Monthly Archives: October 2012

The Pastor as Scholar & The Scholar as Pastor

Of the last five years, I spent four in theological college and latest one in pastoral ministry.  Whilst at college I enjoyed the engagement with scholarly material.  Translating and grappling over textual issues and interpretations, reading commentary upon commentary, and using my findings to shed light on doctrine, pastoral conversations, and perhaps most prominently in preaching.  Since beginning pastoral ministry, I have done less in depth study, partly because there are no essay deadlines looming, and partly because church management has a canny habit of taking over time used for study and reading.  However I still feel that there is to be a balance between scholar and pastor in each Christian ministry.  Why? Because we’re helping people to grow in faith of the Lord Jesus Christ, who was the pastor and scholar extra-ordinaire.  At the moment of Peter’s great revelation of that fact in John 6, “You have the words of eternal life.”, he quickly follows by “We have come to BELIEVE and KNOW that you are the Holy One of God.”  Believing is to some extent encouraged by the role of a pastor sharing their heart, and knowing, encouraged by the role of scholar sharing wisdom.

Given the fact I see my calling to Christian ministry in this way, I was delighted to discover The Pastor as Scholar & The Scholar as Pastor.  This short book began life as a conversation between John Piper and Don Carson back in 2009, and such was the usefulness of that conversation, they worked together to publish this book.  It is a very methodical read with each author taking up roughly half of the 110 pages.  First Piper, the Pastor as Scholar,  examines his route to being one of America’s leading pastors, and like my confession at the start of his post he starts by saying, ‘….don’t hold your breath waiting for me to say something about making room for academic scholarship in the busy life of a pastor.’  What he does do is explain what makes him ‘tick’ in Christian ministry – a pastor’s heart through which he has tried ‘to preach the whole counsel of God from his written Word, with a passion for Jesus and a love for {his} people.  {He has} tried to structure things so that the people are cared for in their needs and so that they learn to care for each other and reach out to the lost.’  What being a scholarly pastor for him is ‘that the greatest object of knowledge is God and that he has revealed himself authoritatively in a book; and that I should work with all my might and all my heart and all my soul and all my mind to know and enjoy him and to make him known for the joy of others. Surely this is the goal of every pastor.’

To actually reflect the thesis of the book, while Piper writes from the heart, Carson, the Scholar and Pastor, writes a rigorous introduction that covers questioning the terms of the title, and, amongst other things, sharing a little of his journey to scholarship.  The second part of his section, deals with frank observations and pitfalls for those in pastoral ministry whose heart, perhaps like mine, is driven by scholarly working.  He talks of the warnings of becoming a mere knowledge supplier to the troops on the front line, the dangers of working for plaudits, and the danger of forgetting the people.  He talks of how scholars need to recognise different gifts and above all remaining focussed on the gospel in the world.

Strangely I found both sections of the book insightful, challenging, and something of a reflection of what I hope and pray this ministry I’m called to may offer for God’s Kingdom.  Perhaps that response reflects the conclusion of the book, that ministry involves both a pastor’s heart and a scholar’s mind – it’s just important to recognise which way round your ministry ticks.  The book concludes with this paragraph:

So in charging pastors to be more serious about the life of the mind, and in challenging scholars to be more engaged with the life of the church, we conclude with this prayer, that all our thoughtful shepherding and all our pastoral scholarship may be to the great end of having the gospel message about Jesus dwell richly (Col. 3.16) both in us and in our people; that knowing Jesus would be the great end of all our pastoring and our scholarship; that we ourselves, in all our preaching, writing, and counselling, would continue to see ourselves as the great beneficiaries of his great grace; that into eternity we would be followers of Jesus more and more shaped, saturated, and transformed by his person and work.  To Jesus, the great pastor-scholar, be the glory. Amen

Reformation Books: Gospel Centred Leadership

Gospel Centred Leadership, Steve Timmis

I had the pleasure of attending one day of the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit recently and it was really good to hear Bill Hybels (talking about the privilege of leadership), Condolezza Rice (on a life of leadership), William Ury (on negotiating conflict), Jim Collins (on being great by choice) and John Ortberg (talking about Jesus’ unimaginable influence). I came away with many brilliant tips on leadership, such as the idea of primarily managing my energy rather than my time, the importance of optimism and perspective, and the significance of separating people and their interests from the problem or the flash point of conflict.

All of these are great tips from a mix of political, religious and business leaders but whilst truth is the same whoever shares it, I did want to deepen my understanding of biblical, gospel-centred leadership. For that reason I picked up Steve Timmis’ book, Gospel Centred Leadership; Becoming the servant God wants you to be. This helped me to examine the cultural lenses through which I view leadership and to set leadership into a broader biblical perspective.

