A Tragedy In The Church (Reading Notes)

“One of the greatest tragedies in the church today is the depreciation of the pastoral office. From seminaries to denominational headquarters, the prevalent mood and theme is managerial, organizational, and psychological. And we think thereby to heighten our professional self-esteem! Hundreds of teachers and leaders put the mastery of the Word first with their lips but by their curriculums, conferences, seminars, and personal example, show that it is not foremost.” (John Piper in Brothers, We Are Not Professionals)

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The Problem Of Busy Pastors

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This morning I spent some time with a fellow pastor in our community. We have a great friendship and meet periodically to discuss our lives and ministries. As we were finishing our conversation this morning, our discussion touched on our schedules. We lamented how “busy” we were and whether or not this reflected well on our primary calling – to minister the Word of God and pray (Acts 6:4).

Interestingly enough, I picked up Euguene Peterson’s book The Contemplative Pastor this morning and began reading his chapter on “The Unbusy Pastor.” If you are a pastor or know a pastor send them this blog post and encourage them to pick up Peterson’s book!

Peterson writes…

“The adjective busy set as a modifier to pastor should sound to our ears like adulterous to characterize a wife or embezzling to describe a banker. It is an outrageous scandal, a blasphemous affront.”

He continues…

“I (and most pastors, I believe) become busy for two reasons; both are ignoble.

1. I am busy because I am vain. I want to appear important. Significant. What better way than to be busy? The incredible hours, the crowded schedule, and the heavy demands on my time are proof to myself – and to all who will notice – that I am important.

2. I am busy because I am lazy. I indolently let others decide what I will do instead of resolutely deciding myself. I let people who do not understand the work of the pastor write the agenda for my day’s work because I am too slipshod to write it myself. The pastor is a shadow figure in these people’s minds, a marginal person vaguely connected with matters of God and good will. Anything remotely religious or somehow well-intentioned can be properly assigned to the pastor.

He concludes…

But if I vainly crowd my day with conspicuous activity or let others fill my day with imperious demands, I don’t have time to do my proper work, the work to which I have been called. How can I lead people into the quiet place beside the still waters if I am in perpetual motion? How can I persuade a person to live by faith and not by works if I have to juggle my schedule constantly to make everything fit into place?

If I am not busy making my mark in the world or doing what everyone expects me to do, what do I do? What is my proper work? What does it mean to be a pastor? If no one asked me to do anything, what would I do?

Three things.

1. I can be a pastor who prays.

2. I can be a pastor who preaches.

3. I can be a pastor who listens.

This is good stuff and I’m only 3 pages into the first chapter!

Book Review: “Power In The Pulpit” (Vines & Shaddix)

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Authors

Dr. Jerry Vines served as the pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida from 1982 until his retirement in 2006. He was educated at Mercer University, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and Luther Rice Seminary. Vines also served as the President of the Southern Baptist Convention from 1988-1989. Dr. Jim Shaddix is the pastor for teaching and training at The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, AL. He also serves as an adjunct faculty member at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and is the author of The Passion Driven Sermon.

Purpose of the Book

Vines and Shaddix stated that this book’s specific purpose “is to give practical help specifically to the man who is faced with the responsibility of preaching weekly.” They emphasized that pastors who preach on a weekly basis, as opposed to itinerant preachers, have a difficult job before them on a consistent basis. In fact, they stated, “Much of the preaching of our day is dry, irrelevant, and deadening.” Vines and Shaddix both agree that effective expository preaching needs to be emphasized and that is exactly what they seek to do in this book.

Organization and Content

This book contains steps and instructions on preparing and delivering expository sermons.  Vines and Shaddix explained in detail the preparation for exposition, the process of exposition, and the presentation of the exposition.  All three are vital to the work of an expositor.  A main concern of this book is to define the task of expository preaching and the qualifications of one who takes on this task.  Vines and Shaddix stated that this person must be called of God and participate in activities that help build a healthy heart, mind, and body.

