Church Planter: the Man, the Message, the Mission – A Comprehensive Review [of parts 2 and 3.]

If you’re one of my faithful readers [thank you] you know that at one point, I was reading a book called Church Planter: the Man, the Message, the Mission and blogging incessantly about it. Around chapter 9 I stopped. I’ll explain myself – the first section demanded (at least of me) a lot of introspection and response as to where I was on the spectrum of being a man ready to plant a church. But once we hit the second and third sections, it became direct, deliberate truth [the first section was too] that didn’t really afford a lot of space for discussion or reflection – it was just true.

So consider this my reflection upon and review of Pastor Darrin Patrick’s (The Journey in St. Louis, Missouri, part of the Acts 29 Network) informative book.

[I’ll pick up with the second section entitled The Message.] All of my training has taken place in a church that is Christocentric in its approach. We are Christocentric because we believe that’s the only way to be – if our worship, our sermons, our sacraments, our discipleship, our small groups, tithing, missions, etc. aren’t done because of and for the Gospel, then they won’t have any transformational power. After all, Jesus said the whole Bible is about Him, and Christianity is named after Christ, so why wouldn’t every facet of it be about Him?

I could write a whole series of blogs about all the different avenues and just a few of the many ways in which people try to pull off Christianity that isn’t centered around Jesus, but for now [since it’s the subject of the book] I’ll talk about preaching.

It’s amazing how you can “preach” a “sermon” without Jesus in it at all. It’s done all over the country almost every Sunday morning. “Sermons” can become moral lessons or extractions of principles. We discuss things like thankfulness, prayer, the will of God, hearing God, loving God, loving people, discipleship, etc. without connecting them back to the reason for them – Jesus Christ. An alarming number of pulpits “preach” sin management without preaching the One who died to destroy the power of sin.

I’m fortunate (and I would tell you I’m spoiled) because every Sunday at my home church, I hear the Gospel. At some point, regardless of which passage of scripture is preached – from the Pentateuch to the minor prophets to the major prophets to the Gospels to the epistles – Jesus is proclaimed. And I’m not talking about “Jesus wants you to _____” or “Jesus tells us to ____.” I’m talking about the Gospel – evangelium – good news. A sermon, if it really is a sermon, should be a proclamation of the news of what God has done. There’s a difference between news and mobilization. To use an imperfect analogy, if I am tuning into the news in the evening and I hear that police have arrested a thief who’d pulled off a string of robberies, my response is to rest and rejoice in that – they did what they needed to do, and my neighborhood is safe. My response is not, “I need to go see about catching that robber.” That’s what the Gospel is – it’s news about what Jesus has already accomplished in human history, not principles of how we can achieve salvation. The response is to believe, not to do.

All that is to say that a few weeks ago, I visited another church for the first time in a while, and when I left, I was left trying to grasp what the preacher had talked about. The sermon was about the fact that Jesus is love. He preached out of John 5, when Jesus healed the man at the pool of Bethesda. I remember hearing how some of us, like the man at the pool, feel sorry for ourselves and just want some attention, when Jesus is asking us the question, “do you want to be made well?” I remember little anecdotes about people across the country who are doing things because they love people. That’s all well and good, but if I’m a seeker who has never heard the gospel, what am I going to hold on to? Maybe my answer to “do you want to be made well” is yes – then what?

That’s what I remember not hearing.

[dear friends, bear with me, because I am unjustly critical of preachers at times, and I may sound snooty, which is not my intention. I just get frustrated when I don’t hear the gospel preacher.]

Here’s what I would have said: Jesus offered to make the man at the pool of Bethesda well, and He wants to make you well, too. How? Mankind has a sin problem. The world, since the fall, has been under the curse of sin. Bodies are broken. Relationships are strained. People sin. People make decisions that hurt others unjustly. We have a degree of goodness because we are made in God’s image, but we aren’t good. We need a savior, and that’s where Jesus Christ comes in. Jesus left the glory of heaven to come live with us – to have a body like yours or mine, but unlike us, He never sinned. But even though He was innocent, He was murdered like a criminal. That’s why He’s uniquely suited to be our Savior – because we didn’t deserve Him in the first place (after all, He’s God, and we are sinful men and women,) and not only that, but He was perfect, and not only that, but He died as though He were the worst of sinners! Because of that, you and I don’t have to receive what we really deserve – which is what Jesus got, and instead, we receive the favor that Jesus has from God the Father. That’s mercy, that’s grace, and that’s the good news!

