Archive for the ‘I Love the Local Church’ category

John Piper and Jason Meyer Talk About Succession at Bethlehem Baptist Church

May 30, 2012

As you know, I have been praying for and paying close attention to the succession plan/process at Bethlehem Baptist Church.  My interest is really twofold: on the one hand, this succession is between a hero (Piper) and a personal mentor (Meyer). On the other hand, the issue of pastoral succession is, in my opinion, one of the biggest issues facing local churches today. I can’t find the statistic, but somewhere I read that 3/4 of large churches are currently pastored by the leader during its most significant growth. In other words, the church’s identity/personality has been largely influenced and shaped by the personality/values of the lead pastor.  When the pastor leaves, how will it affect the church? Is there any forethought or plan in place for the health and prosperity of the church and its mission for the next generation?

Along those lines, I am thrilled to see how God has unmistakably worked in the succession plan/selection process of the next lead pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church. Below is a video interview with John Piper and Jason Meyer, interviewed by Justin Taylor  on the campus of Southern Seminary, in which they discuss for the first time together what God has done over the past year to bring it all about. Watching this, my heart is filled with gratitude on multiple levels, especially for God’s “leaning in” in choosing to make His will known in such a glorious way.

[vimeo 42906650]

The Pastor Shuffle

March 19, 2012

Yesterday morning, I was getting ready to preach at our daughter church (Providence Church), when this crazy idea came to my mind.  You see, also yesterday morning at Grace, Jamin Stinziano who is a pastor of Summit Church (in Estero, FL) brought the word.  So a Grace pastor was at Providence, and a Summit pastor was at Grace.  I suppose you could say the pastors were doing a little shufflin’. 🙂

But thinking about it a little more seriously, I wonder what it would be like if there was an intentional effort to do “the pastor shuffle” every 3 months in a certain area.  Local, like-minded sister churches can benefit from the encouragement of other pastors and preachers in the area, and the shuffling pastor would have the opportunity to bring greetings as well as share what God is doing as a matter of prayer request and kingdom encouragement.

I thought about this seriously because something like the pastor shuffle would communicate a lot about local churches and the kingdom of God.  What God is doing here is so much bigger than any local church, and if we truly care about His kingdom come, we should celebrate it in places and ways other than our local church.  Furthermore, the pastor shuffle will be a counter-cultural move to kill the spirit of competition and “turf wars” among local churches.  We are, after all, on the same team.  So why don’t we intentionally try to promote and celebrate that reality?

In January, I saw this kind of vision in action while in Haiti.  All the pastors in our network plugged into the life of other churches as though it was their own local church.  One pastor led in singing. Another helped with the children. Others still led in congregational prayer.  When they could serve and bless other churches, it was their joy.  And when I could see and experience it, I was deeply moved.

So here’s to the pastor shuffle. I hope something like this could happen around the country. Do you think it would work where you live, among the churches in your area?

Spiritual Gifts Inform Us of Our Neediness

February 28, 2012

We do not have an exhaustive list of gifts of the the Spirit in the Bible, but we do have a lot of them.  These gifts are sovereignly distributed by the Spirit for the common good and edification of the church.  When each member is working properly, the body grows and is built up in love.

In the wisdom of God, He has designed that we are all ministers to one another in various ways through a variety of gifts.  Have you considered what God is saying about us with the equipment of so many gifts?  We are a needy people! You are a needy person. We do not realize how profound our spiritual needs are, but God does, and He has made provision for our needs through the gifts of His Spirit exercised through the lives of His people. For example:

When the Holy Spirit intends a person with the gift of giving to be useful in the church, what does it say about us? We are in deep need of the generous benevolence of others, and God is intentional about providing that financial or practical through others.

When the Holy Spirit intends a person with the gift of exhortation to be useful in the church, what does it say about us? We are in deep need of encouragement and proper motivation, and God is intentional about providing people in our lives to stir our hearts and direct our steps in paths that honor God.

We could extend this exercise through the various lists of spiritual gifts, the point God is making to us is this:

1.  We have profound needs in multiple areas of our lives
2.  God has made provision for those needs to be met by the gifts of His Spirit
3.  Members of the body of Christ supply the needs to one another through exercising the Spirit’s gifts

This is another significant reason for being a covenant member of a local church and meaningful participant in gospel community.  As a needy person, you will feel tempted to address those needs through unspiritual means. But when you understand how God ordered the church, you know that God intends that each member would “have the same care for one another” (1 Cor. 12:25).

