Archive for the ‘Pastoral Ministry’ Category

Transitional1Just a couple of weeks ago, someone asked me, “So how do you like being an interim pastor?” I responded, “I am not an interim pastor. I am a transitional pastor.” He gave me a look of incredulity and drilled down, “What’s the difference?”

While the two terms appear to be interchangeable, the differences lie in the intentionality of the transitional pastor. An interim pastor fills the gap or vacancy caused by the departure of the previous pastor by generally preaching on Sundays and leading the Wednesday prayer meeting or service. He may provide some additional leadership, but generally he has no specific charge for him to lead the congregation. He may even be considered as the permanent pastor.

With Transitional Pastoral Ministry, the congregation and the transitional pastor enter into a covenant relationship whereby the transitional pastor agrees to provide spiritual leadership to the church and lead the church throughout the transitional period. The church agrees to be loving and gracious to the transitional pastor and his family and to pray for spiritual power in his life and work. The church further promises to relate to him as a God’s anointed leader for the task, to support his leadership, and to talk with him about personal concerns instead of talking about him to others.

Therefore, the transitional pastor becomes the lead pastor for the congregation. He leads the church through the spiritual, situational, and psychological stages of the transition that concludes with the church calling a permanent pastor. The transitional pastor helps the church to view the church’s history through the eyes of Christ and assess the church’s current reality redemptively. By affirming biblical principles for church growth, he will lead the church to focus on kingdom results. He will guide the church in a complete review of its documents, procedures, and ministries. He will also train the pastor search committee and assist the committee as a resource; however, he will not be available for a call as the permanent pastor.

In June the Ebenezer Baptist Church of Hammond, Louisiana, called me to serve as its Transitional Pastor. Since that time, I have come to love it and appreciate the value of a transitional pastor in a local church. I believe that through the transitional pastoral process, the church I serve can become more effective as it learns from past experiences, frees itself from hindering traditions, and replaces discord with harmony. As a result of the transition, the church will come to understand its mission and will develop church practices that should enable the church to fulfill its mission. Too often misunderstandings exist about the pastor’s role and his responsibilities which preclude his effectiveness in serving as pastor. The transition period allows for the transitional pastor to reset the expectations for both the pastor and the congregation. This will likely mean that energy previously spent addressing conflict will be redirected so that the church enjoys an increased participation in ministry and mission.

1 cor. 9.22.001Recently I posted about purchasing a couple of tickets to a baseball game for my wife and me to attend. Our local AAA baseball team had partnered with a semiprofessional football in our area for a one-night promotional event through which the Bayou Lacombe Cardinals football team would receive a portion of the proceeds. I also happen to work with the team as their public address announcer.

I had no idea that my post — meant to urge others to purchase tickets to support the football team — would be controversial. Because I am also a pastor, my association with the team was questioned, and I offered an immediate straightforward answer: “I’m building relationships with people who need the gospel.” Somehow this led to a charge that my “popularity” has to do with my willingness to please people and to conform to their ways. The charge continued to what must have been the aim of the original question, which was to disparage the use of contemporary music in churches.

Okay, I’ll admit it. I enjoy contemporary music. But I also enjoy the sacred hymns. However, I also enjoy many other styles of music. When asked “What kind of music do I want the church to use?” I always respond, “Music that honors God and that is done well and that relates to the people. I define “done well” as that which is presented as the best the particular congregation, singers, or instrumentalists can offer because we ought always offer our best when it comes to worshiping the Lord.”

Throughout my ministry I have pursued a variety of interests in order to connect with people in the community. The goal has always been the same — to build relationships with people who need the gospel. The apostle Paul modeled this (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:19-23). Paul clearly stated his purpose for conforming to the customs and opinions of men by stating “I have become all things to all people, so that I may by every possible means save some” (1 Cor. 9:22). What mattered to Paul was not him, his rights, or his preferences, but the gospel. The gospel consumed his life.