Vines and Shaddix also offered a five-step approach to develop expository sermons.  Each step is progressive and the final product is an expository sermon that communicates a central truth, which is applied to a contemporary audience. A major concern for Vines and Shaddix is that many people view expository sermons as lectures, which are often boring.  They stated, however, that the text has a message for a contemporary audience and this must be communicated effectively. A sermon is not complete unless the text is applied to the contemporary audience and Vines and Shaddix emphasized the need for application in expositional preaching.

One of the major aspects of the expository method is the systematic preaching through books of the Bible.  Vines stated, “more profit will be realized by a systematic, book-by-book approach” than any other approach to preaching. They encouraged expositors to approach preaching from a canonical perspective.  Not only did they insist that it is beneficial to preach the whole counsel of God, they also made mention that one should study and preach with an understanding of all Scripture.  They wrote, “You must determine how your passage fits in with the overall context of the book in which it is found, as well as with the total revelation and message of the Bible.” This method, if used, will allow the expositor to preach canonically, draw one central truth from the text, and apply it to the contemporary audience.

Personal Evaluation

One of the greatest accomplishments of this book is that Vines and Shaddix offer an expository approach that pastors can implement on a weekly basis. Too often pastors stray away from the disciplined study of the text because of the time it takes to faithfully exposit the Scriptures.  However, the method in Power in the Pulpit allows the expositor to follow a step-by-step outline for accomplishing this task.  Scripture states the disciples gave themselves “continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” Expositors must decide that to fulfill their responsibility, in feeding the sheep, they must be as committed as the apostles and this method offered by Vines and Shaddix gives a great weekly plan to follow.

The greatest weakness of this book is the lack of emphasis on the role of the Holy Spirit in the expositional process.  While there is a great deal of information concerning the specifics of doing exposition, there is little mention that the expositor must rely on the Holy Spirit.  The expositor can only experience true power in the pulpit when the Spirit is upon him.  It would have been extremely beneficial had Vines and Shaddix explored and emphasized the role of the Holy Spirit more in the expositional process.

This book, overall, is a great work for expositors. Those who desire to preach expositional sermons will find it to be a great resource and step-by-step plan to follow. Vines and Shaddix offer encouragement and instruction in a way that the average pastor will appreciate.

Book Review: “Life Is Mostly Edges” (Calvin Miller)

edgesCalvin Miller graduated from Oklahoma Baptist University with a Bachelor of Science degree and Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary with both Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degrees. He pastored for over 30 years and spent his last years as a professor at both Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Beeson Divinity School. He was an accomplished poet, author (over 40 books including The Singer Trilogy) and artist. Dr. Miller went to his forever home with Jesus on August 19, 2012 leaving behind a wife and two children.

Purpose of the Book

“At the age of seventy-two, I have grown honest about the best years of my life. I have lived those years – all of them – past threescore and ten, knowing all along that this life was never mine. It has belonged all the way through to another.” So begins Calvin Miller’s memoir of his life and ministry – an account of his love for his Savior and the journey of following Him through the years.

Organization and Content

The book is divided into three parts: Part 1: The Early Years (1936-1955), Part 2: Staying Human While Being A Pastor (1956-1991) and Part 3: The Professor Who Liked Teaching But Loved Learning (1991-2007).

Part 1 focused on Miller’s growing up years and the difficulties he experienced. His father had little to do with the family and it is evident that Calvin’s mother (Ethel) was a wonderful lady. She worked hard to provide for the family and he spends many pages lauding her love for Jesus and her family. Miller was exposed to the gospel early in his life through various churches in Enid, OK.

My favorite part of the book was in the second section, which focused on Miller’s years as a pastor. He pastored one church for 4 years until he left to plant another church where he remained for 25 years. Westside Church grew from 10 members to over 2,500 in that period of time. There were numerous ups and downs during these years as a pastor and I enjoyed hearing the stories of triumph and disappointment.

