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The Privileges of Ministry

This is my 51st blog post, and to date, several of my posts have focused on what I think is realistic look at pastoral ministry. For example, five weeks ago I wrote a two-part post titled “When Ministry Hurts.” And there are times when it does. And the hours can be long. People can disappoint. It’s not always easy to see results.

But ministry can be rewarding as well, and I thought I’d share some of the things that meant a lot to me through the years. It’s helpful to remember the “good things,” because we can easily be discouraged when hard times come. I’m sure you can think of many more than the few that I’ve listed. But maybe when the going gets tough, you can reflect on these privileges, and in the midst of burdens, hardships, and disappointments, you can remember the privileges that God has given to those who serve as pastors.

  1. We have the privilege of studying God’s Word in ways that most laypeople do not. Of course we want our people to be Bible readers. But the busy lives they lead make it hard for many to come close to the in-depth study that we are able to do. Not only are we able to spend time in God’s Word, we have access to a wealth of resources that help us understand the text better. We can ponder the meaning of a text, examine background, and get to know the Bible in a way that most people never have the opportunity to. 
  2. We have the privilege of communicating God’s Word. Whether it be from the pulpit, from the front of a classroom, in a discipleship context, or in a small group, pastors are entrusted with the privilege of speaking for God. We don’t speak our own words, but we explain and apply the Word that God has given us. We occupy a strategic place in God’s plan for the growth of his people. Isn’t that one of the implications of Ephesians 4: “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, 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,” (Ephesians‬ ‭4:11-13‬ ‭ESV‬‬)? While that is a great responsibility, it is also a great privilege.
  3. We have the privilege of seeing people impacted by God’s Word. Sometimes we see people immediately affected and changed by the Word. Other times we compare people to where they were a few months or years before and we can see that they have grown to love God more deeply and know him more fully. They’ve been affected by the ministry God has allowed us to have in their lives. Under your ministry some people’s lives will be touched for eternity.
  4. We have the privilege of knowing that our work is not in vain. You may wonder if you do any good, if your ministry counts for anything. You may see fewer people attending your church, or see someone you’ve worked with fall back into a pattern of sin. But God promises that our labors are not in vain. In 1 Corinthians 15:58 he says to all believers – including pastors – “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (ESV).

There are going to be times when you go through seasons of grief. There may be time when you wonder if you would be better off working in some other vocation. But take heart. We have gifts that God gives us – gifts that are privileges. Be encouraged by these gifts God has given you!

Tools of the Trade for October 14, 2019

A Weekly List of Links and Resources for Pastors

Will Generation “Z” Hold on to the Faith? Great question. May God give them grace to hold on and us to prepare them.

There are many expectations that people have for pastors, but John Frame wonders about the need for gentleness.

There are many expectations that people have for pastors (he said again), but we can’t meet everyone of them. You’ve noticed that, right?

In 1 Thessalonians Paul has such a great description of his ministry, including that of being a nurturing mother. Well worth reading and applying!

Music. Always an issue. It seems that so much of the music we sing is driven more by the fame of artists on Christianity radio than by thoughtful theologians. John Piper asks and answers a great question about the nature of our lyrics.

Had I stayed in ministry longer I probably would have done a series on Acts. It seems a bit daunting, but here are some reasons for preaching through the book.

Reformed and Always Reforming is a couple of minutes with R.C. Sproul that you should read or listen to.

This article on preaching pulls key ideas from 7 solid preachers.

Are you an “at risk pastor?” This article may save your ministry.

Where Did You Come From?

Based on what I see on TV, finding one’s ancestry is a big business. There are several kits that you can buy that trace your ancestry and give you a summary of the ethnicities and nationalities that make up who you are. 

In a nation like ours, with a multitude of different backgrounds, finding out where you came from seems like it would be fun. Some go beyond just the basic DNA information and trace their descendants back as far as possible. My wife has been told that there is a distant relative who signed the Declaration of Independence in her family tree. I know that I am related to Adam and Noah . . .

It is at this time of year that I often think about another kind of heritage. Where did we come from as Christians? In other words, what is our heritage? Furthermore, does it matter if we know how to answer that question?

The church I served was birthed In the 1930s during the conflict between liberalism and fundamentalism. For better (and there was much) or worse (and there was some) the fundamentalism of the 40s, 50s, and 60s substantially shaped our church.

