How to Make Your Pastor’s Visits More Spiritually Profitable

Joseph Pipa, Jr., writes an excellent article at Reformation 21on pastoral visits from the perspective of the one whom your pastor visits. This served as such a breath of fresh air, because I so much want the visits to be more than social calls where we catch up on family, last night’s game, the weather, and so forth.

Now, please understand: this is my church family, and I do want to talk to them about mutual interests, and especially their interests. But as you see from the excerpt below, I have a responsibility to the flock as their undershepherd to help them grow in the grace and knowledge of the Good Shepherd (2 Peter 3:18; John 10:10; 1 Peter 5:1-4).

God has given to the elders of His Church the responsibility to shepherd His flock. Paul says in Acts 20:28, “Pay attention to yourselves and to all of the flock among which the Holy Spirit has set you to be overseers to shepherd God’s church, that He acquired with His own blood.” Similarly, Peter wrote in 1 Peter 5:1-3, “Therefore, I urge the elders among you, as a fellow elder and witness of Christ’s sufferings and as a sharer of the glory that is going to be revealed, to shepherd God’s flock among you, exercising shepherdly care over it, not out of obligation but willingly, as God would have you do it; not out of eagerness to make a personal profit, but out of eagerness to serve; not lording it over those allotted to your charge, but by becoming models for the flock.”

This is no small task. Church officers will give an answer to God for the discharge of their office. In fact, Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them. They are keeping watch over your lives as men who will have to give an account.” One of the principle ways this oversight is exercised is in pastoral visitation.

Yet, sad to say, pastoral visits are not always used in a manner that allows the parties involved to reap the greatest spiritual benefits. One thing you may do to increase the profit of a pastoral visit is to prepare for it. If families prepared for pastoral visits, then the time spent would be extremely more profitable. How then does one prepare?

Read the rest here.

What other ways do you believe you can make visits with your pastors and elders more fruitful?

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Three Keys to a Good Hospital Visit

In seminary, Don Cox served as our evangelism professor. He not only taught the biblical principles of this, but he modeled it for us as well. I am grateful on how he kept us accountable in sharing our faith.

At the time I took his class, I had just started pastoring a small rural church in Breckinridge County, Kentucky. I needed pointers in a hurry, so my ears perked up when he said he would give us some priceless advice on how to make a hospital visit.

These visits are difficult for a number of reasons. No one comes to a hospital for the sheer pleasure of it, so approaching these visits with sensitivity and care is of the utmost importance.

So, in this class I grabbed my pencil ready to do some serious writing on the matter. Here is what Dr. Cox said:

Be bright, be brief, and be gone! (Not much lead spent on that one.)

You know what? He is right.

Be bright. Patients in a hospital do not need help feeling bad–they are already there, both physically and emotionally. Come in, being bright–but not over the top. Let them know you love them, that you will listen to them, and then pray for them, encouraging them that others at your church are praying hard as well.

Be brief. While we must beware of staying too short a time, staying too long is far worse. Many struggle with pain, nausea, and other physical issues–not to mention fatigue. Staying longer than 10-15 unless asked will wear them out and not endear them to you later on.

Be gone. Hospital visits are not home visits. You are there to show you care, have prayer, then get out of there. I hope I am not coming across as callous. Some of the most wonderful visits I’ve had have been in hospitals visiting with families of patients in the waiting room. That’s different than in the room speaking with a patient struggling with various issues. Be sensitive to the quality and quantity of your stay. Better to be there too short than too long, in my opinion.

What think ye?

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Should Preaching Persuade or Merely Inform?

I’ve been pondering the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian of late,  Worship at MBEBC especially after preaching recently on Romans 15:14-24 (“Is God’s Mission our Ambition?”).  Twice in that passage, we see the role of the Holy Spirit.  Paul sought to offer the Gentiles as an acceptable offering, “sanctified by the Holy Spirit” (v. 16).  He sought, in a parallel thought, to “bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God” (v. 18-19). 

