Menu Close

Page 2 of 7

Praying for a Reset: Longing for a Do-Over, Fearful of the Same

Have you ever longed to be refreshed, renewed, and refocused as you enter a new year? Then read on.

My birthday has two dubious distinctions. First, if you are Hispanic and on January 6th you eat a cake with a tiny plastic baby Jesus inside it then you have to throw a party on February 2nd. (This is real.) Second, it’s Groundhog Day, which is notable for a bizarre ritual involving a groundhog being accosted with television cameras first thing in the morning and also movie with Bill Murray.

This post will be about how this movie and the Lord’s Prayer matter immensely to resetting our lives and ministry.

Now, to my knowledge I’ve never actually seen the whole Groundhog Day movie with Bill Murray but I’ve gotten the gist in cable TV re-runs: Bill Murray is a jerk and finds himself reliving the same day (Feb 2) over and over again every time he goes to sleep. Besides a scene where he kidnaps a groundhog I think the movie sticks around because it speaks to a longing we all have and a dread that we all have: First, we want a do-over. There are days, weeks, years that we wish we could live over again. Maybe 2015 was like that for you. Second, we each fear being stuck in the same day, or year over and over monotonously doing the same thing again and again.

I feel this heading into 2016.

I want a do-over with some key personal and church decisions last year. And I dread that this year might be just like last year and the year before, that certain personal and ministry hopes will go unfulfilled. I long for a reset. A true reset. I long to wake up in 2016 refreshed, renewed and refocused.

In the last days of 2015 I found something that has been steadily resetting my heart and soul and changing the way I enter this new year. It’s not something new, because fundamentally what I need is not something new but something true. It’s hidden in plain sight:

Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. (Matthew 6:9-13 ESV)

Jesus says “Pray like this.” This is meant as a model and it seems clear that this structure is not given simply because it pleases God (though it does) but because the progression is helpful for our hearts. Praying this way that will not just change the content our prayers, it will change us too. It will reset us.

When we become discouraged we’re often hit with one of two lies: “God doesn’t care about you,” or, “God can’t help you.” This is often why we take matters into our own hands as pastors, church planters, or leaders with disastrous results. We fail to remember who God truly is. If J.I. Packer is right and the most important thing about us is what we think of when we think of God, then we desperately need these few words.

He is Our Father. He is not a dispassionate taskmaster impatiently waiting for status reports on that floundering small group in our church. He is our Father. He loves us with the familial affection of a dad laughing at his son’s jump into the Fall leaves.

He is the King of Heaven. “Father in Heaven” is not his address, it’s a reminder that this Father is sovereign and above all. There is nothing to beyond his power or capacity. His dominion extends to black holes and galaxies, to microns and particles.

Last year I needed my dad’s help with something. I brought the request ready with several arguments for why I needed the help and how it was important and necessary. But a few sentences in my dad said, “Sure I’d love to help.” Not to be dissuaded I continued making arguments until he said, “Son. I’m your dad. I’m happy to help.”

This is our God: someone happy to help and full of power to do so.

Where parts of our lives currently feel out of control we must remember that he loves us and is sovereign over us. Where we look to the future we will only be filled with true courage knowing that someone is there who is both impossibly loving and impossibly strong.

And do not miss the impossible word right before “Father.” He is our Father. He paid and precious and dear price, the price of his only begotten son to purchase those two words for us. Jesus hung on a cross, forsaken by his Father so that we could be restored to our Father.

This means all that God is (this completely loving Father and completely sovereign King) he is for us.

When we think of failures and regrets from last year we must be reminded that we’re not trying to dig ourselves out of a hole with God this year. Our relationship is all of grace. When we think of our great successes from last year we must be reminded that God rejoices but we come to him as children based only on what he’s done for us.

I need to hear this.

When you’re replanting a church, planting a church, or just lead a small group of believers, the temptation when you need a reset is to start with yourself: a new strategy (“this small group book will fix us!” we think), a new plan (“this outreach will finally connect!” we think), a new sermon (“this one will finally change them!” we think). But Jesus reminds us that we must start at a different place. We start with God and our relationship with him.

And one last thought: starting here in prayer changes the tone and tenor of our requests. We do not come desperate to see our last-ditch ministry effort succeed, we come secure in his love and in his sovereignty. We do not parade in with a puffed out chest as if our church plant is a going to single-handedly turn redemptive history around, we come awed that God our father would love us much less use us.

We’ll pick this up next time. In the meantime there is enough here to reset our souls. There is enough here for pastors longing for a do-over and ministry leaders afraid of nothing changing.

“Our Father, who art in heaven.”

On my Ordination Eve: Will I survive?

