pecaspers: a Blog in transition

December 24, 2012

Christmas Thoughts…

Filed under: Culture,My Life in General,Tallassee Tribune drafts — pecaspers @ 9:32 AM
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[This is the full text of an article I cut down to fit the requirements for a submission to The Tallassee Tribune on behalf of the Tallassee Ministerial Alliance.]

First, I need to make a confession. On Thursday, Dec. 20, I had had too much caffeine as I made a long drive home, and so I found myself struggling to fall asleep as midnight approached. I’m ashamed to admit that with the wind howling outside, I caught a slight case of the heeby-jeebies considering the irrational thought that just maybe the Mayans were right about some impending cataclysm. I tell you this as a set up to explain why I knew better and to show what this all has to do with Christmas.

After the flood, some 1700-ish years after creation, God made a promise as he enjoyed the sacrifice Noah made having been brought with his family out of the ark.

“…The Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” (Genesis 8:21, 22 ESV)

God destroyed and remade everything through the flood. He restarted the spread of humanity over the earth by showing grace to one man and his family and saving them from the flood. He promised Himself that He wouldn’t repeat this kind of destruction, even as He recognized that mankind is inclined toward evil from the start. So the Mayans couldn’t be right because the whole idea of their calendar is based on a cyclical view of time–destruction and recreation without end–while the Bible reveals that time is linear with a beginning and always moving forward to the end God laid out before He began it all. But what’s that got to do with Christmas?

Mankind is inclined to evil, lawlessness, disobedience to God, sin. This is because everything reproduces after its own kind, and when Adam sinned and broke his relationship with his Creator he became a sinner only able to reproduce more sinners. However, after the fall of man as God was cursing the serpent (on His way to cursing the woman and the man), God gave a promise saying, “I will put enmity between you [the serpent] and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15 ESV). “Offspring” here is literally “seed.” Here is the first hint at the coming Messiah, that a man would come born of the seed of woman–men have “seed”, women do not, so this is unique and puts this offspring of a woman outside the line of inheritance of the man such that this one to come is not bound by sin. And He will be struck by the serpent, but He will strike the serpent with a devastating blow to the head. Do you see Christmas yet?

Further back toward the beginning:
God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. (Genesis 1:26-31 ESV)

Man was made in the image of God to rule creation to the glory of God and to fill all creation with The image of God to the glory of God. And all of creation was spoken into existence by the word of God, and the way creation is ordered was spoken into order by the word of God. And now, it’s Christmas.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-5, 9-14 ESV)

Before He was the baby in Bethlehem, He was the eternal Word of God. After Bethlehem he grew into a man who died as the perfectly sinless Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world through his death on a Roman cross at the hands of the Jewish religious and popular leadership. After the cross, came the grave. And–glory to God–after the grave, came the resurrection!

You can visit the place we’re pretty sure Jesus was born, but you can’t visit his tomb. He’s not there and no one cared to preserve it. He’s coming again, and of that coming no one knows the day or hour, certainly not the Mayans. Will you be ready? We’re 2000 years closer, and He said He’s coming soon. Are you prepared for the real end of this world?

December 20, 2012

Philosophy of Ministry

A church that I’m really excited to hear back from asked for some more information on me. One of the things they asked for was my “philosophy of ministry.” Below is what I’m sending them. I hope it is the kind of thing they were looking for since I found a wide range of examples of what people and churches were calling by that title.

Philosophy of Ministry

I believe God has called me to equip, encourage, and mobilize His people to be on mission for Him in their daily lives and throughout the world. I am convinced that the best way for me to fulfill this calling is by being pastor of a local church and staying with that church for many years. Developing a healthy church full of healthy Christians which reproduce more of both is the desire of my heart following after being a faithful Christ-follower, husband, and father.

God has revealed in Scripture that He builds the church and that He gives each local church the leaders and members it needs to grow to maturity (Matthew 16:18, 1 Corinthians 3:5-9, Hebrews 2:4, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4:11-16). According to Scripture, it is the duty of every follower of Christ to, empowered by the Holy Spirit, make disciples of people from all nations by baptizing and teaching them to obey Christ because we are all His witnesses (Matthew 28:18-20, Mark 16:15-16, Luke 24:45-49, John 20:21-22, Acts 1:7-8). It is therefore not my primary duty as a pastor to do all the work of ministry myself, but to serve the church by equipping every member—directly or indirectly—to do the work to which each one has been called (Ephesians 4).

The task of any pastor, according to the Bible, is to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you,” (1 Peter 5:1). Pastoring is shepherding, and shepherding consists of feeding the sheep, protecting the sheep, and guiding the sheep. Any good shepherd will himself also always be seeking to sharpen his tools and develop his skills, gifts, and abilities (1 Timothy 4:7-16). The focus of pastoral work is “prayer and . . . the ministry of the word,” (Acts 6:4). Prayer and the word of God are what the pastor uses to feed, protect, and guide the sheep as well as to train himself.

