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What I Learned in My First Pastorate

A few years ago Towers invited me to reflect on what I learned in my first pastorate at Baptist Church of the Redeemer. I now post what I wrote then in this space.

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A small group of nobodies in a big room seemed really unimpressive, but I confess vanity and pride.

To be honest, I expected a lot of growth, and I expected it fast.

It didn’t happen.

Sunday after Sunday, month after month, the same four families and a few singles gathered for worship at Baptist Church of the Redeemer. As this happened, the Lord slowly disabused me of the notion that the church was going to grow because of me. It hurts to have your pride molded into humility, but it feels good, too, and how liberating! Not to mention the way others prefer humility to pride.

Through this experience, I learned that Jesus keeps His promise to build His church. I learned the power of the Word of God. And I learned – or made progress in learning – to love people.

Jesus keeps His promise His way

Jesus said, “I will build my church.” It’s His church. His glory is at stake in it. He keeps His Word. And he does it His way.

Have you noticed what a bad strategist the Lord seems to be? If you were God, and you wanted to save the world, would you do it by parading your deity or by sending Jesus to take on human flesh? And, if you chose the route of incarnation, would you go somewhere important, say, Rome or Jerusalem, or would you go to a hick town like Nazareth?

Once there, what would you do? Write some books and network with significant people? Or do manual labor for 30 years, then the big time: three more years of ambling around the Galilean countryside with smelly fishermen, preaching to unlearned crowds that happen to gather? To top it all off, would you let a bunch of wicked rebels kill you?

The Lord may seem to be a bad strategist, but His strategy is the best strategy. God accomplished salvation in Christ by the way of the cross, and Jesus calls His followers to take up their crosses, too. Jesus keeps His promise to build His church as His people follow in His steps.

Jesus gets glory when nobodies gather and love each other. Jesus gets glory when nobodies gather in moldy buildings in bad parts of town. Jesus gets glory when pastors forsake the wisdom of the world, set aside attempts to show off, open the Bible and preach it.

The power of the Word of God

David Wells says the mark of the evangelical church in America is superficiality. I am convinced that authenticity comes from the clear exposition of the Scriptures. People encounter God when His Word is read to them, explained to them and applied to them by the power of the Spirit. How do you get past the happy-smiley veneer people wear to church? Preach the Word.

Do you want singles in their late 20s and early 30s confessing anxiety about finding a mate, asking you to pray for them to trust the Lord’s providence in their lives? Do you want guys confessing their struggles with pornography as they seek to join the church? Do you want people with real problems (homosexual urges and the fallout from past sexual sin, whether lingering STD’s or guilt from an abortion) joining the church and coming for counsel in their struggle against sin? Do you want guys coming to you because they’re afraid of the way they’ve been rough with their wives and they don’t want it to go any further, so they’re seeking accountability?

You don’t get this from wearing cool clothes, having a trendy name for your church or learning to preach from comedians. If it comes – and if the authenticity about “big” sins is accompanied by authenticity about “acceptable” sins – it will come by the power of the Spirit through the preaching of the Word. The Bible convinces us to quit playing games. The Bible shows us the beauty of holiness. The Bible convicts us of the worth of this treasure, and we sell all we have – or risk exposing our sin – to buy the field in which the treasure lies.

Loving people

I can remember saying to Denny Burk when we were in school together: “I don’t want to spend time with people, there’s too much to read.” His reply came with a piercing look in tones of prophetic conviction: “Then you’re never going to minister to anybody.”

I also remember the sermon I preached on the absolute sovereignty of God, and there my sweet wife sat in the front row weeping. She wasn’t weeping because of the beauty of what I was saying; she was weeping because I was beating the people of God over the head with the club of truth in good know-it-all, seminary graduate fashion.

The people of God are familiar with us seminary types, and they have their guard up against us. There is only one way to convince them that they can let their guard down, to convince them that they can talk to us: love them. Listen to them. Let them talk. Stop correcting them. Let them explain their views, and if they don’t want your response to what they’ve said, don’t counter them. Ask the Lord to use your preaching to form their thinking. Trust him, and love the people in your care. Don’t back down from speaking the truth in love, but make sure that they sense love as you speak truth.

So did the church ever grow?

