“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:

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!

Weekly Lord’s Supper at Kosmosdale Baptist Church

Kosmosdale Baptist Church now takes the Lord’s Supper on a weekly basis. We were doing it the first Sunday of each month, but there are biblical and theological reasons for increasing the frequency.

  1. The early church had the Lord’s Supper with their meal together, and they gathered each week to do so (cf. Acts 20:7; 2:42, 46; 1 Cor 10:16; 11:20, 23-24).
  2. Paul said we proclaim the Lord’s death whenever we partake of this ordinance, so wouldn’t we want a weekly proclamation? (1 Cor 11:26).
  3. It is a visual aid for the Gospel. The bread represents Christ’s body, and the cup represents his blood. Body broken, blood shed–that’s Gospel content.
  4. It maintains the distinctiveness of God’s people. The Lord’s Supper isn’t for unbelievers, so the weekly partaking of that ordinance serves as a reminder of God’s people being set apart through their faith in the Savior.

Usually pushback comes in a couple ways:

  1. Won’t a weekly Lord’s Supper make the service longer? I don’t think this is a good objection. After all, omitting an offering, excluding a public reading of Scripture, dropping some of the worship songs, and cutting the sermon in half would all make for a shorter service, but is that really what we’re after? No, of course not. The Lord’s Supper might add a few minutes to the service length, but if you start on time and do announcements efficiently, you might not be able to tell at all. In the end, don’t you think we should seek to conform the content of our worship to the practice of the early church as much as we can discern it?
  2. Won’t a weekly Lord’s Supper become void of meaning? This objection doesn’t stand either. The content of a worship service shouldn’t be defined by what we find maximum meaning in each week. That measuring stick is too relative. Not everyone finds the sermon as compelling each week. Not everyone is equally moved by the songs chosen for worship. Probably not everyone will give rapt and total attention to the public Scripture reading. Nevertheless, churches do weekly things in a worship service that may not always be exciting to every person every time. Our subjective enjoyment in an element of worship does not determine whether it should or shouldn’t become a corporate and frequent practice. Rather, I think we should consider the pattern of the early church and seek to follow their lead. And if it is correct that the early church took the Lord’s Supper each week, then they apparently didn’t believe the frequency nullified the meaning of the ordinance.

See the excellent reflections on this topic by Jim HamiltonRay Van Neste, Mike Willis.

14 Lessons Learned in 14 Years of Preaching – Part 2/2

On April 18, 1999, I preached my first sermon at age 16. My life changed that Sunday morning when I finished the message. A calling descended upon my introverted tendencies and propelled me out of my comfort zone. The future was in vocational Christian ministry.

Now, exactly 14 years later, and after saying “let’s open our Bibles together” more than a thousand times, I am grateful to be in the ministry preaching the Bible. If I thought long and hard, I could come up with more than 14 lessons about preaching, but matching 14 lessons with 14 years is just the kind of numerical parallel a preacher would make.

Yesterday I covered 7 lessons, and below is the rest.

8. Preach from the Old Testament – Don’t take my word for it, take the apostle Paul’s. In 2 Timothy 4:2 he told young Timothy to “preach the word,” referring to the Old Testament. So there you have it, a command for Old Testament preaching straight from the guy who wrote thirteen books in the New Testament.

Think about it. When the apostles began preaching the gospel from the Scriptures, they couldn’t ask people to open their Bibles to the Gospel of John or Romans 3. They proclaimed Christ from the Old Testament, and we must do so too. Glory of glories that we also have the New Testament! But let us not neglect the canvas on which the story of Jesus was painted. The Christian faith begins not in Matthew but in Genesis. The Old Testament is Christian Scripture!

Even a cursory reading of the New Testament proves that it expects you to know the Old. The New Testament is filled with so many images, names, places, references to events, echoes, and quotes from the Old Testament that to neglect it reduces the ability to understand the New. Since we should want people to understand the Whole Counsel of God, let’s study hard and preach the Old Testament to the people of God.

9. Don’t Cling to a Certain Genre of Passages – Avoid aligning yourself with certain genres while completely overlooking others. If you only preach from psalms or letters or parables, it’s time to branch out from your preference. 

An amazing reality about God’s Word is how he communicated his truth through so many different genres of Scripture. By your preaching, show others how to interpret different categories of Scripture. After all, over time in personal Bible reading, your people will digest passages from various genres, so corporate absorption of such material is helpful and needed.

Be sensitive as well to the genre of a passage when preparing your sermon. You’ll want to preach a narrative differently than you would a psalm or one of Peter’s letters. Helpful resources for this task include A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible by Robert Stein, 40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible by Robert Plummer, According to Plan by Graeme Goldsworthy, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture by Graeme Goldsworthy, God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment by James Hamilton, Reading the Gospels Wisely by Jonathan Pennington, Interpreting the Pauline Epistles by Thomas Schreiner, Interpreting the New Testament Text edited by Darrell Bock and Buist Fanning, and The Scriptures Testify About Me edited by D. A. Carson.

