This is Your First Rodeo

Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.
~ Acts 20:28

How to take your first church

After preaching a while, you will be called to your first church. You will not be ready. Depending on the quality of mentoring, some of you are more not ready than others. Before being called, the church, or someone from the church, will ask you questions and those questions can be anything. It’s hard for me to help prepare you for that other than to say be ready for anything. If the church went through a bad experience with their previous pastor, you will probably be asked a number of odd questions that are mostly designed to make sure you are not like him. If the church’s previous pastor was unhealthily venerated, the church will ask you many questions mostly designed to ensure you are just like him.

Be ready for anything is the best I can do from this side of the process. You cannot control what a church says or does in communicating with a prospective pastor. But, you can control what you do in the process and you should remember you are interviewing the church just as much as they are interviewing you.

The Questions You Should Consider Asking

I am not promising the definitive list. I’m sure others with more wisdom and experience can add to this list. My goal is only to list several things you should consider about a church before you accept the call. And we’re off.

  1. Church Documents
    You will want to ask for a copy of their church documents, i.e., articles of faith, constitution and bylaws, covenant, etc. You need to learn about their doctrine and practice. If the church doesn’t have these documents, or if they’re vague or very brief, you will need to ask questions to find out the sort of things that would be in such documents, if they had them.
  2. Church Officers and Staff
    You need to know every position the church has and who holds those positions. You need to know if those are paid positions and what the responsibilities of those persons are. In this area, you need to know things like the handling of finances, cleaning and property maintenance, etc.
  3. Church Membership
    You need to know how many members the church has. You need to know how faithful those members are to the services and such. You need to know if the church maintains members who are not in the area. You need to know the church’s position on attendance and how problems in this area are addressed. You need to know if the church has any special needs members, such as elderly, shut-in, nursing home, etc.
  4. Church Calendar
    You need to know what a typical year in the life of the church looks like. What events does the church have? What special services?
  5. Church Missions
    You need to know what missionaries/ministries the church supports financially. You need to know what outreach the church does locally.
  6. Church Expectation
    You need to know what the church expects of a pastor. Their expectations may be biblical or not, but you need to know what those are. This would include anything and everything they expect a pastor will do.
  7. Church Pay
    You need to know the salary they’re offering, how it will be paid, etc. If they have a parsonage, you will also need to know their expectations regarding it.
  8. Church Problems
    You need to know if there are any current problems within the church membership or between them and other churches. You need to know what you’re stepping into as much as possible.
  9. Previous Pastor
    You need to know about the previous pastor and what happened with him. I am not suggesting nosiness, but you need to find out relevant things to pastoring this church.

No Perfect Churches

Again, that list is not the definitive list, but it is a list that touches on many areas and discussing these things will probably bring out what you most need to know. It’s better to eliminate surprises as much as possible. Some things that come up will need an immediate conversation, while others you just need to be aware of. Answers to these questions will affect the way you do things. I am not suggesting that any bump in the road here means you have to run away. Remember that things are not always what they seem and there are no perfect churches, or perfect pastors.

Preach the Word

Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering an doctrine. ~ 2 Timothy 4:2

Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering an doctrine. ~ 2 Timothy 4:2

It’s not complicated. Preaching the word means taking the Bible from Genesis to Revelation and preaching it.

Expository, or expositional preaching is a common phrase today. It’s trendy now to refer to oneself as an expository preacher, but what does it mean? I’ve seen numerous definitions and heard sermons that were called expository that didn’t seem to be expository at all. If a sermon is not expository it doesn’t mean it’s a bad sermon, but only that it is not expository. There are many different sermon types and all should involve at least some exposition.

What exposition meaneth, I wot not

Exposition is not a church-word. The word is not found in the Bible anywhere. It’s not a word we hear everyday outside of church but it enjoys much use in the world. Exposition is, “A comprehensive description and explanation of an idea or theory.” 1 The definition is general but it is commonly applied to a text, where exposition is a comprehensive explanation of the text under consideration, e.g. a work of literature, scientific text, etc. Whenever someone explains a policy, terms and conditions statement, or a contract to you, they have done an exposition of that document.

