Tag Archives: pastoral ministry

Doing Ministry with a Shelby Cobra Mustang Engine (Like Piper & Carson)

I just did an interview with Christ the Center, a podcast produced by the Reformed Forum, which is associated with Westminster Theological Seminary.  This is a high-powered theological podcast that has hosted such important discussions as the recent debate among Presbyterian theologians over justification and union with Christ (with Michael Horton and Lane Tipton) and the ongoing conversation about the gospel and sanctification (with Rick Phillips and Kevin DeYoung).

Camden Bucey, Jared Oliphint, and Nick Batzig hosted the conversation.  The topic was pastor-theologians and the book The Pastor as Scholar, the Scholar as Pastor: Reflections on Life and Ministry (Crossway, 2011), which John Piper and D. A. Carson wrote and David Mathis and I edited.

I had a fun and extensive conversation with the CTC guys, who are great guys with keen theological minds.  The topic in question related directly to the Reformed tradition, which has produced so many fantastic pastor-scholars (Calvin) and scholar-pastors (Warfield).  J. Gresham Machen is of course one of the five most important Christian figures of the twentieth century and fits nicely into the scholar-pastor mold.  He was a brilliant theologian who was nevertheless keenly focused on the church.  Much of his writing is deep but directly accessible to the thoughtful layperson.

Head over to the Reformed Forum and give this podcast a listen if you’re so inclined.  During the course of this hourlong conversation, we covered all kinds of things: why Piper and Dever might be wary of the term “pastor-scholar,” how pastors can own this role as theologian, and how church history relates to the present discussion.

About 15 minutes in, we cover the idea that being a pastor-theologian isn’t about escaping the hard work of pastoral ministry–counseling, evangelism, discipleship.  Instead, it’s about infusing all of that valuable pastoral labor with a 500-horsepower theological engine such that the work of the pastor is transformed and Christ is richly displayed in churchly ministry.

That’s what I’m after.  I think that’s what the CTC guys are after.  Can’t you hear the roar of that Christocentric engine?

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Brian Croft on the External Call to Ministry

A while back, I blogged about a book on visiting the sick by a faithful Louisville pastor I know named Brian Croft.  It’s a delight to share with you that Brian has written another practical ministry book on the external call to ministry.  It’s entitled Test, Train, Affirm & Send into Ministry (DayOne, 2010).  It comes with a foreword by Al Mohler and endorsements by folks like Tom Schreiner, Thabiti Anyabwile, Donald Whitney, David Platt, and Jim Hamilton.

Some of you know that DayOne has a heart to help God’s churchmen learn the basics of pastoral ministry.  There’s really no other publisher doing exactly what they do.  They have published valuable works on such topics as counseling, comforting mourners, and teaching prayer.  Grounded in a brief but thick biblical theology of shepherding, Brian’s newest book fits nicely in this stream as he combines clear prose, wise counsel, personal anecdotes, and biblical insight to inform our understanding of what it looks like for a local church to send a future pastor into the field of ministry.

Here’s a nice passage from the work that shows its agility and depth:

The detailed process is unclear, yet it is clear where the responsibility falls.  God has called out a people for salvation from every tribe, tongue, people and nation to build his kingdom and to display his glory to the nations.  Although God uses many people and organizations to accomplish many purposes, the authority and responsibility given by God for building his kingdom and displaying his glory rest solely upon his redeemed people within the context of the local church.  God has divinely ordained the local church to grant the external call to an individual seeking the call of God.  May our individual local churches and our leaders within be awakened to feel the weight of this responsibility so that they will take hold of it and hold it fast to the end.

Finally, you should also know that Brian has a new blog up called Practical Shepherding on which he dispenses the same blend of clear, biblical, empathetic pastoral wisdom.  Check that blog out.  The blog features what a number of my good friends have experienced in person in the church Brian leads, namely, careful guidance and godly wisdom.

What a joy to see the Lord raise up a movement of practically minded pastors who do not shy away from teaching about the nuts and bolts of ministry and who ground that absolutely essential work in a rich understanding of the Word and the gospel of Christ.

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Tim Keller: Godly Character Creates Good Leadership and Rich Sermons

timkellernycFollowing a link from Trevin Wax, I found a very recent blog from Tim Keller that included this helpful comment from the NYC pastor on sermon preparation. By the way, does anyone else out there wish Keller would write much more than he does?  His stuff is always so rich but short.

