In the piece, "It Matters Who You Hang Out With," Warren Bird reported,
According to a three year study of pastoral leader participation in peer groups initiated by the Sustaining Pastoral Excellence (SPE) Initiative of the Lilly Endowment, Inc., congregations with Pastors who are regularly involved in a peer group 1) are more likely to promote a "culture of involvement" that actively assimilates newcomers and involves members in leadership, 2) have more active youth programs and activities, and 3) are more involved in community service and positive community change.
In my mind, there is a reason for this: the power of the gospel. The gospel creates a spirit of cooperation among churches. No longer defined by the righteousness of self-made, home-grown ministry success, the gospel frees church leaders to get their identity from an unassailable source - their union with Christ. Pastors matter because Jesus matters, not because their church matters.
The connection, therefore, between a culture of involvement, active youth programs, & community service and pastoral participation in peer groups is not pastor + peer group = healthier church. Instead, it works like this: pastor + growing faith in the gospel = fellowship with other pastors + healthier churches.
Unless pastors continually appropriate the gospel of grace, not even the dangling carrot of a healthier church will propel them outward to seek ministry peers. Only by steeping in the undeserved, unassailable identity given to us as a gift do we have any hope of moving beyond our parochialism and territorialism for the health of our churches and the good of our cities.
After a one year hiatus to remodel and significantly expand our building, I am more than excited to see our annual pastors' conference return to Redeemer.
The conference is called, "The Praying Pastor: The Heart of Gospel Ministry," and it will feature Paul Miller, author of the best book on prayer I have ever read, A Praying Life.
So if you're a pastor, elder, or seminary student, bring your wife with you to our intimate, sweet, helpful conference for pastors.
In 2 Cor 5:15, the Apostle Paul says that Jesus died not so that our sins could be forgiven or that we could go to heaven when we die (though both of those things are certainly true); instead, he gives a purpose for the death of Christ that is a much more "present tense" reality. He says that Jesus died so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
What does this imply about who you are and what you need to be rescued from? It implies that you are selfish and that therefore you need to be rescued from you.
As I thought about this, six types of selfishness in my own life came to the surface, which, if I wasn't confident that Christ died to kill the, might leave me in despair. But since I know that Jesus, because of his great love for me, died so that I would no longer be shackled to my little life, I am free to admit my selfishness to him (and to you). Hope this helps:
- Self-focus: I start to lose interest in a conversation that's not about me or in a story that I'm not telling.
- Self-glorification: I do what I do to make a name for myself, to get noticed, to get recognition, or to be seen as someone important.
- Self-obsession: My internal dialogue is all about me. How do I look? How do I feel? What should I do? Why didn't so-and-so acknowledge me?
- Self-rule: Me determining the rules of my life, silently or not so silently demanding that others keep my commandments.
- Self-righteousness: Not thinking that I'm better than others in the traditional sense of the term, but looking down my nose at people who don't realize they're bad like me.
- Self-reliance: Living as if I don't need divine intervention to do life, which especially manifests itself in pockets of prayerlessness.
I have been very forthcoming, now how about you? You are selfish, too. There is at least something about your life that you can describe with the prefix "self" attached. And if you're a Christian, you can admit it. The Lord Jesus died for it, no longer holds it against you, and gives you power by his Spirit to say no to it even in the throes of your most self-indulgent binge. What a savior! The loving savior of the lamentably selfish.
An recent interview that's worth every minute of your time.
Of the many tragic consequences from the Connecticut elementary school massacre that can be named is that the shooter, Adam Lanza, in an act of colossal cowardice, shot himself. And what makes this so tragic is that because he is dead, he can never be brought to justice, never made to pay for his crimes in this life. The nature of the case is that the state is not able to prosecute and convict and sentence and execute someone who is dead.
Now what is interesting about this principle is that it also applies to the Christian's relationship to God. Romans 8:1 says, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." The reason for this is that every Christian died with Christ on the cross (Rom 6:2-3), which means that the Judge of the Universe is now unable to condemn you to hell precisely because you have already died.
Of course, the amazing truth of the gospel is that the Lord put himself into this predicament. He is unable to condemn you because he was unwilling to condemn you. Unwilling to condemn you, he sent his son Jesus Christ to die to sin so that you might die with him. Now that you're dead, he simply cannot execute your sentence.
So if you've ever struggled to believe the truth of Rom 8:1, that there really is no condemnation for you in Jesus Christ, remember that the reason there is no sentence is that the perpetrator (you) is immune from prosecution. In Christ, you have already been prosecuted, sentenced, and executed. You're already dead. And no dead person can be executed. Not even by God.
I know you feel it. The pressure to accomplish something in 2013. To do those things you ought to have done in 2012. To get back up on the horse of the things you failed to accomplish last year. To really make a difference...unlike 2012. Or to top last year. You made it to the top of K2; this year it's Everest. You got your first book published; this year, it'll be two - and better sales, too! The New Year pressure is upon us. This post is to help you resist it.
How about instead of aiming high, aiming low? Aim for the boring stuff, the humble stuff. Aim for the mundane. Aim that you would live in 2013 cognizant that your life isn't mainly lived in the world of your great accomplishments or big decisions; instead, it's lived, 99.9 percent of the time, in the thousand small decisions you make moment-to-moment and in the tiny accomplishments of grace that no one but God ever sees. Aim for this, and you'll be all there for your 17 year-old son as he downloads his day to you as you climb into bed, exhausted. Aim for this, and you'll celebrate the small victories. You repented of your lust this afternoon faster than you did this morning. You emptied the dishwasher for your wife just because you loved her. And you stopped yourself from lashing out in traffic when you were late for an appointment.