But I didn’t hear that. I was left with this “nice” idea that Jesus was love, but no mention of the cross. How am I supposed to know how God loves me if there’s no substance?

By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.

1 John 3:16.

See that? Patrick articulates this so well – the indicative comes before the imperative. In other words, in Christianity today, we like to put what we should do before why we should do it, but that’s not the order of scripture. That verse served me for several purposes. First, it backs up my argument that the gospel should always be preached, because it’s Jesus life laid down for us that shows us what love really is. Second, it shows this order in scripture – indicative before imperative. That’s how we preach. When we preach, there is always to be a response, but it’s a response that should be based on the substance of the message – Christ.

I’ve become tangential in my review here, but I’ll try to tie it up by saying that Patrick writes about five things that the gospel is: historical, salvation-accomplishing (it saves people,) Christ-centered (it’s about Jesus,) sin-exposing, and idol-shattering. And reading this section, my heart shouted a resounding “YES!” Those are the attributes of the Gospel.

Section three – the Mission – gives legs to everything written before. Why does the church exist? Mission. To reveal the manifold wisdom of God to the cosmos (Ephesians 3:10) and since Christ is the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:24) that means that the church is to spread the gospel. That’s the mission. Section three outlines the reason behind mission (compassion, as Jesus had compassion and births it in us,) the vessel or house of mission (the church,) the context of mission (that is, contextualizing an unchanging gospel to a changing culture without compromising its truth) the “hands” of mission (how it happens, care) and the hope or reason behind our mission: to see cities and peoples transformed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ as declared in section two of the book.

I end with this quote which sums up the book perfectly –

Jesus is “the Man.” The ability for us to change into the men God has called us to be is dependent upon our surrender to the Man who has perfect character. All of what we hope for in the men who lead our churches is found in the perfect life of our Lord.

Jesus is “the Message.” The power for others to change is rooted in the gospel, which both rescues the sinner and grows the faint. All that we need to know, experience, and proclaim is found in the person and work of Christ.

Jesus is “the Mission.” The hope we have for this world to change is rooted in the resurrection, which both empowers the church to live and proclaim the gospel but also previews to the world how God makes all things new. Our only hope for a broken, jacked-up world is restoration, and our only hope for restoration is found in the One who forever conquered the radical effects of sin through His resurrection.

(page 236.)

I’m really glad I picked up this book. I love Pastor Darrin’s writing style, as it isn’t littered with a ton of personal anecdotes [sometimes those seem a little boastful to me, and he does use them, but conservatively, which I personally appreciate] and is well-backed both by scripture as well as by other authors (at times I almost felt it was manufactured from other people’s thoughts, but I don’t think that’s completely fair, as I am also influenced by a lot of what I read and hear) so it doesn’t seem too harsh or too soft on the ears. It’s a great book not just for church planters (though I’d say especially for church planters) but for anyone who is a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and it’s ignited my passion as one. Great book.

Facebook and the Ego Massage [or, lessons from a social media break]

Earlier this month, Erica and I decided to take a week off of social media. I ended up getting on mid-week because of an event I’d coordinated on Facebook and needed to communicate through Facebook as well. Otherwise, I didn’t post a picture on instagram, send a sports-or-anything-else related tweet, or update my status once.

It was a good week.

It’s funny how when you take a break from something, you approach it differently when you return. It’s like when you go on vacation and come back (hopefully) more cheerful to your job – more willing to deal with people, the stresses of the job, etc (side note: all of this is maximized if you take a “vacation buffer day” – that is, take a day off from your vacation. Leave a day to be at home between when you come back and go back to work. That’s my theory and I’m sticking to it.)

Taking a week off from social media has helped me see some of my motives and tendencies in my approach to social media.

I realized, first and foremost, that not every thought has to be posted. Sure, this sounds simple, but how often do I want to post things that nobody cares about? Things like what happened to my soccer club. Things like what I think about the weather. Things like the day off I have planned, etc. Sure, some people may care about them. But the problem with that, for me, is that I’ll often post those kinds of things for some sort of affirmation or to have someone take my side.

