pecaspers: a Blog in transition

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.

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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 3, 2012

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.

October 30, 2012

Prospective Pastor Questionnaire – Part 1

1. What do you perceive as your biblical pastoral duties?

My duty as pastor according to the Bible is to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you,” (1 Peter 5:1). But that begs the question, “what does it mean to shepherd the flock of God?” In 1 Peter 5:1-3, Peter exhorts pastors to exercise “oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.” I think Peter has in mind the distinction Jesus made between a good shepherd and a hired hand in John 10:11-13. “…The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.” A pastor is an under-shepherd under the authority of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd.

Actual shepherds have three main duties in caring for literal sheep: feed the sheep, protect the sheep, lead the sheep where they need to go. Pastoral duties come in those same three categories. Pastors have the duty to preach and teach God’s word, to feed God’s people on every word that comes from His mouth and to teach them how to feed themselves (Deuteronomy 8:3). 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” The pastor has all he needs in God’s word to meet the varied spiritual needs of God’s flock.

When it comes to protecting the sheep, the pastor must deal with both external and internal threats. Paul explained this to the Ephesian church leaders in Acts 20:28-32:

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

“Fierce wolves” will try to come in from the outside, other threats will arise from within the church, and it is a pastoral duty to keep the wolves away from the flock and to administer the “word of his grace” to confused sheep. Practically speaking, this means that the pastor is the point-man when it comes to issues of maintaining right doctrine and church discipline. This does not mean that the pastor must be involved in every conflict that arises in the church; that’s what deacons are for (see Question 4 for more). According to Acts 6:4, the apostles, the original pastoral team of the First Jerusalem Mega-Church, protected the church by delegating some tasks to spirit-filled men so that the apostles could “devote [themselves] to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” This also points to the pastoral duty to pray for the church, and this too is a protection for the flock.

Now we come to the pastoral duty to lead the sheep where they need to go. Paul wrote about the reason Jesus gives various kinds of leaders to the Church and to churches in Ephesians 4:11-16:

“And he gave…the shepherds and teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry for building up the body of Christ until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

(I’ve removed a few commas which are correct according to English syntax but can cause the reader to misunderstand Paul’s thought.) Pastors have the duty of leading individual Christians and the church as a whole to spiritual maturity. Jesus gave pastors to “equip the saints for the work of ministry,” not to do it all themselves. Which is not to say that a pastor does not do ministry himself, but that he is equipping others as he does his share of ministry.

A final thing not mentioned in my list above is that any good shepherd or pastor is constantly honing his skills, training, and learning. Paul instructs his son in the ministry Timothy to “train [himself] for godliness,” to “practice” certain things before his congregation “so that all may see [his] progress”, and ultimately to “keep a close watch on [himself] and on the teaching.” Paul says that “by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers,” (1 Timothy 4:7-16). It is the duty of every pastor to keep his tools sharp, to always be learning, to always be growing, and in so doing he also is setting an example worth following.

Now, maybe you were wanting a list of things like visiting the sick, counseling the hurting, preaching on Sundays; but I figured all that goes without saying, and precisely what goes on that list depends greatly on the individual church. I can tell you that checking to see if the men’s room toilets have been flushed on Wednesday nights is not a biblical duty for youth pastors nor is it in my job description, but I still try to do it each week so our building doesn’t smell come Sunday morning.

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