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Archive for the ‘Ministry’ Category


It has been an unusual month as I have preached in 4 very different congregations.  Obviously each has its strengths and weaknesses, but all were meaningful times of worship.

The first was a suburban church that has been struggling the last few years.  The facaility was built in the 1990’s.  The congregation was about 130 or so.  They were mostly empty nesters, with a few families with children.  The worship style was blended, with an emphasis on the 1970’s and 80’s.  They used a piano, guitars, saxophone and song leaders.  They had some traditional elements as well- call to worship, pastoral prayer, responsive reading from the Westminster Catechism and a benediction.

The second was a smaller suburban church of about 50.  There seemed to be a relatively even age distribution.  Musically they were also blended, but drew from the 90’s and 2000’s.  The only instrument was a piano and they had some song leaders.  They had similar traditional elements.  Though smaller, they sang louder (or at least it filled up the room better).  They were a bit less reserved, yet more formal in their dress.

The third was an urban church of about 100 that met in an old theater.  The building had lots of character with the old brick walls.  It was darker, with lights on the stage area.  It was decidedly upbeat, with more of a free church worship style.  The worship band was very good and included keyboards, electric guitar, bass, and drums in addition to the song leaders.  The congregation was multi-ethnic, but the songs drew largely from the last 2 decades.  The people tended to be younger.

The fourth was also an inner city church of about 50, which met in an old church building.  It had lots of character, like a small cathedral.  It was nice to sit in pews.  It was also multi-ethnic.  It was also a less structured service, but they also recited the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer to keep in touch with our heritage.  The worship team was a guitarist, electric bass and 2 singers.  The music focused primarily on the holiness and grace of God, drawing on music from the last decade.

It is wonderful to see the rich variety of congregations, facilities, and worship styles.  Too often we get stuck in our own little world.  I’ve enjoyed being enriched by the Body of Christ as I sought to enrich them with the Word of God.  It is encouraging to see God at work in a variety of situations.

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I’ve come across Total Church: A Radical Reshaping around Gospel and Community via the internet.  A growing number of church planters are utilizing the concept.  Steve Timmis, one of the authors of the book, is the new director of Acts 29 Europe.  The San Diego Church Planters’ Boot Camp, hosted by Kaleo, was on Total Church.  I’ve begun to listen, and just borrowed the book from a friend.

The concept is intriguing to me.  The church is a gospel-formed community of people being gospel-shaped.  They have a community-centered understanding of the gospel, which runs counter to the individualistic mindset of most Christians and churches today.  I’d like to consider the relationship between the gospel, community and mission more thoroughly.  It seems less like the “latest, greatest program” or method, but an attempt to return to the power of the gospel, and the emphases of the gospel.

Here is an interview with Tim Chester on Desiring God Ministries blog:

DG: Tim, what do you and Steve Timmis mean by the title Total Church?

Tim Chester: The phrase is actually adapted from the world of football (or soccer in the States!). “Total football” was a style of play associated with the Dutch international side in the 1970s.

“Total church” is our way of capturing the idea that church is not one activity in our lives. Church isn’t a meeting you attend or a building your enter. It’s our identity, our community, our family.  It’s the context for the totality of the Christian life.

DG: How would you summarize the message of the book?

TC: Total Church argues for two core principles: We need to be gospel-centered and community-centered.

Being gospel-centered means we’re word-centered (because the gospel is a message; it is good news), and it means being mission-centered (because the gospel is a message to be proclaimed; it is good news).

I think most conservative evangelicals are strong on this. But we also need to be community-centered. The Christian community is the biblical context for evangelism, discipleship, pastoral care, social involvement, and so on. That doesn’t mean meetings. It means the shared life of the community.

One of our catchphrases is “ordinary people living ordinary life with gospel intentionality.” It means doing the chores, having meals, watching sports, and so on with an intention to talk about Jesus, to pastor one another with the gospel, and to share that gospel with unbelievers.