As an offshoot of this passage, I revisited the role of the Holy Spirit in preaching.  I have sat under preachers who believed it was simply their role to inform as to the content.  The Holy Spirit’s job is to take that informative message and apply it to the listener’s heart for personal living.  Few (if any) illustrations and even fewer application narratives made for a sermon all about content—but ruggedly absent in connection.

As a reactive (or maybe corrective) measure, the pendulum has swung the other way in that the Holy Spirit must be living and active in preparation as well as the presentation; along with this, He must move in the presentation along with the persuasion!  In this mindset, its advocates note that we are working both on a rational and an existential/experiential level.  A sermon should be content + compulsion—or as some would put this, “Preaching that’s from the heart!” 

As a follower of Christ, my calling and ultimately my passion is preaching and teaching people the Word of God!  My bookshelves in my office are lined with preaching books from various authors from varying backgrounds advocating expositional over topical (or vice versa), strong structure over fluidity and conversational approaches (or vice versa).  One book suggests preaching with notes, another preaching without notes.  One book is titled “Spirit-Led Preaching,” another “Spirit-Empowered Preaching“,” another “Biblical Preaching,” still another, “Christ-Centered Preaching,” still another, “Anointed Expository Preaching,” and yet another “The Supremacy of God in Preaching.”  The most provocative one is entitled, “Why Johnny Can’t Preach.”

Needless to say, it’s encouraging to see so many interact with this crucial topic.  Yet, we must get back to the issue of this:  should preaching be persuasive or merely inform?

If we are to look at the snippets of sermons found in the Scriptures, we see that they are not simply informative theological diatribes and treatises.  In Ezra 7:10, we see that Ezra the priest’s heart was to “set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel” (ESV).  Yet, Ezra was also persuasive when it came to teaching, to such a degree that he tore his garment and cloak and pulled hair from his head and his beard and sat appalled (Ezra 9:3). 

Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) contains numerous imperatives:

  • Do not be angry against your brother, but be reconciled to your brother and come to terms quickly—else you’ll be guilty of breaking the 6th commandment (Matthew 5:21-26).
  • Do not lust, or you’ll be guilty of breaking the 7th commandment (and this is all forms of sexual lust—including fornication, adultery, homosexuality, bestiality, and pedophilia along with pornography).
  • We are to love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-48).
  • We are to give to the needy, pray, and fast (Matthew 6:1-18).
  • We are to flee from anxiety and seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness (Matthew 6:25-34).

Chapter seven is chock full of examples as well, but you get the idea.  Jesus wasn’t just informing, he was persuading with a holy authority.

In Acts 2:1-42, the apostle Peter persuaded the Jews to the point that they were “cut to the heart” (Acts 2:37) and wanted to know how to respond.  In Acts 17:17-34, the apostle Paul persuaded those on Mars Hill in the Areopagus, where he explained the true Creator who sent His resurrected Son.  He called on them “to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (17:30b-31). 

In each of Paul’s epistles is the thread of walking worthy of Christ (Romans 12:1-2; Galatians 5:16; Ephesians 4:1; Philippians 1:27; Colossians 3:1-4; 1 Thessalonians 4:1; 2 Thessalonians 3:6; 1 Timothy 6:11; 2 Timothy 3:10-4:5; Titus 3:5-9).  He bolsters these imperatives with the doctrine of the nature and work of God as brought forth in the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

I close with this passage from one of Paul’s letters to the Corinthian church:  “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.”  He persuades them in the assurance and conviction of what Christ accomplished at the cross, but also what He is accomplishing in His church from heaven through the Holy Spirit!  He then presses everyone to “be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20).  This is the message to which he has been entrusted—and it’s a persuasive command he has laid out by the power of the Spirit.