Lone-ranger Christians are at best disobedient and dysfunctional. They are disobedient because numerous commands of Scripture require us to be in regular contact with other believers (“one another” commands). They are dysfunctional because the needs they have are not being met by the God-ordained means of gifts of the Holy Spirit through each member of His body. Perhaps what exists behind of this is a denial of neediness–a determination of making it by self-determination and independence. Sadly, this state of existence is far too common in the church today.

God knows what we need before we ask Him. God has made provision through the distribution of the Spirit’s gifts through the work of ministry when each member is equipped and working properly. As we have our needs met through the ministry of others, we are also meeting the needs of others by the gifts given to us for their good.

My Song in the Night – New Website of Bobby Gilles

September 20, 2011

Bobby Gilles is one of the most gifted and effective communicators I know.  He is an accomplished songwriter and story teller and heads up the very impressive communications team of Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, KY.  I have had the privilege in recent years to get to know Bobby and benefit from his work.  Specifically, I have learned how he has used the Internet to spread the vision and mission of Sojourn church in very practical and intentional ways and sought to implement much of what I’ve gleaned in my own context.

Having said that, I was really encouraged to receive a message from Bobby over the weekend about the announcement of a new website intended to help churches in numerous ways, including:

  • Teach people how to write and share their testimony. I’ve also included Sojourn’s guidelines for writing the salvation testimonies that we share at our baptism services.
  • Show the ways in which I work with Sojourn Pastor Daniel Montgomery and his pulpit team to encourage interaction among our members with our sermon series, vision campaigns, scripture memory challenges and more.
  • How we use social media, the arts and amateur photography at Sojourn to tell the story of our community, as a small part of God’s story.
  • How your church members can use the Psalms as models for telling the story of God at work in their life, and express their longings, questions, and pain.
  • Show the ways in which I work with Sojourn Worship Pastor Mike Cosper to help our people see the full gospel in our weekly worship service liturgy, and their place in the gospel story.
  • Songwriting instruction, from how to write simple scripture memory songs to the poetry mechanics behind hymn-writing, and how I’ve worked as a songwriting workshop coordinator to foster collaboration & community and train songwriters in the Sojourn Music community.

Put it this way. There are blogs I find essential for practical helps in ministry in the local church.  If I want to find the best on productivity and effective administration, I go to Matt Perman’s blog, What’s Best Next?  If I want to learn about practical pastoral helps, I go to Brian Croft’s blog Practical Shepherding.  If I want to learn about all things worship, I go to Bob Kauflin’s blog, Worship Matters.  And now, with Bobby Gilles’ new website, for help in exploring excellence in all forms of communication in the church, I recommend his blog My Song in the Night.

Add him to your RSS feed and check back regularly.  Bobby knows what he is doing, and his gifts are a great asset to the kingdom!

More Thoughts on Sermon Manuscripts

September 9, 2011

Since my last post, I have enjoyed considerable feedback on the use of a full manuscript in preaching. I thought I’d comment on some of the questions I’ve been asked, including practical inquiries.

1.  Preaching from a full MSS is not for everyone. But even if it is not for everyone, I would argue that it is a good and helpful exercise, especially for young and developing preachers.  It will be helpful in your thinking/processing, writing, and eventual delivery.  I don’t know if I will preach from a MSS for the rest of my life, but I certainly have found it challenging and helpful at this particularly developmental stage.

2.  Speaking of delivery, that seems to be the main drawback from using a full MSS in preaching.  That certainly is a challenge, but the opposite could also be the case.  Consider two comments from my last post:

I have been preaching for about 12 years now, and have only recently begun to manuscript. I resisted for a long time, fearing it would make my preaching wooden and dry. The truth is, it’s done the opposite. I’m finding myself saying things in fresh ways, rather than falling into the rut of saying the same things the same way. I’ve also found that it has brought so much clarity and focus – the process of manuscripting (and the editing!) has really helped me sharpen the content of my sermons. – Bill Streger

But the ironic thing is: For me, it’s works the other way. I use a full manuscript, because I can communicate more naturally, directly, passionately and engagingly WITH a full manuscript than without. I know it’s a personal thing, but if I have notes or nothing (yes, I’ve tried it), half my brain is worrying about whether I’ll forget something important, where I’m up to, etc., which means I can’t relax. With the “safety net” of a manuscipt, I can put all my thought power into what I’m saying, and all my energy into engaging with people. – Stephen Shead

(more…)

Preaching, Manuscripts, and Fraternal Critique

September 6, 2011

“Pharaoh, let my people go!”