For example, let’s say I post about how badly I hate this cold weather. What am I trying to prove? Maybe I’ll have someone agree with me. I know I have one friend who will definitely disagree with me. Am I trying to say I have the superior perspective toward cold weather? It’s something I say out of negativity toward bad weather, and it’s not something that makes me a superior person.

The thing is, Facebook is one of the ways in which you choose to present yourself. It’s as though you have a billboard to display your life on, and you have a choice how you’re going to do that. Is my hatred of cold weather how I want to be known?

Here’s another problem – a lot of times, I post things that I know will be “likeable” so that people will like it and massage my ego. Isn’t that hilarious? How we’ve gotten to a point (or maybe it’s just me, but I don’t believe it’s just me) that a “like” is a sign of affirmation? I first started seeing this when Erica and I decided to go public with our dating on Facebook. We chewed on the idea for a little while, and the one question I wrestled with the most was this: “how often will I check and see if people have liked it?” I’ve come up with a new rule now: when I post something that I think may be a big deal, I don’t check facebook for a while, because I know that it’s addicting to get a “like.”

So I find myself asking now, every time I want to make a post:

-If this doesn’t get any likes, would I still leave it up?

-Am I posting this because it’s really on my mind, or just because it’s marketable?

-Am I going to keep checking back to ensure it’s being seen?

 

Facebook is for communing, not ego massaging. I learned last year that I missed a lot of other peoples’ big moments because I was caught up in my own opinions, minute details, etc that I was busy looking after on Facebook. I’m aiming for quality now, not quantity.

Radical by David Platt

I don’t necessarily read a lot of popular books. I don’t say that to make myself come off as a book elitist or hipster – I just don’t always get around to the books that everyone seems to be reading. I tend to like who I like, and read what they write instead of reading what’s going around. But I’ve heard a ton of people talk about David Platt’s book, “Radical,” and decided I wanted to read it for myself.

I wanted so badly to be critical. I looked for loopholes where I could call out this man’s theological sturdiness, or blow a hole in the premises on which he was operating. I’ve unfortunately become a bit cynical of lots of modern-day pastors, theologians, and authors, and if it’s featured at LifeWay Christian Bookstores, well, it must not be very solid.

While I have a few notes toward the beginning of the book, it’s nothing worth sharing, and nothing that, I believe, derails the drive of the book.

I wanted to believe his call to be “radical” was some sort of legalistic response to earn holiness, favor, righteousness, etc before God. Nope. He’s pretty clear throughout the book that holiness isn’t something we earn, but it’s something Jesus paid for.

I wanted to criticize his citation of all the places he’s been and all the people he’s met. But no, his words drip with grace and every bit of arrogance and presupposition has been filtered out by the grace of God.

I wanted to complain that he was overly critical of the American mindset and church culture. But he’s right.

I wanted to give myself a little grace for not being “radical” as of now, and I continue to, but the message of the book isn’t something easy to ignore.

It’s something that’s easiest to hear because of the fact that it’s not descriptive of me. That is, this book presents ideas I usually don’t even think about. Take this as an example. If I read a book about Christ-centered preaching, it’s not news to me, because ever since I became a preacher, that’s been the focus. But if someone raised in a church where they heard a lot of “good ideas” or “good reminders” or “good principles,” but didn’t hear Christ in every sermon, read that book, it’d be revolutionary, because it shows them something they hadn’t seen before.

That’s what this book was for me. See, I’m a victim – or, probably more accurate, the culprit, the cause, and the casualty (to quote August Burns Red) – of the American mindset that tells me life is about me. My hopes and aspirations should all center around me – what kind of job can I get? How successful will I be? How much money can I make? How much money can I save? What kind of (material) legacy can I leave? Will I have a nice house? A pretty wife? A sweet car?

The American mindset takes every factor and relates it to me – just like a non-gospel, orphan mindset. This book in particular forces us to think about reversing that trend.

Throughout the book, using anecdotes and scripture, Platt aims to turn the focus away from us and to the reality that 2/3 of the world aren’t Christians. So what will we do about it? Stay here with our nice stuff, chasing all of our dreams? Or making changes to see how we can partner with other people both locally and globally to change that? He forces you to look at discipleship not as a calling, but as a command. It’s not optional. While I may not be called to the African desert, I am commissioned to make disciples. So I’m forced as a result to start thinking about how I can use my life and the time, money, and resources that God has given me to serve others and share the gospel.