Part 3 was interesting as Miller discussed his departure from the pastorate and journey to the seminary. He recounted the two struggles right before leaving his church and the interesting dynamic of seminary life. Southwestern was embroiled in the Conservative Resurgence when Miller came on faculty and it is evident he failed to see many positives in this struggle. I did get the feeling that Miller appreciated his time at Beeson, especially due to the interdenominational nature of the school and faculty.

Personal Evaluation

I honestly felt like I was sitting down with Calvin Miller over a cup of coffee as I read this book. His transparency was refreshing and his honesty was heartfelt. For me, his transparency and honesty was a bit scary as well. As a pastor, I took much of what he said about the church and pastors to heart. Pastoring is hard work. It is lonely work. It is very easy to forsake your family and even your personal walk with Jesus in the ministry. This is scary and yet I can identify times in my own ministry and life when this has been true.

I also sensed a bit of freedom after reading this memoir. Calvin Miller was not your “typical” pastor (whatever that means!) in that he was more artsy and introverted than you might think a pastor should be. However, it was clear he loved people, his Savior and the local church. He was who he was and God used him in a mighty way. This was a great encouragement to me to just simply be me!

I would definitely encourage pastors to pick up this book and read it!

Here are some of my favorite quotes:

“Never have any special group in your church who knows the critical ins and outs of your dreams, while the bulk of the people are in the dark. The janitor should know everything the chairman of the board knows, right?”

“Keep every plan out in the open, and you’ll never get in trouble. Keep the church finances that way too. Let everybody know freely everything you know, and don’t have any special people you try to placate by giving them information first. When everybody owns the church and its dreams, the church is healthy. When there are little secret pockets of informants, decay is in the wind.”

“Most who have fallen in love with Christ didn’t choose to be fervent. They have just seen the Son, high and lifted up, and have no choice but to fly in his direction. Such remarkable passion is a kind of gift. I have known many Christians across my span of years. In fact, most everyone I have worked with has called themselves Christian. But among all the Christians, I have known only a few of them who seemed to have that natural— or supernatural—inclination of clinging to their God.”

“Some of the ‘big’ pastors I know seem to enjoy being ‘big.’ They own a sense of success and fame that satisfies most of them. And they are revered generally for being deeply spiritual men, even loving men. But the best of pastors realize that good sermons are not just flashy rhetoric. Sermons are only noble when they are so ‘see-through’ that the pastor’s need for God is clearly visible through his words.”

“What I specifically learned was that people can forgive a leader whose vision may be errant, but they will never forgive a leader who isn’t visionary.”

“I had quit busying myself with the things of God and busied myself with God himself. I didn’t mean to quit thinking about the things of God; it just happened that my focus on God had replaced the good stuff of my life with the best stuff.”

“When I dropped my guard and focused on Christ, what I had tried to make happen, happened automatically. The church began to grow. And the growth made me ponder again the promise of relinquishment. Letting go of any drive releases the soul, and those who can’t quit struggling in an attempt to realize their dreams will be the last to realize them. I had done nothing very remarkable. I had learned the lesson from a fellow struggler, a blind pilgrim, who taught me that the secret of success is not ‘busianity,’ it is ‘Christianity.’”

“Herein lies my greatest fears for the Emergent Church: in its attempt to start where the culture is, it rarely stops and asks, ‘Is this where the culture should be?’”

Book Review: “Famine In The Land” (Stephen Lawson)

lawson_famine_in_the_land__53510__69691_zoomDr. Stephen J. Lawson serves as the Senior Pastor at Christ Fellowship Baptist Church in Mobile, Alabama. He has pastored churches in the states of Arkansas and Alabama for over 29 years. Lawson has received degrees from Texas Tech University (B.B.A.), Dallas Theological Seminary (Th.M.), and Reformed Theological Seminary (D.Min.). He is the author of 15 books including The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards, Faith Under Fire, and Made In Our Image. Dr. Lawson is married to Anne and they have three sons, Andrew, James, and John, and a daughter, Grace Anne.

