Online Reading (July 11, 2018)

Marriage: David Mathis has a decent article on the picture marriage is of Christ’s love for the Church.

Church Revitalization: Thom Rainer gives reasons for his optimism about a coming wave of Church revitalization.

Holiness: Over at the Cripplegate, a decent article on how to know you’re growing in holiness when struggling with anger.

Weather: Tropical Storm season begins for us in Newfoundland.

Sermon: TGC word of the week promotes a timely message about how buzz and belief are different things.

Reflections on my First Year of Pastoral Ministry

This week marks one year since I first arrived in Korea and began to preach at the English Worship Service at Sangdang Presbyterian Church. I have to say that pastoral ministry is greatly different than I had imagined it to be, though I’m betting much of that has to do with the different kind of ministry I’m part of. I also know a little better why pastors give newbies like me the advice that they do. Here at the end of the first year, I figured I would say a few of the things I’ve learned (in no particular order).

1. Carry a pen and paper everywhere.

This has a few reasons, but the biggest is that pastors often get told the most important things as an aside halfway through a conversation. It’s a good practice to be able to write down, as soon as is practical, information you will need to remember so that you can pray for and better love your congregation. It also helps you keep straight the things people are expecting you to do. Remember to sync that information with your day planner.

2. Loving people is work.

Pastors are expected to love their congregation members, and that is not always easy. This is not just because the members of your church are sinners, but because you are at heart a sinner. Myself, I am often struggling with my desire to always be right, and holding my tongue over unimportant criticisms for the sake of the relationship is difficult for me. I often want to defend myself against (perceived) attacks, rather than see the Gospel as central. As a pastor, I am finding I need prayer and repentance more than I had expected. Honestly, it’s easier to see the grace of God now, since I know that any good done through my ministry is going to be Him.

The upshot is that pastors cannot do the easy thing and just hang out with the people who they find it easy to like. That is to be lazy, and is also a bad habit you don’t want your congregation to pick up.

3. Preach the Gospel!!!! be ready for change (and for no change).

It is the pastor’s job to, in season and out of season, preach the Gospel to people who may or may not be willing to hear it and be changed. Sometimes pastors face the difficulty of dealing with hard hearts who will simply show up Sunday after Sunday (or stop showing up). Other times, the Gospel will find soft hearts, but that is not going to be any less difficult. The Word of God changes people’s lives, and repentance can be messy.

4. Sometimes critics are your best friends.

It’s very easy to bask in the good things people say after you preach a sermon that reached them in a good way. That said, not everything you say is going to be golden, and in your congregation may be people who see your errors faster than you do. With my own ministry (with a high turnover rate), catching your errors and misstatements can be more important, since you will have a very small window to correct your mistakes.

This is also why you need to train your congregation to see God as revealed through the Bible as the primary authority, not you. Ideally, people in your congregation should be learning to ask questions of the text and of your sermons, and then seeking the answers in the Bible as they listen to you. This may mean more work in dealing with criticism that may, or may not, be well-founded, but it also means that you get to learn from the congregation and how God speaks to them.

5. Do discipleship for the Kingdom of God, not for your own personal fiefdom.

Since foreigners are only going to be in Korea for a limited time, and the Koreans have a great system of discipleship in place, it’s tempting to simply see the worship service as a stopgap while people are here for a short time. After all, the fruit of work you put into discipling people will not accrue to your own ministry, but will instead be to the various places these people go after they are with you. But the scriptures say that one plants, another waters, and another reaps the harvest. Just because you have no reason to expect to reap the benefits of your work does not mean you have the right to shirk your duty to plant or water.

Besides, unless people are growing under your care, they are dying under your care. There is no 0 movement faith. You will still need to give an account for a short time of ministry with them as with a long time.

6. Make sure you have supports.

A pastor is human. That’s not always realized by the people in your congregation. You have all the same struggles regular believers have, and so like them, you need to have the supports you tell them they need. This means that you have to put time into developing “non work” friendships where you can be real, and where you can be corrected, or just have fun. Ideally, these would be the fellow members of a board of elders, but in any case, good Christian friends are just as necessary for the pastor as for the congregation. After all, a pastor is just an undershepherd, and will sometimes need to be shepherded himself.

