Posts Tagged ‘pastors’


Relief for Parents of Special Needs Children

Cameron Doolittle is CEO of an inovative and needed ministry called “Jill’s House.” This unique ministry was birthed out of  McLean Bible Church in the Washington DC area. Jill’s House offers respite for parents of special needs children. I had the chance to interview Cameron this week for my Friday Five feature on Leadership Journal‘s Parse blog. Here’s an excerpt:

There are so many misconceptions about children with special needs. But what, in your view, is the biggest?

When we think of people with special needs, our minds dance with pictures of happy children with Down syndrome. That’s a misleading picture in a couple of ways. First, most families that learn they’re having a child with Down syndrome no longer bring that child to term. As followers of Jesus, we’ve asked people to choose life. For those that did, we have a responsibility to walk with them. Second, most of the special needs community is far lower-functioning. The majority of the children we serve are on the severe end of the autism spectrum and 90 percent of their families have noconnection to a church. That’s a whole mission field we’re missing.

You can read the entire interview here:


Beware of People-Pleasing

My good friend, Charles Stone, has written about one of the hidden temptations of leadership: the tendency to people-please. I know that I fought this as a pastor and continue to fight it as a leader today. On the one hand, your job is to love and serve God’s people. This means putting aside preference and living in community with people with whom you disagree, people different than you. And at the same time, you wear a title and carry responsibility before God. So you must lead and lead well. Charles is a thoughtful writer. His book, 7 Ministry Killers was one of the best books on leadership I’ve ever read. And he’s back with a new one, People-Pleasing Pastors. Here is one of the questions I asked him:

The job of a pastor, by nature, is to bring people together, to lead a diverse group of volunteers and staff. So how does the pastor avoid a people-pleasing mentality when, by the function of his job, he has to at least satisfy those he serves?

It is important to realize that all people pleasing is not wrong or sinful. We are to love others with Christ’s love and often that means pleasing them (i.e., being kind, compassionate, caring, and forgiving). Yet at the same time, leaders must lead. Leading requires leading people and churches/ministries to change. People don’t mind change, as long as it doesn’t affect them. But when change is necessary, we sometimes must go in directions that won’t please everybody. Unless we lead with courage (and effect change) and are willing to NOT please everyone, we will end up pleasing no one and in turn become miserable ourselves.

Read the entire interview here:


Preaching as a Craft to Be Cultivated.

I love preaching. I love the act of preaching and I love listening to preaching. There is something wild and mysterious and beautiful about God’s Word flowing through a flawed man empowered by the Holy Spirit as a primary delivery method for spiritual change.

This week I had the chance to interview Matt Woodley, managing editor of, an excellent resource for pastors and church leaders. Our conversation was wide-ranging, really. I queried him on plagiarism, fact-checking pastors, etc. But my favorite part was reading Matt’s thoughts on the act of preaching itself. Here’s a question I asked him:

If you could give one piece of advice to an up and coming pastor or church leader about preaching, what would you tell him?

Love preaching. It is a craft like mending shoes, fixing cars, throwing a curve ball, writing poetry, performing surgery, teaching British literature, and so on. You can grow as a preacher. So apply yourself to the craft. Learn from other preachers. Read good sermons (and reading is better than listening). Get feedback. And for Christ’s sake (and I mean that literally) stop being so defensive about your preaching! My gosh, it’s not like a sermon is your child or something. But when it comes to preaching, decide right now that you will be a lifelong learner of the craft.

But on other hand, don’t take your preaching too seriously. You aren’t primarily a preacher. You are a child of God. You are a member of the body of Christ. You are a friend, spouse, and parent. Your identity is not wrapped up in how well you preached last Sunday. So read and do lots of stuff that have absolutely nothing to do with your role as a preacher. Preachers who just preach are really boring. Be an interesting person, do interesting stuff, go to interesting places.

Read the entire interview here: 


Laboring in the Word of God

Today, for my Leadership Journal interview, I had the privilege of speaking with Dr. Philip Ryken, President of Wheaton College. Prior to coming to Wheaton, Dr. Ryken was pastor at the historic Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. I’ve enjoyed Dr. Ryken’s preaching and his books. They seem to combine excellent scholarship with an easy-to-read pastoral tone. Among my favorites are Solomon and Loving the Way Jesus Loves. I also enjoy his commentaries in the Preaching the Word commentary series coauthored with Dr. R. Kent Hughes.

The interview was wide-ranging on a few topics. One of the questions I asked him was about the intersection between scholars and pastors:

What are some ways you would counsel pastors to be more scholarly and scholars to be more pastoral?

