Tag Archives: pastor

The Vulnerable Pastor

Vulnerable. Not the first word that comes to mind when you think about strong leaders. Yet, this word, “Vulnerable,” is what Mandy Smith, lead pastor of University Christian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, suggests should characterize strong Christian leaders.

In The Vulnerable Pastor: How Human Limitations Empower Our Ministry Smith attempts to debunk current leadership wisdom as not only being harmful, but impossible. The image51s4het-oll-_sy344_bo1204203200_ of somebody who is always strong, always has their stuff together, is never wrong, never wavers, and is extremely self-confident is the exact opposite of what Smith suggest Christian leaders should be like. Instead a Christian leader should be marked by vulnerability. Specifically, this vulnerability should recognize and understand our human constraints. Recognizing these constraints makes our ministry more sustainable “and guards us against disillusionment and burnout.”

As the former director of a college ministry in a large church in the LA area I knew I could benefit from reading Smith’s book. I sort of live in the “mega-church” world, which is mostly characterized by the leadership images Smith decries. I constantly struggled, despite pressing on in ministry, with the notion that I didn’t fit the “pastor-mold.” I still struggle with it! Even though its never expressed, it is implicitly there. I’m just not one of those pastors. I’m shy, introverted, intellectual, liturgical. Again, not your typical mega-church type leader. Throughout the book Smith shares her struggles with not fitting the mold. Told mostly in story form, she expresses how difficult it was to be herself as leader, when the world (i.e. CHURCH WORLD) told her that wasn’t enough. It was only when she was bold enough to admit that she didn’t have what the world asked of her, and she didn’t need to have it, that she began to find joy in her ministry.

Here are some helpful quotes from her book:

When we’re at our desks preparing our sermons and something snags our hearts, can we set aside our work long enough to be worked upon? Can we trust that the teaching of our congregations is not primarily our work but God’s work, which he wants to being with us? (92)

What if we began with our human limitations and shaped a ministry from that? Like a child pouring pennies on a candy store counter, asking, “How much candy can I get with that?” we can look at the time, gifts, energy, and ideas we have and ask, “How much church can we get with that?” (105)

If it’s right for me to be here (and I beliee it its) and it’s alright for me to be limited (and I believe it its), I have to trust that there’s a way to do this job without it destroying me. If he gave the church to humans, he must have a way for humans to do church. (105) 

One way I equip my leaders is to remind them it’s their job to equip others. We’re not soloists; we’re choirmasters. Its not our job to do the work but to give the direction: to pick the note, choose when to start and wait for the community to shape the fullness of the song. (108)

All in all, I found this book quite helpful. There were so many positive messages in it that I needed to hear once again. Being a pastor, or any kind of Christian leader, is not about being enough…. Its about being willing to revel in our own weakness and in God’s strength.


Note: I received this book from IVP in exchange for an impartial review.

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Should I focus on Discipleship or Evangelism?

This seems to be the perennial question for most leaders, especially those who are trying to be missional – where should I spend the majority of my time and energy?

Should I focus on discipleship or evangelism?

Andreas Kostenberger addresses this question in an essay in a new book titled Shepherding God’s Flock. Here is what he has to say (regarding the themes of Luke 15):

The figure of the “seeking shepherd” also makes clear that the dichotomy between pastoring God’s flock of those already saved and evangelizing those who are still lost is an unfortunate and unbiblical one. The seeking shepherd combines both functions in one He cares for the sheep who are already in the flock and provides for them spiritually (and if need be physically) and keeps them safe, but he is also concerned for those in the world who are lost in their sin. Not only does he lead by example in reaching out to the lost, he also seeks to mobilize the church to be moved with compassion for the lost and to take the gospel to them. This calls for wisdom and discernment, and wise shepherd guided by the Holy Spirit, will strike the right balance between caring for the saved and seeking to reach the lost.

So there you have it!

