In addition to the infinite value of immortal souls, readers today can also take note of the Serampore missionaries’ emphasis on cultural exploration and personal sacrifice.
In much the same way that John Stott encouraged preachers to be “bridge-builders”—tying the biblical world to the contemporary world (See Between Two Worlds)—the Serampore missionaries emphasized the need to connect the world of Scripture to their missionary context. In order to do that, however, their context demanded their attention and exploration.
To know their modes of thinking, their habits, their propensities, their antipathies, the way in which they reason about God, sin, holiness, the way of salvation, and a future state ; to be aware of the bewitching nature of their idolatrous worship, feasts, songs, &c., is one of the highest consequence, if we would gain their attention to our discourse . . .
In addition to exploring and understanding their cultural context for the purpose of relating their thoughts concerning holy things to the Word of God, the Serampore missionaries sought to use their knowledge to diminish the likelihood that they would be unnecessarily offensive to the cultural sensitivities of those in India. As has been observed and stated so often before, the gospel may be an offense to those who are perishing; we need not be offensive in our communication of it.
These English missionaries understood that there would be some major cultural differences, but emphasized that, “Paul’s readiness to become all things to all men, that he might by any means save some, and his disposition to abstain from necessary comforts that he might not offend the weak, are circumstances worthy of our particular notice.”
Without beginning a new debate unnecessarily, at the very least, we should acknowledge that if the best reason one can give for participating in a given behavior that may be considered offensive (drinking alcohol or smoking cigars, for instance) is his freedom in Christ, perhaps he misunderstands entirely the manner Paul understood this freedom.
These missionaries, however, did not. Their willingness to jettison any cultural distinctions that may have been a hindrance to the lost hearing the gospel should inspire many of us to do the very same. They were interested in converting those in India to become biblical, not British, Christians.
Finally on this point, their willingness to forsake all for the sake of the gospel should inspire us today.
Let us give ourselves up unreservedly to this glorious cause. Let us never think that our time, our gifts, our strengths, our families, or even the clothes we wear, are our own. Let us sanctify them all to God and his cause…. Let us continually watch against a worldly spirit, and cultivate a Christian indifference towards every indulgence. Rather let us bear hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ, and endeavour to learn in every state to be content.
May God grant each of his children such a singular resolve.
Integrity is not simply the password we use to gain access to ministry positions, it is the watchword of our lives. No minister ever sets out to be inconsistent in word or action. When erosion is slow, foundations crumble without notice. Thankfully, there are a few warning signs of eroding integrity:
The upkeep of integrity is easier when we keep up on our work. Procrastination decays our ministries. If we find ourselves putting off the Bible, prayer, or planning, then we will reap what we sow. Procrastination delays the planting of spiritual seeds. When harvest time arrives, reaping is sparse.
Don’t put off your relationship with God until the evening. As soon as you are able, spend time in God’s Word. When an event goes on the calendar, make a plan with steps to complete the project. When a parishioner asks for prayer, stop and pray for them. Remember, procrastination antagonizes commitments to honesty. Don’t be tempted to lie just because the sun came up on the due date.
In the 21st century the belt of truth from Ephesians 6 is less like the humble foundation on which all armor of God hangs and more like batman’s utility belt. We see truth not as the foundation of our integrity, but as an opportunity for something flashy and exciting—a truth bomb. We want to give people a dramatic truth they can retweet. One of John Wesley’s famous Holy Club questions was, “Am I honest in all of my words and actions, or do I exaggerate?”
Social media provides us ministers the perfect place to exaggerate. Everything from baptismal numbers to great events are all prone to exaggeration. However, integrity requires us to have a greater commitment to honesty than to exaggeration. The cynosure of truth is not in the size of its championship buckle, but in its modest ability to uphold the breastplate of righteousness in its proper place.
The Wandering Eye
“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness” Matthew 6:22–24. We teach children to sing, “be careful little eyes what you see.” We ought to remember this song in our private times.
Let’s ask ourselves a sincere and honest question: are our eyes healthy? Pornography isn’t the only taint threatening our integrity. Few parishioners will ever know what we decide to watch on Netflix. If our eyes gape at boarders of the darkness, then they are not gazing at the light. Let us transfix our eyes upon Jesus, then our whole body will be healthy.
