Faithfulness is obedience—obedience to God’s commands, calling, and gifting—and obedience is success. That means that you may not be the most gifted teacher, you’re the right teacher for your church at this moment. Even though you may not be the greatest evangelist in the world, but you’re the person to share the gospel with your neighbor. And although you may not have much to offer by the world’s standards, but what you do have, you give joyfully.
Some time ago, a friend shared an announcement that he was writing a book for a well-respected publisher. I was, of course, excited—but I was also a little jealous. It was foolish and unnecessary, of course, but it was there. When I should have been fully celebrating my friend’s good fortune, I was wondering why I wasn’t experiencing the same.1
I know I’m not alone in this. All of us have moments where we don’t respond to God’s blessings to others in the way we would want or expect, whether His blessings to an individual, to an organization, or a church. We start to play comparison games, even if only in our heads. We start to wonder why this person or that church is more successful than us.
And there’s the problem: Success.
What does that even mean? What does success look like, especially in the context of ministry?
False Measures of Success
There are two primary ways we define success as Christians, especially when it comes to ministry:
- “Orthodoxy.” Success in this sense is defined by our right beliefs. That if we’re consistently proclaiming and teaching truth, then we’re being successful.
- Fruitfulness. Perhaps it’s because of how 1980s business culture affected overall leadership culture, but the most common way we measure success is by the numbers: attendance, giving, baptisms, professions of faith, and so forth.
But here’s the problem: it’s possible to be orthodox in word, but convey that truth in a way that undermines it. To be arrogant and belligerent, and mistake people being repulsed by your behavior as their rejection of the Lord. And I know, because I’ve been that guy on occasion, a “jerk for Jesus” wielding my Mighty Theological Hammer of Justice™, ready to smash any and all apparent heresies that might lure away an unsuspecting believer. (It’s not a good look.)
Unfortunately, fruitfulness also falls short as well, at least in the way that we define it.
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By Forrest L. Marion — 2 years ago
Written by Forrest L. Marion |
Friday, November 26, 2021
Keep in mind that by this time the Jerusalem church probably numbered between fourteen and eighteen thousand. As the church grew, new men were needed to continue doing what the elders had been handling, that is, if the elders were to continue to focus on the Word and prayer. The deacons took up three duties that formerly had been done by the elders: the administration of the church, the resources of the church, and the mercy ministry of the church. The reason deacons are to be ordained is because they perform roles the elders formerly did. One very practical tip Reeder gave to elders and sessions was this: try not to redo the work of the diaconate.
On a beautiful, crisp Saturday in October, Southeast Alabama Presbytery (SEAL) deacons held a half-day conference focused on deacons and their biblical role in the church. Hosted at Eastwood PCA in Montgomery – strategically, on a “bye” week for Auburn football – about 40 men attended, mostly deacons from several Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) churches plus several teaching elders (TE) and ruling elders (RE). The conference organizer, Montgomery attorney and Eastwood deacon Samuel McLure opened the event by remarking that, as far as anyone knew, this was the first-ever SEAL presbytery gathering to focus on deacons and their role.
Mr. McLure provided handouts of an 1859 article in The Southern Presbyterian Review by the Rev. James B. Ramsay that addressed “The Deaconship.” One of Ramsay’s excellent thoughts was, “A man cannot be a Christian without seeking to assist, comfort and elevate, all that are Christ’s, to the extent of their wants and his ability.” The Apostle Paul gave considerable attention to the taking up of collections and their proper distribution to the poor of the churches he ministered to, Ramsay pointed out. The Virginia pastor argued that the deacon “as a distinct officer” is to have charge of that important, “distinct function of the church.”
Following the welcome and introduction, TE Jere Scott Bradshaw of Covenant PCA (Auburn, Ala.), preached a sermon from Acts 6-7 on the life and ministry of Stephen, one of the seven men full-of-the-Spirit and wisdom chosen to serve the Jerusalem church as a deacon, thereby enabling the elders to focus on prayer and the ministry of the Word. Pastor Bradshaw had three main teaching points: the character of the deacon, the confidence of the deacon, and the incompetence of the deacon.
The writer of Acts, the apostle Luke, relates that Stephen’s character was marked by grace and power, wisdom and evidence of the Spirit, and tenacity in the message of grace in Jesus Christ. Stephen’s confidence was reflected in his message, “one of the greatest speeches in the history of the world,” as Bradshaw said. Stephen emphasized to his audience that God was not confined to Israel. But the problem his audience faced was not one of the distribution of bread or of church resources; rather, it was the defilement of sin. His audience needed a new creation, a new birth, a new LORD, a new witness. Stephen courageously pointed them toward Jesus Christ, the one who fulfills all that the scriptures had led God’s covenant people to anticipate. Yet Stephen was unable to bring about their change of heart. Pastor Bradshaw observed that, like the elder, the deacon is utterly incapable of bringing about change in another’s heart; only the True Deacon, Jesus Christ, is competent to change the heart. Connecting with the biblical account of Stephen’s death, Bradshaw reminded the men that it was this True Deacon who changed the murderous Saul into the Apostle Paul.
