Category Archives: Discipleship

Processing some things

Tuesday morning, I heard some things that got my attention and shook me to my core.

The first one was Tuesday morning. As my normal routine is, I listen to Pathway to Victory while on my way to work each morning. This morning, Dr Jeffress said something that caught my attention. He was talking about a call and as he was speaking I was thinking about it more in terms of an equation:

Call = Burden + Passion + Opportunity

Hearing this and eventually writing it down really shook me!

I was thinking about this while I was driving. I was thinking back to when I had publicly expressed a “call” of God on my life to preach the Gospel. I was probably the last person that would ever be called to preach. I am not a dynamic speaker. I do not have a commanding or charismatic personality. I would consider myself more of an introvert. I stumbled through memorized speeches that we had to give in high school. I never thought that I would be involved in any sort of public speaking at all. I remember preaching my first sermon and apologizing to my English teachers in advance for all the trouble I had given them during the delivery of those memorized speeches each year. All I knew at the time, was that I had a burden to communicate the Bible to others.

Someone once said, “A call to preach is a call to prepare” So, off to Bible college I went in 1988. Along with the burden, I gained a passion while I was in college as I went through my classes and serving in the local church, I began to grow in my Christian life.

So I had a burden and passion, but was lacking in opportunity. I preached wherever I was given an opportunity. Rescue mission, prison, nursing homes, etc. Then I graduated from college and was ordained shortly after. Ordination was/is a big deal because it is a local church’s endorsement of your calling and gifts. I was ordained but there were no opportunities on the horizon.

Fast forward ten years to 2002. I had resigned my position at a mission agency where I had been for 3 1/2 years and moved to MN to attend Seminary.

Fast forward eight years to 2010. I finished seminary with two degrees.

Fast forward three more years to 2013. I have sent my resume out to over 40 different churches and ministries, looking for an opportunity to re-enter full-time vocational ministry with one interview and a lot of rejection letters. The main reason I have been given is that I do not have any pastoral experience. When I graduated from college in 1992, I was told rather curtly, I was too young and had no experience. I was stunned, while watching my classmates who were the same age and also have no experience, leave college and go into various ministry positions. My home church, although they ordained me, did not attempt to hire me at all. When I finished seminary, I realized that I am in the same boat as I was when I finished college, except for the fact that I am older and married. I am still lacking the experience that most churches are requiring.  I was told by someone that if you are looking for a pastoral opportunity within a church, that most church committees will not take into consideration any experience while serving in a non-pastoral capacity. Honestly, that does not make sense, but it is what I have experienced these last three years.

As I was listening to Dr Jeffress, I was processing my life and realizing that I have a burden (and have had for years), passion (it has been waning in recent years), but the opportunities are non-existent. Then it hit me, the opportunities are no longer present. I thought back to 2010 where I did an unusual amount of pulpit supply and then that came to a halt in September 2010 and I did not preach again until late last year in August of 2012 where I had two preaching opportunities (both pulpit supply) back to back and then as quick as they came, they have disappeared again. Pulpit supply does meet a need, but it is a poor way to learn how to preach and it is a poor way to preach with any consistency. Pulpit supply is not the experience that most churches are looking for. The opportunities are scarce in pulpit supply and in my case non-existent. It is the proverbial catch-22, you have to have experience to get hired by a church, but no one wants to give anyone the opportunity to gain the necessary experience. It should never be this way in a local church.

When I got to work our main computer system was down, so after processing email and doing everything that I could do without our main computer system, I remembered that Jason Meyer was going to speak this morning on the subject of Pastoral Transition after a 32 year ministry. I had the time because our system was down and there was nothing else to do, I listened to the live stream of Jason’s message. If you did not know, Jason Meyer is the new Pastor for Preaching and Vision at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. He is the successor to John Piper, who was the previous Pastor of Preaching and Vision for 32 years.

As I listened to Jason’s story recounting the process and how he spoke many times about the supernatural and the sovereignty of God. I was struck by the fact that nothing of a supernatural nature has been taking place in my life related to ministry since I graduated. It shook me when I had that thought! I started asking myself where I went wrong, was there sin in my life that I needed to deal with, was God chastening me for some reason? I could not identify any one particular thing but as I kept listening, my discouragement increased. I also noticed that Jason had made an impact on several people as evidenced in this video

When I finished seminary and there was no available opportunities for pastoral ministry, I had prayed regarding further education, a PhD or DMin possibly. I found myself in a quandary, I was not academically qualified (grades were not high enough – competition is too strict) and then I found out that I could not get into any DMin program because I lacked the three years of post MDiv ministry experience. So my formal education came to an abrupt halt and I realized that at this point I would not be able to teach in any institution of higher learning with just an MDiv. to teach anywhere, one would need a Doctorate. So teaching in a college or seminary was out.

