01 – Why Churches Grow (and many do not)

We are His people, the sheep of His pasture.  (Ps. 100:3)

Over the past 25 years that I have served with the Institute for Nouthetic Studies I have been in over 100 churches and have talked with over 1,000 pastors. Many of those churches were growing and exciting ministries but a number were discouraged and declining places. Because pastors don’t often call to tell me how great things are going, most of my phone conversations have been with pastors who were discouraged or seeking help with problem situations in their church. While there are unique dynamics at work in each church one can see obvious commonalities in the churches that are prospering as well as in those that are in decline.

The greatest change coming our way soon is the calling of a new pastor. The decision we make will be the single most important factor in how well our church prospers in the years to come. As we look forward to calling this man I want to use the next several blog posts to offer some suggestions about how to approach this decision.

First, however, I want to answer the title question—why do churches prosper? One of the most common pictures of Christ and His church is that of a Shepherd and his sheep. It is a powerful and instructive metaphor. Healthy sheep reproduce, sickly sheep do not. Sheep that are robust and well-fed cannot be kept from reproducing. They do so naturally, prolifically, and regularly. The shepherd does not have to cajole them into reproducing and lecture them about the need to grow. It is something healthy sheep take joy in doing.

Growing, prospering churches are characterized by people who are well-fed and nourished from the pulpit. They have moved on from consuming basic milk and easily digestible baby food to the solid meat of the Word. The Word is ministered in helpful and practical ways each Sunday and believers leave the services mindful that they have heard from God and have been helped in their daily walk. When they converse during the week conversations are as likely to focus on what they are learning through the ministry of the church as they are about their jobs, children, and hobbies.

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.    (Heb. 5:12-14)

There is much we will need to know about the man who is presented to us as a candidate. But the single most important question we have to have answered is this—can this man handle the Word of God with skill in the pulpit? He will be responsible to feed Christ’s flock at Calvary. Is he up to that task?


02 – Preach the Word!

This was Paul’s command to Timothy and is God’s command to those who would lead His flock today. In my previous blog I pressed the case that this is the single most important evaluation we need to make about our candidate before we vote whether or not to call him.

“But Donn, don’t all pastors preach the Word?”

Sadly, no. Now let me quickly say that I have never met a preacher who would say he did not preach the Word, but often there is little understanding of the difference between preaching the Word and preaching about the Word.

“Ok, Donn, now you’re just playing games with words. You must have some kind of point you want to make here.”

Yes, indeed I do. How many times have you heard a preacher announce a text, read the text, and then launch into a discussion about a wide range of topics and subjects that had nothing to do with the text he just read? Everything he says may be true, he may talk about the Bible, cite some Bible stories, read another verse or two here and there—but nothing about his message rose from the text itself! Each point of his sermon was something he thought would be profitable to share with his listeners but ultimately it was not the Scripture he was preaching, but his ideas about various religious subjects. He will tell interesting stories and cite anecdotes telling us “this is what God is like” without ever showing us where the Scriptures teach such things. How many times have you listened to a sermon and when it was over you realized you never again looked down at your Bible?

Instead, the preacher who preaches the Word will have studied the text thoroughly. While he will not try to impress by explaining Greek nouns or Hebrew verbs, he will understand the translation issues and problems so that he can make the text clear to his listeners. He will begin by explaining why it is important that you understand this text and how it intersects with your life. Each point he makes as he works through the text with you will rise from the text and will be exactly the same point Paul, or Peter, or Luke was making. He will illustrate what the text means by explaining how what is taught in the text is worked out in our time, in our lives, and in our culture. He will not simply say at the end of the message, “Here is how this applies folks,” but rather will show how each point the author makes is practical for us now.

When this kind of preaching is enjoyed by a church, listeners leave knowing they have heard from God and are able to report as they talk to others during the following week, “I was helped as a result of attending my church on Sunday.”

Lord, send us a pastor who will preach the Word! Give us the discernment to reject a man who would merely preach about the Word and give us the wisdom to identify and embrace a man who will truly “Preach the Word!”

03 – Our Next Pastor

God says this to the man who would be our next pastor—

Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.  (1 Timothy 4:16, HCSB)

Now Paul is not using the word “save” in a soteriological sense here (i.e. salvation from sin). He uses it in a temporal sense and perhaps it would be better translated “rescue.”

“Rescue from what,” you ask? Rescue from the kind of doctrinal chaos he had just described earlier in the chapter and the common local church problems he would be describing in the next. To do so, he must “take heed . . . to the doctrine.”

You see, all problems local churches experience are, at their core, theological problems. We do what we do because we believe what we believe. If our church, or any church, is to be rescued from these problems it is imperative that we be taught sound theology by our new pastor who, by virtue of his office, is our chief theologian.

In my previous posts I have been making the case that our new pastor must be a man who will preach the Word and not merely preach about the Word. In doing so, he must be an able theologian who will not only promote sound theology but warn about doctrinal error. In Paul’s day false teachers would move from town to town and house to house on foot promoting their error. Today, we have false teaching streamed into our homes over the internet. Christian bookstores sell books that promote a prosperity gospel, Unitarian doctrine, and those cursed authors who claim, “I died and went to heaven but Jesus sent me back to tell you something.”

When Paul wrote to the Ephesian church (where Timothy served as pastor) he told them that God had given pastors and teachers to them so that they would mature in their faith and would no longer be “children tossed here and there by waves and blown around by every wind of doctrine.” (Eph. 4:14)

In the midst of theological chaos, God’s kind of people seek doctrinal clarity. Calvary should be well known in our community as a haven where the refreshing teaching of sound theology can be heard each week from a pastor who understands his role as a theologian. If Calvary will not bring sound theology to believers in Simpsonville, who else will?