A pastor/shepherd serves his flock as an under-shepherd of the Good Shepherd. He does so humbly, remembering that the Good Shepherd is also the Lamb of God who stooped to be one of us so that He could die to take away our sin. The sheep do not belong to the under-shepherd, but he cares for them as if they did because he loves them and the One to whom they do belong and because he will be held accountable for them; he is not merely a hired hand (John 10:11-13, Hebrews 13:17, 1 Peter 5:1-4).

I fear that many churches are perpetuating their own decline because they keep hiring hired hands who are later hired away by other churches. I believe churches have suffered a great deal in the not-so-tender care of such men. I believe that pastors have suffered a great deal by being treated as if they were merely hired men—some so much that they began to act like it. I don’t want that to be me. I hope to plant my life in a church and stay long enough for there to be a crop of men fully equipped for ministry as shepherds within the church from which to choose the next pastor twenty or thirty years down the road. I hope to lead a church to actively push back the darkness and advance the gospel into places it has never gone before by sending members and not only money. I have vision for a church where at least 1% of the members are serving as missionaries/church-planters, at least 10% of the members have been on some cross-cultural mission trip in the past year, and 100% have done at least some short-term international missions at some point in their life. I hope to take what has been entrusted to me and teach it to other faithful men who will be able to teach others (2 Timothy 2:2).

God, help me.

December 15, 2012

Prospective Pastor Questionnaire – Part 10

Filed under: Job Hunt,Ministry,My Life in General — pecaspers @ 11:21 AM
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10. How is your family involved in your ministry?

My wife is a tremendous help to me in all areas of my life including as a minister. She is a complement to me, making up for my failings and weaknesses. She helps me to keep our calendar in order, reminds me of tasks which need completing, remembers names and how people are related better than me, and fills in my gaps in a thousand other small ways. My wife is also a capable vocalist, pianist, teacher, childcare worker, missions advocate, organizer, and all-around awesome church member. However, her primary duties to me as my wife and to our children as their mother come miles before any expectation church members my attempt to place on her as the pastor’s wife. As an example, my son has RSV, a very contagious cold-like virus, and so my wife is missing our church Christmas play to stay home with him. Others can assist with the Christmas play, but Peter needs Mommy, and it helps me relax and do the work of ministry to know everything at home will be taken care of.

My son is also involved in my ministry even though he is only two years old. He regularly teaches me things about God as Father, Christians as His children, Jesus as His Son, human sinfulness, childlike faith, and more. I also get a boost of added likability in the eyes of everyone who knows him just because I’m his father. (He’s pretty much the best kid ever, and it’s likely my current church will miss him more than they’ll miss me.) One day, I’ll take Peter along with me on ministry errands and visits, but that’s at least a year or two down the road.

Both my wife and son also give me added legitimacy in my ministry. I understand why Paul tells Timothy overseers/pastors must able to manage their homes well with one wife and submissive children (1 Timothy 3:2-5). If you can’t cut it with your wife and kids, how could you hope to handle caring for God’s family? Having a wife gives women the reasonable confidence that I can relate to them. In sensitive issues, she is also capable of handling things that no man is wise or safe to address. Having a child puts me on the same team as other parents. Being married means I can speak with authority on married life. Being married also allows me to look back to my single days and speak with greater perspective to people still looking ahead to it. Beyond all that, my wife and son and daughter-on-the-way are constant reminders of my continued need for growth. To borrow a movie line, they make me want to be a better man. And that, of course, means that I’m a better follower of Christ and shepherd of His people because of them too.

December 13, 2012

Prospective Pastor Questionnaire – Part 9

9. How do you believe the church should relate to the community, and what ideas do you have to make the church “relevant” to the community?

Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare (Jeremiah 29:4-7).

Like the people of God in exile in Babylon, the church is the people of God living in exile in the world while we wait for Christ to return in ultimate judgment and renewal. Though we are strangers in a strange land, we are to work for the good of the community by being productive members of it. Additionally, as Jesus’ body, we are to do what Jesus does: healing the sick, feeding the hungry, setting people free from their bondage, caring for the poor, comforting widows and orphans in their distress, etc. As the IMB is trying to remind us, we are Jesus’ heart, hands, and voice to those around us and to the ends of the earth.

Now, I don’t know your community. I can’t tell you what I would lead the church to do to make the church “relevant” to the community, because I don’t know the community. That said, one of the first things I would do as pastor is begin visiting every home within walking distance of the church building to find out who really lives around us and how we might meet their needs (sharing the gospel with those same people goes without saying). Another thing I would do is spend the first year as pastor watching your church just do what it’s always done, so that the next year we might evaluate together whether those things are actually making an impact and how can they be improved. Every church has things they do well and reasons for doing the things they do, and I’m not going anywhere with a notion that I’m going to start changing things immediately just for the sake of changing things. Likewise, there are usually reasons for not doing certain things, and your help in knowing what we don’t do and why will be invaluable. I’ll come in preaching the whole counsel of God from day 1, but we would be on a slow track for making any changes not demanded by biblical faithfulness.