Other churches, newer perhaps, can trace their heritage back to the Jesus Movement of the 70s, or the church growth movements of recent decades. Some contemporary churches were born out of the seeker movement and others are products of the “Reformed Resurgence” of the last twenty years.

But what about before all of that?

October 31, 2019 is the 502nd anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting of The 95 Theses, points for discussion and debate relating to what Luther and others saw as problems within the system of medieval Catholicism. While scholars recognize that there were forerunners to Luther’s thinking, October 31, 1517, is generally regarded as the start of the Protestant Reformation. I do not have the means or wisdom to rank events in history, but I believe the Reformation is up near the top in terms of events that have shaped western civilization. 

Many denominations annually recognize the last Sunday in October as Reformation Sunday. But what if your church is not part of an older denomination? Does the Reformation have any relevance for your church? My answer is an emphatic “yes,” and I believe that acknowledging the Reformation is an opportunity to connect your church – whatever its DNA – to the great doctrinal truths that Bible-believing Protestant churches of all stripes confess. 

One of the most fruitful preaching series that I preached was a series on major principles of the Reformation. I began the series with a summary of Luther’s journey to faith, and then spent five subsequent Sundays looking at each of the five major tenants of the Reformation: Scripture Alone, Faith Alone, Grace Alone, Christ Alone, God’s Glory Alone. 

That series enabled me to preach on justification, grace, the nature of Scripture, the uniqueness of Jesus, and the greatness of God. It allowed me to address bad thinking and believing that Christian people are exposed to, both inside and outside the church. And it gave our people the sense that, despite tracing our own church history only as far back as the 1930s, their heritage went much farther back than that.

Believing and spreading the doctrines of the Reformation cost people their lives. Yes, it led to upheaval, and yes, the Reformers weren’t without flaws. But believing churches exist today because of what has been passed down through the years, just as you exist because of those who came before you. 

The term “Fake News” has been prominent in political discussions of our day. Maybe it’s time we coined the term “Fake Theology” or even (I’m bracing myself here) “Fake Church.” There’s plenty about American evangelicalism that is rooted in the pragmatic to the exclusion of sound doctrine, and a host of plain old bad thinking. Yet our people are exposed to it on the radio, TV, and in books they read. Why not give them some meat, some solid food to counter what may be popular, but has little if any substance?

I promise you this, pastor friend: if you take some time to study the Reformation and some of its key truths, you will not be the same. I believe your ministry can take on a new shape, be driven by a new passion for your people’s spiritual well-being, and that your own soul will be enriched. It will also help your people see that they are connected to Christians of different backgrounds and different times and give them a deeper appreciation for the Church.

There’s a good deal of material available on the Reformation, both for you and your people. But rather than my suggesting particular resources, go on over to and see what these good folks have that can be helpful. If you don’t feel up to a sermon series, there are some great video resources that you can use in a Sunday School class.

If you’re not convinced, let me challenge you to read this article written by Michael Reeves two years ago: Why The Reformation Still Matters. And if you choose to educate your people about their spiritual heritage, may God bless your efforts and strengthen your church!

I’m copying this from the Ligonier website: This Reformation Month, watch a short video every day on the history and insights of the Protestant Reformation. And don’t forget that for this month only, you can request your free digital download of R.C. Sproul’s video teaching series Luther and the Reformation plus the ebook edition of The Legacy of Luther, edited by R.C. Sproul and Stephen Nichols at (link). Offer ends October 31, 2019.

The video series is superb, and anything Steve Nichols writes is worth reading. Enjoy!

Succeeding As An Assistant

No matter how your church is organized, if you work on a church staff, in most cases there is one person who is regarded as the “Senior Pastor” with the rest of the staff being – to some degree – subordinate to him. Even though there seems to be movement toward more of a team approach, from what I can tell there is still some hierarchy in most staff situations.

This post is probably going to be most relevant for the person serving in more of a traditional hierarchical structure, but what I’m writing can be useful for those working in a setting where those lines are not as firmly drawn.

For the sake of discussion, I’m going to refer to those who are not in Lead Pastor or Senior Pastor roles as “Assistant” Pastors. Churches often use the term“Associate,” and sometimes people are called “Pastor to (insert area of special focus).”

I’d like to suggest that being an Assistant Pastor is not an easy gig. Not that being a Senior Pastor is a bowl of cherries either, but each role has its own challenges, and I’d like to offer some suggestions on how those of you who serve as Assistants can make that work. I spent 2/3 of my 40 years in ministry being an Assistant Pastor, so I know some of the frustrations – and joys – of that role.