There is much we will want to know about our next pastor before we vote on whether to call him. Is he a godly man who loves the Lord, loves his family, and will love his flock? Does he have a good reputation? Does he pray? Is he kind, irenic, and meek? But these things alone do not qualify one to be a pastor. Many men who would seek the office of pastor are all these things. Paul lists an additional qualification. He must be “able to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2). The word translated “teach” here has the same root as the word “doctrine” in the above passage. Our new pastor must be able to sort good theology from bad theology and teach us not only what is true but warn us about the false. In doing so, as Paul told Timothy, he will be—

a good servant of Christ Jesus, nourished by the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed closely.  (1 Tim. 4:6)


04 – Loving Jesus

“OK Arms, I just read your last post. You seminary guys are all alike. You think everything is about doctrine. Can’t we just love Jesus and forget about all this theology stuff?”

Well, I’m glad you read my last blog but no, we can’t just forget about theology. In fact, in making the claim that we should just love Jesus you are knee deep in theology! Take the word “love.” This is a theological concept. In our culture “love” is a word that is used to describe feelings. It is never used that way in the Bible. There, “love” (agape) is a word that describes what we DO, not what we feel.

The name “Jesus” is, of course, an important name theologically. Jesus is the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, the Lion of Judah, the Alpha and Omega. He is the One in Whom we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). Because He is our Lord and King He is the One Who decides how He will be loved. So, how we “love Jesus” is a theological question that must be answered theologically.

Calvary is a church of Jesus Christ. It is His church, not ours. He decides what is done here, how we organize and conduct ourselves, what is taught here, and who can be a member. We do not get to make these decisions ourselves. So to arrive at the answer as to how we are to do these things, we must be theologians.

“But there you go again, Arms, I am not a theologian . . . ”

Whoa, stop right there. I’ll have no more of this. If you are a believer, if you have made a decision to trust Christ’s work on the cross as payment for your sin, if you have done any thinking about God at all, you are a theologian. We are all theologians. An atheist who has concluded there is no God is a theologian—a bad theologian, but a theologian non the less.

So, the question for us at Calvary is not if we are theologians but rather, what KIND of theologians are we. With that in mind, let’s go back to your plea that we should just “love Jesus.” As good theologians we have to ask “how do we do that, how do we love Jesus?” Happily, Jesus answered that very clearly—

If you love Me, keep My commandments.  (John 14:15)

You see, loving Jesus has nothing to do with how we feel about Jesus. Loving Jesus means keeping His commandments. Here is where sound doctrine intersects with life on the ground at Calvary. Are we obeying Jesus in all that is done in our church? Will we be willing to obey Christ when our new pastor arrives and shows us areas in which we have not been keeping His commandments? Will we be willing to begin doing things He has commanded that we have been neglecting to do? We will soon learn if we really do “love Jesus.”


05 – Go, and Make Disciples

Several years ago I was in Anamosa, Iowa—a typical small town whose claim to fame was that it was once the home of an artists’ colony founded by Grant Wood. You are probably familiar with Wood’s famous painting American Gothic in which Wood intended to depict an Iowa farmer and his daughter (not his wife as is commonly assumed).

Sandy and I spent an afternoon visiting the shops along main street which was populated by quaint little shops and antique stores. After enduring several of these stores I began to look for a place to retreat while still feigning an interest in whatever caught my wife’s attention. We turned a corner and I found it, a used book store! Sandy is as excited about old books as I am about antiques so we both heaved a sigh of relief knowing we could each enjoy some browsing time unhindered by a bored spouse.

You have to understand the mindset of a bibliophile to appreciate the joy of exploring a used book store. I remember well the bookshop in Seattle where I found a complete set of Lange’s commentary (30 volumes) for $20 and the little store in Montana where I bought a copy of Henry Sweate’s commentary on the Greek text of Mark—for fifty cents!

This particular bookstore was memorable because it was there that I picked up an old, heavy tome entitled Historical Sketches of Iowa Baptists (c. 1886). I almost passed it up as they wanted $2 for the book which, upon first perusal, appeared simply to be the dreary records of church statistics, pastoral moves, and financial statements. It sat on my desk for several weeks before I picked it up and realized what I treasure I had.

The author, known only by his initials S.H.M., was a man I would have liked to have known. He had a sharp wit and a warm heart. As he recorded all the mind numbing facts and figures about Iowa Baptist churches he would insert a comment, a wry observation, an exhortation, an hilarious aside, and even a painful pun here and there. I found myself combing through page after page of minutiae just to find his hidden gems.

On page 227 he records this from 1869:

Rev. D. N. Mason has resigned at Cedar Falls, and they are without a pastor though they report 30 baptisms this year. How sad it is that just after a revival of religion, and oftentimes when there has been a large in-gathering, needing the greatest care, then the minister has to leave, and the lambs are left to the wolves! Is it the fault of the minister? or of the Church? Or of both? Is it not true that while in modern times we magnify the first part of the Great Commission, “Go, and make Disciples,” we have too much overlooked the second part, “teaching them to observe all things, whatsoever I have commanded you”?

Reading between the lines, I suspect S.H.M. knew more about the situation in Cedar Falls than he was willing to commit to his historical record. Still, his point is well taken. I am convinced it is something Churches would do well to consider 150 years later.

06 – Great Commission Baptists

Did you know that Southern Baptist Churches can legally refer to themselves as “Great Commission Baptists?” That’s right. Several years ago messengers to the SBC approved the alternate identity and gave churches the authority to use either designation. While it has not caught on widely it is a good designation—one we should be mindful of at Calvary, even though we are not Southern Baptists.

As S. H. M. pointed out 150 years ago (see my previous blog) it is perhaps a Commission we do not fully appreciate. “The Great Commission” is not a term the Bible uses but was coined sometime during the tide of church history to describe the final words of our Lord before ascending into heaven.

Go, therefore, and disciple all nations, baptizing them into the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and remember, I will be with you always, to the close of the age.  (Matthew 28:29-20)

Note first that this is not merely a command to evangelize. It surly is that, but it is so much more. We are to be “making disciples” i.e. followers of Christ. We have not fulfilled Christ’s commission when we see people come forward at an invitation. How many people populate our “inactive membership list” who have done just that? We are to make disciples of these folk.

