“He who can only generalize in the pulpit, but has not ability to individualize out of it; who cannot in some measure meet the varieties of religious perplexity, and deal with the various modifications of awakened solicitude; who finds himself disinclined or disabled to guide the troubled conscience through the labyrinths which sometimes meet the sinner in the first stage of his pilgrimage to the skies, may be a popular preacher, but he is little fitted to be the pastor of a Christian church.” (John Angell James, An Earnest Ministry, 151)
I was privileged to be in attendance last Sunday when Dr. Dub Oliver, President-elect of Union University, preached at First Baptist Church in Jackson TN. Dr. Oliver noted that this was his first time to preach in Jackson, and he preached a moving message on Matthew 14:13-21, the feeding of the 5,000.
I encourage you to listen to the message. Dr. Oliver focused on v. 17 and on how God uses the little we have to accomplish great things for His kingdom. In what one friend called a “Haddon Robinson-esque” way, Dr. Oliver illustrated this central point with an amazing story about the time President George W. Bush visited the little church he was pastoring in Texas. What a story!
I was personally edified by the message and by what it revealed about Dr. Oliver. His reverence for scripture, evangelistic concern, love for people and genuine devotion to Christ were evident. If you are wanting to get to know our new President-elect, this sermon is a great place to start.
This was originally published in our state Baptist paper back in 2005. I’m currently discussing Martin Luther’s booklet, A Simple Way to Pray, with some colleagues and the discussion of praying through the Lord’s Prayer reminded me of this.
One of the most important decisions a church makes is the calling of a new pastor. The ramifications of this decision are large and the task is arduous- seeking capable candidates often by sifting through piles of resumes, trying to ascertain the character, calling and giftedness of a man from a piece of paper. As anyone who has ever served on a pastor search committee can attest, this is hard, draining, often soul-wrenching work. In this situation, we are reminded of our need to pray for God’s direction. As I have worked with churches in this process I have turned to our Lord’s model prayer (Matt 6:9-13) for guidance for a church in praying for a new pastor. There are many things to pray, but Jesus gave us this prayer to help us pray in line with biblical values. What follows are some meditations on how we can pray each petition of the Lord’s Prayer in the specific circumstance of searching for a new pastor. I offer them in hope that they may be of benefit to those in this situation.
- We come to a God who is our father. Thus, He bids us ask believing that He will meet our need (Matt 7:7-11)
- God desires to give you a good pastor.
- Since God is sovereign He has a man for you.
- So we must come seeking to discern His will.
Hallowed Be Thy Name (May Your Name be regarded as holy)
- Give us a man who will hold before us the holiness of God.
- Give us a man who is concerned with the glory of God, who yearns for others to encounter and reckon with the awesomeness of God.
- Deliver us from any man who has small thoughts of God.
- Give us a God-centered, God-saturated man. Not someone who will simply entertain us with cute stories, self-help sessions and other drivel; but someone who from the depths of his own wonderment will point us to the glory, majesty and awesomeness of God!
Thy Kingdom Come
- Give us a kingdom man- a man who is zealously committed to the advancement of God’s kingdom but has no interest in the building of a personal kingdom, a man who will see this pastorate as his outpost in the kingdom not a stepping stone in a career.
- Give us a man whose ambition, like Paul’s, is to be pleasing to God, to seek first the kingdom of God without a care about whether it is noticed by denominational offices or the media.
- Give us a man who submits himself to the reign of God, and, then, shows us how to live in submission to the King in our various vocations.
- In our search process help us not to be concerned with prestige or the opinions of man but only the advancement of your kingdom.
Thy Will Be Done
- We lay aside our presuppositions, plans and desires and seek to take up a Biblical view of what we need and what a pastor should be.
- Direct our committee in their searching and the candidate and the congregation as we make decisions. Guide us and then intervene in whatever way necessary to keep us on track.
Give us this Day Our Daily Bread
- We need the bread of life, the spiritual nourishment of your word preached.
- Meet our needs by giving us a man of God who will break open the word of life and feed our souls.
Forgive us our Sins as we Forgive those who sin against us
- Forgive our faults in this whole process: the ways in which we limit You and fail to trust you. Forgive us for feeling that You are as uncertain and confused as we are. Forgive us for doubting your care and provision. Forgive us for our impatience. Forgive us for grasping to our own agendas rather than seeking Your will. Forgive us for failing to believe that you as Sovereign Lord have this together and are working this out to Your glory and our good. We believe; help our unbelief.
Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil
- Protect us from candidates who are doctrinally unsound, who lack the conviction and courage to stand on your word and rebuke us when necessary, from those who lack character and purity.
- Protect us from any divisiveness in this period
I don’t know John Mark Comer or Solid Rock Church where he pastors. But I resonate with what he says in this interview about their move away from a multi-site mega church model to a family of independent churches. This is what I have been urging so I am heartened to see this being done.
Here is a brief excerpt:
With multi-site models and video-venue preaching, large churches have changed how we’ve done ecclesiology for 2,000 years. That doesn’t necessarily mean it is wrong, but I think there should be more of a conversation about it. People bought into it really fast. Maybe it is the next best thing since the pew and the sound system. But I don’t know. The broader community needs to wrestle and critique it.
