Tuesday, May 31, 2011

What is a Successful Church?

Thabiti Anyabwile:

Very often churches and church leaders define their “success” in terms of numbers.  Some defend measurement as an acceptable approach to gauging progress and effectiveness.  They speak of the number of baptisms or converts, church attendance and budgets, and other numerical assessments as shorthand for “success.”  Others reduce “success” to one factor: faithfulness.  ”Whether the numbers change or not,” this group tells us, “is not the issue.  The issue is whether a leader and church have been true to God’s design and intent.”
Here’s what both points of view can sometimes miss: persons and their stories.  We can miss that behind every number are tons of persons.  And a “faithful” man may in his own way miss persons by making persons into an abstract mass of “people.”  I know that numbers tell us something about people, but only at aggregate levels, levels that become useless with individuals.  And I know that a faithful pastor will love and care for people.  But he can begin to think that people get in the way of being faithful.  What we need are ways of defining and talking about the church and the work of the ministry that tells the stories of God’s work in, with and through persons.  Isn’t the church and leadership about God’s design and will for persons?  Isn’t the best measurement of “success” what happens in, to, and with persons in all of their beauty and ugly?

 Read the whole thing HERE.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

The Shepherd's Sling and Staff

If the charge of pastoral ministry is "shepherd the flock," how, precisely, does a pastor go about doing so? What tasks are involved? Again we look to the Bible for our answer. 

A good summary of the way in which pastors care for the flock is found in Acts 6:4, where the apostles who shepherded the Jerusalem church insisted on giving themselves above all “to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” These are the two essential duties of pastoral ministry. A faithful ministry will surely involve more but must never involve less. If the pastor is a shepherd then prayer and the ministry of the word are his sling and staff – the tools he uses to care for the flock.
  • Prayer - The pastor shepherds the church by diligently praying for it, for “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (James 5:16). He prays for the church as a whole to grow in knowledge, discernment, fruitfulness, purity, unity and love. We see prayers of this kind throughout the NT (e.g., John 17; Acts 20:36; Eph 1:15-19; Phil 1:3-11). The pastor also watches over individual members by interceding for each of them regularly, just as Jesus interceded for Peter (Luke 22:31-32) and Paul remembered Timothy “constantly in [his] prayers night and day” (2 Tim 1:3). 
  • Ministry of the Word - The pastor proclaims God’s Word to God’s people: “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Tim 4:2). He declares to them “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27), the center of which is “Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). A robust Word ministry is utterly crucial, for, as pastor Mark Dever has said, “The consistent message of Scripture is that God creates his people and brings them to life through his Word.” Acts 20 highlights several important features of Word ministry: 
    • Public Word ministry - Paul taught “in public,” meaning he preached when the church was gathered together for worship. He later instructed Timothy to do the same: “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1 Tim 4:13). “The heart of Christian worship,” says R. Albert Mohler, “is the authentic preaching of the Word of God.” Word ministry in the church’s public gatherings is vital because the pastor is able to communicate God’s Word to the whole congregation at once week by week. He proclaims to them the greatness of God, the sinfulness of humanity and the hope of the gospel, and exhorts the hearers to respond in trust and obedience. Book-by-book expository preaching, which makes the point of the text the point of the sermon, should be the regular diet of the church. In addition to the church’s regular meetings, public Word ministry takes place when the pastor proclaims God’s Word at weddings, funerals and other such gatherings. 
    • Private Word ministry - Paul also taught “from house to house,” meaning he engaged in one-on-one discipleship. He visited people in their homes in order to provide more personal instruction from God’s Word. The pastor must get to know church members personally and become familiar with their unique circumstances, problems and struggles so that he can encourage them in the gospel and teach them how it applies to their lives. In so doing, he shows the members how to disciple one another. Private Word ministry also includes activities such as counseling, personal evangelism, visiting homebound members and making hospital visits. 
    • Setting an example - Paul reminded the Ephesian elders of his hard work and humble service in dependence upon the Lord and exhorted them to follow his example (cf. also 1 Cor 11:1; Phil 3:17). The responsibility to set an example of godliness for the flock is inseparable from the ministry of the Word, for the pastor’s personal walk with Christ gives weight and substance to both his public and private Word ministry. The pastor must invite the flock into his life so that they can imitate his walk. Example-setting also includes the pastor’s responsibility to identify and mentor future leaders “who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim 2:2; cf. also Titus 1:5).

Shepherding the Flock

The Bible’s favorite metaphor for pastoral ministry is shepherding. Like shepherds, pastors watch over the flock of God entrusted to them. In fact, the word translated pastor in our English Bibles (Eph 4:6) is the Greek word for shepherd. So the Apostle Paul charged the Ephesian elders, “Pay careful attention . . . to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God” (Acts 20:28). And Peter exhorted the elders of the churches of Asia Minor to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you” (1 Peter 5:2). Pastors lead, feed and guard the flock under the authority of Christ, the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4).
  • The pastor leads the flock, not in a domineering way but by setting an example of godliness (1 Tim 4:12; 1 Peter 5:3) and by serving, just as Christ did (Luke 22:26-27). He says with Paul, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1). While governing authority rests with the congregation as a whole, pastors have authority to lead because of their special responsibility to watch over the souls of the flock, for which they will answer to God: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account” (Heb 13:17).
  • The pastor feeds the flock on the Word of God, for the gospel alone “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom 1:16). The pastor is not free to feed the flock on his own opinions or on worldly wisdom, but must nourish them with the very words of God (1 Peter 4:11).
  • The pastor guards the flock from the enemies of their souls, just as Paul warned the Ephesian elders: “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:29-30). Thus the pastor must keep alert and persist in plainly declaring the word of God’s grace, just as Charles Spurgeon urged the pastors of his day:
"Cleverness and eloquence – away with them forever! If it is not the truth of God, the more cleverly and eloquently it is preached the more damnable it is. We must have the truth and nothing but the truth, and I charge the fathers in Christ all over England and America to see to this. Get ye to your watchtower and guard the flock, lest the sheep be destroyed while they are asleep."
How, exactly, does a pastor go about shepherding the flock? What tasks are involved? That will be the subject of my next post.