It is possible for us to fake our way through spirituality. We can make up fake Bible study times, false claims of hard work, or even fake a sermon. Please understand, small lapses in integrity follow us through our entire ministry and root themselves in our personal lives. Do not attempt to justify lapses in personal integrity. We won’t be any less busy, less tired, or less stressed in the coming days. If we excuse our integrity for busy days, it won’t show up on the hard ones. The Christ we serve is holy. Let his holiness reflect in all we do.
It is absolutely necessary that we set an infinite value upon immortal souls; that we often endeavour to affect our minds with the dreadful loss sustained by an unconverted soul launched into eternity.
Two great concerns are foundational to any missionary endeavor or evangelistic effort: a love for God and a concern for souls. As the famed C.S. Lewis once wrote in The Weight of Glory (1949), “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.”
The first statement demonstrated the Serampore missionaries’ utmost commitment—to seek the salvation of the lost in their midst. Far too many pastors have become distracted by the needs around them and have lost focus. As my childhood youth minister would often say, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.
The fourth item on the list reads, “To watch for every chance of doing the people good.” Service and care are important aspects of the missionary duty. They are, however, not the ultimate priority.
Increasingly, it has become common to see churches with established programs to feed the hungry, build homes, partner with clean water ministries, and any number of other service-oriented programs while lacking an evangelistic impulse. This must not be. Community needs and societal justice are important, to be sure. But not most important.
Like the Serampore missionaries, our first concern must be that the lost around us are given the opportunity to hear the gospel. As I have been told the late Roy Fish said, in 100 years, the only thing that will matter is where a person stands with Jesus. Building from that statement, we must remember that in 100 years, a person will either be standing with Jesus or suffering the torment of hell.
And the Serampore missionaries’ efforts were spurred, in part, by the the reality of hell. To speak of eternal punishment in our culture is to draw the ire of many—among Christians and non-believers. It is not a pleasant thought, but it is an inescapable thought if we are to take the words of Jesus seriously. The existence of a place of eternal torment should motivate us to share the gospel, and to do so with urgent appeals that the lost respond to Jesus Christ in repentance and faith.
If hell is real (and it is) and hell is hot (and it is) and those enter into eternity apart from Christ go there (and they do), then the value of each soul demands our unceasing efforts. This was evident in the Serampore mission and must be so among us as well.
As John Stott was careful to remind us, however, “The highest of missionary motives is neither obedience to the Great Commission (important as that is), nor love for sinners who are alienated and perishing (strong as that incentive is), but rather a burning and passionate zeal for the glory of Jesus Christ.” The value of souls should be a driving motivation, but not the ultimate motivation.
I am often encouraged and inspired by the actions of the men who participated in the Baptist Missionary Society during the late-18th and early-19th centuries. Their commitment to the gospel serves as an example worthy of emulation.
In 1805 (twelve years after William Carey had initially sailed to India), nine missionaries gathered and added their signatures to William Ward’s initial draft listing their shared commitment. William Carey’s name was affixed first, followed by Joshua Marshman and William Ward. Below their names, those of John Chamberland, Richard Mardon, John Biss, William Moore, Joshua Rowe, and Felix Carey (William’s son) were added.
Respecting the great principles upon which the brethren of the Mission at Serampore, think it their duty to act in the work of instructing the heathen.
To set an infinite value upon men’s souls.
To acquaint ourselves with the snares which hold the minds of the people.
To abstain from whatever deepens India’s prejudice against the gospel.
To watch for every chance of doing the people good.
To preach “Christ crucified” as the grand means of conversion.
To esteem and treat Indians always as our equals.
To guard and build up “the hosts that may be gathered.”
To cultivate their spiritual gifts, ever pressing upon them their missionary obligation, since Indians only can win India for Christ.
To labor unceasingly in biblical translation.
To give ourselves without reserve to the Cause, “not counting even the clothes we wear our own.”
Such was their devotion to these principles that the signers committed to reading the agreement publicly at each mission station at least three times per year.
In my reading, perhaps what stands out most is not that their endeavors were unique, but instead how applicable these policies are to our present-day missions and evangelistic efforts. Simply by substituting our present contexts for India, every church—every believer—should be eager to advocate for such policies.
In upcoming posts, I hope to explore some of the theological commitments that seem to have undergirded this statement, but before doing so, it seems worth asking,
What about these principles stand out most to you?
