Posts in Ministry
Ordinary Ministry: Sermon Preparation

This is the first of three installments on the process of putting together a Sunday sermon from conception to delivery. I (David) will tackle the initial topic of Sermon Preparation, Kyle Beshears will handle Sermon Writing, and Brad Mills will close out the series with Sermon Delivery. It goes without saying that the content of these posts is neither exhaustive nor prescriptive.

Each of us serves as the primary teaching pastor at our respective churches scattered across the country (Washington, Alabama, and Texas). I think I speak for the whole cadre when I say that although preaching is the most visible and tangible aspect of our ministries, it is not our sole responsibility. Like most pastors, we, too, do hospital visits, have people in our homes regularly, spend time praying for our congregations daily, carry out impromptu counseling sessions at the grocery store, attend baby showers, and perform weddings and funerals. We don’t have research assistants, Scrooge-McDuck-sized book budgets, or the auxiliary staff to delegate our less noticeable responsibilities (nor do we wish to!). In truth, this is a “behind the pulpit” look at different aspects of the sermon writing process from three very ordinary, mercurial, and low-key Pastor John Does for the ilk.


Outside of eating a large steak, there are few things you should attempt to do in one sitting. This includes writing a sermon. A shotgun sermon is easily recognized. The preacher inevitably uses volume, pace, and charisma to distract you (and himself) from his uninspired content, shortage of cohesion, and lack of biblical depth. So, let me start with a commandment: Thou shall not write your sermon in one sitting.

A sermon isn’t something I need to knock out; it’s a holy task that I have the privilege of doing. Because of this, I take the morning portion of the first three days of the week to carefully craft the embryonic draft of my message—all in all, around 15 hours in toto. The scope of this post is to give you a window into the first day of my process, sermon preparation, where I listen, pray, meditate, organize, and read.

I am a strange bird (if I had to pick, maybe an Amazonian Royal Flycatcher) who adores productivity and detailed workflows. What follows is my actual sequential todo list for sermon prep with some color-commentary along the way. I don’t slavishly tick every box each week. In truth, I would make a terrible Pharisee, as rule-following is not one of my strengths. But as Benjamin Martin tells his young sons before teaching them to kill the British: “Aim small, miss small.” That said, let’s start with Garfield’s least favorite day of the week: Monday.

After preaching on Sunday, I completely understand why a large portion of pastors choose to take Monday off. But even if I tried to make Monday a Sabbath, I would end up spending a majority of it analyzing and evaluating the previous Sunday, feeling the pressure of writing another sermon, the guilt of not following up with new guests, and delaying responses to the feedback I received from our parishioners. What should be a day of rest, ends up being a day of stress. Why give what is arguably one of my most distracted days of the week to my family? For that reason, I wake up early Monday morning, make a cup of coffee, spend some time with the Lord, and jump right in.

Listen

The first thing I do is acquaint myself with the passage. I want to know it inside and out. Oftentimes, I will take on the venture of translating the passage myself; not because I think I can improve on the labor of biblical scholars who have done the work for me—I can’t. The reason I make the “C” grade quality attempt of translating is because it forces me to slow down, to account for every word, and wakes me from the haze of familiarity with the passage. If you don’t translate the passage, I would encourage you to read the text in at least five different translations: (ESV, NIV, NKJV, NASB, and CSB).

Pray

Before doing anything else, I write down one sentence and say it out loud—“I don’t need to unlock the meaning of this passage, God loves to speak to his people.” I do this every time I sit down to work on my sermon. I could try to explain the reasoning behind my confessional-mantra, but I think John Webster says it better when he writes, “As Word, God is not absent or mute but present and communicative, not as it were waiting to be ‘made sense of’ by our cognitive or interpretative activities, but accomplishing in us the knowledge of himself.”1 My refrain reminds me that God is with me, that he has not surrendered his prophetic office, it fights off functional deism, and aligns the posture of my soul to receive: it’s God’s Word, his church, and, therefore, it is ultimately his sermon.

Meditate

My next step is to copy and paste Sunday’s text in a Word Document and export the file as a PDF for annotation. You could just as easily print it and use the analog pen and paper. But I’m from the digital generation that would rather text than call, I have terrible penmanship, and I’m too cheap to pay for ink cartridges.