Purpose of the Book

Lawson wrote, “Famine in the Land directly addresses what, I believe, is the crying need of the hour, specifically that the modern-day pulpit be restored to her former glory of generations past, days when God’s truth was fearlessly proclaimed – days when doctrinal clarity, theological precision, and heart-searching application once poured forth from pulpits.” His desire is to encourage pastors to recover expository preaching so that their congregations can be fed the Word of God.

Organization and Content

This book is divided into four primary chapters that address (1) the priority of biblical preaching, (2) the power of biblical preaching, (3) the pattern of biblical preaching, (4) and the passion of biblical preaching. Lawson weaves in a tremendous amount of exposition as he works through each of these topics.

In the first chapter, Lawson examines the priority of biblical preaching that is found in the early church. He wrote, “With many ministries forsaking a steady diet of biblical exposition, where is an effective model to be found in which preaching and teaching God’s Word is the main entrée? What does it look like when a church is being served the meat of God’s Word? One need look no further that to the first church in Jerusalem, born on the Day of Pentecost and firmly planted in the soil of newly converted hearts.” The early church witnessed leaders who viewed dividing the Word of God as a solemn and great responsibility. This resulted in an explosion of growth in the early church and a people who were devoted to the Word of God. Lawson stated that the church must recover this vision for biblical preaching if it desires to make an impact in the world today.

In the second chapter, Lawson focuses on the need for biblical preaching that is courageous and compelling. He stated, “The crying need of the hour is for divine power to be restored to evangelical pulpits.” Lawson emphasized that this will only happen when God-called men boldly proclaim the Scriptures through the power of the Holy Spirit. He highlighted the preaching ministry of Jonah in this chapter and focused on Jonah’s courageous, compelling, confrontational, and compassionate preaching. This is a model for preaching in the contemporary church and needs to be recovered.

In the third chapter, Lawson emphasized the need for preachers to expound the Word of God. The Bible must be the central focus of the sermon regardless of the latest fad in contemporary preaching. He used Ezra as the biblical example and wrote, “All biblical preachers and teachers would do well to follow this pattern of Ezra’s ministry, which involved knowing (“study”), being (“practice”), and doing (“proclaiming”).” Ezra was a devoted student of Scripture, obedient to what the Scriptures taught, and diligent to preach it’s truth to others. These characteristics should also be true of contemporary preachers.

In the final chapter, Lawson discussed the need for passionate preaching in the church today. He wrote, “Passionate, biblical preaching from God-dominated men must be restored to the pulpit.” Lawson emphasized this point by looking at the charge Paul gave to Timothy in 1 and 2 Timothy. Paul exhorted Timothy to be passionate about the preaching ministry because if he was faithful to proclaim the Scriptures, people’s lives would be changed. Lawson closed by encouraging preachers to emulate the life of George Whitefield. He wrote, “May the holy flame of each God-called preacher burn brightly in this dark hour, faithful to the end.” This is a tireless call but one that preachers must pursue with every ounce of their being until the end of their lives.

 Personal Evaluation

One of the greatest accomplishments of this book is that Lawson is able to communicate a great amount of truth in such a short book. He also uses a tremendous amount of Scripture to support each and every claim he makes throughout the book. This is beneficial because it demonstrates to his reader exactly what he is writing about. It is clear that Lawson has a passion for God’s Word and for preachers to faithfully proclaim it to their people.

The greatest weakness of this book is that it is more descriptive rather than prescriptive in nature. While Lawson calls for a return of expository preaching in the contemporary church, he never really shows how to accomplish this. It would have been extremely helpful if he could have walked through some of the steps that must be taken for this to happen. I believe this would have allowed him to address the great need for expository preaching in the church and then provide a solution to restore its practice.

This book, overall, is a great work for expositors. Those who desire to preach expositional sermons will find it to be a great source of encouragement. Lawson pushes all the right buttons to cause preachers to take serious inventory of their life and ministry. His passion is contagious and reflects his love of God’s Word and God’s glory.