Monthly Archives: April 2012

 

Apr

30

2012

Jared C. Wilson|3:00 pm CT

Jesus the Pastor

I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.
– John 16:12

These words of Christ really ministered to me last week in my study time. The immediate context is this: Jesus has resurrected and he is issuing warnings and promises to his disciples. He is consoling them about his soon departure, saying he is going to send the Holy Spirit to guide them into all truth. He’s going to keep speaking to them, only now through the Holy Spirit, primarily through the Spirit-inspired new covenant Scriptures.

But I love Jesus’ pastoral heart. “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” Jesus is patient with his people. He plods. He knows how to hand out bread day by day. He doesn’t overcook his sermons like us dumb pastors, thinking we’ve got to hit everybody with everything all at once. He does not “turn on the firehose.” He does not inundate. Of course, Jesus has the benefit of omniscience — he knows how things will play out tomorrow — and we do not. But he is so gentle in this moment.

These words remind me that Jesus is committed to giving me all that I need at the times I need it. It has been said that all our knowledge of God at any given moment is merely a thimble of water compared to the ocean of water available. And yet the thimble is a daily supply, more than enough, just the right amount. Jesus is so good. He knows my limits and condescends to fill them and minister to me within them.

We undershepherds should take note.

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Apr

30

2012

Jared C. Wilson|10:34 am CT

Gospel Renaissance in a Megachurch – Pastors I Admire: Steve Benninger

Starting a new series today that will run every Monday. Details at the bottom of the post.

Steve Benninger is the lead pastor of New Life Church in Gahanna, Ohio (just outside of Columbus) and a recent friend of mine. I admire Steve tremendously, not just because he loves Jesus so much but because he’s one of the few men who have at great strain and risk sought to lead a rather large church in a rather new direction, toward gospel-centrality. (It reminds me a bit of Joe Coffey’s story.) I will let him tell that story in our interview below, but if for this tremendous pastoral work alone, Steve is a jewel among men. He is also one of the most pastoral pastors I’ve ever met (and this characteristic will be a common thread among all the men I’m featuring in this series), if you catch my meaning. He is patient, kind, gentle, and yet rock-solid in the gospel of Jesus Christ. For these reasons and more, I wish I was more like Steve. I think you will be blessed by his story.

Where did you grow up and how did you come to faith in Christ?

I was born and raised in Southern California back in the wild 1960′s. However, my parents were from Iowa so I was also raised with strong midwestern, Depression-era values. As a result I grew up as a kind of ‘cultural misfit.’ Also, our family attended a fairly legalistic Baptist church, which added to my sense of being out of step with my peers. Looking back though, I must admit that I was given many spiritual advantages from my parents and my church, including a deep respect for the Bible.

Despite a supposed ‘salvation experience’ during VBS at the tender age of 8, I basically lived for myself up through my high school years, seeking validation and significance through athletics and academics. But everything changed in an instant on June 18, 1979—truly a defining moment for me. Traveling with a buddy down to Los Angeles to catch a baseball game, my vehicle was struck by a drunk driver in a head-on collision. Everyone involved was killed … except me. I walked away with a few cuts and bruises and two broken teeth. Two months later I found myself at a fledgling Bible College in Virginia, housed in a dormitory full of guys who were on fire for Jesus. I had never before been around peers who were genuinely devoted to Christ, and the impact on me was immediate and lasting. The campus atmosphere was electric, the passion was genuine, and the spiritual reality was contagious. I was invited to a nightly Bible study group where for the first time I was shown how to study the Bible for myself. Then my RA started to disciple me. Classes on the Christian life were eye-opening. Through all of these things the Lord was graciously opening my eyes to Christ’s beauty and my sinfulness. One night that fall His working in my heart was so strong that I felt compelled to get alone with God. I drove up the mountainside and found a clearing. There, looking up into the night sky with tears streaming down my face, the Father showed me my pride and ungratefulness and the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice for me. Repentance and faith filled my heart and I believe to this day that I was genuinely converted that night by the wonderful grace of God.
Continue

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Apr

25

2012

Jared C. Wilson|4:48 pm CT

“This is the Thankful Glass that Mends the Lookers Eyes”

Had to find my copy of George Herbert’s poems today to check a citation in a manuscript, and as often happens when I open up this collection of beauties, I couldn’t put it down without reading beyond my duty. Here’s one of my favorites called “The Holy Scriptures”:

I.

