Raising Preacher Boys

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We used to call them “preacher boys,” but increasingly we are seeing grown men called to preach and pastor, often in their “second career.” One pastor I met was called to his first church when he was nearly 70 years old. And he’s doing a good job! Many others were in their 40s or 50s and had retired from the military or teaching school.

The growth in the number of “preacher men” is a great thing for many reasons. These men come with real-world experience and are highly motivated to “serve the Lord.” They are not thinking career. Their passion is to obey Christ. And preacher men are often largely self-funded because they have another job or retirement income. One pastor in southern Oregon has several such men in his church. He is discipling them and training them for whatever God might have them do.

I have written before that our greatest need in the Northwest is for more pastors, especially bi-vocational pastors. This means that a primary job for churches and pastors is to identify and train-up “preacher boys,” or “preacher men,” for ministry leadership. The local church reaches more people when it has more leaders. As a convention of churches, we will reach more people for Christ as we have more pastors and more churches. Leaders reach people. It’s mathematical. One man cannot do the work of ten. Ten men of equal ability and context will reach ten times the number of people that one will. Likewise, all things being equal, ten churches will reach ten times as many people as one church.

To help facilitate the training of pastors and other ministry leaders, the NWBC has started Contextualized Leadership Development (CLD), which is a branch of Golden Gate Seminary, designed to train ministry leaders. To take CLD classes a student does not need a high school diploma or a college degree. They simply need a strong desire and calling to serve Jesus Christ. Our first CLD location was Portland, which began in January 2015 with a class on preaching. Pastoral ministry will be taught in Portland this fall. I say, “our first CLD location,” but we have other CLD centers operating in the Northwest that were started independent of the convention, which is great. Our desire as a convention of churches is to increase the number of CLD centers, and to start some in areas and among peoples that do not have a CLD center. Two of the current centers are non-English (Russian and Burmese, with a third likely to start this year in the Tagalog language).

Our biggest need in order to expand CLD was to find someone to direct the program in a part-time role. We now have that man. I am very excited about this as he will connect with pastors and Directors of Missions across our convention, helping you to create your own CLD Center. I can’t announce his name yet, but that should be forthcoming in about a month.

This week I spoke to the national CLD leader for Golden Gate Seminary, Don Beall, and Don told me something that might help many of our churches to better train their preacher boys. Many churches don’t have regular worship services on Sunday evening or Wednesday anymore. It is difficult for the pastor to give up the pulpit on Sunday morning with regularity, so that his preacher boys can learn. Don said that one church he knows has scheduled worship one Sunday evening per month as an opportunity for someone other than the lead pastor to preach. I thought that was a great idea and it’s something you might consider.

Lay leaders, let me encourage you to allow your pastor to do what it takes to train up the preacher boys and men in your church. When I was a pastor I felt the pressure to always be in the pulpit on Sunday morning and Sunday evening. But I was wrong. I should have given more opportunities to others in the churches I served. If I had it to do over again, I would seek to educate our church that a part of my responsibility is to train future pastors, and I would give them more opportunities to preach. That said, there are many nursing facilities that would love to have someone lead a worship service on Sunday, or on another day. In my first three years of preaching ministry, ninety percent of my opportunities to preach came in nursing homes. It was there I learned to “speak up” so they could hear me. And it was there that I learned not to be offended when they fell asleep!

We need more ministry leaders in the Northwest. And we need to call them out from our churches and train them up. With all of the political and moral turmoil in our nation, it is a good day to serve the Lord!

Three Questions for Bible Teachers

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“So you’ve told me what the Bible says, but what does that mean for me? What should I do about it?” These questions are asked in thousands of churches every week. Sometimes the questions are verbalized, but often they surface in the minds of hearers without them giving voice to the questions. This is a serious issue because failure to get answers to these questions frustrates the hearer, and it can leave them unable to connect God’s Word to their everyday life.

There are three questions that I try to answer for the hearers every time I teach God’s Word. If your Bible class or congregation can answer these questions when you teach, you will make the kind of impact that you desire. More importantly, you will help your people to become doers of the Word and not merely hearers of the Word (James 1:22-25).

The three questions are: What? So what? Now what? The “what” question concerns the content of the biblical text. What does the text say? What does the text teach? Every biblical passage has one meaning and the “what” question is answered when the teacher explains the meaning of the text.

