Marriage Is a Reflection of Our Relationships with Christ

A few years ago I learned  the important lesson that marriage is a reflection of our relationship with Christ. Katie and I faced the biggest crisis of our marriage. I started pastoring Woodland Christian Church when it was fairly small. Within three years the congregation had tripled in size. I admit that before I became a pastor, I was completely unaware of how much work is actually involved in shepherding a church of even a few hundred people. I had been an Army officer, a supervisor at a distribution center for Target, and an elementary school teacher. But none of those occupations approached the amount of mental and emotional energy and sheer hard work pastoring entails!

We had no secretary or associate pastor at the time. Almost all of my waking hours were packed with studying, teaching, counseling, making phone calls, sending e-mails, meeting with people, addressing administrative responsibilities, and tending to benevolence issues. When I was home, I should have been an engaged father and husband. Unfortunately, I did not have much left for my family emotionally, mentally, or physically.

Although I was failing as a husband and father, I was able to convince myself I was still pleasing the Lord. I compartmentalized my life by saying, “I am a Christian first, a spouse second, a parent third, and an employee fourth.” Instead, I should have said, “I am a Christian spouse, a Christian parent, a Christian employee.” The danger of seeing ourselves as a Christian first and a spouse second is we can find ourselves believing the lie I bought into at the time: “If I can be a good pastor, I can please God even though I am not the best husband.” The truth is that I was a poor husband, and I should have recognized that meant I was not pleasing the Lord. Continue reading “Marriage Is a Reflection of Our Relationships with Christ”

“Pastor, YOU should talk to this person!”

As a pastor, there are two situations I find myself in at times. I’d like to explain why I handle them the way I do.

First situation: “Pastor, YOU should talk to Brian!”

James sees Brian do something he thinks is wrong, so James makes this request of me. I tell James to go directly to Brian based on:

  • Matthew 18:15 Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother.
  • Galatians 6:1 Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.

Neither verse encourages people to first go to their pastor. Instead, the verses instruct Christians to go to each other. Matthew 18:15 gives one reason with the words “between you and him alone.” In case the person repents, God desires to keep knowledge of the sin to the fewest number of people. Including even the pastor.

I might also add the verses don’t mention age or maturity. The words “you who are spiritual” is a way to refer to believers, not ultra-mature believers. Sometimes when I’ve told people they should go to the person, they say something along the lines of, “But I haven’t been a Christian long enough.”

There are only two situations where age matters:

  1. If Brian is still under his parents’ authority it would be appropriate for James to speak to Brian’s parents.
  2. If Brian is much older than James, it might be appropriate for James to encourage someone older to speak to Brian. I base this on: 1 Timothy 5:1-2 Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father [and] older women as mothers.

Second situation: “Pastor, what do you think about Brian doing _____.”

Continue reading ““Pastor, YOU should talk to this person!””

Pastoring (Shepherding) and Teaching

NOTE: Most of my posts come from letters I write to the congregation on the back of the bulletin each week. As a result, some of the posts apply more to people attending WCC, and this is one such post.

pastoring (speherding) and teaching

Ephesians 4:11 and 12 says Jesus “gave some to be…pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry.” The Greek construction of “pastors and teachers” puts the words together; in English they could be hyphenated as pastor-teacher. Since pastor means “shepherd”, Ephesians 4:12 combines the pastor’s dual responsibility of shepherding and teaching. This has made me appreciate my church background…

I was saved in Calvary Chapel, which places a strong emphasis on teaching. 2 Timothy 3:17 says “Scripture equips the man of God for every good work.” If pastors are supposed to equip the saints, and saints are equipped with Scripture, it only makes sense pastors focus on teaching. As a result, I’m thankful for the emphasis on teaching I observed at CC; however, CC didn’t have membership and as a result didn’t seem to emphasize shepherding.

When I received a youth pastor position at Grace Baptist – which has membership – my pastor and mentor, Joe Gruchacz, placed a strong emphasis on shepherding: counseling, discipling, following up with people, etc. Basically he functioned as much as an overseer as a teacher. In Acts 20:28 Paul told the elders to, “Take heed…to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church.” Peter also told elders to, “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers” (1 Pet 5:2). Since pastors are supposed to oversee or shepherd in addition to teaching, I’m thankful for the example I learned from Pastor Joe.