Exposition is a comprehensive explanation of some source material, which means it is tied to the material it is explaining and the purpose of the exposition is to make the meaning of the material clear and understandable. If you sought an agent to buy a life insurance policy, you would expect that agent to explain the policy to you so that you understood it and could make an intelligent decision whether to buy it or not. If the agent came to your home, took out the policy, and proceeded to talk about the weather, sports, politics, and his cute little yorkie at home, he would not be doing his job and you should find another agent.

Expository preaching is taking a text passage from the Bible and giving a comprehensive explanation of what the passage means. Expository preaching is not thinking up a sermon and then finding a text to preach it from. Expository preaching is not starting with a text and then stringing together a bunch of bumper sticker slogans. Expository preaching is not telling jokes and stories. Expository preaching is preaching that is tied to the Bible. Whatever else may be involved, an expository sermon should make clear the meaning of the text in its original intent.

What meaneth this bleating of the sheep?

When you listen to talks on preaching or read books and articles on preaching, you will notice that the most time is spent on illustrations and applications. This is true even of much material that is supposed to be about expository preaching. It seems in settings where Q&A is had about preaching, a lot of the questions tend to the issues of application and illustrations. It seems impossible to think or talk about preaching without getting back to these two.

If we are to “preach the word,” we can easily overdo application and illustration. My chief complaint with much of modern preaching is that it is way too focused on application and illustration and not concerned enough about explaining the meaning of the passage in front of them comprehensively. I once heard about a preacher who brought a live sheep on the platform to “illustrate” something about sheep from his sermon text. Of course, he laughed later about the giggles elicited from the crowd as the sheep did things that sheep tend to at that time, temperature, and barometric pressure. This sermon was not preached on a farm but in an urban setting. I grant that most of the people had probably never seen a sheep in person, but I question if it truly enriched their understanding of the Bible rather than distracting and entertaining their minds. If a preacher cannot use his words to explain what needs to be known about a sheep from the passage, I question if they have the gift of teaching necessary for a pastor (1 Timothy 3:2; 2 Timothy 2:24).

Illustration and application are parts of good preaching. However, they are places where caution must be exercised. They present easy opportunities to become untethered from the text. Once untethered from the text, we are no longer preaching the word. R. Kent Hughes addressed this issue succinctly in the video embedded below. Consider what he has to say.

Notes:

  1. exposition. Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford University Press. http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/exposition (accessed July 26, 2016).

The Call

As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. ~ Acts 13:2

As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. ~ Acts 13:2

Is there a call to ministry? How do I know if I’m called?

Before a man can discern God’s calling on his life, he must discern whether there is any such calling at all. Does God call specific men and equip specific men for specific work? Many assume that He does, but not all assume this. I talked with a man who was a member of a Baptist church who told me he had never seen any such call in the Bible. He went on to say about preachers, “I can preach as good as anybody I’ve ever heard.”

A lot of the material that deals with the call to ministry assumes there is such a call and spends most of the time dealing with discerning that call in ourselves or others. I don’t want to start with that assumption. I want to examine that assumption. I believe God does call specific men for specific work, but is that actually found in Scripture?

Does God call certain men to ministry?

A study of Scripture yields at least five reasons to believe that God calls men to ministry. These are not necessarily in order of importance but are worth consideration.

  1. Generally speaking, we have examples in both the Old and New Testament that God calls men to certain tasks. Think of Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Samuel, David, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Daniel, Peter, Matthew, and Paul. These men were called by God to specific tasks. Those tasks were different in each case, but nevertheless they all began by God calling and equipping them for their task.

