pecaspers: a Blog in transition

August 9, 2013

Hustle

Filed under: Hustle,Job Hunt,My Life in General — pecaspers @ 10:31 AM
Tags: , , , ,

[This might become a book one day]

I used to hustle. I was never great at hustling in all areas of life, but there was a time when the hustle would instinctively kick in. It still kicks in when the pressure is on and things just must get done, and that keeps me hopeful. However, chances are that the drift will continue away from hustle until I’m merely dragging my butt over everything I do unless I fight back.

That would unacceptable. That is why I must fight back.

Maybe you didn’t play sports, weren’t in Scouts, never participated in marching band, and missed out on all other disciplined, physical, group activities in your early years. If that’s you, then you might not understand the concept of hustle. Go watch Remember the Titans, Drumline, and Up; those movies are all about hustle. (Up? Really? Yes, Russell wasn’t all that smart, but the little dude had hustle.) For the rest of us, we know that “Hustle!” was the basic demand of every leader who wanted expected you to move quickly from task to task and consistently maintain discipline in whatever that task might have been.

When I played Dixie Youth baseball, Coach Bud would yell for us to hustle as he made us run our little prepubescent butts back and forth. If you were the chubby kid at the back of the pack like me, then you got to run more in order to sweat the weakness out so the hustle could have more room to work. When I was in Boy Scouts, hustle was getting things done quickly and efficiently–keeping meetings on track, setting up camp before the sun set, getting the fire started early enough so that you didn’t end up eating undercooked meat, and working hard on service projects so a quality job was done faster and better than you would ever expect a group of volunteer teenage boys to manage. Hustle is why in the Auburn University Marching Band “early is on time, on time is late, and late is inexcusable,” and “there’s no walking on the band field.” Hustle wins games. Hustle wins awards. Hustle gets things done. Hustle makes the difference between mediocrity and excellence. Thompson High School band director Jon Bubbett would say “Pride is an attitude that separates excellence from mediocrity,” and I would now say that hustle is the overflow of a good and proper pride–meaning the healthy desire to do well at whatever you do because you respect those you work for, those you work with, and yourself.

In his book Start, Jon Acuff offers help on walking the road to “awesome” rather than “average.” He talks a lot about hustle making the difference between those two paths. Hustle is not the same thing as awesome, but you don’t get awesome if you don’t have hustle.

Somewhere along the way, I lost my hustle. (I’ll save my thoughts on that for the another post.) Like I said, I never had a lot of hustle, but the hustle I remember having was far greater than the piddly little bit of hustle I can scrape together these days.

It’s gotten better over the last few months. I’ve been working on upping my hustle for a while. I’ve worked up to being able to run 3 miles in 30 minutes without stopping and dropped thirty pounds in the process. That took some hustle, and it’s built up my stamina so I can keep hustling longer and better in all things. I’m doing better in my practice of spiritual disciplines, Christian hustle. I have producing plants in my garden. This post is even evidence of some hustle.

The point is this, I’m shooting for awesome. I can’t get to awesome without hustle. It didn’t take long for me to realize I lack the hustle to be awesome. Oh no! What will I do? Simple, I’ve got to work out my hustle muscle.

I firmly believe discipline begets discipline. That’s one of the reasons I started running. I hate running, but it has helped me grow in discipline. You can’t really have hustle without discipline. You can quickly flit from thing to thing, but that’s not hustle. Trying to hustle without being disciplined, that’s how you burn a day without getting anything substantial accomplished. That’s how you end up, theoretically, sitting down to look for churches to send your résumé and end up on Facebook, Twitter, Craigslist, and four hours later you don’t have an envelope to put in the mail, and it’s time for lunch/dinner/bed so you quit and leave it for later. But I digress.

Discipline is foundational, or it is at least the platform on which hustle stands. (Given enough thought, I’d probably argue that the gospel is foundational, upon which stands the Christian Worldview, upon which stands God-honoring discipline…or something like that). You must have discipline if you are going to build hustle on top of it. Likewise, you must have hustle if you are going to build awesome on it. Discipline is what gets you out of the bed in the morning to get life done. Hustle is what gets you up early enough to walk toward awesome and still get life done, and hustle gets life done in such a way that you have time throughout to keep progressing toward awesome. Hustle also allows time for more growth in discipline, which allows for more hustle, which allows for both more discipline and more awesome; and so on it goes.

I want to be awesome. So no more walking on the field for me. It’s time to get my hustle back.