I read the text two more times, and then on the third read, I do so with pen in hand (read: Apple Pencil). Now, it’s time to throw the spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks. This is a safe place, I don’t have to publish this document, so there are no bad ideas here. This is my naked and unashamed time with the passage before I have to put on my Sunday fig-leaves and pretend that I know what I'm talking about.

I highlight keywords, action verbs, causal adverbs (e.g., because, therefore, as, since), and discourse markers. I make a list identifying setting and characters, read cross-references, jot down any and every question that comes into my head, possible illustrations, and then try to divide the passage into three sections that correspond to possible points for the sermon.2 Keep in mind, we’re just putting these points in our preaching cart while we peruse the rest of the store. We’re not checking out until day two.

Organize

From there, I switch mediums and transition to a digital note-taking app. I use Evernote, you can use whatever you want. However, you want to make sure that whatever framework you use helps you to capture, catalog, and prioritize your data and ideas.

When we begin a sermon series (our church is currently 9 months into the Gospel of Mark), I create a digital folder with individual notes nestled safely inside for each pericope we will hit along the way. As you read, experience the flora and fauna of daily life, listen to your fellowship group, or discipline your youngest child for submerging TP rolls like she’s Sean Connery in The Hunt for Red October, you will inevitably come across something you wish to remember for a later passage. Creating digital storage lockers for each passage in advance allows me to have a safe place to put nuggets, quotes, illustrations or whatever else I run across in a note for a passage that I may not be preaching for another 6 months.

The first thing I do when opening the note for this Sunday’s passage is read through anything I stashed there previously. Sure, some of it is fake news, or no longer pertinent. Just delete it. But every week, there’s at least one gem that I had evidently forgotten about, and I’m thankful that it’s right where I left it.

After this, I create section headings in the note for each individual verse in my pericope (e.g., one heading for Mark 9:38, one for v. 39, and so on). I copy and paste the corresponding verse directly below each heading. In every step of my research, reading, and preparation, I want the text to be in my face. My hope is that I would encounter the passage so often throughout the course of that week that I commit it to memory without even trying to do so. Lastly, I copy over any significant notes or observations I made, as well any pertinent questions I still have about a certain verse, from the previous document to this one.

Read

Having spent time soaking in the text, chewing on the passage, and ideating about possible sermon points and illustrations, I am now ready to dig into the commentaries.3 Good, gospel-centered, doctrinally rich commentaries are a means of gleaning from the gifts of the Spirit poured out on the transtemporal people of God. Commentaries are another voice to add to the conversation. They can serve as a cairn to ensure you have not wandered from the trail of meaning. Certainly, you should listen with discernment and measure everything said against the Word like the Bereans (Acts 17:11). Commentaries are not infallible (neither are your sermons!), but they can be a light to flash on a murky passage where the meaning seems obfuscated. 4

I read commentaries with my head on a swivel. I bounce back and forth from my digital document to the book in front of me. I read notes on a particular verse with my questions in mind. I jot down nuances, differing views, and very sparingly pull out direct quotes when they absolutely capture the best way to articulate the point (make sure to cite your sources!).5 After consulting five or so commentaries, I stop there for the day and move on to other pastoral duties. While this may sound like a heavy load for the first day of sermon prep, all in all, this usually takes up the first three hours of my Monday morning (8:00–11:00 AM).

Final Thought

Well, that’s the last stop on the sermon prep train. And while I’m sad to leave you, I take comfort in the fact that I’m putting the baton in the capable and more-experienced hands of Kyle Beshears, who will continue the next installment in the series by delving into the actual process of writing a sermon. But before we say goodbye, I want to leave you with one final word on sermon preparation.

One of the most important, yet sadly most neglected components of sermon preparation is the people. The congregation is not a distraction from your studies, they are an integral part of them. Your sermon should have one foot in the heart of the biblical author’s intended meaning and the other in the collective heart of your people. You cannot do that when you sequester yourself to an ivory tower all week to prepare for your keynote address. It’s an impossible task to contextualize your message if you refuse to or refrain from actually shepherding in your context.