The controversy surrounding “contemporary music” hardly smacks of something new. In 1873 (that’s more than 150 years ago!), something new came on the scene when the great preacher D.L. Moody’s singing associate, Ira D. Sankey, introduced what became known as the “singing of the gospel.” Sankey’s style completely revolutionized the music of the church.

Before Sankey, a cappella singing of the psalms and hymns and spiritual songs had always been an important part of worship services. However, Sankey introduced a style of popular hymn calculated to awaken the careless, to melt the hardened, and to guide the inquiring souls to the Lord Jesus Christ. Often when the Moody-Sankey team came to town for an evangelistic campaign, the people would come out of curiosity to see and hear Sankey sing. Pedaling his small cabinet organ, he would sing out in his rich, melodious voice, and completely captivate his audience. During this time many church members thought that the use of an organ or any kind of musical instrument to accompany the voices of singers was wicked and worldly. Strict church people, accustomed only to the unaccompanied old psalm-singing type of church music called Sankey’s songs “human hymns.” It took tact on the part of Sankey to break down the prejudice against organ music. He helped transition the practice and the result was a wave of well-composed and great theologically sound hymns which are still sung in churches today.

I believe that each generation needs its Ira Sankeys who can tactfully make the theology of Scripture speak to the people. People often say that the older hymns have such theological value and that we should be teaching their value and not have them lost. If by teaching the value of hymns, you mean that we should sing songs that have robust theological meaning, I wholeheartedly agree. If you mean that we need to teach a particular style of music, that’s actually missing the point. People are converted to Christ through the gospel not through a style of music.

What matters is the theological truth that comes from Scripture. Words are what matters — not the melodies or tunes or even the instruments. We should sing truth. We can sing truth with new songs and new instruments, and we can sing truth with old songs and new instruments and new arrangements.

It comes down to getting the saving message of the gospel to people. I cannot win everyone, but I’m willing to do whatever is biblically permissible to win some. And I’m willing to rub elbows with anyone if it means that I might have the opportunity to speak the gospel.

 

 

 

 

I often use “Truth is unkillable” as my salutation on emails and letters. Occasionally, someone will ask, “What does that mean? Why do you sign off like that?”

I started using the salutation after I had attended a conference at Southwestern Theological Baptist Seminary held in January 2012. The conference, “Anabaptists and Contemporary Baptists,” included speakers including Paige Patterson, Malcolm Yarnell, and Emir Caner. One speaker in particular included that surprised me was Rick Warren of Saddleback Community Church.

Known also as the Radical Reformers, 16th-century Anabaptists, such as Menno Simons (the namesake of the modern Mennonite church), Pilgram Marpeck and Balthasar Hubmaier, defended the authority of Scripture, the practice of believer’s baptism and religious liberty. Modern Baptists hold these convictions in common with the Radical Reformers, who for their beliefs often faced persecution and death at the hands of both Catholics and Protestants alike.

Warren pointed out during his address that the word “radical” means “of the root,” as portrayed in most areas of life. In Botany, for example, “radical leaves” on a tree are closest to the root; in mathematics, “the radical is the root of the equation;” and in grammar, “the radical is the root with all prefixes and suffixes removed.” In most areas of life, Warren said, “radical” does not mean “extreme.”

Radical means “rooted.” The Radical Reformers were rooted in Christ and rooted in the Word of God. As rooted believers, as the Radical Reformers read the Scriptures following the Luther’s Reformation, they concluded that Christianity had strayed from its doctrinal moorings. In other words, the faith and practices of the Catholic Church did not root in Scripture but in tradition. The Radical Reformers also concluded that the magisterial reformation did not go far enough.

“The Anabaptists didn’t just believe in the purpose of the Great Commission,” Warren said, but also in “the exact order of the Great Commission.” The church should first go, then preach the Gospel and make disciples, then baptize those who believe, and then teach them to do everything the Lord Jesus Christ has commanded.

