Although most of us wouldn’t pick Steve Martin, all of us do have a list of what we want in a pastor. The list may be short or long, general or detailed, but we all carry a set of expectations with us every time we go to church. Some of our lists may even look like this old one:
–The ideal pastor preaches exactly 10 minutes.
–He condemns sin, but never hurts anyone’s feelings.
–He works from 8AM to midnight, and also serves as the church janitor.
–He makes $40 a week, wears good clothes, and donates $30 a week to the church.
–He is 29 years old and has 40 years of experience.
–He makes 15 house calls a day and is always in his office.
Ok, so what makes that list funny? Because we see the nugget of truth in the joke, that everyone tends to have some unrealistic expectations of their pastors. What the list also hints at is that there may be a real difference between what we want in a pastor and what we need in a pastor. Which begs the question, what qualities do we actually need in a pastor? How can we tell?
Unfortunately, history amply demonstrates that people don’t always know what they need in a pastor. From past glaring examples of leaders who poisoned kool-aid to the disgraced pastors who make the news almost every day, we know that giving people want they want or can be convinced of is not the same as what they actually need.
However, we don’t need to speculate or wonder or argue over the qualities of the ideal pastor: the Bible gives clear guidance regarding what a church needs in a pastor. One of the best pictures occurs in Acts chapter 20, where Paul is meeting with the leaders of the church in Ephesus. In a few short words, he lays out what he sees as the critical roles that a godly pastor must fulfill. You might even call it “Paul’s Picture of the Perfect Pastor.”
Here’s the background: Paul is traveling by ship back to Jerusalem. He is passing near to Ephesus, where he started a church and pastored it for three years before moving onto other cities. He has retained a special care and concern for this church, since he spent longer in Ephesus than any other city he traveled to. He is under a time constraint, trying to return to Jerusalem before the feast of Pentecost, but his ship is passing the shoreline within about 20 miles of Ephesus. So he puts to shore, and has the elders of the church to come and meet him, for what he believes is his last time before his death.
Paul has one last opportunity with them, one last time to impart wisdom and encouragement and warning to the leaders of this young church. What does he say? He focuses on the kind of man a pastor should be to his church, using himself as an example. He knows that the whole health of any church hinges on the kind of men that are leading it and the kind of ministry they are committed to.
Why is this important to you and me today? If you are in any kind of teaching, eldership, or leadership position in your church, this is your biblical blueprint for how you are to live out your life. If you are a member of a church, then this is your blueprint as to what to look for in your pastors, what to appreciate about their ministry, and how to pray for God to lead and strengthen them.
Paul immediately starts out by challenging these leaders to remember what kind of man he was and what kind of ministry he had in verse 18, “You yourselves know how I lived…” He then sets out his list of what they should focus on:
First and foremost, Paul states that a church needs pastors committed to serving God (verse 20). Unless a pastor is looking only to God for direction, strength, and approval, he will be tempted to follow whatever course will give him the most popularity from others. Paul mentions two keys to a life of serving God: a humble heart (before God and men) and a broken heart (for the glory of God and the needs of men).
Paul also knows that a pastor must be committed to teaching people (verse 20). If a man does not truly love people and love teaching them, he may become a capable administrator or leader, but he cannot be a pastor. In verse 20 Paul states he taught both in public proclamation and in group discipleship. Every church needs both types of instruction by the pastors and other gifted teachers in the church.
Paul goes on to say that a pastor must be unafraid to cut across racial and social barriers (verse 21). Paul often found himself in the middle between squabbles and outright hatred between Jews and Greeks, but refused to concede to the either side, firmly loving and promoting reconciliation between them. Pastors must follow Paul’s example, and draw all people to Christ and to each other.
Also in verse 21 Paul reminds them that he was unafraid to tell the hard truth of the Gospel. Paul never shirked or side-stepped away from the necessity of teaching “repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ,” even at the cost of beatings and imprisonment. Paul well knew that people do not like being challenged on their need for repentance and for Christ, but he also knew that there was “no under name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
To sum up this need for courage, Paul stated, “I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” (Acts 20:24) Paul’s bottom line was that a pastor values his ministry more than his own life. The preacher Charles Spurgeon advised young men that if there was any other career they could do besides the pastorate, then they should do it. True pastors are not in it for the money or because they enjoy it or because it seemed like a good idea: the true pastor would rather die than fall short of the ministry he knows God has called him to.
Paul throughout the passage challenges them to consider how he did everything he knew to do for them while he was their pastor. In short, Paul knew that a pastor needs to have a clear conscience. Paul knew he was not perfect; in fact, he once called himself the chief of sinners in 1st Timothy 1:15. But Paul also knew that he had given the ministry his all: at the end of his life he wrote in 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
Paul also reminds them that a pastor remembers the source of His calling. In verse 28 he says, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.” They did not choose their calling; they were chosen by the Holy Spirit. Keeping that reality firmly fixed in their minds was vital for their success, when struggles, frustrations, and trials would tempt them to give up or compromise.
Paul next reveals himself as a pastor who values the preciousness of the church. Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of Heaven being precious enough that a man would sell all that he had to obtain it (Matthew 13:44). A pastor has to regard his flock as that precious, because their value is determined by Jesus shedding his precious blood on their behalf (verse 28). Three hundred years ago a young German college student was in an art museum looking at a painting of Christ with his crown of thorns. Beneath the painting was the inscription, “I have done this for you, what have you done for me?” Broken by the preciousness of Christ’s blood, he went on to become one of the founders of the Moravian church. Every pastor should look with broken heart upon his church as purchased by the precious blood of Christ.