10. Don’t Preach Everything You Learned about the Passage – It is a wonderful privilege to prepare a sermon. But let’s face it, the resources available can tell us far more about a passage than should go into a sermon. Your goal should be to preach the passage faithfully, clearly, compellingly. Your goal is not to say everything that can be said.

This point calls for discernment. Out of excitement for what you’ve learned, the temptation may be to pile on insights, address the passage from every angle, and give all the historical information you found interesting–decisions which would certainly overwhelm the hearers who have not spent countless hours pouring over the passage and helpful resources.

Growth in the craft of preaching involves the discipline of knowing what to leave out and why. Matters that might titillate the minds of seminary students in a classroom do not necessarily belong in a congregational sermon. This is true with the original languages too. Just because you can read and pronounce Hebrew and Greek doesn’t mean you should do so in your sermon. As a general rule, it’s best not to.

11. At Least for Yourself, Summarize Your Sermon in a Simple Sentence – When I was in college, a pastor emphasized this element of preparation, and I’ve seen its wisdom advocated in different books on preaching. The question comes down to “Can you state simply and clearly what your message is about?”

This “sentence” isn’t necessarily for your hearers, but it’s definitely for you. Forming this sentence will crystalize your thoughts as to what exactly you’re trying to convey. Don’t make the sentence too complex, and try to write it with active verbs.

Aim to conform your sentence to the point of the passage. In other words, make sure you’re trying to communicate the same thing the passage is! If you form this single sentence and discover it’s different from what the passage is saying, it’s time to rewrite that sentence. Don’t use the biblical text as a platform to communicate what you’d like to talk about.

12. Rehearse Illustrations Before the Sermon – Illustrations should illumine the point you’re making, but botched and bumbled ones don’t serve the hearer. Many preachers find a great way to drive home the concept they’re preaching, but they don’t walk through the illustration before the moment of delivery. This is a mistake and sets up the preacher for a memorable moment of public awkwardness.

An easy way to avoid fumbling your illustrations is to rehearse them ahead of time. Out loud. The whole thing. A few times. Rehearsing your illustration(s) will help the flow of phrases stick in your head. Your transition can be smoother, you can aim to be concise, and going over it can give you the chance to make sure it’s appropriate and helpful.

If you’re telling a story, can you pronounce the names and places? Do you have the order of events correct? If you’re reporting that the illustration is true, do you know, to the best of your research, that it is? If you’re telling a story about others and planning to use their real names and situation, do you need their permission? Is every element of the illustration appropriate and acceptable? Sometimes it may be helpful to run your illustrations by others whom you trust, and hopefully they will confirm that it’s a good one to use. Sometimes, though, others spot an incongruity when we don’t, and they can save you from a bad illustration!

13. Sit Under Your Own Preaching – The preparation process is important for the soul of the preacher, but so is the act of preaching. The people of God gather to hear the Word of God, and we sit under such authority as we stand behind a pulpit. This means that the preacher, the herald of the Word, is under such authority even in the act of proclaiming it.

The Word of God through us is still the Word of God for us. Your prayer should be that God work in you as you preach and teach. Pray that his Word be as a sword for the division of your marrow as well as theirs. We need to be preachers affected by the Word we’ve prepared to preach, and this effect should be evident as we preach it.

The sound of our own voice can still carry God’s Word to our hearts in ways we need it most. We need conviction, edification, encouragement, rebuke, and instruction. May our sermons be a source of strength for our souls as we preach , and may we recognize that we–along with our hearers–are people of God under the Word of God. You are not above the message you’ve prepared. Sit under your own preaching.

14. Get to the Gospel – I believe in reading the Two Testaments with a Christological lens and end-game, so we should be eager to preach about Jesus in our sermons. We must get to the Gospel. The Old Testament points to and prepares for the Gospel’s coming, and the New Testament announces the Gospel’s arrival, so talking about Jesus in your sermons should be common practice.

Don’t preach the Bible as if Jesus hasn’t happened yet! Preach the Bible in light of the person and work of Christ. The Gospel is the greatest news in the universe, and we should incorporate this News into our message for God’s people. The Gospel is for Christians, even as it is for unbelievers.

Someone once said to a room of preachers, “Ask yourself what it is that makes your sermon a Christian sermon,” and that’s a statement worth thinking about. In the power of the Spirit, we should testify of Jesus to the glory of the Father, and we testify of Jesus in our sermons by getting to the Gospel, the news centering on his vicarious death and victorious resurrection. So in your preaching, make sure you get to the Gospel.

 

A recap of all 14 lessons learned in 14 years:
1. Listen to Great Preaching
2. Be Receptive to Feedback from Trusted People
3. Learn, Read About, and Grow in the Craft
4. Pray for Yourself, Sermon, and Hearers
5. Don’t Fret Over Fancy Outlines
6. Preach Tough Texts
7. Preach Controversial Texts

8. Preach from the Old Testament

9. Don’t Cling to a Certain Genre of Passages
10. Don’t Preach Everything You Learned about the Passage
11. At Least for Yourself, Summarize Your Sermon in a Simple Sentence
12. Rehearse Illustrations Before the Sermon
13. Sit Under Your Own Preaching
14. Get to the Gospel