Category Archives: Pastoral Ministry

A Whale-Sized Lesson for Preachers

JonahThere now came a lull in [Father Mapple’s] look, as he silently turned over the leaves of the Book once more; and, at last, standing motionless, with closed eyes, for the moment, seemed communing with God and himself.

But again he leaned over towards the people, and bowing his head lowly, with an aspect of the deepest yet manliest humility, he spake these words:

“Shipmates, God has laid but one hand upon you; both his hands press upon me. I have read ye by what murky light may be mine the lesson that Jonah teaches to all sinners; and therefore to ye, and still more to me, for I am a greater sinner than ye. And now how gladly would I come down from this mast-head and sit on the hatches there where you sit, and listen as you listen, while some one of you reads me that other and more awful lesson which Jonah teaches to me, as a pilot of the living God. How being an anointed pilot-prophet, or speaker of true things and bidden by the Lord to sound those unwelcome truths in the ears of a wicked Nineveh, Jonah, appalled at the hostility he should raise, fled from his mission, and sought to escape his duty and his God by taking ship at Joppa. But God is everywhere; Tarshish he never reached. As we have seen, God came upon him in the whale, and swallowed him down to living gulfs of doom, and with swift slantings tore him along ‘into the midst of the seas,’ where the eddying depths sucked him ten thousand fathoms down, and ‘the weeds were wrapped about his head,’ and all the watery world of woe bowled over him. Yet even then beyond the reach of any plummet- ‘out of the belly of hell’- when the whale grounded upon the ocean’s utmost bones, even then, God heard the engulphed, repenting prophet when he cried. Then God spake unto the fish; and from the shuddering cold and blackness of the sea, the whale came breeching up towards the warm and pleasant sun, and all the delights of air and earth; and ‘vomited out Jonah upon the dry land;’ when the word of the Lord came a second time; and Jonah, bruised and beaten- his ears, like two sea-shells, still multitudinously murmuring of the ocean- Jonah did the Almighty’s bidding. And what was that, shipmates? To preach the Truth to the face of Falsehood! That was it!

This, shipmates, this is that other lesson; and woe to that pilot of the living God who slights it. Woe to him whom this world charms from Gospel duty! Woe to him who seeks to pour oil upon the waters when God has brewed them into a gale! Woe to him who seeks to please rather than to appal! Woe to him whose good name is more to him than goodness! Woe to him who, in this world, courts not dishonor! Woe to him who would not be true, even though to be false were salvation! Yea, woe to him who as the great Pilot Paul has it, while preaching to others is himself a castaway!

He drooped and fell away from himself for a moment; then lifting his face to them again, showed a deep joy in his eyes, as he cried out with a heavenly enthusiasm,- “But oh! shipmates! on the starboard hand of every woe, there is a sure delight; and higher the top of that delight, than the bottom of the woe is deep. Is not the main-truck higher than the kelson is low? Delight is to him- a far, far upward, and inward delight- who against the proud gods and commodores of this earth, ever stands forth his own inexorable self. Delight is to him whose strong arms yet support him, when the ship of this base treacherous world has gone down beneath him. Delight is to him, who gives no quarter in the truth, and kills, burns, and destroys all sin though he pluck it out from under the robes of Senators and Judges. Delight,- top-gallant delight is to him, who acknowledges no law or lord, but the Lord his God, and is only a patriot to heaven. Delight is to him, whom all the waves of the billows of the seas of the boisterous mob can never shake from this sure Keel of the Ages. And eternal delight and deliciousness will be his, who coming to lay him down, can say with his final breath- O Father!- chiefly known to me by Thy rod- mortal or immortal, here I die. I have striven to be Thine, more than to be this world’s, or mine own. Yet this is nothing: I leave eternity to Thee; for what is man that he should live out the lifetime of his God?”

He said no more, but slowly waving a benediction, covered his face with his hands, and so remained kneeling, till all the people had departed, and he was left alone in the place.

Herman Melville (1819-91), Moby Dick, Chapter IX, “The Sermon.”

Photo: Jim LePage 

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Who’s in Charge Here?

churchquestionsIt happens often, probably more than you might think, or maybe less that you think it should happen, but it does happen.  The question is asked: “Who’s in charge here?”  You’ve seen it in Sci-Fi movies, when the alien lands and first encounters human beings and says, “Take me to your leader.”   This is that question in statement form.  Maybe at school in class, your teacher steps out of the room and things get rambunctious for a bit and another adult steps in and asks the question.   Or it could be children in a home watching mom and dad bicker and challenge one another and in their hearts, or possibly verbally as kids often do, ask, “Who’s in charge here?”  It is a good question to ask, particularly in times of chaos, rambunctiousness, and challenge, but it is even a better question to have rightly answered and for those “in charge” to act as though they are.