Because of the preciousness of the church, a pastor is aware of the danger of false doctrine & the need for persistent vigilance against it. In verse 29-31 Paul warns them of a future where “fierce wolves” will try to lead the flock astray. Twenty centuries of Christian history have proved Paul right, and the need for a faithful pastor to be faithful to true doctrine is ever more important today.
Of course, there is only one way to be faithful to true doctrine: for a pastor to be a man of the Word. In verse 32 Paul blesses these early church leaders by commending them “to God and the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” There is absolutely no substitute for a pastor immersing himself in the Scriptures. Charles Spurgeon once described John Bunyan as being so full of the Bible that, “Prick him anywhere; and you will find that his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him. He cannot speak without quoting a text, for his soul is full of the Word of God.” Every pastor should strive to be described so.
Before ending his teaching, Paul once again points to his own ministry to emphasize that the church needs a pastor who is free from materialism. Jesus bluntly taught that you cannot serve both God and money in Matthew 6:24, and Paul reiterates that a pastor’s lifestyle must demonstrate a heart that does not covet either his flock’s money or their possessions. His flock should never have a reason to doubt the selflessness of his motives toward them.
Finally, Paul’s instructions reveal that a pastor must have a heart of a shepherd. The care and concern of a shepherd is woven throughout Paul’s discourse, but is summed up in verse 35 where he speaks of working hard to help the weak and to remember that it is more blessed to give than to receive.
What happens when a church has a pastor like Paul? They love him. The chapter closes with the men embracing Paul and kissing him, praying with him and weeping with him. When a faithful pastor and a faithful church bond together for the glory of God, there is no end of the good that is done for the Kingdom of God.
A new pastor was visiting in the homes of his parishioners. At one house it seemed obvious that someone was at home, but no answer came to his repeated knocks at the door. Therefore, he took out a business card and wrote “Revelation 3:20″ on the back of it and stuck it in the door. When the offering was processed the following Sunday, he found that his card had been returned. Added to it was this cryptic message, “Genesis 3:10.” Reaching for his Bible to check out the citation, he broke up in gales of laughter. Revelation 3:20 begins “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” Genesis 3:10 reads, “I heard your voice in the garden and I was afraid for I was naked.”
I am still thinking about John Piper’s message delivered during the Together for the Gospel conference. Everyone who heard it was deeply moved. Here again are both my and Mohler and Duncan’s immediate reactions to it (not that I dare put myself in the same class of those giants):
Me: “Written words cannot convey even a fraction of the blazing fire of hearing Piper’s oratory”
Mohler: “What John did tonight, the passion he displayed, is something most Christians will never see.”
Duncan: “After tonight, I wondered if I ever preached a sermon before.”
The more I think about, the more I marvel at the power of the spoken word. John is without doubt a great scholar and writer, but he is without equal as an orator, as someone who by his inflection, his gestures, all of his physical skills that God has blessed him with combine to set fire to the words that he had prepared for us. As the panelists later agreed, true preaching can be nurtured, refined, but it is a gift that cannot be created out of thin air.
Some theologians, citing Romans, feel that God dispenses a special grace to the auditory preaching of the Gospel that He does not do for mere writing. Whether that is true or not, undoubtedly it was His divine plan to construct our bodies and our souls to respond to auditory communication in a way we simply don’t to mere reading. In the hands of a master, delivering a God-annointed and God-honoring sermon is like listening to a great symphony, versus merely reading the musical score to it.
Let us be thankful to God for His gift of the spoken word, be thankful to His faithful servants who bring it to us, and be diligent to seek out words of pure and excellent truth to help transform our minds and our hearts, to the glory of God.
Quotes from John MacArthur (can’t guarantee they’re all word for word) from the final panel discussion panel at the Together for the Gospel Conference today:
I don’t think we need to bring the Bible in modern times, we need to take people back to Bible times, and then to the applicational aspect of the text. You can stay with the text.
I don’t spend a lot of time studying the culture, I think I know enough from living in it. I don’t want to be a student of the culture, I want to be a student of the Bible.
Just be an expert on the Word of God, and you will know what to say to the culture. You can be the cultural expert of all experts if you just read Al Mohler’s blogs.
You never run out of material to preach if you go to the Word of God. And if you preach the Bible it will stand the test of time and can be translated and passed on.
Right now in Evangelicalism there is no way of knowing who is in and out, who is on the right side of the fence or not.
I am nonconfrontational on a personal level, but when you come to the text there is nowhere to go, you have to say “This is it.” People say that I am divisive, but is it me or is it the Word of God that draws the line?
It’s about the truth to me. At the end of the day, did I teach the truth, did I uphold the truth? It was the Apostle John’s heart.
My philosophy of church staff is to surround myself with the very best, a team with passion for the lost and to nurture and teach the saints, get the most gifted and pay them. Ministry produces church growth. Buildings don’t, programs don’t.
Planning for church growth? I have no long-range planning, no short-range planning. No planning.
When I started at the church, I wanted them to see Christ in all His glory, that’s what I started out with, the Gospel of John, in one hundred sermons.
If I went to a church fresh, I wouldn’t get their doctrine straightened out, or their order straightened out, I wouldn’t drop hammers on their head, they are wherever they are because someone led them there. I would show them the glory of Christ.
