More Lessons I’m Learning from Other Preachers

I remember the first time I stepped into the pulpit. I was scared stiff. Sweaty palms, hands clenching my Bible and notes… but in the end, I did okay. Part of what helped was getting some help. The first meeting I ever had with our pastor was for him to give me some pointers. Then another friend took me under his wing, giving me the opportunity to get better.

Like writing, art, music, cooking or pretty much anything else, preaching takes practice. But it also takes a willingness to learn from others. A while back I shared a few lessons I learned from listening to other preachers. Here are a few more that I wanted to share:

1. There’s a difference between “speaking” and “preaching.”

Recently, I was at an event where I listened to a speaker discuss his vision for ministry and how he does life as a pastor. As I heard him speak, something felt off. He was clearly a gifted speaker, but as I listened, I kept thinking, “This is a man who is clearly a good leader, but he’s not a preacher.” He came across more as a CEO than a shepherd.

Perhaps it’s the context in which he was speaking that led to this, but something I’ve noticed about preachers is that what they say is rooted in God’s Word. Dever and Gilbert put it well when they wrote, “Anything that is not rooted in and tethered tightly to God’s Word is not preaching at all.” That’s the difference between speaking and preaching. Preaching is about God. Speaking is more often than not about me.

2. Preaching requires preparation.

Something I’ve become increasingly aware of in my own life is the propensity toward laziness. Once I get comfortable doing something, it’s easy to think I don’t need to put in all the work. I don’t need to practice or put together my notes in a timely fashion (timely, as in, giving myself enough time to prepare). I rely on natural ability rather than on careful, prayerful effort.

Maybe you’ve heard of this before, but I’ve found it helpful to think of raw ability in degrees of competence:

  • There are the consciously incompetent—you know you don’t know what you’re doing;
  • The unconsciously competent—you don’t know you know what you’re doing;
  • The consciously competent—you know you know what you’re doing; and
  • The unconsciously incompetent—you think you know what you’re doing, but not so much.

All of us, in whatever area we serve, move through these degrees of competence. I’ve seen it happen in the same day (and yes, it was me that did it). Those who know they don’t know much are usually the best learners and most open to criticism. The ones who think they’re awesome but aren’t tend to struggle with receiving critical feedback (in my experience at least).

Preaching requires a great deal of careful preparation. It might not take long to craft an outline or a manuscript (I’m actually getting pretty fast at this part), and some of us might be really quick on our feet, but we cannot afford to become undisciplined.

3. Preaching takes courage.

This weekend my own pastor preached another hard one, one that I shared some thoughts about very recently. Malachi’s a hard book, one that some might call a space-maker. As we’ve seen our church grow numerically, I can’t imagine the temptation that he and our elders must face. More people means our space issues become more pressing. More people in need of ministry means more leaders need to be developed. There are a lot of variables that I have no knowledge of whatsoever that come into play, but I can imagine it’s tempting to compromise on values to get things done. But preaching hard texts, ones that force people to feel the weight of their own sin, especially in the face of growth, takes courage.

Those are a few things I’m learning from other preachers—what about you?

Brothers, You are not Jewish Rabbis

Whether you’re an experienced or novice preacher, we would all be wise to take this advice from Mark Dever and Greg Gilbert to heart:

Your sermons should never be forty-five-minute morality lessons or best practices for living a better life. They should drive forward to the good news that King Jesus saves sinners through His life, death, and resurrection from the grave. In fact, we think that in every sermon you preach, you should include at some point a clear and concise presentation of the gospel. Tell people how they may be saved! I never want someone to come to my church, not just for a length of time but even for one single service, and be able to say they didn’t hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. Brothers, you are not Jewish rabbis. You are not called to give sermons that merely tell people how to live rightly or better. Is teaching people to live rightly part of preaching the whole counsel of God? Yes, absolutely, depending on the text! Is that ever all there is to it? Absolutely not! One way or another, every text in the Bible points to Jesus, and you should follow where it points. . . . It’s easy to preach the Bible, especially the Old Testament, as if it were a book of fables—a series of stories that do little more than instruct us morally. But if we believe Jesus, we know those stories are doing much more than that; they are pointing us to Him. So whether we do it by following the story line or pointing out the themes, our job is to show our congregations how to see Jesus, even from the story of Ehud.