Advertisements

January 14, 2013

Resolutions Have a Bad Reputation

Every New Year, millions of people claim they are making “resolutions” without really planning to discipline themselves to make the change stick. Because of this, some people would argue that even having New Year’s resolutions is pointless and just another meaningless–even bad–part of our culture. I think that line of thinking is ridiculous.

Just because most people play at making resolutions like they play at Santa Claus doesn’t make it a foolish thing to use the New Year as an opportunity to begin a new effort in personal growth. The rolling over of a calendar year is a great time to reflect on the year(s) now past and decide what needs to change for the year(s) to come. While the date is rather arbitrary, Jan. 1 is as good a day as any to set ourselves up for some self-discipline, and the cultural celebration of leaving the past behind to move toward a brighter tomorrow means that we can catch a little positive momentum from those around us–even if they aren’t as thoughtful and intentional in their resolutions as we are.

What dooms most resolution-makers to failure? Well, I’ve already mentioned that many don’t really have any intention to follow through. For those who actually want to see some change in their lives, there are two big flaws in most people’s plans. One is, in fact, the complete lack of a plan. Two is the utter vagueness of the resolution itself.

One of the most common resolutions is weight loss. Most people don’t attack that goal with a plan. I’ve done it before. I’ve set the goal of losing weight only to discover that months or years have gone by without me doing anything substantial to reach that goal. If you’re going to lose weight, then you have to have a plan. Any change takes time, and there are usually small steps to get that change to stick. But if you don’t know what steps you intend on taking, then it’ll be hard to take any. It’s also hard to gauge your success if you do make any progress. So, you have got to have a plan.

But if you’re resolution is just “to lose weight,” then you’ve run into my number two. If your target is just a haze, you’ll never hit it. You can’t measure success on a vague goal, either. Sure, you can pat yourself on the back for any little win, but you usually have nothing firm to hold on to.

With these things in mind, I’m resolving the following common things:

“To Lose Weight” – I am resolved to reach the end of 2013 at 200 lbs or less. I’ll spare you the details of my plan, but it includes daily sweating and a return to training like I have a race to run.

“To Read More Good Books” – In another post later on, I’ll see if I can list out the books I read in 2012. I try to rotate through some basic categories as I read. The Gospel, marriage, pastoral ministry, missionary biography, classic fiction, current fiction, and what I’ll call “special topics.” Right now, I’m reading The Explicit Gospel, by Matt Chandler. Next will likely be the Driscoll’s book, Real Marriage which I should have read last year or before but didn’t. The Puritan classic, The Reformed Pastor, by Richard Baxter is probably my first pastoral ministry book for the year. I haven’t chosen my next missionary biography, but I’ve got a few on my shelves that I haven’t read yet. I often get my classic fiction fix via audiobooks, but I’m thinking I’ll pretty quickly plow through a copy of Dune that I pulled from the free bin at 2nd & Charles a while back. I often read fiction concurrently with heavier topics. Current fiction isn’t a priority worth planning, but I’ll see what the next big thing is in a few months. In “special topics,” I’ve already got a copy of Francis Chan’s Multiply, and I’d like to get Mohler’s Conviction to Lead. After that, it’s time to cycle back through categories…or adjust/add to my categories. …So many books, so little time.

I am further resolved that 2013 will be the year that I…

…Get my family out of poverty. This is going to happen as a simple reality of finding a new position in vocational ministry which is paid full-time. It is also the transition I am most excited about. I am… Nah, that’s a post for another time.

…Become pastor of a church. This too brings me a lot of hope when I think about it. I know God has a place for me, and I’m looking forward to finding and settling into it. I just hope I am not presuming on The Lord that my search will end before 2013 does.

…Become a gun owner. I jokingly tell people that I need a shotgun because I have a daughter on the way and need something to clean whenever the boys start coming over. That has some truth behind it, but there is also just the masculine instinct that tells me I ought to have a weapon which can be used against anything or anyone who threatens my family–snakes, zombies, intruders, an over zealous government, whatever.

…Become a father of two, one of whom is a daughter. I know, I know. That’s not really a resolution, but it a major transition that will occur this year.

I’m hopeful about all these things to come in 2013 and more. All of this is of course under God’s sovereign hand and you should read “if it is the Lord’s will” before and behind all of the above.

I’m going to have a great year…I just know it.

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
Tags: , , ,

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.

November 20, 2012

Prospective Pastor Questionnaire – Part 4

4. What do you believe the role of those in the office of Deacon should be?

I follow in the tradition held from the ancient church that Acts 6:1-6 describes the setting apart of the first deacons.

Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.