I was also struck by the fact that John Piper poured his life into Jason Meyer. Jason started his role in August and I can imagine that he has spent numerous hours with John Piper, learning and observing the ministry. Now, the church voted again in December for Jason to become the Pastor of Preaching and Vision effective January 1, 2013. This represents a four month transition. One can only imagine what kind of intense mentoring that took place during those four months and what will take place from January until April when John Piper will step down as the Associate Pastor of Preaching and Vision.

Recently, I had a good friend who was in a similar situation. He was in full-time ministry and was let go by a pastor/church over money issues. He did nothing wrong, he served with honor, but the church and pastor were not obeying 1 Timothy 5:17-18. He found himself out of the ministry and discouraged. He was faithful and had a desire to serve God in full-time ministry and went over ten years with no prospects and a healthy amount of disappointment. The turning point in his life was an area pastor he met who took an interest in him and kept in contact with him. This pastor eventually recommended him to a church nearby and last Sunday he preached his first sermon as the new Senior Pastor of that particular local church.

What I am noticing is a common denominator in these situations: People took a real interest in an individual. It was not a casual interest, but rather a committed one. It embodied the spirit of 2 Timothy 2:2

And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.

I was also struck by the involvement of the local church in the life of Jason Meyer and the life of my friend. Acts 13 is a text that reaffirms the role of a local church with regard to its responsibilities of sending out those within its midst who are called and affirmed by the local church for Gospel ministry. Too many local churches take the passive approach and abdicate this responsibility to a Bible college or a seminary. Does the local church that you attend have a method or process for recognizing and affirming those who have expressed a call to ministry?

In the end, I am reminded of the Scripture found in 1 Timothy 3:1

If a man desires the office of a bishop, he desires a good thing.

I am also reminded that I am not getting any younger either.

Still trying to make sense of what I heard on Tuesday morning and wondering how it all fits in the context of my life.

An article that needs to be read

Are you a pastor?  Then you need to read the article that I am linking to.

Are you called to preach?  Then you need to read this article also.

It is a severe indictment against our churches if an article like this has to be written.  I am thankful for Brian Croft writing this article. He has written what many people are probably thinking.   Hopefully some churches and pastors will put into practice what he has written about.

With those brief comments…..read here

After you have read, then please feel free to comment.

Are you in a church where other men outside of the pastor and staff are not given opportunities to preach and refine their preaching skills?  If so, I would like to hear your story.

Accountability is not a bad word…

First, I would like to apologize for the lack of posts recently.  I realize that if I want people to read, I have to post!

I have been thinking a lot in recent days about accountability.  Some people are quite negative on the subject,  I do not understand why, but they are entitled to their opinion.

There are various facets of accountability – family, job, church, etc.

Accountability is defined as an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions. [Definition taken from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary-Online]

I am thankful for the various facets of accountability that are in my life.  I am thankful that I am held accountable for my actions on the job.  I have to abide by a code of conduct and I am given a performance review each year that holds me accountable for certain tasks and goals.  I am thankful for familial accountability.  I have certain responsibilities as a father and a husband.  It is not enough for me to be there for dinner each evening and make sure the bills and obligations are paid on time.  I need to shepherd my family.  This is a role that I am becoming more aware of and I am working in the new year.

One aspect of accountability that I am aware of but seems to be misunderstood or lacking is that of accountability among brothers and sisters in Christ within the local church.

Hebrews 10:23-25 reminds us

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering , for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the day approaching.

When was the last time you exhorted someone or you were exhorted when you were in attendance at your local church?  I am not referring to the preaching of the Word, but rather one on one ministry between you and another believer.  When was the last time someone encouraged you regarding love and good works?  Church membership has fallen on hard times, especially in the Bible belt where “everyone is a church member or in church”.  Is church membership to resemble a country club membership or a social club?  Unfortunately, I think that church membership has declined in our culture and partially due to a lack of understanding of the true meaning and purpose.

Is it wrong to hold other church members accountable?  No, in fact it is one of the keys of church discipline (Mt 18:15-17).  Most church covenants have a statement or two regarding mutual accountability.  The church I currently attend has the following statements:

.. to walk together in Christian love;

We further pledge to watch over one another in brotherly love; to remember each other in prayer; to aid each other in sickness and distress; to cultivate Christian sympathy in feeling and courtesy of speech; to be slow to take offense, but always ready for reconciliation…

How can we accomplish these things effectively if we really do not know anyone or have meaningful relationships within the local church?  We talked about this in our Men’s Bible Study last week.

