Monday, January 29, 2018

What to Look for in a Pastor, Part 1

I announced to my church last month that I will be leaving this summer to take a new ministry assignment. In order to prepare for the transition, I wrote some things for the congregation to think over regarding what they should be looking for in the next shepherd. 

This series was written primarily for my own church, but I’m posting so that it might be a help to other churches in the context of a search, or to encourage pastors who are praying and preparing for service. 

What a church should look for in a pastor can be found in the acronym PASTOR. 

First and foremost, a pastor--I’m thinking lead pastor primarily--must be a preacher (P). This does not mean that he needs to be the next Spurgeon, MacArthur, or Piper. But it does mean he needs to have a passion for preaching, and gift in handling the Word. Here are several reasons why preaching is so vital. 

Preaching was a priority for Jesus. His earthly ministry revolved around preaching (Mk 1:38-39). Christ-like pastors are preachers at heart. 

Preaching was in the DNA of the apostolic church. Acts 2 shows how the church was founded on Peter’s sermon at Pentecost; Acts 6:2b reminds us that preaching must never be set aside, “It is not right that we should give up preaching to serve tables.” 

Preaching was passed to the next generation church. In the pastoral letters (Timothy & Titus), the qualifications for an elder includes being able to preach and teach (1 Tim 3:2; Titus 1:9). Paul encourages Timothy, as he passes the baton, “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Tim 4:2).  

Preaching has fallen on hard times again as many churches now look for leaders who are more focused on innovation, creativity, and platform. When preaching is neglected, it will only weaken the church over the long haul. 

My advice to churches looking for a pastor: focus primarily on his preaching. Does he have a passion for the Word of God, and can he communicate it well? Can you tell that he has the Word truly stored up in his heart (Ps 119:11), so that it has transformed his own life? Is his desire not only to master the Word, but be mastered by it? If this is so, then he has his priorities right from the start, and is modeling his ministry appropriately after the Lord Jesus: 

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because he has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives.” (Lk 4:18 NASB). 

*photo credit:

Thursday, October 26, 2017

How to Engage Those Who Disagree

In light of recent events in my community, I’ve had to do thinking and praying about how to engage controversial issues in a way that honors the Lord. I was drawn back to a letter written by John Newton, the author of the hymn Amazing Grace.

The letter, written to a friend of Newton, is called “On Controversy” and can be found online

Newton has 3 main points—when engaging in controversy over the truth, we need to consider our opponent, the public, and ourselves. 

Our Opponent: Newton reminded his friend that before he sets his pen to paper, he must set his knees to prayer on behalf of the person in error. This is the only way that the engagement is done with love and pity; gentleness and moderation—not for the sake of winning the argument, but ultimately winning the person to the truth. This approach also guards the heart against anger and resentment (Prov 4:23). Prayer also commits the entire cause to God’s sovereignty. Only he can change the human heart.

The Public: His basic point here is that if we write something that goes public (think Facebook), that the world is watching. Even the unbeliever who reads expects a certain level of decency and charity coming from a confessing Christian. So be sure to live up to that. If in the zeal of the moment we come across bitter and scornful, it will quickly discredit our message and us. A spirit of true humility is a great example to others. 

Ourselves: There is a strong tendency to allow pride, the subtle enemy of our soul, to take over. Or to let the controversy take center stage and communion with God gets pushed to the periphery. Always be sure that being a faithful disciple of Jesus remains the main thing. We can never go wrong there. 

*Photo credit: unsplash--quino al 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Guaranteed to Destroy Happiness

I know from personal experience and pastoral ministry that the quickest way to kill happiness is by living in sin. This seems especially true with sinful anger. 

Jonathan Edwards preached a series of sermons on 1 Cor 13. Here is what he said about anger and its joy-killing capacity, 

How such undue anger destroys the comfort of him who indulges in it. It troubles the soul in which it is, as a storm troubles the ocean. Such anger is inconsistent with a man’s enjoying himself, or having true peace or self-respect in his own spirit. Men of an angry and wrathful temper, whose minds are always in a fret, are the most miserable sort of men, and live a most miserable life; so that a regard to our own happiness should lead us to shun all undue sinful anger. 