Pastor Bradshaw continued, “Dear brother, you will be utterly incompetent in your service as a deacon.” Your service often will go unnoticed; it will receive unmerited criticism; it will be ineffective in bringing about lasting change in people. “And, beloved, this is the joy of being an officer in the church” (both elder and deacon). Because we, as mere men, are unable to produce transformation – neither in ourselves nor others – we must look to Jesus Christ. Deacons must live for the approval of only one voice . . . the Glorious God, who says, “Well done, good and faithful servant. . . .” Jere Scott Bradshaw closed with these words to deacons: “May you rest and work in the power of the Holy Spirit as you manifest the gospel of grace in acts of mercy.” “Then,” added Bradshaw, “you will truly be serving ‘with much advantage.’”
Bradshaw’s closing remarks played into the title and theme of the conference, taken from the PCA’s Book of Church Order, section 9-6: “The deacons may, with much advantage, hold conference from time to time for the discussion of the interests committed to them” (emphasis added).
Following the sermon, the group watched a recorded interview that Sam McLure had conducted with Pastor Harry Reeder of Briarwood PCA (Birmingham, Ala.), specifically for this conference. Pastor Reeder encouraged the men to be concerned with “church health” rather than “church growth.” Normally, a healthy church will also grow numerically. In some churches, however, he noted, the pastor is doing the work of the elders, the elders are doing the work of the deacons, and the deacons are “just doing some work.” Focusing on Acts 6, he suggested the partiality of the elders toward the Hebrew widows at the expense of Gentile widows was “functional but not spiritual” partiality, or prejudice. The earliest elders at Jerusalem were ethnic Jews and so, by virtue of prior relationships and traditional networking in today’s parlance, they easily were aware of the needs of the Jewish widows in their midst to a degree that could not be duplicated among the Gentiles. Keep in mind that by this time the Jerusalem church probably numbered between fourteen and eighteen thousand. As the church grew, new men were needed to continue doing what the elders had been handling, that is, if the elders were to continue to focus on the Word and prayer. The deacons took up three duties that formerly had been done by the elders: the administration of the church, the resources of the church, and the mercy ministry of the church. The reason deacons are to be ordained is because they perform roles the elders formerly did. One very practical tip Reeder gave to elders and sessions was this: try not to redo the work of the diaconate. Enough said.
Following Harry Reeder’s talk and a short break, Eastwood’s diaconate chairman, Brian DeHuff, spoke on the duties of the deacon. “The work of a deacon is sacrificial,” he observed, and if they don’t do their job then the elders will have to pick up the slack. In the imagery with which Alabamians so easily relate, the deacons are “the offensive line for elders” in the church. Deacon DeHuff went on to discuss several duties of deacons today, including collecting and distributing the resources of the church, promoting the members’ giving and stewardship, the care of widows and orphans, maintaining the buildings and grounds as well as the church’s financial and budget records, and preparing the sanctuary for worship. He encouraged deacons to look for opportunities to secure other men in the church with gifts or qualifications in certain areas to assist in ministry. Men with carpentry or other home skills might assist in repairs for a widow. A CPA might help with financial counseling of a member in debt, and so on. An insightful observation he gave the men was this: God looks at giving in terms of how much we keep back. The poor widow in the gospels who kept nothing back was the one who gave the most from Christ’s perspective. “Our wealth is meant to be shared with those who have need,” DeHuff said, and, “One of the cures for greed is generosity.” The best deacons are “do-ers” and “pray-ers.”
Following Brian DeHuff’s talk, the men enjoyed a lunch and fellowship time before wrapping up, and were done by one-thirty in the afternoon. The 5-hour conference was instructive, encouraging, insightful, practical, and cheerful. We recommend other churches and presbyteries consider doing a deacons’ conference of their own. To that end, we note the conference website, WithMuchAdvantage.com, created to encourage deacons to zealously and faithfully own their domain.
Forrest Marion is a ruling elder in Eastwood Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Montgomery, Ala.
 James B. Ramsay, “The Deaconship,” The Southern Presbyterian Review, vol. 12, no. 1 (Apr. 1859): 1-24.