The church backgrounds God afforded me allowed me to observe the dual roles pastors have teaching and shepherding (or overseeing). With Pastor Doug’s arrival the two of us have been able to split these responsibilities with me focusing on teaching and him focusing on shepherding.

In an effort to ensure we’re fulfilling our roles and serving the congregation well, we decided to use Sunday night’s Evening Service to provide  updates on a few individuals. We haven’t done this before, but we (the elders) see this as a good practice and one we expect to repeat in the future. Considering the number of verses in the New Testament discussing the responsibilities believers have to each other, we think the only way these commands can be fulfilled is by being aware of how others in the congregation are doing, how you can pray for them, and whether you need to reach out to them.

Pastors are Prophets???

Pastors are prophets

If someone asked me what verse I believe most accurately describes what it feels like when I’m studying the Bible (as opposed to simply reading it) I would say 1 Peter 1:10, which says regarding the Scriptures “the prophets have inquired (or investigated) and searched carefully (or intently or diligently) to understand the truth in them. The prophets are pictured as straining to see the truth contained in God’s Word; they’re striving to understand what God has written so they can proclaim it to the people. I’ve always thought of the prophets almost like individuals standing in a dark room with very little light trying to clearly see what’s on the other side.

I don’t consider myself a prophet (as it’s listed as a separate office in Ephesians 4:11); however, prophecy is still part of the preaching of God’s Word according to 1 Corinthians 14:3, which lists three things prophecy does: He who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men. The Amplified adds, The one who prophesies [who interprets the divine will and purpose in inspired PREACHING AND TEACHING] speaks edification…” Unfortunately, we tend to think of prophecy as only predicting (foretelling) the future, but it’s much better to think of prophecy as proclaiming (forth telling) the Word of God.

This looks to one of the biggest changes to my preaching since coming to WCC almost four years ago: instead of focusing on simply explaining what verses mean (basically providing a running commentary), it wouldn’t be too much to say my greatest desire now is for people to feel like God is speaking to them through His Word during my sermons. Simply put, it’s my desire prophecy would be taking place. My prayer throughout the week is for people to hear from God through the Scriptures. Of all the feedback I could receive regarding sermons, nothing is more encouraging than, “I felt like God was speaking to me while you were preaching.”

My home fellowship and Sunday School messages will continue to be mostly verse-by-verse exposition, hoping to stir up discussion over what we’re covering, but for sermons my prayer throughout the week is always the same and it could be summarized as: “Father what do You want to say to Your people?”

Pastor Doug Connell

Simon the Cyrene

Yesterday was Resurrection Sunday and we looked back on Christ’s death, burial and resurrection in Isaiah 53. There’s an interesting event that occurred on Jesus’ way to the cross that I’d like to briefly discuss…

Although Jesus was God, during the Incarnation He took on all the physical limitations we experience (aka The Kenosis): hunger, thirst, temptation, fatigue, etc. While carrying the cross Jesus’ physical limits were reached, and He could no longer continue without help: Matthew 27:32 They found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. Him they compelled to bear His cross. Simon stepped under the load and helped Jesus carry it. In a recent sermon I shared about the difficult time I was having trying to pastor WCC by myself, but this past week in a conversation regarding how much better I’m feeling, I told Katie, “Pastor Doug is Simon.” (NOTE: Doug is the Associate Pastor we recently hired at WCC and he’s become a great friend of mine, and Katie would say the same of his wife Jessica).

With that said, please let me quickly get something out of the way: I’m not trying to compare myself to Jesus or imply any load I’ve been under compares with the load Jesus was carrying. This isn’t meant to be a comparison between Jesus and me, but between an individual helping shoulder another’s load and how that makes me think of Pastor Doug.

When I’ve talked about pictures and types before, I’ve always said they fail in certain ways: the substance or reality is always greater. That’s the case in this example too, and I’d say it’s captured in the word compelled. Matthew 27:32 and Mark 15:21 state Simon was compelled to help Jesus; it wasn’t voluntary. With Pastor Doug though, I’m regularly told, “I’ll take care of this” or “Don’t worry about it.” When the phone rings Pastor Doug says, “I’ve got it.”