Ultimately, the church is the people who gather, and so the church as an institution shouldn’t have to do anything special to be “relevant” to the community. If we are each living our individual lives as mature Christians who shine a gospel light into their personal circles of influence, then we will impact people wherever we meet them. That’s what Jesus did; He met people where they were. My primary focus will be on building healthy Christians who will make up a healthy church. Where there is life and health there is always reproduction. As we multiply, we will naturally exert a more beneficial influence on the community. Which is not to say that I’m against evangelistic events or ongoing outreach through regular community service, I’m all for them. Yet, all that the church does together to minister to the community should be the fleshing out of what the Holy Spirit gives the church to do together.

December 6, 2012

Prospective Pastor Questionnaire – Part 5

5. How do you see your duties as pastor in relationship to the deacon?

Perhaps this question is partly answered in my response to question 4. I said there:

I believe the role of deacons is to foster unity within the body by attending to all matters which are important to the ongoing ministry of a local church but would divert the pastor(s) from his(their) primary tasks of prayer and the ministry of the word. …I believe in all churches it is the role of the deacon to intercept issues among the congregation and see that they are attended to before they become a point of either disunity within the body or a distraction from prayer and the word. I believe it is also the role of all deacons to shield their pastor from the distraction of criticism and attack by thoroughly vetting the major decisions regarding the goings on of the church body.

Also, it’s hopefully helpful to reconsider from question 1 that I understand my duties as pastor are to feed the sheep, protect the sheep, lead the sheep, and continue developing my shepherding skills. In all these, devotion to prayer and the ministry of the word take a primary place. Having recalled these things, let me answer the question.

I understand the pastor deacon relationship to be an under-beside-over relationship. Clear as mud, right?

The pastor is under the authority of the deacon. Part of the deacon’s job of guarding the unity of the body is to be sure that the pastor is doing his job; that he isn’t letting things distract him from his primary task. They do this by taking on, or sometimes delegating to others, tasks the pastor willingly lets others do. But they also do this by telling the pastor he cannot do all the things he might otherwise try to do. This can include saying “no” for the the pastor to requests from both inside and outside the congregation. Deacons ought to help limit speaking engagements outside the church; they ought to be a line of defense against church members’ with ideas about things “the church needs to start doing,” when what they really mean is “I want the pastor to do this;” they ought to hold the pastor accountable to giving adequate time to sermon preparation; etc. The pastor is also under the authority of the deacons in that deacons should be the first to act in the case of a pastor who is failing as shepherd. Deacons are the sheep who should know a good shepherd when they see him, they should lovingly correct a mediocre shepherd so he can care for the flock better, and they should be strong enough–and love the church enough–to put out a false shepherd and care for the flock themselves until they find a real shepherd to follow. As seen in Acts 6:1-6, the deacons are spirit-filled and wise representatives of the congregation, and the pastor who is servant to the church is therefore under the authority of the deacons as they represent the church body.

The pastor is also to bring the deacon alongside him in ministry. Part of a pastor’s responsibility is to set an example for others to follow (see 1 Timothy 4:12). Deacons carry the same responsibility, implicit in the qualifications to become a deacon (see Acts 6:3 and 1 Timothy 3:8-13). Along with that, pastors, deacons, and all other church members are all part of one body and mutually important to each other and the whole as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together (1 Corinthians 12:4-7, 11, 12, 18-20, 26).

I firmly believe God gives pastors to churches. I am equally firm in my belief that He gives deacons to churches–and nursery workers, Sunday school teachers, and so on. He puts us all together in the body as He sees fit, therefore we are all on the same level as members of the body of Christ by grace. The pastor has been given his role just like the deacon has been given his. Deacons and pastors are called to work alongside each other for the building up of individual Christians, the local church, and the broader Kingdom of God.

Finally, the pastor has authority over the deacons and is responsible for them. In Acts 6, the apostles act as the first pastoral team when they give the qualifications for these proto-deacons. The congregation sets their seven choices before the apostles. The apostles are the ones who pray and lay hands on them, setting them apart or “ordaining” them to the work. Additionally, the pastor’s task is to “shepherd the flock of God…exercising oversight,” (1 Peter 5:2). When Paul instructs Timothy on the qualifications of what we would call a pastor, the word he uses is perhaps most literally translated as “overseer” (see 1 Timothy 3:1-7). As the deacons are part of the flock, the pastor/shepherd has authority to lead, teach, correct, rebuke, affirm, and inspire. This is an authority under authority; the sheep do not belong to the under-shepherd but rather to the Great Shepherd. And the under-shepherd will be held accountable for how he cares for the flock. The author of Hebrews gives this instruction to all believers including deacons, “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” (Hebrews 13:17). Deacons ought to submit to the pastor’s leadership and teaching as he shepherds the flock. Deacons set an example for the rest of the church as they follow closely and reinforce the pastor’s teaching and leadership. Pastors, then, ought to give close attention to equipping the deacons to be servant-leaders of the flock from within.

And so, when I say that the pastor/deacon relationship is an under-beside-over relationship, I mean (1) the pastor is under the deacons’ authority as they hold him to his primary duties, (2) the pastor and deacons work together as equals with different assignments for the upbuilding of the church into health and maturity, and (3) the pastor is over the deacons because he is responsible to care for, teach, and lead them as part shepherding the whole church.

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