The second question is “so what?” This question concerns the relevance of the truth being taught in the biblical text. The Bible teacher must do more than state what is true, i.e. what is taught in the Scripture. The Bible teacher must help the hearers understand why this truth is vital for them.

The third question is “now what?” This concerns what the hearer needs to believe, or what the hearer needs to do, as a result of the biblical truth.

For example, if we were to teach from John 3:16, here’s how we could answer those three questions. The text says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and Only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Question one is “What?” What is the meaning of John 3:16? It means that the one true God, God as He is revealed in the Bible, loves the sinful people of this world. The word “world” in John’s Gospel means “the people of the world who are in rebellion against God.” God loves people so much that He gave His Son Jesus to be the Savior of the world and give eternal life to those who believe.

Question two is “So what?” Why is the truth of John 3:16 relevant and important? The answer, it is relevant because it reveals the one and only way a person can receive eternal life and escape eternal death. Jesus does not provide one way among many for people to be saved. Jesus is the one and only way for people to be saved and live forever with God.

Question three is “Now what?” What do I do with the truth I have been taught from God’s Word? The answer, I must believe in Jesus Christ as God’s only Son and as God’s only provision for my eternal life. To believe in Jesus is more than simply acknowledging who He is. To believe in Jesus is to repent of living for anything other than Him and to give your life to Him. You must believe in Jesus Christ, and you must believe in Him now in order to receive eternal life.

If you can answer these three questions for your class or congregation, you will help them connect the Bible to their everyday life. Failure to answer each of these questions will greatly inhibit the effectiveness of your teaching. But if you can interpret and explain the Scriptures clearly, and apply them in a relevant way to your hearers, your teaching will have great and lasting impact … lasting all the way to heaven itself.

Prepare for Persecution, It’s Coming to You

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Last Friday (4/10/15) in Pakistan two men stopped 15-year-old Nouman Masih, asked him what religion he belonged to, then beat him, doused him with kerosene, and set him ablaze when he said he was a Christian. Masih died after several days of suffering, but not before offering forgiveness to his murderers. This week 14 Africans were thrown from a boat and drowned in the Mediterranean Sea when they identified themselves as Christians to their Islamic attackers. The persecution and martyrdom of Christians in Africa and Asia has become a weekly, if not daily, occurrence.

In the United States we have not seen persecution as it is occurring elsewhere, but this does not mean that persecution is non-existent. Nor does it mean that we should fail to prepare for persecution. In particular, we should prepare new Christians for the certainty of suffering and the inevitability of persecution. In addition to persecution from unbelieving family members, some believers are suffering economically and socially for living out their faith and exercising freedom of religion and freedom of speech.

Kevin Cochran, until recently the Fire Chief in Atlanta, GA, was terminated from his job because he gave a copy of a book he had written to his staff. The book identified homosexuality as sinful and this cost Cochran his job. At Eastern Michigan University a graduate student was booted from a counseling program for refusing to counsel gay clients in a way that affirmed their identity. Others have claimed they were fired, demoted, or not hired because they affirmed intelligent design or creationism rather than the theory of evolution.

One of the big questions under debate in our nation is this: does religious liberty extend to the individual in his/her public life, or is religious liberty extended only to religious institutions (churches, synagogues, etc.) and individuals in their private lives? Secular progressives believe, in general, that religious convictions and liberties are limited to one’s institutional religious observances and private life. Also, some believe that certain groups of people should be protected from “hate speech,” advocating laws similar to those in Canada where a person can go to jail for speaking “hatefully” about a particular group of people. But who gets to define which groups are protected? Who defines what is “hateful?” And who determines the dividing line between an individual’s public expressions of religion and private expressions?

Some say that we should ignore what is happening to religious liberty and free speech in America because we are not suffering as severely as believers elsewhere. But this is a mistake. It is wrong to cede to the government freedoms that are given by God. The preamble to our nation’s Declaration of Independence declares the rights of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” are inalienable and given to all mankind by God, not by any government. Additionally, the first of the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech….” Vigilance in defense of religious liberty and freedom of speech is essential to maintaining all other freedoms.

My point is not simply that we need to defend our religious liberty, but that we need to prepare believers for the likelihood that subtle, and not so subtle, forms of persecution are likely to grow in coming years. In addition to what we are observing in current news stories and debate, consider the demographic reality that America is becoming “less Christian” each year.