In the opening chapter Steve hit the nail on the head as he analysed our cultures desire for and cynicism towards elected leadership. From there he invites us to explore biblical leadership, looking first at the role of God as the leader both in the fine and precise details of His judgement and His shaping of human history. It is this revelation of God’s leadership that places our own exercise of leadership (as a pastor, bible study leader, elder, church administrator, etc.) into context.

Chapter two explores several (broken) examples of leadership. Adam, Abraham, Joseph, Moses and Nehemiah are all used to highlight the way that God rule is mediated through His servants, but also to point the need for another leader. Chapter three introduces us to Jesus’ leadership, challenges our prideful dependence on self, and encourages us to have a quiet confidence in Jesus’ power to rule through His Word, by His Spirit. Comment is passed about women’s ministry (throughout the New Testament), but also about headship being male. The arguments for or against this are not analysed in the book. Suffice to say Steve believes that if the way headship is exercised reflects the headship of Jesus then many of the objections to leadership in general and male leadership in particular become redundant.

Chapters four to ten explore several distinctive marks of Christian leadership, character, aptitude, wisdom, service, authority, style and leadership. Looking at each of these marks of leadership, Steve explores contemporary leadership quandaries and uses these as a way into looking at the biblical teaching on leadership. In each chapter he provides questions for biblical study and questions for personal reflection.  Warning: do not read this if you are uncomfortable examining yourself and finding your own attitudes and actions challenged.

The final four chapters look at the practicalities of leadership, each chapter looks at a different principle for gospel leadership: decisions are to be made by Spirit-inspired consensus, idealism as the enemy of gospel ministry, leaders exist to serve others intentionally, and the importance of investing in leadership. I found myself cut to the heart by the chapter on idealism which highlighted the danger of despairing in the face of disaster (losing all perspective), echoing what everyone else is saying (entering a state of virtual paralysis), assassinating others who fail and threaten our idealised church (making the perpetrator into an enemy). I pray that God would grant me the strength and wisdom to dwell in and respond out of the resources of the gospel to all manner of crisis and disappointment.

Finally, I suspect many leaders in the U.R.C. will struggle to get past Steve’s view of women in positions of leadership. However, there is plenty apart from this that would be of value to us. I have to say that despite being just 125 pages, it was not an easy or quick read. It forced me to analyse my own leadership decisions over and over again, and to confess my own inadequacy, even as it led me to Jesus’ grace.

1 Timothy 4:6-10 – Words of wisdom and encouragement

If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Saviour of all people, especially of those who believe.
– 1 Timothy 4:6-10 ESV

I love this passage because it shows us Paul the man and Paul the mentor. The apostle Paul doesn’t only diagnose the heresy within the Ephesian Church and instruct Timothy to oppose it. He offers Timothy words of personal encouragement and support. I need to read this over and over again because it reminds me of my responsibility within the church: To set words of faith and good doctrine before the brethren as a servant of Jesus Christ. For those who oppose the teaching of Scripture are not fighting against me or rejecting my words, but they are fighting against and rejecting Jesus Christ.

In telling Timothy to ‘have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths’, Paul gives us a useful strategy for addressing false teaching: reject it! This might seem obvious to some, but so often we miss this. Not wanting to appear intolerant we enter into polite discussion and so allow those who are propagating false teaching to set the agenda. It seems that Paul is clear that our response to heresy is not to enter into ‘constructive’ dialogue but to reject it and continue to set before the brethren words of faith and good doctrine.

It is also important that we, as Christian leaders, guard our own hearts and train ourselves for godliness. There is a danger that we can get so caught up in responding to our critics prattle that we neglect our own rigorous pursuit of godliness. Comparing the pursuit of the holy to bodily exercise, Paul encourages Timothy to continue his spiritual exercises. Victor Pfitzner notes that this concept of spiritual exercise ‘is not restricted to a negative physical asceticism… but rather implies a positive developing of his strength nourished above all “by the words of faith”‘.

This analogy is really helpful to remember because we tend to expect our spiritual exercise to be of immediate benefit to us and then we are disappointed (or even give up) when it doesn’t result in an instant transformation of our lives and circumstances. This is like beginning a diet or setting up a daily exercise regime and giving up the next day because it hasn’t made a difference! Paul urges us, even as he urges Timothy, to commit ourselves to regular training in godliness that leads to growth in our faith and knowledge of God. For this training holds promise not only for the present life but also for the life to come.

To encourage this pursuit of godliness Paul shares with Timothy a third of three trustworthy sayings in the 1 Timothy (the first being 1 Tim. 1:15 and the second being 1 Tim. 3:1 ). This third saying (1 Tim. 3:10) urges Timothy to keep pursuing godliness,  ‘For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Saviour of all people, especially of those who believe.’ It should remind us that the godliness we pursue is not a self-centred ascetic struggle for moral and religious perfection but a pursuit of God’s stated desire that ‘all people be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth’ (1 Tim. 2:4).

