Category Archives: Service/Ministry

Five Ways to Encourage the Pastor (Your Pastor) of that Small Little Church

They are unavoidable. We all have heroes and we always will.  You tend to admire people in your own profession. Celebrity pastors will always be with us. While smaller churches seem to provide the type of community life we desire, megachurches will always be here with all their attractions. Whether the great cathedral or the former theatre, these churches and their grandiose budgets and their next new building will be a part of the evangelical ethos for a long time.

But instead of criticizing mega-ness and celebrity pastors, we should build instead a positive theology of the local pastor down the road. The fellow who spent his years in seminary longing for his first pastorate, eager to serve God’s people. The guy who loves Jesus, but may not have all the rhetorical gifts nor the wardrobe of the other guy down the road who on his first week in his new church plant had 500 in attendance. What about that little guy who is simply happy in providing for his family and caring for his flock, but whose church may never peak beyond 100?

What then should we do about them? It seems like we spend much time criticizing the big pastor and we spend little time encouraging the pastors who most need encouragement.

Here then are five ways to encourage the pastor of that small church, perhaps your own pastor:

First, thank God for that pastor. Thank God that He placed a man who loves Jesus more than anything else to minister to you week after week. He spends his mornings engaging the text seeking for wisdom to provide for his little flock. He prays to God that he would use every word to speak truth into the heart of sinful man and renew the heart of the afflicted.

Secondly, engage his sermons on Sunday morning. Tell him how thankful you are for the connection he made or for that fresh insight he offered, or for his faithfulness to the text. Be specific. Generic praises are much too common. Engage with his text. It will make his 15-20 hours he pours each week into the sermon that more desirable the next week.

Thirdly, find ways to show him appreciation. I am sure that at times he is highly discouraged because the church has not grown, or because they may have lost two families in the last three weeks, or because of the pressures put on him to perform in a way that is not congruent with his own abilities, the pressures for him to do just one more thing on top of the dozens of demands he has on a regular basis. Show him appreciation. Send him a note of gratitude.

Fourthly, avoid as a parishioner the celebrity trap. You return from a conference where the lights were just right, the speakers were engaging, their quotes were just perfect, their suits fit just right, their jokes were hilarious, and their persuasive gifts were so evident while at the same time the AC barely works in your little buildng, the microphone offers its normal hiccup and your little church pastor is doing his best to communicate to you the first verse of Jeremiah 21. Love your pastor’s exposition of Jeremiah 21. Make Jeremiah your priority throughout the week. Meditate. Talk about Jeremiah. Follow your pastor’s lectionary rather than the latest celebrity series. Tell your children how grateful you are to sit under the preaching of a pastor who cares enough about the Bible to preach on obscure texts.

Finally, I am aware that small churches would grow with a little more enthusiasm, a little more charisma, a little more of this and that, and perhaps it should. But your pastor may simply be that guy who is not very engaging, but longs to be. He may not have the greatest rhetorical gifts, but you know without a shadow of the doubt that when he opens his Bible each week he is there prepared for the task ahead. That guy is worth gold. Treasure him. Let him know how your family has been renewed by his weekly labor of love.

Do you want the celebrity culture to stop affecting the way you think church ought to be? Then begin by doing the obvious. Begin by loving your little community and the shepherd who guides it each week.


Maundy Thursday Meditation

Maundy Thursday comes from the Latin Mandatum. The word comes from Jesus’ command on the Last Supper to love one another just as He loved them (Lk. 24). The message of love is very much central to the Gospel message. Evangelicals are all too quick to set the topic of love aside because it draws our attention away from the more important doctrinal disputes and discussions. Yet Paul and our blessed Lord keep bringing us back to this theme of love. God is love. No, love is not God, but it is very much a foundational aspect of all His actions toward us in Christ Jesus.

Maundy Thursday then becomes a special historical reminder that we are called to be a people of love. Paul refers to the useless instruments in his I Corinthians 13. If love is absent, our actions become like those clanging cymbals. The very core of Paul’s love narrative in I Corinthians occurs in the midst of a dying Church. Paul’s application then is an ecclesiastical command. In the same manner our blessed Lord on the night in which he was betrayed– by that unclean man called Judas– called us to a greater ethic. It was not an ethic foreign to our Lord. What Jesus commands is first and foremost something he has experienced and displayed already. To a greater and cosmic extent, our Lord proves that love in a cross of hate. But this is love personified in the God/Man. By sacrificing Himself on that cruel tree He turned the symbol of hate into one of the most beloved symbols in the Christian life.

It is then very appropriate that our Lord would command us to love as a response to the Last Supper. This is the case because in the Supper we are being re-oriented in our affections for one another. The Supper is a meal of love and Jesus would transform that meal in His resurrection. He would glorify love for His new disciples. He would become Himself the manna from heaven that would bring joy to this newly created community.

Love is most clearly displayed and obeyed in this new fellowship of disciples we call the Church. This is why Maundy Thursday was a significant historical event. It was not just a didactic lesson for the disciples, it was also a meal that sealed the theme of love for this new community that would emerge from the darkness of the tomb.

