Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Why Move to a Plurality of Pastors?

This past Sunday our church voted overwhelmingly to move from having only one pastor to having a plurality of pastors. In this post, I want to present our reasons for making this change. But before doing that, I want to give a primer on the pastoral office, asking some basic questions and letting Scripture answer them.

What is a pastor?
In Scripture, there are only two offices of the church, the office of elder and deacon (1 Tim. 3:1-13). The terms elder, pastor, and overseer are used interchangeably throughout the New Testament to refer to the same leadership position (Acts 20:17-28; 1 Pet. 5:1-3). This means that a pastor is an elder, an elder is an overseer, and an overseer is a pastor. In Scripture, these terms are synonymous.

One passage where all three of these terms are used interchangeably is 1 Peter 5:1-3. This passage among others demonstrates that an elder is called by God to pastor and to oversee his congregation:
1 Peter 5:1-3 - So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.
Each of these three terms provides a different emphasis and clarification about God’s intention for this office:

An elder is a person of responsibility, leadership, and authority in both the Jewish and Christian communities.
1 Tim. 5:17 -Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching
An overseer is one who has the responsibility of seeing to it that something is done in the correct way. It can also be defined as a steward or guardian of a household.
Titus 1:7 - For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach…
 1 Thess. 5:12 - We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work
 A pastor is one who is responsible for the care and guidance of a Christian congregation.
Eph. 4:11 - [Christ] gave [to the church] the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ
Who can serve as a pastor?
The qualifications for a pastor can be found in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 as well as Titus 1:5-9. These passages enable us to develop a list of character qualifications that are essential for the office of an elder. 

A pastor must be:
  • Male
  • Faithful husbands (if they are married) and chaste/abstinent (if they are not)
  • Fathers to children raised in the Lord (if they have children)
  • Reasonable, calm, “long-tempered”
  • Self-controlled, self-disciplined, and gentle
  • Possessing of good reputations
  • Able to teach and preach
  • Knowledgeable in orthodox evangelical doctrine
  • Able to discern between true and false doctrine 
  • Willing to correct and rebuke violations of doctrine
  • Hospitable

A pastor must not be:
  • Greedy
  • Arrogant
  • Short-tempered or contentious
  • Addicted to drugs or drinking
  • A recent convert to the faith

What does a pastor do?
Scripture reveals that a pastor has several different roles:
  • A pastor preaches and teaches sound doctrine to the church. This is his primary role. (For scriptural support see: Acts 6:4; Col. 1:28; Eph. 4:11-12; 1 Tim. 5:17; 2 Tim. 2:24-25; 4:2; Tit. 1:9)
  • A pastor protects the church from false teachers and bad theology. This role is closely connected with his first. (For scriptural support see: Acts 20:28-30; Tit. 1:9; 2:15)
  • A pastor prays for the individual church members and the congregation as a whole on a regular basis.  (For scriptural support see: Acts 6:2-4; Js. 5:14)
  • A pastor is called by God to lead and oversee the direction of the church so that the church is fulfilling the Great Commission.  (For scriptural support see: 1 Tim. 5:17; 1 Pet. 5:1-3; Heb. 13:17)
  • A pastor equips the church members so that they can minister to others.  (For scriptural support see: Eph. 4:11-12)
  • A pastor cares for and counsels the individual members of the flock.  (For scriptural support see: Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:2)
  • A pastor visits and prays for the sick and persecuted members of the church.  (For scriptural support see: Js. 5:14)
  • A pastor serves as a model for godly living.  (For scriptural support see: 1 Cor. 11:1; 1 Tim. 3:1-7; 1 Tim. 4:11-13; Titus 2:7; 1 Peter 5:2)

Why should a church have a plurality of pastors? 
Pastoring is such a demanding and weighty task that God in his wisdom has determined that every local church needs a plurality of pastors. 

1) A plurality of pastors is biblical.
In Scripture, the task of pastoring is never entrusted to one individual, but rather to a group a men who are called, competent, and qualified for the task. Each time the word “church” is used in conjunction with “pastor”, the term for pastor is always plural.