Concerning the local representations of God’s church, the question is of particular importance for it is His church and He has told us in His Word who is in charge.  When it comes to understanding who’s in charge in the church, rather than focusing upon levels of authority, though definitely an important aspect, two words are helpful and will be used to direct this discussion: responsibility and accountability.  You see, all authority is delegated by and flows from Christ, who is Lord over all, but the way in which the Bible reveals who has authority and what kind of authority they bear is described by means of what each person or group is accountable for and is therefore responsible to do.  You may ask, “How do I know if I have authority to do something in the church?” to which I would respond with, “Are you accountable before God for that which you are wanting to do?”  If the answer is yes then He has delegated that authority to you to do such by His Word and in His name.  If you are not accountable to God for what you are seeking to do, then you do not have the authority to do such.  God, in His wisdom in creating and sustaining the church, has provided all we need to be faithful, if we will but listen to Him.

To clarify, let me illustrate.  In a family there are different levels of authority revealed in differing levels of accountability and responsibility.  Simplistically, God created the husband to be and holds him accountable as the shepherd of the family, to physically and spiritually provide and protect, loving his wife as Christ does the church and training his children in the fear of the Lord.  With this the husband/father bears a delegated authority from God in which to carry out those things for which he will give account before God.  This accountability means that he is responsible for those roles in the family and no one else.  The wife/mother has been created by God and is held accountable before Him as the complementary helper, nurturing, submitting, and respecting her husband as unto the Lord, and caring for her children physically and spiritually.  With this, the wife/mother bears a delegated authority from God in which to carry out those things she will give an account before God.  This accountability means that she is responsible for those roles in the family and no one else.  Even children are accountable to God as they have been created to and therefore responsible to honor and obeying their parents, but also loving the other siblings.  To this, kids will give account.  Though the authority needed to fulfill this responsibility is low, it still exists for no one should interfere with a child seeking to honor and obey his or her parents.  While, not a one to one comparison, this family structure of accountability and responsibility is like that of the church.

When it comes to the church, according to the Word of God, there are 4 levels of responsibility and accountability within: Jesus, pastors, deacons, and the congregation* (see end).  Each will be reflected upon, listing what each group is responsible for and therefore accountable unto God.

1. Jesus: The Good Shepherd

It may seem unnecessary to include Jesus in a discussion of who’s in charge of a local church, but it is absolutely the contrary.  The church is His church (Eph. 5:25-27), bought with His blood (Acts 20:28), He is the head of it (Eph. 5:23; Col. 1:18), He declared that He would build it (Matt. 16:18), He cares for and nourishes it (Eph. 5:29), and He has told us who we are as His church and how we ought to function as His church.  Jesus holds all authority over His church and bears faithful responsibility over it as the One who has given account for it with His life, for He is the Good Shepherd who has laid His life down for His sheep (John 10:1-18).  There is nothing lacking in His work for the church from the past, in the present, and through to eternity.  He is the promised Shepherd that perpetually and graciously shepherds His sheep.  Apart from giving us the Spirit and His Word to feed us and guide us, Christ shepherds His people by calling and equipping undershepherds (pastors) to shepherd His flock wherever they serve.

2. Pastors: The Undershepherds

The next level of responsibility and accountability below Christ is that of pastors (synonymous with overseers, elders, bishops, and leaders in Heb. 13).  They are called undershepherds because under Christ, the Good Shepherd, they bear the greatest amount of responsibility and are therefore the most accountable to God in the church for how they use their delegated authority and fulfill their responsibilities.  Broadly summarizing, pastors (note the plurality nearly always used in Scripture concerning them) are responsible for caring for and protecting themselves and the flock (Acts 20:28-32; John 21:15-17), exercising oversight leading the flock (1 Peter 5:1-4; Heb. 13:7, 17), believing, handling, defending, preaching and teaching the Word of God rightly (2 Tim. 1:13-14, 2:15-17, 4:2-5; 1 Tim. 6:2-4; 1 Peter 3:14-17; Jude 3-4), reproving, rebuking, exhorting with all authority those in error (2 Tim. 4:2-5; Titus 2:15), being an example to the flock (1 Tim 3:1-7, 4:11-16, 6:11-16; Titus 1:5-9), equipping the saints for the work of ministry, for maturity in Christ, unity in the gospel (Eph. 4:11-14), and pastors are responsible for obeying God and not men (1 Thess. 2:2-8, 11-12).