Like a lot of Presbyterians, I have always admired the ideal of the scholar-pastor. When I was a student at Wheaton in the 1980s, John Piper gave an outstanding chapel message on the ministry of Jonathan Edwards. I still have the notes from that talk, which strengthened my desire to be a pastor. Later, my doctoral work on the Scottish minister and theologian Thomas Boston enabled me to get an inside look at the life and ministry of a scholar-pastor. And I have tried to live out this ideal in my own life, getting the best education I could get and staying somewhat involved in the scholarly world while spending most of my time in pastoral ministry and writing mainly for ordinary people in the church.

As far as encouraging pastors to become scholars, the main thing I would recommend is being absolutely committed to doing the incredibly hard work that preaching the gospel requires—really laboring in the Word of God. It is difficult to preach well. Biblical exposition is a strenuous, life-long calling that demands a commitment to serious study of the Bible. It is good for pastors to read widely, including in theology, and some pastors have the gifts and calling to pursue other forms of scholarship. But the most important thing is to be a student of the Word.

When I think of scholars becoming more pastoral, I think first of my colleagues who teach Bible and Theology at Wheaton College. All of them use their gifts actively in the life of the church. They preach, teach Sunday school, and serve in other ways. Nearly all of them do some of their writing at the popular level. They understand that biblical and theological scholarship is not an end in itself, but is intended to serve the spiritual life of Christian laypeople. This is one of the core values of our department.

Not every scholar has the gifts to be a pastor, but every scholar can make a commitment to live in community with the people of God, to build relationships with neighbors who are outside the church, and to keep the spiritual needs of their friends in mind when they read, write, and lecture

Read more of the interview here: 


Friday Five: Paul Rude



Last week I read an excellent article on the Gospel Coalition blog on the significance of everyday work. At times, pastors and ministry professionals tend to cast “secular” vocations as a sort of second-tier calling. I loved Paul’s perspective and asked him to join me today for a chat around this topic and his new book, Significant Work
Paul Rude is a ministry consultant, speaker, and founder of Everyday Significance, an organization dedicated to helping people connect Christ-centered faith to everyday life. Before launching Everyday Significance, Paul spent eight years working in missions as a ministry leader. Prior to that, he spent a decade in the adrenalin rush of Fortune 500 corporate finance–and loved it. When he’s not speaking or consulting, you might find him rafting whitewater rivers or climbing mountains. Paul lives in rural Alaska with his wife, Misty, and their five kids.

There seems to be a renaissance, of sorts, among evangelicals around the doctrine of work, with Tom Nelson‘s Work Matters, Gene Veith’s work, Tim Keller’s book, Every Good Endeavor and now your book. Why is this issue so important?

Hardworking, everyday Christians are tired of feeling like second-class citizens in the church.

Deep down, we know something is wrong with the paradigm that limits eternal significance to the short list of jobs we traditionally define as “ministry.”

Most of us earn our daily bread in the marketplace, not in religious ministry. If we assume that only acts of “ministry” (teaching Sunday school, witnessing, etc.) are significant to God, then we live two separate lives. We live a sliver of life that makes a difference in eternity, but everything else we do, the great bulk of life, has no eternal value—or worse, it’s a necessary evil.

As we become accustomed to living two separate lives, our faith gradually loses all relevance to our weekday lives. Church is church; work is work. We navigate between two unrelated spheres, two value systems, two moral codes. We begin to confine our faith to that sliver of time we spend doing “religious stuff.” The rest of the time—the great bulk of the time—our faith is off duty. It sits on the sidelines, unconsidered and unexpressed.

Now, at last, theologians, pastors, and authors are pushing back against this paradigm. We are trying to articulate the robust biblical doctrine of work. It’s a doctrine that gives extraordinary significance to the work of truckers and accountants and homemakers. Millions of people are discovering that Jesus Christ is Lord of all seven days of the week—not just Sunday.

You talk about a class system in the church where missionaries and pastors are “really serving the Lord” and lay people are sort of “walking wallets” to fund God’s work ,but whose daily job has no significance. How does this view conflict with God’s mission?

If we were all pastors and missionaries, the human race would starve to death. So we must ask: Did the sovereign God of the universe create a cruel game of musical chairs, where 90 percent of us must work in meaningless jobs so that 10 percent of us can work in significant jobs—ministry jobs? The absurdity of this class system is self-evident.

We make little of God and much of religion when we claim that only pastors and missionaries are serving the Lord with their work.

God’s mission is bigger than our job titles. And he doesn’t play cruel little games with significance.

