Exegetichism: What a great word! My friend just coined it in a recent conversation. We were talking about four p’s that exist within every insider church culture: parlance, people, places, and press.
As we talked about how he felt a little out of place not knowing all the parlance of the Church culture he has been navigating for a few years, he dropped that word, “exegetichism.” He lamented not knowing and understanding more words like that. How humorous!
He blended two technical words: exegete and catechism. Exegete is when you pull out the true meaning of something. Catechism is when you put into people understanding through the process of asking and answering questions; it’s a form of indoctrination.
Culture is goofy. And it is difficult for people to navigate culture. If leaders aren’t present to help a person navigate a new culture that person will slowly drift away from it. Though my friend was just saying that he doesn’t know or get words like “exegetichism”, he actually cleverly developed a word to describe our problem. There is often a great disconnect between what we pull out and communicate to others and what they actually absorb and understand. Part of this is because we either create noise or ignore the noise that exists and assume that people get or relate to our cultural parlance, people, places, and press.
We have to be careful educators who make no assumptions about our people’s experiences and familiarity with our church culture. Let’s look at each of these facets of our church culture briefly and seek help for using them in our culture well.
Every culture has its language. This is part of what separates it from other cultures and make it distinct. Christian culture has an extremely technical, historical, and well-developed parlance. Unfortunately, as biblical illiteracy increases and emphasis on general education continues to shift towards STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) studies, people will fall out of touch with the parlance. They won’t know what “exegesis” or “catechism” is. They won’t be familiar with “prelapsarian”, “particular atonement”, and “regeneration”.
Furthermore, there is no end to developing new language or nuancing language in a church culture. For instance, the terms “mission” and “incarnation” are used much different from how they would have been 50 years ago. And as theological constructs develop, people are becoming familiar with new problems like “open theism”.
So how do we navigate our parlance? First, I suggest that every time you use a technical term, you should imagine that someone in the room will not know the term. Get used to explaining the term. Second, if the setting is appropriate, you might ask if anyone needs you to explain the term. If no one admits that they need to, give a second chance, and reassure people that you don’t expect them to really know all these terms. Third, create a place or direct people to helpful resources for further study. If your church does not have a blog or an online resource that has some of your parlance defined, then get cracking on making that resource available.
There are people that everyone looks to in your church culture. It could be a scholar or a pastor. Have you ever entered a new culture and everyone kept name dropping people you don’t know at all? Or what about when you navigate from one church environment to another and you discover that a name that was praised in your former environment is defamed in your new one? Let me tell you. That’s awkward. And quite honestly, it’s shameful. Church leaders should be intentionally magnanimous to avert these troubles.
If you wanna help your people understand THE people, be sure to explain a little bit about who you are referencing. Give your people context. Make resources available or create connections between the people you name drop and what they are about. Did they write a book? Make the book available. Are they known for a particular event, doctrine, viewpoint or ministry focus? Connect that person to those things for your people to grip the connection. And demonstrate greater charity towards the well-known people that you may not run to for counsel or leadership.
Places are a big deal for people because memories and the past are often wrapped up in places. There is a sentimental and nostalgic relationship made with places. When I arrived in my first pastorate, I discovered that there were sacred cow places. Thus, I should not import my sacred cow places and supplant those other places at my new pastorate. Because of this, some of the camp and mission experiences that I cherished in past contexts would never be contenders in this new ministry context.
For adults it becomes conferences, colleges, and seminaries.
“Did you go to such-and-such? Oh you didn’t.” Awkward pause. And the two of you don’t know where to go from there.
Have you been there? I have.
Or how about this. The person responds with, “I would never be caught dead at such-and-such. Why would you go there?”
“Well, I went here instead.”
“Oh did you. Hmm.” And now you’ve been shoved into their neat little box.
Places are important. Educating people on the places of value and why they are valuable is critical. Then being super inclusive is also important. You want people to share the same experiences you had in that place. You want them to long to be there and go there. Magnanimity is also essential here.
We need to be charitable because people are not their places. People are in process and they develop. What they were connected to in the past is not always what they wish to be connected to in the future. That’s just the way it is some times. So we shouldn’t make too great of an assumption about a person just because of their past places.