Yes, and do you want to know when? When I listened to my wife’s godly suggestion that we start a Wednesday night prayer meeting. We gathered together, sinful beggars clothed by faith with the righteousness of Christ, and we laid hold on the Lord in prayer. Drenched in His mercy, we called on the name of the Lord.

That church didn’t grow because of me. That church grew because Jesus kept His promise, because the Word of God is powerful and because we were all learning to love each other the way Jesus loved us. In spite of our insignificance, the moldy building in the bad part of town, the mediocre music and the non-flashy sermons that sought to explain the Bible, the Lord was adding to our number daily. “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to thy name give glory, because of thy lovingkindness, because of thy truth” (Ps 115:1).

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How to Blow Up a Church in Three Easy Steps

Here are three very easy things you can do if you want to dishonor God, cause a lot of heartache, and probably shorten your tenure as the pastor of a church:

1. Be proud.

Who would go into a church and be proud? All of us in some way or another. But it might not be the kind of pride you recognize. Naturally we’re going to avoid the overt, obvious pride, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the pride that’s there, even if no one sees it immediately on the surface. I’m talking about the kind of pride that leads you to think that you are—or will be soon—as good a preacher as John Piper or David Platt. Go into a church thinking that it won’t be long before you’re invited to be a Gospel Coalition Counsel Member, before John MacArthur invites you to speak at The Shepherds’ Conference, or before people are flocking in droves to hear you preach. This kind of pride leads you to think: these little people at this insignificant church are so blessed to have me and they don’t even realize it.

Christ died for those little people, and that insignificant church is God’s vanguard in the world. Go into it thinking that you’re too big for it, go into it proud, and you’ve got the dynamite in place to blow it up.

2. Make assumptions. 

Assume these people don’t know what they’re doing. Assume none of them know what a wartime lifestyle is, that none of them are willing to suffer for the gospel or the church, and that they all have terrible theology. Assume you’re going to fix them. Assume that you’re as savvy and creative as Mark Dever, as funny and endearing as C. J. Mahaney, as respectable as Lig Duncan, and as likeable as Thabiti Anyabwile. Then assume that you’re going to be as wise and loving and as convincing as these men have been as they have shepherded churches toward greater faithfulness.

Combine your assumptions about the people and the church with your assumptions about your ability to preach and lead, and not only do you have the dynamite in place you have the matches in hand.

3. Don’t act like Jesus.

Ready to light the fuse? Be sure not to act like Jesus. What I mean in particular is this: don’t go into that church to serve but to be served. Wait for them to initiate conversations with you. Wait for them to ask you questions. Wait for them to invite you over to their homes, then complain when they don’t. Wait for them to ask you how they can help. Tell them how they can pray for you, but be sure not to ask them how you might pray for them. Give them the sense that you’re too important to spend time with them. Communicate very clearly that anytime they talk to you, their ignorance and impertinence annoys you. You don’t have to show them directly—you can make it known by the way you talk about them behind their backs, that will get back to them and next time they’ll know better than to approach you.

Wear the pride of knowing you’re the next Piper not on your sleeve but as your undershirt. It will show in ways you don’t expect. Assume that you will be as effective leading the church as Mark Dever. The ways you lack his gifting will soon be obvious. And carry yourself like an aristocrat, not like Jesus. He said the greatest would be the servant, but you’re already the greatest so you needn’t bother serving anyone.

The dynamite is in place. The match is in hand, lit, and you’ve set flame to fuse. The fallout from the explosion will be devastating.

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I wrote this short piece for Towers a couple years ago and now post it here.

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Can A Presbyterian Join a Baptist Church?

How does one’s stance on baptism affect membership decisions? If a person is a convinced paedobaptist (i.e., one who holds to infant baptism) and declines to be baptized (i.e., immersed) as a believer, should that prohibit him or her from being a member of the church?

My attempt to answer these questions is on The Gospel Coalition Blog.

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How Often Should a Church Take the Lord’s Supper?

How often should a church take the Lord’s supper?

Let’s cut straight to the chase: I think the New Testament indicates that the early church took the Lord’s supper every Lord’s day, that is, every Sunday. My key piece of evidence for this is in Acts 20:7, “On the first day of the week, when we gathered to break bread . . .” Earlier in Acts we read of the earliest church, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers . . . day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes” (2:42, 46).

