Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Unbiblical Calling of the Pastor

Photo Credit:
How would you respond if asked, “What does Dr. Pepper taste like?” It’s hard to answer, because Dr. Pepper’s taste is the result of a blend, a marvelous blend mind you, of 23 flavors. And while the blend of flavors for this “DP” is outright amazing, there is another “DP” whose blend of flavors is downright stressing. I’m talking about what I like to call the “Deacon-Pastor,” a completely fabricated term, but a totally realistic thing, although it shouldn’t be.

You’re probably asking, “What is a Deacon-Pastor?” A “Deacon-Pastor” is an unbiblical hybrid position that merges the biblical responsibilities of the deacon and the pastor. The result is an expectation for the pastor to perform the responsibilities of both the pastor and the deacon, but often results in him not being able to do either.

Unlike Dr. Pepper, this is a dangerous concoction of flavors.


The “deacon” is first found in Acts 6, when a complaint arose in the church over the neglect of widows in the daily serving of food. The twelve disciples called the church together and requested that they select seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, who could be put in charge of the task.

And thus the deacon was created, or at least the proto-type. In fact, the English phrase translated “serve tables” in Greek is diakonia, which is the same word used in 1 Timothy 3 for the English word translated “deacon.”

What’s interesting about the Acts 6 episode is that a strong distinction is made between the responsibilities of the twelve disciples and the seven men of good reputation. Of course the twelve disciples aren’t suggesting that they are better than the seven men of good reputation, only that they have a different responsibility, one that should not be jeopardized.

The responsibility is clearly laid out in their response to the complainers: “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables.”

The word “desirable” implies that it wasn’t “proper” or “right” that they sacrifice their study time to serve tables. It’s almost as if the very thought of adding extra “flavors,” regardless of their importance, is morally wrong for the early church pastor. While it’s obvious that both studying God’s Word and serving tables are important, the response highlights the disciples’ calling to focus on God’s Word, and, for fear of diluting that, it wasn’t wise to to even consider doing both. So they delegated the responsibility to a newly formed role–the deacon. And if this isn’t clear enough, after implementing the deacon role, they said, “But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (6:4).

In other words, the disciples emphasized their God-ordained responsibility both before and after their command to create deacons.


The disciples were essentially the pastors of the early church, and thus the modern day pastor’s primary responsibility is biblically outlined as “praying and studying God’s Word.” And, likewise, the deacon’s primary responsibility is outlined too, which is to serve the needs of the congregation, especially the widows.

One focuses on the spiritual and the other on the physical. Together, both needs are met, the latter delegated so that the pastor’s responsibilities aren’t threatened.

But somehow, somewhere, the church reverted back to pre-Acts 6 and started expecting its pastors to wear a myriad of ecumenical hats. On top of prayer and studying for sermons, (and note that “sermons” is plural), the pastor is expected to do things like visit hospitals, homes, nursing homes, cast visions, implement new ministries, develop missional strategies, and sometimes even water the flowers.

This isn’t to say, of course, that a pastor shouldn’t visit. And it’s certainly not to say that he is too good to water the flowers (I’ve been there). By all means, a pastor ought to do these things if necessary. It is to say, however, that the of doing this on a daily and weekly basis is, for the pastor, biblically unwarranted. And perhaps even egregiously sinful. Yet, many churches expect their pastors to do just that. It might even be in their job descriptions.

Biblically, there are certain “flavors” that belong to things like the deacon ministry, not the pastoral ministry. This frees the pastor to seek the Lord through prayer and study, instead of tying him down to what might well be described as public relations. One focuses on meeting the spiritual needs of the church, while the other focuses on meeting the physical needs. Both are good, but the pastor is called to do the former over the latter. Demanding that he do both is like adding uncomplimentary flavors to God’s recipe for the pastor.


The unbiblical “Deacon-Pastor” is, I believe, one of the greatest reasons for pastoral burnout.One source cites that 50% of pastors feel unable to meet the demands of their job, and that upwards of 1,500 pastors leave their ministries each month due to burnout.

Suffice it to say that many churches are decorated with the tread marks of burnt out pastors.

Pastors are often hired with the expectation of performing all of the ecumenical roles laid out in Scripture, although Scripture clearly details that even the twelve disciples–the guys that walked and talked with Jesus–were incapable of such a feat.

These guys could cast out demons and heal the lame, but they couldn’t serve tables alongside their prayer and Bible study.