It’s hard not to notice God’s fingerprints on the timing of Pastor Doug’s arrival. We recently learned Katie is pregnant, which we consider to be a tremendous blessing, but at the same time Katie describes her pregnancies as“the most miserable times of my life.” She started getting sick and I’ve been able to help her because of the help Pastor Doug has been to me. Just knowing he’s in the office taking care of things gives me peace about directing more time and energy to my family.

And I’m not the only one who’s been blessed by Pastor Doug (or Jessica for that matter). I’ve seen, heard and read Pastor Doug’s communication with people and he’s compassionate and empathetic, but he’s also firm and honest. He and Jessica both show a tremendous love and concern for others. We’re all very, very blessed God has brought them here.

Pastors (shepherds) and how they equip (feed) their flocks…

Last Sunday evening we discussed church government with a focus on the interchangeable nature of the terms elder, bishop (also translated as overseer) and pastor, learning that all three refer to the same office, with each providing a different emphasis: elder emphasizes who the man is, his office or title; bishop/overseer emphasizes what he does in overseeing the affairs of the church, and pastor (literally: shepherd) refers to an elder who’s uniquely given a heart to tend to, care for, and feed God’s flock. Here’s the message if you’re interested.

The Greek word for pastor is poimen, occurring eighteen times in the New Testament: seventeen times it’s translated as shepherd, and only one time translated as pastor in Ephesians 4:11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors (NOTE: despite the attention pastors receive, this is the only place they’re mentioned in the New Testament) and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ. The Greek construction of the words pastors and teachers indicates the two terms go together; in English they could be hyphenated as pastor-teacher emphasizing the pastor’s ministry of shepherding and teaching. John MacArthur said, “The phrase is best understood in context as a single office of leadership with the word translated ‘and’ meaning ‘in particular.’ Since pastor means shepherd, the terms go together defining the shepherding teacher.  It’s related to 1 Timothy 5:17 where Paul says, “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.” The word especially shows not all elders labor in teaching, but some will have that ministry separate from the other elders and that’s the pastor-teacher.

What I kept thinking about this week is the relationship between Ephesians 4:12 and 2 Timothy 3:17: pastor-teachers equip the saints for the work of the ministry and 2 Timothy 3:17 says Scripture equips the man of God for every good work. If pastors have the responsibility of equipping the saints, and Scripture is what they’re equipped with to do every good work God wants done, then it only makes sense that pastors would shepherd or feed God’s flock by teaching them Scripture. This explains why the one time pastors are mentioned in Scripture, they’re tied to or united with the word teaching: that is how pastors or shepherds, best tend to and care for God’s flock: feeding them God’s Word.

Learning to shepherd from being shepherded

We can all think of people God has used in our lives. Often when some time has passed it becomes even clearer why, and just how much those people were used. Pastor Joe is one of those people for me. In many ways I feel like God built my life around preparing me to be a pastor: the military, teaching elementary school, coaching, etc. all gave me skills I’d regularly use in the ministry. There was something really important missing though – something I didn’t even know was missing – and that was learning what it means to be a shepherd. If I had to briefly summarize what Pastor Joe did for me, I would say he is the man God used to show me how to be a shepherd. Many pastors might be great Bible teachers, leaders, organizers, visionaries, etc but they might not be great shepherds. Pastor Joe is a great shepherd.

Something occurred to me recently as I was reflecting on everything I’ve learned from Pastor Joe. I saw his patience and graciousness toward all the people in his care. That’s how I learned from him: watching his example…watching him shepherd others. Then it hit me: I think I learned the most about shepherding from the way he shepherded me. I learned the most about how to treat people from the way Pastor Joe treated me. It was the patience and love he showed me that really taught me.  When I started at Grace Baptist (GBC), you could say I was fresh out of Calvary Chapel. There was the way CC did things (aka: “the right way”) and the non-CC way (aka: “the wrong way”). Now don’t get me wrong: I like CC. I learned a lot at CC, especially how to teach God’s Word, but just like other churches, including WCC and GBC, CC isn’t perfect. I had lots of rough edges. I can hear some of you saying, “When you got to WCC you still had lots of rough edges” or “If Pastor Joe was such a great shepherd then why didn’t he get rid of those rough edges?” That’s fair…but believe it or not, my rough edges used to be even rougher. Pastor Joe was the very loving and patient shepherd God used to work on those rough edges. Something funny is now I deal with people and I think, “God, you do have a sense of humor, because this person is acting toward me exactly like I acted toward Pastor Joe. Please help me to be to this person like Pastor Joe was to me.”

