A Charge to A Dear Brother (in-law)

I had the great privilege of participating in the installation/dedication service for my brother-in-law, Dr. Brian Wingenroth, who is the new Senior Pastor of the Grace Baptist Church in Pompano Beach. Here is the essence of what I shared in my charge to the pastor on Sunday. I hope it will encourage all of us who preach to preach the Word!

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Please open to 2 Timothy 4.

Brian, I have no doubt that you want to have an effective ministry. But how does that happen? We have seminars and books by the score that want to tell us what to do, how to be effective, what we need to focus on. I had several pieces of mail waiting for me when I got back from vacation last night purporting to revolutionize my ministry. And with rare exception I use them as an opportunity to be environmentally conscious - I recycle them!

But how do we decided what makes us effective? The more I think about the church and about what is important, I am convinced of two things:

  • Scripture must define our ministry priorities.
  • When we look at the pastoral task in Scripture, our primary - not our only, but our primary - priority must be the communication of God's Word.

I have no doubt that we think alike on this issue, but the climate in which we minister today is moving further and further away from this view of ministry. But I want to challenge you to commit yourself to an view of ministry that is not merely part of a passing and antiquated evangelicalism, but rather is rooted in the inerrant Word of God.

Read 2 Timothy 4:1-4.

I wish I had time to develop this passage in more detail than I do. What Paul says in chapter 4 comes out of his discussion in chapter 3 on the nature of Scripture. Because Scripture is God-breathed and because it is the means God uses to change lives, Paul prefaces his commands to Timothy in words that are clearly not just friendly counsel - they are divine edict (read again vs. 1). Out of this comes the command that forms the heart of this passage:

Preach the Word.
This is not preaching about the Word or preaching from the Word, but preaching the Word. There is a difference between preaching the text of Scripture and using Scripture to support our own ideas.

Our ideas don't bring life. God's words do. Our ideas don't change the heart. God's words do.

Preach the word persistently.
"In season and out of season" relates to the climate of the times. Whether it is trendy or not, whether it is popular or not does not matter.

How do we stay on track here? One way is by coming to the text for the message, and not to the text to support our message.

So preach the word persistently. Preach the simple and preach the profound. Our "climate" is one in which there are calls to lighten up and dumb down. Personally, I resent the insinuation that our people can not or will not learn. Luther taught the doctrine of justification by faith to peasants. Why can't our people learn doctrinal truth?

Preach the word to the heart.
"Reprove, rebuke, exhort" (correct, rebuke, encourage - NIV) are words that clearly tell us that we need to speak to more than just the mind. These words tell us that we need to speak with authority to values, behavior, the way people think, how they behave - because the Word does.

Everyone wants to be relevant. You will be relevant if you preach the Word and preach to the heart.

Preach the word with urgency.
A good pastor guards the souls of his people. A good shepherd knows that there is a real enemy who seeks to devour. A good shepherd knows that a verbal profession of faith does not guarantee genuine conversion. So we preach the word with a sense of urgency. We care that our people hear it and that they learn it, and we do all that we can humanly do to enable those things.

If we are not living in the climate Paul describes in verses 3 & 4, we must be very close. This is a day of doctrinal shallowness and compromise, a day in which God's nature and his priorities are distorted and sometimes even attacked. And you will compete with highly visible people - on TV, radio, and in print - who are considered credible because of their celebrity, and yet offer your people nothing more than spiritual candy.

Never take this pulpit without reminding yourself of the awesome responsibility of your task and of what is at stake, and preach the word with urgency. You do not know how long people will listen.

You may be accused of being old-fashioned and out of touch. Some people will visit and never return because you preach more than a feel-good message. Even some who are sitting here today may urge you to lighten up, which means to dumb down.

You pay that no heed. You determine at the start of your ministry here to preach the Word, to preach it persistently, to preach to the heart, and to preach with urgency, and when God brings this chapter of your ministry to a close, you will have fulfilled your responsibility to lead these dear people "into paths of righteousness for His name's sake," and you will have nothing for which to apologize when you stand to give an account "in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus."

Preach the Word.

Down Time

Laura and I are going to be spending a few days at Harvey Cedars Bible Conference on Long Beach Island in New Jersey. This has been an annual event for us for a number of years. A good time to rest and relax a bit. This year we're having to come home two days early. On Saturday we fly to Pompano Beach, Florida where my brother-in-law Brian has just assumed the position of Senior Pastor at the Grace Baptist Church. I will be speaking as part of his installation service next Sunday. I am honored to be a part of that.

Here are some things I found last week that you might have missed.

