Each time I read through 1 Corinthians, I can’t help but draw a parallel between the issues in the Corinthian church and the contemporary church. The culture may have been different, but the self-focused attitudes and actions are not. One theme that emerges pretty quickly in the book is that of pride and superiority. The Corinthians are puffed up by their own accomplishments, which they are measuring against the standards of the Roman-greco society and not the wisdom of the kingdom. Jesus introduced an upside paradigm that flies in the face of what society said was successful. This is true as much today and in the early church. And because of this, they’re even turning their nose down at Paul because he’s not measuring up to their standard.
After giving the Corinthians the smack down in 1 Corinthians 3 about how their divisiveness and self-importance are disrupting the foundation that he has built on Christ, in chapter 4 he gets to the heart of it.
I have applied all these things to myself and to Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against the other. For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If you then received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?
Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you! For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we are in disrepute. To the present hour, we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we retreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things. (1 Corinthians 4:6-13)
In just a few short weeks I’ll be donning the graduation regalia and walking across the stage. My diploma will come later in the summer since I needed an extension on my thesis. But the thought of having all my classes done is a refreshing one indeed.
A common question that gets asked of me, as I’m sure it does other seminary students and near graduates, is ‘what’s next’? I wrote about this a couple of years ago, in What’s After Seminary? Not a Job but an Adventure. What the question really refers to is what fantastic ministry will you NOW be a part of, where you will be on staff and serving God’s people? I mean after all, why ELSE would you have gone to seminary if you aren’t doing that? In fact, there’s such a strong emphasis on church ministry that not obtaining that can make a seminary grad feel like they failed or wasted their time.
Despite my insistence in my article from 2 years ago that its all about the ministry adventure and not the actual position, I still find myself quite unsettled and a bit anxious these days. I was fortunate enough to land a good part-time position in the field that I had been working for many years and the job was secured even before moving to Dallas. Unfortunately, that position was eliminated and I took another position that didn’t work out. For the past few months, I have been engaged in an intensive job search and recognizing that I may have to continue what I was doing prior to seminary or at least leveraging that experience. In fact, during the drafting of this post I did indeed accept a position and it’s not in a church. Continue reading
Yes, I intentionally said obscure. Because that means that you aren’t well known, except by those you serve in shepherding and those within your sphere of influence. You have no book deals, don’t really utilize social media unless its to make your congregation aware of some important issues. If that spills over to others, then that is an added bonus. In fact, you probably aren’t a heavy social media user because of your attention to the task you’ve been called to do. This consumes most of your time.
Unfortunately, as Christians applaud the visible “pastors” in the limelight, promote their books and blogs, there is little sentiment left for your obscurity. In fact, some may even disdain it as being non-effective. After all, if you were really doing kingdom work, you’d have a wide impact and be in the spotlight to “reach people”, which may cause you to overlook the people right in front of you.
But your goal is to be faithful to the position for which God has called you. Your heart is burdened for discipleship. You want people to know the Lord and grow in grace and the true knowledge of God. You are engaged in activity that most don’t see: time in prayer, long hours of sermon preparation, agonizing over the struggles, rebellious sparks, and concerns of your congregation. You visit the sick and downtrodden, befriend your non-believing neighbors and network with other obscure pastors for encouragement and learning. You meet with elders, deacons, other leaders, and if in a denomination, your governing body’s organization over the direction and concerns of the church. You encourage outreach to the surrounding community, leading by example of loving God and neighbor so that your congregants will do the same. Continue reading
I came across this older blog post by Trevin Wax, Dear Pastor, Please Exegete Your Church. In it he discusses the importance for pastors to evaluate what is going on in the lives congregants.
Sermon preparation does not end with good exegesis of the Bible; it always includes good exegesis of the local congregation. The preacher who can parse Greek verbs must also be able to discern the imperatives and indicatives his own people are living by.
Great preachers not only know how to preach a particular text; they know how to preach a particular text to a particular people.
And that brings us to the practical side of sermon preparation. In order to faithfully exegete our church, we must know our people. The church is not a preaching station where individual Christians show up once a week to hear great oratory. The church is a community of believers who live together under the lordship of Christ. The preacher’s role in this community is to know the Scriptures and his people well enough to discern (through the power of the Holy Spirit) how best to exhort them faithfully and biblically.
If our enthusiasm for ”good preaching” keeps us constantly isolated from our congregation in sermon preparation, we might be shortchanging God’s people. If we are to preach effectively, we must spend time with our people, understanding how best to use the Word to train them, rebuke them, correct them, and comfort them.
Biblical exegesis and church exegesis go hand in hand.
Whenever we study the text, the faces of our people who need a word from God should be leaping from the pages.
Yesterday, during a conversation with one of my classmates who is a pastor, we talked about what it meant to pastor. We talked about how pastoring is messy work because it involves being involved in the lives of people. Public speaking is not pastoring.
The church is not a preaching station where individual Christians show up once a week to hear great oratory. The church is a community of believers who live together under the lordship of Christ. – Trevin Wax
So it naturally leads me to ask a logical question that I’ve mulled over in my mind for some time regarding very large churches. How can the ‘pastor’ who stands in front of thousands of people but not involved in any of their lives be called a pastor? Maybe that’s a bit too simplistic considering there is biblical evidence for appointment of others (elders/deacons). I also don’t want to caste dispersions on good preaching. Just because it’s large, doesn’t mean the preaching is bad or dishonest to Scripture (though we can cite hands down the ones who are). But in our culture of mega-churches and celebrity pastors, I think it is important to make a distinction since we tend to call preachers who orate in front of others ‘pastors’.
There’s also the illegitimate use of bishops that run rampant too. Thabiti Anyabwile addresses that here.
Would love to hear your thoughts.
I think there is some confusion running loose with respect to the concept of the priesthood of the believer. The term was coined by the Reformers to distinguish the direct access believers have to Christ vs. their access to through clergy. This of course was in repudiation to the papists who claimed that they alone provided access contrary to Hebrews 4:14. Through this direct access, we serve as ministers of the gospel (2 Corinthians 5:18) and minister to one another (Colossians 3:15-16).
Increasingly, I am encountering a definition of the concept to mean a rejection of structured leadership in the church. Because we are priests with direct access to God, we minister to each other and do not need special offices that separate clergy from the rest of Christians, aka lay people. In some cases, it has come to mean that I am my own priest and therefore don’t need leadership at all.
I’m going to suggest that this idea finds no support in scripture. First, the idea that we are disconnected from the body life of the local church is foreign to our position in Christ and his command that we operate as his body. I know that many have been hurt by the local church and finding one that is honest to Scripture can take time.
Second, if we think just gathering by itself is sufficient and reject the idea of structured leadership, consider Ephesians 4:4-16. There is one body who is to walk according to its purpose, growing up together in Christ through specific means – “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers (vs 11)” Continue reading