Paul said Preach Christ.
We in this country get so caught up trying to fix this life here and now that we forget about the hope of heaven. If we had an opportunity to have people to sign up to go to heaven on the spot there would be people trying to decide whether or not to go because their kid had a little league game that afternoon.
These are my notes on John MacArthur’s message to the Together for the Gospel conference:
A preacher should not hold a leaf in front of his mouth. Luther
Mohler introduced Macarthur by saying, “When I was a high school student I received some MacArthur tapes, and that more than anything inspired me to go into the ministry. Perhaps no other man in this generation has inspired more men to faithful ministry than John MacArthur.”
I came out of seminary at 24 and was basically useless. I had tools, but didn’t have the maturity. My Dad went to heaven last year at the age of 91, and until six months before his death he faithfully preached the word of God every Lord’s Day. When I was 29 I came to Grace Community Church with the desire to see a church grow Biblically. I was drawn to the ministry of the apostle Paul, who is still my hero.
(John then read 1 Thess. 1 and 2 in their entirety, then said, “I read these chapters without comment, for they need none.” )
Never did I think in Seminary did I think I would spend so much of my ministry defending the true Gospel of God from beyond my church from so-called believers. I am committed to certainty. Without certainty, no clarity, without clarity, no conviction, without conviction, no communion. For we want our people to rejoice in communion of knowing and rejoicing in the truth. Therein lies the mandate for getting it right. But now we have an avalanche of teachers and theologians who declare that certainty is over-rated or even not attainable.
The most important lesson I ever learned in seminary was when Dr. Fineberg told me after my first student sermon, “You missed the entire point of the passage. Never do that again! Never miss the point of the passage!” The best compliment that anyone can say to me after a message is, “The message was clear.” I knew I had to make a commitment to expository preaching. I knew I had nothing to say as important as what God had to say, so as much as possible make sure that every time you go into a pulpit you are there to explain the words of the living God, and be prepared.
Reasons to Preach the Bible Expositionally:
1. It establishes the authority of God over the mind and the soul. “Thus says the Lord”
2. It exalts the Lordship of Christ over His Church. Perhaps the most assaulted doctrine today is the headship of Christ over His Church. That doctrine has sailed down to us on a sea of blood, through the Reformation. Hus was burned at the stake for stating that Christ, not the pope, was the head of the Church. Today we have a flood of people who through their rebellion of true doctrine have effectively taken Christ’s headship away from His Church. I’m not interesting in entrepeneurial ministry, I’m not the head of my church, Christ is.
3. It is the Word of God that God uses to save and sanctify. Open the Bible and tell them what it means. This strikes a blow at pride. I don’t like mavericks, people who think that the exaltation of them is that they do things uniquely. If I never preached a sermon, I would thank God for His sanctifying grace through the relentless study of God’s word. It is the greatest gift God has given me. There is nothing worse than an unsanctified minister. Bible exposition forces me to stay in the study of the Word.
4. You honor by example the priority of Bible study. They get it. They understand the Word matters more than anything else. People learn how to study the Bible by how you preach. You take people through the text. How they treat the Scripture is how you treat it. You model it. I want to be prepared: I never want to give people the illusion that they have heard a word from God when they haven’t.
5. It has a massive impact on the worship. Transcendent worship experience is tied to the depth of understanding of the character of God. People want more drums, more flash because they don’t understand the theology, they don’t understand the words.
6. It protects your people from error and carnality which is deadly to the church. Little sermonettes on self-help give your people nothing to protect them from the wolves. You are no shepherd. You have left them defenseless. The editor of the LA Times once asked me why I never gave my own opinion on anything from the pulpit. I replied why do want my opinion when you have the voice of God through the word.
Benefits of Expositional Ministry:
1. A church full of real Christians, who are there to know God and worship God and reach sinners. This church is the real deal. We are not a comfortable zone for hypocrites, not that we beat people up, but if you don’t love who we love you won’t feel comfortable staying around.
2. People develop convictions where they have clarity, and convictions develop strength, and strength makes impact. Footnote: Every Sunday there are unbelievers in your church that show up every week. They are your children. Take your best people, your best material, and start there. There is no more important evangelistic field.
3. Everything you believe is tested and proved against the Scripture. You are not riding a hobby horse.
There is something so wonderful at being at the same church for 37 years. I know their love, I know their forgiveness. I am preaching to the grandchildren of people I first spoke to 37 years ago. You ask, “Do you get tired of the same people?” Well, do you get tired of the people you love? How do I preach effectively? I explain the Bible to myself. I preach what captures me, what thrills me. I promised God, “I will focus on the depth, I will leave the breadth to You.” I never asked for one more member or one more building. I do the same thing, in my same office week after week after week, and just try to get the passage right.
Here are my notes from today’s message from C.J. Mahaney at the Together for the Gospel Conference:
Mark Dever introduced C.J. with the words, “C.J. has affected me perhaps more than any other brother in my life. He lives in the knowledge of what God has done for Him.”
C.J. started out by thanking everyone who attended, “I have received more encouragement in the last two days than most men receive during their entire life.” Then he launched into a short monologue comparing Piper’s message to a Concorde taking off, shaking the ground, while he was a Cessna, just hoping to get airborne. There is no way to describe how hilariously funny this was— you just had to be there.