At the conference I picked up several books about the Anabaptists, including one on the writings of Balthasar Hubmaier, the greatest theologian of the early Anabaptists. He used this salutation on all his writing: Die Wahrheit ist untödlich (“Truth is unkillable”). “Unkillable” is not a word in the English language; however, it is the best translation of Hubmaier’s word.

We live in an age where many people want to define truth for themselves — to make it relative or convenient. But truth does not change. We need a reliable source, and the world’s culture will never deliver on a reliable source. We must root our lives on the only reliable source — Jesus Christ. He has given us His Word. The Word alone is reliable — eternal — unkillable!

soccerNothing can stop the world’s most dedicated sports fan from supporting his beloved team.

Ali Demirkaya, nicknamed  “Yamuk Ali” (or crazy Ali) by the Internet, is a soccer fan of the local soccer team in Denizlispor, Turkey. Ali, who had been banned from Denizli Atatürk stadium for unspecified reasons, took the only reasonable course to watch the game. He rented a crane. soccer fan

From high above just beyond the stadium limits, the diehard Denizlispor fan watched his team vanquish Gaziantepspor 5-0. He even led the crowd in a chant.

“That match was very important for our team,” he explained to Yeni Asir newspaper. “I had to go to the police station to sign a paper to show that I am not watching the match in the stadium. Then I quickly went to rent the crane.” Social media in the area was full of pictures of a jubilant Ali cheering from his perch.

Ultimately, police were summoned and Ali was forced to lower the crane. Nevertheless, he still ended the day on a high note. The stunt only cost him the equivalent of $86, he wasn’t cited or fined by the authorities, and his team won 5-0.

How far would you go to get something you wanted? It will likely come down to how bad you want it. If it means something to you, you’ll get creative to make sure you don’t miss out. Sometimes God’s blessing comes to those willing to go to extremes.

God offers spiritual disciplines as the means to understand His heart and His will for our lives. The disciplines of prayer, meditating on His Word, and fasting are only some of them. Unfortunately, many believers think that the spiritual disciplines are extreme and only have to be used in dire circumstances. However, if you really want to know that heart of God, you’ll be more than willing to do whatever it takes.

bushThe story of Moses’ call has always interested me. Recently the Lord drove me to take a fresh look at how God works in our lives — often without our realizing how intricately He engages into every aspect of our days. While God is always up to something, it’s not His way to explain Himself other than to record in His Word so that we learn from Him. We can certainly agree with what Isaiah the prophet said about God, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not my ways” (Isaiah 55:8).

As the book of Exodus opens, it appears that God has forgotten Israel and His promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Egypt has enslaved Israel and has held them in bondage and treated them harshly for more than 350 years. Because Israel had increased in number and because the Egyptian king feared that Israel might join Egypt’s enemies, the king ordered the execution of all Hebrew boy babies by throwing them into the Nile River. One Hebrew mother hid her son for three months until she placed a floating basket which carried her son into the river. The Egyptian king’s daughter rescued the baby, and the baby’s sister suggested that she could find a Hebrew woman to nurse him. In this way, the baby’s own mother would be the chief influencer of that baby for first few years of his life.

As Moses grew up in the household of the Egyptian king, he was afforded all the best of Egypt. However, the early nurturing of his mother took hold. Moses would come to identify with his people. When he came to the rescue of a Hebrew slave who was being beaten by his Egyptian taskmaster, Moses killed the Egyptian. A couple of days later, Moses fled Egypt fearing for his own life.

Exodus 2 closes with Moses gone from Egypt and caring for sheep in Midian while the Israelites still suffered the hardship of slavery. While the text of Exodus gives no time frame, Deacon Stephen does in Acts 7. In his testimony in his trial, Stephen noted that Moses was 40 when he identified with his own people and that it was another 40 years when he had the encounter with the burning bush. There’s no other record of what Moses may have been doing other than the ordinary day-to-day work of caring for sheep and providing for his family. In other words, it would appear that God had forgotten His people in Egypt. But we would do well remember that God doesn’t get in our kind of hurry.

