Heartfelt Prayer

prayer“In prayer it is better to have a heart without words, than words without a heart” (John Bunyan).

As pastors we are called upon to pray frequently. We pray to open and close services. We pray for the sick and bereaved. We pray for the lost and the saved. In the midst of these activities, we can be tempted to merely go through the motions. We must guard against the temptation at all costs. Prayer must not become a formality or empty ritual.

Anytime we read of Christians from history who were used of God in mighty ways, prayer has always been a foundational element of their lives. Spurgeon was, “ever a man of prayer. Not that he spent any long periods of time in prayer but he lived in the spirit of communion with God” (Arnold Dalimore).1 Prayer was such a priority in his life as evidenced by Dr. Wayland Hoyt’s description of one of Spurgeon’s impromptu prayers, “The prayer was no parenthesis interjected, it was something that belonged as much to the habit of his mind as breathing did to the habit of his body.”2 Brothers, what an example of communion with the Lord!

I am continually convicted of my natural inclination toward self-sufficiency in my own life and ministry. I should be fully aware of my lack of sufficiency because of repeated corroborating evidence. Why do we so frequently live as though we are the captains of our own destinies? An extensive list could be compiled, I suppose. Ultimately it boils down to our practical theology. How do we view God? Do we view Him accurately? Secondly, how do we view ourselves? Now, I recognize that the majority of us have formal theological training, but it is very possible to have theological knowledge that is not implemented in daily living. We can know things deeply and still fail to practice them. “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom. 7:24-25a). But, this biblical truth does not negate our propensity to disobey truth we know cognitively.

Recently, there were a number of articles written on the recent firing of a prominent pastor. He was fired because of character issues. The Scriptural truth he knew was not being implemented in his everyday life. In writing about the situation, Barnabas Piper listed the following offenses, “Domineering over those in his charge,” “misuse of power/authority,” and “history of building his identity through ministry and media platforms.”3 Mike Leake commented, “If you look at some of the celebrity pastors who have recently fallen you can see a pattern. They have obvious talents and gifts and passion, but there were a few questions about character. But we let some of those character issues slide in the hopes that character would eventually catch up with the talents.”4

What if we preach inspiring messages, are people magnets, are visionary leaders, and our churches are outwardly growing, but we have not been communing with our God in prayer? How do we view prayerlessness? Most prayer takes place in silent moments apart from the ears of other people, but the question remains, are our hearts invested in our prayers? As ironic as it sounds, let us pray about our own prayer lives and the prayer lives of our brother pastors. By the grace of God, may we be men whose lives and ministries are saturated by consistent times of heartfelt prayer.

2Ibid.

Teaching Theology

Why_Sound_Doctrine_leads_to_action_504700812By Jon Rumley

We like to think of ourselves as committed to sound doctrine, but do we ever ask, “Do my people actually know sound doctrine?” Looking at a class of about 24 adults I teach on Sunday mornings, I was increasingly aware of deficiency in this area. From young to old (both in physical age and spiritual development), few have ever thoroughly exposed to the field of doctrine.

I checked with several pastors for ideas about materials but I was not finding anything that really fit what I wanted. Then, finally, I came across the video series, Christian Beliefs: Twenty Life-Transforming Truths featuring theologian Wayne Grudem (http://www.clearcutmedia.tv/).

Before we began, I told the class about Dr. Grudem and the study. Dr. Grudem wrote Systematic Theology which runs over 1200 pages and is almost a standard in evangelical Bible Colleges today. He has also written an abridged version, Bible Doctrine, which is about 600 pages. Then there is the really condensed version his son (a Pastor) urged him to put together to go with the video series which is about 140 pages, Christian Beliefs: Twenty Basics Every Christian Should Know. We provided everyone in the class with the small book and made the others available for purchase. About 10 copies of those were purchased by class members, all but one chose the large Systematic Theology. The short book and the material in the videos focuses on what we all tend to agree on, controversial topics are left for the longer works.

Generally, the sessions are broken into three or four video segments. Usually a longer segment (20-24 minutes) followed by shorter segments (6-14 minutes) with a total of about 40-45 minutes per topic. Each topic can be presented as one continuous session, or with automatic discussion breaks built in or segment by segment. Every few weeks I throw in something related but distinct (using other videos or my teaching) in order to supplement the material in specifics or application and to avoid monotony. Each topic ends up with a 7-12 minute question and answer time. The audience when this was recorded seems to have been in England (with other nations in represented) resulting in different concerns than my small town Indiana people would think about, but opening their eyes to new issues.

In our system, I usually have about 35-40 minutes to devote to teaching, so we are taking segments as time allows to provide for weekly discussion. We are progressing at a rate of about 3 meetings per topic, so it will be over a year before it is complete. Each week I send out an email informing everyone what will be next (not everyone makes it every week!) and listing the pages they should read in each of the three books.