7. Family is very important.

This might be a little controversial, but the Bible states that an overseer (or pastor) must be able to manage his own family well. This means that sometimes the congregation will have to take a back seat to your marriage, or to your children. Some say that if you take care of the Church, God will take care of your kids. I don’t see that in scripture, and instead see the command to provide for my family.

A pastor should never model the evil understanding that a job (any job) is more important than the Gospel reflection that is marriage. A pastor must love his wife as Christ loved the Church, or he is not serving his Church well, or the Gospel.

Some would say that’s easy for me to say, as I’m a single pastor. Well, if so, it’s one of very few things made easier by being a single pastor.

8. Pastors should, ideally, be married.

This one hurts to say since I am not married (and given my present ministry am unlikely to be married anytime soon). I am not saying that every pastor must be married, or that there are not benefits to not being married (I am able to place more effort into Christian service than married pastors), but I am saying that a married pastor is probably in a better position in many ways.

In the first place, the pastor can thus better model in his life what a Christian family should look like, and also get the sanctification that comes from being married (having a spouse means having someone who will know all your sin, so you won’t as easily be able to hide it, and thus will have to face it for the sake of the marriage). A wife is also a complement to your ministry, as she would ideally provide the emotional support a pastor will often need, as well as the sympathetic ear and a person who you can be perfectly honest with. Note: I am not saying that she needs to perform ministry duties in the Church beyond what other Church members provide. She should be a committed Christian, and thus a member of the Church, but there is no church office of “Pastor’s Wife”.

I don’t think this is a type of “grass is always greener” syndrome, as I am aware that marriage adds many stresses (and children many more). Nor do I think I am saying that being a single pastor is wrong (or else I’d resign). I am just saying that a godly marriage is usually beneficial for a pastor.

Anyway, that’s all the reflections for the moment. Comments anyone?

Online Reading (October 30, 2007)

Family: Al Mohler reports on a sociologist who believes that the family is a central basis for democracy.

Statistics: Interesting numbers about Americans and their opinions on Evangelicals.

Legalities: Apparently, trying to ship motor oil on an airplane is a very serious offense. Even for poor missionaries helping war orphans in Sudan.

Safety: Car seats, not just for cars anymore.

Dreading Monday

Well, it seems that Summer is almost over for me. On Monday I begin the orientation week at the college, marking the beginning of my last year of M.Div. (provided I complete this year successfully). Luckily. this is the only week I will have to spend at the college for the remainder of the semester, as I will be doing an internship at my local congregation for the fall. I am looking forward to that.

But why do I dread Monday then? Well. that’s kind of hard to explain. It stems mostly from my own exodus from the Anglican Church, and the subsequent decisions of the Church’s ruling body (General Synod) this past summer.

That this General Synod resolves that the blessing of same-sex unions is not in conflict with the core doctrine (in the sense of being creedal) of The Anglican Church of Canada.

Now on its face, this would only be a commentary on the veracity of the blessing of same sex unions. Unlike other Churches, this actually does alter the doctrine of the Church and represents the Church at least not being hypocritical (as would be the case if they claimed that doctrine prohibited same sex blessings, but that the Church could do them anyway). The Anglicans did the reverse, and stated that doctrine allowed it, but denied that dioceases had the authority to perform them yet (in a separate resolution).

The problem lies, however, in the way that this resolution works to interpret the creeds that the Anglican Church of Canada affirms. By stating that same sex blessings do not conflict with doctrines based in the creeds, it demands that any affirmation of the creeds must be interpreted in such a way as it allows for the blessing of same sex unions. So if, for example, I took the standpoint that when I affirm that “I believe in God the Holy Spirit, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, and who with the Father and Son is to be worshipped and glorified, He spake by the prophets“, and believe that to mean that what is recorded in scripture as by the prophets is thus spoken by the Holy Spirit, I would be wrong according to the Anglican Church, since it is those same prophets that seem to speak against homosexuality.

