The Cross, Our Life, and Christian Ministry

1 Corinthians 2:2:

For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

Roy Ciampa and Brian Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians (Eerdmans, 2010), page 114:

In contrast to “the wise” in Corinth and in the church, who could expatiate endlessly on all sorts of subjects, all Paul wanted to talk about was “the cross of Christ” (1:17). On first blush this may seem rather narrow and limited. After all, Paul spent eighteen months in Corinth and would have engaged in pastoral work alongside evangelism. However, as 1 Corinthians 1:10–4:17 itself demonstrates, for Paul even the most practical ills, such as divisions and problems of leadership in the church, are remedied by focusing on the cross. For Paul, Christ crucified is more than just the means of forgiveness and salvation; rather, it informs his total vision of the Christian life and ministry.

Pray For Your Pastor

John Newton, in a letter dated July 26, 1776 and published in The Christian Correspondent (1790), pages 131–132:

How fast the weeks return—we are again upon the eve of a Sabbath. May the Lord give us much of his own Spirit on his own day. I trust I have a remembrance in your prayers. I need them much—my service is great.

It is, indeed, no small thing to stand between God and the people—to divide the word of truth aright—to give every one portion—to withstand the counter tides of opposition and popularity—and to press those truths upon others, the power of which, I, at times, feel so little of in my own soul. A cold, corrupt heart is uncomfortable company in the pulpit.

Yet in the midst of all my fears and unworthiness, I am enabled to cleave to the promise, and to rely on the power of the Great Redeemer. I know I am engaged in the cause against which the gates of Hell cannot prevail. If He died and rose again, if He ever lives to make intercession—there must be safety under the shadow of his wings: there would I lie. In his name I would lift up my banner, in his strength I would go forth, do what he enables me, then take shame to myself that I can do no better, and put my hand upon my mouth, confessing that I am dust and ashes, less than the least of all his mercies.

Happy Birthday Thomas Boston

Puritan minister and author Thomas Boston was born on this day (March 17) 335 years ago [ht: Nathan Sasser]. Just about everything Boston wrote is worth reading, but especially the personal covenant that he wrote at the outset of his pastorate:

A Personal Covenant
by Thomas Boston
August 14, 1699

I, MR. THOMAS BOSTON, preacher of the gospel of Christ, being by nature an apostate from God, an enemy to the great JEHOVAH and so an heir of hell and wrath, in myself utterly lost and undone, because of my original andthomasboston.jpg actual sins, and misery thereby; and being, in some measure, made sensible of this my lost and undone state, and sensible of my need, my absolute need of a Savior, without whom I must perish eternally; and believing that the Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of the eternal God, is not only able to save me, by virtue of his death and sufferings, but willing also to have me (though most vile and ugly, and one who has given him many repulses), both from my sins, and from the load of wrath due to me for them, upon condition that I believe, come to him for salvation, and cordially receive him in all his offices; consenting to the terms of the covenant.

Therefore, as I have at several opportunities before given an express and solemn consent to the terms of the covenant, and have entered into a personal covenant with Christ; so now, being called to undertake the great and weighty work of the ministry of the gospel, for which I am altogether insufficient, I do by this declare, That I stand to and own all my former engagements, whether sacramental, or any other way whatsoever; and now again do RENEW my covenant with God; and hereby, at this present time, do solemnly COVENANT and ENGAGE to be the Lord’s and MAKE a solemn resignation and upgiving of myself, my soul, body, spiritual and temporal concerns, unto the Lord Jesus Christ, without any reservation whatsoever; and do hereby give my voluntary consent to the terms of the covenant laid down in the holy scriptures, the word of truth; and with my heart and soul I TAKE and RECEIVE Christ in all his offices, as my PROPHET to teach me, resolving and engaging in his strength to follow, that is, to endeavor to follow his instructions.