DG: At several points in the book, you mention the value of hospitality. Do you see this virtue as lacking in the church today, and is there is an especially significant need for it in the 21st-century church?

TC: Here’s what I think is the key issue. In the book, we tell the story of a young man who invited us to do some street preaching with him. When we said it wasn’t really the way we did things, he clearly doubted our courage and commitment.

We began to talk instead about a whole life lived in mission and community, in which we were always looking to build relationships and always looking to talk about Jesus. By the end of the conversation, he admitted he wasn’t sure if he was up for that.

He wanted evangelism you could do for two hours on a Saturday afternoon and then switch off. Tick. Job done for the week. He didn’t want a missional lifestyle.

I think that’s the issue with hospitality. People want to put church and evangelism into a slot in the schedule. But we need to be sharing our lives with others—with shared meals and open homes. That can be demanding, but it’s also wonderfully enriching.

(more…)

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I first read Eugene Peterson’s book Working the Angles: the Shape of Pastoral Integrity in the mid-90’s.  I read all of his books on pastoral ministry, finding them helpful.  A decade in to pastoral ministry, and preparing for my next call, I decided to read it again.

I found that while the book hadn’t changed, I had.  I fully agree with Peterson’s main point that pastors have largely abandoned their calling for a substitute, a counterfeit that undermines the work of God.  I also fully agree with the tasks of pastoral ministry being largely prayer, Scripture and spiritual direction.

Where I am not so on board is how he gets there.  He draws from sources  that I am at time uncomfortable with.  I’m not a TR.  I read books, and benefit from them, that are outside of the Reformed heritage.  I read Nouwen, a Kempis and other devotional writers.  I’m interested in reading de Sales as well.  But the bulk of my significant reading is within one stream of thought.

Peterson pulls from Greek mythology, neo-orthodox authors and devotional writers.  He does not often ground his thoughts in Scripture, which is odd since that is one of his 3 angles.  I think I only found one reference to a Puritan, who have written numerous volumes on prayer, Scripture and the need for soul friends (aka spiritual directors).  This I find to be a glaring weakness.

So, while Peterson’s book is helpful, it is less helpful than perhaps it could have been.  This is sad, because we do need more books that focus on shepherding people, not treating pastors as CEOs.

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With a slight let up in work, I can get to work on the new box of books that just arrived from the Westminster Theological Seminary Bookstore.  Here’s what I got:

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Non-sermon related reading has fallen off the grid the last few months.  I feel like I’ve been reading this book for the better part of 6 months.  Not quite, but I have finally finished Graeme Goldsworthy’s Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics: Foundations and Principles of Evangelical Biblical Interpretation.  I already reviewed the first 2 sections which dealt with the basics of interpretation and his argument for a gospel-centered hermeneutic, and how various methods of Bible interpretation have eclipsed the gospel throughout church history.

The final section, Reconstructing Evangelical Hermeneutics, was the most difficult for me to read.  At times he covered areas of philosophy with which I was unfamilar.  So, I was occasionally thinking ‘huh?” (particularly speech-act theory).  But it was still profitable at times, just not as profitable as the previous 2 sections.

Among the areas that were helpful were his discussion of typology, and Dr. John Currid’s criteria for true typology.  This criteria is affirmed by Keller & Clowney in the DMin course available through RTS on I-Tunes.  He was also helpful in discussion contexting (his simpler term for contextualization).  The missionary mandate, as he argues, mandates this.  He also includes a chapter on the interaction and relationship between biblical and systematic theology.  He talks a great deal about how both Calvin and Luther viewed Bible interpretation, and the role of the Spirit (particularly Calvin on this front)

His Epilogue contains a few good quotes to sum all this up:

Hermeneutics is about reading God’s word with understanding so taht we might be conformed more and more to the image of Christ.

The purpose of God’s word is to bring us to God through the salvation that is in Christ.  It does this by revealing his plan and purpose, by conforming us more and more to the image of Christ, and by providing the shape of the presence of God with his people through the Spirit of Christ.

