Archives For Local Church Ministry

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“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” (Psalm 42:5).

These are not the words of a spiritual infant. They are not the cries of a neophyte believer. This was a spiritual leader, involved in the daily ministry of the word of God to the people of God. Even so, his struggles with sorrow are deep.

It’s no secret: spiritual leaders can battle with depression. The more pastors I talk to, the more common this seems. I’ve worked jobs from lumber mills to heavy construction to engineering to research labs, and I have never encountered sorrow in those like the pastorate. Pastors, if you struggle with sorrow, chances are, things are pretty normal. Christians, chances are, your pastor has, or will have, bouts with soul-sorrow. It’s just normal.

And we need to avoid parochial conclusions when it comes to battles with sorrow. The presence of depression does not always mean the presence of raging sin. Strong saving faith and deep discouragement are often found in the same soul. Ed Welch has rightly said, “It is a myth that faith is always smiling. The truth is that faith often feels like the very ordinary process of dragging one foot in front of the other because we are conscious of God” (Depression: A Stubborn Darkness, 31). Jeremiah had his bouts (Jer. 9:1-2, Lam. 3:48). Elijah probably did too (1 Kings 19:4). Though Paul always rejoiced, he was also sorrowful (2 Cor. 6:10). The great apostle even experienced “great sorrow and unceasing grief” (Rom. 9:2). And Jesus was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief (Isa. 53:3). Likely he could have been diagnosed with clinical depression by the standards of our modern psychiatrists. Charles Spurgeon said, “No sin is necessarily connected with sorrow of heart, for Jesus Christ our Lord once said, ‘My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death.’ There was no sin in him, and consequently none in his deep depression.”

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In fact, it’s reasonable to be concerned at times for the individual who seems constantly giddy. If we were in heaven, that would be understandable. But for the spiritual-minded individual with the mind of Christ, they see the cursed world as it is and care for its good. There is sin within and without. Brokenness within and without. Death within and without. Deception within and without. The world, the flesh, and the devil do their thing. Those with the illuminating presence of the Holy Spirit carry the instinctive response of righteousness to unrighteousness, whether within or without. It’s impossible, then, for God’s people to never experience sorrow. Pastor, if you struggle with discouragement, it very well could be due to your love for souls.

A pastor without sorrow may not be sufficiently acquainted with the fallenness of the world. He could be out of touch; perhaps not adequately caring about the destruction all around. We could almost say that seasons of sorrow are inevitable and necessary for biblical pastors.

And to be sure, depression is often due to sin (cf. Ps 32:3-4). We may be harboring things needing confession. We might be craving an idol that we are not getting (cf. 2 Sam. 13:4). Or we may be getting something we are not wanting. A soul check-up is necessary in sorrowful seasons. There is no virtue in discouragement. And seasons of sorrow are no excuse for us to wallow in self-pity or ferment in our bitterness.

But oftentimes, sorrow is just the norm. The purpose here is not to be a Debbie-downer, but to consider why it’s normal for many pastors to battle with discouragement. With that, here are a few reasons why church leaders may experience sorrow:

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Power in the Midst of WeaknessTwo weeks ago, we took a look at the orienting principle for Christian ministry: we have the treasure of the Gospel in earthen vessels. In other words, there is a disproportionate relationship between the glory of the New Covenant message and the glory of the New Covenant messenger. There is a fundamental contrast between the glory of the New Covenant ministry and the shame of the New Covenant minister. In the next verses, Paul turns to illustrate this principle by means of two paradoxical truths that characterize the Christian ministry.

And the first of those paradoxes comes in verses 8 and 9. There we learn that the Christian ministry is marked by power in the midst of weakness. He says, we are “in everything afflicted, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” In what commentators have called “one of the more powerful rhetorical moments in the Pauline corpus” (Barnett, 233), Paul makes his point by means of four antitheses. In each first word, we see the weakness of the earthen vessel. And in each second word, we see the surpassing greatness of the power of God. Let’s look more closely at each pair.

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Last week we began by defining missions as “ecclesiology with a passport.” Then we looked at two big picture problems with the social action approach to missions. That was followed by two posts (here and here) that gave eight biblical reasons the social action theory of missions is misguided. Today we wrap up this series by looking at how the Apostle Paul understood the role of social action in missions:

If we allow the book of Acts to lay down the lane markers for our missions efforts, then church planting, leadership training (and Bible translation, where necessary) will be our focus.  That’s how the men whom Jesus trained understood and applied His commission.   Continue Reading…

Yesterday I said that there were at least eight biblical objections to viewing “social action” as a form of missions. In that post, I explained what three of those were, and I’d encourage you to read that post first. But having noted those three, here are the rest of those eight objections:

 

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Image result for social missionsLast week I explained the importance of understanding that for missions to truly succeed, it must be built on the foundation of strong ecclesiology. I then wrote a critique of the approach to missions that focus on social action. Today I want to expand on that post, and describe what exactly my concerns are with this approach to missions.