I’ll finish with my two favorite attributes of the book. First, Platt does not separate the gospel from service. There are great stories of feeding the poor, giving clothing and money to people who need it, going to third-world countries to provide clean water and medical care, but none of it is for its own sake. That is, it’s not service for the sake of service, it’s service for the sake of the gospel. It’s service with an aim not only to meet a physical need, but the ultimate spiritual need.

Second, this quote that really forces me to confront my own ideas of materialism (it comes from a story Platt uses from another man:)

“…I realize there is never going to come a day when I stand before God and He looks at me and says, ‘I wish you would have kept more for yourself.’ I’m confident that God will take care of me.”

 

It’s a lovely and convicting book worth reading with a keen eye and open heart. Some of what he challenges you to do won’t be necessary, some of it will. But I think the worst option is to take this book and say “that’s a nice idea, but I won’t have any of it.”

you are strong.

1 John 2:14
I write to you, young men,
because you are strong,
and the word of God lives in you,
and you have overcome the evil one.

Some days this manhood thing is really difficult. Days like today when my dad calls me and tells me I owe him $50 for license renewal. Days like today when I’m asked if I’ve started researching car insurance and I just want to question my dad as to why he’s so insistent on getting me off his insurance plan.
Days like today when all week I’ve been trying to cope with the fact that I’m at a dead-end job and I can’t move toward a future with the woman I claim to love because finances are scant.
Weeks like this one where I meet people in their mid-20s who appear to have their lives together, who seem disciplined in The Lord and have good jobs and the like.

Weeks like this I just want to say, “I can’t do it.” Or, “I can’t do it yet.” I’m so bad about believing the lie that one little thing will solve everything else.

if I just got a good job.
If I just had some money.
If I just had a vacation.
If I just had my life together.

But “if I just” isn’t the right way of thinking, at least I don’t think. What am I going to do about it? Worse still, how am I going to do it?

I’m writing to you, young men, because you are strong.

I don’t believe that about myself. I don’t believe I’m strong. I believe I’m incompetent. Scared. Unworthy. Incapable. I’ll be found out.

But that’s not what the Bible says about me.

In Jesus, I am strong. The word of God lives in me – so my interactions can be like His interactions. I can face life with confidence in the face of financial, spiritual, and emotional turmoil. Because I am strong, and the word of God lives in me.

That’s what the Bible says about me.

is this salt, or alcohol?

Mood: irritated, frustrated, petulant, discouraged.

I am really trying to leave the negative blog posts behind, and so in that respect, I think my “mood” section may be a little misleading. I am indeed writing about something that irritates me, but I’m also writing about something that may just motivate me. It has its blessings and its downfalls.

I preached this past Sunday, and I said something that makes this whole entry so ironic. I preached on the rich young man, and one of the points I made was that being rich and being poor are not an indication of moral difference – that is, one is not more loved or favored than the other – but they’re about perspective. It’s just as easy to count both digits in your bank account or dwell on your small paycheck as it is the six digits and the multi-thousand dollar check.

And boy, have I been living that out. I asked my spiritual father if that’s what it’s like to be a preacher – to painfully walk through the very things you mention in your sermon, to which he resoundingly responded “YES!”

Since I started dating Erica, my financial depravity has stuck out to me. There is no analogy for this. I can’t even begin to explain it. I am at a job for which I drive 25 miles one-way, get paid $5.50 an hour, and hope for good tips. We don’t have any food, so if I want to eat, I either have to cook (assuming I have time) or eat out. It’s become rather expensive to work there, and I am realizing more and more plainly that I cannot make financial progress. I struggle to pay my insurance and phone bills, I don’t pay rent (my brother still graciously lets me live with him) and my money goes toward gas and food. I quite literally cannot make it work.

All the while, my beautiful girlfriend is at a job in which she makes great money, pays her own rent, can afford to travel, and while she has certain financial speed bumps (an upcoming dental operation sticks out) she is doing well for herself.

