Category Archives: ministry

Studying the Bible, Preaching, and GPS

Have you ever wondered how we used to navigate the world before cell phones, gps, and the internet? I remember walking the boardwalk at Virginia Beach in college while talking on the phone as my friend directed me to his location. The thought crossed my mind, how did I used to find people? Did we actually make plans and meet at the designated time and place?

Recently I was asking a teenager for directions. His response, “I don’t know, I always just follow the GPS.” This is one of the first generation of drivers in which GPS devices are ubiquitous. The result, many people have no idea of how to get from place to place without being told every step along the way. In the end, if someone doesn’t know how to think for themselves, even with someone telling them where to go, they take the wrong turn.

Even when following a GPS device there is a need for discernment, interpretation, and thinking for yourself.

(*Note* NBC Universal will not allow me to put this clip up but they also will not make it available on their website. Here is an alternate link of inferior quality that will let you sort of watch this clip. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BIakZtDmMgo Now back to our programming.)

This same problem is pervasive in the church. First, many pastors merely parrot the latest Christian celebrity, fad book, or acceptable commentary. In fact, I know a reasonably well-known pastor who blatantly plagiarizes sermons. I’m talking about a pastor who has spoken at seminaries, held state denominational positions, and more. For whatever reason (and I have my suspicions) many pastors skip the hard work of biblical exegesis. Rather than think for themselves, the merely say what they’ve been told.

Second, many Christians merely listen to the pastor’s word and never interpret and discern it for themselves. I sometimes wonder whether pastors want people to only take their word or be equipped to think for themselves? Is this some power grab meant to keep the laity subservient? I’m not willing to buy into that sort of conspiracy. However, a good deal of ineptitude and laziness might be in play. It is much more difficult and less gratifying to the ego to empower rather than just preach.

To use a cooking illustration, it is more gratifying to bring out the perfectly cooked dinner than to take someone in the kitchen and teach them how to cook. I believe that the best leaders can do both. I believe that they can both cook and teach others to cook for themselves.

So, what is my challenge to those who preach God’s word? First, do the hard work of studying the Bible. Second, teach your hearers how to study, think, and apply God’s word for themselves.

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Christian, What is the Foundation of Your Happiness?

brothers professionalsI have said for some time that my favorite book on pastoral ministry is John Piper’s Brothers, We Are Not Professionals. While every point may not be exactly in line with my own pastoral convictions, it gets the essentials right, puts the focus in the right place, and is never short on challenging statements.

The second edition of this book was just released. The pastors at our church are working through this book at our monthly meeting. With the new edition came a few new chapters. I wanted to share a portion of one such chapter. The author is trying to explain how God can be for his glory and for us. In defending why he as (over?) emphasized God’s self-glory he describes the plight of many Christians (so-called):

I feel a special burden for the millions of nominal Christians who are not born again who believe God loves them and yet are on their way to hell. And the difference between them and a born-again believer is this: What’s the bottom, the decisive foundation, of their happiness? As you penetrate down deeper and deeper to the core, or the bottom, of what makes you happy?

Millions of nominal Christians have never experienced a fundamental alteration of that foundation of happiness. Instead, they have absorbed the notion that becoming Christian means turning to Jesus to get what you always wanted before you were born again. So, if you wanted wealth, you stop depending on yourself for it, and by prayer and faith and obedience you depend on Jesus for wealth. If you wanted to be healthy, you turn from mere human cures to Jesus as the source of your health. If you wanted to escape the pain of hell, you turn to Jesus for the escape. If you wanted to have a happy marriage, you come to Jesus for help. If you wanted peace of conscience and freedom from guilt feelings, you turn to Jesus for these things.

In other words, to become a Christian, in this way of seeing things, is to have all the same desires you had as an unregenerate person — only you get them from a new source, Jesus. And He feels so loving when you do. But there’s no change at the bottom of your heart and your cravings. No change at the bottom of what makes you happy. There’s no change in the decisive foundation of your joy. You just shop at a new store. The dinner is still the same, you just have a new butler. The bags in the hotel room are still the same; just a new bellhop.

Sermonic A.D.D.