My ordination is this weekend. It’s Ordination Eve, you might say. Michelle (my wife) and I were talking about this momentous occasion recently. We’ve been dating, engaged and married for 14 years. I’ve been pursuing ordained pastoral ministry for some 13 years. It’s been, in effect, one of the long-term goals of our entire relationship. This call to ministry has determined how we’ve understood the Lord’s leading, our own growth and purpose, and a number of sacrifices along the way.

But on the eve of my ordination, this realization of 13 years of pursuit, I’m haunted by the question: Will I survive?

Several of the men who were a part of bringing me into ministry are now out of ministry. Some for good reasons, others, sadly, for disqualifications of one kind of another. I’ve watched men in my family of churches and outside fall to various kinds of moral failure. I’ve seen friends, well intentioned, go down heretical paths with gusto.

Having been in full-time ministry work for the last year and a half, I can hardly say I understand the full weight and temptations that lead men to disqualification (morally or doctrinally). But, I’ve been at this long enough to see the hints. Those hinting, quiet thoughts of reprieve from the isolating stress of vocational ministry. Those alluring doctrinal compromises that would seem to affirm more people, garner more influence, lay smoother tracks.

I’m haunted by the question of “Will I survive?” because all those alluring temptations need only the fertile soil of my own heart to grow. I know my own inclinations, I see the temptations. I see that, with John Bradford watching a man lead to execution, “There but for the grace of God go I.”

In light of this, I’ve made it a bit of my mission to interview older pastors about surviving and thriving in ministry. I may turn those questions and discussions into a series at some point, but I’ve garnered some categories to consider. These are six categories contrasted with a temptation that could lead to ministerial disqualification.

Sobriety over presumption

“Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.”

~1 Corinthians 10:12

Maybe this is the obvious one, but it’s foundational. I am no better than any man who’s disqualified from ministry. Yes, even the pastor who’s cheated on his wife and sent her out to the wolves. I’m no better. Maybe I have not done what he has, but if I believe “I’ll never do that” I’m an idiot.

Of the ten thousand things God is doing in the ministry failure of any pastor, he is certainly teaching us to be sober about our own propensity to the same failure. I am no better than any man. And given the same circumstances, I have no confidence in myself that I would not succumb in a similar way (1 Cor. 10:12-13).

So, dear soul, strive for humility. Cultivate it in active prayer. Strive to diligently keep the Law of the Lord – for he is your only preservation against the sin in your own heart (Ps. 119:4, 8).

No over Yes

This is largely catalogued and acknowledged in the sphere of ministry: Pastors do too much. They say Yes too often, and say No infrequently. I’m not going to belabor this point, but simply offer a thought: If the call of pastoral ministry is to “equip the saints for the work ministry” (Eph. 4:12), then maybe this is just me, but it seems that all the work of ministry must not be done by the pastors. I’m not a quantum physics major, and I wore punk suspenders in high school, but it seems to me that “equip” means pastors need to say No more often.

Along these lines, I simply offer Essentialism as a book for your consideration. It’s not a “Christian” book (can a physical book profess Christ?), nor to my knowledge written by a Christian. However, I’d say that this book has been the most helpful book on productivity and leadership that I read in 2015. At it’s core, it’s a book about the nature of being disciplined. What is your main purpose in life pastor? How do you cultivate that focus, and equip those around you to do those things which are not your main focus? I think this book serves pastors to do the very command of Ephesians 4:12. It equips the pastor, and thereby, equips the church to be productive for God.

Doctrinal Growth over Knowledge Maintenance

The demands of ministry are brutal. What’s the church mission statement? What are our core values? What is our ministry philosophy? What’s our budget? What is a budget? How do I set up a budget for an organization? How do we incorporate? What’s our policy manual going to cover? How do we relate to each other outside of worship? What are our worship services going to look like? What about our guest packets? How are we going to do fundraising? What’s the church’s name going to be? How do I keep up with all these people? Why did X leave the church? I need to visit X in the hospital. I need to prepare X sermon. I hate cats.

There are lots of things to be done in ministry. It’s easy to push simply reading a theological book on the back burner. It’s even more alluring to stop growing doctrinally if you’re a relatively well-read guy. (If you don’t read, I guess that’s a different temptation.)

I can already see in my own soul the inclination to stop growing doctrinally. I’ve got all these other things to handle – getting into the nuances of say, the Covenants, just seems overwhelming. But, my brother, if we do not strive to go “further up and higher in” to the glories of God in the teaching of Scripture, then we’re drifting away. You need to lead you people – which means leading them doctrinally. I wonder if the reason some pastors tenures at churches are so short – maybe 3-5 years – is because at the end of 150-250 sermons, they’ve said everything they know. May that never be brothers! Strive for doctrinal growth. Repent of doctrinal error or mishandling. You are called to feed the sheep of Christ. Get the food!