Unfortunately, it’s not just the church that cultivates this mentality, it’s also sometimes, of all people, the pastor. Many pastors turn Acts 6 upside down by choosing to focus on everything else besides prayer and Bible study, such as chasing ambulances or honing leadership skills, both of which are good, but secondary things.

If the pastor says it’s okay to dilute prayer and study in exchange for serving tables, then we can’t blame the church when they expect the same.

As a pastor, I must confess that I find myself the most profitable whenever the church cultivates an environment for me to spend more time in prayer and in God’s Word. I’m less stressed, less overwhelmed, and, more importantly, I’m able to do precisely what I’ve been called to do, which is preach the word.

This is, as the old adage says, the epitome of quality over quantity, and it’s a far more refreshing beverage!

Monday, April 21, 2014

God is not dead

I’ll be honest, most Christian-message movies make me cringe. I get “embarrassed chills” as my kids like to say, at the bad acting. I sigh at the limp writing, and struggle with the Captain Obvious plot. But there are exceptions, and I would add “God’s Not Dead,” the surprising hit to the short list of good “Christian films.” As of last weekend, this$2 million movie had grossed more than $40 million at the box office. The movie follows the story of a college student named Josh Wheaton, played by Shane Harper, who has to decide whether to go along with his philosophy professor’s (Kevin Sorbo) challenge to write “God is dead” on a piece of paper and sign it. Josh is the only student in the class of 80 who refuses, and the rest of the movie tells the story of what happens when he challenges the professor. It is well acted and written, in my unprofessional opinion. It is a hit among believers, for obvious reasons. But there are some parts of it that are far-fetched. (spoiler alert)

It is far-fetched that two of the three most vocal atheists in the movie would convert, one in his final minutes after being struck by a car, and the other after interviewing the Newsboys backstage before their concert.

It is hard to believe that every single one of the students in the philosophy class would stand and say they believed in the existence of God, after Josh’s arguments. They had an atheist professor who had promised to make life miserable for any who challenged him. Josh’s argument is excellent, and worth the price of admission. But I’ve seen college students give excellent speeches on the existence of God, on the deity of Christ, on the evidence for the resurrection. In each case, some of the listeners were moved by the arguments, and others remained steadfast in their opposition.

There was much about the movie that was not far-fetched. It is not a stretch at all to imagine a college professor so brazen that he would demand students reject faith in God. It is fine for a religion or philosophy professor to challenge his students to read the works of Bertrand Russell or David Hume and consider their arguments against God. It is not fine, but it happens, for a professor to say on the first day of class, “My goal this semester is to separate you from your faith in an ancient book, written by men, and from a fairy tale belief in God.”

It is also not far-fetched to believe that taking a public stand for your faith in Jesus will cost you something, especially on a college campus. That begs the question: Are we training the next generation to know what they believe, and why?

It would be worth your while to go see the movie. Even better than that, go hear a sermon tomorrow morning on the resurrection. Best of all, call someone who doesn’t go to church and ask if you can pick him or her up on your way. Most of Alamance County plans to sleep in, watch TV, play golf, work in the garden, and do a number of other things tomorrow morning that do not include going to church. We can shrug our shoulders and head off bravely to hear about the greatest news the world has ever heard. Or we can give our friends a call and invite them to hear it, too.

Why would we do that? Because, God’s not dead. That truth changes everything.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

He Is Risen Indeed! (free album)

A few months ago, I and a couple fellow worship leaders set out to write and record a few songs for our churches that would tell the story from Good Friday to Easter. As I considered what I wanted to write about, Paul's argument from 1st Corinthians 15 kept coming to mind:
...if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:17-22 ESV)
For the early church, this was more that an apologetic assertion, more than just a doctrinal tenet. No, this fact alone was the one thing standing between them and lives of utter meaninglessness and madness. Or as Paul put it, lives "in vain", "misrepresenting God", "futile" and "pitied".

For them it meant that the whole world had been turned upside down—or rather right side up—to declare in call-and-response fashion,

He is risen!

He is risen indeed!

I've shared below the lyrics to the song I wrote for this EP. We hope you'll download this free album and, if you're blessed by it, we hope you'll tell your friends about it!

He Is Risen Indeed

Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man
Died upon the cross for all of mankind
And in his wounds we find healing
Jesus, in our place, the grave could not
Hold the God of grace, our debt has been paid in full
He is risen, he is risen indeed!

