Just Say You Want to be a Pastor

In recent years, I’ve personally interacted with hundreds of current and recently graduated seminary students, and not just at Southeastern Seminary. These brothers and sisters in Christ are committed to serving God in all kinds of ministry contexts. In the five years I’ve been teaching, I’ve observed an interesting trend, especially among students in their twenties and thirties. Simply put, it’s increasingly rare for me to hear a student say he feels called to be a pastor.

Now before you wonder what in the world we’re training students to do at Southeastern, rest assured a large majority of our students are preparing for pastoral ministry and other paid local church leadership. And that’s my point-most students want to be pastors, but they almost never explicitly say that. Instead, many say they want to be “church revitalizers” or they want to lead a church in biblical reformation or renewal or (insert the synonym of your choice here). When I hear this type of language, I’m often tempted to respond, “Great! I’m glad God’s given you a desire to be a pastor. I hope he confirms your gifts and opens doors for you to serve.”

Remember when it was okay to simply say you wanted to be a pastor? When I was a seminary student (less than a decade ago), most of us were wrestling with whether or not we thought God was calling us to be pastors. Of course we recognized there were different types of pastors-senior/lead pastors, associate pastors, student pastors, church planters, etc. But with the possible exception of those who wanted to be church planters, almost no one said, “I want to revitalize/reform/renew a church.” We simply said we wanted to be pastors of some kind or other.

I think I know why the language has changed. There are some very prominent ministries out there that talk a lot about “revitalizing” or “reforming” churches, much like an earlier generation made much of “reviving” churches. There are also some great and godly pastors who regularly testify as to how God has worked through them to “revitalize” or “reform” their churches. These ministries are often very helpful, and these pastors are frequently great role models, so it’s no surprise many students are picking up this terminology from these types of sources. But I’m still troubled by the language, or at least its pervasiveness among my generational peers.

To be clear, I think there are churches out there that are in need of biblical reformation, revitalization, renewal, revival, and any other “R” word you want to choose. And I’m thankful that God is giving young men a desire to pastor these churches. But that said-and I want to tread carefully here-I don’t think our pastoral agenda ought to be to reform or revitalize churches. That just sounds too arrogant-like we are professional diagnosticians and Calvary Baptist Church is our special project. I think our pastoral agenda is to be faithful shepherds who equip the church to love God and neighbor and do the work of the Great Commission. If we do this well, with the Lord’s help those churches will become healthier-whatever that might mean in any given context.

If you are reading this and you believe God may be calling you to pastor an existing church, even the type of church you would consider to be dysfunctional or unhealthy, I hope you will be cautious in the language you use to describe your ministry desires. The church is not a problem to be solved, but the Bride of Christ for whom he died. No church is perfect, and some have serious problems. But loving the Lord, loving his church, loving lost people, preaching the Word, and keeping close to the cross is always the right recipe for pastoral leadership, regardless of what state the church might be in when you begin your pastoral responsibilities. Don’t think of yourself as a revitalizer or a reformer-think of yourself as a shepherd, a servant of the Word whom the Lord will hopefully use to help accomplish his gospel purposes in his church for his glory. In other words, just say you want to be a pastor.

(Note: This article was cross-posted at Credo Magazine)

GCRTF Report Challenges to all Southern Baptists (3b): Challenges for Local Churches and Pastors, Part 2

GCRTF Report Challenges to all Southern Baptists (3b): Challenges for Local Churches and Pastors, Part 2

By Danny Akin and Jon Akin

The local churches are the headquarters of the SBC. Christ died for His church. He commissioned her to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth! So, regardless of votes or passed recommendations, there will be no GCR if it is not led by the pastors and lay people of our local SBC churches.

With that being the case, the core of the GCRTF report is the list of specific challenges given to local churches and pastors. If we as pastors and churches will rise to meet these challenges then a great work will take place in our midst! Let’s look briefly at the last 15 in this section.

