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Archive for the ‘Church and Pastoral Life’ Category

It was a tremendous honor to sit down with brothers from Bethel Baptist Church, North Vernon, my future pastor at Grace Chapel Baptist Church of Kingwood, WV, Bro. Mike Argabrite, and brothers from several neighboring churches this weekend as they examined me for ordination into Christian pastoral ministry.  It was an even greater delight to gather with the congregation of Bethel and many guests Sunday night for the ordination service as the church affirmed that they have seen God working through me and calling me to pastoral service.  Thank you, brothers and sisters at Bethel, for the opportunity to serve among you for the last twelve years, and thank you, brothers and sisters at Grace Chapel, for the opportunity to come and serve among you in coming years.

Audio may be downloaded by clicking on the names below, or played by clicking the arrows below.

Opening Scripture, Call to Order, and Candidate’s Testimony

Second Scripture Reading–1 Timothy 4:6-16

Charge to the Churches (Sending and Receiving)

Charge to the Candidate

Closing Prayer

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Last Sunday, church planter and pastor Joe Swords visited us at Bethel Baptist Church to fill us in on the work that God is doing in Clio, Michigan, at The Exchange.  It’s well worth the five minutes to hear of God’s unexpected kindnesses, as well as ways we can pray for and otherwise support this work.  Click on the arrow below, or right-click and choose “Save As” here to download.

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As those who live according to the Spirit, you and I are to help each other escape sin and endure suffering, even as we exert ourselves to pull our own weight.  See more here:

https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/v/d-fhNcuvtTw?version=3&hl=en_US&rel=0

Thanks again to my pastor, Bro. Ricky Persons, for the privilege of filling the pulpit at Bethel.  The sermon is also available in mp3 format here, or listen below:

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In the last couple of weeks I’ve run across two very helpful articles on what can be in many churches a difficult question: What is the role for a pastor’s wife, and how can a church care well for a pastor’s wife?

First, Jonathan Leeman of 9Marks Ministries points out that there is not a specific office of “Pastor’s Wife” created in the New Testament.  A pastor or elder’s wife ought to faithfully use her Spirit-given gifts to serve the church, but that’s because she is a Christian, not because her husband is the pastor or an elder.  Some pastors’ wives are gifted in public teaching and ministry; others are gifted in ways that will be less visible, though no less active.  Her husband ought to love her well and to encourage her in developing the gifts God has given her, and a church will be able to love her well by not comparing her gifts with the gifts that God has given other women, but by serving alongside her as sisters.

Brother Leeman does note that pastors’ and elders’ wives do have “a unique role, just like the wife of every man has a unique role: she is married to him. Every wife including the elder’s wife must learn how to be the helpmate to her husband in all his stations of life.”  As she comforts and encourages her husband, working alongside him, she is indispensible.  That’s true for any faithful Christian life, but in a pastor’s household, the additional weight of responsibility means that “the stakes of the Christian life will become higher, and so it will become that much more practically important that we are both abiding in the gospel.  You might say that being a pastor or elder’s wife doesn’t add any new knobs to the stereo, it just turns up the volume.  But don’t misunderstand: the music is good!”

Meanwhile, Cara Croft, whose husband Brian is pastor at Auburndale Baptist Church in Louisville, has written a post entitled, “Warning! This Blog Has Been Hijacked…by a Pastor’s Wife.”  Sister Croft shares some of the burdens and hardships of pastoral ministry from a wife’s perspective: the pain of watching her husband weighed down by the inevitable cares of ministry in a fallen world, the temptation to lash out when her husband is attacked, the delicate balance of freeing up her husband to minister to the flock and yet also needing him home to shepherd his family, and on top of all of it not being sure to whom she can talk to when life is difficult.  There is encouragement in this post for other pastors’ wives, as well as wisdom for pastors—we need to be mindful of what’s on her mind, even when she doesn’t feel able to say it (or to my shame, even when she feels like she’s already said it and nothing has changed).

Though I’m not currently in a pastoral role, I am deeply grateful to my April for her perseverance in hard places and with strange hours.  There is much joy in ministry, but also much work.  Thank you, Love, for all that you make possible by not giving up on me along the way.  And I’ll be rereading that second article regularly.

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Apropos of my last post on what makes a church, Jonathan Leeman posted an article today at 9Marks, “How T4G Gave Me a Vision for Massive Single-Site, Single-Service Churches.”  Having recently taken part in this year’s Together for the Gospel Conference, Brother Leeman describes the joy and the sense of unity he found as he heard God’s Word preached, prayed, and sung in the company of around 8,000 people.  He says,

We were together because we all wanted the same thing—to see Christ’s glory and fame spread, and to enjoy him together. We all wanted our lives, our families, our work to be about him. Somehow, these 8000 anonymous faces didn’t feel like strangers or enemies, but friends. I felt no desire to compete with them, or prove myself to them, but to embrace them, and be embraced by them.

Honestly, it was like sitting together at the family dinner table.

And now you want half the family to get up from the table, and either walk down the street to another building, or come back in two hours? And you don’t think that will change things?  …

For the first time, I imagined what the church in Jerusalem with its 5000 men (and how many women and children?) must have been like. First, they enjoyed the power of the crowd as the all met together (Acts 2:46a; 5:12; 6:2). Then they separated for fellowship and met in individual houses (2:46b). Power and unity together, followed by a more intimate fellowship when apart.…It’s not a bad formula. Throw some elders into those individual house meetings and you got pastoral oversight as well.