Here’s the quotation, which highlights the close connection of leadership and sermonizing (I’ve put the key comment in bold):

I pastor a church with a large staff and so I give 15+ hours a week to preparing the sermon. I would not advise younger ministers to spend so much time, however. When I was a pastor without a staff I put in 6-8 hours on a sermon. If you put in too much time in your study on your sermon you put in too little time being out with people as a shepherd and a leader. Ironically, this will make you a poorer preacher.

It is only through doing people-work that you become the preacher you need to be–someone who knows sin, how the heart works, what people’s struggles are, and so on. Pastoral care and leadership (along with private prayer) are to a great degree sermon preparation. More accurately, it is preparing the preacher, not just the sermon. Through pastoral care and leadership you grow from being a Bible commentator into a flesh and blood preacher.

There is much to chew on even in this little slice of commentary.  Those of us who would like to preach for the upbuilding of the church and the salvation of the lost will do well to remember the tie between godly character (which creates, ideally, strong leadership) and rich preaching.  Preaching is a mystical thing.  It’s an art, not a science.  It involves the full personality and character of the preacher.

There’s much we can learn to improve our preaching, but ultimately, strong preachers are godly men.

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Live-Blog: Mark Dever at the Gospel Growth Conference

deverI’m here at the People Growth conference, cosponsored by the Henry Center, where Mark Dever is currently speaking on “The Four P’s of Ministry.”  However, I think that he may have retitled, or subtitled, the message, “The Person and Work of the Shepherd” from 1 Peter 5. Not sure about that.

Without further ado, here are some insights from Dever’s talk, which I would commend to your listening.  My notes are in brackets.


The judge spoken of here [1 Peter 5] is also our shepherd.  Psalm 23.  Read from Ezekiel 34 to illustrate how the Lord, the ultimate shepherd, also functioned as the judge of the Israelite shepherds (the leaders).

If we would be good shepherds, we must remember that we are merely stewards.  The wicked shepherds of Israel worked for their own good; the ultimate Shepherd, Jesus Christ, laid down His life for the wicked.

Suffering, then glory; suffering, then glory.  This is often the way pastoral ministry works out.  There are definitive trials to being a pastor–so the examples of figures like Christ and Peter show us.

The Four P’s: Preach, Pray, build Personal relationships, and be Patient.

On preaching, remember Ezekiel 37, where God’s Spirit goes out with His Word.  Preaching to dry bones is a ridiculous thing to do unless God’s Spirit accompanies His Word. [Note: this is the official 9Marks text.  I swear.  For good reason!]  What people have been born by they need to be sustained by.

Don Carson and Dever were in Brazil.  He realized that he was having a hard time with the whole translation thing, whereas Carson was doing well.  Dever wondered why this was so; he realized that he includes rhetorical flourishes in his preaching that were perhaps being missed or obscured, while Carson has only substance, and thus was communicated with enviable clarity [This drew a great deal of laughter.]

It is essential that we pray. We need to pray for a true understanding of God’s Word.  Every time we pray we show that we depend upon on God.  When Carson came to Cambridge and preached material from A Call to Spiritual Reformation, the prayers of people in Dever’s context changed.  They became bigger and more God-centered.  So: what would our prayers from the past week sound like if they were broadcast over the loudspeaker? Dever cited John Stott, who once heard “village prayers to a village god.”  [That is an extraordinary line.]

So, pastors: pray for your congregation to grow in love.  Pray for the church’s testimony to the community.  Pray that God would work in the congregation such that His own character would be revealed in the church.  Pray for sinners to be converted, and for personal evangelism efforts.  We evangelicals often feel guilty about our lack of prayer.  Don’t focus on guilt–focus on praying more.

One of the best things you’ll do in your ministry is to cultivate personal relationships. [At this point, Dever read a lengthy passage from The Trellis and the Vine, which he spoke of in glowing terms, noting that it lays out the proper way to get involved in the church and seek out people who need personal investment.]

Finally, you need patience. If you’re a young man, especially under 30, you need to find an older man who can help you develop a patient perspective on ministry.  This is one of the hardest things for young pastors to learn, but one of the most essential.


All in all, this was a deeply edifying and provocative talk, as I have so often found Mark Dever to be.  It was a treat to hear him, and here’s hoping that the People Growth conference goes as well on Thursday and Friday as it did today.  We had more than 150 people turn out, including folks from Atlanta, Louisville, Kansas, Missouri, Australia, England, the Philippines, and more.