  • Get involved in a regular church planting program at some level of your congregation’s capability. This can include specific partnerships with another church, your association, state convention or NAMB.

The GCRTF report challenges every church, regardless of size, to be a church planting church. This is as it should be (always have been!) because churches plant churches. If we are going to reach North America for Christ then we need churches of every size, model, and method that are biblically faithful to reproduce themselves. This will look different in each case. But it must be done. There are exciting church planting movements taking place right now in America and around the world, and they are being driven by small churches, medium churches, and large churches.

In order to achieve this, churches need to seek out partnerships with other churches who are currently planting to see how you can get involved. Seek out partnerships with your association, state convention and NAMB. They are there to assist us in planting!

  • Adopt an unreached people group and an underserved megacity in North America and regularly inform the membership about them, pray for them, and when applicable work toward short-term mission trips to serve them. Encourage families to consider moving to those cities to be part of the core group for that plant.

This is one practical way that churches can own the Great Commission. Our church (Jon’s church, Highview Baptist in Louisville, KY) has adopted and is in the process of engaging two unreached people groups in Africa. There are over 6,000 of these unreached people groups in the world, and 1,568 unengaged people groups who have no Christians or missionaries among them. If every one of the thousands of congregations in the SBC adopted an unreached group, prayed weekly for them to be reached, prayed regularly for more laborers for the harvest field, annually or bi-annually sent short-term teams to them, and eventually called out at least one from their church to give their life to reaching that people group then in the generations to come we would see a great multitude of people singing “Worthy is the Lamb,” who currently have no worship of Christ in their midst!

Highview Baptist Church has helped support many church plants in major cities and we are currently helping in places like NYC, Philly, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Boise, etc. We keep these cities and these works in front of our people through prayer cards, maps with planters pictures on them, etc. We send teams to minister there. Faithful members of our church have uprooted their families and moved to be a part of the core group of the plants. This has instilled in us an attitude that it’s not all about us, but it is about reaching others, and it has given us a heart for the big cities of our country where so many millions are moving, as well as enlarged our heart for our city! If we are going to reach North America we have to reach our cities. This is not an option. It should not even be up for debate.

  • Plan at least one evangelism training course annually for your church members; consider inviting members of other churches in your association to participate, especially smaller churches.

People must hear the gospel to be saved, and in order for them to hear it, Christians must know how to share it and then obediently tell the good news of Jesus Christ. It is heartbreaking that most “Christians” will live their entire life without ever experiencing the joy of leading another person to faith in Jesus. This should not be! Some do not share because they do not know how or what to say. Training our people in evangelism can relieve at least one burden that hinders us from sharing.

If there is to be a GCR then this has to be a priority. Not only do we need a Great Commission Resurgence, we need an Evangelism Resurgence. Evangelism is not optional for the Christian. It is expected, not just of a “good” Christian, but of every Christian. Anything less is simply sinful disobedience and in need of repentance.

Reaching our local communities in North America is the responsibility of the churches. We already have an army of millions of people who claim the name of Christ. If we could train them and unleash them to share the gospel imagine what might happen! Churches need to help churches in this area by linking with other churches who are already doing the training.

  • Plan at least one North American or international mission trip a year and/or encourage members to participate mission trips sponsored by a local association.

There is no better way for people’s hearts to be captured for this nation and all nations than getting them on the field! Jesus was moved with compassion when he saw the multitudes who were like sheep without a shepherd. If we can get our people among the multitudes then their hearts will burn with a passion to reach them. I have never seen a person or church who loves being involved in international missions who was not also motivated more than ever for local work in their own neighborhoods with greater passion after trips like these. Short term trips are a great way to energize our people for work at home and abroad.

  • Develop a comprehensive strategy for sharing the gospel with every person in your community with no regard to racial, social or economic status. This may include elements such as home-to-home evangelism, neighborhood block parties, servant evangelism projects, one-on-one mentoring, after-school programs, university campus outreach, innovative outreach events, neighborhood Bible studies, evangelistic mercy ministries, etc.