The question, from these two references, is what they do when they “break bread”? Because Acts 2:46 seems to refer to ordinary meals, what I’m going to argue here has to be held loosely. Some say the frequency with which we take the Lord’s supper is a matter of preference, even, but I think Acts 20:7 is stronger than that.

The phrase “break bread” often refers to the Lord’s supper, growing out of what Jesus did at the last supper (Luke 22:19; [cf. 24:35]; see Acts 2:42; 20:7, 11; 1 Cor 10:16; 11:23–24).

So here’s my reconstruction: in the earliest days after Pentecost, the church celebrated the Lord’s supper daily, in conjunction (probably) with their evening meal. And who wouldn’t want to celebrate it every day! Imagine the enthusiasm of the wonder of the resurrection, the rushing wind, and the thousands converted. . . As the days and years passed, things stabilized and the church began to take the Lord’s supper in conjunction with the meal they shared together in the evening on the Lord’s day. I would suggest that Acts 20:7 (with 1 Cor 10:16; 11:23–24) indicates that the celebration of the Lord’s supper was central to the early Christian gatherings—look at it again: “On the first day of the week, when we gathered to break bread . . .” (Acts 20:7). They gathered to break bread(Paul also preached all night, so the gathering probably started in the evening, 20:7–11), and the gathering happened on the first day of the week.

So let’s say this is right. Everywhere the apostles went to make disciples, they planted churches. They always baptized new disciples into membership in those churches, and those churches met on the first day of the week to celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus, looking for his return, by partaking of the Lord’s supper.

What difference does that make to us today?

Well, the whole point of being a Baptist is being biblical. We Baptists aren’t Baptists because our parents were Baptists, because we think Baptist culture is superior to all others, or because we think identifying ourselves as Baptists will improve our standing in society. We’re Baptists (or should be) because we think that being Baptist is the most biblical way of being the church. That is, we claim that the structure and practices of our churches is closer to the pattern we see in the New Testament than any other (or should be).

This means, I think, that if we become convinced that the earliest church took the Lord’s supper every Lord’s day—and if this was so widespread that when Paul and Luke are traveling from one place to another, they know that if they find a church gathered on the Lord’s day that church will have gathered to break bread—if we become convinced that the earliest church in every place took the Lord’s supper every Lord’s day, we will want to do the same.

Some object that taking the Lord’s supper every week will demean its significance. I think boring preaching and bad music demeans the significance of preaching and singing, but most Baptists churches take the risk and have preaching and singing every week. So I don’t think this argument that taking the Lord’s supper every week will make it dull is either convincing or significant. We should take the same steps to keep the Lord’s supper from becoming rote that we (should) take to keep the preaching from being boring or the music from being bad.

Someone may object: Paul preached all night. Do you think we should do that, too? No. The pattern we see in the NT is that the church was devoted to the Apostles’ teaching, and Paul told Timothy to preach the word, so we have preaching every week because the churches in the NT had preaching every week. But Paul’s preaching all night was driven by the fact that he was leaving the next day and had a lot to say. This was a special circumstance, but the gathering to break bread on the first day of the week was a regular feature of their lives. I think it makes sense for it to be a regular feature of our lives, too.

So what do you think?

Related: “The Lord’s Supper in Paul

 

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The Lord’s Supper in Paul

Thomas R. Schreiner and Matthew R. Crawford have done us a great service in editing The Lord’s Supper: Remembering and Proclaiming Christ until He Comes, which has just appeared from Broadman and Holman.

I’m honored to have contributed to this project, and I’m grateful that Broadman and Holman has kindly granted me permission to post my essay here:

The Lord’s Supper in Paul: An Identity Forming Proclamation of the Gospel,” pages 68–102 in The Lord’s Supper: Remembering and Proclaiming Christ Until He Comes, ed. Thomas R. Schreiner and Matthew R. Crawford, NACSBT (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2010).

Patrick Schreiner has an interview with the editors.