I’m very thankful for Marty Sweeney of Matthias Media (the main sponsor),  Robert Kinney (and Colleen Gallagher) of the Simeon Trust, and Ben Peays of The Gospel Coalition for making this excellent event happen.  It’s been a treat to work together with three terrific evangelical organizations to make this conference come together, and here’s hoping that it will encourage pastors and church workers to continue to root their ministry–and the measurement of their ministry–in the gospel.


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Wise Words from Mark Driscoll on “Loads” and “Burdens”

mark-driscollI found this somewhere on the web and thought it was well worth pondering together (does anyone forget where they found content? ).  In the quotations below, pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church (Seattle, Washington) defines what he sees as the difference between a “load” and a “burden” that we carry in our personal lives:

A “load” is a light enough pack that someone should be expected to carry it alone. Practically, this means that the typical person needs to find a job, pay their bills, read the Bible, attend church, pursue Christian friends, pray, repent of sin, share their faith, watch their diet, exercise, and look after themselves and their spouse and children if applicable.

A “burden” is a heavy load that is simply too much for one person to bear without the loving help of Christian friends. Practically, the person with cancer or another debilitating ailment, the mother of young children who is abandoned by her husband, the poor elderly widow who cannot pay her bills, and others like them should not feel guilty for seeking reasonable help nor should they be chastised for doing so. Rather, the church exists in part to help lessen their burden by taking some of the financial, emotional, and practical weight out of their pack and carrying it for them.

He goes on to suggest a helpful practice for ministry:

One key to ministry is discerning what is a load someone else has to carry (in which case we show concern) and what is a burden we and others need to help carry (in which case we take some responsibility).

He concludes with a nice exhortation to not extract too much from our church leaders and thus become part of their pastoral “burden”:

Are you someone who is expecting too much time, energy, money, and/or investment from the leaders in your church? Which loads do you need to just buck up and carry without whining until someone else does your job? Have you manipulated others’ concern for your load to get them to take on your responsibilities as their burden in the name of loving Christian community?

This is a nice piece, and these are sound words.  I was challenged by it to do all I can not to be a burden to my pastors.  It can behoove all of us, I think, to reflect on how we can serve our churches rather than primarily asking them to serve us and our personal desires.

Exhortation like that of Driscoll, of course, can do much to create a culture in which the leaders love the people, the people love the leaders, and each group seeks to outdo the other in serving one another in the name of Christ.

(Photo: Adrian Schoonmaker)

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Phil Ryken on the Pastor-Theologian

CS009556Phil Ryken just published a piece from Ligonier’s Tabletalk at Ref21 that covers how John Calvin was a pastor-scholar.  It’s a solid article worth reading.

Ryken distills Calvin’s goal in preaching:

“Calvin’s goal in all his preaching and writing was to teach the Word of God faithfully so that the Holy Spirit could use his words to bring people to saving faith in Jesus Christ and to help them grow in godliness. He knew that only God could do the real work of the ministry. Preaching accomplishes nothing, he said, “unless the Spirit of God does inwardly touch the hearts of men.” Yet Calvin also believed that the Spirit’s work included his own best efforts to teach the Bible: “Through [the Spirit's] inward operation [preaching] produces the most powerful effects.”

He details Calvin’s preaching method:

“Although Calvin usually preached for more than an hour, he spoke extemporaneously, without text or notes. He was not speaking “off the cuff,” however, because whatever he said was the product of his own careful, first-hand exegesis and wide reading in the early church fathers and other Bible commentators. As Calvin once remarked to his congregation: “If I should enter a pulpit without deigning to glance at a book, and frivolously imagine to myself, ‘Oh well, when I preach, God will give me enough to say’ — and come here without troubling to read, or thinking what I ought to declare, and do not carefully consider how I must apply Holy Scripture to the edification of the people — then I should be an arrogant upstart.”

He concludes with this insightful word:

“Calvin’s example as a pastor-scholar is instructive today. For pastors, his life serves as a call to work hard in ministry, giving our best efforts to understanding the Scriptures. For parishioners, Calvin’s ministry can help us understand the God-given calling of our pastors. In devoting their time to prepare for preaching, they are not serving themselves but Christ and His church.”


Excellent analysis.  Readers of this humble little blog know that I love this model of the pastorate.  Awareness of it is clearly spreading and catching on among the younger generation.  I’m excited to see what the future holds on this point.  I think we’ll see a generation of pastor-theologians rise up to lead the church once more.

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What Prominent City Churches Require

William Henry Harrison Murray, writing over 125 years ago from the pulpit of Park Street Church in Boston:

“The administration of a prominent city church demands that the pastor possess the rare powers of tact, judgment, general ability; the qualities that make a preacher, plus those that make a statesman–the ability to both anticipate and provide for future contingencies.”