*Historical note: The list appears to be drawn from the headings provided by Samuel Pearce Carey (1862–1953)—grandson of both William Carey and Samuel Pearce.
For years, masterfully orchestrated Capital One credit card commercials have produced 30-second persuasive sound bites—from creatively using cheeky Vikings raiding modern scenarios to Samuel L. Jackson’s sleek, suited appeal asking the viewing audience, “What’s in your wallet?” Each commercial connects the audience’s emotional ties to greater financial success with the rewards and/or interest rates of this or that card and in mere moments, these commercials convince many people that a void in there financial portfolio exists that can only be filled by the adding of a Capital One credit card to their wallet.
Admittedly, the gift of salvation is free to all who believe on the name of Jesus Christ—the Son of God. A Christian witness is not akin to door-to-door salesmen, but similar to television commercials, it is critical to present a clear and direct Gospel presentation during each witness opportunity. The messenger carrying such an important word to a lost person need not beat around the bush, but should state their business and jump into the Good News as soon as possible. The gospel doesn’t need gimmicks or smoke and mirrors, but an honest effort on the part of the witness of Christ.
In this post, I want to draw what I believe to be important observations about evangelism from the account of Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian official in Acts 8.
Sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ is not as complicated as some may assume. Few Christians in the “Bible Belt” share their faith—if ever, but even then, they usually lack confidence in the message of the gospel that comes from seeing God at work and spending time consistently in the Bible. Acts 8:25 states, “So, when they had solemnly testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they started back to Jerusalem, and were preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans.” In this verse, we read that Phillip, Peter, and John are continual witnesses for Jesus Christ. Their experience having been affected by the gospel led them to testify to the grace they had experienced. They testified to what they had seen, heard, and done in Jesus’s name.
1. Make your appeal personal
A personal testimony with Scriptures woven throughout can be an effective witnessing tool. Every born-again believer in Jesus Christ has a unique story. A personal appeal to a lost person by simply sharing how you came to saving faith in Jesus Christ may steer conversations into a full gospel presentation and invitation to trust Christ.
2. Allow the Lord to interrupt your plans
Witnessing encounters often come as a complete surprise to the believer. God sometimes interrupts good works being done in the name of Jesus in order to turn our attention to a greater need. Phillip and his companions were busy in the region of the Samaritans sharing the message of the gospel, but the Lord chose to send a witness to one in need of hearing the message of God’s grace. “But an angel of the Lord spoke to Phillip saying, ‘Get up and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ (This is a desert road.)” God often interrupts and prompts believers to share the gospel with someone merely crossing their path. Phillip was sensitive to the Lord’s leading in his life and and willing to be obedient to the Lord. The Bible says nothing about a moment’s hesitation, but rather indicated that he got up and went to the place where God had directed him. Just as Phillip was prepared to allow the Lord to redirect his steps, so we too must be prepared.
3. Be willing to be obedient
Witnessing is to be the main task of the whole church in the whole world. . . . We can never expect the world to come to us. We must go to it. -Roy Fish
Jesus expects his followers to be obedient and to carry the gospel message to the ends of the earth. He empowers his witnesses for this task with the Holy Spirit. Phillip had been filled with the Holy Spirit and was sensitive to his leadership in evangelism. Jesus is a personal savior and each individual receives his gospel message personally.
Phillip met the Ethiopian eunuch on the road and was instructed by the Spirit to “Go up and join this chariot.” Often during community outreach programs by local churches, witnessing teams will encounter many negative responses at homes and find themselves discouraged and ready to give up for the day, only for the Holy Spirit to prompt them to visit one more home or person. And many who proved themselves willing to heed that prompting receive an opportunity to present the gospel message and invite that person to trust Christ as their Lord and Savior!
4. Draw the gospel message from the Word of God
Engaging the lost is frightening for many because of all of the questions they expect to receive. Generally, the lost have some familiarity with misunderstood, or worse, blatantly false messages concerning the teachings of Christianity including the Triune Godhead and the way of salvation. In addition to their personal testimony, Christians need to be able to explain the Bible to the lost. Such knowledge of the Scripture comes only from consistent study in God’s Word. During a witnessing opportunity, the witness must stay rooted in the Words of Life (1 John 1:1). I have found it to be beneficial to allow the lost person to read the Scriptures aloud for himself, thereby allowing the Holy Spirit to affect his heart with the power of the gospel. Many evangelists have used different gospel presentations, including, Steps to Peace with God, by Billy Graham or The Four Spiritual Laws. While these presentations are many times very effective, they can never overshadow the value of reading and explaining the Bible. Instead, they should be used in addition to it.
