Troublers in the Church (Bridges)

 It’s not a new occurrence when someone purposely tries to disrupt the unity and peace of a local Christian church. Paul had to deal with the Judaizers (cf. Gal; Phil. 3:2, etc.).  John had to warn the church of antichrists and false prophets (1 John). The list goes on.  Thankfully I’m not dealing with any sort of troublemaker right now, but I know from experience that they are like cancer or gangrene for a local church fellowship.

On this note, I very much appreciate how Thomas Murphy addressed troublemakers in his 1877 publication, Pastoral Theology.

The pastor need not be surprised if he finds troublers in his church.  The discovery of such persons among the professed people of God sometimes shocks ministers, especially inexperienced ones, and discourages them, and sometimes leads them unwisely to give up their charges.  But it should be understood as a lamentable fact that such persons are most likely to be found in every church, that the pastor will almost certainly encounter them, and that he ought to be prepared for the discovery, and not to be too much cast down by it.

It is well for the pastor to be forewarned on this subject, and to be undismayed if he encounters many dispositions which are calculated to disturb the peace of the church.  He will find that some are sadly inconsistent, bringing constant reproach upon the cause; some are complainers and fault-finders, acute at finding or inventing things to annoy; some take pleasure in criticizing and opposing everything that is done or said by the pastor; some are so utterly unreasonable that they will listen neither to argument nor entreaty; some are restless, always finding something to agitate and distract; some are quarrelsome, as if they found their greatest satisfaction in strife; and others again there are whose business it seems to be to pull down, never to extend a helping hand even to the cause which they profess to love.  The injustice and cruelty of such persons toward him – and that, too, when he is conscious of doing the very best in his power – will sometimes almost break the minister’s heart.

We would recommend as the sovereign remedy for such troublers in the church simply to let them alone.  Our advice would be, do not notice them; do not speak of them; do not oppose them; if possible, do not think of them – and they are disarmed for evil.  If they cannot excite any commotion, they soon become weary of their fruitless efforts to annoy….

If you’re a pastor or elder, take note (and read the rest of the section if you have access to it).  For those of you who aren’t pastors or elders, it’s also good for you to be aware of this so you can in a biblical way help keep the peace in your local church.  Finally, if you are one of these troublemakers, you certainly need to pray for forgiveness and ask the Lord to give you a peacemaking heart that lovingly seeks to build unity in Christ’s flock rather than tear it down.

Thomas Murphy, Pastoral Theology, p. 461-2.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Seven Adverbs of Pastoral Duty (DPW)

 (This is a re-post from June 2012)

Aside from writing the magnificent confession and catechisms, the Westminster divines also wrote a directory for public worship (DPW) which was approved in 1645.  One section of this directory that has always stuck out for me is where it explains the duties of the pastor in simple, clear, biblical terms.  Here are the seven points – which I’ve summarized and edited.

“The servant of Christ is to perform his ministry…”

1) Painstakingly, not doing the work of the Lord negligently.

2) Plainly, so that the uneducated may understand – delivering the truth not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and power, lest the cross of Christ be made of no effect; not using unknown languages, strange phrases, and rhythmic sounds or words; citing non-biblical texts and authors sparingly, even if they are so elegant.

3) Faithfully, looking to the honor of Christ and the conversion, edification, and salvation of the people; not seeking his own gain or glory; keeping nothing back which promotes these holy ends; not showing favoritism but pointing out the sins both of the lowly and the mighty.

4) Wisely, explaining all doctrine, encouragement, and rebuke in a manner that is clear; respecting the situation of the congregation, not mixing his own intense enthusaism for something or bitterness.

5) Seriously, in a manner fitting for God’s Word, avoiding all gestures, expressions, and words that may lead people to despise the ministry.

6) Lovingly, so that the people may see and know that he genuinely desires to do them good.

7) Truthfully, as taught by God’s Word and persuaded in his own heart that it is true; publicly and privately living according to the truth in order to be a godly example to the flock; watching over his own life and doctrine as well as that of the congregation, with the goal that the truth of God be preserved, souls converted, and that he himself may receive blessing from his labors in this life and in the one to come.

Allow me a few comments on these seven adverbs describing the ministry. First, these seven points are based on Scripture.  They also lead the pastor and his congregation back to Scripture.  Second, these words describe the pastor as a servant – a servant of Christ primarily but also his church.  This means that neither culture, desire for popularity, personal preferences, nor “itching ears” drive the pastoral ministry.  Third, these seven points fight against the current notion that a successful pastor is one who is likable, trendy, “twitterable,” and amusing.  In other words, they call the pastor to Christian maturity, piety, and wisdom and away from Western culture’s fixation on youth, looks, fame, and entertainment.