Second, it is important to see where this discipling effort is to be aimed—“all nations.” For first century Jews this was a major paradigm shift. Not just Jewish people, Gentiles as well! A few days earlier Jesus had appeared to His disciples and over lunch had told them they were to be His witnesses even (to use the KJV language) “to the uttermost part of the earth.”  (Acts 1:8)

If you have access to a globe do this. Put your finger on Jerusalem, where Jesus issued these instructions to His disciples. Then, leaving your finger on Jerusalem, put the index finger of your other hand on Simpsonville. Do you see it? Simpsonville is located in the uttermost part of the earth! Disciple making is not only something we send missionaries out to do, it is what Christ has commissioned us to do here on the campus of Calvary.

Now to the point made by S. H. M. in my previous blog. How are disciples made? By teaching people to DO (observe) all the things Christ has commanded. This is why I have pressed the case for the teaching of sound theology in my previous blogs. Disciples are made by teaching. If we are to fulfill the Great Commission at Calvary we must make teaching a priority.

If our new pastor is the kind of man we want him to be, one of his first priorities will be to take a sweeping inventory of the ministries of our church and ask if each one contributes toward this priority. He will urge us to either retool or drop those ministries that fail in this and he will lead us in the establishment of new ministries that promote sound teaching. We should decide now how we will respond to the changes he will want to make. Will we be receptive to them and encourage him in his leadership, or will we resist doing things differently than we have done in the past?

Finally, note that Jesus told us to teach “all” that He has commanded. Nothing is to be excluded. Listen to Paul’s testimony after three years ministering in Ephesus—

For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.  (Acts 20:27)

How are we doing? Can this be said of the ministry of Calvary? Is the teaching of the “whole counsel of God” a priority in our church? Is learning more and more about Christ and His Word a priority in your life?

Lord, send to us a pastor who will lead us to be more and more the kind of disciple making church that pleases you and fulfills your Great Commission.


07 – Just Visiting

Several years ago I spoke at a conference in another state which concluded on a Saturday afternoon. From there I was to drive about ten hours to another conference which was to begin the following Monday meaning I had to be on the road most of the intervening Sunday. I traveled several hours on Saturday, spent the night in a motel along the way, and got an early start the next morning. Since I was ahead of my projected schedule I made a spur of the moment decision to pull off at an exit and find a local church to visit.

On the edge of town I found my goal. I pulled into what appeared to be a typical Southern Baptist Church, an older red brick building, with about 35 cars in the parking lot. I walked in the front door and there to greet me was—nobody. I picked up a copy of the bulletin I found on a table and learned that Sunday School classes were to begin in about 5 minutes. So, off I went to explore.

I quickly found what was obviously the Sunday School wing and as I peeked into several classrooms a kind elderly lady approached me and asked if she could direct me to a class. She ushered me down the hallway and into a classroom where she introduced me to several of the men who were present. We struck up a brief conversation about the weather and something that had happened in town that past week that I never did understand.

Finally, ten minutes after the appointed time for class to begin, it dawned on several class members that they had no teacher that morning. A five-minute discussion ensued as they tried to determine who was supposed to be there to teach and what they should do next. It was finally decided that they would migrate to another classroom and listen to the lesson presented there. Upon arrival, there were more people to greet and converse with until finally a teacher came to the podium and, for the next 20 minutes, read the teacher’s edition of the Sunday School quarterly to us.

At the end of the class I was pointed out as a visitor and all were instructed to greet me on the way out.

From there we made our way to the auditorium where a number of church folk shook my hand and welcomed me to their church. None of the greetings seemed to be perfunctory and I had a real sense that these were warm, genuine believers who enjoyed being together on Sundays.

The service began with a piano prelude that caught me by surprise. A young man, certainly not 30 years old and perhaps much younger, made the piano sing! One would not expect to find such an accomplished pianist, nor one so young, in a small church in a small town. His playing was a real treat.

The pastor began the service by making a plea for several nursery workers. Evidently someone had not reported for duty so two high school girls rose to their feet and volunteered. We sang a couple of congregational songs and the pastor then read the announcements that were printed in the bulletin. He prayed and the pianist began his offertory. Immediately two ushers scrambled to find the collection plates and tapped two other men while walking to the front to help them take the collection.

The pastor’s message was, well, I have to confess I really don’t remember much about it. It was not a bad sermon—I would have remembered it if it had been. It just was not memorable and I am trying here not to recall how many unmemorable sermons I have preached over the years.

I wish I would have had time to linger and talk to some of the folk there. I never did get to speak with the pastor and I would have loved to tell the pianist what a delight it had been for me to enjoy his ministry that day. But, in the words of that great poet Willie Nelson, I had to be “On the Road Again.”

As I drove away that afternoon I found myself rehearsing in my mind what I had just experienced. Here was a church of about 90 – 100 people who loved the Lord and loved each other. They were comfortable in their small group and had settled into a familiar routine. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but I wondered how many of the men present were businessmen, or farmers, or community leaders. Did they run their businesses, or their farms, with the same care they devoted to the Lord’s work? They had become accustomed to a certain way of functioning that, as a one-time visitor seeing things with fresh eyes, made me cringe.

What did my experience in Sunday School communicate about the importance they placed on the teaching ministry of the Word? If you were a visitor with small children what kind of confidence in the function of their nursery would you have had? What did the lack of anyone to greet me upon my arrival communicate about their expectation that anyone would visit? How prepared do you believe those ushers were to deal with something unexpected?

I have thought about that little church often. Let let me urge you to try an experiment. Next Sunday, or for the next several Sundays, try to imagine that you know nothing about Calvary, and that you are a first time visitor. What do you see? What don’t you see that you should?

I urge this experiment on you with the goal of helping you understand what it will be like for our new pastor. You will not be able to erase completely what you already know about Calvary as you perform this experiment, but our new pastor will have no previous knowledge. What will he see? What will make him cringe? Perhaps it would be good to identify some of these things and correct them now so he will not have to spend his first several month with us cringing!


08 – A Sign, But of What?

This is a sign I passed here in the upstate. I cropped off the first line so the church could not be identified.

