The Gospel and the Ministry

What Pastors Owe Their People

What Pastors Owe Their People

Posted By on Feb 26, 2014

If you are a pastor, you cannot escape the unmistakeable call of spiritual leaders, in the New Testament to “feed the flock of God”:

  • Jesus commissioned Peter to do “feed my sheep”, no less than three times, in that famous scene on the shores of Galilee (John 21:15-19)
  • Jesus commissioned the disciples, in the Great Commission passage to “teach them all things I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:16)
  • Paul commissioned the Ephesian elders to “tend to the whole flock” pointing this example of his unwillingness to shrink from “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:17-28)
  • Peter urges church leaders to “feed the flock of God among you.”
  • Paul instructed Timothy, in his last letter, “these things you have learned from me, commit to faithful men” (2 Timothy 2:2). He also urged him to “guard the deposit entrusted to you” (2 Timothy 1:14LibronixLink dark  What Pastors Owe Their People ; 6:20LibronixLink dark  What Pastors Owe Their People ). He also  reminded Timothy of the usefulness of “all Scripture” as profitable for the spiritual well-being of God’s people (1 Timothy 3:16)
  • Paul, in a rebuke to the Corinthians, discusses the need for people to have both “milk” and “meat” in their spiritual diets (1 Corinthians 3:2)
  • The writer of Hebrews reminds us that a good teacher is able to both handle the deep things of God, but also teach them (Hebrews 5:11-12)

Preaching styles do differ, but it’s hard to argue the unmistakeable responsibility of pastors to take the whole counsel of God and preach it faithfully. To not give our people spiritual food, to not share with them the “all the things I have commanded you” is to commit spiritual malpractice. It’s to intentionally leave our people spiritually malnourished. And yet there is a temptation for pastors–I remember facing this weekly as a pastor–to sort of skip over or nuance the very hard passages. Or, more popularly, to not preach through issues that are at the tip of the cultural spear. Issues like a biblical sexual ethic, the dignity of human life, greed, materialism, and the prosperity gospel. It’s just easier to say things like, “We just want to love on people and be all about grace every Sunday.” But my question is this: if a new convert wants to know what it looks like to live out the gospel, where will he find it if he can’t find it in his church? We live in confused times, where the way of Christ cannot be assumed in popular culture anymore. So churches who tailor their preaching and services exclusively to not offend those they are trying to reach with the gospel will starve God’s people. I find it troubling when pastors sort of nuance or skip over passages that are counter-cultural.

We should talk about grace. A lot. Over and over and over again. But unless people see their need for grace. Unless they are confronted with the good law of God, they won’t see the bigness of the mercy God offers. They’ll assume that God loves them because that’s what God should do. That’s the Jesus they’ve been sold by much of the evangelical church, a sort of hipster, friendly, easy to digest Jesus who really isn’t all that concerned with morality and righteousness.

And those who have been restored and forgiven, made new by the blood of the cross, will never find the freedom of a life with Christ–if we never have the courage to tell them what that life looks like. Real love, Paul tells the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 6, is the courage tell them they are disobeying the call of the gospel. It’s to set a brother or sister aright.

Much of this can be done in community, in one-on-one gatherings, small group studies, phone conversations, reading of good books, car rides, late night talks, etc. But if God’s people never hear their pastor discuss these difficult things, things alien to a permissive moral culture, they won’t rise in importance. Pastors must feed their sheep the good spiritual food God intends for them.

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20130130 promise law 300x140 Spurgeon, Inerrancy, and What We Still Need TodayCharles Haddon Spurgeon’s influence today is felt more than ever, as he is the most published Christian author in church history.1 He is often quoted in sermons, articles, books, tweets, and other quote-worthy mediums among Christians. Helmut Thielicke helpfully points out the impact and influence of Spurgeon’s ministry when he notes that, “The fire Spurgeon kindled turned into a beacon that shone across the seas and down through generations, was no mere brush fire of sensationalism, but an inexhaustible blaze that glowed and burned on solid hearths and was fed by the wells of the eternal Word. Here was the miracle of a brush that burned with fire and yet was not consumed.”2

Albert Mohler explains that “the defining characteristic of Spurgeon’s ministry was an undiluted passion for the exposition and proclamation of God’s Word.”3 Spurgeon’s influence is felt today because he was a man of the people, a man whose infectious love for the Lord Jesus Christ spilled over into all he wrote, said and did. Spurgeon’s influence won him many friends and many critics but it is undeniable that his influence is felt on evangelicalism today because of his passionate pursuit of proclaiming the glory and majesty of Christ in everything he said and wrote.