Robert Rayburn and the Three-Office View

Robert Rayburn argues convincingly in his famous essay Ministers, Elders, and Deacons that the Old Covenant structure assumes a three-office view in that “the eldership was a ruling office only and was clearly differentiated in membership, status, calling, and responsibility from the office of Word and Sacrament.” Thus, the functions of eldership and priest are carried into the apostolic church.

Taking a Break from the Lord’s Work

That’s the title of Paul Vitello’s piece on the New York Times. Studies show that ministers refuse to take time off from work for a variety of reasons. “Members of the clergy now suffer from obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans.” The article observes that mainline denominations are working to ensure that their ministers take at least a day off during the week and their regular 2-4 week vacation each year.

Ministering to the Dying this Christmas…

CREC minister Toby Sumpter reflects on their labor to the dying this Christmas:

I don’t know her name, but she is barely alive in the shrunken shell of the body God gave her. She lays under blankets and peers out of heavy eyelids in sunken sockets, belabored coughs slowly scrape her ancient throat. I smile and say hello. Her eyes flutter toward my voice. She leans her head slowly toward me. My one year old daughter is where her eyes rest. She doesn’t saying anything, and I cannot even say that I see a change of expression. But she cannot take her eyes off of my daughter like my daughter cannot take her eyes off of her. Death meet Life. Beginning meet End.

Read the Rest…

Should women be ordained?

I raise this question only because in this day there are still those who wish to betray two-thousand years of Church History, a strong tradition of conservative theological interpretation, and an unwavering testimony of Sacred Scriptures affirming that women must not be ordained to the ministry of the gospel.

One historical dimension that came to my attention recently concerns the religious atmosphere of the first century. Historical records prove that the first century was replete with priestesses. Some today assert that if the cultural norms of the day were more favorable to women in places of authority–such as in our own day–then Jesus would have been more prone to ordaining women as apostles. However, Fr. Mateo dispels this historical myth by asserting:

It is unhistorical and simply false to say that in Jesus’ day priestesses would have been unacceptable to people at large. Our Lord never hesitated to violate cultural taboos (John 5:1-18). He spoke to women in public (John 4:4-42; 8:3-11). The first witnesses of his Resurrection were women (passim). Furthermore, the lands around the Mediterranean teemed with religions with priestesses. The famed Vestal Virgins of Rome were priestesses. There was a priestess functioning at Delphi. The Sybil was a priestess and the many temple prostitutes were priestesses.

Jesus would not have been the first to ordain women to places of authority in his ministry. However, he chose twelve male apostles. Jesus was a taboo breaker and it would have been a simple task for him to choose women who were among his followers. But the divine pattern prevailed; a pattern begun in the Older Covenant. Jesus shows that the nature of the Church and the Scriptures is that the authority to administer word and sacrament be limited to men only.

Henry Nouwen on Ministering…

I am a profound admirer of Henry Nouwen. His reflections on the ministry have been life-transforming to me; perhaps this quote may do the same for you:

More and more, the desire grows in me simply to walk around, greet people, enter their homes, sit on their doorsteps, play ball, throw water, and be known as someone who wants to live with them. It is a privilege to have the time to practice this simple ministry of presence. Still, it is not as simple as it seems. My own desire to be useful, to do something significant, or to be part of some impressive project is so strong that soon my time is taken up by meetings, conferences, study groups, and workshops that prevent me from walking the streets. It is difficult not to have plans, not to organize people around an urgent cause, and not to feel that you are working directly for social progress. But I wonder more and more if the first thing shouldn’t be to know people by name, to eat and drink with them, to listen to their stories and tell your own, and to let them know with words, handshakes, and hugs that you do not simply like them, but truly love them.1


  1. Henry Nouwen [ back]

Theocentrism vs. Anthropocentrism

One common and constant reaction in Reformed circles is to distance oneself from an anthropocentric theology. We are rather more concerned about pontificating theological ideas into the ethereal world of abstractions. Of course, abstract theology is the foundation of true theology. Anthropocentric ( man-centered) theology also must play a specific role in the lives of Biblical students. Perhaps a brief explanation of this will take away some of the initial fear of a synergistic view of life. In fact, this is not in any way related to a synergistic theology, for synergism relates primarily to the system of soteriology.

The primary concept that must be grasped at the outset is that the greatest commandment is not summarized in one overarching statement, but rather Christ himself summarized it into two. In Matthew 22, Jesus says that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God, and almost as if in the same breath, he proceeds to give a further command. This commandment He says is “like unto the first,” and that is to love your neighbor as yourself. Notice that the distinctive similarity is “love.” Love is the essence of both commandments.

One interesting idea in this text is the Old Testament reference taken from Deuteronomy 6 and Leviticus 19 respectively. Love in that context refers to loyal duty, a delight or a pleasurable experience. This love runs in direct contradiction to the modern concept of love in our society. So, to put things into perspective, doing theology or practicing theology is not only theocentric but also anthropocentric. That is, doing theology is directly related to loving man. It is a loyal duty to do theology with the purpose of serving your neighbor. For the student or theologian, theology has a dual affect. It goes not only to the transcendent sphere but also to the human sphere. It serves the purpose of edifying the body and ministering to our neighbors. This proper distinction helps us to avoid a common error, which is: to understand theology simply in a celestial fashion.  A proper balanced approach does justice to a love for humanity and a love for God.