A lot of people do not keep up with the press and social media like you do. Leaders are always more in tune; they keep their ear to the ground about the buzz. For some people the press is super important. Others, don’t really care that much. There is this tension between not creating a culture too attached to the press and then being able to address what current event is taking your culture by storm when it is necessary. Many a church has been broken by events that came out in the press about a place or a person that they cherished.
We need to listen carefully to the buzz in our church. That will help us know how to navigate the press. Not only should a leader have his ears open, sometimes he needs to have his mouth shut about the press. Your people don’t have to get the news from you first every time. Let the press do its work. Be there to offer counsel and make statements in response as it becomes necessary. Sometimes leaders blow the press out of proportion and stir up trouble where none need be.
You want to help people learn your culture and navigate it successfully. This will help you retain more people than you realize.
Likewise, you also want to keep an eye towards a healthy gap between your church and these facets of culture. Parlance changes and evolves. Language you were attached to at one point you may distance from at another. People change. If your church becomes too attached to a figure, you might find yourself managing a disparaging and depressed culture because of some trauma or tragedy that befalls that person. Or it could be worse, and you know what I mean. The same goes for places and the power of the press.
Don’t fail at exegetichizing your people well by reducing noise and bringing clarity about your parlance, people, places, and press that influence your culture.
Here’s one last word: The more we keep the main thing the main thing, the better chance we have of not letting the above cultural facets influence our culture too much. Let the God of the gospel, the Word, and the work of ministry be the primary shapers of your community.
This post first appeared at Joey’s blog and is posted here with his permission.
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Pastor, you are not weird if you battle with depression. You aren’t sub-Christian if you are in despair. It happens. You are human. You are real, organic matter—you are not like the unmeltable ice cream sandwich.
Last Monday, an untraceable sadness came over me. It wasn’t because we had a “bad Sunday.” We didn’t (whatever that means.) A young man, someone who I had been praying would come to Christ, pulled me aside before the second service and wanted to become a Christian. Hallelujah! I live for these moments.
I preached on Proverb 4:23 and watching our hearts, having joy in God, and keeping our lives in alignment with the King of Kings. After church, we went on to have a great lunch with friends; I even got in my nap.
And then Monday morning, right before lunch, I began to cry for no reason. I sat in my living room, while my ten-month old son was napping, and tears slid down my cheeks.
This had never happened to me. I didn’t know what was wrong. “Am I losing my mind?” I didn’t know how to feel. “Am I burnt out?” I was more than bummed. I felt upside down, shrouded in a silent thunderstorm. “What is wrong with me?”
When my wife came home, I was hunched over in the living room—resembling stage 2 of the monkey-man on the so-called evolutionary chart.
Natalie asked, “Jeff, what’s wrong?”
‘That’s the problem, I don’t know. I’m just sad. You haven’t done anything. No one has done anything. I’m just, just, I dunno.’
I put on my shoes, while holding back tears who are bullying their way out, to go to my weekly elder meeting. The last thing I wanted to do. I wanted to lay on the floor and wait for tomorrow.
I asked my brothers, my friends, my co-pastors— my pastors—to pray for me, telling them it seems like I’m depressed. What grace Christians are to one another.
I drove home from our meeting, crying, praying, crying out, “Lord, help me. Please. O, my God, won’t you please help me.”
And then, God spoke me.
HOPE IN THE MIDST OF DEPRESSION
He didn’t show up in my truck and speak to me. He brought his word to my mind.
Psalm 42 washed over me.
“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”
Hope in God. God, the Triune, Omni-loving, God is where we place our confidence and trust. Christ is the solid rock. Everything else? Sinking sand. In my sinking, I had to look up.
The Hebrew word for cast down also means melting, sinking, disintegrating, and despair. And as I looked at myself, I realized that most of my day I spent wallowing instead of hoping. I had been trying to pinpoint my despair instead of looking to the God of my life (Ps. 42:8). I wanted to figure me out—instead of walking by faith.
I began to preach the gospel to myself. “The greatest reality in my life is I’m secure in Christ. I am no rock. He is my rock. If Christ is stable, I am stable. My entire life is baptized into the blood of Jesus. I’ve been crucified with Jesus. And I’ve been raised with him. Even though I’m sitting on the ground crying, I’m sitting with him in the heavenly places.”