Witnessing is not difficult; nor is it the responsibility for a select few within the church. Everyone called by the name of Christ is responsible to proclaim the name of Christ. As Charles Spurgeon wrote so long ago, “Every Christian . . . is either a missionary or an impostor. Recollect that you are either trying to spread abroad the kingdom of Christ, or else you do not love him at all. It cannot be that there is a high appreciation of Jesus, and a totally silent tongue about him.”
Noah received two of the highest accolades ever given to a mere mortal in Scripture. God’s Word describes him as, “blameless in his generation” and as having “walked with God” for 601 years (Gen 6:9)! Yet, as Martin Lloyd Jones once said, “The best of men are men at best.”
Despite the impeccable record of his early years, his later years provide a much-needed warning for each of us. Chapter 9 reads, “Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent” (Gen 9:20–21). His sin does not remain his only, but infects his family. “And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside” (Gen 9:22).
What warnings does the second part of Noah’s story give us?
Noah Took the Focus off of God and Placed it onto Himself
In Noah’s story (Gen 6:9–9:17), God is the subject. Noah’s role is fairly passive for most of the four chapters in Genesis. In fact, if you wanted to make a movie about Noah that was actually based on the biblical account, I imagine the storyboards would say something like this: God speaks, Noah obeys, earth floods, and rainbow appears. But in Genesis 9:18, the roles are altered and God becomes the passive character. He never takes the centerstage again in Noah’s story. The focus of Noah’s story changed.
Generally speaking, that best describes Noah’s sin—his life became entirely self-focused. I don’t think he ever intended it to happen, but little by little, Noah removed God from the central place in his life’s story. Let’s not be shy on this point: we are all susceptible to this. We can minister to the glory of God or we can glory in the ministry of ourselves. Make no mistake, though, we can only serve one master. We must make our choice daily. Is God in the spotlight or have I demanded that it be refocused on me?
Noah Toyed with the Line between Pleasure and Sin
More specifically, the narrative turns to Noah planting a vineyard. God has no problem with this in itself. But the line between Noah enjoying the fruit of his labor and his falling into drunkenness wasn’t clear to Noah. And the same is true for each of us as well. We are all prone to yield to temptation and fall into sin.
How much worm can a fish swallow before it’s hooked? Pleasure always entices us to ask the wrong questions. A reputation built over the course of a lifetime can be destroyed by a momentary pleasure. It’s crucial that we heed James’s warning: “each person is tempted when, by his own evil desires, he is dragged away and enticed” (James 1:14). Guard yourself against sin by pursuing godliness and fleeing temptation.
Noah’s Sin Affected his Family
I’m not sure what is more disheartening, Noah succumbing to vice or his sins infecting his family. Noah has only one monologue in the recorded play of his life. “Cursed be Canaan,” he states, “the lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers” (Gen 9:25). Like a wave crashing into sand castle on the shore, sin eroded the foundations of his family.
Noah’s failure reminds us that sin always poisons the spiritual wells from which our children must drink. Let us not be fooled; holiness and sin cannot walk hand in hand. Holiness provides a clarity for our walk with God which the insobriety of sin can never stumble upon.
Let us heed Noah’s warning. We are all capable of running the race well only to stumble at the end. Keep the spotlight on God in your ministry and in your life. Guard your heart from sinful temptation and protect your family by pursuing holiness.
Recent years have seen an increase in discussions concerning polity. Historically, the leadership of any given church has taken on one of several forms: an episcopal church structure wherein the leadership of a given local church is overseen by a bishop or bishops outside the local church, a presbyterian form of church governance wherein the local church is governed by a number of elders who may also join other elders from other churches in the formation of a presbytery that oversees a number of churches, or autonomous congregationalism. Local church autonomy emphasizes that no board or leadership outside the bounds of the local congregation have any authority over the local church and congregationalism emphasizes that no leader or group of leaders from within the congregation have any authority over the members of the church body that is not derived from the local body itself.
