pecaspers: a Blog in transition

January 21, 2013

MLK and Inauguration Day 2013

If you don’t live under a rock, then you know that today was both the presidential inauguration and the public celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. Much was made during the ceremonies in Washington D.C. of the way Dr. King’s “Dream” was on display as fulfilled in the re-inauguration of the United States of America’s first Black president. But that’s kind of ridiculous if you think about it.

To quote King, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Like it or not, there were plenty of people who voted for and against Barack Obama just because he is Black. Interestingly enough, he’s actually bi-racial. King’s dream wasn’t that Black people would overtake White people in positions of power and influence. The dream is that people’s moral character will be seen for what it is without reference at all to the color of their skin. The dream is not reached until we stop talking about the first Black, Latino, Asian, or whatever whoever. When a person’s race doesn’t enter into the equation of how good a man or woman someone is, then we’ll be on the way. (Side note: My point here isn’t to argue for or against President Obama’s character.)

I’ll happily admit we’ve made a lot of progress. And of course, first [insert race/gender] [insert significant achievement]s occur as a sign of that progress. My own denomination elected Fred Luter as President of the Southern Baptist Convention this year; he’s the first Black President of the SBC. However, we have not arrived in a post-racial America until the hype is all and only about a person and not his or her skin. We have not arrived in a post-racial America until people stop throwing “he’s Black” into conversations when it isn’t actually important to the story being told–you know what I’m talking about. We have not arrived in a post-racial America until there’s a recognition of the fact that Black folks and White folks and Asian folks and every other kind of folks do in fact have some real cultural differences but that we’re all, more importantly, just folks. Folks created in the image of God. Folks diversified into many nations, tribes, and tongues by God and for His glory. Folks who all need salvation from their sin by Jesus the Son of the one true and living God. Folks who will all one day bow their knees and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Pray for President Barack Obama; not because he’s Black, but because he’s the President of the United States of America.

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.

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.

June 22, 2012

A Preemptive Word on the SBC Annual Meeting

What follows was originally composed as my contribution to the Tallassee Ministerial Alliance column in the Tallassee Tribune. This is the article before I or the paper’s editors cut it to fit the allowed space. I wrote it prior to the SBC Annual Meeting and it–as far as I know–appeared in the paper on Tuesday, June 19, the first day of the actual Convention.

I am a Southern Baptist. (Curious about what that means? Look at the Baptist Faith and Message tab on http://www.sbc.net.) This week, thousands of Southern Baptists are gathering in New Orleans, La. for the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Because of this, you will likely hear many things in the news in the coming days about what Southern Baptists are saying and doing at the Convention. I beg you, please don’t judge us too harshly.

I’m always ashamed of some of the ridiculous things that come out of the Convention. I can tell you that someone will say something stupid about alcohol, race-relations, politics, environmentalism, homosexuality, the King James Version of the Bible, and many other issues of both major and minor significance to the general population. Media outlets will handle these things with differing degrees of malice or kindness depending on how they prefer to spin things. You need to understand that the Annual Meeting operates as an effectively open forum for anyone sent as a messenger from a Southern Baptist church. Just because someone says it at the Convention doesn’t mean much. Just because the SBC votes for or against some statement doesn’t mean that all Southern Baptists now agree on that issue–many Southern Baptists can’t even agree on what it means to be Southern Baptist. Most importantly, remember that every fifteen second sound bite you hear coming out of my SBC brethren has been ripped out of a greater context.

What you probably won’t hear much about is the real reason that Southern Baptists convene. The SBC exists so Southern Baptist churches can cooperate together in fulfilling the Great Commission. In Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus says to His followers, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age,” (HCSB). Though we do much else, the SBC ultimately exists for the primary purpose of sending missionaries to all nations (read “nations” as people groups with distinct culture and language, not politically recognized countries) for the purpose of making disciples of Jesus.

A disciple is nothing less than a person who has been baptized–identifying with Jesus Christ in His death, burial, resurrection–and is being taught to obey all that He commanded. The only reason one gets baptized and seeks to learn and obey is because he or she believes the gospel. Simply put, the gospel is the good news that God exists and He is good, that all mankind has rebelled against Him in sin, that Jesus is God-become-man who suffered in our place the punishment for our sin so we could have a relationship with God, and finally that we are all accountable before God to turn from all our own attempts to please Him and rely solely on what He has already accomplished in the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

So remember, don’t accept the spin the talking heads on cable news and internet bloggers will put on the SBC Annual Meeting. Feel free to ask of what you hear, “How does this serve to advance the gospel?” But before you throw stones at me and my SBC friends, ask the same question of every aspect of your own life. “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for God’s glory,” (1 Corinthians 10:31, HCSB). Oh that we would all be all about the gospel for the glory of God. You are welcome for all the opportunities to bring this gospel naturally into your conversations with your lost friends, relatives, co-workers, and complete strangers that our Annual Meeting will provide you.

Addendum: I am happy to report that I was largely wrong in my expectations for the Convention. I watched/listened to the vast majority of the meeting via live streaming and didn’t hear nearly as much nonsense as expected–hardly any at all, in fact. The importance of the gospel and our Great Commission was this year’s main focus, but Fred Luder’s election as our first Black president is what seems to be getting all the press. That’s pretty good, I’d say.

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