So preach passionately!  Let me (truly) close with a wonderful quote from Robert Smith, from the foreword of Greg Heisler’s, “Spirit-Led Preaching”:

The contemporary church suffers from the ache of memory that has resulted in pneumatological amputation and absence.  In fact, the Holy Spirit has been demoted to the status of the stepchild of the Trinity, especially in preaching. . . . In these days of unprecedented fear and incomparable tragedies, the Spirit and the Word need to be married together in an inextricable bond so that the hearers of our gospel can be initiated into the faith through the gospel, instructed by the faith through the gospel, and be inspired to keep the faith through the gospel” (xi-xii).

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Pastors Must Kill Their Flock—And Be There to Do It!

I’m reading through a very challenging book by William Still entitled, “The Work of the Pastor.”  Still was pastor for fifty years in Aberdeen, Scotland and geared his ministry around the clear exposition of Holy Scripture.  This book is a series of talks he gave to a pastors association, and he pulls no punches.  Here is one clear example:

Remember that ‘pastoring,’ meaning ‘pasturing,’ essentially has to do with feeding the flock.  Let me go on to say most reverently that the task of the Christian shepherd is to fatten the sheep for the kill.  In Israel that meant for sacrifice in the Temple.  By ‘the kill’ I mean, of course, consecration.  Our trouble in my own congregation is that the Lord so speedily pounces upon people whom He has sent along to be built up in the faith, that we sometimes have a hard time keeping together a working nucleus. 

But to the field of pastoral ministry.  It would seem that many Christian ministers accept pastorates or charges as a mean of basic security … and they use this as a jumping off place for the pursuit of their pet interests in one or other of a hundred associated fields.  The interest may be the application of the Gospel (or what they know, or understand, or even misunderstand of it) to politics, social service, the ecumenical movement, evangelistic work in a general inter- or non-denominational sort of way.  Or it may be the running of a complex of organizations in their own church, etc.  Many men make names for themselves in these pursuits as speakers, organizers, writers, good committee members, even as entertainers.  They sustain a calling almost independent of, or that has very little to do with, the task of pastoral ministry of feeding their sheep, from which they derive their daily bread.

… Too many ministers find other things to do, either because they do not like the pastoral ministry, and find it too hard, or because it creates too many problems working with people, or because they have gone cold and dead on it and it doesn’t cut much ice, and they are discouraged.  Ministers must do something to justify themselves, to boost their ego and express and fulfill themselves.  If they devote themselves to running large organizations, or spend their time forever a round of vain visiting, they feel that they are doing something.  Whereas if they devote themselves to the study and ministry of the Word of God, they create all sorts of problems for themselves and jangle many of their people, until their fellowships are soon a dither of change and challenge (p. 85-86).

I found this challenging.  Do we as ministers justify getting into other activities because we, deep down, don’t like being in the trenches of Great Commission gospel ministry?  Is this why we do Facebook and Twitter because we need an escape? 

This challenged me to see that my first priority is my calling as a pastor and minister of the Gospel at Boone’s Creek Baptist Church.  What are your thoughts?

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Five Foundations For Children’s Ministry (Tony Kummer)

What are the real essentials in Children’s Ministry? What core values should transcend your curriculum and ministry methods? I am constantly asking these questions to myself. When the children I teach this Sunday turn 30 what will really matter in their lives?

Here are what I consider four essential foundations for all church based ministry to children. Let me know what you think.

1. Children’s Ministry must be God-Centered. This means that in our teaching, we must emphasize the greatness of God. The Bible is first and foremost a book about God. We want our children to see how strong and big and faithful and loving and majestic and smart and satisfying our God is. Psalm 34:8 says, “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” This is my prayer for you children this year – that they would experience God in such a way as to develop a lifelong desire for him. So when times of trouble come they will take refuge in him.

2. Children’s Ministry must be Bible-saturated. This means that God’s Word must permeate everything that we do. In 2 Timothy 3:15 Paul reminds Timothy, “From childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” Mere human works are not enough to guide our children to God – they need the Bible. Only God’s Word can change hearts.