I kept telling myself the glories of the gospel until I believed them—until I hoped in God. Friends, we must keep looking at the cross—put our knees on blood-stained soil—until we hear, “It is finished!”—until we believe it.
I love that Psalm 42 doesn’t resolve with a man skipping down to Jericho. It fades to black. The scene dissolves, and we are left seeing a man battling to hope in God. This is reality.
In my battle, it took me few days to come back to sanity. While Monday was 100% chance of rain, Tuesday felt like 60%. But by the end of Tuesday, there was only a light shower of sadness, a mist, if you will. Two friends ministered to me; bearing my burden and fulfilling the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2). Another Acts 29 pastor took me to lunch and strengthened my hand in the Lord. One of my other pastors, came over and encouraged me, counseled me, and was simply there for me.
Spurgeon, a distant friend, ministered to me as well.
SPURGEON AND DEPRESSION
In Lectures To My Students, Spurgeon has a whole address on the issue of depression in ministry, “The Minister’s Fainting Fits.” I cannot help but commend the entire chapter and book to you.
When I thought about all that was weighing on my heart and mind, and all of the sadness I was experiencing, Spurgeon’s words were sweet counsel:
“Our work, when earnestly undertaken, lays us open to attacks in the direction of depression. Who can bear the weight of souls without sometimes sinking to the dust? Passionate longings after men’s conversions, if not fully satisfied (and when are they?), consume the soul with anxiety and disappointment. To see the hopeful turn aside, the godly grow cold, professors abusing their privileges, and sinners waxing more bold in sin—are not these sights enough to crush us to the earth?”
Spugeon goes on to talk about the effects of studying, of not resting well, of sedentariness, of not having other pastors to lean on, etc. And then he talks about when depression comes upon us with no traceable cause, and how even in the midst of fruitful ministry, depression hits and we know not why:
“If it be inquired why the Valley of the Shadow of Death must so often be traversed by the servants of King Jesus, the answer is not far to find…the man shall be emptied of self, and then filled with the Holy Ghost. In his own apprehension he shall be like a sere leaf driven of the tempest, and then shall be strengthened into a brazen wall against the enemies of the truth…
My witness is that those who are honored of their Lord in public, have usually to endure a secret chastening, or to carry a peculiar cross, lest by any means they exalt themselves and fall into the snare of the devil…
By all the castings down of his servants God is glorified, for they are led to magnify him when again he sets them on their feet, and even while prostrate in the dust their faith yields praise.”
From my experience, I agree with Mr. Spurgeon.
It is such a comfort to know that I’m not some anomaly, or Biblical weirdo, “Count it no strange thing,” Spurgeon says, “but a part of ordinary ministerial experience. Should the power of depression be more than ordinary, think not that all is over with your usefulness.” And in one of his sermons on Psalm 42, Spurgeon tells us, “Depression of spirit is no index of declining grace; the very loss of joy and the absence of assurance may be accompanied by the greatest advancement in the spiritual life.”
The downward spiral of despair is a reminder to us pastors that we are still in great need of the risen Christ. Apart from him, we can’t do anything (John 15:5).
The Psalmist wrestled. Spurgeon wrestled. Piper wrestled:
I cannot tell you how many hundreds of times in the last twenty-eight years at Bethlehem I have fought back the heaviness of discouragement with these very words: ‘Hope in God, John. Hope in God. You will again praise him. This miserable emotion will pass. This season will pass. Don’t be downcast. Look to Jesus. The light will dawn.’ It was so central to our way of thinking and talking in the early eighties that we put a huge ‘Hope in God’ sign on the outside wall of the old sanctuary and became known around the neighborhood as the ‘Hope in God’ church.”
When we are leveled, cut down to the dirt, the Lord doesn’t look at us and scoff, “C’mon. Gimme a break, ‘Pastor.’ What’s wrong with you? Aren’t you better than this?” Rather, Jesus look at us and says, “My dear friend, I know exactly what’s wrong.”