That’s a joke my mother uses on occasion with my friends regarding my first sermon preached.  Admittedly, it was not that great, and I did preach everything I knew in the Bible in one sermon.

Prior to coming to Grace, I had eight years of Bible college and seminary training and six years ministering as a youth and college pastors in local churches.  With that training and experience, you would think I had a lot of practical training in preparing and delivering sermons.  But the fact of the matter is I had no formal training in college and one class in seminary in which I preached one 20 minute sermon.  Although I preached many times, I still felt woefully unprepared for the fundamental task of pastoral ministry.

Then I came to Grace and immediately began to be helped by my fellow pastor and churchman Tom Ascol.

The first thing he did was pay a lady to transcribe my first message at Grace word for word and spend two hours working through the 17-page document full of grammatical errors, pointless commentary, and incoherent argumentation.  It was one of the most grueling and embarrassing things I had ever done.  The scalpel (Tom’s red pen) dissected and performed surgery and fully exposed areas of incompetency in my preaching.  While it was almost unbearable, it was the best thing that could have ever happened to my preaching.  In fact, it was what I need 12 years ago that neither Bible college, seminary, or two church positions offered.

I have heard it said from experienced practitioners like Tim Keller and others that it takes a pastor five years or more than 200 sermons before he finds his voice/style and feels comfortable in his own skin.  In the day of podcasting and sermon downloading where church members can listen to the best preachers evangelicalism has to offer, the pressure to perform and excel in preaching is daunting.  If you can listen to Matt Chandler on Monday, David Platt on Tuesday, Mark Driscoll on Wednesday, John Piper on Thursday, and Mark Dever on Friday, then for the that church member, the young and inexperienced preacher on Sunday morning feels “karaoke”. Only a church stubbornly committed to making disciples, including disciples in the pulpit, can celebrate amateur preachers and pitting them against more polished, seasoned practitioners in the pulpit.

As one of those young and inexperienced preachers, one of the best gifts God has given me is men who are committed to making me a better preacher of the gospel.  Every sermon I preach is evaluated.  Everything is considered: thesis, exegesis, illustrations, application, eye contact, speech, grammar, length, etc.  In the beginning, I dreaded that one hour in our weekly elder meetings; however, as I sought to apply the fraternal criticism to my preaching, I began to anticipate those meetings, knowing I was benefiting from an experience in true pastoral training that many, if not most, in my generation are not afforded.  The opportunity to receive real, significant preaching instruction and help is a stewardship I hope not only benefits my hearers but also those I may have opportunity to help in the future.

(more…)

When the Bible Calls You Stupid

June 8, 2011

This past Sunday, I taught our congregation on the profitability of God’s Word from 2 Timothy 3:16-17. The Apostle Paul brings out four categories where Scripture is profitable for the believer: teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. The first two categories address Scripture being profitable for our beliefs (orthodoxy), and the latter two address how Scripture is profitable for our behavior (orthopraxy). Furthermore, both our beliefs and behavior are addressed constructively and correctively: teaching (belief) and training (behavior) are constructive, and reproof (belief) and correction (behavior) are corrective. In a way, Paul is saying that Scripture is entirely sufficient to address every aspect of the Christian life.

For most Christians, I would assume are open and receptive to the constructive ways Scripture is profitable to them, namely through the teaching of God’s Word and training by God’s Word.  However, that is only 50% of Scripture’s intended instrumentality for being competent and equipped for every good work.  What about the corrective ways that Scripture is intended to be profitable?  Are Christians just as receptive, open, and welcoming to giving and receiving reproof and correction?  If the answer is no, then we can only conclude that believers find Scripture to be only 50% profitable for their lives while God intends for it to be 100% profitable.  Could this explain, perhaps, the problem of believers not being equipped and competent for a life of good works?