—Charity Contrary to an Angry Spirit

Want to be miserable and not enjoy life? Then stay angry. Want to live in happiness, have self-respect, and true peace? Then work hard at shunning all undue sinful anger. It may really be that simple. 

“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” 
(Jas 1:19-20 ESV). 

*photo taken from 

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Nashville Statement and Faithfulness

Social media was abuzz the past few days with a document called the Nashville Statement. It’s an evangelical statement affirming and denying what the church historically has believed the Bible teaches regarding sexuality, gender, and marriage. 

I signed the document since it reflects what the Scriptures teach about God’s design and his will for his creation. 

I had a few other thoughts about the issue and this pivotal moment in history. These are things I think that we Christians who agree with the Nashville Statement need to keep our eyes on in the days (decades) ahead. 

Keep an eye out for prodigals. Christians need to remember that at the core of the Christian message is that the gospel saves sinners—that includes sinners who have left for a distant country with their sexuality. I have zero confidence that our culture will get any better anytime soon; I actually fear more churches will be open and affirming to sin, hence the need for a clarifying piece like the Nashville Statement. However, I do have confidence that the gospel will save prodigals, especially homosexual and transgender people (1 Cor 6:9-10). We need to keep in front of us that Jesus came to seek and save the lost (Lk 19:10). Jesus has not changed (Heb 13:8). He is still on the mission of seeking and saving the lost. 

Keep an eye out for pride. There is a danger out there for those who hold the line on faithfulness. It’s the danger of conceit and pride when we believe that we hold the moral high ground. The angry elder brother becomes the one alienated from the Father's love (Lk 15:28). The self-righteous Pharisee always stands condemned (Lk 18:14). 

Keep an eye out for persecution. D.A. Carson in The Intolerance of Tolerance nails it: those who value tolerance only do so when you agree with them. Reading the reactions on Twitter from some to the Nashville Statement would make you think that Christians who hold to the authority of the Bible and believe in the reality of actual sin are the moral equivalent of an Adolf Hitler or worse. This should not be surprising, and there is no indication of it slowing down. Jesus said that his faithful followers, who stand for righteousness, will need to welcome persecution (Matt 5:11). 

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Discerning God's Will and Guidance

Most people will have to go through a handful of big decisions in life that require discerning God’s will. I recently finished a book by J.I. Packer, God’s Will: Finding Guidance for Everyday Decisions. Overall the book was helpful, but it was long and I don’t expect most have the time to devote to it. 

One helpful takeaway was a list that was given under a heading “A Biblical Approach to Guidance” that I thought would be helpful to share. 

  1. Live with the question: “What is the best I can do for God?”
  2. Note instructions of Scripture—the call to love God and others.
  3. Follow the examples of godliness in Scripture, most importantly the love and humility of Jesus. 
  4. Seek wisdom, don’t be a spiritual lone-ranger. Draw on the wisdom of others. 
  5. Take note of nudges from God—special ministry concerns for service and restlessness of heart. 
  6. Cherish divine peace which guards those who are in God’s will. 
  7. Observe limits set by circumstances and accept them by God. 
  8. Be prepared for God’s guidance not to appear immediately; expect him to guide one step at a time, for that is how he usually does it. 
  9. Be prepared for God directing into something you would not like, then teaching you to like it! 
  10. Never forget that if you make a bad decision, it is not the end: God forgives and restores. 

Probably the most important thing to remember in discerning God’s will is drawn from Psalm 23. The Lord is our shepherd. We are sheep in need. No matter what path we are on, his compassion, care, and covenantal love is never far from us. 

Monday, January 2, 2017

Saturate Yourself in the Bible

Former Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Chuck Noll once said, “If you want to win, do the ordinary things better than anyone else day in and day out.”  He viewed success as somehow tied to habits and personal discipline. 

D.A. Carson said basically the same thing about spiritual growth, “Christians at best have saturated themselves in the Bible.”

One of the surest ways to saturate ourselves in the Bible is by following a reading plan for the year.  If I did not personally follow a plan, there is no way I would grow in the Word. 