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15–16 ESV)
If you find yourself in the discombobulation of depression, do not read this as a trite and mere yeah-yeah platitude: draw near to Jesus. His throne is one of grace. And there, right there with him, there is mercy and grace in our time of need. Pastor, let the gospel we preach to others be the gospel we preach to ourselves.
Hope in him.
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Recently I had a discussion with some friends about some public leadership fails in the news. I could name them, but you likely already know who they are. Our conversation turned to a general topic of leadership and things we’ve observed. What struck us was how these things evolve from little, seemingly insignificant decisions that form the culture out of which unhealthy leadership grows. In other words, nobody wakes up one day and says to himself, “I’m going to strive to be an authoritarian leader who wreaks havoc on the people I serve.” It just doesn’t happen that way. Leaders start with good intentions. They start as “normal” people. So how do leaders fail? I think there are five basic mistakes leaders make:
1) Leaders Fail to Build Healthy Accountability Structures for Themselves Early On
So nobody wakes up one day and says, “I’d like to be a jerk who doesn’t listen to anyone.” Instead, it begins slowly, early on, when leaders fail to intentionally build honest voices into their lives. By “honest voices” I mean friends, mentors, family who are given permission to tell us when we are out of line. We always think this needs to happen when we “make it big” but that’s a mistake. We should do this when nobody knows who we are. And it begins by receiving healthy criticism from people we love instead of adopting a “haters gonna hate” mentality. It’s important to do this early on because once we “make it big” (whatever that means), we’ll be less resistant to criticism. Leaders who surround themselves with sycophants who fawn at their every move–this builds the culture that breeds authoritarian leadership. So, it’s important for us to have one or two people in our organizations, in our circle of friends, in our families who can tell us, at times, “Dude, you were a jerk to that person” or “Hey, I don’t think this is a good move.” David had Nathan. Who is your Nathan? I think we should not only do this intentionally, but organizations should be structured with this kind of accountability. This is why ecclesiology (church governance and structure) matters. This is why organizational structure matters. The “I’m a CEO/King and nobody tells me what to do” model breeds leaders who fail.
2) Leaders Fail to Move Beyond Personal Grudges and Hurts
I’m a fan of reading biographies, particularly biographies of political leaders. These are the books I bring to the beach (I know, it’s pathetic). In my reading across a wide variety of leaders, I’ve found a singular trait that characterizes leaders who could best be described as “tyrants.” This is the inability to forgive. Look closely at dictators who have ravaged countries and continents. Almost every one of them was operating off a hurt early in their lives that they never got over. I’ve seen this with presidents, CEOS, and pastors. If part of the motivation for assuming leadership is the opportunity to “prove everyone wrong” or “strike back at those who hurt me”, this is a recipe for an authoritarian leader. Leaders who forgive are leaders are able to use their past as a catalyst for serving others and helping them through their hurt and pain. I think of Joseph, who rose to leadership in Egypt and instead of using his power to get vengeance on his betraying brothers, left justice in the hands of God and instead offered forgiveness (Genesis 50:20).
3) Leaders Stop Serving the Mission and Start Serving Themselves
This one is closely related to the first point. Unhealthy leaders begins when organizations allow or foster a kind of “leadership bubble” where the goals of the organization are simply to advance to the leader’s personal interests. This can get complicated, because a good leader will have a reputation and a brand, so to speak, that will bring attention and honor to the organization he serves. But good leaders build a deep and wide organization and are unafraid to let others in the organization get attention if need be. Unhealthy leaders constantly monitor what is being said about them and wake up every day worried more about themselves than about serving the organizations they’ve been entrusted with. Good leaders are humble, confident, winsome in their approach. And they are motivated not by building their own platform but by serving those God has called them to serve.
4) Leaders Stop Growing and Listening
Most people think this is a function of age, that older leaders stop thinking they need to grow and change and learn. But I have not found this to be true. I’ve met young leaders who think they are the experts in everything and I’ve met older leaders who surprise me by their desire to grow. This is more of an ego/pride thing. Success is a difficult thing to handle, more so than failure. And without the patient work of the Holy Spirit sanctifying us we all tend to drift toward lethargy and pride. Good leaders constantly seek out new opportunities, new relationships, new coalitions that will help them grow as a leader and as a person. Bad leaders refuse to listen, grow jealous of other’s expertise, and guard their reputation so strongly that they can’t ever admit they don’t know everything. I’m reminded of the maxim in Scripture that God “resists the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).
