A Prudent Minister

A Prudent Minister

John Flavel:

A prudent minister will study the souls of his people more than the best human books in his library, and not chose what is easiest for him, but what is most necessary for them. Ministers that are acquainted with the state of their flocks, as they ought to be, will be seldom at a loss in the choice of the next subject. Their people’s needs will choose their text for them…This will direct us to the great doctrines of convictions, regenerations, and faith, and will make us sit thoughtfully in our studies, asking “Lord, what course shall we take, and what words shall we use that we may best convey the sense of their sin and danger, with the fullness and necessity of Christ, to their hearts?”

The Character of a True Evangelical Pastor, Drawn by Christ, in The Works of John Flavel, 6 vols. 6:571 as quoted in The Preacher’s Catechism, p. 63

Pastoring and Preaching

Pastoring and Preaching

I am enjoying the book The Preacher’s Catechism, written by Lewis Allen. If you are pastor, you should get this book and devour it first and then go back and reread it slowly and prayerfully. It is full of wonderful encouragement and penetrating statements that will help you as a minister of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. I came across one of those items in my reading today, and I share it with you to provoke thought and, maybe, discussion. 

“Preaching looks, to all the world and sometimes to the church, like an easy ticket. Those who feel the weight of God’s call know that in fact it is hard work.In the last sermon he ever prepared for a pastors’ gathering (he actually died before he delivered it), John Flavel warned his fellow laborers of this”:

“The labors of the ministry will exhaust the very marrow from your bones, hasten old age and death” (Luther). They are fittingly compared to the toil of men in harvest, to the labours of a woman in travail, and to the agonies of soldiers in the dangers of battle. We must watch while others sleep.
It is not so much the expense of our labours, as the loss of them, that kills us. It is not with us, as with other labourers. They find their work as they leave it, not so with us. Sin and Satan unravel almost all we do, the impressions we make on our people’s souls in one sermon, vanish before the next. How many truths have we to study! How many strategies of Satan, and mysteries of corruption to detect! How many cases of conscience to resolve! We must fight in defence of the truths we preach, as well as study them to paleness, and preach them unto faintness. But well-spent head, heart, lungs, and all; welcome pained breasts, aching backs, and trembling legs; if we can by all but approve ourselves Christ’s faithful servants, and hear that joyful voice from his mouth, ‘Well done, good and faithful servants.'”

Source: John Flavel, The Character of a True Evangelical Pastor, Drawn by Christ, in the works of John Flavel, 6:569 as quoted in “The Preacher’s Catechism” by Lewis Allen, p. 52



For some, the lesson of contentment is a lesson that is often learned through bitter experience and dark providences. Some may be experiencing them right now. I am reminded of the apostle Paul’s words in that he learned contentment through his circumstances (Phil. 4:10-13).

There is a “quiet sense” about contentment. It is not flashy. It is not going to be offered by most as one of the top five of Christian virtues, usually. It is, however, invaluable as you pilgrim through this fallen world.

How can you know you are learning contentment? When you find your hope in Christ often and not on fallible people. When you rest on His promises to you in His good time and way, and when you are pleased to say, “this is not my plan for me, but I want what you want, Lord.” When you find that you’re complaining less and less about the circumstances of your life that you will know that you are learning contentment.

Contentment is not about trying harder. It is about submitting to the will of a Father who loves you. It is about praying His promises to you and pleading for more grace through the difficult times. It comes as you ask the Holy Spirit to help you. It comes by faith, believing that your Father in heaven is for you.

I know it is hard. I do. However, it is in the face of dark providences that we see the brilliance of our loving Father more clearly. Look to him, dear friend and fellow sufferer. He alone is your only hope.

Radio Ministry

Radio Ministry

I have the opportunity to host a radio program on a local radio station beginning July 23, 2019, at 10 AM. The details are in the graphic below. 