Any type of prejudice or bigotry in our churches must be banished now and forever! There are no segregated communities in heaven. There should be none here on earth either!

  • Enter, if possible, the world of private Christian schooling and Christian homeschooling to provide a Christian alternative for the education of children, especially in areas hostile to the Christian worldview. See this as a complement to the many faithful Christians serving in the public school systems who see their calling to be salt and light in a missional assignment.

This challenge is not a challenge to a sectarian lifestyle. If you do choose homeschooling or private school for your children, then please find other ways to develop relationships with and engage the lost in your community.

  • Encourage Christian schools to send each student in their high school year on a cross-cultural missions experience or to an international mission field for at least one week before they graduate, developing a strategy to pay for these trips as a school in order to build a genuine passion and commitment to reach the nations.

Again, there is no better to way to set a person’s heart on fire than to get them on the field. May we train our young people in this early on!

  • Develop a comprehensive strategy for Great Commission discipling of all church members. This may include elements such as Sunday School and/or small group ministries, mission education programs, one-on-one mentoring, affinity ministries (e.g. women, singles, etc.), pastoral leadership training, diaconal leadership training, etc.

The Great Commission is not just about making converts; it’s about making disciples. We have fallen extremely short in this area. We are a convention full of Christians who are biblically illiterate, lack a Christian worldview, rampant in sin and who do not make life decisions based on the authority of God’s Word. Discipleship is a must!

The Bible tells us that God’s gift of the local church is the place where discipleship happens. We are to not forsake assembling together because this is where we stir one another up to love and good deeds. It is in the fellowship and community of the church under the teaching of the Word that discipleship takes place. This should be done in co-ed groups, as well as older men to younger men and older women to younger women. Titus 2:1-8 is our model.

  • Develop a comprehensive church-based strategy for reaching and discipling college students, including international students.

Young people are so often passionate and idealistic and seeking adventure. If we can capture their hearts for the mission of God then great things will happen. That is why training college students to think and act biblically is so vitally important.

Plus, young people come from all over the world to train in the US, many from unreached peoples. While they are in a context that encourages research and studying new things we have the opportunity to present them with the truth of the Gospel, care for them in the context of the local church, and then launch them out for mission!

  • Develop as a comprehensive church-based strategy for reaching and discipling individuals with physical and developmental disabilities.
  • Send teenagers and young adults on mission trips with the hope of exposing every young believer to global missions.
  • Partner with like-minded ethnic churches or missions in evangelizing immigrants and other underserved ethnic minorities, including migrants and other short-term workers.

May our churches and our cooperation mirror Revelation 5. We are still way too segregated in the SBC. We are making progress, but the process needs to be excelerated!

  • Reclaim the Baptist vision of regenerate church membership, recognizing that this vision is central to our Baptist identity and understanding of the church.

Stating that we have “16 million Southern Baptists” has become a running joke, because as the saying goes “we can’t find half of them.” Baptists have historically believed what the Bible teaches, that the church is for those who are saved. Our rolls should match up with the roll in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Since this is the case, we need to take church membership seriously.

One of the reasons we may be declining is because of this very thing. Our churches, because we do not consistently practice regenerate church membership, do not reflect a redeemed community and we therefore look like the rest of the culture. This blunts our witness. Regenerate church membership is vital to our corporate witness to the outside world. It is a biblical necessity.

  • Reclaim corrective church discipline as the biblical means of restoring believers to healthy discipleship and faithfulness.

JL Dagg has famously said, “When discipline leaves a church then Jesus goes with it.” If that is the case then we are a convention of Jesus-less churches. Personal holiness is not something we are known for. Hypocrisy might be.

