“Endurance for the Pastor’s Heart”

Over on Dan Dumas’ blog, I’ve written on “Endurance for the Pastor’s Heart.”

An excerpt:

The pastor will have to wage war against his acts of flesh, just as he exhorts his hearers to walk in the Spirit and in the light. He must endure this battle, in season and out of season. He must not justify his sinful failings but repent of them. The pastor should lead the way in obedience, setting an example for the flock (1 Pet. 5:3). He should hold to the gospel more firmly, take holiness more seriously, love God’s word more deeply, and intercede in prayer more fervently—all for the glory of God and the good of his family and church.

This post was the last installment of a three-part series. Parts 1 and 2 can be found here:

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16 Books on Preaching and Pastoral Ministry

This last weekend marked 16 years since I’ve been preaching, and I’ve been encouraged by many helpful resources along the way. Here’s a list of 16 books on preaching and pastoral ministry. I commend them to you, in no particular order:

(1) Preaching and Preachers, by Martyn Lloyd-Jones

(2) The Trellis and the Vine, by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne

(3) Lectures to My Students, by Charles Spurgeon

(4) Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, by Mark Dever

(5) Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work, by Eugene Peterson

(6) Spirit-Led Preaching, by Greg Heisler

(7) Why Johnny Can’t Preach, by T. David Gordon

(8) Christ-Centered Preaching, by Bryan Chappell

(9) Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons, by Thabiti Anyabwile

(10) The Pastor’s Ministry, by Brian Croft

(11) Why We Love the Church, by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck

(12) The Surprising Offense of God’s Love, by Jonathan Leeman

(13) The Supremacy of God in Preaching, by John Piper

(14) Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, by John Piper

(15) Dangerous Calling, by Paul Tripp

(16) The Shepherd Leader, by Timothy Witmer

“Pastor, Would You Do Our Wedding?”: 20 Questions to Think About Ahead of Time

At some point every minister will hear this question: “Pastor, would you do our wedding?” And that is not the moment when you should begin to formulate principles and guidelines on the issue of weddings. You should develop convictions on the subject, or at least have an idea of where you land on certain questions, as soon as possible. The context for the following questions is a man and woman wanting you to officiate their wedding. Pastors will not always agree on the answers, but these are the questions you must think through:

(1) Will you do weddings for people who are not members of your church?

(2) Will you make premarital counseling a condition to officiating the wedding?

(3) If “yes” to #3, will you insist on giving the premarital counseling yourself?

(4) If one person professes to be a Christian while the other does not, what will you do next?

(5) If one person is a Christian and the other is not, would you offer premarital counseling but not officiate the wedding?

(6) Would you consider marrying two unbelievers?

(7) If two professing Christians are living together before marriage, do you perform the wedding as soon as possible, or do you ask one of them to move out until the wedding?

(8) Would you insist that the couple read any books together, and would your book choices differ if the couple were unbelievers?

(9) How would you handle a situation where one or both sets of the couple’s parents were against the wedding?

(10) How would you proceed if you discovered that the couple’s relationship began in adultery?

(11) Would you officiate a wedding where one (or both) has a previous spouse still alive who is unmarried?

(12) Would you officiate a wedding where one (or both) has a previous spouse still alive who has remarried?

(13) If you believe there is biblical support for divorce in certain cases, does a biblical divorce in the past of one or both people permit remarriage?

(14) If you believe there is biblical support for divorce and yet a divorce occurred for unbiblical reasons in the past of one or both people, would you officiate the wedding?

(15) How would you proceed if a couple–one a professing Christian and the other not–has had children together?

(16) Could there be any practical issues that might make you reconsider officiating a wedding (such as a couple’s financial instability, lack of steady employment, differing views on manhood and womanhood, differing views on raising children, vast age difference, irreconcilable denominational convictions, etc.)?

(17) How would you proceed if you learned that there had been physical, emotional, and/or sexual abuse in the relationship?

(18) How would you proceed if you learned that one or both of the persons had a criminal background?

(19) Would you make it a condition that you preach the Gospel at the wedding, no matter if the couple consists of believers or unbelievers?