5) Leaders Think That “This Couldn’t Happen to Me.”
What strikes me most in our conversations about failed leadership is that almost none of us think it could happen to us. I think this is dangerous. It’s very possible that someone tweeting/blogging/talking about some famous and terrible leadership crisis today could be the subject of a similar crisis in five years. The more we cringe and feign disgust at the examples we keep reading about, the more likely it is that we’ll repeat the same mistakes. This is because the instinct that says, “How could this guy do this to his church. I would never do that” is the very instinct that leads to our downfall. We should all treat others’ mistakes like Paul treated the failures of Israel in the Old Testament. We should “take heed, lest we fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). I’m amazed at the pride we all have when someone falls and falls big, at the celebration of their demise and the virtual chest-beating we do on social media. This shows that we’re just as susceptible to making the same mistakes. Instead, like Paul, we should treat every sad story of leadership failure as a cautionary tale.
“That Guy” is such a popular phrase these days and it’s a term many of us have used — mostly in the context of not wanting to be “That Guy.” What do I mean by “That Guy”? Who is “That Guy”? For the sake of this article I sum him up in four fitting words: Male Hermione Granger Syndrome — the confounded know it all student in the Gryffindor House of the now classic young reader series, Harry Potter. If you wish, you may shorten this summation to MHGS, which should not be confused with any food allergies or other debilitating life circumstance.
Wanna learn more about identifying “That Guy”? He will have a special presence in three places. Here are those places and how “That Guy” will function in those places.
In Your Church
Here’s what “That Guy” looks like in your church.
When he comes for the first Sunday, he will immediately introduce himself to you, the pastor, after your service. He will kindly push back on a few matters from your sermon which need clarifying. He will likely grill you on a few areas of doctrine, particularly the doctrines of grace. He will then set up a meeting with you, which is really going to be a string of meetings that you will have over time.
He will be an avid participant in any learning environment, especially one where he may eventually have the opportunity to lead or teach at some capacity. He will bust out with all the theological lingo he can muster and, at this time, will use make trendy references to such men as Eric Metaxas, Deitrich Boenhoeffer, C S Lewis, Hans Urs Von Balthasar, and Karl Barth. He ought to get bonus points for mentioning them all! If he’s Southern Baptist he will likely name drop Al Mohler or Gregory Thornbury, but only the later if “That Guy” happens to be a hipster. If he’s Presbyterian then his go to will be Timothy Keller, quickly followed by Miroslav Volf, because that’s who Keller quotes.
Occasionally he’ll dominate conversations or discussion to the point where the discussion will be nothing like the direction it was originally intended to go. That’s okay because usually these discussions are lively. They stir many emotions in the participants. People will be more passionate about matters which waned in their life before. This is a very good thing and a benefit of “That Guy.” He will typically have extensive knowledge on almost every area of study and in whatever area of study he lacks he deftly avoids the subject or diverts the conversation back to an area of his mastery. All of it is a ploy to spread the propaganda that he is “That Guy” who knows stuff.
On Social Media
Now “That Guy” is not always a social media phenom. But sometimes he is. And boy oh boy will he shine on social media. He’s “That Guy” that walks into every twitter conversation and does one of two things: tweet blast the conversation with his line of reasoning or “I’ve got a link about that…”, which is always good for a few extra views on the old blog. Typically he’ll have a book recommendation on just about every subject. He’s not just the “ideas man” but he’s the “answer man.” He’ll have an answer or a thought on every conversation and he won’t help but give that answer.
At the Conference
But you won’t just find “That Guy” in your church or on social media, he’ll show up at conferences too. He’s “That Guy” in the crowd of “Those Guys” all waiting to meet “That Speaker” after he speaks to tell him the mind blowing revelation contrived while listening to that speaker. It’s a cocktail of that-ness.
Between sessions, on the sidewalks, or in dining room booths throughout the conference he is “That Guy” that is excitedly gesturing and talking about a mightily disputed doctrine as if he has the resolution for world peace in his hands. He’s basically the N T Wright who is astounded that no one in the world has ever recognized the glaringly obvious discovery that he has just made.