Few, if any, Pastors will find themselves in 100% agreement with any systematic theology on every point. Grudem does a nice job of staying mainstream in his presentation in the video series and the accompanying book. The longer works deal with more controversial issues. In everything he is quite gracious. I find that interacting with his presentation allows me to model fidelity to the truth and a gentle spirit where we disagree with other biblical believers on specific applications of that truth.

So far we have covered 8 topics and the response has been excellent! Attendance went up as the word spread and consistency has been great. The questions have been significant and the opportunity to teach further is a delight. I am seeing people move beyond theological slogans to nuanced explanations of biblical truth. As one who does verse by verse exposition in preaching, the material is providing overview that enhances application of my pulpit ministry life. I heartily recommend it.

Humility

humility 1By Kevin Alber

In this political season it appears that there are many who think that leaders need to be brash, bold, arrogant, and cocky. They think that leaders need to trumpet their accomplishments loudly so that others know how brilliant their ideas are. It seems that there are many who think that a leader simply speaks their mind as they tell it like it is.

What they fail to realize is this: Leaders need to be humble, too.

But humility seems to be a bad word, too.

Sometimes we think that humility is finding a dark hole, jumping in, and waiting for someone to come along and coax an idea out of us. If they speak gently and tell us that our ideas are worth something, we might give a simple suggestion.

The balance of leadership and humility is difficult for us to grasp.

I love Romans 12:3 [NKJV] —

3For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.

“Think soberly.” Reason rationally. Understand your skills and use them, whether or not you are asked.

For me, I am musically inclined. I can sing, I can play the trombone, and I understand music. But I also know that I am not a tenor. I know that my trombone skills are rusty and good for a limited range of music. Carnage Hall is not awaiting my solo debut!

So how do I think soberly? I sing in the choir as part of a choir. I sing solos or in small groups when asked. I play my trombone when appropriate. I help when I can.

I am not mechanically inclined. I may have a rudimentary understanding of some things about cars, but I can’t fix my own car, so I don’t try to fix others’ cars.

I don’t like John 13:14 [NKJV] –

14If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.

“Wash feet.” Do the work of a servant. Don’t think so highly of yourself that you are unwilling to get dirty, or unwilling to do an unpleasant task.

Someone once said something like this: “If you want to know if you have a servant’s heart, watch your response when someone treats you like a servant.”

Yes, pastors are leaders. And leaders are humble. I wish I understood better how to balance those concepts.

 

Oversight

Brother pastors, carefully consider these words, “If you point these things out to the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, nourished by the words of the faith and the good teaching that you have followed” (1 Tim. 4:6). Paul exhorts Timothy to do something, which was necessary for him to faithfully to carry out his calling as a servant of Christ and apostolic delegate. He was to pass on the doctrinal truth and moral imperatives detailed in 1 Timothy. This charge is short in length but it is packed with weighty significance.

As Timothy taught these truths to the church, he would be a, “good servant of Christ Jesus.” This sounds very similar to what every believer should want to hear when he or she stands before the Lord Jesus, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Brothers, we must heed Paul’s instruction. The consistent teaching of God’s truth and exhortation of His people to obey His commands is crucial to faithful pastoral ministry. Faithfulness to this calling causes the Lord’s under-shepherd to be a, “good servant of Christ. Now as the verse clearly states, no man will faithfully communicate the truth of God’s Word unless he has first been, “Nourished by the words of the faith and the good teaching [he has] followed.” If we are not continually sustaining our souls with the Scriptures we will be incapable of being good servants of Christ. If we are being trained by the Word of God in our own lives, the Spirit of God will be working in our lives through the Word, and we will be equipped to herald the truth to our brothers and sisters in Christ. Brother, are you being nourished by the Word daily?

If our to-do-list overcomes our time with God in His Word and prayer, then we must alter our schedule. It won’t matter if people think we are intelligent, successful, or great leaders, if we aren’t good servants of Christ. Paul highlighted, “Pointing out these things to the brothers” as the reason for being, “a good servant of Christ Jesus.” How do we stack up against this criteria? Notice it says nothing about proficiency, capacity, or giftedness. It does heavily emphasize faithfulness to the Lord’s calling upon our lives. Shepherding is inherently spiritual in nature. Everything flows out of our personal relationship with Christ. But, the personal time with Christ is not an end in itself. The personal time we spend with the Savior is to be passed on to those we shepherd. How are carrying out this aspect of our calling?

Brothers, will we faithfully carry out this charge in our ministries? What if the truth we proclaim and the ministry we provide is not popular? What if the truth we proclaim becomes illegal? It would not be the first time in the history of the Church that the Scriptures would be outlawed. “Point out these things to the brothers, [so we] will be good servant[s] of Christ Jesus, nourished by the words of the faith and the good teaching that [we] have followed.” By the grace of God, brothers, let’s point out all of God’s truth without apology, as we have been charged.