Mark Dever and Greg Gilbert, Preach: Theology Meets Practice (Kindle locations 1525, 1560)

4 Functions of Sound Doctrine

Recently, I wrote that one of the key functions of doctrine is that it divides. Because Jesus himself is the most divisive person ever to live, all doctrine that aligns with him will necessarily cause division. But that’s not all that doctrine does. Consider Paul’s words to Timothy in 1 Tim. 4:6-16:

If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.

Command and teach these things. Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching [or doctrine]. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.

Paul points to four truths about sound doctrine in this passage:

Sound doctrine prevents us from falling into irreverent and silly myths.

Man-centered, pop-psychology preaching that has little or nothing to do with the cross of Christ, and in fact makes a mockery of it, leads us to error. It makes us the Bible about us, which is always going to end badly. Sound doctrine will always point us back to Jesus. He is the point of Scripture. He is the Redeemer. He is the author and perfecter of our faith. If what we teach, whether in sermons, books, blogs, lectures or films, doesn’t make Him the point, then we’ve completely and utterly failed in our task.

Sound doctrine trains us in godliness.

Godliness holds promise for the present life and the life to come, says Paul. Good doctrine allows us to better understand who Jesus, and live out our lives in loving grateful response to Him as He truly is.

Sound doctrine will save you.

“Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers,” says Paul. The doctrine we proclaim tells others what we believe about Jesus, and if our proclamation is antithetical to Scripture, we have cause for concern. Therefore, we must keep a close watch on ourselves that we not fall into error.

Sound doctrine prevents confusion.

We are not ashamed of the hope that we have in Jesus. We need not fear that teaching sound doctrine—teaching the Scriptures—will return void. Isaiah 55:11 says, “O shall my word be that goes out from my mouth it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (emphasis added). God’s word always accomplishes God’s purposes. We need to stand in that confidence and not be afraid to proclaim the word of God!

When we fail to stress the importance of sound doctrine, when we fail to teach it, when we treat everything as “caught,” but not “taught,” where do we find ourselves?

Confusion. We find for ourselves teachers whose words are clever and sound nice, but they teach a different doctrine that does not agree with the sound words of Jesus. “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Tim 4:3-4).

“Preach the word,” says Paul in 2 Tim 4:2. “Be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” At all times, in all places, patiently, lovingly, confidently teach sound doctrine. Remind people that doctrine matters because what we teach about Jesus makes all the difference.

Division, Contending and Speaking the Truth in Love

The recent vote in North Carolina and this week’s generally unsurprising announcement from President Obama in support of same-sex marriage have Christians all abuzz. Some, lament the North Carolina decision saying they’re tired of the culture wars. Others have reminded us that there are good reasons that believers ought to continue to oppose gay marriage.

Younger Christians (and non-Christians) struggle to understand the uproar from their conservative forebearers. Rachel Held Evans is right to point this out. But just because homosexuality seems “normal” to the 30 and under crowd, it doesn’t mean that our response ought to be to throw their hands up in the air and sigh, “Can’t we all just get along?”

As Christians, we have an obligation to, as Jude calls it, “contend the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). So whether it’s a matter like gay marriage, the prosperity “gospel”, or the perpetual Calvinism vs. Arminianism debate, to name but a few examples, we need to remember a few important truths that ought to guide our behavior as we contend for the faith:

1. Doctrine is intended to divide

There is a sense in which doctrine does divide. It can’t not by its very nature. Jesus himself—the Word of God made flesh—was and is the most divisive person to ever live. The people of his day were divided over his identity. They either didn’t know or refused to recognize him as the promised Messiah. Indeed, he himself said of his divisive nature, “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division,” (Luke 12:51) and, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Because Jesus caused division and because he was uncompromising in his exclusivity as “the truth,” doctrine that aligns with Jesus will cause division. This necessarily means that we will be at odds with others—friends, relatives, perhaps even other believers.

2. Contending does not mean being contentious

Christians are never to be a quarrelsome people with “an unhealthy craving for controversy” (1 Tim. 6:4; 2 Tim. 2:24). Instead, we are “to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people” (Titus 3:1-2). The one who is contentious is looking for a fight; he loves controversy and debate. He builds men of straw simply to tear them down. But this person is one “who stirs up division . . . is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned,” wrote Paul. We are to have nothing to do with him—which also means that we must not be like him (Titus 3:10-11).

