In the Meantime

This one goes out to all my brother-pastors who find yourselves, for whatever reason, searching for your next ministry assignment. Due to unforeseen circumstances, the author of this post finds himself right there with you. I trust we are good company for one another.

Regardless of where you are in your search (and depending on the circumstances that led to your search), you have likely experienced the full range of emotions, from excited anticipation about what’s next to a gripping fear that you’ll never get there. Personally, these days I’m especially grateful that the Lord gave us the Psalms through which I can share the Psalmist’s praises and his confidence in the Lord, but also in his lament and verbalized uncertainties.

To be caught between what was and what will be grates against our sensibilities, in part because our pride demands that every step of our journey be accompanied by great clarity and confidence. But this is not the way of faith; no, the way of faith brings us low, not necessarily granting us eyes to see what’s around the corner, but to see the One from whom nothing is hidden.

So as you and I wait, what ought we do in the meantime?

Be Patient

Waiting can leave you feeling a bit like a fool—out on a limb, hoping for rescue before the splintering starts. Each time your phone vibrates or a call comes from an unknown number, immediately you wonder if it might be the contact you’ve been waiting for. It leaves you a bit like Charlie Bucket opening up that next Wonka bar in hopes of finding a golden ticket, only to realize the email was just another LinkedIn update. Disappointment and discouragement set in.

Will it ever happen? Is something wrong with me? Did I miss the Lord’s will somewhere along the way? The questions rush in and patience grows thin. Still, be patient; the Lord will not withhold the good He has planned for his children. As Romans 8:32 tells us, “He did not even spare his own Son but offered him up for us all. How will he not also with him grant us everything?” Rest patiently in his good promises.

Be Faithful

Where are you now? I mean, physically, where are you now? Where do you live? What church are you serving—either as a pastor or member? Wherever that is, be faithful there while you wait. In Acts 17, Paul referred to the Lord’s providential work in placing each of us exactly where we are, even at this very moment. “From one man,” Paul preached, “he has made every nationality to live over the whole earth and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live.” In other words, the Lord knew you would be right where you are and how long you are to be there.

Yes, this may be a season of transition; but honor the Lord by remaining faithful where you are for as long as he would have you wait. Don’t shortchange the people near you by constantly looking over or around them for the next thing.

Be Prayerful

Prayer is an excellent calibrator. In seasons of waiting, we have a tendency to be sillier than usual. Like Abram and Sarai (Gen 16), we attempt to concoct our own solutions in order to help out the Creator of the heavens and earth with his plans. Because He surely needs it, right?

The very nature of prayer focuses our attention upon who we are and who God is. Each prayer serves as a confession that we don’t know all there is to know, can’t do all there is to do, and that we are not in control; our knowledge and power are woefully insufficient. Simultaneously, in prayer we recognize that God does not suffer such limitations. His knowledge and power are inexhaustible, as are his other attributes; and he is faithful and true. Prayer recalibrates and stabilizes us by reminding us that we are the needy dependents, and He is the great Provider.

Be Courageous

A season of waiting can be fertile soil for fear and uncertainty. When there’s no end in sight, doubt creeps in, you grow weary of waiting, and (to borrow a line from King David), you ask, “How long, O Lord? How long?”

But let us not forget the oft-repeated command of Scripture during this time: Don’t be afraid. Oh, how easy it is to look at our seemingly impossible situation and devolve into fear and trepidation. But how gracious our Lord is to us, who “knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14, CSB), and, coupled with the command not to be afraid, he has promised to be with us and never forsake us. May we never believe his apparent silence or assumed inactivity means His absence. He is with us and he is working all things to the pleasure of his good will, so be of good courage.

Conclusion

As much as we might hate it, waiting is good for us. It takes us by the hand and walks us into deeper dependence on and satisfaction in our Lord. The ministry the Lord has next for us is a gracious gift, yet even it cannot satisfy our deepest need. So remember, even now—in the middle, while we wait—you and I have all we need in our Savior, and we will be better pastors for the waiting.

Husband, father, missionary, preacher, coffee drinker.

@SWBTS grad.

Shooting for a PhD in Apologetics at @MBTSDoctoral.

Connect with me on Facebook or Twitter

Church Polity vs. Church Politics

I was listening to a podcast several weeks ago and a pastor was providing a number of solid ideas on leading a church through change. That’s something that many pastors have been faced with and no doubt the episode was well-received by their listeners. I found myself identifying with the pastor, appreciating his wisdom, and taking away some ideas.

But at some point in the podcast, I began to grow uneasy. He was providing helpful ideas for leading a church through change, but all of his wisdom boiled down to church politics. He had thought about his flock and which members were influential in the congregation and determined that he would approach them first. He presented his ideas to them (which he believes were given him by God), asked for their support, and asked them to visibly and vocally lend him their influence—to publicly demonstrate their support of him as their pastor and the vision that the Lord had laid on his heart. That way, the people who were influenced by these influential people would follow their lead and he would be free to lead the church in the manner he felt necessary.