Suggestions for Those With New Pastors

Suggestions for Those With New Pastors

Calling a new pastor can be an exciting, yet unsettling experience. The excitement of a new minister (the honeymoon period) can render some encouragement from the membership as well as some aspects of delusion that will soon change. The unsettling element comes later, usually, as the new minister settles into his call. Therefore, allow me a few moments to offer some simple suggestions so you and the minister will labor joyfully together after the honeymoon period is over. These suggestions are born out of my own experience which is, admittedly, not extensive. However, they are gleaned from various issues I have faced as well as the mistakes I have made. I offer them in no particular order of priority. Frankly, they are all critical if the church, with her new pastor, will survive.

First, resist the urge to asses his overall ministry in the first six months. He is learning about you during this period – your strengths and weaknesses. He is settling into his call and adjusting to his routine. He is likely unsure of himself because you are a stranger to him at this point. It is likely that he has never lived in the community of which he ministers. He probably doesn’t even know the way to the nearest grocery store. Therefore, be patient with him as he should be with you. I am told that it takes 3-5 years of hard work before a ministry takes shape and bears fruit. I suspect that is true.

Second, the new pastor is not your previous pastor as much as you would like him to be. That means he will probably not do the same things as your former pastor. Nothing is more discouraging to a new pastor than to hear that he is not like the previous one. Usually, those kinds of comments come across to the new minister as negative. Resist the urge to tell him that he is not like the previous minister. He isn’t because he is not him. He has his own personality, characteristics, flaws and good points. Remember, you called him — warts and all. At one of my session meetings, a Ruling Elder who did not like me very much told me he wanted me to be like the previous minister and do the same things as he did. Friends, that is impossible. I am not the former minister, and I never will be. Your new minister is not your old one, and he never will be.

Third, you didn’t call a perfect minister. I know that you think you did during the honeymoon phase, but you will soon realize that he isn’t perfect. He will make mistakes (especially if you are his first charge and he is fresh out of seminary). Resist the urge to beat the new minister into submission. If you think he is making mistakes, and those mistakes bother you, talk to him and not to everyone else in the church about those mistakes. Resist the urge to form alliances against the new minister. It will only lead to ruin. He is also a work in progress like you are. He has not arrived, and he probably knows it, painfully. If he takes his responsibility seriously, and if he truly understands that he will give an account for your soul, he is very aware of his insufficiency to do the things he has been called to do (2 Cor. 2:16; Heb. 13:17).

Fourth, your new minister is likely to make changes over time. In my context as a Presbyterian minister, these changes are not his alone — they come with direction and approval of the Ruling Elders in the church. Usually, the pastor gets the blame. It comes with the territory. When those changes occur, there is no need to wring your hands in fear. Those changes will not kill you. I know you think they will, but they won’t.

Fifth, pray for your new pastor. This suggestion should probably be at the head of the list (a list that is not ordered by priority. They are all important). He cannot do this work alone. He needs the Holy Spirit just as you do (2 Cor. 2:16). So pray! Pray daily for him! Pray that the Spirit of God would be pervasive in all that he does. Most of what he handles is unseen and unknown to you. While you are at it, tell him you are praying for him. That encouragement alone will take your new pastor miles down the road. Remember, that your minister has a unique target on his back and is the object of the attacks of the Evil One. Nothing would make the kingdom of darkness happier than to see your minister fail and fall. So, please pray for him. Please.

Sixth, do not gossip, slander, or sow discord regarding your new pastor. It does not matter what he does or doesn’t do. If you start a smear campaign against him, you are sinning (Prov. 6:16-19). The solution is not all that difficult: talk to your new pastor respectfully (Matt. 18:1-5; Gal. 6:1). If that does not resolve the issue, bring another with you, preferably an elder in the church. I faced this problem for months. At one point, two members of the church insisted on talking to me in my study immediately after I preached the morning sermon (that is not the best time to address problems or concerns with your pastor, by the way). Yet, it was not a conversation. It was a list of all the things they didn’t like (it was written down on a small piece of paper that was pulled out during the “conversation”). When I tried to offer some explanation or response, or even give ground on some of the “concerns,” I was told to “be quiet. We don’t want to hear your answers.” Friends, that is not the way to resolve differences, and it is not respectful. If you behaved that way towards your employer, you would likely be fired.