The plan that I like best and have followed for well over a decade is the M’Cheyne plan. It was put together by a young Scottish pastor, Robert Murray M’Cheyne (pictured above); he simply wanted the people of his church to love God’s Word by reading it.  The plan can be used either personally or as part of family devotions/discipleship—he intended both when it was put together.  A helpful commentary for the daily readings by Don Carson can be found here

M’Cheyne said that each day the first voice we need to hear is God’s.  He was suggesting that early morning is the best time to devote to the Word.  That may not be the best time for everyone obviously.  But we will make time somewhere in our schedule for what we find most important to us.  In other words, if God’s Word is a priority, we will set time to saturate ourselves in the Bible. 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

5 Lessons in 5 Years of Ministry

This month marks my fifth year in pastoral ministry. I understand this is not long compared to the decades of my preaching heroes—Martyn Lloyd-Jones, John MacArthur, Alistair Begg—but it has been long enough to learn some lessons along the way. Here are five lessons I’ve learned as I reflect on the past five years. 

Prayer is just as important as preaching. I put some decent sweat, sacrifice, and many a sleepless night to get through seminary, in order to be equipped as a preacher. My assumption was that in pastoral ministry the most important thing is preaching. I was half-right. In Acts 6:4, the early church leads by example, being devoted to both prayer and the ministry of the word. I initially underestimated the power of prayer in ministry when I first started. I’ve come to realize just how important my own prayer life is, and how effective ministry can only be built on the prayer life of the entire church. 

Pursue godliness over greatness. I think every pastor begins ministry hoping that God will use his ministry to do some great things. I still hope for that. Yet I’ve come to learn that should not be the priority for me. The sobering reality is that at least five younger, very gifted and talented pastors have been removed from their ministry recently by character disqualification and moral failure. There is a good reason that a wise professor in seminary had us memorize the following verse, “Pay close attention to your life and your teaching; persevere in these things” (1 Tim 4:16 HCSB). 

Always remember that God’s Word is enough. There are a lot of trends to chase out there in ministry. Attend any leadership conference and you will find conversational buzz about the latest strategy that will help grow your church. In this digital age, I sense a subtle but growing pressure for pastors and churches to be innovative if they want to have a productive ministry. There is a place for all of this, but it does not replace the power and sufficiency of God’s Word. Paul gave Timothy a simple directive for productive ministry: preach the word (2 Tim 4:2). The Word of God is enough for our evangelism and discipleship. 

Even a smaller church can have a global vision. I came to realize that my name does not have to be David Platt and I don’t have to lead a megachurch to have a strong missions focus. Every church—even smaller ones in rural areas like mine—can have what I call a GGV (Global Gospel Vision). I’m thankful that our church has gone along with giving sacrificially for the advance of the gospel among the nations. I’m happy that our congregation has been able to help support and send people overseas to places like China, Kenya, Amsterdam, Philippines, Taiwan, and North Africa.

Betrayal and indifference cause the deepest wounds. On a more personal note, I learned that the early years in the ministry of a newly minted pastor is spent learning self-awareness. A pastor fresh out of seminary needs to learn his strengths and weaknesses, his rhythms of work and rest, and how he works most efficiently. He will need to learn how to properly handle stress and the ebbs and flows of church life. He will also learn quickly that every leader faces critics. I’ve learned that criticism for me is like a bee sting. It initially hurts really bad, but the pain does not last too long. 

But what cuts me deeply is when I have been betrayed, or when people respond indifferently to the Word of God. I still have scars from the few times I’ve experienced betrayal in ministry. Similarly, when I sense that people show little concern for the ministry of the church, or have a low-level commitment to Christ and his Word, or when commitments are not made or kept because it requires too much personal sacrifice—these things can cut me deeply.

I’ve learned that in these moments of betrayal and indifference, I need to remind myself of how my Savior spent his final hours on this earth. He was betrayed, and the world stood by indifferently as he hung on the cross out of the greatest act of divine love ever to touch this earth. I’ve learned that ministry, at some level, will always involve a death to self. 

“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known” (Col 1:24-25 ESV).