Then C. J confessed, “While preparing for this message, God revealed to me that I was more concerned with preparing a message to impress than to serve. How pathetic, how proud. Preparing a message is a critical part of God’s process of sanctification in the pastor’s heart. So, now, I am not here to impress you, but to serve you.”
1 Timothy 4:16
Keep a close watch on yourself and on your teaching; persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.
Spurgeon’s first lecture to his students was on this passage, “The minister’s self watch.” My practice is to read a Spurgeon sermon on my upcoming text the night before I preach.
Paul’s tender care for Timothy is evident in this passage. This morning we have the privilege of overhearing this divinely inspired fatherly communication, and we find that we are being addressed as well. This morning I am convinced that God wants to have a word with you, and a very personal word with you. He wants to address each one of us personally, and care for our souls. The Savior wants to care for you, to minister to you, so that you are a different man when you return to your home.
Here we have a summation of our ministry, and on the eternal consequences.
Feel the weight of this verse, feel the implications of this verse on your soul.
Your congregation is at stake on your obedience to this verse. The implications are eternal.
1. Watch your life
Watching your life and watching your doctrine are inseparable, both are linked and both must be done and both must be daily practiced and priorities. But in my life the easier one to neglect is watching my life. It is much easier to study doctrine than to study my heart. It’s easier to examine my books than my motives.
We watch over our flock’s souls but not our own, to public ministry but not private piety. There is no substitute for personal piety. Christian character is the fundamental qualification for pastoral ministry.
Our characters must be more persuasive than our speech. —Spurgeon
If we neglect this command the consequences are inevitable and serious.
This is more than the obvious sins like sexual sin, but also pride, lack of seeking or listening to counsel, laziness, seeking honor.
How do we watch our lives? Here are three:
1. The Limitation of Sound Doctrine:
Knowledge of Scripture is essential, not optional, but it is not sufficent for personal godliness. This conference can contribute to progressive personal godliness, but it could also lead to progressive self-deception if we think that listening and being emotionally moved is all that we need.
It is obedience to the truth that counts in the end.
We spend so much time reading and teaching the Scripture that we are vulnerable to assume that we are automatically growing.
We must apply to our own soul what we are teaching.
2. The war within our regenerated heart never ends:
Romans 7 Our enemy is not just upon you, as Samson of old, but within you. John Owen
There is no pastoral exemption from sin.
If you don’t watch, you will weaken. Are you watching? It’s hard work. And hard work, is hard work. Are you watching daily, closely, persistently? If you don’t watch you will weaken.
3. You can’t effectively watch yourself by ourselves:
We need others. In God’s wisdom He has designed it so. Left to myself there will be deficient discernment of my sin within.
I wrongly assume that since I perceive your sin clearly, I have no problem seeing my sin clearly. But sin deceives, sin blinds.
“Since each of us still has sin remaining in us, we will have pockets of spiritual blindness. The Bible says that we can be spiritually blind and yet think that we see quite well. My self perception is as accurate as a carnival mirror.” David Powlinson
You can assume others have observations, and that they will be reluctant to give you these observations, starting with your wife. You have to create an environment where they can honestly tell you their observations.
Do you specifically confess specific areas of sin and areas of temptation to trusted men in your life? And with discernment, do you confess your sin to your congregation as well? I have seen many benefits of that while I was a senior pastor.
At our church pastoral team members and wives are in small groups, both couples, mens and wives meeting separately monthly, with 3 day retreats as couples yearly. These are of immeasurable benefit, both for personal growth, marriage, and parenting.
Especially with parenting, it is so easy to have more pride and resistance to counseling regarding the management of our children than our own personal lives.
2. Watch your doctrine
Watching your doctrine must include never losing sight of the Cross.
The puritans knew that the travelers through the Bible lost their way as soon as they took their eyes off Calvary. Packer
3. Watch God work
Here is a promise of effective ministry in a most unexpected place. If we watch our lives and watch our doctrine then we have the promise that God will work. What guarantees the effectiveness of watching our lives and doctrine? The Savior.
Because of the Savior we have hope in our ministry.
These are my notes from Dr. R. C. Sproul, Sr.’s message today from the Together for the Gospel Conference:
The Importance of Preaching on Justification By Faith Alone sola fide
Nothing thrills me more than to have an opportunity to encourage pastors.
It’s not our soldiers alone who are in harm’s way, it’s the ministers of the Gospel who are in harm’s way every day.
This (justification) is the article on which the church stands or fall— Luther
Furthermore, this is the article on which I stand or fall. (Sproul)
This is the hinge on which everything turns. —Calvin
sole fide is the Atlas on which the whole of Christianity rests, and if Atlas would shrug, then the whole of Christianity would fall to the ground and shatter. —J. I. Packer
However, that is not the current assessment, justification is often thought to be a tempest in a teapot, a minor issue.
This minimalist attitude should not be surprising to us, this lessening of the importance of the justification of faith.
Luther warned the church, “In every generation the Gospel will have to be reaffirmed, for if you preach the justification of faith boldly and accurately, it will produce conflict.”
With the lessening of the significance of sola fide, there is also a growing lack of understanding of the true nature of sola fide as well.
One of the best ways to understand sola fide is to understand the Roman view and how the Reformation started:
Rome taught, and continues to teach, that justification is sacredotal— it is administered through the church, through the sacraments.
In the Roman view, the grace of justification, the righteousness of Christ, is infused, poured into the soul through Baptism, but it still requires the person to cooperate and assent to the grace to such a degree that you actually become righteous before God.
