“Regarding vocational ministers, without a doubt, there is perversion throughout the history of the clergy; such transgression was not isolated to the priests of the OT. Whether we look at the Roman Catholic sexual scandals, the adulterous, immoral relationships of some pastors, or the greed of many televangelists, no one is outside of the sting of sin. Sadly, many apparently get away with their sinful leadership. But God, who sees it all and certainly does not forget anything, holds church leaders to a higher standard. James 3:1 is a sobering reminder: “Not many should become teachers, my brothers, knowing that we will receive a stricter judgment.”
Church leaders are examined both by the Lord and by other people. Ministers’ families are constantly being scrutinized. Their finances are constantly being examined. Their material possessions are being analyzed and questioned. People from the inside and outside of the church judge their marriages, speech, actions, and attitudes all the time. Additionally, a pastor experiences the constant burden for lost family members, for backslidden church members, and of performing funerals for friends. This may be one reason why hundreds of pastors leave the ministry every single month.
Ministry is both a terrifying and a thrilling endeavor. The thought of standing before a righteous God to give an account for how His gospel was carried out is alarming. But what a privilege to be set apart for ministerial service! However, with great privilege comes great responsibility. Thankfully, One has come who carried out this responsibility perfectly. He was righteous under the law, never being led astray. Jesus stands as the quintessential priest and fulfillment of the Levitical priesthood.
Five key points can be extracted from this text as they relate to the calling of ministers:
1. Pray for their proclamation, that they would be men and women who preach and teach the gospel, the whole counsel of God.
2. Pray for their purity. The greatest gift that a minister can give is not his preaching ability, his ability to visit the sick or to comfort those who have lost loved ones, how consistently he visits hospitals, or how engaging of a counselor he is. The greatest gift a pastor can offer to his church is his personal holiness before the Lord.
3. Pray for your leaders’ marriages. The enemy would love nothing more than to destroy marriages. What God has brought together, Satan would delight in tearing asunder.
4. Pray for their protection. The enemy is likened to a roaring lion seeking to destroy and devour leaders in the church (1 Pet 5:8).
5. Pray for their perseverance. Ask God to empower them to stand firm to the end, looking to Jesus as their source, strength, and example of faithful service (cf. Heb 12:1-4).”
“British theologian Colin Gunton once argued that one shortfall of modern ecclesiology derives from the fact that it has rarely been rooted in the conception of the Triune God. This observation is worth consideration. I would argue that the unity of the Triune God, even as each member is distinct in his function to accomplish the plan of redemption provides a framework by which we can understand the unity and the mission of the church.
One might even argue that we cannot formulate a proper ecclesiology without reference to the doctrine of the Triune God. For the purpose of this article, I will utilize three of the primary New Testament metaphors for the church, namely, the people of God, the body of Jesus Christ, and the temple of the Holy Spirit, to build a framework for a Trinitarian ecclesiology. Perhaps a more comprehensive understanding of how the doctrine of the Trinity informs our ecclesiology might nourish a more holistic understanding in at least two particular areas, namely, the unity and mission of the church.”
Preparing a sermon week after week is a lot of work. Preaching a sermon week after week is also a pure joy. This past week I posted pictures of my sermon preparation process on Twitter, and several pastors and church leaders commented that it was helpful for them. I figured I would publish this blog post with a little explanation for each step.
Step 1: Examine The Text Itself
I typically plan my sermon text weeks or months ahead of time. This not only helps me plan and prepare adequately, it also allows our pastor for worship plan the entire service in light of the text.
Very early in the week I will prayerfully and attentively read the text several times, and ask questions of the text. I look for repeated words. I look for phrases or statements that need clarification or seemed to be emphasized by the writer. During this step, I typically use resources in the original languages in a very specific way, namely, to dig deeper on certain words or illuminate my understanding of certain phrases in the passage. My main goal is to understand what the text says as best I can.
Step 2: Divide The Text Into Units And Dig Deeper
Usually, the English translations of the Bible have helpful paragraph divisions that allow us to understand units of thoughts or movement in the narrative. Are there specific scenes or rational arguments that move the reader from point A to point B? If so, that is an indication of how one might break the sermon up into points? Commentaries are helpful at this step. The biblical scholars who write commentaries typically show how the text unit is divided in a literary sense.
At this step, I also read certain portions or commentaries in order to shape the language I use to explain the text. As for the use of commentaries, I try and read several scholarly hermeneutical commentaries, application-focused homiletical commentaries, and books related to the text or topic.
Step 3: Articulate The Main Point And The Subpoints Of The Sermon
I like to have the sermon outlined by Wednesday if possible. Not only does this lock me into a sermon structure, it also allows me to send the outline to the AV Team in order to produce the sermon points for Sunday as well as the Kids Director to produce the Kids Listening Guides.
The main point of the sermon is a sentence that I repeat several times throughout the sermon. In other words, when someone leaves after hearing the sermon – my goal is to have this point seared into their minds and hearts. The subpoints either serve as support of the main point or simply indicate movement in the narrative or argument of the text.