Unfortunately, we hear about a brother or sister in Christ who has fallen into sin and their fellowship is broken with the Lord and eventually with the local church. When you hear about these things, pray for the person(s) involved, then ask yourself this question, “Is there something I could have done to prevent this from happening?”    There are people around us who do not feel that church membership is not important and as a result they resist accountability of any sort and most times do not possess a teachable spirit.  The Bible does give us an admonition regarding how we are to handle such persons.  Again, we see that it involves a form of accountability.

2 Timothy 2:24-26

24 And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, 25 in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, 26 and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.

2 Corinthians 13:5

Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified.

 

So as we look to the end of 2012 and to the beginning to 2013.  How are you executing your responsibilities as a believer not only to be accountable, but to also hold others accountable as well.  Not in a Pharisaical manner, but rather in a loving Christ-like manner.

I would like to hear from you.  Has someone held you accountable within the context of the local church?  Was it a positive experience?

 

 

Another difference-maker – Mark Dever

I am currently reading a great book entitled Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons by Thabiti Anayabwile

One of the quotes that really struck me came from the introduction on page 12

Then there was Mark Dever, an unusually gifted discipler of men and teacher of God’s Word. I cannot forget his eager generosity towards me. It began on the day of my membership interview at Capitol Hill Baptist Church. He asked what I wanted to do with my life over the long term. A little intimidated, I answered, “I would love it if the Lord would allow me to pastor full-time.” Really? Mark replied, eyebrow curiously raised, head slightly tilted. Then he turned to my wife and asked, “Can he teach?” Oh no, I thought. I did not see that coming. What would she say? To my relief , “Oh, yes” came the quick and confident reply. Mark turned to me and said, “You should call the church office and get on my calendar for regular lunches together. Let’s meet up and discuss good Christian books. You should consider my life open to you.”

There is a lot that jumped off the page at me when I read this, I will attempt to highlight what I saw and how it spoke to me:

1. Mark Dever asked a question that every pastor should ask – What do you want to do with your life? A probing question, but a necessary and essential one.

2. Mark Dever is a busy pastor, but took the time to mentor Thabiti through regular lunches together. He did not delegate this responsibility to someone else.

3. The statement that jumped off the page – You should consider my life open to you.. That is huge, not only did Mark Dever make a commitment to mentor and disciple Thabiti, he made himself very accessible!

It is very easy to say that you want to mentor or disciple someone, but are you available to them? Are you meeting regularly with them? Are you introducing them to people who can help and assist them? Are you giving them opportunities to minister?

It all started with a question during a membership interview which lead to the beginning of a discipleship/mentoring relationship between Mark Dever and Thabiti Anaybwile. Thabiti served as an elder at Capitol Hill and now is the Senior Pastor at the First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman. They are both scheduled to speak at Together For The Gospel in Louisville in April 2012.

What we can learn from Joe Paterno

This is not going to be an article on football or the scandal that plagued Joe Paterno in recent days before his death, but rather a few things that I learned from an article in the USA Today written by Jack Carey.

Most people will remember Joe Paterno for his coaching longevity, his accomplishments on the football field or the scandal that eventually led to his dismissal from Penn State University. What stood out to me was something far different.

Joe Paterno had a mentor who believed in him. This belief was not just something that was said and never acted upon. The individual who mentored Paterno was a coach named Rip Engle. As the story is told in Carey’s article, Paterno had been accepted into law school, but while he was waiting graduation, Paterno was given the opportunity to be a part-time assistant under Engle working with the quarterbacks. Engle was later given the head coaching position at Penn State and was allowed to bring one assistant with him and that assistant was Joe Paterno. Paterno ended up succeeding Engle in 1966 and the rest of the story is history.

The part I am focusing on is that fact that Paterno was given a chance by someone who could help him and did help him succeed! Engle gave Joe Paterno a part time assistant job which ended up preparing him for the job that he held for 46 years. Not much was said in the article about the relationship between Engle and Paterno, but it was that key relationship and mentoring that undoubtedly took place between these two men that helped Joe Paterno become one of the most well-known college football coaches. Not many people know who Rip Engle is, but they know who Joe Paterno is!

If you are mentoring someone, what are you doing to make sure that they are advancing and progressing in their respective fields? Many professions require an internship and it is during those times that the greatest learning takes place because it is leaving the theoretical and the book learning and allowing them to put things into practice with hands-on learning. What good is a doctor, if they complete their classroom training, observe the more experienced doctors practice medicine, but then the student is given menial tasks and never allowed to do anything of substance that would allow him to eventually practice medicine and become a full-fledged doctor? What good is a lawyer that finishes law school and passes the bar exam, but is never allowed to argue a case?