When a person commits a “mortal” serious sin, one’s justification is lost, even though faith might remain, and the righteousness must be regained through another sacrament, penance (made of confession, absolution, and works of satisfaction). Works of satisfaction produce congruous “fitting” merit to regain the righteous state.
So often Protestants don’t understand Roman salvation in saying that it is faith vs. works, but Rome believes that faith is the foundation and root of justification, it is a necessary condition for justification, but not a sufficent (only) condition. Protestants says that faith is a sufficent condition, it is all you need for justification. The difference is not between faith vs. works but faith plus works vs. faith alone. Rome says yes, you need Christ’s righteousness for justification, but you also need your own as well.
The controversy over the instrumental cause in justification:
When a sculptor creates a statute, the tools that he uses are the instrumental cause
Rome says the means, the tool, that causes justification is baptism and penance
The Reformation says the only instrumental cause is faith, the faith is just a tool in the hand of God, it has no virtue in itself.
It’s not our righteousness, but the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, a righteouness outside of us, to us that justifies us.
That’s why Luther said that we are both saint and sinner, which Rome rejects as a lie.
Gentlemen, I beg you, don’t ever negotiate the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, because without Christ’s righteousness, all we have to offer God is our own filthy rags of our own righteousness.
We have to contend with our all for this doctrine.
Without His righteousness I am naked, I am foul in the sight of God.
We are not justified by the doctrine of justifcation by faith alone. We can believe, we can contend for this doctrine but still not possess true saving faith. The doctrine doesn’t save, it just describes what does save us.
Before my conversion I didn’t know about the doctrine of justification; but I heard someone explain the gospel, and I went into my room overwhelmed with my sin and overwhelmed with the understanding I was utterly lost apart from Christ, and I got down on my knees, and I didn’t recite a catechism, I prayed, and I got off my knees justified.
I love my Catholic friends, but I weep for their gospel, for it is a bad gospel, a false gospel, it is no gospel at all.
Quoting the latest Catholic catechism, if I die tonight with “any impurities on my soul,” I must go to purgatory where I may have to spend millions of years until I got rid of every impurity of my soul. Is that good news? No.
Here is the good news: I despair of my own righteousness, I acknowledge my sin, and I put my trust in Christ and Christ alone, and the instant I do that, all that He is, and all that He has, is mine. And now I am not justified, not for today, not for this week, not until I commit another sin, but for all eternity. Is there any better news than that?
This doctrine is easy to get in our head, but not so easy to get in our bloodstream. So we must continue to preach this doctrine over and over and over again.
These are my notes from Dr. Mohler’s lecture this morning from the Together for the Gospel conference:
Dr. Mohler’s introductory comments:
If you do not have deep friends in the ministry, you desperately need them.
Just look at the New Testament, and you will see a band of brothers, you will see brothers and mentors.
Our excitement and hope in gathering together is that we will stand together for the gospel, the church, the truth.
We are also together for several specific concerns, we are meeting in the midst of a very tepid evangelicalism, we have a sense of loss, we are having to try and recover greath truths that have been marginalized and minimalized and even renounced.
There is also a sense of crisis, urgency, we need to do something, not just talk about these things.
The things we are learning need to be translated in our churches and soon, not “I want to do that someday.”
Preaching with the Culture in View
2 dangers of thinking:
1. that the culture is irrelevant or
2. that the culture becomes such a thing of fascination that their ministry becomes captive to it
The true narrow road is preaching with the culture in view
Expository preaching is where our primary attention is to the text and not the culture
Our first task is to present the Biblical text, its truth and authority is unchanged and unchanging
But unavoidably we must both link and apply the Word to the culture, the worldview, the context in which we live
Here we are not talking about cultural renewal or transformation, but that we are preaching the gospel to sinners, and those sinners exist in a culture.
The text is innerrant, authority, in contrast to the culture.
The Word is transcultural in its authority.
We have the only such message which is for every person in every culture.
We need to put the culture in its proper place.
We have had a tendency to swing to both of the dangerous extremes listed above.
Culture is that which allows humans to relate to one another.
We live in a time where we celebrate culture and diversity, but that celebration of cultural diversity is very arbitrary.
Aristotle said the last person you should ask what it means to be wet is a fish, since he has never been dry.
And so when we are immersed in a culture we have trouble understanding the culture’s effect on us.
In the 1950s evangelicalism did not see culture as hostile, and yet now many do.
Niebuhr’s typology of Christ and culture:
Christ against culture–> you see culture as the enemy only reaction: withdraw (Amish) problem: doesn’t work, can never completely withdraw
Christ of culture–> no distinction between Christ and culture, like Victorian England, the church and the culture are synonymous, there are no claims
Christ above culture—> Christ makes claims that are above the claims of culture, but “let’s negotiate with the culture, let’s avoid going to extremes”
Christ and culture in paradox—> 2 completely separate kingdoms without any type of relation or synthesis possible
Christ the transformer of culture—> believes that the mission of the church is to transform every dimension of the culture, it promises redemption through the culture, it promotes Christian activisim
So what’s the right answer? The answer is that you have to engage the culture differently in different times and different cultural situations, there is no one right approach that is right in all situations.
We tend to see the culture alternatively as an enemy and an opportunity.
We have to be honest there is no golden era in the past or the future, every culture and time has had its own problems, its own ways it rebels against God.
We must see all cultures as passing, as temporary, as subsidiary to eternal truth.