Baptists have generally, almost univocally, advocated for autonomous congregationalism.
Discussions may be had (and in my view, need to be had) as to what this means, but unlike other denominations wherein the authority of the church exists outside the local congregation, Baptists have often emphasized that no earthly authority outside of the local church exists over the local church.
Instead, it is argued, the New Testament teaches that churches must be ruled by Jesus Christ, led by faithful elders, and served by godly deacons. (Note that my use of the term “elder” is synonymous with the pastoral office. I am merely attempting to use the language typified in the New Testament.)
In a congregational model of church governance, this means that the membership of the church seeks the will of Jesus Christ corporately and then, in light of his will, calls a pastor/pastors to lead them (in the ministry of the Word and prayer) and ordain deacons for service.
Recently, it struck me that the Baptist emphasis of autonomous congregationalism is inextricably linked to another point of distinction from other denominations.
Congregational church polity is built upon the foundation of regenerate church membership.
Think of it. If one were to believe that the membership of the church (in distinction to the attendance of a church service, which should be a mixed gathering) was comprised of both believers and unbelievers, it would be foolish to entrust the direction of the church to the congregation. How can those who do not know Christ know his will?
However, if one believes that the congregational membership is made up entirely of believers who know Christ and who seek his will, congregationalism is the logical conclusion.
Every born-again Christian has direct access to Christ. This is one of the emphases recovered by the Reformer, Martin Luther that has continued to be advocated by those in the Free Church movement. There are to be no intermediaries between believers and the “one mediator between God and humanity, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:5 CSB). All believers are part of the same holy and royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:5, 9).
Therefore, there is only one authority external to the local assembly of believers—Jesus Christ. He alone is there head. He alone rules the church. It is the responsibility of the congregation to discern his will and walk therein.
I have this recurring dream every two months or so that I’m back in school. In this dream I’m not missing any items of clothing (so it’s not that dream), but it’s the dream where roughly two-thirds of the way through a semester I realize I haven’t been to class even once, read a single page, completed any assignments, and there’s no possibility of catching up. I’ve heard of others who have this same dream, so I’m not alone. Today, I’m happy to say that one part—and hopefully it remains only one part—of that dream is coming true as I dive headfirst back into the academic world.
Last Thursday was my first official day as a PhD student and the anxiety level—that nervous energy—seems to be fluctuating somewhere between 9 and 10. Recently, I read about the imposter syndrome—the idea that “I’m a fraud and before long everyone will know it” experienced by many Ph.D. students—and I’ve resonated with that sentiment from the moment I applied for admission into the program. The questions echo in my mind: Am I up to the challenge? Am I smart enough? disciplined enough? What if I fail? Is it even worth it?
So, in effort to combat those questions (which are grounded in fear and doubt), I think it better to answer the more foundational question: Why am I pursuing a PhD? In this post, I offer three main reasons with hope that it might spur each of us in our walk with the Lord.
For the sake of knowledge
Simply put, I’m pursuing a PhD because I have a desire to learn more and I now have the opportunity to do so. I have always enjoyed the classroom—if that makes me a nerd then I don’t want to be cool. I remember in my university years when I was still green when it came to studying theology, a professor said something along the lines of “the more you learn of the Bible, the more you see how much you don’t know.” That remains true; I long to learn more and I have the opportunity to do so in a formal academic setting. I count it a responsibility as a minister of the gospel to be a life-long learner and I want to make the most of any opportunity the Lord brings my way.
For the sake of the church
My research major is apologetics and I did not come to that decision lightly. As the surrounding culture grows increasingly hostile toward Christianity, it becomes all the more necessary that we answer such hostility with a robust gospel message—a message simple in form but with vast cultural implications. Local churches in the US must be ready to give a “defense to anyone who asks . . . for a reason for the hope that is in [us]” (1 Pet 3:15).
For the sake of the nations
As part of my MDiv from Southwestern Seminary, my family and I served with the IMB as missionaries for two years in Madagascar. Despite the fact that we returned to the States afterward, my passion for God’s glory among the nations hasn’t lost any steam. With apologetics as my emphasis, I will study world religions extensively and, Lord willing, use that knowledge by training missionaries headed toward career service on the field, church members preparing for short-term mission trips, and be better equipped for service myself.