The purpose of a sign is to communicate with those who pass by. What does this sign communicate? What, if anything, do you think is happening in this church? Does this make you “cringe?” (See my blog post yesterday)

I don’t travel down the road where this church is located often. I don’t know if it has been changed and if it has, how long it took. I do wonder, however, if it might serve as a kind of metaphor for us to learn from.

09 – Things Our New Pastor Would Like You to Know (but won’t tell you himself)

Like you, I am praying fervently for our next pastor. I am praying that we will be able to call him soon and I am praying that God will give him great wisdom as he takes up the ministry here at Calvary. I don’t know who this man will be, what his background is, or how many kids he has. How old, how tall, how affable, how athletic, and how experienced he is are all still unknowns to me. There are, however, a number of things I do know about him and I believe I know him well enough to understand some things he would want you to know about himself.

How do I know these things, you ask? Good question. First, I have been this pastor coming into a new church. I have had successes and I have made horrible mistakes. I have had some wonderfully kind and godly folk in my churches and I have had one or two Diotrephes (you know, the man in 3 John who “loved to have the preeminence”).

But experience alone means very little. The most important reason I believe I know this man is because I know what the Scriptures have to say about him. But not only about him, but about us as well—how God wants us to minister to him and help him have an effective and productive ministry.

Beginning with my blog tomorrow, I will be talking with you about some vital issues as they relate to our new pastor. As the title says, these will be things he will want you to know, but for various reasons he will be hesitant to tell you himself. I, on the other hand, will have no reason to hesitate.

Sandy and I have been members of Calvary for five years now. We have watched, learned, fellowshipped, rejoiced, and prayed with you. It is my prayer that during these five years I have earned the right to be frank with you as together we seek to build each other up in the ministry He has called us to at Calvary. Please check in again tomorrow as we begin to explore some of the things our new pastor will wish he could tell you himself.


10 – I Am Accountable to God for You

Did you know that your pastor is responsible before God for you? That’s right. God holds your pastor accountable for your life and for your soul. Listen to what God says in Hebrews 13:17—

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who must give an account, so that they can do this with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.

This is a sobering reality. Your walk with the Lord, your hidden sin, your spiritual growth are your new pastor’s responsibility and God holds him accountable for you. Now that is not to say you are not responsible for these things yourself—your sin is not your pastor’s sin as well. But God does hold him accountable for doing all he can to warn you, encourage you, teach you, and admonish you in all aspects of your Christian life.

The word translated “obey” here does not mean your pastor is to be like a king in your life whose whims you must obey. A better translation might be “heed.” Listen to him, carefully consider what he has to tell you. If you do so, God says it will be profitable for you.

The pastoral ministry is a happy and joyous one. I will confess that I still miss the joy of ministering to my own people each week. Not long ago I preached in a church in Pennsylvania on a Sunday morning and had the joy of watching a pastor who obviously loved his ministry. Before and in between the services (they had to have two morning worship services) this pastor moved among his people interacting with them. He sat next to an elderly woman and prayed with her. Two small children ran up to him and he kneeled down and hugged both calling each by their first names. A young couple cornered him to show off her new engagement ring. One rough looking man with long hair and a leather jacket enveloped him in a huge bear hug lifting him from the ground as he thundered a loud greeting. This pastor had a joyous ministry with a group of people who obviously loved him.

But sadly, I speak often with pastors for whom the joy of ministry has completely drained away. Not because they had not been faithful in the ministry God had given them, but because they were trying to lead people who would not be led.

This passage is addressed to you, not your new pastor. Let’s call a man who is committed to a vigorously biblical ministry, who will preach the Word, who will lead us through the changes we must make, and then let’s follow him.

Our new pastor would want you to know that he will give an account before God for YOU! Will he be able to do so with joy or will his ministry here at Calvary be a source of grief for him?


11 – My Job Is Not to Keep Everyone Happy

Thrust yourself forward in time about two years. Our new pastor has now settled into the normal flow of his ministry here at Calvary and he has had two years to teach, preach, and lead. As you look back on the past two years how will you evaluate his ministry thus far? How would you grade him on a performance evaluation? What measuring rod or gauge would you use to arrive at your conclusions about his ministry?

Perhaps you would simply use objective criteria and evaluate his ministry in terms of attendance figures, church income, and converts—bodies, bucks, and baptisms. A successful pastor is one under whom the church grows.

Perhaps you would use a more subjective standard. What is the atmosphere of the church? Are people happy, is there peace, are there no divisions?

You may take a more personal approach. Do people like him? Is he kind, personable, affectionate, and irenic? Does he seem to be genuinely interested in me, my family, and my friends?

Our next pastor (or at least the kind of pastor we are seeking) would have you know that he does not want to be evaluated by any of these criteria.

Take the first approach, the objective. By these standards the mega-church TV “prosperity-gospel” preachers and most cult leaders would be awarded high marks while the Old Testament prophets would each receive a failing grade. The subjective approach is fickle. Every church is populated by at least a few people who simply will not be happy. Paul warned us that divisions are often necessary in a church—

I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it, because there must be divisions among you so it will become obvious who is approved among you.  (1 Cor. 11:19)

Probably the worst way to evaluate a preacher is his likability. Churches turn their pastors into politicians when they do this. Paul warned Timothy about churches that would call pastors who would merely scratch them behind the ear and keep everyone happy (2 Timothy 4:3).

Perhaps it would be wise to ask ourselves how God would have us evaluate this man’s ministry. Listen to how Paul would have the Corinthians evaluate his ministry—

As for us, let people think of us as Christ’s attendants and stewards of God’s mysteries. The key thing that is sought in stewards is that they be found faithful.  (1 Cor. 4:1-2)

So the question we should ask ourselves as we evaluate a pastor’s ministry is this, has this man been faithful in teaching the Word of God and pointing us in the direction God would have us go as He has revealed His will in His Word? How well the church prospers under that kind of ministry is more a result of us who are members of this church than it is of the pastor’s ministry. God blesses obedience and judges disobedience.