3. Children’s Ministry must be Gospel-driven. We must be intentional to proclaim the Gospel to children and their families. Romans 1:16 says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” This was the command of Christ in Mark 16:15, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.

4. Children’s Ministry must minister to the whole family. We recognize that God has called parents to be the primary faith-nurturers of children. Therefore, our Children’s Ministry must partner with parents to assist them in fulfilling this calling. This means serving the parents as well as the children.

5. Children’s Ministry is about serving kids. At the end of the day, we are working to help and serve the children. Our work is to put their ultimate spiritual needs ahead of our own. Our ministry becomes great as we excel in service. As Jesus says in Mark 9:35, ““If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.

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Wonderful Book on Visitation to the Sick

Brian Croft has contributed an excellent book entitled Visit the Sick: Ministering God’s Grace in Times of Illness (Day One: 2010, 128 pp).   He outlines the biblical, theological, historical, practical and pastoral reasons behind this all-important ministry. 

Don’t skip ahead to the practical advice.  Croft takes the reader through the biblical examples as well as examples from church history from men like Richard Baxter and Charles Spurgeon to show how we can stand on the shoulders of giants in bringing a gospel touch to those who are in great need.

I will use this book for training of upcoming pastoral students and deacons at my church.  Much-needed!

About the Author (from Amazon)

Brian Croft graduated from Indiana University in 1997 with a B. A. in Sociology and did some graduate work at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has served in pastoral ministry in some manner for over 12 years and is currently in his 5th year as Senior Pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, USA. He and his wife, Cara, have 4 children: Samuel, Abby, Isabelle and Claire. His hobbies include sports (golf, tennis, racquetball), playing music (piano and guitar), reading (especially biographies and American history), teaching self-defense classes and teaching his children sports and music.

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A Different Man in the Pulpit (A.W. Tozer)

You are witnesses, and God also, how devoutly and justly and blamelessly we behaved ourselves among you who believe…. 
–1 Thessalonians 2:10

I am afraid of the pastor that is another man when he enters the pulpit from what he was before. Reverend, you should never think a thought or do a deed or be caught in any situation that you couldn’t carry into the pulpit with you without embarrassment.

You should never have to be a different man or get a new voice and a new sense of solemnity when you enter the pulpit. You should be able to enter the pulpit with the same spirit and the same sense of reverence that you had just before when you were talking to someone about the common affairs of life. (A.W. Tozer)  Worship: The Missing Jewel of the Evangelical Church, 29.

"Lord, help me to be a man of impeccable integrity. Give me the grace to be the same man, whether in the pulpit, in a board meeting, caught in rush hour traffic, or at dinner with my wife.

(From Literature Ministries International)

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The Fallibility of Ministers (J.C. Ryle)

The example of the Apostle Peter at Antioch is one that does not stand alone. It is only a parallel of many a case that we find written for our learning, in Holy Scripture. Do we not remember Abraham, the father of the faithful, following the advice of Sarah, and taking Hagar for a wife? Do we not remember Aaron, the first high priest, listening to the children of Israel, and making a golden calf? Do we not remember Solomon, the wisest of men, allowing his wives to build their high places of false worship? Do we not remember Jehosaphat, the good king, going down to help wicked Ahab? Do we not remember Hezekiah, the good king, receiving the ambassadors of Babylon? Do we not remember Josiah, the last of Judah’s good kings, going forth to fight with Pharaoh? Do we not remember James and John, wanting fire to come down from heaven? These things deserve to be remembered. They were not written without cause. They cry aloud, "No infallibility!"