Ligon Duncan posted a list of helpful resources on the Reformation21 blog. The Reformation21 blog is one of my must-reads each day.

John Macarthur had two messages on the Grace to You broadcast last week that dealt with preaching. Good stuff. You can download his broadcast each day through iTunes. No doubt the Apostle Paul would have had an iPod.

A Saturday ago, Milton Stanley linked to a challenge for those of us who preach. Thanks, Milton!

Here are some links to an interview with Phil Ryken, Senior Pastor of 10th Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. The links appear on the blog Sharper Iron.

Steve Camp tells it like it is once again.

Have a good week, friends - will catch up again next Tuesday or so.

What I Want

In just a week or two Laura and I will finish 25 years of pastoral ministry here at Faith Community Church. For the first 22 I worked in various capacities as needs arose, mostly focusing on our educational programs and ministries to adults. However, in March of 2003 I began preaching during a vacancy in the Senior Pastor's position, and that led to the church calling me as Senior Pastor in September of 2003. Unlike what I am sure a lot of people have the opportunity to say, these last few years have been the best.

So this particular August/September period is a special one for me in several ways. However, it is also the time when most churches "re-gather" for the coming year, having allowed the summer to provide a break from some church programs. As we begin another year of ministry, I have been asking myself what I hope to accomplish. I have a list of "things to do," but I am not thinking about tasks. I am thinking about what I would like to see happen in the lives of our people and in our church as a whole, and I find that while I can do things that move in those directions, that the real work is done by God.

Here are some things that I am thinking about and praying for:

I want to see more of our people here more often. Our generation has re-defined faithfulness, and it is not for the better. Call me simplistic, but if we preach and teach because we believe that God's Word is in fact living and active, and that it does change lives, then it stands to reason that it is essential that our folks have a regular diet of the Bible. I'm praying that God will speak to our people about having a greater hunger for His Word.

I want to see more of our people in small groups and our groups become closer-knit communities. At present about 35-40% of our adults are members of a small group. Our groups meet weekly to share together, pray together, and learn together. While no groups are perfect, I know enough about what happens in our groups that I can state without question that those who choose to opt-out of small group participation are missing something significant to their spiritual lives.

I want to see our entire church become better followers of Christ. As I am composing this, I received an email from a friend in our church that contained an article on the nature of pastoral ministry. One of the points was that the church needed to be more focused on mission. I'm going to use that term in this way: I would like to see our people follow Christ more intentionally in their daily pursuits. A starting point for that is that they be aware that no matter where they go and what they are doing, no matter how mundane the task, no matter how public or private, no matter how frustrating or exhilarating, being a follower of Jesus Christ in some way relates to the way that we conduct our lives. In other words, I want us to live life with a pervading sense that we are living for the glory of God. That affects how I work, how I live in my home, how I deal with those outside of Christ, etc.

I am clearly conscious that these tranformations - which are hardly unique and probably could be said at any time by any pastor in any evangelical church - take place only by the work of God. So how does that relate to what I do? At the outset of this new church year, and as I reach into the second quarter of my ministry here, I am aware of the need to do several things so that God can use me as a catalyst as he sees fit.

I'm not sure that I can list steps or goals yet for myself. I am thinking about that, and plan to do more of that when I am on vacation next week. But my thoughts center at this point on my own pastoral and personal priorities as a student and communicator, and on the need to emphasize what I think God wants to do in our church - like building deeper community and living effectively (which includes both character and witness) in our non-church world.

How about some of you? What are you thinking about as you get ready to enter a new season of ministry? I'd be glad to hear what you want to be doing and doing better? Let's commit to pray for each other so that we will be God's tools in the task!

Tuesday Wanderings I Should Have Posted Yesterday

I am taking a semi-break this week. Our very capable Youth Pastor is preaching on Sunday, and I'm using a bit of vacation time by taking an afternoon off here and there through the week. I spent a good part of the day yesterday going through piles - you all have them, I am sure. Today I'm having my annual lunch with my friend Bob, who God used in my life while I was in high school over 35 years ago. We're remained friends since then and have opportunity to keep in touch via the internet. But we do manage to get together for lunch each summer.

Preaching is close to my heart, so I always appreciate articles on doing it right and doing it better. Al Mohler has part 1 of a 2 part series on his blog. You'll want to read it, I am sure. I've printed out a ton of preaching-related posts and articles to take with me on vacation in a few weeks. This goes in the pile.

Rebecca, over at Rebecca writes, posts a review of Brian Chapell's book Praying Backwards. This book seems to be getting a lot of attention.