I can’t tell if this is salt on my wound – that is, financial insecurity, both literally and figuratively – or warm whiskey. That is, I can’t tell why it feels the way it does. Medically speaking, salt does help the healing process of a wound in that it dries it up and allows the body to get on with the healing, but it doesn’t heal in and of itself. And alcohol sterilizes the wound.

So this reality – my financial depravity – has been exacerbated by being with Erica. Let me explain, lest you think I’m just intimidated by having a girlfriend who makes money.

I’m not bothered by her making more money than I do, what I’m bothered by is the fact that she makes money and I, well…don’t. I’m not bothered by her end. I’m bothered by mine in comparison. That is, dating her has helped me think about the future more. Before I get married, I want to be out of debt, save a couple thousand dollars, and buy an engagement ring. That’s the minimum. And I only owe $1000. But at the rate I’m going, that is financial Mt. Everest. As I read in Mark Driscoll (my hero)’s blog today, “Before a man gets a wife or a child, God the Father expects that man to take care of himself. If a man cannot provide for himself, he should not take on the additional responsibilities that a family brings.”

And to be frank, I’m not taking care of myself. My rent is paid for. My phone bill is minimal. I buy my own gas. I pay my own insurance. But I don’t pay for everything I use. I get my coffee through work, I get my rent for free. I don’t buy any new clothes, but continue to wear ones with holes.

And facing this reality has made me, at times, physically sick. It makes me emotionally sick. It makes me spiritually sick. To think that I’m a man who claims to love a beautiful, godly, well-off woman but have made choices strictly based on how much I’ll enjoy my job and how things will be easy for me makes me absolutely livid with myself.

The complexity I face is this: it is easy for me to think that when I get a job, my life will be easy, and everything will be smooth sailing. But I also know that it’s a process to get out of debt, and I am faced with the temptation to think that getting out of debt will save me. It doesn’t make logical sense, but I think I’ve let myself believe that financial insecurity is just that “thorn in my side” that the Lord is having me trust Him on. And to a point, it is, but at the same time, I must learn the difference between being insecure in the sense that I still rely on God as a provider, and I may not make much money, but that’ll be okay – and being wise. The Bible doesn’t advocate debt. The Bible advocates being a provider, and as a man who is in love with a woman and wants to start a future with her, I am in no position to be a provider, and that is the most frustrating thing for me.

So the last thing I should do here is mope and dwell on my woes. That is entirely the wrong response. Instead, this should (and to an extent, has) light(lit) a fire under me to get a job. Who cares if I don’t like it – if I have to sell things to people at a retail job, or deal with difficult, sometimes entitled, people at a hotel, or if I have to work a drive-thru at Starbucks (or, God [please] forbid, McDonald’s), be a teller at a bank, risk working nights at a gas station, etc. – I need to just do it. I’ve often told myself that the thing I’ll tell the father of any woman I want to marry when he asks me how I’ll provide for her is that I’ll do whatever it takes.

 

Well, Jeff, prove it, you bum.

Church Planter: the Man, the Message, the Mission – Chapter 8: A Historical Message.

There is something about a well-crafted story that can so easily make you forget that it is a true story. Or perhaps, if you’re like me, you get so caught up in the theoretical implications that you forget it’s a true story. But in the first chapter of the “Message” portion of Church Planter, Darrin Patrick brings us back to this basic claim that makes all the difference in the world: the Christian Gospel is historical. It’s a true story. It REALLY happened.

The fact that a virgin, who’d never known a man, bore a son, is true.

The fact that the son she bore was God incarnate is true.

The fact that Jesus was fully God and fully man is true.

The fact that He never sinned is true.

The fact that He was crucified and tortured is true.

The fact that He died is true.

The fact that He rose from the dead is true.

Why is that important? Because if any bit of that weren’t true, it changes everything.

If Mary wasn’t a virgin, and Jesus was born of a man, then He couldn’t have been God.

If Jesus wasn’t God, then the story means nothing.

If Jesus sinned, then He wasn’t the perfect Sacrifice we needed.

If He wasn’t crucified, punished, and killed for us, then the debt for our sin isn’t paid.

If He didn’t rise again, we couldn’t rise again spiritually or physically.

And it’s my opinion that those facts are interconnected and build off of each other. For example, if Jesus wasn’t God, then He wouldn’t have been able to rise from the dead by the power of God. But since it’s a story, and since it’s a true story, then it stands apart from most if not all major religions in that the central teaching is not theoretical, nor does it involve our own efforts for salvation – but it’s news. It’s not insight or epiphany – it’s news.