OH Book! infinite sweetnesse! let my heart
Suck ev’ry letter, and a hony gain,
Precious for any grief in any part;
To cleare the breast, to mollifie all pain.

Thou art all health, health thriving till it make
A full eternitie: thou art a masse
Of strange delights, where we may wish & take.
Ladies, look here; this is the thankfull glasse,

That mends the lookers eyes: this is the well
That washes what it shows. Who can indeare
Thy praise too much? thou art heav’ns Lidger here,
Working against the states of death and hell.

Thou art joyes handsell: heav’n lies flat in thee,
Subject to ev’ry mounters bended knee.

I I.

OH that I knew how all thy lights combine,
And the configurations of their glorie!
Seeing not onely how each verse doth shine,
But all the constellations of the storie.

This verse marks that, and both do make a motion
Unto a third, that ten leaves off doth lie:
Then as dispersed herbs do watch a potion,
These three make up some Christians destinie:

Such are thy secrets, which my life makes good,
And comments on thee: for in ev’ry thing
Thy words do finde me out, & parallels bring,
And in another make me understood.

Starres are poore books, & oftentimes do misse:
This book of starres lights to eternall blisse.

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Apr

24

2012

Jared C. Wilson|9:33 am CT

“Never Closer to the Bare Bones of Christianity”: Updike on the New England Churches

The late, great John Updike waxes poetic on his personal history with — and the collective personality of — the New England church world:

“Like Mr. Mutrux, I came late to New England. The first regional church of which I had experience was Harvard’s Memorial Chapel, that splendid but slightly cold reproduction of the Colonial manner, with its immaculate box pews and huge dark choir screen. Attending, I would sit back on the left-hand side near a small bronze plaque that seemed to me the epitome of New England fair-mindedness: opposite the great wall covered with the names of Harvard alumni killed fighting for the Allies, the plaque gave the names of four German graduates . . . Harvard has not forgotten her sons.

“Returning some years later to live north of Boston, I would attend the Congregational church in Ipswich, a handsome, town-dominating example of “carpenter Gothic” exactly contemporaneous with the First Parish Church in Brunswick, Maine, and like it, tipped wooden pinnacles and walled with boards and battens. The interior posed a delicate white-painted heaven of shapely roof trussing; the light came through tall pointed windows of old gray-glass lozenge panes. Some winter mornings, hardly a dozen of us showed up, while the minister shouted across the empty pews and the groaning furnace in the basement sent up odorous warmth through the cast-iron grates and the wind leaned on the crackling panes. I have never felt closer to the bare bones of Christianity than on those bleak and drafty Sunday mornings, with the ghosts of frock-coated worshippers and patient carpenters making up for our sparse attendance . . . Through its hushed and graceful spaces, so different from the colorful and stolid Lutheran interiors of my childhood, I entered into the spiritual life of my adopted region.

“Can this life be distinguished, even minutely, from that of other regions? It is tinctured by the Puritan beginnings and the stony soil, the four sharp seasons and the nautical outlook of the indented shore. To Calvinism, Irish Catholicism added its own austerities and wit . . . ‘Live free or die’ runs the motto of one of our six states, and there does seem to be an extra tang of the free, of the voluntary, in our chilly, salty local air. The New England spirit does not seek solutions in a crowd; raw light and solitariness are less dreaded than welcomed as enhancers of our essential selves. And our churches, classically, tend to seek through their forms, so restrainedly adorned, their essence as houses for the inner light.”

– John Updike, “Foreword,” in Great New England Churches: 65 Houses of Worship that Changed Our Lives by Robert H. Mutrux (Chester, Connecticut: Globe Pequot Press, 1982), xii-xiii.

Previously:
What are New Englanders Like?
Church Replanting in New England
10 Reasons New England Suffers for Mission
Why New England is the New Missional Frontier (Resurgence post)

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Apr

23

2012

Jared C. Wilson|1:51 pm CT

The Mess and Order of a Gospel-Centered Church

When a church is faithful to preach the gospel and demonstrate the gospel’s implications, it will usually find that it attracts and is attracted to the kind of people Jesus attracted and was attracted to. People who are, shall we say, rough around the edges.

The gospel well preached and applied will make ministry messy. Things will change. I often think of it like the beating of a rug — you’re gonna get a lot of dust in the air. There will be a thick cloud. The gospel stirs stuff up.

But our God is not an author of confusion. So as things get messy, while the gospel is creating a safe space for sins, hurts, and struggles to rise to the surface, it is outlining that space really well. The same gospel that exposes mess creates order.