Titus 1:5 -This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order and appoint elders in every town. 
Acts 14:23 - And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed. 
Acts 15:4 - When [Paul and Barnabas] came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. 
Acts 20:17 - Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. 
Philippians 1:1 - …To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons… 
James 5:14 - Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him
Scripture, rather than one’s culture or tradition, should govern the church in all its doctrine and practices. And the clear and consistent pattern of Scripture is that a plurality of pastors should teach, lead and care for the church. Of course, this doesn’t mean every pastor must be a paid staff member. Some men should serve as lay elders and not receive any financial compensation.

2) A plurality of pastors is beneficial
There are numerous practical benefits for having multiple pastors. Of course, this shouldn’t come as a surprise because there are always numerous blessings for following God’s pattern. Below are several practical benefits for having more than one pastor.
  • It shares the burden of ministry, which prevents the solo pastor from burnout or depression. 
  • It prevents the solo pastor from doing something irrational or it provokes him to do something necessary.
  • It provides the solo pastor with a pastor, which every Christian needs. 
  • It protects the solo pastor from accumulating too much authority. A group of godly pastors appropriately dilute the authority of one individual. 
  • It offsets the weaknesses and deficiencies of the solo pastor. No pastor is equipped or able to do everything well. And a group of pastors help offset the individual pastor’s weaknesses and provides more competency, perspective, and skills. 
  • It provides the church with leadership in case of an absence of the solo pastor. If something were to happen to the senior pastor having a group of pastors already established and recognized by the church will ensure that ministry and mission of the church will continue.   
  • It makes the pastoral care more efficient and more effective. As a church grows, the difficulty in appropriately and effectively caring for the congregation becomes more and more difficult for one person to handle. A plurality of elders shares this load, ensuring more people receive the pastoral care they need. In short, more shepherds means more shepherding will take place.
Pragmatism should never drive a congregation’s ecclesiology (or any other matter within the church). But it shouldn’t come as a surprise that following God’s design for his church is full of practical benefits.

3) A plurality of pastors is baptistic
Many Baptist churches are hesitant to adopt a plurality of pastors because they think this model isn’t Baptist. But that is actually not true. A quick survey of church history shows this was, at one time, a very common Baptist practice.

For example, W.B. Johnson, the first president of the SBC, wrote a book on church life and polity, entitled “The Gospel Developed”. In this book he strongly argued for a plurality of elders in every local church. The reason is because he saw this practice as both biblical and beneficial. He recognized that in Scripture “each [New Testament] church had a plurality of elders.” He went on to assert that, “A plurality in the bishopric is of great importance for mutual counsel and aid, that the government and edification of the flock may be promoted in the best manner.”

These are the reasons why I led our church to move away from the lone pastor model to a plurality of pastors. And after they heard this case, they overwhelmingly agreed to move in this direction. If you would like to read the amendment change in its entirety I have included a link here

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Rethinking the Role of a Pastor

Pastor. This word conjures up many different ideas in the minds of church members and leaders alike. Some view the pastor like a chaplain; he exists primarily to meet the emotional needs of the congregation primarily through home and hospital visitations. For others, a pastor functions like the CEO of a business. He sits at the top of a hierarchal structure and is tasked with making savvy business decisions, which will ultimately lead his organization to greater levels of success. Still, others view a pastor like a contract worker. He is the hired hand, paid to carry out the will, wishes, and desires of the congregation, which pays his salary.

Although there may be a sliver of truth in each of these conceptions, I think each one is inadequate. The reason is because they fall short of the biblical imagery used to describe this scriptural office. So instead of thinking a pastor is like a chaplain, CEO, or contractor, I want to suggest three alternatives, and in doing so help us to rethink the role of a pastor.

1) A pastor is like a shepherd.
The word translated "pastor" in our English Bibles comes from the Greek word for shepherd. It’s significant that the word used for a shepherd of a flock is the same word used to describe a pastor of a church. The reason this term is employed is because their roles are remarkably similar. In fact, all throughout the Bible, spiritual leaders, and even God himself, have been referred to as shepherds because of their many functional similarities.