Discipleship vs. evangelism is a false dichotomy!

15 Life Giving Habits for Ministry

I really didn’t expect things to be like this – but its simply the way things turned out. Not that it was necessarily a bad thing – it was just unexpected.

You see – this weekend is my friend’s birthday, and every year he plans a snowboarding/ski trip to either Big Bear or Mammoth. I really look forward to these trips. However this year I was coming off a really bad flu; so I figured that it was probably wise if I didn’t spend two whole days doing intense activity in freezing cold weather. So the whole crew went up the mountain and I walked (a few mile) over to one of my favorite coffee shops in the world, Looney Bean.

I started out doing my morning scripture reading and moved into reading some stuff on the Trinity by Stephen Holmes, then I made my way back to reading scripture. I was reading Psalm 23, sitting in a quaint little coffee shop, staring out the window at the beautiful Eastern Sierra Nevadas. And then I realized – I have just entered a 3 day period of forced sabbatical.

For the next 4 days I have no responsibilities at church. I have no real agenda. I get to hike, work out, read, spend time with God, and just relax. Its a time to recharge!

I started journaling about this – how the Lord has given me a few days to just be and not do. My tendency is to always do – in fact I originally brought my computer with me in order to get ahead on some work. But no – the Lord had other plans. He gave me time to rest and time to stoke the fire within me for Jesus. Those are two crucial habits that pastors/leaders need to cultivate if they are going to make it for the long haul. I admit I’m really bad at stopping and doing those things – I tend to do them on the go. Anyway, there are many habits that pastors/leaders need to cultivate in order to maintain a healthy walk with God in ministry.

Justin Buzzard recently wrote a blog in which he listed out 15 of these life saving habits – here are a few:

Prioritize friendship
Most church planters are lonely, and it’s most often their fault! Don’t settle for superficial relationships or building a church where everyone has deep friendships and you sit alone at the top. If Jesus needed close friends, then so do you. It’s how God made us. So make pursuing and enjoying real friendships a normal part of your week. Perhaps you should put it in your job description. I think planters/pastors should be men who have incredible friendships, there’s just no way to navigate this calling well without great friends.
➔ Action Question: Who are your friends?

Disciple men
Jesus invested his life in a handful of men and changed the world. As the lead guy, investing your life in a handful of guys will set the culture of your church. Don’t spread yourself too thin, pick a few guys who will invest in others and invest yourself them (2 Tim 2:2).
➔ Action Question: Who are your guys?

Rest
Church planting is a creative profession. If you do not rest and refill yourself along the way, you will burn out. Find your own rhythms to rest daily (unplug/play for some portion of each day), rest weekly (sabbath), rest monthly (I take a monthly headspace day where I get away to fill up), and rest annually (my family gets out of town for the entire month of July). For more: See my interview on Sabbath/rest here.
➔ Action Question: How are you resting?

Play big
Too many church planters settle for a ministry that can be explained by their own resources and abilities. Jesus loves your church/city more than you do (Matt 16:18). Push into the impossible and trust God to show up. This is the kind of ministry worth giving your life for.
➔ Action Question: Does your current ministry require a supernatural explanation?

Resist the devil
Satan hates you, and he is tricky. He will seek to breed disunity in your church, discouragement in you, speak lies, and seek to get at you through your family, etc. You have to be a fighter (1 Peter 5:8-9). Church planting will always feel like a fight. Embrace this reality, and fight.
➔ Action Question: Where do you need to resist the work of the devil?

Get your sermon done earlier
I have found it works much better for me to aim to get my sermon done by Wednesday afternoon, giving me the rest of the week to be with people, handle other responsibilities, and not have my sermon hanging over my head all week. Discover what works best for you, your family, and your church and do it.
➔ Action Question: What’s a good time of the week to finish your sermon by, a new deadline to aim for that would free you up?