How? In a gospel-centered church, one will find that:

There are leaders who are humble and confident and grace-ready.
There are church members grace-ready.
There are opportunities for counsel
There are opportunities for discipleship.
There is biblical church governance, church membership, and church discipline.

A safe space is not an amorphous, undefined space. The gospel brings junk up and then sorts junk out.

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Apr

23

2012

Jared C. Wilson|9:00 am CT

God Doesn’t Need Your Help

The fear of man lays a snare,
but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.

– Proverbs 29:25

We make equivocations about direct biblical teaching when we are embarrassed by it, when we fear rejection because of it. We think the Bible isn’t very good PR for Jesus, so we want to help it out a little bit. A.W. Tozer in Knowledge of the Holy:

Almighty God, just because he is almighty, needs no support.

The picture of a nervous, ingratiating God fawning over men to win their favor is not a pleasant one; yet if we look at the popular conception of God that is precisely what we see.

Twentieth-century Christianity has put God on charity. So lofty is our opinion of ourselves that we find it quite easy, not to say enjoyable, to believe that we are necessary to God . . .

I fear that thousands of younger persons enter Christian service from no higher motive than to help deliver God from the embarrassing situation His love has gotten Him into and His limited abilities seem unable to get Him out of.

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Apr

16

2012

Jared C. Wilson|8:18 am CT

The Challenges in Church Replanting in New England

New England is now the least-churched, least-reached area of the United States, making it America’s most needy mission field. Yet missional church planters are not flocking here. There are likely some good reasons for that.

And I am loathe to ascribe it to lack of interest, necessarily, because every week I receive emails from men who feel called to minister in New England. Most of these do not believe they are called or gifted to plant churches. (I sympathize, because I am neither called nor gifted to be a church planter either.) So they ask about existing churches needing pastors. Are there churches here in need of pastors?

Yes. There are many dying or dwindling churches, and some just plateaued congregations dawdling around, that are in desperate need of gospel-centered shepherding. My church, for instance, has commissioned 4 of our men to provide pulpit supply for a growing number of churches in our area who are without a preacher. One of our guys was recently asked by two churches in the same town to be their regular preacher each week. And whenever I bring up the need for church planting in New England, I will hear from a few cautioning corners that the “real” need in New England is for pastors to take over existing churches. Just last week at the T4G Conference I received a message from a guy who was told by one of the exhibitors there that New England doesn’t need church planting, but pastors to take over pastorless churches. “Is this true?” he asked me. Well, no. We need both.

This is not an either/or situation. As in all areas of mission, we need the restoration/reinvigoration of existing communities of faith and we need fresh plantings of new communities of faith.

But while not a church planter myself, and while strongly in favor of pastors working in the revitalization of existing congregations, I nonetheless believe church planting may be more viable in New England right now for these reasons:

1. Many of the churches in need of pastors do not want an evangelical in their pulpit in the first place. I’ve seen this happen locally multiple times just in my 2 years here, and I have heard of this difficulty elsewhere. A friend of mine interviewing for churches in another New England state was very much liked for his preaching gifts, his personality, his experience, and his general presence. But he was ultimately rejected for holding to the exclusivity of Christ and the authority and infalliblity of the Scriptures.

It is just not as simple as saying, “Hey, there’s a bunch of churches who need pastors, why don’t you come to one of those?” The reality is that these bunches of churches don’t want the kinds of pastors who would be most likely to replant them in the gospel. Even if a pastor wanted to take one over, he would likely not be hired for his conservative beliefs.

2. Many of the churches in need of replanting would sooner die than change. The notion of replanting is predicated on a church that is eager for someone to lead it into the future of mission and gospel-centrality. But this idea is not only foreign to the theological liberalism and functionally social nature of churches here, it is foreign to the personality of New England, which for all its liberalism is a pretty traditional place. Churches don’t want to change. They want to keep doing what they’re doing but see different results.

Churches are married til death do them part to buildings they can’t afford, to denominational affiliations they don’t understand, and ways of doing church that don’t resonate even with themselves anymore. It’s just the way we’ve always done it, don’t-cha-know? And we are very suspicious of outsiders saying they have a better way. Consequently, it is often easier — which doesn’t mean better, of course — to start a new movement with a community of eager disciples than it is to gain traction in an historic congregation of 10 or 12 old-timers who won’t budge and whose vision is of the past, not the future.