A good sermon should prick consciences, call to repentance, relay grace, comfort the hurting, inspire the weary, wake the apathetic, highlight virtue, make Christ exclusive, spur obedience, instruct the faithful, further the Great Commission, and make the gates of hell tremble. If it sounds hard, that’s because it is (James 3:1). The gravity of this aspect of my ministry weighs heavy on me—and I think that’s right. It keeps me humble, dependent on the Lord for mercy, and ensures that I don’t take advantage of the godliness of our congregation who would love me even if I bumbled for an hour from the pulpit. By God’s grace and through the Spirit’s strengthening, I urge you to do the hard work of sermon preparation.

  1. John Webster, Word and Church: Essays in Christian Dogmatics (Edinburgh; New York: T&T Clark, 2001), 64. ↩︎
  2. I limit myself to no more than three sermon points—the third always being the shortest. If it seems like you can’t possibly restrict yourself to only three points, better to break the text up into a two-part sermon than breaking the back and favor of your congregation by making them sit through an hour long homily. I’ve accepted the fact that I’m not John Piper, and if you’re still reading this article, respectfully, you’re probably not Pastor John either. No one wants to hear you preach for an hour; not even your parents. ↩︎
  3. In my almost 15 years of ministry, I’ve noted two extremes when it comes to pastors and commentaries. The first extreme is to think you don’t need them; to assume that your gifting and unction of the Spirit is so great that you don’t need to consult the saints of the past or stuffy scholars of the present. To that, I would say a few things. First, biblical interpretation is a dangerous place to be novel. Second, well, let me just let Spurgeon say it: “The man who never reads will never be read; he who never quotes will never be quoted. He who will not use the thoughts of other men's brains, proves that he has no brains of his own.” Third, if your assurance of having the Holy Spirit is the reason you don’t need to listen and learn from others, what gives you the right to presume that your congregation—who shares in the same Spirit (1 Cor 12:13)—should listen to you?

    The second extreme when it comes to commentaries is to be a homiletical sluggard: sleeping all week on your duty to labor in the Word and then making a mad dash to plunder the silo of the ant. I won’t belabor the point, but if this cracked, glass slipper fits, I would point you to an article I wrote for The Gospel Coalition on the temptation and dangers of plagiarism.

  4. If you’re unsure of which commentaries to use, I often consult Don Carson’s New Testament Commentary Survey, Tremper Longman’s Old Testament Commentary Survey, Best Commentaries, and reach out to pastor-friends for recommendations. ↩︎
  5. Too few quotations, and your people will assume you didn’t do the leg work to study. Too many, and they’ll assume you didn’t do the leg work to write your own sermon. It’s a lose-lose, really. But here’s a good rule of thumb. If you can present your sermon as a conference paper then it’s not a sermon; it’s a conference paper. ↩︎
MinistryDavid Kakish
3 Reasons Pastors and ‘Authors’ Should Never Plagiarize

This post originally appeared on The Gospel Coalition.


What’s the difference between a pizza and a seminarian? A pizza can easily feed a family of five.

I never thought that joke was funny. However, when we first moved to seminary, it was definitely true for us. With three kids younger than 4 and a host of bills, I was in desperate need of a job. I started working the 4 a.m. shift at a local grocery store to make ends meet. A few months in, I received a call from a pastor of a large, growing church who asked if we could meet after service to discuss a possible job opening. I was elated.

As I listened to him preach that evening, I was admittedly distracted while I should have been worshiping through the hearing of God’s Word. Instead, I was dreaming about the possibility of working for this man and the great opportunity it could be for our family.

I stayed after the service and met him in the back of the sanctuary. He asked me to share my testimony, asked questions about my family and the standard “where do you see yourself in five years?” Next, he told me what every young, aspiring pastor dreams of hearing from a headline speaker. He said he’d read some posts from my blog and was impressed with my writing ability. I was swooning . . . until he extended me a tentative offer.

He asked if I would be interested in being his ghostwriter.

I asked what that meant. The pastor explained that I would write blog posts, conference papers, and work on book projects for him. After this, he would look over my work, make small edits as needed, and put his name on it. Unsure of how to respond, I just stood there staring at him with a blank look on my face.