It took a little time, but I soon realized why I was struggling so much to accept what he was saying: whatever this was, it wasn’t biblical congregationalism.

This was good church politics, but bad church polity.

At the core of congregational church polity is the belief that every member of the church is to search the heart of God for the will of God and, in submission to God, seeks the benefit of the house of God.

So, in the case of a pastor seeking to lead the church through change, his initial steps are good. Seek the Lord. Seek his counsel and wisdom. Discern where you would have the Lord lead.

But rather than taking that information, appealing to influencers, and asking them to multi-level-market your congregation toward your vision, he should have led the church through an extended time of prayer and in that context, led the congregation to discern the will of God corporately.

Congregational church polity is not a democracy; there should be no voting blocks or caucuses. Each member of the church is not called to vote his/her preference or desire. Rather, they are called to seek the face of God and follow his leadership.

No politics should be necessary. If the Lord of the church is Lord of the people, it would behoove pastors to trust him with the hearts and minds of the people. (If the pastor is concerned that the congregation is filled with unbelievers, the issue goes well beyond leading the church to change.)

Is this the easiest manner by which to lead change? No. Clearly. But does it conform more to the manner in which the New Testament would have us lead? I believe it does.

When Jesus told his disciples how to handle an erring brother in Matthew 18, in the event that the brother in sin refused the correction of two or three witnesses, he didn’t command them to tell the influencers. He invests his authority in the church. “And if he doesn’t pay attention even to the church, let him be like a Gentile and a tax collector to you” (Matt 18:17).

When Paul discovered that the church in Corinth was tolerating a man living in an adulterous relationship, he didn’t urge the influencers of the church to have a long, hard conversation with him. He urges the church to take action. “When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus, and I am with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, hand that one over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” (1 Cor 5:4–5).

If the congregation has been invested with such authority—that whenever two or three are gathered, Christ is there in their midst (Matt 18:20)—wisdom demands that we avoid the temptation to usurp that authority by following the most shrewd political practices. Instead, we should trust God’s plan and rely on the polity given us in the New Testament.

Adjunct Professor.
PhD in Theology.
Head Barista at Caffeinated Theology.
Just give me Jesus . . . and coffee.

Five Pastoral Reflections


I’ve only been a Senior Pastor for a total of six months. This means, of course, that I have no access to any grand wisdom. However, I wanted to offer up five reflections on my first six months as pastor.

1. Set Your Routine

Everyone wants a piece of the pie. Most people are well-intentioned pie eaters. Some just want to spend some time getting to know the new pastor, others have spiritual needs which they want addressed immediately. Every single church member will have some expectation concerning the pastor’s time. Without a set schedule, pastors will find it difficult to salvage even a sliver of time for biblical study.

I have a set routine. Certain times are available for meetings. Other times for biblical study. Keeping track of my own schedule helps ensure that no duties are neglected. As for myself, Saturdays are protected. I’m with my family all day. Emails, prayer meetings, and events always seem to popup on Saturdays, but unless it’s an emergency, I’m not available to anyone except my wife and children. A set routine assures family time.

2. Nail Down Haphazard Habits

By “haphard habits,” I mean those habits which have some fluidity to them. Any spiritual discipline that isn’t nailed down and engrained can be forgotten easily. I find these habits the hardest to maintain.

Recently, I asked in a Church Revitalization Facebook group which spiritual discipline is most-commonly neglected. Many pastors responded that fasting was the most neglected spiritual discipline. Fasting is one of those haphazard habits. Few Christians have a set time every week for fasting. I don’t let spiritual disciplines waste away. If a year passes without memorizing a new verse of Scripture, I’m in trouble. My way of nailing down scripture memory is to record when and what I memorize. Therefore, a spiritual journal is key to nailing down haphazard habits.

3. Prioritize your Marriage

We all have a number of ministerial spinning plates to keep in the air. Our spouse shouldn’t feel like one of them. We do not consider the qualifications of 1 Timothy to be suggestions—they are foundations. Much like pastoral integrity, the marriage covenant qualifies to even perform pastoral duties. Peter says, “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.” Since prayer is the power of pastoral ministry, let Peter’s warning concerning hindered prayer sink in deep.

4. Saying “No” is Easy

Since we moved to Georgia we’ve had the occasion for several long car trips to Texas and Michigan. Thank you Waze app! With a well planned route, staying on course is easy. The only issue is the still small voice in the back of the van, “Dad, can we stop at . . . ” Can you say, “recalculating?”

When the path is clear, saying “no” is easy. Have a clear, Christ-centered plan for leading the church. Set goals. Have a vision. There are hundreds of very good things the church could do; if any one of them doesn’t line up with the vision, say “no.” Saying “yes” to side attractions is a sure way to hear “recalculating”. Recalculating the vision every month is a sure way to never arrive at your destination.