Aim for this because this is where Jesus meets you. Everywhere. Every day. He doesn't care if you accomplish something great in 2013 because he already accomplished for you the only truly great thing in all of history - on the cross of Calvary.
So this year, you don't need to try to make yourself matter. Say goodbye forever to the New Year pressure and rest in the finished work of Christ.
Anyone who has worked with me knows how much I value vision-casting, strategizing, and executing on tactics in order to realize our church's vision. But here's a word from Paul Tripp's, Dangerous Calling, which understands pastoral priorities:
There have been very few pastors whose ministries have been damaged by poor strategic planning. There are very few pastors whose ministries have been compromised by poor staffing. There are very few pastors who have lost their way in ministry because they didn't budget well. But there are thousands of pastors who have damaged or destroyed their ministries because they lost sight of what ministry was really about and did not protect themselves against temptation.
Perhaps the real problem isn't that pastors have given themselves to strategic planning while their souls languished. Perhaps the real problem is that the same care, attention, thought hasn't been given to being strategic about the cultivation of their own spiritual lives.
Ministry is war. And without a strategy you will be a casualty of it. Let's just make sure we're fighting the right one - the war for our own hearts' devotion to Jesus Christ.
You may remember the football scandal at Arkansas from earlier this year. Head Coach Bobby Petrino was dismissed for not disclosing an "inappropriate relationship" with a female employee. A motorcycle accident in mid-April with his girlfriend brought his indiscretion to light - he was 51 and she was 25.
One writer for Sports Illustrated explained what he believed contributed to the problem: "He was lionized for his success to an unhealthy degree; he was allowed to operate outside the normal system of checks and balances; and he was afforded special exemptions, which led to more power and, eventually, to the abuse of that power."
As I read this, I couldn't help but think how easy it is for this to happen to pastors. I felt convicted of my own need to remind myself and the people of my church to give all the credit to the Lion of the tribe of Judah. And I felt convicted of my own need to make even more efforts to operate within the normal system of checks and balances of my church.
No pastor should be afforded special exemptions. We need the community of faith just as much as anyone else. As Paul Tripp puts it, we're all still in the middle of our own sanctification.
In my last post, I explained that the gospel is a story. But this is simply one way of conceiving of the gospel. The gospel is also a system - a system of belief, a collection of doctrines.
- The doctrine of God: The creator God is holy, righteous, just, merciful, and loving. He made and takes care of everything in the universe, including man, and does it all for his own glory.
- The doctrine of man: Humanity was created upright and innocent, bearing the image of its creator, and therefore possesses unique dignity among all God's creatures.
- The doctrine of sin: Man rebelled against God by eating the forbidden fruit, subjecting Adam and all his posterity to the effects of original sin. The result is that man is irresistibly inclined to sin in terms of breaking God's rules, failing to measure up to God's glory, and keeping God's rules to manipulate God into giving man what he wants apart from God.
- The doctrine of judgment: Since sin is measured against the infinite glory of the God we have offended, the only just judgment is an infinite one. Therefore, man is sentenced to the condemnation of hell for all eternity.
- The doctrine of grace: God's grace is the apex of his glory. For this reason, he is not content to watch us pay for our sins, even though we deserve it. The grace of God is the unmerited favor he shows to us - undeserved acceptance from an unobligated giver.
- The doctrine of Christ: Jesus Christ is God's grace incarnate. Jesus is the eternal son of God who became man to bear the penalty of our sin on the cross and to grant us eternal life through his resurrection from the dead. God sent his son both as an expression of his grace and to put that grace on display forever.
- The doctrine of faith: Since man is irresistibly inclined toward evil (sin), and since the sending of Jesus Christ is an expression of God's mercy and love toward the undeserving (grace), it follows that man cannot work his way into God's acceptance. Faith alone - trust in God's provision of Jesus Christ apart from works - is the only proper response for acceptance with God.
- The doctrine of repentance: Repentance is the flipside of faith. It's believing that God is merciful and gracious enough to receive sinners like us. But we cannot run into the arms of the God of love while refusing to put down our weapons of sin and raise the white flag in surrender. To repent is to turn away from your sin and self-righteousness, which enables you to cling to Christ alone for salvation from sin and eternal life with God.
- Creation: The one true God made us in his image, made us very good, and made us to be his deputy-rulers and caretakers of planet earth.
Fall: We rebelled against God's authority, thinking that appointing us as deputies was a reflection of divine fear and stinginess. This resulted in God punishing us with banishment from the Garden and with condemnation in the form of physical and spiritual death.
- Promise: Because God is the father of all humanity, he would not abandon his sons and daughters; therefore, he promised to restore our relationship to him through a Redeemer.
Fulfillment: Jesus Christ is the promised Redeemer who lived the life we could never live, died the death we deserved to die, and conquered sin and death to bring us to God.
- Finale: One day soon, King Jesus will return to usher in the restoration of all things, putting to rights everything that's wrong with the world due to our fall into sin: personal moral failure, smug self-righteousness, suffering, supernatural evil, ecological upheaval, and death itself will all give way to a perfect world under Jesus' reign.
Response: Every human being is a part of this story. By trusting in God's Redeemer, you can experience the wonder, joy, and beauty of the finale. By trusting to yourself, you will experience the very condemnation the father of creation sent Jesus to overturn.