Thus in a real sense, the doctrine of the Anglican Church seems to, at least in this instance, disaffirm the authority of scripture as I understand orthodox Christianity to hold. The result is that, while the practice of the Church remains largely orthodox for the time being, the doctrine of the Church (which is far more important) has already moved away from Orthodoxy.

And there is my problem. I am simply not completely sure anymore that the Anglican Church of Canada still represents an expression of Christianity, and thus I fear it may be inappropriate for me to take part in worship (or possibly lead worship) when I may not actually be part of the same religion anymore. i believe the scriptures are Go-breathed, through the prophets, spoken by the Holy Spirit, and it doesn’t look like the Anglican Church agrees with me.

(sigh) Some days I wonder if I shouldn’t have stayed teaching in Korea.

Online Reading

Calvinism: Mark Dever continues to ask where all these Calvinists came from.

Geo-politics: Phillip Yancey, quoting eminent theolgian Lamin Sanneh, points out (no doubt contraversially) guilt and projection concerning Christian history.

Harry Potter: I’m almost glad I’m nowhere near a book store tonight.

Books: Here’s an interview with Dave Harvey, who wrote “When Sinners Say I Do”

Property: SOCAN believes that hairdressers should pay to play music in their salons. I wonder if I’m feeling good about that cause I’m balding?

Romance Can’t Fulfill (it’s good, but it’s not God)

So, today I was rolling pennies (ah the joys of working retail), and watching a Gill Deacon rerun on the CBC (Yay, Public Broadcasting). This episode seemed to be focussed on the relationship thing, and despite the fact I wrote a bit on  it recently, I figured I should react openly to it (though now people may rightly call me “obsessed”)Probably the most objectionable part I found was the segment on the dating service for people already married (yes, you’re reading that correctly, a site dedicated to empowering philandering), called Ashley Madison. I feel bad giving the link there…

But when the interviewer asked its creator about the reason for the morality of it, he simply started to talk about feeling “unfulfilled” in marriage. Now, I’m not married, but I can guarantee that in any earthly relationship, at some point you’re going to feel unfulfilled because both members of any relationship besides the one with God are sinners.

The second segment, I believe, was a little more enlightening. It was about the Canadian documentary, lovable, which consists of interviews of several people who remain single/never marrieds in their 30s, 40s and 50s. It chronicles the sense of loss, and in some cases failure of being single at these ages and not wanting to be.

What was interesting to me was that the director seemed to hit the nail on the head when he alluded to the need for romance in relationships. He pointed out that there were often other things at play in most instances of romantic love, that can lead older singles to discount great people from the dating circle because they don’t give you the hormone charged high that you got in your teens and 20s. It’s an unrealistic high (that if you keep, will probably have you on Ashley Madison 10 years after successfully marrying).

To put it in religious terms, one of the most prevalent idols in modern times (and especially in my own life) seems to be the desire for romance rather than love and family. Romance is good and noble in its proper place, but it is not going to fulfill you (that’s Jesus’ job), and it isn’t even the center of a good marriage (Jesus is that too).

This is not to say that I don’t seek romance. Quite the opposite, I am even using online dating services like Plenty of Fish (free, but I don’t recommend it, there are a lot of nuts there….. like bloggers who talk to themselves in public), Christian Cafe (pay service that at least limits to self-described Christians, if you ever join it, send me a message, it’ll make me feel less like I’ve wasted my money), and eharmony (the cadillac of singles sites, but too rich for my blood beyond the trial period).

But in the end, as a single in my 30s (33 in 2 weeks), who desires a family greatly, it’s clear that Christ has to be the center, or I’ll end up following the world in placing too much on my wife and kids if God ever blesses me with them. It’s a hard struggle, but a necessary one, as no false gods will fill the role only the one true God can. In the end they are worthless in comparison to Him.

Online Reading

Truth (and epistemology): Dr. Russ Moore asks an important question of postmodern emergent, based on his earlier conversation with Tony Jones of Emergent Village.

Harry Potter: Seems some of the leaks of the Harry Potter ending are genuine.

Theology: Albert Mohler may have an example of what I termed loose thinking

Review: Tim Challies reviews “Jesus the Evangelist”, a new book by Richard Phillips