Here’s the outline of my essay:

The Lord’s Supper in Paul: An Identity Forming Proclamation of the Gospel

1. Introduction

2. Problems in the Corinthian Church

2.1 First Corinthians 1–4, The Gospel Against Factionalism
2.2 First Corinthians 5–7, The Gospel Against Sexual Immorality
2.3 First Corinthians 8–10, The Gospel Against Idolatry

3. The Lord’s Supper: An Identity Shaping Proclamation of the Gospel

3.1 Anti-gospel Divisions
3.2 Proclaiming the Lord’s Death
3.3 Partaking in a Worthy Manner
3.4 Receiving One Another

4. Implications for the Contemporary Church

Here’s the Table of Contents for the volume:

David S. Dockery, “Foreword”

Thomas R. Schreiner and Matthew R. Crawford, “Introduction”

1. Andreas J. Koestenberger, “Was the Last Supper a Passover Meal?”

2. Jonathan T. Pennington, “The Lord’s Supper in the Fourfold Witness of the Gospels”

3. James M. Hamilton Jr., “The Lord’s Supper in Paul: An Identity-Forming Proclamation of the Gospel”

4. Michael A. G. Haykin, “‘A Glorious Inebriation': Eucharistic Thought and Piety in the Patristic Era”

5. David S. Hogg, “Carolingian Conflict: Two Monks on the Mass”

6. Gregg R. Allison, “The Theology of the Eucharist according to the Catholic Church”

7. Matthew R. Crawford, “On Faith, Signs, and Fruits: Martin Luther’s Theology of the Lord’s Supper”

8. Bruce A. Ware, “The Meaning of the Lord’s Supper in the Theology of Ulrich Zwingli (1484–1531)”

9. Shawn D. Wright, “The Reformed View of the Lord’s Supper”

10. Gregory A. Wills, “Sounds from Baptist History”

11. Brian J. Vickers, “Celebrating the Past and Future in the Present”

12. Gregory Alan Thornbury, “The Lord’s Supper and Works of Love”

13. Ray Van Neste, “The Lord’s Supper in the Context of the Local Church

Thomas R. Schreiner and Matthew R. Crawford, “Epilogue”

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Praise God for True Religion at Kenwood (James 1:27)

I remember hearing John Hannah say at DTS: There are two things that you need to learn at seminary. First, the Bible is God’s word. Second, the Bible is the tool God uses to conform his people to the image of the Lord Jesus.

To see God’s word at work in the hearts and lives of his people is to see God do miracles. When we see people do what the Bible tells them to do, we should not take it for granted. We should not assume that’s just what people do. We should remember how selfish our own hearts are, contemplate how God by his Spirit has enabled these people to hear his Word, and worship God for the power he exercises in conforming people to the image of Christ, who laid down his life for us. It’s a miracle when a sinner acts like Jesus.

What a blessing and joy to see God’s mighty power at work: Jesus loved us by laying down his life, and I praise God to see the people of Kenwood Baptist Church living out true religion by caring for orphans and widows.

Here’s a beautiful picture of what you normally think of when you think of widows and orphans, and here’s another instance of a man caring for the “orphans” whose parents are alive but don’t protect them (in this instance I’m picking up on the way that Piper spoke of the women and babies affected by abortion as widows and orphans).

You want to see miracles today? Go read this post, and then go read this one, and praise God for his power at work in these lives.

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1 Peter 5:1-11, Shepherd, Submit, Stand

It was my privilege to preach at the installation of Ryan Bishop as the Pastor of Graham Bible Church in Graham, TX this past Sunday.

The apostle Peter, the rock, follows Christ by humbling himself to serve others, identifying himself as a fellow-elder as he exhorts elders to model Christ-like self-sacrificing shepherding (1 Pet 5:1-4).

Then he calls the congregations to Christ-like humble submission to authority (“I came not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me”) as he calls them to be subject to the elders in humility (1 Pet 5:5-7).

Peter then explains that Christ-like shepherding and Christ-like submission are enacted in Christ-like standing against Satan (1 Pet 5:8-9).

He concludes with a promise and a doxology (1 Pet 5:10-11).

Spurgeon, being dead, yet speaketh, and here are some of his eloquent statements that appeared in this sermon:

“It is not great talents God blesses so much as likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God.” (Lectures to My Students, 2).

On the pastor’s job description:

“To face the enemies of truth, to defend the bulwarks of the faith, to rule well in the house of God, to comfort all that mourn, to edify the saints, to guide the perplexed, to bear with the froward, to win and nurse souls—all these and a thousand other works beside are not for a Feeble-mind or a Ready-to-halt, but are reserved for Great-heart whom the Lord has made strong for himself. Seek then strength from the Strong One, wisdom from the Wise One, in fact, all from the God of all” (Lectures to My Students, 12).

