The Pastor as a GP

“A pastor is by definition something akin to a GP (a “general practitioner”). He is not a specialist in, say, divorce and remarriage, missions history, cultural commentary, or particular periods of church history. Yet most pastors will have to develop competent introductory knowledge in all these areas as part of his application of the Word of God to the people around him. And that means he is obligated to devote some time each year to reading in broad areas.” – D.A. Carson

In Honor of the Ordinary No-Name Pastor

In every subculture — including American Evangelicalism — there exists the cult of personality.  That is, the veneration of the elite cadre of men and women that well-meaning folk aspire to imitate.  This is not necessarily bad.  Indeed, these men and women are usually called role models, and the Scripture enjoins us to imitate them (1 Cor 4:16; Heb 6:12; 13:7; 3 John 1:11).

But this is a double-edged sword which may lead the vast majority of ministry leaders to despair of ever having any “real” ministry (defined by a certain number of podcast subscribers or blog post mentions, etc.)

Two resources to encourage, then, the ordinary no-name pastor:

This post by Tim Keller urging young pastors to start in a country church because one is more likely to receive hands-on training there rather than in a megachurch of specialists.

Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor by D. A. Carson [entire PDF available here].  In this book, Carson chronicles the life of his dad, an ordinary pastor.

Being ordinary is okay as long as you’re faithful.

[5/26/2010 update: How can I compete with Internet sermons? is also a helpful and encouraging word.]

Is it wrong to use video / music / drama illustrations in preaching?

The title says it all: “Is it wrong to use video or music or drama as an illustration in preaching?”

Some would answer affirmatively and argue that using video, music, or drama implicitly declares that the Scriptures alone are insufficient (hence the need to use these so-called “bells and whistles”).  They argue that it teaches and trains people to crave and depend on these other means (rather than the Scriptures alone) for edification.  Further, more often than not, people only remember the illustration and not the point of the illustration!  In this sense, such use is neither theologically, pastorally, or homiletically wise.  [more thoughts here]

Others suggest that Jesus’ own use of the parables is a defense of such modern storytelling.  Further, they argue, done properly, such means can be used to appropriately drive home the point of the Scripture in a honoring and edifying manner.

What do you think and why?

[Aug 2009 update: John Piper and churchmarketingsucks.com weigh in]

Preaching Christ in the Old Testament

One of the most burning questions I have right now is this: How (if at all) ought one to preach Christ from the Old Testament?


As I’ve mentioned before, in 2002 I read Bryan Chapell’s Christ-Centered Preaching and it transformed my preaching.  Suddenly it was clear that all the Scriptures were to relate to and point to Christ.  However, if I’m understanding my Old Testament profs correctly, we must treat the Old Testament texts as they stand and not infuse Christ where He is not. 

I agree that we mustn’t pull allegorical gymnastics and find Christ’s blood, for example, in the scarlet thread of Rahab.  But ought we not nonetheless point to Christ in all of our preaching–including Old Testament preaching?  What then makes our preaching distinctively Christian?

These questions have ben piqued as I’ve been enjoying the lectures by John Woodhouse on OT narrative preaching.

FWIW, my current stance on Old Testament texts that do not type Christ is to deal with the text in its literary and historical context (which doesn’t relate directly to Christ) and then shape the application/significance in distinctly Christian terms (perhaps as the secondary meaning of the text). 

This is still a work in progress of course. 🙂

Men, Women and Preachers

his ‘n her silhouettes, originally uploaded by zen.

Two interesting resources particularly for male preachers:

  • What Women Want – Dr. Alice Mathews helps us think about the differences between men and women on Gordon-Conwell’s Preaching Points podcast.
  • What Women Wish Pastors Knew: Understanding the Hopes, Hurts, Needs, and Dreams of Women in the Church – ““What do you wish your pastor knew about women in the church?” The question went out to hundreds of Christian women. This book is the result of that survey: powerful new insights and guidance that can help pastors build up women, heal them, empower them, and help them contribute fully and gladly to the church.”

edit: another resource: a summary of Practical Theology for Women: How Knowing God Makes a Difference in Our Daily Lives (Crossway) by Wendy Horger Alsup.

Tim Keller and The Asian-American Church

abcpastor has an insightful piece examining the ministry of Tim Keller as it relates to Asian-American churches.

Those of us who minister to Asian-Americans should take a look into what Redeemer is all about. The number of Asian Americans that attend Redeemer services are phenomenal. Worship services are held primarily in an auditorium at Hunter College. As the article points out, there’s nothing sexy here. The congregation is led by chamber musicians and hymns. The service is simply done. It’s a sharp contrast to the high production efforts found in other megachurches that lean more on the experiential.


The Web 2.0 Pastor – Facebook and Status Updates

Web 2.0 Logos , Terinea social networks, originally uploaded by terinea.

For years I’ve been reading blogs of people in our community; it was a great way to know how there week was going between weekends.

Although blogging has slowed down–at least in my circles, Facebook has picked up and I find a similar phenomenon by reading their status updates. (Thankfully, Facebook makes this easy by providing a page and RSS feed with all my friends’ updates.)

Some people wonder why I spend time on Facebook; is that really ministry? I think so, and I recently found an article that captures how I can more effectively care for them as a result of following them on Facebook. The article speaks of Twitter, but the idea is the same as the Facebook status:

Individually, most Twitter messages are stupefyingly trivial. But the true value of Twitter — and the similarly mundane Dodgeball, a tool for reporting your real-time location to friends — is cumulative. The power is in the surprising effects that come from receiving thousands of pings from your posse….