Spurgeon’s influence is still felt today in evangelicalism, because he was a man of conviction. Spurgeon did not seek after controversy but rather picked which battles he entered into with great care only choosing to enter into those battles which compromised the Christian faith. Spurgeon’s example is instructive to Christian ministry leaders as many supposed evangelicals today claim to follow in the line of evangelicalism, but do not have a high view of the Bible. If the story of Church history has taught evangelicals anything it should be that when a high view of Scripture is upheld then Jesus will be brought glory. The example of Spurgeon is especially important in this regard as he had a high view of God’s Word and of His Son Jesus Christ. Spurgeon proclaimed the Word of God in a time when truth was under attack, much like today, but did not compromise.

Albert Mohler explains “Spurgeon was a man, possessed by deep passion for the Word of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”4 Spurgeon’s passion for the Word of God and the person of Jesus consumed all of his waking hours. Spurgeon’s conviction to preach the Word of God without compromise is needed among evangelicals today more than ever. In recent days some voices are calling for a “big-tent” evangelicalism that is more inclusive than exclusive.

This is a big mistake.

The early church fathers to the 16th century Protestant Reformers across Europe, and up to the present day conservative evangelicals, have all affirmed verbal plenary inspiration, and biblical inerrancy.

Clement of Rome (A.D. 80-100 taught, “You have looked closely into the Holy Scriptures, which are given through the Holy Spirit. You know that nothing unrighteous or falsified has been written in them.” (1 Clement, XLV. 2.3.) Augustine wrote to Jerome (A.D. 394), “It seems to me that most disastrous consequence to follow upon our believing anything false is found in the sacred books, that is to say, that the men by whom the Scriptures have been given to us, and committed in writing, did not put down in these books anything false.” (Cited by James Olive Buswell, Outlines of Theology, 24.)  Calvin thought of Scripture as “the sure and infallible record,” “the inerring standard,” “the pure Word of God,” “the infallible rule of His Holy Truth,” “free from every stain or defect,” “the inerring certainty,” “the certain and unerring rule,” “unerring light,” “infallible Word of God,” “has nothing belonging to man mixed with it,” “inviolable,” “infallible oracles.” Inerrancy was the view of Augustine, Luther, and Calvin, as well as of the entire church; inerrancy is the ‘central church tradition.” (John D. Hannah, ed., Inerrancy and the Church (Chicago: Moody, Press, 1984), ix.). The Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) was founded in 1949 and had a singular doctrinal statement at its founding that affirmed inerrancy: “The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs. (“Evangelical Scholars Remove Robert Gundry for His Views on Matthew,” Christianity Today, February 3, 1984.)

At the end of the day those who want to redefine evangelicalism and reshape it in their own mold do so at their own peril. Evangelicals today would be wise to follow the example of Spurgeon who stood on the Word of God and called his readers to “read not so much man’s comments, or man’s books, but read the Scriptures, and keep your faith on this, — “God said it.”13

The ministry of Spurgeon is instructive to Christians today because Spurgeon was a man aflame with the glory of the grace of God. Spurgeon made an impact because of his passion for and stance on evangelical truth, which he contended for, defended, and proclaimed with all of his might to the glory of God. Men of passion and conviction are needed in evangelicalism today, men who will contend, defend and proclaim the truth of substitionary atonement, the authority and inspiration of Scripture, eternal punishment for unbelievers, original sin, and the absoluteness of Christianity.

Godly men of passion and conviction will be maligned and persecuted– as was Spurgeon, but they must follow the example of Jesus and men like Spurgeon who modeled for Pastors, ministry leaders, and believers how to stand firm in the faith once and for all delivered to the saints. While truth is under attack today on many fronts inside and outside the church, an even greater need and threat is arising from within its ranks, and that is found in the need of men to stand up and be counted.

Every generation of believers must determine if they are going to stand for biblical truth or lay down their swords and accept the lie of liberalism. While there is much to be commended in recent days in evangelicalism especially in the growing movement of Christians, ministries and churches that are discussing what is the Gospel and its implications; there is still much to be alarmed about as many are questioning and casting aside the authority of the Word of God either through how they use the Bible, what they think about Adam being a historical person, or their stance on gender roles. This generation of believers will have to decide– as did Spurgeon—if they will stand on the Truth of the Word of God and lift up the Son of God among the nations, or whether they will lay down their sword and succumb to the lie of liberalism.