It goes without saying that before you accept any ministry position you need to do due diligence about the church that has interest in you. Hopefully you have an opportunity to visit at least once or twice, spend a few days with the rest of the staff and leaders, and see at least one typical Sunday. But even after doing your best to get a sense of whether a particular situation is where God wants you to be, you can’t know everything about a church or those you’ll serve with. But do your best to find out as much as you can.

Here are three suggestions for those of you who contemplate serving, or are serving, as an Assistant. I believe following all three of these will make your life easier and your ministry more productive.

Support Your Pastor

There are a number of ways in which you can show support to the Senior Pastor, but here are two that are not related to the particular role in which you serve.

First, as an assistant you should be eager to assist. While you may be primarily responsible a specific area of ministry within the church, the Senior Pastor generally has responsibility for the whole enterprise. Of course one hopes that he is working with a group of other Elders. But from the standpoint of the day-to-day functioning of the church, his desk is where the buck stops. Try to develop a sensitivity to his workload and offer to help where you can. Perhaps there is something that he is doing that you can take on as a way of making his load a bit lighter. I know – you’re busy in your own role. But look for ways to help.

Second, be a resource. If you know he’s preaching on a certain subject, or if you know that he’s dealing with a particular issue, keep your eyes out for books or articles that might be helpful to him. I am not suggesting that you become a research assistant. But you may find something in your reading that will encourage him or help him with his work.

Know Your People

Associate Pastors are often responsible for a specific area of ministry. In 1980, when I first came to the church I most recently served, our staff consisted of a Senior Pastor, an Associate Pastor (who preached on occasion, taught, and handled hospital visitation), a Youth Pastor, and then a part-time Minister of Music. In addition I initially worked part-time as the Director of Christian Education.

If you are serving in an area where your primary focus is a specific sub-section of the church (youth group, seniors, children, choir), it can be possible to find yourself out of touch with the rest of the church. But I want to encourage you to look at the whole congregation as your flock.

I don’t know what it’s like today, but when I started out, if I visited a church member who was in the hospital, there were times when that person would be unhappy that the Senior Pastor didn’t come. I hope that attitude isn’t present today, but I’ll bet that in some places it’s alive and well. But if it is, it can change.

In our church I was responsible for the entire education program of the church, but I spent a good deal of time developing a ministry to younger couples. When I started we had a half-dozen couples in their 20s and early 30s. But within a few years I was teaching a Sunday School class of 80-90 people in the “younger couple” age bracket. However, I also made sure that I had time for other ages, and gradually as people got to know me, my visit was just as good as being visited by the Senior Pastor.

Know Your Place

Your Pastor has the right to expect support and loyalty. You may not agree with every decision he makes, but you should never be caught talking to other church members about what you perceive to be his failings or about disagreements you have with him. If some individual or group is giving him grief, tell him that you’re praying for him. If you think differently than he does on a matter, decide if it’s worth talking to him about and then find a respectful way to express it.

Finally, knowing your place also involves making sure that you don’t look at your current role as a stepping stone to something greater. Most Assistant Pastors eventually move on to either another position or to a Senior Pastor’s role in another church. Nothing wrong with that. But as long as you’re serving as an Assistant where you are, serve wholeheartedly and let God plan your future ministry.

Tools of the Trade for October 7, 2019

A Weekly List of Links and Resources for Pastors

There are quite a few good articles plus some other resources that I’ve come across this week. I hope you find something worthwhile here.

I agree with the author of this article. When I was a pastor, it was nice to have Sunday nights free. I’d work in my office and set myself up for the week. But if I put my own desires aside, I have to admit that an evening service would have been spiritually beneficial to our church.

Talking with our church people about their flaws is not easy, but Dan Doriani shares a perspective that may help us have the courage to do so when we need it.

There are seasons to ministry, and this wise article encourages us to embrace them.

October is Pastor Appreciation Month. I always felt a little awkward about PAM, even though the concept is certainly biblical. But it was always encouraging to be appreciated, and leaders need that. It’s a hard thing for us to talk about, but maybe this is an article that can be shared with your church.

Daryl Dash says that if you’re a pastor, you’re going to have to learn to pastor sometimes with a a broken heart. Be encouraged by this piece.

“Why did God allow . . . ?” That’s a question you’re likely to get asked. Here’s some help with talking to our people about natural disasters.

This is such a great article on making the sermon the high point of Sunday worship as well as well as being committed to real preaching.