What will happen during the next two years when a church discipline issue arises and the person under discipline is related to several key families in the church? What if several members become vocal in the promotion of some kind of false teaching? Will we be thankful for a pastor who, because of his faithfulness to God and His Word, has to take a stand that will be unpopular with some?

When our new pastor arrives, if we are careful in vetting and calling him, he will faithfully show us from the Scriptures how we should function as a church. Will we be equally as faithful in following him? Our new pastor would have you know that his first responsibility is to be pleasing to God, not his flock. Will we be pleased to have that kind of pastor?


12 – Understand What the Bible Says About Paying Me

Our next Pastor is NOT going to get into this with you. He does not want to sound self-serving and he is going to trust God to provide for his needs. I believe it is a mistake many pastors make. We are commanded to teach “the whole counsel of God.” Every subject the Bible addresses should be taught by the pastor, including this one. If he does not, who will? Not many pastors have a guy like me blogging about such things. Hear what Paul says in 1 Cor. 9:7-14

Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat the fruit of it? Or who tends a flock and does not use the milk of the flock? I am not speaking these things according to human judgment, am I? Or does not the Law also say these things? For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing.” God is not concerned about oxen, is He? Or is He speaking altogether for our sake? Yes, for our sake it was written, because the plowman ought to plow in hope, and the thresher to thresh in hope of sharing the crops. If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? If others share the right over you, do we not more? Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things so that we will cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ. Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the food of the temple, and those who attend regularly to the altar have their share from the altar? So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel.

Paul’s logic is clear. Even though he had made a personal decision not to accept support from the churches in which he ministered, they still had a responsibility to support those who were to have a continuing ministry to them as their pastors.

“But Donn,” you complain, “No one at Calvary thinks we should not pay our pastor. What is your point?”

Stay with me here. I wanted to begin by establishing the basic fact that God requires us to pay our pastor. How much we should pay him is the more controversial question. Did you know the Bible answers that for us as well? No, it does not give us a dollar amount but listen to this:

The elders (pastors) who manage well should be considered worthy of double pay, especially those who are laboring at preaching and teaching.  (1 Timothy 5:17)

Paul is prescribing an attitude, not a figure. A mind-set, not a number. When it comes time for us to vote on a budget, and when the various committees meet to decide upon a salary package, how will they approach their decisions? Will it be “How much does our pastor need to get by?” or will it be “How generous can we afford to be?”

Paul urges us to consider our pastor to be worthy of twice the pay. No, we will not be able to afford to pay him double, but we should aspire to do so. Remember, our pastor will probably be one of the best educated people in our church. How many of us have a Master’s Degree in whatever it is we do? He will have paid for his education himself. If the pastor receives a higher income than I do will I be jealous or will I be thankful?

Our new pastor will have many burdens, paying his bills should not be one of them. He should be paid well enough that he can purchase a home in one of the new subdivisions that surround our church. He should be able to purchase a vehicle that is dependable and comfortable. He should be provided life insurance, health insurance, and a generous pension. His wife should be free to work outside the home if she desires, but she should not HAVE to work for the family to survive.

“But Donn,” you say, “we can’t pay him more than we have. All these things will bust our church budget.”

Well, I will admit I am not intimately familiar with our church’s finances. All I am doing is pleading for a biblical mind set as we make these decisions. There are many good and worthy ways a church can spend money. Of course we have to pay the utility bills, purchase insurance, and do maintenance on our buildings. But of all the things in our budget, only one is commanded in the Scriptures—paying the pastor.

Missions, agencies, camps, schools, accelerated mortgage payments, and benevolence are all good and worthy things. But if a church cannot obey Christ in paying their pastor because they are supporting these other things, then ultimately, it is the pastor, not the church that is supporting them. Only one budget item is prescribed in the Word. All others come in second to that priority.


13 – How Not to Call a Pastor, Part 1

We are soon to make a decision about calling a pastor. Because it is one of the most important decisions a church makes I want to have a discussion with you about how this decision should be made. I have recently heard horror stories about how several Baptist churches went about making this decision.

One church contacted the powers that be at the state convention headquarters soon after their pastor retired and sought guidance. A convention official (whom they had never met before and who knew nothing about the church) met with the deacons and urged them to call a man he knew, Pastor X, to be their next pastor. Two weeks later Pastor X preached on a Sunday morning and following his message the church voted to call him—knowing nothing more about Pastor X than the information contained on a one-page resume that the convention official had provided them.

Another church formed a pulpit committee as per their constitution and the committee quickly got to work sorting through resumes. They did their work diligently and arrived at agreement about a candidate to recommend to the church. The committee presented the candidate to the church for the first time on a Sunday morning and, following a sermon preached by the candidate, the church voted to call him.

I called these “horror stories” because both churches—actual churches I have first-hand knowledge of—disobeyed the clear instructions God has given us for calling a pastor. Listen to Paul’s directive in 1 Timothy 5:22

Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thereby share responsibility for the sins of others; keep yourself free from sin.

The laying on of hands is a metaphor, or a symbol, for calling and installing a pastor. Paul’s point is clear. If a church calls a man to the ministry without doing all the things to check him out that are clearly laid out in the Scriptures, the church shares responsibility for the sins that pastor may later commit. Churches invite chaos when they disobey God in this and fail to thoroughly vet, investigate, and question any man who would serve as their pastor.

In my blog posts to come in the next several days, and perhaps weeks, I will be examining what the Scriptures have to say about calling a pastor and offering an opinion or two along the way. Check back tomorrow when we will look at another mistake churches often make.


14 – How Not to Call a Pastor, Part 2

There is a heinous bit of false teaching that has plagued the church of Jesus Christ for centuries. It is identified by several names and it has been more prominent in some eras and in some church groups than in others but it has wreaked havoc everywhere it has gained a foothold. In our day it is centered in Charismatic and Pentecostal circles but it can be found in many conservative and evangelical churches as well. It is the belief that God has not done enough for us in giving us His Word. There is more to know, there is more to understand about God and His will than He has revealed to us in the Scriptures. God will reveal more to us if we look elsewhere.