There are at least eight biblical problems with the social action model of missions.  Of course, not all social-action advocates exhibit all eight of these problems, but naturally, since this is a survey, I need to paint with a broad brush.

Problem 1:  A redefinition of the gospel.

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As I survey today’s shift toward social action in missions, my concerns fall into three categories. Today’s post will look at the first two, and next week we will pick up the third (to get the most out of this post, I’d encourage you to read yesterday’s introduction, “Missions: Ecclesiology with a Passport“).

 

1) Are we ignoring the lessons of history?

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Missions is your ecclesiology armed with a passport.

The American evangelical culture has demonstrated a remarkable confusion about the nature of the church. This in-turn has led to an equally critical confusion about the nature of missions.

While a Western missionary might need to leave his PowerPoint presentation and carpeted, air conditioned auditorium behind when he hikes over the mountain to a remote village, the important things that make a church—the biblical things—transfer directly and immediately into any culture.

In the past, the majority of theologically conservative missionaries were sent out to do church planting, leadership training, and Bible translation.  No longer.  Today a growing percentage of new missionaries are being sent to focus on social relief, with the church and the gospel tacked on as something of theological addendum.  In fact, in my twenty years as a missionary in Africa, I’ve seen a major shift in evangelical missions away from what I call “book of Acts missions” toward social reform projects or social action missions.   Continue Reading…

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels
so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God
and not from ourselves.
– 2 Corinthians 4:7 –

This verse teaches a fundamental, orienting principle for Christian ministry: there is a disproportionate relationship between the glory of the New Covenant message and the glory of the New Covenant messenger. There is a fundamental contrast between the glory of the New Covenant ministry and the shame of the New Covenant minister.

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Gospel Treasure

We see that by the word picture that Paul employs. “We have this treasure in earthen vessels.” The Gospel is a treasure. The glorious Good News of the New Covenant is absolutely priceless.

  • Whereas the Old Covenant brought only death and condemnation, the New Covenant brings spiritual life and saving righteousness (2 Cor 3:7–8).
  • Whereas the Old Covenant provided only limited access to the concealed glory of God, the New Covenant provides continual access to open-faced admiration of the glory of God shining in the face of Christ (2 Cor 3:12–18).
  • Whereas the Law made nothing perfect (Heb 7:19) and only further aroused our sinful passions (Rom 7:7–11), the New Covenant brings inward transformation and conformity to the image of Christ (2 Cor 3:18).
  • Whereas the Old Covenant was powerless to transform the heart of man, the Gospel of the glory of Christ shines into that dead heart, and the Holy Spirit Himself awakens the affections to hate sin and to love righteousness (2 Cor 4:4, 6).

This Gospel is a treasure!

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Have you ever heard someone speaking of the difficulties of ministering in a “third world” country? I would argue that we should remove this terminology from our vocabulary, being that our using it is probably ignorant, sinful, or both.

I know. That’s a pretty strong claim. But I’m speaking from my heart, as a man who recently looked up the meaning of the term “third world”, and was convicted that my sinful heart has used it in a way that is condescending to my fellow man.

Why ignorant?

Did you know that Switzerland is a third world country? China is a second world country? Puerto Rico is a first world country? You see, technically, “third world” was not originally an economic term. It was a political term. So if you speak of a third world country as poor, you’re not using the word according to its original meaning.

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Young-leopard-tries-to-eat-porcupine-3-570x257The conversation has often happened like this: “Hi pastor. I’ve enjoyed the worship at this church and benefitted from it. I like this and that. But, I just don’t think I can stay. You see, there are too many younger folks and just not enough people my age.” Sadly, it’s something that not a few pastors and church planters have heard.

Now, on the one hand, such conversations evidence something wonderful. Christ is, indeed, building his church from the next generation. In the church I get to serve, few things are more thrilling than the fleet of 20-somethings following Christ, loving his word, diving into sound theology, and pouring themselves out for the church. And the more I speak with church leaders across the country, the more I hear of the same.

But more to the point: I often run into situations where seasoned saints avoid a church due to an age gap. Granted, some might be necessarily hesitant to plug into churches because of the irreverent, unbiblical tone too-often inherent to us youth (cf. 1 Tim. 4:12). But even then, seasoned saints should rethink avoiding such churches. The younger generation needs the older to hurry them out of youth. That’s a fact innate to every sphere of life: the less experienced need the shaping of the more experienced. But for some reason, we often see a lack where, of all places, it should be most embraced; the church.

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