What kinds of ministers does such a culture produce?  Ministers who are not at home with what is significant; ministers whose attention span is less than that of a four-year-old in the 1940s, who race around like the rest of us, constantly distracted by sounds and images of inconsequential trivialities, and out of touch with what is weighty.  It is not surprising that their sermons, and the alleged worship that surrounds them, are often trifling, thoughtless, uninspiring, and mundane.  It is not surprising that their sermons are mindlessly practical, in the “how-to” sense.  It is also not surprising that their sermons tend to be moralistic, sentimentalistic, or slavishly drafted into the so-called culture wars.  The great seriousness of the coming judgment of God, the sheer insignificcance of the present in light of eternity — realities that once were the subtext of virtually every sermon — have now disappeared, and have been replaced by one triviality after another.

— T. David Gordon

Music Ministry… Not So Fun After All

As some of you may know from previous posts or personal knowledge that my dad is a pastor at a church working mainly in the area of music ministry.  I liked the way Neue magazine humorously explained music ministry in an article titled “Low Pay, High Stress:  Why Church Jobs Are Some of the Worst Jobs.”

Payscale.com recently named the 15 most stressful jobs — that also pay badly.  The results came from a survey they did in which 36,000 people ranked their jobs based on the quality of life the job gives them.

Number five on the list was “Music Ministry Director.”  (This is where everyone who isn’t in music ministry gasps because we thought all you had to do was pick some songs and sing well.  Sorry for not realizing your job was harder and paid less than “Gym Membership Manager.”)…

Missing the Mountains: Thoughts on Colorado

As a lifelong resident of Hampton Roads, VA, I have always preferred the scenery of the water (e.g., beaches, rivers, creeks, bays, etc.).  Recently I was going through some pictures of my summer in Denver, CO (2004) and was feeling nostalgic for the ice-covered mountains.  Denver was such a great city.  Some of my friends are planning a move to Denver to plant a church (check out their awesome website).  I really enjoyed my time in Denver.  It was a very progressive city that had all the accoutrements of a metropolis with the community and charm of a small town.  The people were friendly, interesting, and active.  While downtown, our team worked with at-risk children, Hispanic immigrants, and the surprisingly large homeless population.

One of the highlights from that summer was a camping trip we took to Rocky Mountain National Park (led by the illustrious and uber-talented James Tealy).  During that time I tried my hand at the National Geographic videographer thing… below is a video compiled from that camping trip.

Cake or Icing?

Many of our North American churches seem to have everything — culturally relevant outreach, attractive facilities, and a broad range of programs to match any and every lifestyle.  Add to this the experience of dynamic speakers, professional-quality music, and inviting small groups.  How could those who are most active in these churches be stagnant and dissatisfied?

There’s nothing wrong with top-quality facilities, creative programs, and a genuine sense of community.  But the fundamental question is, “What message are we sharing in our community and within our walls through our programs?”  I believe its our substance, not our structure, that is leaving so many stagnant and dissatisfied.  A church may have polished programs, well-trained staff, and dynamic speakers.

But content is what people walk away with.

(Andrew Farley, The Naked Gospel)

As you may or may not know, my wife loves weddings.  She loves making someone’s wedding day beautiful and memorable.  Recently she told me about a trick some people use to save money on the wedding cake.  For those particularly concerned with a beautiful and ornate cake sometimes decorate Styrofoam or cardboard with fondant and decorative sugar flowers.  This is all well and good because during the serving of the cake the wait staff takes the cake in the kitchen and swaps it with a pre-cut bargain priced cake.  No one ever has to know.

Not a big deal when it comes to wedding cake but a very big deal when it comes to a church!  My concern is that many Christians and churches have become more concerned with the look of the church rather than the substance. When someone goes to cut into our proverbial cake, all they find is a piece of cardboard.

To My Dad: Thanks

This will be my turn to brag a little about my dad.  He is the most talented musician I have ever met.  However, I have watched him sacrifice personal acclaim for the service of Jesus.  This past Sunday night he taught from Psalm 118 at his church.  If you are familiar with SBC churches you might understand how rare it is to find a “Music Minister” who is genuinely qualified and gifted to be a pastor.

When I was in high school I was tired of “church.”  I was sick of people who called themselves Christians and demonstrated the opposite in their living.  It was only the consistent example of my parents at home and in public that reassured me that Christianity was for more than just “show.”  My dad has always modeled a servant’s heart, a scholar’s mind, and genuine commitment to the Lordship of Christ in all things.

The Bible is clear that the home is an essential component in the discipleship of children.  I once heard a youth pastor say about the role of the church, “we can’t fix in four hours what you screw up in seven days.”  Maybe not the most sensitive statement, but definitely true.  Parents provide the framework for Christianity and the way they live and parent will either affirm or deny the legitimacy of the gospel in the life of their children.