(20) Have you thoroughly studied passages like Genesis 2:18-25, Ezra 10:18-44, Song of Songs, Ezekiel 16, Malachi 2:10-16, Matthew 5:31-32, Matthew 19:1-10, Mark 10:1-12, Luke 16:18, Romans 7:1-6, 1 Corinthians 7, 2 Corinthians 6:14–7:1, Ephesians 5:22-33, Colossians 3:18-19, Hebrews 13:4, 1 Peter 3:1-7, Revelation 19:6-9, Revelation 21:1-5?

No couple is exactly alike, so more questions, sub-questions, and follow-up questions may be necessary for you to make a decision. The previous twenty can lead to some pretty tough conversations, so pastors must pray for a heart of humility and words of kindness.

The Unusual and the Unexpected: 15 Short Stories from 15 Years of Preaching

On April 18, 1999 I preached my first sermon, and this means last month marked 15 years of preaching God’s word. It is a great joy to prepare and preach a sermon, and over the years there have been many strange and memorable and unexpected events related to these opportunities. Here, in no chronological order, are 15 vignettes.

1. During one of the summer weeks of my college years, I was vacationing at a beach house with my future in-laws. On the Sunday morning of that week, at an hour so early that everyone was still asleep, I received a phone call from a church where I’d preached a few times. Their scheduled preacher had to cancel, and they needed a replacement. They didn’t know I was at a beach house, but I knew that I was within driving distance of the church service start-time. “I’ll be there,” I told them. I grabbed my Bible, pen, and paper, and went on my way, alone. For the first and last time, I put a piece of paper against the steering wheel as I drove and wrote out a sermon outline while my Bible lay open on the console.

2. I once filled in at a church whose interim pastor was away for the week. He kindly allowed me to fill his pulpit but neglected to tell me how long he usually preached. A staff member told me, “You’ll have about 15 minutes for the sermon.” I don’t remember how long my sermon was, but it definitely ended before half an hour was up. Still, I’ve never been asked back.

3. From what I can recall, I’ve only used a movie clip once. It was many years ago, during a Disciple Now. I chose a clip from Superman Returns (the Brandon Routh one) to illustrate some point about death and resurrection. In hindsight, the clip didn’t add to the message and I deemed it ultimately unnecessary. Should’ve went with Christopher Reeve.

4. Disclaimer: my wife Stacie is a huge supporter and encourager of my preaching. With that said, once after preaching at a youth lock-in, she told me to never preach my message that way again. “That was boring, you went on too long, and you tried to pack too many things into the message.” She was right. I put that sermon in the Whoops drawer.

5. While nearly running late for a church service where I was scheduled to preach, I compensated by speeding. As you might expect, I soon saw red and blue lights flashing behind me. “Where are you heading so fast?” the cop asked. Of course I told him. “To preach at a church.” My response was not greeted with sympathy–instead I received a ticket. I still made it to the service on time, accompanied by a fresh illustration.

6. I can only recall one sermon where I thought I might actually pass out because I felt bad. I persevered because it was a Christmas Eve service, though the sermon was definitely shorter than it would have been! Never had I felt so awful while preaching. I remember thinking, Lord, please keep me from throwing up. There are visitors. I guess I thought the members could handle it.

7. One evening during a mission to Cameroon, there was a spontaneous and eager gathering of people in the large house where we were staying. One of the mission leaders told me, “We’ve decided to have a worship service for them in 10 minutes. I want you to preach, so get a sermon ready.” I’d recently been studying Acts 3, so that’s the text I chose.

8. I once had to stop in the middle of my sermon to correct one of my children. My wife was out of the sanctuary at the moment, and my 5-year-old was acting up in the pew. I tried giving him some stern stares while I was preaching, but the people who didn’t see him probably just thought I was angry about what I was teaching. He was distracting me, and I could tell from people nearby that he was distracting some of them too. So I stopped and said, “Jensen.” He sat upright in shock. “I want you to settle down and sit still, now.” He came to his senses, and I continued with the message.

9. When I was on the phone with a church leader who was scheduling me to preach for their congregation, he said, “You’ll be preaching in front of cameras because the sermons are broadcast to local TV stations.” Boy was that nerve-racking! I had to be overly concerned about timing and length. Needless to say, the people watching from home probably saw me check the clock a lot.