We understand the truth. We know about sin. What do you get when you get sinners together? They translate their sin into culture. And yet culture is also being restrained and molded and blessed by God’s common grace.
We are not the first generation to think of these things. Augustine interpreted the crisis of culture in his time in The City of God.
Augustine understood there is only one city that is eternal, the City of God. Why would we have thought otherwise?
It is the Christian’s responsibility to think of the City of Man only through the lens of our true citizenship in the City of God.
There will be no struggle in the heavenly city to manage one’s passions, one’s allegiance— there will be only God.
So what do you do with the city of man? You do not love the city, but you love the ones that are in the city.
The city of man is falling and passing, but it is filled with men whose passions are filled with trying to find themselves through the things of the city of man. So we cannot be suprised to find sinners sin; to find them trying to fulfill themselves with the things of the city of man.
In one sense we must see the culture as a gift, so we can use the culture through God’s common grace working in the culture to communicate the gospel.
But we must always keep the culture at a distance, to never give it our full allegiance, for our citizenship in heaven.
But this culture is so easy to steal our allegiance, to make it easy for us to forget our citizenship in heaven.
Some current cultural distinctives that are missiological challenges:
self-fulfillment, radical individualism, the primary question is “Am I well?” everyone is either in therapy or in denial
Americans feel that it is normal to think of the self as the center of meaning
Most Americans believe that what is wrong is something that has happened to them, they have an alien problem that requires an inner solution, instead the gospel says they have an inner problem that requires an alien solution, Christ’s righteousness
self-sufficency— all that we need can be found within, our authority is also within, our society rewards those who appear to be most self-sufficent The Gospel, however, is not about how we can become self-sufficent
self-definition— we have the ability to define ourselves, we can define sexuality, marriage, humanity, gender, authority, we can define everything for ourselves so you deny any truth or authority that is fixed
self-absorption— “it’s all about me” “all reality can come to terms to me” you even see people divorcing “so I could become the self I needed to be”
self-transcendance— that’s why people are so enamored of spirituality, why people can listen to Christian teaching and just add it to their montage of their spirituality. We’ve got to be very clear about the mono in monotheism— we are living in Canaan, in a radically polytheistic society, this is the society that our church members are living in.
self-enhancement— anabolic steroids, life extension, plastic surgery, what kind of lie have we absorbed on what it means to be human
self-security— modern medicine, warnings on coffee cups, retirement investments and insurance, and we feel safe. Most humans throughout the centuries have not felt safe. Most humans have lived in fear of constant death. This makes the gospel more difficult to understand to this culture, for most humans never had an alternative source of safety apart from the gospel.
We are “elect exiles” according to Peter, do we live like it?
Comments from the question and answer session:
Responding to the theraputic culture: Had that abuse never happened, you would still be a sinner. The problem of you, your sin, pre-existed anything that happened to you. Mohler
Front load your sermon’s application in your introduction, let it be related to the Biblical text but pull the person out of their cultural context into it. Duncan
If people are seeing “your sermon is not meeting my needs” maybe you aren’t adequately explaining what the text really means, how its truth does impact the culture. Dever
Expository preaching isn’t done until you answer these 2 questions: (1) how are we going to have to change our thinking (2) how are we going to have to change and live differently Mohler
I pull out our member directory, look at the photos, and think “What difference will this make in his and her life on Tuesday because of what I’ve said?” Dever
The text does set the agenda. Mohler
You need to intentionally do some detox in your preaching, knowing your congregation has been poisoned by pagan ways of thinking they have absorbed from the culture. The Word of God can do this. Congregational reading is wonderful. Mohler
Effective preaching reveals to an individual where they have been conformed to the world. Mahaney
I am newly attuned that there is a patriotism I find conflicting with the Gospel. We feel so comfortable here that we think “a good American” is good. We need to be more subversive with this culture, we need to be willing to betray any earthly kingdom if necessary. People think this is theoretical; it is a nearer danger than that. Alot of our people are more concerned about being good Americans than faithful Christians. There is no grounds for cultural optimism, moving either forward or backward. Mohler
We need to clarify, cultivate and celebrate the Biblical pattern of manhood and womanhood, realizing that all of our congregation comes in breathing feminist air. Mahaney
We live in an age with a massive anti-doctrinal sentiment, so we need to affirm there is content to our truth and not just slogan. Duncan
Here are my live blog notes on this morning’s message by Ligon Duncan at the Together for the Gospel Conference:
Preach the Old Testaments 2 Tim 3:14-17
1. Preach the Old Testament as a Christian book.
Paul urged Timothy to do just that in this passage– “the sacred writings you have known from the days of your youth”
“All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable”—he is talking about the Old Testament.
So much of the NT is a hermaneutical manual to help us understand and apply the OT.
Example: second century Easter sermon we have a copy of is on Exodus 12 Jesus as the passover lamb
We must plant our feet firmly on the absolute authority of the OT.
What any OT Scripture says, God says. It is all holy. Its usefulness is coexistent with its inspiration.
2. Preach the OT expositionally.
ALL Scripture is inspired and profitable— By implication Paul is urging Timothy to preach from ALL of the OT, that ALL of it is inspired and profitable, all of it is to be expounded, explained, and taught.
At Duncan’s church he tries to maintain a balance between exposition of the OT and the NT.
Choose good models, listen to good preaching of the OT, read good books on the OT.