Without thinking, I blurted out, “I’m not sure I understand what you’re asking me.” He commented that ghostwriting was a common practice for pastors in his sphere of influence and rehearsed a litany of well-known pastors who supposedly use ghostwriters. He closed his pitch by saying it was an honor I was even being asked, and he encouraged me to chew on it for a few days before giving him a response.

My head was spinning, and my stomach was in knots. I thanked him for his time, told him I would get back to him shortly, and walked silently to the car, where my wife and kids were waiting. I was thrilled at the possibility of not waking up at 2:30 a.m. five days a week to sort through rotting vegetables, dairy, and meat products. But ghostwriting? A week later, I politely declined the position, confident that—despite his claims that this was standard fare—he was the exception and not the rule.

I was wrong.

I reached out to a contact in the Christian-publishing industry to ask: Is this normal? He replied that it is and that he doesn’t like it either.

I used to imagine pastors sitting in their studies after an hour on their knees, begging God to open the eyes of their heart, hugging their yellow legal pad and their Greek New Testament, laboring into the night to put together a message for Sunday morning. That bubble had burst.

Over the next few years, I was approached by a writing firm to perform similar services, and on multiple occasions, I have been offered thousands of dollars to write or complete doctoral dissertations. In all of this, I wondered if maybe this is just the new normal. It could be that I’m too idealistic. Perhaps I’m the weaker brother. Or maybe I’m not. Ultimately, what he was asking was to take credit for someone else’s work. Let’s call that what it is: plagiarism.

I have chewed on this issue for the last six years and want to offer some thoughts on the matter. Here are three reasons I think plagiarism is wrong and should never be practiced in the church.

1. Plagiarism Doubts God’s Power

After Peter and John were arrested for proclaiming the name of Jesus, they stood and gave testimony to the assembled Jewish leaders that salvation exists in no one else. How did their accusers respond? Luke tells us:

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. (Acts 4:13)

God’s power still echoes through these earthen vessels. We should preach with the hopes that those who hear will be astonished, recognizing that we, too, have been with Jesus. Plagiarism squanders God’s promise to be with us always and exposes that we believe we need to fend for ourselves.

Stealing the work of others insinuates that he will not give us the words of life for the nourishment of his church. It questions the calling, unction, and gifting of the Spirit in our lives. Plagiarism doubts God’s power to work in and through us for his purposes.

2. Plagiarism Refuses to Boast in Weakness

Pastors often feel crushed by the constant pressure to perform. The number-one reason people usually give for leaving their church is that they “aren’t being fed.” With enough sobriety to know they aren’t the next John the Baptist, John Chrysostom, or John Piper, some pastors look to upgrade their ammunition by raiding someone else’s armory.

This is a travesty.

Presuming enough of a sense of calling to stand in God’s pulpit, but not enough to believe he’s gifted us to use it, plagiarism convinces us that God’s church is built on the strong and not through the weak. It covets the abilities of others while embracing the lie that God’s been withholding something from us. Plagiarism operates under the premise that our ability to articulate profoundly and uncover penetrating new insights in the Scriptures somehow adds something to the potency and persuasiveness of the gospel message.

God’s grace is sufficient, and his power is made perfect through our lack of words, mental prowess, busyness, and lack of confidence. If we are faithful with our five talents, we will hear the same resounding “Well done, good and faithful servant! Enter into the joy of your master” as the pastor with ten (Matt. 25:21).

3. Plagiarism Fails to Give Honor Where Honor is Due

I knew one pastor who began “preaching” a sermon by saying, “Now, this is not original to me.” Then he proceeded to read an entire sermon written by someone else verbatim, feeling as though he’d covered his bases. The sermon he was reading, of course, was written by a famous pastor who employed a team of writers. The irony is that his sermon also began with the words, “Now, this is not original to me.”

While you are called to be all things to all people, you can’t be all things and all people. The church, not the Christian, constitutes the body of Christ. It requires each part working correctly to make the entire body grow (cf. Eph. 4:16). While I think many pastors will heartily preach this on Sundays, some struggle in their heart of hearts to grasp that “the body does not consist of one member but of many” (1 Cor. 12:14).