And who does not see, when he reads the history of the Church of Christ, repeated proofs that the best of men can err? The early fathers were zealous according to their knowledge, and ready to die for Christ. But many of them advocated ritualism, and nearly all sowed the seeds of many superstitions. The Reformers were honored instruments in the hand of God for reviving the cause of truth on earth. Yet hardly one of them can be named who did not make some great mistake. Luther held tightly to the doctrine of consubstantiation. Melancthon was often timid and undecided. Calvin permitted Servetus to be burned. Cranmer recanted and fell away for a time from his first faith. Jewell subscribed to Roman Catholic Church doctrines for fear of death. Hooper disturbed the Church of England by demanding the need to wear ceremonial vestments when ministering. The Puritans, in later times, denounced Christian liberty and freedoms as doctrines from the pit of Hell. Wesley and Toplady, last century, abused each other in most shameful language. Irving, in our own day, gave way to the delusion of speaking in unknown tongues.

All these things speak with a loud voice. They all lift up a beacon to the Church of Christ. They all say, "Do not trust man; call no man master; call no man father on earth; let no man glory in man. "He who glories, let him glory in the Lord." They all cry—"No infallibility!" The lesson is one that we all need. We are all naturally inclined to lean upon man whom we can see, rather than upon God whom we cannot see. We naturally love to lean upon the ministers of the visible Church, rather than upon the Lord Jesus Christ, the great Shepherd and High Priest, who is invisible. We need to be continually warned and set on our guard.

(J.C. Ryle, The Fallibility of Ministers)

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What Urban Meyer’s Plight Teaches the 24/7 Minister

I was sitting in my in-law’s living room watching the Meineke Car Care Bowl (what an awful name for a bowl game) between the University of Pittsburgh and the University of North Carolina when I saw the story of Urban Meyer’s resignation as coach of the University of Florida’s football coach.  After two national championships in five seasons, this was stunning news.

Twenty-four hours later, we un-resigned, saying that he would be taking a leave of absence.

When he resigned, there were looming health problems that caused him grave concern.  Meyer is noted for his high intensity and being driven in preparation as well as recruiting.  He, like so many other Division 1 head coaches, live football 24/7/365.  Pat Forde sums up the weekend’s festivities nicely:

We know the stated reason for the brilliant 45-year-old coach’s sudden, stunning resignation was health concerns that forced him to realign his perspective and put his family first. He mentioned his family three times in the resignation statement released Saturday night, and athletic director Jeremy Foley mentioned it twice more in the same statement.

Then on Sunday, Meyer apparently went out to practice and decided that burnout is for losers, and his family may or may not come before his players. They had a spirited practice in unseasonably cold weather and, shazam, Urban’s not resigning after all! Just taking a vacation of unspecified length! While looming over the program like a 900-foot shadow!

"To see that come out this morning … with a great attitude and great work ethic and just go to work, I admire that," Meyer said. "I know I’m dealing with some stuff, and my family comes first. That’s never been an issue. That’s non-negotiable, that I want to make sure I do right by my family. My second family are my players and our staff, and to see that was the moment. I went immediately to Jeremy, and we had some discussions after that."

Said Foley: "He called me from the practice field, and he didn’t come to that decision right then, but he was just, I guess, a little stunned may be the right word."

The rest of us are a lot stunned.

Pastors, Take Note

Ministry can also take on a 24/7/365 lifestyle very easily.  There is always sermon preparation, prospects to visit, the sick and shut-ins, books to read, meetings to attend, counseling to undertake, etc.  And for men who find great identity in their work, this can be a large snare.  I see that happening with Meyer and I see that happening with dozens of ministers.  No wonder the majority of families say that full-time ministry has a negative effect on the family.  Other wives have noted that they felt their 24/7/365 minister husbands were having affairs…with their church! 

Meyer was a sympathetic figure in many minds (mine included) on Saturday the 26th, especially after hearing Meyer’s daughter say, “Now I have my daddy back!”   He noted in a recent interview with Sports Illustrated:

"It’s something that started about four years ago," Meyer said. "It was chest pains that became rather significant two years ago. Whether it’s stress related … I started to become very alarmed with that. And then I’m a person of faith, and I just wanted to make sure I had my priorities straight. A lot of times coaches do not have their priorities straight. You put business before God and family, you have a problem.