3. Don’t make doctrine more (or less) important than people

We are to speak the truth in love, not the truth or love. The Ephesian church deeply loved the truth of the gospel and that love overflowed toward “all the saints,” giving the apostle Paul cause to rejoice (Eph. 1:15). Yet, as we read in Revelation 2:2-5, it seems that, despite their rock-solid doctrine and their wealth of love for one another, their hearts had become cold to the things that had once burned so warm within them. Sam Storms writes:

What we see in the church at Ephesus, therefore, was how their desire for orthodoxy and the exclusion of error had created a climate of suspicion and mistrust in which brotherly love could no longer flourish. Their eager pursuit of truth had to some degree soured their affections one for another. It’s one thing not to “bear with those who are evil” (Rev. 2:2), but it’s another thing altogether when that intolerance carries over to your relationship with other Christ-loving Christians!1

We must not forget that there are people involved in every debate, both “those who are evil” and those who are, as Storms puts it, “Christ-loving Christians.” We must remember contending is an act of mercy on those who doubt and those who have been deceived. It’s much easier to view those with whom we disagree as being demons when they’ve more likely just been duped. But in doing so, we do them a great disservice and dishonor Christ in the process. There is a tension in contending that requires us to uphold both people and doctrine. We cannot contend without compassion anymore than we can contend without a love for the truth. “Doctrinal precision is absolutely necessary. But it isn’t enough. May God grant us grace to love others with no less fervor than we love the truth.”

I realize that the fight is exhausting—but we dare not give in and we dare not sit on the sidelines.

If we truly love Jesus and if we truly care about the well being of the Church then we must contend. “People’s eternal fate is at stake,” writes Robert Gundry. “With might and main [we] are to join in the fight.”2

4 Reasons to Preach Through Whole Books of the Bible

Preaching methods are a big topic right now in certain corners of evangelicalism. Should we preach through books of the Bible? Is topical okay? How should we approach topical sermons if we do them at all? These are questions that many of us have to deal wrestle with.

Mark Dever and Greg Gilbert are both strong advocates for the practice of preaching through entire books of the Bible. In their new book, Preach: Theology Meets Practicethey offer a number of practical considerations as to why our preaching ministries would benefit from taking up this practice. Here are four that I found particularly helpful:

1. Preaching through books helps you see the beauty of Scripture.

Many Christians—and those who preach to them—treat the Bible as if it’s a collection of wise sayings, the order of which doesn’t matter very much. It’s as if all of Scripture is the book of Proverbs or the sayings of Confucius. But most of the Bible isn’t like that at all. God inspired each of the books of the Bible with a certain internal logic and order. He inspired narrative and argumentation and prophetic cases against His people. The books build to climaxes, and they have elegant twists embedded here and there within them. Part of our job as preachers, therefore, is to help our people see the beauty of Scripture. We’re not just looking for “nuggets of wisdom” buried in useless iron ore; we want our people to see the majesty of the whole, and preaching through entire books helps us open their eyes to Scripture’s beauty. (Kindle location 1032)

2. Preaching through books forces you to preach uncomfortable portions of Scripture.

Few of us relish the thought of preaching on the Bible’s texts about divorce. It’s a touchy subject with multiple twists and turns in the teaching that are hard to get skeptical listeners to follow, and it’s frankly easier just to go to John 3:16 again than to plant yourself for a few weeks in Matthew 19! And yet it is in Scripture, and we are called to preach the whole counsel of God to our people. That’s where preaching entire books helps. After Matthew 18 comes Matthew 19. After 1 Corinthians 5 comes 1 Corinthians 6, and if you’ve established a pattern of preaching straight through books, you can’t avoid them. (Kindle location 1054)

3. Preaching through books confronts our fear of saying hard things.

One of the most crippling diseases for a preacher of God’s Word is a fear of saying hard things from the pulpit—a blanching at the thought of preaching something that might offend and a resulting tendency to stay away from hard passages of the Bible. Preaching through entire books works against that fear and tendency because it forces us to preach those hard passages when they appear. In fact, it can help turn our sinful fear of man against itself—think ju jitsu!—because we won’t want to face questions about our lack of courage if we skip from Matthew 18 to Matthew 20! . . . [P]reaching through those books also protects us from being “blamed” for preaching hard passages at particular times. (Kindle locations 1062, 1066)