(more…)

Honoring a Faithful Shepherd

June 2, 2011

Last night, I had the privilege of joining my church family in honoring Tom Ascol on his 25th anniversary as pastor of Grace Baptist Church.  The evening was spent with members sharing stories and testimonies of how God has impacted their lives through Pastor Tom, and I began it with a few words about the call of a shepherd, explaining how he has led our church through the years.  I provide them below because I know many of my readers know Tom from his blog, articles, books, or role as director of Founders Ministries.  I’m fortunate to know him as a fellow pastor, father in the faith, and personal friend.  

Honoring a Faithful Shepherd:
Reflections on the Ministry of Tom Ascol
on His 25th Anniversary as Pastor of Grace Baptist Church

If you were alive in during biblical times, there is one vocation that every person in the community would be familiar with. That would be the work of a shepherd. It is widely understood that shepherds were in many ways considered to be heroic men, known for their independence, resourcefulness, adaptability in severe circumstances, courage amidst all kinds of opposition, and vigilance to their calling. Their work required of them an intense capacity for attentiveness, self-sacrifice, and compassion. As a result, shepherds were looked upon in Scripture as an icon of leadership, and no doubt one of the reasons why Jesus referred to Himself as the Good Shepherd and of whom Peter called the Chief Shepherd.

There are many ways to describe the work of a pastor, but none are more comprehensive and clear than that of a shepherd. When a pastor is faithful to the people he is called to lead, he images forth the shepherding ways of God. Indeed, God Himself said, “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God” (Ezekiel 34:15). In the popular Shepherd Psalm, King David begins by saying, “The Lord is my shepherd” (Psalm 23:1). So in a very significant way, God communicates his heart and ways with His people as a shepherd. That alone should alert us to the significance of the work, given to those who are called to lead by “shepherding the flock of God” whom Jesus purchased with His own blood (Acts 20:28).

But what is it that encompasses the work of a faithful shepherd? Tonight, I want to briefly give you three aspects of a faithful shepherd in light of what this evening is all about. For 25 years, God has given us a pastor who has served this church as a faithful shepherd to the flock entrusted to his care, and tonight, I want to honor the man who has honored Christ and discharged his calling as a dedicated pastor, committed churchman, and stubborn herald of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This weekend marks the 25th anniversary of our beloved pastor, Tom Ascol, and though it pains him for us to draw any attention to him, we are going to do it anyway. It is fitting for us to honor and recognize what God has done in and through him.

(more…)

The Places and Purposes of My Work

March 18, 2011

Yesterday afternoon, I was discussing with a few guys on Twitter how and where we spend our time working. When I came to Grace nearly three years ago, there was no “office” space for me at the church building, which meant that I was to do the majority of my work either at home or somewhere in the community.  For me, this was a huge win because I’ve always struggled with the idea that a pastor’s ministry is to be confined to an enclosed office space.  That’s not to say it is entirely wrong; it’s just not who I am and how I try to function.

Over the past three years, I have gone back and forth try to determine where is the best place to work for accomplishing certain tasks. With two young boys (3 and 1), my home office is not the ideal place to work, so I have ended up as a patron at various coffee shops and eventually landed at a local Panera Bread where I spend most of my “office” time.

I’ve ministered in churches which have a rather strict policy for where and when a pastor works (“office hours”).  Needless to say, the confinement approach was less than appealing and effective, and fortunately for me I have the privilege of working on a pastoral team with a high level of flexibility and trust.  In any case, I thought I’d post what my typical work week looks like, including the places, times, and purposes of each.

(more…)

Life Offline

October 26, 2010

For the past 2.5 years, I have been serving as a pastor of Grace Baptist Church.  I have not blogged much about my church or my role as a pastor (other than the kingly administration stuff).  It has been an incredible journey so far, and I am loving being a church that is “reformed and always reforming according to the Word of God.”

Last week, we gave an elders report to our congregation for our annual members meeting.  This report is our reflection on the past year of ministry (specifically September 2009-September 2010).  God is doing some wonderful things through our church family, and I thought I’d share nine of them in bullet form here (for a detailed summary, go here).

(more…)

The Transfer of the Gospel

October 25, 2010

On October 3, our church launched our first daughter church. It was a great moment as we have worked over the past two years to transition into being a church planting church. I had the privilege of preaching at Grace that morning, and in light of the launch of our first daughter church, I decided to preach on “The Transfer of the Gospel” based on 2 Timothy 2:1-2.