In New Testament times it was known as Gnosticism (from the Greek word for to know). Gnostics claimed to have special knowledge about God and you had to be one of them to get this special knowledge. It has been the foundation block of most cults. Mormonism’s Joseph Smith claimed to have received special revelation from God that no one else had. Mary Baker Eddy, Charles Russell, and Ellen White each claimed special knowledge from God that went beyond the Bible and on the basis of those “revelations” we now have Christian Science, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Seventh Day Adventism.

But what does the Bible say? Listen to Paul’s words to Timothy—

All Scripture is breathed out by God and is useful for teaching, for conviction, for correction, and for disciplined training in righteousness, that the man from God may be complete, thoroughly furnished for every good work.   2 Timothy 3:16-17

Did you get that? Three times God says His Word is sufficient. We are

Thoroughly furnished
For every good work

Peter said much the same thing when he said that with the Scriptures God has given to us “all things that pertain to life and Godliness.”  (2 Peter 1:3)

You can understand the appeal. Believers long for heaven and when a loved one dies they search for more information. Irresponsible publishers put forward books by authors who claim they died, witnessed heaven, and returned with a message from Jesus—information beyond what God has given in His Word. But do you remember the story of the rich man and Lazarus? The rich man plead with Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers but Abraham replied,

“They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.” But he said, “No, father Abraham. But if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.” Then he replied, “If they won’t listen to Moses and the Prophets, they won’t be persuaded even if somebody rises from the dead.”   Luke 16:29-31

Believers, not satisfied with what God has revealed in His Word, turn elsewhere for the information they desire. God does not give answers in Scripture to the questions they have about who to marry, what school to attend, what church to join, what car to buy, or even what Pastor to call. So rather than doing the hard work of studying what the Bible does say about these matters and making wise decisions on the basis of what God has already revealed, they seek for God’s guidance through feelings, promptings, urges, dreams, tongues, or God’s “still, small voice.” You should be on guard whenever you hear someone begin a discussion with the words, “I felt led to . . .”

Dear friends at Calvary, such thinking is not harmless error, it is heresy. It is an assault on the goodness and character of God. It is unbelief. It is a rejection of God’s Word as the sufficient revelation to mankind. The Scriptures themselves claim to be sufficient and no where do they teach us to pursue such communication from God.

The relevance of all this to our search for a pastor should be obvious. In the days to come I will be reviewing with you what the Bible says about calling a pastor. Nowhere, however, does the Bible instruct us to employ these kinds of mystical tactics to discover God’s man for our church.


15 – God’s Kind of Pastor, Part 1

The reason I left you behind in Crete was so that you might set straight those things that were left undone, and appoint elders in every city according to the program I laid out for you.
(Titus 1:5)

These were Paul’s words to his young co-worker Titus. The three chapters that follow is a record of the instructions Titus was given to “set straight” the many things still left undone among the churches on the island. The first item on Titus’ agenda was the appointing of pastors in each of the churches.

Titus was to be careful. This was the most important thing on his list. All else depended on doing this correctly. He is not instructed to seek special revelation from God about whom to appoint. Paul, as an Apostle with apostolic authority, could have made it easy and simply told Titus whom to appoint. But he did not. Instead Paul gave Titus a list of qualifications. He was to carefully evaluate prospects and appoint those who met these standards:

if any man is above reproach, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion. For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.
(Titus 1:6-9)

The first element mentioned is that the perspective elder must be “beyond suspicion.” The word means “unimpeachable,” and refers to a person against whom a charge could not be brought successfully. In other words, the pastor must be one who is respected in his church and community. He may not be one about whom charges of sexual, financial, or other wrongdoing could be rightly leveled. He is, as Paul told Timothy, to be one who is “trustworthy.” Nothing could be of greater importance for a pastor. If people are to unburden their hearts to him, they must be able to do so freely, recognizing that he is one to whom they may entrust such information. The man who divulges in sermons or conversations what he has learned in counseling sessions, for instance, will for good reasons soon find himself considered “untrustworthy.”

He is not to be polygamous, but the husband of one wife. This is not so much a problem in our society as it is elsewhere in the world. Polygamy was common among the Jews who were numerous in Crete. Today, the idea of marriage fidelity, however, is important for every pastor. Often this phrase has been wrongly interpreted so as to exclude anyone who has been divorced. Now it is true that how a man has been divorced and under what circumstances may indeed disqualify him, but that is not the point of this passage. Rather, he is a man whose heart is entirely devoted to one woman.

Check back next week when we will continue our study of this important passage.


16 – God’s Kind of Pastor, Part 2

Whoever is beyond suspicion, is the husband of only one wife, who has trustworthy children not open to a charge of incorrigibility or rebellion. An overseer, as God’s steward, must be beyond suspicion, not one who wants his own way, not hot-headed, not dependent on wine, not a fighter, not greedy for money;   (Titus 1:6-7)

The pastor must have trustworthy children not open to the charge incorrigibility or rebellion. This requirement often has been read too rigidly. All pastors have children who are childish. The terms used, however, are strong ones: literally, “unsalvageableness” and of “wild, untamed” behavior. He is speaking of children whose conduct corresponds to Eli’s sons behavior (1 Samuel 2:22-25; 3:13), not of the sinful behavior that every child exhibits. The pastor’s children must be loyal to him and not rebel against his discipline. As Paul told Timothy, he must “manage his household well.” After all, much counseling and pastoral ministry concerns family problems, a large number of which have to do with children. It should be evident that the pastor must have learned how to raise his own family if he is going to instruct others in doing so. I plan to say more about this in a separate blog later.

As God’s steward he must also be beyond suspicion. This applies to motives, to the truth he dispenses, and to his handling of money. There have been far too many scandals in the church because this qualification has been neglected. Pastors must do all they can to avoid any suspicion in these areas. Ministry is a stewardship in which one serves God as He has instructed.

The elder must not be one who wants his own way. That is to say, he is thoughtful of the desires and wishes of others. He is not so self-centered that he must have his way even when giving in to others would cause difficulties to cease. That he will be dealing with many persons who are self-centered is a given. Unless his attitude is different, he will not be able to handle their issues properly. Pastors will discover that good teaching requires one to give of himself to those he ministers; not merely demand that his people do as he sees fit.