4. Preaching through books encourages your growth as a preacher and a Christian.

Preaching through books forces you as a preacher—and therefore your church as well—to grapple with passages of Scripture with which you’re not already familiar. As a result, you learn new things; you grow in your knowledge of God and His Word; and you mature as a Christian and as a pastor. If you skip around the Bible in your preaching, you will likely gravitate toward passages you already have thought long and hard about, passages you know a lot about already. . . . Preaching our favorite passages, or the texts with which we’re most familiar, means that our growth as preachers and even as Christians will be stunted. There are treasures unknown in the text we encounter as we preach through books. (Kindle locations 1074, 1080)

Be Careful Offering Criticism To Your Pastor

Mondays are probably the worst day of the week for pastors and preachers. I don’t even do it full time, and I’ve experienced the roughness of Monday. Whenever I’m in the pulpit, I tend to experience an interesting combination of being energized and completely exhausted. Preaching the Word and seeing people “get” it is awesome—but by the time I get home, I’m ready for a roughly 100 hour nap. For me, it usually takes until mid-day Tuesday before I’m feeling back to normal.

Because I’m not in vocational pastoral ministry, one of the things I don’t have to deal too much with is criticism. I parachute in and out, so I don’t get criticized (at least, I don’t get to hear it in my inbox). But I’ve no doubt that many pastors dread looking at theirs on Monday.

It’s easy for us when we leave on Sunday morning to start picking apart the message. As we consider, it and weigh the pros and cons, sometimes the things that stick out as a negative start eating at us. And so maybe we fire off an email and feel a lot better, having got it off our chests.

Now, I’m not against criticism, obviously, but I’d be careful sending that email. As Mark Dever & Greg Gilbert point out in their book, Preach, your criticism of your pastor’s message “should always be gentle, even if they are firm.” Speak well, speak clearly if there’s something legitimate, but don’t fire off a long list of problems and fail to leave any room for encouragement.

Your pastor doesn’t need to hear how you don’t care for the Bible translation he used; he probably doesn’t need to be engaged on a lengthy debate on a nuance of a difficult to interpret text. You can probably cut him some slack if he preached a right message but made an unusual choice of text for his launch point.

If you must offer critique (and it is an “if”—many churches have an established sermon review process in place, so you may not need to worry about it), do so carefully, charitably and out of a desire to see your pastor improve. Tell him what you appreciated about the message, what God is teaching you through it and, if there’s something that is bothering you, ask about it in an open-ended way.

And… maybe wait until Tuesday to send that email. It might make Monday a little easier to get through.

Faithfulness is Obedience and Obedience is Success

Here’s a passage I’ve been continuing to chew on from Matt Chandler’s new book, The Explicit Gospel:

One of the things we don’t preach well is that ministry that looks fruitless is constantly happening in the Scriptures. We don’t do conferences on that. There aren’t too many books written about how you can toil away all your life and be unbelievably faithful to God and see little fruit this side of heaven. And yet God sees things differently. We always have to be a little bit wary of the idea that numeric growth and enthusiastic response are always signs of success. The Bible isn’t going to support that. Faithfulness is success; obedience is success.

What we learn about God’s call to Isaiah provides a strange sense of freedom. A hearer’s response is not our responsibility; our responsibility is to be faithful to God’s call and the message of the gospel. No, a hearer’s response is his or her responsibility. But one of the mistakes we can make in our focusing on individual response in the gospel on the ground is to lose sight of God’s sovereign working behind our words and actions and our hearer’s response. Receptivity and rejection are ultimately dependent upon God’s will, not ours.3 Paul reminds us, “[God] says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (Rom. 9:15–16). From the ground, we say what we choose to say and hear what we choose to hear. From the air, our saying is clearly empowered—“No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3)—and our hearing is clearly God-contingent—“having the eyes of your hearts enlightened” (Eph. 1:18).

You can find a whole bunch of verses about God’s moving and gathering large groups of people, which means if there’s numeric growth and much enthusiasm, we can’t say that it’s not a work of God or that God isn’t moving. I’m just saying that I guarantee you there’s some old dude in some town that most of us have never heard of faithfully preaching to nine people every week, and when we get to glory, we’ll be awed at his house. We’ll be awed at the reward God has for him. In the end, we have this idea being uncovered in Isaiah that God hardens hearts, that people hear the gospel successfully proclaimed and end up not loving God but hardened toward the things of God.