3. Most of the churches in need of being replanted cannot afford to hire a pastor, nor are they able to assist him in the work of ministry. We are not talking about even mid-sized congregations. We are not talking about churches with ample resources just waiting for a great pastor to send in his resume so they can hire him. We are talking about churches that are small even by New England standards — and almost all churches in New England are small by the standards of the “Six Flags Over Jesus” Bible Belt south. They don’t have any money. They cannot pay to move your family here or bring you on full time. You will have to get a job, maybe even a full time job. One guy I know was sent by the North American Mission Board, and he’s having good success revitalizing a church near here in rural Vermont, but he still works on a dairy farm every day. And even if one of these dying/dwindling churches could afford to pay you, they would not have the people resources to come alongside your leadership in cultivating community, discipleship training, evangelism, and the like. You’d have to do it largely alone or recruit a team.

So in that sense, replanting here ends up a lot like planting from scratch. I tell any guy interested in coming to replant an existing church — at least, if he’s coming to my state and other areas in New England like it — that he will likely have to do the work of a church planter in raising financial support and recruiting a team to join him. But most guys who prefer to take over an existing church are not particularly adept at those things. (I know I’m not.)

This is not an effort to dissuade anyone. New England needs both planters and pastors who would like to assume the pastorates of existing congregations. And the ground is available for both. We just have to be honest about the opportunities and about the work involved in both. And keep in mind that there are always exceptional cultures within the ruling culture. Opportunities vary from state to state, and even within states, from rural to urban. So I am broad-brushing here, but I don’t think in an unhelpful way.

I am still committed to helping pastors find churches open to replanting toward gospel-centrality, or even solid evangelical churches already “there” who just need a new pastor. But hopefully the above points explain the emphasis many of us have on church planting.

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Apr

16

2012

Jared C. Wilson|8:02 am CT

Pinckney’s Practices for Pummeling Pastoral Pride

Pastor David Pinckney’s talk on “Battling the Arrogant Soul” given at an Acts 29 Northeast Regional Conference last year had many excellent moments, but I really liked three practical tips he gave pastors to help them squash pride and cultivate humility.

1. Take out the trash.

Literally, David said. Take out your trash. Don’t give it to your assistant or custodian. Take it out yourself. It can be cathartic. And humbling. Don’t be above doing this and prove you’re not by actually doing it.

2. Visit nursing homes.

This will not increase your attendance, David said, but do it anyway. And don’t make it a program or a project. Don’t worry about telling anybody you’re doing this. Just go visit. Many folks in nursing home don’t get visits once a week, and some don’t even get visits once a month.

3. Adopt prayer positions.

David was not trying to endorse mysticism, here; he’s saying that we should literally get on our knees to pray. Or better — on our faces. When no one can see. David said we should be intimately familiar with the smell of the carpet in our office. (He said taking out the trash can enhance that experience.)

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Apr

11

2012

Jared C. Wilson|8:18 pm CT

T4G: Becky Soundbytes

At T4G this week, I have taken a short break from serious blogging to rest, refresh, and be nourished in the Word and relationships with brothers I see too rarely. But the highlight of the trip is just hanging out with my wife Becky. Earlier today she posted on her blog a list of quotable quotes from the conference thus far. I commend it to you.

I’ve made a list of my own of quotable quotes from this week thus far, but my list are all things Becky has said. Amidst all the T4G message quote tweets and distinguished from them, I share this list with you, for your joy and my amusement, sans context.

1. “You’re weird like them, but you’re not awkward.”

2. “What is it? Don’t touch it. Looks like socks or underwear.”

3. “You’re not beyond getting slapped.”

4. “It’s because you’ve got the water running and a toothbrush in your head.”

5. “It’s weird that we’re brushing our teeth to go drink coffee.”

6. “Mark Dever has gentle eyes.”

7. “C.J. Mahaney has freakishly large hands.”

8. “Michael Kelley is so funny. Because he’s so simple.”

9. “Didn’t you say there was a Celtics game tonight? That sounds like an enjoyable activity.”

10. “When she told that story, I felt, like, the demonic.”

11. “Did you just sass me? I know you didn’t sass me.”

I love my wife. She’s the coolest.

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Apr

07

2012

Jared C. Wilson|2:23 pm CT

The Proper Response to Easter

“So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.” – Matthew 28:8

“And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” – Mark 16:18

“But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened.” – Luke 24:12

“They said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road?’” – Luke 24:32

“Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed” – John 20:8

“Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’” – John 20:28

The proper response to Easter is not warm fuzzies, but awe.

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