I think that there is a big misunderstanding in mentoring. Mentoring is not just getting together, talking and listening, or just watching some experienced person perform various tasks within a certain field. Mentoring is spending time with people and letting them do some of the same tasks that the mentor would do. Mentoring is about making opportunities for the one being mentored so that they can grow and develop.

Too many times we can place too much stock in education. I am not discounting education in any way. I have a B.A , M.A. in Theology and a Master of Divinity, so I am not against education. I think too much emphasis is placed on education and too little on letting people learn hands on. I would not want a pilot flying a plane, if he hasn’t had the proper amount of classroom training along with time in the flight simulator and the right amount of flying hours. The balance here is education with practical training.

The same is true for pastoral ministry. We have enough people out there that are saying, “Watch what I do and learn from me”, but not enough pastors who are willing to take a risk and let people learn by doing.

I think the words of Mark Dever are so applicable in this context of mentoring,

God raises up young men who watch their life and doctrine closely and are gifted to teach his Word publicly. Hire them when they’re a cub. Let them chew things up around the house for a while, and you’ll have a lion that loves you for life! Young pastors make mistakes. But young pastors—if they’re called and equipped by God—can stay for a long time, and have deeply fruitful ministries for decades

Remember, not many people knew who Rip Engle was but they knew who Joe Paterno was. May we be people who not only mentor others but give others a chance to learn by doing and by making opportunities for them to do so!

Mentoring or discipleship – Is there a difference?

Recently, I was asked by someone if I would mentor them.  I was flattered by the opportunity but at the same time was overwhelmed with a great sense of inadequacy because of the struggles in my own life.  When I initially responded to the inquiry, I almost turned it down because I was allowing my own struggles to take over.  I realized that no one is perfect and that even though mentoring is a big word and is thrown around a lot in the business world, that it is nothing more than discipleship.  Allow me to make my case

The definition of mentoring is:

Taken from the New Oxford American Dictionary:

Noun – an experienced and trusted adviser; an experienced person in a company, college, or school who trains and counsels new employees or students

Verb – to advise or train (someone, esp. a younger colleague).

We see this word used (or as I said earlier, thrown around a lot).  Doing a quick Google search yielded over 42 million hits on the word mentoring alone.

As I was meeting with my mentee via Skype and we were concluding our time.  I made mention of the fact regarding the word mentoring and that I think that it is essentially the same thing as discipleship.  What does the Bible say about it?

2 Timothy 2:2 (NKJV) And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.

Discipleship or mentoring is just taking what you have learning and pouring it into the lives of other people.  Notice Paul gives a command (commit) and he tells us to whom we are to commit what we have heard – to faithful men.  Why? because they will be able to teach others also.

If someone asks you to mentor them, consider it an honor and a challenge!  Do not get hung up on your own inadequacies and struggles, because no one is perfect or by any means infallible. We all have struggles, some people do a better job than others in hiding and masking them instead of being transparent.

Think back to how you came to Christ, how someone took the time and effort to share the Gospel with you.  They made an investment in your life.  Are you making that same investment in the lives of others?

You may say, okay, I will accept the challenge to mentor/disciple someone else, but what do I do?  I found myself in the same situation, not knowing what to do?  I prayed about it and what we do is quite simple, it works and the best thing is that it can be changed  as needed.

We meet once a week – on Saturdays (we started meeting in the afternoons via Skype) but we have changed recently to early mornings on Saturdays due to our schedules and family needs.

We go through an accountability worksheet – the one we use, I obtained as a PDF from Desiring God  They are the accountability questions that John Piper uses with the elders at Bethlehem Baptist.  We don’t use all of the questions because some of them do not apply to us.  The questions over all are thought-provoking and convicting.  They are a good exercise of mutual accountability.

We are reading a book together, currently we are reading A Call to Spiritual Reformation by D.A. Carson.   This book is a great read on the discipline of prayer and what we should be praying for instead of what we commonly pray for.  We read a chapter a week and discuss it.

We are also reading the Bible together.  We read aloud a chapter of the Pastoral Epistles (today was 1 Timothy 5) and we discuss that in light of us being men who have a desire to return to full-time vocational ministry.

We pray and share prayer requests.

Nothing fancy or formal, but a commitment of time and a commitment of obedience to the Scriptures.  Today instead of doing our accountability questions, I asked for my mentee/disciple to tell me about his week. We also read an article that was a blessing to both of us regarding the search for pastoral ministry opportunities instead of our chapter in the book. My point is do something redemptive and practical.

I think that mentoring is the same as discipleship, even though we may use different terms.  Discipleship as a term may not be a functional term in the business world, but the concept is still the same- investing in others.

Who are you investing your life in?