But is a PhD really necessary for any of the reasons I give above?
Of course not.
No formal education is ultimately necessary for anyone to learn more, to serve the local church, or to reach the nations for Christ. William Carey, the Father of modern missions, is proof positive. He had no formal education beyond the age of 12, yet he was far more intelligent than I ever hope to be.
For the sake of obedience
There is an underlying motivation that compels me and strengthens my resolve: By the power of the Holy Spirit, I want to be faithful to do what God has called me to do and to maximize each and every gift he has entrusted to me. My reasons for pursuing a PhD are simply that: mine. Perhaps the Lord has called you to the same; perhaps not. But one thing I know for certain: we have all been called to faithfulness in every pursuit we undertake. Let us do that and the church will be strengthened and the nations reached.
It has been widely reported that Southern Baptist churches are on a downward trend. Many have voiced their opinions as to the solution to our decline, and yet, few are as poignant and direct as the 18th-century pastor-theologian, Andrew Fuller. In a diary entry, dated September 30, 1785, Fuller wrote of a meeting among ministers:
A question was discussed, to the following purport:—To what causes in ministers may much of their want of success be imputed? The answer turned chiefly upon the want of personal religion; particularly the neglect of close dealing with God in closet prayer. Jer. x 21, was here referred to, ‘Their pastors are become brutish, and have not sought the Lord; therefore they shall not prosper, and their flocks shall be scattered.’ Another reason assigned was the want of reading and studying the Scriptures more as Christians, for the edification of our own souls. We are too apt to study them namely to find out something to say to others, without living upon the truth ourselves. If we eat not the book, before we deliver its contents to others, we may expect the Holy Spirit will not much accompany us. If we study the Scriptures as Christians, the more familiar we are with them, the more we shall feel their importance; but, if otherwise, our familiarity with the word will be like that of soldiers and doctors with death—it will wear away all sense of its importance from our minds. To enforce this sentiment, Prov. xxii. 17, 18, was referred to—‘Apply thine heart to knowledge—the words of the wise will be pleasant if thou keep them within thee; they shall withal be fitted in thy lips.’ To this might be added Psal. i. 2, 3. Another reason was, Our want of being emptied of self-sufficiency. In proportion as we lean upon our own gifts, or parts, or preparations, we slight the Holy Spirit; and no wonder that, being grieved, he should leave us to do our work alone. Besides, when this is the case, it is, humanly speaking, unsafe for God to prosper us, especially those ministers who possess considerable abilities.
Andrew Fuller, The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller, 1:47-48
He attributes the “want of success” in his day to:
The lack of personal prayer
The lack of personal devotion to the Word (reading and studying the Scriptures)
The lack of humility (or, stated otherwise, the sin of pride)
As Southern Baptists consider our own “want of success,” perhaps it would be helpful to consider such a heart-check. It is likely that there are dozens of reasons that conversions have dropped in Southern Baptist churches and that many of them are beyond our control. But these three answers would appear to have some credence for us today.
Are we, pastors and laymen alike, devoted to God in prayer? Are we diving deeply into Scripture, seeking what the Lord would have of us before seeking what the Lord would have of them? Are we relying on our own man-made methods and systems and programs to reach the lost or are we relying on the power of the Holy Spirit to change hearts and lives?
Perhaps, Andrew Fuller has the answer to the decline of SBC baptisms after all.
I guess you could say that my calling has been a little like Amos’s. The prophet Amos was not like the others. He was an ordinary shepherd. He did not come from a family of priests or prophets. He just did what God called him to do, and found himself doing the Lord’s work as a prophet.
Then Amos answered and said to Amaziah, “I was no prophet, nor a prophet’s son, but I was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore figs. But the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel.” (Amos 7:14–15, ESV)
When I look at Amos, I can see that my calling is a little like Amos’s. I am not a pastor’s kid nor did I come from a lineage of pastors. I did not have a pastor take me under his wing to mentor me once I received a call to ministry. I did not have my name passed around in ministry circles while I was in seminary. I did not have a seasoned pastor to call on when I took my first pastorate.
Honestly, I was like Amos in the sense that there were times that I just knew what the Lord called me to do and I was merely committed to doing that. Because of all of this, over time I learned a great deal through experience. Granted, a lot of that experience was gained by learning what not to do. But experience nonetheless.