His mission encompasses far more than simply preaching and witnessing. We see this when we read the rest of the Bible. The Bible begins and ends with creation. Our God is the Creator and Ruler of all things, and he made us in his image. We reflect his glory and character when we create things, when we fill the earth and subdue it, when we tend it—when we work!

How can pastor’s empower the laity to find purpose and mission in their daily work?

Talk about it with their congregations. It’s that simple. Oh, sure, there are many other things a pastor can do. But most pastors need to take the giant first step of initiating the conversation.

Surveys repeatedly tell us that pastors almost never preach or talk about everyday marketplace work—the activity that consumes the greatest portion of the congregation’s time and energy, the activity that puts them in direct contact with the world. This creates a huge disconnect between the heavenly bliss of Sunday and the gritty reality of Monday.

What about parenting? How can Christian families instill a sense of significance and worth in the everyday work life?

My grandmother was awesome, the coolest granny in California—she loved parasailing and polar bear swims, and she loved Jesus Christ.

But one day she told us, “My greatest hope is that all of you will grow up to serve the Lord as missionaries and pastors.”

She meant well. But her words dumped a crushing load of expectation into the heart of a kid who desperately wanted to please his parasailing granny. My dad wisely pulled me aside and corrected grandma’s well-meaning, but misguided, intentions. So no damage was done in my case. But what if my dad had agreed with her?

Parents and grandparents: guard your tongues! Do you carelessly imply that pastors are more significant than truckers? Do you imply that CEO’s are more successful than carpenters? Ouch! I preach and write on these topics, yet I easily fall into this trap. This is tough; we must steadfastly guard our tongues, as well as our hearts.

What is one thing you hope readers take away from your book?

I passionately hope the reader will lay hold of—will live, breathe, trust, know, and utterly experience—the life-giving freedom of the gospel. I want him or her to see how the gospel gives extraordinary value to their regular, everyday work—and to their lives.

Because of Jesus Christ, our undiscovered gifts, our unapplauded work, our forgotten names, and our unsung lives all matter. They matter to God. They matter for his glory. They’ll be part of his masterpiece for all eternity—and oh, what an astonishing, breathtaking wonder it will be!


How You Can Best Help Your Church

If you’re a Christian, whether you realize it or not, you are called, by God, to be on mission in the world. This is the essence of the gospel call, that you were not simply saved from death but also saved for a purpose (Ephesians 2:10). That purpose is to make disciples (Matthew 28:16-20). And the way God has called you to make disciples is through the local church, His expression of His body in your community.

So how do you help your disciple-making, evangelistic, Bible-preaching church with its mission? You might think I’m going to say something really cool like: “go to another conference with a well-known speaker” or “read and then pass along to your pastor that best-selling book” or “get your pastor to do this or that new, innovative church ministry model.”

Those are all good efforts. And if you are in a position of influence, please use that to move your church forward. But there is one, very uncool thing you can do to help your church be all that God desires it to be in the community.

Be dependable. If you were to give your pastor a shot of truth serum, he’d probably say his biggest frustration is to find dependable people. Of course he won’t say this publically, because he’s very grateful for the few in his church who are dependable. I think of my own church, Gages Lake Bible, and the band of people who give of their time (mostly volunteer) to make the church function smoothly. They are awesome.

There is a verse, 1 Corinthians 4:2, that I memorized while in Christian grade school. It’s simple: “It is required of stewards that they be found faithful.” In other words, what God is most looking for from His people are not necessarily spectacular gifts, stunning talent, or amazing personality. Those are wonderful traits that can be leveraged for God’s kingdom, to be sure. But what God is mostly looking for is faithfulness.

Faithfulness is really not a sexy term. You don’t see too many big conferences on faithfulness. I’m guessing none of the political candidates are running on a faithfulness platform. And it’s a subject that is not going to wow your Twitter and Facebook followers.

But wow is it valuable in a church, especially most churches that are, like our church, small and limited in resources. One faithful person or a faithful family can really move a church forward.

And by faithfulness I mean:

  • Attending the services and functions whenever possible. Even when you don’t feel like it. Even when you’d rather be watching football. Not simply because you may get something out of it, but because your presence says something about what you value. Doesn’t mean you don’t go on vacation (I encourage our families to travel–do it, please do it.) Doesn’t mean you don’t ever get sick. Doesn’t mean you don’t travel for business. But all in all, are you someone who is in church whenever you can be?
  • Signing up for jobs nobody wants, like the nursery. Believe it or not, if you want your church to be a family friendly church, somebody has to volunteer to supervise the children. Even if it’s not “your thing.” I’m pretty sure nursery is not anyone’s thing, really. Neither is setting up for an event, mowing the grass, or other such mundane stuff. But these faithful tasks are what makes a church function. And they are acts of worship and sacrifice that please the Lord.
  • Being on time and being someone that your pastor and the church leadership can count on. There are two kinds of church members, in my view. Those who we all know will be there and those whom we wonder if they will show up. Don’t make your attendance and/or participating in a ministry commitment a game-time decision. Don’t make it depend on your faulty alarm-clock or whether or not you spent Saturday night playing Halo. Be there. Be faithful. Be committed. Be consistent.
  • Committing to a regular pattern of giving. Yes, I know you are tired of hearing this from pastors. Yes, we often ask for money in ham-handed ways. But, there is hardly a better measure of your heart than your wallet. (I didn’t say that, Jesus did.)