"So when we had the issue, when I had to go to the hospital, and a couple issues after that was when I came to the conclusion that I had to re-prioritize everything. So that’s exactly what it is. I was advised that I have to get this right or it could lead to damage. That’s what made that decision."

On the 26th, Meyer noted that his faith, family, and health dictated he step down.  On the 27th, he called Jeremy Foley and, after seeing practice, and told Jeremy Foley they needed to talk—and presumably before he talked with his family about his reversal.

I understand how difficult it must be to give up your livelihood (and your life?), only to see your successor go in a different direction.  You pour your all into building a program or ministry that the line separating you as a person from your handiwork becomes increasingly blurred. 

So, pastors, take note.  Your priorities are your relationship with God the Father through Christ, husband to your wife, father to your children, ministers to your church in that order

To retool one of Jesus’ saying: “What does it gain a minister if he builds a thriving ministry, but loses his family?” 

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Preaching a Funeral For An Unbeliever

Yes, I am actually posting.   It’s been a long while since I’ve posted–good to be back.

On occasion, I am asked to preach a funeral for one who has died without Christ.  The first time I encountered this difficulty was actually before I became a pastor.  My uncle died as an avowed atheist who had rejected Christ up until the end.  He died unexpectedly.  I remember my parents telling me how sad and hollow the service was, because he had rejected any notion of the afterlife.

For the pastor, a great tension exists.  On the one hand, you have grieving family members and friends who want the funeral to be about the deceased’s earthly life.  On the other hand, the Scriptures are clear about the reality of their eternal life (or death, as the case may be).   How does the minister of the gospel of Christ handle this?

Always acknowledge and validate the deceased’s life. This person is someone’s grandfather, grandmother, father, mother, son, daughter, etc.  In other words, this person was greatly loved and will be missed.   A lifetime of memories are stored on the bookshelves on their minds.  A myriad of pictures may be displayed by the casket representing a lifetime of events and experiences.  These cannot and should not be denied, even in light of their refusal to receive Christ in this life.

Develop a close relationship/friendship with the family of the deceased. Whatever the reason they asked you to do the funeral (such as:  you were the only one to visit them at their home or in the hospital; they looked you up in the phone book; you are the pastor of a relative, etc.), you must take time to get to know the family personally.  Visit them in their home, call them, go to the viewing at the funeral home or church.  Your presence speaks volumes.  You are not to simply arrive and preach your message.  You come alongside them and help share their grief and bear their burdens.  And you will be amazed at how they appreciate your presence and will lean on you for support.  At that point, you are as Christ to them by virtue of your calling into the Gospel ministry.  Which leads me to the next point… .

Remember your ultimate calling as a minister of the gospel of Christ, even in this situation.  In the course of your visits and conversations with the family, you will find yourself tempted to lessen the blow of the deceased’s eternal reality — something which can happen easier that it initially appears.  The family is so grieved and despondent that, even in light of the deceased’s apathy or even outright rejection of Christ, may comfort themselves in thinking that the deceased is in “a better place.”  The alternative of believing someone they loved so dearly is suffering eternal judgment in hell may be too much to bear.

But even so, we have a higher calling.  The funeral is for those in attendance, not just the one in the casket.   Remind those in attendance of this fact, then show them the comfort that may be found.  How?  “Preach Christ crucified!”  The reality of Christ must break through the muddle of thoughts that are settling in their grief-stricken minds.  While they may comfort themselves that many other issues and thoughts, family and friends, and fill in the blank — in reality, the only comfort that may be found in any circumstance or situation is in Christ.  We must not turn away or be ashamed of Christ, even if it means breaking through their sensibilities of what the ‘afterlife.’

I have put out some other posts on preaching a funeral:

Scriptures I Use For Funeral Services

Practical Tips For Preaching a Funeral

Any other thoughts on this matter?

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