Soul Care Rhythms over the Taut Bow Syndrome

I get this phrase from our good friend, Charles Spurgeon:

The bow cannot be always bent without fear of breaking. Repose is as needed to the mind as sleep to the body. Our days of worship (which were, in the Old Testament, sabbaths) are our days of toil, and if we do not rest upon some other day, we shall break down. Even the earth must lie fallow and have her sabbaths; and so must we; hence the wisdom and compassion of our Lord, when He said to His disciples that they should go “apart into a desert place, and rest a while.”

You need to know yourself. I can easily see how I could do 80+ hours of work “for the sake of the Gospel” every week. It’d kill my soul, and probably destroy my family, but I could do it. Even still, I can maintain a heavy work load for a while, but it would break me, and be unbelief tot he core.

Part of this is knowing yourself, and knowing your culture. In New England, the summers are slow and low. Church attendance drops to nearly half. Apparently, in the old days, pastors in New England used to swap preaching at each others churches to enable each other to get some time off. They understood their culture.

I once had a conversation with Warren Boettcher, where he recommended a personal retreat every 3-4 months. Depending on your own makeup, it could vary. But doing a regular, three day personal retreat was recommended. I’ve started setting this up for my own schedule.

At it’s core, this expresses faith in the Lord. I’m not the Lord of the Church, just a slave. The church will do just fine without me for a few days. In fact, it’s likely to improve! But the burdens of ministry are such that taking time away to care for your soul should be regular, and should be supported (relationally and financially) by the church.

Robust Polity over Independence

I wonder if part of ministry burnout – morally or emotionally – is due to not having a healthy church polity. If a pastor is taking all the hits of a church on his own chin without a plurality of local elders and a region of elders confessing the same doctrine and mission, I can understand how bitterness, lusts, etc. would have fertile soil.

At the same time, I don’t think it’s easy. I’m not going to lie, church planting with Sovereign Grace over the last year and a half has not been a walk in the park. I don’t imagine life together in the years to come is going to be sipping coffee. But I know that other men need my help, and more importantly, I need theirs. I need a regional leader to keep my eyes on the mission. I need other men in our region to pick up the slack of my own failures in ministry. I think our church and my own ministry longevity are healthy due to a robust partnership that means something. We’re not just friends, we’re brothers. And I think brothers help cary the load of ministry better when there are more shoulders to the task.

Faith over Fear

At the heart of this is the call to faith. Will I fail in ministry? I put my trust in the Lord, who cares for me. To fearfully wring my hands over disqualification will certainly lead to failure of one kind or another. When you’re driving, you don’t get to your goal by watching the guard-rails, you keep your eyes ahead. You get to the goal by watching for it – and in this spiritual case, trusting in Him.

Maybe that’s why Paul encourages the young pastor Timothy with a reminder about faith in contrast to fear from his own ordination:

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

~2 Timothy 1:6-7

What’s my ultimate hope against these haunting fears of disqualification? God himself, in the Gospel. The Gospel that has saved me – Christ’s death on my behalf, his righteousness counted as my own in Him – this is my hope. The inward evaluation will kill me. It’s the eye of faith, that looks to God, and knows that he has given me a spirit of power (that makes real change) and love (for who he is and his work) and self-control (to put to death the sin within), that he might be glorified in my life.

In the end, it is God himself that preserves a man for a life-time of faithful ministry. On my Ordination Eve, would you pray that I would know this more deeply? That I’d trust this God for the calling? And if you’re provoked by these categories, I guess you can pray for yourself. But pray for me first. I need it.

New Authors, New Schedule at Plant/Replant

Here’s the headline: We’re relaunching with two new authors and slower but better post schedule.

We’re excited about some future possibilities in this and think it’ll result in stronger content . Basically, we want to make the blog worth your time. If you’ve followed Plant/Replant you’ll noticed that we went strong for two months then took two months off. (Hey, we deserved a vacation ok?? This blogging stuff isn’t as easy as it looks. [Actually, it is.]) This new format should keep that from happening in the future.

Some Background

Plant/Replant exists because of some good news, and to spread this good news. A couple months into starting this new blog we realized two things: 1) we don’t have as much time as we thought we did, and 2) we didn’t want to give up on the idea for Plant/Replant. Jacob is planting a church in Manchester, NH and I’m leading a church in El Paso, TX. We love writing, we love mission and we love Sovereign Grace Churches and we loved having a place where all this intersected. So how could we make this work?