Why is faithfulness so important? Because it tells yourself, the world, and your Lord what and whom you value. God loves His Church, His Bride. And he calls us to love Her too. I dare say your faithful participating in a local, gospel-preaching church for a long-lifetime will do more for the Kingdom than that winsome blog post, witty tweet, or Facebook rant.

So, to those who faithfully attend, do nursery, hand out bulletins, volunteer, cook meals, tithe, and other church things, I salute you as Christian heros. To those who are not as faithful, here’s your chance: commit this week to being faithful to the local church where you are called.


5 Ways Pastors Can Encourage Working Men and Women

Yesterday America celebrated Labor Day, the holiday reserved as a tribute to American workers. This is a good time to discuss ways pastors and vocational ministry leaders can encourage working men and women in their congregations. This is an oft-neglected, but essential part of ministry, because most Christians who attend church on Sunday don’t draw a paycheck from a Christian organization. They have to get up on Monday morning and perform in the so-called “secular” workforce. Those of us privileged to do so-called Christian work for a living don’t always understand the pressures of the American workforce. So here are five ways pastors can encourage the laity:

1) Read Work Matters by Tom Nelson. Every pastor should read this book, which gives a thorough theology of the oft-neglected doctrine of vocation. Pastors should be able to articulate this in their preaching and counseling. Most Christians don’t understand that the actual work they do in the workplace matters to God. Their role as a plumber or bank teller or lawyer isn’t simply a means to tithe money or be a witness. God is intimately invested in the quality of work produced by our hands. Good work bring glory to the Creator. Reading Work Matters can help you form a theology of work which will in turn help you encourage the men and women in your church to think biblically about their God-given callings.

2) Repent of dividing clergy and laity. All of us in professional pastoral ministry, at some times, have elevated the so-called full-time positions of pastor/teacher/youth pastor/worship leader above the supposed lesser callings like carpenter, fast-food worker or CEO. But Scripture makes no such distinctions. Sure, spiritual leaders bear a sober responsibility, but their work is no more noble than that of the faithful lay person who performs his work to the glory of God. In fact, those who work in secular vocations are arguably on the mission field longer than pastors, because they interface with more unchurched. They are in situations that force them to practice godliness in workplaces largely hostile to Christian values. Rather than treating them like second-class citizens, we should honor the faithfulness of Christian laity by equipping them for their mission, affirming their callings, and encouraging them to faithfulness.

3) Start Connecting Sunday to Monday. We need to infuse our sermons with more illustration and application to Monday. We need to remind the administrator who dreads facing that Monday budget meeting that he is not there simply to collect a paycheck. He is there as God’s representative in his workplace, as a light in the darkness, as a molder and shaper of those in his employ. We need to encourage the stay-at-home mom that her long days of changing diapers, grocery shopping and administering teething drops has a purpose beyond survival. We need to identify with the struggles of those who go in to work every day and are often beaten down by surly bosses, unethical coworkers, and tough working conditions.

4) Reward Faithfulness In the Workplace. I’m not quite sure how to do this, but somehow we need to acknowledge those who work their jobs with integrity and faithfulness. We often reward and celebrate achievements that happen at church–and we should–but what if we publicly acknowledged the teacher who celebrates 30 years in the classroom or the employee who has a faithful attendance record at work or the police officer who is rewarded for community service?

5) Get to Know the Struggles of the Working Man or Woman. The best way I’ve found to help encourage the working man or woman in my church is to simply find out more about what their days are like. Ask questions about their jobs, probe a bit and see what struggles they face everyday, what issues can you pray for? I’ve found people really enjoy when I ask them specific questions about their vocations–how they got to where they are, what they enjoy about it, how their businesses work, etc. This also helps me pray better as well. And it makes me grateful for the job I do as pastor. I often tell people, “I’m not sure I could do your job. It sounds way harder than mine.” Knowing the day-to-day struggles of the people you serve helps you appreciate their contribution, not only to your church, but to the community.