When I see that my friend Misha is “waiting at Genius Bar to send my MacBook to the shop,” that’s not much information. But when I get such granular updates every day for a month, I know a lot more about her. And when my four closest friends and worldmates send me dozens of updates a week for five months, I begin to develop an almost telepathic awareness of the people most important to me.

It’s like proprioception, your body’s ability to know where your limbs are. That subliminal sense of orientation is crucial for coordination: It keeps you from accidentally bumping into objects, and it makes possible amazing feats of balance and dexterity.

Twitter and other constant-contact media create social proprioception. They give a group of people a sense of itself, making possible weird, fascinating feats of coordination.

For example, when I meet Misha for lunch after not having seen her for a month, I already know the wireframe outline of her life: She was nervous about last week’s big presentation, got stuck in a rare spring snowstorm, and became addicted to salt bagels. With Dodgeball, I never actually race out to meet a friend when they report their nearby location; I just note it as something to talk about the next time we meet.

It’s almost like ESP, which can be incredibly useful when applied to your work life. You know who’s overloaded — better not bug Amanda today — and who’s on a roll. A buddy list isn’t just a vehicle to chat with friends but a way to sense their presence. Are they available to talk? Have they been away? This awareness is crucial when colleagues are spread around the office, the country, or the world. Twitter substitutes for the glances and conversations we had before we became a nation of satellite employees.


[ht: AcademHack]

[related post on FB and YM and one on Twitter in ministry]

[9/5/08 update: good related article on facebook here]

Praying from Scripture

“It is one thing to pray, “Lord, please be with us through this day.” It is quite another to pray, “Lord remember your promise, ‘I will never leave nor forsake you’ ”(Heb. 13:5). Can you sense the difference? It is one thing to pray, “As we begin our prayer, we thank you for the privilege of bringing our petitions to you.” It is quite another to pray, “We come at your invitation, O Christ, for you have promised, ‘Ask and you shall receive; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you.’ And so we come asking, seeking, and knocking” (Matt. 7:7-8). It is one thing to pray in the middle of tragedy, “Lord we know that you have a plan.” That is a true, valid, and comforting thing to pray. Even so, it is quite another to pray, “O Lord, you have numbered the hairs upon our heads. You are working all things after the counsel of your will. Not even a sparrow may fall from a tree apart from you. You cause all things to work together for good for those who love you, and are called according to your purpose” (Matt. 10:29-30; Eph. 1:11; Rom. 8:28). More effectively comfort the hearts of your people by echoing the promises of Scripture in your prayers.” (Terry Johnson and Ligon Duncan III, “Reading and Praying the Bible in Corporate Worship” in Give Praise to God, ed. by Phillip Ryken, Derek Thomas and Ligon Duncan III, p. 159)

[ht:Praying Publicly (audio, outline)]


Sometimes I feel inadequate to minister to young professionals (who are increasingly becoming a larger part of our community). Having only a small taste of cubicle life, who am I to understand the daily grind of deadlines for reports, sales calls, long meetings, the “evil” boss, and general listlessness that seems to plague corporate America?

Plan A: Should I exit full-time ministry and work for at least a year in a cube?

For me, the answer would be “no” because my passions are not in business; further, I need all the experience I can get in full-on pastoral ministry–I’m a slow learner!

Plan B:

  • Learn from those Christians who are in corporate America.
  • Read Dilbert; watch The Office [NB: I tried the latter last fall.] 😉
  • Engage with ministries like Priority Associates which have some nice training resources.
  • Remind myself that even working in a church has many of the same attributes of corporate America:
    • deadlines for reports => teaching on Fridays; preaching on Sundays
    • sales calls => pastoral care through visitations and follow-up
    • long meetings => long meetings
    • the “evil” boss => [thankfully I haven’t had this one, but other pastors surely have]
    • general listlessness => [yes, can strike pastors as well]

    Those who have not worked in a church often whimsically think that working in a church is like craft and snack time at VBS. But fallen humans work in the church and, sadly, politics are often a reality.

  • Rest in remembering that I can’t literally be in the shoes of every person in the congregation (what about the blue collar worker, the full-time mom, the physician, the lawyer, etc.?), but that God gives others in the Body to help me (see above) and that the Gospel meets the real needs of all.

In short, I’m convinced that people don’t want a pastor who can simply relate to them, they want a pastor who can point to a God who can relate to them. That is, if Joe Pastor spends so much time on trying to be “relevant” to his young professionals that he forsakes his call as a pastor to set forth the glories of the Gospel, he will not only fail in his calling as a pastor, but he will also fail his people by trying to substitute himself–rather than God–as the healing balm.

Real Needs

In Greek class we are unpacking Colossians. The theme of reconciliation through Christ comes across loud and clear; quite a contrast to some themes we hear being lauded in Christian circles.

Hence I found this quote by William H. Willimon insightful and related:

Jesus doesn’t meet our needs; he rearranges them. He cares very little about most things that I assume are my needs, and he gives me needs I would’ve never had if I hadn’t met Jesus. He reorders them.

I used to ask seminarians, “Why are you in seminary?” They’d say, “I like meeting people’s needs.” And I’d say, “Whoa. Really? If you try that with the people I know, they’ll eat you alive.”

Now, if you’re a pastor in Honduras, it might be okay to define your ministry as meeting needs, because more people in Honduras have interesting biblical needs – food, clothing, housing. But most people in the churches I know get those needs met without prayer. So they’ve moved on to “needs” like orgasm, a satisfying career, an enjoyable love life, a positive outlook on life, and stuff the Bible has absolutely no interest in.

[ht: AM]