What does it mean for a pastor to live in one city and be the primary preacher for people in another state? Should we think about that a little bit before we adopt this model? It might be wise. The model is very American—and not in a good way. In the UK, for example, they don’t have the celebrity thing like we do. They loathe branding. They have much more respect for tradition and homegrown. So if we swallow a cultural hook without thinking about it, is that really going to produce solid ecclesiology?
In the most recent issue of the Baptist & Reflector Justin Wainscott has a wonderful column by this title. Justin rightly notes the importance of congregational singing and the fact that this is too often overlooked by pastors. Justin writes:
Let’s face it. If our churches don’t value congregational singing, it’s likely because we don’t value it. While everyone else is supposed to be singing together, we’re busy fumbling through our notes or looking around at who’s there or not there. Or worse, we just stand there with our arms folded, waiting on ‘our’ turn.
This column is a good challenge for pastors to lead the way by example in the importance of congregational singing. Too many of our members think of singing simply as the “set up” for what really matters, preaching. Of course, preaching is important but the scriptures make clear that congregational singing is important as well. Just this morning I read Psalm 96 which opens with,
Oh sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth!
Sing to the Lord, bless his name;
tell of his salvation from day to day.
Three times in two verses we are explicitly commanded to sing to the Lord, and the context makes it clear that only hearty singing will do. This is of course only one of the many places where this is commanded in Scripture (commonly in the Psalms and also Col 3:16; Eph 5:19). It simply won’t do to say, “I’m just not into singing,” or “I don’t really like to sing.” It has been commanded by our Lord. When people give these responses, I want to reply, “Oh, are you not a Christian?” We may as well say, “I’m just not into obedience,” or “I don’t really like to share the gospel.” And God’s commands are always for our good. We are blessed as we sing the praises of our worthy God.
So, I encourage you to read Justin Wainscott’s column and let’s help our people really engage in congregational singing.
My poem of the week this week comes from Elizabeth Prentiss, whose poems abut faith in the midst of suffering have for years been a challenge and comfort to me.
“So Be It”
So be it; ’tis Thy plan not mine,
And being Thine is good;
And God, my will shall yield to Thine
Ere it is understood.
So be it; I a child of dust
Will not oppose Thy way,
Move on, mysterious Will, I trust,
I love, and will obey.
So be it; and do Thou, my heart,
No childish questions ask,
Thou in God’s counsels hast no part,
Crave not so hard a task.
So be it; yes, so be it, Lord,
No word have I to say–
O be Thy gracious Name adored–
I love and will obey.
~ Elizabeth Prentiss, from Golden Hours
I am reading All Quiet on the Western Front with my boys for school. The writing is powerful and sobering, raising many key issues of life. One passage particularly caught my attention as an illustration of the church. After the narrator got lost in no man’s land after a reconnaissance mission at night he began to despair. The hopelessness of his situation is powerfully communicated. Then, in the midst of the darkness and despair he heard movement and voices. He realized these were his friends nearby. Then he states:
“At once a new warmth flows through me. These voices, these quiet words, these footsteps in the trench behind me recall me at a bound from the terrible loneliness and fear of death by which I had been almost destroyed. They are more to me than life, these voices, they are more than motherliness and more than fear, they are the strongest, most comforting thing there is anywhere: they are the voices of my comrades.
I am no longer a shuddering speck of existence, alone in the darkness; – I belong to them and they to me; we all share the same fear and the same life, we are nearer than lovers, in a simpler, a harder way; I could bury my face in them, in these voices, these words that have saved me and will stand by me.”
This is the Church! In the midst of a fallen world, particularly in our dark times when despair claws at us, we need to hear the voices of our brothers and sisters, the ones to whom we belong and who belong to us. The ones with whom we have shared life and fears and joys. At various times, when our faith falters and our strength fails, it will be these voices which save us and stand by us.
But this only really works when there is a community of believes with whom we are connected, whom we know and by whom we are known. We dare not neglect this great gift of the church.
A couple of weeks ago I visited a bookstore with some friends and noticed this figure of Jesus.
It struck me that this is the Jesus our culture is interested in: a discounted, bendable Jesus. Jesus is welcome as long as he doesn’t cost much and as long as we can shape him as we see fit.
But “Bendable Jesus” isn’t the Lord Jesus of the Bible. Lord Jesus is the one who upholds all things by the word of his power (Heb 1:3), the one by whom, for whom and through whom all things were created and who holds all things together (Col 1:16-17). He is not cheap. He is the pearl of great price. He is not bendable. He is unchanging and, therefore, can be trusted and relied upon. He cannot be shaped by us but he has come to redeem us because of his great love for us. He does not bend but he stooped to save us and therefore every knee will one day bend and bow before him (Phil 2:6-11). He is worthy of all praise, devotion and obedience.
“Our Savior Christ … was a carpenter, and got his living with great labour. Therefore let no man disdain … to follow him in a common calling and occupation. For as he blessed our nature with taking upon him the shape of a man, so in his doing he blessed all occupations and arts.”
T. H. L. Parker’s challenge two decades ago of the Church of England, of which he was a part, is relevant to us today.
“What wonder that a church which picks and chooses what it wants out of the Bible should become confused in its theology, flabby in its morals, and with little to state but the worldly obvious- the day after worldly liberals have stated it more convincingly?” (from the introduction to Calvin’s Preaching).
This is a powerful reminder of our need to preach the whole counsel of God and to let the Scriptures shape all else.