Another area in which pastors bear responsibility is for the calling out, training, and appointing other pastors in the body in which they serve (2 Tim. 2:1-2; Titus 1:5-9). These men, called out and equipped by God to shepherd His flock, are accountable to Him for all of these things (Heb. 13:17; James 3:1; Acts 20:26-27) as well as accountable to the flock.  Pastors bear the authority needed to do these things faithfully by delegation from Christ and by the authority of the Word.  Pastors care for, protect, preach, equip, and rebuke/correct not by their own authority but by the authority of the Word of God.  All this applies to every and any man who claims to be called of God into pastoral ministry of any sort.  In Scripture and therefore before God there are not mere staff ministers and then a pastor but a plurality of pastors that each bear this responsibility and accountability before God and His church.  If any don’t want the responsibility or to be held accountable for this then they are not called by God to shepherd His flock, but are imposters, wolves in sheep’s clothing, seeking their own kingdom and good.  Even if one holds the office but ignores or is ignorant of these responsibilities, they are still accountable to God for them.  Pastors are called to die for they are called to follow in the footsteps of the Good Shepherd who laid His life down for the good of the sheep.

3. Deacons: The Servants

The next level of responsibility and accountability falling under Christ and pastors is deacons.  It may be offensive to some that the label “servants” are given to deacons but it ought not be offensive for it what the very word “deacon” means and as well as it defines their role in the church.  Deacons are not mentioned very much in the Bible (3 passages and one inference), which makes sense when you think about the non-public nature of their work.  While sharing in nearly identical characteristics/qualifications as pastors, deacons do not have the responsibility and therefore not the authority to teach or lead the church spiritually (1 Tim. 3:1-13).  They are called and responsible to serve, meet physical needs, and seek to maintain the unity of faith.  They must be of exemplary character and are to be selected because they are already doing the work of a deacon (serving) not so that they can have an official title or acknowledgment before the church.  Though the designation of deacon is not specifically mentioned in the text, the role of deacons is illustrated in Acts 6:1-4, where the apostles (spiritual leaders of the church) were being pulled away from the responsibilities God had called them to, so they called faithful men to serve those in need.

The needs of a church are endless so the opportunities of service and ministry for deacons are endless as well.  The work of deacons is crucial to the health of a church as they assist the pastors of the church by meeting necessary needs of the flock that would hinder pastors in their responsibilities and as they serve the church.  This responsibility bears accountability before God and to the pastors and the congregation.  With this comes the authority to take up the task before them and serve.  No one needs to tell a deacon to serve for that is what they have been called to do, and when they see a need they are to seek to serve and do so by the authority of and in unity with the Word.  All Christians are called to be servants/ slaves of Christ in service to Him and to His church.  Deacons are those who are recognized in the church as servants of God, the pastors, and of the congregation, meeting everyday needs not leading spiritually.  Rightly understood, there are those not known as deacons who are truly deacons before God and His people because of their dedicated service to the church and those with the name deacon who are not truly deacons due to their lack in service and the pursuit of their own good and way.

4. Congregation: The Body

The last level of responsibility and accountability falls on the congregation.  God has the most to say to this group concerning their responsibilities.  Apart from the expectations of every believer (being filled with the Spirit, bearing the fruit of the Spirit, praying, reading the Word, etc) the New Testament, particularly the epistles, shows that the congregation is responsible and therefore accountable for much, as individuals and corporately.  The largest portion of responsibility is easily found in the “one another’s” of the New Testament.  Every Christian and, therefore, every church body are responsible for carrying out each and every one another as they have the occasion.  This includes, though not exhaustively: loving, comforting, bearing with, being kind and compassionate to, forgiving, encouraging, edifying, praying for, being at peace with, serving, living in harmony with, instructing, correcting, admonishing, counseling, speaking graciously to, submitting to, exhorting, gathering with, and giving to one another.  Each member of the body is responsible for these and therefore accountable to God and to one another for fulfilling them.

Another area in which the congregation is responsible is dealing with sin in the church.  Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 6 make clear that while the pastors have a role in church discipline, it is further in the process and the congregation bears the greater responsibility for pursuing the sinning brother or sister’s repentance and restoration or removal.  Jesus in Matthew gives the instructions to every Christian, giving them authority to deal with sin in the church, whereas Paul rebukes the church at Corinth for not dealing with those in sin showing the responsibility and accountability they bore before God and one another for such things.

The next area for which the congregation is responsible is in the work of ministry (Eph. 4:11-16).  We have already seen that pastors are responsible for equipping the church, but they do so for the purpose that the church, the congregation, would be able and would do the work of ministry.  Pastors are the spiritual leaders of the church and are responsible for much before God and the church but they are not expected to do it all, for they are not able to do it all and they were never meant to do it all.  The congregation is taught, trained, and counseled by the ministry of pastors according to the Word, not to merely be served but that they may teach, train (disciple), and counsel others according to the Word.