In fact, these men aren’t called deacons at all in Scripture–they are appointed to handle the “distribution” (Greek diakonia) to widows so that the apostles can be devoted to “prayer and the ministry of the word,” (ministry = Greek diakonia). Luke choosing not to call these men deacons isn’t that significant because it likely only shows that this wasn’t immediately considered to be a specifically named office of the local church–remembering that the idea of a “local church” wouldn’t even make sense until after persecution broke out and the believers were scattered beyond Jerusalem. Luke goes back and forth in his use of “Saul” and “Paul” in reference to the same man until he reaches a certain point in the story of Acts when one can assume everybody only thought of the man as Paul. The term “Christian” isn’t used until Acts 11:26 when the disciples are first called it. All that to say, we can learn something about the office of deacon from how these men are described even if they were only prototypes for the office.

In light of that, this text is still instructive, but it doesn’t tell us all that we might need to know about the office of deacon. We do learn here that they were “men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom” who were selected from among the body of believers and appointed to serve to preserve the unity of the body so the apostles would be free to devote themselves “to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And so, 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 their primary tasks of prayer and the ministry of the word.

The only other major passage in Scripture about the office of deacon is 1 Timothy 3:8-13.

Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.

And here’s the problem, this text doesn’t tell us much about what deacons actually do either. It is clear that it is an office of the church since Paul is careful to list out qualifications for being a deacon immediately after listing out the qualifications of being an overseer/pastor. It is also clear that this is a position of servant-leadership within the body, otherwise the qualifications would not be drawn up along so similar lines as those of being an overseer/pastor. The wonderful beauty of it is that God left great latitude in his word about the precise duties of the deacon. God knew that in some churches, some things would fall to the deacons that would not necessarily require their attention in other churches. O God, I love being a Baptist!

And so I say again. 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 their primary tasks of prayer and the ministry of the word. Let me unpack that a bit. The role of those first deacons wasn’t to keep widows properly fed, though that was their task; their role was to be a front line defense in maintaining “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” (Ephesians 4:3). And so today the role of a deacon is to handle issues of need within the body that would be a distraction to the pastor(s). In some churches, that might mean deacons see to the custodial and maintenance needs of the church building, and in other churches it might mean that deacons oversee all the financial matters from counting the offering to paying bills. It is those duties which are important to the ongoing ministry of a local church, whatever they may be for any particular church, which are the responsibility of deacons. And it is only those things which would distract the pastor(s) from their primary duties that must be the responsibility of deacons. On one level, pastors will find different matters distracting depending on their spiritual gifts, natural abilities, and personality. On another level, I read somewhere once that the average pastor of a small church (less than 250 members) spends around eight hours a week doing janitorial work; somebody’s deacons are failing them if that’s the case.

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. Deacons must not be “double-tounged” because they must deal honestly with pastors, other deacons, and the congregation; they must not say they agree with the pastor to his face only to sow division within body when he isn’t around. Deacons must not be “greedy for dishonest gain” because they must not steal when entrusted with finances of the church in one way or another. Similar inferences could be made from each qualification, but the point is ultimately that deacons are to be exemplary Christians who defend the unity of the church by guarding the pastor(s) from distraction.

November 10, 2012

Prospective Pastor Questionnaire – Part 7

7. With what worship style are you most comfortable? If that is not the working style employed by the church, would you expect to lead the church to develop that style?

Allow me a detour before I get to the answer to your question. I know that when you say “worship style” what you really mean is the style of the music in the worship service. However, one thing I would be careful to lead the church to develop is an understanding that worship is more than music. All of life ought to be worship (see Deuteronomy 6:5, Romans 12:1-2, 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, 10:31, 1 Peter 4:7-11, and many more). We as Christians have done damage to the truth of what it means to really worship God by allowing this word to become a synonym for church music. There is nothing wrong with talking about “worship music,” but we muddy the waters when we use the word worship to mean nothing more than music. We make it all the worse when we use the term to mean a specific style of music as though any other style wasn’t worshipful. For instance, if you say that your church service begins with “worship” followed by taking the offering and then preaching, what does that say about the value of giving and hearing the word of God preached? Is generous giving to the work of the church, for the aid of God’s people, and for the spread of the gospel NOT an act of worship? Are the preacher preaching and the congregation hearing the word NOT worshiping by doing so? No! We sing in worship, we give in worship, we hear the preached word in worship, and we ought to also work at our jobs, play at our sports, mow our grass, eat our food, and do all we do in worship to the one true and living God.

However, I know what you mean. And use of the word worship to mean music is a pretty common error. It’s not like I jump down someone’s throat every time I hear them do it. The point of these questions and answers is for you to know my heart a little better. I figured it might be helpful to get this pet-peeve of mine on the table. Now, to the substance of your question.