Thanks to Got Doctrine? for a reminder of the grace of God. Also to Steve Camp, for reminding us what it means for God to be God.

Tim Challies has a story you simply must read.

Dale Barrett tells us "This is Why." Thanks, Dale. They don't always happen often, but they mean more than most people realize.

A great, thought-provoking post appeared at Cerulean Sanctum. I was going to share some thoughts about what Dan is saying, but I'll let the article speak for itself - it does so quite capably. Ok, I'll at least say this: words are powerful. We need to be careful what we say and what we allege. We need to deal with ideas and try to avoid personalities. And always, Scripture is our standard and not our preferences and prejudices. Thanks, Dan, for the reminder.

Being Thoughtful and Deliberate

On occasion I'll look through a devotional entitled Day By Day With the Early Church Fathers. Often their comments are challenging, and it is interesting to see how people of a different time sought to apply Scripture to their own situations.

Yesterday's reading was a quotation from Clement of Alexandria:

The Savior teaches nothing in a merely human way, but teaches His own with Divine and mystic wisdom. Therefore, we must not listen to His words with worldly ears. We must search out and learn the meaning hidden in them. For what the Lord seems to have simplified for the disciples requires even more attention than puzzling statements because of its overabundance of wisdom. In addition, the things He explained to His children require even more consideration than the things which seem to have been simply stated. Those who heard such explanations did not ask questions, because the Lord's words pertaining to the entire design of salvation were meant to be contemplated with awe and a deep spiritual mind. We must not receive these words superficially with our ears, but must apply our minds to understanding the Spirit of the Savior and the unspoken meaning of His Words.

I don't think that Clement is suggesting that there are hidden meanings that need to be discovered in place of or in addition to the normal meaning of what is said, but that we need to contemplate, meditate, think through what we read. Scripture is amazing in its simplicity, yet profound in its depth. In our fast-paced world, we may get the general meaning by a fast reading, but only by thoughtful contemplation can we see the implications. For me, this was a reminder to slow down in my study and meditation, and I've actually decided to start my prep a day earlier so that I have time to think more about the passage than I have.

Milton Stanley posted something yesterday about letting the text speak to us over time. Some guys can work on sermons months in advance. I have found that doesn't work for me. I do my best when I am focusing my energies on what I am going to communicate on the coming Sunday. Of course, in a situation where one is preaching through a book of the Bible, one can increase a broader perspective by continuing to look at the context of what is being preached on a given week. But the point of what Milton blogged is right - we need to do a thorough job of preparing the meal we intend to feed to our flock.

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Bob at Mr. Standfast recommends two CD's he has been listening to. If you like Celtic-type music, you will probably like these. As a long-term listener to country music (to be distinguished from the bad rock and roll that often plays on contemporary country radio), it is interesting to hear the Celtic roots in so much of American music. Now if Bob would just buy several of us the CD's to "review."

Tim Challies has a fantastic post: Making Christianity Better or Rock and Roll Worse. Right on. The authors - regardless of their spiritual orientation - have captured what we look like to people on the outside and it isn't pretty.

Slice of Laodicea points to an article entitled The Gospel According to Rick Warren. What was particularly interesting to me in the story was this quote:

John Macarthur is on target when he writes, "Listening to a seeker-sensitive evangelical preacher today, we're likely to think it's easy to be a Christian. Just say these little words, pray this little prayer, and you're in the club."

The article's author goes on to say that "Admittedly, salvation is received by faith alone in Christ alone, but it is not received by mouthing a little prayer lacking in biblical content and understanding, with the hopes that you will find purpose in life."

Macarthur warns, "People are breezing through those wide, comfortable, inviting gates with all their baggage, their self-needs, their self-esteem, and their desire for fulfillment and self-satisfaction. And he most horrible thing about it is they think they're going to heaven. "

Seen Around the Blog World

Bruce Johnson's blog has good counsel about how we introduce our sermons. If I remember, the first of the Seven Laws of Teaching is "gain and sustain the attention of the student." That applies to preaching as well. We don't have to set ourselves on fire, but how we start off is going to affect whether people listen or not.

Slice of Laodicea has a post about antagonism toward preaching. See, there are better ways, don't you know? (Some of you probably think I hate clowns.)

Al Mohler blogs about tradition.

Some of you may already be aware of this, but Covenant Seminary has a great selection of messages and lectures by their faculty and guest lecturers. They are downloadable MP3 files for those of you who, like me, are iPod connected. Load it up!

Phil Newton talks about the essentials of the Gospel on the 9marks.com website.