Seventh, don’t compare him to your favorite celebrity preacher. Your new pastor probably doesn’t preach like Charles Haddon Spurgeon or Robert Murray M’Cheyne or your favorite preacher you have found on the internet. However, he is your pastor. He prays for you as he prepares a meal for you each week. He is the one who will visit the hospital and sit by your bed, reading Scripture and praying and encouraging you and your family. He is the one who will take your call at two in the morning. He will sacrifice much for your well-being and carry your burdens to the throne of God on your behalf. He knows your hurts, failures, successes, and sorrows. That superstar, celebrity preacher doesn’t. God in his providence gave you the no-name pastor, not the superstar. In other words, God gave you exactly what you need — unless of course, you don’t believe in the providence of God. Well, even if you don’t, God gave your new pastor to you on purpose and for your good (Rom. 8:28).

Eighth, remember your membership vows. I am writing from a Presbyterian context, and this may differ somewhat in other settings, but the principle is the same across the board (Prov. 6:16-19, Heb. 13:17). Members of the Presbyterian Church in America (the denomination in which I mister) take vows to “submit to the purity and peace of the church” and to “submit to the governance of the church.” Remember, you are not in charge. The elders of the church govern the practice of the church, and they should be submitted to insofar as they are submitting to the Lord. The Savior is the King and Head of the church. He alone is in charge. Not you. Not the elders, and indeed not the pastor. Before you break your vows before the Lord (Eccl. 5:1-5), discuss your concerns with the elders and the pastor. They will appreciate your willingness to do so and thank you for it even if the topic of conversation is difficult.

Remember, you are not a perfect Christian, and neither is your new pastor. He wrestles with sin as you do. If church members heed the things above (things that are not exhaustive by any means), life in the church would be much better and much sweeter, and your new pastor will find much joy in the ministry as he seeks to minister to you.

Please feel free to offer other suggestions in the comments section.

The next article will be about the other side of this coin: Suggestions for New Pastors.

Chronic Pain and the Ministry

Chronic Pain and the Ministry

When I was halfway through seminary, I was diagnosed with a neurological issue that affects my spinal cord. It was a long, drawn-out situation that left many doctors confused and unable to offer much help. The illness results in numerous problems: numbness in my limbs, pain shooting through my head and back, disorientation and dizziness and the constant feeling that I am going to collapse. It is a frustrating issue. In God’s providence, I managed to get through seminary though I struggled immensely for over two and a half years. I still struggle today, and my circumstances have escalated.

That’s the background. In the foreground is the subject of the pastoral ministry. You see, the Lord called me to pastor God’s people. I often wonder how I can be of much use while I am struggling to maintain a certain level of sanity in my own life. It dawned on me that due to my struggles, I am better equipped to minister to those who also struggle.

This observation is not without Biblical precedent, of course. In the Lord’s wisdom, He called me to pastor a church that finds many in the congregation struggling with significant chronic illness and pain. As a result, I am called upon to encourage them, strengthen them and pray with and for them as they hurt. It breaks my heart to see these dear people suffer.

On reflection, I am reminded of someone who can sympathize with my weaknesses and the weaknesses of others (Heb. 4:15). This someone suffered as I do (Is. 53), and he did so in a way that no mere human can truly understand. That someone was tempted to sin (Matt. 4), walked this earth and saw how sin has so ravaged humanity — men and women, boys and girls made in the image of God (Luke 19:41). This someone ministered to the lame (E.g. Mk. 2:1-12), the blind (E.g. Mk. 8:22-26; John 9:1-2), the hungry (E.g. Mk. 8:1-10), the weak and the struggling, and the sick (Mk. 1:29-31). Sometimes this someone healed. Sometimes this someone listened. Sometimes this someone wept (E.g., John 11:33). Sometimes this someone raised the dead (E.g., Luke 7:11-16).