Discipline is not retributive; it is a rescue mission, and we need to practice it in a way that leads us to plead with people (similar to what we do in evangelism) to turn from sin and trust in Jesus. Discipline is about restoration not punishment. The process may lead to dismissing the member, but this is necessary in some cases not only to protect that brother or sister from sin, but also to disciple the congregation through the discipline situation as well. (If you would like to read and think more on this go to www.danielakin.com and read “Church Discipline: Expository Insights from Titus 3:9-15).

  • Emphasize meaningful church membership through such practices as decision counseling, believer’s baptism, new convert mentoring, membership covenants, prospective member classes, and redemptive church discipline.

How we do church matters. It matters so much that many of our forefathers were drowned fighting for the Baptistic way of doing church. We need to recapture this in our day. Business as usual in too many churches must come to an end. There needs to be a new day of biblical faithfulness and radical obedience. The GCRTF report seeks to balance the biblical and the practical. That we are true to the whole counsel of God’s word is our hopeful and prayerful goal.

GCRTF Report Challenges to all Southern Baptists (3a): Challenges for Local Churches and Pastors, Part 1

GCRTF Report Challenges to all Southern Baptists (3a): Challenges for Local Churches and Pastors, Part 1

By Danny Akin and Steven A. McKinion

The Gospel is the message of God’s salvation of individuals through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. Consequently, any effort to fulfill the Great Commission (proclaiming the Gospel) must begin with individual Christians and their families. But there is a corporate aspect to salvation that must not be overlooked. Christians gather together as the Community of Faith, tasked with proclaiming the Gospel by the power of the Holy Spirit. For there to be a resurgence of Great Commission activity in the Southern Baptist Convention, the churches that are the convention through their voluntary association with one another must adopt a Great Commission posture. This posture should reflect a commitment to the outward progress of the Gospel to the nations through its inward progress in the lives of Baptists. The Challenges to Local Churches and Pastors section of the GCRTF Report addresses the need to ensure that our attention is on both the inward and outward progress of the Gospel.

Specifically, the Challenges to Local Churches and Pastors focus on the need for Southern Baptist churches to be intentional in their efforts to “make disciples.” Disciple-making includes proclamation of the Gospel, calling people to repentance and conversion, teaching them what Scripture says about the Christian life, providing an environment for living out Christian faith, and helping Christians live missionally (as missionaries regardless of location or vocation).

Regular, intentional, and persistent sharing of the unadulterated Gospel of Jesus Christ with men and women in the same community as the local church is indispensable to the fulfillment of the Great Commission. Having embraced the “faith once for all delivered to the saints,” churches should teach Christians how to live missionally in the places they work, recreate, and encounter the lost. The challenges addressed to local churches give concrete examples of how this might happen.

Local churches that adopt a Gospel-centered posture toward one another will also posture themselves Gospel-centeredly toward the nations. When a congregation is Spirit-led, it will be a missional congregation.

Pastors have an important responsibility to help the congregations they shepherd adopt this missional, Gospel-centered posture. In fact, they are the key! The Task Force has offered some sixteen challenges to pastors that, the Task Force believes, will help local Southern Baptist churches fulfill the Great Commission more effectively. We agree with the GCRTF in their offering these challenges to pastors.

  • Lead your church by calling a Solemn Assembly in January 2011 for the purpose of calling Christ’s people to return to God, to repentance, and to humility in service to a renewed commitment to Christ and the Great Commission. We request that the newly-elected President of the Southern Baptist Convention lead Southern Baptists in this effort.

Churches can easily forget the mission they have been given to proclaim repentance and the forgiveness of sins to the nations, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Regular periods of reflection and remembering can help us avoid becoming myopic, interested only in our preferences and agendas. By setting aside a time for the sole purpose of renewing our congregational commitment to the Great Commission we believe pastors will help their churches embrace a resurgence of the Great Commission in their own congregation.

  • Become knowledgeable of the mission field of your specific region, identifying the various people groups and developing a strategy to penetrate the lostness in your region. Be intentional in working with your local association, state convention and NAMB in pursuing this task.