Ask Questions

By Kevin Alber

“Seek first to understand, and then to be understood.” – Stephen Covey

As pastors, we often think that our job is to talk. After all, we preach, we teach, we lead in prayer (even when we are guests!), and we often lead the meetings we are in.

But that mentality may not help us. Maybe we need to take advice from Stephen Covey. Maybe we need to seek to understand first.

So how do we seek to understand?

Ask questions.

Ask about their day. Ask how work is going. Ask how the family is going. Ask how they liked their vacation. Listen to them talk.

Ask questions.

Ask questions that let the other person talk. Ask for stories, not answers. Ask questions that give control of the conversation to the other person. Ask, not just to fill out a form, but to listen to the heart.

Ask questions.

Avoid the “yes/no” questions or the loaded questions that have no right answer. Ask questions that the person wants to answer. Watch their eyes glow. Listen to them, not just their words.

Ask some more questions.

Avoid the questions that someone can answer in less than a sentence, except to get the conversation started. Then ask questions that follow up on what you just heard. Ask questions that require paragraphs, and pages.

Ask some more questions.

Ask what they want out of the future. Ask what’s important to them. By the way, you can’t start with these questions; you have to earn the right to ask questions like that.

When you ask questions, it might help you understand. More importantly, it might earn you a friend.

Confession

by Kevin Alber

If we pastors are human (and we are), we have not yet escaped the power of sin in our lives. This means that we will sin.

So what do we do when we sin?

The only biblical remedy for sin in a believer’s life is confession.

So how do we confess sin?

1John 1:9 (NKJV) says: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” The three most important words are “confess our sins.” They give us three simple (not easy!) steps for dealing with the sin.

Confess means to use the same words. So, call sin what God calls it. If you lied, say that you lied; don’t say that you stretched the truth. Use the same words to name sin that God would use.

Our is a possessive pronoun. We use it to claim something or to show ownership. So, say that the sin was your fault. Don’t blame temperament, circumstances, or another person. Accept the blame for making the choice to sin. Even if you did not mean to sin, you can still take the blame for the sin.

Sins simply means that something is wrong. I know, sin is anything that detracts from God’s glory, but at the basic level sin is wrong. So, say that you were wrong. Say that what you did hurt someone else (hopefully, the one to whom you are apologizing!).

By the way, when we confess sin, God faithfully forgives what we confess and cleanses from all unrighteousness. It’s done – forgiven. But after forgiveness comes the next step: forsake the sin (Proverbs 28:13). This may be harder, but with the Holy Spirit’s help we can walk away from the sin. We do not have to be defeated by sin’s grip in our lives.

Are there some other principles that apply? Sure, but these are just personal preferences (hopefully with biblical precedent).

Try to make reparations. Pay the price for the wrong. Fix it, replace it, or restore it.

Make confession as publicly as the sin was committed. If you sinned in front of the whole congregation, confess your sin in front of the whole congregation. If you sinned privately, confess to the individual involved.

Leaders make mistakes. Pastors sin. When we sin, confess and forsake to the praise of His glory (Joshua 7:19).

Thank You

thank you 1

By Kevin Alber

From time to time, we need to express gratitude to others who are around us. I know, this is Pastor Appreciation Month, so a lot of the attention goes toward telling pastors that they are doing good work. But maybe we as pastors need to focus on saying “thank you” to the hard workers in the church.

Face it: we cannot do the work of the church on our own. We need others around us and in the church who can do things that we can’t. We need to grow others around us so that the workers of the ministry become more abundant than the work of the ministry. One of the best ways to care for those who work in the church is to actually thank them for their work.

So, how do we do this?

First, plan to say thank you. Create the list of people we need to thank. Start working on words to help us say thank you. Buy the plain cards, or use the computer to create a simple card. Buy the postage and the envelopes.

Second, say “thank you.”

Third, repeat steps one and two.

So, what do we say?

Speak honestly. Do not give into the temptation to flatter. Praise what you see that is good.

Speak personally. Take the time to personalize each message. That may be a reason to actually write the card yourself as opposed to buying a pre-printed card with someone else’s words. Instead of saying “Thanks for teaching in VBS this year” say “Thanks for teaching the 12 kids in your class.”

Speak specifically. Don’t use general praise and vague words. Give an example of the specific action that you are talking about. Specific praise resonates with the hearer and lasts much longer than “good job.” Think about it: when a member of the church says: “good message, preacher,” do we even register that they said that? But if one comes up to us and talks about the truth that they needed to hear that day (or a previous day!), we often pass that comment on to our wives over lunch!

Speak faithfully. Make it a part of your plan to write more than once a year. Avoid specific dates to give thanks for others, that is, don’t just write a thank you during “Sunday School Teachers Appreciation Day.”

Finally, make sure to give glory to God. Even phrases like “God enjoys it when we serve Him” can focus the attention back on God. Or we could imitate Scripture: “I thank my God on every remembrance of you….”

Like most other topics, it is just something we have to do. So, let’s do it.