This someone not only witnessed the effects of sin on humanity, he too underwent personal suffering and pain. He was poor and lowly of heart (Matt. 11:29. He did nothing but good to all. He served, and then he underwent the effects of sin himself (though he knew no sin or sinned in any way) when wicked men beat his body, spit upon him, called him names and, eventually, nailed his body to a cross in abject shame and agony (Acts 2:23). Of course, this someone I am talking about is the Lord Jesus Christ, the exalted Minister who ministers to His people today through weak instruments (Phil 2:9-11; 2 Cor. 2:16).

As I seek to minister to others, I am often reminded of the pain and suffering of my Lord. It is to him that I attempt to point people. Why? Because as these dear saints suffer they do so as people with great hope. Not the kind of hope that can be found in a pill or a bottle – as helpful as those things can be thanks to modern medicine. No, the real hope is not only that Christ suffered, but he died and three days later was raised from the dead, the ultimate end of every human being.

You see, sin is the reason humanity suffers. Sin does not discriminate. We are products of the fall. We live in a fallen world. We operate in a world that sees the devastating effects of sin all around us. From disunity in families and country to wars and poverty and, yes, sickness and suffering and death, the results of the fall and the entrance of sin into the world that God made and called very good (Gen. 1:31) is everywhere. It culminates in death (Rom. 6:23; Heb. 9:27-28) — a consequence that was never part of God’s design.

Yet, there is hope for the redeemed child of God. That hope is in Christ’s resurrection (1 Cor.15). Through his suffering and ultimate death and eventual resurrection, he secured for us that same thing. As God’s people who suffer we can look forward and know with certainty that our bodies, as much as they seek to betray us today, will be made perfect in holiness someday. It will happen at our death or when the Lord Jesus appears again to take his people to be where he is.

Without this hope, there is nothing to look forward to other than more agony due to sin and the required judgment of a holy God. For the redeemed child of God, however, this hope belongs to them. For those who have not submitted to Christ; who have not received the saving grace and forgiveness that can only be found in Christ, there is no hope at all. Death is a tragic, awful end for them. But, for the Christian, God says their death is precious in His sight (Ps. 116:15). Why? Because his Son has conquered the effects of the fall and He has defeated the final effect of the fall and sin.

It is to this hope I seek to point God’s people. No, it doesn’t take away the pain usually. However, It is not a trite answer that does nothing. It is, in fact, the hope of every Christian: to see Christ, to be with Christ, and to be made like him in every respect (1 John 3:2). The hope of the resurrection is knowing that our bodies will be made new and that we will be in a place with no more tears, pain, suffering, and agony (1 Cor 15:40-58; Rev. 21:4) because it is there that the effects of sin will be ultimately and finally reversed through the work of God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

For the Christian, this certain hope softens the blow of this fallen world. For those who do not know Christ; who have not repented of sin and looked to Christ alone, the pain and agony of this life will only be worse in eternity. For the Christian, we can know with certain hope that our loving heavenly Father has ordered our pain and has tailor-made it for our good (Rom. 8:28).

So, that is how I minister though I, too, suffer. I minister by pointing God’s people to the exalted Minister who knows my agony yet conquered the reason of my anguish. I minister by leading them to the suffering servant who was raised for my justification, sanctification, adoption and eventual glorification. Soli Deo Gloria!

If you live in the Newport TN / Cocke County area, you are invited to participate in a discussion and support group on this subject of suffering and pain. More information can be found on the church website. It is free and open to all regardless of your church affiliation.

Please feel free to contact me if you have questions. If you are suffering or are caring for a loved one who suffers, please do not hesitate to contact me. I am always willing to help.

More information can be found here.