Looking back I wish someone would have told me a few things while I was looking for my first pastorate. Therefore, here are a few things that I wish I would have known when I was looking for my first church.
Don’t Get In A Rush
Let’s face it, churches do not move quickly. Many pastoral search teams consist of lay volunteers, working full-time jobs, and giving up the evenings to work for their church. In some seasons of the year, the church calendar can be so busy that it is difficult to schedule meetings, causing the pastoral search process to take months.
Understand this, don’t get in a rush to make things happen quickly. Patience is what we need here. Be patient with the church, be patient with the search teams, be patient in the Lord’s calling.
Don’t Get Frustrated
The process of finding your first position can be frustrating. Finding the right church for you is hard. Then add the fact that some churches will not respond to your applications, and others will call you in for an interview and then never call you back. The whole thing is difficult when you’re anxious to get on the field. You can get frustrated with this.
But don’t get frustrated. I understand that this is hard, but Christians are called to have peace. When you feel tempted to get frustrated, call on God for his peace. Peace is what we need in this process.
Don’t Forget To Pray . . . A Lot.
I know how it is looking for your first pastorate. You cruise all the job boards constantly, and you call associations to find open positions. The search takes a ton of time, and it can be consuming. Some will just apply for any place that is open. They tell themselves that they’re like Gideon laying out their fleece. When in reality, they’re just not praying it through as they should.
Guys, don’t forget to pray. There is a lot at stake here. Not only is this a transition for you and your family but this also a big jump for the church. Prayer is what we need, and we need a lot of it.
Don’t Forget To Look For Divine Appointments
We serve a sovereign God who cares much for his church and his pastors. Remember this truth when you are searching for your first pastorate. One of the ways that God shows me that He is in control is through divine appointments. I cannot even tell you all of the times that God has brought a person into my life for his purposes and in many cases, this has happened while I was being called to a new pastorate.
Therefore, look for the ways that God is leading you. Maybe he is opening a door for you through a previous relationship that was rekindled or perhaps he is bringing a new person into your life who will help link you to your new ministry. Honestly, I do not understand all the ways that God works in these matters. But I have experienced Him do amazing things when calling someone to a church.
Don’t Limit Your Ministry Field
I know the blessing of being close to your family or ministering to a city that you love. But do not limit your ministry field based on relationships or familiarity to a town. Do not be that guy that says to God, “I will serve you with all that I am for all of my life as long as I serve here.” I know that this is hard. To be sent to a place far from home and where you know no one can be terrifying.
My first ministry assignment was like this for my wife and I. We both grew up in the city, and I assumed that we would always minister in that city, close to our families. But when I received the call to go to a small, country town several hours away from our home, I knew that I had to go and see if that was where God was calling us. Let me tell you, the town was nothing like our hometown. The people were different, the culture was different, the amenities were different, and we knew no one. This was a scary process for us. But over the course of my time there we grew to love that town and all the people. God did an amazing work in that church and in us that I would not trade my time there for the world.
Sometimes we think we know what is best for our ministry and we want to tell God how to do things. But what I have found is that God desires to show us something greater. Open your ministry field. Let God show you the best place for you to serve.
Don’t Give Up On The Work
One of the weirdest things I have seen guys do while looking for a pastorate is stop working in their current ministry positions. They may be a student pastor or small group leader, and when they begin to search for their first pastorate, they quit the ministry they are working in.
This makes no sense. One of the first questions a pastoral search committee is going to ask you about serving in their church is, “What are you doing in ministry now?” and if your answer is, “well, nothing” then that is not going to be a good thing. Furthermore, what is that telling the church? Are you saying that you only want to serve the church if you are in the lead position? That is not the heart of a pastor.
Guys, don’t give up on the work. God’s calling requires you to pastor in whatever context you are living in. Just because you do not have a title at the moment doesn’t mean you can give up on the ministry.
There were so many things that I learned about myself, the church, and God in those seasons that I wish that I could share it with all of you. But that would be one crazy long post, and I have gone on long enough.
In closing I will say this, If you are in the season of looking for your first assignment, I hope and pray that these words will guide you and encourage you.
Remember that we serve a great God, and He is in control of ALL things. Do not let the process overwhelm you, keep your hand to the plow, and your eyes on Jesus. He will place you where He wants you.