Let God wreck you
Shortly before planting Garden City Church, I had my idolatry exposed and crushed as a result of some very difficult circumstances in my life. The Lord used that to build me into the man who is leading my church today. Church planting can be the best education/sanctifier of your life. Embrace what God is doing and you will be a better leader as a result.
➔ Action Question: What is God teaching you in your pain and weakness?

You can find the rest of these 15 Life-Giving Habits on Justin’s Blog.

Richard Hays on Being Pastoral-Theologians like Paul

When Richard Hays says something you listen. The author of such ground shaking books like The Moral Vision of the New Testament, The Faith Of Jesus Christ, and Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul, he is known not only for bridging the gap between biblical criticism and literary studies – he is also known for his commitment to the authority of scripture all while using the critical methods of biblical studies in order to defend historic orthodox positions. So again – when he speaks – you listen!

Recently I came across a paper titled “Divine Poiesis in Galatians: Paternity, Passion, and Participation” in which he tries to move past the redemptive-historical vs. apocalyptic dichotomy often presented in readings of Paul’s letters. In this essay he argues that

“Paul is seeking to reshape the imagination of his readers, seeking to narrate them into a symbolic world where God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son of God, and the Spirit are powerfully at work to bring a new world into being.”

In this essay he pays attention especially to the language and imagery Paul uses to drive this story forward – key among these images are the motifs of Paternity, Passion, Participation.

He brings all of this to a climax by reflecting on Paul’s style of pastoral theology and let me be honest with you…

Its pure gold!

Hays does something that many biblical scholars shy away from – he gives recommendations to pastors to be more theological and to theologians to be more pastoral! This is not the kind of stuff you usually find in the writings of mainline theologians. But he does it.

Doing Pastoral-Theology Like Paul

Hays makes three suggestions for how we might appropriate Paul’s style as a pastoral theologian in our day:

  1. Paul writes as a hermeneutical theologian. Paul was deeply concerned about teaching the gentiles how to read scripture. In order to do this he had to draw them deep into the story of the death and resurrection of Christ. As these new Christians learned to live the story they would need to learn how to constantly return to the study of scripture or else they wouldn’t know the story they were living in.
  2. Paul is not afraid to think big. Without a doubt Paul faced a lot of controversies during his apostolic ministry. Nevertheless, “he does not appeal to custom or convention or to opinion polls. Instead, he retells the gospel story and thinks about the problem in radical terms… Our knee-jerk tendency, by contrast, is to fiddle with adjustments and compromises… Paul might dare us to think bigger about fundamental questions.” (Kindle Loc. 4637)
  3. Paul is not afraid of polemic. “Galatians reminds us that there are times when the truth of the gospel really is at stake, when we must yield submission even for a moment to forces that would compromise or undermine the liberating message of Jesus. (Kindle Loc. 4646)

These are certainly wise words from a wise man on how to do pastoral-theology like Paul.

Love the Local Church!

In a few weeks Scot McKnight’s new book, The Kingdom Conspiracy, will come out. I got my hands on it a bit early and I really want to recommend it to you. I really think it will speak loudly to a generation who is more enamored with doing “kingdom” work  than “church” work. Here is a brief excerpt:

All true kingdom mission is church mission. For many today it is far easier to be committed to social justice in South Africa, to the restoration of communities on the Gulf Shore following Katrina, to cleaning up form the devastating tornadoes of the Plains, or to fighting sexual trafficking in  any country than it is to be committed to building community and establishing fellowship in one’s local church… It is more glamorous to do social activism because building a local church is hard. It involves people who struggle with one another, it involves persuading others of the desires of your heart to help the homeless, it means caring for people where they are and not where you want them to be, it involves daily routines, and it only rarely leads to the highs of “short-term  mission” experiences. But local church is what Jesus came to build, so the local church’s mission shapes kingdom mission.

Having said all that – Love your local church!