At the end of the day, Spurgeon was right “believers must never adjust the Bible to the age, but the age to the Bible.”14 Believers have been given the Word of God not to speculate on, but to study, to mediate upon, contend for, defend and proclaim to the nations. The Word of God always stands in judgment of men never do men stand in judgment of it. This fact reveals the fundamental problem going on inside and outside the church by exposing as Spurgeon knew in his time that the issues of today are old issues rooted in who is authoritative, God or man. As with every generation before and everyone after it, the Truth of God’s Word will remain authoritative, unchanging and unrelenting as it seeks to lift high the name and glory of Jesus among the nations.

As the Word of God did its work in Spurgeon’s time so today evangelicals can be encouraged that the Word of God is sharper than any two edged sword (Hebrews 4:12). The Word of God is the means God uses by His Spirit to pierce the heart of the convinced atheist, rejecters like Judas, and deniers like Peter. Evangelicals today need to stand firm in the grace of God and the Word by looking to the example of men like Spurgeon and be encouraged that God by His grace is still working to bring people to Himself and build His church for His glory and praise.

[1] Eric W. Hayden. “Did You Know: A Collection of True and unusual facts about Charles Haddon Spurgeon.” Christian History, 10:1, #29, (February 1991).

[2] Helmut Thielicke, Encounter with Spurgeon, trans. John W. Doberstein (Cambridge, MA: James Clarke & Co., 1964) 1.

[3] Albert Mohler, He Is Not Silent: Preaching In A Postmodern World, (Chicago, Moody, 2008), 163.

[4] Albert Mohler, He Is Not Silent: Preaching In A Postmodern World, (Chicago, Moody, 2008), 163.

[5] Roger E. Olsen, “Postconservative Evangelicalism.” In Four Views On The Spectrum OF Evangelicalism, 163. Edited by Andrew David Naselli and Collin Hansen. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.

[6] Roger E. Olsen, “Postconservative Evangelicalism.” In Four Views On The Spectrum OF Evangelicalism, 179. Edited by Andrew David Naselli and Collin Hansen. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.

[7] Albert Mohler, “A Confessional Response to Postconservative Evangelicalism.” In Four Views On The Spectrum Of Evangelicalism, 196. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.

[8] Mark. A. Noll, David W. Bebbington, George A. Rawlyk, eds. Evangelicalism: Comparative Studies in Popular Protestantism in North America, the British Isles, and Beyond, 1700-1990 (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

[9] Roger E. Olsen, “Postconservative Evangelicalism.” In Four Views On The Spectrum OF Evangelicalism, 182. Edited by Andrew David Naselli and Collin Hansen. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.

[10] Albert Mohler , “Confessional Evangelicalism.” In Four Views On The Spectrum Of Evangelicalism, 91. Edited by Andrew David Naselli and Collin Hansen. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.

[11] Albert Mohler , “Confessional Evangelicalism.” In Four Views On The Spectrum Of Evangelicalism, 78. Edited by Andrew David Naselli and Collin Hansen. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.

[12] Albert Mohler , “Confessional Evangelicalism.” In Four Views On The Spectrum Of Evangelicalism, 91. Edited by Andrew David Naselli and Collin Hansen. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.

[13] Charles Spurgeon, From “The Plea of Faith,” The New Park Street Pulpit, Vol. 2 (London: Passmor and Alabaster, 1856), 273-280.

[14] Charles Spurgeon, An All-Around Ministry: Addresses to Ministers and Students (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1906), 230.

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4 Reasons the Trinity Should Be Part of Your Preaching 1549 245x169 150x150 4 Reasons the Trinity Should Be Part of Your Preaching

When we speak of God in the pulpit, we should speak of the Trinity. When we speak of the Father, Son or Holy Spirit, we should speak of God. We have a responsibility to teach the whole counsel of God, and to leave out the Trinity from our pulpit ministries is to leave out the New Testament/New Covenant revelation of God’s identity. Whether we’re teaching children, youth or adults, when we speak of God, we should speak in Trinitarian language (God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit). Here are four reasons why:

1. The Trinity, He is God.

There is one God who exists in Three Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit; same substance, but distinct in subsistence. These three Persons are coequally and coeternally God. All things are from the Father, through the Son and by the Holy Spirit. The Father alone possesses fatherhood. The Son is begotten of the Father, but not of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son. These Three Persons are One God.