Based on current demographic trends, the Pew Research Center predicts that from 2010 to 2050:

  1. Muslims will grow 73 percent worldwide (due mostly to high birthrates)
  2. Christianity will grow by 35 percent worldwide
  3. In the United States, Christians will decline from 78.3 to 66.4 percent
  4. In the United States, Muslims will grow from 0.9 to 2.1 percent (more than doubling)
  5. In the United States, those indicating “no religion” will grow from 16.4 to 25.6 percent
  6. In the United States, Jews will decline from 1.8 to 1.4 percent

These numbers can change. Revival and spiritual awakening has happened and can again. But the Pew Research Center’s predications are based on current demographic trends, including birthrates, and these are difficult to change. We must pray for, and work toward, the kind of conversion growth that has been seen in Africa and China over the past century. And we must also prepare believers for increased hostility to Christianity based on current realities, not just demographic predications.

Sometimes following Jesus brings pain into our lives. Persecution should come as no surprise because Jesus warned of this. “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated Me first,” (John 15:18). And, “If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you also” (John 15:20). Later, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12).

Following Jesus will bring rejection and sometimes worse. Believers need to prepare for this. Every new believer should be taught this. If you need help teaching new Christians, Northwest Baptist Convention churches can order a study book for new Christians titled “Following Jesus from the Beginning,” which includes evangelism training and teaching about suffering and persecution, among other topics. Your church has already paid for the printing of these books through your Cooperative Program contributions.

How to Change Your Community

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I had the joy of visiting with a hot-hearted young pastor who delighted in sharing what God is doing in the church he serves. He’d been in this, his first pastorate, for six months. He spoke of leading people to Christ, performing his first baptisms, a wedding, and yes, a couple of funerals. He is clearly enjoying the people and the work of an under-shepherd. But what I wanted to know was whether he had the community on his heart.

I asked, “Does your town have a manager, or just the mayor?” He said they had a mayor and city council. “What’s the mayor’s name and what is he like?” I asked. He told me his name and mentioned having lunched together. I continued to ask him about others in his town. We talked about the police and fire chiefs, the school superintendent and principals. We talked about the banks and businesses, the editor of the city paper, and the pastors of other churches in town. This young pastor had already met all of these people, knew their names, and was forging friendships with many of them. He was building relationships within the church, but he was also establishing friendships in the community that will deepen his witness and ministry opportunities far into the future.

In light of that, consider this: the work of the pastor is not to build a great church in the community, but rather to shepherd the church toward building a great community. Better to work for community transformation than to spend all our efforts building one local church. Oh, please don’t get me wrong! Strong churches are the heart and soul of the city. The Church is the means God has chosen to rescue the lost and salt the earth. But churches are strongest when they impact the broader community through a network of relationships.

Let me share with you some assignments that will help you, as a pastor, connect with your community (laypeople, don’t quit reading, because I’ve got some ideas for you as well!). First, pastor, get to know other leaders in your community. These include school and governmental leaders, other pastors, social service organizations and health care providers. If you have a youth shelter, pregnancy center, adoption services, or Boys and Girls Club, get acquainted with those folks. Do the same with bankers and employers of various kinds. You will want to know the newspaper editor and reporters. The manager of the grocery stores and department stores can become great friends. They often have large hearts and great interest in helping with feeding and clothing ministries.

Every city has people who love it and who desire to make it better. A wise pastor will get to know them, whether or not they are members of the church he serves. And remember, if people like you, they will work with you. If they don’t know you, they have no reason to like you or partner with you in ministry. But never, ever ask for personal discounts from business people! This is a real turn-off and sends the wrong message. We want to partner with them in ministry and build community, not receive personal favors from them.

What if you are not the pastor in your church? What can you do to help your church be a transforming presence in the community? There is much you can do, but one of the best things is to help your pastor get to know the people that you know. Introduce him to your friends. Help him meet the Rotarians and firemen and service providers. Pastors need friends who introduce them to others. The membership of your local church is already connected to all aspects of community life. Help your ministry leaders build these connections, which will facilitate important relationships and friendships.

Our Catholic friends assign their priests to a parish, which speaks not only of the membership of the church, but the people living in a particular area. I like that. As pastors, we are not simply assigned to the membership of a certain local church. In some sense, we are responsible for all the people in our area.

I knew we were making progress when the mayor, who was not a church member or even a Baptist, told me that he recommended our church to others. He said, “I invite them to my church, but I tell them, ‘if you don’t like our church, I would go to First Baptist.’” Why did he do that? We were friends.