3. Preach Christ from the OT.
Christ’s own example in Luke 24— the Road to Emmaus. “all the prophets have spoken about the Christ”
Use the NT’s own commentary— example John 12:37-41 explains Isaiah 6, Psalm 118 explained by Acts 4:11
There is a way to Christ and to His cross from every passage in the OT.
2 Samuel 7—Messianic promise and prophecy, further detailed in Jeremiah 31 (only time the phrase New Covenant used in the Prophets)
4. Preach the one plan of redemptive history from the OT
Acts 2:16 “This is that” a common theme in the NT, how redemptive history and prophecy and God’s plan shown in the OT fulfilled in the NT
Everything in the Bible before Genesis 12:1-3 leads up to it, and everything after Genesis 12:1-3 fulfills it.
When God made His covenant with Abraham, Abraham went from being a guest on this planet to a host.
Genesis 12 is the foundation of world missions, you don’t have to wait until the NT to see it.
Never fail while you’re preaching the OT to connect to the NT and vice-versa.
5. Preach the grace of God from the OT
2 Tim 3—the OT Scriptures are able to give you the wisdom to save you through faith
If you asked Paul whether people are saved by faith alone, grace alone, Christ alone in the old covenant the same as the new covenant, Paul would have said, “I don’t understand the question. Are you saying are people now saved in the new the same way they have always been?”
God’s plan has not changed, it has always been God acting, God saying “I have redeemed you now follow me and keep my commandments.”
The Gospel logic always has grace before law, both in the OT and NT.
Psalm 51: David pleads to God not on the basis of anything David has, but on the basis of God’s hesed, God’s covenant mercy and grace
May people be able to say of your church “We heard the grace of God preached in the OT”
6. Preach the character of God from the OT
One of the dangers of not preaching the OT is that we will produce a generation of Christians gravely deficient in their knowledge of the character of God
7. Preach experientally from the OT
Calvin and the Puritans all emphasized that it was the Psalms that give us the language of Christian experience
Jesus’ cry “My God, My God, why has thou forsaken me?” is the greatest cry of genuine experience in the history of the world, and it comes from the Psalms.
In the Psalms we see not only the author’s moods and trials but our own as well, if we ignore these we will fall into the trap of superficial religion
8. Preach the Christian life from the OT
“These things happened as examples for us” 1 Cor 10:11
Here are a few comments from the question and answer session:
Where do I start in preaching the OT?
Duncan: Genesis and Exodus are chock full of ripping stories and key theology and are foundational to all else. Derrick Kidner’s and PHil Rhyken’s commentaries are very good. The other would be the Psalms: We know the Psalms, sing the psalms, but rarely preach the psalms.
When we recovered Southern Seminary, our weakest department was OT, for it was the one most deeply mired in higher criticism. Mohler
I mark my Bible in the OT the passages that are referred to in the NT Dever
This is my first post live-blogging from the Together for the Gospel conference. We have just finished up the evening session which was a message from Mark Dever followed up by a panel discussion. It has been an amazing and glorious thing to be with 3000 men of God, from their twenties to their seventies, from a wide variety of denominations and traitions, some as far away as India, squished into a conference room like sardines and then singing hymns to God with tears in our eyes, all of us focused on knowing how to glorify God in our lives and in our ministry. The following is a condensation of Mark’s message, hopefully accurate. There are places where the quotes and words are exact and places where it is my best paraphrase.
Three Marks of a Real Minister I Corininthians 4
“We want to raise up the banner of the gospel” “center of our message and ministry”
“putting the word at the center happens most fundamentally with our preaching”
Paul in this chapter shows a striking contrast between real ministers of christ and fake
1. A Real Minister has a Cross-Centered Message
A steward is not an owner– the church you pastor is not yours, but God’s, and you are His steward. Paul here shows that even apostles were ministers, not masters.
“they had no authority to propagate their own fancies” Matthew Henry
We are called only to deliver God’s mail, His message to His people, it can’t be what we want to talk about, only what God wants us to— it would be as ridiculous as a mailman making up his own letters to send to people instead of delivering the mail—we are God’s mailmen.
God’s word makes God’s people— that is the whole pattern of redemptive history.
An example is in Ezekiel—God’s word brings life to the dry bones
You are called to be servants to communicate the mysteries of God.
The Word, the same thing that converted you is what will convert the souls of others.
Why is it unusual in our churches to see someone to give their all to Christ and wholly follow him?
Is it because we have not followed the Biblical instructions regarding church discipline?
And is the reason we have not followed proper church discipline because we have not made clear the requirements of church membership?
And is that because we have not clearly communicated the gospel?
And is the reason we haven’t clearly communicated the gospel because we don’t really understand what the bible says?
Maybe we don’t give ourselves sufficent time to study scripture, to experience the authority of Scripture in our own lives?
A pastor must be found faithful—that statement by Paul was an implicit judgement against false teachers among the Corinthians.
Above all else we are committed to teaching our congregation the gospel.
There is freedom in knowing the Lord only is our judge and not any human.
What matters most in God’s universe is what God thinks of us.
Assure yourself what God thinks of you and that will help you deal with the judgments of others. D.A. Carson
A true minister is living to please Christ, the only true judge.
We are called to proclaim God’s reign to His people each Sunday.
Be very very careful in what you cultivate in your congregation. We are to be esteemed to be faithful instruments of Christ by our congregation, and not idolized in any other way. “What do you have that you did not receive?”
“Why do you boast as if you did not?”