Why Am I A “That Guy” Expert
Good question. I’m glad you asked. I have an answer for you.
Yep. I’m not sure whether to identify myself as a recovering “That Guy”, an adjusted “That Guy”, or just a tired “That Guy”. But I’m probably one or all of those three. Either way I have had my fare share of the MHGS. And boy did I have a bad case.
I mourn so much about the angst I carried around as a “That Guy” in my early twenties. I’m not even quite sure when I adjusted. Honestly, I’m sure of moments when I’ve relapsed. Often times, now in my early thirties, I find myself recoiling when I see “That Guy” trolling around. Why? Well, when you put one “That Guy” in a room with another “That Guy” you either have a sweet symphony or WWIII. It all depends on if you can get the two to agree. And even the most adjusted “That Guy” has the tendency to relapse when he gets too near another. The syndrome is a contagion.
How To Respond To “That Guy”
No doubt “That Guy” is either seminary bound, in seminary, or just leaving seminary. And if you happen to be the pastor, you will want to take him home and train him. That’s right. There’s a part of you that will think, “Ahh, that guy’s cute!” And I mean that in the amused puppy sort of way. You, the pastor, will grow immediately fond of “That Guy.” Why? Because he is a guy just after your own heart. You recall when you had that same level of intensity. You’ll find it a little refreshing, because, after all, it has been some time since you had that kind of intensity around you.
Or maybe you happen to be the lucky lady destined to receive “That Guy’s” affection. O, how I pray for you. I pray that you are sweet, gentle, kind, and a somewhat sassy gal, because “That Guy” needs to be sassed.
Or finally, you’re just a normal old person wandering the wide world and you’ve encountered the not so rare “That Guy” in the wild.
If you’re any of those three, then listen up to some real brief tips.
1. Encourage “That Guy”. What he really longs for is affirmation. Give it to him.
2. Appreciate “That Guy”. He’s offering you all his answers because he sincerely wants to help and contribute. Look for ways to be grateful.
3. Empower “That Guy”. This is tricky. Too much power is bad for “That Guy”. But he needs to be utilized, or he’ll shrivel up and die. Give him a role and a place to serve and lead.
4. Listen to “That Guy”. We all want to be listened too. He more so than anyone. Lend him your ear and give him a hard stop time. He needs to know there are always boundaries.
5. Pray for “That Guy”. He’s likely to be a leader that will make vast contributions to the Church. Pray that the Lord will protect him from the hubris to which he gravitates. Pray that he will be protected from evil. Pray that he would do much to magnify God’s glory, not his own.
I hope you find this whimsical character sketch to be helpful. These tips, though brief, will go a long way in loving “That Guy”. And “That Guys” really needs your love; it’s likely he did not receive the healthy dose of it that he needed elsewhere.
This post was first posted at Joey’s blog and is posted here with his permission.
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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.
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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Do you like to teach the Bible? Do you enjoy serving others? Do you have a knack helping the hurting? Have you thought about being a pastor? Maybe you never thought you could be a children’s minster at a church, but maybe Jesus is calling you into something that you never dreamed would be for you—or maybe you were born in a baptistery, your first words were sola scriptura, and you day dream about being a preacher.
We are all ministers (1 Peter 2:9). But not all of us are called into vocational ministry. Wherever you are on the “call to ministry” spectrum, here are five questions you need to answer.
1. Do I Want to Make Disciples and Make Much of Jesus?
You might have a library-load of reasons why you think should be in vocational ministry—but if you don’t have the right reason, you are treading on unholy ground.
A lot of people join the ministry for all the wrong reasons. You don’t become a pastor to make friends. You don’t become a foreign missionary to ease your conscience. And you don’t plant a church for the praise of self. Ministry happens for one two-pronged reason: I want to make disciples and make much of Jesus of Nazareth. Pats on the back are fleeting. Disciple making is eternal. Don’t join the ministry to make Mama and Daddy proud. Do it for the Kingdom of Heaven.