Hope, we sing as those with hope
Not in this life only
But also the life that is still yet to come
The power of death was shaken
Our sins have been taken
And laid in an empty tomb

Joy, he is unsinkable joy
Though the trials and storms
Of this life still may blow and break on us
The power of grief was shaken
Our shame has been taken
And nailed to the rugged cross

In him we die, in him we rise
All righteousness is satisfied
In Jesus' life we find our lives
In Christ alone we're justified
In him we die, in him we rise

Friday, April 18, 2014

Free books and music to carry you through to Easter

Easter is impossible without Good Friday, and Good Friday is empty without Easter. Here are a few free resources to help you reflect on both this weekend:

Free Books
Okay, so I know that two of these books are actually one cent, but I figured you'd want to know about them anyway. Feel free to leave a comment below if you're like "No! One cent is too much to pay for a whole book!" and I'm sure some Good Samaritan will be happy to spot you the cash.
Alive: A Cold-Case Approach to the Resurrection
Crucify!: Why the Crowd Killed Jesus
The Work of Christ: What the Events of Jesus' Life Mean for You

Old Story New: Ten-Minute Devotions to Draw Your Family to God$0.01

Free Music
A three-song EP featuring an awesome treatment of The Old Rugged Cross and two originals including one I wrote called "He Is Risen Indeed".

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Let's Get Drunk - Reflections on Maunday Thursday

Laura Kauffman of Shorthanding Sanity  

“Sit down and eat it,” I command in an increasingly intolerant voice. “Baby Angel” (the moniker he is exclusively responding to at the moment) climbs down from the stool and perches himself in front of his pb&j, glaring at me through the slits in the superhero mask that “Baby Angels” apparently wear.

“Superheroes have to be strong. How will you be strong if you don’t eat?” I coax.

Reluctantly, he nibbles a crumb – not joking, a crumb – off of the end of his sandwich, and smiles proudly up at me as though somehow he thinks he’s nourished himself for the next heroic battle.

“Why won’t this child eat?” I muse to myself as I pick up his half eaten sandwich and untouched apples from the table. But he’s off, slaying imaginary dragons and doing the more important things in life.

And as I hold the bread and watch my boy, I think of another loaf of bread and another Son who broke it on this very day so many years ago. Somehow the sun shine and the chirping birds and the giggles of my children don’t seem like the right backdrop for this day.

I sit down with the Words and get lost in the story. The stage is set, and you can almost feel the moment, you know? After three years of hard work, this is a night of rest. A room full of the best of friends. A celebration. A spring night and a cool breeze. I remember a backyard party that once felt the same way – a lot of laughter, special foods, outdoor tables, and soft evening lights. Soul-restoring.

Perhaps, the Savior mulled similar thoughts as he looked at his friends and said, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” Earnestly desired. This little phrase is an odd one – epithymia epithymeō. You can see it already, can’t you - the twin words (different only in two little letters) with twin meanings. He’s repeating Himself. According to the original Greek, this could be translated as “desirously desired,” “longingly longed,” or even – scandalously - “lustfully lusted.”

You know how scholars tell us that when Jesus says “Verily, verily, I say to you…” He’s using a repetition to catch our attention and emphasize His point? Same thing here, I think. And we definitely get His point.

He wanted this.

So He crushes the bread and pours the wine and passes around His body and blood.

And I wonder if He thought of Elijah. I do. In fact, I think of him every single Sunday when the music swells and we rise to our feet to take the elements.

I remember the Elijah of 1 Kings 19, who has just watched the fire of God consume the altar during his Baal-battle, who has brought the rain, who has literally run for his life. Barely escaping the murderous queen, he collapses on the desert’s hot sand for an entire day and begs to die.

Instead of the angel of death, God sends an angel bearing the things of life. Friendship. Food. Rest. He touches Elijah, feeds him, puts him back to sleep. When he wakes Elijah again, he says, “Get up and eat. If you don’t, the journey will be too hard for you.” (1 Kings 19:7 NCV).

If you don’t eat, the journey will be too hard for you.

This life is a hard journey. And I can honestly admit that it is too much for me. Cancer. Divorce. Depression. Loneliness. They are all too much. And sometimes, even everyday things like dishes and crying babes and unreturned calls and empty chairs can be too much for me. So every week at the communion table, I own my weakness and come to be fed. Because if I don’t, the journey will be too hard for me.

If anyone know about hard journeys, it’s our Man of Sorrows. Not too many hours removed from friendship and food and rest, we see Jesus bleeding prayers in a garden. The scene is so different now, isn’t it? No more sunlight and celebration. No more companions. No more peace. Just a horrified God gasping and bleeding under the weight of what He is about to do. It breaks my heart, and I epithymia epithymeō to be beside Him and to hold Him and to beg for mercy with Him.