Sometimes churches can limit their mission field to people who are “like them,” meaning those who are racially, culturally, or socially closest to the congregation. Instead, pastors can help their churches begin to think like missionaries, understanding that God has called them to reach out in their community to “everyone” with the life-changing power of the Gospel. Churches cannot expect slick marketing to “attract” unbelievers to the Gospel. Such marketing techniques may increase attendance at church functions (appealing primarily to unhappy members of other churches), but only by discovering the types of people who live in the broader community, then strategizing for ways to build genuine, Christian relationships with them can we expect to see unbelievers first hear the Gospel, then respond to it in faith. Romans 10 tells us that no one come to faith without hearing the Gospel and that no one hears it unless there is someone to tell them that message.

  • Work to cultivate a Great Commission atmosphere that is contagious in your church and becomes the DNA of the pastor, staff, adults, students, youth and children of your local body of Christ.

How much time do pastors spend talking about the Gospel? It may be wonderful to give people “Five Steps to a Happy Home,” but non-Christians can be happy in their lostness. It is a myth that only Christians are happy. In fact, if the rise of Christian counseling in any indicator, it may be harder to be happy in this fallen world as a Christian, whose happiness is really in another world. Rather than pursuing happiness, financial success, and comfort, Great Commission Christians are pursuing Christ, the gospel and His Kingdom. The Task Force challenges pastors to reject the contemporary practice of making church a happy, moral, religious society and instead to make church a Great Commission community of disciple-making disciples of Jesus.

  • Working with the IMB and NAMB, set goals for Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong that will enable us to send $200 million to the IMB and $100 million to NAMB in annual gifts by 2015.

Not every Southern Baptist is called to relocate in order to do missions, but every Southern Baptist church is called to contribute resources to fund Southern Baptist missionaries who are called to relocate. Besides the genius of the Cooperative Program, Southern Baptist churches have taken two special offerings each year that help fund the missionaries that come out of your church and ours. These two offerings provide opportunities to speak about our cooperative mission efforts as well as to fund them. Every dollar that goes to the Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong offerings are dollars that help local churches win people to Jesus. These are bold goals! Even audacious!!! But, they are reachable if God’s people capture a vision for penetrating lostness; if God’s people find God’s heart in the matter.

  • Strengthen missions education for believers of all ages, working with the Woman’s Missionary Union and other mission’s education programs. Every believer must be made aware of the global missions challenge.

We have lost the art of mission’s education in most of our churches. We must reverse this tragic trend. Our people must learn of Carey, Judson, Moon and Wallace.

There are a number of ways to educate people about missions, but every appropriate means includes a reminder of both the responsibility of local churches to join in the global mission’s effort and the opportunities that are available for churches and individual Southern Baptists.

  • Lead your church to grow and increase in sacrificial Cooperative Program giving.

The Task Force clearly affirms the Cooperative Program as the preferred means of supporting the agencies and boards of the SBC. As the other elements of the GCRTF Report are enacted, it will become evident that more of the resources given to SBC entities through the CP will go to the outward progress of the Gospel among the nations, particularly in underserved areas like pioneer state conventions. The TF challenges pastors to respond to these Great Commission changes by leading their churches to increase giving that goes “to the nations,” where Gospel witness is less.

  • Make sure every sermon, devotion, or other type of teaching is gospel centered and driven by the inerrant and infallible text of Scripture with emphasis on how to apply the text to the lives of different kinds of people.
  • Make sure every sermon, devotion, or other type of teaching clearly articulates and applies the gospel message and is centered in the grand narrative of Scripture.

Moral, sentimental self-help has supplanted genuine Gospel-centered preaching and teaching in too many churches. Southern Baptists have not been immune to this invasion of worldliness resulting in an impotent pulpit. When the Gospel is “the power of God unto salvation,” why would pastors waste their time trying to attract people with a message of “how to function better” in the world!? When the Bible is the only inerrant Story of God at work in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, why would any pastor look to the wisdom of the world to help people?! The Task Force’s challenge recognizes that any proper application of the Conservative Resurgence will mean actually preaching Scripture as it is: the inerrant Word of God.