Plagiarism believes that giving credit means losing credibility. It diminishes the efforts of some to build the platform of one. It’s like swinging the bat with two hands for additional power, then hiding the left behind the back as we lift the right into the air for booming applause. Plagiarism violates the second greatest commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). Indeed, plagiarism is a kind of inverse gospel: It considers oneself as better than others.

Instead, the logic of the gospel should move us to celebrate others, prompting us to pay “respect to whom respect is owed” and “honor to whom honor is owed” (Rom. 13:7). Paul is so serious on this point that he ensures even his amanuensis, Tertius, gets credit for penning the letter to the Romans (Rom. 16:22). If you need a rule of thumb, here it is: Err on the side of showing honor, knowing that “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Cor. 12:26).

Parcel of Sins

Like paying your bills with a credit card, putting your name on the work of another’s may alleviate the immediate pressure of a closing deadline, but it utterly ignores the negative dividend it accrues. Plagiarism promises to save us time and garner the approval of men. However, when exposed—and in this digital age, it will be exposed—plagiarism disqualifies the perpetrator, hurts the family, confuses the parishioner, and taints the collective Christian witness.

Plagiarism is a sin. In fact, it’s a parcel of sins: pride, dishonesty, theft (even if paid for), covetousness, and collusion. Plagiarism operates in darkness under the auspices of light. Most importantly, it dishonors the God whom we claim to serve. Plagiarism is never worth it.

Affection and Pastoral Ministry

Wendell Berry writes about the way “morality, even religious morality,” is insufficient to motivate our care of the land. Knowing that we should live our lives in such a way that the land, and the people who live and work on it, are conserved and cherished is very different from actually doing it. The gap between what we should do and what we actually do is only bridged, in Berry’s mind, by affection.[1]

I think this equally applies to our concern and care for people.

We will have a hard time caring for those entrusted to us if we’re only relying on our sense of morality. We may visit the sick in the hospital, call someone who missed church, or send a note of encouragement to someone going through a difficult time because we know it’s what a pastor should do. But shouldn’t a pastor do other things too? Isn’t he supposed to preach the Word? And study to show himself approved? Shouldn’t he cast vision and lead people?

If he should do all these things, does he? Probably most of the time, but when he can’t because there aren’t enough hours in a day, what gets dropped? I think it’s the thing for which he has the least affection. Hopefully that’s not caring for people.

How can you determine if you care for people out of obligation or because you love it? Do you have a sense of “informed sorrow” for them? Is your imagination filled with a vision of what God might do in them if you give them focused attention? Do you love them?[2]


  1. Wendell Berry, “It All Turns on Affection,” in It All Turns on Affection: The Jefferson Lecture & Other Essays (Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint, 2012), 32–33.
  2. Ibid., 34.  ↩

Thoughts on Preaching and Robinson Crusoe

I often use mnemonic devices to help me with vocabulary. One I’m particularly proud of is the image I used to remember the Greek word for "I am preaching", ke̅russo̅. I imagined the stranded Robinson Crusoe, preaching to his flock of goats. I read the book—probably an abridged version—when I was a kid, so I can’t remember if this was an actual scene in the book or something that my brain came up with to help me memorize the definition of the word. Either way, it seems fitting because I can just about guarantee that, were I stranded on a desert island and isolated from other humans, sooner or later the goats would be hearing expositions and exhortations from Scripture. I love preaching God’s word that much.

Admittedly, I’ve not always thought about this love in the right way. At times I’ve loved preaching because it gave me opportunities to demonstrate what little intelligence or wit I have. At others I’ve loved the exhilaration that comes from receiving affirmation from those who heard me. But I think preaching to goats, who are neither enamored by the preacher’s intelligence nor able stroke his ego with affirming words, would surely test this love. This experience would probably clarify something essential to biblical preaching: Who am I preaching for?