    This point by itself doesn’t go very far to prove that God has called this man or that man today, but it does show a precedent that God has called men to certain tasks and gives us a reasonable expectation that He has continued to do so. In other words, the Scriptures illustrate that in God’s normal administration of history He appoints men to specific works.

  2. Another reason is the objective existence of the Lord’s church. The church was established by Jesus during His earthly ministry. It wasn’t the invention of man, nor did it just happen to come into existence. He purposely established the church, equipped it, and charged it with carrying out His work in the world. The church is His design and He designed the offices of the church and that at least says there must be men to fill those offices. This at least requires men dedicated to that work, not to mention being qualified for it. This point of itself does not prove a call to preach but, when taken with the others, it does contribute.
  3. When considering the church body, chapters like Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 teach us there is a diversity of both gifts and offices. They also show that not all have the same gifts nor do all hold the same offices. There is a distinction between different members of the body. Along with the other gifts and offices, there are some who have the gift and office of preaching and teaching and some who do not.
  4. These same passages mentioned above make clear not only the distinction between different members but that the Holy Spirit makes that difference. He distributes the gifts and offices as He wills. So in Acts 13:2 the Spirit instructed the church to set apart Barnabas and Saul for the work He had called them to. In Acts 20:28 Paul spoke to the Ephesian elders saying that the Holy Spirit had made them overseers (elders/pastors/preachers) in the church. Paul spoke of God putting him into ministry and committing the Gospel to him (1 Timothy 1:11-12; Colossians 1:25). Jesus said it is the Lord of the Harvest that sends forth laborers into the field.
  5. The fact that the New Testament gives qualifications for the office of elder (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:6-10) presupposes those who desire and/or claim to be called to the work. The church at Ephesus tried those who claimed to be apostles. So the church has a responsibility to judge those who claim to be called to preach.

These points are worth considering. The Bible teaches there is a call and that call comes from God. In the Old Testament, God complained of many who self-identified as prophets but He declared He never sent them. The author of Hebrews also pointed out the calling of Jesus that He was made a high priest and that calling was essential (Hebrews 5:4).

How do I discern God’s call?

This question is a little more subjective because people have different experiences. In other words, the way this call is manifested or discerned is often different between men. Think of the different experiences of Jonah and Saul of Tarsus. Should we look to their experience as a standard for testing the call of others? Certainly not, but the principle is the same that God called them. So let’s stick to things a little more objective in discerning God’s call. Once again, here are five observations to help in discerning God’s call.

  1. Paul writes in 1 Timothy 3:1 of a “desire” for the office (the work) of a pastor. That primary office/work is defined as giving oneself continually to prayer and the ministry of the Word (Ac 6:4), feeding the sheep (Ac 20:28), watching for souls (He 13:17), taking the oversight (1 Pe 5:2), etc. The desire for this work is a very strong desire. The word can be used in a negative context to refer to coveting after. The point is that coveting is not a passing thought and neither is the desire to preach. It is a continual, lasting desire. It’s not a flash in the pan or a vapor over the pot. It sticks with you over time.
  2. The passages that speak directly to the work of preaching, teaching, and pastoring impose a weight upon you. You feel them as speaking directly to you and perhaps even feel some shame that you are not fulfilling them straightaway.
  3. If you believe you are being called then you probably have already had some opportunities to speak and/or teach the Word to others. Be careful not to make too much or too little of those times. However, you should consider how you were received and whether or not your words seemed to be a blessing or help to others.

    An essential qualification for this work is aptness to teach (2 Timothy 2:24). Aptness refers to the ability or competence to teach. While a preacher can and should grow in his ability to teach over time, he must have some ability to start with. There is simply no way to know this on your own without the evaluation of others.

  4. Look for confirmation through the church you’re a member of. God’s calling does not come to an individual apart from the church. Consider Acts 13:1-4 how the Spirit worked through the church and Barnabas and Saul. The church is particularly charged with discerning the gifts and callings in the body and should there be an ordination, the church is responsible to discern the candidate to meet the qualifications. The church should not be looked upon as a hindrance to discerning calling but rather as an indispensable part of it.
  5. The last one I would mention is that if you are being called, opportunities should be opening to you to minister the Word. These could come in a lot of ways but we do need to look at our lives in context and discern what the Lord is doing as best we can.