On seeing the saints safely home:

“I am occupied in my small way, as Mr. Great-heart was employed in Bunyan’s day.  I do not compare myself with that champion, but I am in the same line of business.  I am engaged in personally-conducted tours to Heaven; and I have with me, at the present time, dear Old Father Honest:  I am glad he is still alive and active.  And there is Christiana, and there are her children.  It is my business, as best I can, to kill dragons, and cut off giants’ heads, and lead on the timid and trembling.  I am often afraid of losing some of the weaklings.  I have the heart-ache for them; but, by God’s grace, and your kind and generous help in looking after one another, I hope we shall all travel safely to the river’s edge.  Oh, how many have I had to part with there!  I have stood on the brink, and I have heard them singing in the midst of the stream, and I have almost seen the shining ones lead them up the hill, and through the gates, into the Celestial City” (source).

Have a listen here: 1 Peter 5:1-11, Shepherd, Submit, Stand

What is the greatest honor you can imagine? Perhaps the medal of honor given to an American soldier? The honor that Christ the King will bestow on those who served him faithfully so far surpasses that as to make the comparison of the two seem inappropriate. The church is God’s cause in the world. She is Christ’s own bride. The work done in the church has eternal ramifications and it pertains to all nations.

There is no other gospel that saves, no institution more significant, no agenda more important, no task more urgent, no cause more noble, no message more true, no office more dependant on the character of those who discharge it, and no reward greater than what Peter describes here.

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The Office at Redeemer

This is pure joy. Even if you don’t know these people, you’ll appreciate this humor.

Travis Cardwell writes:

Here it is. . . the video that introduced our Family Camp this year—an exclusive look at the elders ironing out the final details of our retreat.

Big thanks to Jason Allison for his wonderful work on this video. It could not have turned out better. Let me preface this video with a few things:

1) If you are new to Redeemer, this will become funnier as you stick around. . . and see how we are making fun of ourselves. If you’ve been around a while, prepare to laugh.

2) My son (Brayton) actually got hit will a baseball at Family Camp. He has still has the baseball threads on his forehead to prove it. You’ll see the irony when you watch the video.

3) No we are not endorsing the television show, The Office. We simply thought the format would provide a hilarious context to make fun of ourselves and get folks excited about Family Camp. I hope it worked!

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See You in Bowling Green?

I’d love to see you in Bowling Green if you’re in the area.

You can register here.

Schedule

August 13, 2010
5:30pm – 6:30pm
Check-In

7:00pm – 10:00pm
Session 1 – A Theological Vision—Churches that Display God’s Glory
Session 2 – Preaching & Biblical Theology Q&A

August 14, 2010
8:00am – 9:00am
Continental breakfast (provided)

9:00 – 12:00pm
Session 3 – Gospel, Conversion, & Evangelism
Session 4 – Membership, Discipline, & Discipleship Q&A

12:00 – 1:00pm
Lunch (provided onsite)

1:00 – 4:00pm
Session 5 – Leadership
Session 6 – Covenanting Together
Q&A

4:00pm
Workshop ends

Location

Christ Fellowship Church
1347 Ky Hwy 185, Ste 13
Bowling Green, KY 42101

Helpful Links

Church’s Website

9Marks Workshops

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Sermons on Titus

The past four weeks at Kenwood we were in Paul’s letter to Titus. Here are the sermons:

April 18, 2010, Titus 1:1-4 Truth Produces Godliness

April 25, 2010, Titus 1:5-16 Elders in Response to False Teachers

May 2, 2010, Titus 2:1-15 Behavior that Commends the Gospel

May 9, Titus 3:1-15 Behavior Based on the Gospel

May the Lord add his blessing to the reading and the hearing of his word.

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Interview with Thabiti on Being a Healthy Church Member (particularly as a seminarian)

Thabiti Anyabwile was kind enough to interact with me on topics related to his new book, What Is A Healthy Church Member? Our exchange is below. Enjoy!

[JMH = me; TMA = Thabiti M. Anyabwile]

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JMH: Dear Thabiti,

Thanks for your service to us, brother. If I may, I’d like to ask you for some advice that applies to my particular situation, and then I’d like to put it on my blog that it might benefit others.