5. Members are Just People

Even the best Christians are still sinners. Congregants will lift up and tear down in the same week. As such, church members cannot be the foundation of our ministries. The Church’s one foundation is not the church itself; only Christ is a solid enough foundation to rest our ministries on.

Numbers will go up and down. Sunday School will flourish and diminish. Sermons will be strong some weeks and weak on others. Christ alone is enough to stabilize the tumultuous nature of pastoral ministry.

Pastor Summerville First Baptist Married to Danielle, father of three, PhD student at SWBTS, MDiv 2012 SWBTS, BA Theatre OSU.

The Underlying Premise of Congregationalism

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.

Adjunct Professor.
PhD in Theology.
Head Barista at Caffeinated Theology.
Just give me Jesus . . . and coffee.

Authority, Submission, and Scripture

Several years ago I found myself in a difficult conversation with some leaders in our church about women teaching and preaching in the church. Though I taught complementarianism, these men believed that the church should be more inclusive and cease its historic “oppression” against women.

I insisted that the offices of the church—elders and deacons—were restricted to men according to Scripture and that we, as believers and as a church, were called to submit ourselves to God’s Word. Each time I brought forward a passage of Scripture demonstrating my point, one of the men simply said, “I know that’s what it says. I just can’t go there. We have a difference of interpretation.”

He had fallen back on this “agree-to-disagree” mantra before. While his “agree-to-disagree” position seemed more tolerant at a surface-level, in actuality he used it in an attempt to press his own preference upon me (the pastor) and the church as a whole. So finally, I forced the issue.

“You keep saying, ‘We have a difference of interpretation,’” I said. “Can you show me what you mean? Would you read this?”

I then opened my Bible to 1 Timothy 2:12 and asked him to read through 1 Timothy 3:7.

I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.

I asked, “Do you agree that Paul is teaching that the teaching office is restricted to men?”

“Yes,” he said.

“Do you agree that Paul is teaching that a woman is not to hold a position of authority over a man in the church?”

“Sure,” he said.

“Do you agree that Paul is rooting his argument not in culture, but in creation? That he’s saying that this is not in response to what’s transpiring in Ephesus, but has roots as far back as Genesis and God’s created order?”

“I can see that,” he said. “But I just can’t go there.”

In that statement, he finally acknowledged the real problem.

“Then what we don’t have is a difference of interpretation,” I said.

It would be a difference of interpretation if he believed that I’ve misstated what Paul taught, or he believed that—despite Paul’s reference to Adam and Eve—Paul’s argument was based upon false teaching being spread by way of the women’s groups, or that the word for “authority” in that passage isn’t properly translated. All of these are different interpretations—even if wrong interpretations, in my opinion. But he agreed with every point in my interpretation of that passage. Whatever our difference was, it couldn’t be a difference of interpretation.

“This isn’t a matter of interpretation. This isn’t an interpretation issue. This is a submission issue.”

And this one moment of clarification—one of my last moments at this particular church—gave me a great concern for the state of the greater body of Christ. Far too often, we approach Holy Writ having already determined which areas of our lives it may and may not instruct us. Far too often, we position ourselves as the referees and feel free to blow the whistle whenever Scripture gets out of line with what we believe it to say or believe it should say.

Sure, we’ll let God’s Word give us hope in the midst of trials. We’ll let it promise us blessings. We take comfort in knowing that believers are safe and secure in the hand of God. But we’re so quick to throw our yellow flag when it speaks to issues near and dear to our own comfort. We’re not comfortable with the subject of the tithe, or the manner in which it reveals God as Father, or the notion that the Son of God was made to suffer in the place of sinners to satisfy God’s wrath. We’re prone to dismiss that as culturally-irrelevant or (though few would say it outright) simply wrong.

But we’re not given that option.

We’re called to search out the Scriptures honestly. We’re called to discern what God has said and is saying and to submit ourselves to that. God has spoken. Do we dare shake our fist at him and tell him which areas of our life are available to his instruction? We are not given the option to decide that simply because we don’t like a particular doctrine, we are not bound to submit ourselves to it.

In his second letter to Timothy, Paul writes that, “All Scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Tim 3:16). There is no asterisk to provide an “out” for cases in which we don’t like what those passages teach. There is no footnote that excuses those texts that expound doctrine contrary to our own preferences.

You may disagree with my interpretation of Scripture. You wouldn’t be the first. But, if you intend to do so, please do it because you are convinced that your interpretation is the most faithful to the Bible, not because you don’t like the conclusion of my interpretation.

If we are both attempting to be submitted to the Scriptures—rather than submitting those Scriptures to our own preferences and presuppositions—it changes our posture toward one another. Instead of being combative or viewing ourselves as different factions in a doctrinal dispute, we become fellow-pilgrims on the same path, encouraging one another to grow in our understanding of and obedience to God’s Word.

It all comes down to submission.

Adjunct Professor.
PhD in Theology.
Head Barista at Caffeinated Theology.
Just give me Jesus . . . and coffee.