A pastor’s duty and goal, therefore, is to serve Christ by faithfully explaining his Word (law and gospel) to his people – for their Christian good and his glory.  Perhaps we can apply John 3:30 to the pastoral ministry: he must increase, but I must decrease.

By the way, you can find this part of the DPW in the appendix of Westminster Confession of Faith (but I’m sure it’s also online and in other books).  I strongly encourage pastors to read it!

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

On Pastoral Humility (Newton)

Wise Counsel: John Newton's Letters to John Ryland, Jr.

Since a pastor is often in the spotlight, so to speak, it sometimes happens that he gets a big head. The old Adam in him loves to be noticed, loves the attention, and enjoys the publicity. And sometimes the pastor begins to covet more social media followers, retweets, and sermon “shares.” Along the way humility shrinks and pride grows.

All that to say a pastor needs to pray for humility and cultivate it in biblical ways. For example, he might have to constantly remind himself that his pride is a sin and that his calling is not a call to be popular. He might have to tell himself over and over that his desire for more followers is a tactic the devil can use to mess up his ministry. He needs to remember that his heart has its dark spots and corners.

On this topic, John Newton wrote a letter to his friend who was a Christian pastor. Another pastor they both knew had just suffered a stroke. Newton noted that he hoped the man would recover, since he was a blessing to the church. Then Newton wrote this:

“I hope that he and you and I shall all so live as to be missed a little when we are gone. But the Lord standeth not in need of sinful man. And he sometimes takes away his most faithful and honored ministers in the midst of their usefulness, perhaps (for this reason) among other reasons, that he may show us that he can do without them.”

It may sound harsh, but it’s true and it’s something that we pastors do well to remember.

John Newton, Wise Counsel, p. 280.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54002

The “Blessed Anonymity” of Pastoral Work (Peterson)

 One time when someone asked Eugene Peterson what he liked best about being a pastor, he said, “baptisms and funerals.”  The person was confused, but as they discussed it, Peterson told him that he liked baptisms and funerals because at these events, he was not in the spotlight.  And that, he explained, is the way it should be since the pastor is not the center of the church’s life and worship.  This is a great note to help counter our celebrity-pastor-big-conference-Christian-culture where some pastors want to be noticed and famous.

Here’s a snippet of Peterson’s conversation:

“…Most pastoral work consists in pointing away from yourself to something other than you.”

“You are at your pastoral best when you are not noticed.  To keep this vocation healthy requires constant self-negation, getting out of the way.  A certain blessed anonymity is inherent in pastoral work.  For pastors, being noticed easily develops into wanting to be noticed.  Many years earlier a pastor friend told me that the pastoral ego ‘has the reek of disease about it, the relentless smell of the self.’  I’ve never forgotten that.

…A clamoring ego needs to be purged from the pastor’s soul.  From every Christian’s soul for that matter, but pastors are at special risk.  Baptisms and funerals are especially useful in this purging, acts of worship in which the pastor is the most inconspicuous, almost incidental to the real action. …At neither baptism nor funeral is the pastor front and center.  Get used to it.

Eugene Peterson, The Pastor, p. 292-293.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

He Knew He Didn’t Know Everything (Peterson)

 So far I’m very much enjoying Eugene Peterson’s memoir, The Pastor.   While I don’t always agree with Peterson’s views, I do appreciate and benefit from his writing.  His memoir, The Pastor, is full of stories, wisdom, insight, missteps, and humor found in Peterson’s Christian life story as told by himself.

Here’s one great story about Peterson’s Ph.D. studies under OT scholar William Albright:

“He entered the classroom one morning telling us that he had awakened having solved the meaning of Moriah while he slept.  Both the meaning and location of Mount Moriah, where Abraham had bound Isaac for sacrifice, had always eluded scholars.  Professor Albright went to the chalkboard and soon had it filled with words from Ugaritic, Arabic, Assyrian, Aramaic, and of course, Hebrew.  He continued, excited and intense, for twenty minutes, at which point Prescott Williams, an older student who had already spent four years with him, interrupted, ‘But Dr. Albright, what about this and this and this [he was making reference to items of grammar and etymology that I knew nothing about].  Do you think that holds up?’  The Professor stopped, stepped back, and stared at the chalkboard for about twenty seconds.  And then he said, ‘Mr. Williams is right – forget everything I have said.’