The day that God showed up in the form of a burning bush on the side of mountain, Moses was caring for Jethro’s sheep. God took the initiative. Moses was minding his own business and had been doing to for 40 years when God summoned him to come up to Mount Horeb.

This week I read the account of J.P. Lowery of Mount Pleasant, Texas, who had recently celebrated his 100th birthday. What got my attention was the headline in the Southern Baptist Texan: “100-year old Sunday School Teacher Began Ministering at 60.” Born in Mississippi, Lowery was just 5 years old when his father died. His mother provided for the family sharecropping until he was 14 when the family moved to a farm in West Texas. They didn’t live near a church, but they did go to Sunday School in a two-room schoolhouse where he attended school. After serving in the Army in the late 40s, Lowery returned home. He worked as a police officer and had an electronics repair business. He and his wife moved to Mount Pleasant after visiting his sister there in the late 50s.

Lowery commented, “I was living a pretty good life but I needed to become a Christian.” It wasn’t until he had a talk with the pastor of First Baptist Church of Cookville that he realized he was lost. “I had lived all those 41 years and thought I was a pretty good guy. The Holy Spirit got ahold of me and made me realize I was going to hell if I didn’t change my ways.”

It sounds to me, like Moses, J.P. Lowery was minding his own business when God showed up in his life and invited him to have a relationship with Him. Lowery concluded, “You know, if God wants you to do something, He’ll manage for you to do it and that’s the way it happened for me.”

This past Saturday I preached Mrs. Edna’s funeral. She had lived more than ninety years on the earth, although she actually fell a little less than a decade of her goal. I noted at the funeral that everyone of us had our “Edna stories” that were actually our own precious treasures. Rather than rehearsing a few of those choice stories, I urged those in attendance to treasure the hidden anecdotes that we had hidden in our memories.

Edna knew the Lord, and at life’s end, that’s all that really matters. It’s not about accumulating wealth, titles, properties, or fame. It’s what a person did with Jesus that matters. Edna had trusted Christ in life, and she had trusted Him in death.

The sorrow we felt at Edna’s funeral was not hers. No, the sorrow we felt was ours. We lost a friend who had made us laugh and cry. She was someone we enjoyed and sometimes just put up with!

The apostle Paul wrote these words to the church in Corinth: For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1, ESV). The word “know” in this verse means “assurance borne out of conviction,” so Paul knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that death did not signal the end of a person’s existence. He used the word “tent” as a synonym for our earthly existence or life, calling it “our earthly home.” In contrast to “tent,” Paul said that “we have a building from God, a house not made with hands.”

We would do well to remember that when Jesus left His rightful place in heaven that the apostle John describe it as “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14, ESV). John’s word for dwell literally means “to pitch a tent” or “to tabernacle.” In other words, when Christ came to the earth, He lived as a human being — “He pitched His tent among us.” When He had accomplished His mission on earth — His death, burial, and resurrection — He returned to His Father in heaven.

Scientists tell us that the cells in the human body continually die and replenish so that every seven years we get an entirely new body. That means that Edna had lived in several bodies! We did not weep for her when she moved from the first to the second or imagesthe fifth or the sixth or even the twelfth! Why should we weep now when she moved from her earthly tent into the wonderful house that the Lord has prepared for her?

 

Paul said that when this old earthly tent is worn out and is no longer fit for habitation, we move into “a building from God, a house not made with hands.” A building has a foundation, suggesting a permanent house and not a tent. This new house is an eternal dwelling place.

Edna lived in several places since I’ve known her. Some of them were nicer than others. But now, Edna has moved again! And we should be happy for her! Let me offer some more words of encouragement from Paul, “So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord….Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:6,8, ESV). Note the words “away from the body and at home with the Lord.” There’s no in between time.