The Body of Christ working together

There are a number of things about being a pastor that I find very, very satisfying. I’ve realized one of those things is watching people in the congregation work together.

Much of the ministry we accomplish as a body requires a number of people working together, and whenever that happens there are always different ideas, personalities, thoughts on how things should be done, etc. It requires patience of everyone involved as well as an equal level of commitment. (As a note: if I had to name the one problem that seems to arise the most when people are working together it’s when one person is perceived as not being as committed or not putting forth as much effort as the others. I think people are willing to overlook a number of things if they believe someone is working hard, but if people feel like someone’s being lazy there usually isn’t much grace shown)

Anyway, this all came to mind recently watching our Friday School come together. It’s involved a handful of women in the church putting working together and putting forth a lot of effort. This isn’t much different than many of the other ministries in our church. Whether it’s the Christmas Program, VBS, Ladies’ Conference, church workdays, etc for any of these to be a success there’s a tremendous amount of teamwork involved.

I think this is what Paul was talking about in the well-known passage in 1 Cor 12:12-26 (and a little less directly in Rom 12:3-8) where the body of Christ is compared with a physical body. Two points are obvious:

  1. Everything has to work together. Individual parts of the body can’t accomplish anything by themselves. Sometimes people are quick to point out, “Well what about Paul? Look at how much he accomplished by himself!” I’d completely disagree with that, because Paul worked with a number of people and performed very little of his ministry alone.
  2. I think it becomes clear how important it is for everyone to contribute. Every part of the body is essential. When the body is counting on a part that doesn’t contribute, everyone suffers as a result.

Be praying about how God wants to use you to benefit the Body of Christ!

Church Membership

We’ve had a number of new people to the church. We don’t approach people about becoming members, because we feel like it’s a decision people should come to on their own; however, we still want want people to know we’re a church that has membership. I think because I was saved in Calvary Chapel (which doesn’t have membership), I always held a pretty negative view of membership until I received my first pastor position at Grace Baptist. Then I saw some of the advantages of membership for the congregation and church leadership.

Membership is basically just a way to formalize commitment and call WCC home. It’s also a way for us to respond that we view you as part of our church family and will do everything we can to love and support you. While it sounds nice to say, “You should love and support everyone” it should be pretty obvious that if we tried to do that we wouldn’t help anyone effectively. I can definitely say from a pastor’s perspective many times people come to WCC and spend some time in a season where I wonder if they’re still looking around. I understand choosing a church is a big deal, requiring people to spend some weeks at different churches while they’re looking around, which is why I see the “looking around period” as a necessity. The problem is sometimes this makes it difficult for me to know who’s part of my flock. When people choose to become members, I can tell they’ve become my responsibility. Again, it sounds nice to say, “You should invest in everyone and not just people you consider to be part of your congregation” but God has called me to pastor WCC. He hasn’t called me to pastor people at other churches and He hasn’t called me to pastor people that aren’t part of WCC. If I tried to pastor all the people outside WCC I would fail as the pastor of WCC.

There’s nothing required for membership other than being a baptized Christian and attending a meeting with one of the leadership and myself and our wives. This meeting is casual and is to ensure people have the opportunity to ask us any questions about the church, while making sure you’re aware of WCC’s beliefs and distinctions. We also invite potential members to share their testimonies.

If people struggle with membership it usually relates to a perceived absence from Scripture. While I’d say the word membership isn’t in Scripture, the practice of membership allows churches to obey other areas of Scripture. For example, in 1 Cor 5:12-13 Paul challenges the church to judge those inside the church and leave judging those outside to God. How did the Corinthians know who was in and who was out? They knew whom Paul was talking about because some people had formally, publicly identified themselves with the church in Corinth while the rest of the city had not. Those who had were inside the church. They were the church’s members. Those who hadn’t were not.