More Lessons from the Garden

Let me expand on my last post just a little bit. Last time out I shared ten lessons I’ve learned in my garden about the Christian life. Today I’d like to pivot slightly and share a few more lessons from the garden, but this time about ministry specifically. Here are five that come to my mind regularly.   If you want to dig deep, dig wide. I’ve been planting a lot of shrubs lately, and…

The Ministry Revolution

“Violent, sudden, and calamitous revolutions are the ones that accomplish the least. While they may succeed at radially reordering societies, they usually cannot transform cultures. They may excel at destroying the past, but they are generally impotent to create a future. The revolutions that genuinely alter human reality at the deepest levels—the only real revolutions, that is to say—are those that first convert mind and wills, that reshape the imagination and reorient desire, that overthrow…

Homiletical Relativism

A Tale of Two Sermons? I recently heard two close friends give their opinion of the same sermon—a sermon I did not hear, delivered at a church I have only attended once. These were both seasoned believers who genuinely love God and seek to follow him. One raved about the sermon, touched by the pastor’s humility (and self-deprecation) and the liveliness of the delivery. The other actually wept at the conclusion of the message because…

One Size Fits All?

My kids are at that point in their lives when they have to buy uniforms—lots and lots of uniforms. Inevitably, a handful of these uniforms are “one size fits all.” I’m not sure who came up with this concept, because it is manifestly absurd. The children who need these uniforms are very different dimensions, and my peanut-sized children often swim ridiculously in clothes that fit other children quite nicely. I am not a fan of…

What Is an Elder?

This seems like a straightforward question—and one that may even have a straightforward answer. He is “above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money” (1 Timothy 3:2-3, NIV). We’ve got that much. Beyond that things can get a bit shaky.   It is important that we use biblical language biblically. Constant use frequently transforms language…

How Pragmatism Destroys the Church

If, as I argued earlier, thoroughgoing pragmatism amounts to blasphemy, then we would expect ministries driven by this philosophy to produce little in the way of genuine fruit. God doesn’t often bless those who blaspheme him. (Scripture abounds with counter-examples, of course, like the Assyrians and Babylonians, whom God blessed to such an extent that it drove prophets like Habakkuk apoplectic.)   Unsurprisingly, ministries centered on pragmatic means and measurements produce fruit of a sort:…

Pragmatism, Blasphemous Pragmatism

Not too long ago I made the comment that pragmatism in ministry amounts to blasphemy. My interlocutors thought this characteristic overstatement—I’ve been known to state ideas in the strongest possible terms on more than one occasion!—and dismissed me with a merry round of justifiable laughs. But the more I thought about the issue, the more I agree with my initial assessment. Pragmatism in ministry really is blasphemy.   I should probably define my terms before…

The Office of Preaching

I wrote recently about the “flip principle” as regards church leaders and the congregation: the congregation desires authority which by grace has been given to the leaders alone; the leaders alone perform works of ministry which by grace have been asked of the whole congregation. I trembled as I wrote the words—as I tremble when writing almost anything pertaining to God, his Word, and the life of the congregation—for fear that I had gone too…

Wise and Innocent

“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16, ESV).   I find it interesting that Jesus enjoins his followers to be like serpents and doves—two animals with a rich biblical history. When coming to this verse, what reader will not think of the serpent in Eden, Satan tempting humanity to death and disobedience (Genesis 3:1ff.)? And who will not…

Measuring Growth That Matters

The last in a three-part series on measurable growth in the church—and whether it matters.   God does care about numbers. That much is clear from the book of the Acts—and makes sense considering that each number represents a person receiving grace, being regenerated in Christ. At the same time, some of the numbers that bring us elation (and even pride) receive more attention than they merit. Attendance, while necessary as we strive to bring…