I am most comfortable with whatever style of music is most appropriate to the setting of the worship service and can be performed live well. Not terribly helpful, is it? Let me explain.

It makes me uncomfortable to have a two electric guitars, an amplified bass, a keyboard, and a full drum-set rocking out in a small, country church full of stereotypical country church folks who don’t like loud music. At the same time, it makes me uncomfortable to be in a large church with plenty of competent musicians and hear an old Sandi Patti song sung off-key accompanied by a background track on a cassette tape.

Now, I like a band with one or more vocalists for leading the singing as long as they are good and the room will support them. If they are falling off the stage or making the walls shake, then that’s distracting and keeps me from fully worshiping. If they keep hitting wrong notes and can’t hold a tempo, then that’s distracting and keeps me from fully worshiping. However, if they have a strong, well-rehearsed sound, then dim the lights if you like–or don’t, either way–and let’s raise our hands–or not, to each his own–and let’s get our corporate worship on.

At the same time, I like one vocalist accompanied by a single piano. In a small space without amplification, or a larger one with one or both of them mic-ed, that’s a great way to go. Simple, focused, and it’s easy to find that melody for those who don’t read music. If the pianist can handle playing the harmony, then that’s even better. The church I grew up in had a one pianist playing the song as written and another pianist playing chords and ad libbing, and that’s a great sound. I’m also a big fan of a piano and an organ together. All this, is assuming you’ve got someone who can sing well enough to lead and someone who can play well enough to accompany.

My current church is struggling because our three capable pianists’ hands are all getting stiff and painful with age. We’ve had to switch to using mostly tracks rather than a live accompanist, which I think takes something away from the experience. Still, what else are we to do? Sometimes you just make do until God brings to you someone who can fill the need, I guess. Canned music should be a last resort, in my humble opinion, but sometimes it can’t be avoided.

I would have to say that if it were all about me, then I’d prefer to have a man who sings baritone leading the vocals backed by a choir of 55% men and 45% women accompanied by a twenty-piece orchestra including brass, woodwinds, strings, percussion, piano, and pipe organ with the ability to add an acoustic guitar or two, an electric guitar or two, a keyboard, and a bass when wanted for just the right feel. But that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? Worship music isn’t about me. It shouldn’t be about mere personal preference. If it’s all about me and my preferences, then it’s self-centered idolatry instead of Spirit-and-truth-filled, God-focused worship.

So, would I expect to lead the church to develop a small orchestra, choir, dueling pianos, or a band? Only if there are bunch of talented musicians in the church who want to start an orchestra, etc. There are really only a few things I would expect to implement when it comes to the music of the church. First, we would sing songs that honor God and are biblical. Some people are amazed to find out that many songs sung in many churches are in-fact man-centered and/or full of bad theology if not out right heresy. Second, we would sing songs we can sing. There are some amazing songs full of wonderful truths that just don’t work for congregational singing. Those can be for other parts of the service or other settings, but we shouldn’t knowingly deprive John Pewsitter of the experience of joining in the singing when he hasn’t got a prayer of singing the songs. Thirdly, anything that meets those first two expectations would be fair game.

Bear with me for a bit on this last point. I’m amazed by elder church members who reject all music that is younger than they are. It makes me sad for them and for the whole congregation who is missing out on the wonderfully rich new “hymns and spiritual songs” (Ephesians 5:19, Colossians 3:16) that are being written right now. I’m equally amazed at the mindless way many of my own generation and younger want to exclusively sing new songs. “Amazing Grace,” “How Great Thou Art,” “Just as I Am,” these are songs that have stood the test of time and are good for our people to sing and know. I’m not even fully comfortable with the attempt to re-vamp old hymns to give them a contemporary feel, but I do think this has it’s place and is something that people have been doing throughout church history.

I have observed that previous generations are more likely to miss out in this regard. At our association’s annual meeting a few weeks ago, you could tell by the marked difference in volume level that the songs popularized in the last ten years were unfamiliar to many of the messengers. The average age in the room was probably somewhere in the fifties–sixties if you only counted lay people. We are an association made up predominantly of small churches in rural communities and small towns. No one is teaching most of these senior saints the current hymns of men and women like Keith and Kristen Getty, to say nothing of praise songs of Chris Tomlin and the like. I have not experienced the same phenomenon at youth events. At StudentLife Camp this year, our band for the week was Rush of Fools. One night they said we were having a hoedown and proceeded to play bluegrass style versions of “I’ll Fly Away,” “I Saw the Light,” “Victory in Jesus,” and more. Maybe it was because there were words on the screen, but the 1,500 or so young people were all singing along just fine. “Victory in Jesus” may have even been up a notch compared to the newer songs sung at other times. Martin Luther, Charles Wesley, Fanny Crosby, Bill Gaither, Charlie Hall, Laura Story, Aaron Keyes, they all can help us as we approach the throne of God with an offering of songs of worship.