10. While I pastored a church in Texas, I preached a message that I knew would probably go a little longer than usual. But I didn’t know how long until 12:30 pm arrived and I was only halfway through my notes. I decided I’d gone long enough, so the next Sunday I picked up where I left off. The nursery workers were glad I divided the message into two weeks.

11. When I was in college, my maternal grandfather attended a Sunday evening service where I was preaching. That was the only time he heard one of my sermons, and it was also the only time I’d ever seen him in a church.

12. One time the power to the sanctuary went out during my sermon. Since we could still see everyone, even if only dimly, I said, “Everyone stay seated. I’ll keep going.” They did, and I did.

13. I once prepared a sermon from Colossians about worshiping God through singing. The week before the message, I decided that we should flip the service order. We opened the service with the sermon and then had a time of singing after I finished. Instead of the congregation hearing “Let’s open our hymnals,” they heard “Let’s open to today’s sermon text.” After the sermon, though, the cluster of songs turned out to be a wonderful way to respond to a message about singing!

14. During my college years, I once got a call from a church in Texas that wanted a praise band and a preacher for an upcoming event. I agreed to preach. After the event was over, the person who invited me held out an envelope and said, “Split this with the band.” When I was alone I opened the envelope and pulled out the single check. I spent the next minutes trying to figure out how to split $100 among six people.

15. After a few years of preaching, I got connected with a church who needed pulpit supply for one Sunday. Turns out they needed much more than that. During the service, I led the singing from the piano, took up the offering, and preached the sermon.

I would love to hear your stories about what unusual or unexpected things may have happened before, during, or after you preached. Do share!

10 Questions for a Child Who Wants to be Baptized

Over the years I’ve had the great blessing of sitting down with children who want to be baptized. During such a meeting, there are specific questions I want to explore, though they are not all of equal merit. Depending on the age of the child, some questions may require more elaboration than others so that the child can understand what I’m asking.

Though we will invariably discuss more than what follows below, these 10 questions (and sub-questions) set the tone and direction of our meeting, and the quality of the child’s responses serves as a helpful guide for whether I’ll be moving to the stage of baptism or whether further time and training is needed first. While the main questions should be presented, certain sub-questions may exceed the understanding of some children at the time.

(1) Why do you want to be baptized?
-Where did you hear about baptism?
-How long have you wanted to be baptized?

(2) What do you think baptism means?
-Do you think baptism makes you a Christian?
-Why should Christians be baptized?
-Why should we be baptized under water then lifted out? 

(3) What do you believe the Bible teaches about Jesus?
-Where did he come from?
-Did he ever do anything wrong?
-Why did he die?
-What happened on the third day after he died?
-How was/is Jesus different from other people?

(4) What is sin?
-Who sins? 
-Do you believe you’ve sinned?
-Whom do we sin against?

(5) What is the consequence of sin?
-What kinds of consequences do people face in this world when they sin?
-What is the ultimate consequence of sin after death?

(6) What does it mean to trust in Jesus?
-What does it mean to worship something?
-What makes you want to trust someone?
-Should we believe what Jesus claims about Himself?
-What does it mean to confess Jesus as “Lord”?

(7) What does it mean to repent (turn from) sin?
-Why should we turn from sin?
-Since Jesus forgives our sins, is it okay to love sin now?
-How should a Christian learn to think about his/her sin?

(8) What happens to people who do not trust in Jesus as their Savior?
-Why does hell exist?
-Is God mean because people will be in hell?

-How long does hell last?
-Can anyone be rescued out of hell?

(9) What are ways people can learn about Jesus?
-Do you own a Bible? Do you read it? 
-Do you attend church? 
-Do your parents talk to you about Jesus?

(10) How can you learn to obey Jesus at your age?
-How can you obey Jesus at school?
-How can you obey Jesus at church?
-How can you obey Jesus at home?

 

A Brief Interview About Expository Preaching

I recently had the privilege of answering a series of questions about expository preaching, an interview which is featured on Dan Dumas’ excellent blog.

The questions were:

  1. Why is expository preaching so important?
  2. What does your sermon preparation routine look like?
  3. What is the most common difficulty you experience as a preacher?
  4. How do you stay fresh in your preaching?

What a joy to preach God’s Word!