2. He is the Foundation of Christian Doctrine.

Eliminate the Trinity, and you either eliminate monotheism (by embracing Tri-theism) or you worship a god who ontologically can become better or worse or has needs (Partialism). If there are more gods than one, then the distinct monotheism found in the Old Testament that distinguished Judaism from the surrounding nations is lost, and the god of the New Testament is different than the God of the Old Testament. On the other hand, if you affirm a god who has parts, you affirm a god who has needs, and who might not be able to keep His promises, fulfill His prophecies, or even answer your prayers (or hear them for that matter).

3. He is the True One Who Reveals All Counterfeits.

If you commonly reference the Trinity in your pulpit ministry, your hearers will naturally pick up an orthodox view of the Trinity, which will provide them with a foundation on which to answer the various false gods, false religions and cults in their surrounding communities. The Trinity is one of the most essential distinguishing doctrines of orthodox Christianity. Neither Muslims, Mormons nor Jehovah’s Witnesses affirm the Trinity. Furthermore, I am unaware of any false religion that affirms the Trinity.

4. He is the Foundation of all Human Relationships.

The Trinity should not be some obscure doctrine you dust off and bring out when you’re speaking against other religions. The Trinity should be the foundational example for all human relationships. God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit perfectly love and fellowship with one another from eternity past; always have and always will.

The Son, although in submission to the Father, does not rebel, balk or scoff at His authority. The Holy Spirit, although in submission to the Father and the Son, does not rebel against, or scoff at the Father or Son. Christians — since we are created in God’s image and are being conformed to Christ’s image — must love one another in the likeness of God’s example. Furthermore, consider the coequal and coeternal reality of the Three Persons of the Trinity, yet the submission of the Son and the Holy Spirit.

The Son submits to the Father, and the Holy Spirit submits to the Son and the Father. Now, consider how Christian wives are to submit to their husbands (Eph. 5:22-24), or Christian employees are to submit to their employers (Eph. 6:5-8), or Christian citizens are to submit to their governing authorities (Rom. 13:1-7), etc. Submission does not always mean “less valuable than,” for the Son submits to the Father, and the Holy Spirit submits to the Father and the Son, and yet these three Persons are coequal.

The list of application can go on and on.

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The blessings of ministry far outweigh the realities below; however, ministry is definitely not easy. Don’t waste your time and money going to seminary or college for pastoral training if you are not prepared for the negative aspects of ministry mentioned below.

Furthermore, always remember that God has called you to love His church, not merely His mature church, but His immature church as well. Moreover, a call to ministry is a call to bleed.

If you enter pastoral ministry…

10. Not everyone will like you.

9. You will make people angry regardless of how godly you handle yourself; it comes with the position.

8. You will feel like a failure often, and when you do appear to succeed, the fruit that is produced cannot be accredited to you. God alone gives the increase (1 Cor 3:7).Thus, there is little “sense of accomplishment in ministry” that you may be accustomed to in other vocations.

7. You will fight legalism and liberalism, along with laziness, ignorance, tradition and opposition. Yet, your greatest enemy will be your own heart (Jer. 17:9).

6. Not everyone will respond positively to your preaching, teaching, or leadership. You will bring people to tears with the same sermon: one in joy, another in anger (I have done this).

5. You will be criticized—rarely to your face and frequently behind your back. This criticism will come from those that love you, those that obviously do not like you, and pastors and Christians who barely know you.

4. You will think about quitting yearly or monthly, if not weekly or even daily.

3. You will be persecuted for preaching the truth, mostly from your brothers and sisters in the pews. You shouldn’t be surprised by the sight of your own blood. You’re a Christian, after all (Matt. 16:24).

2. You will feel very lonely on a consistent basis, feeling like no one truly knows you or cares how you feel, because you do not want to burden your family, and trustworthy peers are few and far in-between. Because of the ”super-Christian” myth accredited to pastors literally, you will find it extremely difficult to disclose your deep thoughts and feelings to others. Thus, you will struggle with loneliness.

1. You will probably pastor a church that is barely growing (if at all), is opposed to change, doesn’t pay well, has seen pastors come and go, doesn’t respect the position as Biblically as they should, doesn’t understand what the Bible says a pastor’s or a church’s jobs is, and will only follow you when they agree with you (thus, they’ll really only follow themselves).

After understanding these realities, do you still want to be a pastor? If so, then God has probably called you to the ministry!

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“You really shouldn’t wear that color of shirt when you preach…”, said the brave man to the discouraged pastor. This wouldn’t be the last time that the red-faced man would give his opinion on all things insignificant. And he wouldn’t be the only one offering criticism.

