Posts Tagged ‘ministry’


Shooting the Gaps

I’m a huge sports fan, and when the Cubs or Sox are actually good, I’m a huge baseball fan. I’m not sure there is another sport where each move, each pitch, each play can carry so much significance. Especially when you get the the playoffs.

Well if you’re building a good baseball team you need a few kinds of players. Of course you need a solid pitching rotation. You need a decent, if not good, bullpen. And you need good hitters. Most fans think that you have to have big boppers–home run hitters. And you do need power. But you also need guys who can just put the ball in play and get hits. Some of the best hitters in the history of baseball have not been huge home run guys, but knew how to find a way to get on base.

The way they do this is they “shoot the gaps.” That is to say they are so skilled in their hitting, so disciplined, that they can read the defensive alignment and poke the ball thru the gaps. I’m thinking of guys like Tony Gwynn, who rarely hit a home run, but always got hits. Pete Rose was another. Ichiro Suzuki is another. What they do looks easy, but is hard to do. It’s hard to discipline your at bat and find a way to position the ball exactly where you would like it on the field.

In a way, writing is like this. To be a good writer, to build an audience and platform, you need to “shoot the gaps.” What do I mean by this?

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What Every Pastor Should Say in the Mirror . . . Repeatedly

This morning, as I was praying and preparing to preach, I listened to a an incredibly rich and convicting sermon, “The Pastor’s Charge” by C.J. Mahaney delivered at the Gospel Coalition Conference in 2009. I love listening to a variety of messages from a diverse group of speakers, so recently I subscribed to the Gospel Coalition podcast.

CJ said something that is hitting me as a pastor. I’m paraphrasing, but he reminded pastors that even though they serve in a distinct, God-given role as shepherds of their flocks, they must remember that it is Jesus who is the chief shepherd, and not them. In fact, CJ said a human pastor is more sheep than he is shepherd and must remember that he must be shepherded by the Chief Shepherd, Jesus, more often than he is shepherding others. His sermon was taken from the great spiritual leadership passage in 1 Peter 5.

It called to mind a passage from John 3:22-28 and the story of John the Baptist. What’s happening is the ministry of Jesus and the ministry of John the Baptist are passing like two ships in the night. Jesus is increasing in popularity and John’s ministry is slowing down. This was by sovereign design of God before the word began. John was the forerunner, Jesus the Messiah.

Except the followers of John the Baptist were jealous. Over there Jesus is getting more people to follow and we’re getting less. They saw their movement shrinking and were scared. You’d think this wouldn’t happen in ministry, right?

Think again. It does.

The new church down the street does things a bit differently and suddenly people flock to them. You’ve been working hard “doing it right” (you tell yourself) and you’re not as popular. The human tendency for a pastor is to think that’s not fair.

Of course, we’re not as blunt as John’s disciples. We hide behind methodology that we’ve confused as doctrine and say things like, “Well, they’re not doing it biblically.” or “Well if I had music like them, I’d grow too. I won’t build my church that way.” or “Well, he doesn’t preach as strong as I do on sin.” (Though we don’t know that to be the case). We find someway to cut down that “more successful” man or woman of God. Because we can’t admit that maybe, just maybe, God is using them.

This attitude among pastors what my good friend and mentor, Pastor Bill calls “professional jealousy.”

I’m humbled by John’s response to the growth of Christ’s ministry. “I am not the Messiah.”  Powerful words.Essentially, John was acknowledging the sovereignty of God in his ministry. John was not the Messiah. John was John, a man born to fulfill a special purpose for God in his time. But John was still a man.

Every pastor should look in the mirror and say, “I’m not the Messiah.” In other words, yes, God called you to a special ministry. But you are not the answer to the world’s problems. Jesus Christ is. We, like John, just point the way. Or do we? Do we sometimes point to ourselves as the way? Our methods, our unique take on Scripture, our wonderful (to us) example?

The thing is, if we’re not careful, we’ll surround ourselves with people who will constantly tell us we are the Messiah. Not in those terms, but they will flatter us. We’ll push away people who can speak truth into us. Who can tell us the reality of who we really are. And we begin to harbor jealousies and treat other ministries as if they are competition.

When we do this, we’re saying to people, “I am the Messiah?” Don’t go to the church down the street. You don’t find what we’ve got here. Don’t listen to that radio preacher with the golden voice. Listen to me. Please listen to me.

Pastors, let’s not get so full of ourselves that we can’t stand up and say, about other ministries and other churches, “Praise God. They are growing and God is working.” Let’s be like John the Baptist, who said, “Hey, I”m not the Messiah. I just point the way.”


Friday Five Interview: Ray Pritchard

It is my privilege to interview a pastor whose ministry I have long admired. I discovered Dr. Ray Pritchard while I was on staff and editing a Christian publication and was delighted to excerpt some of his books. I began following his blog. He began blogging way before blogging pastors were cool.

Dr. Ray was the senior pastor of Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park, IL for many years and is the author of numerous, best-selling books, including An Anchor for the Soul, which is distributed around the world and translated in many languages. Ray is frequently interviewed on radio stations across the country and is a prolific speaker at conferences around the world, including Word of Life. Dr. Ray now is the full-time director of Keep Believing Ministries which equips pastors and church leaders around the world with a resource-rich website, Ray’s books, and a speaking ministry that takes him around the globe.

I have personally benefited from Dr. Pritchard’s ministry. He has been a rich source of wisdom and advice on pastoral ministry, writing, and life. I consider him a great friend. I also regularly peruse his archive of sermons and blog posts for insight into my own preaching.

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Book Review – 5 Ministry Killers by Dr. Charles Stone

What if you could give a pastor truth serum and ask him what ministry is really like? Behind the plastered-on smile and steady handshake are often men of God who struggle with depression, burnout, disappointment, and sin.

And yet, God continues to call ordinary men to the most extraordinary position as shepherd of God’s people. As a young and learning pastor myself, I’m humbled by the opportunity to stand in God’s place and speak the Word to His people. What a holy, humble, and high calling.

One of my good friends in ministry, Dr. Charles Stone, has written a powerful new book, 5 Ministry Killers. Charles rips the mask off of the ministry and reveals the heart of what it is like to be a pastor, going in depth into five areas that rob the joy and steal the fruit of a pastor’s ministry.

Stone compiles research from respected evangelical polling centers such as Lifeway Research, Barna, and Christianity Today. He combs through the research and layers it with his own personal experience—20 plus years in the ministry.

Rarely have I read a pastor so willingly vulnerable, eager to share his struggles and how God has carried him through.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. At time the research arrested my attention. Other times I was forced to close the book and reflect and pray over my own flawed motivations. And the entire time I was challenged and strengthened by the book’s humble wisdom.

I highly recommend 5 Ministry Killers to any pastor, whether you’re like me and you’ve been in the pulpit only 2 years or you’re a grizzled veteran of church life. And you don’t have to be a pastor to benefit. I highly recommend church boards and key lay leadership read 5 Ministry Killers.

Kudos to my friend, Dr. Charles Stone, for a well-written, well-researched, and well-lived book.

Note: Click here to read a Friday Five interview with Dr. Stone that will officially post on June 18th.