So, pastors and those who regularly teach God’s people should find Goldsworthy’s book helpful as we seek to fulfill our calling.  As the ancient children’s song says, “take up and read.”

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A friend of mine just started a new position with a church.  The Sr. Pastor wanted him to read Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity by Eugene Peterson.  So, I lent him my copy.  He just gave it back, and I decided to re-read it.  It has been nearly a decade since I read this book.  I’ve enjoyed his books on ministry in the past.  It will be interesting to see what 9 years in the trenches will do to shape my view of them now.

Today I read the introduction during a slow spot in the ER.  Though written over 20 years ago, his words of warning still ring true.

Peterson believes that most pastors have left their post, “whoring after other gods.”  He relates meetings with other pastors when they discuss, not the difficulties of staying close to God and helping others until Christ is formed in them, but numbers and programs. 

“The pastors of America have metamorphosed into a company of shopkeepers, and the shops they keep are churches.  They are preoccupied with shopkeeper’s concerns- how to keep customers happy, how to lure customers away from competitors down the street, how to package the good so that the customers will lay out more money.”

 We have fallen prey to the mindset of consumerism and marketing.  He then quotes Martin Thornton:

“A walloping great congregation is fine, and fun, but what most communities need is a couple of saints.  The tragedy is that they may well be there in embryo, waiting to be discovered, waiting for sound training, waiting to be emancipated from the cult of the mediocre.”

That really is the joy of ministry, discovering those who long to be godly and serve others.  And then to invest in them and see them grow (with ups and downs).  For me it wasn’t so exciting to kick off a new program.  But to see someone “get it” or make some great strides in growth really stoked me.

“The biblical fact is that there are no successful churches.  There are, instead, communities of sinners, gathered before God week after week in towns and villages all over the world.  The Holy Spirit gathers them and does his work in them.  In these communities of sinners, one of the sinners is called pastor and given a designated responsibility in the community.  The pastor’s responsibility is to keep the community attentive to God.  It is this responsibility that is being abandoned in spades.”

Yeah, I can see that all around me.  People expect the glitz and sparkle.  But the reality, helping people listen to God … not so much in demand these days.   Most pastors are doing what they need to do to remain gainfully employed.  Richard Pratt used to remind us often, “If you earn your living from your faith, you’ll lose either your living or your faith.”  If you keep your faith, and live it out, not many churches will really be interested in you.  But if you stop living by biblical convictions, you may have a tough time finding a church willing to listen.  Some might say this is what I tell myself so I’ll sleep at night.  But I heard plenty of stories from other guys- many a church wants a CEO or entrepenour, not a pastor.

“The visible lines of pastoral work are preaching, teaching, and administration.  The small angles of this ministry are prayer, Scripture, and spiritual direction.”

Peterson’s point in the introduction is that these angles can be faked.  “We can impersonate a pastor without being a pastor.”  We can fool people that we are the real deal, at least for awhile.  Peterson’s book is about developing an attentiveness to God so you can help others be attentive to Him through prayer, Scripture and spiritual direction (individual and corporate).  He’s trying to move pastors back into a spiritual reality we never should have left.

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I made a joke on a friend’s Facebook wall the other day.  He lamented playing too much ping-pong in seminary.  I joked that his ministry would be more effective if he hadn’t.  It’d be more like mine …

I figure he’s having a pretty effective ministry.  The church I pastored closed (lots of reasons for that).  I, by no means, took Winter Haven by storm for the Gospel.  But I had some meaningful ministry over those 9 years, and in the 1 1/2 years since then as I’ve done pulpit supply.

Lest we make too much of that (failure), let’s consider the Apostle Paul.  I did while trying not to wake up this morning.  Paul didn’t take every town he visited by storm.  Yes, he saw conversions- I saw a few of those.  He saw Christians grow- saw some of that too.  But he was run out of more than a few cities.  There were riots, a stoning, death threats and more.  Being run out of town might say something about you, but it also says something about those who ran you out of town.

(more…)

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