I am so grateful for the ministry of R.C. Sproul. Probably the most memorable sermon I’ve ever heard was one on justification by faith that he preached at John MacArthur’s Shepherd’s Conference over 15 years ago. This is a video clip called When the Gospel is At Stake. Note that there are some offers for free resources!

Have a great week! See you bright and early on Wednesday morning.

Don’t Take For Granted That They Know How To Listen!

We should always look for ways to be better communicators. We should always want to improve as preachers so that the message we bring from God’s Word is presented in as understandable a way as possible. However, I believe that we need to broaden our focus.

I recall teaching a class on communication in marriage where the process was broken down something like this. Communication involves:

  • What you said.
  • What you meant by what you said.
  • What you think you said.
  • What the other person hears.
  • What the other person thinks you meant by what you said.

I may not have gotten all these elements right or in the right order, but the point is that when two or more people talk, there’s a lot going on. Reading this makes me think it’s a miracle that any of us understands anything!

At the most basic level, communication involves speaking (or writing) and listening (or reading). When pastors focus on better communicators, we tend to look at how we can be more effective speakers. And we should do that! But let me suggest that we should also think about how to help our people become more effective listeners. In other words, our people can and should be taught how to listen to a sermon.

If that sounds strange, it may be because we have an expectation that people automatically know how to listen to sermons. We talk. They listen. Voilà!

But not so fast!

How do we know that they are listening well? How can we tell if they are tracking with us? How can we be sure they don’t misunderstand what we’re saying? Certainly the burden of responsibility for listening falls on the hearer. But if we can help them a bit, nudge them toward a more intentional listening, we’re doing them a great service.

A few years ago I came across a booklet by Christopher Ash entitled Listen Up. It’s about $3.50 from Westminster Seminary’s bookstore, which is less than I saw it for on Amazon. But if you want to buy a bunch of them, you can get a pretty good discount from The Good Book Company. After reading the booklet myself, I made a bulk purchase and gave them away over the course of a few Sunday mornings. I may even have developed a small group discussion around it. If I didn’t, why didn’t I think of that then? HA HA

It would be a benefit both to you and to your people if you provided copies of this booklet for them. Maybe they can kick in a buck or two if they can to offset the cost. However you handle the accounting, it’s something that would be helpful.

There are other practical ways you can help your people be better listeners. You may already be doing the first two, but we can always do them better:

Put A Note Sheet in the Bulletin. Most churches that I’ve been in either do this or provide some space in the bulletin to take notes. But make sure your note sheet guides them as they listen.

By the way, you may come across the occasional article or argument against having people take notes. The reasoning is that the sermon is a special means whereby God speaks through the messenger to his people. It is therefore not to be regarded as a lecture, but is to be heard with the mind and heart. I appreciate the point, but I don’t think it precludes note-taking. Granted, if people are trying to write a long sentence they thought was significant, they could miss a couple of others that might even be more important by the time they’re done. But a having brief main points and a fill-in-the-blank note sheet, coupled with a judicious use of visuals, can help them write and still keep pace. Which brings me to the second point.

Use Visuals Judiciously. PowerPoint-type presentations have become so prevalent in our churches that you may wonder why I even bother suggesting that you do something you’re already doing. But notice that I also use the word “judicious.”

Avoid cute stuff. Stay away from visual for the sake of visual. Vow not to use visuals to entertain. You don’t want to distract from or negate the seriousness of the moment. But a PowerPoint presentation that lists your major points (underline the words that go in the blanks!) can be very helpful. I’d also project quotes if I felt they would help, and occasionally a map or a picture if it would help people understand.

Again, you may use these tools already, but if not, I’d recommend both.

Finally, Talk to Your People About Listening. Is it possible to preach an expository sermon on how to listen to a sermon? I would answer with a qualified “yes.” I don’t know that we have to devote an entire sermon to the subject, but just think – how often do the Scriptures themselves encourage us to pay attention, to hear, to listen, to Scripture? How many times do the biblical writers remind us of the unique character of the Bible as the inspired, inerrant Word of God and tie that to an admonition to pay attention?

When we come across those times, wouldn’t it be appropriate to take a few minutes and remind people to be good listeners? You might illustrate with something from Christopher Ash’s booklet or a quote from one or more of the articles I’ll list at the bottom of this post.

Do people need to be taught to pray? Do they need to be taught how to read the Bible? Do they need to be taught how to apply the Bible to their lives? We would answer these in the affirmative. Don’t leave out the need to teach them how to listen. It’s one of those Christian “skills” that is too important to their spiritual health to assume that they’ll pick up good habits by accident.