My basic point is that church planting churches are made up of disciple-making disciples who are made by the gospel of Jesus Christ. Putting it another way, if you are not being strengthened by the gospel, disciples will not be made and churches will not be planted. Therefore, to be a church planting church, we need a community of disciple-making disciples. To have a community like that, we need to experience and be empowered by the gospel on a continual basis.

I made my manuscript available on PLNTD’s relational communities and thought I’d post it here as well for anyone interested.  As many of you know, my goal is to provide as much resources and information that will help individuals and churches in treasuring the gospel, making disciples, and planting churches.  To download the PDF of my sermon manuscript, click here.

Monday is for “kingly” administration: The Assimilation Process, Part 2 (Attenders – New Christians)

May 11, 2010

I know today is not Monday, so I apologize for this post being a little late.

Last week, I took up part one in the assimilation process, focusing on first-time guests.  After people visit for the first time, there is typically an in between period where they are no longer new but also not in the membership process.  The regular attender is what I want to focus on this post.

Before I begin, I have to clarify some assumptions here.  First, people who visit our church do not become members by walking down an aisle, filling out a card, and then are presented to the church.  While there is no set time frame, the typical new member attends Grace for 3-6 months before pursuing membership (though there are exceptions).  This is intentional on both ends.  We want those who visit Grace to understand our philosophy of ministry, gospel rhythms, core values/practices, confessional and covenantal pre-commitments, and so on before making a decision to becoming a member. We want them to take it seriously, as we do.  This time also gives us the opportunity of getting to know them better, to understand their previous church experience, have them in our homes, and gain a better understanding of their life story. Our commitments to regenerate church membership and gospel centrality encourage us in the assimilation process while guarding the “front door” of membership.

(more…)

21 Questions I’ve Been Asking (Myself) Lately

February 17, 2010

Several of you will find these questions familiar, but their familiarity does not minimize the piercing factor for this pastor.  I wanted to put them out there in case others might find them helpful.

1.  If our church would cease to exist in our city, would it be noticed and missed?

2.  If all the pastors were tragically killed in a car accident, would the church’s ministry cease or fall apart?

3.  If the only possible means of connecting with unbelievers were through the missionary living of our church members, how much would we grow? (I ask this because the early church did not have signs, websites, ads, marketing, etc.)

4.  What are the subcultures within the church?  Do they attract or detract from the centrality of the gospel and mission of the church?

5.  Is our church known more for what we are not/against than what we are/for?

(more…)

Gospel Workshops – An Idea for Consideration

September 29, 2009

I have argued for several years now that the greatest need for our churches today is the recovery of the gospel.  Some people have concluded that what I mean by that is everyone embracing the doctrines of grace; however, a casual observer of my blog could able to discern that is not the case.  What I mean is understanding the functional centrality of the gospel and its sufficiency in every aspect of the church.

I have become more and more aware of this need when I talk to, for instance, seminary-trained Christian counselors who have never heard or been trained in how to apply the gospel to situations in life involving believers and conflict of any sort or a leadership style that reflects more of corporate one-upmanship rather than the gospel style of decreasing to serve others.  I have grown up in the county-seat First Baptist Church and heard how the gospel of Matthew was a how-to manual to overcome stress, worry, fear, and so on and also been in the seeker-sensitive megachurch where the stories are gripping but the gospel missing.  I have been in the smaller, more rural church where the preacher is excited and earnest as in the tradition of revivalism but the gospel is reduced to a few points and a prayer.  Reflecting and experiencing these realities have served to increase the burden in my heart for the gospel to be preached, lived, and result in truly transformed lives.

(more…)

Leadership Retreat Feedback

September 5, 2009

This past week, the pastors of Grace hunkered down for three days for our leadership retreat.  Just a couple of days out of it, the meetings are still fresh on my mind.  I think we all agreed that it was really productive, but I also believe it can always improve and be done better.

I am convinced of the importance of such retreats for personal renewal, team building, ministry assessment, and vision casting (among others).  Conferences are good to aid in some of this, but they are no replacement for a retreat that deals directly and comprehensively on the local church and the men called to serve in a leadership capacity.

Below is the template I created and that we ran with this past week (I stripped it down to remove details).  I am providing it to get your thoughts, suggestions, examples, or any other ideas on this matter.  I want to serve my fellow pastors and church at large by helping us develop the best retreats possible in the future.  Any feedback you’d be willing to provide is great appreciated, and if you would care to share docs, you can email me at timmybrister[at]gmail[dot]com.

(more…)