  • Call your people continually to a radical devotion and surrender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
  • Preach passionately for the conversion of the lost and extend consistently the gospel call for persons to be saved.
  • Honor the role of the evangelist, affirming the calling and witness of those who give their lives to the call of the Gospel.

Every person in a worship service needs to hear the full Gospel. The Gospel is not just “get saved,” it is the whole Story of God and His work in Jesus. The Gospel is not just a message of “how to get to heaven when you die,” it calls people to complete surrender to Jesus as Lord. Pastors must understand that the Gospel claims the lives of people completely and entirely, and that only by its faithful proclamation do people come to faith. Calling believes to greater devotion and unbelievers to embrace Christ is the Great Commission. Pastors must embrace this two-fold Great Commission calling in their churches. They must refuse to believe the lie that big crowds generated through soft-peddling moralism is worthy of their time and effort. Pastor, proclaim the Gospel, offer sinners the hope of the Gospel, offer Christians the chance to enjoy the Gospel in community with one another.

  • Challenge people to identify with Christ and testify to Him through believer’s baptism by immersion.

The two ordinances of the church recognized by Southern Baptists both proclaim the Gospel in word and symbol. Central to the Great Commission is the baptism of disciples. Christians identify with Christ and His church through the ordinance of baptism. But they also preach the Gospel through baptism. Pastors should take great care to ensure that Christians understand the important role the baptism plays, beyond just “making someone a church member.” Seeing baptism as a “gospel-proclaiming” ordinance is essential. We might also add that regular celebration of the Lord’s Table in its disciplining and gospel-proclaiming roles is also essential to a Great Commission church.

  • Call people passionately and consistently to surrender their life to full-time ministry. Include in this call the challenge to a career as a missionary through the IMB or NAMB.
  • Preach regularly and passionately on Christian stewardship helping your people see this as a vital component of discipleship and life lived under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Undergird this with lessons on biblical stewardship in your church’s Bible Study ministries.

People in our Southern Baptist churches should regularly here their responsibility to live missionally. As I (Danny) and Alvin Reid argued in an earlier post, life is intended to be a mission trip. In our experience many Christians never hear that they can be missionaries right where the live. But additionally, many Christians never hear that they can be missionaries in other cities, states, or nations. Perhaps many Southern Baptists never respond to a call to relocate as a North American or international missionary because no pastor ever offers the opportunity for them to hear God’s call. Moreover, for those Christians who are not called to move overseas, they can nonetheless participate in international missions by helping fund missions through the CP. Pastors should talk about the call to missions and educate Christians as to the opportunities to go and to, if you can’t go, give.

  • Cultivate an atmosphere of evangelism, missions, discipleship and biblical theology that permeates every aspect of the church’s ministry.
  • Give particular attention to the evangelizing and discipling of children and youth.

From an early age children should be taught the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Many Baptists have taught their children through formal catechisms. Whether formally or informally, churches should be the place where parents learn the Gospel, then teach that to their children. Pastors should lead the way by teaching their own families the Gospel, and then by leading their church to put considerable focus on the teaching of children and youth. We believe the Task Force’s challenge in this regard would mean abandoning the model of ministry to these age groups that focuses on entertainment. Churches should be lead to foster a Gospel-centered environment and not a personality- or preference-centered environment for children and youth. By intentionally giving attention to teaching the Gospel to children and youth, pastors are passing on the faith to the next generation.

In a day when many pastors feel overwhelmed with their roles of caretaker, chaplain, CEO, marketer, teacher, preacher, evangelist, etc., they can find solace in the Gospel as the “power of God unto salvation.” These challenges are great, but the value of the Gospel is greater. Gospel-centered ministry and Gospel-centered preaching will produce Gospel-centered Southern Baptists whose ultimate concern is the furtherance of the Gospel to every tribe, every tongue, every people and every nation.