Real ministry is all about Jesus, and making disciples of Jesus. Gospel ministry is a self-explanatory term—it’s all about preaching the gospel and making disciples (Acts 14:21). Student Ministry, Kids Ministry, etc., must be about making disciples and making much of our Galilean King of Kings. If not—it’s no longer Christian. Ask why you want to be in ministry.
Desiring ministry is good thing (1 Timothy 3:1), as long as your aim is the fame of Jesus Christ—which, you know, is the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18–20). Rest assured, Jesus isn’t commissioning you for anything different.
2. Am I Called?
Back in my college ministry days, a guy came up to me and said he felt called to preach. I asked him, “Is anyone calling you to preach?” Cue the crickets. “Are you teaching anywhere right now?” The crickets began to preach.
The calling question is a vital element. You might feel called to vocational ministry, but, believe it or not, you could be wrong. One way to reinforce your calling is by seeing if anyone is calling you. Is your church asking you to teach? Are they asking you to serve more and more? Are God’s people already asking you to serve? Your feelings don’t matter. Feelings are fickle. And a call to ministry is like a burning bush.
Moses knew his calling was sure because God called him, he had a mission, and he had a people to serve. If the Holy Spirit is calling you out (Acts 20:28), what is your mission, and who is it for?
3. What Are My Gifts?
Someone who is good at entertaining middle schoolers doesn’t equal a student minister. A golden smile, a firm handshake, and a preacher voice cooked in a seminary oven won’t yield a pastor. The Holy Spirit of our risen Christ, his power and the gifts he gives, is what makes a minister.
There is no doubt that the Lord can (and does) use our natural brain power and people skills, but if we are going up against the dark powers of the age—and I don’t mean cable television—we need supernatural, make-a-nuke-jealous power: The Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8).
If you are in Christ, his Spirit is rumbling inside of you, gifting you, ready to exalt the name of Jesus. So, how has Jesus gifted you to exalt his name? That’s what spiritual gifts do. “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen”(1 Peter 4:10–11 ESV).
A great way to discover your spiritual gifts is by serving in many different ways. Serve in varied ways, see where fruit pops up, and ask others about your gifting. Timothy’s gifting, even at a young age, was obvious to those around him, so much that Paul called him to join his church planting team (Acts 16:1–5, 1 Timothy 4:14–15).
What are those around you noticing? Ask them. They might see your gifting before you do. And they might even encourage you in the midst of discouragement.
4. Am I committed to a local church?
The Apostle Paul’s vision for ministry is one that builds up the body of Christ. Jesus gives us spiritual gifts for the good of his church. “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11–13 ESV).
A calling to ministry should fly in tandem with a love for Christ’s church. You won’t be preaching to a blob of people—that’s Christ’s bride, and you are there to build her up.
Are you presently committed to building up Christ’s church?
- Are you committed to an actual local church (Hebrews 10:24–25)? Do you serve there (1 Peter 4:10)?
- Do you generously give for the work of the gospel there (2 Corinthians 9:7; Galatians 6:6–10)?
- Do you pray for your pastors and leaders (1 Thessalonians 5:25)?
- Do you submit to spiritual authority (Hebrews 13:17)?
Like Paul and Barnabas, you want identification and affirmation from the leaders of your local church (Acts 13:1–3).
5. Am I ready to wait?
A call to ministry is also a call to wait. Don’t overlook this question. You may be called, affirmed, gifted, and committed to a local church and still not have the ministry you desire. And that’s ok. Joseph waited, nearly two decades, until his dream came true. Moses waited forty-years. David, even after being anointed by Samuel and killed the giant, still had to wait. Jesus waited thirty-years before he launched his ministry. Paul waited three years after his call on the Damascus Road.
Are you called? Are you ready to wait?
The call to ministry is an already-not-yet. You are called—but not yet. You are already summoned, but not yet. I felt called to pastoral ministry at fifteen-years old as a sophomore in high school. And I didn’t get called into the pastoral ministry I desired for another ten years. Wait. God knows what he’s doing. Wait till you are finally and fully called. Satan is ready and willing to offer you a shortcut (Matthew 4:8–10)—I would strongly advise against that.
So where are you on the spectrum? Talk to your pastors, friends, and family. Go through these questions, pray, and see where the Spirit leads.
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