Moving from one seminary to another takes me out of a role at Baptist Church of the Redeemer, where I have been serving as pastor of preaching, to a new city (Louisville) where we’ll be looking for a church for our family to join. This is going to be a radical change for us in terms of church life. In addition to the ways I’ve been involved (preaching, worship planning, song selection, involvement in pastoral conversations and situations, etc.) my wife has been heavily involved in ministering to the ladies at our church. Redeemer is a church that was planted only three years ago, so, we’re accustomed to seeking the Lord, consulting with a relatively small group of people, and then doing what we think will most honor the Lord (whether that pertains to nursery furniture, a ladies’ Bible study or book club, or even a place to meet!). We certainly have our preferences on music style, preaching style, and ministry style, and we’re leaving a congregation we love that sings songs we love and does ministry, we think, in a healthy way.

I suspect that for various reasons there are others like me, who go from being involved in shepherding a congregation to looking for a new church to join. How would you advise us? What kinds of things would you suggest we look for as we seek a new church home, and how can we be healthy church members?

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TMA: Jim, that’s an excellent question.  Actually I can identify with you quite a lot.  When my family moved from N.C. to Washington, D.C., we moved from a 3-year old church plant into a situation where we knew next to nothing about the church scene.  We loved that church and we set about the task of finding something like it in many ways.  Actually, that’s the first piece of advice I’d have for someone in this situation.  Don’t look for a church that is “like” your previous church, particularly if the likeness you have in mind involves a host of secondary matters.  Our preferences can be the death of a good church search.  Hold them up to the light of Scripture and be sure to cultivate an accepting heart for other believers who do things differently in secondary matters (Rom. 14).  Look for the essentials first: a church holding a sound doctrinal stance, that preaches the gospel faithfully, that preaches the Scripture expositionally, and that at least encourages a strong “one anothering” culture.  With the word and a strong membership culture, so many other things have fertile soil in which to grow.  That would be my short list, I think.

As for being healthy members, overall it’s probably helpful to find a place where you think you can grow spiritually.  When the Lord moved us from NC to DC and Capitol Hill Baptist Church, I went from being one of three elders backing up the senior pastor in preaching and teaching duties to being #49 on the depth chart at CHBC.  It was clear to me that I knew less than most everyone there, and more important than how much I knew or they knew, they were living so much better than me it seemed.  I felt like the entire family would grow spiritually in ways that really mattered—holiness, humility, love, joy, righteousness and so on in Christ.  So, search for a place where you’ll grow spiritually, even if it’s a place where you’re one of the smartest guys there.

I think there are some temptations and sensitivities you can bring to a church given your labor as a pastor and professor.  The temptation would be to either try to influence the church in pride (“I’ve been a pastor and professor and you should do it this way”) or to assume that you should have more access to the pastors than other members (“I’m a pastor; I can help.  Why don’t they ask?”)  Either attitude, left unexamined or unidentified, could create strain and difficulty in a new church situation.  Be careful of the temptation to say, “I wouldn’t do it that way.”  There may be pride and a judgmental attitude there.  Instead, pray and look for the mindset that says, “I want to support and follow the leaders in any way I can.”  As a member, we’re called to that attitude without regard to our history as pastors.  Support the leaders the Lord has called to that place, and perhaps go out of your way to let them know of your support and that you’re not judging them.  Be a good leader to the other sheep by modeling the kind of submission you perhaps experienced or longed for in your previous church situation.  And that’s one of the unique sensitivities a former pastor brings to a new church.  He knows what it’s like to be the shepherd and for the sheep to misunderstand.  With that sensitivity, you can model so much of what nearly every pastor wishes his people understood.

Beyond that, be healthy church members by attending regularly, giving your life to the people there, sitting joyfully, humbly and eagerly under the leadership and teaching of others.  Pray fervently and without ceasing for the leaders, the members, and the ministries of the church.  Give generously and so on.

———–

JMH: Following up on that question, do you have thoughts on how seminary professors in particular can be healthy church members?

———–

TMA: Again, you bring perspectives and resources that most members will not have.  You can be helpful in your area of expertise, or connect the church to seminary-based resources.  When the elders or the church is working through a particularly knotty problem, you may be in a position to deliver some expertise.  Only be careful.  Remember you’re not in a classroom but in a living breathing church where histories and cultures are always at play.  Be sensitive to who those people are.