Death is a part of life just as much as birth is a part of life. Let’s just suppose for a moment that Edna could have reasoned in her prenatal state. “Something is about to happen to me. I’m about to leave the only place I’ve ever known. It’s good in here. I’m safe. I’m well-nourished. I’m going somewhere I’ve never been. This must be death.” When the reality is that she discovered birth, not death. She left the narrow confines of her mother’s womb to discover a far greater and richer life.

In the same vein, let’s suppose that a few hours before Edna underwent another change on Tuesday afternoon. Again she reasoned, “Something is about to happen to me. I am about to leave the only place of life I have ever known. Surely this must be death.”

But if Edna could speak to us, she would undoubtedly say, “No, I was wrong again. What I thought was death was another birth out of the human flesh experience to the superlative life of heaven. It’s far greater and richer than I could have ever imagined.

This week I attended a pastors’ conference that encouraged me greatly. Greg Gilbert, who serves as the senior pastor of Third Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville, led the conference. The Lord used Greg to speak into my heart from the story of Joseph in Genesis 37-50. He noted that this story was not as much about Joseph as it was about God. When I told Gayla about it, she said, “The story of Joseph has always been one of my favorites because of what God did in Joseph’s life.”

I’d like to share the lessons I learned from Joseph. The main idea of the narrative is that whatever your circumstances remember that God has a purpose for it all even if it is not what you want or expect. With my recent experience of having stepped down as pastor of my church, I can assure you that these words resonated with me with particular power. Greg offered five points of application from Joseph’s life.

First, whatever circumstances you find yourself in, remember that you work for the Lord. Joseph worked for several different people — his father, Potiphar, the chief jailer, Pharaoh. But he really worked for God no matter who his earthly boss may have been. Problems can come in our ministry when we make an idol of our ministry. It’s easy to fall into a trap of believing everything revolves around us. You can begin to believe that you deserve certain things. Problems can also come when you become idle in the heart. You must keep the spiritual fire alive by washing yourself in the Word. You cannot continue to work effectively for the Lord without His strengthening.

Second, remember that God is sovereign over every detail of your life. Joseph knew that God allowed all the things to happen to him. The dreams of Genesis 37 reveal the end of the story, but they aren’t there to kill the plot. God was “calling His shot” (kind of like Babe Ruth calling his famous home run). Joseph delivered the clinching line, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20).  You need to learn to rest in God’s sovereignty. There’s nothing that happens without God’s ordination and permission. God rules without exception. (Boy, did I needed that!)

Third, because God is sovereign you need to work hard to develop a patient quiet trust in God. Joseph had a remarkable confidence in God. He doesn’t know what is going to happen, but continued to be confident. Consider his resolve even after being thrown into the pit by his brothers. Consider his resolve even after two plus years in the prison. What a great model! It would have been so easy to give up on God. You need to remember that God’s providence is longer than your life.

Fourth, whatever your circumstances, learn to be joyful and serve well where you are placed. Wherever Joseph served, he served his master well. There was no indication that he complained — even when he was falsely accused or forgotten in the prison. When I left my last church, I determined that the Lord was not finished with me and that I would still serve Him. God has faithfully provided opportunities for me to preach or teach.

Fifth, leave the results to God. To be sure, some of the preaching opportunities have been humbling, but I have rejoiced in knowing that He knows where I am and that He has appointed these opportunities for me. I also remain confident that He has a more permanent assignment for me in the future. Therefore, I will work faithfully for Him through this present period in my ministry. Taking Joseph as my example, I will not attempt to wrangle circumstances for my advantage.

As Greg concluded his talk, he took time to observe how irrelevant Joseph is for the rest of the Bible. Although Moses focused on his story from Genesis 37-50, Joseph barely gets mentioned for the rest of the Bible. He was so important in Genesis — Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph — the patriarchs. But in Matthew, the record says, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah. What a shocker! But this only underscores that God does what He wants — not what we want or expect. God is sovereign; therefore, we would do well to leave the results to God.

Here’s what I think God wants us to get: He is so unpredictable because He wants us to cling to Him.