So how are they similar? Faithful shepherds feed, guide, protect, correct, and care for their sheep. This means that pastors feed their flock by preaching God’s Word (John 21:15-17). They guide them into greater levels of obedience and holiness (1 Pet. 5:2-3). They protect them from bad theology and false teachers. Often times these false teachers are characterized as “wolves”, which provokes more shepherd imagery (Acts 20:29). They care for the general well-being of the flock that has been entrusted to their care (Acts 20:28). Sometimes sheep go astray and the faithful shepherd will lovingly pursue and graciously correct them (Eze. 34:12). And one day soon, the Chief Shepherd of the flock will return, and when he does he will reward those pastors who have faithfully shepherded in this way (1 Pet. 5:4).

2) A pastor is like a father.
One of the scriptural qualifications for a pastor is that he is a competent father. Scripture states that an elder "must manage his own household well” (1 Tim. 3:4). What Scripture is teaching is that to be a qualified for pastoral ministry, one must also be a good father.[1] The rationale for this qualification comes in the form of a question, “If someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church?” (1 Tim. 3:6). The obvious answer is, “He can’t and won’t.” Incompetent fathers make crummy pastors. Why? Because leading a church is a lot like leading a family. And those who do well in the latter will excel in the former.

In a sense, the members of the church are like the pastor's children. I am not implying that all church members are childish, but rather the relationship between a pastor and his congregation is very similar to a dad and his kids. Like a good father, a pastor must instruct, correct, love, encourage, and lead the church family God has entrusted to his care.

3) A pastor is like a physician.
Honestly, when was the last time you thought of a pastor like a doctor? But this is exactly how Christians for  centuries have viewed this important office. The Puritans considered the pastor as a “physician of the soul”. J.I. Packer explains what they meant by this, "A physician’s business is to check, restore, and maintain the health of those who commit themselves to his care. In the same way, the minister should get to know the people in his church and encourate them to consult him as their soul-doctor. If there is any kind of spiritual problem, uncertainty, bewilderment, or distress, they are to go to the minster and tell him, and the minister needs to know enough to give them health-giving advice.”[2]

Like a doctor, a pastor will ask questions in order to assess and diagnose one's spiritual condition. In the same way that a doctor encourages his patient to stop eating junk food and exercise more regularly, a pastor will prescribe sinful delicacies to avoid and godly attributes to pursue. Additionally, a pastor, like any physician, will not merely tell someone what they want to hear, but rather what they need to hear. And if his counsel is biblical, then it should be heeded. In the same way that a doctor seeks to help improve and maintain one's physical health, a pastor exists to care for one's soul.

So whether your a church leader or a church member, if you’ve found yourself viewing the role of a pastor in a way contrary to Scripture, then I strongly encourage you to please reconsider.

[1] This does not mean that those who are single or without children are unqualified to pastor.
[2] http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/2006/issue89/1.12.html?start=3

Friday, January 1, 2016

Huldrych Zwingli: His Sacred Word Shall Prevail

Huldrych Zwingli was an integral, but often overlooked, leader of the Protestant Reformation. His obscurity is due partly to his untimely death and largely to the fact that he is eclipsed by the towering figure that is Martin Luther. I recently wrote a paper on Zwingli and one of the things that impressed me most was his unwavering confidence in God's Word to accomplish God's purposes. He was convinced that the only way genuine and lasting reform would take place in the church and culture was through expository preaching. 

Since today (January 1) marks Zwingli's birthday, I thought it would be appropriate to compile a few excerpts from his sermons and writings which highlight his commitment to Scripture. I hope they will encourage you to remain committed to God's Word for the remainder of the year.