The commendable preachers of Scripture weren’t preaching for themselves, to be seen as wise or intelligent, to receive money or fame. They preached for the glory and fame and worship of the Lord Jesus. They preached when the likely outcome was bodily injury, social ostracization, imprisonment, or death. When their audience was goats, (in the Matthew 25 sense), those who listened patiently but refused to allow the message to have any true impact on their lives and loves. And they did it gladly.

“After calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them. So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.” (Acts 5:40–42, NASB)

Ultimately, this willingness to preach regardless of the outcome reflects the biblical understanding of the calling to preach, summed up beautifully by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 3:8—“To me, the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ.” The preacher knows that it is a grace, a gift, to proclaim the truth about Christ. He knows that it does not rest on him, a dirty castaway, but on the God who first saved him, and now enables him to declare his truth.

I love preaching because it brings me joy to share with others the unfathomable love of Christ that has captured me and compells me to preach. To study Scripture and search its depths in prayer and with help from God’s Spirit Himself. To wrestle with texts, to organize thoughts, and write line by line explanations and applications. To lift Jesus up, set Him forth, and hold Him out for careful, prayerful, worshipful reflection. It is God’s grace to me that I get to do that.

So like Crusoe in my mnemonic device, were there no one around to hear it I couldn’t keep it in, nor would I try. I’d sound like a madman preaching to goats and trees and the ocean itself. With the Psalmist I’d say, “Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; Let the sea roar, and all it contains; Let the field exult, and all that is in it. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy Before the LORD, for He is coming, for He is coming to judge the earth” (Psalm 96:11–13).

Far Be It From Me: The Scandal and Sin of Pastoral Prayerlessness

There are many ways to fail as a pastor. Moral lapses, theological error, and spiritual apathy are just a few of the more obvious ways we can harm the congregations we serve. But there is perhaps one failure that gets overlooked. We can build successful ministries, influence people with biblical truth, and give the general appearance of faithfulness without anyone ever knowing that we are prayerless men. But this is to our shame. Do we truly believe that we can properly care for the people of God without bringing their names and burdens before Him in prayer? Our prayerlessness indicates we do. More than that it underlines the reality that we have drifted from the biblical and historical view of what it means to be a pastor.

Two stories from 1 Samuel demonstrate how seriously spiritual leaders (prophets and priests) took their responsibility to pray for the people in their care. The first comes from Samuel himself. After anointing Saul as king over the people, Samuel tells them they have committed evil against YHWH by asking for a king to rule them (1 Sam. 12:12–18). The people recognize their sin and say to him, “Pray for your servants to the LORD your God, so that we may not die” (12:19). Samuel’s response is telling, especially when he considers his role in their future obedience: “Far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you; but I will instruct you in the good and right way” (12:23). For Samuel, prayer for the people is such a vital part of his role that to abandon the practice is unthinkable. More than that, to neglect this prayer is “sin against the LORD”.[1]

A second story comes later in the book after YHWH has rejected Saul and chosen David as king. David was on the run from Saul and came to Nob where Ahimelech the priest gave him the consecrated bread for food and Goliath’s sword (1 Sam. 21:1–10). When Saul hears that Ahimelech has aided the fugitive David, he sends for all the priests and interrogates them on the charge of treason. In his paranoia, Saul accuses the priest of giving David food and arming him with a sword, as well as having “inquired of God for him”—that he sought to determine God’s will and seek His help for David’s mission against Saul. Ahimelech’s answer again demonstrates how essential this prayer was: “Did I just begin to inquire of God for him today? Far be it from me!” (22:15). Ahimelech’s intercession for David was not unique, but rather a normal part of his role as priest that he was bound to carry out.[2]

Turning to the New Testament, we again see the central role of prayer when we examine the Apostle Paul’s relationships with the churches to whom he wrote. He tells the Romans, he “unceasingly” mentions them in his prayers (Rom. 1:9), as he does the Ephesians (Eph. 1:16) and Philippians (Phil. 1:3–4). That these prayers are made “unceasingly” indicates the importance Paul attributes to them—as if they are essential for the churches’ growth in Christ. Beyond Paul’s personal example, we have the instruction in James for the elders to pray for the sick that they might be healed (Jas. 5:14). The prayers of pastors for their people are essential to God bringing about His healing purposes in their lives.