And as such, it’s the job of the preacher, the pastor, the church planter to declare a message that is historical, and it must be presented and defended as such, because the historicity of the gospel is what makes it so unique.

The Meaning of Marriage; by Tim and Kathy Keller

Erica and I picked up this book in the middle of last week, because we decided to read it together. That meant she read it in two days, and I took almost a week.

The book is indeed about marriage, but I strongly suggest it to anyone, regardless of relational status: single and ambitious to marry, single and reluctant, single and perfectly content, newly in a relationship, engaged, married (whether for a long or short time,) and whether your marriage is healthy or struggling.
The whole book is an examination of marriage as it relates to and demonstrates the Gospel, as the subtitle indicates: “Facing the complexities of commitment with the wisdom of God.”

Every page of this book carries weighty wisdom to apply to our perspective, philosophy, and/or practice of marriage. A perpetual underliner, I have marks almost everywhere. But the one quote I’ll put down as, for me, the summary of the book, reads as follows:

“when over the years someone has seen you at your worst, and knows you with all your strengths and flaws, yet commits him or herself to you wholly, it is a consummate experience. To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known but not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”

I think that sums up well the heart of the book, which gets to the point of what marital love is like: it is humble and serving, like Jesus was humble and served us. It is about loving someone despite how they may hurt us, just as Jesus loved us though our sin crucified Him. It’s about loving each other not because of how attractive we are now, but because we see in each other what God wants to do, and we are attracted to the “glory-self” of the other – the person God is creating through sanctification.

If you read it with a tender conscience, this book holds the potential to radically redefine what we mean when we tell our spouse or potential spouse, “I love you.” It’s made me re-evaluate what I mean when I say those words. And since I can’t begin to fill in the most important gaps, I simply suggest you read this book as soon as possible.

Church Planter: the Man, the Message, the Mission. Chapters 6 & 7: A Shepherding Man and A Determined Man.

[I am behind on blogging here, so I’m combining two chapters to make up ground.]

 

Chapter 6 deals with the area of pastoring which I am quite possibly least experienced in – shepherding. Let’s face it – I don’t know the first thing about taking care of people, which is okay, because this is good theoretical information which I can use practically at a later time. This chapter starts by outlining some of the reasons why shepherding (think one-on-one care of people, meeting and talking, helping with emotional and spiritual need, etc) is important, including the fact that sheep are important to Jesus, who bought them with His own blood; wolves stand ready to destroy the sheep; pastors will give an account as to how they cared for God’s sheep; and people with bad motives sometimes get into positions of authority (so prove you’re not in ministry for the title.)

In addition to the need for shepherding, shepherding comes with good results – in helping others with their sin, we are forced to deal with our own (remember, we aren’t hirelings!); shepherding helps us know how to preach and spin our sermons to deal with what people are struggling with on a regular basis (which I’d hoped was true, because I’ve struggled with that as a preacher who isn’t a shepherd); and it helps your influence as a preacher, as people see you humbled and willing to get your hands dirty, thus helping your credibility; and finally it helps you stay connected with Jesus and tests the genuineness of your faith – you can’t help people unless you’re in touch with the One who really can help them: Jesus Christ.

Then Darrin steps back just a little bit and keeps the whole thing in perspective: the pastor can’t be the only one who shepherds, because churches are too big for that. So this is where the skills of creating effective systems come into play: a pastor (church planter) has to be able to figure out a way in which he can get the entire congregation shepherded, involving other people. I’d say that the tricky part about this is making sure that the people you have in charge of sub-shepherding (so to speak) are on the same page as you theologically, ideologically, and practically, so that they’re passing on the heart of the pastor to the people in the church. I’ve considered this myself because in my church, I see the people who take others under their wing, particularly one woman in our church who mentors (shepherds) a lot of college-aged women. This is the logical solution (our pastor is a middle-aged man, one-on-one meetings with young women aren’t ideal) but I am curious as to the conversations that happen behind them involving getting everyone on the same page.