Conclusion bonus

I want to add one thing as a sort of bonus help to those who are wrestling with this issue. If you’re wrestling with whether or not God is calling you to a greater service, let me ask this question: What service are you doing now? The Scripture principle is that when we have served faithfully in smaller things, God gives us greater things (Matthew 25:21-23). If you have not been faithfully serving in lesser, behind-the-scenes roles and you do not already have a heart for service regardless of recognition, then it is very unlikely you’re being called to ministry.

Ministry is service (Acts 6:1-4) and a lot of the hard work required in ministry is not done before an audience. The call to ministry is a call to pour yourself out to God for others and it garners little applause (2 Corinthians 12:15). Count the cost as fully as you can and it will help you discern if you are called.

Preacher Dreams

"And great multitudes were gathered together unto him" ~ Matthew 13:2

“And great multitudes were gathered together unto him” ~ Matthew 13:2

I once dreamed I was Charles Spurgeon and … not really.

Ecclesiastes has a way of working on you. I recently finished preaching through the book in our services. The book tends to make me think about everything much more. I think about life, death, youth, old age, working, living, laughing, a good steak, a good book, what has been, and what will be. I’ve generally been thinking about what it means to live all aspects of life while being subject to the vanity of the creation.

Many find the book pessimistic and cynical, but this is a case where rather than pessimistic, the book is realistic and rather than cynical, the book is honest. Solomon strikingly illustrates that life under the sun is subject to vanity and there are two main ways to navigate it—wisdom and folly. He also continually exhorts us to joy and strains all his might to teach us that true joy in this life can only be had through wisdom and it is a gift from God.

It doesn’t last

Solomon exposes the emptiness of the things we prize and pursue. They are empty because they cannot bring any lasting satisfaction to us. They cannot bring lasting satisfaction because they themselves do not last. Even if you achieve your most cherished dream, where do you go from there?

Solomon poured himself into every endeavor he could think of until they were all exhausted of enjoyment. He had 700 wives and 300 concubines. Were a few more going to make a difference? He feasted after a fashion the earth has not known. Was more wine or more steaks going to make a difference? He built the temple, palace, and houses for all his wives. Was it the next building project that was going to bring satisfaction? He had servants to cater to him and every need met lavishly. Were a few more servants or more clothes going to bring contentment?

So, as a preacher, don’t get caught up in thinking bigger and better about the church. Some preachers dream of pastoring that large church with great facilities. Some want to build from the ground up to outstrip all the other churches. Even if all your preaching dreams come true, it will not last and will probably be less than you hoped it would be.

The inimitable Mister Spurgeon

Charles Spurgeon is known as one of the most successful preachers of all time. He was so successful that just about every theological flavor out there tries to claim he was one of them. He died somewhat young while his mind was still sharp and his preaching still effective. Had he gone on to live long enough, his mind would have slipped and his preaching deteriorated along with health and body. Had he continued on pastoring, the church would eventually diminish.

Solomon identifies waning popularity as a vanity of this creation (Ecclesiastes 4:13-16). Even Jesus’s popularity died off (John 6:66). Some of John the Baptist’s disciples were upset when his ministry began to decline (John 3:26). John gave the best answer to this reality (John 3:27, 30).

A pastor is called to love and feed Christ’s sheep. That is what you should focus most on, whether those sheep be few or many. It is reported that a young preacher once lamented to Spurgeon that his church was so small. Spurgeon wisely told him he would think them plenty numerous when he had to give account for them before Christ’s judgment seat.

The Reading Preacher

And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh. ~ Ecclesiastes 12:12

And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.
~ Ecclesiastes 12:12

What should preachers read?