–H. Crosby Englizian, Brimstone Corner, 229, quoting Murray, Park Street Pulpit, 16.

The comment is succinct but worth pondering, particularly in an age when Christians are reversing past trends and embracing ministry in and to the city.

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Sweeney’s “Jonathan Edwards”: Must-Buy

sweeneyedwardsThe Director of the Henry Center, Doug Sweeney, a friend and mentor, has authored an important text entitled Jonathan Edwards and the Ministry of the Word (InterVarsity, July 2009). The book covers the life and Word-centered ministry of the colonial pastor-theologian, a subject area in which Sweeney has already produced numerous important works, including Volume Twenty-Three of the prestigious Yale Works of Edwards series.

The text’s 200 pages stretch over seven chapters that each address an aspect of Edwards’s biblically based ministry.  The writing style is characteristically Sweeney: clear, thick, vivid, and doxological.  Readers of all kinds–pastors, laypeople, Edwards devotees, and even the uninitiated–will benefit greatly from Sweeney’s comprehensive grasp of the Edwardsean corpus and his ability to distill that knowledge for readers.

This is historical theology for the church.  The book succeeds in repositioning Edwards as, first and foremost, a minister of the Word.  Sweeney calls for an Edwardsean conception of the pastorate–that is, a rich pulpit ministry centered on the Bible that cannot help but fill ordinary Christian living with the glory and grandeur of the gospel.

This is an important book, one that promises to transform modern conceptions of the pastorate.  The text will also permanently affect one’s understanding of both Jonathan Edwards and the Christian life.  Aside from George Marsden’s momentous Jonathan Edwards: A Life (Yale, 2003), Sweeney’s text is my favorite Edwards book.  In fact, I would actually rank this as the superior abridged treatment of Edwards over Marsden’s recent A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards (Eerdmans, 2008), a fine book in its own right.

I love Jonathan Edwards and the Ministry of the Word. I encourage anyone who cares about theology, the church, and church history to buy it.  It is the product of a distinguished scholar who loves God’s church and has devoted his own theological ministry to it.  Here’s hoping that many will purchase this text, and that a whole generation will embrace the Edwardsean model of the ministry, seeking not to be Edwards, but to be like him in his love for the Word and his concern for the spiritual transformation of his people.

Readers can purchase Jonathan Edwards and the Ministry of the Word from InterVarsity Press or Amazon.  Justin Taylor recently posted about the text.  In addition, a diverse and distinguished group of commentators has praised the text.  Selections below:

A “masterful analysis”–Harry Stout, Yale

“Admirable” and “authoritative”–George Marsden, Notre Dame

“Nourishing and tasty”–Gerald McDermott, Roanoke College

A “blessing to pastors, preachers, and spiritual leaders”–Kenneth Minkema, Yale

A “vibrant portrayal”–Sam Storms, Brideway Church

“Accessible and accurate”–Mark Dever, Capitol Hill Baptist Church

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The Hard Work of New England Ministry: A Report from a Recent Conference

ipbcSome will recall that I blogged about a pastors’ conference with pastor-theologian Steven Lawson in New England in early April 2009.  Here’s a report from the organizer, Dave Ricard, the man who runs the New England Center for Expository Preaching, an internship program that brings interns to preach in a variety of New England churches over several months.  The report is powerful and gives a sense of the challenges New England churches face in our day.

Before we get to the report, I should note that the program has been very successful.  A number of interns have been placed in churches through it.  If you’re interested in pastoring in New England, check out this program, which is accredited through Southern Seminary, Southeastern Seminary, and others and is fast becoming a premier seminary internship.  Dave is a good friend, and he’s doing great work for our Lord.


Here’s his conference report (edifying and encouraging!):

“Dr. Lawson challenged the men gathered at Island Pond Baptist Church in Hampstead, NH to continue preaching the Word of God faithfully and in context.  However, more was happening on April 6-7, than just another echo of “Famine in the Land” and “The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards.”  Famished pastors were being nourished with the Living Word of God for two days instead of boring statistics or latest craze.  Dr. Lawson was feeding the men who feed the flocks of New England, from passages that most knew by heart, but needed to hear again.

He stated: “Spiritually, New England is a barren wasteland of churches, most seeking the latest pragmatic fad.”  In this darkness Dr. Lawson stated that “the best thing a pastor can do for his church is to meet with a few men and weekly;” to avoid the postmodern, post-Christian, neo-pagan, ear tickling “churches” that refuse to talk about hell even though many of their membership may be headed in that direction.