Zwingli asserted that he learned the gospel, not from Luther, but from studying the Scriptures:
"I began to preach the gospel of Christ in the year 1516 before anyone in my locality had so much as heard the name of Luther; for I never left the pulpit without taking the words of the gospel as used in mass service of the day and expounding them by means of Scriptures."[1]
 Zwingli knew that reform would occur when the power of God's Word was unleashed through preaching:
"Do not, for God’s sake, suppress his Word! For truly, truly, it will take its course as surely as does the Rhine. It may well be checked for a while, but never stopped."[2]
In a sermon introduction, Zwingli defended a Christian's liberty to eat meat during the Lenten fast because nowhere in Scripture was such a fast mandated:
"...it seems to me to be necessary to explain the thing from the Scriptures, so that everyone depending on the Divine Scriptures may maintain himself against the enemies of Scriptures. Wherefore, read and understand; open the eyes and the use of the heart, and hear and see what the Spirit of God says to us."[3]
In a letter, Zwingli explained how he came to his rejection of certain church traditions:
"…I began to try every doctrine by this touchstone (i.e. the word of God), and if I saw that the stone reflected the same colour or rather that the doctrine could bear the brilliancy of the stone, I accepted it; if not, I rejected it."[4]
If there is something in Scripture which is difficult to grasp or reconcile, the problem lies not with Scripture, but with us: 
"The Word of God is infallible perfect truth…where, however, we do not understand the sense and the connection, there the fault lies not in the Word of God, but in the darkness and bluntness of our understanding."[5]
One of Zwingli's greatest sermons is entitled "Of the Clarity and Certainty of God's Word". At the end, he encourages his listeners to treasure God's Word:
"We should hold the Word of God in the highest possible esteem—meaning by the Word of God only that which comes from the Spirit of God—and we should give to it a trust which we cannot give to any other word. For the Word of God is certain and can never fail. It is clear and will never leave us in darkness. It teaches its own truth. It arises and irradiates the soul of man with full salvation and grace. It gives the soul sure comfort in God. It humbles it, so that it loses and indeed condemns itself and lays hold of God."[6]
[1] Samuel MacAuley Jackson, Huldreich Zwingli: The Reformer of German Switzerland (New York: The Knickerbocker Press, 1901), 108.
[2] Gottfried Locher, Zwingli's Thought: New Perspectives. (Leiden: Brill, 1981), 11.
[3] Ulrich Zwingli, Early Writings, ed. Samuel Macauley Jackson (Durham, N.C.: Labyrinth Press, 1987), 72-73.
[4] Zwingli, 204.
[5] Raget Christoffel, Zwingli: The Rise of the Reformation in Switzerland. a Life of the Reformer, with Some Notices of His Time and Contemporaries, trans. John Cochran (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1858), 239.
[6] G.W. Bromiley, Zwingli and Bullinger: Selected Translations and Notes (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1979), 93.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Don't treat Sunday morning worship like it's your iPod

For almost a decade, I have owned an iPod. Rarely, do I go anywhere without it. I use it to push through tough workouts, to make long road trips entertaining, and to focus during study sessions. I've owned several different models and buy a replacement as soon as it breaks (or my child accidentally throws it away). I love my iPod. It plays my music, at my preferred volume, in my selected order, according to my mood or desire. And I am not alone. Millions of people love their iPods as well. And there's nothing wrong with that.

There is a problem, however, when a Christian takes the conveniences of an iPod and applies it to Sunday morning worship. When this iPod mentality is adopted the usual response is for the person to withdraw from worship. For example, if a particular song isn’t one we know or in the mood for or at our preferred volume or style then, typically, we pass on participating, which is to say we don’t sing. One reason for this, I think, stems from a misunderstanding of who the music is for. With an iPod the music is for you. But in worship the music is for someone other than yourself. 

In order to remedy this, I want to answer the question, “Who do we sing for in worship?” I hope that in answering this question God’s people are encouraged to sing with passion on Sunday morning even if the song isn’t one found on their iPod.

1) We sing for God.
God is the primary audience when we sing during worship. He calls his people to worship and they respond by declaring his worth, value, and majesty. This means that God is the recipient and we are the participants.

The Psalms are replete with examples of this. “Oh come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!” (Psalm 95:1) and “Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving; make melody to our God on the lyre!” (Psalm 147:7).

This idea of singing to the Lord is not limited to the Old Testament. Paul writes in Ephesians 5:19 that believers should sing and make “melody to the Lord ”. So the next time you are reluctant to sing on Sunday remember this important truth: God is your audience. Sing for him. Sing as if he is present because he actually is.

2) We sing for fellow believers.
One of God’s means of encouragement in the Christian life is through hearing other redeemed sinners praise their Redeemer. When we sing quietly or not at all, we are not encouraging our brothers and sisters as we should.

This is clear from the same New Testament passage mentioned above. Paul told the Ephesian church to “[address] one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs…”. Some versions translate the word “address” as “speak”. So, not only should we speak to one another before and after the service, but we should also speak to one another during the service by means of singing.