I TAKE him as my PRIEST, to be saved by his death and merits alone; and renouncing my own righteousness as filthy rags, I am content to be clothed with his righteousness alone; and live entirely upon free grace; likewise I TAKE him for my ADVOCATE and INTERCESSOR with the Father: and finally, I TAKE him as my KING, to reign in me, and to rule over me, renouncing all other lords, whether sin or self, and in particular my predominant idol; and in the strength of the Lord, do resolve and hereby engage, to cleave to Christ as my Sovereign Lord and King, in death and in life, in prosperity and in adversity, even for ever, and to strive and wrestle in his strength against all known sin; protesting, that whatever sin may be lying hid in my heart out of my view, I disown it, and abhor it, and shall in the Lord’s strength, endeavor the mortification of it, when the Lord shall be pleased to let me see it. And this solemn covenant I make as in the presence of the ever-living, heart-searching God, and subscribe it with my hand, in my chamber, at Dunse, about one o’clock in the afternoon, the fourteenth day of August, one thousand six hundred and ninety-nine years.

T. BOSTON

Pastoral Perseverance

From a seminary lecture by J.I. Packer to class of pastors:

You can define fellowship as toing and froing. That’s as good as definition as any. Fellowship is a two-way street not just a one-way street. [As pastors] we should look to those for whom we minister to give us what they have got. What that means will vary from one situation to another, but at the least one trusts it will be love and good will, which we should humbly receive.

If we are not thinking of fellowship as a two-way street then the chances are that, in our constant giving out, we shall become, in our mindset, conceited rather than humble, and self-sufficient rather than God-reliant, and maybe we will become Christian workaholics because we so love the feeling of giving out right, left, and center. Then we have burnout and breakdown, and we shall thoroughly deserve it. Are you with me? It’s the two-way street of fellowship that keeps us going. It’s the receiving of love and support from others as we seek to share with them. Maybe they have more than love and support to give us—maybe they have some wisdom to give us, too.

Go into every relational situation with Christians expecting to receive as well as to give and you will get through your 40s, and your 50s, and your 60s, and your 70s and you will still be rejoicing in the Lord. It’s a mindset thing, but it’s very foundational.

Introverts in the Church [book review]

Imagine you are called to ministry, but you are introverted. What do you do? Do you choose academic ministry and a life of reading, writing, and libraries? Perhaps, but what if you discover that the academic road is a mismatch? What then? Wing it as an introverted pastor in a local church? Or do you simply resign and leave church leadership to the extroverts?

This was Adam McHugh’s dilemma.

Just as McHugh was about to drop his resignation letter in the mailbox to discontinue his ordination process and leave his ministry hopes in the dust he paused, put the envelope in his pocket, and began to rethink the place of introverts in the church. His heart struggle and the ensuing research on this topic are now available in his newly published book Introverts in the Church: Finding our Place in an Extroverted Culture (IVP, 2009).

He writes:

Even before I began pastoral ministry, I was convinced that my personality excluded me from it. There was no room in ministry for someone of my disposition—or so I thought. In my mind at that time, ideal pastors were gregarious, able to move through crowds effortlessly, able to quickly turn strangers into friends. They could navigate diverse social circles and chat about any number of topics. They thrived in the presence of people and were energized by conversation and social interaction. Though they could work alone, their pulses quickened when they mingled among the people of their communities. They were charismatic and magnetic, capable of drawing all kinds of people to themselves by virtue of their likeability and able to persuade people to follow them based on charm alone. I saw them surrounded by eager church members, percolating with warmth, streaked with the admiration of their community.

I, by way of contrast, relished times of solitude, reflection and personal study. I enjoyed people, and I found satisfaction in depth of relationship and conversation, but even when I spent time with people I liked, I looked forward to moments of privacy. I found crowds draining. I could stand up in front of hundreds of people and preach a sermon without nervousness, but I often stumbled through the greeting time afterward because my energy reserves were dry.

Though I did not know this eight years ago, there is a label for this personality feature that I once thought crippled my potential for ministry: introversion. (11–12)

Partly, McHugh writes to expose what he considers to be an extroverted bias in our culture and in the church. “In mainstream American culture (in schools, corporations, and social institutions), those who are talkative, outgoing, energetic and assertive have a decided advantage. People who enjoy reflection and solitude, and listen more than they speak, are often viewed as enigmatic, antisocial and passive” (16). He quotes The Atlantic writer Jonathan Rauch (another introvert) who writes that introverts are “among the most misunderstood and aggrieved groups in American, possibly the world” (17).