In contrast to this, Pastor Wells of IPBC was thanked over and over again for hosting NECEP – 2009.  One bi-vocational pastor who approached him, said with tears in his eyes, that he simply could not afford to go to a national conference; yet here was one in his own back yard.  Meanwhile, another pastor, also in tears, stated that he could not remember the last time he held a new book in his hands last, as he stood with books and audio recordings donated by Dr. Dever, Mohler, Sproul, MacArthur, Anyabwile, and Piper in his hands.

What happened at IPBC was more than Dr. Lawson once again delivering superb sermons to a congregation.  At IPBC he was delivering the “Expositors’ Institute” to expository preaching pastors representing SBC, CB, IB, PCA, PCUSA, OPC, CCCC, Methodist, and Nondenominational churches, on their own turf, in New England.

Dr. Lawson was equipping saints to “press on” in the heat of the battle; to “Preach the Word” and never give up.  Then, immediately after the last session, a church in attendance decided by a New England Center for Expository Preaching intern as their new pastor.

Three pastors drove from northern Vermont on Sunday to hear Dr. Steve Lawson speak at NECEP, spending the night in a local hotel on Monday and Tuesday so they could hear both days. One wrote back a moment ago saying: “We were so blessed by the conference that our wives say that we came back as different men. We have not stopped talking about it all week.”


Praise God for ministries like NECEP and conferences like this one, which was not hugely publicized but nonetheless served many pastors of New England with excellence.  Check out the NECEP website, and please, pray for it and for the churches of New England as they confront a thoroughly post-Christian culture with the good news of Jesus Christ, the gospel of salvation.

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Upcoming: John Piper and Don Carson on Pastors and Scholars

pipercarsonIn just two weeks, on Thursday, April 23, 2009, at Park Community Church in Chicago, IL, the Carl F. H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School will host an evening of free lectures and discussion with Dr. John Piper of Bethlehem Baptist Church and Dr. D. A. Carson of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. The event will begin at 7:00pm and conclude around 10:00pm.

Titled “The Pastor as Scholar, and the Scholar as Pastor: Reflections on Life and Ministry with John Piper and D.A. Carson”, the evening will feature hour-long lectures by Drs. Piper and Carson that offer reflection of a theological and personal nature on the work of the pastor and the scholar, respectively.  All are welcome and invited.  See below for details on parking and transportation (note: shuttle buses will run from both the Chicago and Division blue line train stops to the church from 5pm to 7pm).

We at the Henry Center are really excited about this free event, which is sponsored by our title partner, BibleMeshAdditional partners include Moody Press, Christian Focus Publications, and Crossway Books, all of which will be featuring a book in the initial moments of the event.  The evening will be recorded in high-definition by Desiring God Ministries and live-blogged by the Henry Center.  All material will be available for free at DGM, The Gospel Coalition website, and the Henry Center website.

For more information as we rapidly approach this event, please visit the event website, pastortheologian.com.  If you are a budding pastor or scholar with a love for God’s Word and a heart for the church, I encourage you to come out to this free event and be a part of a growing movement that is changing the church as it recovers the historic model of the pastorate and reinvigorates it with the riches of biblical truth and the resources of theological study.


1. Event Location:

Park Community Church (Chicago, IL, 60610)

1001 N. Crosby map between Chicago and Division Streets

River North District.

2. Parking:

Parking is available on the street level of the building (enter on Crosby).  It will be scarce, so the train may be optimal for local attendees.

Additional parking is available in the lot on the north side of the building; street parking is available in the neighborhood.

Validated parking is available in the parking deck at 950 N. Kingsbury ($4 for 3 hours).

3. Public Transportation:

For those in the city, by bus, take #66 Chicago, #70 Division or #8 Halsted.

By train, to the Brown Line to Chicago and head east to Larrabee; take the Red Line to Chicago & State and catch the westbound #66 Chicago bus.

Special Note: For those coming from the northwest (from The Gospel Coalition), take the blue line to either Chicago or Division. From 5:00pm until the event begins, chartered buses will take attendees from either stop to the church building.

4. Schedule:

Thursday, April 23, 2009

7:00pm | Introductions
7:10pm | Piper Talk on “The Pastor as Scholar”
8:10pm | Carson talk on “The Scholar as Pastor”
9:10pm | Break
9:20pm | Audience discussion
10:00pm | Conclusion


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