With this quick biblical picture in mind, it is no wonder that, “For the majority of Christian centuries most pastors have been convinced that prayer is the central and essential act for maintaining the essential shape of the ministry to which they were ordained.”[3] Indeed, Derek Prime and Alistair Begg argue that it is the “principal and main work” of pastoral ministry since it is the first way we exercise care for our people and the first step toward an effective teaching ministry.[4] If Scripture and historical practice tell us prayer for our people is central to fulfilling the ministry to which we’ve been called, it is truly a scandal when we neglect it. Far be it from us that a day should come when we fail to lift up the names and needs of the people entrusted to our care. God help us all be men of prayer.

  1. See Ryan Fullerton, “A Call for Pastors to Pray for Their People,” 9 Marks Journal (Spring 2016): 7–11. I am indebted to this article for prompting my reflection on this topic. See the journal for other helpful articles on making prayer a priority in your life and church, https://9marks.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/9Marks-Journal-Spring–2016.pdf.  ↩
  2. Robert D. Bergen, 1, 2 Samuel, vol. 7, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), 229.  ↩
  3. Eugene H. Peterson, Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989), 26.  ↩
  4. Derek J. Prime and Alistair Begg, On Being a Pastor: Understanding Our Calling and Work (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2004), 65.  ↩
Belief and Love
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In a time of outspoken atheism and decreasing religious affiliation, Christians might be tempted to highlight the distinction between those who believe in God and those who don't. On first glance, this approach seems helpful. At work the believers know who they can greet with "Merry Christmas"or "Happy Holidays," while students know who to group up with to discuss the new Hillsong CD. While I'm all for Christians encouraging one another, and for avoiding needless confrontation as we seek to be good neighbors (Rom 12:18), on closer inspection this distinction actually misses a more important one: those who love God and those who do not.

For one, Scripture indicates that, in one sense, belief is a relatively insignificant factor in determining one's standing with God. As James puts it, "You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder" (James 2:19). In other words, if we maintain a spreadsheet exclusively divided between "belief" and "unbelief," the demons go under "belief." That's not helpful.

The more important category is "Those-Who-Do-Something-With-Their-Belief," or those people for whom belief takes root and overflows into a life of devotion to Christ. They are those who love Jesus and "keep his commandments" (John 14:15). Indeed, "this is the love for God, that we keep his commandments" (1 John 5:3). More significantly, it is not only those who do not believe who are condemned (as the belief vs. unbelief distinction might imply). Paul puts a fine point on it: "If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed" (1 Cor 16:22). Let us not delude ourselves into thinking that mere belief is enough; "faith without works is dead" (James 2:26).

One Warning: If we were to change the way we think by shifting from belief to love as the distinguishing characteristic between the church and the world, we would have to face a startling reality, some of us may find ourselves in an unexpected column. Lord, help us love you, "not with word and talk, but in deed and truth" (1 John 3:18).

God's Purifying Work

By c. 740 BC the wickedness of Judah, particularly its political and religious center in Jerusalem, had become unbearable for the Lord. When God looked at his people what he saw was not the child he had raised to walk in his ways, but a rebellious and wayward son (Isaiah 1:2-3). They were sick, infected with a disease that spreads more quickly than any other and with more devastating effects, (i.e., sin) (1:5-6). Their religious and moral life had deviated from the ways of the Lord so much that he referred to them as "rulers of Sodom" and "people of Gomorrah" (1:10). The problem wasn't their lack of religious observance, they kept that up just fine and it had become unbearable to the God who ordained those sacrifices and festivals (1:11-16). At issue was the blood of the innocent and helpless on their hands; what God desired was their pursuit of justice (1:1-17). In what can only be seen as a public "dressing down" of his people, God offers the promise that their sins can be cleansed (1:18). If they will return to him by becoming obedient they will receive his blessing, but otherwise they can only expect destruction (1:19).

Yet even this destruction is redemptive. As the image below shows, Isaiah 1:21-26 (NIV, 1984) lays out the situation as God's sees it, his plan to "purify" them, and his ultimate purpose in this work.