And then an angel appears. I can’t help but wonder if it’s the same angel who came to the despairing Elijah as he faced death. Luke 22 says that the angel strengthened Him and was with Him while He prayed His blood onto the ground. Moments later, Jesus rises to His feet and changes to course of humanity.

I nibble on the edge of the rejected pbj, weeping about Gethsemane, when an oddly motherly thought crosses my mind. “I’m glad He had eaten. He needed His strength.”

Perhaps He did.

Perhaps He needed to take the advice of Elijah’s angel - to eat the Passover bread and drink the foreshadowing wine so that the journey wouldn’t be too great for Him.

So today I’m praying that I’ll follow His lead. Because so often, I reject the example of this humble Savior and act more like a rebellious “Baby Angel.” I nibble at the edges of Him, consuming just enough to be allowed to leave the table, and arrogantly resume my attempts to save the world. Of course, it predictably falls apart. The marriage and parenting and writing dominoes that I stack and arrange so neatly fall steadily one by one when I operate on an empty spiritual stomach.

Because “how will you be strong if you don’t eat?”

So lets come to Him today. Let’s greedily snatch the cup and the bread that He passes around, and let’s get drunk on redemption of our God.

Jesus epithymia epithymeō the Passover feast.

So do I.

Monday, April 14, 2014

On this day the church could have died

Kyle Idleman tells the story about the time his family house-sat for friends who were out of town. It was miserably hot and they were excited about using the above-ground pool their friends owned. On the second morning, however, the water level in the pool seemed a little lower. So Kyle put on his son’s goggles, dived in, and found a hole the size of a pencil eraser. He went to the pool store down the road and they sold him an underwater patch, and explained how to use it. Kyle put the heavy-duty glue on the patch, swam down to where the hole was, but as he pressed the patch against the side of pool, he watched in horror as the tiny hole started to slowly expand to the size of a basketball. Suddenly 18,000 gallons of water were rushing out and trying to push Kyle through the hole. He fought the current and managed to get out of the pool, grabbed towels and tried to stuff them in the hole, but there was nothing he could do to stop the inevitable. He watched helplessly as all the water emptied out of the pool and into the back yard. His kids came out with stunned and disappointed looks, and his youngest had tears in her eyes. One of his daughters said what Kyle was thinking: “Did that really just happen?”

Let me tell you about a day when the church and the Christian faith could have collapsed just like that pool did. I would argue that this day in history was bigger than when the Berlin wall came down. Bigger than when Germany surrendered in World War II. Bigger than your birthday. In fact, this day may have been bigger than anything in recorded history except for the three days when Jesus Christ was born, crucified, and resurrected from the dead.

I am talking about the day the Jerusalem Council met in or around year 53. The leaders of the church came together because of a controversy brewing in the church world. There were some Jewish believers in the twenty-year old Christian faith who wanted to require every Gentile convert to Christianity to first become a Jew. They said, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Do you get that? They were telling Gentile followers of Jesus that Jesus needed Moses to complete what He had done. They were saying in effect, “Hey, the cross was great, but it is the law that really matters.” They were teaching that salvation is not by faith alone but by faith plus works. So when the Jerusalem church leaders met to discuss the matter, it was the biggest day since Pentecost, because what was at stake was none other than the Gospel. If the Gospel had been changed, Christianity would simply have been added to the list of all the other world religions, each of which has as its unofficial motto, “Will work for salvation.”

You can read the story in Acts 15 and see how the matter was settled. It was a big day in Jerusalem. It was a bigger day for the church. What started as a small deception could have ended up in disaster, and changed history as we know it.

Thankfully, what threatened the church was quickly dealt with through godly leadership and biblical truth. The church did not lose its way or collapse like a cheap pool. The truth of the Gospel, that salvation is found in no one else but Jesus Christ, was not compromised but further confirmed.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Infographic: Square Inches Under Christ's Sovereignty

Your trusty blog author says "I use Grammarly for online proofreading because every time you use bad grammar theirs a kitten somewhere that dyes."

Recently, a lot of the cool blogs have been sharing some pretty sweet infographics. In an effort to not be outdone, I figured I'd try my hand at one as well. I hope this infographic can bring some clarity to an issue that, for many people, can be quite challenging. Enjoy!

“There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence  over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: 'Mine!'”  – Abraham Kuyper

FEEDBACK: So, do you have any similarly abstruse and enigmatic statements that need some visual clarity? Can you think of any other quotes that could be imaged thusly?

For Further Reading:
Infographic: The Reliability of the New Testament Texts 
Infographic: The Messianic Genealogy