients. But one problem remains: how do you make just one cookie?
Of course, since you don’t know how to make just one cookie, you find a recipe that makes a dozen. You make the dough, roll it out, and get ready to use your cookie cutter.
But which part of the dough do you use? Which part is the best? That’s your first tough choice. So you pick a part that you think looks the best.
But that leads to your second tough choice: what in the world do you do with all the extra dough?
These are some of the tough decisions that your pastor needs to make every week. We study a text all week, examining historical backgrounds, thinking about the linguistic realities of the text, placing it in its canonical context, figuring out where the truth fits in our systematic theology, studying what experts have said about this text, and thinking hard about how it applies to ourselves and others in our congregations.
Being a pastor is a strange thing.
We proclaim a message with the power of God to change people, but we can’t even change ourselves. We call others to perfection, as Jesus did, but our lives are full of imperfection. We must shepherd like the Shepherd though we’re just one of the sheep.
We seek to make Christ increase (though he’s invisible to human eyes) as we seek to decrease (though we stand in plain view week-by-week). We say numbers don’t matter, but long for many to be saved. We labour to grow the church, even though we realize each soul increases our accountability before God.
We try to express the Infinite and Eternal in 45 minutes or less; obviously we fail, so we try again next week.
We spend our lives studying a book that we’ll never fully grasp and we labour to explain it to a people who can’t understand apart from the work of a third party. The more we study, the more certain we become of the wisdom of God and our own foolishness; and yet we must preach on.
Back at the end of February Stephen Altrogge wrote a very helpful post titled, ‘The Best Thing You Can Do for Your Pastor.’ In it he reminded us of the truth of 2 Corinthians 1.11:
You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.
If the apostle Paul and his apostolic band needed prayer (and ‘the prayers of many’ at that!), then certainly ordinary pastors like me need prayer. Stephen then offered these practical tips on how to pray for your pastor, which I very much appreciated:
- Pray that they will have spiritual and emotional endurance. Being a pastor is a wonderful job, but it can also be a very draining job. I need endurance to continue working with joy.
- Pray that they will have rich fellowship with the Lord. The pastor’s power comes from the Lord. I need God to meet me and refresh week after week.
- Pray that your pastor will be protected from temptation. If Satan can take down a shepherd, the sheep are much more vulnerable. I need the Lord to protect me from the temptations of pride, greed, lust, impatience, and a host of other sins.
- Pray that your pastor will preach with power. Apart from the power of the Holy Spirit, a sermon will be nothing more than an eloquent boatload of hoogly. I need the Holy Spirit to put power behind my words.
In this post I just wanted to take a moment to expand on Stephen’s last point about praying for the pastor’s preaching. In our home we pray as a family for the preacher on Saturday nights in particular. Typically if it is one of the children praying, the prayer amounts to ‘Please help Daddy to preach well’ and sometimes not much more. That’s fine if it’s a four year-old praying, but it strikes me that a lot of people who have never preached simply don’t know how to pray for their pastor much better than that.
I love being gospel-centered. The ‘new Calvinists’ did not invent the emphasis on being gospel-centered, but it is a renaissance I’ve been thankful to experience.
Like anything that becomes a movement, we must be wary of the potential drawbacks. As I see it, there are at least two dangers in being gospel-centered, and they are both rooted in this one reality: In the past, whatever the fad, it typically became popular because of the promise it offered. Being Purpose-Driven or Seeker-Sensitive or Emerging or whatever held people’s attention only so long as it could promise power (power to draw numbers, power to help people change, etc.). But when those movements were unable to deliver the promised goods, people flocked away from them as quickly as they had flocked to them.
There’s lots going on these days. It’s keeping me too busy to write much of substance lately. But, here’s a little glimpse into a few of the things that have got me pretty excited right now (in no particular order).
- The Lord keeps adding to our number. We ran out of chairs again yesterday in our Sunday morning service. I’ll need to ask the school to begin to set more out for us. Several people have indicated that they’re interested in becoming members and sticking around. How encouraging!
- We’ve had some pretty awesome visitors lately. Over the past two weeks we’ve been blessed to fellowship with saints from sister churches in Toronto, as well as those who’ve travelled from Saskatchewan, BC, and England.
- It’s been such a blessing to witness the prayerfulness and enthusiasm of Paul McDonald as he begins his ministry at GFC. It’s contagious and I can’t wait to see how God is going to use Paul in our midst.
- I’m excited to begin our evening series on the spiritual disciplines. I anticipate it will be a special time in the life of our church as we learn to pursue God even more earnestly.