Step 4: Develop The Applications and Illustrations Of Each Subpoint
This past week, I used the application grid that has been produced by Mark Dever of 9 Marks Ministries. What I like about this application grid is that it forces me, as the preacher, to apply the text to the different groups of people that may be in the room.
For many pastors, application and illustration are the most difficult parts of sermon preparation. This portion of sermon preparation requires that you try and anticipate, as best you can, the thoughts, questions, struggles, and needs of your listeners. At this point, my goal is to press in and pray that God would provide conviction, comfort, or confidence in the listener.
I have also found it helpful to read or listen to living trusted preachers throughout the week while walking, driving or working in the yard. Often times, God uses other brothers to help clarify the explanation of the text or shape my own applications or illustrations.
Step 5: Write The Sermon In Its Entirety
I preach from a manuscript. This allows me to remain extremely focused as I preach. Therefore, I begin with my outline, and then work to clarify my explanation of the text. After these sections of the sermon are filled in, I then go back in and add the applications and illustrations. I do all of this, making sure that I restate the main point of the sermon in each section.
The last stage of preparation before printing and delivering the sermon is adding the introduction and conclusion. It is only after the completion of the body of the sermon that I am prepared to frame the sermon with initial and concluding thoughts. As an expository and theological preacher, my goal is to walk people through the biblical text in order that God’s word can be clearly understood. Where the Word of God is properly taught; when the Spirit of God opens the heart; the voice of God is properly heard.
I always ask, how many times will people hear the good news of the gospel during the service in its entirety? How many times will I proclaim the gospel and call for a response during my sermon? Could my sermon be preached as is, if Jesus did not rise from the grave? If not, my sermon is not distinctively Christian.
Step 6: Print And Preach
Once again, I write all of my sermons in manuscript/bullet point form. I typically shoot for 8-10 pages in size 12 font. When I print the sermon, I print it horizontally with two columns. This allows me to fold each page in half and punch holes for a 5-1/2 x 8-1/2 binder. I own one of these genuine leather sermon notebooks, and I love it.
Finally, before I preach, I humbly realize that all of my efforts are feeble unless God opens the hearts of the hearers under my voice. While I pray for clarity of thought and sensitivity to the Spirit throughout the preparation process, before the moment of preaching I pray that everyone within the sound of my voice will understand the text clearly, and be sensitive to the Spirit as He calls them to respond.
I am certainly no expert in preaching or sermon preparation. However, I have found this process helpful in the weekly ministry of preaching. Hopefully, you have found something here helpful. We all have our patterns and practices. If you are a pastor, how do you prepare? I would love to learn from you as well.
I am currently preaching through the book of 1 Timothy at Fairview Baptist Church. This morning we examined the qualifications of pastors/elders and deacons from 1 Timothy 3:1-13. During this particular sermon, I argued the following:
“Based on Scripture, I do believe it’s possible for women to serve as deacons in some settings.”
This statement flowed from an exegetical study, and a willingness to reexamine my own assumptions, presuppositions, biases, historical understandings, and personal filters. I am conservative in my theology. To some people, a statement like the one above is often associated with moderate or liberal Baptists.
Therefore, I would like to explain why I believe this can be the case from Scripture, and then consider how church context plays into the discussion.
The Biblical Evidence
There are basically two schools of thought. Good conservative Bible-believing scholars and pastors differ on this complex issue. Therefore, I think we should be careful by approaching it with wisdom and grace.
In 1 Timothy 3:8-13 Paul lays out the qualifications for deacons. In general, I would argue that deacons provide leadership in the service-oriented and administrative matters pertaining to the physical needs of the church (Acts 6:1-4). This is important for the qualifications listed in 1 Timothy 3:8-13, in the sense that deacons serve in areas like finances (1 Tim. 3:8), administration (1 Tim. 3:12), visitation (1 Tim. 3:11), and meeting to the needs of the church family (Acts 6:1-4).
In reference to women serving as deacons, the debate centers around verse 11 and its surrounding context, namely, does Paul mean deacons wives, deacons along with their wives, or women serving as deacons? Consider a few translations:
“In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything” (NIV).
“Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things” (ESV).
“Wives, too, must be worthy of respect, not slanderers, self-controlled, faithful in everything” (CSB).
“Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things” (NASB).
One of the first things you will notice is that the text, depending on the version, translates this verse as “their wives”, “wives too”, or “women”. First, the pronoun “their” is actually not in the Greek, the original language of the New Testament. Some Bible translators argue that it is implied, but it’s certainly not explicit. Therefore, we must admit there is some ambiguity here. Even still, it is very possible that the best translation for verse 11 is not “their wives”, but wives or women. It seems that Paul is referring to women in general or married women (wives).
Some have argued that Paul is referring to deacons as a married couple (male and female) serving together in this office. Both husband and wife could inevitably be involved in the deacon ministry to some extent and, therefore, needed to be of good Christian character. However, the absence of the pronoun “their” (as in “their wives”) makes this interpretation less likely.