Matt Chandler (with Jared Wilson), The Explicit Gospel, pp. 75-76

3 Reasons Why I’m Hopeful About the A29 Leadership Change

The last couple days have been pretty big ones as far as news about transitions is concerned. Jason Meyer was named as John Piper’s successor at Bethlehem Baptist Church (pending congregational approval), Mark Driscoll stepped down from the TGC Council and Matt Chandler has been installed as the President of the Acts 29 Church Planting Network. The news broke the night before last but remained unconfirmed until Wednesday, March 28. At the same time Sojourn announced that they’re leaving Acts 29 to start their own church planting network.

When I first read the news, honestly, I was very excited (and it’s not because I have a major beef with Driscoll). I’ve met a few guys who are part of A29 and I’ve been impressed by their passion for Jesus and seeing people grow as disciples. This is a really good thing that we all need more of, whatever network, denomination or other affiliation we’re a part of. And as I’ve reflected on the change with A29 throughout the afternoon, I’m hopeful that this could be a really, really good thing for the network. Here’s why:

1. Matt Chandler seems to bring a different kind of mindset to the table. Every time I’ve heard Chandler speak on topics like church growth, building campaigns or any of that stuff, you get the sense that it makes him a bit uncomfortable. He seems to be a guy who is much more concerned with growing people deep than just gathering a large crowd. This could be a very good thing as it could see the network become increasingly more concerned with the depth of the people and leaving the breadth to God. (Note, I know “seems” is a bit weasel-y, but my personal interactions with Chandler don’t qualify me to say much definitively about his character.)

2. The change in focus could be very healthy for Mark Driscoll. Over the last while, many of us have no doubt seen numerous blog posts, tweets and such about renewed concerns over Driscoll’s character and fitness for his position. While I don’t want to come across as though I agree with those allegations, when I see someone running full tilt like Driscoll has been over the last few months, I do get concerned, particularly as someone who has hit the wall in the past. Cutting back, chilling out a bit and focusing on doing a few things really well is likely to be very healthy for Driscoll and (as it does for all of us) give more room for reflection and growth in maturity.

3. This could be the start of something bigger and better for A29. Perhaps this should be point 1b, but here we are. From what I can see, people seem to find Chandler much less polarizing than Driscoll. It’s not because he’s not afraid to say very hard things, but he doesn’t come with the same baggage that Driscoll does. If they do a really good job with the transition, there’s a good chance that there could be new opportunities to further glorify Jesus and be welcomed within groups that may have been leery in the past.

Looking forward to seeing how things develop over the coming weeks and praying that there will be much good fruit in the end.

Should Christians “Name Names”?

Maybe it’s me, but the idea of “naming names”—calling out a specific pastor, teacher or author as promoting false doctrine and heresy—has increasingly felt awkward to me. Part of the reason, I suspect, is that I’ve seen very few examples of it done well. Generally, those naming names seem to be folks that Paul warns about in the pastoral epistles—men who love to stir up controversy and division who we should have nothing to do with (1 Tim. 6:4; Titus 3:10). They appear to jump on a video clip, a poor choice of words, or a seven year old blog post and go to town. This is why on any given day, you can find everyone from James MacDonald to John MacArthur declared heretics on the Internets. Frankly, it gets so ridiculous at times that I can completely understand why people would never want to say anything that would even suggest that someone might be a false teacher.

Yet, as I study the Scriptures, I find that I cannot go there. The authors of Scripture take false teaching very seriously and so must we. Indeed, throughout the New Testament, we see numerous examples of specific men named as false teachers—as traitors to the gospel.

Paul tells Timothy that Hymenaeus, Alexander and Philetus are among those who have made a shipwreck of their faith and swerved from the truth (1 Tim. 1:20; 2 Tim. 2:17-18). Their “irreverent babble,” he says, will spread like gangrene among God’s people. Their false teaching is like an infection that must be treated with the utmost seriousness and efficiency. Failure to do so will result in the infection spreading. The apostle John warned his readers of Diotrephes, “who likes to put himself first, [and] does not acknowledge our authority” (3 John 9). This man, who was apparently influential among John’s audience, refused to acknowledge the authority of apostolic teaching, becoming an authority unto himself (sounds familiar, doesn’t it). And Jesus himself warned of the Nicolaitans and their presence in Ephesus and Pergamum. He hated their works and commands those who hold to their teachings to repent or be caught on the wrong side when he would come to make war against them (Rev. 2:6; 15-16).

So if we look at these New Testament examples, we can say with reasonable confidence that the answer is yes—it is right and biblical for a pastor to warn against a specific teacher. But also notice that the answer isn’t quite as simple as we’d like it to be.