He must not be hot-headed. To lose control makes him useless as a pastor. He believes that a soft answer turns away wrath Proverbs 15:1. Again and again church folk will do and say things that could push the button of those who allow themselves to be wired that way and pastors must be able to keep their cool in the midst of gross wrong, outrageous actions and the like. All of these things are part and parcel of the pastoral enterprise.

He must not be dependent on wine. Pastors often deal with drunkards and drug addicts. What will they tell them if they, themselves, have fallen prey to similar problems? Perhaps this again is something that should be addressed in a separate post. Let me just add something that I will clearly admit is opinion. We must be honest with the Scriptures. They do not teach that believers, or even pastors, must totally abstain from alcohol. See 1 Timothy 5:23.

In my case, it should be obvious to all that I struggle with my weight. I have redoubled my efforts to lose in recent days but still, it is a problem for me. I already know that I have to fight for control in this one area of my life. I do not need to expose myself to other issues that would also require me to exercise self-control and self-discipline. Therefore, I decided a long time ago to simplify this area of my life by abstaining completely from alcohol. I do not believe any of the joys of my life have been diminished because of that decision. Because alcohol is such a pervasive problem in our culture, and because the warnings in Scripture about drunkenness are so dire, I would urge the same decision on other pastors.

They also must not be fighters. Paul speaks, literally, of those who get into fist fights. But, though that may not be likely, the warning might apply to the overly argumentative person or the one who takes up every verbal challenge. The wise pastor knows when and how to respond and when to remain silent.

He must not be greedy for money. The television preachers who preach a prosperity gospel have wreaked havoc in our day. They have shamelessly enriched themselves by preaching heresy and manipulating the emotions of unsuspecting followers. But this is not a problem only among high profile preachers. My immediate predecessor, in one of the churches I pastored, was such a man. He “worked” the church much like a farmer would “work” his farm. He especially befriended many of the older, financially secure members of the church, spent long hours “calling” on them, and gained their trust. He then would explain his “needs” to them and persuade them to help him financially with his “ministry.” One elderly couple even bought him a new car!

With that, Paul’s concludes his list of negative elements to be wary of when calling a pastor. In our next post we will begin looking at his positive qualifications.


17 – God’s Kind of Pastor, Part 3

Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves whatever is good, self-restrained, fair, holy, self-controlled, holding firmly to the teaching of the trustworthy Word, that he may be able to encourage by healthy teaching, and convict of their error those who object.   (Titus 1:8-9)

With these verses Paul begins to list the positive qualifications of a pastor. First, the pastor must be hospitable. That is to say, unlike Diotrophes (who wanted the place of preeminence, and would not share the limelight with others — 3 John 10), the pastor will be delighted to help others in need and put their interests above his own.

Second, the elder is to be one who loves whatever is good. That phrase translates the single Greek word philagathos, which carries the idea of having strong affection for that which is intrinsically good. A pastor should love those things and those people who are genuinely good and be a promoter of those things in the church and in his community.

Third, he must be self-restrained or “sensible” as the NASB translates it. The sensible person is in command of his mind. He has control of the things he thinks about and does. He does not allow circumstances or the immorality or foolishness of others to distract him and gain his attention and interest. He not only does not become involved in things that are outright immoral and unspiritual but also avoids things that are trivial, foolish, and unproductive. He knows his priorities and is devoted to them.

Fourth, he must also be fair or “just.” It denotes that which is proper, right, and fitting. He has a commitment to and understanding of that which is just and equitable. This quality is crucial to the credibility of a leader.

He must be holy. That is, his lifestyle ought to exhibit the “set apart” (the meaning of the word “holy”) behavior of the instructed, mature Christian. He will be growingly putting off the old sinful ways and, in their place, putting on the new biblical alternatives that please God.

And he will be self-controlled. The self-controlled pastor walks with God in the integrity of his heart. He has the continuing grace of God working in his life to the degree that he is spiritually mature and morally pure. He does not walk uprightly because others are watching him or there might be consequences for his ministry if he does not. Living a life that is pleasing to God is innate within him. He does so without the need for external controls on his life.

In addition to these personal qualities, the good pastor must hold firmly to the trustworthy Word. He must be doctrinally sound, exegetical astute, and must base his preaching and his counsel wholly upon the Scriptures. When he fits this rubric, he will be able (positively) to encourage by healthy teaching and (negatively) convict of their error those who object. The latter task is essential in a pastor although often lacking in men who desire only to please. Yet because doctrine affects living (cf. Titus 1:1), bad doctrine leads to bad living. Pastors must be able to refute doctoral error and willing to do it as aggressively as Paul did.


18 – Managing Well

In addition to his instructions to Titus about choosing pastors to serve the churches of Crete he also gave instructions to Timothy. These instructions are quite similar to those given to Titus but there are several additional items. Today I would like to point out just one of those:

He must manage his own household well, keeping his children in subjection with complete dignity (if someone doesn’t know how to manage his own household, how can he care for God’s church?).   (1 Timothy 3:4-5)

Paul uses two important words here and it is instructive to understand them both. The word “manage” (proistemi) is a word that means to lead with authority. He is in charge of his family, he rules there and has his children “in subjection.” But in the church, Paul uses a different word. He says the pastor is to “care for God’s church” (epimeleomai). It is the same word Luke used to describe the care the Good Samaritan took of the wounded traveler.

But in using the two different terms he draws a hard connecting line. If he cannot “manage” his own household, it should not be expected that he can “care” for the church. Here we have illustrated for us the great paradox of pastoral ministry. He not given authority to impose his will on the church in the same way he is in his home, but the skill set is the same.

Perhaps a parable would be helpful. Imagine a hotel owner who hires a man to manage his hotel. The owner gives his manager authority to run things and gives him this instruction: “serve my guests.” The owner then leaves his manager in charge and takes a long trip overseas.