Patrick also briefly outlines some temptations in shepherding, including shepherding to hide from your own sins, as in shepherding so that people are so distracted by working through their own sin that you can have your own indulgences; shepherding to manipulate, or push a certain agenda; shepherding to cover weaknesses in other areas of pastoring, such as preaching; shepherding to conquer problems  (or seeing people as problems to conquer); and finally [the one I feel I’d struggle with the most] shepherding to win acceptance. My view of shepherding is both theoretical and legalistic. When I think, “I should shepherd someone,” it’s because I feel it’s something I have to do, or else God is upset that I’m wasting what I know. I need to have a sanctified and redeemed view of shepherding, that it’s something I do because I love people, not because I have to in order to be saved.

The chapter concludes with an exhortation toward shepherds to look at Jesus as our own shepherd (not to say we don’t have our own mentors and support systems) and consider what He’s done for us, and in doing that, it’ll help us become more godly and compassionate shepherds for our own congregations.

 

The one thing I’ve heard about church planting that is constant is that it is draining. The demands on your time, your relationships, your finances, your energy, sleep schedule, etc are grueling. And so determination is a necessity. The author, in chapter 7, explains this necessity in detail, and how to stay determined in the midst of a hectic plant.

There is positive and negative motivation to be determined. The negative motivation (for lack of a better way of saying it) is that to not commit to a church is to rape it (Eugene Peterson writes) – to milk it for all it’s worth, and when you’ve gotten what you want, you abandon it. Failing to commit and subsequently endure in ministry will result in drastically reduced effectiveness in ministry. The only way to endure, writes Patrick, is to rely on the power of the Holy Spirit. If we are motivated by ambition, willpower, or our desire to not let people down, we’ll fail, because those motivations will all run out at some point or another.

Fortunately for us, we can find Godly motivation to endure and commit to God’s church. First, citing 1 Corinthians 15:58 and 2 Corinthians 4:17, he points out that our labor in ministry is not in vain. In other words, the work we do has an eternal impact, and that impact is empowered by God (also see 1 Corinthians 3:6, my own personal addition.) God promises to grow our work in ministry. When we see that the results aren’t up to us, that helps us endure.

Second and similarly, we can remember the resurrection power of God displayed in Christ Jesus – if God raised Jesus from the dead, He can also “quicken our mortal bodies” (Romans 8:11.) Again, the power is God’s to do work in our ministry.

Third, we work for a heavenly reward. In other words (and I love how he says this,) “pastoral ministry is simply not worth it if you don’t factor in heaven.” If you’re not thinking about the fact that there is resurrection and new life for the people you are pastoring, you’re wasting your time. And when you realize that your reward is not just your church, but seeing Jesus face-to-face one day, you are spurred on to continue.

Finally, he offers some practical advice for men who want to stay determined: confront reality (understand that not every decision you make is going to make everyone happy, face the facts and the dirty parts of ministry, including sin in the church, lest it become unhealthy); Use your time wisely (don’t waste time, rest actively and effectively, eliminate time-suckers, etc.); get in shape (physical demands are innate); listen to wise counsel (always have people who can speak into your life and encourage you, helping you process what’s happening and bounce around ideas with); take a Sabbath rest (take a day off, a TRUE day off, on a regular basis); and spend time with your family who are (in Patrick’s words) “God’s sanctified distractions from ministry idolatry.”

For me, most of these ideas haven’t been practically applied, but I’m beginning to see that some of them can be now (using time wisely, getting in shape, listening to counsel, resting, and while I don’t have a family, I can take time to spend time with and enjoy my girlfriend.) even going back to the previous chapter, I can start examining some of my motivations in ministry, especially toward shepherding, and re-evaluating them with a gospel perspective.  

A brief thought on spiritual leadership

My girlfriend thinks I’m sweet, and she thinks I’m attractive. I’m not sure what’s wrong with her – but the best compliment she has ever given me is that I’m a good spiritual leader. Funny thing is that all I’ve done is prayed over her a few times.

But I’ve been reflecting on this tonight, and I’m starting to see how spiritual leadership is the best calling card a man can have. It’s better than being sweet, and better than being attractive, because it has much less to do with you.

I’m starting to see that to love your wife/fiancée/girlfriend (the latter two with the intent of becoming the former) as Christ loved the church means to strive for their spiritual well-being, and hope to be a priest for them the way Jesus went to the cross for our spiritual well-being and a restored relationship with God the Father.