John Knox wrote a few days before he died that he was tempted by Satan to trust in himself, and to boast in himself, but “I repulsed him” by that verse.
2. Real Ministers Have a Cross-Centered Life
Paul’s mocking statements were to point out that the Corinthians were centered on things of this life, they were feeling confident and fulfilled, but Paul was trying to call them back to true reality that they were to be centered on Christ and the cross.
They do not commonly know themselves best, who think best of themselves— Matthew Henry
If you’ve been living for worldly wisdom and worldly honor, aren’t you beginning to see how empty it is?
There is a better way.
If Jesus was smitten and afflicted, crushed and pierced, why do we expect anything different? The minister’s life reflects the life of the One he serves. In Corinth the eloquent orators were prized and honored, and in Corinth they were being prized for the way they presented the message, and not the message itself. We need to be delighted to be despised for the message of the Cross.
True ministers of Christ and His gospel have experienced this on some level.
Real ministers have their hopes stored elsewhere, not in this world.
When slandered, Paul knew that they weren’t taking anything away (in worldly reputation) from him that he expected to keep.
Brother Pastor, the only way to serve Jesus is to die daily to self interest. When was the last time you inconvenienced yourself to serve others? Your preeminent concern for your own comfort is an enemy of your soul. We have a built in bias to self-comfort. What are you doing to undermine that bias?
3. Real Ministers Have Cross-Centered Followers
We are to be examples to our congregation as people who are are Christ and others-centered.
Surely we should not only teach correctly, but live it out and encourage others to do likewise.
Paul is saying “Imitate me, trust me”
Part of our calling is to be a model, it is a pressure but it is a good kind of pressure.
You have to teach better than what you live, BUT we are also called to live as examples, to back up and illustrate these great truths, and these examples are to be followed in our churches.
Humility is a confession that we aren’t always right, but God is, and that His truth is to be written in our lives.
God’s rule and reign is not an idea, it’s actually happening, today, in our lives and in the lives of our church.
Both gentleness and severity are part of God’s plan as He guides us.
There must be spiritual growth in our congregation to testify of the reality of the truth of the Gospel.
What God has left us is a visible representation of Himself in His church, living in the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ.
We should all be bold and courageous in helping others grow in Christ, we should be willing to risk ourselves, to be willing to be misunderstood, in order to serve others for the sake of the Gospel and God’s glory.
Beware the siren call to put your all in this life, as if this life is all there is. There are false teachers— look at their message, what are they saying? There is an immortal life, and the power of that hope streams back into this life. The cross is the center of this life, but Praise God it is not the end.
The Panel Discussion, Favorite Quotes:
There is a difference between (appropriately) thanking & honoring a leader and (inappropriately) exalting them. Mahaney
My job is to Preach the word, love the people, pray, promote family religion, train the elders, live a godly life. Duncan
I even saw teaching at a theological seminary as training for being a pastor. Since childhood I have been on a trajectory toward Gospel ministry. My heart has always been for the local church. Duncan
The call is to the ministry of the Word in the context of the church. What I want to see is more churches to prepare pastors in the local church. There is a role for formal academic study in the midst of that. We want graduates to go out and replicate themselves in the local church. I want to put our seminary out of business. There is no Biblical office of Seminary president. Al Mohler
I think seminaries have a role to play to support the local church. Duncan
The local church has the front line responsibility to raise up pastors. Mohler
It is a sign of the weakness of the local church that they think they can franchise out their responsibility to raise up pastors to the Seminary. We cannot replace what pastors can and should and must learn under the tutelage of a pastor in the local church. We need to encourage churches to take responsiblity not to send someone to seminary that they wouldn’t call back as a pastor of their own church. Mohler
The problem of seminaries becoming liberal was that churches did not have the discernment or the guts to deny people membership in the church and ultimately in the seminary who denied the fundamental doctrines. Dever
Ministry is not a profession but a calling. Professionals do not have to die for what they have to do, ministers may. Mohler
The great joy as a pastor is that your agenda is not forced by any external pressure or person but by what the Word says. Dever
I would dry up if I did not have the opportunity to be constantly in the exposition of God’s Word. Mohler
What did God make me to do? What is it we get to do that we feel the pleasure of God? Mohler
There is a need for a Word-centered Christian to show up on the right side of the theological divide. Mohler
So often we want to quantify the effect of our ministry now, its a frustrating position to be in, therefore the temptation for ministers to succumb to all the “methods” now available. Evangelicals overestimate what they can accomplish in five years and underestimate what they can accomplish in twenty. Duncan
The church has not been well served by the continual rotation of short pastorates. Duncan
I was in a church and spoke with the teens and found out they knew #1 Love Jesus #2 Don’t have sex that was about all they knew because that was all they had been taught. Mohler
Why am I doing what I’m doing? Because in the mystery of God’s mercy He saved me from His furious wrath, I loved sin, and I was seeking to transfer my passion for sin to others, and only because of His sovereign grace He regenerated my life, I would be the most unlikely individual called to pastor, He called me to ministry. When I first recevied the call to ministry I thought it was insane. I was summoned by God. “What do you have that you did not receive?” Mahaney
You actually learned about the (how to do the) Church from the Bible. Mohler to Mahaney
If I truly cared about my church, then I would want to identify and train and transition to my successor for my church, and its my joy now to support him. Mahaney
There is more mercy in Christ than sin in us. Mahaney quoting Sibbs (a puritan pastor)