It was an act of humility that I would soon learn was characteristic of Dr. Albright.  Everyone in that room knew he was capable of dismissing Williams and bluffing his way none of us would have known he was bluffing.  We all knew he knew everything.  But he knew he didn’t know everything and let us know he didn’t.”

I love those last two lines – especially the last one.  It’s a kind of humility that all Christians should have: whether professor, pastor or parishioner.

The above quote is found on pages 63-64 of The Pastor.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Pastors and Elders: For You

 The biblical work of a Christian pastor is sometimes quite difficult. I’m just noting this in general.  I don’t have a specific personal situation in mind.  Generally speaking, being a pastor isn’t cool and it’s not an easy, comfortable calling.  Not only do pastors sometimes have to shepherd difficult people in difficult circumstances, they also have to deal with their own difficult hearts. The work of an elder is similar, as Peter talks about in 1 Peter 5:1-4.  However, by God’s grace and mercy, there’s a reward in store for those Christian men who have served well in Christ’s church as an elder or pastor: an unfading crown of glory.  I like how Calvin applied this truth.  Pastors and elders, pay attention:

Except pastors retain this end in view, it can by no means be that they will in good earnest proceed in the course of their calling, but will, on the contrary, become often faint; for there are innumerable hindrances which are sufficient to discourage the most prudent. They have often to do with ungrateful men, from whom they receive an unworthy reward; long and great labors are often in vain; Satan sometimes prevails in his wicked devices. Lest, then, the faithful servant of Christ should be broken down, there is for him one and only one remedy,—to turn his eyes to the coming of Christ. Thus it will be, that he, who seems to derive no encouragement from men, will assiduously go on in his labors, knowing that a great reward is prepared for him by the Lord. And further, lest a protracted expectation should produce languor, he at the same time sets forth the greatness of the reward, which is sufficient to compensate for all delay: An unfading crown of glory, he says, awaits you.

It ought also to be observed, that he calls Christ the chief Pastor; for we are to rule the Church under him and in his name, in no other way but that he should be still really the Pastor. So the word chief here does not only mean the principal, but him whose power all others ought to submit to, as they do not represent him except according to his command and authority.

 John Calvin Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 146–147.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church, OPC
Hammond, WI

The Church As Family (Eclov)

Feels Like Home: How Rediscovering the Church as Family Changes Everything by [Eclov, Lee] One of the images used in Scripture for the church is that of family.  For example, Paul uses the term “household of God” (Eph. 2:19, 1 Tim. 3:15).  Many of us know that Christians can rightly call each other “brother” or “sister” (James 2:15).  God is our Father, of course, and in Christ we are his adopted children (Gal. 4:5).  More references and examples could be given – it’s pretty clear that Christians are part of God’s family.  And it’s proper to think of your local church fellowship as your immediate Christian family.  Lee Eclov discusses these things in his helpful book, Feels Like Home.  In fact, he calls the church the Christian’s “first family.”

Here are some quotes that I thought were helpful – and they’ll give you an idea of the contents of the book:

“I’m motivated as a pastor to help create the right kind of environment for a church to be healthy and effective. That environment, to me, is best described as a home. As a pastor, I’m a ‘homemaker.’” (p. 20).

“The family members are the primary concern of a healthy home. So it is in the church. It sounds nearly heretical to say so, but the lost are not our first concern as church leaders nor as church members. Our first responsibility is God’s household…” [cf. 1 Peter 5:2; Gal. 6:10] (p. 24).

“In our congregation there is one complement we especially love. It’s when someone new says, ‘When I came here, I felt like I was home.”

“…I’ve seen too many Christian families who are not anchored in the relationships of God’s first family, the church. Christians are raising children who, like them, see church as an event, not a family; who see being with God’s people as an optional weekend activity. They skip church for all manner of activities, and do not regularly connect their families with others in the congregation” (p. 49).

“A healthy church home is God’s gift to any family” (p.52).

In this book, Eclov discusses the biblical nuances of the theme “church as family” and explores various applications of this biblical theme. He also highlights the importance of Sunday worship, prayer, fellowship, welcoming visitors, pastoral care, and other similar topics. It might not be the most detailed book on the topic, but it is a good one to discuss in a group setting or for personal information. I really appreciated this book and I think it’s given me a more robust view of “church as family.”

Lee Eclov, Feels Like Home (Chicago: Moody Press, 2019).

Shane Lems