Another way you can be a healthy member is help the church leaders fight the mistaken impression that “the seminary is where it’s at.”  Your participation in the church will help with that.  But talk often of the seminary’s parachurch support role for the church.  Encourage seminarians to cultivate that understanding.  Encourage more young men with gifting to consider the pulpit rather than the academy.

——–

JMH: And lastly, how can seminary students be healthy church members?

——–

TMA: Seminarians should think of themselves primarily as church members, not “seminarians.”  I think a lot of men see themselves as ‘tweeners levitating somewhere between their previous church and the church or mission field they’re headed towards.  They’re in a kind of suspended animation.  And often a seminarian can suffer spiritually as they float out their in academic space somewhere.  The church suffers too without their gifting and service.

It will be tempting to think of their studies as a special status that obviates their relationship to and responsibilities in the local church.  But they are primarily Christians, and as such should be active in a local church body as members not seminarians.  We don’t excuse other college students from the expectation that they should be active in a local fellowship; and we shouldn’t do it with seminarians either.  So, they should join a local church and plant roots.  They may be leaving in a few years but learning to love a church quickly will help them learn to love new members quickly when they’re pastors or when serving in highly transient areas.

And like seminary professors, students should be humble and patient, avoid judging others and asserting unimportant preferences.  They should see the church as the main classroom of Christ, and the classroom as an auxiliary.  Given that, they should seek to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.  And by God’s grace, they will as they humbly receive the word (Jam. 1:21), receive grace through the various administrations of God’s gifts (1 Peter 4:10-11), and are equipped for service until they reach maturity in Christ, the Head (Eph. 4:11-16).

——–

JMH: Thabiti, hearty thanks for these helpful and edifying thoughts. I am particularly grateful for the way you have applied the truth of the Scripture to the situation we face. May the Lord continue to bless your ministry!

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Denton Bible Holding the Line

I am glad to see that Denton Bible Church is standing strong on the complementarian point of view by hosting an important series of messages on Women in Ministry.

If you’re in the Dallas area, I would encourage you to attend the events described below in the letter from Tom Nelson of Denton Bible. May the word of the Lord prosper!

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June 4, 2008

Dear Pastor,

I’ve pastored for 31 years in Denton and have never had a reason to contact other pastors with what Denton Bible was doing—until now.

We are doing a 3-week series at DBC on the egalitarian issue, “Can a woman be in authority over a man in the local church?”“Can they serve as pastors, elders or deacons over a man?”

The teaching of the Bible is “no” (I Tim. 2:9-15; 1 Cor. 14:34);

The example of the Bible is that men lead;

The historic position of the church is that men lead;

Because of these, this has been our position at DBC.

In the last 20 years this has been challenged. Even within my own seminary—Dallas Theological Seminary—this has been challenged. But it is not primarily being challenged because of a difference in the interpretation of a particular verse (lower criticism) but rather a difference of hermeneutic (higher criticism); meaning that the Bible was true then for that time, but not for ours. The hole in the theological dike here is obvious: At what point do we say what is now “outdated”? Something is ended only if Scripture says it is ended.

With this in mind, DBC is doing a 3-week Sunday sermon series on the egalitarian issue from June 15 to June 29. In these three weeks, I and two other men who are tops in their field will address this issue.

On June 15 I will bring the message in the 2 morning services (9:00 and 11:00 AM). Our College Pastor will bring the message in the evening service (5:00 PM).

On June 22 we have invited Dr. Bruce Ware to speak at all three Sunday services (9:00 and 11:00 AM and 5:00 PM). Dr. Ware is Professor of Theology at Southern Baptist Seminary having previously taught at several seminaries most recently at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He is a highly esteemed theologian, popular speaker and prolific author. He has spoken and written frequently on a wide variety of gender role issues.

On June 29 Dr. Russell Moore will be speaking at all three Sunday services. Dr. Moore is Dean of the School of Theology and Senior Vice President of Academic Administration at Southern Seminary. He is also the Executive Director of the Carl F. H. Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement and Senior Editor of Touchstone Magazine: A Journal of Mere Christianity. He too is a frequent speaker and writer on gender issues and matters affecting popular culture.

On June 22 and 29 our 5:00 PM evening service will have the same men preaching to those (the younger crowd) of that service. It is not often that this issue is addressed. If we can be of any service to you men who support this tradition in your churches or to your churches, DBC would simply offer its services.

May God equip you in every good thing to do His will,

Tom Nelson

Senior Pastor

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