That said, if your church doesn’t currently sing any songs written after 1981, then we would introduce this very slowly and carefully; likewise if you presently sing only songs written since the turn of the millennium. I have no desire to ignite a so-called “worship war.” That falls far short of maintaining “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” (Ephesians 4:3).

November 3, 2012

Prospective Pastor Questionnaire – Part 6

Filed under: Job Hunt,Ministry,My Life in General — pecaspers @ 10:47 PM
Tags: , ,

6. Which Bible translation do you prefer to use from the pulpit?

The English Standard Version is my preferred translation for sermon preparation and preaching. I like it for it’s essentially literal translation philosophy, which makes it great for in-depth study in sermon preparation. I like it because it follows the King James Version in how certain passages read (Psalm 23 comes to mind) giving it a familiar feel to many hearers who grew up with the KJV. I like it because the ESV is based on the largest pool of extant ancient manuscripts ever available to us. I like it because the poetry still sounds like poetry, and Paul’s very long and very Greek run-on sentences are broken as little as English readability allows. I like it because it’s the Bible, and I love the Bible.

That said, I have preached from the old New International Version (NIV 1987), the New American Standard Bible, the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB), and even the Good News Translation (GNT)–that last one was in South Sudan and was the translation most familiar to attenders of the English service of that church. I typically consult a number of translations as I study to preach. I typically teach my youth from the HCSB because that’s what our pastor uses from the pulpit. I regularly intentionally call on the two sisters in our youth group whom carry the New Living Translation because of the vivid and interpretive language it uses. I’m not afraid of other translations, I just prefer to study and preach from the ESV.

Prospective Pastor Questionnaire – Part 3

3. What is your style of pastoral oversight/administration, including working with staff members, committees, and departmental leaders?

I suppose I don’t yet have a fully developed “style of pastoral oversight/administration,” or not a fully tested one at least. My current church doesn’t have a defined organizational chart, but I’m pretty sure I would be on the bottom if it did. That’s fine with me; as I understand it, a pastor is supposed to be a servant to the rest of the church body in many ways. Jesus taught his disciples about servant-leadership long before the conference speakers and authors ever picked up on it. As far as working with staff members, I have a firm grasp of the facts that the pastor is not the boss and that other staff members are not his employees. The whole church staff is employed by the congregation, and the whole church has only one Boss.

I can also tell you that I love a good meeting. A good meeting accomplishes its purpose efficiently and only involves the necessary people; a bad meeting typically has no purpose, is a waste of time, and involves people with no stake in the task or issue at hand. This applies to working with staff members, but is especially important for working with committees. All committees are not created equal, and I can’t say precisely how I would relate to the committees at your church. I can say that I wouldn’t expect to be part of every committee. Every committee shouldn’t need direct pastoral involvement. Some churches do operate that way, and we would take our time in moving away from that model if yours is one.

Like committees, the role of departmental leaders differs greatly from church to church. At Lakeview, a large church, there were very few non-staff departmental leaders. At Liberty, a small church, there are no paid departmental leaders except youth and music. At Lakeview, the adult Sunday school is under the oversight of an associate pastor who trains teachers, decides when to start new classes or divide growing ones, ensures class leaders are ministering effectively to their members, etc. At Liberty, the Sunday school directors’ two primary duties are to collect the roll books and offering envelopes and report the count to the pastor. One is not better than the other, but I’d just hate to say I’ll relate to departmental leaders in such and such a way then find out we are thinking about completely different roles.

Finally, my father taught me when I was in Boy Scouts that a good leader never asks someone to do something he wouldn’t do himself. I have changed diapers in the nursery, pulled weeds in the parking lot, made copies, brewed coffee, cooked meals, driven vans, taught Sunday School, lead Bible studies, taken youth to camp, stayed up all night at lock-ins, built buildings, given cold water (and Coke products) to thirsty people, taken evangelistic surveys in public places, gone door to door with the gospel, visited the sick, run audio and video, sang in the choir, and much more. Some of these things were serving in my area of talents or spiritual gifting, and some of them just needed doing. What I know about my general style of oversight and administration is that I see these as aspects of equipping the church to do the work of the ministry. I have done the ministry and have been equipped to equip others to equip others.

Next Page »

Blog at WordPress.com.