I have been asked at different times and also have read and listened to different discussions about what kind of reading preachers should do. This discussion starts on the footing of two assumptions. First, the Bible is the one book for all preachers of the Gospel. God’s very Word is the primary place of reading, study, meditation, devotion, and memorization. All further references to reading is always to be taken as less than the reading of the Word of God.

The second assumed footing is that preachers should read. I love that assumption and believe it, though not everyone shares it. Some may see reading as a luxury at best that they don’t have time to do. Others may see reading as a distraction away from the more important works of the ministry. Still others may see reading as sinister and are afraid of reading any other man unless they be led astray. Other objections are made but I don’t want to try to answer all objections just now. Rather, let me give a few brief encouragements to reading before we pass on to the substance of reading.

The pastor/preacher needs to know a little bit about everything. Consider Jesus, Paul, and Solomon in their preaching and teaching. They incorporated familiarity with about all areas of life. They incorporated pieces of agriculture, business, investing, government, sailing, fishing, travel, geography, biology, botany, zoology, building, finance, labor, philosophy, literature, history, sports, war, and more 1

It would take a lifetime, perhaps longer, to gain experience in all these areas, but you can read about them and expand your knowledge sooner. The point here is not to gain knowledge to flaunt or act as a know-it-all. Knowledge without wisdom only tends to arrogance (1 Corinthians 8:1). You must be a thoughtful reader, reflecting on what you read, comparing with your life experience, and discerning truth. Being able to use and apply the knowledge you gain will make you a more competent teacher (1 Timothy 3:2; 2 Timothy 2:24). If you are gaining knowledge with wisdom, it will humble you as you begin to understand how much you don’t know.

Areas of Reading
With the aforementioned in mind, let me suggest that the preacher’s reading should be in different areas of emphasis. Some of these will be directly related to Bible study and others to life in the world. The following list is alphabetical and not in order of importance. Some areas will be more naturally interesting to you than others, but I think it is important at times to read outside your own niche interests.

  • Apologetics – Give preference in this category to presuppositional authors rather than evidentialist authors. It will take a while to get a handle on it, but it will be time well spent. I confess in the beginning of my ministry, I ignored apologetics altogether. I thought the subject was about nothing more than arguing with atheists and agnostics and it seemed pointless. I was very wrong. While apologetics does deal with unbelievers, it is more important to pastoral ministry. It will help you strengthen the faith of your people which is under relentless attack daily.
  • Biblical Studies – These are topical books that deal with some subject of study from the Bible. These books focus on one primary topic, such as the ten commandments, the tabernacle, the life of Jesus, etc.
  • Biography – Christian biography is at the top of this list, i.e. pastors, missionaries, etc. However, don’t discount biographies of different people in history such as generals, presidents, kings, scientists, inventors, athletes, and business men. Much can be learned in various areas by reading about people in different walks of life.
  • Business/Personal Finance/Self-Improvement – These books must be read carefully, but the preacher needs to know about business and how to steward different areas of life, e.g. money, time management, and personal discipline.
  • Church History – The folly of youth is displayed about every ten years when a college-age group of kids think they have discovered the gospel and the church for the first time in centuries. To borrow phrase of Paul, “I would not have you to be ignorant.” The history of the Lord’s church is a history of God’s faithfulness and the truth of His Word (Matthew 16:18). Neither His church, nor His gospel has been lost. His Word does not fail.
  • Commentaries – You probably won’t read a lot of commentaries from beginning to end, but you should be reading in them relevant to different passages you are studying. Commentaries sometimes provide exegetical and application help, but are usually most helpful in getting your own thoughts going about a text. They are also helpful to check your work. If no one at any time has ever seen what you are seeing in a text, you should proceed very cautiously.
  • Logic, Rhetoric, and Argument – Understanding logic and such will help you understand the reasoned arguments in the Bible, detect logical fallacies and specious reasoning in others, and form sound arguments of your own. You will become a more critical thinker and a more apt teacher.
  • Marriage and Family – This subject is of vital importance in the community, country, church, and the world. The family–husband, wife, and children–is the God-designed institution and is to be honored highly. Be careful in this area to select biblically faithful authors and not the worldly-minded.
  • Pastoral/Preaching – The call to ministry cannot be taken too seriously. The preacher needs to grow immensely in this area. You will have many experiences as you go along and reading well will help you to consider those experiences and grow in wisdom from them. Your preaching, also, can always improve and should. Your grandmother loves you and thinks you’re the best preacher since Spurgeon, but she is not exactly an unbiased and capable critic. The pursuit to grow is unending for the preacher of God’s Word. Seek authors in this area who are consciously competent to be a real help to you.
  • Sermons – Few sermons are worth reading, but those that are, are worth reading. Spurgeon’s sermons are well worth reading. You must be extremely careful here to know how to read and profit from the sermons of others. Don’t plagiarize or puppet some other preacher.
  • Theology – Read systematic and biblical theologies. They each have their place and value. Biblical theology is the fad right now and has bred some peculiar snobbery where systematics are denounced and despised. They don’t know what they are talking about and will be bumped off the bandwagon on the next bend. We need both theologies and we need to learn from both and understand what each contributes.
  • World History – All history is God’s history. He is always at work whether we can tell it or not. We need to know about the kingdoms of the world and what their place on God’s stage is for His own glory.
  • Writing – The art and craft of writing is really about thinking well and effective communication. You may not aspire to publishing but learning more about language and its use will help you in forming sermons, writing letters, and being a better communicator. It will also make you a better reader, listener, and learner.