God is the only living God. He is the only Saviour of all people (that is people from every tribe and tongue). He is the Saviour of those who believe. In the context of Ephesus many ancient inscriptions have been found honouring dead men as gods and saviours. Paul’s trustworthy saying reminds us that God is the only Saviour and that whilst in His common grace He saves all people from the worst excesses of depravity. He is the special Saviour of all who believe in Him for eternal life. For this reason we are to pursue godliness and keep setting before people the words of faith and good doctrine. I pray that God would give grace to us all in this pursuit.

Book reviews: Children’s Bibles

In 2011 I became a father. And from the very earliest days of my daughter’s life we began to read Bible stories to her. When she was very little my wife and I would read quite lengthy passages but now she’s 18 months old it’s become a bit more of an interactive experience. She’ll now request “Jesus”, “God” or “Bible” stories, and can recognise the pictures of John the Baptist, and name the first four disciples called by Jesus. (She’s also pretty good at singing Zacchaeus was a very little man.)

But this isn’t a parental bragging session. It’s a chance to give you my thoughts on what’s out there to read to your own children/grandchildren/Sunday Schoolers/toddler group.

At Hannah’s baptism the church gave us the God Loves Me Bible. My initial reaction to things that say God Loves You is to reject it out of hand and then enter into a theological treatise on whether we’re talking about God’s common grace or his electing love that is only for his adopted in Christ. But I was pleasantly surprised by this one. There are 66 Bible characters that God showed his love for and each retelling of the story is short enough for wriggly toddlers without being too shallow. I appreciated the story of Gideon which begins: “Gideon was weak.” The accent is on God’s grace not on these “Heroes” works. 3/5

When Hannah was a small baby we could read to her all night if we wanted to. She would lie in our arms and would have no choice but to listen. As she’s grown we’ve found her to get more wriggly so we needed to find a book with short stories that would keep her attention. Time for Bed Bible Stories fitted this bill perfectly. The stories are 5 or 6 lines over 3 pages with bright illustrations. This is the book where Hannah can name the disciples. However, there are a couple of issues with this one. The Lost Sheep tells how a shepherd seeks the lost sheep but the moral of the story is “God is happy too when anyone comes to him.” My wife and I adapt this line to reflect the parable – that it’s God who seeks and finds the lost. Also, as one who takes the second commandment as being still in force today, the crucifixion picture may be the most blasphemous thing I’ve ever seen. (But that may be because I’ve not seen the kids’ Bible with the cloth characters yet.) 3/5

The best children’s Bible is the Jesus Storybook Bible. This has become the standard go-to children’s Bible for conservative evangelical parents because it puts the whole Bible into the framework of God’s redemption in Christ. It teaches us how everything in the Old Testament points to Christ and how the New Testament is the fulfilment of God’s promises. The only bad thing is that there is a lot of text so toddlers will find it difficult to sit through the reading of the stories without tearing the pages they want to turn. But for babies and then four-years and up this is amazing. You’ll learn a lot as well and praise God for his great love for his people. 5/5

Of course all of these are deficient in that they’re not the Bible. But as an introduction they’re a good stepping stone. Now, excuse me I have to go and catechise my daughter: “Hannah, what’s the chief end of man?”

1 Timothy 4:1-5 – Standing firm in a sea of false teaching

“Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of  liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.”

In Chapter 3, Paul described the behaviour expected of the church and its leaders. Now, at the start of Chapter 4, Paul recognises that some will leave the community of faith. It’s not clear how “the Spirit expressly says that some will depart” (v.1), but it may have been a direct revelation or prophecy given to Paul.

The Church inherited from Judaism a belief that things would get worse before they get better. The present age is in the grip of evil powers, whilst the age to come will be perfect with a new heaven and a new earth. The coming day of the Lord would signal the shift between the two ages. The early church believed that the day of the Lord was coming imminently (we now know it wasn’t quite as imminent as they thought!) and so they expected persecution. Life in the Church wouldn’t be plain sailing as they came under increasing attack from demonic forces who would lead many astray by false teaching.

Today, we do not live as if the day of the Lord is imminent (although we should, as Paul says Jesus will return “like a thief in the night” in 1 Thessalonians 5:2), and we are not conditioned to think of demons infiltrating the Church. The reality, however, is that both God and Satan are looking for ordinary human beings to carry out their work. Who will we give our lives to? Are we nurturing our relationship with God and putting on the armour of God to protect us from the enemy’s lies?

Today, the false teaching infecting the Church may not be those affecting Ephesus – abstinence from particular foods or a forbidding of marriage (both considered to be part of Gnosticism) – but there is a gradual replacement of Biblical values by worldly ones. We suffer from a post-modern relativism, increasingly lax ethical standards (particularly when it comes to issues surrounding sex), and a desire to rationalise and water-down the miraculous and anything we cannot understand.

Paul wrote these words about the Church in Ephesus, where Timothy was working.  May we follow Paul’s instructions to the Ephesian Church given in his earlier letter:

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.  Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled round your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” (Ephesians 6:10-17)