Book Review – Primal Fire by Neil Cole

In the beginning there was “Missional,” then “Gospel-Centered,” and finally “APEST.” Don’t get me wrong I believe recovering the Ephesians 4 gifts (APEST) is super important, but at times it seems like it’s a niche that has been overpopulated, so when a new APEST book comes out you don’t need to take much notice – however that is certainly not the case with Neil Cole’s Primal Fire – you need to pay attention to this book.

Primal Fire is one of the clearest, most encouraging, and most biblically-theologically based APEST book out there right now. Not to mention, it will also ignite a fire up under you tPrimal Fireo discover how you can best serve the church to reach the maturity that God has intended for it.

Over the years I have come to appreciate any work done by Neil Cole – in fact his talk at Exponential 2013 was life changing for me. I am starting to feel as though this book is going to be life changing for me as well. It opened up a new paradigm of ministry for me and helped me clarify the call that God has placed upon my life. If you are trying to figure out your role in the Church this book will definitely help.

Overview

The book is broken up into three main sections: 1)Recovering the Lost Gifts of Jesus, 2)Reinterpreting the Roles in Ephesians 4:11, and 3) Reimagining the Gifts in Practice.

The first part makes a biblical/theological/practical case for why these four gifts, not just Pastor-Teachers, exist today. The second part takes each of these gifts and explains how they function and what their role is in the church today. The last part paints a picture of what it would look like if the church really recovered these gifts.

Pros

Neil Cole knows how to spur on the church for the sake of the mission God has called us to. He dives into exegesis and historical theology – thus he makes a solid case for the existence of these gifts. But he is not just a theoretician – he is a practitioner. He has actually done ministry using the Ephesians 4 gifts. He is somebody we can really trust when he speaks about these gifts and how they can be used.

Another thing I really enjoyed about this book was how Christological it was. It was always pointing us to the gospel and more importantly it was always pointing us to the life and ministry of Jesus. He points out that these specific gifts are the gifts of Jesus (not necessarily the Holy Spirit) and that Jesus embodies these gifts – so if we want to learn about these gifts we need to look to Jesus

Finally, I personally enjoyed this book because it spoke to me where I am at. I have always felt that I had certain passions and strengths, but I didn’t feel like those fit the traditional categories of Pastor-Teacher. I have always felt my call was to “equip the church for the sake of mission.” That is what I have been doing in my role and that is what I am most passionate about. Being able to expand my paradigm beyond Pastor-Teacher to Apostle-Prophet-Evangelist-Pastor-Teacher has really helped me understand and clarify my calling.

Cons

There weren’t many things that I didn’t like or necessarily disagreed with. For instance, I wouldn’t come down on hierarchical leadership as hard as he does (even though I personally hold to a more organic style of leadership) but that isn’t such a big deal to me that he is very opposed to hierarchical leadership. The only thing I had an issue with though was his discussion of deacons and APEST gifts. He equates deacons with the Ephesians 4 equipping gifts. I don’t think this interpretation holds exegetically.

Conclusion

The Church began with all five gifts. Eventually we lost all the gifts except for Pastor-Teachers. But we have seen a mainstream revival of Evangelists, especially during the great awakenings. Eventually with the acceptance of Charismatic giftings, the Prophet entered the mainstream. And now we are seeing the rise of the Apostle. We are living in an exciting time. I honestly believe that God is taking the church back to its roots in order to do something big in this world; that is why he has raised up these five gifts once again. Neil Cole’s Primal Fire helps us to better understand what God is doing by rising up these Ephesians 4 Gifts. I highly recommend you read it if you are looking for encouragement in your calling, if you want to learn what the APEST gifts are, or if you want to learn how to incorporate APEST into your ministry.

You can find out more about Neil Cole here:

Neil Cole

Blog: http://cole-slaw.blogspot.com/

Twitter: @Neil_Cole

You can Download the 1st Chapter of Primal Fire here.

(Note: Tyndale House Publishers has provided you with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an impartial review.)