I realize that list seems like a lot, and it is, but often one book will cover many of these different areas. It is not as daunting as it might seem. There are other categories that could be listed, but I have tried to be specific to the preacher. I have one final category that I wanted to say a little more about, so I saved it for the end.

Recreational Reading?
I do recommend reading works of fiction and literature. Stick mostly with the classic works and authors. Be very selective among any current authors. It might seem like a waste, but I believe such reading is beneficial. I don’t think it should dominate our reading, but it has a place. Think about some of these benefits.

  • The reading in the above areas is mostly heavy reading. Fiction is relaxing to the mind and provides a break. I don’t mean we should suspend reason or truth to read fiction, but such books can be refreshing. They put your mind into different avenues of thought
  • Fiction stimulates the imagination and fuels creativity. Good story will add spice to the blandness of your mind.
  • Fiction can expand your mind and your vocabulary. This helps you learn, think, and communicate more clearly and effectively.
  • Knowledgeable and professional writers across all areas agree on at least one thing. If you want to write well, read well. Reading those who are masters of their craft will teach you to be a better reader and writer.
  • Though I have grouped fiction in the “recreational” category, you can already see there is an educative value in it. Good fiction can help us understand the world we live in and the human condition. It’s not a primary source, but it is a good source. The characters and situations are fictional and sometimes the world is even a fantasy, but there are still things to be learned. This often works through comparing reality to this particular view of reality, or mythical reality. The parables use this sort of method in instructing, “The kingdom of heaven is like…”

In this vein, I leave you with one last recommendation. Read the works of Arthur Conan Doyle on Sherlock Holmes. You can find these collected into one volume for cheap. Read a story from time to time. Holmes as a character is not without his flaws. He is the embodiment of rationalist modernity. Holmes’ worldview is strictly naturalistic materialism. He believes everything can be explained by natural means. However, he provides numerous examples of logical thinking and inductive reasoning. It may not suit everyone’s tastes, but I have found them enjoyable and even informative.

I hope this can be of some help. I also hope you will comment and we can have a good conversation.

Notes:

  1. McDurmon, Joel (2009, May 15). What Does Your Preacher Know? [Web Article]. Retrieved May 15, 2009, from http://americanvision.org/1859/does-your-preacher-know/.