Leeman came away with a new appreciation for how unity is possible even in a large group—but not when that same group is split into smaller groups meeting at different places and times.  As he puts it,

It’s no good to say, as some do, “Once your church grows beyond 1000, you might as well split into two services or two sites. What’s the difference?” The difference is that people live in bodies. And bodies together is a different thing than bodies separate. Just ask your spouse or kids. How well can you build a marriage or raise your kids over Skype?

Like Leeman, I am far more familiar with smaller churches where it’s possible to know everybody, at least to some extent.  However, Brother Leeman’s observations remind us that there can be much good when many brothers and sisters gather in one place to hear from and offer worship to our God when that gathering is done in a way that pays attention to biblical principles.

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What does it mean to go to church in an age where people are wired and connected together across ethereal planes, so that they can see and hear each other even while on separate continents?  Does this sort of connected world mean that the local church gathered at a certain physical address is passé?  Have we superseded the need for a group of people meeting in a building of wood, brick, or bamboo?  Two articles this week help us think through what it means to be a church—and the key issue is how we are to love each other in ways that don’t transfer well by wire.

Last Friday, Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, posted an article entitled, “The Deep Limitations of Digital Church.”  Dr. Mohler considers the case of Christ Fellowship in McKinney, Texas, as described in a USA Today article by Cathy Lynn Grossman:

“Find the church by going online — the 21st-century version of sighting a steeple on the horizon. Beyond their website, Christ Fellowship has a Facebook page to give it a friendly presence in social media.

You can download the worship program by scanning their customized-with-a-cross QR code. The worship services are streamed online from their Internet campus — with live chat running so you can share spiritual insights in real time.

Afterward, says senior Pastor Bruce Miller, ’someone will ask you, ‘How did it go? Did God help you, today? How can we help you?’ Just like we do when people come to our building in McKinney. We are here to help people find and follow Christ, wherever they are starting out from.’

And wherever they are in the digital world.”

While appreciating the many benefits of the digital age in making vast numbers of sermons and books available that will bless and strengthen Christians and allow the message of Jesus to reach people who might never enter a church building, Dr. Mohler rightly notes that a church is far more than an information source:

“Believers need the accountability found only within the local church. We need to hear sermons preached by flesh-and-blood preachers in the real-time experience of Christian worship. We need to confess the faith together through the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. We need to confess our sins and declare forgiveness by the blood of Christ together. We need to be deployed for service in Christ’s name together….

A digital preacher will not preach your funeral. The deep limitations of digital technologies become evident where the church is most needed. Don’t allow the Internet to become your congregation. YouTube is a horrible place to go to church.”

So, for those of us convinced that we ought to meet face-to-face rather than face-to-Facebook when we gather as a church, what elements can be mediated (no pun intended) electronically?  Dr. Carl Trueman of Westminster Theological Seminary, never fearful of telling it straight, published a critique last Thursday of multi-site churches, in which people gather in many locations, but share a pastor via televised sermons.  He notes that, no matter how good a band’s live CD is, the live concert is always better; there’s something about the actual presence of the group that makes it more real and more thrilling than just hearing the music can do.  Leaving aside for the moment the idea of a pastor or pastors being accountable for people in a satellite church that they’ve never even seen, Dr. Trueman argues that deep down the advocates for a multi-site model recognize the power of presence, and that they’ve confessed that understanding by a “poker tell:” the fact that churches with a telecast preaching service almost always have live musicians, because live musicians are vital to the sense of reality when the church gathers.  Dr. Trueman asks, “Why have a real band when the most important thing, the preaching, can be beamed in?   Or is it that the preaching is no longer the most important thing?”  He argues that “to have the big man piped in” may draw a crowd, but it removes the interaction between speaker and hearers, and in doing so it weakens the immediate urgency of responding to the message.  The whole article is well worth reading.

Faithful brothers and sisters may debate on the wisdom and even the biblical grounds for a multi-site (or even multi-service) model of church.  But as I read these articles and ponder, I trust that we would agree at least on two points:

1.  The church is meant to be more than receiving information from the Bible and what to do about that information—though it ought not to be less than that.  Real church involves followers of Jesus walking together in growing faith and obedience, learning what it is Christ would have us to do, and then encouraging each other along the way, over obstacles and through hardships, all the way to the Savior’s feet.  We can’t do that with electronic avatars—the enemies we war against are not flesh and blood (Eph. 6:12), but our brothers and sisters are.

2.  We dare not let the central point of the church’s gathering be anything less than the Word of God coming to the people of God.  We do many things when we come together: we sing, we pray, we tell of what God has done for us, we share in the Lord’s Supper and in baptism.  But all of these things will go wrong if they are not constantly and clearly tied back to what God says first of all to us as He calls us out of darkness into His kingdom of light.  And if any part of our service—whether simulcast or together in one room at one time—threatens to obscure that centrality, we dare not risk some other good thing eclipse the breathed-out Word of the Spirit.

For thought and feedback: Many of the churches practicing or advocating a multi-site model are seeking to reach people in large cities, often cities with very few faithful, evangelical, gospel-preaching and practicing churches.  If not this model, what would we urge our brothers and sisters to do instead?  What biblical principles or precedents would we offer to ground our advice?

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Before panicking, though, take a look at what Dr. Chuck Lawless, Vice President of Global Theological Advance for the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board, has to say.  He warns that if we have been counting on a program, a slogan, or a series of initiatives to ensure evangelism and missions will move front and center in the SBC, we’ve been sadly misguided.  Only desperate, prayerful dependence on God will do.  A thought-provoking pair of articles available at Baptist Press:

“Time to Give Up on the GCR (part 1)”

“Time to Give Up on the GCR (part 2)”

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