First, we must be careful to not declare a particular individual a false teacher unless the body of evidence warrants such a charge. Paul commanded Timothy that he should not “admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses” (1 Tim. 5:19). This is good advice. In our context, that means that an out-of-context quote from six years ago cannot qualify as confirmation of a teacher being a heretic. However, if the body of evidence strongly points in a particular direction, then it may be prudent to openly condemn that teacher’s doctrine.

Second, while the biblical authors clearly treat false teaching and teachers with dreadful earnestness, it is always addressed within the context of a specific local church. When Paul warned Timothy of Hymenaeus, Alexander and Philetus, he was giving him warning of men who would impact Timothy’s ministry in Ephesus. He didn’t warn Titus of these men. John, likewise, wrote specifically to Gaius. And Jesus said nothing of the Nicolaitans in his messages to the church in Smyrna, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia or Laodicea. Their error didn’t directly affect these churches in the way that it did Ephesus (with their positive rejection) and Pergamum (with their foolish acceptance).

This is instructive for our own day. While there might be a very real threat to the gospel, it may not actually be relevant to our particular local church. If we know that a particular author is widely read among our congregations and we know that he or she holds views that are opposed to the gospel, then it is right to warn the congregation of their teaching. But to name a particular individual who has no influence within our churches may have more in common with gossip than contending for the faith.

Finally, we should always remember the goal of “naming names”. You’ll notice that I repeatedly advise condemning a person’s teaching, rather than the person. This is intentional and, I hope, biblical. While Paul names names, even saying he has handed them over to Satan, it is to that “they may learn not to blaspheme.” Jude likewise commands us to show “mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh” (Jude 23). Simply, the goal is to bring those who promote false doctrine to repentance, and not simply say “They’re traitors and blasphemers, may they burn in hell.”

While we must always be willing to call false teaching what it is—heresy—we ought to be thoughtful about how we express it in relation to the person propagating that teaching. Hate their teaching, hate the lies they spread, hate the mockery they make of the gospel—but do not transfer that hatred to the person. Rather, pray for them to come to repentance and if you have the means, plead with them personally to return to sound teaching.

So, is it appropriate for Christians to name names? Yes, if it is to the benefit of our congregations and that our desire is to see those false teachers return the fold as faithful followers of Jesus Christ.

What’s the Deal with One or Two?

This past week I spent a lot of time blogging through the messages of the truthXchange’s Think Tank and some of you might be wondering, “What’s the deal with this One or Two thing they keep going on about?” The big idea behind this concept is that fundamentally, there are only two worldviews—there is the Truth and the Lie. This is essentially what Paul is talking about in Romans 1:25 when he says that “they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.” Take a look at this quick video:

The language of One-ism vs. Two-ism is a really helpful tool to unpack this truth and how it affects the world around us today, where increasingly our culture and even our churches have succumbed to varying degrees to the Lie. Recently I was asked in an interview about how it’s been helpful for me and probably the biggest has been having a really helpful tool to begin to teach my children the most basic concepts between different worldviews. The grid of One or Two allows us to ask questions of the shows we watch with the girls and even the marketing they’re exposed to in the stores, asking what it is that they’re trying to teach, what do they think it says about God and about us. For us, it’s about critical thinking and not simply telling our kids what to think (because we can’t really do that in any long-lasting way), but how to think. We want them to think carefully about all they are exposed to both outside the church and inside it; to understand, should the Lord open their minds and hearts to understanding such things, that the distinction between Creator and creation is a thing of beauty and really what makes this world and the good news of the gospel make sense.

I hope you’ll take some time to learn more about truthXchange’s ministry by checking out Peter Jones’ most recent book, One or Two, and reviewing the articles and audio/video resources on truthXchange.com. And if the Lord leads, please give financially to support this fantastic ministry.

You Might Be Killing Your Ministry (And Not Even Know It)

What is the one thing that will kill your ministry faster than anything else?

Consider that question as you read. I frequently love to read Proverbs. Reading these principles of life and godliness often serves as a corrective for me as I work and pursue ministry. Something I mentioned a few weeks back was a tendency toward performancism—that is, a tendency to turn the gifts and abilities that God has given as the measure of my worth. So when I’m doing lots and being productive, then I’m great and God’s favor is upon me. When life starts to turn to a subtle shade of Milhouse, well…

As I look around the “celebrity pastor” scene, it seems I’m not alone. One pastor’s Twitter feed has turned into a commercial for his current book. Another shares on his blog how many baptisms his church has seen since its inception whenever criticism starts to come his way. A third’s staff mocks a blogger who voices concern about their boss’ theology. I could go on, but you get the idea and probably have your own experiences.