Friday Five: Jeremy Roberts

I’m so pumped to interview Jeremy Roberts. Dr. Jeremy Roberts, 28, is the Pastor of Highland Park Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN.  Previously, he pastored in Tennessee and Texas.  Dr. Roberts served as Adjunct Professor at Criswell College, Dallas, TX and Liberty University, Lynchburg, VA.  Dr. Roberts served on staff with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention and the Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia.  Additionally, he has also served as personal assistant and intern to influential leaders such as Dr. Jack Graham, Prestonwood Baptist Church, Plano, TX; Dr. Ronnie Floyd, Cross Church, Northwest, AR; and Dr. Jay Strack, Student Leadership University, Orlando, FL.

Jeremy earned his Master of Divinity (MDiv) from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, TX and a his Bachelor of Science (BS), Master of Arts (MA), and Doctor of Ministry (DMin) from Liberty University where he served as President of the student body.  Jeremy was born in Atlanta and raised in both Dallas and Virginia Beach.  His wife, the former Charity Hope Crisp, is a native of Knoxville, who earned a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) from Union University in Jackson, TN.  They have one daughter, Autumn Faith, born February 18, 2011.

You’ve recently become senior pastor of a historic, traditional Baptist Church. Do you feel pressure in that position–and how would you counsel a young pastor going into a similar situation? 

Yes, Highland Park Baptist Church (HPBC) is an historic downtown congregation.  I absolutely feel pressure serving as senior pastor of this flock. The church is one that is in the midst of transition demographically, methodologically, and pastorally.

The pressure I feel primarily stems from the fact that the church has seen better days and had one pastor, in particular, who was a giant in the history of Christendom.  His name was Dr. Lee Roberson.  Dr. Roberson led HPBC to grow from a few hundred in average attendance to a church with an average of 10,000+ in average weekly attendance, became the first American multisite church, began Tennessee Temple University, started a 100-acre youth camp (Camp Joy), and began a radio station.  All of his vision still looms over our campus although he retired before I was even born.  Unfortunately, our church is merely a shadow of what we once were (in terms of size), but we’re seeing a turnaround.

In addition to all of the importance of making sure one’s relationship with the Lord and their family is where it needs to be, I would counsel a young pastor going into a similar situation to do a number of things:

 A)   Read The First 90 Days by Harvard’s Michael Watkins.  In your first three months as pastor, go into it with a clear plan to begin your pastorate with intentionality.  You can read my 90-day-plan at HPBC here.

B)   Try to meet with every age group in the church fairly quickly.  Hear their thoughts.  Let them talk.

C)  Determine to plant your ministry there.  Fight through the issues.

D)  Begin the process to clarify the vision God will give you.  Tell the church you are seeking God’s vision, and ask them to pray for it.

E)   Stick with the basics of pastoring, especially at first.  Preach the Gospel. Build relationships.  Be patient.

F)   Lead with the 5 A’s: Assignment (give expectations), Authority (give people authority to accomplish their jobs), Accountable, Assess (make sure the right people are in the right positions), and Applaud (praise and reward people)

 You’ve pastored and served in an academic setting. Seems like there are differing callings and skill sets for both. Is that true? 

I have pastored full-time, taught full-time, and now pastor a church with a university.  So, now my ministry is a hybrid of both academia and pastoring, with a greater emphasis on pastoring.  Are there different callings for this?  I believe my calling is to preach.  I can preach if I’m pastoring or serving in academia.

Yes, there are definitely skill sets for both.  There are some professors I know who would serve as lousy pastors, and vice-versa.  The skill sets for academia involve more study and fundraising.  The skill sets for pastoring require more relational skills.  Both are political and require vision and administrative acumen.

I noticed that you’ve served under some well-known pastors, such as Dr. Jack Graham and Dr. Ronnie Floyd. What did you learn from those internships? 

Serving under Drs. Graham and Floyd were amazing opportunities.  The two men are very different types of leaders, but both are extremely effective.  I learned a lot about administration, preaching, leadership, time management, and multisite strategies.

You and I are considered “millennials.” Much has been written and said about our generation of believers. What would you say is different about millennials and their approach to faith? 

Thom Rainer could say a lot more about this than I since he wrote the book on it—literally.  Probably the biggest difference in their approach to faith hinges on a desire to see genuineness about life change over buildings, budgets, and bodies in the seats.

If you could give one piece of advice to a young pastor, what would that be? 

My one piece of advice is for any pastor of any age: stay close and clean. Johnny Hunt says this at all of his conferences, and it always hits home to me. If we stay close to the Lord and clean (pure), we will go a long way in being effective for God’s Kingdom.