So what distinguishes the extrovert from the introvert? McHugh summarizes the extrovert/introvert distinction by three primary categories: (1) extroverts recharge around people; introverts recharge in solitude, (2) extroverts can receive a lot of input and can process this information on their feet; introverts retire to process input and collect their thoughts, (3) extroverts tend to be broader in their thinking, thriving on broad input; introverts tend to be more focused and research limited topics more meticulously. McHugh gives evidence that these distinctions may be rooted in biological and neurological differences (43–46).

McHugh seeks to employ the introverted strengths for the service of the church. His repeated conclusion: “In our day, I am convinced that introverts are an important ingredient in the antidote to what ails evangelism. Our slower pace of life, our thoughtfulness, our spiritual and intellectual depth, and our listening abilities are prophetic qualities for the evangelical community” (31). In other words, introverted pastors can provide a church with a level of theological and spiritual depth and are suited to strategically disciple young men in the church.

In the celebration of the introverted strengths, however, the author is careful to ensure that introverted tendencies are never used as an excuse to avoid uncomfortable self-sacrifice for others (63), never an excuse to avoid fellowship and community (86–112), and never an excuse to avoid personal evangelism (170–186).

McHugh—a Presbyterian pastor—is most persuasive when he argues that biblical pastoral qualifications (eg Titus 1:5–8, 1 Tim 3:2–7, 1 Pet 5:1–3) do not favor extroverts over introverts. “The mark of godly leadership is not a magnetic personality; it is discipline, because discipline develops character” (123). Jonathan Edwards is one historical example of introverted leader he focuses on. Edwards was a disciplined introvert who led by his “relentless, probing intellect” and his “powerful, personal devotion.” Such a man will “radiate both the light and the heat of the gospel” (133). But nothing is mentioned of Edwards’s clumsy relational flubs (like the “young folk’s Bible” episode).

Conclusion

McHugh’s book investigates new territory, and because of this will likely attract a lot of attention. It will at least begin to help clarify the value/role of introverted pastors today (and throughout history), the value/role of introverted church members, and even how to reach the lost introverts of our communities with the gospel.

But you may not agree with everything. At times sections of the book lacked theological precision, some examples revealed a fuzzy polity, there was a heavy use of non-theological sources, an eclectic mix of ministry examples (some of whom I find theologically disagreeable), and the predictable trappings of therapeutically-defined goals (e.g. “healing” and “self-acceptance”).

Ironically, for all the introvert/extrovert temperament talk and therapeutic labels, this book may actually provide what we need to redirect our attention to God’s priorities in leadership selection. A discussion such as the one in the book may help us to move away from “personality type” labels and to discover church leaders that (more importantly) conform to the biblical pattern of faithfulness and discipline. It’s not a definitive book, but Introverts in the Church: Finding our Place in an Extroverted Culture is thoughtful and will help us celebrate the diversity of gifts God has given to the church.

Exegeting A Crowd

I’ve been meaning to transcribe an excerpt from a recent message at my home church, Covenant Life (Gaithersburg, MD). Being in Louisville, perhaps, is why the excerpt from Dr Albert Mohler’s message came back to mind.

On May 4th Dr Mohler preached on The Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-23). He made these remarks at the beginning of the message:

“The crowd is so large that has been gathering over the course of this day that Jesus is required to do what a teacher must do and that is find some way to get distance from the crowd that is necessary to be seen and heard. In this case Jesus gets into a boat and goes slightly off shore in order that he might teach. The crowd is a very important factor to this passage.

The crowd is a matter of some question–some challenge, some perplexity–to us as well. Is has become clear that evangelical Christians in particular have a hard time understanding the nature of a crowd. We are tempted to think of a crowd as a great gathering of receptivity.

We understand that the crowd is gathering because something has been happening. We as evangelicals sometimes mistake a crowd for a church. It’s hard for us sometimes to understand what’s going on. Jesus helps to clarify this for his own disciples.”

–Albert Mohler, The Parable of the Sower, sermon at Covenant Life Church (Gaithersburg, MD) on May 4, 2008.