One of the most shocking things for new pastors is the range of things that are open to opinion and disapproval. Going into the pastorate you assume the locale of most criticism will be things like sermons and leadership decisions. You know, things related to the actual job. Not so. A good portion of the criticism that you’ll receive is about petty things that have more to do with the image of pastor than the actual duties of a pastor.

This reality can be discouraging. It can be draining upon your wife and children as they too find themselves in a constant spotlight—where all things trivial are open to correction. But this also gives us a great opportunity to model how to receive criticism.

The foundation of inappropriate criticism

“Poverty and disgrace come to him who ignores instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is honored”. –Proverbs 13:18

That red-faced man, that always has an opinion about everything except for that which really matters, likely feels the weight of criticism on his own life. He’s critical of you because his life is built on law and not on grace.

I would almost venture a guess that he doesn’t do well when criticized. I can confidently say this because people who are harsh critics usually have their identity wrapped up in their personal performance. And when your identity is wrapped up in what you do, and when what you do is criticized, you have a tendency to “ignore instruction”.

You can help this man move from a “fool” to one that is honored. When you respond to his ridiculous criticism with grace and love—you are modeling what it looks like to have your identity found in Christ. Here are 4 ways to accept criticism with grace and model having your identity in Jesus.

4 Ways to Model

1. See through the criticism and thank him for his concern. You might not like the sharpness of his critique but at the end of the day he’s saying something to you because he cares. Find a way to channel that care and you’ve got yourself a great teammate.

2. Be quick to listen. Only the fool assumes that there is no need for instruction—no matter how trivial it might seem to you at the time. Maybe he’s right. Maybe your shirt color is off-putting and distracting.

3. Be slow to defend. Once you start making excuses you are playing the performance game. If you are wrong don’t defend it. If you aren’t wrong there is a good chance that you still have nothing to defend, state your disagreement and let the Lord fight any battles that need fought*.

4. Rejoice with him in God’s grace. “Man, you are right, that shirt color probably is distracting. I’ll retire it. I’m really thankful that God is more powerful than shirt colors, because I’m sure I’ll do something else distracting at another time. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have much hope of being a faithful pastor.”

Pastor, be sure that your identity is rooted in Christ. When He is, inappropriate criticism doesn’t have to be discouraging. Instead, it can be a great opportunity to model Christ to a fellow sinner.

*At some point there will come a time when you ought to call him on his inappropriate criticism. But lay a foundation of grace first.

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Ready for it?

Be in love with Jesus.

I don’t mean “in love with Jesus” as some gushy sentimental sit-on-his-lap-and-rub-his beard “in love with Jesus”*. I mean a lively, gritty, rough, desperate, and vigorous “in love with Jesus”.

I’m talking about the type of love that leaves you simply in awe of who He is—that almost obsessive impulse that you had when you were dating your wife. But also that type of love that makes you angry. The kind where you are so dedicated to the person but at the same time so unbelievably confused by the things they are saying and doing. Your reaction isn’t to bolt, it’s to dig, to get to know, to understand, and to fall in love all over again.

Stale preaching comes from stale preachers. Yeah, I know that the Word has power and any dolt can be used by the Almighty. But I don’t just want the Lord to use my sermons as if I’m some non-personal instrument. I want the Lord to rock my own soul as He sees fit to use my feeble preaching.

I’m not being faithful to the living Word of God if it’s not living within my own soul and transforming my own life. Preaching isn’t merely a bare expositing of words and saying, “Here is what God says”. Preaching is expositing the words and saying “Here is what God says” AND having your life transformed by those very words.

Nursing Mothers

I don’t think I’m saying anything more than Richard Baxter did some 400 years ago:

When I let my heart grow cold, my preaching is cold; and when it is confused, my preaching is confused…We are the nurses of Christ’s little ones. If we forbear taking food ourselves, we shall famish them; it will soon be visible in their leanness…If we let our love decline, we are not like to raise up theirs. If we abate our holy care and fear, it will appear in our preaching…If we feed on unwholesome food, either errors or fruitless controversies, our hearers are like to fare the worst for it.

The picture is of a nursing mother. She cannot feed her infant if she is starving herself. Likewise, if she eats unwholesome food it will effect that health of the baby she is feeding. Pastors are the same way. If we are feasting on Christ then we’ll feed them with the soundness of our Lord. If we nibble on anything else, they will famish.

The best way to improve your preaching is to be in love with Jesus.


I’m indebted to Matt Chandler for that phrasing.

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