But this isn’t really a post about celebrity pastors. Other men like Mike Cosper and Thabiti Anyabwile have written on this in the past and I’d commend their work to you. Instead, let’s get back to the question I asked about two paragraphs ago—what will kill your ministry faster than anything else?

Pride. 

This should come as no surprise to anyone who has a passing familiarity with the Proverbs. There is nothing that kills effective ministry faster than pride (even if that ministry seems to be thriving on the outside). Consider the following:

  1. Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. (Prov. 16:18)
  2. Haughty eyes and a proud heart, the lamp of the wicked, are sin. (Prov. 21:4)
  3. “Scoffer” is the name of the arrogant, haughty man who acts with arrogant pride. (Prov. 21:24)
  4. The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate. (Prov. 8:13)
  5. When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom. (Prov. 11:12)
  6. Before destruction a man’s heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor. (Prov. 18:12)
  7. One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor. (Prov. 29:23)

Seven times in these passages, God’s Word says the same thing:

  • Pride is an abomination.
  • It leads to destruction.
  • It brings disgrace.
  • It humiliates.
  • It is hated by God.

We dare not pass over these words quickly. If God truly hates pride this much, then we must consider our actions in the face of criticism and in light of success. If we follow the wisdom of Scripture we see that seeking celebrity will kill our ministries. Bad company will kill our ministries. And failing to listening to wise counsel will kill our ministries.

Do we get the picture, yet?

To be proud in ministry is to jeopardize our ministry—to risk God, in his loving kindness, humiliating us if we start foolishly believing that the number of people who show up matters, how many copies of our books are sold or that we’re above being corrected (even by nobodies who apparently attend Star Trek conventions and live in their moms’ basements). Brothers in ministry, let this never be said of you. Surround yourself with godly men who love you enough to tell you the truth, accept criticism well and fear God above all else. Wisdom and humility will save our ministries—pride will destroy them.

Podcasts, Pastors and People

Recently my friend Trevin Wax shared his concerns about people treating their podcasts as their pastors. There is great reason to be concerned about this. He explains:

But just because we cannot and should not point fingers at each other regarding the problem of celebrity does not mean that we shouldn’t carefully consider the ramifications of pastoral influence being mediated through technology instead of the local church. I offer these thoughts not as a point of criticism but as one of concern. And I’m open to suggestions as to how to lift up local church pastors and celebrate their influence and mentoring.

John Piper was right to remind us that we are not pastored by “professionals.” Perhaps it’s time we remembered that we are not pastored by podcasts either.

In reading his concerns, I kept coming back to the question of why? Why are people turning to podcasts and perhaps too frequently looking to them as their source of biblical nourishment. Where Trevin suggests that this might be, in part, because of a “drought caused by the fatherlessness of our society” along with “the heavy rain of pastoral resources available through technological advance,” I have to wonder if, perhaps, there are at least two other reasons:

1. An inability of church members to submit to the leaders placed over them. The reasons for this are twofold: First, we lack a proper understanding of that there is even such a thing as objective truth. This is fundamentally a worldview issue—if truth is relative, then I am the arbiter of truth, so I’m ultimately my own authority. At best, everyone else has an opinion, but it’s not something I need to listen to. The current generation’s attitudes toward leadership is fruit of decades of mistrust and skepticism. We expect politicians to lie to us. We assume our bosses are going to throw us under the bus in order to save their own skin. And we have wrongly projected that onto our church leaders. The drought Trevin refers to is inextricably connected to this unhealthy attitude, and it is something that must be countered and corrected.

2. Pastors are failing to preach. This is a subject I’ve written on before, but it bears repeating—if pastors are not preaching the Word, they are failing their congregations. And as Jared Wilson said so well recently, “Putting some Bible verses in your message is not the same thing as preaching the Scriptures.” Christians who are starving for the nourishment that only comes from the preached Word will inevitably begin seeking it out, and if they aren’t getting it from their own pastors, they’ll find it somewhere else. It’s not terribly kind to say, but here’s the thing all of us who have been given the privilege to serve the Church through preaching need to remember—Christians need to hear what God says, not what any of us have to say. My message might be cute, maybe even helpful sometimes, but it has no power. The Holy Spirit doesn’t transform lives through a clever turn of phrase; He does so whenever and wherever the Word is faithfully proclaimed.