Another area of responsibility is the congregation’s command to submit to their pastors (Heb. 13:17).  This makes sense when you understand that they are bearers of Christ’s delegated authority to care for and serve you, so you submit to your pastors as unto the Lord, not because they are lords.  They are mere men who God has given a weighty responsibility and are fallible, which leads to the next thing for which congregation is responsible: pastoral accountability.  The pastoral submission mentioned above is not calling for blind or negligent submission but with it comes pastoral accountability, meaning that the congregation has the responsibility to hold their pastors accountable for fulfilling their responsibilities faithfully and honoring those who do so or rebuking those who persist in sinning by not being faithful (1 Tim. 5:17-20).  Again, with these responsibilities for each group comes the authority from God by His Word to do these things.  The previous two groups (pastors and deacons) bear the responsibilities of this category as well but are given more responsibilities and are therefore accountable for more before God and the church, but each will have to give an account before God for what they were responsible for in this life in the church (Rom. 14:12).

Conclusion:

These things are the key to a healthy church – everybody doing what God has called them to do according to the Word:  pastors leading with the Word as Christ would have them, deacons serving the daily needs of the church, and the congregation doing the work of ministry unto one another.  This is a high calling.  It is a calling to die to ourselves, our traditions, and our wisdom and a call to follow Christ, and it is there that we will find life, grace, and joy forevermore.  That is church.

So when you ask the question, “Who’s in charge here?” the right answer is Christ.  It is His church and we would do well to listen to how He would have us carry things out.  Anything more would be a questioning of His wisdom and grace and anything less would be mockery.

* Note: this has been an attempt to discuss what God’s Word says concerning the structure of His church and how He, in His wisdom, would have it function.  It is recognized that there are groups not mentioned above (e.g. committees or councils) as those who have taken on responsibility and authority in a church that may exist in the church or denomination in which you are a member.  This is due to the fact that they are not recognized as such in Scripture and are therefore only legitimate if they do not take on or exercise the responsibilities or authority of one of the God-ordained groups mentioned above and if they do not hinder those groups from fulfilling those responsibilities for which they are accountable.  This is not a matter of interpretation for it is a product of clear revelation, nor is this a matter of tradition, for those even vary in the same circles over generations, but biblical faithfulness unto God.  If the church cannot pick up the Word of God to find its identity and instruction, it has little reason to bear the name “church” or of the One who purchased it.

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What God Wants in a Pastor

pulpitOne of the hardest times in a church’s life is the leaving of and the search for a pastor.  There are many things that make this time difficult, but one of the most pressing issues is trying to discern who the next pastor is going to be.  God has not left us on our own to discern such things.  The church is His, being created by and kept by Him by the work of the Spirit through the Word, and He is not silent when it comes to how the church is to conduct itself and who or whom is to oversee/shepherd His church.  So we would do well, for the glory of God and the good of the church, to heed His instructions on what pastor is to be and do.  What follows is simply a collection of passages that give clarity to what God desires for His church in a pastor in 3 areas: character, calling, and concern (words have been emboldened to highlight the specifics of each area).

The Character of a Pastor (What has God called a pastor to be?):

  • 1 Timothy 3:1-7 – “If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.”
  • Titus 1:5-9 – “appoint elders in every town as I directed you—6 if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination.7 For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, 8 but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. 9 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”

The Calling of the Pastor (What has God called a pastor to do?):

  • Acts 20:28-32 “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert
  • 1 Peter 5:1-4 “…shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock…”
  • Jude 3-4 “…contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”
  • Hebrews 13:7, 17 “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith… Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”
  • 1 Timothy 4:11-16 “Command and teach these things. Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teachingPractice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching…”
  • 2 Timothy 1:13-14 “Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.
  • 2 Timothy 2:15-17 “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness,and their talk will spread like gangrene.”
  • 2 Timothy 4:2-5 “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions,and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”
  • Titus 2:15 “Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.”
  • 1 Timothy 6:2-4, 11-16 “Teach and urge these things. If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing… But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.”
  • 1 Peter 3:14-17 “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.”
  • Ephesians 4:11-14 “And he gave… 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, so that we may no longer be children,tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”
  • 1 Thessalonians 2:11-12 “For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.”

The Concern of the Pastor:

  • James 3:1 “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.
  • Hebrews 13:17 “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”
  • Ezekiel 3:17-21 ““Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die for his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul. Again, if a righteous person turns from his righteousness and commits injustice, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die. Because you have not warned him, he shall die for his sin, and his righteous deeds that he has done shall not be remembered, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the righteous person not to sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live, because he took warning, and you will have delivered your soul.” (see also Ez. 33:1-9; 34:1-10)
  • Acts 20:26-27 – “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.”

A lot could be said about each one of these passages and their importance for the pastor’s work as well as for the church’s good, but God’s Word, at times, speaks the loudest when allowed to speak for itself.

If what has been presented above is what God has called pastors to be, do, and bear before Him and the church, to take away/deny any or to add our own desires of a pastor to these things is to mock the wisdom of God, reject good for His church, and hinder God’s work through His church.  It is not our church but His, and good will only come from heeding His Word in all things.

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