Here are several articles that you might want to read and reference. Thanks once again for stopping by! I’d be glad to hear ideas from my readers.

Here are three articles all with the same title, but of course written by three different authors:

Here’s one by Scott Slayton on Patheos

Dr. Phil Ryken writes on Reformation21’s website

Finally here’s one by Daryl Crouch that was in LifeWay’s “Facts and Trends”

God bless you as you minister this weekend!

One of the Saddest Days of the Year

This was written on Tuesday, October 1, which will help some of you make sense of my use of “today” and “yesterday.” 😁

Hang in there with me on this one for a few minutes, ok?

For me, today is one of the saddest days of the year. It is a precursor to what is – for millions like me – the official Saddest Day of the Year.

Today there are no baseball scores to look at. No boxscores to peruse, no special in-game heroics videos to watch. Yesterday was a day without baseball. Of course it all changes starting tonight, as the month-long playoffs begin. But once they conclude, what is true about today will be true for several months. And there’s a touch of sadness in that.

Prior to 1964 I had absolutely no interest in sports. But that all changed in 1964 when I became a Baseball Fan. I lived in a suburb of New York City, and and my favorite team was the New York Yankees. My favorite player was Bobby Richardson, their second baseman at the time. Bobby had come to speak at the church where my parents and family would eventually come to know Christ.

In 1980 we moved to Philadelphia, and for a variety of reasons I switched allegiance to the Phillies and have been an avid fan of baseball in particular and the Phillies in particular. And if you are a baseball fan, yes, this has been a very long year.

I still collect baseball cards. I participate in a fantasy baseball league. I try to listen to at least part of each Phillies broadcast. I scan those boxscores in the morning. If I have opportunity, I watch “Quick Pitch” on the MLB Network. If I had to go on a desert island and could only take two books, I’d take a good reference Bible and the most recent Baseball Encyclopedia I could put my hands on. I even think I we might be able to play baseball in the age to come. (I’ve almost got that worked out. Maybe someday I’ll reveal my madness.) In short, I love the game.

You may be wondering what this has to do with being a pastor. I’ll confess it has nothing to do with preaching, church administration, or caring for the flock. But baseball and the variety of ways in which I enjoy it is a gift from God, and it has had an impact on my life and hence, my work as a pastor. I really do believe that.

Maybe baseball doesn’t seem like a gift of God to you. I can pray for your repentance. 😇 But God has given us a countless number of recreational pursuits that are valid, good, and actually quite necessary.

What’s your thing? Reading? Gardening? Hiking? Football? Stamp collecting? They are all gifts of God. Can they be abused? Yes they can. They can consume an inordinate amount of time. We can become too emotionally involved. As an example of the latter, I know of a young man who had to be taken from Lincoln Financial Field, where the Philadelphia Eagles football team plays, to the hospital because his upset over the way the Eagles were playing resulted in chest pains. We all know that’s a bit over the top. And while it is possible to enjoy our interests to in an unhealthy way, it is also possible to enjoy them in moderation.

Here’s what Paul wrote: “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. – 1 Timothy 6:17 ESV (Italics mine).

Yes, it’s one verse. And yes, it can be twisted so that what is clearly sinful can be wrongfully called something God gave us to enjoy. But the fact is that the good things in our lives are good gifts from a kind and gracious God.

Here’s where this intersects with pastoral ministry: sometimes we get so caught up with the burden of the work we do that we burn the candle at both ends. If you do that – or are heading toward a lifestyle of doing that – no matter how noble your motives, you’re going to flame out. And then you’ll be no good to anyone. Don’t believe it? Based on what I’ve read over the years, pastoral burnout is alive and well and doesn’t appear to be going away soon.

Of course you should not be lazy in your ministry. Work hard at being a faithful shepherd. And of course you shouldn’t be obsessive with hobbies and interests. But don’t ignore them either. If you don’t have some kind of recreational interest, let me encourage you to find one.

Younger pastor or older, you need some kind of diversion to take your mind off of the pressures of ministry. You need this for your own mental and emotional well-being. You need to enjoy some of the gifts God has given to us. If you don’t, you’re likely going to reach a day when you are no longer effective in ministry. And that would truly be a very sad day.

For you fellow baseball fans, author David Hart wrote this piece in First Things almost a decade ago. Get a tissue. You might shed a tear.