It also releases the pressure off of you to love Jesus more than you love her. This has been perhaps the biggest challenge for me – realizing that my joy in Christ and the joy I have from a relationship are not entirely exclusive, but they can be connected. In other words, if I love Jesus and seek Him with all my heart, then it becomes my joy – not a point of jealousy or insecurity – to see my girlfriend/wife/spouse loving Him too. A man who doesn’t love the Lord above all will feel threatened by God – because he can’t be God and he can’t meet her needs the way God can. But a man who loves Jesus and His gospel will take extreme joy in the spiritual well-being and growth of the woman he walks with.

The night a guy took my money.

Mood: irritated, incredulous, pensive, confused, frustrated, probably in need of correction, cynical

Let me start by saying this: it was just four dollars.

I was practically robbed today, pick pocketed. A gentleman came into the shop this evening, looking a mite scraggly and in patchy attire, saying “merry Christmas-new year-happy…” He seemed a little disoriented, but friendly. He told Delia, “I’m homeless, you know. you pray for me, and I’ll pray for you.” Delia, being her sweet self, responded “of course I’ll pray for you! Would you like some coffee?” The man said yes and proceeded to ask us if we could give him a few bucks, because he needed soap and water. I said he was welcome to use our bathroom, and he said he needed a bath. I gave him a dollar, and he asked Delia for one, but she said she didn’t have any money. He stood at the counter drinking his coffee, and asked if we could “please please please” give him five dollars. I explained I didn’t have more cash to give him, and he said, “well what if I put this dollar in here [the tip jar] and take out this five-dollar bill…” He proceeded to do just that, despite my telling him “no, that’s not okay.” Delia explained that we had to split the tips but the man persisted in taking our money, and Delia said, “okay, you have to leave.”

This has happened before, just never when I was around. It was a really incredible experience, one that left me rattled and I had to sit down because of the pit in my stomach.

You talk about cognitive dissonance.

Here’s a man who is probably treated the same everywhere he goes: people are suspicious, they keep one eye open. He’s a little less than human in most people’s eyes: he’s a homeless guy. People don’t trust him. People think he’s out to take advantage of them. People are tired of his type [the homeless] always asking for things and money.

But as a human being, you want to give him the benefit of the doubt. You want to assume that if you give him a dollar, he’ll accept it gracefully and gratefully, and not try to milk you for all you’re worth. You’d like to think that he is just down on his luck and he didn’t get where he was today by choice, but by hard circumstance and horrible luck.

So you give him the benefit of the doubt, and what happens? He breaks your trust by taking money.

Like I said, it was only four dollars. I still got to eat tonight. I get it. But what makes it different is that he took OUR money, because the tip jar is split between the two of us working. It’s the fact that he just pushed his luck and not only bummed a cup of coffee and a dollar from me, but took my friend’s money too. Maybe that’s what’s eating me up, I’m not sure.

I also try to keep in mind when Jesus said “whatever you do to the least of these, you do to Me.” Again, I get it. And there would be a million humanitarian Christians in the world who try to tell me I should happily give him money because I’m basically giving Jesus money.

But here’s what makes this situation unique: if Jesus were a homeless man, He would [i think] take my dollar, thank me, and hopefully leave me wishing I’d given Him more because He was so grateful and genuine.

But what enrages me most about the situation is not that I gave money [whether voluntarily or not] to a homeless guy, it’s that I gave it to a swindler. It’s that I gave him the benefit of the doubt and he betrayed my trust. I hate that now we have to keep an eye out for him and “his kind” (less the homeless and more the type who come in and ask for money) and while I’m at it, how in the world is it okay to just ask people for their money? At what point did that become acceptable? Why can’t I fathom walking into a coffee shop and asking people for money without any intent of returning it? Maybe it’s because I have something to lose and some of the people who do this kind of thing have nothing left to lose. I don’t know and I don’t claim to.

and Jesus never said I wouldn’t be taken advantage of. It just leaves my head spinning how someone thinks it’s okay to exploit their circumstance and take money from others. I’m less mad than I am confused and I have so many questions. At best, Jesus is happy because I gave Him some money tonight. At worst, I’m out a few bucks to a guy who won’t be allowed back in the shop.