This is something I’ve had far too much personal experience with. Once upon a time, I was an incredible consumer of podcasts—I was famished, desperate to hear the Word proclaimed and I wasn’t getting that in my local church. Eventually, for various reasons that I’ve shared previously, my family and I left and joined another congregation here in London. And a funny thing happened. As I sat under biblical instruction, I found my “need” to listen to podcasts diminish to the point that I rarely listen to them on a consistent basis today. And within a very short period of time, my pastor actually became my pastor. Because he cares enough to share the full counsel of God—to preach the Scriptures and proclaim the gospel—I want to submit to his leadership. I want to submit to his authority.

So perhaps that’s the place we need to start as we look at our concerns over unhealthy relationships with podcasts and “celebrity” pastors. If you’re pastor isn’t your pastor, then you need to look at why. Examine your own heart and attitudes first and repent of any genuine sinful mistrust of authority, appealing to Christ for his empowerment in putting that sin to death. Don’t automatically assume that your problem is your pastor, because the problem could likely be you. But if the problem truly is that your pastor is failing to preach, humbly approach him in love. Voice your concerns. Pray for him. And as a last resort, part company.

A Biblical Battle Plan for Faithful Street Ministry

Artur Pawlowski. Street Church. Are these names ringing a bell? Depending on your theological convictions, they may be actually sounding an alarm. Many Canadian Christians already know about brother Artur’s “evangelistic escapades” in Calgary, Alberta, over the past six years—actions which have lead to his repeated injunctions, fines, and arrests. A recent National Post article gave him national (and international) attention as he voiced his frustration over the treatment he’s received from police versus that of the Occupy movement protestors.

Though this article is not in an endorsement of Artur’s ministry, it seems that he and I do share something in common: persecution for our faith right here at home.

As a minister of the Gospel, I too have been forced from street corners and threatened with arrest by local law enforcement. I have also been sucker punched while preaching open air. Doing spiritual battle always carries a cost…even when the mission field is right here in Canada.

But how does a good soldier of Christ Jesus both tactically and tactfully please the One who enlisted him, effectively reach out to the lost, sincerely respect authorities, and do so all without compromising the core Truth of the mission?

After years of experience, I have come to believe that biblically and culturally balanced street ministry in North America may be best modeled after what have been called the “three worlds” of Paul the Apostle.

Paul’s “Three Worlds”

The Cross Current (TCC) equips local missionaries to preach the Gospel specifically in the context of our increasingly complex North American culture.

TCC’s training is based on the ministry demonstrated by Paul the Apostle. As an evangelist to the Gentiles, Paul has been appropriately called the “man of three worlds” – an expert in the Scriptures, false beliefs, and rights of Roman citizenship.

This “tripod” of training expertise enabled Paul to be a fruitful and faithful witness predominantly in the context of a Greek (Acts 17) culture, much like ours today.

First, street ministers need to accurately apply the Scriptures. As a Jew, Hebrew of Hebrews, and former Pharisee (Phil. 3:5), Paul was masterful in his handling of Scripture in both evangelism and discipleship. As faith and regeneration come only by God’s sovereign grace through hearing His Word (Eph. 2:8-9; Rom. 10:17; 1 Pt. 1:23), street ministers must resist the pull towards pragmatism and “culturally relevant” preaching by constantly placing their trust in the power of the foolish preaching of the cross.

Second, street ministers need to biblically defend against false belief systems. As a Greek thinker, Paul demonstrated exceptional dexterity in boldly confronting the false belief systems of his day with the truth of Christ, yet always doing so with sensitivity and diplomacy (Acts 17). As ones called to bear witness to exclusive Truth amidst an academically charged culture steeped in philosophical/religious pluralism, street ministers must develop an appropriate balance of both presuppositional and evidential apologetics.

Preaching Christ in Canada, eh?

Granted, while the first two aforementioned Pauline “worlds” are hopefully very obvious to today’s street ministers, it’s been my experience that the third is rarely (if ever) explored. And that is that street ministers must know how to legally leverage their rights as citizens. In several instances, Scripture testifies to how Paul’s timely appeal of his Roman citizenship not only spared him further persecution, but also furthered His God-given mission of evangelizing the Gentiles (Acts 16:37; 22:25). Undoubtedly, this vital component of Paul’s public preaching ministry is the most often overlooked. [Read more...]