- I’m really looking forward to our new small groups starting up in just a few weeks. Those are always used of God to do great things in the life of our church.
- I haven’t preached the past two Sundays. It has been a blessed break and I’m thankful for it — but man, I’m excited to get back into the pulpit! Especially since I’ve been studying 1 Peter for a while now. I’m praying that the ministry in this next series will be out of the overflow of all that God’s doing in my heart as I prepare for it.
- I’m playing hockey again this winter for the first time in a while. Man oh man, I’ve missed it. I just hope I don’t stink as bad as I’m anticipating I will. I’m pretty excited to have some guys from church joining me on the team this year as well. We’re hoping God opens some good doors for evangelism.
- We are starting a new Fighter Verse schedule this week. For the first time we’re trying to match our memory verses with the teaching schedule in such a way that our memorization will help each week by reminding us of what we’ve just heard on Sunday and what we’ve been learning together. I’m excited to give it a try and see how it works!
There’s lots more, but that’s a little highlight list. God is far too good to me and to our little church. I can’t wait to see his goodness even more in days to come.
Looking back over the last few years of my life, there has been really only one significant doctrinal change so far as I can see. And even that doctrinal change hasn’t been a change of mind so much as a change of priority.
The biggest change in my theological worldview has been an increasing awareness of the expansiveness of the gospel and its ultimate sufficiency. But rather than reflecting here on being gospel-centred (there are lots of other places you can read about that), I thought I would simply identify a few of the key events God has used to help me realize the ongoing significance and relevance of the gospel for all of life.
1. The Toronto Pastors Conference 2010
The keynote messages preach by Mike Bullmore were especially used of God to help me see the sufficiency of the gospel for all of life.
2. Preaching through 1 Timothy
Preaching through the book of 1 Timothy taught me to see just how ‘gospel-centred’ the apostle Paul was in his approach to pastoring. Throughout the book he insists that Timothy protect the right doctrine of the gospel of Jesus because it alone is what changes lives. No matter what pastoral problems the Ephesian church was facing, Timothy’s charge was one and the same: protect the gospel, because that’s why the church is there, that’s what saves sinners and teaches them how to live in a way that is pleasing to God.
3. Sitting Under the Faithful Preaching of a Faithful Preacher
One of the incalculable blessings of being in a church where more than one pastor preaches is the blessing of sitting under the ministry of another man as he teaches the word. For the 13 years or so before planting GFC I sat under the ministry of Pastor Paul Martin. While there are many things which mark his ministry, none is more prominent in my view than this: he is a man faithful to preach the word. What the word says, he says. The effect of sitting under that week-by-week, month-by-month, year-by-year can only be known in eternity. But over the last few years in particular, I have been profoundly affected by the bigness and the omnipracticality of the gospel as Paul preaches. I hope, by God’s grace, to be able to replicate that for our people in our church plant.
I pray that this trajectory of growth in understanding the gospel in new and dynamic ways through all of Scripture will continue. I also pray that my ministry will continue to grow, like the apostle Paul’s, to be one that is rooted and grounded in the gospel. The truth of the good news of what God has done for us in Christ must be the guiding principle for all my decisions, words, and actions as a pastor.
** This is written as part of the series 30 for 30: Reflections on Life at My 30th Birthday **
Yesterday I was blessed to be able to spend some time with some friends listening to a series of lectures by Don Carson on the Primacy of Expository Preaching. There was much to challenge me–and the others too, I trust.
Before teaching on the primacy of expository preaching, DAC taught for a while on the importance that the Bible (especially the New Testament) places on preaching. Sometimes I think that people think of preaching as something that we can take or leave. We treat it like it’s a product of modernity and may well have seen it’s last days of usefulness.
The New Testament has another view, however. DAC roots the priority of the spoken word in the nature of God–the fact that he is a God who speaks, and that is his nature. But then he listed a whole list of texts worth looking up and meditating on (in their respective contexts) which clearly show the New Testament’s emphasis on preaching.
Since I wanted to do the work of looking the texts up anyway, I thought that I may as well make the list available to you as well. You can view all the texts by simply clicking here. Here is a great reminder that the priority we give to preaching is not cultural but biblical. It is good to be reminded of even the basics from time-to-time.
It’s easy to see why reading and meditating on such a list would be important for a preacher or a pastor like myself. My question, though, is this: What does the average church member stand to gain from thinking about the biblical priority of preaching? How would it / could it affect you and your mindset as you go to church or serve in your church?