By Keith Mathison — 5 months ago
As the book of Exodus begins, Israel has been in Egypt for more than four hundred years (cf. Ex. 12:40). They are now in bondage under an oppressive Pharaoh. The early chapters of Exodus describe the calling of Moses to be the one who will lead God’s people out of slavery in Egypt. He comes before Pharaoh demanding that Israel be allowed to go and worship the Lord, but Pharaoh refuses. God then sends a series of increasingly severe plagues on Egypt. Pharaoh’s stubbornness in the face of the first nine plagues results in God’s pronouncement of a final plague that will result in Israel’s redemption from slavery. God warns that He will go into the midst of Egypt and that every firstborn in the land will die. It is in the context of the warning of this final plague that we find God’s instructions regarding the Passover in Exodus 12.
God begins with a statement indicating that the Passover and Exodus will mark a new beginning for the nation of Israel. The month of Abib (late March and early April) is to be the first month of the year for God’s people. This emphasizes the fact that the exodus from Egypt is a key event, a turning point, in redemptive history. So central is the event that from this point forward, God is frequently described in reference to the exodus (e.g., Ex. 20:2; Lev. 11:45; Num. 15:41; Deut. 5:6; Josh. 24:17; Judg. 6:8; 1 Sam. 10:18; 2 Kings 17:36; Ps. 81:10; Jer. 11:4; Dan. 9:15; Hos. 11:1; Amos 2:10). He is identified as the One who redeemed His people from slavery.
In later years, the observation of the Passover would involve the priesthood (cf. Deut. 16:5–7), but on the night of the original Passover, the responsibility for this ceremony falls to the head of each household. The head of every household is commanded to take a male lamb that is one year old and without any blemishes. This substitutionary lamb must be a symbol of perfection. As such, it foreshadows the true Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, who was uniquely without blemish (cf. 1 Peter 1:19). At twilight, the lamb for each household is to be killed.
The Lord then reveals what the Israelites are to do with the slain lambs and why they are to do it. Each head of a household is to take the blood of the lamb and put it on the doorposts and lintel of his house. God explains that the blood will be a sign. When He sees the blood on the door, He will pass over that house, and the firstborn in it will be spared from the coming judgment that is to fall on Egypt. After the lambs are killed by the head of the household, they are to be roasted and eaten with the people dressed and prepared to leave on a moment’s notice. Since the Passover is a “sacrifice” (cf. Ex. 12:27; 34:25; Deut. 16:2), the eating of the lamb is a sacrificial meal like that associated with the peace offering described in Leviticus 3 and 7. In such meals, the body of the sacrificial victim is offered to believers to eat after the sacrifice is made (Lev. 7:15).
By H.B. Charles Jr. — 2 years ago
Written by H.B. Charles Jr. |
Friday, December 10, 2021
Preaching prioritizes church health. Pastors and churches should always prioritize church health over church growth. Congregational health consists of fidelity of doctrine, holiness of lifestyle, and unity of fellowship. Preaching should reject the bigger-is-better delusion. The pulpit keeps the main thing the main thing. Focus the church on its Christ-given mission. A Bible-teaching pulpit nurtures a Bible-regulated congregation.
The preacher should live as a preacher, watching his life and doctrine. The preacher should also labor as a preacher, giving himself to the hard work of prayer and the ministry of the word. And the preacher should lead as a preacher.
The pastor is often judged by the work he does outside of the pulpit more than the work he does in it. Yet there is no biblical dichotomy between the pastor as a preacher and the pastor as a leader. Preaching is leadership!
First and foremost, the pastor-teacher is charged to preach the word (2 Timothy 4:1-2). His leadership should flow out of his preaching, not compete with it. In a real sense, expositional preaching should result in expositional leadership. As goes the pulpit, so goes the church.
Why should the pastor-teacher lead from the pulpit?
Preaching builds pastoral influence. Leadership is influence. Influence requires trust. Trust takes time. Your title does not give you credibility. Your character does. The best way to gain leadership influence is to live and preach the word. The power is in the pulpit, not the boardroom. Don’t go into meetings as if you are the C.E.O. of a corporation. Go to the pulpit as if you are the shepherd of a flock who labors in preaching and teaching.
Preaching develops biblical convictions. The primary job of the pastor-teacher is to make disciples who think and act biblically. The disciple-making process consists of teaching believers to obey the commands of Jesus. This is the heart of pastoral work. Preaching cultivates a biblical worldview in strategic ways nothing else can. Preach in such a way that helps your people understand what they believe and why they believe it.
Preaching regulates corporate worship. Many churches live with a divorced but cohabitating relationship between music and preaching. However, music in worship should be an extension of the ministry of the word (Colossians 3:16). The corporate worship of the local church should be word-centered.