For my pastoral ministry class I recently completed reading The New Guidebook for Pastors by James W. Bryant and Mac Brunson. Although there are a few things I would quibble over, all in all I profited spiritually and practically from it. One of my favorite chapters was chapter 3, “The Pastor and His Preaching.” Below are a few quotes from it that encouraged me and I hope will encourage you.
All through the Word of God and down through the annals of history, when God has moved it has almost always been attended by the preaching of the Word. There is no task more important, no calling any higher, and no work more noble than preaching the Word of God. – page 31
Too often our desire to reach numbers, people, and crowds has caused us to sacrifice the Word of God on the altar of drama, theatrics, and entertainment. While there is nothing wrong with skits, great music, PowerPoint presentations, and even appropriate videos, there is something tragically wrong when we do anything other than make preaching the Word of God central in the service. You cannot separate the Word from worship. – page 34
John Albert Bengel, speaking of the Word of God in preaching, said, ‘When the pulpit is in strong health, the light of Scripture shine bright; when the church is sick Scripture is corroded by neglect, and thus it happens that the outward form of Scripture and that of the church usually seem to exhibit simultaneously either health or else sickness; and as a rule the way in which Scripture is being treated is in exact correspondence with the condition of the church.'” – page 35
The centrality of the Word of God is of utmost importance. Whenever a preacher steps into the pulpit, what he does with the text influences the health of the church. If there is any hope of winning the lost to Jesus Christ, if there is any hope of maturing the vast majority of those in the pews who are in desperate need of growing, then the preacher must preach the Word! The only thing that twill relieve the famine in our land is commitment to content. Preach the Word!
The Lord said to Jeremiah, “Behold, I am making My words in your mouth fire and this people wood, and it will consume them” (Jer. 5:14 NASB). Think about that for a moment. When you preach the Word of God, it is like fire that sets people aflame. No U.S. president in any state-of-the-union speech can claim that. No Hollywood writer, actor, or producer can do anything like that. No athlete in any winner’s circle can make a speech that sets the audience on fire. But the man of God has the promise of God that when he speaks the Word of God, it is like fire that burns and like a hammer that shatters rock (Jer. 23:29).
The pulpit that is on fire with the Word of God is the most powerful platform in America and all over the world. Pastor, is your pulpit aflame with the truth of God’s Word? Is your heart still on fire for God?
1 Timothy 4:13 – “Until I come, give your attention to public reading, exhortation, and teaching.”
This week’s lectures from Dr. York on Pastoral Ministry focus on the call to a specific ministry. How does one know if they are being called to a specific ministry?
Sanctified Common Sense
Does the ministry fit my skill-set, personality, gifting? Is this a good place for my kids and family? Dr. York strongly emphasized that it is not wrong to think about these things but they are not the primary reasons.
God Works On Your Wanter
The Lord causes you to fall in love with where he would have you to minister. Since Dr. York is on a mission board for Southern he shared a couple of illustrations of young families desiring to leave the States and go minister in the jungle where it is dangerous. Why would anyone do that? Because they love Jesus and God is causing them to fall in love with surprising places.
Is your overall passion to glorify Jesus and to honor him, then make your best decision! It cannot be wrong. If the supremacy of Christ is what you really care about then that is what God wants you to do. This then is the ultimate reason for why one should choose a ministry. If you pray, Oh, Holy Spirit help me to be a great preacher” or “Help me to pastor a great church” the Holy Spirit will say, “No. I am not interested in doing that for you.” But if you cry out, “Oh, Holy Spirit, I want to make much of Christ” then the Holy Spirit will help you do it. There is no doubt. To be sure, glorifying Christ might be desperate, lonely and hard but we are to bloom for God’s pleasure. Whether God allows you to bloom where nobody notice or where everybody notices is entirely up to Christ!
Ready For Either
At this point Dr. York shared an example of the old American Baptist Foreign Mission Society’s seal of an ox standing between an altar and a plough. Written above it are the words, “Ready for either.” What a perfect picture of submission to God’s will! Ready for sacrifice or ready for service. This should be the heart-motto of every Christian, whether called to pastoral ministry or not – a pure and complete devotion to Christ, wholly and solely surrendered to Jesus for obedience, duty, and sacrifice.
The second lecture this week for my class Pastoral Ministry with Dr. Hershael York was about the call to ministry. Dr. York strongly believes that there is a specific call to pastoral ministry. And by the way, if you didn’t know, there is actually quite a bit of disagreement about this in the Christian world. Dr. York is persuaded that while all Christians are called to ministry (can’t argue with that) the call to pastoral ministry is a specific call of the Holy Spirit. It is not a general call but a specific moving of the Holy Spirit. This is where those who don’t believe there is a specific calling to pastoral ministry like to argue saying this is too subjective or mystical. How does one know they are being called to pastoral ministry or just have bad indigestion? Dr. York said this specific moving of the Holy Spirit is less mystical than many describe it. We should not ask for a sign from God to know if we have been called or not because in the Bible asking for a sign is always a sign of weak faith! Did you catch that? That is really important – in the Bible, asking for a sign is always a sign of weak faith! Think about Gideon. The angel had already told him what to do but instead he demands signs. When an angel tells you what to do, you get doing it, not demand signs! Think about the ministry of Jesus’ and how they constantly demand sign after sign. Is Jesus ever pleased about that? I don’t think so. But anyways, how do we know we are being specifically called by the Holy Spirit to pastoral ministry? Dr. York says it is the intersection of four things:
- Desire: You want to do it. You think about it. You desire it. You can’t imagine not doing it.
- Gifting: If God calls you he enables you. It may not be innate but the Holy Spirit would never call you to do it without empowering you to do it. God develops your skill set.