Paul gives similar counsel to the Colossian church, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs…” (Col. 3:16). Christians need to remind each one another about the gospel and teach one another spiritual truths; one avenue for doing this is through singing psalms, hymns, and songs to one another.

The Bible is replete with these examples, but one more will suffice. The author of Hebrews, quoting the Old Testament, writes, “I will tell of [God’s] name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing [his] praise.” (Heb. 2:12). In this passage, the Messiah encourages God’s people to join him in worship. As his disciples, we should follow Jesus and proclaim these glorious truths about God through singing.

Here is the point I am trying to make: Not only should we sing to the Lord, but we should also to sing to our fellow church members about the Lord. This is a very simple and practical way to love, serve and encourage one another.

3) We sing for unbelievers.
Worship services are not primarily for the unbeliever. However, Christians must remember that unbelievers are often present during corporate worship. This reality should affect our participation.

Paul reminded the Corinthian church that it’s possible for an outsider to enter their place of worship, experience conviction, repent of his sins, and worship God (see 1 Cor. 14:20-25). In this context, Paul is talking about the proper use of tongues and prophecy. But an implication of this passage is that a worship service is a means of evangelism, and not just during the sermon. Unbelievers can be converted through the hearing of the gospel during congregational singing, which is an incentive for believers to fully participate.

Think for a moment about how you sang this past Sunday. If an unbeliever entered a church service and observed you worship the God you profess to love would he be convinced? I fear that often times we sing in such a way that shows we do not actually believe the words we proclaim. During corporate worship, we should sing in such a way that if an unbeliever were listening he would be convinced of the truth of the lyrics.

So the next time you find yourself reluctant to participate in worship recall who you are singing for and save your iPod preferences for after Sunday morning.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Three Reasons to Adopt an UUPG

Recently, I was asked by another pastor to pray about and consider going on a short-term mission trip to India. The purpose of the trip is to locate and adopt an unengaged, unreached people group (UUPG). This is a group of people who have no access to the gospel and currently there are no efforts being made to reach them with the good news of Jesus.

After praying and discussing the opportunity with my wife and another couple in our church, we believed this was an endeavor the Lord wanted us to undertake. On December 14, we will be asking our church body to formally join us in this effort to reach an UUPG of India.

Below are three reasons why we should be involved in this effort.

1. The Glory of God
God is worthy of worship. To him belong all glory, honor and adoration. But unfortunately, many people in India do not know about this God who is worthy of their worship, love, and allegiance. To their detriment, they worship and glorify things that are infinitely less significant than the Lord.

One reason we should adopt an UUPG is because the glory of God demands it. As John Piper has put it so well:
“Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more” 
Our prayer and goal is that in this life and throughout eternity members of this UUPG would worship our great and glorious God together with us.

2. Obedience to Christ
There is another reason for taking on this endeavor. The church is obligated to do what our Lord Jesus has commanded: “Go make disciples of all nations.” This is not a suggestion, nor is it merely a good idea. It is a command from King Jesus that we are obliged to follow.

The famous Baptist missionary, Lottie Moon, wrote about this obligation to obey our Lord: 
“How many there are...who imagine that because Jesus paid it all, they need pay nothing, forgetting that the prime object of their salvation was that they should follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ in bringing back a lost world to God.” 
Those of us who are Christians have experienced forgiveness because someone else was obedient to Christ. We want to obey our King by embracing this UUPG.

3. The Fate of the Lost
Hell is real. Jesus spoke significantly more about the reality of hell than any other person in the New Testament. He describes hell as a place of “outer darkness”, “eternal punishment”, “unquenchable fire”, and where “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”. In hell, there will never be relief. It is a place of conscience eternal torment for unforgiven sinners. The imagery used to convey the horrors of hell is unfathomable. And the people group we want to adopt has no one to warn them about the danger and reality of hell, nor about the One who died so they could escape this fate.

Charles Spurgeon commented on the Christian’s response to the reality of hell. He wrote, 
“If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our dead bodies. And if they perish, let them perish with our arms wrapped about their knees, imploring them to stay. If Hell must be filled, let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go unwarned and unprayed for.” 
We should adopt an UUPG in order to pray for and warn them about the fate for which they are headed.