Book Review – The Pastor’s Family by Brian and Cara Croft

In just three short days I will be married. It blows my mind even thinking about that. Thankfully God has blessed me with a beautiful, loving, kingdom minded, missions focused, hungry for social justice, gospel loving woman to marry. I am truly blessed. Yet one of my biggest fears is that I will let work aka ministry hurt my marriage. I can stray towards being a workaholic, school-aholic, or even a ministry-aholic. I need to guard myself. So its timely that I came across this book called The Pastor’s Family by Brian and Cara Croft…..

Here is the problem:

The pastor and his family tend to face pressures that span a number of professions.” – up at crack of dawn, serve and protect others, witness pain and suffering, work long hours. (pg. 9)

Here is what the pastor needs to do:

“The pastor needs a lot of help to think clearly about his life, priorities, and well-being.” (pg. 10)

Here is where the book comes in:

This is a book written for men who have answered the call to serve the church of God as preachers, teachers, leaders, and shepherds…. How do you faithfully serve the church while serving your family? (pg. 13)

How to balance ministry and family….

Wait I got that wrong, it shold say How to prioritize family over ministry. Prioritizing family over ministry is something they don’t teach you in seminary and the sad truth is that there aren’t a lot of good models to learn from out there. In fact there are tons of stories about the bad examples. Some of the most famous pastors/preachers/missionaries weren’t great husbands: Whitefield, Wesley, Carey, and Barth (just to name a few).

Thankfully Brian and Cara Croft have written a book to help people like me, those are struggling or might struggle to keep family their priority.

The book is broken up into three parts

  1. The Pastor’s Heart
  2. The Pastor’s Wife
  3. The Pastor’s Children

Overview

In part one Brian gets to the core of our problem: our hearts. Why do pastor’s struggle with neglecting their families? Its probably because they are seeking approval from others, trying to look good, wanting to be successful, desiring to be significant, trying to keep up with other’s expectations. In other words they struggle with a sinful heart. They (we) look to people and our accomplishments to fulfill our deepest heart desire, at the cost of neglecting our family. Neglect of family shows that we don’t get the gospel. We may be able to verbalize the gospel, but we haven’t internalized it. We haven’t really grasped that we are justified, accepted, and loved. We need to know the Gospel!

In part two Brian and Cara share their wisdom about doing ministry while married. I learned so much about how a pastor’s wife feels. She will probably deal with unrealistic expectations from the congregation, she might have to struggle with loneliness, she might feel overlooked or overshadowed by her husband, she might deal with the pain of having people talking behind her back, and she will also have to balance ministry and family. Thankfully Brian offers some practical tips for taking care of your wife. He tells us to encourage her, disciple her, and pray for her. Basically love her like Christ loved the church.

I loved this section so much that I am going to buy a paper copy and give it to my soon to be wife.

Part three is about kids. I don’t have kids so I will skip this section, but basically there is a chapter on the dad’s role in shepherding your kids, a chapter on shepherding your kids together, and a chapter on neglecting your kids.

Some Highlights

  • Great discussion questions for the husband and wife
  • An insightful chapter into the mind of a pastor’s wife
  • Candid reflections on the each of the three subjects written by other people with ministry experience
  • A very transparent reflection on dealing with depression as a pastor’s wife
  • A section giving advice to guys who will soon become pastors

Shortcomings

  • There were no real shortcomings… the only thing is that I wish it had a section for young guys who are doing ministry and are about to get married. Basically people in my own position!

Conclusion

This book is timely. I’m just starting out working full time in ministry and I am about to get married. I can definitely see myself going through this book with my wife. I highly recommend any pastor, missionary, seminary teacher, volunteer ministry leader go through this book with his wife. It can only help to strengthen your marriage and make you a more effective couple for the kingdom.

Note: I received this book free of charge through NetGalley and was under no obligation to give a positive or negative review.