The second thing to notice is the adverb “too” or “likewise”. This is important for the context. The argument is, Paul begins by addressing deacons in general, switches the attention to women in verse 11, and then to men in verse 12 (one woman man, the leader in the home), and back to deacons in general in verse 13. Paul used the word “too/likewise” in order to transition from talking about elders in verse 7 to talking about deacons in verse 8. Paul then used this same word “too/likewise” in verse 11 to transition into talking about wives or women. The more natural reading of the original language is first pastors/elders (men) likewise, to deacons likewise.
Third, why does Paul not give qualifications for pastor/elders wives? After giving specific responsibilities for male elder’s in the home (1 Timothy 3:1-7), why is there no mention of their wives?
Fourth, some may argue that based on Acts 6:3, deacons should only be men. That is because the text reads “select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task.” Acts 6:1-6 records the choice of “the seven” to diaconal service. While it does not use the technical term and noun “deacon” for their status or work, it surely provides the background to and informs the content of the New Testament office of deacon. (The Greek verb from which we get the English word deacon, to serve, is used in 6:2.) The question is, should we read this passage as descriptive of the early church or prescriptive for all churches? If we read it as prescriptive, then how does one deal with Romans 16:1, where the word often translated deacon is used of Phoebe (a woman)? Phoebe is referred to as a “servant of the church” (a specific church), which would seem to point to a diaconal role. Moreover, the description of her ministry in Romans 16:2 fits well with the type of ministry associated with New Testament deacons.
Fifth, the qualifications for deacons do not require the “ability to teach” (1 Timothy 3:2), which is a requirement given to men as pastor/elders. To be clear, I believe that the pattern of the New Testament presents the case pastoral ministry is limited to men (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6). That is much easier to argue than the case for deacons as men only. Even the Baptist Faith and Message (2000), the conservative standard of doctrine for Southern Baptist Churches makes this clear, arguing that the “…scriptural officers are pastors and deacons. While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”
The Contextual Considerations
Depending on what tradition you were raised in, you’re probably already inclined to lean toward a specific position regarding women as deacons. However, this should not be decided from our preference or tradition; it’s up to the Word. Personally, I believe that God’s word is authoritative. As the Baptist Faith and Message (2000) reads, “The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God’s revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter.”
Yet, even while we agree that the Word is the final authority, the Word is not entirely clear or explicit in this instance. While one’s tradition may lean towards a certain understanding, conservative biblical scholars are on both sides of this issue. What is clear? The primary focus of deacon ministry is centered on the service-oriented and administrative tasks primarily related to the physical needs of the church, allowing the pastors/elders (called men) to be fully devoted to the spiritual needs of the church. This is why I argued, “…it’s possible for women to serve as deacons in some settings.”
Why the qualifier “some” settings? In many Southern Baptist churches, the deacons serve as quasi-elders or a board of directors. In these cases, the deacons play a significant leadership role in the church that blurs the lines between pastor/elder and deacon. In these cases, I would argue that women should probably not serve in a deacon capacity. In other cases where the men serve as pastor/elders, and the role of pastor/elder and deacon is clearly differentiated, I think women can and should serve as deacons. Even if your church holds to deacons as men only view, I would challenge you to consider how women are serving the body. I would be willing to bet (no, I don’t gamble), many of the women are already serving in a deacon-like manner.
The central issue here, and how we answer the question, should women serve as deacons, must be shaped and limited by the word of God. All of us would recognize that we approach the word of God with assumptions, presuppositions, biases, historical understandings, and personal filters. There are Southern Baptist Churches that limit the role of deacon to men, there are other Southern Baptist Churches that have men serving as elder/pastors, and both men and women serving as deacons. This is why it is important to consider the context of the church, and why humility, openness, and community become so important in discussions like these.
Also, consider John Hammett’s “Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches” for good discussion on the textual evidence and Baptist history. Dr. Hammett comes to different conclusions but admits this is a complex issue.
I am thankful to be one of the speakers at the 2017 Together for Adoption National Conference in Atlanta, GA (September 29th-30th). The focus of the conference is “the image of God, the gospel, and the orphan”. During the conference, we will explore what the implications of being made in the image of God have on adoption, fostercare, and orphancare.
I recently joined a podcast called “The Front Pew” with Chris Griggs and Ben Rudolph. The podcast is a conversation between three pastors in North Carolina about life, ministry, church and mission as they see it…from the front pew.
This past episode, we discussed the importance of reading and offered a list of books to read over the summer. Here is our list.
“How do you start meaningful conversations about your relationship with Jesus Christ? God gives you daily opportunities to share His love with others. You don’t have to look hard to take advantage of the right moments to help other people find the love and joy of Jesus in their lives. Do you feel nervous about the thought of talking to others about your faith? In Sharing Jesus without Freaking Out, you’ll learn how to incorporate biblical stories into conversations with the people in your life. You already have the gifts necessary to share God’s love with other people. You don’t need a memorized evangelism script or a tract handy. Simply relax, tell your story, and you might be amazed at how natural it can be to share Jesus.”
A few months ago I invited Alvin Reid to Fairview Baptist Church for our quarterly leadership training. In partnership with B&H Academic and The Baptist State Convention, this seminar on evangelism was recorded as a resource for Dr. Reid’s newest book, “Sharing Jesus Without Freaking Out“. I hope these sessions challenge you and encourage you like they did our church family.