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Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 10.01.40 AM

The passage centers on verse 24-25a and God's vengeance on his enemies—his people! He will right every wrong, and true justice will reign. In this way God brings genuine restoration and renewal so that righteousness and faithfulness become the very identity of those who are unrighteous and unfaithful.

In a generation marked by unrighteousness and unfaithfulness even in the church, we would do well to thank God for his purifying work. Judgment on the church is not for our destruction, but for our sanctification.

"Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God" (1 Pet 5:16-17).

Sermon: The Wonder of Creation 

The Wonder of Creation Colossians 1:15-20

Northway Church

July 26, 2015

The Pastor's Call to Evangelism

Here are two juicy quotes on the pastor's call to evangelism from John Owen's "Sermon V," delivered on September 8, 1682 at the ordination of a man to the ministry. The whole sermon is worth reading. "Christ hath not appointed his ministers to look unto themselves only; they are to be the means of calling and gathering the elect in all ages: and this they principally are to do by their ministry" (460).

"Our work is the same with the apostles'; the method directly contrary. The apostles had a work committed to them, and this was their method:— The first workcommitted to the apostles was the convincing and converting sinners to

Image Credit: Banner of Truth Works of John Owen

Christ among Jews and Gentiles, —to preach the gospel, to convert infidels;—this they accounted their chief work...And then, their second work was to teach those [who were] disciples to do and observe whatever Christ commanded them, and to bring them into church order. This was their method. Now the same work is committed unto the pastors of church; but in a contrary method. The first object of our ministry is the church,—to build up and edify the church. But what then? Is the other part of the work taken away, that they should not preach to convert souls. God forbid" (460-461).

From The Works of John Owen, Volume IX (Repr., Banner of Truth Trust; 1965), 452-462.

The Ministry of Small Talk
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peterson-square1

If you know me, you know that I hate small talk. It is the bane of my existence. There is literally nothing worse than jibber-jabbing the day away like a couple of birds on a wire. (If you know me, you also know that I NEVER exaggerate.) The triviality of it is nauseating. Discussing weather trends, what you had for lunch, or–worst of all–retelling the previous night’s dream is a mortal sin, for in partaking you become an accomplice to murder. The victim? Time. I have held this conviction firmly for quite some time now. That is, until I encountered the pastors’ pastor, Eugene Peterson, on the issue. In his book, The Contemplative Pastor, Peterson has a chapter entitled 'The Ministry of Small Talk.’ After relaying his shared aversion to exchanges of niceties, cliches, and empty platitudes, Peterson imparts his epiphany: he had an impatience with the ordinary. He recounts, “Given a choice between heated discussion on theories of the Atonement and casual banter over the prospects of the coming Little League season, I didn’t hesitate. It was the Atonement every time.” You're preaching to the choir, Eugene!

I mean, the way I see it, the latter centers around pre-pubescent boys attempting to funnel their pent up energy into a game that consists of them waiting 9 innings for the pizza party that follows every outing, win or lose. The former is concerned with the scope, intention, and effect of God’s redeeming work through his Son. As a professional community group leader, I assume my job is to corral the small talk and find a way to manipulate it into big talk. When given the option, the answer is always Jesus, right?

Despite my hyperbolizing, if my sentiments resonate with you–even just a little–perhaps Eugene’s words may be a balm for you, as they were for me.

He writes:

If we bully people into talking on our terms, if we manipulate them into responding to our agenda, we do not take them seriously where they are in the ordinary and the everyday. Nor are we likely to become aware of the tiny shoots of green grace that the Lord is allowing to grow in the back yards of their lives. If we avoid small talk, we abandon the very field in which we have been assigned to work. Most of people’s lives is not spent in crisis, not lived at the cutting edge of crucial issues…If pastors belittle it, we belittle what most people are doing most of the time, and the gospel is misrepresented…Humility means staying close to the ground (humus), to people, to everyday life, to what is happening with all its down-to-earthness.

We mount our Sinai pulpits week by week and proclaim the gospel in what we hope is the persuasive authority of “artful thunder” (Emerson’s phrase). When we descend to the people on the plain, a different artfulness is required, the art of small talk.

Eugene H. Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction, Reprint edition (Grand Rapids, Mich: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1993), 114-6.