The manager goes to work and diligently oversees the operations of the hotel. He trains his workers carefully and makes sure the rooms are clean, bathrooms are spotless, fresh towels are supplied, and guests are made to feel at home. Any problem a guest has is solved quickly and professionally.

One day his switchboard is inundated with calls from the third floor that there is a man running up and down the hallway screaming obscenities. This will not do, so he calls the police and the man, who is also a guest in the hotel, is taken away protesting loudly that because he is a paying guest he has the right to do as he pleases.

Several days later another guest is spotted on the security camera loading the television from his room into his car. The manager runs out to the parking lot and confronts the man who, instead of relinquishing the TV, becomes indignant when the the manager refuses to help him lift it into his car.

Later that night a guest sneaks his two small dogs into his room and leaves to have supper at a local restaurant. In his absence the dogs yap continuously annoying the guests on the entire floor. Even though the guest has paid for his room, upon returning, the manager insists that he leave.

I think it is an apt metaphor for the difficulties a pastor faces. The owner, our Lord, has left him in charge. He is to “care for” His people. But in the course of doing so he must restrain some kinds of activity. He must forbid those kinds of things that bring disruption to the lives of those he is charged to “care for.” He is ultimately responsible to God, not his people, for how he ministers. In the course of that ministry he will displease some but it is his Master Who must be pleased above all.

Our new pastor will be entrusted with the responsibility to “care for” Calvary. He will have to insist that some things change—that we stop doing some things we are now doing and begin doing some things we have never done before—because “caring for” us dictates those changes. Are we ready to follow the lead of such a man?


19 – Contaminated

Let me pose a question. You have two glasses. One contains pure clean water, the other holds foul sludge. If you pour the dirty water into the clean, the bad water contaminates the pure. But if you pour the clean water into the foul, does it purify the dirty water?

Ok, silly question. Either way you go, the bad always befouls the good. The prophet Haggai posed a similar question—

This is what the LORD of Hosts says: Ask the priests for a ruling.  “If a man is carrying consecrated meat in the fold of his garment, and it touches bread, stew, wine, oil, or any other food, does it become holy?”

The priests answered, “No.”

Then Haggai asked, “If someone defiled by contact with a corpse touches any of these, does it become defiled?”

The priests answered, “It becomes defiled.”

Then Haggai replied, “So is this people, and so is this nation before Me”—this is the LORD’s declaration. “And so is every work of their hands; even what they offer there is defiled.   (Haggai 2:11-14)

The Jews had been restored to the land following their captivity but were disobeying God in that they were focused upon building their own houses while neglecting the rebuilding of God’s house, the Temple. Their sin defiled the good they sought to do. God was displeased even with their sacrifices because their sin.

So it is in the life of a church. All the good things a church seeks to do—missions, evangelism, prayer, giving—are all odious in the nostrils of God if at the same time the church is disobeying God in some aspect of church life. The sin, the disobedience, befouls all the good that the church seeks to do.

What will happen at Calvary if our new pastor arrives, opens his Bible, and shows us we have failed to obey God in some way? How will we respond? Will we be thankful for a new pastor who understands that the blessing of God is contingent upon obedience in every area or will we chafe at the idea that we need to change? Let’s decide this issue now. Let’s set our hearts toward obedience now, before he arrives.


20 – Let’s Preach the Gospel Less!

OK, as you suspect, my title is intended to be provocative. Perhaps a better title that speaks more to my point would be this—Let’s Preach More than the Gospel! Listen to the words of Scripture—

Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God.  Hebrews 6:1

The author of Hebrews had just chided his readers for being immature in the faith, being unable to digest solid food, and having to rely on milk which was intended for consumption by children.

. . . you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.   Hebrews 5:11-14

Although my title may have been confusing, the author of Hebrews is clear. Believers are expected to move on from the initial gospel they first embraced and become partakers of what Paul termed “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). Churches where the gospel is the subject of every sermon and where success is defined in terms of how many people walk the aisle to be saved, soon become populated with the kind of people Hebrews warns us about becoming.

Today, it has become popular for churches to claim they are “Gospel-Centered.” In these places, you will often hear the slogan, “Preach the gospel to yourself every day.” Of course we should never forget God’s great grace extended to us in His Son. The Lord’s Table was instituted for just this purpose. But understanding the Gospel does not provide immediate sanctification.

Instead, believers who will attend Calvary under our new pastor should expect to be taught the full range of issues addressed in the Bible. How do believers handle depression, control anger, conquer worry, raise and discipline children, love their wives, speak to one another, deal with a difficult past, endure suffering, deal with those who sin against them, refute error, forgive others, make decisions, deal with guilt, handle money, and yes, witness to others? All these and countless other problems are addressed robustly in the Scriptures.

Our next pastor will certainly understand this. He will take us beyond the “elementary teaching about Christ” and not lay the foundation again and again week after week. Instead, having poured the foundation, he will build (edify) on that foundation by preaching the Word, showing us how it intersects with all aspects of our lives.

21 – Jesus Is Knocking

Most people are familiar with this iconic painting based on Revelation 3:20—

Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.

It is generally understood to depict Jesus knocking on the door of a person’s heart seeking admission. This verse is often used in the course of an evangelistic effort. Christ can only knock, the person must open the door and invite Jesus in to be saved.

It is one of the most widely misunderstood and misapplied passages in Scripture. If you will look carefully at the context of this verse, you will see that Jesus is not knocking on the door of a person’s heart, He is knocking on the door of a church!

Jesus had just issued a message to each of seven different churches in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey). These were not seven metaphorical churches nor were these messages parables. He addressed seven literal churches in existence at that time. These churches had specific problems which Jesus addressed directly. He concluded His seven messages with a summary statement which was intended for all seven churches—a summary message that ends this way—

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  (v. 22)

One reason this passage has been so widely misunderstood and misapplied is because it is usually quoted out of context. Ripping it from the previous verse causes us to miss Jesus’ point entirely. Listen—

Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.

Having issued His warnings to these seven churches Jesus pleads with them to heed and obey. If they do not, He will “reprove and discipline” them.