- Opportunity: A place of service for you to do it. Here Dr. York somewhat chastised (probably too strong of a word) seminary students for being blind to opportunities. We shouldn’t wait for golden invitations. When Dr. York was in seminary he determined to preach every week and called prisons, nursing homes, etc if he could come and preach. He didn’t wait to be asked. He had fire in his bones and sooner or later instead of having to look for opportunities he was being asked by people all over the place to preach.
- Testimony of Others: People affirm God’s calling in your life. This is important because my appraisal of myself is not completely honest nor accurate. We need affirmation from others who can tell how God has gifted us this way. And this affirmation should come from a sound local church.
I think it is very helpful and biblical. It is important to know you are called because days will come when you want to quit. There will be days if not weeks of great discouragement and setback. The success of ministry depends upon the strength of your calling. And by success is not meant pastoring a mega-church but faithfully living out God’s calling in your life, faithfully investing all of yourself into the calling for God’s glory and honor.
I have been in pastoral ministry for 15 years now. That is difficult to get my mind around for a number of reasons but largely because it doesn’t seem like I have been at it that long. Of course, “long” is subjective since my father faithfully served the Lord for over 40 years in pastoral ministry. During these 15 years there have been a number of pastoral challenges. I have never taken the time to categorize them. However, this morning I started Pastoral Ministry taught by Dr. Hershael York at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His opening lecture was titled, “Ten Challenges Faced in Pastoral Ministry” and let me tell you I can relate to each one of them. Here they are with a few of my thoughts.
- We deal with the spiritual and eternal matters of life. This one really hit me. Dr. York spoke of how the worst thing a physical doctor can do is cause someone to die. Certainly that is bad, but if I as a pastor mishandle God’s Word I can impact people eternally!
- The pastor’s role is prophetic in nature. As pastors we are asked to deal with people at their most embarrassing, difficult, and trying situations. And in these situations we have to call upon them to repent and live Godward lives. We don’t have the luxury of sharing our opinions.
- Pastor’s lead an army of volunteers. There is no power of the paycheck. Members can get mad and leave at any time.
- The pastor has an unclear identity. What is the pastor’s #1 task? 10 people will give 10 different answers. Some will say to preach the word, to shepherd the sheep, to preach, to evangelize. Few churches clearly define what they expect from their pastor and even when they do they expect more than they say. Many just assume preachers ought to do things.
- Uncertainty about church polity. Most churches have an unclear vision how church is to be governed. What is the relationship between elders/deacons?
- The church expects the pastor’s family to be involved. This is unlike any other profession! The CEO of a business is not expected to have his wife help run the business. What in particular struck me about this point was that Dr. York said the church has the right to judge my house/family because one qualification of being a pastor is I lead my house well. He also made the point that the pastor’s wife will either expand or diminish ministry but never be neutral. This makes me very glad to be married to a wonderful woman, Valerie, who has more than I could ever explain expanded my ministry.
- People expect the pastor to be the initiative taker. This one is so true. When we get sick, we don’t expect the Dr. to call us or check up on us. We go to the Dr. But we do expect the pastor to call us and we get made when he doesn’t follow up. If we miss church for a few weeks and don’t hear from the pastor we get mad that he doesn’t follow up. Then, when the pastor does take initiative, we get upset that he did!
- The demand for originality. Dr. York made a very interesting point that if you preach three sermons a week for about 48 weeks that is the equivalent of writing 9 novels! Wow! This makes having fresh, engaging content very challenging especially when you consider how many other responsibilities the pastor has with family and church. On top of everything else, he is expected to deliver fresh, powerful messages from God’s Word!
- The church gives the pastor responsibility without authority. Dr. York gave a few examples. For example, the church expects the pastor to grow the church but no authority to do much. One young man was burdened about young families in his church and that his church had a very bad nursery. It was in very poor condition. So this young pastor took it upon himself to raise the funds for a new nursery and over time he did! But when he went to the deacon board they refused to do it. Then they later got mad at him the church isn’t growing!
- Friendship development difficulty. It is important for the pastor to have close relationships with his sheep. The pastor however must make sure he is not one person in the pulpit and a whole other person at home. The pastor must be holy in all of his friendships.
These 10 things make pastoral ministry unlike any other calling in life. No other job in the world has these 10 things. As I listened to all of this, the thought that kept coming in to my mind was, “Who is sufficient for all of this?” And it was like Dr. York read my mind because he then asked that question and went on to say, “No one! We need the Holy Spirit in our lives. We must fill up on the Word of God each morning before we leave the house and we must disciple our wives so we are working together as a team.”
2 Corinthians 3:5 – “Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God.“
What contradictions meet
In ministers’ employ!
It is a bitter sweet,
A sorrow full of joy:
No other post affords a place
For equal honor, or disgrace!
Who can describe the pain
Which faithful preachers feel;
Constrained to speak, in vain,
To hearts as hard as steel?
Or who can tell the pleasures felt,
The Savior’s dying love,
The soul’s amazing worth;
Their utmost efforts move,
And draw their bowels forth:
212 They pray and strive, their rest departs,
Till CHRIST be formed in sinners hearts.
If some small hope appear,
They still are not content;
But, with a jealous fear,
They watch for the event:
Too oft they find their hopes deceived,
Then, how their inmost souls are grieved!
But when their pains succeed,
And from the tender blade
The rip’ning ears proceed,
Their toils are overpaid:
No harvest–joy can equal theirs,
To find the fruit of all their cares.
On what has now been sown
Thy blessing, LORD, bestow;
The pow’r is thine alone,
To make it spring and grow:
Do thou the gracious harvest raise,
And thou, alone, shalt have the praise.
– Olney Hymns, Book 2, Hymn 26 by John Newton