Adding Authors

At the same time we often discussed “Is there anyone else who should be writing with us?” and two guys in particular came up:
  • My friend Rob Tombrella has a huge heart for mission and who, among other things, leads many missional initiatives as a pastor at Grace Church in Frisco, TX. Rob holds an M. Div from Southwestern University, and he’s led a church before coming to Grace Church. He also is chair of the church planting committee and the kind of guy that is up for anything as long as in the end people hear about Jesus.
  • Our friend Nick Swan  is a pastor at Crossway Church in the Charlotte area. There are many notable things about Nick including his current studies at Reformed Theological Seminary, his service on the Theological Committee for Sovereign Grace, his symphony level oboe skills, but we largely invited him to join us because he has the best beard in Sovereign Grace.

We’ve added these two authors to Plant/Replant and reserve the right to add more, especially if they have cool beards.

Here’s what I love about the idea of the four of us writing together: We are all profoundly different and minister in profoundly different places (town, urban, suburban) but we share the same values. We don’t even always agree on how those values should be applied but we hold them, treasure them, and seek to promote them. We all love our family of churches but don’t always agree on the best way forward either and we think our writing together will yield some good interaction and sharpening.

What to Expect

Topics: The driving idea behind Plant/Replant is that Jesus has called his church to join him in the work of making disciples in our neighborhoods and in the nations beyond. Because of our backgrounds Jacob and I will often bring a special emphasis on planting (Jacob) or replanting (me). But we’re grateful Rob & Nick will contribute to this conversation from their perspective in established churches because Jesus calls all churches to this mission whether they’re plants or not. We’re also hoping to write some more about polity and how it serves as a key support that enables mission to happen (really we’re hoping Nick will write about this since he’s significantly smarter than us, or appears so by virtue of his beard). Without strong polity the mission is hampered and undercut before it begins.

Frequency: Our goal is four substantive posts per month with a few extra posts thrown in. Each guy will post a 700-1,000 word article each month.

Interaction: With four of us we’ll also be looking for more opportunities for interaction between us. Maybe we’ll thrown in some things like taking a question in roundtable format or responding to one another’s posts in brief. We’re open to suggestions.

Thanks for reading

We know there are more than enough silly cat videos, Star Wars fan theories, and playoff projections to occupy your time online. Thanks for spending a few minutes with us–we’ll try to make it worth your time. At least, we’ll seek to point you to some good news about Jesus that’s always worth your time.

Two Books to Stir Your Soul

At times I’ve read a great deal for my devotion times. I’ve read (and continue to read) the Puritans to help me in my devotion times in the past. I’ve read 10+ chapters a day. For whatever reason, I’ve been on a few verses plus a few pages in a good book kick lately. I need accessible, rich food for my soul, and I’ve found two books that have been incredibly helpful.

Delighting in the Trinity

9780830839834In this little book, Michael Reeves works some major wit and heft to lead you into seeing the shear beauty and glory of our Triune God. This isn’t a doctrine for heady Christians, it’s the heart and arteries of the Christian faith. No Trinity, no faith.

Reeves is accessible, fun and profound. In an age where any mention of “God” in public is considered a “win” for people of faith, Reeves reintroduces Christians to the profound joy of the Triune God. The Trinity is not what may sell major books, but it is the heart of the Christian faith, and it is the only sure ground of true, lasting and real joy. Ever. No Trinity, no joy. If that sounds like a big one to buy, then give Reeves a read. He’s simple, clever and clear. I read this for my devotion times over the last couple weeks, and it left me wanting more of the Triune God, and having a clear sense of the mystery of God as Three in One. Highly recommended.

Rejoicing in Christ

9780830840229This is Michael Reeve’s follow up book. I actually read this one first and loved it so much that I went back to read his one on the Trinity. As I said above, I find myself rather weary lately. I imagine this is just the way church planting goes. What I love about Reeves is that while he’s clearly very smart, he’s not out to impress anybody. He uses his gifts to lead us into the heart of the Gospel. In this book, he does just that. He leads us to Jesus, to marvel, wonder, to delight in him.

What I find especially interesting here is that the early church fought (sometimes with actual blows – thank you St. Nick!) to preserve and clarify the doctrines of the Trinity and Christ. Their formulations weren’t power plays or arguments over minutia. Reeves shows us how each point in the doctrine of Christ is crucial for our salvation and the glory of God. With good wit and some fun, he shows us how the early Church’s formulations about Christ were not only Biblical, but essential for life and godliness. This book is deep, accessible and rich. Very edifying while being easy to understand with deep, great truths. It helped me love Jesus Christ more. And for this weary soul, that’s just what I need in morning.

I’d recommend getting both of these – Delighting in the Trinity and Rejoicing in Christ – to not only enrich your understanding of the Christian faith, but lead you to experience the Christian faith. Which is to say, these books help you to experience the glorious Triune God through the Lord Jesus Christ.